Check out my website and my blog about gravestones.

18 May 2012

Goodbye's too good a word, babe... I'll just say fare thee well.

Well, this is going to be my last post here at One Day at a Time.

This blog has been the chronicle of a period of my life which I never expected to end, but which has done so abruptly and painfully - my life with Greg, from the time I moved to Killeen to be with him and started work at the funeral home, to the time I moved to El Paso with him, became a writer, and cried as things fell apart.

I don't know what the next chapter of my life will contain, but you can find out with me at Don't Think Twice, It's All Right.

"It ain't no use to sit and wonder why, babe,
If'n you don't know by now.
And it ain't no use to sit and wonder why, babe,
It'll never do, somehow.
When your rooster crows at the break of dawn,
Look out your window and I'll be gone.
You're the reason I'm traveling on,
But don't think twice, it's all right.

It ain't no use in turning on your light, babe -
That light I never knowed.
And it ain't no use in turning on your light, babe -
I'm on the dark side of the road.
But I wish there was somethin' you would do or say
To try and make me change my mind and stay.
We never did too much talking anyway,
So don't think twice, it's all right.

So long, honey, babe.
Where I'm bound, I can't tell.
Goodbye's too good a word, babe, 
So I'll just say fare thee well.
I ain't saying you treated me unkind -
You could have done better, but I don't mind.
You just kinda wasted my precious time,
But don't think twice, it's all right."

-Bob Dylan

10 May 2012

Rain in the Desert

It has rained for two days now, and the rain brought with it unseasonably cool weather and a beautiful display of clouds cascading over the mountains.

I went out for a late-night snack tonight, less for the food and more for the chance to splash through puddles and enjoy the gleam of lights on wet streets and the sound of rain pelting the windshield.  I have missed rain.  Weather that would have felt melancholy at any other time in my life, tonight felt welcome, uplifting, and strangely liberating.

Rain in the desert is special.  It feels cleansing and joyful.  It feels like a celebration.

07 May 2012

Accidentally, On Purpose

My husband is stuck in the field, standing guard duty for the third weekend in a row.  Neither of us is pleased about that, but at least we got more than fifteen minutes' notice this week, so I guess I'll give the powers that be some credit for improvement.

Grudgingly.  Only under duress, I swear.

Tonight's conversation with my poor stuck-in-the-field husband went something like this:

Me:  Honey, I sort of accidentally volunteered to run the FRG newsletter.
Greg:  How do you accidentally volunteer for something like that?
Me:  Well, I got an email from Ashleigh asking me to do it, and I sort of waved my hand at the keyboard and accidentally hit the letters that spelled out, "Yes, I'd love to!"

I'm actually pretty excited about it!

I'm really flattered that Ashleigh thought of me for the job, and this will be a great chance to be more involved and hopefully get some good information to people who can use it, and it's also technically editorial experience, which will look nice on the resume.

The beginning of next week looks a bit panic-inducing: I have a major project due tomorrow (which I shall be posting about when it's complete, because it's fun and exciting), a giant copywriting project due ASAP, a really interesting article on PTSD in the media that I want to get posted on FilmAnnex ASAP, and a bunch of other things I want to accomplish, like getting another couple of articles ready for Military Family and posting more here and finishing the rest of those Random Ideas stories (yes, I promise, I'm still going to do every single one of those, and they are going to be awesome).

There's a little pressure, because it's a short week since we're leaving on Friday for a weekend getaway in New Mexico - thank you, taxpayers!  By Friday, I think I shall need it very much.  Meanwhile, I have lots of things to write and a newsletter to plan!

04 May 2012

Free Shiny Things! No, really...

Normally, I don't blog about anything that even remotely sounds like an ad, but my friend Kat posted something on Facebook earlier today that I think is actually worth sharing.

If you sign up on SneakPeeq (don't worry, I had never heard of it before today either, but they have some neat stuff), you get a free bracelet; just sign up and then go to the Bohemian Fantasy store (it's listed under the "Style" tab) and order the Eternal Summer bracelet.  For the next few days, you apparently get a bracelet for free, shipping and all.

I tried this earlier today, and it's apparently legit; I'll confirm that with more confidence when the bracelet actually arrives, but Kat vouches for them, and that's good enough for me.

Shameless plug: if you use this link to sign up, I get some store credit.  I like shiny things...

29 April 2012

#4 Porcupines and denim...

This came from SAR teammate and friend Jennifer:

Porcupines and denim...

"Do wild porcupines like peanut butter?"  the freckled girl in the green dress asked, belatedly remembering to raise her hand.

Preoccupied with not being knocked over by the knee-high prickly creature frantically licking peanut butter from the spoon she held, Leah looked up at the girl and grinned.  "Well, I've never asked one personally, but Pokey here seems fond of it."  The kids laughed.  Leah smiled.  Most of these kids had never seen a live porcupine before, and most never would again.  The Wildlife Refuge Education Center offered a unique chance for these city kids to make a real connection with wildlife, and Leah hoped that today's memories would carry over into tomorrow's decision making.

"Hope springs eternal," she thought as the class filed out of the demo room, chatting happily, and Pokey clamped a mouth around the hem of her jeans and tugged insistently, hoping for more peanut butter.  "Glutton!" she laughed, giving his quills another careful but affectionate stroke with one gloved hand.  Pokey and his buddies here at the Refuge were friendly enough, but Leah had pulled enough quills out of herself over the years to know that they hurt.  She insisted on gloves for anyone handling one of "her" porcupines, and her usual work outfit consisted of jeans and a heavy denim jacket over her t-shirt.  Through a string of mostly forgettable boyfriends and a dozen discarded projects, porcupines and denim had become the only two constant's in Leah's life.

The jingling of the bells on the front door of the Education Center snapped her out of her reverie, and she tossed a peanut-butter-filled Kong toy to distract Pokey and then hopped out of the demo enclosure.  "Hello?" she called.

"Miss Carmichael?" the old man called back.

"Oh," she said, feeling suddenly tired.  "It's you.  This way."  The craftsmen on the neighboring Lakota reservation had a standing deal with the Refuge; if a porcupine died in captivity, Leah called old Chetan.  He used the quills in traditional quillwork - the art form that had preceded beading on the Great Plains.  Leah had to admit that the things Chetan produced were beautiful, and the items he had donated to the Education Center added a wonderful dimension to the displays, but the task of turning over the dead animals only sharpened the sense of loss she felt every time, and she had come to resent the old man for that.  In turn, she only felt guilty for her resentment, because he was infallibly respectful and sympathetic.

Chetan was in a joking mood today.  "Hmmph.  You've worked too long with porcupines, Leah.  You're getting like them - prickly."

"Dad!" a younger man's voice chided from behind Chetan.  The man who emerged from behind him was about Leah's age, give or take a few years, and he looked like a version of Chetan who had just stepped out of a time machine.  "I'm Chaske.  Er, sorry for your loss."  He sounded awkward, but he meant it.  Leah decided not to dislike him too much.

She led them back to the cooler where poor dead Prickles waited.  After opening the door, Leah started to reach for the drawer that held the body, and then just turned away.  "Go ahead and take her," she said flatly.

Resting a weathered hand on her shoulder, Chetan ventured softly, "They are all special, but this one was very special to you, yes?"

Blinking back tears, Leah nodded.  "Prickles was the first one we took in after I got here.  She... taught me the ropes, I guess.  Sounds weird to say it, but I owe her a lot, and I'm going to miss her."

While Chetan distracted her, Chaske had deftly slipped out the door with Prickles.  Returning, he said, "Leah?  Would you like to be able to keep Prickles with you, in a way?"


She had resisted his offer at first, but relented enough to send Chaske on his way with her jacket and her phone number.  She felt her misgivings ease when Chaske called her the next day and said, "I'm working on it; will you tell me about Prickles while I work?  I want to be sure I get the heart of it right."  For the next two weeks, the pair spend their evenings on the phone, talking about quillwork, porcupines, and friendship.  At last, Chaske dropped by the Refuge one afternoon; when Leah found her way to the front desk to greet him, he wordlessly held out her jacket, now decorated with beautiful quillwork front and back.  Leah found herself laughing, crying, and hugging Chaske all at once.

As he helped her slip into her jacket for the day's demo, he said quietly, "It's just like both of you - pretty but tough."

27 April 2012

#3 Cholula hot sauce scented shower gel that doesn't burn your eyes?!?

Today's prompt came from hot sauce aficionado and raid leader Jon:

Cholula hot sauce scent shower gel that doesn't burn your eyes?!?

Dr. Romero looked up in alarm as Dr. Brooks shambled into the break room. With a horrified expression, Romero took in the red spatters on his lab partner's once-white lab coat, her tangled hair, and her smoke-smudged face. Brooks stretched out her arms toward him with a fearsome grimace, one hand still reflexively clutching a beaker from the lab. Dr. Romero's heart sank at the irony of it; poor Dr. Brooks, doomed to pursue the living for their flesh, holding her own cure all the while.

"Too late," he whispered sadly, standing and backing slowly away from the undead thing that had once been his lab partner.

"Dude, what's gotten into you?" she asked, stopping short and arching an eyebrow at her colleague.

"You're... you're not a zombie?"

Dr. Brooks looked perplexed for a moment, then laughed. "What, this?" She gestured to her gory lab coat. "It's hot sauce, Romero. Cholula, to be exact, the best kind ever made."

"I enjoy it on salads, myself," Dr. Romero replied dazedly.

Brooks brightened, and Romero belatedly recognized the grimace as an exhausted smile. "You can enjoy it in the shower, too!" she chirped. "I've done it! It's my best work yet!" She thrust the beaker at him, and he scowled at it.

"What is this?"

"Take a sniff." Romero obeyed with the resignation of one who had long since learned that it was easier to humor his partner.

"Mmm, Cholula!" he gasped in surprise, tilting the bottle back for a taste.

Brooks leaped at him, snatching the beaker from his hands with a cry of "Nooooo! You can't eat that! Are you crazy?"

Romero took a step backward, holding up his hands as though to ward off an attack. "Dr. Brooks... what have you done to the hot sauce?"

She sighed. "I made shower gel out of it. I told you that. Do you really want to eat soap, man?"

Reaching out to take the bottle back from his co-worker, Romero frowned thoughtfully at it. "This stuff must burn like Hell itself if it gets into your eyes. What do you plan to do about that?"

"It's shower gel," Brooks repeated. "You're not supposed to get it in your eyes in the first place."
Dear Army,

You are making it very difficult to uphold my policy against whiny/angry social media posts. I love a challenge as much as the next girl, but there are limits.

Have a lovely weekend (except certain decision-making jerkfaces; I hope *yours* sucks and that a bird poops on your head - a really big bird with diarrhea who ate something indescribably gross which is only partially digested and maybe still moving).


I posted that to Facebook this morning.  Yeah, real mature, huh?

Being married to someone in the military creates a very complex, often conflicted relationship with the institution itself.  On the one (usually the upper) hand, the military is an organization made up of very dedicated, hardworking people who do a great deal of good for their country and communities.  My husband, like most of his peers, is proud to be a part of this institution, and I am proud of and for him; I fully support his dedication to it and his plans to stick with it.  It's also the organization which provides his paycheck, my health care, and a host of other tangible and intangible benefits, and one doesn't want to sound, feel, or be ungrateful for all of that.

On the other hand, the Army's priorities and the spouse's priorities are inevitably at odds a lot of the time.  The Army is concerned with retention, readiness, meeting training goals, and accomplishing its mission(s).  I am concerned with my husband's health and happiness, the stability and happiness of our marriage, and the amount of time we get to spend actually living together being a normal couple (where the value of normal is a relative one).  Those goals inevitably conflict, and the Army inevitably wins - they have all the tanks.  That generates a range of emotional reactions like resentment, anger, jealousy, sadness, frustration, and anger.

In short, I have the utmost respect for the Army as an institution, but my husband's chain of command and I do not always have the same priorities.  Sometimes I deal with that by making snarky Facebook posts, because it is better than dealing with it by making, say, rude phone calls at two in the morning (although somewhat less satisfying).

26 April 2012

#2: Laser Guided Penguins

My prompt for this story - thanks to lifelong friend and rocket scientist Bryan (also known as the husband of Just Thinking blogger Kristen) - was:

Laser guided penguins.

"This is what you came to see, Ma'am," the Navy technician announced, placing a cage on the table before me. Inside, a Little Blue Penguin - a species I recognized as native to New Zealand - ruffled its feathers and bobbed its head at me in greeting.

"She's adorable," I gushed. "May I give her a fish?" Shuffling its feet in anticipation, the formally-dressed bird looked at me hopefully.

The Navy technician standing over my shoulder sounded as though he were about to choke on his coffee. "Ma'am, that's a highly dangerous piece of military equipment." The penguin blinked innocently at me. "That's a Mark IV Laser-Guided Penguin, Ma'am," the tech added, "so, ah... no, you may not give it a fish. Also, you should probably stand back."

I studied the young technician's stern features for a moment, looking for the twinkle in his eye or the hint of a grin that would give away the joke, but I could not find so much as a dimple. "What does she do, then?" I asked.

Instead of answering my question, the technician scooped up the penguin's cage and strode towards the open door into the corridor. He gestured for me to follow, and I overheard him muttering into a handheld radio, "Mission is a go, plus one observer. Stand by for the Mark IV."

Scurrying to keep pace, I followed the Navy tech down the corridor, up a ladder, and around a series of corners to a room which sloped down towards an enclosed pool with bay doors at one end. "Do those doors lead outside?" I asked.

"Straight into the Pacific Ocean," replied a lab-coated scientist standing by the edge of the pool. To the technician, she said, "The guidance system is ready and the target has been acquired. Prep the Mark IV for launch in t-minus three minutes."

The technician opened the cage door and stepped back, gesturing for me to keep my distance as the little blue penguin waddled out, shaking itself in an attempt to smooth down its feathers after the ruffling they had received being jostled around in the cage. "She looks harmless," I began, but the technician ignored me as he took a small, penguin-sized vest from a locker along the wall of the pool and somehow managed to wrangle the squirming bird into it despite her squawking and flapping. Once the vest had been fastened across her feathered chest, the penguin was still, eyes locked on the technician.

"Mark IV," he said firmly, "Launch!" She dove into the water in a sleek blue-feathered arc, darting back and forth for a moment as though searching for something before aligning herself along the pool's center axis, facing the bay doors. "Mark IV ready!" the tech called, then turned to me and explained, "The device on the back of the unit's vest transmits an auditory signal when it's not in contact with the laser beam. The Mark IV uses that device to follow the beam to the target." His words were nearly drowned out by the clanking and grinding of the bay doors opening, and in a blue-gray flash, the penguin was away.

"What's her target?" I asked.

"Underwater mines. We planted them offshore here for training purposes."

We had been standing there for several minutes, and I was on the verge of dozing off on my feet from sheer boredom when an explosion a few hundred meters away sent a column of water and debris into the air and made my ears ring. I looked over at the tech and saw him with a smug grin on his face and his hands clamped firmly over his ears.

"Jerk," I muttered.

Several minutes later, the Mark IV Laser-Guided Penguin splashed up out of the pool. She bobbed at me in an adorable approximation of a bow, then looked up at me expectantly.

"I suggest that you give her a fish, Ma'am," said the technician.

25 April 2012

#1 Squirrel, Strawberry, Shower

My prompt for this one, courtesy of SAR canine handler and all-around awesome person Vicki, was:

Squirrel - strawberry - shower.

"Warm water pelted down around me, easing the tension in my shoulders and steaming away the early morning chill. The last of the shampoo swirled away down the drain at my feet, and I sighed at the weary realization that it was time get moving. Gritting my teeth and bracing myself for the cold, I leaned down to turn off the water. In the sudden quiet, I heard the sounds of my husband clattering around in the kitchen, the rattle of plates and the clatter of pans almost drowning out the delightful sound of bacon sizzling on the stove. Moments later, dressed and resigned to my damp hair dripping down my back, the smells of frying bacon, waffles, and fresh fruit greeted my entrance into the kitchen.

"Thanks for breakfast, hon," I greeted Greg, plucking a strawberry from the bowl on the table. He slid a waffle onto my plate and gave me a quick kiss and turned to the sink to rinse his spatula. I set about covering the waffle with fresh strawberries. "Mmm... I think I'm still dreaming."

A sudden scuffling sound drew my attention to the open window over the sink, and I watched a scraggly-tailed gray squirrel slip inside, pause to nibble the little stack of peanuts we always left on the windowsill, then pick his deft way across the counter and over the microwave to perch on my shoulder. "Morning, Silly," I said, offering him a strawberry.

He took it, nibbled daintily at it for a moment, then tucked it neatly into his mouth and scrambled back across the counter, surely bound for his stash under the willow tree in the corner of our backyard. Excitement made him hasty, and scrabbling paws slipped in a puddle of bacon grease on the counter and sent our silly squirrel skidding into the sink, landing in a heap under the stream of water Greg had left running.

Chattering indignantly, our squirrel gathered up his well-rinsed strawberry and leaped from the sink to the window in a blur of dripping fur.

"I guess he needed a shower too," I laughed, and reached for another strawberry."

24 April 2012

Now accepting random ideas!

I had a terrible case of writer's block the other day, so I turned to my reliably random Facebook friends with the following:

"Now accepting random ideas.  Go!"

In order of posting, I got these responses:

  • Squirrel - strawberry - shower.
  • Laser guided penguins.
  • Cholula hot sauce scented shower gel that doesn't burn your eyes?!?
  • Porcupines and denim...
  • Swift water rescue, fake diamons, peanut butter, wooden boxes and green wallets.
  • SEA MONKEYS! !!! !!!
I wrote out the first three stories in an hour or two - they're just short drabbles of 500-800 words, but coherent and amusing.  Writing them was tons of fun and great creative exercise!

I'm hoping to do the other three by the end of the week, so here's the plan:  For the rest of this week, I shall post one Random Ideas story a day.  I'll pick back up next week with the next three.  If you have a random idea to add to the mix, leave me a comment here or on Facebook, and I'll write you a story and post it here (and on Facebook, if that's where you post).


19 April 2012

Journey in an Airport

I love travelling, and I love flying, but I hate air travel.

We like to think of travel as such a liberating experience, but in its modern incarnation it seems oddly restrictive, forcing the traveler to be passive and quiescent while shuffling barefoot through befuddling security checks, enduring cancellations and delays and lost baggage, and never so much as raising a voice for fear of being flagged as a threat. There is very little left of independence, self-reliance, or the adventuring spirit in modern travel. Even so, I managed to find an adventure or two along the way.

A couple of weeks ago, my family in Arkansas needed my help with a few things, and it was decided that they could get me there faster by air than by letting me drive. Ordinarily, that would have been true, even if my flight from El Paso to Dallas was mysteriously routed through Arizona.

I had not flown in over a decade, so the security checkpoint was a frazzling ordeal to me; even in the line intended for rookie flyers, I seemed to be the only one not somehow instinctively imprinted with the baffling ritual, and bore the brunt of my fellow passengers' impatience as I struggled to pile my gear into the right bins and forgot to kick off my sandals. Frustrated and harried, I settled in at the gate with a book, missing my husband already but looking forward to the plane ride.

It proved worth the anticipation, getting to see the desert from above for the first time. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed flying, though a passenger seat in a commercial jet is a very different thing from the two-seat gliders I trained in back in the day.

That was the week of the devastating tornadoes in the Dallas / Fort Worth area, and I landed in Phoenix to discover that my connecting flight to DFW airport had been cancelled. I learned about the tornadoes moments later in a text message from my husband.

There followed an angry conversation with the rude lady at the ticket counter regarding the lack of emergency accommodations for the evening (it's possible that she wasn't especially rude; it's possible that I'm cultural programmed to interpret Yankee accents as rude-sounding and irritated scowls as unfriendly). I managed to get a flight to DFW at 0545 the next morning, but it was going to be a long night.

Deciding that I might as well make the best of things, I settled in for a nice lunch at Chili's, skipping the margarita I felt I had already earned but giving in to a craving for cheesecake. I justified this by making it a work lunch, reworking some ad copy for a client; the three middle-aged businessmen at the table clearly had a much more boisterous definition of "working lunch". I wrote and let the waitress refill my Coke (not my usual choice, but I missed Greg, who drinks Coke like a good Atlanta native) until I finished the project. About an hour had passed, with about 16 to go.

The airport itself was large and daunting but a surprisingly good place to amuse myself. Once the moving walkways lost their novelty, there were three terminals of souvenir shops and bookstores to explore, as well as museum displays featuring local art and history. I wandered for a couple of hours, then found a table at Starbucks and wrote for a while, then wandered some more, then wrote some more.

Along the way, I discovered a replica of a biplane suspended over an escalator whose faux-rock walls were meant to evoke the Grand Canyon but reminded me more of Peachtree Center Station. It was accompanied by an interactive exhibit and turned out to have belonged to Frank Luke, a WWI pilot who did some pretty impressive things, including destroying 14 German balloons.

Phoenix was fortunate enough to have a USO Center (located in Terminal 2; if you're ever there, stop by and tell them I said thanks) open to active-duty service members, retirees, and their spouses. I found my way over there just before they closed for the night, and got to meet two wonderful veterans - one of whom joined the Navy in 1961, but quickly decided he didn't care for it and therefore got out in 1991 - who gave me a comfortable, quiet place to charge my phone and computer, told me great stories, and sent me off with lots of snacks and Cokes for the rest of the night. Honestly, the comfort of having somewhere to be and friendly people to talk to meant more than the food or the power outlets. The USO does some really awesome work, and they're good people.

By the wee hours of the morning, I had done as much writing as I had the brain power to do, and nearly all the shops were closed. In hopes of navigating through security well ahead of the crowds and maybe catching a nap at the gate, I found the checkpoint and learned, to my dismay, that they don't open those things in advance. I settled into a chair with Hammer & Anvil, a great piece of Warhammer 40k fiction by James Swallow (one of four books I brought along for a week-long trip; yes, I'm that much of a nerd), to kill some time.

In one of those odd moments of serendipity, I happened to meet a fellow Army wife on her way to Fort Monroe from Hawaii. We split one of my cinnamon rolls from the USO and talked about our creative pursuits (she's a musician, and a good one), the trials of pursuing an education and a career as a military spouse, and the stress of separation. She pulled out her guitar and played a few songs - including, by some happenstance, one of my favorites - and then it was time to make our way to the plane.

The sunrise over the Arizona desert was stirringly and profoundly beautiful. As the plane climbed into the morning sky, it occurred to me that had I not been stranded overnight in the airport, I would never have seen that sunrise, made a friend, learned about a war hero, enjoyed a moment of fellowship with the USO guys, or gotten so much work done. Serendipity.

Armed and Informed

I just finished writing a brief guidebook for newcomers to concealed carry (I'll post a link to it here as soon as one is available). In the course of my research for that project, I ran across the following information:
  • In 2010, there were 403.6 violent crimes per 100,000 U.S. residents. Violent crimes include homicide, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault.
  • In the latest Census of State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies (2008), there were 251 sworn law enforcement officers per 100,000 U.S. residents. In the 2004 Census, there were 250 per 100,000, so it seems unlikely that the number has changed drastically since 2008.
In the course of my work as a SAR volunteer, I have had the honor of working for and alongside some truly amazing, professional, dedicated law enforcement officers; I firmly believe that these hardworking men and women are representative of their profession as a whole. However, looking at the data above, the odds simply are not in favor of law enforcement being in the right place, in time to save the day, every time a violent crime occurs.

There are moral arguments to made about self-reliance and personal responsibility, but a practical level, that is why I believe so strongly in self-defense in general and responsible firearms possession in particular.

18 April 2012

Us vs. Them Yet Again

A friend of mine posted a rather colorful rant this morning on Facebook related to the recently published 2010 photos of a few U.S. troops posing with the bodies of dead Afghan insurgents. I've heard similar comments off and on, usually from people outside the military community, to the general effect of "Why should we treat their remains/civilians/prisoners with respect? They surely won't do the same for ours!"

My husband once observed that how America's troops handle such thing is "what makes us not them." America is better than that. That is simply not how we do things, because it is contrary to the principles that America and its military services were built on. As I considered my response to today's comments, I realized that not only is our treatment of incidents like this one a distinction separating us from the enemy, it is also a distinction that separates professionals like my husband and his colleagues from terrorists like the insurgents.

I'm very fortunate to be writing for Film Annex, because the site is a wonderful outlet for advocacy to the media and the general public on behalf of the military community, and today it became the perfect place to defend the professionalism of U.S. troops in the wake of this story. I borrowed a great video from the Stories about NATO channel and posted a blog here, on my FilmAnnex page.

20 March 2012

Help Wanted - I need feedback!

As promised a few posts ago, here is a quick summary of what I'm currently working on and what I would dearly love to have the time and funding to work on. I'm posting the first list because I feel like sharing, and the second list because I feel like sharing and because I'm hoping for some feedback on which bits of it might produce a product people would be willing to pay for. Hey, a girl's gotta eat (more to the point, a girl's gotta buy books and her border collie's gotta eat).

Awesome projects that I've been lucky enough to have other people hire me to work on: (in no particular order; my projects are like my nonexistent kids - they're all my favorite)
  • A super-informative public safety magazine in California
  • A guidebook on carrying concealed handguns
  • A great website for military families, service members, and veterans
  • A regional digital news site
  • A murder mystery party game with a fun twist
Projects of my own that I would like to work on:
  • Homeless Veterans Speak - A combination of oral history and demographic survey of homeless veterans, aimed at 1) putting human stories behind the statistics and 2) getting a better understanding of risk factors, urgent care needs, and issues with access to available resources. Already launched, but the Kickstarter failed on the first try.
  • The Poisoner's Apprentice - A rather morbid fantasy novel about an apprentice poisoner in her king's shadowy cadre of royal assassins. Contains an adorably clumsy sociopathic heroine obsessed with cemeteries, her dysfunctional aristocratic family, a royal assassination plot, and a manipulative sorceress.
  • Last Words - My blog about gravestones, specifically focused on historical gravestone iconography and older gravestones with intriguing stories attached. This is technically a project I've already launched, but I've had difficulty finding time for it recently, and I miss it.
  • Buried on the Border - A book about historical cemeteries along the U.S. - Mexican border, including lots of gorgeous full-color pictures and chapters on famous graves, rumored hauntings, and regional preferences in iconography.
  • Infected - A "zombie culture" blog focused on cultural aspects of the zombie genre, from reviews, to historical notes on the development of our concept of the undead, to cultural commentary on the wider implications of the zombie phenomenon. I don't want to write just another zombie survival guide, though a tip-of-the-week feature might be fun. Technically already launched, but looking for a re-boot. Mentioned previously...
  • Immunity - A tale of the zombie outbreak, in which people with autoimmune diseases turn out to have limited immunity to the bacteria that causes the dead to rise. Possibly the first in trilogy.
  • Death and the Undead - A zombie novel from the perspective of Death, who must sort out this walking-corpse situation before it changes her very identity. Also contains a sarcastic vampire and a persnickety old librarian (who is a ghost, but isn't letting that slow her down). Needs a better title.
Hopefully I'll actually get some responses to this (poke poke), and based on those, I'll pick the project or two that seem(s) to have the best chance, launch a Kickstarter, and see how it goes.

19 March 2012

Sandstorms and Bonsai

Yesterday, in the middle of a west Texas sandstorm, my husband and I bought a pair of bonsai trees. This life brings us to some really strange cultural intersections at times, which is one of the things I enjoy most about it. (Also, tamales.)

We spent the majority of yesterday evening researching our new hobby - proper care (which includes watering, fertilizing, re-potting at proper intervals, and pruning leaves and roots to keep the tree on its miniature scale, and "training" branches and trunks into the desired shape), traditional styles and conventions, and the history of the art form. This morning we woke up well before daylight so we could water our little trees and place them in the windowsill in my office before Greg left for work. Bonsai is a fundamentally solitary practice in many ways, but I am hoping that, to some extent, it will be something solitary we can do in each other's company.

Caring for bonsai is meant to be a meditative activity, and that aspect of the process really appeals to me. I commented last year that activities like painting models, knitting, and cross-stitching are very relaxing and help me channel nervous energy and focus more clearly, sort of a hands-on kind of meditation. I'm hoping that bonsai will give me a similar channel. If nothing else, it will be another creative outlet.

16 March 2012

Stuff About Zombies

One of the independent projects I'm trying to carve out enough free time to really make some progress on is a "zombie culture" blog, to be titled Infected. It began as a column for, but I decided I'd rather have the independence, cool title, and greater revenue potential (in that order) that came with running my own project. My idea is to focus on cultural aspects of the zombie genre, from reviews, to historical notes on the development of our concept of the undead, to cultural commentary on the wider implications of the zombie phenomenon. I don't want to write just another zombie survival guide, though a tip-of-the-week feature might be a fun. Sadly, Infected is on the back burner for the moment while I get caught up on things I'm actually getting paid to do, but it's coming. Just like the walking dead. Beware.

In the meantime, here are some quick snippets about zombie media I've enjoyed recently.

  • Mira Grant's book FEED (and its sequel DEADLINE) actually gave me the inspiration and the push I needed to seriously pursue a career as a freelance writer, which may explain part of my enthusiasm for online media and journalism. I think the protagonist, Georgia Mason, just presented a really compelling image of what I want to be when I grow up, thereby kicking my existing goals into focus. It's a great series, as I said in a review last fall.
  • I have read a lot of World War Z fanfiction, but for reasons I can't quite articulate, this one entitled "The Way Is Shut" left a lasting - and very chilling - impression.
  • Last night, I finished reading through the archives of an awesome zombie apocalypse comic called Dead Winter. It was a recommendation from my husband, who is pretty skeptical about the entire zombie genre, and I understand why; great characters, interweaving plotlines in which the zombies are just part of the setting, and somehow it manages to be upbeat even when the protagonist is killing undead with a mop.
  • Dead Island is sitting on my game shelf unplayed, making me sad. I've read really great reviews of it, and fully intend to play through it while Greg is in the field this spring.
  • I recently stumbled onto the idea of large-scale collaborative fiction projects in the form of a couple of really exciting zombie projects. Zombie World News takes the form of a fictional news site and invites readers to participate and contribute within the framework of a developing outbreak. Lost Zombies invites readers to share stories and images of the zombie apocalypse; they're working on an actual film project, and they've already got a (really awesome) book published.

14 March 2012

What might have been?

I sometimes wonder what it might be like if I could exchange emails with an alternate-universe version of myself, just so we could both indulge our curiosity about what life would be like if certain pivotal moments had gone differently.

For instance, this morning I was thinking of the incredible full-time job opportunity I had when we first moved out here to the desert. It was emergency response work for a national nonprofit, which sounds like my dream job - and it involved some actual independence and responsibility, which sounded like a major step forward. I felt absurdly under-qualified, so I was surprised and excited to get called in for an interview during our first week here.

That excitement was tinged with an awareness of the opportunity cost involved; by that point in the relocation process, freelance writing full-time had presented itself as a feasible option, and my husband had bravely agreed to go out on a limb with me and give me a chance to make it work. I was already looking forward to the move as a chance to do what I'd dreamed of doing since third grade: quit my (admittedly awesome and well-liked) day job and write all day.

I knew that getting the awesome full-time job in emergency response would mean giving up my writer's daydream, but I also knew that it would be an amazing opportunity to contribute something worthwhile to my new community, prove some things to myself, gain some incredible experience, and give our household a lot more financial comfort. Getting the job was obviously the desired outcome.

Even though I hoped to get the job, part of me was already a little sad about what that would require me to give up. I didn't have a choice about what to want, let alone what to decide, because I refused to give myself one (it would have been ridiculous), but part of me knew that deep down, I really wanted to give this writing thing a shot, more than I wanted to do anything else - even something incredibly awesome.

What I felt like I should want to do was another matter. The truth is, I walked into that interview and gave it everything I had. I was really nervous, but I tried really hard not to show it, and I gave the most thoughtful, articulate answers I knew how to give. My best apparently wasn't good enough; I got a very polite email a few weeks later telling me that they had selected another candidate for the job.

Of course, I was disappointed, and some part of my mind occasionally still wonders how well I might have done if I had made it, how much better our lives would be, and how it all would have turned out. Then again, in that situation, I would probably be wondering the same thing about my writing career...

13 March 2012

Auto-Immune Disease Cheat Codes

I'm pretty terrible at managing my Crohn's Disease. I continue eating spicy food, skipping meals, occasionally overeating, not managing stress properly, and not getting enough rest. Somehow it mostly stays in remission unless the stress in my life gets out of control (there are times when I don't consciously process stress factors on a mental or emotional level; I realize I'm overstressed when the Crohn's symptoms set in, and then I have to stop and think about why). I've been pretty lucky with that.

Iritis, it turns out, is a little harder to just ignore. I have to actually behave myself in order to manage this nonsense, which apparently means that the days when I could stay up until 0300 playing video games and then wake up in the morning ready to kick some journalistic butt are pretty much over. By the time I went to bed Sunday night, my eye was scratchy and achy, and when I woke up yesterday morning, I was miserable.

Needless to say, yesterday was a total waste in terms of getting any work done.

If you're managing this condition yourself, you already know what a nuisance the prescription eyedrops are.
There are actually two medications - a steroid and an anti-inflammatory- which is pretty common approach to treating autoimmune issues (if my experience with Crohn's Disease is any indication). The basic goal in treating either condition is reduction of the inflammation caused by the immune system deciding you're actually enemy.

The steroid, in my case, is usually prednisolone (the oral version of which this article says is used in treating Crohn's Disease, go figure). It really isn't so bad except for the every-six-hour dosing, but since iritis usually disrupts my already screwy sleep cycle anyway, it's pretty easy to just go with it. This article notes that it's an immuno-suppressant (which makes sense for a drug that's supposed to be combating a misbehaving immune system), but I have personally never had any problems in that regard.

Strangely, I find that flare-ups of either irits or Crohn's tend to make me less prone to getting other illnesses, and being sick with something else tends to make me less prone to auto-immune flare-ups. The latter part of that makes sense, given that an immune system already occupied with an actual invader is less likely to get bored enough to turn on itself (yes, I know that's not actually how it works), but the first part is still perplexing, especially given the immuno-suppressant nature of some of the drugs involved. Is that all in my head, or has someone else out there figured it out?

The anti-inflammatory I'm usually stuck with is a hydrochloride formulation of some sort (I can't remember now and the bottle is still packed away someplace, where it can darn well stay as far as I'm concerned). The drops reduce the swelling in the iris, so they prevent the iris from sticking to the cornea - which gets rid of that awful sticky feeling, as well as most of the painful scratchy irritation. Unfortunately, in order to do that, they dilate the pupil (this makes sense, since the iris is the muscle that dilates and contracts the pupil). The end result, at least for me, is a week or two of excruciating photo-sensitivity that is, in some ways, worse than the original problem (especially since my work mostly involves staring at a glowing screen). Am I the only one out there who has that particular difficulty? After the first couple of days of use, the mild stinging of application turns into a painful burning, too. I end up being totally useless and obnoxiously whiny for 7-14 days.

Last fall, while we were in the process of migrating out west, I figured that Visine's original formula seems to work something like a really low dose of the prescription anti-inflammatory, so if you apply it early enough while the symptoms are still relatively mild, you actually get some relief and can usually avoid a full flare-up. Since this also means avoiding the prescription pupil-dilating anti-inflammatory drops, I'm all for it. Generally there is still some discomfort, but the OTC remedy seems to keep the problem from escalating to a level that actually impairs normal activities. That's kind of important for me, because I don't get paid sick days anymore.

Initially, I tried using the corticosteroid drops alone, since their side effects are barely noticeable. That does give some relief, but it doesn't tend to last. The Visine drops (I'm guessing a generic version will work just as well) alone work much better than the steroid drops alone, so if you can only manage one bottle of eyedrops, my recommendation is that you go with the Visine. If you have your prescription meds on hand, though, I find that using the steroid drops with the Visine is remarkably effective and a good way to manage the condition and stave off a flare-up without the more drastic side effects.

So there you go, folks: Autoimmune Disease Cheat Code of the Day.

Questions for you:
  • Does anyone else have this photo-sensitivity problem with the drops, or am I just extra-screwy?
  • Does anyone notice that flare-ups make you less likely to get "normal" kinds of sick?

10 March 2012

A Story from my Husband

Evidently, there are no donkeys in Uganda (readers, feel free to confirm or deny that information).

When my husband was in Iraq back in 2009, he found himself one day sharing a guard tower with a pair of soldiers from Uganda, who were working for a Greek company providing security on the base. A donkey happened to wander by, and one of the Ugandans, mystified, asked "What kind of animal is that?"

"It's a donkey," Greg replied, and went back to writing a novel in his little green Army notebook by the night-vision-friendly light of a red flashlight lens.

"Is it a kind of dog?"

After a moment of fumbling around for an explanation, my husband was able to explain that donkeys were related to horses but not quite the same thing. Evidently, there are horses in Uganda, so there was sufficient context for this explanation.

The lack of donkeys seems to detract in no way from Ugandans' pride in their country.

At some point, the conversation in the guard tower turned to the sort of question bored troops the world over must have asked each other a million times. "If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?" (Strangely, the answer is never "right here in this beautiful and relaxing war zone, of course.")

"Uganda," the security guys replied with enthusiasm. "The most beautiful country in the world."

Flora and fauna may vary, but fondness for home is universal, and sometimes strange animals can be explained. If there is hope for peace in this world, that's a good place to start.

P.S. Greg was telling this story the other day (in the middle of the fabric store, because our lives are strange) to a co-worker who had been with him on the Iraq deployment but missed out on the apparent amazing cultural experience that was guard tower duty. For some reason, I woke up thinking about it today, and I hope he doesn't mind me borrowing it.

Current and Upcoming Projects (Hopefully)

I'm here, I'm here. Month-long absences followed by random re-blogging of Neil Gaiman's Tumblr and plugs for my other blogging projects are not quite the version of "more regular updates" that I had in mind. Still, I read something a while back - one of those drastically overpopulating blogs about blogging that seem to be taking over the Internet - that said that if you drop of the face of the earth for a while, you should pick back up without drawing too much attention to it. So... what? I've been here all along!

I've been working on some really cool projects in the meantime; I'm still amazed and excited that I get t write for a living full-time, and even more amazed and excited that I get to work on such cool things. The trouble with freelance writing of this particular type - namely, the type that so far seems most likely to actually pay the bills - is that most of those great projects I'm working on are actually other people's projects.

Lately, I've been catching up on some webcomics (a couple that I previously followed and lost track of, and a couple of new recommendations from the husband, who has remarkably good taste for a guy who actually married me), and reading the authors' blog posts and tweets in the process. Reading about Jon Rosenberg's efforts to fund Goats on Kickstarter, for instance, really makes me want to actually pursue an independent project of my own. As amazing as it is to be able to earn a living by writing, and as excited as I am about most of the projects I'm involved in and the people I get to work with in the process, I feel a definite need to pursue my own ideas in order to consider myself really successful as the kind of writer I want to be.

I'm kicking some ideas around - a fantasy novel which is about 1/3 finished at the moment, a couple of research projects, a couple of journalism ideas, and a blogging project or two - and my goal for the next couple of weeks is to pick the most feasible of those and give Kickstarter a shot to see if I can raise enough money to pay myself to work on something, basically.


The webcomics in question:

Search (Rescue Is Optional)