Thursday, January 27, 2011

Toilet Paper Trickery?

No, I'm not talking about getting your house rolled.  I'm talking about something I noticed quite by accident yesterday: the inner cardboard tube in my toilet paper was bigger.  This may seem like a strange thing to notice.  But considering the amount of craft projects I've used the tubes for in my life while in school, working at a daycare, and playing with my nieces and nephews, I've become quite familiar with them.

At first, I thought it might be my imagination.  Then I found an older tube destined for recycling. 
Well, what do you know?  The older tube fits right inside the new one with a bit of wiggle room.  I have no doubt this means that we get less toilet paper for the same price.  

I feel duped.  Instead of being honest and making obviously-smaller roles, the company that manufactures Quilted Northern decided to make it look like I was getting the same amount of product when I wasn't.  I would rather they raise the price for what I used to get or otherwise make it clear that this change was made rather than resort to these smoke-and-mirrors tactics.  I am not fooled (or amused), Georgia-Pacific.

Next time I go to the store, I'll be looking for a more honest brand.  If I can find one.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Revision Decisions

When I was in high school, I tried to write a book.  I penned (or penciled) numerous pages in spiral-bound notebooks whenever I had the chance.  I imagine I was rarely seen without notebook in hand.  But this method of writing had one major flaw--it was extremely difficult to change anything.  Even beyond problems such as poorly arranged paragraphs, unexpected plot twists were crippling.  While I gained a greater appreciation for writers of yore, it wasn't long before I moved my writing to the computer.

Alas, that only caused a different problem.  As I transcribed the first chapter, I found myself editing freely.  And editing.  And editing some more.  I spent so much time editing the beginning that I never finished the book.  (Yes, I still have the notebooks, complete with computer printouts with yet more editing marks.)  When I finally braved the realms of fiction writing again a few years ago, I made a decision: no more revising while writing!

It is ten years later, and I am approximately 2/3 of the way finished writing another book.  Before I had Kira, I had hit a block, and I had finally decided that pregnancy brain was mostly to blame.  I waited until a few months after Kira was born to revisit my project, hoping that time and fewer hormones would help matters.  I read through all that I had written.  I sat excitedly at my computer, anxious to write once more.  Then I stared at the screen and stared some more.  I was facing the same block as before.  The scene that needed to be written wouldn't be written.  I started a deleted scenes file just for the rewrites I went through on this one section.

What was the core of the problem?  Stumped, I turned to my online writing group, WriteAnyway (if you are interested, you can sign up on Michele Bardsley's blog).  With their help, I realized one part of the problem.  My decision not to revise was actually hindering me.  It turns out that several of the details that I thought needed to be introduced via a sort of "planning session" scene were able to be introduced earlier in the story.  The whole editing process took less than five minutes, and the end result was a much better way to give the reader what they needed to know.  Once I made the changes, the scene flowed beautifully.  No more square peg/round hole problem.

A new lesson has been learned.  It is just as important not to block yourself needlessly as it is not to get sucked into the Pit of Revision before you've even finished.  Both extremes can be bad.  As in most things in life, balance is a good thing.    

Monday, January 24, 2011

Amazon Subscription Users Beware

A few months ago, I decided to try Amazon's subscription service for diapers.  I'd already signed up for Amazon Mom, which gives you 15% off things like diapers and wipes and signs you up for a few free months of Amazon Prime shipping.  The subscription gives an extra 15% off.  I thought, "Forty dollars worth of diapers for thirty?  Sounds awesome!"

There's only one problem.  After your first shipment or two, they will unexpectedly change your shipping from the free two-day shipping you get on all purchases when you have Amazon Prime to free standard shipping, which takes an entire week.  Isn't it lovely when you have your diaper purchasing all timed out just to find out the day your order is sent that your diapers won't be there for an extra five days?  I'm sure Kira won't mind holding it for that long, right?

Their description of their Subscribe and Save program doesn't mention this.  It says merely "get free shipping."  It isn't until you really look at their Terms of Service that it becomes (vaguely) clearer.  They say only: "All Subscribe & Save orders ship for free. However, shipping upgrades are not permitted with Subscribe & Save orders."  It may seem strange that I'm complaining.  Hey, shipping is still free, right?  But consider this: My Amazon Prime membership gives me a $9.99 shipping value for free.  Standard shipping costs $4.99.  That is $5 of savings that I just lost without warning.  Besides that, I have to go to the store and pay $10 for 30 diapers just to make it until the delivery arrives.  That is $.33 a diaper vs. the $.20 a diaper I thought I would be getting from Amazon.  By the time I buy enough diapers to fill in the holes in their shipping, I might as well go buy diapers from Sam's Club when I need them.

If you want to use Amazon's subscription service, beware!  You do get a pretty good discount, but you never know how long the package will take to get there.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Photoshop: Fixing Minor Blemishes and Minimizing Scars

Warning: I am not a professional, and this may not be the best way to do this.  However, if you want to learn a quick and (relatively) easy way to fix minor blemishes or to minimize scars using Photoshop, this post is for you.

Here is the picture I am starting with:
There are several things that I would like to do with this.  First, she has a noticeable bit of drool on her chin.  She also has a slight rash under her chin and a few small scratches.  The birthmark on her temple also grabs attention more than I would like, though I don't want to get rid of that completely because it is more permanent.  

Before making any changes, I started by making a copy of the image, called a Background copy (see here).  This is basically a layer over the image, and if you mess up, you can delete the Background copy without any harm to the original image.  

Make sure you have the copy selected, then pick a healing brush.  Note that if you click and hold down on the button, you will have several options.  The Spot Healing Brush will choose what it considers the best option to correct your image; that does not mean that it IS the best.  I prefer the Healing Brush tool.  This tool lets you pick what you want to replace the blemish with.  You hover your mouse over a good area, press the Alt key, then click.  This is best when it comes to skin tone.  You can select skin right next to what you need to change.  You may need to experiment a bit to get the hang of it.  Try to pick blemishes in easy areas (skin all the same tone) to practice.  No matter what color you select, be careful of getting too close to noticeable darker areas because a darker tone will be blended in.  As for brush size, you want it to be just larger than the blemish.

A crucial and easy (but not obvious) thing to know: if you mess up, find the history button.  It is easy to get enthusiastic clicking over large areas.  When I was working on the rash under Kira's chin, I got a bit too close to the shadows a couple of times.  "Undo" would have only fixed one of those.  On a related note, save often.  Trust me.  :)

Once you know how to do that, minimizing things like birthmarks is easier than you might expect.  First, drag the layer called "Background copy" to the icon you used before and make another copy.  Why another copy?  You will need to make what you do partially see-through, so if you do this on the same layer, you'll be able to see through all of your other changes, too.  On your new layer, use the Healing Brush tool to hide the birthmark.  Then adjust the Opacity slider as shown here.  When you are finished, you can press Ctrl+Shift+E to merge all layers together so that you can save the file as a .jpg.  Just make sure you're happy with the changes first!

My final picture looks like this:
Notice how even though her birthmark is still there, it is no longer quite so distracting?  

All of the changes were easy to do, at least once I practiced a little with the Healing Brush.  Have fun!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Social Media-Free Day, Part 2

You may remember from my last post that from 12:00 a.m. Friday until 12:00 a.m. Saturday, I took the day off from all social media and other related distractions--no Facebook, internet forums, distraction apps, and very little email.  I have given the results much thought over the last few days, and I have come to an unavoidable conclusion: I need to limit my exposure on a daily basis.

On Friday, I wrote more, exercised more, and worked on my newest screen printing project.  Better than all of that--I spent more time in contemplation.  Instead of hoping inspiration would strike during Kira's nap, I had already thought about the next scene in my book.  While coloring in my screen printing design (don't get transparencies printed at FedEx Office unless you love to color in the messed up parts), I worked out what had been puzzling me about the scene I was writing.  Though I itched to grab my phone a couple of times to check Facebook, I did not really miss it as much as I expected.  It was a happy day.

I went back to my old habits over the weekend.  My productivity went down, as did my time for contemplation.  I haven't written since Friday night.  I'm already back on the round of Facebook, email, phone apps, etc, and as soon I finish checking, well, I check again.  Last night, I caught myself pulling out my phone while waiting for my game to load.  Could I really not sit still and wait for a minute?

I'm going to have to agree with wintermoon's comment on my last post: "It's like a sickness, and it needs to be contained before it completely takes over."  Starting now, I will limit my technology use during the times when I am writing or doing other productive things, generally Monday-Friday during the day.  At least once every couple of weeks, I will have another social media-free day.

Anyone want to join me?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Social Media-Free Day

I have always loved technology.  From early video game consoles to smartphones, I have thrilled to the latest trends.  If I had more money, I would upgrade constantly.  But lately I have begun to feel a bit trapped.

This actually has less to do with the technology itself than it does my habits.  I have gone from checking Facebook a few times a day to leaving the program up even when I'm not at the computer.  Suddenly, I've stopped having those quiet moments of introspection that I used to enjoy.  If I am watching television, I pull out my phone during commercials--I need to check my email, or Facebook, or...I've run out of things to check.  Oh no!  I've even started doing this between book chapters while I'm reading.  What is going on?

I am not trying to say that Facebook is bad.  In this case, I am the problem.  I have let myself be pulled in.  I have allowed these habits to form.  And other things are suffering.  I've found it much harder to resume writing.  It turns out that those moments of quiet thought were also moments that my brain chewed on plot lines and story angles.  How can I hear my characters if I don't stop filling my head with constant inputinputinput

I declare tomorrow to be Social Media-Free Day.  From midnight tonight until midnight tomorrow night, I will not log onto Facebook.  I won't check internet forums or blog.  I will only check my e-mail for the online writing workshop I'm taking.  If there is something I need to know, call me.  (Speaking of which, my phone will be just that for the day--a phone!) 

Who knows--maybe I'll finish the next chapter of my book.  :) 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

In Search of Better Eating

Last night, I stumbled on an article about the benefits of eating at home.  Over the last few months, I have been pondering how much I hate dieting, how there must be another way to be a healthy weight.  After all, the huge numbers of diet books published every year have failed to make a dint in obesity rates.  Calorie counting started around the turn of the 20th century; there is some evidence to suggest that obesity rates started to rise around the same time.  So is counting every bite of food you eat really doing any good, anyway?  (I am NOT saying that counting calories has caused obesity, but this is certainly interesting to think about.)

I believe there is something wrong with the way we eat.  There is something going on besides laziness or lack of willpower.  This paragraph, from Dr. Hyman's article (linked above), sums up my feelings of late: "That we need nutritionists and doctors to teach us how to eat is a sad reflection of the state of society. These are things our grandparents knew without thinking twice about them. What foods to eat, how to prepare them, and an understanding of why you should share them in family and community have been embedded in cultural traditions since the dawn of human society."

I feel like I'm stuck in a processed-food wasteland.  My body is addicted to crap, and I'm starting to realize that I hardly know how to make food that doesn't come out of a box.  I have no clue how to pick good produce, and I can only guess at how to wash and cut it.  I buy pre-made sauces because I wouldn't know how to begin to make them.  I want to eat better, but I have no idea how. 

Likewise, I would love for my family to eat dinner at the table, but I'm almost lost on how to make it happen.  I grew up eating in front of the television except for Sunday dinners at Granny's house or on holidays.  I've watched my mom and aunt put together a meal and somehow manage to get the food on the table on time.  How is this mystery done?  It seems like a sad sort of failure not to know such an essential thing.

So tell me, have you managed to escape processed-food land and to make your table more than a decoration?  Any advice would be appreciated.  :-)

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Equal Family

We've all met her.  The bitter, discontent mother who is never happy with her children or anything else in her life.  As soon as she hears that you are planning to have a baby, she will start telling you that your life is over.  Soon, according to her, your life will be a miserable abyss of housework.  Mom comes last, after all. 

On the other side, there is the careless mother.  She won't understand why you won't come out partying with her while you're pregnant or after you have your baby because she spends every weekend at the club.  Her baby waddles around in the same diaper all day, and her house resembles a toxic wasteland.  Mom comes first, after all.

Where is the balance?  We should not strive to be either of these mothers.  We are neither first nor last but equal

I have heard too many people say that mothers get the leftovers.  We have this image of the self-sacrificing mother, a martyr for sure, who has no interests but her family's interests.  She eats her dinner cold after serving everyone else.  She always takes a cold shower because she is the last to get one.  My question is this: why do we allow this to continue in the modern family?  Yes, motherhood requires sacrifice--but so does fatherhood.  Women are no longer subservient, second-class citizens.  Not even a stay-at-home mom should accept such treatment.  We should strive to be a family of equals.

As with the example of the second mother, we should not take this too far.  Sometimes moms will get the cold shower or the leftover food.  Such is life.  But it is vitally important that we take time for ourselves as well.  A bitter, miserable person is a sad example for a child.  Instead, we should teach our children about compromise, about working with one's partner to make sure everyone gets their share.  Everyone in the family deserves relaxation time. 

It is time that we stop bemoaning the leftovers.  Let's try making enough for everyone instead.     

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Apocalypse Now? Eh, Probably Not

I've heard a lot of theories about the recent bird and fish deaths.  Fireworks, power lines, alien spacecraft, super-secret government projects, global warming, etc.  For most people, this is an interesting and creepy mystery, something that could be (but not necessarily IS) a sign of a problem.  But there are a few others who are convinced that this is a sign of the apocalypse.  Some people mention it laughingly, some nervously.  I mean, this is a mysterious, odd event--what else could it be?

When I was a child, my parents watched a video about Nostradamus.  The narrator had a pretty convincing argument, based on Nostradamus' prophesies, that the world would end in the year 2000.  I was terrified.  I spent half of my life afraid of the coming apocalypse of 2000.  By the time I got to high school, I had (mostly) dismissed this, but near my Senior year, the Y2K scare started.  Computers would fail.  Bombs would go off.  The world was pretty much a goner. 

January 1, 2000.  12:01 a.m.:  Nadda

It didn't take long, of course, for a new fear to start rising: 2012.  Despite a brief resurgence in popularity on 9/11, Nostradamus was soon replaced by the Mayans.  The problem?  Aside from the facts that the Mayans never said the world would end and modern Mayans have no clue what these doomsayers are talking about, our understanding of the calendar itself may be wrong.  Oops.

Anyway, the Mayans are old news.  Now some Christians have determined a new doomsday: October 21, 2011, though the righteous get to go to heaven sooner, of course.  But hey, at least we won't be here for the terror of the Mayan apocalypse, right?  Take that, pesky heathens!

The truth is that humans have long been obsessed with the end of the world.  At the turn of the year 1,000, people were also terrified that the world would end.  Strange cavemen probably drew dire images on rocks and stood along popular hunting trails.  Unexplained phenomena only heighten this natural obsession.  Solar and lunar eclipses used to be considered a sign of the apocalypse or at least Something Very Bad.  Now we go out and watch them as cool celestial events (well, as much as one can watch a solar eclipse).  Times, and our knowledge, change.

Are the dead birds and fish a sign of the apocalypse?  Who knows?  As I resolved at the start of the year, I am not going to be ruled by fear anymore.  The world may end in five seconds or last until the Sun becomes a red giant (~4-5 million years, anyone?).  What can we do about it either way?  Not a darn thing. 

Enjoy debating the bird/fish thing, but don't let it rule you.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Screen Printed Gamer Onesies

Last night, I finally got to work on some new onesies.  I even experimented with a bib!  I don't know how screen printing is with a traditional system, but there really is an art to it with the Yudu.  I went through a great deal of paper practicing the new designs.  Just a hair too much / too little paint will ruin the whole thing.  I think I am getting better at it, though.  I found that after you flood the screen (pulling paint over the dry screen before putting the screen down on the object to be painted), there will be a lot of paint in the design.  A few pulls over paper will get the paint more even.

I must say that I am not impressed with my first attempt to mix the Yudu brand paint.  When I tried to mix purple, it came out a lot more brown than I am used to.  Thankfully, it dried into an okay dark, reddish purple color.  I think I'm going to try regular screen printing ink when this stuff runs out.  Despite the warnings on the Yudu website, I see no reason why these paints wouldn't work.  Unless, of course, they do something odd to their screens.  I guess I'll find out.

Here are my results:

I plan to start selling these on my Etsy site.  I just put one up.  We'll see if anyone is interested!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Lorraine Heath Book Review

Okay, I know some of you are not romance fans--sorry.  If you do like historical romance novels, you might enjoy Passions of a Wicked Earl (Avon) by Lorraine Heath.  Set in 1853, the book is about a couple whose marriage had been ruined by a misunderstanding on their wedding night.  After three years of isolation on their country estate, Claire returns to London to give her sister a Season and to win back the husband she lost because she'd been an idiot (but hey, she was seventeen when they married).

You may recall from an earlier blog post that I called the start of the book "okay."  It did get off to a slow start, but the emotional intensity builds as the characters get to know one another better.  In retrospect, that actually made sense.  They hardly knew each other when they got married, and the author does a good job of giving the reader that feel.  I found that by the end, I really cared what happened to the characters; I stayed up way too late last night finishing the book. 

Next, I will start the sequel, Pleasures of a Notorious Gentleman (Avon).  I hope it is just as good!  After that... well, I saw on Shiloh's blog that there is a new Mercedes Lackey book out, Finding the Way and Other Tales of Valdemar.  Maybe I'll get on a Fantasy kick next.  :-)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

Welcome to 2011!  I hope everyone had a fantastic and safe celebration last night.  After a fun stop by Fred's house, we came home and put Kira to bed, then broke out the mead.  We had some champagne at midnight, but otherwise we just sat around and relaxed.  It was a nice, peaceful beginning to the year.  I even had time to play The Sims 3.  My poor vampire still doesn't have a girlfriend.

On Yahoo yesterday, I ran across my horoscope for 2011.  I've read a little bit about astrology, but it isn't something I'm really that into.  I'm ambivalent about the subject.  This year, though, I'm keeping the forecast whether it has legitimate value or not.  My favorite line?  "After a long and arduous 12 years, your luck is returning with a fabulous vengeance."  (If you are curious, the link is here.)  Good luck, increased creativity, flourishing friendships?  Sign me up!

May you also have a lucky, happy 2011!