Matchmaker, Matchmaker… I Don’t Know How To Can

I don’t know a thing about canning, and this renders me completely unsuitable for marriage of any kind. The older women in my neighborhood are horrified.

I’m sure you’ve had the conversation:

Older Friend: My wonderful son is getting out of prison after a lengthy sentence involving a misunderstanding about him cutting his horrible wife into seven pieces. He’s single, and all he needs is a good woman to turn his life around.

Me: Sounds great. You do realize I don’t know how to can?

Older Friend: Well, never mind then.

The thing about canning is that done right, you have a jar of asparagus. Done wrong… well, you have a jar of botulism. Canning is the one thing my mother was never willing to try just for fun with instructions out of a book. You have to have someone who knows what they are doing. I got to make jelly as a kid… but not very much, and we always stopped short of putting it in jars.

Someone recently pointed out that you can get anything canned in the United States. I think she meant store-bought and in tin cans, but the truth is… she’s right. And if it isn’t available canned commercially, you can bet there’s some woman down the street who’s doing it. There are a few exceptions. No broccoli. It won’t hold up to the heat, and you’d just wind up with a can of mush. (Or botulism.)

Other than that, yes… I think you can buy anything in cans. Meat (not jut Spam), fish, oysters, vegetables, snails (pause for any Frenchmen listening to recover), pumpkins, nacho cheese… pudding.

It’s a holdover from pioneer days when it took you six months to walk from  Missouri to Oregon and refrigerated rail cars were still a hundred years in the future. Root cellars and grow your own wheat grass days.

You used to can everything you could that you grew yourself, and then you’d buy more cans when you went into town.

Because you really did have to make it through the winter so you can start all over and get to battling locusts in the spring.

Dreams Without a Sell-By Date

I was talking to a coworker… or maybe this is a theme, and it’s just suddenly becoming obvious… But, it was one of those “At my age” conversations. So, here she is, in a job that she hates, coming off the last job that she hated, and which finally just hit the boiling point. Just couldn’t stand it, anymore, so here she is… And she was basically saying… what else can I do, at my age? (Her age is older than I am, but probably still about an eternity from retirement.)

The thing is, she had ideas. None of them are really things she’s passionate about, and most of them are things that you probably should be passionate about, if you’re going to make them your life’s goal. But they sound better than here, and why not?

Oh, yeah. That’ right. At my age… There are geographic factors, too. Kids, grandkids. Family in the dying little town we live in. We’re all good at finding reasons not to jump. Not to face the unknown.

The truth is, I don’t believe either one of us should count on our current job being here for long. Definitely not until I retire. Probably not even until she retires. And it’s really not that great a job to begin with. More of a devil you know situation.

Not everybody gets be an astronaut when they grow up.

And most kids… we pump them full of the kind of dreams that do have sell-by dates. How many years do you have to become a baseball player? I mean… you might spend your eighties tossing a ball around with the Senior Sluggers, but you’re never going to play for the New York Yankees. No, not even way out in left field. How long before you lose your chance to be a rock star? Do you even want to be President of the United States after you’re old enough to buy a beer?

Writing is different.

You can actually do that, regardless of age or geography for as long as you’re interested in doing it.

You can be better at eighty five than you were at twenty five.

There’s a lot of value in the idea that I can still make it, even at my age. Even at her age.

And I can make it doing something I’ve always loved.

I’m still working toward that goal.

In school, I got a lot of That’s Nice, dear… Have you considered this assessment-indicated career in forestry and wildlife management? Certainly more than anyone suggesting that writing could be a career path in itself.


Hobbies For Serial Killers… and Writers.

One of the things I like to do–as a point of interest, not as a career path–is to take the information that people hand out without a second thought, go to the internet, and see how much more I can come up with. It’s a holdover from my time writing thrillers, and the truth is, everyone should probably take a step back and think about how much information they really want to give strangers.

The correct answer?

I don’t know. I mean, I have a blog, don’t I? A Twitter account?  I post information on the internet, and for the most part, I don’t get a whole lot of negativity. I’ve never gotten any trolling, or threats. Of course, I’m also not really advertising to a full cross-section of the world, either. My blog focuses on readers, writers… uhm… mostly not homicidal maniacs.

I still believe you should think about what kind of information you’re giving away… particularly if it connects to minors.

There’s not a whole lot of advantage to giving away personal information.

So, the game goes like this. You see a stranger. It could be one of those SUVs with the stick family on the back, or it could be that Booster Club Mom with the giant buttons with her kid’s picture and the Sports Team T-shirt. Anyone, really. The goal is to get from watching their car drive by to knowing enough to get them to believe you know them. (I’m not actually suggesting that you act on this.)

You are not allowed to talk to the person, or to communicate with them in any way. No asking for more information,  no hinting, no introducing yourself in hopes of hearing the person’s name, or getting them to chat about their high school glory days.

You take the information they hand out freely, and you go from there. Is their kid an honor roll student at Herbert Hoover Middle School? Does Dad have one of those license plates that lists his ham radio call letters? (You can pull up radio license information, and usually a home address with one of those.) Those nifty Team/sport/name/JerseyNumber bumper stickers are suddenly weirdly creepy.

Because people really do give away a lot of information on their cars, sometimes on their bodies. Hobbies. Interests. The number of people and pets in the family. Do you really want people walking by your car to know you own an attack cat instead of a Doberman? Do you want them to know that your daughter’s name is Chelsea, she goes to Franklin Middle School, where she plays volleyball, and then goes to dance at Baby Ballet is us? Would you like that same stranger to know what her brother’s name is, and what kind of car to tell her broke down?

And yes, one of my villains does wind up choosing victims based on the bumper stickers on their cars. It’s not as detailed as this, but… well, it’s the kind of thing that gets a girl to thinking. Be safe out there.

What do you think? Where do you draw the line on giving out information?

Staring Down the Third Week Slump: The Blogger Falls in a Hole

There are patterns in my blogging, in case you hadn’t noticed, and as a result, there are patterns in my website traffic. One of the biggest momentum killers is falling behind when I have a couple days off. I’m usually not all that far ahead, anyway, but there’s something about a good day off that will absolutely slaughter any momentum I did have built up.

The other big one I see is that the first week of a month–well, that’s pretty good. I have beginning of the month “events” and blog hops, and I’m starting with a fresh slate, so the first week or so is always good. The second week rarely hits that high, but it’s not bad.  And then, the third week… well, the third week is where the momentum starts to dwindle. Sleeping in starts to seem like a good idea, and I don’t get posts out as routinely, clock-work-ly at eight o’clock as I usually do.

Sleeping in beats the shit out of my Krebs’ Cycle–every single time, because I just can’t wrap my groggy head around the idea that sleeping until four or four thirty in the morning IS sleeping in. Nope. An extra couple of hours beyond that, and good-bye, mitochondria!

As weird as it sounds, I think the answer is probably scheduling posts for my days off.

We’ll see if my poor little brain can accept that. But the truth is, I’m falling out of rhythm on my days off from my day job, not the days when you’d think I’d have the least time to do this. No, really… I’ll just post a few pictures after I finish hiking in the tall grass.

The other thought that flutters through my head is that what I really need is something along the lines of a mid-month goal… or blog hop… or maybe both. Something to get people in here, and something that I’m going to do on a deadline.

So, what are your patterns and pitfalls? Any suggestions for that mid-month blog hop of my dreams?

Counting Down the Plot Cards

I got to work on my revision project for a while, and I wound up putting everything in order, or close to it. That makes the whole thing seem a lot more complete than it has in the past. (Previous Organization: Main Plot and Sub-Plot neatly separated so I can make sure everything’s there. Current Organization: Chronological.) It also makes me feel a whole lot closer to the word-count of doom. You know… that moment when you go over anything remotely resembling marketable, and you have to go back and fix it (again) before you can even think about selling it?

I have color-coded plot cards, and I’m moving into the word count warnings.

When I run out of cards entirely, I’ve hit too big and clumsy.

Right now, I’m envisioning virtually every card I have left going toward the development of the relationship between main characters and why the two planets cannot exist without each other.

Every time I start a new project, I am convinced that I’m going to plot in a neat, orderly way, and not write a whole bunch of material that I don’t really need. I’m convinced that I’m going to make out plot cards as I go along, and stay focused.

And it never seems to happen that way. Part of it is my mind skipping from place to place as I settle into a new story. Part of it is probably just laziness and disorganization. I don’t necessarily have a plot thought through at the beginning, but keeping track would sure be able to cut down on the revision time. And the writing time.

I think writing by hand tends to keep me a little more focused than writing on the computer. Or maybe, I just throw things away in a more expedient fashion when I’m writing by hand. Let’s just rip that out of our notebook and throw it away. It didn’t go anywhere. (And on a computer, I just press save.)

So, right now, I’m playing with a couple of ideas for my next project. One of them involves robots, and the other involves space ships, and long-term space travel. I only have a couple of characters, and maybe a scene or two for each one.

What do you think?

Side Trips and History Spelunking

I’m headed toward the hstorical society a few countes over, hoping to find some information about the Naval Ammunition Depot, and the accidental explosions that took place there. There were four of them during the course of World War II, and there are some parts of the area which are still restricted to civilians. It also happens to be near the Disease Animal Research Center (and, job notice: They’re looking for a new head bull semen collector. I hope the “head” part has to do with rank.)

The thought occurred to me that if I mentioned my schedule in advance, people would be able to think about whether there’s anything at the location I’m going to that would be of interest to them, and I might wind up with some interesting quests.

I don’t know how much of what I do is actually interesting to the general public, but more of a hey, as long as I’m going to be there, anyway, why not pick up pictures of Aunt Agatha’s grave for a stranger on the internet?

I’m not sure how far in advance I usually know anything about where I’m going, but that might be interesting for all of us.

Most of the trips are just recreational–something to do, and somewhere to go–so if you have thoughts, don’t be afraid to at least ask about something you want to see.

Out Traipsing

I went out for a hike at the Spring Creek Audubon Tall Grass Prairie today. Or, more to the point, I went out this morning, before the day really started to heat up. It was about 87 degrees when I finally came back around ten a.m. And it’s floating in the high nineties, right now. Tuesdays would be the free day at Spring Creek, so let’s share these pictures around to make sure they get their money’s worth for letting me in.

Snazzy mosaic of a dragon fly in the Audubon center.



Somebody’s footprint. It feels racoon-y to me, but I’m no expert.


Oh, yes, they did! They built this education center out of hay. There is a slight hay-y odor to the building.


Stuffed Badger. Pretty sure he was teaching High School English the last time I saw him. Note the optimistic, but worn expression on his face.


Flowers out on the trail.

Aaaand… more taxidermy. The backpacks in the back are “child-friendly” educational hiking packs provided to the kids by the center.

We are now in the exact, geographical center of nowhere.

Oooh, I know this one! It’s a deer.

And, the noble turkey. Ben Franklin was soooo right that this would make a better national bird. So industrious.


Let’s just say these suckers stand about eight feet tall.


Unfortunately, harmless.

So, this is all located somewhere between Denton (a town known for its monastery (they teach Catholic priests the Latin Mass) and its steakhouse) and Crete (A town known for its phenomenal Mexican restaurants.) It is free on Tuesdays, and you’ll want to bring bug spray (ticks, especially) and sunscreen.

Advisors and Momentum

Another batch of advisors quit the other day. This one was basically a whole advisory committee on HIV/AIDS that walked out en masse because, they said, the president just doesn’t care about HIV/AIDS. They aren’t the first. Elon Musk quit after the US pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, and there have been others.

I can see their point. Why keep talking, if no one’s listening?

Of course, on the other hand, I’m not exactly sure the role of advisors is to say “Do as you’re fucking told, or I’m going to go sulk on the other end of the playground.


Some days, well… yeah… you’re Aristotle.

But most of the time… You’re the slave boy on the victor’s chariot. Remember you are mortal. (No one cares. No one hears you. The cheering crowd will deify him, anyway.) You’re the gadfly, getting brushed away. Over, and over, and over.

Did you think there would be glamor? Sorry about that.

Obedience? Well, you’re clearly mistaking the role of “advisor” with the role of “mommy.”

Advisors have been an interest of mine since somebody–I can’t remember who, but I have my suspicions–mentioned that one of the signs of a ruler becoming a dictator is that he will begin winnowing out the advisors who don’t agree with him. He creates an echo chamber, and then, the downward spiral begins.

But Elon Musk wasn’t exiled. The Advisory Council on AIDS wasn’t crucified along the Appian Way. They just left.

Because things weren’t going their way.

And while I understand the concept of quitting in protest in theory, I believe there needs to be a slave boy. There needs to be a gadfly. An advisor isn’t an engine… he’s the brake. And he’s a failing break… but it doesn’t matter. Every little bit helps.

If nothing else, a ruler needs to be reminded–again and again– that his opinion isn’t the only one.

If he agrees with you, you’re not an advisor… you’re an echo.

It’s easier to be an echo.

Dreams of Sleeping, or why You Shouldn’t Eat Gravy Before Bed

This is the week for iffy sleep patterns and strange dreams. As far as I know, absolutely everyone in town has had trouble sleeping–heat, humidity, thunder that would wake the dead–and the general feeling has been described as “hung-over, but you haven’t been drinking.” So, attack of the poorly modified Kreb’s Cycle.

Time for tea, in other words.

I woke up just after a really bizarre dream, in which a Bestselling Author was giving a lecture that would have been more suited to a college professor, and wound up getting ripped for calling Tiberians Tiberians. Now, never mind the fact that Tiberius went around naming just about everything after himself, so exactly which Tiberians, and where was up in the air…  (There’s a snazzy tourist resort in Israel, and that’s probably what a modern human being would mean. I’m not sure I count as a modern human being.) Well, we just don’t call them Tiberians, anymore.

Oh, good. I have Second-Temple political correctness going on. In my head.

You would think dreams about a time period in which people believed that female orgasm was necessary to conception might possibly be more interesting… but uhm… no.  The appropriate Second Temple dream would be debating what to call Tiberians.

So, then, Author moved on to showing off wardrobe pieces for The Handmaid’s Tale. (Which he did not write.)

That means a chartreuse dress (roughly in his size) with truly enormous white ruffles that somehow, miraculously, folded up into little book-shaped ornaments that dangled off the dress at random intervals. I think there was a button. Ruffles. Books. Ruffles. Books.

Well, that’s definitely a “different” take on the Handmaid’s Tale.


There Was Once a Monsoon in My Lagoon

I woke up to a pretty good thunderstorm last night. I can’t remember the time, but it was well past my bedtime, so I took pictures. Lots and lots of pictures.
I’m going to be a little fried, today.

These are all cell-phone pictures, and they’re all lit entirely by the lightning from the storm. I don’t really know what accounts for the difference in color between them.

According to the count on the camera, I shot 226 pictures to get these. They were the best of the lot, and I know I couldn’t have done this with a film camera.

That’s a Ginkgo tree in my yard, just in case the thought of asking crossed anybody’s mind.

The blue one is one of my favorites… and I really don’t have any idea why it wound up blue. We also had some reddish-orange flashes of lightning, but I didn’t get lucky with those. You can almost see my neighbors’ house at the bottom. They were out storm chasing. The lunatics!!! (In this context, Lunatic should be understood to mean anyone whose vehicle is taller than mine, and therefore was able to be out in the storm. Pretty sure this would have stopped my engine.)

So, yeah. This is me standing by the front window in a thunderstorm, clicking away as fast as I could. I got these—and they’re pretty much the immediately recognizable, dramatic ones. I might be able to tinker around and get something useable out of a few of the others, but they didn’t wind up with the same clarity out of the box.

Right around seven full rolls of film. I would probably have missed a lot of these, or even all of them, if I’d been wasting time reloading. Not to mention the expense of film, and processing.