Beach Reading Without Getting “The Look”

I want to be reading more, but it’s been a hectic summer with all the activities for the kids, DH having a much heavier than normal work schedule, and events for family and friends. Our vacation was less than spectacular, and we failed to potty train DD2 during it.

Now that summer is in its last throws and we’re gearing up for school to start, we’re taking one last long weekend. I haven’t gotten in much reading this last month with everything else going on, so I want to pack some beach reading.

vacation2
What I plan to be doing. Wishful thinking with a toddler, I know.

This means no iPad. While I do really like my iPad, it doesn’t like sand or water. And, it’s pretty tough to read in direct sunlight.

So, I have to find some actual, real paper books. I have mixed feelings on this. See, I love holding a real paper book in my hands. There’s just something about it I enjoy.

What I don’t enjoy is the traditional half-naked romance cover. On the beach. With the kids. And all the other snickers from family that come with it. Invariably, someone comments on it.

DevilinWinter
So, even dressed, still obvious.

I don’t *hide* that I love reading romances, though most people don’t think I’m your typical romance reader. They’d be wrong, as demographically, I fit the profile perfectly.

The iPad hides this cover beautifully, and no one ever need know I’m reading either a bit of Regency, a retelling of a fairy-tale, or if I’m really lucky, a love story with dragons instead of the Economist.

I wish Amazon sold romance books with an optional hide-what-I’m-reading cover. Make it a plain and boring cover without eve a title. Or a title like Complete History of the Napoleonic War. So us Regency readers know exactly what that means, but the rest of the beach can be blissfully unaware.

I don’t know why DH can bring a book with space ships and laser battles on the front, and no one looks twice. But a half-dressed hot guy and suddenly it’s nothing but snickers.

Stross
A book by DH’s favorite author. Less clothes than the romance novel, still gets fewer comments.

Oh well. Maybe I’ll have to borrow one of his space ship books. He’s been trying to get me to read more than the one book I did by Charles Stross anyway.

 

How about you? How do you read at the beach? Or on vacation? Do you prefer to read on an electronic device or a book? If you read romance, do you have any tricks to disguising your reading fare? Or maybe you just don’t care? Or maybe your family is less prone to teasing you?

Miserable, Sick, and Unproductive

I recently was miserable, sick and completely unproductive when I caught an especially nasty cold that turned into bronchitis. If you’ve never had it, bronchitis sucks. A lot.

I was nasty enough the doctor kept me home from work for a couple of days so I might actually get better.

sick1
We’ve all been there, right?

I feel like I have been sick A LOT more since having children. I mean, a lot more.

As part of being unproductive, I did a little digging. Turns out, I was right.

“The team found that people living in childless houses are infected with viruses just 3-4 weeks per year. Meanwhile, adding a single child to the household bumps that figure up to 18 weeks—which is 35 percent of the year—and a second to 29 weeks.”

Holy wow was I right. From an average of 3-4 weeks per year to 29 weeks. No wonder I think I’m sick more often. I am.

I also feel like I’ve been a lot sicker, as in the colds I get I worse.

sick2
Me to DH as a sick child climbs into my lap to snuggle

This may or may not be the case for me, but in some specific cases, kids’ illnesses in adults can be a whole lot worse.

So, what to do about it?

Yeah, science doesn’t have much to offer on this if you read the articles. Really, it comes down to hand-washing.

Wash your hands a lot, make your kids wash their hands a lot, hide in a protective kid-free bubble.

Oh, wait, yeah, about that last thing. Maybe not so much. Probably just the racking cough I still have talking.

 

How about you? Figure out any ways to avoid getting sick when your kids are sick? Do you cringe when see another kid with a cold at your child’s daycare? Any tips on avoiding getting sick when your spouse is sick? Or a co-worker? Can’t believe how fast something can go through the office.

 

Taking Time to Unplug

It’s Sunday night, and the family is getting ready to go back to our work schedule. I’m trying to get dinner ready while sneaking in a few more words, and DH and DD1 are trying to enjoy a game together.

Enter DD2.

She is angry and upset, crying for no apparent reason. We’re all testy with her. She cries harder.

One of our cats has had made a mess, and DH is irritated as he gets the vacuum to clean it up. Terror sparks in DD2’s eyes as she sees the dreaded vacuum. I put my iPad away, gather her up, and carry her to our bedroom.

Her tears instantly dry up as we lay on the bed together and play silly games of counting her toes, getting tickled (we took turns tickling each other), and just laying together with her head on my shoulder.

Her laughter and giggles made my night.

disconnect1
Or trying to understand and bond with a toddler?

Holding that in my heart, I cuddled with DD1 before work Monday morning. She is getting so big, but she still likes snuggles. For now. We talked a little, but she mostly just wanted to be held.

I’m starting to feel like the whole family is too busy, but not busy with the right things. Time goes by so fast now. I was looking at pictures of DD1 when she was just a few days old. Hard to believe that was almost six years ago. It seems like only last year we were bringing her home and learning what it was really like to have an infant in the house.

I need to slow down. Make connections. Build a relationship with my girls, and strengthen the one I have with DH.

Writing is a part of the equation. I really shouldn’t have been trying to sneak in words. But there’s more to it. I feel like my family has all become too reliant on technology for entertainment. We need to unplug.

disconnect2
Not this bad. Yet.

Bored? We turn on Netflix or Amazon, and we don’t even have to sit through commercials. Open the iPad or Kindle. Pull out your phone. A lot of this isn’t deeply entertaining, but the companies know how to lure us how. How to grab our attention and keep it. How many times has boredom had me checking my phone for a quick fix rather than getting up and actually doing something meaningful?

I got so consumed with these distractions that I got annoyed with my beautiful and amazing toddler rather than giving her the love and attention she both wants and needs.

A part of me wants to give away all of the electronics, but that’s just not reasonable.

Still, I need to find a way to unplug and disconnect more, help my family unplug more, so that we can really connect. So that we spend more time counting toes and less time staring at screens. I just don’t know how.

 

How about you? Ever tried to unplug? What did you do? How did it work? Ever try to unplug your whole family? What did you do? How did it work?

What Should a Dragon Hierarchy Look Like?

I’ve been contemplating adding dragons to my world in the form of their own series of stories, but I’m wrestling with establishing a dragon hierarchy.

Why do I need dragons? Well, that’s self explanatory!

Why do I need a dragon hierarchy?

Because I fell like I can’t have every dragon in the world be a supremely powerful being with almost godlike status, though they all may think they have such status. Much like cats.

cat2
Yeah, about how my cats see themselves.

Organizing dragon “classes” along the lines of size makes some sense to me, and the larger the dragon, the more powerful it would be.

Depending on the source of your dragon lore, dragons do seem to come in all sizes, from some not much larger than a pixie, to some the size of a castle or small mountain. If a mountain dragon could swallow a pixie dragon without really noticing, well, yeah, it makes more sense that the mountain dragon is more powerful.

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Yup, pixie dragon wouldn’t even be a snack.

I’d post some cool pictures of different dragons, but I’m not sure that’s allowed as most aren’t creative commons. So, here’s  link to my dragon page on Pinterest. You’ll quickly get the idea.

There’s a great deal of dragon references in my current series of novels. I try not to do an info dump, but you’ll see that while most people pay homage to Dracor, the god of justice, (who happens to take the form of a great gold dragon), most people also think dragons themselves are extinct.

Dragons of ages past are known to exist, and it’s widely believed they were made in Dracor’s image, but they succumbed to vanity, pride, and greed. Dracor smote the worst offenders, then cursed the remainder with nothing but male offspring, dooming the race to extinction.

Unless the dragons can figure a way around it, but I’ll leave that for the story.

doomed
About sums it up.

While the readers may not know it, I know the original dragons, known as the Shard of Dracor, still exist. At least one of them, anyway. Humans have given these original dragons the name Embershard as that’s what the draconic words sound like in the human language.

These original dragons are the size of mountains, supremely powerful, and highly territorial. They hated the humans and elves when the gods made them, seeing them as either rivals or insignificant playthings. As they were the first among dragons, the other races of dragons followed their lead.

I’m not sure my first dragon story should start with an Embershard.  Seems like he should be at the end of the dragon series, otherwise the others might seem less interesting.

And, I have yet to find an antagonist for an Embershard. Andertaemosian, Ander to us mere humans, believes he’s the last of the Embershard. And he may just be right. So what challenges the first creation of a god?

I’ll let that percolate some more, but I have a few ideas.

Thinking I’ll start the dragon saga with a distant cousin of the Embershards. A dragon that’s more the size of a large house than a mountain. Still terrifying. Still frightening. Still powerful. But not quite so over-the-top-powerful.

alabama2
Kinda like her.

Yes, I know Ander is polishing his scales. Of course he is. Vain dragon.

Not sure if that works. Can you have varying sizes of dragons and make the world feel whole and real? I’m not sure. I’ve seen the color of dragons used a lot to delineate this. Anne McCaffrey did this and so does D&D. But that doesn’t feel right to me. I love the idea of a variety of colors of dragons, perhaps once considered jewels of the sky.

I could go with the dragon vs wyrm vs wyvern. But I sorta want them all to be like the traditional European dragon. Think Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty. While I love the grace and beauty of the Chinese dragon, especially in the Zelda Breath of the Wild game, they need a different setting and context to shine.

 

Know of any good resources for creating dragon hierarchies? Could you believe in size as the determining factor? Or do you think Anne McCaffrey and D&D are on to something with color?

The Power of Placebos

We’ve heard about placebos. You know, the sugar pill researchers give a subject and suddenly their migraine is better.

Placebo
No wonder I still have the same migraine for three days.

But is it real? Harvard says placebos can be as effective as traditional treatments for some things, but getting the placebo effect requires more than just positive thinking.

Basically, placebos are effective by creating a stronger link between the brain and the rest of the body. They don’t actually cure disease. So, cancer cells or brain tumors aren’t going to be shrunk by the placebo effect.

However, placebos can make you feel better. Where they excel is in areas regulated by the brain. Things like pain, fatigue, and stress.

Things like migraines.

We still don’t completely understand how placebos work. Imaging and blood tests have shown us that there are real changes in the areas of the brain that light up and in the neurotransmitters present in the brain. We also don’t know why placebos are more effective for some people than others.

We do know that the process of being treated plays a part. Going to a doctor, being examined by perceived professionals, being given pills or asked to undergo procedures all has an impact. Perhaps it’s because you feel like you’re getting care, or perhaps it’s because the brain is now focused on a problem. Again, we’re not sure.

Being the skeptic that I am, my next question was can I get a placebo effect for taking sugar pills I know are sugar pills rather than my expensive migraine meds.

skeptical
I make the same face all the time. Hazard of being a skeptic.

The answer is a definitive maybe.

In a 2014 study published in Science Translational Medicine, one group took a migraine drug labeled with the drug’s name, another took a placebo labeled “placebo,” and a third group took nothing. In the study, the placebo was 50% as effective as the real drug to reduce migraine pain. Researchers can’t say why this was the case, but they suspect it was the act of taking a pill. The participants’ brain sees taking the pill as medicine, so it creates a healing effect. Remember, pain is something the brain controls.

I doubt this will work for me, as even taking Excedrin Migraine medicine isn’t enough to kill my migraines. Still, it might work for others.

 

How about you? Ever experienced the placebo effect? Did it work for you?

Where Did You Come From?

A bit of a story snippet that came to me when I was on my way to work. I didn’t stop to write it down, but I did remember it all the way home where I did write it down. Wondering if this is the beginning of a new story.

 

Alex rocked back in his expensive leather chair, the scatter of papers across his desk not enough to hold his attention. Numbers scrawled across the sheets, thousands of them, but Alex knew what they said. Already knew how to turn a profit for himself and his investors on this venture.

Boredom nipped the edges of his thoughts.

He pushed himself out of his chair and stomped toward the door. He knew where boredom led, had followed it there before, and it never brought anything good.

Who is Alex? What are his hopes and fears? More importantly, what trouble has boredom gotten him into in the past? How is he going to escape it?

Is he the hero or the antagonist?

So many more questions than answers!

If this inspires a story for you, please drop me a link to it in the comments.

This popped into my head while I was in the car, and it had enough importance to my brain that I actually remembered it all the way home so I could write it down. Car time and shower time are the two places my brain does most of its thinking. Helping me resolve plot holes in a story, giving me new ideas, or helping me solve world hunger.

Most of them I forget by the time I get to a place that I could write them down.

Looks like this story really wants to be written. Or at least considered.

Have you ever had thoughts come to you in the car? Or maybe the shower? Maybe they were the solutions to problems at work or home? New characters? A new story? Maybe you’re reading something and you suddenly solve the central mystery?

What to Do When Faced with Night Terrors

Per Kid’s Health, our pediatrician, and a child psychologist, “A night terror is a sleep disruption that seems similar to a nightmare, but with a far more dramatic presentation. Though night terrors can be alarming for parents who witness them, they’re not usually cause for concern or a sign of a deeper medical issue.

Night terrors happen during deep non-REM sleep. Unlike nightmares (which occur during REM sleep), a night terror is not technically a dream, but more like a sudden reaction of fear that happens during the transition from one sleep phase to another.”

 

nightterrors
A much cuter version of what we’re facing.

Night terrors are caused by the over-arousal of the central nervous system, but science doesn’t know why.  The best hypothesis is that this area of the brain is still maturing, especially as the night terrors seem to fade as a child ages.

Doctors think it may be hereditary as most kids that have this condition have a family member who experienced them or who was prone to sleepwalking (which is apparently similar in nature to night terrors).

*Glares at DH*

Guessing it’s hereditary as the other things, like taking a new medication or sleeping away from home, don’t play into it.

Night terrors are rare – happening in only 3-6% of kids. Lucky us.

Our daughter has them regularly. Almost every night. We’ve talked to the doctor and a child psychologist. There is very little we can do.

Our pediatrician has told us the best way to combat them is to make sure she has a solid bedtime routine and is getting enough sleep. Of course, the child suffering from night terrors would love to stay up until 10pm  then sleep until 9am. It’s too bad our life doesn’t permit her the schedule she wants as I have to be to work at 8am.

bedtime
Actual footage of me at bedtime.

So, we do our best. Every night is a challenge, as she hates going to bed and usually wants me to be next to her when she falls asleep. I know, Ferber Method, etc. etc.  But I’m not sure I buy into the Ferber Method (also known as the cry-it-out method).

If my toddler is scared and alone, crying for me, I need to go to her. I need to hold and console her. Especially as I am there when she cries out at night. I’ve heard her fear.

Seriously. Until you’ve heard your toddler scream in terror in the night, begging some invisible something to “STOP”, it’s hard to understand. The night terrors are awful, and she is hard to wake up from them even if we want to wake her. She’s not in REM, so she doesn’t awaken easily. And when we do wake her, she’s shaking but doesn’t remember what happened.

Maybe I’m spoiling her, or maybe I’m showing her when she needs me, I’ll be there for her. Even if I didn’t hold and comfort her, I wouldn’t be able to sleep hearing her cries anyway. Better to follow  heart and gut on this.

gut

But it does explain why I’m not sleeping. Why I’m a little crabbier. And why I’m burning out.

At this point, I have no idea how to make it better. I’m rolling with the phrase I heard somewhere about raising kids, “This, too, shall pass.”

I hope it does. She deserves a good night’s sleep, and so do I.

 

How about you? Anyone in your family ever have night terrors? How did you deal with them? Did they ever go away? If so, when did they go away?

Parade of Orange Barrels

It’s that time of year where I live. A parade of orange barrels starts to line our streets in late March or early April. And they continue to haunt us until the snow really takes hold.

Once the parade begins, I try to avoid the road construction as much as possible. Take alternate routes, choose different stores to shop at, or just buy more online.

construction 1

The one thing I have been trying to figure out, though, is why the construction barrels go up weeks before work ever starts. It seems rather silly to block off roads long before the start of road construction. I mean, why snarl and tangle up traffic if there’s no need?

construction3

Of course, this lesson become personal when my main route into work went under construction. Literally, the street right outside the building. I can’t not go to work anymore, and there really are no alternate routes.

So, a stretch of road that used to take less than three minutes to traverse now takes ten. Sometimes more. Yet, we haven’t seen actual work being done. The blocked off section of road looks exactly as it did three weeks ago.

I suppose it’s possible something is happening. I just can’t say what. And as I drive by it every day, I like to think would have noticed.

construction2

Perhaps there was a delay in getting the construction teams out to the site as there has been so much rain. Or perhaps there was a miscommunication as to when the timing of the work starts.

My cynical side, however, remembers my years as an auditor and how construction companies worked. The general contractor doesn’t actually own the barrels. This is usually outsourced to a third party that owns the barrels and is responsible for all of the “signaling” work.

So my cynic is wondering if the company that owned the barrels finished one job and just decided to set up the barrels for the next rather than store them between jobs.

I have to think this is just this my cynic. No way would that be legal, right? Right?!?

 

 

66% Done

I cleared 40,000 words on my latest WIP.

celebrate

And yes, this is approximately 66% for me. As a romance writer, I like my works to come in around 70-80k words. I write a very bare bone first draft, so I leave myself space to go back and add in more during revisions. Things like scents and sounds to help the reader feel closer to the action. More description…or description at all.

My beta reader has nailed me for the number of sensory deprivation rooms I have in my early drafts. I’m much better about finding it and correcting it myself now, but that still means more words.

So, why am I celebrating the 66% mark? Am I that desperate for recognition? Maybe a little, but that’s not the point.

Why is the 66% mark important to me? Because at this point, I’ve conquered the dreaded middle.

I’m a pantser when I write. Yes, I’ve tried outlines.

outlining

Outlines simply don’t work for me. I’ve given up trying for the moment, and I’ve given myself over to letting the characters show me what’s going to happen.

I know where the story starts. I know how it ends. What I don’t know is the middle. How are they going to get there? It’s this middle part that teaches me a lot about the characters, what deeper internal motivators they have, their hopes, fears, etc.

The beginning, that’s really their face to the world. Their mask. To get them to reveal more, I have to throw some things at them. See how they react.

By the end of the story, well, you know me. There is going to be a happily-ever-after (HEA). That’s a given.

Sometimes, getting the characters to come clean in the middle is really hard. Either they have a lot to hide, or I am trying to author-plot and not let things evolve on their own. Me not stepping back and giving the characters agency is usually the issue, but sometimes the obstacles I throw at them are not significant to get them to come clean on their real internal struggles.

Does this mean a lot of revision later? You betcha.

firstdraft

Now that you know the characters better, you have to push all you’ve learned back to the beginning of the story. Let who they are peek around the corners of who they want you to believe they are. It requires changes to the beginning, and as I rewrite and delve deeper, it frequently requires a change in the ending as well. And lots more tinkering throughout.

But that’s revision. That’s later. Right now, it’s all about getting the electrons on the screen in a pattern that resembles words. Most of which will change later.

But if I can get through the middle, I have a really good shot of finishing the book. The end usually writes faster than any other part as we barrel towards the climactic resolution and our happily-ever-after.

Of course, I will probably have to rewrite the ending. The one novel I’ve polished and am querying had four different endings before I was happy.

Still, here’s hoping I can get that last 20,000 words and have another first draft waiting to be revised.

Truth from a Child

There are a lot of sayings about truth coming from children. After having two children of my own, I find most of these to be garbage.

Toddlers lie.

Preschoolers lie more.

truth
True story.

The concept of truth and why it’s important is something children must be taught. But every once in a while, my preschooler surprises me with an insight that shows how cultural some things are.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I broke my ankle over a year ago. It still isn’t back to the way it was before I fell. I also broke my foot as a kid and have low back issues. I know, lovely, right?

The back issues are hereditary, and I was seeing a specialist for it in my twenties when it first surfaced. First thing he told me was I needed to give up all high-heeled shoes. Even block heels couldn’t be more than two inches. I should also consider comfort brands (read old-lady shoes) as the extra cushioning would reduce my daily pain and the number of flare-ups I was experiencing.

At the end of the appointment, he told me if we didn’t get things under control, I could be looking at spinal fusion before I was thirty.

Okay, so, old lady shoes didn’t look so bad.

oldlady
Maybe they did, but back surgery still wasn’t something I wanted.

It was extremely hard to find stylish shoes that fit my new criteria, and I ended up settling for far fewer shoes as those old-lady ones cost a great deal more than what I had been spending.

As I’ve aged, I’ve found more and more stylish shoes that fit his criteria and more brands entering this market. Or, I’ve become an old lady and they’re just my style now.

Whatever the case, I was perusing the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale and selecting some new shoes to try. I love this sale as it’s the only time some of my favorite comfort brands are on sale and my size is still in stock.

DD1 climbs on my lap as I finish checking out, and I ask her if she wants to look at some of the shoes in her size. She is getting to the age where she wants more of a say in what’s in her closet, so she readily agrees.

Kids shoes at Nordstrom’s? Really?

Because of my back issues and a family history of bad feet, I tend to spend more on the girls’ shoes and go for brands like Stride Rite and Tsukihoshi  Yeah, I spend more, but I hope it will either prevent or reduce issues for them in the future.

Most people have heard of stride Rite, but if you haven’t heard of Tsukihoshi, give them a try. I was astounded how light the shoes are and yet how cushioned. They are amazing! DD2 can’t wear them as they aren’t wide enough for her foot braces (yeah, feet problems in the family, remember), but DD1 loves them.

Anyway, DD1 and I start looking at the shoes, and DD1 picks a pair with a beautiful flower embroidered on them. I explain to her that the brand she picked is known for cute but uncomfortable shoes. She probably wouldn’t wear them more than once if I got them for her, so we should keep looking.

DD1 looks at me like I’m from Mars and asks, “Why would they make uncomfortable shoes? Who’d wear them?”

envy2

Who indeed.

Which goes to show that uncomfortable shoes for women are a social construct, one that must be learned. I’m going to try my hardest to make sure this is something neither of my girls learn.

 

How about you? A child ever give you a truth that reframed your perceptions? Or perhaps you have children that are always truth-tellers? If not, any tips on helping them with learning to tell the truth?