While walking back to the Spring Shelter at Pokagon State Park, I encountered my wife with a fella named Fred. Good thing too, because I would have made a wrong turn if she hadn't pointed the way, and the right way was still a half mile hike. Fred is the saddle barn's only mule:




That photo posted on Instagram at the time, but for some reason Blogger has never updated its app, and it usually crashes when I try to post from my phone (although a previous post I thought didn't go actually posted twice).

I'd planned to work out of the car while she was on the job (I'm revising Beowulf: In Harm's Way). But it was a beautiful day, so I decided to walk the to the Spring Shelter even though I'd already hiked almost four miles earlier in the day. It's in a wooded area along the saddle trail and usually quiet, except for the people who go there with empty containers, for the spring water. They've quite literally piped it right out of the ground.



Since I was carrying a leather case with my laptop, iPad, and my ancient iPod, I checked the weather forecast first: No rain predicted. Then I looked at the weather radar: No rain in the region. So I got there, laid my stuff out, and was engrossed in revisions about an hour later when big drops started falling on the keyboard

Just a brief shower to remind me I'm not in charge. And, after all, the Spring Shelter includes ... wait for it ... a shelter. At least I could see the clouds that were the source of my torment; and when I checked the radar, sure enough, there were the showers popping up. Not like last week, where it started raining on my while I mowed the lawn -- despite the fact that there wasn't a single cloud overhead.



Just goes to show, there's no such thing as a perfect writing spot.

 The Pokagon State Park Saddle Barn opened for business the first weekend of April, and Emily's first day back was that Sunday. The temperature was in the thirties when she got to work, but warmed up to close to sixty by the end of the day. (Her two days this weekend have been in much nicer weather.)

It was her first chance in months to see the horses, and they were glad to see her!

I don't think they cared so much about me one way or another, but apparently they're shedding, so they were happy enough when I scratched some necks.

Meanwhile, confession: It was the first time since our car accident in September that I walked more than a mile at a time. I made about 2.6 miles, mostly on the bike trail, which is easy going. But I did hit a trail along the way and even went off-trail a little--while I still could, before the foliage fills out and blocks cross country travel. My only complications were a little ankle pain and a sore back.

Not that the trails themselves didn't have complications:

Over the winter it was windier than election season. Emily says there were a couple of small trees across the horse trail, although they didn't present a serious problem. This one was high enough that it would have held them up. I vaulted it, which was a remarkably dumb thing for someone in my shape to do in the middle of nowhere.

There was one across the bike trail, too. I'd imagine the park employees will have everything cleaned up in short order--we could see a lot of places where fallen trees had already been cut up and moved.

 

No idea who the gentleman in the distance is; I didn't notice he was there until after I took the picture. I wonder if he said cheese? The good news is, people are already out and about, enjoying weather that, if not great, is at least better. The bad news is, my allergies are already acting up.

But that's okay, because I love green ... and the green is coming along:

Emily has the website all set up because ... well, because she's awesome, obviously. Now, in addition to being able to order any of our books at www.markrhunter.com, you can get a signed copy of the newest, Radio Red.

Pro tip: If you order a print copy of Radio Red from our website, you might just get, say, a couple of bucks off the list price. Just sayin'.

But only at www.markrhunter.com. And there are other Mark R Hunters out there, so don't settle for imitation.

Also over on the websites you can read samples, check out some free short stories, contact us, read my blog, and rent our dog to troll for dates at the park. I'm kidding about one of those.



I took a couple of days off for our wedding anniversary this year, having come up with a fairly simple idea, which is all I'm capable of when it comes to events like that. Anniversaries, birthdays, Valentine's Day ... my mind freezes up like a ... frozen ... thing. See, just thinking about it does that.

Now, my wife loves camping, but our anniversary is March 5th. In Indiana that's camping season in the same way the South Pole is a tourist attraction: Sure, you can do it, but you're more than likely going to freeze. But we'd had a very warm February, so I rolled the dice and came up with a plan: We would head south for a short camping trip, maybe somewhere along the Ohio River where it's always at least five or ten degrees warmer than Northern Indiana. It's not exactly green down there yet, which is why I settled on Clifty Falls State Park--a place where a lack of foliage might actually improve the view.

As long as it didn't rain it was a brilliant plan, by which I mean it was brilliant by my standards, by which I mean I didn't come up with a backup plan in case it rained. Then we got measurable snow on two of the first three days of March. The first day we didn't get any snow because of the severe thunderstorm rolling through.

I confess to getting a little nervous at that point.

Our forecast was cooler and partially wet, but hey--that was hundreds of miles from our soon-to-be dream anniversary spot. So I checked the forecast for Madison, Indiana, which is right by Clifty Falls at the opposite end of the state.

Their forecast was exactly the same as ours.

That I didn't see coming. It wouldn't be so cold that we wouldn't be comfortable inside the sleeping bags my mother-in-law gave us for Christmas--but three days stuck inside a tent with a dog, wrapped in a sleeping bag (us, not the dog), just doesn't seem all that dreamy.

So as I write this it's March Third, and I'm desperately trying to come up with a plan B. I even checked on what the anniversary gifts are for a fifth wedding anniversary. The traditional one is wood, and the modern one is silverware.

Well, the wood would come in handy to build a fire. But silverware? Why don't I just give her a new garbage disposal, or a vacuum cleaner? "Isn't it romantic? A gift like this will sweep you off your feet! Get it? Dear? What are you doing with that ax?"

At this point I considered combining the anniversary gift ideas into a "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" themed anniversary, in which we would go out into the forest with wooden stakes and silver bullets to hunt the supernatural. That show figured into how we met, and I believe it's having a 20th anniversary itself, so I thought I had something. Then I realized it would involve taking my once again disappointed wife into an area with no witnesses, then handing her a sharp object and a loaded gun.

Might as well just give her a shovel, too ... but I think hand tools don't come around until the 11th anniversary. I'll let you know how it goes.

If I can.

ozma914: mustache Firefly (mustache)
( Feb. 17th, 2017 05:28 pm)
For Valentines Day, Emily said she would make me some brownies. That's about all I need in life.

But what she ended up making--shown here fresh out of the oven--was not just a brownie. It was a three layer heart shaped brownie, with chocolate frosting between each layer, and chocolate chips on top.


And a couple of leftover heart brownie hearts on the side. It was quite possibly the single best Valentines Day treat I ever got in my life. My wife truly knows the way to my heart.

Or ... does she know the way to my heart attack? After all, she gets the insurance money ...

But what the heck. If I'm going to keel over, I'm going by chocolate.
ozma914: new novel cover art by Kelly Martin (Default)
( Feb. 14th, 2017 12:15 am)

On Valentine's Day, it's always good to remember your Valentine, by which I mean the love of your life, by which I'm talking to you, guys. I'm not suggesting women never forget romantic dates ... I mean, there's no such thing as never. But let's face it: Chances are pretty good that anyone raiding the store on February 14th for candy, flowers, or lingerie is likely to be a panicked male.

By the way, guys: Admit to yourself that lingerie is almost always a gift for you, not her.

An important question to ask yourself is: "Would my life be better or worse without this person in my life?" If the answer is better, you need to do some hard thinking. If the answer is worse, then the chances are good you're taking that person for granted. That's human nature.

When I met my wife I was alone, lonely, aimless, and bankrupt. How did she cure me? Let me count the ways:

Working backward, Emily is cheap. This can be a complaint, but to me it's a compliment: She doesn't like to spend money. I don't have money. It's a match made in banking. When I say, "I don't feel like cooking--let's get takeout", her response is, "I don't feel like spending money--I'll cook". And everything's fine, as long as I do the dishes.

Which I do. Why? Because the other night, instead of letting me get KFC, she made these baked chicken thighs that are so good angels smelled them and started crying. I was so happy I did the dishes, and also the laundry, and shampooed the carpets.

It goes without saying that I'm no longer alone and lonely. I'm the kind of person who doesn't mind spending time alone, but that only goes so far. Did you know that watching TV is actually more fun with someone else? You did? Okay, did you know that reading books is more fun when you can discuss them with a loved one? You didn't? Ha!

She talked me into getting a dog. Seven years I'd gone without a dog. How did I stand it?

Since we met, I've published nine books (well, nine as of March 7th), plus pieces in three anthologies. Before we met, I published ... zero. Coincidence? Heck, no. Yes, I've had encouragement from others, but she did more than that: She pushed me. No excuses--do the writing, polish the writing, sell the writing. Not to mention half the books are self-published, and there's no way I had the design and computer talents to pull those off myself.

And finally, she gets me. Sure, women often try to change men, usually for the better. Her work on me has been superficial (and boy, did I need it). She didn't try to turn me into a different person--she accepts me as I am, moles and all. (We get moles in my family. No, not in the yard.) She not only accepts me, but she understands the why of me. And yet, she stayed with me anyway.

Basically ... Emily's awesome. So this Valentine's Day, which is today, I'm going to appreciate her.

Wait. It's today?

Ah, jeez, I gotta get to the store.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Have you ever looked back at something you did, and realized you’d been warned all along not to do it?

I don’t mean like when you were a kid, and your mom told you not to go out without your hat and gloves. Although come to think of it, sorry, mom: My mottled, aching hands tell me you were right. No, I’m talking about when you get those little signs, those portents that, in retrospect, stick out like giant stop signs.

Our plan was to go to southern Missouri, to see my wife’s family and visit with her friends. The friends are largely alumni of Emily’s Girl Scout camp, Latonka, where for many years she went as a camper and then worked. It’s the basis for (and receives half the profits from) my novel The No-Campfire Girls.

This trip required driving a thousand miles over a four day period in late December. What could possibly—well, you know something went wrong, or I wouldn’t have written this.

 

Spoiler alert: Emily did get to spend some time with her family.

 

I got the time off work, but felt guilty about it because right afterward one of my coworkers resigned, making scheduling a problem. Early in December, Emily got sick with what might have been a mild case of strep throat. Later my oldest daughter and one of the grand-kids came down with a much more than mild case of strep throat. (The other grand-kid came later.) A week before we were to leave, the dentist told me I needed a filling replaced as soon as possible, plus a crown on another tooth. Three days before we were to leave, I was cleaning my glasses when they literally fell apart. And I literally don’t use the word literally very often: They just broke into two pieces. Then my grand-kid got scarlet fever. Friggin' scarlet fever.

All the while I kept watching the weather forecast.

I’m accused of obsessing about the weather, and it’s true; but when you’re about to drive five hundred miles through three states in winter, then hopefully return, it’s a reasonable obsession. In this case, we had a one day window to get there, after which a winter storm would hit the whole region, clearing just in time for a one day window to get back.

What could possibly—ah, never mind.

Emily was better by then, and although it was a cold trip all the way down, that only counted when I had to get out of the car for gas or the dog’s bathroom needs. (As for my bathroom needs, I held it. Kidding! But I didn’t join the dog by a tree.) That was Friday.

On Saturday the temperature got up to 69 degrees in southeast Missouri. That’s not a typo, you northern Indiana people. We ran some errands before the party, and were driving around in t-shirts with the windows down. It was glorious, right up until about the time the tornado sirens went off.

Surely you expected that?

 

It even got a degree warmer than this.

 blob:null/48fa92d1-a7ed-4434-933a-8069f64d8ec9

There was a confirmed touchdown, although safely to the south of us. At about the same time, starting on a line twenty or thirty miles north, the rest of the Midwest was being socked in by an ice and snow storm. But we’d expected all of it—except the tornado—and although it was a little odd watching lightning in December, we really did have a good time with Emily’s parents and at the party.

This despite the fact that by the time the party started, the temperature had dropped thirty degrees. As the storm progressed south the temperature dropped close to fifty degrees in twelve hours, and if you think my car doors got iced shut, you’re right.

But we were there, and had some time before we had to go anywhere, and everything was just swell until Emily developed severe pain from a urinary tract infection. It was bad enough that we decided to go back a day early, which was totally not inside my weather window.

Still, a lot of dedicated highway personnel had the roads in good shape by the time we left Sunday afternoon. We passed some wrecks along the side of the road and, just to punctuate the point that we should have seen the “don’t do it” signs, we hit a discarded semi tire tread in Illinois. That was an exciting after-dark moment. But we got home, where at 9 p.m. Sunday night it was three degrees. For those who didn’t do the math, that was a 66 degree temperature change for us.

Sure, I got hypothermia unloading the car. But it was good that we’d traveled and charged up the car’s battery, because it got down to minus 9 later that night.

 

The sad part is that I've been colder.

 

 

It was a couple of days later when people who were at the party, including Emily and I, finished incubating our upper respiratory infections.

So, what have we learned from this? Don’t travel in winter? Be prepared? Watch for signs and portents?

I’m gonna go with all of the above.

 

I'm not sure we'll be able to make the holiday pops concert at the school in Albion tonight, due to some (by which I mean a lot) of illness in the family. Still, I hope everyone else will go and support the Fort Wayne Philharmonic coming to our little town. It starts at 7:30, they sell tickets at the door, and the Facebook event page is here:

https://www.facebook.com/events/1097909366961263/

Meanwhile, happy birthday to my lovely wife Emily, whose birthday means the days will now start getting longer! She's been feeling under the weather for, oh, the entire month of December--in fact, this whole autumn has been one thing after another for our family. Here's hoping winter will go better, even if it isn't my season.

 

 
ozma914: mustache Firefly (mustache)
( Nov. 20th, 2016 11:29 pm)

When the temperature drops 35 degrees in 24 hours, your best bet is to stay inside with a warm puppy.

 

Tags:

Emily and I hitched a ride with my oldest daughter's family for trick or treating around Albion.

 

My son-in-law was nice enough to drive, but he didn't talk much: Vince had a splitting headache.

 

My daughter Charis has always loved Halloween. Me, not so much since the doctor made me cut down on candy ... please don't tell him I collected a treat tax from the grand-twins.

 

That's Brayden on the left--what, you don't recognize him? and Hunter on the right. I asked Brayden why his character has an eye patch but doesn't use it, and he replied, "He does, sometimes". Maybe that's how he picks up girls.

 

I wonder if the grand-twins were nervous to have a zombie and vampire sitting behind them? That's not my costume, by the way: On my days off I always look like that.

 

Part 1 was here:  http://markrhunter.blogspot.com/2016/09/a-turkey-run-to-turkey-run-part-1-what.html


Part 2 is ... painful.




You owned a car for seven years. You named it “Brad”. You loved Brad. You two had been through everything together: three jobs, twenty trips to Missouri, a wedding, and a dog. Nothing could replace Brad.

Then you totaled him.

Okay, so I’m paraphrasing the lady from the Liberty Mutual commercial. But I really did love my car, even though I never developed the habit of naming inanimate objects. It was a 2006 Ford Focus. It was reliable, constant as the evening star.

I kind of like Logansport, too. It’s a nice little city, about 90 miles from Albion, close to a two-hour drive. We decided to stop there for pizza, on our way home from our shortened camping trip. We were driving down East Market Street in the late afternoon, with the sun to our back, which means the sun was right in the face of the young man who was trying to turn left into

BAM!

They say a car’s airbag inflates instantly, but they also say time slows at moments like that. I watched it inflate. Ironically, although I had about half an instant to stand on the brake, I didn’t actually see the impact—just the airbag coming toward me. The other driver, I assume, hit the gas to clear oncoming traffic, but the sun blinded him and he accelerated straight into us.

By the way, as much as I love my car, it was paid off. His was ten years newer, and he’d only made two payments. At least he wasn’t hurt.

My first act was to check Emily. Emily’s first act was to check Bae. Her reasoning is that the dog was not belted in, while I had both belt and airbag, and I’m just glad anyone was reasoning at all at that moment. She also reasoned that the car was on fire, which she rather urgently pointed out to me.

On a related note, an airbag is deployed by a small explosive charge, which is how it comes out so fast. The speed is helped by a powdery substance that helps the material come out smoothly. Add those two together with the smashed radiator and yeah, it looked like the car was on fire. I’m glad it wasn’t, because after checking my car’s occupants I decided to check the other driver, and my door wouldn’t open.

You get a sinking feeling at moments like that. You get another sinking feeling when you realize you’re two hours from home, and your car’s going nowhere. And a ten-year-old car, smashed all the way to the passenger compartment? It’s going nowhere, ever again.




Well, except by tow truck. With a major street blocked, I had little time to grab a few things. Our suitcase, of course. It was all the way in the back of the trunk, behind all the camping gear. I had to unload the trunk, then load it again.

Then it was gone.

Blood was dripping from my hand; Emily was limping; the dog was confused. We were two hours from home. The insurance company was prepared to get us a rental car, when the rental company opened in the morning. Meanwhile, they said we could be reimbursed the cost of a taxi to the nearest hotel.

I don’t know how many taxis allow a 90-pound dog in. I have a fairly good idea how many hotels do. My oldest daughter and son-in-law dropped what they were doing, loaded the grand-twins into their van, and drove two hours to pick us up. The next day, in a rental (which made me incredibly nervous), we came back and got about two carloads of stuff out of Brad. I mean, the Focus.

It wasn’t just the camping gear—it was everything. My wonderful Focus, with the brand new tires and full tank of gas, will not be seen again outside a junk yard.

The rest is anticlimactic. The attention-grabbing blood came from a little gash on the inside of my index finger. How is a mystery, but considering the abrasions and bruise on my arm, it’s related to the airbag.

Emily’s foot, like my arm, hurt a little. Then a lot. The doctor recommended an x-ray as a precaution, which meant a trip to the ER on a Friday evening, during a full moon. Yes, we were there exactly as long as you’re thinking, but it’s probably best to know when someone has a broken foot. She got crutches, then a “boot”. The boot looks like she’s being converted into a cyborg. This is how Darth Vader started, people.

The only thing left is to give thanks; when the chips are down Hoosiers are wonderful. People rushed over with alcohol wipes and towels for my finger, which looked way worse than it was. The other driver admitted his mistake, and at no time were words or fists thrown. More than one person stopped to see if they could help, and everyone (of course) loved the dog.

I have to mention the employees of Bruno’s Carry Out Pizza. I mean, we were on our way to get pizza, right? On one side of the street was a car for sale, which I found ironic, and on the other side was Bruno’s. I don’t know what they thought when they saw us coming, dragging a suitcase and hauling bags, and looking very nervously for traffic as we crossed the street.

But it was great pizza.

There’s a bench in front of Bruno’s. We may have been their first ever eat-in customers, although we were technically outside. They got water for the dog, and when I found out my daughter’s family hadn’t eaten and went in for another order, they gave it to us for free.

I wish it hadn’t happened—I love my wife not limping, and I loved my car, and not making car payments. But all you ever hear about is bad people doing bad things. Good people outnumber bad people—sometimes it takes bad stuff to be reminded of that.

Oh, I almost forgot: This whole series of unfortunate events started when the temple of my glasses broke off. The makers of the frame had been bought out, but the optometrist office managed to find a spare part—which didn’t exactly match, but worked just fine. Another example of someone going the extra mile to help out.

If you look very closely, you can see a difference. So ... don't look closely.

 

 

I’m considering not taking vacations anymore. Too stressful.

 

I have to go back to work for at least a week before my stress levels fall enough for the stress of work to start getting to me again. Then I start needing a vacation, because the last vacation was too stressful. If Joseph Heller hadn’t already written it, I’d hit the best seller list with my own Catch-22.

 

Let’s start at the beginning, when we decided to vacation at a place called Turkey Run State Park. It was the vacation that ended up being a turkey.

 

A few days earlier, as I cleaned my glasses, a temple fell off. The temples are the parts that hang over your ears. Remove one, then try to wear your glasses. Yeah.

 

Whenever it’s time for new glasses I try to get the same frames, because the only thing worse than wearing glasses is wearing new glasses. And every time, that particular frame is no longer available. Every time. It’s like some kind of sick joke within the frame making business.

 

But this time, the optometrist office didn’t tell me the frames weren’t available. They told me the frame manufacturer wasn’t available. They’d been bought out. The optometrist was going to try and find some spare parts, which was fine except I was about to drive three and a half hours away.

 

Here comes the repeating theme of this story, which is that things kept working out even as my stress levels rose. During my last eye exam, my eyesight had hardly changed at all. I slipped the old glasses into the new case, and there they waited for a catastrophe just like this one.

 

It reminds me of the line from Apollo 13, which went something like, “I think we’ve had our glitch for the mission.” They didn’t stop to consider there might be more than one glitch.

 

We managed to fit all our camping gear, and the dog, into my beloved 2006 Ford Focus. I probably wouldn’t have used the term “beloved” before, but I really did love that car.

 

Guess I’m telegraphing the ending.

 

Wait--I have to sleep outside with you? What did I do?

 

 

Let’s go back to the dog, Bae (It’s short for Baewulf, and yes, I know it’s misspelled—don’t tell him). Bae had started his fall shed. He must have been exhausted, growing so much fur. We would open a window, and a tornado of hair would blast past us. It looked like a cloud of smoke, pouring from the car. No wonder he sleeps so much.

 

Meanwhile, Emily got a sore throat the same night we put a deposit down on a campsite. By the next morning she had a cold so bad I’m still not sure it wasn’t the flu. I bought a case of Kleenex and a barrel of Nyquil, and she laid on the couch and didn’t complain, because she’s not me. We were still going on vacation, she declared, because our deposit was non-refundable.

 

We’ll just eat the cost, I told her. Your health is more important.

 

She swept aside a two-foot drift of dog fur and gave me a glare that actually made me retreat into the next room. “I’ll pack the car,” I told her. She really hates wasting money.

 

The strange thing about this whole story is that we had a wonderful time, whenever we weren’t miserable. We’ve compromised on our camping style: She gave up the two-man pup tent and hard ground, and I gave up the giant camper with a generator and satellite TV. The important thing is the inflatable air mattress. We had a nice site, a roaring fire, and S’mores. We had some great hiking trails that traversed rivers, suspension bridges, and canyons. Yes, there are canyons in Indiana.

 

We had leash laws.

 

This was one of the less scenic areas!

 

 

See, in a state park there are rules, and one is that you keep your pets on a leash. The lady with the dog on the trail either wasn’t holding the leash tightly enough, or was letting her dog roam, and drag the leash behind it. It saw our dog, Bae. It wanted Bae.

 

It wanted Bae for dinner.

 

I found myself quite literally in the middle of a dogfight. To our dog’s credit, he went on the defensive. However, Emily was there. When there might be a danger to Emily, “defensive” becomes a snarling, clawing, biting, 90-pound whirlwind of kick-ass. There’s no reason I can think of why my attempts to drag him away didn’t result in major blood loss.

 

Which brings us back to our “all’s well that ends well” theme. No injuries. The lady dragged her dog away and apologized profusely, and once Emily knew Bae was unharmed she restrained herself from going after the lady.

 

There was also no injury half an hour later when a much friendlier dog came running after Bae, wanting only to make friends but not realizing our dog had just been traumatized.

 

Leashes, people. It’s a thing.

 

We lasted about a day and a half. Emily was still sick, the dog was stressed, and that was it. We decided we’d come back the next week and spend a few more days there, because Turkey Run State Park was really a wonderful place.

 

All we needed was transportation.

 

Next: The “Trip” Back

 

S'Mores, people.

 

 

ozma914: mustache Firefly (mustache)
( Apr. 26th, 2016 03:55 am)
Sunday was Emily's first day back on the job at the Pokagon saddle barn for the season! Okay, that's not Emily, but still.
 
 Ah, April in Indiana. First there's all the property damage from wind, of course. The next day we drive through a sleet squall ... then that night we have what I can only describe as a snowstorm. Then the next day we walk the dog around town while it's 55 degrees--at midnight--and my allergies are acting up. When we get up the next morning it's in the 30s, and our sinuses are exploding. 
 
Here's Emily's video and my photos of the snowstorm, exactly 24 hours before we took the 55 degree walk:
 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5H8n7MxhUs
 

 

 
ozma914: mustache Firefly (mustache)
( Apr. 1st, 2016 03:03 pm)

I’m about a third of the way through Emily’s edits for Hoosier Hysterical. She’s a harsh taskmaster! And I can’t even complain to my wife about her.

But a good editor not only looks for typos: She points out what would make a manuscript better. That’s the time consuming part: where she finds things that don’t make sense, or could be done better. I’d rather my editor find that before the reader does.

 

Emily edits our wedding license.

 

Unfortunately for me, Valentine’s Day comes during a time of year in which I don’t do well. I’ve said before that the only good thing about February is that it isn’t January, but let’s face it: they’re not all that different.

 

The best way to describe most men on this dedicated-to-love holiday is: epic fail. This is two steps beyond complete fail, which is itself three steps below just fail. As a result, any store that’s open the morning of Valentine’s Day is sure to see an influx of desperate, rather dazed looking men, searching for flowers or chocolate. If they can’t find a place open with Valentine chocolate, there’s always the corner convenience store.

 

“Let’s see … what’s more romantic, Baby Ruth or Milky Way? Say, do you have any wrapping paper here? No? I’ll just use the real estate listings, they’re a little colorful.”

 

My wife is not a fan of flowers, and is allergic to milk chocolate. She also doesn’t like to go out to eat, citing the expense and the crowds on a holiday. At first glance that seems like a great thing. But it takes away all the emergency “I’m in trouble” backups.

 

Now, you may be thinking, “But Mark, what does she get you for Valentine’s Day?”

 

If you’re thinking that, you’re a man.

 

Valentine’s Day, like weddings, is for the woman. The man’s job is to show up, look fairly nice, and make her the center of the day. With weddings men can usually focus just well enough to handle that for a day, having been around the planning stuff for months beforehand. With Valentine’s Day, the word “planning” puts them on life support.

 

I love my wife. I wouldn’t have married her if I didn’t love her. The idea of marriage for convenience ignores the fact that making a successful marriage isn’t convenient at all. And yet, as each holiday approaches, I utterly freeze up. I stink at shopping. I stink at picking out cards. And—this coming from a man who actually writes romantic comedies—I stink at being romantic.

 

The fact that most men have the same affliction is in no way an excuse.

 

At least, that’s what I assume my wife would say, if I was dumb enough to ask her.

 

My conclusion—and guys, you can all benefit from my hard-won wisdom—is this:

 

Being a man is no excuse. Suck it up, fellas. If, like me, you can’t seem to function during winter, try this: Go out in the summer and buy a bunch of generic presents. It’s your job to find out what your wife likes, I can’t help you with that. Figure it out, buy a bunch of them, and hide them away somewhere. When you hit that inevitable panic point—and you will—and realize the holiday happens to fall on a Sunday and there’s no store close enough for you to sneak out to, don’t gift her a zippo lighter from the Sunoco station. No, break into your horde of presents, and—surprise!—you’re a hero.

 

That’s what I’m going to do. Next year. This year, wish me luck.

 

"Yes, I promise to try to remember ... what was I supposed to remember?"

 

 

In all the fuss about setting goals for 2016, I forgot to mention how things went for me in 2015.
Things sucked.
Well, okay, not totally. The last two months were so bad they kind of colored the rest of the year. November was full of family illnesses, injuries, and terrorist attacks. (The terrorist attacks weren’t family related.) December was full of surgical instruments in my sinuses. Still, my ENT mentioned in passing that the surgery would be getting particularly close to my eyes and brain, and since all were functioning at the same level afterward, I’d call it a win.
During the same period, I was of mixed feelings about the weather. It was unseasonably warm, but I was too sick/in recovery to go out and enjoy it As far as my heating bill is concerned, still a plus.
So, let’s review: We survived autumn, the weather was nice, and my gas bill was lower. I got outside a lot during summer, and even took my first horse ride in 35 years, and survived. Emily got a job working with horses, which she loves and which tells you how I ended up on one. I injured my back badly in June, which gave me more writing time (because I couldn’t do anything else). We saw several funnel clouds during a storm, but none caused damage (or swept us off to Oz).
Meanwhile, in 2015 I got two books published: Images of America: Albion and Noble County, which as far as I can tell is selling pretty well, and Slightly Off the Mark, which … isn’t, but there’s always next year. Excuse me, this year.
 
           Overall, I have to say most of 2015 held its own. Could 2016 be better? Well, my first work shift of the year was horrible, so maybe it's all downhill from there. But it’s a presidential election year … so don’t count on it.

Emily got a sushi dinner for her birthday!

I had steak.

 

 

Today’s the birthday of my wife Emily, who was born on what’s usually the first day of winter—or, more optimistically, the time when the days start getting longer. (This year winter comes a day late.) The way I see it, that just makes her nickname, Sunny, that much more appropriate.

You have to wonder what Emily expected when she agreed to marry me. It certainly couldn’t have been Indiana winters, every medical malady known to man, and the strange, long hours of a third shifter who’s also a struggling writer.

She’s become my editor, book designer, nurse, dog wrangler, traveling partner, photographer, best friend, and—oh yeah—the love of my life. And she puts up with my puns. She doesn’t like them, but she puts up with them. See, this is how I know she loves me: Why else stick around?

Emily is also my inspiration. I know without a doubt that without her, I wouldn’t have had as much writing success as I have—she pushes me, promotes me, and encourages me. Boy, do writers need encouragement these days. We have seven books out, and two more almost ready to go … without her I’d have managed maybe three by now. Our self-published projects would have been impossible for me to do alone.

I’m still on the mend from my sinus surgery and not feeling great, and there’s overtime this week, so I can’t say how good of a birthday I’ll give her this year. But, as with the first day of winter, there’s that glimmer of more sunshine in the future. In other words, by next year I hope to have my act together. Either way, I’m already a better person for knowing my Sunny; love does that.

 

 

Well, on Thursday morning I had sinus surgery, and very early Friday Emily and Charis hauled me to the ER when my nose wouldn’t stop bleeding. So, that happened.

 

However, it turned out the post-op situation wasn’t as bad as it seemed, and I’m at the expected misery level for this point in the recovery period. (About a 6. On a scale of 8.) I had hoped, by this point, to be doing something constructive like working on a manuscript, or at least catching up on my TV watching. Silly me. What you’re reading now is about what I’ll get accomplished today. I’m really not sure if the week and a half I took off work was enough.

 

But I am in recovery. Things will get better, instead of worse, and Emily is an excellent nurse, and Bae has also been keeping a careful eye on me. (Lucius the snake doesn’t care.) I have good insurance, and according to my calculations, in order to pay for the operation and the ER visit I’ll have to sell no more than 5,000 books.

 

Guess I’d better get busy.

 

Tomorrow.

.

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