Archive for April, 2017

This past Saturday was Earth Day. Started forty-seven years ago, it led to various environmental protection bills, participation from 195 countries, and worldwide awareness for millions of our co-habitants. Too bad so much of our current US administration isn’t among those aware. Here we are, nearly a half-century on, and we still have to march for environmental protections, and the science that supports those protections. Boy, are we slow on the uptake or what?

So in honor of Earth Day and science, I present to you some of my favorite quotes relating to both, because others have already said it better than me.



Amen, Brother.



That’s what happens when the sacred dictates to the secular.


1184127590-the-scientist-is-not-a-person-who-gives-the-right-answersI’ve been questioning our sanity…


Close up of tree barkWe have the technology… We can rebuild it…


693749cad33bab1eb1a4a2ded3428a19This ain’t such a brave new world right now.


funny-Neil-DeGrasse-Tyson-quote-scienceI believe in you, Neil deGrasse Tyson.


Important!This has applications in so many areas.


5d97f819b57b0b68eb5cb08ec470fcdeUsually followed by the haz-mat warning…


8672012859_625b222a57_bBoy, are they going to be pissed.


scienceHopefully we have enough science today to survive until tomorrow.


C-CpNF-UAAANh5qThis one wins this year’s Earth Day prize.


KS146-There-is-No-Planet-B-Small-Bumper-StickerNot yet, anyway. Mars, anyone?


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By the time I was a teenager, I stood 5’9”, weighed 175lbs., and wore a C cup. Seeing the expensive writing on the wall, my mother signed me up for sewing classes. I was less than amused. I don’t remember much of the classes beyond resenting every moment I had to be there. I do remember my final project, though: a jacket and pants made of dark blue denim covered in red, white, and blue stars and fireworks. It encompassed all the basics learned to that point: zigzag and straight stitch, seams, hems, topstitching, collars, pockets, zippers, buttonholes. It actually turned out pretty decent. I think I may have worn it once or twice. I have no idea what happened to it after that. Probably out-grew it, like so many other articles of clothing before and since.

Despite my mom’s best efforts, I didn’t do much sewing afterward. Most of my clothes came from the men’s departments in stores, because that was the only place I could get stuff wide enough AND long enough. Back in the ‘70s there wasn’t anything out there for tall women, and what little was out there for the “fatties” were disgusting polyester floral disasters called “muumuus.” Originally a comfortable Hawaiian export meant for anyone, they became shapeless bags identified with bon-bon eating, soap opera watching, hair-in-curlers, rude fat women everywhere. I shunned them like the plague. So it became boy jeans and t-shirts for most of my wardrobe. Something still true to this day.



I love looking like a florist just exploded on me.


I discovered the SCA in college and tried making a few costumes, mostly to disastrous results. There weren’t any commercial patterns then for historically accurate clothing, so we either had to adapt an existing fairy princess pattern, or do one entirely from scratch with just measurements. You know, like real tailors still do it. Measurements or not, if you don’t understand the basic engineering requirements of dressing the human body, you’re not likely to get the desired result. I tried making a pair of drawstring pants for a male friend of mine using just written instructions and measurements. We ended up with the crotch hanging at about his knees. A few years later MC Hammer was dancing across MTV in them. I guess we were a little ahead of the times, instead of behind like we were trying for.

As I got older and went from college into the job market, I learned my tomboy wardrobe wasn’t going to fly in the professional office. In fact, my first real full time job after teaching actually had a dress code. Men had to wear suits, ties, and dress shoes. Women had to wear skirts or dresses (at least knee length) with heels. No dress slacks, no pantsuits, no flats. After a lifetime either barefoot, in flip-flops, or in tennis shoes, trying to manage heels and a dress was more of a challenge than dealing with office politics and a receptionist’s phone board.

I broke down and bought a nice Singer Merritt sewing machine (which I still use), muddled through the pattern selection at the local fabric store, and came up with a couple passable wrap-around skirts and some slip-on blouses. No zippers, no buttons, because I suck at those. As the eighties progressed there were more options for plus-sized women, and I started to be able to find decent clothes wide enough, but still not long enough. I got used to letting out hems and wearing skirts low on my hips to make the length requirement, and usually bought short-sleeved blouses, or rolled up the “long” sleeves that only reached to about 6” above my wrist.




As I moved on to other jobs – and the ‘90’s – most places let go of the skirt and heels requirement for women. Finding appropriate business attire for a woman of my vast talents was still a challenge, but since I sat at a desk most of the time, my capris-length slacks and slip-on flats brought little notice. Even now it’s nearly impossible for me to find things wide enough as well as long enough. You can either be short and wide, or tall and thin, not anything else. A lawyer I used to work with had been a ballerina in her earlier life (and still danced regularly for herself). She was barely five feet tall and a size 0. Just a tiny thing, though quite the formidable legal opponent. She and I would commiserate on how hard it was to find business attire for our respective sizes. I haven’t seen much improvement in the market since then and if I were ever to start a clothing line, those are the niches I would go for.

As it was, I didn’t do much sewing then. That would have meant dealing with buttonholes and zippers, two aspects of most modern sewing projects that I just loathe. And that’s probably why I’m not very good at them. I also became more involved in the SCA, which meant any sewing I did do was for costuming. Since I developed a persona from the early 10th Century in northern Europe, most of the clothes are fairly simple to construct. They also lend themselves well to the decorative stuff I really like to do, like embroidery and narrow wares weaving.

While in the beginning I was still heavily dependent on commercial patterns, over time I took advantage of costuming classes offered at various events and picked the brains of those who made costuming look easy. The first major step to more regular success was learning how to make a duct tape pattern. In a nutshell, you take a crappy t-shirt, wrap yourself in duct tape, mark out the appropriate pattern lines, and develop your pattern from there. It took several attempts, but I finally started getting consistent results. The next step that really helped me was sitting down one-on-one with one of our better costumers and getting a personal class in pattern making. She drew pictures and talked in engineering terms, and the light went on.



100% cotton flannel fabric for new lounging pants. #joysofworkingfromhome


Since then I’ve developed patterns for a shirt, a coat, a padded gambeson, and a pourpoint (a vest or coat to which armor is attached) for my husband. For myself I’ve done long and short tunics, a Viking apron, a coat, a bodice, and recently fumbled out some pants. I still make plenty of mistakes. I break needles, tangle thread, jam my machine, miss-cut fabric, and swear a lot. But I’m better equipped now to trouble-shoot all that, and my husband and I are starting to look more like our actual historical selves and less like a Disney Princess version. Plus the pouches and shoulder bags I make are popular sellers at our merchant booth, so I can technically say I’m a professional at it. But don’t ask me to make any costumes for you. Trying to dress the gorilla I married and myself are more than enough frustration for one lifetime, thanks-very-much. I don’t need to loose that on others, too.

So, thanks, Mom. It only took forty years, but that sewing class finally did pay off. Even if not in the way you’d originally intended.

Darius & Elana at Dreiburgen Ann 2016

We don’t do sun… (Photo courtesy of Wyatt the Odd)


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“Where do you get your ideas?”

Just about any artist, in any field, will have this question thrown at them at some point. If they’re being truthful, the answer is “Damned if I know.” Sure, there are about a bazillion different books, videos, blog entries, pod casts, and what-have-yous out there that claim to be the One True Way. But they’re all bullshit. Except for the person that created them.

Because the “process” is different for everybody. Anybody can learn the fundamentals of an art form. In writing it’s things like spelling, vocabulary, sentence structure, and point of view. In music you have reading the score, learning your instrument, timing, and breath control. Each field has their own set of basics that is universal across the globe. Get a solid grasp of the basics, and then maybe you can wander off on your own. After all, you have to know the rules before you can break them.




But the origin of ideas is as individual and personal as a pubic hair. Just like DNA can point to a specific individual, so can the manifestation of an art form. We can tell the difference between Beethoven and Liszt, Rembrandt and Monet, or Austen and Shelley just by observation. Unidentified works can be reasonably attributed to their creator because of unique characteristics, such as tonality and phrasing, color palette and brush strokes, or vocabulary and style.

The beginning is no different. Stephen King reportedly gets his ideas from seeing one or two things in juxtaposition, then asking “What if?” Sting is known to use “semantic intuition” for his writing, a process where the title comes first and then the song (something I do as well, though didn’t realize it was actually a thing until I read this article). An artist might be doodling on paper, and then is suddenly struck by something, a spark lit in the dark that leads to a fire of work. Many times the finished product is hard pressed to show any relation to the original root inspiration because that’s just how it works. We still have more mystery of the mind than mastery, so trying to explain how looking at a lamp at a friend’s house led to a space opera trilogy (true story!) is just not gonna happen. Because I don’t know how to explain it any better than “It just is.”

It’s all done in the subconscious. Mine is apparently run by a bunch of gremlins in the middle of a color run while drinking copious amounts of moonshine. That’s the only way I can explain some of the stuff that goes on in my head. My dreams are vivid, convoluted messes that range from the whimsical (flying over a field of white, fluffy sheep) to the fantastical (riding a dragon while wielding a great sword); from the wishful (yay! Telekinetic powers!) to the fearful (post-apocalyptic survival, anyone?); from the reassuring (my husband’s arms around me) to the nightmarish (lots and lots of blood). I have no idea where most of this stuff comes from, and a lot of these dreams have been with me since pre-TV childhood, so I can’t blame them on that.


brain difficulties


At any given point there’s about a dozen different things going on in my head. I don’t know how it is for other people, but it’s never quiet in there. Never. Every now and then something appears out of that maelstrom and I have to put it down on paper. Sometimes it’s a complete story that seems to auto-write itself. Other times all I get is a cryptic clue that would leave Columbo scratching his head. As I mentioned above, I get a lot of titles before anything else. They just kind of appear – POOF! – fully formed and then it’s up to me to figure out what they’re really about. Sometimes I’ll just be reading something and select words will jump out at me and put themselves together, for no known reason. On occasion I’ve seen writing prompts that have words assigned to numbers, and then you use a random number generator to pick the words you’ll use. A couple of my stories waiting for words started that way. Great titles. No idea yet what they’re about.

Eventually the nebulous cloud will begin to coalesce, and I’ll start putting the bits and pieces together. Usually characters are the first to show up. When they do, my job becomes easy, because all I have to do then is just sit back and write what they tell me. Doesn’t matter to me how interesting the concept might be, how cutting-edge the science might be, what kind of statement is being made – if I don’t have people I can connect with, I’m not interested. I need to be able to put myself into the story by virtue of one of the characters. And it doesn’t have to be a main character, either. Or human, for that matter. I just need a spark of familiarity and I’m all in.

And, yes, I get stuck sometimes. Not including those grinding depressive cycles that cause me to ignore my writing because it doesn’t matter (read: I don’t matter), most episodes of what is commonly called writer’s block can be broken with a series of questions. If I’m looking at a blank page with no thread of a start, I might pop over to the Random Title Generator and give it a spin. Today’s results were:

Emerald Snake

The Green Dream

Slave of Rings

The Dream’s Lord

The Sparks of Silence

Hunter in the Male

Hmm, some interesting possibilities there. Take Emerald Snake. The questions I use are the six basics of journalism: who, what, when, where, why, and how? Who’s interested in this thing? What exactly is it – literal or descriptive? When did this story happen? Where is the snake? Why is it important? How does it all end?




My first inkling when I saw that title was a flash of the great film noir The Maltese Falcon. Again, no idea why it engendered such a response, but now we have a framework on which to build. We need a hard-boiled detective type, a femme fatale, and a cunning adversary. Except – since I’m a science fiction writer – let’s make it a starship first officer, an alien ambassador, and a computer built by some ancient and long-dead species. Now I just keep asking the basic questions to build the story. Who is this first officer? What does s/he want? When is this part of his/her life? Where is s/he going? Why a starship? How does this officer matter? I watch the trunk of the plot fill in, asking those questions at each new junction, and following them to the branches of subplots, asides, flashbacks, parallel storylines, and backstory. Sometimes that’s all I need to get it done.

But sometimes I get stuck in the middle somewhere, and those basic questions aren’t bringing me anything. That’s when I bring out the big guns. The first is from the character’s point of view: what can he/she/it do (not necessarily deliberately) that will totally fuck things up? Every one of us has been in a situation and made a decision that we thought was perfectly fine at the time, only to discover later that it was exactly opposite of what was needed. The second question is about the scenario in general: what is the worse possible thing that could happen now? Plans go awry, innocent interruptions have deadly consequences, and people make mistakes. Stories aren’t interesting if the characters are walking through their world without a worry. Just like humans seem to feel more alive when there’s a little danger involved, so do stories when circumstances are turned on their heads. Throw the snake in and see what happens.

There are as many ways to create as there are people. The trick is to accept that there are no tricks, because trick implies a deception or a joke. Being a creative artist is no joke, despite what the modern world may tell us. And trying to fit into that world is deceiving our true selves, not anyone else. Wherever your spark of insanity comes from, however your ideas come to you, just let it roll. Because in the great scheme of things, the way that works for you is the only One True Way.

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A couple of things have happened over the last year that have made me re-examine my life and goals. Besides the Trumpocalypse, that is. That’s a whole ‘nother bag o’ worms I don’t want to get into right now. Plus there are people out there who do a much better job at explaining and poking the bear than I could possibly hope. (Some favorites: Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Jim Wright. Humor is definitely the best medicine in this case.)

First, my middle niece has been to Europe and Asia in just the last few months. She and her best friend spent New Years in London, after a quick side trip to the Eiffel Tower in France. Then several weeks ago they both went to Japan via the Great Wall of China for the friend’s sister’s wedding. Barely legal-to-drink Millennials, they scrimped and saved and planned, and are doing things I’ve always wanted to, but could never afford. You go, ladies. Do it all now, while you’re still young and able.

Second, I had a bit of a health scare. Over the summer I was having problems with my joints – especially my knees – swelling. It turned out to be a side affect of some new medication (which I have since stopped), but in the process of making that discovery we had to weed out a few other things. Since I have artificial knees, I was worried that carrying so much weight might have damaged them, so we did x-rays to check. The knees are fine, but just above the left knee, in the marrow channel of my femur, we discovered an anomaly. The radiologist defined it as a “sclerotic lesion” approximately the size and shape of a small egg. My primary care doctor immediately ordered a bone scan and referred me to an oncologist. I proceeded to freak out.


Version 2


The next few months consisted of long waits between appointments as I dealt with referrals for tests, referral from the oncologist at my primary care facility to an orthopedic oncologist at Cedars- Sinai, my insurance, retrieval of old x-rays from before my knee replacements, and indeterminate answers. I’ve been questioned, examined, x-rayed, MRI’d, and, finally, biopsied. (Yes, that entailed drilling through my leg into the bone while under CT scan. And sedation – Yay!) Thankfully, the biopsy determined the thing in my leg was a benign growth called an enchondroma. While there is a remote chance it can become cancerous, the odds are highly in my favor. And given that I have no noticeable symptoms, the doctor recommended we just keep an eye on it. That will mean periodic x-rays, but at my age I probably glow in the dark already, so that’s not an issue. Sure beats the hell out of the alternatives.

Between being reminded of all the things that could go wrong in life (and how short it can be), and all the things I haven’t accomplished, my bucket list came roaring back to the forefront of my attention. We all have one, whether we actually call it that or not. Things we want to do before we die (aka: “kick the bucket”). Some items might be kind of mundane, such as getting married, or graduating college. Others might be more adventurous, like climbing Mount Everest or swimming the English Channel. And the list often changes as we ourselves change. When I was a kid my list included making All State Band (done), graduating college (done), and riding in a helicopter (done). Now… well, now it tends to lean more toward the adventurous than not. Being on the wrong side of middle-aged and middle-class means a lot of them probably aren’t going to happen. But who knows? Maybe the gods will grant me a favor.


bucket-list-project (1)

What’s in your bucket?


So here, in no particular order, are some of the things on my bucket list:

  • Hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Yeah, that’s a lot of hiking, especially for someone who’s longest walk most days is to the kitchen and back. But it’s still within the realm of feasibility. And the new treadmill has been installed. I’ve even used it. Hubby thinks it would be cool to do, too. Once I can do a couple miles in one shot on the treadmill, we’re going to start looking for short local hikes we can do, and work our way up. Even if we never make the PCT, getting up and being more active will only help.
  • Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. Thanks to all the fat I carry, my buoyancy is pretty extraordinary. Plus I lettered in swimming in high school. All I need is a burkini to keep my lily-white skin from broiling off in the Australian sun, and I could spend days with my face in the water looking at all the cool stuff. Probably should do that soon, given the damage pollution and climate change are causing the reef.
  • Visit Machu Picchu. An Incan city in Peru known for its finely crafted stone walls and the grueling trail to get there that tops out at nearly 14,000 feet above sea level. Stunning views and archeological finds make it a must-visit-in-person, while being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site helps justify the very limited visitor roster.
  • Canoe the rivers of Alaska. Our 49th state is the last bastion of true wilderness we have. I want to smell that air, feel that chill, and witness the herds of caribou in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge before our government sells the last of it off for drilling rights.
  • Bicycle through Europe. I did a ton of riding in high school and college. It was my primary form of transportation and at one point I was racking up over 100 miles a week, between school, jobs, and student teaching. And there’s so much I want to see, especially in the Germanic and Scandinavian countries. Bicycling through it all would allow a more leisurely pace from which to witness the world of my ancestors.
  • Horseback ride across the US. Probably the least practical of my fantasies. But, like bicycling Europe, a great way to see the states. Plus I love horses. What could possibly go wrong?




  • Attend both Summer and Winter Olympics. TV coverage can be great. You get interesting back-stories, jump straight to the finals, and don’t have to deal with the crowds. But sometimes you just need to experience some things first hand. And maybe this way I’ll see some of the events I like that don’t often get covered that well.
  • Attend all three Triple Crown races. More horsey stuff. When I was a teenager, one entire wall of my bedroom was covered with horse pictures. And my scrapbook has a ton of articles about my favorite, Secretariat. I watched his races live at the time, and remember being overwhelmed by his power. To this day I tear up a little when I see those races again. I’ve always wanted a horse, but between constantly moving and finances, it just never happened.
  • Learn to fly both fixed wing and rotary aircraft. Especially helicopters. Something I’ve wanted to do since childhood. Even toyed with the idea of joining the Air Force so I could get flight school paid for. Later I did all my ground school courses at the local junior college, getting instrumental and commercial ratings. Finances ruled against me getting actual flight time, though. And being that ground school was over 30 years ago, I’ll have to start from scratch again, anyway. Hey, Harrison Ford was my age when he got his license, so I’m not out of time yet.
  • Go to space. And I mean more than a ride on the Vomit Comet. Spend some time on the ISS, or a moon base. Or Mars. Don’t let the grey hair and cellulite fool you; inside there is a starship captain waiting to escape Earth’s gravity. Why do you think I’m a science fiction writer, for fuck’s sake?
  • Publish a novel. Ideally, more than one. It would be especially cool if I could actually make some money with them, too. Don’t need to be huge, like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. Just would like a sort-of regular income. Right now I’m making zero off my writing, so anything is an improvement. Yes, I still have queries out. Need to do more of that writing, thing, though…
  • Own a castle. With radio-controlled alligators in the moat, and an automated dragon belching fire on a turret. Just kidding! (maybe…)

As you can see, I have pretty expansive (and exPENsive!) fantasies. Plus most of them require me to be in a whole lot better condition than I am. And while there are always possibilities, it’s the probabilities that work against you. But as one of our favorite space rogues once said:


Never Tell Me the Odds

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