2020 Begone! (five more things not in the media)

pushed image of sunrise in fog

2020

“Go forth in joy and get on with it.” (read through to the end and you’ll understand)

Yeah, we all know it was a crappy year for just about everybody. I’m certainly ready for it to be over with but I gotta tell you: 2020 wasn’t all that crappy for me. Not that the events didn’t feel like a ton of albatross around my neck, but I was pretty good about focusing on the here-and-now of my daily life.

Well, except for some family issues that were complicated enough without adding COVID to the mix. Or when I had critter health crises to deal with and couldn’t shake the worry. Or when I allowed myself to poke around on social media for any length of time — for what a drag doing that turned out to be this year.

I don’t want to dwell on the negative, so all I’m going to say is that I’m ready for a new, improved year ahead. One in which the compost that was 2020 supports amazing growth in 2021.

So in the spirit of wishing 2020 begone and inviting fabulously wonderful blessings in 2021, I’m going to share five rich composty things that happened in my life in 2020 that I believe will encourage a stronger and healthier 2021 and beyond because… well, because that’s what I believe will happen.

1. I got a good dog

In late June Rosie (my rescue dog from 2019) and I adopted Bubbaz from Round Valley Animal Rescue, a no-kill shelter in Springerville AZ. Bubbaz is maybe a Great Dane/greyhound cross. Or something else. He’s a long-bodied, long-legged, long-tailed 8 year old that acts like an overgrown puppy.

For the record, he was “Bubba’s” on his adoption papers, so that explains his name, or at least why I call him Bubbaz. Or Bubz. Or Good Dog. Bubz is not just a good dog, he’s a great dog. By nature or by nurture, he’s the happiest, most unburdened, well-behaved dog I’ve ever been blessed with. Now don’t misunderstand — all my dogs are happy dogs, even when they don’t arrive in my life that way. But some of the many rescues I’ve had have come with baggage that has colored their personalities forever — Rosie, for instance. She’s improving, but she still cringes and looks down too much, apologizing for behavior that she assumes she’ll be punished for even when she hasn’t done anything wrong (Rosie is not a dog who is bold enough to do anything wrong on purpose). In contrast, Bubz is a happy dog with no baggage AND he amazes me with his intelligence and his desire to observe the house rules.

Long and short: I adore him. I adore Rosie, too! How great is that, to have two dogs I adore!

2. I made some good food

Like so many others this past year, I baked bread (photo is not of bread, it’s a chocolate dessert I made for Christmas dinner).  I successfully grew my own sourdough starter from juniper berries and baked some perfectly fine bread with it, though it never came out quite the way I wanted. That’s because I’m a pantser, not a plotter. Oh, you want to know what that means? Those are writer terms: Pantser = a writer who starts with the first word and just lets the story flow however it will. Plotter = a writer who makes a plan — usually an outline — and follows it till The End.

I’m a pantser writer and a pantser everything, really. I’m loosey-goosey about ingredients, given how far I am from the nearest store. Or even the nearest neighbor who might have a cup of sugar I could borrow. I figure if I know the principles involved, then the rest is opinion rather than rule. Substitutions-R-Us.

Yeah, it means that sometimes a loaf of bread I produce could work as a door stop, but most of the time — when I’m in practice — the bread tastes just fine. Not San Francisco sourdough fine, but Lif’s kitchen in New Mexico fine. When I get into the swing of bread baking I’ll make a couple of loaves a week and never walk down the bread aisle in the grocery store.

But then I get tired of baking bread and the starter turns ugly and ends up in the compost pile.

My neighbor rancher gave me a lovely Christmas bag with home-baked cookies and four hard-frozen packages of ground beef (no doubt a former resident of the allotment I hike around nearly every day). I thawed one of the packages and the day before yesterday made something… the closest I guess would be Beef Bourguignon. The classic Julia Child recipe calls for bacon. I had no bacon. It calls for onions, garlic, tomato paste… nope. But so what. The end result of an afternoon’s worth of slow cooking on my wood stove was to die for, and here’s what I did:

Ground Beef Lif Style

Sauté in olive oil:
  2 largish diced potatoes
  2 diced carrots

Add and sauté some more:
  Salt
  2 bay leaves
  a handful of dried (homegrown) basil
  fresh-ground pepper

Add:
  ground beef.  Brown, then cover and let cook a while on medium low heat

Add
  about half a cup red wine
  whatever’s left in the pot from the morning’s coffee

Let simmer on the wood stove all afternoon.

O.M.G.

3. I took some good photos

By “good” I mean photos I’m happy with for whatever reason. 

I have a perfectly fine digital camera, but I take 99.9% of my photos with my cell phone, which is easy to slip into my pocket and which also offers other tools, such as a pedometer, a recorder, a GPS, and like that. I’ve pretty much decided to become a dedicated cell phone photographer, which means maybe upgrading from my iPhone 6, which model came out in 2014 and so is ancient tech now. Since my bank account doesn’t support the purchase of a new iPhone, I’m working with what I have for the foreseeable future. Which is fine. I’m learning how to make-do with photography just like I do with cooking, so it’s all good.

My latest photos are on Facebook and Instagram.

[Note that the photo on top of this page is a perfectly normal sunrise coming up through fog. But when I accidentally saturated it… well, it looked so much like 2020 I had to go with it.]

4. I published a good book

Evolution Device front coverI don’t know how it’s possible that anyone who reads anything I write anywhere hasn’t gotten saturated with reading about my first traditionally published novel, Evolution Device, but too bad. It took me about a decade to write the blasted thing, so until my next book gets published Evolution Device is what I’m gushing about.

Releasing a book in the middle of a pandemic was a good news/bad news bit of timing. Good news is that people couldn’t go to work so they have been reading more. Bad news is that people couldn’t go to work so they had no money to buy books. Also bad news is that people who couldn’t go to work and couldn’t buy books wrote books and published them in 2020.

I’ll get my first sales report and royalties in the next few weeks. I have no idea… well, I’m not going to think about sales. I did my best. I worked promotion like a crazy woman and all I can say is, the book is good but then there are lots of books out there this year.

Time will tell. A good book is a book that will sell for decades, not just months.

My contract with the publisher didn’t include audio rights, so I decided to go ahead and take care of that myself. I used ACX, which is an audio publishing arm of Amazon’s. I probably won’t ever do that again for a bunch of reasons (Amazon, for openers, and ACX is a headache of a platform to use). But through ACX I found the most incredible voice actor to narrate my book: Naomi Rose-Mock. And guess what? Naomi was born in England but raised in the US and if you’ve read my book you know how absolutely perfect she is for the audiobook of Evolution Device, because the focus of the novel, Eddie Edmunds, was born in the US and raised in England. Boggles my mind thinking about the odds of finding someone so perfect as Naomi!

5. I maintained good relationships

2020 was a year that tested relationships with family and friends, not to mention perfect strangers. When people are stressed it doesn’t take much — an ill-considered word, a too-strong expression of opinion, a thoughtless action — to break the ties that bind. I tried to be careful but I’m just as human as the next person and I know I had to have messed up way too much. I vowed to take the high road but nevertheless I got a little crazy now and again on social media, spewing my opinions about politics and COVID and a few other issues, all without filtering. Oops.

But, you know, relationships are two-way. My family and friends are extraordinary people. They forgive me my trespasses and how can I not love them for that? So here it is just hours from midnight and I not only am still speaking with every single family member I started with in 2020, but I’ve retained all the friends I already had and made bunches of new ones. For a hermit like me that’s pretty awesome.

I’m proud of us.

Bonus: I survived for more than a year without a working fridge and it was good

But that’s a story for another time.

HAPPY NEW YEAR. HERE’S HOPING 2021 BRINGS YOU THE BEST OF EVERYTHING!

There is nothing for you to go back and live over, or fix, or feel regret about now. Every part of your life has unfolded just right. And so —now — knowing all that you know from where you now stand, now what do you want? The answers are now coming forth to you. Go forth in joy, and get on with it.

~ Abraham  (excerpted from Virginia Beach, VA on 4/12/97)

FIVE MORE THINGS NOT IN THE MEDIA

It’s been up and down here. Mostly up because I work at it, but with an underlying current of down that every so often threatens to suck me under. But then, nothing is 100%, nothing is forever, right? And things are better for me than for so many, so shut up Lif.

1) WEATHERPhoto of temperature gauge

It snowed last night — just under 2”. It got down to 1° below zero overnight and it’s not going to go above freezing today (the high on the gauge is yesterday’s high, todays was 30°) but the sun is shining and the wood stove is cranking out the BTUs. I’ll have to get my butt on outside shortly to haul in some more wood. The dogs will like that. They’ll figure we’re going for a walk. Sorry, pups — to the woodpile and back is it. Later I’ll go to the barn to feed the horses but no farther. The rest of today is inside time.

I plan to spend that time reading. I just finished Michelle Obama’s Becoming, which I very much enjoyed. I also just read Robert Heinlein’s The Pursuit of the Pankera, a book that I found annoying but strangely compelling. I’m currently reading W. Michael Gear’s Alpha Enigma; David Comfort’s The Rock & Roll Book of the Dead; and The Wonder Engine, by T Kingfisher. I like to read with Post-Its at the ready for any ideas I come across that spark my own thought processes. I don’t know how I survived before Post-Its.

2) WRITING

I sent a copy of my book, Evolution Device, to my writing mentor, Steven F. Havill,  Since he had given an early draft of the novel a firm thumbs down, I was unsurprisingly rather anxious about how he’d react to the published version. To be honest, when I saw he had sent an email with the subject line “Evolution Device”, I didn’t read it right away.

Steve Havill at book discussion, Round Valley Library, Eagar AZ January 2017
Trudy Balcom/The Independent

Let me explain something about Steve. He’s written a couple dozen books or more, but is also dedicated to helping new writers get going. He’s a former English teacher, junior high kids I believe, and gives writing workshops and talks about writing at book discussions (I’m in the photo on the end). I’ve tried to go to as many of his talks and workshops as I can. The mentor-mentee relationship has grown  to friendship. Am I lucky or what?

Steve provides unflinchingly honest, constructive feedback. He points out what he likes and why, and what he doesn’t like and why. It’s the “and why” parts that are so valuable. It took me a while to figure out what he was doing — my fault, not his. I was taking his criticisms personally and responding personally. Then I had a big duh moment, when I realized everything I was saying to him in my defense was stuff that should be in the manuscript – that is what Steve was telling me!

So I gave him a copy of the published book and he read it. When I finally steeled myself to face his email, I almost wept.

With joy.

He liked it! He liked it! Phew!

3) MORE WRITING

Related but this needs its own point: Getting from rough draft to published book is a trip — but what comes after is its own journey.

I’ve learned there is absolutely no point in second-guessing what I wrote. It’s too late now, the book’s out in the world. I doubt I will ever read Evolution Device again from beginning to end because of course I will find fault with it. I’m no longer the person who wrote that book. I’ve learned by writing more. My writing skills have grown (credit to Post-Its and writing mentors, not to mention Editors). There’s no reason to inflict myself with even more doubts about my writing than I already have.

I’ve learned promotion is hard. It’s a kind of bragging and I feel uncomfortable about it. I’m by nature a hermit. I don’t invite people to my home, I don’t socialize, and when I write about my personal life it’s curated. So to blab on about my work — I mean, promote it — it’s, well, embarrassing. And yet that’s what authors have to do. We have to not just sell our books but sell ourselves. Who wants to read books by an author who doubts her own work? People like to think that authors are like the characters in their books. Brave! Bold! Exciting! Intriguing! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! And able to overcome all obstacles by The End.

I’ve also learned that in this year of COVID the world of writing is even more daunting a place than it normally is. It seems everybody and their aunt is writing books. And they’re all writing great books that apparently are selling like crazy, or so the publicity would have one believe. Is there room in the world for another writer, — namely me? I sure hope so.

On top of it all, there is no end to stuff that isn’t writing but is necessary to be a successful author. I’ve got more books in the works, in different genres. Different genres means querying literary agents. Querying is a time-consuming, dreary, disheartening process that teaches an author to not care about rejections anymore because after a while they’re the norm.

4) EVEN MORE WRITING

Here’s the thing about writing a book that people enjoyed reading. Almost the first question asked is going to be when is the next one coming out.

Oh. My. Gods. I have to do this again? And again?

5)  THE BEST CHOCOLATE DESSERT EVER!

I learned a great recipe for a kind of chocolate pudding that’s actually healthy. I have to thank my friend Valorie for it.  It’s so darn simple to make, and it’s incredibly flexible (I’ve tweaked it already and it still tastes great). Here’s the recipe exactly as Valorie provided:

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN VERY RIPE BANANAS ARE STARING YOU IN THE FACE?

Here’s the recipe I use for our Cocoa/Carob/Cacao Banana Pudding.  We really enjoy this pudding!! If you like bananas and chocolate, we think you’ll like this dessert as well.

I especially make this pudding when I don’t want to heat up my oven and take the time to make Banana Bread.  This recipe is a fast and easy way to use up ripe bananas quickly.  It is also very forgiving so I do not measure bananas or dates.

Enjoy!

Valorie

Cocoa/Carob/Cacao Banana Pudding 

  Makes 4  – 1/2 cup servings  

Note:  Soak sunflower seeds ahead of time.  Dates as well if using Medjool dates.

Place all of the following ingredients into your blender and blend until smooth.
You may need to stir the ingredients a bit at first to get them moving and blending. Either turn your blender off or be very careful not to hit the moving blades.

2 cups organic, blended ripe bananas – for those who like to measure.  I use 3 very ripe medium/large sized bananas or 6 to double the recipe.
1/2 cup organic sunflower seeds soaked for 30 minutes or over night and drained *
1/4 cup organic cocoa, carob or cacao powder
1/4 cup organic pitted, chopped dates **
1 tsp. organic vanilla
pinch of salt

Once blended, taste for smoothness and sweetness and adjust by blending longer and/or adding more sweetener. ***

Pour into serving containers and chill for at least 2 hours before serving.  Enjoy!

* I have also tried soaked almonds and they were very good as well but I’ll probably opt for using sunflower seeds as they are less expensive.  I’ll save my organic almonds for other things where sunflower seeds just wouldn’t do.

** I use two (2) pitted, chopped, soaked and drained Medjool dates. I soak them in water for a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes to soften them up as they are a tougher/denser date than many other types of dates and soaking makes them easier on my blender. Substituting 1 or 2 tablespoons of date syrup or maple syrup or honey would work well and probably give a bit of a different flavor.

*** Level of desired sweetness varies from one person to the next.  Remember that bananas get sweeter as they ripen so the riper the banana the less sweetener I tend to add.

6) BONUS

Read my post on Patreon.  It’s about critters that… well, go read it.

 

A dog story

Here’s an ASD story for you from about 20 years ago.

Pasha was a neutered female rescue from Phoenix, an Anatolian Shepard Dog (ASD), a livestock guardian breed. We got her when she was approaching a year old, but at the time of this story she would have been middle aged.

My husband had died suddenly and I had decided to get a caretaker to help me out with the horses. I don’t recall exactly how many horses I had at that time, but probably somewhere between a dozen and twenty. With my husband gone, the horse breeding business was just too much, so I wasn’t breeding anymore but I had youngsters to train and sell.

This part of New Mexico has quite a few large predators: wolves, bear, mountain lions, and of course coyotes. ASDs + good fencing had kept most of our foals safe over the years.  After losing our very first foal to a lion when we still lived in CA  we’d had zero losses of foals to predators thanks to our ASDs.

Pasha was our second Anatolian. She was a rescue and we never knew her bloodlines, but we trusted that she would work for us —and she did.

The caretakers I found were a family, a couple with a toddler-aged child. Even though I had advertised that I was looking for someone without animals, the couple came with a burro, a horse, and yes, a dog — a German shepherd cross and a real sweetie. Pasha liked to visit them down at their end of the property. My dog was a well-mannered and welcomed guest in their house.

But you know how Anatolians are. They set their own rules. Pasha was OK with humans coming into what she considered to be her space — my house, the fenced yard, the horse area and their fenced paddocks — but not their dog. The dog was another female, older, and fully devoted to her humans. She felt it her duty to ignore Pasha and to go with her people to feed and care for my horses.

She was so devoted that she went in spite of Pasha’s escalating warnings.

I blame us humans for what happened. I had asked the caretakers a number of times to not let their dog come near Pasha’s territory. They assured me that they were animal-wise and there would be no problem even though Pasha was clearly saying yes, there was a big problem.  I had never backed up my dog.

As I said, you know how ASDs are. One day Pasha decided that enough was enough. She was furious with the caretaker’s dog — who was only doing her duty — and Pasha decided she wasn’t going to tolerate the situation any longer. I was working in my office when I heard the horrible sounds of a dog fight and humans’ helpless screams. Even before I ran outside I understood the issue, and knew the caretaker’s dog was a dead dog if I didn’t act quickly.

I grabbed a wooden chair and a blanket — I can’t tell you the order of things or how exactly it went to this day — but I got the blanket between Pasha’s mouth and the caretaker’s dog, and I used the legs of the chair to make a kind of cage that prevented any further movement on Pasha’s part.

With the fight stopped I ordered the caretakers to take their dog back home. They were already beginning with the accusations but I did’t want to hear them. Once they were out of sight, I uncovered Pasha and dragged her into my house. I made sure she was okay (barely a scratch on her, and she was so proud of herself) and then I went to the caretaker’s place to check on their dog.

Some serious wounds. Huge gaping slashes. Not immediately life threatening but really bad.  I have no doubt that if the fight had gone on for much longer the poor dog would have been a dead dog.

The caretakers were totally distraught. They were angry at Pasha and me, even though  both of us had given lots of warning about allowing their dog to come into Pasha’s space.

But here’s the thing: I felt bad about their dog but she was only doing her job. I admired her for it and pitied her for having humans who were so dense.  Yet it was my property and my property manager, Pasha, had acted within her rights. My bad for not backing up both Pasha and the caretakers’ dog sooner.

The caretakers went down the road. Pasha lived to be an old ASD, always doing her job. One day, years later, I found her laying at the property gate about a quarter mile from my house, unwilling and unable to get up.  That is where she met her end. Pasha is buried close to my house although I think she’d have been happier buried uder where the horses tromp all the time. 

Good dog, Pasha.  An ASD, pure and simple.

 

Holiday Gift suggestions

How about music and magic for the holidays?

Evolution Device front cover♪♪♪♪♪  Evolution Device ♪♪♪♪♪

Do you remember when music was magic? Do you remember being spellbound, in thrall to the power and glory that stole your soul and made you high?

Do you still listen? Is a part of you still there?

Guitarist Eddie Edmunds is rising to fame in 1970s London’s hothouse of rock music.  He has a Muse who is part spirit and part human; a guitar that is part electronics and part… something else; and a heroin addiction that doesn’t quite let him hide from the power he’s never learned to control.

He’s a man who is fighting his power. She’s a Muse who’s losing her power. Evolution Device is a band that’s finding its power. And only the guitar knows what power Eddie evokes when she sings for him.

Evolution Device. A man, a band, and a promise.

___

Read the Big Idea behind Evolution Device on John Scalzi’s blog

Evolution Device is available at your favorite bookstores, including Barnes & Noble   
Get Evolution Device at:
Amazon US    
Amazon UK  
Powell’s 
KOBO
Booktopia (Australia) 
Waterstones (UK) 
Strand Book Store (no relation to me!)

 

♪♪♪♪♪ Mage Music: The Blog ♪♪♪♪♪Mage Music front cover

Mage Music: The Blog Writings on Magick and Creativity is not a grimoire. It does not contain spells and invocations. Sorry, but if that’s what you’re looking for, you’re likely never going to find what you need.

Mage Music is a compilation of selected posts from jimmypagemusic.blogspot.com from May 7, 2012 through November 22, 2014 (other posts don’t address magic directly, so the book is the better way to go). Begun with the intention of discussing and analyzing the music of the extraordinary guitarist, Jimmy Page, it evolved into a broader look at the creative nature of Magick and the connection of Magick with music and other forms of art. This book is the text of those aspects of that blog.

You will find no spells or instructions for making magical objects or invoking entities because the focus is the ur-Magick: the source of the energy and the fundamentals common to all specific practices of Magick.

You will, however, find out how to connect with your own Magick, and to appreciate the Magick of the Mage Musician, Jimmy Page.

More gift suggestions coming!