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.

Friday 5 September 2008

Freelancing and Blogging

My last two articles about China sold within twentyfour hours of being showcased at Constant Content. I had offered them to a customer who made public requests for a) something on Chinese astrology and b) Chinese cultural articles, including travel. When I made my offers, I also queried another idea I had about Chinese culture, which was favourably received, so I’m still working with my Chinese hat on. And I’m putting in a lot of hours, far more than the fees I’m getting warrant really, because China is outside my experience. Really fascinating, though.

I’m quite happy about staying with China for now, but I usually like to flit from topic to topic and have the benefit of that variety in my working life. Researching different areas keeps me stimulated so I can produce my best work, and it’s one of the advantages of freelancing. It can actually limit my success, but I try to balance it with what seems to be hot in the market as well.

Being in the blog world definitely helps. I get all sorts of ideas for articles as I surf around the entrecard circuit and see what other people are getting up to. And since I’ve been blogging, I’ve hardly dried up at all. I mean no more writers’ block since I’ve disciplined myself to think up something to post in one of my two blogs at least five days a week.

So I’ve more than one reason to love blogging.

Wednesday 3 September 2008

Wordless Wednesday - Cala Galdana

Actually it's a gloomy and soaking wet wordless Wednesday here. But I can still dream.

Monday 1 September 2008

The Spectacular Scenery of the Yangtze River

Photo by Andrew Hitchcock

My head's been in China again today as I am once again writing about travelling in that country which I have never experienced. This time it's about cruising on the Yangtze River, and I hit a problem. When I was well into my research and the first part of my article, I discovered that some of the info on the travel guide and cruise company websites is pretty old and discusses things that were visible before the Three Gorges Dam project got as far as it is today.

This controversial project is an enormous dam that has been built across the river. Even though it is not due for completion until next year, the water level of the river behind it has risen significantly. Eventually the level is expected to be around 600 feet higher than before, and many of the historical sites I'd recommended holiday makers to look out for are, or will be, under the water line.

Of course there are good reasons for building the dam - it will generate enormous hydroelectric power; it will conserve water for irrigation where needed; it will provide more protection from regular flooding; and it makes river navigation safer and easier. On the other hand it has already displaced millions of people from their homes in towns and villages that have been sacrificed. It has cost billions in public money. And there are concerns about water pollution. Only time will tell whether the benefits are worth it for the general population of the country.

Away from the dam, the river scenery remains spectacular. I found the photo of dusk on the Yangtze at Wikimedia.

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