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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Stressing Out on the Homestead

Next week, Independence Day falls on Wednesday. More importantly, next Friday is Greg's birthday. So this seems like a good time to be on a semi-vacation until July 9th.

I say semi-vacation because Getting Back to Basics will still post on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. And The Frugal Way Facebook page will update regularly as I find freebies here and there.

I could use the break. I've been burning the candle at both ends trying to harvest and put up vegetables every day. And the heat has been awful! Two of our chicken pens have water misters, but one doesn't. In order to keep the poor birds from roasting alive, I've set them free during the day so they can find shade under the trees.

...only I have a few dumb birds that won't even leave their pen with the door wide open. I literally saved one bird from certain death when I found her panting and falling over with every step. It was definitely heat stroke. I rushed her into the house and bathed her in cool water. When she started flapping her wings again, I put her under a big shady American beautyberry bush. She was back to normal within the hour.

Chicks at: 1 day old, 1 week old, 2 weeks old
And the other day, I had a chick born three days early! I've never had that happen before. He seems okay. Scared me to death though when I found him on the floor of the incubator cheeping like crazy. I take pride in keeping accurate hatch records and I was afraid I had made a terrible mistake.

To add insult to injury, when the temps rise, the scorpions (my mortal enemies) Bogart their way into the house looking for moisture. The other day I accidentally stepped on one. Good thing I had my shoes on! I think God was looking out for me because I never have my shoes on in the house. I've been murdalizing 2-3 scorpions a day.

As if I didn't have enough stress, I got a new smartphone. LOL. It took me a day to get it set up the way I like, but now I'm at peace with it. I got the Droid Razr Maxx with that nice big screen. Not only is it easier to read, but the touch pad is easier to type on. Maria happy.

Yoga has been going well. It's been a miraculous panacea for my back and knee. Not only am I getting stronger, but I'm losing weight! Win-win. It's helped so much I hate to miss even one session. I try to go at least five times a week.

Anyway, that's my life lately. I'll be gone (from here) for a week--but not really. I'll still be visiting you guys. Meanwhile, I'd like to invite you to visit and follow Getting Back to Basics. Cheryl Alldredge just posted there and I'll have another guest blogger in July. 

Can you do me a favor?

1. Ask your friends and family to Like my Facebook page--The Frugal Way.

2. Visit Back to Basics regularly, commenting often and tweeting when you find a post you like. You can even tweet old posts if you liked them.

Help me spread the word. I really want the blog and Facebook page to reach more people. Besides, there's loot involved! The Meet and Greet Giveaway is now live for a whole month. The more you participate, the better your chances for winning. Go here for the details to the contest.



What's new at your end? If you live in Colorado or Florida, how are you faring after your recent disasters?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Mistress of the Stone, Cover Reveal

Since the cover is on the web site, I guess it's safe to show it to everyone now. How does it look?

At first, I was very disappointed. It wasn't at all what I hoped for. Some of you know I design a little on the side and have 30+ years of graphic design experience to boot. So you can imagine the conversations that revolved around this cover. 

In my mind, Mistress of the Stone is a paranormal historical, so I wanted to see beautiful early 17th century costumes. I wanted something very romantic and grand, heralding back to an era of bigger than life characters.

The cover model wears too much makeup, making her look older than the nineteen-year-old heroine inside the book (imo). At least she looks Portuguese/Spanish, so that works in her favor.

I will give the art staff credit though. Whether they did it consciously or not, they're following a trend for cooler colors according to this study tracking movie poster colors. 

Also, I noticed when the thumbnail cover art is up next to the thumbnail of Fifty Shades of Grey, it looks remarkably similar in movement and tonal value. I wonder if that was deliberate--and more importantly, if it will sell books.

It is what it is, and while it's not what I would've designed, it works. I just hope it attracts the right audience. The official release date is August 28. Not long now.

What do you think? Do you think the cooler colors help it?


I am FINALLY going to have a contest to welcome my other blog, Getting Back to Basics. If you're not following Back to Basics or its sister site, The Frugal Way Facebook page, do it now. It'll earn you five extra points if you follow or Like the page before the contest begins June 27.

This contest will run one solid month until July 27th. The winners (yes, multiple winners) will be announced on Tuesday, July 31st.

Details will air on Back to Basics tomorrow, Tuesday, 6-26-2012.

On June 27th, I will also welcome my first guest blogger to Back to Basics. Cheryl Alldredge will be giving you the scoop on farmers' markets. You won't want to miss it!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

State of the Homestead

It's been a busy month since last we touched base on the homestead. I've been harvesting daily, fought plagues of locusts and cicadas, hatched chicks, and only half heartedly continued my search for goats.

The reason goats aren't on my priority list is because I'd rather not have to deal with them entirely on my own. I don't have anyone nearby I can go to for help and Greg is only here a few days a month. It'll happen though. With any luck we'll find does already pregnant so I won't have to get a buck.

Americauna chick
On the chicken front, come 2013, we are getting rid of the black Australorp and buff Orphingtons.

I'm sorry to let the Australorp go because they are terrific layers, but we wanted a chicken that produced dark brown eggs. With a little research, I found out about the French Maran. The Maran lays the darkest chocolate brown eggs of any hen. If we can't find anyone local to buy chicks, we'll have to order online.

The buff Orphington have been a little too high maintenance. They eat more than the others and prefer to ravage my garden instead of hunt for bugs. They also won't come in readily when it's time to come in from grazing. That means we go round and round the pen until they get the idea. Dumb birds. We have to let them go regardless though. It turns out our rooster is shooting blanks. Dumb and impotent.

We're keeping the Americauna, but this time we're looking for the ones who lay only green or blue eggs. Right now I have only one hen that lays green eggs. I've tagged her and kept every green egg she's laid and incubated them. Next year, we'll get rid of all the Americaunas except my green egg layer once we see what color eggs the new batch of chickens will lay.

Gardens: The corn borer has been busy eating our corn, but we still got a goodly amount harvested. The sunflowers are just now opening. And the loofahs are flowering nicely. Loofahs require a minimum of 150 days of warm weather so we're on schedule there too.

Onions: I didn't plant near enough. Will remedy that next year.

Garlic: The chickens didn't eat them, but they did trample all over my garlic bed. :shakes fist:

Tomatoes: This year, not only did I plant tomatoes in two gardens, but in pots too. I'm going to try to grow them all year this time and see how long they last.

But here's the kicker. I had a volunteer tomato plant start accidentally in my compost bin. Not only does it get no water except for the occasional rain shower, but it is bigger and healthier than my regular tomato plants. This is compost at its best.

Mangels: After a second try and extra water, they are finally doing well. This is another long season plant. (110 days) Glad I live in Texas!

Back garden
Orchard: I may have to admit to myself that fruit trees aren't my strong suit. The trees grow fine (except cherry), but fruit production sucks. I might have to stick to blackberries. We had another string of volunteers shoot up next to Greg's workshop.

Putting up the harvest: Am I a bad homesteader for admitting that I hate to process the foods I harvest? It's time-consuming. It's hard work. And I almost always have to do it by myself. Last year I had Greg help me make one batch of salsa and he complained the whole time. 

All I can say is: Buck up, buddy! Now you know what I have to go through.

I don't like canning. Although I've had more successes than failures, it's one of those chores where I wish I felt more confident--or at least had more help.

I am giving a lot of the harvest to the chickens--which has been great! My feed bill is way down. They eat my imperfect tomatoes, the cucumbers that got too big, and the tops to all my radishes.

It's been a very busy season. Most everything has been successful and I'm better able to see where I need to improve and what I should try next. My goal for this winter is to continue my garden, even if it's just a little lettuce under grow-lights and a couple of tomato plants in pots.

Our goal is to eventually grow the majority of our own food. Not to save money--because you don't. Big agro conglomerates can raise meat and produce far more cheaply than I can. But at least I know what's in my food--and what's not.

I go to bed tired every night, but wake up raring to go. That's a good life. 

Do you enjoy what you do for your life's work? If not, what would you like to do?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Bloggy Contest Coming Soon

If I ever decide to stop blogging, you can thank the spammers for me quitting. I am sick to death of seeing their slimy links on my blog. 

My posts are moderated after they've gone live for 24 hours so I suspect you shouldn't see most of the spam that comes through, but I still see it in my email and it drives me absolutely insane.

It's gotten so bad, I have actually considered deleting this blog. So far I have talked myself out of it.

Mistress of the Stone should be out soon. Word on the street says August 28th.

I am planning a little contest for my OTHER blog, Back to Basics. It's going to run a whole month. No ETA on when it'll start, but expect it very soon. In the meanwhile, if you're not following my blog or Facebook page, you should.

When the contest starts, those who are already following Back to Basics or have Liked its sister-Facebook page (The Frugal Way) will get extra points in the drawing. Comments and tweets will count too.

Last week I talked about picnics and going green. Before that it was laundry, and toilets, and building a pet first aid kit. I run the gamut with topics when it comes to frugal living and simple solutions. Next week, I'm even having my first guest.

Everyone is welcome--except spammers.

Has anyone noticed an increase in spam? Do you moderate your blogs?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Circle of (Writing) Life

Several years ago I was on a writer's forum where there were several up and coming authors who are now big names in their genre. As they began to achieve success, one by one, they fell off the loop, no longer interested in contributing to the conversation.

Always having been more of a lurker than a participant, I took their disappearance in stride. Yet several group members blamed the loop itself for driving away their demigods. There was no one left to adulate.

If I sound snarky, it's meant that way. These authors didn't leave because the group didn't appreciate them. They left because it was no longer beneficial to them. They were tired of being the teachers to an endless cycle of newbies.

There was a lot of worshipful praise, and while some of the veterans basked in the boot-licking, what they really wanted was to rub shoulders with people who could do something for their career. Like: Big(ger) name authors. Editors. Publishers. People with clout and/or money.

It's a normal part of growth and change. We keep our friends, but our colleagues and peers change over the course of our careers. You might notice that the people who comment on your blog change through the years. Or your private circle of critique partners or confidantes expands or diminishes as you grow as an author.

It's not personal. It's business. And it's perfectly natural.

You never see big name authors do blog hops and memes, primarily because they don't need that kind of visibility. They've already got an audience. And let's face it. In social situations, most of them prefer to hang with their own kind. 

Like water, we find our own level. But every so often we overflow our banks and end up in a new body of water.

Sometimes I'm sad when an author, hitting the big time, cuts his ties with his old gang. But I remind myself, I was always a peer. A friend never leaves you--even if your tides don't roll up at the same beach anymore.

If you hit the big-time (movie deal and big money) who would you tell first? Or would you pass out from the excitement?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Kamikaze Yoga

Sunday morning I started yoga. What was I thinking!?

It took me three years to muster the nerve and sign on the dotted line. When I walked into the studio, they had my information on file from when I signed up for their newsletter three years ago--in another city. 

Those of you who've known me longest know that I came down with a back injury that prevents me from sitting for more than fifteen minutes at a time. I've been to doctors, chiropractors, surgeons, pain specialists, and physical therapists. Occasionally, I would get a little relief, but the pain would return a day or two later. I'm hoping yoga might take the edge off. 

Iko, Ready to Rumble
So far, so good. I enjoy yoga. I love the stretches and the strength building. And while I hate having to drive all the way into town to work out, I like that I can do it without getting trampled on by Kamikaze Iko.

Every time I stretch at home, Iko thinks I'm getting on the floor to play with him and he pounces on me with all his weight. He's such a sweetie, so it's hard to stay mad at him. If only he realized that body-slamming me with that 110 pound mountain of muscle is a little like doing ten rounds with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

That dog can bitch-slap me with one swing of his paw. I still have the last scar he gave me. Yoga at the studio is much, much safer. 

Has anyone out there tried yoga? Was it a good or bad experience?

Contest: I think I mentioned this on Facebook, but I might as well mention it here too. Chain of Souls was nominated by Embrace the Shadows as a contender for best cover of the month.

I promised myself I would no longer put myself in competitions, but it's awfully nice to be nominated because someone else thought you were good. So take a look at the covers and vote for mine if you like it best.

Workload: I have a tendency (by necessity) to work on things a month or more in advance. So anything you read was usually written weeks earlier. Occasionally, I'll slip in a newer post if it relates to something current (like this one), but most of the time I plan ahead.

I am losing that battle. I've slipped to being only one week ahead of time and that's just for one blog. That's cutting it too close. One emergency or an unplanned extra job could wipe me out and I'd have nothing.

That almost happened to me last week. I had Thursday's post ready but we had several thunderstorms go through and I decided to shut down my computer. Well, wouldn't you know it, Thursday came and I never had a chance to get back online.

Do you guys write more than one post at a time for future use? I need to get back to my two month buffer. It's nerve-wracking to live on the knife's edge.

Maybe I need more yoga. 


Friday, June 8, 2012

Meet, Greet, and a Giveaway

I normally post on Thursdays, but I had a mountain of things to do this week, some of which were curtailed by much needed rain. So here I am to give you a weekend report of things happening around the net.

By now I hope all of you have heard that LinkedIn had been hacked by the Russians. According to the LA Times, more than six million passwords were stolen, and at least 300,000 passwords have been compromised. If you have a LinkedIn account, please change your password. And if you discover you are short one link--that might be me. I deleted my account. I never use it anyway.

I'd like to introduce you to (Jim) Giacomo Giammateo. I know Jim from my days on OWW (Online Writing Workshop for SF&F and Horror). I don't know why I didn't have his blog on my radar, but I found it accidentally when I caught his interview on The Independent Author Network. 

I knew Jim and his wife were stewards of an animal sanctuary, but I didn't know what that entailed until I started reading his blog. If you love animals in all their forms, put this blog on your read list. 

If you like your murder mysteries with extra intrigue, buy his latest book. Murder Takes Time. You can find it in digital and paperback. 

A string of brutal murders has bodies piling up in Brooklyn, and Detective Frankie Donovan knows what is going on. Clues left at the crime scenes point to someone from the old neighborhood, and that isn't good.

Frankie has taken two oaths in his life--the one he took to uphold the law when he became a cop, and the one he took with his two best friends when they were eight years old and inseparable. Those relationships have forced Frankie to make many tough decisions, but now he faces the toughest one of his life; he has five murders to solve and one of those two friends is responsible. If Frankie lets him go, he breaks the oath he took as a cop and risks losing his job. But if he tries to bring him in, he breaks the oath he kept for twenty-five years--and risks losing his life.

In the neighborhood where Frankie Donovan grew up, you never broke an oath.

It's gotten some great reviews!

And if you visit Jim, tell him that dog-crazy Texan sent you.


Finding Jim's blog accidentally stirred something in me. I follow a lot of blogs, but each interest group has become kind of a closed circle. I keep running into the same people, and while cozy, is not particularly stimulating--especially if their comments sound the same on each blog.

I can't accuse anyone of leaving limp comments here! You guys rock when it comes to creating conversation. Mine is one of few blogs where people tell me they actively read the comment stream. THAT'S how good you are.

But I'm ready to expand my reach and try other blogs. I've made a list of my interests: homesteading, history, romance writers, and animals, and have been clicking on links to see who else I should be reading. If you know of any blog that doesn't get enough love and deserves to be more recognized, I hope you'll let me know in the comments. I'd like to visit them.

In the meantime, go and visit my buddy, Jim.

Lastly, if you're looking to win some free books, stop by and visit Cecile at All I Want and More for her Shameless Summer Blog Hop. Me and a lot of other authors have donated to the cause. Stop by and get in on the Giveaway.  It starts today and runs through June 15. Good luck!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Grab Your Pony and Ride

Raelyn Barclay mentioned casually on her blog that her mother was a nurse. That little piece of information fascinated me, and I wondered if she ever considered it too.

Every so often I ponder what else I'd like to do with my life. There will never be a life long enough to accomplish all I want, so as I teeter closer to the end than the beginning, I become more and more particular about how I spend my time.

I've been plotting my life's journey since I was a kid. Back then I even wrote down a list of goals, steadfast in my belief that each should occur by a certain age. (Oh, young Maria! You were so naïve.)

Every goal I pined for and put on my little list, I enjoyed. I loved the work. I loved the challenge. But most of all, I loved the ride. You only get one ride on this pony of life and I wanted each step of the way to be worthwhile and fun.

Some goals I set and attained effortlessly. Like becoming a graphic artist.

Others jumped up out of nowhere and smacked me on the head. That's how I became a writer.

I never expected to be married, yet I married young. I never expected to move across the country, yet that casual decision has taken me on more adventures than I could imagine. 

Life's funny that way. No matter how meticulous your goals, Fate has a way of turning your nicely ordered life into a maze of possibilities.

Big goals. Little goals. It makes no difference. Even the smallest benchmark can create major turning points in your life.

I'd like to do some teaching at some point before my time is through--just to be able to pass on what I've learned. Not in a stuffy college, but a hands-on kind of situation where I can talk with people one-on-one. Maybe speaking engagements. Maybe a workshop. For now it's a far off dream, but it's on my punch list.

What's something you'd like to accomplish in this lifetime? What would you put on your list if life gave you a do-over? And out of curiosity...did you ever follow in the footsteps of either parent?