Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Writing Excuses Podcast Homework



I love the Writing Excuses podcast.

For those who didn't listen to it, at the end of each episode, they give a sort of writing prompt/homework assignment for their listeners to do related to the topic of that particular episode. I don't usually do them. I have done some - like the ones where you ask friends to send you pictures of random items and then make a story out of them. I've posted those stories on this blog in fact:

Love Squash
Making Space

But usually, I just listen, and try to use what I've learned on whatever project I'm currently working on instead of starting something new for the writing exercise.

That is, until I got to season 10. Now, I'm fairly far behind. I think they are on season 12 at least now. In season 10 they are doing what they call a writing master class. So each episode (most anyway) will be a lesson and the lessons will build over the season. I'd like to participate with this season in the spirit it was created, that is - as a class. So that means I should actually do the assignments. However, I've learned there is a second reason I don't do the exercises. I forget what they are when I'm home with my writing materials.

I listen to podcasts and audiobooks when I'm out for my walks. I am not going to carry a notebook with me to do assignments while I am out for my walk. I think I will do it when I get home. Then I get home, walk through the door, and my family wants to talk to me, my cats want dinner, etc. and I don't remember that I was going to do a writing exercise. Or I walk on my lunch break and when I get back I have to, you know, go back to work. If I do remember it's when I'm getting ready to go for another walk and realize I can't listen to the next episode because I haven't done the homework from the last episode.

Tonight, however, I am getting caught up. I am doing the exercises from the first three episodes that I've already listened to. Writing Excuses has all the instructions up at their website, so I don't actually need to remember what to do -I can look it up.

If you are an aspiring writer, I can't recommend this podcast enough. There are so many other podcasts that discuss publishing, but this is about craft, and the advice is detailed and wonderful. Go listen.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Mirtazapine in Cats

Bob in his Gryffindor scarf. photo by Kara Hartz
Mirtazapine is a common appetite stimulant used for cats. Over the past couple weeks I've given Bob two doses, and he is eating great. Mirtazapine is used because it works really well. Cats who take it, eat. When you have a sick cat that refuses food for significant lengths of time, despite being offered many tempting options, cat people get frustrated and hopeless feeling. Something that gets the cats eating again is a godsend.

Another plus, for anyone who has tried to pill a cat is that it only needs to be given every 3 days. The hospital where I work now carries a new form of Mirtazapine that isn't a pill, but is a soft dissolving tab. So it dissolves quickly in the cat's mouth as opposed to them needing to swallow it. However, it needs to be given every day.

What is talked about less is a common side affect of Mirtazapine.  Even some of the doctors I work with didn't know about this. Most cats I know who have taken Mirtazapine has some degree of behavior changes. Agitation, restlessness, increased vocalizations and similar behaviors are what I've mostly seen or had reported to me. Knowing to expect, or at least not to be startled by these changes when they happen can keep cat people from worrying that something new has gone wrong with their beloved.

For Bob, the restless is the worst on the first day of his pill and decreases over time. I haven't tried the dissolving tabs with him, but since they don't last as long, I wonder if the side affects would be lessened too. I'd be interested to hear your experience if your cat has taken the daily form.

Bob's level of agitation was so bad yesterday that I started rethinking if I would continue using it with him, but today he is his usual happy self, ad I'm torn. The old dude really needs to eat. *sigh* The stressful life of the elderly kitty guardian.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Vixen and the Temporal Portal



The first time Vixen ran through the temporal gate, she'd been running from something large and noisy. She didn't know for sure what, but a young fox didn't wait around to find out if they had any sense at all. The charged air made her fir stand on end, and if she'd approached slowly enough to feel it ahead of time, she never would have gone through. The disturbing tingle wasn't the only shocking change. It had been deep after moon rise when she had been out hunting, but suddenly it was just after dawn. The forest also suddenly held twice as many trees. In fact, she had to swerve in her run to avoid a giant trunk that sprung up in front of her.

She stopped, looking frantically around. Everything was different, but familiar at the same time. Some of the trees smelled the same, but there were new kinds, with new smells. The nearby creek smelled much stronger. Despite the change from night to day, the air was cooler. She crouched, remembering she was fleeing from a threat, but now didn't hear anything but the wind. 

Moments passes, and after a time, she heard a rustling nearby, but this time it was the noise of something tiny. Despite the strangeness of the place she knew prey when she heard it. She stayed crouched and still, watching the direction the sound had come from and was rewarded a second later with a wood rat crawling out of a pile of dried leaves. She was on him in a blink and the creature never knew what hit him. 

Grasping the carcass in her teeth, she trotted toward home this time feeling the prickling along her skin ahead of time, but so hungry and anxious to get her meal back to her burrow that she pressed on despite the discomfort. She didn't remember the last time she'd had such a big, plump rat. Possibly she never had. 

She remembered that rat, and the tingling that came with it. It wasn't too much longer before she searched for that tingle again. Her mate had stopped bringing food to the den. She had tried to search for him, but had no luck. Her pregnancy was advancing, and she was hungry often. She was drawn to the place of abundant smells and fat rats. 

Over the next week she hunted there regularly. She would trot or dart through the gateway to minimize the discomfort with the transition. She lingered in the new lush land longer at each visit, until she began to tire and wanted to snuggle into her burrow back home. Then, completely by accident she found a nice cozy abandoned burrow. Not perfect, but a good fit, and it could be adjusted to be even better. It was near time for the kits to come, and living here would mean no more icky tingles. She'd caught a young rat this time, and took it into the new hole. She never went through the temporal gate again.

Unknown to Vixen, that decision marked the official extinction of red foxes in 2042, and their spontaneous reemergence in 2197 thanks to the Temporal Species and Habitat Restoration Program (TSAHR), and one of the Program's greatest successes. 

prompt - moon, skin, caught

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

I Liked Him Better Chubby

Thin Bob. photo by Kara Hartz

He isn't eating enough. I'm starting him on appetite stimulants, but they make him act goofy. Why do cats have to get old?

Monday, September 11, 2017

3 Books (and a cat)

Meeko with my current reading material. photo by Kara Hartz
I'm overwhelmed with great reading material (again). I picked up The Healer's Legacy by Sharon Skinner at San Francisco Comic Con last weekend, and started reading it on the way home. The author presented a writing panel I attended, and I remembered seeing her last year as well, but I didn't have a chance then to go back to the dealer room to buy a book. So I made a point to do so this year. I'm enjoying it so far. The main character has a panther and tiny dragon friend. So - what more do you need?

Then at the library I spotted Seven Stones to Stand or Fall by Diana Gabaldon on the 'Lucky Day' shelf. The Lucky Day books are popular books that they don't let you renew, and you can't put a hold on them. I think there are other copies of the same books you can hold, but they save some just for the Lucky Day shelf- the idea being that when you come into the library and find a great book that you've been wanting, that makes your day, Lucky! Now, I HAVE been wanting to get this book because it is a collection of Outlander short fiction. I've already read most of the stories, but there are 3 or 4 of them that I had not yet tracked down in their original publications. So yea! Problem is, I'm already reading the above book, but I had to grab this one when I saw it, and can't renew. So I get to read extra. My Sunday is reading day!

Then, a great co-worker gave me The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan. (When I went to get that link I noticed the ebook is on sale for $1.99 if you want to grab it - not sure how long the sale goes.) I've heard good things about it, so it's going next in line because she just told me her sister wants to read it too. I can't lollygag too much with getting it done and back to her.

Other books I'm looking forward to hopefully getting soon are the last in the Broken Earth Trilogy: The Stone Sky by N K Jemisin, The third book in the Tawny Man Trilogy: Fool's Fate by Robin Hobb, and Terminal Alliance by Jim Hines - it isn't out yet though so I get to wait for that one. (Ack! When I went to get THAT link I saw he has a Magic ex Libris short story available called Chupacabra's Song for only $0.99 that I then had to buy. Perhaps I shouldn't do these posts about what I'm reading if they are going to result in me finding even more things to read. . . oh who am I kidding. There is always room for more great stuff to read.)





Friday, September 8, 2017

Camping Under the Falling Star - Flash Fiction Friday



As Allie waded through the shin high grasses and prickly weeds her flashlight scanning back and forth, her feet sore, she thought more and more that her quest was foolish. She should come back in the daytime when she could see better. She knew she had to be close to the meteorite impact spot. She'd been lying in her sleeping bag, watching the stars when she saw the tell-tale streak through the sky, but bigger and brighter than any she'd seen before. It disappeared, and just seconds later, she'd felt the ground vibrate. She knew what had happened, and she felt she knew which direction the vibration had come from. Now she couldn't help but question how she thought she'd been so sure to head out in the dark of night.

To hell with it. She would go back to camp and come look again in the morning. She was in the middle of nowhere for Pete's sake. It wasn't like someone else was going to sneak in and snag it out from under her.
She turned and started wading back across the field. When she thought she should be getting close to the tree line that would mark the edge of the forest she was camped in she swung the beam of her flashlight up higher, looking further out. No trees. Apparently she had gone further afield then she realized at the time. She kept walking. 

Several minutes later she was still walking and still no trees in sight. Now she's wondering about her perception of the walk out. Her feet were sore. She stopped, turning slowly, shining her light to the end of the beam. The field looked Identical in every direction. By the time she had turned all the way around she wasn't even sure she was still pointed the same way she had started.

Her legs folded and she sat suddenly, tears overwhelming her. The tall grass brushed her face and stickers poked her ankles as they lodged in her socks, and made everything feel just that much more hopeless.
She knew when the sun came up she would be able to orient herself and get back to camp. There was no point in continuing to wander. Still, she let herself wallow and weep and feel hopeless. Maybe she could wear herself out emotionally and she could fall asleep here in the foxtails and weeds. The tears faded out, but her exhaustion manifested in staring off into the dim distance with a blank mind. There was no sleep.

She didn't know how long she sat there, it felt both an eternity and momentary. In time however, she noticed a change. Treetops began to show against a slightly lighter sky. She stood up. The tree line was off slightly to her right; she hadn't been so very off in the direction she'd been headed. Just far off enough. 

Bending to pick up her pack, she saw it. A black rock in a shallow depression a foot from her bag. She'd sat next to it all night long. She touched it tentatively. Quickly, pulling her hand away assuming it would be hot, but it wasn't. She picked it up. A fine soot coated the surface, and she smiled as it came off on her fingers.
Cradling the meteorite in her had, not even bothering to put it in her bag she walked back to camp with plans to nap and celebrate. 

Writing prompt: Rock, change, lost

Monday, September 4, 2017

Thinking of Houston

We moved to Cypress, a suburb of Houston when I was 12. We moved away, to Midland in west Texas, when I was 13, so we didn't live there all that long, but it had a big impact on me. I'll be honest and say that I didn't like it there very much, but in hindsight I think it had more to do with my being 12/13 and being moved away from my friends to a place with a different regional culture than I was used to at the same time I was starting middle school and having to adapt to THAT new culture as well. It was an ugly time personally for me, so perhaps it's time I stop blaming Texas for it all.

I remember some computer program we had back then that would let us track incoming hurricanes. No biggies ever hit near us while we lived there, so the hurricane tracking was more 'for fun'. Coming from tornado territory before our move to Houston when I was woken in the middle of the night by my parents and moved to sleep in the basement, the hurricane thing felt like more of a novelty at the time. It's been sad watching the storms get worse over time.

I was talking with my dad a couple days ago and we were wondering if our old house is flooded right now. He had tried to find it on maps or looked for reports of flooding specifically in Cypress, but didn't find much helpful. So we are assuming, from the reports of how widespread the flooding is, that it probably is. That got me remembering some of our neighbors back then, and wondering if they are still there, and how they are fairing.

For all I had personal issues when I lived in Texas there are some wonderful things there that I really loved. If, when Houston gets back on its feet - as it will, you have the chance to visit I'd recommend:

The Johnson Space Center. This was one of my very favorite things in Houston. In our short time living in Houston we visited more than once. Perhaps even three times? I don't remember for sure, but it is an amazing place. If you have any interest in Space exploration, or history at all, you'll love visiting. In case anyone doesn't know, The Johnson Space Center is the Houston in the famous Apollo 13 comment, "Houston, we have a problem".

The Astrodome. We got some sort of youth ticket package deal when my sister and I were kids in Houston, so we ended up going to a lot of Astros games. I liked baseball before this, but I loved it when we lived in Houston. I've tried since then to get that love of fandom back, but I can't recapture it. I'm back to just liking. That couple years of being an Astros fan is a fond memory I'll always carry.

Galveston. While not in Houston - obviously since it's Galveston - it's only a short day trip away, and I remember loving it there. I haven't looked for Galveston specific stories, but I would assume they are in as bad, if not worse shape than Houston is since they are directly on the Gulf Coast. We were visiting there once on Mardi Gras and we didn't know it. Until, as we walked all by ourselves on an otherwise empty beach, a parade appeared out of nowhere, came by us, covering us with plastic coins and mardi gras beads and disappeared again into the distance down the road. It was a weird, surreal moment that was so weird and surreal that as an adult now I can't help but wonder if I'm remembering it wrong. Later we went into town and full Mardi Gras celebrations were underway, and it was a blast.

So, here's my thoughts going out to Houston and the surrounding areas. If you can help the relief efforts, please do so - because you are going to want Houston to be there so you can visit it see all the cool things it has to offer.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Found Files

Last weekend we spent a day deep cleaning the house. I came across 2 memory sticks (thumb drives?). One holds backups of my novel - so I must have that backed up in multiple places because it wasn't the drive I am currently using to back it up. The other has drafts of old short stories and miscellaneous writings. One story in particular I thought I had lost when out external backup drive failed. It had held all the files from the desktop computer I had before this one. Most of my other stories were also on my laptop since that's what I use the most for writing, but I know I'm still missing a few stories.

This one in particular was still in progress, and I still really like the concept. The execution needed some work yet, but there were a few scenes that I remember being really proud of, that came off just like they were in my head. That's tough for me. My plan had been to start from scratch someday to rewrite that one, but now I don't have to. I just have to finish. I'm pretty excited to reread it and get back to it.

If only I was so greatly rewarded every time I cleaned, maybe my house wouldn't be such an embarrassment most of the time.

10984226_10153478593296489_7228955485363250362_n

Monday, August 21, 2017

Bob's Raging Bladder Infection

Bob eating- yea! photo by Kara Hartz
I've been sure that Bob is on death's door for about 3 years now. He gets sick, I'm sure that this is the end because, well he's got a broken spine and he's a thousand years old - how much more can he take, right? But he always pulls through. He is the toughest cat in the history of cats.

The latest episode in this ongoing story: he was eating poorly, and had lost significant weight. I took him with me to work for a bath. That was the only plan. At the hospital I work at we use these disposable cardboard litter pans for cats that are clean and fit well into the kennels without taking up all the space. We don't put much litter in them so the kennel doesn't get too messy if the cat kicks the litter around. I leave Bob's diaper off when I have him at work with me to let his poor bottom air out. When he used his box, it was clear he had significant blood in his urine. (I thought is strange that this didn't show up in his diapers.)

So began the tests. We got blood and urine samples. I was sure his kidneys must be starting to fail because his last bloodwork showed his kidney values in the 'grey zone'. In other words, not yet bad enough to diagnose kidney disease, but not quite a good as we'd like. Shocking, for a 19/20 year old cat, his kidney values came back this time just perfect. Like I said, he's an amazing guy. But he does have a raging bladder infection. He was treated with Convenia injectable antibiotic, which we just learned today from his urine culture that his infection is susceptible to. His attitude has since improved greatly.

I'm wondering if the diaper could be a contributing factor to this development. Might holding the wet diaper near his body encourage bacteria to migrate up into his bladder? I think maybe. We can't discontinue the diaper for Bob at this stage. He really seems to have almost no control at all of his urine anymore, so I will just need to be extra diligent about changing him if he is even a little wet. Unlike a baby, he doesn't complain and ask to be changed.

The other strange thing is - he had barely eaten anything in about a week when I took him to work. Then there, he ate three cans of food that day. The next day at home he didn't want to eat again. So I switched his dish for the paper bowls we use at work (as seen in the photo above) and he started eating again. I thought his dish was somehow difficult for him to eat out of or he decided he didn't like it. Unfortunately, the paper dish solution has not continued to work. He is back to sporadic eating habits. So I'd love some theories or ideas about how to encourage better eating. I'm thinking of trying a flat dish - if a more open paper bowl was easier than his ceramic bowl, maybe a plate will be even easier? Yes, I'm reaching here, but you would too if you loved this cat.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

To Hell with Nazis and the KKK

I've been trying to decide what to say about the recent events in Chartlottesville, but I just get angry. I'm not sure I have anything coherent to say, but I'm not willing to say nothing.
Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists are evil.
The only way 'both sides' of an interaction with Nazis could be just as bad is if the other side were the KKK. No group in opposition to Nazis and the KKK is just as bad.

While I have many more thoughts, I'm stopping here.

No, wait, one more thing:
To Hell with Trump too for giving evil a home and making it feel safe and empowered.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Homeschooling High School - Honors 9th Grade English

Like my decision to share my personal experience with my colostomy, illeostomy and abdominal wall reconstruction, I've decided to share our personal journey with homeschooling through high school. It also seems to be a topic that worries a lot of otherwise calm and collected homeschoolers. Now, we are just at the beginning. I am no expert other than the fact that I was once in high school and I was accepted to multiple UC universities, so I have at least some idea of what that takes to accomplish.

Some caveats before we begin:
Homeschooling journeys are very individual. Just because I mention something we are doing doesn't mean I think that is the best thing for everyone to do. It means this is what we have decided to do at this time for this kid. You know your kids and your goals, and my kid and her goals might be different. Use your discretion when following any advice.

We homeschool through a public charter program. They will create official high school transcripts for us from all the work my daughter will be doing. Unless we leave the charter, I won't be offering advice on how to write a transcript.

Also because we use a charter, I will be following, at least loosely, their checklist of standards for each class I write about so I know my daughter will get the proper credit for her work.

We don't know what our kiddo wants to do in life yet. So we are approaching high school from the perspective of making sure she is prepared for whatever she decides on. If she decides to go to a competitive university, we want her to be prepared to get in and succeed. If she chooses another path she will at worst be over-prepared. If she makes a decision later on about what she wants to be, we may switch gears to better aim for that.

So our guidelines for Honors English recommended reading and analyzing 6 novels. (Yes only 6!) She usually reads many more than that in a year, but we have been a little lax on the analysis part in the past, so that's something I'm going to focus more on this year. We'll go slower through the books and do a lot more talking and probably writing about them. Our novels for 9th grade high school English this year are:







To guide us along with the literature analysis portion of things I ordered a few guides. Specifically, I'd like to mention there two because I learned something:



What I learned was that these are not two different publishers and two different types of study guides as I first thought. They are a teacher's version and a student pages of the same study unit (well, if you bought it for the same novel -as you can see I did not.) Reading through these guides, I thought about ordering the missing piece of each one, but ultimately decided against it. I think I'll just use the section I have for each one, and we will still do our own thing, our own discussions, etc. This will give us a little more variety in how we go about our book discussions. If, when we are actually using them, I think otherwise, I'll report in here about how it went.

I also bought a Literature textbook, primarily so we can add in some short stories. I'm not sure how much we'll use this, but I wanted to round out the novel studies a little.


We spent a good part of 8th grade working on the 5 paragraph essay format until I was confident she was comfortable with it. So this year we'll work on refining her style, and help her put her thoughts and ideas into a structure.

I wanted her to try an online class, and thought English might be a good choice, but was unable to find anything that fit what I was looking for. I found several online and local writing classes, but nothing that would have been a full English class, and certainly nothing that would hit an honors level course.

She has several writing projects to complete throughout the year, and a couple of oral presentations. In addition she is required to take a proctored finial exam or complete a finial project. She is leaning toward doing the project, but we have no guidelines on what they are expecting for that or if she needs to turn it in to anyone in particular, so we will have to talk to her charter to clarify about that.

Wish us luck!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Love Squash - Flash Fiction Friday



Jon pushed his wide brimmed hat back and wiped his forehead with his handkerchief. The hot sun lamps in the hydroponics bay could wear on a man after a while. Sitting on the edge of a raised bed of acorn squash he pulled out his water bottle and took a drink. 

It was well past the end of his shift. He would be fine heading home, and while there were always things to do, there wasn't anything that couldn't wait until tomorrow. Still he sat. For the past week, ever since Christy stood him up, he hadn't gone out much. Or at all. He didn't want to run into her in the corridors, or the laundry, or the cafeteria. So he was keeping deliberately odd hours to avoid her. Childish, possibly, but he didn't care. 

He realized he was sitting in the exact spot now where they had promised to meet. Like a fool he'd spent a ridiculous amount of time in front of the mirror primping his hair. He even remembered how slippery the plastic handle of the hairbrush had been in his sweaty hand. Even more, he remembered the solid lump in his pocket from the ring box. He'd been a nervous wreck. 

Then the waiting. She worked in the kitchens, so she was off when everything was done, not a specific time. Still she was usually free by 8:30 or so. By 9:30 he'd finally left to go to the kitchens. Maybe there was some sort of problem. Maybe he could help. But the kitchens were dark, the doors locked. Then it hit him that she had stood him up. And he had been ready to ask. . . he dodged a bullet there after all, he thought.

The lights dimmed; they were on timers and it was getting later. He stood up. No point in brewing over it anymore. It was what it was. His messenger pinged in his pocket. He tried to pull it out with the hand holding his water and he fumbled the device. It fell through a leafy squash plant and landed with a plop in the dirt. He set his bottle down and shoved leaves aside to get it back. In the semi darkness he saw a shiny glint and reached for it. It was an acorn squash, but he felt something metal as well, he plucked the vegetable out. The vegetable was misshapen. Around its middle was a silver bracelet. The one he'd given Christy he knew at once, but her rolled the squash over in his hand to confirm, and as expected he found the little silver heart with the word 'love' stamped on it. Also attached to the bracelet was a message stamp. That had been added on.

How did that get here? When could she have brought it without him knowing? Had someone stolen it? With apprehension, he pressed the stamp. It popped and crackled, but between all that he could make out Christy's voice, but not her words. The stamp had been lying in the dirt, and getting watered for a week no he realized. It had been there a week, enough time for this squash to grow around the bracelet. She had come. She'd come and she'd left this here for him. 

With growing dread, he dove back into the plant and pulled out his messenger. The ping had been from Christy. "Are you free to get together tonight?" He'd been ignoring her messages, and they had started coming less and less often. He looked back at them now with new eyes. "I'm sorry." "Did you get my message?" "Are you mad at me?" "Can you come see me?" "Where are you?" She wasn't sorry for hurting and leaving him, he saw now. She was sorry for something else. Something that had kept her from staying that night.

Ah! That night! A cat had come rushing out of the garden and scared him half to death in the dark he remembered. He'd all but fallen over, and he thought his hair had gotten all a mess. He'd rushed off to check it. He'd only been gone a minute. Damn it, and damn his pride too.

He hastily wiped his messenger on his pants to get the dirt off and replied that yes, he was free. Did she want to come over?

She replied she couldn't. She was still at the hospital bay.

Still? He wondered. He asked if she were all right, feeling panic rise.

Yes, it was her father. Didn't he get her message? She was there with him. Would Jon be willing to come there? She didn't like leaving him. 

Yes, absolutely. I'm leaving work now, let me clean up and I'll be right there.

Thank you so much. I've really needed you. See you soon. 

There were flowers by the water tanks. He could clip a few of those on the way out to bring to her father. He looked at the bracelet trying to think of the best way to get it off the squash, and then decided to leave it. It kinda looked like a heart now the way it was dented in. He'd give her the whole thing.

The End


This is the second story written from the photo prompts my friends sent: