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Wednesday, December 30, 2020 2 comments

Lookin' back (and forward)

They're lookin' back (they're lookin' back)
They're lookin' back (they're lookin' back)
Too many people lookin' back!

—Bob Segar

While there have likely been worse years in human history (year 536, and more recently 1918, would both nominate themselves), 2020 is as sucky a year as we’ve had in living memory. I don’t agree with those who say 1968 was worse, because people were getting out and making a real difference. And… they didn’t have a pandemic.

And yet, that which hits the fan is not evenly distributed. Not everything that happened in 2020 was terrible, even at FAR Manor. For example, Charlie’s adoption went through in February. In the last month or so, he started talking more (although his diction is mushy, and he especially has issues with hard consonants). He calls us “momom” and “dada.” For yours truly, I’ve been quite content to not have a commute. I took a quick trip down to the office last month, for the first time since spring, and I was there less than an hour. We saved a ton of money, not eating out four or five times a week, through late summer. We have (so far!) managed to dodge the you-know-what, and vaccinations are on the way. And, of course, we voted out #Dolt45 (thank God).

A raccoon mounts a feral hog, preparing to do battle with the possums.
Hiyo Puumba, away!

OK, things weren’t all wonderful at FAR Manor (are they ever?). When I had the knee replacement a few years ago, I cruised along on Norco for a while. I thought everything was fine—I got work done (and done well), launched a novel, and functioned. But when I got off that stuff, I realized just how out of it I had been. Wife said everyone else could tell, though (thanks, honey).

There have been stretches like that this year, without the benefit of prescription painkillers. In retrospect, I can look back and see where I was definitely not OK (even when I thought I was). I think it became obvious in October, when I was running errands one Saturday, and both Mason and I forgot our masks when we went into the auto parts store. Fortunately, there was maybe one other person there, and we escaped without the virus catching us. The profound lack of writing progress, most of the year, should have been another big red flag.

Since that incident, I’ve been a lot more observant about where my mask is. Maybe the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was almost right—instead of a towel, you should always have your mask. Even after the vaccine does its thing, there’s flu, colds, and who knows what else. Masking in public should probably be the default, especially during the bottom half of every year from now on.

So, I achieved my two biggest goals for 2020:

  1. Survive (an Ouiji board told me at Mason’s age that I would live to 61, and I’m 62 now!).
  2. Don’t catch the you-know-what.

With two days left of 2020, I’m feeling pretty confident. But what about 2021?

We can all hope that next year is when we transition out of the dystopian timeline. It’s not going to happen right away, and there’s a lot of work to be done to push the lunatic fringe back to the fringes, but we’ll at least have a baseline sanity to work from. Regardless, we have to live in whatever timeline we have, and even get stuff done. But I’ve said before, don’t do resolutions. Do goals. So here are my goals for the brave new year:

  • Complete the AS9 (Mage War) first draft by Feb 28
  • Publish AS9 by June 30
  • Have the family vaccinated by August (I can’t control that, but I think it’s possible)
  • Get my weight below 200lbs (again) by June 30
  • Write a #RightToRepair blog post each month, for the first three months
  • Put up screens or pickets on the deck before the end of February

If you read the linked post on my writing blog, you know that I’m all about keeping goals short-term. We can’t control what-all happens through the year, so let’s focus on what we can do in the near term. We can always revisit and plan some more, come mid-year (or quarterly, or whenever convenient).

But beyond goals, there are aspirations. These are things that I’d like to see happen, and maybe I have some control over them:

  • Reposition myself to focus on blogs more than social media (a/k/a “immediate Web” and I’ve started this week)
  • Take some camping trips with the Starflyer
  • Set up a sliding platform in the Starflyer, so I can swap out the fridge with a cooler, depending on whether we have electric hookups
  • Help Charlie learn to read/write
  • Get Mason interested in creating stuff (beyond just consuming)
  • Finish several short stories that have been kicking around for who-knows-how-long
  • Get at least one book (besides AS9) ready to publish by the end of the year
  • Draft one or two of my camper ideas
  • Start on Mason's tree house

In any case, stuff I achieve will become blog-fodder.

So remember: at the stroke of midnight, in the first moments of 2021, everyone yell, “JUMANJI!” We might be able to shift the timeline after all. You never know.

Friday, December 25, 2020 No comments

Winter #2 1, Tractor 0

Winter #2 arrived at FAR Manor on Christmas Eve, with heavy rain changing over to mixed sleet and snow in late afternoon. We had a break in the rain just after lunch, and the wife rounded me up to help her get a couple large, round hay bales to the cows before the rain started back up. This went pretty well—only issue was a gate falling off its hinge at the hay barn. My best guess, the weight of the gate twisted the top hinge over time, enough for it to slip loose. A pair of pliers got it twisted back in place and the gate side of the hinge adjusted. Wife put the tractor in the hay barn, figuring if things got icy, it was one less thing to hassle with.

Just as we were finishing up, Bobcat rolled up. “I was going to get that culvert off the trailer,” he said. “Can I use the tractor?”

“Sure,” said the wife, abandoning the idea of leaving the tractor at the hay barn. “Just pull it in the #2 chicken house, up to the hay, and close the doors. It’s supposed to be 18(°F) tonight, and I want the tractor to start.”

Immediately following, DD and Sizzle came down (with the boys) for Christmas dinner. They brought most of the food, and I think Sizzle achieved Peak Turkey with his smoked (bone-in) breast. The fried turkey was pretty good, better than most, but the smoked one beat it hands-down.

So we woke up to a sort-of white Christmas:

White-ish Christmas

Nobody was in a huge hurry to get going, but we threw a little breakfast together and let Mason and Charlie check out their stockings.

After lunch, which was yesterday’s copious leftovers, wife grabbed me once again for cow duty (if only she’d grab me the other way…) and we went down to the chicken house turned tractor barn to find: the tractor near the wide-open door. As I’ve observed often, every day is Monday when you live on a farm. Sure enough, the tractor wasn’t going to start under those conditions. Fortunately, she had taken extra hay into the pasture yesterday, so we threw nine square bales into the back of the truck and took those out.

“But I need the tractor to start,” the wife grumbled. “All the other square bales are on the other side of the tractor. Could we take the lizard’s heat lamp to put on it somehow?” (Mason inherited a bearded dragon from The Boy.)

And my mind went back to Michigan Tech, where the locals often had heating harnesses on their engines for the cold winters. “Maybe a 100-watt light bulb in a lamp would do it,” I suggested. “They get pretty warm.”

“Worth a try.” So we went home, and after thinking about it for a couple of minutes, I grabbed the lamp out of my home office break area. It’s not like I’ll be needing it until January 4, anyway. I left the bulb, shade, and harp upstairs, found a 150W bulb in the pantry (even better!) and I grabbed a long extension cord out of the garage.

More interested in heat than light
After a little fiddling, I found the best place to set the lamp was on the battery. The extension cord was comfortably long enough, and it lit up quickly. The top of the hood was noticeably warmer than the sides after just a few minutes. Then…

“Hey, could we put that tarp over the hood to trap more of the heat?” I suggested.

“There’s a tarp in here?” One of those rare moments when I’m more observant than her. We got the tarp unhooked from the pen that Mr. Sunshine had left in there, and draped it over the hood.

So, Mason’s bearded lizard doesn’t have to worry about icicles in his beard. With any luck, tomorrow the tractor will start, and the lamp can return to my homemade worker’s paradise. Me, I have another week and a half.

I hope your Christmas has involved lots of great food, and more relaxation time than we’ve had.

Sunday, December 20, 2020 No comments

A Salted Battery, truck edition

Wednesday, 5:30pm: I set up my auto-reply message for work email, shut down the laptop, turned out the lights, and headed downstairs. My end of year staycation is under way.

Unfortunately, Daughter Dearest’s hasn’t quite begun yet, so there’s still a lot of watching AJ in lieu of getting stuff done. I’ve found that if I put her on the floor, she crawls all around the house to explore, thus wearing herself out so she takes longer naps.

But that’s not the focus of today’s fun.

The pond, of which I have blogged before, had an overflow drain as a failsafe. I say had, because something happened. I don’t know exactly what—it could have been a washout, or perhaps someone getting a little too enthusiastic with a backhoe (that’s not unheard of around here)—but the upshot is, there's a bunch of busted-up plastic culvert laying around, with a pipe at the bottom of the dam. So on Friday, the wife plopped AJ in her lap and sent me down there, with a guy who has been helping out on occasion… let’s call him Bobcat, because that seems to be his natural habitat. We took measurements of the culvert, and then we grabbed M.O. the B.B. (with Charlie as supercargo) and headed down to the supply place.

I suggested lunch, Bobcat was amenable, and we headed to Chick-Fil-A because that’s Charlie’s fave. The line was spilling out of just about everywhere for that, so I ordered some chow on the Zaxby’s app instead. I usually have to bribe Charlie to eat some chicken by promising him fries (his favorite), and often he’s fine with the protein after convincing him to take the first bite. Although this Zax had the dining room open, we’re not stupid enough to try that unless the place is completely empty, so we sat in the truck.

Bobcat’s dad manages an HVAC shop not a mile down from the supply place, and he had a trailer long enough to carry the 20-foot lengths of culvert. (We have a lowboy trailer on the farm that may have been suitable, but I need to replace the tires, make sure the bearings and hubs are okay, and fix some wiring.) The dad is happy to have Bobcat helping us, and that's a good thing… because we had neither the hitch ball nor tie-down straps, which are usually in the truck. When I cleaned out M.O. the B.B. last week, to vacuum out a bunch of shattered glass (Bobcat locked the keys in the truck, and decided to get in through the rear window… multiple concussions have short-circuited some of his synapses), I got rid of anything superfluous and took it to a car wash to abuse their vacuum. Then I forgot to put all the stuff back in.

We had a trailer, the right size ball, and… “what’s that smell?” I asked.

“Battery acid,” said Bobcat. “I looked under the hood and didn’t see anything.”

smoking battery
The smell got progressively worse, and I popped the hood to have a look myself while Bobcat was telling the counter dude what we needed. M.O. the B.B., being a diesel, has two batteries. The one on the passenger side had blown both its caps off; one was missing, and smoke and acid were boiling out.

“I’ll get some of the guys at the shop to take care of it,” Bobcat assured me. We rolled down windows, which wasn’t pleasant in 50°F (20°C) weather (didn’t bother Charlie, though), and buzzed back to the shop. The guys, true to Bobcat’s word, got the smoking mess out, then used metallic HVAC tape to cover for the missing vent cap.

Fortunately, since M.O. the B.B. has two batteries, we were able to toss the blown-up battery in the back of the truck and get home. We dropped off the culvert, then Bobcat drove the truck & trailer home and left it there. In the middle of the gravel. Still connected. I got a bottle of seltzer water and poured it on and around the battery tray, hoping to neutralize any remaining acid. Then I did the same for the battery itself—I needed to pick the thing up to get a new one, after all.

Saturday became Errand Day—first, take some garbage off to the dump. Second, take the remnants of the battery back to the place I bought it (I spent $350 on two batteries for one truck, figured I should get some good ones). They exchanged it, and then I picked up a pair of long-nose pliers for a project the wife is working on. Finally, I swung by the liquor store for some Special Holiday Survival Sauce. After that Friday, I really needed some.

Then, it was time to get the new battery in the truck. I did that, then sized up where I wanted to stash the trailer until Bobcat came and got it. The best spot is alongside the landscaping trailer, which made for some issues for an amateur trailer-backer-upper like me. But once I got in the right position, it went right in. I actually had more trouble disconnecting the trailer than I did backing it. After hooking one of the chains around the latch and giving it a solid yank, it slid backward. Oh, that’s how it works, I thought, then cranked the tongue jack until it cleared the ball. I parked the truck, then grabbed the stuff that should have been in there and put it back.

Here’s hoping that I just have to worry about watching AJ and cutting firewood for the rest of staycation.

Saturday, December 19, 2020 4 comments

Charlie hangs

We finally got going with the decorations last night. Once again, Mason went under the stairs to eject boxes (and wish he could turn that space into a gaming cave). We put up the tree… and handed some shatterproof ornaments to Charlie.

Charlie puts ornaments on our tree
Hang 'em up (as high as possible)

Charlie seems to have gotten past the “slap 'em off” stage faster than Mason did. Still, we put the breakable ones up higher. Mason is able to reach nearly to the top (we still had to put the star on), so not everything got put on the lower half. He refers to the tree as the “ho ho tree.”

We’re not doing much outside, but we’ll hang some lights on the gazebo because we have power to it.

What’s your decorating status? Comments are open!

Thursday, December 10, 2020 2 comments

A writing update

I really should post this to my writing blog (and my mailing list), and will when I get a chance, but it’s easier to do from here right now.

On occasion, I do get someone pinging me about when my next book is coming out. I appreciate those queries more than most would know, even if all I can say is “It’s really slow, but I am working on it.” Progress has been glacial, even by my slow standard, but there has been some progress.

  • The ninth Accidental Sorcerers book, tentatively titled The Mage War, is very close to first draft! There are a couple of scenes left to write, mostly setting up the climactic battle. After that, it's alpha- and beta- reading time, and (I hope) brief rewriting, and editing. I hope to have it out by spring, but I hoped to have it out well over a year ago.
  • Since The Mage War concludes the series, I have a follow-on book in the works. This one takes place a few centuries afterwards. It concerns a young mage from Woldland, who finds herself in the middle of a situation that could engulf all Termag in war.
  • I have several Blink/Skyscraper City stories in the works. I’ll talk more about them once they’re closer to being done.
  • A “ten years after” sequel to the White Pickups duology has long wanted to be told, and I’m about two-thirds of the way through it. It’s called… The Last Pickup.
  • Finally, I have a couple stories on Wattpad. The first, Soulburn, is complete. It's a paranormal thriller, more adult, and one of my darker works. In progress is Chimera, Inc. This one is hard to categorize… is it SF? Fantasy? Magical Realism? The first five parts are up, and the next will be up soon (over the weekend, is the plan).
When I do get a chance to write, I have plenty of choices. Whichever one wants attention, gets attention. And so, I inch forward, night after night.

Yes I think '21 is gonna be a good year,
Especially if you and me see it in, together

—From the album Tommy, by The Who


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