Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Best Laid Plans…

… don’t always unfold as one would like. Here it is, almost a year since my last post, wherein I reported on my desire to be more consistent in my blogging again, only to fail epically. I ask myself, what in the world happened?

Quigley Drawn to the Birthday Cake

Well, in the late winter and early spring, Quigley, our dear Redbone Coonhound then twelve and a half years old, began to show a limp, and other signs of pain. Initial diagnosis was a bulging disc in his spine. For several weeks we had to take him to the vet’s office for regular laser treatments to ease the pain and inflammation. They seemed to work. For awhile I could still take him for a three mile morning walk, but it became harder and harder for him to go the distance and eventually I stopped taking him. Then we noticed that fluid had begun to build up in his abdomen, whereupon the diagnosis changed from bulging disc to congestive heart failure.

On March 21, not long after my birthday, my husband and I took him on a short midday walk through a nearby park where he got to trot around, and smell all the things hounds love to smell. Home again, and after dinner and the last of the birthday cake, we settled down to watch a movie. As the show ended and the credits began to roll, I told Quigley, who was lying under the coffee table between us and the TV, that it was time for his pill. He didn’t move much but then he’d not been moving much lately anyway. I went into the kitchen to get his pill, calling for him to come and get it.

When he continued to lie there, I brought the pill to him, patted him, and told him again that it was time for his pill. And still he didn’t move. Finally it dawned on me that not only was he not lifting his head, he didn’t appear to be breathing either. So I looked more closely and felt his ribcage. No movement at all. I put my hand over his nose — his lips were still warm and wet — but there was no breath coming out of them. He was gone.

I came unglued. My husband and I just held each other for awhile and then he went out to dig a grave in the back yard, which is his way of dealing with these losses. I just sat with Quigley’s body, mourning even as I was so grateful to have had him in my life. He was my guardian, my friend, my security system, my walking buddy, and just a wonderful blessing on a day by day basis. I’m so thankful to have had him for the twelve and a half years that we did. Twelve and a half seems way too short. But it turns out our previous Redbone, Bear, was also twelve and half when he died. I did a bit of research, and found out this was an average lifespan for dogs of their size. Which isn’t as good as a chihuahua (something like 20 years) but way better than Great Danes (6 or 7 years).

Slowly Getting Up to Speed

Well, I’ve spent the day dealing with my website and blog, trying to adjust to all the changes that have occurred since I first “paused” in my blogging. It’s been quite a week. I’ve had to deal with SSH credentials, VaultPress , UpDraft Plus, WordPress 4 and 5 and I don’t know what all… My biggest problem was that WordPress recommended that everyone update their PHP version; and then at the same time said don’t worry:

“WordPress recommends everyone update their PHP version, but this is often not possible. This is why your site is using Hardened PHP by CloudLinux. “

I’m still not entirely sure what CloudLinux is, only that WordPress didn’t like it. For awhile I was told that I couldn’t update anything because the new update, WP 5.3.2 demanded PHP vs 5, and I only had… PHP 3, I think, which for reasons I’ve already forgotten, I couldn’t seem to get. Somehow I just blundered my way through it all and finally, just when I was about to give it up — Voila! It worked! I think. I have yet to publish this post. But I no longer have scarlet warning spots scattered about my dashboard, and I have a Preview and a Publish button I can click on… Looks promising, so here I go…

Loss of Subscriber List…Or maybe not…

Well, I seem to have shot myself in the foot over the last few months. When you don’t stay current in the Internet world, everything changes. When you really lag behind on implementing current developments, you get so left behind you almost can’t catch up — or so it seems right now, seeing as that’s what has happened to me. For some reason Feedblitz had divided my blog subscriber list into two lists, one of which I lost last night by clicking on the wrong button … but, suddenly today when I started to write this post, a message popped up directing me to Feedblitz, where I discovered my list had merely been paused, not deleted. I think. Anyway, I reactivated it, so perhaps this post will go out after all.

Life has been full and moving fast, but I haven’t given up on The Other Side of the Sky. At the moment I have seventeen chapters of narrative. Looks like I may have another multi-volume work on my hands. Big Surprise there. First task is to read it all. Which I will…er…plan…er… HOPE to begin tomorrow. And since I’m not altogether sure this post is going to go anywhere, despite how it seems, I’ll keep it short.

Play Manchurian For Me

Well here I am with my website open, the screen ready to receive my words of wisdom, or at the least, words of interest! Ah but what to write about? The latest book I’ve been reading? The fact that I am once again very slowly moving toward getting back to work on The Other Side of the Sky? Very slowly.

So let’s go back to the reading, which I’ve been doing a lot of. In fact, I Just finished Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate, a classic from the fifties. The reason I was reading that was because I had just finished Dean Koontz’s recent five book Jane Hawk series: The Silent Corner, The Whispering Room, The Crooked Staircase, The Forbidden Door, and The Night Window. Read them all pretty much back to back. They’re huge books, but riveting, and a key component in them is a sort of brainwashing technique that the evil cabal trying to take over the world has used on various Persons of Importance. For the most part these persons seem perfectly normal, their regular old selves. But should someone come by and utter the phrase “Play Manchurian for me”, they fall into a trance-like state where they’ll do anything they are asked to do. Including kill themselves, though more often it was others they were killing …

The use of that triggering phrase then spiked my interest in reading The Manchurian Candidate, since it had obviously informed Koontz’s novels. It was one I’d long heard of but never actually read. When I couldn’t find it at the library, I purchased my own used copy from Amazon. After reading it, I rented the 1962 movie version of the novel starring Frank Sinatra, and Angela Lansbury. It was all quite fascinating.

For those of you who don’t know, the “Manchurian Candidate” was a soldier in the Korean War, captured and then brainwashed/hypnotized by his captors to carry out assassinations when he was confronted with the appropriate trigger. In the Koontz book it was the phrase “Play Manchurian for me.”

One thing of particular interest to me with the Koontz series was that the final volume of the series ended with the big showdown between the competing forces gathering around the Casa Grande area in Arizona and moving on to Phoenix, which isn’t all that far from Tucson. It was fun to read about saguaros and cholla and desert and places I’ve actually been.

Yes, it’s true these books aren’t for everyone, and I’m not really much of a horror fan, but Koontz is such a splendid wordsmith, character creator and plotter, that I’ve been pretty much entranced by all his works. Plus they almost always have dogs in them. And this series was no exception. 😊

The Sabbatical Year Perhaps Comes to an End?

Hello again, my dear WordPress blog readers and subscribers! Hope you all had a grand time over the holidays and that you missed out on the flu season of  2018/19. We did not, alas, but we did discover an unexpected remedy for a cough: chocolate. My husband heard Rush Limbaugh talking about it and gave it a try, and is convinced it works. He kept telling me to try it out and so one day when the coughing just would not stop, I  made myself a cup of Starbucks Hot Cocoa Mix and one sip was all it took. I’m not exaggerating. The cough stopped after one sip and stayed gone almost all day.  Whereas prior to that I coughed all day. So I’m a believer, now!  (And also a chocolate lover; does that make my conclusion biased?)

The flu and the holidays also contributed to my failure to post as much as I’d hoped (even if it was only once or twice a week), but perhaps now that all that’s behind us, I can be a little more regular.  I’m pretty sure some of it’s related to burnout, though life getting in the way also contributed.  Then again, I can’t say I’ve done nothing, seeing as I have 17 chapters of first draft material for my work kinda/sorta-in-progress (ie, The Other Side of the Sky), though that was all carried out in previous years, before the point a year ago when I just couldn’t make myself go on…  So, we’ll see how it goes.

P.S  I just found a post I did on Burnout in August of 2010 a tad over eight  years ago. I was flabbergasted to discover it.  How can that be possible? Time really has gotten away from me. The link, which was supplied to me by WordPress just now is right here:

Burnout

 

 

 

Long Time, No Write

Well, it’s been awhile since I posted. A long while.  Like, a years-long while… I’ve been busy doing everything, it seems, except writing.  In fact, I just now canceled my Feed-Blitz account which sent out my posts to whoever signed up to receive them, because they kept sending me notices and bills for a service I hadn’t been using for years. And then they sent me a bill for a mailing list that had no names/addresses on it… telling me to pay up now or else.

It was probably stupidly impulsive — I should have at least waited until I’d written this post, but on the other hand, many of addresses in my file were likely no any good any more, anyway.  I think the service was geared more to people who are trying to sell things, than to someone with a simple blog.  Plus my own blog reading habits don’t require me to get a post in my inbox. I just check my favorite sites each day and read them as a matter of routine. It’s easier that way.

Of course if you’re trying to sell something, you’ll want to make sure people get reminded to read your posts as often as they come out, but that’s no longer what I’m doing.  As to what I am doing… well… I’m not sure…  I may be retired and just not know it yet. We’ll see.

A Good Excuse to Read

For the last two weeks I’ve had the flu!  What fun.

Actually, it was kinda. Last year when we got the flu after our Christmas trip, I read a Vince Flynn book that I’d had on my shelf for ages: Transfer of Power. I enjoyed it a great deal.

Tranfer of Power

I’d read his first novel, Term Limits, years ago and thought it was really lame and juvenile, so I never tried another. But he went on to become a very popular, best-selling author, so I decided, in the hopes that he had improved his skills over time, I would try his second book, mentioned above. Surprise!  I liked it.

Of course I did have the flu, and it was a welcome diversion from the wretchedness of being ill, but really, I thought it was pretty good. Transfer of Power is the first one where his series hero, Mitch Rapp is the main character, and it is about terrorists taking control of the White House, killing dozens and taking hundreds hostage. Rapp, the CIA’s “top counterterrorism operative” is sent in to take care of the problem.

With this most recent bout of the flu, I turned to Flynn again, seeing as I had found at the used bookstore the next two of his novels in the series: The Third Option and Separation of Power.

Third Option

I read both, back to back, all the while going through boxes of Kleenex almost as if I were some sort of Kleenex soiling machine. (I couldn’t believe how fast I went through them, nor how much “stuff” I had to soil them with!)

The verdict? I enjoyed both books, though I struggled at bit with The Third Option at the beginning because I kept getting lost. Finally about a quarter of the way through, when I realized I had no idea what was going on, I wondered if I was no longer capable of reading books as complex as these with my aging brain… Or was the problem really Flynn simply not being clear? After all, the characters in The Third Option had been presented as if I should know who they were, but I couldn’t remember any of them and there were no reminders for those who might be in my position.

Finally I went back and dug up my old reviews of Term Limits, his first book, and made my first discovery — the characters I was puzzling over In Transfer of Power were indeed the main characters in Term Limits. A book I’d read 11 years ago!  No wonder I couldn’t remember them nor the operations they’d taken part in!

I also went back to the beginning of The Third Option and started going through the writing itself, just to see if it really wasn’t very clear.  (This is the kind of thing a writer does. Normal people probably don’t. If you are an aspiring writer, however, I recommend you do this… It can be very enlightening and help you avoid similar mistakes)

And what was the result of my investigation of technique? The writing was, indeed, unclear.

For one thing, Flynn writes from the omniscient point of view, which means he jumps into any characters’ viewpoint whenever he wishes all within the same scene. The problem with this type of point of view (pov) is that if you’re not careful you can lose your reader along the way, and that’s exactly what happened. You have to be very clear you’re making a pov jump and to whose point of view you are jumping, which Flynn didn’t always do.

For example, the first chapter starts in Rapp’s point of view where he’s walking alone through the woods in Germany, reconnoitering the estate he is about to “invade,” then returns to a cabin where his two teammates have set up.  He enters. There’s some description of the man and woman already there,  the interior, and some equipment. Then it says

“Rapp had never met the man and woman before. He knew them only as Tom and Jane Hoffman. They were in their mid-forties, and as far as Rapp could tell, they were married. The Hoffmans had stopped in two countries before arriving in Frankfurt. Their tickets had been purchased under assumed names with matching credit cards and passports provided by their contact. They were also given their standard fee of ten thousand dollars for a week’s work, paid up-front in cash. They were told someone would be joining them and, as always not to ask any questions.”

All of that is consistent with Rapp’s point of view, which we were clearly in. In the next paragraph, there’s no reason to think it’s not Rapp’s as well, recalling things the Hoffman’s have told him about their journey to this point (or perhaps that he knew from other sources since he’s running this operation):

“All of their equipment was waiting for them at the cottage when they arrived. They started right in on surveillance of the estate and its owner. Several days later they were paid a visit by a man known only to them as the professor. They were given an additional twenty-five thousand dollars and were told they would receive another twenty-five thousand dollars when they completed the mission. He had given them a quick briefing on the man who would be joining them…”

The problem is that this second paragraph is all from the Hoffman’s pov and includes information Rapp does not have. But there’s nothing in the text to give you even a hint of that. In fact, in paragraph one they’re told by their contact that someone will be joining them and in paragraph two that this “professor” has joined them… so… it seemed logical to put those two together, all of it stuff that Rapp knows about.

Except that he doesn’t, as I said, the viewpoint having shifted out of Rapp’s specific awareness at the end of paragraph one and into a general omniscient.  And since that’s not remotely clear, the result is confusion on the reader’s part. At least on this reader’s part.

You could say this was the fault of the reader not reading carefully enough, but I disagree. As an author, you want the reader to rip through your story, especially if it’s a thriller. They aren’t going to be reading carefully, they’re reading to find out what happens and “How is he going to get out of this?!”

 No, it’s up to the author to make it all clear and smooth so the reader always knows through whose eyes he’s experiencing the story.  C.S. Lewis once said something to the effect of (I’m paraphrasing) “Readers are like sheep going down a path. If there’s any way for them to go besides the way you want them to, that’s where they’ll go. Hence, you have to make sure that every gate is closed to them except the ones you want them to go through.”

I don’t think Flynn did such a great job of that in The Third Option, at least not in the beginning. Once I had figured it all out, though, I enjoyed the book quite a bit. And it was especially  good to know I wasn’t all washed up as a reader of complicated political/military thrillers, which I love! 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Baby Elephant is Born!

Keepers and supporters of our local zoo have been waiting eagerly for the birth of a baby African elephant, the first ever at the zoo, and in fact, in all of Arizona. Mother, Semba, brought over from San Diego a couple of years ago, was due anytime between mid-July through mid-August, and mid-August has just about passed us by.

Last night she went into labor around 10:35 pm and gave birth 20 minutes later to a baby girl elephant. Isn’t she just the cutest thing, ever:

RPZ Baby Elephant

Reid Park Zoo’s baby elephant, at less than a day old. Click to enlarge

 

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Growing An Amaryllis Bulb: Day 1

An Amaryllis Bulb

An Amaryllis Bulb

 

Growing medium

Growing medium

Plant bulb with moistened growing medium in supplied pot

Plant bulb with moistened growing medium in supplied pot

Wait.

Watch.

Take Pictures.

Lots of potential in the bulb. But unless it’s combined with the moistened (but not wet) growing medium in the supplied pot, nothing will happen… Still, beyond planting it and watering it, there’s little I can do to “help” it.