The Plot Thickens and the Writer Thins

Somewhere, somewhen, a philosopher or other authoritative person said that if you’ve learned something (was it something new?  Anything?) you’re obliged to pass on that knowledge to someone else.   The process is of course unequal and therefore stressful to the recipient of the knowledge/skill being passed on, so the good news is that reciprocal exchange (much more comfortable for both) is not only possible but common.  Balance of power can be achieved by the dog whisperer who teaches the dog owner to train their dog, and the dog owner who teaches the dog whisperer how to make non-lumpy custard.  There are tricks to every trade.   (And what on earth is she TALKING about? you want to ask.  Just skip a line and find out.)

My good friend Karen S., my webmaster for several years (and friend for longer)  has come on board to help me with problems in the current book.  We have exchanged expertise before (she’s a better cook than I am, by several country miles) and has proofread and been a discussion-helper when I’m stuck, but now she’s got hold of the whole banana and is doing serious editing and revision work for me.  Her background is librarian, much of it working within schools, but she’s also been running a writing camp for students (to which I’ve contributed my mite from time to time)  and her grasp of structure is excellent.   My even longer-term friend Ellen M. (invaluable first-reader for the first Paks books and many since) has developed a serious vision problem and hasn’t been able to read for several years, so I’m out her help, and Karen is between jobs, like many people in the pandemic era.   So I hired her.  She has already plowed through the first 400 pages, and I’m now going in and making a mess of both what I wrote and her revisions (in places where I don’t go “Why didn’t *I* think of that???”) and finding that even things of hers I want to change are giving me a new perspective on what’s there.

For example she asked me for a “hook” scene to introduce [mmph] much earlier in the book and increase the tension right [here], and when I wrote it, after a couple of false starts, it was clearly better than other parts of the book and she said “exactly what’s needed” and shoved it into exactly the right place.  I’m supposed to write two more such, but in the meantime another plot bomb hit and I’m writing that one instead.  Can’t wait to see what she does with that one when it’s done.   You’ll learn more about Karen in time.  Right now she’s working on the book while caring for a relative’s children in a state far from her own during that family’s emergency.

And on the personal front, I’m now down fifteen pounds, rings, shirts, and jeans are looser,  and the strength exercises I was doing first as I started trying to increase exercise have had some effect…I can walk from the house up to the north side of the place and back without having to stop and sit down at Fox Pavilion, on a hot humid day even.  This is all good.  Not by any means enough, though, so that work goes on….and on…and on….because I’m not going to get the 5.4 pound drop in one week that happened the first week again, to make the subsequent weeks look better than they were.  Visibly, it’s not that noticeable yet, despite the size change, because I’m wearing the same clothes even as the jeans slide downward (that’s what belts are for.)   Blood pressure’s way down, also invisible, and it will bob up again at the first sign of a health professional other than R-.   I should hit the next fifteen pound marker in 10-11 weeks, not the 7 the first fifteen took with that first-week boost.  But that will be at 30 pounds down, halfway to goal, and certainly another change in jean size and a more noticeable change overall.  If the BP drops again (it was 110/64 day before yesterday, close to my old consistent normal) I’ll be able to discard the BP med, at least until it comes back up .  The higher protein’s working on energy levels, and so it seems things are going well.  time for the morning walk after starting work around 7.


36 thoughts on “The Plot Thickens and the Writer Thins

  1. Hurrah for a good reader that you are comfortable with and works well with you. Congrats on the strength and weight.

    1. Thank you. I think Karen will be able to keep my wandering brain at least *close* to the track. The weight…well, I screwed up on the diet yesterday by not coming back in and rechecking how much room I had left for supper, and having two pieces of bread with the 2 oz of beef. And the single gingersnap…that was a lapse I could easily have avoided. The cookie container is supposed to be out of sight, but someone-not-me left it on the counter. (Oh, excuses, endless excuses…) I have a whole bunch of floor exercises I’d like to be doing but in scorp season, when you can’t hear the little dickenses approaching, getting down on the floor for risks coming nose to scorp with some of those exercises and I would probably wrench every muscle in my body trying to leap up.

  2. Congratulations on the weight loss! That’s marvellous and I am envious. Especially of the blood pressure. Mine is under control, but apparently my cholesterol isn’t, and yet another medication added to the list. Plus a test for low thyroid. Being no longer young (I will not be old until my mother dies) sucks!

    How are your horses? We haven’t seen pictures of them for ages.

    Glad the book is going well and that you have a great reader.

    1. My mother died 31 years ago, so…yeah, I’m old. Next year I’ll be the age she was at her death, which is just a bit scary. I was only 45 when she died, so that clearly wasn’t “old” yet, but now that I’m past 75…um. ANYWAY. Horses. They’re fine but it’s been raining and storming so much I haven’t taken many pictures. Do have a couple from mid-April that I guess I never posted here. Or if I did the pics weren’t recent enough for you. (It IS several months, I admit.) I can’t seem to add them to a comment, so will have to remember to post horse pics next time I post.

  3. Thank you for encouraging thoughts about life and weight and BP. I love your sentence that your BP bobs up at the sight of a health professional. That happens here too. I have a very long tale about my mother’s recent experience in the hospital after she fell on June 21 and had a partial hip replacement on June 22. The surgeon, CNAs, RNs, and PTs were awesome, the attending physician… wasn’t. Two days after surgery a nurse walked in and handed my mom 8 pills. Usually she takes one BP med each morning and that’s all. I couldn’t convince them that Mom shouldn’t take all that at once. Apparently anything the MD could find in Mom’s blood work or vitals to treat, he was going to prescribe something for it. Mom was really nauseous, couldn’t eat or hold anything down all day. Thankfully about 3 p.m. the surgeon came in with the physical therapist and they said, “you’re able to walk, you have a power lift chair at home so you don’t need therapy to get in and out of bed, we are sending you home.” The other doctor apparently couldn’t override surgeon and PT, so we escaped.
    Ideas about increasing protein in the diet of an 88 year old with gaps in her teeth that catches meat, and who is fast developing an attitude of “I don’t want to eat that” is greatly appreciated.
    Also, I hope you’re not tired of me thanking you for the products of your mind. Arcolin, Dorrin, Keiri, Arian, Arvid and I have spent hours together the past two weeks. Paksworld and prayer based on Ephesians 6 about strength of the LORD and keeping our Armor on when the enemy of our souls is shooting fiery darts has saved my sanity. Caregiving is truly the blessed burden.

    1. Thoughts about increasing protein w/o meat (at least meat that leaves those annoying strings…I know, I know…my teeth let stuff get stuck. Just got a celery string out, *finally*. Lack of appetite, with her, or lack of appetite for some foods? What foods is she eating willingly? Custards never leave strings in teeth and have eggs (6g protein/large egg, 8g for a jumbo…these are US sizes so don’t know how they compare. Large is the size for nearly all recipes) and milk (8g/ cup, 8 oz in old measure and somewhere around 236 ml if I remember right from labs.) Custards are soothing and easy to swallow for many people and though most are sweet, there are savory ones. (Quiche is sorta custardy eggs/milk and then things in it.) I’m very fond of chocolate custard and butterscotch custard, some prefer vanilla custard or plain egg custard. How much she needs: approximately a gram of protein (1-2 grams depending on activity, stress, illness…since she’s healing from surgery could be more) per kilogram of body weight. She will heal faster with enough protein and it does restore energy. I found, when I looked at the new guidelines that I’d been protein deficient for years, from trying not to eat so much meat.

      Complete proteins (found in eggs, dairy, beef, pork, poultry, fish, shellfish) have the best balance of amino acids and thus deliver more of their protein ready to work, which reduces the total amount the person needs to eat…for those who’ve been sick or injured, eating is often exhausting. But so is eating anything you don’t like, so her likes and dislikes need to be known and worked around. (I’m so glad a friend’s cancer doc told her she could have all the cake and ice cream she wanted!) There are meat preparations (very finely diced, or “paste” types) that can be spread on bread or crackers or mixed with cottage cheese for additional protein. What are her favorite (and least liked) textures? (I hate tapioca! I don’t like pears because of texture. OTOH, I like crisp things, crunchy things, ice cream, custards, soft things with no hint of sliminess (uncooked or not cooked enough egg-whites…yuck.) If she prefers a vegetarian diet, getting her enough protein without exhausting herself eating much bigger servings will be harder but it’s doable (more and smaller meals.) What are her favorite and least liked colors? Flavor combinations, not just “basic” flavors? Try small servings a little more often, sandwiches cut into small shaped (2-4 smallish bites), things that don’t make her open her mouth too far (IOW no “tall” sandwiches.) Things that aren’t TOO crunchy (hard crusts on bread, for example) that can hurt a sore mouth while chewing or swallowing. Post-surgery lots of people have some soreness swallowing because they’ve been intubated. What about temperature? Cold/chilled foods often do well with people who don’t have a good appetite–less likely to annoy a sore mouth. So ice cream or frozen custard may be more palatable.

      I’m really paddling around in the dark, though. You know her, and I”m sure you’ll figure out what’s best to offer her.

  4. Books news sounds very positive as does the weight loss, Karen sounds like a wonderful person to help knock th book into shape. I know how hard weight loss can be, Your loss rate sounds sustainable, which is the most important thing to manage. The strength increase is great too, it’s impressive to manage both that and the weight loss at the same time, may both continue!

    I went in for a pre-op assessment last Monday and my blood pressure was way higher than normal, I was rather surprised as it has never been a problem. I happened to have blood test draw by one of my GP’s practice nurses on the Wednesday and asked her to do my blood pressure too, she started to put one cuff on, then said “not that one, you need a larger size” and lo my blood pressure was back to normal. If my blood pressure had really been as high as the first nurse though I wouldn’t have been able to have the operation this Friday (a minor operation, just taking a lump off my left ring finger) and goodness knows when I would have been rescheduled for; though as the lump should have been coming off around this time last summer it might not have been that long, the NHS really, really doesn’t like having patients wait that long.

    1. Jazzlet, you are SO fortunate that the nurse recognized the importance of the right size BP cuff. It’s been two weeks and my mother still has bruises on her right arm where the BP cuff was for almost 36 hours from the time she arrived at the ER until the IV in her left arm failed and they had to start another IV in the right arm. We were also dealing with multiple meds to lower her BP that apparently wasn’t necessary. Her BP dropped almost 60 points from the time they took it in her hospital room then pushed her bed down the hall to the ER where technician did an ECG. I have the tape with her vitals printed on it. I didn’t know the wrong size cuff could be such a problem, or I would have insisted they change it. Since she’s been back home it’s not been anywhere near what they were finding when she was at the hospital.

    2. Thanks, and I’m glad you got your BP taken with the right size cuff! We used to carry three sizes on the ambulance–“average,” “larger/XL,” and “pediatric”.

  5. Good for you. I have been taking blood pressure and heart rate medicine for more than 20 years – and they work. Waking up dead from the silent killer is not an option. Good for the book – but there is no rush. Your loyal readers can slaver at the mouth for a longer time, knowing that you have not forgotten us. Enjoy the day and stay safe and stay sane.

    Jonathan up here in rather wet New Hampshire

      1. I have yet to get a rain cloud to go or come where I told it…except once, about 40 years ago. I was in the small local grocery store and a lot of us were commenting on a period of unremitting (for us) rain. One of the old men who used to sit on a bench on the sidewalk outside came in to get something to drink, and was teasing me (as a newcomer who was also on city council) “You’re on city council, bet you can make it stop raining.” And so, in a dramatic pose and full use of my voice, I pointed out the door and told the rain to stop and the sun to come out. And it did. The clouds parted, the sun shone down on the wet street. Right that minute. The old guy never teased me again, and I was stunned.

  6. Excellent to hear about book progress! Glad you have some compatible help.

    While I don’t feel “old” yet, I have less than three years before I’ll pass the oldest my mother got. I have a decade left before I pass my father. His big sister lived to 100, though, so prediction isn’t solid.

    I laughed out loud about your story of the old guy and your skills at stopping the rain. Thanks! I needed that!

    Best wishes from drought-stricken Oregon. At least the “heat dome” left us! Hitting 116 in Oregon wasn’t ever normal before. Alas, I fear we’ll see that again in the years to come.

    1. I hope your drought eases, and the heat dome doesn’t come back. We’ve had them–not that bad, but up to 112 or so–and they’re killers. We will be getting chaotic and harder to predict weather…it’s a mess.

  7. I enjoy your posts so much and really miss reading about your horses!! Congratulations on the weight loss! I need to work on mine some more – went down during the freeze but back up after. Glad you’ve found good help on the book! Grats also on the exercise results – that’s awesome!

    1. Ah, the horses. They are each so very definitely individual. Rags is “bleaching” under a combination of rain and hot, intense sun…the black areas are now mottled brown/black. Tigger continues that rich red-orange. When it’s raining, they both get their evening feed in the barn, under cover. Neither one wants to go in one of the two commodious stalls; Tigger’s the least likely to enter a stall, and Ragtime will go in to eat hay on the floor, or sometimes take a nap, but not otherwise.

      When it’s NOT raining, Rags gets his pan in the south barn lot, and Tigger gets his in the barn, set just to the aisle side of the first stall gate. They wait outside the barn while I prepare their feed and put it in the pans, and put the pans where they go. Then I open the west gate (the largest, 8 feet wide) and Tigger comes in, goes directly to his feed, and Rags comes in and swerves around the big water tank to the right to go eat his. It took awhile to get this solid, but with Tigger coming in first, and his feed pan in front of him, Rags has to go to the other one. But in the rain…the barn isn’t big enough. I need to have both pans down before they come in. So if I put one pan in front of each stall, Tigger comes in, takes the first (west-most) one and Rags can’t get in w/o a row, because the red horse is taking up the space just inside the entrance. If I put the pans closer together…there’s always pinned ears, cocked hind legs, and agitation. Or I can scuttle around to the west gate of the south barn lot and call Rags in that way, but we’re both in the rain and mud and often I’m standing in a muddy puddle. Not ideal.

      There IS room to put Tigger’s pan where it usually is, and Rag’s pan beside the big water tank but sort of on its east side. And that worked until the day Tig decided Rags’s pan was closer when he came in. And that settled into Tigger goes in and turns sharp right around the tank and eats facing out the open side of the barn, and Rags hurries past his rump (there is room, but not if he slows down!) and eats where Tigger usually eats. That has also settled into a pattern for them. Yesterday, it was hot and dry with drying wind, and the south barn lot wasn’t that muddy, so I put things back in the “dry” configuration, wondering if they’d stick to the rain-day switch or go back, and I spoke to them. I pointed to the one by the stall. “Tigger, this is your pan. Tigger pan.” and then carried out the other one (Rags can see through the barn lot fence) and said, as I put it down, “Rags, this is YOUR pan. Rags pan.”

      Opened the gate, and lo, the two of them went directly to their “dry days” eating spots. CLEVER boys.

  8. We’ve been setting heat records periodically since mid-June here in central California–valley, foothills, and mountains.
    Stay cool everyone.
    —exits stage left murmuring, “Old Man Grey Chief, Maker of the Mountains, hear oh hear our cry! Hear our cry for rainfall, hear our cry for rainfall…”

    1. Getting pretty dry here in country New South Wales, Australia too, hope we are not in for another hot summer/drought combo. I SO enjoyed last summer which was cool with lots of rain, after three record breaking hot dry bushfire ravaged summers…

  9. Good going on the weight loss and increased strength! And I’m really glad Karen’s been able to help you out with the book — a second set of eyes is really invaluable.

    1. In this case I needed someone with more than just eyes, but yeah. Following a near-disaster trek out on the land yesterday in the heat of the day (with hat, but no water, and farther than I’ve been in a long time) I have rediscovered that I’m not 15/16 anymore, when I could play tennis bareheaded in midday in S. TX. at 100F +without a problem and then sit through more classes awake enough to make good grades.

  10. Huzzah! Huzza! For great friends with wonderful Talents. Im so glad you have found some help in this venture, and I am sure it will also help your healing process by helping you see things and perhaps opening those avenues of thought.

    Hooray also for the weight loss! I started in April and have lost 22 pounds to date, and have roughly 100 to go. Its not easy, but I have found it easier once started and once I have lost some. The incentive to keep on is greater, and its easier to keep the demons that keep telling me to eat at bay.

    It sounds like things are really turning in your favor!

  11. I’m glad your health is doing better and that there is news on the book! I love the Vatta series (serieses?) and I’m sure the next one will be awesome too. 🙂

  12. Couldn’t sleep a wink last night, so I re-read Into the Fire. What a delight to find a post from you, one with positive news … maybe I will sleep tonight.

    Your horse feeding routine makes me very glad that my two Forest Cats have utterly different food preferences. The smart one loves shredded cheese, as do I.. All I have to do is ask “cheese?” and she runs to the fridge and stretches up towards the handle.

    Her sister is strictly a dry food girl, although given to posing like a princess cat for a magazine ad for the high priced stuff.

    I often silently thank the scientists who figured out the “get along pheromone” plug-in dispenser. Her highness got in a snit and did some serious damage to her sister about two years ago, requiring a trip to the pet emergency hospital on a holiday weekend.

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could plug in something like an air freshener and tame the urge to feel dominant. Altho when elves cast a glamor on a human it sounds creepy … so maybe not.

    In any case I will be rooting for you on both the book and health fronts. Your friend Karen reminds me of a poster to the effect “When you really need help, ask a librarian”. Take care.

    1. “Ky agreed, and underwent a treatment that involved … several days of adjustment trials to her implant controls and biofeedback work that was supposed to optimize both physiological and bionic response to stressors.”

      1. Richard: Sometimes I write about real stuff and sometimes about stuff I wish I had the use of. Times I can’t sleep because my mind is whirring along, shifting topics as if it were a car speeding through traffic shifting lanes.

    2. Linda: It’s so true about librarians!! When I was working on “Tradition,” an alternate-history anthology story, years ago, the local (amateur) librarian at the town library helped me get an Interlibrary Loan book I needed, and then suggested a book I thought would be useless…Violet Asquith’s memoir. But it turned out, the year before the date of my story, she had gone with her father, the Prime Minister, on a voyage to the Mediterranean, on a Royal Navy ship. They visited all the ports I needed to know about, and she–as a young woman–wrote all sorts of useful details about each one, and about how things were done on board the ship. Exactly one year before my story started, in 1914. The librarian was right!!

  13. Lovely to check out your blog after a very very very busy time moving house and finding multiple posts! Glad to hear about your weight loss, I’ve lost 5 kilos since moving, just being busy, spending less time sitting down and snacking. We’ve moved to back to the coast, God has blessed us with this totally AMAZING house, with six bedrooms, which we need, since my mother in law moved in with us. She has two rooms in the back, I have the master suite, (wuth a table in front of the window where I’m currently doing a beautiful jigsaw puzzle of Amsterdam), there is an office for my husband which came complete with shelves, in short, we’re totally thrilled with all the space, the big covered outdoor area with swimming pool, it is totally beyond anything we ever dreamed of. I get in great with my mother in law, by the way.
    And, while out driving the other day, i saw a sign for horse riding in the beautiful countryside here… 62 too old to start? Never been on a horse in my life, but when i saw that sign, i thought, oooh, I would live to try that…. ( dreams of peacefully riding along at a sedate pace on a lovely, understanding, patient, smallish, elderly mare… really, how hard can it be….)

    1. Not at all too old. However, not all instructors are as good with older novices as they are with juniors. You may need to hunt around. You should be taught as a novice, but not as a nincompoop. Riding *can* be hard (even on a lovely, understanding, patient, smallish, elderly mare) but usually, once past the initial soreness from stretching out the riding muscles and ligaments, it’s not. Make it clear that you’re not interested in (whatever kind of riding you’re not interested in) but want to learn how to ride well enough to be safe and not hurt a calm, well-trained horse. You may later get interested in a specific kind of riding, but your first instruction should be general, not rushing you into specialties like barrel racing or jumping. (You’re not too old to learn to jump, or run barrels, but you need a general foundation first. “Riding along at a sedate pace” is a reasonable goal, though you should learn to ride the basic c gaits even if you don’t plan to use them often.) Visit a tack shop and get fitted for a good safety helmet (and wear it every time, says the person with multiple concussions even with a helmet! Would’ve been worse without.)

  14. Thanks for your advice. Severe restrictions and further tightening of lockdown measures as of midnight tonight. But I will check out stables, gear, tackshops etc online.

    1. There’s an incident in the current book where an older woman who’s never ridden (was strongly discouraged from it by her family), and who has been afraid for her children and grandchildren to ride, first gets on a horse…if she can do it, you can. Are you in the UK? If so, look for BHS certified instructors. My personal opinion is that they’re the best instructors I’ve ever had, thoroughly knowledgeable but (at least the ones I’ve met here and there) patient with those who want to learn. There are none near me in Texas, alas, but they exist in the Northeast US (found one on Martha’s Vineyard while on a writers’ workshop gig), and I’ll bet some instructors elsewhere are also. Surely they’re not the ONLY good instructors but they’re reliably good. They follow an organized, progressive-steps, way of teaching riding, with safety emphasized but not to the point of being dull. I wish I’d had the chance to learn from such instructors from childhood.

      Also, if you can find it (library, tack store) there’s a great book on being an adult rider, *Riding for the Rest of Us* by Jessica Jahiel. Finding an instructor is part of it. It’s older, maybe out of print, but I see a lot of used copies advertised online, prices ranging from $10 to $25ish. For pre-learning about horses, tack, etc, there’s also (for both US and UK) *The Pony Club Handbook*: parts of a horse, horse grooming, feeding, mucking out, tacking up, and basic riding skills, all with flat-saddle riding in mind. Another good book–and gorgeously illustrated–is William Micklem’s *Complete Horse Riding Manual.* Even before you can get out and look for a place to ride, you can start learning and thinking about your goals. I grew up riding western (when I could get a ride) but transitioned to an English saddle after challenging myself to try it until I could jump about a meter and then decide which I liked best. No question for me; for others the answer is different. Western is better for some kinds of farm/ranch work (it’s hard to hang big-enough saddle bags, a rolled duster, a pair of long pruners, a saw, hammer, and fence tool, etc on a jumping saddle!! Not to mention when you need to drag a cow-critter out of where it shouldn’t be back to where it should.) But having jumped ditches in a western saddle..a real jumping saddle is lots easier on rider and horse.

      Videos are another good way to get an idea of what riding it about. There are a bazillion of them on YouTube ranging from really good examples of horsemanship or riding to really…cringe-worthy. Leaving aside competition horses (because they’re chosen for talent, not for having the easiest dispositions) just notice which horses look “happy” and are going smoothly at each gait. A happy horse, happy with its rider, happy in its healthy body, wants to move, go forward…so there’s a sense of purpose, of going somewhere, even on a loose rein (a western thing I grew up with) and on a more controlling rein. In high-strung horses, or very fit, very full of themselves competition horses, you can see some little bucks, kicking out behind, which can be just “WHEE!” in a horse (the way a happy horse plays when loose in a field with a companion or herd) OR can be a sign of discomfort or resistance. Don’t assume either until you’re more familiar with general horse behaviors and without knowing more about the individual horse and its background. And I’m talking too much tonight.

  15. Wow, you certainly gave me a lot to think about! I am in New South Wales, Australia, we are currently still in lockdown, you’re barely allowed out of your house, but when this is finally over…..I got my first covid shot, second one in a few weeks, vaccination rates here are increasing, hopefully by December restrictions will ease…and I think I want to lose more weight (thinking of the poor horse) . And work on flexibility, otherwise i won’t even be able to get on one!

    1. I know I want to lose more…I’m already going to be much lighter on Rags, but I need to be lighter still…AND figure out why I still can’t “throw my leg over” as I used to. You’d think almost 30 pounds down would lighten the leg enough to make it possible, but it’s not. I can throw my left leg over a lowish sawhorse (as high off the ground as if the ground were a stirrup) but not my right.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.