May 182016
 

WW42AWow. I missed two weeks in a row.  Sorry about that, folks. Two weeks ago, MBH & I were sick li’l puppies, and we both took the day off. And last Wednesday, I was in San Antonio, looking at Baby Bird’s artwork at her first gallery showing.  Cool   Yep. Baby Bird had a piece in the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Spring BFA Exhibition, and we are all so proud of her.

The piece is called “Across The Expanse” and the detail in it was amazing. I mean, just look at this! Click on it (below) and see just how detailed and textured it is. (Yeah, I know, I’m now the obnoxious proud papa, but you’re the one still reading, right?)   Wink

"Across The Expanse"

“Across The Expanse”

A side benefit of the trip was that we got to visit with family for a while. My son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter stayed with us while we were there, and we got to spend all sorts of time with each other. My son and I went to see the new Captain America: Civil War movie together (and yes, it was amazing!), and my wife and daughter-in-law went to take a painting class that my daughter was teaching at Painting With A Twist. They both had a lot of fun.

And of course, there was more time to get to play with our granddaughter. As you WW42Ccan see, she caught a bad case of sticker-itis while we were out to eat at Olive Garden. But she survived the ailment, and was able to join us all for the main event.

The main event? Oh, did I not mention it?   Grin  A few days after the art exhibition, Baby Bird graduated with her BFA! Woohoo!  She is no longer an undergrad. She plans on going for her Masters, and wants to become an art therapist, using her skills in art to help traumatized children. There are still a lot of hoops for her to jump through, but I have no doubt that she’ll manage them with little trouble.

And here’s a tiny taste of the actual graduation. WW42D Talk about your pomp and circumstance!   Laugh  What was really great was that we had so many family members that made the trip to see her walk across that stage. I already mentioned my son and his family. In addition, my sister, brother-in-law, my mom, my sister-in-law, my nephews… all of them made the trip from Houston to San Antonio (in nasty, rainy weather, no less) to show their support.  I love them all for that. You guys rock!

Needless to say, I didn’t get a lot of writing done while all this was going on. But you know what? That’s all right. Some things are more important. And I’m back on the writing wagon again now, so I’ll make up the lost time. As a matter of fact, I do have a few things percolating with regards to writing.

First the bad news… I received an email yesterday letting me know that I wasn’t chosen for the 2017 Tulsa Artist Fellowship. No real surprise there. It was a real long shot, but I figure, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

And for the good news… well, actually, the good news has to wait. Mainly because it may not pan out, and I don’t want to jinx myself. I’ll just say that there’s a slim chance that I’ll have some good news to share on the writing front next week, and leave it at that. Superstitious? Me??!!  Wink

Well, maybe.

And that’s it for now. I have words to write, and you have lives to live. So go. Live. Enjoy. And as always, stay safe. Bye

Apr 272016
 

WW41Personal –

We’re really getting a crash course in life within Tornado Alley.  For the second time in less than a month, we’ve had to deal with local tornadoes.  Having learned my lesson from our March 30th brush with disaster, as soon as reports started coming in on how bad the incoming storm might be, we began to take precautions. We brought in patio furniture and loose yard items (aka “body shredding missiles of death”), put the tree tubes back on the saplings to protect them against strong winds and/or hail, put the BOBs in the back of my car (in case we needed to bug out), pulled the car in the garage (making it easier to get in during bad weather, and to protect the car from potential hail damage), filled the tub with water (in case we had to bug in and lost water for a while), got the blackout kit out and had it ready (again, in case we had to bug in and lost power), made sure the weather apps on my phone were up to date (to monitor upcoming and ongoing weather situation)…

See? I CAN be taught!   Grin

All in all, we were much more prepared for this one than the last. And when our friends called offering room in their storm shelter, we didn’t hesitate long at all. When that system blew through our area, we were all nice and cozy below ground. It was my first time in a storm shelter like that, and I’m glad theirs isn’t a tiny, cramped one. There were five adults and three dogs inside, and I think we were in it for about an hour or so.

We left their company around 12:30 AM, I think, and came home to a house without power. But thanks to the blackout kit, we had plenty of light. And since the weather apps indicated the worst of the storm was past, we sank into our comfy bed to try to sleep through what was left of the night. Power came back on at a quarter after 1:00, and that was pretty much the end of our second severe weather adventure.

Of course, there’s supposed to be another system coming through in a few days.  (sigh)

 

Writing –

I found out yesterday that one of the publishers I submitted Chucklers to has just opened to new submissions. That implies that when I submitted the first time, they were NOT open to submissions.  Thinking  So I’m working on a new cover letter and synopsis, and hope to resubmit the novel today. Wish me luck.

But in the meantime, I’ll continue reworking it, assuming that I never heard back from them because the novel simply wasn’t up to snuff for them, or maybe just wasn’t something they were interested in. We’ll see. I’m okay with it, whether they want it or not.  On the one hand, going through a small press would eliminate the cost of having to pay for a freelance editor, cover artist, and formatting, as well as possibly get me exposure to a larger audience. On the other, it also means I would split the income from the book.

Like I said, I’m okay either way.

And that’s it. Time to get back to it. So you guys stay safe, and I’ll try to do the same.  Bye

Apr 202016
 

WW40cFirst of all, to my friends and family in Houston… I know some of you took some damage from the insane rains this week (Scott, Adam…). You have my sincerest sympathy. I know I whined about being scared by a tornado a few weeks back. You guys really didn’t have to do this just to show me up!  Thinking

I lived most of my life in and around the Houston metroplex. One thing I learned is that, while it doesn’t happen often, those floods can be devastating. I remember being stuck in my neighborhood a time or two, and MBH recalls being flooded out of her house when she was a kid. I even lost a friend during Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 when she was told to move her car from a flooding underground parking garage. She took the elevator down, where the rising water shorted it out, trapped her inside, and filled with water. Kristie and I were both members of the Woodlands Writers Guild, and had worked on some writing conferences together.

And I guess this post just took a rather maudlin turn, didn’t it?

Moving to a more upbeat tone… I spoke to my mom this morning, and she seems to be recovering from her knee surgery wonderfully. The staples were removed from the incision yesterday, and she has regained motion in the knee to the point of being able to bend to nearly 90 degrees (although she says bending that far is still painful). All in all, she’s doing great.  Big Smile

Chucklers is moving right along. Restructuring the book has led to some rewrites and character expansions. Otherwise, most of the first book would be from Charlie’s POV, but interspersed with occasional chapters from other characters. In short, it would be completely out of balance without the reworks. But like I said, the work progresses. At the current rate, I should know soon whether the existing manuscript is going to be one book or two.

WW40bA final note. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve begun researching and applying some herbal medicine skills. There are a lot of pieces to those skills. You have to learn what plants have what medicinal properties, how to make them into infusions, tinctures, infused oils, salves, and poultices. But none of that knowledge does you any good if you aren’t able to identify the plants accurately. Well today I learned to identify a new plant. I’d read about it in several herbal medicine books, and seen it on various websites, but Plantain has so many variants that it threw me. And seeing pictures of something just isn’t the same as being able to put your hands on it and see it in real life.

Today, while I was walking the girls, I noticed a plant in a neighbor’s yard that looked very much like the descriptions and pictures I’d researched. And after all the rain we’ve had here (no, nothing like Houston) they were pushing up an easily identifiable flower stalk. But I still wasn’t sure, so I took a picture and posted it to a wildcrafting site I follow asking if it was, indeed, plantain. Sure enough, several wildcrafters confirmed it for me.

WW40aBut I didn’t want to go into the neighbor’s yard and start digging up plants. Besides, I sure didn’t want to make an infused oil from a plant that could have pesticide or other chemicals in it. So I decided that since I was now able to accurately identify this handy little medicinal, I went into my own back yard, hoping to find it there. It wasn’t until I had walked all the way to the back that I found it, but once I did, I was happy to see that there’s quite a bit of it near the back of the property. (Most of the broad-leafed plants in the picture to the left are plantain.) Specifically, it looks like I have Kentucky Plantain growing in relative abundance in my back yard.

Plantain is one of the better antidotes for insect stings and bites, snakebite, poison ivy, rashes, burns, cuts, and other skin ailments. When heated, the leaves can be applied topically to swollen joints, sore muscles, sprains, etc. Studies have shown that it is rich in tannin (which draws tissue together to help stop bleeding), allantoin (which promotes the healing of injured skin cells), and is an anti-inflammatory. There are other reputed uses, but I’ll stick with the ones that have scientific studies behind them.

So that’s my little bit of excitement for the day. Now I get to experiment with trying to dehydrate it, and make some infused oil out of it. I’m curious about whether dehydrating it significantly lowers its potency in infusions and oils.

I guess I’ll find out.

And that’s it. Time to get back to work. Stay safe everyone. I’ll see you in a week.  Bye

 

Apr 142016
 

Essay – 

Some of you may have noticed that I fell off the wagon last week.  I’ve been pretty good about posting a blog post every week.  What most of you don’t know is that there are times when I post that I’m not even at home.  For instance, WW37 – Spring Plantings back on May 23 was actually written early, and was a scheduled post that went up automatically using the scheduled publishing feature that WordPress offers.  I feel that it’s important that I keep to the scheduled posts.  It keeps me accountable for something, and helps keep me in touch with you guys (assuming there’s still anyone reading these things).

But at the same time, I’m also pretty security conscious.  Between my self-defense training, and my prepper lifestyle, I’ve picked up a few words of wisdom when it comes to home security.  One of the biggies is “don’t advertise to the world when your house will be empty”.  That means you don’t post in your blog, on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any of the hundreds of other social media outlets when you’re going to be on vacation.

Common sense should tell you this from a home security perspective, but I understand all too well the desire to post pictures of the friends and family you’re visiting as soon as you have them.  I was so tempted to post pictures on Facebook of the wonderful times we were having with my daughter and granddaughter, friends and extended family in Utah.  Instead, I posted a list of plants I’m going to try in the garden this year.

Why?

Come on.  You already know the answer.  You don’t want to let the bad guys know when you or your property will be vulnerable.  I could have posted something like this on Facebook:

WW38b“Just landed in SLC. Looks like a winter storm beat us by just a few hours. This is crazy! But we’re looking forward to a fun week with friends and family. Hope you’re all jealous!”

And there would have been the little picture like this one, showing the snowy landscape to prove I wasn’t just making this stuff up.  Knowing me, I probably would have added a cute little smiley face or two.

But a post like that would have immediately told any would-be burglars that our home was going to empty for several days.  And anyone with any savvy could have found out where we live via some of the lovely little tools that the internet makes available for anyone who is interested in such things, and MBH & I could have easily returned from SLC to find our home emptied of any valuables.

Think I’m exaggerating?  According to a 2011 article in Digital Trends, “Nearly 4 Out Of 5 Burglars Use Social Networks To Find Empty Homes“.  International Business Times published an article in 2013 entitled “How Burglars Use Facebook To Target Vacationing Homeowners“.  And just last year, Kim Komando published “4 Ways Burglars Use Social Media To Target You“.

It gets worse.  Ever hear of Jenn Gibbons?  She was the victim of a highly publicized incident in 2012.  Jenn was attempting to row around Lake Michigan to raise money for a breast cancer victims recovery group called “Recovery on Water”.  Jenn posted daily updates of her journey on Facebook and on her personal blog, and five weeks into her journey she was docked near a lighthouse for the night when a man boarded her boat demanding that she take off her shorts. “Jenn, I know who you are,” he said before he sexually assaulted her, “and I knew where to find you.”

So think about that before you post when you’ll be away from home, or worse, when you’ll be alone hiking, rowing, biking, running, or participating in any activity that will keep you away from other people.  In other words, don’t let the bad guys know when you’re going to be vulnerable.  If you live in the boonies, don’t let the world know when you’re going to be gone for any length of time if you’re leaving behind a vulnerable spouse or children.

And my self-defense brain is yelling at me to tell you “Better yet, don’t be vulnerable at all!”  Learn to defend yourself.  Make sure your spouse and children know how to defend themselves.  I made sure all of my kids had a good martial arts education.  I feel sorry for anyone who takes them as easy marks.  They aren’t invulnerable.  None of us are.  But they long ago lost the victim mentality, and they know how to defend themselves.

All right.  Enough on that subject.  Let’s see what else has been going on.

Personal Goings On –

Last week, I was out of town again.  (See how I segued into that?)   Wink   My mother has had some pretty severe knee issues (as in no cartilage, bone on bone, doctor said he didn’t know how she was able to walk at all, issues), and finally was able to get the worst knee replaced last week.  I went into Houston to be with her during the process.

To my friends in Houston that I didn’t contact while I was there, I owe you all an apology.  Jim, Angela, Kevin, Sham, and everyone else… I’m sorry.  I didn’t even make time to see any family other than those who came to see Mom.  Just about every hour was either spent at the hospital, or resting up to go back to the hospital.  The one exception was the day before she went int and I got to have lunch with my mom, son, daughter-in-law, and newest granddaughter.

The knee replacement went amazingly well.  Hours after the replacement, they were already bending the knee.  The day after that, they were exercising the leg, and had her up and walking.  Not for very far, and definitely not for very long, but she was up and walking.

The day I left to come back home, she was able to make it up a flight of stairs with some help from my brother-in-law and me, and she was able to walk (slowly) around her room with minimal trouble.  She started her physical therapy the day after I left, and is doing really well now, a week later.

Love you, Mom.   Smile

Writing –

Chucklers is really moving again.  Now that I’ve decided on how to restructure the book, I’ve been working on it almost as two different projects.  The idea has been to restructure the novel from a mixed up, chronological timeline, to two separate, individual stories that tell the story of what happened in the main locations.  This requires that I fill in more characters and details for the two (now separate) stories, which is in turn making for a much longer book than I had anticipated.  That means there is still the chance that what had been intended as the first book in a trilogy, may actually become the first two books of a quadrilogy.

Maybe.  At this point, I honestly don’t know how it’s all going to play out.  All I know is that the WIP is now over 127k words and still growing.  And I’m still working on the first half of it.  If the same thing happens when I get to the second half, I may actually end up splitting it into two individual volumes.  For now though, I’m writing again.  I’ll just have to see where the story takes me.

 

Propolis tincture (left) and comfrey infused oil (right)

Propolis tincture (left) and comfrey infused oil (right)

Prep –

By now, you all know I’m a bit of a prepper.  What most of you don’t know is that I’m a member of a local prepper group.  It’s a mutual education group, where we teach each other about things like bee keeping, making cheese, making soap, primitive fire-starting skills… things like that.  Well I’ve done a lot of research on herbal medicines while writing Year 12, and have put some of what I’ve learned into practice.  So for our next project night, I volunteered to share some of what I’ve learned and done with regards to herbal healing.

Thinking about what I would do for the project night, I started gathering information for handouts, and figured I would show the group how to make a simple salve.  I made a comfrey & tea tree oil salve a few weeks ago, and it turned out to be pretty good.  But in doing so, I learned another lesson.  If you’re planning to give your product out for others to use, make absolutely certain that they don’t have any allergies to the ingredients you’re using.

No, I didn’t send anyone into anaphylactic shock.  But the friend I gave some to has several allergies, so I made sure to tell her the ingredients, and ask if she was allergic to any of them.  As it turns out, she had a mild allergy to tea tree oil.  She makes her own soap, had added some to a batch of soap she’d made, and broke out in hives.  She told me that she honestly thought that she’d probably added too much of the oil to her mix, so still wanted to try the salve, but assured me that she would do a simple wrist test first.  As it turns out, there was no reaction, and she has used the salve with no problems.  But it reiterated the importance of checking first.

So far, I’ve never heard of anyone being allergic to comfrey, though I’m sure it happens.  But for our upcoming project night, I’m making some bee propolis tincture (a two-week process), and have already made some comfrey infused oil.  In addition, I’ll be taking my almond oil, tea tree oil, bees-wax, vitamin E, and a few other ingredients so we can make a custom salve based on input from the group.  Since propolis is a bee product, and I know there are plenty of people who are allergic to bees and bee by products, there is the distinct possibility that I won’t be able to us it in the salve.  But I wanted to let the group see it, and understand the difference between tinctures, teas, salves, poultices, etc., and how they can be used together.

So I’ll take the various ingredients, let everyone see them, and we’ll make a salve that everyone can take home and use.  It will be a chance to show the group how important it is to make sure you don’t use the wrong product on people, as well as show them just how easy it is to make a salve based on your needs at the moment.

And that’s enough blogging for now.  Time to get back to writing.  So stay safe everyone.  I’ll see you next time.  Bye

Mar 312016
 

Wednesday, I started this post with the idea that I would be writing about our recent visit to our daughter and granddaughter in Utah.  When I write these blog posts though, I often begin them at mid-morning or so, and write them in spits and spurts over the next few hours, fitting them between chores around the house, writing on my books, and various other bits of the day.  In this case, time’s progression changed the day’s priorities.  I’ll leave the beginning as it was written, because we really DID have a great time on vacation.  It’s unfortunate that Wednesday took the frightening turn that it did, and sucked the emphasis from a fun vacation, to a frightening natural disaster.

So here it goes.  First, “…the best of times…” as started yesterday morning.

_____________________________________________________

WW38Last week we got away for a while, visiting our eldest daughter and granddaughter in Salt Lake City.  It was a blast, getting to see some great friends and family that we haven’t seen in a few years.  Our only real concern was the fact that we had to board Bella and Cricket while we were gone, and they had never been left alone for that long.  In fact, before this month, they had never been boarded at all.  And as sweet as our girls are around us, they’re very pack oriented dogs, and they don’t do well with strangers or other dogs.

Hoping to prepare them for the idea that we could leave them with someone else for a time and still come back to them, we boarded them overnight for just one night during the week before.  When I went to pick them up the next day, I was tickled to find that they had done really well, and didn’t seem to be the least bit afraid of the workers there.  I guess it’s a matter of “hey, they fed us so they must be okay, right?”  Smile

That little experiment did us a lot of good, too.  It served to let us know that they were more adaptable than I had feared, and were going to be just fine with the kennel.

By the way, the kennel we took them to was fantastic.  Great facilities, and a caring staff that took wonderful care of our babies while we were gone.  We’ll definitely be using them again if we need to leave town and can’t take the girls with us.

So we took them in for their more extended stay, and flew the friendly skies to sunny Utah.

Except it wasn’t.  Sunny, that is…   Thinking

The flight was nice enough… until we got ready to land.  At that point, we hit some nasty turbulence, and dropped into a layer of clouds so thick that we were actually surprised when we touched down.  And when we got out we were greeted by the sight of a sudden winter storm that had just preceded us by a few hours, coating everything in several inches of that white frozen stuff that made driving and navigating so much fun.WW38b

But it stopped soon enough, and while the drive from the airport to the hotel was a little nerve-wracking, the snow didn’t last.  In fact, by that night had pretty much stopped.  And as it tends to do, the sun came out, the snow melted, and the next several days were beautiful.

While we were there, we got to reconnect with family and friends we haven’t seen in too many years.  Some had new kiddos, others had new significant others in their lives, and all were great additions to the clan.  And since my granddaughter has an upcoming birthday, we had the perfect excuse to take her shopping (as if grandparents really need an excuse, right?)

And Rev?  If your mom reads this to you, make sure to keep a list of books that you want.  As soon as you finish the ones we got, just let Pops know what you’d like to read next and we’ll make that happen.   Cool

_____________________________________________________

And here’s where the day turned into “…the worst of times…”

 

As you can see, the post was pretty much finished.  I could have wound things up, talked about our return, picking up the girls from the kennel, and posted it.  But the weather was getting ugly.  MBH texted me throughout the day, checking to see if it was raining at the house.  She works near the Tulsa airport, and they were getting hammered.  Yet here at home, it was bright and calm.  I could see the storm in the distance, but it wasn’t too concerning.

WW38d

Funnel cloud is circled.

In fact, we joked about the weather app on our phones being so wrong.  According to Accuweather, it was storming at the house.  But though the sky was overcast, I still hadn’t had any rain to speak of.  And at the end of her workday, MBH came home and it still had only rained a little bit, and that was only for a few minutes.  So we went about our business, making dinner, eating, unwinding…

Then we heard the sirens.

I think I’ve posted about them before.  The town of Claremore has a severe weather system that they test once a month or so. and we’re just outside town.  The first time I heard those sirens, I knew what it was (I went to school in the 60s and seventies, and went through everything from fire drills to air raid drills), but it confused the crap out of me because they were going off on a bright, clear, sunny afternoon.  That was when one of the neighbors explained to me that they were testing the system.

So when we heard those same sirens yesterday evening, we had our first indication that things weren’t simply “business as usual”.  We stepped out back and saw that super cell off to the west.  I wasn’t too concerned yet.  In fact, it was actually kind of pretty.  Until MBH said she thought she saw a funnel.WW38c

I didn’t see it, but a lot of the cell was hidden behind trees and structures to the west, so I walked out to the back part of the property.  Even when I saw them, I wasn’t too concerned.  In fact, I have to admit, I was more fascinated than anything.  I had never seen real funnel clouds before.  I once saw some water spouts on Lake Pontchartrain, and took shelter when a small “bouncer” tornado skipped through our old neighborhood in Texas, but I had never seen actual funnel clouds over land.

Yet here they were.  One would drop down a bit, then go back up, then another would drop and withdraw.  Like I said… fascinating.  But I got a crash course in just how quickly things can escalate with a tornado in Oklahoma.   Side Frown

We could see the cell beginning to shift slightly toward us, so we thought it would be a good idea to move the patio furniture, and several other loose (read that as “potential shrapnel”) items out of the open and into the garage.  And it was none too soon.  About five minutes later the rain and hail started.  A neighbor called us and offered room in their storm shelter if we thought we would need it, but I still didn’t think it was going to get that bad.  And even if it did, I figured we would have enough time to react to changing conditions.  (Yeah, right!)

Even then, I still had it in my head that it wasn’t going to really impact us much.  But shortly after that, from the shelter of our back patio, it became pretty obvious that the cell was either getting bigger, or shifting toward us.  To make matters worse, the funnels morphed into a full-blown tornado, touching down to our southwest and sending up a very visible debris cloud.

Finally, I started to really get concerned.  Conditions were changing much quicker than I had anticipated.  I called the neighbor to let her know we were on our way, but the call went straight to voice mail.  I assumed that she had no signal in the shelter, so we decided that discretion was the better part of valor, grabbed the girls, grabbed a bug out bag, and ran out to the car.  By this time, the hail was about the size of golf balls, big enough that it looked like it could be painful if it hit.  Luckily, none of us was hurt going to the car. We pulled out of the driveway, drove the short distance to the private road to our friend’s home, and found that the gate was closed.

At that point, it was too dark to see the tornado, and that just made things worse.  With no other plan of action, we drove back home.  All told, we were on the road for maybe three minutes.  And as we pulled back up to our house, lightning showed us that the twister had already gone past us.  It had traveled from the southwest of our home, to the southeast, about a mile or so to the south of us… all in the time it took us to drive about a quarter of a mile.  It was both a relief, and a frightening eye-opener.  That thing moved so fast!

And as I reflected on all that I had done in the face of a potential disaster, I have to admit that my preparations were barely adequate.  Looking back on what we did, what we packed, how we bugged out… there are a lot of holes in our process.  None of them are likely to have been fatal, but I can think of so many things that I should have done differently.

So I’ll be working out some lists.  Our lives have changed now that we live here in Oklahoma.  The old preps and procedures that I had for Houston hurricane seasons aren’t right for Oklahoma tornadoes.  I need to reevaluate and adjust.  The only thing that worked pretty smoothly, was my blackout kit.  When the power went out, we were still set.  We had light, communications, emergency backups for our critical power needs, and I was comfortable knowing we had long-term power if electricity wasn’t restored in a reasonable amount of time.  I mean, whether the blackout is due to a hurricane, flood, earthquake, or tornado doesn’t matter.  A blackout is a blackout.

MBH and I have talked about what we should have done… what we missed… what we forgot.  All in all, this was a good dry run – a good test under stress.  And one thing I didn’t account for is the amount of stress a quickly devolving situation like that can put on you.  Thinking straight under stress is hard to do.  Fight or flight keeps swimming to the top, and all those things you have in mind can’t compete with the imperative to get the hell out of Dodge.

But next time (if there is a next time), we’ll do better.

And as I say it this week, I find it takes on a new, deeper, and more heartfelt meaning.  Please stay safe out there.

I’ll talk to you again next week.  Bye