The Things that Make you Happy Have, It Turns Out . . .

Posted by admin on Thursday Sep 8, 2011 Under Uncategorized

. . . less to do with the things themselves than
what you think those things are.

Like this little vintage travel trailer, for example. Cute, huh?

I’ve always wanted one up here at the ranch for extra guest housing, but Dave doesn’t want to turn the place into a trailer park.

Stay tuned to see who wins this round.


Anyway, this picture comes from an article in the San Francisco Chronicle by Rob Baedeker titled King of the Road:The Value of a Vintage Trailer.

I’ve been traveling through the midwest and the south recently, and at night in the hotel room, I’d find myself reading the San Francisco Chronicle for a little taste of home. That’s where the article and the picture caught my eye.

The glory of the internet with its links which lead to more links and so on is that by following them, you can write your own article in a certain way.

In this case, I found myself following the links about happiness — the new psychological studies about what creates it. I followed the links which described maximizers — people who only want the best and who are never happy — and satisficers — people who are pretty much content with their surroundings.

I fight my maximizer tendencies all the time, because it’s true — having what is considered (by others usually) to be the best of everything doesn’t really make you happy.

While all the links on the internet are great, there is one problem. Some of those links evaporate, and sadly that’s the case with the next story.

I’ve searched and searched, but it seems to be gone. I think it comes from a TED talk by Barry Schwartz, a Swarthmore College psychologist and author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less

I’ll have to write it from memory instead of linking. Imagine that!

Schwartz — if indeed it was Schwartz — begins by saying that happiness comes not from the thing itself but from what you think the thing is. What makes people happy is weird. For some people, happiness can be found on terrifying roller coasters, by surfing dangerous waves, or in my case, reading dark mystery stories about the seamier side of life. Go figure, right?

And for some people, like the group Barry Schwartz studied, they found happiness is great food and wine. In fact, they were quite the connoisseurs.

For this particular study, ten bottles of wine were opened and the participants ( all maximizers) were asked to rate them. They were given all the information — vintage, price, you name it. To a one, the participants rated the expensive wine, the rare vintages and so on all highly. They were very happy drinking them. These wines were complex with great bouquet, wonderful finishes, you name it. Of course, the lesser priced wines were barely drinkable. That’s maximizers for you. They only want the best.

There was just one problem. Schwartz lied about the content of the bottles. They all contained the same wine. See? Not the thing but what you think it is.

With food it gets kind of scary.

To go with the food, Schwartz served a variety of pates. Since I don’t eat fatty, stuffed goose liver with gherkins (read pickles), I wouldn’t know, but apparently in the food and wine scene it’s thought to be the end all and be all. A grand time was had by the maximizer foodies, drinking the high-priced wine and eating the pate. In fact since everyone had been assured that the pate had been flown in from France, the maximizers thought all the pates were outstanding.

Uh . . . Schwartz lied again. One of the pates was made from cat food. (True story. I swear!)

Not that the maximizers noticed this, mind you! With the parsley and cornichons and whatever plus thinking it came from France, the pate made of turkey niblets made the maximizers just as happy as the fancy stuff from France. Really. Turkey Niblets. Who knew? (BTW What’s a niblet?)

What can I say? Not the thing itself, but what you think it is.

Anyone going to eat pate again out there?

That’s what I thought.

Well, here’s a great recipe for a lower priced champagne drink that will please both maximizers and satisficers, and would also be great for sipping in the lawn chairs in front of your little travel trailer.

A Grownup Pink Lady

Lillet Rouge
Dried rose petals

Fill a champagne flute 1/3 full with Lillet Rouge
Pour champagne to the top
Float a dried rose petal on top


Tags : , , , , | Comments Off on The Things that Make you Happy Have, It Turns Out . . .

Author Boot Camp at Stanford: Scott Sigler and Seth Harwood

Posted by admin on Thursday Jan 20, 2011 Under Uncategorized

Seth HarwoodWhen the student is ready, as the Buddhists say, the teacher will appear. Who knew my teacher(s) would be these two guys?

If you are thinking about self-publishing a book or you live anywhere near San Francisco, you probably know about them. Well, if you’re my age, maybe not. Scott and Seth are two publishing phenoms who got book contracts through their podcasting endeavors. They are adorable, charming and sooooo smart. So smart. (See the mother hen in me appear!) They also happen to be very good writers.

But so are a lot of unpublished writers. Including me. And that’s not just my humble opinion. That’s what editors at Bantam and Little Brown, Mysterious Press, and St. Martin’s said about my first novel—Mexican Book of the Dead. “Sophisticated and stylish writer!” “Strong original voice!” “I can see why you are excited about this writer!” they wrote my agent, and so on . . .


Sorry. They just didn’t know what shelf to put the book on, and besides, the setting—Mexico— would not reach a large enough audience to meet their marketing goals.

Scott SiglerUndaunted, I wrote another novel—Palace of the Blue Butterfly— which I’ve talked about on my blogs. Got another agent. Edited, re-edited and re-re-edited the book, and then the economy fell off a cliff. AIG, Lehman Brothers, Bank of America remember them? Trust me, there was no debut novel in America, mine included, that was TOO BIG TO FAIL.

At least I had already moved to the ranch, at least I was growing my own food, and my water came from my own well. There were horses in the meadow, cattle in the pasture, and fragrant Winter Daphne bloomed by my porch. Life was good. I put the books in boxes and told myself, ”You can’t always do everything you hope to in life.” Basically, I tried to forget about it. But I couldn’t.

I thought about self-publishing a paperback book, but well . . .no. If whole publishing houses in New York were collapsing, what chance did I have?

And then I read about Scott Sigler and Seth Harwood in Pat Holt’s blog— Holt Uncensored— in the San Francisco Chronicle. The very same day, I walked down to my mailbox across from the horse pasture, and there was my catalogue for Stanford University’s Continuing Education courses.

I made myself some tea—an afternoon ritual—and sat down on the porch to check out the online courses. (Picture of my rocking chair on the porch in spring. With the daphne blooming— OMG heaven!)


Not on-line, but so what? I signed up with Dave, and the adventure began.

Seth or Scott actually posted a picture of Dave and me, sitting there in the first row of their class. In the photo, I look studious while Dave stares hard at the laptop. Had there been a little caption bubble over our heads, it would have read “What the @#&* is Feedburner?” Also Garageband, itunes, Mp3, GoDaddy, RSS, LybSyn. I mean, I didn’t even know what E-Blogger was or WordPress. How far I’ve come. And these two young men helped get me there.

If you’re looking for an eye-opening experience, take the Author Boot Camp class with them. Even if you are not a writer, your life will be richer knowing all the possibilities out there. Don’t be scared of how techno-savvy and sci-fi or crime-writerly they are if that’s not your thing. These are really, really talented people, and they are changing the world as we know it. Do yourself a favor. Go along for the ride.

Anyway, as you all know, one of my goals for the year is to self-publish my book. I’m going to follow Seth and Scott’s path. I’m going to put Palace of the Blue Butterfly up on my website as a free audio book for you.

My progress so far? Episode one is recorded and edited. With all the other chores around here, the first episode took about a week to complete. I made a recording of the first chapter, but when I played it back, there was too much echo. (Ah, the old NPR days came back to me.) Still, I practiced editing on Garageband. Woo-hoo. Garageband! ME!

Palace of the Blue Butterfly on Garage Band

Next, I turned the guest bedroom into a Recording Studio. I piled quilts and blankets on the hard surfaces, put my H2Zoom microphone on the bed with the duvet, built big mounds of pillows around me and read my first chapter. It sounded great.

Chapter One is now edited. The next step is to put it up on itunes and compress it into an Mp3 version. After that, I upload it into Lybsyn, get a URL and post that on my website. That way all YOU have to do is CLICK AND LISTEN. At least, that’s what I think I have to do. I’ll update you next week, so check in to see how I’m doing. (AND BTW—if I can do this, YOU can do this. Think about it.)

According to Scott and Seth, I should have at least four to seven episodes recorded and stored on Lybsyn before I post them on my blog. That way, if there are any snafus, it doesn’t spoil the story for you all.

Wish me luck. I’d love to hear from others who are doing this. Really. I’m stepping into uncharted waters for me. But remember what I said about taking leaps and risks and having faith last time? Well, here I go.

Tags : , , , , , , , , , , | 10 comments
Mexico Trilogy Graphic Link