Wordless Wednesday: NaNoWriMo word count

That word count graph is accurate and makes me laugh pretty hard. (You can click on it to see it bigger.) The purple line is where I was supposed to be each day, and the blue bars are where I actually was. But here I am now, on the other side! Procrastination pays off.

Linked up at Hobo Mama and Natural Parents Network!


Amazon, boycotting, and blaming the marketplace

So. There was a book about how to be a better ped.ophile on Amazon, and there was outrage, and the book was pulled. The author is being investigated by police, at the same time he's being protected from the death threats against him. The blogging and Twitter community, rightly outraged at crimes against children, is advocating for a boycott against Amazon.

I am not. Not so far, at least.

I know I'm not alone, and yet I know my stance is less popular among the parenting bloggers in whose community I write. I hesitated to write anything about this, for fear of being tagged "the person defending the ped.ophile" (which I'm not), but I couldn't get back to sleep when I woke up too early this morning for all the thoughts swirling through my head. So here they go onto a screen so I can let it go.

I don't feel like linking to all the many, many articles floating around out there, because I want to just write. I apologize for the lack of thoroughness.

Some premises:

1. Ped.ophilia is sickening. Committing crimes against children is reprehensible. I have friends who have suffered such abuse, and it's heartbreaking. A book suggesting advice for those involved to get away with such crimes is a book I cannot endorse. There's actually little proof that the book contained what it's being rumored to contain. So far, the authorities have not found anything incriminating in it. I'm not going to read it to find out. I think the title alone is revolting.

2. Amazon's pulling a book from its shelves is not censorship. Governments censor; booksellers do not. Booksellers are always allowed to choose what to sell and what not to sell. Amazon's original statement that to pull such a book would be censorship, and it chooses not to indulge in same is hogwash. They retracted it by the act of pulling the book after continued protest. I'm heartily disappointed in Amazon's initial response and later non-response to the issue. I suggest a better initial response would have been "We're aware of the issue and are having our lawyers investigate the situation. We cannot comment further at this time." A better after-the-fact response would have been … something.

Ok, so that's where I'm starting from. Ped.ophilia and child rape = horrifying. Not responding well = foolish.

But I can't endorse a boycott from these facts alone.

First of all, what was the point of suggesting a boycott? Originally, it was to get the offending book removed. Well, it is. So why are people still revved up? Because there are still yucky things being sold on Amazon, newly brought to our attention. I've looked at some of them, and they certainly are sickening. But, then, why isn't the response to do exactly what we've already done with the first offending book: protest to Amazon to remove them? Why leave Amazon entirely?

Here are some other facts about Amazon I either know or surmise:

1. Amazon does not vet, read, and endorse every product on its shelves. How do I know this? Because I have self-published a book for my family, for sale on Amazon, and there's no way anyone important read it through first. It doesn't contain anything offensive, as far as I'm aware, but Amazon doesn't know that. It hasn't checked, and it never will, unless someone complains about it (like my mom…). It's completely ludicrous to suggest that Amazon read every book or inspect every product it distributes. Amazon is a marketplace. It is not a publishing house.

2. Self-published books and other niche products should be allowed to exist. If we pressure Amazon enough, maybe they'll ban every book and product that doesn't come from a major publishing house or big corporation. Swell. (Not really.) See above for my perspective on having self-published a book that would never have found a home at a publisher's; I've enjoyed other such books, and I appreciate that Amazon allows little sellers (like creators of some of the best baby products I know) to have an easy way to reach customers.

3. It is hard to determine what should and should not be banned. I think there's a pretty overwhelming consensus that a book counseling ped.ophiles on how to get away with crimes should be banned (although, as I pointed out, I'm not convinced that's what the book was about). But from there on out, there are diverging opinions. Should a fictional book like Lolita be banned? I haven't read it, so I can't speak about it in literary terms; the very premise sickens me so I've avoided both the book and the movies. Should books advocating crimes be banned? These include how to grow pot, how to make bombs, how to skirt gay marriage laws. Some people would say yes, others no. Should all smut be banned? Again, some people think so, and others do not, and there's a wide range of opinion on what falls into that category. What about books advocating hate and intolerance? But then we'd need to boycott every bookseller and public library. Boosted by the recent controversy, dog owners are trying to get dog fighting books removed; I sense a trend starting. For my part, should Babywise be banned? In my opinion, it contributes to the ill health of children; is that reason enough? But if I succeeded in getting Babywise removed from shelves, that means the Babywise supporters might be able to fight back and have the Sears library removed. Who gets to decide?

4. Amazon is right to be leery of removing books based on initial disapproval. Because of the conundrum presented above, I can understand why Amazon's fallback position in most cases is, We're a free marketplace, and we don't tend to ban books just because they're unpopular with some people. I would expect them to slap me down if I suggested banning Babywise.

5. I don't know the legal ramifications to Amazon of pulling books from Amazon's shelves. In other words, I don't know if authors or publishers can or would sue Amazon for refusing to sell certain materials. Don't misunderstand me; I'm not asking here, Would they win a lawsuit? Just, could they make life very difficult for Amazon by initiating one? For a small fry, I'd imagine it's not an issue. A bigger publishing house might try for it, since they'd have the lawyers and the funds. While it's Amazon's right to sell what it wants to, in a litigious society it might be dangerous to pull something without a very good reason, so I can see why they'd be cautious about doing so.

6. Boycotts don't work. Oh, I know, I'm involved in one myself, and sure, there was that one famous bus boycott that worked. But Sam grew up with his family boycotting hither and yon, and all the businesses they boycotted are still doing just fine. For instance, they boycotted Waldenbooks when Sam was a boy because Waldenbooks was selling child p.ornography. It wasn't until Sam was an adult that he stopped and went, "Huh-wha? No way was Waldenbooks selling child p.ornography." To this day, he has no idea what they were boycotting; maybe Waldens stocked Lolita. Then again, so does the public library. I can get behind an occasional or long-standing boycott: either to effect a specific change, or to protest and shed light on an unethical business, respectively. With Amazon, it seems to me the boycott's original goal was to get the book removed. Ok, done. Move on.

7. What works better than boycotts is specific action. In this case, protest to Amazon about what you don't like. Let me know to protest, too. As has been proven now, if there's a loud enough collective voice, Amazon will respond to our demands.

8. Don't blame the marketplace for a lousy product. I've mentioned this before, but it bears reiterating. Amazon is a marketplace, not a publisher or manufacturer. I don't boycott eBay because I had a bad experience with a single seller. Now, if I have a criminal experience with a single seller (as has happened to Sam, with a bootlegger), I do contact eBay and expect them to step in and rectify the situation — which happened in our case, and also in this latest Amazon debacle. I didn't avoid scoring deals on Craigslist because they had a smutty section that made me want to vomit; I did avoid that section and others protested it, and the pressure worked on them as well.

9. There's ambiguity in whether the whole should be avoided because of the part. There are some calling for the boycott of Amazon who have not boycotted other businesses that behave in ways they find deplorable. For instance, I made sure my BlogHer ads don't display WHO Code-violating ads; for most people, this is good enough, even if they believe strongly in the WHO Code. But maybe we should all be boycotting BlogHer instead. (I'm sure there are people who think so.) Amazon has long advertised formula and promoted discounts on bottles and violated the WHO Code in other ways; should we have been boycotting them all along? And, before anyone goes there, do I see a difference between child rape and formula use? Um, yes. My point is that we don't always abandon a company because of one aspect we disagree with; sometimes we merely protest that area and/or avoid using it or benefiting from it ourselves. Where's the line between when we boycott and when we don't? We've protested BlogHer's inclusion of WHO Code-violating ads, and yet they still exist and BlogHer is still profiting from them. Compare this with Amazon's act to take down the book we found offensive and no longer profit from it. Why are we advocating a boycott of the latter and not the former? (If it's not clear, I'm not advocating boycotting either.)

I think that was all I wanted to say on the matter, though I might need to respond to comments.

To sum up:

1. Ped.ophilia is wrong. My heart breaks for anyone victimized by the crime.

2. The book was disgusting on its face. I'm glad it's gone.

3. Amazon has behaved (is still behaving) idiotically.

4. I don't think there's a good reason to boycott. If the point of the protest is to get intolerable books removed, then keep protesting intolerable books.

That's all.

I hesitate to ask, but what do you think? I'm willing to keep an open mind to counter arguments.

Image courtesy inquisitr.com


NaNoWriMo fun to get you started

Well, since I'm already feeling a little depressed and overwhelmed that today is the first day of National Novel Writing Month 2010 (the same month as our new site launch, plus a pregnancy, trip out of town, parenting, work, my regular writing, and all that — yes, I am that monkey), the least I can do is a little round-up of a few NaNo goodies that have brightened my perspective.

    NaNoWriMo Word Count Desktop
  • "Nanowrimo Word Count Desktop" from Domestic Dork: How cute and inspirational is this to have as your desktop image! (Click over to get it full size and download it.)

  • And here are a couple that are particularly keen for Mac geeks (like yours truly), because I think this is the year I'm going to jump into writing software (wish me luck):
    • Scrivener is offering a free trial version of its writing software for NaNo-ers, a 2.0 preview for Mac users and a beta version for Windows users. Once you win (because of course you'll win, right?), you'll get 50% off the purchase price in December. If by some odd chance you don't, you can get 20% off, which is still nice. And you have the option to save your work in progress to a word processor if you choose not to continue with the software.

      "When you launch this NaNo 2010 edition of Scrivener and choose File > New Project, you will find a special NaNoWriMo novel template selected in the "Fiction" section of the project templates chooser. We've put this template together especially for WriMos - it will create a project with the 50,000 word target set up for you and includes the option of exporting a garbled document for uploading to the NaNo servers."

    Now I have to decide which to try out (or which first). I just hope I won't get sucked into the abyss of monkeying around with software and will concentrate on the hard work: getting those words down. What I like about the idea of writing software, at least, is that it might help me organize myself during or after the fact. I had to outline my previous novel after I'd written it so I could more easily move around chunks and see what was missing. It's unwieldy to try to do that with one long Word document. I also had trouble keeping track of characters' names and details (this is true in real life as well…), so I hope the software might help me keep a better log.

  • Be sure to download your fun badges and post your widgets. Why participate in NaNo if you don't get to brag about it?

All right, that's all I've got for now. Have fun writing. I still have to get my words in today! As you might be able to tell from my little word count widget in the sidebar that's reading a big fat zero…


Uploading a new blog button without changing the button code

UPDATE 2017: Due to Photobucket's banning on third-party hosting, this will no longer work on Photobucket unless you pay for the highest-tier account (which you shouldn't bother). This will still work if you use a dedicated image hosting service — I chose Amazon S3 for now. You can use the same tips below, which I've updated to show my new image URLs.

If you have a blog button or badge (a little square logo advertising your site) hosted on Photobucket, you might have been in the tricky position of wanting to change the button without making everyone who has your button already change the button code on their blog.

There is a relatively simple(ish) way to make it a bit harder on your end but easy-peasy and seamless to everyone else. The next time their pages load, your new button will appear, with no effort on their part. Much easier than sending out pleas to change the code, yes?

The trick is to upload your new button to your web hosting site using the same file name, which will therefore give it the same URL as the old button.

Note: This trick will not, as far as I know, work if you've uploaded your image to Blogger or Flickr, and I don't know if it works on WordPress-hosted images. Which frankly is a good enough reason to advise you to use Photobucket[your own hosting service] for important images, so you have more control. If you host your own images on a server, then the following tips can still apply — but you probably already knew how to do this.

How to keep a direct link in Photobucket[your own hosting service]

For instance, here is the HoboMama.com blog button:

Visit Hobo Mama Natural Parenting Blog button for HoboMama.com

Here is the direct link for that image:

The piece of information after the last slash is the name of the image file, so hobo-mama-button-200x200.jpg

If you wanted to upload a new picture but keep the same direct link URL, here's what to do, in this order (very important):

  1. Create the new image in your photo-editing software and save it with the same name as the original (e.g., hobo-mama-button-200x200.jpg).
  2. Go to Photobucket[your own hosting service] and find the image you want to replace. Click "delete" on the old image, acknowledging that you will be breaking all the links that are looking for this image (but only temporarily!). Make sure you have a backup of the image on your computer in case you want it in the future. (Optional: You can always re-upload it to Photobucket[your own hosting service] with a different file name [for instance, rename it hobo-mama-button-200x200-archive.jpg before uploading] if you want it archived online.)
  3. Upload your new image to Photobucket[your own hosting service], in the same folder as the old one. The new direct link will be the same as the old one (http://images.hobomama.com/hobo-mama-button-200x200.jpg), as long as you were careful to name your file the same as the old file.

It's important to delete the old image before uploading the new image. Otherwise, Photobucket[your own hosting service] will rename the new file slightly to differentiate between the two and the direct link will be different.

And, again, if you have different folders within Photobucket[your own hosting service], make sure to upload to the same folder, since that becomes part of the URL as well (Elements/ in my example).

This trick comes in handy for regular blog buttons, but also for advertisements and giveaways. Say you wanted to advertise on someone else's blogs, such as for your Etsy shop. You might make your ad seasonal but do all the changes on your end. So, you could create an ad with summer products, and then easily switch it out to winter products later in the year. As long as you kept the file name the same (e.g., hobo-mama-ad.jpg) and deleted the old ad image, you wouldn't have to have your advertisement hosts change their code at all to be current.

Or, for a special giveaway event, such as some review blogs do — a baby shower bash or a holiday-themed event — you could name your button for that something like hobo-mama-reviews-giveaway-event.jpg and then just keep updating the image but under the same name each time. That way, your event button on people's blogs would never be out of date!

Hope that helps, and that all your bloggy fans will appreciate the new image that magically appears on their screens!


How to make a blog button grab box

If you have a blog button or badge now (a little square logo advertising your site), do you want to know how to make a little box so people can grab the code? Like so:

Visit Hobo Mama Natural Parenting Blog button for HoboMama.com

It's actually really easy. All you need to do is figure out the code for the button, and then place it within this placeholder code:

<form><textarea rows="5" cols="20" readonly="readonly"> INSERT BLOG BUTTON CODE HERE </textarea></form>

You can alter the size of the grab box by experimenting with different numbers for rows and cols (columns). The "readonly" command is optional, but it prevents people from accidentally deleting or editing the code in the box as they're copying and pasting.

Tomorrow I'll give you a tip on updating your image without making your fans change their button code. And if you missed yesterday's post on creating the code, check it out here.


How to make a blog button code

Do you want a blog button or badge, a little square logo to advertise your site, business, or giveaways? Once you have a basic image uploaded to an image host, it's easy enough to figure out the code.

Visit Hobo Mama Natural Parenting Blog button for HoboMama.com

Here's my basic button code:

<div align="center"><a href="http://www.HoboMama.com" target="_blank" title="Hobo Mama"><img src="http://images.hobomama.com/hobo-mama-button-200x200.jpg" width="150" height="150" alt="Hobo Mama: A Natural Parenting Blog" /></a></div>

From the top down, here are the elements in my button code. You can feel free to copy what you like.
  1. I've chosen to center mine, which is the opening and closing div tags.
  2. Then I have a link to my website: <a href="http://www.HoboMama.com" target="_blank" title="Hobo Mama"> I've chosen target="_blank" so that it opens in a new window when someone clicks on it, and I put my website name in the title tag, so that anyone hovering a mouse over the image will see what page it links to. (You can try it on the top image to see what I mean.)
  3. Now it's time for the real point of this code, which is the image for the button itself: <img src="http://images.hobomama.com/hobo-mama-button-200x200.jpg" width="150" height="150" alt="Hobo Mama: A Natural Parenting Blog" />
    • The src tag is where you put the direct link to your button. (I recommend using Photobucket or [Photobucket no longer possible as of 2017] self-hosting the image, because you'll have some control over changing the file in the future if you ever want to alter the image without changing the button code.)
    • The width and height are how big you want your button to appear, and of course the people who grab your button can alter the size as they wish. A 125x125 is a good standard size. I made mine a little larger — for attention, I guess. You can see from the file name that the button image is actually 200x200, so that fans could make the button as large as that without degrading the quality. I recommend making your button image similarly a bit oversized in case of zealous fans!
    • The alt tag lets you give your image a name, so that it will show up in search engine results. I recommend putting a good, brief description of your blog here. It will also help fans who have lots of buttons keep track of which one's yours when they're looking at the code alone.
  4. Then make sure to close off all the tags you opened: </a></div>
Make sure you test out the button before giving the code to anyone else. Try publishing it in a blog post or your sidebar and make sure the image shows up the way you want it, and that if you click on it, it goes to the right page. Tomorrow I'll have a post on putting your code into a grab box so your fans can get your code for themselves!


It's almost NaNoWriMo time!


I got an email a couple days ago reminding me that National Novel Writing Month is … well, just one short month away. Starting November 1, novelists and aspiring novelists all across the globe will sharpen their pencils (er, keyboards) and begin a dash to 50,000 words by November 30.

Will you be joining the rush?

I seriously had to pause and ask myself that this year. I've done NaNoWriMo two years in a row now, and won both times. ("Winning" = finishing, in NaNo speak.)

This year, I'm pregnant, and have a three-year-old, and a home business, and a new website to launch, and three novels to finish editing, and a lot of other writing to do, and, and, and …

No, I'll probably still do it. It's too good an opportunity to pass up. Isn't it?

How about you? Is this your year to write a novel in a month?


New rich-text signatures in Gmail

Just as a short update to my post on creating HTML signatures in Gmail:

Gmail has finally released a long-awaited function for creating a signature in rich text format.

Click the image to see it bigger. Ignore that it's in German. That's a quirk of mine.

This screen is in Settings in Gmail (which you can reach by clicking the link in the top right corner). The box where my signature is is where you paste in or craft your own signature, and the rich-text icons allow you to control and customize font styles, colors, sizes, and alignment, or to add lists, links, and images.

So that should be easier, all around! I just pasted my previous HTML signature into the rich-text box, and it transferred perfectly. You could also build one from scratch, and you can include URLs and images as you wish, so you can link to your website or social media pages and include an avatar or business logo.

You can even have a different signature for each reply-to address, so if you wanted to have a personal signature and a business signature, that's possible. Or if you run separate businesses (such as a blog and a store), you might have one signature that goes to readers and one that goes to customers. As an author, you could include an image of your book cover and a link to the Amazon buying page.

There's really no downside to having a simple but effective signature. I encourage you to take advantage of the signature function, and personalize the emails your readers receive. Thanks to Gmail for realizing rich-text was the next (overdue) step forward!


Blocking Google AdSense formula ads for parenting and breastfeeding sites

Updated for the new version of Google AdSense, February 2012

At the bottom of this post is a boxed list of URLs of WHO Code violators to paste into the ad filter at Google AdSense. Feel free to skip there if you know what you're doing. If you want more information on how to filter AdSense ads and how the URLs were chosen, read on.

If you're a breastfeeding activist who wants to abide by the World Health Organization's International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes (aka the WHO Code — PDF here),1 but who also wants to pick up a little Google AdSense revenue on a blog, you probably have been stuck with a conundrum.

AdSense sells ad space based on keywords, and advertisers vie for page views and position according to a bid system. Formula companies specifically bid for keywords like "breastfeeding," and they have big budgets, so they often win the page view. They also use deceptive lead-ins like a title offering breastfeeding help, when the ad will spit you out onto a formula page.

Parenting bloggers will in all innocence write a blog post related to breastfeeding success, only to find the accompanying ads undermine their efforts and distress their readers.

Google AdSense filtering options

Google AdSense doesn't have a helpful category opt-out the way BlogHer ads have added, after pressure by PhD in Parenting, with a specific WHO Code-compliant category to check that opts interested members out of ads promoting "infant formula, related companies, artificial nipples or pacifiers or bottles."

The opt-out categories Google offers are more limited:

  • Cosmetic procedures and surgery
  • Dating
  • Drugs and supplements
  • Get rich quick
  • Politics
  • Religion
  • Ringtones and downloadables
  • Sexual and reproductive health
  • Sexually suggestive
  • Video games
  • Weight loss

(You can opt out of any of these categories through the category filter checkboxes at the Allow & Block Ads tab --> Sensitive Categories in the left sidebar.)

However, there is one way to specify which ads you will not allow on your site, and that is by entering specific Advertiser URLs within the Blocking options. Click on the tab labeled "Allow & Block Ads," and then choose "Advertiser URLs" from the links along the left sidebar, under "Blocking options."

Click to enlarge

The premise is to keep competitors' ads off your site, but it can be used to ban any particular URL from appearing. The guidelines Google gives are as follows [text below from an obsolete version of the help center]:
The competitive ad filter works by blocking ads that link to specific URLs. This way, you can easily block all ads that are linked to your competitor at www.example.com. By entering a top level domain such as www.example.com, you'll also block all ads that link to subdirectories below that domain. The following rules apply to the competitive ad filter:

* Entering example.com will block ads to example.com and example.com/sub
* Entering example.com will also block ads to www.example.com and forums.example.com
* www.example.com will block ads to www.example.com but not to forums.example.com or example.com
* example.com/sub will not block ads to example.com/products or example.com/sub/index.html

Generally, it's a good idea to leave the 'www' off of URLs in your filter list to provide for broader filtering.

For our purposes, we will include as many URLs we can that are related to marketing in violation of the WHO Code.

The list parameters

Finding and entering each URL is a tedious and herculean task. Wait, did I just compare myself to Hercules? Well, at least someone amenable to tedium.

The list below contains:

  • URLs for formula websites for multiple countries (with relevant and varied domain endings, such as .com, .de. .co.uk, etc. — in some cases, no specific site exists as of yet at a specific domain suffix, but I've included them in case a site is added at some time in the future)
  • websites of parent companies of formula companies
  • other WHO Code violators' websites, such as bottle or breast pump manufacturers that do not abide by the WHO Code
  • websites of related products (such as other brands and sub-companies under the violating parent companies, like Butterfinger for Nestlé and Simplisse for Dr. Brown's)
  • websites that consistently advertise such products or under such keywords (for instance, Target and YouTube, respectively, any of which URLs you are welcome to remove from the blacklist if you disagree with such reasoning; I was getting pretty annoyed after seeing them time and again when searching for formula keywords and can't guarantee they won't have similarly offensive ad content)

I've compiled as many as I could by searching for formula product names in multiple countries, and by going to the root company websites to gather as many brands and products as I could and then search for their URLs. As I searched, I also looked along the side and top for Google Ads (hey, find 'em where they live!) and blacklisted any ads that consistently showed up for formula keywords, that promoted formula or bottles in violation of the WHO Code, or that appeared to be advertisements for the companies on the blacklist.

I would like to thank TheLactivista on Twitter, PhD in Parenting, and Crunchy Domestic Goddess for giving me a solid head start. The rest was booooring Google searches for all the domains I could find. Thank goodness Nestlé is thorough in promoting its brands and URLs.

Reporting problem domains

The problem with this list is that formula companies are sneaky and are always coming up with new URLs to weasel past any such filters. Please report any new offending URLs you see in a Google ad (it must be the URL at the bottom of the ad, not the name or text above) so that I can add it to the list. We will not be able to eradicate unwelcome ads from showing up, but this list will hopefully cut down on the amount of unintentional page views, make the WHO Code violators' job harder, and continue our activism for breastfeeding support against the unethical marketing practiced by WHO Code violators.

To report new URLs that are in violation of the WHO Code, leave a comment on this post or contact me by email. To ensure violating companies are not given link love, any comments you leave with a URL can be obscured by adding spaces or spelling out "dot com" or similar techniques.

Activating the blacklist

To activate the list on your AdSense, go to your Adsense homepage and then select the "Allow & block ads" tab along the top. Click on "Advertiser URLs" in the left sidebar (see first screenshot), and then copy and paste the contents of the box below into the text box at the top of the ad-blocking page. Click "Block URLs" to save.

Click to enlarge

At the top where it says "Advertiser URL > Product:" you'll see that the "Content" field after that is a drop-down menu. Click on it and choose other AdSense products that you use. Paste the same list into each of those. For instance, I also participate in AdSense for feeds and search, so I pasted it into those products for my account.

Click to enlarge

Anytime a new URL is reported, come back to this page to copy the newest list, or enter it manually in all three boxes and save your changes.

The URLs are automatically sorted in alphabetical order, so it's easy to find a specific one.

Here is the list of URLs to block

Click within the box, then select all and copy.

Remember, we need your help to monitor for new URLs that must be blocked. Please report the specific URL by leaving a comment on this post or contacting me by email.

1 I will be writing more about the WHO Code and why it's important over at Hobo Mama, my parenting blog. As a quick summary, the WHO Code seeks to stem the outrageous marketing techniques used by infant formula manufacturers and related companies to undermine breastfeeding globally, despite such companies' clear knowledge of the WHO Code. Violations of the WHO Code have been disastrous for babies in developing nations and have had measurable deleterious effects on breastfeeding success and infant health in developed nations. Promoting the WHO Code is about ensuring the dissemination of appropriate information about infant feeding and supporting parents' choice in the matter, and is not an attack against any parents for their own choices or experiences in infant feeding.


Taking a rest from writing: One Sabbath day a week

When I was little, my dad and I read the Little House books together, and I remember being so impressed, but in a negative way, with what passed for a Sabbath around their house. Sundays were spent being bored out of their skulls — wearing clothes that couldn't get dirty, reading only the Bible, and attending, quietly, very dull church services.

It was from such pictures I got the idea that taking a Sabbath — one day of rest in the week — was unpleasant and tedious.

It wasn't until I became an adult that I grew to appreciate having a regular period of rest from work.

As a writer and blogger, my mind can whirl in a million directions at once. There are nights I can't get to sleep for going over and over nitpicky details about my site template's CSS code or the dialogue I want to tweak in my novel. When I finally do sleep, it will be fitful and filled with the same thoughts I had while awake — but completely unproductive. I'll wake up and think, "Yea! I solved my template problem. I'll just insert a penguin in … wait, no, that's probably not right."

When I start feeling unbalanced and edgy, then I know I need a break. But it's even more preferable to take one before I get to that point.

That's where the practice of a weekly day of rest comes in.

Unlike the Ingalls girls, our day of rest is a lot more relaxing and a lot more fun. It's a day to do what we want and not what we don't want. Maybe I want to write, and that's ok — to a point. If I'm writing because I feel I have to, then it gets shelved to another day.

If I want to do nothing in particular but, say, play Sims and watch junk on TV, that's allowed.

Chores are optional, as well. If I feel like doing a load of dishes because it's meditative, great. But if the thought of gathering all the laundry makes me feel anxious, then that waits for the next day.

What's not optional about our particular day of rest is spending time together. We've made a point of doing fun things as a family of three and as a couple on our Sabbaths as a way to reconnect and de-stress.

I sometimes also use my days of rest to connect with other loved ones, whether by working on sewing gifts that have gotten pushed aside during the week in favor of more urgent tasks, or by writing emails and letters.

I might also choose to garden, or work on a craft, or take a long walk. In the flurry of writing and parenting, sometimes I forget there is more to me, and the variety of tasks I can allow myself to do on a non-work day reminds me of the facets I don't see as much of.

Your day of rest could be any day of the week. We chose Sunday, because it's the day we have with the fewest built-in obligations. A pastor friend I know has his Sundays booked with work (no surprise), so he chose Monday. It could even be a floating day of rest that you schedule in each week as your calendar allows.

You could also choose not to have one day a week but more than one, or one day every other week, or one a month. Whatever recharges you and keeps you going is the point, but there's an established tradition by the wiser people among us that one day in seven is a good target to shoot for.

I also need longer stretches periodically to rest. We call these vacations. I usually have a lot of ambitions about what I'll accomplish, writing-wise or reading-wise or knitting-wise, on my vacations, and I usually accomplish nothing much at all. And you know? That's fine. By the time the vacation's over, I'm ready … to extend it. Once you start taking a rest, you'll realize it's not as antsy-making as you thought it might be. It's actually quite nice.

When I was in school and had a lot of deadlines, the idea of taking off one day a week seemed impossible. Now I know I could have used it even more so then. I challenge you to try, really hard, to reorganize your schedule so that a weekly day of rest is possible. This might mean saying no to some commitments and yes to your own need for peace. It might mean working ahead the day before instead of procrastinating. (Guilty here!)

If it's not possible to have a regular day of rest, then don't stress yourself more about not having a de-stressing day. Just set it aside as a possibility for later.

Keep in mind that a self-imposed day of rest does not need to be religiously observed. If you have a special circumstance where you truly must work through that week, then do so, and try to take care of yourself later with some extra recuperation after the crunch period.

Even when you can't manage a day of rest, taking times of rest within your day can be soothing as well. For me, when I eat a meal, I try not to work and just to enjoy myself. That means that while I'm working, I can be looking forward to that next mealtime break to give me a chance to reconnect with the outside world and with the pleasure of good food and good company. I also try to have a clear period of relaxation before bedtime to prevent some of those whirly dreams that distract me from sleeping.

The benefits of regular rest are many. I find less tendency to goof off when I should be working when I know there's a scheduled goof-off period coming. It also gives more balance to my days. Whether you work for yourself or a boss — but perhaps especially when you're self-employed – you need to know there are times when you're off the clock, when you can do something not for hope of financial gain or toward some lofty goal but because it pleases you. In rest, I become more aware of how significant — or, to be completely clear, insignificant — my work and my presence can be. It is in fact entirely possible for me to take one day off a week and have no one miss me. The world continues to spin on its axis even when I take a two-week vacation. Rest reassures me that there is more to my life, and more to this beautiful world, than writing. But it also energizes me and gives me strength to come back to that writing, to the work I love, and continue on. Rest, properly taken, gives perspective, balance, and rejuvenation. I think that's worth a day out of seven.

How do you take time off as a writer? How does it help your writing?

Photo courtesy Kevin Jaako on flickr (cc)


Creating your comment moderation policy

When you first start blogging, you'll probably have either zero comments or just your mom chiming in from time to time. But sooner or later, you'll have to figure out what to do about the comments you receive.

When I talk about comment moderation in this post, I don't mean the how of moderating comments, though that's a good idea for another post. For the purposes of this discussion, you might moderate comments by turning them off completely on certain posts or on your blog as a whole, manually approving each comment as it comes through and not allowing certain comments or commenters through your gate, or deleting comments once they're already posted. It doesn't matter for now. Whichever method you choose, you are framing a comment policy, deciding who gets a say and who doesn't.

There are some who protest that a blogger's choice to moderate comments amounts to censorship. This is hogwash. Censorship is when the government or authority prevents the little guy from being heard. Your blog is more like your living room, and you get to choose whom to invite inside. Once someone is there, you also have the choice to kick that person out if things get rowdy. Whether certain commenters or would-be commenters like it or not, you as the blogger are in charge and make the rules.

If you have a private blog, your rules can be entirely of your own making. If you have a more collaborative or public blog, such as the blog of a well-known newspaper, there are probably already rules in place for what does and doesn't get (or stay) published online or in its pages. For instance, newspapers and magazines generally try to present a balanced picture of what readers are saying in response to articles in the letters to the editor section — but they still don't print every letter that comes in, so even there, choices are being made.

So how will you form your comment policy?

There's no single answer, because everyone's blog atmosphere, and every blogger's tolerance level for discord, varies.

The easiest way to deal with comments is to let absolutely everything through. This allows the blogger to avoid any responsibility for policing, and everyone is allowed a voice. Unfortunately, "everyone" will include spammers and trolls, and this sort of atmosphere can be very unwelcoming for the discriminating reader. Don't get me wrong — many very popular sites have this sort of anything-goes comment atmosphere, so it's apparently working for some people and blogs — but you have to ask yourself what kind of atmosphere you're trying to promote. To go back to the living-room analogy, is your blog a party den, where everyone's whooping it up and chugging beer? Then, sure, let the comments be a free-for-all. But, if you're running a blog on, say, poetry writing and you picture your blog "living room" as a sedate conversation between intellectual artist types, I can guarantee you they're going to sidle out the door of your raucous party rather than staying to contribute. The anything-goes sites are better when you want hit-and-run participation (think YouTube, as one example), and the moderated sites are better when you want to build a community; either is a possibility, so consider what you're looking for in your audience.

Let's say you've decided to do some sort of comment moderation. On the other end of the spectrum, then, are blogs that delete without mercy any comment that disagrees with the blogger. This can also be a frightening atmosphere to step into as a reader unless you're prepared to brown-nose and nothing else. If you're never sure your comment will see the light of day, you're less likely to want to bother trying. And as a blogger, it's probably a chore to support that big head on just one neck.

So, somewhere in the middle then, eh? All right, here are some possible avenues to explore as you cobble together your own middle-ground commenting approval system:

  • Decide whether you're going to allow anonymous commenters. Some do, and some don't. I usually allow it if I think it's a comment left in good faith (particularly if it's left on a post about a sensitive topic), but not if I think the commenter's posting just to be inflammatory. Some people think anonymity gives them a license to be obnoxious with impunity, and I like to prove that isn't the case.
  • Decide what level of spam filtering you want to do. This doesn't refer just to whether you use a spam filter or word verification. Inevitably, someone will sneak through anyway. I for one do not allow comments from people with SEO names ("dining room tables," I'm talking to you!) or who post seemingly "helpful" comments pointing people to the same manufacturer's site as the answer to all problems on a certain topic. If someone wants to post about their company or product, I'd much prefer it to be out in the open and related to the subject at hand, and then I don't object. Sneakiness gets my goat, and earns a comment the axe.
  • Some sites thrive on discord and debate, and some aim to bring together like-minded people in a supportive environment. I can honestly say I understand both sides, and it's really up to you what sort of environment (living room) you want to foster. If you enjoy arguing into the night in real life, you might invite lengthy comment threads that throw facts and opinions back and forth. If that sort of thing gives your stomach butterflies and fills your sleep with nightmares (no, seriously, been there!), then encourage a more encouraging atmosphere. One way to do the latter, besides or instead of deleting comments that don't align with your beliefs, is to respond to comments in the calm and supportive manner you wish the discussion to proceed. If, on the other hand, you wish to encourage a rousing debate, you can stir things up in the comments by being as inflammatory as you hope others will be. Note that having an argumentative comment thread can be intimidating to readers who are conflict-averse, so do this only if you don't mind not hearing from such readers, and if you don't mind attracting commenters who are there just out of a sheer love of arguing. The downside to a calmer, supportive environment from the reader's perspective can be a sense of stasis, of not needing to read or respond to comments because of an expectation that everyone will be agreeing anyway. Think through what you envision your blog looking like, and see if you can't find the position that will keep you and (most of) your readers happy.
  • Some blogs deal regularly with sensitive topics and have a comment policy to exclude any comments or commenters who can't play by certain fundamental rules. For instance, if it's a fat-acceptance blog, the comment policy might warn off those who will post comments that are condemnatory toward fat people. If it's a body-acceptance blog, the comment policy might be broadened also to exclude comments that are condemnatory toward bodies of any size. If you have a particular ethic in mind with your blog, you might want to exclude comments that violate that ethic. It's up to you. Some bloggers prefer to allow through such comments and then debate and educate the commenter on the offensive language or position. Again, some of this decision will depend on what you want your living room atmosphere to be.

Finally, once you decide on a commenting policy, it's best to state it somewhere on your blog, in a dedicated post or page, or even just a paragraph in the sidebar or above your comment box. That way, you can refer to it if things start taking a downturn or if someone protests a comment deletion. I know, you're referring to your own writing to prove your authority, but for some reason, it works. If people know you've thought this out beforehand, they're more likely to go along with your decision.

What is your comment policy? What do you value in the comment space of blogs you frequently read? What do you wish was different?

Top photo courtesy Premasagar on flickr (cc)


The Secret Duke, by Jo Beverley

I thought I'd throw up (blargh! just joking) a little review of The Secret Duke, by Jo Beverley, before I forget what I think!

This book is part of the Malloren world, set in the Georgian period (mid-1700s, Malloren-wise). (Here's a full booklist at JoBev.com, and you can read an excerpt at her site as well.) I'm so used to Regencies that it's quite a treat to delve into a different era from time to time, and I love Jo Beverley, and I love the Mallorens.

So! To go a completely different direction, I'll discuss what I didn't so much like about this novel in particular.

But, first, I guess I should give a little intro and tell you what I did like. That's only fair, right?

Ok, the titular secret duke is the Duke of Ithorne, or Thorn, who likes to disguise himself occasionally and switch places with his illegitimate brother as Captain Rose and go on sailing adventures. The heroine is Bella Barstowe, who has escaped, due to a small inheritance, from under her pious brother's thumb after an unfortunate escapade (partially told in the prologue) that ruins her reputation. The characters were likable, and I enjoyed finding out what happens with Thorn. There was even a continuation of the Manx cat tale.


This book contains the denouement of Lady Fowler, and I was a little disappointed (illogically) that there wasn't more to Lady Fowler than previously implied. She is in fact an ill-tempered, prudish woman. I thought maybe there'd be some sort of sly twist, and she'd turn out to be a cunning heiress who just liked messing with people by sending out gossip sheets disguised as calls for societal reform. But, no, she's just as she appears to be. This isn't Jo Beverley's fault, you understand. I'm apparently hard to please. Bella goes to work with Lady Fowler, believing her to be a true hope of reforming society and helping women escape from cruel men's dominance, before she discovers that Lady Fowler is in fact in the end stages of syphilis, losing all reason, and susceptible to the planting of treasonous seeds by newcomers.

The novel seemed a little oddly paced to me. Bella hates her priggish brother, Sir Augustus, and then finds out something scandalous about him that makes her plot to ruin him, with Captain Rose's help. There is a looong setup with this foul-Augustus angle, followed by a somewhat uncomfortable ending to that particular thread. But then there was still half the novel left to finish. The novel in general felt like several different stories pushed together: Bella on her initial escapade, Bella confined to her brother's house, Bella working with Lady Fowler, Bella's adventure with Captain Rose against Sir Augustus, etc.

The story demanded a lot of leaps of credulity in terms of the believability of disguises. Bella alters her beautiful appearance when she goes to work for Lady Fowler by applying a sallow base of makeup and donning spectacles (and moles or warts, I believe?). Bella also poses as Thorn's plain-ish wife, and as a nymph at a ball. But she's a gently bred young woman, not a cosmetics expert or super-spy. Thorn plays Captain Rose, even though the real Captain Rose actually exists and has to interact with the same people Thorn does in some instances. They're only half-brothers, too, not fully identical twins or anything. I kept thinking someone (besides Bella, in one scene where she meets the true captain) would notice something amiss in Thorn's portrayal, particularly the people who work with the captain on his ship.

As I scan the Amazon reviews, I see I'm not alone in my quibbles, even among fellow Beverley diehards.

Now, even with my issues with this book, I was still captivated by the story and love Beverley's writing and characters. I guess even with a great writer, not every book can be the best book.

So there you are! If you're a Malloren completist, you'll want to read this to hear Thorn's story and meet the enchanting Bella. If you're just being introduced to Jo Beverley, I'd pick a different book for your first meeting.


Putting your internet fame to work

Click image to see the comic bigger at its home on BasicInstructions.net.

copyright Basic Instructions

I wonder which blogger I read wants a Japanese toilet seat.


Lauren's link love: Keeping it real

This is me being a genuine weirdo.
Once again, I'm bringing you a Sunday Surf-like experience of the best recent links I've found for the bloggers and writers out there.

Leave any recommended posts in the comments (yes, even your own — I'd love to take a look). Thanks for the great articles, all of the above, & happy reading!


Bed of Roses by Nora Roberts and writing about professions

Bed of Roses, by Nora RobertsI'm taking Rachel from Common Places' advice and just getting my thoughts out. I apologize if this review sounds a little rushed — because it is. The book was due back at the library three days ago. Whoops.

Bed of Roses, by Nora Roberts, is Book Two in the Bride Quartet, but I'm a rebel and haven't yet read Book One.

This is one of those contemporary romance novels I was talking about that exists in a decadently upper-upper-upper-middle-class American fantasy setting. It's bearable, though, because (a) the characters all work, HARD, for a living and (b) the protagonist's mother was, improbably, a Mexican-nanny-turned-wife.

In fact, as I read any novel, I often like to pretend I'm the film director setting up how I would shoot the book as a screenplay. If I did for Bed of Roses, I'd start with the story of Emma's parents meeting after her father was widowed (instead of that boring sleepover that's supposed to set the scene of the four friends but just kept confusing me as to who was who and which one was going to be the protagonist — maybe I shouldn't have skipped Book One after all). The flashback in the film would be grainy, sepia-toned, and wordless with a dreamy narration, and the romance would be palpable. It would break from there to Emma's face, daydreaming about them — setting up her inability to settle for anything less than pure romance.

Just to sum up my reactions to the novel: I liked it, but I didn't fall head-over-heels with it. Nora Roberts knows how to write, and she's got a varied collection of interesting women in this Bride Quartet.

I find contemporary romances a little harder to swallow than historical, I think because the authors always try so hard to make the heroes manly-men. In historicals, I guess I sort of buy it and figure they might be more nuanced if they lived nowadays. But when people act all macho in a contemporary novel, I just think, "I wouldn't want to know that d-bag." Which is not to say the hero was obnoxious; it's just a general tone I get from most contemporaries, and I didn't feel like this one broke that alpha-male mold.

On the flip side, current contemporaries (contemporary contemporaries?) often try so hard to make sure the female protagonist meets the feminist checklist of being sure of herself, a driven career woman, sexually sophisticated, etc. Which is fine. But often it feels a little bland in itself, like it's compensating for something — like, if we make it really, really clear that the woman is obsessed with her work, then it will be OK she needs sentimentality on the side. Again, just a tad stereotypical. If the macho hero doesn't feel like the type of man I would (did) marry, then that type of heroine doesn't feel like the type of woman I am.

I thought the romantic-plot setup of man-who-can't-commit vs. woman-who-craves-romance was a little … meh. You know, done before.

I don't know. I guess what I'm saying is I didn't particularly connect with either character, but I didn't dislike them, either. They were fine. The book was fine.

But I do want to talk a little about Nora Roberts' skill as a writer, in bringing an interesting profession into the series and doing a skillful job both of researching and writing the details of the business life. The women of the Bride Quartet jointly run the business of Vows, a full-service wedding planning company. Each woman in the quartet is responsible for a different aspect of the business, and Emma is the florist of the bunch (get it?).

Whenever an author needs to do a heap of research for a profession, there's a chance of either of two things going wrong:
  • cramming so many details in there that the readers get bored — it's a story, not a manual
  • being so bare bones that readers don't get a true sense of what the profession is like, or getting an inaccurate (or stereotyped) sense

I think Roberts spins it just right in Bed of Roses. Emma as a florist is utterly convincing (to me, as a non-florist) and the glimpse into a florist's life is fascinating (also, to me, as a non-florist).

There are little details that bring her world to life, like the fact her hands are always scratched from thorns and stems, despite working with something so seemingly delicate as flowers, and Roberts describes Emma using Neosporin the way other women use hand cream.

When the Vows ladies are discussing their business plans, Emma puts in a plug for an additional cooler — which I assume is some sort of cold storage to keep flowers from wilting. I don't even really care what it is exactly; I just appreciated hearing new vocabulary. It's like sitting in on a conversation with people from the circus. Isn't it fun to hear the nitty-gritty behind what from the outside seems like such a magical profession?

I think the choice of a wedding planning company was a master stroke, too, because there are so many ways to exploit that in terms of romance plot. But it's also a great way to bring interest to a novel through varied professions and a business in which women can be feminine while being savvy.

This is probably the shallowest part of this book review, but I thought the actual printing of the paperback was very nice. The size is a trade paperback, so larger than average, and the cover isn't glossy like most paperbacks but has that elegant muted sheen. What really stood out — at least as I was trying unsuccessfully to flip through the novel while writing this review — was that the edges of the pages are deckled. It's classy — the sort of detail a wedding planner, or a bride, might have chosen.

No, here's shallower: I was annoyed that it took so long into the novel before I could be sure Emma's hair was dark. Shouldn't that be upfront? I hate imagining characters wrong, or incompletely. I've read two books lately where hair color isn't confirmed till halfway through. And covers are no help in that regard, because (a) in both cases, the color is somewhat hard to see, and (b) I never trust cover artists to have read the book; I've been burned one too many times in the past. That was my overly dramatic way to say that covers often don't reflect the details of the characters' appearances as laid out in the text. Agreed?

What's the most interesting profession you've ever read or written about? What profession would you most like to research, assuming you would get to hang around the practitioners on the job? Come on, wouldn't the circus be awesome?


Iambic pentameter

via http://xkcd.com/79/

©xkcd {Creative Commons}


"Usernames must be at least 5 characters long" Facebook bug for custom URLs

If you've been getting this obnoxious error message —

"Usernames must be at least
5 characters long"

— when you're trying to set your Facebook custom URL, you're not alone.

I was having this problem lately. After much thought, trial and error while typing in possibilities, and a public opinion poll, I had decided on the custom URL for my Hobo Mama page: http://www.facebook.com/HoboMamaBlog

I toddled off to the Facebook link to claim my URL — http://www.facebook.com/username — which works both for personal Facebook pages and for business/blog/etc. fan pages.

I typed my choice into the little box and hit "Check availability." And, um … no. Facebook scolded me with an incomprehensible message: "Usernames must be at least 5 characters long."

HoboMamaBlog, I read. HoboMamaBlog. I stared at it. I squinted. Yes, even without all the bother of actual counting, that sucker was definitely over 5 characters.

Well, good old Google to the rescue.

I found this Hubspot blog post by Ellie Mirman: "How to Create a Facebook Page Vanity URL." Ellie in the post did not explain the error and offer a workaround — but Ellie in the comments section helpfully did!

Piecing Ellie's advice together with some advice I found on a Facebook forum that I for some reason can't locate at the moment, I played around with entering my name, erasing it, clicking "Check availability" while there was nothing in the box, then typing it in again. It still took a few tries, but eventually: It took! I have my new Facebook page URL!1

So, basically, it's a known bug. Facebook is aware of the issue (I'm told), but so far this is the best workaround.

Assuming you don't yet have a Facebook custom URL, here are the details on how to get one:

First, the why: It's easier! You can tell people to find you on Facebook by saying, "Go to Facebook slash HoboMamaBlog." Rather than saying, "Go to facebook.com/pages/Hobo-Mama/322453825286." Oof, what a mouthful! The former also fits better on business or calling cards, darling. And, you know, why not? It's fun; it's cute; it shows you care.

So you want one? Good.

Where: Go to http://www.facebook.com/username.

You can click on images to see them bigger.

Personal first: You will have to set a personal user name first if you don't already have one before setting any for your pages. My personal Facebook name is http://www.facebook.com/hobomama (and feel free to friend me if you like). As you can see, I "stole" hobomama from myself so it was no longer available when I wanted it for my blog's Facebook page, which meant I belatedly had to come up with something else.

Permanence: Do think long and hard about what you want your permanent URLs to be, for all your Facebook profiles and pages, because so far Facebook is being hard-nosed about allowing changes to usernames. Basically, you can change your personal one once. You cannot change your business (page) ones. You cannot transfer a username to or from someone else. (So on that note, triple check your spelling, too!)

Eligibility: All verified Facebook accounts are allowed to set a personal username. Fan pages, however, must have 25 fans before you can set a username for a fan page.2 (This is to prevent name squatting.)

What's in a name:
  • Usernames can only contain alphanumeric characters (A-Z, 0-9) or a period ("."). I was kind of bummed that no other punctuation was allowed, such as an underscore. If you use a period for your own aesthetic sensibilities, know that it does not make your username unique from the same name without the period(s). That is, "hobo.mama" is considered the same as "hobomama." I did check, thanks to Toni Lamn's suggestion.
  • Usernames must be at least 5 characters long. Har har har. But it's true. "HM" wouldn't fly.
  • You can't claim someone else's username. (Duh.)
  • You can't claim a copyrighted username — or you might be able to, but Facebook can then take it away if a rights holder complains. So even if your last name is McDonald and you're managing your family fan page, don't bother registering "mcdonalds" as your username.
  • "Certain words" are not allowed. I think we can all guess what might be on that list. But, really, do you want your mother to see such a username? Shame on you for even considering it. Unless you're not Facebook friends with your mom. Then it might sort of rock.
  • You're also not allowed to use super generic words like "pizza" or "flowers," to prevent (again) people from squatting on popular SEO terms.

How: Type in your username and click "Check availability." If you get the infamous "5 characters" error and your username is, in fact, more than 5 characters, then backspace, click "Check availability" anyway, then type again. Rinse, repeat. Hopefully one of those times Facebook will obey and let you go through with the process. You'll get a big warning that this will go on your permanent record. If you are happy with same, go ahead and confirm. Congratulations! You have a personal username, i.e., custom URL with Facebook.

Down to business: So, if you have a Facebook fan (er, "like") page and want a username for that one (or multiple pages), then you just go back to the same link — http://www.facebook.com/username — and start again.
  • Click "Set a username for your Pages" underneath the yellow box telling you your personal username has already been set.
  • You'll see a drop-down menu with all the pages where you're an administrator. Select the one you want.
  • The same rules for usernames as above apply.
  • The same error might also apply, so use the delete-and-click workaround.
  • Remember the important differences between fan page usernames and personal:
    • You need at least 25 people "liking" your page before you're allowed to set a name.
    • The name you choose will be permanent. Full stop.
  • Once you're ready, click to confirm.
That's it! Now you should be the owner of a brand-new Facebook Page custom URL. If you have multiple pages, just repeat the process again.

More info can be found in the Facebook help section on the subject.

Enjoy! And visit me. And like me! I'm nice.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lauren-Wayne-author/104277789602502?ref=ts (sigh — so long, so ugly)
(I set that one, too, while I was at it.)

Thanks again to Ellie for posting the workaround!

1 I only have a custom URL so far for my Hobo Mama page, because my Lauren Wayne page is soooo lonely that I do not as yet qualify for one. Anyone want to "like" me there? Anyone?
2 Did I mention I need more fans? I need more fans.


Where to write out of the house

Here's an article that offers an alternative to the local coffee shop for getting some writing done outside the home:

Better Than Vanilla: Where’s the perfect workspace for a freelance writer?, by Chad Schomber

It's a place with free wi-fi, comfy seats, convenient outlets, and a hushed atmosphere. Guessed it?

It's the library.

I alternate between the library and a coffee shop when I need a place to hang out while I'm out with my laptop.

The things I most like about the library?

  • Plenty of seating, including cozy armchairs and sturdy tables, depending on your needs
  • Atmosphere much more conducive to working than just goofing around on Twitter (ahem)
  • Can stay as long as you want without feeling guilty about not paying enough "rent" — your taxes will take care of that!
  • In the same vein, can employ the outlets and wi-fi in a cavalier manner
  • Need a reference book for research, or perhaps a magazine for a break? They're all right there.
  • Since I'm on a Mac, sometimes I use the library computers as references for how my site looks and behaves on a PC. And, of course, if you don't have a laptop, here's your chance to enjoy some unfettered out-of-home computer access!
  • Clean, unlocked restrooms

What I'm not so fond of?

  • Can't eat or drink
Sigh. I get in the mood for a snack, or at least something to wet my whistle as I work. Sure, there's a drinking fountain out in the lobby, but it's hardly the same thing as nursing a mug of white tea, is it?

Other places I've brought my laptop?

I've hung out at various cheap restaurants. Teriyaki places and sandwich shops work well, if they're close enough to leach the wi-fi from a Starbucks. You have to buy something to justify your seat, but honestly — a meal at a place like that can be cheaper than a drink at Starbucks! Barnes & Noble has really comfy seating and a café, a relaxing atmosphere, and plenty to browse if you're feeling uninspired. The downside to all these places: no outlets. So you have to save your battery but good. I keep my screen dimmed to migraine levels, so it's a trade-off.

Working outside is a catch-22. It has to be warm (and non-rainy) enough to be comfortable to sit outdoors for a long period. (Many's the time I thought the day was pleasant until I stopped moving and realized it was darn chilly.) But when it's warm enough to be comfortable, it's usually bright enough that your laptop screen is completely unreadable.

If all else fails, of course, there's always going back home...

Where are your favorite places to write? Any new locales I should scope out?

Photos courtesy, from top, brewbooks on flickr (cc) and Ed Yourdon on flickr (cc)


Lauren's link love

I've been participating in the Sunday Surf tradition over at Hobo Mama, as practiced by Authentic Parenting and Baby Dust Diaries. But sometimes I come across a link that has nothing to do with parenting but that I still want to share.

Finally, it occurred to me: The blogging- and writing-related ones can go right here!

Sometimes I do whole posts on articles that have been particularly helpful as a tutorial, but other times I've just enjoyed reading and learning from a post when I don't have anything specific to blog about in response (or not yet, anyway). So here's my chance to give a plug to those excellent articles I come across!

Let me know if you have any favorite posts or blogs to share! (Yes, it can be your own.) I'm always looking for good writers who blog about blogging or writing, either to subscribe to a feed or to follow on Twitter.

Thanks for the great articles, everyone, & happy reading!

Photo courtesy channah on stock.xchng
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