Archive for Life

Life

Day by Day

I guess you could say that one of my hobbies is productivity. I like studying different theories about productivity and trying techniques. Not that it all makes a difference or sticks, but I try to keep doing the things that work. My latest discovery kind of came by accident, but I think it’s making a difference.

It started with Duolingo. Nearly a year ago, I decided that one of my lockdown projects would be to learn some Norwegian to prepare for that bucket list trip I may get to take someday. They’re sneaky with how they set that program up because they praise and reward you for keeping a streak going and make it sound like breaking that streak would be the worst thing that could happen to you. That means I’ve done some work on Norwegian every day for almost a year. Even during the power failures, when I briefly got power one of my priorities was quickly doing a lesson to keep my streak going. And now I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress from doing a little bit every day. I’m not fluent by any means, but I follow the Norwegian tourist board on Twitter, and when they share articles that are in Norwegian I’ve been able to get the gist of the excerpts that show up in the tweet. I don’t think I could have a conversation, but I’d be able to figure out signs and restaurant menus.

Then there was yoga. I started the year with a 30-day program online through Yoga with Adriene. Then I found that she puts out a calendar each month, putting together a daily practice made up of videos she’s already done. That has done a lot to keep me going every day. First, I wanted to keep up with the 30-day program. Then it became easy to find a workout because I don’t have to choose something. I just do whatever comes up for that day (though I have changed the order when there’s a really long one on a busy day and a shorter one on another day). I’ve kept up with the daily yoga almost every day this year, though I did miss some days during the deep freeze because I didn’t want to have the TV on and running a video while the power was going off and on (I get YouTube on my DVR/tuner box) and I didn’t want to get out from under my pile of blankets, since the house never really got warm during that time. But otherwise, there’s been yoga every day, and I can really feel a difference. I’m so much stronger and more flexible. When I’ve taken some kind of exercise class, it’s been once a week, and that doesn’t have the impact that daily work has.

I already knew that I make so much more progress writing when I try to do it every day (though I do give myself weekends off). I’m trying to get a “streak” going of having written at least a little every weekday. The fun thing is, if I start to get my little bit to check it off for the day, I almost always end up doing a lot more.

Last week, I decided that I really needed to make progress on my lifelong dream of learning to play piano, so I started doing at least a little bit every day. Even in a week, I think it’s working. I’ve hit the song in the lesson book where I always stall out and give up because it ties my fingers in knots and completely baffles my brain (trying to read both clefs at a time with multiple notes at a time), but I’m going to keep at it and see if I get past this point.

And now I’m looking at marketing. I struggle with it because I hate to do it, though it’s necessary. I’d rather just hide in my cave and write books, but to make a living at it, I need people to discover and read these books. So if I do one marketing or business task a day, every day, will I see a difference? Only having to do one thing doesn’t feel as overwhelming as having a whole plan to carry out. And maybe doing it every day will make me feel more comfortable with it. I’ve set up a calendar with a task of the day so I don’t have to make decisions in the moment. Now we’ll see if it has any impact.

Life

Warm Again

I’ve had power ever since I wrote Wednesday’s post, so the worst seems to be over for me. I’ve been able to cook and stay somewhat warm. They’ve asked us to conserve power so it doesn’t strain the system, so I’ve been keeping my thermostat low and bundling up. I’ve got water, but they’ve asked us to conserve that, too. I may go wild and crazy and take a shower, though. And I think there’s going to be a home spa day this weekend because my skin is in dire shape.

I haven’t accomplished much, and I’ve written off the week for productivity. It’s hard to focus when you’re anxious and worried the whole time and when there’s so much uncertainty. I think if I’d known the power on/off schedule, it would have helped. It was not knowing when or if there would be power again that was so stressful, and then when it was on, there was not knowing how long it would last. I wasn’t getting a lot of sleep at night because the power coming on would wake me up. It made my security system make a strange sound, it turned on the heater, and it made the face of my alarm clock light up extra bright (I keep it off because it’s so bright). Then I’d start to get back to sleep, but every time the heater cut off, I’d look at the other clock that I use for the time (it has dim red numbers) to see if it was just the heater cutting off or the power going out. Eventually, the power would go off again, I’d get back to sleep, and then the power would come back on and wake me up. I actually spent one of the afternoons without power napping, since there wasn’t anything else I could do and I was so tired.

I’m making a list of things I want to have on hand for the future, in case this sort of thing happens again. Some of them were things I’ve said I should get in the past but never got around to, like a non-electric fondue pot I could use to warm up food without power. I was fortunate that I sometimes had power, so I was able to make tea and get it in a thermos, and I filled another thermos with hot water, so I was able to make cocoa during evenings without power. I had instant soup mix and some pouches of tuna. I had peanut butter, but had to eat it on graham crackers because I didn’t have any sandwich bread. I didn’t buy any because my plan for the snowstorm was to stay cozy by baking bread. Ha! No power meant no oven. Fortunately, I’d baked some fruit and nut bread over the weekend, so I had that for breakfasts with my hot tea.

I got creative for dealing with it all. I did makeshift weatherstripping around the front door, using plastic grocery bags to poke into the gaps with a dinner knife. I put sheets and blankets over the windows for additional insulation, and I lined up bags of newspapers (I’d procrastinated on recycling) along the baseboards on the north walls. I was able to keep the food in the refrigerator and freezer fresh by collecting bowls of snow from the patio and using them as cold packs. I also filled dishes with water and set them outside to freeze to create ice packs for the freezer. The milk I had is still drinkable, and it doesn’t look like anything in the freezer thawed, so I should be good there. Still, I plan to eat out of the freezer for the next few weeks and then restock rather than trying to keep anything that was in there.

I learned during all this that I’m more resilient and resourceful than I realized, but I’d still rather not go through something like this again, and I know I had it better than a lot of people. I have friends who still don’t have water, and I know people who went for days without power rather than having the rolling blackouts. I’m not sure how I’d have coped with that. I had offers from friends who had power to come stay with them, but the roads were too bad to go anywhere unless/until I got truly desperate.

Maybe next week I can get back to work and business as usual. My book sales this week went down to almost nothing, and it sounds like I’ll have a huge power bill coming up since they raised the rates due to high demand, so I need to write and get something on the market!

Life

Cold and Dark

I don’t know if you’ve seen it in the news, but Texas has been having some issues this week. We hit a deadly combination of record-breaking cold plus an incompetently managed power system. For a couple of days, temperatures were around 10 F, but there was little to no electricity. My house is all-electric. Without power, there’s no heat and no way to cook.

Mostly there have been rolling blackouts. For a while, I was getting power on for about 3 hours in the middle of the day, then another hour in the evening, then a couple of hours during the night. The temperature in my house was staying around 45 degrees, going up a bit during the times when I had power, but never quite making it to 60. I do have a fireplace, but I didn’t have any firewood, just three of those Duraflame type logs that I have learned are really just for watching pretty fire and don’t put out a lot of heat. Still, they did take the chill out of the air the last couple of mornings.

I have power as I write this, but I never know how long it will last. Even though it’s mid-morning, I have chili simmering on the stove because I need to take advantage of having electricity while I can, and I’m getting tired of cold meals. It seems that the power-on phases are becoming more frequent, which is good. I had two rounds of power during the night, so the house didn’t get too cold and I was able to make a pot of tea for this morning and put it in a thermos.

I’m luckier than a lot of people. I have had power occasionally and a lot of people have been entirely without, and I still have water. It’s boring in the evening when it’s too early to go to sleep but too dark to do much of anything. I have a battery-operated radio, and I’ve done some reading on my tablet. I’ve done some book brainstorming, and in the afternoons when I have light through the windows upstairs, I’ve managed to read.

It does remind me a bit of the storm in Interview With a Dead Editor, though this time the cold came on more gradually and it was snow instead of ice. If I’d been traveling, I’d have been stranded where I was, probably without heat. So, I’m lucky to be home.

Life

Pandemic Hands

I never really think of writing as being a “physical” job. I sit and type, or I write by hand when I’m brainstorming or plotting. But it turns out that if you have problems with your hands, writing can be hard. It seems that I’ve had a perfect storm of things leading to what I’m calling “Pandemic Hands.”

It started when I noticed a blister on my knuckle. I figured it was a burn from bumping against something hot while I was cooking. I do that often, as I’m a bit of a klutz in the kitchen. But then another blister appeared on another knuckle, and I knew I hadn’t burned that finger. I’d been careful and hadn’t been cooking. That blister was surrounded by tiny blisters of a sort that I sometimes get on my hands. A few more blisters came up, so I did some research, and it turns out that this is a form of eczema (I should note that I used to do PR writing for the dermatology department at a medical school, so this isn’t just the usual “look it up on WebMD” thing, since I do know something about this area). The pandemic has created something of a perfect storm because this happens to people who are already prone to eczema when their skin gets dry, they’re exposed to irritants, and they’re under stress. Strangely, it’s only on my right hand, but I think, based on the pattern of blisters, that it may have been initially triggered when I was chopping peppers because it’s in the places where juice tends to spray when you’re chopping things. Then there’s hand sanitizer, wipes, lots of hand washing, cold weather, and it’s been a wee bit stressful lately.

The treatment is the kind of ointment you usually put on rashes, so I’m basically using hydrocortisone cream as hand lotion. Once I started treating the blisters like a rash rather than burns, they started getting better. Fortunately, it doesn’t hurt all that much unless I move the affected fingers in a certain way that stretches the blisters or if I touch or rub against the blisters. Unfortunately, typing is one of those things that stretch the blisters, and writing by hand means the pen and my other fingers rub up against the blisters (which may have something to do with why I have blisters in those spots). So, I’m trying to take it easy for a while. It’s a good time to do some reading.

This has made me realize how many times a day I wash my hands, even aside from pandemic issues. While I’m at home, I wash my hands in the bathroom, before, during and after I cook and before and after I eat. And now I really scrub up when I come back from any excursion that involves touching something outside my house. I’ve bought some food prep gloves to use when I chop things and while I’m cooking so I can wash a few fewer times. I can rinse off the gloves between cooking tasks instead of my hands. I’ve had the small blisters before after I used cleaning wipes, so I may have to be careful about that. I may need to get some medical gloves to wear outside the house so I don’t have to scrub my hands so much.

And then there’s stress. I hope some of that will ease after today. I’m a lot less concerned that I’ll lose my ability to have health insurance, which has been a big worry for freelancers for the past few years. It may even be my body releasing stress after a long period of tension that set this off. I’m doing yoga and trying to spend time relaxing. It’s probably a good time to be re-reading a book so that I’m not tense about the outcome. I know how The Lord of the Rings goes.

Life

Anticipation

I’m currently in Christmas Anticipation Mode, when I’m in this weird state of not quite being ready yet to dive into the holiday season but still thinking about it. I’ve watched a few TV specials, and I’ve listened to the Christmas music they’ve mixed into the regular lineup on the classical radio station (since classical Christmas music isn’t quite as obvious as what gets played on regular stations), but I haven’t started actually playing any Christmas music and haven’t put up any decorations. I also haven’t watched any Christmas movies.

I have this strange thing of putting off doing Christmas, then it’s suddenly Christmas and I’m not ready, but I kind of like the anticipation, thinking about what I’ll do when it’s time.

I’m tentatively planning to do the decorating this Friday. That’s when I’ll flip the switch and go into holiday mode. That’s about the time I normally would have gone to a friend’s tree-trimming party, so it’s a good time to kick off the season. Then I can go all out with the holiday movies, music and books. And this year, I don’t have to worry about being busy, though I have to record a few songs for choir (we’re doing the thing where you record your part and then it all gets edited together).

I do need to get my head in the game for shopping, though, since I have a week until I need to start isolating so I can visit my parents for Christmas. That means shopping earlier than I usually do or shopping online. We’ve pretty much agreed that we’re not going to worry too much about gifts this year since the circumstances are challenging, but I’d like to do something.

But for the rest of the week, I’m holding out, getting in my last bit of non-holiday time and anticipating what I’ll be doing when it is time.

Life

Holiday Break

I can’t believe it’s already almost Thanksgiving. I’ll be taking next week off from posting, since my posting days would be the day before and the day after Thanksgiving.

I’m planning to visit my parents, which makes me a little anxious because of all the warnings about traveling or gathering with family. I try not to think of myself as an exception when it comes to rules, but in this case, I’m pretty sure I’m not doing what they’re warning against. I will have been isolating for a couple of weeks, not even going to the grocery store, before the trip. It’s a non-stop car trip, so unless something goes horribly wrong, I will have no contact with people between the time I leave my house and the time I arrive at my parents’ house. It will just be the three of us, with no other guests the entire time, and my parents have been staying isolated all along, other than trips to the grocery store during the early-morning “vulnerable shoppers” hours. We won’t be leaving the house or seeing other people, and I won’t be in contact with other people on my return trip. So I think I’m okay here and not doing what they’re telling people not to do.

In school, I was always the kid who took it personally when the teacher yelled at the whole class and tried to do better or fix what was wrong, when the teacher was really talking to someone else. I guess I’m still the same way, hearing the warnings that are more likely aimed at people who aren’t isolating nearly as much as they say they are and who are bringing together multiple households, including others who are being far less careful than everyone else, and I’m the one feeling guilty because I’m breaking the rules.

I’ll have to do all my shopping right after Thanksgiving because it won’t be long until the two-week quarantine for Christmas begins.

Every year, when I get caught up in all the busyness that comes with the holiday season, all the choir rehearsals and performances and parties (and the parties generally all seem to fall on the same weekend), I say that I’d love to have a peaceful season, a time to be quiet and contemplate instead of running around. Well, this year I’m getting that, and I’m kind of looking forward to it.

Have a happy Thanksgiving if you celebrate it, and a good week if you don’t. I hope to have book news when I come back.

Life

A Real Job!

I’ve gone on an isolation lockdown for the next couple of weeks so I can safely visit my parents for Thanksgiving. I’ve bought groceries and run all the errands, so I shouldn’t have to go anywhere other than to a gas station and out and about for walks. I tried to do some menu planning before shopping so that I had the ingredients I need to make the meals I want to make. Some creativity may be required by the time I get to next weekend, especially if I’m trying to get a good balance of nutrition. I went for weeks between grocery trips earlier in the year. It was just during the summer that I got used to going every week since I was eating a lot of fresh produce. Now I can switch from salads to soups when I run out of lettuce and tomatoes.

I shouldn’t have any trouble staying occupied. I’ve been working on revising Lucky Lexie book 3, I’m researching a book, and I seem to have found a new freelance job back where I started my career. A friend from church asked on Facebook if anyone knew any freelance writers with a medical background, and I told her I used to be a writer for a medical school. It turns out she works for an organization connected to that same medical school. I’ve already got my first project in the works. I still plan to focus on writing novels, but that hasn’t been making much money lately (in spite of two recently released books, which is kind of depressing), so it’s good to have another source of income that won’t take up too much time. If I have free time, I can pick up a few projects, and if I’m busy, I won’t do as much.

But this is giving me a bit of mental whiplash, going between “how is she going to catch the bad guy this time?” and “how does this organization provide support to physicians?” I’m a lot more accustomed to writing about clinical medicine and research than administration, but it’s still sort of in the same wheelhouse, and I do have some familiarity with the language. I’ll just have to remember that I’m not allowed to bring in magic, even if it would make things a lot more interesting.

I’ve also had to get back in the mindset of professional conference calls. It’s a bit different from talking to book editors, and I haven’t even done that for a while. Fortunately, there are no in-person meetings these days, so I don’t have to wear truly professional clothes or shoes. As long as I’m good from the waist up, no one will know that I’m wearing pajama pants and fuzzy slipper socks.

Today is really a day for online meetings, as I have three of them. Now it’s time to go to work, for a real job this time.

Life

Farewell to a Friend

This weekend there was some sad news with the passing of fantasy and suspense author and my good friend Roxanne Conrad, better known by her pen name, Rachel Caine. You may know her from her Weather Wardens series, or possibly the Great Library books, or possibly the Morganville Vampires series.

Rox was one of the first writer friends I ever made. I met her when I was about a year out of college at the first writing conference I went to. I don’t remember how we got started talking, but based on what I know about her personality and about my personality, I suspect she took pity on me when I looked lonely and awkward and struck up a conversation. Her first book had come out, so I was in awe of a “real” author. I was just at that point in my life when I’d decided I was going to actually do something about that lifelong dream, and that conference was a big leap for me. We bonded over the fact that we both loved the books of Katherine Kurtz, and I remember her getting out the Locus magazine she had with her so we could look to see if there were any new books coming out.

I ran into her at a few events over the next ten or so years, but I really got to know her better around the time my Enchanted, Inc. books started coming out. She was already well known as Rachel Caine for the Weather Wardens series, and since they were both in the contemporary/urban fantasy realm, we ended up on a lot of panels together at conventions. At the same time, I became part of a group of friends she was also part of, and we frequently gathered at her home, where she was always a gracious hostess. We did a few booksignings together, since we were among the local authors publishing in the same general category. Her Great Library series, which had a bit of steampunk flavor, launched at about the same time my Rebels series came out, and we had a joint launch event at my neighborhood library, along with our other friend, P.N. Elrod.

Rox was one of the most generous people I’ve ever met. If anyone had a need, she’d jump in to take care of it. She was great about paying it forward and boosting other authors, often bringing her friends along with her on trips to various events. She once brought me to a convention in Denver where she was one of the guests of honor, since she had to leave from there to go on a book tour and she needed someone to travel home on the train with her husband (you need two people to get the good kind of compartment that he likes). I don’t know if she remembered that first conversation we had, but one of the other guests of honor was Katherine Kurtz, and thanks to Rox I got to meet one of my writing idols. At the convention’s booksigning, Rox arranged for me to sit next to Katherine.

Rox was truly a writing machine, and so dedicated to her work. At many a convention, if you walked through the lobby early in the morning, she’d be there, typing away, getting her words in even though she was at an event. I don’t even manage to write blog posts while I’m at conventions. Cancer barely slowed her down. She kept on writing.

My last real social outing before the pandemic hit was going to a writing group meeting with Rox. I’d mentioned on Twitter that I needed to find some local writing groups, and she invited me to join her for a meeting with the local Sisters in Crime group. She’d joined but hadn’t been to a meeting yet, and it would be easier for us to face it together, and my house was on her way there, so she offered to pick me up. So, she dragged me out of my house on a cold, rainy Sunday afternoon, and since it was a bit of a drive, we had a nice long chat along the way. Then there was the sneaking around the library, looking for a way into the meeting room that wouldn’t have us barging in behind the speaker when we got there late, thanks to traffic. It turns out, that was the last time I saw her.

The loss isn’t entirely real yet. I’ll notice it at the next convention when we aren’t on any panels together.

I think my favorite book of hers was a one-off, Prince of Shadows, which was a take on Romeo and Juliet that actually fixes it. It’s told from the perspective of one of the other characters, and it shows what was really going on behind the scenes to make events work out like they do in the play. I’ve decided that it’s canon for me, so I imagine all that going on in the background now when I see a production of that story (though I’m still figuring out how it might work into West Side Story).

Farewell, my friend, and thank you for all the support and kindness over the years.

Life

On Trend

I seem to have accidentally stumbled upon being trendy—something that never happens to me. I’m not the sort of person who listened to the band before it was cool. I usually discover it after it’s no longer cool. But for once in my life, I may be ahead of the curve. I noticed a mention online about a trend called “cottagecore,” which seems to be about a way of making being stuck at home be pleasant, focusing on cozy, homey things like baking, gardening, knitting, making jam, etc. Gee, I’ve been doing all that for ages, so I guess I was cool before all that became cool. If you’re an Instagram influencer, there’s apparently a wardrobe and aesthetic that goes with it, and I’m not really there, so I guess I’m not totally cool. I do like the vintage-inspired dresses, and I have made a floaty muslin nightgown, but my “cottage” wardrobe is more likely to be yoga pants and t-shirts.

Pink celosia flowers in pots
I didn’t actually plant these. They grew from seeds shed by last year’s plants.

This is part of all the flour and yeast shortages from earlier this year, since everyone was baking. Last month, I couldn’t find canning supplies, which were sold out everywhere because everyone’s been making jam and putting up the vegetables they grew in their gardens, so I froze the peach butter I made. I did find jar lids last week, so I’m set for when I want to make a fall batch of apple butter. I’ve got a bit of an English cottage garden in pots on my patio. I’ve got lots of pots of celosia (coxcomb) that grew from seeds that

Blue morning glory blooms
My beloved morning glories.

must have fallen from last year’s flowers, since I didn’t plant anything. And there’s my morning glory, which gets babied because I love those flowers. I got wild and crazy last week and bought some lettuce plants, so I’ll be growing my own salad.

In the meantime, I’m gearing up for a full-on hygge fall and winter. I’m searching for the perfect scented candles to create the best atmosphere for various activities. Spice and citrus scents are supposed to be good for focus while working, and I want to find something that smells like a campfire, since I can’t have a fire pit where I live. I’ve discovered wood wick candles that crackle like a fire. I’m looking forward to evenings snuggled under a blanket, with a “campfire” candle crackling away, good music on the stereo, and a good book. Then there are mornings and afternoons on the patio with my flowers and a cup of tea.

I’m not really fancy enough to have a “lifestyle.” This is just stuff I enjoy. I love baking because the process is enjoyable and the results are even more enjoyable. Green things make me happy. I like to be surrounded by nature. I’m happiest among trees, but flowers also work. I like making things and learning things. Maybe I should put on a floaty dress and start Instagramming all this.

And I’ll probably still be doing all this stuff when the influencers have moved on to the next trend.

Alas, it’s still too warm to do much baking right now. I’m so ready for fall weather. But I guess it kind of works because I’m deep into work on a book, and I might as well be inside churning out words while it’s still too warm. Then maybe real fall will hit when I’m through with the book and ready to take time off.

Life

Never Bored

When you hear the same thing said about you by multiple people, I suppose it counts as an accurate assessment of your personality. The thing I hear is rather an odd one: “You’re never bored, are you?” I’m not entirely sure it’s always meant as a compliment, and I’ve heard it in a variety of settings, from a variety of people. And it’s actually true. I don’t even understand boredom. The closest I come is when there’s something I need to do that I don’t want to do, but I don’t want to let myself do anything fun instead because then I’ll never get around to it. I actually deliberately try to create a state of boredom to force myself into doing the thing I need to do, for lack of anything better to do. Sometimes I’m paralyzed by indecision about what, exactly, I want to do, but I don’t know that I ever really feel like there’s nothing to do.

I’m more likely to have way more things I want to do than I have time to do. There are books to read, stuff on TV to watch, musical instruments to play, music to listen to, things to sew or knit, gardening, writing, cooking, even housework and organizing. And that’s without leaving the house. Last weekend, I had a list of things I wanted to do and barely got to half of them.

I don’t even need stuff like books or a TV around to amuse myself. I can just sit and think and be entertained. I dream up stories in my head, make plans, analyze things, write mental essays. I can replay stories I’ve read or watched and spin off new ideas based on that. I actually like thinking so much that most of my efforts at meditating have failed because my brain sees just sitting still as playtime. I’ve learned to go to bed early to give myself time to lie and think before I go to sleep.

I was thinking about this when talking to friends last week. We went around the group on the Zoom call, talking about how we were coping with the lockdown. One friend mentioned that she was so bored that she’s been doing laundry every day just to have something to do. Then I started mentioning the list of things I’ve been doing and how I’ve been enjoying having time to do them all. That was when I heard it again: “You’re never bored, are you?” I’ve been reading a lot, listening to concerts on the classical radio station, writing, studying Norwegian, trying new recipes, watching theater online, organizing my house, and gardening. I haven’t gotten around to playing much music or singing, so my voice is out of shape. I’ve thought about doing more sewing, and I haven’t done a knitting project in months because I don’t have the yarn for what I want to do and I haven’t gone shopping for it.

I think I learned to amuse myself at an early age because I was an only child until I was six, and there weren’t a lot of other kids my age in the neighborhood. Then even after my brother was born, it was a few years because he was interesting to play with. I had all kinds of games I played alone, mostly involving making up stories and acting them out. Since we moved a lot, I was frequently the new kid, and there was always a phase before I made friends, so I had to work on my self-entertainment skills.

I don’t know if all this led to me being a writer, or if it was me having the aptitude for writing that made me able to cope like this. When you can make up stories, you don’t ever have to be bored.