Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Dell Computers Loses Customer

I used to be a fan of Dell Computers, but no more. I purchased my last one, a Dell Vostro, less than a month ago, receiving it on December 4th. I started having power issues with it on December 10th where it might or might not power on regardless of whether or not it was on AC or battery. On December 14th I called Dell's service department to arrange it for it to be returned to the repair "depot" and the service rep assured me that I would receive a return box from them in 2-3 days.

On Saturday, Dec 19th, I emailed Dell because I still had not received the link. By Monday the 21st I still had not received the return box and opened my email to retrieve my reference numbers so I could contact Dell. Dell had replied to my email of Saturday and responded with a link to the tracking confirmation showing that a box had been delivered. I reviewed the confirmation and saw that they box had been delivered to Connecticut. I live in Florida. I replied to Dell's email stating the delivery error and that I would be calling in a few minutes to request a refund for my Dell Paperweight.

I called Dell and started with the repair department where I had to point out to the girl that they did send a box, but to the wrong location and that my patience was gone. I am a writer and require my computer for work and can not wait to see where they decide to send the next box. I requested a full refund for my purchase and was switched over to customer service. After explaining everything to customer service the gentleman wanted to switch me back to the repair department to "see if we could work something out." I was adamant. "NO. They can't even deliver a box to the correct address with the correct information when they have my address on the invoice. I am done. I need a working computer and I demand a refund."

The representative has scheduled a UPS pickup for today, Dec 22. This is now in direct conflict with the email Dell has now sent me saying the UPS will contact me in a few days with an email link to a shipping label. UPS cannot pick up a box without a shipping label although it is scheduled for pick-up today. This saga can only continue to worsen and I anticipate several more lengthy phone calls while I attempt to sort everything out during my brief 21-day return period.

I will not be buying another computer from Dell after this fiasco.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Updates From the Eclectic Muse

A few weeks ago I posted a request to help get an animal cruelty video banned from YouTube. Well, thanks to the efforts of everyone involved, this video has finally been removed and a lot of flying squirrel owners and animal lovers alike are breathing sighs of relief. It's very encouraging to me to see that a few people can make a difference.

Baby Nibbles Asleep in a Kleenex

In other news I have acquired a new baby flying squirrel to keep Benji company. The new girl, little Nibbles, is coming along quite nicely. Benji seems unimpressed at the addition of a new little sister and would much rather continue to steal and hide nuts. Nibbles is just a little bundle of love. She will curl up in your hand and, true to her namesake will nibble fingers, although not very hard.

We have a new foster dog from Save Underdogs. Sasha is a shepherd mix that appears to have come from an abused home. It's taken me almost an entire week to be able to pet her without her flinching. She prefers women over men and doesn't care for loud noises. She is very playful once she feels comfortable and seems to really enjoy playing with our other three dogs. Sasha is spayed and her house training is nearly complete. She hasn't had an accident in three days!! I'm really hoping that this special girl finds a forever home before Christmas. She certainly deserves it.

My holiday shopping is nearly complete. I did all of my shopping online and am just waiting for the last couple of items to arrive. I simply must rave on Cafepress.com for a moment. I ordered several customized items from them and two of them arrived in less than perfect condition. The photo on the mug was crooked and the photo on the Sigg bottle was too dark. Well, I contacted them about exchanging the items and let me just say that their customer service response was phenomenal and the replacement items are already enroute and should be here before Christmas! Way to go Cafepress!!

Well that's about it for this edition. I've got to get a few more articles knocked out and then figure out what I can have for dinner that I can actually taste. Sinus/head colds seem to completely render tastebuds useless.

The Curse of the Laptop

Only two days left, but if you act now you can enter to win a HP Pavilion dm 3 Laptop by going here

What has inspired this blog post? The new Dell Vostro that I got just a little over a week ago has died and must go back to the factory for repair. Perhaps it panicked when it saw just how much writing I really do...

Friday, November 27, 2009

Greyhounds in Need of Homes

Passing this along for a friend. Please feel free to forward this on.

The Dairyland Race Track in Kenosha, WI will be closing on Dec. 31, 2009. 900 Greyhounds need to be adopted or they will be euthanized. there are only 6 weeks to get this task done. Contact Joanne Kehoe, Operations Director Ph: 312.559.0887 or Dairyland Race Track Adoption Center direct at 262.612.8256.

Laptop Computers

The old laptop died just in time for the holidays. I like to shop (online) the sales so I did a bit of shopping in the Dell Outlet this morning and got a good deal on a sweet little Dell Vostro. I've had good experiences with my Dells (the computer that died was an Acer Aspire One aka PoS) so it was only natural to hook myself up with a new one. The thing I like about the small laptops is that they fit in my shoulder bag and can go to work with me. If I need more power I've still got my desktop for backup.

What didn't I like about the AAO? Mine came with Linux-Lite, which for a Windows trained girl it just wasn't able to do what I needed. I was unable to download and install any updates, and Acer customer support was virtually non-existent. I'm a writer, so I need a computer that can keep up with my needs. This time around I'm going Dell.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Animal Cruelty on YouTube

If you're an animal lover you definitely don't want to watch this video. A group of "adults" show their ignorance by bashing an innocent and terrified 3 ounce flying squirrel to death with a shovel instead of humanely capturing it and releasing it outside like it should have been. What can you do? Go to YouTube and FLAG this video as offensive and list it as animal cruelty.

Why am I so upset? I actually own a flying squirrel that I have hand-raised since she was orphaned. Benji is a pure joy to be around. She is intelligent, playful and loving. And this is coming from someone who was most definitely not a big fan of squirrels until Benji came along. My world would be bleak indeed if this tiny angel wasn't in it. It would take a sick individual to deliberately harm a flying squirrel.

Please flag this video and get it removed from YouTube! Senseless killing of an innocent flying squirrel. http://tinyurl.com/yzbcflu

Benji and I thank you.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Kayaking Along the Emerald Coast

Last weekend turned out pretty good. On Saturday I purchased a Wilderness Systems Tsunami 120 kayak. It's a bright banana yellow (not my first choice, but hey—it was on sale) and I also picked up a kayak cart to help in transporting it when necessary. Then I just had to sit out a rainy Saturday and hope that Sunday would be clear enough to paddle Boiling Creek as planned.

Boiling Creek is a beautiful pristine creek located south of Milton on the Eglin Reservation. The last couple of miles of the paddle is along the Yellow River and although not as scenic, is still a nice place to paddle. I'd heard a lot about this creek in regard to its clear water and vibrant plant life, but I'd never done this particular float trip before and had looked forward to it for weeks. I am thrilled to say that I was not disappointed!

Getting there was a lot easier than getting to some of the other creeks on the Eglin Reservation, and the group that we were traveling with had a good shuttle plan in place so we were all able to drop our kayaks in the water as soon as we got there and head off. Immediately a sense of wonder takes over and it's almost as if you're transported to another time and place.

The water was clear even despite the previous day's rain. Beautiful pitcher plants lined the banks and various types of lilies decorated the surface of the creek. The current itself was slow and easy, allowing me to relax and just enjoy the ride, which was fine. It's easy to get absorbed in watching the aquatic life beneath while drifting along.

At one point an otter leaped into the water between Kris's kayak and my own. It was one of those moments in time that I didn't even bother to fiddle with the camera because I knew I'd never get it focused in time, rather, I just watched the otter swim easily beneath my kayak and disappear into a bed of lilies on the opposite side of the creek.

At one point I angled my kayak in closer so that I could get some detailed pictures of one of the lilies, and to my surprise my kayak started to sing! As the kayak drifted over the top of some of the underwater vegetation, it created the same effect as a bow being drawn across fiddle strings. I'm thinking about christening the new kayak “Siren Song.”

We'd started early to avoid the threat of rain and managed to have a dry trip, even stopping for lunch right before Boiling Creek joins with the Yellow River. This trip has become my favorite float trip by far, even in comparison to Turkey and Econfina Creeks. The sheer peace and tranquility makes it a favorite and I can't wait to get back out there and do it again!

Plan your own float trip on Boiling Creek here.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Kayaking, Snorkeling, and Scalloping

I went snorkeling for scallops this weekend in Port St. Joe and the weather was perfect for it! Our group found the perfect spot to launch kayaks from, St. Joseph Bay Aquatic & Buffer Preserve Kayak & Canoe Launch. Parking was no problem. By sheer coincidence we managed to launch while the tide was in. I usually check the tides, but it completely slipped my mind on this trip.

The most remarkable thing about the kayak launch were the thousands of small fiddler crabs covering the path down to it. I thought my eyes might be playing tricks on me at first; the path looked like it was moving and I could hear clicking noises. As I got closer the chaos continued and I discovered a carpet of fiddler crabs scurrying away from my approach. I've never seen so many in my life!

We put in our kayaks after a brief conversation with another gentleman launching a kayak and then started paddling out into deeper water. Toward the end of scallop season the scallops start heading away from shore and out a bit deeper. Our target was 6-8 feet of water where we'd heard people had been pulling the bigger scallops from. The bigger the scallop, the less scallops you have to clean to get your limit, the limit being 1 pint (cleaned) per person or 2 gallons whole.

I'm not the world's strongest swimmer and I had a bit of trepidation about anchoring in water where I can't touch the bottom. It's hard enough to get in a kayak when it's in the shallows, let alone try to re-enter it when it's in deep water. My kayak is a sit-in, and what I affectionately refer to as a bobber. It's not a low-profile kayak that's made for easy in-and-out access. I'm telling you this because in writing this is called foreshadowing. This paragraph will be important later in the story.

After a few minutes we found a good spot to anchor and hopped in. I have learned from experience that it is much easier to put fins on while in the boat rather than in the water, so I rather awkwardly slithered over the side of the boat almost swamping my little bobber in the process. I put my mask and snorkel on, grabbed a dive bag and my new Canon PowerShot D10 Waterproof Camera and off I went in search of scallops and whatever else might swim my way.

My boyfriend, Kris, was a big help pointing things out for me to take pictures of. He used to be a diver at an aquarium when he was back in high school. He found a Queen Conch for me, a couple of adorable starfish, sand dollars, and a puffer fish. I followed the puffer fish around for quite some time taking pictures, only later to discover that, due to operator error, I hadn't taken a single one. :(

We'd probably been in the water about two or three hours, and as I was happily swimming back to my kayak with a bag full of scallops weighing me down, Kris yells out loud enough for me to hear, “There's a shark in the water.”

Clearly I didn't hear correctly and stopped swimming, “What?”

“The guy in that boat over there,” he says, pointing past me to one of several boats anchored nearby, “is telling everyone to get out of the water because they've spotted a shark.”

I swirled around and looked. Suddenly the other boats were a lot closer than I'd like them to be, but then again, I supposed yelling distance is a good distance. I closed the ten or twelve feet to my kayak in what I'd consider to be a new swimming speed record and somehow managed to not only hurl my dive bag full of scallops onto the closest kayak, but through sheer force of will managed to levitate up and out of the water to delicately plop myself into my kayak.

In truth, I flopped up and onto my kayak like a tired salmon fighting its way upstream. Then I hear Kris tell his friend Stuart, “See, I told you she could get back in her kayak in deep water.”

Normally I'd have some witty and clever comeback, but my next question was, “Where's the shark?” He points to the boat closest to us, maybe half a football field length away. “Alrighty then,” I said. “I'm not getting back into the water.”

I made sure all my arms and legs were onboard my bobber and waited. Our three kayaks were tethered together while we chatted and waited. Kris adjusted the bag of scallops, and as he was dropping it back into the water it grazed my foot (now out of the dive fin and dangling above the water outside of my bobber) and two toes started to bleed. Blood. Great. There's a shark somewhere nearby and my foot is bleeding. Perfect. Can you sense my excitement?

Having an acute sense of survival, I decided that I will not only wait until my foot stops bleeding, but I'm going to have some lunch while I wait for Mr. Shark to get tired of hanging around before I even think about reentering the water.

About an hour later we paddled to a spot just past the boat that signaled the warning and were able to get more details about the shark as we passed them. While they were cleaning scallops a six foot bull shark swam up and circled the boat a few times before disappearing. That's good enough for me. Bull sharks are aggressive and I was glad I stayed in my bobber. Better safe than sorry.

We anchored one last time and did a bit more diving, but it was hitting mid afternoon so we started cleaning scallops (I stayed in my bobber) so we could load up and head back to the hotel. We collected more than the limit and had to put a bunch back. That's okay though, that just means it was a great season for scallops.

Paddling back in was a bit different. When we had first put our kayaks in, I was very perplexed that I hadn't seen the large island that I saw when I looked at the map on Google. Apparently the satellite image had been taken at low tide because the island revealed itself as I was trying to paddle over it. Mystery solved! Luckily my bobber rides high in the water and I only needed a few inches of clearance to paddle. Whew!

We got back to the “fiddler crab” kayak launch, loaded up shop, headed to the hotel, checked in and got cleaned up. Then it was off to “Jo Mama's” for the best brick-oven pizza I've ever tasted. Port St. Joe has a real hometown feel to it, complete with an unhurried, quiet ambiance. You won't find towering condominiums here. This is a destination for people who really want to relax and just enjoy “being.”

All-in-all it was a great trip. We'll definitely be back next year. :)

Scallop photos @ Flickr.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Test Driving Canon's New PowerShot D10 Digital Camera

I couldn't wait to get my hands on Canon's new PowerShot D10 Waterproof Digital Camera. I was practically chomping at the bit while after it wound up on back order, but finally it has arrived and I put it to the test this weekend. Read the full review here

I'd actually combed through other camera brand reviews before choosing to give the PowerShot D10 a chance. At first glance it looks a little bulbous, but after getting my hands on it and seeing what it can do, I'm less worried about it's looks and more thrilled about what it can do.

The PowerShot D10 comes with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that takes a couple of hours to charge, so while it was doing its thing, I was familiarizing myself with the user manual, something I think everyone could benefit from. You can unlock amazing little secrets that most people never uncover.

As soon as the battery was ready I started putting this little gem through its paces. Closeups? No problem. Underwater? No problem, especially if you make sure to read the manual and take all of the precautions to help protect the camera like ensuring that the seals are free of dust or sand and that the seals are tight. I took the camera out to Choctawhatchee Bay this afternoon, and even though recent rains had clouded the bay up pretty good, I still managed to get sharp, clear photos of aquatic life and had no problems using it while snorkeling around the dock.

Once home I thoroughly rinsed all of the salt water off and uploaded my pics. Everything about this camera is easy. It's destined to become the primary camera in this household.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Outdoor Adventure

Meet the newest Tampa Bay Outdoor Adventure Examiner! I just started writing for the Tampa Bay Examiner, and so far things are going very well. I'd been looking at the Examiner for some time as another paid online writing job in addition to my Feature Writer position over at Suite101.com, but I always felt that it might be a bit too much to take on while still working a 40 hr a week job at the local courthouse, but I finally bit the bullet, applied, and got accepted.

The great thing about the Examiner, besides getting paid to write, is that you can select a specific topic of interest to you and simply write in that topic. Articles are short and examiners need only post 3-4 per week. No sweat, right?

But seriously, someone looking to get into online writing would do good to check out places like the Examiner or Suite101.com. New writers stand to gain valuable feedback and experience from editors and other writers, writers earn money for each article they produce, and writers and their articles receive widespread exposure . If you'd like to try the Examiner, go to the referral page and once you've filled out the application, be sure to select the Examiner that referred you--me-- Beverly Hill or ID #18666.

Gotta get back to work. I've got a few more articles on the burner and they're just itching to be "published." :)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Kayaking in Florida

I've managed to get quite a bit of kayaking in this summer, and I've been paddling all over the Emerald Coast getting photos and material for articles. Best of all I've been having fun doing it and getting fit at the same time.

Right now I have two favorite creeks, but I'm sure one of them will get bumped out of the running later this year if Boiling Creek lives up to expectations. Until then my picks are Turkey Creek and Econfina Creek, the latter of which we'll be doing again this coming weekend. We'll be exploring a different section in order to gain access to more of the springs. I only wish my Canon Powershot D10 12.1 MP waterproof camera had arrived in time. Since I spend so much time on the water, my sweetheart of a boyfriend ordered me one. Alas, it is on back order and I fear that fall and cooler temps will arrive before it does. :(

This past weekend we paddled with a great group of people from the Choctawhatchee Chapter of the Florida Trail Association down Titi Creek near Crestview. The water level was a bit high, but all in all it was a good trip. We plan to paddle it again when the water level is lower.

I've been having so much fun kayaking that I almost haven't had time to sit down and write. I recommend kayaking or canoeing to anyone that's looking to mix fun, relaxation, and a bit of fitness into their routine. It really is an awesome adventure.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tripod Dog Stars

This week I'm doing my best to gather votes for my little 3-legged pup, Tigger Tot. I've entered her in contest to find "Scrap" who will star in the upcoming movie "Lucky & Rich." Will Tigger make it? The votes will decide.

Tigger's story is a pretty rough one. Her mother was a boxer who was taken to an animal shelter when she became pregnant. Spay or neuter your pets!!! After the pups were born, something horrible happened to our then unnamed pup. The dogs in the adjoining cage grabbed her leg, pulled it through the wire, and ripped it completely off. After the accident, she spent the next four months of her life in a veterinary clinic before finally coming to a rescue group called Save UnderDogs based in Destin, FL.

She wound up with us because we regularly foster dogs for Save UnderDogs. "Triumph" hopped into our home on a cold November afternoon and was quickly renamed "Tigger" because Tiggers bounce and Tiggers are wonderful things. It was a strange transition for Tigger to hop into a home with toys and a yard because she'd spent her entire life in kennels, but after a few days she started to figure it out. She became more confident and began learning commands and how to play with the other dogs and a wolf.

Months passed. It seems that no one wants to adopt a handicapped dog even though to watch Tigger run and jump and play, you almost can't tell she's missing a leg. I'm not even sure she knows. June rolls around and still no permanent home for Tigger, so we decided that she may as well stay with us. Who else is going to spoil her rotten with yogurt and a carrot mixed into her food twice a day? Only us!

Vote for Tigger Tot and help her win a chance at stardom.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Hiking on the Appalachian Trail

I recently returned from a hiking/camping trip along a portion of the Appalachian Trail that began at Deep Gap in North Carolina and traveled south into Georgia to finish at Dick's Creek Gap.

About an hour into the hike one of our hiking companions sustained the first injury. This leg of the AT is extremely rugged with steep climbs and descents, and it wasn't long until a knee injury occurred. By lunchtime on the first day we reached Muskrat Shelter and rested for a bit while we had a brief lunch. Kris has an old knee injury of his own that began to bother him, so we decided that when we pushed on after lunch we would slow the pace.

Upon reaching our destination seven miles from the start we selected a nice site on a ridge top that was somewhat out of the direct line of the gusting wind that blew through the area and strung up our tent hammocks so we could fix dinner and enjoy the tranquility that we'd come in search of. As dusk fell we could make out the faint headlights of cars traveling along a highway many miles away and we began to hear the cry of a nearby owl.

The next morning we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before starting out on the next seven mile leg. Upon retrospect, seven miles a day is the most anyone should consider doing in one day, especially on rugged terrain. The knee joints really start to feel it and there's not enough time available to rest them properly. We'll probably aim for a more conservative 5 miles a day on the next hike, at least if it's rocky.

We started out again on our hike. This section of the hike had more of the steep climbs and descents that started to bother even my good knees by the end of the day. Lunch was at the three story Plum Orchard Gap Shelter. This building was brought in by helicopter by the U.S. Corp of Engineers. It sits about .2 miles off of the main trail near a small stream. There were numerous places to pitch tents and hang hammocks, but our goal was still two miles away at Cowart Gap.

Kris and I decided over dinner due to our knee injuries that we would not be continuing on to Unicoi Gap, our original destination. Instead we would hike 2 ½ miles the next morning to Dick's Creek Gap and have the shuttle pick us up. To push on would mean that we would have to struggle 17 more miles and climb two very steep mountains. The other hiker that was injured on the first day also decided to join our departure.

On our last morning on the trail as we walked alongside of a babbling brook I was fortunate to spot a striped ground squirrel and photograph it. It was a nice way to end three days on the trail. The tent hammocks performed amazingly well and I can say without a doubt that I will never go back to a regular tent unless there are no trees available. The trekking poles were also a life saver. I can't imagine the condition we'd have been in without them.

We'll finish our hike from Dick's Creek Gap to Unicoi Gap another time after our injuries heal. As it was, it was still a nice three days on the AT that we will always remember.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Kayaking on Econfina Creek

Eventually I will get around to posting about the Appalachian hike that I went on recently, but right now I'm writing about yesterday's kayaking trip along the Econfina Creek located between Panama City and Marianna, Fl.

It was a bit of a late start. We didn't get into the water until 10:30. The people we were meeting there decided to change their plans and not show up, so it was just me, Kris, and his friend Stuart. The creek was up due to recent rains, but still easy enough to paddle comfortably, and it wasn't long before we'd paddled into the first spring area. This is why we make the trip. Beautiful crystal clear springs! Along Econfina Creek are 11 springs bubbling forth from 36 vents.

We next traveled downstream to visit as many of the springs as we were able to find. The highlight of the trip is a spring system that has numerous vents and is a great place to stop for lunch and a swim, which is exactly what we did. After about an hour exploring the spring, we set off for our pickup point at the Hwy 388 Bridge. Total trip time was about 4 hours.

If you'd like to visit Econfina Creek and explore the springs, contact the Econfina Creek Canoe Livery. Their contact information can be found in this article.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Review of Three of Frankilin's Gem Mines

While on vacation to Franklin, North Carolina I had opportunity to visit and dig at three of the area mines. First I'll begin by saying that unless you're looking specifically looking for the enriched "tourist" buckets, stay away from the non-native dirt mines. The enriched buckets are for show and you won't find much in the way of native rock. Second, gem mining is work. You're going to get dirty scrubbing all the dirt away from the rock or else you're not going to find any sapphires and rubies. So if hard work and getting dirty isn't your thing, native dirt mining might not be your thing. Luckily for me, I enjoyed it and did find sapphires and rubies.

The first mine I went to was Cowee Mountain Mine 4 miles outside of Franklin on Highway 441. This small mine offers native and enriched buckets of dirt for you to sift through on their two covered flumes. I was less than impressed with this mine and felt that the staff deliberately tried to steer us toward the enriched buckets and away from the native dirt which was available to dig yourself out of a very small dirt pile. While I worked my dirt in a tray on the flume line, I noticed a distinct lack of help from the staff in either direction or identification. Perhaps we caught them on a bad day, but I personally wouldn't plan another trip to this mine when there are better mines just a few miles away.

My second trip was to Mason Mountain Ruby and Sapphire Mine located at 6961 Burningtown Road near Franklin. Although a bit of a drive through the countryside, it was an absolutely beautiful trip. Once I arrived at the mine I was greeted by the staff and for $30 was able to dig all the dirt I wanted for the duration of the day. Mason Mountain Ruby and Sapphire Mine has two covered and one uncovered flume, which was great because it rained all day and I didn't get wet once. In addition, the staff was helpful at working with each miner so that they knew exactly what to look for. Several other miners found sapphires of considerable carat weight, and although I wasn't one of them, I did find several sapphires worth faceting. Mason Mountain Ruby and Sapphire Mine is one of the mines I'd find worth visiting again.

And lastly, I spent a few hours at Sheffield which has now become my favorite mine. Sheffield's draw is their native dirt, although they do have enriched buckets available for the kiddies. For these you have to walk clear over to the other side of the flume lines to collect it. Native dirt is conveniently placed up close so that miners can grab more buckets. $15 gets you started with two buckets and every bucket thereafter is $3 or 2 for $5. We did four buckets on the covered flume line and were very happy with our finds. The staff was super helpful and made sure that you didn't throw away anything valuable. My only regret about Sheffield Mine is that I didn't get to spend all day here, but I definitely will set a full day aside for it on my next trip back up to Franklin. Sheffield Mine was the mine to beat all. If I could do my trip over I'd drop my visit to the first mine and spend it mining at Sheffield. This is mining the way it should be!

For more information on rockhounding, see Rock Collecting for Beginners.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Hiking, Camping, White Water Rafting, and Crystal Digging

I've been gearing up for our vacation at the end of the week, and we've got a lot to look forward to. On Saturday we'll be digging for crystals in Franklin, North Carolina. I'm a rockhound who loves digging for all sorts of gems and minerals, particularly sapphires. I also have an impressive quartz crystal collection with one specimen weighing it at 55 lbs. I got this one from a dig in Arkansas.

In addition to gemstone digging, we'll be hiking a portion of the Appalachian Trail where we'll get to camp in style in our hammock tents. We hiked a twenty mile portion of the trail in Georgia last year and enjoyed it so much that we're doing another section this year. We've got our gear down as light as possible, have a nice selection of camp food picked out and with the addition of the hammock tents we fully expect to have an even better time this trip.

This will all be after our white water rafting trip on the Ocoee River on Sunday, and then another full day of gem digging. Did I mention how much I love digging for gems? At any rate after 10 days of life in the great outdoors I'll have plenty to write about when I return, and probably hundreds of pictures. And this is also the part where I think about all the people who don't get outdoors and enjoy the experience. They're missing so much!

Thursday, April 30, 2009


Today I get to write about Hemangiosarcoma. It wasn't a topic I set out to write on, but yesterday our 13 yr old wolf hybrid was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and he's only been given a couple of months at best. Hemangiosarcoma is a form of bone cancer that also involves the blood vessel system and spleen, often completely destroying it. In some cases it manifests in one or more limbs, and an amputation of the affected limb followed by chemotherapy can sometimes add months of life for a survivor.

However in Kodiak's case it has spread throughout his entire system. Cancer is often the silent killer, and symptoms don't always present themselves until the cancer has well advanced. Kodiak's symptoms didn't manifest until about three weeks ago, and the vet's first diagnosis was simply severe arthritis. At the follow-up appointment Kodiak had to undergo a biopsy and blood tests to get a definite determination, and the news wasn't good. His case is inoperable.

I try to tell myself that he's had a good 13 years on this planet, but it doesn't make it any easier. We're making him as comfortable as we can through the final days, and will make that final painful decision if his quality of life becomes such that he isn't finding relief from his medications. For now he gets salmon fillets or steak for dinner and seems quite pleased with the new menu.

Prior to his decline Kodiak regularly engaged in daily walks, sometimes logging as much as 6 miles or more per day. He stayed active and received regular dietary supplements in his meals including glucosamine tablets, omega-3 caplets, yogurt and flax seed oil. Sometimes it happens despite whatever preventative measures are taken.

We will remember him fondly and tell his stories. He has many friends and visitors stopping by in these last few days to wish him well. A small prodigy waits in the wings (no relation) to fill his very large footprints. We can't complain... he picked her out himself.

Kodiak passed away just three days after this post. He left this world at 9 a.m. May 3rd. He will be missed.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Camping by Hammock

I took a camping trip this past weekend in order to try out my new hammock tent before hitting the Appalachian Trail next month and I'm already sold on the versatility of this lightweight wonder. Weighing under two pounds, the hammock tent, complete with mosquito netting and rain fly, sets up in just a couple of minutes, allowing you to recline in comfort in places where conventional tents can't be put up. The hammock tent worked so well, that later that evening as I lay watching stars, I was able to glance a shooting star traversing the heavens, and all without enduring a single bug bite.

The hammock tent packs down into its own built in carry pouch so there's no chance of ever losing one or the other. It takes up very little space in a backpack and is so lightweight that I'm kicking myself for not knowing about it sooner. I'm leaving the 7 lb tent with its cumbersome poles at home for the next hike and I'm just taking my hammock tent. It won't be long before I've got the ultralight backpacking thing figured out. I've already ditched the camp stove for a super lightweight alcohol stove. The heaviest thing in my pack is my must-have water bladder.

It was very relaxing to sway gently with the trees and just listen to the night sounds. I slept so comfortably that I didn't want to crawl out in the morning, but finally I did. The hammock tent packs down just as quickly as it sets up, allowing you to be on the move in no time. I can tell you this, I won't be leaving home without it on anymore hiking trips, and now that I've got it, I'm going to be doing quite a bit more combination hiking/camping trips.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Earth Friendly Green Living

As I write this, Earth Day is just a few days away. I've always tried to be Earth friendly, and for the last two weekends I've been setting up a lush green area complete with a recirculating waterfall on the back porch in the hopes of enticing my favorite amphibian, the American Green Tree Frog, to take up residence there and help control insects naturally. I'm happy to report that just a few minutes ago I spied a large tree frog sitting happily on top of the waterfall. My plan appears to be working perfectly.

Combating insects without the use of pesticides is just one way we can learn to be more earth friendly. During my research on green living, I found quite a few interesting facts that opened my eyes to even more ways to live green, such as changing out all standard light bulbs to compact fluorescent light bulbs, composting, and growing your own garden. Recycling is also a good idea, as well as ditching plastic bags for reusable cloth bags, hybrid cars, and reading the newspaper and magazines online. You probably already pay all your bills online, so why not make the switch to e-billing and keep the paper clutter out of the mailbox?

One last tip: Lay off of the bottled water. Instead, invest in a faucet filter or filter for the refrigerator and use the water that you already pay for every month. Think of all the plastic bottles that you can keep out of the landfill. The Earth will thank you.

Friday, April 10, 2009

How to Get Started in Writing

Writers. There are a lot of very talented individuals out there. Some of us are published, while others are still trying to break into the business. Not so long ago, I was still in the latter group. Sure, I had a couple of small things published in a collection or magazine, but I'd never pursued it the way that I should have. Instead, I wasted valuable time working at an uninspiring 8 to 5 job when I should have been exercising my creative side and focusing on writing instead. This article is for those people that feel that they're in a similar situation.

There are several ways to break into the writing. Trying to submit articles to print magazines is one way, although it can be very time consuming and may not pay very well. You might also choose to try and find an agent that can promote your manuscript to an editor in the hopes that it will find its way into print, but be ready for a lot of rejection letters. And then there's self-publishing, which may or may not put you on the road to fame.

Online writing is another way to get started, and is the route that I took. I started with Suite101.com and I am thankful everyday for this wonderful online publishing company. After writing for Suite101 for a year, I recently took on the position as Feature Writer for Hobbies and I've found it to be very rewarding. One of the things that I love about Suite101 (besides being paid to write) is the incredible feedback and tools that are provided for new writers. Editors regularly review articles and give advice and critiques to the writers to help them improve their craft. In addition to this, they provide educational resources for writers to access, and in the Suite101 forum, writers can connect with other writers and ask questions or provide insights to help others along. I really prefer online sites that offer feedback to their writers. Especially from an SEO standpoint, the better your writers are, the better your site is, both in content and ad revenue.

What about the pay, you ask? While it usually starts out a bit small, the more time and effort that you put into your craft, the more money you stand to make. It took me a couple of months before I really started to see how it works. Now I focus on good content and SEO techniques that increase my earning potential and I get a paycheck from Suite101 every month. I'm working toward the day where I can leave my day job behind and focus entirely on writing.

In addition to Suite101.com, I write at HubPages, Bukisa, Squidoo, and Xomba. I also maintain an account with Elance.com for when I want to pick up freelance jobs. Writing translates into experience and also allows you to hone your skill. When you're writing, focus on the quality and not quantity of your work. I have learned that the more that I am able to write, the better and faster the ideas come. It is very rare for me to have writer's block anymore.

Another thing to look out for is writing scams. These generally fall under the category of contests, but they can also take the form of fake websites that lure a new writer in by asking for 3 or 4 sample pieces "to see if it meets the criteria of what they are looking for." They then proceed to steal the content and market it as their own. It's a good idea to build a portfolio of your copyrighted material somewhere online that you can point them to for an example. If they can't decide whether or not your skills are what they are looking for by looking at your portfolio, then it's better to pass them by protect your own interests.

Another good tip for new writers is to attend a writers conference. It's a great place to learn valuable tips from the pros. You can attend workshops, ask questions, network with other writers, and speak with agents and publishers in order to find out exactly what they're looking for. I recently attended a conference and was able to get past a hurdle I encountered on the novel I've been working on. Hopefully now I'll be able to wrap it up and get it out there where it needs to be.

I hope you've found this article helpful. I've included links to particularly helpful articles and a couple of links to my sign up pages. Feed your writing bug and nourish it and perhaps one day it will do you proud with a best seller. Dare to dream.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Welcome to The Eclectic Muse

Over the years various people have asked me why I have so many hobbies and interests. No, it's not due to a short attention span. I believe it's the combined result of being raised as an only child and not having the opportunity to do much traveling, not "even to Grandma's house." In return I had plenty of time to explore many different hobbies and activities. I bicycle, kayak, hike, maintain a reptile and amphibian collection, play computer games (occasionally--not much time anymore), still play AD&D with some friends on the odd weekend, explore different aspects of spirituality, and still have a multitude of other interests. In fact, I've collected so many hobbies that I recently became a Feature Writer for Hobbies at Suite101.com. You can read some of my articles here at Hobbies.

It's the hope that during the course of my writings that I'll be able to introduce others to new activities or explore ones they'd always wondered about. Feel free to ask questions, and I'll answer if I'm able. If not I'll try to point you in the right direction.

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you check back soon.