I can't say I had the perfect birthday: Emily worked part of the day and I ran some errands, including getting some maintenance done on the car. However, we had fried chicken and chocolate ice cream, and if that doesn't make for a good day, what does? Also, I introduced Emily to Smoky and The Bandit ... and since she liked it, I guess I'll keep her.


We also had the grand-twins over during my days off, watched Lego Batman, cooked hotdogs over a fire, and slept. The only way it could have been better would be if I'd gotten some writing time in, but sometimes the days are just full.


Thanks for all your birthday wishes! I'm of an age where birthdays are a mixed blessing: You don't really want to admit to getting older, but it's nice to be thought of.


Oh, and the twins got to go swimming. I supervised with the camera.

ozma914: (Dorothy and the Wizard)
( Jun. 30th, 2017 11:27 am)

Stop! I know how much I'd like people not to show me photos of spiders, so I'm begging you to go no further if you hate photos of snakes.

No, no -- this is just the rabbit that lives in our back yard and tortures our dog. Last chance before reaching snakes. 



'Cause here are some photos of snakes. Specifically, to remind you warm weather is not all good, here are photos of snakes I stumbled upon (almost literally) at Pokagon State Park near Angola. I should add that, considering how much time I've spent up there the last few summers, seeing only two is actually a pretty good average for you snake haters.


This little fella really wasn't all that little. He was on a walkway over a swampy area last year, and as I approached he didn't move. So I took a photo and got closer, and he still didn't move. So I took this photo and got a little closer, and he still didn't move. So I went back the way I came. I figure it's his neighborhood way more than it's mine.



This little guy really was kind of little. I suspect he was a teenager, as teenagers sometimes like to pull pranks. In this case, our friend the garter snake staked out a place in the middle of that little concrete pad right in front of an outhouse door. So if you're a human going to the bathroom, you have to go past a little wooden wall, turn a sharp corner, and BOO!

Oddly enough, he didn't really scare me, but he did almost get stepped on, which would have taught him a lesson in how pranks can backfire. I assure you, if it had been a spider a third of that size I'd have left a Mark-shaped hole in the wall, in whichever direction I happened to be pointed at the time.

I'll see if I can get you some flower photos next time.

Emily and I helped celebrate Hunter and Brayden's 9th birthday Friday with a pool party, which is pretty much the only way to do an outdoor kid's birthday party in June.


That's Hunter on top and Brayden on the bottom, despite the fact that Brayden is taller (for the moment).


Did I mention the pool part?


When you're about to turn nine, opening presents is a group activity. There were adults there too, but our group activity was hamburgers and German potato salad.



It's always better with ... Batman.









Bonus video! If it works.


Emily and I gave them a telescope -- always good to keep your eyes on the stars.

They cleaned up the beach at Chain O' Lakes State Park, all ready for the big holiday weekend ...

And now the beach is gone.

And more rain is expected tonight.

Be very careful driving--there was lowland flooding last night, and there's going to be more tonight across local roads, so slow way down, watch out, and don't go into standing water. Remember this rule: Stalling out your car is no fun, and drowning is even less fun. I've heard.

Weathering Indiana Festivals

In one of my books I included a photo of the Onion Days Festival, in Wolf Lake, Indiana. Never mind that it’s called Onion Days—that’s another story—but the photo was taken in the early 1900s, over a century ago.

Hey, I wrote the book; I never said I took the picture.

There are also photos in Albion of what would one day become the Chain O’ Lakes Festival. Those pictures were taken some fifty or sixty years before there was a Chain O’ Lakes State Park … so if the street fair had been called that at the time it would be some pretty amazing precognition.

While researching local history I was shown many photos of fairs, parades, and other gatherings from back a century or so: A late 1800s fair in downtown Kendallville, a 1914 wedding in the middle of Albion’s main intersection … to this day we’re still doing a lot of those same outdoor gatherings. (I assume they shut down traffic for that wedding, but maybe they had to use a team of wild horses to drag the groom in.) )

We're in the habit of holding author appearances in unusual places, so why stop now

This year Emily and I will be vendors, at the 2017 Avilla Freedom Festival. My very first book signing was at a 2011 First Friday event in Albion, so we've been outside before, and we've been in vendor-type festival situations before. The change this time is that we're going long term--three days straight, June 22-24.

That's quite a challenge for us--especially Saturday, which goes all day. The longest book signing we've ever done was, I believe, five hours. I have this figured as being something like twenty hours, total. I'm worried about how much interest we'll get, but it has the advantage of being in a town where we've never had a signing before. (And the disadvantage that I'm probably not all that well known there. Although on the other hand the paper that publishes my column, 4County Mall, is based in Avilla.) It also has the advantage of being our first signing since the release of Radio Red.

I hope you'll all join us. Naturally we'll have some discount prices and deals, and we're also going to figure out some giveaway stuff ... but even if you don't come to buy, don't let us be lonely for all that time! Stop by and say hello, and stay for all the other stuff going on. After all, it's an entire festival, not to mention a car, truck, and motorcycle show.


Selling stacks of books outside in early Indiana summer. What could possibly go wrong?


I miss summer already, and it’s still mostly summer out. Still, there’s one thing good thing about cold weather—no bugs. I’d really rather have insects than winter (spiders aren’t technically insects), but yeah, they do bug me.
Earlier this summer, while we were down in Missouri, we found this on the car windshield:

It’s a grasshopper, possibly mutated by radioactivity or fracking, because it’s bigger than the photo makes it appear. More the size of a Volkswagen bug. Maybe this view, from inside the car, will give you a better idea:

It’s monster movie giant! The bug that ate New York! Surely it got made into a 50s black and white SF thriller!
(The closest I could find was this: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0050294/?ref_=fn_tt_tt_30. That’s The Deadly Mantis—which did indeed head down to eat New York—but instead of hopping grass, it prayed. I recall it scaring the bug juice out of me on The Double Creature Feature.)
On the one hand, I’m not at all scared of grasshoppers. On the other hand, if that thing landed on me before I saw what it was—assuming it didn’t weight me down so much I couldn’t move—I’d have rolled my car over to one side and uprooted the nearest tree in my eagerness to run out of my own skin
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


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.
September Sixth is the day I first saw Christmas items on the shelf of a local store. September Sixth. Well over a quarter of a year before Christmas.
And yes, I have now been banned from still another store for still another anti-early Christmas tirade, but the jokes on them: They had to clean up after my head exploded.
I read recently that writers should occasionally take time off from writing, so when I went on vacation from my full time job I also avoided anything writing related, for almost two weeks.
It was miserable.
Apparently my wife is correct that I don’t know how to relax … more to the point, you don’t need as much time off if you love what you’re doing. So I’m going to hit the promotion again for Hoosier Hysterical, then do some revising and resubmitting, then start on a new story—not all this week, of course. Next vacation, I’ll take a laptop with me. Um, again.


How I Moved My Summer Vacation

"If you really want to find out who your friends are, ask them to help you move."
I don't know who said that, but truer words were never spoken. However, you have to amend that statement when you're going to help your in-laws move. If you like your in-laws, as I do, the question is pretty much the same. If you don't, well ... it's like making a political statement on Facebook: You need to decide in advance how much grief you're willing to go through.
There's a twist in this particular tale. About two days after my in-laws closed on a house, the mobile home they were living in was hit by a car. No, the home wasn't mobile at the time. They say the driver hydroplaned—which I find odd because it wasn't raining at the time—then slid through a utility pole and turned the front bedroom into a drive-through. And isn't that the next big thing in mobile homes? First they can travel, now you can just drive into the bedroom and voila--combination garage! Leave the car in there when you move it, and save on gas mileage.
The result: They had to get moved a bit faster than planned. For one thing, the bedroom was now about the width of a bathtub. For another, it had huge holes in the former walls ... and this is southeast Missouri, where the mosquitos can punch through walls without the help. And finally, the electricity had to be cut off in the home. See above about southeast Missouri—in July.
It took six people total, averaging three or four at any one time, two days to make the move. They rented a truck, and that makes things way easier, although maybe we should have rented some people. About 50% of us had chronic back issues, but that wasn't as much an issue as the fact that it was southeast Missouri. In July.
See, here's the difference between that area and where I live, in northeast Indiana. Hoosier weather gets just as hot and humid ... from time to time. It seems like our heat waves last forever, but in reality they rarely go more than a few days. (Last week excepted.) Down there the humidity pops up to 114% in May, and the temperature doesn't drop below 90 until October. Yes, the humidity's actually more than 100%. It’s a head-scratcher, or maybe that’s the mosquitos.
Their winters are wonderful. I mean, compared to Indiana.
So that led to a few bumps along the way, such as my difficulty in seeing because the lenses on my glasses melted off. Going into that trailer was like sticking your head into the stove to see how the all-day Thanksgiving turkey is doing. Leaving the trailer was like going into the kitchen where the turkey's been cooking all day.
It was so hot they had to open the fire hydrants to let steam out.
It was so hot even the politicians stopped talking.
It was so hot we had to put the beverage coolers into cooler coolers.
It was hot, I tell ya'.
None of this bothered the mosquitos a bit. The first day we soaked in bug spray, which actually cooled us down until later, when it started boiling off our skin. But I was wearing jeans at first, and when I got the bright idea to try shorts an hour later, I forgot to reapply. By the end of the day, my legs looked like an overhead photo of a heavily shelled World War I battleground. I couldn't get more bites touring a donut factory.
What I'm saying, basically, is that we didn't have much fun.
And yet, in the end, it was worth it. The in-laws have a nice little place now, and we visited with some friends, and once the moving part was over we even got to do some traveling. There's something to be said for helping people out. If I could, I'd go back down there and embrace the whole community with a great big, loving cloud of DDT.
It would still be hot, though.

ozma914: (Courthouse)
( Jul. 23rd, 2016 10:02 pm)
A storm's coming in, but right now downtown Albion looks pretty good.
Grand-twins … and horse


Why? Because I haven’t posted a photo of the grand-twins for a while, that’s why. Also, because it was taken last summer, and I miss summer. A lot.

Twins horse



            With the purchase of a brand new lawn mower, only the third new one I’ve ever bought, I said goodbye to my conservative lawn mower.

            (So named because it stopped working whenever it tilted to the left.)

            It had a good, long run. In fact, the conservative lawn mower wasn’t one of the three bought brand new—I got it used, just like my house and my cars. If it’s good enough for Pontiac/Ford/Dodge/Buick/Chevy/Nissan/Ford again, it’s good enough for Briggs and Stratton. (The less said about Renault, the better.)








            This time of year, as leaves turn to glorious multicolor, steamy hot days of summer vanish, and autumn decorations go up, I can often be found … crying.


            But it seems everyone else can be found at harvest festivals.


            Harvest fests, as you might imagine, are annual celebrations that take place around the time of the harvest. Makes sense. This would be the harvest of food crops, you understand, not the biannual politician harvest that’s often rotten, anyway.


            Ancient people celebrated the harvest every year because they didn’t like starvation. That was pretty much it. Why else celebrate fall? Did the hunter/gatherers look at each other and say, “Oh, look! The sun is disappearing—we might freeze to death again this year. Let’s party!”


            They did not.


            But possibly the only thing worse than freezing to death is freezing to death while hungry. They were happy to wrest a few grains away from the bugs and birds, so they could fill the storehouses with boxes of Pre-Ricestoric Crispies and Frosted By Next Month Flakes.


            “Good news, honey—we won’t have to eat the kids this year.”


            “Oh, good. Now, about that vacation trip across the land bridge …”



My home town has a harvest fest in mid-September, and at first glance that doesn’t seem to make sense. Remember, Thanksgiving was originally about being thankful for the harvest, and that’s in November. Unless you’re in Canada, in which case it’s earlier and more polite. (“Do you mind terribly if we take your land and give you smallpox? Thank you so much.”) )


            At second glance, harvest festivals in Europe often took place near the Harvest Moon, which is indeed near the autumn equinox, which this year is September 22nd. I know, because for me it’s a day of mourning. It marks that time of year when we get those aforementioned beautiful colors, apple cider, hay rides, cursing over faulty thirty year old home heating systems, covering your entire home with plastic, sobbing into your heating bills …


            Where was I?


            So, it’s not unusual at all for harvest fests to come at the same time as Albion’s, which this year is September 20th and 21st.  I’m okay with that, because there’s at least a chance that the weather will still be warm enough to actually want to go outside to a harvest fest. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, you know you’re going to be having your holiday indoors, and that you should have your snow boots ready, just in case.


            You know what’s a crazy holiday? Halloween.


            “Hey, there’s frost on the pumpkin—literally! Let’s dress up in costumes that we’ll have to hide under winter coats, then go running around the neighborhood until we’re so cold we have to pour the hot chocolate over our hands so we can thaw them enough to open the candy!”


            Talk about a transition period. I still don’t understand why these controversial sexy adult Halloween costumes ever got popular outside of southern California. “Ooh, your pasty-white skin and uncontrollable shivering are so hot! I mean, not literally hot …”


            The local harvest fests generally come before that, but after the August days when you can’t walk in the streets because your shoes melt. They also give us a chance to spend a weekend ignoring that storm of hot wind-blown bull scat, otherwise known as election season. But there’s one problem I always had with September harvests fests:


            Did anyone ask the harvesters?


            Places like England, where harvest festivals date back to pagan times, have shorter growing seasons, so maybe the harvest was over by then. But here in Indiana, there are still a lot of crops in the field at that point. I mean, Albion’s Harvest Fest has a corn maze. This requires corn.


            Corn crops have to stay up for some time, to provide cover for deer as they lie in wait to jump out in front of innocent cars. Now, I’ve never been a farmer,  because I don’t like to work hard. And I’ll grant you, there’s no time of the year when there’s no work for farmers to do. But if we’re going to celebrate a harvest, shouldn’t there be a harvest, first?


            Maybe this is a break time, giving them a chance to celebrate what they already picked, and rest up for the harvesting to come. Maybe the corn isn’t ready, and they’ve already finished picking from the apple, cake, and lunchbox trees.


            What? I told you I’m not a farmer. Maybe the lunchboxes grow underground.


A wagon ride tour of Albion at the harvest fest in, yes, Albion.


My daughter, son-in-law, and grand-twins a few years ago at the Albion Harvest Fest ... the kids are about twice this age, now.


            Summer update: I haven’t been online much, because I’m both having fun and being miserable.

            It turns out those things are not exclusive. I’m on vacation, and when someone goes on vacation during the summer they need to be outside, where the vacation-y stuff is. We especially had fun the first week, when Emily and I took the grandkids to, among other places, Science Central in Fort Wayne and Black Pine Animal Sanctuary. We’ve also done some trail walking and camping (photos to follow).


            Also, I started physical therapy on my tendonitis. The therapist said I needed to cut back on keyboarding as much as possible, and there’s where the irony kicked in: I probably would have had medical instructions to take a week or so off work … but I was already on vacation. So at least my sick days are saved.


            But I could do some typing, so I had to decide between hanging around on the internet or writing. Guess what I chose? Even though I went back and did some revision on my SF story Beowulf: In Harm’s Way (because revision doesn’t take as much typing), I’m still up to 30,000 words on the story. I also did some plot changes that make me very happy—I love it when adding something in early on leads me to a great plot twist idea for later in the book.


            It also takes my mind off the pain. On a related note, kids: Don’t get hurt to begin with. Because, apparently, the only way to stop the pain is with much more pain.

            I had a chance to watch my grandkids playing in Albion’s splash pad the other day, and it took me back to my childhood: Jumping in the water, splashing around, screaming …
            A splash pad is a really cool place for kids, because you get the splash part, but not the worries of going into water too deep. Plus, it’s clean water. There’s no such thing as a play area where you absolutely can’t get hurt at all (and what a boring place that would be), but that beats the heck out of the “good” old days.
            When I was a kid, there were several places you could go swimming, if they were within biking range, or you could talk an older person with a car into taking you there. Some of them were beaches, and occasionally we’d even find a lifeguard at one.
            We avoided those places. The lifeguards were too much like … adults. No roughhousing, no throwing stuff at each other—it never occurred to us that they could save our lives.
            No, we’d go to the places where the beaches consisted of gravel, or to good old fashioned swimming holes. I’m not sure what the difference is. I can tell you that lakes beat ponds, if you were at all disturbed by stuff squeezing between your toes. Clean water? Never entered our minds.
            One of our favorite places to go was the Skinner Lake beach, and it’s a perfect example of the revelation I had while I sat there, safely out of the water, watching the grandkids:
            When I was their age we’d get out of the car at Skinner Lake, and it would take me five minutes to cross a gravel driveway. I’m one of those kids who always wore shoes, and now I was barefoot, on my way to the water. It never occurred to me to take shoes with me, or wear what, in those days, we used to call thongs. Believe me, the thongs of forty years ago protected an entirely different area than the thongs of today do.
            Then I’d work my way down the beach, and put one toe into the water. The water was freezing. It was always freezing, no matter where we went. Heated swimming? Unheard of.
            My brother, along with whoever else my parents made drag me along, would dive right into the water, which was of a temperature about the same as what Jack and Rose dropped into during Titanic. After a while, I’d recover from the shock and dip a foot in.
            Then a toe of the other foot. Goose bumps popped up all over my body, including inside my ears. Every hair stood on end. By the time the water reached my knees, I’d be shivering uncontrollably. The others would be tossing a Frisbee back and forth, or splashing around in inner tubes.
            The water would reach my swim trunks, seeming momentarily less cold until it reached the top and touched my bare abdomen. My belly would suck in against my spine.
            Eventually, about the time the sun reached the top of the trees, I’d get just comfortable enough in the water—by which I mean, still freezing but now up to my neck—that I’d start splashing around a little.
            At this point the others would call from where they were drying off on the beach, to tell me it was time to come home.
            This was called having fun.
            It was many, many years before I fully understood that I just got colder than other people did. Others wear shorts, I wear pants. Others wear t-shirts, I pull on a sweater. Others enjoy autumn, I’m digging out long underwear and a winter coat. Others love winter, I … don’t.
            I should have just stayed on the beach.
            To this day, I love being on big bodies of water—lakes, rivers. By that I mean on, as in a boat, or a raft. It took me all these years to figure out that, as much as we used to beg adults to take us swimming, I rarely liked it much (unless we were there at least a few hours, by which time I was numb enough to have fun). The first time I remember completely enjoying myself from the start (outside of discovering heated swimming pools) is when my wife and I went into a river in southeast Missouri, where the water was almost bathtub-like, late in their hot summer.
            As much as I loved watching the kids running around in the splash pad, I wouldn’t want to join them. Well, not until the temperature touches 90, at least … let’s not get too silly about this whole cold water hatred thing. Goose bumps will never beat heat stroke for unwanted side effects.
I put aside the Slightly Off The Mark book and am going to concentrate on Beowulf: In Harms Way, which I'm up to 17,000 words on. Why? Because it's my vacation, doggone it. Slightly Off The Mark, being an adaption of columns already written, involves a great deal of organizing, formatting, editing, and revising, and only a little new writing. Rough drafts of fiction are more fun (to me). But I don't expect it'll take too long to finish the first draft, then it's back to the column book.


ozma914: new novel cover art by Kelly Martin (Default)


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