Category Archives: miscellaneous bits

From chaos to quiet, a family story

It’s been a quiet week in my hometown . . .

Okay, fine, it’s been way more than a week. It also hasn’t been particularly quiet.

Where did we leave off? Looks like mid-August. Well, since then, my daughter and her husband found a house they loved, made a successful bid for it and bought it. No one was allowed to talk about it until it was a done deal, for fear of jinxing it. That’s how fraught that competitive process had become. They accomplished a relatively fast closing and moved out of my house and into their new one in mid-September.

Sometime in there, my daughter got a new job and her husband settled in to his shifts at the hospital (I’m happy to report that being an attending physician is far less time-intensive, averaged over a month, than being a resident). Along the way, they cooked in my kitchen. And cooked. And cooked. Both of them. The results were delicious. And of course, they cleaned up after themselves. Mostly.

We all jockeyed for stove time as well as space in my fridge and pantry, and gave my dishwasher epic daily workouts, while trying to respect conflicting sleep schedules.

Just for the record, and I don’t care how quiet you are about it, no one can sleep through the aroma of frying bacon. Or sautéed garlic and onions.

I wouldn’t describe them as loud, exactly. But my daughter and her husband are intense. Full of non-stop energy and motion. It was exhausting just watching them. Several mornings, as I was finally drifting off to sleep around 6 AM (I am not kidding when I say I’m nocturnal), they were up and dressed and out the door for a 2-3 mile run around the lake. No caffeine, no food, just get up and GO. Insanity.

Apart from the running, there was a lot of coming and going. Much of it move-related. I think they slightly underestimated the amount of belongings they’d managed to accumulate in my house when they decided not to rent the moving truck for an extra day after they cleared out the storage unit.

“We’ll just move the rest by car, Mom. It’ll be fine, stop worrying.”

Uh-huh. Like I’ve never moved before. Suffice to say, many many car trips were involved.

Oddly enough, there were no reports of domestic disturbances or related trips to the ER. Just a few incidences of slightly sore tongue, due to judicious application of teeth to same. On the whole, we did all right.

The White Ninja was in charge of inspecting the unusual influx of cardboard boxes. She was unimpressed that these did not appear to be cat-sized, but mostly took the commotion in stride.

 

The dog was another matter. Poor Jenny. She is so sweet and so well behaved. But she’s been so confused. She stayed here with me for a while until the kids got major stuff unpacked and somewhat settled. Then, finally over at the new place, she freaked out about uncertain footing on the hardwood floors. And then, just when she was getting comfortable there, she came back here for two weeks because of conflicting work schedules and trips out of town.

Of course, there were still the usual ridiculous text message conversations, even while my daughter was out of town:

Kids. Never wanting their parents to have any fun.

But Jenny went back home last Thursday and is reportedly thrilled to be there. The White Ninja misses everyone — so do I, honestly — but life here has gotten quiet again and I’m settling back into my own schedule. Uninterrupted sleep and long quiet stretches of time to concentrate on writing. Bliss.

Speaking of breathing a sigh of relief, fall is by far my favourite season and the weather is finally cooperating. Summer extended its stay this year and temps haven’t really been cool enough yet for many leaves to change colour, but all in good time.

You know where it does look like fall right now? Minnesota. My youngest sister took these pics a couple days ago and gave me permission to share them here. Isn’t my home state gorgeous? Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

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That time I wasn’t excited about the eclipse . . . until I was

Are you tired of hearing about the eclipse? If so, this post is not for you. Or maybe it is. Yeah, I was heartily sick of hearing about it too, days ago. I vaguely remember the one from 1979 and it wasn’t all that special. Sure, there was eerie spooky light, like dusk but with light and shadows at all the wrong angles. But mostly it was an excuse to stand outside doing nothing for a while.

I tried not to roll my eyes when my daughter and her husband bought the special glasses and planned to drive to South Carolina where it would be 100% totality, versus the 93% projected for this area. I mean, good for them. Sincerely. I applaud their enthusiasm.

But as for me? I didn’t really care. I know, I’m horribly jaded. Until I looked out at my deck about a half hour before total eclipse and saw this:

 

I’d heard people talk about this online, about how sunlight dappled through the trees would let you “see” the eclipse. And I thought, “Yeah, right. Sure it will.”

Okay, here’s where I admit I’ve never paid much attention to dappled sunlight. Never really noticed, or cared, that it presents itself as little circles. LIKE THE SUN. I don’t know, maybe I just assumed the spaces between leaves were all perfect circles. Or something.

Suddenly, here was something VERY COOL. And just as suddenly, I was all excited about the eclipse.

So I took a ton and a half of pictures of the little sunlight crescents and their progression on my deck. Why, yes, I am going to subject you to them. But I’ll put them in a slideshow, so as not to completely overwhelm my blog (and people’s RSS feeds).

If you can’t see it in your feed, it’s here:

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Isn’t that cool? I even made a short video, because I realized that when there was a light breeze, the little crescents moved around, winking in and out, and looked a bit like a kaleidoscope effect. You have to watch closely to see it, as the wind was very light today (we just won’t even talk about my less-than-steady video skills). Here:

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Good grief. Short of creating a YouTube account, I had to first post the video to facebook and then insert the URL here. *sigh* Sure hope I didn’t break anything.

There aren’t many “after” photos, as the sunlight shifted and was hitting the maple tree at an angle that no longer allowed for the dappled effect. But did you notice how the crescents moved from the upper right to the top and then to the upper left?

I’m writing this at roughly 8:30 PM and my daughter and her husband are still slowly making their way home through horrendous traffic. Current ETA 9:15. (Update: After a six-hour drive, roughly twice as long as it took to get there, they’re home!)

I pleased that my eclipse watching experience didn’t include that sort of nonsense. And I’m really glad I watched.

Were you able to see it in your area? Did you watch? More important, did you pay attention to the dappled sunlight? I’ll never again look at it in quite the same way.

 

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And now for something . . .

. . . completely different? Well, slightly different.

How did it get to be the end of March, already? Yes, of course, in the usual way, days passing one after the other without pause. Perhaps the better question is why haven’t I accomplished as much as I had planned to by now. I am making progress, but it’s been slow.

Speaking of time passing (and in an effort to post something less “controversial”), on my latest birthday (in December) my Bossy Older Sister sent me flowers. Red orchids, to be exact:

I’d never seen red orchids before. Aren’t they gorgeous and exotic? The enclosed note said something about the flowers helping me celebrate all year long. Which confused me, because these were cut flowers and I didn’t see how I was going to keep them alive for an entire year. I asked her about it and she said, “No, silly. You’ll get new flowers every month, for a year.”

WOW. What a wonderful gift. I love flowers, absolutely love them, but never buy them for myself. It just seems . . . overly self-indulgent.

So the red orchids lasted almost three weeks, but then they were gone and I’d pretty much forgotten about the “every month” thing when one day in January, these showed up:

MORE ORCHIDS. I thought the red orchids were just a lucky selection for one month, but no, turns out it will be an entire year of ORCHIDS.

These were delivered in February (sorry, by the time I realized it was a horrible blurry pic, it was too late):

And just last week, these arrived:

You can’t tell from that pic, but the centers of these look like Johnny Jump-ups, so it’s like getting two flowers in one. Wait, here’s a close-up:

So this has been delightful, getting fresh flowers every month. Luckily, The White Ninja is indifferent to the additional coffee table décor and hasn’t eaten any of them. Yet.

What other innocuous things have been going on . . .

Oh, my daughter and her husband took a two-week vacation in Europe. I freaked out just a wee bit after their plane took off and I realized they were going to be 30-some-thousand feet over the vast, deep, unsearchable expanse of the Atlantic for several hours. Which was unsettling because I hadn’t anticipated being bothered by that. But I was, on both their departure and return.

They’re back now [whew] and my daughter has been sending pictures, most of them the usual touristy sort of thing: here I am next to some ancient stone structure, here we are drinking beer, here’s a lovely landscape. Great shots, but you know the kind of thing I mean.

But this one is different and it really caught my attention. And my imagination:


She titled it: Rainy Cityscape

I love that it’s not the usual tourist picture. I love the shine of wet cobblestones at night, the juxtaposition of the modern bicycles and the centuries old Bächle. But mostly I love the mysterious, almost spooky, atmosphere it invokes.

Makes me want to tell a story.

Yeah, maybe I’d better finish the ones I’m already working on first. Before another month comes and goes.

 

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Explosions, spreadsheets and snowstorms

I didn’t realize how much I love to cook until my oven exploded last weekend. Unable to use my oven — or even the stovetop, since I turned off the circuit breaker — suddenly my thoughts were filled with all the amazing food I couldn’t make. Poor me. Never mind that I’m entirely capable of ignoring my oven for weeks at a time. Regardless, I spent the week feeling deprived, even though I wasn’t exactly starving to death here.

OK, fine, my oven didn’t actually “explode.” The heating element burned out. There was a big whomp sound and a bright red-orange ball of fire in there, which sure looked like an explosion, but it’s not as if the entire thing blew up. It was a mini-explosion. Dramatic, but contained.

Good thing I was sitting at the kitchen table, aka my writing desk, at the time or I might not have known what happened. Luckily, the pork roast I’d been slow cooking all day was thoroughly cooked. Here’s a pic of the aftermath. Looks like it exploded, right?

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I tried to shoo her away so I could take the pics, but The White Ninja was fascinated.

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I put off calling a repair person for days. Partly because I didn’t want to know how much it would cost if they couldn’t just replace the element, but mostly because I hate making phone calls.

But I finally made the call and a repair guy came yesterday and replaced the element. He was very pleasant, charged a totally reasonable amount, did the work in less time than any other repair person has ever done anything, and yet still managed to tell me ALL ABOUT HIS LIFE.

I’m not kidding. This happens all the time. People seem compelled to tell me stuff. Personal stuff. Stuff I’d never tell a complete stranger. Well, except on my blog. Heh. I now know how long he’s been in the business, where he grew up, how many siblings he has, where they live, where he lives, all the details of his dad’s and stepmom’s recent medical troubles, which hospitals they’re currently in, how often he visits them, how many hospice places he has researched, and that he planned to spend the rest of the day looking at more facilities. All this in the space of a half hour.

I’m telling you, appliance repair is overwhelming and exhausting. And all I had to do was sit there and listen.

* * *

Speaking of procrastination, I recently did something I’d resolved to do last year, when I was getting tax info together for my accountant and thinking how much easier that chore really should be. I resolved that 2014 was the year I was finally going to get organized and put all my financial info into QuickBooks.

This is why I don’t make resolutions, which are generally a promise for future action. They don’t work for me. I either do a thing, right now, in the present, or I don’t.

Anyway. When I realized a few weeks ago that it was 2015 and I still hadn’t done it . . . well, let’s just say I was mighty fed up with myself. It’s not like this is a difficult thing for me. I’ve worked with QuickBooks (and other financial accounting programs) for decades, in various day jobs. I can make that program sing and dance if I want to.

So I finally downloaded the program and entered all my 2014 information. I can now track expense (ugh) and income from all vendors/distributors, broken down by each individual project/book, for any time period I choose. The reports, they are beautiful. I even made categories for Advances and Royalties. Because, reasons.

Not difficult, but time-consuming and tedious. I took frequent breaks. And I did stay off the internet, as I said last month that I going to. Mostly.

* * *

The other thing I did — I mean, if you’re going to get organized, you should just go ahead and get completely organized — was to finally make a comprehensive Excel spreadsheet to keep track of word count on all my writing projects. Yet another thing I’d resolved to do (several times) in the past and never quite got around to. Another thing that was not even remotely difficult, given my experience.

When I was done, I was surprised to discover that I currently have eight on-going writing projects. Well, that does include the category “blog posts.” And, granted, a couple of those projects are just extensive notes or research or a few random paragraphs I wrote before they got lost in my brain. But still. It’s more than I thought I had going on.

I imagine some of you will be glad to know I haven’t abandoned Max and Jenna, although they’re going to have to wait their turn. And try not to kill each other in the meantime. (<— that’s a link to the beginning of their story, in case you  missed it)

* * *

In far less tedious news, my daughter and her husband enjoyed playing in all the snow produced by the snowstorm that hit Boston the middle of last week. She took a bunch of pictures and said I could share some of them over here. They were taken sort of mid-storm and don’t show the final depth of snowfall (which was, I believe, somewhere around 20 inches).

(There’s a slideshow here, for those of you reading in feeds and who perhaps can’t see it.)

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* * *

Let’s see, cat pics? Check. Snow pics? Check. What else has been going on that I should add to this too-long, topic-less, meandering post? Hmmm. I do encourage you to sign up for my Mailing List, if you haven’t, so you can be among the first to know when I release a new work of fiction. Or, you know, something else similarly exciting and noteworthy. But that’s about it for updates from me. For now.

Overall, I’m feeling a huge sense of relief and accomplishment. Mixed with mild frustration. Because even though the tasks I accomplished in the past few weeks were necessary, and long overdue, they did take time away from writing. Not that I stopped writing. Far from it. Just as I didn’t stop eating simply because my oven exploded.

Luckily, I’m pretty good at making alternate plans. Also luckily, I have a microwave. And lots of leftover roast pork and garlic mashed potatoes.

Sometimes you don’t realize how desperately you want to do a thing — cooking, writing, whatever — until events transpire that divert you, that prevent you from spending as much time working on a thing as what you had planned.

But now those diversions have been resolved and I’m full speed ahead, all writing, all the time. Plus a bit of cooking. Why do I feel like I just jinxed myself?

 

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Random thoughts in December

This is a rambling post full of random thoughts. I know you’re used to that over here and probably I don’t even need to mention it, but whatever.

I have somehow ended up with an iPhone. I’d say I’m not sure how that happened, but I know exactly how it happened.

Several months ago, my daughter decided we were paying too much for cell phone service (she and her husband are on my plan). So I told her, fine, you find a good plan that’s less expensive and we’ll switch. Because I hate dealing with that kind of stuff.

Of course, being an intrepid adventurer who did not inherit my gene for procrastination, she did just that. Only problem was, my very old cell phone was so old that it sent the new plan into paroxysms of laughter before it said, “No. You need a new phone. One from this century.”

Here’s a picture of my old phone (on the left, if you couldn’t tell), next to the new one. With bonus coasters, because I’m too lazy to crop them out.

photo

Oh, stop laughing. The old one was functional. I was able to check the time and date and send text messages and even set an alarm. I’m pretty sure I could make phone calls with it. Probably. It’s not like I have first-hand knowledge of that.

Sigh. I guess all good things come to an end.

I looked at the options for new non-smart phones (I wasn’t impressed) and decided I might as well accept the inevitable sooner rather than . . . even later. I resigned myself to the fact that I’d have to get a phone that could launch missiles and connect with the ISS and negotiate world peace through predictive text.

Now, I’m not a complete Luddite, but the adaptation has been predictably hilarious. And pitiful. Here’s an example of a typical text conversation with my daughter (we had been talking about the pic she sent of her Christmas tree):

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And then there is this inexplicably recurring nonsense from Siri, which I have transcribed from memory:

Siri: Hey, I learned a new trick! Just say “Hey Siri” to learn more.

Me: . . . [silent, wondering whether there’s a way to opt out of being spoken to like a three-year-old]

Siri: I’m not sure what you said.

Me: That’s because I’m speechless.

Siri: I’m not sure I understand. Did you say, “How do I write a speech?”

Me: Not even close.

Or I’d hit some weird combination of buttons and get this:

Siri: How can I help you?

Me: Sorry, didn’t mean to summon you.

Siri: You do not need to apologize to me.

Me: I’m going to disconnect you now.

Siri: Okay. Bye!

I decided Siri might be less irritating as a male, so I changed the voice preference the other day and haven’t heard from her, er, him since.

But I did discover — completely by accident, due to my tendency to click on stuff despite not knowing what it does — that I can text from my laptop. This is so cool, I can hardly believe it. Totally awesome to type a text message on a full keyboard rather than a tiny phone screen. This thing is really more computer than phone.

Another plus, the camera is light years better than the one on my old phone. Here’s a pic of The White Ninja, which is what my son calls her [it has been pointed out that I can’t really call her The Intruder Cat anymore, since the cat-intruded-upon is no longer with us]. See how she’s being all cooperative and shedding on a white blanket? That’s only because I moved my black sweater.

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As you might suspect, I’ve been feeling sad the last several weeks, missing my ancient kitty. She might have been ornery, but she was mine. There was a significant amount of time both before and after she died during which I didn’t write. At all. But I’ve been trying to get back to it in the past few days. Not easy, with the distractions of the holidays.

Speaking of distractions, my son just sent me this text message:

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I laughed SO HARD. That child definitely inherited his mother’s irreverent sense of humour. [I’m sorry if you don’t get the reference, and really sorry if no one forces you to watch that South Park episode every year at Christmas time, but I am not going to be the one to explain it.]

Where was I? Oh, yeah.

I’ve heard quite a few writers say they don’t like to talk about what they’re writing while writing it. As if doing so saps the words of their energy, deflating the story and rendering it lifeless. I’ve discovered over the years that I fall squarely into this camp.

However.

I will say that an interesting thing has happened with my writing in the past several months. “Interesting” being open to interpretation, I guess. I’ve been actively writing two stories at the same time. While making notes on a third. And there’s a fourth one, a short story, that is completely developed in my mind.

I’ve never attempted this before. I’m sure it’s a Very Bad Idea. There is no “right” way to write, but if there’s an inadvisable way or a convoluted way or a way that is more difficult, you can bet that’s what I’ll manage to do.

Is this procrastination? I don’t know. Maybe. I’d be worried if I completely stopped writing one story in favour of another. That’s a big red flag. But this is different, this switching back and forth and writing two at once. Yes, it means the entire process is taking a bit longer, but I’m not sure I could write these two stories any other way. They’re both proving to be . . . difficult. In different ways. It helps to alternate, for one to lay fallow while the other percolates words, and then back again.

The interesting thing, to me, is the discovery that writing straight romance has helped me see that thriller manuscript I set aside more clearly. I don’t mean “straight” as a sexual definition. Is “pure” romance a better term? No, that has other connotations as well. I mean straight-up romance without a thriller plot or a conspiracy woven though it.

One thing that bothered me about that story was that the tone was uneven. Most of it sounded like a thriller, but large sections of it sounded more like a romance. This is not a good thing. But, somehow, writing romance has made it easier for me to really “feel” the genre differences between romance and thrillers. Mind you, I’m an avid reader of both genres. I understand the differences. I just couldn’t always manage to separate them in my writing. And even though I want to write both, I had come to believe I’d never have what it takes to do justice to a thriller. So it’s encouraging that I’ve been thinking about that thriller again in stray moments. Getting excited about it again. That story will require intense and exclusive focus, when it’s time, but that time might come sooner than I anticipated. We’ll see what transpires.

Anyway, due to this weird new process, it might happen that I finish several stories at the roughly same time. But who knows. I’ve learned to stop making predictions. Life has a way of thwarting even the simplest plans and there was plenty of that this year.

I’ve decided to announce new releases first via my newsletter, well ahead of mentioning them here on my blog or elsewhere. So if you want to be among the first to hear about the publication of new stories, at a discounted price, go sign up for my newsletter (here’s a link, or see the sidebar). I won’t share your email address and you can unsubscribe at any time. No pressure. You do whatever you feel comfortable doing.

Good grief, I’ve rambled on longer than even I thought I would. I do want to mention that I’m going to take an extended break from the internet after Christmas, in spite of this new iThing that insists on connecting me every time I move. I have at least two stories at the point where they need my complete focus. And another one, perhaps two, that are impatient to burst forth onto the page. Seems like a good idea to mute the distractions for a while.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas, if that’s something you celebrate. Regardless of holiday preferences, I wish everyone peace and calm and clarity as one calendar year draws to a close and a new one begins.

I hope you are able to take a few days off from the ordinary and make them extraordinary. I hope you manage to share space with people you love, or at least find tolerable the ones you’re stuck with. And I hope you make time to read.

As for me, I’ll be wishing for an encore of this:

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