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.


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.