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Friday, December 31, 2010

And She's Back!

I was never so happy to be able to flip on the lights--and have them come ON. 

We have a very old generator at Zannini South. The last time we used it was five years ago during Hurricane Rita, then ten years before that for some other hurricane I no longer recall. Greg used to be good about cranking it regularly to keep it primed, but that sort of fell by the wayside 20 years ago. So it's always with great trepidation and then relief when the thing starts up again.

The ironic thing is we have a brand new and much bigger generator at my place, but it was too big and heavy for me to carry in my vehicle. Even if my neighbors could help me load it--I don't think my light duty truck could have handled it for such a long trip. 

But all's well that ends well. My only disaster at home was a hose I forgot to disconnect. We had a freeze while I was gone and it burst the hose. I had water everywhere. After what I've been through, this was minor.

Now I have to hustle to finish my edits for Apocalypse Rising before my editor, Deb Nemeth chops me up into bite-sized Maria pieces and feeds me to her zombie fishes. 

I hear she keeps author-eating fishes in a special feeding tank. She waves red-stained manuscript pages at the beasts and it makes them rabid for "deadline-missing" authors.

:Hand to heart: I've never missed a deadline. Besides, I don't want to get eaten.

***
Today is New Year's Eve. A time to reminisce and to look ahead. 2010 has been a good year for me. And I think 2011 will be even better. :o)

What one event, good or bad, was the most memorable for you this year? 

And who's staying up tonight? Of course, you guys on the other side of the world have already welcomed the new year. Did you stay up?

~~~~~

Here is my New Year's wish for you. Whatever your desires, may 2011 exceed all your expectations. And no matter what happens, remember that you are surrounded by people who think the world of you. --I know because I'm one of them.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Still In The Land of Cold and Dark

Still no power, but they're almost done. We just have to wait for the power company to come in and make the final connection.

It's been a rough existence, but we've been in good spirits. Tuesday was the worst day since we couldn't even run the generator while the workmen were making installations and connections. Today, with any luck, Entergy will finish the job.

I'll try to catch up on blogs when I get back to my place. I am trying to avoid powering up the computer so the fuel will last longer for the more important appliances.

Talk to you soon!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Best Laid Plans...

For the first time in 35 years, Greg and I couldn't be together on Christmas Day. I was just about to leave the house and make the five-hour trip to his house when he called and said one of our pine trees knocked down our power line. The force was so great, it ripped the meter off the house. Oy!

To add insult to injury, he couldn't come up to me because he is working for the next three days.

Of all the times to lose power, why did it have to be Christmas Day? Our biggest worry was all the food he had bought in anticipation of my arrival. I was planning on cooking a big feast, but with no power, he kept the refrigerator door shut to preserve the cold for as long as possible.

By the second day without power he was losing hope and needed his wife for comfort and support, so I made the pilgrimage down there. Bless Greg's heart, somehow he got our old generator working so we saved the food.

I am keeping my fingers crossed that it'll keep working until the electric company can restore our power--after we call an electrician first to replace the meter. A friend of ours warned us that little expense is going to be pricey, but we don't have a choice. Code demands that meters be replaced by certified electricians.

It's been a very stressful holiday. 

I hope your Christmas was a good one. I know some of you are dealing with some pretty harsh weather. Hope everyone is safe. What's been happening at your place?

Are there any last minute things you plan to do before the year ends?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Christmas Tree

Brace yourselves. This story includes mass anarchy, bloodshed and tears. 

Greg and I were newly married and poor as proverbial church mice. Those were lean times, and we were as skinny as our wallets, living from hand to mouth for the first few months of married life.

So when Christmas rolled around, there was very little hope for anything more than a meager holiday meal. Still, I had been saving for weeks and had socked away enough to buy a little tree. 

It was a horrible indulgence for two people struggling to make ends meet, but it was Christmas, and I was anxious to start our own family traditions. This would be our first Christmas on our own. Our families were 1200 miles away and we were all alone in Texas.

Greg, a jolly fellow—even if he was underweight, agreed that we should spend our last twenty dollars on Christmas.

We made a pilgrimage to the land of fir and holly, otherwise known as the local grocery store. The store was packed with frenzied shoppers and the lines stretched into the aisles. They were so busy they pulled the only guy they had manning the Christmas tree lot to help inside the store. 

In the chaos, we finally found the store manager and he told us to go ahead and pick out our tree and he’d send a clerk to ring us up. 

I picked out a thick and sturdy ten dollar tree. To this day I still remember how fresh it smelled. We steered it in the general direction of our little MGB, maiming Greg in the process. I zigged. He zagged. But only the tree came out of it unscathed. As Greg sucked on his bleeding finger, we waited for the clerk to show up. 

And waited, and waited. 

Twice, each of us went back to find the manager and he kept promising to send someone out there. Twenty minutes later we were still waiting. I went back one more time and the manager met me halfway. 

“Has anyone come out yet?” he asked. 

I shook my head.

He looked back toward the store, the lines as long as ever and then at us, two skinny kids, wide-eyed and anxious to be on our way. 

“You picked out a nice tree,” he said, pointing at a tree that buried most of our little car.

I showed him the color-coded price tag on the tree, then handed him our only twenty dollar bill. “Can you break the twenty for me?”

“Afraid not,” he said. “I guess you’ll have to take it home.” 

I stared at him dumbfounded, not understanding what he meant. By this time, Greg had joined us and asked if we could pay him instead.

“Nope,” the older man said. He shook Greg’s hand and wished us, Merry Christmas. 

I must have had tears in my eyes because everything went blurry all at once. I looked up at the store manager and thanked him. “This is our first Christmas on our own,” I said.

He smiled. “And I’ll bet it’s one you’ll always remember too.”

More than thirty years later I realize now…he was right.

May all your holiday memories be just as warm and kind.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

No matter where you are today, I hope it's with someone you love.

***
This is a rerun of my very first post that appeared at Samhain Publishing's blog in December 2007.

So how was your Christmas? Did you get anything special--or something you really wanted? 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Wrap An E-Book, Really

Iko has graduated. And he performed his final exam to near perfection. I was so proud. 

I was a little worried though. We've had a guest dog at our house since Friday and interruptions to his routine sometimes drive him to distraction. You remember my fluffy terror, the chicken chaser, don't you? Yes, Princess is back.

Iko's true test comes next week. We ordered furniture over the weekend. It'll get here on Christmas Eve. This time we picked out two sofas, one in leather with theater-like seating, and the other cloth. That one looks just right for napping. :grin:

***
Jennifer Shirk invited me to blog at her group blog, Passionate Critters where they're hosting the 12 days of e-books. I racked my brains trying to come up with a fun post for this series and I discovered that nowhere in the entire span of the internet has anyone ever written about how to wrap an e-book. 

Eureka! I found my topic. So I came up with a couple of novel solutions that are not only easy to do, but also memorable.

They are super-easy projects that take less time to make than wrapping a gift box. Check it out and let me know what you think.

***

I'm taking the rest of this week off, but I'll be back on Christmas Day. I hope you'll come back and visit with me after you've had your fill of food and company.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Counting Down

I've been holding out on Greg. I know you're not supposed to keep secrets from your spouse, but I had a good reason.

We've hardly spent any time together lately, and when we did, there was always some homesteading project we had to tackle. So when he last left, I decided to show him how much I appreciated all his hard work and sacrifice.

I wasn't planning on decorating because I'll be traveling between houses, but Greg was going to be here for a few days before Christmas. Why not welcome him home with the full spread?

For the past couple of weeks, I've been decorating, shopping and cleaning the house fit for company. We haven't bought presents for each other in years. But this year, I broke our pact and loaded a table full of presents.

He drove in extra early on Thursday and there was a chance he could get here before I woke up, so I got up in the middle of the night and turned on all the Christmas lights on the trees and the garland.

It was worth it just to see the look on his face. He's been shaking boxes ever since. LOL.

***

Iko graduates from doggy school this Sunday. He's still a goof, but he's calmed down--sort of.

As soon as I drive into the parking lot of Petsmart (where he has his training) he starts vocalizing. And then he really gets loud when he sees the trainer. OMG! You'd think she was his long lost friend.

It takes him a good twenty minutes to calm down (which is why I always go in early). Needless to say, he's exhausted by the time he gets home. But Sunday will be it. No more excursions into town. No more seeing his buddy, Dakota. (Yes, Marianne, the dog's name is Dakota!) 

Dakota is a lab/husky mix. He's less than a year old and in the past two months has grown as tall as Iko. Iko still outweighs him by 30 pounds but they take turns being submissive to one another. 

The boys have become best pals. I'm glad Iko had a buddy close to his size and age. Iko can be a little overwhelming to the uninitiated.

***

So is everyone ready for Christmas? I still have to bake bread for the neighbors. What do you have left to do?

PS  Be sure to visit me on Monday.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Author's Life

Last week, a friend approached me with a writing project that was very intriguing. Was I interested? Heck, yeah. But right on the heels of this offer, two other people contacted me and asked if I would guest blog on their respective sites.

No problem, I said. Those gigs aren't hard. And it's good networking. Then came another request, and then another. Would I like in on a super sekrit group project? Would I review such and such a book? Would I participate in a giveaway? Would I be interested in judging a contest?

Whoa. Stop the train. There comes a time when you are stretched so thin, you have to say, enough. No more projects, reviews, judging, guest posts, contests, and social media. No more herding cats through a gauntlet of drooling rottweilers.

I have a stack of books on my nightstand that I haven't touched in three months. I distract my husband with X-box games so he doesn't feel so neglected. There are enough fallen leaves on my six acres to start a forest fire. And I can't remember the last time I actually did something just for myself.

For the past three years, my whole life has centered around some aspect in publishing. I'm not complaining. I knew what I was getting into. But it's a little like a Ponzi scheme. The more you invest in your career, the more you have to keep supporting it by means of networking, marketing, reading, editing, and yet more writing.

Those of you who have books on the market know what I'm talking about. The cycle is endless. 

A friend of mine said it best when she said: If you CAN stop writing...stop. 

Easier said than done.

Once you get on this slippery slope, you can't take a break. You can't say: Oh, I'm tired, bored, busy, etc. I'll do the writing, editing, marketing stuff later. 

It doesn't work that way.

If you do take a breather, you risk having to start all over again. I've seen it happen to several authors who took a break to have babies, get married, get divorced, or have a life. Some of them haven't made it back yet. Some never will. 

The longer you stay out of the game, the harder it is to get back in. So you push forward, even if it's little baby steps.

It's especially hard around the holidays when we all have a million more things to do than usual.

How about you? Do you ever think about how much time you've invested in your career? Does it ever intimidate you?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Decorating Tips

I designed and built many a Christmas window during my stint as a display artist for two department store chains. What? You didn't know I was a display artist? LOL! I have many hidden talents. Sometimes they're even useful.

Over the years, I've incorporated a few tricks to my decorating. Here are a few of my favorites.

• Personalize your tree with little frames you can get at hobby shops. Print out photos of family, friends and pets and slip them into the frames.

• Walk through the woods and look for the survivors of winter. Large pods, nuts, moss and pine cones work great for projects. Spray paint pine cones and bare sticks, then lace them throughout your tree for a natural homespun Christmas.

• Stuck with a skimpy fake tree? Here's something I did for years that works great. Buy garland in the same shade as your tree. Before you decorate, wrap and tease out your garland in between the bare spots, going all the way around. It will look fat and lush. Once you put the decorations up, you will never be able to tell the difference.

• Most of the garlands in stores are way too skinny and sparse. Weave two strands together for a fuller, richer looking garland.

• Who says you have to have one big tree? Buy multiple tabletop or small floor trees and put one in each room. Not only does it give you a chance to decorate with different themes but you spread Christmas throughout the whole house.

• Don't waste money on those cheesy tree drapes. Go to the fabric store and scour through their remnants and buy something rich and brocade. You don't even have to sew it. Just drape it around the tree and tuck the raw edges under.

• When you create your tablescapes, go for lush. Fill the space, layering and building up as well as out. I hadn't had time to bring down all my boxes but I made a little tablescape from what I had on hand.


And to keep you in the holiday spirit, stop by and visit Passionate Critters, a group blog belonging to the lovely and popular Jennifer Shirk where they are hosting the '12 Days of E-books'. Every day they are going to post a different article on all sorts of aspects of e-books and e-publishing. You won't want to miss it, I'll even be there next week to throw in my two cents.

***
Ooh, and go over and catch me at LASR today where I'll tell you ten things you probably didn't know about me. Leave me a comment over there and tell me something most people don't know about you.

Now, back to our decorating discussion. Have you finished? What's left to do?

There's only one thing that makes me groan about decorating. I hate having to drag the decorations down from the attic--especially with this bum knee. I've got twelve big bins full of Christmas goodies and I only brought four boxes down so far. How about you? Where do you store your stuff?

***

Update: I'm sad to report I didn’t get enough votes to make it to the next round at RT Reviews. I’m not too upset though. I got what I wanted, the chance to bounce ideas off a much more seasoned writer. Besides I’m already published, so it’s not as if this was my first time up at bat. I don’t think any of the remaining finalists have any books yet, so maybe this will be their chance to get out there.

I want to thank you all for being so supportive and kind. You guys have been awesome. Don’t worry about Mistress Of The Stone. I know I’ll be able to sell that novel somewhere down the road.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Best Gift

In 1976, Greg and I scraped every penny we had and bought an old sea captain's house, circa 1902. The down payment alone almost killed us. If you see pictures of us from back then, you can tell we probably missed a meal or two. (I'll never see that kind of skinny again. LOL) 

Times were hard but we didn't care. We were newly married and having the time of our lives, a grand adventure in a strange new land called Texas.

But Christmas was right around the corner and we both knew there wouldn't be any Christmas presents under the tree that year. (I'll tell you about that magic tree in a future post.) 

Greg knew I was very lonely in Texas. I didn't know anyone. I hadn't yet learned to drive. And our families were far away. I was miserable. 

Worse than that, we were dog-less!

There's something about being young that makes you believe that anything is possible. Make no mistake, we were poor. And any reasonable person knows that you don't get a dog if you can barely afford yourself. But it just wasn't home without a dog, so we scraped up the ten dollars for the pound fee and went to the local shelter.

The pound was horrific. It was dirty and cramped and it was a fair bet that hardly any animal got out of there alive. I clung to Greg, afraid to touch anything, it was so gross. And then I came across two little puppies with pushed in noses.

One was in the water dish, but the other one came up to us right away. "That one," I told Greg. She's the one.

We took her home and I wanted with all my heart to believe she would turn into a German shepherd. In the early 70s there was a tv show called Run, Joe, Run, about a German shepherd wrongly accused of a crime. I wanted a dog just like Joe.

Being a girl dog, I called my puppy, Joey. 

It turned out she wasn't a German shepherd at all, but too late, the name stuck. 

Here's a picture of Joey all grown up. That's Chicago snow in that picture.

Greg has bought me many beautiful things over the years but my favorite gift of all was a ten dollar dog called Joey. It was a lot of money back then, especially if you didn't have any to spare. But Joey was worth every penny. She made us a family. And I was never lonely again.

So that's my best gift. What's yours?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Scourge

Iko. My penance on earth.

Who would have guessed that tiny puppy who whimpered so piteously would turn into a 90 pound heathen with a fetish for leather and expensive rugs?

Iko has chewed the heavy cording of all three pieces of my leather furniture suite, and snacked on three oriental rugs, two comforters and countless pillowcases. I don't even want to discuss what he did to my entire season's worth of 8 week old seedlings. I'm still in therapy for that.

He is profoundly sorry when he's committed these crimes and will lay his head on my shoulder or offer me his paw. 

But he has no long term memory. When I show him the shreds of my rug, his eyes widen in abject horror. "Who me? No. No. It had to be someone else. I've never seen that rug before in my life."

I've raised dogs well over 35 years and I have NEVER met so chewie a beast. But the more I study him, the more I doubt it's deliberate. 

When I catch him, it's like he's exercising his jaws. He likes things that give him a challenge, and he needs variety because he switches from leather, to wool, to his giant Kong toy.

Someday, I'll have to post a picture of his 'rock collection'. That dog will go out and FIND rocks to chew whenever I've forbidden him leather furniture.

Rawhide bones occupy him for less than an hour. The average dog toy is an insult to his mandibles of death. And his crate is a common companion when he's been bad. I have spent HUNDREDS of dollars in chewies, Kongs and cookies. More play time with him seems to bring out his cravings rather than lessen them. (I think it's the excitement.)

That dog may be only part rottweiler, but his teeth are definitely the rottie half. He once sawed through a solid leather leash in less than three seconds.

It's getting better. He doesn't chew as often as before, but I can never let my guard down. He's like a nicotine fiend. He gets cravings. Doggie school has helped in that he's so tired when he gets home, he has no desire to do anything but sleep. (Me too.)

He knows to sit at the door until I'm ready to let him out. He knows not to chase chickens--though I can see the lust in his eyes. And of course, he knows all the basic commands. In short, as long as someone's with him--he's perfect.

Iko is very bright. We housebroke him within a couple of weeks, and he learns commands almost immediately. He's no dumb bunny.

But he's still a chewer. In a month or so I'll be getting new furniture and that dog will have to spend the rest of his life at my feet. Not a bad life sentence, but what about poor Tank? He's going to think I love 'Buzzsaw' more than him. Poor Tank.

Misery loves company. So I'm opening this up to the floor. Have you ever had a misbehaving pet--or child? What's the worst tragedy he's ever committed?

Years from now, I might think on Iko fondly, but today he's still my penance on earth. Whatever my sins, surely I must have paid for them by now.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Editing & Facebook

A writing post today! I know. Weird, right? Try not to faint.

For the last couple of weeks I've been neck-deep in edits for Apocalypse Rising. I was so focused on edits I barely visited blogs, Twitter or Facebook.

I'm always so impressed with editors. Sometimes when I read their suggestions, I punch myself in the head. 'D'oh! Why didn't I see that?'

On Apocalypse Rising, I was shocked and amazed to have found one typo. Just one. Not bad for a manuscript that's only been edited once.

The edits were actually pretty easy, but between working on homestead projects and my paying gig, I really had to struggle to find enough quiet time to work. Edits are one of those things where I have to talk to myself. I read some of the copy out loud. And for that I need quiet.

Sometimes I use text-to-speech software to read certain scenes for me. I don't use it often, just on areas where I can't pinpoint what's bugging me. The program is slow and the voice is annoying, but I find that if I listen closely, I can catch the part that needs smoothing.

I use NaturalReader which is free, but if you buy the paid version, you get a bigger range of voices.

Writers: Do any of you read your manuscripts aloud?

Oh, and speaking of reading aloud. I found out True Believers will be coming out in audio December 7, 2010. 

I'm curious to find out what the narrator sounds like--and crossing my fingers that he/she will pronounce everything correctly. I'll update the link when it goes live, but you'll be able to find True Believers at Audible.com.

With first round edits under my belt, I'm breathing more freely and I'll be able to visit more people. 

I've been a little dismayed with Twitter. It's still hard for me to keep up and I don't even follow that many people. The posts aren't particularly interesting either. Some are. But most aren't.

Facebook, I am shocked to say, is not as aggravating as I thought it would be. And I've enjoyed quite a few conversations lately, including a recent thread on zombie chickens.

Some people send me games, or treasure, or something like that. I don't play along, mostly because I can't afford to add any new distractions and secondly because I don't want to get too sucked into Facebook quicksand. I still thinks it's evil. LOL.

So don't be offended if I don't play along. (Most of the time I don't understand what the invitation means anyway.)

The one thing I wish I could figure out is how to follow specific friends. I tried doing that list thing, but it just lists them, it won't let me view their comment threads alone in my feed.

Sometimes there are so many people updating that I miss the people I really want to follow. What I want is for FB to notify me when these friends post, so I can comment on their threads.

Oh, and in case you missed it, Facebook has updated their privacy settings again. (I told you it was evil.) It's called 'Instant Personalization' and it shares data with other web sites. Be sure to check your account settings. Some accounts are set to 'Enable'. Mine was not, but other people have told me, theirs were.

Go to Account > Privacy Settings> Applications and Websites> Instant Personalizations> Edit or Customize Settings. From here un-check "Enable".

If your friends don't do this, your info can still be shared through them. Pass it on.

*So, Facebook experts, back to my 'following' problem: how can I create a personalized feed of your threads alone without jumping through a lot of hoops? Is there a way?

Are you on Facebook? Leave me your exact link, or just friend me here

Note: Yeah, I know all you FB fiends are just chortling at me. Every day you drag poor Maria a little bit further into the dark side. What will you do once you have me under your complete dominion--sacrifice me to some FB golden idol?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Worst Gift

Earlier this week we talked about gift ideas. But the discussion quickly disintegrated into laughter when Krista Ball commented that she once gave a box of tampons as a gift to the ungrateful girlfriend of her brother-in-law. (The year before said girlfriend dissed her cookies.) 

It got me to thinking about the gifts I've received over the years. So today, let's dish together. What is the WORST present you have ever received in your life? (Next Friday, we'll do the best gift.)

I am not fussy about gifts. It doesn't matter if they're handmade, re-gifts, or from the secondhand store. As long as it's clean, I'll take it in the spirit it was given.

But the worst gift I ever received was at an ornament exchange party. I'd never been to one before and was intrigued. The rule was we were to spend no more than five dollars on an ornament. 

At the party, we set out our ornaments and the hostess starts off by exchanging the ornament she brought with someone else. We go down the line, exchanging ornaments, regardless whether the ornament had already changed hands more than once. This continues until everyone ends up with a different ornament.

In a perfect world this would have been great, except we had one guest who brought in a slap-dashed ornament. It was a clear plastic globe with a tarnished cap; inside she had filled it with shredded paper. (We even knew where she got the paper.)

When placed next to all the other ornaments, it was clear hers was a last minute thought. No one wanted to exchange with her, but of course we had to. Everyone was required to pick an ornament and keep exchanging until all had gone through the process. 

Guess who got the shredded paper globe?

It was kind of sad because everyone else at the party brought in beautiful works of art, a couple were even handmade. I cheated a little and bought a very expensive old world German glass Santa which I got on sale the year before for 75% off. But it met the $5 limit, so I felt safe in bringing it.

Anyway, that turned out to be my 'worst' gift. When Krista said she gave tampons to that ungrateful woman, I thought to myself, it could've been worse, honey. You could've ended up with a shredded paper ornament. 

Oh, yeah, did I mention the plastic globe was cracked?

So what's your worst gift ever?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bring 'em To Your Blog

That flying saucer house I mentioned a few months ago continues to get mega hits. Recently someone from the UK sent me an email requesting permission to use one of my pictures for an upcoming publication on composite materials in UK housing.

In an age where people are constantly swiping art, photos, and [sigh] books, it's refreshing to have someone contact you and do the right thing.

The arthritis raisin remedy also gets a lot of hits. Followed by various Google searches for homesteading, hot virgins, and *my* name. 

I'm not sure I like where this is going. LOL.

Did you know that Blogger has its own stat counter now? It still can't count how many people read you on RSS or Google Reader, but it sounds like it'll give you a fair indicator on what your hot topics are.

If you use Blogger, go into Draft mode, (where you create your post). To the far right, there's a new tab called Stats.

Here, it'll parse it out between Overview, Posts, Traffic Sources, and Audience. I never think to look at this tool, but it can be useful to see which topics bring the most traffic.

So how about you? What's brought you the most traffic? And if you follow stats, what is the most bizarre keyword that has ever brought someone to your site?