Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Epic To-Do Lists

Today is really going to be Get Stuff Done Day. Also known as The Day of the To-Do List. And also The Day of Removing Stuff From the Epic To-Do List. One item I've already removed was baking blueberry muffins. I had some fresh blueberries, and I thought that would be a good way to use them, plus I'd have something for those "I'm not ready to face people yet" breakfasts in my room. Then I remembered that muffins don't travel well. I tried that once, and they crumbled. Then there's the baking time and clean-up time. So I'm freezing the berries to make muffins when I get home, and I'll find a bagel shop in San Antonio for my breakfast needs.

Really, most of today's to-dos are quick little things, like plug something in or print something. I decided not to go overboard with orchestrating my travel mix CD. I let iTunes shuffle the songs I've chosen without worrying about when in my trip a particular song might fall. This way, the order will be a total surprise, which should help keep me alert. I just hope that none of the singalong opera arias fall when I'm sitting at a stop light in a small town. For those who are curious, this is a strange mix that mostly seems to involve ABBA, Billy Joel, Pat Benatar, Meat Loaf, Queen, Tori Amos, Sarah MacLachlan, Josh Groban and Unwoman, a ton of show tunes (Les Mis, Into the Woods, Phantom of the Opera, Ragtime, The Secret Garden, Wicked, Songs for a New World), some 80s stuff, a dash of Enya and a couple of arias. I could do 700 MB on the disc I was using, which came to about 10 hours of music, so it will cycle back to the beginning before I get home.

I don't normally post my convention schedules, since if you're not going you don't care and if you are going you have easy access to that information, but this is bigger and more difficult to wade though than most conventions, so here are some highlights. My autographing will be Thursday at 2. I'm not anticipating long lines. The infamous geeky knitting panel is at 3 on Saturday. Sunday at 10 is that panel on TV/film adaptations. I'm part of the Stroll with the Stars gang on Monday morning, so if you're still functional on the final day of the convention and like to walk fast, come join me (it's supposed to be a stroll, but I can't walk that slow, so mine will be the fast group). The full schedule will be available and I think is searchable, so it should be pretty easy to find me. FenCon is hosting a party on Saturday night, so look for the signs and come say hi. I don't know yet exactly when I'll be working that party, but probably early in the evening because I have early events the next day.

Which is ironic because I recently came across scientific proof that it's not necessarily better or efficient to be an early bird. I've ranted over the years about the general societal attitude that if you get up early and get stuff done, you're efficient, but if you stay up late to get stuff done (and then sleep late in the morning), you're some kind of sloth. Actually, you may be more intelligent.

I don't know how much checking in I'll be doing the rest of the week because I don't yet know what the Internet situation will be. I'm more likely to update Facebook because I can do that more easily from my phone.

Full report when I get back!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Every Shoe Store in the Mall!

I think I've now done all the errands needed in preparation for my trip, other than the ATM run, and that I can do on my way out of town, since the bank is a block from my house. This morning was going to be a quick trip that ended up expanding. My black sneakers -- the ones I use for casual wear -- have just about died (a hole is forming and growing visible). I hadn't been able to find black sneakers that didn't also have neon pink or green on them. The current pair was a replacement for what I wanted to find again, some Keds I bought to celebrate the completion of the first draft of Enchanted, Inc.. They were a sort of retro 70s looking sneaker in black suede with subdued gray/silver stripes on the side. Alas, they quit making them and had nothing like them when I needed to replace them after wearing them to death. When I realized I needed new sneakers last week, I checked the Keds web site, and they had a new kind of black shoe that wasn't their standard Keds style. Then I discovered that there's a Ked's outlet in the mall near me.

Since today was the first day of school, I figured it was safe to go in the mall again. Unfortunately, the Keds outlet turned out to be a mix of several brands, and they had about three pairs of adult Keds. So, I decided I might as well see what was in the other shoe stores in the mall. I needed some exercise (I tried on clothes last night to decide what to take to WorldCon, and I discovered that I've put on a little weight lately), so I might as well walk the mall. I found absolutely nothing until I got to the last shoe store, one that must be relatively new because I didn't recall seeing it before. There they not only had the Keds I saw on the web site, but they had them in my size and they were on sale. They're not quite as "cool" as the original pair, but oh my, were they comfortable. Meanwhile, I discovered that there's a Levi's outlet in that mall (the mall closest to me is an outlet mall), and I got a new pair of good Levi's for less than Target store brand jeans. I may have to cut them off to capris within a couple of years because if I buy jeans short enough to wear with flats, they'll inevitably shrink into high-water length, but I have too many pairs of "wear with heels" jeans right now (that will likely shrink to wear-with-flats length eventually).

My dad may develop a PTSD twitch after hearing this story, thanks to a long-ago back-to-school shoe shopping expedition in which I visited every shoe store in a large mall, tried on shoes in every store, then went back to the first store I visited and bought the first pair I tried on. In this case, though, I wasn't reviewing every option in the mall before making a choice, I only tried on one pair, and I bought that pair. I only went to every shoe store in the mall because none of them had what I wanted and I had to keep looking. Seriously, what is the deal with neon all over the shoes right now? The guy at one store did tell me he's been telling his company that there really is a market for "fashion sneakers" -- sneakers worn as casual wear, not for sports. They carried them for men, but didn't really have anything like that for women, and they get asked for them all the time.

Then on the way home I made two trips to Target. The second trip was because I needed to get printer ink, so I went to the Office Depot next to Target after the Target run, only to discover that the same item was $5 less at Target, so I went back to Target. It wasn't like I had to go out of my way, since I had to pass Target to get back to my car from Office Depot.

Now I'm down to the at-home preparation stuff, like doing laundry, baking cookies for the FenCon party, making a few promo items. I spent the weekend cleaning the house so I won't come home after a week in a hotel with maid service and want to leave again. After today, I should just have to pack and then do the final spiffing up. One of the many nice things about driving is that I can leave when I want to. It's a 5-6-hour drive and hotel check-in is at 4, so I don't have to leave at the crack of dawn. I would like to be within the San Antonio metro area by about 3 because I'd rather not hit a lot of school zones in the small towns along the way, and that road turns into a regular elevated highway once it's in the city, so school zones are no longer a factor. So, the plan is to leave sometime between 9 and 10.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Road Trips

I managed to check a couple more items off the epic to-do list yesterday -- and added several more. I was a little irked that one of the key items on my shopping list was missing from the store. There was a little shelf tag label where it was supposed to be, but the shelf was completely empty. That's why I do my pre-trip shopping a little ahead of time. That way, if a key item is missing, I don't have a last-minute panic of running from store to store that final day. Instead, I can look for it in other places as I go about my business for the next few days.

I'm taking advantage of the fact that I'm driving instead of flying this year to not only bring a broader variety of shoes instead of just rotating among a few pairs that go with everything and bring dresses instead of a couple of skirts and a mix of tops, but also to bring my own snacks and in-room dining options, like shelf-stable bottles of orange juice.

This isn't just a being cheap thing. I like to be ready to have breakfast in my hotel room -- or at least a pre-breakfast snack -- because I'm generally not good for dealing with people until I've had at least a cup of tea and some bread of some kind (roll, toast, muffin). Orange juice is also good (plus, bonus vitamin C for helping fend off Con Crud). Plus, it means I can sleep a little later if I don't have to go in search of breakfast before any morning activities. Then there are the times when I just need a little quiet time, and often the only quiet time I can carve out is lunchtime, so if I've got some cup of soup and crackers in my room, I can kill two birds with one stone. And then there are the times when I find out I've just missed the lunch or dinner outing with friends and am not up to scaring up any other dining companions, and I'm not crazy about eating in public by myself. There are a lot of things I do on my own with no qualms, like going to movies or even traveling abroad, but there are only certain settings where I'm not uncomfortable in a restaurant by myself (I'm okay in New York and Europe, where it's not at all uncommon for people to dine alone, but in this part of the world, you get some really funny looks and the waiters often treat you like they're irked that there are non tip-paying seats at your table).

Plus, there's just something about a road trip and snacks. I think that stems from childhood, when the snacks were the best part of a road trip. There were things that we seldom got to have at home that we got when we were traveling. I still do that. I just bought a box of Cheez-Its, and I never have those at home. I'll also get some healthy stuff to eat as I drive, like some nuts, carrot sticks and apple slices.

Speaking of road trips, that reminds me that I need to make my road trip CD for this trip. I still don't have an MP3 player and haven't figured out how to do playlists on my phone, but for a trip like this, an MP3 CD is just as good, and I don't have to remember to take it out and carry it with me when I stop. I can get about 11 hours of music on a disc, which should cover the whole trip, possibly cycling back to the beginning for the last twenty minutes or so, and that actually makes my trip something of a heroic journey, if it returns to the way it started, but seeing it from a different perspective. Now to winnow down my collection to the 11 hours of music I want most, perhaps starting with some enthusiasm, then a little more mellow until I get out of the city, more lively during the country driving, back to mellow when I hit San Antonio, and then reverse the order for the second half. The most favorite songs may be repeated so that I get them once on each leg of the trip (Terrence Mann has to sing "Where's the Girl" from The Scarlet Pimpernel to me at least once per long-distance driving session). I also have to fit in some of my more obnoxious soprano stuff to sing along with, because in a car in the middle of nowhere is the perfect place to go for the really high notes.

Now to make a quick Home Depot run. I need to make another Target trip, but that may wait for next week when I have a better sense of everything else that needs to go on the list. Then the rest of the day will be devoted to getting stuff done and checking items off the list.

Thursday, August 22, 2013


It's just occurred to me how little time I have left before WorldCon and how much I have to do. On Tuesday, I was thinking the week was going slowly and kept thinking it was Thursday, and now that it's Thursday, I find myself having the "it's Thursday already?" freakout. But I did take care of most of the pre-trip errands yesterday in a shopping expedition. While I was out, I also picked up one of those neck wrap things you microwave, and that was good for first thing in the morning when I woke up a little stiff. I popped it in the microwave and draped it around my neck while I made breakfast. I also got a memory foam contour pillow designed for side sleepers, with the roll on one edge that supports your neck. It has a similar effect as the weird candy cane pillow, but I can turn over and have it still work, and there's less claustrophobia. I think it worked pretty well once I got used to it, and the foam is very comfortable, but I wish they made these things in sizes because this was clearly designed for a man, so it didn't quite fit a small woman. The roll that goes under the neck was just a bit too tall and too wide for my neck. The foam does seem to eventually compress to fit, but it took a little time. I'm almost back to normal, with only some slight stiffness and no real pain.

Meanwhile, I discovered that the "curl definer" I finally found that was perfect for my hair has been discontinued, right as I started to get to the end of the tube I'd bought. This is why it's hard to have product loyalty -- you find something that works, and they discontinue it. Now I have to start all over again with the quest. I think this is going to be home spa weekend. I can use all those products I found in my bathroom decluttering and relax before going to WorldCon. In the meantime, I have to make a few arrangements for stuff, put together a few promo items, think about questions for the panels I'm moderating, plan my wardrobe, do a lot of laundry and take care of some other business stuff that's come up. It's a good thing I talked myself out of trying to finish a book draft by now.

Speaking of which, after talking yesterday about how long it takes to write a book, I found this blog post about a similar topic. Sometimes I get into the "rushing" mode and act like it's a race. Time becomes my area of perfectionism, and I don't seem to care what the result looks like as long as I can say I got to the finish line at a certain time. Sometimes hurrying through a rough draft can give a sense of urgency to the story, but sometimes it just means I'm going to have to rewrite the whole book because I didn't stop to think about it along the way. But since I've also had a bad habit of starting projects and not finishing them in the past, I'm always questioning myself if I do take my time or put something aside to see if maybe I'm afraid of finishing and having to do something with it. I think I'm actually at a point when I'm good about that now. Sometimes, a project shouldn't be finished, and you don't realize it's not viable until you start playing with it. Sometimes a project is worth tinkering with, even if it takes years to get it just right. In the case of my marathon book, I don't think there was fear, just the sense that it wasn't ready and knowing that sending it out before it was ready would shortchange the story. My days of writing two chapters and then moving on to the next shiny idea are long gone, and I think I've made more mistakes in the past ten years or so from either clinging to a non-viable idea for way too long out of stubbornness or from rushing to get something out there, so that what was submitted wasn't fully developed enough to show its potential. I'm at a point in my career when I need to let myself take my time, just as long as I'm making progress.

But for now, I must go get my oil changed and my car checked up before the road trip, and then on to more stuff to do.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

How Long Does it Take?

I'm gradually loosening up the neck. Dance last night seems to have helped, and I didn't even have many problems with turning. I really hope to be better by next week or else driving to San Antonio is going to be painful.

One of the most frequently asked questions I get related to writing is how long it takes to write a book, and since that flows naturally from setting goals, I thought I'd address it.

This really is a big "it depends." It depends on the book itself, the deadline, what else is going on in my life, the time of year and a host of other things. I usually time my writing sessions, so I have a sense of how many hours it takes to produce each book, but even that doesn't tell the whole story because there's a lot of thinking that goes on before I start doing anything even resembling writing, and that pops up in random bits and pieces that are impossible to track and quantify. There's also the fact that a book may be produced in stages, especially once you can sell on proposal. You may do some preliminary research and develop a proposal, then work on something else while waiting for the proposal to sell, then go back to writing in earnest. Then things may go much faster when you have a firm deadline you have to meet. That's wonderfully motivating.

I'll give a few of examples from my experience:

I got the very first spark of an idea for my Enchanted, Inc. series in early 2002. I played with that idea off and on over the next year and a half or so. I'd think about it, add a few details, then forget about it for a while. By the summer of 2003, I had a pretty good idea what the story would be about, enough to pitch it to an editor at a conference when she asked me what I was working on. I somehow added a lot more details while talking to her. I started doing real research and development on the idea in August and early September. In late September, I started doing character development and some plot outlining, then took a research trip to New York. I started writing actual words in the second week of October and finished the first draft about a week before Christmas. I did a revision pass (though I'd been revising as I went) in early January and submitted to an agent. After getting an agent, I spent about a week doing revisions based on her suggestions. So, if you asked me how long it took me to write that book, would it be the approximately 2 1/2 months it took to write the first draft or the more than two years between the time I got the idea and the time the book was ready to be submitted to publishers? When it came time to write the second book in the series, I wrote a draft in about five weeks, then took about three months to do revisions. In that case, I didn't have to do a lot of research and development because I was building on existing characters and settings, but the story didn't come together quite as perfectly for me and took a lot of reworking. I think the books in that series all seem to take about four months to write, but it varies whether the bulk of the time comes in the first draft or in revisions. Strangely, the first book was the easiest, but that may be because of all the thinking that went on before I went into writing mode, or else it may be because it was less complex since it was introducing the world and the characters rather than doing a lot of further development.

For my upcoming book, a young adult steampunk fantasy, I came up with the first spark of an idea in the fall of 2009. I toyed with the idea off and on, discussing it with friends and doing some preliminary research and some reading in the genre, until the summer of 2010, when I started researching in earnest. I spent that summer doing extensive research, then late in the summer I started outlining and doing character development. I started writing in September and sent a proposal (the first 100 pages or so and a synopsis) to my agent in October. Since I was having fun with it, I kept writing, and I think I finished a draft, after doing a few revisions on the proposal, in early 2011. There wasn't a lot of positive response in the adult fantasy market, and after discussing it with my agent, I decided that it would make a good young adult novel, since the characters were pretty young and it focused on some coming-of-age themes. I spent the fall rewriting the book, and it first went on submission to the YA market in 2012 before finally selling in early 2013. I don't even really know how to calculate how long it took me to write that book. I think the initial first draft took about 3 months, but there was a lot of research time, and I did still more research before the rewrite.

I've got a book going out on submission that really wins the marathon prize for me. I   don't have a clear "this is when I got this idea" moment, as it seems to have started with a vivid mental image I was trying to find the story in, and then it picked up other story and character fragments that had been rolling around in my head for a very long time (the main character had been living in my head since I was in college, auditioning for almost every story I wrote but never being quite right until this one came along). I finally decided to write it in the summer of 2009. I did a lot of research and made a research trip that summer, and I was also doing some brainstorming along the way. I have a notebook full of freewriting of just playing with who the characters were and what was going on. I started writing in the fall, took a break while working on something else, worked on it again in the spring and early summer. I had a full draft by that point, but wasn't happy with the ending, and changing the ending meant tinkering with everything else, so I put it aside to work on the steampunk book. I picked it up again every so often and finally reached a point this spring that I was happy with it. It took me at least four years from research to submission, but I also wrote four other books in the meantime.

I guess the bottom line is that writing a novel takes patience, and there's a lot more to it than typing. I find that the more time an idea has to develop in my head, the faster the writing goes -- except in the odd book that has to find its own shape once I write it. I write faster when I have a deadline. Some books seem to spring from my head, fully formed, while others are more of a struggle and need a lot of rewriting. I don't think readers can tell the difference in the finished product. Generally, count on at least three to four months from the research and development phase to a finished product, and probably longer. For another way of calculating that, it took about 150 hours for me to write Kiss and Spell, the seventh book in the Enchanted, Inc. series. That includes some research and the revision work but not the general thinking about it stuff, and I didn't have to do a lot of character development or world building because it was the seventh book in a series.

If you're trying to set a goal, look at the amount of time you have available and how much you can accomplish in a certain amount of time. You may have to adjust along the way, depending on whether this book fits your pattern. Once you get to the point where you have to set a deadline with a publisher, you'll probably have a better sense of how long it will take you -- and then pad that a little. If you're writing without a contract, you can be a little more flexible with your deadlines, but it still helps to have one to hold yourself accountable.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Catch-Up Book Report

My neck is a little more flexible today and a lot less painful. Dance tonight should be interesting, but I think if I'm careful it should be good for me. Getting my body that warm may even do the final trick of snapping it all back into place. Turning may be a challenge, though. Not that it isn't usually, but I'll have a different excuse for being terrible.

I've been lax in reporting on my reading, so here's a massive book report:

A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff -- She's the author of one of the first "chick lit" books I ever read, and now seems to be transitioning more to "women's fiction," though I think her "chick lit" always had more depth than the genre was given credit for. Her books were never about shoes, shopping and getting drunk and were usually about facing the consequences of one's actions. She still has the same voice but is breaking away from what few genre tropes she ever really followed. In this book, the heroine has opened a vintage clothing store and when assessing a collection of clothes to purchase for the store, she befriends the terminally ill elderly woman who's selling off her decades worth of high-end clothes. This woman's experience with a friend during WWII eerily echoes the heroine's recent experience with a friend, and that may end up helping both of them. There's also a romantic subplot, but this is definitely not a typical genre romance. I read this in just about one sitting and then had an urge to go shopping for vintage clothes (as long as I tend to keep clothes, I can almost do that in my own closet). Now I'm in the mood for that particular kind of book.

The Runaway Princess by Hester Browne -- While I enjoyed this, I'd say it's my least-favorite of her books because while I still love her writing and her characters, this is so not my fantasy. An ordinary gardener/landscape designer meets a great guy at a party and then learns that he's an actual prince from a small country (think Monaco on an island). But then she has to rethink the relationship when being with a prince means being stalked by tabloid reporters, going through a full makeover and not having time for her own career. I think that was my main problem with the story -- the bad parts of dating someone like that were dealt with pretty realistically, which made it hard to believe a truly happy ending would be possible. It was a fun read along the way but left me feeling vaguely dissatisfied.

Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg -- I grabbed this off a library display in the teen section just because of that title. A teen girl who has overheard a boy she has a crush on describing her to his friend as having a "great personality," which everyone knows is code for "ugly," starts spiffing herself up on a dare from a friend and is surprised by how much it changes the way people see her, which then changes her own confidence levels. But then she has to wonder why the hot guy who asks her out didn't seem to notice her before. Can she trust him if he only likes her because of the way she looks? It doesn't help matters that her mother is an obsessed pageant mom, putting her 7-year-old sister through all the "little miss" pageants while ignoring her, since she's not really pageant material. This was another book I read in one sitting, and it was a fun teen book. I could see this making a good ABC Family TV movie. However, I was a little disappointed that the only "revenge" was wearing more makeup.

But I did have a minor epiphany about all those makeover stories. Thinking about my own past, I realized that, for the most part, most people don't notice even drastic changes. They form an image of you from the start, and then no matter what you do, that's their image of you. I started high school doing the full Merle Norman, West Texas version (subtle blush and eye makeup in neutral tones). Then a male classmate remarked on how girls had it easy because they could wear makeup and cover up their flaws, and there was an implied dare about not having the guts to go without makeup. So I did, for nearly two years. It didn't change anything about the way people saw me or treated me. Then during the summer between my junior and senior years, I got the Merle Norman treatment again, this time the East Texas version, which isn't at all subtle and which involved about three blushers for contouring and highlighting and about four eyeshadows to do the full contoured eye look, with the main color being a bright teal (this was the 80s). No one noticed a difference, and it changed nothing about the way people saw me or the way they treated me. I remember feeling very self-conscious about my weight and thought of myself as chubby, but I didn't weigh that much more than I do now, and I think by the time I graduated I was probably in about the same shape I am now, and losing weight and toning up changed nothing about how much interest I got from boys. So, basically, all those "wear more makeup, do your hair and wear different clothes, and it will change your life!" things are bogus. If it changes the way you see yourself, then great, and it may affect the way new people establish a relationship with you, but don't expect people who've known you for years to even notice a difference.

Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell -- This was another one that caught my eye on a display in the teen section (which I have to pass through to get from the new books display to the adult section), though it's actually more of a middle grade book, suggested for ages 9-12, and I think it really is for that category rather than being something for "children of all ages" that adults can enjoy equally. I thought it was a cute book, and in that age range I'd have probably become obsessed with it, but I couldn't get past the sense that I was reading a book for kids. Our heroine is a princess who'd really rather just hide away somewhere as a scribe, so when a loathsome cousin pulls an underhanded move to usurp the throne, she's actually okay with it because she'll finally have time to write. But then her friends rescue her, and they set out to become dragon slayers. Along the way, though, they learn that there's a lot they didn't know about dragons. If you've got a girl in that age range who likes fantasy, this is a good read. As an adult, you may find yourself frustrated by the (accurately depicted) decision-making abilities of young teens. I was impressed that the medieval life depicted was a little closer to what we know of reality than in most fantasy novels. It's set in an alternate Germany (in a world with dragons), along the Rhine, and I kept trying to mentally map the book because that's a familiar area. I'll have to look at a map and see if any of the place names in the book translate or correspond to anything in the real world.

And now for an appropriate way to end a book-related post, 17 Problems Only Book Lovers Will Understand. (It loads slowly, but wait because the animations are what make the photos make sense.)

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Pain in the Neck

I think this may be a "recover from the weekend" Monday. Friday's weather was so amazing (it was cool! In Texas! In August!) that we had to go out to the lake to watch fireworks again. Getting to this time's chosen viewing spot required minor rock climbing. And then it turned out that there was a trail that was much easier. It just wasn't really obvious. Saturday, there was a FenCon meeting and then some hard work/insanity for a side project that should turn out to have a fun result, if we can pull it all off to create a finished product. Then Sunday I woke up with an epic crick in my neck. I could barely move my head and it was pretty sore, so I spent much of Sunday after I got home from church and grocery shopping lying on the sofa with a heating pad wrapped around my neck. It's starting to loosen up a bit, but it's going to take some time, I'm afraid. Last night, I resorted to the strange "side sleeper" pillow my mom gave me last year. It's sort of shaped like a candy cane. The "hook" part goes over the shoulder, with the short end in front and the long end down your back, so that you lie slotted into it (it feels like those packing cases for fragile items where the foam is cut out to the shape of the item). It forces your head, neck and shoulders to align and supports the neck. Under most circumstances, it's not that comfortable, mostly because it doesn't accommodate people who toss and turn a lot, and I've mostly used it for napping on the sofa or as a neck pillow during last summer's bus trip (the reason my mom gave it to me). But last night, it seems to have helped keep the neck from getting worse and may even have helped matters. Taking Tylenol PM took care of the tossing and turning because I just conked out and stayed in one position all night.

So, today I think I'm staying home and doing stuff around the house, mostly because I reek of Ben-Gay. I'll start the errand part of WorldCon prep tomorrow.

Incidentally, I have my final WorldCon schedule, which I'll post later in the week. I ended up with an autograph session instead of a reading, which normally I wouldn't be crazy about because I prefer readings to sitting behind a table, feeling pathetic, but I had a real dilemma about what to read. It's hard to read anything from the last couple of Enchanted, Inc. books without spoiling the previous book or books, and I've had people who hadn't read the new books in audiences. The next new book is more than a year away, and I've been reading excerpts from it for the past few years. Jo Walton is one of the other authors in my autograph session, so I may end up just entertaining the people in line for her and listening to her lovely accent.

And now, since I can't think of anything else to say other than "ow, my neck hurts," I leave you with a handy guide to my personality, otherwise known as 23 Signs You Might Be Hermione Granger. Actually, it's mostly the first 11 that hit uncomfortably close to home. Supposedly, J.K. Rowling largely based Hermione on herself, so the odds are pretty good that if we ever met, we'd either become best friends or loathe each other, since we seem to be essentially the same person (though she's a lot more successful and has a lot more money).

Friday, August 16, 2013

Ikea Dreams

Oh, it was lovely to get to sleep until I woke up this morning instead of waking to an alarm, especially since I ended up reading a book in one sitting and didn't get to sleep until late. And really especially since I had a rather disturbing dream about some of the people I would have seen at church, and I had to mentally rewrite the dream to be more like something that would really happen in order to get past some of the unease related to it. That entailed a lot of lying around, semi-awake, instead of hopping out of bed the moment the alarm went off.

Just as lovely was the fact that there was good sleeping weather, as it was nice and cool this morning. In fact, I had thought about eating breakfast on the patio, but it was a bit too chilly. I think it would have been pleasant if I'd been dressed instead of in my nightshirt and had put on a sweater, but I wasn't in the mood to get dressed before breakfast. Let us pause to ponder the magnitude of this: I would have needed a sweater to sit outside in Texas in August.

Aside from being done with music and art camp, yesterday's big excitement was the arrival of the Ikea catalog. I don't know why that gets me so excited. I've never been in an Ikea store and have never bought anything there. It's not even really my style, since I'm more into the Victorian look with dark wood (my house looks like a Bombay Company showroom). But still, this catalog is to me now what the Sears Christmas Wish Book was to me when I was a kid. I just like flipping through the pages and daydreaming about being all organized and having nifty places to put everything. Then I realized something: one cool thing about the rooms they show in this catalog is that they look like the way people live, not like "catalog" rooms. In the bedrooms, the beds are always unmade, which makes them look inviting. You just want to crawl under the covers and snuggle. When they show bookcases full of books, they're not neatly arranged by color or height. They're piled in every which way, sometimes with books placed horizontally across the top of shelved books. Their bookcases look like my bookcases. Then there are usually books piled up on end tables and coffee tables. It's a rather brilliant psychological sales ploy because it makes their dream home seem attainable. You don't look at the pristine catalog layouts and think "Yeah, that'll never happen." The beds are unmade, books and papers are piled everywhere, and it still looks lovely, so you think you could make your house look like that if you just bought that stuff.

However, it wouldn't do much for me because of that not having walls issue. Going vertically and using your walls to store and organize stuff is a great idea, but doesn't work so well in mostly open-plan houses with few interior walls and exterior walls that are mostly windows.

I may add an Ikea voyage to my list of things to do this fall, just out of curiosity. I do have one underutilized wall in my office and one in my bedroom. I could fit more books in the office and maybe a wardrobe in the bedroom. But I want to redo the flooring in both rooms, so adding furniture is probably not the best plan for the moment.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Seasonal Trends

I'm now through with music and art camp. Hooray! This was a good group. I didn't have any real discipline problems, aside from the special needs kids who sometimes went out of control, and there wasn't any fighting or rivalry among the kids. I never had to intervene on anything that looked like bullying, and there didn't seem to be anyone being shunned. I was so proud of one of my former choir kids when she was paired with one of the special needs girls in the instrument class, and she was so good at helping her and being patient.

But still, they're very, very noisy even when they're being quiet. They got into my game of playing ninja as we went from session to session, sneaking up on the people at the next place, and that meant it went down to a dull roar instead of sounding like an invading army with guns blazing and artillery support.

Then today because we're in an odd August cool snap and I could go outdoors without bursting into flame, I walked to the library when I got home. Now I'm nice and tired.

Because if it's worth analyzing, it's worth over-analyzing, I've been thinking about my writing production this summer. My grand plan was to really work hard this summer and then be able to take the fall off, since fall's my favorite time of year. But then in thinking about when I've done my best writing, it's always been in the fall or winter. I haven't written many books in the summer, and they've usually been a bit of a struggle. That presents me with a dilemma. Fall seems to be my most productive writing time, but it's also my favorite time for doing stuff. Every year when I've been frantically writing in the fall, I say that next year I won't be doing so because there are all those things I want to do.

Well, this year, I don't have an impending deadline. My revisions on the steampunk book are due May 1, according to the contract, and I haven't even received notes yet. I'm working on a book, but it doesn't have an urgent due date. Because I'm more productive in the fall, I can usually get more done in less time. So the Grand Plan for the fall is to plan the things I want to do, and then fit the writing in around those things. I don't have to take the entire season off in order to do fun fall things. In fact, most days, I won't want to go out. It's all about balance, which I tend not to be very good at. Now I need to make a list of things I want to do and look at carving out time to do them. I won't try to schedule them too far in advance because some of them are weather-dependent, but I can make a checklist.

When I look at what I do get done in the summer, it seems to be a good time for brainstorming and research. Putting words together is a challenge, but it's a good time for me to be reading background material, doing plot outlines and character sketches. I started doing the background work for Enchanted, Inc. about ten years ago at this time of year, but I didn't start writing until early October. I did the reading, research and brainstorming for the first book in the series I'm currently playing with in the summer and wrote the first draft in the fall. I did all the research, reading, planning, etc. for the steampunk book during the summer. So, apparently, if I want to start something new and dig into the background, this is a great time to do it. It's not a good time to be working on a first draft.

Unfortunately, I had this revelation after a couple of months of frustration and right before summer starts winding down. I've got less than two weeks before WorldCon, and then when I get back from that, it will be September and while we'll still be having summer-ish weather, my brain will be in fall mode. But next summer, I'll plan some R&D, not a first draft.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Picking at It

I've survived another day of music and art camp. One of my special needs girls was a bit more of a handful today. She was a little on the outs with her best friend, which meant she didn't have her usual security blanket, and so not only was she being enough of a pill to her friend that we had to intervene, but she also was unhappy in general. I think she was mostly just overwhelmed. She seems to have the most issues in loud activities like choir and instruments, so I think noise bothers her. By the end of the day, I kind of wanted to join her under the table where she was hiding out. I made the other adults just let her stay there for a while because it obviously soothed her. Meanwhile, I had a few kids who didn't quite grasp the group split for a couple of the activities, so I had some missing. I made sure they were in the other group instead of missing and then left it at that rather than interrupting that class to make them switch.  I ended up doing a lot of running around today.

I never did take that nap yesterday because I decided it was better to really be tired so I could sleep well at night, and that seems to have worked, but I'm just as tired today, anyway. This thing only lasts from 9 to noon, but I feel like I've worked a whole day. I have a feeling I'll need most of Friday to recover. Then it will be time to get ready for WorldCon.

I was beating myself up over my lack of writing progress, then I reminded myself that I'm not on a deadline, and the previous book in this potential series took me three years to write, off and on. It was more off than on, as I wrote four other books in that time, but it did take that much time to work it all out. I'm normally a plotter, but plotting fails me in this world. Things just seem to happen that I didn't plan or prepare for. Characters keep secrets, and when I learn those secrets, it changes everything. I keep having those "Oh, so that's what's been going on" moments. So I just have to accept that it will be slow going. I haven't sold the first one yet, so there's no huge rush. I'd just like to have this one finished by the time either the first one sells or I make the decision to self-publish the first one.  So I will keep plugging, but this isn't going to be one of those books that practically writes itself in a month. It's a "pick at it a little bit at a time" book.

So now I'll get some tea and try to pick at it a bit.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt, and Meltdowns

I survived my first day of music and art camp. It actually wasn't too bad. I don't seem to have any real behavior issues. It helps that most of my teen helpers are guys, and there seem to be fewer behavior problems when there are teen guys around. They're on the same wavelength with the boys and can get them to listen (and came up with running games during recess/snack time, so the boys were too tired to act up the rest of the morning), and the girls want to impress them, so they're on their best behavior. My main challenge is that I have two special needs kids in my group. Apparently, that was interesting on Monday because they made the good-on-paper decision to put one special needs kid in each group instead of both in the same group. Most of the time, the whole first-grade group is together, but there are a couple of activities where there need to be fewer kids, so we split during that time. These two kids are best friends and something like security blankets for each other, so when they split, one kid tried to wander off and look for the other and then had a meltdown when she was stopped. The solution was to put them together, and then they were perfectly happy. I've got a teen helper, one of my buddies from last summer's trip, dedicated to them, and I just had to intervene once when they were dividing the group into teams by counting off ones and twos, which put them in separate groups. Before the meltdown could start, I sent another kid to the other team and kept them together.

Now I'm exhausted from running around all morning. It probably didn't help that I did all the activities with the kids, including the movement session that was mostly dance-like. But I figure it counts as exercise, and I think it's a good example to the kids for the adults to participate. My main problem, though, was that I didn't sleep too well last night. I got all caught up in mentally planning the next scene I need to write and then in mentally composing a response to Best Buy. They had the "how did we do, please take our survey" thing on the receipt, so I decided to tell them what I thought about the way they push the service plan at checkout. The manager of my store responded to ask for the transaction code so he could counsel the employee. That means he missed the point entirely. She was giving the corporate-mandated sales pitch. The problem is that the sales pitch is really stupid. I'm guessing that the service plan and the products are in different corporate silos and they don't think about how one affects the other. They're using the Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt sales technique to sell their service plans, but in doing so, they're attaching the fear, uncertainty and doubt to their products, and they're doing so in their last interaction with the customer before the customer leaves the store. So you go to the cash register all excited about your new purchase only to be told about all the things that could go wrong with it. It's like shopping with Eeyore. This could explain why the store seems to be a ghost town. When you end up feeling bad after buying something, you don't go back to that place. This seems to be new for Best Buy. I shopped there because that was the one place that didn't pull stuff like that. Anyway, I spent a lot of time mentally composing something to that effect because I don't want the cashier to get in trouble for doing what she was probably told to do. She was clearly sticking to a script.

But before I do that, I think I'll take at least a short nap because I'm barely keeping my eyes open and I have ballet tonight.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Typical Monday

I hope the way the week started isn't going to be an indication of how it goes, since I had a dentist appointment this morning. That meant spending the morning lying upside down with my mouth open. So, basically, the typical Monday. I guess it wasn't too bad. No cavities, my gums are getting better, and since they also check blood pressure, that was good, too. I got the "stick with the flossing" lecture (rather than the "floss more" lecture) and a timer to make sure I brush long enough to avoid the tea stains, and then I'm in the clear for another six months.

After that, I finally bought my birthday present, speakers for my TV. In a fun twist, the ones I'd been looking at last week and didn't get were on sale this week. But shopping at Best Buy has become like buying a car, where the sales guy tells you how great a product is, then when you go to the money person to actually buy, they start telling you how you'd better buy the service plan/extended warranty because it's probably going to blow up and fall apart within about thirty seconds. I'm guessing they're making most of their profit these days on those service plans. You know, telling people about all the horrible things that can happen to the thing they're buying as they're buying it might not be the best sales strategy. They even have a chart of all the potential product failures on the checkout counter. I'm always tempted to say, "Wow, if it's that terrible a product, I don't want it at all," and then walk out, leaving it there. I actually came very close to doing that when I bought my car and they locked me in the room with the guy telling me about all the things that would go wrong if I didn't buy the extended warranty.

Of course, shopping for speakers for the TV made me start looking at TVs and how much better they are now than when I got mine, and then that means I need a new TV stand to hold a larger TV and all the cable boxes, DVD players, etc. When I bought the current TV stand, it held a TV and a VCR. I don't really have time to deal with it all right now, but I may be tempted in the fall, since I'm actually making money this year and should make money next year.

I've just realized that I have two and a half weeks before WorldCon, which means I need to take a look at my pre-travel to-do list. I may have to cross off "finish writing a book" since there are more critical things, like getting my car serviced, doing any necessary shopping, etc. This week is going to be busy, since it's music and art camp at church. I got off today because of the dentist appointment, but then I have to go Tuesday through Thursday. Fortunately, I have first grade, which means mostly the same kids I had in choir for the past two years. I just have to herd them around, not plan anything. However, choir starts the day after I get home from WorldCon, so I have some planning to do there.

Now that I've scared myself with how much I have to do, I guess I'd better get on it, huh?

Friday, August 09, 2013

The Grand Day Out

I finally had my Grand Day Out. I took the train to near downtown to see the Joss Whedon Much Ado About Nothing. It's playing at one theater in the area, one that's very inconveniently located for driving to, but I can catch the train not too far from my house and the station is next to the theater. There's a new midday fare with unlimited rides between 9:30 and 2:30 for $1.75, which is cheaper than the gallon or so of gas it would take to make the round trip, and the movie was showing at 11 a.m., perfectly in that timeframe. But it does involve leaving the house for an extended period of time, so I've been putting off doing it even when I wasn't waiting for contractors. As the train went through downtown, I noticed a number of changes and things that look fun to do, so I'll have to plan another Grand Day Out for the fall when I can more comfortably walk around outside.

As for the movie itself, I may need to see it again to really judge because I had a bad case of cognitive dissonance. A lot of the actors involved are very familiar to me from one particular role, but I've only seen them in occasional bit parts outside that one role, other than seeing them in person at the Serenity premiere, so it's really hard to mentally separate the actors from those iconic characters. Then because the casting was all in the family, so to speak, they were with the other actors I'm used to seeing them with, which makes it even harder to separate them from the familiar roles.

So it took some getting used to the idea of our sweet, innocent Simon from Firefly (who doesn't seem to have aged a day since then) playing the villain, even though he did so brilliantly. It took me half the movie to get used to Alexis Denisof's American accent. He's the unusual case of an actor who does both British and American and neither accent is really "fake" because he's an American who lived in England a long time, did his acting training there and started his career there. But his American accent seems to come from a different place in his body than his British accent, so his voice sounds entirely different, depending on which accent he uses, and that means not only getting used to the different accent but a different voice. And then the fact that he was playing opposite Amy Acker yet again didn't make it any easier to separate Benedick and Beatrice from Wes and Fred or Illyria.

But once I settled into it and convinced myself of who these characters were instead of focusing on who the actors were, it was a lot of fun. I was really impressed with Amy Acker, who sometimes irks me. Perhaps the fact that it seems to be required by law that she make a guest appearance in every science fiction or fantasy television series made it easier to just accept her character instead of being caught up in her most familiar role. I think the problem with her isn't so much her but the fact that she tends to get typecast in the "manic nerdy dream girl" roles where she's all squeaky and twitchy. Rewatching Angel made me really hate Fred and start mentally rewriting the series to remove her, but then she was amazing when Fred became Illyria the hell goddess (and that was when she and Denisof really hit it out of the park working together). I wanted to shoot her in Once Upon a Time, but she was wonderful as the soccer mom spider woman on Grimm. Her Beatrice here was less bitchy than she tends to be played, more cynical and world-weary, and she sounded so natural that it was easy to forget she was doing Shakespeare. 

I think the added implication that Beatrice and Benedick had previously hooked up in a way that ended badly and then still had to associate with each other because they ran in the same crowd helped add some layers to their interaction. I've always loved the Benedick/Beatrice part of this play, and it scratches my romantic comedy itch, and this added layer makes it less of a "hate you, hate you, love you" thing, and less that they're so easily manipulated, and more that they're both masking hurt feelings -- and the hurt comes from the fact that there were feelings to be hurt. More than in most versions, I did get a sense of them coming together and actually liking each other. The physical comedy was hilarious, but when they got serious, it was breathtaking. I will say that Alexis Denisof doesn't photograph well. Yeah, he's very good-looking on film, but that is the most gorgeous man I've ever seen in my life. I actually gasped when I saw him at the Serenity premiere, and not because I recognized him and realized who he was. It was more a case of "Wow, check him out. Oh, wait, that's him?"

The Claudio/Hero story is problematic and will be as long as they're using the original text, not so much because the fact that she's not a virgin is enough to call off the wedding, but because of one of my romantic comedy pet peeves, where there's a misunderstanding in which one party leaps to the worst possible conclusion about the other, refusing to listen to the other person's side of the story, and then when there's evidence that it was all a lie or misunderstanding, everything's okay. The wronged person doesn't have a problem with the fact that this person who supposedly loved her was so eager to believe the worst of her once he realizes he was wrong.

I may get this one on DVD, just because I like that play and I love the feel of this production. I also covet Amy Acker's wardrobe in it, but I'm not sure it would work with my figure. She's about four inches taller than I am and about half my size (I felt spherical in her presence, and my dress size is in the low single digits).

I didn't end up getting my planned birthday present, since by the time I got back to my station, I was tired and hungry. It's something I'll need to get at Target, and that won't be a safe place this weekend because it's the sales tax holiday weekend, with no tax on clothes or school supplies. That always amuses me because if you advertised an 8 percent off sale, no one would care, but people mob the stores thinking this is such a huge deal. Thanks for the iPod info. I may have found a different media player I can use on my phone, but I don't know that it would work for my needs because I know I'd end up leaving my phone connected to the stereo and forget to bring it with me. A dedicated music player would be easier. That's a very low-priority item, though, since about 90 percent of the time, I prefer complete silence.

Now I must get back to the book so I can take Grand Days Out in the fall. My plan was to really push it this summer and then relax in the fall, but it hasn't quite worked out that way.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Rising to the Occasion

I'm afraid I'm now down on my word count because I only managed about 300 words yesterday, I was so drained and distracted after that funeral. My roommate my freshman year in college was a voice major, and I used to roll my eyes when she'd go on about how much more difficult that was than playing an instrument because your body was your instrument, so anything affecting you would affect your performance. Now, though, I kind of understand because my writing tools are my mind and my emotions, and when those are out of whack, even if I push myself to keep going, the outcome isn't good. As I learned when I soldiered on through the second half of the first draft of Damsel Under Stress after the death of a close friend. It took every trick I could think of to make myself write that book. Then my agent read the draft and was like, "Um, maybe you should re-think some of this." When I re-read it, it was utterly foreign to me. I had no idea where most of that came from and hadn't realized what a bad place I was in at that time until I was out of it and looking back. I had to just about completely rewrite the book. I think I can still see the dividing line of before/after in that book. There's a tonal shift I never managed to erase.

As a result, I didn't force myself to write when I realized what was happening yesterday. It turned out that I had a case of mistaken identity for one of the kids whose dad died. The boy I've worked with wasn't the son in this family, after all. He has the same first name, he took the girl's place helping with choir, and I could swear I've seen her playing "big sister" to him and him being around this mom, but that's the problem with adults who take the "it takes a village to raise a child" thing seriously and kids who run in a pack and act like one big family. It makes it hard to figure out who goes with whom. The boy in this family was actually older (late teens, I think), and I don't think I know him.

I realized during this funeral that not only does this town have an alarming death rate among teens, but it also has a relatively alarming death rate among men young enough to still have children at home. I've sung for way too many of those funerals, but I've noticed something interesting in doing so. It's been a way to see "coming of age" in action. You see the moment when a child becomes an adult, sometimes far earlier than any child should have to. In this case, the mom seemed utterly shellshocked. I can only imagine what she's going through, with not only grief but logistical and financial issues to deal with and then being on her own with three kids. But the older kids seemed to recognize this, and instead of them seeking comfort from their mom, they were the ones looking after her. The oldest boy seemed to have already stepped into the "dad" role and was not only looking after his mom but was comforting the younger siblings and holding them all together. And then he gave the eulogy, very calmly and eloquently. It was like someone had flipped the boy/man switch. You hate to see that happen to a real person because it means going through something awful (though I love seeing it happen to fictional characters), but at the same time it's a thing of beauty when someone has the strength to rise to an occasion like that. I generally try to avoid getting too emotional at these things because up in the choir loft I can be seen by everyone, and since I usually didn't actually know the deceased, me crying makes me feel like I'm being a drama queen and making it about me. This time, though, I was facing the family, and when that little girl's face crumpled up with tears, I lost it completely (okay, so she's going into high school, but I've known her since she was 11, so she's still a little girl to me).

I stopped by Sprouts on the way home because I did need to get some produce but also because that's where the dark chocolate-covered raisins live, and that was kind of urgent. Then I gave up on focusing and writing and spent the evening watching my recording of Blast Vegas, the movie they showed the week after the Sharknado frenzy. And, you know, I liked it better than Sharknado. Sharknado was just plain an all-around bad movie. No matter how high the production values, no matter how good the cast, it would be what it was. This one was borderline decent. With a couple more revision passes on the script and a production budget bigger than whatever the producer found between his sofa cushions, it might have made a "real" movie.

Basically, it's spring break, and all the frat boys and sorority girls are hitting Vegas for some serious party time. Among the frat boys is Malcolm in the Middle, the nerdy guy who only got into the fraternity because his dad used to be president and who was only included in this trip to play designated driver. Among the sorority girls is a Felicia Day clone Manic Nerdy Dream Girl, the cousin of one of the sorority girls who's only on the trip because sorority girl's dad wouldn't pay for the trip unless the cousin went along. The nerds meet and are smitten, and there's drunken debauchery among the others that has me asking the TV for the disaster to hit, already. Apparently the frat boys hear me because they come across an exhibit of artifacts at their Egyptian-themed casino and drunkenly think it would be a fun prank to take the sword from the display. That triggers an ancient Pharaoh's curse so that the city comes under attack by a giant sandstorm with a sand tornado taking the shape of a cobra (Cobrado? They may have missed an opportunity with the title here) that turns Vegas into a postapocalyptic wasteland and targets all the annoying people for death. Already, this has the makings for Best Movie Ever. Fortunately, Manic Nerdy Dream Girl is into Egyptian mythology (as nerd girls tend to be) and knows the legend of the sword and what to do, and just as fortunately, the casino tendency to collect stuff to give themselves cultural legitimacy means that everything they need to break the curse can be found in Vegas. So Manic Nerdy Dream Girl and Malcolm in the Middle end up on a casino scavenger hunt throughout Vegas, in this middle of Cobrado, guided by veteran lounge singer Barry Bostwick and a few frat boys and sorority girls (redshirts/cannon fodder) to get the stuff they need to break the curse and save what's left of the city.

And, you know, they probably had a lot more fun in Vegas than I ever have. I'll trade you the giant cobra sandstorm for a week working Comdex, across the aisle from the Motorola booth, whose gimmick was "The Device Girls" (it was 1999 and the Spice Girls were still a thing) who sang every half hour about Motorola products to the tune of something that sounded enough like the Spice Girls that you knew what it was supposed to be, but probably different enough to avoid paying royalties. Then after a day on my feet, running around after reporters, trying to grab people to do interviews, and making sure that someone in authority knew that Bill Gates was in our booth playing with our stuff, all while listening to the Device Girls tell us what gizmos they really, really wanted, I got to wait in line an hour to get on a shuttle bus back to my hotel. Fighting off the giant cobra sandstorm would have been a welcome break, especially if it targeted the Device Girls (actually, when they were off-duty they turned out to be very nice girls who were even sicker of that routine than we were).

I think that movie put me back on kilter, so I hope to make up some of the productivity loss today, and if I write even a bit on the days I wasn't planning to write, I'll be back on track. Tonight, though, I'm going out for a friend's birthday and eating German food. Then I'm taking a few days off, so I may not resume blogging until next Wednesday.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Food Ennui

Getting to my target word count yesterday was a struggle because it took me a couple of hours to get the scene set enough in my mind to write it. It was one of those pivotal scenes that was big enough I was sure it would all come together when it happened, only I got there and knew the stuff that needed to happen, but I had no idea how it would actually happen. But once I did figure it out, it came together pretty quickly, even if I did have to spend the whole evening writing after spending the afternoon brainstorming/procrastinating.

Probably because of the thinking/writing issue, I seem to have hit bottom with the food ennui. Yesterday's lunch: tuna on Ritz crackers with a bowl of grapes on the side. Yesterday's dinner: peanut butter on graham crackers with a bowl of cherries on the side. The one time I can think of when it was worse was when I had a day job, got home from work, didn't feel like cooking and ended up eating raw broccoli (I needed nutrients) and saltine crackers while sitting on the kitchen floor.

Some of it had to do with lack of supplies. Yeah, I went to the grocery store twice last week, but most of that was replenishing staples. My grocery store gives you points for purchases, and if you get to a certain level in a month, you get 10 cents a gallon off on gas the next month. As I neared the end of the month, I was very close, and I have a road trip coming up, so I figured I might as well do a pantry stock of non-perishables (canned goods, pasta, spices, flavorings) and semi-perishables that last a long time, especially if they haven't been opened (crackers, cereal). Then there were the cherries, which were on sale (one thing I love about summer -- fresh cherries are nothing like anything allegedly "cherry-flavored"). And then after all that effort I did the math and realized that if I coast into the gas station on fumes and completely fill the tank, I've saved a whopping $1.50, maybe. But I didn't buy anything I didn't need, so I guess I'm a little ahead. Yay.

That meant I had a lot of ingredients, but was missing crucial elements needed to turn those ingredients into food. My fresh produce inventory consisted of the cherries, a few strawberries, an onion, a few limp carrots, a zucchini and some celery that may or may not be plotting revolution. In the basket on my counter I found a sweet potato I'd forgotten about that had not only sprouted, but had grown vines and leaves, only since it hasn't had much light, the vines and leaves have this weird translucent pink-tinged pallor. It looks like something they'd have had to contend with in herbology class at Hogwarts. I think I'm going to keep it, name it and see if it develops sentience.

So I think the sweet potato has to be removed from the inventory, as I'm not sure it still qualifies as a sweet potato and may possibly have evolved into a different life form. I could have made one of my favorite pasta dishes with the onion, zucchini and carrot, but that would have required chopping and cooking. I even had frozen entrees, just for this sort of occasion, but I didn't want them, either. I didn't even heat up the last bit of peach cobbler, so it seems I really didn't want food. Fortunately, I now have meals planned for the next few days, made easier by going out for at least one meal. Then I'll be visiting my parents, and then it will be my birthday, for more going out, so I'll barely have to cook for a while.

Tonight I suspect I'll need comfort food. I have to sing for a funeral this afternoon, and it will be a tough one. I didn't know the deceased, but he's the dad of two of my kids -- not the kindergarteners, but my youth helpers. The oldest daughter in the family was my helper the first two years I did choir, and then the middle boy was the pre-school helper last year, but since we often combined or switched classes, I worked with him a lot. Losing a parent at any age is tough, but they're still young enough to need him and old enough to know what they've lost. I don't even know how to talk to a kid in that situation, and so I sing. I had one of those "you know you're an adult when" moments when thinking that with one parent gone and one parent probably having difficulty coping, herself (this was a very sudden and unexpected death), the other adults in these kids' lives will need to step in to pick up the slack, and then I realized that includes me.

Sometimes I feel a little guilty that the work I do with kids is in this fairly isolated, privileged community rather than in some place where the help is really needed. But I am a little isolated and I hate driving, and kids everywhere need help. The teen death rate in this town is proof that privilege doesn't make anyone immune to problems (mostly accidents, but a fair number of suicides and drug overdoses, and one killed by her mother in a murder/suicide when the family finances hit bottom and the mother couldn't keep up the facade). Not everyone in the privileged community is actually privileged, and I know from experience how tough it is to be the non-rich kid in a snooty community. And, the way society works, the privileged kids are the ones who tend to end up in power positions, so anything that can be done to keep them from turning out to be jerks will end up benefiting society as a whole. Just exposing them to different perspectives and providing an alternative to peer pressure (my job and semi-fame put me into a different category from other "grown ups" so sometimes they'll listen to me instead of rolling their eyes) may help. Things like this current situation remind me of the role any adult could (and maybe should) play in their own community.

Now to go do some chopping and slicing so I won't have to deal with it when I get home this evening and I can have real food for dinner.