Aug 302017
 

This week’s post has nothing to do with writing.  No reports of progress or lessons learned in the business. This week is about Hurricane Harvey.  It’s about the friends and family that MBH and I left behind in Houston when we moved to Oklahoma three years ago.  It’s about recognition of the way they, and Texas in general came together in the face of one of the worst natural disasters in recent history.

BTW, if any of you ever wondered why I’m such a strong proponent of prepping, look at the picture here.  That was taken the day before Harvey made its first landfall. This is typical of store shelves just before a disaster.  I’ve been through a few such events, and seen this repeated in most instances.

But moving on…  For the most part, our friends and family have come through without any serious damage.  My son & his family evacuated when things got close, but they got out before any water got in, while it was still safe to do so.  And as it turns out, they made it through without the water actually getting in (though like so many others in the Houston area, it came REALLY close to coming in.

My brother from another mother, James Husum, lives in The Woodlands, just north of Houston, and was house sitting when Harvey hit.  He was trapped away from his home, with several dogs, while the water rose and trapped them in.  But other than a leak in the roof, there was no water damage in either his home, or the one where he was staying.

Another friend posted on Facebook that he and his family had been forced to leave their home and had taken shelter in a local high school.  And my cousin Brenda Jackson, who is an awesome amateur photographer, has taken all sorts of pictures from the area where, until three years ago, MBH and I called home.

The picture to the right shows a strip center where we used to stop pretty often. The pic is taken from a freeway overpass through a rain-streaked window.  Just to the left of the frame of this pic, there is (or at least, there used to be) a Smoothie King where we would occasionally stop for a light dinner or lunch.  Now to be perfectly honest, this picture isn’t that much of a surprise.  The area has flooded several times in the last few years, a victim of all the construction that’s popped up around them.

This picture (to the left) hits a little closer to home, though.  It’s taken from hwy 249, and you can see the water is up onto the freeway.  If I’m not mistaken, this is near the exit for an HEB grocery store we used to shop at quite often.  It’s where we used to buy our buffalo flank steak for grilling.

By the way, you can always click any of these photos to see an enlarged version.

The picture below to the right shows a strip center near my sister and brother-in-law’s place.  We’ve eaten at that Gringo’s restaurant on a few occasions.  I honestly don’t recall it flooding before, but since it was a little farther from our home, I’m not as familiar with the area. I found this picture online.

Another picture from Brenda here (left).  She called this one, Boat on the Feeder.  Yes, that’s the feeder road to a freeway.

It’s a shame that it took a flood of such magnitude to wipe the previous flood of political crap from our news feeds.  But since the goal of our media “services” is to sensationalize everything, it takes something huge to refocus them.  The message I see repeatedly coming out of the news now is that people are helping one another.  Joe Everyman is grabbing his fishing boat, kayak, canoe, or fishing waders… if he’s high and dry, then he’s moving to where he’s needed.

I’ve read numerous accounts of people launching their boats and helping out wherever they can, and I’m proud to know so many of them.  To the right here, my cousin, once removed (Brenda’s son Jason) is helping a friend get a family and their dog out of danger.

One of my former martial arts instructors has been posting videos on Facebook as he has worked for the last few days, helping to get people and animals to dry land.  I know others who have worked (and are still working) at getting supplies from surrounding areas into the shelters where they’re needed.  As a matter of fact, the church where my parents went for years was just recently remodeled.  It’s been closed for months during the process.

But they’re open now, supplying food, clothing, and shelter to those in need.

This is the America I recognize.  We pull together, lift each other up, help those who need help.  It’s how I was raised, and I’m so glad to see that it is apparently also the way a lot of other Texans were raised.

 

RPotW – 

Let me wrap this up with a “not so” Random Pic of the Week. I don’t know who took this one, but it’s been running around the interwebs for the last day or so.  It’s a powerful image, and doesn’t really need any comment so I’ll just leave it right here for you.

Stay dry everyone.  Stay safe.  I’ll talk to you next time.

May 172017
 

WW82BShame on me.  Two weeks without a blog post.  But it’s been a busy two weeks.  We’ve had storm after storm here, one of which actually had me grabbing the dogs and ducking into a neighbor’s storm shelter.  You may have seen the news about the tornadoes in the Tulsa area.  This makes the second year that we’ve had to take shelter, although this year was admittedly much less dangerous.  We got plenty of rain, hail, and high winds, and I heard that a couple of small tornadoes touched down within a few miles of the house.  But it was nothing like the one last year, where we actually saw a tornado as it made its way past us.

Still, when those warning sirens started going off, I was considerably less inclined to wait until the last minute this time.  Even then, I got completely soaked going from the front door to the car… even more so going from the car to the storm shelter.  For the most part, the storm blew through pretty quickly, though. The picture here is of the mammatus cloud formation (see Suzanne? I remembered!) that was on the trailing edge of the system as it left our area to terrorize other parts of the country.

In other news…

EPPEnd Point Pangaea is pretty much done.  To be honest, I thought it was complete until I got these last few beta reads.  Some of the readers had some very cogent comments that I really have to address.  The biggest issue is going to require an additional scene that I hope to complete writing tomorrow.  I’ve spent the last few days clarifying other problems.  But the end is approaching rapidly.

Y12 – And I’m excited to announce that Corey Snow has tentatively agreed to put his voice talents back to work in the Half Past Midnight universe.  Corey is the voice actor who did the audiobooks for Half Past Midnight, and The Road to Rejas and his work was so fantastic that it was hard for me to imagine anyone else voicing Year 12.  So imagine how disappointed I was when I found that he no longer did royalty share jobs.  And after having taken so long between books, I was in no financial position to pay up front for him.  But after exchanging a few emails, he has agreed to make an exception.  If all goes according to plan, he will begin work on the audiobook version of Y12 next month, as well as Crazy Larry when it’s done.  Watch for future updates.   :)

That’s all for now.  Time to get back to writing. So stay safe everyone.  I’ll talk to you again soon.   :bye:

 

Oh!  RPotW – WW82C

For this week’s Random Pic of the Week, let’s go less random and more thematic.  Since I’ve already posted a picture from the back edge of the storm system from last week, let me post another from two days before that storm.  Details on the pic tell me it was 7:10 PM on May 9th.  MBH and I were walking the dogs, and we commented on how pretty the clouds were at the time.  Pretty, but also a bit unusual.  As you can see, the day was beautiful and I mentioned that the clouds ahead of us looked like a giant thunderbird.

Hmmm… in retrospect, maybe it was a giant thunderbird, and he was a warning of the storm to come.  Yep, there’s the old writer’s brain kicking in again.   :)

For a better look at the formation, click on the picture.

Take care.   :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!   :-D

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.  :-/  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!  :-/

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.  :-))

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?)   ;-)   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.   :-)

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: