Monday, November 30, 2009

Don’t be a Target for Carjacking

According to insurance company statistics, 30 percent of carjackings occur in December.

Carjacking has risen dramatically in the last few years, perhaps because more people have equipped their cars with alarms and anti-theft devices. Now carjackers often wait until the car is unlocked and then take it by force from the owner.

Most carjacking occurs while the victim is either coming from or going to the car, usually at a parking lot or gas station. United States Department of Justice estimates that in about half of all carjacking attempts, the attacker succeeds in stealing the victim’s car.

Tips to avoid carjacking while in parking lots:
– Always be alert to what is going on around you.
– Shop at grocery stores that employ people to take your grocery cart to your car.
– Park in well-lit areas or in attended parking lots.
– When returning to your car, have your key ready to unlock the door, get in the car as quickly as possible, and lock the doors behind you.
– If you are in a parking lot, or if you are getting into or out of your automobile and are accosted by a carjacker, let him take the car. Your life is more valuable than your car.

Tips to avoid carjacking while driving:
– Many carjacks begin with a minor accident, one the carjacker has staged. The victim gets bumped from behind and gets out of the car to investigate. The carjacker flashes a weapon and orders the owner to give up the car. If you are involved in a minor automobile accident, particularly at night when no one else is around:
1) Remain in your car.
2) If necessary, draw attention to yourself by honking your horn.
3) Motion to the other driver to follow and then drive to a well-lighted place with plenty of people around. If it's a carjacker, he will likely give up and drive away. Try to get his license number and report the incident to police.
– If being followed by another car, drive to a police station or some public place.
– In traffic, leave space in front of you for a "getaway."
– Have your cell phone handy so that you can call for help when necessary.

Tips to avoid personal harm from a carjacker:
– When driving and stopped in traffic, if you are threatened by someone on foot you must think very quickly what to do. Whether or not you have a passenger, such as a small child in a car seat, adds considerably to your concern.
– You must protect yourself -- and your child -- from personal contact with a carjacker. It is better to surrender your car than take a chance with your or your child's life.
– You can't depend on a carjacker giving you enough time to remove a child from a car seat; he's interested only in a quick get-away. You must try to avoid the dangerous situation of the carjacker taking you or your child in the car with him. Authorities say women and children abducted under these circumstances are in extreme danger. The best solution may be to duck down in the seat (while still able to peer over the dash to drive), honk your horn, and start driving. Drive immediately to a police station or somewhere safe where you can report the incident.

Remember, to avoid a crime, it’s always better to eliminate the opportunity.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Scam Proof Your Life

Scams are scary and scammers are getting to be more sophisticated. The culprits could be your own bank. We need to stay one step ahead of them.

Have you ever heard of "negative option" marketing? It’s when a merchant or institution sends you some kind of notification either by telephone, mail or e-mail for some charge, such as bank-branded insurance. If they don’t hear back that you do NOT want the service, they will begin automatic premium withdrawals from your account.

We received such a charge. We had sold a piece of undeveloped property and payments came from a collection agency. After many years of regular payments, there suddenly appeared a charge for "buyers insurance." I called and asked what that was and learned that the charge was for investigation to see if the buyer had insurance on the property he bought from us. I remembered seeing that offer in the mail, but I didn’t care if he had insurance or not so I discarded it. They took that as a "yes" and proceeded to charge for the investigation. I called the customer service number and told them to remove that charge and never charge me for anything without my permission. I’m sure I was talking to someone in India, but he could speak and hear English adequately. In any event, that charge was removed and there were no more charges.

Unfortunately, these practices are legal in many states as long as certain notification rules are followed.

One way we can combat charges of this nature is to carefully examine what most of us consider "junk mail." But who has that kind of time?

I think the most practical way to ensure you don’t get unwarranted charges is to take a few minutes to carefully go over every single item on your credit card bill, checking account, or any account where a financial institution has the ability to charge you.

It’s a good idea to save all receipts so that you can reconcile your bank or charge account statements. A few receipts might get by you, but at least make sure you recognize the store and assure yourself that a purchase at that establishment was possible.

Merchants and financial institutions are counting on you just looking at the total amount due and paying it. Let’s not play their game.

Once we received an item on our charge account for shoes bought in Wisconsin from a Canadian account. We called and said that was not possible and the charge was removed. Again, it paid (literally!) to carefully go over our bill.

Another, more scary time, I noticed three charges for the same place for an amount totaling $750. Their 1-800 phone number was listed and I called and listened to a recording with the message to leave my phone number and credit card number! I don’t think so. Their website was also listed on the bill, so I went to that and found it was a foreign video store. I promptly called our credit card company and had those charges removed. Because it appeared our account had been compromised, we had to go through the hassle of opening a new account.

Then there’s a more recent scam we need to watch for. A caller identifies himself as a representative from a credit card company. He has all your information–name and credit card number but needs the 3-digit PIN numbers shown on the back of your card. He claims it’s for security reasons, to make sure you have your card and that it hasn’t been stolen. Don’t give out this number! The only time you need this number is when you’re making an Internet or phone purchase.

Here are some scam-preventive suggestions:

– Save all charge/debit card receipts
– Match your credit card charges with receipts, or at least be able to recognize the store where items were purchased
– Use your credit/debit card only at reputable stores
– Carefully reconcile your bank statement each month to justify every check and charge
– If you have an unsolicited charge, immediately call your bank or credit card company. Customers only have 60 days to dispute charges on mailed statements
– Beware of free offers–they are often negative options
– Insist on a written contract before agreeing to buy anything on time.
– Only give out your credit card number and the 3-digit PIN when making an on-line purchase.
– When you no longer are using a charge account, formally close it. Just not using it any more still leaves the account open.

If you believe you’ve been scammed and want to file a complaint, go to the Attorneys General website,

Monday, November 16, 2009

Living a Long and Healthy Life

Not every one wants to live to the ripe old age of 100. To tell you the truth, I’d only want to live that long if I could still be healthy and productive. In the October, 2009 monthly issue of U.S. News & World Report, Deborah Kotz’ article "10 Tips for Living to 100" in the Health & Lifestyle section, sums up how living to be a centenarian is indeed attainable.

Centenarians tend to share certain traits in how they conduct their lives. How do they do it? Following are 10 tips that make sense. The tips themselves are quotes from the article, the explanations are para-phrased or are my own words.

1. Don’t retire. We’ve all heard about it–someone retires and before you know it, he’s gone. Stay active after you retire from your regular job. Become a volunteer, actively garden, be involved in your community.

2. Floss every day. What? How did that sneak in there? Well, it’s true, according to a 2008 New York University study that showed that flossing every day reduces gum disease-causing bacteria in the mouth. That bacteria is believed to enter the bloodstream and trigger inflamation of the arteries, a risk factor for heart disease.

3. Move around. Studies have shown that exercise improves every aspect of your life, your muscles, bones, mental clarity, your outlook on life. Even 30 minutes a day makes a significant difference.

4. Eat fiber-rich cereal for breakfast. Eating whole-grains first thing in the morning helps to maintain stable blood sugar levels throughout the day, thereby reducing the chances of diabetes.

5. Get at least six hours of shut-eye. Sleep is imperative to regulating and healing cells.
Centenarians consider sleep a top priority.

6. Consume whole foods, not supplements. Eat the real thing, not pills or capsules. Go for dark whole grains, colorful fruits and vegetables and avoid over-processed foods, such as white flour and prepared meals.

7. Be less neurotic. Try not to internalize worries or stress, or dwell on your troubles. Go with the flow.

8. Be a creature of habit. Try to maintain a routine, get up at the same time, go to bed at the same time, eat the same kind of diet and maintain regular exercise. It’s a good way to avoid weakening your immune system.

9. Live like a Seventh-Day Adventist. Members of this denomination have a higher life expectancy than the average American. Adventists treat their body with respect which means no smoking, alcohol, or overindulging in sweets, sticking to a vegetarian diet based on fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts. Plus, they focus on family and community. We can use their example in our own lives, possibly not all aspects of their regimen, but use this lifestyle as a model.

10. Stay connected. Regular contact with family and friends is key to avoiding depression, which often leads to premature death. Being involved helps us stay alert. Regular involvement also encourages people to observe you and to make helpful suggestions, such as suggesting you see a doctor.

I think these are good tips to live by, even if we don't make it to 100.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Interview: Ruth Rymer, Author of Susannah, A Lawyer, From Tragedy to Triumph

It is my pleasure to have as my guest Ruth Rymer, author of Susannah, A Lawyer, From Tradegy to Triumph.

Welcome, Ruth. I’m so happy to have this opportunity to talk to you. First of all, I want to mention how much I enjoyed Susannah, A Lawyer. It appears you are especially qualified to write a novel with such legal depth. Please tell us a little bit about your background.

Thank you, Mary. I practiced family law from 1971-2000, had an enjoyable career, but wanted more in depth knowledge about nineteenth century divorce law and women's rights. I achieved that goal when I obtained my Ph.D. in 1995. My dissertation was: Alimony and Divorce: An Historical Comparative-Analysis of Gender Conflict. I was ready to write a novel about a late nineteenth century protagonist--one who had a big fight to join the legal profession.

It's always fascinating to read about women's subordinate role in our country's early years. Susannah is a work of fiction, but your research must have uncovered exceptions such as your protagonist, Susannah Reed.

Freedom, individuality and self-determination was the norm, for men only, from the instant our country emerged as the best hope for mankind. Women's break from our subordinate role is a process that continues today. Some woman was the first in everything: the first doctor, dentist, Congresswoman and the first lawyer, historic Myra Bradwell. The latter made an ideal mentor for fictional Susannah.

Saying the book starts out with a strong hook is an understatement. The violent attack Suzanna suffers is a terrifying scene. But even more shocking is the manner in which she continued to be victimized. In your research, did you uncover an injustice such as this?

No, I didn’t encounter any identical situations. However, nineteenth century literature is full of further victimization of women who engaged in sexual activity whether voluntary or violently involuntary as in Susannah’s case–from The Scarlet Letter to An American Tragedy. As Susannah lamented, "How could I descend from princess to prostitute in ten minutes?"

Some writers feel that writing a book that features many characters is more effective in third person. Susannah, A Lawyer, however, is written in first person, yet you manage to share many points of view through your protagonist. Did you find writing the novel in first person limiting or difficult?

I wouldn't have considered writing in other than first person. It permits the author to delve more deeply into the character of her protagonist, both as a narrator, and by italicizing her thoughts. The limiting factor is that other characters must speak for themselves. Susannah, as an attorney, helped them articulate who they were and what they wanted.

Without the book becoming bogged down, you manage to cover in great detail the period's apparel, social mores, family dynamics, and customs. Tell us about your research along these lines.

Susannah is the culmination of my life's work, experientially as a lawyer and as a researcher for my doctorate. Additionally, to prepare for this novel , I read almost everything that I could find about 1875 upstate New York and Chicago, including especially valuable novels written during the period.

Okay, final question. Can we look forward to a sequel of Susannah, A Lawyer? Tell us about your current work-in-progress.

Yes, maybe I'll do a sequel. The Hay Market riots in 1884-85 were another American Revolution - that of the labor movement. Perhaps Susannah will represent a fictional rioter who was badly treated.

Thank you, Mary, for this opportunity to talk about Susannah, A Lawyer, From Tragedy to Triumph. It's available at from bookstores and

Monday, November 2, 2009

Creative Marketing

Authors normally have a ready market in book stores. My local independent book store, Snow Goose, in Stanwood, WA willingly carries my books, Rosemount and McClellan’s Bluff. A number of times I have been invited to be a guest author with a nicely arranged table set up for me in a convenient location in the store. What a blessing! I appreciate their recognition and support.

Another splendid opportunity has opened up locally, Brindles Marketplace. Brindles at the Camano Commons, has been a special-interest store and more recently a restaurant, and has now invited local artists, and others with crafts, quilts, baked goods, fresh produce, cheeses, etc., to sell their goods during the holiday season. Sounds like a good place for books to me! I’ve rented three shelves for my books. My husband Bruce created a poster for each book, giving my work a special look in this creative market. Shopping for a unique gift at Brindles not only saves a trip to a distant mall, but it supports local vendors. A win-win for the community.

In addition to writing fiction, I also write destination articles, mainly for RV and travel magazines, and also articles of interest to homeowners. We combine research with camping trips, using our truck and camper, making the trips a vacation, fodder for articles, photographic opportunities for Bruce, and book marketing possibilities for me.

Not every town has a book store, but in our travels to rural areas, we’ve found ready markets in drug stores. Many small-town drug stores actually have a book section and are eager for new material.

Gift stores is another potential market. Often, when a gift store buys my books, I also give them book holders, a way to show off my products to their best advantage.

Since my books have a western flavor, I’ve also found interest at feed stores, western apparel and tack shops.

Many of our trips take us to eastern Washington and Oregon. We like the atmosphere of wide open country, or remote mountain landscapes. Stopping at small towns along the way is a wonderful way to appreciate the area, to get a feel for how the locals live. Most often, we find their lives run at a much slower pace–a nice change for us.

These trips are our vacation, time off for Bruce from his job and time off for me from writing and from my volunteer job with the Red Cross. If I’m wearing sweats or shorts, I don’t let that stop me from calling on a potential customer. I refuse to make these calls a dressy event–I wouldn’t call that a vacation. I’ve never had a store owner look askance at my apparel. Sometimes I’ll mention that we’re camping in the area and they’re pleased to share their part of the country and suggest places of interest to visit. Often, they’ve given me tips on who else might be interested in my books.

It’s common for me to sell 100 or more books on a two-week vacation, all accomplished at a very casual pace. I’ve signed my books in advance and adorned them with appropriate stickers, such as "Signed by Author," "Local Author" and McClellan’s Bluff’s "EPIC Award Winner." Store owners love stickers.

One advantage of non-book store markets is that most often they pay up front, rather than on consignment. In distant towns, bookstores will often pay up front, too, knowing that we won’t be stopping by frequently.

Locally, I’ve participated in fairs or other events. Sometimes I’ve shared space with another writer. That way, we can split the booth cost and we have each other for company. For these events, we sell each others’ books with as much enthusiasm as we sell our own.
I know there’s a huge market on-line, but I haven’t had that much success with on-line sales. My books are registered on many sites, I have a website and this blog. E-books are catching on so that market might open up more on-line sales.

In the meantime, I keep watching for opportunities to reach customers in unique ways. I’d welcome comments about how creative marketing has worked for others, either as a seller or a buyer.