Archive for Life



After getting a book released and my house more or less in order (there’s still work to do in the room where the office is, but the office area itself is all clean and organized), I’m finally taking some vacation time. I’m not traveling, but I’m trying to change things up and take some of the pressure off myself. This week’s posts were written and scheduled in advance, so I can keep promoting my work without having to do anything work-related on my days off.

Weirdly, that means making plans. Planning my days off sounds almost contradictory, but when you travel, you make plans. You decide what you’re going to do on each day of your trip, and the same thing applies to a “staycation.” If I don’t make plans, I’ll just end up having a regular work day, but without the work. I’ll sit down at my computer to check e-mail, end up surfing around on the Internet, and lose the day. I won’t feel like I’ve taken a break because I’ll be doing a lot of the same things I usually do.

So, I’m planning some activities. It’s not a rigid schedule and has a lot of time for sitting and reading or watching movies, but it gives me enough structure to ensure that I actually break with my routine. Today is Spa Day, time to use all the products I’ve accumulated, either buying for myself or getting as gifts. Foot scrub, face masks, the back massaging pillow, the works, along with some yoga and plenty of rest. Other plans for my time off include some craft projects, baking, some long walks in the woods, and maybe a visit to the local art gallery. I have a stack of books, some snacks, and plenty of tea. It’s not quite heading to the Oklahoma mountains for serious hiking and fall scenery, but it’s what I can do under the current circumstances.

According to the doctors at the medical school where I used to work, disconnecting from your daily routine can be refreshing for your brain, whether or not you travel. The trick is to make things different enough to get the same effect as traveling to a different place. I’ll probably come back eager and excited to get going on my next project.



I’ve been trying to find some fun things to do that aren’t story related (like reading or watching TV/movies) to give that part of my brain a break, so when I found some jigsaw puzzles on clearance, I bought a couple. I had images of cozy autumn and winter nights, sipping hot cocoa and listening to classical music with a scented candle burning nearby while I leisurely worked on a puzzle.

We used to work puzzles as a family when I was a kid. At Christmas, there was usually a “family” gift of a big puzzle, and then we’d set it up on the dining table (which we generally didn’t use except for special meals) after Christmas dinner, and we’d work on it off and on, whenever anyone wanted to look at it, until we finished it. But it had been a very long time since I’d worked a puzzle, so I thought I’d start with something a little simpler. I had a couple of old Star Wars puzzles I’d taken from my parents’ house when they were clearing out my old things, and I started with one that was aimed for kids, with only 140 pieces.

And I found myself utterly consumed for about an hour and a half as I worked it in one sitting. I was supposedly watching TV while working on it, but I didn’t remember anything I was watching and had to rewatch those episodes. I also could barely move when I went to stand up and had a sore neck. This should have been a warning.

The next puzzle up was 500 pieces, a more complex Star Wars puzzle for older kids. I started it one evening. It was too warm for the candle (candles don’t play well with ceiling fans) or the cocoa, but I did have the classical music playing. The first evening, I mostly tried to find the edge pieces, so it wasn’t too bad. The obsession kicked in the next day. I kept getting sidetracked when I passed the puzzle and paused to see if I could just find that one piece I needed to complete a certain section, only to realize an hour or so had gone by. I didn’t do my usual Friday-night movie because I wanted to finish that one section of the puzzle—and then a couple of hours later it was too late to start a movie. That repeated on Saturday. I dreamed about the puzzle on Saturday night, and the first thing I did the next morning was look at the puzzle. I nearly missed the beginning of online church because I started working on the puzzle. Then I paused by the puzzle on my way to get lunch. There was one piece I needed that I thought would pull a whole section together, and the shape and color should have made it obvious. There weren’t that many pieces left, so I should have been able to find it easily. It did tie it all together, and from there the rest of the puzzle fell into place. I was getting a bit lightheaded, then realized that two hours had passed.

So, I may have a wee bit of a puzzle problem. Thinking about it, I don’t like to have something unsolved, whether it’s a jigsaw puzzle, a crossword puzzle, or even just an error in my knitting. I don’t like to put it down until I’ve figured it out. Puzzles tend to put me in a flow state, where I’m hyper alert but unaware of the passing of time. Up to a point, this can be a positive thing that’s good for the brain, but not when it keeps you from sleeping or doing anything else.

The reality of my puzzle evening is less like the relaxing time with cocoa and classical music and more like me sitting there, wild-eyed, at midnight, going, “I’ll just get that one piece and then I’ll go to bed. Okay, maybe one more piece. One more …”

I don’t know how the 1,000-piece puzzles I bought are going to go. I may have to wait until I have nothing else going on to work on them, or maybe I can cover them and try to put them out of sight and out of mind. Or I’ll set a timer so I don’t completely lose track of time and make myself take exercise breaks. It’s still something I enjoy, and it works a different part of my brain than writing does. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m not starting another puzzle until I have my time-sensitive projects done.


All Autumn in a Day

I finished the first draft of my book yesterday, and that happened to coincide with the arrival of a cold front, and now we have actual fall-like weather for the first day of fall, so it’s a nice day to give myself a break to enjoy it.

It’s the kind of day I joke is All Autumn in a Day in this part of the world, the first day it really feels like fall, and it’s such a relief after a long, hot summer that we tend to go all-out, doing All the Fall Things because it may be the only real fall day we get. You never know. It’s going to start warming up again later in the week and be back to “summer,” and there’s a chance it could stay that way until we get a drastic cold snap and it’s suddenly winter (that actually happened a couple of years ago, when summer lingered into October, and then we got a freeze right before Halloween). It reminds me of the Ray Bradbury story, “All Summer in a Day,” in which a girl who moved from earth to a colony on Venus misses the one afternoon in seven years when the sun comes out because her classmates, who had never seen the sun and didn’t realize what they were missing, locked her in a closet. Except here we do get it every year, but my favorite season still tends to be capricious and brief.

I’ve already had breakfast on the patio, actually wearing a sweatshirt! I have some baking planned for the afternoon, and I’m going to make soup for dinner. I’ll probably have some patio time, sipping cinnamon herbal tea, this evening. There will be a long walk to the library after I get this posted. I don’t drink coffee, so no pumpkin spice lattes for me, but otherwise I’m trying to cram in as much fall as possible, even though the trees are still green and it will be 90 degrees this weekend.

Really, in more temperate climates, our weather today wouldn’t even be considered fall. This is the way their summer is. I’ve been pondering whether I want to stay around here, for a number of reasons, and I’ve been monitoring the weather in some of the places I’ve imagined might be a good fit. This is the kind of weather they started having in August. I remember when we moved to Germany in August and had to go buy sweatshirts because the clothes we’d brought with us from summer in Oklahoma and then traveling to Louisiana and across the south to Charleston were way too light for the weather. There was a discussion on a friend’s Facebook page a few weeks ago when she mentioned looking forward to fall, and one of her friends talked about preferring summer, then listed their idea of summer activities — hiking, camping, going on picnics. Those of us who live in Texas said we liked those things, too, but they were fall activities. That’s why we were looking forward to fall. I think we shift our summer to fall. In a way, our summer is like winter elsewhere, a time we spend as little time as possible outdoors, so we react to fall the way northerners react to spring.

I’ve joked about finding a place where it’s fall most of the time, and that makes me wonder if that’s how a place like that would work for me. Would having weather I associate with early fall, followed by actual fall weather, feel like an extended autumn for me, or would I get used to it and think of it as summer, so it would stop feeling like fall?

Not that I’m planning to move anytime soon. I’d want to travel to a place before making any decisions, and that’s not happening during the pandemic, and I don’t have the money right now to pick up and move across the country. I’ll also need to keep monitoring the weather in other places during the winter. Temperatures in the 80s in August sound heavenly, but what will I think of the winter? I always spend the summer dreaming about being elsewhere, then forget about it in October.

In the meantime, I will enjoy my first day of fall, and then tomorrow get back to work, reading through this book to see if it makes sense. When I get this book totally done and ready to publish, I’m going to dial back for the rest of the year. I’ve got a project I want to develop, and that means a more flexible work schedule that can be done in a variety of locations, so when (if!) we get real fall, I’ll be able to take my work with me as I take walks, so I can sit in the woods or by a lake to work.


Summer Woes

It’s officially summer, and my least favorite time of the year. I was a nerd who actually liked school, so summer wasn’t ever something I was excited about. It just meant more free time and possibly going to the swimming pool. But I didn’t actively dislike it the way I do now. I don’t know if that’s a function of my age, the current climate, or where I live now. Maybe a little of everything.

I spent part of my early childhood in west Texas, where it had to be about as hot as it is where I am now, though possibly less humid, but I don’t remember much about seasons from that age. Then we moved to Oklahoma. There, I remember spending summers mostly outdoors. I don’t know if it was less hot there and then, but I don’t remember it being quite as oppressive. I do recall spending a lot of time lying on my bed and reading fantasy novels while listening to classical music, which is pretty much what I do now (though I also spend time at my desk writing fantasy novels while listening to classical music). That may have been during the hottest part of the afternoon before I went outside again. During the summer, we played outside until the streetlights came on, and that was the universal signal to go inside. On Friday nights, as a special treat, we sometimes got to stay out later so we could play spotlight, which was basically tag, but with flashlights. If the beam of a flashlight hit you, you were tagged. Our neighborhood was small and remote. You didn’t drive through our neighborhood unless you were going to a house in that neighborhood. It wasn’t on the way to anywhere, and it was on a military base, so people couldn’t just wander through. That meant there was almost no traffic and we were able to play in the street. We spent most of the day riding bicycles or skateboards or roller skating, or just running around. My family went camping during the summer, something I think it would be too hot to do now. I can’t imagine trying to sleep without air conditioning around here, and we went camping in east Texas a lot.

Then just before I turned ten, we moved to Germany, where it was a lot cooler and it rained a lot more. When it wasn’t raining, it was pretty pleasant to be outside. Our houses there didn’t have air conditioning, and I don’t remember it being uncomfortable. At one place we lived, I had a lot of friends in the neighborhood and was outside a lot with them. We also took a lot of walks. On weekends, we’d pack lunches and go out to one of the public walking paths. The main thing I remember about summers there was the sun staying up really late. I think during the summer, sunset was close to 11 p.m., and it was difficult going to bed when the sun was still up.

I think I started actively disliking summer when I was in high school. We lived in the country, so when I wasn’t in school, I didn’t really see people and there wasn’t much to do. There was a lot of lying on my bed and reading fantasy novels. Between my sophomore and junior years, I worked at a summer camp, and that was fun. I lived at the camp, and when I wasn’t working I got to use the camp facilities. I worked in the kitchen, which meant I had a different schedule from a lot of the other staff, so the kitchen staff grew pretty tight. We usually spent the afternoons between the lunch shift and the dinner shift canoeing or swimming. Or napping, since we had to get up early to get breakfast ready.

These days, summer doesn’t mean much to me, schedule-wise. I tend to work more in the summer because I have a little less going on and there’s not much else to do. If I get a lot done in the summer, I can ease up and enjoy the fall and winter. I can’t deal with the heat at all. Just stepping outdoors most days drains my strength. I try to run my errands early in the day when it’s not so bad, but I’m still exhausted afterward. I think a lot of the issue is my perception of heat. I have a thyroid condition that lowers my body temperature and am also on medication that lowers my body temperature, so I’m around a degree lower than “normal.” That means there’s a bigger difference between my body temperature and the environment, which makes it feel even hotter. It’s the reverse of what happens when you have a fever and get chills — the relationship between your body temperature and the environment has shifted, making you feel colder than usual. So, when your body temperature drops, you feel hotter.

I see people talking about fun things to do in the summer, like picnics, hiking, and camping, and to me, those are fall activities. Our fall is basically what other people get as a summer. Summer activities here mostly involve staying inside in the air conditioning. I occasionally fantasize about moving to a place where I can be outdoors during the summer without bursting into flames. Then fall might actually be weather for sweaters and bonfires.



Oops, I realized I skipped posting on Friday. I had an appointment for my second vaccination Friday morning, and I made it for an hour earlier than the last one, so I figured that I’d be home in plenty of time to take care of it.

Then it took twice as long, thanks to terrible traffic and a larger than normal crowd since they were expecting possible severe weather in the afternoon and moved the afternoon appointments to the morning. I finally got home and collapsed — not from the shot, but from the driving ordeal — and totally forgot about it.

I’m feeling back to normal after a blah weekend of wallowing and relaxing, so normal service should resume Wednesday.

And I really need to learn how to schedule posts so I can set something up ahead of time for days like that.


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.


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!


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.


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.



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.