Saturday, May 2, 2020

I wrote something new...

Now I have to write a blurb. Um, What's the story about? I just wrote tens of thousands of words exploring that. Um. It's about a ballistic pilot, and the absolutely terrible day she has when her own government tries to shoot her down. It's about the "military advisors" the Other Side is sending into her destination, because cold wars always have hot spots. It's about how, if you bleed a country with taxes and regulations until they can't survive, they will declare independence from the trade union just to stay alive.

It's also about learning that getting what you want doesn't mean you got what you need, and learning to ask for help, and to swallow your pride and start over. And about L-shaped ambushes and ground-to-air fire and how nobody loves linear assaults. And crusty cantankerous curmudgeons with hearts of gold.

And that, just because you've been in a field long enough that all the romance has rubbed off and you're well acquainted with the suck, doesn't mean you don't still love it anyway. 

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Masking my contempt for idiotic decrees

The county judge just issued an order for all individuals over the age of 6 to wear masks in public. Which I find idiotic and especially trying, because my masks are specialty high-end N95 Vogmasks designed for being worn days on end when the pollen count is too bad for me to breathe unfiltered air. The last thing I want to do is wear them out by continuous use when I can breathe just fine, and not have them when I need them! (See also: they've gone from being easily available to completely sold out everywhere, all the time. And while I only need them a few times a year due to overactive immune system, I really feel for the folks who need them full-time due to medically suppressed immune systems.)

Capitalism to the rescue! Fine Art America now offers facemask option on some of the paintings uploaded, which means I can now wear out Ken Nelson's Alaska paintings. This makes me giggle.

Check this out!

Friday, April 17, 2020

Persistence, take 2

After several years of showing up, and doing the work, despite injury, illness, and several other setbacks, I'm getting there. Just grinding it out, pushing through the soreness and the "don't want to" and the frustration and everything else.

Rack pull 135 pounds
Overhead press 70 pounds
Bench Press 87 pounds

Talking to my father last night, and he was rather boggled by those numbers. Then again, I suspect he still thinks of me as the 5' 5" 95 pound teenaged twig with a bright shock of blonde hair and a book practically glued to my face.

Mind you, dad was grumbling mildly about the difficulty of working on a pipeline where the only way to get access was to do a one-handed plank while swinging the hammer and holding the testing equipment overhead with the other hand. Dad, who has said maybe someday soon he might be getting too old to be the guy who climbs the rope ladder into and out of the tank... in full containment gear, while trailing the hoses for the air supply...

Yeah, I have a long way to go before I'm as tough as my father.

Monday, April 13, 2020


This year, I decided I would write every day – and it didn’t matter if it was 5 words of fiction or 5,000, as long as it was every single day. No, I didn’t decide this on January 1st; that would have been far too convenient. I decided to do it on January 18th, right as I was in the middle of working on the pantry turnover project.

(Every year, I put a sticker on each and every item in the pantry. This way, I not only go through the entire thing, but I also get to see exactly what is still stickered from a year ago, and hasn’t been used yet. It leads to a month+ of interesting one-off meals, using up oddball ingredients, along with much lower grocery bills for the duration, organized pantries, and the sincere but unkept vow not to have so much “Oh! I want to try that!” that I never got to next year.)

This is relevant because this year I got a pack of gold star stickers for the pantry, and ended up with almost 500 excess gold star stickers. Having them right there, I resolved there was no time to start like the present, and put up the gag-gift wall calendar (shirtless men in kilts, with sayings like “Once you go plaid you’ll never be sad”), and started giving myself a gold star every day I managed to write at least 5 words of fiction.

For those of you rolling your eyes or laughing at the mental image, hey, writing may be serious business, but no one said we had to take it seriously!

What I also should have done, if I’d thought about it at the time, was keep a running daily wordcount. Alas and alack, I didn’t think about it until roughly a week ago. And then about four days ago I went “If I tracked morning vs. evening, I could see when I’m more productive…”

Turns out, it’s mornings. Not what I expected!

Though, after 11 week of typing everyday, I have discovered the flaw in my plan, the canker in the musk-rose bud… carpal tunnel syndrome. I now have braces for both wrists, better ergonomic setups at all workstations, (though some tweaking needed), and the sense that I really need to modify this plan to take days off. G-d may have told workaholics to remember the Sabbath not for him, but to force us to take time off and do that rest and heal thing we’re so terrible at. I am at least calling most evenings off… mostly…

But one other random, strange and unexpected thing happened… the scattered bits of scenes that I wrote every day started accreting into a story. And yes, I had to stop and figure out how things were linked, and go back and change things, and some characters didn’t actually have a name other than a placeholder until 20K in, but…

Almost in reverse, a plot started to emerge. And characters started to gain voices, and go haring off in directions I didn’t plot, didn’t plan, and didn’t see coming – but in written retrospect made perfect sense. And it’s turning into another, as a friend teasingly calls my books, “tactically correct romance.” (Not that I set out to write romance, but I do set out to write tactically correct and competent people. The romance happens, whether I want the characters to do so or not. Thankfully, fellow authors understand when I yell at the manuscript, “No! Unlike The Princess Bride, you are not a kissing story!” At least, they offer sympathy and liquor instead of a jacket with sleeves that tie in the back when I whine about the characters blowing raspberries at me and doing what they want, so I think they understand…)

Given this book didn’t start with a plot and a plan, it’s going to take more editing. I can’t complain too hard; I wasn’t expecting to recover the writing well enough, and learn coping mechanisms for the medication side effects fast enough, to get a story finished this year.

Next up: figuring out how to pull off this trick a second time!

Monday, March 2, 2020

Thoughts For You From a Sunny Day

You know who you are, and you wouldn't appreciate it if I said your name; it'd just add to your hurt and your pain. I won't make you bleed in public.

I don't yet have the words to say it right.

But I have a gift for you, a little spiky and fragile, a song... This is one I enjoy for the the music, and the context and connotations and the world I was living, the person I was when I first heard it.

But also for the lyrics.

As the years go by, some songs from my childhood have become as trite and awful as trying to recapture the magic of childhood cartoons, or the first drunken time I saw Heavy Metal, or the wonder the first time I saw anime - learning that such a new and very different art form existed.

But some? The lyrics grow in meaning as I've grown.

And this song, it was so easy on the ears as a dance floor respite when the entire world was mine to explore, and the clubs brilliant and beautiful and I could dance until they closed, then drink coffee and catch the well-after-midnight trains till we walked and laughed and ran through the Loop, twirling in the silent streets, hands out for balance on the edges of the flower planters, dancing on the benches, owning the silent downtown, the sleeping city. We swaggered and staggered and laughed until we were collapsing in the park, a happy group of friends as the sun rose over the lake and the city came to life.

Now, though, years later, all too many funerals and memorial services, wakes, and search and rescues turned into search and retrieval instead... I hear most prominently the line half-hidden softly at the end, the advice that came too late. Because as sugary and poppy as it sounds on the surface, at heart it's an an elegy, written for a comrade already gone into the darkness.

Take it easy on yourself...

Please, when you're feeling overwhelmed and stressed, when the to-dos seem overwhelming, when you're staring at up at the mountain of all you want to become, and to have done (but barely started, and despair at succeeding), when you're staring down at the wreckage of your carefully crafted life and plans...

Take it easy on yourself.

We'll be here for you.

I'll be waiting.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Braised lamb in dutch oven with couscous

Today's dinner was brought to us by Limerick farms - a by-Texas-standards-local sheep farm, who sold us a leg of lamb at the farmer's market some months ago. Peter's quite taken with their meat, because they actually mean lamb, not mutton, when they label it lamb.

Unfortunately, life got busy and said meat languished in the deep freezer. Today, I pulled it out, and decided I had the time, so we were going to have a nice dinner. It wasn't fully defrosted when I started: next time, following the same directions, it might end up falling off the bone tender. As it was, it was delicious and made for a very happy husband.

For a 4 lb leg of lamb, start at least 4 hours ahead of time.

1 defrosted 4 lb leg of lamb, bone-in

salt - 2 tsp?
pepper - 2 tsp?
2 Tbsp high-smoke-point oil/lard
1 bottle cab sauv or other dry red wine (less two glasses for the cook)
6 cloves garlic, minced or chopped
1 Tbsp oregano
1 Tbsp rosemary
1 Tbsp  thyme
3/4 cup golden raisins
1 can tomato paste
1 can fire-roasted tomatoes
1 can diced tomatoes
1-2 onions, quartered

Thaw lamb. Pat dry, salt and pepper both sides.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Pour first glass for cook.
Heat dutch oven on med-high, with oil. Sear lamb 3 minutes each side, until dark brown.
Add the rest of the ingredients, save for the second glass of wine for the cook.Stir to make sure the bottom is deglazed, and let it come up to a boil.
Turn off stove, put lid on the dutch oven, and stick in stove.
3-4 hours later, turn off oven and make couscous.

1 onion, diced
1 Tbsp ghee or butter
1 tsp tumeric
1 tsp chicken bullion powder
1 cup couscous
1 cup + a splash of boiling water

Saute diced onion & tumeric in ghee, until bright yellow and translucent. Add couscous and bullion powder, stir, and add water. Turn off burner, let sit five minutes. This is a good time to grab a pack of frozen steamable veg and turn it into the green side.

When the frozen veg is ready, the couscous will be too. Pull the dutch oven out of the oven, check the lamb, and serve lamb with the sauce around it on the couscous and veg.  

Excellent meal; we'll definitely be tracking them down for more lamb, and making this again!

Monday, October 28, 2019

Aircraft, Past and Present

So Darling Husband and I went to an airshow on the nearby air force base last weekend. Walking up to the gates was an experience, because a Mig was doing aerobatics. My husband's face when he saw a MIG-17 doing a low-level pass... his entire nervous system looked like it was desperately crying out for a missile launcher, just let me at 'em! Some reflexes die hard, eh?

After that, while my wonderful man sat and enjoyed the airshow, I went off to ogle all the static display airplanes. (They were fairly spread out, and he didn't feel inclined to all that walking.)

Sitting alone amongst the air force planes was a single Army Chinook, with a recruiting tent right next to it, sticking out like a sore thumb. And rocking it. Those guys were having a good time. (The other oddball was a C-47 in the corner, for the WWII paratrooper jump demonstration team.)

I walked up the load ramp of the Chinook, and had to stop and stare in amazement. It was clean. No, it was...*clean.* I don't think you understand the amount of cleanliness... the wiring bundles didn't have any grime between the wires, clean. Every hydraulic hose and line was clean, with no stains from any leaks, clean. And all the hydraulic lines were bent at the perfectly correct indexed angle, and everything was labeled. None of the nuts had traveled from their marked point. No field-expedient repairs. No evidence that there ever had been any...

It was... birds like this don't exist. This is the demo you use when making a textbook photo, that could not possibly survive the first trip out the factory door, clean.

In the back of the bird, a young army sort was hanging between the stretcher on one side, cheerfully enjoining the civvies on his bird to "ask me anything!" He caught me ogling his wiring bundles, and gave me a nod. I nodded back, and continued inspecting his junctions in sheer amazement. This was a bird in use - it wasn't factory new - and it was Just. Too. Pretty.

So as I walked past him, I felt I ought to say something, even if he looked like the youngest JROTC kid to pull public relations instead of getting to see the air show. On a couple air force birds just minutes earlier, I'd tried asking questions only to get a startled, "I don't know, ma'am, I'm still in training." So rather than ask what in the wide green world was going on with this bird, I went for complement instead.

So I say, "Your wiring is immaculate. The bundles, your hydraulics... your bird is beautiful. I haven't seen one this just... this lovely." He gets this grin, and the chest puffs out a little more, the ramrod straight spine gets a little straighter, and he says, "Thank you, ma'am! Let me know if you have *any* questions!" And by the gleam in his eye, this is not, as I thought, some poor training kid. I have made the old fart's mistake of underestimating this young man in both age and ability.

...Turns out he's the crew chief. Oops. (When did they start looking so young?) And thus ten minutes were pleasantly passed in discussing load configurations and capabilities, and confirming that his was indeed a working bird, and he was by G-d going to make sure it was the best working bird in the entire US Army, every single time, and everything was perfect. Even if it was a slingload of live goats in a crate.


After that, I visited the C-47 as well. And when I climbed up the narrow ladder and got inside, I saw bare primered walls decorated with photos and sharpie scrawls. Closer inspection proved that they restored the plane to as close to original paratrooper configuration as possible. (Although this airframe actually spent her war years flying the hump, and then in the Israeli Air Force, only reimported back in the 80's. If that bird could talk!)

And then, after restoration, every WWII paratrooper who managed to make it on board has been handed a sharpie and invited to leave his name, dates of service, and jumps. And some of those - the number of places they jumped were astounding. On some, they'd even managed to dig up old wartime photos, and stuck them up beside the signature. That bird... she was something special. Something more than she had been, as if her own record wasn't enough.

Yeah, from the young men who jumped out of planes like her over Reims to the young men making sure that the birds will be okay today...  There's a lot of good out there that's easy to overlook. I'm glad we got to see it.