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Monday, March 30, 2015

Make Your Mark

I had a birthday over the weekend. Nothing milestone, just another notch on the yardstick of life. Other than Greg spending way too much for dinner, it was a really nice birthday. 

Birthdays always make me look back on my life. What have I accomplished? What more do I want to try? 

At this stage of my life I'm more interested in experiences than amassing 5,000 friends on Facebook. 

My blogging (and blog reading) is reflecting that too. I've been more interested in reading about people's experiences than blow by blows of a novel's word count, or the author's editing frenzy. 

Nonetheless, I still have a weakness for learning the best way to stay on people's radar. That led me to this article. "Why you shouldn't create a newsletter." It's an old article, but useful.

Basically, it states that you're better off writing good blog content and signing up people to read your blog through email, rather than have them subscribe to a newsletter.

It made sense because the reason I don't subscribe to many newsletters is due to time constraints. I barely keep up with blogs.

That said, the author's reasoning isn't foolproof. I get tons of mail. Too much mail, even after I deleted many newsletters, forum notifications, and even blog posts, so putting your blog on a subscriber list can backfire.

But...and this is important...when it is a good blog post, I LIKE having it in my in box for easy access. If said blogger says equally brilliant things regularly, I'm likely to even create a subfolder for him/her so I can reference their posts more easily.

Emailing a blog post has a dual purpose in that not only do you increase your mail list, which is the whole point of newsletters, but you also make sure that people see your post. Will they read it? The only way to know for sure is if they comment.

The subject of comments merit a whole blog post in itself. I generally leave thoughtful comments, and love people who do the same for me. It makes me feel we made a connection, at least on one topic.

You don't get that benefit from a newsletter, unless the reader writes to tell you so.

I don't think there's one right way to gain visibility. Some people are brilliant at Twitter. I suck at it. Unlike my friend, Jenny Schwartz who rocks Twitter. (And by the way, she's signing up subscribers to her newsletter right this minute.) She's got a great giveaway.

Other people reach a lot of followers/fans through Facebook. Since I use FB strictly to be social, I'm fairly likeable there. But blogging is my zone. It's where I feel I reach the most people regularly. 

Some of my readers never leave comments, but they do send me lovely emails, or hire me for design work, which is its own compliment. Some of them mention me on their blogs. And some Like my post on the Facebook feed to show me they read my post. It's all good. 

The important thing is to be visible where you feel you make the most impact. Whether you're an author, a book blogger, an artist, or a homesteader like me, make your mark so it can be seen, not just for today, but in the future.

How do you feel about newsletters? How about emailed blog posts? Where do you think you're most in the zone?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Get to Know Your Butcher

I miss the old days when there were real meat markets. The butchers back then had hands like bears and arms as strong as iron. I lived around the corner from a family grocery store. They also owned the apartment building where I lived. 

Every month it was my job to bring them the rent money. To get to the tiny office, I would wind my way around the store, past the butcher shop and around where big men cut slabs of meat bigger than me. The office was just past the blood and the saw dust.

Being a quirky kid, I was fascinated.

Today, the only butcher shop I know is inside Kroger, where they let you see nothing of the inner workings of meat cutting. Men (and women) in clean white uniforms greet you. Their uniforms are so pristine you'd think they worked in offices. 

Still, they're quite generous and amenable to any request from a customer. Here are a few things most butchers will do for you.

• If you buy a big hunk of meat or roast on sale, ask them to grind up half, or take out the bone for you. The same cut already trimmed or ground could be significantly more.

• Whenever I go into town, I run a lot of errands. During Texas summers you don't want to leave meat in the car too long. Many times, if I do my grocery shopping early, I'll ask the butcher to hold back my selection until I finished my errands for the day.

• Many butchers will tenderize a piece of meat for you. 

• Check out the expiration date on the meat. Stop by the day before or the day of, you'll find it greatly reduced.

• Ask your butcher what time of the day they mark down meat. It's usually in the morning. By me, it's around 9:30am.

• If you don't know how to cook a particular meat, ask your butcher. They're very knowledgeable and eager to help. I've never had a bad experience with them. They're the friendliest of all the grocery personnel.

Have you ever been to an old time meat market? One of the things I miss are the big knuckle bones they'd give you for free. There was lots of meat on them and my mom would make wonderful beef stock. My favorite part was sucking out the marrow.

In later years we used to buy them for the dogs. They'd be content for hours.

Nowadays you can still get the knuckle bones if you ask, but they charge you for them. They are surprisingly expensive for something they used to give away for free.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Quiet Life--Ha!

Last week was deceptively laborious. We went down to Casa South...again. This time to meet with a new realtor and an appraiser. 

We had other jobs to do there too. Greg had to replace a gas pipe. That was simple enough until his foot caught on a water pipe and busted it. More work.

Meanwhile I was dragging brush and starting fires. Only the brush pile wouldn't light. Didn't light the week before either. The 29th time was the charm though. I managed to do a good clean up on the half acre behind the house. Now I have to work on the other five acres.

The house, I'm happy to say is immaculate. The woods on the other hand are almost impenetrable in some spots. I wouldn't have bothered with it except for the fact that we have three very dead and humongous trees that HAVE to come down. Two are over power lines and one was over a neighbor's house.

I've had my share of homestead related adventures, but I have to admit that cutting down 100 foot pine trees is one of my least favorite jobs. It scares the bejeezus out of me. 

When a tree that big comes down the earth actually shakes underneath your feet and the ground feels like it's going to swallow you whole. It's not the BOOM that scares me though, it's the trip down.

Greg is magnificent at felling trees where they need to drop, but all the engineering in the world can backfire if cables fail or Mother Nature strikes up a wind at the wrong time. Not knowing which way the tree is going to fall is the scariest few seconds of all. 

This tree was in the middle of our woods but thirty feet from the fence line over our neighbor's house. It had to go, but it was going to be tricky. It took all morning to prep for this job.

Ordinarily we'd use a tractor to pull cable attached to the tree, but most of our equipment is at Casa North so we were left using a power puller, an unimpressive little device that does a big job with a bit of muscle. I was the muscle.

Greg did all his cuts. When he was on his final cut he told me to start ratcheting in the cable as fast as I could. I can't tell you what went wrong, but the cable slipped off the ratchet and went slack over the tree at the most critical moment of all. We watched from different spots as the giant tree teetered on the cut base.

God must've took pity on us because no wind came up and the tree reseated itself. We reattached the cable to the machine. This time when I ratcheted on the power puller it took the tree all the way down--right where Greg had elected.

It was awesome, and scary, and a huge relief. I made my way over to the downed tree to take a picture of Greg with his conquest when I started to hear buzzing.

That wasn't good. 

I scanned the area but couldn't see anything. The buzzing got louder. 

Now, I have been stung by all manner of things, and I knew enough to walk away, but it was too late. The more I walked, the more I heard buzzing. They had locked on to me and one was in my hair.

Greg came after me and got the one in my hair, but it had already stung me. Fortunately, it was a honey bee. Of all the bee or wasp stings you can get, honey bees are the least dangerous. Six days later, I still have the lump on my head, but the pain is gone.

It turned out there was a hive in the dead tree about thirty feet up. When it came down, it destroyed their hive (honey splattered everywhere) and they were all kinds of mad. I can't blame them, but it was either their home or my neighbor's home.

That wasn't the end of my trauma. After the bee incident, I was dragging brush and somehow disturbed a fire ant hill. My left leg looks like a topographical map of India. It was pretty painful for a couple of days, but that too has subsided.

All in all, a trying week.

I've got design work piling up so I'm glad to be home for a while. It's much safer designing covers than it is cutting down trees, evading bees, or smashing killer fire ants.

Much safer.

Have you ever been stung by anything? Yellow jackets and scorpions are the most painful, but the brown recluse bite I got once was probably the most dangerous. That one sent me to the doctor.

I must've chosen the wrong kind of retirement. I'm pretty sure I didn't sign up for precarious and spine-tingling.

Oh, for the quiet life. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Perfect Poker Face: Look Clueless

Greg often tells me that he would bankroll me if I played high stakes poker. I'm an aggressive player and intuitive, but my secret weapon is my face. Most people can't read it.

This is due to the fact that when I'm focused, I look confused, lost, and even shifty. Don't ask me why. Weird DNA, I guess.

I've had store security follow me around many times. Other times, people walk up to me to ask if I'm lost. So far no one's had to ask if I was taking my meds. Confused is the mild-mannered sister of crazy. No meds necessary.

In truth, I'm gloriously oblivious to anything that's not my main objective. I'm so focused, nothing deters me from my goal, even if I look like an idiot doing it. I'm like a pit bull on a cookie trail.

You might wonder that if I have such an unreadable face why Greg hasn't bankrolled me yet. Sadly, I have one serious flaw to winning millions. I can't gamble. Losing any amount of money mortifies me.

Back when we used to go to Louisiana to gamble on one of their river boats, I'd have a single twenty dollar bill. If I won anything, I'd tuck away the twenty and play with my winnings, but if I lost my seed money that was it for me. I'd sit outside on a deck chair and wait for Greg.

So I satisfy any gambling urges by playing with poker chips, where losing  only stings my pride and not my pocketbook.

Do you gamble? Are you good at it? I've always wanted to play someone as unreadable as me--just for grins--not money.

I'm in and out today, so I might be late answering comments.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Drinking From The Garden Hose and Other Fallacies

I've read two articles this week on our weakening immunity. One study in England suggests that the reason there's been a rise in nut allergies in children is because we've insulated them too much from a varied diet.

Another study from Norway (I think) says that we disinfect ourselves so much that we've become vulnerable to even minor bugs.

I think there's a lot of truth in these findings. When I was growing up there were only a few token children with allergies. Greg suffered from egg and chocolate allergies, but I suspect they might've been induced by his parents' monumental cigarette habit.

I know for the short time I had to live in their home, I was constantly sick--me--the girl who never got sick. Poor Greg thought he had married a defective wife. It wasn't until later that we put two and two together. Once we moved away, I was back to my normal self.

By the way, Greg grew out of his allergies. Was it because he also moved out of his parents' home? We'll never know.

My mother who grew up in Mexico during the 30s drank unfiltered water. Yet any tourist knows not to touch the stuff.

My first year in Texas, I came down with poison ivy. Worse. Rash. Ever. Even the doctor said it was the worst case he'd ever seen. I was almost unrecognizable. 

Every year after that, I'd invariably come in contact with the vine, or the smoke when I burned brush. And every year I'd come down with poison ivy. 

At first, I'd go to the doctor for my dose pack of antihistamines, but as the years went by, I stopped going. The rash would be less prevalent and severe.

I still get poison ivy but it's more of a nuisance than an ailment.

I'm not sure what the answer is. None of us want to take chances with our health and we're almost paranoid when it comes to kids' health. 

We took more risks when I was a kid, but that's because our parents didn't know better. Now I wonder if they didn't do us a favor. 

What's been your experience? Do allergies run in your family? Did your parents or grandparents suffer many complaints?

Monday, March 9, 2015

Ya Gotta Have Friends

One of the things I miss about working in Corporate America is seeing people on a daily basis. I miss my friends and social acquaintances.

It doesn't help that we live out in the boonies, further restricting our chances of getting together.

I worry about this, more for Greg than myself. He moved 300 miles from all his friends, so he has to start from scratch. At least I still have a few of the friends I had when I was working.

I've resolved to become more sociable. That will be easier when the other house sells because we seem to travel down there every other week and that's one huge time suck.

Greg tells me I'm not the sociable type but that's not true. I'm just selective about the people I befriend. Social acquaintances I have aplenty, but real friends are few and far between.

To me, a friend is someone who's willing to go to my house and check on my animals when I'm away...or bail me out of jail. :grin:

As we get older, friends become more important than ever. A week doesn't go by that I don't hear of someone dying alone, and not being found until weeks later, usually by a stranger. 

An actual friend of ours died in his car, in his driveway, and no one noticed him for two days. We usually invited him to spend the holidays with us, but that one year we were away from home.

I've suggested to Greg that we get more involved with the community. Maybe we could attend county meetings. 

I'd also like to take some classes. I'd be interested in ethnic cuisine cooking classes. Or maybe another master gardening class for this climate. I took one many years ago and enjoyed it immensely.

Greg's mentioned he'd be interested in learning blacksmithing or expanding his expertise with a master woodworking class.

Taking a part time job could help too--but let's not get crazy! Mostly I'd like to interact when it's convenient for us. A regular job requires too long a commitment.

I've often thought about volunteering at the nearest animal shelter, but I think seeing all those homeless animals would kill my spirit, knowing I couldn't save them all. If I did volunteer work it would have to be something that didn't make me too attached to the recipients.

Physically being around other human beings is important. It doesn't help that being online with friends is so much easier. But I can't call my friends flung out in all corners of the globe to bail me out of jail. That distance thing gets me every time!

Do you have a lot of friends that you see daily? Any suggestions on how to meet new people?

And if you're in north Texas (north of Dallas), look me up. I'm quirky, but totally harmless.

Friday, March 6, 2015

What's Your Signature Dish?

One of my favorite ways to save money is to cook at home. Those of you who know me know that cooking isn't my favorite sport, but I've found ways to make it tolerable.

It's always more enjoyable if you have company. Even if Greg just stands there, it's nice to have someone hand you the spices, or stir the pot. (Better than having him watch tv while I'm muttering about whether his parents were married.)

Never piss off the cook. You don't want to eat food from someone who's been mad at you all day. Just sayin'.


The other thing we do to spice up our menu is recreate our favorite restaurant dishes. Our biggest sin is eating out. To curb the tendency, we started replicating the meals we liked best.

There are entire web sites dedicated to copying famous recipes, from fast food to gourmet restaurants. Here are a few of my favorites:

Six Sisters Stuff 
Recipe Link
Culinary Arts College

Do a Google search for your favorite dish and you might just find the recipe. 

Quite often our version is even better than the restaurant so don't be surprised if you prefer your own to the national brand.

Who knows? You might come up with a signature dish. 

I know Greg's has to be his deep dish pizza. It is amazing! I don't know if I have a signature dish but people like my Mexican fajitas. I also make a mean lemon salmon with orzo.

Spicy sausage with bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes
The sausage and peppers dish I make came from something we had once at a state fair. Ours of course has more meat. :)

What's your signature dish? Have you ever tried to duplicate a restaurant meal?

Monday, March 2, 2015

A Mixed Bag of Life

It's been a mixed week of highs and lows.

We lost Leonard Nimoy last week. He was a big influence on my childhood. I grew up on Star Trek, a show that broke the glass ceilings of gender, color, and philosophies. What I liked best about Nimoy is that he never stopped being an inspiration. He left the world a better place. You can't ask for a better legacy than that.

My computer files and links have finally been migrated to their rightful places. Somehow we managed to get the printer installed (and working), but it refuses to scan or fax. We're missing a step somewhere.

The biggest headache and my crowning achievement was my email. Despite a long session with my service provider, we could only get one of my email boxes to work. Tired of hitting dead ends, I told the tech I'd get back with her the next day.

I methodically backtracked and checked every option to see where my working email box differed from the nonworking ones. It turned out the numbers for the outgoing and incoming servers (under the Advanced option) were wrong. I was so pleased to have figured it out myself.

I babysat a friend's dog last week too. Ozzy is a sweet little guy but he brought me to new levels of stress. The little dog had some serious health problems a few months ago. We thought we were going to lose him. 

Thankfully, his mom is as hardheaded and determined as I am when it comes to our kids. She wasn't going to give up on him and he was back to his chipper self when she left him with me.

I followed her medication instructions to the letter, but I wasn't prepared for such a picky eater. Ozzy drove me crazy. Half the time I had to hand feed him to make sure he ate enough. 

My guys eat anything that's put in front of them. Sir Ozzy on the other hand...

My friend, Jim Giammatteo was struck with some serious health issues and is in the hospital. He could use some help. Another friend of his started a fundraiser for him. If you can help out, go here.

More travel, more real estate woes, and more stress lie ahead, but it'll get better. It always does. 

I noticed a couple of people on Facebook were poking fun at Dallas because we got some snow and ice. Nothing like what they suffered, but it's crippling for us. We're not equipped for really cold weather. It'll be 70 tomorrow, so nyah, nyah, nyah.

Does anyone have experience with picky eaters? Any tips?

Any thoughts about Leonard Nimoy?

I leave you with my favorite quote of his:
The miracle is this: The more we share, the more we have.