Thursday, November 29, 2007

In Memory of Manny

Manfred "Manny" Hamster (a.k.a. The Manster) died tonight at approximately 10:40 pm. His exact age was unknown.

Manny was rescued from being eaten by the neighbor's cat on July 21, 2006. Despite a cat bite that left a hind foot virtually paralyzed, he showed remarkable courage in dealing with his disability. He enjoyed exploring the top of the bed and rolling around the kitchen in a yellow-colored plastic ball, and never let his bad experience with the neighbor's cat affect his relationships with his new family's cats and dogs.

A defining moment in Manny's life was when the vet used a dental X-ray machine to check his gimpy leg for broken bones. His favorite foods were peanuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkins seeds, and Krunch-A-Rounds (sesame seed-covered peanuts).

Manny will be buried this weekend under the lilac bushes in our backyard, very near to where he was snatched from the jaws of death (literally) 16 months ago.

Manny's days are numbered

Almost a year and a half ago, Michael and I rescued a hamster out of our backyard. Although I don't believe I ever mentioned him again on my blog, we have had the little guy ever since.

Unfortunately, hamsters don't live very long, and it seems that Manny's days are numbered. He has been aging noticeably for months, losing hair and developing age spots (which I didn't even know hamsters got!). For several weeks, he's had an eye infection in one of his eyes; I've gotten a less linty type of bedding, and tried putting a warm, moist compress on it to loosen the gunk, but it has sealed shut anyway. In the last week or so, we've noticed that he seems to have had a stroke, because he is suddenly quite unsteady and stiff, and his legs on one side don't seem to work very well.

Manny has gone downhill quickly, and now I'm not sure he'll even last through the weekend. Tonight, as I was getting ready to write this, I opened up his cage to check on him. At first I thought he was dead, he was breathing so slowly; and when I picked him up, he felt cold. I held him cupped in my hands until he warmed up (and perked up) a little, but his low body temperature still seems ominous. We've set his cage up in front of a space heater for now, and made plans to pick up my dad's heat lamp tomorrow, but I honestly think this is probably the end of the road for our gimpy little rescue hamster.

My second ride on Panama...and my first experience getting kicked!

I rode Panama again today. We did a little steering with the reins today, and moved up to a trot. As promised, my trainer took a few pictures. Here's one:

Panama was quite frisky and affectionate when I arrived. When I turned him out into the arena so that he could run and get rid of his energy, he was acting pretty goofy, running and bucking a lot. I'm pretty sure he's been playing with me lately, just as if I were another horse, and today proves it: He kicked me a little (I'm assuming accidentally) when he bucked.

Honestly, I don't think he did it on purpose. When I chase him in the arena, he will often buck as he runs away. I just happened to be a little closer than usual this time. I saw it coming and turned away, so one of this feet just barely caught me on the butt. It wasn't a hard kick at all, which makes me think he just misjudged how close I was.

After being ridden for an hour, Panama was not nearly so frisky, but since the other Paint's owner was there, we put our horses in the arena together. This time I didn't get pictures, more's the pity, because she put her other horse out with them as well. All three of them ran around the arena together, usually with Panama in the lead, and sometimes in a perfect line — as though they were playing follow-the-leader.

Mornings like this make it really difficult to work afterward — especially when I don't get home from the stables until 2:00 pm!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Snowball the dancing cockatoo

I found this video thanks to Kristen King's meow/bark/blog: Snowball the dancing cockatoo. Check out his moves — he keeps time as well as any dancer!

The oldest book I own

The weekend before Thanksgiving, my mom and I went to an estate sale in my neighborhood. The sale had a lot of old books for sale — some of them quite old, others only 50 or 60 years old.

It was from this sale that I bought what is now the oldest book in my collection. I had never heard of the book before — Junius's Letters — but as soon as I saw the title page I knew I was buying it:

I don't know if you can translate the Roman numerals or read the faint penciled date underneath, but this book was printed in 1795, well over 200 years ago. In comparison, the oldest book previously in my collection was a book of Moore's poetry from the 1870s.

I love really old books like this, and I especially love owning one. As a reader and a writer of historical fiction, it gives a sense of authenticity to actually have held a book from the era in my hands. I am especially tickled by the old style of using "f" instead of "s" in some places, such as in the word "English" on this page:

The book is in surprisingly good condition. There is some writing on the front and rear endpapers and on the title page, and as you can see, there is a small chunk of leather missing from the very top of the spine. The boards (front and rear covers) are dry with some surface cracks, but are not warped. Although the pages are lightly discolored with age, the binding is original and tight.

Overall, the condition is amazing considering the age of this book. However, I am going to look into how to better preserve the old leather cover. The book has clearly been stored in a box for a very long time, which has made the leather dry out. I want to try to reverse some of that damage, as I think the leather can easily be returned to its original luster (though the surface cracks, of course, are permanent).

As it turns out, this book was an excellent find. I bought this and three others — a 1901 miniature book of Lincoln's writings that is in excellent condition, an 1813 book in only fair condition, and a beautiful gift version of an illustrated poetry book that probably dates to about 1880 — for only $12. I researched the books, and found that the cheapest of the four — the tiny Lincoln book — is worth $30 to $40. Junius's Letters is worth the most: Copies in comparable condition sell on Abebooks.com for $150 and $175.

It is finds like these that make collecting so satisfying.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I rode Panama for the first time today!

Today was a big day for me and Panama: I rode Panama for the first time ever this morning.

Realistically, about all I did is sit in the saddle and practice walking him and asking him to "whoa." The idea was to get him used to having someone on his back. Next time the trainer comes, we're going to start using the reins to direct him a little more.

The really exciting thing is how well Panama took the whole thing. He hardly seemed fazed when the trainer and I took turns climbing up onto his back, and he was responsive to our commands, even in a dramatically different situation.

It amazes me how different Panama is now. He clearly thrives on the attention and affection, which he didn't get much of before. What is really noticeable is how responsive he is to training: The more challenged he is, the better behaved he also is. I guess it's because he is so smart.

I didn't get any pictures of the big moment, unfortunately, but my trainer said she'll take pictures of me riding Panama during our next session. In the meantime, here is a picture of my handsome little horse wearing his new winter blanket:

That should keep him nice and cozy on cold nights!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Billboard marketing

On the highway during our trip last week, I spotted a billboard with this logo:

My first thought was that the sign said, "Fiddler's Fridge." It took a second look before I realized what it really said: "Fiddler's Ridge." Then I glanced at Michael, who was driving, and realized he was staring at it too.

I think this sign is easy to misread. The oversized "F" in "Fiddler's" and the strangely sinuous "R" in "Ridge" create the illusion that the sign, in fact, says "Fiddler's Fridge." All I can say is, I can't believe that this company missed this rather important problem: You can't sell your product if people can't read the billboards correctly, no matter how clever the logo is. Personally, I would think that making the letters in a name look like a fiddle is nowhere near as important as the name itself.

And anyway, if your target audience risks having an accident on the highway while trying to figure out what your sign says, I'd say your marketing campaign is rather counter productive. Hospitalization generally doesn't make for good conversation rates.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Vacation inspiration

I've noticed a trend: Every time I go on vacation and get away from my regular freelance work for a little while, I come up with at least one (and usually two or three) good story or novel ideas. It's like taking a break from the less interesting work I do — and the stress that comes with it — opens my mind to more creative thought processes. As a result, I am returning from this vacation with as strong a desire to concentrate more on fiction as I've ever had.

This particular visit, I came up with three good novel ideas. All of them were triggered by something we saw or talked about while driving, and each blossomed into a full-fledged novel idea within a moments of the thought entering my mind. Being a good little writer, of course I jotted all of them down (I keep a notepad and pen in my purse for that purpose, among others). However, I can't help but think that I would really like to actually write the novels, rather than a few notes about my idea.

Inspired partly by my creative inclinations during this trip, and partly by my failure to even start my NaNo novel this year, I have decided to shift my focus somewhat. Although I can't afford to give up my freelance work entirely (and, anyway, I have several clients I wouldn't want to give up), I am going to change up my schedule a little to allow for an hour a day of writing fiction.

I've long thought that "whenever I have time" I'll work on some fiction at the end of the day. Something about that plan doesn't work, though, because I haven't written fiction since NaNoWriMo ended last year. So instead of placing my fiction hour at the end of the day, I'm going to do it first thing (well, after I get back from the stables). That schedule will ensure that I am forced to squeeze a little fiction into every day — not to mention it'll be a good way to warm up for my freelance work, since I'll start my workday with a little more enthusiasm.

At any rate, that's how I envision it working out. I'll let you know if it really works out that way.

Our Thanksgiving

Although I ended up having some work to do over Thanksgiving week, Michael and I had a pretty good holiday. We started out our week by going back to the bed and breakfast we stayed at when we got married — not the honeymoon, but our wedding night and the couple of night leading up to it. We also went back to the winery where we had our wedding, and bought several bottles to bring home with us.

Besides celebrating a mini-anniversary, we also browsed local book stores and antique stores. We found a nice period hanging lamp for our breakfast nook, and I got some cool old coins and an old photo, all of which I'll blog about in a future post.

After our little side trip, we stayed the rest of the week with Michael's parents. Everything from there on out was the typical family visit activities: visiting Michael's brother and his family, spending time with all of the horses (including my mother-in-law's 7-month-old colt), etc.

Well, almost everything was typical. Michael caught a 24-hour flu while we were there — Thanksgiving night, in fact. He was out of commission Thursday evening through Friday afternoon, and still wasn't feeling up to having a belated Thanksgiving meal Friday evening. As a result, we stayed one extra day — so that we could see the family a little more on Saturday, but also so that Michael was also recovered enough to sit through a long drive.

So today — Sunday — we finally made the trip back. The week has inspired a lot of blog posts, some of which I have already started writing, and which I will post over the next few days.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

So much for NaNoWriMo...

I had great plans for NaNoWriMo this year. Having "won" NaNoWriMo last year, I decided to aim for 80,000 words this year, rather than the minimum 50,000.

Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. Panama not only creates a demand on my time that I didn't have last year, but he also adds several hundred dollars (minimum) to the income I need to make each month. The end result is that I have more of a need to maintain my income during November, and less time to dedicate to something like novel-writing.

However, I've decided that I'm not going to give up on this novel: I'm going to write it anyway, even if I don't get to it until after NaNoWriMo ends. My plan is to get my current work to the point where I have an hour or two to spend on noveling every day. I probably won't finish the novel in one month, but that's fine. The point is to get it written, whether it takes one month or one year.

I'll let you know when I get started, and keep track of my progress here on my blog!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Thanksgiving: A reminder

People take things for granted -- it's just human nature. That's why I'm okay with Thanksgiving as a holiday, no matter how politically incorrect it is. I know that there was never any happy little Thanksgiving feast where the pilgrims and the Indians sat down together, held hands, and sang "Kumbaya." For one thing, the much-lauded pilgrims were actually self-righteous, priggish jerkoffs who were responsible for massacring the local natives. By another account, the first Thanksgiving in actuality marked the failure of William Bradford's attempts at a communist community. (I wonder if Joseph McCarthy knew that his "one nation, under God" had its roots in communism?)

But wait, I'm getting sidetracked. I'm not okay with the myth of Thanksgiving, but I am okay with the holiday itself. I think it is good to remind people to appreciate what they have in their lives.

So without further ado, this is what I am thankful for this year:

* A wonderful husband... whom I married in a beautiful 1920s-themed wedding earlier this year

* The career I've always wanted... for which I don't have to dress up, drive in rush hour, or deal with office politics

* A happy, healthy horse... who is learning more every day

* A beautiful home... that we own

* ...And pretty much everything else in our lives. We have wonderful families, pets, and lives. What more can I say?

The perfect meme for bookworms

Although I wasn't formally tagged, I'm doing a book meme that I saw on Kathy Kehrli's blog.

1. How many books do you own?

Honestly, I have no idea. Hundreds, I'm sure. The sad thing is how many I have had to get rid of for lack of space. If I weren't constantly under pressure to weed my book collection, I would probably have a thousand or more.

As it is, when I weed my collection, I'll usually give up newer books — even ones I really liked — in favor of vintage or antique books (such as my Brontë collection or my newest oldest book).

2. What was the last book you read?

I just recently finished Principled Profit, by Shel Horowitz. Although I usually read about half fiction, half nonfiction, I realized recently that I'd been on a rather long fiction streak. I'd heard about Shel's book when I attended his chat during the Muse Online Writers Conference, and it was pretty short and unintimidating, so I decided it would be good for reinitiating myself into the world of nonfiction, work-related pleasure reading.

3. What was the last book you purchased?

Olivia, Pajama Time, and Barnyard Dance (for Michael's nephews) and the special illustrated edition of 1776 (for Michael).

I hardly ever buy books for myself anymore. I usually only read them once, so I've started checking them out from the library instead. It saves me lots of money, not to mention the agony of having to decide which ones to get rid of when I run out of space yet again. Besides, having them for a limited amount of time (usually) forces me to get to them a little sooner.

4. What five books are most meaningful to you?

I can't believe someone expects me to know which books, out of the many thousands I've no doubt read, are the most meaningful to me!

The thing that hangs me up is the word meaningful. Not necessarily my favorites, in other words. That's part of why this is so hard.

I can think of one — or actually, seven: C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia. These are meaningful to be because I practically grew up on them. I've read each of them a handful of times at least. They are so engraved into my imagination that I actually cried in parts when I saw the recent movie version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in the theater.

5. What is your most obscure favorite book? Or, favorite most obscure book… [Added by Lisa]

This one is easy: Anne Brontë's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Although Anne's work gets much less attention than that of her sisters, I think it is actually better in many ways. For instance, I think her way of addressing social issues is much more ingenious than Charlotte's monologues and narrative tangents in Jane Eyre, and her narrative techniques are at least as effective as Emily's cyclical plot in Wuthering Heights.

Your turn. Like Kathy, I'm not tagging anyone specific. Anyone who reads this is invited to participate. Just leave a link to your post in the comments.

Rabbit romp

When I took these pictures several weeks ago, I meant to post some of them, but totally forgot in my unexpected rush of work (and failure to start NaNoWriMo).

There are at least a dozen rabbits running around at the stables. One afternoon, when I had just walked out of the shed where we store our saddles, I heard a rustle nearby. I looked, and was startled to find two rabbits facing off less than six feet away from me! This was one of those rare occasions when I just happened to have my camera handy — I always bring my camera to the stables, and still had it on me from photographing Panama moments earlier.

I pulled out my camera and set it to take pictures consecutively when I held down the button. After a few shots of them facing off, the rabbits lunged at one another. I don't know if they were playing or fighting, but it was funny to watch them hopping all around:

They also sometimes stood upright, hitting each other with their front feet like little boxers:

Oh, how I wish I knew how to Photoshop a couple of little rapiers into this one!

Ninja rabbit!

And the winner is:

The stresses of horse ownership

Friday morning's events also contributed to me not getting my work done.

I went to the stables Friday morning with every intention of only being there a short while before returning home to work. I cleaned Panama's stall, brushed him, and turned him out to run a bit.

Then another of the owners showed up, and we chatted a bit. She only recently brought her horse to the stables, and we share some concerns about the way the place is run.

I've probably mentioned that I clean Panama's stall every day because I don't think the owner cleans it frequently enough. I don't mind cleaning it, really; I would be there anyway, regardless, and it gives Panama time to graze. Also, there is something satisfying and comforting about doing it myself.

However, there is a point where the infrequent cleanings become rather disturbing. On Friday, one of the horses was walking around in nearly six inches of manure, spread across the floor of his stall. Another horse, who likes to poop in the same place every time, had a veritable mountain of manure in his stall.

The real concern came when the other owner and I both decided to give our horses a flake of hay as a treat before we left. We cracked into a bale that had not yet had any hay taken off of it, and found that the inside of quite damp. (The owner stores some of his hay outside under tarps, which you are not supposed to do.) Sure enough, there was mold in the hay, too. Panama found it, but thankfully tossed it aside and didn't eat it; however, I worry that he would have gone back later and eaten it when he got hungry again between meals, had I not noticed.

Later that afternoon, yet another one of the owners sent me a text message stating that she had found mold, too.

When my main issue with the stables was the infrequent stall cleaning, I wasn't worried about it so much; the price is cheap enough to make cleaning his stall myself worthwhile. However, I won't keep Panama where his safety and health is a concern, no matter how cheap the price. I'll see how the winter goes, but if the problems continue I will find Panama a new home in the spring.

Unfortunately, I have not yet gotten good at working when I have something troubling on my mind. When I am upset, I just can't focus on work, so I didn't get much done on Friday, either.

Panama's cabin fever

As promised, here is Thursday's stable story.

Thursday morning, Panama and I had an appointment with his trainer. It was our only session for the week, because I'd been too busy earlier in the week. Unfortunately, I had not worked with Panama all week, either; because it was always dark when I visited, poor Panama hadn't even been turned out to run since Sunday. (Usually, I turn him out into the arena every day and chase him around, so that he gets enough exercise and gets rid of any extra energy.)

The effects of being cooped up for three days straight was quite clear from the beginning. Panama was restless and downright ornery. When he was first set loose in the arena, Panama cantered and bucked more than I've ever seen him do when I turn him out. And even after running hard for several minutes, he was a royal pain in the butt for the trainer. When she had me work him (she's teaching me, too), he kept getting himself all wrapped up in the lines; once he got himself tangled up so badly that he panicked and reared.

Well, after a morning like that, it's hard to settle down enough to actually work. It also didn't help that I had a lot to do after not being there much for three days. Although I'd been picking out his stall each evening, the light in the barn is dim, and it turned out I wasn't doing a very good job of it. It took much longer on Thursday to clean out his stall than it usually does.

On top of all of that, I also had a few errands to run. As a result, by the time I got home my day was more than half over, and anyway all I wanted to do was talk about my horse.

Lessons learned: Don't try to skimp on visits to the stables when I'm busy. It just creates a need for a longer visit when I return to my regular schedule, compliments of Panama's cabin fever — and my withdrawals.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Podcasts and supporting strikes

Thanks to a MySpace friend request (one of the few useful friend requests I've received), I discovered a new podcast for writers: Will Write for Wine. It's recorded by two romance authors, Samantha Graves and Lani Diane Rich. You can download it on their site (maybe — I've been having trouble with it) or subscribe to it on iTunes.

Michael and I listened to last week's episode — "Unscripted" — today. (I'm a writer, and Michael loves wine, so I figured it would be of interest to both of us.) In the episode, Lani gave the best explanation of the screenwriters' strike in Hollywood that I've heard yet. Basically, writers are getting the same royalties for VHS and DVD sales that they negotiated almost 20 years ago: 4 cents per $20 DVD. They were promised at the time that their percentage would go up, but the conglomerates apparently have conveniently forgotten their promise.

The writers, who are now striking, want a raise to 8 cents per DVD — not unreasonable, considering it's been two decades, and the conglomerates' excuse then was that they didn't know how well VHS (a new technology at the time) would sell. In fact, they are parroting that excuse now in their refusal to pay writers for online sales, such as downloads through iTunes and other virtual stores. The fact remains, though, that digital sales are pure profit — whether digital media takes off or not (which it will, of course, just as VHS did 20 years ago), they can certainly afford to give writers their cut.

To put this into perspective, this would be like you contracting a book to a major publisher, and having them turn around and start selling an ebook version without paying you any royalties for those sales. The ebook version competes with the hardcopy version, and since it is cheaper and easier to get, many readers might opt to go digital — which deprives you of the royalties you would usually get, at the same time as it saves the publisher considerable money on printing, storage, and shipping.

You'd be pretty pissed, I imagine.

In the podcast, Lani asks listeners to support the strike. She specifically asks us not to buy or download TV shows and movies online, since the writers are — as of this writing — not getting paid for them. I checked out the official site, and you can also support the strike by buying pencils: The pencils get sent to the conglomerate, and the money goes into a fund to help the striking writers.

I'm joining Lani on this one. Although I'm not buying pencils as of right now, I am pledging to not buy or watch TV shows or movies online until the writers start getting their cut. As of right now, negotiations are to resume, but the strike is not over. The writers still need our help!

Not like I planned

When I blogged last week, I was in a frenzy to get all of my work finished before the end of the week so I could take this week off. Unsurprisingly, it didn't quite work out like I planned. In fact, the whole thing fell apart on Thursday and Friday.

I think part of it is that I went to the stables like normal on Thursday and Friday, whereas during the first half of the week I was limiting my visits. Even though I slept in those days, more or less canceling out the extra time, the transition between stables and work is usually pretty difficult for me.

It is particularly difficult when something happens at the stables that gets me all excited, whether good or bad. And unfortunately, something along those lines happened both Thursday and Friday, which kept me so fired up that I got virtually nothing done either day.

I'll write about what actually happened in future posts. For now, suffice it to say that I have tons of work to do still, and I still haven't started my novel.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Too Much Information

Another of Amy Derby's Freelanceaholic posts inspired me: a meme where she (literally!) tells all. Read the comments, too! I can totally relate to Amy's not-caring-what-people-think thing, but sometimes I still wonder later if I should have posted something. Case in point: my belly button post.

Amy's post contains lots of things that are normally taboo to reveal. But you know what? Most of it applies to me, too.

1. Like Amy, I have allergies, though not as severe. When I was a baby, I could only wear one brand of diapers — all the rest gave me a rash. I've had bouts with perfumed lotion, too, where I get red, scaly patches that won't go away until I switch to something else. I can't wear any jewelry except gold, sterling silver, and stainless steel — and then only high-quality stuff, or I develop a nasty rash that takes weeks to go away. And I'm allergic to my darn cats — though don't tell them that!

2. Until I started getting all horsey on a daily basis, I wasn't bathing every day, either. Now I do, but mainly because my hobby is playing with animals that sleep in their poo. I figure writing is not very active, nor very dirty — so if that's all I'm doing, then why bother? (Though my beautiful antique claw foot tub is a really good reason why!)

3. I don't shave every day either. I'll go as long as I can without shaving during fall, winter, and spring (when I never wear shorts, and rarely wear sundresses).

4. I stopped wearing commercial deodorant more than a year ago. D#mn stuff makes me itch; I only put up with it that long because I felt I had to. When I went freelance, I found I didn't really need it: I wasn't very active, and I was never in stressful social situations. However, with all my horse-related activity, I started needing it again, so I'm now experimenting with a natural product (some type of mineral water).

5. I'm not particularly opposed to bras, but like Amy I tend not to wear one all that often. When I was at home all day every day, I just wore those bra top tank tops (with yoga pants) while I worked. However, when I'm active I actually find that wearing a bra is more comfortable, so this is another aspect of my life that has changed since I moved Panama to town.

And two more, just for fun:

6. I don't think I am actually OCD, but I definitely have some OCD tendencies. I have to be "even," for one thing: If I accidentally kick one ankle when I'm walking, I'll literally kick the other so that they both feel the same. It's usually subconscious. Also, I make lists like crazy (though I never follow most of them), and I have things that I have to do a certain way — like folding towels and washcloths, for example. Michael doesn't dare touch the laundry, even when I'm behind on it!

7. I "rescue" spiders when I find them inside (which I do frequently, our house being 87 years old). I catch them in a glass and take them outside. Lately, though, I've gotten lazy — but I still won't kill them, because it makes me feel bad. As a result, we have several spiders that we allow to live with us, just as long as they promise not to go anywhere near the bed.

Stay tuned for the next TMI post: All about my bodily functions.

(Just kidding.)

My freelance island

Amy Derby posted over at her new blog The Freelanceaholic Life about her freelance survival kit: all the stuff she'd need if she were stranded on a desert island with only her work. (Funny how that sounds like fun to us, but would be considered a form of torture by many non-writers.)

My freelance island tends to move around a bit. I'm like a cat: I change my favorite spot periodically. Right now, I'm spending a lot of time working at my desk, but my other favorite places include my rocker, the porch (when the weather is nice), and the kitchen table.

I used to work in bed sometimes, like Amy does, but I haven't done that in a while now.

I'm one of those people who can work wherever, so I'd probably be fine on a desert island. In fact, I often find that I get more done if I work someplace else — although I prefer the library or a coffee shop to a desert island! However, next spring and summer (and maybe this winter, too, as warm as it has been) I want to try taking my computer to the stables and working there while Panama grazes. It's nice and quiet — a perfect creative setting!

Wherever I decide to work, I always take these things with me:

* Laptop - At a little over 3 pounds, my Averatec has assumed security blanket status.

* Pen and scratch paper - Just like Amy, I find that being able to write things down is still a necessity, no matter how pro-computer I am.

* Time sheet - A little over a year ago, I started keeping track of the time I spend on each project. It allows me to determine my hourly rate for each project, and also will make the IRS happy if I ever get audited, as it proves that I really do use my laptop for work 75 percent of the time (well, more actually).

* Timer - I recently started using a kitchen timer to try to motivate me to keep my focus and not get distracted when I'm working. It works — sometimes.

* iPod and speakers/headphones - I go through phases (like right now) where listening to music helps me focus.

Also like Amy, often I have one or more of our fur-children with me. My black cat, Cleo, is my porch buddy. Either one of the cats might hang out in the office window while I work, and Prince (my white cat) likes to steal my seat in the rocker. Periodically, one or both of the dogs hang out with me, too.

So that's it — my freelance island! What does yours look like?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Elance: Changes in the air, and not all good

Apparently Elance -- a freelance bidding site that I don't happen to subscribe to -- is changing the way they do things. Kathy Kehrli has written a nice little Screw You! in their honor.

If you are a member of Elance or are considering joining, I highly recommend reading Kathy's comments. Although Elance is claiming the changes will improve the site for everyone, it's quite obvious that only Elance itself will be benefitted.

Basically, the gist of Kathy's analysis is that Elance is effectively charging more and offering less... A lot less.

I'm not crazy about the idea of paying for work opportunities, myself. Some writers find that the work they get through Elance makes the membership fees worthwhile, but from what it sounds like, that may not be the case any longer.

...Back to feast again

Just a week and a half ago, I posted about the slump in my workload (and, more importantly, my income). Now, suddenly, I'm back to feasting again... Which is, incidentally, why I haven't posted very much this week.

Within 24 hours of posting about my little famine, I had two rush projects (which, incidentally, caused me to institute a rush order policy). Then I had a brand-new client contact me completely out of the blue — having found me via my website, which demonstrates the value of a good writer's site and online portfolio. I've gotten several more projects since, one of which was another rush fee (which I quite happily charged an extra 25 percent for).

The timing of this feast is making things rather hectic. I am determined to take Thanksgiving week off completely, so I've been telling clients I'm unable to work next week. Some have been okay with that, but another wasn't — which is where my more recent rush order came from. I've been working most evenings — Tuesday night until 3am! — to make sure I get all this work done this week.

Of course, there are two payoffs to make up for the long hours this week: The income, obviously, but also the sheer relief of having an entire week off. It will be only the second one in my two years of freelancing, as I usually only get a few days in a row at most, and even tend to bring work on my vacations.

Monday, November 12, 2007

NaNoWriMo progress compared to last year

Almost exactly one year ago, I had nearly 24,000 words on my NaNo novel.

This year, all I have so far is an outline.

I'm going to blame it on the holidays, on Panama, and on an increased need for income this year. I have lots of work that I'm doing to try to maintain the luxury that Panama is accustomed to (i.e. having a roof over his head, shavings on his stall floor, and a trainer to teach him to be a nice horsey). At the same time, I'm planning to take off the entire week of Thanksgiving, so I'm scrambling to get everything done in time. All that billable work just doesn't leave much time for noveling.

With any luck I'll at least get started on my novel before the month is out...

Friday, November 09, 2007

Panama's got a new look

Panama's old halter was getting a touch too snug, so I got him a new one. If you know anything about horses, this will give you an idea of how small Panama is: The new halter is a cob size halter.

While I was at the tack store, I decided to treat Panama (well, okay, treat me) to a new lead rope, as well.

Yup. We're color coordinating now.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

This spammer just doesn't learn...

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about a spam I received offering me writing services. I thought it was pretty funny, as the sender clearly didn't pay attention to the fact that I am a writer.

About a week ago, I received another spam (again sent through my contact form) from the same person. At this point, I'm seriously wondering whether s/he understands English very well, as evidently s/he (who has an Indian name that prevents me from guessing a gender) hasn't noticed what the copy on my website says.

It doesn't help my impression of the person that the grammar is rather awkward:

We are an on-line service provider for all journalism and publishing related activities - original articles, ghost writing, editing, magazine management etc.

Reliability, maintaining confidentiality and strict adherence to delivery dates is sacrosanct to the organization.

Maybe I should pretend to be a client and try to find out what "the organization" charges. I'm guessing $1.50 per 500 words. What's your bet?

Organic workloads

Do you ever find that no matter how much (or little) work you have to do, it seems to fill the same amount of time?

It always seems that I work the same number of hours whether I have one project, or five. For example, yesterday I worked my butt off to meet an afternoon deadline, and had nearly met my daily income goal by early afternoon. Today, I've been sitting at my desk for two hours and haven't earned one penny.

It's almost like my workload is organic, and grows (or shrinks) to meet the time allotted for it. That's good in some ways, as it's nice to take your time and slack off a bit when you have the opportunity. The downside is that it also means I never get my work done quickly so that I can enjoy the rest of my day.

Do you ever have this problem?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

NaNoWriMo, here I come...at last!

I was beginning to think that I just would never get started on NaNoWriMo. After starting the outline at the local meet-up last week, I hadn't found time to do any more work on it.

After a highly productive day (I worked my butt off to meet an afternoon deadline), I decided to take this evening off from other work and work on my outline some more. To my great surprise and delight, I managed to finish the outline. Not only that, but I feel great about it! I am getting excited about my novel again, and for the first time in about a month I feel impatient to work on it.

Unfortunately, I can't divert any more of my time tonight to novel-writing: I need to clean and condition Panama's new leather bridle, and then go to bed so that I can be up for our 9:30 training session tomorrow.

I have a lot of work the next few days — amusingly, within 24 hours of posting about my freelancing famine, several jobs fell right into my lap — but I am going to try to get going on my novel as soon as possible. I figure if I stick with my initial goal of 3,000 words per day, I may not be able to reach 80,000 words, but I should still be able to reach 50,000 — technically all I need to "win."

Voting woes

Yes, I'm one of those people who votes even in off-years.

This year my district's election was done solely by mail-in ballots. (I voted via mail for the first time last year, and I loved it so much that I'll never go to a polling place again unless I have to.) Michael and I filled out our ballots Monday night, and dropped them off yesterday evening.

For the most part, these minor elections don't get much attention, either in campaigning or in news coverage. The major exception this year was a ballot question that would essentially have prevented unions and other associations from taking their dues or donations directly out of employee paychecks.

Although there is an implication there that right now these organizations can take money out employees' paychecks without their full understanding or permission, I think that is only part of the issue. The other part is that the city really has no business knowing what organizations their employees belong to.

Unfortunately, the opposition to this ballot question was quite strong. In fact, I would say they went rather overboard: I received well over a dozen calls throughout the month, just from the "Vote NO" folks. At one point, they called me six times over the course of two days — basically, they just kept calling until they got me in person.

When I finally answered, the lady on the other end went into her spiel in a complete monotone. I thought of interrupting or just hanging up, but truth be told I'm too polite for that. Too bad we can't say the same for these folks: When she was done, the caller actually had the nerve to ask me if I was going to vote the way they wanted! I was appalled. Ever heard the term "secret ballot," lady?

I told her that I was going to look into it some more, and got off the phone. Apparently refusing to tell them my vote put me on some kind of list, though, because for the rest of the month I received a call from these folks at least once every few days. I never answered one of their calls again, but they left message after message on my voice mail. Michael, who never talked to them in person (or, more notably, never told them he was "going to look into it some more"), only received a fraction of the calls I did.

That kind of harassment ought to be illegal.

I guess this is just a taste of what is to come as the 2008 presidential election looms.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The feast or famine of freelancing...

Anyone who freelances knows how it can be a "feast or famine" kind of situation. Some months you are booked beyond belief, and the money just keeps rolling in. Other months you feel like it's all you can do just to scratch by.

Unfortunately, I'm going through a famine type of time right now, down from the feasting I did just a couple of months ago. I worked so much over the summer that I got rather burnt out, and I still thinking I'm working a little slower than usual from that. I haven't really gotten around to finishing my website updates or looking for new work, so I've been dependent on my regulars. And that's just not enough.

All the time that I've been spending with Panama is also coming back to bite me in the a$$. It took me a while to figure out how to juggle stable time and work time. Although there are still some days where I don't get much work done, I'm getting better about it. Unfortunately, in the meantime the well has run dry.

Honestly, though, there's nothing like feeling poor to make you work harder. I worked all day today, only spent 45 minutes at the stables, and plan to work a few more hours this evening. The rest of the week will most likely be similar, but hopefully after that I'll be in a comfortable spot again.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

How I actually spent my extra hour

Yesterday, I blogged about what I would write with an extra hour each day — a meme inspired by Daylight Savings Time.

Then clocks rolled back, giving us our extra hour. Mine was not spent on writing. Instead, it was diddled away rescuing Michael, and making not one but two trips to the stables as a result.

Michael went on a bike ride this afternoon, since the weather was so perfect: a slightly breezy day with temperatures in the low 70s. I was planning on celebrating the warm weather my own way: by bathing Panama.

Unfortunately, Michael got two flats while on his bike ride. When he got the first, he happened to be near a sports store, so he had them fix his tire. I ended up having to rescue him after all, though, when he got a second flat shortly after leaving the store.

I was at the stables already when I got the call, so I had to put Panama back in his stall and leave without having done anything with him yet. After rescuing Michael, he came with me back up to the stables. During the second visit, I did my usual routine: turning Panama out into the pasture to graze while I cleaned his stall, grooming him and picking out his feet, and turning him out into the arena to get him to run around a bit.

Although it was getting late at this point, and I had used up my extra hour (and then some!), I decided to go ahead and bathe Panama after all.

Due to my bungled afternoon and some pre-existing evening plans, I didn't get the work done this weekend that I had planned. Tomorrow I will need to do some serious catching up!

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Panama is wearing a saddle now!

Panama tolerates a saddle now. He lunges with it on, and we're getting him accustomed to jingling noises by fastening keys to it while he lunges.

Doesn't he look so grown up? I'm so proud.

New meme: If I only had another hour...

Amy Derby of Write-From-Home.com tagged me for a new meme: What would I write if I had an extra hour each day?

I can't tell you how many times I've wished for an extra hour... or two or three or more! Ideally, with an extra hour every day I would spend that hour on fiction — something I am always wanting to write regularly, but a goal that is always overshadowed by that slightly more important goal of making money.

However, to be perfectly honest, it is most likely that my extra hour would be spent blogging and networking — and that's if I spent it in a writerly manner. It is actually quite likely that I would waste that extra hour sleeping in (I'm practically impossible to wake up, as I have super powers that allow me to sleep through alarms, telephones, and all other manners of noise). I also would be likely to spend that extra hour with Panama, who is quite possibly the most addictive (and expensive!) hobby I have ever had.

I've tagged Mariella, Alicia, and — if she's able to return from full-time-workdom for a little bit of meme fun — Harmony.

My first affiliate program payment

About a week ago, I received my first affiliate program payment: a gift certificate from Amazon.com, which I've earned through referral sales on this blog and Livre du Jour.

Oddly enough, Amazon.com carries lots of horse stuff, from brushes and treats to clothing and accessories, so I put my gift certificate toward a brand-new winter blanket for Panama. I'm not going to be too overeager about the blanketing, because I want him to grow a decent winter coat (the more you blanket them, the thinner their coat). However, I do want to blanket him when it gets bitterly cold, such as below 20 or 25 degrees.

I also got a pair of cheap riding gloves for me — I'm a big baby about the cold, and I won't be able to stand my hands getting chilled when I work with him in the winter!

There's lots of other horse goodies on Amazon.com, so I'm sure I'll be back before too long. I swear, I have more fun shopping for Panama than I do shopping for myself!

Writers strike in Hollywood!

The wage debate is often a hot topic in the freelance writing community. Most of us believe that writers deserve professional wages, but not all of us can agree on what exactly that means. There is also some debate over what exactly we can do to improve our status: unionize, set a minimum wage for writers, etc.

The freelance community may still be divided, but screenwriters in Hollywood seem to have decided on a plan of action: They are striking, starting Monday. As a result, some TV shows will stick to reruns for now, and some could shut down completely if the strike goes on long enough.

Basically, the writers receive "residuals payments" when TV shows and movies go to DVD, but they don't feel they are getting enough. Also, they are not getting paid at all when their work is aired on the Internet.

While I don't know how much they get paid for DVD sales, and therefore cannot make my own decision as to whether it's enough, I can certainly understand the writers wanting to be paid for copies of their work that are posted or sold online.

Friday, November 02, 2007

NaNoWriMo meeting

Tonight I attended a meeting for local NaNoWriMo participants.

There are two basic kinds of NaNo meetings: write-ins, and social get-togethers. The meeting tonight was the latter kind. We met at Perkins to eat, chat, and work (a little). I stayed for almost four hours, and was far from the last person to leave.

JupiterStar (Sabrina), our ML, passed out stickers. I love mine:

Although I loved our meetings last year, I have to say that so far, this year's are better. Partly that is because we have more people who are willing to attend. I also like the fact that the other attendees are a little older — I think most of us are in our twenties. (Last year the group was half teenagers.)

For the last hour or so before I left, people fell to private conversations, and several drifted off to work on their own. I worked then, too, getting a little bit done on my outline. Trying to remember the outline I was developing in my head a month ago is difficult; I knew at the time that I should have written it down, but I never believe that I'll actually forget.

Hopefully this weekend I'll be able to finish my outline and get going on my novel, in between all the other work I need to do.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

A play date for Panama

My morning was hijacked by an impromptu play date for Panama.

There is another Paint at our barn that looks very much like Panama. Lakota is about a year older, and has a similar history as Panama: rescued as a baby, trust issues with his feet due to repeated leg injuries, a little bit of wildness due to a late gelding, and in need of training.

Although Lakota is supposedly quite wild, I have always felt that he and Panama got along well. Lakota's run is on the edge of the pasture where I always let Panama graze, and early on they visited with each other a lot. However, Lakota's owner usually doesn't let him out with other horses, because he has a tendency to show off and get hurt.

This morning when I arrived at the stables, she just happened to be there. We both spent all morning at the barn, so when she put Lakota in the arena, she asked if I wanted to put Panama in there with him. It went great! The horses greeted each other, with Panama signalling his subordinance by licking and chewing. Then they both went right back to grazing.

In fact, they were so comfortable around each other that we had to break out a lunge whip and chase them a bit to get them to run together. Once we got them moving, though, I got a number of really good pictures.

Don't they look almost like brothers? (Panama is the one with more white on his face.)


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