Archive for Life



The serial book is now over, so I guess we’re back to normal operations. I don’t have any more novels just hanging around. Everything else I’ve got didn’t make it to the point of submission, so it would take a lot of work to get it ready for people to read. Most of those things, I do hope to actually revise and do something with them in the future.

I think I’m going to go to a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule of posting for now, though I may adjust that later. I plan to put out a newsletter next week, so if you haven’t yet signed up for that, you can do so here.

The weekend was pretty much perfect for me, weather-wise. Saturday, it rained all day and into the night. It was a perfect time to bake and read. I started with blueberry muffins for breakfast, then in the afternoon I tried the DoubleTree cookie recipe that Hilton posted. It was pretty close to what you get when you check in to the hotel, perfect for having with hot tea on a rainy afternoon. When I wasn’t baking, I spent most of the day reading. I didn’t even do a movie night because I was enjoying listening to the rain.

Sunday was nice and sunny, so I spent much of the day on the patio. I got the best of both worlds for reading conditions. Now I’m geared up for a busy work week. I want to finish revising this book, and I’m getting my house in order for taking an at-home “vacation” for the holiday weekend.

I’ve decided to pretend my house is a hotel. I may even go somewhere Friday afternoon so that I can come back and get the sense of checking in (and get my cookie when I do). I figure that since there probably won’t be a real vacation for a while, I can play a little at home. I’m trying to make weekends and holidays feel different from weekdays. I’ve always tried to do that while working from home, but it’s more important now that I don’t have any of my usual weekend activities.

My church is probably going to continue doing online only services through June, since this metro area still has a pretty high case count, and it may be a long time before we get back to doing in-person choir, since it turns out that singing in a group is probably the most dangerous thing you can do right now. Singing projects droplets farther in the air, and then the deep breathing you do when singing can bring potentially virus-laden droplets deeper into the lungs. We’ve done a couple of “cell phone choirs” where we record our part at home and it all gets edited together, and I’m joining in an online choir project one of my former choir directors is doing. I’m getting used to singing into a camera by myself.

I figure this summer will be a good time to really buckle down and get a lot of writing done. I still have a book to write in my mystery series before I’m ready to launch, and I’m developing a new fantasy series. I’ve also been kind of itching to play with a fantasy/paranormal romantic comedy, though I don’t have any ideas at the moment. It’s just something I want.


The Brave Little Tailor

I had some craziness in the house over the past few days. It started on Thursday when I had the patio door open with the screen door shut because it was nice weather. I noticed a giant fly sitting on the inside of the screen door. I figured it got in the house when I was coming and going from the patio, and it flew outside when I opened the door. I’d barely turned around, and there was another one. I swatted that one. Then there were more.

Friday, it was even worse. Every time I turned around, there were several flies on either a window or the patio door. I noticed some holes in the screen door and patched them. An hour or so later, there were more flies. Fortunately, they were really slow, and they mostly stayed around the patio door and the front window, so they were easy to swat.

I did a little research online and figured that they must be cluster flies. These are large flies that tend to lay eggs inside walls. Apparently, they usually make their appearance indoors in the winter when they mistake the warm indoor air for summer weather and come out. In my case, I suspect it has something to do with the construction work done on my house this winter. They found a hole in the outside wall, which would have allowed the flies to get between the walls, but they patched the hole, so they couldn’t get outside that way anymore. They then came into the house through the little gaps between the new interior walls and the windowsill or around power outlet plates, etc.

I spent the weekend chasing down flies. I had some Brave Little Tailor (“Seven at one blow!”) action going on — literally, because when I wasn’t hunting flies this weekend, I was sewing. It was rather distracting. I started seeing flies out of the corner of my eye, even when they weren’t there. The slightest movement, and I’d start hunting. There were a few times when it turned out I was hunting a strand of hair that I saw out of the corner of my eye. Every time I passed a window, I’d study it, looking for flies.

The onslaught seems to have slowed a bit. I only got four yesterday, and there have only been a couple today so far. When I have a day without a new one, I’m going to caulk around the window where they seem to be coming in (I’d rather not seal them up inside the wall). It’s a good thing I’ve been at home all day. I can only imagine what it would have been like if I’d been gone all day and had come home to find a swarm of dozens of giant flies. It would be like something out of a horror movie.

And now I need to figure out how to incorporate some monsters that are big fly-like creatures into a fantasy novel. I think they might be enemy spies.


Summer Hygge?

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been delving into the Scandinavian concept of hygge, or kos, which loosely translates to something related to coziness. To a large extent, it’s a coping mechanism for cold, dark winters. While it’s cold and dark outside, with very little daylight, they create a light, warm space inside with candles, fuzzy blankets, socks and sweaters, and warm beverages with hearty meals.

I am all about that kind of stuff, but around here, it’s just a way to celebrate cooler weather. There’s seldom any “coping” required to get through winter. That’s the time when we can go outdoors without bursting into flames, when we can walk in the woods without worrying about snakes. The time of year when we need a contrast with harsh weather outside is during the summer, when we face a few months of temperatures so hot that it’s not even safe to go outside in the daytime. We’re huddled inside with our air conditioners the way the Scandinavians have to retreat from harsh winters. That got me started thinking about what our seasonal brand of something like hygge would look like.

Probably blinds or curtains to shut out the harshest sunlight, whenever that happens. My windows face mostly to the east, so I need to block out morning sun. Fans are essential to create a cooling breeze. That would be the summer version of candles for creating atmosphere. Instead of a blanket, you’d have cotton slipcovers on the furniture to make it feel cooler. Instead of socks, bare feet. Instead of a sweater, a cotton sundress. Iced tea or other cool beverages, and salads and ice cream to eat. Fresh summer fruit served cold, like watermelon.

The social aspect would remain the same, with similar indoor activities like movie nights, games, or puzzles, just with cool foods instead of hot beverages and soups.

Maybe I should write the “Hygge, Y’all” book.

I have my own little rituals for welcoming cooler weather, like buying some kind of cozy clothing during the end-of-season sales and putting it away with my sweaters so I have something new when I get out the winter clothes, and I declare the first cool, rainy day of the season to be a holiday, a day to spend reading and drinking tea. But I don’t really need anything to get me excited about the coming of fall. I need some kind of celebration to make me excited about warm weather.

The trick is that we get warm weather scattered throughout the winter. There aren’t many days when you can’t go outside at all, so there really isn’t a “first warm day” to celebrate. I’ve spent afternoons on the patio in January. I could buy a sundress or a summer nightgown at the end of season sales and put it away with my summer clothes to have something new to look forward to. I could “celebrate” the first 100-degree day with ice cream (I don’t have ice cream often). I have a few dishes I only make during the summer, and I do enjoy having watermelon all the time. I don’t know if the swimming pool will be open this year, since they’ll be discouraging gatherings (we have a community pool), and I don’t know about the Friday fireworks at the lake because those draw crowds. It will depend on how things look by then. This really is likely to be a summer of huddling indoors. Since I’m at pretty high risk for complications (and the more we learn about this virus, the more it looks like no one can be entirely certain of getting through it unscathed), I’m going to be playing it safe for some time to come.


Socializing (or Not)

The irony of the current stay-at-home situation is that this year, I was really planning on being more social. During the holidays, I was reading about the Danish concept of “hygge” (or, if you’re Norwegian, kos, though there are slightly different connotations). A lot of it is about coziness, a way of making dark, cold winters feel more pleasant by creating a contrast — candles, blankets, fuzzy socks, etc., while it’s cold and snowy or rainy outside. But there’s also a social element, getting together with a few good friends for dinner, games, puzzles, or just conversation. When it’s not winter, the same concept applies, but for hikes, cookouts, campfires, picnics, etc.

Reading that made me realize that it’s not that I’m anti-social. It’s that most of my social life is built around activities I don’t really enjoy. They involve big groups of 10 to as many as 30 (sometimes more) people getting together. Smaller conversation groups form, but that means there are a lot of simultaneous conversations going on so that the environment is noisy and chaotic. These are generally geeky folk, so they tend to be very passionate, and sometimes loud, about their interests. I literally have nightmares about being in this kind of environment. It’s no wonder that I flee fairly quickly, am utterly drained afterward, and dread the next gathering.

One-on-one get-togethers can be equally draining in a different way, depending on who the other person is and what the relationship is like. You have to be “on” the entire time instead of being able to sit back for a moment and let other people interact. According to the hygge book I read, 3-4 is considered optimum, and that makes sense. With that few people, there’s only one conversation going on at a time, so there’s less chaos, but the social interaction is spread over more people, so it’s not as draining as being with just one person and having to be more “on.”

So, my plan for the year was to cultivate more relationships and smaller groups or to do other social activities that work for me. I had a list of upcoming events I was going to try to get groups together to do. It’s the season for outdoor concerts and festivals. There were classic films at the old movie theater in a nearby town that would have made a good girls’ night out. I was getting my house in order so that I could host a few people at a time. I’d even reached out to a friend to go attend an event together. I was making progress.

And then the world shut down, so I’m back to my normal mode of not going anywhere or doing anything. I suppose when things start to ease up, those quiet evenings at home with a few friends who are also taking a lot of precautions will be about the only things we can do. It will be a long time before we feel safe in restaurants and movie theaters, and big gatherings of more than 10 people will be a bad idea for a while, but we might be able to manage a dinner and movie night at home. I’ve even found myself interested in games, and I’ve never been a gamer of any sort. By the time that sort of socializing becomes an option, I’ll have my house and patio really in order for hanging out with a few people.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying the solitude, with the occasional phone call or video chat.



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.