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14 Years of Grief

22 Jul

Fourteen years ago, I was pretty sure that my life had ended with his.  Nothing is like facing the death of your child, and I suspect it’s no different when you know that their death is inevitable due to a disease rather than the sudden swipe of some unexpected fate.

My son was my best buddy.  No, I didn’t love him more than I loved my daughter, but the whole relationship was different.  They were very different people, right from the time they were born.  There was also nearly 8 years between their births, which made me practically a different mom to each one too.

No child arrives with an owner’s manual or a warranty, but I doubt that we’d read the chapter on dealing with their deaths if it did.  It’s unthinkable, and I recently had a young father say that he couldn’t imagine losing his son, who is now 3 and my granddaughter’s playmate.

I told him not to ever imagine it.

Nobody deserves the kind of pain that goes with that happening, and imagining it is to endure a piece of the pain for no real reason.  I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

I won’t lie either.  Not to myself, not to my daughter, not to a stranger.

The pain doesn’t go away.  That vast hole in the center of your chest never gets any smaller, and the tear drops don’t stop coming.  I dread the month of July, and it gets worse as we approach the end of the month, along with the anniversary of his death.  This year has been particularly agonizing for me, as the photographs of the children murdered during the whole thing in Gaza are plastered all over the internet.

Each one rips me open again as if it was his body laying there.

My son didn’t die a violent death.  He died in his sleep.  He was my borrowed child, and I loved him with a fierceness that was only matched with the fierceness of my love for my first born, his big sister.

I can’t pretend to imagine what the parents of those dead children in Gaza are feeling.  I didn’t have anyone to be angry with.  I didn’t have anyone or anything to blame for his death.  They do.  I know there is nothing I wouldn’t do to bring him back or to even keep his sister as healthy as possible.

Nothing.

I don’t see it having a positive effect on relations between the two groups, not with dead children as a tool towards antagonism.

But it confuses me too.  How can no one care about all of those dead kids?  How can people kill their own children here in the United States?  How can they abuse and abandon them?  It’s incomprehensible to me.  I loved being mom as much as I love being grandma.

There is that.  I have a granddaughter.  My son would have been over the moon over her–she’s the picture of beauty in his mind, with long hair and a bright smile.  She’s as free with affection as her uncle was.  She even chews her nails like her uncle did at her age.  She doesn’t really look a thing like him though, she is the spitting image of her mom.

This past year, she was also the inspiration for another first post-grief step for me.  I put up and decorated a Christmas tree in my house for the first time since his death.  It was in her honor, as her mom was going to be in the hospital on Christmas day.  (We actually celebrated a day or two after The Day to let her join in the fun after she was released.)  That little girl has made the holiday fun for me again, as I look forward instead of remembering the empty spot in the room.  It doesn’t mean I don’t miss him then too, because I do.  She didn’t fill the hole, she simply brought in bright light to make it less painful, I suppose.

I get depressed as we near the month of his birth, and that is always another mountain for me to travel up and over.  April Fools Day is always accompanied by a sense of relief.  I have survived it, and while I remember his birthday always, sometimes even baking a cake, it still hurts that I have no one to hug that day.

It’s the little things that bring out the tears too.  Power rangers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a brown eyed boy with a Dutch boy haircut, a boisterous boy pretending to do martial arts as he dances around his mother, a shy smile, or someone playing the first episode from Star Wars with the boy Annakin.  Memories.  That’s all I have now, is those precious memories.

Things like the funky doggy smell he got when he played in the hot sun and got his hair all dirty and sweaty, or how he destroyed socks and jeans.  Of building a Hand of Thyme herb bed shaped like a hand.  Making pickles.  Of the birthday I told him he could have all the “juicy eggs” (eggs over medium) he wanted for breakfast until I cut him off at six (I think he was about seven years old).  Of the horrible messes he could make with flour from the time he was first walking right on until his death, and how he could not resist touching flour if opportunity presented it as a possibility.  I don’t know what it was about flour that called to him, but it called to him.

I share the memories, we talk about him when we’re together, his sister and I.  My mother.  My other extended family.  His face is over my desk in the last family portrait we had taken, and my granddaughter knows all three faces in the photo.

I’d have adopted more kids, if we could afford it.  We can’t…we’re just not financially stable enough to qualify, even for older children.  That’s sad, but it is the truth.  Instead, we have three dogs and one granddaughter to spoil.  We spoil friends’ kids when we get the chance too.  Sure, it’s not the same, but that’s all we have now.

I know his generous nature.  He would have been horrified if I had become bitter and unpleasant, or shunned other children.  I try to be the person he thought I was when he was ten, and I still knew everything and could do anything.  Some days, the “do” anything can be a challenge, but I always try to keep learning new stuff.  He wanted to have 150 kids (he really did say that…often).  All I can do is try to give forward the love that he gave every day he was alive.

But damn, I miss him.

Sure, I have heard all the platitudes about how he is in a better place and all that.  Don’t ever say that drivel to a grieving mother.  If you are lucky, she ignores you.  If you aren’t, she may try to send you to that better place too.  To a mom, there is no better place for her child than alive and with her.  No exceptions.

I still want him back.  Badly.

Yes, I know its impossible, but if I am going to dream, I’m going to dream big.  Sometimes I still relive the day he died in my nightmares and I wake up with the grief as raw as it was that first day I put it on.  Some days, I never cry a tear that shows.  I can laugh.  I love.  I smile.

And sometimes I still rage when I see a parent treating a child unjustly, and I think, if they knew how much that child really means to them, would they still do that to the kid?

Do me a favor.  Hug your kids like it is the last time you can ever do so.  Do it three times a day. Never imagine losing them, but do it and remember to never take tomorrow for granted, because sometimes…it never comes. Ever.

Then all you have left is that last time you hugged them.

 

Spelling counts

16 Jul

No, it’s not some new hybridization of spelling and mathematics in the latest educational fad.

Despite that, spelling can count and is more likely to count against the independent or self-published authors we see prolifically producing non-fiction digital books in the explosion of titles we see, especially on Amazon.

I’m a self-published author, and I’ve had my moments with typos and misspelled words slipping through the editing process.  That’s not a good thing, when it is missed until readers catch them and get the giggles over soaking biscuits in a bear instead of beer.

Yep, that was my most infamous “oops” moment. Embarrassing, but humorous, right?

It’s not always humorous.

Sometimes, it’s just plain a road sign indicating awful ahead, especially when it is in the title or the description of the book.  I wish it was rare, but start scanning through the lists of low cost non-fiction digital edition of books, and guess what?

It’s a lot more common than it should be.

Sometimes, what we first perceive as a misspelling turns out to be a case of different dialect–American English spells things differently on occasion, like with color-colour.  We can get over that, even when the book is being marketed to the American audience.  Most Americans are capable of understanding even with the difference in spelling.

I am also aggravated by is profiles for social media.  These are short pieces and I’m referring to the pieces written in connection with the promotion of the book(s) an author is written.  Sometimes, the authors are NOT self-published, and yet have glaring errors in their profile because they didn’t particularly regard it as important.  

Bullshit.

These short profiles, like are used on Twitter, are very important.  Leaving typos and misspelled words in those short profiles is potentially more damaging than showing up drunk and in your underwear to a public book signing!

Surely not, you think?

Surely yes, they are!  Thousands of people see those profiles, whether you are aware of them or not.  With that poor profile, you are telling each one of them that you don’t regard that glance as important.  They may think you are as careless in your writing as you were with the profile you wrote too.

No, that short profile is not going to be the best example of your writing–it’s seriously short, like the posts on Twitter, and everyone is trying to cram in as much information as possible while remaining coherent.  The same thing with the other profiles that one sprinkles around the internet, from LinkedIn, About.me, Facebook, Pinterest, Skype, instant message profiles, etc.

Proofread it.  Not just when you write it, but go back again.  Update it periodically, how often depends on how much change is occurring in your life or with regards to your writing.  Choose a day, whether the first Sunday or the seventeenth day of the month, when you take a look at each and every profile, tweaking them as necessary.

On your book titles, especially on the cover art, just plain pay attention!  If you are an uncertain speller, double check each word.  Ultimately, it is YOUR responsibility, not the artist, editor, or even publisher, to make sure that your name is not associated with a misspelled title.  A misspelled title on the cover is going to cost you credibility and respectability in a way that is difficult to recover from because as a non-fiction author, you are presenting yourself as an expert on the topic.

What expert cannot even spell the name of their area of expertise?

In your book description, spelling also critical.  Far more people are going to read the back cover and catalog description than will ever read your book, and that is a cold hard fact.  This is true of both non-fiction and fiction books as well.  It’s often your one opportunity to convince that person that reading your book is the most important thing they have to do in the near future, and as a result, buy your book.

To illustrate this, I’m going to write a description of my own latest book and leave in common misspellings and typos.  Then, I’ll show the difference by writing it properly.

The Big Book of A-Z Muffisn is a colletcion of recpies to make muffins.  EAch lettre of the alhpabet has been used, with a divers assotrment of receipis that are sure to temtp our appetie and make every body smile weather its brakefast or super.  They are all eazy to make to! Fast, they go from ovne to tabel in half an our or less, and with a choise betwen savory or sweat, tehy can be great snacks or deserts too.  The recipes are ritton with eazy direcktions that you are shure to be abel to foller, even if you are a novise in the kitchin.  Experenced backers are also going to injoy making these simple recpies.

Now while that has an exagerated number of typos and misspelled words, it does show that it’s not only hard to read, but is not even humorous so much as embarrassing.  The reader can’t help but feel sorry for the writer while simultaneously (and probably correctly) assuming that the interior of the book will be as horrific of an experience to try and enjoy.

The Big Book of A-Z Muffins is a collection of recipes to make muffins.  Each letter of the alphabet has been used, with a divers assortment of receipts that are sure to tempt our appetite and make every body smile weather its breakfast or super.  They are all easy to make to! Fast, they go from ovne to table in half an our or less, and with a choice between savory or sweat, tehy can be great snacks or desserts too.  The recipes are written with easy directions that you are sure to be able to follow, even if you are a novice in the kitchen.  Experienced bakers are also going to enjoy making these simple recipes.

This one isn’t so bad, but it isn’t perfect either.  With just two typos, and a couple of cases of the wrong word spelled right, it may slip past the casual reader unnoticed, but the critical reader isn’t going to miss “divers” instead of “diverse” or “sweat” instead of “sweet”, even if they could forgive the typos that still remain.  (Yes, I know there are  more wrong word issues, but we’ll get to that…)

The Big Book of A-Z Muffins is a collection of recipes to make muffins.  Each letter of the alphabet has been used, with a diverse assortment of receipts that are sure to tempt our appetite and make every body smile whether its breakfast or supper.  They are all easy to make too! Fast, they go from oven to table in half an hour or less, and with a choice between savory or sweet, they can be great snacks or desserts too.  The recipes are written with easy directions that you are sure to be able to follow, even if you are a novice in the kitchen.  Experienced bakers are also going to enjoy making these simple recipes.

I hope you can see the difference in the level of credibility that each one has.  Presenting myself as an expert on the topic of muffin baking, it is equally important that I be able to spell the words that pertain to the topic, as well as proofread the material well enough to know that weather is not the same as whether, desert is a far different thing than dessert, etc.

  1. Pay attention.
  2. Use spell check.
  3. Proof read it again.
  4. Have someone else proof read it, even if it’s just a friend who skims over it!
  5. Read it yourself again, and then look at it periodically to make sure it doesn’t need a bit of tweaking to improve it.
  6. Profiles, cover art titles, and descriptions are your billboards.  Take them seriously.

If I’ve missed something you think is important, please comment to add it to the post!

Sew creative

14 Jul

Okay, I’ve figured out how to sew.  I’m slow, and I mean seriously slow.  But, at least I can still do it.  The really difficult part is cutting out the fabric, but I’ll get Greg to do that from now on or see about electric shears.  I felt like I had been swinging one armed over the Grand Canyon after cutting out 3 pieces for a toddler size skirt–really out of proportion for the amount of work it really is.  Obviously, that’s a type of motion that isn’t going to agree with me, so I have to come up with a work-around.  Even stopping frequently didn’t make it easier–just prolonged the agony.

But I can still sew, albeit slowly.

That makes me very happy.  I’ve lost a lot of my favorite things in terms of activities, and I had postponed this so very long, for fear that I would not be able to enjoy one of the creative activities that had always appealed to me.  I can, and I love it when I can. For me, there is something immensely satisfying about making something that is useful as well as pretty and unique.  Sewing is something that allows me to do that.

But, I knew that hand hemming was going to be not-so-fun.  I have a machine with a blind hem stitch, but I had never used it.  It was just a funny looking sort of zig zag thing to me before, and the directions sounded complicated enough that I would just press and hem by hand, the same way I did the very first time that I made something on a machine that had been made before WWII in Japan.  It only went forward and backward, forget zig zag.  Even buttonholes had to be done the same way my great-grandmother would have sewn them, which meant I didn’t do button holes!

This machine, bought a number of years ago, is a computerized machine made by Brother that has now been discontinued.  I don’t even remember why I had to have it–I bought it to replace a nearly new Kenmore that still works today, so the reason was not something immediately obvious.  I’m pretty frugal, so just because I could isn’t a reason that would have flown with me.  I just don’t remember why now.

I do remember that when I got it, it was so quiet, smooth and easy to sew on that it made the old one seem like it had been made in the stone age.  It is really seriously the best machine I’ve ever used.  Sure, there may be better ones out there, but I’ve not encountered them myself.  There is virtually no vibration, despite the fact that the machine is very lightweight and easy to move around.   It has a ton of features, most of which I haven’t used, but they include a self-threading feature, and that alone makes the machine worth its weight in gold–my eyes are not what they were a few years ago even.  You have no idea what kind of joy it is to replace the spool of thread with a new one and just push a button to thread the needle!

But back to the skirt.  I had my granddaughter with me one day while we were in Hattiesburg for a doctor appointment for her mother.  We went to the fabric store while her mama was in the doctor’s office (it’s always a 2 hr thing!) I had a bug–I wanted to make SOMETHING.

Sure, I have tons of patterns for stuff.  I used to be willing to try complicated patterns, finding the challenge a thrill.  This time, I wanted to make something for her, but I wanted it something that was very simple.  I didn’t want a challenge, I wanted an easy success this time.

So, it was a cheap pattern to make little girl’s skirts.  Four views, all for a skirt about knee length and flared, with an easy to put on elastic waist that was great for a 3 yr old who is still mastering dressing herself.  With the pattern in hand, we started looking for fabric.

Of course, Grandma has a thing for fabric that is easy care and easy to match with a variety of tops.  Three year old granddaughters want their favorite characters though.  So we compromised.  Two pieces of easy-to-match fabric, and one piece of Hello Kitty fabric, add a few yards of elastic, and we were set.

Somehow, “Grandma is going to make you a skirt” and buying the fabric translated to “I can wear it right now” to a three year old.  We had a hard time with the bit about me having to take it home with me and sew it, but we got through that.  She’s growing in spurts, and her mother wanted me to make it long enough that she wasn’t going to outgrow it in a few months.  I also made the elastic waist “expandable” so that it can be let out as she grows bigger.

We both remember her brother and his Power Ranger costume.  He wore it until it was nearly obscene and I had to hide it then.  Hello Kitty skirt might be in that same category.  My daughter also had a pink denim skirt that she wore from the time she was about four until she was nearly ten and it had become the mini-skirt it was originally meant to be.  Having this skirt long enough to last if it becomes a favorite is probably a good idea, never mind that I’m making her two other ones.

But I am not making the next one for her.  I have several great nieces and a nephew, along with the impending arrival of a pair of twins this fall.  The next one is for Mikey, a great-niece I’ve never been able to meet yet. Tall and thin for her age, I’m told that finding clothes to fit can be a challenge for her.  Plus, neither my sister nor her mother are able to sew.  So, I’m making her a skirt too. This one is going to be pale purple with a Disney princess theme and “Princess in Training” on it.  Like the one for my granddaughter, the elastic waist will be adjustable, since the recipient will be across the continent from me and impossible for me to adjust the waist size exactly.

Did I mention that they are nearly full circle and ideal for twirling?

Dancing little girls, whether they are pretending to be on Frozen or just dancing for the joy of life, are a real treat, and skirts that twirl with them add to the pleasure.  Don’t ask me why, but I remember that from watching my own daughter as she was growing up, dancing through the backyard, unaware that I was watching her through the kitchen window. Watching her as she leaped and twirled, you had to feel happy yourself.

So when I finish the skirts, I’ll move on to something a little more complex but still in the realm of “easy” with some aprons.

What can be more practical than an apron? Plus they offer plenty of opportunity to be a little creative!

The Homosexuality Contagion

12 Jul

I’ve heard a lot of anti-gay rhetoric.  I live in the Bible Belt where there seems to be a genuine fear that they are going to “catch the gay“.  There is a lot of statements about how people don’t want gays in their neighborhood, schools, workplace, restaurants, or churches too.  I have to assume that they truly believe that it is somehow contagious and they are afraid that they too, will become gay.

I have also read a lot about how people are gay from birth, as well as arguments that people are homosexual because of their upbringing, experiences, choices, etc.  I can’t answer those questions, and that’s not what this blog post is going to address.  I’m only going to look at the fear of “catching the gay.”

I have had a number of friends who were homosexual over the years.  I’ve gone camping with them, eaten meals with them, cooked and laughed with them, and on occasion, even shared a drink with them.  I’ve had plenty of opportunity to “catch the gay.”

Guess what?

I don’t have a single symptom of being gay.

I’m married, I’ve had kids, and I’m totally comfortable with my sex life as a monogamous heterosexual.  I don’t feel threatened by gays, whether male or female, unless they are armed and specifically state that they are threatening me.  Of course, I would feel equally threatened at that point, regardless of sexual orientation.  I have to also admit that I have never once asked anyone who was threatening me with bodily harm about their sexual orientation.  It just never seemed relevant at that point.  The assailants that were known to me also happen to not be gay, so I also don’t regard homosexuals as potentially threatening individuals.

I’ve also heard that homosexuals are basically child molesters in training.  Thinking back to the years that I worked in law enforcement and corrections, I try to remember a single case involving a convicted child molester also being a homosexual.  Guess what?  I don’t remember any.  That’s not to say it is impossible, but I don’t think the two have anything to do with each other.

The next bit I hear is how the Bible specifically forbids homosexuality.  Well, sure it does, but the Old Testament has a lot of things that we don’t regard as moral or legal in modern society, like incest, polygamy, stoning, etc.  Besides, what happened to that bit about separation of church and state that is in our constitution? Or maybe the whole bit about “thou shalt not judge”?  Or even all that bacon, sausage, pork chops, etc. that America buys in the grocery store each year…that is forbidden too, if you want to get right down to it.  So, we’ll toss out that Old Testament bit, and the New Testament mostly talks about tolerance and love, and stoning homosexuals is definitely out.

I’ve also been told how the gay community and especially same sex marriages are going to threaten the “sanctity of marriage.”  When it comes out of the mouth of a man who has been repeatedly divorced or has been publicly pointed out for extra-marital affairs, that’s hardly going to fly.  Personally, I just don’t get the sanctity of marriage thing when 50% of marriages in the USA end in divorce in 5 years or less.  I also don’t see where having a gay couple who is married as neighbors is going to threaten my marriage, unless my husband was going to “catch the gay” (since I’m obviously immune to it.) I also don’t think that a gay couple’s children are going to “catch the gay” or expose my children or grandchildren to the risks of “catching the gay.”

Homosexuality isn’t a disease, and it isn’t a virus.  You can’t catch it.  You either are or you aren’t, that’s all.  Okay, there are people who are bisexual, but that’s another thing entirely.  I’m not addressing that.  Since I’m not bisexual or homosexual, I can’t pretend I understand how or why it is.  The only person that truly knows your own sexual orientation is yourself.

I don’t understand why people are so afraid of homosexuality unless it is because they have not addressed their own sexual orientation and find that thoughts of the same sex indulging in sexual behavior is arousing, and therefore is “bad” and must be suppressed.  I do know that my mother always insisted that those who persecuted gays were afraid of their own sexuality and sexual urges, which is why they became so angry and fearful when exposed to gays.

I think she may have been right.  I don’t fear them, I don’t find that they make me angry, and I do support same sex marriage.  I think it would be great for the economy too.  After all, most gays never have children, and have far more disposable income as a result.  That means that they will spend a lot more money on things like their weddings, anniversaries, homes, cars, etc. over the years than those of us who devote our lives to raising another generation.  Same sex marriages also means fewer children being born–which will mean more economic and educational opportunities for the children that are born into this world.  The same sex marriages will also probably pay more taxes over the years, as they will not qualify for the child tax credit, will be able to concentrate more on career advancement, and will probably make more money in their lives to be taxed as well.

Sure, they can adopt.  They can use surrogate mothers and sperm donors too. Some of them will have kids, and that’s okay too.  They will have jobs, buy houses, build neighborhoods, attend churches, buy goods & services and do all of the other things that other families do.  Why should I care if Johnny and Jane have two dads or two moms?  Why should I worry about their parents’ sex life at all?  Or any of my neighbors for that matter?

As long as they aren’t breaking any of the other laws we have, it doesn’t matter what orientation they have or don’t have.  It doesn’t matter and it shouldn’t matter, nor should we even give a second thought to what their sex life is about.  I honestly have never gone to a PTA meeting and sat there discussing the other parents’ sex lives or lack thereof.  There are some things that I just do not care about. I also don’t worry about co-workers, other church members, the shopkeeper, or any of the other people I may come into contact with in the course of a day.  In fact, making me visualize such a thing about any of those people is probably going to leave me with an “ewww” and a mental desire to scour out my brain to get rid of it.

The world will be a much better place when we all quit worrying about whether or not everyone else has a better sex life than we do and we start concentrating on our own issues.

Just get over it.  You won’t “catch the gay” even if your neighbors are a same sex couple and they come over for a bbq one weekend.  You can drink after them without it happening too.  You are more likely to catch hepatitis or drug resistant tuberculosis, and neither of those diseases care what sexual orientation you have.  Their marriage won’t make you get a divorce, and your husband isn’t going to run off into the sunset with a gay guy because of it either.  (If he was going to do it, he’ll do it even if you have nobody that is a homosexual in your neighborhood.)  Your wife isn’t going to start lusting after the pastor’s wife either.  You are safe, honest.

You are seriously not that stupid, are you?

22 rules to get more real followers on Twitter

7 Jul

If you use Twitter, you have been bombarded with temporary followers that sport a blatant advertisement to induce you to spend your hard earned money to buy followers, usually to the tune of $29.95.

Are they worth it?

It depends on your goal.  If it’s just about numbers to you, and you don’t care who follows you or how many people actually read your posts, then it is likely a bargain.

On the flip side of that coin, if you are looking for engaged followers, which means people who actually care what you tweet, read your tweets, and maybe even click on the links you provide, then no, these ghost followers are about as useful as a chicken with teeth.  (That should give you some real nightmares, since chickens are a murderous lot and will kill & eat their companions when stressed.  Then, there are also the foul tempered roosters, who may attack if they feel you are threatening their harem and are already equipped with nasty bone-like spurs on their feet.)

Buying followers is a lot like buying blow up dolls to be the guests at your next party.  Sure, they give you a great body count, but their conversation sucks.

So, since you can’t run out and buy the kind of follower you need to make your Twitter account really pop, how do you do it?

It’s not rocket science, actually, and anybody can do it.  Here is a brief list of 22 things to do with your Twitter account to help you gain more followers fast.

  1. Post a picture to your profile and get rid of the universal egg.
  2. Fill out your profile–make it reflect who you are and what is important, while staying brief with your character count. Don’t just put your name or website, or even a series of hashtags–you want to attract followers who are interested in you!
  3. Tweet regularly, at least once a day.  It doesn’t have to be something profound, it can even link to your website or blog.  Just tweet something, for heaven’s sake.  It’s so sad to see accounts that are four or five years old, and have under 5000 tweets.
  4. Follow people who interest you or have similar interests to yours.  If you are a company or brand, then follow people who tweet about your products/services, from your area, or reviewers of similar items.
  5. When someone follows you, follow them back if they appear to be a real person.  There are a lot of fake or “bot” accounts that tweet continual spam on Twitter.  You don’t have to do anything more than look at what they tweet to figure out if they are a porn bot or continual stream of advertisements for various things, etc.
  6. Reply to tweets that catch your interest regularly.  Make this a habit to ensure that you tweet back to people at least several times a week. You can even have real conversations, albeit in 140 characters or less, with others via Twitter.
  7. Retweet other people’s tweets when they are interesting or relevant to your interests.
  8. Mention other people’s Twitter nickname when it is relevant.  It’s a kind of compliment, and it increases their visibility.
  9. Thank people via a tweet when they mention you or retweet something you’ve tweeted, even if it was just retweeting your retweet.  This is a kind of courtesy, increases people’s visibility on Twitter, and since people like to see their name, they are more likely to retweet other things in the future.
  10. Retweet tweets from people who have retweeted your tweets.  They like it, so they’ll retweet you more often.
  11. Read your “notifications” section daily.  This shows you who and when and what has happened while you are not reading Twitter.
  12. Avoid using DMs or “Direct Messages”, which are a kind of private tweet.  Never just automatically send DMs to others–it’s annoying, usually ignored, and many people will not read or respond to DMs.  (I’m one of them!)  DMs have become the hallmark of spammers.
  13. Do not become the kind of Twitter account that everyone despises–the unfollower.  These account holders follow people just until they are followed back, and then they unfollow the account.  It is rude, and many people use an app to show them who is doing this, so that they can reciprocate.  You won’t win friends with this behavior.
  14. Be prepared to spend some time using Twitter.  You learn a lot reading other tweets, as well as have more reason to interact with other Tweeple.  Most people will spend an hour per day minimum reading, retweeting, and posting tweets.  This can easily be broken into smaller segments of time, with as little as 2 minutes spent at a time, although 15 minutes is a more reasonable segment.
  15. Keep your language clean of obscenities, profanity, etc.  It offends some people, and may cost you some credibility with others.  (I am assuming you aren’t a teenager seeking to impress his/her peers here.)  Besides, 4 letter words are not going to create the impression that you are a brilliant tweeter with the 140 character limit.
  16. Don’t be a troll–nobody wants to be your victim, so nobody is likely to follow you just to be one.  Be pleasant, even when you don’t agree.
  17. Don’t post anything on Twitter that you would not want displayed on a billboard in your neighborhood.  It’s a public forum, not a private encounter group. That includes things you do not want your boss, spouse, parents or children to read as well.  Things you say today may also bite you five years from now, so even if you are single & childless today…you might not be that way forever.  If in doubt, don’t!
  18. Don’t be a Twitter stalker.  Stalkers anywhere are creepy, and you don’t want to frighten people away. Reputations spread via the internet, so if you develop one as a stalking creep, you will soon be tagged.  It’s great to admire someone, it’s great to tweet to them or about them, but if you are becoming obsessive about everything they tweet, etc., maybe you should step away from Twitter and seek some professional help.  Don’t do it to your ex’s either–it’s still creepy.
  19. Don’t get into Twitter wars.  They may be your ex-best friend, your worst enemy, etc., but getting into a Twitter war puts your reputation on the line and you won’t come out of it as a winner.  Drama is only amusing for so long, before no one wants to see your tweets anymore.  Follow your mother’s old adage! “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  It’s not bad advice sometimes.
  20. Be yourself. Everyone is tired of the fake people, the fictional characters, etc. that have plagued internet conversations for so long.  Very few people are rich, powerful, beautiful…and have time to sit on the internet all day.  Nobody buys that song and dance either.
  21. Have fun.  Relax & enjoy yourself.  Vent frustrations and aggravations.  Tell people about important things.  Find out about local events.  Find out where your friends are hanging out on the weekend.  Tell people where you went to get great barbecue or a good deal on tires.  Tell them about the lousy service from Company X too.  Get people to read your blog, check out your new book, or read the book review you posted.  It’s all good!
  22. As you increase your followers, your limits on who you follow are lifted as well.  When you reach the point where you have an unbalanced (in Twitter’s opinion) of followed versus followers, it may be necessary to unfollow some people who may no longer be active on Twitter or may not be following you back.  (Follow backs are not mandatory!)  There are also some less-than-ethical Twitter users that follow you just until you follow them back and then unfollow you.  There are  a number of apps available  that are free at least at the basic level that can show you these accounts and make unfollows a little easier and quicker to do.  Most will appear in tweets on your account at some point, and they shift and change according to how recently Twitter has changed their rules and code.  Try them to see which ones you like.

I hope this has helped demystify and make Twitter a little easier to navigate through.  It isn’t hard to get followers, by simply being yourself and interacting.  It isn’t instant either, and it does require some investment of time and effort.  As a result of this effort, you can have followers that are interested in what you have to say, as well as ones that are saying things that you are also interested in.

If you would like to follow me on Twitter, my nickname is @giascott.  I have less than 10,000 followers, and I have never paid for a single one of them.  I have been using Twitter since 2009, but until this year, I was guilty of being a sporadic user–I would sometimes go weeks or even months between tweets.  I also only use Twitter on my computer and Kindle.  I don’t use any apps for Twitter–I log in through a browser.  I don’t even regard myself as a Twitter expert, but rather as an “average user.”

Writing, as always

5 Jul

I’ve published a lot of small cookbooks in the past year, on a variety of topics.  They’ve been popular, too. So have the books about camping, whether it was food or other facets of camping.  The Time of Chaos was well received too.

Fiction, I have to admit, is my first love.  Even so, with my practical side, I really love non-fiction books too.  Most of my own books are actually non-fiction.  I’ve learned a lot from well written non-fiction books, and I’ve also encountered the sort that was written in “engrish” that wasn’t even worth the time it took to open the cover, digital or print.

Those really awful ones are kept in my mind as the example of “don’t-do-that”.  The file, I must admit, is getting thicker with time, as new editions of awful are filed away there.

But despite enjoying putting together the non-fiction books, it seems to be time to take some time and explore my own abilities and creativity.  I hadn’t tried to do a lot of creative stuff since my accident, which was nearly 5 years ago now.  It was partly out of fear, as I learned that my new restrictions had eliminated one of my previous pleasures from my future.  Some things, I’ve learned to work around, others I have been forced to gracefully accept as no longer possible.

I’ll never know the joy of swimming again, but I can still play in the shallows.  I can hang onto something floaty and kick through the water, with my life vest on.  Sure, it’s not the same, but I will live.

Today, I tried something that I have been afraid to try, even as my sewing machine sat there, just waiting.

I tried sewing.

I can do it too. Sure, it’s a lot slower and cutting out fabric is sheer agony.  Thankfully, I have a husband who is both willing and able to help me with things like that.  Maybe I’ll see about electric shears to make it easier.  I am making a simple elastic waist skirt for my granddaughter.  Once upon a time, it would have taken me about an hour to have cut it out and assembled it, with another fifteen to thirty minutes to hem it, press it, and have it finished.

Okay, I confess, I have to stop and take breaks.  A lot.  Sometimes its because I forgot some detail, like how to tell my machine I’m going to baste rather than stitch a proper seam, and I have to go read the digital copy of the manual (I have no idea where the original manual is now) to figure it out.  Sometimes it’s because I just need to stop and relax a bit.  Physical tension happens to trigger a lot of negative stuff for me, and apparently, I was getting tense today.

But I used to really love creating things with the sewing machine.  I often made my own patterns too.  This project, on the complicated scale, wasn’t going to push my limits in that regard.  It was going to be a simple project to see where I was going to have problems and give me an idea how to fix those problems so that I could do it again.

I’m ecstatic–I have faced a boogie man and conquered it.  I was afraid that it would be like trying to swim, only to discover that I absolutely couldn’t do it.  I didn’t want to admit defeat on this one, and I had delayed it so very long.  Of course, it helps that in this case, I’m not going to drown if I have to stop for a bit and come back to it later!

So, now I have a few budding projects in mind.  Two things that I’ve done a LOT of over the years–a specific (and rather simple) doll and customized dog coats.  I’m thinking that I may write a couple of how-to books for those kinds of things.

Hey, they are low calorie!

Yeah, that’s the other issue.  The recent muffin book was tough on us–that was a LOT of muffins to try, even over 6 months. It’s also summer on the Gulf Coast, and cooking is not my idea of a good time.  I also have another complication.

The day that The Big Book of A-Z Muffins was first available was the day our cook top died.

I’m now cooking on a camp stove until that issue is resolved.  Since a cook top is expensive, and I’m not even sure I want to have another one, it’s not getting an immediate replacement.  I actually would like to do away with the electric cook top and put in a regular gas stove with an oven, and get rid of the hated wall oven, aka “Easy Bake Oven”.  It’s undersized, not level, and I despise it.

I can also remember my Granddad’s saying when you figured something out and were finally able to do something right, “Now, you’re cooking with gas!”

I do prefer a gas stove.

So, without a “real” stove, writing cookbooks isn’t a very practical idea.  Of course, I could write a LOT of books about cooking with one burner.  Two years of our experiment of living in a travel trailer and years of using a camp stove when camping had pretty much perfected the art.

But I’m in the mood for something a bit more creative without worrying that my blood sugar is going to skyrocket.

So, I’m concentrating on the fiction for a bit.  I’m playing with sewing again.  Summer isn’t eternal, even in the South, so my aging dogs may appreciate some new finery for fall, right?

And I have a beautiful granddaughter who can wear it, as well as is old enough to start enjoying dressing her dolls.  My niece is expecting twins.  I have a nephew who has a beautiful baby girl too.  I used to love making 9 patch quilts in the throw/baby sizes, and they were another fast & easy project.

There has been a whole new world opened up.  That’s pretty cool, when you have had too many doors that slammed shut for you in the past few years.

So stay tuned.  Who knows what will be coming next!

 

Connecting with authors: the fan letter

4 Jul

Writers are a solitary lot.  They work alone, and while the picture of a solitary hermit hunched over their keyboard, chugging down vast quantities of beer or wine as they agonize for hours over every little detail is probably no where near the truth, they do in fact work alone in relative isolation usually.  Even those that manage to write with the chaos of their family swirling around them like the incoming tide around a rock are still working alone, without being able to interact with their peers. They pour their heart and soul into their manuscripts, then they are polished up, dressed in their finest cover, and sent out into the world. It’s a traumatic moment, sending that innocent and shiny new book out into a big cruel world, where it will be handled with carelessness, potentially tossed into a pile of books and forgotten.   That writer is its parent, and as a parent, agonizes over the launch of their efforts, until one day, it just happens.  It’s gone, forever condemned to the cruel pens of book reviewers.  A writer then prays for its salvation, that it is strong enough to withstand their assault. But despite this, the writer is compelled to begin again, and a new story is begun while the previous one is still involved in its own birth.  Still working alone, the writer may begin to feel that isolation, and wonder if anyone has really ever read their work, if it matters at all in the overall scheme of things, and even whether they are wasting their own time. Baring your soul and pouring out your heart is painful, and leaves so many writers feeling vulnerable.  After all, the world isn’t known for being kind and considerate, is it? But the fans are out there.  They read the book, they like the book, and they would like to connect with the author somehow.  But, all too often, there are a few things that prevent that fan letter from being sent.

  • The reader assumes that all authors receive a lot of fan mail.  (Not true!)
  • The reader assumes that authors are annoyed by fan mail. (not true either)
  • Readers do not want to be regarded as a creep or stalker.  (Most people aren’t going to take it to that level, but if you think you are doing that, maybe it’s time to back  off.)
  • Readers don’t know how to contact an author.  (more about this part later)

The fact is, fan mail is one of the greatest moments in a writer’s life.  Nothing compares to that first fan letter, unless it is the second one! So how to write the perfect fan letter?

  • Tell the author what you liked most about the book.
  • Explain how the book affected you, such as it made you laugh or cry, you had to stay up all night to finish it, you built your own space ship from the included directions, or whatever effect the book had.
  • Tell the author how and why you had originally bought the book.
  • Keep it short.  Authors have busy lives too, and it often includes things like a full time job and a family, with their writing done in their “spare” time.
  • Tell the author where you left a review.  (If you hadn’t left a review somewhere online, go do that before you write the author!  Authors love reviews!)
  • Type it up and send it by email.  Fan letters that are never sent or received don’t count!

So how do you find how to contact the author?

  • Start with the book itself.  Is there an “about the author” section? It may include contact information.
  • Search for the author’s website.  Many authors have a website.  Searching may be easiest if you use the author’s name and the title of the book.  Their website is likely to contain a “contact” page or form.
  • Look on Amazon for the author’s profile.  Many authors have an author page on Amazon, and it may include contact information.
  • Goodreads.com, a popular book review site, may also have an author profile page.  Some authors interact directly through Goodreads as well.  Other book review sites may offer the same or additional information.
  • Email the book’s publisher, asking where a fan letter to that particular author can be sent.  Often, it can go directly to the publisher, who will then forward it appropriately.

So, go do something constructive, like put a smile on an author’s face.  Make their day with a connection to the real world–their fans.

Book reviews: 7 hints for the negative review

3 Jul

Yeah, I’m a writer.  But just like everyone else, I’m a reader.  I also review the things I have written and sometimes, my review doesn’t agree with the others.

What then?

I review it honestly, and I hope others do as well.

Face it, some books have obviously fake glowing reviews–we’ve all seen them.  After a while, we also get pretty good at spotting them. That’s not the kind of review that anyone wants to agree with, but it’s also not exactly what I’m talking about either.

I’m talking about some obscure (to you) writer who has received glowing reviews about their novel and how innovative, subtle, unique, ground breaking, etc. it is.  Sometimes, all of these positive reviews set us up for disappointment, because when we read the book itself, it turns out to be so obscure, odd, and hard to get into that we never do get the point.

Then, we feel stupid or uneducated or just plain dull because we didn’t “get it”.  We feel as though we failed on the “worthiness” test.

But is it really us or was the novel so convoluted that it wasn’t our fault we never got the message?  Are the glowing reviews more like the case of the emperor’s new clothes rather than us being the dullard?

Review it honestly, state why you disliked the novel or found it tedious to read.  This isn’t grade school, there is no red pen, and you aren’t trying to impress a soul with your witty book reviews unless you work for a prestigious newspaper or magazine.  You do not have to buy into the emperor’s new clothes!

Unlike our school days, we’re not writing book reports to impress.  We are writing book reviews so that other people who are buying books can determine if they are going to like a book before they buy that book.  It’s not to leave spoilers either–it’s simply to give your opinion of why someone would or would not like a book.  Therefore, be honest, even if you feel like the lone dissenting voice in the crowd of masses who loved it.

Nobody is going to come to your house with a red pen and a glare over your review.

Sure, on occasion, you might get a comment or two about your review, and some of those might be snarky.  Snarky is cheap though, and books, even in digital format, really aren’t.

So, with that said, here are some hints for a constructive (though negative) review.

  1. Be specific about what you hated, whether it was the characters, location, weak plot, editing/proofreading or the narrator’s voice
  2. You are not attacking the author, and don’t make the review into a personal attack on the the author.
  3. Try to think of who would like the story. Maybe you didn’t fit that category and that was why you disliked it. Mention the category of reader  that you believe it was intended to strike a chord with.
  4. Never use profanity or slurs to make your point–it turns off everyone.
  5. Don’t take disagreement with your review personally.
  6. Be honest but remain polite about your opinion of the book and why it failed to be a hit with you.
  7. Above all, remember that authors do put their heart and soul into a book, so don’t shred the author just because you hated the book.  They may or may not ever see the review!

I need a break!

1 Jul

I have never liked my electric cook top & wall oven–they came with the house. I’ve often scathingly referred to the oven as an “easy bake oven” because it is under sized and most baking sheets won’t even fit into it. I wasn’t thrilled with an electric cook top either.

With that said, I did have something to cook on. As of today, it won’t work. Lights flicker briefly, then vanish and the burners don’t heat up beyond barely warm. (I can actually lay my palm on them after having one on for 10 minutes on high.) I’d say it’s broke. Not that it ever worked all that well, but it did get hot now and again. (Pancakes were usually either burned or anemic looking, for example.)

I’m not defeated. Camp stoves I have, and can use. After 2 yrs in a travel trailer, I’m the queen of 1 burner meals.

But dang, I’d like a break. We spent $1200 to fix our vehicle today. Couldn’t that stove top have hung in a few more months? I really want to replace the wall oven & cook top with a more economical stove (a stove costs less than either component does) but that means some kitchen renovations have to happen, which we can’t afford right now, even as minimal as we intended. (New vinyl flooring, new paint, removal of 2 cupboard units, installation of gas line, new counter top, and a new faucet) I hadn’t even priced what it would cost us to get about 10′ of gas line & a new dog leg for the stove installed yet!

So, I get to stare at a hated cook top, while cooking on an all-too-familiar camping stove, trying to stay upbeat, and most of all, trying to write–about food, as well as fiction.  It’s hot.  We live in Mississippi and I don’t do well with the heat and humidity combination anymore.  I’m grumpy and short tempered.  I despise the fact that there will be no reprieve from the incessant hum of biting insects and air conditioners for two months now, as our temperatures approach the triple digit level.

Sure, I could leave the South and move somewhere with a climate that was more agreeable, but I also have a husband. I also want to keep that husband!  He does not want to deal with snow ever again, and while shoveling it is something neither of us can do anymore, trying to convince him that there are places that get very little snow and that it doesn’t stick around long enough to need to be shoveled is proving difficult.  It would also mean leaving our daughter and granddaughter behind to the merciless heat, abandoned to their own devices.

Okay, so that’s a bit of melodrama there.  But, Grandmas tend to get melodramatic about their grandchildren.  I only have the one, so I get to go absolutely gaga over her!  We live an hour away, and I’d rather she lived closer instead of further away anyhow.

So there’s the bait.  I stay, even though July and August mean I’m largely housebound.  Early morning, while cool on the desert, simply is slightly less hot but full of biting bugs here.  My perfume of choice? Repel!  Yep, I’m adapting.  Not sure what the husband thinks of that as my favorite perfume though.

So, I’m looking at scrimping and saving for however long, to accumulate enough money to buy a stove, along with the rest of the work that has to be done to allow the installation of said stove.   While I could just spend enough money to buy that stove on just the cook top, it would still have to be installed.  I already have 30+ year old countertops that are wavy and peeling–installing a new cooktop into THAT is silly.  We can install inexpensive counter tops for a couple of hundred dollars.

I could give up the idea of a gas stove too, and just use the wiring that is in place to install  a new electric stove.  That would be an “easy” fix on the expense of the gas line (we already have gas in the kitchen, just not to the stove)  but, we still have to take out at least one section of cupboard to install a stove, which means we have to put in new flooring and counter tops.  When we’re doing that much work, we may as well get rid of that hated easy bake oven too, right?

So that leaves us just needing to paint and replace the kitchen faucet.  (Sink is fine, if I can’t have the style I want due to budget concerns)  That’s the cheap part, actually–I am certain we can do both for under $200.

I don’t want to replace the cupboards–they are vintage wood, and mostly in very good condition.  There is some damage from a wheel chair to the lower cabinet doors, but that can be refinished and will vanish.  The handles, which were replaced in the 70s from the looks of them, need to go away.  I’d like to replace them with some sleek brushed metal ones, another inexpensive weekend project.

Sounds easy and inexpensive, right?

Ha.

Murphy and his laws have been plaguing us for ages now.  Just when we think we have spotted a light at the end of the tunnel, something will jerk the rug out from under our feet and skid us backwards again. Things like $1200 mechanic’s bills.  Greg’s heart attack. Oh, the transmission.  Breaking equipment.

I just wish Murphy and his assorted laws would simply go on vacation, relocate, or find somewhere more interesting than our house.

Freaky dreams

11 Jun

I thought the end of the freaky dreams was surely the night that I dreamed about the singing chickens.

Yeah, real chickens.  Really singing, in tune, with chicken voices.

It got even weirder last night.

Now yesterday, I was in Hattiesburg when there was a tornado warning & accompanying weird siren to warn everyone.  I’m blaming the tornado portion on that experience.  But the rest?  Heck if I know!

It was an inter-dimensional tornado.  It periodically took people from this dimension and sent them there.  It wasn’t supposed to bring them back ever. Pretty heartbreaking, since many of the ones who left here were kids, leaving parents behind too often.  In this particular incident, the tornado was making an unauthorized transfer, courtesy of some evil gang who was going to kill a bunch of people.

A bunch of kids were packed into a giant bin thing in cocoa powder.

Not sure what that was all about, other than we were trying to get them out before the evildoers arrived.

Outside of the weird facets, it read like a typical g-men kind of tale.  The good guys (like g-men) were trying to save innocent lives, while the bad guys (aka evil scientists or whatever) were trying to do them in.  I woke up before the story was resolved, but I have no doubt that the good guys were going to win, at least most of the situation.

I’m not sure who is in charge of dreams, but I must have gotten whatever was left in the barrel last night.

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