Friday, December 28, 2007

Ready for the New Year!

In spite of getting very little done over the past few days, I feel pretty good!

TJ bought us a stand-up punching/kicking bag for Christmas, and my sister-in-law, who always picks the perfect gifts, got me a Rebounder trampoline. Combined with the weight bench in the foyer, we now have a quite impressive "Allcot Home Gym" set up. And I've used it the past two days, in spite of being tired and crampy and, quite possibly, still hung over from a few days before Christmas!

We also got the house organized to the point where I can actually clean--as in, make the bed, vacuum, dust--on a regular basis. It feels good to not trip on *stuff* continuously, and was one of my huge goals for the new year.

Now, my quest for bookkeeping/submission tracking software begins. Any recommendations on good programs for a freelance writer?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Another Freakin' Meme from Boddie

So Boddie posted this open-ended meme that someone tagged "anyone" with, and she decided to tag "everyone at AW." I kind of like the whole libertarian attitude of "an open-ended meme tag" so if you feel yourself so moved, and you haven't already been tagged by Boddie by virtue of being on AW, go for it.

Don't expect me to be as funny as Boddie, though. Or as cynical. ;)

1. Wrapping or gift bags? I like mixing it up.

2. Real or artificial tree? Real. I grew up with real trees, and an artificial tree would just be something *else* we have to store 11 months out of the freakin' year.

3. When do you put up the tree? Usually around the 2nd week of December, but we still don't have a tree this year. I'm thinking of starting a Christmas Eve tradition. :) I really don't like the stress of having a tree, worrying that the cats are going to: climb it, eat it, knock it over, set fire to it (don't ask, but I'm sure they could if they set their furry little minds to it!)


4. When do you take the tree down? I hate doing that, too, so as much as I hate having it up, it stays up too long. Third week in January or so.

5. Do you like eggnog? OMG, yes! Especially spiked.

6. Favorite gift received as a child? A red Fender electric guitar that I never learned how to play. I'm sure there were more favorite toys that I just don't remember from when I was younger. I was very, very lucky and spoiled as a kid.

7. Do you have a nativity scene? No. I'm not big on the holiday decorating and haven't gotten around to buying one.

8. Worst Christmas gift you ever received? Wow, I'm not sure. Dunno.

9. Mail or email Christmas cards? In theory, real mail, but I still haven't sent mine out this year. :(

10. Favorite Christmas movie? White Christmas

11. When do you start shopping for Christmas? About 2 weeks ago, my sister, sister-in-law and I all went out shopping. It was actually a lot of fun and the start of a new tradition for our family.

12. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? Anything ginger bread. And pumpkin pie. And all the gift foods we get. And Egg nog spiked with vanilla rum. Yeah 'tis the season--to get fat!

13. Clear lights or colored on the tree? White, and we just bought LED lights last year on sale at Sears after Christmas, so we have new lights this year! YAY!

14. Favorite Christmas song? White Christmas.

15. Travel at Christmas or stay home? Either way. We're easy going.

16. Can you name all of Santa’s reindeer? Probably, but I like Amy's names better.

17. Angel on the tree top or a star? ANGEL!! And yes, I've heard the joke...

18. Open the presents Christmas eve or Christmas morning? Christmas morning, although we always opened them Christmas Eve as a child. Now, hubby and I open one present each Christmas Eve.

19. Most annoying thing about this time of year? The traffic and the fact that people who don't drive 11 months out of the year are now on the road. That and feeling obligated to buy gifts for people you don't really like.

20. Do you decorate your tree in any specific theme or color? Not usually, although I've always wanted to.

21. What do you leave for Santa? We never do, because we don't have kids. When we have kids, we will leave cookies and milk for Santa and a carrot for the reindeer. Although Santa may have to "know" to look in the microwave for it, otherwise, PanzerCat will bat it off the table and try to eat it. Maybe a note on the fireplace..."Dear Santa: Cookies and milk are in the fridge, help yourself, just stay away from Mom's beer!"

22. Least favorite holiday song? Christmas Shoes. I think that song was written for the soul purpose of making anyone with a heart cry.

23. Favorite ornament? All my Mischevious Kittens Hallmark Collection and our collection of Trek ornaments!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Breaking These Chains!

It has been an amazingly busy two weeks. Between the launch of the RECON forum, a podcast interview today scheduled to launch on Blast Radius Woodsball Podcast in the new year, a rush assignment to write almost 100 product descriptions, and four more assignments from regular clients, I am working non-stop and cramming Christmas shopping and all that other good stuff into the sparse minutes in between.

I haven't gotten to start my exercise regime or anything else, but was happy to hear hubby say that, come the new year, he wants to get the mess in the house under control!

I want to write something thought-provoking and entertaining, but I'm pretty fried.

So you'll have to settle for this post, marking the end of the 13th AW Blog Chain (like the 13th Warrior, only more entertaining!)

I've got some reading and commenting ahead of me now, although I've stayed up to date on most of it!

Dawn

A Thoughtful Life

Gillian's Food History

Getting Confused and Coming All Undone

Life in the Middle

So You Want to be a Chic Chick

Williebee

Twisted Fantasies

It Had To Be Said

Finding Boddie

Virtual Wordsmith

Random Acts of Unkindness

Chocolate for Your Brain

Virginia Lee: I Ain't Dead Yet!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas Poem

I received a lovely gift from one of my editors and his staff today--a delicious box of Belgian chocolates.

This simple statement prompts me to confess another vice.

No, not my love of chocolate, that's common knowledge!

I write poetry.

In spite of Robert Heinlein's warning, "A poet who reads his verse in public may have other nasty habits," I'm going to share a short rhyme I just wrote.

I got chocolate, I got beer,
Christmastime is almost here.
My belly's full of holiday cheer,
Please hide the scale come New Year's!

I suppose I shouldn't quit my day job. Oh, wait... that involves writing, too!

By the way, for those of you who visit Miss Michele, I want to apologize for the delays in your readings. I received a writing opportunity requiring a super-fast turnaround and I've basically stopped doing, well, anything, to get it done, in the hopes this website will use me for ongoing work.

I hope to finish up tonight and start tomorrow back to normal.

Dawn

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Chained AND Tagged...

In much the same way a writer gets multiple assignments (and deadlines) all on the same day, Wordsmith tagged me with a meme late the other night. Before I could compile my five facts, I realized I was next in the AW Blog Chain #13.

When it rains, it pours, even in cyberspace.

With my blog chain post done, I figure I better play along with this tag before there is no one left on the World Wide Web for me to tag.

Here’s how it works:

Link to the tagger and post these rules on your blog. Share five facts about yourself on your blog, some random, some weird. Tag five people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blogs. Let them know they are tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

Okay… I have got to “steal” Plaid Earthworm’s random fact #1.

1. Random fact: I am left-handed, too. So is my sister, my nephew and his mother (which would be my sister-in-law). I also seem to have many of the stereotypical traits of left-handers… I can be accident-prone (or at least clutzy, but lucky! No broken bones or major injuries so far!) I’m creative and intuitive. None of these have been proven, of course, but it sounds like a good excuse when I stub my toe on the coffee table or drop a glass when I’m washing dishes.

2. Weird fact: I have a tank. No, really. This won’t seem weird to anyone in the scenario paintball world, but my husband built a paintball tank out of plywood and fiberglass on the chassis of a 1992 Chevy Blazer. It was featured on a trading card in an issue of RECON Magazine. I have been known to shoot out opposing tanks with a Nerf rocket from the turret and then giggle maniacally.


3. Weirder Fact: My cat, Panzer, was born on the passenger seat of the tank. We raised Mama Cat and the kittens until they were weaned. The other three kittens were adopted (the girls, Jade and Jasmine, went to one home, and Panzer’s brother, Jeter, went to another.) Panzer joins Xena, Onyx and Ghost as our furry little roommates who don’t know how to clean up after themselves.

4. Wow. What more can I say after I talk about my tank? I used to own several iguanas, a Savannah Monitor and prairie dogs, Wendell and Emmett.

5. Factling: I am a huge sci-fi fan, especially Star Trek, and used to edit a fanzine back when that kind of thing was widely distributed on paper. Oh, wait, I revealed that on Absolute Write. Okay, okay. I also had a huge crush on Jonathan Frakes, aka Commander Will Riker.

And Deanna Troi.

In that girly-crush, purely platonic way, of course.

Okay, who do I want to tag now?

Moonslice over at Light Green Stairs

Lavinia aka Karen-Bob at Write Now

Rachel at That Which Deranges the Senses

My blog chain predecessor over at Twisted Fantasies.

And... Joanna at Life in the Middle (who may have been tagged before and, if so, I apologize.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Unchained Confessions

The famous (infamous?) AW Blog Chain began at A Thoughtful Life, where Kat posted about distractions. Gillian over at Food History then blogged about lists.

From there it continued, finding its way to sex toys (and, in fact, back to lists) with Williebee and then, again, back to distractions over at Twisted Fantasies. Michelle Rasey, blogger at Twisted Fantasies, also wrote, in that same post, about pregnancy and motherhood. While I'm no stranger to distraction, I blogged about that a few days ago.

While it's really tempting to pick up on the sex toy reference, I will refrain. I'm going to take this blog chain, #13 for those who are counting, into uncharted territory to talk about babies and children.

I worked an art auction the other day, a fundraiser for a traveling football league made up of boys age 8 - 12. When I attended this same fundraiser last year, I felt like my co-worker, Joanne and I, spent most of our time scolding the boys. "Please don't touch the artwork. Please don't lean on the table. Don't run! You're going to fall and get hurt."

This time, the auction company owner went with me. An older man with grown children, he gritted his teeth every time the young boys tried to write a fake name on the silent auction bid sheet, ran across the reception hall, or sprawled out on the floor to play their Nintendo DS.

After we left, I commented, "The kids seemed to be better this year than last."

"Really?" Rudy, the owner, grimaced. "I can't imagine what you girls went through last year."

I shrugged. "The same: don't lean on the table, don't run, put the pens down, yadda-yadda. They just seemed more manageable this year. Last year, I walked out swearing I was never, ever having kids."

But was it the kids who changed, or me?

I've noticed a shift in my way of thinking over the past few months. Maybe it's the proverbial biological clock or maybe it's boredom. When I see kids misbehaving in public places, my standard response is: "OUR kids will never act like THAT!" These wild children are not representative of their entire age group. Clearly, it's their upbringing.

Yeah, right.

In reality, I know better. But until the day comes that I am seeking out a spot in the "candy-free" line in order to keep a two-year old from having a temper tantrum, let me enjoy my delusions, would ya?

I cannot wait to see where Boddie goes with this, but I am sure it's going to be funny.


A Thoughtful Life
Gillian's Food History
Getting Confused and Coming All Undone
Life in the Middle
So You Want to be a Chic Chick
Williebee
Twisted Fantasies
It Had To Be Said
Finding Boddie
Virtual Wordsmith
Random Acts of Unkindness
Chocolate for Your Brain
Virginia Lee: I Ain't Dead Yet!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Musings on Three Totally Unrelated Matters

New Forum
After my post yesterday about my Internet addiction, two things happened. My connection went down for two hours. I have never felt so lost. Instead of sitting down and *writing,* I made phone calls to close friends and did some housework.

When it came back up, I discovered that RECON Magazine's forum has launched!

I can't help but think it's neat to have a forum for the magazine I edit, sort of another step on this path to success.

New World Views
I had a conversation yesterday that caused me to re-think my views on charity. Someone I know (well) is turning to a charity organization to make Christmas a little better this year. As a Libertarian, I believe 100 percent that charity should be handled in the private sector, not by the government. People should have a choice of whether to contribute or not. So I support, in theory, these types of private charity organizations.

I like to think I am extremely charitable to people I *know*, but when it comes to organizations, etc., I consider very carefully. Do the recipients really *deserve* it. *Why* do they need help?

With inside information about one particular case, an old lesson hits home for me. You can't judge someone until you've walked in their shoes (or at least know their circumstances.) And if one person is truly deserving, probably countless others are as well. Who am I to judge without knowing?

I'd like to send you to Mysti's blog. Mysti is a kind, generous individual who doesn't have these misgivings (or maybe it's sheer selfishness?) about charity that I had. For every link back to her blog and every comment posted there, she will donate $.01 to Habitat for Humanity.

My Journey

Go there. Make a comment. I'll wait.

Back? If you have a blog, please link back to Mysti's site.

Thank you.

New Cat Story
To end this blog on a lighter note, I have to share a story about my 1 1/2 year old cat, Panzer. Panzer is completely fearless, 14 lbs. of pure muscle, and just about the largest housecat I've seen.

Well, he's not *completely* fearless. Panzer is afraid of the front door. Maybe it's because he was born outside, adopted by us at four days old, and used as bait to lure his mother into a Have-a-Heart trap so she could nurse Panzer and his three siblings. I guess that could have been traumatic.

All four of our cats are indoor cats. None of them try to get out. But whenever the door opens, Panzer runs away. Yesterday, he was perched on his cat tree near the closed front door, when my husband opened the door to take out the garbage. Panzer leaped off the platform and into the kitchen (going the long way to avoid getting any closer to the front door) ran down the steps and into the bedroom. Not only does he not want to be *near* the door when it's opened, he doesn't even want to *see* it. He wants to be in a completely different room. It's like he thinks the open door will suck him out into the great wild.

It was actually quite funny to watch.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Whips and Chains... oh, Wait...

Because I don't spend nearly enough time on the Internet, I've joined the AW Blog Chain this month.

It's my first time doing something like this, but I know many of the Bloggers involved and visit their sites regularly. It should make for some good reading, so I urge you to check it out! (See the links to the left!)

Meanwhile, I'm continuing to battle my Internet addiction. I need to set some parameters for myself. I wind up checking AW, e-mail and a handful of blogs every time I stop one project and begin another. Since I am big on multitasking and tend to bounce back and forth from one article to another, this is a huge problem. I estimate I spend about 4 hours a day just checking forums, etc.

Sure, I've landed jobs from it, but I feel like it's getting to be a problem, when I'm putting in 10 - 12 hour days writing, but too much of it is spent NOT writing.

Now there's discussions on AW about Skype, LinkedIn and other social networks that threaten to suck up more of my day. Help? Suggestions??

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Power of Prayer

While mindlessly surfing the Web tonight, I followed one link to another and arrived at:

http://www.rosemaryaltea.com/power/weekly_lesson.cfm

I'm interested in picking up her book, now. And I think I will begin taking her online course on a weekly basis. Because, you know, I need to add another site to my Internet addiction...

But, seriously, I'm even more interested in her suggestion to start a prayer book for those who need healing.

I don't think it's coincidence that I found this site. I'm a big believer in synchronicity and I'm working on a marketing project with iprayerworks, which is essentially the high-tech, web-interfaced version of what Ms. Altea suggests. For churches, Toby Dagenhart's software is absolutely brilliant (IMHO).

But for individuals I believe a pretty notebook will work well. I plan on starting my own. And yes, it has to be a pretty notebook-- or at least one that feels "important" to the user. I'm big on special notebooks and am well-known in the paintball community for carrying around my little Moleskine books. But my prayer book has to be feminine and flowery, to promote life and healing and make me happy. Yours can be whatever you feel it needs to be.

The first name in my prayer book will be Monty Doom, my close friend in paintball whose MS recently took a turn for the worse. He has a legion right below his brain stem. It resulted in vertigo and loss of vision. His vision is back now, but it must have been terrifying. Monty lives almost 3,000 miles away from me, but I pray for him everyday.

The next name will be Bob Juengle of Bear Claw Paintball who was recently diagnosed with cancer.

And Bea Youngs' father. Bea, I'm always, always praying for your dad.

Thank God those are the only names I can come up with right now who need as many positive thoughts as we can send them. I'm sure I'll think of more when I get my notebook. Of course, there are those people who I just want to bless everyday because they are an important part of my life and I want them to be happy.

Ms. Altea's explanation of why prayer works for healing makes a lot of sense, and falls in line with my own beliefs on the topic. It can't hurt, right?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A $170 Toothbrush?!

In my last post, I blogged about odd jobs.

While this isn’t exactly a job, last year I became a BzzAgent.

It doesn’t pay actual money, but I’ve gotten some great new products from it. And, theoretically, when you collect enough points, you can turn them in for prizes or donations to charities. It takes a while to accrue points, however, and I haven’t taken advantage of that, yet.

I have gotten to test out brand new Pledge wipes, Listerine Whitestrips (before the commercials were everywhere!) and Grey Poupon mustard.

Some of the products haven’t been so good. I signed up to Bzz about a software program but, honestly, I’ve been afraid to download it. They say it’s secure, but I don’t like the idea of uploading the entire contents of my hard drive to the Internet.

Yesterday, however, I got my best Bzz product ever! I received the new Sonicare Flexcare 940 Series toothbrush w/ UV Sanitizer. It retails for $169.

Now, would I have bought a $170 toothbrush under any circumstances? Probably not. But it was free! I immediately went out and spent $30 on additional heads, that way my husband can use it, too. After using it once, I was so impressed that if it ever breaks, I probably *will* purchase a replacement.

I’ll post more in the coming weeks. It’s supposed to make your teeth whiter, reduce tartar and plaque build-up, etc. etc. It will be interesting to see, when I go for a cleaning next month, if there’s a noticeable difference.

Okay, I just realized I’m blogging about toothbrushes. But it’s a $170 toothbrush! That counts for something, right? (What is this world coming to that people will spend $170 on a toothbrush? That’s a blog for another day.)

The thing is, I also received 3 coupons for $10 off a toothbrush. With it being the holidays and all, I’m feeling generous. I will send a $10 off coupon to the first three people to post a comment here. And I’ll throw in a few for $1 off TV Guide, too. Of course, you’ll also need to send me an e-mail at my gmail account with your address so I can send the coupon. (That's easy to find, but mention in your post if you can't track it down.) The coupons will go to the first three people to post here.

There’s nothing fishy here. I promise. If I could do this all virtually (without your having to give an address) I would. But I can’t think of another way. And I’d hate for these coupons to go to waste.

There is one small catch. Please promise to post back here in 2 to 4 weeks and let me know how you like the toothbrush, that way I can write a Bzz Report about it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Get a Real Job? Not Me!

I’ve worked some strange jobs. Paintball magazine editor doesn’t even top the list, which is pretty unusual considering the sports demographic is 89 percent male and, well into my adult life, I’d never played any organized sports or held a gun.

But I’ve also worked promotions for a country radio station, been an advice columnist for an online men’s magazine, and, more recently, a beauty product tester.

And the Auction Jobs. Ah, the famous art & sports memorabilia silent auctions for charity, which I blogged about in this post.

I work auctions about two nights a week to supplement my freelance writing income. Not only is it fun (most of the time), I’ve also made some great connections. But I don’t need to justify myself… Really. ;)

The other night, at a hoity-toity hospital fundraiser, I started a conversation with the lady selling raffle tickets, a volunteer for the organization. She asked if I worked for the hospital (a common question for the night; many people started conversations that way, by means of introduction.)

I replied, “No, I work for the company running the silent auction.”

“Oh,” she said. “That’s a job?”

“Um, yes,” I replied, wracking my brain for a snappy comeback. “But I also own a magazine,” I added, by means of salvaging some self-respect.

Why I should care, I have no idea. They say women begin “discovering themselves” in their 30s, blossoming into confident, glamorous, devil-may-care vixens, secure in themselves, their careers, their sexuality, their life-choices. When will I get the inner confidence and self-respect to just let these things slide, rather than feeling like I have to prove myself to complete strangers?

Regardless, I felt it necessary to defend my life and justify my means of income.

Then, out to dinner last night with a close friend, we started talking about holidays off. Because my husband works for the school district, he has most of this week off. My friend, who works for a bank, gets to leave early Christmas Eve, but was lamenting working on Black Friday.

Then she added, “Well, you don’t have to worry, Dawn. You don’t wor— “

I stopped her mid-sentence, pointing my fried shrimp at her like a loaded weapon. “Go ahead,” I dared. “Finish that sentence.”

“Well, I mean… you don’t have a real jo—“

I smirked, one eyebrow raise, shrimp still poised for attack.

She finally found the proper phrasing. We’d been through this before. “You get to set your own hours and you don’t actually have to DRIVE to an office,” she finished.

“Yeah, isn’t it great?” I grinned at her.

I know freelancers can relate to this... Writers, I'd love to hear your worst "my family/friends just don't understand what I do" stories.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

These New-Fangled Machiney-Things

This blog originally launched as a venue to share my store stories- adventures of a 10-year, on and off career in retail.

As luck would have it, I haven't had to work retail in a while... and I'm even avoiding it this holiday season. (Ah, the temptation to deal with the hordes of angry, rushed shoppers... the people who want you to pick out books for everyone on their list... the ones who come in to a bookstore only once a year and don't know the difference between fiction and non-fiction.)

Nonetheless, I had an experience the other day.

I had to make a photocopy, blown up to twice its size, and was in the Staples shopping center, so I decided that would be easier than struggling with our aging desktop computer and the photocopy/fax/printer.

Hahahaha!

Office equipment and I don't get along. The most difficult job I ever had to do as an editorial assistant was make photocopies of the proofs for each of the magazines the company published.

So I figure I'll pay a little extra and let the girl behind the counter do it for me. She says she can't. I approach the self-service machine. It's jammed. I walk away and try the second one. This one just doesn't seem to be working.

"Can you help me with this?" I ask.

Then I laugh, "I just don't get along with office equipment! I'll probably jam it or break it or something. "

She points to a slot. "Just put your card in here."

"Um, what card?" I ask. In the past, you made your photocopies, then brought them to the cashier and paid for them.

She looks at me funny. "Visa, Mastercard, whatever..."

"Oh." I pause. "What if I want to pay cash?"

I'm making one copy. At most, this will cost 10 cents. I can't see putting 10 cents on my debit card.

She looks at me funny again. I feel like the person in the commercial who stops the entire line at the coffee shop because he wants to pay cash rather than "swipe it." Fortunately, no line is forming behind me.

"Well, then you put your money in this machine and you get a gift card to swipe."

I look at the machines. Cards are available in denominations of $1, $5, and $10 (probably higher amounts, too, but I don't stop to look.) "How much is this one copy going to cost?" I ask.

"Oh, about 7 cents."

I process this for a moment. I have to buy a card for $1, to make a 7 cent copy, at which point I will have to carry a 93 cent gift card in my wallet indefinitely. I don't shop at Staples often and hardly ever make photocopies. Besides, the odds of me remembering to use the 93 cent card next time I make a purchase... Yeah.

Now I become one of the customers I detest, asking questions I know the answer to, and asking the clerk to clarify what is clearly--well, implied--on the signage.

"So this 7 cent copy is going to cost me a dollar, no matter what?"

"You can't get the money back from the gift card, if that's what you mean, no. But you can use your charge card, instead."

I thank her for her time and walk out. Whatever happened to photocopy machines taking nickels and dimes?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ninja Warriors Have What it Takes

My husband recently got me hooked on G4’s T.V. show, Ninja Warrior. Part reality TV, part game show and part sporting event, picture MXC (Most Extreme Elimination Challenge) without the inane commentary.

In the show, called Sasuke in Japan, competitors try to complete impossible-looking obstacle courses under insane time limits. When the competitors fail and fall into the icy cold, muddy water below, it’s actually quite amusing. When they complete the course, hitting the buzzer with mere fractions of a second left, it can be as exciting as Game 7 of the World Series.

My husband and I aren’t into organized sports. But get us going with this show and you’ll see us cheering, yelling at the screen, “Hurry, hurry, you’re running out of TIME!” and “Monday-morning quarterbacking” their strategies and decisions like insane sports fanatics.

What really stands out, however, about the athletes on the show (and the competitors are true athletes—lean, fast, strong, muscled and disciplined) is their sportsmanship.

They cheer each other on, share tips and advice, and leave the course with a smile regardless of the outcome. I watched one of the “Ninja Warrior All-stars”, Nagano, who has completed the final stage of the course twice in his career, fail at the end of Stage One last night. Incidentally, out of 100 competitors, only two completed the stage!

Nagano’s hands slipped off the rope and he plunged into the icy water. When he emerged a second later, he was smiling. Smiling and laughing! He knew he did his best, and he’d have other opportunities in the future.

Perhaps the structure of the competition, which allows more than one winner, promotes good sportsmanship. It’s not a “him or me” proposition. The athletes are competing against the course, not each other. Whatever the reason, these athletes win— and lose—with grace… something I don’t see often enough here in the states.

It’s heartwarming to see athletes trying their best, supporting each other and, to quote a friend of mine, “shaking hands, playing hard, making friends and remembering it is just a game!”

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Good-bye, Tony...

I am angry and sad and frustrated today.

Worst of all, I feel helpless.

A friend of mine passed away this morning. Medical science has the technology to help him, but he was less than a month short of being eligible for Medicare. Tony needed a defribbilator, and was hanging on until Medicare would cover it, as the operation would have been in the hundred thousand dollar range.

Tony was a small business owner, self-employed his whole life, and just didn’t have the money or the insurance. On December 1, he would have become eligible. His doctor scheduled the operation last week.

But now it’s too late.

I feel like there is something I should be able to do about this. Not single-handedly, of course, but some way I can act as a catalyst for change. And, of course, not for Tony, but for the thousands of other self-employed individuals out there who can’t afford insurance for themselves or their children.

Then I look at a friend of mine in Canada, who traveled to the States for medical care. He said he was treated like a king at one of the best facilities in the world, because he was paying cash. So I know the solution up North is not “the answer” either.

I guess this is basically just a vent. And a clichĂ©d one at that: the high costs of healthcare for self-employed individuals. I also know there’s no easy solution, and I’m very grateful that my husband has a job with good benefits and security, which permits me to live a fantastic lifestyle, working from home.

It’s different to vent about health care in the abstract, however. This time, it has hit home with the loss of a gentleman I worked with a few times and will always think fondly of. Rest in Peace, Tony, you will be missed.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Thoughts on the Blogosphere

What is the blog-o-sphere coming to when bloggers blog about blogging?

But, as a newbie to this realm, I have some observations. Things that people who've been a this for a while probably take for granted. So if you get something out of these random ramblings, great.

Honestly, I haven't blogged because I find it hard to beat my last post. (to paraphrase Dave Barry... I did NOT make that up!)

Researching my latest PR & Marketing project has put me in touch with a whole new side of the Internet (hey, get'cher mind out of the gutter.) As a frequent contributor to Church Production Magazine and Sound & Communications, I know technology is a big deal in today's houses of worship.

But I had no idea of the scope of church technology websites. From Church Marketing Sucks to Church Technology Review, this is big business. Like I said, I knew there was a market for it, but had no idea how big the market was until I started digging.

Basically, an Internet junkie (which I am) can pick any single topic --any topic at all -- spend all day, every day, researching it on the Web, and never run out of information. Between web sites (updated frequently), blogs (updated daily), and forums (updated practically by the minute) you could stay glued to your monitor for days.

Which is quite the danger in my line of work!

On a semi-related note, next week marks the WAH Expo, a virtual conference for work-at-home types.

I have completely forgotten my point, however. So I'm going to put it in your hands, readers.

What's the oddest thing you've ever researched on the web? What web site have you come across that made you say, "They have a website (or ten) for THIS?"

Let's look at some of those more obscure topics (please keep it clean) because... well... I have nothing better to do with my time than explore offbeat websites. LOL

No, really...

P.S. Since this post has turned into a huge link-dump anyway, let me include a shameless plug here. Please vote for my story, A Heart, Waiting, at The Novelette. Thanks!!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Lost. In the back woods of Maine. With two flat tires.

Here I go, NOT blogging again for more than a week! But I have a story that is probably funny enough to share. Warning, it's a bit of a rant, and quite long.

It’s been a crazy few weeks; I have several deadlines and have to sort through my friend Erica’s wedding photos to make a CD of the best shots. My husband is a professionally-published photographer, who, in addition to paintball photography, shoots events and also whatever photos I may need for articles. He’s just starting to get into weddings, Sweet 16s, etc.

And that (on the way to Erica’s wedding) is where this story begins.

Those who know me “IRL” know my husband and I have been having some trouble with my 1995 Blazer. Meanwhile, his 1996 Silverado needs about $3000 worth of work to be street legal again. So the poor Blazer keeps going…and going… and occasionally refusing to start, overheating, hesitating or just plain crapping out for no apparent reason.

It chose Option B, overheating, at 11:00 PM on Thursday night, in the deep dark woods of southern Maine… where they don’t believe in street signs.

You know it’s bad when the Deacon who gives the service during a wedding talks about getting lost on the way to the couple’s house. And half the people in the church can relate!

So there we were in the back woods of Maine, lost, with the truck overheating and a cell phone with about five minutes worth of battery power and our charger back in New York.

I call my friend’s fiancĂ© and tell him where we are. “I don’t know where that is, I’m sorry. I can’t think of the two streets you’re saying. I don’t know where you are.”

The conversation went on this way for a few minutes, with me repeating the names of the streets and him saying, “I’m sorry, I don’t know where you are.”

We know we’re about two minutes from the house, but we can’t find our way. And the truck is overheating. And did I mention the cell phone battery is dying?

We limp to the house by retracing our steps and finding the street we missed. But the water pump on the Blazer was completely shot.

My husband went out to pick up the parts on Friday. It actually worked out okay because my friend didn’t need her car all weekend, and was leaving for her honeymoon Sunday morning. So we borrowed her Jeep and drove out to her house from the hotel on Sunday to fix the Blazer.

She left us her keys and told us we should feel welcome to stay the night, but I insisted we had to get back Sunday. T.J. had work Monday and I had a lot of things to take care of. “Thanks for the offer,” I said. “But we’ll leave Sunday afternoon. It shouldn’t take more than two hours for T.J. to replace the water pump.”

It could have been so easy.

We got lost, once again, driving to Erica’s house. Once again we re-traced our steps down the same country roads, knowing we were in the vicinity, but unsure where to turn. Roads look different during the day than at night.

I should mention, it was 4 PM on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. We almost didn’t mind being lost. We talked about the wedding, how much fun it was to see our good friends, and how unseasonably warm it is for October 21 in New England. The foliage painted the landscape bright reds and oranges… overall, a nice drive.

Then we decided we made a wrong turn and should go back the other way.

We pulled over onto the grass, ready to hang a u-turn when traffic cleared.

“Whomp. Bang. Whump. Bang.”

“What was that?” I asked TJ, fearing it sounded like a tire blowout.

“Nothing,” TJ said. “Nothing to worry about.”

“Oh good. Because it sounded to me like a flat tire.”

“Nah. We probably ran over a plastic bag.” The dismissive tone in his voice showed more bravado than was necessary. I didn’t quite believe him, but took him at his word.

As we turned back onto the pavement, we couldn’t ignore the facts. Rumble, rumble, rumble, metal rim scraping against pavement.

TJ grimaced. “I guess it was a flat.”

“I thought so,” I said.

“I did too, but didn’t want to believe it.”

We pulled onto the side of the road, woods as far as we could see. We heard the shotgun fire of not-so-distant hunters. TJ got out of the car to assess the damage. “Or TWO flat tires.”

In case you missed it:

Four o’clock on a Sunday afternoon. In the back woods of Maine. Lost. With two flat tires. On a borrowed Jeep. With hunters in the woods beside us. And no cell phone service, not that we could have called anyone for help. “We can’t call Triple A,” T.J. pointed out, “because we have no idea where we are!”

T.J. put the spare tire on the rear tire, leaving us with only one flat. The situation was improving.

We walked about a half mile to a convenience store, Ed’s Discount Warehouse. “Do you sell tires?”

“Tires? No.”

Technically, BJ’s and Sam’s Club are also discount warehouses, and they sell tires. But no such luck here at the friendly neighborhood “Ed’s,” which was really more of an oversized dollar store.

“How about maps?” TJ asked.

“Nope.”

“How about bicycles?” I ask, only half-joking.

The nearest gas station is about four miles away. We could cover that distance in about 15 minutes on a decent bicycle, 30 on a cheap one.

Instead, we rode on three tires and one rim to the gas station, going about 16 mph—ironically, about the same speed we could have done on bicycles.

There, we looked at the map and realized where we made the wrong turn. We head back and two guys in a white, mud-covered jeep slow down. “Can we help you?” they ask.

“Not unless you have a spare tire we can buy.”

It turns out they did, but when we realized it was the wrong size (only by an inch) they offered to follow us back to Erica’s house, that way we can borrow the tire (better than riding on the rim) and remove it when we get there.

By the time we got back to Erica’s it was dusk. We thanked the boys, and they took off before I could even offer them a cold drink. T.J. started fixing the water pump, and I started dinner, cracked open a beer and once again silently thanked Erica for giving us her house keys and free reign to the fridge.

We watched The Incredibles that night and turned in shortly after dark. The next morning, we got two new tires for the Jeep from the local auto parts store and T.J. finished fixing the water pump. Unfortunately, the auto parts store couldn’t mount the tires until Tuesday. I left Erica a note explaining everything, and cash to cover the price of mounting the tires, but I think we’re going to call her tomorrow. I don’t want her to pull into the driveway, returning from her honeymoon, to find her Jeep missing two tires.

The ride home went smoothly, uneventful even.

The greatest irony? Before we left for the trip, we noticed the Blazer needed two new tires.

Friday, October 12, 2007

E-mail Free Fridays?

Read an interesting segment at Christopher Null's Working Guy blog today.

In a nutshell, a group at Intel is instituting e-mail free Fridays. They recommend employees forego e-mail in favor of a phone call or a walk to their co-workers office. (This also fits with the increased emphasis on corporate health and fitness in some companies!)

I like this idea! Being an e-mail/forum/blog IM junkie, I'm going to try it.

E-mail Free Fridays pose a few unique challenges for freelance writers, at least until everyone in my circle knows the situation. I'd hate to miss an assignment because I didn't answer an e-mail (and that keeps the editor waiting over the weekend, too). And, of course, if story assignments are due, I have to e-mail those in. So here are my rules:

* I will check e-mail only once in the morning, at lunch, and before I finish for the day.

* I will scan e-mails, and respond to any that I can with a phone call.

* If they can't be replied to by phone, and are not urgent, (ie, assignment-related) they don't get answered until Monday.

* Story submissions may be e-mailed. And query letters. But that's it.

* Additionally, I may post to my blog, but not check to see if I received any comments (which I do compulsively!)

* Forums and AIM are completely off-limits. Blogs are okay, ONE visit per blog. (ie, no comment conversations for the day).

I don't have any fear of the phone, but I think this would be a great exercise for writers who try to avoid the phone, too. I'm curious to see if I get any more work done on Fridays with these rules instituted.

I'm starting now by turning off AIM.

Anyone going to join me?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Observations on Writing

Yesterday, as I finished an interview for a rather exciting article, I felt that adrenaline rush! You know the one--the giddy excitement of starting a new project, where anything is possible, and you know you'll walk away smarter and enriched.

I'm a natural adrenaline junkie--I play paintball, love roller coasters. I think the search for that adrenaline rush is part of what attracted me to a career as a writer/reporter.

Writing as a career, the adrenaline wears off in the tedium of "interview, transcribe, write." But every once in a while, a story inspires, and I feel it again. That's why I keep going. The balance of always searching for that story, while finding enough work to pay the bills.

Some time around 9 PM last night, I felt experienced another sensation I haven't felt in a while as a writer. I entered a little contest at The Novelette . The contest doesn't pay a lot to the winner, so I figured I'd spend an hour on the short essay and be done with it. Unhappy with my result, I posted the essay in the Share Your Work section of Absolute Write and got some great feedback. Then I started tweaking. Tightening. Moving paragraphs around. Searching for that perfect word.

I was no longer writing for the contest, I was writing for the fun of it. With no thought of hourly rates or impending deadlines, writing felt like a game. I think it's important to do that to stay inspired.

Check out the contest, read some of the entries (they're quite enjoyable) and vote! I wouldn't mind if you voted for my story; it's called A Heart, Waiting. But pick the story you feel is best. Or maybe submit one yourself!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Goals accomplished!

Each month, in one section of the Absolute Write forums (Just Hit Send) we post our goals for the month.

This month, several of us opted to post weekly goals. I'm proud to say I did well. Finished a few articles over the week, sent out several queries, and even updated this blog with some useful links (mostly to other AWer blogs... take a look, you may find some cool, unusual things!)

I also reconnected with an old friend, over at www.radioxshow.com. This friend was blogging before everyone in the world had a blog. I mentioned I had launched one, and we began discussing the evolution of the platform.

It used to be, you weren't taken seriously as a writer if you blogged. ("No publisher wants my work, so I'll just blog.") Now, it's harder to be taken seriously as a writer in certain arenas if you *don't* blog. Even if that's not the case, a blog helps for self-promotion. Blogging, in and of itself, has even become a way for writers to generate income.

But I digress... on John Ale's old blog, I used to have a little column, "Tarot Readings by Miss Michele." Readers posted questions and "Miss Michele", my spiritual alter ego, replied.

Now, when I heard about NaNoBloPoMo, I decided a "tarot card a day" blog would be a great way to post in a blog everyday. It would also be a great way for me to get back into the tarot (a hobby I pick up sporadically).

Check out Miss Michele's tarot readings. Post a question and she'll give you a free three-card reading. It's fun. It's free. It's...yeah...I'm addicted to blogging for sure.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Warning: NY-style Rant Ahead

I want to talk--or maybe I should say "gripe"--about the entitlement attitude.

I worked an art auction at Pindar Vineyards the other night. Had a great time, and the owner is a fabulous little Greek man. I couldn't pronounce his name, so I jokingly called him Mr. Pindar all night and he never complained!

It's time to close the auction and my co-worker and I have a growing line of customers. I'm taking people's money, credit cards and checks while she's helping them find their pictures to take home.

A woman jumps ahead of about 10 people in line, explaining, "I need to leave, NOW. Can you just ship my purchase?"

We don't like doing this, because it costs money, time, and--most important to me--it means I have to pack up the dang picture and take it back to the office!

I explain that we'd prefer she didn't, and if she just waits her turn, we will get to her shortly. About 3 minutes later, she jumps ahead again. "MY husband is ready to leave. Can't you just ring ME up?" It was a credit card purchase, so I couldn't just take her cash and send her away.

I look at the line, which is moving rapidly but not getting any shorter. I look at the two women who are next in line. "Would you mind?" I ask them, as the woman rolls her eyes at the further delay. Clearly, I should drop everything I'm doing to tend to her needs, right now. The other customers are not important.

As I'm smiling politely, my inside voices are saying: "What makes YOU so much more important than the other 10 people in line? Why is YOUR time more valuable than theirs? Go to the back of the line and wait your turn like everyone else. You're not special."

Keep in mind, this woman had no pressing reason to leave--no crying baby in her arms, no medical emergency--other than her husband wanted to go at that exact moment.

It makes me wonder what kind of child she was, growing up. I bet her parents jumped at her every whim; she got whatever she wanted simply by pouting her lower lip.

Parents like that have raised a society of adults who think their needs outweigh everyone else's.

I see this in line at toll booths in the NY metro area, too. A growing number of drivers think it's fine to ride the EasyPass lane until the last possible moment, and then jump in to the waiting line of cars in the Cash lane. Of course, their time is more valuable than everyone else's. These same people give you an attitude if you don't let them in.

My reaction? "You're either STUPID--because you didn't SEE the big CASH sign from miles away--or you're SELFISH." Either way, I don't see any need to help you.

If the NY Transit Authority took down license plate numbers and mailed tickets to every driver who tried this, they could lower toll prices by at least 50 percent.

Okay, rant's over. What do you think? What attitude annoys you most in society today?

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Entering the Teaching World

All this research on Arthur Jones has gotten me thinking a lot about stupidity v. lack of knowledge. While stupidity annoys me, ignorance inspires me—it awakens my teacher within.

When I see a lack of knowledge coupled with a desire to learn, I see an empty vessel waiting to be filled, a white screen begging for words, a blank page yearning for ink.

That’s why I’ve decided to launch the world’s first (safe to say it IS the world’s first) writing instruction course for paintball players.

Paintball is an exciting sport, and, when the shooting’s over, it’s all about the stories. ‘Ballers love to tell stories, around the campfire, in diners, in the car during the ride home… and in the pages of about a dozen paintball publications.
Unfortunately, that great story shared over a burger doesn’t always translate perfectly into print.

It hit me today, copyediting stories for RECON, fixing the same mistakes over and over again, that I can help.

So I invited seven RECON contributors with the most potential to join my Internet writing course. The price? Two submissions to RECON, first print rights with no compensation.

If it works out well, this could blossom into an online course for team captains, in which participants will leave with a team resume, press release, and the tools to get sponsorship from any company in the industry. I would, of course, charge for that class.

Mostly, I’m doing it because I want to help people without growing resentful of the time I spend mentoring new writers.

Monday, October 1, 2007

So I'm not a beer expert...

I'm not a beer and wine expert, but I do appreciate good drinks. You know...a sweet Mondavi chardonnay with salmon, a nice red zin with an Italian meal, a hearty Sam Adams with a burger. In moderation. Meaning--stop before you puke or pass out.

Unfortunately, this weekend I utterly abused a bottle of good Chardonnay (and myself) when two glasses with dinner turned into five. One second I was making onion dip, perfectly fine and upright, and the next...well... it got really ugly.

But normally, while I'm not an expert on the topic, I enjoy and appreciate good wines and beers. In moderation. Oh, wait, I said that already, didn't I? Let me keep repeating it so I don't forget next weekend!

Anyway, I'm very fortunate that fellow writer Bryce Eddings has given me an opportunity to learn more about writing beer reviews, while getting published, as a contributor to his "About.com Beer Taster Panel."

Check out my first review here.

Now, as an official reviewer, does this mean the Advil I took for my hangover this weekend is tax deductible?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Blogging for Strength

I learned (too late) that yesterday was Blog Against Abuse Day. It’s a worthwhile cause and I would have done it had I not found out at around 12:30 at night (i.e., this morning).

So today I’d like to turn the concept around and blog about powerful women. Two women who I’m very proud to know…

First, my dear friend Rachel, who I know will be on the bestseller list as a sci-fi author one day, was interviewed in Jeff’s Vandermeer’s Blog, in a section called Conversations with the Bookless. (Because, thus far in her young career, Rachel has only written short stories.)
Rachel, you’ve made the big-time, you’ve been interviewed!! Damn, I should have been the first to think of that! ;)

The second woman is someone I’ve had the honor of interviewing twice (so far) in my career as a paintball journalist. Bea Youngs, who I speak with in the upcoming book “The Complete Guide to Paintball, Fourth Edition,” was recently named Editor-in-Chief of Paintball Sports Magazine.

Anyone in the industry—and many enthusiasts—know I used to edit this magazine before leaving it to go back to freelance writing and take over RECON, which enables me to work from home. Long hours, low pay, commuting? No thanks, not for me. I consider it a rough day when I have to put on *pants* to work!

But Bea has landed a fair deal that will allow her to work remotely, and still take care of her father who has Parkinson’s disease. For this reason alone—the way she is able to be her dad’s primary caregiver while still remaining a driving force in the paintball industry—I basically idolize Bea. I think she’s exactly what Paintball Sports needs to remain one of the top publications in the industry, and the publisher could not have made a better choice. When it comes to strong women, she’s close to the top of my list.

I’m going to cut this short to hang out with my best friend, another amazingly strong woman who just happens to be getting married to a wonderful man in three weeks. This blog may be coming a day late, but what better way to fight abuse against women than to applaud women who are amazing role models of strength?

(Photo caption, Bea Youngs and Chris Serf, two of my bestest paintball buddies)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

In Memory of Arthur Jones

In the past three days, I have collected more than 7,000 words about Arthur Jones, inventor of Nautilus equipment, through interviews with his friends, colleagues and business associates. I've also read more than 20 pages of notes and surfed dozens of websites to find out more about this eccentric millionaire who was ahead of his time in so many ways.

His colleagues have described him as charismatic, determined, honest, intelligent and intimidating. I'd never heard of Arthur until after he died at 80 years of age this past August 28, but he seems like someone I would have liked to have known.

His intolerance for stupidity, as described by one of his closer friends, clinched it for me. Arthur was a great teacher, several interview subjects reported, but he had no tolerance for people with no desire or capacity to learn. About the only time he'd lose his temper was when he was trying to explain one of his concepts of physiology--why Nautilus equipment works--to someone who was just... NOT... GETTING... IT.

Wow, as an editor, I can relate. And I'll be nice now, so as not to hurt the feelings of blossoming writers whose stories I have rejected in not very nice ways. :)

But my favorite story about Arthur Jones was reported by Joe Cirulli, President & Owner of Gainesville Health & Fitness. Apparently, Arthur was trying to explain his new workout machines to someone who just wasn't getting it. "You're stupid!" Arthur said. "I'm sorry for saying it, but don't blame me. I didn't make you stupid. God made you stupid!"

How many times have I *wished* I could say that to someone?

But you know what they say...when you're a millionaire and do unusual things, you're eccentric. If you're middle class and do the same things, you're just crazy!

Additional amusing anecdotes about Arthur will be appearing in a feature article in a future issue of Club Business International, authored by Editor-in-Chief Craig Waters.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

FADE IN... 2002

Back in 2002, I launched Dawn Allcot Media and www.dawnallcot.com. I was working part time in a bookstore while freelancing full-time. I launched a little column, back then, called "It Had to Be Said," sometimes affectionately referred to as Store Stories.

These were short essays about my adventures in retail and comments on human stupidity in general.

It was the most well-received section of my website, lauded by at least five of my closest friends and fellow writers. So it seemed only appropriate that I should title this blog the same. And, let's face it, when you're expounding on human stupidity, there's no danger you'll ever run out of material.

This blog may morph into a paintball advocacy site, or a writer's help site, or something else all together. (Maybe just a way to promote my still-growing writing business?) Maybe I actually need three blogs. Time will tell.

Whatever it turns into, it started as the chronicles of a little bookstore clerk's ("little" modifying the clerk, not the mass market superstore, complete with cafe) daily life.

I hope you keep visiting...and commenting. I will do the same for you!

Class...

In my "night job," where I sell sports memorabilia, artwork and jewelry at silent auctions, I am often looked down at (by the attendees). I guess I am viewed as "hired help." It's an experience I haven't had to deal with since I left Barnes & Noble nearly five years ago. Half the time, if the men aren't staring down my dress, they are ignoring me.

During an auction in an upscale area the other night, I started thinking about the concept of class. I know more people who run around in camouflage and shoot each other on weekends who have tons more class (and money, in many cases!) than some of these high-powered execs who shell out hundreds of dollars in cash for a baseball with Don Mattingly's signature on it. In fact, many members of the paintball industry (and some of my closest friends) look like rednecks, curse like sailors, and have more class than an entire room of bankers, lawyers and politicians.. um... hmmmm...maybe not such a good analogy.

A quote from the Brendan Fraser/Alicia Silverstone movie came to my mind... "Turns out, the short and very simple definition of a gentleman or a lady is: someone who always attempts to make the people around him or her feel as comfortable as possible."

In short, a gentleman is someone who has class. And so... my pet peeves about people who lack class, in particular, people at upscale charity events who do nothing to make others feel comfortable at all... (and I promise, my blogs will get wittier as time passes; I am out of practice.)

It is not classy to...

* Haggle down the prices of artwork when it is a charitable donation;
* Ask if the Auctioneer is for sale, as well;
* Stare down the auctioneer's dress (well, maybe this one is okay... I'll write about my views on seductive clothing later.)
* Interrupt people. Whoever they are.
* Interrupt people... yeah, this is one of my top pet peeves of all time.

Stay tuned for my very first "flashback blog."