Day 4: Farewell, Amsterdam—Hello, River Rhine

Sailing out of Amsterdam along a canal, once we left the city, the countryside looked exactly like Dutch landscape paintings. The canals are lined with poplar trees. Beyond the trees, there were rich pastures with happy-looking cows and sheep, and small towns with pretty houses.

Before long, we entered the Rhine River through a lock. The artificial banks disappeared to be replaced by sandy beaches, most of which were unoccupied in the bright evening light. Mile upon mile of empty beaches, punctuated occasionally by a small town. I did see one fellow fishing from the beach, and later spotted a family picnicking on the sand.

We sailed all night. This is a lovely way to travel. The boat is quiet and remarkably stable. The slight rocking is soothing, and I slept through the night without waking.

In the morning, we were in Germany. No muss. No fuss. No dragging my bags across an airport. No customs or lines to wait in. No security demanding that we take our shoes off.

We had no excursions until we reached our destination for today, Cologne (Köln). So breakfast was leisurely. I went to the lounge afterwards and was greeted by Tobor (yes, that is his name) with a cup of hot chocolate with brandy in it. This seemed very civilized, so I accepted it. The buffet for breakfast and lunch offers everything anyone could possibly want, and then some, all well-prepared—even the steam table dishes. But you can get custom omelets and eggs.

We watched them dock the boat in Cologne—a lengthy process. The sailors didn’t wear gloves to handle the long cables and ropes involved. They must have palms of steel by this time.

Our guide, who was quite funny, walked us to the cathedral, talking about the local history, the beer, the town’s rivalry with Dusseldorf, the local goodies, etc. He spent far more time talking about how the town recognizes its role in the Holocaust and the demise of the town’s Jewish population. There are brass markers called stumblestones fixed in the street outside houses where on e lived people who were taken away by the Nazis, with the names of the deceased. The brick plaza outside and above the philharmonic hall is paved with 6 million bricks in remembrance of the Jews, and through it runs a single rail headed east, the direction of the concentration camps, which ends at a sculpture of a smokestack. They have guards to keep people from walking over the bricks during performances because the architect designed it such that people in the hall below can hear footsteps above—because the dead can still hear us. I am impressed that Germany doesn’t whitewash its past, but instead has tried to remind us so that it will never happen again.

The plaza of 6 million bricks of remembrance.

The cathedral at Cologne is amazing. It was built of white limestone. Industrial pollution has chemically changed it so that it appears covered in soot. Our guide explained that it cannot be cleaned. They have stonemasons working full time replicating every inch in new white limestone to replace the old. Some parts gleam white in contrast to the filthy-looking old stone. I am amazed that they are doing this, and I think being a stonemason here is a job guaranteed for life.

The rail leading to the east and the smokestacks of the concentration camps.

The carvings and traceries of the cathedral are breathtakingly delicate and intricate. You could look at it for a lifetime and never run out of something new to see. Taking photos was kind of useless—there is too much to see and most of it too far away to photograph with a phone camera. The interior is classically gothic, with soaring arches and brilliant stained glass windows.

Cathedral of Cologne main aisle.
Cologne Cathedral stained glass.

We were in the area once occupied by the ancient Romans. Unfortunately the Roman-Germanic museum was closed, but you can look through a window and see a gorgeous, perfectly preserved Roman mosaic tile floor that was discovered during WWII and hidden until the end of the war. There is a portion of Roman road preserved nearby that you can walk on. Sort of like walking on a stony riverbed—very rough. I skipped it, being somewhat unsteady.

Cologne Cathedral. You can see the lighter new stonework in places. It’s still pretty sooty overall.

We also saw the bridge with the famous love-locks. Thousands of padlocks of every size and description have been fastened by couples to cement their undying devotion. (I hear this doesn’t always work.) Some of the locks are painted with the lovers’ names, many are engraved. Some of the locks are very unusual. I saw two rusty, heart-shaped locks and a golden lion’s head with a keyhole for a mouth. I could have spent a lot more time looking at locks.

Love-locks.

After visiting the cathedral, we went for some local beer, called Kölsch. Due to confusion, we ended up at a very touristy bar called Aloha. The beer was mediocre, so Susan and David went to find something better. The rest of us tried to go to the Chocolate Museum, which was closed for a private event. (😢) So back to our home away from home. There was a concert after dinner which the others said was quite good, but I wanted some quiet time. At 10:00 the boat set off again and I fell asleep to the almost imperceptible rocking to a night filled with adventurous dreams.

Day 3: In Which We Embark upon the River Duchess

This is the day! The day we actually move from the hotel to the boat. Or ship. We keep going back and forth—some of us insist that a ship can carry boats, but a boat can’t carry a ship. None of us are maritime experts, so I’m not sure.

Anyway, the main point of the day is checking out of the Conscious and checking into the River Duchess, a Uniworld tour boat/ship. Which is about all we got done today. We arrived at the docks, which we passed yesterday on the canal tour. River Duchess is a long, low ship (or boat), fairly new looking. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it met or exceeded every expectation. The staff is lovely. They greeted us and took us to the lounge and gave us champagne. There are mirrored surfaces everywhere, which I suppose makes the spaces look larger. (But I really don’t want to see the view of my backside looming unexpectedly at me. Too unnerving.)

Our party I. The lounge of the River Duchess. With champagne.

After a bit, they herded us into the restaurant for a buffet lunch. The dining room is at the stern of the boat/ship, with windows everywhere providing a panoramic view. We sat for a long time, eating and watching the busy boat traffic—river cruise ships, coal barges, pleasure boats, ferries, and other maritime vehicles made for a lively scene. Eventually, the staterooms were ready.

Random shot from the sun deck because I am having trouble uploading pictures. This is on the Rhine.

I have to tell you, we have never done this before. Not only have we never taken a cruise of any kind, we usually scrimp a little on accommodations. I guess they were seriously underbooked, because they offered us the opportunity to bid on a better stateroom. Tom made a lowball bid and secured a suite— the ritziest accommodation on the boat (or ship). It comes with a butler! Complimentary everything! More space! It has a marble bathroom, a large window that opens, king bed, drinks bar, live orchids, dressing table, etc, etc. I love it. The shower is a good size, which I did not expect.

Our butler’s name is Alexandru. (Call me Alex.) Alex is from Bucharest, Romania, as many of the crew are. He reassured us multiple times that we did not have to pay for laundry services (I wasn’t worried about it). He wears full butler regalia, tailcoat, vest and all. He is much better dressed than we will be at any time on this trip. Seems like a pleasant young man. We can call him if we need something—at any time, I gather, but I am sure we won’t be ringing him at 3 am to make us sandwiches.

The others walked back to the old town. I stayed to unpack. Also, my poor toe could use a break. I am wondering if I will be able to wear my sandals again on this trip. I hope so, because I only have one other pair of shoes with me.

A word about Amsterdam and its canals. They have hundreds of them, lined with trees, which makes the city parklike and beautiful. We learned that fresh water continually flushes through from the River Ij (pronounced “aye”), which means “”water.” This keeps the water clean, and indeed, we saw people swimming and fishing in the canals and the port. I investigated and found that the canals are literally teeming with more than 20 species of freshwater fish, so the water must indeed be clean. It also means that Amsterdam does not reek from filthy water, as does Venice. These are people who thoroughly understand water management, and we have a lot to learn from them as the world’s water levels rise from climate change.

Day 2: Amsterdam

Tom and I woke early and went for a walk in Westerpark. It’s a lovely park, a combination of landscaped and wild areas in the middle of the city. OK, not the middle, but close to the docks where we will be embarking on the “River Duchess,” our home away from home for the next three weeks. They were cleaning the wading pond that had produced so many happy childrens’ screams the day before. We saw great blue herons, mourning doves, and a number of birds I didn’t recognize.

This statue of a court dress stands in the middle of a small pond in Westerpark. The lady has evidentially strayed elsewhere.

We returned to the hotel and sat down to order breakfast via Q-code. Our coffee came almost immediately, but not our friends. Or the food. Eventually, Linda texted us. They had decided to sit in the roped-off area for some reason. And the staff had decided to serve them there. So we joined them. Their breakfasts arrived. Ours did not. Tom went to see why not, and apparently the order never went through. No worries—it arrived shortly after Tom inquired.

We had decided to visit the Reichsmuseum today. The Reichsmuseum has the same issues as the Louvre—it is so huge, you would need days to really do it justice. It has a huge collection of Dutch Masters, including Rembrandt’s “Night Watch,” which we had seen on our first visit to Amsterdam. It was a bit of a shock to walk into that gallery. An enormous crowd was gathered in front of the “Night Watch.” I remembered from our first visit that we had been one of a few gathered to gawk at it, and we stayed a long time with no interruptions. Then I remembered we had come here in February, which probably explains the difference. It isn’t Rembrandt’s most fascinating work, in my opinion, so I skirted the rapt crowd to focus on other works.

And I got to revisit some faves—Frans Hals, Jan Steen, Vermeer, and others, and discovered a new favorite, Judith Leyster, who had the same qualities I so admire in the others—capturing the personality of real people, distinct personalities, on canvas. I will have to further explore Leyster’s work.

One of Judith Leyster’s genre paintings. If it is in the Reichsmuseum, I didn’t see it, but it has all the qualities I love in the Dutch genre paintings.

We wandered through more galleries, and I began to skip over the things that didn’t interest me in favor of the ones that did—there’s just too much to see! Eventually, we dragged aching feet to the cafe and had some lunch. David ordered bitterballen, which I had never tasted before. Bitterballen (which I think means battered balls) consist of a stew rendered down until the gravy is very thick, frozen, battered, and deep fried. Very yummy. Very heavy. I had boar sausage with picked onions and bread.

Susan had arranged for a canal tour. The departure point was supposed to be very close to the museum. This proved to be true, but they told us it was the wrong place for our tickets. Then they kindly put us on a tour departing from that location, complete with wine and goodies, even though we hadn’t paid for them. Great customer service. The canal tour was interesting, and you get a short lesson in Amsterdam’s history, albeit through the recorded voices of a couple who argued coyly with each other. I know know what the Zeiderzee is—the southern sea that was closed off from the ocean at some point, protecting Amsterdam from tidal surges that tended to flood the residents’ houses from time to time. It was pretty crowded on that tour boat, but that’s what we get for coming during the tourist season. Horrifyingly, as we passed under a low bridge, someone on the bridge threw a half-full can of Amstel Beer through the open top and hit Linda’s head, soaking her clothes in beer. Somehow, I didn’t expect hat kind of behavior here. Fortunately, Linda was not badly hurt.

After the canal tour, we walked to the Reichst Restaurant (not the museum cafe), but we didn’t have reservations so they turned us down. We wound up back at the Conscious Hotel, where the food was very good, if not spectacular. This is a town where reservations are really required most places.

I tried to watch the third Jan. 6 hearings, but Judge Michael Luttig, who was one of the witnesses, spoke SO slowly, with so many long pauses between phrases, that by the time he finished a sentence I had forgotten what he was talking about. It drove me nuts and I realized I was probably tired, so I went to bed.

Voyage to Budapest

Days 1 & 2: San Francisco to Amsterdam

We planned this trip for two years, believing that Covid might be over by then. It isn’t, of course, but we came anyway. I thought we would be traveling a lot after we retired but Covid put an end to that for a while. At my age, I don’t know how long we will be able to travel, and it is worth the risk. I, my husband Tom, and our friends Linda and Clod and Susan and David are doing a river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest, something none of us have ever done. Apart from Amsterdam, this trip will be covering a huge swath of Europe Tom and I have never seen before. (The others in our group have seen some of the places we’re going, but not all.)

The Covid infection rate here in the Netherlands is 14 per 100,000, which is better than any place in the US. I believe this is because they are not encumbered with as many radical conservatives and conspiracy theorists, but that’s just a guess. Very few here are wearing masks, indoor or otherwise. I am not so trusting, and wear a mask indoors. If one of us gets Covid, they get kicked off the ship at the first opportunity to quarantine elsewhere, and who wants that?

We few over on United Polaris—Business Class. They have eliminated First Class. The seats fully reclined, but it didn’t help me. I have never been able to sleep on a plane. I took prescription medication in an effort to overcome this, with no success. I found it massively uncomfortable, but there were a lot of people who looked blissful tucked up in their reclining seats. Being tall does not help. The food sucked. Honestly. I can’t imagine what they served in Economy.

But it was my choice to watch “Cyrano,” with Peter Dinklage and Jennifer Lawrence. I love both of them. It was a massive waste of their considerable talent. Pretty much a hot mess with meh music and silly choreography. Cyrano is supposed to be a comedy. It opened with promise, but got less funny as time went on, with a tragic ending. Towards the finale, I found myself impatient for it to end. Don’t waste your time.

We are staying in a hotel in a park. You have to walk from the taxi drop-off to the hotel, not very far. The hotel is called “Conscious Hotel at Westerpark.” I thought that was amusing because when I am in a hotel, it is usually in an unconscious state. But the name refers to being ecology-conscious, green, etc. The front lobby looks like a snack shop, which threw us for a few minutes. The rooms are minimalist, but clean and extremely comfortable. The park is lovely. I fell asleep to the sound of happy, screaming children playing in the park. (I am only perturbed by unhappy, screaming children.)

Sitting in the middle of a pond in Westerpark. A statue of a court dress with no one in it. A statement?

The second couple, Susan and David, arrived not long after we did. We walked around looking for a restaurant with tables in the shade. The only one we could find was a vegetarian restaurant with the most wonderful veggie lasagna I have ever tasted. Then to bed again for about 10 hours of sleep. I woke up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, with no jet lag—a first. The bed here is seriously comfy.

The next day, we decided to walk to one of David’s fave breweries, located in an old windmill. While we were hoofing it, Linda and Clod checked in to the hotel and we arranged to meet them at a restaurant for lunch. I ordered a Caesar salad, but what arrived was basically a large quantity of fried meat on a meager bed of lettuce. It did have a lot of shaved Parmesan, but it was definitely not what I wanted on a hot afternoon. And I had developed a massive blister and went back to the hotel in a cab rather than walking another 3/4 mile on my abraded and bleeding toe. So I missed the beer. I imagine there will be other opportunities.

It was fun looking in the store windows and just soaking up the city. Head shops everywhere, which I don’t remember from my last visit here. I recall we had to go to a coffee shop to get weed. Not on my to-do list this time.

Tomorrow: the Reichsmuseum! I am so looking forward to that—but I will be wearing different shoes.

Ever Hear of the Fairness Doctrine? No?

I will admit I am an infrequent blogger. It’s not because I’m lazy or have nothing to say. It’s because I have too much to say.

I wanted to keep politics out of my blog and focus on my novels, and curious things I have noticed, or journal my travels. I haven’t traveled in three years for obvious reasons, which eliminated one source of material. And my brain has been on political red alert ever since 45 was elected. His subsequent loss to Joe Biden did not douse my three-alarm brain fire. As his supporters continue to perpetuate 45’s vile lies and to behave like poorly raised six-year-olds, my anxiety over politics has not diminished one bit. 

Even public health issues have to be politicized by the right, resulting in enormous numbers of deaths from Covid. Deaths that in many cases could have been avoided with simple precautions—which were also politicized.

The ugliness and willful ignorance of millions of the people with whom I share a country has been depressing and difficult to deal with. I once believed that most people are basically good, kind, and helpful. I now know beyond any shadow of a doubt that’s not true. Amid the right’s cheering for Putin in his bloody, terrorist war, the vitriol and denigration aimed at good people like Col. Vindeman, and the rightwing hero status of murderer Kyle Rittenhouse— I see a mindless mob, full of hatred and seething with resentment for anyone who isn’t just like them. I see people who have embraced Nazism, who wanted to overthrow our democracy and still do, who would, if given immunity, cheerfully slaughter their fellow Americans for being different in race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or political principles.

How did America, land of the brave, turn out so many ugly, hateful, ignorant people? I think Fox News, with its endless rabble-rousing and lies, is a huge part of the reason. The Republican Party used Fox as its official propaganda mouthpiece, but they did more, developing rightwing “think tanks” and research centers to bolster their own point of view. They nurtured resentment and anger, depicting Democrats as lazy, snowflake, pot-smoking losers on welfare with no religion, decency, or jobs. (I was accused of all that myself by Republicans.) I was told, at the age of 70 or so, to move out of my parents’ basement and get a job. (This was online, obviously. Anyone who saw me would realize my parents were most likely no longer on this planet.) One man told me that saying that Democrats went to church was a lie—no godless Democrats ever went to church. This is the kind of ignorant hysteria the Republicans have been cultivating for decades.

I could go on. And on. And on. But I’ve probably said enough about how dismal these people are. Why I want to know is how we fix this. I want to know how Fox News can get away for more than 40 years of lying and spreading false information without consequences. Why have we allowed uneducated trash like Marjorie Taylor Green and Lauren Bobert to profane the halls of Congress? How do we put this particular evil genie back in the bottle?

There are no easy solutions, but there are urgent ones. I think one of the most effective things we can do to muzzle Fox’s firehose of lies is to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Most people probably don’t remember the Fairness Doctrine because it was abolished under Reagan in 1987—thus opening the door to Fox News and other sources of grotesquely biased media. The Fairness Doctrine was introduced in 1949 by the FCC. According to Wikipedia, the Fairness Doctrine “…required broadcasters to devote some of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest, and to air contrasting views regarding those matters. Stations were given wide latitude as to how to provide contrasting views: It could be done through news segments, public affairs shows, or editorials. The doctrine did not require equal time for opposing views but required that contrasting viewpoints be presented. The demise of this FCC rule has been considered by some to be a contributing factor for the rising level of party polarization in the United States.[5][6]

Modern media—including social media, which didn’t exist in 1987—mandates that a new Fairness Doctrine must be updated to include these seismic changes in communications technology. But it is long past time to demand of the Federal government that the Fairness Doctrine be updated and reinstated to restrain the false information, lies, and propaganda flooding our media.

Please write your senators and representatives and demand that they support a new Fairness Doctrine for our modern world. Let’s pull Fox’s fangs.

To find and contact your Senator or Representative, see https://www.congress.gov/members?q=%7B%22congress%22%3A117%7D

Note: In the interests of transparency and truth, the image depicted with this post is not that of a fox. It’s a jackal. I think that would be a much better name for the organization under discussion–Jackal News. Anyway, none of the fox images I saw were snarling unless they were taxidermied. The live ones just looked really cute.

I Finally Climaxed

Sorry—that may have been a bit misleading. I mean that I finished the third book in my “Gods of the New World” trilogy. And it took a long time to get here. But you don’t want to hear all that—you want to know all about “Lords of the Night,” the final book? Right?

In “Lords of the Night,” Sierra and Chaco travel back in time to rescue Clancy from 6th Century Yucatan. (Spoiler Alert: Clancy didn’t die in the boiling ocean in “Fire in the Ocean” after all. Okay, I did consider letting him die in Moloka‘i. But Clancy was there at the beginning of this adventure in “The Obsidian Mirror.” After all this time, I really wanted him to be there at the end.)

 Sierra and Chaco discover that Clancy was saved from death by boiling, but is now lost in the distant past, somewhere in the huge expanse of the ancient Yucatan jungle. 

In the process of trying to locate Clancy, they encounter a young Mayan girl, Ix Mol, who has an agenda of her own. Ix Mol knows how to find Clancy, but it involves walking the White Road all the way to the great city of Ox Té Tuun, hundreds of miles away.

They arrive just in time to see Clancy sacrificed at the Temple of Chaak. 

Well, being dead didn’t stop Clancy before. But the real excitement is where Sierra and Chaco wind up. Clancy and Ix Mol also have surprise endings to their sagas.

And Fred? Well, if you want to know the role that Fred plays in this story, you’ll just have to read it.

I can say no more. But I can guarantee a satisfying climax to Sierra’s story. To read the first chapter:

Sorry—that may have been a bit misleading. I mean that I finished the third book in my “Gods of the New World” trilogy. And it took a long time to get here. But you don’t want to hear all that—you want to know all about “Lords of the Night,” the final book? Right?

In “Lords of the Night,” Sierra and Chaco travel back in time to rescue Clancy from 6th Century Yucatan. (Spoiler Alert: Clancy didn’t die in the boiling ocean in “Fire in the Ocean” after all. Okay, I did consider letting him die in Moloka‘i. But Clancy was there at the beginning of this adventure in “The Obsidian Mirror.” After all this time, I really wanted him to be there at the end.)

 Sierra and Chaco discover that Clancy was saved from death by boiling, but is now lost in the distant past, somewhere in the huge expanse of the ancient Yucatan jungle. 

In the process of trying to locate Clancy, they encounter a young Mayan girl, Ix Mol, who has an agenda of her own. Ix Mol knows how to find Clancy, but it involves walking the White Road all the way to the great city of Ox Té Tuun, hundreds of miles away.

They arrive just in time to see Clancy sacrificed at the Temple of Chaak. 

Well, being dead didn’t stop Clancy before. But the real excitement is where Sierra and Chaco wind up. Clancy and Ix Mol also have surprise endings to their sagas.

And Fred? Well, if you want to know the role that Fred plays in this story, you’ll just have to read it.

I can say no more. But I can guarantee a satisfying climax to Sierra’s story.

To read the first chapter of “Lords of the Night”: https://wordpress.com/page/theobsidianmirror.net/39

To purchase “Lords of the Night” on Amazon: https://amzn.to/3sZtqkY

Finally, the Climax! But It Needs a Cover.

It has been about three years since I submitted the third and final book of my “Gods of the New World” trilogy to my publisher. If you have followed this blog, you know that my publisher, Diversion Books, decided to publish only non-fiction going forward. My fantasy, no matter how climactic, did not qualify. Diversion’s first offering in non-fiction was a memoire by Corey Lewandowski, a man so vile that even Michael Cohen despises him. I felt that perhaps Diversion and I were never going to be really close. They are still making my first two books available, so I don’t want to make them mad.

But this did leave me in the middle of a trilogy without a climax. I felt bad for the few people who had read “The Obsidian Mirror” and “Fire in the Ocean,” who rightly expected a satisfying ending to Sierra and Chaco’s adventures—and relationship.

About a year and a half ago, I attended the World Fantasy Convention, held in Los Angeles that year. I went there with a short list of people I wanted to have a discussion with—an editor for a large publishing company, a publisher, and an agent. I told each of them the quandary I was in—third book in a trilogy, no publisher—and their answers were fairly uniform: I, a fairly obscure fantasy author, was not going to find a publisher to pick up the trilogy, much less the third book of a trilogy. My best bet was to publish on Kindle and move on.

Okay. Not the optimal solution, but I am not Neil Gaiman, either. I asked a dear friend, a graphic designer, to create a book cover for the third and final, climactic novel, “Lords of the Night.” Then I went to Iceland and started writing a completely unrelated fantasy about a slightly defective magician in ancient Iceland. That tale is in the throes of final polishing.

But my designer friend had a very tough year—tougher than for most of us, as horrible as 2020 was. She was unable to complete the artwork. I needed to move forward—I had a delayed climax on my hands, after all! I gave it some thought and then learned a new art program for the iPad called Procreate. I loved it so much that I decided to tackle the cover art myself.

This wasn’t an easy decision. I knew my friend’s graphic talents would result in an entirely gorgeous cover, perfectly in tune with the covers of the other books. I am an artist, but I have no design training, so I realized that the final product would not be as wonderful as the first two covers.

But all we do what we must. So I have produced two covers. I would very much like to hear your opinions on which version is closest in style to the first two covers. First, pleaze take a look at the covers for “The Obsidian Mirror” and “Fire in the Ocean”:

The first two covers for comparison. Now please take a gander at the next two and tell me what you think.
COVER 1
Cover 2

So which do you vote for? Cover 1 or Cover 2? Or are they both terrible? I can take the criticism—I’m a writer. Please leave a comment–much appreciated!

I Wanted Biden to Win. I Am Not Celebrating.

Today, Joe Biden was declared the next President of the United States. My husband and daughter are talking champagne. On Facebook and Twitter people are celebrating. My phone is dinging repeatedly with happy texts of victory. We won! We won!

I always thought when this day came—and I fervently hoped it would—that I would be dancing in the streets, waving my champagne glass and blowing a vuvuzela. 

I don’t feel like celebrating. Biden won by an incredibly narrow margin. That tells me that half of my fellow citizen are just fine with a Nazi dictator. 

They are fine with children kept in cages. They are fine with families being ripped apart. 

They are fine with massive corruption and incompetence. 

They are fine with taking civil rights away from women, people of color, immigrant, non-Christians, and anyone else who isn’t EXACTLY like them.

They are fine with murdering journalists.

They are fine with Russia interfering in our politics.

They are fine with the blatant feathering of the Trump family nest with our tax dollars.

They are fine with a president who talks like a senile wreck and calls everyone nasty names like a third-grade bully. They are fine with a president who lies every day, all day, to everyone.

They are fine with giving away their money to multi-multi-billionaires who pay their employees sub-living wages.

They are fine with destroying Medicare and Social Security.

They are fine with weakening our relationships with faithful allies and snuggling up to the worst dictators in the world.

They are fine with taking affordable medical care away from people in the middle of the worst pandemic in 100 years.

They are fine with destroying our environment and eradicating wildlife wholesale.

They are fine with a food supply chain that is unmonitored and unsafe.

They are fine with defunding education and letting the police run rampant with tanks and military weaponry agains unarmed, peaceful citizens.

They are fine with a quarter of a million Americans dying needlessly.

In short, half of the people with whom I share a country are horrible people. Evil, nasty, horrible people who would probably piss on you—or worse—if they knew you were a liberal. 

I don’t feel safe. I don’t feel happy. I don’t feel victorious. I feel immense grief for the country I once thought was great, honorable, kind, and generous. That country—if it ever existed—is dead. Trump wasn’t the disease, he was just the pus oozing from the infection.

It’s Been a While, Hasn’t It?

I admit it—I have not been a consistent blogger. My last post went online Feb. 23. In my defense, it was Feb 23 of this year.

In fact, my last posting was right before the pandemic started—or at least right before we realized there was a pandemic going on, because it had reached our shores already.

It has been a very eventful time, but I had trouble coming up with a blog topic. I was consumed with politics (still am) but I wanted to keep my blog politics-free. I’m not, as I have heard other authors say, worried about offending conservative people, who might then never buy my books. Everything I stand for offends conservative people, so they won’t be reading my stuff anyway. I just wanted one place where I did NOT write about politics.

I could have blogged about the quarantine and its many adjustments to a new reality, but all of you went through that too—you’ve been there, done that. I’m sure I have little to add other than my frustration with the people who refuse to practice social distancing and wearing masks—and the politicians who encourage them not to. My only consolation has been the realization that many of them will get sick.

I could have blogged about writing my new novel, but I was hard-pressed to imagine why you would care until I had something to announce—and maybe not even then.

I could have blogged about having the third book of my trilogy go unpublished for two years after I finished it, but I already blogged about that. My publisher decided to publish only non-fiction going forward, which leaves a fantasy writer more or less up the creek without a paddle, especially with a third book in a trilogy. I will be publishing it on Kindle—but I need a cover first.

I could have blogged about my sister’s death, shortly after the beginning of the pandemic—of a heart attack. That certainly provided me with a great deal of blog-able fodder. I just didn’t want to write about it.

I could have blogged about getting a new dog after the death of my beloved Gigi. Poppy is a cutie with a lot of personality. But I didn’t want to.

I could have blogged about the horrific fires consuming California. We nearly had to evacuate, but today it looks like we won’t.

I could have blogged about inheriting my sister’s jewelry—hundreds of pieces of jewelry—and setting up an Etsy store to sell it because I couldn’t wear that much jewelry in several lifetimes. Building the Etsy store was actually one of the most enjoyable things I have done during the pandemic. In case you’re looking for jewelry. I have everything from Victorian antiques to Native American to hand-crafted silver to high-end costume jewelry and everything in between. Come on down: https://www.etsy.com/shop/SilverboughJewelry?ref=search_shop_redirect

I did finish the first draft of my current novel. It is entitled, “The Spell Book of Thorfinn Bare-Butt,” and it is set in Iceland’s Viking Settlement Age, 9th Century CE. The kernel of the story came to me while I was touring a lava cave in the Hauksdalur region of Iceland. The guide told us that archeologists had found signs of habitation in the cave that dated back to the settlement age. He explained that after the eruption, the rock would have stayed warm for a very long time, making it an ideal human habitation. (I can tell you by the time we visited, it was FREEZING.)

I had a vision of a young magician setting out to make a reputation for himself. He occupies the cave because it is both comfy and free, and attempts to summon a spirit to help him become more powerful. Unfortunately, our hero, Odd, is under a curse. This caused some—but not all—of his spells to go awry. Instead of a powerful spirit, Odd conjures up a 21st Century female kickboxer named Hekla. Now both Odd and Hekla have real problems, and the story goes on from there.

I hope to have a final draft in another few months. After that, I will try to find an agent because I am tired of publishers slithering out from under me. I’m hoping a good agent can find me a solid publisher with reasonable terms that specializes in fantasy or fantasy and science fiction. That will give me some confidence that they aren’t suddenly going to switch to the many tell-all books on the way from the Trump administration. Please wish me well!

Let Me Tell You About Gigi (written three years ago in preparation for this day)

Inca cuddled up with Gigi today, knowing her friend wasn’t feeling well.

I had a bit of a scare recently. My dog Gigi developed a fever, lost her appetite and began to act lethargic. She’s 12 years old, so I wasted no time taking her to her vet. Dr. Good, who rolls around in a mobile clinic, did a thorough exam, took blood and urine and an X-ray—and found nothing wrong other than the obvious presence of an infection. So Gigi went on antibiotics.

I’m happy to say Gigi recovered. But while she was sick, I began to dread the possibility of losing this amazing creature with whom I share my life and my home. I thought I would write an obituary about her now. Because when she dies—because she will die—I won’t be in any shape to write. At this stage, who knows how long she’s got? She’s a big dog, and the big ones don’t tend to live as long.

So I decided to write about Gigi now, while she’s still with me and I can discuss her unique characteristics without breaking down in floods of tears.

On the surface, Gigi is just a very doggy dog. She’s half Labrador and half German Shepherd, with maybe a dash of Doberman. She’s black-and-tan and shorthaired, with floppy ears. As much as I love her, I do not share my bed with her because she’s 75 pounds of elbows and she farts and groans all night.

I wasn’t looking for a dog when Gigi came to my attention. I had lost my dog, Ringo, a year previously and was still in mourning. My daughter Kerry saw an ad on Craig’s List that said, “Sweetest dog in the world needs a home.” I looked at the picture. This dog was much larger than I wanted. She was black-and-tan, which is not a color scheme I admire. And she lived about 65 miles away.

I called her owner. Apparently, they rescued her when she was about six months old, and loved her dearly. But the landlord of the house they had just moved into said the dog had to go. I asked question after question, because living with Ringo taught me the right questions to ask. (Loved that dog, but he was a hot mess when we first got him.) The answers seemed good, so my husband and I drove 65 miles to meet the dog.

The dog’s name was Gertie, a name I knew I couldn’t live with. She greeted us with kisses and a wildly wagging tail that slapped against our legs like a baseball bat. I observed her with a baby and with cats—completely calm. I did everything I could to elicit a dominant or aggressive response—grab her collar, squeeze her paws, roll her over, and so forth—all of which she responded to with kisses and wags.

I decided I wanted her, but we had five houseguests with a sixth on the way and I felt it was unfair to plop an adopted animal down in the midst of all this chaos, so I said I’d come get her when the house had cleared out. Her owner agreed, but later told me that the landlord had threatened to evict them if the dog wasn’t gone by a certain date. On that day, I drove back to collect her.

Gigi in her salad days. She almost always walked around with a stuffy toy in her mouth. I selected stuffies on the basis of how much they amused me.

In the interim, we had a lively family discussion about what to call the dog, as Gertie just wasn’t going to cut it. I thought we should pick a name that was similar to Gertie so she would adapt to it quickly. I suggested Gigi. My daughter said it sounded like a stripper. After a two-hour discussion, Gigi it was, though still over my daughter’s objections.

When I picked her up, her owner burst into tears and rushed us out the door, handing me a ceramic jar for dog treats. It was clearly a painful parting. I put Gigi in the back of my car and headed home. Gigi rested her chin on my shoulder for the entire trip home, which I thought was a good sign.

It turns out I needn’t have worried about the abundance of guests or about the name. Gigi walked into the house and acted as though she had lived with us her entire life. She also responded to her new name instantly. As a matter of fact, as the houseguests began to go back to their own lives, Gigi seemed to miss the party atmosphere of an overcrowded house. She still loves a good party.

Then we began to get to know her. First of all, Gigi is an extremely obedient dog— except when she isn’t. For example, if she needs to go outside to go to the bathroom or check out the gophers, she will go outside. If she doesn’t, she will wag her tail and refuse to move. I have learned to trust her on things like this and will only insist if there is some compelling reason. She has a stentorian bark that wakes the eldest grandchild from her nap, so I put Gigi out when Jessamyn is napping so if the doorbell rings or there is a package delivery, she won’t sound the alarm. Gigi goes reluctantly, but she goes if I really insist.

She can make friends with just about any other animal. I have seen her buddy up to:
At least two coyotes
A bunny (kisses were exchanged)
A feral cat
A cat that was so terrified of her that it refused to come into the house until Gigi performed her ambassadorial work
Innumerable other cats and dogs and humans

The feral cat is my rescue kitty, Inca. When I first acquired Inca from a rescue organization, they told me she was one of a litter of feral kittens. They were considered too old to domesticate, but they seemed to be adapting to humans, so the rescue decided to place them with families. Inca was okay with me as long as I kept her confined to a bathroom, but she was horrified by Gigi. When I let her out of the bathroom, Inca disappeared for two weeks, flitting about in our peripheral vision like a bat.

One day, I saw Inca and called to her. To my astonishment, she strolled over and climbed into my lap. After a bit, Gigi came into the room and lay down. Inca trotted down the length of the couch, mewing at Gigi. I had no idea what would happen, as I hadn’t had either of them for very long, but Gigi came over as though Inca had been calling her and proceeded to kiss her. Inca adores Gigi. It’s pretty funny to watch her try to give this enormous dog a bath with her tiny pink tongue.

I give Gigi a lot of credit for the rapidity to which Inca adjusted to domestic life and became an affectionate pet. She never used to let me pet her tummy, which I longed to do (best part of a cat). One day, I gave Gigi an extensive belly rub. Inca watched intently nearby as Gigi groaned with happiness. When I finished with Gigi, I turned to pet the cat. Inca flopped down and presented her own belly for a rub, and she has enjoyed it ever since.

Inca and Gigi have seldom been parted, but there was one weekend when I had to use a pet-sitting service. Gigi went to the sitter’s home, but the service had a large enclosed cat area for feline borders, so they were separated for about four days. When I went to pick them up, Inca was there, but the sitter had not returned Gigi. I told them to have the sitter bring Gigi directly to my house as soon as possible, and left with Inca.

When we got home, Inca shot out of her carrier and began searching the house. She went from room to room, mewing loudly, but of course, Gigi was nowhere to be found. When the sitter showed up with the dog about two hours later, Gigi made for her water dish immediately because it was a sizzling day. She put on the brakes when she saw her kitty friend, and the two of them checked each other out carefully, kissed, and then Gigi got her drink.

You might be wondering about the coyotes I mentioned earlier. I am familiar with the coyote trick of sending a fertile female to lure a male dog to its doom (the original femme fatale). That wasn’t what was happening here. The first time, I noticed Gigi making play bows along the fence enclosing our yard. Something was moving around vigorously in the tall grass and weeds on the other side of the fence. When I got closer, I saw it was a small, young coyote. The two animals were playing, each on one side of the fence, play-bowing and running, then bowing again. They seemed to be having a lot of fun.

In the second instance, my son-in-law Mike came home and saw Gigi in the back yard with what he thought was a fox, just hanging out together. He videoed it, calling Gigi in, so we were able to see it was a young female coyote that had found a way under the fence. Apparently, Gigi and the coyote had been chilling together in the back yard for quite a while. We don’t really want her socializing with coyotes, so we fixed the fence.

There is an exception to Gigi’s long list of friends. My daughter’s dog, Hendrix, is a Japanese Chin. He’s one of those fluffy, goggle-eyed little dogs. He annoyed Gigi at first acquaintance by biting her ankles. Gigi responded by squashing Hendrix flat with one big paw, but unfortunately, this triggered Hendrix’s bad back, requiring expensive meds. Although he has lived with Gigi now for four years, Hendrix has not improved his behavior and sometimes still bites her ankles. Gigi has learned to ignore/not squash him, but she cannot overlook it when he steals her chew toys.

Gigi loves to carry toys around in her mouth, usually a stuffed animal, but sometimes a chew toy. Hendrix isn’t allowed bones or chews because of major, life-threatening allergies, and he steals her toys out of jealousy. One night, Kerry took a bone away from Hendrix and returned it to Gigi. Gigi took it with her customary gentleness, but never stopped staring at Hendrix. Finally, she turned her back, walked away a few paces, turned around, and THREW the bone at Hendrix with a snort worthy of a teenaged girl.

Gigi has been wonderful with the grandkids, gentle and protective. She permitted all kinds of indignities, though we tried to spare her and teach the children to be gentle with animals—which they are. When Tom and I aren’t at home, Gigi sleeps in Lilah’s room, squeezing completely under the bed. She’s so big I’m not sure how she gets out again. Both the grandkids learned early to dodge Gigi’s lethal tail. It smarts when her tail connects with human flesh.

The kids loved Gigi. Gigi loved the kids.

While I don’t doubt that if anyone threatened us, Gigi would rip his throat out, I trust her 100% with children, guests and pets. She is one of the most utterly trustworthy personalities I have ever encountered. It’s not like having a dog around so much as having an odd-looking grandmother. A grandmother who might attack burglars.

Whenever I have had to treat Gigi for an ailment, she is the soul of cooperation. She will do anything the vet asks, patiently enduring indignities such as rectal thermometers and intrusive examinations. Once both her ears became infected. I had a bottle of liquid that I had to flood both ears with twice a day—something most dogs would strenuously resist. When Gigi saw me coming with the bottle, she would lie down on one side and present an ear. When I was done treating that ear, she would roll over and present the other one. She’s that way with every medical treatment—including acupuncture, which helps with her arthritis when it get bad—apparently understanding that we are trying to help her even if she doesn’t understand what we are doing. (Although I wouldn’t take any bets on her lack of comprehension.)

We live in a beach town. It’s also a dog town, and many people bring their dogs to play at the beach. I took Gigi frequently when we first moved here, but after a couple of years she started coming back limping and sore. Age, alas, is catching up with her, and her once-black muzzle and face are now frosty. She has arthritis and some old joint injuries that cause her problems. Unfortunately, she just doesn’t understand moderation. If I take her to the beach, she runs around and greets and plays with every other dog present, and most of the humans, too. We have had to curtail her beach visits, which is sad, because she used to have a blast.

It’s hard to express this without sounding kind of woo-woo, but this animal is enormously spiritual—more than most humans I know. She’s kind, gentle, intuitive and loving. I respect her as much as I would respect another human because she is her own creature. She knows who she is. She has a presence. Don’t get me wrong—she’s still a dog. She begs at the table. Sometimes she pees in the wrong place (but only if desperate). She barks at nothing and she barks at everything. But looking in her eyes, I see a kindred being who communicates clearly without words, who respects and loves me.

And when she goes (may it be many moons from today), I will be as grief-stricken as I would be for any family member. That’s why I’m telling you now, while I can, that I have in my keeping a great and beautiful soul. It’s a beautiful soul that farts and groans all night, that’s all.
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Gigi died today (November 26, 2019) at the age of approximately 15. So I had three excellent years with her after I wrote this piece. She was going downhill fast, and I wanted to say goodbye before her life became a complete misery to her. She died at home with her family around her.