Hamster-Brain

Well, it’s that time of the book cycle again:  The days after releasing a book when the busy hamster that powers my brain is still churning his little legs frantically, but there’s a big sadistic hand preventing the hamster-wheel from turning. 

My poor brain-hamster dashes up the side of the unmoving wheel only to plop unceremoniously to the bottom and start all over again, panting and wheezing. I wish the stupid little rodent would just give up and stagger over to curl up in the shavings for a snooze.

But, no.  During the day I rocket from one task to the next, trying to catch up on all the things I left undone during the final publishing push.  I’m tired and ready to sleep by the end of the day; but unfortunately, hamsters are nocturnal. 

As soon as my body gets horizontal, the hamster-wheel in my head accelerates to warp-speed, spitting out to-do lists and urgent reminders of upcoming deadlines both real and imagined.  (I’m pretty sure that’s what’s been causing the squeaking noise I hear in my head at night.  Or possibly I have bats in my belfry.)

But Book 16 should be released in paperback sometime in the next week or so, and I’ll start to recover from “hamster-brain”. And my usual spring gardening frenzy should ease off in a couple of weeks, too. Then I’ll take some time to rest and let my starved brain gorge on some new reading before I start plotting Book 17.

Which means… I NEED BOOKS! 

Any suggestions? My ideal binge-read would be a thriller series with humour in it, but I’ll read just about any fiction if the characters are likeable and it gives me a chuckle.  (And no killing off the good guys!) Thrillers, mysteries, cozies, sci-fi, paranormal, fantasy, mashups of any of the above; you name it, I’ll read it.  I’m not big on horror, mostly because “funny” and “horror” rarely overlap. Romance, women’s fiction, and chick lit aren’t really my thing, either; but I do occasionally read in those genres.

So if there’s a book (or better still, a series) you love, please mention it in the comments below. I’d appreciate any recommendations you can offer!  (Book recommendations and/or advice on how to wean my brain-hamster off its addiction to exercise.)  😉

Ant-Watching

Last week I acquired a hobby I never wanted, and certainly don’t enjoy: Ant-watching.

It wasn’t my idea. Hubby made me do it.

Ants creep me out, so you can imagine how (not) thrilled I was last year when a platoon of ants infiltrated the second floor of our house. Soon the upstairs was dotted with little corpses where I’d squished them and left the bodies as a warning to others. (It turns out ants are cannibalistic, though; so really I was just leaving welcoming snacks. Yet another reason why ants creep me out.)

Hubby took an entirely different attitude at the time. “Just leave them alone,” he urged. “Watch them and see where they go. That way we can find the nest and get rid of them once and for all.”

There was some logic to that, but it went against every one of my instincts. I argued that we could simply study the distribution of corpses after I squished them, and it would amount to a scatter-graph showing the areas of higher population density.

In the end, I set out some cotton balls soaked in boric acid/honey/water. The ants gorged on the treat and carried it eagerly back to the missus and kids, poisoning the whole nest before succumbing themselves. We haven’t had ants in the house for over a year.

But.

A few days ago, there was another damn ant!

I squished it, of course. When I told Hubby, his response was predictable: “Don’t squish them, watch them!” He even encouraged me to name the next ant, naively hoping that if the invader had a name, I’d become fond enough of him to spare his life. Clearly, Hubby doesn’t realize what a heartless bitch I am.

But I decided to humour him (Hubby, not the ant), at least for a while. So for an hour I watched ‘Antonio’ make brainless circles around the floor. Eventually he found the place where I’d squished his compatriot a couple of days ago. He circled the spot again and again, antennae waving wildly. I had a small pang, wondering if he was grieving for his friend; but then I remembered the whole ‘cannibal’ thing. He was probably just licking up some tasty juices.

Antonio apparently needed a nap after his cannibalistic snack, so he snoozed under the table for forty minutes. I’d had enough, so I called Hubby upstairs to take over. Oddly, he didn’t seem quite so enthusiastic about the chore when he was the one listening to his brain rot while he watched a motionless ant.

Moments after Hubby abandoned ant-watching duty, Antonio got smeared across the floor. Since then I’ve set out my honey saloon and had a few patrons, so I’m hoping this year our ant-ordeal will be shorter. Meanwhile, I’m stopping up every tiny aperture and grimly eyeing a suspicious spot on the east side of the house. As soon as the weather warms up, it’s off with the siding!

But at least ant-watching is off my to-do list. One thing down; three hundred and seventy-six to go…

Book 16 update: I’m on Chapter 38, and Aydan has just discovered that she’s rich beyond her wildest dreams. Unfortunately, she has no idea where the money came from…

Exercising My Options

Exercise always seems like such a good idea. Medical professionals say it’s vital to our health; beauty magazines tell us it’s vital for our appearance; mental health experts say it boosts our mood; hell, it’s even supposed to improve our sex lives.

So regular exercise is a no-brainer, right? It’ll make me feel look, look good, etc. (No comment on the sex aspect — when everything from powdered rhino horn to chocolate to kale is supposed to make us friskier, I take claims like that with a grain of salt. And a square of chocolate, ’cause why would I not jump on an excuse to eat chocolate?)

Anyhow.

I’m one of those annoying freaks who actually enjoys exercise, but my aging body isn’t quite as enthusiastic. I don’t see why it shouldn’t run and jump and kick and punch just like it used to, but my joints disagree. (So much so that I’ve been sidelined since September with an ankle injury, grrr.)

But my ankle is better now, so I’m back to my regular workouts. That led to my discovery of one of the great ironies of life: After a good arm workout I really need a drink, but I no longer have the strength to raise the glass.

Then there are the ongoing consequences of working out regularly: If I’m doing it right, some part of my body is always a bit tired and sore. So am I actually winning here, or am I only amortizing the pain?

Think about it: If I lie around like a slug most of the time, nothing will hurt until I have to exert myself. But if I exercise regularly I’ll hurt a bit every day. What if it’s like a mortgage, where I end up paying twice as much because I paid in tiny increments?

I guess it doesn’t matter, because I’m not actually capable of lying around like a slug for long — I can only manage it for a few days before I start to twitch. But maybe, like exercise, I have to work up to it. Perhaps short period of sluggery (sluggage?) daily, with gradual increases to build up my tolerance?

It’s just an idea; and probably not a bright one. So the next time I’m straining to lift a glass to my lips with rubbery arms after a workout, I’ll remind myself that I’m actually strengthening my beer-drinking muscles. That’ll put a smile on my face.

Meanwhile, where did I leave that package of drinking straws…?

Book 16 update: I’m on Chapter 34, and Aydan is on the trail of her nemesis… or one of them, anyway.

Sink Slime and Adulthood

The slime is back.

I thought I had vanquished it in July, but no. This week I had to unclog my bathroom sink drain again.

It doesn’t make sense. We lived in our last house for nearly 19 years without a clog. We lived in this house for nearly three years without a clog. Now, I’m dismantling slime-plugged plumbing every six months.

And it’s weird slime. Not particularly stinky or slimy. In fact, it’s more like soft black rubber: Boiling water didn’t budge it; and even though I couldn’t wipe it off, it peeled off cleanly. The internet tells me it’s ‘biofilm’, formed by colonies of bacteria happily gobbling up the various goodies that go down a drain.

Okay, but why now? It has to be something that I (and only I) have recently started doing. I’ve been using the same moisturizer since 1983; and that’s the only difference between what goes down the drain in Hubby’s sink and mine. Except…

Mouthwash.

Hubby doesn’t use mouthwash, but last year I started using it for the first time in my life.

What’s in that stuff?!? And, more to the point, if it can completely clog a drain with rubbery black slime in six short months, do I really want to rinse my mouth with it?

As I was scraping slime into a bucket while sewer gas wafted to my nose from the open pipes, I began to rethink this whole ‘adult’ thing. It seemed like such a good deal when I was a kid: “Adults get to do whatever they want, whenever they want.” I don’t remember any wording in that contract that said, “…whatever they want, whenever they want, right after all the bills are paid and the meals are cooked and the house is cleaned and the work is done and all the gross slimy disgusting jobs are finished, but only if there’s any money left over after all the other stuff.”

Isn’t there a statute of limitations on adulthood? Shouldn’t we be able to get out of it because, as kids, we didn’t have the intellectual capacity to agree to a contract that would last the rest of our lives? Or, failing that, shouldn’t we at least get parole after fifty years of time served?

Oh, well. I had brownies for breakfast the other day so I guess adulthood isn’t all bad. And the drain is fine now, and I’ve switched to an alcohol-based mouthwash so maybe that will discourage the slime-cooties.

Or, with my luck, they’ll get drunk, invite all their little friends over, and party twice as hard. If I wake up some morning to find rubbery black slime oozing out from under the bathroom door, that mouthwash is GONE!

I might turn in my membership card for adulthood, too. Anybody know where I can do that?

Book 16 update: I’m on Chapter 32, and a dead cow is causing problems for Aydan and the gang. Or maybe the dead cow is the beginning of a solution…

Happy Holidays

I feel a bit weird about writing ‘Happy Holidays’ this year. It’s been such a shitty year for so many people, and I don’t want to toss off a flippant greeting to someone whose days will be anything but happy. I don’t want to make anyone feel worse than they already do.

But yet, I do wish everyone happiness. I know we can’t be happy all the time; that’s why it’s a ‘wish’ and not a ‘command’. And I really don’t want to croak out some gloomy pronouncement that’s supposed to sound positive but actually just drags people down. (Now I’m imagining Marvin, the depressive robot from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, moaning, “I’ll wish you Happy Holidays, but you won’t like it.”)

What can I offer instead? Best wishes for peace of mind and peace of home. Hope for the future. Comfort and strength for those who are struggling. Above all, good health. I want those things for everyone, not just now but all year round.

And you know what? I wish us all ‘Happy Holidays’. Not as a thoughtless rote greeting, but as a sincere hope and a positive intention. May we all find joy where we can, when we can; no matter how large or small the measure.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Yes, we had our first snowfall of the year, just in time for Christmas. Now, if only it’ll go away in time for New Year’s…

Book 16 update: I’m on Chapter 28 and Aydan is awash in complications. Now I have to decide whether to help her out or pile on a few more problems just to see what she does. Authors: Part empath, part sadist. 😉

Denial: Not Just A River In Egypt

All my life I’ve had trouble coming to grips with the difference between what I’d like to believe of myself and what hard evidence proves.

I first discovered my penchant for denial ’way back in the early 1970s. That’s when my parents decided to mail audio cassette tapes back and forth to keep in touch with our grandparents, who spent winters in Texas. I was about eight years old at the time, and the new tape recorder was a fascinating gadget. Fascinating, that is, until I recorded my first message and pressed the playback button. And this weird geeky voice issued from the tape recorder!

What the hell?!? (Or ‘what the heck’, I guess, since I was eight.)

I was certain the tape recorder was malfunctioning. I knew I didn’t sound like that. I could hear my own voice perfectly well in my ears (or, more to the point, in my imagination), and it was completely different. Even though my parents and siblings insisted that the recording sounded just like me, I was sure it was all just a tasteless joke and I refused to believe them.

But I eventually had to accept reality when I listened to their recordings. Their voices on tape sounded just like real life.

Damn. That weird, geeky voice was mine.

That memory came rushing back to me a couple of weeks ago. No thanks to COVID, I’m attending virtual meetings these days; so I got a webcam.

Let me just say that webcams were obviously created by the same sadists who install bright lights in changing rooms.

The first time I turned the camera on, this godawful old hag appeared on my screen. Pasty-skinned, she had deep grooves around her mouth and between her eyebrows, and the puffy bags under her eyes were big enough to accommodate a picnic lunch.

Clearly there had to be something wrong with the webcam, because I don’t look like that. Sure, I’ve got a few wrinkles, but they’re not really noticeable unless I look in the mirror while I’m wearing my glasses. (There’s something wrong with my glasses, too.)

But after attending my first online meeting, I’m chagrined to admit that everybody else looked the same on camera as they do in real life. So unless I somehow managed to buy a special ‘Funhouse Brand’ distorted webcam (and I’m not ruling that possibility out, just sayin’), I probably am the godawful old hag I see on my screen.

That was a severe blow to my powers of denial, but I shall overcome!

I’m pretty sure I only looked so bad because it’s a high-definition webcam and I was looking at it full-screen. It’s like looking at yourself in a magnifying mirror — everything looks much worse than it actually is. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

And if all else fails, I’ve just discovered that my webcam has a soft-focus setting that should blur reality nicely. Now, if only I could find some device to do that in real life…

Book 16 update: I’m on Chapter 23 and just finished my usual mid-book editing stage. Everything is tightened up nicely now, and I’m ready to bomb ahead!

Garden Goodies

We’re at the height of the gardening season now, happily inundated by a flood of fruits and veggies; which only goes to show that gardeners are a bunch of freakish masochists (or maybe that’s just me).

You’d think sane people would avoid a hobby that requires them to go outside during the hottest part of the year and perform vigorous labour, then return to the house lugging pounds of produce that needs to be peeled/trimmed/chopped and then processed in boiling water over a hot stove.  But what the hell; if it made sense, it wouldn’t be a hobby.

I harvested about 150 pounds of strawberries in June, and now the rest of the veggies are attempting to follow suit (though fortunately not quite that enthusiastically).  I’ve picked forty pounds of beans so far, and they’re finally “slowing down” to only about six pounds per picking.

I only planted three zucchini seeds this year, so that means I’ll only be feeding all our friends and neighbours instead of having to make multiple deliveries to the Food Bank as well.  Ditto cucumbers; but we may have miscalculated on the corn.  If you don’t see a blog post for a while, you’ll know we’re trying to dig/eat our way out from under a giant heap of kernels.

The veggies’ success hasn’t exactly been shared by the flower seeds, though.  I optimistically planted the seeds in our perennial beds this spring, but I didn’t take the time to mark their locations — I figured I’d be able to tell which were weeds and which were flowers when everything came up. (You gardeners, stop snickering.)

In fact, I did figure it out. It was quite simple: If it looked pale and weedy and it was struggling to survive, it was a desirable plant.  If it was huge and green and growing vigorously, it was a weed.  But at least our established perennials performed beautifully!

Here are a few of the blooms we’ve been enjoying this summer:
(Click on photos to see full-size versions.)

Dahlias

 

Romneya coulteri (California Tree Poppy – Fried Egg Plant)

 

LA hybrid lily

 

Another LA hybrid lily

 

Gorgeous roses

 

More dahlias

 

Poppies

 

Echinacea x hybrida ‘Cheyenne Spirit’

 

Sky-high sunflowers

 

Echinacea purpurea

 

Here’s our most unexpected summer harvest:  A pineapple.  Two years ago, Hubby potted up the top of a pineapple that I’d bought at the grocery store.  The plant grew, and you may recall that back in April I posted a photo of the baby pineapple that was forming on one of the plants.

Well, it actually ripened; and yesterday we picked it and ate it.  Yum!

Our pineapple harvest for the year.

All my sweating in the garden is rewarded with more than yummy veggies and pretty flowers:  I also get to watch the hummingbirds!  They’re amazing — so tiny, and so fearless.  They do their rounds of the flowers less than three feet away from me, completely unconcerned by my presence.

Sometimes they hover a few feet from my face, staring.  Then they’ll swoop over a few feet to the left, then to the right, studying me from all angles.  I think they’re wondering what kind of non-human creature I am, with my giant broad-brimmed gardening hat.

Anna’s hummingbird with scarlet runner bean blossoms

 

Rufous hummingbird with scarlet runner bean blossoms

What’s new in your neck of the woods this week?

Book 16 update:  I’ve plotted far enough to get started — writing begins this week! Woohoo!

Doobie-ous Choices

As a thriller writer, I make my living by writing scary scenarios and then finding ways to make them worse.  But, wow, with all the scary stuff going on in the world right now, what have I got left to work with? I hate to say it, but it might be time to cue the zombie invasion.

I’ve done what I can to mitigate my risks of catching or spreading the flu, so that leaves me a couple of ways to deal with my residual anxiety:  1) Cower in my home and obsess over every sniffle; or 2) occupy my mind with childish humour.

Guess which one I chose?

It wasn’t actually a conscious choice — after I finished the draft of Book 15 this week (hooray!), my brain started scrambling signals just for fun.

For instance, I was surprised and not a little disturbed to discover an email in my inbox titled “What to expect from federal prison”.  It’s not reassuring to receive that sort of advice from one’s online brokerage.  Much to my relief, the title turned out to be “What to expect from federal pension”, so I guess I don’t need to look for escape routes just yet.

Only a few days later, flu symptoms must have been on my mind when I read “It’s a spectacular series of snots” on a photography website.  That would be “shots”, not “snots”.  But at least my inner child got a giggle.

And while I was writing the last couple of chapters of Book 15, that same naughty inner child decided that the root word of “dubious” is “doobie”.  Now I’ll never be able to hear, speak, write, or read the word ‘dubious’ without smirking.

With my inner child thus occupied, my outer middle-aged adult began to contemplate how retirement might look if I ever get to the point where it’s something I want and can afford (neither of which seems likely).

“Well-dressed charity board member” would be a laughably bad fit; mostly because my idea of “well-dressed” is a T-shirt without holes in it, and my lifetime allocation of patience for meetings was used up at least a decade ago.

“Pillar of the arts” might work if I had enough money to actually be a pillar; but right now my budget is more “toothpick”.  And I’d probably have to dress up, too; so that’s out.

After considering and discarding a few other possibilities, I’ve finally decided to become the reprehensible old hippie who spends all day in her garden, sits on her front porch smoking the recreational herbs she grows, shouts insults at passersby, and occasionally moons people just for fun.  (Her fun; not theirs.)

Like all good retirement plans, this will require some advance planning:  I’ll have to learn to smoke, acquire some marijuana plants, move to a place where there actually are passersby, and practice my mooning.  I’ve done it by accident a few times, but I suspect the intentional act is trickier than it looks; particularly if one’s balance is impaired by recreational herbs.

So, having settled on these doobie-ous choices for my future, I think I’m ready to relax a bit.  Anybody want to join me on the front porch?  (At a safe six-foot distance, of course.)

Book 15 update:  The draft is DONE!  It’s already been vetted by the first beta reader, and now I’m into my first round of revisions.  Title and release date coming soon!   🙂

I Think He’s Happy To See Me…

This week a few things have popped up and surprised me.  I’d tell you to stop snickering and get your mind out of the gutter; but you know me too well.  So snicker away — I did.

It all started with a pop-up man…

(And now I want to write some flash fiction beginning with that line. That would be ‘flash fiction’ as in ‘an ultra-short story’, not as in ‘fiction about flashers’. And that’s not even a digression, because the pop-up man started with flashers.)

It was dusk. The lights were on in our house and the yard was cloaked in near-darkness. We live in the country so I don’t worry too much about privacy, but I do draw the blinds at night.

So I was heading for the window when I noticed a truck with its flashers on, backed into our driveway outside the gate. I wasn’t unduly surprised because sometimes people do pull into our driveway when they’re lost and need to check their GPS.  (Which does them no good at all because we’re out in the middle of nowhere and our road isn’t on any GPS map; but anyway…)

I stood at the window watching the vehicle for a few moments.  Then as I reached for the blind cord, a dark-clad man popped up out of the gloom, staring in at me.

He waved. His hand, fortunately.

I must have looked utterly dumbfounded.  He gave me a conciliatory smile and waved again, pointing to his clipboard. Yep, the UPS guy had let himself in our gate and come to the front door (which we never use).

I felt more than a bit awkward as I opened the door and stammered a half-assed explanation as to why I’d apparently been standing there gawking brainlessly at him.  He seemed happy enough to complete the transaction, but he probably went back to the depot and regaled everyone with the story of this weird creepy broad who stood there staring out at him instead of answering the door.

Next, we were digging the last of our carrots when this popped up:

Hubby speculated that the carrots were mutating into some sort of new ambulatory vegetable. Then we turned it around:

I think he’s happy to see me; in a twisted sort of way…

My last surprise was this guy (or gal — who can tell?):

S/He doesn’t look particularly happy to see me; but since I don’t think eagles are capable of looking pleased, I’m going to pretend s/he’s smiling.

I was sitting outside with my tea when this eagle flew by about ten feet away from me, and only a few feet off the ground. Wow, what a surprise!  I’ve never been that close to a wild eagle before.  (And after a glimpse of those vicious talons and beak, I don’t want to get much closer.)

Any surprises popped up in your world this week?

Book 15 update:  An excellent plotting week!  I have the story almost all mapped out now, and I’ve written up to Chapter 18.  Aydan just got a big (and pleasant, for a change) surprise!

Artificial What?

I’ve been pressed for time this week, so I was late getting started on the draft for this post. As I paced the floor wondering what to write, Hubby piped up helpfully: “You know, you need an AI program to create your blogs for you.”

That made me laugh, for a couple of reasons. First, I grew up on a farm. Long before anybody ever thought of calling computer programs ‘Artificial Intelligence’, AI stood for ‘Artificial Insemination’. That might be apropos, considering that some of my posts are pretty screwy; but the accompanying mental image is, um… let’s just say unwholesome.

The second reason for my laughter is that my blog’s spam folder is full of AI ‘creativity’. (Just to clarify, I’m referring to Artificial Intelligence in this case; although considering some of the eye-popping porn in there, both definitions of AI may be equally accurate.)

Here’s one of the (non-X-rated) gems from my recent spam:
“An unconfused perk of living in a multicultural gentry is the wide-ranging variety of foods that enhance ready. X Field notes may document empirical details, methodological issues, dear thoughts, prolegomenon analyses and working hypotheses. Some are within the Checklist to ensure angelic physical environment mistress’s authority over, others not.”

Wow, I wish I’d written that! (Or not.) On the up side, I learned a new word: “prolegomenon”, which is “a critical or discursive introduction to a book”. Who knew?

But that aroused my curiosity. How do spammers develop their content? So your intrepid reporter dove deep into the questionable waters of the internet, and guess what I discovered? There are online generators for everything! Random words, nouns, adjectives, names, numbers, phrases; even complete sentences. So of course I had to try them out.

Fun was had and time was wasted, but despite my dedicated research I didn’t uncover any intelligence, artificial or otherwise.

It didn’t do much for my own intelligence, either. I could practically feel the IQ points slipping away; which may explain why I’ve developed a disturbing tendency to lose focus and stare blankly off into space waiting for my brain to reboot. (It’s not advancing age. Or so I keep telling myself.)

And on that note…

Lately I’ve been spread too thin, so I’m going to scale back my internet presence and concentrate on writing Book 15 for the next little while. I’ll post regular progress notes to prove I’m still alive and working, and I’ll write sporadic ‘real’ posts when I have time.  And of course, I’ll look forward to your comments as always — your comments are the best part of this blog!

“Talk” to you soon!

Book 15 update:  I’m on Chapter 14 and going strong!  Arnie’s having a tough time, but Aydan and John are there for him as always.