Monday, November 2, 2015

Motivaion courtesy of Monster Monday

It's a beak, rainy Monday, so it's time to take this monster of a day by the horns, so to speak. Welcome to Monster Monday! Thanks to for this motivational image!

Battle Picture  (2d, fantasy, elf, creature, monster, girl, female, woman, warrior)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A User's Guide to Writing Conferences

Today we're taking a break from the ongoing saga of my pool installation to talk about writing. I'm trying to learn something about social media, and awesome fellow author and Social Media Princess Lisa Lewis Tyre is hosting a blog party where a bunch of authors can link their blogs to hers, thereby increasing readership and making us all rich and famous. Or something like that. I haven't done it before, and maybe I'm not crystal clear on the process. Hope you like it!

Writers are known for their propensity to sit alone, hunched over keyboards, guzzling coffee (i.e. scotch). That being the case, experts on these things (i.e. professors of abnormal psychology) say that the solitary nature of our craft makes it vital that we occasionally try to interact with other humans. But how can we do that? It's hard to find normal people who want to hang out with whiskey-breathed loners who are chained to their computers. That's why there are writing conferences. They're social, informative, and tax deductible. (i.e. If your accountant says they are; don't take my word for anything that can land you prison in the likely event that I'm clueless.)

If you're going to attend a writing conference, it's important to understand how to make the most of your time there. These events aren't cheap, and it would be a shame to waste the weekend locked in your room with your laptop and a bottle of Jameson's. You can do that at home for free. The tips below are the accumulated wisdom (i.e. random musings) of the many writing conferences I've attended over the years. Please note that while I think these are good ideas, your results may vary. Don't follow any of them if they might land you in prison. As mentioned above, I'm probably clueless.

1.      Do smile and say hello to everyone. Most will smile and say hello back. Practically everyone at the event is there to meet new people, so introducing yourself to strangers at a conference isn't as odd as doing it on a subway platform or at the dentist's office.

2.      Don't be scared off by the very small percentage of conference goers who act like jerks and ignore you when you say hello. My favorites are those who glance at my name tag, decide I'm nobody, then move away. It's not their fault; some people were simply raised by antisocial wolves. Just remember what they're missing by not being friends with someone as awesome as you.

3.      Do go to conferences alone if you can't find a fellow writer to go with you. If you follow Step #1 above, you'll meet plenty of people and won't feel like the unpopular fifth grader who sits by herself in the school cafeteria.

4.      Don't obsess about your wardrobe. Comfortable business casual (khakis, blouse, light sweater, low-heeled shoes) works just fine for most conferences. You're going to be sitting for long periods of time, then sprinting after fleeing agents and editors who you want to pitch your book to. (Hence the relaxed pants and footwear) Also, conference hotels have unpredictable environmental controls, so short sleeves under a long-sleeved outer layer are helpful.

5.      Do eat dessert. Lots of these events have dessert receptions of some sort, and they're terrific! They often take place in the evening when people are relaxed and enjoying themselves. It's a great time to get to know other attendees because a chocolate fountain makes people drop their guard.

6.      Don't spend the whole time on the phone. Tragically, your spouse and children have your phone number, but you can discourage them from calling every time the dog needs to go outside or the toilet paper roll is empty. If you're on the phone, you'll miss everything that you paid for at the conference. You can talk to your family for free when you get home.

7.      Do your homework so you'll recognize keynote speakers, agents, editors, etc. when you see them in the elevator, at the bar, etc. Have your "elevator pitch" prepared so you can share it with anyone who will listen.

8.      Don't drag around copies of your manuscript in hopes of forcing them on agents or editors. If you're invited to submit something, it's common practice to send it after the event.

9.      Do pack a couple of granola bars in your conference bag. You'll be embarrassed if your stomach rumbles just as your dream agent starts explaining what she's looking for in the perfect manuscript submission.

10.   Don't skip the sessions. You'll probably learn something. In fact, you'll probably learn a lot of somethings.

11.   Do have fun! Whether you write with the hope of becoming a rich, famous author, or you've just got a story to tell and you want to learn how to tell it better, this is a terrific chance to meet people who share your passion. Sit back and enjoy the ride!

Let's try to link this to Lisa Lewis Tyre's blog and see if it works!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Dig Day

Pool building day has arrived! A couple of pickup trucks disgorged a small army of guys into our side yard. David the pool salesman was leading the charge. First thing he did was tell me that the brick walkway leading to my garbage cans in my side yard needed to be taken up because the excavator would destroy it. I was horrified. The walkway had only been built a couple months earlier and I loved it. The thing was pretty and it kept my feet from getting soaked when I was taking out the garbage. After the walkway went in, not a day went by that I didn't ask myself why it had taken so long to do this amazing, sensible, convenient thing. Now David was telling me it had to go? Not on my watch!

"So you're going to remove the walkway, but you'll put it back when you're done, right?" I asked.

"Yeah, we'll put it back," David assured me.

"You'll put it back the way it is?" I pressed, just to make sure he realized how serious I was about my beloved walkway.

"We'll put it back, but this isn't really the sort of thing we do." 

I nodded. The assurance that it would be put back was probably the best I was going to get. Demanding that it would be as good as new might be setting the bar too high.

So David's small army started prying up my bricks as I took photos and sent angry texts to my husband at work about how upset I was about the loss – albeit temporary – of my beautiful walkway.

Probably to distract me and get me out of the way of his workers, David led me to the backyard. He pointed to a large flowering bush in the middle of the spot where the pool was about to go. I don't know what kind of bush it is. All these Southern bushes blend together in my mind. It might be a magnolia or a camellia or a gardenia. Or maybe a creeping myrtle. Is that a thing?  

"What do you want to do with that?" he asked.

"Glad you asked. I've been trying to get someone to move it, and it's too big for my husband and me to move on our own."

"When we get the excavator back here, we can scoop it up and put it somewhere else. How about over there?" David indicated an open area on the other side of the yard.

"Yes! That would be perfect! It's just what I wanted!" Suddenly I wasn't quite so upset about the (temporary) loss of the walkway. My foliage would be saved!

Back out in front, the excavator had arrived. It was huge! There was no way that thing could get into my backyard, was there?

David came to find me again. 

"As I discussed with your husband, we're going to try to get the excavator into the backyard without removing the gate, but we might not have a choice," he said.

"If you have to take the gate down, you'll put it up again, right?" I asked. If you couldn't tell before, I really don't care much about pools. I don’t like being wet or cold or wearing bathing suits, so there's not much in it for me. However, this always been my husband's dream, and I was totally in support of getting him his midlife crisis pool. Heck, if for no other reason, someday I might decide to have a midlife crisis of my own, and this would make it harder for him to stand in the way of me getting a midlife crisis horse or pickup truck or 3 karat diamond.

No, what I cared about was minimizing destruction and inconvenience in our lives. If stuff was going to be removed or dismantled, I wanted it put back. If stuff had to be destroyed, like the lovely grass in the soon-to-be-pool area, then I wanted enough money left over after this ordeal to fix it.

"Yes, we'll put it back up," David said. 

So while David and I sat on the back patio going through paperwork, his small army removed the gate and ushered a colossal piece of technology into the backyard. I couldn't watch. It had been hard enough to witness my walkway reduced to a pile of bricks. 

Watching the massive excavator emerge around the narrow side of the house into the backyard was like watching my driveway give birth. You understand that this same event has occurred thousands of times before at other people's houses, but watching it happen to yours leaves you convinced there's no way something this big is going to fit. What if my house needed a C-section?

When the excavator was safely delivered into my backyard, the first thing it did was scoop a bucketful of dirt out of the other side of the grass from where the pool was going. Then it rolled over to the spot that was about to become a pool. It scooped up the bush along with its seven-foot root ball, carried it over to the newly dug hole and tipped it in. The bush landed with its root ball down, and its leaves up, just like it should have. How the excavator driver did that is beyond me, but as my husband said when I showed him the video, that driver is a great man.

Next time: The deep, deep, deep hole.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Pool Party - Spray paint and bushes

A couple weeks after we signed the pool contract, I came home to find a young guy lurking on my front lawn, tagging the grass with a can of spray paint. He tells me the pool company sent him to mark utility lines. Or maybe he was really a well-dressed, polite gang member whose gang symbols were short, multi-colored lines. Either way, there was celebration at the Sullivan house that night because of the spray paint all over our yard. Hopefully it meant a pool was imminent. Or maybe we were about to be in the middle of a gang war. Either way, out yard would soon be trashed.

A week later, there was still no pool, but miraculously the lines on the lawn had multiplied. More lines, more colors, going in more random directions. How many utilities could really be running from our house to the street? Cable, electric, water, sewer in blue, green, yellow, and red. But what's the story with all these other strange colors and shapes? What do purple circles represent? And was that an aquamarine rectangle?
In addition to the vagaries of utility lines, the other problem that was bugging me was a large bush in the middle of the spot where the pool was going to be built. This thing was at least eight feet tall and six across, so it was too huge for me to just transplant it with my little garden trowel. It might have been a magnolia or some other such Southern flowering shrub. It's impossible to keep the different types straight. Anyway, it was pretty and it had white flowers and it smelled good and it was healthy and hadn't done anything to me, so I wanted it protected.

I contacted a landscaper to come move it, but he never called me back. Plus, we were already spending a pantload of money on the pool, so spending more to move foliage felt extravagant. So every time I looked out in the yard, seeing that pretty, doomed bush made me sad. What would the pool guys do with it on digging day? Surely they wouldn't just run it over with the excavator, right? So, could they move it? I vowed to pester the construction team about it the moment they showed up at my house to install the pool. And I can do a lot of pestering.

Friday, July 31, 2015

David the Pool Guy

Last time, we took a trip to the pool store to consult the professionals about whether we could actually put a pool in our little backyard. We asked the kid some questions, and his answers were essentially, "You'll have to ask David." Apparently David is the guy who actually builds the pools. The pool store mostly sells chemicals and floating noodles, while David is the man who gets you to the point where you need chemicals and noodles. David is never actually at the store. He works mostly in his truck, from what I could tell. We were given his card.

My husband called David on Monday and arranged for him to come out to the house. He needed to tell us if our yard was large enough and flat enough for a pool and whether our gate was wide enough to allow the huge earth-moving equipment through.

Elliott pondering the pre-pool yard.
David showed up a couple weeks later. Our yard is fine. He said we might need a retaining wall unless we were willing to let them distribute a pant-load (technical term to measure large amounts of messy stuff) of dirt that will be dug out of the hole that will eventually become a pool. I was not willing to lose ALL my grass to this adventure, so retaining wall it will be. The gate into our yard might be wide enough for the excavator, but if not, they can take down a little of the fence on either side of the gate and replace it when the project is done. It would not affect our neighbor's fence, according to David. That would have been a deal breaker.

David gave us an estimate of approximately $965 billion dollars to build a 12 X 24 foot vinyl salt water pool. That included "free" start-up chemicals, courtesy of the pool store. Like drug dealers, they know that if they get you hooked with a freebee the first time, you'll keep coming back for more.

My husband said the multi-billion dollar quote seemed fair. He really wanted the pool, and the fact that it cost more than an aircraft carrier was irrelevant. He also wanted it immediately so he could swim for at least the second half of this summer. 

I asked David if the massive price tag was correct, considering that 12 X 24 is about the smallest in-ground pool in existence. David pondered the paper copy for a moment then said, "Oh, I did make a mistake! I forgot to add in the retaining wall. That could be anywhere from an extra $50 million up to $2 billion. We'll have to wait and see." Thanks, David! Way to be a team player.

So my husband signed us up, we gave the man a pant-load of money for a deposit, and David promised to get the pool ball rolling. He said that once they got the necessary permits, they could start by the end of the month. It would take six weeks, weather permitting. Hilarious. I came to learn that David has a really twisted sense of humor.

Next time: Preparing for Digging Day.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Pool Store

Once we decided to pursue the thoroughly impractical plan of installing a pool in our backyard, my husband insisted that we had to do it now. He hoped to have a couple months to swim before the thing covered over with ice this winter. I pushed to do more research and price shopping. My argument was that the pool might be cheaper in the off-season, so we should wait until Christmas. Or maybe Christmas 2025. But no. My husband has never been much for comparison shopping. It was off to the pool store. 
It's strange to recall what my yard used to look like. I miss grass.
We liked the idea of buying from a company that had a physical location where we could get a feel for what's available and where we could picket in the parking lot if things go horribly awry with our project. Spoiler Alert: There have been many times throughout this project when that fact has given me comfort and allowed me to fall asleep.

This pool store we visited had actual pools installed on the property. They were beautiful, clean, clear, and made you want to jump in. However, the sheer size and scope of the pumps, filters, gadgets, and other assorted knobs and hoses gave me pause. If anything, the complicated set-ups made the pools more attractive to my husband. He's a guy, after all, so he's attracted to bells and whistles on a genetic level. 

While admiring the displays, we learned about the joy of pools with vinyl liners. We'd only been in public in-ground pools before, so we were used to the scratchy concrete-feeling sides. But vinyl is smooth and it has a little give to it. It feels nice on your hands and feet. The fact that it's also cheaper than the gunite and fiberglass options was a huge bonus. And don't get me started on the advantage of not having a crane lift a fiberglass shell over my house. Apparently that's how you get a fiberglass pool into a suburban backyard. No matter how careful they are, I envision that thing breaking free and landing in my living room.

The only question that remained was to find out whether our yard was actually able to support a pool. It's a small yard with a slight slope to it, so we weren't sure if it violated the laws of the city, county, or gravity to install a pool here. It was time to consult a professional. 

Next time: We consult a professional.