“As a writer one of your jobs is to bring news of the world to the world.”
Grace Paley

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

This used to be the ticket counter, y'all. Everything is weird and wonderful.
like night to a supernova is union station then to now
Thu 2014-12-18 19:28:25 (single post)

OMG you guys. Union Station is beautiful.

Last time I was here, I think it was July, the Train Hall was still under construction. If you were waiting to board an Amtrak train, you sat in a tiny walled-off corner of the Hall on the seats they'd toted over from the temporary station, which were crammed so close together that you'd find yourself literally knocking knees with other people. People you didn't know, I mean. You entered through a sort of hobbit door after dodging through construction cones on Wynkoop Street. Last time I was here, it was drizzling rain, but passengers were electing to wait outside in the wet where there was room to breathe.

Comparing my arrival then to our arrival today, it was like night to day. No--it was like night to supernova. First off, the door into the Train Hall now says "Crawford Hotel," which made us hesitate a bit before going in. But it was the only door waiting for us at the top of the escalator, so, we went in.

Do you remember the sort of hollow, high-ceilinged, echoing, pew-furnished purgatory that Denver Union Station used to be? No more. All those alcoves that looked sadly like they used to be something but were now abandoned? They're something now. They're AMCE Burger & Brat Corp.. They're Pigtrain Coffee Co. and Milkbox Ice Creamery. They're Snooze for brunch, the Mercantile for upscale delicatessen grocery shopping (and dining in), and even a little miniature Tattered Cover bookstore with darn good selection for its size. Where the forlorn ticketing counter used to be is now the Terminal Bar, with "patio" seating and live music.

Down the hall, past where the brand new, modern ticketing counter and baggage check office are now, you'll find the seafood bar Stoic & Genuine and the aforementioned The Kitchen [Next Door] Community Pub. The latter is where I spent the last hour and some, eating small plates and drinking beer.

Meanwhile, the Train Hall doubles as the Crawford Hotel's lounge--hence the insignia on the door when we came in. The huge penitent pews are gone, and, historic though they were, I am surprised to find that I don't miss them. There are smaller pews, all in a row by the exit to the train tracks, but mostly there's comfortable seating in leather and upholstery. There are charging stations that are actually comfortable to sit at, and well lit. There are shuffleboard tables, dear Gods in alphabetical order. There is a bluegrass band playing everything, including a gorgeous cover of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm On Fire." Followed by Paul Simon's "Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes." I'm kind of overwhelmed. And happy. And, it must be admitted, a little drunk.

The train, unaccountably, is early. And I'm not nearly ready to leave!

Well. I'll be posting this from the train thanks to John's smartphone wifi uplink. But you can bet I'll be coming back down to Union Station even when I'm not traveling by train. Because this will be a fantastic place to work, once I've got enough home improvement out of the way to take my writing out of the house for once. I mean, for once when I'm not on vacation.

the inevitability of pre-travel freak-outs
Wed 2014-12-17 23:33:09 (single post)

So I'm currently in pre-travel freak-out mode. I know you can't tell from where you're sitting--I'm very good at hiding it!--but it's true. I'm in the last 24 hours before departure, and inside my head where nobody can see, I'm freaking out.

This is a thing that I do. Last-minute deadline stress isn't just for writing deadlines, y'all.

Tomorrow, John and I get on a train bound for New Orleans. Which is to say, we get on the train to Chicago, and in Chicago we will catch the train for New Orleans. This is the most direct route, and will be until such time as Amtrak becomes convinced it'll be feasible to create or reinstate other routes through Denver. (Cross your fingers with me. I want to see this happen in my lifetime.) Should the train be on time (as so far it's said to be), it will depart at 7:10 PM, so theoretically we don't need to get our happy luggage-toting butts down to Denver Union Station until about 6:30 or so. However, I've also got this fun but completely unnecessary idea that we should eat dinner there before we go. Which means we need to get out the house and onto a bus no later than 3:00.

Here are all the things I have to do before that time:

  • Pack all the things. Clothes, computer, headphones, knitting, cross-stitch, fruitcake, skates, etc.
  • Re-booze the fruitcake before packing it.
  • Give freshly-washed derby gear a chance to dry before packing.
  • Clean the fridge - freeze or throw out what'll go bad before our return.
  • Read the AINC programming that's due Saturday, since I can't very well do it on the train.
  • Maybe go to the dentist if they have time to look at the bit of today's filling that feels like a popcorn shell stuck between my teeth.
  • Whatever else I'm forgetting. There's probably something.

(I wanted to get the current closet bi-fold finished by now, but, alas, that didn't happen. I have given myself permission not to worry about it. It's a bold move but I think, in this particular circumstance, it'll work.)

The up-side of all this stress is, it vanishes the moment I board the train. I mean completely. At that point, everything is done, or almost everything; and anything that isn't done can no longer be done, so it's not my responsibility anymore. My responsibility at that point becomes "Enjoy the ride. And maybe get some work done, too." I can't begin to describe how very much I'm looking forward to that point.

It's now nearly a quarter 'til midnight. I suppose I'd better start cleaning that fridge. Best place to begin, I think, is by eating some of what's in it. I haven't had dinner yet and I'm starting to feel it. Good night, all; when next I write, it'll be from Union Station.

free booze, saints on top, and a twitter road trip
Mon 2014-12-15 22:28:12 (single post)

Tonight was a good night for Monday Night Football and free alcohol. First Harpo's sent a server around with free pudding shots (consisting of, I think, banana pudding and Fireball whiskey). This led almost directly to another diner offering me the rest of her wine bottle. "I have to drive home, and then the pudding shots happened, so I figured I had to stop drinking for the night--but it was a $13 bottle and I hate to waste it, and I saw you sitting all alone over here..."

If this was a variety of the "woman! alone in bar! must be lonely" impulse, well, I can't exactly complain. Not, I think, that it looked like I needed company. I was yelling at the TV like I usually do when football's happening. Yelling, and laughing, and occasionally screaming, because that's how I react when surprised by a good play. It was at least a five-scream game. The Saints won, improving their record to 6-8 and taking the lead of the NFC South.

I did manage to finish off that wine. And the pudding shot. And my beer. Don't worry--I was on my bike tonight.

Speaking of the need for company, Havi Brooks has requested some on twitter tonight during her seven-hour-and-forty-minute drive through the tumbleweed-infested wilds of eastern Washington state. Bring some music.

That is my bought-and-paid-for coffee cup, thank you. On my bought-and-paid-for desk, I might add.
this fictionette probably shouldn't be slinging coffee
Fri 2014-12-12 23:19:42 (single post)
  • 1,289 wds. long

I'm going to keep this one short, because I'm not at home. I'm out at a friend's house, where there has been food and beer and margaritas and cards. Now there are very random conversations going on at a loud volume, and I am enjoying my usual role in these circumstances of "smart-ass fly on the wall."

I am very good at multi-tasking. Well. Maybe not very good. I'm multi-tasking, anyway.

Anyway, it's Friday, so here's a fictionette. As the Author's Note over there says, it came out of a dream--or, at least, the urge to turn the dream into something that made a kind of narrative sense. Since you can totally click that link and read about it, I won't repeat it here.

I will say, I've been trying to make sense of the "nurse" bit ever since writing up the Author's Note. Here it is in all its morning-after-the-dream glory:

Another diner catches me and asks, "So, do you like your hobby?" They mean my writing time at my desk in the corner. I explain that actually the writing is my job, and "I'm just the relief nurse for Corey while she's out." I don't know why I said "nurse" instead of "staff" or "waitress" or "server."

(What, you didn't expect dream journal excerpts when you started reading this blog?)

Thinking about it now, it occurs to me that "substitute nurse (when you're not even medically trained)" is an intensification of "substitute server (when you're not even on staff)." The latter theme might indicate a tendency on the part of the dreamer to over-volunteer and over-commit, and a problem with setting reasonable limits on one's sense of responsibility. The former takes it up a notch: "You cannot fix (heal) everyone and everything! Stop trying!"

So, OK. Taken under advisement. Thank you, dream. Would prefer you stick more to story ideas and less to psychoanalysis, yeah? But I suppose dream's gotta dream.

Now, about that cover art... Yes, that is my coffee cup. On my desk. No, I did not steal that coffee cup from Denny's. I bought it fair and square from Cen-Tex Supply in Boulder (no longer there, alas). Bought a vinegar shaker from them, too, just like the ones they have at Metairie Park Country Day for red beans and rice Wednesdays.

I get asked that, about whether I stole that coffee cup, from time to time. Less so these days, no doubt because it's a college hijinx type of question, and I'm closer to 40 than I am to my college years now. (And even during my college years I didn't get up to much in the way of college hijinx.) But when it comes out, the question isn't exactly a question. It's more of an exclamation of recognition: "Oh, you stole a Denny's cup too! Everyone does that sometime in their lives, don't they?" And then I have to say no, no I didn't. And then things get weird and awkward, like they do when you enthusiastically mistake someone for someone else.

Hey, I've committed my own small petty thefts. I have, from time to time, liberated unloved books. I am also guilty of hoarding hotel soap during multi-night stays, because soap is useful and housekeeping brings more at the drop of a hat and why should it go to waste? I just don't typically steal supplies from the restaurants I dine in, is all.

You've got your vices, I've got mine, is what I'm saying.

but the paint did get stripped, there is that
Thu 2014-12-11 23:37:01 (single post)
  • 5,300 wds. long

For the first time, I appear to have accomplished the paint-stripping stage in a single day. (At least, as concerns one half of a bi-fold door. I didn't try doing both at once this time because that was just awkward.) The secret appears to be this: Assign yourself a writing task you really, really, really don't want to do. One you've been avoiding for weeks now. Suddenly, the paint-stripping job looks like an enjoyable use of your time.

Most of this week, I've been slotting the following item among my writing tasks for the day: "Get that dang short story revised finally. Do you want a shot at getting it published or don't you?" (May not be an exact quote.) And it's amazing how focused I stay on my proposed writing schedule right up until I reach that item. Then, anything looks like a better use of time. Getting my AINC reading done early. Spending just a few more minutes on Second Life or Puzzle Pirates. Taking a nap that mysteriously stretches out to four or five hours. Getting really meticulous about removing paint from the corners of the panel beveling on the closet doors.

One day I will figure out the trick of getting myself to just do a thing already. For now, the process seems to involve several days--maybe several weeks--of inching up on it like a very cautious cat preparing to pounce. The pounce does eventually happen. I take consolation from knowing that. I'd just like to get to the point where the preparation doesn't take so darn long.

and you don't even have to log onto second life for it
Wed 2014-12-10 23:48:41 (single post)

So the fruitcake is now wrapped in a booze-soaked cheese-cloth, which means I won't have much to say about it until Christmas. Filling that conversational gap is the next bi-fold door off the living room closet, half of which is on the porch getting its paint stripped. It will be difficult to think about pretty much anything else until that particular sub-project is done.

Since I have very little of substance to share today, you get an online source of word prompts. Virtual Writers' World is the blog of--or, rather, it is a blog in association with--a Second Life group of which I'm a member, Virtual Writers Inc. I very rarely find myself participating in their activities at the time they are announced, but I have of late begun dipping into their group notices for word prompts whenever I do get around to my daily freewriting.

For an example, check out this week's schedule. There are two single-word prompts for every weekday--that's for the twice-daily "writers' dash" exercise--as well as more involved prompts for the 7-days-a-week "500 Word Snatch" activity. And here's something I didn't know about: Fridays are now "dedicated dash and drabble day," inspired by this podcast.

And there's even more stuff going on in the Twitter hashtags #wordscrim and #writersdash and also #500WS.

You should totally go over there and check it all out. I'll be right behind you, soon as I scrape this paint off these doors.

a day with fruitcake in it is a good day
Tue 2014-12-09 23:41:56 (single post)

Dear world: There is a new fruitcake in you! I have baked it just now today.

It snuck up on me. Usually I bake it partway through November, but I honestly forgot all about it until a few days ago. Once I remembered, though, I didn't waste time. Off to the grocery for fruit and nuts! Hurry up and slice things and soak them in booze! Then today that sucker got baked.

Here, as per tradition, is this year's list of fruitcake ingredients:

  • diced candied papaya
  • cubes of candied ginger, sliced into wedges
  • green raisins
  • dried strawberries, sliced into thin wedges
  • dried red tart cherries, sliced in halves
  • dried blueberries
  • pitted deglet noor dates, sliced lengthwise in quarters
  • slivered almonds

Slicing dried or candied fruit is a pain. Anything that requires me to slice it has earned its place in the lineup, trust me.

The recipe, as always, was the McCall's "Best of All" Fruitcake recipe which an online friend shared with me years and years ago. This appears to be someone's adaptation of it, and it has at last resolved for me the mystery of the missing .5 cup flour. I think my friend forgot to transcribe step 5. Maybe next year I'll include it. Not that my fruitcakes have suffered for only having 1.5 cups flour in them, mind you. Nor do they suffer for my not bothering with the frosting.

As you've no doubt surmised, I ad lib extremely freely with the dried/candied fruit. Fruit and nuts came from Whole Foods on Pearl Street; Whole Foods bulk products typically don't have artificial colors or flavors added. This is kind of a big deal. Just for a change, I once went to Sunflower (next door to McGuckin's; it's now a Sprouts). I was unpleasantly surprised by the bitter taste of numeric food coloring in the papaya. Not doing that ever again.

The booze the fruit soaked in overnight was brandy, but as I am now out of brandy, I may soak the wrapping cheesecloth in rum. Or possibly the Balvenie Caribbean Cask, which would be fairly interesting.

Given the lateness of the fruitcake construction and the upcoming vacation schedule, it will not be unveiled at our annual winter solstice party and yule log vigil. Said party will not be happening this year, due, again, to our vacation plans. Instead, I expect the fruitcake unveiling will be at the family Christmas party. My family really likes this fruitcake. It will be quite the challenge to reserve enough to mail to the usual long-distance recipients.

I got to it later in the day than I meant to. Today began with a dental cleaning at 8:00 AM, which you'd think would ensure an early start to the day. But when I got home around 9:30, I was exhausted. Apparently dental cleanings wear me out. They aren't particularly painful; the crew at Dr. Adler's office are fantastic and solicitous and caring and responsive. Last time, I let the hygienist know that the gum exam was kind of jabby; this time she made sure to use the blunt plastic probe instead of the sharp metal one. I warned her today about an ulcer on my gums, right up front and center, and she zapped it with the dental laser and spread it full of topical anaesthetic gel. Also, if you want to hear fascinating things, make sure to ask Dr. Adler about his peregrine falcon.

No, everything was fine. But I stress. I tense up. I start wringing my hands--well, really, my hands start wringing themselves--and my feet start twitching. My jaw tries to close up. So I spend the whole time telling myself "Relax, relax, breathe, pretend you're yawning, you don't need to do that with your hands, just relax..." And apparently the whole circus just wears me out.

Which is why I came home and went back to bed until two in the afternoon.

Which is why I had to leave for roller derby practice before the fruitcake was done with its 3.25 hours at 275 deg F. I put it on the timed cook cycle, so it would turn itself off after 3 hours and 15 minutes, but John still needed to babysit it because once the fool thing shuts itself off it sings out a 6-note tune to let you know. Repeatedly. "I turned off your oven. I turned off your oven..." (I've made up words to most of its jingles. I can't help it. The tune for when pre-heating is complete is a full four-line verse.) So John was still going to need to tell the oven "Yes, I hear you" by pressing the CLEAR/OFF button.

As I said to the head coach, "What a day! It both started and ended with pain!" She was alarmed at first--"Are you OK? Did you get hurt?"--but no, it was just the discomfort that goes with the territory. I'm sure I have new bruises (though I'm told I gave as good as I got), and I don't even want to think about squat jumps. It was a good practice. It was the sort of practice that wants everything you have. So you give it. So, when you get home, you fall over.

When I got home, and the house was full of friends and the smell of fruitcake. Not too shabby for a day that I mostly slept through, right? And now, I think I shall fall over. Good night!

This is an alpaca trying to take a bath. Click to see other alpaca being cute.
basil dust and a bathing alpaca
Mon 2014-12-08 23:01:32 (single post)

Attached is a picture of epic alpaca adorableness, which will be explained shortly.

Despite the season being more or less over, today turned out to be a farm Monday after all. The volunteer coordinator (hi, Steph!) texted me that she could use some help processing herbs, so I said sure. That's how I ended up with hands full of mugwort and clothes covered in purple basil powder.

Herb processing happens up at the top of the barn, where things are nice and dry. (They are not, however, warm, at least not without electrical help. I took my tea breaks based on when I lost sensation in my fingertips.) There is a large supply of screens of varying gauge, plenty of tarps, plenty of bins and buckets, and enough dried herbs to make you sneeze multiple times.

My first task wasn't the sneezy one. The dried mugwort leaves were for the most part still whole. All I had to do was sift through them and remove any flower buds and large stems.

No, the sneezy task was to do with the basil, which had been crushed into very small pieces--a coarse powder, if you will. My task was to get the dirt and dust off of it. This sounds like one of Baba Yaga's ultimatums to Vasilisa the Beautiful, doesn't it? "Separate these poppy seeds from these grains of soil by the time I get home, or I'll eat you up, bones and all!" Although you can do a fairly decent job of it with a low-powered electric fan, which will blow the dust farther off than it will the poppy seeds. We ended up doing variations of that trick with the basil bits: first I'd toss handfuls of it into the air above a tarp-covered table so that the dust would billow off of it (at which point I tried not to breathe), then I'd rapidly sift the pile with my fingers in hopes that the pieces of basil leaf would settle above the dirt. When we got to the last bit, we did end up using a fan, but it required a lot of subtlety because basil bits fly just as far as dust does if you're not careful.

Anyway, I sneezed and coughed a lot--I really need to remember to wear one of those dust filter masks, and then save some for next time I'm sanding down a closet door. And I smelled ridiculously like basil by the time I got home.

While I was up there, I took advantage of the great view out the barn loft's west door. That's where you can see the farm's four-legged critters. There's a whole herd of sheep and lamb, as well as two alpaca. The alpaca are Bruno (the brown one) and Tiger (the blond one). Whenever they look up at me, which is whenever they notice I'm looking at them, they have this fantastic sardonic look on their faces, like they're idly wondering when I'll stop staring at them and go do something useful with myself. (It's gotta be the haircut gives that impression.) That expression remains fixed on their faces even when they're doing something silly, which raises the silliness index to absolute ridiculousness.

So here is a picture of Bruno doing something silly just as sardonically as possible. He likes to lie down in the water trough, which requires complex maneuvering and also patience. First he kneels with his forelegs, then he pauses to make sure the rest of him is going to sit, and then he finally lets his rear end settle. Then the floating electric water heater (that red disk on an extension cord) taps him on the butt, startling him into leaping to his feet once more. He stands there for a little while, dripping--and an alpaca drips a lot of water, since his very soft coat is also very absorbant; it sounded like someone running a faucet. While he's standing there, the following thought seems to cross his mind: "Why am I standing here when I could be lying down in the water? How foolish! I shall rectify this situation forthwith."

At which point the cycle starts over again. I watched it cycle at least three times through before I thought to get out my camera.

If you have been having a crappy Monday, I hope that this picture of Bruno trying to have a bath brings you joy.

Source: sourdough loaf by flickr user muffin, shared under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license
the fictionette you must not eat
Fri 2014-12-05 23:16:00 (single post)

The donuts did not happen. The adventures did not happen. The karaoke did not happen--at least, not with me. The headaches happened, and they ruined everything.

I managed to make it as far as breakfast at the Northside Kitchen--and yes, they did have donuts, but they also had lamb shank hash with three eggs any style. This was delicous and left no room for donuts, despite the wide variety and appeal of the donuts. (Maybe tomorrow.) But by the time I was done eating and walking back to my room, yesterday's headache had returned, and it brought all its friends. I just wanted to crawl back into bed and become unconscious. This I did. And I stayed there until eight o'clock tonight: napping, reading when I wasn't napping, and, when the pain even kept me from reading, wimpering pathetically.

They got worse before they got better, but they have gotten better. I seem to be functional now. So, here: have a Friday Fictionette! This one takes its title from the Robert Browning quote, "If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens." I'm not sure what the context for that quote is. I presume the bread was just that good. The bread in the Fictionette is quite remarkable too. But you must never, ever, under any circumstances, eat it.

I check out of the resort tomorrow and make my way back to Boulder. I wish I had spent less of my time curled up in bed with books--or, rather, I wish that the time I'd spent curled up in bed with books was not partially motivated by headaches. But there will be other visits. There will almost certainly be a visit next year. And, overall, I've enjoyed my stay.

Look at that face! Look at those hooves! Look at the cuteness!
day of reindeer and binge reading
Thu 2014-12-04 23:17:05 (single post)

Hoo boy, today. Today was not a productive day. The first half of today got eaten up by a headache that wouldn't go away no matter how long I stayed in bed, and the rest of the day got eaten up by a gorgeous, gorgeous book. (Some days you hold strong against temptation. Other days, you just give in and enjoy it.) Somewhere in the middle there was a reindeer, and also the best pastries in Avon.

The reindeer was Cupid, and she was the star of the Avon Public Library's annual reindeer-and-elf visitation. I gotta say, the poem doesn't lie. Reindeer are tiny. When I read The Woman Who Loved Reindeer by Meredith Ann Pierce, I imagined them huge as elk, but in fact they're about the same size as whitetails, and in some cases smaller. And cute? I am here to tell you. When the editors of The Toast met the miniature horses, I thought nothing could possibly be cuter. I was wrong, dear readers. I was wrong.

It has been a day to bring Meredith Ann Pierce's novels to mind twice over. The reindeer was the first; the second came with the binge reading. As you shall see.

The librarian told me to help myself to hot chocolate. But there was far too much chaos in the activity room. It was crowed with kids waiting their turn to pet the reindeer, and make crafty things at the tables, and get their plate of hot chocolate and donuts. I gave up and walked across town to sooth my hot-chocolate-and-pastry cravings at the Columbine Cafe & Bakery. Then I soothed my tea cravings, which had become unbearable since using up the last bag of Taylors of Harrogate Pure Assam, by buying more tea. City Market does not stock T&H, but they did have Two Leaves and a Bud Assam and Tazo Darjeeling. Though the Two Leaves version isn't quite as malty as the T&H, it is nevertheless a specimen of The Good Stuff, and it will do.

Now, today's visit to the library was very exciting. The library had all three of Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy on the shelf, and I was in terrible, terrible need of finally reading the third book. I've been meaning to buy a copy, but just haven't made it out to the bookstore yet--and the library copies were right here. Opportunity! But I knew the experience would be even more magical if my memories of what had come to pass in books 1 and 2 were fresh, so I checked them out one at a time and reread them. Today I traded in Days of Blood and Starlight for Dreams of Gods and Monsters, and I began reading it as I walked out the the door, kept reading it as I walked across town, and--pausing only for such necessities as ordering and paying for pastries and hot chocolate, or navigating a grocery store, or getting a phone call from John telling me all about the epic scrimmage I missed tonight what with not being in town for it and all--continued reading it until it was done.

At which point there seemed to be something in my eye, and I kind of had to sit with that for a bit.

There was a point where I very much feared this trilogy would go the way of Meredith Ann Pierce's The Darkangel trilogy (thus, the second time a Pierce novel came to mind today). And, there being a fine line between spoilers and encouragement, I hope to remain firmly on the encouragement side when I say this: Dear readers, Laini Taylor has no desire to rip our hearts out and stomp on them. She loves us too much. Can you truly doubt it? She gave us the character of Zuzana "Neek-neek" Novakova and a companion novella called Night of Cake and Puppets. Of course she loves us.

Thus I go to my daily rest, still headachy, bummed at not having written, but feeling loved despite all that.

Tomorrow: Your mostly-weekly Fictionette and other stories, probable adventures beyond walking distance, and, if I get out of bed on time, and if the baker at Columbine did not grievously mislead me, donuts.