Hiking with Santa: A day in the life of a journalist

Yesterday I went on a hike with Santa and his rein-goats –I said “rein-goats,” not reindeer, and it was another interesting moment in the life of this journalist. It played out something like this:

I pitched an idea for a Christmas story to a local newspaper, and the publisher/editor gave me the go-ahead. While investigating (this is something any good freelance journalist does) Christmas traditions in the city where I live, I was put in contact with (one contact almost always leads to another… funny how that works) the towns very own Santa Claus, who has been on duty for over 20 years. Let me reassure you… apart from this Santa’s “real” beard and belly, there was nothing traditional about this guy. He’s very clearly a different kind of Santa!

When I called him on the phone, he was loud, jovial and very willing for me to interview him, but he had one stipulation. I had to show up on the morning of his big debut, which was held at this lovely historical museum and ranch, for an 8-am hike around the lake with him and his rein-goats. I agreed, and showed up with my camera and hand recorder ready to take on the morning with Santa. It was a lovely morning. The goats seemed happy, Santa led the flock and I had to follow behind. However, you really don’t want to stand or walk too closely behind a herd of goats. They poop FREQUENTLY, and it was very challenging trying to dodge their green pellets while trying to conduct an interview.

Everything was going along smoothly until my hand recorder stopped working. Suddenly I found myself trying to take notes while hiking, which was ridiculously difficult, especially with a herd of goats directly in front of me. I kept tripping on their hoofs, and then finally Santa said, “Uh, are you okay back there? What’s happening?” I said, “Well, my recorder battery died, and I am trying to keep up with you, while dodging goat poop and take notes on everything your sharing at once.” He answered back, “Uh huh… and how’s that coming?” I said, “Well, it’s not. Can we do this after we finish the walk?” He said, “Tell you what…”Why don’t you come with me while I suit up and get made up for my big appearance, and you can interview me while I get ready?”

Sounded like a good idea to me… so, game plan #2 came into being. He had exactly an hour and a half to shower, color his greying beard, eyebrows and hair white, put stage make up on his face, rosy up his cheeks and get dressed. What I wasn’t prepared for was Santa to come out of the shower in his boxers. That’s right. Santa came out of the bathroom at his friends house in his underware, and said, “There’s no way I am putting that hot Santa’s suit on before I have to, and so hope you’re not offended by seeing a fat man in his undies darlin’, but you’re gonna have to deal with it, cause I ain’t putting clothes on while I get made up!”

So there I was, in the middle of Santa’s inner sanctum watching him paint his beard and hair snow white, put his face make-up on and suit up. By the time he got his heavy red velvet suit on, he was dripping with sweat from head to toe, and affirmed his absolute hatred of the beard and the costume. He then told me that the beard comes off on December 26th and he is counting the days, but in late February or March, he begins growing another one again.

We left his friends house, and went over to the museum, where he began a 2-day run of his Santa act.

I asked him what he did when he’s not playing Santa and he said, “Oh, you mean when I’m not making toys back in the North Pole? I drink beer, belch, back-pack with my packing goats, build cannons (only for the novelty of it), work as a high-tech plumber (not the toilet fixers), and volunteer for various organizations in the community. Occasionally I boggie board, and have considered taking up surfing. I don’t take people’s B.S., and you don’t really want to know what I think of Christmas…”

Hiking… (Before picture)

The bambino stopping for a little early morning snack

Surf’s up Santa…

The After Picture



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So much more than a bird

On occasion, I tutor English/Writing to high school or college students, and last weekend I worked with a college student from China who was trying to write his final paper on William Butler Yeats famous poem, “Leda and the Swan,” written in 1928.  Normally I enjoy working with students, and helping them find meaning to text, but this time, I felt a bit stumped.  You see, this particular student barely spoke English, so to understand poetry from the early 19th century, let alone write a critical paper was simply not happening.  I admit to being a bit overwhelmed, as he sat there with a very confused look on his face while I broke down the poem word-by-word using a translator and the dictionary.  Even with a word-by-word dissection, this poor fellow was lost in a crosswalk, and I was afraid to see how his final paper would turn out.

The fact that he continued to yawn through the entire near 4 hour tutoring session was probably a sign that he was bored, not getting it, tired, or perhaps a combination of all three.  It was a most interesting session, and I suppose it was my curiosity as to how this would all turn out that kept me intrigued, because his inability to comprehend 90% of what I was saying was rather frustrating. Naturally, there is no one to blame.  This was purely circumstance, however, it was exhausting to break apart every word and have him still completely miss the meaning of a sentence.

There was a moment of absolute humor, in fact, it was all I could do to keep from laughing my head off (naturally I had to act composed).  We were approaching the middle of the third stanza, when suddenly he slammed his fist on the table, sat up erect in his seat and said, “I get it, I get it now… the Swan is a bird!”  Wow.  I had absolutely no response.  What could I say?  Yeats swan is so much more than a bird! This embellished masterpiece is a potpourri of Greek mythology, nineteenth century occultism, English literature, European politics, Christian imagery, bundled up in a brilliantly composed sonnet.  The swan of course represents the god Zeus, and his rape of Leda – a famous story in Greek mythology.

I almost felt guilty taking his money, but after 4 hours, we said good-bye, and he seemed content that he had a handle on the swans identity.  I really did feel for this kid, so I told him to email me his final draft and I would edit it free of charge.  I also specified that this would only be an edit, not a re-write of his paper.  He was very grateful, since he was quite concerned about getting a good grade.  Three days later I received a paper in my email box, with no name on it, and it was not a critical analysis of “Leda and the Swan” at all, but a critical paper written on Robert Browning’s “A Lovers’ Quarrel.” I was floored, but admittedly, I was even more astounded when I read this masterfully written paper, knowing full well that this guy either purchased someone’s paper, or hired someone to write this.  I was somewhere between irritated and rolling with laughter, so I decided to ask him what on earth happened to our 4 hour tutoring session? After he received my probing email, he wrote back saying, “Oh, I so sorry. Paper not mine (ya think?), it belong to friend, and he need help too. I send my paper tomorrow.” HELLLLLLLLLLLLO!  Since when did I tell him I would edit a second 8 page college essay for free?  After nicely explaining to him that he tried to take advantage of me, I told him his friend would need to pay me to edit the paper, and that I would still edit his at no charge (I really am a nice person).

He agreed, and the next day I received his paper and his friends money (I even gave him a discount).  Truthfully, upon seeing it, there were simply no words.  Needless to say, it’s doubtful he’ll be sporting an A.

So, the moral of the story is…

Actually, there is no moral of the story. It’s nearly 11 p.m., and I’m going to visit the sandman.

Good night.

(The poem)

Leda and the Swan

by William Butler Yeats

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

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Guarding Your Time: Just say “no!”

It’s so easy to get caught up in “whatever,” especially for those of us writer’s who are self-employed and set our own hours. Protecting your time, and staying on a productive path means that you actively embrace the art of saying “no.”  That’s right.  Here’s an example:

You wake up ready to take on the day!  You take a brisk walk around the block, come home, throw on a pot of coffee, shower, dress, grab some coffee and a light breakfast when “suddenly” the phone rings.  It’s your best friend and she/he is off work for the day and wants to go to lunch and maybe catch a movie.  After-all, matinee’s are cheaper.  You toil for a minute, and feel heat begin to rise up in your inside, while forming a slight sweat at the top of your brow.  Now, I promise you… you’re not feeling this sweaty, warm sensation because you are having a hot flash, or the temperature has suddenly elevated 10 degrees.  Au contraire… this is about the fact that you “KNOW’ you have work to do, and just entertaining the idea of doing lunch and taking in a movie causes you to break a sweat.  However… You justify the idea with thoughts like, “I never get to have a fun day.”  “I could use a break.”  “I haven’t hung out with this friend in forever.  It really is rude.”  “I’ll just go to lunch and forgo the movie (yeah right).”  “I don’t want to hurt her or his feelings.”  The list of justifications are endless, but they are rarely justifiable.  In truth, you should just say, “no,” and take charge of your time, however…

You DON’T!

Time management is a set of principles, practices, skills, tools, and systems working together to help you get more value out of your time with the aim of improving the quality of your life.
Time management is not just something that should be watched in business, but it is a useful skill for every aspect of life. From the moment you wake up in the morning, to the time you go to sleep at night, the outcome and productivity of your day is going to depend largely on your ability to manage your time effectively.

Part of the ability to manage time involves prioritizing the events of your day. Learning how to determine what to do first and do second, or not do at all. If you learn the skills of time management, you’ll accomplish more during the day, but you will feel a great sense of satisfaction about the control you have of your life. It will seem like you actually have more time to spare. If you don’t learn how to manage your time, productivity will be difficult, and people will drain you, because chances are you won’t be able to say “no.”
Avoiding procrastination is also very important in managing time for the simple reason that procrastination puts off what should be done now, and in the end when you wait to get something done that could be completed now, it makes it difficult to do the next thing because you’re always playing catch-up.
No one will ever guard your time for you. You alone can take charge of your life and calculate your day.

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“Whenever” never comes: The truth about time management

It’s hot today, and  I don’t much feel like sitting at my desk and working.  I would much rather go down to the beach, spread out an over-sized blanket, sip coconut water, listen to the sounds of crashing waves, and enjoy the sunshine.  However, even though I live blocks from the ocean, it’s not a possible given my schedule.
Let’s talk about productivity and organization.  Do you feel the need to be more organized and/or more productive? Do you spend your day in a frenzy of activity and then wonder why you haven’t accomplished much? With so much talk about “time management” in the business world, it’s hard to ignore.  However, it’s not really about managing time.  How do you really do that?  After all, there are only 24 hours in a day.  Since time doesn’t change, what exactly are we managing?  In truth, we are managing ourselves.
Harry is a freelance write who works from home.  Because Harry works for himself, he enjoys having “free” time  during the course of the day.  Today, Harry’s day went something like this: Harry rose to the sounds of his iPhone going off at 8 am.  Realizing that he had a number of magazine profiles to write and some editing to do, he figured he would knock them out “whenever.”  So, keeping that in mind, Harry threw his work-out clothes on and decided to run to the gym.  He raced out the door, stopped at Starbuck’s for a double latte, and then made his way to the gym.  At 11am, Harry left the gym after getting a phone call from a buddy who wanted to meet for lunch.  It sounded like a great idea, so Harry met his friend at their favorite local pub. There’s nothing like a refreshing beer on a hot day.
Two hours and two beers later, Harry left the pub, feeling stuffed and a little sluggish.  “Must be the heat,” he thought, only he had been in air conditioning for the bulk of the day…Go figure… When Harry got home, his best friend, Dewey greeted him at the door with a “look” of total dissatisfaction.    Once Harry walked into the living room and saw the over-sized patties that Dewey left on the floor, Harry realized that he neglected to let his big golden retriever out to relieve himself, nor did he take him walking before he left the house.  Consequences are a funny thing…
At 1:30, Harry “still” had not even peeked at the work piled on his desk.  Even so, he decided to take a few minutes and take Dewey on his morning (now afternoon) run. Running out the door with Dewey, Harry said, “Okay buddy, we can jam for like 20 minutes, and then I gotta get to work.”  You have to appreciate his heartfelt honesty…
The 20 minute jog lasted all of  10 minutes because everyone knows it’s too hot to run a dog at 1:30 in the afternoon in Southern California. It should have been no surprise to Harry when Dewey made a be-line with his ball for the first body of water he could find, soaking his furry body from head to paw.
Harry thought, “Oh shit, now I’m gonna have to bathe him, and I need to work.” The first sign of panic is pretty easy to recognize.  You know the feeling… Heat suddenly rises at the nap of your neck while your heart begins to race a little, and your breathing gets restricted.  When you live in So Cal, it’s easy to blame this kind of panic attack on poor air quality.  However, the air has nothing to do with it.  It’s that rise of irritation at everything or everyone that suddenly interrupts your day, because you are out of time!
Harry bathed Dewey, but afterwards he was so hot and tired that he forgot himself for a moment, grabbed  a beer, sat down on his over-sized soft Italian leather sofa, and proceeded to fall asleep.  You can imagine his panic when he woke up at nearly 5 p.m. only to find that he had not done one ounce of work!
Somewhere between his latte and Dewey’s bath was Harry’s problem. Needless to say, Harry’s day was ridiculously unproductive.
This really isn’t about time management, but Harry organizing his priorities and changing his behavior. Do you find it hard to manage your work load?  Are you accomplishing what you need to accomplish during the course of the day?  There are some things you can do to re-organize your priorities and find out where you’re wasting time. Start by looking at where you spend your time during the day.  Take a day and write down everything you do from the moment you wake up.  Believe me, a lot of time bandito’s will surface to your amazement!  Things like:  Fiddling on facebook, twittering yourself happy, net surfing, answering every email that comes your way, talking on the phone, eating/snacking, or socializing instead of working. Once you have isolated a typical day, and you take a look at all of the seemingly harmless things you do, you will be shocked at the minutes that fly by while engaging in all of these activities.  You will quickly see that much of this stuff is an utter waste of time.  This is not about time management, as much as it is changing your behavior.  It’s also about setting reasonable goals for yourself, perhaps keeping a daily schedule, monitoring the things you do during the course of a day.

Keep in mind, if you increase  your productivity, you will decrease your stress, and undoubtedly put out much more intelligent and cohesive writing.

Prioritizing your day, and setting goals at the beginning of every day are paramount, in fact, I try and set list my tasks for the following day the night before.  With every goal or task I complete, I check it off the list.  It’s the greatest feeling in the world to know that you are controlling your work day, and actually accomplishing something.  Sometimes, I even surprise myself, and finish with time to spare!
Now that is a profitable day!

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Lemons and tequila: With or without salt

Well, so far this has been an eventful day.

Last month I had a woman contact me from _______ who is starting a luxury magazine for the elite. She wanted to have me write articles for her, yada ya. When the conversation moved to payment, she informed me that this is a non-paying writing gig, because (“don’t you know”) it is an honor to be in this magazine, and the exposure alone is like me having free advertising.  EXCUSE ME?

So we continued to talk, and of course I shared that I am not accustomed to writing for free.  She groveled a bit, but still asked to see some writing samples. Rather hesitantly, I sent the samples the moment we hung up.  I NEVER heard back from her until yesterday, when she called wanting to know why she never heard back from me (how odd) and she said, “Well, did you want to be in the magazine or not, because we have to get that article in so it can go to press.” HUH?

Yes, writer’s work for free… NOT.

Not hours later, I got another email from a potential client who contacted me about 3 weeks ago to write a press release for him.  He went so far to send me all the pertinent information, etc., and then stipulated that this would not be needed until some time in August.  Okay, this is not rocket science… I can do this.

The saga continued…

In his email he relayed that he now needs it by the end of the month, and wondered if it is near completion.  EXCUSE ME?  When did we ever decide on this?  When did we ever talk $$$? I had no clue I was on the project.  So, I wrote him back saying, “Normally I require a 50% deposit and the remainder to be paid when the project is completed.”  His response was staggering.  “I’m on a really tight budget… can we do it for 100 bucks and you get paid when it’s finished? Oh, and thanks.  I appreciate the rush.”  WOW!

So, the moral of the story is: When life hands you lemons, grab some tequila and salt and call it a day.


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Why did I do it?

It’s been a long day.  In fact, it seems to be getting longer, given the fact it is approaching 3 am.  I am not really a night owl by nature, but sometimes it just happens, you know?

It began with a large cup of coffee and ended with a glass of California red wine, which would have been fine, if I hadn’t had the other 5 cups of coffee spread throughout the day.  Why did I do it?  Most likely the motivation was, “energy,” but now I am sleepless in Carmel.

Of course, writers are notorious for being big coffee drinkers and staying up into the wee hours of the morning, squeezing every drop of creative juice from their head to the paper (in this case computer).  It’s moments like this that make me realize why so many writer’s end up working freelance.  Certainly the restrictions of needing normal sleep hours are just too much for their creative masterminds.  These nocturnes, day sleepers, diurnally challenged word crafters that seem to get by on little-to-no sleep are not recognized as unique segments of society.  In fact, while no one would admit to discriminating against night owls, it is certain that such partisanship exists, especially in the office place.

However unjust and unfair it seems though… in order to be fair… I must admit that good sleep helps to produce good work.  For example, it is doubtful that a news columnist for a prominent paper is going to be able to pump out article after article, meeting every deadline on 2-3 hours sleep a night.

Here are some interesting facts:

Research by Henry Ford Hospital Sleep Disorders Center found that people who slept eight hours and then claimed they were “well rested” actually performed better and were more alert if they slept another two hours. That figures. Until the invention of the lightbulb (damn you, Edison!), the average person slumbered 10 hours a night.

2 // Night owls are more creative.
Artists, writers, and coders typically fire on all cylinders by crashing near dawn and awakening at the crack of noon. In one study, “evening people” almost universally slam-dunked a standardized creativity test. Their early-bird brethren struggled for passing scores.

3 // Rising early is stressful.
The stress hormone cortisol peaks in your blood around 7 am. So if you get up then, you may experience tension. Grab some extra Zs! You’ll wake up feeling less like Bert, more like Ernie.

Read More http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/magazine/17-01/st_3st#ixzz0rfYz6vDd

However, despite my current plight, I really am more of a morning person.  My biological time clock functions much better early on.  Even though I have no problem getting up in the morning when I stay up late, it is certain my ability to think sharply will be dulled somewhat.

(Next morning at the office) “Oh, um, it’s Thursday, but Barney thinks it’s Friday… so we won’t tell him… just keep that going.”

Night owls generally have a different idea about there propensity to “stay up” all night.

“I really haven’t got time to be tired…No matter what hour it is.”

“I really never get tired unless I stop and make time for it.”

“Sometimes I purposely stay up late, just so I can have my morning coffee before bed.”

“Sleep is like the unicorn–it’s rumored to exist, but I doubt that I will see any.”

So, if you are a coffee drinker and a writer, this is a bad combination.  Instead of drinking coffee during the day, you may want to take another tack.  On the other hand, if you are a night owl then take solace, because new research suggests that night owls are more likely to be creative thinkers. Scientists can’t yet fully explain why evening types appear to be more creative, but they suggest it could be an adaptation to living outside the norm. Hans Van Dongen, associate research professor at the Sleep and Performance Research Center at Washington State University, helped to discover the biological explanation behind morning and evening types.  He and his colleagues found that a small group of brain cells, called suprachiasmatic nuclei, emit signals to the body that synchronise the time of day. This biological clock runs two hours ahead in morning types and two hours later in evening types.

“One could reasonably envision a link between the personality trait of extroversion and the finding of creativity,” Van Dongen says.

So, if you happen to be a writer and a night owl, don’t blame it on the coffee, but blame it on your brain!!!

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The New Lenovo Idea Pad S10 gives Apple a run for the money

I am a Mac user.  I will admit, for about a 10 year stretch I became inundated in PC mania, but after 3 laptops crashed during the course of 1 year, and my HP desktop decided to go into a rebellion, I gave all of these computers new homes at the local thrift store, and switched back over to Apple.  I have an iMac, a Macbook Pro, and an iPhone.

Recently a friend of mine purchased the iPad, which I will admit to being not overly impressed, and after hearing her complaints, I am glad that I didn’t throw away the money!  One of the most common complaints about the iPad is the inability to multitask, and not having a camera.  Here are a few other complaints about the iPad:

  • Not a laptop, and hard to create things on
  • Doesn’t have a good filing system
  • Email is not as good for displays and composing
  • How does one save files for future use?  This seems to be a problem
  • YouTube video’s and other video’s look almost low-resolution
  • Seems heavy
  • Keyboard is quirky and rather difficult to use
  • Issues with formatting word processing–doesn’t work well with professional standards

So, now that I’ve covered that… here’s an idea! The new Lenovo Idea Pad S10 (Lenovo Netbook) is affordable, and one of the best Netbooks on the market, with a number of tools to help provide your business with the technology needed for Lenovo Netbook The Lenovo Netbook is light, and has a number of upgrades over competitors. The Lenovo’s amazing Tablet/PC Hybrid brings a tablet and a PC together in an amazingly elegant way. It’s a tablet. It’s a notebook computer, and it’s affordable!

While the recent iPad rage has fizzled some, and even tho the iPad certainly is innovative, there are some drawbacks.  When comparing apples to oranges, it’s best not to go there, but the Lenovo Netbook provides users with a wide range of existing applications that are not found in the iPad except for existing iPhone apps.

The ideaPad runs Windows 7 Home Edition while in the clamshell mode, and when detached, in the tablet mode, runs Skylight OS. Skylight OS is a custom user interface by Lenovo built on top of the Linux kernel. Since both OS’s support Adobe Flash there aren’t any issues with watching flash multimedia in clamshell or tablet mode.

At the very least, it’s always good to remember that the Lenovo Netbook is affordable, and in today’s tight economy, that’s saying a lot!

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