GUEST AUTHOR: KARIN LAINE McMILLEN – THE BIRDFEEDER OPERA

I really related to this story! And I thought you might enjoy it too. Oh, the cleverness in the animal kingdom. We think we are so smart but sometimes, I really wonder.

Marilyn Armstrong


The Birdfeeder Opera – by Karin Laine McMillen

I lived at home during my first year of graduate school saving money by commutable proximity to the University of Iowa. It was an interesting experience. The redefinition of my relationship with my parents was a little bumpy.

I poured ice cold water on my mother in the shower one day, no doubt trying to recapture some of the fun dorm life with my college mates. Mom was not amused. My dad found out where my sometimes boyfriend lived and felt it was ok to stand outside his window yelling “Karin I know you are in there.”

But once we had our “come to Jesus” on that topic things went a little better. I also think it was that moment when I grew up and decided I should get a job and my own apartment in Iowa City.

I digress. This is really the story of animal life and the amusement that often comes from human interaction, underestimation of the cleverness of wild creatures, and their symbiosis with our larger world.

Our beautiful home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa had been a run-down, dark, very boxy colonial when my parents purchased it. By the time my mother and father were done with it, a two-year process, it was a light, modern, flow-through home with all the amenities required for luxurious family living with three daughters.

It was situated in the woods atop a large bucolic gully. This was fantastic as it meant that my dad had no lawn to mow. My mom, being an opportunistic feminist, has never pumped her own gas, let alone operated any type of lawn machinery. She uses her feminist views to simultaneously sit atop a “little girl on a pedestal” throne whilst insisting that just because she is a woman, she shouldn’t have to do all the traditionally female tasks.

In short, she made my dad a slave to her every whim, including attempting to orchestrate the nature outside for her viewing pleasure.

My parents are both very good designers.

In our home, where solid walls used to be, a row of floor to ceiling glass doors and windows lined the entire rear of the home, offering panoramic views. A patio was constructed by my dad and my mother purchased and ordered the placing of multiple bird feeders for her viewing pleasure of year-round bird frolicking. Her favorite bird feeder was an oblong, cyclonic, ceramic, cyan, Scandinavian, seed-filled feeder with a lid at the top and holes and perching sticks at the bottom. In order to fill it, the douli-shaped lid slid on the two hanging ropes and was supported by the friction of the small ceramic holes against the rough wool twine.

In winter especially, my mother made it her mission to keep this particular feeder full. She enjoyed watching the birds flutter around it as much as she enjoyed ordering my father to fill it. During this year at home, when the Iowa winter was in full bloom, the barking began.

“Larry, did you buy bird seed for the Scandinavian feeder?” (Because everything is more important and better when it is labeled “Scandinavian”.)

Before the vowel of the known answer came back “no,” my mom was already on him.

“You go to Menards every day, why can’t you remember to buy my bird seed! And get the kind that has such and such, blah, blah, blah and this and that. NOT the kind that you got last time! I like the kind that is multicolored so that when it falls on the ground it is pretty. “Laaaarrry, are you listening to me????!!!!”

“Yes, Diane!” would come back just as the door to the garage slammed. I listened to this with detached amusement for several weeks. So I barely noticed when the tune stayed the same — but the lyrics changed. The new chorus was “Larry, did you fill the feeder? It’s empty again! I swear you didn’t do it!”

This was followed by the drumbeat of slamming pots and pans and the response “Diane, I filled it! I’m halfway through that bag”.

“I don’t believe you! Why is it always empty? I haven’t seen any birds all winter! You’re lying to me!!!!”

“Diane, why would I lie to you? Do you want to see the bag?”

“Don’t you bring that dirty bag in here!”

“Do you want to watch me fill it?” He would grumble unintelligibly while traipsing out in the subzero temperatures with said bag.

Not a raccoon, but close enough!

This went on intermittently in the early winter weeks and was thankfully interrupted with the new barking orders in preparation for the Scandinavian Advent and Scandinavian Christmas celebrations. But in early January, I heard the familiar call and response continue. As daddy’s little girl, I wanted to defend my dad. But in truth, I knew that he often lied to my mom and I had other things to think about.

Until one morning on my way to class …

As I walked towards our mudroom to retrieve my shoes, coat, and purse, my peripheral vision caught a large, darkish blob moving on the patio. It was sufficiently disruptive to my brain that I froze. Instinctively I knew it was an animal and any sudden movement could render the thing gone before I could ascertain what it was. I slowly turned and was able to fully observe a delightful little comedy.

Raccoon (Procyon lotor) raiding bird feeder at 8 PM in the brush country of south Texas, October. (Wild individual in wild setting.)

Precariously hanging with the use of two back paws from a tiny single branch was the fattest raccoon I have ever seen. He (don’t ask me how I know it was a he; I’ve had far too much contact with raccoons at summer camp and knowledge I wish I didn’t have) had one front paw in his mouth and one front paw inside THE bird feeder. He was scooping out and eating the multi-colored feast as fast as he could swallow.

I thought to myself, “Oh, that is funny. Dad didn’t put the top back on the bird feeder.”

I watched Mr. Fat Racoon steal the feed as the little birds on surrounding branches stared unblinkingly for the few and far between scraps which fell to the ground through the little bottom holes. I glanced at my watch and debated if I should continue to observe the scene and risk being late to class.

I even, briefly, thought of opening the door and chasing the raccoon away so the birds could have their food. But my previous encounters with raccoons made me think twice about that foolish notion. I’m not sure why I didn’t just bang on the window which would probably have scared him away, but I think it was the curious and mischievous nature that I share with the raccoon which made me continue to observe, amused and statuesque.

When the little paw could be seen attempting to find more feed from the open holes at the bottom of the feeder, the raccoon put both front paws to his mouth, licked each digit hungrily and then did something I didn’t expect.

With his two hands — sans opposable thumbs — he held onto the opposite sides of the lid and slid it down to its rightful place atop the feeder, adjusting it until it was even. He looked at his work, nodded to himself and climbed up the tiny branch which had bent 180 degrees from his weight. He then proceeded to climb down the tree trunk and sauntered through the brush displaying his hindquarters to me like a woman comfortable with her hips.

When I next heard the “Larry, did you fill the bird feeder?” opera, I smiled to myself, shook my head and envisioned that animal disappearing into our woods. It was several decades, and long after that house was sold before I told the tale one night at dinner …

SURVIVING WHEN YOU CAN’T PAY FOR DRUGS – A GUEST POST

Case Management

When you are diagnosed with an illness for which there is no cure, but long time survival is possible, you quickly learn that the most important case manager you will ever have is yourself.  You need to learn everything you can to survive — legally and, if necessary, illegally.  You tend to drop your concern for law when your life is at stake, especially when you will “First, do no harm” (Primum non nocere), the oath of doctors and others helping people survive.

Support group members will urge you to not merely educate yourself about the disease, but to get a good case manager. After you understand all your treatment options and the decisions you will have to make, your case manager can help you navigate the maze of health care bureaucracy. This is important for everyone, whether or not they have a job or insurance. Anyone can be taken advantage of by the system.

Illustration: NBC News

Early after an HIV positive diagnosis, I was laid off from the job which provided my health insurance.  The fight to start COBRA coverage was immediate.  Many states have programs to help pay for continued health insurance under COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act).  There may also be other drug assistance programs because the cost of medication, even with insurance, may be out of reach for those without jobs and even those with minimal jobs.

While state help was being lined up, my well-known insurance company was deciding whether to grant continued insurance.  Their basic argument was they were headquartered in another state and therefore were following other guidelines. The case manager got experienced lawyers familiar with this sort of trick to deal with the insurance company.  They finally offered COBRA and the state came through with payments.  This was the value of a knowledgeable case manager, but the process took time.

A Re-Purpose

The interval during the battle for coverage brought other concerns.  I knew I might be able to afford the multiple drugs for a month or two, but the extreme costs would quickly wipe me out.  That is when I learned about “other” assistance.  This kind of assistance is spoken of quietly by those who are desperate, but can be trusted.  It is the kind of help that takes place all over our region, and probably across the country too.

My case manager told me he might be able to help with some drugs, but not all.  When I came for an appointment one day, he told me to wait. He went to a pharmacy and came back with some of the medication I needed.  He took a black marker and carefully crossed out a name and gave it to me. He said it was mine now and not to say anything to anyone about this.  Ever. I left and kept quiet for years.  The agency he worked at is gone now, and I don’t know what happened to the case manager.

He had gone to a pharmacy that had secretly offered help.  When a patient did not pick up their HIV drugs for over a month, they did not put the item back in stock, but held it on the side for emergencies. If the item had been covered already by insurance, and the customer did not pick it up, they felt free to hand it to another. The drug company was paid and the insurance company was none the wiser.  This tactic is illegal, but many will run the risk to save lives.

Helping One Another

Not all managers are so resourceful or willing to run such risks.  Strictly speaking, it is against the law — dispensing drugs without a license.  There are individuals in support groups who are willing to assist with drugs, when no one else can.  For a while, there was an agency here that had acted as a go between to pass drugs from one patient to another.

In support groups, some would mention how they could bring unopened bottles of HIV medicine to the agency and they would keep it for those in need. Then if a member could prove they had a prescription for a particular drug the agency had on hand, they would give a month or two of the drug to the client.  That agency no longer does this or will even admit they did it for many years.  They could be shut down just like the agency referred to above.

Drugs are collected in many ways.  If someone who has gotten a three-month supply of medication, but then the drug was changed by his doctor, he would bring the unopened bottles to the agency to lock up in secret. If someone passed away, a mate might turn in unopened items to help someone else.

The fear of being caught helping to save lives has led many away from this type of help. Patients are left to do what they can for each other via contacts in support groups — or even “on the streets.”  Those fighting the disease can not imagine throwing out drugs that can help others.  Turning in drugs to be destroyed seems a bigger crime than “dispensing drugs without a license” for those who hold a prescription for a life-saving drug.

“Healing those who seek my help”

With the loss of agencies willing to help patients get drugs, legally or illegally, some doctors are willing to fill the void. There are those who collect back unopened drugs so others who can not afford them will benefit.  A doctor knows the prescription of a patient and will generally learn in private conversation who needs help.  If the drugs have already been bought and paid for, it seems a humane thing to do. In this country, this kind of help is unfortunately necessary.

The High Cost of Drugs

HIV drugs come in several classes and a patient is likely to take one or more from each of 3 or 4 groups per day.  Few drugs have generics and even those are expensive.  The retail cost in the United States for three or four of these drugs could run 4 to 5 thousand dollars per month.  Patients receiving various assistance programs are terrified of health care “reform.”  Out of necessity, we help each other.

When I was in Germany and discovered I had miscounted a medication. Of course I was panic-stricken.  I went to a pharmacy, who sent me to a local physician who spoke English.  I told her of my plight. When she was satisfied I had demonstrated I had such a prescription (I always bring proof if I travel), she wrote a new prescription. I went back to the pharmacy, prepared to charge to my credit card an outrageous amount due to my miscalculation. I knew my insurance card would not be honored overseas. The drug was reasonably priced, about one tenth what it costs retail here.

Aside from one doctor I know of, many who would otherwise be willing to help with drugs and health care services have been driven away –or at least underground.  Americans do not have the protections other countries around the world offer. In the absence of legal support, we do what we can to help everyone — not just with advice, but with life-saving drugs denied to many because they can’t afford them.


People without insurance die.
This is not a political opinion. It is a fact. 

NOTE: Since the author isn’t available to answer questions, comments are “off.”  I can’t answer questions because I don’t have any answers, sorry.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT LASER PRINTERS – GUEST POST BY LAUREN RIEBS

From Lauren Riebs of lauren.riebs@reviews.com comes this excellent review of laser printers. I have always wanted a laser printer. Compared to inkjet, they produce far cleaner text and a single cartridge lasts a very long time. But, laser cartridges are more expensive to buy in the first place, so you need to have sufficient printing to make the purchase worthwhile.

If you are working on a book and printing out many manuscripts, a laser printer might be exactly what you need, assuming you don’t also need a flatbed scanner and fax machine too. On the other hand, it might be worth buying a laser printer and a separate flat-bed scanner since they no longer cost as much as they did. 

You will find much more information and details on the author’s home site.


Finding the Best Laser Printer for Your Needs

Every small business or home office needs the right tools to succeed, but we’re not all tech experts. If you’re in the market for some new tech tools for your work, Reviews.com puts together extensive, comprehensive guides to all the products you’ll need. The following is their research to find the best laser printers available – and their four top picks.

(Following research originally featured on Reviews.com https://www.reviews.com/laser-printer/)

Research

A laser printer is ideal for a home office or small business looking to print up to a few hundred pages a day. People with only occasional printing needs, like movie tickets or their annual 1040, are better off with an inkjet as they probably won’t see the high use cost benefits of a laser printer. Laser printers are designed to print long documents much faster than their more common inkjet counterparts. For example, a laser printer can print on average 25 pages per minute compared to the average inkjet printer’s 15 pages. Even better, laser printers use toner. Although toner has a higher initial cost than printer ink, it’s cost effective in the long run because the cartridges last a lot longer — on average they’ll print 2,500 pages vs. an ink cartridge’s 200 pages.

Canon Color image CLASS LBP612Cdw

All-in-one printers aren’t really worth it. Multi-functional laser printers, or all-in-ones, include functions like faxing, scanning, and copying, but our experts advised we should steer clear. If one feature breaks down, that could leave you unable to print while waiting for repairs. Harmon says if you need a laser printer for personal work or a small business, “Don’t get an all-in-one printer. Buy a printer that does its job.”

We knew we wanted to provide both a black and white and a color option to meet varying business needs. Color laser printers are more expensive and you’ll also need to buy color toner which will add to maintenance costs. But even starting models have high output and let you add color to simple graphics like a graph or chart. If you simply don’t need color, save yourself some money and go for a black and white. So what’s the best laser printer? The answer comes down to a few key criteria. First, it should be able to produce high-quality documents with precise text and clear graphics. It should also be cost efficient, and setup and maintenance, such as replacing toner and paper, should be quick and painless.

The industry is largely dominated by five big brands: Brother, Canon, Dell, HP, and Samsung. Since specs aren’t always comparable between brands, during our reasearch we compared printers within each brand to find the best quality and price options for a home office or small business. We pored over consumer reviews from retailers like Amazon, Best Buy, and Office Depot, and considered recommendations from sites like CNET and Consumer Reports, to identify printers highly regarded for being reliable and easy to use, and which ones we really ought to miss.

Top Picks

The HP LaserJet Pro M203dw Printer is our pick for the best black and white laser printer because it excels at printing crisp text and sharp lines for graphs and charts. Pretty simple. Outside of wireless connectivity, the printer doesn’t offer any features, but we don’t mind, because using the printer and replacing toner or paper is painless. It’s more expensive than others on the market, coming in at $200, but If you want to quickly print documents with consistent high quality, the HP M203dw is a solid bet.Our pick for best color laser printer is the HP Color LaserJet Pro M252dw. This printer surprised us with its ability to produce vibrant colors, and even high-resolution images, accurately. The color is a bit dark, but with sharp text and clean lines the HP Color LaserJet Pro M252dw outperformed all the other color printers we tested. At $300, it’s not cheap, and it will require additional color toner cartridges. But its crisp results and features like an intuitive touch screen for checking toner levels or calibrating the printer make the HP M252dw a great pick for daily printing needs.

Dell E310dw Multifunction Printer

The Dell E310dw is great for those who want a cheap printer and don’t require perfect prints. At just $80, the Dell E310dw is the cheapest out of all the printers we tested and still prints crisp text without any problems. But, for those who need straight lines for their graphs or charts, the Dell might not be the best choice. It also has a small (32 MB) memory, which means documents of more than 30 pages may need to be printed in two sessions. Even so, it’s a great budget printer for text-based documents.

HP M252dw

 For those who prioritize precise colors above all else, the Canon Color imageCLASS LBP612Cdw produced the most accurate color tones. However, in terms of text and lines the printer was outclassed by the HP M252dw. Curved lines with the Canon were jagged and text wasn’t as detailed. In addition, navigating the Canon’s menu is a bit more difficult because the menu screen is smaller.

If you print a lot of colored graphics, the $250 Canon LBP612CDW is definitely worth a look.

DOING WHAT WE MUST: SURVIVING IF YOU CAN’T PAY FOR DRUGS – A GUEST POST

Case Management

When you are diagnosed with an illness for which there is no cure, but long time survival is possible, you quickly learn that the most important case manager you will ever have is yourself.  You need to learn everything you can to survive — legally and, if necessary, illegally.  You tend to drop your concern for law when your life is at stake, especially when you will “First, do no harm” (Primum non nocere), the oath of doctors and others helping people survive.

Support group members will urge you to not merely educate yourself about the disease, but to get a good case manager. After you understand all your treatment options and the decisions you will have to make, your case manager can help you navigate the maze of health care bureaucracy. This is important for everyone, whether or not they have a job or insurance. Anyone can be taken advantage of by the system.

Illustration: NBC News

Early after an HIV positive diagnosis, I was laid off from the job which provided my health insurance.  The fight to start COBRA coverage was immediate.  Many states have programs to help pay for continued health insurance under COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act).  There may also have other drug assistance programs because the cost of medication, even with insurance, may be out of reach for those without jobs and even those with minimal jobs.

While state help was being lined up, my well-known insurance company was deciding whether to grant continued insurance.  Their basic argument was they were headquartered in another state and therefore were following other guidelines. The case manager got experienced lawyers familiar with this sort of trick to deal with the insurance company.  They finally offered COBRA and the state came through with payments.  This was the value of a knowledgeable case manager, but the process took time.

A Re-Purpose

The interval during the battle for coverage brought other concerns.  I knew I might be able to afford the multiple drugs for a month or two, but the extreme costs would quickly wipe me out.  That is when I learned about “other” assistance.  This kind of assistance is spoken of quietly by those who are desperate, but can be trusted.  It is the kind of help that takes place all over our region, and probably across the country too.

My case manager told me he might be able to help with some drugs, but not all.  When I came for an appointment one day, he told me to wait. He went to a pharmacy and came back with some of the medication I needed.  He took a black marker and carefully crossed out a name and gave it to me. He said it was mine now and not to say anything to anyone about this.  Ever. I left and kept quiet for years.  The agency he worked at is gone now, and I don’t know what happened to the case manager.

He had gone to a pharmacy that had secretly offered help.  When a patient did not pick up their HIV drugs for over a month, they did not put the item back in stock, but held it on the side for emergencies. If the item had been covered already by insurance, and the customer did not pick it up, they felt free to hand it to another. The drug company was paid and the insurance company was none the wiser.  This tactic is illegal, but many will run the risk to save lives.

Helping One Another

Not all managers are so resourceful or willing to run such risks.  Strictly speaking, it is against the law — dispensing drugs without a license.  There are individuals in support groups who are willing to assist with drugs, when no one else can.  For a while, there was an agency here that had acted as a go between to pass drugs from one patient to another.

In support groups, some would mention how they could bring unopened bottles of HIV medicine to the agency and they would keep it for those in need. Then if a member could prove they had a prescription for a particular drug the agency had on hand, they would give a month or two of the drug to the client.  That agency no longer does this or will even admit they did it for many years.  They could be shut down just like the agency referred to above.

Drugs are collected in many ways.  If someone who has gotten a three-month supply of medication, but then the drug was changed by his doctor, he would bring the unopened bottles to the agency to lock up in secret. If someone passed away, a mate might turn in unopened items to help someone else.

The fear of being caught helping to save lives has led many away from this type of help. Patients are left to do what they can for each other via contacts in support groups — or even “on the streets.”  Those fighting the disease can not imagine throwing out drugs that can help others.  Turning in drugs to be destroyed seems a bigger crime than “dispensing drugs without a license” for those who hold a prescription for a life-saving drug.

“Healing those who seek my help”

With the loss of agencies willing to help patients get drugs, legally or illegally, some doctors are willing to fill the void. There are those who collect back unopened drugs so others who can not afford them will benefit.  A doctor knows the prescription of a patient and will generally learn in private conversation who needs help.  If the drugs have already been bought and paid for, it seems a humane thing to do. In this country, this kind of help is unfortunately necessary.

The High Cost of Drugs

HIV drugs come in several classes and a patient is likely to take one or more from each of 3 or 4 groups per day.  Few drugs have generics and even those are expensive.  The retail cost in the United States for three or four of these drugs could run 4 to 5 thousand dollars per month.  Patients receiving various assistance programs are terrified of health care “reform.”  Out of necessity, we help each other.

When I was in Germany and discovered I had miscounted a medication. Of course I was panic-stricken.  I went to a pharmacy, who sent me to a local physician who spoke English.  I told her of my plight. When she was satisfied I had demonstrated I had such a prescription (I always bring proof if I travel), she wrote a new prescription. I went back to the pharmacy, prepared to charge to my credit card an outrageous amount due to my miscalculation. I knew my insurance card would not be honored overseas. The drug was reasonably priced, about one tenth what it costs retail here.

Aside from one doctor I know of, many who would otherwise be willing to help with drugs and health care services have been driven away –or at least underground.  Americans do not have the protections other countries around the world offer. In the absence of legal support, we do what we can to help everyone — not just with advice, but with life-saving drugs denied to many because they can’t afford them.


People without insurance die.
This is not a political opinion. It is a fact. 

NOTE: Since the author isn’t around to answer questions, comments are “off.”  I can’t answer questions because I don’t have any answers, sorry.

WHAT ARE THE ODDS? LONG ODDS ON TRUMP – LARRY JOSEPHSON

Presidential Debate Odds: As time runs short, Trump faces long odds

trumpclintonwd

In the famous 1979 film Apocalypse Now, Robert Duvall’s character uttered one of the all-time great movie lines when he looked out at the carnage that the war had created and declared, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”

Figurative napalm is what Donald Trump has introduced to American politics, and if he is going to go down, he has made it clear that he is going to burn down his Republican Party and a good portion of the body politic itself in the process.

Unprecedented in U.S. presidential campaign history, Trump and his army of so-called “deplorables” stand pretty much alone. He trusts only his family, a few remaining party outliers, and his Twitter feed. And as he heads into his third and final debate against Hillary Clinton (Thursday, Oct. 19, in Las Vegas), it appears that the only variable left is the size of the defeat which is almost guaranteed on Nov. 8.

Vegas is the perfect backdrop for Trump. In casinos up and down the Strip, in the shadow of his own hotel/condominium complex on the north end, down-on-their-luck gamblers reach deep into their pockets for cash that will buy one last roulette spin, one last hand of blackjack that will start a winning streak.

The debate is Trump’s final roll of the dice.

How’s it going to play out? To the odds!


Presidential Debate No. 3 Odds


Odds to win Gallup’s post-debate poll

Trump: 4/5

Clinton: 5/4

The slight edge goes to Trump here primarily because Clinton’s cautious instincts will lessen the likelihood of an all-out brawl. More likely, Trump will come out firing and Clinton will counter with her version of Dean Smith’s four-corners offense. Trump on points in a split decision.

Over/Under on number of times Alicia Machado is mentioned by name: 0.5

Machado’s 15 minutes has been over for a while and she’s Clinton’s break-glass-in-case-of-emergency talking point if Hillary feels she needs to say something to further secure the women’s vote.

Odds the Clinton camp questions the impartiality of moderator Chris Wallace: 7/8

If it happens, more likely that it occurs pre-debate in an effort to soften the tone of the questions that Wallace asks. Chances of a full-bore, Fox-imposed Wallace attack on Clinton were reduced dramatically when Roger Ailes was forced out at the cable network.

Odds Wallace asks Trump a question about his tax returns: 5/2

Wallace has pretty much avoided this issue on his signature Sunday morning talk show on Fox, so that’s an indication that either he was ordered to go silent on it by his bosses or he doesn’t think the issue is all that important. If taxes haven’t been mentioned by the 45-minute mark, Clinton may have to reach for her bayonet and do the job herself. But she’d much prefer that Wallace brings up the topic.

Odds the candidates shake hands on stage prior to the debate: 1/3

They didn’t shake before debate no. 2, but were forced to say nice things about each other at the end of that second debate and did shake in the aftermath. I foresee a pre-debate shake for round three, though it will be a grudging, insincere handshake between two fourth-graders who have been sent to the principal’s office for fighting at recess.

Odds on how many times the word “Wikileaks” will be said during the debate

0-2:  5/2

3-6: 4/1

7-10: 6/1

11 to 15: 6/1

Over 15: 3/1

It’s pretty much a lock that it will be the core of either the first or second question that Wallace asks. Clinton probably will not use it at all. Trump, of course, will use it as a hammer. The question here is whether or not Trump just uses “emails” instead of “Wikileaks” after the first mention.

Odds any of the women who have accused Bill Clinton of inappropriate sexual advances will be at the debate: 2/1

Trump used them as props at the second debate to divert attention from his “Pussygate” bus comments from 2005. Not likely that he’ll pay their airfare and expenses a second time.

See the original at: Pres. Debate Odds: As time runs short, Trump faces long odds

OCTOBER 11, 1531 – THIS DAY IN HISTORY

October 11, 1531

For us here in the US, history started in one of several discrete moments. For those of us with Viking ancestry, it begins in Vinland — Newfoundland — around 1000 CE meaning Newfoundland should properly be called, “Nearly-newfoundland.” For others it began in 1607 in Jamestown or 1620 at Plymouth Rock. Yet, events in Europe that occurred long before the colonies began to succeed and endure affected the culture than emerged in America.

One of these events was the Second War of Kappel that happened in Kappel am Albis in near the border between Canton Zürich and Canton Zug, a brief, bloody rout in which 500 soldiers from Protestant Zürich were killed by an army from the five nearby Catholic Cantons.

Zürich had not been Protestant long — in fact, nowhere had been Protestant long. The conversion of Zürich was led by a charismatic preacher, a priest, by the name of Huldrych Zwingli.

huldrych-zwingli-b-albrecht-du%cc%88rer
Portrait of Zwingli by Albrecht Dürer

When we think of the Reformation now, we think of Tudor England and Martin Luther, but it was a far more complex event. Luther and Zwingli, who were contemporaries, debated over doctrine several times, hoping to find a way to bring their two movements together. Their efforts fell apart over the question of whether the bread and wine changed to the body and blood of Christ during communion. For Luther it did; for Zwingli, no. The two men, from then on, led rival reforms each in his own Imperial city with more or less support from local princes and city leaders.

Each of these reforms increased in size and power until the Pope convened a council in the Imperial city of Speyer in 1529 and declared all reformed religions heresy. Those who practiced these religions — and any other of the emergent non-Catholic religions — were declared heretics.

See the full story at: October 11, 1531

SO YOU WANT TO BE A WRITER – PART III – MARTHA KENNEDY

Me in ObfeldenIs today Saturday? No, it’s Sunday. This should have appeared yesterday. Right here. Except — I thought yesterday was still Friday, but woke up very early this morning with the distinct feeling of having missed a deadline. In more than 40 years of working as a professional writer and editor — this is my first missed deadline. I suppose it was bound to happen someday, but I’m very sorry anyhow.

And so … a day late, but not too late … is the third of three posts by Martha Kennedy on getting a novel into print.

This one hits close to home for me. It’s the same process I went through. Many of us have self-published, and even more, will do so eventually. With traditional publishers thin on the ground, we find ourselves facing a choice: self-publish or keep trying to get a publisher to pay attention. At what point do you decide to stop waiting and move ahead on your own?


Self-Publishing – The Other Way to Do It

By Martha Kennedy

Some people have broken into “the big time” of commercial publication through self-publishing.

Most don’t.

There are manifestos now stating that self-published work is every bit as good as conventionally published work. That is not necessarily false, but is it necessarily true?

Lots of bad writing is published commercially. Still, I believe more bad writing is published by individuals using free, self-publishing platforms such as Lulu, Createspace, or IngramSpark.

The wonderfulness of “Indie” publishing is that anyone can publish a book, but being able to publish a book doesn’t mean the author can write. Which is why a stigma still lingers around self- or Indie-publishing. It is frequently a valid issue.

72-The Bros Path Cover PromoIn response to the problem, organizations are emerging that seek to find and reward good writing in self-published books. Since I only write historical fiction, I’m not familiar with all of the organizations but I know one.

IndieBRAG is a group of volunteers who read books that have been submitted to the organization. The books are rated on a very fine, proprietary “score card” which includes the physical presentation. If the book earns a certain average score or above, it is awarded the IndieBRAG Medallion.

Fewer than 10% of the books submitted (all genres) win this award. IndieBRAG then posts reviews everywhere relevant (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads), stating, “We are proud to announce that TITLE by AUTHOR is a B.R.A.G.Medallion Honoree. This informs readers that the book is worth their investment of time and money!”

In my own area, the Historical Novel Society publishes a review several times a year. One of the reviews is Indie Novels. Such novels are submitted to them, then undergo a rigorous test before they can be awarded an Editors Choice or short-listed for the annual Indie Book Award.

The dark side of this trend is you will find companies online who will take your money in exchange for an award or a positive review.

None of these groups – good or bad — existed when I published my first “Indie” novel, Martin of Gfenn in 2011. I paid attention, though. As soon as I learned of new opportunities for my novel, I submitted it. Martin of Gfenn has won both an Editors Choice from the Historical Novel Society and an IndieBRAG Medallion. My second novel, Savior, is also an IndieBRAG Medallion honoree.

Nonetheless, self- or Indie Publishing — whatever you want to call it – has a long way to go before they will be as well-regarded and sought after as commercially (traditionally) published books. Beyond the “stigma,” lies another hard reality: people who publish their own books are (typically) writers, not marketers. Bookstores, especially chains like Barnes & Noble, don’t stock Indie books, though they will sell them by special order.

It does not mean you shouldn’t self-publish. It does mean you should be aware of the challenges involved.

It’s Easier Than You Think

For anyone whose ability to use common software is slightly above average, self-publishing is easy. For those who do not have the skills, every platform offers expert services plus many post-publishing services, among them, marketing. For me, the offers are great, but far out of my price range. Nor am I sure how effective they are … and I have no way to find out.

There are also many independent, free-lance, people who have made a business of editing, formatting, cover design — pretty much every service a self-published author needs to make a good-looking, readable book. These free-lancers are often more competitively priced than the same services offered via the publishing platforms.

I enjoy designing book and their covers. I’ve learned as I’ve gone along. I didn’t even attempt to publish Martin of Gfenn before I’d gone through the entire process with a small test book of essays. I do invest in a good editor with whom I work well.

When The Brothers Path experienced such maltreatment at the hands of agents and publishers, I decided to fight, to bust my ass marketing this novel and the other two, as well.

These days, I get up every morning, and “go to work” marketing my fiction. I have accepted advice from everyone who has offered it. I’ve also done a lot of online research. I’ve spent $300 on a virtual book tour and $100 for an advertisement on Goodreads.  I have set up giveaways (which not free for authors) and have made a book trailer for The Brothers Path. I have a webpage (marthakennedy.co) that tells everyone about all my novels and links back to each novel’s webpage.

I’ve sought reviews, issued a new edition of my second novel so it conforms more to the third because they are, loosely, prequel and sequel — both about the same family, though nine generations apart. I’m going at it as if I this was a paid job — because it is the only way I will get paid to do it.

Internally (hopefully not eternally), I’m contending with shyness and dislike of being with groups of strangers who expect something of me. I’m beginning to accept that I need to go out into the world to make connections rather than friends. I’m trying to manage a launch of my book that isn’t just me and my pals sharing a pizza.

But … I would rather write.

Why Write?

With all the obstacles to a book getting published, it’s not unreasonable to ask the question.

The experience of trying and failing to conventionally publish a novel turns many people away from writing. Maybe that’s a good thing. I don’t think anyone should write if they have another route to happiness.

Not being published does not have to mean not writing. Give that idea a little while to sink in. For anyone who genuinely loves writing and who has stories to tell, writing is a pleasure. All by itself. The reason I’m not (currently) satisfied with simply writing (although, in principle, I am completely satisfied with it), is because of the people who have read my books.

I write serious literature. It’s readable and friendly. The characters are likable, but you don’t write about leprosy, God, depression, death, religious war, bad parenting, adolescent confusion, torture and call it “light reading while you’re waiting for the airport shuttle.” I don’t write that stuff. I don’t know why I don’t write it. I just don’t.

Our writing reflects our lives, ourselves. I know things about my life that my readers probably will not guess at which I do not completely understand. But I’m willing to follow inspiration through the labyrinth toward a good story. I’m honored by the gift.

My novels have affected people. Many readers have left reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, or written directly to me, or spoken to me, telling me what a story meant to them.

A few weeks ago some friends and I were driving to Great Sand Dune National Park. This amazing place is in my neighborhood. Both neighbors have read — and loved — my books. They understand what I’m trying to do now. Their understanding means a lot to me. We got on the subject of why I write, in passing, light conversation, and I said, “This might sound arrogant, but my books are what I have to share with others.”

My friend said, “That’s not arrogant at all.”

To learn more about Martha’s historical fiction, go to marthakennedy.co. Her daily blog can be found at http://marthakennedy.wordpress.com/


THE BROTHERS PATH, by Martha Kennedy

The world-shattering tumult of the Protestant Reformation enters the Schneebeli household when Rudolf Schneebeli is born two months early and dies a few minutes later — without being baptized.

Named for the well trodden track linking the Schneebeli farmhouse to the old Lunkhofen castle, The Brothers Path is set in a Swiss village near Zürich, between 1524 and 1531.

It chronicles the lives of the six Schneebeli brothers, Heinrich, Hannes, Peter, Conrad, Thomann and Andreas. Each brother navigates his own path through, around or directly into the deadly drama of the Protestant reformation.

Two hundred years after the events recounted in The Brothers’ Path, thousands of immigrants, mostly Mennonites and Amish, left Switzerland for America seeking the safety and freedom they could not find at home. If the novel teaches a “lesson” it would to remind us why immigrants to America have always been adamant about separating church and state.

Use this link for: The Brothers Path on Amazon for Kindle and in paperback.


If you haven’t read part I, you will find it here: SO YOU WANT TO BE A WRITER – PART I 

You can find part II here: SO YOU WANT TO BE A WRITER – PART II