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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Swami Maria Predicts

So what do you think 2010 will bring us? It's time for Swami Maria to make her predictions, but this time I have a guest fortune teller to help me out.

You see, now that I live in the woods, I've found an even more accurate soothsayer than myself. It's Harold, King of the Gypsy Squirrels.

Harold makes his predictions by leaving clues inside my swami hat, and they are as cryptic as they are wise. Only problem is...I have to interpret what those clues mean.

So let's see what he left me this time.

Mm...acorns, a bandage, and a ribbon. And here's one of my jump drives. Hey, I was looking for that!

Well, the acorns are easy. Gather yonder nuts and store for a rainy day. 2010 could bring hardships that are best weathered when you plan ahead.

The bandage...hmm. Either he's talking about the new and improved health care reform in the US, or he's using it as a metaphor to fix something broken. --same thing, I guess.

The jump drive I can interpret too. Technology will be going through another round of improvements. Expect more digital, less tangible.

The ribbon is tricky. It's bright and shiny, a piece of Christmas trim from a neighbor's package. Harold is a sentimental squirrel, an old softy who sings ballads and watches romantic movies. I'm sure he's telling us to keep the bonds with our friends and family strong and tight.

Wait a minute. There's something else in here. How odd. It looks like a small piece of charred wood. And it's warm to the touch.

Good old Harold. Could this be his wish that people wake up and treat each other with the warm embers of love and friendship?

[examines it for closer study]


[tosses it back outside]

Not funny, Harold!

That chunk of wood was warm all right. And slightly squishy. And ripe.

Bad squirrel. Bad!

I'm not even going to interpret that one.

Happy New Year, everyone! Don't pick up anything warm and squishy.

Three Dog Day (and Night)

I'm home. I'm tired. And I have no heat in my house. The bedroom has its own thermostat and that's working, but the main is not. It looks like I had a power failure, the alarm was going off when I got in. Why would anyone design an alarm to tell me I lost power? I can tell I lost power. Every clock in the house blinks like a Christmas tree.

There are 262 emails in my inbox. My physical mailbox was stuffed to the brim with gardening catalogs, magazines, (and bills). On my way up, I heard they had snow in Dallas.

Right now, it's a balmy sixty degrees in my living room. The dogs are tired and have crashed into their beds. Sheesh! It's not like they did all the driving.

Give me through the weekend to sort through my mail. If I can, I'll post again later today. It is after all New Year's Eve, and good manners dictate I should say something mildly prophetic.

It's good to be back. Now if I can only get my heat back.

What's new on your side of the world?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Homestead Wish List

Note: Argh...My last two posts posted on the same day. ---sorry.

The chickens are a done deal. As soon as their coop and pen is finished I can start looking for chicks. I plan to buy locally so I can visit breeders directly.

The goats are still a pipe dream. Our property is fenced with typical barbed wire. The plan was to replace it with chain link but it turns out six acres of chain link is inhumanely expensive--even if we did it ourselves, which we planned to do.

So the next option is welded wire. There's someone a couple of miles from us who keeps gazelle and other hooved animals and he has what looks like 8 foot tall welded wire game fence. Six foot would be plenty for us. Goats are good jumpers, but I don't expect any pole vaulters among them.

Despite my wish for goats by 2010, I'd like to put it off until we build Greg's shop. This property didn't come with a shop so it was a given that one had to be built.

Most handy-spouses have a secret wish for a shop, but in Greg's case, it's non-negotiable. His current shop at Zannini South is 40 x 50, bigger than the average home, and it is chocked full from floor to loft with equipment and supplies.

I never deny Greg any tool he asks for. He builds me things and he fixes things. He's built everything from buildings to cabinetry, not to mention he's saved our bacon plenty of times with home repair, so if he tells me he needs something, I write the check.

Once the shop and fence are up, the goats can move in. I do have one super-secret wish. Something I have absolutely no use for but would love to have on our place. Many ranchers in our area keep either Great Pyrenees dogs or donkeys to protect their flocks of sheep, cattle or goats.

I would love to have one of these...

A little burro.

Greg is afraid I'll bring this little guy inside in inclement weather.

Who me?


Maybe I can talk him into it slowly. I have plenty of time until the shop and fence are up.

Wish me luck.

Do you have a secret wish for something in 2010?


Holding Court in the Country

Here are my boys with Her Highness.

My puppy has gotten big, don't you think? He's nearly 3/4 Tank's size now. Princess is more fluff than heft. I think she weighs in at about 13 pounds, less than1/10th Tank's weight.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Do You Stay Online?

I leave my computer on all day and all night long. The only time I ever turn it off is when I'm on the road. And then when I reach my destination, the computer once again stays on 24/7.

Some of the sites I belong to have a feature that tells others when I'm online, that is, when the internet is connected to them, but I'm afraid that's misleading. I'm sure there's a way to turn that feature off, but I don't always find it.

So if you 'see' me online, it could be a mirage. Since I can't sit for very long, I pop in for a few minutes and check the cyber world before I disappear once more.

I used to dutifully turn off my computer if I was going to be off more than an hour, but an IT person at work told me I was doing more harm turning it on and off that often. It was best to leave it on. So I have, with no ill effects in all these many years.

It's certainly a more expedient use of my time than waiting for it to boot up. I mean, like what if I have a brilliant idea? (Hey, it can happen!) With my meager brain cells I could lose the idea before the darn computer wakes up. And don't even mention paper and pen. I can never find them when I need them.

So if you see that I'm "on", it's quite possible I'm actually out cutting brush, washing dogs, or...GASP...even writing. So I'm on, except when I'm off.

Does your computer stay on all the time?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Cooking, Then Canterville

Still out of contact, but you can still reach me at my gmail account. The weird thing is I can access my dysfunctional email server and I can see how many emails are waiting for me. (last count: 176 emails) But it won't let me open the folder.

My provider says it's a glitch. Hmm...ya think?

Guess I know what I'll be doing when I get home--which will be quite a few more days from now.

The dogs will not stay still long enough to take a good picture with all three of them together. If they're sleeping, they're in separate corners. But if they're up, all three want to defy the time/space continuum and play like linebackers caught in a gravity well--even the little one who has no clue that the other two behemoths can crush her if they step on her. So I constantly have to supervise so she doesn't get too rowdy with them.

I gotta hand it to Princess though. She gives as good as she gets. And while Tank is cautious and is wary about where he steps, Iko is not so careful. He's the one I worry will step on her.

Greg's going to try his camera tomorrow. It's faster than mine and maybe we can catch them while they're flying by in a blur.

Much as I don't want to smell any more food, (still a bit queasy) I need to cook for man and beast today. Freezable make-ahead meals for the husband and chicken for the dogs. Then I'm going to lay down and watch The Canterville Ghost--the original with Charles Laughton.

I love that movie! Has anyone else seen it?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Free Books

Once again, Random House and Crown Publishing is giving away books through their Reading Forward Program. While supplies last.

Choose one from the following:


I got some good stuff at clearance sales today. I focused on little items I could use as decorations for the gift trays I make my neighbors. I found some really unique ornaments including a couple of additions for my dog ornament collection. Maybe next year, we'll stay in one place and I can put up my tree.

I'm afraid it's not a great picture since there is so much shine and color, but part of the collection includes a cool hand blown glass flamingo complete with fishing rod, and a Mexican chihuahua. To the right, there's also a baby book of the Velveteen Rabbit. The really small baby books are great for decorating.

A small sample of today's loot (including a Christmas rottie).

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Christmas To Remember

Hope everyone had a great Christmas.

We weren't quite so lucky. Last week, Greg came down with stomach flu. Fortunately, he was with me and I could take care of him. Flash forward a few days and we end up at Zannini South.

1:30 in the morning and I jerk out of bed and rush to the bathroom. It went downhill after that. I slept on the couch with a wastebasket by my side. The worst of it only lasted 24 hours--but it was the LONGEST 24 hours I've ever endured.

If you'd have shot me, I couldn't have felt worse. Greg was a good soul and forced me to keep sipping water and mercifully ate his dinner as far away as he could from me so it wouldn't nauseate me further.

Honestly, you'd think I was a daisy, I wilted so fast.

I'm feeling better today. The dry toast stayed down this morning and I am able to check on (some) of my mail. I'm still not able to retrieve my mail from my regular email server. I switched browsers, but still no luck. The mail will have to wait until I get back.

So while it wasn't the Christmas we hoped for, at least we spent it together. In the end, it's not the gifts, the food or the glitter that's important--but who you spend it with. In that case, maybe it wasn't such a bad Christmas after all.

My only regret was that the beautiful dinner I planned for Greg was ruined. We'll try again on his next day off and I'll make it up to him.

I should be back on my feed by tomorrow. Just in time for after-Christmas shopping.

Fresh air and clearance sales. That always makes me feel better. LOL.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas from Princess

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

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This is Princess, and she lives up to her name. She is currently residing at Hotel Zannini while her mom and dad are in Brazil.

Merry Christmas from your kid, Mel and Ed! She's running up a tab for dog cookies and massages.

This message was pre-recorded so Princess can hold court at Zannini South. She might be a city girl, but she likes to run with the big dogs. (Photos to come)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Goodies

To borrow from the Dragonriders of Pern series, I've gone Between. By the time you see this I'll have already arrived at Zannini South. (I hope.) We're spending Christmas at Greg's place since he has to work Christmas day. (Dangerous jobs never stop for holidays.)

As usual, you can contact me through this blog, but the only email I'll be able to respond to is at my super secret email address. We're still having trouble retrieving my regular email when I'm at Zannini South. If Greg doesn't mind, I am going to try to change his browser to Firefox and see if that fixes the problem. If it doesn't, I won't be able to answer you until I get back.

I will have a special holiday message on the 24th, and might even post sooner, depending on my schedule.


I was forced to get all Martha Stewart on my neighbors. They gifted us with the most amazing food. There was no way I could compete with that. So I baked some very simple muffins and cookies and dressed them up on a pretty tray.

I begged my friend, Mel, whose dog I'm dog-sitting, for some ideas, but she didn't get my email in time. She's still in Brazil and has limited access to a computer, so our communication is always delayed.

Mel, is kinda like a reincarnated Martha Stewart. I'm not kidding you, the woman should be on television. She's that good. Everything she touches looks magical.

Mel has tried her best to rehabilitate me, and fortunately, some of her teachings have stuck, so I'm not a total loser in the gift giving department. They may not be Martha Stewart pretty, but they come from the heart.

If you'd like to create a gift for your neighbor, here are some ideas.

• One silver tray from the Dollar Store. It's actually pretty nice for what it is--it's metal, with a stamped design.

• An oven mitt, pot holder or Christmas themed kitchen towels.

• Cookie cutters in various designs. You can probably find these in the Dollar Store too, but I got a big box of assorted metal cookie cutters during the after-Christmas sales last year.

• You can also include a nice Christmas ornament.

• Pre-wrapped Christmas candy

• Nuts in their shells

• Baked goods

Insert the mitt, towel, or pot holder in one of the cookie cutters. Layer the baked goods by variety if you are doing more than one. Dress with nuts and packaged candy. The mitt and cutter can be a centerpiece or you can create something more asymmetrical.

Wrap the whole thing in plastic wrap and a bow.

I apologize for not posting the completed tray. I started doing a series of photos showing each layer, but then my camera died, so I never got to the last step of adding the nuts and tiny muffins. But you get the idea. (Shown here are cranberry iced cookies--my absolute favorite cookie.)

Do you give gifts to your neighbors? What do you like to give?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Tales of Terror: The MGB Story

Poor people in the north. All that snow.

I don't mind snow, and though I gripe about it, I don't really mind cold either, but I get very cranky when the roads ice over--especially when it's black ice.

When we lived in Chicago, Greg used to practice driving on ice with his MGB. We'd get out in the middle of a giant parking lot on an early Sunday morning and he'd practice correcting for spins and loss of brakes. Fun times.

I kinda miss that old car. We put a lot of miles on that baby--and then I wrecked it. Yup. I admit it. I wrecked his beautifully restored, mint condition MGB.

We had just moved to Texas and realized I needed to learn how to drive because there was no public transportation in the city we lived in, and worse yet, everything was too far to walk. Not like Chicago, where you can hop a bus or simply walk to the neighborhood shopping district.

So I asked Greg to teach me to drive. Worst. Mistake. Ever. Wives, NEVER let your husbands teach you how to drive--especially if all you have is his vintage sports car.

Our marriage survived the driving lessons and soon he was taking me out into the boonies to practice on more complicated terrain. We stopped at a stop sign and being a stick, he warned me to give it a little extra gas when I hit the clutch.

Unfortunately, we were on a gravel road, and I gave it too much gas. I gunned it, scrambling off the gravel and across a ten foot ditch making us instantly airborne. Who says cars can't fly?

When we landed, I plowed through the woods, missing EVERY single tree in this forest. To this day, I don't know how I missed them all. It was like being in a mine field. I just kept turning the wheel until I ran out of trees.

I kept hitting the brakes, but I wasn't slowing down enough. Greg pulled up the emergency brake and pulled the keys out of the ignition.

All this happened in a matter of seconds. It is taking longer to tell you this story than it did to occur--it happened that fast. When we finally stopped, we just sat there stunned. And I started crying!

Not because I was hurt, but because I knew I had murdered his much loved car. Greg noticed the smoke coming from the hood and he jumped out and rushed over to my side to help me out. I remember he kept asking me, "Are you hurt? Are you hurt?"

I kept shaking my head and crying. I KILLED his car. How was I ever going to face him again?

We'd only been married a year and like most newlyweds were still trying to sort each other out. I was absolutely certain that car meant more to him than I did. Let's face it, his idea of a great date was working on that car. What else was I to think?

But he showed me.

He pulled me out of the car and hugged me, so grateful I was okay. He asked me why I was crying and when I told him, he started laughing. "It's just a stupid car. You're the only thing that matters."

Cue: Big sigh. I knew I had a keeper then.

We got our car back from the shop six weeks later, but by this time I discovered AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION. Why did no one ever mention this modern miracle before? I loved it and in no time I was giving Greg a run for his money.

As a matter fact, many years later, I was driving his car and one of his friends saw it on the road. He didn't know it was me on the wheel and he teased him and said: "Man, you were hauling the other day. You were going so fast, there was fire streaking from under the tires."

Big mouth!

I was busted.

To this day, I won't speak to that guy. (Kidding, but I do give him the evil eye.)

Who taught you how to drive? Stick or automatic?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Chicagoans Don't Have An Accent

I generally don't go in much for quizzes, but this one hit it right on the nose.

Despite having lived in the south for more than three decades, my accent still carries its Chicago roots. --though I can speak Texan when necessary. :o)

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Inland North

You may think you speak "Standard English straight out of the dictionary" but when you step away from the Great Lakes you get asked annoying questions like "Are you from Wisconsin?" or "Are you from Chicago?" Chances are you call carbonated drinks "pop."

The Northeast


The Midland

The South


The West

North Central

What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Friday, December 18, 2009

Avatar: Mini Review

First, NEVER see this in 3D unless your brain is wired for 3D. Mine is not. So while the movie had some great moments, I suffered for them. I still have my headache, and it's a doozy.

That aside, let me simplify this movie into a short statement. It borrows from Dragonriders of Pern, John Carter of Mars, Dances With Wolves, and the black southern Baptists at the edge of town. There is nothing really original about the story, but that's not a deterrent. I didn't mind the borrowing at all.

I did mind the gawd-awful stereotypes given the military and suits. Military & suits: bad guys. Scientists & natives: good guys. Can we please do something a little more original here?

What I did like very much about the movie is the theme of balance within the natural world. It appealed greatly to my inner tree hugger self without coming across as silly or New Age.

The special effects, I'm sure you've heard by now, are obscenely good. Some of the CGI was slightly unnatural with the minor 'beasts', but it compensated with excellent pacing, keeping you from concentrating too hard on the weaknesses.

Speaking of pacing--a little slow in the beginning, but once Jake gets on the inside, it never lets up.

Characters: Mixed bag. I would've liked to have gotten a little deeper into Jake's character. I think he was a little glossed over to make way for the aliens. Neytiri, the alien love interest was far more developed and multi-layered.

The bad guy colonel was way over the top and two dimensional, but that could be Cameron's liberal politics showing. --Very bad call, Cameron. Makes you looks like a simpleton.

Avatar was visually stunning and I'm sure it would have been enjoyable had I seen it in 2D instead of 3D. If you can separate yourself from the politics, it's also an okay story.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Talk To The Paw

If you hadn't already noticed, I'm leaving most of my Prudent Penny, Marketing and Writing posts for after the holidays. I don't like to talk shop over the holidays. I'm busy just like you and I prefer to read posts about fun stuff this time of year.

I am dog-sitting and Princess is a very high maintenance pooch. But she belongs to one of my best friends and I couldn't bear to see the little thing stuck in a kennel.

Tank and Iko are behaving themselves, but I have to remind Iko that our little dog-guest isn't a chew toy, even if she does squeak. Tank is the funny one though. Princess follows him around with these big cow eyes, while the Tankster plays hard-to get.

Iko, on the other hand would love nothing more than to play with her, yet she ignores him completely. Her puppy-love belongs to the big brawny guy with the attitude.

That Ditto-House post I did the other day got triple-digit hits for two days in a row. I noticed it was fourth from the top in the Google returns. Gotta love keywords.

Want an easy recipe to give as a gift? Here's my recipe for Rum Balls.

1 package (9 ounces) of vanilla wafers
2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1/4 cup cocoa
1/2 cup rum
1/4 cup corn syrup
More powdered sugar (for coating)

Crush the wafers. Mix with sugar, pecans, and cocoa. Blend in bourbon and corn syrup. Shape (big) marble-size balls then coat with extra powdered sugar. Store for several days before serving.

Anybody have a special recipe they like to give away as gifts? I'd love to see them!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Ditto House

Is it too soon to post Christmas photos?

I don't know who snapped this photo, but if it's you, I'd be glad to give you attribution. I did hunt down the story for the Ditto House.

Apparently, Dave Nosek decided if he can't beat them, he'll concede gracefully. Nosek's neighbor always puts out a brilliant light show every Christmas. Rather than compete, he simply points drive-bys to the house next door. For the full story go here.

My neighbors are too far away to try anything like this. But I think the idea was brilliant!

Do you decorate the outside of your house? How would you describe your Christmas decorating style?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

I'm Dreaming of a DVD Weekend

Here are a few of the titles we've ordered recently. Taras Bulba, Lion In Winter, Shogun, Hellboy II, and a musical compilation which includes Singing In The Rain, Meet Me In St. Louis, The Band Wagon (don't know this one) and Easter Parade. (Sue me. I like musicals. They make me feel good.)

Thankfully, we have yet to receive Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Greg will pay dearly for that choice. This is where the "for better and for worse" clause kicks in.

I won't see Greg for another week and although we have some work planned there will also be great sloth fests of movie watching, pizza and margaritas. I can't wait!

Are there any old movies you particularly like? I'm always looking for recommendations.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

I'm Writing--Honest!

I must be the slowest writer on Earth. My friends have been telling me that I need to get another book into the hands of my editor before I lose the momentum I've created.

They are absolutely right. At night I hear their voices, haunting me to get it in gear and write. But therein lies my dilemma. I have two books ready for an editor, but I decided to shop them around to other publishers and that takes time. Not that I don't love my publisher. My goodness, they've treated me well, but this is a business and I want to expand my reach.

I RE-started work on Touch Of Fire's sequel. It scared me at first because all I could find was the original story and not the new plot I liked better. I finally found that mischievous file on a jump drive and opened it up to take a look. It was good! It gave me that giddy feeling, the one I had when I wrote the first book.

My ducks are finally in a row and I hope 2010 will be the year things start jumping again. A lot is going to happen in the next two years, both professionally and personally. And new prospects have cropped up in the last two weeks alone, opportunities that need to be nurtured if I want them to bloom.

My only regret is that these new prospects will limit my time on the homestead and that makes me sad. When you're in your 50s (and up), choosing long-term projects requires careful reflection.

I don't want to lay on my deathbed and complain I spent too much time writing/working/traveling and not enough time with the people I love. I've become far more selective on how I spend the time I have left.

Funny story:

Greg and I went garage saling recently and we ran into a young guy who smiled at me and said, "You don't recognize me, do you?"

And I'm thinking: Oh lord, who is this guy? And what must Greg be thinking that young fellas out of nowhere are recognizing me?

The guy is still smiling and says: "A lot of people don't recognize me without my uniform."

(This is where I get funny.) "Okay…refresh my memory. Did you arrest me recently?"

He gets this dread look on his face and he says: "Uh, no. Maybe I'm mistaking you for someone else. Aren't you the author?"

Now I'm grinning from ear to ear. This guy recognizes me as an AUTHOR! "Yes, I'm an author." (I say this in my most Stephen King voice.)

"Oh good," he says relieved. "I'm your vet."

I only started going to this vet a few months ago and I must have mentioned what I do.

Made my day--but I really need to pay more attention to faces.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What's With The Rage?

People have been in ranty moods lately. I had a post ready to go on the vanity/self publishing controversy, and although it isn't ranty, I thought I'd save it for a day when readers were less touchy. But rage seems to follow the masses and John Scalzi hit some tender nerves.

Every once in a while Scalzi says something I agree with. He hit the parrot on the head with his recent posts on low paying markets. It started with his post called Aspiring Writer Stockholm Syndrome followed by a later post called Final Notes...

What amused me was the apparent outrage from writers who thought Scalzi was being harsh.

Point #1: Many of the attacks I read appear to be from writers who were pubbed by these low-paying and no-paying markets--or want to be pubbed by them. They're responding defensively, assuming (in error) that it's a personal attack on their decision making.

Uh--no. It's simply an issue that should be addressed.

Do you care if a stranger gives away his property? No, of course not. But if you knew he wanted to make some money on it, wouldn't you advise him to look for a better deal rather than settling for the first person who was willing to take it?

Point #2: Almost all of them seem to ignore the fact that Scalzi was giving his opinion on his blog. It's not written in blood, guys. If you don't like it, move on.

One of the reasons I stopped posting markets on Market Mondays is because I got tired of seeing so many low or no-paying sites. If you're good enough to be published. You're good enough to be paid a decent rate.

There are, of course exceptions to every rule.

Some markets like Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet is known for showcasing the best writers. They don't pay much, but they make up for it with their outstanding reputation within the SFF community.

Other markets, small and relatively obscure are good for work you KNOW is not fit for traditional zines. It's quirky writing for quirky venues. I have a few friends who write bizarre little stories that don't fit anywhere else. I still wish they got paid more, and I'm sure they do too.

Few people, if any can make a livelihood from short stories. Even pro rates are paltry. If you want to make money writing short copy, get into article writing.

And if you're doing this for clips, would it kill ya to get paid for it?

Finally, to the 'artistes' who think payment is overrated... When you're alone at your keyboard, go ahead and call it art. But the moment that sub is ready for sunlight, and you want an editor to love your 'baby', it becomes a business transaction--whether you like it or not. The publication doesn't want 'your baby' because they think it's cute, they want it because they think it will sell zines. Don't romanticize it into something sublime.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Will e-Readers Save Reading?

Yesterday, I caught something I didn't think I'd see so soon. I saw a tv commercial for an e-reader. And then on a different channel, they reviewed five (big name) e-readers in the market today.

Coming from an advertising background, it was the commercial that fascinated me. I analyzed the images and music they used, and by jingle, they (Kindle) was right on the pulse of the market. The music was zippy, the colors were vivid and the images bordered on the surreal. They were targeting young adults with disposable income. Bingo!

Last week, Greg sent me an ad for a Sony reader at Walmart, in which they were also throwing in a $25 gift card into the mix. And before that, I interviewed a big name author (I'll give away her name as the interview draws nearer) and she made some interesting observations about e-publishing and SF and fantasy.

Best of all, prices for e-readers are coming down. I think we may be a year or two away from total immersion, but the revolution is well on its way.

2010 may be the year we welcome a new legion of readers.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Tell Me What To Do

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I'm a glutton for cute.

This video clip was created using PQDVD. I had so much fun putting this together and it was super easy to build. Me like easy!

I've already built several for my friends and family.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Dog-Powered Stump Grinder

:sigh: Iko's handiwork. This stump is in his dog run.

At least he's not eating live trees. He's slowly stripping this stump down to a nub. I figure he might be done with it by winter's end. Greg is pleased. He doesn't have to grind it down now.

You know the worst part? He drags in these big chunks of bark through the doggie door and into my studio. I've dealt with a lot of rotties, but hand to heart, I have never encountered a puppy with so much jaw strength. You should see him with his Kong toys. I can't even squeeze it under my foot, yet he gnaws on it as if it were soft chewing gum.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Countdown to Hibernation

It's been rather chilly out here. We almost had snow and I think in regions south of us, they did.

We always get excited when we get snow. It's rare and it's brief, but it reminds me of growing up in Chicago.

It'll warm back up into the 50s next week, but we should be on the chilly side for the next three months. Chilly, as in Maria needs a jacket anyway cuz she's a wus. My family in Chi-town would laugh at me, but I don't care. I don't like being cold.

The greenhouse is not finished. We decided to cover the length of the greenhouse with one layer of sheet metal along the side with the gap (see picture), but I ran out of husband before he got the job done. I rushed to cover the openings at either end then cobbled together a makeshift barrier for the 10 inch gap on the side before it got too cold. I have plants out there and I don't want them to die now.

We are still getting cherry tomatoes and jalapenos. My snow pea vines are also still producing. In the greenhouse I started some bok choy and brussel sprouts. I also got a nice surprise when the onions I thought had died came back to life.

I have very sturdy plants. I guess they have to be if they live with me.

I'm a little disappointed we needed to compensate for the extra width on one end of the greenhouse, but it is an awesome greenhouse nonetheless. If I had built one, it would have never been this big, so the inconvenience is negligible.

To save money, we decided to use a combination of plastic sheeting for the body of the greenhouse, and corrugated clear panels at the end caps rather than panels for the whole structure. There is no telling how long the sheeting will last. If we have to replace it too soon, next time we'll spend the extra dough for the panels. I went with the sheeting because I knew it would go up faster and right now time is of the essence.

First comes the bones.

Framing the back end. The weather turned against us before we could do the other side, but Greg says he won't have any trouble finishing it.

This is the gap we ended up with on the last twenty feet of the structure. The ironic part is that we measured the circumference--but at the opposite end, which required exactly a 20 foot width of plastic. This end was ten inches more at the widest.

Emergency cover up. It's not pretty, but it's sealed, at least until I can trick Greg into coming back to finish the job.

Bought a 40lb bag of wild bird seed for my feathered friends. I don't worry about them during the warmer months, but I imagine it's hard for them to find food when the trees lose their leaves. It's nice to watch them land at the giant feeder and eat to their hearts' content.

The squirrels have been circling the pole, but not a single one has tried to scale Mount Feeder. It's got a dome at the top and two more along the pole to keep them from a successful ascent. I'm waiting for a crack team of squirrel Special Forces to rappel off Black Hawk helicopters and raid my seed bin.

Mmm...roast squirrel.

Greg bought his home entertainment system and we even got it local. I'm not a sound aficionado but it seems very nice. We kept waffling between a Samsung system that got some good reviews and the Bose.

The Bose won, despite the $$. The best way I could describe it is that the Samsung was good, but it felt like someone was yelling at me. The Bose, even from several yards away had an elegant sound, as if someone was speaking to you. The sound was very clear and distinct regardless how soft or loud it was. Since we watch so many movies, I thought it made for a good investment. It should last us the rest of our lives.

Da boys enjoying their new theater system. The other boy is at the camera. You can barely see the edge of the tv, but the picture is incredibly clear. I still prefer my old fuzzy tv, but I wasn't allowed a vote since I'm a convicted tech offender.

I bought a dryer to replace my dead one. I went with a Whirlpool Cabrio to match the washer I bought when I moved here. I hated to buy another digital machine because I'm always afraid the computer brain will die out on me, but the washer has been phenomenal and was worth the extra money. It has no agitator, yet the clothes come out super clean on very little detergent and water. It's one of those high efficiency machines. I was skeptical, but the results have made me a believer. I hope the dryer is just as good.

After all these expenses, I am through shopping for a while. Other than finishing the greenhouse and future chicken house, I plan to become a hybernaut for the next three months. Hybernaut--a word Greg made up to describe someone (me) who cocoons during the winter months and plots stories of world domination and future gardens.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

More goodreads News

Speaking of goodreads...I joined On Fiction Writing when I saw my buddy, Mike Keyton was there. I also know one of the moderators, Carlos J. at the group. By the way, Carlos is the author of The Prisoner. If you like thrillers, I heartily recommend this book. Carlos outdid himself with the research involved and the pace is nonstop.

Goodreads also has regular book giveaways. Winners are randomly selected by goodreads, but their algorithms take into account how active you are on the site and the kind of books that are on your shelves.. Damselfly, aka Deborah Kalin, is also putting her book, Shadow Queen up on the giveaway board, so be sure to check it out. I didn't see the book at the time of writing this post, but it should be up soon.

Speaking of freebies, Dear Author had an interesting post the other day on whether we're more likely to read a book we've paid for over a book we received free. The comments were all over the map. I have to agree with the post that there is a better chance that I will read a book I paid for over a book I received for free.

I think the reason for this is that if I paid money for something, I want to read it, whereas if something is free, I am slower to respond. I do read anything my friends send me first, followed by those freebies that pique my curiosity.

A few months ago, when the big publishers were trying to push their authors through e-books, I downloaded a bunch of titles for free. Have not read a single one. These are NYT bestsellers and other big time authors, but they were quickly forgotten.

The freebies that I want to read are stored on my jump drive, so I can read them wherever I happen to be near a computer. The others sit forgotten on my hard drive, waiting for that elusive day when I have nothing to do. --like that's ever going to happen.

Giving away print and e-books is still the best way to gain a following and I am all for giving away books as long as the recipient really wants them and is not just hoarding or (gasp) reselling the books. Books are meant to be read and a gift should always be appreciated.

I know I will read more e-books when I get my reader. Prices for readers are coming down and the competition is fierce for our business. ...I can wait.

I really would rather read books on a lightweight reader than lug around a book. Just bring it down to a price I can live with.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Calling All Goodread-ers

Damselfly shamed me into setting up my profile at goodreads. Help! I am very nearly friendless out there. LOL!

Damselfly took pity on me, and friended me. After browsing her friend list, I did discover one other author I knew, but that was it.

I could have made it easy on myself. Goodreads like many other social networks is capable of scanning your email address book to find your friends on their site. knew there had to be a but. By now you know how paranoid I am when it comes to online societies. I don't want any outside source poking its nose through my address book. It is vast and it is private. I don't want to risk either receiving or passing any viruses.

This leaves me with manually typing in names, but I found out by accident that if my real friend didn't post his profile with his name as I know it, it doesn't recognize him.

If you are on goodreads and would like to rub noses, you can find me as Maria Zannini.

Of all the online book networks out there, I like goodreads the best. It was the easiest to navigate and it didn't seem intrusive or cutesy.

Homesteading news:

There was a setback on the greenhouse front. One end of the greenhouse is taller than the other end. The plastic sheeting we're using did not account for such an anomaly. Great chest beating and yowling ensued.

The saga continues.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Movie Review: Inkheart

Inkheart: We bought this movie without knowing anything about it. But I like Brendan Fraser, and I like the concept.

Mo (Fraser) is a 'silver tongue', and when he reads aloud, he can transport the characters and elements out of books into our world.

We were delighted to find Paul Bettany in the movie. Bettany is superb in anything he plays. And Helen Mirren as the eccentric old aunt was equally as charming.

I'd heard this movie got mixed reviews, but since I speak to so many writers and readers on this blog, let me assure you, YOU would not only understand the film, but like it as well. It's about books, about how they come to life, and about the writer and how we imagine our characters and our worlds.

I can heartily recommend this movie to any writer or lover of books. Don't forget to watch the bonus feature called "Eliza Reads to Us". It's the final passage of the actual book where it tells you what happened to all the characters.

If I had any regrets, I felt it was too short. There were so many other books I wish they had explored, and I would have loved to have seen more back story to the main characters. You could tell that the eccentric aunt (Mirren) had led a most interesting life, and the fire juggler (Bettany) had a lot more underneath his character than what was shown.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

What DUNE Taught Me

We tend to pick up dvds about this time of year. They're usually at the best price all year and there's a bigger variety out too.

One of our recent buys was DUNE, the film treatment for Frank Herbert's book. Being hard core sci-fi types, it was a hard movie to like. When it captured the book's original flavor, it was great, but when it tried to cram the epic within a neat time frame, it failed big-time.

I think Greg and I read this series back in the 70s, and even today we can recite entire passages, so the movie was a visual vehicle for what we already knew. But I would imagine huge chunks of the movie would be nonsensical to someone who had not read the books.

It's a shame. Epics on the whole are very hard to capture on film. It's even worse when it's a Dino de Laurentis production. I never saw a film maker so intent on overworking a movie. I think he's gotten less heavy-handed in later years, but I still cringe when I see his name on the credits. I expect it to be an elephant in toe shoes.

The part I hated the most was that the characters' thoughts were dubbed into the movie. It's intrusive at best, and peppered throughout the entire movie, it becomes mind-numbingly tedious.

But it brings to mind that this is the way the book was written. It was set in an omniscient pov, the standard narrative for a book of that era.

This explains why I was so confused when I first started writing fiction. Few people write omni anymore--let alone do it well. Yet, this is what I grew up with, and what I enjoyed. To write differently seemed almost sacrilegious. But as I expanded my array of reading, I realized that omni was not just "dated", but lacking.

Tight 3rd pov is much more engaging and exciting. It's the tickle of not knowing what every person is thinking that keeps the suspense rising as well as the interest. It was my epiphany as a reader and a writer. And I owe it all to Dune, the book and the movie.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Turkey Day Stressors

It's the day before Thanksgiving and not only has my clothes dryer died, but the keypad to both my ovens are not responding.

The dining chairs I have been waiting to go on sale ALL year have gone down to an incredible steal--but only for one day--Thanksgiving. Who opens their stores on Thanksgiving!

And finally, Greg tells me we must go shopping for a home entertainment system. I had promised him and now he calling in my note. [Maria looks up to heaven and asks, why now.]

Am I stressed?

Well, maybe the ovens have me a little concerned.

-I can line dry until I get my dryer.
-Greg can order his entertainment system online.
-And I know he will be a dear and buy my chairs on his own, while I tend hearth and home.

But the ovens... If push comes to shove, we might have to barbeque our turkey this year. LOL.

Maria, always with a backup plan.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Cooks Don't Stuff Themselves

I'm always surprised by (mostly) men who always wish me a Happy Thanksgiving with the added phrase, "Don't stuff yourself".

Speak for yourself.

Any woman (or man) who has cooked an entire Thanksgiving meal all by his lonesome is too TIRED to eat by the time the food is laid out and picture perfect.

I nibble on this or that--mostly the side dishes, but I save my feasting for the weekend to truly enjoy my labor.

It's a lot of work! Am I not right, fellow holiday cooks?

Not that the menfolk don't help, but for the most part Thanksgiving meals are by and large cooked by the women in the family. Greg, who always appreciates how hard I worked at putting together this feast has always washed dishes by hand and put up the leftovers. It's a tradition in our family now. And that's a perfect trade off for me.

By the time the bird, the side dishes and the desserts are made, all I want to do is put my feet up. I don't want to look at food, much less eat it.

My joy is in presenting something extra special for my family and friends. Once my part is over, I want people to eat as much as they want at my table. It doesn't bother me in the least that I'm too tired to eat. This is my gift to my guests.

I'm thankful they cared enough to spend the holiday with me. I'm thankful we have enough to share. --And if they want to thank me, they can clear the table.

I'll feast later--after I've recuperated.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Prudent Penny: Black Friday Deals & Decisions

We're counting down to the great holiday buying dash that is Black Friday.

Black Friday, for those of you who don't know, is the day retailers pull all the stops to get you into their stores. In the US, it always occurs the day after (US) Thanksgiving, which of course is always a Friday.

I thought they called it Black Friday because it's the one day retailers should be in the black despite any ill economic forecasts, which is true. But according to Wikipedia, the first modern use of the phrase appeared in 1966 to describe the traffic conditions on the day after Thanksgiving with all the shoppers out and about.

Originally, it was used to mark the 1869 stock market crash.

The vet I used to work for told me that's what he calls his wedding anniversary--but I'm sure he was kidding. ;o)

I don't shop on Black Friday. There is simply nothing I want so badly that I would be willing to risk life and limb among the hordes of rabid shoppers. They won't let me bring my sword and crossbow to the battle anymore--so I ain't going. It's dangerous out there.

We tried years ago and picked only one store--Best Buy. Worst. Mistake. Ever. People were parking on the sidewalks, on the grass and even along the highway. It was madness! Somehow we lucked out and found a spot just as someone was leaving, but it was shoulder to shoulder with every other shopper--and I'm short! There's no air down there for me.

We left disgusted. The one thing we came for had already been sold out. Mind you, the store had been opened only ten minutes by then.

We swore, never again.

So now I watch the crowds on the news, eat turkey sandwiches and pecan pie then curl up on the couch with Greg.

But if you are the diehard type, allow me to make it worth your while.

I found this site that lists all the major retailers who will have big sales on Black Friday. If you absolutely must shop, scan these flyers for potential deals.

If you must go out on Friday, here are some tips for saner shopping.

• Eat before you go out. You don't know if and when you'll have time for a bite. Restaurants are crazy too. Those hordes of locusts have to replenish themselves after they empty all those store shelves.

• Study your flyers and make a strict list. Buy only what you need. The retailers are trying to separate you from your money and will use any means to do it. Think with your head and not your emotions.

• If it's an item you must have and you can muscle your way in, shop EARLY. I mean it. Get there before the store opens and stand in line. You can't be everywhere at once so decide which item is worth most. Then work your way down the list of stores and hope your other items haven't sold out.

• Work as a team. Grab husbands, sisters, older children, and your crazy Aunt Tilly and assign everyone to a location so you can expand your reach and find things more quickly. Make sure your cell phones are charged so you can check in with each other.

• Leave little kids at home, please. Not only is it no fun for them, but it's a prime way to lose them or get them snatched. Leave them at home and keep them safe.

• When it's all over, go out to a nice restaurant far, far away from the retail center. Collapse into your chair and toast yourself for a job well done.

Cheers! My sofa and I salute you.

More Prudent Penny posts.

Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --

Friday, November 20, 2009

Swami Maria on Harlequin Horizons

I've been reading with interest as the Harlequin saga unfolded and I even discussed it with a few of my online friends, but mostly I'm sitting back with my popcorn and Milk Duds to see how this plays out.

While everyone is demonizing Harlequin, it's quite possible that it's a logical and lucrative move.

What?! Are you crazy Swami Maria?

Well, that's always possible, but let me finish.

Do I think Harlequin creating a vanity press is unethical?

Yeah, I do. But only when they were going to name the subsidiary Harlequin Horizons. The name Harlequin implies a respectable company. Publishing virgins and those desperate to see their names in print aren't going to care that it's self-publishing, they've got that Harlequin pennant to hang on to. They can squee to all their friends that they were published by Harlequin Horizons.

Do I think it's going to hurt their brand?

Nope. The average Harlequin reader is not a writer. They don't know squat about self publishing or why it's a stigma. And they don't care. They're never going to see a Harlequin Horizons book (or whatever they end up calling it) unless a family member shoves it at them.

It matters to us, but we're not the majority of the readership.

But Swami Maria, why is this a logical move on Harlequin's part?

Because it makes them MONEY. I've been studying Harlequin's business moves for several years and they've been alarmingly intuitive about where the industry has been headed. Most notably, they were the first major publisher to embrace digital. Now all the other big houses are playing catch up.

Do I like this business model?

Absolutely not. It sucks.

Money flows to the author. We were weaned on this. It was hammered into our heads. Money flows to the author.

Yet all it takes is one giant company to make one tiny move and that philosophy falls by the wayside.

This is one business model I hope does not work. But knowing human nature as I do, I have a feeling I'm clinging to false hope. Not only will it will work, I'm afraid it will become especially lucrative. There are just too many people out there with a "book idea". Frustrated with the traditional route, they just as soon pay for the privilege and hope for the best.

Harlequin wouldn't have gone this route if there wasn't a demand for it. And I will bet dollars to donuts, they're not the only ones with this plan on their drawing boards.

To add insult to injury, it's been reported that Thomas Nelson of WestBow Press offered a finder's fee to agents who refer new authors to his company. While most agents seem appalled with the advent of major players owning vanity presses, I've no doubt some will be lured to the dark side by way of kickbacks for services rendered. How many take their thirty pieces of silver is yet to be ascertained.

Take a look around. Self publishing companies haven't dwindled despite all the education and advice we give newbies. On the contrary, they're growing, and now the big boys want to play too.

How do you stop an entire population of wannabe authors?

Giving Thanks to Our Troops

My friend, Melina sent me this. If you go to this web site, and pick out a card, Xerox will print it and send it to a soldier serving in Iraq. You can't pick out who gets it, but it will go to a member of the armed services.

Whether you know anyone serving out there or not, wouldn't it be nice to let them know you're thinking of them?

It only takes a few seconds. Tell our kids over there how grateful you are.

Please pass this link around and let's send them a bunch of cards!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Prepping For Thanksgiving

With Thanksgiving (US) dinner coming up soon, it's time to plan ahead. This year I'd like to have company for dinner, so I'll have to make sure everything is perfect.

Turkey: Have you checked the prices at Wal Mart lately? They were selling turkeys for 33 cents a pound. I bought two good sized birds and I'm trying to make room in my freezer for another one. I usually spend 60 cents a pound for chicken thighs and legs when I cook for the dogs. 33 cents is a whole lot better than 60. I can chop off the legs for Greg (which is a treat for him) and cook the rest for the dogs.

Don't forget that most stores will start dropping prices on key ingredients the week of Thanksgiving. STOCK UP. You won't see that value again on that many items for the rest of the year. They drop some prices down around Christmas, but around here, Thanksgiving is the best time of the year for food value.

The best values I've seen this week was on chicken broth, canned vegetables and nuts. Every store is different, so it pays to browse their flyers and see what their loss leaders are. If you're in the vicinity, stop in and stock up.

What am I doing to prepare for company?

• Deep clean my house five days before company comes. That means windows, bathrooms, ovens and spare bedrooms.

• Put the frozen bird in the fridge four days before roasting.

• The day before Gobble Day, marinate the bird in salt water for at least six hours.

• Start saving my leftover bread pieces and add it to a pan of cornbread that has been cubed and frozen.

• Side dishes: This year, I'm having mashed potatoes, asparagus, herbed cauliflower, and baby peas and pearl onions. I will wait until the day before to get fresh asparagus, but peas I buy frozen, and the potatoes and cauliflower I can buy ahead.

• Salads: Salads are my specialty, but since I will have a lot to do that day, I will rely on already prepared salad greens with which I can add cherry tomatoes, chopped cucumber, carrots and feta and then toss with a special dressing.

• Desserts: I get a reprieve! I'm having my guests bring a desert each. I will have Blue Bell vanilla bean ice cream as an accompaniment though.

Speaking of guests, don't be afraid to ask them to do something or help with the vittles. I don't know of anyone who wouldn't want to chip in where they can.

Our last summer party was so hectic, I didn't get a chance to visit with any one person for very long. For this dinner, I want to be able to talk to my guests and enjoy my dinner.

What do you do to prep for a big day? Any tips?