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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Confetti Cakes - Amazing Edible Art

Not too long ago I posted on my Feathers, Fins, and Fur blog about a sculpted dog cake made by Confetti Cakes. The video clip I included showed how they made the cake. It was very interesting to watch.

I love art, I love food/cooking, and I used to decorate cakes. So many of the cakes they create look like the real thing, and the process can be very time-consuming. I am totally amazed by the talent and work that goes into creating each of their cakes. So, today, I am posting two videos regarding Confetti Cakes owner Elisa Strauss and her amazing creations here on the Junk Drawer blog.

The first video aired on PBS showing the owner, Elisa Strauss, making a sushi board cake.

The next video clip shows a compilation of Elisa Strauss clips from various shows. Along the way, you get to see more of the amazing cakes she has created, and pick up a few tips to try at home.

Have you ever made such a fancy cake? Would you ever try?

Monday, June 23, 2008

You’re a Writer? How Much Do You Make?

Photo © Chance Agrella
One of the first things out of the mouth of people who find out what I do for a living is a question about how much money I make. I cannot remember any other profession in which I have worked that got this reaction. I have no idea why people feel they have free license to ask such a rude and inappropriate question, but I am not alone. Other writers experience this same phenomenon, and it leaves us all scratching our head.

Though it truly is a rude and inappropriate question, there are those who are genuinely curious as to what writers in general can make. The answer to that question is that there are simply too many variables involved for there to be one set answer.

There are many different types of work for writers, and many different genres and arrangements within each one. Some writers are freelance, and some are contracted/salaried. Some writers work full-time (or more), some only work part time. Some work primarily for print, other work primarily online. There is a world of options outside of books when it comes to writing. White papers, technical writing, advertising, slogans, press releases, web content, web articles, magazine articles, newspaper articles, scripts, graphic novels (comic books), resumes, songs/lyrics, poems, tests/quizzes, educational programs, newsletters, brochures, and so much more. One fact remains the same, however, and that is that most writers cannot get rich on their writing. Most cannot make a decent living as a writer, and must have another source of income.

Even if you write a book that is published, any advance may be small and spent long before the book is published, and afterwards, on average, authors are only paid about twice a year in royalties – remember that the advance was paid against future royalties. Very few published authors make a lot of money from writing, and of those, most need to continue writing for many years in order to keep money rolling in. Children’s book author J.K. Rowling’s success was a fluke in the writing world. Most authors are not that successful, even after many years and multiple published book titles.

For many writers, writing is not about money or getting rich quick. For them, writing is in their blood – it is their passion and as necessary to them as the air they breathe. They may be among the “starving artist” class, but they are joyfully so. They are living their dream and would not have it any other way.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Do I Have to Pull Over for a Cop on a Dark Road?

A really funny story as a lead in to an interesting topic:

If the video does not display, CLICK HERE

If someone tries to pull you over, what are your rights?

According to a police spokeswoman in this Washington Post article, civilians have some options
Caldwell said motorists have options when being pulled over. "Pull over in a well-lit spot where you feel safe," Caldwell said, "but be sure to acknowledge the officer. If you're hesitant or have any concern, ask for the officer's official credentials, and you can ask for a uniformed officer to respond" if a non-uniformed officer makes the stop."

I have heard that you can call dispatch on your cell phone and give them information so they can verify if an actual officer is trying to pull you over or not. They can also relay to the officer any concerns or hesitation on your part.

Best advice: call your local police department and ask for the laws in your state regarding your rights and options when being pulled over. Do this before it happens, so you know what your rights and options are if it does.


Fox News: On the Record with Greta Van Susteren. June 20, 2008. Your Stomach Will Hurt From Laughing [video]. Greta Wire Blog.

Jackman, Tom. 2008, January 8. Police in Fairfax say Cop-for-a-Day Failed to Pull Fast One on Real Officer. Washington Post. ppB01.

Irresponsible Canadian Justice Promotes Irresponsible Parenting

Photo © Chance Agrella

I find it ironic that the ‘bad parenting’ claim that is so often used in association with misbehaving youth is now being encouraged by a Canadian court justice.

In this article, “12-Year-Old Grounded for Too Much Internet Use Gets Punishment Overturned in Court”, a father who grounded his 12-year-old for her misuse of the internet including posting inappropriate photos of herself was taken to court by said 12-year-old. The Justice, in her laughable ‘wisdom’, deemed the consequence of no school outing for the girl as “too harsh”.

Does the Justice have children? Does she have higher than a two digit IQ?

To undermine parenting and to determine that breaking family rules and behaving inappropriately is not a big enough deal to warrant missing a school trip is ludicrous.

Her ruling sets a nasty precedent for unruly children everywhere – don’t want to follow the rules? Take mom and dad to court and maybe a lame-brained judge near you will overturn mom and dad’s authority in favor of your juvenile delinquency. After all, if you don't turn into nasty little delinquents whatever will these family court judges have to do?

Gimme a freakin’ break!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

Photo © Chance Agrella

I make it pretty clear to those who get my email address that I am not interested in forwards, and I don’t want my email address publicly listed in recipient lists. The way to hide email addresses is to put them in the “BCC” field rather than “TO” or “CC”.

Despite this request for respect of my personal boundaries, there are a few people in my life who chose to continually and repeatedly ignore it. These people got blocked and ignored, and lost their spot in my life.

It may seem harsh, but there is a bigger issue at play than spam. The issue is respect for my personal rights and boundaries. There is simply no room in my life for anyone who feels their right to be annoying, inconsiderate, and rude outweighs my right to not be subject to it.

While I do not have to explain my reasons, for those who wonder why anyone would possibly not want their inbox deluged on a regular basis with jokes, ‘news’, and ‘warnings’, I will explain.

#1-I own and operate my own business. As such, I am the recipient of literally hundreds of email messages each day that I must address. I am not looking for more email to deal with.

#2-I do not have the time nor the inclination to deal with crap that has no relevance to my life and is largely falsehoods being circulated and re-circulated by people who don’t have the common sense to check out the information with or any other myth-busting organization before they senselessly panic people or ruin lives with completely fabricated nonsense and malicious untrue attacks on the character of others.

#3-While I welcome email from friends and family that update me on the latest news in their life, I, again, am not interested in forwards.

It is not ok to spread lies and falsehoods about others.

It is not ok to scare people with fabricated stories under the guise of relaying true stories of crime and true warnings of danger.

It is not ok to deluge others with mindless twaddle.

While society at large has become increasingly self-absorbed, I will forever maintain that there is absolutely no excuse for trampling the rights of others in the interest of self.

Don’t like it? Recognize that I am not the kind of person you want to associate with and lose my email address.

Crappy Customer Service – The New Way to Do Business

Not to date myself here, but ‘back in my day’ the rule about ‘the customer is always right’ was a big one. It was drilled into our heads at every place I worked. Another rule pounded into employee heads was how important great customer service was – to always be friendly, courteous, and helpful. It was part of our job to smile and say ‘Hello’ to each and every customer. It was also our job to go above and beyond the call of duty for customers. Happy customers will come back and will tell their friends about their wonderful experience. Unhappy customers will not come back and will shout to the moon about how awful their experience was.

I was taught that when dealing with money, you not only count back the change, but you place it in the customer’s hand – coins first. This is because not only did you count the change back coins first, but it is easier for the customer to control the money you give to them if the coins are in their palm, and the bills are on top. If you count back the change to the customer, you both know they were given the right amount or can catch a mistake. In all the time I worked as a cashier, the only time my till was ever off at all was when another cashier had access to it. Counting back change is a check and balance system for accuracy.

I was taught that even if the customer is ornery, while you did not have to take abuse, you should make every effort to be understanding, helpful, and pleasant. I cannot tell you how many times I calmed, pleased, and diffused the temper of irate customers by doing exactly that. I even had customers apologize to me for their behavior.

In the case of returns and exchanges, the same rules applied – courtesy, the customer is always right, and do everything within reason to make the customer happy. Even if they are unhappy with a product, they would be so happy with the customer service and with the easy return/exchange policy, they would feel assured they could make purchases with the store that they would ultimately not regret – the store would fix any problems.

Nowadays the rules have changed. Customers are treated as the enemy. Change is virtually thrown at customers by growling sourpuss cashiers who don’t even look at their customers, much less say ‘hello’ or smile. More than once I have counted back my own change after picking it up when it was thrown at me to find they had made a mistake and shorted me or overpaid me. When I brought it to their attention, they did not even care. Does the end of shift/day till counts not matter anymore?

Need to make a return or exchange? Good luck with that. Not only have policies at stores changed so much that it is difficult if not impossible to do so, but often customers are treated as if they are criminals trying to bilk the store simply because they want to do so.

If you used your card in making the purchase, while they likely immediately took the funds off your card, they won't immediately replace them on returns. You have to wait 3-5 days for 'processing'. Many stores push or will only give store credit now. No funds will be returned.

The online world of business is much the same. So much effort is put into developing a great website, marketing, and advertising that customer service is overlooked or ignored. Over the years, out of all the websites I have contacted with questions or problems I would estimate that only 10% ever responded. Of those, about 75% were form letter type responses that rarely addressed the actual concern in my contact.

Recently, the Hershey Company had something on their website asking for suggestions. I used the listed method of contact to give them a suggestion. They replied – with a form letter reply apologizing for my unhappiness with their product and letting me know a coupon was in the mail to me. Huh?

While I appreciate the thought, I did not complain about their product, and from a business standpoint, they just wasted the cost of the coupon, the mailing, and the savings from the coupon. With one customer, it may not seem like much, but Hershey Company is already struggling financially and if this is how their customer service operates, I doubt I was the only person who got a form letter and coupon. By the way, I never used the coupon. If it was a ploy to get me to buy the product, it did not work.

With so many choices available online, it is crucial that business up the level of their customer service in order to compete. With rare exception, there is not a business around that cannot be easily replaced by unhappy customers.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Manson Family Member Susan Atkins Who Reportedly 'Didn't Care' About Her Victims Wants Compassionate Release

I could not believe the CNN headlines I read today! "Ex-Manson follower dying, seeks release from prison" reports that convicted murderer Susan Atkins has sought a 'compassionate release' from prison because she has been diagnosed as terminally ill. The kicker is that it might actually be granted.

In the wee hours of a day in August of 1969, the very pregnant Sharon Tate and four others were brutally murdered by Charles Manson's followers. View Crime Scene Photos to see how brutal it was. This was not their only murderous crime. Another account may be found here.

There is some dispute as to her exact involvement in the murders in the early hours of that August day, but reports are that at the vary least, she rounded up the victims; tied up, struggled with, and stabbed one victim; held down the pregnant Sharon Tate while she pleaded for her baby's life and was repeatedly stabbed; told the pleading victim "Look b****, I don't care about you. I don't care if you're going to have a baby. You had better be ready. You're going to die and I don't feel anything about it..." and then a few minutes later killed her; tasted Sharon's blood; and wrote the word 'pig' on a door with Sharon Tate's blood. Her behavior immediately following the murders is just as disturbing, including reports of other things she wanted to do but did not have time for.

Later that day, the group, including Susan "Sadie" Atkins would kill again.

Eleven times this murderer has been denied parole. She had no compassion for any of the victims, including a pleading pregnant woman. After her conviction, she reportedly bragged in prison about her part in the murders. Her sentence was the death penalty which was later commuted to "life" due to the death penalty being dropped in California. The death penalty was later reinstated in that state.

Considering she has been denied parole eleven times, terminal illness should have no bearing on that. She was given the death sentence/life for her part in eight murders. Let her finish her sentence as it was ordered.

Compassionate release? Gimme a break!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Following Your Dreams

Photo © Lokigirl616

Over on one of my favorite writing gig boards there was an article about balancing parenting and freelance writing. It got me thinking about my own situation, and about the concept of following your dreams.

I have wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. Granted, while I was growing up, there were also a lot of other careers that interested me, too. However, the one constant other than astronaut and pilot was writer.

My earliest memory of the desire to be a writer was in second grade. We were given the assignment of writing a fictional story. I can't remember all the details, but I do remember after reading mine, the teacher had me read it in front of the class. The teacher and my classmates were laughing hysterically as I read my funny vacation story that involved a volcano.

As a teenager, my grandmother was the first family member to take an interest in my writing. Not only did she cry as I read her some of my love poems, but she told me I had a gift, and told me I got it from her mom. Her mother wrote beautiful poetry that had been published. My great-grandmother died when I was a baby, but she did get to spend time with me, though I don't remember her. Until the day when my grandmother told me that my great grandmother wrote poetry, I did not know.

The rest of my memories about writing consist of teachers and others who read my writing encouraging me to continue to write and complimenting my writing skills, while others in my life discouraged me and told me it was not realistic or practical to go into writing. They never read my writing, they just told me I was a dreamer and I would never succeed at writing.

Fast forward to today. I actually make a living as a writer, have won one award thus far as a professional writer, and I am continuing to advance in my career.

I see my son dream about different careers and I am careful to not discourage him from doing what it takes to achieve them. Despite the naysayers he has around him, he sees me doing what I love and have always dreamed of doing, and it gives him hope.

When it comes to following your dreams, where do your beliefs lie?

Friday, June 6, 2008

Susan Saradon - Unwitting McCain Supporter

Susan Sarandon's threat to leave the country if Senator John McCain becomes our next president has the potential to sign, seal, and deliver his win. McCain supporters everywhere thank her for her unwitting support to their cause.

Most average citizens are sick to death of the Hollywood elite spouting off about things they nothing about, and whining about not getting their own self-involved way.

Ms Sarandon is not concerned with what the regular folks in this country want - for if the majority elects Senator McCain, then clearly the majority want him in office. Ms Sarandon is only concerned with getting what she wants and if she doesn't get what she wants she will display her childish tantrum by moving to Italy or Canada.

Goodbye. Sayanora. Farewell. Bon Voyage. Adieu. Ciao. Antio sas. Aloha. Selamat jalan. Au revoir. Arrivederci. Itte irasshai. Nwenda kiambote. Tikala malamu.

I support free speech, and I support the rights the citizens of this country have to not only publicly disagree with the government, but to freely leave this country for any reason they choose.

Contrary to what the mouthy Ms. Behar says, Ms Sarandon and Mr Robbins do NOT fit the definition of "Patriot". The official definition of a "Patriot" is one who loves, supports, and defends their country.

I would add, that a patriot is also one, who in their love of country, finds positive and respectful ways to make changes when the leadership shows it is comprised of less than perfect people, or when flaws appear in the system.

So, fare-thee-well to Susan Sarandon and, I am assuming, Tim Robbins. I wonder if we can give their space here to two immigrants who would be thrilled to live here?

For the record, she is not the first celebrity to make such a claim, but she would be among the very very few who have moved elsewhere if she followed through.


Goodbye in 450 Languages.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Virtual Health Care: See Your Doctor Online

I wrote a short article about the money and time-saving benefits of virtual medical care, and I think it is an interesting topic for discussion. I couldn't include all the information I found in the article I wrote, but what I found is amazing and feasible.

I can't reprint the article, but I can give you a link to check it out.

Virtual Health Care: Online Doctor's Office Visits Coming Soon

What do YOU think about virtual health care and being able to consult with your doctor via email and IM for most things? What do you think about the application of virtual health care as a means of creating more affordable health care?
Copyright © 2008 - 2011 Daniella Nicole. All rights reserved.