Archive for Life


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.


Shrinking the TBR Pile

Earlier this year, there was a huge outcry from book people about a misquote/misinterpretation from organizing expert Marie Kondo. It seems like someone heard about something she said on her Netflix show, made a meme, and that got spread without questioning. They claimed she said people should only have about 30 books. I don’t know what she said on the show, but in her book she said that was the number she settled on for herself, but that number will vary for each person and will probably be a lot higher for writers. The key point for her is only keeping the things that spark joy. She’s not a big fan of the to-be-read pile because she figures that if you really were interested in that book, you’d have read it when you got it rather than letting it sit around.

To some extent, she has a point, but she may not realize that writers also get given free books. I don’t have many books I’ve bought in the to-be-read pile (unless I was buying books to support writer friends rather than buying things I really wanted to read right then). My pile was almost entirely books I was given at conferences.

I did a big bookcase purge starting last year, really trying to follow Marie Kondo’s principles and keeping only the books I love and know I’ll want to re-read someday. That cleared a lot of bookcase space, as I realized I was just keeping everything I’d read, even books I didn’t like.

Meanwhile, I tackled the to-be-read pile. I sorted out the books I’m pretty sure I’ll never read because they aren’t the kind of books I like. I don’t have time to read all the books I want to read, so why feel obligated to read something I’d never have chosen for myself? I got rid of a lot of the books I got at romance conferences. I’m not a big fan of historical romances, so unless there was some particular reason a book intrigued me, it went to the Friends of the Library for their book sale. Ditto with anything about vampires or werewolves.

The TBR bookcase, full of books I need to read.

The next thing I did was make it more likely that I’d actually read these books. I’d been stashing them on a bookcase in my office, where they were mostly out of sight, out of mind. Instead, I cleared out the small bookcase in my bedroom, where I usually am when I’m looking for something to read. That bookcase is actually an old stereo cabinet that had been left in the basement storeroom associated with one of the apartments we had in Germany, and I’ve had it ever since. It’s deeper than the usual bookcase, so the books are about two deep in there. I’ve filled it with as many of the TBR books as I could fit, so now when I need something to read, I grab something from this bookcase. If I can’t get into it or don’t really like it, I allow myself to put it in the donation bag. As I empty spots, I add more books from the boxes I have stashed upstairs. I’m down to three book-size boxes, plus the bookcase. That’s a lot, but it’s so much better than it was. I’ve read so many more books from my own collection this year than I have in decades. So far, I must confess that I haven’t moved anything from the TBR bookcase to the keeper bookcase. I haven’t necessarily disliked anything, but I haven’t loved it enough that I know I’ll want to re-read it.


The point of Marie Kondo’s method is that if you get rid of the stuff you don’t love, you have more room in your life for what you do love. I think purging the TBR stack made it possible for me to actually read from it instead of feeling overwhelmed by it. I’m not sure I’ll ever entirely finish this exercise because new books keep coming in, but if I decrease the backlog, I’ll be more likely to read them on a more timely basis. It’s a pity to read an advance copy of a book five or more years after it was published.


Fall Holiday

I have a policy (it’s even in writing, so it’s official) that the first cool, rainy day of fall is a holiday. Today is that day. A front came through last night, so this morning was rainy and cool. I celebrated with a leisurely breakfast of cinnamon rolls (the refrigerated kind) and tea. Now I have a lentil soup simmering on the stove for lunch. I’ll bake some cookies this afternoon, and I think it will be a movie night tonight. There’s a neighborhood movie night in the park, but I’ll have to see how cool it still is by then, and I’ll have to decide if I want to watch The Addams Family in the park or stay home (and warm) and watch something else. I’m also getting to wear my new cozy at-home outfit. Last spring, at the end-of-season clearance sale, I bought this soft, fuzzy tunic/dress from the loungewear department (so I guess it’s kind of pajamas, or just something comfortable for wearing around the house). It was already too warm for that sort of thing, so I put it away with my winter clothes. Today is the perfect weather for it, worn with fleece leggings (though by later in the afternoon the fleece may be overkill and I may switch to regular leggings). There may also be some reading, possibly even some writing, but I’m not making myself write. Today is all about enjoying the change of seasons and doing all the things I haven’t been able to do for months, like light candles. I can’t really have candles when I’m running the ceiling fans, but I can enjoy them today.

And then next week it’s warming up again. Ugh. We don’t get seasons. We get days, randomly scattered around. But I’m going to enjoy this while it lasts.

The weather and the fact that it’s Texas vs. Oklahoma weekend reminds me that it’s around the time of one of my life milestones. It was around this time of year back in the late 90s when I unexpectedly got a chance to sample the kind of life I’m living now. I was working for a public relations agency, and I got recruited by a former client, who’d gone to work for a competing agency. She was running the account for a company that was also a client I’d worked with in the past, and they wanted me for their account. The last time I’d changed jobs, I left one job on a Friday and started the new one on Monday, without a break, so this time around I wisely gave myself a week of down time after my two weeks notice when setting my start date. But then when I submitted my resignation at my job, they walked me to the door rather than letting me work out my notice, so I suddenly had three weeks off, in October, my favorite time of year to enjoy. I treated it as a chance to live the freelance writing life I’d dreamed of. I took long walks, did some writing, got my house in order (I’d moved into this house during the summer but hadn’t completely unpacked or organized everything), and even did a little traveling. I hated to go back to work, but it was a good incentive to keep up the writing so that one day that would be my regular life. And now it is! I have to remind myself of that every so often when I get discouraged or frustrated by the publishing business. I’m living the life I always hoped to have, and while I’m not wealthy, I do have enough to live on. I get to do silly things like declare the first cool, rainy day of fall a holiday, something I doubt most employers would be all that open to.


Travel Planning

I’m more than halfway through my copyedits, so it looks like I’ll have that project off my plate before the weekend, and then I won’t have any deadlines or obligations. Whee! I won’t know what to do with myself.

I’d been thinking about taking a little road trip vacation early next week. We’re still having summer weather, so it would be more like a delayed summer vacation, only with weather not quite so miserably hot as it actually is in summer, than like a fall trip. There’s a town on a lake about four hours from here, and there’s a hotel actually on the lake. I’ve been thinking about heading down there, going to one of the state parks nearby where they have cavern tours, and generally just relaxing. I know that if I stay home, I’ll probably just end up falling into my usual routines and habits, and I’ll feel like there’s something I “should” do. The timing is good, since there’s no children’s choir this week, so I wouldn’t have to worry about lesson plans on the day I return. The choir isn’t singing the following Sunday, so I could even skip choir entirely and take a night off (though I’d probably go and go to the dinner before so I wouldn’t have to cook on the day I return).

But at the same time, there’s a big dose of inertia going on and a reluctance to make the long drive. Once I’m out of the metro area, it’s not so bad, but to get to the country part of driving, I have to cross most of the metro area. The weather isn’t entirely cooperating. There’s a good chance of rain on part of the day I’m planning to do most of my outdoor activities there. Then again, it’s been so long since I’ve seen rain that it might be worth it to travel just to see rain. And every time I check the forecast, it changes.

My problem is that I love planning trips, but taking them is often less fun than the planning process. Maybe I should have been a travel agent. I could plan trips all day for other people and not have to actually go on them.