Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Tis the season to be ripped off!

It's that time of year, folks. Trim the tree, buy the presents and hide the Santa gifts in the attic. And pray your house doesn't get broken into. During the months of November and December, there are roughly 400,000 burglaries reported each year. This is, on average, 20% higher than the other months of the year.

I'm fortunate and while I have had things stolen from me in the past, my house has never been broken into. I'm grateful for that, but honestly, it's not because I've been especially cautious. It's just been out of sheer luck, I think. 

I grew up in small towns and live in one now. In these areas, it's common to leave your doors unlocked and curtains wide open because it's easy to trust your neighbors. Everybody in a small town knows everybody else so there's a sense of camaraderie and Neighborhood Watch (even when you don't want them to). Everybody knows who "belongs" and who doesn't, who's doing what, where their neighbors work, what time they get home, who their kids hang out with (and who they shouldn't be hanging out with). All in all, small towns are great for those reasons. Unfortunately, there's also a down side to that because it means everybody knows your every move - when you get home from work and which lights are left on when you're gone. It's easy to become too comfortable in towns this size. 

Last night, my friend's house was broken into. Fortunately, they got spooked and left before they had an opportunity to take much. That doesn't mean it's not unnerving to know that strangers were in the house without permission or knowledge. 

It made me think about how routine our lives are and how easy it would be for someone to rob our house. We discussed this at dinner tonight and we talked about ways to prevent this from happening. Some are obvious things, but others not so much. Our list might help you, so I'll share it here:

1. Lock your doors. Every time you enter and exit. Every. Time. Even if you're at home, even if you're only in the back yard, even if you're just taking a nap, even if you have a dog, even if you have a gun. Lock them. It won't necessarily stop somebody, but it makes it far more difficult to get in. Same goes for your car, shed, garage and other outbuildings. Double-check the window locks, too. It's easy to forget to lock them after the wonderful fall temps have turned cold.

2. Be unpredictable. If you work the same schedule day after day, change things up a bit. Come home for lunch a couple times a week. Take an occasional afternoon off or go into work late. If possible, work from home a day or two a week. Catch a ride with someone else so your car is in the driveway when it normally wouldn't be. If you go somewhere the same time every day or the same day every week, change it up. The more confusing your schedule can be to a potential burglar, the less likely they'll be to break in.

3. Close your curtains. During the Christmas season, it's tempting to leave your blinds and curtains open to show off the twinkly lights on your tree. Stop it. It makes it far too easy to window peep and see who's home. It also gives burglars the opportunity to take inventory of your belongings. When it gets dark, pull 'em closed.

4. Enlist friends. When you're going to be gone overnight or for any extended amount of time, have friends come over and check on things. Park a car in the driveway for a while, turn on different lights in the house and turn others off, turn on the clothes dryer, etc. Have them bring in mail, newspapers and any packages that may have been delivered. Ask if they'll stick around for an hour or two so the house appears lived in. Hire someone to shovel the walk (or in the summertime, mow the lawn) while you're gone. 

5. Make noise. I used to make fun of my mom because she left the television on when we left the house. I never understood why. I finally asked her one day and she said "because it deters burglars." If someone is lurking around your house and they can't see in, they're going to listen for activity: TV, radio, appliances, etc. They'll look for smoke in a chimney or the steam from a clothes dryer. Turn a TV on in one room and in another, leave a talk radio station on in a somewhat muted volume so it sounds like people talking. Plug your vacuum cleaner into a timer for five minutes (make sure it's angled so air can flow through it and it doesn't burn up the motor). Any noise will make a burglar think twice before breaking in. Also, if you still have a land line phone, turn the ringers off or turn it down to 2 rings instead of 4 before it switches to voice mail. Don't forget to turn your clock alarms off. It'll act like a beacon to shady people who are paying attention.

6. Shut up! If you're away from home, don't announce it on social media. (I'm horribly guilty of this.) Or, if you can't control the urge to discuss it, make sure to mention who's still at home or that you're grateful for house/pet sitters (even if you don't have them). At the bare minimum, set your statuses to private so nobody but friends can see what you've posted. Nothing says "I'll all but leave a key under the mat for you" like "Four days til the Bahamas!" on your Twitter.

Obviously, there's no foolproof way to prevent a break-in if someone really wants your stuff, but these are some of the ideas we came up with tonight at dinner. What are some of your suggestions?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

NaNo Wrap-Up

I haven't posted much about NaNoWriMo and the struggles I've endured this month in accomplishing my goals because I believe that excuses are like assholes - everybody's got one and they all stink. That being said, I've got a different view on NaNo that I'm not sure many other people have.

I hate it.

No seriously, I intensely dislike NaNo. Not saying others have to feel that way, but it's how I feel personally. Don't get me wrong, anything that gets anyone to sit down and pour out the words in their heads and hearts for any length of time is fantastic. What I don't like is how I can't follow the rules.

The concept is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Essentially, this creates a novel. You're supposed to keep writing continuously without giving thought to errors, editing, misspellings, grammatical mistakes, etc. Don't edit. Write in any order it comes to you. KEEP WRITING! Our Iowa group's motto is "Yay, crap!" meaning whatever you type, keep it and edit it later.

I. Can't. Do. That.

First of all, I have to write in chronological order. Period. I can do flashbacks like nobody's business, but overall, I write things in order. I've never been able to read a book series by starting anywhere but the first book and if an author puts out a prequel after the series has been published, I get pissed because I feel like I should've read it first. I know, I know. Ridiculous, but it's how I am. Always have been.

Secondly, when I write, I don't use an outline, so the stuff I write is something that comes to me as I write it. This means to make sure what I've written is factually accurate (I'll come back to that), I research it as it comes into my head. For instance in my first book, I determined that my character lived on 69th Street in New York City. I personally walked the street she lived on in my book. I also walked to the next block where another character "lived." Obviously I don't always go to this extent, but if it can be found online, I will find it and research the hell out of it. This takes extensive amounts of time to do and essentially takes up time that, during NaNo, should be spent writing. 

And in regards to this factual accuracy thing - it's an absolute. I'm the person who will watch a movie or TV show and holler out "FILM FLUB!" whenever something isn't right. I catch every detail that isn't right and I call it out, even going so far as to find proof of their mistake online. I've been this way since I was a kid and that won't change anytime soon. That being said, it's natural that my books will be as factually accurate as possible. I detest the thought that someone will read my book and say "There's no way that person could've gotten from that street to the other street in two subway stops" or whatever the case may be. I don't want anyone to shout out "BOOK FLUB" when they read my stuff.

These are the first three hurdles I must endure when racing through November. The others are smaller and simply excuses that aren't worth a crap - I was sick for about a week and slept 80% of the time; I was under a great deal of stress regarding a possible relocation for our family; I've been busier this year than I have been in past years and haven't had as much time devoted to writing. But really, my biggest excuse for not finishing all fifty-thousand words is the internet. Between Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest (oh, you dirty, dirty whore!) and crap like Candy Crush and Words with Friends, I wasted most of my time doing stupid, pointless things that should've been spent writing.

I don't blame anyone for my lack of "success" with NaNo. It's my own fault and I own it. That doesn't mean I have to like it.

It does, however, mean I have my work ahead of me in December and January to finish the second book in my series so it can be published in the spring like I want. 

To those who "won" NaNo, congratulations. To the rest of you who didn't "win," I still think if you got anything written this month, that's a win. The point is to write and if you did it, then you did it. Congratulations to you, too!