Wednesday, 31 December 2008

New Year Felicitations


pic by Stewart Butterfield at Wikimedia Commons

Happy New Year to you, one and all.

I've been looking at new year quotes and was rather taken by this one by American writer and columnist for the Kansas City Star, Bill Vaughn.

"An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves."

I can be pessimistic if I'm not careful, but on New Years Eve, I'm definitely an optimist. Which are you?

Monday, 29 December 2008

A Haiku Diary

About 18 months ago I started to write a haiku a day. Gradually this turned into a haiku diary, where I try to instil the essence of a memorable part of each day. It’s amazing how it jogs my mind to remember when I read a few from months ago.

I try to do this every day, but often fail. However, I do keep a factual journal inherited from when I was in a business partnership and needed to record what I did with my time. At the end of each month I refer to this so I can go back and fill in the gaps. Some of my blog entries help too.

It gets done each month because I always post my monthly haiku diary in my Writelink blog. The link is to the last one posted for November.

As I look back, I can often recognise the ones I wrote as they happened because they are more poetic and less about the factual things. But even if the words in my haiku are less tangible, I can still relate them to what I did on the day.

December is a very busy month so I have lots of gaps to fill. But below is one I wrote for Boxing Day on the 26th. My last post here was a prose version of that day too, one which I wrote in the evening.

Summer’s leaf curtains
are drawn back to air the views
on our country drive.




Pic is by Raould at Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 26 December 2008

Happy Times with a Dark History

Today was a happy day. Our friend Bramble, a tan and white spaniel, came with us to visit a village with a dark history. We took her to see some friends who’ve moved out to Norton St Philip. They used to work in our local pub and now they run their own, so we can drop in whenever we feel up to a 70 mile round trip with one of us driving and therefore not drinking. That of course has to be me, since hubby drives all week for work.

When I opened the car door at home, Bramble immediately hopped in and onto the passenger seat, refusing to budge over to the back, so that hubby could sit next to me. He was all prepared to sit in the back until I said I didn’t want an unrestrained dog sitting beside me in the front. After some rather hilarious pushing and shoving, we finally managed to get her out on the passenger side and then back in behind the two of us. And off we went amid some happy laughter.

Since the weekend, it’s been cloudy and grey with only people’s Christmas lights to brighten the streets. But today was a lovely day for a drive. The sun shone, burnishing the naked trees and brightening the grass. It was good to be out in the countryside with summer’s curtains of leaves drawn back to air the views.

The Fleur de Lys in Norton St Philip had not long opened when we arrived. Only one regular was sitting at the bar reading his newspaper; “escaping from in-laws”, he told us. To his surprise, we were welcomed with hugs and kisses by the landlady. And on the bar stood a glass wellie full of dog biscuits. Bramble was a happy doggie too.

The pub sits on a corner immediately opposite The George, and it's these two buildings that have the dark history. The George is reputedly one of the most haunted inns in England, and possibly the oldest. Probably first built in the 13th century, The George is recorded as having a continuous licence since 1397. In 1685, The Duke of Monmouth stayed here when he tried to usurp the throne of England from James II, and is said to have narrowly escaped assassination when a bullet was fired into the building through a window. His followers secured the village and fought off a Royalist attack, but Monmouth did not survive long afterwards for he himself was caught and executed.

The George also served as a court for his Bloody Assizes by the infamous Judge Jefferies, The Hanging Judge, who tried Monmouth's supporters, showing no mercy. Prisoners were either locked up in the George’s dungeons awaiting transportation, or hanged nearby. One of the accounts I have read says the executions took place at the Fleur de Lys and their bodies were displayed there. You can see it here, together with some photos of the two pubs that sit on opposite sides of the road.

We’ll have different memories of our visit to the village today, though, as we passed a happy hour with our friends before the skittle teams arrived for their lunch ahead of a game. We took our leave when they started to get really busy and wended our way home, let Bramble out for a run by the river, and settled in with some Christmas sarnies in front of the telly, before she had to go back to her regular master.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Merry Christmas Everybody


Happy holidays to everyone. Peace and goodwill.

Monday, 22 December 2008

The Sally Army

This pic of a Sally Army brass band playing in Birmingham, UK, is by Anneli Salo

Every year I give what I can afford to the Christmas appeal of the Salvation Army, who do wonderful work in helping the least fortunate to have some sort of respite or treat at that time of the year. Knowing that there are homeless people sleeping rough and scavenging for food is bad enough at any time of year; at the Christmas holiday time it seems doubly hard somehow.

The Sally Army, as it is affectionately called here, was set up as an evangelical movement in 1865 by William Booth in the poorer areas of London’s East End. His wife, Catherine, designed the famous Sally Army bonnet. Lieutenant Eliza Shirley was only 17 when she followed her father to Philadelphia, US, with permission from General Superintendent William Booth to roll out his work in her new country. George Bernard Shaw's famous play, Major Barbara, tells a story set within the work of the organisation.

The international work of the Sally Army is now widely recognised as not only bringing people to the Christian religion, but supporting the least fortunate of any religion. They are, for example, famous for reuniting people who have been lost for years with people who have missed them.

Their homeless shelters are available all year round, but as Christmas approaches they appeal to those of us who have the comfort of our homes to help them make a special effort over the holiday. Donations also go towards helping poorer families to have a simple Christmas dinner and presents for their children. Elderly people living alone might be invited to join others for a meal. Extra volunteers are needed to distribute meals and gifts, or just provide companionship.

The Army's work reinforces the message that Christmas as a time of goodwill is not just for the fortunate few. Some people think its members are too evangelical. I myself may not completely share their faith, but I know they do invaluable work. The SallyArmy has been performing small miracles for nearly a century and a half. It would be great to believe that it won’t be needed for that long again, but I really hope it can continue for as long as the needy are with us.


Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Run Up to Christmas is Bad for Writing

Photo by
Nevit Dilmen

My blogs are about the only thing I'm writing at the moment. There's just too much else to do at this time of year. Thank goodness I no longer have clients with deadlines. I've no idea how I managed to fit everything in when I did. Tomorrow I'm heading for London and meeting up with an old friend. Friday I'll be helping my daughter to set up her new computer, and then we have a weekend of jollification. I'll be back on Monday and probably won't be able to post again before then.

Thought I'd just mention that, since I put the Helium widget on my blog, my article clicks have definitely gone up. That's fantastic, and it has encouraged me to look for those widgets now and read seom of the articles written at Helium by other bloggers. That gets me over there to do some rating too. If you've not yet seen any of my work there, please do click on my Helium Go and then find something you'd like to read in my articles list.


Monday, 15 December 2008

Moving Dreams

I’m feeling rather envious of a friend who has just moved into the home of her dreams, after spending a frustrated six months in rented accommodation waiting for it to happen. She sold her previous house very quickly after putting it on the market several months after mine went up for sale. Now she’s in the new house and I’m still waiting for a buyer, and likely to be doing so for quite a while to come, by all accounts.

Studland Beach is not far from where I hope to be living next. To reach it from there, the quickest way will be to cross the narrow entrance to Pooles natural harbour at Sandbanks on a ferry, as long as the queue is not too long. I understand it is very popular in the summer months. To reach it you drive past the famous millionaire homes, supposedly some of the most expensive coastal properties in the UK.

At the far end of the beach on the other side are some varicoloured cliffs. I took the photo there a couple of years ago in early summer. The second one is a view across the harbour taken from a layby where we stopped on the drive home.


Friday, 12 December 2008

A Busy Day

Not much time to write anything today, including this blog. But I don't want to miss my Friday blog slot so I thought I'd just give you a run down on my day.

First was cleaning the house, then finding the Christmas decorations. Fortunately hubby came in for lunch as I was getting really frustrated having emptied out all the store cupboards in vain. I did find some things that had been missing for ages, but no Xmas decs. So we got out the loft ladder and climbed up there. And there they were, in a black sack inside a box.

My efforts are a bit minimal this year. We bought a tiny blue spruce growing in a pot, so we'll be potting it on after the holiday. It's about 2 foot tall, perhaps a little less. So I put it on a coffee table next to a mirror, put the lights around it and then up and over the mirror. it looks quite good. Perhaps I'll take a pic to show you next week.

Once I'd finished those minimal decorations to my satisfaction, I started chopping vegetables for the first of my curries. I made three altogether: Jean's special veggie; a lamb madras; and a chicken and mushroom dopiaza, the last two with shop bought sauces so really easy.

It's all in aid of my supper party tomorrow night. Hubby wanted curries and I don't know exactly what my guests will like so I've made some options, including a beef casserole for someone I know doesn't like anything spicy.

We'll have loads left. Numbers have dwindled a bit. Brian from next door called in earlier to give apologies: his wife is sick and I don't think he'll come without her. Maybe I'll offer him takeaways.

Not that it matters. What's left will freeze and I'll have some cooking free days in the next week or so.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Wordless Wednesday - New Forest Foal

Of course, this wasn't December - June actually.
I just like looking at it. Makes a change from the Christmas hype.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Putting on Weight Before Christmas

pic is by Jmb at Wikimedia Commons

Oops. I got on the bathroom scales last week, something I haven’t done for a couple of months. I knew the weight would have gone up because I had more or less stopped all exercise to sit in front of this monitor all day long. I’ve only really left it if I had to do other things like cooking, shopping, cleaning and laundry, or to flop in front of the TV for Little Dorrit and the News. Or on those days when I just haven’t been here.

Part of the trouble is that I now feel locked in to so many money-making sites until I can make enough to receive a pay-out. Be warned, if you are looking into how to make money on the web. It’s as well to try them out one by one, if you’re concerned about your time at the computer. This is also eating into my writing time and I’m not getting as much done.

Anyway, the gain was well over half a stone. And this is before Christmas. Usually it’s not till January that I feel the need to check and then do something about it. But I need to start now or I’ll be looking like a balloon at the end of the year. Fortunately there will only be two of us here on the festive day, so perhaps I won’t be tempted to indulge as much as I do when I’m catering for the masses. But I am hosting a curry night for the neighbours next Saturday, and I have a long weekend with my daughter and granddaughter the following week.

Since I found out my weight, I’ve been leaving the house for a short but brisk walk every day, even when it’s been raining. I have to go to the post most days anyway. And I’ve been quite good about no snacks between meals, and cutting down a bit on portion sizes. After I finish this post and do my EC dropping, I’ll dig out my Rosemary Conley video and at least do the toning exercises.

Wish me luck in trying to get the balance right.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Proving Love in the Morning

Image: www.freeimages.co.uk

It’s years since I had breakfast in bed. I’ll never forget the lovely surprise on a Sunday morning when hubby left me to sleep late. The noise of his juggling a tray full of a sizzling fry-up and china while opening the door woke me, and the delicious scents of the coffee, bacon, eggs and tomatoes drew me out from under the bedclothes. It wasn’t a special occasion; it was just a spur of the moment decision on his part. For me, this was what was special, that he’d decided to do something to make me feel good and prove that he loved me.

Nowadays I am woken every weekday morning at 6.30 with a cup of fruit tea and a biscuit. This is just before my taxi driving hubby leaves for his second job of the morning and it means I can accompany my morning read in bed with a refreshing drink and snack that wakes me up properly. I have plenty of time left to enjoy my cosy duvet nest before I need to be up and making his bacon butty when he comes back at ten to eight.

What inspired me to write about this was finding out about a super soft Spundown Duvet that could make those kind of moments even more enjoyable. Spundown_duvet_packaging_

These duvets are light but warm, and washable at 60°, which is the temperature that kills dust mites. They are made from polyester microfibre so are just the thing for anyone who is allergic to feathers and suchlike. They are available from Pure Living Collection in London, UK.




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Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Copyright Infringement

I’ve spent part of today scrolling through 70 odd pages of a Wordpress blog looking for stolen articles of mine. Early this afternoon I checked the Constant Content forum and found a furore. Someone had discovered this blog which had posted hundreds of the showcased bits of articles from the site without buying them. We were all asked to search for our own articles and email their titles to CC support so that they could deal with the infringement of our copyright.

The site had 649 pages so it was a daunting task. But after 70 plus pages the material on it changed – it wasn’t from CC. I checked a few random pages and they all looked as though stuff had been hiked from sites like myLot and similar forums.

Some CC authors had up to 50 articles ripped off. I was one of the lucky ones. I only found three of mine on there.

Now it gets stranger. In the CC forum thread about this, someone published an apology for violating our rights and said it was the fault of a robot. Now I’ve heard of robots on the web but I don’t understand what they do.

CC are now reviewing their security measures, and I don’t know if this will affect my subtle efforts to market my work. There’s a link to it in my sidebar and in my email signature, but that’s not going to be much good if they limit access to the general public.

Anyway, all the offending articles have now been removed. I’m not going to give a link to the site because I don’t think it deserves any clicks. But if anyone is worried about it and needs to take a look, get in touch and I’ll let you have it privately.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Bloggers Unite for World Aids Day

Bloggers Unite

December 1st is World Aids Day when bloggers unite to raise awareness of this dreadful scourge that is still threatening life in Africa and causing untold misery.

My daughter was just 10 years old in 1981 when the first symptoms of aids were recognised among gays in New York and California. Then it was labelled GRID (gay-related immune deficiency) and it was not until the virus was later discovered that the labels HIV and AIDS were coined.

When my girl was 13, Rock Hudson died of AIDS. She and her friends could speak of little else. It was top of the agenda among young teenagers who became very cautious about sex and very knowledgeable about safe sex.

Sadly that attitude didn’t spread far enough or last long enough, and the disease has multiplied around the world. According to the American International AIDS Foundation, deaths from AIDS now total over 25 million, while some 38 million people are currently living with the HIV virus. Africa is by far the worst affected continent but Asia, and India in particular, is fast catching up.

The history of medical research to find a way to halt the deadly virus is a travesty of litigation versus humanitarian efforts. Relatively cash rich countries have provided education, condoms and testing, as well as medication to help the HIV positive lead longer and fuller lives. Where the cash is not available, people just suffer and infect other people, often without any awareness.

The proliferation of HIV and AIDS is a direct result of the poverty that so many of us abhor but feel quite helpless about. Even when we dig deep in our pockets and send money with our goodwill, we later discover that aid has been misappropriated. We can only keep on giving, blogging and praying that our small interventions will one day make a difference.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Tenby for a Holiday

Why would hubby and I want to stay in a Tenby Self Catering Cottage next spring? Well, we both have birthdays quite close together, one near the end of March and the other at the beginning of April. It’s good to take a holiday around that time and go away somewhere, so we can both feel we’ve treated each other close to our special days.

Tenby is a place I’ve driven past a few times on the way to Pembroke for the ferries for Ireland, but I’ve never followed the signpost into the town. People say it is a popular and beautiful seaside resort. When an opportunity came up on PayPerPost, I decided to kill two birds with one stone and find out what the area has to offer.

If you are a regular here you will know that the sea is important to me, so I first looked at the beach areas. Tenby boasts four separate beaches – South Beach, Castle beach, Harbour Beach and North Beach. From Easter through to October, boat trips go from the harbour to Caldey Island which only about 2 miles away. Cistercian monks s till live here in their abbey above a village with a green and a Post Office which is also a museum.

We might be too early in the year for that, and for warm, lazy days on the beach or swimming in the sea, but we can always take a 351 bus from Tenby to Saundersfoot and walk the 4 and a half miles back on the coast path.

If we book our Tenby self catering cottage at Celtic Haven at Lydstep, just outside Tenby, we’ll have golf courses close by, plus wild cliffs and a rocky shoreline. Only a mile away is Manorbier, with its own beach and a magnificent example of a 12th century castle also open to the public from Easter onwards. Another castle, at nearby Carew, together with a tidal mill, will definitely be open when we can get there. And Pembroke Castle is under ten miles away.

At the weekend we might be joined by some younger members of our family and visit some of the other Tenby attractions. If they don’t fancy the town’s Museum and Art Gallery, we could try out the Great Wedlock Dinosaur Park or the Silent World Aquarium & Reptile House. We could even check out the quad bikes at Ritec Valley Buggies.

I’m getting more enthusiastic about staying in a Tenby self catering cottage by the minute. All I have to do is persuade hubby. I don’t think it will cost as much as visiting the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. But if we don't make it in March, I'll definitely find time for a Short Break Wales.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Vivat Bacchus

One of the articles I have sold at the Constant Content site, was about a restaurant in the City of London that had a special £1000 menu that included some very pricey wine. It used to be a popular treat at Vivat Bacchus for many of those well-heeled, bonus-heavy City workers. Since the credit crunch was recognised, of course, it’s no longer available.

I heard about this on the Richard and Judy show one evening when they invited the Head Chef to come in and talk about it. The next day I looked them up and wrote my 400 words that eventually netted me $20 (less the site commission) for a one-off non-exclusive use. It’s still for sale there but, since it’s no longer up to date, I need to revise it as a restaurant review, which is on my to do list.

When I wrote that article, Vivat Bacchus was just in Farringdon. Now it’s also to be found near London Bridge as well. Ordinary mortals can eat very well at Vivat Bacchus for around £30 plus wine, snack on tapas or cheese in the wine bar, or try one of its special international platters.

The owners are South African but passionate about food and wine from around the world. They claim to have 18,000 bottles of wine in five cellars at the Farringdon address. Their menus include South African delicacies such as springbok. The restaurants also have whole rooms full of cheese where punters can look, sample and make their choices. You can buy them from the Deli to take home. Great for food hampers too – a super Christmas gift.

This post was inspired by CK’s new London Chow. Thanks CK. I promise I won’t steal any more of your thunder (or any more London eateries).

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Wordless Wednesday - the Beach in Winter

Deserted beach at Hunstanton
Patterns in the Sand


Friday, 21 November 2008

Helium Again

I’m feeling a little tired this evening and I need to retire early. But first I must keep a promise and give some tips about Helium. Don’t forget though, that these tips are just what I’ve picked up in my few weeks of contributing there. If any more experienced Helium writers disagree, please leave a comment and give us the benefit of your greater wisdom.

1 Writing to a title. If you have already written articles or short stories and still own the copyright, you can submit them and earn a few extra cents or perhaps a little more. To get your stars, you need to make them fit a title that already exists with at least three articles already posted. Then you have a chance of being rated in the top 25%, which is needed to get a star and get paid an up-front amount. Alternatively, pick a title and check out some of the articles on it. If you think you could do an equally good job, or better, write a new article to submit. You can also submit a new title, but if there is no competition, it won’t qualify towards your star. It’s a good idea to do a bit of promotion of your articles to get people to click on them.

2 Entering the writing contests. Titles for these are issued every week, giving a deadline two weeks away. Points are awarded according to the ratings on each article you write; they can also be deducted for a poor rating. You need to write on several titles in the contest to have a chance of winning one of the three prizes; I reckon it probably needs about six. At the minimum word count of 400 per piece, that is 2,400 words. And if you win first prize having written six pieces you’ll receive $10 dollars per article. You can check your progress on the site page for the contest and see if you are in the running for a prize.

3 Writing for the Marketplace. Pay offered is not too bad here, but competition can be fierce. You have to write to a publisher’s spec and it’s very important to follow all instructions carefully. Just recently Helium has introduced a kill fee for all articles that are not selected and paid for by the publisher. The unsuccessful articles then revert to the site for public consumption.

4 Remember to rate. Helium sets great store by its policy of peer ratings. Everyone is expected to do this, and to get the most return, you need to get rating stars as well as writing ones.

There’s more to Helium than all the above, but that’s where I am right now. And it’s probably enough for anyone considering Helium to start out with.

As with any of the showcasing sites, don’t expect to earn lots of bucks from the word go. For serious freelancers, it can only be a sideline. For those with another income, it can be good fun.

By the way, I got my star back with my next article, Returning to College During Middle Age. It's currently rated number 12 out of 67.

Note to fellow entrecarders – I’m going to be away for a few days so my dropping will tail off. Back again next Wednesday.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Helium


I’m feeling a little frustrated with Helium. They’ve recently introduced some great incentives:

- additional daily revenue share
- up-front payments for articles submitted each month, and
- kill fees for articles not selected by publishers in their marketplace, and therefore automatically transferred to the site.

All you have to do to qualify, they say in their announcement about this, is maintain at least a one star rating, which is supposed to be easy. Elsewhere they say you have to have it on the last day of the month when they’ll work out who gets what. Five star holders will also get a $3 dollar monthly bonus.

To get your stars, your ratings have to average in the top quarter of the ratings. If you introduce a new title and noone follows suit, there will be nothing to rate it against, so it won’t count. The number of stars relates to the total number of articles you have submitted. I’m still a newbie, and I got my one star right away, then I lost it, then I got it back, now it’s disappeared again because my rating score is 74%.

Some of the ratings do seem a bit unfair. My article about home energy audits went up to number 2 of 6 and then back down to 6. In the meantime I received a message from another member who was kind enough to take the trouble to tell me that she found that particular piece very well written and helpful.

A writer pal told me that he doesn’t like Helium because people will vote for their friends so it’s not fair. That can only be true part of the time because articles for rating are all anonymous and are issued randomly. I guess you just might recognise something you’ve seen before, but the chance of this seems quite remote.

The same person said he thought it was slanted to the US. That could be something that contributed to my down-rating because I wrote about the home energy audit in relation to the UK law on the new Energy Performance Certificate.

Ah well, I’ll just have to try to submit some more articles and hope they get rated high before the end o November. If lots of writers do that each month, the Helium stock is going to grow and grow. More pages to attract the advertisers I suppose.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Pros and Cons of the Blogging World


I’ve come across bloggers who feel guilty if they don’t post something every day. All I can say is thank goodness you don’t. It takes me enough time to check out the hundred or so blogs I look at each day in order to drop my Entrecard, without having to read every single one. I don’t know how people manage 300 drops on even one blog, let alone several, as I understand some people do.

The times I feel guilty are when I don’t manage to read all the new posts and make at least a few comments. Even leaving comments takes more time than just writing them, because after that all the new comments on that post keep arriving in my inbox. They have to be read before they are deleted. I really didn’t know what I’d be getting myself into when I started this blog.

But isn’t the blogosphere just great. How else would I get to know other freelancers from around the world as easily as this? How else would I be able to join a raft of people praying for Henry, the missing parrot, and waiting anxiously for news of his return home? How else would I meet the talking cats, dogs and horses who regularly fill my screen? How else would I meet all these wonderful people from Greece, the States, Ireland, The Phillipines, Holland, etc. all in the same day?

I love it really.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Tagged - Who Me?

I’ve long been reading blog tags and thinking the bloggers are lucky because they don’t have to make a decision on what to blog about that day. Now it’s happened to me and, I have to say, it doesn’t seem to make the decision process that much easier. I still have to decide what to disclose about myself so that my readers get to know me a bit better.

First I should thank jenaisle for thinking of me as a recipient of her tag. Jena is a great blogging friend who comments regularly and is always doing things I am grateful for. Jena – I really do appreciate you.

Now I must copy Jena and offer five aspects of myself that you are unlikely to know already.

1 When I set up this blog, I had the idea of it being a vehicle to earn more money online. The first thing I didn’t anticipate was how difficult that would be. The second was how much I’d enjoy the blogging anyway. And the third was how many people I was going to get to know and love in the blogosphere. Even though it’s not very lucrative for me, the blogging world is wonderful.

2 I already had another blog at Writelink. There I have a special network of virtual friends who are all writers. But the site des not allow widgets etc. so I needed another blog.

3 My blogging schedule is sacrosanct when I am at home. I post in blogger on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and in Writelink on Tuesdays and Thursdays. If I am going to be away for a few days, I always pre-post when I can fit it in.

4 I found that, rather than detract from the number of articles I can write, blogging has set my writing habit much more firmly. Although I can’t keep up with people who make a living by writing lots of articles a day, I can sometimes manage three or four different pieces of writing a day.

5 Because I also write for Constant Content and Helium, I use both UK and US English. It’s no longer the big deal it was when I first joined the CC site.

Those were five things I suspect you didn’t know about me before today. I think I give away lots of info in my blog posts, like: I am a wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, and I like horses, dogs and cats, and travelling around to visit friends and family, so I didn’t include all that in the five.

Now I have to pass on this tag to bloggers whose blogs I admire and about whom I would like to know more. What is tricky about that is a) knowing who will want to take part, and b) who hasn’t done it before. So forgive me, and feel free to ignore me, if I select you and one of the above applies. And if anyone is doing NaNo WriMo, you are perfectly entitled to leave this until December.

Henson’s Hell
Sharp Words
Crete Delights
Writing to Survive
The Writing Nag
The Beauty Denominator
Trapped in the Office
Coastal Commentaries
Symphony of Love
Confessions of Fitness Diva

Monday, 10 November 2008

Uniting for Refugees

Today is the day when bloggers unite to raise awareness of the horrendous problems of refugees.

Recently I posted about refugees from the Congo. Sadly these multitudes are just the tip of the iceberg. The world is full of displaced people, who are either running away, or have been chased away, by other people or by an environment crisis, from their homes and most of their dear possessions. I can’t begin to imagine how this must feel, but my heart goes out to them.

The United Nations has a Refugee Agency. Just take a look at their website for a glimpse of the extent of the problem. This year they ran a pilot project prior to setting up an annual Global Needs Assessment planned to launch next year. Its aim is “to outline the total needs, the costs of meeting them and the consequences of any gaps.” Their pilot covered the needs of the refugees in Cameroon, Ecuador, Georgia, Rwanda, Thailand, Tanzania, Yemen and Zambia. They found that, despite previous UN intervention, around 30% of the basic needs of these people remained unmet. They might have no shelter, sanitation, healthcare, education. They might rarely know where their next meal was coming form, or when they would be able to eat. They might still be in fear for their physical safety. They have estimated that they need a budget of $63.5 million dollars to ensure these needs are met in 2009. And that’s just in those eight countries.

On a different level altogether, is Refugees United , a not-for-profit organisation set up to help reunite refugee family members. Refugee families are lucky if they manage to stay together. Even tiny children can get separated from their parents. As a parent and grandparent myself, I just feel panic set in when I think of my five year old granddaughter being separated from her mother and the rest of us.


It seems that all I can do is support charities. Other than that, I feel pretty helpless in the face of all this suffering. I can only dream of a time when we can all live together harmoniously, and noone will ever have to flee their home or lose their children or family members to displacement.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Sod's Law

I spent all of this morning cleaning and tidying because someone made an appointment to view my house in the early afternoon. I planned to be here when the agent arrived and then go out, because this agent prefers the vendors not to be present at viewings. I’d arranged to visit a friend, after which I’d get in the food shopping.

That meant I had to take most of the day off. No article writing today. But I can catch up tomorrow, Saturday, when I won’t need to clean my house.

Of course, it didn’t work out like that. One hour before they were due to arrive a phone call let me know it wasn’t going to happen. My potential buyer is having problems with his own buyers and has stopped looking for now. Perhaps he’ll come later.

I called my friend and asked if I could see her later. That was ok with her. She, poor girl, was stuck at home with a bad back. So I headed off to the shops to get that over and done with first.

With my car-boot loaded with shopping, I set off for her house. When my phone rang I pulled over to listen to messages. She had managed to get a chiropractor’s cancelled appointment. She couldn’t wait for me.

If I hadn’t done the shopping first, I would have seen her. If I’d had to wait at home for the estate agent, I wouldn’t have done the shopping first.

Is life trying to tell me something?

Monday, 3 November 2008

Writing as Catharsis

We often hear that people believe writing is cathartic. Therapists often advise their clients to write letters to people they have issues with – letters that will never be read by the addressee. Just the writing of it is expected to release the disabling emotions and produce closure.

To some extent this worked for me. When I wrote about my parents, after they had left this world, although I still have some uncertainties and regrets, the one feeling I’m glad I was left with is pride. Here’s a piece about my mother and her memories. They are a slice of English social history as well.

After my parents died, I realised that I didn’t really know them well as I should. My father kept his feelings well hidden and rarely talked about his early life. Only after he died did I discover that he’d had another fiancée before he met my mother.

Mother was different and reminisced a lot. She outlived all of her siblings and was the last of her generation. I remember five of my uncles and aunts: Sid, Sam and Charlie; Elsie and Florrie.

I never met my Uncle Mark and Aunt Doris. Mark died as a young man after an illness. In the year that Doris was chosen to be May Princess at the Ram Roasting Fair, the day was scorching and the sun beat down on her flower garlanded head and flimsy princess dress. After hours of waving royally as her carriage processed, poor Doris succumbed to sunstroke and didn’t recover.

Mother was born in 1918 so must have been conceived after her father had been invalided back from the Great War. He’d been gassed in the trenches and was unable to work after that to provide for his large family. He died when she was still quite young.

My grandmother, Jane, had to find a way to feed and clothe her children even before she was a widow. She was the unofficial village midwife and would attend all the births. When this happened, mother would have to stay at home to do the washing, all by hand of course, and prepare tea for her brothers and sisters. Sometimes, she said, she didn’t have any food except potatoes she could dig out of the garden.

The school often sent an inspector around to the homes of absent children. He had a wooden leg so you could hear him coming. Word would be passed along Ley Lane where they lived.

“Quick. Peg-leg’s coming.”

Like all the other children, mother would jump into bed and cover herself with the blanket so she could say she was ill.

All her life she felt she was ignorant and she was diffident about taking part in discussions and giving her own point of view. But she made up for her lack of education in hundreds of little ways, and was loved and respected by our neighbours who often came to her for help.

Her first job was at Newton Abbot’s leather factory. She hated it and often told of having red, raw hands after a day of pushing the skins around in the chemicals they were treated with. When her friend Gladys suggested they both apply for live-in work at the local hospital, she persuaded her mother to let her take the post of matron’s maid, while Gladys worked as a cook in the hospital kitchens.

They worked hard and enjoyed their nights out. If they arrived back late, and the hospital doors were locked against them, they would climb in through the window of the men’s ward. Many of the men in the ward would help them out by coughing a warning if the ward sister was around and likely to catch them. Mother and Gladys continued to work and play together until Gladys married.

When my mother moved to work in a nursing home in Torquay, she met Harold, my father. She was walking on the sea front with a girl friend. Harold was with a young man who knew this girl, and they stopped for a chat.

When he mentioned where he was playing football that Saturday, mother told him he’d be playing against two of her brothers, and that was how they became interested in each other. I believe she actually went to the match.

Mother was only nineteen when they married so father had to get permission from my grandmother. He was eight years older so I guess she believed him when he said that he would take care of her.

Mother had left the family home when she was sixteen but often went back to visit. I well remember Sunday treks to the family home. On summer evenings we would go “down ’Ackney” to a pub on the Hackney Marshes at the edge of the River Teign. Here we would congregate in an outside shelter, often with many of the extended family who also turned up.

While the men drank their pints of beer or scrumpy, the ladies would sip their half pints and Great Aunt Maud would eat her favourite pig’s trotters. And we children would be allowed to play hide and seek or spy the wildlife from the footpaths of the river bank.

Another great family day out was to the horse racing, but we couldn’t afford the entrance fees. Some of my uncles were employed at the brickworks that used to be beside the race course at Newton Abbot. When there were race meetings at the weekend, one of them would meet us at the works entrance and escort us through the yards to a bank right next to the race course. That would be our base for the day and we’d spread out our picnics and await the fun. When the race came past us, we had a close up view of the sweat frothing horses and their determined jockeys.

Sometimes one or two of the men would climb over the fence, when they thought they wouldn’t get caught, and walk quickly towards the crowds and the bookies so that they could place their bets. We’d not be likely to see them again that day. Occasionally a policeman or two would walk past and look at us sternly, saying,

“Mind you stay on that side of the fence, you lot. You don’t come in unless you pay.” Little did they know. Or perhaps they just didn’t want us to know that they knew.

Anyway, they were great times, now long gone. Towards the end of her life, mother often referred to them. As with so many of the elderly in their latter days, the older memories were easier to recall.

I feel proud to be a member of an extended family that loved to come together and looked after its own. I feel doubly proud to be the offspring of a woman who began life with few advantages, managed to make her own way but retained her family links, and made it her life’s work to be a good neighbour and care for the people around her.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Stopping the Junk Mail and Cold Calls

In the UK we have the Preference Services. I’ve registered with them all and it has stopped all the junk mail I used to get through the mail, and all those annoying calls from people trying to sell me double glazing etc. Unfortunately, as spam email comes from all over the world, it just keeps multiplying even though I’ve registered with the email Preference Service.

Anyway just now, through SocialSpark, I’ve learnt what you can do if you live in the US. Join The Privacy Council. It looks like you pay them just $9 and they get you ON the National Do Not Call List, and OFF all the databases that germinate the dreaded junk mail etc, such as:
- The Direct Marketing Association's List, which takes your name off of most catalog lists
- the Advo, PennySaver, The Flyer, and ValPak direct mail lists
- most Catalogs, Mail Order, and Magazine Lists
- Pre-approved Credit Card Offers mailing list
- Reverse Phone Directories
- Sweepstakes Lists

So that really should do the same job that I’m benefiting from here.

I’m going to tell my cousin in Memphis and all my US pals. Can all you new Privacy Council members let me know how it affects your email spam too?


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Here and There - a Comparison

Tonight I opened the door to a knock and had to crouch down to be level with the two tiny witches chanting, “Trick or treat.” I offered my basket of treats and one took an apple, the other a toffee éclair. Thump and rustle went their pails of treats and a shadowy mum at the end of the garden path echoed their thanks. Those kids were having a great time out in the dark and a grown up was keeping them safe.

I couldn’t help comparing it with the horrific scenes from Africa that were on the TV news tonight. Congolese refugees outside an aid station had been waiting with no food for two days. They ran out of patience and broke through the gates to get at food for their families. It was a stampede and the children got in the way. The images of terrified tiny faces were heartbreaking. The news team and aid workers intervened and pulled tiny bodies out from under the scrum while the cameras rolled on. Children were separated from their families for long periods. Some were injured with blood streaming down their faces. Why do we let these things happen in this day and age? I am aching for them as I write. Saddened and furious.

Things don’t change much. Louis Michel, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid was the source of this photo of an African refugee camp in 2005.
But here it’s Halloween.

Photo by D’Arcy Norman: licence as http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Some Blog Awards




A few days ago, I received these three awards from Jon at The Ups, Downs and Sometimes Insane World of Freelance Writing. Thanks, Jon. That is so good for my morale.

I’ve copied his instructions word for word.

"Most bloggers are familiar with the routine, but for those of you who aren’t here’s what to do if you’re tagged in this post.

Pass the award on to seven blogs of your choice.

Link back to the blogger who gave you the award / awards.

Let the new winners know they have received an award by commenting on their blog.

You don’t have to accept the awards. You can take one or take all three, the choice is yours."

There are so many awards doing the round these days, it’s quite difficult to choose blogs that haven’t already received these awards before. I’ve tried not to duplicate all three but I know some of the following have already received at least one of them before, so please forgive any duplications. These are all blogs that I find a pleasure to read:

A Postcard a Day

A Singaporean in London

Daisy the Curly Cat

I hope you will click on their links and share my enjoyment of them.

Monday, 27 October 2008

A Poem

I'm feeling a bit down today - some family problems. I'm not feeling much like writing so I looked out a poem from last year. I wrote it while travelling on a stormy day. On re-reading it, it seemed to run a gamut of emotions but end on a note of hope. That's what I need right now.

To Exeter from the coast

On a wild, wet, windy day
white horses surging shorewards,
with sea spray leaping high
as the train roars by.

Birds clustering on the waves
in the wide estuary.
Little boats bobbing the swell,
the train flies pell-mell.

By the river the pub looks bleak
and the cows seek shelter;
rain strafes the sodden sheep
while travelling children weep.

Seagulls sit in the city park,
branches flail, leaves flurry.
Sun breaks out to rekindle passion
as the train draws to the station.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Have you Been to a Swishing Party?

There's been a lot of talk on the TV recently about swishing. Actually I only heard the term for the first time this evening, but when the presenter gave the definition I realised I'd seen quite a bit about it before.

It's the new word for swapping clothes. Apparently it's really big in America, and it's taking off here too. It may be coincidental, but the fact that we're all getting short of cash, or expecting to very soon, could account for its fast growing popularity.

Enterprising professionals arrange events in large premises and charge a small entrance fee for people to bring and buy clothes. Private swishing parties cost nothing but entry is by invitation only to friends, and friends of friends, willing to bring something to swap.

The idea has been promoted by model, Twiggy, in a BBC TV series, Twiggy's Frock Exchange. I saw a bit of one of the programmes and noted that it was furnished with experts who made over many of the items donated for swapping to give them a completely new identity.

Even if you don't have experts like that around, I'd say it's a jolly good way to perk up your wardrobe frequently without breaking the bank.

What do you think? What are the pros and cons? Have you done any swapping and would you do it again?

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Had a Great Time but Not Feeling Too Well

Here I am, home again from my wanderings. But I'm not really compos mentos (is that spelt correctly, I wonder?) I have returned with yet another ferocious cold, and it's only two weeks since I felt free of the last one. I knew it was coming before I went, and I'd called two friends to help me decide whether to cry off. They both begged me to come anyway, so I did.

It was probably a mistake. I've been on trains and buses between here, London and Leeds, and can just imagine my germs spreading wide from the south to the north of the country. If you are in the UK and have caught my cold, I can only apologise.

For most of the time I was away, I held the worst of it at bay. I was out enjoying myself with people I don't see all that often. I got plenty of fresh air but didn't stay out late. After lunch with a final group of buddies yesterday, when I got back to my daughter's house in South London, I really started to feel rough. Because there were no more jolly jaunts planned, I guess my mind decided I could allow myself to be sick.

So this morning I prepared for the train journey by buying Lockets lozenges and fresh supplies of tissues, and then tucked myself away in the rear-most corner of the railway carriage. And now I'm home and have loads of catching up to do, while all I feel like doing is tucking myself in with a hot water bottle.

So I'll stop writing for now and promise something more interesting for my next post.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Apologies in Advance

I'm off on another jolly with friends and family and I won't be here again till Thursday or Friday next week. I'd hoped to be able to prepost in my blogs but had system problems yesterday so I ran out of time.

Since neither Kaspersky, nor SuperAntiSpyWare was sorting out my problems, I was advised to download Malwarebyte and run its full scan. That took 9 hours and then I realised it hadn't been updated for a month so I updated it and ran another quick scan. It found and quarantined loads of infections that had been slowing down the system and making IE give me sites I didn't want while I was working in Firefox. I've now deleted all the suspect stuff and things should be better, but I probably can't be sure until I'm back in working mode next week.

Unfortunately my entrecard is going to be on some really good sites while I'm away, and I won't be able to return many drops, if any at all. So apologies in advance to everyone. I promise I'll catch up asap when I get back.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Blog Action Day - Poverty

Today is Blog Action Day when bloggers all over the world are writing to raise awareness of the poverty that still exists despite all the G8 summits and government promises. More important, to remind ourselves that we all need to find ways to help alleviate this poverty, whether it is close to home or half way around the world.


Humanity is responsible for humanity. The ‘haves’ should be helping the ‘have nots’. Here in the UK, there are hundreds of charities that help people who live below the poverty line. Different people are inclined to help different charities because of their focus.

My own passion is to help the homeless. I often buy The Big Issue. This is one charity that, at least gives people who are homeless something to do with their days that might earn them a temporary roof. I donate to Shelter monthly by direct debit. And at Christmas I donate to The Salvation Army, who do such a stalwart job in helping the homeless year round and especially at Xmastime.

Many people in third world countries are far worse off even than the poorest people here. I was filled with admiration for my former sister-in-law when she told me about her holiday this year. She went to Africa with a group from her church. They all forked out over £500 to go to an orphanage in Africa and spend the three weeks of their holiday building new dormitories that are desperately needed. My heart went out to the children in her photos, all of whom had turned up there out of the blue, often abandoned by parents who just didn’t have the wherewithal to feed them.

What do you do about helping those who are less fortunate than you?

Monday, 13 October 2008

Diversifying

When JenaIsle invited me to join Helium recently, I took some time to think about it. I revisited the site and found much better opportunities there than when I looked at it about 18 months ago. And I’d already been considering diversifying and spreading my writing around the web a bit more, so I soon decided to give it a go.

Once I’d joined up I found I was already too busy with other writing projects to start anything specifically for Helium. It seemed like I’d have to put it on hold again. Then I read another of Jena’s blog posts and realised that I could post up any article for which I hold the copyright, even if it had already been published elsewhere.

This is brilliant because I have several articles at Constant Content that have sold once for usage rights only. CC recently changed their policy so that after such a sale, full rights can no longer be offered, so they are still for sale there but only for usage rights, and whoever buys them knows that they might also appear elsewhere.

So I’m starting to post there in the hope of earning a few more bucks while my stuff sits around waiting for a buyer. I also have a few blog pieces that could be suitable for Helium. You probably know that writers earn from readers clicking their work at Helium, so if you’d like to see some of mine, you will do me a favour by reading my articles there. You’ll find the list here.

The only problem I have with Helium is the quality of some of the writing I am asked to rate. Mostly the ideas are great, but many people simply don't seem to understand to concepts of editing and proofreading. With some, it's obvious that English is not their first language so errors are more understandable; others are native English speakers, using either UK or US spelling, both of which I'm familiar with.

When rating, it's easy to say which of two articles is the best, but I'm used to reviewing and giving advice, and it rankles not to feel able to do that. There apparently is a facility but I don't yet know how to use it, or whether it would be welcomed. No doubt I'll get that sorted in time.

The other way I'm diversifying, or trying to, is with socialspark. When I couldn’t get any opportunities at payperpost, I thought I’d try that out. I have found opportunities there, but I can’t seem to find out what to do about them. If there’s anyone out there who can tell me how to accept an opportunity, I’ll be eternally grateful.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Lovely, Loving Downs Syndrome People

I’ve been reading this heart-rending blog by the mother of a Downs Syndrome child. It reminded me of this poem written as a memorial to a wonderful young woman with DS, who defied all the medics’ predictions of an early demise but eventually succumbed to a devastating cancer. When she was a child she was often cared for by my sister and we grew to love her dearly. My sister is still friendly with her parents and I meet them occasionally when I visit her. Her mother wrote this poem, which was read out at her memorial service.

A Glimpse of Juliet

Full of life and full of fun
She touched the hearts of everyone.
Lots of laughs and lots of tears
Have been the order of the years.
Pranks, too many to relate
And rows about the food she ate.
Music, dancing, disco queen
She loved the lights, loved to be seen.
Many times we'd hear the hum
And then into the room she'd come.
These few words help to recall
A life which will be missed by all.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Monday, 6 October 2008

A Super Saturday

Photo by Trident13 at Wikimedia.
I didn't take any pics of my own but this is a fair
example of the sort of floats we get on the Wessex Carnival Circuit.

It was indeed a lovely family weekend. We decided to give the duck racing a miss and drive to Yeovil for shopping. Both my daughter and I needed to buy birthday presents and it was an opportunity to get ahead with the Xmas ones as well. Eryn was very well-behaved until she became very hungry when the clock had passed lunchtime.

Unfortunately the traffic had piled up and just getting onto the road for home took for ever. So we decided to stop for lunch on the A30 in a pub called The Tippling Philosopher at Milborne Port. It was good move. The steak pie was to die for and only £6.50, while Eryn's ham, egg and chips cost even less. And we were all fuelled up for the evening's fun time.

It did rain in the afternoon and was very cold, so although we were back in time, we didn't go to the children's carnival procession, but preserved our energy, and wrapped ourselves in layers, for the big one in the evening. And the gods smiled on us and stopped the rain for the duration.

Seven of us met up opposite our local pub on the route of the procession. There were we three girls and my son's partner, plus hubby, son and his friend who had chauffered them there from Shaftesbury on a roundabout route to bypass the road closures. We managed to get a spot with a flat-topped wall behind us so Eryn could be held up there and have a good view.

She was wild with excitement as the first great steam engines rolled by. My daughter got caught up in it too. "It's just wonderful how these old traditions are being kept alive," was her comment. Next we saw about five sets of marionettes from our various local towns; first the older and very accomplished ones, with the tiny tots bringing up the rear, and all in identical sparkly costumes. For their sakes, I was so glad about the lack of rain.

Then the bands marched past, interspersed with various carnival queens and princesses, with their attendants in limousines or sitting on decorated truck beds and looking rather cold in their flimsy attire. The Shaftesbury band leader turned out to be the father of my son's girlfriend and gave us a big smile as she took a photo with her mobile phone.

We were all throwing small change into the collection vehicles or putting it into the buckets carried along the route by the walking collectors. A few thousand is usually collected for various charities. The totals will be reported in next week's local papers.

But everyone was waiting for the star attractions - the enormous decorated and brightly lit floats that have taken months to design and prepare. The trucks or tractors that lead them pull along up to three trailors that include their own power generators. Each one has several marshalls and guides. One walks backwards in front to direct and help the driver to get around tricky corners on our narrow streets. Others make sure no members of the public are in danger of being mown down and that all the trailer connections remain safely locked in place.

It's very competitive and the ideas are kept secret until the carnival circuit begins. Among the designs this year, we saw a Chinese theme and an Indian theme, but the most memorable one was called Disco Babes. As it came twards us, we could hear the disco music and see the frontispeace - a 40 something man sitting on the floor of his platform, moving manically to the music, dressed only in an outsize nappy (diaper). It was the funniest sight. What a hero - not embarrassed about any of his floppy bits and having to keep moving to stop himself freezing to death. We just rolled up. Other people on the floats behind him portrayed other aspects of babyhood and were equally funny, but they were all well covered.

Eryn was upset when it ended. She wanted it to go on all night. But the rest of us were secretly relieved. It had been great fun but we had been standing up for at least an hour and a half. We headed for home, leaving the yellow-coated marshalls moving the metal barriers that were placed to try and stop the public wandering into the path of the procession, picking up all the plastic glasses that had allowed us all to bring our drinks out of the pub, and still picking up silver and pennies that hadn't found their way into the collection boxes.

A fun night indeed - quite a contrast to all the doom and gloom that greets us on the TV news programmes at present.

Friday, 3 October 2008

It's Carnival Time

My two girls arrived this evening for our carnival weekend. It's so lovely to see them and get great big hugs. Unfortunately the weather forecast is not too good for tomorrow and my daughter and I decided, on the spur of the moment, to take young Eryn to the funfair, which has been on here all week, instead of waiting for tomorrow's festivities. We all had great fun just watching her on the littl'uns rides. She won two soft toys and a beach ball attached to a little bat with elastic. Finally we persuaded her to take her mummy on the dodgems and I stood on the sidelines and watched the hilarity as they dodged and bumped. Of course there were tears when it was time to leave, but she's fast asleep now. I was miffed with myself as I forgot to take my camera.

Tomorrow there is duck racing in the morning, when we all congregate on the town bridge and watch the yellow plastic ducks wash through to the end of the race. Any gambling will benefit charities as well as the winners. Three o'clock sees the start of the children's procession, and sadly that's when the rain is forecast to start.

Later in the evening the main procession will be preceeded by various bands marching through the town, then all the steam engines, and finally, at around 8 pm, all the carnival floats and other entries, which take over an hour to pass any particular place. We are on the Wessex Carnival Circuit and those taking part will have been working all year on their floats and costumes. They take it very seriously and it's quite a spectacle.

I do hope it's not so wet it puts a real dampener on things. I'll let you know on Monday.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Going off on Tangents

Looking down on the port of Mahon

My head has been back in Menorca today, which means, of course, that I’m writing about the island. As usual, I top up my personal experience with a bit of research, so I learn loads more about it. And then I want to go back and see what I missed on my last visit. One day, perhaps.

I also have a tendency to get sidetracked and go off on tangents. Trying to find out more about the gin distillery in Mahon, I discovered all sorts of facts about the tipple. I think there is another article there.

Yesterday, I followed JenaIsle to Helium, joined up and had a look around. She came second in one of their article competitions. Well done, Jena.

Some of the competition titles gave me another idea and I was sidetracked into dashing off something else. It wasn’t right for the competition and now I’m not sure whether to post it in Helium or Constant Content. Potential for more headaches, I fear.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Stourhead and Growing Your Own


I took this picture of Stourhead this time last year.
This last week has been more about cooking than writing. After walking around Stourhead in beautiful sunshine on the Sunday, we stopped off at a little stall outside a house on the way home. They leave bagfuls of cooking apples for sale at £1 a bag, with a box to put your pounds in. We bought 2 bags. That’s quite a lot of apples to peel, core and cook.

We had them first with a delicious stale doughnut pudding, made like a bread and butter pudding with eggs and milk, then on another day with blueberries and custard. I have stewed apple in the fridge and the freezer and there are still four apples left to prepare.

Also, we’ve had a glut of runner beans in our garden. Actually we dithered about planting them this year because we were/are still trying to sell the house. But they went in on the reasoning that sods law says we won’t sell if we don’t plant them, but we might if we do. In any case whoever buys would be welcome to them. Too late now though.

The beans began to form the week before we went on holiday and we had our first feast on the delicious, small young ones. During the 16 days we were away, my neighbour looked after them for me, and I told her to help herself. She said she had picked some. After that they started to come thick and fast. We picked and ate them nearly every day through the rest of August and most of September. Several bagfuls were given away and eventually, last week, I had to blanch and freeze several more bags. I never think they are as nice after freezing, but I just can’t bear to throw them in the compost. I have spent hours stringing and slicing them. The plants are now due to come out but I found enough to go with our roastie meal again yesterday.

There’s nothing like eating your own produce, and we really don’t grow enough different things. Trying to move house has definitely put us off. I remember my dad working in our quite large back garden when I was young. He grew lots of beans and all sorts of other veggies – cabbages, sprouts, potatoes, carrots, onions, beetroot, marrows, etc. It’s becoming fashionable again in the UK to do this. Totnes in Devon was the first town to designate various areas for the community to grow extra produce, and others have followed suit.

We did have some home grown potatoes this August, that we had grown from just one that had gone too soft to cook and started growing tubors in my cupboard. We put it in a tub so it could have gone with us if we’d moved. When we came back from our holiday the leaves had died off so we emptied the tub and found about 3 lbs of good sized spuds that were really yummy when cooked.

I’d love to hear what you grow in your back yards or elsewhere, wherever you are.

On a completely different subject, why not pop over to Rebecca Laffar-Smith’s Writers’ Roundabout to see my guest post which is currently featured there? It gives hints for writers who want to ‘show, not tell’.

Friday, 26 September 2008

The Best Way to Drop Entrecards

Firstly, today I must tell you about this great new blog I’ve found and would like to support. Nathan, the blogger, is a very creative and poetic author. I can’t remember how I found him but it was probably when I was dropping my entrecards.

I was getting frustrated with that recently. My practice had been to open my inbox and start at the beginning of the droppers from the day before. I would simply click on each one in a line, then go back to see the first one. When I delete that one the next one pops up. That way, even slow loaders wouldn’t hold me up. Time is money, after all.

But then I downloaded the Firefox update, and discovered that each one I clicked on opened in the same tab as the previous one, just as it does in IE. I was reduced to opening both browsers and starting one at the beginning of the day and one at the end, so I could flit between them when waiting for something to load. It was a pain because it was taking twice as long.

A few minutes ago, though, I must have right-clicked by accident. And lo and behold, there was an option to open in a new tab. So that’s what I’m doing now. It just means two clicks instead of one, but that only takes a fraction of a second longer. And I can go back to my old practice of opening a line at a time in my Firefox browser. Little things do make a difference, you know.

Perhaps I can do a bit more commenting now and click thrugh to more new blogs that look interesting. I always read new posts as I go, unless it’something that is obviously of no interest to me. And there’s not much of that as I’m a curious soul. But stopping to think about what to put in a comment, or looking for more new logs, are things I don’t get time for often.

Do leave a comment if you think you have a better or faster way with your EC dropping.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Almost Wordless Wednesday - Reach for the Sky

My Himalayan Honeysuckle has gone wild this year. It really must like the rain.

Monday, 22 September 2008

A little drama took place here over the weekend, when the editor at Constant Content found a web link in my submitted article. This is not allowed, so I received their standard email saying they could not accept my piece for that reason. But I was puzzled, as I know the rules and definitely hadn’t put in any links.

Had they made a mistake? I posted my question in the forum and got an almost immediate reply saying no mistake, I should check it again. By moving my cursor over every word I eventually found it and worked out what had happened.

Later I found another message suggesting it might help me find it if I highlighted the whole document. That Ed over there is amazing. I’d have thought it above and beyond his duty to work in the forums to try and help authors even on a Sunday.

Just in case you are dying to know how that link got in there, I will now explain. When I do my online research, I often cut and paste info I think will be helpful into my research Word document, adding the url of the page I found it on. When I write my own article, I paste in foreign names from there, to make sure I get them right.

That’s all it was. One of those darn names had a hyperlink on it. Yet another thing to check when proofing in future.

Anyway, I was able to delete the link, but it took a while before I could resubmit. Kaspersky suddenly screamed at me that someone was trying to insert a virus into my system. I gave it the usual instructions to block it, but it obviously wasn’t quick enough. I was working in Firefox but suddenly up popped IE, then again, and again, and again.

I turned off my broadband and turned on my SuperAntiSpyware, yet again. Forty minutes later it had dealt with about 93 suspicious files, including about nine Trojans. No further problems.

So I was able to resubmit my article last night and at 6 am today I found it had been accepted and was able to offer it to the customer. Finger crossed, it will be accepted.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Working Through a Cold

I didn't get to do my Friday post this week. That was because I spent the whole day, until about 10 pm, researching and writing about Salzburg, a city that I have never visited. It was in response to a public request on the Constant Content site, from a customer that I have sold to before.

I love doing this kind of work, where I learn a great deal about my subject. As usual I got fired up about it and wish I could visit myself. At least it's easier to get to Austria than China from here.

This is the third article I submitted to CC this week, all responding to requests from customers. The first two were very easy, about products on a website, and they were snapped up overnight, along with another which has been sitting around on the site for a few months. I hope this one goes that way as well, though I know this customer generally takes his time selecting what to buy. Of course it has to go through the site review process first, so I hope my own editing and proofing wasn't too impaired by my rather long working day.

I've managed all this work while feeling very under par after going down with that cold on Friday night last week. The weekend was horrendous. I had to do laundry and go out to the shops on Saturday, after which I crawled back to bed, where I spent most of Sunday. It's been one of those really incapacitating bugs that first make you ache all over, especially your face and head, then settles in your chest and back, sets you off in coughing fits, and results in losing your voice.

One of the benefits of freelancing from home as a writer is that you can work in any state of dress or undress at whatever time you like. It's not necessary to be presentable or even to communicate with anyone else most of the time. Anyway, feeling unwell all week doesn't seem to have affected my productivity, even if I have been a little slower than usual, and the ironing board is still up in the living room with piles of stuff waiting in line to be pressed.

The one thing I regret is that this has been the first week since we came back from our hols that the sun has been beckoning me outside, and I just couldn't get up the energy.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Being a Job Hunter’s Helper


My daughter has been a nanny or a childminder for about 16 years. In the last few of those, it has worked well with her other role of being a single mum with her own little girl.

Since my granddaughter started school full time in January, her mother has been thinking about a career change. She’s up for a new challenge and a new way of life. It might also raise her chances of finding a new partner if she’s out meeting people in the world of work, instead of only talking to parents, teachers and nannies, as well as her charges.

Her experience has been varied, and includes a very difficult year when the mother of her small charge had a terminal illness before she died. Then the whole family seemed to rely on her, and she feels she would still like to work in a helping capacity with families or children.

Suddenly the job opportunities seem not just to be crawling out of the woodwork, but literally jumping out at her. She’s completed three application forms this week and just this morning she called about another with a deadline two days away. That’s my girl.

I’ve been advising her by phone and long distance. She does need a bit of help as she’s had no experience of applying for jobs in this way. Nannies go through agencies or personal recommendation. But I've spent many years advising people how to sell themselves in proposals and CVs.

Before applying for these jobs she was thinking of going into higher education. Some years ago she completed an Access to HE course, but didn’t take that any further. It frightens me a bit because she has a mortgage and a child whose father’s record of maintenance payments is erratic. And she would be emulating me. I went into five years of HE at the age of 34 when she was five years old and her father had left us. But I didn’t have a mortgage then. I was eligible for full grants and didn’t end up with enormous loans to pay off.

Anyway, last week she went to see a careers adviser who told her it would be much better to get a job with prospects, especially if she could do on-the-job training.

I pray that she gets something. I think she’s a perfect fit for at least three of the jobs she’s applied for. But of course I could be biased. And, as I always used to tell my clients, it does depend on the competition. Here’s hoping.

Monday, 15 September 2008

New York in the Rain


The sun is shining here today, but I am stuck indoors with a bad cold, and feeling very sorry for myself. Looking through my pics on the computer I found this one. It was taken on my one and only long weekend visit to New York and shows how I enjoyed myself in the rain, looking at Brooklyn Bridge.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Philanthropy and Theft

In terms of getting on with my core work, yesterday was a pretty unproductive day for me. I spent half the morning on the phone to my daughter, who wanted help with completing a job application form. The other half I gave to friend of a friend who was applying to do an MBA at a prestigious American uni.

I finally clicked my Constant Content bookmark in the early afternoon to find a change of policy in what could be showcased. Any work with more than half of the piece displayed would be removed from the site. Authors were advised to post only one third to one half of their work for display to potential customers. This was because there had been so many thefts and instances of customers claiming refunds as what they bought and paid for as unique was turning up all over the web. It happened to me once when an article of mine was posted in Associated Content with another byline. I got it removed but it wasn’t a good experience.

Along with many others, I went through all of my articles and tried to edit down what is referred to as the long summary of the piece on offer. I was worried, thinking that if I cut everything down to half the word count, what was left didn’t display enough of the scope and style of my work to attract buyers.

There was a great furore about this in the author forums. While my stock was only 45 items, several people had hundreds, and a couple went into four figures. It would take them days to review and edit everything. The customers didn’t like it either. One author reported a message to the effect that his customer would never buy anything he’d not seen a complete version of. Several asked why the technicians could not make it impossible to copy the summaries from the screen.

In the end that’s what happened. The last message said it was no longer possible to highlight text to copy, and we can post as much of our work as we like. I’ve tested it and it’s the perfect solution. I do wonder why it wasn’t done before. I daresay there are ways around it. I’ve thought of a couple but they would both require retyping and I doubt if anyone would bother. Anyway, I’m not going to mention them to put ideas into anyone’s head.

So you see, a lot of wasted effort went into yesterday afternoon. And to crown it all, in the evening I started feeling rough. The sore throat that I’ve felt threatening for about three weeks turned full on, my glands started swelling, and it was all I could do to clear things away after supper.

That’s why I’m posting this on Saturday instead of in my usual Friday slot. And I won’t be catching up on anything else. I’m going to crawl off back to bed and see if I can sleep this off.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

The Singers’ Oldway Grandeur

My sister got married yesterday in the Torbay Register Office in Paignton. This is situated in Oldway Mansion, former home of the Singer family, which produced all those sewing machines.

The weather was pretty dire but lots of photos were taken on the grand staircase that leads up to the first floor landing where the registrar offices are located. Here are some pics of the grandeur I managed to get. I’ve deliberately kept a few real people’s heads in some to demonstrate the scale of things.
This is the mural on the wall where the main staircase divides to go up to the left or right.

Looking across from the top of one side of the staircase to the other.



Some of the ceiling detail.

I'm sure there's an article just waiting to be written about all this.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Writing in the Night


On Friday night I went to bed at 11 but I just couldn’t get to sleep. I was thinking about the film I’d seen last Saturday and found myself writing a review in my head. It might have been because I had reviewed a couple of books in the Writelink blog the day before so I was in the mindset. Anyway, at a quarter past midnight I realised I wasn’t going to sleep with all these words going round and round my brain, so I left my bed and booted the computer. And that’s how I got to write a review of Mamma Mia, the mood-lifting musical based on the toe-tapping Abba songs.

The piece is now awaiting acceptance at Constant Content. Hopefully, that will happen soon. Then, if you’re curious, you'll be able to read most of it by clicking the relevant article here.

Writing Tip



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