Saturday, October 29, 2011

Building my own wepages

I originally hired my tech savvy nephew to build and upload web pages for me and he did a great job. But as his design business grew, he had less time for the changes I wanted to make. So I got it into my head to build webpages by myself. Hahahahah!

I began on my Windows NetBook, working in a program called Xara ( and this was working out pretty well. I was able to get a feel for colors and layout that I prefer. But when I began to struggle with details, such as getting my twitter feed to appear on the home page, things slowed way down.

A friend of ours was staying the weekend at our house and he saw me tinkering with the program, and heard me muttering under my breath because it wasn't intuitive in the least. He piped up with "If you did this on a Mac, it would be easy." I looked up. "Wait, what?". He smiled and repeated. He also succinctly added some more information about how Macs were designed for the creative mind and that clearly I'd find it more straightforward than Windows. I turned to my husband, the IT guy in our household. He said "I never took to the Mac when I had one, but you might prefer it." and in the next instant, he had purchased one for me.

All stop on webpage development while I waited for the Mac to arrive. Finally, it came. I had to get the hang of it, unlearn Windows techniques, and download updates. First, a disappointment to overcome. Apple had stopped including iWeb on new Macs with Lion iOS. So I searched for an alternative webpage development program. Found several and settled on Sandvox. It was the least expensive and seemed to offer what I needed. Download was easy, using it was easy, and when I got stick a few times, I just re-watched the helpful video.

In a matter of a few days of random tinkering, I learned how to easily add a Book Store, include a Contact Me page, create original jpeg icons and link them to the appropriate sites. I uploaded photos, organized everything in to a pleasing array. The hardest part was setting up the host site, which I already had but hadn't messed with in the year since my nephew had last set it up. My husband helped me with that part thru trial and error, but Sandvox will help you set up a brand new host without difficulty. Worth every penny of the $50 it cost me.

Check out the results of this odyssey at

I would love to read comments or add links to experiences of others who have gone on similar webpage-building quests.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Have nail gun, will work on farm

Guest blogger: husband
Little woman is watching HGTV when one of the characters uses two special words in a sentence, nail and gun.  I perked up and angled myself to see what was going on.  Again, normally I would ignore the ravings of these programs (“do THIS by yourself, do THAT by yourself) but hearing the combination of two manly words, I had to find out more.  Nail Gun.  There, on the big screen TV was some guy nailing some kind of piece of wood to another kind of wood thing.  WITHOUT a HAMMER.  Instantly, I needed one.  Besides, my hammer was faulty.  The flat part of it kept on missing the top of the nail thing, or hit it at some stupid angle so the nail wouldn’t work.  So I returned it. It could have been the nails, so I returned them as well.  No sense taking a chance.  Those things are dangerous.  But "Nail Gun" -- they were talking my language now.  I could see me in the middle of the summer, driving around the vast back yard on my recently waxed John Deere tractor, stopping now and then to reattach fallen tree limbs with my NAIL GUN.  But remember kids, safety first.  Take the headphones from the iPod off before you disembark from the tractor.  We don’t want any neck sprains.
A NAIL GUN.  I want this.  I need this!  Damn it – I deserve this. So I have decided that there needs to be a nail gun as part of my home owner tool arsenal.  The next day, the little woman goes to the office, the coast is clear. I don my Nikes and Batman T shirt so I'll blend in with our new neighbor.
I hop into the Car and head to town.  I thought that for this adventure I would stay closer to home, you know, learn the local customs, get to know my neighbors, that kind of thing.  I decide to go to Wogan’s.  It is the local hardware/pharmacy/Hallmark gift shop with the best gas prices in town.  I parked and got out of the car.  While locking it I accidentally hit the alarm button on the key fob.  After 5 minutes I figured out how to turn off the alarm. Luckily, no one was laughing and pointing, or else they might license me for the nail gun I'd come to buy.
I enter the store and realize the two cashiers had been watching me as i entered. I guess I was the first customer of the day.  I pass by the greeting cards, the Easter display, clearance sale Valentine’s Day cards, and the frozen foods section -- arriving at last to the hardware section.  Not to seem too eager, I wander around the isles looking at different products and nod sagely to myself with a, “ah, it’s good to know where I can get one of those” looks.  Eventually a clerk comes over to see if I need some help.
“I need a nail gun” I say with authority.  The clerk gives me the once over, noticing my Nikes and Batman T shirt, and realizes he will probably need some help with this sale.  So he goes in back and gets a person who I can only assume is the manager and they both return.  Once again I say in my most confident voice, “I need a nail gun.”  The two employees look at each other and the original one grins at the manager and starts walking away.  If I didn’t know better, I would swear I heard him giggling over the muzak.  Now the sales process begins, and I am ready.  I am in my element.
The other guy/manager asks, “Do you want pneumatic or cordless?”  He is on the offensive right away.  I take a moment (remember, in a sales deal, silence is your friend.  It shows you are contemplating the opponent’s move and getting ready to counter strike.  Very similar to Sun Tzu’s Art of War) and confidently reply, “Yes.”  And so it begins. 
I won’t bore you all with the negotiation strategies, fall back zones, or body language observations, but let’s just say that I only paid about 18% over what the NAIL GUN was advertised for.  Since I nailed that deal, I went for the accessories.  A couple of notes for those new to Nail Gun buying:  First, they don’t make holsters for them.  Second, they are called nails, not bullets.
Now for those of my readers who may remember our last suburban experience, I pretty much showed my cards when I asked the John Deere sales guy if they offered a class to learn how to use the tractor.  Not this time.  I frequently learn from my mistakes.  Finally, at the register I looked the manager in the eyes (by now his face was red and his eyes were tearing, especially when he looked at my Nikes -- perhaps the bright neon green trim hurt eyes) and asked him where the range was.  “Range?” he queried.  “Yes,” I said firmly, “I need to get used to this ‘nail gun’ before I bring it home.  So where is the gun range?”  The manager suddenly started coughing while trying to speak. I didn’t get an answer but nevertheless, I now have this shiny new cordless nail gun.  Yep, I know the lingo.  Now The little woman has me going around the house pulling the nails out of everywhere I put them in with the nail gun.  Apparently you are supposed to use this tool only to attach one form of wood to another and going around the house mindlessly nailing things is not the proper use for it.  Oh, FYI.  Nail guns don’t work on glass; maybe I need one of those pneumatic ones for that kind of work.
Next purchase:  Night vision goggles

Friday, October 14, 2011

Things we have learned in the months since moving to the country…

A 50 year old back is no match for a centuries old rock
Shovels and slate rock mix like oil and vinegar
Sweat will take the path of least resistance
Despite oversize tires, tractors do not float
At times, a snake looks remarkably like a garden hose
A constantly crowing rooster tastes very good if marinated properly
The more in-depth your swearing, the quicker the pain goes away
NEVER attempt to use gasoline to burn out a chipmunk colony near the garage
Avoid at all costs mowing a dry dusty lawn on a breezy, hot sweaty day
It is ALWAYS a good idea to rent a Bobcat for any job
Remember, ordering mulch in bulk means you need to move said mulch – in bulk
Always remember to check the wood you are moving for ants BEFORE you play hoist it onto your shoulder
It is never a good idea to “eyeball” a distance when making a fence
If a tractor can’t do the job, reconsider doing said job
Weed-killer usually doesn’t
A lawn looks pretty green when it’s overgrown with weeds
Groundhogs are bulletproof
Never think you can gut grass that is taller than the tractor
The uglier the tree/weed/plant, the deeper the roots
In the game of rock, sledge hammer, knuckle - rock always wins
Occasionally poison ivy looks remarkable like a an ordinary weed
Sometimes the cheapest chainsaws lead to the biggest medical bills
A nail gun should not be the only tool  you use                      
The distance from the garage is inversely proportional to the volume of the rain
It is bad “form” to nail yourself to a fence, especially in polite society
A cow patty and hamburger patty are NOT interchangeable
A pick ax and a queasy stomach at the sight of blood are never a good match
Uttering the phrase, “I know how to do it!” now, will haunt you later
A burn barrel next to an oak tree is a poor excuse for an insurance claim

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Real name or pen name?

My real name is absurd - no one can spell it or pronounce it, and my first name has connotations that I just hate thinking about (don't ask).  So I use the pen name, Elizabeth Ashtree.  One funny thing is when people write me and call me some version of Elizabeth, such as Liz.  That just cracks me up.  Elizabeth is a pen name, I make that clear almost everywhere, but every now and then I get a Twitter comment or some other message that says "Hey, Liz, great to hear from you!"

I also have a security clearance under my real name.  Seemed best not to confuse my identities.

So, do you use your real name or a pen name?  Why?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

LogWalls orchard -- the beginning

I never thought I would say the four words “We bought a tractor.” But we moved from the city to a log home on an orchard/farm last October. So there we were, with all of this land (6+ acres) and only a push mower. We knew we would need a riding mower. You know the kind -- a thousand dollars to be used for an hour on the weekends.  Ha!

Like any good consumers, we made a list of the “wants” for the product and began from there.  My husband asked me what I thought it should include. “It should cut the lawn.” 

"Oh you poor girl," says he. "Obviously, you are out of your league here," he says.  This is his list:
1. Comfortable seat w/ cupholder
2. Enclosed cockpit with A/C – the summer will get really hot
3. Stereo, or at least a power supply for iPod
4. A quiet engine so as to hear iPod
5. Front plow, to shovel the driveway
6. Power steering
7. A 38-42” deck (that’s lawn mower speak for cutting circumference the blade)
8. A service plan, bumper to bumper
We decided we should get the lawn mower immediately, it being October, while the prices were lower. I mean, how much demand is there for a lawn mower right before winter?  It’s fricken 30 degrees outside, nobody is cutting their lawns. The dealers would be begging for our business. We figured we would need to budget maybe, at most $1,250.  So we would went out to find this cute little riding mower to add to our homestead.
First stop Sears. Next, Lowest. Next, Home Depot.  We saw several that had the basics and hubby was sure he could get some aftermarket add-ons to make one of them useable.  But Clem from Wisconsin gave a review that said something along of the lines of: “this dog wont hunt.”  So the quest continued. Suddenly it hit us.  Who sells the best lawn mower ever?  John Deere!  We've seen their hats everywhere and there is a John Deere store in the city -- actually more like a big town, by our standards, but a place with stores not too far from us. A Way bigger community than the tiny town we'd moved to in rural, pastural PA. Our town has an ACE Hardware store and that is all.
My husband walked into the John Deere dealership, knowing what he needed, sure of himself, a veteran of many excellent car deals. He went up to the first salesman he saw, ready to negotiate.  He began reciting his list of requirements.  Chris listened, then asked how much do we plan on cutting and what type of terrain will we be mowing. Um. Hubby figured he was using these questions as some odd sales tactic – Because what does size and terrain have to do with buying a mower?  I gave Chris the answers anyway. Husband added in that we have a pretty good electric push mower in current use -- so Chris wouldn’t think that we HAD to buy a riding lawn mower that very day.  Also, the push mower was ELECTRIC and therefor environmentally friendly AND quiet.  Then hubby hit Chris with a firm, “Oh, and I don’t want to pay more than $1,200 – delivered.”  Master negotiator. 

Chris excused himself for a moment to confer with some of the other sales people in a huddle.  One of them popped his head up to look at us and then returned to the huddle. We thought there might have been some chuckling, but dismissed this as unlikely, given their need to sell us our lawn mower. Eventually Chris returned.  But the husband had already set his gaze upon the shiney LA series mowers.  They start at about $4K with none of the add-ons he was looking for, but he was feeling confident about negotiating the add-ons into the deal.  The one he was looking at was the base model and he assured me they would have the upgraded models out on the lot.  Chris stepped up beside hubby and said the series he was looking at was a great starter model, and good for cutting about an acre of flat land.
About 20 minutes later we were eyeing the TRACTOR – not lawn mower – that Chris recommended for 6+ acres of hills and scrub grass that sometimes gets pretty soggy. Turns out, the LA series wouldn’t cut the mustard -- or that much grass.  Or as Clem from Wisconsin said, “that dog won’t hunt.”  So about a half hour later we were the proud owners of a John Deere tractor that's only a little smaller than my car and cost just a little less.  You do NOT want to know the MPG! As a Prius owner, I nearly cried when I found that out. And it has few of the features on it that hubby wanted, except that deck needed to be a whopping 52 inches. He WAS able to buy -- for a goodly additional sum -- an attachment to plug in an iPod. However, it is not quiet, or in any way enclosed or air-conditioned. But I did get my requirement met -- it will cut a whole lot of lawn pretty quickly and on a single tank of gas.
To put the final nail in this lawn mower buying odyssey, right before we left John Deere, my husband asked Chris “Is there a class I can take to learn how to use this monster?" Chris stared blankly at him until I pulled him out of the store. And yet I never did need to call 911 due to a tractor roll-over incident. It took some time, but both of us can now drive the tractor -- though we haven't finished paying for it yet.

Monday, October 10, 2011

My first blog

Writing is hard work. So there is value in sharing experiences among authors.
Keeping up with a blog is likely to be no easier. But it's time to begin.
I have quite a lot to say. About writing for a living, and the craft of telling stories well. And I will want to write about our adventures suddenly living in bucolic Pennsylvania on a six acre orchard/farm to which my husband and I recently moved after living most of our lives in cities. I may have some amusing stories about our two micro-dogs, Spy and Ping. My highest goal will be to keep it interesting.

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