Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Z is for Zebra


Grevys Zebra
For the final day of my alphabet challenge, I've picked Zebra as my topic - mainly because I love zebra print and I have a couple of favorite photos from my safari but also because, if I'm honest, I've just about run out of steam!

I was lucky enough to have a 7 night safari holiday in Kenya a few years ago. We saw so many animals - I think the only ones we didn't check off the list were hyenas which was no great loss for me. After the first day or two though, coming around a corner to see a horizon filled with zebras and wildebeests became so common place we almost stopped even noticing them.

Until, that is, we stopped for lunch under a tree one day and were treated to a small herd of about 20 Grevys zebras just wandering past. Like so many travellers, I had no idea there were 3 types of zebras until our guide pointed out the differences to us. The Grevys are considered an endangered species so we were really lucky to see them. I'd never noticed before that zebra stripes are not all the same. The Grevys are the largest of the 3 types but their stripes are very narrow.

Another photo I managed to get was of a baby zebra - again my ignorance showed itself as I squealed with delight - I had no idea baby zebras are brown & white striped! The best bit for me was the joke in the photo though - a zebra crossing the 'road' - never thought I'd manage to make the guide giggle but he did at that one!

If you look at the two photos I've included today, you can clearly see the baby zebra is a Common zebra with the wide stripes. It's only when you see them alongside each other that you really notice the difference!

And so, my month long post every day A to Z Challenge is finally at an end. I've enjoyed the challenge but I'm not sad to see the end of posting every day! It's not something I've ever tried to do before, even when I was doing my 20 Days of Goldmaking on my other blog, I struggled to do it every day. There are just so many other things that get in the way and frame of mind is important for me too.

I hope you've enjoyed my foray into random topics through the alphabet. I'd definitely recommend it as a way to challenge yourself as a writer and blogger and some of the ideas I had for posts will probably turn up in future random posts. But for now, I say goodbye to every day posting and take a well deserved breather for a few days. I have a Liebster Award post to pull together though so I will be back shortly :)


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Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Y is for Yellow!

Aquilegia - Golden Queen

The colour of sunshine and so many Spring flowers, yellow has a feeling of life to it. I'm not a great colour theorist or into auras or whatever but seeing a field full of yellow rapeseed or a garden full of daffodils and forsythia bushes in full spring bloom always makes me smile.

It's a cheerful colour - think sunflowers, buttercups and primroses, rudbeckias and of course, the classic yellow rose - all lighten and brighten any room or section of the garden and give a happy corner full of colour.

Rudbeckia
But it's also a gender neutral colour - not taken over by marketing executives. Paint a room with a pale yellow and you'll always have a sunny room - even in the winter, you can almost 'feel' the warmth of the colour! Ideal for a nursery if you want to get the decorating done before you know what sex your baby is going to be and also ideal for any grandmas or aunties who want to knit for the baby!

My kitchen used to be painted a pale, pale yellow and was north facing but it never felt cold or dark. I added bright splashes of red and green using herb pots on the windowsill and a chopping board with red poppies on it. I loved my kitchen even if it was pretty small! Talking of kitchens - some of my favorite foods are yellow too - bananas, eggs, lemons and that good old British favorite - custard! You just can't beat a nice apple crumble and custard for pudding!

Auricula
Culturally, yellow represents happiness, glory and wisdom in China. In English, words to describe light are often used to describe intelligence too - think 'bright' or 'brilliant'. In science, gold has the chemical symbol Au which comes from aurum, golden being another version of yellow.

When you think of yellow - what's the first thing that comes to your mind? For me it's a child's drawing of the sun in their sky - almost always oversized because that's the way they see it.

I had no shortage of yellow flower photos to show you - my albums are full of them which isn't surprising as apparently, it's one of the most prevalent colours for flowers due to their visibilty from a distance and it's attractiveness to insects. I can attest to how much insects like yellow - I had a yellow car once - never again! With all the bugs swarming it on a warm summer's day, it was hard to leave a window open for some air without inviting half a zoo of insects in too!


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Monday, 28 April 2014

X is for X-ray Art

Tulips by Coopr on deviantArt
Ok, so I guess most of us in this challenge are struggling a bit today - without 'cheating' and using Xmas or Xtreme or various other common abbreviations, it's taken me days to come up with this but I hope you'll think it's worth it!
Judy Stalus on Etsy.com

X-rays, in case you didn't know, are just an extreme end of the light spectrum and in its' widest sense, counts as photography. Radiation aside, a huge variety of objects can be photographed this way and then , if you want to, treated or colorised in Photoshop to make a beautiful, intricate and often fascinating piece of art.

Obviously this is a very specialised field and the equipment, training and safety aspects make it beyond most of us normal photographers.


I've found a few of my favorite images to show you though - some are x-ray like rather than actual x-rays but it just shows what a little ingenuity can do and still make beautiful art! There's even calendars available with lots of them in one place. There are only a few practicing xray photographers so it's still a very unusual field.


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Sunday, 27 April 2014

Army of Darkness #8

Army of Darkness
This week I've been playing Army of Darkness - Defence, starring a knight called Ash, whose job it is to protect the Necronomicon from hordes of invading skeletons. As with most Tower Defence type games, you can upgrade weapons and defences and the hordes get bigger and faster as you progress thru the levels.

Cold found this one and I know he kinda got addicted to it whilst I was there and managed to finish it - I'm not quite that addicted although I am enjoying it. I'm also not that good at these types of games! I love the animations and the boomstick & chainsaw upgrades are fun. The sound effects aren't too annoying so for once I have actually left the sound on - very unusual for me.

I'm about halfway through the levels and I will keep going until I beat the end boss but I don't know how quickly I will get there - it's not a 'must play' game for me, more of a 'got 5 minutes to kill' kinda game. So I'd give it a 7 out of 10 but if you like strategy & tower defence games, it's definitely worth a try.

If you have a game you'd like me to try, you can contact me on twitter @Nev AH Addict or leave a comment below.

Until next time, have fun :)


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Saturday, 26 April 2014

W is for Weight & Willpower


Today's words come to you hand in hand - one I have too much of, the other I need loads of to get rid of the first one! Can you guess which way round? Yup - too much weight, not enough willpower - the same problem so many of us have these days.

I have managed to give up smoking though so although I had medical help with that and it felt easy (Champix tabs are fab!), I do at least feel a little better in and of myself for doing it. Now I just have to show myself I can give up naughty snacks like crisps and chocolate bars.

At the top end of the 'ideal' weight range for my height, I'm maybe 25-30 pounds over. I remember being exactly the recommended weight for my height only a few times in my life but being at the top end of the range was my normal level until about 10 years ago. I've been trying to think why it should have suddenly piled on but all I can really recollect is that coincided with me taking a year off work to travel. I was probably more active then than before that too - I used to walk a lot when travelling but I guess I ate at restaurants a lot too.

This pic was taken just 2-3 years ago - I don't know what happened but somewhere along the line, I'd worn those large jeans and they were snug on me. The second picture is the new jeans I bought at the time of the photo and after about 6 Pilates lessons. I hadn't consciously been trying to lose weight but obviously something worked!

I still have those baggy jeans and I'm happy to report, they are still pretty baggy on me! The tight jeans are very tight though so if I don't want to bust the seams, I have to lose some pounds soon!

These days I am in full control of my own food choices (I don't have to please anyone else with a menu) so all I have to do now is cook with less fat/oil and increase the level of vegetables and fruit. I've been trying stir frys - lots of veg just cooked fast with noodles in very little oil. The downside of that though is that it doesn't keep me from being hungry a few hours later so I end up snacking if I'm not careful.

I also joined a gym late last summer and I did well for a couple of months, loosing 1 pound a week on average. Then I had a crazy week at work before a trip, the trip and of course, a couple of catch up crazy weeks at work again when I got back. Somewhere in there was a surprise short notice operation date and all hell broke loose again as I tried to get ahead on stuff at work. Add in Christmas and a birthday, going back to work and catching up then another trip as soon as I was well enough and as you can imagine, I slacked off even going to the gym!

I've rejoined now though - I have maybe 4 months before my job contract finishes and I head Stateside, so it's full steam ahead. Time to get fit, lose some weight and firm up the flabby bits. I even managed some running on the treadmill this time. I used to prefer the distance running at school so I'm thinking I may even manage a 5k race one day. Yeah I know! I've only managed to run twice this week and not for very far and I'm already thinking of a 5k?

I may never do a race but having it dangling out there ahead of me as something to achieve does help me keep going. I always say, if you don't have dreams, ideas and goals, you may as well be dead. I'm not going to dream of being skinny though, that way lies eating problems and depression. I was never slim, even as an active, always outdoors child, it's just not my body type and I can accept that. But I do want to feel better about myself and I know I feel a sense of achievement when my weight drops, my muscles are more defined and my clothes fit and feel better on me. Wish me luck!


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Friday, 25 April 2014

V is for Video Games


It feels strange to call them video games when most of the games I play are on my iPad or my PC but the dictionary says I've got the right word so here we go!

I've been playing World of Warcraft since 2009 and writing about it since late 2010 but I remember Space Invaders back in the late 1970's and was fairly addicted to that even back then. Over the years I've played lots of different games and spent hours of fun, bashing buttons at arcades at the beach too. I particularly enjoy the strategy/resource games like Settlers & Sim City. I think I like those because I play solo and at my own speed, without the need for speedy reflexes & movement, something I struggle with in the multiplayer games but then I wouldn't have so many wonderful people to chat too if I didn't play online!

World of Warcraft is in a bit of a lull for me right now while we're waiting for Warlords of Draenor so I've been playing quite a few other games. I'm really looking forward to Wildstar being released on 3rd June and I'm kinda hoping my operation will be scheduled for the week before! I'll be off work for 2 maybe 3 weeks so it will give me something to take my mind off my discomfort! I was lucky enough to get into the closed Beta and have picked up a few of the keys for the current special weekend Betas. I could pre-order but I'm torn between buying the Wildstar US version or the EU one! So for now, I'm hanging on, hoping something or someone will help me make my mind up!

Most recently, I've been lured into League of Legends by Cold and we've met up with a few Twitter peeps in there too (hellooo Amarochi & LegionHopper!). I'm really enjoying it when I play against the AI at beginner level! I'm really not very good at the intermediate level though! If you'd like to join us on Sundays (afternoon US time, evenings UK/EU time) then send us a friend request. If you haven't played before, it's free so just download & install it and tell them NevToo sent you!

I'm also playing Clash of Clans with a new clan and we're all suddenly re-learning how to attack strategically. The new Clan Wars expansion was a bit of a shock to my system for sure! I'd been using a cheap army to just farm resources quickly but that method of attack doesn't work in the Wars!

And of course, there's Hearthstone - the free to play collectible card game (CCG) by Blizzard, the makers of World of Warcraft. I enjoy a game now & then but I haven't stayed addicted to it as I did with WoW. Even now that it's been released for the iPad, I have still only played 1 or 2 games! As you can imagine, with 2 blogs and countless other games on the go, I don't have a huge amount of time for it!

Some of the games I do try to find time for are the free apps I review for my One Minute Gaming segment - which reminds me - I need to do some more for this weekend! You can read my reviews here by clicking the page link at the top of the page.

So yeah, I'd say I'm fairly well covered in the video games department - not saying I'm a geek or anything although I definitely have geekish tendencies! I have a long way to go to earn my full fledged geek card I think!

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Thursday, 24 April 2014

U is for Umbrellas


Umbrellas - yup - a whole blog post about that nifty anti-rain invention we always lose or forget, just when we need it most! Being British, I have a love/hate relationship with my brolly - I have to find one that folds down small enough to fit in my handbag but then it isn't as strong or as big as it needs to be to keep more than my head and shoulders dry. I've lost count of how many umbrellas I've had over the years. They also make a fantastic accessory for photo shoots or of course, as the main subject of a shoot.




That's just a few umbrella images I found quickly on Flickr - I also carry 5 white umbrellas with me when I do a photo shoot or if I'm shooting a wedding. They always come in handy for a general shoot too as I can use one to bounce light around my picture. At home I use a silvered one for that but they are too expensive to use in the rain!

Funny enough, one of my happiest moments came last year when I didn't have an umbrella but I really could have done with one! We'd gone out to lunch on a late Spring day, warm enough to not worry about a jacket and as we came out of the restaurant, the sky was black! We were in an area I'd not been to before so my fella had planned to show me around but as the heavens opened, we ducked into a manicure/pedicure place.

After a couple of margaritas lunchtime, I was all a bit a fluster (hehehe!) and as I'd never had a pedicure, he said he'd treat me. Well! I don't know which one of us was more amused - me at the motions of the massage chair or him at my face when it kicked into high gear! I giggled most of the way through my pedicure though!

When we eventually left, the skies had cleared so we headed for home. As we left the train station, it started spotting with rain again. We'd arrived between buses though so we decided to start walking, hoping we could get home before the downpour started. Needless to say, we didn't make it and as we sheltered beneath an overpass, the wind howling through and bringing a lot of water with it, we weren't very happy! About 10 long minutes later, will no let up in sight, we saw a bus at the stop we'd just left. We were about halfway to the next stop so we decided to run for it.

Well, I have to say, I'm no gazelle and as I leapt across a huge puddle, I ended up ankle deep in rainwater. I was huffing and puffing my way to the bus stop, soaked through to my skin and giggling like a total idiot. Luckily the bus driver saw us and waited a few seconds and as we got on, both of us laughing, the whole bus kind of laughed with us too. I haven't been that wet, laughed that much or run that far in years and I'm sure it will stick as a very special memory for a long, long time to come.

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Wednesday, 23 April 2014

T is for Twitter

So yeah, I spend a lot of time of Twitter - whether I'm trying to catch up with my American friends' overnight chats or keeping up with them in my evenings, chatting to my fella or my closer friends in direct messages - it all adds up to a huge amount of time! It's almost completely replaced Facebook for me and I was a heavy FB user!

I originally joined Twitter on my alter ego - Arty Allsorts, to join in the community chats & general publicising of our Etsy shops, way back in 2005/6 but my current account is @NevAHAddict and is linked to this blog and my Auction House Addict one too.

I only started this account when I first started making gold in World of Warcraft. I stumbled across a few blogs like Cold's Gold Factory and then a few podcasts and they all seemed to be on Twitter so I decided to  jump into the fray.

It's definitely been a fun ride - regular funny pictures or comments, some nice eye candy, convoluted conversations that need unraveling because of the way twitter links them and a fair bit of drama too. Luckily I have a tendency to lurk rather than join in, so I've managed to keep my head low from most of the drama.

It's a great platform for bloggers - I find it much easier to find others with similar interests than following random blog roll links. I also post a link to all my blog posts and quite often I retweet other blog posts that come through my twitter feed so that people who follow me can see them too. I read every single post I retweet so hopefully, if I find them interesting, others will too.

It was through Twitter that I met my fella, so of course I'm a big fan. Not sure quite what I would do with all my spare time if I stopped lurking on Twitter - probably get a whole lot more done of an evening but it wouldn't be half so much fun!


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Tuesday, 22 April 2014

S is for Squidoo

Unusual Angles
Now, in case you are wondering what on earth a squidoo is, I shall tell you! Squidoo is a website for anyone who wants to write an article or multiple articles but doesn't necessarily want to start a whole blog. It's a publishing platform with a vibrant community and a great side effect of this is the ability to earn a bit of pocket money too.

The beauty of Squidoo is how simple it is to build a single page, called a lens, to write about almost anything you want to. There are some subjects to avoid such as anything illegal (d'uh!), medical, diet or health products, adult content and copyright fraught areas too but for most ordinary people, these won't be attractive topics anyway!

I've enjoyed making lenses over at Squidoo, mainly for my photography topics (10 Tips for Great Flower Photos or How to Shoot The Moon) that don't really fit here or over on Auction House Addict (my WoW gold making blog) but there are a few 'written to order' lenses too.

Craft or home making lenses do really well over there and if you enjoy browsing Pinterest you may have seen some of the great recipe lenses already. My How to Make an Ice Bowl lens did really well last summer and I'm hoping it will bounce back up the ranks again for this summer!  

Connecting my love of travel with photography and writing has proven to be a successful topic for me too - I have won some on-site awards for a few of my travel lenses, including my favorite Places to Visit in Thailand! I just pulled together some of my Thai holiday photos and threw some words in as it was a weekly topic challenge with a deadline but it turned out so well.

Topiary Elephants in Thailand
Squidoo run a club called Rocket Squids which I highly recommend for beginners. It's designed around a weekly challenge topic for a lens with hints and tips to make the best lenses you can. There's a separate area of the forum with more experienced Squids designated as helpers, to answer any questions you may have.

The site has been through some drastic changes and tough times over the last year or two and with my measly 29 lenses, I have seen a drop in my earnings but I also decided to back off a bit and to let the dust settle. Another great thing about Squidoo is the residual income - now I'm not saying you don't have to work at it, you most definitely do need to work if you want to make cash but the work you do now will probably still be paying you a bit next year.

If you do your maths and work it for a year or two, how much could still be dribbling in to your paypal account in 3 years time? The potential is definitely there for those willing to learn and work it. Personally I've been a bit distracted for the last two years so I haven't made the most of it.

Squidoo also has an agreement with Amazon so if you are one of the unlucky Americans who can't become an Amazon affiliate because of the State you live in, Squidoo might be a partial answer for you. Each lens is allowed up to 20 related Amazon products although that is overkill for most lenses. You sadly don't get the full Amazon commission (Squidoo has to make some profit!) but the more you sell via your lens, the higher ranking you get on the site and therefore the higher payout from the text ads system.

Would I recommend Squidoo solely as a way to make money? Honestly? Not really, it's about so much more than that but if it clicks with you and you enjoy writing  and the community aspect, the potential for extra cash is most definitely there! It's not a get-rich-quick scheme and it will take time and effort but from some of the earnings articles I've seen from other lensmasters, it could have quite a nice effect on your paypal balance!


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Monday, 21 April 2014

R is for Reading


English was the bane of my school career - I hated writing essays with a passion and although I read everything under the sun, I had no inclination to make up my own stories. My fantastical excuses for handing in essay homework late should have gained me some points for creativity though!

Reading is and probably always will be, my first love when it comes to quiet time occupation. My Aunt was a librarian, with an office next to the children's section of the library. I used to spend 2-3 weeks every summer at my Grandmothers house and the days my Aunt took me to work to babysit me, were some of the happiest days of my young life. If I misbehaved, my Gran only had to threaten to keep me away from the library and I'd immediately behave!

By the time I was 10 years old, I'd finished almost every interesting book there and moved on to the fledgling Teenagers fiction. I say fledgling because there really wasn't much for teens in those days and my Aunt used to give me new books to read and ask me what I thought. I'd even read Lord of the Flies before I was 11 which astonished my teacher in senior school! (not sure what grade that would be, sorry!)

I read about 3-5 books a week in those days - all the way up to falling in love with World of Warcraft. At one point, I had over a 1000 paperbacks in my bookshelves, piled up alongside them and in boxes in the attic. It took over 50 carrier bags full to take most of them to the charity shops - what a sad day that was!

I'm an indiscriminate reader too - everything from women's fiction, horror and fantasy to historical murder mysteries, spy thrillers and macho adventure stories too. Just about the only thing I don't read very much of is non-fiction! Oh, I have some wonderful non-fiction books but they tend not to be stories, more technical know-how types or reference books.

My favorite genre is fiction fantasy/sci-fi though - this blog is named for my love of Anne MacCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series but I've read all her books, including the one or two non-fantasy ones. David Eddings, Raymond E Feist, Janny Wurtz, Terry Brooks and of course Tolkein all feature high on my list. My name comes from Nevyn, a main character in the Deverry series by Katherine Kerr although he is male and I'm not! It means no-one and as I liked to keep my bank alt under wraps in World of Warcraft, it was kind of appropriate and stuck!

I've actually started reading again recently - mainly on long flights and hanging around at airports but I have a few new books to read that I picked up secondhand. Part of my idea for getting better is to get some sunshine so I'll take a book and go sit in the park area behind my apartment building - once the sun actually shows it's face around here of course!


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Sunday, 20 April 2014

One Minute Gaming 07 - ARC Squadron



Hello and welcome back - this week, I've been playing a game called ARC Squadron, recommended by Mike Sherretz on Twitter. You're controlling a spaceship racing thru asteroid ridden areas to shoot down bad guys, dodge rocks & pick up health boosts. The graphics are pretty good & with 6 ship upgrades and 8 weapons to unlock, the potential to play for hours is definitely there!

Control is as simple as swiping around the screen with your finger and the pace is pretty good - not too slow to start with but not too fast either - it took a few practice tries for me but I got the hang of it fairly quickly. There are quite a few levels of difficulty and some different zones to zoom through as well as end of level mini boss fights - all designed to hone your reflexes and earn you the in-game currency for your upgrades.


I'm enjoying this game and oh boy does it get my adrenaline pumping!!! One thing I've found since I recorded the segment was the music! I automatically turn off most sounds and all music as I tend to play in the lunchroom at work! But the ARC Squadron soundtrack is great and really adds to the adrenaline rush too!

I'd give it an 8.5 out of 10 and I've been playing this regularly for the last couple of weeks. Thanks Mike!

If you have any games you'd like to suggest for me to try, you can contact me on Twitter @ Nev AH Addict



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Saturday, 19 April 2014

Q is for Quotes!

If you've spent any time on Facebook, Tumblr or Twitter, the Q word for today will be very familiar! You just can't get away from Quotes on those platforms and any time I go looking for images on Google, I usually get a face full of quote images there too. So what better than to do a whole post on some of my favorite quotes?

Some of these resonate with me, others make me smile and some are just downright beautiful - many are designed to be useful in self-improvement journeys but they become cliches if over-used. That's a shame though, if they speak to you, keep them handy - it could be your subconscious telling you something :)








I could go on forever, adding in these picture quotes. I'm definitely a bit of a Quote Junkie! I know it's a very girlie thing but you know what? If a friend posts one of these for me, it's usually because they thought it suited me or would help me or perhaps amuse me but whichever option it is, they thought of me and that reminds me I do have people out there.

We all need little reminders sometimes and for me, these 'silly' quote pics are my way of telling those closest to me that I'm thinking of them or it expresses something I don't have the words for.

How about you? Do you like these quote images? Do you send them to your loved one or receive them? I'd love to know I'm not the only soppy sap out here :)



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Friday, 18 April 2014

P is for Podcasts & Podcasting


I've been listening to World of Warcraft podcasts since about 2010 when I first got interested in gold making and started widening my horizons by joining Twitter. I'd never even heard of podcasts until then but there they were, enticing links plopped down into my Twitter feed which I just had to go and check out! I have a small list of my favorites on the left hand side of this blog but there are loads of others to check out.

My consumption of podcasts is sporadic and my tastes have definitely changed over the years. Initially I listened to general WoW ones like Twisted Nether and All Things Azeroth which were already established at that time but I stumbled over Girls Gone Wow, Auction House Junkies and Rep Grind Radio fairly early too. They were very different in style with explicit tags and I soon found that their irreverent comments and humour suited me better. Sadly Rep Grind Radio and Auction House Junkies are no longer produced but Rez (RGR) teamed up with Cold (AHJ) and later Nonmail to become EGP.

I love guesting on shows and have been lucky enough to be invited to quite a few shows now too - most recently, EGP, Girls Gone WoW, Behind The Avatar, The Chaos Portal and the Journal of Marcus Ty. In fact, Marcus and I hit it off so well, I kind of invited myself to be a co-host!

Working with Marcus is always fun and when I started writing this, I had to go back & check - I started on Episode 8 and we are up to episode 26 already! We're a fortnightly gold making show which is just as well because Real Life is kicking our butts timewise at the moment. I'm not sure we'd manage a weekly show.

We cover any news that relates to gold making and try to find gold making angles to other news as well. Then we go back and chat about various established gold making ideas and methods - we both feel strongly about helping or teaching newer gold makers rather than being cutting edge experimental types!

I even had an idea for my own show but the timing wasn't right for me and like all good ideas, someone else came up with it too and actually got it going. I'm still kicking myself over that but I felt I wouldn't have been able to maintain it properly and with hindsight, it turns out my gut instinct at that time was correct.

Medical and financial constraints hit hard just after I had my idea - I didn't have a decent headset for starters and my PC was too old to handle audio file editing. I know I would have wanted a proper recording set-up, including a suitable microphone like the Blue Snowball everyone seems to use. I still only have a headset but I've upgraded it from the grocery store one I had before! I bought the Creative Fata1ity headset as it had good reviews and was much more in my price range. I like it and can wear it for 5 hours at a time without getting uncomfortable.

I'm still toying with the idea of doing my own show (Podcasting for Dummies anyone?) but I need a good idea first! In the meantime, I've been asked to do a couple of bumpers - it seems my American friends love my British accent! I'm also thinking about joining Fiverr and doing some voice work! I might as well try & earn a few dollars whilst I'm learning, right? I'm definitely continuing my One Minute Gaming segment and learning more about editing and producing decent audio too. Will I ever do my own show? I really don't know but I think I'd like to, maybe, one day!




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Thursday, 17 April 2014

O is for The Oddbods


Today is a big day for me - I wrote this story a little while ago and only one person has seen it so far! I've had this idea bugging me for a long while though so one day in February, I just sat down and wrote it. It's a little raw and totally unedited but I'd like to get some honest opinions. I'm too close to it to tell if it's any good and I have no children around me to test it on either! It's probably a little long for a blog post but hey ho!

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, lived a young girl called Lizzie. She had dark chestnut hair and big brown eyes and her nose was covered in freckles. By the end of most days, her hair looked like a birds nest and her fingernails were usually dirty and you could almost be sure that somewhere she would have a sticking plaster covering her latest cut or graze. Yup, Lizzie was a total tomboy and her favorite thing to do was to explore the fields and hedges behind her house at the edge of the village with her two best friends, Richard and Gareth.
Gareth was a year older than Lizzie and Richard, with bright new penny colored hair and almost as many freckles as Lizzie. He was quite tall for his age but chunky - good rugby player potential as Lizzie's Dad always said. Richard was the complete opposite of Gareth - a little short for his age and skinny as anything. With tight blonde curls and bright blue eyes, all the Mums said he looked like an angel but they didn't know him very well. If the happy trio ever got in big trouble, it was usually Richard's bright ideas that got them there!
On this particular day, the three had been out to the tiny piece of woodland about 2 fields away from home but for some reason, Richard and Gareth were in a mean mood and had run away from Lizzie, leaving her annoyed and alone in the woods. She wasn't scared though - these woods were one of her favorite places but she got bored on her own so she started to run home. It was nearly teatime anyway. 
Lizzie loved to run but today, she was a bit angry too so she was running hard and fast and not really watching where she was going when she slipped. She'd forgotten about the little stream at the edge of the woods and slid, bottom first, straight down the little riverbank into the icy cold water and landed with a thud and a huge splash! At first, she just sat there - kind of shocked by the fall & the icy cold splash, then she realised she'd caught her leg on a small branch and given herself a really bad scratch that was bleeding and staining her socks.
Crying a lot now, she got herself up the other side of the riverbank, looked around to check if there was anyone around and took her soaking wet shorts and socks off. She took her cardigan and did the buttons up and climbed into it so it was like a funny skirt then tied the arms around her waist to get them out of the way. Sitting down on a fallen tree, she tried to use a wet sock to clean the blood off her leg but it wouldn't stop. Totally fed up, she laid her head on her knees and cried. This day was supposed to be a fun day but the boys had spoilt everything, she thought to herself. 
Eventually her leg stopped bleeding and as it did, slowly her tears dried up too. She stayed there a bit longer, thinking what a horrible day it was and how nobody liked her, when she felt a little 'tap, tap, tap' on her arm. Startled, she looked up quickly but there was no-one there! She looked all around and just as she turned back, she caught a glimpse of movement near a big tree just ahead of her.
Now Lizzie had lived in the countryside all her life and she loved reading books about the birds and animals that lived there. What she was looking at was a bright green face with spiky green hair like grass and green eyes. She'd never seen any creatures like that in her book but she was certain it wasn't a human in fancy dress or anything, not by the speed at which it had disappeared after tapping her arm! 
Tired and fed up, she still started talking to it in the way that you would try to coax a strange cat to come and see you. Calmly and gently, she just kept talking, not really making much sense but she hoped the creature, whatever it was, would understand that she wouldn't hurt it.
After a few minutes, the creature came out from behind the tree and stood, just listening to Lizzie's voice, as if it was trying to understand. It cocked its head to one side, shrugged its big pointy shoulders and slowly crept forward. As it came nearer, Lizzie could see that it was holding something out to her. It was a big patch of fresh green moss. Puzzled, Lizzie asked the creature what that was for, shrugging and trying to act confused.
As she continued to talk to the creature, it moved more confidently toward her, still holding out the moss. Once it was close enough, this strange little being gently placed the moss on her scratched leg, took one of her hands and gestured for her to hold it there. As she did so, it took a giant leap and seemed to disappear away from her. Startled, she gave a little cry of 'oh!' but almost immediately, the creature was back, this time with some thin, supple reeds. Lizzie was a clever girl and realised the reeds were to tie the moss to her leg and gave the creature a big smile. Even though she was a total tomboy, her Mum had always told her she still had to be polite so she said thank you too.
The creature seemed to understand her gratitude and made a funny little head-bobbing movement - almost like a nod of 'yes'. She patted the tree trunk next to her, inviting the creature to come and sit down. It made that funny little movement again and jumped up onto the tree trunk. Even standing where she was sitting, it only just came up to her eye level. Now that it was closer, she could see that its skin was a bit shiny and its hair really did look like grass, all spiky and pointing in lots of different directions. 
It had weird shoulders, almost pointy as if the bones were protecting the sides of its head and she noticed that it only had two fingers and a thumb on each hand. As she was noticing these things, she realised the creature was looking at her in the same way. It seemed confused by how many fingers she had and where were her pointy shoulders?
She pointed to herself and said 'Lizzie' then pointed at the creature and then pointed at the creature and asked 'you?'. She repeated this a few times, not even sure the creature could talk but something made her think that it could. Maybe it was the way it was watching her so carefully as she spoke but it definitely seemed to understand some of her meaning. 
After a few minutes of asking, the creature finally opened its mouth and quietly but quite clearly said 'Benset'. Lizzie was overjoyed and clapped her hands excitedly! Benset did one of his amazing leaps and disappeared! Oops! She'd startled him away. She called his name and apologised, hoping that he did indeed understand her. Suddenly, there he was, right in front of her again. This time he startled her and as she jumped with surprise, she lost her balance and fell off the back of the tree trunk!
As she lay there, giggling to herself about how funny she must look wearing a cardigan as a skirt with her legs sticking up in the air and how weird this day was, Benset stood by her and reached out a hand to help her up. He was making a funny sound too and she realised that he was laughing as well. 
Once they were both sitting on the tree trunk again, Benset put his hand on hers and started talking. It was hard to understand him at first, he had such a quiet deep voice that she really had to listen hard. He explained that his people lived in these woods but hid whenever they heard human voices because humans were so loud and big. He'd been collecting fresh leaves for food for his family when he'd seen her fall and hurt herself so he'd gone to get moss to help her.
Lizzie asked why he wasn't afraid of her, she was human and very loud sometimes and Benset explained that he'd seen her and her friends here a lot and could see that they meant no harm. He'd always hidden though, just in case but he couldn't leave her hurt and alone, crying in the woods, so he'd decided to take a risk & approach her. 
Lizzie really was a nice young lady even under her tomboy shell and she knew that what he had done was way beyond risky for him. She was only 6 herself but she was already two times his size and could easily hurt him if she tried. She thanked him again and asked if he would come and say hello another time when she & her friends were in the woods.
Benset shook his head sadly - he couldn't take the risk - both boys were bigger than Lizzie and he had a family to protect. What if they did something silly and someone got hurt or even worse, what if human grown-ups found out and came to investigate? No, it was better that they keep this a secret and she not tell anyone. He explained that if grown ups came looking for him and his family, he would have to leave the woods and find a new home for them, away from humans and he liked it here. 
Slowly, Lizzie nodded and agreed - she was sure her father wouldn't hurt Benset or his family but it wasn't her place to decide to give away his secret. She also didn't think her Dad would believe her if she told him about the two foot tall, bright green creature with spiky grass hair that she had spent the afternoon talking to! 
Suddenly, Lizzie heard a noise in the distance - it was her Dad and when she heard barking, she realised how late in the day it was. Dad was walking their dog, Butch and was calling her name too. He must have been really worried when she hadn't come home with Richard and Gareth and it was just starting to get dark too! She turned to tell Benset that she had to go but he'd disappeared already. She called out quietly 'Benset, don't worry, I won't tell your secret and I'll come back to see you soon. Thank you again, my new friend'. 
She picked up her wet shorts and socks, slipped her cold feet into her wet shoes and started limping towards the sound of her Dad's voice. What an amazing afternoon, she thought to herself, smiling at the fresh memories of her new friend. When her Dad saw her at the edge of the woods, limping, carrying her clothes and wearing her cardigan like a funny skirt, he started to run toward her. She could tell he was worried, not angry as she called out that she was ok. His run slowed a little but not much. As he came close, he pulled her into his arms tightly and gave her such a big hug she thought her lungs would pop!
Butch was running around them like crazy, barking excitedly and tying them up in tangles in his leash. Laughing now that she was found, Dad leaned over to let Butch off his leash - Lizzie said sharply 'no, don't Dad' because she knew that the dog would be able to smell Benset & would chase him down like a rabbit. Dad looked at her quizzically but when she explained that she was tired, hurting and hungry & just wanted to go home, Dad nodded, swung her up onto his shoulders and turned away from the woods toward home. 
Just before they turned the corner, Lizzie twisted slightly to look back and wave, just in case Benset was watching. She promised herself that she would come back alone soon and maybe bring a little present for him. She hoped she would meet him again - it would be wonderful to find out more about this strange little creature with the odd body, she had so many questions to ask him! 
And that dear reader, is the story of how Lizzie met Benset and their adventures together began.

I hope you like it. I'd really, really like some opinions though - good or bad doesn't matter, I'd just like to hear what people think. Thank you in advance :)

Nev

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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

N is for Naughty But Nice!


Bit of a cheat post today as I've been flying solo at work this week but when you see the 'cheat', I'm sure you won't mind!

As if the photo above doesn't give the game away, today, I'm going to share my family recipe for scrummy chocolate brownies! It's a fairly easy method without too many ingredients but there are loads of ways to tweak it to your taste. I'll add some suggestions at the end.

Ingredients

200g (7oz) good quality plain/dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids is a good guide)
250g (9oz) butter (unsalted is best but not vital)
80g (3oz) cocoa powder
65g (2.5 oz) plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
360g (13oz) caster sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
2-3 drops vanilla essence

Method

Preheat oven to 180C / 350F / Gas 4 and grease a 24cm (9inch) square baking tin (or line it with greaseproof or baking parchment - whichever is your preferred method).

Next, heat a pan of water, put a heatproof bowl over it and melt the chocolate slowly with the butter. Make sure the water isn't touching the bottom of the bowl or it may overheat & split the chocolate. Also be careful not to get any water in the chocolate mixture.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder into another bowl then add the sugar and mix slightly. Once the chocolate and butter mixture is melted through, stir them to mix and then stir them gently into the flour mixture. Add the vanilla essence and eggs at this point and stir all ingredients together until you have a smooth, fairly liquid mixture. Pour into the prepared baking tin and pop in the oven.

Unlike an ordinary cake, we don't want this one to cook all the way through - brownies should still be slightly gooey on the inside so take them out of the oven at about 25 minutes cook time. Set on a wire rack to cool in the tin.

Once cooled, turn out the whole cake and cut into generous squares or slices, you can sift a little icing sugar (confectioners sugar) over the top if you want or leave them plain.

Optional Extras or Variations

Pecan & White Chocolate - add the chopped pecans and white chocolate chips to the mixed batter before pouring into tin - about 100g (4oz) of each.

Chocolate Orange - replace the dark chocolate with orange flavored chocolate - there are some good dark chocolate orange bars available now too. Also replace the vanilla essence with 1/2 teaspoon orange oil.

Cherry & Chopped Nuts - 75g (3oz) dried sour cherries and 50g (2oz) chopped mixed nuts - just stir them into the mixture before pouring into baking tin.

I love one of these brownies served warm with a scoop of vanilla icecream or a dollop of creme fraiche. This recipe makes between 15-20 servings, depending of course on how big your slices are. The brownies should keep well for up to 4 days in an airtight container but I bet that won't be a problem!




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Tuesday, 15 April 2014

M is for Making Money Online

Baffled!
I've been making a bit of money online for years - initially with ebay, just selling excess random stuff I'd collected over the years but then moving on to microstock photography sites, Etsy, Zazzle and of course, blogging. The beauty of some of these methods is the residual income - even though I haven't seriously submitted new photographs to my stock portfolios for about 3 years, I still get some income from them!

This post isn't a how-to post though, rather it's a query post about why the WoW community seem so resistant to making a bit of cash from blogging but are ok with the behaviour of some streamers and content producers. I'm not going to pretend to have any answers as it totally baffles me.

If there is drama in my Twitter feed it is usually one of two things - Blizzard's boy's club attitude/feminism or begging. I was very hesitant to put any adverts on my main blog due to the general attitude against them - especially ads for Gold Making Guides but I've read the ones I promote and I think they are pretty damn good for someone with more money than time. Yes, I agree with the naysayers that everything in them is available online for free but if your time is precious, sometimes the $15-$20 for a good guide will seem like a bargain if it saves you 20 hours (or more!) of searching for the information amongst the numerous blogs, streams, youtube videos and podcasts available now.

I, personally, don't have a Paypal Donate button on any of my blogs but I have no problem with those who do - it's up to the reader whether they want to donate or not, after all. What I and a few others call begging, is the incessant highlighting of the donate button, either via tweets or mentioning it in streams. More recently, there have been a few go fund me's popping up - some seem reasonable but others have been crazy it seems to me. I still think that if you are podcasting/streaming/blogging video games then you should fund it yourself or monetise in an unobtrusive way - it is your hobby after all!

There are people who say they want to make a career out of it and are streaming/Youtubing as a full time effort so why shouldn't they ask for donations. I say, put your content somewhere viewers have to pay for it and make it a business then! I would love to become a professional photographer but I have to fund it myself and do the work in my spare time. I don't put up a portfolio of free pictures or make a video slideshow and ask people for donations if they enjoyed it! No, I provide a product and a service and my customers give me money for it.

Why is streaming/videos any different? It's a product after all. I know you are up against 100's if not 1000's of other streamers/content creators who are doing it as a hobby and providing content for free but as a photographer, so am I! Every man and his dog has a mobile phone now that can take pictures and they all seem to think they can take photos good enough to put on their wall.

I've done Craft Fairs where bad watercolor sketches have outsold photography 10-1, not because the photography was bad but because customers who can't draw/paint know they can't but they all think they can take a photo! They disregard the fact of getting the models, makeup & hair people, locations etc or travelling to exotic places - oh no, they can get a great pic on the cellphone!

So there's my rant for this year - I don't rant often enough according to friends but it's there - it just takes a lot to get to critical mass and get publicly revealed! And if you are someone who asks for donations, please don't think this post is specifically about you - it's a general post - I'm not intending to attack anyone, I am seriously baffled by the resistance to gold guides and advertising but asking for donations repeatedly being ok.

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Monday, 14 April 2014

L is for Live Life!

Live Life!
Being true to my Welsh roots, today's post is a double L. Live Life is something I still need to learn to do well - I have good days when I live to the full but for quite a while now, I've just been a passenger, staring out at the world as it passes me by in a bit of a blur. I've been living for my trips to St Louis for a while now and the rest is just the necessary evil bits in between. I have to change that though, it's not good for me or my love.

I was off work for 4 years until last year and I rarely left the house. My life was lived on this box and screen we call a computer with people from all over the world. Oh, I loved a lot of it and it helped me come alive again but it still doesn't really count towards Living Life - at least, not in my head. The people are real, the voices in my headset are real but it's all a bit arm's length kind of stuff.

When I started this A to Z Challenge, it was just a way to make myself sit down and write but even over just 10 or 11 posts, I'm already feeling better. I thought I would stick to mainly gaming articles with a bit of life thrown in but actually, the topics I've been drawn to so far have been much more personal - stuff that is or has happened to me. Things I've found and want to talk about as well as explore further.

It seems so long ago that I wrote about Depression but that was only 7 posts ago but since then, I've written about Hope and Happiness, Ideas & Inspiration and now today, Live Life! I have so much more positive energy already that it's beginning to become a habit - and one I hope I can maintain!

Smell the Roses
Take time to smell the flowers, watch the birds or the clouds on a sunny day. Hold out a helping hand to a Mum strugggling with a pushchair or hold a door open for an old lady. Give a few pennies to a homeless person or a charity collector in the shopping area.

All these little things add up and if you let yourself soak them up and feel good about doing something positive, your next action will be more positive. It accumulates over time and you will feel better in yourself, you'll find yourself smiling at strangers as you pass or not having to force a smile at work when someone asks if you're ok - you will be!

I found the 100 Happy Days site via a Facebook friend the other day and although I know I won't manage 100 days, it's a great idea for anyone to try, especially if they feel a bit down after the long winter. I also picked up a book at the airport on one of my prior trips, called The Happiness Project which I finished reading before I landed at Heathrow. I've just lent it to a friend and colleague but as soon as she returns it, I'll be reading it again.

As Gretchen the author says - 'even the smallest changes can make a big difference'.


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Saturday, 12 April 2014

K is for Kenya

Kenyan Landscape
A few years ago, I was lucky enough to visit Kenya for a 7 night safari tour. We visited multiple game parks over the 7 days, often travelling across unmade roads and jiggling around in the van like jumping beans on a loudspeaker! It was definitely an experience although perhaps one that isn't for everyone!

For me though, watching the landscape, towns and tiny villages as we passed, gave me a better sense of the people and country than if I had flown from park to park. We had regular rest stops, often at dingy, dirty tourist trap Souvenir Shops but the locals are not silly! The bathroom facilities in these places are sparkling clean and smelled of bleach & pot pourri - all for the rich tourists passing through.

Lion Cub
The downside of these wonderful bathroom facilities was their placement - often at the rear of the souvenir shop and as a salesperson greeted you the moment you stepped inside, I always felt like I had to buy something.

The hardest part was haggling over price when all you really want to do is get to the bathroom! I hate haggling at the best of times so by about the 3rd day, we'd devised a cunning plan - one of us would keep them talking whilst the other would dash to the bathroom then we'd swap!

I'm one of those people who likes to talk to anyone though - I had no idea of the palpitations I was causing our driver as I stood, chatting to maybe 4 or 5 sales guys - all of them over 6 foot tall usually.

A family friend summed it up later when we told the story - 'She's not happy for the day until she's spoken to a stranger!' When I think about that, I realise that yes, I do stop & chat with almost anyone I come into contact with! I guess I'm one of those annoying people at the grocery store checkout who always has a few words to say to the cashier, slowing her down and driving you crazy in the line behind me!

Old Bull Elephant
Anyway, back to my Kenya safari - the best bit was the animals of course! As much as I love people, animals are also very high up in my list of loves and having just bought a new super duper camera especially for the trip, I went to town on taking photos at every opportunity. I filled all my memory cards and had to buy extras while I was there - that was an expensive lesson to learn! Always buy them at home where the prices are reasonable & take way more than you expect to use!

I came home with over 2000 photos but as many were taken whilst moving, that included many useless shots. I did end up with over 1500 decent pictures though, some of which I submitted to my microstock portfolios and a few in my Zazzle shop. The lion cub above is probably my favorite of the whole bunch though - he was only about 15 feet away from us and with a zoom lens, I managed to get this portrait of him.

If you'd like to read more or see more of my Kenyan images, I wrote an article over at Squidoo about my wonderful Kenyan Safari. I've also written a few other articles over there if you're curious!


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Friday, 11 April 2014

J is for Just Do It!


Following on from yesterday's post with the links to the articles on procrastination, I thought the Nike catchphrase was quite appropriate for today although as a confirmed faffer, actually getting stuff done is my biggest weakness!

I've been lucky enough over the years to have tried quite a few adventurous things. But then I'm not afraid of heights or have a fear of flying or drowning or anything like that so when it came to jumping off the top of a mountain or stepping over the edge of a 8 storey building, I did , in fact, just do it. It was the same with learning to scuba dive - I just did it with only one or two false starts on the whole breathing underwater thing.

However, achieving anything sensible on my to-do list seems to be beyond me most days. I had a meeting with my boss yesterday to organise my work for the next two weeks whilst she is on vacation. I mentioned the article about procrastination as part of the conversation and she agreed with me. I compared her to the Panic Monster which made her smile too but I was really pleased when she said she doesn't mind nagging me because she knows that when I do eventually do the job she's nagging me about, I'll do it really well!

I have to change though - it's stressful to have a list of things I want to do and to not be checking any of them off. They nag at me, driving the frustration ever deeper until at last, I throw something together in an attempt to check it off my list. I know in my heart, that I've not given it my best though so that then niggles at me.

Talking to my Dad today about this too and he said that he knows exactly what I mean. He has his own shiny distractions when he's trying to get stuff done but he's developed a self reward system over the years which helps him focus long enough to achieve things. It was quite an eye-opener for me to hear that he has similar problems. He's always been so active - involved in community stuff, sports clubs and even small scale local politics - but as he said to me, those were his distractions, his pleasures that helped him avoid digging the garden or decorating the house.

So when I get to work on Monday, I will print 'Just Do It' in a large font on a big piece of paper and stick it to the wall above my monitor at home. I also have to sit down and look hard at my to-do list - how much of it is really necessary and how much is important. Once I've pruned it, I'll pick one item and break it down further into manageable steps and that will be my new to-do list but with dates and schedules and deadlines built in. Just maybe, getting more organised will help!



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Thursday, 10 April 2014

I is for Ideas & Inspiration

Ideas & Inspirations
Just last week in my B is for Blogging post, I mentioned that I'm great on ideas but pretty bad at following through with them. Today's post is brought to you with a whole host of other ideas I have bubbling away in my crazy brain, most of which will probably never see the light of day!

Inspiration strikes me at odd times - it may be a song lyric, a photo, a tweet or just an overheard comment in the kitchen at work  but for a few hours or even days, that idea will bubble & percolate in my mind, sometimes at the front but most often at the back - just seeming to spring fairly well formed from the jumble of my consciousness.

This blog is one of those ideas that got a grip and actually came to life but it took maybe 3 months to get from my head to the internet! I never intended for it to become a main blog and always intended for it to be for occasional posts only. I think I gauged that pretty well, judging by my serious lack of regular posts - until this month at least!

I gather pages from magazines for food photo ideas as well as recipes. Great advertising images also find their way into my small pile and I have a virtual pile for Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest links that inspire me. Lately I've been thinking I should make myself a Tumblr account to keep everything in one place! Yes, I am seriously contemplating starting yet another blog type thing!

But one thing stops me getting going and today I followed a twitter link to a fantastic post - Why Procrastinators Procrastinate and as I was reading it, I was thinking -this guy knows me! In the follow up article How To Beat Procrastination, I think I found out why I have so many ideas!
"Procrastinators are great visionaries—they love to fantasize about the beautiful mansion they will one day have built—but what they need to be are gritty construction workers, who methodically lay one brick after the other, day after day, without giving up, until a house is built."
That is so familiar to me - I have loads of half started projects, I'm known in my family as someone who rarely finishes anything before moving on to the next fad but reading those two articles made me wonder if perhaps all my ideas and randomness springs from the desire to not actually do the tough stuff!

So my next to-do list has to include some of the steps the second article described - breakdown the larger ideas into smaller, less icky tasks. I'm going to try some of his suggestions - this A to Z Challenge is a perfect starting place too - I've never blogged every day before so if I can do this on 26 random topics even when I don't feel like writing then I can beat this procrastination thing. I hope, anyway :)

In the meantime, ideas will undoubtedly continue to sprout and I'll never know which ones are likely to come to life until the inspiration hits me & I get going!

Where do you get your ideas from? What or who inspires you to do what you do? Let us know in the comments below if you feel like sharing :)


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