My second quilt and my third and my fourth!

It’s been 2 years since I made my first quilt, and I have finally made my second quilt. It’s from a jelly roll of fabric, and there are a dozen tutorials online for how to do a “jelly roll race quilt.” The internet promised this particular project would be done in about 45 minutes– specifically meaning the quilt top would take 45 minutes. The internet lied.

First, the 45-minute time frame doesn’t include ironing. Also skipped over is the inevitable trip back to the store because your jelly roll only had half the fabric you needed. And lastly, the internet sorely overestimated your sewing skills.

On my first attempt, I sewed my diagonal the wrong way so that when I opened my seams, I had little loose flags of fabric flying around. When I finally got my second roll of fabric, I forgot to cut off some fabric from the first strip (see photo below), so all my angled piecing was at the end of the quilt top. Then, I ran out of bobbin along the way.

Jelly Roll Puppy Fabric
If you look at the bottom half, you’ll notice that all the angled pieces meet up in a diagonal– that’s because I forgot to snip off a few inches of the start of my jelly roll!

But, I did eventually get it completed– in one day– even with all the interruptions. While on my second trip to the fabric store, I also picked up the batting and backing for my quilt, so there’s a reasonable chance it could be finished in time to give it to the person I made it for.

I waited for the following weekend to finish my second quilt. I used fleece for the backing, and after several washings, the binding came undone in a couple places. The quilt’s new owner does not seem to mind, though.Quilt 2 is done!

 

My third quilt was a jelly roll race for my husband’s grandmother. This quilt went much more smoothly. For starters, I used much higher quality fabric from a fancy fabric store. If you had asked me before, I would have told you that there was no real difference between fabric that’s $5/yard and fabric that’s $15/yard. Well, after sewing on fabric that was $15/yard, I must say that there absolutely is a difference. The fabric doesn’t fray very easily, and it just glides through my machine. It presses easily and stayed pressed. It doesn’t stretch like the cheap fabric does. Also, this more expensive fabric held up much better to repeated washings. Jelly Roll Batiks

This was my second attempt at a Jelly Roll race using much nicer fabrics.

This jelly roll race went faster because I had all the material I needed from the start. I also knew better what I was doing. I did take my time on this one though. I ironed the seams since I ran into issues with the seams sticking up on the last quilt. Both of these quilt tops took about a day to sew the top, and then I spent the better part of another weekend to finish. The only thing I didn’t like about this quilt was the embroidery thread I used for the quilting– it’s a little shiny which I thought was pretty, but it did not hold up to repeated washings.Grandma's Quilt

My fourth quilt was a Cowboys quilt for my best friend. My better half, an avid Seahawks fan, could not wait for me to be done with this Cowboys quilt so I could get “that trash” out of his house. LOL This was the biggest quilt I’ve ever made with more pieces than I’ve ever sewed together.

Basting the Cowboys Quilt
This is the biggest spot in my house that isn’t occupied by furniture, and it was really way too small for this quilt. Time to move!

I learned that the reason a lot of quilters use blocks of four squares is because it’s very difficult to get the intersections just right when you are sewing rows upon rows of squares. Some of my intersections were off by as much as a quarter-inch. I discovered this issue after I had sewed together all 20 rows of 16 squares. I really thought I was going to have to start over. Fortunately, my best friend is not nearly as picky as I am and promised not to even notice. Also, as I finished the last hand-tied quilting knot for this quilt, I noticed that the quilt top didn’t get caught up under the quilt binding. I “stiched a lot” over this area to try to get it all under the binding. It took me a lot of time to make this quilt– I worked on it over 6 weeks and devoted nearly all of a four-day weekend to it.

Finished Cowboys Quilt

So four quilts down– three of them made without supervision. Quilt 5 is in progress, and I must admit the hubris got the better of me on quilt 5… stay tuned for the embarrassing details!

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Buying books and going ad-free!

We are back, after a long hiatus, and now we are ad-free!

Today (being several weeks prior to the publish date of this post), I pre-ordered a book. A book, which I already own in multiple formats. It’s on my Kindle. It’s on my audible. I have a paper copy or three. And yet, I found myself charging $55 to my credit card for a pre-order of the tenth anniversary SIGNED copy of The Name of the Wind by Pat Rothfuss. It is not my favorite book, but it is the most well-written story I have ever read and definitely makes my top 5 list.  Every single element in the story is beautifully fleshed out– but sometimes you don’t realize it until you have read the second book and go back to re-read the first book.

O.M.G.  Did I mention it’s SIGNED?!

I do my best to limit my collection of excess stuff. I try not to buy things just to keep around the house, taking up space. I have very limited success with this (don’t ask me about my sewing supplies), but books are one of the things that I am actually reasonably successful in not over-collecting. If I like a book well enough to keep a paper copy on my shelf at home, then I feel like I like it well enough to share it with someone else. Mostly though, I keep my collections digital– kindle and audible versions if the book is so good that I can’t stop reading it for long enough to put it down. This allows me to do things like wash dishes, pick up around the house, and drive myself to work.

And what is it about a signed copy that makes a book special anyway? It’s not like I’ll ever meet Neil Gaiman or Patrick Rothfuss or Brandon Sanderson. Authors of that ilk do not get up to Alaska on business very often– though if they ever did, they totally have a standing invitation to come to my house for a homecooked meal and a cell phone picture of my dogs getting cozy with them on the couch. I have never gotten more than the signature– even when purchasing books where the author indicates they will doodle in the pages if there’s time or stick in some stickers or other goodies. It’s basically the same book you’d find in any bookstore, but with some scribbles in.

Realistically, I know there’s nothing that special about a signed copy of a book, especially considering that someone opened all the books and laid them out in large stacks to be hastily signed by the author between attempts to release the cramps from his fingers. “Only 4,739 books to go,” he’ll tell himself. Definitely not the image of the author kindly cradling the book in his hands, carefully opening the cover, wincing slightly at the sound of the spine cracking, and carefully penning his name before closing the cover with an expression of peace on his face. No– he’s probably cursing his own fame and asking himself, “Why do people pay for this? Don’t they know that I can’t write for weeks after these 18-hour signing marathons?” Or, maybe he’s saying to his assistant, “Please remind me to never agree to this again. My bones can’t take it. Are you sure you can’t hire a gifted forger to complete these mountain of books for me?” The exception being, of course, that several authors enjoy signing their books while passing through busy airports. Mr. Gaiman, I will be in Seattle in October, and Mr. Sanderson, I will be in Salt Lake in December. Alaska Airlines terminals. Hint, hint!

And yet, I love signed copies. I treasure them. I have a running list of books in my head that I’d like to have signed. I feel like books are special in and of themselves, and to have the author put his name inside the cover feels like a special kind of claiming. The author struggled over the creation of this book, and his signature feels like it sets the copy I have apart from all the copies mass-produced at the same time. I’m not affluent enough to own signed first edition prints– except for perhaps, my copy of The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. A stroke a good fortune– Neil sent out a blast that a particular bookstore would have signed copies for sale online– and a few weeks later, the book arrived at my house, and I read it, cover-to-cover in one sitting on my couch only to move upstairs to my bedroom and repeat the whole story over again.

I like to consider that maybe when I am old I will have a small, treasured trunk of my favorite books– many of them signed– a throwback to decades ago when I was around for the first run edition of my favorites.

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A fat bike to call my own

I love riding bikes. I remember learning to ride my first bike with no training wheels in the cul-de-sac where we lived in Fort Polk. I remember my dad cheering me on.

I remember the last bike I rode as a kid. It was sweet– purple and green a la 1990, and it had the wrapped handbars so it looked like a real racing bike. I stopped riding it so much after my brother broke his arm on his bike while we were on a Thanksgiving ride. After that, I was scared to really go down hills or go fast. I outgrew that bike, and I still remember feeling sad when my dad disposed of it. I knew it was illogical to be attached to it, but I am pretty sure I cried that night over my bike. I hadn’t ridden it in a long time, so there was no reason for me to be upset, but I was.

I rode other bikes after that, but I never really got attached to a bike again the way I did with my first ten-speed. Until, at the ripe old age of 30-something, I sold my car and I bought a Giant Rove 2.  At just over $600, this bike was a luxury bike to me. I rode it like crazy all summer long. I rode to work and home from work… and when winter came, I put the bike in the garage and felt pure, unadulterated envy of the folks brave enough and rich enough to own and ride fat-tire bikes in all winter conditions.

And then people I know started getting fat bikes. Everyone told me that studded tires were the way to go. My boyfriend’s dad promised me that the bike would handle better on the ice than my own two feet, and he let me ride his around the block. The prices started coming down. One day, I started looking at my dream bikes– a Salsa bike and a 9:zero:7 bike. While doing this, one of those sponsored ads promised me a solid budget bike. I took the bait, and it let me to a bike company called Framed. I was sold on a Minnesota 2.0, and there was even a dealer in Anchorage!

I love this bike so much. She stayed in the house for the first two weeks because I couldn't stand the thought of banishing her to the garage.

I love this bike so much. She stayed in the house for the first two weeks because I couldn’t stand the thought of banishing her to the garage.

I called the dealer, and made an appointment for a week later to check out the bikes. My boyfriend and his dad went with me, and I left with a different bike than I went to look at, but I couldn’t have been more in love with a bike if it had been an exact replica of my first ten-speed. Over the next couple of days, I got pedals, studded tires, lights, poagies, a helmet and goggles. Now, I’m one of those crazy, brave people! I love my fat bike, which as been affectionately dubbed a number of nicknames, Blue Lightning, Baby Blue Beluga, Fat Baby, and the Beast.

My dad got a fat bike, too, so now we have daddy-daughter rides to look forward to!

Better get ready to ride in the dark, because the sun goes down fast!

Better get ready to ride in the dark, because the sun goes down fast!

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My First Quilt

My Aunt Alice is a quilting machine. She’s efficient at making quilts and can cut fabric as easily as I can pop the top on a can of Pringles. Seriously. The fabric that you buy at the store is as easy to visualize for her as it is for me to know what’s inside that can of Pringles once I get the top off. She does the math in her head for how many strips to cut and to what size, and she knows exactly how much batting is needed.

My Amazing Aunt Alice came to Alaska for vacation, and I immediately put her to work teaching me to quilt. I unloaded all my sewing stuff at my mom’s house, and my aunt had me pick which fabrics I wanted to use. I settled on some Star Wars prints, a slightly patterned black, and a granite-style grey. Then, I cut strips out– some short, some long, some skinny, some fat. Dr. Seuss missed his calling when he failed to write a book about making quilts!

Then, my Aunt Robin, who is full of wisdom and good advice, helped me sort out the strips of fabric. My Star Wars fabric strips definitely had a noticeable sameness, and I wasn’t loving how I had the strips organized. Aunt Robin suggested laying out the strips so that when the quilt was folded in half, all the words would be right-side up. At this point, I got really excited about the quilt. I could finally see how it was going to come together… at least the top of it anyway! Of course, being a complete sewing newbie, I had to rip the seam and resew the first two strips! I was not quite careful enough when I picked up my strips to get them off the floor and ready to be sewed, so the first Star Wars strip ended up being upside down instead of upside up like I had so carefully planned. Aunt Alice said every seam needed to be ironed. I ironed so many seams, and I realized not for the first time that irons would be a lot more useful if they were actually heavy. If you’re thinking about sewing, I can not recommend going for the heaviest iron you can find, rather than the cheapest. I liked the ironing well enough… all the seams came out perfectly flat, which made the little part of me that is OCD very happy!

A pro tip from my aunt: Take a picture of your different ideas so you can consider them at length without having to re-organize your quilt every time you want to reconsider a design!

Just trying to get the strips organized was a monumental task!

Just trying to get the strips organized was a monumental task!

The Amazing Aunt Alice had me cut and sew the back of the quilt.  Everything about this part seemed backwards. I suspected that I didn’t calculate the math right in my head, but I trusted my auntie that it would be alright.  Then, I cut my large piece of batting into two pieces, sewed them together, and then folded them in half for extra warmth– a decision I would later come to regret and then unregret even later!

 

Then came the part that my parents loved the very best. I had already taken over my mom’s den with all my sewing stuff, so it was time to take over dad’s living room, too. I laid out the back of my quilt, placed the batting on top, and then the quilt top. Using special safety pins, I pinned the quilt together in a few different spots. Then, Aunt Alice helped me cut away the extra fabric. The process was a lot less exact than I expected after how carefully I had sewed together my strips, but Aunt Alice can make a half-dozen quilts in a day, so I figured she knew what she was talking about.

Cut and Pinned

After cutting away the extra fabric, I pinned the quilt together in about 200 different spots. At this point, I really regretted that extra layer of batting. It was so hard to get the safety pins closed on the fabric. The meaty part of my palm, right under my thumb, kept cramping up. On the plus side, I was on my hands and knees while I was working on the quilt, so I didn’t block dad’s view of the TV too much unless I was standing up to stretch.

 

Once the quilt was pinned together, Aunt Alice showed me how to fold and roll the back of the quilt so that it created a nice finished edging for the front of the quilt. I thought that I had to have some special edging stuff for the edge of the quilt, so Aunt Alice’s simple solution was an excellent surprise!

 

After that, I sewed up the edges, learned to tie some special surgeon’s knots and finished up the quilt. Finally– my first quilt was finished!

 

I gave the quilt to my boyfriend. He works for a few weeks at a time, in arctic conditions, and his bunk is tiny. I made him a fleece blanket a couple years ago, but it’s way too big for his cot. This quilt, is just a little narrower than a twin bed, and a couple feet longer– perfectly sized for his bunk, or just chilling on the couch. The quilt was gifted in August, and it hasn’t made it up to his work yet. At first, it went on our bed, where we huddled together to share the warmth (at least until I fell asleep and stole the whole of it from him), and now it’s on the couch, where I snuggle under it while I blog. It is thick and warm, and I am glad I doubled up on the batting.

It's wrinkled from months of being used, sat upon, and tossed to the side.

It’s wrinkled from months of being used, sat upon, and tossed to the side.

Many thanks to my aunts: Alice, Robin, Bootsie, and Holly and my uncles: Bill and Steve for imparting their knowledge and providing moral support… and to my parents for putting up with me taking over their whole downstairs for about a month. I never thought I’d make a quilt, and now that I’ve done it, I think I’m hooked!

 

 

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More Playing in the Dirt!

So I rented an excavator this time around, and my dad came out to play in the dirt with me. He took out some more trees, took out some of the hill in the driveway, moved a bunch of gravel into a mud hole, and buried some tree stumps. His handiwork is most excellent! The ground work is nearly done. I really should rent another piece of equipment before the ground freezes, but my dad threw his back out pretty bad… and I expect that he won’t be up for manual labor before the snow falls.

Digger Dad

He swears that this is more like playing than working!

One of the things that I love about the property is how much sun it gets, and now that 30 or more trees have been removed, it really does get a lot of sun. So much so that I was forced to flee the heat down to the cooler section by the outhouse. Yes… in Alaska, it got so hot that I was forced to flee the heat, and coworkers asked me if I had been to Hawaii when I returned to work. There’s this neat little hollow just below where I want to build the cabin. Over this last winter, a gigantic pine tree fell over. My dad cut it up, dug up the stump, and then buried the stump. During this process, he discovered that the hollow is nothing but topsoil at mud at least 10 feet down. There’s nothing solid for the gentle continuation of the driveway that I desire. So for now, we use the very steep and solid driveway.

 

Notice the big pine tree stump

Notice the big pine tree stump

 

Gaze upon the conspicuously absent pine stump!

Gaze upon the conspicuously absent pine stump!

 

Even my camera couldn’t handle the intensity of the sun that weekend, but I’ll look back on these pictures on snowy winter days and be glad for the out of control lens flaring! The puppies baked in the sun and purposefully laid in the muddier spots to stay cool. There wasn’t much shade for them, but they eventually moved under the benches once the sun got serious.

Sleepy Puppies

The property looks so different from how it did a couple years ago. There is plenty of room for my boyfriend and me to pitch a tent, my parents can drive their trailer up, and my brother has room to pitch a tent, too.

We spent a lot of time at the property this summer, and I will need a month of updating the blog to get all caught up with where we are today… which is at home, under a quilt made my lovely Aunt Alice, enjoying a rare and exceptionally nice day off from both jobs.

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A new type of wildlife is discovered at the property…

My dad and brother planned a trip to the property, and I joined them this last weekend. My mom and sister came, too. One of my nieces was ill, so my sister-in-law stayed home with them, and we missed them very much. My boyfriend was away for work, and I missed him terribly!

When I got to the property, my dad and brother were already there. They warned me to leave the dogs in the truck due to the unforeseen presence of some wildlife. I heard a soft chittering sound– almost like a cry, but I didn’t see anything. I immediately asked if there were moose around– my property is marked by several moose trails. It’s the wrong time of year for them, but stranger things have happened.

If I tell you that there was reindeer at the property, you might be inclined to believe me… it’s Alaska, after all. Well, I have photographic proof that reindeer were present at the property, for given perceptions of “reindeer” and “present.”

Reindeer sausage thanks to Alaska Sausage and Seafood! So delicious!

Reindeer sausage thanks to Alaska Sausage and Seafood! So delicious!

If you haven’t had a reindeer sausage from Alaska Sausage & Seafood, you need to experience this as soon as possible. I’m not affiliated with them in any way, but they get a link because you MUST try their reindeer sausage! They’ll ship it to you!

So if my mysterious wildlife wasn’t a reindeer or a moose… then what could it have been?

Unusual wild life!

Unusual wild life!

A goat! A friendly goat who just wanted to be petted and who had quite obviously chewed through his leash. The goat tried to jump up into my brother’s lap. I introduced Kita to the goat first, but she went nuts barking and lunging at the goat.

Then, I put Kita in her kennel and tried introducing Kowe to the goat. As you can see, Kowe was really, really bothered by the presence of the goat.

Kowe mulls over the camp life while the goat checks her out.

Kowe mulls over the camp life while the goat checks her out.

 

After an hour or so, when we knew the nieces would not be joining us, the novelty of the goat wore off, and I took it for a long walk around the block to find his home. A goat with a collar and frayed leash obviously belongs to someone, right? Well, come to find out, he belonged to my neighbor across the street, but we didn’t find that out until we had given up on finding him a place to be.

Before night fell, the goat was gone, and Kita finally got to be free.

The goat walked through the mud and ruined Kita's perfect mud bath. She did not like the goat at all!

The goat walked through the mud and ruined Kita’s perfect mud bath. She did not like the goat at all!

See all that mud? Those big ruts are from just a few trips up and down the hill in the side-by-side.

By the time the weekend was over, the ruts were bigger, deeper, and wetter.

So much mud! We're going to have to muck it all out in the next couple of weeks!

So much mud! We’re going to have to muck it all out in the next couple of weeks!

 

There are lots of giant roots balls and trees that are just kind of laying around the property from our dozer work last year. I’ve rented equipment to take care of some of that this month. My dad’s going to help, but my brother and boyfriend probably won’t be able to join us. The excavator isn’t too expensive to rent, so even if all we do is get some trees piled up nice and neat, I’ll be happy. I’d like to make use of the trees for firewood or building materials, but there are just so many of them. I feel like I have a summer’s worth of work just getting them into rounds. I could spend a lifetime of winters trying to get them all chopped for firewood. When we visited a few weeks ago, we found a giant spruce that hadn’t been able to survive our winter storms or my nieces’ impressions of the Big Bad Wolf. I was really bummed that they couldn’t make it this weekend.

I'll Huff and I'll Puff!

I’ll Huff and I’ll Puff!

 

So even without all the work we did last year, there was still a lot of work just because of the winter conditions this year. We couldn’t have had better weather this weekend. The nights were chilly, but the days were warm enough for tank tops and tans!

As a welcome finisher from our dinner, we enjoyed the summer’s first s’mores with amazing square marshmallows. It really sets the golden standard for the ratio of marshmallow to chocolate. Plus, the shape of the marshmallow gives you more surface area with the golden toasted texture, and since the marshmallow isn’t too thick, it gets completely gooey inside. Literally, perfect!

 

The year's first s'mores! The square marshmallows were perfect! No more round ones for this family!

The year’s first s’mores! The square marshmallows were perfect! No more round ones for this family!

I ate two of these bad boys! That is just how perfect those square s’more shaped marshmallows are! Irresistable!

I spent the first night in the arctic oven. Just me and the puppies. The whole point of us getting a tent with a vestibule was so that the dog kennels could go inside the vestibule, but I didn’t want Kowe’s whining to wake everyone up. Both dogs were happy and comfy inside the tent with me. Just goes to show how spoiled they are! I used a little Mister Buddy heater inside the tent for about 10 minutes before I went to bed. It wasn’t really cold inside the tent, but I felt like I should. Then, it was too hot to even climb into my sleeping bag, so I turned the heater off. It got cold enough to freeze the mud puddles solid and the dog bowl had a thick layer of ice over the top. I made it though the whole night without turning the heater on. I have a good sleeping bag, but I was never that warm in the Kodiak canvas.

 

It was an excellent trial-camping weekend. My dad and I have a solid plan for what to do next in the long, slow journey to cabinhood, and I can’t wait for all the camping adventures this summer!

 

What are your summer camping plans like? Would you even consider tent camping if it was going to be well below freezing at night?

 

Please note that I am unaffiliated with JetPuffed S’more Shaped Marshmallows, Alaska Tent & Tarp (the maker of the arctic oven), or Alaska Sausage & Seafood. I just felt really strongly that these things were excellent this weekend!

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A New Battle Tactic [5,000 words]

I was driving along one day, and I was thinking about what it would be like if an animal played dead, allowing itself to be consumed whole by a larger animal, such as a snake, and then came out of its hibernation to fight its prey from the inside. This led to me having an idea for a young girl who learned of this type of animal from her instructor in biology, and suggests a similar tactic to her King to win an impossible war. So, when I got home, I started writing. I never even got to the part I wanted to write about because the story literally flew out of me. I went to bed before I was done, and unfortunately, the same inspiration hasn’t struck again.

I believe Brandon Sanderson said that writing is about discipline– not about those moments where the stars align and a story flows out of your fingers. Well, I’m not there yet. I’m still working on seizing those moments where the stories jump out of my mind. Maybe once I have that down, I can work on writing even when I don’t feel inspired.

 

So, this story was way more fun to write than it is to read. In my head, I imagined a character in a second and immediately knew his or her background and future. So for me, writing this was incredibly exciting. My heart pounded and my eyes well up with tears… because the characters are already real to me.

For the reader who can not read my mind, this fragment of a story may not be as fun to read. Hopefully, I’ll get around to writing the rest of this story. I only wish I could extend those times where I feel inspired– and not have pesky things like sleep deprivation standing in my way.

I’m thinking of trying out Scrivener and Scapple to write this story… or maybe my dragon story. I’m not sure if my writing style is that structured, so we’ll see how it goes.

 

Snake

A New Battle Tactic

by Amanda Carr

 

Characters (because if you’re reading this, you’re being thrown into the middle of a story):

  • Ja’Anya: A Ja ward, under the care of Kine. Strong, intelligent, athletic and naieve, studied under Trident Azray for at least one season of every year. Scholar to Kine, a position which is part servant, part counselor.
  • Kine: Sea Commander, next in line for Sea Lord. Honorable man who values discipline, strength, and intelligence.
  • Dexel: Struck with admiration for Ja’Anya, does not care about her Ja heritage. Nephew of Tan-Low, chef on Tan-Low’s ship.
  • Tan-Low: Second Sea Commander only to Kine, Always fights with Kine
  • Ranger One: Head of the Rangers, About to turn 25
  • Ranger Bans: The scout who witnessed the Ja’King kill the Sea Lord Perran and Sea Captain Faithe
  • Sea Captain Faithe: Kind of cocky, one of Tan-Low’s captains, eaten by the Ja’Huskun
  • Trident Azray; A monk who has a ball and board that he balances on and does acrobatics on, godless, seeks divinity in nature, Primary care giver for Ja’Anya, taught her many things in the study of biology and other physical sciences.

 

Every man at the table stared at the soldier, a low ranking ground scout, who shook as he delivered his report. He declined the seat offered to him and drained the warm ale Ja’Anya poured for him before he began his tale.

 

“My orders were to assist Sea Captain Faithe in an effort to infiltrate the Ja’Huskun war camps and find what fate Sea Lord Perran suffered. Sea Captain Faithe did not make it past the forest’s cover before he was taken by a single Ja’Huskun patrol. I did not abandon the mission, but infiltrated the camp, despite my commanding officer’s capture. Sea Captain Faithe was beaten and dragged into the Ja’Huskun encampment, where he revealed his mission to the Ja’Huskun whisperers and that he was accompanied by one other scout. The Ja’King took the Sea Captain’s confession and ordered that the lone scout was to witness to the fate of Sea Lord Perran and Sea Captain Faithe and return to Sea unmolested with a message to the Seamen: Any seaman found on solid ground would pay for his trespass in the same manner as the Sea Lord.”

 

The ground scout shook harder, but his voice sounded calm and clear as he continued, “Three hours passed, and the Ja’King brought out Sea Lord Perran. A gash crossed Sea Lord Perran’s face, and his left arm ended in a grotesque stump at the elbow. Sea Captain Faithe was brought out beside the Sea Lord. The Ja’King held a small golden knife to Sea Lord Perran’s ear and sliced off the lobe. Holding the flesh against the knife, he raised it high before dropping it into his open mouth. He chewed for a moment, and then repeated the act against Sea Captain Faithe. Then, the Ja’King passed his golden knife to his wife, who sliced off the cheeks of both Seamen and consumed them in a similar fashion. The knife was passed around, and the two Seamen were eaten alive by the Ja’Huskun. I… I watched until Sea Lord Perran died of his many wounds, which took much longer than it took for Sea Captain Faithe to pass. Then, I left the camp in the same manner I had come, and if any Ja’Huskun suspected me, the orders of the Ja’King were followed and I was permitted to pass without interruption.”

 

His report delivered, the ground scout lunged at Ja’Anya. Ja’Anya screamed and dropped the ale as she threw herself away from the scout. The scout caught the ale and drained the entire flask in single, smooth movement.

Ja’Anya’s flight ended in the arms of Sea Commander Kine. “Still waters, child.” His cold grey eyes froze her in place, and she felt the fear drain in an instant.

“Yes, Sea Commander Kine. Still waters.” Ja’Anya said.

“Go straight to Trident Azray. You are to remain with him until I join you. You will not leave his company for any reason, not even by my own messenger’s command, except that I accompany you in his stead. Is that understood?” Sea Commander Kine said.

 

Ja’Anya nodded her head, and she strode away as if she were the Sea Lord now. Trident Azray was one of many seamen who would not touch foot on solid land if he could help it. Ja’Anya knew he would be on the stern of Sea Commander Kine’s ship, Thirteen Winds, longing to return to the open sea. Ja’Anya walked up to a small craft with three sets of oars and began pushing it into the water. A group of rowermen had found some spirits and were trying to bring themselves to order in the presence of a Sea Commander’s scholar.

 

Ja’Anya did not want to row all the way to the Thirteen Winds on her own. She was strong enough to do it, but it would leave her exhausted and sore for days. She didn’t want drunken rowermen for company, either. Sea Commander Kine’s instructions had carried more than just an order… Ja’Anya was a Ja ward, traded to the Sea Lord as part of a treaty that ended the last war nearly twenty years ago. It was well known that Ja’Anya was one of the Ja’King’s many daughters, and though she had never met the Ja’King, none of the Seamen ever let her forget her heritage. Once the word spread that the Ja’King had cannibalized the Sea Lord, plenty of the Sea Commanders would want to exact revenge on the many Ja wards, especially the only ward that was so close at hand.

 

Ja’Anya spotted a group of galleymen gathering crabs from the tide pools and shouted, “Ho! I need two hands!” The men glanced at her and returned to their task. Ja’Anya felt her face flush red and suppressed the urge to row the craft without the aid of drunk rowermen or the self-important galleymen. Instead she shouted, “A full skin of wine for the first two men to assist me.” The drunken rowermen perked up and asked if it was a full skin each or to share. She heaved the small boat into the surf and jumped in as the surf pulled her craft away from the beach. “Each!” she shouted as she pulled on the oars. One of the rowermen, who had found the promise of more spirits motivating, regardless of whether it was a full skin or a half skin, splashed into the surf a full ten strides ahead of his mates. One of the galleymen tossed his pitiful bounty onto the shore and jumped off a rock into the surf. Ja’Anya rowed, using slow, strong strokes, and did not stop for the men who swam toward her. The unsuccessful fisher reached her first and nimbly climbed inside the rowboat without disrupting Ja’Anya’s stroke. “Behind me,” she ordered the man. The intoxicated rowerman bobbed in front of the rowboat and cried that he couldn’t get in if she was rowing away. The fisherman found his oars and Ja’Anya’s craft left the drunken rowermen to swim back to the shore.

 

The galleyman barked a laugh, “I’ll be expecting two full flasks still, Scholar, maybe three if you make me row back alone.”

 

“If you manage the rest of this journey without another word, I’ll trade your two flasks of wine for a cask.” Ja’Anya said.  The galleyman, probably the illegitimate son of some Sea Commander, did not respond, and Ja’Anya ignored the torrent of concerns in her mind. She focused on each stroke. Push with your legs. Power through with your back. Pull with your arms. Strength of the tenth wind. Legs. Back. Arms. Sea Commander Kine had taught her to row, and she always heard those words in his calm, patient voice. She envisioned herself with the strength of ten men and the control of a Trident. The land in front of her drew away and as darkness fell, she was consumed with her focus.

 

The galleyman clicked his tongue twice. The sound startled Ja’Anya who had forgotten him entirely. Ja’Anya stopped rowing and shouted to the deckhands on Thirteen Winds. “Ho! Scholar Ja’Anya and hand.” A rope lattice was lowered, and Ja’Anya scrambled up, leaving the galleyman to secure the rowboat. Before the deckhands could react, Ja’Anya ordered a cask of wine to be delivered to the man on the craft. Ja’Anya strode away to the stern of the ship.

 

A heavy hand tugged at her elbow. Ja’Anya spun around. “You dare?” The galleyman was gesturing wildly.

 

“Tides take you man! What do you want? You may speak and keep your cask!”

 

“I have never seen a scholar row with such grace and strength on the seas. I find myself struck…” the galleyman trailed off and shuffled around like a rat climbed up his sleeve, “Well, if you require any additional errands, I’m Dexel in service to Sea Commander Tan-Low. He’s my uncle, I mean.”

 

“Ja’Anya. Ward and Chief scholar to Sea Commander Kine.” Ja’Anya wasn’t sure what she was supposed to say. No one outside of Sea Commander Kine’s personal command had ever treated her this way. Half the people she encountered treated her as a slave and the other half treated her as if she were merely an extension of Sea Commander Kine. This man seemed to be inviting her to ask for him again.

 

Dexel opened his right hand, palm upward, in a show of respect. Ja’Anya met his eyes and whispered, “You are a strange one, Nephew of Sea Commander Tan-Low. Good evening.” Ja’Anya turned and sought Trident Azray.

 

Trident Azray was in his customary place on the rear deck of the ship. He balanced on one foot on a long skinny board set atop a perfectly round stone. The ship was stable in the water, but Ja’Anya had seen Trident Azray perform this feat just as effortlessly in storm swells.

 

“Kine sends word, does he?” Azray asked.

 

Ja’Anya nodded and added, “I believe he sent me here for protection, though he did not say so.”

 

“Ah. Then our poor Sea Lord Perran has perished at the hands of the Ja’King, and our Sea Commander fears for his little Ja ward,” said Azray.

 

Ja’Anya told Azray all that she heard, and when she got to the part about Dexel, she found herself grinning. Azray admonished her, “Any man would admire a woman who gives him a full cask of the Sea Commander’s best wine. Your infatuation is misplaced, little wave.”

 

Ja’Anya’s smile melted from her face, and she brought up the neutral expression she had so carefully practiced since she was a little girl. Azray nodded to her, “Still waters. You have learned well. I’ve seen Sea Queens unable to control the fires in their heart, and you do so with such ease.”

 

Ja’Anya let the impact of what she had learned work its way through her mind. “Trident Azray, will Sea Commander Kine face any opposition before he is named Sea Lord? We have only the word of a single scout, and that word is successful only because of a thin miracle and it is a gruesome, in-human story.”

 

Trident Azray shrugged. “Join me. It’s a good day for meditation.” Azray motioned toward a round stone with a noticeably flatter edge. Ja’Anya pushed it beside the Trident, and placed a board on the top of it. She stepped one foot onto one side of the board and the other foot to the end that stuck up in the air. She adjusted her balance until the board leveled out on top of the rounded stone. She shuffled her feet carefully and wheeled her arms in the air to keep her balance as she brought her feet closer to the center of the board. The very slight motion of the ship made her tip one way and then the other. She bent her knees and struggled to keep her balance and did her best to ignore Trident Azray as he danced circles around her on his ball and board. His bright yellow robes whipped in the wind and Ja’Anya held the color in her mind to keep from remembering the color of Dexel’s eyes.

 

 

Sea Commander Kine watched as Ja’Anya strode away. She could be headstrong and deceptive, but he was certain that she would obey him this time. He considered sending an escort for her, but that would raise suspicions. Ja’Anya went where she pleased without an escort, even to the deckhands’ berth, and placing her under escort now would only start a wave of rumors.

 

Sea Commander Kine looked at each man in front of him and noted which of those met his gaze and which found some interesting facet of the table, their boots, or their fingernails. The gathered Sea Captains stood around the room while the Sea Commanders they served stood or were seated around the table. The head of the table was empty… where Sea Lord Perran should be. The Ground Commanders met his gaze, as did the Ground Captains. Kine found himself surprised at their show of confidence. The Groundmen of twenty years ago were the laughing stock of the Sea Lord’s forces, but that force was gone and they were replaced with an exceptionally disciplined army of skilled soldiers. Kine looked at the soldiers for familiar faces and realized that not one of the Groundmen was old enough to have been part of that war. Kine addressed the Ground Commander, “Your name, Ground Commander?”

The youth answered in a quiet voice, “I am Ranger One.”

Kine continued, “Very well, Ground Commander Ranger One.”

The youth interrupted in a booming voice. “Ranger One. Just Ranger One. My men are not ground men. We are rangers, Sea Commander Kine.”

 

“I see,” said Kine, “It is obvious that the Groundmen of my prime are gone. Ranger One, please give me an estimate of your scout’s report.”

 

“What would you like me to estimate, Sea Commander Kine?”

 

“By the black tide! I want to know how reliable the report is,” snapped Kine.

 

The youth stood taller and puffed out his chest and his hand went to his sword hilt. “I estimate with utmost certainty that Ranger Bans gave a reliable and accurate report.”

 

Kine was not expecting to hear anything to the contrary, but he felt like there were too many headstrong men in the room to get to the point too quickly. “Sea Commanders, I suggest we relieve our Sea Captains for the evening while we discuss today’s events,” said Sea Commander Kine.

 

Sea Commander Tan-Low pulled his gaze away from the table and shouted, “My men will not go anywhere until we have the truth of the matter!” The other Sea Commanders began shouting over each other and the Sea Captains joined the argument. Most of Kine’s own Sea Captains were defending him. Besides a handful of his own Sea Captains, only Ranger One and his men kept their composure. Kine nodded to Ranger One, and then he picked up a discarded Warhammer and used both hands to swing it over his head and down onto the table. The wood of the table exploded under the hammer. Splinters of wood flew into the crowd of shouting men and the table crashed to the floor in three pieces.

 

The room was silent, except for Sea Commander Tan-Low. “Sea Commanders, it is obvious that Sea Commander Kine is under an exceptional level of stress, and I move to relieve him of duty until his presence of mind returns. All those in favor, show respect,” said Sea Commander Tan-Low as he held his right hand out, palm up. His Sea Captains followed immediately, even though they had no voice at this meeting. Four of the other Sea Commanders raised their right palms in a show of respect.

 

Without skipping a breath, Sea Commander Tan-Low stated, “Five of Thirteen in favor of relieving Sea Commander Kine. The motion is overturned. Please proceed, Sea Commander Kine.”

 

Sea Commander Kine felt annoyed that Tan-Low appeared to give him permission to continue, but at least, his play had forced everyone to realize his authority in the meeting. Kine said, “Sea Commanders and Ranger One, find a seat. The Sea Captains and Rangers who were not party to the previous outburst may remain. All others are relieved for an evening meal and will return in one hour’s time. Sober.”

 

Sea Commander Kine waited for the men to leave. Only 5 Sea Captains remained, and all of them were his. Ranger One had more men than he did though. Kine admired the Rangers’ discipline. Sea Commander Kine met the eyes of every man at the table. When he reached Tan-Low, he had to wait for the other Sea Commanders to begin clearing their throats before Tan-Low would meet his gaze. Then, Sea Commander Kine walked to the head of the table and said, “Based on the reliable report of Ranger Bans, vouchsafed by Ranger One, Sea Lord Perran has been taken in battle and slain while imprisoned by the Ja. Additionally, the Ja’King and his royal company cannibalized Sea Lord Perran and Sea Captain Faithe who served Sea Commander Tan-Low. As First Sea Commander, I succeed Sea Lord Perran. Gathered Sea Commanders, swear your sails to me, Sea Lord Kine. If any will not swear his sails, show respect and you will be given safe passage to the port of your choice and a new Sea Commander of my choosing will assume your title and assets.” Sea Lord Kine paused and looked at each man, daring him to abandon his post. Then, he continued, “Ranger One, I do not believe the Rangers have ever sworn their efforts to a Sea Lord. Will you do so now?”

 

Ranger One’s voice boomed, “No Sea Lord has ever asked a Ranger to swear his boots, but every Ranger has served the Sea Lord since his boots first touched land.” At this, the group of Rangers stomped their boots in a short cadence and shouted, “Rangers Serve. On Land. On Sea. In Life. In Death.”

 

Sea Lord Kine was amused when the gathered Sea Commanders jumped at the Rangers’ cadence. “Still waters,” he thought to himself and addressed the group, “Sea Commanders, you serve me by default. Until such a time that we are at peace and a choosing can take place, I am Sea Lord. Ranger One is my second. If an ill tide befalls me, Ranger One will succeed me as Sea Lord.”

 

Kine expected the Sea Commanders to protest and had a sound reasoning already prepared, but no one, not even Sea Commander Tan-Low, who should have been second complained. Kine doubted that the Sea Commanders agreed because a war with the Ja would be fought on land, where the Rangers were best prepared to succeed. Kine was certain that Tan-Low and his group of supporters would begin scheming against him the moment they were free of the meeting.

Sea Lord Kine gave his first order, “Twenty years ago, we outnumbered the Ja and won the war. We took hundreds of their children as wards to keep the peace. The Ja turned their backs on the wards and sent assassins to slay those wards who were old enough to give us information about the Ja culture. We ignored these acts of aggression, certain that the Ja would not court another crushing defeat. Well, my comrades, they were very busy in the 20 years since. Every Ja child born has been trained as a soldier, and they outnumber us 3 to 1. They have wiped out three of our provinces and slaughtered every man, woman, and child in those provinces. They built small, fast ships that harry our fleets. If we are going to win this war, we need a solid strategy. By morning, every Sea Commander will have a solid plan of how they could win this war before the storm season. Assume that all of our forces are at your command, and be prepared to present your plan at dawn. Get some rest. Tomorrow will be a long day.”

 

As the Sea Commanders filed out, Ranger One approached Sea Lord Kine. “Will you meet with me?” Ranger One asked. He moved his fingers in subtle movements that appeared to be fidgeting, but Kine noticed that his men watched his fingers and then turned and left as if they had just been given an order.

“As my second, it is expected that we will work closely together, but I’d like to give the appearance that our alliance is distant,” Kine responded.

“With your permission, I will board the Thirteen Winds in two hours without being detected,” said Ranger One.

Kine said, “Excellent. I’ll tell my deckhands to expect you.”

Ranger One smiled, “If you wish, but they will not see me. It may help give rumor to our uneasy alliance, if they feel I disrespected you by not showing.”

Kine nodded and realized that he still underestimated Ranger One. Kine said in a loud voice for all to hear, “Join me on the Thirteen Winds two hours before dawn.” By then, Ranger One would be gone before anyone thought to look for him.

 

 

On the deck of Thirteen Winds, Sea Lord Kine addressed his 25 Sea Captains and a number of hands. “From here on out, you will be the most disciplined, organized, and dedicated force in this war. I will never have cause to dismiss even a single deck-hand for lack of discipline. Understood?” Every man on deck stretched out his right palm in respect. Kine said, “Good. Double the watch. Odd-numbered corps rest tonight and assemble on shore an hour before dawn. Even-numbered corps take shifts.”

 

With that, Sea Lord Kine turned to Trident Azray and Ja’Anya. He said, “We will retire to my cabin. I seek your counsel, and I passed an intoxicated young man who was lauding the beauty and strength of Ja’Anya to the moon, the sea, and the fishes.” He raised an eyebrow and glared at Ja’Anya.

 

“I came straight here. I didn’t even wait for anyone to help me row. I shouted to a group of men that any who offered assistance would be rewarded in drink. He was the only one who was fast enough or sober enough to catch me as I rowed alone.” Ja’Anya said, and then she added, “Trident Azray assures me that any man would admire a woman who gives him fine wine to drink, and do you truly expect less of Sea Commander Tan-Low’s own nephew?” The words stung her heart. She knew that Dexel was nothing like Tan-Low, but she made the quip before her mind could assess the words for truth.

 

The trio made their way to the Commander’s cabin. A knock, three quick raps followed by two slow raps, interrupted their discussion. A galleyman brought them fish and seabean salad with lemon water to drink. As was Trident Azray’s preference, they ate in silence. As they finished eating, the same coded knock sounded on the door, and Ranger One entered.

 

Trident Azray said, “It would appear that our watch leaves something to be desired.”

Ranger One responded, “Not really. Your men are on high alert, and I am quite certain that there are only 467 men in the world who would be capable of sneaking past them, and every single one is loyal to Sea Lord Kine.”

Kine said, “Indeed. The Rangers are proving to be quite an elite group… capable of slinking around the Sea Lord’s ship without notice, communicating with fidgeting fingers, and infiltrating the Ja’King’s own camp unnoticed. I’ll learn the fidgeting speak. I believe it will be most useful.”

 

Ranger One responded, “It is of limited use. Please understand that my men have been using this method of communication since they were weaned. When I tap my thumb to my second finger, it means something different than if Ranger Two makes the same movement. It was improvised as much as it was designed, and even though I’m surprised that you noticed, there are a few things I would like to teach you. If something recently mentioned makes you uneasy, please rub your thumb behind your ear as if you are having difficulty wiping dirt off. This will be the sign to my men to find out more about any topic, person, or even a meal brought into a meeting. You can do this, even if you believe my men are not present. I have four pairs of eyes on you at all times, excepting of course in your private quarters.”

Kine rubbed his fingers behind his ear and found that it was quite dirty.

Ranger One responded, “Just like that. Excellent. It looks like a completely natural movement, but to my men, it’s as serious as a cry for help. The next thing I would like to teach you is to request that a person be spied upon. All you need to do is press the palm of your hand against one eye like you’re suffering from a lack of sleep. Then, if you are in a small group, count from the left to the right and rub the corresponding finger over your eye. Please show me what you would do if you want Ja’Anya followed.”

 

Kine was surprised, but he rubbed his palm against his eye, and then his second finger, according to Ja’Anya’s position in the room. He added a yawn for good measure.

 

“Very good,” said Ranger One. “We will add a couple more of these signs every day. Please refrain from practicing them anywhere but in this room. I don’t want my men to be overtaxed. We are only 467 and your force is over 400,000.”

 

“Very well,” said Kine. “For starters, I would like Sea Commander Tan-Low’s nephew, Dexel watched. He seems quite smitten with my ward. Also, I would like to know if Ja’Anya is safe in roaming the camps without an escort.”

 

Ranger One said, “She is not safe roaming the camps without an escort, but she always has two of my men nearby. In fact, a couple of my men are quite impressed with her ability to convince a kitchen boy to play at rower man for an evening. It would be safer, Ja’Anya, if you were to either stay aboard Thirteen Winds or stay in a confined area of the camp, but you can travel at your leisure in relative safety.”

 

Sea Lord Kine liked the idea of Ja’Anya staying on the ship, but he had come to rely on her as his scholar. “Ja’Anya will be in my presence if she is in the camp, and otherwise, she will be aboard Thirteen Winds. Now, Ranger One, tell me… what became of the Groundmen I knew twenty years ago?”

 

Ranger One nodded, “Dead, mostly. The Groundsmen were treated like fodder in the last war, and the many injured were not tended before the Sea Lord sailed away. Many wounds festered and many died. Many more died because they could not survive as Groundsmen with their new injuries. The Ja still hunt us to this day. Some died fighting over our few women. At one point, we were only 7 healthy Groundsmen. These 7 were picked for ranging missions and difficult feats that would benefit the group as a whole. Small boys were picked for missions that should have been too dangerous, but there was no one else. When one of the seven was injured or killed, another took his place. Always, there were 7 Rangers. The young boys made a competition of running, sneaking, swimming, fighting, and practiced often. We watched the Ja train and trained harder. We listened to the old stories of war and honor, and we aspired to greater glory. We imagined every scenario and developed strategies for them. We found abandoned Ja infants in the forest and we raised them when we could save them. We stole orphans from the Sea Lord’s provinces and raised them, too. For a long time, we wanted to be Ja. The Sea Lord used us poorly, but the Ja hunted us savagely… and then, the first Ranger Seven was caught. The Ja flayed him and then they ate him. We felt fear and terror for the perversion of the Ja people, and so we watched the Sea Lord and his people to see if they were any different.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A sewing project gone wrong

I read online that dogs with hip problems and arthritis benefit from a little dog cot called a Kuranda bed. If you look at the picture of the product, it’s basically a piece of cloth and some PVC. If you’re like me, you look at that and think to yourself, I could totally make that myself and probably for cheaper, too.

My lab is getting up in years, and her hips take a beating from her unbridled joy in running. After a visit to the dog park last weekend, I decided it was time to make her a super comfy bed.

And now, I’m here because I’d like to admit my failure to you all! I failed and did so spectacularly. My first mistake was not following any directions… not because they can’t be found or because they are too difficult to understand. Nope… I didn’t follow directions because this has got to be so simple that no one would need directions.

cue ominous music

So I made my materials list:

  • Duck cloth (I’ll just buy 4 yards of it… in case I want to make several) $50
  • PVC Pipe Corners (I’ll get 2 inch ones so the bed will be extra sturdy) $25, plus $30 shipping to Alaska
  • PVC Pipe (I’ll get enough for two dogs– a bed for each!) $20
  • Bias tape $20
  • A monster roll of black thread $10

So… I spent $155. I just want to point out that I could buy nearly two Kuranda beds for this amount.

Months later, I finally get around to working on my project. I had Monday off for Seward’s Day– Hurray for state holidays!

So, I roughly assemble the frame, take some quick measurements, do some math in my head, and cut my fabric. Incorrectly. I only added enough length for two of the frame pockets and not four.

Too Excited for Her New Bed

So, I re-cut my fabric, bigger this time.

Then, I cut out space for the corners and sewed those up with bias tape to look spiffy. This was the easiest part of the project, and I thought it was going to be so hard! You’ll notice a lot of wrinkles in this piece of fabric. I was tired of ironing, so I just decided that the tension of the finished project would sort out any wrinkles (which it did!).

Cut with Bias Tape

Then, I sewed my pockets for the frame. One was super, super tight, but I just did manage to get the length of PVC pipe in.

PVC Fits!

At this point, I’m feeling wildly successful, and the fact that I’m nearly 6 hours in seems a small consideration.

Then, I started adding the corners to the four pieces tucked into the appropriate pockets.

Corner 1 was easy. Super easy. This was totally worth the 6 hours it took me to do this.

Corner 2 was a snug fit, but nothing to be concerned over.

Corner 3 was a little difficult, but it was easily hammered into submission.

Corner 4 was hard. Really hard. I consulted some directions online. The fit promised to be tight, but that would be good for the dog bed. So, I found some measure of brute strength within, and applied it to the fourth corner.

And now, I have a ripped dog bed with a fourth corner that will not be worked into the appropriate spot… and two very smug pups. And you’ll notice– no wrinkles!

Failure

 

 

So I’ve learned some lessons from this project. When a company charges $85 for a product online, and lots of professional places rave about that product… don’t assume you can just make it yourself for cheaper. Also, follow directions… even if there is concern that the finished project won’t meet your specifications. Do it like you’re supposed to the first time, and then you can tweak it from there if necessary. And finally, I should have just purchased a Kuranda bed. I could have spent this time on something simpler… like quilting.

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Crazy

One night, I was too tired to do anything, but not tired enough to actually fall asleep, so I played around on the internet. I don’t have any particular love for reddit, but I find that the writing sub-reddits are really amazing. There’s always lively discussion and writing going on. It’s just the perfect amount of interaction for me, too.

So on this particular night, I came across this writing prompt:

A wife thinks her husband is planning a surprise party for her 30th birthday. Day of the event, they pull up to a building only for the wife to discover she is being admitted to a mental institution.

So… I started thinking… and thinking… and then, I started writing (which is why I love those writing subs!). Here is what I came up with:

Crazy

by Amanda Carr

“If anything was enough to drive a lady crazy, it’s the thought of having a baby, right?” Marla asked.

Jim stared at the red light out of the car’s windshield. He thought to himself, “Jesus. This light has a four and a half minute cycle, at least. At 6 AM, it shouldn’t be more than ninety seconds.”

“Jim? Honey, what are you thinking about?” Marla asked as she gently poked Jim’s hand on the stick shift. She thought to herself, “He had better not be spacing out on this conversation.”

Jim started. Marla’s voice sounded so sweet, like a little songbird on the first spring morning after a long, long winter. “Oh. I didn’t mean to be distracted. What were you saying?”

“What were you distracted by?” Marla asked.

“Just thinking about the traffic. What did I miss?” Jim tried to remember where the conversation was when he trailed off.

Marla said, “There’s literally no traffic. We are the only traffic on the road. What were you really thinking about?” Marla’s voice was beginning to show her resentment of this habit of his.

Jim sighed. “Where did I lose the thread of our conversation? I remember that I was enjoying it before…”

Marla wouldn’t let it go, though. “Don’t sweet talk me, all of a sudden, like you’re going to get off that easy. Tell me what you were thinking about!”

Jim rolled his eyes. The sweet sing-song nature of her voice was replaced with a bitter, sour tone. “This again? Really? I was honestly thinking about how long the light cycle is. We’re past the light already. I’m sorry I got distracted. What were you saying? I really want to pick up where we left off.”

Marla didn’t want to start a fight, and so she relented. “Well, I think you’re a liar… but I was saying that if anything could drive a woman crazy, it’s the thought of having a baby, isn’t it?” Marla said.

Jim was struck by the impossibility of his situation. He could either rehash the decade-long fight with his wife about his innermost thoughts or he could rehash the decade-long discussion of children. On the one hand, his innermost thoughts were mundane and usually involved numbers—counting stairs, counting steps, timing light cycles, and other fascinating connections that Marla never once believed. Even when he’d excitedly pointed out that a plate that read 3663CF was a numeric palindrome and the letters corresponded with the third and sixth letters of the alphabet, Marla had harassed him for not bothering to come up with a decent excuse for ignoring her.

…and on the other hand, Marla’s quirky, spontaneous nature quickly turned to nothing short of psychosis before their honeymoon was over, and as much as he wanted children, he would never risk passing on Marla’s disposition to his children. Even if it wasn’t genetic… he didn’t want any child of his being raised by a woman who was so clearly bat-shit crazy.

“You’re right about that!” Jim said, “Thinking of having a baby is enough to drive anyone, even husbands to distraction. When do you think we’ll have enough of a nest egg saved up to start trying for a little one?” Jim should hate himself for stringing Marla along, but he didn’t. He didn’t want to fight with her over whether or not to have children when just waiting until they had a little money in the bank was more than she could handle. Every time she wanted a little extra money for lunch with the ladies at work or a new work pants, he’d been more than happy to fork over the cash. In this endeavor, he was too happy to see the value of the joint savings account creep up too slowly.

“Well, at the rate we keep spending, NEVER, EVER, EVER,” Marla said, “But that’s why I’m the best wife EVER, EVER, EVER! I’ve been saving extra without telling you. I opened my own account at First Regional, and I’ve been putting away a little over $1,000 a month for almost 18 months. At this rate, we’ll have over $25,000 by the time the baby’s born!”

“What?! You what?!” Jim shouted.

“I know! I know!” Marla squealed, “I’m excited, too! You have no idea how hard it was to keep this from you. I scrimped and saved everything that I could. I sold my gift cards to coworkers for cash. I shopped for clothes at the thrift store and saved the extra clothes money.”

“I don’t understand…. How?” Jim began counting the stripes on the road. This could not be happening. Marla’s hands were all over him. She was trying to get to his pants in broad daylight. She squeaked and squealed. She cooed, and her voice took on a slinky quality. She was talking, but the only thing that mattered at the moment was the number of stripes on the road. His mind raced. How could he possibly delay this nightmare?

“Oh, Marla. I can’t believe what you’ve done.” Jim pulled both of Marla’s wandering hands into his right hand and held them close to his chest, away from his groin. “When do you want to start trying?” he asked.

“Today! Well, not today, but next month! I should be ovulating on April 14,” Marla said, “but I can’t wait to practice! Let’s do it now. You can pull into an empty parking lot while we still have a little darkness left!”

“April 14. Isn’t that your…”

“BIRTHDAY!” Marla erupted in a gleeful cheer. “It’s my thirtieth birthday, and hopefully the day we’ll conceive. I thought that would cheer your number-crunching heart!” Marla recalled the day they met. She was at a friend’s party, and someone asked about birthdays. Jim overheard Marla say her birthday was April 14, and she should have known then… about the numbers thing. Jim popped right up to her and told her that her birthday, 4-14, was a palindrome, and then he explained what a palindrome was, without even waiting to see if she knew.

Jim sat in stunned silence. He did not feel like breakfast at the diner anymore. He never wanted to eat again.

Marla mistook Jim’s silence for a happy kind of shocked. She ignored the fact that he had rejected her offer of a quick romp in the backseat, and she just enjoyed the feelings she felt. A baby to come… and Jim held her hands to his heart so intensely. Her love for him overwhelmed her, and she felt tears sting her eyes.


On the morning of April 14, Marla woke up early. Jim pretended to sleep, but he had not slept at all the entire night. Marla tried wriggling down under the sheets to wake him, but Jim intercepted her. He said, “Let’s save it for later… for tonight.”

Marla rolled her bottom lip into a pout. “Why can’t we try now and tonight? Let’s have it both ways!”

Jim countered, “As much as I hate to deny you anything on your birthday, especially your thirtieth birthday, we have somewhere to be.”

Marla asked, “Is it far away?”

“Not too far,” said Jim.

“Is it a place with a bed?” Marla asked.

“Yes, actually,” Jim smiled. He felt slimy for his deception. “But I don’t want to play 20 questions. Let’s just take it slow, okay?” He wished he could make her be quiet for 20 minutes. She talked in her sleep for half the night and now she wanted to believe he was taking her away for a romantic baby-making weekend.

Marla checked in on the spare bedroom while Jim warmed the car up in the drive way. The spare room was clear of all the clutter and junk. She had closed her savings account and moved the money into their joint account the week before. She loved that Jim was excited about purchasing items for the nursery, and when he insisted on holding onto every receipt, she found herself surprised that each one would be such a precious memento of this monumental life change.

“Marla! Are you ready to go?” Jim hollered from downstairs.

“Sure am! Are you sure I don’t need an overnight bag?” she asked.

“I’m sure, for the fifth time already. I just need you in the car,” Jim said.

Marla bounded down the stairs, locked the front door on her way out, and practically hopped into the passenger seat. “Alright, Mister Silent and Mysterious, take me where you will and have your way with me!”

“It would be better… um…” Jim’s throat felt tight, “Um… ahem… It would be better if you closed your eyes. And no guessing, either!”

Marla played along. She giggled and she reached for Jim’s hand. She would have made conversation, but Jim turned up the radio. Marla let it go, and she sang along to herself.

After a short while, the car stopped, and Marla heard Jim talking to someone. With her eyes still shut, she imagined Jim giving a valet special instructions. She could have opened her eyes, but she wanted Jim to see the look of surprise on her face. She imagined the romantic destinations that they could have arrived at in this time.

Finally, Jim opened her door and said, “Marla, please be very calm when you open your eyes.”

Marla opened her eyes. She noticed a beautiful tree with magnolias blooming. She noticed a large building, like a hotel. She noticed an elderly person in a wheelchair with an oxygen tank. The expectant smile on her face melted. “What’s going on, Jim?” she asked, “What the hell is this?”

Marla stood up to face Jim. Two men in scrubs grabbed her. “Jim… What the fuck is going on? What the fuck is this place?”

Jim said, “It’s Pine Woods, Marla. I’m sorry, but you’re just not stable anymore. You need help, and I want you to get help. I knew this was the only way.”

Marla’s rage exploded. When she was younger, they said she had an Irish temper, but that was just a nice way of saying that she was given to fits of unbridled rage. “I’ll kill you, you fucking bastard. You’re the crazy one! With your god-damned numbers, counting every fucking thing. How many times have we fucked? Have you kept count? I will cut off your two balls with a rusty spoon and two take away two is zero. How do you feel about those numbers, you cunt faced shit fucker?!” Marla fought the men who held her, and she never even felt them stick her with a needle. Within minutes, she was suddenly very, very sleepy.

Jim filled out a mountain of paperwork, but he had already called ahead of time to discuss Marla’s condition and to find out what would be required to involuntarily commit his wife. He had insisted several times that it was impossible to get her evaluated before committing her. He knew that the second he asked her to consider getting help, she would escalate and become a danger to him and to herself. She had just proved him right.  When he was done with the paperwork, he thanked the hospital staff and went home to the nursery full of things he would never need.

As Jim finished packing up the last box of items to be returned for a full refund, a small spider skittered away from him. Jim thought to himself, “Spiders with their eight legs eat insects with six legs. Eight minus six is two. Unfortunately for the spider, two legs are at the top of the food chain.” He grabbed the spider quickly and for the seven hundred forty-third time in his life, he popped it into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully before swallowing.

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Book in hand!

I was quick to fall in love with e-readers from the very first time I read about this stuff called e-ink that had been developed and wouldn’t hit the market for two or more years. Then, the Sony Librie came out. It was so far outside of my price range, but then other devices started hitting the shelves. Some were color. Some boasted higher refresh rates, more variations of grey color, more memory. There was the Kindle and the Nook. It wasn’t until a few years after all these devices were on the market that I got my first one… the Nook (honestly because I could put any file I wanted on it and was not limited to just Kindle books). I read all of the Harry Potter books on it (I did not let a little thing like the fact that they weren’t available for purchase on the Nook stop me). Then I read all of the Anne Rice vampire novels. I kept reading my favorite series of books… one right after the other. Marathon sessions of reading to put even the most die-hard Netflix fan to shame consumed my life.

And then, I picked up a paper book. It was different after reading so many ebooks. I loved the smell of the book. I liked that people actually wanted to talk about my book, rather than the device I was reading it on.

Eventually, I bought Nooks for my sister and my dad. We all upgraded our Nooks once, and then twice. Now, I have a Kindle paperwhite that sits in the bottom of my purse. The battery lasts forever. I have more books on it than I have time to read.

I’m not strongly for ebooks or strongly for paper books. I think there’s a time and place for both. I passed up a powerful new desktop for a gadget-laden ultrabook. I’d rather lug around a 3-pound laptop than an 8-pound one. I’d rather laptop on the couch with the freedom to move to the kitchen than be stuck in one place. Sometimes, I’d rather not lug around a heavy book in my purse, and the Kindle is nice for that. Sometimes, though, I just really, really, really need to own the hard-cover, first edition, author-signed version of a book.

And so, even though I published the book I wrote for my nieces on Kindle, I also ordered paper copies. If there was a sense of accomplishment at finishing the book, actually publishing it for anyone to purchase (or ignore) eclipsed that sense of accomplishment. When I got home from work to see the slightly worn box by the front door, I talked to myself… “Oh! Those must be the books I ordered for the nieces! How exciting! I can’t wait to open it!” Then, I used the keys in my hand to immediately open the box. The books were covered in brown packing paper, and I tossed it out of the back onto the back of the couch. There! My book! My name on the cover. My silly title. My amateur clip-art illustration on the cover. But still mine. I opened the cover, careful not to crease the thick paper spine. And there… there were the words that I had written.

Initially, I thought I would only publish the books on Kindle… because all the nieces have iPads and Galaxy tablets. After holding the real thing in my hand, though… I am so glad I decided to get real copies published. It officially clutter in my home now. A little reminder that I come across on the coffee table, under the coffee table, on the bookshelf that 2014 was the first year that I published an entire story– beginning, middle, and end.

It’s got a terrible cover. It’s got typos. There are parts that need to be made clearer. The story needs work, still. But, for an idea that I had in late October and fully executed in time for Christmas, it’s just fine.

Ebooks are amazing little files that let me carry around books in the bottom of my purse… more books than I can read in a lifetime, but as an officially published author, even a completely amateur, self-published author, I have to say that there is something special about the printed, hard-copy book that you can hold in your hand.

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