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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Pig Bladders: from Canning to Condoms

Please welcome Krista D. Ball who never fails to entertain with her eclectic knowledge on all things weird.


Pig Bladders

You’re putting a pig bladder on what?

It all started last fall during a discussion about the use of intestines and bladders for condoms in Europe a couple hundred years ago. Someone piped up, “How did they ever come up with that?”

This was such an odd question. It was obvious where the idea came from, right? Right? Apparently not.  I said that intestines and bladders had been used in food preparation for easily a thousand years, and probably more.

Cue looks of horror.

After traumatizing this group of canning and freezing women, I’ve decided to take the show on the road. To the internet, where I can traumatize large groups of people!

Okay, honestly I just love sharing tidbits of history with people, so I asked Maria if I could come on and discuss the history of food preservation. In particular, canning.

I grew up in Newfoundland where we “bottled” everything (we never called it canning). We preserved  jams, apple pie fillings, moose stew, lobster meat, turkey soup, and just about anything else we could think up. It was the modern method we all know: mason jars, sealing tops, metal rings, boiling water, tongs, popping of cooling tops.

But what did people use before the auto-sealing covers and rings?

Most people know about wax. Paraffin wax poured a half inch to an inch on top of the food will keep out the bacteria and oxygen and the goodies inside all fresh and safe. In fact, many people still use paraffin wax.

Before the advent of paraffin wax and the Mason company, there were other ways to preserve foods.  There are the typical ways – smoking your ham hung in the chimney, drying fish on rocks, pouring melted butter over shrimps in a small jar, and covering ceramic jars with pig bladders.

Say wha?

In reading many period British cookbooks, recipes mention putting “bladders” over the jam. Well, in many cases that meant a pig’s bladder. After all, a bladder is meant to hold liquid, so they are stretchy and waterproof. Plus, they shrink when they dry out.

To preserve jams and the like, the wife and her horde of daughters would cook up their pots of jam and pour into their crock jars. Then, they’d cut damp bladders to the size of the openings. As the bladders dried out, they’d shrink and form a tight seal around the jar tops.

And while I try to replicate as many period recipes and cooking styles as possible, I’ll be leaving this particular one for the history books.

-Canadian author Krista D. Ball combines her love of the fantastical, an obsession with potage, and a history degree from Mount Allison University to bring fantasy writers and food lovers a new and unique reference guide. Her guide, What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank, will be available autumn 2012.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Agent Contracts: A Disturbing Turn

I had planned a different post today, but this was too important not to share. For those looking for an agent, or those who've recently been offered representation, PLEASE read that contract thoroughly.

Theresa from Editorrent has two posts about a rumor (subsequently confirmed) that at least two agencies are inserting into their contracts a clause that takes a standard commission on an author's SELF-PUBLISHED books.

I could barely believe it so I had to read it twice.

The theory Theresa proposes (and I agree with) is that since the agent is building the author's career, he is entitled to a cut of the author's other revenue streams from books.

These agents are counting on the desperate, or the person who doesn't read their contract carefully to sign on the dotted line. Either way, it's bad news. It also calls attention to the fact that agents are also desperate. Revenue from traditional publishing is drying up for them and they're frantic to hang on to their careers no matter what that takes.

Please, please, please. I know some of you would give your eye teeth for a chance at representation, but be careful what you wish for. This is such a crock I can't believe any agent would have the temerity to include it in their contracts.

Read Theresa's posts here and here.

Whatever you decide, be careful out there. If there are two agencies pulling this crap, you can bet they're not the only ones.

Tomorrow: Today might have been a crock of offal, but tomorrow we go right to the bladder. Pig's bladder. Stop by and visit with Krista D. Ball when she talks about preserving food (and other things) the old timey way.

Please chime in. What do you think it means for the industry when agents start to expect compensation for work they didn't sell, or agents who start their own self-publishing companies? Are we looking at the beginning of the end or something more complex?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

State of the Homestead

I started reading blogs again only to discover several old friends decided to call it quits and go on to other pursuits. Two other friends simply stopped blogging without public explanation. It almost felt like an epidemic. All told, eight friends have either given up writing or put it on a permanent back-burner. I know it's crossed my mind a time or two. There's so much I want to do now that I have the time.

The homestead has been busy. We burned a couple of big brush piles, tilled and fertilized the garden, and started a big bed of onions and garlic. We culled the rest of the roosters, and now the hens are producing eggs like crazy.

I don't mean to sound sexist, but I'm always surprised how much calmer the hens are when we get rid of most of the roosters. Those bullies just agitate everyone.

My big surprise this week is that we FINALLY got a green egg. I was so disappointed because my Americaunas (known as the Easter egg chickens) hadn't produced any green or blue eggs. They were all brown. But at least one hen from our new batch of layers is laying green eggs. Now to find out which one because I want more of her babies.

Outside: I started my seedlings for the spring. I'm trying to hide them from Iko because he loves to pull out the tender plants and carry them around like limp trophies. I have no idea why he enjoys pulling them out. It's not like they fight back.

Inside: We'll be spending a good chunk of change this year. I painted two of the guest rooms and the carpeting guys are coming in a couple of weeks to lay carpet. We're also replacing our Corian kitchen counter top with granite. I just left the showroom and picked out my stone.

The kitchen cabinets are still in great shape, but I'm going to sand them down and give them a fresh coat of white enamel. That should make them pop against the new counters. The only other thing I need in the kitchen is for Greg to tear out the built-in wood wine rack and replace it with a wine cooler. I never liked that wine rack. It's almost impossible to clean. The cooler will be more practical.

Plant futures: The seed catalogs have arrived and I've been plotting the new gardens. This year I'm going to raise a separate garden strictly for the animals. I'm planting corn, soybeans, and mangels. Mangels will be new for us. It's a kind of sugar beet that's supposed to be nutritious for animals (and humans).

I also want to expand my blackberry brambles. Because they're such tender fruits, blackberries are very expensive at the store. I thought it might make a good farmer's market product in a couple of years.

Animals: Goats are still on the agenda and we'll be looking for stock in March. The one activity that's got me both apprehensive and intrigued is milking. I want to learn how to make cheese.

Dogs: Tank is ten years old. It seemed just yesterday when he joined the family. We rescued him when he was two-years-old. He was found wandering the roads. When they caught him, he escaped his pen only to be found the next day sleeping on the office couch. They warned us he was an escape artist but in truth he was just looking for a comfortable place to sleep. He's no dumb bunny. Tank never met a couch he didn't like.

The vet gave him a clean bill of health despite all his lumps. With any luck he should make it to twelve. That's a pretty good run for a rottie his size. He's a giant dog.

Poor old boy is all gray around the muzzle, but he can still give Iko a run for his money. Iko idolizes him. That goofy dog will surely miss him when he's gone. Despite being polar opposites, they've been good friends from the start.

Me: Since you guys have asked, I'm okay. I'm still very sad, but we had some closure when we made Murray a nice grave lined with stone and brick. In the spring I'm going to plant some rosemary there. For some reason, Murray really liked the smell of that herb. Rosemary is the symbol of remembrance and it seems apropos to plant him a little cutting for his grave.

My spring comes early so I'm trying to get my plans in place. Is there anything special you're looking forward to in the spring? Books, movies, gardening?

When Greg gets back we want to catch Red Tails. Greg's a big WWII buff. He's hoping the movie will be historically accurate. If it's not I'll never hear the end of it. :)  Has anyone seen this yet? Any good?

**Has anyone ever try different sorts of eggs? Duck? Quail? Ostrich? Have you ever seen green or blue chicken eggs?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Who's Reading Your Blog?

While this blog was on hiatus, I didn't read many posts, but I started up again this past week and was struck by a couple of things.

The first was how much peddling there was for fiction. There were posts about the process, character interviews, author interviews, reviews, and endless sales pitches.

The second most obvious trend was that these writers were primarily peddling to other writers.

The first part isn't the problem. The second is. Not that writers don't read. Most of us are insatiable readers, but let's look at this in wide angle. We are a tiny drop in the readership ocean. It might seem like we're reaching a lot of people, but since the majority of posts I read were placed on author blogs, guess what demographic we're targeting?

And then there are blog hops that jump from blog to blog with less-than-stimulating content. If you have that sort of time, go for it, but remember it's strictly a social call. I don't participate in them and I rarely visit those who do. I just don't have the time.

Well-choreographed blog book tours can work, but it's a lot more labor-intensive than most people realize (and is a post in itself). You have to be very selective on where you appear and what you post.

Last year, I made a concerted effort to reach more than other writers. Much like starting a new blog, it takes time to attract new readers.

Word of mouth is good if your readers are mentioning you to non-writers.
Participating in non-writer forums helps to get your name out.
Using good keywords in blog posts are an easy way to gain visibility without a lot of extra work. I get a lot of drop-in traffic from people Googling for information. 

But here's what they didn't Google. They didn't Google publishers, writing journeys, or authors. Yes, my name and books get Googled, but the referring links seem to originate from Goodreads or the only reader-centric web site where I have an ad. This means the chances are good I'm reaching readers who aren't necessarily writers.

The people who ended up at my blog searched for how to do stuff, or the why of stuff, or where to find stuff. They found my blog through the pictures I posted. (Dog pictures and the flying saucer house are still the #1 image searches.) 

I get traffic for my remodeling posts, the chicken stories, and gardening updates. Admittedly, I do get a lot of hits for the writing and promotion how-to posts I've done. But this comes only from other writers and I want to reach more than my kissing cousins--much as I love you guys.

When you're distracted (in my case, grieving) your attention tends to filter out the chatter, but as I was deleting posts on my Reader recently, I scrolled back and noticed every deleted post was someone raving about their book. It's not that it didn't have value. It's that I was not the target audience. I'd already read their spiel in some form on a half-dozen other writer blogs.

As an experiment, I clicked on a few of the more popular blogs to read comments and Every Single One was from another writer congratulating them. Not pure readers. Not people off the street who wanted to know more about this author or book. But other writers showing their support.

I'm not advocating we not support each other. We need our friends around us. But unless you're selling a writing/publishing book, you're not reaching your target audience. If you're in the writing business, you have to stop insulating yourself from the outside world.

I understand why we do this. Associating only with friends is like a big, warm blankie. They protect us from a jaded and sometimes cruel world.

Unpublished writers have a different problem. Since they don't yet have a book to plug, what can they discuss to grow their audience? I think it's shortsighted to ignore future fans even when you don't have a book yet. We're all folks here. Let's not put up barriers unless you really want to exclude those not of ink-blood.

You can:
Talk about the books you've read, opening up the discussion with both writers and non-writers via our common denominator, reading.

Blog about your area of expertise, which I always find fascinating, even when it's linked back to writing.

Write an objective review.

There are lots of ways to be interesting to both writers and non-writers without alienating either.

I'm going to continue with the way I'm doing this blog and talk only occasionally about writing/publishing. After all, I owe a lot to my peers and I want to pay forward where I can. But the main thrust of this blog will share useful information and the occasional animal story.

I'm also going to spend more time on my Facebook page for The Frugal Way to reach my other target audience, people looking to save money.

No matter what you talk about, a blog should be a reflection of the author. Content is critical for me. But voice counts for a lot too. I often find myself reading blogs because I like the way that person talks. I want to be just as interesting. Who knows? It might even make me a sale.

Do you get a lot of traffic from people who are not writers? Is it something you'd be interested in developing or is your blog strictly for those of ink-blood? If it is for writers only, how do you reach out to fans?

PS  Thank you for allowing me my privacy while I was mourning poor Murray. I needed that time alone.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Thank You

So many of you have sent me emails, cards, phone calls, and even blog tributes for Murray that I felt I needed to share what his short life meant to me.

Everywhere I look I see little reminders of Murray. Tiny paw prints where he sprinted back into the house after our walks. The foot rest I keep under my desk where he would look up at me with his sparkling chocolate eyes. The way he’d watch the chickens dutifully, as if he knew someday they’d be his to command. But most of all I remember the little kisses he gave me whenever I picked him up.

He got sick, but he recovered despite the odds. Then he got sick again. But we beat that too.  We were so close, so very close to making it. Then came the sucker punch from which neither of us could recover.

I was up and at his side every time he whimpered in his sleep or repositioned himself noisily in his crate. At night I’d rock him to sleep and press him close to my body to keep him warm and safe.

I did everything humanly possible to keep him alive. When the vet gave me such rotten odds against beating Parvo I insisted I could do a better job than his skeleton staff during Christmas week. When he said Murray wouldn’t survive kennel cough, I got his lungs clear and got him eating again.

But I couldn’t fight the distemper. Even if he survived, he’d almost certainly suffer irreparable neurological damage. I’ve seen more than my share of death. But sometimes death is preferable to suffering.

I did not rest for the whole time Murray was sick. Not one day. Not one hour. Where I found the strength I don’t know. But I know I did it for him.

He was my baby.

I can’t help thinking I let him down. That maybe if I was smarter, more intuitive, or attacked the sickness more aggressively then maybe things would’ve been different. My logical side says I did all I could. But my heart wants to blame something. It wants to make some sense of this loss.

I’ve never in my life asked anyone to take care of me. But I need someone to take care of me now. I have no strength left.

My boys are finally home. But my baby is still gone.

Words cannot express how much your letters and calls meant to me. I never knew I had so many friends. Thank you.

I need a few more days. I’ll try to be back soon.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Murray is Gone

We beat Parvo and kennel cough. But we couldn't beat the distemper. My heart is too broken for words.

Thank you for your prayers and good thoughts. 

Blog comments have been disabled. Forgive me for not replying to you. I just can't.

Smart Budgets for Busy People: Name Game

This poor series had a rough time being born. Not the writing. That was easy. It was the title and subsequent cover.

Smart Budgets for Busy People talks about budgets and how to make one, but it also gives tons of tips for saving on every day things, and resources on where to buy, sell, and trade. I wasted no space on flowery language or long descriptions. This wasn't fiction. It was hard-nosed facts on how to save money and how to keep most of it. I didn't want to clutter up the facts with empty verbiage.

When I came up with the idea for this series, I immediately knew what I was going to call it and how the art would look. The first title series was called The Frugal Spy and it used all these graphics with spy silhouettes and magnifying glasses. Then I Googled the name and found someone else using it.

Okay, scratch that. 

Next I came up with Frugal U with cute little university banners and diploma icons. Only if you abbreviate Frugal U to its first letters it came up with a less than appropriate acronym. Oy.

There were at least a dozen more titles and covers. I was especially fond of one called The Frugal Dog which showed a hunting dog sniffing for $$$ tracks, but my sounding-board friend and designer thought it might be misconstrued as a children's book. I disagreed, but acquiesced. It was important that it not look too childish, girly, manly, or anything other than a straight up answer book. The cover had to look extremely graphic and genderless.

I finally settled on the theme of 'direction', which is where The Frugal Way came from. Between my friend and myself we came up with the arrow-road, the logo, and the sun ray background. Each subsequent book will use these elements but in different colors. Also the main graphic will change to reflect the topic of that book. The book on budgets used a blackboard. It's a given, the book on grocery shopping will probably use groceries in some form.

I still liked The Frugal Dog idea best, but I bowed to my friend because while we both worked as designers for multimillion dollar corporations, her company trumped mine. She worked for Disney. :grin:

If you haven't bought Smart Budgets for Busy People, would you try it out? I promise you there is nothing but straight facts and resource links that either save, make, or lets you keep your money.

You can buy it at Amazon or Smashwords. Oh, and if you have read it, I'd love it if you would post a review. Thanks!


Murray Report: Still sick, but his appetite is a little better--at least in the morning. I really dread having Greg and the dogs coming back this Friday. I think it's too soon. I don't think Murray is well enough for any commotion and while the older dogs should be okay, I hate having to risk Tank since he's older and more likely to get sick if the virus is still active. It'll be a month since they've been here.

I am very tired. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Am I Fickle?

Maybe it's been my long days, but I've become increasingly disappointed with some of the fiction releasing lately. The covers are phenomenal, but the stories are so generic. Out of the seven books I've bought lately--both small and big press books, I only managed to finish one. The rest made me feel like I wasted my money. I usually don't have such bad luck with books because I research them pretty thoroughly before I buy. 

This might have more to do with me than the book though. Whenever I find myself dissatisfied with things that should make me happy, it's usually because I'm looking for something I can't yet identify. So maybe I should switch genres for a while. Maybe I should read literary, or classics, or the ingredients label on a box of cake mix.

Have you ever found yourself tired of something you normally love? (Spouses don't count.) LOL

Murray Report: I wish I had better news but Murray is still not well. Although the vet first suspected he was hacking up hookworms, he now seems to think it's kennel cough. (Like I said so in the first place.) That poor little puppy just can't catch a break. I'm starting to get a little rundown too. I feel like I'm coming down with something.

Because kennel cough is contagious, Greg has to keep Tank and Iko another week. We have not seen each other since the third week of December. I miss my boys, all of them.

You still have a chance to win a copy of Smart Budgets for Busy People by leaving a comment at TBR. I will pick a winner tomorrow. And don't worry if you already bought the book. If you win, I will substitute that book with the next one coming up. Smart Grocery Shopping.

Someone wrote me and said she bought an extra copy of Smart Budgets for her son. That just made my day. First, because she bought a second copy. And secondly because more young people need to learn how to budget. It's a tough world out there. A lot of older people are having to work much longer than they expected, which is sad on many levels. People should enjoy their retirement, not scrounge to supplement their remaining years.

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Happening Spot

Meet me over at TBR where I talk a little bit about frugal living and my new book, Smart Budgets for Busy People. One commenter over at TBR will win a copy of the book.

I have such high hopes for this series. It's more than just an idea, it's a lifestyle I love. 

Also, don't forget to LIKE The Frugal Way on Facebook. I'll be posting freebies and discounts as I find them.


Murray Report: Murray is better, but the Parvo has compromised his immune system and now he's got what might be a respiratory infection. We'll be at the vet's office whenever they can fit us in.

I've not had a solid night's sleep in almost two weeks. At first because he was so sick, but now because he's not able to hold his bladder, so we are out for our walks at all hours of the night. 

At least he tells me when he needs to go out. I've had very few accidents. I'm not allowing him to use the run because he's too little yet. With no big brothers to protect him, I can't be sure a hawk or coyote won't try to make off with him. (I don't have that problem with Tank and Iko. Every predator in the area gives them a wide berth. LOL!)

Every day is better, but I was sorry to see Murray come down with something else. Hopefully, the vet can prescribe something for it.

As years go, 2011 was not great. Judging by the various blogs I read, most people were in the same boat, but there were a few who said they had a great year. I could use one of those.

How did 2011 rate for you? Good, bad, or unchanged?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Starting the New Year Right

Just a few newsy items to pass along to you.

Writers' Forum: If you are looking for a writer's forum, a brand new one just opened up January 1st. It's called On Fiction Writing and I can vouch for the people running it.  If you use this code code XM827, it'll give you free member access for six whole months. Don't wait too long to use the coupon code. It expires this month.

The people who set this forum up are the same people who wrote Writer's Companion. I've been hearing through the grapevine that they have all sorts of activities and interviews planned for the forum so it should be a pretty good meeting place. Doesn't hurt to look around for six months, right?

Kaye Manro has a great little holiday read while we're still in a festive mood called A Medieval Yule.
A fortnight ago she left him. Marcus of Windom stood alone in an empty castle without Lady Liana by his side. The frigid winds of the Yule Season pressed upon him. He pulled the parchment from whence he carried it and read her chilling parting words once again. I can no longer live as your lady-wife… If ever she returned would her sensual warmth be enough to melt the ice she had caused to form around his broken heart?

And Me:  Visit me on Monday, January 2nd at Cate Masters new blog TBR where I introduce my brand new book. It's the first book of a series called The Frugal Way. Book 1 is called Smart Budgets for Busy People

I've also started a Facebook page for The Frugal Way

LIKE The Frugal Way and keep up to date with any new deals or interesting information I might encounter during my daily strolls on the net.

You can buy Smart Budgets For Busy People on Smashwords or Amazon for only 99 cents! (Yes, I want to sell a lot of these.)

If you like it, I hope you'll post a review on Amazon or Goodreads. I am VERY excited about this series. Frugal Living is my passion!

Happy 2012, Everyone!