Avoiding shelter …

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If we were having coffee today I’d tell you about the lost dog.  It belongs to my son’s family, slipped out a week ago when a gate was apparently left ajar.

Sadly, Bert is a bit long in the tooth, an older dog with a variety of mild illnesses.  Partially blind, not too worldly.  Poof.  Gone.

We’ve joined the search, but I’ve been here before and it is harder than trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack.  We’ve all done all the usual things.  It is just amazing how completely they can disappear in such a short period of time. I half-expect them to show up on the island of odd socks or the valley of the missing coat-hangers.  They disappear that completely.

They live three towns west of us, and the shelter for that county/town is on the eastern side of town; it is actually closer to us than it is to them.  So, we’ve been going to the shelter.  There are no happy dogs or cats at the shelter.  Excited, yes. Running the gauntlet in the hall of the German Shepherds is evidence of that.  There was no Bert, either.

When we first arrived, there was a woman there with a quiet dog sitting patiently by her side.  I thought she was perhaps in the midst of adopting.  Quite the opposite.

As we returned we witnessed her handing over the leash and walking out the door.  The dog moved to follow her, was stopped by the leash, looked back and then forward at the closing door, a look of total confusion on her face. Then we could see a distinct look of realization and resignation flash over her face.  Welcome to the shelter, right?

We just lost a dog last July, by natural causes.  We have ten cats.  We are overrun.  But we were sorely tempted by this dog, Daisy.

We followed up on Daisy’s status.  She was almost immediately adopted.  We’re both happy for her, but we’re also just a little sad.  We got totally involved and invested in that few seconds.  But we’re both hopeful that she found her forever home.

Bert’s still missing.  We’re checking the shelter online now.  They update their webpage hourly, which we know for sure now.

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You can find out more about Thomas Fenske at http://thefensk.com … the Kindle version of his novel THE FEVER is on sale for $1.99 for the rest of February.

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#Weekendcoffeeshare Return

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If we were having coffee today I’d apologize and lament my several month’s absence.  I’m not quite sure what happened.  The WeekendCoffeeShare is sometimes a bit like a meandering river, changing course with little to no notice.  Plus, I was fairly diverted through the second half of 2017.  The major events were my dog dying in July and my mom passing away in October.  At some point I expected I would do a post about the latter (I think I did in fact post about the former), but I never felt quite ready.  I still don’t.

Then after a deep sip, I’d go into more recent events.

I had a nasty case of this awful flu that is going around.  My lovely bride got it much much worse than me.  I hardly ever get sick.  I had the flu once in the early eighties.  I remember that mostly because of my cat.  At some point I had dragged my sorry carcass out of bed to let her in and she came in  limping on three legs and bleeding.  I remember taking her to the vet and the doctor asking which one was the patient.  I must have looked awful.  That’s the last time I remember catching the flu.

Oh, there have been other things. I had pertussis in 1999.  That’s right.  Whooping Cough.  I’ll take a bad case of the flu over that.  I have no idea where I got it.  Luckily, somehow, nobody else in the house got it.  It was not confirmed.  I went to the doctor with a bad cough.  No tests.  Got a prescription.  But at some point I read up on the symptoms and more than that, heard audio of the resulting coughing spells.  THAT is what I had, I have no doubt.  Drop to the floor, piss all over yourself, almost suffocate, making that gawd-awful whooping sound as you gag for air … yep.

Had a bout of pneumonia in 2013 too.  No cough, no fever, I just couldn’t breath.  I work in a 24/7 industry and was working with a team on a worldwide conference call. It was as scheduled software installation project at 2 AM one Sunday.  We were behind schedule because a developer was uploading a last minute revised program for me to install on a series of servers.  I had felt a little off that day, but with no real symptoms.  I felt about the same when I joined the call.  Then, while waiting, I simply could not catch my breath.  I didn’t have chest pains but that was the first thing I thought of.  I went downstairs from my home office and took a full-strength aspirin.  I struggled to get back up the stairs and sent the project manager a quick note: “I have to leave.”

“What?”

I quickly explained the situation.  Protocol usually means I need to find my own replacement or call my supervisor.  She would have none of that and said, “we’ll cancel and reschedule …. go wake up your wife right this minute and go to the hospital.”

When we got to the ER, they put me on a heart monitor but the ER doctor pretty quickly decided on a chest X-Ray.  They were going to give me an aspirin too.  I told them I already took one.  “A baby aspirin isn’t going to do it, you need a full aspirin.”

“I took a full aspirin!”

The doctor was impressed.  I remember thinking, “what, they think they’re playing with kids?”

The X-Ray showed a pretty significant chest blockage, confirming pneumonia.  I responded pretty well to whatever antibiotics they gave me and went home the next day.  After waiting all day to take a treadmill test (they just wouldn’t let up on the heart thing).  That was the first time I had stayed overnight in the hospital since … well, I remember the premier of Bewitched was on TV the last time. Seriously.

Anyway, we are both on the mend … and I’m happy to be back.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina. http://thefensk.com

The Kindle version of his debut novel, THE FEVER, is on sale this week … 25% off.  This would be a great time for you to Catch The Fever.

Is it just me?

I was just thinking to myself … dang, it’s still January.  Is it just me or do November and December seem to fly past and after New Year’s Day, January just creeps along. Maybe it is just anti-climatic or something … after all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, maybe we just hunker down.

Well, the doldrums can get some help.   I got knocked off my feet by this awful flu that is spreading around, then we were snow-bound for several days.  My darling bride got the flu right after me (funny how that works, right?) and spent those snow days off her feet as well.  And here, now, we’ve got another week of January left.

Most of you know I’m from Houston Texas.  Suffice it to say, I didn’t grow up with snow.  I found an old family picture a while back of a dog standing in the snow in front of my great-grandfather’s house. It wasn’t dated but other similar pictures were from the roaring twenties.  I found a site that listed significant snowfalls in Houston.  It wasn’t a very long list.  I figured it was either December 1925 or January 1926.  One of those unusual years where it snowed twice in a short time.

The point is, I never personally saw snow until 1960.  Yeah, that one was on the list too … right before Valentine’s day.  It was quite an event.  I didn’t see snow again until 1973.  It snowed an unprecedented three times that year.

I’ve lived in NC since the late 1980’s … it snows more here, but not that much more.  We’re lucky to get a good snow every year or so.  The snowfall last week was unusual … close to a foot.  That is a lot of snow for this area.  I know you northerners and mid-westerners scoff at that but understand this: we have minimal snow removal.  Houston and Austin have almost none.  When it snows, those places virtually shut down.  We’re not much better, but we have maybe 10% more snow removal.  They actually do a pretty good job on what are considered main roads.  The problem is … 98% of the people don’t live on the main roads.  Side streets and side streets of those side streets become icy wastelands.  I lived for a couple of years just two hours north of here, in Virginia.  They get even more snow and you get spoiled by all the extra snow removal they have there.

I actually do pretty well driving on ice and snow, but I dislike testing my skills.  I don’t worry so much about going out of control myself, I worry about other drivers losing control and hitting me. Several times in my life, even when I lived in Texas, I’ve been in situations where I simply had to drive fairly long distances on snowy or icy roads.  It is a white knuckle experience that is taxing physically and mentally.  I even included a scene in my novel, THE FEVER, where the protagonist is dealing with exactly that situation.  In that scene, the heat in the car was not working so it was further complicated by episodes of his windshield being covered in a sheet of ice every time a big truck passed him.  Yeah, been there done that.  Write what you know, right?  Seriously, one reader even told me she had to get up and put on a sweater while she was reading that section.

Anyway I’ll take snow over ice any day.  Our last ice storm knocked out our power for five days and dropped about ten pickup truck loads of branches and trees on our property.  But that was in March and we were talking about January, right?
How did TS Eliot put it … April is the cruelest month?
Maybe. But January is probably the longest month.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.
http://thefensk.com

Missing the Obvious

img_5454Marketing your own books is a pain.

There, I said it.  I worked in publishing for over twenty-years, but not in marketing.  Now I sort of wish I hadn’t generally ignored the marketing folks in my organizations. I sure could use their help these days.

I was in IT and I was awful to people sometimes.  Oh, I did my job.  I just evolved a bad bedside manner.  I wasn’t alone in that.  SNL had a series of skits about the bad IT guy.  I was just like that character.  “You need to hit tab, now enter, now up arrow … argggghhh, just get out of the way!”   Before you think unkindly of me understand that it was an uphill climb most of the time.  I mean, for example, I had a user who wrote correspondence in a spreadsheet.  Letters, she wrote letters using a spreadsheet.

Anyway, I have been out of publishing for almost twenty years now, and now, I’m back in it.  I’ve got two published books, several more in various stages of revision, and I’m bogged down trying to market my published books.

If you’ve ever been intimidated by the thought of actually writing a book, understand this:  Writing an entire book is hard.  Editing and revising that rough draft is harder. Marketing it?  Well, forget about it.  It continues to kick me in the ass every single day.

The heading of this post says “Missing the Obvious” … so here is a case in point.  I noticed something while was working on a twitter post about my novel, THE FEVER.

A review quote I had added to my Amazon page suddenly hit my eye.  It was there so I know I liked it enough in the past to include it on the page but the impact this time hit me like a ton of bricks.  “You’ll feel like you’re LIVING IN THIS BOOK …”

I have a lot of enthusiastic reviews.  It gratifies me as an author.  And they’re not all friends and family either, I promise.  But this statement, from an independent reviewer, well, that is the sort of thing that emboldens an author to continue on.

Then the old modesty gene kicks in.  “Gee whiz, shucks, Y’all …”

Thomas Fenske is a

 

From Fiction to Kitchen

I call this Faux Calzone or Poor Man’s Calzone. 

I don’t know if it is because I generally write early in the morning and am usually hungry, or just because I like to eat, but food always seems to find its way into my writing.  This is one “fictional” recipe that didn’t make it into The Mossback Cafe Cookbook (it didn’t fit into the concept), but this has long been one of my standby quick and dirty meals.  I’ll start with a quote from A Curse That Bites DeepOur hero Sam needs a quick meal but only has limited ingredients.  The pantry is stocked with tidbits salvaged from a recently deceased friend, a solitary older gentleman of limited means.  He settles on a cheap frozen pizza.

Once the pizza was unwrapped and in the pan he slid it in the oven and checked his watch. After a couple of minutes he pulled it out and lifted one end.
“It’s thawed enough,” he muttered as he proceeded to fold the pizza in half. He pressed the edges lightly.
“Used to use more cheese when I was in college, but this will do,” he said as he moved the pan back into the hot oven.
After a few more minutes he gingerly flipped it to brown the other side. When the allotted time was up he brought it out and tested the top with his finger. It was crispy but not burnt.
“This actually isn’t that old,” he said. “I guess the old guy did manage to eat from time to time despite my worries.”
He moved his meal to a plate and let it cool another minute before he tried a bite.
“Not bad,” he said, “not bad at all…poor man’s calzone, just like in college!”

I found it as a way to enhance a really cheap frozen pizza.  Sure, it’s not a true calzone, it’s almost more like a pizza taco, but it certainly moves the drab frozen pizza up a notch.  I made these as an appetizer once, cutting them into strips, and people loved them.  Years ago I worked as a consultant in northern New Jersey and one day we called in an order for some pizzas.  I noted that almost everyone folded their slices in half before eating them; I guess it is a regional thing.  I still do it, too, and it was the inspiration for this idea.

Here’s what you do.  You need a cheap frozen pizza.  Totino’s will do but you can go smaller and cheaper if you want to.  Although in the clip above Sam just cooks the pizza as it is, right out of the package, and you can certainly do that, it is better if you add a little seasoning and extra cheese.  It’s frozen so you need to thaw it somewhat.  At home, I usually use the microwave for that but you can heat it for a few minutes in the oven like Sam does in the novel.  You want the crust pliable enough to fold.  I made one of these yesterday and microwaved it for about a minute and a half at fifty-percent power.

Take the partially thawed pizza and sprinkle it with some additional Italian spices if you want … or garlic powder, whatever you like.  Sprinkle some shredded cheese on half of it. I added some Parmesan too, one “to-go” packet.

Fold it over and press firmly.  It’s not going to seal like a true calzone but that’s okay.  You can still press down a little more along the edges to get close.

Bake just like the package says, but bear in mind it was partially cooked earlier.  If the package said to cook it for 10 minutes at 400, I’d do it for four, carefully flip it and do it for another four.  Your mileage may vary.  You want the crust to be crisp but not burnt or really hard.  The extra cheese should just be starting to ooze a little.

Take it out and let it cool for at least two minutes before eating but take it easy, the filling can be hot.

That’s it, Poor Man’s Calzone, right out of the pages of my novel!  As you can see from the picture, it looks pretty good.  Simple, good, cheap.  Who am I kidding?  It was great!

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina. You can find more info about his novels and his cookbook at http://thefensk.com

WeekendCoffee Tardiness

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

If we were having coffee today I’d be lamenting our lack of coffee sharing lately.  I’d end with the “it’s not you, it’s me” explanation.

It’s not that I don’t have anything to write about, but a few weeks ago I found myself glued to the weather channel watching news about my hometown Houston and Harvey.  Then I was closely watching the doings of Irma … and even now, Maria’s course is still a bit of a question mark regarding the NC coast.

Ah, hurricane season.  Global Warming?  Maybe.  I’m not a naysayer but I’m also not firmly in the “we humans are totally screwing up our world” camp either.  I think the earth is a much bigger engine than we give it credit for.  Sheesh, thirty years ago scientists were saying the exact opposite: we were causing a general cooling trend, possibly starting a new ice age.  Nobody made a movie about that though.  If you follow planetary astronomy, you’d know that the ice caps on Mars have been in decline as well.  We’ve thrown a lot of trash at Mars but I don’t think we’ve created emissions yet.  Maybe there are solar causes for some of this?  I don’t know.

Nobody talks quite as much about the massive loss of tropical rainforests … probably because they are out of our control.  I think they have a bigger effect on the global climate engine.  And don’t get me started on contrails … sometimes half the clouds in the sky are contrails.  Should be cut emissions?  Sure.  Couldn’t hurt.  Save the rainforests? Definitely.  Those are the scrubbers of the emissions.  Recycle?  Sure.  But I had to wonder when my local program started just saying separate THIS, but not that … just put it all together.  Okay, makes me wonder if that stuff is actually being recycled. Recycling depends on available markets for the materials.  But I still recycle.  Why? I have curbside recycling but not curbside garbage pickup.  If I recycle, I cut down the solid waste I have to haul to the local garbage place by more than a half.  Whatever works, right?

But back to the hurricanes. We’ve always had hurricanes.  Ever heard of the port of Indianola?  Probably not unless you’re from Texas.  Even then, probably not.  It was once the second most active port in Texas.  It was thriving.  It was the county seat.  It had a nice huge courthouse.  It’s gone.  It was destroyed twice in the late 1800s.  In the 1870s, it was pretty awful but it was rebuilt.  In the 1880s people sort of said, why bother after a massive storm really whacked it hard.  All that remains are a few foundations and headstones.  The county seat was moved and most of the town was reclaimed by the sea.  Granted, if you follow hurricanes and the Texas gulf coast they built the town in the exact worst place.  Countless storms, including the massive Carla in 1961 and this year’s Harvey would have hit it again.

I live about 200 miles inland from the NC coast.  It’s far enough to not worry too much but close enough to take notice anytime a storm is out there.  I’ve lived here almost thirty years … one storm whacked us pretty good inland in the mid-nineties.

Everybody I know in Florida did okay through Irma.  Most people I know in Houston came through okay, and those unlucky few are alive and working through the rebuilding process.  Global Warming?  I don’t know.  It seems to me that blaming Global Warming outright for a bad storm season is sort of along the same lines as saying God is punishing us for this or that.  It’s just a bad storm season.  Keep your eyes on the sky and a few extra cans of something for an emergency.  Oh, and coffee.  I wish I had a gas stove.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC

 

 

Disastrous

Photo Courtesy of Melanie Hauser
I might have mentioned before that I’m originally from Houston. The situation there is dire … thankfully, all my friends and family seem to be holding their own so far. My younger sister lives with our 95 year old mother in the house we all grew up in. It has flooded once before, with Tropical Storm Allison. This time, so far (literally knocking on wood here), the water got up to the house but not into it. They haven’t had power since Saturday night. 

I’ve seen a lot of conjecture on the media about this situation, but there are a few things you should know.

 Houston has *always* had flooding problems. The place is basically a swamp they built a city on. Most often, it is localized, but any part of the city can get at least temporarily inundated. I always hated even the temporary inconvenience of flooding. I’ve had to clean up after a catastrophic flood only once, in 1976 … the first citywide flood I’d seen. I worked for The University of Houston, at the University Center (the student center) at the time and their “satellite” student center  flooded. Small wonder, as it was underground. The aftermath was awful, especially in the food service area. 
Some of my earliest memories back into the fifties are of our street flooding. Those floods rarely extended much beyond the curbs. The worst one of my childhood was Hurricane Carla. It got about 1/3 of the way up the yard. Unlike Harvey, Carla blew and rained and moved on. That’s what these storms are supposed to do. 

This tendency to flood is a major reason I decided to move away. I’m a wimp about flooding, I admit it. 

I hear the Mayor, Sylvester Turner, has gotten some undeserved flak about not ordering an evacuation. I knew him in college, he is one of my favorite people from those days. He’s a stand-up guy. He made the right choice. The critics need to understand two things …
ONE: anybody can choose to evacuate on their own. One of my sisters chose to do just that. There was plenty of warning. If you have a place to go, then get there as early as you can. 
TWO: where was anybody expecting to go? This storm in particular, was (and still is) a big question mark. San Antonio? Austin? Dallas? There were chances all three might be affected. It is easy to “say” evacuation … but as Houston found in 2005 after Katrina and when Rita was threatening, there are a LOT of people in Houston. People were literally stranded in the worst traffic jam in history. And in this case it very well might have placed hundreds of thousands at serious risk of death or injury. Can you imagine being stuck in gridlock then slammed with a storm? And for all anybody knew, they might be going someplace worse. There was no clear track to this storm. Still isn’t. They’re pretty good with predictions but sometimes, these storms will basically make their own weather. 

Twenty plus years ago, we thought we were high and dry here in central NC, 130 miles from the coast when Hurricane Fran threatened. It maintained hurricane strength all the way to Raleigh! It was one of the scariest nights of my life. Not so much flooding here, but trees were down EVERYWHERE and power was out for quite a while. 
In short, these are natural disasters. Disaster is the action word here. It’s never going to be good. 

Keep your thoughts and prayers with the people in harm’s way, especially my mom. 

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC. 

http://thefensk.com

Weekend Coffee Dreams

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

If we were having coffee today I’d tell you about the dreams.  Oh, not any dreams.  I guess we all have repetitive dreams, but last night I had more of a repetitive theme dream.

These revolve around finding some hidden section or room of the house.  Sometimes it is the current house, sometimes it is some past house, sometimes it is even (this will sound silly) some other dream house, a place that seems familiar from past dreams.

These are funny after I wake up, I mean, the notion that a room or in some cases a vast network of rooms, might exist.  I guess psychologists would read a lot into that.  Our house is cluttered, I guess deep down maybe I really wish I had extra rooms.  It wouldn’t have done much good in last night’s dream, the rooms were cluttered with broken furniture and leftover debris.

This dream even had another level.  Not another level to the dream, another level to the rooms.  During the dream, after marveling at the find, I later went back and looked a little closer and found a stairway and another set of rooms off to the side and below. I guess within the context of the dream it makes sense. The first one was supposedly outside an upstairs window.  When outside I had noticed something hanging near an upstairs window.  Later I remembered and sought to go out and take it down. The additional level provided access from below.  I didn’t get a chance to do more exploration before waking up.

I have had another series of dreams where there were vast furnished rooms branching off a hidden corner hallway, easily doubling, perhaps tripling the size of the house. Oddly, for some reason, it occurs to me in the dream to go into this area and I keep wondering to myself why I don’t use these rooms more.  I had a dream once that a house we had looked at when we were house hunting had a complete and fantastic basement section.  The house itself was somewhat lacking for our purposes but this basement section made it a no brainer that we should have bought that house.  In the dream, when I found this out, I got miffed at the real estate agent for failing to show us the extra rooms.

Anyway, this was so vivid, it was just on my mind when I woke up.  I need to go look around now, to make sure I haven’t missed anything in the twelve years since I moved into this house.

What sort of repetitive dreams do you have?

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  For information on his writing check out his web page at http://thefensk.com

A WeekendCoffee Backstory

img_6284If we were having coffee today I think I’d finally be willing to tell you about certain aspects of the backstory.

 

There was recently a national news story floating around concerning some changes in Texas law … you might have seen it, usually mentioning the plan to make it legal to carry swords or something like that.  Actually, that might be some sort of loophole, but what it really means is that the stalwart citizens of Texas will soon be allowed to carry knives longer than 5.5 inches.  This law has long been on the books.  They classified any knife longer than 5.5 inches as a Bowie knife.  Although Jim Bowie was a hero of the Alamo and was famous for his larger than usual knife, it has been illegal in Texas for quite some time — that is until this fall.

The current law was a major dramatic component to the backstory of my first novel The Fever.  It was based on a real incident I knew about.  It resulted in the arrest of the hero, who felt the same way about the irony of Jim Bowie’s knife.  This was the catalyst that threw my hero Sam into jail, where he made acquaintance with Slim, the derelict who slowly died in his arms.  Ah, but not before revealing his secret.  THAT is the other major backstory component, another bit of Texas lore.  Slim, it seems, had some personal knowledge of the location of the elusive Sublett mine.

That’s right.  And this, my friends, is a true mystery of mythical Texas proportions.  Ben Sublett was a real person who lived in West Texas and there are believable reports that he had access to some quantity of gold.  The stories go that he would disappear into the wilds of the parched landscape and return with gold.  People tried to follow him but to no avail.  He supposedly died without revealing the location to anyone.  If you google Ben Sublett you will see quite a few websites and articles dedicated to him and his lost gold mine.  They all mention pretty much the same details.  Like one curious fact … his name was actually William C. Sublett.  Not sure where “Ben” came from.
Here are a couple of my favorite links about Ben Sublett:

This one has a picture of a roadside Texas historical marker:  http://www.odessahistory.com/subltmkr.htm

http://www.sonofthesouth.net/ben-sublett-gold/Ben-Sublet-story.html

A friend pointed out to me that the historical marker in the first link above is just outside a place called Sam’s BBQ … I promise you that name “Sam” is just a coincidence.  Still a bit of added irony, no?

Old Ben apparently never got rich from his gold.  He seemed content to use it ,subsidize his life, like a sort of nineteenth-century social security.  The common thread in all of the stories about him is that he’d disappear and return with gold.  People have speculated on its location for over a hundred years.  The Guadalupe Mountains seems to be a common landmark, but if it was in the mountain range proper, well that is a National Park now so good luck with that, but there are a lot of possibilities in the general area.

I used both of these things as the core of my story.  An almost ridiculous arrest followed by a chance meeting that resulted in a deathbed confession.  “THE FEVER” was wedged into the hero’s soul where it smoldered until it became a full-fledged obsession.  THAT is what the story is about … a sort of “what would you do?” scenario.

How far would you go to feed your fever?


Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC.  Info on his novels, including THE FEVER, can be found at http://www.thefensk.com  Before you buy them, be sure to check out his new video trailers on the videos tab.