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Quick Update

Hi, everyone. I see it has been a while since I last posted. All is well; I guess you can call it an extended hiatus. I also really want to get off wordpress.com and back onto a self-hosted wordpress implementation. I think my enthusiasm will return once I have full control over my site again. I just need to be able to combat spammers, so I am being quite picky about web hosting.

Other than that, it has been the same old stuff for me. I have a stack of books that I’d like to review, and another stack to read. I have also been writing and revising and polishing–also as usual. And–I must admit–I have been playing entirely too much Skyrim. (I discovered that my new computer plays Skyrim quite well, to the detriment of my more productive endeavors. So it’s really like playing it for the first time.)

So I’m off to review web hosts! Let me know if you have any recommendations.

IMO: When to Give Up. And When Not To.

 

Today’s post is about perseverance. When to stick to it. And when to not to.

No, I’m not planning on giving up on anything. But that is not to say that I have never given up on stuff. Once, I dreamed of being an artist. I still have pictures that I drew in the 6th grade, and they are not bad. I stuck it out all through high school, mostly because I already had signed up for the courses. But then something happened after I left high school.

I discovered that it was not my passion.

So, I stopped doing it. Well, not entirely. I still have extensive art supplies and I still occasionally use them. I have a discount card to my local art store. And I keep up my calligraphy skills. But, I no longer actively pursue art as a career or even as a serious hobby.

More difficult to give up was music.

When I was in my 20s, I rediscovered music. I retaught myself how to play piano and I started taking violin lessons. For two years, music overtook my life. I was a very serious violin student. I practiced for hours each week–probably 2 hours a day (in addition to working full-time) and 10 hours over the weekend. I was also still writing my Trunk Novel Epic, so I was also a very serious aspiring writer.

And then I went back to school.

And at the ripe age of 27, I realized that with the demands of a full-time class schedule, I’d have to pick one serious hobby. I asked myself, which hobby do you honestly have a shot at turning into a career? So the violin went into the case.

Why? As a musician, I really did start too late. And I was inspired by an old woman I knew in my community orchestra who had re-taken up the violin at the age of 60. I knew I would not lose my ability to read music–at least not permanently. I may temporarily forget how to tell the difference between E-major and A-major on the musical staff, but I’ll never forget how to play them, and I’ll never forget the theory behind them.

Although I didn’t play for about 15 years, I did take it back up again, and I did brush off my piano skills. (I would have brushed off my violin skills as well, but the danged thing keeps eating my D string.) Still … it’s not a serious hobby. It can’t be, until I can quit my day job.

What about writing? I’ve had some successes, but nothing career-changing. I think it’s the one thing that I won’t ever give up. At least, not for long.

What hobbies or interests have you had, that you eventually lost interest in?

Random updates: Webhost Research and Unposted Posts

I got a sudden fever this morning, so I took advantage of some physical downtime to research potential new homes for this blog. This is a WordPress.com hosted premium account. I first moved here several years ago to escape hackers who kept taking advantage of the fact that my then-webhost wouldn’t the underlying mysql database. And through the magic of DNS services, y’all came with me.

And so, I’ve been here ever since, feeling somewhat limited, but not overly so. Every year, I would research self-hosted websites, but none seemed to have the anti-hacking support that I was looking for.

Until now.

In the coming months, I’ll either move this site back into a to self-hosted site, or I’ll port the whole thing into another platform altogether. I’d like a place that makes it fun to blog again. I’m not sure if, anymore, that is WordPress.

~*~

Since I’ve been poking around my website, I made a discovery–I wrote all kinds of posts that I never posted. What happens is this:

  • I get inspired by a great idea, and start writing a post.
  • Something distracts me, and I save it as a draft, and set my computer aside.
  • I never remember to finish it.

Among these unposted posts are one that I decided to run tomorrow on stick-tuit-iveness, and two posts on an upcoming feature that I’ll announce later. I want to get several posts written before I commit to this.

(I also had a book review from a few years ago that I had pulled into draft status. When I reposted it today, it sent emails to all my subscribers. Sorry about that if you experienced some deja-vu when re-reading.)

And finally, there are two reviews that I started, but never finished. One is mostly finished, so I’ll try to get that posted soon as well.

Oh, and don’t worry about whatever’s making me run this low-grade fever. Obviously, it’s not slowing me down much. 🙂

Updates, Recent Research and Upcoming Series Review

This summer has been pretty active. The action started when I was laid off. The timing was actually pretty good because over the next couple of weeks, I was needed to help with a family illness that came up during the same time. And then we went to a long-planned wedding. I made three trips across Florida in five weeks. When we got back, I received a job offer, which I accepted. I started a week later. Just after that, we had to bundle my daughter off to camp. Which involved a huge amount of shopping and packing. She came back the following week, which meant a round of unpacking and laundry, and the week after that, we made another trip across the state.

This weekend, I’m having a little downtime.

Recent Research

While polishing up East of Yesterday, I had to revamp a scene where a group of young men must sneak into a camp and retrieve some stolen items. One of them needed to cover for the noise they were making, so I decided to have him sing a song. Since he’s from the Revolutionary War era, he sings an almost-forgotten song from that era. Here’s the opening verses:

THAT seat of science, Athens,
And earth’s proud mistress, Rome;
Where now are all their glories?
We scarce can find a tomb.
Then guard your rights, Americans,
Nor stoop to lawless sway;
Oppose, oppose, oppose,
oppose, For North America.

We led fair Freedom hither,
And lo, the desert smiled!
A paradise of pleasure
Was opened in the wild!
Your harvest, bold Americans,
No power shall snatch away!
Huzza, huzza, huzza, huzza,
For free America.

You can find the full song at Bartleby.

Upcoming Review

I recently read the first three books in an excellent epic fantasy (and warrior woman!) series, and I’ve written a series review.

Any reviews I post here are for books I’ve purchased and enjoyed. I generally don’t post negative reviews because I don’t usually finish books that I’m not enjoying. Sometimes, people still contact me for book reviews, but I have not requested any material from anyone since I closed down Debuts & Reviews. Katie and I briefly discussed reviewing again, but I ultimately had to bow out, because if I were to make this a review blog again, something else in my life would have to go.

I have the series review scheduled to post on Monday.

How I Lost Twenty Pounds

A few weeks ago, I hit the twenty-pound mark in my weight-loss efforts. I had been trying to lose weight for a number of years, but I have only been successful in the last six months. The weight-loss method I am using is traditional calorie counting.

Here’s what I did that was different.

1. Enlist a partner. My husband had some bad news from his doctor, and we knew it was time for him to lose weight. I have been on high blood pressure medicine for about five years, so we decided to do this together. It has been SO much easier–especially since we are both committed. I was unable to stick to a plan until my husband and I started this together.

2. Find a calorie counting app with reminders. I’ve had MyFitnessPal on my iPhone for a couple of years now. I selected it because it was the only one that enabled me to set food tracking reminders throughout the day. This is important when you are establishing the food-tracking habit, because it really does take 21 days to establish a habit. Now, we both use it.

3. Find a daily goal I could stick with for month after month. This is important. You need to be able to cut enough calories to lose weight, but you don’t want it to be so difficult that it is discouraging. It took me six months to lose twenty pounds. I’m good with that. It took years for me to pack on this weight, after all. If I lose a total of forty pounds after one year, I will be totally thrilled.

MyFitnessPal suggests a goal for you based on your activity level. Because I know I have a somewhat active metabolism–I can’t blame my weight on my glands–I chose Lightly Active as my activity level. This is even though I am probably not that active. Because I chose Lightly Active, I don’t carry around my iPhone with me so it can track steps. I only let it track steps when I have my purse with me. If I happen to be more active than usual, it will count those steps. If not, the few steps I take won’t have much of an impact. My husband chose Sedentary even though he probably is Lightly Active. But he carries around his cell-phone, and it records every step he takes.

Important take-away here–I have managed to lose 20 pounds even though I have not stepped up my activity level.

4. I Track every day–even when I go over my calorie goal. Face it–you will go over your calorie count from time to time. I find that I need to eat more when I have a bad headache, or when I have lost more than 1 pound in a week. But the important thing is to track the calories anyway. If you stop, it will just make it harder to start up again. So I don’t care about blowing it on the days that I go over–I just make sure I track everything.

MyFitnessPal has this wonderful Complete Entry feature, which tells me what I will weigh in five weeks if I eat that many calories every day. It is motivating both ways–when I go over, I see that I will gain if I keep eating that much, and it puts me back on-track. When I am under or on-target, I see how much more I will lose, and I am motivated.

BTW, the predictions have been fairly accurate. It now predicts that I can lose 4 pounds in a month, which is pretty much the rate at which I have been losing, excepting for a plateau or two.

5. Weigh-in over a three-day period, and record the lowest weight. I started weighing myself on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and I record the lowest weight. Why? Because your weight fluctuates so much over the course of a few days. This way, you don’t have to record a discouraging gain on a day when you may be constipated or retaining water. This goes with number 6 …

6. Only record losses. This will probably fly in the face of most advice. I found that when I plateau or have a slight gain, if I record it, it is demotivating. Sometimes, I now reason, it takes me two weeks to lose a pound, instead of just one. So if after a week of faithful calorie counting, if I am at the same weight or slightly over, I wait another week and try again. This gives me another week to lose that pound, and keeps me motivated.

Now if you go two or three weeks without losing any weight at all, or if you gain, you may have to re-evaluate your daily calorie goal, or perhaps stop indulging in so many over-limit days. However–important point, here–this has not happened to me yet. The most I have ever had to go without recording a loss is 2 weeks.

And so, that is what has worked for me.

As ever, if you have health issues, please discuss any potential diet with your doctor before starting. As for me, my doctor told me to lose 20 pounds when he first put me on these blood pressure meds. So I am just about 5 years late in following his advice.

Better late than never?

Dratted, Overcrowded Brain

Today, I got a nice email from Zillow. Why, you ask, would Zillow send me a nice email? Because of this post. They asked that I embed a link in it, and even though the link was rather real-estate-y and this is not a real estate blog, I did what they asked. Because they asked so nicely. Who knows? Maybe the cool architecture will inspire one of you to move to St. Augustine one day.

Lesson learned: It never hurts to ask.

Anyway, when I reviewed the post, I realized I had never written a promised follow-up. Even though I took the trip to St. Augustine and drove down the streets I mentioned. (In my Jeep. With the top down, of course.)

I keep doing that. Forgetting stuff I say I’ll do. I guess I need to come up with a reminder system. So I am going to brush off my old Google Calendar account–the one where I used to keep track of debuts–and have it send me reminders. Because apparently, this brain is overcrowded.

In fact, I think I’d better write a procedure for writing up blog posts. Because I evidently need all the help I can get.

(Nah. Cause if I do, I’m sure to forget I wrote the dratted thing.)

A Needed Break

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

I didn’t post last week because I took a staycation and took care of some health issues. Other than a brief trip to visit my mother for 2 nights, I hardly budged outside of my house. I did some serious R&R, as we called it in the military. I played low-stress games like Freecell and Solitaire until I was winning almost every game. I loaded music on my computer and synced them up with my iDevices. I only wrote about a thousand words. I browsed lots of news sites (you may not realize it, but I am quite a news junkie).

I also got my blood pressure managed. Additional dietary choices are now open to me, so I will once again eliminate dairy from my diet. I went the entire month of January without milk, and my intestinal issues and rib pain went away. Unfortunately, my blood pressure also went up because my breakfast without milk has a lot more sodium than plain cereal with milk. Now that I can eliminate dairy again, I am hoping this rib pain will go away again. It kept me up last night for about an hour.

So it was a good week. I don’t want it to end, quite frankly, but that’s why they call it vacation. My husband wants me to schedule another week already. July is looking good.

I decided not to move my website. I am currently using a premium WordPress account, and after reflecting that I have spent zero time worrying about my website over the last year, I decided to stay put. The managed WordPress accounts are too expensive and don’t get me anything that I don’t have here, plus I have been accumulating a few handfuls of WordPress followers (hey guys!) I don’t want to cut them off by moving.

I may, however, redo my theme, and maybe procure a premium theme … if I can find one that is worth the cash.

Financial Tip!

This is my first financial tip ever. But we got our first American Express card and it is really helping our finances. We put all our charges on the AmEx card and pay it off at the end of the month. Nothing else is going on our regular credit card, allowing us to pay it off faster. Plus we are getting lots of AmEx points.

An important note about AmEx cards–they are designed to pay off at the end of the month. So be careful to only use it for planned expenses, like grocery, gas, and small credit card purchases. You do NOT want to be in a position where you are unable to pay off the card at the end of the month. AmEx is designed to be a charge card, not a credit card, and there is a distinct difference.

It is going to totally be worth the 200 dollars to renew at the end of the year.

Writing Update

Chicory, Anne Elizabeth and I were having quite a discussion on epic fantasy and warrior woman tropes in the Back From Hiatus post. They got me to reveal some of the ideas I have been playing with (ahem–paladin story–cough), and we have just been having a good ole time. While my first priority has got to be finishing East of Yesterday, I am finding it difficult to resist working on my paladin story!

Anne Elizabeth recommended I try reading David Weber’s War God series, and I probably will, but it seems to be kind of a spoof of a paladin story. Has anyone ever read any good paladin stories, other than the quintessential Deed of Paksenarrion?

The Black Hole that is My Life

And so I pop my head out of oblivion to say hello to you, dear readers.

I am afraid I am over-committed and will remain that way until March. I am now judging books for a writing contest, and I had no idea how many books would be involved. I had to send two books back due to a conflict of interest (I know a lot of authors), but that still leaves six books to read in five weeks. That is quite a bit more time than I usually have allocated for reading.

But I made this commitment and I am determined to keep it. I have finished three books, and am halfway through a fourth.

I did manage to squeeze in an afternoon of writing, during which I undid some changes that I started in December, which had driven me straight into plot inconsistencies and unworkable quandaries. But I didn’t want to undo without a clear direction, so once I thought of my solution, I got a surprising amount of work done.

But other than that, East of Yesterday is languishing until I finish reading these books.

I also had some great ideas for improving my character’s dark secret in Magic By Starlight, but I have no time to work on that right now, so I jotted down some notes in the notebook that I carry with me everywhere, and there they shall keep.

(Just heard some familiar-sounding theme music; sounds like my hubby is playing a Games of Thrones episode. Like I really need that kind of distraction.)

Life has been so busy that I let a bill go past due. Ack. I never let that happen. The bill is in my purse so I can take care of it first thing Monday.

I am also having to squeeze some time in for exercise because my blood pressure is creeping up again. I have cut so much salt out of my diet that I really can’t blame sodium anymore, but I do know that I have gotten very idle during this uncharacteristically cold Florida winter. I can feel it. So I broke out the Wii Fit and did 30 minutes of cardio. I’ll somehow need to shoehorn that in every day because for me, cardio is medically necessary.

Sometime in the next month I need to either move to another web host or renew my WordPress Premium account for another year. I have missed having a self-hosted site, but I will not go to some fly-by-night company that has no hacking protection. I think I found a good host, but I will need to take a day off in order to do the move. I may time that with the day I do my taxes.

And wow–that’s everything that I’ve been up to. I wish I could write about  some of these books that I am judging, but I really can’t, so I won’t.

What’s up with you?

 

 

The Return of the Squatters

I posted part one of this real-life drama (such as it is) last week. Here’s the rest of the story …

It turns out that there was a teeny, tiny problem with the eviction of the squatters.

They only kicked out one of them.

The squatters had mentioned a name that had appeared on the property history, and at first, my friend did not recognize the name. The squatters claimed to have been sold the property in a tax sale. I started to wonder if the squatters were the victims of a scam. At length, my friend remembered the name from an investor they were working with.

Well, they used her name, which they probably got from the property history. Wish that info was not so public.

We wish you could move back in!!

The county has all property information readily available online, so I was able to look at all recent transactions, plus their tax history.

And guess what? All their taxes were paid. I looked at all recent tax sales for the county; that property address was not listed.

We switched to the phone at this point, and during that conversation I learned that the investor they were working with had been handling the tax payments. I guess that was part of the investment. The last transaction on the house was a quit claim deed, and my friend explained that she had to track that woman down–who no longer worked for the investor–to get her to file the quit-claim so my friend’s deed-in-lieu could go through.

So my theory that the squatters were the innocent victims of a scam was out the window.

In the meantime, we had other lingering questions:

Question: was that woman there alone? There were two of them.

Friend replied that she was alone.

There was a guy involved too. Getting description …

I passed along the description.

There was some confusing comings and goings. My friend wanted me to find out what they were doing, so I sent her this:

… I was concerned when they only removed the woman from the house. I have not gone around the house to look at what they’re doing but when I got home there was a car parked in front of the driveway with the tailgate opened.

Due to the position of the garage I have to be very overt if I want to check out exactly what they’re doing.

It’s actually perfectly positioned for nefarious activities.

I said this because the house has a courtyard entry and is faced away from the rest of the neighborhood. All you can see from our house is a side window, and a bathroom door. To continue:

They backed up their car all the way up to the garage so nobody can look at the license plate.

The window units made my husband and my sister wonder if they were brewing drugs in there.

I admit that our imaginations have run rampant!

Now as we were going through this, several people told us that squatters usually don’t want to cause trouble and the neighborhood usually has nothing to fear from them. However, it is very disconcerting to live next door to people when you know they broke at least one law in order to live there. And that law was breaking & entering! And then right away, they were breaking the HOA covenants by installing window units. So yes, fodder for the imagination, indeed.

They keep the slats (of the blinds) positioned in the bedroom so they can see out. And there’s a light on in there. Possibly they left the lights on when they left.

Wednesday:

From my husband: If she was arrested it was not for long because the squatter is back at the house.

They notified the bank. Again. A few days later, on Saturday:

Hi again. We have not seen the squatters for days, but they did leave their AC units behind. My husband wonders if they intend to come back. Did the banks change the locks?

My friend had no way of finding out until Monday. However:

Sunday:

The squatters are still there. The guy from the bank came by and said that someone was definitely still in the house. The key that the bank has does not open the doors. He said he was walking around the house to try the back door and he saw someone looking through the curtains. The guy from the bank came by to talk to my husband. That’s how we know this.

Monday:

We were able to verify what the guy from the bank saw. There was a light on in the bathroom and later it was off.

From my husband: Someone from the bank was to inspect the property and was unable to because the residence was believed to be occupied. I confirmed to him that the squatters had not vacated the property.

After this point, the bank was telling my friends that they would have to file a formal eviction notice in order to get them to vacate the property. They also only gave my friends 10 days to get them out of the house or they would cancel the pending deed-in-lieu.

I know a good real estate lawyer if you need one.

I sent my friend the lawyer’s contact info. I have sent this guy a lot of business. But it turned out that my friend didn’t need them. Another friend told them a shortcut and the next plan was that a property preservation company was going to work together with the police to get the squatters out and secure the house.

The plywood guy and locksmith are here.

She was waiting for the police at a nearby park, but she showed up shortly afterward. Together we watched as the police and the property preservation agents secured the property. No one was coming out of the house, so the police kicked in one of the AC units, and the property preservation agent–who was armed–went into the house. They had a dog. They established that there was no one in the house.

The cop was rather annoyed and demanded to know why we said there was someone in the house. My husband told them that as far as we knew, they were there.

The PP agents spent some time afterward securing the house. They left the blinds open on the window that faced our house, because they knew we were vigilant. They also left a light on, and put a lockbox on the front door. I am sure there are other countermeasures in the house that I don’t know about.

Although the squatters were gone, they left a house full of furniture. The PP agent also said that the garage had a lot of furniture as well. Which all–I guess–would be sold along with the house. As far as I know, it is all still there.

Lately, there’s been some people by to clean things up. They left a mess for trash collection. No one has attempted to move in again. We’re still waiting and hoping that we get actual neighbors there some day.