>October wrap up

>Here’s how I did in October:

General/admin
√ update blog and gig list daily
√ November gig list (as submitted, not trawled)
√ diary work for Nov

Writing
√ proof Night Crawler galleys
√ re-submit Christmas story to weekly newspaper
√ 2 x fillers
√ NaNo foundation work
√ research activity annual #3

Day job
√ weekly timesheet
√ winter magazine foundation work
√ new PR work

Life
√ 3 rock gigs
√ 2 places of interest
√ 1 Ramblers meeting
√ visit Mom and Dad in Birmingham for Dad’s birthday
√ hair appointment
√ Halloween

Household
√ weekly, fortnightly and monthly household chores
√ one project a month

Extra
√ submit Bonfire Surprise
√ meet Val McDermid
√ 1 x jam night
√ 2 x NaNo kick-off parties

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>One project a month – October

>I took another half a day off yesterday to run some errands I know I won’t have time to do in November, but that need doing so I can get stuff done. On Wednesday evening I decided to take stock of what was in my baking cupboard. And what a good job I did. I binned – that’s CHUCKED OUT – 2 whole carrier bags (bio-degradable, of course) filled with out of date ingredients. I was SO annoyed with myself for the waste – waste of food, waste of money, waste of landfill, waste of 2 otherwise perfectly good carrier bag bin liners. And at a time when I’ve been struggling to make ends meet too. Basically, guff had been pushed so far out of sight I’d forgotten I had it.

On Thursday morning, however, I rescued a lot of the dry ingredients from the bin (good job I’d packed it all into carrier bags, eh?) because a friend asked if I could feed any of it to the birds (thank you, Jill). I’ve looked up a few bird food recipes, but basically flour and fat can be mixed with loads of things to provide healthy, nutritious grub for our wild birds – fruit, seed, nuts, pasta, rice. I often spend a fortune (budgeted) on fat cakes and the like so I’m going to try and make some for a change.

The main errand was to get a set of half decent steps for home. Most people that have done work for me, and even friends that have helped me with stuff, know that the step ladders I already have are potentially lethal. They’re the kind that convert 3 different ways and either chop off your fingers as you try to erect them, or they collapse the moment you put your entire weight on the top tread. They’re okay for occasional jobs, like getting up into the loft (and if you know what they’re like), but the reason a lot of my baking goods got pushed out of sight is because I don’t have any steps in the kitchen and can’t always reach to see even when I use a chair. So I bought a set of 5-tread alluminium steps with a proper platform on the top.

I got a bit of bird seed and 4 fat cakes so I at least have trays the right size to make my fat cakes in in future. One bag of seed will be used in my recipes, the other is for ground feeding, soft-bill birds such as blackbirds and thrushes.I also got 3 brass curtain tie-back hooks for when I’m ready to drill some holes into the living room wall, and 2 robe hooks for the back of the spare bedroom door and the bathroom door – 2 future projects.

The other reason I bought the steps was so that I could do October’s project of the month – replace a spotlight bulb in my kitchen. The ceilings are high anyway and the kitchen spots are fixed right to the ceiling so don’t even dangle down, and every time a bulb goes it’s a major operation with the lethal steps to get it changed and often why that job gets left. The spot that’s out is the one that covers the kitchen sink, and when daylight showed that I hadn’t washed a couple of utensils properly I realised something had to be done. So I got the steps and changed the bulb. Whoop-whoop! No pictures, too boring. But another teeny tiny chore that needed doing and that might have carried on needing doing had I not launched my one project a month thing (thank you, Josie).

It’s Friday, and the start of a very, very, very busy weekend. Tonight I’ll do the weekly shopping on my way home again, and will remember to pick up some Tesco Savers bargain dried fruit to add to my bird cake recipes. They’re not getting the good stuff I got for the Christmas and saffron cakes. Then it’s a Benny Hill-esque dash to get ready to go out as it’s the gig buddy’s birthday and we’re off to our local club to see a band and meet up with other mates.

Saturday will be chores, chores, chores and some baking, as I never managed any during the week. I want to make that bean and sweetcorn casserole, a gingered pumpkin pie, some Halloween buns and cookies for Trick or Treat, and maybe the Ipswich lemon pie. I’ll make the pastry and cookie dough tomorrow but make the pie and cut the cookies on Sunday. Saturday afternoon I’m off to Matlock Bath for the last day of the illuminations and fireworks, and to meet up with me ol’ mate Nidge from “home”. We have a lot of catching up to do, apparently.

Sunday morning I’ll finish the cookies and the pie (if I make pastry on Saturday). I’m hoping a night chilling in the fridge will make the cookie dough in particular easier to work with. (Devon – help!) They’re cinnamon cookies – it’d be really great if I could find some Halloween cookie cutters between then and now, otherwise they’ll just be circles and stars. Sunday afternoon is the second of my NaNo kick-off parties, this one in Sheffield. And Sunday night will be Trick or Treat between the television shows.

On Monday … hundreds of thousands of maniacal writers around the globe will sit down and attempt to write a novel in a month. 50,000 words in 30 days, averaging around 1,667 words per day. Yup, on Monday, NaNoWriMo begins … (gulp).

Have a great weekend.

>Lessons learned?

>I thought I’d wrapped up the virus issue before by, amongst other things, installing a regularly updated virus protection programme with firewall and by keeping my email online (webmail). But I hadn’t bargained on one of the hundreds and thousands of applications available via Facebook accessing my personal information and getting into my online address book. I’d not even used the email account for ages and only pop in for the occasional stray. As soon as I was told that I was sending out spam (thanks, Abi), I deleted every single contact in that address book, logged out of every single place it might be logged into, and I told everyone I could in the best and quickest way that I could.

I ran a full virus scan and it said my laptop at least was clean. I went into Facebook and started to remove any applications I have no intention of using, including the one I suspected of sending the worm straight away. I also went through un-checking the “automatically add recipients to contacts” boxes so I at least have some control again over who gets a virus sent to them in the future. The next day a friend suggested I change the password too. So I did that during our conversation.

I think it was just a harmless little worm. It didn’t infect my hardware. It did worm its way into other people’s email accounts. But I think it was just mischievous rather than sinister. But it was a warning, and I shall be even more careful in future.

We had pay day on Monday and for the first time in ages I wasn’t chomping at the bit to draw cash out the moment the clock ticked a second past midnight. In fact, I forgot it was pay day until yesterday, Wednesday. But once I caught up I renewed my car insurance (my own broker under quoted every single price comparison site by up to £60, and I even got a discount from them just by renewing), filled the car with petrol, transfered my “just in case” money over (to my ISA rather than just my savings account, as advised by my dad while I fill that up), and drew out my spending money for the month (shopping + hair + pocket money). My budget is meticulously planned and what’s left over at the end of the month will also be transferred to the ISA. It’s an instant access ISA. Just in case …

Oh, by the way, did you notice that hyperlink on the abbreviation ISA? If you get an email from me that contains a link it WILL be a hyperlink. If it’s not, the email’s probably not from me unless I apologise profusely for not sending a hyperlink.

I also took half a day yesterday morning. I could already feel a burn out approaching but on top of the virus stress I decided my morning would be better spent taking it easy instead of dashing around. I got to the office at about 11:30am but wasn’t officially “there” until 1pm. I needed the break, for which I’m a strong advocate. Better to lose half a day in holiday than burn out and lose a week, or a month. Or more.

>VIRUS ALERT

>Facebook gave me a virus last night, an internet worm. It’s the only thing I was using at the time. The application accessed an un-used email account and sent itself off to everyone in the address book in batches of 10.

I’ve emptied the address book so it shouldn’t happen again. Hopefully your spam filters spotted it or you realised what it was before opening. I think it should be fine so long as you don’t click on the link.

The computer is clean. It’s brand new with up to date software and a full and complete scan revealed nothing. So this is an internet worm.

Please accept my apologies, but DO NOT OPEN AN EMAIL FROM ME THAT HAS NO SUBJECT AND JUST A LINK IN THE BODY.

>Wow

>What a busy weekend I just had, and next weekend is going to be 3 times as bad.

On Friday I did my shopping on the way home from work again, then on Saturday it was off to Leeds for the first of the NaNo kick-off parties. I met a fellow WriMo on the train – she’s been doing it since 2003 so was able to give me all the background information I might need. She was wearing last year’s t-shirt because this year’s consignments haven’t arrived in the UK yet. If I get a t-shirt this year, I want it to have WINNER on it.

We all had a great time, having a chat, talking about ourselves, our writing, our plans for this year’s NaNo, and I hope a few new friends have been made. Susie even took the time to come on here and say hello on Saturday evening.

I woke to glorious sunshine on Sunday and was sorely tempted to go for that walk, but I had so much to do and next weekend I just won’t have time to do it all. So I did chores, browsed recipe books and magazines, popped out to get some last minute ingredients but failed anyway. I was going to make parkin and it needs black treacle (molasses), so off I went to get treacle. Then, when I started to get everything ready, I also needed oatmeal and I don’t have oatmeal. I checked loads of other recipes too, and they either want oatmeal or rolled/porridge oats. So the parkin got shelved until next time.

Instead I batch-cooked a 5-portion chicken casserole with parsley dumplings and didn’t think to check if there was room in the freezer for them all first … but I squeezed them in (ate one, froze 4). And I made an apple and blackberry crumble as I had cooking apples left over from before and the blackberries were on offer in the supermarket (they’re in season, see).

One evening this week I want to make buns and cookies for Halloween, I want to try a bean and sweetcorn casserole, and I have a recipe for an Ipswich lemon pie. I also found recipes for pumpkin soup or gingered pumpkin pie, or both if I have enough edible pumpkin meat – I have to work out how to open the pumpkin first, though, and then how to carve it. I’m going to be so busy, clearing the writing decks, though, that I may have to get up early Saturday morning for some of it. (Boo, hiss.)

Monday was a writing day and I didn’t get onto the computer, let alone the internet, until 2pm. But I did finalise 2 fillers, outline another filler and an article, and I made a start on the diary for November. With so much NaNo in there, plus other projects I need to keep working on, it’s already looking a bit scary. I’m not going to list it all for you guys. If even I think it’s scary I’ll lose you all.

Today I’m in the office for a 4-day week. The deadline for the next magazine is 5 November and I have to decide whether or not we run a newsletter as well.

>Pipe dreams and a pomegranate called Pip

>Sorry to bang on about my finances, but now that I seem to have them under control at least, I’m allowing myself a few little pipe dreams again.

I already thought about changing my car next year, but realistically, unless I can get a very good bargain, it might be the year after. The one I have now I’ve had since it was brand new, but my new finance savvy-ness is balking at it losing 25% as soon as it leaves the forecourt.

My mom has always said that I like neat, under-stated, plain, simple things in life, such as tiny ornaments and petite jewellery, and she’s right. In-your-face does absolutely nothing for me and certainly doesn’t impress me at all. And I’m the same with cars.

I’d like a VW Golf (Rabbit) – I love dinky, neat, simple, under-stated, inconspicuous, economical cars, but while I’d like a bit of solid comfort I also think a front-wheel drive might suit me better if we’re going to get snow more often again. (Bring it on – although I don’t want a gas-guzzling 4×4.) And I don’t know how to combine the two. But a new car within the next year or 18 months is pipe dream number one.

I’m also thinking holidays but while 2 years ago I would have booked and just dropped it on the plastic, these days I’m not even looking until the money’s in my account. Saying that, though, I am thinking of next year’s holiday(s). I want to go to the writers’ winter holiday in Fishguard in February again and I still want to walk at least part of the Thames Valley long distance path. I won’t be confirming Fishguard, however, until the activity annual money is in my account.

Looking ahead, holiday-wise, I’m overdue a visit to my brother and his family in Canada, and I want to see Nebraska. I’ve also been promising myself New England in the Fall for as long as I can remember.

I’ve scheduled this to post on Sunday when I should be walking or at least sightseeing. I think my days out are going to get fewer and farther between as I start to write up my trips and visits. Do them in the summer; write them in the winter. We’ll soon see how that pans out. If I’m not out and about I’ll be indoors batch cooking and baking … and maybe some more ironing.

On Friday I bought a pumpkin. Lori sent me a recipe for pumpkin pie but it used tinned pumpkin, which we don’t have over here, so now I’m looking for a recipe that includes fresh pumpkin (does it need sweetening first, for example, or stewing?) Yesterday I took a pomegranate (called Pip) to Leeds on the train for our NaNo party …

>Single and lovin’ it

>

I’ve left the picture up today because NaNo begins for me this weekend. Of a fashion.

There has been a very strange substance falling, intermittently, from the sky. It’s too thick and random for rain, but too thin for sleet. It’s leaving big splashes that are taking ages to go. It’s very odd and feels quite cold and almost slushy.

Quite a few people have recently been asking how I fit everything in. I usually put it down to being quite anal with my diary, being rigid with time slots and ticks-when-done, and making sure I write down absolutely everything I have to do. But now I’m starting to think it must be because I’m single.

I don’t have to wait for anyone else to come home before starting tea, I can have it whenever I like, if I like, and what I like. The television isn’t switched on automatically whether anyone’s watching it or not so we get distracted by, and engrossed in, whatever’s on. If I want to go “up to my room” and work, I can without appearing rude, OR I can do it exactly where I’m sitting without asking if I can turn the telly off.  I can read or write or knit or sew or do nothing if I want to, when I want to.

Christmas is a LOT cheaper without the usual where-should-we-spend-it dilemma, I can even cancel Christmas if I want to. I don’t have to consider anyone else when planning what to do at the weekends or for holidays (apart from cat sitters or people I’m going to see), and if I want a working holiday I can. Even if I do plan on going somewhere, I can change my mind right up to the very last minute if I want to. I’ve even stopped telling people where I might be in case I don’t make it after all.

Ooh, I could go on and on and on and on …

So now I’ve written all of that out loud, and with conviction, watch Mister Perfect stroll right on in … He’d better be good cos I’m getting used to this independent life.

I’ve not been able to get on with the activity annual because we’ve not received the artwork. The real downside of this is that I have wall-to-wall work in November and was hoping to have the activity annual off my desk by then. It doesn’t look as though that’s going to happen now, although the whole thing is mostly planned with a big long list of activities I’d like to include – just the stories take a while longer. That also means I won’t see the cheque before the end of December. That’s not such a problem as it was last year, though, as I’m now firmly in the habit of not planning or spending anything until it’s in my bank and cleared.

This month I’m particularly proud of my new financial prowess. It’s a 5-weekend month, which means the same monthly wage has had to stretch a week further … but I still have a week’s cash in my purse (wallet), and I still have a further week’s worth in the bank account. This may seem like a pittance to some, but you have to remember that in less than 2 years I’ve gone from running my current (checking) account at minus £2,500 to minus £750 to zero, so the equivalent of a week’s pocket money (shopping and spending money) makes me feel like John D Rockefella. Next step is running at plus a month’s wages …

One of my writing projects is a travel article from my Lake District holiday. I was doing it on spec and had a few markets in mind that accept unsolicited travel features. However, I’ve found a competiton that a shorter version of it may be suitable for, but the deadline’s Sunday. Tomorrow I head to Leeds for the first of 2 NaNo kick-off parties. I’ll also be polishing this travel feature and a couple of other items.

Have a great weekend.

>Chilly

>I finally caved in and closed the bedroom window at night. I know the heating has been on for a couple of weeks now, but as there’s hardly any heat in the bedroom because I can’t stand it I’ve not been wasting any. And anyway, heat rises. So the stat in there is turned down very low. But this week has been sooooo cold, sooooo early, that the window finally got closed. Three people have hinted at the S word already this week but as one of them said, we’ve not had Halloween yet, it can’t come this early.

We shall see.

Last night I made it to the Ramblers’ AGM but I didn’t manage not to be elected to the committee. I’d promised myself I wouldn’t get involved, but a retiring member suggested me (I’ve only been with them for 3 months …) and as it’s not an organising job and as no-one wanted to fight me for it, I accepted. So I’m now area rep for Dearne Valley Ramblers. How did that happen? My first meeting to represent the group is on 29 November in Sheffield.

Because it was the AGM we had a buffet and a speaker, which meant the meeting continued for an additional 45 minutes to usual. I’d found out about a jam night in my village at the currently last remaining pub (although the other is up for let, it’s just boarded up at the moment). I’d said if I had time I’d get there after 9:30pm. I got there at about 10:15 and stayed for nearly 2 hours.

This morning I had a bit of a late start – it’s so cold and dark, you see. But I’ve done some gig list work, some admin work, and now I’m going to get on with some writing work. I can hardly wait for the clocks to go back again. I get up easier an hour later.

>Sweet Friends

>

Many thanks to the lovely Teresa Ashby for giving me the Sweet Friends blog award.

As a condition of accepting the award I have to tell you 6 things about my writing, but most of you probably know most of them already:

1. I’m not very good at it. Writing. Seeing as that generally means adhering bum to seat and, well, writing.

2. I’m a planner rather than a panster, I can plan for England. But I’ll always give other methods a go, just in case …

3. The first article I ever sold was based on a total lie. (“Having been an avid bottle collector for many years …”)

4. I write in longhand rather than onto a keyboard … but I’ll always give other methods a go, just in case … or if I’m running very late and am on (or past) deadline.

5. When I make a mistake and it gets published I’m mortified and have been known to stop writing altogether while I GET OVER IT. Because it’s so detrimental (and so unprofessional), it very rarely happens and hasn’t done for quite a long while. To my knowledge …

6. I am not adverse to sending the exact same story out, totally unchanged, to a market that has previously rejected it. Requirements and tastes change, and I’ve sold many in this way.

7. (Okay, I can’t count …) I can’t work without a deadline. But don’t tell me it’s a false deadline – that has about the same effect as knowing I’m using a working title.

I’d like to pass on the award to 6 more people (but they don’t have to do the 6 things, or pass it along, unless they want to):

If it wasn’t such a girly award, I’d also give it to Colin and to Steve. And to Nidge if he updated his blog more often … all very good and lovely, sweet friends.

Another day in the office today, with an AGM and a jam night this evening. A couple of fillers are due out on Friday. Normally I’d finish the 3rd (typed) draft and just send them. But I’m building “cooling” time into my schedules now and already I’ve edited the “final” draft of one 3 times, so I’ll give it/them one more check on Friday before submission.

Tomorrow is a full writing day.