Monday, September 29, 2014

Frosting Hubby's Nuts (and other questionable phrases)

Arizona (tosses me a pack of extra-long zip ties): Use these. Get 'em good and tight.

Me (eyeballs him): You got anyplace special in mind?

Arizona: Let's go with the wiring for starters. (*wink*)

You see, on this past bright, beautiful Sunday, hubby and I took the ferry over to Long Island to work on his boat trailer, in preparation for bringing his small-but-seaworthy Kit-Kat (named after his favorite food) over to our side of the sound for the occasional fishing junket next year. Which meant spending the day at The Shop.

The towering steel building (it always sounds capitalized when the clan talks about it) resides in the back yard of an uncle's property, and is packed full of ruthlessly organized tools, spare parts and equipment. It's also a veritable archaeological record of the vocations and avocations of three or four generations of males, most of whom have stayed local and worked at one point or another as contractors, handymen, welders, sailmakers and marina guys.

In the back of beyond, there are a few pieces of construction equipment from the contracting business that The Admiral (Arizona's grandfather, a nickname, not an official rank) had with his father, and the flat-bottomed boat that he used for his beloved clamming and oystering runs. Closer to the front are parts to The Admiral's current boat, which he still (at almost 91) loves taking out fishing.

The next layer belongs to Arizona's uncles, who use The Shop most regularly--working on everything from ice boats to a classic Chevy that's mid-renovation and lovingly swathed in layers of protective cloth. And in the back, mothballed cars from the family's racing days, looking like decommissioned X-wing fighters, their chest-wide tires racked on the walls, so slick it's hard for me to imagine them staying on the track. (Then again, I guess the didn't, always.)

There are traces of Arizona and his brother, too, in the mountain bike wheelsets hung on the walls and the familiar handwriting on this box or that, and the utter familiarity with which my hubby opens up the huge accordion door so we can get to work.

Okay, technically it's more so he can get to work and I can dig up a folding chair and hang out, working idly on my computer until he needs me for a "here, hold this" or "can you find me a..." moment. But it's a beautiful day, the view is gorgeous (a nursery in the middle distance, with all the fall mums coming into bloom) and I've got a pint of late-season strawberries at my feet. Over the course of the day, all three uncles will put in appearances at The Shop, and we'll visit a little with The Admiral before we catch the ferry home. What could be better?

The Shop seems like a living thing to me, with the big compressor cycling on at odd moments and air hissing out from the tank in between. It's the sort of strong family center that I've never had before, and that I know Arizona cherishes. And it's the scene for plenty of 'let's see how a romance writer and her similarly-wired hubby can make almost anything sound dirty' conversations. To whit:

Arizona (hands me a tube of beige spooge): You're in charge of lubrication.

Me: Always.

Arizona (indicates the wheel lugs): Slick them up good, all the way from the shaft to the shoulders.

Me (snorts): On it. Are you in charge of screwing?

Arizona: You bet.

(We get the tire mounted in companionable amusement.)

Arizona: Okay, now put a blob of grease on each of the nuts.

Me: Like totally cover them?

Arizona: Yep. The tires'll be going in the salt water. We'll rinse 'em off after we use the trailer, of course, but anything we can do to protect the metal--especially where there's steel--is a good thing.

Me: Gotcha. (Gets to work. Discovers that it's tougher than you'd think to get the spooge to stick to the sides of the hex-headed nuts and go down into the cracks. Finally comes up with a system.) Oh, it's like frosting a really tiny cake that's too warm for the icing to stick. Why didn't you say so?

Arizona: Not the first metaphor that would've come to my mind.

Me: What is?

Arizona: Grease my nuts, baby.

Me: That's not a metaphor.

Arizona: Maybe not, but it gets the point across!

And with that ... happy Monday, ReaderFriends. I wish you calm seas, sunny skies, and greasy nuts!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Shoe Slut versus Pen Slut

I'm roaring down to turning in the revisions of Mustang Ridge V (The Search For Solid Conflict), so will make this quick. But whilst sort-of-watching a TV show called Extreme Collectors yesterday, I got to thinking about the Things We Collect.

The episode I saw featured a woman who had an entire room devoted to My Pretty Pony collectables, a man with 74 Cadillacs (that's not the year, that's how many cars!) and a guy who had hundreds (maybe thousands?) of cookie jars ranging from cute to creepy (my opinion; I don't think the show used the word 'creepy').

Though to be fair, the guy with the cookie jars had some plan to turn them into funerary urns, which the host found weird but I kind of dug. I mean, really, if you've got to keep my ashes around for the cat to sneeze in, then I totally want to be in a cookie jar. Wasn't there a book that opened with a woman driving along with her friend's ashes in a Mr. Peanut? (Cruisie, maybe? Early Tami Hoag?)

Anyway, over the past couple of weeks, I have hung out with my friends the Shoe Slut and the Pen Slut. They are self-proclaimed as such, and live up to the titles most cheerfully. (I made the mistake of showing the Pen Slut my favorite pen, which was a giveaway on an author tour I went on, back when my publisher sent me on tour. I almost didn't get it back.)

Arizona used to date a Shoe Slut (a different one, granted), and I think he still finds it amusing that, if we count bike shoes, he has more pairs than I do. Being a bit of a prepper, he tends to want to stockpile food. Since our kitchen is approximately the square footage of a Port-A-Potty (though smells much better), I have kept this down to a dull roar, with the exception of cat food. Although Lucy T. Cat and Pixel T. Kitten share one small can of wet food each evening (for 7 cans per week, if my math serves me right), for some reason we have 50+ cans of cat food stacked in the cabinet. Heaven forbid that the grocery store is out of the preferred flavors some week! Which, I guess, makes him a Sheba Slut. (I'm so not telling him that, btw.)

Which got me thinking that I'm not really a Slut for anything. Books come and go, food doesn't stick around long, and while I adore my cowboy boots, I tend to have two Really Nice Pairs that see a lot of use. Gloves, maybe? Between biking, the barn and New England winters, I have maybe eight or ten pairs. I don't do the see-it-buy-it with them, though.

How about you? Do you collect? Are you up to Slut status? Any suggestions for what I should think about collecting? If you had to have a cookie-jar urn, what kind of a cookie jar would it be? And have a great week!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

WriterBrain Versus the Room Key

So this past Friday was a little crazy. Having failed to finish my revisions on the fifth Mustang Ridge book (or, rather, having finished one pass of revisions and deciding it needs one more before I can in good conscience turn it in; rather manically toying with the idea of renaming it Sagging Middle at Mustang Ridge; and giggling when I pictured the cover art to go with), I turned my attention to getting myself to a certain Sheraton in the middle of Connecticut, where I was booked to spend a weekend of quality Writer Time with my peeps, listening to Cherry Adair give her most masterful Master Class on Writing. (No, autocorrect, not 'Wiring'. That's a different master class, and probably a different Sheraton.)

And, yes, the above was one hell of a run-on sentence. You're welcome.

I had a to-do list, and I to-did it, from vacuuming the homestead (where the cat-hair bunnies had started procreating) and packing sufficient semi-matching clothes, to making a supply run so Arizona would have food while I absconded with the One Car. All while trying to make a 5 pm departure time, because when you're driving on Route 95, why not plan it for rush hour on a Friday? Just as I was wrapping up (no, not warping up; this isn't Star Trek, though come to think of it, warp speed would've been nice), I got the kind of text that one tends to get at the beginning of a girls' weekend. 

It was from my most excellent roommate, G, and it read (paraphrasing, but pretty darn close): I'm in the bar with the troublemakers. We're all checked in. Push door handle up. Do. Not. Push. Down!

The bar thing? That made perfect sense. The troublemakers? Check and check. All's good with the room? Awesome. But I've got to tell you that the handle thing sounded pretty ominous, especially with the punctuation. Was that Siri being 'helpful' or was it a dire warning? And what handle? Should I beware some door, or (horrors) did we have a quirky toilet?

Sure, I could've texted back and asked her. Instead, figuring it was the sort of thing that would make sense when I got there, I loaded up the One Car, snuzzled Pixel T. Kitten, told Lucy T. Cat to watch the perimeter, assured Arizona that I had all the proper safety gear with me (New England vs. Arizona: I keep a down parka in my car; he packs jugs of water), promised to text him when I got there, and kissed him see-you-Sunday. And off I went. 

The drive was uneventful, and I even secured the sort of parking spot Arizona likes, far from the crowd, under a light and with landscaping on one side. (This after our poor unsuspecting Suba-Roo got sideswiped whilst parked at a Mass Pike rest stop. He's all better now--and kudos to the woman for sticking around to give us her info--but I've stopped rolling my eyes when my beloved parks nine miles from the Walmart entrance.) Checking in was no problem, schlepping my boatload of crap (some trips I pack light; this wasn't one of them) to the fourth floor was straightforward, and our room was right on the corner. 

There was a sign on the key-card-reader-thingy. It said: PUSH DOOR HANDLE DOWN.

I froze. Wait. Hadn't G said to push it up? Yes, I could've gotten my phone out and checked. But I like to live dangerously. Or follow instructions. Or something. So I swiped my card, waited for the light to turn green, and pushed the handle down, as instructed. 

The door stayed locked.

Ruh roh. Had G said to push it up or down? What if she had said Don't. Push. Up? Would injudiciously pushing it up wipe the memory, meaning that both of us would have to get our cards re-keyed? Or, worse, wait for the maintenance guy to replace the card reader on our door? (Both of which have happened to me more than once at conferences.) 

Or (and here was where the WriterBrain kicked in) was the device wired to a hefty blob of C4 stuck on the far side, ready to start counting down from three at the proper up-push signal? Might it trigger a guillotine? Hey, maybe the whole hotel would go into lockdown, with blast shields thudding down to cover all the doors and windows, sealing us in. The members of the new Republic of the Fourth Floor would be forced to live off the vending machines and whatever snacks we had brought with us, pooling our resources and developing a Lord of the Flies society, except with my blankie rather than a conch shell. Yikes!

Palms suddenly sweaty, I put down the rest of my crap, making a respectable pile in the doorway (including a box of granola bars and several six-packs of Ritz-and-peanut-butter crackers that I could add to the Fourth Floor collective, perhaps making up for the fact that I was the one who Pushed The Handle Up). Then, holding my breath, I swiped the card again. And this time when the light turned green, I pushed up. 

And darned if the door didn't open, just like G had said it would.

So in the end, all was well. Nothing blew up, and nobody got locked on the fourth floor to reenact the fall and questionable rebirth of society. I got into the room, changed into a t-shirt that read Romance Writers' mating call: "Hey, honey, want to do some research?" and headed down to the bar to get started on my weekend. 

And who knows ... Maybe one of these days I'll write a book about a hotel going into lockdown--with the hunky hero and scrappy heroine trapped together, of course, and forced to team up in order to vanquish the villains and get everyone else to safety--and you'll all know exactly where it came from!

Monday, September 8, 2014

DIY Take II ... Less of a Disaster!

Since some of you got a laugh over my plumbing oops a month or so ago (which I later used as an excuse to have PlumberTodd swap out the fixtures in the shower thankyouverymuch), I figured I would semi-redeem myself by sharing this past weekend's Build-A-Desk adventure.

Okay, so maybe I've been doing most of my writing on the living room couch lately. Maybe I haven't been using my treadmill desk nearly as much as I should. And, okay, maybe the whole litter-box-in-the-office routine has put a thick layer of dust on Things That Would Rather Not Be Dusty. In my defense, the rest of the house is clean-ish. (No, autocorrect, I don't mean 'my house is clannish'. It's clean. Ish.) Anyway, I got a wild hair last weekend and launched Operation Office (OpOff). 

I cleaned. I dusted. I washed. I decluttered. I donated. And when I was done, I had a small, mostly empty space containing a treadmill, a bookcase, a litter box (now with a lid on it), and an empty wall that was crying out for a little desk.

I had a few criteria for OpDesk: 1) a small surface area, to discourage clutter and fit in the small room; 2) no drawers (ditto); 3) not a lot of $$; 4) zero wobble; and 5) padding on the top (my mountain-biking-dislocated elbow, while back to normal in strength and function, gets sore when I lean on a hard surface for too long). Which left me with ... half of a massage table? An ottoman on stilts? Hm. Hey, wait! thought I. What if I make my own? 

Cue trumpets as I hied off to Home Despot (as Arizona calls it) for a quarter sheet of sanded plywood, two porch-rail spindles, and six brackets.

Total spent on materials, ~ $60. It would've been less, but I bought the pretty brackets and a yoga mat to use for the padding. The primer and paint was left over from last summer's Paint The Shutters project, and was promptly applied (with much Cursing of Gnats, since the glossy blue Rustoleum is a strange attractor, and for every bug I picked off the surface, two more did the dive-bomb thing). Then, using the pretty brackets, I mounted the plywood to the wall. 

This was my first mistake. My second was assuming that the wall and brackets were all built on something approaching straight lines and ninety-degree angles. The end result? My carefully cut-to-measure table legs were far too short, dangling from the tabletop like something MC Escher might have done on purpose.

Me? Not so much.

Well, hell. (Note to self: next time, mount the legs first, then stick it on the wall. I'm sorry to report I was too annoyed to take a picture of my levitating desk.)

Not to be sunk for a second DIY project in a row (or confessing same to Arizona), I invoked Homeowner Logic. To whit: When we bought our cute little house, we replaced the gnarly vinyl stick-on flooring with nice laminate, so I shouldn't put my still-a-little tacky painted table legs directly onto the floor. Instead, this project clearly required a layer of adhesive felt and a pair of rubber furniture feet. Success! (And free, 'cause I already had the felt and the feet.) Which yielded (cue fanfare number two): 

(See? Even Pixel T. Kitten approves.)

And would you look at that? My 'hmm, that's about the right color' choice of yoga mats was spot-on. 

Okay, so the folding chair (complete with splatters of blue spraypaint from Project New Front Door) is a little grotty, but I'm currently debating between stealing Arizona's desk chair (he keeps talking about replacing it with something taller, after all) and getting one of those inflatable balls and seeing if I can avoid getting bucked off it while I write. 

So there you have it! A semi-successful (well, except for the Mickey Mouse shim job on the legs) DIY from Doc Jess. And a couple more pictures, because so often in online interviews, I'm asked what my writing space looks like. 

My treadmill desk (a far less sophisticated DIY project, complete with pipe clamps holding it onto the treadmill):

Random bookcase of stuff--a copy of each of my printed books on the top shelf, giveaway books on the bottom, favorite research books second to the bottom, and desk toys and keepsakes in the middle, each with its own story. 

And... the view, complete with the all-important kitty shelf! (See? I'm not the only one who likes padding on her horizontal surfaces.)

And that's the end of my tail ... er, tale!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Here Snakey, Snakey, Snakey ... (aka Domestic Superpowers)

The other day, it went like this:

Me (doing a boogie-woogie victory dance in the living room): That's right. Uh-huh. I rock!

Arizona (looks up from reading on the iPad): What did I miss?

Me: This! (Holds it out with a flourish.) I successfully folded a bottom sheet into almost a rectangle.

Arizona: And this is important because why?

Me: I don't know. It just is. Sometimes. When I feel like bothering. Otherwise they just get wadded up.

Arizona: Um ... Congratulations?

Okay, I'll admit it. Sometimes I still get the occasional "look at me, doing wifey sh*t" moment with him. I like keeping our little house fairly neat, and have been known to mend his clothes, especially when a favorite goes down. As far as he's concerned, I have two domestic superpowers: the ability to iron patches on things (I can and have sewn stuff back together for him, but it's not my favorite, so I'll iron-on wherever possible!); and the ability to rescue the little string or elastic thingie from inside the waistbands of any pair of gym shorts or sweatpants. He was suitably impressed when I recently re-strung a pair that had lost their string entirely (all hail, the power of the extra-long shoelace). Hey, we all have our little moments of brilliance, right?

Now, Arizona was a bachelor for a long time, and is fully capable of taking care of himself ... in a very guy's-guy sort of way involving lots of takeout, frozen pizza, canned chili, and boxes of Triscuits. When we were first dating, I was pretty sure he only had one pair of pants and two shirts--not because they were dirty, but because they got very familiar, very quickly. I later learned that he hates shopping, so when he finds something he likes, he tends to buy multiples, usually in the same color. The joke used to be whether he should wear his tan pants, his tan pants or his tan pants. Lately, he's gone wild and added gray. 

The same goes with food. The first time I met Arizona's BFF, he looked in the freezer, snickered, and said, "He's still living on frozen pizza, huh?" Now, granted, that was my freezer, and my now-that-I'm-single-I-can-eat-whatever-I-want diet, but I have since re-emerged into the land of fresh ingredients, salads, and actual cooking. And I'm doing my best to lure Arizona out with me ... with varied success. Grilled chicken, steak or shrimp are all okay, especially if they come with a baked potato or refried beans, bonus points for tortillas, because then I can sneak in some lettuce and fresh tomatoes. Other than that, though ... Well, I'm developing a strategy. 

It's called Feed-The-Snake.

On one of the horsey forums I follow, there's a subsection called The Menagerie, where folks get to talk about their other pets. Usually, it's questions about crate training the puppy or 'Why does my cat pee next to the litter box?', but there's a lady on there who has these lovely amelanistic (ha, autocorrect, choke on that!) corn snakes, and breeds one clutch per year. From when they first break their shells (pip), she takes lots of photos, and lets us follow along as they emerge from the eggs, get temperament tested, get their first meals, and go off to their new homes. This year, it's been extra fun because a couple of them were purchased by other members of the forum, who have picked up their stories.

Backing up a little, though. Before they go to their new homes, the breeder lady makes sure they are "confirmed eaters." With some, this means little more than putting the hatchling in a little Tupperware that's different from their home container (so they don't get used to biting finger-sized pink things at random), and dropping in a thawed baby mouse (pinkie). With others, though, she had to get more creative--heating up the pinkies, cooling them down, covering the cage, making the food seem to move ...

Back when I was a little kid, I had a terrarium in my bedroom, and would "borrow" critters (frogs, turtles, snakes, etc.) from the great outdoors, keep them for a couple of days or weeks, and then put them back where I found them. Or I would catch tadpoles or caterpillars, watch them metamorphose into their final forms, and then release the adults. Sometimes, this meant the same sort of tempt-the-critter when it came to eating, with me often putting a bug or bit of meat on the end of a piece of uncooked spaghetti and making it look like it was trying to escape.

Which brings us back to Arizona. When it comes to fruits and veggies, it's not enough to simply dump them in his cage--er, leave them on the counter. Through trial and error, I have uncovered a handful of healthy things that he will eat if I cut them up in bite-size pieces and leave them in front of him while he's in snack mode on the couch. Pepper strips with ranch dressing that he doesn't know is yogurt based, chunks of cored apple, orange sections with all the icky white stuff picked off the outside ... I don't quite have to hold them up and do "Here, snakey, snakey, snakey ... would you like a nice thawed mouse?" But I do it sometimes, because it makes him laugh. And then he eats the darned pepper, because I made it for him, and it's there, and its the right size and shape, and apparently, feeding the snake is another of my domestic superpowers!

What's yours?