Category Archives: miscellaneous bits

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.

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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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Avoiding meltdown, in 3… 2… 1…

So far, this has been a wretched summer with epic heat. Enervating record-breaking triple-digit heat that fuels scattered short-lived afternoon storms wherein even the raindrops are hot. Hot steamy rain that saturates the air and leaves it so thick you feel as if you might drown on the next deep breath.

It’s making me cranky.

Today was unusual. Today a “cold” front passed through and not only did it rain, it rained all afternoon. Thick clouds thwarted the sun’s intensity and the outdoor temp dropped into the mid-70s. And stayed there for hours. It was dark and gloomy and I didn’t even bother to turn on lights, just basked in the dim filter of day-long dusk and enjoyed it. Because tomorrow, and every day next week and every day the week after and every damn day for the next two months, is forecast to be back into the upper 90s, flirting with 100.

I hate summer in the South. It is pure relentless wilting misery and I hate it with a passion.

But it occurs to me that complaining about the heat just makes it seem worse. So let’s think about a different time. And a different kind of rain. A rain that felt cool and refreshing and life affirming. Yes, we do have that kind of rain down here. In fact, I wrote about it a couple years ago and am re-posting it today — mostly because I like it but also because I’m focused on other writing just now (please forgive the repetition).

I hope it will be a nice break from the stifling heat of summer and that you all can let your imagination wander to a quiet moment on a cool weekend morning when I paused to enjoy a . . .

Rainy day in spring

It is dark and raining here this morning. The kind of hard heavy steady rain that says, pay attention, and no matter what you thought you were going to do, you stop and listen instead. Too many drops to count, yet you can hear the rhythm of each one. The small steady slap of it on the roof and leaves and street, the music of it running fast through eaves and downspouts, in the fleeting splash of a car driving by.

A quick gust of wind waves dense leafy branches through the flow, disrupting the steady downward path, diverting drops like a hand testing the temperature of a shower. The gust moves on and the thick drops fall harder, crowding together in a pale gray sheet.

The back door is open and the smell of wet comes through the screen. Sodden chlorophyll and damp ground, giving up the hot sweat of the past week’s growth, rinsing off leaves and bark and blades of grass to run down the slope of the next yard to the creek, filling the air with the ripe earthy scent.

The torrent is timeless and ageless, full of significance yet devoid of meaning. The rain is all there is. No crackle of lightning or rumble of thunder. Nothing moves under the onslaught, there are no other sounds, only the steady soaking drum of the rain. And you are still, listening.

The gloom lifts slowly as the rain tapers off, the symphony ending not with a crescendo but a soft reprise as a cool damp breeze gently teases small drops down in a light patter from the high branches where they linger. There is movement in an upstairs bedroom and you recall the tasks at hand.

Soon the air is redolent with the smell of freshly sliced melon and frying bacon. Outside, the birds resume their springtime songs.

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Top Ten Things I Hate About…

…being on crutches. Yes, I’m on crutches. Have been for a few weeks now. Why? I wrenched my knee. Badly enough that I went to the doctor and got a cortisone shot. Had them shoot up both knees, as long as I was there. Just for fun. Several days later I was feeling much better and then, predictably, completely overdid it and made things worse. So, yeah, back to the crutches for a while.

But it’s not all pain and inconvenience and surly behaviour. Really. Okay, damnit, yes it is. I know, I shouldn’t complain. This is temporary and there are so many people with truly debilitating injuries or disabilities for whom it is a lifelong ordeal. And I’m sure they don’t complain about it. Much. Obviously, they’re better and stronger people than I. Because I’m here to kvetch about the crutch.

Here are the top ten — wait, turns out there are twelve — things I hate about being injured and having to use crutches:

1. Being patient. Everything, and I do mean everything, takes at least twice as long to accomplish. If not longer. I find creative use of vulgar profanity eases the burden and helps pass the time.

2. Oversharing. I understand those who feel compelled to tell me about their knee problems. Or other people’s knee problems. I’d do the same thing. But there are people, complete strangers, who see an apparent infirmity as an invitation to share their entire medical history. Or tell me about Aunt Edith’s hip replacement. And Cousin Seymour’s colostomy. And poor Grandpa George’s second wife Edna, bless her heart, who had five miscarriages and a hysterectomy. Maybe I’m an easy mark because they know I can’t smile and nod and keep walking. Swiftly. Away.

3. Palms and armpits. They’re sore. Enough said.

4. Advil. This is one of those love/hate things. I love that it’s available and that it helps. But I’m taking an awful lot of it and I hate the groggy foggy way it makes me feel. Plus, you know, random napping can be so inconvenient.

5. Driving. It’s my right knee and putting pressure on the gas and brake pedals is way up there on the pain-o-meter. No, I can not drive with my left foot. Not even if I’m only going to the end of my driveway. Not that I do that. Also, getting into the car. Getting out of the car. Dragging the crutches in and out. Difficult.

6. Sitting. And standing. Both hurt. The static position of each, but also going from sitting to standing is incredibly painful. It’s best not to think about it too much. Just grit your teeth and do it.

7. Cooking. The smaller the space, the more the crutches get in the way. And if you prop one up against the counter, even for just a couple seconds, it will fall over and hit you. In the most painful place possible. Usually while you’re holding something very hot.

8. The cat. Instead of being afraid of the crutches, like any sensible cat would be, she has decided they are to be randomly challenged and attacked. One of us is going to get hurt.

9. Doors. Doors are tricky. You have to make sure the crutches are out of the way before you pull the door open. It’s a deceptively not-so-simple kind of thing. Then you shove an arm in the trajectory so it doesn’t close again before you can hobble the rest of yourself into the opening. My elbows and the backs of my arms are battered and bruised.

10. Carrying stuff. Especially stuff that could spill, like food or drink. Thank god for containers with lids. And a roomy book bag with a long shoulder strap. I tell you, getting the laundry to the laundry room is an Adventure in Logistics. Mostly I’ve decided that things are just fine where they are and don’t need to be moved after all.

11. Stairs. Stairs are a one-crutch operation. Unless you want to end up in a bloody tangled heap. I try to avoid that. The thing is, you’re going to need both crutches once you get to the top. Or bottom. Going down is easy, just slide one crutch down ahead of you. Going up is . . . well, you get creative. See #10 re carrying stuff. Also, #1 re patience. And #8. Sigh.

12. Asking for help. I know, it’s pure stupid stubborn pride, but I hate to ask for help. If it’s something for a friend or one of my kids, hey, no problem. I’ll ask anyone for anything, without shame or hesitation. But for myself? Nope. I can be precariously balanced, each hand white-knuckled around not just a crutch but also a purse and bag lunch and bottle of water, struggling to pull open the big heavy glass door of my workplace, and someone will pass by and ask, “You need help with that?” And I’ll smile and say, “No thanks, I’ve got it.” Sometimes they’ll ask again, “You sure?” I’ll smile even more brightly and say, “Yep. I’m good.” Now, if they don’t ask but just come over and open the damn door for me, I’ll be full of gratitude and thank them. Profusely. Because that’s just a huge welcome relief. But if they ask and I have to say, “Yes, I need help” . . . nope, not gonna happen. I know, I’m contrary.

So there you have it. All the pitiful whining and complaining I’ve managed to hold back and keep off the blog for the past three (or so) weeks.

Anyone else have any kvetching they want to do? Any top ten, or twelve, complaints you’ve been wanting to air? Any advice about how to gracefully ask for help? Never mind, keep that last one to yourself. I’m in enough pain without having to bruise my ego too.

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