Disaster preparedness

I love Nature as much as anybody: sunsets, beaches, mountain vistas …

But lately, Nature has been a little too upclose and personal. Ask anyone from Texas. Or Mexico.

If I had to pick between a hurricane and an earthquake, I’d pick neither, thank you very much.

It looks as if we’re getting something, though. A full-fledged hurricane or maybe some strong wind and rain. Not sure of Irma’s path. At one time predicted to roll over us, now maybe to the west, but wait, that could change.

So I went to Walmart yesterday to fill my gas tank, and get a few staples just in case. I remember Hurricane Hugo and the ensuing week without power. At that time we had a generator and lots of propane goodies like a lantern and stove. I no longer have any of those because I didn’t know how to use them and since Jim isn’t here to do it (or show me) I got rid of them, congratulating myself on the storage space I was saving.

I wish he were here now, not necessarily to fire up a propane lantern, but to talk me out of my misgivings about this storm. He was always  calm, but methodical. He knew how to get ready for an emergency without scaring me to death.

So anyway, I got the car gassed up and started looking for a battery for my heavy-duty lantern-type flashlight. I went to just about every store I could think of and finally went to an auto parts store. The clerk there told me they used to carry lantern batteries (the big, square 6-V kind) but now everyone had gone to LED lights.

So I bought one. And two packs of AAA batteries to back up the ones that came with it.

I also bought lamp oil for the two antique oil lamps in the den. I fired one up and it still works, so it’ll be all right if the smoke doesn’t drive me out of the house.

Food? Breakfast bars, some tinned meat, another loaf of bread, a big jar of peanut butter and a box of crackers. I figure I can pop up some corn ahead of time and put it in a bag. Won’t be able to brew coffee, but I can make cold-brewed tea.

And of course, wine. And books. Which I will read by the light of the new LED lamp or kerosene lamp or my flashlight. Because how else do you pass the time with no TV?

Of course, I am figuring some days without power if the wind is strong enough. If it is stronger than knocking down a few trees and takes my roof with it, all of the above is moot.

Maybe none of this will happen, but I’d rather be prepared. In 1999, Jim prepared for Y2K by stocking up on all the aforementioned things that I just got rid of. No electronic meltdown happened as predicted, but we did get 16 inches of snow New Year’s Day, almost unheard of in the N.C. Piedmont. And the power was out for a week. So it all came in handy and he couldn’t wipe the smirk off his face for a month.

So wherever Irma heads, be careful out there. And be prepared.

 

 

 

 

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And the winner is…

Nature is trying to kill me.

I don’t mean tornadoes or erupting volcanoes or  tsunamis, or any other horrific events. My demise will be slow and tortuous. My enemies are chiggers, hornets, fire ants, wasps, and poison ivy.

Not that they are lethal in themselves. Except maybe fire ants. I hate fire ants and can see no Earthly good in their existence except to provide snacks for guinea hens. I have spent the summer putting poison on their nests, only to see another pop up, or after a good rain, as many as 20 new nests. It gets discouraging, but I can’t give up because they would gleefully sting me to death if they had the chance. I know it and they know it. So the battle for survival continues. Image result for poison ivy

There is a hornet’s nest in a bush in front of  the house. I accidentally discovered it when trimming the bushes. A swarm of hornets flew out and chased me across the yard. They did sting my left hand, which swelled up to the point I had difficulty pulling my glove off. I’ve avoided that bush ever since. I’m afraid to spray the nest because I think they will rush to defend it and this time it won’t be just my hand that gets stung.

After my first bout with poison ivy I learned to recognize the plant by counting. “Leaflets three, let it be; leaflets five, let it thrive.” But it is more difficult to recognize the vines, which also can give you a bad case of itchy, oozing sores.  I’m just sayin’ there are several types of viney plants in the part of my yard that used to be a jungle of privet, honeysuckle, poison ivy, cat brier, and the English ivy my husband planted not knowing that while ornamental up North, it is an invasive species not unlike kudzu in the South. I can’t tell the difference when  I’m uprooting vines. So I pull them all and pray.

I know when I’ve been careless when I feel my skin begin to burn. Then the blisters come, but I must be getting immune because they don’t last as long as they used to. So score a mini-victory for me.

It’s a constant battle, but I have a feeling that in the long run, nature will win. She is more tenacious and has more weapons at her command, and they will no doubt still be stinging and biting long after I am gone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The necessary break

This past week, I was at the beach … St. Simons Island, to be exact. Shopping, eating sea food, walking on the beach, floating in the pool, exploring historic sites, and enjoying the company of my oldest son and daughter-on-law. Also the three granddogs.

And not even thinking of writing.

Bruno loves the beach. So many new friends to meet, so many birds to chase, and lovely water to wade in.

I didn’t check my sales, do any  searches for publishers or agents, or even plan out my next book.

Nope, I relaxed. Read a little, talked, walked the dogs.

And I didn’t feel even a little bit guilty.

We all need to take a break once in awhile. I’m pretty sure even those writers who stay at their desks for 8-10 hours a day, seven days a week, take a break.

Otherwise we would stagnate. We can live in our imaginations only so long before we need to refuel, and we do that by re-entering the real world.

We see things that spark our creativity, see people who could be characters in our book (and  maybe we don’t  jot the details down, but that hairdo, or tattoo, or outfit may just find itself in a description), and overhear conversations that pique our curiosity.

And don’t forget the wonderful sounds and scents we encounter. The tang of salt air, the fragrance of roses, the gentle roll of the surf … all add grist to our mill.

I am home now, ready to get to work. I’m energized when only a week ago I was busy finding excuses not to move my project forward.

If you find yourself bogged down and can’t find the time for a week or even a few days away from your WIP, you can take a mini-break by going for a walk, seeing a movie, or calling a friend and meeting her (or him) for  a glass of tea and conversation. A few hours away from your desk (or wherever you write best) won’t detract from your work.

It might even make it better.

 

 

The sins of my youth

When I was young, a hundred years ago, I thought I needed three things: a gorgeous tan, blonde hair, and adoring boyfriends.

I got the blonde hair from a bottle, and the tan from hours of lying in the sun in my teeny-weeny bikini. No, it wasn’t polka-dot.  And sometimes the sun tan turned into a sunburn, with accompanying blisters. The boyfriends came and went, not all adoring but faithful enough for brief periods of time.

Image result for sunburn meme

Then I married and had children. No time for tanning, no time to redo the roots of my hair. I let it grow back into its mousy brown.

As I got older, I began avoiding the sun. In the past few years I do my yard work protected by sunscreen, a floppy hat, and long pants. I get my various moles and other blemishes checked periodically by a dermatologist. I became especially vigilant after my younger brother died of a melanoma he’d had 20 years previously. They thought they got it all, but during those years it had metastasized, unknown to him and his loved ones.

So just before I went on my annual trip to Pennsylvania to visit my sister (my excuse for no blog last week) I got a call from my dermatologist. She’d removed a suspicious mole during my last appointment and sent it for a biopsy. The results were melanoma in situ.

It wasn’t that big of a shock. I knew the risks. I knew that in spite of the care I’d been taking, my foolishness 50 years ago had more than  likely set me up for something like this.

Of course, we didn’t know back then of the danger. Baby oil and iodine? Slap it on for a deeper, browner tan. Hours spent on the beach or on a towel in the back yard. A sunburn was a small price to pay. Sure, it hurt, but the blisters eventually went down. And then we did it all over again.

I went back Tuesday to have more tissue removed to make sure that all of the cancer was gone. It wasn’t fun. The area was numbed and then I lay on my stomach, my arms slowly falling asleep, trying not to twitch as she cut and cut … and cut. The the stitches. I didn’t ask how many, but it took a long time. The wound is covered with steri-strips, so I can’t see the damage. Yet.

And I’m waiting for word of the second biopsy. She was cheerfully confident it would come back clear, but I’ve heard that song before. I had to go for a third surgery when I had breast cancer because the margins weren’t clear the second time. Hopefully, that won’t happen again.

My back is sore and it hurts to stretch or move suddenly, but I tell myself that’s a small price to pay if the threat is truly gone.

Now I must be ever more vigilant because what happened once can happen again. I told my three sons they also must take care. We now have a family history of melanoma. I’m sorry to pass that on to my children and grandchildren. Fortunately, the grandchildren’s parents have been more cautious than I was, and slathered on sunscreen whenever the kids went outside.

I’m writing this as a warning. If you have children or grandchildren, please, please, make sure they are protected. They, like me, won’t think ahead. They think they will always be young and anyway, who cares what happens then they are “old.”

They will care. And it’s up to us to protect them now.

 

Writers retreat and beach memories

Home again!

I’m home after a week away. It was a fantastic week: sunrise over the ocean, the sky tinted pink and baby blue with whitecaps rolling against the shore.  Coffee, drifting to our self-appointed stations, everyone working on her project from a published writer meeting deadline to a novice working on her first draft. Ice cream breaks, walking along the beach, feet crunching over  broken shells or seeking balance on softly shifting sand, claiming the reward of sweet, cold strawberry or salty caramel. Silent afternoons, then laughter as eight women work together to prepare an evening meal.

It was a fantastic week in the company of women who got me, who understood what it is to create a story from nothing but our imaginations, what it means to select the right word, to bring a character to life.

They say writing is a lonely life. It is. It is the nature of the profession. Oh, we have critique partners, beta readers, editors, and hopefully, publishers, who help us along the way.  But the essential work is done inside our heads.

That’s why writer’s retreats, such as the one I just completed, are important. We remember we are not alone on our journey, that others are traveling the road with us. Some are a little ahead, and they look back and hold out a hand to help us along. And we do the same for those behind us.

I confess I was a little reluctant to go.  Live with strangers for a week? How did this work?

But I’m glad I did.  Within 24 hours, the doubts had fled. The strangers became friends. When the week was over we hugged goodbye with real emotion and pledged to meet again next year.

Did I accomplish the goal I had set? Yes, I did. I finished my edits. Others finished their drafts or met their deadlines. We all did what we came for, but for me, it was more than that.

It was realizing I was in good company. That I was not alone. That I was a part of a sisterhood of writers.

Of course I was glad to get home and accept the welcome meows of Spooky, Jack and Frenchie. There was mail, telephone messages, and the inevitable dirt to be swept up because my cats love to dig in the houseplants. Bags had to be unpacked, laundry done. Every vacation — even working vacations —  end.

But the memories remain.

 

 

 

Procrastination

As I write this, it is raining outside. A lot.

Jim would be checking the rain gauge every five minutes, and spending the rest of his time watching the weather channel. He loved weather.

I can take it or leave it.  Rainy days, when they are not actual hurricanes, can be restful. Notice I did not say productive.

It is a perfect time to settle down and start that new novel I promised my half dozen fans I was going to write. But, over the summer, I have learned to procrastinate. Yes, I finished my edits. Yes, I have begun sending out queries. But when anyone asked if I am writing something new, I am forced to say “No.”

The characters are in my head clamoring to be set free. I have a glimmering sense of a possible plot.

My excuse is that what with all my gadding about this summer I haven’t had a solid block of time in which to write and that I don’t want to start something only to be interrupted just when the juices are starting to flow.

Yeah, I know BS when I hear it, too.

I think I am procrastinating because I know once I start, it is going to be a long, tough road until I write “The End.” And as I once said, “the end” is really the beginning. Rewrites, edits, submissions, more edits, promoting…

I get tired just thinking about it.

To quote Cheryl Strayed, “Writing is hard for every last one of us… Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig.”

Neil Gaiman’s rule #2 for writers is “Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.”

Yep. One word after another. One sentence after another; one page…

It’s the first word, not the last, that’s so darn difficult.

 

 

 

 

Feeding the birds

I have a whiteboard calendar on my refrigerator to remind me of appointments coming up during the week. Sometimes it is empty and sometimes there are two or three things listed for the same day.calendar

Three chores stay there permanently: Wednesday, volunteer at the animal shelter; Thursday, water the plants; and Friday, clean the hummingbird feeders.

It’s not that I would forget these things, but this way I keep on schedule.

My list of chores, written or unwritten, has grown during the past year. Little by little, I took over some of the heavier duties as Jim’s strength failed. So it wasn’t too much of a change to keep on after he passed. One thing I do now that he did up until he was hospitalized is feed the birds. This was more of a joy for him than a chore. He loved watching them and never let the feeders get empty.

So I added this to my list, and every time I lift the heavy feeders down, drag out the 25-pound bag of bird seed and fill them, then stand on my tiptoes to replace them, I think of him. I wonder if he is watching and giving his little nod of approval.

I’m happy to say the squirrels have disappeared and the birds have had free access to the suet feeders. And, I haven’t had to refill them every other day due to the little thieves making off with the suet, cage and all. I have had to search the yard for the cage more than once. Which isn’t as bad as my sister has it, what with raccoons stealing her bird feeders, never to be seen again. The feeders, I mean. The raccoons keep coming back.

But where the squirrels have gone, I haven’t a clue. Maybe because the they ate every one of my crop of figs, they are too ashamed to show their greedy faces. But I’d keep feeding the birds even if the squirrels did keep stealing the suet cages and tipping the feeders, spilling the seeds on the ground.

I feel Jim’s presence when I feed the birds, and when I sit on the deck and watch them in the evening. If I keep my head still, I can imagine him on my right, watching their fluttering and listening to their songs. I can hear him laugh as the hummingbirds wage war, zooming over our heads.

I don’t need to write anything on  my whiteboard to remind myself to feed the birds. It’s too much a part of me.

Of us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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