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.

Confessions of a struggling start up freelancer

Finally, I'm able to do my first 'official' blogger post- one that isn't a previously written post migrated over from Wordpress.  The process was tedious and annoying, but ultimately, didn't take as long as I thought, and at least it's over.

I put off writing my first blogger post until all the ones from Wordpress had been migrated, in order, so as not to be confusing.  I'm glad I did.  Had I written this any time yesterday, this post would have been embarrassingly depressing and full of self pity.  I probably would have deleted this morning when I woke up.  I was feeling deeply despairing yesterday.

Truthfully, I don't feel much better today- but at least, I have a little more perspective.  The root of my despair is the creeping tendrils of self-doubt that I can make this work.  It began yesterday, mid-morning, when I found out that my main writing gig has 'reached the end of their budget for this round' and has no further work at this time.

I'm not even sure what that means- how long until the next 'round of budgets' starts up?  Will it ever?  I'm thankful for the opportunity I had to do the work that I did and said so via email to my contact with the company.  Now I'm in a bind, but it's not their fault- I committed the cardinal sin of freelancing: I got dependent on one job and ceased trying to diversify.

You see, I thought this rentwiki assignment was going to last a lot longer.  There were two other writers contributing to the site, but their contributions were small and slow-going.  I seemed to be the only writer giving it full priority.  I did the mental math, multiplying the number of neighborhoods still needing to be reviewed, times the amount being paid per wiki, and I saw nearly $10,000 worth of work still needing to be completed.  I felt like this assignment was my safety net- my guarantee.  Even though I hadn't found any other 'major' assignments, I didn't have to panic- I'd at least be making what I'd computed as my minimum needed, for a couple of months, thanks to this gig.  I thought.

Last night I couldn't work on anything.  I stared listlessly at my screen.  My head pounded dully.  All seemed lost.  I got to the point where I couldn't even look at the screen anymore.  I curled up, fetally, on my couch and squeezed silent tears onto the microfiber.  I fell asleep with my head in my husband's lap, and it was a fitful sleep, jarred into a painfully half-awake state with each tiny shift or soft noise.  I felt heavy and sick and bewildered.

Now that I've woken up to a new, sunny day, I don't feel as hopeless, and I'm trying to think positively.  I know I lost sight of the bigger picture last night.  Sometimes, it's just too hard not to.  I quit a decently paying, steady job to take a blind leap into an uncertain field.  In the few weeks I have been plugging away at the freelancing, I've come across things that have scared me-
  • sites and clients that expect high quality, researched work for less than one cent a word (check out Textbroker and read what some clients expect you to do for seventy cents per 100 words)
  • Post after post on Craigslist of clients expecting you to write for free to 'gain exposure' (I've found plenty myself on the SA Craigslist, and Deb at FWJ does a great series on these as well, like here)
  • Doses of reality like these excellent pieces on how there isn't enough time in the day for a freelancer, and the realities of the blogger payscale 
  • Sites where freelancers compete for jobs, and I'm stuck in the unenviable position of competing with, on the one hand, people with tons of experience who are already highly rated on that site, and on the other hand, folks from outsourcing countries whose cost of living is completely different, who are willing to work for $3/hour.  (If you think I'm kidding, spend some time looking at provider profiles on ODesk and see how many well-written, educated people from other parts of the world have their rate listed at $5/ hour or less)
It's enough to make even the most confident person a little scared.  I wouldn't have quit my job to start freelancing if we couldn't afford to live on just one income for a while, so it's not the money, exactly, that's worrying me.  It's  the fact that there's been very few times in my life that I haven't been successful at things I've taken on.  I don't want this endeavor, one closer to my heart than most others, to be the exception.

Yesterday, I mourned the fact that things haven't fallen perfectly, immediately into place for me.  Today, I recognize the irrationality of thinking that they would.  

It's time to get back on the horse.  I'm going to redouble my efforts, toss my net far and wide, explore, and network, and do it all with the joyousness that I should rightly feel, knowing I have the luxury of pursuing my dream, and the freedom to fail a little bit before I have to admit defeat and crawl back to corporate America.  

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Changes Afoot

I'm working on migrating my blog over to another format: Blogger.com. I'm been wrestling with the decision because I have this problem with loyalty- I form it, I think, way too easily, sometimes to the point of ridiculousness. I mean, I've been using this Wordpress blog for less than a month. I don't have a personal relationship with it, or anyone who works for Wordpress. And yet, I have this achey little feeling of guilt for even thinking about abandoning my pretty little Wordpress blog. Silly, I know.

But, I am going to do it, despite how much I love the "Dusk" theme here, and the fact that 'xmasallyear' was taken at Blogger (I chose it rather arbitrarily, but it's grown on me. I sure do love all things Christmas). Blogger gives you a lot more freedom to add widgets and extras, and I want to play with them. So, in the next few days, I should be finishing up migrating everything over. I'm going to have to do it the old fashioned 'cut-and-paste' way because Blogger won't let you import a blog from Wordpress. Hopefully, it will go smoothly and not be a big pain.

My new blog is located at: www.mypenrunnethover.blogspot.com

So bookmark that cause it will be taking the place of this one before too long!

Anyone else struggle with the choice of blog platform, or is that just me?

{Originally posted on November 12th, 2008 on Wordpress}

A few unrelated things

I'm working on my blog brevity- let's see how this goes:

1. Yesterday I made over $5.00 on Google Adsense! That may not sounds exciting to you, but that's how much I had previously made over 3 weeks. So, I doubled my earnings in one day. Sweet! Still doesn't sound exciting? Well, if I could make $5/day on Google Adsense every day, that's $150 a month in extra income that essentially I haven't had to work for (other than the initial work of publishing Hubs and then continuing to drive traffic to them). That's a decent little residual income there. I'll take it!

2. I'm in the process of attempting to register for some distance learning classes through ODU for my Master's. After two semesters off (although in my defense, one was the summer semester- and that hardly counts, right?) I'm getting back in the saddle- or, at least making the attempt (academic bureaucracy keeps throwing obstacles in my way- no surprise there). This could easily change depending on a number of factors, but right now what I'm planning/hoping will work out is that I take two classes via 2-way video/voice feed (classical rhetoric and visual rhetoric and document design) from ODU in the spring, and take 3 credits of master's thesis each in Fall 2009 and Spring 2010, to complete my degree in May 2010. I'm still fuzzy on what I want my thesis on, and of course it all depends on getting approved, but I am really gung-ho on focusing on something having to do with writing for the internet/web 2.0/SEO/social networking sites/etc, as I've just gotten into this stuff in the past few weeks and I'm hooked on learning more!

Justin's home from GA and it's great to have him back. Soon I'll try and post some pics of the new digs-to-be.

{Originally posted November 12, 2008 on my Wordpress blog}

Why I don't write a lot of fiction- right now

I think when I tell people that I've quit my job to be a writer, most of them assume I'm talking about fiction- that I'm going to sit around working on a novel. I think it would be safe to say that this is probably the 'coolest' form of writing- the one people imagine when they think of 'writers.' And probably most self-professed 'writers' would love that too- to be the next Michael Crichton, or Thomas Hardy, or Ernest Hemingway, or whoever floats your boat.

But unfortunately, fiction's not a promised paycheck. In fact, for most people fiction is pretty much guaranteed not to be a paycheck. For every thousand aspiring fiction writers out there, maybe a handful will get published. And of that handful, one will make it big- if they are lucky (Note: I totally just made those statistics up, so don't go citing me in a research paper or anything).

So, while there's certainly a part of me that yearns to be the deep novelist, toiling away at the next great American novel, breathing literary life into complex characters, and writing a story that will break hearts and inspire a generation and make people laugh and cry and dream . . . I don't write fiction. Not yet, anyways. It's not very glamorous to tell people, "I write web content, and pretty much anything that someone will pay me for (within ethical boundaries, of course);" but that's what I do and so that's what I tell people. It pays the bills (and of course, even though it's not an earth-shaking work of fiction, I still love doing it!)

Oh, and there's another reason I don't write fiction (right now). I'd go so far as to say this is the primary reason: it's too personal.

Fiction writing- or more accurately, fiction sharing . . . imagine if you had all the skin flailed off your frame, and then you had to invite people to poke at your exposed muscle. Fiction is "made up" but it contains more of you than any other kind of writing. It is personal and intimate. It is utter exposure of the parts of you that you tuck away.

I'm sure that people with plenty of fiction experience find ways of minimizing this feeling of bareness when someone else reads their work. I'd like to get there.

Today I bought new AAA batteries and popped two into my long-dead digital voice recorder (much more beloved by me than its long-dead status would imply). I was surprised to see there were six recordings still saved on it as the screen display came up. I pressed play. I thought it would be the recordings of the interviews I conducted while writing human interest stories for The Cave Spring Connection (I didn't remember having used the thing since).

It took me a moment before I recognized the voice, but I recognized the words- they were my words. My fiction story, written for a short story fiction class I took in Spring 2007 towards my Master's in professional writing. Things snapped into place: that was my professor, Sherry Reynolds, reading the first paragraph of the second of two stories I'd had to prepare for the class. Hearing the words I had painstaking crafted, and arranged, and agonized over, coming out of someone else's mouth- even when it was the second time I was hearing it- was shockingly, physically painful. I had to turn the recorder off before it got to the part where she asked for the class to start chiming in with comments. Seems a little ridiculous, since I'd already heard it all before- while sitting in a circle facing my 20-plus classmates AS they critiqued my fiction. And no one had said anything horribly critical- I knew this. It just felt too raw at that moment to hear it all again.

So, in case any of you were wondering what it is I am writing- and when I'm going to publish that first novel- I'm sorry to say it won't be anytime in the near future.

But . . . it is a goal for the not near, but hopefully not-too-far future.

{Originally published on November 10th, 2008 on my Wordpress blog}

Does this new career make me look fat?

One of the things I did NOT consider when deciding to pursue freelance writing was that fact that, when I gained a bunch of weight in college, a main contributing factor in that gain was my overwhelming need to be munching on sometime anytime I was writing a paper or cramming for a test. I guess you could call me an academic eater. Or maybe a 'literary eater.'

Oops! It's been two weeks and it's definitely been a struggle to keep from constant grazing. So, I'm looking for any way that I can to counteract the effects of a full-time writing job that keeps me sedentary for hours on end, with easy access to the fridge. I've used www.fitday.com before, and that worked for me for a while. Luckily, now my fab friend Annie has pointed me in the direction of www.sparkpeople.com, and I like that even better! I figure it shouldn't be too much hassle to track my food intake online, seeing as I spent the majority of the day in front of a computer, plugged into the internet.

I also had this grandiose idea that I would go to the gym everyday once I started working at home. Now that I'm doing it, I haven't gone yet because I don't want to take the time away from my writing (I can be a little obsessive). I'm trying to at least take a walk once a day, though- at least that way I cut out the time it would take to drive to the gym and wait for a machine. It's perfect walking weather in Texas right now anyways!

{Originally published on November 9th, 2008 on my Wordpress blog}

Decorating ideas for the new house

Found this on a blog that I found through a blog that I found through a blog:

Wall art for cheap

I think this is pretty damn cool. Think I could hire this guy to do the walls in my new home in GA?

On an unrelated note, I had no idea how dependent I was on my laptop until I let Justin take it to GA. Yeah, I've got his desktop to work on. But all my documents and pictures and internet favorites are saved on my dependable little Dell. I've got half a dozen tasks and projects I'm putting off for his return because they all involve stuff that's saved there. Also, I've watched almost zero TV this week because if I can't have my work in front of me, to at least be doing busy work or blog scanning, or something, then it feels like a waste of time! I'm really looking forward to having the freedom of a laptop back come Sunday (oh . . . and my husband too ;) )


{Originally published on November 8th, 2008}

New content posted

I've just posted new content in two places: Associated Content and Hubpages. On Associated Content, though, it probably won't show up as published for a week or so. To be honest, the content is the same on both sites (I published as non-exclusive on AC and then re-published, a little fancied up, on Hubpages. I've started doing this after a suggestion I read by another hubber).

Here's where you can check out my new hub: Fabulous New Hub on Renting Vs. Buying

Do you want to know my secret goal right now (except maybe not-so-secret, since I'm blogging about it . . .)?

I want to publish a series of articles on issues related to various aspects of renting. I'm not going to flatter myself at this point to say that I could establish myself as an "expert": but I'd like to make a name for myself online as someone who at least knows, more or less, what they are talking about when it comes to renting and property management.

Phase 2 of my secret/not-so-secret plan is to write a guide for the first time renter. I've already started working on it, actually- started before I had even entertained thoughts of quitting my job and writing full time. I stopped working on it for a while, thinking that chances of it ever getting picked up for publication were slim-to-none, and I had to concentrate on projects with a guaranteed paycheck (and you see how well that worked out for me: eight hours unpaid work). But I've done some research, and now I'm energized to get back to work on it, because my next planned step is:

Phase 3: Self-publish the guide as an e-book, and link to the place it can be purchased from my profiles in each place that I've {attempted} to establish myself as someone who's pretty plugged in to the ins, outs, and issues of renting.

So yeah, that's my new direction I'm charting my course towards. Plus, of course, continuing to update the blogs, work diligently on Rentwiki assignments, enjoy my newfound Twitter addiction, submit articles and rate at Helium, seek out new freelancing opportunities, and try to be a good, non-neglectful wife and animal mommy.


{Originally published November 8th, 2008 at my Wordpress blog}

Repeating myself

Now that I am writing A LOT more, both time-wise and quantity-wise, than I have in recent years, I've been a little disturbed to notice that there are a few words and phrases that pop up at an alarming rate in nearly everything I write. Some examples:

"Peruse:

1 a: to examine or consider with attention and in detail : study b: to look over or through in a casual or cursory manner 2: read ; especially : to read over in an attentive or leisurely manner (from www.Merriam-Webster.com)."

Peruse: turns out, I love this word. I know this now, because all of a sudden, I'm using it all the time. "I was just perusing your blog . . . as I was perusing information on the history of the neighborhood . . . I perused the bookshelves, looking for good resources for the freelance writer . . ." The fact is, my new freelancing job pretty much centers around perusing various things (well, actually, "writing" is the primary verb of my freelancing career. But "perusing" is a close second).

Another one I feel I've been overusing is "pursue" (cleverly, phonetically similar to peruse- coincidence?). This one, however, I attribute to the fact that I've filled out what feels like a million little 'bios' on various sites, and on each I've said some variation of "I've recently quit my full time job in property management to pursue freelance writing . . ."

The one that's been really bugging me, though, is what I feel is an overuse of what I'll call "reversal words." I KNOW there is a better, more educated sounding terms for these words and phrases- one that is escaping me right now, to my English-Major-embarrassment. I'm talking about "however," "although," "but," "though," "still,"and the like. I find it hard to get through an article or post without using a minimum of one of these words- and it's kind of driving me crazy! I know there are some literary types out there that frown on the use of these words. I'd love it it those folks could give me a little lesson on how to avoid them altogether.

I guess when you go from a casual amount of writing daily, to doing it prolifically, you're going to feel a bit repetitive simply because your volume has increased exponentially. Still, (there I go again!) I've been trying to look for alternate ways to 'reverse' the flow of a paragraph or article. It will make me feel better about my writing.

For all you writer types out there reading this (if there are any!), I'm curious: do you have any words you find yourself using over and over again? Are there writing tropes that you just can't get away from?

{Originally published on November 8th, 2008 on my Wordpress blog}

Little victories make life worthwhile

I have a writing star at Helium now. To get a writing star there, you need to have written at least 4 articles, and they have to rank, on average, in the top quarter.

Let me back up a minute- one of the key features of Helium is that members rate articles written on the same title- this is done anonymously and there are incentives for rating on a regular basis. The idea is that the best articles will 'rise to the top.' With at least one rating star and one writing star, you are eligible for a number of extra payment options, like small upfront payments on articles, and revenue sharing. Since I finally have one of each, I'm looking forward to seeing what my payments look like when they are calculated at the end of the month.

Let's just say, though, that I'm not holding my breath here for a big payday. Still, I really like Helium and would definitely recommend it to a burgeoning writer.

I will say though that I've gotten turned off of the Marketplace feature, which originally had been my favorite part of the site. In the Helium Marketplace, different publishers post calls for content and any writer can tackle the assignment and hope their work is accepted and subsequently paid. I guess I got spoiled because I was able to sell two articles pretty quickly. They were both sold to the same publisher (video game download reviews) and I got cocky and thought, since they seemed to like my writing style, that I'd be a shoo-in for all subsequent articles. Last week I probably spent nearly 8 hours working on 4 different reviews for these folks (an hour playing the free trial, which admittedly, should only count as half "working," and then up to an hour writing the review). If all of these had been purchased, the pay would have averaged out to be around $8.00/hr, which is awful- but when you're starting out, any pay is good pay, right?

In fact, I received "no pay" for this work because none of that batch of four were chosen. It was kind of an ego blow and confused me, because at the time of their decision, I think 2 of my articles were rated #1 out of all the choices. After putting what amounts to a full day's work into these reviews and getting nothing out of it, I decided I was going to pull back from the Marketplace bidding for a while. My ego was bruised, my time had been wasted, and I not-so-secretly hoped that that particular publisher would regret alienating a writer who had put a lot of thought into their assignments.

Shortly after this decision, feeling righteously indignant and miffed at the company that had rejected my last four articles, I was perusing their website and saw a call for writers to form an ongoing freelancing relationship with them- basically, to do what I had been doing through Helium, except for I'd actually be guaranteed payment on an assignment, instead of crossing my fingers, hoping I get chosen. Immediately, I pushed my indignation aside to email and request to be considered for the position. Hey, I just quit my full time job to do this writing thing, and husband and I just put an offer on a second home, so I can't afford to nurse my battered ego right now! However, I haven't heard back from them. Ouch . . . guess rejection comes with the territory though. I'd better get used to it!


{Originally published November 7th, 2008 on my Wordpress blog}

Going back to work for Stonemark again- maybe

Yesterday, my former boss called and said our regional (or I should say, my former regional) had called and wanted her to find out if I was interested in working as a contractor on the marketing for our Austin properties. While I want to find out the rest of the details, I am pretty excited for this opportunity. I've left the property management field to pursue writing, but it's still in my blood. I've worked for Stonemark in two regions now, and worked, subbed, or helped out on seven different properties in three states. I'd love to continue my affiliation with the company, on a part time basis so I can continue working on my writing career. And the extra income would be nice too, since the freelance income can be kinda hit or miss, and never guaranteed.

Of course, that was two days ago, and no contact yet from my regional herself- so I don't quite know what's going on. However, even if things don't pan out, it's nice to have the validation of having been thought of for something like this. We'll see where it goes, I guess.


{Originally posted November 7th on my Wordpress blog}

Apparently, I am contactless- or close to it

So I've joined Linked In and Twitter, all excited about the networking potential of both sites.  I uploaded contacts from my mail email address, and . . .  apparently I don't know anyone.

Well that's not entirely true.  I had about 6 people on 'Linked In' who I actually knew.  On Twitter, however, only one of my contacts came up- some woman with a ridiculous name like Elvira Candyton or something.  I have no idea in what context I apparently emailed this woman at one time or another.  I did not request to follow her.

So now I am just Twittering to myself.  And that's really not any fun.  I find it hard to believe that I know NO ONE who uses Twitter.  So, friends, if you're reading this and you're on Twitter (or Linked In, for that matter) please do add me (my Twitter is, pretty predictably, SarahGuy).  I look forward to knowing your every move.
And if you aren't my friend- you've just stumbled upon this randomly- well go ahead and Twitter me too, I won't mind.  I want to network, especially with other writers.  Also, it's nice to have lots of small, quick distractions to look at when I'm experiencing a moment of writer's block.  In fact, perhaps I'll go follow Elvira Candyton afterall.  Maybe she's up to something interesting!

{Originally published November 6th, 2008 at Wordpress}

Linked In- or getting there

These last couple of weeks have opened up a whole new world of internet technology to me.  Prior to getting starting on this writing thing, I thought I was doing pretty good, internet-wise, by updating my Facebook status on a regular basis.  Now that I'm pursuing a career path in which it's vital to force internet networking connections, I've discovered all these cool things.
Linked In.
Entrecard.
Blogrush.
Digg.
Twitter.
Well, I actually haven't attempted Twitter quite yet.  It sounds a little confusing and time consuming.  I'm sure it won't be long before I'm sucked in, anyhow.  I DID join Linked In today, so I'm hoping that will help me make some connections with other freelance writers.  I don't think I've been 'Digg'ed' or de.li.ciou.sed. or however-the-heck-you-punctuate it yet- but I have gotten buzzed, which was an exhilerating feeling.  I've got a request in to be featured with Blogrush for my other blog, but I haven't heard back yet.  Fingers crossed!

{Originally posted November 3rd, 2008 at Wordpress}

My first #1 Google Spot!

Let me just start by saying, when you are starting out, the little things are very exciting.

Getting hits in the double digits in one day on my blog- very exciting!  For someone with an established blog or lots of experience, my hit counter probably looks dismal.  But for me, right now, it's huge.

Or how about my earnings from Google Adsense on my Hubpages account?  In about 3 weeks, I've made just over a dollar.  Not even a third world laborer would get excited about that return.  But when I see that dollar, it stands for all the future dollars that I could potentially make, if I keep working hard at posting hubs and driving traffic to them.  That is an EXCITING dollar for me.

Today, I hit a really big landmark- one that might be considered big even if you aren't an overly excited newbie!

Go open up Google and type in "military pumpkins."  Go on, open it in another tab and try it.  What page comes up first?  Unless I've been usurped since my writing this, the answer should be MY BLOG!  Yup, my most recent post on my today.com blog is, apparently, the number one choice for anyone searching for military pumpkins.  This is the coolest thing to happen to me since, I don't know . . . the last cool thing that happened to me.  (Oh, and while you're on that other tab, go ahead and click on the link for my blog . . . with your help maybe one of these days I could even get triple digit hits, and then I'll probably just pass out from delirious happiness).

Granted, if you pull back from all the excitement I'm currently feeling and really think about it, it's not quite so huge.  How many people out there are doing Google searches for "military pumpkins?"  I can't imagine there are many.  Still, at least one internet user out there was jonesing for an armed forces-themed gourd today, and I'm proud to have been the first suggestion Google made to them.

{Originally published on October 27th, 2008 at my Wordpress blog}

Rantings of a Former Property Management Professional

I've landed a writing gig that is pretty much perfect for me:  I'm writing neighborhood reviews for various areas of San Antonio for RentWiki.com.  I love this assignment because it allows me to write about something I have a passion for- the rental industry and neighborhood information.  No matter how long I am out of the business, I think I'll always think of myself as a property management professional in some way.  Of course I'm only two days out at this point- maybe that feeling will fade!

In the course of my research for the Oakwell Farms wiki, I was perusing ApartmentRatings.com to check out the reviews for the area's complexes.  This can be a very dangerous site for me to visit.  First of all, my feelings on this website are this:  no one really has any motivation to post on these sites unless they are disgruntled.  Happy with your service?  You might smile at your leasing professional, but you're not going to have a great bonfire lit under you to go sing their praises on the internet.  Generally it's only the folks who are pissed off at their complex who post.  And I'd say at least 50% of the time (and that's a very conservative estimate- it's probably more like 75%) those folks are pissed off about a situation where, if you knew the other party's side, you wouldn't feel so sorry for them.  On the flip side, I usually dismiss most of the positive posts as plants from the leasing staff, published anonymously.

Based on what I've just shared, I'm not sure why I even look at the site or try to use it as a reference in any way, even when taking with a gigantic grain of salt.  Maybe I just like getting all riled-up in a property-managementy-kind of way.  Whatever my underlying motivations, I found a post that really made me mad.  Buried within a bunch of other vitriol and a rant about having been charged a late fee (when he was late), this renter said, "All i can say is that is the RENTAL OFFICE of VILLAS AT OAKWELL FARMS is full of thieves and criminals who only know how to make money by stealing."

OH NO YOU DIDN'T.

I couldn't help myself.  Even though I've got a thousand and one other things I SHOULD have been doing, I had to fire back.  Here's how I answered:

I am in no way connected with these apartments- just browsing the site. However I have to comment when I see posts like this. I am a former property management professional (as of two days ago!) who worked in the NW part of SA. One of the reasons I quit my job is because of attitudes like this. If you want to express your anger at the management company's policies- by all means, have at it. Please don't launch personal attacks at the people who are just doing their job. 

When you bounce a check and you call the bank to discuss the NSF fee and they can't waive it, do you call the person on the other end of the line a thief?? When your credit card company charges you interest or late fees, do you accuse the customer service reps of being criminals?? Property management professionals are just doing their job just like in any other industry where there are deadlines for payments. 

Do you think that extra money from late fees is, in any way, shape, or form going to line the pockets of your office staff? TRUST ME it is not. Do you think they enjoy, or take any pleasure in charging you late fees? TRUST ME they don't. I always felt like I had an ulcer coming on when 'late day' rolled around. 

It's painful to have to charge a late fee, especially when you have a personal relationship with the person in question (and that's how many PM professionals feel about their residents). However you have to realize that apartment complexes are a business and as employees of that business, PM professionals have to follow the rules set down for them by corporate.
It pains me to read posts like this. Please think about what I have said. 

Take THAT renter jerk!!!

I am not going to miss attitudes like that.  I can't tell you how frustrating it is to have to enforce policies that you hate, and then catch a bunch of abuse for it, like you are just out to get your residents.  Don't get me wrong, I love my {now former} residents (most of them ; ) ).  A lot of them treated me well and were respectful if and when situations like this arose.  Still, you'd be surprised at the pure nastiness that gets spouted at property management professionals when they are just doing their best to balance the best interests of their residents and the demands of their corporate bosses.

{Originally published Oct 26th 2008 on my Wordpress Blog}

A "Married Day" and Bi-Partisan Pumpkin Carving

You know that scene in "Old School," where Frank the Tank can't says he can't drink because he has a big day planned with the wife the next day, and when questioned about his plans, responds,
"Well, um, actually a pretty nice little Saturday, we're going to go to Home Depot. Yeah, buy some wallpaper, maybe get some flooring, stuff like that. Maybe Bed, Bath, & Beyond, I don't know, I don't know if we'll have enough time."
Justin and I like to quote that line.  The underlying joke behind that scene is how pedestrian and, well, boring everyday married life can sometimes be.  Like any good joke, there's truth behind it.  It's certainly a big lifestyle change from being single, and seriously, Home Depot is prime couple time when you're married!  Though we do like to joke, it's actually pretty fulfilling to do stereotypical, middle-class married folk stuff on occasion.
I had a very married day today.  Justin and I spent a lot of time together, but it mostly involves watching TV or being in the same room, working on separate projects (usually I'm writing, Justin's playing video games or reading news on the internet).  So it was a nice treat to get out and do, "you know, a little Home Depot- maybe some Bed Bath and Beyond."
Actually, we visited a pumpkin patch, drove around San Antonio a bit, checked to see if Linens'n'Things has slashed their prices any more (I know the liquidation sale prices are going to get better- I'm holding out), and had a delicious Panda Express dinner.  Afterwards, we came home and carved pumpkins.
The pumpkins were actually Justin's idea.  He found some templates online to carve the presidential candidates' faces onto pumpkins and he wanted to give them a try.  Knowing our lack of pumpkin carving experience or fine motor skills, I was afraid we were going to have $14 worth of wasted pumpkin.  But they actually turned out pretty great!

Bi-Partisan Pumpkins
Yup, we did these ourselves!  Can you guess which one is Justin's?
It was really nice to take a few hours and just spend time with my husband.  I feel like the past few weeks, I have been so eager to get on with the freelancing that all my spare time outside of work was devoted to writing work.  I'm excited for all the things I'll be able to do around the house and with Justin now that I'll be working from home.  Even if I work a solid nine hours straight every day, I'll still have almost 2 extra hours that I used to spend in my commute every work day!

{Originally published on October 26th, 2008 on my Wordpress Blog}

An exciting day for this freelance writer

Today was pretty darn awesome for me.  I sold another article on Helium.  I received two direct orders on Textbroker (my first two ever!).  And, I'm only about 1 step away from getting started on what I think will be a really great paid writing assignment, writing about San Antonio neighborhoods and rentals for Rent Wiki.
I also enjoyed the best Vietnamese meal I've ever had (also, the only Vietnamese meal I've ever had) at lunch with my regional manager and manager, and a delicious Italian meal with a good friend for dinner.  I couldn't ask for a better day!

{Originally published on October 22nd, 2008 on my Wordpress blog}

Over the moon: my first real internet article purchased

Today I sold an article through Helium Marketplace.  I'm so excited!  . . . and this came at a perfect time too, as my days of gainful employment are drawing to a close and the blogs and hubs which have been taking up the majority of my writing time are earning me pennies at best.  I know it's important to establish a writing presence and portfolio online, so I don't see the effort as wasteful.  It's just really encouraging to have earned a writing paycheck in the double digits.  There's hope for me!

{Originally published October 21st, 2008 on my Wordpress blog}

Happy Birthday, Mom

{Originally published Oct 20th, 2008 on my Wordpress blog}

Today's my mom's birthday and since I'm starting out as a professional writer, it only seems fitting that I acknowledge this day with words (don't worry mom- you'll get a real present too).

This post is a tribute to my mom, Ann Scherm Baldwin.  I love her with all my heart.
 
I love my mom because she loves and takes care of her family with all her strength.

I love my mom because she taught me to be ethical, to be compassionate, to be passionate, and to be creative.

I love my mom because I know that every decision she made while I was a child, she made because she thought it was the best thing for me.

I love my mom because she never gave up on my sister or I, even when we had given up on ourselves.

I love my mom for her laugh.

I love my mom for the passion that she puts into her interests, and the interest she always shows in my mine, even if she is hearing about it for the thousandth time.

I love her for the fact that she will do anything to help my sister with her beautiful baby Landon, without a second thought.

I love my mom for how much she will love my children when I'm blessed to have them.

I love her for the parties she planned for each of my birthdays, down to every tiny detail, themed on whatever I was interested in that year.  I love that she put together play kits for car rides and decorated our rooms in whimsical themes, and assembled for us the largest dress up bin of anyone I knew.  I love that she took us to hay rides and rennaissance fairs and science museums.  I love that she's always had the most perfectly comfortable lap, and that she let me sit in it no matter how big I got.

I love my mom for more reasons that I can count, for more qualities than I could ever put into words.  I love her because she's been the best mom I could possibly imagine, and she's the inspiration I have to be a good mother one day.

Love you, Mom!
 

New Hubpage posted!

Check it out here: http://hubpages.com/hub/How-to-host-a-scrapbooking-baby-shower

This one's pretty long but it was fun to write.  I got the idea because I recently hosted a scrapbooking baby shower myself, which was a lot of fun, and got me started on a new hobby!  Hope you enjoy.

{Originally published on October 20th, 2008 on my Wordpress blog}

Rodent Spelling: My Downfall

So, yesterday I composed a 600 word piece about a specific type of hampster cage, to be used on a UK pet supplies website.  Very professionally fulfilling, as you can imagine.  I felt it was pretty good- pretty damn good, actually, considering I was going to get paid a measly three dollars for my efforts.  I was perturbed, therefore, a few hours later when I got an email notification that the client had sent my article back for revision.
Great.  Here I am, a burgeoning freelance writer working for pennies, and my work is still getting rejected.
I went to check the commentary for the article and turns out, the client thought my article was very good.  The problem, apparently, lay in the fact that I had "mispelled" hamster as 'hampster' throughout the article, and they wanted me to correct it.

"Stupid Brits, can't spell hampster right," I thought.  I quickly changed all incidences of the rodent spelling in question and resubmitted.

It wasn't until I went to write this post that I found out that it is I, in fact, that is in the wrong.  I did a google search and checked Wiki and was pretty embarrassed to discover that 'hamster' is, in fact, the correct spelling.  Oops!

No harm done, I guess.  I'm just surprised to realize that I've been spelling hamster wrong my whole life.  Guess you learn something new every day . . .

{Originally published October 29th, 2008 on my Wordpress blog}