Thursday, December 26, 2013

Post-Holiday Return Guide

It's the rare person who enjoys returning stuff, whether it's an unwanted gift or a defective piece of merchandise. Here are some tips to make the return process much easier, plus some information that might head off problems and save you time and money:

1. Argh, I can't find my receipt and/or I can't get the receipt and/or I don't want to confess that I really didn't want that lime green and pink striped sweater!
  Don't just assume that you're doomed. Not all stores require a receipt. What you will need to know is where the item was purchased. It may require a Google search to find out what stores carry the brand and model of item you're looking for. Stores often have a designated UPC code, so, for example, an item bought at Joe's Mega Store won't usually come up in the system at Woo Hoo Grocers, even if the model is identical in every way. One store can't accept a return on behalf of another store, especially if it's defective. Manufacturers and distributors track what goes where, and they're unlikely to give one store credit for an item that they knew was shipped to another store if the item can't be resold.

Speaking of UPCs, bring as much of the packaging as possible. Don't throw away those boxes until you're absolutely sure your gift has no defects. I know they're bulky and awkward. Fold them up and put them someplace until the thirty days are up and you're no longer able to do a store return. Keep the boxes longer if the item has a long warranty that requires shipping to fulfill. If you don't have the box or whatever packaging the item came in, be prepared for the possibility that your return will take extra time or may not be able to be processed.

2.  Okay, I took the item to the right place and they accept returns without receipt, but they're giving me the sale price and I know it was purchased at full price. What the heck?
  Unless you can prove it, you're likely stuck getting the most recent sale price when you return an item with no receipt. If you bought the item, sometimes if you provide the date and time that you bought the item, a store with a decent tracking system might be able to pull up an electronic receipt for you. They might not be able to do it on the spot, which means you'll have to take your item home and wait for a call back when they find the information. Prepare to be patient, calm, polite ... they're more likely to help you out than if you play hard ball.
Every customer's business is valuable, but threatening never to return will probably earn a sigh of relief rather than force the clerk to accommodate you. If it seems like the clerk is exhausted, edgy or evasive, remember, they're human. After return number one hundred and eleven they're done with special cases. Nicely ask to speak with a supervisor. They're there to handle special cases and you may be asking the clerk to do something he or she doesn't have the authority to do anyway.

3.  It's been more than thirty days. I hate my life.
  Don't hate your life! Many stores will accept returns after thirty days, especially around the holidays because they know many things were purchased well in advance of the holidays and were intended for a holiday gift. Give it a try. But, be warned. Some stores have exceptions, for example, delicate electronics might not be returnable after a much shorter time frame, like 2 weeks, or they may not even be returnable at all. Kindness, patience, and persistence go a long way toward reaching an accommodation. Yelling or threats tend to make even the most customer-friendly managers dig their heels in. If you're really nice, they might even offer alternatives that you're not aware of. Managers like friendly customers, and want to help them any way they can so those customers feel welcome to come back.

4.  It's defective, never worked right out of the box and I have nothing. Nothing! I'm doomed.
  It's a gift, right? If you really want it, really love it but it doesn't work and you can't return it at the store level, go to the manufacturer. Really. They'll probably make you ship it to them, but not always. I had a problem with a leaky water filter. It started leaking only a couple of weeks after I installed it. I had no receipt, and the store I got it from wouldn't take it back. I called the manufacturer and they sent me a coupon to get a new one for free. They didn't even make me ship them the old one, because they were aware of the defect in that lot.
If you do have to ship ... shipping can be expensive, but it might not be as bad as you think, and it may be worth it. If you think about how much the item is worth to you versus how much you're willing to pay to have it ....  Yes, it stinks that the gift-giver is robbed of the intent of giving a gift because the manufacturer goofed. But the way the manufacturer keeps costs from skyrocketing through fraud and theft, and the way they learn how to develop a better product, is to actually have the defective item in their hands. Long term, that works to your advantage.
You can always call the hotline or email and find out whether or not they'll refund your shipping costs if they find an actual manufacturing defect, or compensate you in some other way, like coupons or special offers.

5. Ugh. It's such a hassle!
  It's tempting, especially with gas prices being what they are, to do a return at the same time that you do a regular shopping trip. Resist temptation! You don't have to make a designated trip, but do consider going without the kids if you can. It's even more boring for them than regular shopping, and there's less for them to see and do during a return.
Try to schedule your return when you have plenty of time, and when you don't have a ton of stuff to pick up and get home in a timely fashion. Avoid peak hours if you can. Lunch, and right around 5pm (when people are getting off work and on their way home) are usually busy. Weekends after 11 am are also typically busy, especially after the holidays.
Also, assume that there's going to be a wait, and that things might not necessarily go smoothly. If you have that expectation, you'll be less likely to develop frustrations that will make the process far less pleasant for you.
If the clerk is dawdling or talking to a coworker, rather than let your blood pressure rise and your temper get the better of you, take a deep breath and resolve to fill out a customer service report card. Getting worked up and angry at the clerk will do more harm to you than to that person. Taking calm, rational actions against poor customer service will do far more good for you and for everyone! And if you get good, fast customer service, consider filling out a report card for that too. Employers are more inclined to give good clerks more hours and more compensation, making it more likely that you'll continue to get good service. With no feedback, employers only know how well their employees are behaving when they're physically present, and employees are usually on their best behavior then. Bear in mind, too, that an employee may not be deliberately malicious, just poorly trained.

6.  It's hopeless. The store won't do anything, the manufacturer won't do anything, and I'm stuck.
  If the item is in good condition, package it, store it someplace safe, and regift it somewhere down the road. Or save it for a garage sale. You can organize a gift swap with your friends in mid-January. If the item doesn't work, look into charities that accept non-working items of otherwise high value that require repair. Sometimes they have volunteers repair them or they sell the parts for a good cause. Look up recycling centers and scrap services, especially for items that have a lot of metal in them. If you approach your unwanted or non-working gift as something you can apply your creativity to, it can cease to be an issue and turn into an opportunity to try something new or have a little fun.

7. This sounds horrible. It's not worth it to even try. Besides, all the store customer service desks are packed this time of year, and the phone lines are always busy and I'll end up on hold forever ....
  Don't talk yourself out of it before you even begin. A little planning, and with your expectations aligned with common store policies, you're far more likely to find that making a return is easier and faster than you anticipated. As for the wait on the phone, learn to love your speaker on your phone and play some solitaire. They'll get to you as soon as possible.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Creation and Destruction

Another brilliantly gorgeous day. I'm listening to Lindsey Stirling, and I'm debating whether I want to clean up around my desk area, do artwork, write ... might have to just do it all today.

I think the thing that makes me most resistant to cleaning is a close relative of what makes me happy when it's done. Sometimes the clutter is incredibly overwhelming, and it feels like clearing a small part of it does so little good that I might as well spend my time and energy on something that has a more significant impact, or gets me closer to my longer term goals. Cleaning is an endless battle and I get emotionally worn out even before I begin.

At the same time, when I do clean even a tiny bit, I get a disproportionate sense of pride, and a little burst of hope. If only I did just this little bit every day, my home would be so fantastic!

But I don't do a little bit every day, and I lose whatever progress I've made in the days that go by.

That's one of the many things I love about writing and art. If I dilly dally too long, I might forget what I was doing in a book, but other than that, I can't 'lose' progress on a work of art or a book through neglect. Once the colors or the words are there, they're there until they're actively destroyed.

Of course, now that I've said that, is adding clutter to a clean area a form of destruction?

Stuff to think about. Like writing and art, keeping house requires developing good habits and rooting out bad habits. That requires long practice. Think that after almost thirty years of keeping my own house, I might learn how to keep it neat?

That would be nifty.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Almost Isn't the Season Anymore

A gorgeous Christmas Eve morning. Brilliant sunshine, a bit of mist on the river and between the hills, and the rain-soaked landscape has a diamond glitter to it. It's going to be one of those days when our goats and chickens will be out playing and chasing each other, and the dogs will be basking in the sunlight as if they're on a beach in 80 degree weather.

I'm not sure what to expect at work today. Panicked shoppers picking up last-minute things? That's a fair bet. Big crowds? I'm hoping not. That'll stress everyone out. Crazy driving? I pray people will remember that they're controlling thousands of pounds of deadly steel, and that you can't negotiate with physics or hit reset in the real world. Will folks be relaxed and ready to enjoy themselves after weeks of preparation? That would be sweet. And for everyone who doesn't celebrate Christmas, I hope that you'll find reprieve from the beautiful madness that burdens this time of year.

Well, maybe after the post-Christmas sales are done, and the return lines shrink back to normal.

Assuming the weather doesn't get dangerously playful.

Soon we'll say farewell to 2014. Are you ready to take stock of your year, and make your plans for the future?

Peace, joy, love and all good blessings upon you. May your day be bright.

Saturday, December 14, 2013


Musing of the day:

Over the course of a long-term relationship, do people naturally stop planning and dreaming together and start working around each other? Maybe over time, as goals are achieved one after another and there are fewer things on the list of mutual goals, the list of things we want to accomplish together seems short compared to the list of things we want to do that the other person isn't interested in. Or maybe we become specialists, either by design or default. Managing a relationship and/or a household becomes more efficient as the couple negotiates who will replace the furniture when it becomes worn and who will clean out the garage when the clutter starts to build up. Our busy lives can pressure us not just to specialize, but to work independently and alone. Efficiency is good, but it runs the risk of creating territories, and human beings can be very territorial. I know. I'm pretty territorial.

I think it's good to get together now and then to plan and dream, and to work toward projects as a team rather than individuals. Tasks might still be divided, territories will still form, but with big dreams of big futures that require two people, two friends, two lovers (come on you guys, this is poetry, not me talking about six different people!) to achieve, maybe the things that change a relationship into rote roles and territories won't seem like the whole of the world. Maybe those things will become the lesser part of the relationship, the maintenance part, and the purpose behind the relationship, the dreams and plans, will take their rightful place as the things that make two people into partners instead of room mates.

I have a great partner. I wonder what we'll plan for next.

And he'll say, "the same thing we do every night, Pinky. Try to take over the world!"*

Except it'll probably be something more like, start pricing fencing materials for a new goat enclosure.
Carving out new pasture is pretty much the same thing as trying to take over the world.

Taking over the world might actually be slightly easier.

* quote from Pinky and the Brain, an animated TV series produced by Steven Spielberg that aired from 1995-1998

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Winter Wildlife Feeding Tips


This weather is tough on the wildlife. Most people don't think about that, or think too much on it. There's a lot of suffering going on out there in the big world, both in human-created civilizations, the outskirts, and in the animal kingdom. It's a balancing act. There's no way to make all the animals in your area happy and safe and warm and fed, and they're never going to weave your hair into a braid or sweep your porch for you. But it is nice, as a fellow living creature, to look out for our companions on this planet when resources are thin on the ground and the weather is nasty.

Salt licks for deer. Yeah, the fuzzy, sweet-faced, big-eyed and big-eared vermin drive me nuts, but they are adorable and it's great fun to watch them hang out in your yard. When it's cold, the molasses in those licks gives them a few extra calories plus needed minerals when the plant life all around them has sucked most of the nutrients down to the roots for winter.

Suet cakes for birds. Lots of calories, and not as much waste as plain ol' seed. Hang up multiple cakes so that bully birds have a harder time hoarding the cakes, although I've noticed that different species of birds come to the cakes at different times, so the bully birds aren't always going to be there every second of the day. That gives other birds a chance to supplement their regular winter diet too.

Hummingbird nectar. One part sugar, four parts water. I usually do a 1/2 cup of water and 1/8 cup of sugar, but if you have lots of them in your neighborhood you may have to do more than that, or even have more than one feeder. Hummingbirds go into torpor overnight and during the worst parts of the day. They'll usually come to the feeder first thing in the morning when able. They'll also return later in the day during warmer or lower-wind stretches if weather allows. My mom puts a regular light bulb in an outdoor-rated socket near the feeder to keep it thawed. Another friend activates a hand-warmer and tapes it to the bottom of the feeder. Still another takes the feeder in overnight so that it's at house temperature and then puts it out in the morning. Unless the weather is exceptionally cold, sugar water will remain thawed for several hours if it starts at room temperature. The clear boxes with the red lids that have holes in them are the easiest to keep sanitary, but I find that the suction cups that hold them to the window become detached more easily in winter than in summer, so I use one of the hanging bottles with fake flowers around the red base. Protect your hummingbird feeder from wind if you can, both to help the birds and to keep the feeder from smashing to bits, but don't overdo it. The birds need space to approach and depart from the feeder safely, and they feel safer if they have a clear sightline in as many directions as possible. Yes, cats can catch hummingbirds. A friend of mine told me about a cat who caught hummingbirds almost every day out of her yard until she strung up a feeder up high to divert the birds from feeding in her flowerbeds and raspberry bushes where the cat could easily sneak up on them.

If you've seen wild bunnies in your area, you can try to put out sunflower seeds and/or cracked corn in pans on the ground for them. (Doves will also help themselves to cracked corn if it's left on the ground–they're ground feeders and very rarely go to regular bird feeders unless you have a large one with a flat bed they can hop around in.) I avoid attracting bunnies, and in fact try to deter them in the summer, but I like to see them in the wintertime because I don't have vegetable gardens for them to raid, and feeding them keeps the pressure off of my dormant roses. I used to put a pan of sunflower seeds and chunks of dried, stale bread out on a defunct wood stove we have in the garden and the bunnies would hop right up to feast. They've also hunted around for fallen stuff under the bird feeders before. The jays, of course, also help themselves (which will keep them out of your regular bird feeders so the little birds can have their share.) Don't leave pans of bunny food on the ground overnight. It'll attract rats.

Squirrel mix, peanut butter smeared on dried corn cobs, unsalted peanuts in the shell, etc. for squirrels. Hate squirrels because they get into the bird feeders? Try giving them their own spot with their own food. Bully birds tend to focus on whole peanuts too. They can only carry one at a time, and tend to fly off with their loot rather than pick at it at the feeder, so it majorly reduces competition for those seeds you put out for smaller birds.

Got any winter wildlife feeding tips? Post 'em in the comments.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Dogs in the Man House

Finn, with Brian in the background
It's about 26 F (-3 C) here. The outdoor dogs are in for a warm up. Our big dogs, Brian and Finn, are fine in this sort of weather, especially since there's no wind. Little Chase, on the other hand, is just a wee thing with only a thin coat of fur (well, she's got long-ish hair over most of her, but still) and it especially does her good to be inside. In fact, it's good for all our dogs to be in for a little while to let their ears warm up. Besides, who would want to break up the pack? They're a team. Buds. Family. All for one, and one for all.

They all spend the night in the same big doghouse together. It's a pile of shaggy, white fur with the little black and white one curled up somewhere in the middle. During the day today, when it was a balmy 32 degrees, the white dogs basked in the sunshine, stretched out on their sides while Chase ran after cars along the fence line. Her well-worn track is nice and hard and dry right now, in prime condition to help her outrun even the fastest moving drivers along the road. She gives herself a little head start on them, but by golly she beats them fair and square. If she was loose she'd snag 'em by the bumper and flip them through the air for sure.

I love our dogs. They're really amazing. They function really well outside in temperatures that have me shivering in a few minutes, and that's with me wearing layers of clothes. When it gets this cold, though, they can't tell me when their ears are getting numb or when they're hurting. They don't always shiver when they're cold. And Brian? Giant, beautiful, over a hundred pounds Brian? He's a big chicken. We usually have to drag him indoors because he's afraid of the slippery floors. If he had his choice, he'd be outside all the time. None of the dogs, in fact, whine to get let in during weather like this. We have to decide for them when it's a good idea for them to warm up for an hour or two.
Chase, the wee one, with Finn

It's a judgement call. Everyone makes their own based on breed, habits, what they know of their dogs, and past experience. Some things to take into account:

The dog itself may not be in danger, but ears can freeze and then the skin can split apart, causing permanent damage. Puts a whole new meaning to dog-eared. Happens to cats, too.
Just like on people, toes are vulnerable too, and snow and/or ice can get packed in so tight that only thawing will get it out.

Access to water in extremely cold weather quickly becomes limited. One of the first things our dogs did when they came in was have a good drink of water. Their water, despite the fact that we refresh it with warm water over the coarse of the day, freezes over quickly. They're accustomed to drinking a little here, a little there ... and a little there isn't always available in freezing weather.

Brian washes Finn's ears
Oh, and the water they drink? Icy, icy cold. Imagine eating ice cream outside in freezing weather. Cold water can bring their core temperature down.

If you suspect your dog has received an injury from cold, call the vet and talk to them. A phone call costs nothing. Even cheaper? Head off any chance of it and enjoy some quality time with your outdoor pets. If you're used to having them outside all the time, initially your home will seem like a madhouse, but trust me. The contrast between the temps outside and inside will soon have your outdoor dog or cat reclined somewhere comfie for a nice snooze. There will be peace, happiness, and safety. Added bonus? Rare opportunities to snag some great pics for facebook or your blog.

Even as we speak, Brian has made his peace with being inside for a while, and is snoozing by the couch, fast asleep ....

For the curious who don't know, Finn and Brian are Great Pyrenees crosses. Finn's dad was a lab, and Brian's was a golden retriever (at least as near as we can tell.) They're reserved, affectionate but not overly pushy about it, and tend to bark more when they want to play or because they're excited that we're home than they do at strangers. Chase is probably mostly border collie. I don't base that purely on form (which isn't perfectly typical) or color (which is.) She's got the personality, and loads of it!

All our dogs are rescues, btw, which is my favorite breed. Hope you had a happy turkey day, everyone!

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Holiday Shopping Technique & Etiquette

In my experience, people don't really put a lot of thought into how they shop, when, etc. except from the perspective of their own immediate, as opposed to long-term convenience or the real consequences of their behavior. If you grab stuff out of other peoples' shopping carts, let your kids run wild through the store, or bring your pet and lie about whether or not it's a service animal, stop reading. There's no hope for you. Failing that, if you're curious about a retail employee's perspective on shopping and the surprisingly simple things you can do that will actually make things easier and enjoyable for you when you shop, read on.

The number one challenge for many parents: shopping with kids. Don't worry. I'm not going to chastise you about supervising your kids, observe how dangerous carts are, or complain about bawling toddlers forced to go shopping while they're ill or during their nap time. I'm assuming you're already doing your best.

A lot of kids hate the carts. I don't blame them. Riding in those little seats is uncomfortable. I strongly suggest bringing a baby blanket along. Don't worry so much about the plastic seat. That's not the issue. It's hard contact with the plastic and metal that runs under their thighs and the bar between the legs. It takes a little practice, but if you can get just a couple of layers in there, it makes a world of difference. Some kids don't mind, but the ones that do ... yeah. A lot of kids point at the baby carts we have, wishing they had that padding but they're too big and it would be dangerous for a toddler to ride in a seat meant for an infant. If they're too big even for those seats built into the carts, a travel blanket still comes in handy as padding for the bottom of the cart for those times when it's easier for them to ride inside. If the kids are comfortable, they're far less likely to whine and cry.

Kids like to help. Let them! Send the older ones on missions to find things, and younger ones can try to find what you're looking for first and point to it. This will keep them occupied, and teach them how to find stuff for the family. They can even learn to approach and ask for help from employees, which is always a good habit. But, if they don't get the right thing ....

Part of my job involves cleaning up the aisles after people have sorted through them. I get paid for it, so I don't mind finding a tube of toothpaste shoved behind the dolls. It's all good. Having said that, you can make shopping easier for yourself and your kids by not making them put stuff back themselves. In fact, you don't have to put it back either! As long as they're not chewing on it or tearing up the packaging (more on this later) let them have it in the cart for a while. You can pass it off to the cashier, and we'll put it back for you. It's just like the library. If you don't know exactly where something goes, it's much easier for the librarian and you to just put it in the go-back cart, right? Some people tell us that various items are things that they thought they wanted but decided against getting and they couldn't remember where it went, but no explanation or apology is necessary. "I don't want this," is fine.

There are some neat tricks parents have used to get kids to give up toys that I've seen over the years. My favorite one was the parent who told the child to give the toy to the cashier so they could keep it safe. The child handed it right over. Genius. Also, if a child runs up to the register with a toy, resist the urge to tell them to put it back. Yes, it's a good habit to learn to put things back where they belong, but even after years of working in the same store, I still have trouble finding where some of these things go, and I work there full time. A store is very different from your house. It's constantly changing, and there are a huge number of items, all similar to each other, in every four foot section of every shelf. Tell the child to give the thing to the cashier or a floor person instead. It's still being responsible, and we'll make sure it goes back exactly where it needs to be.

By the way, products in stores are amazingly dirty, even the food items. After just few minutes of putting stuff on the shelves, my hands are black with dirt. To prevent illness, it's a good idea to keep children in the chewing phase of their lives away from toys, packaged food, etc. And keep a lookout for the shedding of shoes, or sitting on the floor, crawling, etc. The chemicals and bits of broken glass we can't seem to get all of when a pickle jar breaks ... yeah. We really do our best, but it's a constant battle with the dirt in the stores, and new dirt comes in all the time. It may surprise you to learn that most of that doesn't come from outside, but the warehouse and the trucks, and they are all shipped together on the same pallets ....

But some of the dirt does come from customers. You might be shocked to learn how much fruit is handled by other people who may or may not wash their hands. Even very nice, well-dressed people don't bother to wash their hands. I see them walk out of the restrooms without washing. They also blow their noses or cough or sneeze right on the products every single day. As far as the 'shopping sick,' I don't judge. We've all had to do it. Not everyone has a personal shopper who can go get their prescription or cold medicine for them, and sick people have to have groceries too. So it's on all shoppers to remember this and act accordingly as far as cleaning your new purchase when you get it home. The warehouse dirt and any pesticides they used in the warehouse to keep vermin out of the product, or dirt and chemicals from other products are easily transferred by customers and employees over the course of the day just by picking up things and putting them down again. It's impractical to isolate the handling of products, so, just bear in mind that babies probably shouldn't put store products in their mouths for their own safety.

Speaking of sorting through products, the packaging is not always an indication as to whether or not the product is in good shape. For example, I had a beautiful cabinet with a bad door come back. I ordered a new door for it. In that time, the box was opened and re-taped by the original customer and twice by me. Nothing else was wrong with the cabinet. The next customer rejected it because the box was all torn up and taped up, and insisted on a new, nice looking box. Guess what? One of the panels on the cabinet in that pristine box had a gouge in it. Most products on the shelf that have been opened and taped back up are fine, and may in fact be in better shape than the factory sealed ones because we carefully inspected them before putting them back on the shelf. If something has been opened already, I'm happy to help you reopen and inspect it before you buy it. I think you can understand why we might be reluctant to open an unopened package, though, unless you're sure you're going to get it, because it will be much harder to sell because of the opened package stigma.

About opening packages: please ask for help. Chances are there's an opened one already that you haven't noticed. We'd be happy to help you to either locate the display or sample item. Also, we have tools for opening stuff that causes the least amount of damage. Because of the prejudice against opened boxes, people won't buy them, and in the end we have to return the stuff to the manufacturer for no good reason. If we don't get credit from the manufacturer, the loss ends up folding back into the prices you see reflected on the shelves. So it's in your best interest to not damage products or their packaging. In the long run, it will save you money. Also, some stores won't carry items that are frequently opened, inspected and damaged through over-handling because of the cost. If you as a customer respect the more delicate and vulnerable products, stores are more likely to carry them.

Budget sufficient time, when you can, for shopping to reduce stress, but sometimes you just gotta come in at the last minute. I'm fine with folks coming in right up until the door is locked to do their shopping. (I may be rare in that attitude, but read on.) My manager will often invite people to come in just before he locks up if they've parked their car already. We'll wait to serve you. Our job is, formally and literally speaking, to 'wait on' people, right? When you dash in at the last minute, please consider asking for help. We're happy to be your personal shopper. Don't worry about being a bother! If you're concerned about keeping us late (thank you, that's very kind) then help us help you by allowing us to lead you to the things you want. We're happy to fetch a cart or basket if you end up carrying more than you intended. And please, if you want furniture, say so as soon as you know. That way, if it's in the warehouse or needs a hand truck or pallet jack, we can get those things right away while you look for whatever else you need.

Speaking of which, it's a good practice, if you shop for furniture, to look at that first. Often there isn't floor space for the boxed pieces, just the displays, which means a floor person has to get them for you. Your shopping experience will be more pleasant and efficient if you browse for your other items while we hunt for your box among the many other boxes in the back. We'll have your items waiting for you at the front of the store when you're ready to check out. Asking for it while standing in line will aggravate the other folks in line behind you (never a fun experience to have people mutter about you, roll their eyes or change to a different lane after shooting you a dirty look), and it will take up your valuable time. Our time is no biggie. We get paid by the hour, and I'll be at the store all day long whether I have to get furniture or not. In fact, I like the change of being able to go outside for a carry out. Considering your own time and convenience works best for you and for us too by giving us the opportunity to help you in a way that doesn't hold you up when you're ready to leave.

One more thing about furniture. We can give you dimensions for furniture over the phone if you forget to take them, or let you know if we have something approximately the size that you're looking for.

Onward and forward to more general advice again.

Don't be shy to ask for help even if we look really busy. Good floor people can multi-task. The best floor people will ask if you need help before you even approach them, but bear in mind that we also don't want to unduly disturb you if you're concentrating on reading the label on a product or talking with your shopping companions. Good customer service and customer relations is a complex social game, and sometimes we fail to see the cues people give us that they need help. If we're with another customer, usually we have to finish helping that customer before we can help you, but if we're stocking shelves, cleaning, or racing from one end of the store to the other, we're happy to stop and help, even if it's only to pause long enough to promise to send someone else to help you. You're not a bother. We're there to help you. Without customers, we'd have no reason to have a store in the first place.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Novel In Progress: an excerpt

I don't usually put up excerpts on my blog, much less a rough draft's excerpt, but I thought today I'd make an exception. For fun. And because it's scary. Every once in a while it's good to do a fun, scary thing.

And this will help me finish it. Because right now I'm in that stage where I want to tear my hair out and I'm worried that my climax isn't going to be climactic enough and I just need to give myself some motivation. Negative comments won't slow me down (I do not mean that as a challenge, people! We don't have to be mean!) and putting it up will make me feel obligated to complete and publish it. Why? I'm not really sure. Something about putting up an excerpt feels like a promise to publish it so that the people who like it can read the whole thing, I guess.

So here it is, in all its imperfect glory. In the story so far, we've learned that one young lady, Caitlin, is obsessed with the fear that she might be a giant. Another young lady, this young lady, has the Sight which she calls sixen. She just lost her job for being late for the umpteenth time. She saw a stranger in the park in need of help, and found out that stranger is an alfr, or elf, who they themselves prefer to be called gless.

And here we go:

Amaranth slowed way down as they got close to the Fox’s gravel driveway that came off the regular road. It pitched down the downhill side of the road at a scary angle that ran almost parallel to the road and steep enough to make a good sledding slope. They’d walked to the house from Amy’s a couple of times, but she’d never driven down there, and she’d never approached the house on her own. She checked her phone. Still no text back. Shit. Well, it was way before lunchtime, and Cait might not turn on her phone between classes. She wasn’t hooked on it like most people.
The gless just sat there, staring out the window. What if she died? At least the tears had stopped.
Maybe that was a bad sign.
“Shit.” Amaranth pulled into the driveway. It had just enough room for two sets of wheels. An uneven strip of grass grew in the middle, and blackberries mixed with grape vines grew in from the sides from up way high. The vines scratched and scraped her car as she drove down. On the uphill side it made sense that they’d be up high, but the downhill side of the driveway it was just as high. Maybe a fence was buried underneath or something. 
The driveway widened out after about a hundred feet in front of a small barn, a huge shed, and off to the right, a light green two-story house with a weird soft orange and white trim. It was a really pretty place, old-fashioned, with all kinds of decoration around the roofline, and stained glass in places. The garden looked like a scary maze with hidden rooms and what she hoped were birds moving in the shadows, but it was beautiful at the same time. Peach roses grew through rampant blackberries and some thorny bushes with thorns over an inch long. There was a tree with baby rose-like flowers all over it next to a gate, vines with huge purple, white and bluish flowers crawling up statues and fences and trellises, and mirrors hidden in the bushes. Past the rose tree thing, a huge pink crystal rock on a stand in the middle of a tiny pond had water flowing onto it from a marble pitcher held up by a statue of some sort of goddess made of green stone. Normally her brain said big money when she saw stuff like this, but this time her brain thought big mysteries, scary, run away before the garden eats you. Luckily, there wasn’t much growing right next to the house. The plants there looked like they belonged to Heidi. They were all pretty and perfect and trimmed with bark dust all around.
The gless got out of the car. Amaranth was going to stay, but then she remembered that the gless wanted to protect her, so she got out and stayed close, but not too close as the gless walked, um, not toward the front door but farther into the garden.
“Hey, um, shouldn’t we ring the–shit.” She hurried to the front door and rang the doorbell. It made a weird three-ring chime instead of a normal noise.
The gless came back from whatever path she’d walked down and settled next to Amaranth.
“What’s your name?” Amaranth asked.
“Mist will do.”
She wondered if Fox had always been named Fox, or if Heidi named him. Did they have names where they came from? Maybe not. They had to, though, didn’t they? They couldn’t just always be like, hey you. No you. The other you. Yeah, you. Whatcha lookin’ at?
She started to smile, but the gless looked about dead on her feet. Amaranth rang the bell again.
Heidi finally showed up and opened the fancy door with its fancy stained glass, some sort of purple flower with white and blue. She took a long look at Mist before she took a quick look at Amaranth. “What’s going on?”
“I found her in the park next do the mill.” All at once Amaranth felt bad for bringing her here. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know what else to do. She’s hurt.” 
Heidi didn’t look very sympathetic. If anything she seemed even more nervous. “Fox.”
Heidi called his name like he was just in the next room, but the gless turned a bit and lowered her chin and Fox came out from the barn. He had a machete in one hand, and looked extra sexy in torn-up jeans, work gloves and bare feet. Amaranth had never seen him wear shoes. He looked like a guy, a really gorgeous guy, but he was extra-pale like the sun couldn’t tan him, and he had light green hair down to his waist. Years ago when she peeked at him with her sixen he had a green, fiery aura–so bright she could barely see him because of it. 
Mist’s probably should have been just as bright.
He smiled his not-good smile and walked over all casual-like. Something in his stride made her hair prickle up and gave her serious goosebumps. “I know you.” He pointed the machete at Amaranth. “You go in the house with Heidi. You, I don’t know.” His smile brightened. “I’m a little surprised that one of your ilk would come here without invitation.”
“I invited her. I’m sorry,” Amaranth told him. “She was hurt, and I didn’t know what else to do.”
“Fox.” Heidi’s voice sounded weird. Firm, like she’d talk to a dog that was thinking about misbehaving, but warm, like she liked how he was acting. “My world, my rules.”
Mist said something in the gless language and Fox’s eyes narrowed. “In English. Their world, their rules.”
A tear slipped along Mist’s cheek, and that made Fox’s smile go away. “I promised my protection to her,” Mist whispered.
“Protection from what?”
“The Queen.”
Fox gave Amaranth a look that made her shiver inside her skin. “Get in the house.”
Amaranth didn’t dare move. It felt too much like if she moved, it would set one or both of them off. “Fox,” Heidi warned again, but she twitched her hand for Amaranth to go ahead and go. Amaranth felt something shift between Fox and Mist, and she took the few steps she needed to make it just inside the door.
Fox seemed to relax, but that only made him look more dangerous. He swung the machete in a small, casual loop like he wanted to loosen his wrist, or just play with it. He did it so smoothly, it was obvious he’d played and worked with the machete a lot. “Why would she need protection from the Queen?”
“You must not have been home–”
“I have no home, thanks to you.” Fox started to smile again, but this wasn’t a bright, happy smile. It was a Mona Lisa, just a hint, full of secrets. “You need to leave.”
“I think you misunderstand.” Mist hadn’t moved except for little breaths and she turned her head a little, or like now, lifted her chin just enough to look more proud than submissive, though she was obviously trying her best to act all low-man and not piss him off. “The Queen has betrayed my King and joined the … Rose.” Another tear trailed down, and her breath caught. She hissed and put her hands over her wound.
“Damask,” Fox said. When Mist didn’t say anything, he said, “not Rose. Damask.”
“Damask,” Mist whispered.
“Step back off the porch, very slowly.”
Amaranth didn’t want to see Mist chopped up right here in front of them. “Will you guys please explain what’s going on?”
Fox, who’d been all ‘I’m gonna machete this bitch with a smile on my face’ started to look a little less sure of himself. “I’m willing to hear you out. Give it. Mist.” 
He spoke her name so mean–and Amaranth got it, that Mist was a stranger and dangerous and Amaranth didn’t know her, no one knew her–but Fox had stepped over the line somewhere from being the hero and into being an asshole toward a woman. That pushed all of Amaranth’s buttons. “Hey, she’s done nothing to me and she’s had plenty of chances. Give her a break.” When Fox whipped a look in her direction Amaranth’s bravery crawled deeper than the place she’d stuffed her sixen. She was about to apologize and run for cover when Heidi took over. Actually, in a way, it felt like she’d been in charge all along.
“Why don’t we all sit down and have some tea?” Heidi opened the door wider.
“You don’t trust me?” Fox turned off all that creepy-smile stuff when he looked at Heidi. His weird, gorgeous eyes had narrowed again, and his lips stayed parted and he ducked his head.
“I took you in. Remember?” Heidi held out her hand to him. After a childish, pouty, mean glance toward Mist that made Amaranth shiver, he stopped playing with his machete and let it hang limp as he walked up onto the porch and took Heidi’s hand. He leaned in close to Mist and took a whiff, straightened up all proud, and then walked into the house with Heidi. He passed by close to Amaranth. His sweat smelled like fresh tree sap and the scent in the super-cold air that blew into town after the first big winter storm in the mountains east of town.
Mist finally came in, measuring each step, hardly making a sound when she moved except a little catch in her breath now and then. 
“Have a seat on the couch,” Heidi suggested. “Fox?”
“Tea,” he growled. She kissed his cheek as he went toward the kitchen and it made him smile an almost human, perfectly-at-peace smile.
Their house was one of those with the kitchen by a big family room. The family room had a tiled-around red enamel wood stove. The kitchen had custom countertops in that cement stuff with rounded corners, paint-stained a pale gray. Cream-colored leather furniture looked really fancy with the blue-gray walls and cream cream trim. The high ceilings, light-reddish wood cabinets with beveled glass panes, the pot rack with copper-bottomed pots hanging all organized on it, the huge stove and fridge all screamed money money money. They probably had closets bigger than her bedroom. She caught a whiff of the chlorine from their indoor pool. That was in an addition connected to the house by what they called the glass breezeway, which was more like a greenhouse than a hall. When Cait had taken her to visit they got to swim in it. But mostly the place smelled like those eco-safe cleaners with edible smells like mint, lemon, and orange.
Mist sat down. “The Damask have long waged a destructive but fruitless war against the King and Queen, in which I have fought for peace,” Mist told them. “Three days ago that all changed. In the midst of what I thought was a rough but minor skirmish of a few hundred all told, we have lost the war.”
Fox had started to reach for the water faucet, a red enamel tea kettle in hand. He lost his balance somehow and banged the kettle into the faucet. 
“The Queen sent her best soldiers out all at once, we few but mighty, to drive the Damask from Amber Lake. We had been meeting fewer and fewer of them, so we thought it would be an easy task. She came with us, to observe, she said, and to fight if needed. The King she convinced to remain behind.” Mist whispered something and she sobbed and braced her arms over her gut. “I should have known something was wrong. She commanded her forces to take us. Perhaps a dozen at most among our ranks obeyed her, but their betrayal was so unexpected, so fierce and so close that combined with the Damask already on the field and the fresh force of Damask that charged out of the Lake into our flank ….” 
Amaranth wasn’t sure what a gless battle would look like, but Mist didn’t have to spell it out for Amaranth to imagine the slaughter. 
“I doubt that the trap encompassed the sum of her plot,” Mist whispered.
“How did you escape?” Fox’s voice had gone soft and nice.
“I didn’t escape.” Fresh tears trickled down her face.
“You’re dying.” Fox sounded breathless. 
As if he hadn’t known. How could he not know? “Duh, genius.” Amaranth should have kept her mouth shut, but he didn’t seem pissed at her for saying it, so she kept talking in hopes that she could smooth things out before he decided to take offense. “Can you help her?”
“Three days. You should have healed from it by now.” Fox approached but Mist help up her hand, and then let it sag down like she wasn’t strong enough to hold up her arm for long.
Mist shuddered. “She made a weapon especially for me. I won’t heal from this.”
“Why did she single you out?” Heidi asked.
Mist pressed her lips tight.
“I think she’s said enough. Speaking is stealing too much of her strength,” Fox told them. “There’s someone I know who might help. Amaranth, will you take me there?”
“Fox–” Heidi began.
“Will you stay with her?” Fox walked to her as Heidi stood. He stroked her arm. “She shouldn’t be alone, and you, you do well with our kind.”
Mist bowed her head even more than it already was, like she was starting to slip.
Amaranth had seen a lot of bad shit, but she hadn’t seen anyone die in front of her. She’d found her brother, dead, but he was already gone and as horrible as that had been, she had a feeling that watching it happen would be even worse. “I’ll take him.”
“Sweetie, you’ve done enough,” Heidi said. “I can call the neighbors.”
“It’s okay. My day is shot anyway.” She couldn’t just get on with normal life after all this, not that she had much of a normal life. Anyway, it would be quicker if she took him. “I’m here and we shouldn’t wait on this.”
“Thank you.” Fox started for the door.
“Shirt and hat, Fox,” Heidi called after him.
He made a little growl and headed into the back rooms, places she’d never seen.
“I’ll get my car turned around,” Amaranth told Heidi.
“Fox won’t let anything happen to you.” Heidi got some glasses out of a cabinet and began filling them with water. “You’re Caitlin’s friend. That makes you his people.”
She wondered what Heidi was worried about. “Where are we going?”
“I don’t know. But Fox wouldn’t have asked you to take him if he thought it wouldn’t be safe for you. Well, it might not be safe, but he’s sure he can protect you.”
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Heidi set one of the glasses in front of Mist and then took a deep drink from her own.
“Yeah.” When her friends accused her of being a drama queen, this was why. She knew it. But she couldn’t be any other way. It wasn’t that she looked for trouble or anything. She just couldn’t leave shit well enough alone. The difference that made her look slightly less stupid than most drama queens, she hoped, was that she didn’t go tearing people down, and she didn’t make a big deal when she felt sick or hurt or whatever just so she could feel alive or noticed or why-ever they did it. She tried to make things that sucked not suck as much. If that created drama, then whatever. Guilty as charged.
Hence her getting into her car, starting the engine, turning the car around, and not taking off when she saw Fox come out of the house loading a revolver with multi-colored bullets. He had a shirt and a blazer jacket with a shoulder holster that hid the revolver pretty well when he put it away, and a ballcap that made his green hair look short and blond. His eyebrows were still green but at least he didn’t look quite so otherworldly.
Amaranth waited until he buckled in before she drove up the driveway toward the road, scraping through the grapes and blackberries again. “Where to?”
“You have money for gas?” she asked.
“I have plastic. Much better than the coin of the realm.” He smiled.
“Mmm hmm.” She turned westward onto the road and drove on the edge of her comfort zone. She didn’t know how long Mist had, and Beaverton was a long ways away.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Nanowrimo is Eating My Brain! (Ongoing)

I must be in the midst of Nanowrimo because:

Today I subsisted on peanut butter and marionberry jam sandwiches and peach turnovers.
While I worked on fixing up the chicken coop, I plotted my next move in my novel.
While I stabilized the fuel in our lawnmowers, I plotted my next move in my novel.
While I put tarps over our pickup truck and the shelving next to the shed, I plotted my next move in my novel.
While I talked with my DH on the phone, we discussed how close we are to be able to subsist on our writing, so that I can write full time.
We also discussed upcoming literary conventions.

And now that it's getting dark outside and I've gotten most of my outside chores done:

I restarted my computer because it was moving too slowly and backed up my novel.
Put dinner in the oven, a ham and sweet potatoes, because they're quick to put in, low maintenance and I can let them roast while I do other stuff (write)
And last but not least, I decided I'd better blog, and what better to blog about than how Nanowrimo has eaten my brain!

I have one more day off before I return to my job tomorrow. It's the perfect storm for (possibly) reaching 50,000 words before the end of the week.

Oh, and eek, I'd better get my garbage out tonight. Don't want to interrupt my early morning writing session, my most productive of the day, by having to go take the garbage to the curb before the collectors show up.

Happy writing, all!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

To 'Have' a Backyard Chicken

I used to be one of those people, who, when they see chickens or a llama, or whatever living critter, say "I would like to have that."

Okay, I'm still one of those people. I'd still like to have some more goats. (I'm crazy that way.)

But now I know what it really means to 'have' animals. Like chickens.

See, I don't 'have' chickens. I am a slave to the chickens. I feed them, dust them for mites, change their water, clean out their enclosure, etc. Which is good and fine on nice days when I'm feeling up to it. It's not so much fun when it's freezing and windy and the waterer is frozen solid and I'm running a fever with chills and a stuffy nose and a sore throat that feels like it's bleeding and on fire at the same time. Luckily I have very few of those days. But I can't skip taking care of my birds even for one day, especially on those horrible days, because if I skip their care on a bad weather day, the chickens will have no water or food when they're most vulnerable. Most people don't think about it, but food heats you up. Calories in the blood help maintain temperature. If they're hungry, they're cold. If they have no water, they're dehydrated, and chickens dehydrate very quickly. If they try to get water through snow, they'll chill even more quickly. They'll be more prone to disease, infection, digestive or vent ailments, frostbite ... the list goes on and on.

All this adds up to suffering. It would be my fault because they're domesticated animals and they depend on me. Human beings bred them to be this way, and so human beings now provide for them.

Same with the goats. Same with the dogs and the cats, though they're a bit easier to take care of as their stuff is all inside the house or in the garage. I can take care of them in my pajamas. No such luck with the chickens and the goats. If there's snow, I'm hiking in it. If there's ice, I'm skating on it. If there's rain, I'm out there in my mud boots holding my hat on my head, wishing I had a free hand for an umbrella.

A friend of mine with horses and I got to talking and I mentioned that I used to play with Barbies, but the Barbies weren't the focus of my play. I had Breyer horses, some really gorgeous ones, and the Barbies were slaves to the horses. They took care of them, groomed them, very occasionally rode them but mostly the horses had adventures and the Barbies were there to take care of the tack.

That's how it really is, my friend told me. Somehow as a small child I discovered the truth in my play.

I read an article in the paper today about how backyard chicken owners are now discovering the harsh reality of keeping chickens, including the fact that the birds stop laying after about three years ... but live to be twenty years old. They put ads in the newspaper. Anyone want my old hen that stopped laying? She's pretty and sweet and follows me around like a dog.

The answer is no. Hell no I don't want your old chicken that doesn't lay. If I'm going to keep a chicken, I want a young one that I can raise from a cute little chick and that follows me around like a dog and who lays for me. If I choose to keep her past her laying years it's because I've developed a bond and I want her for keeps. And if I don't want her for keeps, because she's my responsibility (and because I care about her) I will give her a quick, clean death.

Some of these people turn birds loose in parks or toss them into a random neighbor's dog yard because they don't want to pay for the feed, take care of the birds, or do the decent thing, which is to kill them quickly. Better to eat them, or if you can't bear to eat your pet, bury her rather than let her be savaged by an animal or hit by a car or die from starvation and exposure.

Thus, rescue societies were born. But they're overwhelmed. What are they supposed to do with these birds? The very thing that the owners should have done in the first place. The owners are deferring responsibility because they didn't think ahead and can't face the consequences of their choices. They want the problem to just go away. Well, it doesn't just go away.

Do you really want to 'have' a chicken?

It's great if you like them. I like them. I like to watch them chase each other and hunt for goodies, and I like to carry them around, and I like their eggs and the funny noises they make when they're mad and happy and sleepy. It's great to want fresh eggs. It's okay to be crabby about taking care of them if you decide to become a slave to the chicken. But please, please, as you would (hopefully) consider carefully before adopting a dog or a cat or a rabbit, think carefully about the commitment you're making, and plan for the future. Chickens don't live as long as parrots so you probably don't have to put them in your will should you decide to keep your hens past their laying age out of gratitude for the eggs they provided and because you're fond of them. But be realistic. Will you be okay with your decision a decade down the road?

Abandoned birds don't just vanish into the atmosphere. There's nothing natural about dumping a domesticated animal in someone else's backyard. A chicken is not like a wild animal that can fend for itself. Chickens might be able to scrabble for food for a while, but they have no good defense against dogs, coyotes, or raccoons, none of which kill 'clean'. And they're really not good in the weather. Their ancestors once were. Human beings bred a lot of their survivability out of them in the process of making them bigger, meatier, and faster layers.

Whatever happens to abandoned birds is seldom better than simply slaughtering them. Presumably you want chickens because you like them. I like them too. If you like them, don't let them suffer in utter terror until something kills them. Please don't add to the growing problem of abandoned backyard chickens in urban areas. If it gets much worse, chances are that cities will stop permitting backyard chickens altogether, and that would be a shame. That spoils it for everyone. Backyard chickens are great for responsible owners who take care of them and share the fruits of their hobby with friends, families and neighbors. They're great for pest control, and they're fun. Sometimes they're like pets, and sometimes they're more like the wild birds that people like to feed and watch through their window. Some of them are really, really beautiful birds. Let's keep them around in our suburbs if we can. And if you see someone who's struggling with the backyard chicken thing, remember, offering help and advice is going to go over a lot better than berating them for having a noisy mess or for dumping their bird over your fence so your dog can pin it and slobber on it until it dies of shock. If you can't approach someone, maybe leave some educational materials on their doorstep (usually your local extension service has lots of free stuff) or contact the Humane Society. They're the experts when it comes to education and intervention.


Friday, November 15, 2013

These things I'll never say

I went to a lot of good panels at Orycon, almost always as a panelist, though I visited some that my DH was on. There were a couple that I didn't have time/space enough to say everything I wanted to say. I'm sure that was true for all of the panelists. Panels at conventions aren't meant to be comprehensive discussions of a given subject. They're supposed to be entertaining and informative. Mostly entertaining, I think.

Backstory Bedlam

What a fantastic group of insightful panelists. We didn't get a chance to talk about technique a lot. Mostly we discussed metastory – the environment of the story, and it's themes/flavor, and how authors need to bring in the necessary details without bogging the story down. I think the story's structure, especially character selection and development, are vital. If you've got a story that has a complex setting that has to come through in order for the story to make sense, or if the plot revolves a complex or obscure knowledge set, you have to somehow bring it in without boring the readers to death with the dry facts. Having a character that's an expert (not necessarily the pov character), weather incidents, equipment breakdowns (the fixing of which can reveal a lot about setting) or a naive character that needs to observe, experiment and root out information to survive all work really well to help a writer work in those necessary details. I pointed out that I like to start my books with the character in their normal, everyday setting doing normal things to ground the reader, but those normal things involve a serious problem. That problem will only help me illustrate the world in greater detail. It may have nothing to do with the main challenges the character will face, or it may end up weaving in.

Publishing Your Ebook

I think the thing that got us really going began with the first question: What's the first thing you should do before you publish your book? We discussed making certain that your audience can find your book, finding out how to put together a reasonable cover and estimating what it will cost, copyediting, formatting, and approaching publishing your book as a business. That last part is what it all boils down to, though, doesn't it? When you self-publish, you are the publisher and you have to look at all the things that publishers do. Copyediting, formatting, cover design, blurbs, back copy, ad copy, tag lines, interior design, marketing, distribution ... it's all on you, including budgeting and figuring out what it'll cost you to hire someone to do the things you don't know how to do, or how much time and money it'll cost you to educate yourself about the things you'll need to do.

Writing Believable Sex Scenes

It comes to this, folks. It doesn't have to be ultra-real, or a political statement, or normal. It has to be entertaining, use all the appropriate senses, must be paced like any other scene with its own story arch and character development, and should include telling details that will give the reader a sense that you know what you're talking about (and thereby will hold up that suspension of disbelief.)

Handling Sexuality with Dignity

The audience said they wanted to talk about the sociological aspects of sexuality, but at the end they wanted to hear more about how to be able to hold your head up high when writing about sex. I felt the panel was a lot of fun but ended up kind of muddled and unfocused. Which is fine. The takeaway points revolved around being aware of others and educating yourself. I didn't get a chance to talk about concepts like refrigerator heroines and other tropes that make gender roles unappealing at best to half (or more) of a given audience to works of fiction and media. Just finding out about this stuff helps immensely with communication in the real world and in fiction.

That sums up Friday at Orycon 35. And once again I'm up past my bedtime. G'night, all. I'll type to you again soon.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A good time was had by the young

I had a lot of great conversations this weekend at OryCon 35. It's possible to sign up for Orycon 36 right now at the hotel, and they'll have the website up to accept online preregistration very, very soon. For only $30 (price good only until Dec. 31, 2013) you can have a whole weekend of fun.

One of the reasons I enjoy going to science fiction and fantasy conventions is the opportunity to talk shop with writers at all levels of experience, skill, and stage in their career.  In fact, I had a great time interacting with a four year old writer. Yes, you read the age right. I had to dictate for him, but he wrote the story himself and signed it. In the same group, a young lady still in grade school produced a story (inside of an hour and handwritten, mind you) that had great structure and depth of emotion. Her protagonist went through a try-fail cycle, faced danger, and came through at the end. No joke, I was genuinely moved.

I'm a little too punchy, thanks in part to my late-and-then-early schedule, so I won't embarrass myself by trying to talk about various panels in a coherent fashion. But check back and I'll see what I can come up with after some sleep.

Maybe a day or two of sleep.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Nanowrimo 2013!

Quiet day off. Good timing. Orycon 35 is coming up fast (this weekend, eek!) and this time let me get my head together. I still don't know what I'm going to read. It'll be fantasy, fiction, probably a piece from a novel. I promise I won't yammer on with a big lead-in. I'm not sure if I should read from a book that's out, or from a book that's coming out early next year. My DH suggested After, so I'm going to comb through that tonight and see if I can find something that will make a good fifteen minute read. Suggestions are welcome if you've read the book!

I'm well into my Nanowrimo project, working title The Blood of Old Oak Hill. You can check up on my progress here. I'm going to try to put up a widget on the side bar so that you can cheer me on or taunt me or send me a little pep talk if it looks like I'm falling behind. Right now I'm a little ahead of the game, and at the same time, a bit behind. I'm going for 80,000 words. 50,000 is required to win. Now before you start calling me bad names, remember, this is National Novel Writing Month, and my goal is a short but professional-length novel, which starts at 80,000 words. 50,000 is still a great accomplishment and bravo if you take on the challenge and make it. But this is my 9th year and I've been writing for a while. I already know I can achieve 50,000. In fact I've made over 100,000 in a month before ... but I wasn't working a day job full time at the time. So we'll see. I'm definitely not going to be all cocky-strutty-cake-walky-attitude.

Not unless it's really funny. I might talk a good game, but deep inside I'm shivering at the memory of my office flooding right in the middle of Nano one year and falling about a thousand words short because it took so long to clean out my office (where the computer was, of course). What time I did spend writing I spent on the floor in the family room. Brrr. No, I'm not going to assume this is going to be easy. No way.

To make my goal I need to write 2667 words a day on average. Based on that, I'm behind. I'll definitely put on my writing cap and go for an hour or two before bedtime tonight. Wish me luck!

For more posts on Nanowrimo, some of them quite old, just click on the labels under the post and the magic of Blogger will hook you up. You won't see all of them because I was really sloppy with labels early on, but you should get a nice selection.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Theme of Life

I've been reminded recently that I really ought to have a theme for my blog. I've resisted this because there are so many different facets to my life, and I'd really hate to stop blogging about some of those simply because they don't fit, or fit only awkwardly into my theme. What would my blog be without mention of The Barbie Lady (who has been shopping at our store a lot lately) or the goats or my long sessions of banging my head against the keyboard while trying to learn yet another skill that I have no business learning when I should be WRITING BOOKS & SHORT STORIES.

Speaking of skills, this house is once again putting me through homeowner school, as in it's schooling me. I don't think I'm actually getting an education, but I am developing a nice case of tennis elbow without actually picking up a racket.

My DH and I surfaced the porch. My sister, mother and I put together the new framework for the porch together, oh, about three years ago now. You see, the porch foundation collapsed so that it leaned to the right on the way in to the house, and then the stairs fell apart, and off to the side, part of the porch completely rotted through and our sitting window is currently supported by about 4" thick of crumbling wood. The 4" may be generous. Anyway, the idea was to rebuild the porch, jack the sitting window, put in a new support under said sitting window, and put siding to cover and protect the new support and continue that siding around the rebuilt porch for a beautiful and shiny new front face for our house. At the time I began this project, I figured it'd take the summer.

Three years after putting together the new framework and reinforced foundation for the porch, My DH and I cashed in about a million Home Depot gift cards we'd been saving up for this, pried up the temporary (ha) surfacing which will become the frame for my (someday) greenhouse (at this rate I might build it in about five years ....) and now we're walking on pressure-treated 2x6 boards instead of a mixture of juniper 2x4s (yes, you read that right, juniper! Smells so good!), pressboard and cinderblock. The dogs hardly know what to do with themselves without the dangerous gaps to fall into and with plenty of room for their food bowls. And, bonus, it's much harder for them to set up a dog block on the way to the door, forcing their owners to stop and pet them before they're allowed to pass. That's not a bonus for the dogs. Just me. And I almost always stop to pet them anyway, but usually only if I'm not balancing three arms worth of groceries in just my two.

Such times are of course when the dogs need love and affection the most. Because if I'm not carrying anything heavy or awkward, clearly I shouldn't be bothered.

I plan to put up the rails around the porch as soon as possible. I wonder if ASAP will be measured in days, weeks, months or years this time.

I guess my theme, if I have one, is how people do the best they can with the resources they have, and my premise is that even when things are tough and nothing works out the way you've planned, just the act of creating and working on problems and living is worth writing about. In the future I may change my mind. This might turn into a DIY blog, or a writing blog, or whatever. Until then, you can expect ongoing stories about pet spiders living in my kitchen window, escaped goats, crazy gardening, weird customers at the store, observations about the seasons, and all the other stuff I've written about over the years.

Coming up: Orycon 35, book releases from Wyrd Goat Press, vanishing websites, adventures with paint (I'm now the proud owner of a quart of flat interior lavender paint) and the great bulb planting of fall 2013. Unless something else more interesting comes up.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

OryCon 35 Schedule

I'll be a panelist at Orycon again this year. Yay! Here's my schedule:

Friday, Nov. 8

noon Backstory Bedlam
     I love backstories. They make good short stories later on when I'm obsessively thinking about a book I've already finished and published and can't touch and then a character's backstory just has to, must be told! Knowing that's a possibility keeps me from vomiting every last detail onto the page.

2pm Publishing Your Ebook
     Apparently I'm moderating this monster. I think my main job will be to make sure that the panelists talk slowly enough for the audience to take notes. I'm thinking about bringing a handout. Finding good info about ebook publishing from amid the vast hoards of people trying to make money on formatting books for you and people who do a terrible job but think they do a fantastic job and want to tell you exactly how to do it like they do, not to mention the folks who publish their stuff before it's really ready ... yeah, it's a mess. We'll get you on the right track, don't worry.

5pm Choose a Monster and Write Their Story
     This should be totally fun, and if you don't think so, you're a poopyhead who has cruelly smothered your inner monster. Er, child, I meant child. It'll be a great way to shake loose the last vestiges of the everyday world and get into the spirit of the con.

10pm Writing Believable Sex Scenes
     Let's just start with the basics of how to not make your reader laugh unless you intend them to laugh during your character's passionate moment of pleasure (or plunge into intimate darkness) and go from there, okay?

Midnight Handling Sexuality with Dignity
     I have no idea why they think I'm qualified to talk about dignity, but I'm game for putting on my serious face to talk about whatever, wherever and with whoever in what position ... while being respectful or at least aware of the audience.

Saturday Nov. 9

11am Political Systems in SF
     Game on! I'm excited about this one. Greek forum in a virtual arena anyone? How about the economics behind feudalism driving the political power granted to a particular senator? What about a true democracy via text messaging your vote and the unintended, (evil, naturally) consequences.

5pm Science and Spirituality
     I'm actually dreading this one a little bit, which means it should be an exciting panel. I can't be the only pagan to study physics ... am I?

6pm The Kami and Rory Show
     Actually, this is a half-hour reading slot that my DH and I share. May be prefaced a sparring match to see who goes first. There may be chocolate but you have to show up on time or it's gonna be all gone. I haven't decided what to read yet. If I remember closer to the con, I'll clue y'all in.

9pm Keeping it Clean – or at least not so dirty
     I love this topic. It's all about the bad words that only comedians are supposed to use in public. Let's get real and use the whole language, and maybe some other languages ... and try not to embarrass ourselves too much. Have you seen the Veronica Mars episode where she's at the college and the college guy who uses Frack instead of F*ck? Her expression and reaction? Yeah. That's what you're up against, SF writers.

10pm Smut, Gore and More
     Probably my favorite panel of the con. This is where I get a little political and thrash against the confines of American culture. But also, I'd like to see some discussion about sex, violence, and the glorification thereof.

Midnight Fifty Shades of Dreck
     I keep meaning to read it. Really I do. But what I think we're mostly going to talk about is sex (again, I know!) Non-vanilla sex. Don't get me wrong, I like vanilla ....

Sunday Nov. 10

10am  Infrastructure
     In fiction. Sewers or lack thereof, agriculture, air scrubbers ... why does every protagonist in a futuristic society have to be a scientist, a cop or a teacher? Let's get some air scrubber engineers in there, or a garbage hauler.

3pm Gardening in Fantasyland
     OMG, fantasy horticulture. Heaven! Plus, if you want, bring your real-world gardening questions and I'll try to answer them. BTW, my amarylis is like four years old now and it's soooo big, and my orange tree has two proto-oranges on it. I love this growing season! It's so long, and firm, and soon at the end it'll begin to glisten with moisture ....  Oops. Sorry. This is *not* a panel about sex or violence or use of profanity. It's about plants. My obsession. My guilty pleasure. It'll be a great way to wrap up the con. And if no one shows up to listen, I'll be there on my laptop working on a book or plant geeking with a fellow panelist or two if they're obsessed like me.

I think that's everything. I've got a really busy schedule.

BTW, if you're a panelist and you *don't* have a busy schedule and you want one for next year, here's what you do:

You volunteer for every conceivable panel you would deign to attend, and if you're only vaguely interested, rate it low, which I think is high. Check the scale. It's at the top of the page. Lots of panelists pick 5 for their favorite when 5 actually means that you'll do it if they drag you to the panel and chain you to the chair. Also, send programming a note if you'd like to do a special presentation, and be sure to check the reading and/or autograph session boxes if they're there, even if it looks like it's intended for someone else. That will at least start a dialogue with programming.

Be available all day every day if at all possible.

Suggest panels right after you fill out the form.

Speaking of the form, fill it out early and often, and if you've had trouble with the form going through in the past, send an email asking if they got it.

Most panelists who have trouble getting on panels pick the five panels they want to do, and are available for maybe six hours on Saturday and four on Sunday. That will usually get them zero panels, or one. Not because programming is punishing them, but because you won't be the only person on the panel, right? And all other sorts of people will also want to be on the panel, and their schedules will have to be juggled with yours, and if all theirs match up for 6pm and you said you're only good until 6pm ... you'll get bumped off because the panel ends at 7pm. The other thing that kills their schedule is if only one or two other people volunteer for the panel, and all three of you have such divergent schedule needs and conflicts that the only person available for the panel is you. Then the panel won't happen. If you love a panel idea so much that you're willing to do it as a solo presentation, again, email programming so that they know that.

I think I volunteered for half the panels being offered this weekend, and I made myself available until 2am. As a result ... here I am.

See you at the con!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Kevin the Spider

My DH is home, gammon is on, and life is good.

Like a lot of writers we know, our good life is, well, a little ... different.

I'm a long-time arachnophobe. Had to train myself out of completely freaking out, as in jumping around squealing, just so I could walk through the woods to the bus stop in the mornings. You see, orb weaver spiders, especially the ones that reach that nice, big, mature size, need a lot of room to make their webs, and besides, how else can you capture humans in order to suck their brains out through their eyeballs and lay eggs in their ears unless you build a web all the way across a people path?

I had an orb weaver in my kitchen window for a while. I called her Michele, a coworker terrified of spiders. Sadly, Michele, after getting really, really huge, got very weak one day and fell into the sink. Rather than let her stagger around in there, knowing she probably couldn't cling to her web anymore, I let her go outside, figuring she was done for. They only live a year, and she was long past that. I was sad. Me! An arachnophobe! But she never wandered from the window (except that one, sad, last time) to suck my brains out through my eyeball and never laid eggs in my ear, and for that reason, I was fond of her.

I had great plans to clean the window, but then Kevin moved in, named for a coworker who also doesn't like spiders. Kevin built one of those cobwebby-webs right under Michele's old, now tattered home. Kevin got big, and then I realized Kevin was probably a girl. Kevin vanished for a while, and then I found Kevin outside ... and figured out it was actually probably Kevina and she'd slipped through the window crack and couldn't get back in.

Now I have another Kevin, who appeared to have moved into Kevina's web. I knew it was a different spider, because he was smaller. Emphasis on the was. Once again, I'm fond of the fact that every day I go into the kitchen and Kevin is nicely staying put, eating flies that normally would bounce off the kitchen window and walk all over my nice food while I'm cooking. Now Kevin is even bigger than Kevina was. I mist his (better be a boy and not lay eggs!!) web every morning to make sure he doesn't get dehydrated.

Here he is:

I'll get a better picture of him later. He comes out quite often to bask in the sunshine and gloat over the corpses of his enemies.

I never thought to have a pet spider. Actually, I don't think that Kevin is so much a pet as he is a neighbor. He's a very good neighbor. Unlike that OMG creepy thing that descended from the ceiling right next to my DH while we were starting to get frisky ... talk about killing a mood!

I knew, just knew that nasty thing would have sucked my brains right out of my eyeball given half a chance. I fled. My DH bravely fought it off and killed it after an epic battle. He's my hero.

Kevin would never do that. Never.