Tag Archive | personal

Definitely did not dodge the snow and ice

It may not look like a lot, but…

New residents to the Seattle area always get amused when snow is in the forecast. Native Seattlites and long-term residents leave work early, make grocery store runs, and prepare for the worst at any forecast of more than a dusting of snow. “It’s only 2/4/6 inches!” these recent arrivals shout. “You guys are really overreacting.” If those people still live here the following winter, they do not repeat that folly. I grew up in the central Rocky Mountain region, where temperatures of -25ºF were common, where snow was deep enough most Octobers that you had to wear snow boots and a heavy coat to go trick-or-treating as a child, and so forth. So I thought I knew all about snow and cold weather. As a teen-ager when we first moved to western Washington I didn’t get it either.

There are several reasons it is different. First, we just don’t get that much snow here, at all. Maintaining large fleets of snowploughs that only get used about once every three years just doesn’t make sense for most city and county governments. We have plows, but most are the kind that can be attached to generic utility trucks. So they aren’t quick to deploy, and the drivers don’t get much practice most years.

A related issue is that usually we just don’t get that cold. The ground (and especially the asphalt on roads) stays much warmer throughout the winter than at other places. That means that if we get more than a dusting, the first bunch of snowfall immediately melts when it hits the roadway, but then as more snow falls, the asphalt gets cold enough that that melted snow turns into a sheet of ice. Which more snow is falling onto. Anyone who has lived in places that get lots of snow and has driven on it should know that there is a big difference between driving on snow and driving on ice hiding under snow.

Then there is geography. It’s very hilly here. Really hilly. And again because we don’t get freezing weather and snow often, people build houses on hills that in other parts of the country no sane person would. Several of the small towns I lived in back in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Nebraska had one or two stretches of road on steep hills. Those roads never had houses or businesses along them, and every winter the city would put up big roadblocks to completely block that section of road until spring. It was a convenient short route during the summer, but the rest of the time it was closed because it is too steep to drive on safely with snow. About 80% of the roads in Seattle are as steep as the hills that used to get blocked off every winter in those small towns.

All of those hills and the many bodies of water mean that we have microclimates. My favorite example was back when I lived near the ship canal. One day I needed to walk up to a friend’s house that was a mere six blocks from my place. Six blocks up a steep hill. It was very cold and raining hard at my place, down at the bottom of the hill, and it looked like a fog bank was engulfing the hill. I started walking. About half way up, I hit the “fog bank” which was actually snow. There was almost an inch of snow at my friend’s place, and it had been snowing for a couple of hours (so she was surprised I had shown up). I picked up the stuff I was supposed to collect and walked back down the hill. It was still raining hard with no sign of snow there, just six blocks away. So you may leave your house one morning thinking you only have rain to deal with on a short drive, and suddenly find yourself slipping and sliding on ice and slush. Probably sliding backward, because you were going uphill…

Because of the microclimates and how easy a very slight shift in the upper atmosphere can flip us between snow, rain, sleet, or freezing rain, we occasionally get situations where the ground and sidewalks are covered in deep mixtures of snow, ice and slush. That is extremely hard to walk on, and your clothes get soaked with barely-not-freezing water. So even if you try to avoid driving, it can be an ordeal just to walk to a nearby store or to get to the nearest bus stop or light rail station.

The sidewalks are particularly bad because while it is the responsibility of property owners to shovel the walks, most people don’t own snow shovels (cf. above mention that we only get significant snow about once every three years)—one of the local news blogs shared a video earlier this week someone posted online of a neighbor shoveling snow using a Swiffer (indoor mopping gadget). When you combine that with how many stretches of sidewalk go past large apartment buildings (whose owners are just as unlikely as individual home owners to own a snow shovel) and how many stretches of road go past green strips and other public property which doesn’t get shoveled (or in my end of the region, how many neighborhoods don’t have sidewalks at all), well, it’s just a mess.

This year’s event has been a combination of several of our worst problems. The first big snowfall a bit over a week ago turned into sheets of ice with snow on top. Arterials were plowed and de-iced, but more snow kept coming, and sides streets all over the region remained icy slip-and-slides of doom. And more snow keeps coming. We get a break and people go out and try to shovel their drives and sidewalks…. and then it snows again. Then we got the rain/snow mix that put heavy ice on power lines and tree branches resulting in 90,000 households (including us) being without most of the night.

For some perspective: in the last 10 days we’ve had 8 times more snow than Boston has all winter. We are already the snowiest February recorded in the area in 35 years. Seatac Airport has broken a record for most snow in a single day set in 1949.

And we don’t know if it is over. Things are melting a bit today. It’s supposed to be much warmer tomorrow, which will cause more melting (at which point more trees will fall as the ground on all those hills I mentioned above turns to mud) and we may get a bit of flooding some places. Then another cold air mass looks to be moving in late Wednesday night, meaning all those wet street will turn to ice again just in time for the Thursday commute… and another wet air mass is coming toward us from the south hitting either late Thursday or early Friday. That might mean more snow. It might mean rain. It might mean freezing rain. It is likely going to mean all three just depending on where you are.

So, fun?

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The unending struggle against thermal equilibrium, or, trying to get my coffee just right

© 2014 Gene Breshears

Coffee always helps.

I have a favorite coffee mug. It’s purple and holds a large amount of coffee. It’s a nice, solid mug that isn’t top heavy (a feature that a previous favorite mug did not share, which resulted in a lot of spilled coffee and swearing). You know those markings on the side of most automatic drip coffee carafes that tell you how many cups are in the pot? If my favorite mug is completely empty and I fill it from such a pot, the numbers on the side indicate that I’ve poured out a bit more than four cups from the pot. A standard-ish modern coffee mug usually holds about two cups. So when I said this one is large I meant it.

I like the mug a lot.

There really is only one problem, which I have been dealing with for several years, ever since we bought our current microwave.

This mug (my favorite) and this microwave do not quite get along... © 2019 Gene Breshears

This mug (my favorite) and this microwave do not quite get along…

For various reasons, most mornings when I go to get myself my first cup of coffee at home, there is usually enough cold coffee leftover from the previous day to fill my favorite mug. So I fill the mug and stick it in the microwave and immediately face a dilemma. If I press the 1 minute button on the microwave, by the time it is done, the coffee in the mug will be only barely warmer than tepid. If I select, say, 1 minute and 30 seconds, when I reach for the mug I will find that handle is scalding hot, while the body of the mug is only slightly warm, and the coffee is also only slightly warm. If I select a full two minutes, the coffee itself will be a very nice temperature, but not only with the handle of the mug be too hot to hold, but the body of the mug will also be a warmer than is pleasant to hold.

Exactly why the mug itself heats up more than the coffee in this microwave doesn’t really matter. The thing is, according to the Laws of Thermodynamics, once the mug has reached a point where it is warmer than the coffee, one should need only to wait for a bit, and the mug will cool down while the coffee absorbs some of that heat the mug is losing and warm up. So you would think that the ideal option would be to select the one and a half minute cycle, carefully carry the mug grasping the body and not the too-hot-to-touch handle over to my desk or whatever, and in let’s say five minutes time everything would be perfect.

But it doesn’t work. Most of the mug handle’s heat, instead of going into the rest of the mug and eventually the coffee, seems to mostly go into the air around it. The upshot is that by the time the mug’s handle is cool enough to comfortably grip it, the coffee has cooled down closer to room temperature than the warmth it had before.

Once a fresh pot is made, I have an easier time managing the temperature. Usually the coffee is cold by the time I’ve drank half the mug, so I can top it off from the bot and it reaches a nice warm—not too hot, not tepid. And if can do a little 30 second zap if the coffee is a bit cooler than I like. So long as I don’t let it get back down to room temperature, anyway.

I’m sure there’s some sort of life lesson I should be able to derive from this. It’s like the tiniest annoyance in my life. It’s been on my mind more lately because between one or the other of us being sick and all the weird weather, I’m been working from home a lot more often. And this will surprise some people since I seem to by such a coffee addict, but I almost never make coffee at home on days I go into the office. My first caffeine of the day on those days happens is the free stuff they have in the kitchenette down the hall from my desk.

Ah, well, I’ll just have to soldier on!

We couldn’t dodge the snow and ice forever, I guess

The snow started coming down earlier than forecast.

While a whole lot of the continent was experiencing freakishly cold tempts thanks to the polar vortex, Seattle had the warmest January on record (after a warmer-than-average but not record-breaking December_. It was freaky. Three of my fuchsias on the veranda was still putting out new blooms in late December, and one of there was still doing so in late January. We had high pollen counts at the end of January that forced me to take the maximum dose of my prescription allergy medicine. It was looking like this was going to be one of those mild Seattle winters where I never got to take a break from the prescription medication at all. I mean, most years I have to take the meds for about 10 months out of the year (and I get so tired of explaining to people that yes, you can have hay fever in November—that’s peak mushroom and toadstool season!).

Then last week the local meteorology professor whose blog I read all the time explained how we might be seeing snow by Sunday, and why even though normally you can’t trust forecasts more than four days out, it was a near certainty that all this week we would have freezing weather.

The last in depth forecast I read on Saturday said that we would get snow, but likely no more than an inch of accumulation. And, because of that warmer than usual December and January, the ground was warmer than usual, so the roads and highways would almost certainly be fine Monday.

Whoops!

The forecast had also said that the snow wouldn’t hit our section of the state until nearly sundown on Sunday. So when I looked out the window Sunday afternoon as I was checking on my Superbowl Chili before 1pm and saw that snow was coming down, I was a bit freaked out.

By sundown Sunday there was more than two inches accumulated outside our place, and the snow was still coming down. Overnight lows were “only” in the low 20s Farenheit, but our power went out at about 5:30 in the morning, and by the time the sun was up enough for me to see outside, it was clear we had more than 5 inches of accumulation. All of the schools in the county closed for the day. The highway patrol as well as the state and city departments of transportation was urging everyone that could avoid driving at all to stay off the roads. It was quite icy.

Our power was restored before noon, which was nice. Because it was getting very windy in the early evening Sunday, I made an extra pot of coffee, because I figured a power outage was more than just possible. So one of the upsides to my morning was that I had coffee to drink while I was getting ready for work. It was cold coffee, but it was coffee. As I checked in at work (thank goodness for full charges on the phone and iPad) pretty much all of my co-workers were staying home either because of the roads or because their kids were home from school.

Another upside to all of this were birds at the bird feeder!

I have written before about how, when an immature Cooper’s Hawk started hanging out on my veranda we went from frequently having crowds of one to two dozen sparrows, chickadees, and juncos at our bird feeder, pecking at seeds that get scattered on the deck by the birds pecking at the feeder, or just hanging out in lines waiting for spots to open up on the feeder to me only very occasionally seeing pairs of birds arrive together, most of the time only willing to peck for seeds on the deck down where they could easily hide behind/between my planters and such.

Well, Sunday afternoon as the snow filled the sky, suddenly I had between four and eight little bird out there at a time. That day they were still doing the buddy system I had noticed before: one will peck for seeds either on the deck or the feeder, while the other perches on a tree branch or in one of my larger lavenders and keep an eye peeled; then they trade places after a couple of minutes. So it was all pairs coming to the veranda, and half of each pair would eat while the other kept watch.

I haven’t seen any sign of the hawk since about a week after Thanksgiving. Since about half of all Cooper’s Hawks migrate, it is possible that she was only in our region for about a month while slowly moving south. It’s also possible that the area (since we are in a city, despite the huge numbers of trees all around) simply didn’t have enough prey to support her long term and she moved elsewhere once our neighborhood was hunted out.

Anyway, since I was home today, and in was a day with lots of conference calls (again, thank goodness for phones with good battery life!) I got to watch the feeder. There is a lot of snow on the deck. So even though I spread a lot of extra seed Sunday afternoon once I realized the cold was driving the birds to be less cautious (I also re-filled the feeder), their only real source of food at there was the feeder itself. And the buddy system doesn’t seem to be quite as much an imperative for them.

Standing very still for many minutes back away from the window, using the zoom, I eventually managed to get a picture with more than one bird in it.

They are very skittish, and every time I tried to ease myself slowly to the window to get pictures, they scattered. I eventually managed to get a picture with two birds at the feeder and one visible on the deck below them. The little birds are so light, they don’t sink into the 4+ inches of snow on the deck!

My boss had been trying to get everyone in the department, even folks that usually work from home full time, to come in for a long whiteboarding/planning session for Tuesday. But when the places she tried to order lunch from all pointed out their delivery was iffy, given how icy the roads are expected to be (and the possibility that many schools would still be closed), she started messaging all of us about rescheduling. Her Wednesday, unfortunately, is completely booked with back-to-back management and cross-department status meetings (and since I’m one of the few other members of our group who also works on every single project {being the only technical writer}, I’m in half of those, too), so the earliest we could reschedule is Thursday. Except all the forecasts are saying (beside the temperatures not getting above freezing the rest of the week) that there will be more snow, and possible worse snow, come Thursday… well, it became obvious we need to do the meeting Tuesday, we’re just going to all be doing it remotely.

Which I’m quite happy about, because the only time I’ve been able to make my feet feel anything other than frozen since this thing started is when I’m under the electric blanket. So I really do not want to spend any time standing on frozen sidewalks waiting for a bus!

Lost Dreams and Wayward Worlds – or, more of why I love sf/f

<em>Every Heart a Doorway</em> by Seanan McGuire kicked off the Wayward Children series and won a Hugo award, Locus award, Nebula award, and an Alex award.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire kicked off the Wayward Children series and won a Hugo award, Locus award, Nebula award, and an Alex award.

I bought the Kindle edition of Every Heart a Doorway several months after it came out in 2016, but it sat in my library for a while unread. Several people had recommended the book, but there are always so many unread books in my queue. I think what prompted me to read it was that it was showing up on people’s recommended lists for books to nominate for awards in January 2017. I plunged in and devoured a lot of things that had been in my queue for a while in the first few months of 2017, in part because reading fiction was so much less fraught than paying attention to the real world right then. I liked Every Heart…, even though it broke my heart. And at the end, I really, desperately wanted to know what happened next. I understood that a sequel was coming out, but wasn’t sure when.

Then my husband and I attended Locus Awards weekend in June of that year, where McGuire was a guest. There’s an autograph session during Locus Awards Weekend, and the University Book Store sets up several tables with books that have been nominated for the Locus, along with other books by some of those authors, and I was delighted to see that the sequel to Every Heart… was available. So I wound up buying both a hardcopy of Every Heart a Doorway and Down Among the Sticks and Bones (even though I already had the Kindle edition of the first), so I could get them autographed.

As of this month, there are four books in the series (I should note for the pedants: these are short books; for awards purposes they count as novellas rather than novels). I just finished the fourth a week or so ago, and I had originally intended this post to be a review just of the fourth book, but I realized I don’t want to review it without talking about the entire series.

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and emerging somewhere… else.

On a panel at Locus Awards Weekend, McGuire talked about why she wrote the first book. She described stories she adored as a child, where a kid or kids who didn’t seem to fit in at home would find themselves transported to a magical kingdom, have incredible adventures, save the world… and then were forced to go back home and just be the ordinary, unappreciated kid they had always been. “And I just wanted to know why? Why couldn’t they stay and keep being heroes?”

So the first book introduces you to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. Eleanor was, herself, a girl who slipped through the shadows into another world, before eventually having to return to ours. She set up the school as a refuge for those children who were not happy to be sent back to mundania. She tells the parents and other outsiders that her goal is to help the children get over their delusions and learn to cope, but that’s just to keep them from worrying. The school is full of children who have been to many different kinds of worlds, and in the first book, seen through the viewpoint of the latest arrival, Nancy, we learn a bit about the many magical worlds, some of the rules of how they operated, the theories of why some children are drawn to those worlds and why the worlds discard them or push them out after a time.

We also deal with a series of murders that begin happening in the real world at the school. That’s where my heart got broken, because McGuire didn’t pull any punches. Characters the reader becomes very attached to are not spared, if it makes sense in the story that they die.

The second book is a prequel. It tells the story of two of the children we met in the first book, and how they fell into their magical world. The Moors are kind of an old Universal Studios Monster Territory. There is a nobleman (The Master) that everyone knows is a vampire. There are villagers who know that if they abide by certain rules they can go about their lives mostly unharmed and protected from other horrors that roam the countryside. There is a mad scientist (Dr Bleak) who can bring some of the dead back to life, and help put people back together if they are injured or maimed. The children who fall through are a pair of twins, Jacqueline and Jillian back home, though they prefer to go by Jack and Jill. Jack becomes the apprentice of Dr. Bleak, while Jill becomes the ward of The Master. More choices are made, and alas, some characters pay the price of other people’s choices, and we learn how the girls came to be sent back from the Moors, and why one of them did the things she did in the first book.

The third book, Beneath a Sugar Sky begins at the school, where we meet a couple of new characters, Cora and Nadya. Cora is a brand new student, recently returned from a world where she was transformed into a mermaid and became a hero. Nadya has been at the school longer. She also went to a water world, though hers was a much darker one than Cora’s. Their day is interrupted when an impossible girl falls from the sky and demands to be taken to meet her mother. The reason Rini is impossible is because her mother was a child who died in the first book, having never found a way to return to the magical candy land kingdom, yet Rini claims that her mother did return, re-unite with the farmboy she had a crush on before and defeated the evil Queen of Cakes. Rini was born about 9 months after the defeat of the Queen, and everything in her life was going famously until her mother mysteriously disappeared. And now Rini’s body is slowly vanishing.

Eventually Cora and Nadya join two boys we met in the first book, Kade and Christopher, in a quest with Rini to figure out how to bring Rini’s mother back from the dead and get fate back on track before Rini vanishes altogether. They wind up visiting two different magical worlds before everything is sorted out.

Cover for <em>In An Absent Dream</em> Book 4 in the Wayward Children Series by Seanan McGuire.

Cover for In An Absent Dream Book 4 in the Wayward Children Series by Seanan McGuire.

Which brings us to book four, the one I read most recently. In An Absent Dream is another prequel, telling the backstory of one of the characters we met in the first book. We meet the little girl first at her sixth birthday, when she makes piece with the that that, in part because her father is the school principal, she will not have friends at school. A couple of years later she finds a mysterious tree with a door in it and goes through, where she finds the Goblin Market. She finds a friend and a mentor there, has some adventures, and makes more friends. But while grieving over a death she returns to the real world, and is not able to find the door back for a couple of years. For the rest of the book we watch as Lundy tries to make a life going back and forth between the worlds. Because she does love her family (especially her younger sister), yet she loves her best friend in the Goblin Market, too.

Trying to balance both, she makes a magical deal that doesn’t quite work how she wishes.

This one is different in tone than the previous one. The narrator has more of a personality, rather than feeling objective. The narrator directly addresses the reader from time to time, telling us a bit about what is about to happen. Those of us who read the first book already knew how Lundy’s story would end. More so than we did for Jack and Jill in the second book. So I think the narration had to be framed this way.

I do believe that the second and fourth books can be read as stand-alones You don’t need to know anything that happened in the other books to understand anything that happens in them.

I’m less certain about the third book. The story carries on just fine, but I’m not sure a reader who had not read the first book would find it as compelling. Mainly because a lot of the emotional drive of the third book is whether the one character who died in the first book will be brought back. And it was in the first book that the reader meets her and gets to know her, and therefore would be invested in saving her.

I find the entire series a lot of fun. Not everyone gets a happy ending, or the happy ending that you want, but the stories contain joy and some triumphs. And there is more than a bit of the found family theme in several aspects of the series.

McGuire has mentioned on social media that the publisher has contracted for eight books so far in the series. She’s also said that her plan is to continue the pattern established thus far: odd-numbered entries will be stories that take place at the school, even-numbered books will be portal fantasies in which we see a wayward child or two find their magic door, of fall down the rabbit hole, or slip through a shadow in the back of the cupboard to find a magical world.

I’m looking forward to the rest!

Carmeggeddon! Viadoom! (Or maybe not)

Oh, Homer!

A couple weeks ago every local news site, local TV and radio station, and neighborhood blog was filled with dire warnings about how horrible traffic was going to be when the rickety elevated highway (known as the Viaduct) was finally closed and the final work would be done to connect a highway and other roads to our new gigantic tunnel. Because state and local transportation departments were using the term “maximum constraint” some folks have been calling it the Seattle Squeeze.

One of the local stations had a more pessimistic term: Viadoom! They used it in stories leading up to the closure, and during the first two or three business days after the closure the stories were headlined with “Day 1 of Viadoom” and “On Day 2 of Viadoom…”

We are now in week two of the Squeeze and so far, traffic has not been apocalyptically bad. No one wants to be the first reporter or blogger to say those fears were overblown, because the situation could get worse. The current conventional wisdom is the the first week went okay because some people are still on holiday break, many commuters are working from home, others who normally drive have switched to transit and/or biking. But many are convinced that most of those people are either going to get “fed up” with transit or will decide that because traffic has only been a little heavier than normal that there is no problem and they’ll all hop back into their cars.

Maybe they will. But I think the fears were always overwrought. For one, traffic analysis and computer simulations had shown—back when a replacement for the elevated part of the highway was being debated more than ten years ago—that all the traffic could be diverted to surface streets without causing gridlock. The horrible paralyzing gridlock that happens from time to time when there is a serious accident on that highway is because people are caught by surprise and are already on routes feeding to the unexpectedly blocked road when things go bad.

Those simulations also assumed that the number of cars being driven each day would be decreasing (because things were already trending that way). Lots of people were skeptical of that. Some thought the downward trend was temporary or something. Guess what? Single car ridership has declined faster than those simulations assumed. Many more people are already taking transit, carpooling, telecommuting, and so forth than before.

Other folks are focusing on the fact that the replacement tunnel has less capacity that the old viaduct, and that it’s going to be at least a couple more years before we have finished removing the old structure and making street improvements along its old route. There is also a big worry that, because the tunnel will be tolled, too many people will avoid it to avoid the tolls.

Yeah, while construction is disrupting other streets, things will happen. But anyone who has lived or worked in Seattle for any length of time already knows that there are only two seasons here: Rainy Season and Construction Season. We manage to keep getting around during Construction Season.

It’s never pleasant to be stuck in traffic. When traffic becomes persistently bad, people change their behavior. We try to find ways to work around it. We adapt. Well, most of us do. There are those whackos who decide, instead, to file initiatives to try to repeal or financially cripple big transit projects because they are so convinced they have a god-given right to drive an enormous gas-guzzling behemoth all by themselves and dang it, the state should just make the roads wider so they can do things the way they always have. I hate those guys.

I’ve been riding the bus to work for over 30 years. Yes, I have amusing stories to tell of some misadventures and unpleasant people I have encountered on the bus. But those rare times that I have driven instead of taking the bus have also led to stories about misadventures and reckless drivers. Because if you’re in your car, you’re surrounded by people just as much as you would be on the bus—it’s just that each of them is armed with a ton of glass, steel, and composites. And maybe you feel like you’re in control in your car in a way that you aren’t on the bus or train. But if there’s an accident up ahead, and you’re stuck in the middle lane of a long bridge, you don’t have any more control than the passengers in a bus.

Anyway, I think it is mildly funny that, so far, Viadoom hasn’t materialized. The station that was using the term has stopped posting daily stories detailing how the commute went, because each day there has been nothing to report. And really, how many times can you say with a straight face, “None of the bad things we predicted have happened yet, but just you wait!”

So, I’ll keep riding my bus and keeping my fingers crossed.

Confessions of an information junkie

Having multiple tabs open is not a new phenomenon. (click to embiggen(

When I did most of my personal computer work on a desktop machine with a pair of large screens, my husband used to tease me about how many applications I had open all the time. One time when I had a browser window open on one screen, with about 12 tabs open on that browser, and a second browser with a similar number of tabs open on the other screen, he teased me about having two dozen open tabs, and what kind of drain that put on my system resources. I laughed and said, “Two dozen is nothing!” I then proceeded to show him the other browser windows that were minimized. After opening all of them and resizing them did some counting, and said, “Today it’s only about 62 open tabs.”

I have always considered this just a variant on an older technology behavior: I would have piles of books on my desk or stacked beside my bed with bookmarks in them. Sometime a small book with a bookmark would be acting as a bookmark inside a larger book. Yes, a lot of the books in those piles were books that I was reading, and just hadn’t finished. But a lot of them were part of one of my research projects, and the bookmarks were things that I wanted to be able to look at again as I moved forward with the project. Some of the projects were for school, so the books would be returned to their shelves once the essay or whatever I had to turn in was finished. Other projects were personal. I might be researching something for a story I was trying to write. Or I might be researching something for a scenario I was running for one of my gaming groups, and so on.

I do try to do a better job of limiting how many tabs are open on my computer, though improvements in browsers (sandboxing among them) has made it less likely that having all those tabs open is going to slow the computer down or cause crashes. And there are some websites (certain news sites, for instance) that I learned long ago that I need to close down as soon as I finish reading an article.

One problem with this habit is that it also means I always have a whole bunch of projects in progress at any time. Which means things don’t get finished as quickly as I like.

Which sometimes plays out here, as I will have dozens of draft blog posts ranging from a dozen or so words to hundreds that I just haven’t finished, yet.

Even when I give myself a totally arbitrary goal to post something every day for thirty days in a row, I find myself staring at a bunch of draft posts, opening one after the other, maybe adding a few words, yet somehow unable to commit and just finish one.

And it’s more than a bit frustrating. It’s also a little confusing, because finishing, and putting things away once a project is done, are things that I really enjoy. So you would think that would motivate me.

And yet…

This isn’t a political post, but this image was too funny not to share

Humpty Dumpty stood on a wall...

Humpty Dumpty stood on a wall…

I’ve got a lot of blog fragments that have been aggregating for a while, mostly about things happening in the mundane side of our lives, rather than having anything to do with writing, or sf/f, or political craziness, and so on. And there will be some who dismiss it as a “what I had for breakfast” thing, but I like to think of is as an “everything but the including the kitchen sink” post. You’ve been warned.

First, Birds: So, the saga of the bird feeder continues. Quick refresher: over a year ago I put up a bird feeder on our veranda in a spot where I could watch birds that visited it from my living room window. We got so many birds coming to the feeder that my husband decided we needed a web cam so I could get pictures more easily and/or check on it from the office. Much to my delight the number of birds kept increasing, we had cool species like Stellar Jays showing up, it was very cool. Until just before Halloween, when the amount of birdseed consumed each day suddenly dropped for, then a few days later I learned why as an immature Cooper’s Hawk landed on my railing. Over the course of the next many weeks I witnessed the hawk snatching chickadees and juncos and sparrows out of midair in the vicinity of the feeder and then all the little birds stopped coming.

The level of birdseed in the feeder didn’t go down between the last time I topped it off just before Thanksgiving up to New Year’s Day. I cleaned out the feeder and tried scattering some feed on the deck and different locations, because I still very occasionally saw little birds on the deck. I cleaned out the feeder and put a very teeny amount of seeds in it.

Since then, I have seen pairs of small birds (usually pairs of juncos, but occasionally a pair of chickadees) show up on the veranda together and they have all adopted a similar strategy: one bird perches in one of my larger lavender plants, or on the branch of a nearby tree, the other hops around on the deck for a couple of minutes picking up seeds. Then the one that has eaten will flit to the spot where the buddy bird as been keeping watch, and the buddy bird flits down to the deck to peck at seeds. They trade off like that, one standing lookout the other eating, a few times before flying away.

Very, very occasionally a pair will take turns at the actual feeder, but it is clear that they all feel safer down on the deck where they have the planters and other things as cover.

I haven’t seen the hawk since late November.

I’ll keep scattering birdseed on the deck for now.

Dining: When we moved from Ballard to Shoreline, we decided to try to make some changes in the way we did things around the house. One of those changes was that I wanted us to sit down and eat one meal together at the table every day. The old place had not had adequate counter space or cabinets, and the way the kitchen was arranged, our table wound up being supplemental counter and storage space. So we almost never could clear it off enough to have a meal at the table. We instead would use the TV trays (or folding tray tables, as some people call them), or just each of us eat separately at our computers.

I admit that one reason that I wanted to make this change was the incredible guilt I felt at the dozens and dozens of tablecloths I found squirreled away in a couple of the closets. Tablecloths that had never been removed from their packaging. At least two of which I recognized as ones that were bought before my late husband, Ray, died. In 1997.

Michael had one change to my original proposal that we start using the tablecloths and eating at the table: he wanted to haul all the vinyl tablecloths to Value Village, and only use actual fabric cloths. Mostly because he just preferred fabric ones. Anyway, we got rid of all the vinyl ones, which left us with only a couple of fabric ones. We have since acquired a number more, some of them I think of as seasonal, some aren’t.

But we have eaten at least one meal at least six days out of every week at the table since moving. And the fact that on weekends we often eat two or three at the table in a single day, I think lets us off the hook for the nights that we go out instead of eating at home.

One of the things that means is that we have to keep at least half the table clear most of the time. That is a bit of a challenge, given that the table is really the only horizontal surface of any size near the front door, but we’ve been doing it.

So far, whenever we are cleaning for company, it never takes more than a few minutes to clear the table, pull off the tablecloth, wipe down the table, and pick out and deploy a clean cloth. And I can’t tell you what kind of happy goosebumps I get every time.

Haunted by Expectations: We have a certain number of habits about how we clean and keep the house that cause the voices of my grandmothers to occasionally admonish me. Both my nice Grandma and evil Grandma had very strong feelings along the lines of “a place for everything and everything in its place” and it’s amazing how much of that stuff got engraved in my neurons.

So, for example, t-shirts and laundry. A few years ago, thanks to a care label that came on some t-shirts we bought on Red Bubble (each with artwork that had be created by friends), when I did laundry I would pull those t-shirts out of the wash while transferring laundry from washer to dryer. Those t-shirts were put on broad hangers and hung on the shower curtain rod to dry.

About six months after I started doing that, I noticed that some other cute graphic t-shirts which we had purchased as a sci fi con around the same time as the bunch from Red Bubble were noticeably much more faded. As in, they looked years older in comparison. So I stopped running any graphic t-shirts in the dryer. They all get pulled out and hung up on the shower curtain.

When I started doing this, Sunday was our laundry day, and the t-shirts were often still damp when we needed to shower Monday morning, so Michael would move all the hangers to the end of the towel rod & take his shower (since he went in to work much earlier than I). And then I would, after finishing my shower, move them all back up to the shower curtain rod and spread them out to finish drying.

At our new place, for various reasons, Friday evening is when I do laundry, and the t-shirts wind up hanging in the bathroom all weekend. If one of us decides we need a shower, me move them, then put them back. Until Monday morning.

Neither of us puts the t-shirts away Monday morning, mind you. We just leave them hanging in a bundle on the towel rod. Michael often chooses one of the shirts hanging there to wear to work that day. While I don’t wear t-shirts to the office, on Monday night, when I come home and peel off the office drag, I’ll pick a t-shirt, sometimes from the ones hanging up, somethings from my drawer, to wear while kicking around the house.

The upshot is that the t-shirts that were washed last laundry day often hang in a bundle on one of the towel rods all week long. Unless one of us is suddenly inspired to put them away, the pile slowly dwindles as we wear some from it, but there are usually still about three hanging on the towel rack by the next Friday evening when I carry up a new pile of damp t-shirts from the laundry room.

Both my Grandmothers would be appalled. My Nice Grandma, if she saw it, would give me that look and ask, “You know, it only takes a couple of minutes to put things away, right?” Whereas my Evil Grandma would say something like, “Well, I guess I shouldn’t expect you to understand how important cleaning is, since your mother was atrociously bad at housekeeping. I remember one time…” and a story implying that my mother was not only insane but also morally corrupt on a Lovecraftian level would follow.

And some mornings while I’m rushing to get ready to work, I hear one or the other of those voices in my head, wanting to know why I don’t just put the t-shirts away.

And while my Nice Grandma’s version of the question does sound perfectly reasonable, we often forget that the inverse of the question is just as reasonable: “What is the harm in leaving them hanging there, clean, dry, and within easy reach, for a few days?”

Yeah, putting them away (folding and separating them into my chest of drawers of Michael’s, putting the empty hangers into the hall closer) is probably only a two-spell-slot task… most mornings I don’t know how many slots I’m going to need that day. And getting myself dressed and out the door with my lunch packed and everything else I need for the day are tasks that much be done. Putting away the t-shirts? Not an imperative.

Some times I realize I have the slots and the time and let’s get this done now. And that’s great. But I have to remember that it is okay to prioritize.

Sometimes Extinction Arrives on Wheels — more of why I love sf/f

Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, July 1988. Cover art by Bob Eggleton.

Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, July 1988. Cover art by Bob Eggleton.

Some months back I wrote about the first story written by Connie Willis that I remember reading. And while that story is awesome and I still find new insights every time I read it decades later, the first of her stories that made me go, “Dang! This author is GREAT!” Was from a few months later that same year: “The Last of the Winnebagos.”

The story is about a photojournalist who is supposed to be on his way to cover a political event, but he stops to take pictures of the so-called Last of the Winnebagos. The tale is set in a dystopia near-future where, among other changes, the entire species of dog was wiped out by a plague. During the death spiral of the dogs extinction, laws against animal cruelty and the like have ratcheted up, and the Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has become not just a major political force, but for all intents and purposes a national secret police force. Even accidentally killing an animal can result in serious prison time and other steep penalties.

There are other changes that have taken place unrelated to the dog plague. Energy sources are rationed, for instance. At the time of the story there are only three states left in the country that have not banned RVs and similar gas-guzzlers. Even in those states where they are still allowed, just vehicles are banned from federal freeways. So the elderly couple who drive around in one of the last RVs, regularly park somewhere public, put up a sign, and for a small fee give people a tour of this relic of a bygone era.

While taking pictures and interviewing the couple, the photojournalist takes particular interest in the photos they have of their last pet, who succumbed to the plague, like so many others. During this portion of the story, we learn of that the journalist has an ongoing side project to take photos of people talking about their beloved dogs, trying to catch the moment when, as he says, “their face reveals the beloved pet.”

I don’t want to give away any more of the plot. Suffice it to say that there are secrets revealed—such as why the photojournalist is more interested in the elderly couple and their photos of like on the road with their beloved, long-lost pet than the paid gig. And we learn a few more interesting twists about the dystopic America the characters inhabit.

That’s a big part of why this story hooked me. The dystopia that Willis imagines in this story is quite different than any I had seen before. Yet utterly believable. People will vote for very strange things and get behind politicians proposing quite ridiculous things if they get riled up enough. A truth that has been demonstrated very painfully the last few years.

Even though the story involves the journalist driving over great distances a few times, interacting with the “secret police” as well as ordinary citizens, the tale always feels intimate. We’re exploring something very personal and painful in this story. In addition to seeing some novel ideas (for the time) of how certain technologies would change.

It was a good story. A thought-provoking story. A story that explored both personal grief, and communal regret. As well as looking of multiple (and very plausible) types of extinction.

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas, or Undecorating on Three Kings’ Day

For many Christians, the holiday season doesn’t officially end until the 12th day of Christmas (remember the lengthy carol about a partridge in a pear tree ?) known as the Feast of the Epiphany or Three Kings Day . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uS3q2iOMljY.

The holidays are now officially over. Yes, I took down the tree last weekend and removed the wreath from the door. But Christmas lights remained up on the veranda, and Pendleton the Solstice Otter has been lighting up with them. But now it’s time to take them down…

I’m sure it seems weird to some people that a queer man who describes himself as an ex-Christian would observe the Feast of Epiphany. But I’m not really observing it so much as using it as a cultural milestone. Many years I take down all the decorations on New Year’s Day. Some years, some of them stay up longer (usually because I’m busy or sick or otherwise swamped). I just always try to draw the absolute last line at Three Kings’ Day.

This is also the last day I let myself listen to Christmas music.

It’s the first day of your arbitrary time demarcation—embrace it

“Life is short. So do the things that make you happy. Be with those that make you happy. Look for the good in every day—even if some days you have to look a little harder!”

“Life is short. So do the things that make you happy. Be with those that make you happy. Look for the good in every day—even if some days you have to look a little harder!”

There is a lot of baggage on the notion of New Year’s Resolutions. I don’t want to rehash all the arguments. And I really don’t want to get into a pedantic semantics argument about the arbitrariness of the calendar and so forth. Trust me, I know. But I also know from personal experience that when I set goals and also set up some sort of mechanism for reporting on them, I actually make major progress toward them. So, I’m going to set some goals for the year. I’m publishing them on my personal blog and on my Patreon. I am currently planning to post monthly updates about my progress on my Patreon, rather than at the blog. But I also may do some sort of cross-post.

Some years ago a friend suggested the analogy of how one trains a dog: you can’t get rid of a bad behavior without replacing it with something else that fulfills the same need for the pup. In other words, replace a habit you don’t like with a new one that you do. This has helped me make a number of changes in my own behavior over the years since.

For various reasons, when I started setting my annual goals using this method, I kept setting four goals. And other than 2017, when two of those goals were related to external forces (specifically, our involuntary relocation from our home of 20+ years and a surgery my husband required) I have never managed to make progress on all four. So this year, I’m going to cut the goals back to three, and see if that works a little bit better.

My goals for 2019:

  • Don’t get mad, keep focused. It has always been the case that I find it easy to rant and get outraged about injustices and the like in the world. And this outrage burns up a lot of energy. That’s why for several years I’ve had a goal related to reducing or controlling my outrage. The last two years we’ve all had a lot of anxiety and outrage fatigue. I think I’ve done a reasonably good job of paying enough attention to try to protect myself and my family, while not getting overwhelmed. So I’m going to get try this year to keep (and in some areas increase) my focus on things I can control. My tasks are: write about about things I love, including more book reviews and the like on my blog; continuing listening to music and audiobooks more than news podcasts and the like; carve out some time to paint of make music each month.
  • Take care of business. There are a number of things that I’ve procrastinated on. It’s been easy to let my insane work schedule derail plans. I’ve made a list of 10 tasks that I just need to finish. The plan is to knock off a minimum of one a month. Some of the tasks have confidentiality issues, so I’m going to remain vague on this..
  • Revise and finish. I’ve been in an unending iterative loop of proofing/editing one novel for an embarrassingly long time. I tried to balance that by looking at calls for submissions and writing to those. That has not worked out. I don’t seem to ever meet the expectations of those calls. And the time spent writing those stories should have gone to finishing the books I have and just self-publishing them So, that’s what I’m doing this year. My task is: set specific monthly writing/editing goals each month.

Wish me luck!

And I hope everyone (well, everyone except the alleged president of the United States and any of his enablers) has a joyous and blessed 2019.

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