Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 -> 2014

And that's about it for 2013. At the beginning of the year, I set out to do something big... "Make no little plans" I said.

I did manage to publish my book (books 1 and 2 of the trilogy, actually) and that alone was enough of a learning experience to count as a big plan. And I think I kind of pulled it off, even if I haven't made any money...

We built a cool treehouse/fort thing for the kids, which they love.

We did a lot of work on the front and back yards, removing some really bad trees and about 1/2 of the front lawn. We built our take on an herb spiral, and it provided an overabundance of rosemary, sage, thyme, and basil. Tons and tons of basil. Our mint garden did it's usual thing, growing like a weed for most of the year. We planted a lime tree, to go with our dwarf Meyer lemon, key lime, and other dwarf lime trees.

The vegetable garden was a mixed bag. We had a bumper crop of arugula, bell peppers, and mild chiles, but the potted corn was a bust. We got quite a few tomatoes and a few small eggplants.

We lost our alpha hen, so we brought in a golden laced Wyandotte named Cinnamon to bring our flock back up to the maximum allowed (three). Then we lost another bird.

I wrote a 50k word novel in November as part of nanowrimo, like I've done each year for the last 8 years.

I did a ton of crocheting. I visited my mom, and then my dad. We had a great Christmas in Maine with my siblings and nephews and nieces and parents.

In 2012, I focused quite a bit on my health. 2013 was not exactly unhealthy, but I did not exercise as often. I ate well, though.

I discovered, as we all do I suppose, that life does not always align with our goals. I try to spend more time with the kids, but as they get older, they get busier. It's harder, it's more work. We had to get a bit more creative.

And now it's time to start it all over again.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Paracord Crochet

Earlier I posted a picture of some of the bags I had been making. Since then, I continued on and made several more crocheted bags for holding small gifts or whatnot. As part of that process I wanted to try to find some more yarn. I had begun to tire of the colors I had at hand. So I rummaged deep into the closet and I found my bag of different colored paracord.

And that's the result. It's hard work, crocheting paracord. My hands were a bit sore the next day. And that stuff is stiff enough as to be almost unforgiving.

I'll probably just leave it in the pile of finished but unused projects. Or maybe I'll hand it to my younger daughter so she can add it to the ever-growing pile of crocheted baskets and bags that she's always "rescuing" from the unused, unfinished, un-presentable pile of my experiments.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Just Be Nice

I walked into the post office this morning hoping to use the self-service kiosk to mail a gift. I had the box all set, I just needed to buy the postage, and the line to go in and talk to an actual postal worker was over 20 people long. It looked like a good 20 minute wait. That's why I like the kiosk.

One person was using the machine, and one other person was waiting. Overall, not too bad.

Well, the person using the machine had a _stack_ of what looked like Christmas cards, and was purchasing stamps for them, individually. At a little of 1 minute per transaction (if you know what you're doing) it would have taken her about 30 minutes to finish her pile. I was thinking about leaving when another person walked in and got in line behind me.

This person had a child with her and instantly went into the whole "Stand back, I'll fix it" mode and began to question the already flustered person trying to buy stamps.

"What are you trying to do? Buy stamps? Did you press the... yeah, that one. Maybe you can't buy those kinds of stamps here, you might need to go in line. Did you try..."

This, followed by some audible sighs let me know that the lady in line might have been having a bad day, which is fine, I mean that happens, but she was unable or unwilling to contain her frustration.

It turns out, the person using the machine only needed to buy 5 more stamps, not 30+ and was simply trying to find a way to bulk purchase the 5 identical postage stamps for her cards desitined for Europe. It took another minute or so, for the person to buy the stamps. English was not her primary language and yet she managed to do the whole thing in just a couple of minutes. Even at the end the lady in line was still trying to rush things along.

I honestly did consider letting the impatient lady go in front of me. I was in a hurry, but nothing like what her barrage of sighs would lead one to believe about the urgency of her day. But in the end I opted to just go ahead and do my transaction because I knew I could be done in a single minute and then I'd be free.

Once I finished I took my box to the side so I could attach the postage sticker/etc. and she rushed up to start using the machine.

Then, kharma let the rushing lady know that maybe she did not need to be a jerk to those that are in her way. As I dropped my box into the package bin, she asked me if there was a trick to getting her debit/credit card to work in the card reader. Immediately other people in line started offering their own swarm of hints and tips on how to hurry up and get a move on.

"Did you try wiping the magnetic strip?"

"Turn it over. No, the other way."

And yes, maybe another sigh or two.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Homemade Gifts: Alcohol Ink and Sharpie Art

Saw some examples of this kind of art project out on the internet and then I realized that we have a lot of white tile left over from the bathroom remodel, and we also have a lot of sharpies:

We thought of making them into coasters/trivets as a present the kids could send to their grandmothers.

The kids had a blast, but honestly, they needed lots more time experimenting. I liked just making psychedelic patterns from the alcohol inks we bought at the local craft store, but the kids wanted to draw pictures and write words. It was a mixed bag of success, other than fun. We definitely succeeded at fun.

Well, except when my older daughter's pony tail flopped forward and landed on her tile, where there was a ton of wet magenta and shellac. It took a long time to comb/wash out, but she's okay now.

The process is simple and outlined in many, many places on the internet. But the one part of it that isn't explained as well is the clear coating.

We ran a bunch of experiments.

We used three kinds of clear for the tiles: Enamel, Lacquer, and Shellac.

The best from my expermentation was the enamel. It dried nice and smooth, did not tend to re-activate the inks, and generally worked great.

The lacquer was an okay middle ground.

The shellac, though, was the most interesting. When I sprayed shellac on the tiles, the ink reacted, often running or blending in with nearby colors. It was like misting some of the alcohol/blending agent on the dried tiles. This had a really interesing effect the girl's liked and wanted to use.

In the end, I wound up clear coating in two steps: first with the shellac to create the intestesting effect, then applying a nice coat of enamel to seal it all in:

Next we added some felt feet and bundled them up to ship off to the grand parents.

Thursday, December 12, 2013


We don't usually get prolonged periods of cold here in the Bay Area in sunny California. But we sure got some recently.

Here you can see the frost damage on our lime tree. All of the limes are brown now, unfortunately. Our lemon tree survived just fine, and it's about the same size. Alas.

Looks like the worst of the cold snap is past, for now, but the damage is done.

Monday, December 9, 2013

On Magnetic Fields (or, how my electronic stuff decided to revolt en masse)

I read recently that the Earth's magnetic field is about to reverse polarity. The sun's field switches about every 11 years, but Earth is more like 800,000 years. I think I may be part of the proof that the ol' switcharoo is coming.

Had a bad week, digitally. It was one of those spans of time where electronics in general just seemed to not like me any more. It started out innocently enough when I noticed I had a couple of duplicate blog posts labeled as "Draft" -- so I deleted them. Only, what ended up being deleted was not the draft/duplicate post, but the original, including all of the comments.

Then my cell phone "died" during a firmware update. Apparently the phone was just finishing up installing an update and then it had some issues. It went from being a phone to being a paperweight. I took it in to the local Sprint store where they told me it was a "known issue" and that I was lucky because they were not going to charge me the $75 service fee. Wow! How "lucky"! And how generous they are...

I went to take some photos of the kids and the camera decided it needed to greatly underexpose the first 10 - 20 pictures I took. Then, magically, it started to behave. Yes, I changed some settings, but I gave up when it appeared that my changes weren't really making any difference. Then, suddenly, it just started working again. For the record, I've taken about 10k photos with that camera, so I know enough about the controls to know that something was not acting normal.

And then the name of my ebook on Amazon suddenly did not match the name of the print version, so Amazon started treating it as two separate books. I could understand if I had changed the name, or even if I had somehow typed it in incorrectly, but that was not the case when I entered the book into the Kindle Select program (which mandates that the names be the same).


Here's hoping that I have gotten all of the digital weirdness out of my system. I'm looking at it like a test run for the magnetic field reversal -- like I'm in an early beta program.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Self-Publishing: Doing Book Giveaways

Sales of my book have been slow. There, I said it. It's the truth. There's so much more to self-publishing than writing -- indeed the writing is the easy part.

You also have to do all the marketing yourself. And if you take your foot off the gas, the engine stops. Instantly. Plus, there's a long lead time for many marketing avenues available to the small time author.

Blog reviews? You need to find the blogs, convince someone to read and then review your book, and then find time to post it.

Advertising? That can be expensive, and honestly I haven't really managed to find a good plan for where to spend advertising dollars.

This was never a money making proposition for me. I knew going in that I would be lucky to even receive one residual/royalty check from Amazon (still haven't) because the margins are thin and I don't know the first thing about promotion.

The one message I do hear repeated often is that in order to get any kind of real promotion to be worth the time and effort, you have have a lot of reviews out there for your book. In my case, I'm talking about reviews over on sites like (and almost exclusively) Amazon. (as of this writing, I'm stuck at 7 reviews...)

The more positive reviews you have, the more likely someone is to take a chance on picking up a book from an unknown author and the more likely some more popular websites might mention the book. Etc. It's a snowball effect.

One way to get reviews (other than begging friends and family) is to offer free copies of your book in exchange for reviews. You can also just do blind "book giveaways" on sites like Goodreads (paperback only) or Library Thing (ebooks ok) or many others.

I went ahead and did a giveaway at Goodreads (they automate much of the process for you, but in the end, you still need to physically mail your books out yourself) and today I just mailed the books to the 10 lucky winners. I included a brief note with the book, congratulating them on the win, hoping they enjoy the book, and asking for them to consider reviewing it.

But was it really worth it? We'll know in a few weeks, I suppose. But honestly, it can be expensive to do book giveaways. For my Goodreads giveaway, I probably spent over $70. I'd have to sell over 35 printed books to break even.