Category Archives: Personal
On March 13, 2020, I was sitting in a Starbucks off of 121 in the Colony with two friends from my writing group. We met there on Mondays and Fridays to write for a couple of hours (and to get out of the house for a bit).
But that Friday was different. The place was almost empty, as it was becoming clear that the COVID pandemic had reached the US, and cases were popping up in Texas. When I went to the counter to get my drink, the barista confessed that she was terrified of getting it–she couldn’t take time off if she got sick.
When the three of us finished our writing session, we decided that it would be the last time we met at the ‘Bucks until things had improved. At the time I genuinely thought it would maybe be a couple of months at most. I mean, we lived in the United States–the country that came down like a hammer on swine flu and SARS. The CDC had a plan for a pandemic, right? They would be able to get everyone to work together and starve COVID of new victims, no problem.
It’s now one year later, and I haven’t seen either of my friends in person since that day (our writing group started Zoom meetings a few weeks afterwards). In the last year, the universe outside our house has dwindled to five stores, our doctor’s and dentist’s offices, and the vet. We started wearing masks immediately because I had access to a good fitted Fu mask pattern and a shitload of fabric in my quilting stash (wound up making masks for a lot of people until commercial mask production got off the ground). We started washing/sterilizing anything that came in the house from a store, and changed clothes/showered after we got home (I was already a regular handwasher).
We managed to avoid COVID, mainly due to the above actions combined with the facts that we don’t have kids and we both worked from home. Unfortunately, our friends and family weren’t so lucky. Four family members caught it, and we just found out that Ramón’s best friend and his wife caught it in January of this year. Nobody we know in our immediate circle died from it, however, which is a huge blessing.
Finally the vaccines started to become available. As soon as I found out that our county would be offering COVID vaccinations for people in tier 1b (which included us–it’s the first time being fat and having two endocrine disorders worked in my favor), I signed us up. Ramón had his first Moderna vax shot on 3/4/21 while I got my first Pfizer shot on 3/11/21. By mid-April we should both be fully protected. We keep talking about what we want to do after that. Ramón wants to start doing a biweekly date night where we try places we’ve never been to before. First stop will be our favorite Tex Mex restaurant, but after that I’m eyeing some of the Koreatown spots in Carrollton, followed by various Asian restaurants here in Plano.
Me, I want to travel. New Orleans, Cancun, Chicago this summer, maybe even a cruise this winter if it’s safe enough. I want to go on a road trip so badly I can taste it. I daydream about driving to Las Vegas again and enjoying the amazing scenery in New Mexico.
But what I want to do more than anything is just be around people. Sit and people watch, go shopping in a mall, eat in a restaurant–just be around other human beings and settle that primate genetic demand that wants to know where the hell my troop is. I think it may be why I’m having such a hard time writing this year––I’m burned out with being in the house all the time and I need something, anything different. I’m honestly not that much of an extrovert to begin with, but I do enjoy being around people and picking up on the energy of a crowd. I miss that badly, more than I’ve wanted to admit.
By 4/18, both Ramón and I will be fully vaccinated. We’ll still take all necessary precautions when we go out because we know what the vaccine does is make sure we won’t get seriously ill or require hospitalization if we catch COVID. The last thing I want to do right now is be asymptomatic with COVID and pass it on to some poor schmo who isn’t vaccinated. But by God, we will be doing something that week to celebrate. He’s suggested we rent a convertible and go on a day-long ride somewhere. I like that.
First off, we’re okay. I’m a veteran of blizzards so we did a humongous food stock-up for all house residents, we never lost power (we’re three blocks away from a police station and a corner ER so I’m assuming we’re on an essential grid), I shut off the sprinkler system and winterized all the outside taps so they came through without a hitch, and none of the inside pipes burst (although we did have a near miss with the hot water tap upstairs, of all things––luckily Ramón caught it and we left it on stream until the ice clog dissolved. Since that tap is NOT on an outside wall I’m a little confused about what was going on there, but whatever).
The worst thing that happened was spending five days nervous about the possibility of losing power and having a pipe burst, and the fact that our pool vacuum hoses became brittle due to the cold and had to be replaced. Considering how many people I know lost power, or have to replace burst pipes, or wound up with some kind of major residential problem, I will take temporary anxiety and buying new vacuum hoses any day.
Also, I must stress that the fact we came through without any real problems is because we never lost power. If we had, all of the trickling taps in the world wouldn’t have stopped the pipes from freezing due to the extremely cold temperatures. The ironic thing is, the picture in this post shows how much snow we got. Maybe six inches in total? But it wasn’t the snow that wrecked Texas so badly––it was the temperature. Houses down here are simply not set up to handle days of temps below freezing, much less temps that go down to single digits.
On the plus side, I have now ordered a combo tool that will let me unlock the water meter box and shut off the water, so if this ever happens again and we do lose power, we’ll fill up every available jug/tub/bucket/2 liter bottle we have with water, then shut off the sumbitch and drain the pipes. Especially since the Railroad Commission, may the fleas of a thousand camels infest their groin hair, isn’t going to force power companies to winterize their equipment, which would have stopped much of this from happening.
Stores down here are still recovering, but we’re also still eating out of the stock-up I did on 2/10 so we’re good. Ramón picked up some extras on Monday, and I figure I’ll hit the store and the butcher’s tomorrow and do a proper stock-up for the weekend. The stress from the storm cut into my writing because it’s kind of hard to focus on a story when you’re waiting for the power to go out, but the nice weather this week has helped with that. I mean, I spent Tuesday writing on the patio––go figure.
As you may know, dear reader, I’m deep in the weeds of what is now known as perimenopause, that hilarious period of a woman’s life where she essentially goes through a second round of puberty, only this time various systems shut down instead of turn on. The amount of hormonal hijinks, however, are the same, and the effects of being on a hormonal rollercoaster can include brain fog, tiredness, bloating, hot flashes, night sweats, and a whole other passel of fascinating experiences (and yes, I am being as sarcastic as I can at the moment).
Now, I started getting hot flashes a couple of years ago, and they got to the point where I was getting them three times an hour or so. Imagine walking from a cool house into an absolutely sweltering day, plus you’ve just eaten ghost pepper chili. That is a fairly close description of what a hot flash is like. They also made me nauseous as hell, and since I hate throwing up I did some research and found out that OTC progesterone cream would help.
Lo, it did, and for the last two years I haven’t been bothered with hot flashes. But 2020 had an extra little rotten cherry to put on the shitpile of this year, and it was the return of the hot flashes. The progesterone cream wasn’t stopping them anymore, so I did some more research and came up with black cohosh. It is a herb native to North America that behaves much like estrogen in some women’s bodies and can help reduce or eliminate hot flashes (DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical doctor and am not dispensing medical advice, I’m simply relaying what I’ve learned and what works for me. Do your own research if you want to consider taking this, and speak with your physician before you start a new supplement).
Seeing as I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in about two weeks due to waking up at least twice a night feeling like I was on fire, I got up today and figured what the hell, I’d try the damned stuff and see if it worked.
But first, I had to take the Great Orange Lump in for his shots, then take him home, then go to the store and actually buy some black cohosh along with some other stuff (pro tip–you can usually find black cohosh in the vitamin aisle near the women’s vitamins and supplements), then stagger home, eat a belated breakfast, and take my new best friend (my life, you know you want it).
Then I went back to bed because, yeah, I needed it. Ramón pretty much patted me on the head as I staggered towards the bedroom and told me to have a nice nap, and 3/5ths of the J Crew joined me in bed.
People, I had the loveliest four-hour nap with NO HOT FLASHES. I even dreamed, and woke not wanting to kill people for the first time in two weeks. Once again, I refer you to the disclaimer above, but for me this stuff works.
One of the wonderful (and yes, I’m being sarcastic) things about being perimenopausal AND an insomniac under the best of situations is that I wake up multiple times during the night. Usually because I need to turn over, but sometimes I’m having a hot flash, or I have to pee, or whatever.
Getting back to sleep is a crap shoot––sometimes I’m tired enough to konk back out when I get into bed. Those are the good nights. Other times (like this morning) I wind up desperately trying to get my brain to shut up while it merrily skips across multiple topics of sheer fucking delight (e.g. I have nothing to look forward to except a lot of cleaning in order to get all the Christmas decorations up, I have a book to get out at the end of the month which will require me to write 65K in three weeks, I don’t have a choice because I put it up for pre-order, why aren’t people pre-ordering it, I need to do the shopping and will THIS be the time I catch COVID, I haven’t been outside in over a week and will the car even start, I need to get two of the cats in to get their shots before the end of the year, etc.).
All this, by the way, is going on while in the background there is this monotonous drone of BLAH. Grey, thick, gunky seas of jellied BLAH. My get up and go has got up and gone, and it is a fucking struggle to find the motivation to brush my teeth, much less write a book. I don’t know if this is hormones, the time of year, an oncoming sinus infection, plain old depression, or some combination thereof, but it blows great big donkey dick. I don’t ask for much out of life, I truly don’t, but I do need some sense of optimism, something to work towards instead of something to endure for yet another day.
My Twitter profile contains the phrase, “SF/fantasy/PN romance author and fu*king ray of sunshine in a dystopian hellscape.” But the sunshine has gone dim, and I really wish these damn clouds would get out of the way for a bit.
Everyone has coping mechanisms for stress, some of them healthier than others. I happen to have one of the more neurotic ones, where I clean. I think it’s because cleaning gives me control over my immediate environment when I don’t have control elsewhere. Well, it’s either that or day drinking.
As of Monday, I have:
- Scrubbed the toilets.
- Gotten rid of all our recycling (including at least ten empty kitty litter boxes, buckets, and bottles) by taking them to the recycling center.
- Vacuumed and carpet cleaned the living room.
- Washed at least six loads of laundry, folded it all, and took it upstairs and put it away.
- Cleared out all of the stuff that’s been piling up on the dressers in the bedroom, including the remaining tools from last November when I put up the curtains and borked my knee. Assorted stuff has been put:
- In our closet.
- In the garage.
- In the linen closet downstairs.
- In the tool drawer in the kitchen.
- Dusted the worst of the bedroom surfaces, pending a full vacuum and polish.
- Washed the master bath mirror and counters.
- Sorted through all the mail, tossed junk mail, put recyclables in recycling, and batched all the (already paid) bills to be brought upstairs and filed.
I think subconsciously I’m trying to clear off all the surface mess (of which there is a lot, mainly due to the borked knee) so that I can then go room by room and give each one a good, solid deep clean before Thanksgiving, after which I can start the Christmas decorating. Ramón is watching all of this very nervously because his mom used to angry clean, and so when he sees me bustling around he subconsciously assumes I’m pissed about something (doesn’t help that I have RBF).
And yes, I’m writing as well–in fact, I’m thisclose to finishing the holiday novella and getting that off this weekend, then going back to work on Cross Current. Sorry, but I needed something light and fluffy to work on and Cross Current is going to have a fair amount of angst in it so I had to switch focus for my own mental health.
I also have my last PT visit this afternoon, and I’m going to have them measure my knee at full bend and extension so that I have an idea of how much I’ve improved since I started. I have my exercises, I have some tools to help with that and a yoga pad, and if I can get into the habit of doing them first thing in the morning after I get up and get them knocked out for the day, that would be grand.
So, what are you doing to stay calm while we wait for the election results?
Man, this month flew by. I don’t know if it’s the quarantine messing with my time sense or what, but in some ways this year is going faster than usual, and in others it’s dragging.
I didn’t work on Swan for the last three days because, well, Tuesday was my birthday, I spent most of Wednesday having a health televisit and working on a massive triple lemon layer cake as a belated birthday cake for Ramón and myself (and oh, it was lush — homemade lemon curd filling, lemon Genoise sponge, and lemon buttercream icing. My sponges rose! Since this is the first time I ever made a Genoise sponge, I lay all thanks at the feet of GBBO for teaching me the secrets of how to make one properly), and yesterday … hell, I don’t know what happened yesterday. I had to go out and hit multiple stores, and by the time I got back and disinfected everything I was tired and still had to make dinner.
But today, I have visited the vampires for my mid-year oil change, and as soon as Ramón finishes his lunch and heads back upstairs (he’s watching anime right now, which means I have my headphones on with Florence + the Machine) I’m opening the WIP and getting down to work. Knowing that I’m halfway through the book is a great feeling because everything’s pretty much downhill from here. Once that’s done, I return to King of Blades and get THAT puppy done, tra la.
So yesterday was my birthday, and while I wasn’t expecting fireworks and a marching band due to COVID, I did think we’d have a nice day with a nice cake and a nice dinner.
The day started out with Ramón presenting me with my present, a set of bread lames for cutting slits in bread loaves before baking so that they don’t rip. I was delighted and kissed him thoroughly, then got up and ran out to get the makings for a really great lemon cake with homemade lemon curd between the layers. Upon my return home I disinfected everything and showered as usual, at which point I saw a text message that a bouquet of flowers had been delivered and should be retrieved from the doorstep. I didn’t see any flowers on the way in, but I went out and double-checked the porch anyway. No flowers. Huh.
I then checked the text message a little closer and saw that the flowers had been delivered about five miles away to an address very similar to mine (same street number, slightly different street name). Since we get mail for these people at least three times a year, I wasn’t surprised but was somewhat miffed as I knew my sister was the one who sent the flowers. I replied with a text saying, “Yeah, you delivered them to the wrong address” in the hopes that the mistake would be rectified.
And then I got a second text message — from the people at this other address. Apparently my phone number was on the message tag and they pinged me to say, “Yeah, we have your flowers, wanna come pick them up?” Oooookay. So I got dressed in my second set of clothing and mask for the day and headed out … only to realize as I pulled up in front of their house that 1) I have no idea what the viral load in their house is, and 2) I cannot disinfect a bouquet. Shit. I pulled my phone back out and told them to keep the bouquet with my compliments, then went home, whereupon I put the SECOND set of clothes and mask into the wash and cleaned up again.
By this point my knee had started complaining about the humidity, the amount of movement I have been engaging in, and to be quite frank my PMS kicked in with a vengeance. As I strongly suspected I would throw cake pans through the kitchen window at this point, I said “Fuck it” to making the cake, with plans to make it the next day.
At which point my sister called to find out what I thought about the bouquet. I explained the contretemps and thanked her for her thoughtfulness (it had balloons and everything, wah!), and she agreed that I should have left the bouquet with the other people since there was no way to bring it in safely. We had a nice chat and made tentative plans to get together in March or April next year.
By now my PMS had gotten worse, plus I was feeling hot and really tired. I slogged through making chicken Alfredo, wondering at the monster chicken breasts I wound up getting from Kroger. With dinner finished, I realized I wasn’t hungry at all and went upstairs to take a nap. Woke up at 9:30 PM feeling moderately better, as well as moderately hungry.
The Alfredo was not a culinary triumph. The chicken breasts turned out to be stringy and unpleasant-tasting, and I stopped eating after half a bowl, throwing out the rest of it. I’ve clearly been spoiled, getting chicken and other meat from a local butcher, but this meal confirms that getting our meat from there was a good choice. Consoling myself with a PB&J, I watched a couple of episodes of GBBO until bedtime, tossed and turned until 3 AM, got up to watch some Jack Whitehouse comedy specials, then went back to bed.
So, yeah, not the greatest of birthdays. But to be honest it’s hardly the worst, either. A couple of minor annoyances, unpleasant chicken, and a hormone storm, no biggie. And I did get a nifty set of bread lames, a pretty birthday bouquet (at a distance), and a slew of best wishes from people on social media, so that made the day great.
FB just reminded me of what I was doing on this day in 2014, so I thought I’d share it with you:
“Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of Cleaning Mortar Chips Out Of a Swimming Pool! Tonight’s contestant is Nicola Cameron from Plano, Texas — let’s give her a big hand!
“Now, Ms. Cameron has spent the last two days removing old cement, mastic, and epoxy from her hot tub rim in preparation for re-cementing and mortaring the missing coping stones back into place, and a bunch of the debris has fallen into her pool as a result. Let’s see how she’s going to get it out.
“Ooh, she’s starting by trying to scoop up the biggest chunks with her skimmer. It’s not quite working as she’d hoped, I’m afraid — too bad, it was a good idea. She’s changing out the skimmer head for a brush head and brushing it all into a large pile — smart move! Now she’s getting out her vortex vacuum head and attaching it and the garden hose to suck that debris right up.
“Oh, no! The vortex caused by the hose isn’t quite enough to pick up the larger pieces. I haven’t heard cursing like that since I was in the Marines!
“On to Round Two — she’s brushing all the pieces into the shallow end and — wow, she’s getting her wet-dry shop vac out and sucking them up! Great move, Ms. Cameron!
“Wait a minute — the shop vac move worked with the small pieces, but the vac is too efficient and is filling almost immediately and there are still large shards at the bottom of her pool. Is she going to throw herself on the mercy of her pool cleaning service for help?
“NO! I cannot believe this, people — she is taking off her glasses, and — YES, yes, she is jumping fully clothed into the pool in her best impersonation of a pearl diver and collecting the shards manually. This woman is determined! Wait, I’m hearing her mutter something about shark week, prehensile toes and ‘See, Mom, I TOLD you they’d come in handy.’ And she’s gotten all of the debris out of the pool! Well done, Ms. Cameron!
“Well, this has been an amazing episode of Cleaning Mortar Chips Out Of a Swimming Pool! Tune in tomorrow when Ms. Cameron is going to don protective gear and use dilute muriatic acid to remove the mortar haze from her flagstones. Good night, everyone!”
In even more entertaining news, here’s another snippet from Shadow of the Swan:
Henry regretted the words the moment they left his mouth. Miss Wallingford recoiled as if slapped, and even Mwanda shifted against the door as if uncomfortable. “Really, Harry,” she muttered.
He cursed his own lack of tact. He could still taste Louisa Wallingford’s blood, its complex flavor lingering on his palate like the finest of wines, and it had the same effect as wine on a human. The bottled stuff couldn’t wash it away, much as he wished it would. Drinking directly from a human was a different matter entirely than drinking stored blood. He would now be able to sense Louisa Wallingford no matter where she was, divine her moods, even anticipate her actions once he got to know her better.
He had been able to ignore the humans he had drunk from in the past, block them from his awareness. But combined with his assignment, it would be impossible to ignore this bright, beautiful, and exasperating young woman. Even now he could feel her fear, combined with a half-angry curiosity as she digested the news he had dumped so gracelessly in her lap.
With care, he replaced the half-full bottle of blood on the table and leaned forward. “Miss Wallingford, you are a sensible young woman. It is not my intention to frighten you unnecessarily, but I would be remiss if I didn’t impress upon you the gravity of your situation. Your uncle has recruited not only the entirety of the ministry but her majesty the queen in order to protect you from this Fae noble. The best solution we have found is your marriage to Robert Bainbridge, which must take place as quickly as possible. Once you are married, you are no longer bound by the terms of this Fae contract and will be safe. That is why everything is happening at such an unusual pace.”
He wasn’t surprised when the young woman drained her glass of wine at a gulp. “What’s the name of my erstwhile suitor?”
He remembered she was an academic like her uncle. Information was what she needed at this moment to stay in control. “Avery, of House Eala. He rules over his own court within Faerie, and his formal title is the Swan King. If you want to know more about him, I would suggest asking your uncle when we return. He knows far more about the contract with your family than I do.”
“Listen to him, girl.” Mwanda came forward, silk swishing with the movement. The mocking expression was gone, replaced by grim seriousness. “The Fae are far more powerful than even the ministry likes to admit, and you don’t want to be in one’s power. If marrying this Bainbridge is the only way of getting away from them, do it tomorrow. Hire a carriage and take him up to Gretna Green, then tumble him immediately afterwards.”
The thought of Louisa Wallingford in bed with another man sent a unexpected surge of rage through him, and he had to will himself to stay calm. You’re blood-struck, that’s all. It’ll fade in time. “Mwanda,” he growled.
“This isn’t the time for prudery, Harry,” she shot back. “The girl needs to protect herself, and if some words before a priest and a bedding will do it, then that’s what she needs to do.”
“Enough.” Louisa held up a hand that only showed the faintest of tremors. “Please. Mr. Carstairs, may we return home? I need to speak with my uncle.”
He glanced at Mwanda, who shrugged. “The carriage should be here soon. I’ll see if Remy has that shirt for you yet.”
It happens. Sometimes you wake up and everything is firing on all cylinders. You crank out 5-6K without breaking a sweat, you bop through the cleaning and the working out, everyone in your house is getting along, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, Ryan Reynolds is bringing you a frosty martini made with Aviation Gin (Ryan, call me!), and all is right with the world.
And then there are days like this, where you wake up feeling like nothing is meshing correctly. You know you have stuff to mail, but convincing yourself to sit down, put things in packages, and haul your ass to the post office to mail them all off feels like climbing Everest. You’ve got a word quota to hit, but your characters have decided not to talk to you and putting something, anything on the page is like pulling teeth. And not only have the cats decided to be little assholes all day, but one of them has started leaving the foulest deuces in the breakfast nook litter box, which hotboxes the entire living room as a result.
It’s days like these that make day drinking so damn attractive. In fact, I think I may make myself an absinthe, take a shower, and go to bed early. Fuck it, I’m an adult, I can go to bed at 10 PM if I want.
That’s sad, isn’t it?
On the plus side, we finally got Ramón’s new passport pictures taken, so at least that’s a tick in the W column, but even that took all afternoon. The British passport office wanted digital pics taken against a light-colored wall. We do not have a single light-colored wall in this house, so we tried putting up foamboard, sheets, et al. The results were not good. Frustrated, he finally wound up going to Walgreens for a pro photo. The British passport portal rejected it because “his eyes weren’t level.” Oy. I finally hit on moving a mirror off a very narrow beigeish wall next to the front door, standing him in front of it, and taking a picture.
Well, I kissed him first, because the picture he took at Walgreens made him look like he was about to break his foot off in someone’s ass. The portal accepted the second of my pictures, and his new passport will feature him with a serious expression but a twinkle in his eye, which is a huge improvement.
And I now have a brand-new gouge in my palm because Jasmine, She of the Skittiness, was resting her chin on my arm in her patented, “Pet me, please,” pose. When I did, she immediately started grumbling, got up and stepped on the laptop keyboard, then on my hand as I tried to get her off before she hosed this post. And she does not know when to keep her claws retracted, bless her idiotic little cat heart. Yeah, it’s time for alcohol and bed.
So I woke up this morning after a dream that was apparently inspired by elements of “Goodbye Earl” by the Chicks (no justified killing of an abusive husband, but I observed two couple’s arguments, spent some time in a really nice kitchen that overlooked a great apartment complex after one boyfriend decided to switch apartments with his old girlfriend and go move in with his new girlfriend, and wound up in the middle of what looked like Wisconsin, judging from the rolling hills and all of the silos, as part of a mass job interview for a tech writing position. Yeah, I don’t understand that last part, either).
And then it was 5 AM, and my brain said, “Okay, you went to sleep at midnight, that’s enough, we’re going to play “Goodbye Earl” on earworm loop until you get up.” Thanks, brain. So I’m here, having fed and watered the J Crew, and I figure I’ll get in maybe four hours of writing before that stupid mass in my skull gives up and I can go back to bed at 10 AM for three more hours of sleep.
And then I made the mistake of checking Twitter and found out that not only does DHS intend to take its cobbled-together SS shitshow in Portland nationwide, but John Lewis died this morning. The best way to pay tribute is to get into some good trouble.