Thanksgiving 2020 – CoronaLife Day 257

The year 2020 has been brutal for a lot of people. The world is in a tailspin and division in America has never been higher. The pandemic has sickened millions and killed more than 268,000 people in the USA. Many people are out of work, facing food hardships and eviction in the middle of winter. This is a year most people will be thankful to forget.

Still, there are things to be thankful for in my life. My family is healthy, even if we are not together in the traditional way this Thanksgiving. We are secure in food supply and in our home. My daughter is able to attend school remotely, and therefore safely, even as COVID cases spike to levels higher than we saw at the beginning of the pandemic in March.

I am thankful for friends to help ride out the isolation, and the technology to keep friends and family close even when apart. I am thankful for the services that allow us to get food and other necessities delivered to our homes. I am thankful for the vast amount of entertainment at our fingertips to while away the hours. And I am thankful for stretches of good weather that allow us to get outside the house to exercise safely distanced from others.

I am thankful to the scientists who are swiftly accumulating knowledge about this coronavirus that we may better battle it, and who are working to get us safe and effective vaccines to end this nightmare. I am more grateful than words can say to the healthcare professionals who are shouldering the brunt of this burden while sacrificing so much. And I am thankful for all the citizens who are acting as firewalls as the virus burns through our country, wearing their masks properly, respectfully distancing, staying home whenever possible, and giving up so much to try and stem the viral tide.

I am thankful for all the goodness and kindness I have seen people doing in this horrid year. The sometimes small things that make a huge difference, such as shopping for an at-risk neighbor, working at food banks, and donating money to causes that help those in need.

That is what I am going to try to take away from 2020. The good that lies in the hearts of so many people. I don’t want to remember the vitriol and the hate and the fear. I want to remember the love.

For all that I have been jaded by a half-century on this planet, there’s still a part of me that wants to believe that in the end light drives out darkness and that love conquers all.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Making Life Manageable—CoronaLife Day 250

First, because I know you are all waiting breathlessly, Zippy the fish is still alive as of this writing. I’m still keeping a close eye on the ammonia levels, and changing out water a couple of times a day, but it’s fairly stable.

Second, I am deep cleaning my house. No, not because of COVID exposure–because it badly needs it. It has been bugging me for a while now, but I haven’t had the motivation to actually embark on what seemed an insurmountable project.

I am not the neatest person in the world. (My mother will snort diet Pepsi out her nose when reading that understatement.) I am MUCH neater than I was when I was younger, mostly out of necessity. (When you reach a certain age, having specific places for things cuts down on the “where-did-I-put-that” moments.) I keep up with the must-cleans—bathrooms, kitchen, laundry. You know. But the rest of my house can go a while between good scrubbings. We are far from filthy, but I will not be winning any Good Housekeeping awards. And with a child who somehow manages to leave a trail behind her everywhere she goes, it is a bit of a Sisyphean task to start with.

However, when properly motivated, I can get a lot done quickly. That motivation is usually in the form of a parental unit coming over. We are not doing a Thanksgiving gathering in the Year of COVID, but my mother-in-law will be coming up to stay with us until the New Year. (We are all quarantining for 14 days prior to her arrival.) Nothing like a visitor to make you see the dust on the unused surfaces and the stuff stashed in corners for you to sort through “later”. Well, later is now.

We got rid of several bags of stuff, with more to go. Rooms are neat, carpets are clean, surfaces are shiny. Did I get every nook and cranny? No. There’s always more to do. Every time you clean something, the thing next to it starts to look dirty. But it is miles ahead of where I was at the beginning of the week.

Decluttering and heavy cleaning has made me feel a bit better (psychologically—physically it has reminded me that I am approaching a certain milestone birthday). The one good thing about cleaning is that when you have finished a room, you have that instant gratification of a job well done. And you’d best take that gratification instantly, because the next minute someone tracks in a leaf particle or a dust bunny hops in or crumbs somehow magically appear.

I tackled this huge job by breaking it down into smaller jobs—one room a day. By making it manageable, I could break that mental barrier down and get started, get it done. I tend to do this with my writing, too. I tell myself to just do one chapter, whether it be drafting or editing. Makes it feel achievable. With the writing, I usually end up doing more than one chapter, once I start.

Not so much with the cleaning. 😉

Whatever task you are facing that seems huge this holiday season, break it into its component parts. Make each one manageable, and savor the victory of each piece completed. You’ll be done before you know it!

Fish # 12, 13, and 14 – CoronaLife Day 243

So after the great fish die-off last week, we went back to the store on Sunday for 3 more fish. We agreed not to name them until we saw if they survived. This time we carefully did not put any of the store water into our tank. We got them safely in, and this time I was on top of testing. And wouldn’t you know, the ammonia in the water spiked almost immediately!

We fought the ammonia frenetically. Added bacteria, ammonia-locking chemicals, and changed water like mad. At night, I threw in an emergency ammonia tablet, hoping some of the fish would survive the night.

Miraculously, all three survived the night, and I changed out water immediately that morning. But only 2 of the 3 fish ate any of the food I put in. The smallest was lethargic, hiding in corners. We sensed that this one was not going to make it—and we were right. By mid-afternoon, fish #12 had died. Daughter shed a few tears: “He was a good listener. He would sit there and listen while I talked.” She told me that if he had lived, he was going to be the next in the long line of Seashells we’ve had.

The other 2 fish seemed okay, swimming around rather vigorously when the ammonia levels dropped after a water change. I tested the water and changed water every 2 hours the entire day. The ammonia levels dropped and stayed dropped, although not quite perfect yet. Then the second night was upon us, and I used another emergency tablet overnight.

The next morning (Tuesday), both fish were still alive, and the ammonia levels had dropped a bit more overnight. However, one of the fish was acting badly. Not energetic anymore—and his mouth looked white. He did not eat, even when the food particles floated right past him. This fish already had slight tail-rot, so against my own advice I had started calling him Holey. Holey’s behavior deteriorated throughout the day. Then, in late afternoon, Holey died—and my daughter saw it happen.

My daughter was distraught. “He was a trooper. He tried so hard to stay with me, because he knew I wanted him to. He was swimming sideways. I sang to him, because I knew he wanted me to.” She insisted that his name was not Holey, but Holy “without the e” because it suited his personality. Many tears were shed over this fish and witnessing his demise.

I felt bad about Holy because I wonder if I had been more aggressive with the medicine that protects against tail rot and mouth fungus if I could have saved him. We have had fish survive tail rot before, but we’ve never had mouth fungus. I realized belatedly that the first fish had also had that crazy white mouth before its death. I had put the medicine in the water, but I know I missed a few times. If I had been aggressive with it, perhaps Holy would not have gotten the mouth fungus, since he was fine the day prior. But hindsight is 20-20, and I will never know the answer to my wondering.

So that left us with fish #14, who my daughter named Zippy. “Zippy comforted Holy. He’s a kind, good fish.”

Today is Wednesday, and I have tested the water every 2 hours. The ammonia has stabilized at a good level, and I have not changed water as frequently. Zippy had been scratching himself against things, indicating his skin was irritated from the ammonia. I added lots of a liquid that sooths and heals the slime coat. He stopped scratching a few hours later and has been swimming around all levels of the tank (they stick to the top when ammonia is high), so that seems good. Although he did not eat when I fed his this morning, I caught him grazing on the moss ball and algae later in the day, and he gobbled up a flake of food knocked loose when I changed the water.

As of this writing, he seems happy, and his mouth is not white. I have been crashing the tank with the medicine, as well as the ammonia detoxifier and nitrifying bacteria. It seems stable. We shall see if Zippy escapes the mouth fungus scourge.

Fingers crossed for Zippy.

The Great Fish Die-Off of 2020 – CoronaLife Day 236

Those of you who have followed my blog for a while know we have had quite a few adventures in fish-keeping. We have a small 5-gallon tank, and have kept about 3 guppies at a time in there, give or take a few dying. We have had 8 guppies so far, and the last one died just before the coronavirus lockdown started. So our tank has been empty a long time.

Because of that, it took a while to get the tank properly cycled and safe for new fish. Finally, after about 8 months, the water tested perfectly for multiple days, and we went and got fish #9, 10, and 11. My daughter was very excited to have friends in her tank again! She named them Moonlight, Starlight, and MiniSeashell 2.

We got them home, popped them in the tank…and immediately knew there was a problem. Starlight was acting weird, “vertical hanging”, which we have seen before and never bodes well. Sure enough, he died within the hour. The others seemed okay, so we went downstairs to watch a movie. When we came back up, the other two were dead.

My daughter was upset to lose all her fish within a few hours, and I was baffled. Our water was perfect, what could the problem have been? I decided they all must have been sick with something from the store, because what else could it be?

The next morning, I changed out about 2 gallons of water, put in fresh water, as I always do when there has been a fish death in the tank. A few hours later, I tested the water, since I was planning to buy more fish that day to try again.

The mystery was unexpectedly solved.

Ammonia is deadly to fish—they suffocate. My tank water the day before (and several days prior) had tested at 0, both at home and at the store. That morning, it tested at 2.0 ammonia. That’s AFTER I had changed out almost half the tank, so it had probably been closer to 4.0. Deadly.

The only place it could have come from was the store’s water. Those poor fish had already been poisoned before we bought them. If I had not dumped that water into our tank, at least 2 of them may have recovered. But I didn’t know. It never occurred to me that the store’s water might be toxic. The fish never stood a chance.

I know better now. Once again I am cycling my tank to get the water fit for fish. This time, no water from the store will enter my tank. And hopefully the fish won’t be poisoned before we even get them home.

Wrapping Up October – CoronaLife Day 229

The last week of October is always hectic and stressful for me. Several family celebrations plus Halloween makes for an unhappy introvert. And this year all the political turmoil added to the pandemic strain piles on the anxiety.

So I haven’t been very productive this week. Just have been exhausted and scattered. Which isn’t to say that I have done nothing. I have been thinking about my Veritas re-write, and as snatches of scenes or paragraphs I want to insert come to me, I have written them down. It’s fits and starts, but it’s progress. I hope to get those words into the computer before the week is out.

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while will know that we have had a rather adventurous time trying to keep guppies alive in our small 5-gallon fish tank. We’ve been through 8 fish. The last one died right before the lockdown in March, and our tank has been empty since.

We’ve begun “cycling” our tank again to get the ammonia and nitrate levels to zero before adding fish. It’s a slow process and currently leaving me scratching my head, but we seem to be getting there in spite of ourselves. Once we get the water right, we’ll get new fish, and hopefully keep them alive for a decent amount of time. Of course, the way coronavirus cases are rising in our neck of the woods, we will probably be ready for new fish right when we get closed down again!

So I have written a paltry few hundred words on my novel, and have been watching bacteria grow. Exciting times. But the end of October is always like this for me. I know come November I will be able to take a deep breath and feel some weight come off my shoulders.

I am not crazy enough to do NaNoWriMo this year. I do not have the headspace or emotional bandwidth for it. But I do want to try and at least get into a rhythm, dedicate some time each day to writing. We shall see.

Are you doing NaNo? If so, good luck!

Have a happy and safe Halloween, everyone!

Raising the Next Generation of Writers – CoronaLife Day 222

I walk every day for exercise, about 2.5 miles. Sometimes my 10-year-old daughter walks with me. She often says she wants to be a writer, and our chats can revolve around that—or about any of the hundred other things swirling in her brain.

Today we were walking in companionable silence when suddenly she says, “What do you think would happen?”

I ask, “To what?”

She smiles sheepishly. “I didn’t mean to say that out loud.” She looks off into the distance and says, “I’m not sure I should ask you this. I’m afraid you’ll think I’m silly.”

I take her hand. “You can tell me anything.”

Her voice is low, hesitant. “What—what if—if Harry Potter had two sisters no one knew anything about?” She doesn’t look at me.

Fan fiction. She is afraid I will think fanfic is silly.

Instead, I tell her about the not one, not two, but three fanfic series I wrote with my best friend. About 15 books in all. I explain that lots of writers start out writing fan fiction. Not only is it loads of fun, but it helps you learn how to tell a story. By working with an existing structure, an existing universe, you get to play and hone your skills at the same time.

Her next smile wasn’t sheepish—it was broad and bright, showing her two side gaps where her teeth haven’t grown in yet. And then the floodgates opened and I was treated to 40 minutes of her Harry Potter fan fiction, wherein two female characters (representing her and her best friend) are secretly sisters of Harry who also escaped the killing curse that night.

Seeing the enthusiasm and confidence that poured from her once she knew she wasn’t silly reminded me that we older writers (both in age and in writing years) need to be mindful of the young ones. Most of us have found our community, our support system. The young ones haven’t. They are out there thinking they are silly. Or that their creativity is something to hide because a lot of people think “day dreaming” is a waste of time.

So if any of you writers has a young creative in your life (doesn’t have to be a writer), encourage the dreaming. Make them see that imagination is a gift. Let them know they are not alone. That their gift has value. Just give them permission to “be”—and watch them grow.

Get Out the Vote – CoronaLife Day 215

This week overall has not been a productive one for me, writing-wise. I chipped away at Veritas but still feel that I need to do more with the scenes I am working on before I can move forward.

We are five and a half weeks into the school year, and I am exhausted. Not because of the schooling—the teachers have been phenomenal and my daughter is old enough to be pretty independent about her work. I am perennially exhausted during the school year. My body clock and the real-world clock do not sync well at all. As a result, I stay up too late because that’s when I have my energy, and then only get about 6 hours of sleep on a good night. During the summer, I never napped during the day, because I could sleep as long as I needed, but these days when I have to get up with my daughter, I find I crash into a power nap once a day.

I did get one big thing done this week: I voted! Here in New Jersey, we are all vote by mail this year. We did it during the primaries, too, as we were still deep in the worst of our pandemic first wave. We got our ballots last week, and this week I filled mine in and dropped it off. The nearest drop off to my house just happens to be the actual county elections office, so I walked it right in and handed it over.

Please, if you are eligible to vote, do so. We have always held America up as an example of a thriving democracy, but the reality for years has been that we have more people who don’t vote than who do in most elections. Even in Presidential election years, we are often hard pressed to get more than 50% of the voters to the polls. Voter apathy is the single largest danger to our democracy. Don’t like the choices you have? Vote for the one closest to your beliefs, then spend the next election cycle finding and supporting someone you like better. If we want a country whose representatives more accurately reflect who we really are, we all need to get out there and vote.

As John Lewis said in his final words: “Democracy is not a state. It is an act.”

So act.

Rebuilding the Story – CoronaLife Day 208

With me, my daughter, and my husband all fighting for bandwidth on a DSL line all day, we were running into problems. So we finally broke down and got cable internet. Hopefully the increased bandwidth will erase the problems we’ve been having. We are also keeping the DSL as backup in case our cable goes down, which it seems to do with regularity in our neighborhood. I think I may just stay on the DSL and let them have the cable—the DSL is sufficient for what I need.

I’ve been chipping away at Veritas again this week. I am into the part of the story where serious rebuilding will happen, as the new seeds I planted in the opening bear fruit. So while the general direction of the plot won’t change, how we get there most definitely will. I am trying, among other things, to make my protagonist more active, driving the story more than being pulled along by events. It’s difficult because she is literally trapped in her mind for a significant portion of this section, so having her more active is a bit head-scratching. But I have some ideas to play with.

I know very well that even with all the work I am doing on this editing pass, I will need to do at least one more. Whenever you go in and work on a nearly-complete manuscript and copy, paste, delete, insert, there are going to be continuity issues. So I need to do that, and I need to make sure that all the new stuff hangs together with all the old stuff and that it all makes sense. So still a long way to go, but I am confident I will get there in the end.

Also, I got my ballot in the mail this week, so I am doing a shout-out to everyone to make sure you vote, whether by mail or in person, depending on your state’s procedures. Your vote is your constitutional right and the foundation of our country, so make it count. If you don’t know how or where to vote in your area, call your County Clerk or Board of Elections office, and they will tell you where to go. Make a plan to vote and let your voice be heard!

Beginning…Again – CoronaLife Day 201

I’ve mentioned my on-again, off-again work on my YA sci-fi Veritas. When last I mentioned it, I was using Lisa Cron’s Story Genius and her Scene Cards to try to organize my thoughts, deepen the story, and not lose track of the emotional through line. This has been a struggle for me, but I felt I was finally starting to see something.

This week, even though I have not finished the Scene Cards for the whole book, I went in to massage the first 10 scenes, which I had done the cards for. I needed to see how the changes I pondered felt in situ, and see how it changed the flow and tone of the story. This amounts to the first 10,000 words of the story, but I think I need to really get this right before I can go much farther.

I like what I see. While that actual changes to the scenes are relatively minor—added lines here, deleted lines there—the story feels different. By more fully understanding Cron’s third rail—the misbelief that has driven my protagonist for so long—I was able to refocus the scenes and drive the story in a whole new way.

I am a long way from finished, and I will undoubtedly revisit these scenes again. This process is time-consuming for me, and sort of hurts my brain. But I feel it is reaping some rewards for me already, with more to come. I hope that this is like doing a large jigsaw puzzle—at first, and for a long time, it feels like a struggle to find pieces that fit. But as the number of pieces dwindle, they come together faster and faster, until in one burst of puzzling it all comes together.

I’m still at the beginning of the Vertias puzzle. If I get this right, though, and take my time going forward, the story should roll faster and faster on its own, and come together all at once as I near the end.

At least, that’s the dream.

What are you all working on? Are any of you at the beginning…again?

An Educational Adventure – CoronaLife Day 194

Remember snow days? Weather would be bad and school was cancelled. With remote learning, you aren’t dependent on if the buses can get through to have school. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a “snow day”. In the spring semester when remote learning was still new and we were all just trying to get through each day, our town had a power outage. Not from snow, I can’t even remember why, but the town was out for about 2 days. No school!

When it’s the whole town, you know you don’t have to worry about your kid missing anything. This weekend, though, our modem died—poof, no internet at the house. And since it was just us, I knew my daughter would miss school for the 2 days it would take the modem to come. That’s a lot of work to make up. So what’s a remote learning parent to do?

FIELD TRIP!

On Monday and Tuesday, my daughter and I nestled in our car next to the school so she could hook up to their internet. Their schedule is live teaching for 4 hours, then lunch, then the afternoon is their pre-recorded specials classes and live meetings with teachers as needed. So we spent both mornings camped out so my daughter got her lessons and didn’t fall too far behind. We pushed off the afternoon pre-recorded specials, as they are only once a week and aren’t due until next week’s class, so she can do them over the weekend. Four hours in the car per day was enough!

Our new modem arrived Tuesday evening, just before I had a scheduled virtual meeting, so at least that worked out.

I hope that is the end of our adventures in education for a while. Now we just have to figure out how to co-exist with each other as my daughter, husband, and I all fight for bandwidth during the day.

Anyone else having remote learning adventures?

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