Five things that aren’t in the media right now

Red licorice package

Temptation, thy name is Wiley Wallaby

Five things about Life with Lif that the major networks haven’t picked up on yet (that’s a joke, OK?)

1. Sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do

And in my case, it means I succumbed to temptation and bought a package of Wiley Wallaby Soft & Chewy Classic Red Natural Strawberry Flavored Licorice. And then I tore it open. And, well, you know what comes after.

I tell myself that what the label claims is true and therefore this red licorice is a form of health food:  Fat Free! Vegan! Less sugar! No high fructose corn syrup! No dairy! Chewy goodness!

I know what the fine print says though. Even though I tell myself to not read that stuff on the back of the package, eventually guilt takes over and I do. Each one of those evil bits of sweetness is 30 calories and I can’t just eat one. Or two. I’m lucky to stop at ten. But who’s counting?

The first ingredient is sugar. It’s hard to imagine what “less sugar” means in this context. Particularly when the next ingredient is corn syrup. But hey, it’s not high fructose corn syrup so it’s all good. We’ve got a bit of wheat flour in there (sorry, not gluten free), and then the next ingredient is water and after that… cane syrup. But come on, it’s candy. I’m a big girl. I know that means sugar. 

But this is healthy sugar, right? I’m just going to ignore the part about “contains a trivial amount of fat”. I mean, really — fat free and less sugar are only words, after all.

I love red licorice (and how could it be called licorice when there’s no licorice in it?) and sometimes I just gotta have these nasty little bits of healthy fat-free sugar. But I will not buy another package ever again. Or at least not soon.

Badger

Mr or Ms Badger saying “go away”

2. Who knew so many people love badger photos

As of the moment I write this, nearly 500 people have Liked my photo of a young badger I posted on Facebook (the one you see here) and another fifty or more have done so on one of my Facebook photo albums. Why that photo? Is there something special about badgers? Or just that one cutie?

I took the picture when I was hiking with the dogs the other day. Bubz likes to do about five miles for every one mile we walk (that is, I walk — he sprints, gallops, trots, and bounds). I let him run but I keep a close eye on him so he doesn’t go off too far, doesn’t chase cattle, doesn’t argue with things he shouldn’t argue with. Badgers being one of them.

Bubz was about a tenth of a mile away when I saw him chasing something smaller than him, something brown and long-bodied and fast. Or maybe Bubz wasn’t trying all that hard to catch it. Whatever, it went to ground. I knew if I could see it at that distance it was no prairie dog, but given that there were prairie dog holes all around I pretty much figured it had to be something that liked to eat them. I doubted coyote just because the legs weren’t long enough, and so I figured it would be badger, especially since I’ve seen other badger before in that area.

I didn’t want Bubz to start digging to get at whatever it was, so I went over to call him away. Much to my shock, when I peeked into the hole, the badger was peeking back at me. I stood quite still, began talking to it — sorry to bother you but long as you’re there would you mind if I took your photo I promise we’ll move on and stop bothering you if I can just get a photo — as I slowly raised my cell phone and took a couple of shots.

The critter cooperated and I decided to move on as promised. No point in aggravating a badger, plus I didn’t want yet another visit to a veterinarian if Bubz — and Rosie, who’d finally caught up with us — got into it with this one.

3. Rosie is amazing

Speaking of Rosie, she truly is amazing. As I’ve blogged before, I got her August of last year. She was in terrible shape. Aside from overweight, she had no endurance, she was hampered by brachycephalic syndrome, skin allergies, and mental sluggishness. The vet estimated she was six years old but she acted twice that age. I had her spayed, had surgery done on her elongated soft palate, put her on a diet, and got her going on Golden Paste.

But as good as all those things were for her — and believe me, they made an incredible difference — nothing has been as good as Bubbaz entering Rosie’s life.

I adopted him this past June from Round Valley Animal Rescue.  At first Rosie was indifferent to him. She could take him or leave him, long as he didn’t look at her food (she lives for food). But Bubz is an incredible gentleman. One or two curled lips and he never again so much as glanced at her food dish.

But he looks at Rosie (Mom! He’s looking at me! Make him stop!). He comes up to her and sniffs whatever body part is closest, then bounds away. He’ll follow her around like a puppy (Bubz is 8 years old). When we go for walks Bubz runs back to check in with me and soon as I acknowledge him he always runs up to Rosie and bestows a couple licks on her face.

At first Rosie would turn away. But Bubz has wormed his way into her heart as he has into mine. Now when we go on walks Rosie is wildly enthusiastic. She puts some effort into keeping up, and because of that she’s getting in shape.

She loves him.

This morning Rosie was bouncing around like a puppy. I’ve never seen that in her before. I think Bubz is an angel in disguise. I know that Rose doesn’t turn her face away from his kissy-licks anymore… though she does squeeze her eyes shut.

tomato blossoms

Oh tomato, wherefore art thou?

4. The tomato saga

Every year I try to grow tomatoes. It’s become a Major Challenge that I can’t resist even though it’s hardly worth it. It’s just that homegrown tomatoes are so awesome. Store-bought don’t hold a candle to a ripe tomato fresh from the vine. Not that I would know. Every year I try to grow tomatoes and every year I pretty much fail.

It really gets to me, too, since when we used to live in CA I had volunteer tomatoes growing all over the place. I had enough tomatoes to eat, to can, to just let go to compost. Tomatoes were like zucchini — anybody could grow them and so nobody wanted or needed to take a neighbor’s surplus.

Now I live in New Mexico and tomato growing has become a Big Deal. I’m not alone in this, mind you. There’s a lot of whining about growing tomatoes around here, and those who succeed are far and few enough between that there aren’t a lot of free tomatoes being handed out.

The growing season’s short and even after the last frosts of spring night temperatures are low. When, towards the end of May, it’s warm enough, it’s generally also super windy and dry. Tomatoes will grow but even with ample watering the air is so arid that the plants don’t really thrive and the days are so scorching hot that fruit won’t set. Plus every critter that can reach them wants to eat the lush green growth for the moisture it provides.

Finally the rains come. And the hail. The plants have to be protected or they’ll be beaten to death. But you can’t leave them covered or they’ll roast.

And then, when the heaviest part of the rainy season is finally past (note: this is for a normal year, not like this drought year of hardly any rain at all), when the daytime temperature is more conducive to fruit setting, and when the air’s not so dry — then nights start getting cold again and if plants aren’t covered every night the first killing frost, generally in mid-September, will kill them just as dead as anything else.

I figure if you add up my time spent on my plants — even at minimum migrant worker wage — each individual tomato I harvest is going to cost anywhere from $50 on up. Per tomato. Some years I might manage to harvest one (1) fruit. I’ve been as lucky as getting around twenty a few years back, but that’s because I brought in the vines and hung them from the beams till the green fruit ripened enough to eat. 

You don’t want to know the heartbreak of discovering a frost-killed almost-ripe tomato on the vine the one morning after the night you thought for sure it wouldn’t matter if you covered the plants or not… 

And still she persists.

Evolution Device final cover

5. What’s that I hear?

This year Evolution Device, my novel of music and magic, was published in the middle of COVID when nobody was going to bookstores or author events. Of course it was. But okay, still better than not being published at all. However, COVID means being more on-the-ball with digital promotion of all kinds, not only marketing at every opportunity, but exploring other ways to get my book in front of people.  New formats. New presentations.

I don’t listen to audio books much so it had never occurred to me to do one. Until the day I walked into the feed store and the owner asked me where he could buy an audio copy. Hmmm.

I went home and looked into it and, to make a long story short, I decided hell yeah.  I checked and made sure I had the audio rights (my publisher said I did) and after further research I signed on with Audible from Amazon. Yeah, yeah, I know the objections to Amazon but have pity on me. I’ve self-published print books using Amazon’s service so I at least know they provide newbies with decent instructions on how to do it.

I started by recording myself reading from the book and quickly decided that hiring a pro was in order. Trust me — it was the right thing to do. It’s not as easy as it might seem to read the words naturally, with emotion, and without all the usual ums, ahs, coughs, starts and stops, etc. I’ll stick with writing, thank you very much.

So I picked a section of the text and provided it as a sample script, and then put out audition call. An audiobook call isn’t that much different from any casting call — a director is looking to select a certain type of person for a particular role in whatever’s being produced. The call will be for people that meet a list of criteria – sex, age, looks, speaking accent, and ability to read the script and become the person the director envisions.

So my audition call was for a female, adult, American English neutral accent (except that there would be a tinge of English accent to the voice if possible). My script included dialogue, not just narration, because some of the characters have London accents, one has Scottish, one with a tinge of Native American, plus some are male, some female.

Also, the book takes place in the 1970s. You wouldn’t think that would matter but it does. People — especially younger people — speak differently nowadays than they did fifty years ago. For one thing, back then people didn’t end sentences with rising inflection (a.k.a uptalk) as so many do today.  

The very first audition I listened to, the voice of the person carried no emotion at all and every sentence ended in a rising inflection. I suggested she submit another reading but she didn’t.

Another I got was a man. Who didn’t even read the script, just talked about how wonderful he was.

Then there was the one with household sounds in the background. Another with badly handled accents. One high-pitched little girl voice. One voice where the narrator sounded bored and slurred her words. And so on.

Until I got to A Person Who Will Remain Nameless Until The Time Is Right. She’s a pro, born in England and raised in the US. She’s got wonderful timbre (tone quality), enunciates her words — and the emotion! She knew what the words were saying! She giggled at some point — and the giggle was implied but not stated! I fell in love right then. But it was when I heard her with the other characters’ voices that I was sold. She’s… no, I’m not going to keep raving about her. You’ll hear for herself when we publish the Audible of Evolution Device.

I’m grinning as I write this — I can’t wait!

Website renovation

Raven in Flight 2019 Lif Strand photoI can’t believe it took me the better part of two days to renovate my website.  I did it because of advice on what an author’s website should include in order to get literary agents and/or publishers to bite the hook.

Oh whoops, that sounds so crass.

Except it’s the truth, the whole truth, and I’m sticking to it.  An author’s website is supposed to be professional.  I confess I’m having a hard time toeing that line.

What an arduous task, but it needed doing and I did it.  Now I’ve got a static home page — meaning it doesn’t change each time I post something to the blog (what you’re reading now).  That alone took a bit of reconfiguring of the website.

Most of the work went into the About page, the one that literary agents and/or publishers will go to to learn about me and my fiction writing without having to actually read any of that writing.  The About page includes a link to my resume, which had to be updated, and a link to a bibliography of my writing.  I had to figure out how to upload the PDFs to my domain via WordPress and a few other tricks.

Now that this task is done, it’s time for me to get back to the literary agent/publisher hunt.

Oh, and the raven photo?  Because I love the ravens that live in my valley.  Thought I’d share the love.

Do what you love and love what you do

“You’ll do what you have to do to be able to do what you want to do.”

This is what a friend of mine said to me in an email this morning. Not only is it catchy but it’s true.  Except that it’s kind of grim.  Happily, for me what I have to do to be able to do what I want to do is already what I want to do.

Too convoluted? Well, let me give an example.  This morning, for instance…

This morning my eyes opened before the sun popped over the horizon. I have no idea why so early, but it was OK.  The room was chilly but I was toasty under oh, five or six layers of flannel blankets and quilts.  If I didn’t go back to sleep I could just laze around and let my mind wander.  I very much enjoy that luxury, because I’m not a morning person.  Oh, I get up at what seems like the crack of dawn, but a real morning person would sneer at the thought.

So I let some writing and art issues bubble up through the murk of sleep, not trying to guide them or even capture them. What came up might or might not be useful, but the luxury part of what I was doing involved just letting my subconscious do whatever it wanted. Of course, because I was half asleep I forgot most of it, but I figure that if the ideas got that far they really want to come out. Eventually they’ll pop to the surface while I’m awake and and I will capture them.

It wasn’t all that long, though, before my bladder and the cats demanded that I roll out of bed.  First thing after that was to shuck my PJs and get dressed. Why no lounging around with a cup of coffee? Well, for one thing, this morning it was 38°. Inside the house.

Obviously my immediate concern was to get the fire going in the wood stove. That meant clearing out ashes, and that means an ash bucket had to be nearby, so that I don’t have to go outside to get one. It might have been cold inside, but outside it was in single digits. It’s December in the high country, after all.

Once the ashes were removed I piled up the glowing embers and stacked wood around them so they’d ignite. That means that there had to be wood available, mind you, and there was (see ash bucket, above).

OK, fire going, coffee water heating on the kitchen stove while I fed the cats before they drove me crazy. By the time I was ready to enjoy my first sip of life-giving java, the wood stove had heated my little house to a reasonable temperature so that I could remove layers as I checked email.

Whoa! A patron signed up (the friend I quoted at the beginning of this post). Wow! Way to start the day!  (Reminder — support your friendly creator!  Thank you if you already have, and don’t be shy if you haven’t.  Any support is fantastic support.)




I feed the horses around 9 a.m. because generally it has warmed up some by that point. I’m not a fan of doing chores when it’s so cold my nostrils stick together when I breathe. In the summer I feed around 8 a.m. because it’s cooler. Due to Daylight Savings nonsense, from the horses’ point of view they’re being fed around the same time.  This is important because even though they’ve got grass hay available all the time, it’s not the same as those delectable flakes of alfalfa for breakfast.  My stallion, Koko, also gets pellets with probiotics in them, plus any fruit or veggie parts that are left over from my kitchen. He eats it all. You’d be amazed.

So as long as I’m outside, I’ve got other chores to do. First is breaking ice on the water troughs. Koko is always thirsty in the mornings, so I do his trough first. Then it’s time for some exercises — stuff left over from physical therapy for my hips that help keep me limber — and after that a short walk, about a half mile loop.

The walk lets me look out away from myself into the distance.  It reminds me I’m part of a much bigger system. It puts my own problems in perspective for a while. I stay on my own property and that walk also reminds me how wonderful it is that I get to live here, on this land. Each day there is something new to see. Coyote poop (full of barely-digested juniper berries right now), elk poop, horse poop, occasionally cow poop. Tracks of many kinds in the dust of the trail. If I’m lucky — and why I think it’s good luck I don’t know — I’ll see the resident roadrunner, who is a bold bird that is used to me by now. He will move away but not far.

Sometimes I’ll surprise an owl or hawk or a flock of larks or piñon jays.  Sometimes a raven will circle me, speaking to me in raven talk that I can’t quite understand.

This time of year the weeds are brittle and dry. Even though I stick to the trail I’ve made, it seems like every plant has burrs or needles or hooks on them so they can hitch a ride on a passing sock. Gaiters keep the nasty little things out of my shoes.  When it snows I’ll wear the gaiters to keep warm.

Some mornings after I’ve walked I’ll work with one of my young mares, Sonny, Koko’s daughter. She has had very little training even though she’s going to be seven years old next month. Now that I have new hips, working with her is fun.  I think we both enjoy it.

My training is hardly worth the word. Maybe ten minutes at a time. My method now that I’m not a young woman and am perhaps more breakable than I used to be, is to not use any restraints and to not pursue if she leaves me. No stress for her, no stress for me.  How I do this is a whole other story, but the end result is a horse that is a partner, not a slave. Given the kind of riding I do, I need that kind of a horse.

Back to the chores. Once a week I prepare the buckets with Koko’s pellets.  That would be today.  I stacked tonight’s hay in the wheelbarrow and stashed it under the tarp. I like to keep tools out of the sun as much as possible, because at this altitude the sun eats everything up. This particular wheelbarrow is only a year old and so far so good, but I have another that has broken apart to the point where it’s pretty useless now. I’m going to fix it one of these days.  It’s low on the To Do list, though.

A brief break to pet Tux, a stray tomcat that’s been living here for a couple years now. He knows my routines so well that he leads me rather than follows.

It being Sunday, it was time to pump water. I topped off the gas in the generator, then pulled the wagon the generator lives in down to the well. I’ll leave it running till this afternoon. After that, I hiked up to the water storage tanks to see how much had been used this week.

Then it was time to get a load of wood for tonight (see above). I need to order another cord soon, but that depends on my wood guy and my finances. I’m good for a month if it doesn’t get too cold. I’ll bring armfuls of wood in the house during the course of the day, when I’m coming in and out anyway. No point in taking the time this morning when I have other stuff to do.

My last chore of the morning was to add some water to the pans I have out for the birds and other small critters, and then I got to come back in the house and have another cup of coffee and think about getting something to eat and then… finally… writing. Or processing photos. Or sewing.

All those things were, as my friend suggested, what I have to do to be able to do what I want to do. My chores would be a drag, except that I want to do them. I like doing them.  Oh sure, I moan and groan.  But sometimes, weirdly, I find myself giggling while I’m wrestling with a tarp… right after I have screamed curses into the wind. Sometimes I snarl and want to feel sorry for myself when I realize I haven’t finished bringing in the wood and I’m exhausted and it’s already dark, but I shrug and I do it. Then there’s been a couple mornings when I was confronted with a fountain spouting from the frost-free hydrant because I forgot to close it the night before. It froze and cracked the pipe and there was nobody to blame but me. But I fixed it. And I was proud that I could do so.

This lifestyle, this responsibility for my own comfort and safety and for that of my critters, is what I have chosen, not what I am forced to. I could move to a house in town, with a regular job to pay for the easier lifestyle, but I would lose much, much more than I would gain in doing so.

There is a joy for me in living this way. Everything I do matters. Everything I do is fodder for my art — whether it’s writing, photography, quilting, or… whatever occurs to me. When, by 11 a.m., I finally come to the part of my day that others would consider (finally) the creative time,  I’ve already been experiencing hours of a world I want to share with others. I’ve been recording some of it with a camera, I’ve been testing out narrative in my head, I’ve been seeing patterns that would make beautiful art.

It’s all there.

It’s all one big creative act for me.

It’s all what I want to do.