Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A belated Merry Christmas

I've been neglecting my blog big time. I didn't even come on here to write a 'Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays" post at the appropriate time. So let me just say, now- Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Happy Holidays, and a Happy New Year to everyone who happens to stumble across this page, for whatever reason.

I feel like I've had a good enough reason to for my benign neglect. I've been enjoying being at home in VA with my family, celebrating the holidays. I've been doing some very welcomed lazing about, had some very entertaining reunions with high school friends, and opened a whole bunch of presents. Oh, and of course I have been soaking up every second of time possible with my nephew. I thought it seemed kind of silly to be buying so many gifts for Landon and making such a big deal of his Christmas- after all, at 5 months old, there's no way he'll remember any of it! But I've actually been amazed at the inklings of greater comprehension I have been seeing in him, and the great enjoyment he's been displaying in many of his gifts. His development, even day to day, is just unbelievable. I know this does not come as news to anyone who has kids of their own, but for me the past five months of watching his growth have been awe-inspiring.

It's not all been fun and games- there's been some family drama here today that has been very hard on my family. I'm not going to elaborate any further as it's not my issues to share in the very public setting of the blogosphere.

The issue of blogging boundaries, in fact, is one that I've been thinking about a lot of late. Some of the blogs that I really enjoy reading lay it all on the line- and it's a guilty pleasure to read all the intimate details of another person's life, the workings of their mind, and the relationships they share. I often find myself wondering, however, where the line of appropriateness lies. It's tempting to use my blog as an outlet to vent my anger at people who hurt my loved ones or piss me off; to unload petty annoyances that are an unavoidable fact in marriage and friendship; or to make snarky comments about acquaintances that do unthinkable things. Always, however, I'm stopped by the thought of what it really means to be posting on my blog: this is publicly available to ANYONE with an internet connection. It's not anywhere close to anonymous. And I have associated my professional identity with this blog, so the way I represent myself here is, in a very real way, connected to my business persona.

When I'm reading and revelling in the juiciest of blog posts, a part of my brain stands back, wondering if the poster has considered the potential repercussions of their words made public, or if they've considered outlets through which their words could reach the person they reference. I've read posts, written by people that I don't know at all, that detail dates, fights, sexual activity, mental breakdowns, drug usage, binge drinking- you name it. I know that everyone has their own reasons for blogging, and some people actually want to promote a persona that is edgy, or controversial, or whatever random adjective they aim for. Don't get me wrong- I don't judge- it just makes me think, long and hard, about what I would call (for lack of a better term) the ethics of blog disclosure. Where is the line that delineates the appropriate from the not-so-appropriate? How much can you reveal about events which involve other people before you start impeding on their right to privacy? How do bloggers handle it when they post about an interaction with one person, and that person ends up reading the post and feels that it was a violation of trust?

I'd be interested in hearing other people's opinions on this matter. I have lots more questions and thoughts but this post has already gotten pretty lengthy. In other matters, I have some interesting news to share, but I'll be holding off for a while till it's a done deal- so stay tuned!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Not in the car anymore- finally!

I've arrived safely in Virginia.  Two days ago, Justin and I loaded the dogs up in the car, in Texas, and over the course of the last two days, we drove 26 hours, covering over 1600 miles, to get here for the holidays.  Towards the end, I was hard pressed to remember why we thought driving was a better idea than flying- but we made it. 

Actually, the drive wasn't a fraction of the pain that I thought it would be.  The dogs did great- no carsickness, didn't pee in the car, quiet and well behaved the whole time.  Justin was in a really good mood for nearly the entire ride.

**So, the rest of this post I have deleted, as my mom pointed out that it's probably not a good idea for me to be posting rants about the Air Force, as they are paying all my bills right now as I work on my freelancing career.  It felt good to get it out of my system, but now I'm deleting it so it doesn't come back to bite me, or more importantly, my husband.  Despite my complaints, the AF has been very good to us.  Yay Air Force.**

Anyhow, I'm very happy to be home.  Gotta go finish my Christmas shopping now!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Gone to Georgia in my mind

Somehow I have managed to idealize our future life and home in Georgia to the point that it has become a utopia in my mind. Don't get me wrong, I am still enjoying San Antonio, and I'm very sad to be leaving behind the people I've gotten to know and love here. But I've somehow convinced myself that writing-wise, everything is going to be perfect once we finish the move.

I've done some research and discovered there are two independent coffee houses with 2 miles of our little Georgian townhome. I've now convinced myself that I will wake up each morning, sling my laptop into a backpack, and bike to the local coffee hole for several hours of productive, caffeine fueled writing and networking with the locals (what makes this strange is that I don't own a bike. Also, don't really drink coffee). I'm also all fired up about finding a local writer's group to join there, and finally being able to concentrate on marketing my services locally (time spent on marketing myself to San Antonio clients seems wasted when I'll be out of here in 2 months). And finally, I have huge, ambitious plans for the uber-awesome office I will create as my workspace once we've settled in (again, feels pointless to invest energy in perfecting my workspace here since I'll just have to pack it up soon).

I do realize, of course, that things won't be all gumdrops and rainbows after the move. Still, it's nice to have something to look forward to. This will be my fifth move since graduating from college three years ago (and the third major move), and I still love the feeling of promise and new beginnings that I get with each impending change. Since we're going to be in Warner Robins for a loooooong time, however, I have to start working on appreciating continuity!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I swear I'm not bipolar: I'm just a freelance writer

Trying to break into a difficult field like freelance writing is a rollercoaster. One minute you're up- over the moon excited over polishing off the perfect query letter, or having an article purchased- and the next you're down and someone is kicking you. Repeatedly. In spots that are already bruised.

The smallest accomplishments are gigantic milestones. The highest visitor count ever on my blog (27 visitors in one day, woo hoo!), or getting a hit from some far off country (this blog has been read in Australia, China, Lebanon, Latvia, and numerous European countries!) get me excited. When I sell an article- even if it's for ten bucks and it took me two hours to write- I celebrate. It's a little sign of success, hopefully a harbinger of more to come.

The downs are nasty, though. An article, thoroughly researched and edited with a fine-tooth comb: rejected. Losing out on a gig that seemed like it was created for you- or never hearing back at all on proposals and queries and applications. It's tough to keep pulling yourself up, brushing yourself off, and starting all over again on another project: but I do it. I have to keep reminding myself that I knew what I was getting into when I chose to take this step. And I know that everyone else out there, trying to do the same thing I am, is meeting the same obstacles and pitfalls.

The latest round of blows are related to my recent, jubilant posts about two blogging gigs I had scored: or, to be more accurate, *thought* I had scored. Yup, I'm back to square one now, more or less. I blogged too soon.

Job #2 had sent me a writer's agreement which I reviewed and signed. I (incorrectly) assumed it meant I was getting the gig and would be helping this individual out with various writing tasks. The day after I triumphantly posted here about getting the job, I received another email, telling me that he'd chosen to go with another writer and that I was on "standby." Oops. However, he did assure me that he'd be needing a second writer in the coming weeks, and that he'd be in touch soon about work. So not a total loss, I guess. Just a small blow to the ego. At least I still had job #1, right?

Ah, Job #1. The NEXT day, I get an email from Job #1- the real estate blogging position. He informs me that he's found a company that can provide him with 700 blog posts and 200 SEO-rich articles for a very low price with very short turn around (in other words, a content mill). But, he assures me, they still want to work with me. The content I will produce for them must be top of the line, "must read" content, that will keep the readers coming back for more. Also, he has decided, I need to provide them with "my very best price" for the privilege of producing these masterpieces for his company. This of course is after he'd already suggested AND agreed to a very reasonable (reasonable FOR HIM- much less than an experienced, established writer would agree to work for) rate.

Basically, he wanted my best work for the lowest price I was willing to work for. He wanted me to lowball myself and work for third world wages to produce winning content to sell his site. To be honest, I felt insulted by this. There's a reason that freelance writers haven't been put out of business by content mills: you get what you pay for. He wanted professional quality with a cut-rate price tag. His reasoning for this was that "the site is not yet producing income," but this is undercut by the fact that he'd sent me a link to his company's press release which stated they would be investing ten million dollars over the course of three years in advertising. If this were true, then obviously they have the funds to pay me $100/week. Seriously. He could pay me, at the originally agreed upon rate, for 1,923 YEARS with ten million dollars. So whether the press release was accurate or not: it's an unethical company. Either they lied in their press release, or they are trying to take advantage of me. Either way, that's not a company I want to work for.

The other reason I was uneasy about this assignment was because my contact was unable to articulate his expectations for my writing clearly. He kept talking in circles in our several emails, ignoring the questions I asked in an attempt to clarify exactly what they were expecting from me. Like any person pursuing writing as a career, I'd like to think that given the right tools/information and very clear guidance on what's expected, I can write about anything. But without clear communication from a client, it becomes near impossible to do my job well.

I reread his email a thousand times. I stewed. I researched. I talked endlessly about it to my husband. I reached out on Twitter for advice. I forwarded the email to my mom and a blog friend for their reactions. In the end, I turned the job down. It feels terrible turning down paid work, even if the pay is dismal, when you're not getting paid much at all. However, I think I made the right choice.

So, my excitement from two posts ago has once again morphed into disappointment. But, in the freelance writing business, at least I know that there's probably another 'writing high' around the corner. Actually, I've had a few small victories in the intervening 24 hours since I first got Job #1's email- but this post is long enough already. I'll save those for another entry. : )

Monday, December 15, 2008

Business website revamped

I actually redid the website last week, since I was sending out some magazine article queries, and was hoping the editorial recipients of said letters would be checking my sites to see what I can do (as opposed to tossing my queries in the trash!).

I use an 'idiot-proof' website building program, and my previous design was very 'cute,' with a little coffee cup resting on a piece of notebook paper against a green background.  It seemed relevant to a writer's website when I first put it up.  Before too long, however, it felt way too literal and bore too much resemblance to something you'd turn in as a freshman english project.  I would like to think the new design I have chosen and tweaked is a little more sophisticated and professional. 

Here's the site:  www.SarahBaldwinGuy.com  Please check it out and tell me what you think!  I still have a lot of work planned on it, and plenty to add.  Any constructive criticism would be welcomed!

Also, I've added some photos from our little photography session back in October.  Our photographer, Caitlin Hudnall, is starting out as a freelancer herself, and she did an awesome job.  You should check out her site too!

An eventful weekend

On the freelance writing front, I had an eventful weekend.  I got two job offers!  Both are for ongoing work.  One is a paid blogging gig for a real estate site, and the other is to do writing/researching/blogging work for an individual located here in TX.  Both are very part time, but it's really exciting for me to have ongoing projects!  I'm pumped to get started on both. 

I also applied to another paid blogging position over the weekend, that would pretty much be a dream job for me.  I don't have experience per se in the field but I'm confident I could rock this position.  I'm hoping they give me a chance to prove that I'm up to the job!  If I got this position, I would be pretty much set for ongoing work, with just a little time left over for a few queries and such.  So . . . fingers crossed!

Justin's home safe from survival, and we're closing on our Georgia house this week.  I'm feeling pretty on top of things.  I even have the whole downstairs of the house clean!  (Just don't ask about the upstairs . . .)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Bookworm Tag!

JR, who is also a fledgling freelancer, and whose posts are very often inspirational and motivational to me (you can read his blogs here and here) has tagged me in a reader's meme.  I'll admit I am not as voracious of a reader as I once was (in elementary school I'd say it was a full-blown addiction) but I still have a whole bunch of books lying around!  Here are the rules:

Rule One: I have to grab one of the books closest to me, go to page 56, type the fifth line and the next two to five lines that follow.

Rule Two: I have to pick five people who love books and who could receive the Bookworm award with honor.

My randomly selected lines:

"My hand was already on the lock of the door before I recollected myself.  I then paused; and a cold shivering came over me.  I threw the door forcibly open, as children are accustomed to do when they expect a spectre to stand in wainting for them on the other side; but nothing appeared.  I stepped fearfully in: the apartment was empty; and my bedroom was also freed from its hideous guest."

-from "Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus" by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

While I'd like to claim I sit around and classic literature in my free time . . . well I don't.  That was for a Master's class I took 2007, and I just never get rid of books (love books).  Of course, had I completed this meme while sitting in my bedroom, you would see that what I have been reading recently is a whole lot of the Twilight series some really intellectual stuff.  Yup, that's me.

So now I tag five booklovers . . . I choose Pam, Annie, my MOM, Andrea, and . . . gosh, I always have a hard time chosing the last one.  I'm going to leave it at four for now and hope there aren't any blog police out there assigned to enforce meme rules!

Free travel opportunity! What's not to love? (Oh right, the crippling diarrhea)

Hey, all you travel aficionados and good hearted volunteers: I've found the offer of a lifetime for you!

How's this grab you: this company wants to pay all your expenses for a seven day trip to Guatemala or Mexico. Instead of saving all your spare change for that volunteer opportunity or sightseeing trip, you can do it all on someone else's dime. So, you ask: where do I sign up?

Well, before I give you the link, there's just one tiny, itsy-bitsy little detail that I should mention (because there's no such thing as a free lunch- or vacation- right?): you'd have to be a guinea pig for a new experimental traveler's diarrhea vaccine.

I'm guessing, since they're putting all this money into shipping you to another country and paying for your vacay, that only drinking bottled water and then happily proclaiming you had no diarrhea at the follow up appointment (which is what I would do) is not ok. So, as long as you don't mind purposefully exposing yourself to germs that can cause debilitating diarrhea, in the hopes that their vaccine works (or that you aren't one of the 50% who were given a placebo), plus the potential for side effects from a new drug that is still in development, then you are in for a lovely free vacation!

Have fun, and don't forget the baby wipes! http://www.trekstudy.com/index.html

Friday, December 12, 2008

Does this Christmas letter make me look old?

I'm currently working on a writing project that is guaranteed to pay me NOTHING but I still find very valuable:  our annual Christmas letter.  I skipped it last year, and I was going to skip it again this year (things have just been way too crazy) but I had a change of heart.  Being military, and 20-somethings, there's been a lot of changes in our lives over the past 12 months, and there's some important folks out there who haven't got a clue (particularly older family members who don't use Facebook and Gtalk and Blogger and Twitter on a regular basis).  Also, one of the things I have promised myself as a military wife is to always make an effort to stay in touch with important people, no matter where the Air Force or life takes us.

But as I started typing the first sentences, it occurred to me: I don't recall ever getting a Christmas *letter* from anyone under the age of 40 or so.  Cards, yes, letters, no.  And maybe my memory is failing me here- it's possible.  But now I'm wondering: does Christmas update letter make me look middle-aged at the ripe old age of 26?

Regardless of the answer to that question, I'm going to send it.  Ever since I could comprehend the written word, reading the Christmas letters coming to my family each day was one of my favorite parts of the holiday season.  As a minister, my dad has always been on a lot of Christmas card lists.  I loved getting updates on even the most obscure of family acquaintances and seeing updated family photos each year.  My parents had friends who I'd never met whose children I watched grow up through Christmas portraits.  Even as an adult, when I go home for Christmas, one of the first things I do, after setting down my luggage and hugging the family, is to gravitate to the tray where all the Christmas letters are deposited and start leafing through them.  It's a tradition that I love.

So, even if it makes me look 20 years older than I am, and makes all my 20-something friends wonder if I've lost it, I'll be sending out a typed Christmas update.  And since I have always loved Christmas cards with an enclosed photo the MOST, I'm planning on sending a picture as well.  In October I hired a local freelance photographer to do some photography for my website (you can see I've finally added the pictures here) and I thought it would be fun to do some couple portraits while we were at it (Justin and I have never had formal pictures together before, outside of our wedding day).  I'm going to let Justin have a say on which picture we send (I'm such a nice wife!) and since I suspect he is not going to choose any of the pictures that I like, I thought I would post a few here.  This is my Christmas card to anyone who reads my blog!

 
 

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I can't believe I didn't think of this sooner!

Hey do you know what would have been a totally awesome thing for me to do while I was living here in San Antonio? Work at Sea World, of course!

I can't believe I am just realizing this now. I found this ad today on Craigslist, and now I am totally smacking myself in the forehead for not having come up with this myself. How cool would it have been to swim around with dolphins all day and get paid for it? I think I could have had this job in the bag, too:

* Must have high school diploma or equivalent. (CHECK- and then some!)
* Must display athletic prowess and strong swimming skills demonstrated by passing swim test. (Well . . . I can swim!)
* Must show proof of SCUBA certification. (How hard could that be to pick up, right?)
* Must pass dive physical and drug test. (Definitely don't do drugs)
* Must complete a background check. (I'm a PK and married to the military. I couldn't have a record if I tried. As long as occasionally overindulging in Bailey's and wearing things on your head isn't a crime, I'm golden)
* College background in psychology, zoology or biology is a plus. (Double majored in English/Psychology, so I could perform psychoanalysis AND literary analysis if so needed for all the swimmy beings)
* Experience working with animals is a plus. (Hi, I have two dogs and five cats. I've witnessed the horror that is a rottweiler giving birth [while attacking me, good on her for double tasking] and I've nursed kittens [from a BOTTLE], so that practically qualifies me as a sea mammal expert, right?}

All the job description stuff sounds easy too. Follow directions, feed gigantic sea mammals, be safe, don't lose stuff, blah blah blah. I could easily do all that stuff. Even "adhering to Sea World grooming policy." How hard could that be? Everyone there probably smells like dead fish!

Too bad I didn't think of this earlier. It would have been really cool to say I spent my year in San Antonio in a scuba suit, giving dolphins their vitamins. Guess I'll just have to get to work searching out something fun and offbeat to do in Warner Robins next spring, in case the writing doesn't pan out!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Short and random update post

It's late and I need to get some sleep, so this will hopefully be just a brief update.

-I packaged up my second query letter today and I'm set to send it out tomorrow.  I called the offices today and was told it would be better to send it 'snail mail' rather than via email.  I actually like the idea of printing my letter out on nice paper and signing it, rather than clicking a button to send electronically.  The magazine is based out of Austin so mailing it shouldn't cause too much of a delay.  My worry with this (and my other query) is that both are Tex-centric, and I'm only in Texas another 2 months.  I could easily write both these articles now, but it may be 6-8 weeks before I even hear back from these publications on whether they are interested or not!  I don't want to get the go-ahead on a San Antonio or Texas-centered article as I am packing to leave the state!  I guess I could go ahead and do the leg work (interviews and such) now, in the hopes I get a positive response.  I have no idea whether either magazine will bite on my pitches.  Other writers, any thoughts or advice on my timing issue?

-I was pleasantly surprised to be invited out to dinner tonight with all my old coworkers.  My former regional was in town for the evening and she suggested that I and another girl who'd recently quit at a sister property get invited.  It felt absolutely great to get to see everyone.  I feel blessed to have worked with such great people, and for them to continue to care about my comings-and-goings after I'm gone!

-I am feeling really bad about an interaction I had with both my parents tonight.  I already posted about it on my other blog.  I hate feeling like I've hurt or let down my family in any way.

-Justin is finally done with the land survival and resistance training portions of his TDY (all the hard stuff).  I'm so ridiculously relieved that it's all over for him.  Can't wait for him to get home on Saturday.  I want him to be greeted at the door with a winter wonderland of Christmas decorations, so I have a ton of work to do before the weekend! (If he walked in right now, he'd be treated to a 'wonderland' of dirty dishes and scrapbooking supplies and wrapping paper scattered evvvvvverywhere).

-Oh, and tomorrow (actually, today, since it's past midnight!) is my wonderful husband's birthday.  He's spending it away from home , having just endured some terrible stuff, all in the name of sacrifice for serving his country- so if you've gotten to the bottom of this post, would you mind leaving a comment wishing Justin a very happy birthday?  Doesn't matter if you know him (or me for that matter!) or not- I just think it'd be nice to show him a big list of birthday wishes when he gets home :)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Just trying to get the widget on my page . . .

Anyone know how to move this thing onto my sidebar?  Any suggestions would be appreciated! : )

Monday, December 8, 2008

No one ever accused me of having good taste, but . . .

I've decided to try my hand at some amateur interior decorating anyhow. I may not always be able to match my shoes to my shirt, but I have a secret fantasy life where I could, if unleased on a blank canvas of a room with unlimited resources, make something beautiful. (Thank you, HGTV, for giving my generation of women an overinflated security in our own taste, and an underestimation of the difficulties inherent in decorating and home improvement!)

I've had some hits and misses. Let's say that what design sense I have is . . . erratic. Still, I'm not one to let a few mistakes stop me, and today, I hit the Forum with a goal: find a clear glass container and some festive ornaments and make a beautiful centerpiece for my table. My inspiration was the pretty centerpiece on my friend Sarah's (not a typo- we have the same name) table at our post Thanksgiving/birthday potluck dinner in Virginia:

(It's not actually centered on the table, but you know what I'm referring to, right?)

While out shopping, I didn't find any suitable clear glass thingies (what is that thing? A hurricane lamp cover?) but I did find these really cool gold wire present boxes at Pier One Imports, and they were 20% off. I headed over to Hobby Lobby for some half off Xmas ornaments, choosing a darker, more non-traditional color scheme, and voila:

And just in case that's not enough for you, here's a few more views:

And finally, a close up:

I'm so pleased with my new centerpiece that I might unplug the laptop and set up office at the dining room table for the next few days, so I can gaze adoringly at it in moments of writer's block. Also, I probably need to stay close to it at all times so that the cat brigade doesn't bring it crashing to the ground during one of their high speed chases. This is the only Christmas decor I've put up so far, and while I plan on following with the rest in the next few days, I'm predicting at least one cat-related breakage before the end of the year.

So, what do you think? Don't worry about hurting my feelings if the arrangement doesn't fit your design aesthetic. I'm so enamored of my own creation that I will immediately file any negative comments under "totally joking."

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Finished my first query letter!

I'm just putting the finishing touches on my very first query letter.  I'm so excited!  I have another idea for my second query letter as well.  I'm trying to start out local, in the hopes that they'll be a little more open to a writer without any major published clips (unless you count my Cave Spring Connection articles, which heck, I DO, because I am damn proud of them, regardless of the size of the audience they reached!).  I'm going to pitch to either San Antonio Magazine or "The Scene in SA" for my more localized article idea, and Texas Monthly for my other. 

I'm kind of at a loss as to how to include my CSC clips with my query letters, because those articles weren't published online, and while I do have a little brag book put together with all my articles clipped and mounted, they are irregularly sized, and mostly larger than a standard sized piece of paper.  I'm thinking that I'm going to drive out and visit my buddies at my old workplace tomorrow and use the scanner to try and reduce the size of these things.

I also need to spruce up my personal website before sending out my queries.  I set the thing up in October, when I first got the crazy idea to quit my job and step out onto this fragile freelance writer limb, but I haven't done much else with it since then.  I had originally (naively) conceived of the site as a place that random people would stumble onto and think, "goodness, this lady sounds like a fabulous writer!  Luckily I have this random writing project that's been collecting dust on my desk, I think I'll send her some money to do it for me!"  It didn't take long for me to realize that this was about as likely to happen as I was to receive an email from my old employer, begging me to come back and take over the national CEO position.  I also realized, a little too late (after I'd had a thousand business cards printed) that the life of a freelance writer doesn't much lend itself to business card distribution (seeing as it involves a lot of sitting around at home. . .  and writing).  So, while I felt the whole thing still looked pretty amaturish and incomplete, I pushed it pretty low on my priority list.  Now, I've got to figure out pretty quick how to make it not look like someone's freshman english project.  Any brilliant web designers out there want to do some pro-bono work for me?   :  )

A really funny blog that you should go read

One of the reasons I love Twitter: I found this blog through a tweet from another really funny blogger who I follow. For those of you who are slow to catch on: it's satire. Go read it.

http://www.queenbmommy.com/


I suggest you start at the oldest post and work your way to the newest, as there's a bit of a plot line, and you should read them in order to get the full experience. If you do go visit the site, pencil in a good chunk of time as you'll probably end up reading through the whole thing, and then be tempted to brainstorm a snarky comment or two to leave.

I'm thinking about packing up the laptop and headed out to a coffeeshop somewhere to get some work done. I've been having a harder time concentrating on work since I came back from Virginia. I have so much I need to do in the next few weeks:

-labor intensive homemade gifts to make (which I'll probably be revealing/showing off after Xmas on my blog, just in case the gift recipients check this),
-Christmas presents to buy, and wrap, and send,
-house to clean (this is a big job),
-flyers to make (it's time to start looking for tenants for Feb/March- scary thought),
-mortgage details to finalize (we close on the dollhouse December 15th),
-Time Warner Cable to deal with (I hate them with the fire of a thousand suns),
-Christmas decorations to put up,
-arrangements and preparations for next semester to make (I'm signed up for six grad credits for next semester, and they are in 700 level, joint masters/PhD courses, so I'm feeling pretty anxious about holding my own and want to read ahead),
-and so on and so forth.

So since I don't have any real "deadlines" right now (not having a steady paying gig as of yet, or any accepted article pitches), it's easy, when I sit down at the computer to forge ahead on self-prescribed writing projects, to let my words get crowded out of my head with thoughts of all the stuff that DOES have a deadline. I think maybe if I remove myself from this environment, things might get a little easier. Also, there would be no cats climbing all over me and trying to sit on my laptop as I write at Starbucks, so that would be a big help too.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

My cooking trowel

I mentioned, back in my ghetto gourmet post, that I ought to relate my jelly roll cake story here sometime. In fact, I have a nice long list of blog topics that I've meant to touch on, but just haven't gotten around to yet. Tonight, I thought I'd go ahead and share this one with you, to illustrate the full extent of my kitchen naivety.

A few years ago, I was at my parent's house and I decided I'd make an ice cream cake. Yes, I usually avoid the kitchen like the plague, but every once and a while, I get an undeniable urge to bake. I can't remember the circumstances that prompted this particular attempt, or the year, or even who the intended recipient of said ice cream cake was (probably, though, it was me. I love me some ice cream cake). Regardless, I set about following a recipe out of one of my mom's cookbooks.

The recipe called for, naturally, a jelly roll pan, as the cake was going to be baked in a thin layer and then rolled up with a layer of ice cream to make a 'jelly roll' effect. Here's a visual to illustrate for you:

A jelly roll cake- not one made by me, obviously.

I glanced over the recipe to make sure I had all the necessary ingredients and tools. I was a little antsy because I wasn't sure exactly what a jelly roll pan was or if the pan I was planning to use would fit the bill. I skimmed the section detailing what to do after baking the cake portion itself and I caught this line: "Wrap the cake and the trowel together while the cake cools."

Now, I know what a trowel is when it comes to gardening, but in cooking terms I was clueless. Being the resourceful person I am, however, I set about to find a cooking trowel so I could make my delicious ice cream roll cake.

I googled "cooking trowel." I called my mom, who was out of town. I called my dad's secretary for advice (she's always good for those hard-to-answer questions). I couldn't unearth any info to speak of. Undaunted, I headed out to Bed Bath and Beyond. I asked three different sales people to direct me to the cooking trowel section. I was horrified that not one of them had any idea what I was talking about. Surely I wasn't the only person who'd ever attempted to make a jelly roll-style cake?

The last BBB salesperson and I brainstormed on what a cooking trowel would look like, based on the logistics of a jelly roll cake, should it actually exist. We decided that a long wooden rolling pin with slightly tapered edges was the closest to our mental image. So this is what I purchased:

My cooking trowel

I got home, makeshift trowel in hand, ready to finally make this cake. I'd literally put two PLUS hours into hunting down the elusive equipment for this dish. I decided to re-read the recipe to make sure I was set before I got started.

That's when I realized I had misread the recipe by one letter. Where I had seen "trowel," it actually said "towel." Yup. Wrap the cake up in a towel while it cools. Which actually makes sense. Unlike hunting down imaginary garden/cooking tools that don't exist. For two hours. And browbeating sales staff for not knowing what a cooking trowel is.

I still catch crap about that one at home.

And can I just add, now that I've related the story I've remembered that the cake in question was made for my murder mystery New Year's Eve party a couple years ago, which was pretty much the best New Year's party ever, except maybe the year Justin and I rang in the new year at Chris Huff's big cabin in Dogue, VA, which was awesome for an entirely different reason. And all this reminds me that I'm due for another fun New Years. Virginia Beach people: any ideas?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

How many people can say they've been in a bank robbery? . . . Me!

I knew, yesterday, that it would be a hectic day.  I had a lot to do before hopping on a place to travel back to Texas from Virginia.  I had to mail the bulky Xmas gifts I had purchased for my neice and nephew in FL.  I had to manage to get 45 pounds of crap into a 35 pound capacity suitcase (success, minus two pairs of shoes . . . noticed this morning that suitcase is now broken beyond repair as a result).  I had to cram in every last second of cuddle time with my 4 month old nephew before leaving.  And, I had to stop in at the bank with my parents to see the diamond and pearl pin my grandpa left me, stowed safely in their safe deposit box.  I was excited to see the lovely pin, made to order for my grandma in 1948, but I didn't anticipate the bank visit to be a hallmark event, or anything.

Once we reached the BB&T branch where my family has banked for 12 years, Dad deposited a check while mom and I chatted with the relationship banker about her new baby and retrieved the safety deposit box.  We went into the small private viewing room and started going through it.  After a while my dad joined us.  I took a few pictures of my pin and wasn't paying much attention to the escalating noise outside our little room.  I finally took notice when I realized the male voice that had been getting louder over the course of a minute was now yelling, "Tens and twenties! Tens and twenties!  Hurry up!" 

I looked at my parents.  They looked back.  We had stopped talking.  I thought, "That really sounds like what someone would be yelling in a robbery.  But, there can't possibly be a robbery going on right now.  Crazy stuff like that doesn't happen to normal folks like us.  Must be a joke."  All the same, I reached over and locked the door as quietly as I could.   My family continued to stare at each other, our attention now solely focused on straining to hear what was going on outside the door.  I realized I was breathing very quickly. 

After an indeterminate amount of time I heard a teller say, "Lock the doors.  Lock the doors now!" and shortly after heard her side of a phone call to 911, reporting a robbery.  What?  Even after all the auditory evidence I had heard, I still couldn't believe it.  We continued to sit in silence for a few minutes, just to make sure the guy was really, truly gone.  I found it a little funny that several minutes AFTER the teller phoned in the robbery, we finally snapped out of it and my mom asked confusedly what had happened- apparently, my dad isn't the one with the age related hearing deterioration, after all . . .

So, I've officially been involved in a bank robbery.  On the receiving side, not on the robbing side (no plans to do that anytime soon).  I didn't actually see anything though, which on the one hand is kinda disappointing (I mean, if you're going to witness a bank robbery, it's kinda lame to just hear it all through a locked door) but realistically, I know I'd have been very shook up if I'd not been in the viewing room and he'd pointed the gun at me.  The teller who he demanded the money from had been robbed once before, fairly recently, and hadn't yet healed (so we were told by another teller as we waited to have our information taken by one of the dozen policemen who showed up shortly after).  She was really upset, and I felt so bad for her, seeing her weep and tremble. 

Here's a link to the very short blurb the local media posted in regards to the incident:  http://hamptonroads.com/node/489905

I was also planning to add a little picture here of the branch roped off with crime scene tape which I took after our release, but I'm having extreme technical difficulties uploading my photos, and yelling "I hate you!" at my camera repeatedly is not fixing the problem.  I will add later if my technology decides to work with me at some point in the future. 

Friday, November 28, 2008

Turning 26

Today's my 26th birthday.  I know a lot of people who had a real problem with 25- it didn't bug me.  26 does give me pause for thought, however. 

I've reached the top of the "Twenties" hill, so to speak, and now I'm headed down the other side.  I'm officially closer to thirty than I am to twenty.  I'm not freaked out about getting older- I'm well aware that at 26 I'm still a youngin' (not to mention that I look younger than I am and I'll probably continue to get carded at bars well into my third decade) and from everything I've heard, I think I'll enjoy my thirties much more than than the ten years that precede it. 

The mini-panic attack that results from 'the big two-six' is the fear that I'm not living up to my potential, and worrying that I'm taking too long finding myself and my calling.  Shouldn't I have a much longer list of accomplishments at this point?  But then, who's to say what I 'should' have accomplished by 26?

I joined a ning group called 20something bloggers recently and it's been really helpful following some of the discussions there and reading the blogs of other group members.  It really helps to realize that there is a whole generation of people struggling with the questions that are hovering in the back of my mind today.

Well, I smell cake, so I'm going to finish this up and pursue the source of the scent.  I'm going to give myself a pass on racking up major life accomplishments until at least tomorrow morning.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Home for the Holiday

I haven't posted in a few days and the reason is this:  I'm home (as in, Virginia with my parents and sister) for a week to celebrate Thanksgiving, and not be alone for my birthday.  Naturally, I've got my hands full (mainly with 4 and a half months worth of adorableness named LANDON, my perfect nephew) and so blogging has moved a little ways down my priority list.

I don't want to leave my blog idling for a week or two so I thought I'd do a quick post.  It's been really great being home so far.  Haven't done anything earth-shaking but I've had coffee with a few old friends, spent some quality time lazing around with the family, and been incredibly amazed at the growth and development of my nephew.  Obviously I've been exposed to babies before, through babysitting and friends and such, but the wonder of infancy is so much more poignant when you're watching as a family member, I think.  Until this past Wednesday, I hadn't seen Landon for nearly three months, and the change in him is incredible.  I am taking in and savoring every smile, every giggle, every wrinkle of his nose, and I'm even treasuring the poopy diapers and the drool and the occasional tomato-red, scrunched face screaming fits, because I feel blessed to be here with him for each moment I have.  Watching my sister be a mother is wonderous.  Today I feel so blessed and thankful to be here to experience it all.  I can't wait for Justin to meet Landon at Christmas!

Hope everyone reading this has a phenomenal holiday.  May your turkey be tender, your mashed potatoes creamy, and most of all, your day stuffed with family, friends, love and blessings.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Current Direction and the Advent of Polls

I've decided that until I start winning freelancing projects, I'm going to try and focus on my pet writing project, which is planned to be an all-inclusive guide to renting.  I know this probably sounds *very* boring to some people, but the fact is that as a property management professional, I saw and heard stories about good people getting burned, time and again, because they didn't have the knowledge or experience to know some of the very basics of what to look for in an apartment, how to act, procedures for moving out, etc etc.  I could go on forever about this topic.  I could write a book on it.  And, that's what I'm hoping to do.  I'd like to take my experience as both a renter, and a property management professional, supplemented by a boatload of research, and write the definitive manual on how to avoid all the pitfalls and get the best experience out of renting an apartment.  I've done some preliminary research into what's out there and I think there's actually a niche waiting to be filled by this book. 

Will I be able to find a publisher?  Will I end up having to self publish?  Will anyone be remotely interested in purchasing this book?  These are all good questions for which I have no answer.  I'm just going to write it anyways. 

Anyhow, in order to guide portions of my writing I am going to attempt to put polls on my site, so I can gauge certain attitudes, opinions and experiences.  As a psychology major I don't have any illusions that the sample size, or sampling methods of these polls will make for statistically valid results.  Hopefully, though, they will give me a general idea of public opinion and that can help guide my writing.  So, please, take my polls.  I know I don't have a real heavy stream of traffic to this site yet, but every vote will be a big help from me.  I appreciate it if you take a second to help me out!

Weekend Cat Blogging 2

I almost forgot about weekend cat blogging!  This week, I briefly entertained the idea that I could just use my previous post about camoflaged animals as my WCB post.  But I decided that was really lazy for someone who probably has a thousand pictures of her cats stored in her computer.

This week, I decided to feature a few pictures of inter-species cuddling.  The normal mode of operation in our house is for the dogs to ignore the cats, and vice versa, except for one of the cats taking an occasional lazy swing at a dog to see what will happen.  Every once and a while, though, I'll catch a tender moment between a dog and a cat, and when I see it I always have to run for my camera. 

First up is an older picture.  This one was taken last year of Pinot, possibly the world's most laid back cat, and Princess (My sister named her when she was nine years old, ok, so don't judge me!):
 
It's sort of funny to look at this picture because Pinot's a lot bigger and fluffier now.  This was taken probably only a month or two after we had adopted him and Ranger.  My second inter-species cuddle picture was taken this past week, this time featuring Princess and our newest kitty, Eddie:
I find this one funny because it's less of a cuddling picture than a picture of two animals, both of whom feel that the bed is rightfully theirs, tolerating each other's presence.  Barely. 

Friday, November 21, 2008

Can you spot the animals in these pictures?

We didn't choose our pets for their camoflaging skills, or the ability to perfectly match our decor, I swear.  Check out my Camo Cat and Devious Dog:
 
  
  
They were both on the couch today and I was struck by the fact that, if someone with very poor vision, perhaps with cateracts, and dismal powers of observation, were to squint at my couch, they might not be able to tell there were two living creatures lazing on it.  CRAZY!!

Random items regarding my writing career

I started this blog over at Wordpress, originally, with the idea that it would primarily serve as a way of updating my friends and family on what's going on with my quest to be a successful freelancer.  I've since decided that that alone would make a pretty boring blog, so I've branched out.  However, I thought I would take the opportunity to stick a few updates in here, since I haven't really done so in a while:

-I got my writing star back at Helium!  I had it, blogged excitedly about it, and then lost it 24 hours later.  That was like, 2 weeks ago.  It's finally back.  Hopefully I can keep it throught the 25th of this month, cause if you've got a writing star at that point, you're eligible for revenue sharing and upfront payments on your articles for that month.  And at this point, I'm grateful for every couple of bucks that gets thrown my way.

-Speaking of which, I'm trying out a new service called LinkBee- the concept of which is this:  You type a link into your account and they give you a corresponding LinkBee link, which also includes a small advertisement.  Then you get paid an infinitesimal amount of money on each person who clicks on a link that you share.  So, please don't hate me if you click on one of my links and a little ad pops up as a banner on the site or as an advertisement that you have to 'click through' to get to the source.  I'm trying to do what I can for income here- most of the writing I am currently doing, I'm doing for free, and I've got seven animals to feed, you know?  If you want to try the service out yourself, click here- it's free!

-Otherwise, I'm just plugging away at writing articles for submissions, blogging, bidding, and trying to hustle the next big gig.  For any of you reading this who'd like to try the full time freelancing think like I'm doing, don't be fooled into thinking it's easy.  If I find any fool proof tips or excellent sources, though, I'll be sure to share here!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

My Christmas List

My birthday is two weeks before my husband's, which is two weeks before Christmas. So every year, at the beginning of November, my mom starts bugging me to send her a list of what we want for the holidays in question. I always promise to do so, and very rarely follow through.

This year, I'm trying to make up for all those falsely promised wishlists by providing one complete with links for easy shopping! And since blogging is my newest obsession, I thought I'd incorporate it into a post.

This list is not all inclusive. Links to clothing will be added later, I haven't had the time to compile a list of our current fashion interests and mom is itching to shop.

NOTE TO ALL: This post is primarily aimed at my mom, since I am not expecting any other random blog readers to go out and buy me presents. Nevertheless, you're more than welcome to read my list, and if you've made an online list like mine, share it in the comments section. I'll enjoy seeing what other people are asking for this year (and maybe 'borrowing' some of your ideas!)

Sarah's Wishlist

Amazon store containing most of my picks {unless another link is listed, most items can be found here}

-A good hair-straightener (the year I asked for both a hair straightener and a curling iron, Mom had the brilliant idea to get me a combo curler/straightener, which was quite resourceful of her, except for the fact that the thing doesn't do either well at all)
-Book/DVD on DIY tiling (grandiose plans for Georgia dollhouse include tiling a backsplash in the kitchen once the hideous wallpaper's been removed. And since I'm cheap, and have illusions of myself as a handy-woman-future-house-flipper, I want to do it myself).
-Home Depot gift card (to be applied towards one of a few things: previously mentioned tiling supplies, hardware and wall treatments to modernize GA bathroom, lawnmower. This would be a good gift for Justin too) www.homedepot.com
-York peppermint patties in my stocking, mmmmmmm!
-Scrapbooking design books (you can see a good one in the Amazon store, also, I added some 'scrapbooking murder mystery books' that popped up as similar items, cause I love a good murder mystery)
-Subscription to Paperclipping (www.paperclipping.com). I love Noelle's free tutorials and I think having a premium membership for 6 months would teach me a lot about my new scrapbooking hobby!
-I think these mini-cupcake soaps from Serah's Soap are absolutely adorable and would make great stocking stuffers. I am envisioning a minature cake stand displaying a group of mini cupcake soaps on the bathroom counter in GA. Of course, I will have to theme my bathroom decor around this . . .
-various scrapbooking items. Haven't got specifics on this one yet (once again I'm up past 2 AM typing out a blog post when I should be sleeping, so I'll fill in the details later).
-iPod Shuffle (I know Justin bought me a big fancy iPod for Xmas a year or two ago, which was really sweet and awesome of him, but really, all I want is one of the tiny, simple ones that clip on and go. I feel really uncomfortable wearing a $250 piece of electronics while I'm bobbing up and down and sweating on the treadmill. Also Justin has kinda taken over the thing, and has possibly broken it)


Justin

Justin's Amazon Store

-Shirts- particularly polos in soft cotton, like from Land's End- I'll fill in more details on this later too (you know how he can be picky)
-GPS navigation system for the Explorer (ironic request from a fully trained Air Force NAVIGATOR, if you ask me!)
-Nips for his stocking.
-Beer
-Gillette disposable triple razor blades (stocking)
-The FURMINATOR!! This will revolutionize our life, we just know it.
-Pedi-paws. See above comment.
-Book about making your own beer (Very hesitant to add this to his list and encourage thoughts in this direction, as I remember Dad nearly blew up the rectory when I was just a toddler with his own home brewing efforts)
-Tropic Thunder DVD
-Good racquetball racket

Also, Mom, Justin requests haircuts for the dogs (I believe this request was actually meant to be a pointed hint to me to get the dogs groomed), one less cat (he says you can take your pick, except Pinot), and for you to pay the invoice he submitted for the floors (more on this later for random readers wondering what the heck I'm referring to). : )

To my mom: happy shopping! I told you I'd get this up before I went to bed- just don't expect me to be up and functional before noon tomorrow.

To everyone else: Have you created any online wishlists of your own? I'd love to peruse them. Leave me the link!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Ghetto Gourmet: Peanut Butter Brownie Cookies

I love reading food blogs. I like reading richly detailed, overly dramatic prose about aroma and texture and taste. I love crisp, closely focused food photography, where the vittles look better than I do on a day-to-day basis, and it looks like I could just reach into the computer and grab that food off the screen- which is what I usually want to do once I get through reading the mouthwatering descriptions. Truth is, I just like food. Reading about it, looking at pictures of it- especially eating it. I just don't like making it.

I wish I did. When I read sentences like, "My boyfriend brought home a wonderful gift for me last week; a bag full of gorgeous fragrant yellow quince," it makes me wonder what is wrong with me that I don't like 'food presents' unless they are fully prepared and ready to go straight into my belly once they walk through the door. Or take "They were like sinking my teeth into little frost covered pillows of sugar." What's wrong with me, I ask you, that I can't make anything that remotely tastes like or resembles frost covered pillows of sugar?
The concept of putting lots of time and care into a fragrant, hand-crafted dish sounds really lovely, until I consider the fact that making something from scratch, versus buying frozen and microwaving, will probably cost me four times as much, take up way more of my precious TV watching 'doing really important things' time, and end up, most likely, tasting like crap anyways.

And yet, this past week I had quite the unexpected and, well, rather unprecedented little domestic streak. I did such things as "the dishes" and "some laundry*" and even got the urge to do some- gasp!- baking (no doubt brought on by all the delicious food blogs I've been reading that make it all sound much easier than it is, damnit). And I thought to myself: just because I don't know what's in a Bearnaise sauce or how to poach something shouldn't preclude me from doing a little food blogging**. Us non-culinary types need advice and reviews and recipes too (albeit ones that require the least amount of time and expertise possible).

So I'm taking it onto myself to perform this service: food blogging for the non-foodie. This post (and future posts on the same topic, if I ever get the urge to get culinary again) can guarantee you that if I can make it, you know for sure that you can.

I'll start with some Peanut Butter Brownie cookies. First, the requisite artsy food photos:
First attempt at artsy food photography- not so great.
Ah, better. Uber artsy.
I got this recipe from a floppy little Pillsbury Bake-Off book (for a non-cook I actually have a ginormous amount of cook books).*** It seems deceptively easy, but do not be fooled! Surprisingly, it is possible to mess this one up (although through all my blunders, they still tasted pretty good).
Here's the recipe:
INGREDIENTS
1(19.5-oz.) box Pillsbury® Brownie Classics Traditional Fudge Brownie Mix
1/4cup butter or margarine, melted
4oz. cream cheese (from 8-oz. pkg.), softened
1egg
1cup powdered sugar
1cup creamy peanut butter
1/2(16-oz.) can chocolate fudge ready-to-spread frosting


DIRECTIONS
1.Heat oven to 350°F. In medium bowl, beat brownie mix, melted butter, cream cheese and egg 50 strokes with spoon until well blended (dough will be sticky).
2.Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets to make 24 cookies; smooth edge of each to form round cookie.
3.In small bowl, mix powdered sugar and peanut butter with spoon until mixture forms a ball. With hands, roll rounded teaspoonfuls peanut butter mixture into 24 balls. Lightly press 1 ball into center of each ball of dough.
4.Bake at 350°F. for 10 to 14 minutes or until edges are set. Cool on cookie sheets at least 30 minutes.
5.Remove from cookie sheets. Spread thin layer of frosting over peanut butter portion of each cooled cookie.

(This comes directly from the Pillsbury website)

What slipped me up was the part where you mixed everything together (so really, the only main step prior to baking). They are not kidding when they say the dough gets sticky. Also, it's possible I may not have softened the cream cheese enough. Regardless of whose fault this may or may not have been, my big plastic spoon was not succeeding at the task of merging the cream cheese and the brownie mix into a deliciously unified blend. I panicked (because I was really hungry at this point and I wanted some damn brownie cookies) so I did what I think any logical person would do- I went in hands first and mooshed it all together (I had washed very thoroughly with anti-bacterial foam prior to the mooshing, no worries). This was marginally more successful at mixing all the ingredients, but then I had 3/4 of the dough stuck to my hands, and no free hand to scrape it off with. I had to call my husband in to help and I think he was pretty alarmed at this point that he would later be asked to ingest the fruits of my messy labor. I didn't have the forethought to document this in photographs, which is too bad cause it probably would have jazzed up this blog entry a bit. Oh well!

I ended up leaving the cookies in for longer than called for, and when they came out, they were still really sticky. Even after the requisite cooling period, I couldn't scrape them off the cookie sheet without them buckling in the middle. I served my husband and our friend Luke and they both politely attempted to consume a cookie. Neither quite finished. Husband later struggled to think of something positive to say and settled on, "Well . . . they need work. But they're OK."

Thanks, that is the kind of support I need to keep plugging away at this cooking and baking thing, right?

What he thought doesn't matter anyways, because this is the part where I try my hand at the overly embellished food prose that I love so much:
The firmness of the peanut butter center presents a delicious contrast to the unexpectedly gooey brownie base. You'll need to break out a fork to really do justice to these baked goods, as they are less 'cookie' than they are a rich, dense and fudgy brownie. A thick blanket of fudgy frosting kicks the indulgence factor really high, and I'll bet that you can't get through more than two of these without some serious stomach-aching going on.

Since cooking, for me, turns out best when it is as simplistic as possible, I am going to use a very simple rating scale here to give you my judgment of this recipe. On a scale of "yes" to "no," with "yes" meaning " a lot," "no" meaning "not so much," and "sorta" meaning "I can't decide between the two extremes," I rate this recipe on the following factors:

Easy? Sorta
Fun? No (but that that with a grain of salt, coming from me)
Delicious? Sorta
Cheap? Yes
Lends itself well to flowery food blogging prose? No
Tomorrow, maybe I'll regale you with my adventures with Jello No-Bake Cheesecake.


*I am not really this bad of a housekeeper, really. I'm exaggerating for the sake of this post. God's honest truth.
**Someone remind me sometime to write about the time I tried to make a roll-up cake. It's pretty funny and a perfect example of what an absolute dunce I am in the kitchen.
***The story behind this should also be shared on my blog at some point.

I could title this, or I could just write it

I could probably sit here for an hour coming up with a clever and descriptive title for this post, but I've already wasted enough time today.  This is going to be one of those posts that I don't quite know what it will be about until I've finished it.  Random.

Justin left this morning.  He'll be gone for 3 weeks.  You can hear me whine read more about my feelings on this here.  Suffice to say, I'm already feeling a little lonely.  Plus, I'm back on the kick of trying to take my diet seriously, so the usual perks of his absence (like having ice cream for breakfast and not worrying about someone seeing me be a total pig) are a no go.  I neglected my blogs, and my bidding on freelance sites, and my article submissions, and all those other fun, lovely, non-profitable writer-y pursuits yesterday to spend time with him before he left.  I'm not always good at pulling myself away from a project I feel passionate about, so I'm glad I was able to see the forest for the trees here for once.  (Is that an appropriate use of the metaphor?  I have a terrible habit of mixing my metaphors.  My family still tease me about 'throwing salt on the fire.')

Last night we went to Chuy's (yummy Mexican) with a bunch of friends from Justin's nav class.  Class ended for them October 10th and now everyone is starting to go their own ways.  One family is leaving for Florida today- another leaves in less than two weeks for Little Rock.  A number of our friends are already long gone.  It's the way of life we signed up for, but it can be a little depressing. 

I have a big long list of blog post ideas to tackle, now that I've got tons of lonely free time ahead of me.  So hopefully, I'll be updating this pretty often in the next few days.

Monday, November 17, 2008

I've Been Tagged!

I've been tagged!  It's the first time for me on this blog. I was tagged over at Serah's Soap Blog, which you should go check out- she has these amazing cupcake soaps, which are definitely on my Christmas list for this year!  I think this is a fun blog game, so I'm happy to play along.  The rules: 

 
My Seven Facts:
  1.  I know this is no secret, but it is weird: I have five cats and two dogs.  Normally people with that many animals are about 80 years old, live alone with their pets and carry on in-depth conversations with them as though they were human.  But I'm 25, married and relatively sane (do sometimes talk to the pets when no one is around, though- guess that's how it starts!)
  2. I'm a reality TV addict, but now that I'm working on freelancing, I never have time to watch- so my DVR is pretty much full to capacity.
  3. I only have one sibling, my beautiful sister Ashley.  She had a gorgeous baby boy, Landon, on July 15th 2008.  I love being an indulgent aunt!
  4. I've lived abroad twice: in Dorset, England for 2 months when I was 12, and for a semester in St. Andrews, Scotland when I was 21.  I miss a lot of things about the UK.
  5. I took a bartending course and received my "Certificate of Mixology" when I was 19.  I was sure bartending would be a great skill to make money in college.  I never ended up working as a bartender, though.
  6. I've lived, for at least a few months each, in the following cities in Virginia: Virginia Beach, Williamsburg, Roanoke, Lexington, and Newport News.  My heart still lives in Virginia.
  7. I have a picture of my husband and I's first kiss- should make a good story for the future kids and grandkids!  Thanks, Miss Abby Houser! : )
And now for my tags:
Schermobeads
Well, That Would Be Telling 
 Writer's Treehouse
The Homesteading Housewife
Apron Strings Aflutter
JR's Not So Literal Logging

OK, I only tagged 6 . . . these things are fun but they take way too long, because every  time I go to tag someone, I get sidetracked reading their blogs!  So, I'm going to leave it at 6 for now.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Do you have to spend money to make money?

In light of the abrupt end of my best gig and the fact that

1) writing clients aren't stumbling onto my website and booking me in droves (darn it- was hoping things would just fall into place like that), and,
2) The income from my personal blogs doesn't seem likely to bring in any more than could buy me a few cups of coffee . . .

I've been thinking seriously about other ways to find writing and editing work.  And I'm starting to think I'm going to have to bite the bullet and pay for the privelege of even being considered for projects.

There are a number of freelancing sites out there that charge a membership fee in order to bid on projects.   The two I'm considering are Elance and Guru.com.  Elance seems to be a popular site, and a good friend recommended Guru, saying one of her friends gets a lot of good work from it.  It just seems a little counterintuitive to take a chunk of what little I've already earned and spend it already. 

The main reason I've been hesitating on this is something I touched on a bit in an earlier post.  It's a little disheartening to be competing for jobs against seasoned veterans, on the one hand, and low-balling outsourcers on the other.  I know there's got to be other freelancers out there like me- hoping to get a chance to overcompensate for a limited resume with overenthusiastic service and attention to detail.  But then again, there's just another category of competition for jobs!  It's just a little scary to be putting money out with no guarantees of getting it back, much less making some sort of return.

I think I'm going to do it though.  Husband says I should.  The logical, non-cheap side of me says it's a necessary expense if I'm serious about doing this (which I am).  Mom (whose advice I usually, though not always, take) says to do it, suck it up, pay my dues, and work some low-balled jobs to develop some experience and a reputation.  So yeah.  Maybe I'll do it tonight.

I'm curious though- anyone reading this have some experience with these sites?  Any advice?  An opinion?  Reassurance that I won't be throwing my membership dues into a black hole?  I'd love to hear from you in the comments section.  Thanks!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Weekend Cat Blogging (?)

So, I was perusing the blogs-of-note link on my Blogger dashboard, and stumbled upon the concept of "Weekend Cat Blogging."  If I am interpreting this correctly, this is a collection of cat bloggers (or other bloggers who, on occasion, blog about their cats) who will do a cat-related picture post each weekend and leave a comment on a specified blog with a link to their cat post.  It's a little confusing, and I don't know if I can just participate, or if it's more complicated than that. 

Seeing as we are a five cat family, however, and much of my life revolves around the animals in some form or another, I thought I'd give it a try.  I've been meaning to post some pics of my kitties for a while anyways!

 
Ranger, viewed through the back of a dining room chair.  I took this today while procrastinating a moment or two on a writing project!

Our Dollhouse in Georgia

It's a long time coming, but I'm finally posting pictures of the little townhome we're in the process of purchasing in Warner Robins, GA.  We close in December and move in February. 

I call this our dollhouse for two reasons: Firstly, that was the first word that came to mind when I saw a picture of the exterior.  I think it's precious.  Secondly, it's small.  We're downsizing for this home (for a detailed explanation of our plans to build the Guy family real estate empire, check out the early November posts at my other blog- I've already hashed it all out there).

Without further ado, your visual tour of the future Guy household:

 
This is a front view of our little dollhouse, with my Focus in the front.  Love the fall leaves- looking forward to four seasons again!  No garage, so we're going to have to get a storage unit, or else get rid of a lot of junk (which would probably be a good idea!)

Side view.  It's a corner lot so we've got lots of grass and some cute little trees- gonna have to break down and buy a lawnmower!

 
This is the living room, looking at the front entrance.  I like the cute rounded window tops throughout the house.  Carpet is in decent condition but worn in places- which we actually LIKE- since we know (from lots of experience) the dogs are just going to do a number on it anyways once we move in.

 
This is our little fireplace, opposite the entrance in the living room.  It's wood burning but we'll probably just display candles in it or something artsy looking.
The kitchen.  Before you scream in horror at the wallpaper (yes, it's a little bit atrocious), be assured that this will be the first improvement we make to the place.  Dated wallpaper is a quick fix- it's going to come down, and ideally I'd like to tile on a backsplash and paint above, but if I don't get around to that, we'll just do the painting.  The kitchen wallpaper and the bathroom wallpaper are the only two parts of the house, aesthetically, that I don't like (you'll see the bathroom for yourself in a minute here).  

 
  Here's a view of the kitchen from the attached dining area, looking towards the living room.  You can see the hallway to the bedrooms to the left.  I like the little pass-through cutout- hopefully it will inspire me to cook more, since I'll be able to see the TV from the kitchen!  The kitchen set up is ideal for us, because it's got laminate (pee mops up easily) and it's a large, gate-able space for when we go out and the puppies need to be secured (for anyone reading this that doesn't know me personally, my 'puppies' are twelve year old shih tzus that feel they've earned the right, in their old age, to ignore all the potty training rules from their youth).
View of the kitchen/dining area from the living room.  All the wallpaper is coming down.  Probably that chandelier too.  Laundry is behind the folding doors.  Door with the folding screen leads to the backyard. 
The other room in need of a major facelift- the bathroom.  I think with the wallpaper removed, and those cheesy gold hardware pieces replaced, it will look a lot better.  If not, guess I'll just have to close my eyes when I pee.
Here's the back of our little dollhouse.  I wouldn't have chosen the yellow with the blue, but since it's there, I actually kind of like it.  Cheery and dollhouse-y, don't you think?  On the left is a little storage room ( I joked with Justin this could be my little office- maybe in a couple months I'll be squeezed in there on a folded chair with my laptop perched on my knees).  
 
A view of our little yard from the side.  It's not big, but then that's ok as we don't much use the nice big one we have now anyways.  Enough room for our little patio set and the grill we plan on buying after the move.  It's not like the 12 year old shih tzus need a lot of room to run around in!

 
This is a view looking down the street from our driveway.  There is a cul-de-sac in that direction.  I love all the trees.
The view looking the other direction.  To the right is another cul-de-sac.  Our street is a few streets off the main drag of Warner Robins, so hopefully it will be pretty quiet but still convenient.
And that's pretty much it . . . I didn't include pictures of the bedrooms because they aren't anything exciting- walls the same color as the living room, carpet, closets- I mean, the bedrooms are always pretty boring to look at unless there's something really unique about them!
Well, this post has taken me way too long to upload and caption, so that's all for now.  I'm excited about our new place- just a little anxious about adjusting to the smaller space.  But, I think it will be a good situation for us!

Friday, November 14, 2008

My Place in the Blogosphere- Musings

In the wake of my recent immersion into the wide world of the Blogosphere, I've struggled a little with my blogging identity. It seems like most of the folks out there who've got more than a handful of readers on their blog are comfortably settled into a very specific niche: Food Blogger, Mommy Blogger, Tech Blogger. I haven't found a niche that suits me. No kids yet, terrible cook, proficient enough in technology to do what I need to, but no more.

There's a set of 'writing bloggers,' which seems a little redundant, but that's who I mostly follow and where I see myself fitting in best. Still, it's not a perfect fit by all means. I started my personal blog originally as a place that friends and family who cared could follow the ups and downs of my attempts at freelancing, and as a place that I could unload my thoughts on occasion without thinking to myself, "is this post in line with the theme and purpose of my blog?"

I'd love for my posts about my adventures in writing to be helpful to other aspiring writers. That niggling little hope is one of the reasons that I post about my failures, along with the little victories. Maybe, another struggling, aspiring writer out there will learn from my mistakes and avoid making the same ones themselves. Or perhaps they'll find relief seeing that someone else is facing the same challenges as them. I'd love to be seen as a resource, or have my blog be a rallying point for a little community of self-starters, all enthusiastically cheering each other on and sharing ideas. But, I don't kid myself into thinking I have the experience or expertise in this area to try and tout myself as a 'newbie-freelancer-guru.' There are plenty of sites out there, with veteran writer-contributers, who do a much better job than I ever could at gathering resources and rallying a community of input on writing issues. I am indebted to these sites for the help and resources they provide. I'm not, at this point, capable of providing a service of the same magnitude, or even close.

So I've been feeling a little bit down. I mean, who's going to bookmark your site if it's just a jumbling of your thoughts and feelings? If someone wants to browse a bunch of randomness, they'll just turn inwards to their own thoughts, right? No one's going to digg or buzz or return for further reading if you haven't firmly ensconced yourself in a niche, will they?

In the spirit of my last post, however, I'm not going to let these little rumblings get me down. I do feel like my posts on this blog, in the past few weeks, have evolved a little and gained more of a sense of purpose. I'm going to think of my site as dynamic and organic- ever changing, little by little, is ok here. I have faith that eventually I'll find the right combination of content and ideas that will optimize this blog for both readers and myself.

I think I'll even do a little food blogging (maybe I can inspire some other non-cooks out there to abandon their microwaves for an evening), and a tech review or two (every writer needs a digital voice recorder- post to follow), and even some mommy blogging (cats are practically children, if you ask me). And I'll continue to reflect on the bumps and the thrills of pursuing my writing dream. One day, maybe I'll have "made it" and I'll get a comment from someone just like me *right now*, thanking me for a little guidance in getting started on the freelancing path. I'm looking forward to that day.