Sunday, December 5, 2010

Why I Write At Starbucks: A guest post by Rebecca Rasmussen

Rebecca Rasmussen is the author of the debut novel The Bird Sisters, forthcoming from Crown/Random House in April 2011. Her stories have appeared in TriQuarterly, The Mid-American Review, and elsewhere. She received her MFA in fiction from the Program for Poets & Writers at the University of Massachusetts. She lives in St. Louis with her husband and daughter and teaches at Fontbonne University. You can find her and her novel at

Why I Write at Starbucks
By Rebecca Rasmussen
Rebecca's blog

I always think I need a desk. My husband and I have lived in more apartments than we can count, from the East Coast to the West Coast to our current apartment in St. Louis, and in each one of these I find a nook—a closet, an attic, an entranceway—to make my own.

My latest nook is not nearly as nice as the others have been. It is an enclosed porch at the back of the apartment. The space is three feet by five feet, the floor is scratched white vinyl, and the walls are red brick, but not in the chic-exposed-brick way, in the man-this-brick-is-ugly way. The ceiling? Dark brown bead board that drips varnish onto my shoulders when St. Louis gets particularly humid. So, say, four months out of the year. There is a nice little spider that lives with me, though. She spins achingly delicate little webs in the corner I’ve given over to her. I call her Fern.

My nook gets unbearably hot in the summer and cold in the winter because it lacks even the slightest layer of pink fiberglass insulation. Either I can see my breath or I can see the sweat ringing its way down my T-shirts. I have a cute bamboo leaning desk from Crate and Barrel that I told my husband I had to buy.

“I’m a writer,” I said. “Writers need desks.”

I have collected a gathering of African Violets and Jades and a plant my daughter grew from a sprouted grapefruit seed she and her father found at breakfast one morning. (We’re all waiting for it to yield grapefruits—each for our own reasons.) I put up gauzy blue curtains to cover the urban sprawl that is our backyard—that sinister field of buzzing transformers that predicts the weather better than any person could or does. When the wires are singing, it’s best not to go outside. Lightning is coming. I put up pictures of birds, from North America, New Guinea, Australia. I mounted my old-fashioned barometer that always says, “Clear skies. Have a nice day.”

I should have been ready to work. And yet, this office, like every other office I have attempted to covert and occupy over the years, goes unused by me, even if the temperature is just right and the transformers are quiet and the light is warm and lovely.


“I’m writing,” I say to myself at home, which means I should be writing, but instead I’m looking for inspiration in the refrigerator, in the cabinets, in the stubborn wrinkles in my daughter’s dresses. I’ll iron before I write at home. I’ll ponder the vacuum. I’ll think Bach or Yo-Yo Ma will solve this distractedness. Then a cup of tea. Yes, nice green tea. Tea cookies? Do spiders get hungry for something sweeter than gnats or flies? Maybe I should Google that. Maybe I should Google the oil spill in the Gulf and watch the robots trying to patch together the future miles beneath the surface of the sea. Maybe it’s all utterly hopeless and I should just take a nap and hope I dream about ice cream cones and spun sugar. Because in a few hours I have to teach the mildly evil literature class and then pick up my daughter from pre-school and then make dinner and then go back to campus and teach the really evil literature class for four and a half hours. Yes, sleep. It’s all so daunting.

I am a mess at home.

All of my artistic friends can’t believe this truth: that I write my novels at Starbucks.

“Couldn’t you at least pick somewhere a little more artsy?” they say. “The Bird Sisters? At an environmentally irresponsible corporation that panders to the crowd mentality? They don’t even recycle? Don’t tell me you use Splenda, too?”

“I recycle my cups at home,” I say meekly. “I just bought a reusable one.”

“It’s just so blah there,” they say.

What they don’t know is that I write at Starbucks precisely because of its blahdom, because I can sit for hours without anyone bothering me, because the walls are always the same color and the straws are always green, because I hear the same music every day—Sinatra, Sinatra, Sinatra, oh wait, is that Streisand sneaking in there, too?—because even the coffee is anonymous and predictable, and there is something comforting about that.

(I’m here now—writing this.)

The outer me makes way for the inner me here in this short-backed chair. I can sit still here. I can think of all things old here, all the things I really love:

yellowed letters, polished sideboards, hope chests and intricate lacework, promises kept and broken, rolling hills and winding rivers. Sentences that glint like the sun on puddles in the ruts of red dirt roads. I can think of Wisconsin and Minnesota, of girlhood, of forest and farm country, of home.

I am more me here than anywhere else.

What I have to do—teach, cook, mother, worry—falls away and I hear the worries of my characters, their hopes, their dreams, and their startling disappointments.

Although there are no birds here, only here can I hear them trilling.

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Stieg Larsson: Best selling author

Stieg Larsson (1954-2004) was a Swedish writer and journalist. Prior to his sudden death of a heart attack in November 2004 he finished three detective novels in his trilogy "The Millenium-series" which were published posthumously; "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo", "The Girl Who Played With Fire" and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest". Altogether, his trilogy has sold more than 20 million copies in 41 countries (spring of 2010), and he was the second bestselling author in the world 2008.

Before his career as a writer, Larsson was mostly known for his struggle against racism and right-wing extremism. Starting in the late 1970's, he combined his work as a graphic designer with holding lectures on right-wing extremism for the Scotland Yard.

During the following years he became an expert on the subject and has held many lectures as well as written many novels on the subject. In 1995, when 8 persons were killed by neo-Nazis I Sweden, he was the main force behind the founding of the Expo-foundation, a group intended on exposing neo-Nazi activity in Sweden. From 1999 and on, he was appointed chief editor of the magazine Expo.

During the last 15 years of his life, he and his life companion Eva Gabrielsson lived under constant threat from right-wing violence. Read more ... 

*Note: I just finished reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It was super intense, mesmerizing and graphic. It is not for the faint of heart. I really enjoyed it, as murder mysteries are one of my favorite genres... and this was a good one. I'm on to the next book of the trilogy: The Girl who Played with Fire.

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Deepak Chopra: Just "be"

We are coming to the end of a very eventful year that presented most of us with many challenges. Christmas will be here soon and after the end of the month, the new year will begin. Every once and a while I like to just sit, reflect and maybe do a bit of meditation.  In other words...just "be."  I thought today might be a good time to remind myself of that. I found this video on that very concept and thought maybe others might enjoy it too.

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Top ten lessons I learned about writing good fiction

Guest post by author Judith Marshall

Judith Marshall is a third generation native Californian, born in St. Helena and raised in Concord. After leaving a successful career in corporate America as a human resources executive, her lifelong dream of writing fiction was realized with the completion of Husbands May Come and Go but Friends are Forever, winner of the Jack London Prize awarded by the California Writers Club and recently optioned for the big screen.

She is currently working on her second novel, Staying Afloat, the story of a devoted stay-at-home wife and mother who morphs into a sex-starved adulteress. She lives in Northern California with her husband. For more information, go to

Top Ten things to remember when writing fiction

  • Always begin with your protagonist – readers need to know who to root for
  • Start with action – lock in your readers upfront
  • Be visual in your approach – let readers “see” your story (this helped get my novel optioned for the big screen!)
  • Limit your descriptive words – make each one count
  • Don’t forget the senses – smell, touch, sight, etc.
  • Write only scenes that either enrich character, provide necessary information, or move the plot forward; or better yet, do all three
  • Rely on dialogue - readers rarely skip dialogue
  • Have your character do something while thinking – driving a car, washing dishes, combing a child’s hair
  • Use similes for style
  • When in doubt, leave it out!
Husbands May Come and Go but Friends are Forever, a first novel by Judith Marshall, is a winner of the Jack London Prize awarded by the California Writers Club and recently optioned for the big screen.

Set in a small town in Northern California, in the spring of 2000 when the dot-com boom was at its peak, the story centers around Elizabeth Reilly-Hayden, a successful executive in her late fifties and a divorced mother of two. Emotionally armored and living alone, she wants only to maintain the status quo: her long-term significant other, her job and her trusted friends— five feisty women who first met in high school. Yet in a matter of days, the three anchors that have kept her moored are ripped away. The group of lifelong pals gathers at Lake Tahoe to attend to the funeral arrangements of their beloved friend, and tries to unravel the mystery of her death. Through their shared tragedy, Liz learns how disappointment and grief can bloom into healing and hope.___


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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

NaNoWriMo is here again

This month is NaNoWriMo month. For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, NaNoWriMo is an acronym for: National Novel Writing Month. It's the month when thousands of writers attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. Gulp! In one month?

I am not a fiction writer, and even if I were, I might not try this. On the other hand, I just might. I've gotten involved in these kinds of contests before that forced the writer to produce something every day for a period of time. And, actually, it was a good thing...not just for the end product but for the process. It's amazing how it pushes you into a "zone" and you just want to keep on writing.

Anyhow I've been curious as to how other writer's see this contest or approach it. I've collected several reactions from writers who are taking on the challenge. Here is the first one. Read and learn................Nancy
Guest post by Julianne McCullagh

View Julianne's Blog
"...the NaNoWriMo process ...[has] helped me recognize where I should be headed with my novel "Hey, Don't I Know You"

I’ve just had a revelation. No angels or skies opening up. (That would have been cool, though.) Just a regular ordinary revelation. A recognition. Yeah, I like that word– recognition. Like you’ve met somewhere before, and you realize, oh, that’s right. That’s what I’ve been waiting for.

This is the beginning of week 2 of NaNoWriMo– National Novel Writing Month. I started out amazingly well, for me. I am a slow writer. I dally. I dilly. I dilly-dally around words, around thoughts, around characters. That’s okay. All writers have their own style and pace.

All last week while I was trying to get my daily production of about 1700 words a day on-screen, I realized that no matter how I tried to steer the work, I kept coming back to the same themes and characters I’ve been working on in my novel-in-progress. I have about 23,000 words that I’m relatively pleased with (countless words of notes and trial and error and scenes that went nowhere), so, I thought, I’ll cheat.

NaNoWriMo is supposed to be 50,000 new words churned out with the internal editor away on vacation, too far away to interfere with the writer who’s hiding behind the censor. My editor/censor doesn’t take vacations. My censor like to work. What a pain.

But, that’s where I am. So be it. I can still try to shake up my censor and get one over on her once in a while. Like, this morning. I was so sure I had my first chapter written and the novel would proceed from the themes I set up in that chapter. But, I was stuck. Which is one of the reasons I started the NaNo process. I want to become unstuck. Free those words and ideas that the censor has cowering in the corner with the threat of being sent to the principal’s office if they squawk.

They squawked. The principal was kinder than the censor. HaHa!

Here’s how the revelation/recognition happened. Gene transferred my NANo words to Scrivener. Scrivener is this fairly new tool for writers that is supposed to be easier and more intuitive. This morning I was looking at this new creature and I could not find the last chapter I had written. So I summoned it from my Word files. I re-read it. I liked it. And then, (drum roll, please) I recognized that this chapter should be the first chapter because it introduces themes and characters that play out in the rest of the work.

So, thank you NaNoWriMo, for jiggling loose some thoughts that might have stayed in the wrong place if I hadn’t taken your challenge, and then modified your challenge to my own purposes. It’s good to recognize a friend you’ve met for the first time.

Rules of contest
  • Write a 50,000-word (or longer!) novel, between November 1 and November 30.
  • Start from scratch. None of your own previously written prose can be included in your NaNoWriMo draft (though outlines, character sketches, and research are all fine, as are citations from other people's works).
  • Write a novel. We define a novel as a lengthy work of fiction. If you consider the book you're writing a novel, we consider it a novel too!
  • Be the sole author of your novel. Apart from those citations mentioned two bullet-points up.
  • Write more than one word repeated 50,000 times.
  • Upload your novel for word-count validation to our site between November 25 and November 30.
Sponsers: Amazon, Createspace, Scrivener, Storyist, Scribendi, ThinkGeek and thousands of individual donors.
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Sunday, October 31, 2010

A work in progress: Operatic Divas and Naked Irishmen: An Innkeeper's Tale by Nancy Hinchliff

Exerpt from my new memoir:

Demanding operatic divas, naked Irishmen walking in their sleep, and honeymooners leaving remnants of an unforgettable wedding night are all part of the flamboyant and interesting guests who came in and out of my life as an Innkeeper; each bringing his or her own unique personality and quirkiness to the table. Although the percentage of high-maintenance, demanding guests we had was pretty low, there were several who really stood out in my memory.

One of the most memorable was an eccentric opera singer who wore the more flamboyant and outlanddish costumes I have ever seen. She must have thought she was still on stage because, in addition to her colorful costumes, her daily entrances into the dining room were breath taking.

I remember the day she arrived to stay for an entire week. I opened the door to a barrage of people, having no idea who they could be, since I had only one more check-in that evening, a single lady.

"I am Madame Rosalina Capriani!" the woman announced "and these are my suitcases".

 I scanned the four men accompanying her and, sure enough, each one was carrying a suitcase. She stood still while one of the men walked around her, through the front door, and planted a suitcase at the foot of the stairs. He turned toward Madame Caprini and beckoned her inside. She reached out a long, well rounded arm, covered in a silky, flowing, red, purple and green cape encircled in Majenta fringe. I stood there, in awe, as she flamboyantly glided through the doorway.

"Excuse me a moment" , I said. "Let me get my housekeeper to help you to your room"

I hurried to the kitchen, anxiety reeking havoc in my stomach. I knew I couldn't handle this on my own. I thanked God that Eric, my house-keeper, was there  that day to help me. I had a suspicion that this was going to be a "high maintenance" situation, as we say in the business. Eric had been working for me for several years. He was great with the guests and, if it looked like they were going to be "high maintenance', I would turn them over to him.

Madam Capriani's four henchmen left her over-sized suitcases for Eric to carry up to the guestroom and retreated. I never found out who they were, nor did I ever see them again. As she and Eric climbed the long staircase together, she was giving him a litany of instructions concerning what she would need during her stay at my Inn. The requests were so over the top that I decided to let Eric be the one to break the news to her that this was indeed not the New York Hilton hotel. This was a simple little bed and breakfast in Kentucky with no room service and no concierge.

Now I love opera. I had been a vocal music student myself in college. But Madam Capriani was little too much drama even for me. Every negative thing I knew or had ever heard about artistic personalities and divas applied in her case. First of all, she was almost totally helpless. She couldn't figure how to work the TV, the DVD, the VCR, the telephone or the spigot in the shower.

She demanded a hot pot of tea be delivered to her room every few hours or so, and she wanted breakfast in bed. I tried to tell her we didn't offer room service. But she would have no part of it. Eric stepped in and offered to take care of her needs. Mind you, Eric is gay, so she would have to go elsewhere if she expected more from him than help with complicated electronics and bathroom fixtures.

As the days went by, I retreated further into my own little world and let Eric take care of the diva. He brought her tea, fixed her TV and cleaned her room every day. A couple of times I heard her practicing Musetta's Waltz from La Traviata, but for the most part, she was pretty quiet. As it turned out, I came more and more to depend on Eric whenever there was a guest who was a little difficult for me to handle.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Romeo Must Not Die– Why Barack Obama Is Still the Man for the Job

Guest post by jenne andrews

I would go back to bed to try to deal with my wearying insomnia and grab an hour or two before dawn, but we are at an ungodly hour in this country. With the pernicious abandonment of a prairie fire, the Obstructionists and disillusionists we once knew as the GOP are criss-crossing the country making things up, aided and abetted by Sarah Palin and the cluster Fox. They want everyone to believe that we made a huge and irremediable mistake in electing Barack Obama in '08.

I'm asking myself what I know, at this hour, without looking anything up or organizing this post into a series of links to Wikipedia et al.

When he became the Dem nominee, Obama went abroad to connect with those who had come to mistrust us-- as a matter of principle and vision. For that he was later to receive the Nobel Prize.

Faced with the near collapse of the economy, he commandeered the bail out and the stimulus packages. It's my impression that there were few alternatives and that this was the only way to keep the country from falling apart.

Then came health care reform. Obama aggressively reached across the aisle, including last winter's breakfasts on Capitol Hill where his efforts at dialogue were repudiated by snide posturing GOP boors framing questions as accusations and blame. He stood in front of the country and alluded to numerous concessons to Republicans written into the Bill, and yet on every network is the word "Obamacare", cast as everything scarey and wrong and nothing good and right to the American people. Right wing pundits would have you believe that he didn't listen to them or try to work with them-- but remember when they called him a liar to his face?

After that, he came back and rallied the Democrats to pass an immensely important and historic measure--something like Health Care Reform-- most assuredly a boon and a victory that no one else has been able to effect.

He was wrestled to the ground by his Joint Chiefs and would not otherwise have sent more troops to Afghanistan. This was surely far more than an olive branch to the conservatives. Bob Woodward's book Obama's Wars reveals a troubled President left high and dry by the Joint Chiefs, who refused to give him alternative scenarios or give him a staged withdrawal plan. He drew it up himself sweating bullets.

In the wake of the Deep Water Horizon crisis he sat BP execs down and wrested a commitment of 2 billion from them-- as real money deposited in real banks then and there, to help the beleagured.

Most recently Obama reinstituted peace talks between the Israelies and the Palestinians-- a huge accomplishment.

He has conducted himself like a true statesman, traveling to and holding summits on pressing issues. He has responded to the bashing he has taken including the absurd claims made about his religion and his citizenship with far more equanimity and dignity than most of us can even fathom.

In short, Barack Obama hit the ground running and he hasn't stopped even though, time and perspective will demonstrate, the price of being the first African American president is to be the victim of racism as it routinely spews forth from the mouths of the Right. We would not have done to Hillary Clinton what we have done to this man, crucifying him daily.

Presidents don't become presidents without politics and becoming politicians themselves. We didn't elect God to the presidency; we elected a mere mortal, with feet of clay. But many of us demand perfection, and are immensely unforgiving-- especially white middle-aged men who project their own self-hate and moral failings on Obama.

George W. Bush sat around in the Oval Office for eight years doing nothing, because he didn't know how. We elected an oilman puppet to lead us, whose puppeteers were Karl Rove and Dick Cheney-- the two hidden presidents and master blacksmiths of their era with their ability to turn the hot metal of the truth into horseshoes. Running the country was their game.

If the GOP gets Congress back, they say they'll repeal "Obamacare," and the right to health care, those things like doing away with preexisting conditions clauses and kids being on their parents' policies until they're twenty-six and other measures in the bill to insure the uninsured, when the insurance companies underpinning the capitalist system, in collusion with Wall Street, refused to step up.

If you see an ad contending that "Obamacare" entitles convicted rapists to free Viagra, research that. See if it's really true.

Before anyone buys into the spew of rhetoric coming out of the mouths of the Republicans and their first cousins the Tea Party, he should do exactly what I've done here-- see if he can come up with anything Barack Obama has done for America.

You might have to put up a blog, get up at three a.m. foaming at the mouth, a silly headline dancing in your head.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Some Men Who Loved Nature: Part 3

Guest post by Jerilee Wei
(click here to view Parts 1, 2, and 4)

Great naturalists are also great spokesmen and great conservationists, long after their time on this earth. Three of those naturalists that contributed the most to the American public are John Macoun, John Muir, and John Burroughs. They are naturalists who are still making a difference today.

Let's Take A Look At Their Lives And Contributions

John Macoun
John McCoun and son
The distinguished Canadian explorer and naturalist, John Macoun (183201920) was born in Ireland, but migrated to Canada when he was eighteen. After a few years of farming he became a school teacher, at a salary of fourteen dollars a month. In his spare time, he studied the different sciences, but his special love was studying plants.

When an expedition was sent across the prairies and the Rocky Mountains to find a route for the Canadian Pacific Railway, Macoun went along as a botanist. In the following years he made journeys of scientific exploration all over Canada from the Yukon to Nova Scotia.

His two sons, William and James, were often his companions and scientific co-workers. Macoun's collection of animals and plants were the foundation for the Victoria Memoral Museum in Ottawa. Other scientists honored Macoun by naming species of plants, insects, and fish after him.

John Muir
One of the policies of which both the United States and Canada are most proud is the establishment of national parks to save some of the marvelous beauties of nature for the people of all time to come. A great fighter in this cause was John Muir, born at Dunbar, Scotland, in 1838.

When he was eleven years old, the family came to America and settled on a backwoods farm in Wisconsin. John plowed, chopped down trees, and did all the other kinds of farm work, and enjoyed it. However, even while plowing he was also enjoying the beauty of wild flowers and trees, and the antics of wild creatures. John was the best plowman in the neighborhood. Once he dug a ninety-foot well without assistance.

John Muir
John's father had very different notions about reading from those of other Scotsmen, like the father of William Dawson. Muir's father objected to his boy's sitting up late at night to read. However, he finally told John that he might get up as early as he pleased and read then. So John would get up at one o'clock in the morning and read, or work on mechanical inventions until time for the day's work to begin.

When John entered the University of Wisconsin, he had to provide his own living expenses. He often lived on fifty cents a week. An accident nearly blinded him after leaving the university. This determined him to travel and see as much of "God's beauty" as he could before what was left of his sight was completely gone. Fortunately, he did not lose his sight.

In his travels Muir wandered through thousands of miles of prairie, mountain, and forest. He tramped the Sierra Nevada Mountains until they were as familiar to him as the farm where he was raised. Muir's journeys were made for his own pleasure, not to get material for books.

After his marriage to Louise Wanda Strentzel, the daughter of a Polish revolutionist, he took up fruit farming. Near the end of his life he began to write books that make all nature lovers want to repeat Muir's wanderings.

Muir Woods, a forest of gigantic redwoods across the bay from San Francisco and Muir Glacier in Alaska are named for John Muir. It was largely due to Muir that the Yosemite Valley became a national park.

Muir did not dislike city life, in fact, he had considerable inventive genius and liked the turmoil of factories. It was simply that he loved nature more. Several universities invited Muir to accept professorships, but his reply was always that there were already too many men teaching things that they had learned out of books. He died in 1914.

John Burroughs
When President Theodore Roosevelt took a trip through Yellowstone National Park, he chose as a companion, one of America's best loved students of nature. This was John Burroughs, called "John o'Birds" by his friends.

Burroughs was born near Roxbury, New York, in 1837. In his youth he tried farming, fruit raising, teaching, journalism, and then for nine years was a clerk in the Treasury Department at Washington, D.C. During all these years he spent his spare time in studying nature and in writing about it.

In Washington, he became friends with Walt Whitman, and his first book was Note on Walt Whitman As Poet and Person.

John Burroughs and Teddy Roosevelt
Beginning with Wake Robin in 1871, Burroughs published a series of books on flowers, birds, and other wildlife that have caused him to be regarded as the successor of Thoreau as a writer on nature.

Later in life, Burroughs engaged in fruit farming at West Park, New York, where he worked in a cabin built on a hill near his house. This cabin, Slabsides, became a center for visitors from all over the world. Burroughs died in 1921.
If You'd Like To Know More!

* Best American National Parks
Are you one of millions who enjoys the natural wonders and pristine beauty of nature? Plan a trip to a National park near you today. There are more than 300 parks nationwide here in the United States;. many...
* Best Hiking in California
California is not only a gorgeous state but also a state which offers the hiking fan a terrific range of different scenic opportunities. Hiking along the coast offers fabulous vistas of the Pacific Ocean...
* Best Yosemite National Park Sightseeing
Yosemite National Park contains some of the greatest sightseeing opportunities available in the United States. Yosemite was a centerpiece and main arguing point for bringing about the National Park Service,...
* Hiking Rae Lakes Loop - Sequoia & Kings Canyon Natio...
The Rae Lakes Loop is one of the most popular backpacking trips in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California in Kings Canyon National Park. This loop hike is 46 miles long, and climbs from 5035' (1535m) at the...
* The 5 Best California Weekend Getaways
Looking to get away for the weekend in California? Here are my five best recommendations for California weekend getaways: Tahoe, San Diego, Hwy 1, Yosemite and Northern California hot springs.
* Winter Driving Tips in Yosemite National Park
Yes, Yosemite National Park is open in the winter! The road conditions can change hourly, and chains are often required, so read this article for information on how to be prepared for your winter trip into Yosemite.
* Yosemite National Park in California with Pictures o...
Several years ago a friend and I spent several days hiking and exploring in Yosemite National Park in California. Many pictures were taken and a good share of them will be shown in this hub about our...
* Yosemite National Park Travel
Yosemite National Park is a national park in east California, United States. The park is spread over almost 800 000 acres of land. In 1984, it was designated as a World Heritage Site. The park is globally...

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Stars without makeup

.....but are they really?

A couple of weeks ago, there was a big to do about celebs going without makeup. It all started with Jessica Simpson who did an au naturale photo shoot for Marie Claire, saying, basically, that she was confident in her own self and didn't care what other people thought. Personally, I think she is soooooo much better looking without her makeup.

The Today Show decided that they would go bare-faced for a day. And of course other celebrities have been sporting the natural look as well. Now, sure, this is not really a new thing, the going without makeup, but those who just simply wouldn't (because of their television status) did. Kudos. Awesome. They handled it well. It was wonderful to see. And they got more and more comfortable as the show went along. And they also talked about other female celebrities that were and had been, doing the same and why.

Now, unfortunately, it seems to me that they didn't exactly follow the rules all the way. The eyes and the lips told a different story to me; and in some cases I questioned skin tone. Now it could have been that they've been wearing makeup for so long that their eyelids and lashes and lips were stained. Or maybe their lips, lids, and/or lashes were tattooed (can you tattoo lashes?). Doesn't really matter, and it was sort of sad to me that some of these women (one in particular) couldn't seem to show her all the way bare true self, even for a morning.

What do you think? Am I just seeing things?

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Creative environments

There is virtually no problem you cannot solve, no goal you cannot achieve, no obstacle you cannot overcome if you know how to apply the creative powers of your mind , like a laser beam, to cut through every difficulty in your life and your work.

Creativity defined
A new idea is often a combination of old elements. Creative people are able to devise new combinations depend on your ability to discern relationships between seemingly disparate items; to fine the juxtaposition of ideas which were previously thought to be unrelated.' They have the ability to combine ideas in a unique way or to make useful associations among ideas.

Work in a creative environment
The perception of creativity itself is slowly but surely transitioning into a mutated and adapted life form. In the traditional world, a “creative” person usually meant someone with talent excelling in a specific creative discipline defined by fairly concrete parameters. Copywriters write copy. Art Directors direct art. Talented visual designers who can make anything look good. Brilliant copywriters who can come up with that magnificent tag line which stops you in your tracks. And don't forget Information Architects who devote their existence to usability and being an advocate for the end user. To be around other creative people who understand where you're coming from, is exhilarating. Creative people need stimulation.

Design schools offer a variety of specialties in creative arts

Just about all reputable and accredited design schools offer on-line programs. If you're serious about becoming a professional in a creative field, you can find yourself with a degree within a couple of years, depending on the amount of time you have available to spend learning. Taking classes from home definitely has its advantages.

Finding a way to make this happen

One of the things to consider when searching for a new education program is the cost. Most online colleges offer the same financial aid programs as traditional colleges, so make sure to ask about these. They will assist you in securing the financial support you need to move ahead with your education. Regardless of your income or financial situation, you may qualify for financial aid programs that can make your education affordable. Another consideration is the time involved.

Making an informed choice

There are a wide variety of design schools that offer on line programs. Before picking one, you should spend some time comparing some of them to get an idea of differences in terms of tuition and programs. It's fairly easy to find schools on line that can offer you a high quality education, so be sure to request information from more than one. If you take classes on line, it doesn't matter where that college or design school is located, so you can select one of the best. Be sure that the schools you check out and consider offer the kind of programs and classes you're interested in.

A smattering of the kinds of design specialties most design schools offer

If you are creative, you probably will do well in any of the following areasMost design areas are pretty closely related, and it's possible to cross over from, let's say graphic design to fashion design or vice versa, making finding jobs a little easier. If you are passionate about one particular area, then go for it. Talent and skill combined with passion is a win-win situation.

  • graphic design
  • web design
  • fashion design
  • Interior design
  • multimedia and animation
  • professional photography
  • film and video

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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Summer reading

It seems like half of the country is steaming in the extreme summer heat this year. Here in Kentucky, we have had day after day of temperatures in the high nineties, with heat indexes in the hundreds. Everyone is looking for ways to stay cool.

Yesterday we had a power outage. Fortunately it only lasted for three hours. I was scared it would be longer; it's happened that way in the past.  It's especially bad for me because I run a bed and breakfast. What are you going to do with 8 guests, no light, no TV, and no air conditioning? Well the answer is "creative problem-solving" and the remedy is exhausting.

First thing I do is gather up all the candles in the house and some matches, enough so that every room has one of two. Then make a giant pitcher of ice cold lemonade, which I keep in the frig as long as possible. Then I tell my guests to sit quietly, if possible or go out to dinner or lunch, depending on the time. If they decide to stay here, and have a computer, they can watch a movie which will make the time pass a little faster.

Thank goodness the power outages don't happen too often cause, of course, reading during one would be next to impossible unless you like to read by candle light.  But staying cool in ninety degree weather, although requiring a little thought, is possible. I find that if I stay visiting friends, and sit or lie in one place, I can stay a lot cooler. To entertain myself I have my computer, my TV, my CDs and DVDs, and of course lots of books.

Reading a good book can be a joy. We've gotten so used to our TVs and computers it seems, that book reading is usually the last thing we think of. However; Amazon and other online bookstores advertise a fine selection of books for summer reading. I put together a great group that just may have some appeal to you. See the carousel below.

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Monday, August 2, 2010

Sanctuary: A guest post by Rebecca Rasmussen

Rebecca Rasmussen is the author of the novel The Bird Sisters, forthcoming from Crown/Random House April 19, 2011. She lives in St. Louis with her husband Hans and daughter Ava Lily, and teaches writing and literature at Fontbonne University. Visit her at or at

Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary in New Mexico offers an alternative to euthanasia for the captive-bred wolf, an animal of grace, intelligence and mystery; a symbol of what is wild and free, yet forced to live in captivity in a world obsessed with possessing a part of that wildness.

*note:"If you’re interested in helping wolves –today’s topic – please visit this wonderful organization"

As a guest writer, Rebecca tells us about her new novel, Sanctuary: "The reason I began writing this second novel about wolves is because sometimes I think we, as a population, are so focused on protecting our families – Are the kids reading enough books and eating enough leafy greens? Is my husband taking his cholesterol medicine? What time is soccer pick-up again? Are the kids looking both ways before they cross the street? – and we often forget (I do this all the time! Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.) that there is an entire world that would benefit from that kind of staunch protection. 
I wonder what would happen if we took care of our animals and our earth, if we asked of them half the questions we ask ourselves and our families on a daily basis, whether or not the precarious state of our wild animals, our old growth forests, our rivers and lakes, would be any different than it is today."

Excerpt from Sanctuary: A novel-in-progress
by Rebecca Rasmussen
     Chana turned up in our vegetable garden on a cool June morning. Her stunning Arctic coat was blackened by old blood. At first, we thought her wounds—the blisters and lesions on her hind legs and buttocks, her exposed ribs—had been inflicted in the wild. But when Chana finally allowed Lee to come into the garden, on his hands and knees, he saw the spiked collar embedded in her fur, a cardinal sign of domestication and abuse. What we didn’t know then was that she’d traveled nearly two hundred miles from her home in Elk Springs or that her owner had kept her on a two-foot chain since she was a pup and visited her with his steel toe boots each time he lost his temper. The way he figured, or so he said in court: beating a wolf was better than beating his wife.

     After we’d successfully adopted Chana, Lee and I heard about the others. There was Bruno, whose owner had struck him with a tire iron at a trailhead in the Medicine Bow Mountains because he wouldn’t get in the car. There was Stella, who’d been tranquilized by an aerial hunter in Alaska and brought to an irresponsible breeder in Colorado. There was Mr. Shyloh, Coco, and Whitney—all awaiting euthanasia at Animal Control in Fort Collins—and hundreds of wolves and wolf dogs just like them all over the country. And there was Ishi, a skittish Timber/Malamute hybrid, brought to us by a man who said if we didn’t take her, he would drive Ishi down the road and shoot her. We did what we could.

     Neither of us had experience with wild animals, though Lee was much more of an adventurer than me. I was the kind of person who read books about bears and mountain lions, but did not welcome the opportunity to encounter either on a hiking trail. As far as pets went, I’d grown up with the usual: a cat, a dog, a fish, and a hamster. Unusually, however, each of our pets was eventually “liberated” from its enclosure. When I was eight, I remember my mother taking Henry, my hamster, and me to the forest preserve and convincing me to let him go.

“You want Henry to be happy, don’t you?” my mother said.
“And want him to be free, don’t you?”
“And you love him?”
Yes. Yes.
“Then you know what to do, Adie.”

     In one graceless motion, I took Henry out of his cage, kissed him ceremoniously, and sent him to his death.
When I was old enough to understand what had happened, I was also old enough to understand that, in Henry’s case, I was as much to blame as my mother. I loved Henry because he was cute and fluffy and little. I loved him because he drank water out of a bottle, like a baby. I loved Henry as though he was a stuffed animal, which, along with my mother’s loathing to clean his cage, sealed his fate, for which I have always felt sorry.
He was just a hamster, people have told me.
They were just wolves.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Before you write a memoir: think about this

What the Hell Is Memoir: The Debate Is Ongoing….
a guest post by poet and writer Jenne R, Andrews

You can find Jenne and her insightful posts on her blog: Loquaciously Yours

Today I stumbled across a discussion on a thread in the Memoir Group on She Writes about the difference between memoir and autobiography which necessarily addresses the issue of what memoir is and isn’t. Hope Edelman, author of the best-selling The Possibility of Everything weighed in, ably giving the distinctions and definitions currently– and to me quite unfortunately– in vogue. Here is my reply; please Fed Ex me some band-aids for the fall-out (jra)

“Hope’s comment is germaine in my view: “This is what was once meant by “memoirs” with an S, as in “I’m writing the whole story of my life from the point of age and wisdom I’ve finally achieved.” A memoir is a more artfully rendered narrative that’s informed by memory and the author’s interpretation of events. Emotional truth is often as important, and sometimes even more desirable than factual accuracy. (Don’t shoot me, journalists! But this is true.)” –Hope Edelman.

I do take issue with “This is what was once meant…”– some of us still view “Memoir” this way. With respect to Ms. Edelman’s definition of memoir as an “artfully rendered narrative that’s informed by memory and the author’s interpretation of events” there is an implied assumption that a given narrative is art as opposed to the unadorned journal of catharsis it often is. Regarding the labored construct of ”…artfully rendered narrative informed by memory…” Ms. Edelman’s own memoir, The Possibility of Everything, was penned in the wake of taking her daughter to a purported healer in Mexico. She must mean memory across the spectrum– encompassing very recent memory, that which is recalled in the wake of experience. By that definition everything one writes that is not in the present tense is memoir. ”Factual accuracy” is another problematic phrase; we wouldn’t read memoir if we didn’t think we were reading a true story and a true story depends on fact. ”Emotional truth” cannot possible be truth, as what one lives is experienced subjectively.

In any event, the “memoir” boom set in motion by Mary Karr’s The Liars Club and Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes– although a number of wonderful contemporary autobiographical, memoir-ish narratives preceded that book such as Patricia Hampl’s A Romantic Education– has seen a shift in how memoir is defined.

In fact, the word has been hijacked to legitimize a recent– as in the last twenty-five years– sub-genre–if we can even dignify it all by calling it a genre– of personal confession/revelation, much of it by writers younger than those one might traditionally view to possess the sufficient perspective to write “memoir.” Accordingly, I am going to use the phrase “autobiographical narrative” to discuss what others call “memoir” in the remainder of this essay.

Numerous advocates of AN claim, and Ms. Edelman so alludes, that its objective is to locate one’s “personal truth”. I advocate for something more exact than the term “personal truth” to characterize what the best of autobiographical narrative in current favor offers– something along the lines of ”realization”, even “epiphany” that on a good day, resonates with with the reader.

It appears to me that if “truth” finding is the mission, the matter of whether one is creating literature or not falls by the wayside. Further, in permitting ourselves to consume so much pulp nonfiction, we have created a market for it. We have become voyeurs, and we love that window into someone else’s private life– even to climb in the window and rummage through the underwear drawer. If the voyeuristic appetite did not exist, neither would AN.

Another attempt to legitimize autobiographical narrative has come about in the plea for redemptive endings. Understandably agents, editors and critics are tired of reading grueling personal stories that dead-end or in the words of Erin Hosier (She Writes’ resident agent) keep getting worse. ”Where’s the hope?” she writes. Great memoir across the ages has not depended upon a redemptive ending. It has depended upon the quality of the telling of the story.

For a time the phrase “creative nonfiction” was applied to personal narrative and still is as a genre for the M.F.A. But the abandonment of the goal of the creation of a work of art/literature, the sacrifice of the vision for the extraordiness of the ordinary that characterizes art for the temporal reward of a purge, has meant that creative nonfiction has itself descended to the level of autobiographical narrative. In turn there is a further descent into “expose’”– the salty opportunistic and exploitative accounts of someone else’s private life also in favor.

I just finished writing a memoir of a trip I took thirty-seven years ago (Nightfall in Verona, sample chapter here). In the epilogue I say that I could not have written it any earlier– I was too close to the story and some of the things standing in the way of/eclipsing my appreciation of the experience had not yet healed and dissipated. A degree of distance gave me the ability to paint with a full palette, to incarnate the experience in art, I pray.

To me that is the argument for waiting, perhaps writing about something to get it out or make a record, and then putting it away. My most recent piece on life with a mentally ill mother, Notes on a Yellow Rose, posted at Loquaciously Yours, is far more compassionate than my decades earlier numerous published poems about her– most of them bitter, focused on her shortcomings, sent out into the world with the attitude that I had the right to “my truth” and to hell with how she felt mirrored at her worst in the pages of my books. Another strike against most of the AN books in favor; proponents argue that personal truth no matter the cost to others is the goal. Obtaining distance from the subject frees one to focus on craft– the sharp edges of experience have been worn down and time has given experience luminosity— the light cast by the extraordinary.

When I was younger I wrote about many things as a victim, unable to see my part in them and certainly numb to anything redemptive in the people close to me whose business I put in the street for the sake of my literary ego. I contend that many people writing expose’ (trash-personal narrative) about their families, significant others, their addictions and other follies, are committing the same sin not only against others, but against art.

Part and parcel of my viewpoint is that if we all love literature, we need to protect it. We need to protect the genres that define it by protecting the traditions that gave rise to and define that genre. Granted that there is blurring of the lines between genres and the emergence of subgenres, et cetera, I believe in protecting the genre of Memoir by continuing to state that at its best it is written by someone generally viewed to have much to say, or to have been in public life, from the position of looking back a good distance from events.

Unquestionably, thanks to Oprah Winfrey and other book-loving high profile people , there is a growing market for stories of falling down and getting back up– a faux literature of intimacy. In our spiritually impoverished culture there is also a call, as Erin states in her post, for the first person nonfiction story to yield redemption and a take-away. Time will tell whether the plethora of books on the market termed “memoir” – Eat Pray Love, Pillhead, Cherry, Fury, Running with Scissors, The Glass Castle, et al, will endure the test of time to be regarded as literature.

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Women Up: Women's opinions on politics

The following video reveals the opinions of some very intelligent and interesting women. Traditionally, it has been the men who mull over what's going on in our government and come up with their own solutions to the problems we're facing as a nation.

It is so refreshing to see that women are taking on the challenge of being informed, interested and involved with issues other than education, children, and home.

The opinions expressed here are not necessarily mine. I present them on this blog as those that should rightly be addressed in a women's forum.

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Vacation tips from my insurance company

Vacation is a time for fun and relaxation! Don't let yours be ruined by crime. We have listed some valuable crime prevention tips below to help you prepare for your upcoming vacation.

Before leaving ....
  • Have good locks on all doors and windows, and use them!
  • Engrave your valuables with your driver's license number (not your social security number), and take pictures of important valuables. Keep copies of your records locked up somewhere safe (lock box, etc.).
  • Never leave your house key hidden outside under a doormat, in a flower pot, or on the ledge of a door.
  • Make your house appear "lived in." Use timers for lights and radios. Have a neighbor or a friend pickup mail, packages and newspapers, and keep the lawns mowed and watered.
  • Leave your trip plans and emergency phone number with a trusted neighbor or friends.
 On the road ....

  • Never carry large amounts of cash; use traveler's checks. If you must carry large sums of money, do not display it openly.
  • Keep a record of traveler's check numbers and your credit card numbers in a safe place. Have the telephone numbers to call in case your checks or credit cards are lost or stolen.
  • Be aware of your surroundings and never advertise your plans to strangers; this includes travel routes and the amount of cash you are carrying.
  • Do not stop to offer help to a stranded motorist. If you have a cell phone, help by calling for assistance.
  • If you suspect someone is following you, drive to the nearest service station, restaurant or business and then call the local police department (or dial 911).
  • If your vehicle breaks down, raise the hood and attach a white flag to the antenna. Use your cell phone to dial for help.
Car security...

  • Always lock your vehicle after entering or leaving it.
  • Park in well-lighted areas.
  • Check the back seat before entering your vehicle.
  • Mark your valuables inside your vehicle with your driver's license number (GPS, etc.).
  • Always lock valuables out of sight, preferably in the trunk. Always carry wallet, check book and purses with you.
  • Do not advertise that you are a tourist. Place maps and travel brochures in the glove compartment.
 Hotel / Condo / Motel security ....

  • Determine the most direct route to and from your room, to the fire escapes and elevators.
  • When occupying or leaving your room, use all auxiliary locking devices on doors and windows.
  • Use the door viewer "peephole" to identify anyone requesting entry. Open the door only if you are certain the person has a legitimate reason to enter your room. If in doubt, call the condo/hotel or motel office.
  • Unpack and place belongings in the closet and dresser. Arrange your things so you'll know if anything is missing.
  • Never leave money, checks, credit cards or car keys in the room. Take them with you.
  • Report any lost or stolen items to the hotel/condo/motel management and to the local police.
  • Report to the management any suspicious movements in the corridors or rooms.
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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Can a working mother still find time to write?

Guest Post by Author Cindy Vine
Cindy Vine is a mother, teacher and writer
living at the foot of
Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
As a working mother, she’s managed to write

a self-help book called Fear, Phobias and
Frozen Feet; a
semi-autobiographical account
of an escape from an abusive marriage

called Stop The world, I Need to Pee; and
a little boy’s
traumatic life called The Case of Billy B,
a book about jealousy,
hate and betrayal and the biggest dilemma
of all: "Not Telling"; and
a children's picture
book about solving
a problem with a bully
called Fighting Fisi.

Any mother will tell you, that motherhood is a full time job. There
is no start or finish time, you are on duty 24 hours a day. If you
are a working mom, then you are under even more pressure. There’s a
bit of overlap involved, because eight of those 24 hours, not only are
you a mom, but you are also a working woman with all the stresses
and pressures a job entails. And then, lest you forget, factor in cook-
ing meals, traveling to and from work, and the life of a typical working
mother starts to resemble that scrambled egg I tried to make last
week. It’s a scrambled mess of deadlines and times, with the mommy
rushing around like a chicken with its head chopped off, trying to
please everybody, with no time for herself.

But deep within this mother is the desire to write. In fact, forget
desire, it’s more like a deep need, rather like the need to breathe.
It’s something you just have to do, you have all these words bubbling
inside you just trying to get out. Cooking, cleaning, traveling,
working, parenting – how are you going to fit in time for writing?
This is where time management becomes so important. You have to
plan your day so that you leave yourself some ‘me-time.’ Even if it’s
the half an hour before you sleep, half an hour of your lunch break, or
half an hour at 5.30am; you have to set that time aside for your
writing each and every day. Once you start, you’ll quickly settle
into the routine. Just make sure that nobody disturbs you during your
‘me-time.’ Not even an over-amorous husband. Rather write a short
description of his sexual advances, than succumb to them.

Have your special writing space set up, out of bounds to all and
sundry, except maybe your cat if you have one. I’m allergic to cats.
Do not try and write huge chapters, that’ll be too overwhelming for
you and you’ll just give up. Rather, focus on writing short sharp
scenes, descriptions, events, things that happened to you during the
day. Invent characters and write descriptions of them, what they do
for fun, get to know them. Then, after you’ve amassed pages and pages
of these short scenes, take one or two mental health days, call in
sick at work, stay home in your empty house or go to the library. And
what you do is sort through your scenes, decide what you can use,
what can be chucked, what lines of dialogue you like, and work out a
system to file them. You now have some good pieces to go into a novel.

Your next step is to plan your story and adapt your good scenes you’ve
filed, use your character sketches and you’re A for AWAY. Forget
about writing your book from cover to cover. Your everyday life will
not allow for that, after all, there are only 24 hours in a day. Work
smart, set aside some ‘me-time’ find a suitable work space, and do
small pieces at a time. You can always flesh them out later and
discard what is rubbish. Writing a book is not difficult, it just
takes commitment and good time management; ah and maybe a little
talent might help

All of Cindy's books are available on
You can follow Cindy’s blogs on; or
or find out more about Cindy and her books on Follow on Facebook:

Author of:

  • Fear, Phobias and Frozen Feet
  • Stop the world, I need to pee!
  • The Case of Billy B
  • Fighting Fisi


Monday, April 26, 2010

Humans are like porcupines

The following video features Elizabeth Gilbert speaking on happiness and intimacy

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

An enormous conspiracy: The Barnes Art Collection

This post is a little unusual compared to most of the posts on this blog, but it actually is very closely related to me, the Innkeeper of the Aleksander House. I love art, studied it when I first started college, and still am very interested in all forms. I especially like the Impressionists, both French and American and have prints, reflecting that period thoughout my Inn.

I was struck today by an article on hubpages, where I frequently post articles of my own. The article tells about the Barnes Collection of Art, the only one of its kind. And the video below tells the story of Dr. Albert C. Barnes.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Re-inventing yourself: Starting a new career

I came across an adage often voiced by Bonnie Price of, which rings so true to me "... we don't retire, we re-invent ourselves". I am 79 years old and have been re-inventing myself my whole life. I have never faded into the woodwork! I have approached each phase of my life pro-actively and made sure it was the best phase yet. I have learned how to leverage my past and present experiences and passions to design a present that is fulfilling.

I have had two very fulfilling long-term careers, and am in the process of embarking on the third.I've had so many different jobs, taken so many classes, engaged in so many activities, that I would have lost count, if it weren't for the fact that each one was, and still is, intrinsically enmeshed with all the others. Along the way, some folks said I was scattered in too many directions. But. I never understood why time spent taking classes that weren't totally related to one's chosen profession, or traveling, or experiencing life's various and engaging activities was a waste of time.

Everything you do prepares you for the future. It depends on how you look at it and what you do with it, whether or not it turns out to be a waste of time.Try looking at your past in a little different way. Sit down and make a list of all the major experiences and jobs (big and small), training in school and at home, and travel experiences you've had in your life. Next to them, write what you learned from each one (e. g. landscaping, photography, air travel, pottery, cooking, etc). You certainly have been exposed to a variety of occupations and interesting activities in your life. All of these can be turned into careers.

Now, write down the major negative experiences and disappointments you had. Next to those, write what positive things you might have learned from these situations . Don't focus on the negative. For example, having cancer and having to go for radiation every day for 8 weeks, taught me how dedicated many of the care-takers at the treatment center were. I observed the work they did, the activities they engaged in, the hospital set up,A divorce can introduce you to the fields of law, counseling, and social work. The loss of a job can start you looking in different directions. Everywhere you look, there are possibilities for careers.

If this doesn't reveal something to you, tap into your hobbies, interests and, especially, what you might be passionate about (e. g. butterflies, golf, gardening, etc) . Be creative. Make extensive lists of what you find interesting. Get on the web and research types of careers available and educational institutions. Check out workshops and classes at your local community college, or YMCA. Keep and open mind, then make an appointment with a career counselor.

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Monday, February 8, 2010

The job interview: Confused about what kind of salary to ask for?

what kind of salary should you ask for?
So you finally got that interview you've been vying for. It's going along pretty well, you feel somewhat relaxed and good about it. The questions are not too difficult and your answers have been right on. Then the next question stops you dead in your tracks. " And what did you have in mind in the way of salary?" you hear the interviewer saying. Oh my gosh, you're thinking I don't know. I'll take whatever I can get. You've been out of a job for six months and that's your first reaction. But this is not a good response.

Do your homework
Don't say a word, unless you've thought this through ahead of time. You must be prepared for this type of question. If you ask for too much, you could lose the job hands down. If you don't ask for enough, you may not get what a potential employer is willing to pay. It's absolutely essential that you do some research in an effort to find out what jobs in this particular industry are going for. This way you will have facts to back up your response. You need to take into consideration where the job is located, what position you're applying for and in what industry or profession it is.

First, analyze you're current situation and figure out how much you need to live on. Factor in your rent, utilities, food, supplies and so forth. Don't forget your car payment, clothing and some money left over to spend time with friends on an occasional evening out. Your minimum take home pay should cover all of these expenses.

Check out the Internet
Next, Get on the internet and check out web sites that specialize in salary information You can also google particular career areas which may produce salary information on the job or company you're seeking information about. Try " salary information" or "medical assistant salry information" or whatever job you're applying for. Finally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and many trade and professional publications will include this type of information.

Click here for more About careers

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Why you should use social networking as a marketing tool

One of the easiest ways to stay in the forefront of customers minds, whether you have a product to sell or are providing a service, is through social networking. Louisville has not lost its edge in providing resources for businesses, new and old, large and small. There are plenty of resources here and they are easily accessible to those who are interested.

Whether you are interested in face to face networking or networking online via social media, you can find plenty of help and information locally. Gini Dietricht, president and ceo of a large corporation, referring to social media, recently stated on facebook and twitter that "...the bottom line is that [business owners] cannot afford to ignore this growing trend. As over your head as it may seem, it is not.

The point of social media is to build relationships...In the offline world, brands spend millions of dollars and create loyalty for years...In the online world, you no longer need to spend millions to engage."The success of social media on line sitesAccording to the New York times, (July, 2009), the reason why Social media networking is such a huge success is because of it's friend-of-a-friend (FOAF) trust model similar to word of mouth (WOM).

A recent study revealed that, while 14% people Trust Ads, 76% of people trust consumer recommendations for purchase decisions more. Since the FOAF model enables users to interact with network users to whom they are not otherwise directly connected, users can establish different rules of engagement for different types of connections in their networks. The closer the connection to a user in terms of degrees of separation, the more trusted that user is.

This is the key difference between Social networking and traditional SEO or PPC strategies. Users maintain direct connections to their friends, but they also have some level of access to the direct connections their friends maintain to other people. Public social networking services such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Friendster can be valuable sales, marketing and support tools if you know how to effectively apply them for your business*First in a series of articles on social networking.

For more information on social networking in Louisville:
Louisville Social Media Club
Social Media Explorer consultancy
Jay Lane MediaLouisville Business Exchange

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How to get a business loan from a bank

Many women are intimidated by the thought of getting involved in financial matters. As a group, buying a house or securing a business loan, even a personal loan, are not activities we were traditionally involved in before the women's movement. But our society has changed, where women are concerned, and more women are on their own and learning how to buy houses and start their own businesses then ever before.

Communicating with bankers
Bankers are pretty savvy people so you must have done your homework and know something about what you need to bring to the table if you're asking a bank to lend you money to either start up or expand an exiating business. Even when you can show a strong credit rating and possess collateral, they still demand that you explain in sufficient detail how you will use their money, what profit you expect to make with it and how you win pay it back. Bankers do not want to advance money to you just to improve your lifestyle.

Bankers when considering your request for a loan-they would like to see you produce $3 of profit for every $1 of their money borrowed often use an unspoken formula. In order to produce this financial result you must invest a substantial portion of your loan in well focused marketing activities, such as magazine ads, direct mail promotions and adding inside and outside sales assistance.

Keep one fact in mind when considering a bank loan: more than anything else, bankers must assure that they get paid back, on time. Be prepared to offer several ways that they can use to get their money back if the worst happens to your business. Don't take this attitude as a personal insult. It is simply how the world of commercial banking works.

The Eight Step Approach to Asking For A Bank Loan
Be realistic however, when you are considering the request for bank financing--it can take several months to finish your business plan summary and pull together the necessary documentation to satisfy the bank's demands. Allow enough time before you apply. Avoid waiting until you are desperate for cash!

Step 1 : Why Do You Want Money?

  • Pay off debts
  • Substitute new debt for equity
  • To buy equipment, vehicles, and buildings
  • To expand business through more marketing, inventory, people,etc.
  • Be honest. Have you really checked out sources of money other than banks? (for example: Credit terms from suppliers, payment advances from customers, loans from family, friends, private investors)

Step #2: How to Check Out Banks

  • Check out how financially sound the banks are you are considering.
  • Ask for the bank's latest annual report. Read the description of how their business was last year and look at their financial statements
  • Ask the banker to compare their capital reserves to the requirements of the federal regulators.
  • Ask to be shown a sample loan application package before you decide which bank to choose
  • Read the package over, making notes on anything you question or don't understand
  • Contact the bank lending officer with your questions. If you are not comfortable with how they are answered, look elsewhere.

Step #3: Communicating With The Bank

  • The history of your company
  • Summary of market conditions, including competition, and your marketing strategy the 5 P's-- People, Product, Price, Place & Promotion. Historical financial results & future projections -- Profit & Loss and Cash Flow
  • Err on the side of conservatism
  • Best to have past financials on accountants letterhead
  • Your resume--Why are you qualified to run the company?
  • Examples of products or services (photos, brochures, videos, etc.)
  • Personal financial statement
  • If applicable: inventory requirements; accounts receivable aging
  • possibly a business plan

Step #4: What To Expect When You First Visit the Bank

  • Try to meet the loan office first outside of the bank, say for lunch--this is "neutral turf."
  • Come prepared with a combination one-page business plan summary and loan request
  • Indicate on the loan request how much money you are looking for; what you win use it for (be specific); how long you want to borrow it; how you will pay the loan back; and what you plan to do if your revenue isn't enough to cover the loan payments.
  • Expect them to examine your personal credit history, so do it before they do by contacting one of the three big credit agencies: TRW, Equifax, & Trans Union.
  • Think in advance what you will use as security for the loan--that is collateral.
  • Expect the loan officer to ask some pointed questions about your certainty of attaining the future sales and profits you are projecting.
  • Know your personal and company finances forwards and backwards!

Step #5: Realize The Importance of Cash Flow & Credit

  • Realize the essential reality of borrowing from a bank: They want their money back! And they want it on a regular schedule. They don't really want to have to take over your company or sell your collateral.
  • This reality results in the banker doggedly pursuing your projection of cash flow for the year or two after you will receive the loan.
  • The "C" of cash flow is one of five "Cs" that bankers look for from good loan applicants.
The list of " 5 C's" are:
  • capacity - Ability to repay.
  • Character - Your willingness to show discipline and keep your promises to repay
  • Capital - How much have you and other investors put into the business?
  • Conditions - How is your industry doing?
  • Collateral - Your security.
Step #6: Understand the Types of Loans
  • Short-term loans. For one year or less. Normally used for short-term uses, such as inventory. Need for loan and repayment occur in the same 12 month period.
  • Working capital loans. Also short-ten-n, usually to cover your cash needs after you make and sell your product, but before you get paid.
  • Seasonal loans. Loan is paid off at the end of season.
  • Term loans. Maturities of one to five years. Used primarily to purchase capital equipment and to give semi-permanent increase in working capital. Paid back in monthly payments.
  • Long-term loans. Over five years in length. Used to build, buy real estate, acquire an existing business or buy a franchise.
  • SBA loans. Loans where the principal repayment is partially guaranteed by the U.S. government. Line of credit. Similar to a credit card loan.
Step #7.- Learn How banks make Loan Decisions
  • They assess the 5 C's
  • They look for a persuasive marketing strategy
  • They look for determination on your part
  • They look for financial projections that support your marketing strategy

  • They look at how much they can make on your proposed loan
  • They look for significant experience in managing your type of business
  • They look at how much of your own (or family's) money you have put into the company
  • They look at what you will do with the money.
  • They examine the most recent financial results for your business.
  • They examine what security (collateral) you can put up.
What to negotiate with the bank:

  • Interest rate--Get two banks to bid and compare their rates.
  • Length of loan--Set a maximum monthly payment you wish to make and drive for a repayment length that will allow this.
  • Personal guarantee--Hard to avoid, particularly if you are a corporation. But you'll never know if you don't ask.
  • Collateral--Try to get by with only business collateral. If they insist on personal collateral, DO NOT up your house. Try putting up a CD instead.
Shop around--Don't settle for the first bank offer. If you proposal package is good enough to be considered for any bank loan, it is good enough to show to several banks.

Step #8: Understand What Happens After the Loan Request is Accepted

You should review the paperwork with your accountant to make sure it is in your best interest. You may wish to use your accountant as your negotiator with the banks offering you financing. At the loan closing, you must:
  • Produce title to your collateral.
  • Usually sign personal and commercial guarantees.
  • If a corporation, sign a corporate resolution to borrow" which says you are the authorized corporate officer allowed to sign agreements.
  • Sign signature cards if you open business bank accounts.
  • Sign a promissory note(this is where you sign your life away).
  • Sign a disbursement request to release the funds to you. On term loans, you receive the whole loan at once. On credit lines, you only receive what you need initially. The remainder is approved but not drawn, which saves you interest cost.

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