Thursday, December 20, 2007

A little holiday music

I've been collaborating with a gentleman who goes by the name Wal4u at iCompositions (along with his son, Wal4uJr). We've done two duets in a holiday theme so I thought I'd share them with you.

The first is Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and it's nice and jazzy.

The second is Baby, It's Cold Outside. I really like the way this one came out.

Have a listen, drink something warm and inebriating, and have yourself a jazzy little Christmas!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Happy Birthday

Today is my birthday. When you have a birthday in December it tends to get wrapped up in Christmas and the new year. People like to give you "combination" birthday and Christmas presents. And you are a year older very near when the world is also a year older (in a calendar sense of the word, of course). It's a time for introspection and resolutions, for family and friends.

For me, this is also one of those nasty "decade" birthdays that appear to exist simply to make a person feel old. It's doing its job well. Of course, it doesn't help that there's a very high decibal party next door with loud music, shouting 20-yr-olds (it's really just conversation, but it's so loud that shouting is the only way to communicate. I know because I popped in last year and nearly went deaf). They share a wall with me and there is a small hallway leading to their front door where one of my windows is. No way to temper that noise level.

No one local is doing anything for my birthday but I've already gotten a great gift from one of my best friends. I also know there will be phone calls from my mom and brothers today, as well as cards.

I'm now going to bake myself a cake. No candles needed. I know how old I am.

Friday, December 14, 2007

5 random or weird things about me

I have been tagged and need to give 5 random or weird facts about myself. Here’s how it works:

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

I was tagged by Dawn over at It Had to be Said (she's also the wise and mysterious tarot card reader I mentioned before in this blog.) Okay, here's my list and let me figure out whom to tag next. Hmm...

1. I am double-jointed. My hands are especially double-jointed and although this was loads of fun as a kid (I could do bizarre things with my thumb and fingers as they bent in unnatural ways -- the pose in the photo at left is something I call "cauliflower hand". It's quite unatractive in person, though it does have a fascinating "Escher-like" quality to it, don't you think?.) eventually it led to me getting trigger finger. That stopped my career as a technical illustrator in aerospace. No biggie because I really wanted to pursue voice acting at the time anyway.

2. I was a huge fan of Barbra Streisand when I was a little girl. I had all her albums and used to listen to them every day and sing along in front of a mirror. I bought my very own record player (a cheap yellow plastic beauty) for $40, using all of my savings, birthday and Christmas money. I used to put the speakers next to my ears and lie under the small record stand, pretending I had headphones.

3. I took a year off of college between my sophomore and junior year, worked as a member of a grounds crew at a resort, then as a factory worker at Carnation Co. and finally as a parts finisher in a fiberglass company to earn money for six months. I then spent the next 6 months back-packing through Europe with two friends. It was the adventure of a lifetime.

4. I can crochet. I've crocheted a number of afghans and 'lapghans' for myself and for friends and family. I can also crochet lace and have made pieces for several friends. I learned how to crochet lace when I visited my relatives in Norway during that European trip I mentioned in #3. You can see a sample of my lace in the photo.

5. I have a fantastic family. I constantly hear about the difficulties friends and acquaintances have with mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters and I feel completely blessed. I adored my father, who died too young. I get along great with both of my brothers. And my mother is my favorite person on the planet. I adore and admire her to the depths of my soul. It isn't that we don't have differences in my family. We do. But what matters to us isn't what separates us, but what holds us together. I feel for anyone who has difficulties in this area. I figure I just won the lottery when I was born.

There are my five random and/or weird personal facts. They look more random than weird to me. I guess I'm just too normal for interesting weirdness. Well, except for that double-jointed thing. It can get weird.

And now, here are my five unsuspecting victims:

Laura Hamby, romance writer and chocoholic who can be found at Laura Hamby's Musings of a Chocoholic Romance Novelist

Amelia Elias, paranormal romance writer without shame whose blog is This Wasn't In The Job Description

Grace Tyler, romance writer and businesswoman who can be found at Grace Tyler

Fred Sandsmark, professional writer, independant businessman, a possible relative (we don't actually know, though probably not) and a fine human being who has many blogs including Fred Sandsmark's Blog


Ed Pahule, technical writer and novelist whose blog is worth reading at Upon Reflection

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Give Blood

Today I donated blood at the Red Cross. I'm type O-, the univeral donor. Hospitals always need a big supply of O- so the Red Cross has special incentives for us. Depending on how much we give, we can get t-shirts, jackets, etc. Last year, I donated my prize back to the Red Cross. I'm just in it for the free cookies. (Well, not really but my donation center does have Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies -- not too shabby).

If you're able to give, consider donating some blood. I stopped at 7-11 prior to going to the donation center and talked the clerks into donating. It doesn't take much time and your donation can save up to 3 lives. Pretty easy way to be a hero, don't you think? G'won, give it a try. Call 1-800-GIVE-LIFE (1-800-448-3543) or visit their website and make an appointment. Free cookies and juice -- can't beat that!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Absolute Write Blogchain #13: Give Peace a Chance

The December Absolute Write blogchain (lucky number 13) has begun and tag, I'm it! Kat, over at A thoughtful life wrote about making lists, something I do occasionally. They tend to frustrate me because I'm forever not doing at least one item on my lists. Then Gillian over at Gillian's Food History talked about cheating in order to accomplish the day's tasks. Tina at Getting Confused and Coming All Undone took up the idea of food as a source of nurturing and the difference between gardeners and flowers (care-givers vs. care-givees). Then it was a smooth punt to me.

I suppose if my thumb were even the slightest shade of green (and it isn't. I'm a notorious plant-killer) I would probably try to make the flowers and weeds get along, claiming there's enough sunshine and water for everyone. I have a peacemaker streak in me that doesn't remain silent for long.

Online flame wars can be a lot of fun to watch, as long as you're not involved. However, if the subject is something close to your heart they can be very unsettling. Without the visual cues of body language and the aural clues of tone of voice, we are left with only the printed word. Words can hurt (that sticks and stones axiom never did make a lot of sense to me).

I've mediated a lot of flame wars but rarely take part in them. Last night, was quite a struggle. On a message board I belong to a member was denigrating the striking writers in the WGA (hence, last night's post). His arguments were filled with falsehoods, basically called writers lazy money-grubbing leeches (and the multi-billion dollar studios and producers were made of cotton candy and angel dust and deserve to keep those extra four pennies of profit or else he won't get good special effects in his entertainment. Quite an interesting take on things, huh?).

I desperately tried to stay out of the thread, but like a Godfather film, it kept pulling me back in. I did my best to keep my responses short and tried to end the flood of anti-writer posts that ensued. I'll admit, it hurts when people you considered nice intelligent men call you and your profession a string of invectives simply because they're going to have to watch reruns for a bit. That is, of course, at the heart of the argument. "I want my TV!" Well, shoot, so do I. But some things are more important than sitting through a rerun.

Yeah, I failed at my peacemaking mission. When I'm sitting squarely in the crosshairs, it's not my job to make peace. I either have to remain silent, burn people to a crisp or do my best to control my responses. I did the latter. I suppose that's the way it always is. If you're a nurturing person, you do it as much as you can but there will always be those who refuse the help. If you're a peacemaker you will occasionally find yourself in the middle of the war, much as you hate to be there. In the end we can't control everything around us. Lists won't do it. Food won't do it. Gardens won't do it. Peacemaking won't do it. Life will always throw you the occasional ringer.

And now let's see if Jen over at So You Want to be a Chic Chick can handle this ringer I've thrown at her. Take it away, Jen!

Here's the list of the blogs in the chain. Go read'em all and comment!

A Thoughtful Life

Gillian's Food History

Getting Confused and Coming All Undone

Life in the Middle

So You Want to be a Chic Chick


Twisted Fantasies

It Had To Be Said

Finding Boddie

Virtual Wordsmith

Random Acts of Unkindness

Chocolate for Your Brain

Virginia Lee: I Ain't Dead Yet!

The WGA Strike

I'm a member of the WGA (the Writer's Guild of America) and right now, we're on strike. I've found there's a lot of misinformation out there and wanted to get some of the facts out instead of the made-up crazy stuff. Here's a great video that explains it very well.

Friday, November 30, 2007

I made it!

Today is officially the last day of NaBloPoMo and I made it! I posted every single day throughout the month of November. Now, I'm going to take a wee break while I work on some things that need my attention. It's been an interesting experience posting every day. Have to admit, not many people are reading this blog so it makes all the work I've done seem rather silly. Yes, I put thought into every post, found or created images, tried to think of interesting things to say, but I just couldn't find a way to get decent numbers. No problem. I will continue to post on Comic Books Revisited every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The next story (the one that begins Monday) is a must-read Lois Lane. She turns herself into a black woman in order to experience prejudice. It's pure 1970s relevance, can you dig it? Please join me for this wonderful bit of pop culture history.

Meanwhile, please enjoy the Holy Chip auction below. It's cornalicious! And consider clicking one of those book links to the right -- they make great gifts! If you know a cat-lover, "The Wisdom of Yo Meow Ma" is my personal recommendation.

Until then NaBlo NaBlo, as Mork never said!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Holy Chip Auction

Awhile back I promised to post my infamous Holy Chip Auction. Below is the auction in full as it appeared on eBay. Well, close to how it appeared. The formatting didn't fit the blog so I had to make some adjustments. But all the text and photos are here. Remember: I'm not making fun of religion. I'm making fun of people who rely on false visions in grilled cheese as opposed to the true residence of God, in each and every one of our hearts. Enjoy!

Only once in a lifetime does something so miraculous arrive in the guise of a lowly tortilla chip. For lo, out of a bag of Tostitos® brand tortilla chips did I behold the breathtaking beauty of the Blessed Virgin Mary, praying serenely, the folds of her long, flowing sleeves covering her pious hands. I knew instantly that I had received a Divine message from God on High: "Go forth and sell this Holy Chip on ebay!" He said unto me. Now, it is your turn to own this Miraculous Snack Food.

At first, I merely marveled at the size of the chip. It was as thick as dozens of other chips put together. Half the bag's weight appeared to be tied up in this one, amazing chip. I knew then that this was no ordinary factory error. The mere touch of this mighty Chip of Destiny was enough to make me speak in tongues as I repeated over and over, "Tostito! Tostito! Not Dorito but Tostito!" It was a humbling and rare experience.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Knowing then that the Blessed Salted Wonder was not some oddity to be unceremoniously masticated, I searched its craggy features for the message hidden within. "Looks kinda like a cowboy boot," I murmured, examining the back of the chip. "Or maybe a snooty guy with a really big nose." But yea verily, these seemed so ordinary, so mundane for a chip with supernatural girth. I knew I had to look deeper for its meaning.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Turning the chip over in my trembling hands, I allowed my chili to get cold and my Diet Rite Cola to go flat. So enraptured was I when I first laid eyes on the visage engraved by a Holy Hand onto the face of the chip. "Holy Mary, Mother of God..." I gasped as her serene features made themselves plain before me.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I saw her hands raised in supplicance, her mouth open, as if whispering a prayer or singing a hymn. With a slight turn in angle I saw the baby Jesus resting in her arms, as she sang him to sweet sleep.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Another view and her mouth closes, her prayers now silent and beseeching. Quickly, I made a tiny bible to place in her upstretched arms, so that she could read her son's biography.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Glancing at the back of the Sacred Tostito® again, the form of a woman emerged before my wondering eyes. I needed no more proof.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I was infused with peace as I held the Holy Snack, knowing that I had been chosen from out of so many chip-munching minions, to be the vessel of this Blessed Sign.

But, why me? Why was I the Chosen Disciple? I don't know. I could say it was because my husband left me alone to raise our 15 children on the meager $27 a month I earn collecting aluminum cans, but I don't have a husband or children, nor do I have a job in the recycling business. I might think it was because I recently survived a near-death experience and walked through a tunnel of light toward my Lord and Master, but nothing like that has ever come close to happening (although I did have a near-life experience recently when I had lunch with a friend). Am I a poverty-stricken product of society's uncaring indifference? Well, I'm broke, if that helps. But I have too much pride to play upon your pity. Bid not to help your wretched fellow human being – Bid because YOU are the rightful owner of the Blessed Chip! Bid because only YOU deserve to bask in its Unearthly Aura of Cornicious Beauty! Bid because no matter what you think of me or of my auction, the chip really is unusually chunky and does indeed possibly maybe have the sublime countenance of the Virgin Mary etched in its salted surface.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

The Sacred Tostito® bag was purchased in Los Angeles (the City of Angels – how apropos) in a special edition USC Trojan bag. Although Trojans ordinarily prevent conception, this particular chip was born anyway. Dare I say, "Intelligently Designed?" Okay, I won't. Search not for Sacramental Salsa or Nativityish Nacho Cheese, for this chip was not immaculately conceived for such ordinary things. It was meant to bestow upon its owner a true and sacred blessing. Art thou the Pious Picante that canst dip deep into thy wallet for this Hallowed Chip of Righteousness?

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Or you could bid 'cause it looks kinda like a cowboy boot. Your choice.

A note about shipping: It's $5.00 for priority mail, insurance optional (and based on the Final Market Value of the Blessed Tostito®). I will offer insurance, but cannot mark in the amount until I know the price for which this one-of-a-kind Heavenly Snack Food sells. Please ask for insurance, if you so desire it, at the end of the auction. I'd suggest you get it due to the somewhat fragile nature of this unique item.

All Tostito® brand Heavenly Blessed Chip sales are 'as is' and there are no returns.

I hereby swear on a stack of bibles (real ones, not tiny fake ones) that I did nothing to alter, shape, or in any way impose my will upon this very special Tostito® brand tortilla chip. It is exactly as I found it in the original packaging – which, by the way, had almost no chips in it because this one was so heavy. Total ripoff.

I accept Paypal or Money Orders. No personal checks, please!
If a personal check is sent, there will be Hell (and possible brimstone) to pay.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


A couple of days ago I mentioned the rune book I'd written. If you look on the right side, you'll also several books about cats and dogs. When I was growing up, we always had a dog. They're a fantastic pet and I love them dearly. But when I moved away from home and got an apartment, cats seemed a better choice for a pet. I had two cats, sisters, and they were some of the dearest friends I've ever had.

You can read the story of Trace and Ilsa on my website. I shared a bond with those two that was deeper than I'd ever felt with another animal. We were constant companions and adored each other, all three of us. When Ilsa passed away, Trace and I turned to each other in our grief (and if anyone tries to convince you that animals don't feel grief, they're full of it).

Am I one of those crazy cat ladies? Maybe a little. I miss my girls terribly. For awhile, I couldn't even consider getting another pet. But now I really want a kitten. Unfortunately, I can't afford one right now. I don't mean I can't afford to buy a kitten – there are free kittens if that were the case and I never go for pure breeds anyway. I mean that pets take resources. Food, litter, and vet bills all add up. It would be irresponsible of me to take on a pet without the finances to fully support her.

So I wait. When I sell another book, the first thing I'll do is get a kitten. Not that selling another book will make me rich or anything. But it would make me feel a little bit better about taking on the responsibility. Until that time, I'll go on missing that extra heartbeat in the room, those sweet soft purrs, and the feel of downy fur under my fingertips. Now go hug your pet!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Geriatic computers

Apple has just launched their newest operating system, Leopard. It looks absolutely amazing. I watched the guided tour and drooled all over my keyboard. So am I going to buy it? The primary problem is that my Mac is over 3 years old. For most things, that wouldn't matter at all. In the world of computers, it's retirement age.

I've read the system requirements and I could install Leopard if I can open enough room on my hard drive. That's one of my biggest problems right now. My hard drive is almost maxed out. Whenever you buy a new computer the space available seems outrageously huge. "I'll never fill that up, yay!" But reality is that applications keep getting bigger and bigger, gobbling up gigabytes like a hippo in a hay field. Enormous applications often make gigantic files, too. I love the program Garageband (it's what I use to record my music) but the song files are so big it eats up a huge amount of space. Photos are another byte muncher, as are videos and games.

I have a back-up drive and that's where I store the files I don't need to access immediately. But the process of dumping files is a tedious one. Still, it's not impossible so I probably could find the room to install the new system software.

But the problems of having an old computer multiply. It's slow compared to the newer models, holds a max of 1 gig of RAM (yes, I've already maxed out on that) and now RAM requirements keep rising. I'm out of warranty, with a full hard drive, maxed out RAM, and a slow processor. I'm in a position where I have to watch the world surpass me as I type on my dinosaur.

On a positive note, it still works, so I'm very grateful for that. I can't afford a new computer so I'll continue to nurse this one along, trying to stay up to date. When you live on your computer as I do, this is all serious stuff. Without it, I can't earn a living. Geriatric or not, as long as I get that happy Mac face every day, I can keep on keeping on.

Monday, November 26, 2007


As you can tell by the list of books I've written, I wrote a book about runes (Explore Your Destiny with Runes: Reveal the Secrets of Your Future with this Ancient Divination System). This was not a scholarly treatise, rather it was about using runes as a prognostication device or oracle. It is, as they say, "for entertainment purposes only." Truth is, I do find this sort of thing entertaining. But it can also point to things that may be under the surface, or shine a light on areas that don't currently have your focus.

When I heard about Miss Michele's Taro Blog I had to give it a try. The reading gave me a lot to think about. It's obvious she takes a lot of time, uses great insight, and thinks through what the cards tell her. She's knows her tarot, that's for sure. I don't know much about it myself, but am always interested in seeing how other people interpret their chosen method of prognostication. I know when I wrote the rune book, I used a lot of source material to get the basics but added and interpreted using my own sense and instinct. Writing a book is different from doing an individual reading because the former has to apply to everyone while the latter is specific. Still, they both require a leap. You have to trust yourself and whatever message is coming through.

I'm a pretty grounded person and I don't believe in everything, but to me, these tools are more about focus than hocus pocus. We all have so many things vying for our attention. Sometimes it's important to take a step back, ask for help, and listen when something presents itself. By putting the spotlight on one possible path, we can choose whether that path is a good choice. I thank Miss Michele most sincerely for shining that light for me and for a good friend. We both got a lot out of the readings.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A little music

On this lazy Sunday after Thanksgiving, I'll give you a little jazz song called Rainy Day. On the piano is Mori Behar, on the sax is Ilya Gerasimenko, I do vocals. Mori sent me the piano track, I found a melody and wrote the lyrics. After I added vocals it went to Ilya for sax. Mori then added drums and bass and did the final engineering. I hope you enjoy the song!

P.S. I tried to embed the file but although I came close, it simply didn't work in the end. Therefore, if you click the link above it should take you to a Quicktime file of the MP3.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Malibu is on fire again

It's always a horrible feeling to wake up and see that Southern California is yet again burning. This time it's Malibu and possibly some part of San Diego. The local coverage was all about Malibu (photos are from the L.A. Times). 35 homes burned so far, an enormous wall of smoke and thousands of acres destroyed. They don't yet know the cause but the subtext was a strong suspicion it was arson.

I don't understand the minds of arsonists. I don't understand how anyone can get pleasure out of seeing nature, homes, and people destroyed. There are a lot of people whose brains are wired wrong. Or maybe it's some childhood trauma. I don't know. I just know that I hope the penalty for arson on this scale takes away the person's ability to ever set a fire again.

To the people of Malibu, my heart goes out to you.

Friday, November 23, 2007

A Peanut Brittle Christmas

Thanksgiving is over; Black Friday has arrived. I wouldn't go anywhere near an actual store today, but back when I was a kid, the big "shopping for Christmas presents" day was enormously important to me.

Every year when I was a kid, my family made homemade peanut brittle that we sold to make Christmas money. It was a recipe passed down from my maternal grandmother. Mom was in charge of the operation and we kids helped make the peanut brittle, prepare the cans (we used coffee cans, which people would donate to us all year round. We'd wash and then paint them in Christmas colors), make labels, and do the deliveries. We hand delivered every pound, collected the money and put it in a little wooden box, as well as enter the amounts in our accounting ledger.

The business started small but grew every year. Everyone in town appeared to be hooked on our peanut brittle, and to be fair, it was worth getting hooked on. It was by far the best I've ever tasted and that's what our customers told us, too. Soon, they relied on us for Christmas gifts. It was a great gift for all those people you don't want to spend a ton of money on (it was very reasonably priced) but want to give a little something. According to our customers, lots of out-of-town friends and relatives received it, as well.

At a certain point, it became a bit overwhelming. We had so many orders we were cooking nonstop. The thing about making peanut brittle is that once you put the raw peanuts in the pan, you have to stir nonstop until it's done. So this wasn't like cookies, where you put them in the oven and don't interact until you take them out. This was hands-on work. One of our secrets was that we pulled the brittle to make it thin (you haven't tasted good peanut brittle until you've tasted the homemade, pulled stuff). This meant we weren't done after stirring. When it was ready to pour we had to time it exactly (not by a clock, but by instinct) to know when it was exactly right for pulling. It was still extremely hot and to avoid getting burned was quite the trick.

When we got to critical mass as far as orders went, we had to make a decision. Do we "go pro" (rent a factory and gear up for professional candy-making) or do we quit cold turkey. We decided to quit. My brothers and I all had jobs or were in college, so the old "make your Christmas money by selling peanut brittle" reason was gone. Mom was tired of the business, too. (Everyone who worked the business got an equal share of the profits. As kids, this allowed us to buy presents with money that we'd earned, so that we'd understand value and generosity. We were also required to give a portion to charity, to foster altruism.)

Our customers were devastated when we quit. They begged and cajoled and pleaded for peanut brittle, but Mom was adamant. It was no more. For years former customers would continue to ask for "just a pound or two" but Mom usually turned them down. If you do it for one, the word could get out and then we'd be inundated with calls.

Even to this day, Mom still gets asked. In fact, despite having been out of the business for decades, last Christmas I made a couple of batches for a former neighbor (and mother of my best friend growing up). Mom's will to resist had eroded enough to promise my services while home for the holiday. I hope she didn't tell anyone (and that no one back home reads my blog).

As much work as it was, it taught me a great deal when I was a kid. We never received a dime from our parents for Christmas shopping. When we went on our annual shopping trip (which was usually a week or so before Christmas because we had to get all the orders filled and paid for first), the money I spent was mine. I earned every cent of it. It made me really think about the gifts I bought. It also made giving every bit as important as receiving, even at a tender age. That's a lot of life lessons gleaned from making candy.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Every year for Thanksgiving I go to a friend's house and get treated like family. There's always a spectacular meal, great company, and deep affection for all involved. I usually hitch a ride with some friends because the hostess's house is around an hour and a half away and my car is old and has some things that need to be fixed. This year, my ride isn't going. That means I can't go. It saddens me not to be able to see my friends, share good food and conversation, but sometimes life is like that. Hopefully, I'll be able to attend next year.

Here's hoping everyone who celebrates Thanksgiving has a great day and for those of you who don't, well, have a good time anyway. Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

We need National Health Care

I just got a notice that my health care is going up again this year. In 2006, it was around $300 a month. Expensive, but it was good insurance and because of pre-existing conditions, it was my only option. I have group insurance through an organization for the Entertainment Industry. Paid quarterly, it was around $900 every 3 months. That's around $3,600 per year.

In 2007, they hit us with a bombshell. It more than doubled to a whopping $700 a month, or $2100 quarterly, or over $8000 a year. One would think that this outrageous increase would be illegal or at least catch someone's attention. Apparently, this only happened in California. No reason to care – it's a blue state.

I just received the notice about next year's rates. Again, it's only California. $1030 per month, around $3100 per quarter, over $12,000 a year. And believe it or not, that's the cheapest one on the list. If I lived in San Diego or San Francisco it would be much higher.

What's shocking to me is that this can go on and no one in government cares. Instead of throwing out the broken insurance and medical industry and taking care of its citizens, the US continues to be the leader in backward, selfish thinking. Why do I need to pay the equivalent of my rent every month just to be free to hope I don't need to use it?

The health industry is out of control and we need someone strong enough to get into office and say, "This system is broken. Let's throw it out and start over." I know that we won't be able to fathom all of the horrors of the Bush Administration until decades have passed. We'll be paying for having allowed a dictator into office for a long time to come.

There are no guarantees any of us will live that long – not with the current state of health care in this country. Angry? Damn right I am.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

What's your guilty pleasure?

I'm not a violent person. In fact, I have a peacemaker personality. But I have a true guilty pleasure. When it comes to sports, I'm only a fan of one: boxing. Why? I have no idea.

I'm not a fair-weather fan, either. I watch everything I can find. Granted, the super-fights are the best. There's nothing in the world like two absolute masters, men in their prime, pitting their wills, skills, and talents against an evenly matched opponent.

Athleticism plays a key role (and nothing beats the body of a boxer in peak condition) but it's also a thinking man's game. Teddy Atlas, the color commentator on ESPN's Friday Night Fights and a talented trainer, has often said that boxing is "75% mental". You can almost see them thinking through the puzzle their opponent brings, using the flaws and errors to gain an advantage.

Who is my favorite boxer? That's really difficult to say. I've been a fan of Oscar De Lahoya (right) since his gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics. I loved watching Mike Tyson in his prime. Mickey Ward and Arturo Gatti gave me countless hours of great fights. I grieved when Diego Corrales was killed in a motorcycle accident because he'd always been a favorite. Roy Jones, Jr. was breathtaking when he was at his best. (He once put both hands behind his back and as his opponent began to punch, Roy managed to punch him first and knock him out. Almost superhuman speed. It was incredible.) Currently, I follow Miguel Cotto, Ricky Hatton, several of the ex-Olympians, and many more. I can't choose just one.

I won't wax poetic about all this because, frankly, I'm not used to discussing boxing with anyone. That's what a guilty pleasure is like. You quietly indulge it and hope no one's watching. So, if you have the guts to step up, tell me your guilty pleasure? I promise not to mock you. I'm far too easy a target.

Monday, November 19, 2007

What's your weirdest job?

Since I asked about strange phobias yesterday, I'll another question that might engender some interesting answers. What is your weirdest job? For me, I think the answer would be: Pea Washer. And yes, that is literally what I did. I washed peas.

One summer between my junior and senior year in college, I needed a job but my finals ran late and all the good ones were taken. So I asked Dad for help. At the time, he was Vice President of a canning company so he got me a job at one of the plants. This was in Wisconsin, so the perfect soil and excellent amount of rainfall lends itself to making some of the best crops in the country. In this case, vegetables.

I started out as a pea washer. I stood on a high, vibrating parapet and watched a large vat of water. Peas came in from outside on a conveyor belt and fell into the vat. Every 20 minutes or so I had to adjust the amount of soap or oil. The peas needed to swim around the vat for a bit and then fall to the bottom so they could continue on their journey. The mix of soap and oil had to be perfect in order to make the empty casings (that green skin around a pea) float off the top and let the peas sink to the bottom. Too much of one or the other and the peas would float or the casings would sink. There. That's more pea knowledge than you ever knew you needed.

As you can tell, there wasn't a lot to do. I stood on my walkway and vibrated. There was one more person in the room, but the machines were too loud to hold a conversation. I tried reading a book, but my boss yelled at me. Full attention must be on the peas. So I took some paper towels from the restroom (that brown paper you roll out with a lever) and started writing short stories. I could hide the pen and pretend to wipe something with the paper if my boss came by.

When the peas stopped rolling in, I became a corn cutter. On this job, I stood in front of a long machine with several other women. We all had short sticks (dowels) and when a cob got stuck in the blades, we'd poke it until it came loose. We just walked up and down the length of the machine all day, poking corncobs. We'd also get covered, head to toe, with bits of corn starch spit out of the machine when it was cutting. My clothes would be so stiff at the end of the day, I could barely bend. Another lovely job.

So what crazy jobs have you held? Can you beat pea washer and corn cutter?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

What are your strange fears?

I recently learned that a friend is afraid of toy balloons. I didn't ask her to explain exactly what she's afraid of, but I understand having weird little chinks in our armor. One of my mom's friends gets the heebie-jeebies at the sound of a clothespin on wet fabric. For me, it's filing. Not the manila folder kind of filing – nail filing.

Ever since I was a child I have been downright phobic of it. Not only can't I file my own nails, I couldn't watch or hear someone else filing theirs. Not in person and not even on television! If someone on TV was casually filing her nails I would close my eyes and sing the la la song.

You'd be surprised how many times it happens. Because nail filing is the universal symbol of boredom, TV writers and actors would take that shortcut at every turn. I missed a lot of plot if it happened too often. Whole scenes in film and TV are a blur. I barely saw any of Carol Burnett's "Mrs.-a Whiggins" sketches with Tim Conway because she filed throughout the sketches.

It is far worse, though, when it's in person. Most of my friends are understanding when I tell them of my phobia, and keep me from seeing files and emery boards. They do their dirty deed away from view. Actually, it's the 'view' thing they usually focus on, not realizing the sound of filing is just as toxic to me. Sometimes they think because my back is turned they can sneak in a quick repair. As soon as they do, I start to shake, cover my ears, close my eyes and beg them to stop.

"But you can't even see me!"
"I can hear you! Please, I'm begging, stop!"
"Okay, okay, I put it away."

One friend decided my phobia was silly, stupid, and something I'd made up. As if I'd invent something as silly and stupid as a fear of nail filing just for kicks. She refused to honor my requests to stop, would whip out a file at a moment's notice and deride me as I turned into a quivering mass of jelly. I could never understand why a small warning so that I could go to another room was such an inconvenience. I haven't seen that friend in quite awhile. It isn't because of the filing, although her attitude does show a fundamental problem.

So how do I do fingernail maintenance? I use a clipper. I'm a master at shaping and trimming nails into perfect arcs with a nail clipper. Oh, and just so you know: there's no picture of a nail file on this entry because even the sight of one gives me the heebie-jeebies. I don't want to have to avoid my own blog.

So tell me – what are your strange fears? Trust me, I won't judge you. I've had enough people judging me for mine in my life that it's the last thing I'd ever do. These little chinks in our armor may be funny to others ("How could you be afraid of that?") but they're very serious to us.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


I'm trying to learn how to juggle. So far I'm inept, but I've only just started. Juggling is one of those skills I've always wanted but never knew how to even begin. A friend (Nancy) gave me a "learn to juggle" kit, which includes a DVD and 3 juggling balls. She learned from a similar kit that I gave her a couple of years ago. It really paid off for her, as she stuck to it and bam – she learned to juggle.

Nancy came out to California to visit last year and we stopped by a "Relax the Back" store because she has some serious back problems. She was on her crutches and we found lots of good things for her.

In the center of the store was a small table with various items. Among them were "exercise balls" which were basically juggling balls. A young man spotted them as we were standing nearby talking. He picked up 3 balls and began juggling in that way young males have of showing off.

In response, Nancy balanced on her crutches, grabbed 3 balls and immediately began juggling. It was an entirely unexpected action from the young man's point of view and to his credit he instantly met her display of skill with a huge smile and a stream of compliments. It was a wonderfully satisfying moment.

Don't underestimate people who are older than you are, more infirm, or female. They might surprise you. Next time Nancy visits I want to be able to give her my own demonstration of juggling. So back to practicing I go.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Evolution vs. Intelligent Design (Creationism)

One of my passions is evolution, especially the origins of man. As a young child I was fascinated by dinosaurs. I memorized all sorts of statistics about them (I knew the length, weight, and epoch of nearly all the major species). I had a dinosaur poster in my room throughout my grade school years and I'd stare at it in fascination, dreaming of what it might have been like when they used to dominate the Earth.

I went on vacation in late September this year. I flew to Mom's and she put me to work going through old boxes of my stuff that had been stored in the basement. This included papers from 1st and 2nd grade and I found drawings of dinosaurs, stories about dinosaurs, papers about dinosaurs – you name it. Yup, obsessed.

As I grew older I switched my focus from dinosaurs to early hominids. Again, utter fascination as I read all the books I could find, watched any documentary that was on TV, etc. So it was with eager anticipation that I watched an episode of NOVA that aired Tuesday. It was about the trial in Dover, Pennsylvania caused by the school board wanting to include Intelligent Design in their curriculum. ID is basically an invented title to attempt to make Creationism appear to have it's big toe dipping in the waters of science. If they could convince the court that ID was in any way scientific, they could make a case for teaching it in the classroom without that pesky separation of church and state the Constitution insists upon.

I'm sure you can see I have my own biases in place. Although I am a Christian, I see no merit whatsoever in ID. I am not at war when it comes to religion and science. To me, they can both exist peacefully. I see no reason to pretend that only one of the two can exist in this wonderful, complex world of ours.

Evolution has 150 years of scientific examples to back it up. It's in the fossil record, in biology, observable in nature, and hard-wired into the DNA of every creature on earth. From the smallest atom to the largest creature, evolution makes sense of the variety and complexity of life on Earth. Intelligent Design sees that complexity and basically says, "That's too difficult to figure out. There must be a supernatural element at work." But for the examples they give of unknowable complexity, evolution already has an explanation of how it evolved.

The trial illuminated a myriad of examples of transitional creatures and fossils, many of which the general public has never heard of. Why? Because since the Scopes trial 80 years ago, Creationists have fought tooth and nail to keep the scientific proofs out of the textbooks our children read. I was lucky as a child, because my parents put no limits on my learning. I devoured every book the library had on the subject, read every article in science magazines, and was therefore able to see for myself the strides science was making in the field. To this day I am still utterly fascinated and devour any news that breaks in the scientific arena.

Does evolution take God out of the equation? Of course not. God is the miracle behind that equation. God is in every aspect of science. Personally, I don't care if others believe as I do. Everyone should be allowed to come to his or her own conclusions. But if you want to interfere with the Constitution and try to take God out of the churches, synagogues and mosques and into our classrooms wearing the disguise of science, then I get upset. That makes God a liar, a charlatan – wearing an ill-fitting mask. Leave science to the scientists. We need them. We need the brilliance of the human mind to help us cure diseases, fight famine, climate change, and all the other problems modern humans face. We can pray to God for help, but we still need the next generation to understand the difference between science and a theory full of smoke and mirrors.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

I'm required to think? Uh oh.

Ever have those days when your creativity is at such a low ebb you can't even write a grocery list? That's me today. When your life revolves around the ability to access your creativity every day there is usually a point when you have a minor burn out and have to take a step back. When it happens to me, I usually take a day off, play games, watch TV, do chores, that sort of thing. It's probably because it took a lot of work getting a Jimmy Olsen comic book write-up finished for my other blog.

Today, my thoughts aren't very interesting, so I decided to look in old files on the computer and see if I can find something to spark my creativity. First thing I find is this:

I like to look for faces in things. My bathroom rug is made of terrycloth, and I noticed that the pattern of the terry made a very clear face. Unfortunately, it was not the Virgin Mary or Jesus. I probably could've charged admission if one of those had shown up. No, it looked more like Bette Davis. Win some; lose some.

No sparks but dang, why didn't I take a picture? It isn't every day you see Bette Davis in a rug. I did find the Virgin Mary in a Tostitos Corn Chip once (and sold it on eBay for about $16). I love seeing all the bizarre things that get sold on eBay and it was fun to give it a shot. Granted, the Holy Chip did not make me millions, but since the whole auction was a joke I was surprised it made as much as I did. Maybe I'll post my auction here one day. Have to find the text and the photos, but it'd be worth it.

And now, off to find other gems of undiscovered weirdness like the Bette Davis rug. There are probably plenty of them, along with bits and pieces of stories. Those are always fun to read, too. Until tomorrow then!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Because It's There

I am fascinated by Mt. Everest. When I read Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster, I was riveted. Right now, on The Discovery Channel is a show called, Everest: Beyond the Limit. It's feeding my fascination for this mountain.

It isn't that I have (or ever had) any interest in climbing Everest. I did a lot of mountain climbing as a kid with my family and I was never that crazy about it. And these were just hikes in the Rockies, not technical climbing. I used to get a lot of blisters, so that probably colored my impressions of it. No, the fascination with Everest is more about the limits of being human. As a species, we're equipped for so little. No real defensive weapons. No fur. No big teeth. No gills. Yet there are very places on Earth that our feet haven't tread. Everest would have been a natural thing to avoid. The old "because it's there" philosophy is still in effect. People climb to challenge themselves. They push themselves beyond their limits (hence the title of the Discovery show) and some will make it to the top, others will fail, still others will die trying.

Perhaps it's the spectre of death that also adds to the fascination of Everest. This is never a guarantee that a person can climb the mountain and make it home alive. Over 200 people have died climbing Everest. And every year there continue to be hardy souls who desperately want to be among few who have made it.

So what things fascinate you? Things you have no intention of doing or seeing, but simply interest you as a spectator of sorts?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

PublishAmerica: A Vanity Printer in Disguise

When it comes to bad publishers, the worst is PublishAmerica. One could write a book about how bad PA is and they'd probably agree to publish it. You see, they don't read the books they accept. If their daily quota hasn't been filled, they'll accept every manuscript that comes in. Their editing appears to be an automated spellcheck that includes so many misspellings as to make it almost comical. They are print on demand, or POD, and often their books will fall apart in your hands. This is especially egregious since their prices are far above market value -- paperbacks for $30 are common among PA books. They pay their authors $1.00 advance -- why that isn't a huge clue for writers I'll never know. The advance is the only guaranteed money you'll make on your book -- and royalties. Of course, they cheat the royalties, never paying for the true number of books sold.

And who gets those sales? The author. PA's business model isn't about selling books to the public. It's about selling books to its authors. In short, it's a vanity press that claims to be a "traditional publisher". I guess that dollar makes them think they're in that club. Authors are expected to do all of the marketing for their books. The titles are available on online stores like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but you'll rarely find them on the shelves in bookstores. If you do find one, you can bet that the author personally made that happen, usually at their own expense. PA encourages authors to buy copies of their own books. That's how PA makes its money. They have over 20,000 authors and the average sales per book is about 75. When you realize that 5,000 books sold is barely a success for a small publisher, then you can understand how impossible it is to have any success with a PA book.

When authors wake up and realize what PA is, they'll often try to get their rights back. PA's contract specifies that they own the rights to your book for 7 years. That's a long time to have your baby mistreated. When authors do get their rights back through arbitration or other means, PA keeps selling their books. With absolutely no legal rights to the material, and without paying even the paltry royalties they usually send, PA continues to illegally sell the books they don't own.

There is a lot of information about PA on the web. Predators and Editors has a good write-up with lots of links and Absolute Write has an entire forum for it in the Bewares and Background Checks area. If you've got a book out with PA and you're waking up to who your "publisher" really is, check out the forum asap.

It breaks my heart to read the stories of what's happened to people who fall for these various scams. Every one of them had the dream to be a published author and that's what these sharks feed on. They know that people will do almost anything to realize that dream.

If you want to break in and are looking for an agent or publisher and something comes along that seems fast and easy, that's a huge red flag. It's not a fast and easy dream. It's not about getting a lot for very little effort. To be a successful writer you have to work hard, pay your dues, learn every day, and maybe, just maybe, the real thing will come along. It's a myth that new writers can't get published. Every writer was new at some point. 20% of books that came out this year were from new writers. It's also a myth that new writers can't get an agent. Of course they can if they have a marketable book. That's the true key to success, you see. You have to write a really good book. And if that one doesn't sell, write a better one. Keep trying, keeep getting better and eventually you'll have a genuine agent and will get published by a real publisher. It's not fast and it's not easy, but it is achievable.

Aren't your dreams worth the effort?

Monday, November 12, 2007

On Playing Games

If you know me, you already know this: I love playing games. Board games, computer games, video games, puzzles, you name it. Being very competitive, I play to win. This has lost me some game-playing partners in the past, as friends decide it's not fun to lose every single time. Although I could probably throw a game to keep a player interested, I am apparently incapable of thinking of this while a game is in progress.

When I was a kid, my family played a lot of games. We would have Tripoley night, where we'd all sit around the dining room table (not the kitchen table, where we had most of our meals, but the big "company is coming" dining room table) and play. I always got excited on Tripoley night because I loved the game, playing with my family, and feeling grown up enough to play with adults.

My mom loves playing games (Dad was more into sports than games, but he'd play sometimes, too). In January, she'll be 81 and has already pointed out that it means she won't be able to play all the games rated for ages 8-80. We're considering flaunting the rules, but agreed that she'll have to earn it. That said, I was talking to her yesterday and only after 25 minutes did I notice she was breathing a little differently. Turns out she'd been on her exercise bike the whole conversation. I was so impressed I gave her a six-month extension on the gaming age limit. Yeah, I'm that generous.

The extension is necessary because otherwise she wouldn't be able to play Rapidough with me. Rapidough is one of my favorite games. Made and sold in the UK, it's sort of like Pictionery with Play-Doh. You can play it with kids and adults and it's usually uproarious fun. Whichever team(s) loses has to remove a plug of Play-Doh. By the end, you can be playing with something the size of a pea and desperately trying to shape an oasis with it (yup, that's a real card – oasis).

For online games, I like to play on Pogo. Tons of great games on the site and they offer both a free and paid membership. With the free membership, you'll have ads, intermissions and about half the games available. Paid membership gets you an ad-free, intermission-free experience with all games available. A friend won us memberships last year (my lottery partner – she wins all the time) and I've had a blast playing the games, earning badges, playing in a league, etc. I have to be disciplined about the amount of time I spend on there, but for a quick 15 minute break, it's a blast.

My lottery-playing friend and I also enjoy playing adventure games together. We each get the game, then talk on the phone while we play, solving the puzzles together, figuring out where to go next, etc. She lives across the country, so we can't do it in person, but when she came to visit me we spent several hours playing a Nancy Drew adventure game and had an absolute blast.

One of the classic game-playing stories of my youth involved a rousing game of Jeopardy, the home version. My family still can't speak of it without gales of laughter.

Some people dismiss games as unproductive, time-wasting and trivial. Not me. Games are delightful, can be a perfect way to spend an evening with friends or family and almost always cause a lot of laughter. Laughing is one of the healthiest things you can do in life.