Book Review: The First 50 Pages by Jeff Gerke

Gerke, Jeff. The First 50 Pages: Engage Agents, Editors and Readers and Set Up Your Novel for Success. Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest, 2011. Print.

Summary: A guide to writing a novel beginning that hooks readers.

Jeff Gerke writes fiction under the pseudonym Jefferson Scott but teaches at writers conferences and writes advice under his own name. I bought a few of his guidebooks on the recommendation of honest-to-published authors. This is the first I’m reviewing for my ongoing Book Project. Continue reading

Simple living through going cold turkey!

I’m fascinated about how different paths lead people to live more simply. Recently a friend shared a link to the Market Watch interview of Canadian blogger Cait Flanders, who went on a two-year shopping ban.

As longtime readers may recall, I participated in a month-long “no spending challenge” with a friend. Like Flanders and the majority of her co-participants, the friend who initiated the challenge wanted to change her habit of unconscious consumption. Continue reading

An unpaid part-time job


I had an epiphany of sorts when I started considering a part-time job: It’s very difficult to schedule around my full-time job.  My colleagues who moonlight set their own hours; e.g. driving for UBER, making items they sell online, housecleaning, etc.

I decided to wait until a couple of months have passed at The Factory. Then I can re-assess whether I truly need additional income. And whether I’ll have weekends free to do so. (At the moment, no. The only reason I’m not typing away at yet another web-based tool  is that I’m awaiting a reply to an e-mail I sent an administrator; re: log-in problems.)

In the meantime, I began to fill in my schedule with writing, exercise, and housekeeping. Before long, I discovered that the hours dedicated to my health regimen – from preparing (and freezing) nutritious meals to swimming – will take 10-15 hours.

There’s a part-time job!

The secret behind pumpkin spice

The local drive-through java supplier (when I resort to buying a cup) has begun offering the “limited time” pumpkin spice coffee.  As hot as it has been, an iced latte sounded wonderful to me.

The past year, there was a lot of buzz on social media about pumpkin spice THIS and pumpkin spice THAT.  People seem to think that it’s too much of a good thing. Not me, and one product I’d like to see again is the pumpkin spice roasted almonds that I enjoyed during the winter!

But I digress.

I began to wonder why pumpkin spice is so popular and people look forward to it in the waning days of summer. When I returned home, I realized the truth.

Distracted by my delicious, aromatic beverage, I nearly ran into this:


An orb weaver poised near the door, looking for an opportunity to sneak inside. Baby, it’s going to get cold outside – and a cozy winter abode is inches away!

Clearly the pumpkin spice is meant to fill humans with good feelings and distract them from the spiders lying in wait to invade our homes and lay their eggs at leisure. Sure, the scientific literature I’ve read says that spiders who live in houses become dependent on the human-created environment and can’t survive outdoors. But that sounds like a risk the little critters are willing to take!

Heaven knows I’ve had to deal with spiders all over the house the last few days. Not including that wolf spider who was on the ceiling just a moment ago but has mysteriously disappeared while I opened the blinds. Just thinking about where it may have hidden, ready to pounce… Yikes!

It does give me pause that there’s an archnophiliac conspiracy working in the food industry. (The all-black-clad, Halloween-loving baristas whom I mistook for gothy fashionistas are clearly among the spider-lovers!) But after that pause, I admit nothing calms me down like a sip of pumpkin-spiced latte.

I guess I’m doomed.

Ditch bouquet 2016



Spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus) on a flowering chicory (cichorium intybus). Copyright 2016 Jean Balconi.

This is photo is for Derrick, whose beautiful garden photos are one of the charms of his eponymous blog.

Years ago I used to have a running series on my first blog (now defunct). I called it “Ditch bokay” (a country spelling I used to see in the Thumb). I’d be traveling along fields or shorelines, only to stop short because of wildflowers or weeds in bloom.  I’d take snapshots with my low-quality digital camera and upload them.

Asters, lilies and the elusive buttercup – there are dozens of beautiful blooms growing in the fringes.

Dealing with the Budgetary Crisis

No, not Congress. La crisis presupuestaria de la Casa de Tontería. To non-Spanish speakers: Need mo’ money in da House o’ Nonsense, eh? (I added the last word so Canadian and Yooper readers would understand.)

Last week, I got one bid (and another pending) to replace the driveway and the walk. The previous neighbors had trees growing right at the edge of the drive, which heaved the concrete. The husband was reluctant to cut them down until I pointed out that they would undermine his own house’s foundation.

Since they left and the bank sold the house, the decaying roots caused the cement to tip sideways, creating a dam where the downspouts pour out.  The summer has been very dry, but marked by torrential storms that made a shallow pool between our houses. Not only was the tar-like sealant washing away, but air bubbled up when even a child on a bike crossed the drive.

The walkway problem is typical for the builder, known affectionately as Jerkface MacGuyver.  Because the backfill around the foundation wasn’t properly tamped, the soil has compacted and the concrete tipped. Now the sidewalk leading to the front step tilts toward the house. As with the driveway, it pours water toward the foundation.

I had money set aside for the Garage Plan (a three-year project so well-thought out and  thus far so well-executed, government project planners would weep over their relative incompetence. Not that I’m bragging. I’m merely stating the facts with a sneer.).  Since I envisioned a new driveway leading to the garage, I felt comfortable using funds for this masonry project. I still have time to add to the Garage Fund.

Or so I thought. Continue reading


A cicada is singing in the maple tree. For those unfamiliar with its song, imagine an electronic buzz growing louder until it crackles and suddenly stops. Several years ago, a friend from the UK was enjoying a trip to Stratford, Ontario, when I identified the sound.  Because it was high on an electric pole, she had wondered if it were a problem with a transformer!

August is the time of insects: cicadas, crickets, and spiders.

Every time I work in the garden, tiny crickets leap out of my way. Where there are crickets, there are their hunters, which means I must stroll around the garden before I mow. I haven’t seen any snakes (yet), but yesterday I had to herd toads out of the grass.

Spiders are everywhere.

I suffer a mild case of arachnophobia, so this afternoon I found myself explaining to a neighbor that I yelped because I was startled, not hurt. It was a false alarm anyway: a daddy longlegs isn’t even a spider.*

However, the grass spiders have been weaving their webs throughout the yard, especially at the base of the maple. A bright-coloured orbweaver made the not-so-bright choice of my car’s side mirror as a website.  Let’s not even mention the wolf spider. If you’re really curious, check out this link: Spiders of Michigan. (I double-dog dare you.)

I hate zebra spiders and always have. Sure, they’re harmless, but they love hanging out by the back door and they jump! So if I see them, I’m on alert for them to hitch a ride inside the house.

Inside the House of Nonsense, I generally have three arachnid guests. The main ones are funnel spiders, since they enjoy human habitats just like house sparrows.

Then there are the shiny black spiders that chase down other spiders. Yes, you heard that right. One of the worst moments in my first year at La Casa de Tontería was an evening when I collapsed into a chair after a long day. Then I felt a tickling at my neck and, by the light of the reading lamp, saw a funnel spider run down my shirt. It was followed by a small, determined black spider.**

Yet I continue to live here.

Last but not least is the cellar spider, which I have nicknamed the Bathroom Stalker. These spindly-legged spiders are easy to miss until you’re nekkid and bathing. Then they come creeping down from the ceiling to enjoy the steam from your shower, or climb up the side of the tub to hang out near your head. Because nothing says “relaxing bath”like turning and gazing eyeball-to-eyes with a spider.

*The crane fly that Australians call by the same name, we Michiganians call “mosquito hawk” because of its resemblance to our state bird, erm, insect. They’re harmless but occasionally annoying, like fishflies (mayflies) and midges.

**I see that it’s called a “false black widow.” I haven’t seen a real black widow, nor do I want to see one.