Wednesday, May 17, 2017

All decked out for summer

Last summer we realized that we would soon need to do something with our deck. Spanning the garage and wrapping around the living room and kitchen to the front and rear, the deck is a vital part of our living space for at least half the year.

Trouble is, the railing was starting to sag alarmingly to the point where I wouldn’t have wanted to put any weight on it, and there were a few places where there was a noticeable bounce under foot. Not good.

So we resolved to put things to rights this Spring before the fine weather kicked in. A builder friend managed to squeeze us in between jobs - and in between spells of rain that dragged the process out a lot longer than it might have taken, but we’re there now and very pleased with the results.

The most nerve-wracking part of the operation was having the garage open to the weather while they ripped off the old decking and put down new plywood. We had to clear the place out beforehand and do our best to shield the freezer and shelves the that remained. Here’s how they left it that first evening. Luckily the next 24 hours stayed dry and the garage was covered again by the time the next showers hit.



And here is the finished work. We’d debated going for aluminum railings (zero maintenance) but opted for cedar in the end, and we are both happy with that decision. They were able to salvage the glass panels that were in place originally and put everything back very much like it was.



Yes, that’s our barbecue sitting lonely in the corner. I had to take off one side shelf to maneuver it through the door and into the kitchen while they worked. There was no way we were going to get it down the stairs, remembering the battle we had years ago getting it up there in the first place.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Emerging local authors

Now into its third year, the Greater Victoria Public Library is again celebrating emerging local authors with a special collection.

On Thursday evening I attended the launch of this year’s collection, showcasing over 100 local authors who are recently published, either independently or through a small press.

The library courtyard was crowded with authors and guests. It’s only when you see people and books assembled like this that you realize what a thriving occupation writing is.

Yes, Tiamat’s Nest is one of the books in this year’s collection. See here for more details about the GVPL Emerging Local Authors program.



Friday, April 21, 2017

A few foodie favorites

With everyone in the family in full time work or education, time in the evenings and weekends is at a premium and a little planning goes a long way.

We always plan a weekly menu, and get all the necessary groceries in one go for the week ahead. Sometimes the hardest part is simply coming up with a menu plan and trying to keep it interesting. We love a variety of foods and flavors and are ready to try new things from time to time, but under pressure of time it's only natural that most of our meals are tried and trusted family favorites.

Even so, we try to mix it up and we often find ourselves wracking our brains, thinking "We need a rice dish here" or "Haven't had fish for a while", and trying to recall dishes to tempt the tastebuds.

Just as an experiment, I've started another blog called Rumble in the tumble where I'm keeping a daily record of recipes as we go. My thinking was to keep a note of meals, using the labels to index by main ingredients to help jog tired memories. We'll see how that goes, but meanwhile if anything over there encourages you to try something new it will have been worthwhile.

Just a word of warning - don't expect full-blown recipes with measurements and precise instructions, or anything fancy like that. I mostly just dive in saying "fry this" and "boil that". Quantities are up for grabs, and depend how many you're cooking for. This is seat-of-the-pants cookery.

On the plus side, it's all very simple and forgiving stuff. We like simple :)

Friday, April 14, 2017

Downs and ups

I know I’ve posted before about how life seems to go through up and down swings. The last couple of months have felt like unusually hard work, with very intense spells at work, illnesses, and (something I didn’t mention) we had one of our cats put down a week ago.

So it was great to have that party last weekend that Megan had spent so long preparing for before her appendix operation.

During the week, Ali and Megan had been visiting a pet shop for supplies for the aquarium and came back with two kittens. Meet Loki and Luna:



Last night I gave a talk at the library on Writer’s Block, something I’ve been preparing for weeks now. I’ve been running through my presentation in my head for ages, so when it was done it felt like a huge weight off my mind.

And to round off the good things in the past week, Megan today spoke with a teacher at Vancouver Island University and learned that she’s been accepted to join the baking program there in September. This is fantastic news because she’s been enjoying the culinary program at school this semester and has finally found something she wants to do. But of course there’s been a lot of pressure through the application process, and she had to recover enough from her recent operation to sit an assessment this week.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

March appendix

There is one aspect of our March traumas that I didn’t talk about last time. I decided to save that for a separate post and hopefully be able to report “mission accomplished.”

When Megan complained of abdominal pains, one of the reasons we assumed an innocuous cause at first was that she had been working very hard over the previous days.

She had taken it on herself to organize a surprise birthday party for one of her friends. We’d discussed the practicalities, and had reservations about the prospect of a dozen or more teens bouncing around the living room upstairs, so we settled on clearing out the garage for the party.

First off, there was a heap of stuff accumulated all over the floor - after all, who keeps their car in the garage? That took a day of sorting out with all of us pitching in to help.

Then she went to town cleaning up the rest. For the next several evenings we sat upstairs trying not to cringe at the sound of hammering from downstairs. Megan blacked out the windows, covered up the shelving, moved our summertime patio furniture in from its winter resting place in our bedroom, and put up strings of lights.

There was a major shopping expedition for food and drinks. We borrowed an air hockey table, which was a heavy duty mission in itself to lift in and out of the truck.

All in all, she put in a shedload of hard work over the course of four days. Monday she was planning to bake a cake ready for the party on Tuesday.

Monday and Tuesday were spent at the hospital instead.

The party, of course, had to be postponed. But I’m happy to report it finally took place today and was greatly enjoyed by all involved.

Friday, April 7, 2017

March madness

Now that April is here, life seems to have calmed down a bit.

Which is just as well.

When I last posted, I was looking forward to a bit of normality after an exceptionally intense few weeks at work. Better still, I booked a couple of days’ vacation in the middle of Spring Break to enjoy a long weekend of relaxation.

Things were going to plan until Sunday night, when Megan woke us in the middle of the night complaining of stomach pains. We went through the usual “what did you eat/what have you been doing” rigmarole for a couple of hours, but eventually concluded this wasn’t something simple that would sort itself out with a bit of rest.

Off to Emergency, and after a stressful day of tests she was in that night to have her appendix out. She was released from hospital the next day, and in the post-stress relief I promptly went down with a cold that knocked me out all through part of the week and all through the following weekend  :(

Back to work this week and things are more on an even keel. I’m feeling better and Megan is doing well.

Meanwhile, my novel is cranking slowly through the critiquing process which means I’m able to slow down on the writing front for a bit. Right now, instead I’m getting ready to give another talk at my local library. I’ve done talks like this a couple of times in the past. It takes a lot of preparation but it’s always been a worthwhile and enjoyable experience. This time I’m talking on Writer’s Block, based around a short series of blog posts I wrote this time last year.

Wish me luck!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Inner peace

Last weekend, I was thinking about writing a post on introversion/extroversion, when I remembered I already did something like that a year ago, and for much the same reason.

This time last year we held a division-wide all staff meeting. Given that we were bringing hundreds of people together from all over the province, and that most of them work directly on front counters serving the public, that conference took place over a weekend which took away the time I normally depend on - as an extreme introvert - to recharge my mental batteries.

Last weekend I reached the end of two weeks of highly intense and interactive departures from regular work, which for introverts is the definition of exhaustion.

We had another division-wide conference, but this time it was a smaller group and was able to take place on regular workdays. It was three days of presentations (which us directors had to prepare and deliver) and some great conversations. On its own that would have been fine, but by sheer coincidence it was book-ended by four days’ traveling out of town on an intense project workshop the preceding week, and followed by two days’ highly interactive training on, of all things, giving presentations.

Don’t get me wrong, these were all fabulous experiences individually, but run them consecutively and by the end I was ready for the funny farm.

It’s taken me the past week to get back on an even keel work-wise and energy-wise. Along the way it got me musing about the kinds of people the workplace values.

As a society, we claim to value diversity, and yet it seems we consistently revert to one image of success: that of outgoing sociability, to whom “networking opportunities” represent joy unbounded. This ignores a significant portion of the population to whom the words invoke a visceral dread.

It kinda peeves me that people seem to expect introverts to behave like extroverts in order to progress, but that seems to be the world we live in. Is my perspective simply skewed? How does it look from your perspective?

Meanwhile, I’m enjoying a weekend of rest and re-energizing activities such as reading and writing and long walks in the spring sunshine. How about you?

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Weekend Writing Warriors March 12

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image below.
http://www.wewriwa.com/

Continuing the opening chapter from The Ashes of Home, Shayla escaped two assailants in her room, disguised as servants, by leaping out of her window into the grip of an artificial gravity field. They are held by the field, upside down on the overhanging eaves 70’ above the ground. One assassin remains, holding a thermal grenade with a dead switch.

=====

Shayla glanced up once more and caught the eye of Bard Jovin, who gave a brief nod.

Returning her attention to ‘Gingallia’, Shayla said, “It seems you have the advantage.”

Her voice was calm, conversational, but as she spoke she leaped for the balcony, rolling to compensate for the sudden reversal of gravity. From the corner of her eye she saw the assassin’s feet leave the eaves.

Bard, quick on the uptake, had killed the grav field the moment Shayla jumped. As she landed, Shayla grabbed the nearest guards and shoved them towards the open doors leading into her quarters.

“Inside!” the captain roared, dragging more guards towards safety.

Behind Shayla the night blazed. Stone slabs under her feet bucked and sagged. She scrambled for a grip on subsiding masonry.

=====

We’re leaving this chapter at this point and I’m taking a break from WWW for a while. I’ll be back later in the year with more action from Shayla!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Weekend Writing Warriors March 5

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image below.
http://www.wewriwa.com/

Continuing the opening chapter from The Ashes of Home, Shayla escaped two assailants in her room, disguised as servants, by leaping out of her window into the grip of an artificial gravity field. They are held by the field, upside down on the overhanging eaves 70’ above the ground. Shayla has dealt with one, leaving one assassin remaining.

=====

‘Gingallia’s’ hand emerged slowly from her robes. Instead of the needle gun Shayla had been expecting, she held a thermal grenade. Her thumb was pressed on the arming trigger, which pulsed rapidly orange. Shayla noted white knuckles gripping the slim cylinder.

Shayla sheathed her knife and calmly asked, “Dead switch?”

‘Gingallia’ nodded.

“So if you get shot,” Shayla said clearly, so the guards a few feet away could hear her, “we all die.”

Shayla continued her careful tread along the eaves. She was now alongside the balcony. She could do with taking this one alive, but killers who got this close knew what stakes they played.

=====

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Weekend Writing Warriors February 26

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image below.
http://www.wewriwa.com/

Continuing the opening chapter from The Ashes of Home, Shayla escaped two assailants in her room, disguised as servants, by leaping out of her window into the grip of an artificial gravity field. They are held by the field, upside down on the overhanging eaves 70’ above the ground. Shayla has dealt with one, leaving one assassin remaining.

=====

Shayla backed carefully along the eaves, feeling her way over the joists and decorative moldings adorning the roof line. The wall at her side turned a corner. She glanced briefly upward over her shoulder to where the balustrade of her bedroom balcony hung a few feet above her head. ‘Gingallia’ followed the line of her gaze, and Shayla knew she’d spotted the guards lining the balcony, weapons ready. Their presence so quickly was a welcome sight. Someone must have already alerted them to danger long before the alarm triggered when Shayla used her escape route. Bard Jovin, her guard captain, took up a position just out of sight of her attacker.

Shayla thought she saw a flicker of calculation in the impostor’s eyes. She knows she can’t get off a shot before getting blown away.

=====

Monday, February 20, 2017

Sweet successes

With all the crap still in the news (Are we already on the campaign trail for 2020? Really?) sometimes it’s best to administer an antidote by celebrating some of the small wins in life.

Success #1

I discovered last year that I write best when I can listen to music on headphones. We have a family subscription to iTunes so we have access to a long list of titles but I’d always been signed in with Ali’s ID which means when I’m listening, she can’t. A family subscription should mean we can both access the store at the same time.

We went through an afternoon of frustration a few weeks ago trying to get this working, sifting through the clear-as-mud instructions on the interwebs (are we signing in or out of iTunes, iCloud, or the App Store, or all three at once? And was that my ID or Ali’s it wants here?) and going round in circles. In best bureaucratic manner we ended up with conflicting messages, first saying I needed to be added to family sharing, then saying I can’t be added because I’m already there. Meanwhile, no music.

Yesterday we had another crack at it, and got it working.

Bliss!

I can now download my own library without having to leaf through a load of artists I have no interest it.

Success #2

As a rule, we go more for savory foods than sweet. I’m much more inclined to go for seconds than for dessert, but once in a while a pudding makes a welcome change. Trouble is, apart from homemade cheesecake, I don’t normally do desserts.

A while ago, Ali’s brother bought us a book called Great British Puddings, full of mouth-watering recipes. I kept getting drawn to it recently, and finally decided to try one of the recipes.

I give you ... lemon sponge.
With custard, of course.
Ali is the baker in the family so she helped out, but the result was very pleasing. Trouble is, the kids enjoyed it too, which is why there’s so little left.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Weekend Writing Warriors February 19

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image below.
http://www.wewriwa.com/

Continuing the opening chapter from The Ashes of Home, Shayla escaped two assailants in her room, disguised as servants, by leaping out of her window into the grip of an artificial gravity field. The three of them are now standing, held by the field, upside down on the overhanging eaves 70’ above the ground. One attacked Shayla, who parried, causing the assassin to stagger backwards ...

=====

One foot found the edge of the eaves, and he stepped, without thinking, to keep his balance. But he was now half out of the edge of the grav field, and conflicting forces led his reflexes astray. He lost his balance. The planet’s natural gravity reclaimed him and he fell, shrieking, into the night.

The remaining assassin reached into her robes. Her hood had slipped, revealing a perfect likeness of Gingallia, one of Shayla’s senior personal servants. It also revealed eyes filled with fear and shock at her companion’s sudden demise. All the same, Shayla knew better than to underestimate her. She wouldn’t be here unless she was at the peak of her profession.

=====

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Weekend Writing Warriors February 12

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image below.
http://www.wewriwa.com/

Continuing the opening chapter from The Ashes of Home, Shayla escaped two assailants in her room, disguised as servants, by leaping out of her window into the grip of an artificial gravity field. The three of them are now standing, held by the field, upside down on the overhanging eaves 70’ above the ground.

=====

The first one, the Barras lookalike (traitor or impostor?) swung his rapier. Shayla’s own blade flashed blue and met it with a jarring wrench.

A shimmerblade was a rare and fearsome weapon, highly prized by undercover agents as a weapon of stealth. When activated, the vibrating crystalline edge could shear through anything less than military grade vehicle armor--or another shimmerblade. But when two such blades met in hand-to-hand combat, the results were random and potentially catastrophic for one or both parties.

Shayla’s knife hand went numb. She barely managed to keep her grip on the hilt as she stumbled back against the wall towering over her head to meet the ground hanging impossibly above. But at least she had been prepared. She’d activated her shimmerblade at the last moment and knew what to expect. Her opponent staggered back in the other direction.

=====

Saturday, February 4, 2017

It’s snow joke

I know I’m not an experienced winter driver, but I have driven on snow a number of times in the few inches we typically get around Victoria. I know to take things slowly - only light touches on gas, brake, and wheel - and to think much further ahead than usual. I’ve never had a problem getting to where I need to go.

Until yesterday.

We woke up Friday to an inch or so of snow on the ground, but it was still falling steadily. I got outside and shoveled the driveway clear. By the time I showered and dressed for work you wouldn’t know I’d been out there. Oh well.

We live in a dip at the bottom of a hill. Not normally a problem because our road is a school bus route and they always keep the road clear.

Not today. I guess it wasn’t yet bad enough for them to bother.

Regardless, it was still only a couple of inches. Shouldn’t be a problem. Ali set off ahead of me in the Expedition. That is usually my car but yesterday she needed to get into a parkade downtown so that left me with the much bigger truck. She got out of the slight rise at the end of our drive and made it up the hill.

I followed in the truck. Except I didn’t. She’d warned me that it was light at the back end and prone to slipping getting out of the drive and she was right. Rather than mess around with 4 wheel drive at this point I decided to head the other way. A few yards away there’s a side road that leads back up to rejoin our road - a long but fairly gentle uphill.

Shouldn’t be a problem for a big truck, should it?

Half way up, I realized I was losing speed and the slightest touch on the gas simply span the wheels. No way to keep up my speed. I came to a stop, engaged 4WD and tried to move. No dice. Worse, with each try I was drifting sideways towards the side of the road and a ditch. I stopped again and put my foot on the brakes to consider my next move.

To my horror, I noticed I was slowly but steadily sliding backwards down the hill! Let’s gloss over the next hour of rising panic as I tried to maneuver myself out of danger and back home. I can summarize it by saying I managed to reverse cautiously back to level ground, had another run at it which got me a bit further but not to the top, reversed to the bottom again and headed back the way I’d come only to be defeated by the rise at the exit onto our main road - so frustrating, I was literally across the road from our front hedge but couldn’t get out! I seemed to have absolutely zero traction to tackle the slightest incline. Reversed back to the bottom of that dip, along the way getting stuck across someone’s driveway where I mistakenly though it would be easier to turn around, before finally taking another more level side road and making it back home.

Apart from the sheer frustration, my biggest emotion at that point was profound embarrassment at my dismal failure. One or two smaller cars passed by during my skating exercises, seemingly oblivious to the slippery conditions. There was I sitting in a big 4WD truck completely helpless. I’m sure I must have made good entertainment for some of the neighbors!

To cap it all, I still don’t understand what I was doing wrong or what I could have done differently. Surely a vehicle like that should be able to handle a bit of snow and ice, shouldn’t it? Any thoughts from folks more experienced in those conditions?

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Weekend Writing Warriors January 29

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image below.
http://www.wewriwa.com/

Continuing the opening chapter from The Ashes of Home, the air in Shayla’s room was drugged but she held her breath at the first taste. Two attackers disguised as servants attacked her. In order to escape, she hit a hidden button and leaped through the windows 70’ above the ground...

=====

A second later, her feet connected with the broad eaves overhanging her bedroom windows. She hung upside down in the grip of an artificial grav field and drew her own blade, watching the lit window for signs of movement.

If at least one of her attackers leaned out of the window to see where she’d gone, she’d quickly have one less to deal with.

No such luck.

First one, then the other, appeared through the opening in a tuck roll, too fast and just out of Shayla’s reach. They must have figured out what had happened, but she’d really expected no less. Only the very best assassins ever got this close.

They landed back to back in fighting crouches. The nearer one saw Shayla and signaled to his companion, who also turned to face her.


=====

Well, Shayla isn’t in the clear yet, but able to breathe again she at least has a fighting chance :)

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Cover art

While I’m in the thickets of the critiquing and editing jungle on The Ashes of Home, I decided to get ahead of the game and start thinking about cover art.

Like I did for Ghosts of Innocence, I’ve roughed out some concept drafts and I’m looking for your thoughts. I expect I’ll get lots of contradictory views (like I did last time) but any observations are food for thought.

Some of the things I want to convey are: Far future, space travel, sci-fi, military, adventure, intrigue. But what do these covers say to you?

#1 - Imperial frigate Vixen on Eloon

#2 - The death of Admiral George Leonard

#3 - Visiting the arctic prison

Note - these are rough drafts, the execution is pretty sketchy and don’t pay any attention to the font choice. I just find it easier to imagine an image as a book cover when it’s got an actual title and author name on it. The purpose here is to get a feel for the concepts and eventually to pick one to flesh out properly.

For comparison, here’s the equivalent sketch for Ghosts of Innocence alongside the actual cover, so you can see how things might develop along the way:


Friday, January 20, 2017

Good luck America (and the other 95% of the world)

Because I've got a feeling we're going to need it.

Democracy is all well and good, but such a tiny minority holds such disproportionate power over the rest of the world. And the rest of us are helpless bystanders in a democratic process that we have no say in, but which affects us all profoundly.

How American banks behave affects the rest of the world. 2008, anyone?

How Wall Street and American mega-corporations behave affects the rest of the world.

And how the American president behaves affects the rest of the world.

With such power should come some responsibility.

But with Donald Duck in the pilot's seat, squeaking "America first, America first" I'm not too hopeful.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Weekend Writing Warriors January 15

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image below.
http://www.wewriwa.com/

Continuing the opening chapter from The Ashes of Home, the air in Shayla’s room has been drugged but she held her breath at the first taste. Two attackers disguised as servants are in the room with her. She let herself collapse towards the bed, feigning the effects of the drug, then launched herself forwards...

=====

As she rolled, she glimpsed upside down a face in the shadows of a hood. It looked like Barras, but Shayla noted nose plugs, a tiny breathing unit clamped between thin stretched lips, and eyes filled with hate.

A razor line of blue fire bisected the space she’d just vacated. Holy Space, a rapier shimmerblade!

Groping fingers found the hidden button as she completed the roll. The bed collapsed behind Shayla, halved effortlessly by the shimmerblade. Tall windows ahead of her flew open and she continued her motion, hurdling the waist-high sill out into a seventy foot drop.

Gravity took Shayla as she forced the dregs of tainted air from her mouth and drew in a deep, clean draught from the night rushing past her face.


=====

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Weekend Writing Warriors January 8

Weekend Writing Warriors is a weekly blog hop where participants post eight to ten sentences of their writing. You can find out more about it by clicking on the image below.
http://www.wewriwa.com/

Continuing the opening chapter from The Ashes of Home, Shayla realizes something is wrong with the air in her room. Someone has released a drug intended to knock her out but she held her breath at the first taste. Two attackers disguised as servants are in the room with her.

=====

Her hand crept towards the hilt of the knife under her robes. She stilled it and instead stumbled another step towards the bed. She couldn’t fight these two. If the drug didn’t take her, anoxia would.

Another step.

The figures closed in.

Shayla flopped towards the bed, buying herself a few precious moments. As she pitched forwards her legs folded under her, then she launched herself across the bed. She rolled, outstretched hand reaching for a concealed button under the edge of the headboard.

=====

Well, we are a week into January already. Decorations taken down and packed away, and tree dropped off for chipping. I hope everyone had a good Christmas and that the New Year brings you joy.

I would still like to find one or two more beta readers for The Ashes of Home. If you are interested, please drop me a note either in the comments or through my contact page. Please include an email address I can reach you at, an idea of when you think you could finish by, and also what I could do for you in return.

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