Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving at the Shady Rest

Most people will spend tomorrow dealing with a 14-pound bird; I'll spend it dealing with a 14-pound cat.

Two days ago, as the temperature plunged, Tom and I went to check on Smokey, my cat who adopts elderly people. Smokey has been living 7 blocks north of us, in the greenhouse of an elderly Norwegian woman, for the past three years. We went up last month to make sure the barn heater we'd installed for him two years ago was plugged in, and we found Smokey terribly thin and frail. As was the little old lady. She was confused; the cat was unhappy.

Her son was in the process of moving in to the house to take care of her, and we impressed on him the important of taking care of Smokey -- he'd apparently never had a cat before. The cat has since regained the weight he'd lost.

The woman and her son were pleased to see us Tuesday and they seemed relieved that we were going to take the cat to spend a couple of days in a warm TV room. The reason they don't let the cat inside is that she has severe osteoporosis and has, over the past few years, broken several bones -- including her hip. If she trips over Smokey, she's done for.

Smokey's getting on in years, and less able to survive extreme cold in the greenhouse with just the heated pad in his box. So we brought him home, and he's in the TV room, having a ball with lots of cat food, water, and petting (in the greenhouse, his food is often grabbed by raccoons and other cats). To our delight, the Bombay, Mabel, was very welcoming to Smokey and they get along as if they'd known each other for years. Upstairs, the tabbies are pretending nothing is going on, and Sheba, the deaf cat, could care less.

When it warms up tomorrow, Smokey goes back to the greenhouse -- along with an apple pie for the woman and her son.

I talked with our vet today -- and followup call about Sheba -- and told him the latest in the Smokey saga. I bring Smokey in every year for shots and flea meds, so the vet knows the back story. He predicts that some day Smokey will decide to live with us again.

His first winter in the greenhouse, Smokey walked 7 blocks home every night to sleep in our basement, returning to the greenhouse at 6 in the morning. We're pretty sure he still knows the way home.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Weather nightmares

I guess this winter storm qualifies as a weather nightmare, as it woke me up in the middle of the night. Wind howling, metal vent for the upstairs shower fan rattling, and the whole upstairs shaking. The view out the kitchen door is weird — gigantic bright white clouds looming in the east, moving slowing southward, and one star visible above a neighbor's fir tree.

The heater kicked in around 3 a.m. — something that almost never happens, as the house retains heat well and I set the thermostat to 62 at night.

Last night I spent two hours driving four miles to pick Tom up from work at Westlake and Denny. While most of the drivers on the city streets knew to go slow (10 miles an hour) there were enough people trying to whip around at 20 that when they hit their brakes they went out of control, spun, and slid off the street. I was astonished by a bicyclist who rode onto Leary Way, a few yards in front of my car. I braked slowly, then applied my horn. He was astonished to realize that I couldn't just slam on the brakes for him -- and that he couldn't just speed up on the sheer ice. When I crossed the Fremont Bridge and got on to Westlake, traffic was going less than 1 mile an hour. For entertainment, we had pedestrians darting across the street in front of our cars, several of whom promptly fell flat on their backs on the ice, in front of oncoming traffic in the opposite lane, causing those cars to slam on their brakes, fishtail, and go up onto the sidewalks (if they were lucky) or into other vehicles (if they weren't). Fortunately, no one hit the pedestrians.

I'm supposed chair a board meeting downtown tomorrow night, and trying decide what do about that. One weather site says the sun will come out tomorrow, all the ice will melt, and road conditions will be back to normal by evening — albeit about 12 degrees. But I find that hard to believe. I need to decide in the morning whether to cancel the meeting, or try to hold it online or by phone.

The situation here is incomprehensible to folks from back East, where a city crews would have strewn the streets with sand and salt hours ago, and it would have been a normal, if gritty, commute. But in a city where snow and icy conditions occur only once or twice a year, buying a large enough fleet of sand trucks, maintaining a network of sand and salt supply yards, and keeping this system on standby would be too great an expense.

I hope everyone has the sense to stay safely at home tomorrow. In weather like this, I always think of my insane employer from 15 years ago. In the far, dark, past, the company had been involved in city emergency services, and it had required all employees to report for work, even in severe storm conditions. By the time I joined the company, it was primarily an insurance firm, and the vast majority of employees were clerical staff who worked in administrative buildings. Yet the company still required all employees to attend work during storms, and to arrive within one hour of their usual start time — or else the day was counted as an unexcused absence and charged to their vacation time. Of course, by this time the company had employees who lived as far away as Tacoma and Issaquah, for whom a storm commute would require leaving home at four a.m. or earlier.

As the editor of the employee newsletter, I had been told to "explain" this policy to employees, an assignment I found...difficult. When I challenged the HR representative who wanted the policy explained, I asked how single mothers with toddlers who lived in distant suburbs were supposed to make this commute at 4 a.m. when the day care center was closed because of snow and Metro bus service was cancelled. His sneering answer: "Well, these people should have thought of that before they stopped using birth control."

I still think of this jerk during severe winter storms. He lives, childless, in a condo in the city and is probably one of those pedestrians darting out in front of cars.

Please drive carefully anyway.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Heading home tomorrow

Today is my next-to-last day in Florida.

It's been a good visit with my mother...we got huge amounts done, from handling legal stuff to putting up shelving, visiting friends, shopping at Coconut Pointe (that's how they name things down here), going to pool and beach, figuring out her new TV controls, updating the firmware on her modem, and discovering that the dust buster does, indeed, work.

I've been walking two miles a day, doing ankle exercises, and was even able to do some skipping tonight. I think my sprained/fracture ankle is nearly healed.

I gave a presentation to her Mac users group (about my iPhone ebook) and I worked on several projects for clients, Folklife, and Clarion West. I don't think anyone in Seattle would have realized I was gone if I hadn't told them. Except, of course, for Tom, who was home wrangling cats, working his new Westlake massage studio gig, repairing furniture, hauling junk to Goodwill, and otherwise keeping the home fires burning.

The schedule for next week is somewhat scary. It even includes dinner with a cousin I have never met, who will be in town for a conference.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Holiday (shopping) tradition: Best of the Northwest

For some people, the holidays begin after Halloween; for others, it's after Thanksgiving. For me, it's whenever Best of the Northwest happens. (Nov. 12 - 14 this year.)

It's without a doubt the highest concentration of top-quality arts and crafts in the region — the stuff not only looks dazzling, it holds up for years. (My favorite evening bag, made from the shaft of a designer cowboy boot, with beaded fringe and a beaded, strap is a Best of the Northwest find, as are my copper pine-cone earrings.)

This year I'll catch only the tail end of it (on Sunday afternoon). Save something for me!

(Note: it's moved yet again. This year Best of the Northwest is at Pier 91, near the Magnolia Bridge.)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Somewhere, there's a schedule

OK, I'd like to know how the cats do it.

How do they decide whose turn it is to sleep on the bed at night? How do they know who guards the front window, and who goes out at 5:30 a.m. to patrol the property? How do they determine who gets to sleep on the bathmat at night, and who gets to wake me up in the morning?

There has got to be some kind of schedule, because they trade off. The tasks get done, but it's not always the same cat doing it.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Loving technology, hating website analyses

Marketing the ebook for the past two weeks has given me the chance to do what I've loved to do for the past 30 years — muck around with technology.

There are a lot of little backroads with the iPhone, and it's fun to see the solutions people come up with when they get stuck in the mud. I already have some updates for the ebook, which will initially appear on the publishers' blog.

The book itself is not selling as well as I'd hoped — the publisher markets to tech-oriented audiences, and those folks don't buy "basics" books. I am discovering that the iPhone newbies who are curious about the book will click through from my marketing pages but don't buy — I suspect they are wary of buying it through the publishers' website, which does not have PayPal or other familiar payment options. I am hoping that when the book is available through iBooks and some other ebook publishers, that payment barrier will be eliminated.

I was fortunate that as I worked on the book marketing and dealt with my injured ankle, my main client had two weeks of downtime.

I was able to complete two small business website evaluations and have decided that I don't want to do them any more. They involve educating the clients about technology, about marketing communications, about online communications, and about SEO — plus breaking the news to them that they need to divorce the web designer who saddled them with a cutesy, out-dated website with no content management system and start from scratch with a WordPress-based site. No fun at all, and I find that I spend too much time trying to make the reports I send them diplomatic as well as informative — so it's not even very profitable for me.

It would be fun about now to take a couple of weeks off to work on jewelry or cooking or furniture refinishing. I tried gardening, but my ankle didn't like it, and I don't dare try digging anything up!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

An exciting weekend

Laundry. Ironing. I begin to wonder if there is a Guinness World record category for things like that.

My ankle is healing amazingly well, but I decided not to risk walking around at the antiquarian book fair today. Instead, I stayed home and blogged about demonic yoga and did laundry. Not just laundry laundry, but tablecloths and curtains and pet beds and even a full-size sheepskin (which is done with dish soap, not laundry soap).

The winter rains have begun. It's warm, green, and wet outside — sort of like an aquarium.

Sunday, October 03, 2010


I've spent the day in bed with a sprained ankle. I was very luck it didn't break — I tripped and fell on the stairs this morning, and had to get x-rayed at Group Health. Everyone was surprised when the x-rays didn't show a fracture. The ankle is showing signs of improvement already, and I'm wearing a cute little black lace-up ankle brace that looks rather steampunk. I'm relying on ibuprofen and have the painkillers down to a minimal level. (They gave me a huge dose this morning at the hospital because they thought they were going to have to put me in a cast.)

Tom has been doing my list of household chores, from laundry to cooking a pot roast to cleaning up all the paperwork on the dining room table. Sadly, he looks as harassed and exhausted as I usually do on Sunday nights, and is just as unwilling to actually stop working and get to bed.

The cats' behavior is fascinating. I screamed in pain for a few minutes when I went down this morning, and now the cats are either comforting me or patrolling the yard for the predator that they (logically) think must have attacked one of their pack. This is not just a fanciful interpretation. The only cat that is not either comforting me or being vigilant is Sheba: being deaf, she didn't hear me scream and is unaware of any threat.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Psst! It's a soft launch*

*A "soft launch" means that a system is live but there is no official announcement yet.

My iPhone Basics ebook is now available from Take Control ebooks, and the readers of the Mysterious Traveler are the first to hear about it! I'll tell everybody else on Monday, when the publisher rolls out the PR.

If you visit the webpage, you can download the free sample PDF, which includes the introduction and these sections:
  • Deciding What to Buy (Do you need the iPhone 4 or would the inexpensive iPhone 3GS be enough?)
  • AppleCare (Who needs it, and who might get by without it?)
  • Accessories (What's available, and what's a must-have?)
You'll also find some teasers for key chapters.

You are more than welcome to pass the word about the ebook's availability, but please don't link back to Mysterious Traveler. Just use one of the book's URLs, which are:

You can buy and download the ebook ($10) or order the print edition ($20.99).

If you purchase the electronic version, the book can be electronically updated at no cost. That's important — Apple updates operating system software frequently, and we'll be updating the book to keep it current.

The publisher currently has a 30% discount deal if you buy the ebook with two other ebook titles — I highly recommend Joe Kissell's new ebook on dealing with email in iOS 4, which is also in soft launch today.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The pinnacle often feels like a plateau

About 15 years ago when two attorney friends of mine were enjoying tremendous media coverage during a murder trial, they noted that what probably looked like a career high point from the outside was a difficult and even disturbing time for them.

I'm there, now.

My first book, an ebook, comes out in the next few days. (I'll post here when it happens.) But I'm frustrated at not being able to take a day or two to enjoy the process for rolling out the PR for it on various websites and blogs.

I'm freaking out over a half-dozen projects for my web content business. The business requires a certain momentum to remain successful, which means that I can't "park it" for more than a day — or even guarantee that during the day I park it I won't get a ticket from an impatient client accustomed to "always on" service.

On Monday, an old friend from the folk arts scene died unexpectedly. This is someone I've worked with on folk arts events, including the Northwest Folklife board, since 1985. He was all involvement and no ego, and, as you can imagine, someone like that was in demand everywhere. He did everything from running the sound board at dances (of course, he had his own sound system he'd share) to guiding the executive committees of several organizations. Yeah, he was good.

I want some time to spend with friends talking about what he meant to us, and, even more, I want to spend some time on the dance and music scene he worked so hard to foster.

Instead, I spent the day writing a document explaining to a client how the Protect Document function works (it works horribly!) in Word.

Lots of vivid things happen to me, every day. I've got to figure out some way to better experience them.

Friday, September 24, 2010

At Foolscap

I'm at Foolscap in Redmond this weekend, setting up the auction that raises funds to underwrite the group's publicity/outreach work.

In other exciting news, my ebook on the iPhone is likely to be published late next week. I've started a website that will support it, iPhone 4 Tips, and ordered cards for the book (business cards that focus on how to purchase the book rather than how to contact me). I already have two speaking engagements and one radio interview scheduled. And, weirdly, there's going to be a reading at Hugo House Oct. 5 of the book of essays on women over 50 (In Our Prime) that I contributed to a year or so back.

It is useful to be at Foolscap with so many other authors, both new and seasoned, and listen to war stories.

My regular client work — blogging for my major client, and newsletter articles for three others, continues to hum along. There are two small businesses that I'm doing brief web audits for; unfortunately, I've never figured out a way to make money doing small business websites. The answer is to design website seminar for small business owners, which was what I was supposed to have been doing this summer when the ebook project turned up.

September went by in a blur. I'm hoping October is a little more reflective and that I find a better yoga class.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010


This is a story about rejection. It has, if not a happy ending, at least an optimistic one.

As many of you know, I write fiction. Each spring I take the half-day writers workshop at Potlatch. Four or five writers submit stories in advance and then gather to critique each others' work and have it critiqued by the workshop instructor.

Last year, after the workshop, I was talking with another writer of unpublished short fiction and we challenged each other to a submitting contest. The problem, you see, if you love writing, is not writing.

It's submitting what you write — and getting those rejection letters.

One of my Potlatch-community mentors, David Levine, endeared himself to me by publishing a spreadsheet showing how many times his stories are submitted and rejected before being published. He blogs often about getting a story rejected and sending it on to the next publication. It's inspiring. Shortly after I met him, one of David's short stories, "Tk'tk'tk," not only got published in a major genre magazine, but it won a Hugo award (presented at WorldCon by Harlan Ellison, who growled "David Levine, are you here? Get your ass up here!").

Anyway, back on earth...

My friend Julie and I got chatting after Potlatch and challenged each other to a submitting contest. First person to submit wins.

Nothing happened for a few months, but then came the Clarion West Write-a-thon, a fundraising event to benefit the Clarion West Writers Workshop. As a member of the Clarion West board, I needed to gather people to support my writing goals for the summer. I asked for, and got, $250 in support for my goals. My goals were to submit two stories.

Which I did.

(A huge thank you to the friends — and one complete stranger — who underwrote my work.)

Here's the story of what happened:

The first story, a dystopian tale about a bitter elderly woman in the near future, was rejected by a Major Science Fiction Magazine about three weeks after I sent it. This was the kind of rejection you hear about. The proverbial self-addressed stamped envelope arrived, containing the cover page of my manuscript with a slip of paper (God forbid they should waste a whole page) stapled to it that basically said "Does not meet our needs."

 At the time I got the first rejection, I was dragging my feet with the second submission.  It's  a story far better suited to one of the Big Three science fiction and fantasy publications. A pro who had reviewed it for me had said if I made a few modifications to it she'd be willing to "introduce it" to a magazine editor. I made the modifications, but wasn't able to connect with her. Time was running out on the Clarion West Write-a-thon, so I went ahead and sent Story #2 off to Another Major Science Fiction Magazine.

To appreciate what happened next, you should know that Story #2 has a peculiarity that had alarmed everyone in my last writing workshop: It's about a writer, and you aren't supposed to use a writer as a protagonist. However, people had agreed that because it was a humorous story, and didn't take the writer seriously, I might be able to get away with it. Also, the writer is not a science fiction writer — he's a writer of Los Angeles crime fiction novels. So, off it went.

And this is where the story gets optimistic.

After four weeks of waiting, the story got rejected. But it got rejected in that wonderful, constructive way that you want. I got a personal letter from The Big-Name Editor. He'd thought my story was funny — he even played along with the joke in the rejection letter. Which was a helpful analysis of what in the story had worked for him — and what hadn't. My God, he'd read the whole thing!

So tonight I opened up my spreadsheet (yes, I have a spreadsheet, just like David does) and I recorded the rejection. I haven't quite decided where to send the story next, as the market for humorous urban fantasy is limited.

But that's OK. Because I have a Halloween story out for consideration at a small online publication. And I'm hustling to meet a deadline to submit a fable for a short story collection. And the writing is the fun part.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Yard sales, basement, and ice cream

This morning Tom and I went to yard sales with Beth. We soon discovered that the last Saturday of August is a yard-sale madhouse — apparently everyone decides this is their last chance to unload stuff before winter sets in. Prices were outrageously good, from Asian antiques to brand-new designer clothes. We saw, but didn't need, some wonderful furniture. We bought a professional mat cutter, blades and all. I got a blue-and-white pin-stripe cotton blouse that makes me look like Girl Genius.

As is my habit, I came home, moved the new stuff in, and set about bagging an equal amount of stuff to take to Goodwill on Monday — most of it clothes. This led me into the deep storage-recesses of the laundry room, under the basement stairs where the cats like to hide. What a mess! I hauled out a lot of stuff I simply trashed, a lot that needed to be washed, and I found the missing plug-in heating pads for the cat beds.

The laundry room cleanup was so extensive that I got into the garage and triaged the remainder of my dad's tools and hardware left from my mom's move to Florida.

This didn't leave much time for gardening, and the next thing I knew it was dusk, and time for a late dinner. I'd promised Tom spaghetti. We have a lot of basil growing in the garden, so I did a Genovese pesto sauce (but with parmesan instead of pecorino Sardo). It was outrageously good. I realize I should make it for guests, but who do we know who would be willing to wait until 8:30 at night for dinner?

After dinner it was time to make the cream base for the ice cream we're taking to Diana's ice cream social tomorrow. This involves heating half-and-half to 175 degrees, blending that into an egg/sugar mixture, heating it all to 175 and stopping just short of creating a custard. Then I pour it through a sieve and add cream, vanilla, and a tiny bit of salt.

At that point you usually add the flavoring (fruit, etc.) and refrigerate the base for 4 - 12 hours.  Half of this base is going to be made into butter pecan (you churn it, then mix in chopped pecans that have been baked and then tossed in melted butter) but the other half is going to be an extremely unusual flavor that our chef friend Nilos suggested. I looked up the recipe and it dates to 1760!

I'll reveal what it is after I find out how the people at the ice cream social react to it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Ray the Engineer

Today must have been Unexpected Emergencies Day and I missed the memo. Everything I thought I'd finished turned out to have a time-critical Stage II or Stage III that nobody told me about.

So I spent today glued to my chair, working. Underneath my office, in the laundry room, was Smokey, my former cat. He's staying with us for a couple of days because the vet is trying to find out if he has a parasite. Smokey, who is accustomed to living outdoors in a greenhouse at Amelia's, did not much enjoy his day in the laundry room. But he is a passive cat, and simply glared at me when I came in with food. Use the litterbox, cat, and you can leave!

Across the hall from Smokey, in the den, was Mabel, Tom's cat. She can't go out until the abscess under her chin heals. We let her out for a bit last night, but only under strict supervision. Mabel is a far more cheerful prisoner than Smokey, but perhaps it's because she has a nice perch by an open window. (No, it's because Mabel is one of the smartest, coolest cats ever.)

When I finally finished my regular work at 9:30 p.m., I realized that I have a humor column due to an editor on Wednesday. Tom looked alarmed to hear that because I'm pretty far from humorous at the moment.

I'd been sketching out a piece about strange house sounds, but I'm not feeling whimsical enough to give that the light touch it needs. So I pulled out a sketch I'd started some months ago about my frustrations about having heaps of obsolete electronic gadgets and mysterious cables. Since I'm currently halfway through writing the second draft of a technology ebook, a rant about computer cables seemed oh so appropriate. And, yes, it really caught fire and writing it has even cheered me up a bit.

Developing the gadgets-and-cables story allowed me to introduce a new character into the humor column's cast — Ray the Engineer. He's a composite of two or three of my technology fix-it friends (you know who you are — Ray is you, but funnier).

Whatever happens tomorrow: I'm going to yoga at noon.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Bad cats

One of my clients went on vacation last week, meaning that much of the project management and decision-making work he handles on various projects has found its way down the line to me. I can hardly wait until he gets back.

I completed the first draft of the technology book, but now have a lot of additional work to do. I'd hoped to get to it this week, but, thanks to client #1, it hasn't happened.

And, in all fairness to him, there are the cat problems:

Zoe, the big, annoying tabby, is going through a bullying phase. The other cats have always pretty much ignored her (she blocks the doors, and takes a desultory swat at any cat that walks past) but about a week ago I noticed Mabel, the new black Bombay, was avoiding Zoe and even avoiding the house. Two nights ago, Mabel spent the night outside, then came in and spent yesterday holed up in the basement. I kept checking on her, and she seemed cheerful. She was eating, but sneaking around and avoiding Zoe, who I had to move out of Mabel's path a couple of times. This morning Mabel ate breakfast and went upstairs to her cat bed. I was suspicious, and went up to pet her and came away with my hand covered with blood. She had a huge, fresh abcess under her chin, and was running a fever.

Mabel is now at the vet, recovering from minor surgery to clean out the abcess and remove dead skin. I'm sure she'll recover just fine, but I'm glad we got her in for treatment. I'm not sure if Zoe, who has extremely long claws, caused the injury or if Zoe just took advantage of Mabel being injured to bully her, but Zoe is going to be under close scrutiny and will get "time outs" in the bathroom if she so much as looks funny at Mabel.

I discovered Mabel's injury just as we were about to go up to Amelia's to check on Smokey. Smokey is a 14-year-old black Russian Blue I found in Wallingford 12 years ago. When I moved to Ballard, I brought Smokey, who kept running off to move in with elderly people. He finally settled with my elderly neighbor Steve, and lived there for four years until Steve went to a nursing home (and was afraid if he brought Smokey, the cat would have run off). Smokey came back to our place, didn't much like the (then new) tabby kittens and wandered off and found Amelia, who had just lost her husband. She lives alone seven blocks north of us. Smokey "commuted" for a year before moving in permanently with Amelia.

Amelia is extremely fragile — she's only in her early 70s, but has severe osteoporosis and must weight less than 90 pounds. She can't have Smokey in the house because if she tripped over him in the dark, it could kill her. So Smokey lives in a very large glass greenhouse in her backyard. She's out there tending plants every day, even in the winter, so he gets plenty of attention. We go up every couple of months with Smokey's flea medicine and take him for his shots and checkup once a year.

In late June, Smokey, now 14, had the expensive geriatric blood tests and got perfect scores. But the vet noticed he had lost some weight, and asked us to check him. We went up yesterday and were shocked to see how thin he was. It's possible he has parasites (living and eating outdoors) or that he has cancer. We went back today, and, after talking with Amelia, we are also wondering if he isn't getting enough food and water. We left a water dish for him.

Amelia seems to be increasingly confused, and I'm wondering if she is simply forgetting to feed him. Amelia has a son who stops by frequently and takes very good care of her, but I doubt he is particularly concerned about the cat. We are going to go up every other day and police the situation, and feed Smokey some snacks and make sure his water bowl is cleaned and filled. And we're going to take him in to the vet Monday morning and see about getting him parasite medicine that would be safe for an elderly cat to take.

Last winter, we couldn't get Amelia to keep Smokey's cat bed heater plugged in (she was afraid of tripping over the cord). If Smokey does indeed recover from whatever is causing him to lose weight, I'm thinking that, come October, we will need to convert the outdoor pet-bed heater to run off a battery pack and simply go up and replace the batteries every few weeks.

Smokey is exactly the same age as Sheba, the deaf white cat, and you can really see the difference between the health of a pampered, mostly indoor cat like Sheba and an outdoor animal like Smokey. The way Sheba leaps and gallops and vaults through the house every morning you'd never know she's 14. She even still gets up on the next-door neighbors' roof.

Back to work...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The book project — and everything else

I'm writing a technology book under a tight deadline. The first half of the first draft just came back from the editor. She seems to like it.

Writing the book is completely fun! The stressful part is dealing with the expectations of other clients — and associates on volunteer projects — who are used to having me readily available. It is very hard for me to say "no." I'm more likely to say "yes," look freaked out, and then go into my office and throw things.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The hallmark of a good conference

I'm told the hallmark of a good conference is that you leave wishing you had attended every single one of the panels. That was certainly the case with Fourth Street. But I found that the panels I attended had so much information and so many ideas that there just wasn't room for anything else in my head.

Next year they are talking about have a writers workshop the week before Fourth Street, but I wish instead that they'd have it the week after. It's frustrating the get all these ideas and inspiration at the convention and have no time to use them when you get home and go back to work.

Of course, for quite a few people at Fourth Street, their work is writing fiction. Mine is writing non-fiction, and I'm getting ready to start my first non-fiction book project (as a writer rather than a contributor or editor). I'm not nervous or worried, but I am determined to clear the decks of small projects for the next two months — which means I won't be writing much fiction.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Hail in Minneapolis

Last night, as a bunch of us sat down to dinner, we realized that the sky outside the hotel's cathedral-style atrium had turned green, and water was gushing across the skylights. Some of us went out through the lobby doors to witness golf-ball size hail bouncing along in the parking lot. It went on for at least 30 minutes and was pretty spectacular. Unless your car was parked in the back parking lot, which flooded.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Getting away from it all

I'm a notoriously cranky packer but a great traveler. The second I walk through the doors into Sea-Tac, all thoughts of garden-watering schedules, feline demands, last-minute clothing repairs, and my clients' supposed emergencies vaporize.

I'm on vacation!

I don't know if it's this mindset that makes magical things happen, or if it's just that the mindset makes a lot of what happens seem magical, but travel is fun. (And it helps that I'm traveling with The Scholarly Gentleman.)

The plane to Minneapolis got cancelled, but miraculously replaced, so the four-hour delay was only 40 minutes, and we got to Minneapolis roughly on time. Delta's avaricious baggage checking fees meant that TSG took a roll-aboard suitcase (filled more with books and flyers than clothes) and wore his brown Victorian top hat.

It got some looks, but none more startled that the look from the slim young woman in Arrivals at Minneapolis who was also wearing a brown Victorian top hat. Hers was theatrically outsized, and had an orange wig attached. That, and her Steampunk clothing, indicated she was for some reason channeling Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter from the recent Alice in Wonderland film.

I read Kim Newman's Anno Dracula on the plane, a clever, name-dropping Victorian vampire/Ripper/mystery novel (it mentioned Dodgson aka Lewis Caroll) that seemed to me like a novella that got bundled up in a lot of back and forth extra details. But, then, I think that almost all Ripper books are better at novella length. The ending, however, was great.

Fourth Street doesn't officially start until today, but we got off to a grand start last night with 30 or so of the early birds doing the premiere reading of Jo Walton's comedy "Three Shouts on a Hill." I got to play King Lugh, which involved a lot of stern bellowing.

This morning got off to a very slow start. I sat down at the hotel room desk and wrote a customer profile (as a result of finally chasing down the interview subject, by phone, yesterday evening). It felt great to get that sent off.

The Clarion West Write-a-thon is underway, and I just saw the list of last week's donors to my Write-a-thon page. I was touched, surprised, charmed, mystified — you name it — by the folks who donated to support my work and the Clarion West Writers Workshop. More than 70 of us — Clarion West graduates, board members, and friends of Clarion West — have created Write-a-thon pages with excerpts from our fiction writing and descriptions of our writing goals for the six weeks of the Write-a-thon. (It runs in parallel with the summer workshop, at which the students, many of them able to attend Clarion West only through our scholarship support, are having the writing experiences of their lives.)

In my case, the Write-a-thon is a "submit-a-thon." I've got three or four finished pieces that need me to stop polishing them and send them out to editors of magazines. I was greatly encouraged last week by an award-winning speculative fiction writer who said the reason a story doesn't have to be perfect is that editors like to find some flaw in it that they can analyze and tell you to fix. I'm not sure that's true, but it is encouraging.

Please donate. If my page has brought in $250 in total donations by the end of July, I've promised to match my supporters' gifts with an additional $250 — which about the amount I'll make if one of the stories I submit gets purchased.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Positively 4th Street

We're off to the 4th Street Fantasy Convention this weekend. It's a science fiction literary convention that emphasizes contemporary fantasy (Neil Gaiman, Steven Brust, Jo Walton, etc.) and draws a number of editors from the New York publishing world. It also attracts the sort of folks who are interested in gourmet chocolates, arcane teas, folk music jams, and late-night discussions.

It's held at a convention hotel that didn't do much for me last year, but which is now adjoined by a fabulous new mall with ethnic restaurants and high-end shops. And it's near a couple of Vinyasa yoga studios.

I am expecting to like the trip.

As usual, it's extremely difficult to get out of town. We're coordinating the professional cat sitter who comes in the evenings with the neighbors who come in to feed the cats in the morning and the other neighbors who are leaving Saturday and whose cats I'll be caring for as soon as we return on Monday. (That meant I had to tell our cat sitter about the cats I'm responsible for Monday in case something awful happens and I don't come back from Minneapolis — she knows where the key is so those cats won't starve.)

To complicate it all, Mabel, our black cat, decided this morning to teach the striped cats how to catch a mouse. I removed the mouse from the house, but the stupid thing kept coming back and sitting on the back porch. I thought it had finally gone, but the cats got it again, and it had to be delivered to a large field a block away before things came to a fatal conclusion. The cats are still skulking around the back yard looking for it.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Weird things in the garden

Every time I look out in the garden, I see something else strange.

I just looked out the window from my office and saw a gigantic, six-foot weed in my neighbor's yard, towering over the fence. I hope I remember to get over there tomorrow and pull it out. He doesn't garden.

Friday after work I went out into the back garden and came to grips with the fact that a perfectly innocent hardy geranium that I've had for more than 10 years in a concrete pot somehow got loose and took root (via seeds) all over the back garden beds, crowding out the blue star creeper and various other things. Little yellow poppies were about to crowd out the strawberries, but I removed them.

My take on this is that the relentlessly damp spring has coddled the plants into producing shallow roots (that will be the death of them once it stops raining) and the weeds are poised to overrun everything by August. It's hard to get excited about summer at the moment.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Many cats ago...

More than 20 years ago, when I moved into the first Shady Rest, I brought with me from Greenwood a little black cat named RoyGBiv. A few years later, RoyGBiv got cancer and had to be put down. By that time, I had a big orange tabby named Bosco, a little Himalayan/Abyssinian named Betaille, and a gorgeous Russian blue named Sam. A lot of cats.

Mark Smythe was there when I put RoyGBiv down, and he helped me bury her in the back yard. After the burial, Mark drove back to Tacoma where he was in law school. He called me to report that when he arrived at his apartment building, he found a little back cat that looked much like RoyGBiv in the back alley, being menaced by some kids. Did I want the cat?

My answer was no. Sam's best friend, a little neglected neighborhood tabby named Socks, had already moved in and was in RoyGBiv's bed!

So Mark kept the black cat. He named her Melilot. She often stayed at the Shady Rest at Christmas when Mark would go back East to visit family. She liked going outdoors with our cats. One afternoon, when we got home from work, Melilot rushed up to
the porch to be let in and Zorg picked her up. Melilot didn't like that, and she batted him in the face with her little paws. She was declawed, so Zorg just laughed at her.

She leaned over and bit him on the nose.

Melilot lived most of her life in Mark's apartment in a urban part of Tacoma. She didn't get to go out much — but that might be why she lived to a very old age.

Two months ago, Mark called to say Melilot had been diagnosed with a fast-growing cancer of the jaw. Mark discovered some herbal remedies and managed to give Melilot another 10 weeks of life. He called today to say that she died last night.

Melilot, shown here on the mantelpiece at the Shady Rest, was a professional cat. She will be remembered.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


I've worn glasses since I was a tiny child. I think I'm better adjusted to my hard-to-correct eyesight that just about any of my friends with comparable myopia. I enjoyed wandering around the halls in high school without glasses because it taught me to recognize people by the way they stand, or move, rather than by facial characteristics. I often remove my glasses to think in a big-picture way.

I love wearing glasses!

But last night I had an experience with my eyes that was weird. I'd had only about five hours of sleep the night before, and had headed down to Olympia at six a.m. for a three-hour meeting that turned into a nine-hour work session. Then we'd driven back. I'd taken off my glasses, taken a bath, and then gone to check my email before bed.

It was one big blur. I switched to my computer glasses. I moved the computer monitor around. Nothing helped. It was as if I had been given drops at the eye doctor's office.

I tried a few things and decided it was just my right eye that was malfunctioning. There could be only two explanations: One, this was a reaction to being exhausted. Two, something was wrong with my eye and would need to be repaired.

I have annual eye exams, have never had any serious eye problems, and had certain not had any injury to the eye. There was no pain or irritation, and the eye looked, to the outside observer, just fine.

So I voted for "reaction to being exhausted," and went to bed.

Fortunately, I was right. I got up this morning and my vision was back to normal — which is to say, mostly correctable by the progressive-lens trifocals I wear.

Whew. Losing your vision is frightening. And, yes, I am going to have my eyes checked.

Friday, May 14, 2010

My life with things

My mom's Oreck vacuum is schedule to depart the premises at 2 p.m. tomorrow. Yes, it's still all about things over here.

I got started cleaning the garage today and look forward resuming that tomorrow afternoon, the morning being devoted to going down to Seattle Center and training the volunteer greeters in advance of the Northwest Folklife Festival.

This week I was at last able to focus on work and catch up on most of it. I'm assisting three non-profits in collecting and writing client profiles, and working with two companies on articles and blog posts. There are two new projects on the horizon, one with an existing client and the other with a completely new one.

The website project in Olympia is just a few hours away from completion, but those hours involve meetings to Olympia, scheduled in the next two weeks.

The highlight of the week was the Campfire fundraising breakfast. Sherman Alexie spoke. If you have the chance to hear him in person, do it!

One unusual aspect of this week was that I went downtown three times in two days and had to wear business-type clothing. It wasn't too bad, but it was odd to come home and have to change in order to garden and do chores.

Monday, May 10, 2010


We got up at 4:30 this morning and took my mom to the airport where she flew first class back to Florida. She called me from the plane before they took off and sounded like she was having a wonderful time.

From the airport we went to West Seattle and picked up our share of the tables and leftovers from yesterday's Foolscap yard sale. When we got home, we switched to the other car, drove up to Sky, and bought stuff for the garden. Then it was over to Mae's to have breakfast with a friend of Tom's from the Bay Area who was in town for an English dance weekend. Then back home where we unloaded the plants from one car, a table from the other, and I took off for the storage locker to get more junk to leave at Goodwill along with the yard sale dregs. (We're talking a lot of junk — it filled my Honda Fit to the ceiling and filled two of the big wheeled carts at Goodwill.)

From there, it was over to the Naked Lady brunch and clothing exchange in Greenwood. (I left several bags of dresses and tops and got a gray Banana Republic cashmere cardigan.) Then back to the house were I went upstairs and...collapsed.

No idea how long I would have napped if I hadn't been woken up by phone calls every 15 minutes. The last was from the local teenager who mows the lawn; he was on his way over, and it seemed unlikely that I'd be able to sleep through that.

Tom was off in West Seattle picking up the top of our table from the yard sale location.

I got up and started doing laundry and sorting through stuff from my mom's move: about 100 towels, some — burnt orange — that I remember from the 1970s. As soon as Tom arrived and unloaded the table, I filled the car up with more bags to take to Goodwill.

He pointed out that I still needed to get some plants in to the garden. So I started gardening at 7 and finished at 9, interrupted only by the guy who came to buy the patio chaise I had advertised on Craig's List.

Still selling a nice Oreck vacuum — an upright that doesn't work for us because we don't have any carpets.

Anyone interested?

Friday, May 07, 2010

We're tired

OK. We sold my mom's antique furniture, ran her yard sale, signed papers on her condo sale, cleaned the condo, and moved furniture and tools to storage. My mom moved in to our guest room Thursday, and today we sold her car. Sunday she flies back to Florida — which will now be her year-round home.

The friends, neighbors, and real estate agent who helped us out were great. The escrow people were unimpressive. Two sets of movers were involved, and one set (Adam's) was worth recommending.

Considering that nothing really serious was going on (no one was sick or anything), I was astonished at how much time and energy this whole project consumed.

Monday, April 19, 2010

I am officially out of the office

I'm out of the office until April 28. My mom's flying in tomorrow night to pack/store/move/sell the contents of her condo in Edmonds. She's here for three weeks, but I expect most of the organizational stress will be the first week. So that's the one I'm taking off to do whatever it is that she'll construe as assistance.

What does "out of the office" mean? I'm not sure. Except "busy."

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Gardening nirvana

Not that any day I spend gardening could ever be less than wonderful, but...the garden is particularly gorgeous right now. The sky is gray, there are occasional sprinkles, but the temperature is so mild I can keep the back door open and the cats can race in and out of the house while I work. Some black clouds are overhead, so I shucked my boots and came in for a few minutes; I'm pretty sure we'll end with a nice sunset, so I can go out and clear the rest of the front side garden and put in the North Sky "ground cover" blueberry bushes.

I'm still putting a few pavers and lots of ground cover in the back yard surrounded the new vegetable garden. The plan is to get the actual vegetables in on May 9, after the whole packing/storing/moving/selling/ my mom's condo is over. I've hired a local mover and rented a storage locker, detailed my car, booked the cleaners, and scheduled a week off from work. My mom arrives Tuesday night.

She is really keyed up. This morning she woke me out of a sound sleep to ask me if I'd gotten the letter she sent to her attorney yesterday. Huh?

It turned out she meant the email she'd sent me telling me that she'd sent a letter to her attorney.

Back to sleep. Five minutes later, she called and woke me up again.

"There's something wrong with you, isn't there? You sounded very strange," she said, using her mother-knows-best tone.

I took the bait.

"Yes," I said. "I'm very upset. Someone keeps calling me on the phone and waking me out of the first decent night's sleep I've had all week. It's 8:00 a.m. out here, you know."

Of course, it was 11 a.m in Florida and she just can't quite believe that I'm allowed to sleep in while everyone in Florida has been up for hours.

As my dad used to say, "Oh boy."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Grand jete

Tonight my friend John Hedtke was complaining on Facebook about the women in his house glued to the TV watching "America's Next Top Model." Many comments ensued.

It reminded me of the time, 45 years ago, that my father was complaining because my mother and I were glued to the TV watching Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn dancing Swan Lake on Ed Sullivan. (Sullivan was instrumental in using TV to bring fine arts to a vaudeville audience.)

We were rapt until we heard someone running through the kitchen. We turned just in time to see my father launch himself in a grand jete and come flying into the TV room.

Well, at least he wasn't wearing tights.

(You'll see Nureyev perform some grand jetes about 2/3 of way through this video.)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

And it's only Tuesday...

I got in touch with my prospective house guest who assures me she'll vouch for the extra person she's bringing along on her visit. I've tentatively upgraded her from freeloader to flake.

My Olympia website project is going into the lockdown phase, with the tasks getting increasing focused, smaller, and do-able. People are being forced to make decisions instead of ask for vague "improvements."

The timing is fortunate, because my mother arrives from Florida next Tuesday night to pack/sell/move/give away and otherwise deal with the contents of her Edmonds condo before the sale closes the first week of May. I'm taking April 21-27 off from work to be available for all of this. Many tasks she envisions taking days can be accomplished in a few minutes, so I think the first week will be the most important to work with her.

We've also scheduled a garage sale, at her condo garage, April 30 and May 1. Stay tuned.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Miffed manners

When someone asks me something I would never in a thousand years ask someone else, I just can't imagine where they're coming from. It puts me off balance, and I tend to stand there with a deer-in-the-headlights expression.

That's how I got run over today by a woman I don't know and now don't look forward to meeting.

Jennifer (we'll call her) is a friend of a good friend of mine. She lives in Olympia. She's coming to town to attend a conference in two weeks, and it was suggested that she stay at my house. I've heard a lot about her, and always wanted to meet her, so this seemed a great way to get acquainted.

It was only after we'd agreed on the dates of her visit that Jennifer mentioned she'd be bringing a woman colleague with her. Oh. Well, no problem I said. I have a fold-out sofa bed and a small futon.

Then this afternoon Jennifer called to ask if she and the other woman could bring along a fellow they'd met at an arts event who is also going to the conference.

Wait a second. This woman I've never met has just invited a man she barely knows to come live at my house for three days?

Unfortunately, she called with this request just as I was headed out the door to a meeting. It wasn't a good time to talk, and I stupidly tried to head her off with logistics. "Gee, I don't really have room..." I said.

She responded, "Oh, we'll tell him to bring a sleeping bag."

It took about three hours for me to I realize how completely pissed off I am about this. Sure, he could be a perfectly nice guy. He could also be someone who is going to steal my computer or molest my neighbors' kids. I have no idea, and neither does Jennifer.

I called our mutual friend, who was clearly unhappy to hear about this situation. She thinks Jennifer is a real sweet person, but I think Jennifer's one nervy freeloader. And I expressed that opinion. So much for wanting to meet her.

Tomorrow I'm calling Ms. Hospitality and asking her how well she knows this guy, and if she's willing to vouch for him. If she's not, he's uninvited.

And as for her...sheesh. Get some class.

Friday, April 02, 2010

A letter from the IRS

Thursday I opened up the Foolscap table at Norwescon. Be sure to stop by and visit!

I'd never been to Norwescon before. Just meeting people in the registration line was a kick. I was entertained by Dr. Oliver David Cross, who talked of opening a tea shop north of Seattle. It looks to be a fascinating weekend — but watch out for the spears. Unlike many large science fiction and fantasy conventions, Norwescon allows weaponry in the public spaces. It's part of costumes, of course, but still not something you want to run into.

I came home to find I had a letter from the IRS. Unlike their previous letters, which insisted I'd underpaid my quarterly estimated taxes, this one notified me that the issue had been resolved and they apologized for any concern this had caused. Whew!

It's not every day you get an apology from the IRS. I took a bath and went to bed early.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Vital signs

In the past 72 hours I have written:
• 1 case study on cardiac rehabilitation data management software
• 1 blog post on conscious sedation in dental offices
• 1 blog post on state laws regarding AEDs in dental offices
• 1 grant proposal to the Australia Arts Council (which included converting a three-page budget spreadsheet into AU dollars)
• 1 newsletter article on "housing first" programs for chronically homeless individuals in Seattle
• 1 newsletter article on fundraising projects for a writing program
• a series of emails exhorting people to volunteer for a marketing project

During the same period I've edited:
• several web pages about traffic safety projects
• a magazine article on making money as an entrepreneur

And I agreed to:
• write a case study on defibrillators
• edit a how-to book for music teachers
• create a series of client profiles for two social service agencies
• read and critique five fiction manuscripts

I turned down a request to write a press release, and I totally blew the deadline for a second case study on medical devices.

While all of this was going on, the Reglaze window contractors came and removed all five of the ancient double-hung dining room windows and replaced them with insulated windows, two of which are casement windows with screens.

Is it summer yet?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Four perfect hours

I love to garden. This afternoon the weather in Seattle was perfect for gardening. Not just nice, or pleasant, but perfect. It was neither hot nor cool, and there wasn't any breeze.

I laid out the 6' x 11' oval potager garden, its plastic edging, installed two 72" iron obelisks from Sky Nursery, put in a soaker hose, and lugged three bales of compost into the oval (to be opened and dug in next week). I also got two blueberry bushes planted in other areas of the garden. (The plan is to put in another four or five blueberries this year, but only if I can find the "Sunshine" variety that tastes like wild berries.)

The cats were out in the garden with me much of the day — Sheba dashing around on Paul and Gwen's roof, Mabel visiting all the neighbors, and Kaylee and Zoe chasing each other around in the rhodies. The kids across the street had on shorts and bathing suits and were spraying each other with squirt guns.

At 6 p.m. it was still in the high 60s, and sunlight was pouring through the grape arbor and onto the patio.

People always think of the best days of life as being the days when you get married, or win awards, or something like that. My best days are like this one.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Alex Chilton

Alex Chilton died Wednesday.

In 2004, when I was with the iTunes Music Store, one of the consultant DJs assembled a playlist called "one-hit wonders." I was assigned to write a blurb about it. I disagreed with some of the artists placed on this list, including Alex Chilton (for, of course, "The Letter").

The more research I did on Chilton and his post-Box Tops work with Big Star, the more fascinated I became.

A few months later, I flew to Euless, Texas, to see him make a rare appearance at the Euless Arbor Daze Festival. The festival was held in an open field filled with crafts booths, barbecue stands, and an area roped off for an evening concert of old rock and roll.

The oldies lineup included Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs and Chilton with the Box Tops. Chilton's voice was not in top form that night, but he seemed to be enjoying himself in his ironic way. I talked my way backstage after the set and got his autograph.

About 20 minutes later, a spectacular thunderstorm swept in across the plains, shutting down the rest of the evening. The parking area turned to a mudbath. I somehow got my rental car out of there and across the highway to a Denny's (next to my budget hotel). As I walked in, a fellow at a booth waved me over -- a Nashville sessions musician who was the keyboard player in the version of the "Box Tops" that had been put together for the gig. He'd seen me backstage, getting Chilton's autograph, and was curious — as I don't exactly look like a groupie.

We sat and talked for an hour or so -- mostly about the industry, but also about Chilton. A brilliant songwriter, but not an easy fellow to work with, it seemed.

Turned out the band was staying at the same hotel I was, so I gave the keyboardist a lift back in my car. It was only a block, but the whole area was knee-deep in water. I remember that it stormed relentlessly all night — pretty terrifying. The next day the weather cleared, and that night I drove to Dallas and went to Brave Combo's 25th Anniversary at Sons of Hermann Hall in Deep Ellum.

It was a weird trip — but I'm very glad I got to hear Alex Chilton live.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Gardening and taxes

After all the excitement of Potlatch, I wasn't really looking forward to another busy weekend.

But I'd set aside March 12-14 to dig up the back yard, and I was determined to stick with it. There just wasn't another weekend on the calendar that was open, and I knew if I waited into April to dig, there wouldn't be time to get most things planted.

I started to worry when Friday was rainy and cold. Then the truck scheduled to bring over the huge dumpster from the Dirt Exchange broke down. But they found another truck, and by 5 p.m. an enormous shiny orange dumpster was sitting in front of the house.

Unfortunately, Tom was now stricken with the miserable cold I'd had at Potlatch. After work, I went out into the back yard with a hand truck and removed a dozen heavy concrete pavers. I hacked at some bamboo. And I went to bed wondering if anyone would brave the predicted rain to help me dig sod during the weekend.

I went out to get bagels Saturday morning and came back to find Bob had arrived and was ready to dig. He and I got going, and after a while Carrie showed up. Bob left to go to Portland, and Carrie and I dug until lunchtime, by which time Nina showed up. Everyone had lunch, and then Nina and I started shoveling. By 3 p.m., half of the sod was in the dumpster!

However, I then collapsed like a wet noodle. All I remember of dinner was Ibuprofen, and I was in bed by 6 p.m.

Sunday morning Tom was miraculously recovered. Hank showed up, ready to dig, and our neighbor Jerry came over. Hank grew up on a farm, and he really knows how to chop sod! Tom took over wheel barrow duty, shuttling the sod to the dumpster. By the time Janice and John showed up, they were just in time to level the lumpy dirt and help me lug a lot of bamboo out and throw that on top of the dumpster load.

And the weather was fabulous for both days!

I was so grateful to my friends. I calculated that if I'd done that project myself, it would have taken several weekends — plus we'd have had a driveway full of mud and sod all spring.

Now I can hardly wait to get out there and plant the potager garden. The garden is going to have peas, pole beans, and bush beans — including fresh string beans and scarlet runner beans that I like to dry and use in soups and pasta sauces all winter. Apparently potager gardens are supposed to be ringed with flowers and short herbs; so I'm studying up on that.

This work-week is supposed to be focused on client projects and taxes. The taxes got off to a great start tonight when I discovered a whopping error on one of the 1099s from a client. Unfortunately, they didn't really pay me $90,000.

If only.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

I can has sympathy?

There's not much to LOL about it: By the time I figured out why my arm felt strange, it was 2 a.m. I drove to Group Health urgent care on Capitol Hill, skirmished with a dozen Goths toting beer out of the Safeway, and eventually convinced the doctor on duty that the little burning bumps on the inside of my right elbow were, indeed, an outbreak of shingles. Fortunately, my Group Health medical record showed that I get shingles on weird dermatomes (like my right knee). They gave me medicine, I took it, and was home and in bed by 4 a.m.

Between the middle of the night adventures and my cold, I was a real zombie at Potlatch this morning. I was surprised that I had to keep saying "you don't want to get to close to me" to people. I felt like all they had to do was look at me and they wouldn't want to get anywhere near me!

However, it was worth going to the convention. I got to hear Eileen Gunn read a hysterically funny story (a collaboration with Michael Swanwick) about an inept time traveler, and saw David Levine's presentation on his two weeks in a Mars exploration simulation in Arizona.

By 3 p.m., I was ready to come home and just -- oh, wait, there was a meeting for the bid committee for the 2011 Discworld convention in the living room at 4 p.m. When that wound up, it was time to sit down and write a blog post that a client needs for tomorrow.

I did manage to do a little more work on the rewrite of my story, "Four Lakes," that got critiqued on Friday. The critiques were clear and helpful and it's a much better story now. I'm going to let it cool for a couple of weeks before sending it for a second round of comments. If it makes it past that hurdle, it might become the first story I've ever submitted for publication.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Hallucinations are real

In form, if not in content.

I know. I had them all morning.

Yesterday I got up at the crack of dawn to send out emails for a work project, worked all morning, and then rushed off the the writer's workshop at Potlatch 19, which included critiques of my story "Day 26: Four Lakes."

From the four-hour critique session I went to a two-hour board meeting for the Clarion West Board, followed by dinner with an upset friend, followed by Clarion West's public board meeting at which I was formally named to the board.

Then the board hosted a party for the Potlatch folks, who are major fundraisers and supporters for the Clarion West writing program. I think we stayed 45 minutes at the party. I don't remember much after that.

I'd been coming down with a sore throat all day, and by the time I went to bed I had a fever and so much congestion in my head that I was hallucinating. My memories of this morning include trying to rewrite the story in my head (based on the critiques), trying to write new stories, and then getting into a bath and apparently falling asleep in the tub. When I woke up , I felt less ditzy and the water was cold.

I wanted desperately to go back to Potlatch this afternoon to see Tom do the Trivia Contest, go to the auction, and help my Foolscap concom host a party at the hospitality suite after the auction tonight. But instead I had Tom stop at the store, get a tray of stuffed grape leaves, and take that for the party on my behalf.

I'm going back to bed.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Announcing a two-day yard party (March 13-14)

You're invited to a yard party!

A yard party is nothing like a garden party, I'm afraid.

Instead of sitting around in fancy togs admiring the roses, you bring a shovel and spend 30 minutes helping us remove the sod from the back yard. Come any time between 9 and 5 on Saturday or Sunday, March 13 and 14. (We will also be doing some prep work on Friday afternoon, if that fits your schedule better.)

There'll be refreshments, including bagels and cream cheese (in the morning) and Italian sandwiches or pizza (in the afternoon).

We have no idea how many days, or how many people, this is going to take, but we're focusing on Saturday and Sunday to remove sod from an area approximately 14 x 16 feet. The idea is that everyone puts in a very short stint of shoveling so no one gets worn out or injured. (I'm still suffering wrist problems from my five-hour pitched battle with an ancient rhododendron seven years ago; it was completely my fault — I just didn't know when to stop.)

We'll have a "dirt dumpster" from the Dirt Exchange in front of the house which we will fill with the sod (they'll lug it away on Monday).

Once the sod is removed, I'll level the yard. Then the center of the yard (about 5 x 9 feet) will get dug up to be an oval potager garden. I'll set some pavers on gravel around the garden bed, and finish everything else off with hardy ground cover.

What's in it for you? In August, you'll be invited back for a real garden party — the kind with fancy clothes and fancy food — ideally, featuring some of the produce from the new garden.

New England in Florida

So many people in Florida are originally from New England that there is a genre of eateries devoted to New England seafood.

In Naples, Florida, the foremost among these is the Swan River Fish Market. It's named after the Swan River Fish Market on Cape Cod. That's where we got much of our seafood when I was growing up. My mother and I went to the Naples outpost of Swan River last week and had lobster. It was not as good as the lobster I had a few years back at Legal Seafood in Boston, but it was good.

I'm now back in Seattle, and my mom wrote to say that someone in Naples has opened a restaurant that serves Ipswich clams. These are the clams used for New England fried clams.

I have a great fried clam batter recipe that I've tried on Northwest clams. I keep meaning to order a quart of fresh-shucked Ipswich clams from Digger's Seafood (they ship overnight) and cook real fried clams. Is any one interested in sharing these? Let me know.

Monday, February 15, 2010

3 cheers for the Better Business Bureau (and Angie's List)

I recently hired a contractor to do $5,000 worth of window work on my house. As is my practice, I got three bids. The first two were from local contractors who'd done some nice work on neighbors' homes. The third bid was from a window company that does its own installation.

The two contractors both planned to use Marvin double-hung windows, which they would order through a local window dealer with whom I'd had a horrific experience two years ago: repeated delays, mistakes in the order, and surly customer service, to boot.

After talking with the two contractors, I joined Angie's List and looked up their top-rated window contractor for North Seattle. I called this contractor, who came over and proposed using two Milgard casement windows along with three non-opening windows from a local company that does commercial buildings. As window specialists, they knew a huge amount about types of windows, insulation, wear, and weather.

With a small Angie's List discount, their bid came to about 15% under the contractors.

But, before hiring them, I went to the Better Business Bureau website to check on them. Their rating was: A+. Reassuring, but I've always figured that the BBB adhered to an "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all" policy. On previous instances when I've checked a company through the BBB, the website has said things like "This business is not a BBB Accredited Business" and "This business is not currently rated. BBB does not have sufficient information to issue a rating for this business."

Just for the heck of it, I looked up the window dealer with whom I'd had such a miserable experience in the past. To my surprise, they have a BBB rating, and (not so much to my surprise) that rating is "F."

Very interesting. I wonder if the two contractors know about this! It certainly cost them my business.

By the way, the folks I hired, based on Angie's List and BBB ratings, are Reglaze Unlimited.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Where's the cat?

Last week I avoided writing about Garibaldi the feral cat. He disappeared for seven days, and I was worried. But he showed up Sunday, yawning, at the back door. And looking perfectly well fed. He ate with us Sunday and Monday, and now is apparently on the road again.

So, the missing cat I'm writing about is not one of ours. He belongs to our friends Gayle and Jerry. The cat is a black Maine Coon, and he's been extremely sick with a puzzling intestinal illness for some months now. Occasionally, when he's in exceptionally bad shape, we go over during the day to check on him and report to Jerry, who works on the Eastside.

The cat's been near death several times, and this weekend he took a turn for the worse. Yesterday we were part of a team of folks checking on him during the day. When we arrived, he was laying on the floor on a towel, eyes glazed, and barely moving. I was pretty sure it was the end.

I was surprised when Jerry called this morning and asked if we'd check on the cat at noon. I was even more surprised when we went over there at noon, and the cat was gone.

We looked under beds, behind bookcases, in closets, and under furniture. We called Jerry, and he told us about a couple of other hiding places. No cat. We went home, got a flash light, and did a second search. We even went outdoors and asked the workmen on the house next door. No cat.

Jerry came home a few hours later, and called to report that he'd found the cat, laying on a desk in the guest room amidst piles of books at papers. Jerry had walked right past the cat, twice, before he spotted him.

We were relieved. If the cat was able to hop up on a desk, perhaps he's once again on the road to recovery.

And I can hardly wait until GPS pet technology is affordable for cats.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Too much

I'm overcommitted, and I hate what it does to me. I'm making deadlines, but missing birthdays. People talk to me and I can't hear them because there are already a dozen other voices talking in my head, each one a monologue about a particular project.

To make it worse, the first four weeks of this month have been filled with deaths and illnesses in my social circle. Illness that involve things like chemotherapy, radiation, and amputations. Things that make you look at your plate and wonder about additives and cholesterol. Things that make me sure I get my butt over to BF Day for least two of Susan Powter's workouts every week. Last week I made it to three, which meant my days looked like: shower, work, workout, work, bath, sleep (repeat).

This past weekend some social events, arranged weeks ago, required making sandwiches. After slicing two of my fingers, I ended up making sandwiches while wearing bandages and gloves. The cuts are ugly, but not serious, since I can still put enough weight on my hands to do yoga and the bandages can be peeled back far enough so that I can use my fingertips to type. But I've managed to duck any further cooking or dishwashing activities.

This week looks to be even more pathetic, with multiple trips to Olympia for early morning meetings. Apologies to everyone, in advance.

I'm reminded of my mother, who ran a schedule like this for years on end. She not only managed to keep up with everything, she frequently got ahead of herself.

One day she drove her usual hour-and-a-half commute from Cape Cod to work at the Boston statehouse, worked all morning, and the walked to her elderly parents' apartment to clean and make lunch for them. She was in such a hurry to get back to work that when the elevator arrived on 7th floor of the apartment building, she dashed in and opened her umbrella — scaring several people.

Fortunately for everyone, I don't carry an umbrella.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Explaining Massachusetts to the West Coast

The liberal state of Massachusetts went and elected a Republican senator. How did this happen? Let me explain.

"Liberal" in Massachusetts is not like "liberal" in Seattle. It's working class liberal — people who believe in the right to organize, fair pay, job protection, free speech. But they don't really like seeing women get too much power — the gals should be home raising 10 kids.

And the working class liberals just can't resist handsome young male candidates — particularly ones who look like the local Irish attorney for the labor union. So they picked Scott Brown — someone who looks like a young Ted Kennedy even if he doesn't think like one.

Oh, where is George V. Higgins when we need him?

Now don't go and get all complicated about this one. That is so...West Coast.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


This month, and next month, are extremely busy for my business, as a result of the commuting involved in my Olympia project. On Sunday night I feel like I'm about to jump out of an airplane and am wondering if I packed the parachute correctly.

I plan to dial things back in March and April.

This weekend had too much going on. I was very happy today to finally get an hour out in the garden. It's going to be a great gardening season. The early winter cold killed off last year's foliage, so it's easy to clear the way for all of the wonderful things that are already coming up (wood iris and crocuses) for spring. I am determined to get rid of plants that just aren't right for the space (a two-foot high pieris japonica that isn't happy in the front yard, and a rather lovely espaliered camellia (three feet high, deep pink) that just doesn't belong next to the house. If you are interested in either shrub, please let me know.

My other gardening ambitions are:
• Get the spring rituals figured out for the columnar apple tree (spraying with mysterious environmentally correct oils or some such)
• Do something about the lousy grass in the small but lumpy and difficult-to-mow back yard. I suspect I'm headed toward a grass-free back yard, with winding pathways of inexpensive embossed concrete (where the stepping stones now are) and ground covers and ornamental grasses (where the grass now is). The one thing I do not want anywhere is gravel, which seems to be an invitation for weeds to dive in and take over.
• Remove all of the invasive Cricklewood hardy geraniums from the garden. They look great and grow fast in the spring, with fabulous bright pink blossoms, but turn mildewed in midsummer. I could deal with this if they stayed one size and in one place, but they tend to push aside other plants, creating a big sea of mildewed leaves.
• Move Tom's giant planter out to the driveway, and use it to replace the mid-size planters that currently look like clutter. I saw a pretty wonderful planter of evergreen foliage in front of Habitude in Fremont this week (see photo) and I think I'm going to try to recreate that.
• Plant more blueberry bushes. Everywhere.