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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Once More Into the Breach

Rebel that I am, I've decided to take back what belongs to me.

I spent all year contemplating what I wanted to do next in my life. My biggest problem is that I have more interests than I have years left so I really want to make my choices count.

And then there's Greg. We'll be living together again (full time) for the first time in 14 years. There's bound to be some acclimation. My space. His space. My time. His time. ...our time.

So after a great deal of thought, I've decided to stop writing/publishing for at least two years. The next twelve months will be brutal. What with the extra travel, selling the other house, moving Greg here, and getting used to a full time husband again, something has to give.

I want to concentrate more on the cover art business, which brings me enormous pleasure. And then there's the homestead, which requires fewer, though still earnest hours daily. But mostly, I want to spend some long-absent quality time with Greg. 

I'm always reminded about people on their deathbeds. They always say what they regretted most was not spending more time with loved ones. I'm determined not to let work dominate the rest of my time on earth. 

I've done more work than any three mules put together. I deserve some time--not for the world, or posterity, or vanity, or even for money--but for myself.

The writing isn't the only thing going away. I just gave up a long-time freelance job editing a big SFF newsletter.

None of these decisions came easily. I'm more than halfway done with an urban fantasy that crackles with personality and will probably be my best book yet. It'll be put away as soon as I finish it--at least for a couple of years.

Two years is not such a long time. I think it will fly. And who knows what 2016 will bring by then. I may give up writing all together. Or I might write a dozen more books. Either way, I'm satisfied that I reached some level of success in publishing.

If for some reason I don't go back to writing, I can still say I did pretty good, and move on with a clear conscience.

In the meantime I'll keep blogging here and on Back to Basics, telling you tales about the homestead and all the interesting things I learn along the way. And I'll keep designing covers and other graphics, so recommend me to your friends if they're in search of an experienced designer.

It's a little scary, but also exciting. There are so many things I want to do now that Greg will be home for good.

Have you ever made a momentous decision that threw you into unknown territory? How did it work out for you?

Do you have any big plans for 2014? What would you like to accomplish in the next year? 

And how will you be spending the last day of 2013? 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

I Wanted a Chemistry Set, but all I got was an Easy-Bake Oven

Christmas is over and I hope you're all reeling from the after effects of good food, friends, and presents.

I was alone for Christmas, but that's okay. I'm looking ahead to next Christmas when hubby will be home for good. 

Although we don't exchange presents anymore I couldn't help but reminisce about the rotten presents I've had in years past. You know the ones. We all get them.

Like the crockpot I got from Greg on our first Christmas. Who gives their new bride a crockpot? But boy, I miss it now. Who knew I would depend on it so much? Greg was obviously prescient back then. (Not so much anymore though.)

Or the Easy-Bake Oven I got from my parents. I had begged for a chemistry set. (I had visions of being the next Louis Pasteur and discovering miracle cures with my handy-dandy chemistry set.)

But did I get one?


I was like the kid from "A Christmas Story" who begged for a Red Rider BB gun and was constantly denied. My parents thought I'd be dangerous with a chemistry set. Baking was safer--and more gender-specific. This was the 60s after all.

Oh, if they only knew how wrong they were. It took me years to master any kind of edible food and only because I was forced. I didn't want my husband to starve on my cooking.

In the end I let my sisters play with the little oven while I played with their Spirograph and Thingmaker, a toy that made rubber bugs out of molds. They got the cool toys and I got an oven. 

There's no justice in the world.

It's funny. I've probably had dozens of gifts I've loved, yet the most memorable were the ones (I thought) I hated. 

Today, my tastes are simpler. My idea of a great present is a gift certificate for a massage, some potted herbs or heirloom seeds, or a starter bag of red wiggler worms (for my future worm farm).

But please, no Easy Bake Ovens. One was enough.

What have you always wanted, but never received?  

Did you have a good Christmas?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Mini Movie Review: Cloud Atlas

As movies go, this has to be the most complex film I've ever seen. We missed seeing it when it released in theaters and now I'm glad we waited to see it on dvd.

It's a series of six stories nested and interrelated to one another spanning centuries. What makes it interesting yet a challenge to follow is that each story slips in and out of each time period like a stream of consciousness.

This will not appeal to everyone. I've seen both glowing and blistering reviews. I can tell that those who hate this film probably don't (or won't) understand the subtle context woven into each story. I have to hand it to the author, David Mitchell. He was sublime; reminiscent of Richard Matheson.

This will appeal to those who like stories about reincarnation and soul mates. It's actually grander than soul mates. It's an entire soul group that lives and dies in each century.

Google 'soul group' and you'll find countless links describing this phenomenon. But in simplest terms, we tend to travel through time within certain groups. This might trigger that strange feeling you get when you meet someone for the first time yet you seem to know them immediately and even intimately.

In each life, we are not always good and noble creatures. Sometimes we're scoundrels or worse. The movie shows the growth pattern of each of the characters through the centuries.

We will definitely need to see this a couple more times (and with subtitles) to catch the subtler innuendo. But we both deeply enjoyed it. It's been several days since we've seen the film and we still find things to discuss and analyze.

The cast is led by Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, but there are remarkable performances by all the main actors. Every actor played many roles. (I still can't believe Hugh Grant could pull off a cannibal.) Although their concentration to character must've been grueling, special credit has to go to the film editors. The way they transitioned from one century to the next and then between stories is nothing short of amazing.

It is part science fiction, part historical, part post-apocalytic, part dystopian, but all preternatural. 

We live many lives and share them with many people. We are good and evil, and sometimes the smallest gesture can change a world.

If you like epic stories that make you think in four dimensions, I recommend this movie.

Monday, December 9, 2013

How to Decide What to Do with Your Life

I read a blog a few weeks ago that pondered the age-old question: How do you decide what to do with your life?

That's actually harder and yet simpler than it seems.

The benefit of a few extra decades has given me the wisdom to know that if you want to be happy, you should venture into wherever your passion leads you.

For me, that can get a little complex because nearly everything fascinates me. Since we're all granted only a finite number of days, I've had to choose carefully.

The blogger cited someone wiser than himself and offered this advice: Look at the books on your bookshelves. What topics come up most?

On my bookshelves, I have books on ancient history, art, animal husbandry, dogs, gardening, simpler living, archeology, the paranormal, painting and writing. I also have a lot of romance novels (heavy on the historicals). I used to have a lot of science fiction but my tastes have shifted over the years.

So if I were to disseminate my interests I have any number of careers to choose from--many of which already appear on my life's resume.

I think looking at your library is a pretty good indicator on where your passions lie. We read what interests us most.

What's in your library? Is there something you'd like to try (or write about) that you haven't yet?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Bad News Comes in Threes

I got a Google alert telling me "I" was tweeting a bunch of hog swallow so I checked it out and it was someone who had stolen my profile picture, logo, and my web sites. He set up a second account called @7MariaZannini

I immediately changed ALL my passwords and contacted Twitter. They weren't much help. They want me to send them a photo ID to prove it's me--even after I filled out their form. 

I mentioned it on Facebook and several friends went to that site and clicked on the drop down box to report that site as spam. It looks like he's been blocked. If you go there and see it unblocked, do me a favor, and keep reporting his content as spam.

This was the topping of an already bad day. 

We're expecting 6 days of bitterly cold weather, which might not elicit much sympathy from northern states, but our infrastructure isn't geared for really cold weather. I've hunkered down all the animals and water lines as best I could. Times like these I could use a husband. 

But the worst news of yesterday is that I lost Belle, my girl rabbit. Somehow she pushed her feeder out (it slides through a hole in her cage). I can't imagine how she squeezed out of that hole, but somehow she did. I looked for her in every possible hiding place.

This is a video of Blu nuzzling Belle. They were always very sweet with each other.

I'm afraid a coyote might've snatched her during the night. I've seen a coyote grab a chicken without so much as breaking his stride, so it would be no sport to catch a tame bunny.

I am heartsick. She was such a nice girl. Very friendly. If she's alive, she'll have to brave the winter storm on her own. And if she's dead...

Like I said, it's been a very bad day.

I'll keep leaving food and water near her habitat in case she comes back, but I don't hold much hope. She couldn't have picked a worst time to make an escape.

On a lighter note, if you want to help a friend of mine, Maureen Betita's cover (one I designed) is entered in a cover contest. If you can give it a vote, I know she'd really appreciate it. The winner gets a nice prize. You have to subscribe to InD'tale ezine, but it's a pretty cool magazine (and it's free) so look around while you're there.

Monday, December 2, 2013

One House Too Many

My trip to Casa South was especially rough. I went in with my eyes open though. I knew packing up an entire house (then readying it to sell) was not going to be a cakewalk. This is a monumental effort that we'll be dividing into pieces over the next three months.

Meanwhile, back at Casa North, my friend, Mel had her hands full with BBQ, the goat. I had put him in a smaller pen while I was away, even going so far as to penning him up every few days weeks in advance to get him used to "captivity".

Apparently, by the time Mel got here, he was ready to commit mutiny. He had rammed the gate so hard he had nearly pulled it off the hinges. Mel was terrified that he might hurt the does since he seemed so violent, but BBQ was just being a typical male goat. Obnoxious.

I deliberately penned him up because he's a handful. You don't realize how aggressive a male goat can get until he rams all 200+ pounds of himself at you.

Mel, resourceful as ever, managed to double-wrap the gate with chain and rope. BBQ wasn't going anywhere.

He was annoyed, but when he realized he couldn't get through, he settled down.

To thank my friend, we invited her and her husband for an early Thanksgiving dinner. This year, Greg smoked the turkey. It came out great! There was lots of food to go around and send home with my friends. 

Even my pumpkin pie was a hit. This always surprises me because I don't like pumpkin. I make it every year for Greg but I have no idea how it tastes. I must've done all right because I got two thumbs up. It was a nice ending to a very long week.

All in all, the animals did fine without me. Even more importantly, Tank did well. I left him and Maggie with Mel. I knew she'd take good care of them. She's had a lot of experience with geriatric dogs which gave me great peace of mind. Tank doesn't take long trips well anymore so it was a great relief to leave him with someone he loved and trusted.

Later this month, I'll talk about some upcoming changes in my career. I alluded to it about six months ago, but I'll spill the beans this month. It'll be shocking, terrifying, and all together typical for me. Things are about to change in my life. On purpose. Wish me luck.

For the rest of this month, I'll be switching to blogging only on Mondays. I'll still post on Back to Basics on Wednesdays. This Wednesday: Hostess Gifts.

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Holiday Hiatus for the Mule

To all my friends in the US, an early Happy Thanksgiving! I've decided to take another week off to finish what I started. Right now, I'm worried it might finish me off too. LOL!

The past week has been a GRUELING week of of 18 hours days. I don't think I ever worked so hard in my life. Everything hurts on me. 

For those of you who don't know, hubby lives 300 miles away. We're trying to get his house ready to put on the market for next year so he can retire and we can live like normal people. What is normal anyway?

Most of my chores at Casa South involved cleaning or throwing stuff out. You cannot imagine what you can accumulate in nearly 40 years of marriage. (I see a massive garage sale in our future.)

Then came the painting. Lots of painting.

I'm still not done. Lots more to do inside and out, but I think I got the extra-hard stuff out of the way. Now it's a matter of fixing anything that's broken, painting the outside of the house, and clearing five acres of overgrown woods.

I'm hoping I can finish everything in three more trips.

We took the weekend off and we've been vegging on the couch and catching up on movies we'd missed. But Monday starts another week of endless chores. (I swear, if I'm ever rich, I will never scrub another floor or wall again!)

How have you been? If you're in the US, are you traveling or planning Thanksgiving at home? How about all you NaNo-ites? How did the writing go? I'll have more internet access this week so I'll be able to catch up on your blogs.

I will be back on December 2nd with harrowing tales of BBQ, (the goat) and other (more delicious) stories about smoking our first turkey.

It's a bit chilly here in north Texas so I'm battening down the hatches and putting out more hay for the animals. Me? I'm experimenting with cranberry margaritas. It warms you right up. :o)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Off to Work Even Harder

This will be my last post for a couple of weeks. Later this week I'll be heading south. Sadly, it's not for sun and fun, but to my house in east Texas where Greg lives. It's time to start prepping the house to sell next year.

There's a lot to do to get it ready. Cleaning, painting, brush-clearing, house-leveling (it's on piers). I plan to be busy from the moment I arrive to the moment I leave.

My biggest concern are all the animals here at Casa North. Fortunately, a friend of mine has graciously offered to homestead-sit while I'm away. She'll be feeding critters and unhooking stuck goat-heads from the fence as necessary.

I'm trying to set it up so she has very little to do while she's here. It can be a full time job taking care of this place, but I just need her to do only the most necessary chores to keep everyone fed and safe.

Her most important job will be looking after two of my four dogs. I'm taking the two trouble-makers with me. It eases my mind to no end that my friend is one of the most conscientious people I know.

To prove the point, Greg and I once went on vacation to DC. We left Tank and Chelly at a pet hotel. I had every assurance that my kids would be safe there. Three days into our trip I got a call from the pet hotel people telling me that Chelly absolutely refuses to eat. They'd tried every food on their shelves.

I was upset but not too surprised. Chelly was elderly by that time and even though she was sharing a room with Tank, she didn't like the change in her routine. 

I contacted my friend and had her make Chelly her favorite dish--liver and rice. The hotel people offered to take the meal and feed Chelly, but my friend steadfastly refused. No, she said. I see her eat or I won't leave. 

She was so adamant they had to submit to her demands. It broke all their rules, but they led her to a private room where she could spend time with my baby and feed her by hand.

Now that's a true friend!

Do you have a friend like that?

Will you miss me? :grin:

Monday, November 4, 2013

Promotions That Sizzled and Fizzled

I seem to be seeing less book promotion lately, probably a side-effect of NaNo and the upcoming holidays. For this I'm grateful. If promo was sugar, I'd be in a promo-induced coma.

I don't blame authors. In the over-saturated world of publishing, you need to call attention to your book, but I wonder if the blitzing and blogging has jaded the general public. It's gotten to the point that if I don't already know you (as in people who visit or comment here regularly) I delete promo posts without a glance.

This begs the question, does blasting your message work? Is there any particular promo you'd gladly do without?

I really dislike book signings. For me, at least, I'm too far away from any sizable bookstore. Worse, I'm uncomfortable around strangers who are equally uncomfortable walking in to find yet another author pitching her book.

My favorite method of promotion is a blog tour, but only if all my posts are original and upbeat. I was very proud of my Indie Road Show tour that I did a couple of years ago. I forget now how many stops I made, but every post was unique and got a lot of mileage. They were some of my best posts.

On the other hand, I will never do another cover reveal spree unless it's strictly a reviewer blog where readers congregate to see what's new.

For my cover design business, Book Cover Diva, the Facebook event I did in early 2013 with Gwen Gardner was surprisingly fun and effective. I was a nervous Nelly, but having a partner in crime took the edge off. It was a great relief to see so many people show up too. I was stunned at the response.

So how about you? Is there any promotion you'd rather not do--or see from others? Is there anything you particularly enjoyed?

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Face on the Wall

When I was very little, my parents would make a cross-country trip to see my grandparents in Mexico. It was a 3 day trip, partly because my mother didn't drive and partly because many of the interstates weren't finished--or started.

The trip was a huge event for me. I loved my grandma and couldn't wait to see her. But there was one other lady I wanted to see. From my earliest recollections, there was a painting of a fragile-looking woman with light brown hair and blue eyes. She was my great grandmother.

I would stare at the painting sometimes all afternoon, wishing the lady in the picture would speak to me. I had a million questions.

My grandmother noticed my fascination (grandmas by nature are very smart and particularly observant). She'd tell me little stories about my great grandmother. She was from Spain, and yes, there was a big population of blonde-haired and blue-eyed Spaniards. (Obviously that gene skipped me completely.)

For such a tiny and frail woman, she seemed to have tremendous fortitude. In the 1870s, she left her home and sailed for Mexico with her new husband, never to see her own family again. Through this delicate little woman sprung an enormous new clan.

Every time I visited I'd pay my respects to my great grandmother. Her portrait always hung in a place of honor.

Over the years, I visited less and less, and finally not again until I was an adult with a new husband of my own. Once again, I looked for that painting. I asked my grandmother if she'd let me be the painting's guardian after she was gone. It was all but secured.

But when my grandma passed away, I forgot about the painting until many months later when I grew nostalgic. My mother made inquiries among the relatives but no one seemed to know its whereabouts. I was heartbroken.

Undaunted, my mom went for an extended visit to continue her sleuthing. The painting had been scoffed up by some of her second cousins. With no will, I had no right to it. At this point I even offered to buy the painting because it was so important to me.

The second cousins, suspicious now that it might be valuable, refused me outright. I never saw or heard about the painting's whereabouts again.

I hope someone is taking care of my great grandmother, but somehow I doubt it. All I wanted was to keep some token of her memory in safekeeping until it was my time to pass it on.

That delicate face haunts me to this very day.

Is there anything that haunts your memories?

Thursday, October 24, 2013


For years, Greg has been bugging me to let him get a smoker. He's had numerous barbecue grills, from low-rent jobbies to ultra modern and ultra expensive. Most have lived on the fringes, coming out only on special occasions like days when we lost the house during a hurricane. We had no choice but to cook outside.

I relented on the smoker when we found a particularly good price on one that looked heavy enough to withstand a zombie attack.

Let me say upfront that I'm not a big fan of smoked meats. To me, it was always heavy on the smoke which clouded the flavor of the meat, but Greg changed my mind.

So far, he's smoked chickens and a brisket. 

The juice is from the marinade he used.
Best. Food. Ever. 

I wish this blog had smell-o-vision so I could prove it.

The chicken was juicy and so flavorful that I ate more than my fair share. The brisket, by far my least favorite meat (as meats go), was absolutely delicious in sandwiches. I was hooked.

This year we will be smoking our first turkey.

I was wrong about smoked foods. (Yes, Greg. I said I was wrong. Don't get a big head over it.)

Done right, smoking the food imparts a unique flavor and is so juicy it melts in your mouth.

In front of the chicken are two baked potatoes wrapped in bacon.

Have you ever eaten smoked food right out of a smoker? Was that your reaction too?

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Different Era

My father-in-law's parents immigrated to the US from Italy. They sold all their possessions to book passage in steerage.

Otto (Aro) with sister, Norma, and two cousins
That story always fascinated me. I can't even imagine the hardships they must've faced. Yet they felt that America was full of promise. They would do whatever was necessary to fit in--even rename their children.

My father-in-law's real name was Aro, but when he entered school, his teacher (a German-American) suggested to his parents that he'd have more opportunity in their adoptive country if their son had a more American-sounding name--like Otto.

Greg's grandparents, eager to fit in, and not realizing that Otto was more German than American, readily agreed. Aro became Otto.

It's only within the past 40 years or so that we've become enamored with re-embracing our original heritage--even if we are many generations removed from that heritage. But back in the early part of the 20th century immigrants gladly distanced themselves from their mother country so they could be seen as Americans. 

It's curious to see the pendulum swing in the opposite direction today.

I never got the chance to ask my father-in-law how he felt about his name change. I also wondered if it involved any legal maneuvering--but I doubt it. It was a different time and they didn't bother with trifles. If your parents renamed you, that was legal enough for everyone.

I had a friend who was adopted during the Great Depression. His blood parents, no longer able to feed him, dropped him off at a children's home. A few months later, a couple picked him out of a playground, and took him with them as they traveled cross-country. There were no papers filed or background checks. The home was glad to have one less mouth to feed.

Can you imagine anything like that happening today?

Next week, I'll tell a little story about my great grandmother--a woman I've never met yet haunts me to this very day.

How far can you trace your ancestry?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

State of the Homestead

Love is in the air.

Blue New Zealand rabbits: I was hoping to post a sex tape of the rabbits, but apparently, they're not quite ready to mate. The male seems interested, but he doesn't do more than sniff at the doe's backside. It's possible he's not quite mature yet. 

The reason I wanted to do a video of the mating is because it's quite possibly the most hilarious sex you'll ever see. I don't even want to describe it. You'll have to wait until it happens. But trust me, once you've seen rabbits mate, you'll never think about sex the same way again.

Goats: Old Barbecue is getting pretty randy. Lucy, the older doe seems to be in season, but I don't think Heidi is ready yet.

Meanwhile Barbecue is being totally disgusting. Male goats pee on themselves and in their mouths, then spread the scent wherever they can. It's totally gross. The first time I saw it, I just stood there aghast. I couldn't believe he peed in his mouth even though I'd been told it was common buck behavior.

I don't know if he's mated yet. But he's been serenading the does constantly. He even gets louder when I come out to their pen.

I'll leave you with a short video of his singing. ...and spare you the video of him peeing in his mouth.

Garden: It's a shame it's cooled off so fast, I may have to pull my warm weather vegetables into pots and grow them indoors, but at least the cabbage and cauliflower are happy. And the grasshoppers are nearly all gone. Finally!

Here's a shot of one of my watermelons. I didn't get too many, but they were absolutely delicious. Very sweet.


With any luck, both Heidi and Lucy will be bred this year. And then we wait for 150 days. Sometime in March, if all goes well, (and BBQ does his job) we should hear the pitter patter of little baby goats.

Birth, regardless of the species is nothing short of awesome. Have you ever seen an animal give birth?

Monday, October 14, 2013

In the Studio

Happy Thanksgiving to my Canadian friends! It's Columbus Day in the US.

Still not feeling 100% so I thought I'd show you a couple of designs I just finished. 


Dead Stock, by Tim Hall is a cozy mystery. It's about Bert Shambles, a guy who picks up 'dead stock', (the leftovers from retailers) and resells them to vintage boutiques, solving mysteries along the way. 

It hasn't released yet, but the author has already done his cover reveal so it's safe to show.

This next piece is a web site banner. I know. I don't have web site graphics listed on Book Cover Diva, but I've done several designs already. If you can upload them yourself, I can design them for you.

This particular piece of art is for Michelle Lowhorn and her new romantic suspense series involving teachers and detectives/ex-military. I thought it was a great concept.

Lots more on the docket so I'd better get back to work. ...but after I feed the beasties outside. They insist.

Do you have the day off today? What's on the agenda?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Food, Love, and a Warm Puppy

38 years ago today I said, I do.

We stood in front of an old black Southern Baptist judge who did her best to scare the hell out of us.

In a castigating voice she lectured us about the monumental mistake we were making, and assured us we were being stupid. Walk out now, she said, and save yourself a lot of grief. The walls of Jericho had better odds than your ill-conceived notion.

I can laugh about it now and bless that good woman every day. She wanted us to be sure. I overheard her telling my parents that she didn't want to see us a few months down the road asking for a divorce.

When it came time for me to say, I do, instead I said, I sure do, and she almost laughed. Almost. One corner of her mouth lifted incrementally. 

She was right to put the fear of God into us. The first couple of years were tough! You could see it in our photos. I don't recall ever being hungry, but we sure did look thin.

Our first dining room set consisted of a large cardboard box for a table and two shipping drums as our chairs. 

There was a lot of pasta eaten in the early years. And often times we lived from paycheck to paycheck. But we must've had guardian angels. Whenever things looked exceptionally grim, something always turned up. 

For our first Thanksgiving, with no money for food, $50 fell out of a knot hole in a cedar closet. Out of a knot hole! I couldn't believe it.

At Christmas, I squirrelled away change for the $10 I'd need to buy a Christmas tree. Instead, the manager at the store gave us the tree. (You can read the original story here.)

That same year, I'd been feeling very lonely after we moved to Texas. My sister gifted us with our first puppy (and everything a puppy would need).

We were poor as dust, but buddy, I can tell you that by the close of 1976, we felt like Rockefellers.  We had food, love, and a warm puppy. What more could we ask for?

We were ridiculously happy for being so poor. Times were lean, but that was okay. We had all we needed. 

38 years later. We still operate with the same principles. Food, love, and a warm puppy...multiplied by four. 

I'm sure that dear old judge is gone now, but I'd like to tell her she didn't make a mistake marrying us. We were sure.

In other news: I came down with a sore throat and will be missing the fair again. I was hoping it was just allergies, but it's beginning to feel more serious than that.  :sigh:

The important thing is, Greg's home...and we have plenty of puppies.

Has anyone ever tried to talk you out of something you really wanted?


Monday, October 7, 2013

Billy, the Bully

I'll probably put up a State of the Homestead next week. I'm hoping I might have some interesting video by then. At least it should be more interesting than my thighs which are currently punctuated with bruises thanks to Billy (the goat). 

By the way, I renamed him Barbecue after our last run-in. I walked with a limp all week. He left me with a humongous bruise that hurts even now. 

He's not mean or aggressive--unless you're walking in with food. In his ever-present greed, he'll ram or gore anyone who gets between him and that bucket of feed. It's a constant test of wills when I walk in there. I separate him from the does when I feed him now so at least they can eat in peace.

I should've known he'd start that business. His father did the same thing with his herd. If he keeps it up, he's going in the pot. 

This week I hope we make it to the state fair. I say that every year but something always comes up. I'm crossing my fingers. Greg only goes for the food. But I like to look at the farm animals and the handicrafts. This year they're having ostrich races, but it's only in the evenings and I'm not sure we'll be there that late.

In unrelated news, I just finished watching season 2 of Call the Midwife, a Brit drama about London's east side during the 1950s . Thanks to Sarah Ahiers for turning me on to that show. Gets me bawling every time. I highly recommend it.

Have you ever gone to a big fair? What's your favorite part?

This Thursday is a special day for me. Stop by and see me then. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Cheese With My Whine

Grasshoppers continue to plague my garden. No sooner does the current species die out that a new breed takes up residence. With over 8,000 species in existence, I might not win this battle.

I blame the large fields within five miles surrounding us. Some commercial outfits have planted corn and sorghum and that's like open buffet to grasshoppers. My guess is whoever is farming that land is spraying heavily, so instead of the hoppers munching on their fields, they go to those of us who aren't using pesticides.

We didn't have this trouble two years ago. The only thing that's changed is the rise of these massive fields of grain.

I could whine about this (and I have) but I've decided to fight back. Next year, we'll be building some raised beds that will be easier to net and cover. It's a shame we have to go through so much trouble but these pests leave us no choice. We refuse to use pesticides so we have to fight them with other means.

But this brings me to the point of this post. It's normal for us to complain when things get hard. The trick is not to let it win. There are always options. --not necessarily easy options, but then nobody ever promised us easy.

In the publishing side of my life, social media is eating my lunch. I used to be able to keep up but even my own blogging is suffering. I'm seriously thinking of posting once a week here and once at Back to Basics. That's one option. Another option is to combine my blogs again. Or I could get rid of one.

As for visiting others, I'll continue to fit them in as time allows or playing catch up on Sundays when it's quieter.

Do you have a set time or day when you do your visiting? How do you decide when and if to leave a comment? I don't like to leave a comment unless it's meaningful and those take more thought and time. What's a "burn the candle at both ends" girl to do?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Ask Not for Whom the Bell Tolls

...It tolls for thee.

Part of the homesteading life also revolves around taking life to feed man and dog alike. We tend to keep our birds longer than normal. We also give them the best life we can. But as winter approaches we need to lighten our load. 

For the next couple of months we'll be dispatching many of our birds.

It's not pleasant work, but we do it as quickly and as humanely as possible. Nothing goes to waste. Even the feathers are put back into the compost. That in turn will grow the feed that will feed future generations of chickens.

How do you feel about taking life to feed yourself? (That is, if you're not a vegan.) 

Greg says that I'm almost obsessive about cleanliness and a sterile environment when I dress any animal. It's true. I can't control what the USDA allows, but at least I'm sure about the meat I process here.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Soldier On

Greg likes a Facebook page called Forgotten Chicago that shows a lot of scenes of old Chicago, many of them from the time we grew up there. I imagine the Chicago I knew is long gone. But he shared one picture that reminded me of the old apartment building I grew up in. (Only mine was in worse shape!) 

My apartment building had old gray back porches. They were rickety wood structures with loose boards, missing steps, and a long drop if you happened to live on the top floor like we did. Back then we used to balance on the railings and jump over the missing steps to get to the next landing. 

Of course, my mother didn't know this. Any intelligent kid knew not to tell his mother about our death-defying stunts. None of us wanted to be grounded for eternity.

We had another apartment building kiddie-corner to us. We could jump on a lower flat roof of a connecting building and then onto the railings of the next building. This was our playground.

No one thought to complain to the super if we scraped our knees on the tarred roofs or stabbed ourselves with rusty nails. No one sued if a kid got hurt. If anything, we chided the kid for being clumsy. 

Another strange phenomenon about our group is that no one got bullied either. Oh, occasionally a new kid would join us and try to take over the show, but it's hard to be a bully if no one pays attention to you. They either buckled down or took their bully business elsewhere.

There were leaders in our group and there were followers. The leaders (aka: the older kids) made sure no bully ever got a foothold in our group.

I'll be the first to tell you that MANY of the things we did as kids were stupid, reckless, and dangerous. And yet, I feel like I was safer then than any kid is now with all the laws, cameras, counselors, and social media watching him.

Why? I think there are two reasons.

1. Our friends. We looked after each other. One time a friend got hit by a car. He seemed fine at first but within three days he was dead. No one knew it at the time, but the accident had left him with a punctured appendix. 

Patrick was one of our "leaders" so his loss was keenly felt. Yet we didn't need counselors to talk things out and understand our feelings. Even the youngest among us understood loss. We grieved and then we moved on.

2. Our selves: I have to tell you, we were a heck of a lot more self-reliant than kids today.  It scares me that so many are dependent on technology and adults. I used to think I led a sheltered life (compared to my rowdier friends), but it's nothing like how today's kids are sheltered.

We learn from experience. Buffer that experience even with the best intentions and you lessen that kid's ability to solve the problem. It's a fine line to protect your child yet give him enough freedom to figure things out for himself.

A dear friend who was a generation older than me used to tell me stories of when she was a kid. She lived in the UK during WWII. One of the stories that fascinated me was when she had to go to school the next day after an overnight bombing. She and her brother would walk around the dead bodies and rubble. 

Dead bodies? I asked her. Of course, she said. We had to soldier on, didn't we?

That generation was even tougher than mine. I admired their resolve.

Do you think kids are more sheltered than when you were a kid? Is being a kid today better or worse?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Is Overconsumption Our Death Knell?

I should probably be posting this on Back to Basics instead of my personal blog, but I have more eyes here and I'd like to get some feedback.

Apparently, the US will now be sending poultry and pork to China for processing. It will then return the finished product to this country.

China must have under-bidded everyone down to the floor.

If the video below is any indication, it appears that China's processing facilities are both spotless and sterile. Yet when I think of all the contaminated dog food, dog treats, and toxic children's toys we get from China, I don't feel very secure about their standards.

It is our ultimate goal to raise our own food on our property. Not everyone has that luxury. And some people don't have the stomach, time, space, or inclination to grow their own food.

Regardless of where you live, how do you feel about another country processing your food even when you grow/raise it locally? Am I missing something here? Is money the only determining factor for not processing our own food?

Warning: Some of the video below is graphic, but this is how commercial meat farming is done. It goes on to show how we over-consume and force these companies to produce more and more, though I think some of the video shot in Costco was misleading. A lot of businesses shop at Costco. It isn't all for private consumption.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

We're All on a Diet

It was bound to happen sooner or later. I just didn't think it would involve the whole family. For six years, I refused to go on any diet even though I knew I had put on twenty pounds since my knee injury. 

It took a wake-up call about Greg to reform me.

Tank has been on a special diet for years. With all the tumors he's collected, we deliberately feed him a diet high in fat and protein to slow down cancer cells. (Cancer feeds more aggressively on carbs.) 

Then it was Iko, diagnosed with advanced arthritis so early in life. The only thing that will help him now is losing some significant weight. 

Maggie came to us fat, and she's a thief too, so we're always trying to thwart her food-stealing ways. Nana is a growing puppy. She uses up more calories than the entire US Olympic gymnastic team. 

But it was Greg who changed my ways when his doctors said his sugar was dangerously high. I couldn't monitor his diet when he was in east Texas, but I could certainly change our menus when he was with me.

It's only been a few weeks, but all of us are seeing changes. I've dropped ten pounds. Greg has lost a whopping 22 pounds. Tank has gained one pound. (Yay!) Iko and Maggie are both looking slimmer. 

Has it been easy?

Ha! Not for me. I don't think Maggie and Iko are too happy either. But my jeans are getting baggy and my hourglass figure has returned.

I haven't gone on any special diet to lose weight. Because of Greg, I stopped using sugar in my recipes. I gave up desserts and drastically curbed (but not eliminated) carbs like pasta and bread. If I eat a late lunch, which happens on certain days when I go to yoga, I'll skip dinner and have a little air-popped popcorn.

I miss desserts. I won't lie. But I'd like to get back into fighting weight before I indulge in sweets again. The holidays are around the corner, so I REALLY need to lose the extra weight by then. That pecan pie is calling me! If I continue to be good that should happen in the next few weeks anyway.

Yoga has helped too. After an hour of sweating, I feel ten pounds lighter! It motivates me to stay on course.

Have you been on a diet? Is there anything that's helped you stay on target? 


On a cheerier note, Mike Keyton has had his surgery and is on the road to recovery. Welcome home, Mike! One day at a time, okay?

Monday, September 9, 2013

A Sad Loss

Many of you know by now that Ann C. Crispin died Friday, September 6th. Ann was an SF writer, notably known for her Star Trek novels. I knew her as part of the dynamic team at Writer Beware, a watchdog group that kept the slime balls in publishing from taking advantage of authors.

I didn't know Ann personally, but I was well aware of her work and her dedication to the industry. It makes me sad to lose one of the good ones. But as she lay dying, she left behind one final message of thanks.

It was sobering, not just because she had the presence of mind to reach out to her friends and fans, but because she did it with so much dignity and grace.

Losing her was sad. But the legacy she left behind--her work, her deeds, and her desire to help and teach others transcends her.

It was a life cut too short, but it was a life well lived. It serves as an example to us all.

RIP, Ann. You done good.


Have you read any of Ann's books or visited Writer Beware? When I started writing it was my go-to place for honest, no-bull information. I'll always be grateful to Ann Crispin and Victoria Strauss for all their good advice and warnings.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

State of the Homestead

August was a busy month. I don't know why. Usually it's the hottest month of the year and everyone around here keeps a low profile, waiting for the heat to dissipate. This year the goats have kept us busy with improvements to their quarters and maintenance.

Garden: I was able to save about twenty assorted plants from the original garden. I put them in pots and babied them for a few weeks waiting for the temps to return to more reasonable levels. We're still getting triple digits, but not as consecutively.

I put the potted plants back into the garden with an extra shot of rabbit poop. Most of them made the transfer fine. I only lost a couple of them, probably due to the heat. 

I've got my cool weather transplants waiting in the wings, but I'm hesitant to put them out just yet. That sun is still brutal.

Rabbits: My love-bunnies are getting big. They're still very sweet and docile. Even though they're living indoors during the summer months, I take them out in the early morning to enjoy some fresh air and grass.

Chickens: We'll be having a major slaughter in a few weeks. I've got about 25+ birds to dispatch in the next two months. We'll do about ten at a time. That's about all Greg and I can handle in a day.

I plan on fewer birds next year. Until we get one of those automatic chicken pluckers, I don't want to get into full scale meat production. Plucking them is too hard on my arthritic hands.

Goats: They've been a real learning experience. We've trimmed hooves twice. Thank goodness Greg built that goat stand. We can lure them up there and trim hooves while they're busy chowing down. It still takes us a long time, but we're getting the hang of it.

The buck hasn't come into rut yet, but he's becoming interested in the does. So far, the girls want nothing to do with him, but with any luck, we might get a pregnancy before the end of the year. 

Billy has been manageable, but he's hurt me twice without trying. I'd hate to think what he'd do to me if he was angry. I keep a spray bottle of water with me to keep him from getting up in my face. If he becomes a problem he may have to go into barbecue. That's entirely up to him. Wish I could convey that to him.

Nana has been a good herding dog, keeping them at bay, but the buck often turns to challenge her. She bit him on the ear and he backed down. I won't take her into the pen unless Greg is with me. She's still a baby and it's just a game to her. I don't want her to face the buck until she has a little more experience.

Scorpions: We are claiming a tentative success against the scorpions. After examining the house from top to bottom, we think we've removed all but the most difficult access points. I haven't seen a scorpion in the house for three weeks. And this is when they're most active.

But we did find this outside. 

She was in one of the sprinkler control boxes buried in the ground. Those little things on her back are babies. Lots and lots of babies. We wiped out the entire generation without remorse.

Wildlife: There were deer tracks in the front yard. This is where I have lots of American beauty berry bushes. The deer like to eat the berries. Oddly enough, the goats have a few bushes in their pen, but they're not crazy about the taste.

Coyotes have been sparse this year, which is good. But I still see a few feral pigs dead on the side of the road. 

A few more weeks of hot weather and maybe we can cool down to the 80s in October. Both man and beast alike are looking forward to that.

So how about you? What's new?

And who's ever seen a scorpion carrying her babies? I'm telling you, it gave me the chills. All those stingers. Eek!

Find anything unusual by you?