animals, humor

The Genre Book Club and the Storm

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So, I had an interesting evening last night. A line of thunderstorms had started moving through our area just before I left for the genre book club I attend once a month at a (the only) local pub. The scene as I drove wasn’t as bad as the image above, but it was a possibility.

As I pulled into the illogically jammed parking area (I resorted to stalking a guy who had just come out of the pub back door, until he fiiiinally got into his car and left), the rain had started, and I was definitely eager to put up my umbrella and make a run for it.

On my way inside, I crossed paths with the librarian (head of the club), who was bringing in stuff from her car; she told me that we’d be meeting in the back (in the actual brewery), as the pub itself was — obviously — rather crammed.

So I made my way through a virtual traffic jam of customers to the brewery.

When the librarian returned with books, she also had a furry guy very similar to this with her:

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His name is Zeus, and he’s scared of thunder and lightning (poor boy!), so his human mom didn’t want to leave him home alone right before the storm hit.

MY EVENING OF ADVENTURE WITH A DOG:

Now, despite being a cat whisperer, I have this interesting situation with dogs: Dogs, for whatever reason, love me. It creates awkward moments with Toby, when I come back from an unexpected encounter with a canine and he smells it on me. And sometimes the dogs are just a little too happy to see me for my physically sensitive comfort. (Between the nails, the breath, the panting in your face, and possibly getting licked in your eyeball, a spontaneous intimate visit from a dog is not my autistic opinion of a fantastic experience.)

But Zeus is awesome. He took to me right away, not only letting me pet him but also keep my own space; he also followed my instructions, and didn’t resist when I had his leash.

And I went to rescue him, more than once. He wasn’t in a sit-still-with-head-on-paws mood. He was under the table, visiting the next table over, trying to wander upstairs, trying to go deeper into the brewery, and even running out into the rain. I dove after him, and, yes, got wet, but it was worth it. (He thanked me by staring soulfully into my eyes and panting adorably while I stroked his head.)

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See, we were in a space similar to above, and the “loading dock” door (like a huge overhead garage door) was open, so we were discussing books while the thunder rumbled and the lightning streaked in the distance, and the rain pelted down and the wind sometimes tilted it sideways. Poor Zeus did a lot of whining and sticking so close to people that his tail accidentally whapped some legs and backs. All (four) of us readers helped keep an eye on the poor furry lad; it was a small gathering this month, based on the weather, and the fact a lot of people are out of town this time of year.

We had fled to this part of the pub before, when the noise in the general interior got to be too much. It certainly is one of the most unique settings I can picture for a book club meeting. But last night the added element of the enthusiastic storm and Zeus’ presence took the atmosphere to a whole ‘nother level.

AND THEN THERE WAS THE STORY OF THE BAT:

So, while we’re in this environment, the librarian tells us that there was a bat in one of the library restrooms earlier that day.

Yes, a bat. The flying mammal kind. And it was in the toilet.

One of the patrons noticed when she went to wash her hands. This is a kid (yes, it was a teenager) that White Fang knows, and nothing fazes her. So she calmly reported this turn of events to the assistant at the checkout desk, and went back to what she’d been doing.

The assistant went…well, would it be too awful to say “batcrap”?

The librarian had gone to run errands, and after receiving an…important call on her cell, she returned to the library, to find her assistant Googling “bat exterminators.”

Upon investigating the bathroom in question, the librarian found one poor wet bat, wings folded in close, ears drooping. (Yes, this is just how she related it to us. I was torn between feeling so bad for the bat and wanting to laugh hysterically.)

She proceeded to fish the bat out (yes, out of the toilet), and rushed it to the bushes outside. She spread the sodden animal out in the bush, hoping it would dry out and fly away.

(Also, while she was telling us the story, I couldn’t help but think of the time my uncle found a bat in his house, and fashioned a net from items in his garage to catch the bat and then release it. His reasoning behind this approach was, “What would Macgyver do?!”)

The librarian was pleased to report that later, when she checked the bush, there was no sign of a bat, wet or otherwise. (I was also satisfied with that outcome.)

Eventually, having chosen our books for next month, we all bid good night to Zeus (and the librarian, of course).

The rain had abated for my drive home.

And, yes, Toby was somewhat miffed when he smelled grateful dog on me.

He got over it.

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humor, reading, Science fiction

The Genius That is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

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It has recently come to my attention that there is a very serious problem within the book blogging community, and it is this: Not everyone has read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

This once-cult-classic is now a mainstream sci-fi classic, and successfully joined together sci-fi and comedy (which was what the author was attempting to do in the first place — in the 1970s, and you can’t tell me that wasn’t challenging).

My introduction to this series came from my previous life in England, and I have never stopped loving it since. I’ve read all of the 5 novels in the series (that “homage” by Eoin Colfer doesn’t count), listened to the old BBC radio show, watched the Hollywood movie (ehhh), and the original miniseries so many times that I still have parts of it memorized.

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Above is the printing that I own (yes, it is a first edition hardcover, and I am immensely proud of it). There have been several re-releases since the initial publication, and it even lives in some libraries. So, if you haven’t read it yet, you have no excuse to keep putting it off.

The fantastic thing about THHGTTG is that you don’t have to be a big sci-fi nerd (yes, I’m going to use that word) to understand the content. You don’t have to be an expert at astrophysics, spaceships, or alien planets. Not only is most of the science stuff confined to relevant portions of the text, but it’s also easily broken down by the dual narration of aliens needing to explain everything to Arthur Dent, the human, and the Guide itself.

And there’s so much humor, wit and banter, mixed in with light-hearted philosophical discussions, and plenty of tug-on-your-heartstrings moment, too. The only thing that might trip up first-time readers is the very British language (well, Adams was a born-and-bred Englishman), and the references to culture of the 1970s.

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But don’t let that stop you. Not for a minute.

It doesn’t even bother me that Adams makes subtle jabs at everything from organized religion to mega-corporations, social conformity to the fall of Imperialism. The man was entitled to his own opinions, for heaven’s sake (and personally, I feel it’s a really sad day when we can’t separate a few political disagreements from a wonderful story and just enjoy it for what it is).

(Anyway…)

And there are so many valuable nuggets ensconced in the pages of THHGTTG. Such as — You have to know where your towel is. DON’T PANIC. There is something inherently flawed about Thursdays. And most important: The meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything is 42.

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Yes, 42.

The real reason was (well, according to fan legend) that it seemed like the funniest number Adams could come up with at the time.

But also — why not 42? A major part of the series is the search for the Ultimate Question (the answer is 42, but nobody really knew what the question was). And to me this just so completely reflects our modern concerns and sensibilities on this issue, in a very endearing way.

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So, moths, you tell me — Have you read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? Do you plan to after being (so rightly) convinced by my excellent treatise? Is there still a place in this world for light-hearted, not-too-science-y fiction mashups?

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blogging, books, humor, reading

Why Books Are Better Than…

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Or: An Introvert’s Survival Guide.

We all know that books are amazing, invaluable treasures. (And if you don’t, who are you, and why are you even reading this blog, go buy the Harry Potter series and start immediately on those and soak in the genius that is “becoming a bookworm”).

In fact, many of us would rather spend more time with books and fictional worlds and people than real, live people in our everyday lives. To those real, live people, please don’t take offense. This post is here to educate you on the reasons we introverts need to constantly revisit these places that exist on another plane (the imagination dimension).

So, without further ado, I present you with Why Books Are Better Than…

…Going to a crowded social event. For one thing, books never feel crowded, and even if you’re reading about being at a big party/nightclub/sports match, you can always put the book down and take a break if you need to. And you don’t have to actually get hot and sweaty/be too far from the restrooms/moan over not having money for the concession stand. Not when you’re probably mere strides from a functioning bathroom and kitchen.

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…Participating in that unnecessary mall outing. In case someone hasn’t noticed yet, almost all things can also be purchased online nowadays, including books. So, rather than wasting your afternoon, and your legs, wandering through stores (that may not even have the titles you’re looking for), under the pretense of “getting fresh air” and “interacting with breathing human beings,” why not just go to a website and order exactly what you’re after? And then they can be delivered straight to your door, saving all that energy! And you actually do get fresh air by having to step out to the porch/garage/mailbox to collect your packages, anyway!

…Trying to socialize with people you’re barely related to and have nothing in common with at “family reunions.” (To be honest, I’ve never understood why that phrase seems to apply to 4th and 5th cousins who can’t even remember which parent’s sibling produced what descendants.) Family is supposed to be people you love and live with and see frequently, who are aware of what your interests and passions and needs are. (For example, the person who would drop you off at the bookstore with a voucher for Starbucks, instead of making you attend the “family reunion.”)

…Attempting to go out of your comfort zone in any way, shape, or form. Taking risks is overrated. Why spend all evening hanging out in the shadows of a party/club/bar, utterly failing at making small talk with generic people you don’t even know — who may not even read for fun — when you could be at home with your BBF (best bookish friend), either online or in person (yes, disbelievers!), discussing the latest release by that author you both love?

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…Wasting time on your phone while at the doctor’s office or on the bus. Trust me, getting another few chapters down in your current TBR while you can’t be anywhere else will be much more satisfying than mindlessly scrolling through the day’s (depressing) headlines or (pointless) hashtags. Plus that way you can save your phone’s battery charge for the really important moments of needing to Tweet your latest reading accomplishment or discovery.

…Joining a gym or an athletic pursuit. Unless you really feel exercise is healthy for you or something. And even then, there are still ways to exercise that can include reading. Like jogging (audio books), a treadmill at home (what do you think those handlebars are for, other than to hold a book?), or yoga in your living room (because, again, audio books, and no one will see you if you start crying/laughing hysterically over a particularly poignant/humorous scene).

…Camping, boating, or hiking. Can’t you just read about doing all of these things, anyway? Without risking drowning, getting lost, being eaten by a bear, encountering poison ivy, or accidentally walking off a cliff?

Now that I’ve opened all the eyes of you misguided extroverts to the joys/necessities of reading, and just reinforced the passion of all you bookworms, my mission is complete, and I leave you for the weekend. Happy 2-days-off of reading and watching movies and sharing on social media, everybody!

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Autism, blogging, cats, community, Fantasy fiction, humor, Mental Health, reading, writing, Young Adult fiction

Things I Don’t Like About Writing

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Okay, I know I’ve whinged all week about the impending start of NaNo… But I just can’t help myself. Also, due to my participation in NaNo, my appearances on this blog may be a bit irregular in November. Everybody, follow me on Twitter, because I’ll be popping in there, and eventually I’ll get new posts out here (I promise, don’t throw things at me).

So, today, before I force myself to be really positive about this whole experience, I’m going to be a mardy mandolin, and espouse about the things about writing that bug me.

For example, shipping. For those of you who aren’t aware of this book blogging term, “shipping” means reading a book and deciding which characters you think should end up as romantic couples. I have rarely done this while reading, and most of the time I just go along with what the author has established, because, hey, it’s their work and they know it best, right?! Turns out this is not the case. There are still tons of readers in the book-blogisphere who, in fact, aren’t necessarily happy about Ron and Hermione in Harry Potter, or about how people paired off in The 5th Wave trilogy, and apparently hearts are still breaking for fans who desperately wanted Bella to be with Jacob (Twilight) and for Katniss to be with Gale (The Hunger Games).

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As I write my characters and their plans/interests/goals, I am far more practical than trying to figure out who they’re in love with. I am much more concerned with how their family will view their choices in life, how their decisions will affect their career or relatives and friends, and whether they need to change their major or their fashion style. Not their boyfriend or girlfriend. Maybe it’s because of the autism spectrum thing, but I am self-admittedly terrible at determining that two of my characters are a perfect love match because of the wooziness and risking everything for each other and all the emotions. 

So, I’ve already decided that my readers will be shipping for me. Seriously, the beta readers I choose for the rest of the series can give me feedback on who they think should be together and the whys. It’s just better that way.

Real life getting in the way of creating a literary masterpiece. Okay, this probably isn’t a novel that will be a gold standard of fantasy/YA fiction a century from now. But to me it is the entire world, and when I desperately need to reach a 1,000 word count by the end of the day, I don’t need to care that I had pretzels and minestrone soup for breakfast, or that my children may not have had a veggie with their supper. Someone else can take care of the pesky things like paying bills and tidying the kitchen and letting the cat out of the basement.

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Crafting the villain. This is one that probably many writers can relate to. You want your antagonist to be believable, but still an evil (insert bad words here), and you don’t want him/her to be cliche, super-scary but yet not impossible for readers to connect to their motivations/reasons for committing the horrible things. Voldemort is a great example. He was terrifying, and yet you could see that he thought he was doing the right thing — in a very sick and twisted way. The villain you love to hate.

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After reading Warriors, I have a few really good examples of villains to look to — Mapleshade, Thistleclaw, Hawkfrost, Darkstripe, Brokenstar, and definitely Tigerstar. (Look up my review of Warriors: Omen of the Stars for the details of my feelings on these particular devious beings that totally deserved to wander alone forever in the Dark Forest.) Ahem…

Obvious plot holes slipping through my fingers. This is exactly why I take notes when I write. There are scraps of paper on my desk/kitchen table/forehead that make no sense to anyone but me, but that’s all part of the plan. As I edit my draft (which is already on its 57th incarnation), I see another missing piece every day. ARGH!!! I mean, at least I’m catching them now before I’m heading to the printers…

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This is the first time I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo, and I’m certainly not doing it alone (waves to all the fellow bloggers also freaking out right now). I’ve got my outline prepared (mostly), and supplies like plenty of pens (even if I have to steal them from other rooms) and extra paper (hey, White Fang won’t need all of it for school), and plenty of PAW Patrol on TV these days to keep Muffin occupied.

So, please keep me in your positive thoughts and well wishes as I undertake this craziness. And if, on December 1st, you happen to come across me looking like this…

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…just bring me a fuzzy baby swamp dragon and tiramisu. I’ll perk up soon enough.

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blogging, books, community, humor, Mental Health, reading, writing

The Book Fort

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Recently, I sent this message on my Twitter account:

“Taking me to Barnes & Noble right now would be dangerous. You’d find me inside the book fort I’d built in YA, announcing I’m never leaving.”

This is how I plan to get ready for NaNoWriMo, quite frankly. I am going to pretend the rest of the world (and any of my problems) do not exist, and cannot affect me, and I shall ensconce myself in my symbolic fort of reading and writing awesomeness.

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Yesterday there was a lot of yardwork, before the lawn became completely covered with fallen leaves. I don’t like doing yardwork. But I decided to take out my issues with my novel on the bushes in my front lawn. And I tweeted about that, too:

“Me trimming bushes: Think you’re so clever because you’re so much taller than me, eh? Ha ha, the clippers will defeat you!”

I actually spoke to said plants while attacking them with the shears. (What is wrong with me?)

And is there really a point to this post, other than to freak out about NaNo and hope that somewhere out there in the vacuum of blog-space there are people who can sympathize?

Maybe. Maybe not.

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blogging, cats, family, humor, The Invisible Moth

Furtration Nation

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Definition of “furtration”: When a cat is experiencing extreme frustration with his or her owners, lifestyle, habitat, or, really, anything.

“Once upon a time,” thinks my cat, “my life was so simple. Get some food, have a wash, go curl up on the couch or bed of my choice.

“Then the small human came along.”

The baby. And then the baby began crawling…and then walking…and getting into everything. Including the cat’s food, water, tail, paws, ears…

“Now I have to look all over for my food. Who knows where they put it this time? The countertop? The table? Over there? Up here? What the heck, people!

“Forget about sitting on the couch without being disturbed. I had to sleep in the basement for a month! The basement, folks!

“Now at least they let me go in the bedrooms again. They just shut the doors. Luckily that little terror isn’t tall enough to reach the knobs. Ha!”

The Polecat has come up with some creative ways to get a little peace and quiet. If I leave a closet open (so that Muffin can play with the coats — hey, don’t judge me), when Muffin goes down for nap, and I forget about said open closet, Furry Boy will soon be visible asleep on the pile of coats on the floor. Win, win, he thinks.

In the basement, he found a bunch of old sheets and curled up in those. (Now they’re covered with cat hair. Whatever; we just used them for painting the kitchen.)

Now that spring is here, the Polecat will simply be spending more of his time outside. And he is allowed to roam much farther than the toddler is, so getting out of arm’s reach won’t be difficult.

Finding his food can be a challenge. Sometimes I have to pick him up and carry him to the dishes, which we placed somewhere off limits to Muffin, like the bathroom, or the room with all the Legos. (White Fang and the cat are bonding a little over their shared dislike of the grabby toddler stage. Not all that long ago, White Fang was the one to avoid. Now he’s an ally in the battle of Keeping Away From the Runt.)

Hang in there, Furness. I promise it won’t be this way forever.

“And the cat’s in the closet and a silver spoon, Little Boy Blue in demand of a horn…” (Wait, wasn’t it a cradle? Whatever; it works.)

British pop culture, family, humor

British vs. American: Part 1

This is the start of a new series, capitalizing on my time abroad. Today’s post highlights the differences between American and British food, and what a U.S. citizen, born and raised like myself, will likely experience upon setting foot (for the next four years, in my case) in Great Britain.

Growing up, most of my diet consisted of the average American dishes for that time — a variety, in other words, the “melting pot” that meant pizza and spaghetti and takeout Chinese and a roast chicken dinner would easily all be on the weekly menu of a single household. In some ways, I was pretty ready for what British cuisine would be like. Since we lived in the Northeast, with a similar climate and geography to England, I was used to seafood, Sunday dinners, and plenty of soup in the winter.

Some foods I had for the first time in England, such as lamb, curry, and real chips (not fries). And I learned that “cookies” are really called biscuits.

Here are some of my favorite British staples:

Fish and chips:

CHIPS, I need real chips!!! But for the love of humanity, hold the mushy peas!!!

Mushy peas was something I tried once, and then promptly reached for the nearest pint of milk to make the memory go away. It has stayed with me just enough to remember not to do that again. (Sorry, mushy peas fans.)

Jaffa cakes:

“Omg, I’ve just remembered — I’ve got some Jaffa Cakes in my coat pocket!” — Tim in (the British telly program) Spaced

These are totally wonderful, indulgent biscuits, that combine sweet fruity jam, chocolate, and a soft, cookie-like base. For what more could you ask?

Sunday dinners with Yorkshire puddings:

Would anyone like to find a way to mail authentic Yorkshire puddings?

Baking my own Yorkshire puddings did not turn out that great. Well, they still tasted good, but were rather, er, collapsed. I definitely need the real thing, made by someone else’s expert skills.

Bacon sandwiches:

Hmmm, bacon… “But think of the piggies!”

See my post “Bacon Wars” (https://daleydowning.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/bacon-wars/) for the full reference on that remark.

And I cannot stand this item, but it’s worth a mention, as it’s such an oddity and so particular to the British:

AAAHHHHHH!!!

Marmite is just bizarre. It’s something that involves yeast and goes on toast. Yes, you read that right. Again, I won’t go near it. And for this I make no apologies.

And of course, this list would not be complete, nor authentic, without… Tea!

YES, please — two sugars and cream.

I was never much of a coffee drinker — oh, the occasional fancy lattes and cappuccinos. You know, the whipped cream and flavored syrups and sprinkles of cinnamon… Anyway, tea is just so much better, on the whole. Tea is soothing, comforting, you can still drink it hot in summer, it doesn’t absolutely need milk and sugar, but it’s better that way…

I’m off to put the kettle on. See you later.