Chickens and other randomness

the neighbor's chickens
The neighbor’s chickens

I’m very fond of the neighbor’s chickens. They are less fond of me, perhaps because I come accompanied by a dog? Not that Z bothers them at all. The one time they came almost close to a confrontation, everyone backed away hurriedly. Some of those chickens are just as big as she is and Zelda is not the kind of dog who wants to chase things that might chase her back. Squirrels, yes. Chickens, no.

But the chickens do flee every time I try to take pictures of them. It’s making me think about getting a new camera. The one that I have is a basic point-and-shoot, but it’s slow and it makes noise with every photo taken. It makes it hard to catch the chickens when they’re being cute. Or even when they’re running away.

Cameras, though… wow. It’s like learning another language. I’m not sure I’m up for the level of vocabulary necessary to understand what I’m looking at. I’m also not sure it’s worth the expense: the above picture is not any of the attempts I made with the camera, but the quick shot I grabbed with my phone as the chickens ran away.

I’m really not convinced that one in front is a chicken, either, which is part of why I’ve been trying to take pictures of them. No insult intended to it — who am I to judge the shape of a chicken? — but it’s such an odd shape that I feel like it ought to be something else, something living with the chickens. Maybe someday I will see the neighbor and ask.

Had a lovely dinner with my writing friends this week and some good writing time with one of them afterwards. We tried to write for an hour and I got nowhere, but at 9:50, I said, “All right, ten more minutes, must write some words,” and in that ten minutes, wrote the only good words I’ve written all week. Writing sprints are so useful.

Zelda had a crazy out-of-the-box treatment at the vet’s last week — one of those, “well, it won’t hurt and maybe it will help,” things involving radio waves. Since then, we have gone on three real walks, the kind we used to do before August. She has eaten her food every day. She has played with her toys. She even ate some kibble last night. Kibble! The vet’s office called today and asked how she was doing and I said, “Great.” The tech said, “Normal, then?” And I said, “No, not normal, great. She’s eating, she’s exercising, she’s playing, she’s fantastic. That’s not normal, that’s great.” The tech laughed uncertainly and I therefore knew that she was not the same tech who gave Z her crazy, New Age, non-research-supported treatment, and spent twenty minutes discussing the travails of canine dementia with me, but I’m totally sold. Z turns 14 this week — in fact, she turns 14 tomorrow! — but she is acting 10 at most. I like that.

Blue Springs State Park

I saw the big dark fish in the top left corner first and thought, “What is that thing that it’s sitting on?” It took me a couple seconds to realize that it was actually not a big dark fish, but a very small dark fish compared to the manatee it was gliding over.

Last night, I left the windows open (until I got cold) and stared up through the trees at the night sky while I was trying to sleep. It felt so nice to be back in nature: no bright street lights shining in the window, no passing cars, no sounds of people wandering by.

I’ve been enjoying my January. Lots of people, lots of activity, lots of dinners out and social time. And actually, this visit to Blue Springs is just a continuation of the socializing — I came here to meet up with some fellow Travato owners and talk the camping lifestyle. We spent much of yesterday afternoon sitting around in our camp chairs, chatting.

But this morning, comfortably before dawn, Z and I wandered down through the campground to the boardwalk along the spring. We weren’t the only people there — I bumped into a few others, including some of the Travato friends I met yesterday. But mostly it was Z and me, alone with the manatees and the birds and the squirrels, in the slightly crisp morning air.

One of the birds, maybe an anhinga that wasn’t bothering to spread her wings?

It reminded me of why I’m living this way. Earlier this week I was browsing real estate listings in Mount Dora. Some of the older houses are authentic tiny homes — there was one that was 760 square feet, with two bedrooms, a small kitchen and a living space. Although the kitchen didn’t have a dishwasher, it had plenty of counter space and cupboards. The bathroom had a tub, the backyard was fenced, and the house was walking distance to the library, cute shops and restaurants, maybe even a yoga studio. And if not walking distance to yoga classes, certainly easy driving distance to yoga classes. What more could I want?

Answers: Manatees. Fresh air. Sunrises over water.

Adventure.

On Feb 1, I’m heading west. I will be driving along the southern route, through the southern ends of Alabama and Mississippi, then through Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and into California. Then I’m going to drive up the California coastline until I reach Arcata, in very northern CA. I will plant myself there, in my friend S’s driveway, for a while. Long enough to help her clean out her storage shed and keep her company through the grayest months of the year.

It’s not going to be a leisurely trip across the country — I won’t be spending weeks camping in interesting places — but I’m not going to make it a helter-skelter dash either. If the weather’s nice enough, I’m going to swing north to visit Kyla in New Mexico and learn how to make canvas prints of my photographs. I’m also going to stop in southern CA long enough to say hi to Tehachap and visit her railroad museum.

And if you are along that path and want to meet up, whether for coffee or a meal, to show me your favorite tourist spot in your town, or to offer your driveway for a night, let me know. 2019 is not going to be a year of buying real estate and settling down — it’s going to be a year of adventure!

Cici in Paperback on Sale

Very, very, very temporarily — as in, it might just last a few hours — Cici and the Curator is on sale in paperback for $5.50. This is literally the cheapest it will ever be — I can’t set the price any lower and I earn nothing from the sale — so if you’d like a paperback copy, now is a good time to buy.

The story is: my dad and stepmom want to celebrate my book releases with a lunch-time book party. I suspect it’s Grace as much as Cici that they think deserves a celebration, because I spent a lot of time very frustrated with that book, but I find this to be a very nice idea and I want to give books to the guests. Alas, author copies take FOREVER. Seriously, two weeks before they even get shipped. And if you want them quickly, you’re going to pay an arm and a leg for shipping.

But an Amazon shopper can get her paperbacks via Prime, no shipping, and by the end of the week. Even at its absolute lowest possible price, the book is more expensive than an author copy but in the circumstances the speed and shipping costs make up for the price difference.

So I lowered the price to buy a bunch of paperbacks to give away. But if you would also like a paperback copy, it’s your chance. I’m going to set it back to $11.99 again, which is the price that earns me $1 in the extended distribution model, but the change takes 24 – 48 hours to implement.

Like I said, I earn nothing from the sale (unless you use the above link, in which case, I might earn .11 or so as an affiliate fee) but the paperbacks are quite pretty and I’d be happy to know that more of them are out there in the world!

The Best of… Me

I’ve been thinking about this post for a couple weeks, trying to decide what I wanted it to be. It has a significance that is invisible to you, but has been looming over me as I watched the counter on my dashboard tick inexorably up… 996, 997, 998, 999, and today, 1000.

One thousand posts! It’s a milestone, although I’m not sure what kind. After all, no one is ever going to read all of them. The XML back-up file has 1.7 million words in it. That’s about 20 books worth of words, and although some of those words are the XML code, most of them are not.

Personally, I really wish there were a lot more of those words. I didn’t start blogging until 2006 and then I blogged very lightly for the first few years of my blog, I think primarily because I worried about sharing too much of my personal life in a place that business colleagues might discover. But one of the things that I love about my blog are the links that show up at the bottom of the post that tie back to some previous day. Sometimes the previous day, whatever it was, bores even me. But other times I love the serendipitous reminders of where I was and what I was doing on some past moment. And I wish so many more of those reminders involved an adorable toddler and a stubborn six-year-old and an entertaining eight-year-old. Yes, I wish I’d been a mommy blogger! I wish I’d cared less about what other people might think, about the possibility of being perceived as unprofessional, and more about what I would want to remember. C’est la vie, however.

I also wish I hadn’t lost many of the photos from old posts somewhere along the technological path. I know it happened when my last domain host killed my site and I had a transitional period on wordpress and then switched domain hosts, but knowing how it happened doesn’t bring those photos back. Some of them I might still have somewhere, but I am not going to drop into the major, major rabbit hole of trying to find them and re-post them on those old posts. That would be a fine way of killing some days, but I’d rather use those days more wisely, like, maybe, writing a book?

All that said, and more to the point, even I am unwilling to read the entirety of my blog. Skim some of it, sure; read the occasional post, yes. But not the whole thing. In recognition, however, of the fact that this is a post I will remember, and a post I will stumble upon in the future, and a post that will link me back to my past, I’m going to share some of my favorites, at least of the ones I’ve stumbled across in my browsing over the past few weeks. I’m not going to claim that they’re the best or even worth reading necessarily, but they’re ones I’d like not to lose in the sea of my next million blog words.

August 4, 2009: The two Floridas

December 26, 2011: Anatomy of a year (2011)

January 5, 2014: To the people who dumped their dog on my street last July

September 3, 2015: Dyslexia

October 31, 2015: Swimming and yoga

August 15, 2016: The eye of the beholder

March 2, 2017: Palmetto State Park

May 31, 2017: Best. Vacation. Ever.

February 6, 2018: Bartleby

May 23, 2018: Commencement and other things

I don’t usually ask for comments, but if there’s a post I’ve written that you remember particularly for some reason, I’d love to hear about it!

Meaningless Title

One of the blogs I follow had a long post about search engine optimization today, which reminded me that I am supposed to write my posts for computer findability, which includes using the key descriptive words in the title and then at least twice more in the body of the text.

I am sure it will come as no surprise that I’m not paying a lot of attention to SEO when I write and, in fact, when I started this post, I was completely unable to decide what words might describe my thoughts. So “Meaningless Title” it is, and I will use that phrase at least once more in this post so that if anyone ever searches for things that don’t mean anything, maybe they’ll find this post. It amuses me to think of people stumbling across… hmm, I think I’ll go google and see what currently wins for “meaningless title.” Oh, and I love it — so, yes, here’s the google hit for “meaningless title“, a job title generator for meaningless jobs. It deserves its ranking!

Ahem. But! Back to business, such as it is. When I woke up this morning, I was lazily drowsing when I realized that my overhead fan was orange. Sometimes the overhead fan glows green, which is the light that means it’s on automated-temperature control, something which would probably work a lot better if I spent more time in environments where a fan could actually control the temperature. I don’t use that feature much because a) it isn’t sufficient when it’s hot and b) the green light is ridiculously bright. At night, I wake up and think I’ve been abducted by aliens, that’s how bright it is. This, however, was an orange light, not a green light, but I was sleepy, so it took me a minute to think, “Oh, I bet it’s sunrise.” I opened the blinds on the window next to me and for about 90 seconds the sky was absolutely gorgeous. I caught it right at the moment of transition.

I moved my camera to the bin above my head recently, in my quest to remember to take more pictures, so I pulled it down and took a bunch of shots that didn’t capture the beauty. In part because the beauty was fast fading, in part because the actual aesthetics of my view were nothing special. A beautiful sky needs some perspective to actually be striking in a photo, I find. But I took the above, and liked it. It felt a little like it should be a book cover for some scary book, an eco-thriller or something like that. But I know that if I drop down into the rabbit hole of designing covers for imaginary books, I will enjoy myself thoroughly, but not get any work done and that is not my plan for today. Plan for today: write many words, not design many book covers.

And none of that is why I’m writing this post. A Facebook friend posted a beautiful set of New Year’s Resolutions yesterday and I wish to steal them. Or at least some of them. She wrote:

Resolved 2019…

Move more, eat less; experience more, use less; downsize and organize; model kindness in a world that desperately needs more; and find joy in even the smallest things.

Only 5 things, easy right??

Rosie Mcsweeney

I’m not going to downsize and organize, because I don’t need to. And I am probably not going to eat less, because I don’t need to do that, either. But “Move more; experience more; model kindness; and find joy in even the smallest things.” Yep! Also take more photographs. New Year’s Resolutions 2019.

I went back in time to see what my New Year’s Resolutions of 2018 were. As far as I can tell, I didn’t make any, but I suspect the only resolution I cared about was finishing Grace. Well, and living a good life, enjoying my time, watching R graduate, all those things, too. But finishing Grace is the big one, so I’m totally counting that as resolution accomplished.

And now it’s time to get today’s resolution underway: words, more words. Happy New Year!

Best of December 2018

December 2018 included two nights at Trimble Park, aka my favorite campground in Mount Dora; one night in a very lovely side yard (by a canal!) in Port Charlotte, and many nights in two very familiar driveways, in Sanford and Mount Dora.

Moon over a canal on Christmas morning
Christmas morning, moon over water.

It was an exceptionally good month.

Seriously, it’s the kind of month that makes me glad I write these posts because it was so busy and so full that it would be awfully easy to let all the memories of it slip away. I had no time to write them down while they were occurring, but I’m still close enough to remember and then remember more and then be surprised by what I’d already forgotten.

Highlights already mentioned in previous posts or FB: Christmas music in multiple places; a lovely day wandering Animal Kingdom with R and M; releasing Cici into the wild and being delighted when people let me know that they laughed. (Many, many thanks to everyone who’s done that, you brighten my life!) Also being delighted to discover that two paperback copies of Cici had been ordered and were headed to interesting destinations.

Giraffe at Animal Kingdom
Giraffe at Animal Kingdom

Food highlights: last night’s delightful meal at Hotto Potto, a build-your-own-soup Chinese place; cooking baked salmon & potatoes for my dad & stepmom; a fantastic prime rib Christmas dinner at C’s with squash and brussels sprouts and garlic mashed potatoes.

One of my highlights started with annoyance. After some complicated negotiations about who was doing what over the actual holidays, part of the plan fell through. I was resigned, but not happy, and I sent R a text that said something like, “I’m not going to be pissy about this, but I do expect an apology.” He gave me a beautiful apology, truly beautiful. The kind of apology that should be framed as an example of the way to do it. And the revised plan wound up including one of the highlights of my Christmas: a candlelight church service at a very traditional Methodist church. (Okay, the singing of “In the Bleak Midwinter” was not a literal highlight, because that song is horrible and impossible to sing for non-trained non-professionals, but it amused me mightily.)

Another highlight was doubly unexpected: on Christmas Day and again on the 30th, I played a game called Super Fight with C & friends. The premise of the game is that you pit your character card with two attribute cards against your opponent’s character card and two attribute cards. To be honest, I didn’t personally have high expectations of this game, because I’m not really much on pop culture. Rambo vs Chuck Norris, to me, is sort of like “random fighter guy of whom you know actually nothing” vs “random fighter guy of whom you know actually nothing.” But in Super Fight, the winner is not necessarily the person with the best cards. Quite often, in fact, the winner is the person who can tell the best story about their cards — in other words, a writer’s game! Last night, on our last hand, my Katniss took out the aliens from Alien by using their own dynamite against them. On Christmas Day, my Hermione ran the board and was retired victorious. Super Fight, absolutely a highlight of my month. I don’t remember the exact details, but I know I laughed so hard I couldn’t catch my breath last night.

Chickens
The neighbor’s chickens come to visit most mornings.

But I’ve also enjoyed the parts of the month that weren’t exceptional in any way. The best way to appreciate a place is to leave it behind for long stretches of time. I’ve been loving the Florida weather — sunshine and warmth and more sunshine and warmth. The occasional torrential rain that then stops and turns into sunshine. Sitting in my tiny house, working on my computer, listening to music on a solid internet connection, visiting friends and family and getting to take them for granted…

December 2018. A very good month!

Photo Review, 2018: July – December

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Zelda hiding in the blueberries
I’m not really picking pictures that represent the month to me, just the ones I like that I hadn’t posted before. But this image screams, “SUMMER,” to me. Zelda in the blueberries, Allentown, PA. July 2018.
Zelda close-up
More Zelda. Upstate New York, August, 2018.
Sunrise on Prince Edward Island
Sunrise, Prince Edward Island. September, 2018.
A fishing boat on Cape Cod
A fishing boat on Cape Cod, MA. October, 2018. It was surrounded by seals and seagulls, waiting for the discards.
Zelda
Not a month of many pictures! I was too busy writing Cici. But not so busy that I didn’t have time to admire my dog’s cuteness. Zelda, Sanford, FL. November, 2018.
Christmas lights
The view from my window. Sanford, FL. December 2018.

Photo Review: 2018, Jan – June

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sunset in Trimble Park, Mount Dora, FL
Sunset at Trimble Park, Mount Dora, FL. January 2018
A flowering tree in Sarasota
Flowering tree in Sarasota, FL. February 2018
Stairs at Cloud Canyon Park in Georgia
Stairs in Cloud Canyon Park, Georgia. March, 2018. (We did not go down these stairs. The holes in the grid are big enough that Z’s feet slipped through, which was sort of terrifying. I was sure she was going to break her leg before I could rescue her!)
Sunset in Arkansas with bare trees
Sunset in Arkansas, April 2018. It was freezing cold that day, with hints of white flakes falling from the sky. The bare trees were so beautiful, though!
Iris
An iris in Allentown, PA. May, 2018. (That is an iris, isn’t it? It’s a beautiful flower, one way or another!)
A deer in Ohio.
Clearly wilderness, right? But this was a park in Ohio, which is not exactly the first state I think of when it comes to wilderness! June, 2018.

Looking back on 2018

Every day my computer chooses a different picture to put as my background picture. I’m pretty sure they’re from images that I drop into a folder labeled “Background Pictures” every now and then, which I think I set up somewhere in the settings back when I first got this computer, several years ago. But every morning, I get to be surprised by the picture that shows up. This morning’s picture is from diamond mining in Arkansas.

the diamond mine in Arkansas

Yesterday’s was the black bear spotted on the day of the eclipse in Washington State. There was also an interesting bird this week, which I’m pretty sure was a picture I took in Sarasota, and a tree that I didn’t remember at all. It was a pretty tree, though.

Last year, I did an end of year double-post, with a picture for each month. (First half of the year: Second half of the year.) Not necessarily the picture that represented the month in any way, just an image that I hadn’t previously posted that struck me as a good photo. I was thinking about doing the same thing for this year, except I felt like it wasn’t such an interesting year and that I didn’t take as many photos. When I think back on the year, the first thing that I think about is Bartleby and missing him. In fact, if you asked me about 2018, I would say that it was a lot of boring doctor visits for me that turned out to be nothing, and a ton of horrible vet visits for the dogs that were never nothing.

I would be so very wrong. Well, not about the doctor visits and the vet visits, but about that being the sum total of the year. The year was also driving the Natchez Trace, snow and hot springs in Arkansas, sunshine and the costumed college graduation in Sarasota, open spaces in Ohio, blueberries, Vermont, driving through Canada, the gorgeous Prince Edward Island & Nova Scotia, friends and family in Massachusetts, and then a whole bunch of peaceful Florida time.

With the exception of Canada, though, from which I have an insane number of beautiful sunset shots over the ocean, not so many good photographs. I am still going to do a post or two of the best photos of 2018 for me, but I’m not choosing from a position of crazy abundance this year. This does, however, set me up for my very first New Year’s Resolution for 2019: take more photographs!

In 2017, I was taking a photo a day, every day, as a mindfulness exercise that reminded me to look for the beauty in wherever I was. I let go of it in 2018 (along with all my other daily tasks), because I felt like I was overwhelming myself with rules, things that I had to do all the time, and turning my life into a to-do list. But I think I want to bring at least a few of those daily tasks back into my life because it’s really much too easy to get lost in the business of living and forget to savor it as it happens.

This morning, I tried to take photos of the full moon setting over the park. None of them turned out, because I was using my phone and the camera on the phone really can’t cope with moon shots. But Z and I were walking right at dawn, the full moon was huge and white, the air was so crisp (42 degrees) that I was wearing my eggplant coat and feeling grateful for it, and some of the neighbors still had their Christmas lights on and sparkling. It was so beautiful that I started singing “Joy to the World” — and then someone else walking their dog appeared and I shut up, embarrassed to be singing. But I hope at some future day I reread this post and remember that feeling. It was a very good feeling. And I wish I had a photo that could evoke it for you!

Self-publishing Numbers: Cici

This is going to be another boring post for anyone not interested in self-publishing, but it’s the most efficient way for me to keep a record so skip it if you’re not interested. I suppose it would be more efficient of me to post it on my seldom-used business blog — which I haven’t even updated with Cici, oops — but I’d never remember to look for it there, so it goes here. 

So, I published Cici a week ago, to all the usual spots. Much though I love her, I have very low expectations for Cici. My most similar title is A Lonely Magic, which is the book that I spent the most money on by far — professional editing, professional covers, advertising on multiple sites, NetGalley membership to get reviews, etc.  and which… well, has not rewarded said expenses. ALM was the book where I tried to get serious about self-publishing and while it was an interesting experiment, being serious did not lead to success. (Grace has earned more money in its first four months than ALM has in over four years. Ouch. Sadly, this is not because Grace is making me rich.) 

Anyway, I’m sure a self-publishing guru would tell me that I need to spend money to make money, etc, but eh. Maybe someday, if I ever get a real job and have extra money floating around. Meanwhile, I would prefer to continue to eat. So I’m not spending money on Cici, much though I adore her.

My sum total of marketing dollars on Cici was $5 on a Facebook ad sent exclusively to people who have liked my page. That ad reached 161 people, had 37 engagements, and 6 clicks. So if each of those clicks led to a sale, I might have sold 6 copies because of the FB ad, therefore spending $5 to earn $15, for a profit of $10. 

I also sent out an email to people who have subscribed to my mailing list. Mailing lists are such an interesting thing: I bought a book recently about being a mailing list ninja, something like that, and apparently I should be using my mailing list to chat with readers, “engage them,” and most definitely not to simply tell them when I have something new published. Because apparently telling readers that there’s a new book is asking them for something as opposed to providing them with information that they supposedly wanted to receive? But I honestly hate email, I don’t want junk cluttering up my inbox, and I really think that if anyone actually wants to hear from me on a regular basis they could just read my blog. I view my mailing list as being the people who simply want to know about new books. But apparently not so much: of the 1415 readers who have signed up for my mailing list, 474 opened the email, and 100 clicked on the link. 14 unsubscribed. 2 reported me for spam, sigh. These are, of course, not terrible results: the industry average open rate is 17.2 and mine was 33.7 and the industry average click rate is 3.6 and mine was 7.1. So at least I’m running better than average. 

BookBub also sent out an email to my followers there, approximately 6000 some. I know they did because I follow myself and I got their email. And the chance exists that Amazon will also let people know, those who follow me on Amazon. (I just started following myself so I didn’t get anything this time but maybe I will next time.) 

So, potential marketing outreach: 1415 mailing list readers, 6000+ Bookbub followers, 500+ FB followers, 300+ Twitter followers, and the 30+ of you who read my blog.

Total sales for week one – 103: 

  • Amazon: 85
  • Barnes & Noble: 16
  • Kobo: 2
  • Draft2Digital (Apple, Scribd, Tolino, Overdrive, etc.): 0
  • Google Play: 0

I think there’s some conversion rate thing that I’m supposed to figure out — around 1% of the people reached decided to buy?  That’s probably not a bad number for professional marketers. 

Anyway, I’m really just saving this data for future reference. Cici obviously doesn’t look like my other books, so it’s no surprise that she’s a niche read. Someday I might have to separate out my identities so that people who like true fantasy, no romance involved, aren’t mixed into the audience who likes romance with a little fantasy involved. But at the moment that’s far too much work and I’d rather spend my time writing. Or doing laundry, which is what I should be doing right now! 

And meanwhile, far more importantly with Cici, I have been really delighted to hear from people who enjoyed her and loved the ending and even more delighted that no one’s spoiling it. I usually try to avoid reading reviews because they are not good for me, but I’m totally reading every Cici review that comes my way because I so enjoyed writing her and really like reading that people enjoyed reading her.