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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dogs & Emus

In last week's post, I showed you pictures of our rheas. Here is a picture of an emu father and his chicks. The chicks are striped when they're little. (see them in the foreground)

They're far more striking than the rhea but not overly friendly. As with all our animals, we introduced the dogs to them one by one. 

Back then, there was Isis, the Smartest Dog In The World. Chelly, the dog you see in my author picture. And Nacho, another rottie who was a puppy at the time.

Isis was cautious. The emu male approached her and she took a step back. He pushed her a little farther and she took another step back. All of a sudden Isis was backed up against the barn wall and this look came over her that said: I don't think so, Fluffy. Those hackles raised and she walked that emu right back to the fence line.

Chelly didn't know what to make of the giant bird. This time the emu didn't take any chances and he charged her, stomping on my poor dog with his big clawed feet. All four legs splayed out, but just like a cartoon dog, Chelly popped back up. I was so angry at that bird that I chased him all the way back to his huddle of hens. Nobody messes with my girl. LOL.

Nacho was in a class by herself. After seeing how the other two dogs handled themselves, we didn't hold much hope for a ten month old rottie. She was still a baby.

We were in for a shock. Once again the male emu charged, but before we could push him away, the puppy lunged at the bird, jumping straight up, then grabbed him by the throat. She kept him pinned down and never broke the skin--despite his thrashing. The bird outweighed Nacho, but that didn't matter to her. She was absolutely fearless.

Of all the dogs we've ever had, Nacho was the most serious and steadfast. She never took a day off and looked after us to her dying day.

My girls were great helpers around the ranch. I still miss them. My boys are not nearly as industrious. I suppose Tank doesn't have to do anything but look big, and Iko is still my scorpion hunter, but they are lazy cusses compared to my girls.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Not-So-Famous Birthday

Lady Gaga isn't the only one having a birthday today. I want to thank my mother for bringing me into this world and also thanks to my father who thought it was a good idea nine months earlier. 

I've never had confirmation on what he thought of his bright idea after I made my debut. According to my sources, I was a great deal of trouble in my youth and conformity was never in my stars. But it's been a grand life so far and I have a sneaking suspicion the best is yet to come.

Today's birthday will feature an appearance from my often-absent husband who traveled 300 miles after a 12-hour work day just to sleep with me last night. Now that's love!

Here's a site that tells you who else was born on your birthday. Click on the month (on the upper left side of the page) and scroll down to your day.

Who did you get?

Holy crap! Lady Gaga is 25. I've got jeans older than that.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Prudent Penny: Car Buying Tips

Show of hands. Who hates car shopping?

If I counted right, we've had 12 cars in 35+ years. Some had been used, but most were new. This is the one point where Greg and I differ like night and day. As long as he can afford it, he wants a new car. He will not negotiate with me on this.

So for the last couple of decades I've had to deal with new cars. Up until Tank came along, each of us drove sports cars. And I desperately wanted another one, but Tank is a little too big for a sports car, so it was a truck for me. 

Only someone like me would buy a car determined by the family dog. LOL.

Since we've done this shopping dance so often we go in prepared. Before we walk into the showroom we already know the stats, the price and the available warranties. The only thing left for us to choose is the dealer and the color of the car.

If you remember only one thing from this post, remember this: Ask the dealer what the drive-out price is, NOT the monthly note. The first thing they're going to do is sweeten the deal by showing you what a "low" note they can offer. Uh-uh. That's just a ruse. Get the total price first--then you can discuss notes.

And be wary of their tactics. They'll try to manipulate your emotional triggers, skillfully using your children, your gender, or your prestige as a motivator.

One slick young man tried to embarrass Greg when Greg refused his 'final' offer. I could barely keep from laughing when the kid counters with: Well, Mr. Zannini, maybe it's too much car for you. (It was a sports car.)

Greg never missed a beat. He got up and said: "You're right, maybe it is." And he motioned to me that we were leaving. We got as far as the showroom when Mr. Slick comes running after us (with his boss right behind him). He met our price within fifteen minutes.

Then there was another salesman who kept going on and on about the leather interior and the cup holders with me. I finally cut him off and said: "Let's see what she can do." And I took him for a ride he didn't soon forget. :grin: I was born to drive a sports car, baby! He stopped patronizing me after that and we talked about turning radii and gas mileage.

To be fair, we met an honest sales person once. We've bought two cars from him, and we'll likely buy others from him too. That's how decent he was. No pushiness. No mind games. He gives us his best offer upfront, which so far has always been lower than what we expected to pay.

There are still good people out there.

Here is my checklist for car buying:

• Do your homework before you enter the showroom. Know all the stats and prices so you'll be able to tell right away whether the salesperson is trying to pull one over on you.

• Put your game face on. It's your money. Don't let them tell you how to spend it. You are always in control. It's up to them to make it worthwhile to you.

• Drive the car and push it (but safely). Brake hard. Punch the accelerator. Turn it in a complete circle to see where the turning radius is. Get on the highway and see what it does at higher speeds.

I won't lie. I am very hard on my vehicles. If it can't keep up with my demands, it's not the car for me.

• When it's time to deal, ask for the drive-out price--not the monthly note. Pretend you're going to pay for it in full. And by the way, if you do pay cash, that's leverage. I think our last five or six cars we've paid in full. It always gets us a better deal if we take the notes out of the equation.

• How can we pay cash so often? We save for our cars. It's not that hard. The more you can pay at closing, the less you'll pay in the long run. That interest is a killer. I can do a lot with that money if I don't have to use it on a note. I'd rather do without a little now, so I don't have to do without later and for a longer period of time.

Saving requires planning. Decide how much you'll need for that new (or used) car and divide by however many months it'll take you to save. 

• The thing to remember when car shopping is that YOU are in charge. You know what you can afford. Don't let them push your buttons. 

• If you know you're a cream puff for the hard sell, take someone with you who's tougher. There's courage in numbers. The salesman will have to persuade two of you.

What was your favorite car?  Mine was a Mitsubishi Eclipse. Loved that car. Never gave me a minute's trouble. And it was very, very fast. :grin:

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sex and the Chicken: Girls & Boys

I was chatting with my friend Maya Reynolds the other day and she always asks me a ton of questions about the chickens. Our last conversation was about sex and how to tell the boys from the girls.

In many birds you can't tell gender until they mature. And in some breeds, like emu and rhea, not even then.

In our younger days we used to raise rhea and emu and became the local experts, even earning a bit of celebrity in tv and newspapers. In a roundabout way, it also launched my writing career. Who knew fondling a big bird's peas and carrots would turn me into a writer? Life is very strange sometimes.

So for all of your prurient pleasure, here's the lowdown. It's called vent-sexing, and yes, it's just like it sounds. You take the bird in question and with your fingers, spread the vent until something pops out. If it's a boy rhea or emu, a long, whitish penis furls out. 

It looks hideous. There's just no other way to say it. I would've posted pictures, but I don't want to be accused of bird porn.

Besides, what does it say about you if you want to see such things? LOL. So trust me. It's gross.

Even though we sexed and banded our rheas and emu when they were young birds, we always had to re-sex them to assure the buyer of what he was getting. I'd make the buyer crouch down with me so he could inspect the bird while Greg held the beast down.

Let me tell you, the person who holds the big bird has to be incredibly strong and must like you a lot. If he lets go, the person at the other end (moi) would be placed in serious danger. 

Ratites (rhea, emu, ostrich) are ALL legs, and they're powerful kickers. There are stories where people have been gutted by an adult ostrich. You do not take chances with an animal sporting claws sharp enough to split you open.

I learned to be quick and realized Greg must really like me because I never once got hurt while he was holding them down.

If anyone asks me if I trust my husband with my life, I'd say yes. He's proved it dozens of times over.

We do not vent-sex chicken chicks. In the first place, you'll find out what they are in a few months anyway. And in the second place, clumsy handling could kill a young chick. Unless you're an expert (and there are very few) the next best way to sex a (chicken) chick is by feather-sexing. 

A few hours after hatching, the chicks will have dried off. Females will have staggered short and long layers of feathers at the tip of their wings. The wingtips of the males will be all the same length. After a few days you won't be able to tell the difference, so you'll want to feather-sex them within the first couple of days.

A few breeds of chickens, called sex-link chickens, display gender at hatching--but I don't have any of those. For us, it doesn't matter. If they're girls, we keep them. If they're boys...well, let's just say only a few boys get to sow their oats. But we'll talk about that in a future post.

During my upcoming blog tour some unlucky host is going to get my Sex and the Chicken: the Randy Rooster post. I haven't decided who's getting that one yet. I promise, it'll have something to do with Apocalypse Rising.

Is there anything special you want to know about chicken porn--I mean sex? 

Monday, March 21, 2011

How to Get Invited

Libby asked a question in the comments recently on how I go about asking for invitations to guest blog.

Nowadays I don't have to ask other than in the most informal manner of nudging someone and saying, "Hey, can you help a pal out?" For this particular blog tour coming up, most of the dates were promised last year when I learned I had a contract.

But in the early days (circa 2008), I had to ask formally and with hat in hand. I hardly knew anyone in the blogosphere, and even less people knew me. I was virtually friendless.

So off I went, cold calling (or in this case, cold emailing) prospective blog hosts and asking if they'd let me visit their blogs. Most were absolutely wonderful, gracious people who welcomed me like they'd known me for years. They had no idea if I'd be a good guest, but I'd like to think it was the thoughtful comments I'd left on their blogs that gave me an edge.

There's a dark side to guest blogging too. I've had two instances with my first book Touch Of Fire where I was unceremoniously snubbed by traditionally published authors because they felt digital was, shall we say, not validated by the writing community.

And that was their first mistake. Not that they looked down on digital--everyone is entitled to an opinion. It's that they forgot we write for readers--not for other writers.

I guarantee you, readers (who are not writers) don't care who's doing the publishing. Most aren't even aware of the dichotomy between traditional and digital. All they want is a good story.

Out of curiosity, I went back to check on the two bloggers who slighted me way back when. The first one I could no longer find. Of the two, he was the more elitist when he realized Touch Of Fire was a digital book. He dumped me like a bad date when he asked me who my publisher was--he asked this after he extended the invitation. You'd think I was a leper for as fast as he back-peddled his regrets.

The second was a community blog. It still exists, but if comments reflect traffic, they are nearly invisible. I've also noticed that they've changed their criteria on what qualifies as legitimate publishing.

:yeah, whatever:

Just be aware that you could run into various forms of prejudice. Strike them off your list and move on to people who'll appreciate you.

Here are some tips for guest blogging:

• Read the blog where you want to appear to make sure it's a good fit for each of you.

• Comment on the blog regularly. While I commented on the blogs where I asked for an invitation, I was too new to be much more than a blip on their radar. But it all counts. It means I wasn't pandering; I truly had an interest in their blogs.

• Ask nicely. If someone comes at me like a rabid hyena telling me how great he is without at least complimenting my blog or why my readers would like him, I am unlikely to extend an invitation.

• Write a thoughtful post. An all-promo post is bad juju--especially here. I want my readers to be entertained, informed or enlightened. I don't mind if the guest finishes with a blurb and links, but no shilling. That's what your blog is for.

• Respond to people who comment on your guest post. I know not everyone does this. But it'll make readers feel like their comments were important to you. When you're starting out, you want to muster all the goodwill you can.

• Ask friends for their advice on worthwhile blogs. I did this several times. Some of my friends even introduced me so I didn't come off like a total stalker. Not only did I find some good blogs, but eventually good friends too.

Prospective hosts: If you're interested in hosting someone on your blog this summer, Krista D. Ball wants to stop by. She's looking for a few blogs to visit and chat. Go to this link for more info.

I've had small press, self-pub'd, and traditionally published authors on my blog. I treat everyone the same. I don't invite a lot of guest bloggers because this blog runs on a specific format, but I will occasionally--especially if they've been kind to me. 

Karma does come back to repay you--often when you least expect it.

Have you had any experiences with guest blogging that surprised you--as a reader or as a blogger?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Prudent Penny: Landscaping on the Cheap

It seems appropriate to write this post since I just finished tilling and furrowing the main garden. I might never regain the use of my limbs. Oy!

Aside from painful, gardening can be very expensive. The only thing you shouldn't skimp on is your tools. You don't want your tools breaking, splitting or hurting you right in the middle of a job. Given a choice, go for fiberglass handles rather than wood, and good goat or cow hide gloves rather than cloth. You'll save yourself blisters.


• Craigslist is always giving away flowers and plants.

• Admire your neighbor's bulbs and I'll bet she'll offer you some the next time she's dividing them.

• Buy discounted seeds at the end of the season and store them in the fridge until you're ready to plant next year. Don't forget to throw in some desiccant.

• Buy trees at the very beginning of the season. Many nurseries have sales to kick off the season.

• Get to know your local nursery people by name. Mine almost always throws in an extra plant every time I shop there.

 • Get your seed potatoes and garlic from the grocery store. Some producers apply anti-sprout chemicals on their produce, but mine have always sprouted. If in doubt, get your starters from a local farmer's market.

• You can start new tomato plants by planting cuttings. Many times toward the end of the season, I'll layer a tomato vine under some dirt. within a few days it'll start to produce roots. I give it a few weeks then snip it off the main plant. Now I have a brand new tomato plant to pot or put in the ground.

• By the way, when you plant your tomatoes, plant them sideways with only the top showing. Pinch off the leaves and bury the stalk lengthwise. It'll strengthen the plant by producing a bigger root structure.


• Compost. Even if it's nothing more than a little pile in the back of your yard, compost what you can. Your soil will love you for it. And it's free.

• Troll your local Home Depot, Lowe's, or other mega-mart for ripped bags of soil, compost, peat moss, or rocks.

My stores regularly mark them down to half price, but at the end of the season, I usually get the ripped bags of material for a quarter a piece. You usually have to ask someone to give you the discount. There are no sale signs and no one volunteers this information.

• Buy weed barrier matting at yard sales. People always get rid of their leftovers and there's usually quite a bit of it left over.

• Leftover brick and stone are often available for free on Craigslist. Please be careful hauling these items. Space them out evenly in your truck because they are heavier than they look. You might need to make multiple trips to carry the load safely. I would love to find some brick near me. Most of the brick on Craigslist is in the big city--too far for me.


• Plan your landscaping. This way when a deal comes up you'll know what you need.

• Go in with your friends to buy seeds or bulbs if you don't need that many all by yourself.

• Join seed exchange sites. Here's one place to try.

Have you tried any of these tips? Is there anything you can add? 

Next year I think I'm going to turn my place into a homesteading dude ranch so I can get some help in the garden. LOL. Every muscle in my body hurts. But the hard part is done. Now the fun begins.

What's everyone doing this weekend?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Itty Bitty Blog Tour

I'm planning a new blog tour for Apocalypse Rising in May, but this one will be tiny. Ten days tops.

Except for one day, every single day has been scheduled. I was shocked. I never had to beg or anything. LOL. Most of my guest spots were promised last year. There are a couple of people who had invited me but we hadn't settled on a date yet so I might slip them in here or there, depending on whether our schedules can be synced.

I don't know if I can top the blog tour I did for True Believers, but we'll give it a try. 

What's on the agenda? Well, I'm sure my dogs are likely to make an appearance--though I'm trying hard to keep my husband from taking any more interview questions on my behalf. (So embarrassing.) And I can't do a blog tour on a book about the apocalypse without including a post on Zombie Chickens.

There'll be a couple of serious posts on marketing and networking, and I might even tackle delicate issues like marital infidelity. 

What's this? Low-down cheatin' spouses? But why, Maria?

You'll have to tune in to find out. :wink:

No matter what, I promise there will be no shilling. Just some good humor and the occasional business post.

I wouldn't mind getting some suggestions though. Is there anything special you'd like me to talk about? Should I muzzle Greg or let him chip in? Oh, Lord! What if he wants to help out with the cheatin' spouses post? I'd be done for.

Help me out. What kind of topics should I tackle?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Getting Nookie

Guess who got a Nook? Go ahead, guess. :grin:

Thanks to everyone who weighed in on their experiences with various e-readers. It was such a tough decision. I waffled from one to the other, listing the benefits and disadvantages of each. What finally made me choose the Nook was that it had a lending library.

I've only had the Nook a few days, but I've done more reading in three days than I did in three weeks. I LOVE it. If I had known how much more convenient and pleasurable an e-reader would be I would have done this ages ago. I do not miss paper at all. 

What I love the best is that you can size the font and it stays that way. No mucking with it more than once. And the bookmarks. Love that!

Please understand that I am a world class troglodyte. I do not embrace new technology easily. You should've seen me when Greg tried to get me to switch to CDs. There were tears involved. But this I love. Easy on my eyes and so incredibly convenient. I'm like a kid in a candy store. I want to read everything at once.

Speaking of Greg, he's been teasing me shamelessly that I'm now getting my Nookie without him. :grin: Yup.

My special thanks to LASR. If it hadn't been for their contest, I might never have taken the plunge. Thank you, LASR for bringing me into the 21st century.

Here are a couple of interesting Nook articles. The first link shows you how to copy your i-Tunes so they play on your Nook. The second article is from The Wall Street Journal and shows you how to do a hack on your Nook and turn it into an i-Pad

I'd never do such a thing since it would invalidate the warranty, but the possibilities of what the Nook can do are intriguing. I guarantee you there's a market in creating a poor man's i-Pad. If B&N had the sand for such a gamble, I think they'd put one over on Amazon.

For now, I'm happy with my e-reader. I'm only sorry it took me this long to take the plunge. And now I understand what you guys were raving about.

Am I the only Luddite out here? Do you embrace techie stuff easily or are you more like me, dragged into the 21st century kicking and screaming?

I wonder if there's a support group for people like me.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Prudent Penny: Menu Planning

My lack of a domesticity probably makes me the worst person in the world to write this post--or maybe the best. Who better than a failed domestic goddess to explain how to make the best of a bad situation?

I don't like to cook. I never have. But Greg is rather fond of eating so I suck it up and do the best I can. To limit my time in the kitchen I cook lots of casseroles that I can freeze ahead, and plan my meals with a minimum of ingredients. Martha Stewart I'm not.

And then there's the cost of food. If you want to save money, menu planning is a must.

Here are my quick tips for cost-cutting menus.

• Cook around the sales. Sometimes that takes some getting used to because as consumers we're spoiled. I remind myself that our ancestors had no refrigeration. They ate what was in season and never mind that they might eat the same thing ten days in a row. I don't feel quite so sorry for myself then.

• Cook from your harvest. We'll eat from our garden before we shop. Greg, who is not a vegetarian at all, never gripes about all the veggies because they taste so good. Nothing beats off the vine.

• Eat simply. This one is easy for me because I have no skill for complex meals. A green, a starch, and a piece of meat or fish. I mix and match and don't go overboard on sauces or preparation.

• One pot meals. Casseroles, crock pot meals and stews are generally easy to make and easy on the pocketbook.

• Leftovers. These are fighting words to Greg. He hates leftovers and I'm left having to disguise them so he doesn't think he's eating the same thing. Leftover bread is used for croutons and stuffing. Leftover vegetables go into stews and casseroles. Leftover meat?

Here's an example of a whole chicken for two people.

Day one: Roast chicken
Day two: Chicken stir fry
Day three: Chicken salad sandwiches
Day four: Chicken tacos
Day five: If you're very frugal, you'll use the carcass to make stock.

Since I'm in possession of a very picky husband, I'll only use the chicken for two meals so he doesn't get suspicious. I'll freeze leftover cooked meat and use it when he least expects it.

It's easier with ground beef. I can disguise the meat better.

Day one: meatloaf
Day two: spaghetti with meat sauce
Day three: Mexican lasagna (recipe follows)
Day four: hamburgers
Day five: beef noodle casserole

Mexican Lasagna (feeds four easily)
This is the quick and easy recipe.

8 x 8 glass pan

8 corn tortillas
1 can spicy refried beans (or add a can of chopped chilis and mix)
1.5 pounds ground beef  (Greg likes his beefy)
1 can Rotel
chopped onions
grated cheese

Cook meat and season with cumin, chili powder, garlic, salt, pepper and Rotel.
Fry corn tortillas until they become limp. Drain on paper towels and line glass pan with four tortillas, overlapping as necessary.
Layer generously with beans, meat, onions and cheese.
Add the second layer of tortillas
Repeat beans, meat and cheese

Bake at 350 degrees for about 30-40 minutes until cheese is bubbly. 
Serve with Spanish rice, guacamole, salad, and hot sauce.

(the more complicated method involves making the beans and Rotel from scratch) 

For someone who doesn't like to cook, I tend to collect cookbooks forever looking for that magic recipe that will make me look amazing. My favorite cookbook was the one my mother-in-law used. It's called Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedic Cookbook. The spine is missing, it survived a fire and the subsequent water damage, but it's been my standby for as long as I've been married. If I could keep only one cookbook, this would be it.

The recipes range from simple to complex, but it's written in plain language. Every recipe I've ever tried from there has been successful. And considering my cooking disability, that says a lot.

Do you have a favorite cookbook or are all your recipes in your head? Do you consider yourself a good cook? --I am not too proud to invite myself and ask for lessons. LOL

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Chicken State of Address

The time had come to separate the chickens by breed. We plan on selling chicks for the next couple of months and we wanted to offer pure bred stock.

The birds are still pretty nervous in their new digs. The main chicken yard and building was divided in half. Black astralorps on one side, buff orpingtons on the other. The americaunas were moved to a new pen. We remodeled the greenhouse for the americaunas. Twenty by ten feet is for the chickens and the other twenty by ten is for the greenhouse.

It's quite spacious for four birds, (you can see the greenhouse side beyond the storm door) but I feel sorry for the lone hen. I need to get her some girlfriends because roosters have no qualms about ganging up on a single hen. Males! Actually one of the roosters needs to go. I'm keeping only two males per group.

The chickens can't figure out why they can't seem to mingle with the others. They keep meeting at the fence line, clucking away. But they've been laying like crazy. We've been getting so many eggs, I even scramble some for the dogs. They don't mind in the least. :grin:

Our next project is setting up the incubator/hatching room. We've got a 3-car garage and one of the bays is nicely finished and temperature-controlled, so that's where we'll put the machines. I'll post some pictures once we have that set up. 

Everything is starting to green up. My pear tree is already leafed out. The plum, apple and tangelo trees have blossoms and the rest are getting ready to bud. If it weren't for getting the flu and bronchitis back to back, I would've had the garden in by now. But hopefully I can do that next week.

Have you priced tomatoes this week? They were $1.89 at my local grocery store--and those were the cheap ones. I'm planting extra tomatoes this year. And now that the greenhouse is in place, I'll be growing hothouse tomatoes over the winter.

Anybody else planning a garden this year? I'm trying to encourage everyone I know to at least plant a container garden. Peppers, cherry tomatoes and herbs are easy to grow in pots. I have a feeling prices are going to get much higher this year.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Query Clinic

Some of you know I belong to a private crit circle. We started this group several years ago when I realized a need to critique entire novels instead of chapters. But this group was unique in another way. I invited very special people, writers who not only demonstrated considerable writing talent, but who were exceptional at disseminating and articulating the body of work in front of them. This is not an exaggeration. My CPs are brilliant.

Because we read and critique entire manuscripts, our group remains small. It takes a great deal of work to analyze whole novels. And it’s a responsibility each of us takes seriously.

Recently, after I hosted a Follow contest, someone asked if I would critique queries as well as manuscripts. I liked the idea. But there was one minor drawback. I’m not a big fan of critiquing work in public. So I think I’ve come up with an alternative as a gift for followers of this blog. I decided to create a group similar to my existing crit group.

If you would like to have your query reviewed in a confidential environment, I have set up a group that will review queries only. Email me (or leave a comment with your email addy) and I will send you an invitation to join.

This is an invitation-only group. And I will only accept members for a limited time.

There are only a few things I ask in return.

• Please be a follower of this blog.
• If you are critted, you must return the favor.
• This is a private group, which means anything posted there is confidential.
• Please use your real name (or pseudonym). This way, everyone knows who they’re dealing with.
• Queries MUST be carefully proofread. Submit the way you would to a real agent or publisher.

I do encourage you to forge relationships with other people in the group while you're there. Who knows? You could find a future crit partner for your novels after you’ve read each other’s query.

I should add that I have no personal agenda. Queries come very easily to me, and while I usually vet them through my CPs, I generally trust my gut and that’s worked out well.

If this query workshop is successful, we’ll do it again. If I’m not too busy, we might even open it to synopses later in the year. We’ll see how this one fares and go from there.

So is anyone interested? You can either email me or leave your email in the comments and I will send you an invitation. Please be sure you’re already a follower of this blog because Query Clinic is a private group and a gift to those who follow this blog.

Greg and I worked our tails off over the weekend dividing pens and finishing up a second chicken enclosure. We're getting ready for the great chicken relocation. With all the sawing and hammering, the chickens were watching the commotion nervously. I don't want to excite them too much because they're laying like crazy. The sooner we move them, the better. I'll try to get some pictures posted on Wednesday.

What did you guys do this weekend?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Prudent Penny: Frugal Traveling

Today is a special Prudent Penny because my buddy, Mike Keyton is stepping in to share some of the frugal tips he'd learn on his many trips. Mike is currently reminiscing about his trip to America on his blog. He's an absolute hoot! And his blog is a must read.

Frugal Traveling by Mike Keyton 

Jesus advised his disciples to: ‘Take no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor a staff,’ and who was I to argue? Besides he made no mention of travellers’ cheques, and he was a little remiss in forward planning. But back then I had the wisdom of a beardless youth, a student bent on Morocco.

When Maria asked me to write about frugal travelling, I had to scratch my head – that’s another thing about frugal travelling; you pick up things – because, looking back, I reckon it all depends on circumstances. And circumstances change.

Getting back to where I started, I left most things to my Guardian Angel. Jesus advised his disciples to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. I was strong on the doves bit, but lacked the wisdom of a poorly taught worm. Fuelled by optimism and hope I packed everything I thought I’d need into one rolled up sleeping bag. This included: four pairs of underpants, three pairs of socks, four T shirts, a pair of shorts, one pullover, toothbrush, and a stick of deodorant for special occasions.

What did I learn?
You can buy most things you need on the way. But don’t buy second hand woollen swimming trunks.

People are incredibly generous, a great lesson you never forget.
The most valuable possession you have is your lifeline back home. I’m talking about travel documents (air, train, and boat tickets) In the Rif Mountains, on a cold night, those little bits of paper in your shirt pocket meant more than a hot water bottle, or even a teddy bear.

And something that didn’t apply to me then but is a commonplace now: leave your ipod or its equivalent at home. They’re comforters, aural dummies for children, a distraction. They dilute the rawness of immersing yourself body and soul into something other than you’re used to. Rant over.

What have I learnt since?
You have to modify this policy when you have a wife and two children. A certain pragmatic meanness attempts the odd breakout but is usually beaten back by disbelief from those I try to impose it upon.

One thing holds true throughout: Forward planning saves money. For any thinking of going to Rome buy one thing in advance and purchase the other as soon as you get there. Buy your ticket to the Vatican museum online. It allows you to walk past queues stretching round block after block and walk straight in. And on hitting Rome invest in a Roma Pass which allows unlimited travel in the city over three days. It also gives you free entry into three major attractions, again without queuing. Again, in Rome, carry a plastic bottle. Fountains and water pipes are all over the place. I’ve never tasted water so good, but then it was hot and the beer is expensive.

For anyone thinking of coming to Britain in summer, Google ‘Universities.’ Many are located in very picturesque places and offer good bed and breakfast deals when students aren’t there.

And the ultimate in frugality? Visit friends. 
There are places in this world I will never see – and what’s the point? Sometimes travelling can be like stamp collecting, ticking off what you’ve seen and where you want to go to next. I’d rather have a drink and a chat with an old friend than clamber aboard a camel. The fact that he or she lives in an interesting place is…well…just nice.

You'll always be welcomed at our place, Mike. 
--Hope you like dogs. :grin:

To finish off, here are some more frugal tips for traveling.

• Pack clothes you won't mind leaving behind. (I learned this from Dru.) It'll give you more room to bring stuff back and you won't have to pay for another bag at the airport.

• When selecting a motel, look for one with a kitchenette so you can cook some of your meals.

• When driving, plot your course before you leave so you know where and about when you'll be stopping at each leg of your journey. If you know where you'll stop for the night, you can book a room ahead of time and you won't waste time driving around for the 'right' motel.

• Make reservations direct with the hotel, not a clearinghouse. You are more likely to get a better discount.

• Souvenirs: Never, ever buy souvenirs at the hotel lobby or the nearby tourist attraction. Go deep into town, away from all the glittery lights. You'll find the same trinkets 50 to 80 percent less.

• Check your discounts: AAA, AARP, military, or member's discounts are not equal. If you're entitled to more than one, ask which one is the most generous.

• Establishments that offer breakfast are usually a better buy, especially if you have kids.

Your turn: What's been your cheapest vacation so far? Are there any places you'd recommend?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


At various times in my life I've considered quitting writing, my job and even my husband.

When I started writing, I gave myself a deadline of seven years to publish. I figured if I was going to make it, seven years seemed like a reasonable amount of time to find out if I had any talent or if I should stick to my day job. 

If I didn't make it, well, I could tack it onto my list of wild adventures and say I tried.

Ironically, my husband only got two years to prove I hadn't made a mistake. :grin:

Why did poor Greg only get two years and publishing, seven? Let's face it, publishing is a lot harder than marriage. Am I right?

I might be atypical when it comes to quitting things though. When I go for something I give it everything I've got. But when everything I have isn't enough, I have no problem whatsoever in walking away.

No matter how much we want it to be so, sometimes we're just not cut out for what we desire most.

Part of the reason I can walk away is that I'm a real stickler about time. My greatest fear in life is not having lived it to its full potential, so I'm very touchy about wasting time on things that bring me no return.

And the older I get, the more selfish I am with how I want to spend my time.

Some things are worth quitting. Toxic people, drugs, bad jobs, excess spending. And while all these things should be relinquished, sometimes it can't happen right away. It helps to have friends and family who will support you emotionally while you wait for the right moment to walk away. 

How do you feel about quitting? Are you able to walk away without guilt or do you stick with things longer than you should? What was the last thing you quit that felt good when you did it?

Friday I have a real treat for you. That's the day we'll do a Prudent Penny on Travel. My friend and world traveler, Mike Keyton is stepping in to share his experience in frugal traveling. 

Be sure to come back and visit us.