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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Chaos In Action

Friday is the last day to enter the Shout Out Contest. See rules above on how to enter your blog. Tweet, blog and tell your buddies!

Notice the very Texan-y prize package. Sorry about the glare. That's a ruler with the catchphrase: Don't mess with Texas. (The slogan, by the way, was part of a campaign to keep people from littering.)

We were green before it was cool. :wink:

***

Monday was utter chaos. I live in the boonies and at no time did that become more evident than when I tried to get a car rental place to pick me up. The first one was out of cars. The second wouldn't even answer their phone.

In the meantime, a friend called to see how I was and I told her I was waiting for another car rental place to return my call. This angel took the entire day off from work, then drove an hour to reach me before driving another 160 miles to rescue Greg.

I've said this before, but I have the BEST friends in the world. I can't express how special that makes me feel.

Anyway, Greg is finally back at his house and I am at mine. It turned out his battery shorted out the electrical system. He said: We're hemorrhaging money faster than we can cauterize the wounds. --heh, no truer words.

No matter how bad our troubles have been, I have two friends who have had it worse, what with health issues, so I am counting my blessings.

June, thank you for coming. You can leave now.

What do you do when all heck breaks loose? Do you call your friends and family, or hunker down and ride out the storm?

I like to ride things out myself, but it's nice to know who you can count on when the manure hits the fan.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Two Videos For Writers

Over the weekend I came across two videos that every writer can relate to.

The first is an amazing discovery on how our brains process reading and writing. The delivery of this information is also genuinely clever.



The second I found on Kristin Nelson's blog. It's about the bane of all authors...the bad review.

I laughed out loud. I could easily picture myself in that author's place. Take a look and tell me if you agree.



***
I am still car-less. Yesterday, Greg had to go back to Zannini South. He only made it a hundred miles when the electrical system in HIS vehicle died.

Unbelievable.

It was Sunday afternoon and there are no auto repair shops or car rental companies open. Fortunately, the tow truck driver got him to a hotel where he waits patiently (watching tv and getting free breakfast) while I make arrangements to have somebody pick me up so I can rent a car.

This time I get to save him. Hee!

I can tell you about all the other things that have failed in the past week, but nah, it's too depressing. All that matters is that he's safe. I'll settle for that.

Ah, the joys of long distance relationships.

***
In the good news/bad news department, I got my new phone, the Droid Incredible. Yes, it is pretty incredible. I am overwhelmed at all the things it can do. And the wonderful bonus: I actually get reception INSIDE my house. Huzzah!

The bad news is that I am hanging up on people constantly and I am calling people I don't mean to call. My fingers (little as they are) keep hitting the wrong keys or never finding the right ones in time to answer the call.

It's a learning curve.

So far, I really like this phone. I can't wait until I learn how to use it.

PS If I hung up on you, I'm really, really sorry.

Let me know what you think of the videos.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Creating Home

Sometimes I stumble onto blogs. Creating Home is one of them. I found it on Twitter. It was so chock full of great recipes and memories that I lost track of time.

What made it all the more delightful is that I found a link to my blog there too. Thank you, Mac!

Right now, Creating Home is hosting a blog carnival where you can post a summer memory or recipe on your blog next weekend.

From Creating Home:


You don't need to be a USian. Just share a favorite memory, a favorite summer recipe, or anything else summer-nostalgia-cooking related that you feel like posting about and sharing with everyone. If you'll post a link in the comments, or email or PM your link to me in time to post the whole round-up on July 2nd, in time for the weekend. If you don't have a blog of your own, but you'd like to participate, just contact me and I'll put your piece up as a guest-post here on Creating Home.


This is a great idea!
The two things we can all have in common are good food and memories.

On July 2nd, I'll join in. I have no idea yet what I'll talk about, but I'm sure I have some quirky story hiding in my subconscious about a summer memory.

The only story I can't tell you is about a certain scandalous camping trip Greg and I took in New Mexico. (Yeah, Greg, you know the one. *g*) I guess what happens in New Mexico, stays in New Mexico.

But no matter, there are plenty of other adventures to tell.

Who's with me? I know several of you are FANTASTIC cooks and bakers. Toss in with me and post some recipes. Pretty please. You know all I can manage is guerrilla cooking. I need all the help I can get.

Stop over at Creating Home and tell Mac you'll post something too. I will definitely check out each link.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Buck Stop

I am always fascinated by how different people handle their money.

Before I moved 300 miles away from my husband, I handled all the money in the house. The buck stopped with me and I was responsible for making sure the bills were paid and the bank account was reconciled every month.

Why?

Because Greg had a bad habit of rounding everything in the check register to the highest dollar, so the bank statement always said we had more than what the checkbook reflected. Even today, he'll pay more than what he owes on his bills, knowing they'll just credit him the difference next month.

Drives me crazy.

Despite, his generous record keeping, he's been really good at being frugal even without my help. And even though we have different ways of handling money, I've always trusted him.

Shocking as it was, we even pooled our money together BEFORE we got married and created a joint checking account. I don't think any relationship expert would recommend it, but that's how sure I was about him.

My sister and best friend paled in horror when they learned how cavali
er I had been about my money, sharing it with a man I had barely known more than a couple of years.

They, on the other hand, not only kept separate checking accounts from their mates, but divided the household expenses so that each party is responsible for certain bills every month.

What shocks me is that my friend says she doesn't know how much money her husband has in his account and he doesn't know what's in hers.

Horrors! That would be sacrilege in my house.

She insists that it works for them...most of the time. There was a bit of a hiccup that one time when he bought a motorcycle with his money.

She didn't speak to him for two weeks. Ouch!

If Greg had done that, I can promise you, you would've heard me in the next state.

How about you? Do you share and share alike or do you divide the bills?

And the more important question: Has your mate ever bought an expensive toy without consulting you first?

In the interest of full disclosure I will tell you Greg bought a motorcycle once, but I'm fairly certain I was drugged, sleep deprived, and conned into it. When I came to my senses, he swore up and down I told him it was okay.

He must have asked his other wife.
Evil Dumb Maria.

Exhibit A: Does this look like something a sane woman would let her husband buy?

I rest my case.

***


The Blog Shout-Out Contest is still going on. You have until next week to submit your blog for a grand shout-out. See the sticky above for instructions.


I've come across some great ones so far and I'm looking forward to telling you about them. I'll only post a few a day so I won't drown you in links and it'll give you a chance to visit everyone. I think you'll like the people I've found.

Keep 'em coming.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Stranded In Texas, Come Visit

Somebody rescue me! I have been trapped in my home for nearly two weeks.

The engine to my SUV blew up. It was a complete shock, and we still don't know what happened. The dealer has it in their shop and now we are waiting to hear from them.

I should have known better than to believe the Service Department when they told me it would only be a week.

So now I am waiting to hear how much poorer I'll be and how much longer I'll have to muddle without a vehicle.


I've had plenty to keep me busy around here, but it also means I've been
neglecting my chiropractor visits. It also means I haven't gotten out to buy the Prize for the Blog Shout Out contest.

I'm trying to think of things that are lightweight. The last time I mailed a prize out (to the Netherlands), it was stupendously expensive. This time, I want to plan a
head. There are plenty of lighter weight goodies that are tres cool, yet Texan.

Greg is coming back this weekend and I hope to buy a few items for the prize package then.

***
In other news, James Garcia awarded me the Versatile Blogger award. I'm supposed to name fifteen other bloggers noted for Versatility, but I had another idea. Anyone who reads this, chime in.

Post in the comments one random thing about yourself. And then carry the torch to your blog and list six more.
The weirder the better. (I don't want to feel alone.)

As for seven random things about me, here goes:
  1. English is my second language.
  2. I haven't spoken my first language in so long, it takes me a couple of weeks of hearing it to converse intelligently again.
  3. My curiosity is greater than my fear of failure.
  4. The only thing I have ever failed to learn was how to swim. (I swim like a rock.)
  5. I love to laugh.
  6. I never met a dog I didn't like--their owners are sometimes a different matter.
  7. 1:26 was my fastest time at Mahjong. When I started writing, I gave it up cold turkey. I have never played since.
So how about you? Tell me one random thing about yourself.

--something tells me this could be turned into a drinking game.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Suicidal Chicken

There's a rooster in my flock who is looking to commit seppuku.

Every day, I let the chickens out of their yard so they can free range and forage for bugs and green stuff. I started them out slowly, letting one group out at a time and bringing them in after an hour or so.

Slowly, I've increased their time out. They've learned to come running when they see me because I'm the one with all the goodies.

Teaching them this has been an easy way to herd them back into their pen when the time comes. I throw some scratch into their aviary and they go racing inside.


All except one.

Sam.

Yesterday after a romp in the sun, I decided it was time for them to come inside. Everyone came in dutifully, except for one astralorp rooster. He's the biggest, and of course, the most independent.

But now he's messing with a tired, cranky woman who just wants to go inside and shower. What does he do? He races around the outside of his pen like a lunatic.

I have the door to his pen wide open. None of the inside chickens want to go outside because all the good grub is inside their pen. But not Sam.

I finally corner him and pick him up where he squawks like a big baby. I'm very gentle with the bird and pet him quietly so he knows nothing is going to happen to him.

He nips me!

:raises eyes to heaven:

I end up with a nice little welt on my arm. And he ends up with a new name, Suicidal Sam. I think he's daring me to put him in the pot.

All the chickens are doing well. I am seeing personalities in a lot of them. As far as I can tell I have four roosters among the astralorps and three roosters among the buff orpingtons. I only plan on keeping two roosters per each group.

The extras, we will allow to free range and I'll give them a place to roost at night, but I won't be feeding them grain. I'll dispatch them when they get plump enough. Sam better play his cards right. I don't go in for nipping and spurring. Well...at least not with chickens.

Update on my Victim chicken: Remember my little astralorp that was always getting picked on? It looks like 'he' is a she and since everyone has been going outside, everyone is getting along. No more bullying or 'hen-pecking'.

I am so happy my poor ostracized chicken is now an accepted member of the flock.

For more chicken stories, go here.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

How To Make A Sticky

All right, you pervs, get your minds out of the gutter. I'm going to show you how to make a sticky post for Blogger. Apparently, Blogger doesn't have a way to make a sticky post with an actual gadget, so you have to make one manually.

The reason I wanted a sticky was to announce this wild scheme that's been percolating in my head ever since a buddy of mine asked about the Google Friend Connect list.

First, I'm going to show you how to make a sticky post on Blogger. BeepTheGeek had the easiest instruction on this.

Here are the steps.
  1. Create a post.
  2. Publish it.
  3. Pull the post back to Edit mode and Change the Date to the far future, or however long you want it to stay on top of your other messages.
That's it. That post will always be above any other post because Blogger is placing it in order of date. Just remember you have to Publish first, then Edit and change the date.

I will try it on my next post to see if it works.

What? You're going to make a sticky, Maria?

Why, yes I am.


Here's my evil plan for the sticky. Tell me what you think and if you'd like to participate.

The trouble with blogs is that we don't introduce enough of our readers to other readers. You know me. I link a lot. I also make my Followers list public so you can check out other blogs for yourself.

What if we made this a contest? And what if I supplied the PRIZE?

Tomorrow, I will put up a sticky with the details. But here is what I want you to do from now until Friday, 7-2-10.

Tweet or post on your blog or forum that I am looking for blogs to shout-out. All blogs are welcome as long as it's not porn or spamalots.

Email me at mariazannini AT gmail DOT com.

That's all I want you to do right now. Tomorrow, I will post a Sticky with the rest of the details.

The goal of this contest is getting more followers and more eyes on your blog. Spread the word. You have a whole week to retweet and post on the blogosphere to your peeps (and their blogs). If I get an email from you, you are automatically entered in the drawing and the shout-out.

PS If ya loves me, you'll also add yourself as a Follower to this blog, but that isn't necessary to be in the drawing.

Even if you don't want a shout out for your blog, if you think your readers would like a shout out, tell them to email me.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Fail Big, Make Millions

By now, I'm sure everyone has heard about Abby Sunderland, the 16 year old girl who tried to sail around the world, and had to be rescued from the Indian Ocean when fierce storms destroyed her mast.

When I was 16, I was ready to take on the world. In my heart I knew I could tackle bigger challenges than what my parents allowed.

I left home at 18 because I couldn't bear to be under their collective thumb anymore. They were wonderful parents and I loved them. But I was not meant for safe harbors.

The straw that broke the proverbial camel's back was when they refused to let me go on an archeological dig in Egypt when I was 17. That was the day I decided I needed to leave as soon as I was 'legal'.

Not because I resented my parents, but because we saw the world too differently. They wanted to protect me from everything, and I wanted to experience everything.

Kings have ruled their countries at 16. Not so long ago, teenagers married, had babies, struggled and DIED in unknown frontiers and cruel conditions. During the Middle Ages, young children were expected to grow up much faster. It made sense. Life expectancy was short. Best to get started as soon as possible.

So when I hear of a 16 year old making headlines, I don't get as upset as other people. I understand the need to be more than a high school kid with a cell phone.

But this Sunderland saga runs a bit deeper than permissive parents. Because of the failed mission, the Sunderlands stand to make big bucks, maybe even more than the Australian teenager (Jessica Watson) who successfully did circumnavigate the world.

With the failed mission, there is drama, controversy, emotion, anger and even a happy ending. Does anyone else smell book deal, movie rights and high dollar speaking tours?

Still, I am a little irate with a piece of information I learned recently. Apparently, the Sunderlands don't feel they should have to repay the Australian government for rescuing their daughter. No word yet on whether the Aussie government will send them a bill.

I don't know how these things work in international waters, but if it were my kid, I'd be out there on my own dime to get her back.

Either way, the kid stands to make a killing for failing. Ain't that a kick in the head? Now if only I could fail just as spectacularly.

Most of you guys have kids. (I do not.) Would you allow your kid to follow his dream at 16? Given the chance, would you have struck out to follow your dream at 16?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Comment Monsters

Not long ago, Marianne Arkins mentioned that she didn't like to post a comment if there were already 20+ comments ahead of her.

I get that way too sometimes, but I'll comment even on blogs that have a lot of activity, like Jennifer Shirk's blog or Joanne DeMaio.

My reasons for commenting are varied, but these are the top six.

I like the blogger and I want to show support. What does it take me? 2-3 minutes to read the post and reply? I can afford that if it's someone who has entertained or informed me regularly.

I feel I can add something to the conversation. Ironically, this is also the main reason why I don't comment on heavily trafficked blogs. After 50 or more comments, I probably don't have anything original to add. And since I usually read the comments too, it would take too much time if there were that many replies.

The blogger makes it easy for me to comment. I don't mind typing in security codes or having my comment moderated, but there are a few Wordpress blogs out there that run you through the ringers if you want to see any future comments. I'll comment on a few of them, but it is a bit more of a hassle than other blogs, so I don't bother unless I know I have the time to go through the extra steps.

The blogger makes me feel at home on their blog. This is a biggie for me. I always feel welcomed and appreciated at places like Broken Biro, Marian Perera and Housewife Blues and Chihuahua Stories. They always respond to my comments and they visit here regularly. I feel loved.

The blog is well written and non-ranty. My teeth hurt when I read a blog full of typos, or the blogger rants like a big baby who lost her rattle. Get over it. No one wants to hear that.
(That's not to say you can't have the occasional rant. I'm talking about people who whine all the time.)

A blog that is clean, to the point, and positive makes me want to comment. I enjoy being there and I want to show my appreciation.

I like it when the blogger asks me a question. It makes me feel like they're interested in my opinion.

Reasons not to comment run the gamut too. Negativity, poor writing and bad manners are my biggest reasons for not commenting.

Also, do you ever notice when there is a back and forth conversation with just one or two other people? Sometimes they talk in code (or maybe tongues) to keep other visitors from knowing the back story or inside joke. It makes me wonder why the blogger made the post public. Go private and don't make your visitors feel so unwelcomed.

There are a few wildly popular blogs where I never leave a comment. The number one reason: The blogger treats his readers like minions. I won't list them, but I'm sure you know who they are. Why do people cater to those alligators? I have never figured that out.

So how about you? What's your number one reason for leaving a comment? What kind of blogs don't deserve a comment in your book?

***
I read and respond to every comment (usually here) but sometimes at your place or through email. If you take the trouble to comment, the least I can do is respond.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Need Movie Idol Suggestions

Help, movie buffs! I need to find a suitable male and female actor to help visualize my lead characters.

I'm drawing a blank for the male lead, but I have a quasi idea for the female.

What male hunk do you think of when you visualize a tall, handsome man who knows what he wants? Long black hair, soldier's physique, commanding presence, self-assured. Someone younger than Clooney but as imposing as Russell Crowe.

What female hottie do you think of when you visualize an arrogant and possibly spoiled princess type who is brainy yet impatient? Dark haired, perhaps Nubian looking.

I know how they look in my mind, but I'd like to have a couple of movie stars who can capture that look without me having to describe it to the art department. Words can be subjective, but a picture can nail down an idea.

Who are your current favorites? And out of curiosity...why are they your favorites?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Critiquing At Your Peril

As a rule, I rarely volunteer to critique work. Partly due to a post Maya Reynolds once wrote about her experience when she kindly agreed to critique a couple of people's work, and partly because time is precious. I'd hate to go through all the trouble of reviewing something and then find out all the crittee wanted was a cheerleader.

My cheerleader days are over and my pom-poms are retired. Sorry.

Maybe I'm a glutton for punishment, or maybe it was the way the two requests came along that I broke my rule and offered to review their works in progress.

I try to be kind, but I'm better at blunt. (ask any of my current CPs)

It is very, very hard to read a critical analysis of your work. When I review I don't think of friendship, reciprocity, or sympathy. I think: What will make this sellable?

I still remember the first critique I ever got from a well respected author/editor. She pinpointed my inadequacies with alarming precision. Her words stung for months. But it also changed me. Once I got over my bruised ego, I took another look at that manuscript and for the first time read it with the eyes of a stone-cold editor.

It was liberating, and it gave me a sense of renewed purpose and direction. The very next piece I wrote startled my regular CPs. They couldn't believe it was my work. My voice was confident. My style was bolder. And for the first time, even the 'VIP' authors took a peek at my work and commented.

I had stumbled onto the next level of writing proficiency and people were beginning to notice.

After that aha moment, I concentrated on critique partners who knew how to give thoughtful analysis. Then I spent several months analyzing my weaknesses.

Little by little, I chipped away at my issues until the narrative was fluid and the story thumped without life support.

Growth takes time, but it helps that my DNA is intertwined with mule chromosomes.

Every time I reached a benchmark, no matter how minor, I raised the bar. I found tougher critique partners. I studied good stories and bad ones. I critiqued a LOT of other writers' work. This helped me identify not only their weak spots, but also my own.

In short, I never stopped stretching myself. Even when it hurt.

I am glad I critiqued those two manuscripts. And I'm glad they're still talking to me. :grin: It helps to step out and sample other work, and to ask the questions that I need to raise about my own work as well.

Unlike poor Maya, neither of the people whose work I critiqued copped an attitude or tried to 'explain' their writing to me. (a pet peeve of mine) They said 'thank you' and moved on, which is the only thing I expected in return for my time.

Writers, how about you? Will you critique a new writer or only peers? What's been your experience while critting--or being critted?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Not A Permaculture Blog Post

Give a welcome to KS Augustin who is celebrating a book birthday at Carina Press. I asked her what she wanted to talk about and she sent me a post about her brief foray into permaculture...and government agencies.


You can bet that wasn't pretty.


I just finished reading IN ENEMY HANDS, and I adored the main characters and their dire predicaments. At one point I was at the edge of my chair saying, "Don't do it!" ...I'll leave you to wonder why I was yelling that.


If you tire of the same old science fiction, I urge you to buy this book. It's intelligent SF with a dash of romance. My favorite! Buy your copy here.


For now, I give you KS Augustin.


***


I know Maria has lots of readers who are interested in homesteading and raising chickens and things like that. To those people, I'm a bit of a bust because I'm a real urban type. That's not to say that I don't think of having chickens and a pig and things like that but, in reality, I just don't have the personality for it. So people like Maria have my unwavering admiration.


However, on the way to realising that I have a truly urban outlook that precludes the kind of self- discipline that a homesteader has (not to mention the huge tracts of land), a funny thing happened. At one point in our wanderings, J and I settled in Melbourne, Australia. We bought one acre of land and built a house. And we thought, hey, one acre of land! What can we do with that?


“Chickens?” I suggested.


“A bee hive?” J loves his honey, oh my!


“I tell you what,” I said to him, “I'll ring the local Council and ask them about their regulations.”


“Good idea,” my husband says.


So, the next morning, I call Manningham City Council. “Hello,” I say, “I'd like to enquire about chickens and bees.”


“What about them?” the lady at the other end of the line asked.


“Well, how many can I keep?”


“Up to four,” she told me.


Completely straight-voiced, I asked, “Is that chickens or bees?”


Silence. “That's chickens. You'll have to talk to the State government about the bees.”


As much as I like dealing with local councils...you don't believe me, do you? No, it's true. I like spending some time with people at my local council office. For the most part, they really do try to do the right thing, and I think they're a much maligned segment of the public service population. That's not to say they don't get annoyingly pedantic from time to time but, overall, I'd rather have them there than not. Anyway, getting back to the story, although I like talking to employees of local councils, I have discovered that they do sometimes tend to be slightly diminished in the humour department.


Then again, dealing with all of us from the great unwashed public, maybe that's not surprising.


This anecdote has nothing whatsoever to do with a book I have coming out. The book, IN ENEMY HANDS, doesn't cover egg-laying or honey- gathering, although it does involve stellar mechanics, an amnesiac hero, a guy called Hen, and a weapon that can kill millions. It'll be available from Carina Press on Monday, 7 June. I hope you like it.


(Oh, and help your local council and give a local authority officer a smile today. Just to see the look of shock on her/his face, if nothing else!)



IN ENEMY HANDS


The Republic had taken everything from Moon—her research partner, her privacy, her illusions. They thought they had her under control. They were wrong.


Srin Flerovs, Moon's new research partner, is a chemically enhanced maths genius whose memory is erased every two days.


While he and Moon work on a method of bringing dead stars back to life, attraction between them flares, but that poses its own problem.


How can their love survive when Srin forgets Moon every two days?


When she discovers the lethal applications her research can be put to, Moon knows she and Srin are nothing more than pawns in a much larger game. Together, they must escape the clutches of the Republic before they become its scapegoats. But there are too many walls around them, too many eyes watching. They want to run, but they're trapped on a military vessel in the depths of space, and time is running out....


Bio


KS Augustin is a Malaysian-born writer of science-fiction, romance, and permutations of the two. She also dabbles in fantasy and contemporary action romances from time to time. She has been nominated for a CAPA award and has been a Spectrum award finalist.


She has visited, lived or worked in the UK, North America, Australia, and has now settled back in south-east Asia so she and her husband can draw breath and the kids can manage to get some education in.


Also travelling with them, with species-appropriate passports, are their two fur-shedding cats, Fluff and Squeak, and their irrepressible miniature bull terrier, Sausage.


For more on KS Augustin, visit her website and blog. You can also track her down on Facebook and Twitter. Just look for “ksaugustin”.


***

Winner

Thanks to everyone who entered What's My Name contest. Radomizer selected Mike Keyton as the winner for IN ENEMY HANDS. Congrats, Mike! I will contact you for delivery details.