Monday, December 31, 2012

Adios 2012

All right. Last post of 2012. I finished a book, taught for six weeks, got the flu, passed my Life in the UK test, lost *some* weight, and got more accustomed to living here.

So, as I posted the last time, I'm not feeling the whole New Year's resolutions thing. I know what I'd like to get done but I'm not going to devote the year to it - that will make anything last for less than the month of January.

I want to work on a second writing project that I don't plan on talking about much. I expect to be on Twitter less and I don't think I'll be using Instagram anymore (I stopped using it when I was working & didn't miss it.) I do have a few paper notebooks coming for me to write anything that I don't want in the blog. I also have a netbook so I can write when I'm out.

But this is just adjusting the way of life and dealing with situations. There aren't any big goals because what I want to get done will get done...eventually. The next project, my driving test, another job, the blog, books read, etc. That will all just work its way out. Even if I started jogging again - in some way, it will happen.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

No New Year’s resolutions

empty space by cronncc

I was thinking that my only New Year’s resolution would be to blog more. (I could get a personal trainer or try doing the Couch to 5K jogging routine since I sucked at working up from walking to jogging on the treadmill.) My resolutions last year were to write something in a journal each day, and take a photo each day. Well, I have to stop and force myself to handwrite anything (as most of us do anymore unless we’re writing a list or personal note to ourselves.) I’m not always out to take a cool photo either and no one wants to see 365 photos of our cat.

Or do they?

So, since I can feasibly sit and write something electronically, maybe the blog posts will stick. Every day though? Not sure.

The problem is that most people write a short update on Twitter or Facebook but, honestly, aren’t we all getting a little (a lot) bored with that? It’s not a secret that I’ve never been a huge fan of Twitter, but after I was working, I really did not miss checking in to see what people had updated at all. The momentum has come to this promote and inspire kind of regurgitation that really doesn’t entertain or benefit anyone. If I could unfollow/follow only the interesting people, I’d be fine, but at this stage the account is so bogged down, I wouldn’t know where to begin (aside from maybe 20 accounts from nice, actual people.)

Facebook I’ll still keep checking because I want to know what people from some point in my real life are up to. However, I’ve turned the automatic updates off for my blog posts to FB because no one there would be interested and I wouldn’t want to harass them with that kind of stuff anyway.

If I do a post a day, it will have to be able to be short some days (a lot of days) and I won’t always be using the PC to upload the post with a fancy photo. I can’t always promote it on Twitter, or cross post it (Blogger is the main site, with Wordpress being secondary.) I can use email and the Blogger/WP apps. I can make a list of what I did for the day. I can write a long, interesting story about my wait at the post office -- it just depends.

While I know there are some obvious problems with this, I’m sort of keen to at least give it a go. If I get another job soon I will thankfully be too busy to bother with the internet that much, but in the mean time, this can be my hobby.

Links found today:

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Why Santa brought me a new phone

Nokia Lumia 800 photo taken by mbiebusch

I have had my HTC Sensation since September 2011 and it continued to get worse with each month I used it. After Steve asked me if I’d rather have a phone or a netbook for Christmas, I stopped cursing at my HTC long enough to exclaim, “Phone!” While I patiently awaited Santa to arrive, I used my dreaded HTC each day – to, at, and from work. This was the list of grievances that I wrote on the bus during that time before Christmas break:

  • It (dreaded HTC Sensation from O2) tries to update apps all the time. But it won't actually update them unless you have the Google Store "My Apps" screen up. If the screen falls to sleep, no updates.
    I've set up the apps to only update with WiFi as well, buy when I'm out, it will continually try to find a WiFi signal and, therefore, drain the battery.
  • The battery runs out if I use any kind of app. I have a full charge each morning and if I try to use the internet or FB, battery will go to yellow immediately. Hence, making the phone (and the data plan I pay for) totally useless.
  • Apps don't work. The internet browser, FB, Twitter, etc. Apps will shut down intermittently.
  • Typing is a nightmare. Can't tap on the screen and select "paste" easily. Last time I tried this, I had to tap the screen ten times at least to get "paste" option to pop up. Highlighting and copying are equally as difficult.
  • Auto correct doesn't work. Trying to move the cursor to change text is maddening as well.
  • Most recently, I tried to plug the phone into a travel charger that I had from my old BlackBerry. While it works fine on my husband's HTC Win 7 phone, when I plugged it into the Sensation, it kept pulling up the GPS. Nothing got charged.
  • When I get a text, the text thread has to load. Sometimes I cannot type a response, even though the keyboard is displayed. Sometimes it will only say “loading” and I cannot read and/or access the text message threads. I have to first delete the thread, then start over (after rebooting the phone a few times) before I can send a text. The SD card is not full, so there’s no other reason for this to cause a problem.
  • Many times I cannot get a signal. One Saturday, Steve and I were sitting on the bus, side-by-side (as married couples do) and he was able to use the GPS to calculate where we were on the bus with the mobile network. I was unable to get any response from the phone at all. I kept getting a “cannot connect to network” error message. No apps. No WiFi. No 3G. Not even the “H” or “E” I get a lot of times.
  • For some stupid reason, I can only see a limited number of emails in my folders. There doesn’t seem to be any options for this so if I’m trying to find an email that wasn’t saved very recently, it won’t display.
  • I think of a new complaint daily. I can update this more and more as I remember them.

Someone online mentioned that O2 really hasn’t held up their end of the contract bargain either. When a phone is this bad to the point that it can’t be used, then why should I have to keep honouring the contract with the cell provider?

I received my shiny new Nokia Lumia 800 yesterday and the HTC Sensation will be sent away for some amount of cash that can use towards my Zune pass for the Win 7 Phone.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Too busy to blog

Earl Grey Monument

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve posted since I started work. Now I have two weeks of teaching English in England under my belt. I’m very lucky to be at the school I am because it’s just a world of difference from the public schools of Florida’s boondocks. (And if you’ve ever been to Florida’s boondocks and seen the schools, you know what I mean.) The kids are still getting use to their new, American teacher but they’re polite and smart. The faculty is super supportive as well so, yes, I’m happy where I am.

I’ve obviously had to quit NaNoWriMo this year too. It’s a shame but the second book in the series will get finished one day. I’ve also not promoted my book on Amazon and Smashwords so I’ll have to set up some automatic updates for my Twitter account – my very neglected Twitter account. It’s honestly a bit of a relief to not feel I have to use it. I like a lot of people on there but my following list has gotten to the point where I can’t keep up with anything.

Anyway, this is an extremely short post. We’ve already started Christmas shopping and even visited Newcastle’s Christmas Market last night (very, very cold but luckily we found some mulled wine to warm us up.) I’m taking my Life in the UK Test and my Practical Driving Test in December as well. Once I have that completed, I plan on heading out to find us a car.

No more waiting in the cold for the bus to come! Hooray!

Hope everyone in the US has a wonderful Thanksgiving. We’re celebrating with a turkey dinner but it’s just not the same. I hate missing the Black Friday sales too. Oh well, at least some stores ship to the UK.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Thirty days of thankfulness

My Muse woke me early.

It’s a bit hazy outside this morning and a good 36 degrees (whatever that is in Celsius). I got myself out of bed at a reasonable time despite it being Sunday. I have my teaching job for the week to starting Monday so I’ll be up with the roosters, or cows, or whatever the expression is.

I know I should be working on NaNo today because I was short 600 words Friday and I skipped yesterday completely because we were out doing some Christmas shopping. I’ll have to get semi caught up this afternoon. I’m going to have to start using Write or Die, otherwise I write at a snail’s pace. I like taking my time – just like I do with reading.

Speaking of which, I have about five books checked out. in print and ebook, from two different libraries right now.

My friends on Facebook have been celebrating Thanksgiving all month by writing down what they’re thankful for each day. For myself, I’m thankful for:

Nov 1: My sweet husband, Steve.

Nov 2: My loving parents.

Nov 3: My home (even though it contains my crazy cat for which I am also grateful for.)

Nov 4: The opportunities to work (this includes teaching and writing) with the potential to make a living.

Anyway, this post will be short because I have more pressing issues to take care of. Hope everyone has a great November and happy writing!

Friday, November 2, 2012

I (self) published my first book!

Introducing The Cupcake Witches!

Delia Bright has just started seventh grade. Now that her best friend, Travis is on the track team and her parents are busy at their restaurant, Delia is lonely. When she meets Fern, Irene, and Agnes, they realize that Delia's baking abilities are just what they need to create perfect spells. Delia's gift has hurt her family in the past, but she's too curious to not bake her magical cupcakes.

So, here it is! My book! This is the first in a series of young adult novels for middle grade readers. We wanted to get it published in time for Halloween, so Wednesday afternoon Steve finished up the very last image and I uploaded it to Smashwords and Amazon.

We’ve been working on this together for a while now. I started writing it last Spring so once I had the first draft, we could get the illustration ideas down, then there was a lot of editing, polishing, and formatting to go through.

I’ve been very excited to get the project out the door but once I did it felt weird. I was in two minds whether to even tell my Facebook friends about it because that’s criticism from people I’ve actually known my whole life. But when I posted the link, saying that Steve and I put the book up online, they were proud of me. I think they even thought I was published, and then I felt guilty, as if I’d tricked them somehow.

But then I realized I shouldn’t. We did an awesome job and we specifically wrote this for self-publication. Everywhere I looked, Writer’s and Artists included, said not to submit a book with illustrations in to an agent. Publishers like to choose an illustrator themselves, according to them. The whole purpose of our project was for us to work together and when we found out we could publish ourselves online, we went that route.

Still, once that book was online, I felt nervous, sick, anxious, you name it. I’m now in the club of self-published writers. I have to market and promote (without being a pain in the rump, of course). This is a whole new territory. Before the book is online, I was able to sit back comfortably and be on the side-lines. I’m the kind of writer who likes keeping things to herself until absolutely necessary. Now I’m here, looking at swapping book reviews and creating giveaways. I like it though. I’m promoting something I really enjoy doing, so it’s all worth it.

Now I am working on the second book in the series for NaNoWriMo and our next step is to get this first book available in print on CreateSpace this month. I’m really happy to be in the ranks of the rest of my indie publishing authors whom I’ve talked to so much over the years. It’s amazing how much we can do these days with a computer and a big imagination.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Preparing for NaNoWriMo

Full moon from our window

Last year was my first year of NaNoWriMo. After the years of previously using Twitter, I had never heard of the event until I started following the many, many indie writers who participated. Since I had already started on my project that Spring, I wanted something to push me to get it done. Having the “game” of sharing with followers how many words you’ve written for the day was a great way to get the first draft down, so I signed up.

However, I am going to go into the second part of the project with a little bit of know-how. There are a few things that I will have to keep in mind this year in order to be more productive. While this checklist is for anyone reading, it’s also a good reminder for myself.

Planning – Now, I’ve taught writing long enough to know that at least a quick brainstorming and outline session will give you the foundation to propel you through your piece. What I did, was look at the Snowflake Method just to get basic ideas of what my writing is about. I did not go through the whole process last year because I like the creative flow rather than a “I’m going going to write a book that sells!" kind of formula. I had ideas and I just wanted to get them out somehow. I’m a list person. I make a list every day for something. I took my ideas, wrote them down, expanded in parts, then in the midst of the scenes found out that logically things had to go in a certain progression. Not everything planned went into the first book but that just means there are plenty of ideas to be use for the other books in the series.

"I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible. ...
"[M]y basic belief about the making of stories is that they largely make themselves. The job of the writer is to give them a place to grow."
~ Stephen King, On Writing

Pacing – It all starts with out butt in the chair. Yes, we know, and the purpose of doing NaNo is to just get the words on (electronic) paper. But when you’re a fidgety person like me, your body just argues. I’m not a “I write in my head all the time” person because the ideas come and go – it’s what I put down in a useful fashion that counts. Of course I think about ideas for my writing but the word count is what we’re looking for in November. 50,000 words at approximately 1,666 (that’s ominous) per day. I tried to write more than that the first few days so I could get ahead and slow down on other days. I think this year I’m going to have to do it in chunks. I need breaks. Before November was over last year, my eyes were twitching from strain and my thumbs were aching from overuse. This year I know ways to deal with eye strain and the No Xbox rule (Oh, the humanity!) Last year I kept treating myself to GTA IV and that driving thumb couldn’t take it anymore. (Good thing Skyrim has started to bore me.) I also plan on writing in different environments. I feel most comfortable writing at my desk at home but it’s nice to be out in the real world fairly often. Even if it means lugging a heavy laptop to a cafe down the street, it’s worth it.

“[M]y favourite way to write, used to be to go to cafés. I love doing that because I find that being surrounded by people even though I can't talk to them whilst I'm writing is very helpful because being a writer is a very, very lonely job, obviously. But these days I can't write in cafés because too many people come to me and go "You're that woman, who writes that Harry Potter" so I write at home now and I write much more on the computer than I used to.”
~ J.K. Rowling during Q&A session at Royal Albert Hall

She also confirms my No Music rule in that interview too. Yes, way too distracting.

Persistence – You’ll get there. We all get there. I’ve had some people tell me that they didn’t get there because they think the book idea was crap and they quit. I think you should keep going. We are our own worst critic. You know how many books are awful and people still love them? If you think it’s bad, it can be changed later. Look at Hugothat whole story started off seeming to be one thing, then the whole focus shifted in the middle. If you’ve been writing for a bit and are expand into novel writing, I think you’d be more proud of yourself for writing a “bad” book that can be edited than for not writing one at all. The tip I kept hearing over and over was to not edit. Just keep writing. You can go back in December and research topics, or make two scenes work together (or fix two scenes that clash – terribly) but I would suggest keeping a tally. Have a separate file of things that may need fixing, including their page number. When you revise, you’ll have that to work with. Some tools that are handy are Write or Die and Scrivener. You write all you can using Write or Die (which will make the worst sounds imaginable and the screen will turn red if you stop for too long), Tweet your word count (because having Twitter followers who are working too is great moral support), save the file and open it up in Notepad, copy and paste, and put it into a new scene for Scrivener. I was taught to write using Microsoft Word and no one will pry me away from it, so I also keep the full 1st draft (and back ups) there as well. With Scrivener, keeping the scenes separate and in order is a life saver (plus it has some great options for organizing your project too.)

“If you have a day where you don’t get to your 1,600 words, my advice is not to be too hard on yourself. You have to do what you can do. There will be days when you write more and days when you will write less. That’s really an okay thing. We get exhausted, we get sick, we get burned out. And that’s okay. That’s my biggest piece of advice.
...They keep telling you during that process that the plot will just come. I thought it wasn’t possible and I didn’t believe it, but it really does just come out. And that’s a fantastic thing.”
~ Nora Zelevansky on Mediabistro

Preparedness – Like any business trip, you have to get prepared by putting everything in your suitcase so you can have it while you’re busy working. Research, and have your links, notes, outline, list, whatever ready. Have ideas for scenes and characters somewhere to go back to if you get stuck. I even find Youtube links that are from social events that may happen in a scene. Just watching for a bit, helps you get into the moment. When all else fails, describe the sounds and smells of a place (Sara Shepard does this all the time in her Pretty Little Liars books – I love it!) You can even make a…Pinterest board. Ack! I said it! I am so not a fan of re-pinning commercial images for all to see but, if that’s your thing, go for it. Bottom line is, it’s okay to get stuck. It’s okay to go, “This is terrible and I hate it!” Just keep going – this is what I have to tell myself each day.

Remember, NaNo gets national news each year and Water for Elephants was a NaNo book so the event is kind of a big deal. If you need some inspiration, I’ll leave you with a few things to tuck away in your NaNoWriMo folder:

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”
~ Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Okay, fine, I admit it–I want a job

Durham Castle, England

I am finally beginning to understand a simple fact of life: when I stop worrying about things and trying to make them happen, they work out just fine.

Last week I wrote about how I had to accept that I'm my own boss and that no school is going to give me a job with my lack of Englishness and English experience. I had been called fairly often by one of the five teaching agencies that I signed up for. Each time they kept trying to get me a position somewhere and even one place they asked me to interview but it was too far and my holiday was coming up anyway. But they kept telling me they were putting my resume forward for different English teaching positions which I just thought was pointless since nothing’s happened for almost a year now.

Last week they told me they had a school they were trying to get me in for to teach Key Stage 3 (middle school) English and the teaching agency was going to offer to pay for me to come in for a few days on a trial run basis to see if they wanted to hire me on. That was fine, I told them, and figured I’d never hear back about it. I had already decided that I was staying home and writing the second book in my project’s series. I already set up my own imprint, fancies up my blogs (including my author page), and worked on the blurbs for the cover and the Smashword descriptions. Plus, NaNoWriMo is coming up next week – I’m a busy lady! I was not going to worry about some potential teaching job one bit.

Of course, they said they school accepted my trial run offer.

Now I’m looking at a week next month at a nice, Catholic School with kids aged 11-14. I’m not sure what they’ll have me do during this trial run; if I’ll be purely a supply/substitute teacher, taking over the class and teaching from lesson plans already made up, or if I’ll be working with a teacher who is getting ready to go on maternity leave. Whatever the case, I honestly am really excited.

Once I knew that I’d be going back to work, I felt a weight off my shoulders. I love being home but I would rather go in and work and try to do my best so that this school keeps me on. I miss having shopping money, and having someone to talk to at lunch, and finding ways to get kids interested in reading and writing. No, I have no idea if they’d consider keeping little ‘ol American me, but I sincerely would love to be in gainful employment again.

Plus, I need a car and Christmas money. For real.

So wish me luck that I do a great job and the school keeps me for the rest of the school year. If I can work with kids, I can write for kids even better. I’ve not abandoned my plans for NaNoWriMo or my grand series scheme. If I’m working, I know it will be tougher to find time to write but other people do it, so I will too.

Regardless of the outcome, I know I’ll have extra cash for the holidays, thank God. I am so grateful for that! Santa can’t get much done without some dosh.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

I’m my own boss and other things I’ve accepted

Palace Green @ Durham, England

The leaves are changing and Fall is here. That means school is in session and I’m still at my computer. While this use to bother me greatly, I’ve finally accepted that what my job is, is going to be done from home.

I started out as a teacher when I graduated college. I was a substitute/supply teacher, and searched high and low for a full time position. I just could not find one because I didn’t have experience or an Education degree (something everyone dismissed in the English Department.) When I finally started working full-time after the school year started, I had no classroom of my own. Each day I had to push a cart or drag my books around and try to make it to other teacher’s classrooms in time, just to have them complain about how I used their whiteboard or how my students were too close to their desk. I finally was given a classroom – a portable – only to have the air conditioning break…repeatedly…in Florida…in August. Kids broke that as well as the railing that led up to the front door (and put any kind of obscenity on the windows.) Whenever I asked for help for these things, I was told to, “just push through that kind of stuff.” As a teacher, I had parents yell at me in the front office because their kid didn’t do their homework. I was given “help” on how to deal with troubled kids which entailed random people spying on me then reporting to admin while talking bad about me to my students in the process. Most of the schools I worked at had a high turn out rate and teachers like me were used for a term or two (usually hired in when someone quite mid-term). The discipline policies were a joke, the kids didn’t fear anything (they aren’t dumb – they knew nothing was going to happen to them if they go to the Dean’s office.) I really liked my students though and I wanted to do a good job. I taught until my temporary contract was over. But I never went back to public schools.

When I taught at college, it was fine by me. I went to work for a few hours, helped the students out, then gave them info online and was able to work from home. Granted then I was still able to get Unemployment because I had such little money but it was enjoyable work. This is why I decided to get my Library Science degree – to work with students in the capacity that I enjoy. The librarians I saw weren’t responsible for FCAT scores, daily grading and lesson planning. They conducted lessons during faculty meetings on resources for teachers and showed students how to use the online catalogue. I loved that kind of stuff, so I got my degree.

Before I moved to the UK, I did my internship at a great, little library over the summer. I learned as much I could from everyone and really enjoyed the atmosphere of being in a place that helped people get interested in books – especially the little kids. But by the time I got here last January, I’ve not been able to do anything and that’s where my acceptance has finally kicked in. It’s been there for a while but I didn’t really go, “Okay, I get it. This is what I’m doing,” until this week.

Yesterday I got two rejection letters – one in email about a part-time library assistant job and one letter about an hourly wage GCSE (high school diploma) teacher. Some of the teaching agencies I’ve signed up for have called in the most inconvenient times like when I was on vacation or at the last minute when I have no car or money for the bus or clue how to get to the school. I’m set up to help out during testing at a school in November and I’m happy to take the job. I’m always told that my resume is in for various English teaching positions but I know I won’t get them. And I don’t care anymore. Even if I work five days out of this whole year (as opposed to the zero I worked last year) it won’t make a difference to a Head Teacher who wants to hire someone with experience in British schools. Plus, I’m not sure how stressful teaching is here compared to Florida. Do kids here crawl on top of desks and jump out windows too?

While the £50-£100 a day would be nice as a supply teacher, constantly spinning my wheels and trying to force something that’s just not going to happen isn’t worth the effort and stress. Trying to get somewhere within an hour without any kind of warning is just a pain in the butt. Also, the applications for teaching jobs are long and arduous. Schools won’t interview anyone until they’ve spoken to their references and I’m tired of bothering the nice people in Central Florida over and over again to fill out five page reference sheets. I’ve only been asked to interview for library jobs and despite being in the bottom two (and having references from a NASA contractor, thank you very much), I never get the job. Still, I’ll keep applying for jobs such as that but in the meantime I have plenty to do at home.

I’ve been working on my project that still has to get out the door. I have NaNoWriMo to work on in a week so I can get the draft of the second in the series finished up. I’ve been researching whether I need to register a Fictitious Name or DBA to have my own imprint. (According to Florida law, I do because it’s not my legal name, even if I use my name and put “Books” at the end of it.) I don’t have a lot of cash to do these things but I have an old Blackberry to trade in for the cash to get all my literary ducks in a row. (I also plan on writing a whole blog post on that process in the near future as well.)

The truth is, knowing that I’ve accepted my position as a self-employed person is really scary. A lot will depend on me to research, market, and, of course, write to keep the project going. The work is there and for the time being and it’s work that I want to do.

With that said, it’s time to get back to work! If you’re taking part this year, feel free to visit my NaNoWriMo profile and add me as a buddy.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Ten Things I've Never Done

Paris, France by garycycles6

I found this idea from Suzie Tullet’s blog but it took me forever to think up a full list.

It took a lot of thinking to come up with some good items for this list. I think I've at least tried most things people like.

1. I've never been on TV or the radio. I know people who were on TV because of minor acting gigs or been interviewed by the news. I know people who have called in or been guests for radio shows. I have never done either.

2. I've never gone skydiving or bungee jumping. Never will. I am not an adrenaline junkie. My sister-in-law loves skydiving even though her parachute didn't open, she broke both her legs and, well, could have died. On the same token, I’ve never flown a plane. I’ve never driven a motorcycle either (I’ve tried a scooter but not a Vespa.) I often thought maybe I’d enjoy learning to fly but now that I know how hard it is to drive in the United Kingdom, maybe not.

3. I've never seen The Sound of Music. I’ve never seen all of Grease either. I don't like musicals. When I first saw A Nightmare Before Christmas, I left the theatre because there was so much singing. I have been to musicals at our local theatre when I was a part of it but once, during a production of Carousel, I fell asleep. I’ve seen Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Chorus Line when it used to be on Encore a lot – they weren’t too bad. I've learned to appreciate the music in Disney movies. However, I would never go to see Les Miz or Phantom of the Opera live. I was forced to see the trailer for the star-studded musical movie version of Les Miz – I don’t care how much money they put into that or how amazing the fact that they’re singing live will be, I’d never see it. (Now, the non-singing movie with Claire Danes was fine.) I just get really uncomfortable and embarrassed when I see the singing stuff. I tried to watch Glee once and turned it off the minute the singing started. It's just not my thing.

4. I’ve never met anyone famous. Since I’ve lived in the UK I’ve seen The Queen with Prince Philip and recently I saw Kate Middleton with my own eyes, but I’ve never met a member of the Royal Family. My in-laws have met Daniel Craig and John Lennon’s family and there’s even some ancestral ties to George Washington but not me. I’m not related to anyone famous, nor have I ever shook a famous person’s hand. I’ve never been backstage at a show or even spoken to a new, up-and-coming band even though The Strokes use to hang out in the club I frequented in Orlando.

5. I’ve never had a professional pedicure. I’ve had my nails done a handful (get it?) of times in my life but I, honestly, could have done better in some instances. I liked the little hand dryers they have though but I know you can buy those to use at home. I know some women get their mani-pedis as often as they buy Starbucks coffee (and even have their little girls coming along) but I’ve never bothered. Getting the fancy spa treatments, yes, I loved doing that once a month or so when I was working.

6. I’ve never gone to a spinning class. Exercise for me is a solitary event. I read my book while on the bike or the elliptical, use the weight/tension LifeFitness machines, then head to the cafe. I use to run on the treadmill a bit, then I finally twisted my ankle. Being unable to walk is not worth it to me. (Though I’m all for having my husband, the ex-marathon runner, train me to jog.) I like my Wii and the Kinect. I’ve been to yoga class by myself and with my friends before. I’ve taken dance and gymnastics classes a lot as a kid and into my high school years. But, nope, no spinning, no Zumba, no Pilates classes for me.

7. I’ve never been on a big rollercoaster. I’ve been on Splash Mountain, Tower of Terror, Thunder Mountain and Test Track but I refuse to go on anything like the Manta or The Hulk. Again, I’m not an adrenaline junkie, I don’t need to go upside down and falling to my death to have a good time. I can’t stand that feeling on my stomach which, Steve tells me, not everyone gets. The butterflies, or queasy, or whatever you call it is awful. I’ve learned just to scream my head off if I go on a Disney ride.

8. I’ve never been to Europe. I mean, I live in England but I’m talking continental Europe. Steve tells me that I’d love France, Germany, and Italy. I also want to see Ireland. When we came back from Florida in September, we flew over Dublin – looked amazing. I’ve been to Mexico, England, Scotland and the US. I’ve not even seen Canada.

9. I’ve never gone snorkelling or scuba diving. I’m not opposed to trying it, I’ve just not had the opportunity. I’ve fished a lot as a kid, and I’ve gone skiing in my life (I was terrible at it) so trying new things in an ocean isn’t beyond my scope of reason. I’ve tried to surf before in high school but I was terrible at that as well. I’m a good swimming so I’d probably enjoy the snorkelling – especially if I had an underwater camera and the reassurance that no sharks would try to nibble on me while I was swimming around.

10. I’ve never published a book…yet.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The chicken crossed the road to get another pancake


I have been saying for years that I want to live on a farm. First there was the hedgehog, now it’s livestock! I didn’t realize how soon I’d get my wish – sort of. We live on a cul-de-sac that has Council allotments right across the road from our block of flats. We’ve seen people come and go from them a lot and I’ve seen the pen on the other side of the fence where a group of chickens and a rooster were staying. I loved the sound that rooster made once in a while too. Made me feel like I was back in Ohio.

On Sunday Steve noticed a stray chicken wandering up and down the sidewalk on the other side of the fence where the allotment with the chicken pen was. He tried to call the RSPCA who gave him an automated response that said to call Animal Welfare. I figured the allotment owner, whomever he/she may be, would arrive back on Monday morning and get the chicken back home on the other side of the fence.

I noticed the silly thing was out there on Monday but didn’t think much of it. Surely the allotment owners would come back soon. Wednesday rolled around and sure enough, that chicken was still wandering back and forth in the same place. I don’t think anyone is coming to get it.

I looked up Animal Welfare and didn’t get any kind of local information except that I should call my local authority if livestock is found injured or sick. I decided to call the Animal Health Officer who flat out said, “There’s nothing you can do about an abandoned chicken.” Great. I was given a number, of course, to contact the person in charge of the Council allotments but no one would answer the phone (no voicemail option either.) I tried calling a local farm that is open to the public for tours and such. No answer. I even walked down the path that leads to the allotment where she came from and all the other chickens (including the rooster) are gone. My guess is that whoever was renting that out, took the ones they could catch and left the poor chicken.

So I decided to try and lure her into Jake’s carrier that he used when he flew over to England with me. Now, I use to live in rural conditions and it’s been a long time since I was anywhere near chickens, turkeys and the like. I have no idea how to reason with a chicken, catch it, feed it, house it, or even make friends with it (though my mother, a former farm girl herself, assures me it can be done.)

All I could do today was give Henrietta (yes, I named her) some left over scotch pancakes and let her hang out where she is. She wanted no part of that carrier, despite my putting pancakes into it. She did, however, cross the street and poked around the front of the flats after I went inside. Maybe she will end up trusting me and she’ll follow me to the back yard. But since we’re at this block of flats we have no where to keep her really. I thought even if I got her in the back garden, she could walk around off the street (I should have named her Roxanne) but the garden runs into the garages and the parking lot where she could get out and go right back to the road. Plus, knowing my fabulous overseers, I’m sure they’d throw up some kind of issue with a loose chicken roaming in the back yard. And chicken coops are pricey!

I sent in an application to rent one of the allotments across the street (I had no idea they weren’t over £100 a year to rent a large garden area.) If we get one of those, I’ll put her in one. Until then, I’ll feed her and keep and eye on her. She sleeps next to the fence in the bushes but we’re worried about her getting hit by a car, eaten by a cat, of frozen by cold weather.

Maybe I can make her a house. I always said I had no need for Pinterest. Maybe now’s the time to try and make it useful! It seems like such a pain and I have no where to really put her unless I make some kind of pen where it won’t bother anyone. Who knew an abandoned chicken was so much work?

This morning, Henrietta was out in front of the flats, stalking one of the neighbours as he was getting in his car to go to work. No doubt she was looking for more pancakes. I put my coat and slippers on and headed out there to give her a packet of dry oatmeal for her breakfast. I even patted her but she squawked about so I left her alone. Right before my driving instructor showed up for my lesson, the guy who owns the allotments where the chickens were kept, showed up to rescue Henrietta. All he had to do was call to her and she followed him down the path and back to her house. I’m glad she’s back where she belongs and I can visit her whenever I want.

Makes me want to have chickens now though. It would be nice to have eggs from my own garden.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

How to post? Who cares?

Paper (I am not)

There is plenty of advice about how to conduct ourselves online. The WIP will be finished soon (I promise - the cover is almost ready!) so I've been looking into marketing more.

I come from the old school way of doing things without fluff, fakery or salesman-like pretence. However, when it comes to being your own boss, what we do has to be curtailed to our target audience. I understand that.

But I have a hard time thinking that I have to blog a certain way or change the way I use Twitter (or use Pinterest - I'm still not interested in my account there.) In the last few days, I’ve read advice columns for writers saying things like, “Don’t write about what you had for breakfast. I still don’t understand why some people do that.” Well, it’s called real life and people live in it. Some people enjoy reading about real life instead of empty articles that lack personality. Heck, I even made a blog dedicated to my breakfast (lunch and dinner). I also read a book blog article today discussing how your Twitter account should have personality but if it’s a professional account, they only want to read news about your book.

Um…no. While I sort of understand what the reviewer’s getting at, I absolutely will not follow accounts that are only about their work. I want someone to have a discussion with, who has a pulse! While most agree that we don’t want to read a timeline full of links, some people are saying, “Oh, but if you’re having a discussion with someone do it in DM.” Makes me laugh. I love seeing people have conversations – it encourages others to jump in and chat (which is how I see Twitter anyway – as one, never-ending chat room.) DMs are used once in a while and whenever I check them, they’re usually the result of an account being hacked.

Now, that’s for an author’s account. Authors are people and readers want to connect with them. I just don’t see why we have to write articles in our blog about the topics we put in our books or why we should even limit ourselves at all. Most accounts that have no personality get ignored. I love to chat out my fellow writers but I don’t want to read announcement after reTweeted announcement about how everyone of my followers have a book to be read. I want to discuss and share about the craft (and everything in between), not the product that speaks for itself.

Now, when NaNoWriMo is going on, I do post about my word count because that’s all part of the “game.”

Professional accounts that I find done very well include writers and literary blogs. They are interesting to follow and aren’t out to just “sell” themselves by being dry and boring. A couple of them include publishing advice sites like DuoLit book review blogs like ShouldBeReading. Those sites are professional but they aren’t overly promoting what they and their friends are doing. I understand keeping those sites for posting only links to their site. Now, when you have an author page such as SarahDessen, you need to have some personality to the updates.

Again, I’m not saying that there doesn’t need to have a level of professionalism and a mindful eye on what your account is for but, really, do we need all this advice on how to conduct ourselves? It’s pretty much common sense, isn’t it? These are our accounts, our books, our online presence. We are free to use them as we wish. I doubt Amanda Hocking is losing any fans by posting on Instagram.

Oh, and by the way, I had an Activia granola pot for breakfast.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Visiting Durham Castle

From the castle courtyard.

Yesterday we took another trip to Durham in hopes to get on the tour. We’ve tried to do this a few times before and either the tours were booked up or the castle was all together closed. Even though the University Library told me that the tickets sold out quite quickly and that we should get there first thing in the morning, around 9AM, we were able to get out tickets around noon.

Getting up early on a Saturday is not our strong suit. Plus, the highway was being worked on so the bus was really slow getting through there.

Anyway, we ventured through town to the Cathedral and then to Head of Steam for lunch (awesome pies.) Every time we’re in the Cathedral, we mention how Harry Potter was filmed there. Sadly, we can’t take pictures inside but the place is beautiful. I would love to go to see the Christmas tree this year but, again, going out there on time for something is a bit of a tough one for us.

We came back to Palace Green Library for our 3PM (also found out that there are public toilets by the red phone booth on Palace Green for anyone who travels there in the future.) Our castle tour was led by Kevin, a third year Durham University Geology student. We didn’t realize that the university uses the castle as student quarters, which makes it the only living castle in England (the rest are just used as historical sites for the National Trust.) We learned that the crests on the castle were representative of the different bishops who lived there. Also, the kitchen is still there as it was when it was built. The kitchen food was blessed by an engraving over the door which read “Est. 1499” but back then the number 4 was written as half an 8.

I was impressed with the intricate and odd carvings on the pews in the chapel. But mostly I was amazed by the oldest Norman chapel there that was not only built in 107 but was also the first place ever to depict an image on a mermaid (which was engraved on one of the pillars.) The older, the more interesting, in my humble opinion. The fact that England has such a history just boggles my mind. It really puts the newness of America in perspective. There has been a world for longer than we can imagine and there are still remnants around today for us to experience. Sort of puts our little place of time in perspective as well.

It also makes me realize how vastly different the university experience is for English students. If there is ever a little Pick in the future, I’m sending him/her there. It’s a beautiful place and for those kids to say they went to school in a castle is amazing. They still use the Great Hall for formal dinners on Tuesday and Thursday nights at 7PM sharp. I didn’t realize that the set-up for Hogwarts wasn’t that different from school life in England. They really do have houses and scholar gowns and sit down dinners and ancient stone walled classrooms. Unbelievable compared to my UCF experience.

Anyway, as I said, you’re not allowed to take pictures inside the castle, but the Durham University website has some as well as some virtual tours.

The slideshow from our trip is here. My new camera is serving me quite well.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

I saw Kate Middleton!

Kate visits Gateshead.

Yesterday morning our local news announced that Kate Middleton would be visiting NewcastleGateshead that day for the first time. Of course, I had a driving lesson first thing, so I figured by the time I got back home at 11:30, I would have missed the bus and wouldn’t be able to get into town in time.

So I had my driving lesson – new car and everything. I was the first one to drive (and stall) the car. The gear shifting was much easier even though going from 2nd to 3rd gear is a tricky one. I also finally got my head around the stupid roundabouts and how far away I should be from the junction when I downshift. I can hear the same things over and over again and not understand but the minute I hear it explained differently, I get it and all is fine. I’m still not ready for my test but next week I get to go onto the motorways again and do complex roundabouts and all sorts of fun.

When I got back from my lesson, Steve had texted me that he saw things (cops and people) going on between the library and our doctor’s office. I still didn’t think I’d have time to get down there but when I looked at the article from the paper, it said she’d be there at 12:30. I ran and got myself back into my contacts and winter clothes, then rushed out of the house and down the street as quickly as I could. (I was trying to get there so fast that I even forgot my hat.) Since I don’t know what’s going on most of the time around here, I just followed the crowd to where they were all hanging out at a little side street that was blocked off.

Apparently I got there right after she had gone into the local charity because I stood around eavesdropping on all the people from the Jewish community we were in and waited for the Duchess to come back out to her car. Steve said that she would come out and say hello when she was done but some people speculated that we’d just get a glimpse of her. But we waited anyway and it was about an hour out in the cold before anything started happening.

There was a Jaguar, a van, and a Land Rover parked outside the building and one of the ladies next to me asked the serious looking cop which car she had come out of. He mouthed the words “The Jag” which, of course the lady repeated for all to hear and the cop looked really sorry he’d answered her. Then we heard someone say, “Two minutes!” which would have been about 1:30 when she was coming out. So I got my new, fancy camera ready and aimed it at the Jaguar.

It was so interesting to see these people get ready for her too. There were cops all over, even some on the roof somewhere, I heard. Then big dudes in suits and earpieces came out and stood in various spots on the street. Now, where we were, there was a hedge blocking the entry way, so all we could hear was excitement by the kids at the charity building. Then some lady who was part of the entourage got into the Land Rover and moved right in the way so the whole crowd made a collective groan. (Figures – some woman driver!) I went as far as to wave and yell, “Get out of the way!” (I’m American. We shout at drivers.) which she finally did.

I thought my option for taking a photo was dashed but all of a sudden, there she was!

Screw you, Land Rover! I see her anyway!

Now, the amazing thing about this was, when I saw the Queen in July, everyone was excited and cheering and waving flags. With Kate, people were just in awe. I waved at her but people didn’t make much noise at all because they just wanted to look at her. It was the same face we saw at the Royal Wedding and in magazines all over the shops and there she was – in real life!

I had noticed the kid holding some flowers (that child had a smart mother.) I though, yup, she’s going to go straight for those and sure enough she did. When she came over, the crowd just sort of swooned. I, of course, got teary eyed because she was right there! So, I got my new camera and tried to get whatever photos I could of her while still making sure to look at her with my own eyes. (That was a big mistake I made when I saw The Queen. Looking at something through the lens of technology isn’t as impactful as taking in the world and what’s going on for a moment.)

She was only out there for a few minutes and she didn’t come close enough for me to shake her hand (if Prince William would have been there, he probably would have gone to my side of the crowd while she took the right) but all in all, it was just amazing. Now I’ve seen two members of the Royal family in close proximity in the same year. If that doesn’t constitute British Citizenship, I don’t know what does!

Reminder: Must get a kid and flowers next time a Royal comes to town!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Living and driving in the UK

The leaves are starting to change.

Now I'm back at home, sitting with my coffee, looking out my window at the cold weather rolling in. The cat sitter has stopped by to return the keys. She took good care of our grumpy cat for two weeks.

It's taken me more than a week to get back into working at the computer but after getting some things done yesterday, I think I'm getting settled back on nicely. Not everything is done, of course, but some.

So far my main objectives are:

  • To get the project out the door in e-book
  • Get it in paper format ASAP
  • Get the author site set up (working on it but Blogger and GoDaddy won’t play ball.)
  • Marketing - research more of what needs to be done.
  • Get set up for NaNoWriMo for the 2nd project of the series.
  • Of course I also have to get my driver's license test passed, my Life in the UK test passed, and my settlement application sent in.

And it's going to be Christmas soon!

I’ve been studying this stupid Life in the UK test with my books and app, highlighter in hand, but they still throw insane statistical curve balls that even British born citizens don’t know the answers to. But luckily I’m use to standardized testing, remembering facts, and knowing what kind of questions to expect on things like this. What percentage of the Scottish population is a minority? How many people in England own their home? What percentage of women in the work-place have children? Etc., etc., etc. If I keep studying and memorizing and highlighting, I should be fine to take this before the end of the year. Maybe November?

The driving is still going to be a pain too. Every time I’m in the middle of a lesson I think to myself, “I’ll never be able to drive here.” If anyone ever wants to feel more stupid, attention-deficit, or incapable of learning basic tasks, try learning to drive in England. I swear, it’s not the gear shifts so much as the way the roads are set up - though the stupid gear shifting confuses me too. For two hours each week, this driving instructor tells me that I’m not keeping things simple, making mountains out of molehills and not thinking about what I’m doing. Well, I’ll tell you why – everything confuses me!

You get to a roundabout. The sign says you’re going to a town that is for the third exit. So, I have to remember which exit to take. Then I have to know to get to 10mph and 2nd gear (Cue the driving instructor shouting things at me like, “Suzanne, is it clear to go? Quickly, Suzanne! Quickly! If it’s clear to go, then go!” Every. Single. Time.) Then I have to get into the right lane, keep screwing with the signals to make sure they stay on (Seriously, did they not consider this when making roundabouts?) Then I have to get over in the other lane when I get half way around (“Check your mirrors, Suzanne! Stay in your lane! Don’t cut the lanes!” The lane markings are usually too faded to see most of the time.) Then I have to take my exit.

Now, even if that doesn’t sound too difficult, I get totally confused once I get in there because between the time that I decided what exit to take and finding the actual exit, 20 things have already happened. I’ve been checking traffic, checking my mirrors, down shifting, up shifting, lane switching, and being shouted at the whole stinking time. I don’t think most Americans would be able to handle this at all but maybe I’m just special.

Anyway, tomorrow the driving instructor’s going to “see where I am” in regards to setting up a driving test. Personally, I think I need a year of driving lessons before I could even attempt one but we don’t have the money to go through all that. I was thinking today that during the driving test, the examiner won’t speak to me, so maybe I’ll be able to concentrate a little better. I get confused driving in Florida in traffic and trying to talk to a family member, let alone being told to do something every 2 seconds while driving on a 10% decline down a hill that is flooded with parked cars on either side. It’s stressful, I tell you.

But when I finally get to drive on my own, I’ll be able to give my full attention and concentration to the road. After driving a Hyundai for our rental car last month, I’ve already chosen what car I want to get. I even bought cute vinyl stickers and a magnet for it over vacation, just to give me some motivation. Now all I need is a license and, you know, money to pay for the car.

Hyundai new i20

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Holiday recap post

Rainbow over the Atlantic @ Daytona Beach

Blog entry for 25 Sep 2012. Location: Florida

I started to actually write the header on the 21st. Now we're two days in before we head back to Newcastle. I'm standing in Wal-Mart, listening to a customer at the register talk about how chocolate is health food. I already witnessed the "dirty protest" (as Steve calls it - the official term) in the bathroom and I thought to myself, "Why am I not getting UK citizenship?"

Now I'm writing from the bowling alley. My old hometown doesn't have much going on (it never did, honestly) so this was about our only option for local fun (aside from the trip to Wal-Mart, of course.) Even the award winning bakery we keep hearing my FB friends rave about is totally closed on Mon & Tue. Yup, very dull living unless you're at the theme parks around Orlando.

Bowling shoes - I never remember to bring socks!

So far we've stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge [Video of a running giraffe outside our room] and went to Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party. I was Alice, Steve was Finn - everyone at the park went wild for his costume too. I got my picture taken with the real Alice and the Mad Hatter though [Actual photo HERE]. Then we hit EPCOT and Hollywood Studios.

Let the Not-So-Scary Halloween Fun begin!

Now we're back in the hotel and I've been watching the Twilight movies on Showtime. I'd only seen the first one. It's amazing how tired I can get when we're in relaxation mode.

I feel bad that we didn't visit anyone other than family this trip. However, as part of the holiday, we ended up running around each night doing something in search of fun. I would have liked to see a handful of people but making the pre-arrangements wasn't really possible since it was usually a matter of, "Today we should go to ___!"

Gatorade Victory Lane @ Daytona International Speedway

But now we've returned our amazing Hyundai Elantra with the XM radio that we figured out we had only yesterday (go us!) Now we have to lug the giant 23 kg suitcases in to be checked.

Finally, I'm home! I'm suffering from a terrible change in my sleep pattern so I'm falling asleep at 4/5AM now. Very uncool. Still, it's awesome to be home. Unfortunately our PC died last night do I have to phone tech support to come and revive him. This makes sense when we were still trying to get the project out the door ASAP.

C'est la vie.


We celebrated our second anniversary on the trip and had dinner at a new restaurant in Italy at EPCOT. I also had an amazing birthday the day before we left. I am now the proud owner of a new Fossil watch, Wonder Woman pyjamas, a Fossil necklace, a Minnie Mouse purse (okay, I bought that myself), a Nerdy Hello Kitty plush doll, and a new Canon camera! Sleep schedule is better but still not what it use to be. PC is fixed – seems it just didn’t like the static electricity going on from the power source. Tech Support had a very IT Crowd approach to the whole thing, “Unplug it and plug it back in again.” And our luggage weight limit was a combined 46kg – ours was 45.8kg! Awesome packing job, Steve! We also got to spend our last hours of our Florida holiday in the Royal Palm Lounge at Sanford Airport. They had a full bar, game room, from snacks, PCs with Internet access, a mini theater and even had the hoodie Steve left on the plane, waiting for him. Nice.

Finally, the project is still almost ready!

2nd Anniversary dinner with a pitcher of white sangria @ Via Napolia.

My full photo set of the vacation is HERE. Feel free to browse.

Best. Holiday. Photo. Ever.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Back Across the Pond

Church of St. Thomas the Martyr 

This will be my last blog post from the comfort of my comfy, English desk for a couple of weeks. For two weeks I will not be sitting here, with the window slightly ajar, smelling the fresh, cool air as the cat sits on the printer. No, I’ll be globe-trotting and enjoying the 24-hour Wal-Mart, the 7-11 Crystal Light Slurpees, the flavoured coffees, the wide, open roads and the laid-back living. It’s that time of year again to celebrate our anniversary and my birthday (in that order) so we’re off to Florida!

We have my parents to visit, Kennedy Space Center to big farewell to Endeavour, a trip to LegoLand, plus I really want to stop by The Cheesecake Factory and Altamonte Mall just to be somewhere other than a theme park for a bit. We also have to find a Spirit Halloween store to get ready for our annual visit to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. We’ll spend a big chunk of our time at Disney World but after our last visit, we decided that three days of Disney is about all we can take. It’s so fun but it’s so exhausting. I like just being able to spend time by the pool and hanging out – that’s what Florida was made for! After Disney we’ll be able to do that though because we’ll be in Daytona Beach for a bit. Then it will be back to our hometown to hang out and do whatever, celebrate my birthday (hip-hip-hooray!) and then back to England.

I don’t have anything packed, unless you count the seasonal cloth items that I kept in the suitcase from last year (really, NE England, there’s no need for flip flops – it may be warm but those pavements are hazardous to exposed toes!) I know just to pack everything that is thin, cool, and comfortable as my body is no longer use to the humidity and heat, sadly. I swear, the minute that air hits me when I step out of the airport, my blood perks up and I feel alive again. However, after a week, I’m whining like the rest of them about how I can’t stand being in the jungle.

Ah, but it’s fun though! Best part? I can drive there! DRIVE!

Tomorrow, before I go, I have to re-take this stupid Theory Test because I didn’t understand the Hazard Perception Test at all. I flat our failed with a score of zero on four out of fourteen video clips. The trick is, you have to click on potential hazards but the actual hazard they want you to click on is played within a short window of time. If you click it exactly at the precise moment the test wants you to click, you get a perfect score of five points, if you click too early, you get a zero. If you click a little later than they want you can get a score of 4, 3, 2, 1, or 0 for missing the hazard completely.

Here’s the catch – you can’t click too much. Yeah, yeah, they say you can’t ever click too much, just too “rhythmically” but when the instructions say to click whenever your driving changes because of the hazard, you end up clicking each time you see the hazard, the hazard gets closer, the car slows down, the hazard is in front of you, the car stops, the hazard leaves, the car continues around, etc. So what I thought the test wanted me to do was click at least five times within that window to get my perfect score. Nope. It’s about timing.

My driving instructor said just to practice and practice but it didn’t matter because the stupid AA Pass Your Test software (notice my review on the product page) didn’t give me any kind of warning about clicking too much except maybe one time in the weeks I practiced. Every time it said I passed, but I failed the actual test. Now that I practiced again the “right” way, it tells me I fail or barely pass. Now, if I use the online practice test, I get a score of 71% which is awesome because you need a 44% to pass. Heck, with that online test my father and my friends on Facebook who have never driven in the U.K. or even prepped for said test passed it. Either my practice software is janky or I am. I’ll let you know after tomorrow morning. Sigh

I also need to mention that I tried to watch The Lying Game this morning and it’s nothing like the first book. There’s no one dead for a start, which makes it way less interesting. It’s sort of like The Secret Circle where they took the basic idea and changed it, except this is less interesting than the book, which isn’t good at all. I’m also still trying to finish Season One of Downtown Abbey this week.

Skyrim Heathfire has totally sucked me in as well even though it’s completely broken. One of my housecarl won’t show up, the second one won’t give me a bard or furnish my home, and the other isn’t even available because the Jarl won’t ask me to be a Thane. And why do I need to keep going into town to buy stupid iron ingots? Also, my adopted son asked to keep my dog but, um, I haven’t seen the dog in months. I think he’s dead but I don’t think the kids realize that. Yes, the game is broken and I watched Steve play where something or someone will always come around and try to sabotage the house. Even this can happen: Hearthfire: Everyone Is Dead!

Anyway, I’m not sure if I’ll be posted here via mobile or via my Missus P. Mobile Tumblr blog, or if I’ll be able to post anything at all while I’m on holiday (vacation to those of us in Florida.) Last time I tried to write one blog post and it didn’t get finished until after I got back. Seriously, resting and relaxing takes a lot of effort!

I always feel bad about leaving the cat though. At least he has a sitter to stay with him here while we’re gone.

When we get back, the book should be done and available to readers. We’ve been trying to get it finished but since Steve’s working so much, it’s hard to get the art completed. But we’ll have it soon, then I can get the second one out the door as well.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Those “Lazy” Unemployed People

Newcastle University
If I see or hear one more jab about these “lazy,” unemployed people, I’m going to scream!
The other day I was talking on Twitter to someone about how we’re now the “moocher class” because all of us, every single 12,794,000 of unemployed people are perfectly content to just live off of government funds. But isn’t there a recession? Of course there is, but no one seems to take that into consideration. If someone is lucky enough to have a job (and I do mean lucky because people are still getting laid off left and right) immediately assume that anyone who isn’t working is a lazy, worthless, selfish, good-for-nothing who just wants to sit around all day sucking up their hard-earned money.
I’m sure these people, if someone told them face-to-face about how hard it is to find work would just shake their heads and say, “isn’t that a shame?” But they would still go on Facebook or Twitter and moan about these lazy people on benefits. Come on, now! People with educations, experience, references, etc. are applying for jobs with 50 up to 100 (as I hear happens in California) applicants. People who are skilled labour aren’t doing much better either. In England, I was just reading an article about how young mothers are using food banks more frequently because they’re expected to live on less than £10 after paying bills. (They want to take their housing benefits away from them too.)
Sure, there are a few people who would rather not work. I’ve worked in the public and seen this in my grocery store check out. It was few and far between. Most people had an income. Most of them handed me stacks of one-dollar bills that they made as a landscaper, waitress, construction worker, or the like. I’m sure these people with jobs don’t even realize that when you’re on unemployment benefits, you have to specify where you’ve been looking for work every two weeks. That’s the same in the U.K. as well.
With welfare and food stamps, you have to apply for that too and a former employer has to sign a form saying, “Yes, this was the applicants wage,” so they know if you’re entitled to it. If you have too much money, they won’t give you the benefits. I was turned down and I worked part-time, making very, very little cash on my own. Without help from my family, I would have never been able to have anything – a one bedroom apartment, food, electricity, etc.
As far as the U.K. goes, I’m ineligible for benefits because Steve’s working at a decent job. His company laid off every single one of their employees a few years ago and he was lucky enough to be able to start a company with some of his workmates. Still, he’s hearing about people in the industry getting laid off and development studios being shut down all the time. We’re budgeted as best we can for the two of us. I would love to have benefits just to give us a little extra boost each month but I’m not eligible.
But I’m lazy and just want to suck up benefits from those hard working people, right? No.
I’ve looked, and have always been looking for work, since this whole economic collapse nonsense happened. I was on temporary contract with the school system and the minute I left for the year before I could even attempt to try working again, things went downhill. I furthered my education and ended up with part-time work. For a while Florida schools weren’t even accepting new substitute teachers even if you had once been employed with them as such. In the U.K….well, you know how well that’s been going. I’ve been here since the beginning of last year and I can’t find squat. In fact, I’m one of the lucky ones who have a career that claims the 4th highest unemployment rate.
I just get so tired of hearing these generalized opinions and accusations over “lazy” people out of work. The photo I saw today that thousands of people were sharing was poking fun of the homeless people who standing on the street corner asking for money or “will work for food” signs. (With the tag line, “Honk if you’re tired of lazy people.”) Granted some who do that may be frauds, or just looking for beer money (if you had to live like that, wouldn’t you want to drink?) but all in all, it’s offensive. I wouldn’t wish these kinds of situations on anyone but I don’t think people are able to even see outside their own situation very easily. Not everyone is sitting around on a couch watching Jerry Springer, smoking pot, and waiting for their next benefit check to be deposited.
These same people that are complaining about these “lazy” people out of work are the same ones who post about how they just bought a new house, new car, were able to quit one job and start another, etc. etc. Great. I’m glad for you but there are a whole lot of other people out there who don’t have those options. “But they can just go out and work at McDonald’s"!” Really? Have you tried? I have. If you don’t have the past experience in retail, you won’t be considered at all. I applied for a customer service job the other day because working at the grocery store eons ago and the library two years ago is customer service. I was sent a message the same day with, “You don’t meet our requirements.” I’ve applied for the most menial jobs to jobs that are in the pay scale of what I made working full-time. Nothing. (The most amazing thing I’ve seen is from the ones who aren’t working but are still on the bandwagon with everyone else, shouting about how people on benefits are lazy. Um…Hello? Are you independently wealthy and forgot to mention that in your profile?) I love, love, love seeing people call out the ones who say something about the blankety-blank people who don’t work. They always respond with, “Oh I didn’t mean you, darling! You are legitimately trying to find work.” Yeah! So are 8.8% of the country so what are you even talking about?
My bottom line is that people should just be aware of the situations around them before  making some inevitably offensive statement.
And while I was writing this, the mailman brought me two job rejection letters. Yup. That.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bank of America and Downton Abbey

Diamond Jubilee landscaping

It's a quiet Thursday here. Steve's in London for a work day trip. I have the rest of this stupid cold to fight off but I did finally get Season One of Downton Abbey from LoveFilm (Steve marked it as "high priority" for me). That means I can have a day of TV, blogging and reading. I watched the first disc and so far I love the show. I love the time period, I love the characters, and I love Maggie Smith – she’s great in this! Her best line so far was, “Why does every day involve a fight with an American?” in the swivel chair scene [video].

Oh, and I have to do my practice Theory Test DVD too but that doesn't mean I will.

I was thinking last night about how my book blog doesn't get used much until I finally take the time to do a book review. I may start a Friday Reads section to just talk about what book I'm on. Whenever I do a book review, I'm at a loss because I hadn't read it for a while. This way, maybe it can be like a little note taking exercise.

We have a three day weekend coming up and no driving lessons until September. Yesterday since I was sick I was just not doing well. It frustrates me to no end that I can't just get what I should be doing. I still say it's because these roads are so different that I'm continually second guessing myself or assume some new, potential hazard will pop up by the time I get to 40mph.

It's okay though. Even after I get my license, I won't be buying a car until I have a job so there's no big rush.

Other things going on is the stupid Bank of America who are still charging me to use Barclays ATMs even though their site specifically says (as it has for years) that with the Global ATM Alliance, I will not be charged for using a Barclays ATM in England. “Use your debit card or ATM card within the Global ATM Alliance in the countries shown with no ATM operator fees or Non-Bank of America International ATM Fee.” That sounds like I shouldn’t be charged $5, doesn’t it? But, for some reason, all of a sudden, in August, I'm getting charged. And, of course, whenever I call Customer Service they try to explain it to me as if I'm wrong. I'm not. If it says no charge, there should be no charge. Whatever's gone wrong, I have no idea but I'm staying on top of it. I've already called twice about three charges.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Tuesday Seven

Gateshead Town Centre

1. I’m starting this list on Monday since I’m probably going to be home for most of the week anyway. I still have a cold (not allergies.) It’s getting better now that I armed myself with more Lemsip, blackcurrant menthol drops, Octrivine, and saline sinus wash. Saturday I was blowing my nose constantly, yesterday I woke up coughing, and today I’m in the almost okay but not quite stage. My head’s too foggy to enjoy myself if I did go outside and, besides, I doubt people want me ill at the gym and the cafe. (Though I’m pretty sure I got this blasted cold from the blasted public.)

2. I’ve set up my Theory Test for the first week in September so after I pass the computerized part of the test, I can be put on the waiting list to do the Practical Test (the actual driving part.) My instructor said the waiting list is about 6-8 weeks so that will give me the last run-down of super test preparations. Ugh. I can’t even imagine. Well, no, I guess I can, I just don’t drive confidently. Of course, in the U.S. I’ve driven for almost 20 years. The roads are wide, flat, and without a ton of parked cars on either side. Here, I’m second guessing myself constantly.

3. On Saturday we saw The Dark Knight Rises. I knew there was some chat on Twitter where most people said it was great but some said, “Well, the voice of Bane isn’t great.” And, they were right. All in all, the film was really good and I really liked Anne Hathaway as Catwoman even though I didn’t want to at first. (I get tired of seeing the same people in every movie.) I agree with the critics saying that they didn’t over-sexualize Catwoman and it was more about her character. (Plus, those goggles are amazing.) Bane’s voice was just laughable. When I first heard him talk, I was reminded of Morla, the turtle in The Neverending Story. But because I don’t pay any attention, I didn’t even realize that Bane was Tom Hardy until the end. (I knew I should recognize him but couldn’t place him.) Now, in Wuthering Heights, Tom Hardy played a freaky Heathcliff with a great accent, so it isn’t a surprise that he would have done a good job. However, apparently, the filmakers didn’t think you could understand Bane well enough, so they redubbed his voice for the final cut of the film.

4. I’ve finished the first four books of Pretty Little Liars so I’ll have to do a review for them soon. Right now, I’m re-reading one of my favourite Christopher Pike books Remember Me. I distinctly remember that old cover and how amazed I was at the novel when I read it in high school.

5. It’s a good thing I stayed home sick on Monday morning. There was a job that I was interested in, but the application wasn’t available online. I had totally forgotten that I’d emailed the HR department for the application and when I checked my email at 9:30, they had sent me the application along with a reminder that applications closed by 10AM that same day. I hurried and did the best I could with the cutting and pasting and rejigging the tables that get all messed up in Microsoft Word once you start filling in forms. I sent it off at 9:59AM, even accidentally missing a “yes or no” questions about willingness to get a CRB check done (though since I’m already a registered teacher, I’m sure they can figure out that I already have one.)

6. Today I felt well enough to go to the gym, then decided to hang around town for a while. Since I’m so stuffy, I hit Nando’s the minute they opened and asked for the hot sauce on my chicken. It was way too may calories for the day (since I also had hot dogs at home for dinner) but man, was it worth it. Sadly, I couldn’t stay to watch the cheap Tuesday movies at the theatre upstairs from Nando’s because my stupid HTC Sensation phone battery died.

7. That stupid phone. I can’t find any kind of battery saver option on it and I try to keep the task manager empty of apps running in the background but it just does not help. With that and the screen going dark when I take a photo (again, no option I can find or anything on Google regarding the issue) it’s a pretty crappy phone. Plus it randomly won’t let me send texts from time to time. I hate to say it, but I don’t think I had *that* many problems with the iPhone (or I had different issues with it.) I think I’m going to get a Samsung Galaxy 3S (or whatever new one they have by then) next year.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Me and my Twitter

Laing Art Gallery

Mashable put out an article today called Twitter: A Day in the Life. In it, it shows an infographic depicting how we, in general, are using Twitter every day.

The article starts off with, “Woke up, fell out of bed…checked my Twitter right away. Sound familiar?” For me, it does, but I rarely even bother updating anything. Actually, the article reveals that only 7% of Twitter use is an actual status update. They analysed 750,000 links posted on Twitter and 8% was regarding a product. That is why I don’t use Twitter all that often anymore directly.

Twitter has never been one of my favourite things in the world, and I’ve mentioned this plenty of times. While I understand it’s important to have a connection to the outside world via the most popular social network, I don’t particularly rush to use it except on certain occasions. Personally, I do like a lot of people do, and share interesting articles. Of course, I add links to my blog posts whenever I update it. I also click “share to Twitter” when I update my Goodreads, check in on Foursquare, or when I take a photo with Instagram.

In fact, photos make up for 36% of Twitter’s usage. That makes sense to me. I use Facebook for the same reason, and more often (Actually, I found the Mashable article via Facebook) because I know the people who are on there. With Twitter, I try to be less personal. I never update pictures of my family, and once in a while I update pictures of myself. Now, links through my blog which connects to my Flickr, fine, yes. I use that as extra storage and sharing capabilities for friends who don’t have Facebook or Twitter. Sometimes I add Youtube videos on my Tumblr but only once in a while do I notify Twitter of them.

But as far as communicating with Twitter, I chat with people off and on. Maybe once every couple of days I’ll have a brief exchange. Once in a while I have a nice conversation with someone. The rest of the time I see links to books by an author’s Twitter account, retweets of books by an author’s Twitter account, Follow Fridays, Writer Wednesday and retweets of those #FF and #WW. Granted once in a while is fine, of course, but constantly, that’s what I see.

So why do I follow these people. Well, it’s simple. Twitter ratios. Twitter has rules about your following-to-follower ratios. Now, I thought that it was for new accounts, which makes total sense when we’re still getting stupid, adult themed, diet spam message crap. But now that my Twitter account is years old, I have to deal with this rule:

Once you’ve followed 2000 users, there are limits to the number of additional users you can follow: this limit is different for every user and is based on your ratio of followers to following.

What is this magic number they want? And why do we have to have it when they know darn well I’m not a spammer and haven’t been since I opened the account? Why should I have to follow users who have no interest in discussion, only useless thank yous and retweets and book sale links? Should I just block every single account that does this? What about the people who occasionally do it and sometimes have an actual update or two? Should I risk letting them get blocked from Twitter just because I, personally, don’t want to read their updates?

I’m currently now in “Twitter jail” because of it where I can’t follow back a legitimate account because I’ve not followed the useless accounts. I really should just clean the whole account up but when I use a tool it only who I do/don’t follow back. It doesn’t give me any idea if they’re real, decent accounts or not. And what if that person is in Twitter jail too and can’t follow me back right away? I still want to follow that person because they’re real. Heck, I want to follow any celeb I want even though they don’t follow me back and, dang it, I should have every right to do that.

The bottom line is, I like Twitter but in small doses. Now, if there’s a TV show on, yes, I Tweet like mad (and most people ignore me anyway so I really shouldn’t even bother.) During the Olympics I was a Twittering fool. But all in all, nope, I’m not constantly on but I am happy when I get a nice conversation from the people I follow because I want to, not because Twitter wants me to.