Archive for March, 2020

The Outside World

I ventured into the Outside World this morning because I had to pick up a prescription, and I restocked on groceries while I was out. Now I’m back safe at home with provisions for another couple of weeks. I may have to get somewhat creative with menus and I’ll have to bake my own bread, but I got most of what was on my list.

I made my own mask to wear for when I go out. It will require some fine-tuning because the instructions I followed were probably for a larger person. And it seems my ears don’t work well with the elastic loops, so I’ll have to make the kind that ties on. Although the WHO was saying healthy people don’t need them, I’ve seen a lot of other research showing that the countries where mask use is more universal have a much lower infection curve. The mask may only reduce your risk by about 50 percent, but the real benefit is that if more people are wearing masks, then they’re all less likely to spread the virus, and it looks like as many as 30 percent of people infected have no symptoms. It’s safest to act as though you’re infected in order to protect others, and along the way you may also be protecting yourself. I live in a majority Asian neighborhood, so a good number of people at the stores were wearing masks.

I also managed to get some socializing last night with a video chat with my church women’s group. So I may not go entirely feral while isolated.

And I took the long way to the store, mostly to let my car get up to highway speed a little bit, but that also meant I got to see fields of bluebonnets. That was a nice little lift to the spirits before I hide away for another couple of weeks.


New Serial Story!

To entertain and amuse you while you’re stuck at home, I’m serializing a novel I wrote in 2007 but that didn’t sell. It’s a YA portal fantasy that’s a riff on fairy tales. The title is Spindled, which may give a hint as to what fairy tale it’s based on. Please note that I first wrote this several years before Tangled came out, and in fact I was a little irked when I learned about Tangled because I had in mind a whole series, with the next book being Mirrored and another book being, you guessed it, Tangled. I think I’ll post it a chapter at a time on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I may also later (if there’s any demand) create a mailing list for those who’d rather get it that way. So, here’s chapter one.

Chapter One

            “I can’t believe they’re making you stay home on your birthday – on our birthday!” Lucy Jordan fumed.

Her friend Dawn didn’t seem nearly as upset as Lucy was. After an initial flicker of annoyance when she broke the news, she’d gone quickly back to her usual happy self, humming softly as they walked from the high school into the main part of town.

“We’re turning sixteen tomorrow,” Lucy continued. “That’s a big deal. And we always spend our birthday together.” Dawn’s humming took on the tune of “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” from The Sound of Music, and a little skip went into her step. Birds flew down from a nearby tree and picked up the tune as they circled Dawn. Lucy knew what was likely to happen next, so she started talking louder and faster, hoping to hold off the inevitable.

“I know we must be the two biggest dorks in the world, actually wanting to go to school on our birthday, but even being at school has to be better than sitting at home all day. Won’t your aunts even let you come to my house for cake and ice cream after your family dinner?”

Dawn didn’t answer, which Lucy knew was a danger sign. She could practically hear an invisible orchestra playing an intro—though that was probably just the birds that always seemed to follow Dawn around. The timing was particularly bad, as they’d just entered what passed for a downtown area in their tiny East Texas town. That meant there was a potential audience for one of Dawn’s musical numbers.

Sure enough, Dawn began singing “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” out loud, with the birds accompanying her, and just at that moment a convertible full of the most popular girls in school drove by. The weird thing was, the girls turned down their blaring radio to listen. Dawn was that good. Her voice was so sweet and pure that people didn’t mind her odd habit of bursting into song in public. Fortunately, no one joined her and turned it into a big spontaneous production number. Lucy wasn’t sure she could deal with that.

There was no point in asking Dawn any further questions about her aunts’ odd restrictions, since her mind was now off dancing around a gazebo with a junior Nazi messenger boy, so Lucy tried to make herself invisible as she walked through town alongside her. Dawn jumped up onto the benches along the downtown storefronts, leaping from bench to bench as she sang. A Jeep full of football players drove past, and Lucy cringed when they slowed down to watch the show. Only Dawn’s status as the prettiest girl in the school kept her from being labeled an absolute weirdo. Everyone and everything loved Dawn, even if they thought she was strange; They couldn’t help it. Lucy, on the other hand, didn’t have the advantages of beauty and talent, so even being a non-singing extra in one of Dawn’s musical numbers made her wish she could be sucked through a black hole into the Twilight Zone so no one would think she was as odd as Dawn.

The song’s dance break came, and Lucy tried to pick up the conversation where she’d left off while Dawn danced down the sidewalk to the accompaniment of singing birds. “What could be so bad about leaving the house on your sixteenth birthday? We were maybe talking about going to the Dairy Queen after school or you coming to my party. It’s not like we were planning to head to Vegas and get tattoos.”

“Do you think I stand a chance?” Dawn asked after she finished the song and the birds went back to bird-type songs that sounded nothing like anything out of an old musical.

“Well, I hate to break it to you, but that wasn’t the show you’re auditioning for.”

“I know. I was just singing something appropriate to our situation to warm up. But do you think I’ll get a part?”

“You’ve won every role you’ve ever gone after. You have a voice that would make Tony winners give up and turn to full-time waitressing in a fit of inferiority. Of course you’ll get the part. You’re the perfect Guinevere.”

“But those were all school plays. This is the community theater. I’ll be up against adults. I’ll be up against people who’ve had actual training, even some who’ve been to drama school.” Her eyes went wide with panic as she clutched at Lucy’s sleeve. “I’ll be competing against my choir teacher!”

“Oh, wow! Do you think Miss Clark would flunk you if you beat her for the role?”

“Why would she do that?” Dawn asked with a frown. “She’d probably give me extra credit for doing so well that I could beat her.” Then she smiled, and it was like the sun coming out after a storm. “You really think I’ll get the part?”

“I know you will.”

Dawn bounced on her toes, clapping in delight. “And you can volunteer to design costumes for the show. Community theater credit will be good for your resume, too.”

Lucy had been to a few community theater productions with Dawn, and she suspected that working on costumes for Camelot would amount to gluing braided trim onto bathrobes. But maybe if Dawn got to play Guinevere, she could design at least one fabulous gown for her. “That would give me something to do this summer other than make ice cream sodas.” Costume designing was really more Dawn’s ambition for Lucy than it was Lucy’s. It was part of Dawn’s grand plan for the two of them to take the New York theater world by storm. Lucy liked making costumes, but she wasn’t sure she wanted that as a career. She wasn’t really sure what she wanted to do with her life, although she’d ruled out anything to do with ice cream, thanks to her part-time job.

They reached the old movie theater that doubled as the home of the community theater. “Now, go knock ’em dead, and come by the store afterward and tell me how it went, okay?”

“Okay!” Dawn was already practically dancing when she opened the theater door and disappeared inside. Lucy couldn’t help but smile as she continued down the street to the corner drugstore where she worked at the soda fountain. It could be a little weird being best friends with someone who seemed to live inside a Broadway musical or a Disney cartoon. Even so, she and Dawn had been as inseparable as Dawn’s three guardian aunts allowed ever since Dawn moved to town in sixth grade and they discovered they had the same birthday.

If the aunts weren’t going to let Dawn out on her birthday, then she’d have to come up with an alternative birthday celebration, Lucy decided. As soon as she’d taken care of the brief after-school rush at the soda fountain, she called her other friend, Jeremy. “The aunts are keeping Dawn home tomorrow,” she said when he answered.

“On her birthday? Why?”

“I don’t know. I’ve given up trying to understand the aunts. They are foreign. Maybe it’s a cultural thing. Anyway, I thought we could do something today. She’s at the audition now. If you want to come to the pharmacy around five-thirty and have a little party when she gets done with her audition, I’ll spring for the ice cream on my employee discount.”

“Okay, I’ll be there.”

She had to hang up on him without saying good-bye properly because she had customers again, that same group of popular girls who’d driven by earlier. Lucy tried to make herself blend into the surroundings so they wouldn’t recognize her from being around Dawn in musical mode, but they didn’t look past her apron or paper hat and didn’t even acknowledge that they went to school together. Lucy decided not to bring that up while she dished up sugar-free, non-fat frozen yogurts. She didn’t want to be known at school as the soda jerk who hung around with the Disney princess.

She made several more ice cream sodas for kids whose mothers were picking up prescriptions from after-school doctors’ appointments, and then she had a few free moments to come out from behind the soda fountain counter and do some quick shopping. She’d been planning to do that anyway before she got off work, but now she needed to hurry. In the gift section of the store she found something perfect, and the store clerk offered to gift wrap it for her.

Jeremy arrived shortly after five, before Lucy had a chance to duck into the employee bathroom and touch up her hair and makeup. “Oh, you’re early!” she said, her face growing uncomfortably warm. She’d been doing that a lot lately around him, which was very annoying. She’d known him practically since she was born, so it was silly to let herself get flustered around him now. On the other hand, he certainly hadn’t looked like he did now when he was a toddler. He’d hit a growth spurt recently, so he was nearly six feet tall, and his blond hair swept dashingly across his forehead, making him look like he should be brooding in a black-and-white cologne ad. Fortunately, Jeremy never brooded. He was almost as relentlessly good-natured as Dawn.

He sat on one of the stools, spun it around a full circle, then leaned his elbows on the counter. “I thought I ought to come early to make sure I’m here when Dawn shows up,” he said. He gave her a wink and a smile and added, “And I figured you wouldn’t mind the company.”

Lucy held on to the edge of the counter until her knuckles turned white. She was absolutely certain that she could take his statement at face value and that he was not flirting with her. He really was just being a good friend, but that didn’t stop her from hoping. It wasn’t as though either of them had paid any attention to anyone else, so they were bound to end up together. He was merely taking his sweet time making a move.

“Not at all,” she said, the pitch of her voice going up to a squeak. She grabbed a towel and set about briskly wiping the counter. In the process, she accidentally knocked over a stack of metal milkshake canisters that fell with a clatter. He reached over and caught them before they rolled onto the floor. Trying to pretend like she wasn’t hoping the earth would swallow her whole, she added, “I’m glad you could make it, since this was short notice.”

“Hey, I couldn’t miss celebrating with my girls.” She made the mistake of looking at him when he said that, and his smile made her legs go watery. Was it possible that he was trying to move them out of the friend zone, and she’d been missing the signals? “And it was actually a pretty boring afternoon, so I needed something to do.”

“Then I’m glad I could come to your rescue,” she said, attempting to sound a little flirtatious. “You will still come over for dinner tomorrow night, right? This doesn’t replace that. I just wanted Dawn to get a chance to celebrate.”

“Of course I’ll be there. I wouldn’t miss it. I’ve even got a surprise for you.” Her heart fluttered at that, but as she was imagining him handing her a gift that he definitely wouldn’t give to just a friend, he added, “I’ve been looking forward to seeing your grandfather again. He’s hilarious.” Her grin froze on her face. He wanted to see her grandfather?

The bells on the side door near the soda fountain jingled, and Dawn waltzed in. “Surprise!” Jeremy called out.

“And happy early birthday!” Lucy added. “It’s not much, but it’s a party.”

Dawn gasped, grinned, and bounced over to take a seat next to Jeremy. “Oh! I can’t believe you did this!” she said. “Thank you. Thank you so much.” Her reaction would have been more on-target if they’d decorated the place with streamers and banners and had a band play her theme song as she walked in, but that was typically Dawn.

“We couldn’t let you miss celebrating your birthday,” Jeremy said, as if it had been his idea.

Lucy let it slide, though, instead asking, “How’d the audition go?”

Dawn knitted her perfect forehead into a frown. “I don’t know. I think it went well. I sang okay, and I was one of a few people they asked to stay to sing again. Miss Clark was also one of them, though, and there are only two big roles for women in Camelot. Otherwise, it’s just chorus. I guess I’d be fine with being in the chorus in my first real show, but I really want to be Guinevere.”

“You’ll get it, I’m sure,” Lucy said. “When do you find out?”

A little of the joy faded from Dawn’s eyes. “They’re going to post the cast tomorrow on the box office windows, but I don’t think my aunts will let me out to check. Do you think you could go after school and check for me, then call?”

“Of course. Now, what do you want on your sundae? Ice cream is on me today.”

“You don’t have to do that!”

“I was going to make cupcakes tonight to bring for lunch tomorrow, so this just replaces that. Now, design your own sundae, or I’ll create one for you.”

The mock threat backfired when Dawn clapped her hands and said, “Oh, that’s what I want! Create one for me!”

Now Lucy felt compelled to create the best sundae ever. She hoped Dawn had that effect on the rest of the world, or else she would be in big trouble if she did realize her dream of going to New York and making it on Broadway.

With a flourish, Lucy dropped a cherry on top of an elaborate concoction of hot fudge, caramel, and whipped cream and nudged the dish toward Dawn. She didn’t have to ask Jeremy what he wanted; after a lifetime of friendship she already knew exactly the way he liked his sundae.

Jeremy reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out two envelopes, and handed one to each girl. “It’s a good thing you love that theater, since you’ll be spending a lot of time there,” he said. Lucy and Dawn opened the envelopes to find gift cards for the movie theater. “You don’t even have to take me,” he said. “If you want to use these to see chick flicks together, that’s totally okay. I’ll find something else to do, something manly like camping or hunting, maybe a safari.”

Dawn hugged him. “How about one chick flick for Lucy and me, and then one big action movie with spaceships and explosions for all of us?” she suggested.

“Make it something with sword fights and you’ve got a deal.”

“With our theater, it’s not like there’s much of a choice,” Lucy said as she got out her little wrapped box and slid it across the counter to Dawn. “And this is from me. Happy birthday. I hope you like it.

Dawn unwrapped it, opened the box, and pulled out a charm bracelet with a musical note charm hanging from it. “Since music is your thing,” Lucy explained. “You can add a charm with each role you get. When you’re a big Broadway star, the bracelet will be full.”

Dawn’s eyes filled with tears. “It’s too nice,” she said.

“No, really, it’s not like it’s real gold, or anything.”

“But I didn’t …” she hesitated.

“Don’t worry about it.” Lucy knew Dawn never had any money. She wasn’t even sure the aunts Dawn lived with had jobs. At least, she’d never seen them going to work.

“No, it’s your sixteenth birthday. I need to give you something.” Dawn reached up and took off the necklace she always wore, then leaned over the counter to clasp it around Lucy’s neck. “Here, I want you to have this.”

Lucy was pretty sure it was way nicer than her gift to Dawn was. “I can’t take this. This was your mom’s. It’s too much,” she said, shaking her head and moving to take the necklace off.

Dawn caught Lucy’s wrist. “No, please, take it. At least wear it for our birthday if you won’t keep it. You’ve got that oral report in history class, and you can wear it for good luck.”

“Okay, then,” Lucy agreed. “Just for tomorrow.”

Jeremy faked a sniffle and acted like he had to wring out his imaginary handkerchief. “I’m so moved. Remind me again why I hang out with you two girls?”

“Because you love us,” Dawn said.

“Yeah, there is that. And you smell better than most of the guys in our class. Now, whenever you’re ready to leave work, Lucy, I’d be glad to offer you ladies a ride home.”

Dawn and Jeremy pitched in to help Lucy clean up the soda fountain, then the three of them piled into Jeremy’s mother’s car. He drove to Dawn’s house first and waited until she got to her front porch before backing the car away. Lucy watched Dawn’s front door open and an angry aunt greet her with stiff posture and jerky gestures. The door slammed shut behind them.

“Do you think she’s okay?” Lucy asked. “That whole thing about keeping her home from school on her birthday seems weird. Maybe we should tell someone.”

He put on the brakes, stopping the car at the end of Dawn’s driveway. “Well, you could always plead your case to the aunts. I’ll wait here for you.”

“No! Like they’d even listen to me, and it could cause problems if they are up to something.”

He laughed as he finished pulling out of the driveway. “Lucy, you’re letting your imagination run away with you. This is just one day they’re not letting her do what she wants—really, what you want. She doesn’t seem too upset about it.”

“She doesn’t get upset about anything.”

“You know, you may be right. Okay, tonight we’ll rescue her from the nefarious clutches of her evil aunts. Wear something black and bring a rope and a flashlight. Oh, and maybe some snacks and bottled water. Things could get rough.”

She punched him lightly on the shoulder. “Now you’re making fun of me.”

“That’s because you’re cute when you’re paranoid.”

Before she could find a way to ask what he meant by “cute,” he pulled into his driveway. “Thanks for the lift,” she said, then she noticed that her own driveway next door was empty. “It looks like Mom is working late tonight.”

“Do you want to come over for dinner? I’m sure my mom won’t mind.”

She hesitated. She hated to turn down the chance to spend more time with Jeremy, but she did have things to do. “Thanks for the offer, but I’d better get dinner ready for when Mom comes home, and I have that oral report for history.”

“The one you got assigned as punishment for reading a magazine in class?”

She rolled her eyes. “That teacher’s out to get me. But, hey, want to do something after school tomorrow? I don’t have to work. They’re giving me my birthday off.”

“Sorry, Luce, but I’m supposed to help with the Cub Scouts tomorrow. I will see you later at the big bash, though.”

She forced her voice to sound casual. “Oh, okay. Well, good night. See you in the morning.” Her house felt particularly empty when she unlocked the door. A note on the refrigerator told her that her mother would be home at seven, so she set to work making spaghetti sauce, all the while stewing over Dawn’s situation. No matter what Jeremy said, she was sure something odd was going on.

A noise from outside startled her. It sounded almost like hoofbeats on the road, but this town wasn’t quite rural enough to have horses on city streets. She went to the front window to check and saw her mother’s car pulling into the driveway.

Her mother set the table while Lucy finished getting dinner ready, then the two of them sat down to eat. “I’m working the early shift tomorrow, so I’m off to bed right after dinner,” her mom said between bites of spaghetti. “I hate to leave you alone in the morning on your birthday, but I wanted to get home in time to have everything ready at night. What time do you think you’ll get home?”

Lucy shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t have to work. Dawn’s aunts are making her stay home and Jeremy has a scouting thing, so I could get home at any time you want me.”

“Think of something to do. I’ll need time to set up without the birthday girl underfoot.”

“I could see if there’s still a slot open to take the final driving test. I was going to do it later in the week since I thought I’d be busy on my birthday, but …” She shrugged as her voice trailed off.

Her mother frowned. “You think you’re ready?”

“I have a little trouble with parallel parking, but I think I can do well enough to get the driver’s ed certificate, and then I’ll be able to get my license. Can you get off work early enough later in the week to take me to the DPS after school?”

Her mom concentrated on twirling her spaghetti as she said, “We’ll see.”

It was the kind of “we’ll see” that usually meant “no,” but one look at her mother’s face was enough to keep Lucy from pushing the point. Instead, she served herself more salad and changed the subject. “Say, when you were coming home, did you see any horses outside?”


“I thought I heard hoofbeats.”

Her mother raised an eyebrow. “In our neighborhood?”

“Near enough for me to hear them.”

Her mother put her fork down. “Lucy.” She said a lot with that one word, managing to fit in weariness, disbelief, and a distinct shortage of patience with childish flights of fancy.

“I’m not making it up,” Lucy insisted. “Though I guess I could have imagined it. And I was just asking if you saw anything because I was checking to see if I really heard it. I wasn’t trying to get attention or being dramatic, or anything like that.” She got up and started clearing the table. “I’ll do a load of laundry while I’m doing homework, so if you’ve got anything you want washed, put it out before you go to bed.” Both of them gave up trying to make conversation after that.

Later, when Lucy’s mom had gone to bed and Lucy was in the living room doing her homework, she heard the hoofbeats again. She went straight to the front window and pulled the curtain aside just in time to see a black horse disappearing around the corner, heading toward Dawn’s street.

Continued in chapter two. Or you can get the whole book.

The New Normal

It’s funny how quickly my worldview is adapting to the new normal. My dreams and nightmares have changed. I used to have nightmares about being in a crowd of people where I knew no one. Now I’m having nightmares about being at parties with all my friends and realizing that we’re all standing too close to each other. I had a dream last night about finding unexpected fresh produce in my refrigerator, a head of lettuce I’d forgotten about that was still miraculously fresh. I’ve found myself daydreaming about what I want to buy next time I go out for groceries.

Meanwhile, it’s affecting the way I see entertainment. I haven’t been watching TV all week, but I watched an episode of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist last night, and the scenes of crowded restaurants and bars really bothered me. It was like watching a horror movie. I may have to stick with fantasy and historical settings, where it seems less strange and frightening for people to be acting like “normal.”

But then that brings up the issue of how to write contemporary works now. The first book in my mystery series takes place in February of this year. There’s no obvious date stamp in the book, but it’s planned for release this year, and the primary election is mentioned in the story as coming up soon. The second book takes place after spring break, so right around now. I found myself wondering if I needed to rewrite it, since there are large public events and school is in session. I decided to leave it as it is. After all, it’s already an alternate reality, since it’s a world where people have strange “magical” abilities. In the first book, there’s a huge ice storm that plays a big role in the plot, and that didn’t happen this year in the approximate location where the book is set. If I’m not rewriting to remove an ice storm that didn’t happen, then I’m not rewriting to add social distancing and sheltering in place. The books may be released this year (I hope!), but people will be reading them at random times, hopefully years into the future. But that may be why I can’t seem to make myself work on these books right now. I don’t want to write current events into the books, but I also can’t visualize anything contemporary without the current reality. So, I’m playing with fantasy works for now.

I’m kind of seeing why the book I’m re-reading didn’t sell. It’s rather quirky, and the heroine doesn’t have a lot of “agency,” which is big with publishers. But she’s in a situation that’s entirely out of her control. That’s the whole point of the story. Her agency is in how she copes with the situation. I’ll have to read through to the end to be sure I want to inflict it upon the world in some form. It does seem as though it’s made for serialization. I was really good about scene-ending cliffhangers.

New Old Stuff

Since I have very little brain these days, I pulled up an old book that made the rounds of publishers about 12 years ago and didn’t sell. I haven’t looked at it since then. I’m re-reading it to see if there’s something I can do with it, either to publish it myself or maybe just put it out there as a serial to give people something fun to read right now. It’s a YA portal fantasy based on the Sleeping Beauty story (the version used in the ballet and Disney film, in which Aurora is sent away with the fairies to live in hiding). Instead of just living in the forest, the fairies take her to our world until after her 16th birthday. But when the evil sorceress’s minions finally track her down, there’s a mix-up and they grab the wrong girl, an ordinary teenager from our world who suddenly finds herself living the Sleeping Beauty story. Meanwhile, we’ve got a Disney princess who doesn’t know what she is setting out on a rescue mission.

I like what I’ve read so far. The question is how well the plot will hold together along the way. If I’m okay with the story without needing to do massive rewriting (or if I can figure out what the rewriting would be), I may see what I can do with it. I’ve been thinking about publishing it here in installments, or maybe setting up a mailing list people can sign up for to get “episodes.” Or there may be some other place I can put it. It would be nice if I could use this to get people to try my work, and maybe they’d move from there to actually buying books, but I’m not sure how I’d spread the word beyond the people who already know who I am.

I have a couple of other books I’ve drafted but haven’t gone back and revised or polished that I may have to take another look at. This one’s complete to the point that it went on submission. The rest have never gone beyond me and would require a lot more work.

I need to get back to my mysteries, but at the moment I’m finding it really hard to work on those. They’re a little too “real world” for me right now. I need to revise book 2, and I need to think of titles for the series so I can find someone to design the covers. And I need a plot for book 3. I’m drawing a blank on all of these.

Coping Strategies

I’m amusing myself in isolation by setting up little challenges. There’s the one I think of as “menu Tetris,” in which I plan meals based on what I have in the pantry, fridge, and freezer, prioritizing ingredients or cooked foods that are likely to go bad first and arranging meals to maintain some kind of nutritional balance. Today I’m going to use one of my last garlic cloves and my last fresh tomato, along with some shrimp from the freezer and some olive oil to make something to toss with pasta. I wish I had some fresh basil, but my plant died during the winter (even though I kept it indoors). I’ll have to settle for fresh parsley.

I’m trying to ration my online time, so I’m using it as a reward for completing other tasks. I did a big disinfecting wipe-down of frequently touched surfaces, so I got to check Twitter.

I’m making it a point to exercise daily, preferably outdoors. My morning walk is really helping my sanity. I’m lucky to live in a spread-out area with good walking paths, most of them waterside. It may just be my imagination, but the air feels fresher right now with fewer cars on the roads.

I’m also trying to spend a lot of time with music, both listening and performing. The classical radio station has become my soundtrack. I make sure I’m up and going before the March of the Day in the morning, and I listen while I eat breakfast. I may turn it off during the rest of the day, depending on what kind of work I’m doing, but then they play entire concerts in the evenings. Monday night is usually some local symphony, Tuesdays are the New York Philharmonic (last night they played Rachmaninoff’s second symphony), Wednesdays are the Chicago Symphony (tonight they’re doing Mozart’s Requiem, so I’ll have to listen and resist singing along. I do have the sheet music), Thursdays are the Pittsburgh Symphony, and I think Fridays are Los Angeles, but I seldom listen to that. I’m not watching all that much stuff, either TV or movies. The music makes a good soundtrack for reading, doing work-related stuff, goofing around online, or knitting/sewing.

I don’t actually have a knitting project going at the moment. Instead, I’m adding beads to the knitted bedspread I made a few years ago. It’s a lace pattern for airflow, and is what I use for the summer. Now I’m adding beads to it for extra weight, since the weighted blanket I have (and love) is way too hot for warm weather. It’s fairly tedious work, so I have new respect for people who do lovely beadwork on clothing. It’s not going to be pretty, but it will live under the comforter during the day, so it won’t really be seen. I found a pound of beads on clearance, and though that doesn’t seem like it will add much, I can already feel a difference, and I’ve barely begun using up the beads. I’m focusing them all on the area around where I’ll be lying.

I’m trying to keep to some kind of schedule, more or less what my regular work schedule would be, but I’m not putting a lot of pressure on myself to work. Reading also counts as “work” for me, so I’m catching up on that.

Anyone have any coping strategies they want to share?

Isolated but Outside

We actually have sun today after weeks of rain, so this morning I sat on the patio to drink my second cup of tea and then took a walk.

My patio lizards are back, and it was nice to see them. I’m not yet to the point I’m naming them and sewing little outfits for them, but I enjoyed the company.

Plants are growing in the pots I left outside over the winter. Some look like they’re from the mix of seeds I planted last summer that are finally sprouting, some may be from seeds that fell from last year’s plants, and some are probably weeds. I’m leaving them as long as they’re pretty because going out to get seeds, potting soil, plants, etc. is a low priority right now. It will be an exciting surprise to see what happens.

Last week on the day I designated as a “wallow” day, with no expectations, I ended up being more productive than I was the rest of the week. So I’m easing up on myself. It’s hard to think and concentrate, so I’m doing the work I can do and not worrying about it. I’m also trying to take advantage of all the fun online classes and events going on right now. It’s a way to learn and have connection.

Today, since it’s nice, I plan to spend as much time as possible on the patio. I may be reading. I may be brainstorming. I may be researching. I might even be writing.



My county is now in “shelter in place” mode, so we’re only supposed to leave our homes for outdoor exercise (maintaining a six-foot distance from others), to buy food and other household supplies, and for medical treatment/medicines. All “non-essential” businesses are closed, and all elective medical procedures are cancelled. The main impact for me right now will be that the library is closed. They were allowing you to request books and pick them up at the drive-by window, but even that’s closed now. I have plenty of reading material, so I’ll be okay, but I’m limited to what I have on hand or can get online rather than being able to get what I want. I may actually burn through some of the to-be-read bookcase.

I was already doing this. I’ll have to venture out next week because I have a prescription that needs to be refilled, and by then I’ll need to restock on some food items. For now, I’ve got everything I need except for garlic. That was on my list last week, and the store was totally out of it. I’m down to two cloves, so I’m planning meals around that. I’m good for this week, so I hope they have some by the next time I leave the house.

I’m trying to limit my online time. That’s my main connection with the outside world right now, but at the same time, it’s easy to get sucked into zombie-like clicking around rather than actually doing stuff. I’ve set specific times to be online, and the rest of the time, I’m trying to do other things that are more productive and enjoyable.

I’m fortunate in that this doesn’t disrupt my life that much. My job was already working from home. I don’t know if people will be buying books right now. My sales seem to be more or less what they typically are, which isn’t great, but it’s still money coming in. I don’t know whether or not releasing new books later this year will help, but I’m lucky that I wasn’t trying to launch a book right now. I didn’t have to cancel any book events. I have money in savings that I can live on if things get really bad, or that can help pay for medical treatment if I get sick. I know that so many other people may lose everything. Small businesses are in big trouble. I wish there was more I could do to help. I eat out maybe once a month and never do takeout, but I may get some takeout from some of my favorite local restaurants, just to help them. I’ve seen the call for making masks, but I don’t have a good fabric stash, and I wouldn’t want to put anyone’s life at stake with my sewing skills. I may try making a mask for myself, just to see how it works and then so I’ll have one if it comes to that. I toyed with the idea of fostering a shelter pet so I wouldn’t be so alone, but I’m not sure how my allergies would cope with having an animal in the house. I know I come down with bronchitis when I spend a night in a house with a cat, and I don’t know how I’d deal with a dog. This is probably not a good time to stress my immune system or risk inflaming my asthma. I’m not an eligible blood donor (lived in the wrong part of Europe for too long at the wrong time, so I’m considered at risk for transmitting mad cow disease). So the best thing I can do to help is to stay home and entertain people. I’m looking at some ideas.

Everyone stay safe and healthy out there!

Day of Wallowing

I’ve been struggling with concentration all week, so maybe trying to edit wasn’t the best idea. Because of that, I’ve decided to lean into it today. It’s cold and rainy, so today is an official Day of Wallowing. I let myself sleep late (didn’t set an alarm, but I got up at about the same time I usually do), made waffles for breakfast, and have enjoyed a leisurely morning. The rest of the day will be devoted to work-related play. I’m going to watch documentaries and other things that relate to a project I’m brainstorming, do a little reading, and maybe some baking.

I’ve been cooking a lot this week, in part because I’m making sure I use my fresh ingredients before they go bad, in part because cooking is comforting, and in part because it might be a good idea to have some meals prepared and set by in case I do get sick but not enough to be in the hospital. Then I can just nuke things and be set. Or if the urge to cook wears off and I’ll just want to nuke something. So far this week I’ve made jambalaya and a vat of lentil soup, plus today’s waffles (the recipe makes five big waffles, and I can eat one, so the rest are set aside). I may bake a batch of pumpkin muffins this afternoon and put most of them up in the freezer. Tonight’s dinner will be chili, made using some cooked carne asada I found in the freezer.

I’ve also been trying to get back into my music. With no choir practice, I need to keep singing so I don’t lose my voice, and I’ve been playing the flute. I still have the fingerings down, since I have a habit of mentally playing my choir music as I sing. It’s my way of finding notes. If I do the flute fingering, I hear the note in my head. That means I’m rusty on notes that are outside the normal vocal range. I have to stop and figure out what the notes way above the staff are and remember the fingerings. My real problem is my lip. I get sore and tired after a few minutes of playing, and I don’t have a lot of control, since I’ve played only sporadically in the past thirty or so years. I hope with practice it will get better. Yesterday I found the music for my 8th grade chair test, and while I could still play it, I don’t think I’d be getting first chair right now.

Something I forgot to mention in my list of comforting things to watch:

Look for “Slow TV” online or on the Pluto app for Roku or other streaming devices. It’s from Norwegian television, and it’s mostly train rides. They put a camera on a train, and it goes for hours. No editing, no narration. Sometimes they show what’s happening on the train, but mostly it’s either out the front or side windows. You just watch the countryside go past. The “episodes” generally tell you the kind of weather and the season, like “rainy summer day.” When I can’t take anything else, I find this really restful to watch, to just sit and see the world go by. As a bonus, I’m thinking of modeling the kingdom I’m creating on this general landscape, so it kind of counts as work. It’s like watching Google Street View for getting a sense of the location.

Nature documentaries can also be good, if you can be sure you’re not watching something about animals attacking other animals. There was one on Amazon called something like “Beyond the Garden Gate,” in which a wildlife photographer focused on the wildlife around his village over the course of a year. Lots of hedgehogs, foxes, birds, and deer. It was lovely.

And now my sofa is calling me. Time to make a pot of tea and get my book. Next week maybe I’ll manage to get back to “normal.” For now, I’m in my fleece pajamas and fuzzy socks and treating the day like a holiday.


Comfort Viewing

Earlier this week, I gave my list of comfort reads. Today, I’ll share some comfort viewing ideas. If you’re like me, right now concentrating is sometimes difficult, which makes reading harder. Curling up on the sofa and watching something reassuring may be what you need.

As with books, each person is going to have a different definition of comfort viewing or low-stress. I think repeat viewing also changes the equation. There are intense things that work as comfort viewing if you know the outcome and aren’t on the edge of your seat. For me, that includes things like the Star Wars movies. They’re actually pretty intense if you’ve never seen them before, but when you can recite the lines along with the characters, they can work as comfort viewing.

At the top of my list would probably be the movie version of Stardust. I love that movie so much. It’s funny and romantic, with a good dose of swashbuckling adventure.

The Princess Bride is also perfect for times like these. It even has the framing story of the grandfather telling the story and reassuring us when things get tense. If you’re holed up with other people, have a quote-along.

Movie musicals are great (and now I wish I had more on DVD). The Sound of Music has lovely scenery and good music everyone can sing along with (though I also rather like the recent British live TV version that was on PBS). Into the Woods is fun (I may actually prefer the stage version, which is available on DVD and to rent from Amazon, but the movie works, too). My Fair Lady is another favorite.

In a similar vein are all the Disney musicals and “princess” movies, either live-action or animated. Some of Pixar, but they tend to make me cry and I don’t need that right now.

I recommended the book Cold Comfort Farm, and the movie may actually be even better. The cast is utterly amazing. But be prepared to go around saying things like, “I saw something nasty in the woodshed” and “There’ll be no butter in hell” for days.

Less funny but still somewhat reassuring is I Capture the Castle, a lovely coming-of-age story set in the 30s. I think it got an R-rating in the US because there’s some non-sexual full nudity (a scene that’s in the book but that might have been a bad idea to include in the movie because it moved it out of the “family” category for ratings), but the rest of it is pretty safe. Another one with an amazing cast, including some young actors who are now much better-known. It was an early role for Romola Garai, and there’s a very young Henry Cavill. On the other extreme, the romantic hero is a very grown-up Henry Thomas (the little boy from ET).

And while we’re in the 30s, there’s Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. It can get a little heavy at times (since it’s set right before WWII) but is mostly funny and ultimately hopeful. It feels like the kind of screwball comedy they made in the 30s (it’s based on a book from that era and the movie is much better than the book). Another one with a brilliant cast. Just writing about it makes me want to watch it again.

For TV shows, in case you want to really binge, Pushing Daisies (which I believe is on Amazon Prime) is a sweet two-season show with musical numbers and a candy-colored reality.

I just discovered that Jim Henson’s The Storyteller is on Prime Video. This was a short-run series from the 80s in which the Henson creature shop is used to dramatize fairy tales, as told by a storyteller (played by John Hurt) and his dog (a Muppet). They seem to have done some remastering, as this is a widescreen version, which is unusual for things from that era. You’ll see a number of now-familiar faces in the cast. If you like fairy tales, you need to see this.

Of course, the One True Pride and Prejudice (the miniseries from the mid-90s) is a good option, as are most of the other Jane Austen adaptations. I’d probably avoid the most recent Mansfield Park. Look for the one with Jonny Lee Miller instead (that one’s on hoopla, if your library system offers it).

I keep rewatching the Once Upon a Time spinoff set in Wonderland, which is available for free streaming on the ABC web site and Roku app. It’s a short run, just 13 episodes (I believe, maybe 12?) that tells a complete story, and I find that the writing and pacing are much tighter than in the main show, which went totally off the rails.

Parks and Recreation is on Amazon Prime, and it’s a sweet comedy. The first season is a bit rocky, as they hadn’t yet found their groove, but it really takes off in season 2.

I don’t know where it’s currently streaming, but Galavant is sort of like if The Princess Bride was a musical and on in half-hour installments. The music is by the composer who’s done so many of the recent Disney movies.

That should keep you occupied for a few hours. Any other suggestions?


Hunkering Down

I ventured out yesterday to get milk and a few groceries, and now I’m ready to hunker down for a couple of weeks. I think I’ve easily got enough meals I could make with what I have on hand to make it that far. I’m cooking some things I can freeze to have handy later in case I do get sick, whether it’s coronavirus, the flu, or just bad allergies and a case of the don’t wannas.

Theoretically, I should have a little extra free time, since all my activities have been canceled indefinitely, but things are really starting to happen online, so there’s actually more stuff to do, and more distractions. There’s a virtual convention happening on Facebook. Last night I went to a virtual Irish pub St. Patrick’s Day party with a live online concert by a Celtic band (the new endeavor involving a musician I used to follow at the local Renaissance festival). This afternoon, famous choreographer Debbie Allen is teaching a live online dance class. There are virtual museum tours, concerts, and classes.

This is a good time to explore new things and do those things you’ve always wanted to do — unless you’ve always worked at home and your life shouldn’t be all that different. Still, I find that it’s difficult to concentrate, and even though I’ve always been rather solitary, I’m craving connection. It shouldn’t make a difference whether I’m streaming a recording or a live event, but there’s something about knowing that I’m doing something with other people that helps. I like looking at the comments (for once, a comments section that doesn’t get toxic!).

I started re-reading my first mystery, making sure everything I’ve set up is consistent with the second book and hoping I get some title ideas. I’m really liking it so far.

I may also play with doing something just for fun that I can get out quickly and amuse people. I might even try doing some videos of readings.

Otherwise, I’m trying to do more things that I’ve been saying I wanted to do. I’ve been playing the flute, and I’m trying to keep up with singing since I don’t have choir practice. I’m creating a sense of “event” around some of my daily activities. When weather permits, I’m taking walks. Getting outdoors really does help.