Christmas Miracles

12/11/2014

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The Gospels of Matthew and Luke tell of the miraculous circumstances and birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. I never tire of reading about the angel visiting Mary, Joseph, and Zacharias. Or of the verses about the shepherds being scared out of their wits by an angel invasion, and taking off for Bethlehem to verify the angel's proclamation. And of course the passage about the wisemen heeding the angel's warning in a dream, sneaking out of Judea by an alternate route. Read the first couple of chapters in Luke and Matthew to see for yourself.

Miracles do happen during the Christmas season, although technically Jesus was most likely born sometime in September. This year marks seven years since our own December miracle, which was actually a double miracle. Our grandsons turn seven this week. And yes, the birth of a baby is always a miraculous thing, but quite frankly these boys are exceptional miracles.  Because of Twin-to-Twin Tranfusion Syndrome they were born eight weeks early, Austin under three pounds and Brayden just over four pounds. Our daughter had spent six weeks on bedrest in the hospital alternating between having labor stopped or amino fluid reductions over that time. Two days shy of 32 weeks they were delivered by emergency C-section. Breathing and heart issues were some of the most immediate problems. The doctors gave our daughter and son-in-law bleak news on what outcomes were possible--significant physical and mental disabilities or worse. Those tiny boys in their incubators hooked up to all sorts of machines were even too fragile to hold.

The next few months were a roller coaster of emotions as the boys struggled to get well. Brayden came home after four weeks and continued to progress, although reflux and apnea were concerns. Austin languished in the NICU, diagnosed with chronic lung disease, severe reflux, a hernia, and then MRSA. It seemed like there was a new complication every day.

During that time, we learned about the power of prayer from a network of family, friends, and strangers literally from around the world, who prayed for the health of the boys. God  worked in each of our lives strengthening our faith and giving extraordinary grace. The prayers of so many were answered graciously, miraculously, but in God's time.

I was finally able to hold Austin in the NICU and feed him a bottle for the first time at the end of February, 2008. His big bright eyes locked onto mine as he ate. I marveled that he was getting better--finally. He would go home in the next week after three months in the hospital, although he would be on oxygen until he was eight months old and suffer with painful reflux until he was two.

Today, you'd never know that they ever had any health issues. They're healthy and happy first graders with none of the predicted ill effects from such a traumatic entrance into the world.  I am reminded of Matthew 19:26 whenever I see their smiling faces.

Jesus looked at them intently and said, "Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible."



 Grandpa & his boys - Mar. 2014
 

                                                        
                                                                        Brayden, Dec. 2007

                                                                     Austin, Dec. 2007

"Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" Luke 2:14

For more information about TTTS visit www.fetalhope.org.

All About Beta Readers

11/18/2014

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What's a beta reader? That question has been asked plenty of times when I mention the term. So here's the definition: a beta reader gets to read my manuscript after I've finished the revisions and before my editor gets her hands on it. Betas offer input on everything from the plot, to characters, to settings---everything. Nothing is off limits. My readers are six women who've agreed to give me honest feedback about each book I write. They were handpicked by me because they meet the qualifications below:

1. They love to read and know a good story a mile away.
2. They know and like me well enough to give honest opinions.
3. Each has a different perspective to offer and they're creative.

The betas have improved each book with their insights, corrections, and sound advice. Although I haven't taken 100% of the recommendations offered, the majority of comments have been incorporated into the manuscripts. This part of the editing process is indispensable to prepare for the editor and to polish the book.

Because beta readers are entrusted with an unpublished manuscript in electronic form (which tends to be extremely portable), I've developed beta reader guidelines which clarify responsibilities and expectations. I strongly recommend doing the same with either your current beta readers or for the group you may be forming. If you are serious about writing as a business, procedures for your business practices are fundamental. A great deal of trust is placed upon the beta readers, which is one of the reasons I choose readers I know and give them guidelines, so there's no guessing.

As a courtesy, my beta readers are contacted before a manuscript is ready and are asked for participation. Everyone's schedule is busy, and I never want to obligate/overload a beta reader. They are much too valuable for that.

Speaking of value--beta readers as a rule are not paid, but I always send a token of appreciation. A copy of the final product is always welcome.

A sample of beta reader guidelines is provided below.

SAMPLE
BETA READER GUIDELINES AND PROCEDURES

Thank you for agreeing to be a beta reader for Your Publishing Name. We LOVE readers and we’re happy to have you as part of our team. Your input is essential to us in producing outstanding books for readers and it’s our intention to make this process interesting and fun.

How Beta Reading Works

1. Your Publishing Name does everything electronically. Manuscripts and your comments will all be by email.

2. You will receive the manuscript as a Word file. A deadline will be stated in the email. Deadlines are generous and will usually be about four (4) weeks.

3. Comments should be made using the insert comment feature in Word. Please do not worry about punctuation, missing words, or other mistakes in the copy. It is a draft and will be professionally edited before publication. We do endeavor to give you a clean copy so that typos, etc. are not distractions.

4. Once you have completed reading the manuscript and have made your comments, email the copy back to the author by the deadline.

5. You may be asked to read the book once more after the editing has been completed.

6. Beta reading doesn’t make you any money, but you will receive a token of our appreciation in your mailbox.

The Kind of Comments We Need

1. Characters –like or dislike and why.

2. Plot – too predictable, too slow, not enough action, or an absolutely fabulous plot.

3. Inconsistencies, errors about characters i.e. tall, dark, and handsome in one scene, short and geeky in another.

4. Is the story visual? Can you see the characters in your mind? Are the places descriptive enough? Is there too much description? Are there scenes that are confusing?

5. Is the dialogue natural or stilted?

6. What you liked and disliked about the book. What you’d do to make it better.

7. We want HONEST feedback. Please do not be a softie and like everything. Authors must have tough hides. Every story can be improved and we’re counting on you to help us do just that. Readers are discriminating, sophisticated, and know what they like in a good book. We want to provide that product and your help is vital.

After the Read

You have a special place of trust in being a beta reader. You’re getting the first peek at a book before it is published. The manuscript you are entrusted with has not been through the formal copyright process, although the copyright is technically in place when fingers hit the keyboard. All titles will be officially copyrighted before publication. Please adhere to the following “Do’s” and “Don’ts.”


After you have finished reading the manuscript and have emailed it back to the author, please DO delete the file completely from your computer. This means the trash basket on your desktop too.
Once you have received confirmation that your comments have been received by the author, DO delete “Sent” emails as well.
DO NOT share the manuscript with friends or family. We are in the business of selling books and would love to have them buy the title when it’s published.
DO brag about being a beta reader. Let friends and family know when a book is coming out. Word of mouth marketing is a powerful tool and we need your help as our business gets underway. You played an important part in the book birthing process, so don’t hold back.
DO have fun as a beta reader. We’re readers ourselves and have spent many happy hours in the pages of a book.What's Needed From You

1. Contact information: Name, mailing address, email, and phone number.

2. Honesty, sense of humor, and some of your time.

Just Kidding

10/22/2014

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One of the perks of working at a rural school district is the rural part. A small herd of goats resides close to my office, just past the playground. Boer goats to be exact, who provide moments of entertainment throughout the day. You need that when you constantly stare at a computer screen, answering emails, and entering all manner of data. Thankfully, a window gives me an excellent view of the herd.

The reason for the goats is a hobby farm next door to the District Office where I work.  A retired couple can be seen tending their livestock, and working in the garden every morning. It's such a peaceful and pastoral scene. (Sigh.)

Springtime with Maisey on the log
 and Daisy on the ground.
Along with the goats, the couple keeps a flock of Rhode Island Red chickens. A magnificent rooster guards his harem. You definitely don't want to mess with him. He has no sense of humor and when he squawks, those girls come running to the safety of the hen house. These particular hens can be seen jumping in the air to catch bugs, scratching in the dirt, or dashing around the small pasture. The flock is definitely free range and seem delighted to be there. They have it pretty good.


Back to the goats. The goat herd started in February when one of the two resident does had twins. The kids were doelings; one is black-and-white (I've named her Maisey), and the other is brown-and-white (Daisy). The other doe produced another set of twins in early summer.  Mysteriously, that doe and one of twins are no longer part of the herd. The remaining kid is a buckling. His button horns appeared recently--he's growing up already. (Let's call him Maurice. It seems to fit for some reason.) He's a handsome boy, brown in color, with an edging of black on his coat.

Maurice
I began making friends with the doelings in the spring. Now they run to the fence when I call. Maisey is greedy for the handfuls of grass I offer. She's quick to jump, placing her hooves high on the fence to push her sister out of the way. I think she likes looking me in the eye too. Quite sassy and confident. Daisy, however, is reluctant to take any grass. She good-naturedly tolerates her sister and is resigned to second place. Mama sometimes appears and pushes both of her daughters to the side, taking the grass for herself. You have to let the offspring know that you're still in charge.

Maurice has recently warmed up to me and starts crying for attention when I appear for my lunchtime walk. Now I have to pet him before the girls, and he gets the first offering of grass. Boys! He complains rather loudly about the separate pasture he has from the girls from time to time.

My family had a milk goat on our farm long ago. I helped my mother milk the nanny everyday. I never cared for goat milk. A little too strong tasting for me, but my brother liked it. The point of this post? It's kind of nice to have that little piece of my childhood next to my office. And it's a bonus to find joy in the simple things, like feeding a handful of grass to a precocious goat. Who else gets to do that on their lunchtime?

Maisey and Mama

Maurice unhappy about his separate pasture.

Boer Goat Factoids


  • Developed in South Africa in the early 1900s
  • Boer means farmer
  • Bred for meat rather than milk production
  • Mature at five months
  • Adapt well to desert conditions
  • Has a high fertility rate - lots of twins
  • Scads of personality (my observation)





Mama

Daisy with Maurice on the left.

Grasshopper Season

9/09/2014

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The arrival of the horse lubber grasshopper signals the change of season from summer to fall in southern Arizona. The large, brightly colored grasshoppers appear in September with equally large appetites. Last year they managed to turn my iris into coleslaw. They munch on everything from flowers to foliage to seed pods.

bugguide.net
The oddly colored insect with its bright greens and yellows is one of the largest grasshoppers.They sport pink coloring under their wings. The markings on their face resemble a bridle hence their Latin name, Taeniopoda eques (eques - horse rider). The bright colors warn predators that they don't taste good and may be poisonous. That's always a plus if you're a bug. Their size is a bit daunting and they can reach a length of 2.5 inches. 

It's common to see battalions of horse lubbers marching across country roads this time of year and being crunched under tires of passing vehicles. It's sort of like the lemmings jumping into the sea. Because of their size, they don't fly all that well and make a clicking sound when they try.If you're walking through the grass, these monster grasshoppers scatter, jumping every which way. I don't like that at all. It's kind of creepy. They prefer the southwest as their habitat, and are common in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.

Horse lubbers have attitude, and if disturbed they may drop to the ground and hiss. They've even been known to snap their forewings. Great--don't you think? Just what we need, an angry grasshopper of large proportions. Fortunately, I haven't observed this particular behavior since I do my best to avoid them. They'll be with us throughout the fall however, finally succumbing to the cold in November. 
Photo by Robert Shantz

It seems that the high desert always has interesting critters and everything is a little bigger, a little more unusual, and sometimes a little meaner. Hopefully we won't be the subject of a news report about grasshoppers taking over southeast Arizona. But it might make a good sci-fi movie -- The Invasion of the Horse Lubbers. Catchy right?

Taking Flight

8/21/2014

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The nest of swallows tucked under eaves of my office building was in transition last week. The four birds were various stages of leaving the safety of the daub brown nest for the wild blue yonder. The bravest fledgling had flown to a nearby tree. One was still firmly seated in the nest, watching two siblings inch their way from under the roof. Another took a test flight and came back, contemplating the next move. The other ledge-sitter dithered, not quite ready to take the leap. But, by the next morning the nest was empty. 

Each had overcome fears and uncertainties. The timing was a little different for each of them, one apparently fearless, while the others had a few issues leaving the familiar and secure. There was no future huddling in an overcrowded and undoubtedly smelly nest. The parents were ready for them to leave. It was time. The birds were meant to take wing.

We were were meant for flight too. Stepping out in faith, leaving the familiar behind, trusting God to lead us in a whole new life in Christ. Our decision to trust Jesus and receive forgiveness of our sins is really just the beginning. God has a grand adventure for us. It's not about riches, fame, or power. It's trusting that God tells the truth in His Word and us obeying that truth in how we live.  We do like the safety of old habits, comfortable sins, the familiar, refusing to step out with God. We prefer to be babies as the writer of Hebrews penned.


For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn't know how to do what is right. Hebrews 5:13 NLT.

God offers us a real life, but we must trust in Him alone just like Abraham, Daniel, Peter, and Paul. Who knows what God will do in our lives if we simply trust and obey. This new life is counter-cultural, with a totally different way of thinking. It's not popular. Daniel can affirm that as can many others.

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:22-24 NIV

The authentic Christian life is outlined in Romans 12. I encourage you to read that chapter in its entirety. It's a definitive passage on living by faith. It's not nest living, but soaring on the journey to where we really belong.

 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. Hebrews 11:16 NIV







Humming Right Along

8/09/2014

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That signature buzzing a/k/a humming wings and the flash of iridescence darting in and out of my salvias, red yucca, and agastache (hummingbird mint) provides endless entertainment while sipping a cup of coffee in the morning. Living helicopters which are extremely aggressive, these little birds are amazing creatures. Because we live directly on a super highway of migration, thanks to the San Pedro River, we are treated to all sorts of unique bird visitors. On our hikes in the mountains or just watching our feeders we've identified the Rufous, Broad-bill, Broad-tail, Magnificent, Black-chinned, Costa's, and Anna's hummingbirds. Interestingly, we have no Ruby-throated hummers in Arizona. That particular bird is the only one who migrates from Mexico to east of the Mississippi. The rest prefer western climes. 

The Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory (SABO) does excellent work in recording data that helps us understand more about these flying jewels. Over the course of the summer, SABO conducts weekly hummingbird banding in several different areas around Casa Wallace. I joined the banding party this week at the Casa de San Pedro B & B to watch the experienced volunteers do the work of collecting valuable data on the hummers.  I was privileged to meet Sheri Williamson who is licensed by the National  Bird Banding Laboratory to attach tiny metal rings to tiny hummer legs. Sheri has a great website which I encourage you to visit. She is a naturalist, ornithologist, author, and much more. (Link to Sheri's Website.) You'll find a treasure trove of all things feathery. It's worth the visit and you'll find out the do's and don'ts of feeding hummers which is very important.

Sheri holding a Rufous male
The Casa de San Pedro is a beautiful setting for capturing hummers and we found places to sit while a handful of men intently watched the traps hung over the feeders. One had a remote (which is why a man is in charge of this) to spring the trap once the hummer is under the netting. Another quickly caged it in a small, soft net enclosure and delivered it to the crew of women who were ready for the next phase. 

Susan with a caged hummer
Teeny Tiny Bands
Sheri expertly removed the hummer from the cage and made measurements from beak to tail which were entered by Kathy, the data collector. Beak length, tail and wing length were taken. The minuscule band was quickly attached, the number recorded. Sheri then took a straw and blew at the chest feathers, determining whether it was a juvenile or adult, amount of fat, looking for pollen and louse eggs. A lot of information is collected within minutes. Each bird has a distinct personality. Some are quite docile, accepting human handling with barely a wiggle, but others have real attitudes and are not pleased to have their afternoon feeding disrupted. Each bird was weighed, held securely in a bit of fine mesh, clipped to the scale. A Black-chinned female weighed in at 3.8 grams. After that, Susan the volunteer who releases the birds, gently held her disgruntled captives and offered each the opportunity to stick their beak in the feeder on the table. Most were greedy and sucked down the nectar until they were full. 

Highlight of the Day!
Now, here's the best part. Observers get to help release the birds. I was fortunate to release a young male Broad-bill who was content to stay in my hand for probably a full minute before he buzzed away. It is considered good luck if they pee in your hand and I was also blessed with abundant good luck. Susan comes prepared with tissues.

This is the 19th season of collecting hummingbird data on the San Pedro. Much has been learned about about their travels and their lifespans through this study. One of the birds caught on Friday was already banded. Kathy quickly found his data from the band number. A young male Rufous, he had been caught just two weeks prior. When measurements and weight were taken again, his checkup showed he was growing normally and he continued to be a bit of a grump. The ladies shared that  birds may be caught multiple times over the years. One female was caught approximately 20 times over a ten year period. The typical lifespan is 4-5 years, but data is now showing longer lives for some. Year around feeding and favorable garden habitats may contribute to that. 

I continue to be amazed by God's incredible creation. Birds with extraordinary jewel-tone colors, who hover, fly up, down, sideways, backwards--even upside down. Delicate, fierce, and beautiful birds who brighten my garden with their presence. 
Checking out the heartbeat.
It sounds like a rushing wind!
Over 1200 beats per minute.






The Trap

















One of the trails around Casa de San Pedro






Amble to Albuquerque

7/28/2014

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SimplyLife has been on hiatus due to the press of revisions on the third Gracie Andersen mystery. We did manage a quick trip to Albuquerque during that period however. Heretofore our only visit there was speeding through it on our way to relocate in Arizona. We weren't desperate to journey to this iconic Southwestern city, but the opportunity to visit our youngest daughter and son-in-law, who were there courtesy of Uncle Sam for some training was the real draw. 

An uneventful and dreadfully boring road trip(there is only so much desert one can handle in a day along the I-10) brought us to the city limits in seven hours. We jumped into tourist mode to jam in as much sightseeing as we could in two days. Since our daughter was in charge of finding restaurants, she insisted that we eat "local" and franchises were not allowed. This entailed some exploration of downtown ABQ which proved entertaining. The eateries had excellent fare and one even had the distinction of a Diners, Drive-ins and Dives visit. My favorite was the Slate Street Cafe which was tucked away on a side street. Check out my Trip Advisor review here. In fact, you can check out all my reviews on Trip Advisor.


Even though we've lived in the Southwest for over a decade, ABQ has a different flavor than Arizona. There is a strong Pueblo Indian influence that dominates rather than the Mexican culture in AZ. We decided to take the trip up the side of Sandia Peak to enjoy the tram ride and the views at the top. It was a perfect day, but lots of people were smushed into the tram with us. One gets to know the other tourists up close and personal when it's crowded. However, the views were fabulous, but the disappointment was that the Forest Service had closed the hiking trails. Not enough rain had fallen yet. We were relegated to an extensive boardwalk around the tram area. The ticket price was a little high without the trails to explore, but it was a good time for conversation and soaking up the high altitude views above Albuquerque. 

Since it was the 4th of July weekend, we took the bus to Balloon Fiesta Park to join thousands in celebrating our country's independence. The city does an excellent job of transporting people on buses to alleviate some of the traffic. At a $1 for a round trip, it couldn't be beat. Once we arrived in Fiesta Park, lo and behold, our favorite food vendor from the Prescott Highland Games was there serving up Messy Nessies and shepherd's pie. We ate Scottish, and sat on the grass to view a stunning fireworks display. We even saw the Rio Ranchos fireworks from afar which set the stage.


The pièce de résistance of the trip was the train ride to Santa Fe. The Railrunner was a cheap and comfortable alternative to driving. I haven't been on a train in many years, and this was relaxing and fun. We rode the rails for about a 90 minute trip to Santa Fe, alternately napping, talking, and watching the beautiful countryside go by. Then it was a short walk to Old Town which is filled with galleries, restaurants, and all sorts of shops. We ate in the park, purchasing our lunch from a street vendor who made killer carnitas. David had carne and I went with pollo. There's nothing like homemade tortillas. Apache and Anasazi vendors spread their jewelry on blankets, all beautifully handcrafted and at a fraction of the price in the stores. The last visit of the day was to the Basilica Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi. However, a wedding was in progress and we were unable to slip inside for a peek. We did see the happy bride and groom emerge from the front doors.


A quick trip, but full of good family times and a bit of an adventure rolled into one. A serendipitous blessing mid-year.  

The blessing of the LORD makes rich,

and he adds no sorrow with it. Proverbs 10:22




SimplyLife

Positively encouraging

12/11/2014

Christmas Miracles

The Gospels of Matthew and Luke tell of the miraculous circumstances and birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. I never tire of reading about the angel visiting Mary, Joseph, and Zacharias. Or of the verses about the shepherds being scared out of their wits by an angel invasion, and taking off for Bethlehem to verify the angel's proclamation. And of course the passage about the wisemen heeding the angel's warning in a dream, sneaking out of Judea by an alternate route. Read the first couple of chapters in Luke and Matthew to see for yourself.

Miracles do happen during the Christmas season, although technically Jesus was most likely born sometime in September. This year marks seven years since our own December miracle, which was actually a double miracle. Our grandsons turn seven this week. And yes, the birth of a baby is always a miraculous thing, but quite frankly these boys are exceptional miracles.  Because of Twin-to-Twin Tranfusion Syndrome they were born eight weeks early, Austin under three pounds and Brayden just over four pounds. Our daughter had spent six weeks on bedrest in the hospital alternating between having labor stopped or amino fluid reductions over that time. Two days shy of 32 weeks they were delivered by emergency C-section. Breathing and heart issues were some of the most immediate problems. The doctors gave our daughter and son-in-law bleak news on what outcomes were possible--significant physical and mental disabilities or worse. Those tiny boys in their incubators hooked up to all sorts of machines were even too fragile to hold.

The next few months were a roller coaster of emotions as the boys struggled to get well. Brayden came home after four weeks and continued to progress, although reflux and apnea were concerns. Austin languished in the NICU, diagnosed with chronic lung disease, severe reflux, a hernia, and then MRSA. It seemed like there was a new complication every day.

During that time, we learned about the power of prayer from a network of family, friends, and strangers literally from around the world, who prayed for the health of the boys. God  worked in each of our lives strengthening our faith and giving extraordinary grace. The prayers of so many were answered graciously, miraculously, but in God's time.

I was finally able to hold Austin in the NICU and feed him a bottle for the first time at the end of February, 2008. His big bright eyes locked onto mine as he ate. I marveled that he was getting better--finally. He would go home in the next week after three months in the hospital, although he would be on oxygen until he was eight months old and suffer with painful reflux until he was two.

Today, you'd never know that they ever had any health issues. They're healthy and happy first graders with none of the predicted ill effects from such a traumatic entrance into the world.  I am reminded of Matthew 19:26 whenever I see their smiling faces.

Jesus looked at them intently and said, "Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible."



 Grandpa & his boys - Mar. 2014
 

                                                        
                                                                        Brayden, Dec. 2007

                                                                     Austin, Dec. 2007

"Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" Luke 2:14

For more information about TTTS visit www.fetalhope.org.

11/18/2014

All About Beta Readers

What's a beta reader? That question has been asked plenty of times when I mention the term. So here's the definition: a beta reader gets to read my manuscript after I've finished the revisions and before my editor gets her hands on it. Betas offer input on everything from the plot, to characters, to settings---everything. Nothing is off limits. My readers are six women who've agreed to give me honest feedback about each book I write. They were handpicked by me because they meet the qualifications below:

1. They love to read and know a good story a mile away.
2. They know and like me well enough to give honest opinions.
3. Each has a different perspective to offer and they're creative.

The betas have improved each book with their insights, corrections, and sound advice. Although I haven't taken 100% of the recommendations offered, the majority of comments have been incorporated into the manuscripts. This part of the editing process is indispensable to prepare for the editor and to polish the book.

Because beta readers are entrusted with an unpublished manuscript in electronic form (which tends to be extremely portable), I've developed beta reader guidelines which clarify responsibilities and expectations. I strongly recommend doing the same with either your current beta readers or for the group you may be forming. If you are serious about writing as a business, procedures for your business practices are fundamental. A great deal of trust is placed upon the beta readers, which is one of the reasons I choose readers I know and give them guidelines, so there's no guessing.

As a courtesy, my beta readers are contacted before a manuscript is ready and are asked for participation. Everyone's schedule is busy, and I never want to obligate/overload a beta reader. They are much too valuable for that.

Speaking of value--beta readers as a rule are not paid, but I always send a token of appreciation. A copy of the final product is always welcome.

A sample of beta reader guidelines is provided below.

SAMPLE
BETA READER GUIDELINES AND PROCEDURES

Thank you for agreeing to be a beta reader for Your Publishing Name. We LOVE readers and we’re happy to have you as part of our team. Your input is essential to us in producing outstanding books for readers and it’s our intention to make this process interesting and fun.

How Beta Reading Works

1. Your Publishing Name does everything electronically. Manuscripts and your comments will all be by email.

2. You will receive the manuscript as a Word file. A deadline will be stated in the email. Deadlines are generous and will usually be about four (4) weeks.

3. Comments should be made using the insert comment feature in Word. Please do not worry about punctuation, missing words, or other mistakes in the copy. It is a draft and will be professionally edited before publication. We do endeavor to give you a clean copy so that typos, etc. are not distractions.

4. Once you have completed reading the manuscript and have made your comments, email the copy back to the author by the deadline.

5. You may be asked to read the book once more after the editing has been completed.

6. Beta reading doesn’t make you any money, but you will receive a token of our appreciation in your mailbox.

The Kind of Comments We Need

1. Characters –like or dislike and why.

2. Plot – too predictable, too slow, not enough action, or an absolutely fabulous plot.

3. Inconsistencies, errors about characters i.e. tall, dark, and handsome in one scene, short and geeky in another.

4. Is the story visual? Can you see the characters in your mind? Are the places descriptive enough? Is there too much description? Are there scenes that are confusing?

5. Is the dialogue natural or stilted?

6. What you liked and disliked about the book. What you’d do to make it better.

7. We want HONEST feedback. Please do not be a softie and like everything. Authors must have tough hides. Every story can be improved and we’re counting on you to help us do just that. Readers are discriminating, sophisticated, and know what they like in a good book. We want to provide that product and your help is vital.

After the Read

You have a special place of trust in being a beta reader. You’re getting the first peek at a book before it is published. The manuscript you are entrusted with has not been through the formal copyright process, although the copyright is technically in place when fingers hit the keyboard. All titles will be officially copyrighted before publication. Please adhere to the following “Do’s” and “Don’ts.”


After you have finished reading the manuscript and have emailed it back to the author, please DO delete the file completely from your computer. This means the trash basket on your desktop too.
Once you have received confirmation that your comments have been received by the author, DO delete “Sent” emails as well.
DO NOT share the manuscript with friends or family. We are in the business of selling books and would love to have them buy the title when it’s published.
DO brag about being a beta reader. Let friends and family know when a book is coming out. Word of mouth marketing is a powerful tool and we need your help as our business gets underway. You played an important part in the book birthing process, so don’t hold back.
DO have fun as a beta reader. We’re readers ourselves and have spent many happy hours in the pages of a book.What's Needed From You

1. Contact information: Name, mailing address, email, and phone number.

2. Honesty, sense of humor, and some of your time.

10/22/2014

Just Kidding

One of the perks of working at a rural school district is the rural part. A small herd of goats resides close to my office, just past the playground. Boer goats to be exact, who provide moments of entertainment throughout the day. You need that when you constantly stare at a computer screen, answering emails, and entering all manner of data. Thankfully, a window gives me an excellent view of the herd.

The reason for the goats is a hobby farm next door to the District Office where I work.  A retired couple can be seen tending their livestock, and working in the garden every morning. It's such a peaceful and pastoral scene. (Sigh.)

Springtime with Maisey on the log
 and Daisy on the ground.
Along with the goats, the couple keeps a flock of Rhode Island Red chickens. A magnificent rooster guards his harem. You definitely don't want to mess with him. He has no sense of humor and when he squawks, those girls come running to the safety of the hen house. These particular hens can be seen jumping in the air to catch bugs, scratching in the dirt, or dashing around the small pasture. The flock is definitely free range and seem delighted to be there. They have it pretty good.


Back to the goats. The goat herd started in February when one of the two resident does had twins. The kids were doelings; one is black-and-white (I've named her Maisey), and the other is brown-and-white (Daisy). The other doe produced another set of twins in early summer.  Mysteriously, that doe and one of twins are no longer part of the herd. The remaining kid is a buckling. His button horns appeared recently--he's growing up already. (Let's call him Maurice. It seems to fit for some reason.) He's a handsome boy, brown in color, with an edging of black on his coat.

Maurice
I began making friends with the doelings in the spring. Now they run to the fence when I call. Maisey is greedy for the handfuls of grass I offer. She's quick to jump, placing her hooves high on the fence to push her sister out of the way. I think she likes looking me in the eye too. Quite sassy and confident. Daisy, however, is reluctant to take any grass. She good-naturedly tolerates her sister and is resigned to second place. Mama sometimes appears and pushes both of her daughters to the side, taking the grass for herself. You have to let the offspring know that you're still in charge.

Maurice has recently warmed up to me and starts crying for attention when I appear for my lunchtime walk. Now I have to pet him before the girls, and he gets the first offering of grass. Boys! He complains rather loudly about the separate pasture he has from the girls from time to time.

My family had a milk goat on our farm long ago. I helped my mother milk the nanny everyday. I never cared for goat milk. A little too strong tasting for me, but my brother liked it. The point of this post? It's kind of nice to have that little piece of my childhood next to my office. And it's a bonus to find joy in the simple things, like feeding a handful of grass to a precocious goat. Who else gets to do that on their lunchtime?

Maisey and Mama

Maurice unhappy about his separate pasture.

Boer Goat Factoids


  • Developed in South Africa in the early 1900s
  • Boer means farmer
  • Bred for meat rather than milk production
  • Mature at five months
  • Adapt well to desert conditions
  • Has a high fertility rate - lots of twins
  • Scads of personality (my observation)





Mama

Daisy with Maurice on the left.

9/09/2014

Grasshopper Season

The arrival of the horse lubber grasshopper signals the change of season from summer to fall in southern Arizona. The large, brightly colored grasshoppers appear in September with equally large appetites. Last year they managed to turn my iris into coleslaw. They munch on everything from flowers to foliage to seed pods.

bugguide.net
The oddly colored insect with its bright greens and yellows is one of the largest grasshoppers.They sport pink coloring under their wings. The markings on their face resemble a bridle hence their Latin name, Taeniopoda eques (eques - horse rider). The bright colors warn predators that they don't taste good and may be poisonous. That's always a plus if you're a bug. Their size is a bit daunting and they can reach a length of 2.5 inches. 

It's common to see battalions of horse lubbers marching across country roads this time of year and being crunched under tires of passing vehicles. It's sort of like the lemmings jumping into the sea. Because of their size, they don't fly all that well and make a clicking sound when they try.If you're walking through the grass, these monster grasshoppers scatter, jumping every which way. I don't like that at all. It's kind of creepy. They prefer the southwest as their habitat, and are common in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.

Horse lubbers have attitude, and if disturbed they may drop to the ground and hiss. They've even been known to snap their forewings. Great--don't you think? Just what we need, an angry grasshopper of large proportions. Fortunately, I haven't observed this particular behavior since I do my best to avoid them. They'll be with us throughout the fall however, finally succumbing to the cold in November. 
Photo by Robert Shantz

It seems that the high desert always has interesting critters and everything is a little bigger, a little more unusual, and sometimes a little meaner. Hopefully we won't be the subject of a news report about grasshoppers taking over southeast Arizona. But it might make a good sci-fi movie -- The Invasion of the Horse Lubbers. Catchy right?

8/21/2014

Taking Flight

The nest of swallows tucked under eaves of my office building was in transition last week. The four birds were various stages of leaving the safety of the daub brown nest for the wild blue yonder. The bravest fledgling had flown to a nearby tree. One was still firmly seated in the nest, watching two siblings inch their way from under the roof. Another took a test flight and came back, contemplating the next move. The other ledge-sitter dithered, not quite ready to take the leap. But, by the next morning the nest was empty. 

Each had overcome fears and uncertainties. The timing was a little different for each of them, one apparently fearless, while the others had a few issues leaving the familiar and secure. There was no future huddling in an overcrowded and undoubtedly smelly nest. The parents were ready for them to leave. It was time. The birds were meant to take wing.

We were were meant for flight too. Stepping out in faith, leaving the familiar behind, trusting God to lead us in a whole new life in Christ. Our decision to trust Jesus and receive forgiveness of our sins is really just the beginning. God has a grand adventure for us. It's not about riches, fame, or power. It's trusting that God tells the truth in His Word and us obeying that truth in how we live.  We do like the safety of old habits, comfortable sins, the familiar, refusing to step out with God. We prefer to be babies as the writer of Hebrews penned.


For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn't know how to do what is right. Hebrews 5:13 NLT.

God offers us a real life, but we must trust in Him alone just like Abraham, Daniel, Peter, and Paul. Who knows what God will do in our lives if we simply trust and obey. This new life is counter-cultural, with a totally different way of thinking. It's not popular. Daniel can affirm that as can many others.

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:22-24 NIV

The authentic Christian life is outlined in Romans 12. I encourage you to read that chapter in its entirety. It's a definitive passage on living by faith. It's not nest living, but soaring on the journey to where we really belong.

 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. Hebrews 11:16 NIV







8/09/2014

Humming Right Along


That signature buzzing a/k/a humming wings and the flash of iridescence darting in and out of my salvias, red yucca, and agastache (hummingbird mint) provides endless entertainment while sipping a cup of coffee in the morning. Living helicopters which are extremely aggressive, these little birds are amazing creatures. Because we live directly on a super highway of migration, thanks to the San Pedro River, we are treated to all sorts of unique bird visitors. On our hikes in the mountains or just watching our feeders we've identified the Rufous, Broad-bill, Broad-tail, Magnificent, Black-chinned, Costa's, and Anna's hummingbirds. Interestingly, we have no Ruby-throated hummers in Arizona. That particular bird is the only one who migrates from Mexico to east of the Mississippi. The rest prefer western climes. 

The Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory (SABO) does excellent work in recording data that helps us understand more about these flying jewels. Over the course of the summer, SABO conducts weekly hummingbird banding in several different areas around Casa Wallace. I joined the banding party this week at the Casa de San Pedro B & B to watch the experienced volunteers do the work of collecting valuable data on the hummers.  I was privileged to meet Sheri Williamson who is licensed by the National  Bird Banding Laboratory to attach tiny metal rings to tiny hummer legs. Sheri has a great website which I encourage you to visit. She is a naturalist, ornithologist, author, and much more. (Link to Sheri's Website.) You'll find a treasure trove of all things feathery. It's worth the visit and you'll find out the do's and don'ts of feeding hummers which is very important.

Sheri holding a Rufous male
The Casa de San Pedro is a beautiful setting for capturing hummers and we found places to sit while a handful of men intently watched the traps hung over the feeders. One had a remote (which is why a man is in charge of this) to spring the trap once the hummer is under the netting. Another quickly caged it in a small, soft net enclosure and delivered it to the crew of women who were ready for the next phase. 

Susan with a caged hummer
Teeny Tiny Bands
Sheri expertly removed the hummer from the cage and made measurements from beak to tail which were entered by Kathy, the data collector. Beak length, tail and wing length were taken. The minuscule band was quickly attached, the number recorded. Sheri then took a straw and blew at the chest feathers, determining whether it was a juvenile or adult, amount of fat, looking for pollen and louse eggs. A lot of information is collected within minutes. Each bird has a distinct personality. Some are quite docile, accepting human handling with barely a wiggle, but others have real attitudes and are not pleased to have their afternoon feeding disrupted. Each bird was weighed, held securely in a bit of fine mesh, clipped to the scale. A Black-chinned female weighed in at 3.8 grams. After that, Susan the volunteer who releases the birds, gently held her disgruntled captives and offered each the opportunity to stick their beak in the feeder on the table. Most were greedy and sucked down the nectar until they were full. 

Highlight of the Day!
Now, here's the best part. Observers get to help release the birds. I was fortunate to release a young male Broad-bill who was content to stay in my hand for probably a full minute before he buzzed away. It is considered good luck if they pee in your hand and I was also blessed with abundant good luck. Susan comes prepared with tissues.

This is the 19th season of collecting hummingbird data on the San Pedro. Much has been learned about about their travels and their lifespans through this study. One of the birds caught on Friday was already banded. Kathy quickly found his data from the band number. A young male Rufous, he had been caught just two weeks prior. When measurements and weight were taken again, his checkup showed he was growing normally and he continued to be a bit of a grump. The ladies shared that  birds may be caught multiple times over the years. One female was caught approximately 20 times over a ten year period. The typical lifespan is 4-5 years, but data is now showing longer lives for some. Year around feeding and favorable garden habitats may contribute to that. 

I continue to be amazed by God's incredible creation. Birds with extraordinary jewel-tone colors, who hover, fly up, down, sideways, backwards--even upside down. Delicate, fierce, and beautiful birds who brighten my garden with their presence. 
Checking out the heartbeat.
It sounds like a rushing wind!
Over 1200 beats per minute.






The Trap

















One of the trails around Casa de San Pedro






7/28/2014

Amble to Albuquerque

SimplyLife has been on hiatus due to the press of revisions on the third Gracie Andersen mystery. We did manage a quick trip to Albuquerque during that period however. Heretofore our only visit there was speeding through it on our way to relocate in Arizona. We weren't desperate to journey to this iconic Southwestern city, but the opportunity to visit our youngest daughter and son-in-law, who were there courtesy of Uncle Sam for some training was the real draw. 

An uneventful and dreadfully boring road trip(there is only so much desert one can handle in a day along the I-10) brought us to the city limits in seven hours. We jumped into tourist mode to jam in as much sightseeing as we could in two days. Since our daughter was in charge of finding restaurants, she insisted that we eat "local" and franchises were not allowed. This entailed some exploration of downtown ABQ which proved entertaining. The eateries had excellent fare and one even had the distinction of a Diners, Drive-ins and Dives visit. My favorite was the Slate Street Cafe which was tucked away on a side street. Check out my Trip Advisor review here. In fact, you can check out all my reviews on Trip Advisor.


Even though we've lived in the Southwest for over a decade, ABQ has a different flavor than Arizona. There is a strong Pueblo Indian influence that dominates rather than the Mexican culture in AZ. We decided to take the trip up the side of Sandia Peak to enjoy the tram ride and the views at the top. It was a perfect day, but lots of people were smushed into the tram with us. One gets to know the other tourists up close and personal when it's crowded. However, the views were fabulous, but the disappointment was that the Forest Service had closed the hiking trails. Not enough rain had fallen yet. We were relegated to an extensive boardwalk around the tram area. The ticket price was a little high without the trails to explore, but it was a good time for conversation and soaking up the high altitude views above Albuquerque. 

Since it was the 4th of July weekend, we took the bus to Balloon Fiesta Park to join thousands in celebrating our country's independence. The city does an excellent job of transporting people on buses to alleviate some of the traffic. At a $1 for a round trip, it couldn't be beat. Once we arrived in Fiesta Park, lo and behold, our favorite food vendor from the Prescott Highland Games was there serving up Messy Nessies and shepherd's pie. We ate Scottish, and sat on the grass to view a stunning fireworks display. We even saw the Rio Ranchos fireworks from afar which set the stage.


The pièce de résistance of the trip was the train ride to Santa Fe. The Railrunner was a cheap and comfortable alternative to driving. I haven't been on a train in many years, and this was relaxing and fun. We rode the rails for about a 90 minute trip to Santa Fe, alternately napping, talking, and watching the beautiful countryside go by. Then it was a short walk to Old Town which is filled with galleries, restaurants, and all sorts of shops. We ate in the park, purchasing our lunch from a street vendor who made killer carnitas. David had carne and I went with pollo. There's nothing like homemade tortillas. Apache and Anasazi vendors spread their jewelry on blankets, all beautifully handcrafted and at a fraction of the price in the stores. The last visit of the day was to the Basilica Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi. However, a wedding was in progress and we were unable to slip inside for a peek. We did see the happy bride and groom emerge from the front doors.


A quick trip, but full of good family times and a bit of an adventure rolled into one. A serendipitous blessing mid-year.  

The blessing of the LORD makes rich,

and he adds no sorrow with it. Proverbs 10:22