Archive for Life


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.


Sleep Solutions

Sleep issues seem to be a common problem with writers. I guess it’s because we have trouble shutting off our brains. Lying in a dark room with no distractions and nothing to do is the perfect opportunity to work out those thorny plot problems, according to our brains. I’ve been experimenting with ways to help me sleep better, and my latest discovery may have done the trick.

I found a weighted blanket on sale at Tuesday Morning and thought I’d give it a shot. I’d done some reading about these, which are supposed to help ease anxiety and make you feel more secure for better rest. They were originally developed to help children with autism. In a way, they’re like swaddling or like a thundershirt for pets, using close pressure that’s like a hug to ease tension. I noticed how much better I was sleeping when it got cool enough to put the comforter on the bed, and I remembered that I used to put my sleeping bag on top of the comforter to give myself more warmth and weight, so when I saw this blanket at a reasonable price, I thought I’d give it a try.

It was hard to judge at first, since I got it last week when I was going to that conference, so I had all the little “will I get up in time to catch the train?” worries. It was really cold, and I must say that the super-snug blanket made it even harder to get out of bed on a cold morning.

But the last two nights have been some of the best sleep I’ve had in ages. I don’t remember doing my usual 3 a.m. wake up. When I wake during the night, it’s just to roll over, glance at the clock, and go right back to sleep rather than lying there awake and thinking for a while. I don’t know if it’s the blanket or just that I was tired.

The blanket I got is smaller, more of a throw, and I did use it one night when watching TV. For a change, I just sat there and watched rather than getting sidetracked and going online or doing other stuff like that. Again, I don’t know if it’s the blanket or if I was actually engaged in what I was watching. It’s also nice for reading.

Of course, the down side may be that this is going to be yet another thing that makes sleeping away from home difficult. I already have the issue of flat beds now that I’m used to my adjustable bed, and now I’m going to feel exposed when I don’t have twelve pounds of blanket lying on me. I’m not sure what I’ll do for the summer. I’m considering sewing some kind of weights to my knitted lace blanket to give me some weight without warmth.


Fall Cooking

I’m having a lazy week. I can’t seem to get up and going, and I’m not accomplishing a lot. But since next week is going to be really busy, maybe getting plenty of rest is a good thing. My body may know what it’s doing.

Fall seems to have finally arrived for real, which may have something to do with the laziness. It’s my version of spring fever, when I don’t really want to do anything but just relax and I can’t make my brain focus. This has also been a time for baking and making soup. I seem to turn into a soup-based life form at this time of year. I’ve already made a lentil soup, a sausage, potato and kale soup, and a veggie soup. I’m planning chicken nacho soup for tomorrow. I’ve got some of all this put up in the freezer, so I should have easy leftovers to reheat next week when I’m getting home late in the evening from the convention (if I don’t end up going out to dinner).

My next kitchen experiment is going to involve butternut squash. I haven’t had a lot of luck with winter squash, but I’m going to try again and see if I can make this work.

Meanwhile, I’ve made some peach butter, and I bought apples for making apple butter. Supposedly, that goes pretty quickly with the Instant Pot.

And then there’s been a lot of muffin baking. I even bought a donut pan and have made some cinnamon sugar donuts that are almost exactly like the ones we used to have on road trips when I was a kid.

Come to think of it, maybe I haven’t been lazy. I’ve just been cooking. Fall turns me into Betty Crocker.


Stormy Night

I’m a bit groggy today because we had some excitement last night. A nasty storm blew through, and just after it passed me, it spawned a tornado that tore through a major part of Dallas. I was listening to the radio when they broke in, telling people in the area east of me to take cover. I turned on the TV to see the weather coverage. The damage seems to have been pretty extensive. Then not long after I finally got to bed after figuring the danger had passed, my phone’s weather app alerted me of a severe thunderstorm warning as a front came through. That kept me up for about an hour. The wind was howling, there was thunder and lightning, and the rain was pretty hard — at least, it sounded loud on my tile roof. As soon as I got back to sleep after that, the app sounded again with an extended thunderstorm warning, as yet another wave hit. Where I am, the line seemed to have been wider but less intense, so it took longer to go through but didn’t do as much damage.

Some of my patio plants got knocked over by one of the storms, but that seems to be the worst of the damage around me. I was very fortunate, though, because if that tornado had formed just a few miles earlier, it would have been nearby.

Up to the storms, the weekend had been pretty good. I even went out Friday night. A group from choir went to a chamber music concert in a park in a nearby town. It was one of those perfect October evenings, just a touch cool, so it really felt like fall. I brought a flask of hot spiced tea, and it was just about perfect, sitting outside with friends and listening to good music.

And I just realized that it might have saved me. There was another concert I’d been thinking of going to on Sunday evening that I didn’t go to because I’d gone to this one, and it was near the path of the tornado. I’d have been on my way home probably about the time the tornado went through that neighborhood, and I’d have had to cross the path of the tornado to get home. Though I probably wouldn’t have gone when I looked at the radar. The weather forecast was a factor in my decision about what to do for the weekend.

I had been thinking about visiting a nearby botanical garden today, since it really is a lovely day, but there’s a chance that they’ll be cleaning up after the high winds. So maybe I’ll try to get some writing done, which might be a challenge, as groggy as I am after all the sleep disruptions last night. When you’ve been watching tornado damage, you don’t rest easily during the next storm.