Thursday, 30 September 2010

Unexpected benefits of blogging

I know I've written lots about how I stumbled into blogging and didn't expect to find a group of wonderful friends, glimpses into other people's lives and a place to vent and share special things that happen. But one of the other amazing benefits of blogging is that this has become a great reference system for me.

For example, I was trying to remember the date when something happened and then I realised I'd blogged about it, so I just typed in a key word in my search bar and voila - I had the exact date I needed.

Also, as Phillygirl has pointed out before, blogging about your holidays or places you've been may not always be thrilling subject matter for readers, but it's a great way to capture the memories so that you can look back on them later. And I can't tell you how many times I search my blog for restaurants when I'm trying to remember my experience of a particular place or if someone asks me for a recommendation. It's the same with movies.

I also really enjoy occasionally going back a year in my blog and seeing what has changed since then. For example, last year on 30 September I had just managed to find a decent gardener and sort my internet out at home. The year before that, also on 30 September, TSC and I were still living in the old place and we'd rescued a little ginger kitten that we homed with our neighbours.

The only thing I worry about is that I ever do decide to have children, they'll one day come and read through all these scribblings. Eep! I think I'd have to delete my blog before then.

What are your unexpected blogging bonuses? And what were you up to this time last year?

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Why cats are awesome

I came down with a nasty head cold on Friday. By Saturday I was feeling miserable and that's how I've felt right until today. So the long weekend wasn't quite what I'd planned (although thankfully I didn't have to cook for the whole weekend, and I got to go to the R3 and R5 nursery and spend time with my folks and TSC).

There's no sick leave when you work for yourself, so yesterday was spent working from bed, trying to think through the fog in my head. This morning, I was sitting here in bed feeling sorry for myself because today will be more of the same, and all I want to do is sleep and make my nose stop hurting from being blown so much.

So I was having a little pity party and my cat, Sapphire, who normally flat out refuses to sit on the the bed with me, jumped up and has curled into a little purring ball on my lap. I feel much better already. Margaret Atwood was onto something in her imaginings in her disturbing book Oryx and Crake where she wrote about how purring at a certain frequency heals disease. Maybe my kitty's purring won't cure the head cold, but it has sure made my heart feel better ;-)

I wonder what effect the purr of a little squirrel would have? Yes, it's worth clicking on that link for a serious dose of cute.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

I nearly wrote TGIF

Because tomorrow is a public holiday in South Africa, it feels like today is Friday. Yay for long weekends!

TSC and I will be house-sitting for my folks while they are in Durban. I'm looking forward to sitting next to the pool (even if it's with my laptop to get my big story done in time for Monday's deadline) and just being away from home. It means that I have an excuse not to do all the niggly little things on my to-do list (everything from sorting out my beads and magazines to cleaning out my bedside drawer, which is one of those places in our house where homeless objects like spare batteries and lone earrings seem to collect).

It's not a holiday, but it's a nice break. I was thinking that yesterday and TSC asked me what I was pondering. I said that I was trying to figure out what makes a holiday for me. For him, it's being able to do what you want when you want. I thought about it some more and realised that for me, what defines a proper holiday is:
  • Not having to do the annoying daily chores and admin, like cleaning, phoning clients, answering work emails and sorting out laundry. I enjoy camping and self-catering holidays, but my favourite treat is if we're away and don't have to worry about cooking our own meals or washing up afterwards.
  • Not having any major committments that impede spontaneity or flexibility. This is why visiting my gran in Mpumalanga counts as a break, but not a real holiday in my opinion. I'm constantly thinking about whether she'll be able to enjoy what we're doing, if she'll feel left out if we go somewhere without her, if we'll get in the way of her social activities etc. Ultimate holidays for me are where it's just me and TSC doing our own thing, or when I'm with people who don't mind everyone splitting up when they feel like it. My family are good like that - we all tend to gather for meals, but my grandparents are free to nap while my folks go for a drive and TSC and I play tennis. I hate it where you're away with people and there's no privacy and no chance for solitude. And unfortunately, TSC's family are the type who expect that when we're away with them, we can't even be on our own for 30min, which is probably why we struggle to be together for more than a few days at a time - it's two different ways of thinking that collide.
  • Not stressing constantly about finances. I don't mean I want to be able to just throw money around. I mean that it's difficult to relax when you can't really afford the holiday you're on. Friends of ours recently went to Australia and although they enjoed the experience, they said that they were on a really tight budget, but staying with friends who didn't understand that, and kept expecting them to join them at expensive restuarants or theatre shows. Our friends found it very stressful to be constantly rebudgeting to try to fit these things in. Personally, I'd rather save up for a long weekend and have enough spending money, than go on a week-long holiday where I'm constantly freaking out about the money and not really relaxing.
  • Doing something new. It doesn't have to be exotic or expensive, but doing something new or going on an adventure is part of a holiday for me, even if it's as small as seeing a bushbaby in the wild for the first time (which happened when we went to wonderful Sondela).
  • Having enough time to unwind. I've loved touring all the waterfalls in Mpumalanga, sunset horse-riding in Cape Town, doing a bridge swing in Zambia, swimming with dolphins in Zanzibar, visiting art galleries in Paris and all the other exploring I've been fortunate enough to do, but I also need time to sleep late, drink cocktails by a pool, take slow, wandering walks and generally just chill out. Without the chance to chill, as soon as I get back to work, it feels like the holiday never happened.
What about you lot? What defines a good, proper holiday for you?

PS: My bucket list is up on Being Brazen's blog! Yay ;-)

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

You know when...

...You've been looking for something EVERYWHERE and you finally give up and there it is, sitting right in front of you?

If it were a snake it would have bitten me.

In other news, we have booked and paid for all our December stops in our mammoth road trip from Johannesburg to Upington to Durban and back. So, if anyone has recommendations of interesting and/or unusual things to do or see in Keimoes, Kakamas, Augrabies, Upington, Bloemfontein, Clarens and Durban, please feel free to send your suggestions my way!

Have a great Tuesday, people.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Reasons I won't be posting (much) today

  • I have to go to all those annoying meetings this afternoon, so only have two hours to work before I have to leave.
  • I will probably only be back this eve at about 6pm. And I will want supper then. Words feed my head and my heart, but chicken stirfry feeds my stomach ;-)
  • I am bored of my blog. By that, I don't mean that I am bored of blogging. I am just bored of the look and feel of this blog (what do you think of the adjustments?) and the parameters I unknowingly set myself here way back when.
Be back tomorrow.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Learning on the job

This freelancing thing that I've been doing over the past few years has definitely taught me the importance of editors (by that, I mean editors of magazines). An editor can make or break a publication. So one would think that the editors of successful magazines out there would be brilliant, right? Sadly, it's not always the case, although there are a lot of passionate, knowledgeable and personable editors out there.

I've been lucky to work with a range of editors - really good ones who treat freelancers nicely and run their magazine exceptionally well because they are head over heels in love with it, and shoddy editors who treat everyone badly and run their magazine like it's a toy they've grown tired of.

Here are my thoughts on editors and what makes them good or bad for a freelancer:

Good editor: gives journalist a clear brief, makes sure he or she understands the magazine's house style and gives reasonable deadlines. This means that I feel respected, am more likely to give my all to the piece and get it right the first time and will probably agree to work for the mag in future and tell everyone else about how awesome it is.

Bad editor: gives journalist a vague brief (or no brief at all. I kid you not - this happens to me all the time) and phones the day before the publication is going to print to ask if you can "do a little favour and quickly write this story". This means I feel like the editor takes me for granted, assumes that I have no life or my life is not important, and is bad at time management, which usually also translates into being bad at paying me on time. I try to steer away from working with mags like this, especially those who don't give a decent brief, because they are more likely to come back to you and say it's not what they wanted, and then not be able to articulate what it is they actually do want.

Good editor: has a clear vision of what the publication is about - what content it should and shouldn't cover - and briefs only stories that fit into this vision.

Bad editor: chooses stories based on which friends her or she wants to be interviewed for the mag, or only publishes content if someone will agree to advertise in the publication first. In my opinion, this compromises the editorial integrity of the mag.

Good editor: keeps a handle on what is happening and always knows the status of any story. She is aware of problems early on and provides support to the journalist, including possible solutions. If a story is published and receives a negative response from a reader, the editor takes the rap, because ultimately it is the editor that signs off all content and dictates what makes it into the mag and what doesn't.

Bad editor: does not communicate with freelancers and when issues crop up, shrugs her shoulders and says, "That's your problem, not mine". This editor doesn't do the editing - cutting out stuff that's inappropriate for the mag and ensuring a high level of quality. If a story is published that receives a negative response from a reader, the editor passes the blame to the journalist and essentially hangs her up to dry.

Having said all of this, being an editor is a massive responsibility. Essentially, you are the face of the publication. Everything you say or do reflects on your mag and you will be judged accordingly. When I was at varsity, I always dreamed of becoming an editor of a successful magazine. It seemed so glamourous and prestigious. But they don't tell you at varsity that the editor is often the fall guy when things go wrong and that when it's deadline time, she must pretty much move into the offices to get the mag put together (so, pretty much one week of every month can be written off).

Working with various editors, I have learnt a handful great life lessons, some from the good editors and some from the bad. I'm sure I'll still be learning as long as I'm in this business, but here are a couple of things editors have unknowingly taught me:
  • Don't take it personally. Nobody produces perfection every time round. If my article gets edited within an inch of its life, I just have to suck it up and realise that (generally) the editor knows what's best for the publication and has probably been doing this for a lot longer than I have.
  • Treat people with respect. There is never a reason to throw a tantrum like a child, even if you are dealing with someone else who thinks that behaviour is acceptable. As my dad always says, don't mud wrestle with a pig - you'll just get dirty and the pig will have a whole lot of fun.
  • Shut up and listen. You can learn a lot from other people's experiences - both what to do and what not to do, and you're more likely to get a great interview if you're asking questions, not blabbering on about yourself.
  • You can say 'no'. You are not irreplaceable. If the deadline is totally insane, the subject matter bores you to tears or you know you can't handle the project at the time, walk away. Don't be the person that says yes and drops the ball later, or the person who's picking up the scraps of work that no writer in their right mind would take on just because you're scared to say 'no'.
  • That said, sometimes you have to do things you don't want to do. They may seem pointless or insanely frustrating at the time, but you can always learn something from the experience. I once edited a book on mining. I thought it was a total waste of time. A year later, I got a nice big story about mining and had a group of contacts ready for interviews.
  • Finally, no man is an island. Without support, you will not be as effective as you could be. So don't be scared or ashamed to ask for help or to probe for more information if you don't understand something. Arrogance will never get you as far as honesty and humility will.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Photo post

Some pics of our Casino Royale themed games night a few weeks back...

Window decor...

The sign above the blackjack table, before it got dark...

The blackjack table outside (in our newly tiled braai area) with the fairy lights up, before everyone arrived...

The lounge, with our brand new natural stone finish around the fire place, TSC's clever hanging cards on the light fitting and a pair of my handmade dice (used polystyrene cubes) and some giant cards strung on the mantlepiece...

Some more of my dice, this time in purple for the roulette table (we also had some on the veranda, hanging from the lights). Had to laugh... our roulette wheel is about the size of a side plate - so cute!

It was such a fun evening. Everyone looked gorgeous in their formal wear and we had prizes for the person who won the most money (we printed play money with pictures of us on it) and whomever lost their money the fastest. We also played some Bingo and had to frantically change numbers on the cards that I'd photocopied because (genius that I am), I made copies of the same four sets of cards! It was a good laugh, although some of our poker players took the evening a bit seriously ;-)

And here are some pics from our Gautrain outing, which was my early bday surprise for TSC...

The train, at the airport...

Our sushi at the airport (not the best sushi - the chef was about 20 years old and quite sloppy, but at least the fish was fresh)...

TSC having a beer at Punchinello's at Montecasino. I took him for a drink at the new hotel at The Pivot after our bus dropped us off at Montecasino. It was lovely to sit in the sun and enjoy watching the swans swimming around the pond, with water cascading over the mosaic in the fountain. Lovely!

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The not fun bits...

Frustration: clients who schedule meetings for me without checking if I'm available, wait for me to then reschedule everything else to make their stupid meetings, and then go ahead and postpone the meeting on the day it's supposed to happen.


Yip, my interviews for this afternoon, which necessitated me dropping all my other committments and making special plans to fit them in, have now, as of five minutes ago, been postponed. And, to make things even easier, they haven't set a new date for the next load of interviews yet. And we only have next week to get them all done because this story is due the following Monday.

To me, that is just plain rude. It's like they are saying to me, "Our time is more important than yours, so f*** you, we'll schedule the meetings whenever we like."

This, my friends, is what I like least about being a journalist. If this weren't a report on a specific company, I would find new interviewees.

*sigh* Off to bang my head on my desk now.

17:35 update: I've just received an email with meetings scheduled by same client for Monday 2-5pm, Tuesday 11am - 4pm and one that will take place "sometime on either Wed or Thurs". KILL. ME. NOW.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Emotionally pooped

Warning: overshare ahead.

I always find that being emotionally exhausted is more stressful than being physically worn out. How about you?

This weekend was one of those where all the issues get brought out from under the rug and poked a bit. Flip, I feel like my issues were tied to the stake and set on fire this weekend.

What is she on about? That is probably the question that people wonder about most but vocalise least when it comes to me ;-)

This weekend started with a heated debate concerning my MIL and ended with a heated debate concerning my MIL. See, my in-laws and I... (how to put this diplomatically?)... have some difficulty getting along.

With my SIL getting married in December, and most of TSC and my conversations over the past week revolving around December holiday plans and his family, things were getting a bit tense. Nevermind the fact that MIL asked me (on my birthday) about when on earth I plan on having babies. Again. After TSC has specifically asked her not to go there.

So, on Friday eve, he had a long, long, long discussion with her on the phone about many, many issues, which ended up with both of them in tears. Maybe this is good for the two of them, maybe not. Who knows.

But it had been a really rough week for me and I had been fragile and needy all day (PMS really sucks). I had just told TSC that I needed some TLC before he went off to make this "quick" phone call. So I was waiting on the veranda with supper, wine, loads of candles and plans for a romatic evening in, while he was having this epic and unheard of discussion inside (his family never ever does deep, confrontational conversations).

Needless to say, the food got cold, the candles spilled wax everywhere, the mosquitoes decided the wine glass was a good place to take a dive and eventually I gave up.

And then he came out and started telling me about all the things MIL had said and that just sent me off the deep end. I am not going to go into details here, but we fought long and hard and only made up late that night, with some issues not really being dealt with properly.

And so, despite having a great time at the Getaway Show on Sat (picked up a great pair of hiking boots for cheap, cheap, plus a load of info about the different places we want to visit), and enjoying the fundraising event we went to (a 70s show called Nite Fever at the Broadacres Barnyard Theatre) with my folks and some friends on Sat eve, there was still some distance between us.

And I hate that. I can handle anything with TSC at my side, but I fall apart when things are crap between us.

We went to The Meat Co. at Montecasino (food was so-so) for a belated birthday lunch for him with my folks and my brother yesterday, and then my mom and dad came to watch the Italian Grand Prix at our house. Then it was church and back home, but I still felt far away from TSC.

Eventually, when we got ready for bed (why is it always when you want to sleep that it all comes to a head?), the unresolved issues reared their ugly heads again and the fight pretty much resumed where it had left off on Friday night.

Thankfully we seemed to work things out a lot better this time. I think he understands my position for the first time (I know it's incredibly hard on him that I don't see eye to eye with his family, but he also needs to realise that it takes two to tango). Although things will still be difficult with them, the fact that he gets where I'm coming from will make a huge difference.

We got to bed well after midnight, so we're both physically exhaused today, but I just feel emotionally drained. Thank goodness we don't have this type of discussion very often - I think I would collapse of emotion-overload.

Here's to a more peaceful, productive week!

Friday, 10 September 2010

Apologies, explanations and updates

I'm sorry for disappearing from the face of the internet. Real life has a way of keeping one occupied to the point that one's head feels like exploding sometimes. Thanks to those of you who mailed me to check that I'm still alive. That motivated me to come and put up a post again. The next step is to try to catch up on everyone else's blogs, although I am honestly not sure how long that will take or when I'll get there.

I missed blogging. I've been very tempted to lift my self-imposed ban on it for the past while, but I know myself - if I have as much work on my plate as I currently do, and I am working on a PC that is hooked up to the net, opening Blogger or WordPress is not a good idea. It's a magical porthole to procrastination paradise.

Thankfully, all 10 chapters of the book I'm ghostwriting are now written, so it's now only the editing that has to happen. Hah! Only the editing... It could take forever. But the ball is not in my court at the moment - the work is all with client - so I can resurface to take a deep breath.

I still have too much other stuff on my to do list for my comfort, but one of the tricky bits of this fulltime freelancing jazz is that I have to make enough moolah now to get us through the very quiet December / January period. So I have taken on more work than I'm sure I can handle, but it does mean that come December I'll be able to take a break without stressing so madly about money.

I'm also working on two articles for a new publication, which keeps things interesting, in between my crazy-making retainer clients, a website and the occasional dry but mammoth projects I do for another mag.

When I'm not sitting in front of this PC, I am scouring my new roadmap of South Africa, trying to figure out how TSC and I can be somewhere nice for our 4th wedding anniversary (16 Dec) and then be in bloody Upington for his sister's wedding two days later (18 Dec). The problems are that a) there appears to be nowhere nice near Upington, b) flights to Upington are insanely expensive and only run on certain days, c) driving to Upington takes eight hours and e) we have a seriously limited budget.

Any suggestions?

In other news, our Casino Royale party was great (IMO). Will put up pics when I can use the other PC (photos have been uploaded to the laptop, which TSC is using at present). I also took TSC on the Gautrain for an early bday surprise last Fri (his bday was this Tues). We did the whole shebang - the bus from Montecasino to the Sandton station, then the Gautrain from Sandton to the airport and then a sushi lunch at the airport before making our way back in the same fashion. It was good fun and he was impressed with his first ride on a high-speed train.

K, that's all I have time for now, I'm afraid. I could happily type away for pages more, but I have some telephonic interviews scheduled now.

Have a fab weekend, everyone.