Monday, April 27, 2015

Unexpected meetings

I don't often go to Panera bread, because it's out of my way. I like it, but I'm usually too lazy or too much in a hurry to make time for it. Recently a client sent me a gift card, and this morning I headed down there to pick up breakfast. I have a soft spot for their soufflés. Yummie!

On the way in, I held the door for a woman with her arm in a sling. She also had a backpack and a plastic cup, and balancing all this while holding the door didn't look like fun. She tossed something in the trash and went back outside, and I stood in line to order.

When I came back out she sat on one of the chairs outside and we talked for a bit. I'm bad like that - I talk to strangers, lol!

She had a broken bone in her arm near the elbow, which would be an ordeal for anyone. Turned out she was also homeless and had spent the night on the side of the road outside the mall, because the Salvation Army's shelter required a photo ID and wanted $10 for her to stay there. Her ID was expired, and she didn't have $10, so she had to sleep outside.

I assumed shelters were free, but I guess not. Some friendly police officers had checked in on her during the night to make sure she was still alive and okay, but besides that they couldn't do much to help.

The ironic thing is, if she'd had children they would have let her stay and given her a room of her own. She said that when things started to go south she made sure her children were cared for, so they wouldn't be on the street with her.

This was a really nice lady and she didn't ask me for anything. She just wanted to talk. I rarely have cash, but I gave her the $4 I found in my wallet. To many people that's almost nothing, but she lit up and said, "I'll go inside and get something to eat."

I said, "Wait, if you're hungry I can help you" and gave her the gift card, telling her there was $14 left on it. To me, fourteen dollars is a few cups of coffee and pastries I don't really need. I have a home with a perfectly fine coffee maker and I'm chubby without eating any more pastries. I had gotten my coffee and my soufflĂ©. She looked like I bought her a piece of heaven.

The funny thing is, on the way there I was grumbling to myself in the car, because things haven't gone my way the past couple of weeks. Nothing major, just annoying little things. Meeting her reminded me that I am fortunate. I have more stuff than any one person would reasonably need to survive. I have a bed, clothes, food, a car, and I've never had to sleep outdoors by the side of the road. I think life sometimes brings us the people we need to meet in unexpected ways. I hope I made her day better. She certainly made my day better.

Monday, March 23, 2015

New story - again

It's not all that long ago I wrote about being carried away on a new story. In the middle of that one inspiration struck with something completely different. This story is about Anne who takes a teaching job at a boarding school. Naturally, nothing is exactly what it seems, because if it was there wouldn't be a story.

This is a portion of the first - rough - draft where Anne has just arrived to her new home with the headmaster, Brinkley. Poor girl, she has no idea what she's in for. ;-)

Brinkley was animated, so excited Anne thought his mustache might walk off on its own. “Your luggage should be in your new rooms already. I’ll take you there in a minute. You might want to mark where we’re going on your map. Did I give you a map?”

“No, Sir.”

He patted all his pockets and stuck his fingers into them until he finally found a piece of folded parchment.

“Here you go.”

She was still unfolding it when he took off towards the large door again, and she jogged to catch up.

“Headmaster... Mister Brinkley… Sir…”

He showed no signs of hearing her or slowing down. Trying to unfold the map while running made her drop her purse, spilling its contents over the ground.

Dammit. This isn’t starting well.

Her lipstick rolled over the ground to the left and she chased it for a few steps. Behind her someone said, “Sir, you’re losing your girl.”

The slow male voice reminded her of black velvet, but with a sarcastic edge.

Brinkley’s said, “What? Oh. Good heavens.”

Anne ignored them and chased after her jar of moisturizer. It, at least, had the good sense to roll towards the castle. It came to rest under the toes of a black boot.

“Stop that. As amusing as it is to see a woman on her knees before me I doubt this is a good use of your time.”

She looked up a very long leg dressed in black pants, a black shirt, and into a handsome but unemotional face framed with shoulder length dark hair. From her angle the owner of the voice seemed very tall, and he didn’t look amused at all.

If anything, he looked bored.

Why does a man have that hair? Not fair. I want it.

He held a bunch of her pens in one hand, along with her iPad mini dangling between two fingers, but offered his free hand to pull her up.

He was tall even when she stood in high-heeled boots. Must be well over six feet to tower over her like that.

He dropped her things in her purse and Brinkley said, “Thank you David. Anne, this is Professor Lindeman. David, this is miss Anne Doyle, our new expert in ancient languages.”

She smiled. “It’s very nice to meet you.”

“The pleasure is all mine, I’m sure.” He sounded like she’s told him to eat two pounds of lemons.

Brinkley clapped his hands together.

“Excellent. Do you have everything? Let’s go.”

Monday, March 16, 2015

Why your freelancer wants to be paid

I've worked freelance for about a year now, since hubs fell ill. It has its ups and downs. Being able to work from anywhere is definitely an up. I'm not always able to pay the bills on time - definite down. From time to time I've had big problems with my clients not paying their bills, not because they don't have money but because it's not a priority, and that causes lots of problems.

Anyway, one of the most common questions I encounter when negotiating with clients is why I would be worth more money per hour than hiring someone. "Why would I pay you $25/hour when I can hire someone for $17?"

If you think you need someone full time or part time for a longer period of time, having an in-house employee might be the right choice. However, to make a fair comparison you have to take all costs into account, not just the hourly wage. Also, when you hire someone you generally have them whether you have work for them or not. Most freelancers are paid on a performance basis. If you use a third-party platform such as oDesk they will even guarantee that all time invoiced is time that actually went to your specific project.

When you hire someone, you will be responsible for payroll, taxes, providing the person with a space to work, furniture, electricity, phone, computers or similar equipment, software, internet connection, pens, paper, education, and much more.

As a freelancer, I not only need to make money to pay my bills. I also pay for my own health insurance, office space, furniture, computers, software, office supplies, and everything else I need to do a good job. I provide PC and Mac platforms, Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, Premiere, Microsoft software, camera, and much more. Some clients even demand their work be kept on a separate computer.

I often work on evenings and weekends for the same hourly pay as the rest of the days. If I need to learn something to stay on top of what I do, it's my responsibility to learn it. It is also my responsibility to do a good job.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Daylight savings pain in the behind...

I have always disliked daylight savings time, because I'm not exactly a morning person. In my opinion, nothing that means having to get up earlier can be a good thing. Where I'm living now and the way I'm working, it's even more a pain in the behind.

I believe that daylight savings is maintained by people who can't sleep in the morning. They want everyone else to get up and keep them company. Or, they might be sadistic insomniacs who want everyone else to be miserable too.

It was originally intended to save energy, but in modern society, that doesn't work.

There has been several studies showing that we might lose energy on daylight savings, at least in areas that need to use AC. Daylight savings increases the risk of a heart attack, disturbs farm animals, and more. (You can read more here.)

I've run into some people who think daylight savings is the best thing ever, because that means it will be spring now. It doesn't work like that. Weather and seasons don't care about our clocks, lol.

My biggest problem - besides being tired for half of the year until we return to normal time - is the confusion it causes. Because guess what - not all areas and countries go on daylight savings, and not everyone changes at the same time.

This complicates life, because you're used to knowing a time difference between different areas, and suddenly that changes, but maybe only for a couple of weeks, or for a few months. That means that suddenly you have to re-think all meetings, and re-learn when people are available.

Of course it's doable - with research or a lot of questions - but it makes life much harder than it needs to be. For example, tomorrow I have a meeting with someone in London at ten my time. I think.

We decided this last week, and now I don't know if they think that our ten is still at ten like it was last week, or ten like it will be next week. Did they change now too? No clue.

Sweden uses daylight savings, but they go on it later than the US, and I'm pretty sure they go off it earlier than the US. That means that for some parts of the year there's a six hour time difference, but for a few weeks it's a five hour time difference. This matters, because it changes when people are available, it changes cut-off times for banking, and a number of other things.

I work with a guy in Croatia. That's great and he is awesome, but do they go on daylight savings at the same time as we do, so he'll be available during the same time-window I think he is, or did all that just change?

I also have a meeting planned with someone in Colorado in not too long. Do they go on daylight savings too, so the meeting that used to be a certain time my time is still the same time my time, or will it be another time now, and if so, when?


I'm so confused.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Peaceful morning snooze

Weekend mornings are the best. I usually get up at the same time as on weekdays, or even earlier, take the dogs out, and go back to bed for morning doggie cuddle. Bonnie curls up at my feet, Topper next to me, and I'll sit working or even reading on the iPad with a pile of pillows behind my back and a cup of coffee within reach.

I suspect I like being close more than the dogs do - they probably get warm - but they humor me. By the time I remember my coffee it has usually gotten cold, and this isn't a common problem, lol.

While I sit here, a part of me still knows I need to work, hang the laundry, buy detergent, go to the bank, and all the other everyday chores that seem impossible to escape, but during weekend snuggle time, I don't care.


Do you have a special weekend routine?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Lively nightmare

I had a nightmare last night. It doesn't happen often - I usually have happy dreams - and if I have a nightmare it's pretty lame. Like, being chased by zombies or some space monster, and I'm aware that I'm dreaming.

Last night was different. It was vivid and touched on my deepest fear: that something will happen and I will be unable to protect my family.

In the dream I lived in a large brick house with several floors. It was huge and also held my company that had grown to a bizarre proportion. My one-woman show had so many employees I couldn't remember their names.

That wasn't the bad part.

In the dream I woke up and couldn't find my dogs anywhere. I looked all around, but they weren't there.

I went into the business portion of the building, and there sat a young and slender woman with blonde hair. I asked if she'd by any chance seen dogs.

She told me she had given them away. She explained to whom. Bonnie was with an employee on the second floor.

Dream Maria snapped, yelled at her at great length, and finished with saying she'd better get on the phone and get them back. Dream me stated I would take a quick shower and that she had ten minutes to present my fur babies. I said, "If they're not here when I come out of the bathroom, you'll be sorry."

I don't know if she succeeded or not: I woke from Bonnie licking my face. I've had dogs all my adult life and none of them have ever woken me like that before. Guess she sensed my distress.

The thing is, after Bonnie woke me up I knew it was just a dream. My dogs were right there beside me. If the unthinkable had happened in real life, I would probably had gone to my employee on the second floor, explained that it was a mistake, and taken Bonnie back. I was still furious - in full out kill-mode. My heart raced and I wanted a sword or other sharp object, because I wanted the unknown dream-woman's head.


Bonnie let me snuggle for a bit before she returned to her favorite spot on the bed, and my brain finally won over primal emotions.

Isn't it funny how the subconscious works, and how it can get you riled up?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

New story!

Something fantastic happened this weekend: it's the first time I've wanted to write for over a year. My characters fell silent when hubs got really sick, and I think they were overwhelmed with everything that happened. I've been marathon-typing ever since then as well, struggling to make enough money for us to stay afloat, and up until now writing for fun has been out of the question. 

The new storyline is a bit complicated as it follows two sisters - Cyndy and Brandi - through a time of ordeals and turmoil, so I suspect the book will be long before it's finished.

Is there a downside? Well, as always when a story buzzes around in my head it's hard to focus on anything else. I sit in front of the computer, telling myself, "I have to work. I'm really interested in this, I am. And I need to do it. I really need to do it." Meanwhile, the inner me insists, "But they're in trouble. You can't just leave them on the brink of disaster..."

Here's an excerpt from one of the early chapters:

A shriek rang from the office, and Jack found himself unable to move. The paralysis only lasted for a second, but during that moment his mind painted out a million scenarios where Cyndy was no more. 

If anything happened to her, it would be his fault. 

She wouldn’t even be in this part of the state if he hadn’t been such a screw-up. If he had kept his ego in check and used common sense they'd be in the city right now. Instead they were in the middle of nowhere, locked in a store with a possible murderer.

His body finally obeyed and he spun around, pushed Stanley out of the way, and ran through the small store.

He didn’t have to go far. Cyndy darted in the other direction and threw herself in his arms, sobbing.

“What’s wrong, are you alright?”

She clung to him and buried her face against him. He tried to make himself free from her grip.

“Stay here, I’ll go investigate.”

She shook her head. “No… No, don’t go in there.”

“Okay, I’m here. Are you hurt? Tell me what happened.”

When she still didn’t say anything, he pushed her away enough to be able to see her face. She looked okay, but what did that mean on a day as strange as this?

Cyndy drew a deep breath. “There was this mouse.”

Stanley interrupted her. “All this for a mouse?”

Jack glared. “Shut up, Stanley.”

His wife sent him a grateful look. “As I was saying, there was this mouse. Cute, white little thing, it peeked out from a shelf. I talked a little to it, thinking it would want some crumbs or something.”

Stanley interrupted again. “You’re feeding mice in my store?”

“Stanley, if you don’t shut up so I can hear what she has to say, I’ll make you.”

Cyndy seemed oblivious of the interruption. “So, it came a little closer, right. You know how their little noses twitch, really cute. It sat down to wash its face with its little paws… It took a few steps towards me, and then it fell over, and it changed.  Jack, the mouse changed.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Factory tour of Dean Guitars

A long, long time ago in the dawn of the Internet (lol) there was a website called gitarrwebben. It introduced guitar manufacturers, tips and tricks, and other guitar related subjects in Swedish to Swedish guitar aficionados. The website was quite popular, and I was one of the driving forces behind it. 

I've always been fascinated with musical instruments, and through this website I got in contact with several manufacturers. A couple were kind enough to send over photos so I could make virtual tours of their factories.

Ever since, I've wanted to visit a place where wood turns into guitars. I didn't think it would ever happen, because guitars are made in Korea, Japan, China, or possibly California. Or Nashville. 

Imagine my surprise when I wanted to send a question to Dean Guitars and saw a mailing address in Tampa, a mere hour away from here. 

Turns out they give factory tours. Joy!

Dean Guitars is a part of Armadillo Enterprises together with Luna Guitars and ddrum. I thought ddrum only had electronic drums, but I'm clearly behind on my drumming knowledge - they have beautiful acoustic sets.

Anyway, Dean Guitars are located in a big building with their trademark wings on the side. Here you'll find their offices, a large warehouse, and manufacturing. 

Like many other manufacturers the bulk of their instruments come from Asia, but they make custom ordered guitars right here, in Tampa. 

The lobby satisfies the cravings of a guitar-nerd: it's filled with instruments and pictures of instruments. Please excuse the poor photo below; it's hard to take good pictures of shiny things with the Florida sun beaming in through the windows.

You can't really tell on the image above, but these guitars are beautiful. The brown to the west has a western motive with a prairie and running horses. Check out the below detail of the green guitar hanging in the middle. If I have my information right that's not paint - it's inlays. 

The neck is pretty too, with flowers all the way up the fretboard. 

The lobby also held this bass inspired by John Entwistle from The Who. I didn't think much of it at first - until our guide explained that the spider webs are wood inlays. This is an ornate and beautiful instrument. 

The tour took us through a large warehouse filled with all sorts of fun stuff. There was also a long row of people who test and set up every instrument - even the ones from Asia - before they go out for sale. 

I have a couple of Dean basses made in China. They're affordable, and I was surprised when I got them how well set up they were. Now I know why; they're individually inspected right here in Tampa.

I've tried quite a few instruments in the same price range where the frets stuck out enough to the sides to cut your fingers, or had loose frets that wanted to creep out of the fretboard. No such problems with the Deans.

The next stop was at a wood-working area filled with interesting machines and piles of wood, guitar bodies, and guitar necks everywhere. I want some, and I want them now.

The guitar bodies on the photo to the right are still pretty rough. They have people who sand them to perfection. By hand. A large amount of work in this factory is done by hand, and that impressed me.

Below are some examples of cool stuff I encountered around the factory. Guitar bodies, necks, fine woods... The possibilities are endless.

Did I mention necks? They had the coolest machine that makes glue set in seconds instead of hours. After that, the pieces that will become guitar necks are set to the side for a few months, to ensure the wood is properly dry and set. If you make a guitar out of wood that's not properly dry it can warp and become impossible to play.

The photo below shows a large stack of future guitar necks, waiting for their turn to shine.

Our tour guide works with making pickups. A guitar pickup is a coil of wire around a magnet, and the type of magnet, the thickness of the wire, and the number of times the wire is wound all influence the final sound of the pickup.

There are several types of pickups, but that's a discussion for another day. Here is a gang of these beauties waiting for their instruments. I've always expected things like these to come out of a factory somewhere in Asia by the millions. It makes me happy to know that someone in my area still makes them.

They don't paint guitars in Tampa, painting guitars is difficult, expensive, and time consuming, and they send the instruments away to get a perfect finish. They do some natural finishes.

Our next stop was at final assembly, where the guitar bodies get their final hardware.

Once we'd seen all the manufacturing steps, our guide took us upstairs to see the Dean collection. I'm sure he said many interesting things about the instruments there, but I got sensory overload from looking, so I missed most of the information. LOL!

These guitars have the typical Dean head. I believe it's a love it or hate it design - perfect for metal. You can get the newer models with a more neutral headstock that fits me better.

To me, this was like Christmas. I wanted to touch and look at everything. 

The next step on the tour, and the only one I haven't showed you yet, was an exhibition of all the instruments they produce for sale right now. Here are some of the photos I took - this is a mix of Dean and Luna instruments.

This was a fantastic experience. If you're in the area and you're interested in guitars at all, I warmly recommend a visit to the Dean factory.