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Bridal Shower!

Oh, the boy across the street is getting married soon.
He’s not really a boy anymore, but he was when I first met him. I remember his mom introducing herself as I was trying to unload a big steel desk from the back of my truck. And her next words were, “Adam, get over here and give them a hand.”
And that is exactly what he did.

And has been doing every since. He is the favorite climbing toy of evey small kid in the neighborhood. A great swimmer and a great swimming coach.

And just a good person.

Now it’s 15 years since we first met him, and he is about to tie the knot. Today is the beginning of the celebrations.

Ladies, there are still guys like that out there. Honest, intelligent, honorable and hard working. And pretty darn good looking too, and takes good care of himself.

This one will be wearing a ring soon, but if that is what you were looking for, too, just remember, they ARE still around. And Ashley has found herself a prize one!

Congratulations to both of you!

Megan

Ikea, the Second Time Around

My daughter is moving. On the hottest day of the year. She has Ikea furniture. The kind that comes in a big flat box that weighs a thousand pounds, but you drag it in, follow the directions using the special little tool, and Hey, Presto! Suddenly there is a single size daybed that pulls out to queen size. Or a kid’s bed that has space for a desk under it.

Pretty darn cool.

Of course, that is the first time you put it together. When you have the directions and the cool little tool.

That was not today.

Today was Take Apart the Ikea stuff. Without the directions, and with something that might have been one of the cool little tools, helped by allen wrenches and screwdrivers. Then load it in a pickup truck in the hot sun, truck it to the new apartment, haul it all inside and reassemble. Without the directions or the cool little tool.

At one point, I was flat on my back on her apartment floor, with my forearms and shins supporting all the little bedslat thingys that had to be lined up so the plastic jobbies on them would fit in the holes in the aluminum strip. We were both certain there was a better way to do this, but neither of us could think of it.

Anyway. We got it all assembled with only two screws left over. And then we moved it around to a couple of different places. Then she decided it was just too big for the livingroom of the new place.

Do you live in Tacoma and need an Ikea daybed?

Megan

Summer days

And it’s time for a thousand small chores. Finally clean those rain gutters.  Put a cage around that rose bush, and stake those tomato plants!  And do the chores that are better done in summer, such as painting with the window open.

And of course, nothing ever goes quite smoothly.  Today I found that my hose end sprayer had cracked. Can’t find that huge ball of garden twine I bought on sale in the winter.  One of the kid’s has a broken bicycle helmet.  And what did I plan for dinner?

Too many nit-picky chores for me!  Maybe I should just sit on the steps and drink coffee instead.

Megan

Almost back to normal

We are cleaning up the soot and smoke, a room at a time, and getting very dirty in the process.  But at least I am back on my regular keyboard and my nice roomy, hand-friendly keyboard.

Time to de-clutter, too. Where did all this stuff come from?  Time to organize and refresh the house.  Anyone have any good tips for doing that.  there is so much stuff here that it seems almost insurmountable, some times.  I think I am going to start by bringing a cardboard box into the room and telling myself, “I must fill this one box today with things I am going to give away.”

Megan

Housefire

In NYC my cellphone came back to life after a long period of unconsciousness in Italy. Two messages appeared right away, one from each daughter, asking me to call as soon as possible.

That is never a good sign.

It took me a short time to find a fairly quiet place in the airport.  And when I called, I heard that we had had a housefire while I was gone. 

It was a very typical incident.  A forgotten candle had set a wooden stand on fire, and the stand had ignited the television set on top of it.  When Ruth discovered it, she reacted perfectly.  She herded all the animals out of the house as she called 911 and then pounded on our neighbor’s door.  It was about 11 at night.  The Martinez’s and the fire department responded quickly.

The firemen did an excellent job.  One shot of the house changed it from an electrical fire to smouldering wood.  A second shot put it out.  Pi cat, my heat seeking feline, had of course immediately race back into the house to settle down by the nice warm fire.  A fireman rescued my dotty old cat and brought her out of the smoke. She is fine.  There is no structural damage, just a dead TV, dead VCR/DVD player, dead refrigerator (I think perhaps from a surge before the GFI kicked in) scorched smelly ceiling tiles, and lots of soot and settled smoke. 

It could have been so much worse.  In a very short time, it would have reached the gas pipes, and then I might have been coming home to a hole in the ground.

So, all in all, I am suffused with gratitude.  We have a lot of scrubbing and cleaning to do, probably at least a weeks worth as we must begin with ceilings, then walls, then every item in each room and finally the floors.  It’s going to take time.  But I think I will choose to be grateful that I have walls and ceilings to scrub!  And the firemen did not hose the fully laden bookcases to either side of the flaming television.  The books will be a bit smoky, but they have survived.

My office is in the basement, the site of the fire.  I’m going to take my big old computer in to Bryce tomorow and ask him to pop the case and give it a good cleaning.  I don’t want soot or residue on a circuit board to short anything out for me, or a choked fan to let my motherboard overheat.

So, for a time, I will still be posting from this cranky little laptop with its flat and cramped keyboard.  For this reason, please be patient if you have recently tried to contact me.  I haven’t really looked at much email or many posts since I left Tacoma on June 11.  Eventually, I will get to them, but for now I need to devote myself to restoring order from chaos.

One piece of good news.  This little room where I am now working was largely untouched by smoke.  Excellent news, as I had just painted it the perfect blue to complement the framed portrait of Sintara that hangs on he wall here.  If Jackie’s art had been covered in soot, you would have heard the howling from around the world!

Thanks for understanding as I remain largely ‘off-line’.  Whatever time I can type on this keyboard will mostly be devoted to getting the pages I need every day to move the book along.  The keyboard is a bit hard on my hands, so I’m going to limit my keyboarding hours.  Email and posts will have to wait a turn.

Today, I am counting my blessings. Children, dogs, cats, books, all fine.  The house is intact.  The wiring of the house wasn’t damaged.  I could go on and on.  I am so lucky!

Megan

My tractor and me

We own a tiny bit of acreage near a little town named Roy.  A lot of it is open meadow.  Well, we want it to be open meadow.  Yearly we do battle with Himalayan blackberries to keep it from becoming one big tangle.  And that requires mowing the meadow before the new shoots of blackberry get tall enough to flower, fruit and seed. 

Usually, Fred does the mowing, but this year he needed to take an extended voyage in order to complete his sea time to renew his license.  So, he is gone. And yesterday, while the sun was actually shining, I went down there, took out all three manuals, opened the shop door and climbed up on the tractor seat.

There are lots of things you can learn out of a book.  Knitting.  How to draw.  Even how to pick out tunes on a musical instrument.  I am confident that, for most things, if you give me a ‘how to do it’ book, I can do it with a modicum of competence.

But things are a bit different when you are learning to do things on a moving vehicle.  And all three manuals seemed to believe that I had a somewhat basic idea of what I was doing.   Which I didn’t.   The tractor manual walked me through starting it up.  Then I switched to a different manual to get the front bucket up off the ground, but not too far up.  Backing it out of the show was a challenge. The mowing deck has a single wheel and it apparently had a mind of its own.  I finally climbed off the tractor, kicked it straight and managed to back out while leaving the shop door intact.

 The third manual, the one for the cutting deck the tractor pulls, was the most enigmatic one.   “Okay, it says not to engage the mower blade until the engine rpm is up to 540.  It doesn’t say how to rev it up to that.  What lever haven’t I pushed yet?”  And thus the throttle lever is found on the illustration page and moved until the gauge says I can engage the mower.

I was more than a bit scared at the start of my experiment.  I knew I had to do this. Standing grass becomes dry grass, and even if the blackberries could be ignored for one summer, one carelessly discarded cigarette butt could set the whole field on fire.  So this was a ‘have to do’ not merely a ‘challenge myself’ thing. 

I got the back piece behind the house and out to the oak tree and the tire swing cut.  I cut the piece that surrounds the old chicken house and approaches the pond.  I tried the piece in front of the house, and cut a bit there but decided the land was still a bit too wet from all our rains.  No sense cutting when it means that later on I’d have to deal with big muddy ruts from where I’d driven on wet ground. 

And a couple of hours later, I drove the tractor back into the shop, lowered the bucket and the mowing deck, made sure the emergency brake was all set and everthing else restored to a neutral position, and shut it down.

I didn’t get the tractor stuck or tip it over.  I didn’t hit the shop or my van with it.  I didn’t run over any of my baby trees.  I didn’t hit any of the ‘iceberg’ rocks that are so plentiful on the place.  I avoided the snakes that I saw sunning in the grass.  I didn’t run over my flower bed or the hose that someone had left out last fall.

I taught myself to do something.  It felt pretty darn good. 

Megan

A day in the Life

Woke up this morning to a dome tent pitched in my living room.  This, of course, is because my teenager had to ‘make sure it still worked’ before packing it up for Sasquatch, a music festival in the Gorge at George, Washington. The tent was full of sleeping bags (presumably to make sure they worked too) and two of our cats, who have apparently always dreamed of having a tent pitched in front of a gas fireplace in a livingroom.

It is pouring rain outside.

She is taking my van for this adventure, so I went out and removed all my stuff that doesn’t want to go to a music concert.  I left in jumper cables, my tire-changing rain gear, an extra windbreaker, and a stadium blanket. Folded the back seats down and removed all the kiddie car seats. 

Then I went back in to field a phone call from my older daughter.  Someone smashed her car window this morning (because the interior of the car is still dry and it has been pouring rain all night) and tossed all the papers in the glove box and then took her stereo.  Factory installed car stereo from a ten year old Honda.  How much are you going to get for that, tweaker?

So off I went with a tarp to seal it up as best we could while the police took the report over the phone. They don’t roll on a car smash, I’m afraid. Too common in Tacoma.  While she was calling Geico, I packed up my grandson.  He was understandably upset about his ‘race car’ getting broken into, and needed to bring a veritable army of stuffed toys with us.

Got home to find my other two grandkids waiting for me.  Gave my teenager some cash to go buy supplies for camping out at the festival.  Two of the kids installed themselves on the game machine and the third decided to make brownies.  And to show me her current book. She is nine and reading a book of fairy tales by Oscar Wilde.    Cool.

Tasks still to do. Make sure I have all book stores I visited for the book tour entered into my book store list.  And make sure I send thank you notes to all the people who made me so welcome.  I need to cut up the credit card from the publisher that I was given for book tour expenses, and then neatly package up all the receipts and send them back.  Send off that note I promised. Answer all the random email, and I’d better pay all the bills that wandered in while I was off gallivanting to Minneapolis.

And finish painting the extra bedroom.  And then drive down to the old house to see how the painting is coming along there.

Maybe go see that movie tonight with the kids. What was it called?  The Magic of Kells?  Something like that.  OH, and I need to swing by University book store in Tacoma and pick up the books that Duane sent down.

And so I reach noon.

Still raining buckets outside.  Not a great day to go camping at an outdoor music festival.

Or maybe it really is.

Megan

I Give Up!

Diego surrenders (1)Some days you just have to say, “That’s as much as I could get done today.” Yes, I know there is more. A whole list of stuff with boxes unchecked.

It will still be there tomorrow.

This Is Your Brain On Drugs . . .

There are two coffee mugs on my desk right now.  Both are full of warm coffee.  I never seem to get to drink it when it’s hot, but even so, I don’t usually have two warm cups on the desk at the same time.  Except when my brain hiccups and I do something twice.

Or not at all.  I glance at the envelope propped in front of my monitor that has giant print on it and says “LICENSE TABS EXPIRING!  RUN VAN THROUGH EMISSIONS TEST!” Neglecting to do somehing is more often a problem than doing things twice.

People of a certain age will recognize the quote in the title.  There was an anti-drug ad that ran years ago.  It showed an egg:  “This is your brain.” Then it showed the same egg sizzling in a pan.  “This is your brain on drugs.”

“Any questions?”

It was quite  an effective ad in its way.

This post will become coherent now.  The fact is, my brain is almost always on drugs.  Caffeine.  And sugar.  And when I am stressed, as I am now over several domestic situations (nothing tragic, I assure you! That blue paint is a perfectly delightful shade of blue . . . the whole room is a perfectly delightful shade of blue now . . . ) then whatever part of my brain that determines how much self medication I need goes into over drive. And I find cups of cold tea all over the house.  Or, as right now, discover that two cups of warm coffee are perched on my desk.  I have no recollection of  fetching either one.

I don’t do illegal drugs.  With one exception, I’ve never done illegal drugs. And that one time I was so disappointed by the total lack of effect that I was never tempted to try it again.  Sugar is a lot cheaper, legal, and seems to give me the same end result that everyone is breaking the law and paying big money to achieve.

This topic came to mind today because one of my offspring is a senior in high school and suffering terribly from ‘senior brain.’  Just as it is most critical that she not screw up, her organizational skills seem to be falling apart.  Lost her car keys with a major term paper locked in the trunk (and it was one of those smart keys that mean the car has to be towed to the dealership and chatted with before the dealer can make a new key.  $250, please.)

Luckily, we dodged that bullet.  Where did I find her keys?  In the bottom of the back pack that she had searched three times.

Twice now I have watched her complete the same set of missing assignments for an important class.  Twice now those completed assignments have completely vanished.  It is making both of us crazy, and unfortunately making her look not just lazy but deceptive to her teacher.  I think she would almost rather take the F’s than ask her teacher, yet again, for the pages she is supposed to translate.

Anyway, in the course of discussing that situation, she brought up that perhaps the real error was mine. Her friends don’t forget things or lose assignments. Her friends don’t forget important after-school meetings. Her friends are focused and level and successful where she is scattered and only becomes more so under pressure.

And maybe the difference is that I’ve never let her use the brain drugs that so many of her fellow students use.  From second or third grade on, many of her friends have been on drugs for ADD, ADHD, and whatever other initials apply.  The most common one seems to be Ritalin.

What intrigues me about this is how her fellow students are using it now.  Some take it only on weekdays, to help them focus.  Weekends are Ritalin free days.   One no longer bothers with it except during finals week.  Then he drugs up and pores over the books endlessly.  Over the years, I’ve heard several funny stories about Ritalin and its effects.  One young friend told about being in charge of a younger sibling’s bath.  He got the tub running and kid undressed and went for a towel.  But as he passed through the living room, a Discovery channel program caught his eye.  It was compelling stuff. And there he stood, captured by it, even though he knew that the water was now overflowing and the younger sib was yelling for him to come fix it.  He literally could not tear himself away.  Pure focus.

Another sadder tale was the young friend who applied for the military academy and was told that until he could go a year without the drug, he could not be admitted, as it was classified as amphetamine use.  And having used the drug for years for his school work, how well can he do Academy work without it?  A very good question.

The students I’ve talked to who have used the various brain drugs all agree that it makes a tremendous difference to focus and ultimately to their grades. They can make themselves sit down and complete the long boring assignment without wandering off to the frig or the internet or the Gameboy.  Assignments are completed on time and handed in.  Grades rise. Parents and teachers are happy.  What’s not to like?

And still I’ve said no for my kids. 

Here is my reasoning.  You have to be who you genetically are.  Part of my scattered focus is related to my artistic temperment.  (Artistic temperment is sometimes spelled ‘t e n d e n c y  t o  m a n i c  d e p r e s s i o n.’)  It means that I can end up with two cups of warm coffee on my desk (and who drank one of them already?) or with twenty pages of good text after a wild and exuberant evening of just talking to myself and playing the stereo too loud.   I think it is just how I am wired and a part of who I am.  I gave up fighting it years ago, and instead I’ve enjoyed it.  There are devastating lows and breath-taking highs to my moods and through it all, I keep writing.  Life’s a roller coaster for me.  I’ve come to accept that.  In retrospect, I’m glad it was never medicated away, even though my recollections of my twenties are tinged with a lot of darkness.

For the kids who are medicated for ADD, etc (and please be sure, I’m not equating ADD with manic depressive) I always wonder what comes after school.  Do you take Ritalin all through college?  Do you take it during your career years, when you are training on that new software, or reading up on a new client?  Where does it stop? Do you ever get to be your distractable self again?  Or must you forever be slightly modified to suceed?  Drugged for success?

As with all my wool gathering, I have more questions than anwers.  Should I have medicated my kids?  The only person in my extended family who ever took drugs for his condition long term did not achieve any success until he weaned himself off them.  Is that unique?  If your brain is wired a certain way, is it truly an illness?  Or is it ‘artistic temperment’?   What about all those melancholy Irish poets?  Did they just need to take a pill and get on with their lives?  How about saints?

Some of us are just not standard issue people.  I rather suspect that all of us are not standard issue people but some are better at pretending. In my family, both nuclear and extended, I can trace a genetic heritage that means that every one of us could probably be diagnosed with one mental disorder or another.  Yet, for the most part, we are successful people with lives we enjoy (even if others think our lives are a bit strange.)

More questions than answers.  But that is always where my best stories start.  With a question that demands pondering.

If you are interested in the genetics of artistic temperment and how it can be expressed, here is a book I often recommend.  I took great comfort from it when I first read it:  Touched With Fire: Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament.  It’s by Kay Redfield Jamison.

And I will leave you with two quotes.  This first quote is actually the opening sentences from Touched With Fire:

“We of the craft are all crazy,” remarked Lord Byron about himself and his fellow poets. “Some are affected by gaiety, some by melancholy, but all are more or less touched.”

And

“Art in the blood is likely to take the strangest forms.”   Sherlock Holmes.

And if I recall correctly, he was talking about his brother Mycroft.  Mycroft and Sherlock would probably both be placed on the autism spectrum, toward the Asperger’s end of things.  And Sherlock’s  little drug habit could be seen as self medication . . . .

Megan

Among Others by Jo Walton

One of the perks of being a writer is that sometimes we get to read books before they are published. Not just our own books, which we have to read many, many times before they are published! I am talking about ARC’s or Advance Reading Copies. Robin Hobb gets several of these a month, and I have no scruples about stealing them and reading them.
In a recent stack, there was a real gem. Among Others by Jo Walton is not what I usually expect in a fantasy book. And it wasn’t like anything else I’d ever read by Jo Walton. At one point, late at night, after I’d decided my eyes had blurred often enough that it was time to turn off the lamp and go to sleep, I found myself thinking, “But doesn’t she know that we’re not supposed to write about the real magic?”

And that was a thought that I hadn’t expected at all.

I don’t really do book reviews and I detest spoilers. So all I’m going to say about this book is that it will be from TOR sometime in 2011. And that if you love SF and fantasy, if reading it formed your teen years, if you do remember the magic you used to do, if you remember the absolute joy of first discovering those books, well then, watch for this book and buy it when it comes out.

Among Others by Jo Walton. This is one of those books that you want to read first and be the really cool person who recommended it to all your friends.

Megan