Archive for Life



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!


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.


Today’s Ideal Life

The movie nights I’ve been having lately are the result of some thinking I’ve been doing. I’ve been doing a lot of long-term planning, which starts with thinking about what your ideal life looks like. After all, if you don’t know exactly what you want, you can’t make plans for getting it. But there’s a downside to spending a lot of time imagining some ideal future. It tends to make you unhappy in the present, especially when that future is a long way down the road and depends on things that aren’t entirely in your control. There’s a really fine line to walk. You tend not to grow when you’re comfortable and content, but it’s also bad to be unhappy in the present because that’s where you live. You need to find happiness where you are while you aim for something even better.

I decided to do some of the same exercises, but about the present. What would my ideal life look like in my present circumstances — in this home, with the career and income I currently have? And what could I do to get that ideal life now? In doing that thinking, I realized that I’ve inherited my grandmother’s tendency to “save it for good.” In her case, it was saving nice things like the good dishes for special occasions. In my case, it’s a weird manifestation of my perfectionist streak in which I tend to avoid things I enjoy unless the circumstances can be ideal. I’ve nearly let gifts of things like food or bath products go bad because I waited for the ideal time to use them. I don’t watch movies I’ve wanted to see or that I want to rewatch or read books I’ve anticipated until I hit some magical combination of mood, weather, timing and occasion, which means it never happens. I’ve got a ton of spa-type items, like massagers, foot tub, facial sauna, and various products that I never get around to using because I save them for some idealized spa day that never happens.

So I’ve started making a point to do the things I like to do without having the ideal circumstances. If those circumstances come up, I can always do it again. Thus, the regular habit of movie nights. I do like to fit movies to my mood and often the season or weather, but if I want to watch something, I watch it without getting too caught up in a sense of the ideal. I still try to make a special occasion out of it, with candles (both electric and real) to provide some mood lighting so I can turn the lights out and carefully chosen snacks. I’m also trying to use the spa stuff as part of regular life. The facial sauna has come in handy when my sinuses were blocked. It’s starting to get warm enough that I can take the foot spa tub out to the patio. I can do a thing or two that feels good without having to turn it into a fancy spa day — or I can do a fancy spa day.

The other thing I need to do is finish getting my house organized and then maybe take a look at my decor. I’ve been in a holding pattern for so long in which I was hoping to buy a new house and move but couldn’t, so I may be here a year or two longer. I don’t want to buy all new furniture, but I can fix things up with what I have. I really want to get my office back to where it’s pleasant to work in because that will allow me to have better work/life balance if I generally leave my computer there. I need to be better about working during working hours and then switching it off, especially when it comes to things like social media or the impulse to do research every time a thought strikes me. Having a good office that I go to for work has been a big part of my visualization of my ideal life, and I can do that where I am, to some extent (though maybe not with the secret recording studio behind the bookcase door).


Minor Personal Triumph

I had a minor personal triumph yesterday that was a long time coming. It all started last summer, on my birthday.

To set the stage, the layout of my neighborhood is a little odd. It’s a townhome complex with detached garages. The houses are set back from the street, with garages in front, opening directly onto the street-like driveway that runs through the complex. The garages are one-car, and pretty narrow (they were built in the 80s, when compact cars were common). You have to go in at just the right angle, but when I came home the day before, someone had been parked (illegally) in the drive just in front of my garage, meaning it was really tricky to get in, and I came in at a weird angle. The next morning, my birthday, I was rushing out to get to music and art camp, and I noticed someone driving way too fast down the drive. Meanwhile, I noticed another car heading toward me from the opposite direction. That meant when I backed out, I was really looking out for a car that might be coming and stewing over the fast driver, so I forgot I was at a different angle and soon heard a weird sound.

Yep, I’d hit the passenger-side mirror on the side of the garage doorway. It was more or less intact, except for the cover coming off the back, so I threw the cover in the car and went on to the church. I later realized that while it looked intact, the mechanism inside that controls the positioning of the mirror had snapped. I was pretty upset about it all because that’s not the way you want to start your birthday, and you really don’t want to get a new mirror for your birthday.

My friends who know more about this than I do said it shouldn’t be too hard to replace. I looked up some info about it, even found the replacement part. But I guess I just didn’t want to deal with it. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and I didn’t like to think about screwing up like that. A little black duct tape held it all in place, and I forgot about it. I might think about it when I was driving somewhere, but when I was at home where I could do something about it, I put it out of my mind.

But I was pretty sure the duct tape repair wouldn’t pass the state inspection, which I have to do before the end of March. I finally ordered the part online and figured that if I couldn’t change it myself, I’d at least save myself the markup on the part if I just had my mechanic install it. I watched a lot of YouTube videos about how to change it, and I was getting pretty nervous because some of them made it look like a big job. Sunday afternoon, I decided to tackle it, but I ran into a roadblock because the stuff inside the interior trim looked different than anything I’d seen in the videos. I finally figured it out late in the day, but then it turned out that I didn’t have the right tool to get to one of the bolts. I was either going to have to remove the interior door panel (which might also have required a new tool) or get a flat socket wrench that could fit into a narrow space—or pay someone with the tools to do it. The wrench was about $3.50 at Home Depot, so yesterday I went and got it, and I completed the repair pretty easily. All done in about 15 minutes once I had the right tool, and after months of fretting and stewing. I was even having nightmares about this.

I think maybe all those videos were counterproductive, aside from telling me how to remove that piece of interior trim to get at the mirror bolts. The repair jobs they were showing were total overkill, including removing door panels, dealing with stripped bolts, etc.

So, now I know how to do that one job, and I feel very accomplished. It’s such a relief to have that weight off me. I may tinker with the old mirror to see if there’s a way to fix it. Maybe if I’d known how to take it all apart back when it happened, I could have done something. There was too much tension on the mechanism with it attached to the car.

And now I can get my safety inspection done. I don’t think I want to open an auto repair shop, though I did find that my small hands were quite useful for working in tight spaces.


Grown-up Kindergarteners

Last night, I had a real “wow, I’m getting old” experience. I was in charge of the combined preschool and kindergarten choirs because the preschool teacher was out of town. One of her teen helpers, who’s 13, just sort of jumped in and took over the class, which was fine with me. I had some things planned, but when she got there, she started writing out a lesson plan on the whiteboard, listing the things they usually do every week.

I couldn’t help but remember that I had this girl in my choir when she was in preschool and kindergarten. When she was in kindergarten, she was really bad about trying to take over the class. She thought of herself as the assistant teacher, in part because she was so much taller than the other kids, almost as tall as I was (now she towers over me). It was a constant battle to remind her that she was one of the students, and sometimes she could be a class leader, but everyone else also got a turn. But at the same time, I didn’t want to crush her confidence because when she was in preschool, she had been very shy and timid (I think she was getting bossed around and bullied by a friend in preschool, but they ended up going to different elementary schools, so she had a sudden confidence surge in kindergarten), but at the same time, I couldn’t let her take over the class.

Now, here I was, encouraging her to take over and letting her take charge. When there was something on her plan that I didn’t want to do, I skipped it and did my own thing, but I did go along with her general outline. And she was good about jumping in and coming up with something to do when we had technical difficulties (I couldn’t get the CD player to work at one point, so I was finding sheet music for the pianist to play). I know (because I’m friends with her mom) that she still struggles a bit socially at school and tends to get bullied (girl bullied, which is more about exclusion than physical threats), so it’s good for her to have a place where she can fit in and be confident, and the kids love her. There’s one little girl who’s super shy and hides in the corner, but then this girl comes in and she suddenly comes out of her shell and participates.

My babies are growing up. And sometimes I think the youth helpers benefit as much as the little kids do.


New Walls, New Home?

The repair work may not be as disruptive as I feared. They got most of the work done yesterday, and they’re supposed to come back today to paint. I’m glad I insisted that this get done, though, because it turned out that the insulation was rotting and moldy. The wood was fine, which is good. They ripped out the old insulation and put in new stuff before putting in new wallboard. I imagine this will make a big difference in my health.

Now I’ll have to decide what further work to do in this house. I need new flooring and the kitchen cabinets are really dated, but I’m not sure that I’d get the money back when it comes time to sell the house. I’d have to do it because I want to improve my living quality, but then there’s the hassle of getting work like that done. I’m tempted to just ignore it all and sell it as-is when it comes time to sell. Alas, in the years since I first started thinking of selling — and noticed the leak, which made the house unsellable — housing prices have really shot up while my earnings have gone down and I can no longer afford to buy what’s on the market. This is part of what led to last year’s existential crisis “I quit” moment. It’s getting harder to earn a living writing, and that means I’ve had to put a lot of other things on hold. Then I discovered that finding a real job that I actually want to do isn’t so easy.

But at least the one bit of the house issue that I couldn’t control (unless I wanted to pay for it myself) has been dealt with (well, almost, as soon as they show up to finish), so I will feel a lot less helpless, and then I can start to make other decisions. Before, there was no point in even thinking about new flooring. Now I have options to consider.


The Princess and the Hotel Bed

Travel really shows me what a princess I’ve become. I’m starting to think that I would feel that pea hidden beneath a stack of mattresses. I don’t sleep well in hotel beds, and that makes travel less fun.

I think part of the problem is that I’ve made my bed at home so comfortable. Years ago, hotels were a treat. They had those lush pillow-top mattresses at good hotels, so it was a step up from what I had, and their down pillows were nicer than what I had at home.

Now, though, I have the fancy hybrid mattress with coils beneath memory foam and a layer of memory gel, so I have the perfect blend of support and softness. My mattress gently cradles my body. It’s on an adjustable base, so I can raise the head to sleep, and I can put it in a zero-gravity mode for reading in bed, with my head and knees raised. Even a really good hotel bed that doesn’t slant to one side because they don’t rotate the mattress is flat, which is hard for me to get used to.

Then there’s my pillow, which is a molded memory foam pillow designed for side sleepers, so it supports the neck. I have it in a satin pillowcase, which is smoother on the skin and keeps my hair from snarling and frizzing. I also have a weighted blanket to give me a really snug, cozy feeling. My alarm clock adds to the sleep ambience because it not only gently wakes me up with gradually increasing light, but it also has a bedtime mode that mimics a sunset, gradually dimming until it goes off.

No hotel can live up to all this. Even if I bring my pillow, the weighted blanket, and alarm clock with me on road trips, the bed is flat.

I really need a TARDIS, even one that doesn’t travel in time, so that I can carry all my stuff with me when I travel and not have to worry about getting there. I can just be in that other place and still come home to my own bed.


The January Vacation

My mini vacation didn’t quite go as planned. Although the forecast temperature was warm and it was a beautiful, sunny day, it turned out that the wind chill was rather bitter. I stepped out of the car at the state park, walked a little around the edge of the lake, and immediately retreated to my car because it was like thousands of tiny needles attacking non-stop. It was really disconcerting because the sun was so strong that I’d had to turn my car vent to as cool as it would go and the fan on high. Inside the car, it was a warm day. Outside the car, it was arctic.

So, I decided to go to a different park deeper into the mountains, in an area that was likely sheltered from the wind. And, at the very least, the drive to get there would be fun because it was on a twisty back road through the mountains.

And there I got to see this, which made the trip worth it.

There was also a nice, sheltered hiking trail along a stream, through the woods, in a valley between hills, so it was rather pleasant. I got in a short hike, but the other trails at that park were on the sides of the mountains, where, again, the wind was pretty ferocious. After enjoying the scenery while driving around, I headed to the hotel and spent the rest of the afternoon reading and relaxing. By dinner time, the wind had died, which made the walk to a restaurant down the street not too bad. I came back from dinner, read some more, then decided to go for a swim at the hotel’s indoor pool.

Where, apparently, they’d decided to turn on the air conditioner in January. It was too cold to be in that room in just a swimsuit even before getting wet, and the water was icy. I’d thought the hotel web site had mentioned a hot tub, but I didn’t find it. It must have been outdoors. I gave up on the swim and went back to my room and watched figure skating while drinking cocoa.

I took the scenic route driving home, but unfortunately once you get into Texas there is no scenic route because the US highway merges with the freeway. I find freeway driving utterly exhausting. This area was really pretty and I’d like to visit that area again in better weather (and probably a different hotel), but I’ll need to see if I can find an alternate route. The freeway is quick, but it’s not fun. I think there are some back roads that might work, but I’ll need to research to be sure they cross the river that serves as the border between Texas and Oklahoma.

It was a nice little getaway that mostly served as a recon mission for things I might want to do when it’s not January. It’s close enough for a short trip, and it does look like there’s good hiking and scenery.

And now I need to dive back into my working schedule.


Post-Crazy Time

I survived my crazy weekend and promptly came down with either bad allergies or a mild cold. If getting sick could ever be considered “good,” this was good timing, as I won’t miss any obligations and I suspect I need the rest. It’ll be perfect for tomorrow’s forecast cold weather and wintry mix, a good day for lying under a blanket and watching Christmas movies all day.

I’ve also got a good supply of library books, some work-related, some just for fun.

I was complaining about having everything happening in one weekend, but the nice thing about that is that it’s now over and I can mostly just relax and enjoy the season. I also, for once, don’t have a deadline around or soon after the holidays. I want to keep up my work habits, but I can also take time off without worrying about being late for something.

But for now, I think I need a nap to recover from my library and grocery run.


Alien Flowers

We’re having a weird weather year in which we seem to have mostly skipped fall, going straight from summer to winter. We’ve already had a freeze, which is really early for us, and this means that we’ve missed the main reason I love fall: good weather for being outdoors. It went straight from too hot to too cold and damp. My morning glories had barely started blooming when the freeze hit. I had one in a pot small enough to bring inside, and that one is still blooming. Another I was able to move up against the house in a sheltered area, and it looks like it might bloom, maybe even before the next freeze next week. The third I couldn’t move because I put one big trellis between two smaller pots, and I couldn’t get the whole thing moved. There are some leaves left, but I doubt it will bloom.

pink coxcomb
The “cock’s comb” formation of a celosia plant.

My big success this year was in growing celosias, which was entirely unintended. I bought a packet of “annual cutting mix” seeds and threw them into some pots that already had dirt in them. A couple of them turned out to produce zinnias. The rest produced these crazy looking flowers that reminded me of science fiction movies and shows in which the aliens have invaded earth and are terraforming it to suit them, with weird alien plants taking over. I looked up all the plants listed on the seed packet, and none of them seemed to match. I finally figured out they were celosias, also known as coxcomb (though only one of mine went into the cock’s comb formation). Those weren’t listed on the packet at all.

I’ve also seen them described as “Dr. Seuss plants,” since they look like the kind

pink and yellow celosia flowers
Are they alien, or drawn by Dr. Seuss?

of flowers Dr. Seuss drew. They weren’t what I was expecting, and they aren’t really what I would consider “cutting” flowers. They keep changing as they keep growing, and the blooms stay rather than blooming and then falling off, so I haven’t been able to bring myself to cut any of them. I want to see what they do next. Supposedly, they make good dried flowers, so I may try that when the season really and truly ends.

I love sitting on my patio, surrounded by all my flowers. I had never thought of myself as the gardener type, but the plants bring me a lot of joy. I just wish I had a longer season for them this year. Our summers are so brutal that we don’t tend to get the good flowers until September, at least. This year, they didn’t really bloom much until October, and then we got a freeze at the beginning of November. I’ve had maybe three good days to sit or work outdoors in between the heat and the cold.

Today’s a gloomy, wet, cold day, which I love, but I prefer it to come after a good stretch of pleasant fall weather. I’d hoped to take a little vacation and go hiking in the Oklahoma mountains, but every time I have a stretch of days when I could do that, the day I’d be spending hiking is forecast for a bitter cold front and rain.

In case you’re having a gray day wherever you are, enjoy some of my flowers, with photos taken on a nicer day.