Category Archives: How To

Friendships Through My Ages

My very first friend was, Miss Woodward, the lady who accompanied me to my foster homes. Since it took several tries, we had time to bond while she figured out the answer why. And even though I was still a toddler, I somehow knew she was my only link to my past and I didn’t want to lose that. So when we finally found my “Forever” home, I made sure it would be possible for me to keep in touch. At first we exchanged Christmas and birthday cards. Later, when I was in my twenties, I showed off my child to her to demonstrate and confirm the possibility of successful adoptions. And as time passed we continued our correspondence until she died many years later.

My adopted mother was very involved and influential in my everyday life. In my younger years, she picked friends for me and they were always people who were more knowledgeable or talented in something than I or at which I wasn’t as good. Most of the time, I didn’t mind, because I enjoyed learning, but occasionally, I felt inferior to them. And as I look back at that time, I could have used more confidence building.

My father had six weeks’ vacation each year and the three of us would take a large chunk of this time to travel out West to see the National Parks. We camped all along the way and I was fortunate to visit all the states except Washington and Oregon and all the provinces of Canada. Campsites in those days were great spots to make pen-pal friends and I met several from both the States and Canada.

A couple of my friends were terrific artists who shared their love of horses and art with me. Another loved to cook and she and I had taffy pulling parties. Later, a guy friend shared his love of car mechanics and he helped me keep my ’56 T-Bird in tip-top shape. Another guy friend was into S.C.U.B.A. and we became diving buddies. I later took my diving equipment to Cannes, France when I was in school there, so I could dive with the local club during my stay.

When I found out I had Scottish roots, my son and I joined the local St. Andrews Society and we met several really special people with Scots ancestry and also found a bagpipe teacher. Other people in the society taught me about the history and customs of Scotland and inspired my trips there and interest in writing a book about my adventures. In fact, a lovely man from Scotland has become a friend after he read my book and contacted me to tell me so. He calls himself “The Village Kiltie.”

During my husband’s military career, I took belly dance lessons in several places where we were stationed and after my parents died, I went home to N.J. to settle their estate. While there, I met a gal who became my inspiration/teacher/mentor for a whole new twenty-plus-year career. Who would have guessed it?!

One of my guy friends was into opera, ballet and orchestral music, and since I had studied ballet, piano and cello most of my growing up years, he and I used to share season tickets. And another guy friend and I consoled each other when we each went through divorces.

I had a friend who was a 29 year cancer survivor, who taught me more about living than anyone I’ve known.

As I look back, my mother had a good idea in introducing me to people who could teach me something. It may have been a little difficult in the beginning, but the more I learned the more I wanted to learn, so I pick friends like that, still. I always want to grow and find things and people who inspire me. I have been so fortunate to have met so many really special people. I have photographs of most of them on shelves on either side of my desk and every day when I enter the room, I greet them with cherishing thoughts.

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.

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Filed under How To, life, musings, Scotland, Travel, writing

Risks in DNA Searches

DNA testing can be used in many fields including archeology, paternity, medical history, law enforcement forensics, and even extraterrestrial and pet breed testing. But today I’m talking about the ever popular kits advertised on TV these days. DNA testing is a wonderful tool for ancestry searching, but it can have some unexpected negatives if people aren’t careful.

Many of my readers already know that I was orphaned at a very young age, sent into the foster care system and later adopted. I secretly searched for my birth family during my growing-up years, but continued my search in earnest after my adopted parents passed away. Knowing they were unable to have children of their own, I hadn’t wanted them to know I was searching for fear it would hurt them. We were/are real people with real emotions.

I’m afraid too many people take the DNA test and wait for the results informing them they are a certain percentage this nationality and a different percentage of another and treat it as a game. The connection is so far away, it’s just exciting and fun to know where in the world one started. That’s all well and good, but sometimes people forget these ancestors were real people, with feelings and stories, tragic and wonderful.

Some people may still be alive, and although they may have joined one of the search organizations, that doesn’t mean another member should inquire information from this person without trying to be thoughtful, considerate and/or diplomatic in their query. The ancestry sites try very hard to protect people’s privacy, especially those still living, but some members don’t realize they themselves need to be aware of protecting someone’s privacy, too.

For example, a relative of mine through marriage found some personal information about someone closely related and, without thinking it through, proceeded to copy that information and email it to both another relative and to me, thus violating the person’s privacy who was the subject of the information. As a result, feelings were hurt and this inconsiderate relative is no longer spoken to by several family members. The information was none of that relative’s business and should not have been forwarded so blatantly, however innocent the intentions.

Another case comes to mind, even more serious. I have a friend whose husband wanted to get his DNA done and sent in his sample. My friend had escaped an abusive relationship years before, but at that time this abusive person told her if he ever found out where she was, he’d kill her. I was concerned that her abusive ex, might use an ancestry search company to find her. He had already tried other methods, she told me. There are scammers everywhere. There is always a possibility they could lurk within an innocent source. So, I’m real careful on any site that is open to the public.

With all that said, I’m now 76 years old now and joyfully still finding family members; two other sisters, whom I plan to meet soon, and, sadly, I learned of the death of my brother and mother. Needless to say, it’s an emotional time for me right now, but I’m grateful to know.

Ten years ago I wrote in a short story that, “I pray I live long enough to be reunited with the rest of my family. Even if success proves elusive, I’ll continue to search. I’ll continue to dream.” I believe that finally my dream is coming to fruition. Thanks to God, and to DNA testing!

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.

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Filed under How To, internet, life, musings

Beauty Salon Blues

Years ago when I first started to get my hair cut and colored and my nails manicured or artificial nails put on, an appointment at the beauty salon was an experience where I always felt pampered and special. Am I being old fashioned in thinking that’s still true, or should be?

Almost a month ago, I set up an appointment at a new salon to have a cut and color done on my shoulder-plus-length, medium brown hair. I had researched salons in my area and was impressed by an ad I’d seen in which the owner had expressed how professional she and her staff were and how her salon was a dream come true for her. That sounded good to me, so I set up an appointment with (we’ll call her), Breanna.

I did my due-diligence rounding up photos of favorite styles and examples of color that I liked so I could better explain to my new hair dresser the results I was expecting. Since the examples I selected were actual photos of me, I knew it was possible to cut and color my hair to look like those photos. And I was being realistic in knowing the results I’d see in the mirror would include the wrinkles I now wear, as opposed to some of the early photo examples, sans wrinkles.

Beauty day arrived and I was excited and very much looking forward to meeting and learning about my new hairdresser and explaining to her what I wanted done to accomplish my spiffed-up look, and also to getting my head massaged during the shampooing portion of the appointment. I think just about everybody loves that part!

I arrived a few minutes ahead of schedule and Breanna, a twenty-something girl, came forward and led me to her chair. When she asked what I wanted I showed her the folder of photos and explained that as far as cut was concerned, I’d like a page boy that curled under with a length just below my chin but above my shoulder. She looked at me with a blank look and then pulled out her comb and scissors and started cutting my hair with it dry. Other hair dressers had always cut my hair when it was wet, especially since I have some natural curl, but I‘m not the expert so I didn’t say anything.

After cutting my hair she went to get the color chart. She picked out three reddish samples and I selected a medium reddish-brown that had very definite warm, reddish highlights. She mixed the color, applied it, set a timer and went and sat down and started looking at her cell phone. The owner of the salon (about the same age) was in another chair and they spoke to one another and pointed out things on their phones to each other and ignored me.

Just about the time I was feeling totally neglected, the timer went off, I was directed to the sink and my hair was shampooed very quickly. No massage. In fact, I wasn’t sure she even got the nape of my neck wet. Then the towel was wrapped around my head and I went back to her chair where Breanna started blow-drying my hair. She had me facing away from the mirror so I had no idea what I looked like until she was done.

After spinning me around to face the mirror, someone with dark brown shoulder-length hair stared back at me and the bottom of her hair was flipped up in some places and hanging limp in others. Along with the feeling of neglect, I was trying to understand where the reddish color was and what had become of the page boy I had asked for. Then it occurred to me that Breanna may not have known what a page boy even was. That would explain the blank look she gave me, but I had had a photo of one that I had shown her and I remembered pointing to it. If she was too young to know what a page boy was, why didn’t she say she hadn’t heard that term used before?

I was so disappointed and exhausted by this time, I paid her and left, thinking I’d just not ever go back. When I got home, I went into my bathroom and ran my spread-out fingers up through the bottom of my hair at the nape of my neck and my hand came out covered in wet, gooey, dark-brown hair dye. How could Breanna have dried my hair and not noticed she’d not rinsed all the dye out? I couldn’t believe my eyes! And to make matters worse, there was not a hint of any red in the dye. The more I thought about it, the madder I got. The cut she gave me was too long, too. I had asked for a length between my chin and shoulder. What I got was hair that hung down and split at my shoulder because it was too long. To top it all off, not only did she do a poor job; she had no social skills whatsoever!

Clearly, I made a bad choice in salons, but I never dreamed I could be off that much. Throughout my adult life I worked in a service oriented business and I always gave my customers more than they expected. In other words, I treated people like I would like to be treated.

Is this a millennial thing? Or is this an unqualified stylist thing? Or both? Are young people unable to communicate with the public because of their isolation as a result of technology; the cell phone? Is that the problem? I have noticed people don’t communicate much anymore in doctor’s or dentist’s offices, restaurants and such, but this oddity seems to have totally crippled young people in particular. I might even be so bold as to say this lack of communication has become what appears to be an act of rudeness. Am I alone in thinking this? Do they know this is how some older people feel? Do they even care? Can I ever hope to get my hair done in a salon and feel pampered again? I’ve lost my confidence in being able to tell. Am I being unreasonable? Maybe so, if I didn’t say anything. I guess I should I have told her, but didn’t because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings? This is really bothering me.

Let me know your thoughts, dear readers.

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.

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Filed under How To, life, musings, writing

The Color of Love Is Blue – By Maribeth Shanley

My favorite season is spring.  I love the smell of growing grass.  I love the trees that are budding and sprouting leaves.  I love that it’s warm during the daylight, and slightly chilly when the sun goes down.  As a homeowner, I especially love feeding, listening to and watching all the birds.

A little more than two years ago, Bob and I signed the papers to build a new house.  This house would become our last home.

We paid extra to have the house built on a lot where the backyard met the pond.  It was early spring the day we signed the papers and put down our earnest money.  After signing, we stopped at the lot and walked back to see it.  The first thing I noticed were the bluebirds flying around the pond.  I was thrilled.

I’ve been feeding the birds for as long as I can recall.  I’ve also always provided a few bird boxes for them to build a nest.  Except for our residence in Illinois, we’ve had bluebirds.

At each home we owned in the Nashville, TN area, I would religiously put up a bluebird box.  Our last Nashville home, however, one of the existing residents had already established a bluebird nesting box.  I was fortunate to attract the sweet blue colored birds with a brownish belly to nest at every backyard, except that home we last lived in before moving to South Carolina.

Each spring I watched as one couple would build their nest.  The box in that neighbor’s backyard was visible to me when standing or sitting on my back deck.  I knew I wouldn’t have the birds nesting. However, I thought, Maybe there’s something I could feed the bluebirds to entice them to visit my yard.  After all, the same neighbor didn’t feed the birds.  I was the only person who did.

So, on my next trip to the local Wild Birds Unlimited store, I asked the clerk what bluebirds ate only to discover they love mealworms.  The store kept live mealworms in a small refrigerator.  I not only purchased a large container of squirming mealworms, but I also purchased a bluebird box feeder.  I had a ton of other birds coming to my backyard to feed at the birdseed boxes I had erected.  I wanted the bluebirds to feel safe in my yard.

The wooden bluebird feeder looked similar to most ordinary bird feeders.  Like traditional feeders, the front and back panels were plexiglass.  However, the plexiglass wasn’t slanted inward like traditional seed feeders.  Instead, they were straight up and down, creating a more squared off effect.  Like other feeders, one section of the slanted wood roof was hinged enabling me to lift the roof and drop in the mealworms.

Unlike seed feeders, on either wood end panels of the bluebird feeder was an entrance and exit hole making it easy for the birds to enter the box on one side and fly out from the opposite side.  From that year on I was able to sit on my deck and watch the little birds fly in, eat and then fly out.  I watched for the eight years we lived in that house from early spring through the end of summer.  The presence of the box would also give me the pleasure of listening to their quiet conversations which were sweet and low.

Our first home in South Carolina had a small backyard that backed up to a natural runoff ditch that, when it rained hard would fill up with water.  There were trees on either side of the ditch, and the lot behind one next-door-neighbor was heavily wooded as well.  We had a lot of different types of birds that visited our feeders.  A raccoon and an opossum also visited.

I recall, one night, as I turned on the back outside light the opossum was inside the feeder that I had nailed to one of the trees.  He was eating the cracked corn I put in that feeder for the squirrels.  When I walked out the door, the opossum stopped and looked up at me.  Because I didn’t walk toward the box or move threateningly, he put his head back down and ate more corn.   Since the backyard was small, I didn’t put up any bluebird houses.  Instead, I put one up around the front of the house and in the landscaping next to the roll-up garage door.   The bluebirds found it and raised several broods over the two years we lived in that house.

Unlike most other wild birds, bluebirds can nest up to four times each year.  However, between broods, the box needs to be cleaned.  The female bluebird won’t lay her new eggs in an existing nest, even if it was where she hatched her last brood.

When we moved into our current house, we had immediate success.  The blue colored nesting box I put at the end of our yard and overlooking the pond was perfect for a bluebird pair.  They nested three times that first spring and summer.

The following year, I added a box that still sits just outside the office I share with Bob giving me the opportunity to watch the birds as they enter and exit the box.  Last year, a pair of bluebirds nested in that house once.  The female laid her eggs in mid-August.  By the end of August, I began to worry about the eggs.  The temperatures last year were, for the third year in a row, record temperatures.  August was a brutally hot one.  Although the female kept going into the box, I knew something was wrong.  The eggs never hatched.  I guess that the heat was too intense for the eggs.  When I finally pulled the nest out of the box, I broke open the eggs.  There was a speck of blood in each of them, leading me to believe that the hot climate air caused the box to serve as more of an oven than a nest.

This year, there’s been a flurry of birds trying to nest in our backyard.  The original blue painted box was taken over by a house sparrow pair.  I watched a bluebird couple compete for that box when, finally, the sparrows won the competition.  I bought another box and hung it on the square column on our downstairs deck which runs up to the roof of the deck just above the patio.  For a short time, it seemed the bluebirds might use that box, but the female lost interest in it.  So, I went online and ordered another bluebird box and pole set.

That same week, I noticed the bluebirds seemed desperate to nest.  Thus, instead of waiting for delivery of the online order to arrive, I ran down to the local Wild Birds Unlimited store and bought another box and pole setup.  When we came home, Bob helped me erect the house.  We placed it so that the box hole faced away from both of the existing boxes which now were occupied by sparrows.  We also made sure that there was at least twenty feet from either of the other two boxes.  The same bluebirds seemed interested at first. However, the female wanted to use the original blue painted box from last year.  Of course, I can’t tell if the pair are the original pair that nested last year or if one of them was born in the blue painted box. However, the female simply wasn’t interested in either that newly erected box nor the other new box now secured to the patio column.

I continue to feed the bluebirds with mealworms.  I no longer buy the live mealworms.  Instead, I purchase large bags of dried worms and order them from Amazon.  As long as the bluebirds come to the feeder, I feel confident they will nest.  Once the sparrow’s broods have left their nests, I can clean out the houses giving the bluebirds a choice of four boxes during the remainder of the spring, and summer months.

Yesterday, the box and pole setup I ordered online from Walmart arrived.  I had one more opportunity to help the bluebirds raise their first brood.  I wanted to place the house away from the backyard and the other boxes.  I was about to set it up on the west side of our house and intended to move the mealworm feeder to that side but far enough away so they would use the box.  Then I remembered how hot last summer was.

Knowing that this summer will most likely be another record breaker as will all summers going forward if the U.S. and the world don’t embrace that climate change is real and dangerous, I walked around the front of my house and walked down the east side of our house to find a spot for the birdhouse.  I put it close enough to the house where I know it doesn’t get much sun so that the box can stay cooler than the other boxes.  Also, the box is about forty or more feet from the mealworm feeder.  However, it’s a straight shot to the box opening.

Sure enough, the bluebirds discovered the new nesting box and have been on top and inside several times.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed.  The new box location will not only provide shade for the birds, but I will be able to watch the birds now through the end of their mating season since it sits just around the corner from the patio.  When sitting on the deck, I can watch from directly above.

Spring is here, and love is in the air.  The color of love is blue!

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Filed under How To, Maribeth Shanley

The Quest for Techies

The other day I received an e-mail from an organization that caters to seniors (of which I’m a member) and that has a 4 letter acronym as a title. This organization was offering a series of free classes in how to operate a smartphone, both android and iOS (Apple) phones. I immediately read further to get the particulars. I have an older android smartphone and my knowledge of its functions is basic to say the least. I can add and subtract people in my contacts, make calls, text, send a photo to an e-mail address and play with my Bitmoji app. That’s about it, so a class to learn more sounded excellent to me. However the letter also stated that our specific phones would NOT be addressed. We students would learn on a phone they would allow us to use during the class. I could just picture in my mind’s eye the chaos in a room full of seniors, all with “deer in headlight” syndrome, interrupting the instructor to ask how this lesson was different than on the phone they used. I had already experienced this phenomenon when I took a class in operating a late model camera and also when I attended a hospital lecture about AFib for which there are several different medications which all work differently.

The e-mail also said that two classes would be offered for android and two classes for iOS phones. One set of classes was offered in the morning and one in the afternoon for each, and these classes were available in St. Petersburg or Tampa. I live an hour north of each of these heavily congested locations. The next thing I noticed was that all the classes in the morning said registration was already full. I never even had a chance to sign-up for a morning class. And the afternoon classes concluded right at rush hour. Surprise, surprise! I wonder who was responsible for setting that schedule up?

I decided to call the number suggested in the e-mail for further questions and when someone answered they knew nothing about these classes. After fumbling around for a while, putting me on hold and coming back, they didn’t know why the morning classes were already full and they didn’t know why the afternoon classes were scheduled to get out at rush hour. They also didn’t know if any classes would ever be offered anywhere nearer me. Why was I not surprised? This sort of thing is so typical in today’s world. Some half-wit took a great idea and turned it into an idiot’s endeavor, by being too lazy or ignorant to figure out how to make these classes possible for people in this geographic area.

Some people have disdain for seniors, claiming they are too stupid or lazy to learn how to use a smartphone or other technology. Those who feel this way are not being fair. I am a senior and I love to learn new things, as do many of my friends. The problem is in finding a source for that learning. I’ve always been good at reading owner’s manuals or going to a store where I’ve purchased an item when I’ve gotten stuck. Owner’s manuals are no longer being printed. The manual that does exist is on the phone, but if one doesn’t know how to get to it, what good is it!!! And if by some miracle you do get to the manual, nothing is explained in detail. It’s assumed we are already tech knowledgeable. And phone stores don’t typically teach people how to use their phones. They upgrade!  The few classes I’ve seen offered are too basic for me. Talk about frustration! It’s laughable!

We seniors need patient young folks to offer instruction in operating cell phones!!! Other technology, too! We’re even willing to pay. Help!!!

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.

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Filed under How To, musings

Well I’ll Be!

Although I live surrounded by neighbors, I don’t necessarily see them every day. In fact, sometimes I won’t see a single soul for maybe even a week. That’s not unusual since I’m retired and most people who live near me are younger and have jobs that keep them away during the day. And I’m the type who almost always has a project or two lined up to keep me busy, many times inside.

Since I live alone, I don’t always have someone to bounce ideas off of unless I use my phone or email, so I’ve become one of those people other people like to make fun of, because I talk to myself. Do any of you ever do that? I honestly don’t know why, but I don’t talk to myself out loud. I whisper, and only when I am alone. How strange is that?

Occasionally, when I’ve been out shopping or whatever, I’ve actually seen and heard people talking out loud to themselves, so I’m assuming I’m probably not THAT unusual, but I have no idea why I whisper. Maybe, my inner-self thinks it’s weird to talk to oneself, so if I whisper no one will notice? But if I’m alone…that doesn’t seem to make sense. I decided it wasn’t that big a deal and not serious enough to be concerned about so I just go about my activities as usual.

Often, my friends and family contact me via email, so I spend a part of each day conversing with them silently. However, my son makes it a point to phone me usually once a week or so. Most of the time these days, when my phone rings,  it’s a political ad, someone trying to sell me something, or someone trying to scam me, so if I don’t recognize the name on my Caller ID, I just ignore calls, and as a result, there may be days when I don’t speak with anyone.

I noticed the last few times my son called, my voice was hoarse and my tone was elevated and he asked if I was okay. I assured him I was fine, but started to be aware of my voice sounding differently. I also noticed I was having a little trouble swallowing and decided, since I had my annual check-up coming up, I’d run this past my doctor, just to make sure all actually was okay.

So, my appointment came and my doctor checked me over and asked if anything was different than before and I told him that I felt well except for the slight difficulty swallowing and hoarse voice. He said it was probably normal, but he’d recommend me going to see an Ears, Nose and Throat doctor, just to make sure. So long story short, I went to the ENT doctor, who did a thorough check and this is what he said, “I think you’re fine. It’s not uncommon for us, as we age, to get dry mouth, which you’ve told me you have, so my recommendation is to drink more fluids when eating. That will take care of the swallowing difficulty. And for the hoarse voice, I suggest you talk out loud to yourself during the day. That will keep your vocal cords warmed up and working for when you do need to say something to someone.”

Well I’ll be! Can you believe that? Have you ever heard of a DOCTOR prescribing talking out loud to yourself as a cure? This has become my favorite story to tell my friends. Hahahahaha!!!! Maybe those people I saw and heard talking to themselves were following their doctor’s orders!

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.

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Filed under How To, musings

Rock of Stages

After moving into my house here in Florida I set about trying to decorate it to suit the eclectic diversity of my possessions. I’d traveled extensively for years and many of my memories were tied to those travels in the form of furniture, statuary, paintings, masks, tapestries, etc. The trick was to try to keep my home from looking like the hodgepodge it actually was, and not, too terribly tacky. I am generally pleased with the way it all turned out, but I have to say, one room in particular presented a huge challenge. My 14’ x 9 ½’ one-step-down sunken sunroom.

I have an open floorplan with cathedral ceilings so my main living area has a living room with an island bar separating it from my kitchen and breakfast area and the sun room is located at one end of my living room with the step down and triple sliding glass doors separating the two rooms.

Each sun room side wall consists of patio type sliding glass doors. One side leads to the breakfast room and the opposite one leads to my office. The fourth wall is the back of the house outside wall which has two, 4 foot-wide jalousie windows starting two feet above the floor and going up to the ceiling, a glass single door/screen combo and one more small window, also starting at two feet above the floor and going up to the ceiling. I explained all this so that you could realize that at least 90% of the sunroom “walls” are clear glass doors and I had no idea how I was going to place any useful furniture in it.

My dilemma was I needed more walls, but I also needed the light the sunroom provided to brighten up the surrounding living room, office and breakfast room. Part of the solution came when a friend gave me her no-longer-needed room divider made of knotted jute cord. And that idea started me looking for other room dividers that were see-through. I found two “curtains” made of 2” coconut shell discs strung with black cord. The two curtains together were the width of two of the sliding glass panels leading to the living room. If all the sliding panels were drawn back or open, the three panels stacked into a recessed area at the end of the wall. If closed or partially closed, the recessed area was a blank single-door-size wall.

I decided to close the panels of the living room glass doors and leave one width doubled and open to walk through and then faux paint the blank recess area to look like a rock wall. Having never attempted painting rocks before, I wasn’t sure I could pull it off, but I wanted to give it a try. I wanted the rocks to look stacked up and maybe cemented in place, but I was having trouble visualizing different rocks. My yard doesn’t have any rocks in it, so I roamed around the house searching for something that looked like a rock. I found what I needed in the kitchen. An Idaho potato! Don’t laugh; it really looked like a rock. Ha! So I got my paints out and started painting with one hand and holding and turning the potato with the other.

After my painting project was done about a week later, I placed my reading chair and a small table against the coconut shell curtain and sliding glass panels between the sunroom and living room. A fountain was placed in front of the “rock wall”, and a knurly tree that I made out of a fallen limb from an outside tree went in the corner at the entrance to my office. The rest of the decorating project fell into place after that. I placed a rustic-painted ice cream table against the glass doors going into my office. My friend’s knotted curtain acts as a backdrop, and I put a wicker storage bench below the jalousie windows and a wicker tower cabinet in the corner near the entrance to the breakfast room.

Rock Wall

Beginning Rocks

Rock Wall

Coming Along

Rock wall-whole - Copy

Recess #1 Finished, Coconut shells – left

After walking past that rock wall for years now, I’ve decided I’d like to try to make the rocks look a little more three dimensional by adding shadows in and under some of them and by darkening grout. I still don’t know how to do it, but I’d like to give it a go.  Anyone have any suggestions? I’ll follow up with more pictures later when I finish. Please cross your fingers for me. FYI, I have noticed that the grout and some shadows look darker in my photos than in real life. Hopefully, I can make them more real looking.

Sunroom

Sunroom Complete

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland.

Join her here each 11th of the month.

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Filed under Art, How To

Writing Book Reviews: Purpose and Tips by Christine Husom

There are two basic purposes for writing book reviews: helping potential readers decide whether they’ll read a particular one, and letting authors know what’s good, or not, about their book. It’s an evaluation of the book from the reviewer’s perspective.

Book reviews should be helpful to both reader and author alike, written as objectively as possible. A good rule of thumb is to highlight what the author did well employing the basic elements of storytelling—genre, plot, characters, dialogue, pace, conflict, climax—and to offer suggestions of ways to improve the story, or the writing itself, if need be.

One thing to watch for is if you can’t write a review of the book itself—genre aside,—don’t. You may enjoy books from a genre, or sub-genre, and then read one in a genre you find you don’t like. It’s not good practice to write a review criticizing the genre itself. Most people who read your review are partial to those books.  If you read thrillers, historical romance may not be your cup of tea. If you favor traditional mysteries, horror may be too graphic for you. An evaluation of a book is meant to be just that.

Another thing to be careful of is viciously slamming a book or author. A review that reads like a personal attack is not regarded as valid, and will be dismissed as such. It makes readers wonder what vendetta the reviewer has against the author. This is a mildly-written example: “I am glad that this book only cost me a penny. Maybe I’ll donate it to my library…just so I don’t have to look at it anymore.” Or the person who left a 1-star rating on a book then wrote, “This is a book I did not order and have not read. I have no idea how I can review a book I don’t have.” What purpose did she have for rating the book, and posting her comment?

On the other hand, constructive criticism is valuable to both authors and readers. If there are a number of grammatical mistakes or typos, and that is noted in reviews, it alerts the author he needs a better editor, and perhaps a team of proofreaders. An author should know if reviewers think the characters need to be better developed, or if the ending seems to come out of nowhere, or if the pacing was too slow, or too fast. The following review gives the author something to ponder: “The author writes a thriller that is hard to put down, but her sentence structure needs improvement.” It’s not written as an attack. Instead, it is constructive criticism.

If you don’t like a book, but want to write a review on it, you can be thoughtful and honest without being cruel. Think of it as a personal critique to the author. Be respectful, and leave out any personal put-downs. When you evaluate a book and post it on sites, your review is out there for the world to see. People, in general, appreciate honesty served with a measure of decorum.

Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago County Mystery Series.

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Things I learned about books and bookstores by Sheila Deeth

I run a local writers’ group. When I mentioned a free online seminar about getting books into indie and gift stores, one of the members suggested I take the class and report back. I suspect I wasn’t the right candidate for the lesson though, because in my other life I’m a mathematician. Still, it wasn’t all bad. Here’s my report:

  1. Sales are up at least 5% in indie bookstores. (Is this global, national, or average sales figures per store? Does the fact that many stores have closed affect the number?)
  2. Over 700 new indie book and gift stores have opened in 6 years (but how many have closed? And why does 100 a year sound such a small number to me?)
  3. Indie stores are where bestseller lists get their numbers from. (Great, but where do non-bestsellers go?)
  4. Indie stores hand-sell (as long as you can persuade them to read, stock and sell your book)
  5. People who look in indie stores often buy from Amazon afterward, thus raising your Amazon ranking (so much for hand-sold. I want to support indie stores!)
  6. Indie stores are community centers. People meet and talk. (Very true. I LOVE INDIE stores! Just wish I could sell my books in them).

Then came the really important stuff: Indie stores don’t exist to help you. You have to prove YOU can help THEM. Which you do by…

  1. Making the buyer’s job easy
    1. Easy ordering (preferably from a major distributor)
    2. Easy payment
    3. Easy returns
  2. Make sure the buyer can find the book and contact you
    1. Info sheet with your phone number
    2. email
    3. and address
    4. plus the book’s ISBN
    5. plus BRIEF info about it.
  3. Describe how YOU will drive sales to the store
    1. “I’m going to talk on the radio and I’ll tell everyone they can buy it from you.”
    2. “I’m going to bring the radio host to your store.”
    3. “I have tons of endorsements and reviews that you can quote from in shelf materials. The book will sell itself.”
    4. “I’m going to be featured in all these magazines.”
    5. (I think they missed the step about how I get the radio to interview me, how I get those endorsements and reviews if I’m still trying to find readers, how I persuade those magazines to feature me… Maybe all that’s in the not-free seminars I can’t afford to follow up on.)

Then came the mathematical finale…

  1. If 200 stores stock your book (200! My first novel was stocked in three)
  2. And sell 4 or 5 copies each per month (In 6 months I sold one)
  3. You’ll sell 1000 copies in a month, which pushes you up the lists and means
  4. More stores will stock your book
  5. Thus meaning more stores sell 4 or 5 per month (because, of course, those first 200 stores will continue selling it, won’t they?)
  6. And you’ll make a real-world salary, plenty to live on, in your first year!

Bumping straight back down to reality, the radio will interview me, magazines will feature me, and readers will look for me if I’m famous or have sold lots of books. Meanwhile the indie store closest me closed. I only sold one book. And pyramids are still pyramids, even when they’re made of dreams.

The best advice, of course, is to write a book that people will read, and I hope you’ll read mine.

Sheila Deeth is the author of Infinite Sum, recently released by Indigo Sea. If you think she suffers from low self-esteem after reading this, please improve her self-confidence by reading and reviewing her novel. And if you or your loved ones are weighed down by things that happened in the past, this novel just might help you understand.

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From Timid to Confident

For some time now, I’ve wanted to share with you readers just how much of an impact belly dancing has had on my life. As I look back over the more than twenty years of my professional dance career and time spent teaching my students, I can’t help but smile while thinking how changed I am from the timid, insecure person I was in the very beginning. Not just in dance, but in every aspect of my life, and I’d like you to imagine my words as an analogy for most any career.

Those who knew me as a beginning dancer probably wouldn’t say I was timid and insecure from their observations, because I was also enthusiastic and very much taken with the mystique of the dance. I, like most of us, suffered silently. I didn’t know many dance steps or how to transition from one to another. I felt my figure wasn’t ideal. I had no idea how to put a costume together or where to find the resources for costumes.  What about hair and makeup? There were so many things I didn’t know, and I couldn’t help feeling intimidated by all those dancers who were so good at their craft. Does this sound familiar?

Take heart. Perhaps if I tell you what I did, you may have similar results.

First of all, you must learn that it is all right to be timid in the beginning. In fact, that trait is helpful. It makes you try harder, want to learn more. If you live in an area where lessons are taught, take as many lessons as you can. Subscribe to publications, read articles and order catalogs that offer supplies. Attend seminars and conventions that give you the whole picture of what you have learned in the classes, and more.

As in any endeavor, networking helps. When I first started going to seminars, I took the time to write to the teacher or guest of honor, ahead of time, letting her/ him know how excited I was that they were going to be teaching and/or performing. That way, when I got to the seminar, there would be at least one person whom I knew, and it’s so easy these days with e-mail. I was always surprised when they remembered that I had written them, but you see, people love to be appreciated. Many famous dancers, I believe, are friends now, because I took the time to make their acquaintance. And the wonderful thing is that belly dancers are really great people. They are eager to teach you the things they have learned and to share their experiences and ideas. So there is really no reason to feel intimidated. Make friends with other students and with vendors, too. After all, your interests are the same.

The more you learn the more confident you become. The more confident you become, the more relaxed you are and the more you can enjoy this beautiful art form. I’ll always remember taking a seminar with the famous performer and teacher, Bert Balladine when he held his head high and told us that each one of us was a gift of God’s and we needed to dance as though we believed it. In the beginning, you may need to pretend you feel that way, (I certainly did), but as you master each challenge, it becomes easier to feel the beauty of the dance and feel beautiful performing it.

When you feel confident and beautiful in one area of your life, it’s amazing how that bleeds into other aspects of it. Because of my experiences in the world of dance and the wonderful people I have met through the years, I feel I have become more interesting, confident, sharing, and even disciplined than I would have been had I not had the courage to enter in with love, enthusiasm, and a willingness to try. So put on that smile, lift yourself up and start on your journey. You, too, can go from timid to confident.

With that said, see how you can take this “dance lesson” and translate it into advice for writing, or for artwork, or for music or science, or whatever your interests are. And have fun!

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland.

Join her here each 11th of the month.

 

 

 

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