Monday, December 30, 2013

New Year's Day Superstitions

Whether you're superstitious or not, it's hard not to put a little pressure on that first day of the New Year. Many of us have heard that what you do on January 1st, you'll be doing for the rest of the year. But the "rules" about what you should and shouldn't do on January 1st go far beyond that. Here are a few I found interesting:

  • The more blackeyed peas you eat on New Year's Day, the more prosperous you are. You're also supposed to add greens to this meal. It's a Southern thing.
  • If you leave your Christmas decorations up past December 31st, you'll bring last year's luck into this year. If you've had a great year, that would be a good thing, wouldn't it?
  • Nothing should leave the house on New Year's Day--even trash.
  • It is bad luck to begin the New Year in debt. Therefore, a check should be written to pay off all debts prior to December 31st. (Good luck with that one!)
  • The first person to enter your home on New Year's Day will influence your entire year. That person should ideally be tall, dark, and handsome...and come bearing such gifts as coal or a silver coin. (That says more than I could say about how old these superstitions are!)
  • You should kiss your significant other at midnight...or be prepared for a year of loneliness. If a person isn't nearby, you're supposed to kiss a pet.
  • You should never do laundry on New Year's Day. That's a requirement many of us can live with! But, seriously, superstition states that if you wash clothes on January 1st, a family member will die that year. Sounds like the plot of a bad horror movie.
  • While you're at it, don't do dishes either.
  • At midnight on New Year's Eve, you should open every door of your house to let out the bad from last year. And let in all the cold from this year.
  • Making noise at midnight scares away the evil spirits for the coming year. Our ancestors had some deep, dark fears, didn't they?
There you have it. Even if you aren't superstitious, this list can provide a good excuse to do absolutely no housework at least one day out of the year. Sounds like a good reason to rest to me!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Worst Christmas Song Ever?

When the list of "worst Christmas songs" was released, there were several songs I expected to be on it. Paul McCartney's overly-sythesized Wonderful Christmas Time is one I'd expect. I also would expect John Lennon's Happy Xmas, with Yoko Ono wailing off key in the background, to be on the list. But that wouldn't be right, since the song is about world peace.

So when HLN flashed its own version of "worst Christmas songs" last week, listing Mariah Carey's overplayed All I Want for Christmas is You as one of the best, I was ready. I figured at least one of the two former Beatles would make the list. But neither song was mentioned. Instead, a song that always takes me directly back to adolescence flashed across the screen. Even the cluttered picture that was on the single's cover reminds me of Christmas 1984:

I remember trying to talk my mom into buying the single because it was, after all, for charity. You know, kids in Africa or something. Those were probably my exact words. For the record, some of the top artists in England (British music was huge worldwide at the time) recorded the song to raise money for anti-poverty efforts in Ethiopia.

All season, I've been turning up the radio every time Do They Know It's Christmas? comes on. I've been singing at the top of my lungs. I've been thinking it's the best. Christmas. Song. EVER.

Only to find out that not only does HLN think it's the worst Christmas song...the man who wrote the song and masterminded the whole event hates it, too. As he told London's Daily Mail, "I am responsible for two of the worst songs in history. One is Do They Know It's Christmas? and the other is We Are the World."

The problem with both songs, it appears, is that they are both overplayed and poorly written. At the time, nobody really cared that the song said "no rain nor rivers flow" in Africa...despite the fact that both exist in abundance. Nobody cared that the lyrics tended toward "hokey" throughout the song, with silly sentiments like: "Throw your arms around the world at Christmastime."

All I personally cared about was that Simon LeBon was on the record. I was 14. Just as my stepdaughter thinks the members of One Direction are blasting lyrical poetry to the world, I thought everything Simon LeBon did was magic. Oh...and there were some other great singers on the record, too, as I halfway noticed...

Monday, December 16, 2013

Let's Have a Brief Chat to Discuss

When I worked in an office, there were numerous times I responded to a voicemail with an e-mail. I used the argument that I wanted to have things in writing for CYA purposes, but even then I knew it was a lie. There is one simple reason I hate, hate, hate conducting business on the phone.

Phone calls are disruptive.

Don't get me wrong. There are times when a phone call is necessary. If something needs to be discussed now or you need to get the person's reaction to what you're saying, e-mail isn't quite as effective. But after three months as a full-time freelancer, I've realized the same thing I realized when I was a cubicle worker.

Phone calls are disruptive.

Phone calls do have a purpose. Most of the time, phone calls are requested when a client is thinking about hiring me. Those are interviews. Once I'm hired, it's rare those clients ever want to speak on the phone again. In fact, I've worked with two of my main clients since 2011 and I think I may have spoken to one of them one time on the phone. I worked with a business located 30 minutes from my house from 2011-2013 and, not only did I never meet her in person, but I never spoke to her on the phone. She sent the assignments and I returned them. Clean, simple, and easy.

But occasionally, you end up with a talker. Someone who wants to speak on the phone every day. I'm not kidding about this. Assignments and notes on those assignments always start with, "Let's have a brief chat to discuss," even if there are numerous rounds on the same project. Every single day. The bad part is, people who work that way don't come with warning signs. You have the first conversation, agree to do the work, submit the work, and the next day you receive an e-mail asking for a phone call to discuss. If you want to get paid, you must speak.

Then you get out as quickly as possible. Why? You guessed it...

Phone calls are disruptive.

I think we've reached a time in history when people have so many ways to communicate, we just have no idea how to reach out to another person. Should we send a text? Type up an e-mail? Schedule a staff meeting for Monday at 9 a.m.? Or should we pick up the phone and call?

Because everyone has different preferences, we all stick with the way we personally prefer to communicate. In doing so, we ignore phone calls but reply to texts. We e-mail in response to voice mails. And we do so over and over again until people finally learn that if they want to reach us, they have to use our preferred method of communication. Unfortunately, most of the time the other person would prefer one method of communication while we'd prefer another.

For those who make their living based on how much work they perform, there's one simple reason excessive phone-talkers have to go. They cut into your income. Unless you bill for each call (not a popular option with most clients!), every minute you spend on the phone is a minute you could be spending making money. When you look at the clients who take the most amount of time for each $1 you earn, those who require 20-minute meetings every day will have to go based on pure lack of profitability.

Do you prefer working through e-mail or phone?

Monday, December 09, 2013

Writing May Be Harmful to Your Health

Writing seems like a fairly harmless activity. When you think about it, you aren't climbing mountains or running into burning buildings to save small children. No...all of that action is saved for the fictional characters you're creating.

But writing comes with its own set of risks. There are the many health issues associated with sitting all day--in fact, a recent study found that sitting too much doubles your risk of dying. (Although I'm pretty sure we all are going to die...eventually...right?) Standing desks have been thought to alleviate this risk, but no scientific proof exists that it does. So to lessen your immediate risk of dying, experts advise to stand up every 15-30 minutes or so and walk around. For a writer, getting up mid-thought can easily mean taking a wrong turn in your carefully crafted work of art.

I learned last week there's another risk associated with writing too much. It's a risk I never thought of. A ganglion cyst on the inside of my palm. It's a little lump you can't see but you can feel. When I first felt a lump on my hand, I thought what every writer thinks...


But I did what everyone does these days. I Googled "lump on hand" and found out about ganglion cysts, which in traditional days were cured by slamming a bible on the affected hand. Today, doctors just leave it alone and eventually it goes away. That's what I learned when I went to the doctor. I also learned that ganglion cysts are often caused by overuse. Typing can definitely cause one...especially if you're writing 1,000-5,000 words a day as I often do.

So...the moral of this story? When you write like this...

There WILL be consequences

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Don't Kill the Family Dog!

Dogs die. We all know that. But most of us don't want to think about it during the 10-15 years our dogs are alive.

I guess that's why it really bothered me that The Family Guy producers decided to "shake things up" this week by killing off the family dog, Brian. The show has been on since 1999--12 seasons, due to a 2001 cancellation by Fox that they later took back. Twelve years is plenty of time for a dog to live, many are saying. Never mind that nobody else on the show has aged, including the baby.

Here's the problem with the show's decision to kill off the dog. Have you ever heard the term jump the shark, Family Guy producers? (Yeah, as if they'll ever read this!) Killing off a major character is a top sign of jumping the shark, according to TVTropes, who writes as an example of jumping the shark that, "A popular character is removed from the show, or even killed off. Especially true if the method of removal is unsatisfying or mean-spirited."

Brian the dog is more than a family dog. He was the voice of reason in the crazy family, often grounding the head of the household, who was a little shaky at times. Now he's been replaced by an Italian-accented dog named Vinny, voiced by some actor from The Sopranos that Seth McFarlane has a guy-crush on.

But the biggest problem for me is that Family Guy is perpetually in reruns. Somehow our TV always ends up on TBS on weeknights. (As it was at the time I was writing this!) Just seeing the dog makes me sad now. And, correct me if I'm wrong, but a comedy isn't supposed to make us sad, right?

Did I mention the dog on the Family Guy is a writer?

I don't think he was really a dog. Dogs don't have thumbs, right?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Don't Mess with the People Who Handle Your Food

Nothing seems to get people riled up like a good discussion about tipping in restaurants. Over the years, I've witnessed some of the most heated discussions about tipping and poor restaurant behavior, with a clear divide between people who believe you should tip well and people who think servers make far too much money and we should all tip less.

One thing I've noticed? No matter what you say, people who tip 0%-10% at sit-down restaurants are not going to budge, no matter what you say.

Recently, my longtime friend Jilly re-posted a photo on Facebook that had gone viral. Apparently a pastor in St. Louis marked out an automatic 18% gratuity with the comment, "I give God 10%. Why should I give you 18%?"

Two things jumped out at me right away:

  • The woman gives 10% of her SALARY to God. The restaurant is adding 18% of the food she ate. Big difference.
  • Haven't restaurant workers learned by now that if you post a customer receipt online, you're going to be fired?
But I digress. The whole incident ignited a storm everywhere it was posted, with thousands of consumers offering their opinions. Most felt that the pastor should be ashamed of herself, especially since she called the restaurant and got the server who posted the receipt fired before issuing a public relations-guided apology to save her reputation.

However, a small minority came forward to agree with the pastor, saying 10% is a fair tip for a server. Those comments incited the usual, "You've obviously never waited tables" argument, along with, "If you don't want to tip, stay home and cook your own meals."

Another thing I've found over the years--people who don't believe in tipping 15%-20% are not going to change their minds. They're also not going to stop eating at Applebee's and Chili's, no matter how many times you tell them they should. They have their reasons and they don't think they should stop eating where they want to eat. They also don't believe a server will ever spit in their food. I hope they're right!

The tipped minimum wage has barely budged since 1966, when it was initiated at 50% of the minimum wage at the time. Currently, it's at $2.13 an hour, while the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. $2.13 is not 50 percent of $7.25, no matter how you crunch the numbers. Reportedly restaurant industry lobbyists work hard to keep the tipped wage the same--but if it ever increases to 50% of the federal minimum wage, you can bet that extra expense will be added to the menu prices.

The answer is clear. If you disagree with paying 15%-20%, don't punish hard-working servers. Punish the restaurant industry that makes sure the tipped hourly wage stays the same, decade after decade. By dining at home or choosing restaurants that pay their workers at least $7.25 an hour (i.e. fast food and fast casual restaurants), you'll make a statement to the national restaurant chains. You may very well be making your 0%-10% statement by keeping a server from providing food for his/her children that week.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Is Christmas REALLY Coming Earlier?

Each year, we're always surprised at how early retailers start Christmas preparations. Christmas trees in stores before Halloween? Crazy, right? When we were younger, retailers didn't even think about Christmas decorations until the day after Thanksgiving. We're sure of it.

But is this really true?

The origin of the term "Season Creep" can be traced back to a 1987 article in the Chicago Sun-Times. The article, which was about a man who took his role as Santa very seriously, stated, "And so does the culture, with a commercializing of himself that Santa deplores even as he has watched the holiday season creep back to Labor Day."

However, the term "Season Creep," also known as "Christmas Creep," didn't come into mainstream use until around 2006, when an article linked it to global warming. A 2007 article extended the term to mean that as global warming changes the world around us, seasons in general are beginning to creep into each other. But as a recent article pointed out, ads were encouraging shoppers to begin their Christmas shopping in October as early as 1912.

Still, were Christmas decorations in stores before Halloween prior to the year 2000? I really don't remember. Does anyone else?

Consumers have complained about early Christmas decorations, but that hasn't stopped retailers. I personally noticed the issue this year when an online friend posted a photo of herself, in Halloween costume, posing at the mall in front of a Christmas tree. The malls encourage people to celebrate Halloween with them, but they greet those families with a blend of holidays that must seem a little bizarre.

Then there's the issue of Christmas cards. Families wanting to have current pictures of their children with Santa need to get those pictures taken early. If malls wait until November 29 to start lining kids up to sit on Santa's lap, parents will be rushed to get cards made and in the mail. When combined with all the other stresses of the Christmas season, do parents need that stress, too?

Still, consumers are very vocal about their dislike of Christmas Creep. In fact, one Canadian retailer was forced to remove its Christmas music when customers complained that November 2nd was too early to be hearing Jingle Bells.

Is the problem getting worse? Maybe. But I know I've been hearing people complain about it since at least the early 00s.

Monday, November 11, 2013

When You Least Expect It...

There are few things in this world more beautiful than my book cover.

I have it as my phone screensaver, my desktop wallpaper, and even on the coffee cup I drink out of each morning. (Thanks for the birthday gift, Mom!)

And what could be even more beautiful than my first book cover? The possibility of a second book be revealed in 2014.

Yes, that's right! I sold a second book. 25 Roses will be coming to bookstores everywhere in the spring/summer of 2015.

When I sold my second book, I was working in my PJs, as I tend to do when it's after 5pm! The best part of the story, though, is that I had my head covered in hair bleach and Crest Whitestrips on my teeth.

I couldn't make this stuff up!

Hopefully when I get my next piece of good news, I'll look a little more presentable. But if not, who cares?!!!

Monday, November 04, 2013

How to Unclog an Unplungable Toilet

Our toilet has been temperamental lately. It's old. But working from home means you need a functioning toilet...and you don't always have a man around to fix it when it breaks.

One such day happened last week. The toilet was clogged. Before you get a yucky image, there was nothing in the bowl but a little toilet paper, so maybe that will help!

I'd like to think I know how to use a plunger. But after about 30 minutes of (off and on) plunging, nothing was happening. It was time for drastic measures.

Time to do a Google search.

There, I found some information I didn't really think would work. This:

Plus this:

Can make that clog go bye-bye. often without the use of a plunger. The water should be hot but not boiling. You pour the dishwashing liquid into the toilet, wait about ten minutes, then pour hot water down the drain.

But before I even poured the hot water, the dishwashing liquid was doing the trick. It was a miracle!

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Glamorous Life

One morning six months ago, a client who lived in Denmark wanted to have a Skype call about a writing job I was doing for her. Because of the time difference, though, the best time for us to talk was 6 a.m. my time.

So I woke up early, got ready for my day job, and sat down at my desk with a cup of coffee. "This is how people in the real world work," I thought.

Not that state government, where I'd worked for 20 years, wasn't the real world. But in state government you're never allowed to work from home and there's no reason you'd ever Skype with Denmark. (At least not that I can think of!)

It felt so exciting. So glamorous.

Last week, I had one Skype call, two GoToMeetings, and three phone calls. Among those were clients in London, New York, California...and one woman who wasn't sure where she was. Glamorous?

I'm officially living that "glamorous" life. This is how it looks:

It is exciting to be able to work from home and build my own business. Nothing beats that. thing beats that. That thing?


All that to say--it's interesting how something new goes from feeling really glamorous to (gradually) feeling like daily life. I wish we could retain that excitement we feel when we move to a new house, buy a new car, or start an exciting new life. Where does that feeling go?

Monday, October 21, 2013

I Finally Figured Out Why I Hate Grocery Shopping

I moved to this area of town in 2006. Prior to that time, I don't recall any particular feelings about grocery shopping. I do recall visiting this area of town once and stopping by the only grocery store in the area, Kroger. I commented to my mother, who lived nearby, that their Kroger was horrible. She said yes, this is the worst Kroger she's ever seen.

After moving here, grocery shopping became a highly stressful experience. If I worked all day and came straight home, I was fine. If I worked all day and stopped by the grocery store, I was exhausted and tense. I just assumed I'd developed some intolerance to grocery shopping at some point.

Then, a few months ago, a competing grocery store opened. Now we have two grocery stores to cover an entire 15-mile radius. The new store, Publix, has wide, open aisles and is meticulously clean. Here are Publix's aisles:

Kroger aisles look a little closer to this:

Including those cardboard stands in the middle of the aisle. Does anyone actually buy products from those things? I never look at them--just try to summon patience as I wait for the person coming the other way to pass so I can veer around them.

And now it's time for the biggest grocery store stressor of them all. It goes without describing...

...but I'll describe it anyway. People who block the aisle and refuse to move make me want to have my own Norma Rae moment. I'm not just talking about couples and families who spread out and act like each decision will impact the next 20 years of their lives. I'm talking about the one person who stands next to his or her cart, ignoring everyone else.

I just have one question. Do they really have the ability to tune everyone else out? Or are they simply rude?

What are your grocery store annoyances?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Maybe This is Why the Post Office is Failing

I'm a self-confessed online shopper. If there's something I need that I can't get at the grocery store, I buy it online. For that reason, UPS and FedEx are regular visitors to my front doorstep.

Now that I work from home, that isn't as much an issue as it was when I was away from the house all day. The UPS truck is here at least two or three times a week. They leave the package, press the doorbell, and keep going. It works out perfectly for everyone.

Not so with the US Postal Service. Our lovely government workers never, ever visit my doorstep. If there's a package, they slip it into one of the larger boxes in our community mailboxes and put a key in my box. If those boxes fill up, I get a slip in my mailbox telling me I have to drive ten or fifteen minutes out of my way and wait in line to get it. That's apparently easier than the postal worker driving 40 yards or so to my house, getting out of the truck, and knocking on the door.

If a package arrives that requires a signature, I'm getting a slip. The protocol should be to drive those 40 yards, knock on my door, and get my signature, right? Wrong. Instead of driving those 40 yards, the postal worker goes back to his truck and gets one of these:

We all hate those slips, don't we? I know when I worked 8-5, I groaned every time I saw a slip like that. Because the post office isn't open during hours that are convenient to the large number of Americans working in offices Monday-Friday, it means sacrificing a Saturday morning to stand in line.

All of that is fine, but I was home twice when this slip was put in my mailbox. Twice. The second time, my husband suggested I complain, to which I said, "It won't do any good."

So I complained. After waiting in line for ten minutes and having to write my entire address out on that touchscreen, I told the woman behind the counter that I was home when the postal worker put the "Sorry we missed you" slip in the mailbox--he didn't even bother knocking. The woman gave me a look that said, "Why are you bothering me with this information?" and moved on to the next customer.

I knew that would be the response. I expected it. But the fact that I expected it told me exactly why businesses are choosing to use FedEx and UPS to ship things to online shoppers like me. Despite the fact that we now have a choice, why does the post office act like we don't?

In the end, that mentality is what will take the post office down.

How do you feel when you get one of those "Sorry we missed you" notes?

Monday, October 07, 2013

October: The Month to Visit Haunted Places

October is, hands-down, my favorite month of the year.

One of the reasons for that is that in October, almost every historic place in America provides spooky tours. And touring a historic building is much more fun at night, with the hosts holding lanterns while dressed in costume.

When I was working on my series about tween ghost hunters, I had the perfect excuse to visit every haunted place I could. I went through ghost hunter training, with no intention of ever ghost hunting for real, and I watched eight seasons or so of the show Ghost Hunters. Call it research--mostly, I just enjoyed the stories.

I finally figured out, after taking a standard tour of a historic home here in middle Tennessee, that what these tours do is give you stories of the people who lived in the home, rather than simply stating facts. Some daytime tours do that, as well, but there's something about walking through an old house at night, listening to stories of strange sounds and sightings, that ramps the experience up a little.

The whole thing makes me want to write a spooky book again, if only to have an excuse to research.

Do you believe in ghosts?

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Have You Tried Rebooting?

I went to school to be a TV reporter. I worked in public relations for seven years. And then...

I earned a living fixing computers.

Yes, I was Nick Burns.

How did I end up THERE? I have no idea. There were no signs of it in high school or college. I hated DOS at first sight and, even when computers reached the point that we all started loving them, I still had no place working on them.

Confession time: from 1999 to 2013, I lived in fear, DAILY, of help desk tickets. If you don't fix computers, imagine someone handing you a piece of paper and sending you off to figure out someone's computer problem. That was me.

But I faked it. Apparently I faked it pretty well, too, because every time I left a help desk position to take a position somewhere else, I was told I was going to be missed greatly.

Oh, in case you missed it, YES, I left a help desk position to take a position somewhere else...repeatedly. And every time I was promised I would never have to do help desk tickets. And every time, someone, somewhere would decide it was a good idea to put me on the help desk. In my later years, I was put "in charge of" the help desk. But don't be fooled if anyone ever tells you being put in charge of something means you won't be doing that something. Whether you're managing a local fast food joint or heading up a team of engineers, you still will be expected to help your team, probably on a daily basis.

But I digress. My point is, I was never meant to fix people's computer problems. I have no idea what makes these things work and really don't care to know. I love writing about technology and the latest Apple operating system and cool cases to buy for your smartphone--that sort of thing brings out the gadget geek in me. But if you want me to take an iPhone apart, forget it. Not only do I have no interest in doing anything of the sort, the idea terrifies me.

No, I don't know why your printer isn't working. And the good news is, I don't have to know anymore because it's not my job.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

My Bracelet is Watching Me: A Review of Jawbone Up

For my birthday, I received one of these:

This is a piece of what they're calling the wearable technology that will revolutionize our lives. I can see why. The bracelet interacts with an iPhone app that looks like this:

I had a couple of misconceptions before trying the app. One, I thought this communication would happen wirelessly. It doesn't. You're responsible for removing the silver cap and plugging the bracelet into the headphone jack of your phone to track your progress throughout the day. While this is only a slight inconvenience, I thought it might be worth pointing out.

My second misconception was that the bracelet has the power to track all of your activity throughout the day, whether it be lifting weights or doing laundry. Wrong. The paperwork that comes with the bracelet makes it clear the device only has the power to track your steps. For exercise tracking purposes, this makes it a very sophisticated pedometer.

However, I was pleasantly surprised at the device's ability to track my sleep. You have to remember to put the bracelet in "sleep mode" at bedtime but from that point, Jawbone Up takes over. I found out it takes me approximately 20-25 minutes to fall asleep each night, even when I would have sworn I drifted right off. If I wake up during the night, Jawbone knows. It also knows how many hours I spent in deep sleep (approximately two, on average) and how many I spent in light sleep (approximately six).

One of the most exciting features of the band, though, is its ability to let you know when you're idle for a set amount of time. I set my band to buzz me if I'm on my butt for 45 minutes. The buzz reminds me to get up and walk around for a few minutes.

Overall, the Jawbone Up is a great device for tracking your steps and counting calories. I haven't tried the Fitbit Flex or Nike+ Fuelband, so check out the reviews on those before you buy. If you can get past the fact that your band knows when you are sleeping...and knows when you're awake, you'll get great insight into your sleeping patterns and activity levels each day.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

You Can't Go Home...But I Guess You Can Shop There

The title of this blog is based on a line from the movie Grosse Pointe Blank. John Cusack returns to his childhood home, only to find it's been turned into an Ultramart. As he's speaking into his cell phone, he says: "You can never go home again, but I guess you can shop there."

My childhood home isn't an Ultramart. It's still a home. But there are only a few "childhood memories" still standing in my hometown. My junior high was demolished. My high school is now a middle school. The first placed I ever worked, a Burger King, is still standing, but I think I still have PTSD from the six months I spent at that job.

There is one place I remember fondly that's still standing. And on the few occasions we drive past it on our way to somewhere else, I always torture my husband with stories.

"That's where I worked when I was sixteen," I'll tell him. "Best job ever." (Except for writing, of course.)

So imagine my surprise...horror...shock when we drove by Monday on our way somewhere else and saw the words "CLOSED" on the marquee. Before I figured out the run-down theater was actually an abandoned theater, my husband was just talking about how small it was--and I was saying that in the 80s, a theater with eight screens was considered fairly large. "Back in my day" we didn't have megaplexes and villages with restaurants and shops. We had a mall with a movie theater behind it. And that was normal. Here's the "small" theater...when it was still open.

Here's how it looks now that it's closed.

It was nice knowing I could go back if I wanted to take a tour down memory lane. It was there for two full decades and I may have gone back two or three times--all more than ten years ago--but that's beside the point.

I would say the next time I go back, it will be an Ultramart, but that entire area of town is in rapid deterioration. I have a feeling Rivergate 8 will probably be an abandoned building for a while.

No, you can never go home again. But you can drive past its abandoned carcass on the way to somewhere else.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

I Quit My Day Job

When I was 27 or so and naive, I posted something to a writing listserv that stated I didn't want to become a millionaire. I just wanted to make enough money writing to quit my day job. My comment received a personal e-mail from a writer who informed me, "Most writers will never be able to quit their day jobs. Sorry."

This post is dedicated to that writer.

It took me 20 years and a lot of wrong turns, but last week I turned in my two-weeks' notice. In the days that followed, I tried to explain to a large number of people, one at a time, exactly where I was going.

"I'm going home," I would tell them. "To write."

This brought a puzzled, frowny response. To write? What does that even mean? I then started handing out my business card, which has a picture of my book, but I'm not really leaving my day job because I sold my first novel to Simon & Schuster. I wish writing paid so much that one book allowed for the dismissal of a day job.

Oh. Maybe that was what that writer meant when I was 27 and naive!

You see, there's this thing called Elance. In 2011, I discovered it and my life changed forever. If you write...if you design...if you program--if you do any number of things quickly AND well, Elance is your friend. Elance, I'm pretty sure, will allow you to eventually quit your day job.

You know you want to click and see.

Anyway, I can't say it's something anyone can do. But I can say that starting September 16, I will wake up, boot up my laptop, and write. It's what I've been doing to the tune of thousands of bucks since 2011...and it's something I'm going to do until my fingers fall off, I guess. I can't say it's only's Elance and a few dozen connections I've made through jobs I've landed through Elance. It all comes together somehow. And hopefully now that I am doing it full-time, I can spend my fun time writing fiction.

I am a writer. And I'm proof that writers CAN quit their day jobs.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Aaryn Gries: I'm Not Racist, I'm Just from the South

Viewers have been waiting all summer for Aaryn Gries to be evicted from Big Brother. The girl who kicked off the season making openly derogatory statements against the house's Asian, African-American, and homosexual members had to walk out of the house and face Julie Chen, an Asian-American herself.

So when Aaryn walked out last night, the nation waited to hear what she'd say for herself. The result? Yet one more stereotype.

When Chen read back racist comments she'd said verbatim, Gries began stuttering, immediately blaming it on "being Southern." The racist and homophobic comments read back to her were only three of many statements she made. But her response added yet another stereotype to the long list of stereotypes she seems to have.

The whole thing made me wonder where she lives in Texas. Wherever it is, everyone makes racist jokes and nobody thinks anything of it, apparently. I, for one, live in the South and was one of many people who likely cringed when she chalked up her behavior as being a Southern thing. Would everyone in the country now believe we all back up what this girl said?

Of course, most people don't believe all Southerners are racist, just as most people gasped when they heard the racist statements Aaryn Gries made this season. They were statements that led to the show posting a disclaimer distancing itself from the remarks. I think I speak for most Southerners when I say that we would like to distance ourselves, as well.

To see the racist comments that started it all, watch the video below.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Are Standing Desks Better?

For some reason, in recent years "standing desks" have become all the rage. There are supposed health benefits to standing all day vs. sitting all day and, as a result, desks like this are now in offices and homes everywhere.

I still don't get how standing for 8-10 hours straight is good for the body. As someone who worked in retail in my younger years, I know the pain it causes to the lower back and feet. If it took that kind of toll on me when I was 20, I can only imagine what it would do to me in my 40s and beyond.

So when I read recently that some experts are saying prolonged standing actually brings its own health risks, I wasn't surprised at all. Additionally, experts are saying sitting at a desk all day is not necessarily hazardous to your health.

I say it's about moderation. For most of my working life, I've had a job that is a mixture of sitting and moving around and even today, it's hard for me to sit for hours at a time without at least getting up once every 30 minutes or so. Maybe it's all the water I drink. Standing should be combined with moving around occasionally, even if someone's job has them chained to a desk for hours at a time.

If I could somehow manage to type and walk at the same time, maybe this would be the ideal work setup for me:

Even walking at a pace of around one mile per hour or less, this worker says he lost three pounds, and experienced reduced joint pain. I've always found walking gets my creative juices flowing, and I think it's because walking gets the blood pumping, thereby helping the flow of oxygen to the brain. I'm not sure if medical science backs that up, but it sounds good to me.

Could you work at a standing desk all day?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Losing All Privacy

At my day job, we're going to what is called an "open-plan office." Otherwise known as densification or becoming LEAN.

If you work in a job that still requires you to actually drive to an office each day like it's 1998, you know what that means. It means we're going from this:

To something vaguely resembling this:

The goal of an open-plan office, says experts, is to encourage collaboration by ripping down the walls and letting everyone share space with their co-workers. It will encourage collaboration, they say, and for that reason approximately 70 percent of American employees now enjoy a wall-less office.

The problem with an open-plan office is not all jobs require collaboration. Think of accountants and software developers. Sure, both jobs occasionally require teamwork, but there are simply some jobs that require someone to hunker down and get to work.

Which is why the workplace is shifting toward home. Those who don't need to collaborate work from home, where there are numerous other distractions like annoying neighbors and garbage trucks. Plus, when you work from home, the guy down the street assumes you are free at 10 a.m. to help him haul mulch to his back yard. Either way, it seems to me that as unattractive and prison-like as picture number one is, maybe people need those walls. Because, more often than not, when co-workers are talking to their neighbors, they aren't collaborating at all. They're gossiping.

What do you think? Do you have experience with an open-plan office? Does it work?