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.

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?

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.

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.

Reading From The List

I’ve made it to part 9/10 of the Sandman Comics. Progress is slow, at least in part because everybody is naked, so I can’t take the thing to work to read. (I want to quit, not get fired.)  I’m also squeezing in little chunks of my read all the Hugo AND Nebula–the ones who won both prizes– winners project, which you’d think would go a little faster.

There’s something about choosing reading materials off a list that more or less guarantees that 1.) You will broaden your horizons and 2.) You will have to force yourself through at least some of the material.

It’s not necessarily that I dislike the stuff I’m reading. Maybe it’s more a matter of my enthusiasm wearing off before I ever pick up the book. That initial… that sounds cool… is long gone from having been waiting around on a list for so long, and it’s replaced with something more like… well, what next?

And in some cases, Oh, look! A comic book!

I don’t remember that sense of trudging through a list when I as in school. Maybe the introduction to the book, and the actual reading of the book were too close together for that effect. Enough–hey, that does sound cool–excitement to carry you through.

So, I ordered Ringworld in paperback. It’s one of the ones that isn’t available on my e-reader, yet. Not in it’s original form, at any rate. There is a graphic novel version, which… well, I almost did buy a copy of. I mean… that counts, right?

And then, I wound up finding an e-book bargain for Dune. $1.99, and it’s even on the list.

And this month’s free book from the Tor book club is Old Man’s War (which isn’t on the list, but I am finishing up my last distraction book.) It’s available HERE until the 21st of June. if you want to read it, too.

In related project news, I’m pretty behind on my 52 stories in 52 weeks project. I’ll have to get a move on there.

Wind Turbines Gone Wild

The other day, in a cornfield near me, a wind turbine collapsed.

So, naturally, I had to go out and track down the cornfield, and the wind turbine, and get a picture.

Yup. That is one very collapsed wind turbine. They don’t know why it collapsed, but they do know it went off line at about 5 o’clock in the morning. A rather peeved farmer comments that you wouldn’t want to be out in your field when that happened. A different rather peeved local was muttering about how people don’t have much of a choice about leasing their property to the company. I don’t know about that, but there are definitely fairly solid campaigns against these things whenever they even think about putting them in.

In case the (very not local) company that runs them missed it, people are pissed off.

There’s no question about what this would do to someone, if they happened to be working under it when it fell. And considering the electrical element… And the irrigation in that field… they might not even have to get hit to get dead.

“Wouldn’t wanna be spraying when it happened?”

I don’t even know what that translates to in city people.

Probably getting out a tire iron and beating the shit out of the other guy’s city-people Mercedes to drive. home. the. point. YOU. DROPPED. A. WINDMILL. WHERE. MY. KID. WAS. ABOUT. TO. GO. SPRAY. THWACK.

DO. YOU. KNOW. WHAT. THAT. DOES. TO. A. KID? THWACK.

(probably about the same thing a tire-iron does to a windshield.)THWACK.

You can’t do that in Nebraska.

Well, you could… but after you render the Mercedes undrivable, you’re probably going to have to get out the winch and tow the damn thing back to town (’cause nobody else is going to.) And anyway, there’s a lot of Mennonite blood around here. (TRUE FACT: Mennonites can’t swing a tire iron worth shit.)

For people who are missing the point… I took that picture while I was standing on the section road south of the Turbine.  That Turbine is about half way up the section, which means that it is no less than a quarter mile from where I’m standing, and probably half a mile away. If you look very closely at the still-upright portion of the windmill toward the left, you’ll see a dark-arch shaped thing. That would be a full-sized **door.** And by the way… it is at the top of a staircase that you can’t see. So… it’s a full sized door, that is already six to ten feet off the ground.

We are not amused.

Chivalry is a Drunken Contortionist

Men and doors are just plain awkward.

Don’t get me wrong. Opening doors for women is sweet, and when the guy manages to do it right, it’s adorable.

But more often than not, it’s an old-fashioned gesture that turns into a train wreck.

I’m evenly divided between putting up a series of YouTube instructionals: How to Hold a Revolving Door for Three Ladies and a Guide Dog; You’re My Date, Not a Doorman; And How NOT to Look Like a Serial Killer While Waiting for a Pretty Girl to Cross the Dark Parking Lot So You Can Hold the Door For Her Like a Fucking Gentleman.

And just campaigning for the whole world to install those swish-swish doors like on Star Trek.

I was leaving the copy shop yesterday, along with my mother.  Well, maybe a little behind my mother. I do get distracted in copy shops. And when I get to the double glass doors, she’s trying to take the second door from a delivery guy who is trying to hold the door open with one hand while maneuvering a hand truck with the other. He’s more or less spread-eagled across the sidewalk, with his hand truck trailing.

She’d have to climb over him or his hand truck, or both to get out that door, and her obvious assumption was that he was trying to get into the copy shop, not out of it.

So, now…

He’s trying to hold the door for her, she’s trying to hold it for him, and I’m trying to get the second door in the set so that he can just keep right on going, once he gets through the first one.

There are people behind me–who clearly see the situation the way I do–getting out of the way so he can get by, and people queued up behind him, waiting for him to go in the building. (Because, as I may have mentioned… arms and legs and hand-trucks thrown all over the sidewalk.)

I don’t know what finally tipped him off. Maybe my mother said something. You know, “I’ve got it. Come on in.” (Slightly surprised not to hear her say anything about air conditioning the great outdoors.) Or maybe it just finally clicked, but the guy suddenly goes, “No, I’m going the other way.”

And traffic starts moving again.

None of the women can look at each other for fear of laughing out loud.

Because this is a thing. If four men are carrying a load of bricks… through a thunderstorm… in the dark…. on a deadline… One of those men will still decide that he needs to stop and hold the door for the woman who’s dancing in the rain.

Say what you want about chivalry, but… Most women do recognize a Freight Exception.

The Contract

He caught up with her after lunch, outside the restaurant where they’d had their first date. He’d scraped together a little cash–enough for a drink or two–but he was relieved when he didn’t have to spend it. His last job had been a while.

“Well?” he asked.

Kathy shifted her weight. “Well, what?” she said.

“Well, I heard…” He tried not to look at her, not to give her that prying, downward glance that he associated with gossip and old women. “Are you pregnant?”

“About three months.”

“Congratulations.”

He couldn’t think of anything else to say, and maybe that was the right thing. Maybe it wasn’t. There wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm in it. And in other circumstances–in the olden days–people might be congratulating him.

Kathy looped her arm through his, and smiled a little. Cautious. “I’m going to ask Will and Patrick to be the fathers,” she said, as if giving the contract to someone else were nothing. “They’re good with kids.”

“Do you  think they’ll do it?” he asked.

“Probably.” From the tone of her voice, he suspected the thing was done, that the contract was signed, and that Will and Patrick already were the fathers. “They’ve been together for five years. Their careers are going well. Their mothers want grandchildren.”

Responsible and stable. Reliable. A good choice, by any standard. They didn’t smoke, and Patrick didn’t even drink.

He absorbed the information with all the dignity he’d practiced. “What about me?”

Kathy tensed. “You’re not father material.”

“Yeah. I know. But…” He wished he had a cigarette, or maybe something stronger. “It’s my kid.”

“No.” She dug in. “It’s my kid. I’m the one who’s knocked up. I’m making the choices.”

“I know that.”

“I’m not offering you a contract. That was never on the table.” She pulled her hand back, and folded her arms across her stomach. “You’re not going to be a father.”

The way she said it pissed him off, even though he already knew. Maybe she would have told him, before, if she’d had a chance. He’d stood her up twice in the last month. The first time, he was hung over, and the second… he was playing drums in a dive bar for cash under the table. A contract? No.

He didn’t have any qualifications.

And the houseplant she’d given him had been dead for months.

“I like babies,” he said.

“Everyone likes babies.”

“And kids.”

“Uh-huh.”

“I’ll get a job,” he said.

Kathy nodded, but he could tell she didn’t believe him anymore.

“Will and Patrick are a great choice,” he said, after there wasn’t anything left to say.  They kept walking, and eventually, they got back to her office building.

“I’ll need your medical history.”

“Fine.”

Kathy looked at her watch. “I have to go back,” she said. She stood on her tiptoes to kiss him. “You should stop by, sometime. Maybe take the kid to a carnival, or something. Throw some balls. You’d be a pretty good fun uncle.”

He nodded. “I’ll do that.”

He didn’t know when, but he would. It sounded like fun, and maybe the kid would look like him.