Friday, September 24, 2021

Where ideas come from

 I was grocery shopping after going to the gym today, which was first of all, a mistake in and of itself. Today I went up 3 pounds to a rack pull of 145, and this means I was starving and exhausted. Even with a list, I was, ah, quite distractible. 

Hey, I did have the chocolate on the list! Though not the German hot potato salad, or the Irish cheddar, or the... anyway. So, no sh-t, there I was, walking down the aisle minding my own business when I saw a box with a scattered remnants of paste squeeze tubes. You know, like you get for garlic, and ginger paste, and basil... but these were the wrong colour. 

So I stopped and took a closer look, and then asked the blameless Lord "Why??!?!"



Not pictured: the tube of harissa paste. Look who I married and who I hang out with. It's worth trying... once. But not those. No, I left the other tubes alone. 

Although I did take a picture to share the boggled mind that they exist. I sent it to Alma Boykin, who replied, "Blue Oyster Cult never met the Carolina reapers."

Now, I happen to like Blue Oyster Cult. And I giggled. But my brain has a plenty of images of North Carolina, mostly centered around waterfalls, amazing geology, awesome honey, lovely triple-canopy forest, and good friends. But did my brain pull that up? No! It instead went for the story relayed with a lot of laughter of "that one time I got shot on the Q course." Which involves a wonderful gent I know, a confusion with maps, a decision to hop a fence, and a chance encounter with a moonshiner defending his still. 

So I send back to Alma a notice that my brain is now picturing The Grim Reapers, Cletus and Judson, hanging out in the backwoods at the ruin of the moonshine still from back when their families owned the land, and here comes some poor souls from the Q course, unaware that they're following the old 'shine trail.... 

And it's All Her Fault. 

She giggled at me. So I tried to give it to her muse instead, even as she was laughing and going "I sense a Halloween story!" 

So, where do ideas come from? Apparently, the answer is: "Questionable foodstuffs, poor life decisions, and good music, shared with good friends."

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Guess what just came out?

 


Funny story on the title: The working title was Like Blood for Oil, because one of the what-ifs that started my brain coming up for the story was "What if oil really was scarce enough that large countries would go to war over the ability to control a new field?"

You can't get that here on earth, but you definitely can when you're terraforming a new world. And I had a new world that already had resource issues thanks to a rushed terraforming, just waiting to be explored a little more...

Calmer Half objected to the working title, and I understand: there are a lot of people who are quite bitter about the idiocy of the slogan it was gently mocking. Rather than annoy potential readers, I changed it. 

But I changed it to Blood, Oil, and Love. There's a comma after Oil, darnit. 

So where did it go? Well, living with Calmer Half means that a lot of his Britishisms work their way into my speech. Writing an Empire based on 1800's Britain doesn't help. When I'm tired, I spell phonetically, and a lot of extra u's creep into words like colour and honour, and spellcheck most emphatically does not like that. So Calmer Half cleans it up in copyedit and "Americanizes" the manuscript. (This cuts down on the number of people complaining about my spelling to Amazon.) So, he took out the second comma because "It's Oxford, not American."

I happen to be a believer in the Oxford comma. I was long before I met him!

I already paid for the art with the comma, but he uploaded the book. Publisher wins!

Unless I can't stand it and re-upload with a title changed by one comma in the middle of the night. 

In the meantime, have a crispy hot edge of a cold war, and eco-terrorists too indoctrinated to think about the stupidity of being anti-terraforming. Have a geophysicist who's in over her head, and a Recon who's finally caught the perfect woman, and is now wondering how the hell you keep one once you finally catch 'em. And a fairy God-Gunny Sgt, who would never be caught doing something as silly as waving a wand. Nah, he just knows a guy who knows a guy...

For your reading pleasure: Blood, Oil, and Love 

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Milestones

Milestones make much more pleasing noises than deadlines when they pass by.

1. Going Ballistic is now live in paperback! 

This has been an interesting process. Fortunately, now that we've gotten through uploading edits (fixed the blonde/blond confusion spellcheck didn't catch, and a few other typos), and learning all the little quirks of getting a paperback uploaded for sale...

2. Next week, all going well, Blood, Oil & Love will be released!

Monday, September 13, 2021

Ah, Monday

 Mondays are made for the two steps forward, one step back progression through life. 

1.) Shattered Under Midnight is now live in Paperback!

but,

2.) Somewhere in the publishing process, it stripped all the formatting out of the blurb. So, republishing. 

and,

3.) The check engine light in the car is on. 

Okay, maybe this Monday is more on the one step forward, two steps back side of the ledger. 

Here's to a better week ahead for all of us!

Friday, August 27, 2021

Salmon Quiche with Preserved Lemons

It started with a conversation about comfort foods. I made the mistake of opening my mouth and mentioning Moroccan food being "soul food" for a friend, and therefore the obvious choice to repay him for helping move a couch. Next thing I know, someone is laughing about the time she and her husband visited a country elsewhere in the Med, and she kept having to remind him that he'd officially never been there before when he mentioned places near their path of travel that had great food. 

And then said husband heard me discussing tagines, and turned puppy dog eyes on his wife. Next thing you know, I'm loaning her my Food of Morocco cookbook, and she's ordering a proper tagine... and rather than order preserved lemons off Amazon like I did, because we're way out away from big cities here where our men can have clear fields of fire and nobody breathing their air, she decides to go whole hog and make the preserved lemons. 

Did a good, job, too. But this temporarily left me with an embarrassment of riches in the form of preserved lemons, and without my cookbook that had the recipes to use them. So, I poked the internet, and it delivered. Some suitable modifications later, Calmer Half really wants me to record this for making again.

Ingredients:
1 premade pie crust. (I actually used phyllo sheets sprayed with olive oil, because I had them and didn't have a pie crust. Worked great, and will do again. But a pie crust is less effort!)
2 7-ounce cans salmon, drained (The cats were thrilled.)
1 diced onion (I actually used 1.5 cups blanched leeks, chopped, because I had it. Next time, onion.)
1 steamable bag broccoli & cauliflower mix, microwaved, drained, and rough chopped
1 cup shredded cheese (I used an asiago / parmesan blend)
1 cup milk
4 eggs
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 preserved lemon rind, minced (At least 2 Tbsp of minced rind. Rinse before mincing!)
1 tsp dried dill
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper

Pop the steamable veggie bag in the microwave, so it has time to cook & cool during the next step. 

Pull out 8" casserole dish. Hit the phyllo sheets with olive oil spray, layer into a crust all around the casserole dish until thick enough for you. Or make your life easy and just spread a premade pie crust in the dish. If it doesn't cover, oil the sides where it might stick to prevent that.

Preheat the oven to 425F. 

Chop salmon, dice onion, and rough chop drained veggies. Add to casserole dish, layer with cheese.

Mix everything else in a bowl, pour on top. Stick a loose layer of aluminum foil on top to prevent crust/phyllo from burning, stick in oven for 50 minutes. After about 30 minutes, if you want browned bits on top, just pull the oven door open long enough to yank the aluminum sheet off. 

Let cool 5 minutes, cut & serve. 

Friday, August 20, 2021

Elsewhere on the radio dial

 It's not that I have nothing to say about Afghanistan, and the feckless, incompetent, arrogant traitors occupying the seat of our power. 

It's that I am so angry, I don't have the words for it. 

Fortunately, others do. Go here, for the most eloquent of primal screams of rage at all that has been wrought, and is yet to come. Read all the way to the end, or you'll miss the kicker.

https://www.combatflipflops.com/blogs/combat-flip-flops/written-in-taliban

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

People are awesome

I love my beta readers. They're awesome people, from all random walks of life. Sometimes I scratch my head and wonder why some of my more curmudgeonly guys put up with the romance in the books, although I never wonder why the ladies don't mind the body count (See Kipling on the female of the species). 

But sometimes, they really do me a solid. Not just the cell phone picture after picture and explanation to explain how a diesel engine works for the research that goes into making sure I understand, despite it only coming out in one line of the story, which I really appreciate. Not just wading through the rough draft, and teasing me about all the words that escaped the spellcheck like colour and honour. 

This week, one was just beyond awesome. I accidentally, when I had too much blood in my caffeine stream, sent two beta readers the wrong story. Instead of sending them A Perfect Day (With Explosions), I sent Blood, Oil, & Love, which is going through formatting for print and about to be released. 

He didn't tell me I'd messed up. No, the first I knew about my mistake was when one sent a report back, with a few wily typos that had escaped many rounds of copyediting, and a few sentence fragments that had crept in with the last round of editing despite the copyediting afterward.

So, yesterday was the abrupt yanking that draft, fixing it, then handing back to Calmer Half to restart the formatting again (sorry, love!), and after profuse thanks, sending the *right* story to them. 

I need to buy that dude a drink. Heck, I need to buy him a whole bottle! 

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Success!

 Went out this morning to beat out a rug against the brick, and found one of the butterflies had completed its metamorphosis and was getting ready to fly!


Followed soon after by butterfly #2.



May your year hatch great plans, and great successes, too!


Tuesday, August 10, 2021

This year's crop

Some friends grow flowers. Me, I grow butterflies and barn swallows. 

I've managed to keep the herbs alive this year, but efforts at actual flowers still defeat me. On the other hand, the fennel plants I got with the express intention of have someplace other than the dill for the swallowtail caterpillars to do their munchy best have 4 brilliant green chrysalides and 8 more caterpillars in various stages of growth hanging onto the feathery fronds and stalks. 

As for the birds, we have a pair of very persistent barn swallows who think that an alcove on the house is the perfect place for a nest. Hard to argue with their point of view, given it's fairly sheltered from wind and weather, with clear approaches for flight paths. I argue anyway, but this year, I looked at them when they arrived yet again, and in the space of a week in which I wasn't paying attention, built a fine new mud nest. "Fine! You eat your body weight in mosquitoes. Keep doing that, and you can stay this year."

They stayed, the were fruitful and multiplied. Twice. I didn't realize the little buggers could have a spring clutch and a fall clutch, but after watching the hilarity of adult swallows giving fledglings flight lessons, there was once again a cheeping noise, and now there are three fuzzy little grey chicks. Okay, this week they've gotten their first adult feathers, so they're not quite as fuzzy as they used to be. Still, that's got to be a crowded nest at night. 

So, I grow butterflies, and barn swallows... and books. Getting really close to the end of A Perfect Day (With Explosions), and then I swear, I'm going to buckle down on getting Blood, Love, & Oil out the door before the end of the month.

It's not flowers, but it'll do. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

The conversations I have with myself

 You know, brain, this could have been a sweet little awkward hilarious romance that you're writing.

Yes, there are blast-resistant trash cans. Yes, the guys are on edge in the crowd, and the mall security is checking vehicles entering the parking garage and shoppers coming in for bombs and non-permitted weapons, but it's still fish out of water about two high-speed low-drag guys trying desperately to do overwatch on one's wife while she's shopping for maternity dresses, and the woman they rope in to help interpret "the ten million illusory shades of colour and the whimsical notations assigned haphazardly to each."

Yes, even said gal they roped in is grumbling about the threats terrorists have been sending in to the news.

But I got 5 chapters in without any boom! I had high hopes!

And then, brain, you had to go and type the phrase "the nice, quiet shop."

Seriously?!?

It could have been just a nice little romantic novella. But you had to go and use the Q-word, and now things are going to go boom.

And resolving that boom probably is likely going to take a novel. Arrrgh!

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Details matter

I finished the first draft on the next book! And then I gave it to Calmer Half, for the tactical read-through. Because accuracy matters. (After he finishes, it's going to a geologist who will do her own accuracy read-through. I aim to always write something good enough that people who are skilled in the profession shown do not want to throw the book across the room.) 

He came back with three tactical errors. One of which was a one-line fix, and two of which require rewriting an entire chapter. We'd already discussed the third one, and I knew it was coming; he has encouraged me to write it horribly instead of not writing it, because it'd be easier to edit to correct than to get right the first time. But the second, ah the second. He insisted I had to write the aerial shootdown. Which has been so frustrating to research and write that I copped out and had the viewpoint character looking the wrong way. 

Calmer Half isn't going to let me get away with that. Darnit. He holds me to higher standards than I sometimes want to be held, and I love him for it, no matter how frustrating it can be. So, being unable to figure out what I need from online, I finally swallowed my pride, took a deep breath, and... asked him for help. (Yeah, I know. He's right there. Doesn't mean it's always the easiest option.)

"Love, what's it look like to someone on the ground when a plane launches a missile?"

He said offhand, "There are youtube videos."

"Oh, I know, and funker350 videos. But they're mainly air to air, from the plane. Or they're handheld shakycam, and assume you know what you're seeing, or staged, or Hollywood. Not useful if you're running and look up. Which is why I avoided writing it in the first place. Help?"

He took a long, deep breath in, and let it out slowly, then said, "When the fucker is launching a missile at you as you're trying to shoot it down, first it looks like something broke; the wing changes shape, and you think 'did something fall off?' And then there's a flickering as the rocket ignites."

"And then... it accelerates too fast to actually see the missile. Your eyes just can't focus on something moving that fast. A smoke trail suddenly appears."

His lips twisted in an odd grimace, and I said, "And when it hits another plane? I'm betting the Hollywood fireball is completely wrong."

He rolled his shoulders, trying to relax a sudden tension, and moved his neck side to side, before saying. "Eh. When it hits a fighter, with the missiles and fuel tanks, it's a fireball. It's a... a slam, that's the only way I can describe it. A slamming explosion. And a fighter just disintegrates, so explosion, fireball and smoke, and bits falling."

"Now, transport planes? They're so much bigger you can see the explosion along it's length, with the nose fore and tail aft. So you'll see a wing come off, and it gently flutters, slowly drifting down to the ground. The plane itself, as it still has that one wing giving lift, starts spinning and tumbling and it is the most astounding tumbling flopping. It bends at the break, too, as it spins and flops and it's almost comical. Things fall out at the breaks. You can see the bodies falling, if you're close enough." His voice went soft, and deep, almost guttural, "Sooner them than me."

Okay, maybe there's a reason that I don't ask him for help if I can avoid it, and it's not just pride. It's not liking poking old wounds. Time to retreat with humour. "You know, for someone who said he's not going to write about Africa, there's an awful lot of writing about Africa in this house."

He looked back at me, and the humour sparkled in his eyes. "But I'm not writing it!" 

...right. That was accurate. And accuracy matters!

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Good fences make good neighbors

I first woke up confused, thinking "Why does Calmer Half's snoring sound like a cow?"

...No, wait, that's not Calmer Half.

That's a cow. Right outside our window.

Ah, somebody's fence is down.

...Yep, at least two cows.

Eating my lawn and lowing at each other at Oh Dark Thirty in the morning.

All right, self, grab a bathrobe, and the phone, and what's the non-emergency number for the police?

Welcome to Tiny Town, Texas!

...Damage assessment can wait for first light. If they got the neighbor's roses, there might be a revenge BBQ happening soon.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

The spaces inbetween

I finished the first draft, and got it out to two of my subject matter experts - promptly ensuring, in the way Murphy's Law works, that they both have had weeks far too busy to crack open the file and take a look. It's all right; I know it has some structural weakness and there will be rewrites, but until those come back, I"m in the odd space between stories, where the inside of my head is calm and quiet. 

This is where I get very productive on the domestic front: not because I have any more energy (I don't), but because I have more attention to spend on finding what needs doing and fixing it. (At least on the weekends. Day Job has its own unique challenges right now that are using all the mental horsepower I can spare.) So in the space between stories, the space between workdays, and, critical for outside work, the space between rain... I'm at the computer less, and getting more things done. 

Which aren't always the things I planned. For example, today I went out to mow the yard as soon as it was dry enough. (For the rain, O L-rd, I thank you. Better than drought, which this part of the world has known too well. Let me remember that when I start grumbling "I didn't move to South Seattle!") And instead, found that the mulberry tree was drooping under the weight of a bumper crop of fruit, brought on by the rains and whatever internal cycle it sets. (it's very common for trees to have cycles of unproductive and productive years. I haven't been paying close enough attention to get to know this one's yet.) So before I mowed, I picked half a gallon of mulberries, and set them aside to make mulberry pie.

This year's recipe was a little different, in that I tried einkorn flour and some dehydrated butter. (Testing out emergency ration offerings before the emergency is always a good idea.) It worked well enough, except the resulting pie crust wasn't flaky at all, but dense and chewy; you really do need to cut in cold butter to get a flaky crust. 

Also, despite all my protestations that I sometimes really do cook dishes with intention beforehand and ingredients bought especially for it, today was not one of those days. Instead, cleaning the fridge brought the rediscovery of a container of dates on the bottom shelf, and a block of feta that hadn't even been opened in the cheese drawer, and a tupperware of pear-infused balsamic vinegar shoved back behind the milk (I put it on that shelf after the stopper disintegrated into the bottle, so I had to strain bits of cork out and then had to put the strained vinegar somewhere).... 

Yes, I defrosted bacon, and made bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with feta, with a basalmic vinegar reduction dipping sauce. And mulberry pie for dessert. No, it has absolutely nothing to do with low carb. I regret nothing!

Yes, Calmer Half did give me a very odd look when he found out what was for dinner. That man can say more with a raised eyebrow than most people given a dictionary and an hour's head start to acquire extra vocabulary.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Smoked Salmon & Clam Chowder

I'm afraid Calmer Half wants me to make this again, so I'm dutifully trying to transcribe "A pinch of this, a handful of that, and the chunk of hot-smoked salmon in the freezer" into proper recipe amounts. Take all amounts with a grain of salt. 

Smoked Salmon & Clam Chowder

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp bacon grease
2 medium onions, diced fine
1 shallot
1/2 cup crumbled bacon
1.5 teaspoons cajun seasoning
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chicken broth
juice from one can of clams
reserve the clams to add separately
1/2 tsp celery seed
1 tsp thyme, dried
1 can mushrooms, drained
1 can diced hatch chiles, drained
2/3 of a can of corn, rinsed and drained 3 times
1.5 pounds of hot-smoked salmon (or a can of salmon, drained)
1 pint heavy cream
1 steamable pack of cauliflower rice
3-4 Tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped fine
2-3 Tablespoons fresh dill, chopped fine

Instructions:

1. In dutch oven, melt butter and bacon grease, and saute onions and shallot. Toss in cajun seasoning, too. When they're fairly well translucent, add garlic and saute for thirty seconds.

2. Add the chicken stock, celery seed, thyme, mushrooms, and the clam juice. (Reserve the clams.) Bring to a simmer, reduce heat, put a lid on, and let it simmer for 20 minutes.

3. After 20 minutes, remove the lid (hot!), and use an immersion blender to turn everything into a slightly chunky puree. Start the steamable cauliflower rice pack in the microwave.

4. Add the hatch chiles, corn, clams, salmon (not the skin), fresh herbs and heavy cream. Mix well.

5. Return to a simmer, and after about 5 minutes, taste, and turn off the burner. Should be ready to serve. 

Note: all the cans except the clams are drained because otherwise this would end up way too salty... and canned corn needs the three rinsings to lose the tinned taste. If you're using canned salmon instead of hot-smoked, add a touch of worcestershire sauce for the savoury note.

Next time, might add a little more chicken broth, as this was awfully chunky thick stew consistency. On the other hand, Calmer Half likes it that way.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Einkorn Thumbprint Cookies

I may have been delighting over the idea and the execution of einkorn cookies a little too much in chat with friends, while also reminding them to take care of themselves... next thing I knew, I'd been suckered into a guest post.

https://accordingtohoyt.com/2021/05/06/self-care-sanity-and-einkorn-thumbprint-cookies-by-dorothy-grant/

Why do I have the sneaking suspicion that the next time I make keto brownies and start singing praises to chocolate and capitalism, I'm going to get the arched eyebrow, and a Certain Someone is going to demand another guest post with recipe?

Monday, April 26, 2021

I have a shrubbery

Today, I tackled trimming the hedge. Which was a much, much bigger project than I realized when I got stuck in, because Snowmageddon managed to patchily kill about half of the hedge, and there was no way to save the rest and have it look good. I tried.

The hedge was overgrown anyway, but I hadn't dealt with chopping it back because that was too much work for too little reward. Well, now it was time and past time, so it got severely pruned down to within the boundaries of the flowerbed and all the dead bits removed.

Calmer Half was somewhat aghast at the radical chopping of the hedge; he was not a fan of removing all the concealment of the front of the house. "Why didn't you just leave the dead bush up until new bush grew to replace it?"

"Because I don't want our house to be an eyesore."

He looked puzzled. "It's not an eyesore. There was a bush there. Now there's not, and that's a privacy matter."

I shook my head. "Honey, that's not how this works. Bushes have to be living or they're an eyesore." The long-winded explanation about needing to remove dead material in order to get proper growth would be wasted here.

He looked resigned, and accepting if unhappy. "You would know. You're the go-to on growing things. I most definitely am not."

I grinned. "Yes, I know. I love you, but your concept of caring for a bush begins and ends with 'Triple tap it left center right, aiming low, in case a terrorist is hiding behind it!'"

Calmer Half perked up."It does! And it works, too!"

Saturday, April 10, 2021

A simple breakfast

 Me, stumbling in the door squinting after an early morning appointment with the eye doc: Self, the world is too bright and filled with hurt. We need to make a simple, quick, comforting breakfast, because food will make the day better. Eggs?

Also Me: Why is the fridge so bright? Ugh. Grabbing things that need using. Don't want eggs.

Me: Self, you have half a red onion and a poblano in hand. What are you doing?

Also Me: Dicing and sauteing in oil, duh. Shrimp. There's shrimp in the deep freezer, and that's quick.

Me: ...Mexican?

Also Me: Don't wanna. Huh. Hey, don't we have an open jar of green curry paste? Yes, yes we do. And ginger. And garlic. 

Me: Self, do you realize how much curry paste you just spooned in?

Also Me: Don't worry, coconut milk will take care of it. Oops, better start the cauliflower rice in the microwave. Why does the microwave have to have bright hurty light?

Me: Self, you're making a shrimp curry for breakfast??

Also Me: Simple! Tasty! Quick! What d'ya want? I'm hurting and uncoffeed here!

Me: ...okay.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Spring Garden Prep

The good news: a rainy Monday is a great time to go to the local garden store, as there are very few people there. Abundant parking, staff easily located and helpful, no lines! No elderly ladies who are eyeing you with the clear intention of running you over, shooting you or stabbing you if you touch those begonias they're eyeing...

The bad news: the serious gardeners have already been there, and stripped the place like very choosy locusts. No basil? No peppermint? Seriously, no eggplant? No dill, parsley, cilantro, or sage?

...but there was bronze fennel left?

Yeah, I don't pretend to understand that, I just grabbed the bronze fennel, thyme, and oregano, and supplies. 

Even better news: the choosy herb locusts forgot about the farm & fleet store, and not only were they well-stocked with everything else I wanted, but they had a sale on terracotta planters.

Now to pick a day I did not do squats and overhead press to plant the rest of the herbs. Tomorrow sounds good. Think I'll water everything generously, and then go get a cuppa for myself.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Can I take a hint? Yes, I can.

 Stopped by to see some friends yesterday, as well as their new baby. When the other small children were off in an adjacent room, the topic shifted to my stupid-long recovery. I grumbled "Everybody wants to wrap me in bubble wrap!"

The wife gave me a mom-look. The husband, former marine, said quite forcefully, "they're not wrong!"

...and the second-smallest child, who's still working on intelligible words, looked up, went tearing off to his older sister's room, and came back proudly trailing a length of bubble wrap bigger than he was. 

Ok, universe, I can take a hint. Really. 

Monday, March 8, 2021

How Are We Doing?

For all of you who keep contacting me privately to ask how we're doing, we're fine. For every male who just winced and every female who just gave me the raised eyebrow of "and where in the vast unhappy spectrum of a woman's 'fine' are you?"...no, really, we're good.
 
Yes, almost a year to the day from the last round, we caught Kung Flu again. This time, Peter was hit harder, and I was not nearly as bad as last time. We're now both officially tested clear (the household had to be, before I could resume work.) Despite everything you'd expect, he's recovering faster than me. He was sicker, so it's taking him longer than before, but he's already less wiped out by the same tasks than I am.

The most annoying thing about Lung Pao Sicken isn't actually being sick; it's the way it completely knocks all your energy reserves flat on the long recovery. Even resting... is like trying to refill a bucket with the bottom blown out. I tried going back to the gym to set a baseline - standard recovery technique. I barely managed 65 pounds on squats, and couldn't do more than half a work set of overhead press with bare bar. And then was knocked flat for the rest of the day.

I tried going back to work the next day, and my boss sent me home hours early with "I don't want you overextending yourself, because I want you here for the rest of the week." Calmer Half's only comment on that was that I'd lasted an hour past what he'd estimated. Which I can't say anything about, because I only really made it through one full shift that week.

*sinal salute*

So this leads to me grumbling, in fact perilously close to whining, at him that I hate being weak and useless.

Small diversion here. So, my love has a vast command of invective in many of the languages that are common around sub-Saharan Africa. He chooses not to use it around ladies, and therefore I rarely hear it, but unlike some hoity-toity officers, behind my love's commission lies a rich enlisted history.

Not that many years ago, a doctor made the mistake of trying a very painful procedure on my love before the local anesthetic had kicked in. I was sitting in the lobby staring at a 12-year-old copy of National Geographic when a very familiar voice proved:
1.) the flimsy partitions that count as walls in a doctor's office are no match for a good parade-ground bellow
2.) Despite not speaking a word of it, I can recognize Zulu from phonetics, intonation, and phrasing.
3.) It was utterly clear that someone was getting their genetic history, future prospects, and relations with barnyard animals discussed in detail.   

The three older ladies waiting their turn were turning pale and clutching their purses. The older gentleman decided he needed to be out the door and elsewhere in the hospital. The pretty young receptionist grabbed the desk with both hands and ducked down like she was afraid the ceiling was going to fall on her. Me? My first reaction was to check 1.) Is this my fault? No. 2.) Am I in line of sight? No. Okay, then time to smirk and try not to snicker aloud at someone Not Me getting read the riot act.

I did ask him later to translate, but he merely turned faintly pink around the cheekbones when he realized I'd heard, and stiffly inform me that it was not suitable for ladies.

So, back to telling my darling that I hate being weak and useless. And he looks up at me, and... let me tell you, when he is motivated, my Calmer Half can flat move. Which how roughly one disconcerted "meep? eep!" later, I found myself on the couch, wrapped in a fuzzy blanket, with a half-awake and rather startled cat plucked from somewhere and pressed on my chest so I could not get up. And Calmer Half standing over me, informing in no uncertain terms, "The correct terms are 'recovering from illness' and 'beloved.' You will use the proper terminology!"

Ladies and gentlemen, without once raising his voice or calling upon his vast command of enlisted epithets, I done been told. Firmly. Time to lie on the couch, scritch the cat, and accept that no, the floor's not going to be mopped today, and maybe not this week.

So how are we? We are Recovering From Illness. And beloved. Very, very beloved.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

On Post Traumatic Stress, marriages, and two truly awesome books

I was sitting in the living room with my Calmer Half*, enjoying a cup of coffee and the mutual exhausted silence, when he opened his eyes, looked around, and focused on Jen Satterly's book lying blamelessly on the coffee table. It's Arsenal of Hope: Tactics for Taking on PTSD, Together, and it's the... well, last year her husband, retired Delta CSM Tom Satterly wrote All Secure: A Special Operations Soldier's Fight to Survive on the Battlefield and the Homefront, in which he details the effect that training and operational tempo, combat and losing friends and the resulting PTSD had not only on him, but on his marriages, on his kid, and on his ability to adapt to civilian life. And how he's fought his way back from the blackest depths to healthy and happy, and is trying to show others the trail he's blazed, and that it's possible and there's hope.

Jen's book is the other half, on what living with someone with PTSD is like, and the toll it takes from the dependent's view. It's also exactly what is says - an arsenal of many different treatments, therapies, approaches, and the cheerful, rueful note that none of them are a silver bullet. Some don't work at any given time but work well later, some work and then lose their effectiveness, some will never work for any particular case. It's an honest, raw look at all the ways that things get messed up between spouses, and that there's been a lot of pain, and depression on her end, as living with rampant PTSD is depressing! About how to treat yourself, and the importance of putting your own oxygen mask on first, and helping yourself so you can be a help to your partner.

If I had to distill them down to quips, Tom's book is "This shit hits even the toughest of us. You're not weak, you're injured, and there's hope to heal." And Jen's? "Here's how, for both of you."

Calmer Half has shown less than zero interest in reading the books. On the other hand, he's willing to talk to me when I want to chew over things they've brought up aloud. Sometimes his responses were practically cryptic, like when I mentioned Tom's description of Mogadishu (which Calmer Half said with a dryness that could mummify at ten paces "Yes, that is a very understated description of urban combat all over Africa." He was quiet for a moment, then added, "You never forget that smell.") 

... yeah, not asking him to clarify that.

Sometimes the responses were quite eloquent. And sometimes they were a revelation to both of us, because he thought I already understood.

Let me explain here that Calmer Half is not an American combat vet. He's British South African, so his military was different, his wars were ones our media didn't talk about, and even more importantly, his country did not have a military dependent culture, not like the USA does. When he got back from his first combat against the Angolans, Cubans, East Germans, and Soviets, his dad finally started to tell him some of what he'd seen in WWII. He finished it with "don't say anything to your mum or your sisters. They wouldn't understand, and it would only upset the ladies."

And he kept that stiff upper lip for years, through round after round of combat, on through the struggle to end apartheid, through the fights with communist tsostis and jihadis fresh back from fighting Russians in Afghanistan and each trying to take over the townships and destabilize the country so they could be in control... all the way through 18 years of undeclared civil war. Any tentative attempt to explain to the ladies there was met with incomprehension to outright hostility, so he just bottled it up.

I, meanwhile, grew up with a dad in the military, in a family that is full of expats, engineers, and career military. My family's been army so long we use the working saber with the nicks from vertebrae still in the edge to cut our wedding cakes, because we lost the dress saber generations ago. My brother went career military. Me, when I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I folded my arms and spat defiantly at the teacher, "a civilian!" (Apparently I was the only one who didn't see marriage to a combat vet coming from years off. Dad was highly amused, and their first phone call promptly veered into words like "Vela Incident" and "mustang" and "The second lieutenant had A Bright Idea" and "sweating cordite." They get along great, even if their acronyms and uniforms don't match.)

This also means I've grown up with a great many coping mechanisms for 'battle fatigue' built in, and an understanding that "Oh, that's just my soldier. You don't have to understand why or what set that off, you just have to know it will and love 'em anyway." Some of which I didn't even understand were coping mechanisms, because they're just the way you do things. Military and their dependents are a culture, and like any culture, it adapts to the stresses and needs of its particular people.

We didn't call it PTSD when I was growing up. That was a foreign term, that it seemed civilian shrinks who proudly dodged the draft and a press that hated the military tried to slap on any and all soldiers in order to mark them as unfit, dangerous, and untrustworthy scum. Nobody I knew would ever apply it to themselves. I certainly never, not in all the things that ever happened to me, thought once to apply that term to myself.

I once asked dad what PTSD was, because of all the people tossing around that loaded term, I trusted him. He paused for a long moment, and finally said, "It's the right set of responses to the wrong environment."

That was a perfectly workable definition for going on with, and it meant in my world, it was perfectly normal and fine when the prof broke out his ultra-new techie toy, and waved his "laser pointer" at the overhead projector, and the ceiling, and the lecture hall... and my study buddy on the GI Bill was suddenly underneath the tiny, cramped desk, while papers were still fluttering down to the ground. When he came out from under the desk fighting mad, and walked out with fists curled into white knuckles, I just kept taking notes.

After class, I tracked him down where he and a couple other vets from class were standing at their favorite smoking redoubt, chain smoking one cigarette after another, and dumped their assorted backpacks and stacks of books and notes on the nearby bench. "Right responses, wrong environment. But next time, can you come back for your backpacks? These are heavy, guys!" (Look, I was 98 pounds at the time. They added up to a significant fraction of my body weight.)

The response was a long, silent crushing hug, followed by a quick sorting of everyone's stuff, checks that certain items were still stowed in their backpacks (and few snugged back into their belts), and "C'mon kid. Let's go get lunch. No, I'm paying." And off we went, so they could copy my notes, and horse around, blowing off steam. Of course, I knew exactly which seat I'd get: it'd be the one with the back to the door - because that's just how soldiers are, right? They never sit where they can't see the exits, and there's no need to think about it, because it's as natural as breathing...

Right responses, wrong environment was great definition... right up until I married a combat vet. Right up until I found that there were things we had to work through, and work around, that seemed utterly inexplicable. And Peter was keeping a stiff upper lip, completely silent as to why he would get so upset about something, and we both had to learn an entire set of routines and responses just to avoid having yet another pointless fight.

Weirdly enough, what really helped? The movie Act of Valor. I wanted to go see it, because I'd heard it was seals playing actors playing seals, which seemed so hilariously meta and awful that I figured it would be as campy as Rocky Horror. And since I didn't want to go alone, I talked my Calmer Half into going with me. This violated one of my mother's primary rules on movies, by the way. "Never watch a war movie with soldiers, and never watch a flying movie with pilots!" I figured it would make him wince and groan and shout at the screen about everything they were getting technically wrong, and be hilarious.

I was utterly wrong. Oh, the seals were awkward, especially in that way of: "We are now showing the cameramen a conversation written by scriptwriters like we say this normally, when you and I both know we said this ten years ago and now have it down to a lift of an eyebrow and a faint nod." The effects were disturbing where they didn't mean to be, because they did too many things too right, or too close to real instead of to the stylized Hollywood tropes. And at the end, when one seal throws himself on a grenade to save the others, and you see the blood pooling and the dust drifting down in front of his open, lifeless eyes... the credits rolled on that image, and I looked over at the big guy who'd been squeezing the blood out of my hand, even when I wasn't wincing or jumping. And in the flickering light, I saw him staring at the dead man staring back from the movie screen, tears rolling down his face.

Look, I don't think men can't cry. I just think women cry at the drop of a hat, and men don't cry unless it's extremely important. Calmer Half comes from an even more reserved culture than me, so how it hit him... I just hugged him and sat there as the theater emptied, until he was ready to move. When he finally shuddered, and came back to the here and now, and started half-clumsily reaching for his handkerchief and trying to apologize with extreme embarrassment, I just hugged him harder. "It's okay to cry. It really is. Soldiers do that, sometimes, at war movies. It's normal."

He looked at me like I'd grown a second head, but wiped his face, blew his nose, and we headed out into the drizzling rain to walk back to the car. Having taken so long to get out of the movie, the parking lot was fairly well deserted, and we went at a gentle amble, holding hands. He finally said, a little brokenly, "I hope that maybe... that seeing that, you might start to understand... That some of that was what it was like, downrange."

I squeezed his hand, and said, "Honey, I'm a military brat. I was raised to understand that I don't have to understand what you saw and what you did out there, I just have to love you. You're perfectly normal, for a soldier."

The look this time was less like I was spouting something totally alien... no, this time, it was something so profoundly grateful and amazed, like a starving man who wished for a crust of bread and was handed a banquet, that I was the one starting to feel uncomfortable and embarrassed now.  And then he opened his mouth, and years of pain started to pour out.

It didn't immediately make everything fine, but at least now, when something upsets him, we can talk about it, and work it out. And that's made all the difference in the world, as we rub along together over the years. Sometimes bits of shrapnel come out of his skin, sometimes painful memories come out of the whatever depths of his mind they were shoved into.

(Sometimes these are completely random. You know, when you're married to a guy for 10 years, and then in the course of mentioning I'd just learned from a podcast that when a guy took an IED to the face and was blinded, he actually was "seeing" vividly intense interpretations by his brain, as though he was still in the 'stans. He'd hear a nurse talk, and look over and "see" a village elder talking, standing there among the mud brick huts, even as he could smell and hear that he was in the hospital. This continued until they gave him a drug that made everything go black.

I had never heard of that before, so I mentioned it to Calmer Half. I did not expect him to get very quiet, and then start feeling up in his hair, and say "Yeah. This dent, here. Can you feel that? God, I wish they'd had that drug back then."

Ah, yes, combat vets. Sometimes a surprising amount of WTFery is in store, when you marry one, and never from the direction you expect!)

This is where we come back to his responses to Jen Satterly's book.

So, coming up on 11 years of marriage, and he's cooking dinner, the roomba is running along underfoot, and I'm putting dishes away and talking about Jen's book, and I say, "...So she says it's not just right responses, wrong environment, it's also that the limbic system which is primed for combat gets switched on in the middle of everyday, and so you're viewing everything as threatening chaos that needs to be controlled or eliminated on the fight or flight level, whether you want to or not."

Calmer Half put the spatula down with a precision that said he's distinctly annoyed, and turned and gave me a look that left no doubt. "Well, of course!" He snapped, and then stopped, and visibly calmed himself down, and added, "Didn't you know that?"

"No?" I stopped what I was doing, turned to him, and held out my hands.

He took a deep breath, let it out, and said, "I'm trying to focus on a task. You're walking behind me repeatedly. That," and he glared at the roomba which was now bumping his right foot like it wanted to mate with him, "is underfoot and annoying, and there are too many things moving I can't see and control while focused on this."

"Oh!" I picked up the roomba and turned it off. "Okay, then I can put the rest of the dishes away later, and this can cease annoying both of us right now."

He blinked. "You really didn't know that?"

"Well, I do now, and we can work on that."

Yeah, I wish I'd had both books years ago. Tom's book is great for giving you the view from inside your soldier, and Jen's book is great for the view from inside the spouse, and together... together, they are more than the sum of their parts, because you get to see the same incidents described from two different viewpoints, and it completes the picture of their relationship, and how they've struggled with and worked together to achieve the health and happiness and great marriage they have.

But if you're only going to read one, Jen's has more strategies for making life better, and even with all Peter and I have achieved, it's still had a new piece or two that's been helpful.

And this brings us back to this morning, when we were sitting there enjoying the silence together, my Calmer Half opened his eyes, looked at Jen's book, and said, "You should write a blog article reviewing that book. Both books on PTSD. Together."

"Um.." I looked at him. Because I really started my blog only so he could see what I was doing when I was 4,000 miles away, and so people who worried could keep track when I was flying my plane down. It's fairly defunct, and mostly a way to store recipes. "What?"

He locked eyes with me, and said in that utterly calm, and utterly sincere way, "You should write about it."

"But..." I had already lost, I knew. I don't write reviews (well, the occasional review on Amazon, but rarely books even then), but I was going to write this. And now I have.




*for those of you who wonder, the term Calmer Half is something of an old joke between us, going back to the day that two old vets, friends, fellow pilots, and mentors of mine looked at me over their coffee and informed me that they approved of Peter, and he was good enough to marry "Our Dot." As one put it, "We always knew you'd marry a combat vet! You're too high strung!" The fact that he tends to respond to my having domestic disasters with "Calm down, love! It's a good day! No one's shooting at you!"**... or, when looking at his dead truck with a shrug, "Well, at least you didn't hit a landmine"... yeah, he got grumpily tagged Calmer Half instead of Better Half.

**No, it doesn't work. Never in the history of ever has telling a highly upset woman with a fresh adrenal dump in her bloodstream to calm down worked. He keeps trying anyway, the eternal optimist.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

But I don't want to work harder!

 I'm still working on the same book I was working on back in October - and slowly, slowly, it comes together. This one has been more research heavy, including but not limited to Rhodesian Fire Force tactics and how ships bunker (refuel at sea.) But I'm closing in: the recon team in is overwatch on the terrorist camp, and the exploration team is almost, almost to the coastline of the country they need to infiltrate and explore. 

(It's very strange to compile everything and realize that all this research is still going to be a rather slim novel, almost a novella by the time I'm done. I feel like it ought to be a goat gagger for all the work, but the length of the final product is not indicative of the work put in. No doubt it'll expand after the beta read, when feedback from the distaff side tells me I need to slow down and put more explanation in.)

Anyway, last night I was sitting by my husband's feet as he sat by the fireplace, and talking about what I had planned upcoming in the book, to get them from the smuggler's ship they'd bought passage on into the actual country. (I'd just built the fire. I could claim I was monitoring it, but all y'all over a certain age or mileage know I was really just waiting until the pain from getting up was less than the pain from sitting on the floor.)

And my dearest Calmer Half said, "No, it wouldn't work like that. You could do this, or you could do that. In fact, it'd be best if you went back and had them procure these things, and arrange for them to be loaded on the ship before leaving harbor, and then you have this third option, with these operational concerns. And you need to keep this in mind..."

I did not want to go back and change three chapters, one of them so badly I'd have to rewrite from scratch. I did not want to have to do the more complicated way he was saying. I am already slow enough on the writing; I don't want to lose the momentum I have to rewriting. So I grumbled, "I don' wanna rewrite. And I really don't want to change my blocking for the next chapter!"

My darling Calmer Half, whom I love very, very much, gave me this look. You know the one. And replied mildly, "Well, you can write it how you want. It's your book." Softer, mulishly, he added, "But when I had occasion to do similar things, we used the scenarios I outlined."

Fooey. Darnit. Botheration!

I don't want to rewrite. But I'm going to, because he's right. You know, it'd be so much easier to be cheerfully wrong (until my betas caught it) if I didn't live with a subject matter expert!

After going off to my office and doing some grumbling, then fixing a nice hot cup of coffee loaded with Godiva's dark hot chocolate powder, and possibly a more than a little Bailey's as well, I sat down in front of the fire, and sighed. "You are right and I am wrong. All right. Now that I've got my temper tantrum out of the way, what am I doing?"

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Clam Chowder slightly more Southwest

This recipe started life as "Cheater's Chowder", because it was a way to make a keto variant of clam chowder in about 15 minutes. But even when not trying to diet, I like this enough to keep making it, because it's quick, it's filling, and it's tasty. (Also, chunky not smooth, because Calmer Half prefers that.)

Then I moved to Texas, and the spices started to change. As well as the "what do I have in my fridge?" All measurements are rough guesses.

Quick Clam Chowder Slightly More Southwest

1-2 onions, diced
1-2 poblano peppers, diced
1 cup celery, sliced thin
1 cans clams (do not drain)
4 cups chicken stock (or water + better than bullion)
1/2-1 cup bacon crumbles (real, not fake bacon. Saute and dice if you don't have crumbles)
1-2 Tbsp bacon grease (or olive oil, if you're out of bacon grease and have crumbles)
1 Tbsp thyme
1/2 tsp mesquite-smoked salt, or to taste (depending on the saltiness of your stock and bacon)
1-2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp chipolte powder
1Tbsp minced garlic
2 cups half & half
1 steamer bag riced cauliflower, or 1 small-medium head of cauliflower, chopped fine (yay food processor)

First, chop your cauliflower, if needed. Put in a bowl, add a splash of water, cover with plastic wrap, poke a few holes in the top. Pop in microwave for 8 minutes. Or, you know, put steamer bag in there and follow directions.

Put heavy stockpot on the stove - I prefer an enameled cast iron dutch oven, but whatever makes you happy. Beware: this recipe can grow. Throw lump of bacon grease in, set to med-high heat. If you don't have bacon crumbles, chop frozen bacon into diced bits and toss in to fry. If you have thawed bacon only, fry, then pull out to crumble when cooled. Cook twice as much bacon as you need, so you can snack while working. Cook's privilege!

Dice poblanos, toss in to saute. Chop celery, toss in, stir. Chop onion, toss in, stir. When fairly sauteed, toss bacon in, stir. Add the salt, spices, and garlic, stir. When the garlic is nicely mellowed, add bay leaves, stock, and the can of clams, and stir to get all the browned bits off the bottom. When it comes up to a simmer, add the half & half. 

Pull the cooked cauliflower out of the microwave, carefully open bag / pull cover off, dump in soup. When it comes back up to a simmer again, taste and adjust spices/ salt if needed. Serve!


Turmeric Rice in the rice cooker

Calmer Half: "Why are you putting whole spices in the rice?"
Me: "Because that's what the recipe calls for, and I have them? This is my first time with this recipe, so I'm following the directions."
Calmer Half. "Ah."
An hour later, after a meal of tandoori chicken with date chutney on a bed of peas and turmeric rice, Calmer Half rendered his verdict. "Do you have everything you need to make this again? Do I need to pick up anything when grocery shopping?"

All right, I'll call that successful. And will use whole spices in turmeric rice again (or in the case of the cardamom pods, smashed-open.)

Rice Cooker Turmeric Rice:
3/4 tsp turmeric
2-inch stick of cinnamon
4 cardamom pods, smashed open
3 cloves
2 cups rice, rinsed until running clear
2 cups chicken stock + water to bring it up to the line
pinch salt

Put in rice cooker, start. Next time, I may add a pat of butter, because it seemed like it could have used it.

One variant of the recipe had throwing frozen peas in the rice cooker, but I was dubious, so I made them in the microwave and spooned them on top afterward. It worked!

The tandoori chicken recipe is very simple: grab the tandoori paste jar, follow the directions to make marinade with yogurt and chicken. Marinade a few hours. Pull out after starting the rice cooker, preheat and bake in oven at 350 for 25 minutes for boneless skinless chicken thighs. No recipe recorded here, because... really. It's on the jar. I can look that up, if I have the jar. 
 
Not all of my cooking is high-falutin' recipe stuff!

 

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Wish for a crust of bread, be handed a banquet

I'm writing a thing, and it took a turn I didn't expect. (Several, actually.) First, it wanted to be a short story. Then, it kept going, and picked up two additional viewpoint characters. I thought I finally had a sequel on my hands, but it turned out I had written the first three chapters of a novel, and at least one needs rewriting to a different point of view. 

F*ck It, Drive On, as they say. I kept writing. Well, the problem with a military POV is that the guy in question is going to go off and do military things, independently of the rest of the cast (though they will matter to the plot later.) And those military things will include assaulting a terrorist compound. 

I'm not military. I will never claim to have been such. What's a girl to do in a situation like this?

If you belong to the North Texas Writers, Pilots, and Shooters Association, you spend a while grumbling on a mapping program, then print out a topo chart on a piece of the earth whose terrain matches kinds sorta what was in your head, and take it to dinner.

And then the guys decry your choice of both compound site and nearby town location, and move them, and then proceed to wargame the heck out of it. 

I am very grateful I have Calmer Half to provide love, support, direction, and I'm sure that was a snicker when I stomped to the tea kettle grumbling "The Appalachians are all folded the wrong way!"

I am also grateful for LawDog, "Your insertion site needs to be back here, and then hike at military crest... you are aware that's not ridgeline... to observation points here, here, and here..."

And Old NFO "You are not moving the LZ. Wheat fields were made for landing!" 

And Aepilot Jim "You're gonna have the mortar guy carry his equipment four klicks? What kind of second lieutenant plan is this?"

And Jon Laforce for the "Yeah, no, pack weight is now that much for regular soldiers." And 155m howitzers' guy viewpoint.

And John Van Stry for encouragement and chocolate cake, and Monalisa Foster for sympathy at the "where did that come from?" characters and POV recommendations...

And last but not least, Alma Boykin for geology help, and commiserating via text afterward on being assigned homework prior to next week's meeting. And laughing at me. 

Truly, I am blessed in subject matter experts, who also make great food. Now I just have to write the thing, to standards high enough to pass beta reading...

Old NFO's take here: https://oldnfo.org/2021/01/17/heh-7/

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Bad timing

 Some days, I have all my ducks in a row. Some days, I don't even know where my ducks are, and they might have been shot and are already being plucked by a happy hunter by the time I notice they're missing. 

Like yesterday. I headed out to the kitchen at 4pm to start cooking, only to find the leg of lamb I'd pulled out of the deep freezer to finally cook had not thawed, and I'd underestimated just how many pounds it was.

"Hey, hon?" I looked at Calmer Half through a haze of exhaustion due to piling doctor's appointment on top of being ambitious at the gym that morning. "Can you check my math?"

"Yes?" He looked up from his computer, with a patient "I was in the middle of something but you need help" look. 

"Thirty minutes per pound, for six pounds, is three hours, right?"

"Yes."

"And if we add half an hour of resting afterward, and thirty minutes for prep, that's four. And the directions say the roast should be at room temperature when it goes in the oven, but it's still semi-frozen despite being pulled out at noon, so that's at least two more..."

"You're up to six hours." He was still smiling, with the 'and this is why we have backup plans' sort of laughter in his eye.

"So it'd be ten o'clock before dinner's ready... how do you feel about going out to Mexican?"

He didn't miss a beat. "I'll drive. Let me know when you're ready to go."

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Background information

One of the difficult - but often entertaining - things about eating and conversing in public places is that I find it hard to mentally filter out the conversations that are taking place near me. (This is also why I don't like a tv on in the background.) 

This means I get to hear a lot of conversations whether I want to or not. And while it's certainly helped flesh out minor characters in stories, it also provides a very interesting glimpse into the tenor of places and times. Life has a rhythm to it, and there's a certain set of pitches and tones that come with places, an expected range of conversational topics that define normal. 

This weekend, Calmer Half and I went on a road trip. About noon, we found ourselves in a county seat, on the courthouse square. Not an especially big county or population for Texas, but not by any means one of the smallest, either. As I was desperately under-coffeed, we stopped in a nice coffee bar that we'd been in before. Lovely place, even if it'd be hard to get more hipster outside of Austin or Portland. 

The kind of place where conversations often are about designer this and coding that, about somebody's book club or what the article in the New York Times said. Or how terrible it is to be in such a small town compared to the action elsewhere, but cant be helped. Solar this, wind that, the unfortunate reality of oil revenues, always absinthe never whiskey...

There was something wrong to the atmosphere, and it wasn't the baristas being in monogrammed masks. No, that wasn't unexpected, nor were the overly-artisan sweets (that were delicious. They do great food and coffee.) It was the subtle change in body language among the people sitting at the tables. It was in the lowered pitch in the conversational hum, the startling absence of the hipster nasal whine in the background noise. 

It was the backpack slung on the seat near me when I sat down was pure military. In fact, the young man sitting next to his backpack was well muscled, ramrod straight spine, haircut clipped so closely I could see the scalp underneath below the ridiculous bowler hat that must have fit back before he gained 75 pounds of muscle. 

Across the table sat two weedy late teenagers... they might have been very early twenties. And conversation was clearly that one of the gang had Gotten Out Of This Place via the military, and was catching up with his hometown buddies. The kind of kids you expect to see working gas stations and pizza delivery and trying to figure out what they want to do with their life. Indeed, one was contemplating joining the military like his buddy. 

I sat, trying to be lost in my coffee, but pulled away from my conversation with Calmer Half by phrases that kept catching my attention.
"Man, the price of .223 is insane! I used to be able to find it for..."
"We're stockpiling supplies in case..."
"Yeah, she broke up with him, and you know how much it costs to get rid of the tattoo?"
"...against the principles of the constitution!"

If the hair on the back of my neck weren't already on end from the things leaking past the heavily censored and carefully curated national pravda, it would be now. Never, in my adult life, has the hipster nasal whine disappeared from a full coffee shop. And never has a low angry hum replaced it...

The last time I heard a crowd hit this low tone, they were on the verge of going from a mob to a riot, and I don't mean anything near as cuddly as the mostly peaceful protestors in DC. And this wasn't a crowd with any point or purpose beyond coffee on a weekend morning.

Stay safe out there, and I don't mean wearing any damn masks. I mean carry, and keep your head on a swivel.