Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

May 2014 be a good one!

An alien on my street?

I live in a neighborhood where I fit in really well. Considering me and my eccentric habits, this is nothing less than a miracle, and it has never happened before.

In the mornings, whether I go to work or can sleep in a little, my first priority is to take the doggies out. They've been waiting all night. They can't choose to go to the restroom at three in the morning if they need to - they just have to wait. Thus, they're first on my list.

I pull on a robe and take them out, usually in two groups since Bonnie and Ellie don't get along. Our house sits in the middle of a corner lot, and I walk around the house with them, because I want to make sure they get to do their stuff, and not just stare at squirrels or something.

I'm proud of my dogs. They're all rescues, and they've come a long way since they arrived. Boo didn't know what a toy was. The first time he got a chewie he just looked at it, and it took months before he dared try to hold it in his mouth. Then, when he realized that it was his and he was allowed to play and chew on it, joy!

Ellie didn't know anything when she first came. She tried to jump up on the counters and on the stove, and acted as if she had never been in a house before. She had spent a long, long time in shelters and boarding, and if she had been in a home, I don't think she remembered.

Bonnie had good manners when she came, my friend Jill who runs Ewenity Farms worked a lot with teaching her. Topper is generally a good boy, but he's had his moments, like when he chewed up the remote controls and ate my headphones... (He has grown out of that now.)

Anyway, now they're happy, well-adjusted, and spoiled rotten. They're not exactly obedience champions, but they're good family dogs.

So, back to my story. Today, I moseyed around with Bonnie and Topper. One of the neighbors was going out with his boat, and he stopped on the road to say hi over the fence. He has someone coming over to take down a tree, and wanted to tell me that if I need anything trimmed I could probably get a good price.

Bonnie and Topper were out, doing their best imitation of guard dogs. I don't think they were barking at the neighbor, I talk to him all the time and they recognize him, but that boat was a big foreign object that had to be scared away. (They also think the UPS and mail trucks are fire-breathing dragons.)

That's when I saw the alien.

Okay, he looked like a human, but he was definitely out of place.

We're in Florida. Even in winter it's not exactly cold. I was out barefoot in my nightie with an old blue robe over it, unbrushed hair, unbrushed teeth... (Early morning in my world might not coincide with early in other people's lives.) The neighbor had shorts and a short-sleeve shirt.

The stranger could have stepped out of a movie where he played a commanding officer of some futuristic army.

He wore a black turtleneck, black pants without a trace of dog hair, and black shoes. A jacket would have made it a perfect black alien uniform. His hair was perfect. I've never seen anyone look that perfect in real life. Next to him sat a large brown dog that completely ignored the commotion in my yard. I think the dog would have made back-flips if the man had waved a finger.

They were clearly waiting for the boat, me, and my dogs to go away, so they wouldn't cause any further chaos.

I said goodbye to the neighbor, called Bonnie and Topper, and hurried inside. Luckily, both dogs obeyed and came with me on the first try. I really wanted them to appear better trained than they are, and they complied and ran in through the door as if they're always do exactly what I tell them to. My good babies!

I wanted to go to the window and spy on the stranger and his dog, but that would have been a too blatant show of curiosity. Now, this guy is going into a book. I'm not sure yet if he'll be a good guy or a bad guy, but he has my imagination churning!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Biometrics adventures

I like the word "Biometrics." It sounds really cool, and I associate it with androids and artificial body parts. However, when I say, "I went to have my biometrics taken" it's nothing that interesting. More along the lines of fingerprints and a photo. 

My green card requires renewal, and I guess they want to check that I'm still me.

The USCIS provides an appointment. It comes in form of a physical letter with time, date, and location. If someone needs to reschedule, this happens through a written letter and a new written notice. This means that they decide how many people will appear at a certain immigrations center at a certain time.

Reasonably, they would also know how many people work at said center, and how long it takes to process each visitor.

This sounds like the easiest logistics in the world; there are few unknown parameters. Whoever plans it has full control over everything except unexpected disease or death amongst the employees.

I still had to wait an hour and a half.

I was prepared to wait for a little while, even though I didn't anticipating sitting perched on a hard chair for ninety minutes. I knew cell phones weren't allowed, so I brought my Kindle, wanting to re-read Unchanged by Christy Elkins.

So, I'm sitting there surrounded by signs saying "No Cellphones" and people playing with their cellphones. One guy seems to be texting, one is listening to music, and a couple of girls are playing with iPhones.

I have my Kindle touch and I am reading a book. The woman behind the counter calls out, "Ma'am, no cellphones."

It's clearly not for me, so I ignore her and read on.

"Ma'am. No cellphones!"

This time I looked up, and found her staring right at me.

"I'm sorry, are you talking to me?"

"Yes. No cellphones."

"This isn't a phone, it's a Kindle."

I look down at the book.

"Ma'am! No Cellphones!"

What the hell? 

"This is a Kindle. It's not a phone, it doesn't make calls, and it doesn't take photos. It's an electronic book."

"No Cellphones."

She looks about to call the numerous and armed guards on me, so I roll my eyes, turn off the Kindle, and tuck it into my purse.

A guy in the next row is reading a thick paper book. He snickers, "Next time, bring one of these."

I grumble, "It's a friggin' e-book reader."

After a long, long, long wait I start talking to the girl next to me. Once it's my turn, the procedure takes a grand two minutes and I can leave. Hopefully, their computers will determine that I'm still me.  Definitely a worthy way to waste a day's vacation...

Sunday, December 29, 2013

I want my own Smaug!

I have been a bit quiet online lately, and I have a bad conscience for not keeping up with the blog. The holidays gave a reprieve from the daytime job, and I am writing, writing, and writing. Yay! It's so great to finally get some time in peace to put words down, but the days are disappearing with an alarming rate.

I'm currently typing away at a prequel to the Embarkment 2577 books, a random science fiction story that popped into my head, and a sci-fi novella for an anthology that will be released next year. The imaginary people living in my mind are talking, and I'd better type before they give up and fall silent.

Smaug - the dragon of dragons!
That said, I did pay a visit to real life yesterday. I am blessed with friends who love me even though I disappear off into my own world, and who take the time to shake me out of it. Yesterday we went to see the new Hobbit movie. The desolation of Smaug... 

I have a weak spot for dragons, and now I totally want my own Smaug! I know I'm not supposed to root for the dragon, and I know what happens to him, but I'm still cheering him on, because he's so cool.

Spolier alerts: The movie shows more of what happens to Gandalf during his time away from the group than the book reveals. I personally like it; it fills out the back story in a way I've missed before. I love his attitude. He walks into a super-creepy place knowing well it's a trap, and faces evil straight on, for the common good.

Legolas was in the movie too. He has been one of my favorite characters in the books since I learned to read as a little girl, and I am delighted to see him play a part in the Hobbit even though he isn't really in Bilbo the book. He is a hero, of course. Anything besides a hero would be unacceptable.

Legolas and Tauriel
The king of the wood elves was in the film. I never liked him in the book, but now I'm definitely a Thranduil fan. He's just as aloof as I imagined, but much more likable than he comes across in Bilbo.

There was a new character too, to put a twist on things. Tauriel is a female warrior elf played by Evangeline Lilly, more known as Kate from Lost. 

There's some interesting chemistry going on between the characters, and not just in the ways that seem self-evident. I like that they embellish the story. Once the third movie is done I'll have to have a marathon and watch all six movies in a row. That will take a while. LOL!

What else...?

Kili, brother of Fili
Thorin and Kili can really make mythological dwarves seem like an attractive species, even though some of their buddies in the movie look like Obelix. The dwarves' story has been embellished as well from the book. In Bilbo many of them come across as comic side kicks who mostly complain. Now they have personalities. 

I guess the changes might disturb die-hard textbook Tolkien fans, but I like it. I think it's necessary to give the movies substance.

Funny enough, I never really liked Bilbo in the books. I didn't like him in the book Bilbo, and I didn't like him in the trilogy. I've loved most of the other characters, but Bilbo always came across as a bit... petty. Martin Freeman does a fantastic job bringing Bilbo to life, and now I adore him. He's clever, unselfish, and brave.

Have you seen the film? What did you think?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Friday, December 13, 2013

Happy Lucia!

Today is an important day for Swedish people. On December 13th, we celebrate Lucia. Adults and children alike look forward to it, and it happens in work places, schools, homes, and hotels all over the country.

What it is? Well, Lucia should be enjoyed more than explained, and this video can explain it much better than I do. Enjoy! =D

Here's another video, with the most common Lucia song. =D

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Wordless Wednesday. Nope, can't do it. There will be words. LOL

It goes something like this: Thinking about the poor undercover cop I left dangling from the ceiling in a chain last time I closed Word. And the spaceship hidden in a rock bed deep under a lake, not to mention the people struggling to escape from Venus before the planet became really hot. And the catalogs I'm supposed to do at the daytime job, and the website updates. Oooh, websites, I should update my websites. Websites are on the Internet. Blogs are on the Internet. I should have written a blog post for the work blog, that will be about puppies, I need to give the dogs a bath. Should buy dog food too. Did I ever reply to those e-mails? Oh snap, I forgot to check my Twitter account this morning. Is there anything on TV tonight? I was supposed to print out a form, wonder where I put it. What are we having for dinner? That's a really pretty blue - I wonder if I could get that on an iPhone case. I like coffee.

And so on. =D

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Advent traditions

Every year in December I feel displaced. Nothing about Florida says Christmas, and if you come from a cold and dark country, Christmas lights in palm trees is just plain weird. This will be my sixth holiday season in the US and it's less peculiar now than the first year, but it's still weird.

Before I go any further... When I say Christmas, I don't mean it with a religious connotation. For me, the word describes the holiday season regardless of religion. In Sweden we celebrate "Jul" and this is a religiously neutral word.

Anyway, my holiday rhythm is out of sync with the Americans. Christmas here seems to start in September. Not just in the stores; I saw Facebook posts about friends putting up their Christmas trees in late summer. Time passes so quickly anyway, why try to hurry it up?

In my family, you could put up some decorations and lights in the windows for Advent, but everything else had to wait until December 23rd. In the evening of December 23rd, Christmas should be ready. (We celebrate the 24th. The 25th and 26th are days off from work when people relax and play with their presents.)

What's advent? It is the four Sundays preceding Christmas. On the first of Advent (late November or early December) most cities have Christmas markets. This is when the holiday season really rolls out. Below are three images of traditional advent decorations. =)

This is an "adventsljusstake" - an electric candle contraption found in
virtually every house and workplace in Sweden during December.
We don't decorate the houses with lights as much as people in the US,
but the advent lights is a big deal. Most of the country is really dark in winter.

The four Sundays before Christmas Eve, many people use one of these.
You light one candle each Sunday. =)
The lit star is also a tradition. They're usually made
of straw or paper, and spread a beautiful light. =)

The reverse problem comes when it's time to take stuff down. In my world, Christmas stuff stays up until January 13th, when you have a party taking everything down. Here, everything comes down right after New Years, and my husband hangs his head in shame as we're the only house on the block with all the stuff still up.

I say, "You can take it down if you want, but I'm not doing it until Tjugondag Knut." The Swedish expression alone is enough for him to walk away and shake his head. Poor guy. LOL.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Doctor

When I first met my husband and he told me that he like Doctor Who I winced and imagined endless hours of watching what's-his-name with that long knit scarf. They showed endless reruns of that incarnation of the Doctor on TV when I was a teenager, and it was too weird for me. 

I might like scarf-doctor better now when I'm grown up, but I haven't given him a chance, lol. I haven't watched much TV from the UK, but I liked that other British sci-fi show, what was it called... Oh yes, Red Dwarf. I don't remember diddly of the story, but I remember watching it.

I remember the second guy from the left. I think I need
to watch this show again and see if I still like it. =)

David Tennant as Doctor Who
Anyway, hubby introduced me to Christopher Eccleston as The Doctor and I liked the show. Miracle! All of a sudden it made sense why my Internet-sister claimed Daleks were cool. Then, Eccleston merged into David Tennant, and I loved the show.

You know that Internet meme of how you're extra likely to find a spider in your home if you're afraid of spiders? I think I'm scared of David Tennant. Nope, didn't help. There's still no blue police box here.

Anyway, the Doctor turned into Matt Smith and I was skeptical. He seemed so young.

Now I love Matt Smith as the Doctor. Sadly, there will be a new actor soon. I might like Peter Capaldi too once I get used to it, but I don't like change. There's so much going on in life anyway and I don't want the faces of my imaginary friends on TV to change!

David Morrissey (The
Governor from Walking
Dead) in Doctor Who.
If they have to change doctor, I want The Governor from Walking Dead.

I know, he was a bad guy, but I loved the character. I'm still sulking over his demise. I loved to see what he would come up with, and in this season I rooted much more for him than for the people in the prison.

I have imagined David Morrissey as a space villain, and in my mind he's a great space villain, but he's good at playing good guys too. He has already been in Doctor Who, and did a wonderful job.

I want David Morrissey as The Doctor. Who's with me?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Tips for writers: displays, banners, and swag

Whenever I'm out and about people ask about my displays. I have been fortunate, finding the right things on the first try. I have been to outdoors book fairs where the wind was strong enough to knock down the tents, but my displays kept standing. Not even the postcards blew away.

I have plywood bookstands from cleardisplays.com. They're cheap, and they come apart and pack flat. Easy to transport, easy to handle, and stable. (Unless you put them backwards. I've done that once, LOL.)

My postcard stand is bought at the same place. This also comes apart to a neat flat package. I've bought a little suitcase on wheels where I pack the stands and all my swag. Since I'm lazy it has to be easy to handle!

I bought my banners at Vistaprint. Below you can see photos of my large banner that is perfect for covering the front of a table, or hanging as a backdrop.

Vistaprint often have sales. Right now a small banner - which is pretty large - is only $8. I pay extra for the outdoor vinyl; it's only some $3 more and well worth it. My large banner is also from Vistaprint.

Up until now I've borrowed an easel from my daytime job to hang the small posters, but I need to invest in a stand of my own. =)

One more tip for the traveling writer is to get plastic table cloths at the party store. I always bring a couple extra, and if I'm going to an outdoors event I bring a roll of clear plastic just in case it rains, or the ground where I need to put my bags is wet. You can get a big roll at Home Depot for less than $3!

My postcards are also from vistaprint. They don't do bookmarks, though, so I get those from smart press.com. They have reasonable prices even for small quantities. Important to note: making 200 cost almost the same as making 10! Whenever you buy something printed, check larger quantities than you originally intended. You can often get an extra 100 for an additional $2.

Here you can see my plywood displays and the large banner. 

The "small" banners are quite large. I was worried they wouldn't stand up to outside
use since they're fairly cheap, but I've subjected them to both wind and rain.
I'll wear them out eventually, but for $8 (if you can catch a sale) it's not a big deal.

My pens are bought locally at the Sarasota Printery. I don't remember what I paid for them, but I caught a special and it was a matter of cents for each pen. Again, look into buying a larger quantity than you think you need. The price per item drops dramatically when you add an extra hundred or so.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

So, how did it go in Matlacha?

I'm not a morning person. I love sleeping and my pillows are my friends. When I got up at 5 AM two days in a row, the doggies clearly thought I had lost my mind.

Before this event I had no idea where Matlacha or Pine Island might be, but Siri guided me to the right area. She said, "Make U-turn here and arrive at destination." Turned out the address I'd gotten was a tire factory. That couldn't possibly be right. The book fair was supposed to be on an island...

What did people do before cell phones and Google?

I googled and found my way, and pulled in at the fair curious about what I would find. By now I thought I was late, but I was early - the volunteers hadn't gotten to putting up the tents in my area now. Yay! Nap-time in the car!

The book fair had less visitors than I hoped, but I am still happy with the weekend. I met some great authors I didn't know, sold some books, saw a part of the state I hadn't previously visited, and gave out a lot of postcards. Success!

It was chilly in the mornings, but nice once the sun came out.
In the future I think I'll prefer indoors events in November.
Alternately, I need to learn to bring more clothes. LOL!

I was supposed to share the booth with two other writers, but Saturday I had
more room than I could fill. I did get a tent-roomie on Sunday:
Patricia Helms with her lovely book with recipes and ideas for the home.
I don't think it's available on Amazon yet, so I can't link to it. =(

I made some wonderful new friends. This is Elizabeth Olancin who presented
her children's book One Inch at a Time and Through my Angel's Eyes.
To the right is Sarah Elle Emm who brought YA fantasy novels
Prismatic and Opalescent. Click on the links and check them out! =D

Me, looking cold. LOL! I had a Happy Bunny fleece hoodie,
but that didn't seem appropriate attire for photos, haha.

This is Trouper. He made my weekend! The poor guy
was hit in the head by a mean man when he was a puppy.
Are baby raccoons puppies? Cubs? Anyway, someone
hit him in the head with a golf club and now he is blind and has no
sense of smell. How can someone do that to another living being?
Luckily Trouper was rescued, and now he gets to go with his human
to advocate respect for animals. He was definitely popular.

I got to hold raccoon paw! Please check out Trouper's website!

Above is the TV commercial for the event. =)

The Universe - or is it Fate - is fickle.

If someone had told me yesterday that an asteroid would collide with Earth, that we'd have a flood of Biblical proportions, or that a so...