Sunday, November 1, 2020

The Body Language of Competent Men

 Over coffee with a friend last week, we were discussing unfortunate mistakes in males in our pasts, and what she wants to find in the future. (Me, I found a man who's better than I deserve! I hope she may yet find such happiness for herself.) But one thing that came up was how we judge men upon first impressions, including their body language. 

And I realized that while she'd learned the hard way that what the media presents as "strong man who can protect you" generally actually represents "arrogant asshole with control issues", she didn't yet really grok what body language she should be looking for. She had no military background or experience, so most of my explanations were falling far short for lack of common ground.

Thankfully, we live in the age of the internet! I queued up two interviews of Highly Interesting men who'd been there and done that for a living - a retired Chief Warrant 4 who'd been a seal before joining 160th SOAR, and a retired Command Sergeant Major who'd been Delta. And while the content of said interviews was highly interesting (to me, at least, which is why I remembered them), all I really wanted her to do was to see their build and watch the body language. Because if I'm going to be showing examples, go for extremes so it's more obvious, eh?

Very few of the interesting men I've met were heavily muscled - most interesting gents are all whipcord. They range from thin and wiry to built solid, but not obviously heavily muscled (unless you notice that the neck is roughly the same circumference as their head.) The bodybuilder muscles-on-their-muscles look is far less common than the wiry rock-climber or very symmetrical compact swimmer build. 

And as for body language, unlike the macho, arms akimbo, chest puffed out body stance with the aggressive undertones you see in the movies, these two gentlemen were relaxed. Very relaxed. Not slouched, but there was nothing rigid or aggressive in their stances - almost hilariously so in one case, compared to the young army kid doing the interviewing. Both very relaxed, very calm gentlemen were still sitting with their feet positioned in a way that meant they could be out of their seats in a fraction of a second... But relaxed.

They also kept their hands centered and close to their chests when gesturing, and, as my friend noted, they were extremely calm, humble, and understated when talking about being truly interesting places and doing incredibly tough things. I was catching more dry humour than she was due to familiarity with the military, but she caught some of the jokes - and the way that a brief squint of the eyes and tiny lift of the mouth was their version of a broad, teeth-baring grin. And those eyes? They never stopped moving, scanning the environment between checking in with the person they're talking to. 

Because she was watching so closely, she caught the nervous tell on one - and turned to me in amazement. "He's more disturbed by retiring and entering the civilian world than combat?!?!?"

"Well, yeah. Transitioning out of everything you've known into a lack of structure is really tough, and scary." She boggled a little that something so familiar and everyday to her could be scary to someone who's been shot at with malice aforethought, and kept watching.

A minute or two after we'd paused the videos to talk over the astounding difference in what actual men who are tough and competent and protective are like versus the media portrayal, my husband came over and to ask me about something unrelated. As he and I talked, I saw her looking at my Calmer Half as if she'd never really seen him before.

As if she had just noticed for the first time that my darling gent is always very calm, very relaxed. Very. Relaxed. And he's quiet, and humble, and has a very dry, understated sense of humour, and his hands almost always stay centered around his chest even when he's gesturing, and his eyes never stop scanning the environment...

And she looked at me. 

And I smiled. 

Monday, October 26, 2020

Seize the moment

 Kili Cat is no longer a young kitten. To be fair, she wasn't a kitten when she became our secondhand cat, and that was 8 years ago. Lately, white has been appearing on her muzzle where there was no white before, and she walks stiff-legged on days when we're hobbling as well. What she has lost in youth and enthusiasm, she has made up for with old age and treachery, and sheer low cunning.

For example, on this particular cold day, it's 34 degree and raining outside. This is a day when nobody in this household wants to move much, as the damp aches all the way down to the bones. My husband built a fire, and I? I moved out to the couch right by it, and took my laptop with. 

And Kili? She waited until the microsecond between putting the laptop aside and getting up, and my lap was filled with a cat, flowing up and turning around, settling down in a ball that just happened to stick cold toe beans into my warm inner thigh. As she settled, my lap vibrated to the purr of a happy cat. 

I settled back down on the couch, and once her toes were warm, she re-arranged herself with a fresh wave of purring that slowly tapered off as her eyes closed and she sank into a boneless doze. The paralyzing purr had struck again...

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Cat fur transmogrification

 Today, I went to the laundromat to wash the comforter, as it's too big for my washer and dryer. This involves removing roughly an adult cat's volume of fur from the comforter, as well as any skin oils from us, all the dust west Texas could blow here, etc. 

Washing the comforter was entirely normal. However, drying it? When I came back to transfer it to the dryer, I ran into a lovely woman who was keeping an eye on her smallest child while looking at another parent showing pictures of his kid being entirely too cute and utterly kid. As we chatted, it came up that the very small child there had just lost her cat to coyotes... and there had been kittens sighted nearby, and one had come right up to small child, though it hadn't come near mom. 

I know those kittens are ferals and strays, and allowed as how they were free to a good home if they could be rounded up. 

Which is how the three of us ended up going for a walk down an alleyway after picking up one emaciated little wheezing kitten with its eyes matted shut, searching for its feistier (and slightly less emaciated) littermate. The lady turned out to have been a vet tech, and much more able at wrangling small kittens than me! On the other hand, when she was casting about for a way to wrangle kittens while going and acquiring/buying a box, I looked around, popped open a dumpster, rummaged a bit, and came up with two boxes for her choosing. So, not completely useless. 

So, you know. I washed away roughly the same weight of cat fur as... the two kittens that went off to a good home. There's some sort of cosmic balance going on here, isn't there?

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Thre's no recipe for this

 The point of most recipes is two-fold: one, to be able to re-create the dish. Two, to provide a template for how the dish could be, so a cook has something to refer to when making a variation. 

Okay, three, sometimes a recipe is there to tell a story, and to also recreate the dish associated with the story. Which can be delightful - I was tickled pink the first time I read MCA Hogarth's Mindtouch, and she included the recipe for kerinne in the back of the book.

I'm going to ignore four for signal virtue, as experienced cooks look at the ingredient list and preparation method, and go "This person has no idea how to cook, or what they're trying to make. They just wanted to splash organic heirloom locavore non-GMO cruelty-free cage-free grass-fed blah blah blah buzzword all over the page." Because the travesty of some trendeigh idiot trying to virtue signal a recipe for gumbo without a roux or the full holy trinity was an offense unto food. 

But back to one and two - I often post recipes here because they're an amalgam of several other recipes, and I want to remember later how to re-create the dish. Unfortunately, today's dish would be impossible to recreate. So I present it only for the value of making you laugh.

Scalloped Turnips a la clean out the fridge

2 old, large turnips, one of which started to sprout in the fridge. (I forgot they were there!)
the end of a wedge of whisky-aged cheddar, grated
a wedge of "Oh, right, I got this to try and never did" mild blue Mornay cheese, grated
about 2 oz of cream cheese maybe, cut in chunks
a knob of butter - what was left on the butter dish
the almost-half a red onion on the cutting board that needed used up, sliced thin
a yellow onion, sliced thin
a palm-full of dried thyme, since it's getting old and I figure I need more to get the same flavour
a palm-full of dried parsley
a generous shake of mesquite-smoked salt
a few shakes of red pepper

Chop the ends off the turnips, peel, cut into manageable-sized chunks, and slice thin on the grater, ideally without adding any knuckle via the grater. Chop the onions in half, then slice thinly.

In a heavy-bottomed cast iron (I used my enameled cast iron braiser), melt butter. Add onions and salt, and let cook until starting to caramelize. 

Meanwhile, in a tea kettle, boil a liter of water. Dump turnips in large microwaveable bowl, cover with boiling water. Microwave for two minutes, because that's probably what you punched in when the cat distracted you by jumping on the counter and heading for the cream cheese. 

Remove cat from counter. Rescue cheese to cutting board. Stir the onions so they don't burn. Grate the cheese. Pause between cheeses to stir onions, and add thyme and parsely, and tell the cat he'd better not be paws-on-helping-cat on the cutting board. 

Cat will reply with insouciance and a tail wrap. Do not trip.

Finish grating cheese, turn on oven to 375 like you meant to do and forgot earlier, stir onion. Throw in cream cheese, stir so it starts melting. Pull the bowl of parboiled turnip slices out of microwave, careful not to splash hot water. And not to trip over helpful cat who is helping. Drain turnip slices somewhat successfully.

Stir onions and cream cheese and herbs, then add turnip slices on top, using the water that didn't completely drain to deglaze the pan. Sigh wistfully over how you should have opened a bottle of white wine to use for deglazing instead, and use for a glass for the cook. 

Once pan is deglazed, add the grated cheese in. Remember to turn off the burner. Stir until everything is evenly distributed melted gooey mess, smooth flat. Stick in oven that's still preheating, set timer to 30 minutes.

...yeah, there's no way to recreate that recipe. For one, you'd have to start by acquiring a paws-on helping cat, and much as I'd like to give you all 17 pounds of mine right now, my husband would object. For another, I'd have to remember who makes and where we got the whiskey cheddar to try, and I think the mornay was a seasonal item. And measurements? What measurements?

So, I really do not recommend forgetting turnips in your fridge. Really, you should get what you plan to use and enjoy it, right? But hey, my fridge is now cleaner and emptier, my stomach is happy with a nice meal, my brain is happy because it now knows parboiling is a perfectly viable method to make large turnips no longer crunchy, as well as less pungently turnip.

And if you laughed at the recipe, well, my goal for posting it here has been met!

Thursday, October 15, 2020

There's a reckoning a-coming

 Woke up this morning to a cold, hard wind blowing out of the north. It's pounding the land fiercely enough the water in the toilet is sloshing to every gust, and the house is creaking slightly. Perfect day for early voting; if they're going to steal my vote, they're going to have to work for it. 

Otherwise, time to start cooking a stew, and throw another layer on. When the wind dies down, it'll be a good time to warm body and soul with a fire in the fireplace. Y'all stay safe and warm out there.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Things I've learned to say

 ...after moving to Texas.

"Wow, look at how green everything is!"

Yep, everything is relative.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Home again

 How sweet it is to be snubbed by one's own cats. Or, something like that. After breakfast this morning with Alma Boykin, in which I failed at socialization before coffee (fortunately my Calmer Half and Alma managed to do the talking thing), we hit the road. No detours this time, and almost no stops - if only because we had food, and we had a full tank of gas, and we had a pile of dirty laundry and a cooler full of ribs. 

The litterbox has been cleaned, the laundry started, the tea kit put away, half the spare clean clothes put away, and the cats have gone from purring and joyous at our arrival to full snubbing due to our absence, and in one case, a rather hilarious attempt to kill the suitcase that took her people away. 

Here's to life being back to normal!

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Unreasonable standards

 This year, I brought two guns to Blogorado - the S&W Compact in .22LR, and the S&W M&P EZ in .380. (Man, that sentence is almost military or aviation in its amount of jargon/acronym, eh?) They're almost identical in the grip, so I started training with the .22 and then finished by running two mags through the .380.

The most annoying thing about trying to get better at shooting after destroying my shoulder is that I have such a small functional learning window. Like swimming after my last shoulder sprain: I loved swimming, but 20 minutes driving, ten minutes in the changing room before hand, ten minutes in the changing room after, and twenty minutes drive home gets to be extremely annoying when I can't handle more than 5 minutes of swimming at a time, and those 5 minutes are a reminder of just how much I suck compared to where I used to be. Even when I doubled my swim time, I was still at "It takes more time to shower than I spend swimming."

Which is why I don't swim anymore; I can only handle so many doses of frustration, suck, and fail before I get an attitude problem. I weightlift now, which at least doesn't require getting changed and showering, and I can see slow, steady progress charted in the logbook.

Well, today I slew the mighty steel targets (yay), until my shoulder started bitching at me. My darling man was trying to help with such advice as "You're anticipating where you're shooting next. Slow down, focus on the front sight. Take a break every 2 to 3 shots in you need to."

Right about the time I wanted to bite his head off, I instead took the car keys, and went and sat in the car, out of the wildfire smoke and dust, in the air conditioning, drinking water and shaking out two tylenol. After a few minutes, he joined me. 

"I love you." I figure this is always a good conversational opener with my darling man: a reminder that no matter what, I do love him. 

"I love you, too." He replied, and calmly waited. 

"I'm sorry." I figured this, too, was a very wise thing to get out there, on the table, sincerely meant. 

I didn't expect the confused, "For what?"

"Snapping at you. I shouldn't let pain make me bitchy! I should be better than that. And when I'm hurting and about to bite your head off, when you're the one of the two of us who knows what the heck they're doing, and are trying to give me perfectly reasonable advice... I'm sorry. That's why I went and hid in the car, and got painkillers."

My darling man proved yet again why I call him Calmer Half: He looked over at me with a smile. "No need to apologize. You did exactly the right thing." After I'd blinked at him in mild confusion, he added, "And this is why I will never do an extended training course with you. Some things, spouses are not meant to do together." 

I made an agreeable noise, and took another drink of water. 

After a while, he said, "Want to head back to the hotel, now?"

"Yes. But what I'm going to do is get back out there, and shoot the .380 so I get familiar enough with it to carry." After all, that's why I brought it. 

"All right." He nodded, and put his hand on the door handle. 

Grumpily, not liking the limitations of my body, I muttered, "And then go back to the hotel and lie down. I'm sorry." I don't like grumping and snarling around him.

"There's nothing to apologize for, love."

"I just hate not being anywhere near as good as I want to be!" 

I wasn't expecting the rueful laughter that filled the cabin. "Oh, I know. So do we all!"

Friday, October 9, 2020

Not all who wander are following GPS?

 On the road to Blogorado, we decided to take a 30-mile detour and visit Kent Rollin's new cowboy coffee shop. It's new enough that the grand opening was set for the day after we showed up. Kent's wife was lovely, gracious, and holding down the counter while a familiar face and cowboy hat was running in and out delivering box after box of supplies. 

As for the coffee? That was awesome. I got a mocha - my standard for new coffee shops, and Peter got the cowboy coffee. The mocha was a good mocha, but the cowboy coffee was really worth the drive! 

From there, we looked at the GPS, which was being its usual "interesting" self, and the routes it was trying to give us - none of which included the obvious use of I-40. Peter said, "Interstates are boring. why not?" So off on US routes and farm-to-market roads we went.

You know, if want to see a collection of small towns, and really get the feel for the land, that's certainly how to do it. And it only took about an hour longer, including the stop for gas where the whole town's internet was out, so the credit card readers couldn't. (Thank goodness for cash.)

We arrived in plenty good time, and spent the afternoon and evening hanging out with friends, eating too much, and sucking down lots of water and soda to combat the altitude and the allergens hanging thick and hazy with the wildfire smoke and dust in the air. And on the cat fur, as a barn cat named Short Round (she was the runt of the litter) came out of wherever barn cats go, and started cadging scritches, then flopped down against me and went purring off to sleep. 

As hugs were traded, along with catching up, and guns were pulled out and food piled high, I wasn't the only one who's had permanent singing tension between the shoulderblades since March, and we were starting to relax. Life is good!

As soon as the meds couldn't combat the allergen load, I turned in to shower, medicate, and sleep, which is the only reason I'm up so early... for once, I may not be a tail-end Charlie in to breakfast, muttering "coffeeeeee" like a modern day zombie!

Monday, October 5, 2020

Two months later, the anthology is out!

I don't post very often, so it was only two posts ago I was talking about being ambushed by friends and coming up with a story for an anthology. Well, it's now out! 


Tales Around the Supper Table: -An Anthology of Texas Writers-

Alma TC Boykin- Pigmentum Regium;
Monalisa Foster- Caliborne's Curse;
Dorothy Grant- Business not Bullets;
Kathey Grey- The Invisible Train;
Pam Uphoff- Runaway;
JL Curtis- A Favor Owed;
Jonathan LaForce- Knights and Dragons;
Peter Grant- Starting over;
Lawdog- Bad Night in Falls Town;
John Van Stry- They Only Ever Just Send One;
Wayne Whisnand- For a Child.

Alma has a dragon working on Alchemy, Peter has a prequel on how Tyler Reese came to partner in the old west with Walt Ames, before the start of the series. 

Monalisa has a hilarious take on urban fantasy and actuaries, and LawDog has a hilarious take on vampires... in Wichita Falls. "The people around here don't do intricacies. They do dynamite and bulldozers at noon."

I have a trader trying to build up a lost colony by shipping spices - described around the writing table as "The challenge of doing business in space Afghanistan." 

By the way, if you want to do business with some crazy, determined people who are trying this very thing in modern-day Afghanistan?

Rumi Spice is sourcing saffron, black cumin, fennel, and other spices out of Afghanistan - bringing fresh, high-quality spice to the USA and funneling the profits, with as few middlemen as possible, straight back into the people there, trying to build a living for them and that doesn't involve opium or endless wars, and invest in the local infrastructure.

One minor word of warning: the cumin is so fresh and strong that I have to halve it for most recipes, as they assume you're getting ground cumin what might have sat going stale on a supermarket or spice cupboard shelf for over a year.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Chicken Kedra with Almonds & Onions

I have discovered one feature of that takes the Instant Pot from "Yet another gadget cluttering the kitchen" to Awesome Device: the ability to pull the meat out of the soupy sauce and hit "saute" to reduce it down.

The downfall of the slow cooker is that it often leaves dishes far soupier than I want - especially when I don't want to serve them on couscous, crackers, biscuits, or rice. This doesn't quite eliminate that, but it goes a long way to correcting it without the danger inherent in pouring hot liquid from one vessel to another, and back!

This is first pass at adapting a dish to the new device, making it simple enough I can cook it on a day when I don't have the time, patience, or pain tolerance for 3 hours in the kitchen attending simmering dishes.

Chicken Kedra with Almonds and Onions (Instant Pot)

1 can chickpeas, drained
1 cup blanched almond slivers
2 pounds chicken thighs, thawed
1 cup warm water
1 pinch saffron threads
1/2 Tablespoon chicken better than bullion
1 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 large cinnamon stick
1/4 teaspoon ground tumeric
2 Tablespoons ghee or butter
2 large onions
1/4 cup chopped flat parsley
Juice of 1 lemon, or to taste

Drop the saffron threads in the warm water and let them soak while prepping everything else.
Toss ghee (or butter if you don't have any) in the Instant pot. Add the ground spices, and cinnamon stick.
Pull out the food processor. Turn one onion into tiny grated near-paste. Leave the lid on! Or, if you hate your tear ducts, grate the onion. Chop the second onion into thin slivers.
Turn on the Instant Pot to saute. Stir spices and ghee, so they can heat a little. Add grated onion and bullion to pot, stir.
Wait a moment, then add chicken. You can let sit on saute for a couple minutes while everything blends a little.
Turn off saute, and add chickpeas, saffron water, and slivered onion on top of the chicken.
Put lid on, seal vent, and set to high for 10 minutes.
Let release pressure naturally for 10 minutes, then pull lid off. If too soupy for you, pull out chicken, and hit saute to reduce down to a thick sauce.
When at the correct for you thickness, add in the parsley and lemon juice, and turn off the heat. Add chicken back in, stir, and serve. 

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Two months late and two thousand words over...

Some time ago, I wasn't paying enough attention and got voluntold into an anthology for the North Texas Writers, Shooters, and Pilots Association. As in, by the time I looked up from the food to figure out why I'd been mentioned, I was already in. Oops.

I warned the people involved that this was a bad idea; I had two books out and was working on a third, and had no idea how to write a short story. I told them not to expect anything from me. I flat out stated I was finishing the third book first!

It didn't get me out of it. Friends have these unreasoning expectations and somehow we find ourselves trying to live up to them...

So, several months, three how-to books on shorts, quite a few anthologies read, and four false-starts later... (Those ended up being chunks of novels that went nowhere or were discarded because they weren't the short story I wanted. Look, I haven't even figured out sequels yet, and those are still novel length! (As for those 4 starts, they're in the scraps folder. Someday, I may figure them out and be able to revise and finish. I want to; one's arid-land farming in alien ruins, and the things that farmers know but never talk to archaeologists or town clowns about.))

The deadline blew past like the air force boys overhead in T-38's practicing low-level formation flight. And to be honest, the frustration at being unable to figure this out was not nearly as bad as the feeling that I'd let the guys down.

Due to... well, mainly a lot of things blowing up and going stupid in a lot of people's lives, which we've all been suffering this year, the anthology was delayed. Jim Curtis gave me this look over food and informed me I wasn't off the hook; he still expected me to rise to the challenge.

In a fit of pure frustration, I gave up and started writing the next thing that came to mind. I thought it was another novel. And then I realized that it may be a novel's worth of worldbuilding, because my brain can't stop thinking through economics and the intersections of culture, technology, and humanity. But the story itself, set in all that? It doesn't care about the two-front war and how strange and imprecise front lines will get when there's all of space with its many uninhabitable star systems that no one cares about. It only concerns two people with nearly diametrically opposed goals and cultures.

In fact, it came out as a novelette. (When's the last time you heard that word?) At almost 13K words, it was a little too long for a short story, and a little to short for a novella. Way too short for a novel.

I wasn't certain I'd gotten it right, even though my brain said it was finished and nothing more was going to happen. So, I chopped a couple scenes and got it down to down to 12.3K. Then I sent it out to alpha readers, saying "Is this a complete story or the first few chapters of something?"

Based on feedback, it is a complete story arc that needed a little editing to clarify the ending, though half my betas liked as is, and half want it expanded into a novel. Jim was still waiting patiently for a short, so I eyed it with the intent of editing out 2.3K words, and hey, I'd have a short story!

Besides, as my darling man pointed out, expanding short stories into novels later is a long and glorious pulp tradition, so there was no reason not to do both. I may have given him the hairy eyeball and grumped that the backbrain was supremely uninterested in doing that, and besides, not only have I still not figured out sequels, I also missed figuring out a short by over two thousand words, and he expects me to pick up yet another skill set I don't have?

Being my husband, he smiled, and offered crème brulee and black rifle coffee. I forgive him everything!

I rewrote the story, especially the ending, cut out a lot more, and explained a little more here, added a character interaction there because it'd work better than an infodump, and... it went from 12.3K words to 12.5K

This was not the direction toward the 10K word cutoff for the anthology I wanted.

Jim Curtis took it anyway.

So in a few months, y'all may get to enjoy a not-so-short story of a spice and tea trader doing business in the colony world equivalent of modern-day Afghanistan, her extended family whose plans to take care of her are anything but helpful, and the soldier who intentionally gets himself caught in the middle...

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Marriage milestone!

Ten years into marriage, my darling man and I hit a milestone today: we managed to fail to accomplish installation of a window air conditioner without grumping or snapping at each other.

...the failure part is because apparently we need a 1/2" wood shim to bring the brackets up to a level where they'll clip into the bottom of the unit. This is not mentioned in the directions, as apparently our windowsills do not meet the ideal windowsill installation that it was designed for. So, drawing inspiration from the "if you have storm windows" section, there will be a run to the hardware store, a shim installed to raise the brackets to the height that they'll meet the bottom of the a/c, and things should be good.

The windows are, as far as I can tell, about 25 years old. I shouldn't be surprised that there have been design changes to the sills. Ah, well!

Note that I did not cuss at my darling man, and we didn't yell at each other. Actual air conditioning unit, included manual, and cats who were trying to help not included in this accomplishment.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Fire in the sky!

Yesterday, we sent men up into space again!

Sure, the news is trying to focus on the highly organized and funded riots (with craigslist ads for paid rioters posted ahead of time, and pre-positioned pallets of bricks with people directing "protestors" to pick up a brick as they headed in...)

But that's temporary stupidity by ideologically blind idiots who think that if they recreate the summer of '69 with an overhyped and underperforming pandemic and astroturfed riots, they'll get the power they want. Ignore that mess on the ground. If we're going to redo '69, we're redoing the very best part, with men going up to orbit!

...and this time it's commercially, which means it won't stop if the next presidential administration and congress cuts funding. This makes me very excited, because single-planet species are at great risk of ceasing to exist. We need to get outa this place... I'll take the moon, but Mars would be better. Got an exoplanet that's earthlike yet?

By the way, SpaceX is still running live feed today as they're taking the opportunity to wring out hte Dragon with automated and hand-flown maneuvers. Because it is a test flight, and those two test pilots have got a whole lot of things to check out, while engineers on the ground await their data impatiently.

We'll get there yet! We've already gotten the first step down!

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.