Locus Likes “Titanium Soul”

I’m pleased as punch that Lois Tilton gave Locus’s coveted* “recommended” tag to her review of my story, “Titanium Soul,” in the June issue of Analog. Go check it out.

I remember when I was first publishing in Analog back in 2003-2005, and for some reason Locus wasn’t reviewing every issue of Analog. It’s pretty fuzzy, now, but I think none of my stories got reviewed there, so I’m grateful to Lois Tilton for staying on top of the avalanche of short fiction and keeping the reviews coming, even the ones that aren’t so glowy. No review is ten times worse than a bad review.

I’m also enjoying the positive comments I’ve been getting directly, and discovering via ego surfing on twitter, etc. It’s an amazing feeling when people connect with something I’ve written.

Because of that, I picked up some extra author copies of that issue, and will be taking them with me to Penguicon (where I am not on the program, but will be there in author stealth mode). If you want one, find me and ask for it. It would also be cool if you could use a secret password, like “coldy moldy bananas eggplant,” but it’s optional.

Also, I have another story in the very next issue of Analog, the July/August double issue, which should be coming out in a few weeks. I’ve already received my contributor’s copies. The story is called. “The North Revena Ladies Literary Society.” It’s about a women’s book club, spies, secret agents, books, terrorists, and more.

I can’t believe it’s been almost two weeks since I’ve posted here. I’m trying to think what I’ve been up to, and I’m coming up blank. I think I’ve just been kind of stressed out, but I’ve got about five telepathic blog posts written that you can check out on the telepathic internet at www.insidecatherinesbrain.com. Enjoy!

* Well, coveted by me. External evaluations bring out my inner Hermione Granger

June Analog is here!

 

The June 2012 issue of Analog, with my story “Titanium Soul,” arrived in my mailbox yesterday. It will probably be a month or so before it hits the news stands, but you can get it on Kindle immediately. I haven’t even received my contributor’s copies yet. I didn’t get an interior illustration on the story this time, but I like the cover illustration quite a bit. “Titanium Soul” is one of my favorite stories by me, so it has my endorsement as a story of me, recommended by me, for your enjoyment of me. That is all.

A Simple Mission for the New Year, Should You Choose to Accept It

Here’s a great project for the start of a new year: clean out your spice cabinet and your medicine cabinet. We did the medicine cabinet at my mother-in-law’s place and ended up filling several trash bags with old, expired, and no-longer-usable meds, and clearing out a lot of space in the cabinet.

A lot of people get paralyzed about discarding medications because they either don’t want to waste a medication that might still be good, or are afraid that there is some kind of legal liability. I will save you some time. In general, there’s no system for recycling prescription medications that are still good or not expired. There may be clinics here and there that do that, and I wish more of them existed, but in almost every case, there is nothing you can do with those medications but throw them away.

I was told to try veterinary clinics, but I did that with some of my mother’s meds and it was a total failure. I called and at their behest drove the meds all the way to the clinic (30 minutes). Later the same day, they called and demanded I come and take them back. I refused, and had a brief argument with them until they finally agreed to just throw them away. Again, there’s a mistaken belief that there is some legal and appropriate way to throw them out. There isn’t. Just throw them out. (The exception may be some very specialized medications. For example, my mother once used a medication that the company explicitly insisted must be sent back if unused.)

For the spice cabinet, after you’ve cleared out the obviously old stuff, take a Sharpie marker and write ’12’ on the remaining bottles. Then you’re all set for next year.

Hey, look, a review!

During my previous life as a short fiction author, I seemed to have a review curse. Every time I had a story coming out–oops–it was the reviewer’s month off. Or something! Or if I did get a review, it was a very brief mention. So it’s nice to find this review of the Jan/Feb 2012 Analog by Sam Tomaino at SFRevu.

Tomaino called the story “amusing” and “a little hard to swallow but fun.” Fair enough, Tomaino. Fair enough. And thanks!

Long Winter’s Nap on Smashwords and Kindle

My Christmas story from the December, 2006 edition of Analog is available for free now on Smashwords, and for 99 cents on Kindle if you, say, have a credit card balance of $99.01 and want to make it an even $100. Note that Smashwords has .mobi formatted files for viewing on Kindle, and I’m told there’s a way to get that file from your computer to your Kindle, so if that kind of manipulation is easy for you, there’s no reason to pay for it from the Kindle site.

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I am working on getting it up at Barnes and Noble. The Pubit system seems to work slowly on the weekend. Again, properly formatted .epub files are available on Smashwords, and it is pretty easy to sideload those onto the nook straight from your computer (no helper application or emailing required), so the only reason you might want to pay $1 for the story there is if you wanted me to have the 30 cents. Which, if you do, is very kind.

I’ve also posted Improving Slay Times in the Common Dragon on Smashwords for free, so if you haven’t read that yet and are inclined for something silly and cynical, check it out. (People who have been to grad school seem to appreciate it quite a lot.)

I’m finding the self-publishing process to be interesting and fun. For me, at this point, it’s not going to be my primary publishing path, particularly not for longer works, but I can definitely see how it can complement traditional publishing. I also don’t think it would be that hard to launch an original novel using self-publishing outlets. I’ve spent some time “slush reading” at Smashwords, and I’m convinced that well-written, well-produced works would stand out like a sore thumb.

You can filter quite a bit just by reading the descriptions of the stories. They typically start with some kind of genuinely interesting McGuffin, and then deteriorate to uninteresting vagueness.

“Bob Smith is a bounty hunter for fairies gone bad in a futuristic New Orleans. When he falls in love with one of his targets, he is faced with the greatest challenge of his life, and must do a hard thing in order to prevail against evil. Please check out my book you will love it.”

And there are actual readers at Smashwords and in the Kindle community, so books that stand out get discovered, and get read.

That said, I’m still looking for a traditional publisher for my novel, and am still marketing my short stories to pro magazines, because the exposure I can get through those outlets is still much greater than the 100-200 word footprint I currently have in the self-publishing channels. That may change in the future.

RV Travel with Giant Breed Dogs Like Mastiffs and Great Danes

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Before we left for our big trip, I googled for information on RV traveling with Really Huge dogs, and didn’t find anything. I’m much wiser now, and I thought I would write something up to share with others who are thinking of doing this. Excuse me a minute while I deal with the messy SEO business. So we’re talking about huge breeds like English mastiff, St. Bernard, Newfoundland, Great Dane, Bernese Mountain Dog, Dogue Des Bordeaux, and other Molosser breeds. You can take these dogs camping in a travel trailer like an Airstream or a motor home almost as easily as a smaller dog, but there are a few extra considerations.

The first thing to remember is that traveling is stressful to dogs, especially extended travel. I think the ideal traveling dog would be a big, dopey, happy-go-lucky Labrador. There’s a reason Labs are such a popular breed of dog. They are extremely adaptable and most are mellow. Giant breed dogs, on the other hand, do have a tendency to shyness and sensitivity. Even Chewie, who is an exceptionally outgoing, well-adjusted, stable mastiff showed signs of significant stress while we traveled. I felt guilty, but rationalized that they would be even more stressed by an extended stay in a kennel where they won’t know if we’re ever coming back.

Because travel is stressful, it will tend to exacerbate any behavior problems or issues your dog may have. It’s important to make allowances for that in your dog’s care and routine while you’re on the road. As well, if your dog has severe behavior problems, or is very fearful, RV travel simply may not be a good idea. Below are some tips for helping your family and your humongous dog survive a big RV trip.

Vet Check–Before we left, I took the dogs in for a bordatella vaccine, because we thought we might use a boarding kennel or dog day care on the road, and many of them require bordatella. (Bordatella is otherwise a silly and useless vaccine, being as how the vaccine is not very effective, and the disease pretty similar to a mild cold in humans.) I actually wish I had spent the extra $37 each for an exam for each dogs. While we were getting the vaccine, the tech reminded us they were overdue for a fecal exam. I took the dogs outside and luckily obtained the necessary material. I thought it was great they’d thought of this so I could produce proof that the dogs had clean fecal exams. I never expected that one of them would have worms. In fact, Chewie came up positive for hook worms AND round worms! So we had to administer worm medicine (for both dogs) once a week while we were on the road. If I had spent the extra money on an exam, I could have also had Chewie’s toenail looked at. He tore it right before we left, and it turned out to be a bad one that oozed and pained him the whole time we traveled. Bottom line, if you’re going on a long trip, it’s not a bad idea to get your dog looked at by a vet. You don’t want to have something come up on the road, and your dog just might be full of worms! (Egad.) You should also ask the vet to prescribe some sedatives, in case your dog gets agitated while you need to be driving. I considered them for Courage. I never thought the dog that would cause problems in the car would be Chewie. (More on that below.)

Tasty Food–Both dogs ate poorly at times on the road, especially at high altitudes. Next time we go, I will stock up on extra-palatable food to make sure they keep eating. At one point, I stopped at a gas station and bought a pack of hot dogs. I fed five of them to Chewie and three to Courage. I felt bad giving them salt- and nitrate-laden crap, but neither dog had eaten a bite in more than thirty-six hours.

Altitude–As I mentioned, our mastiffs seemed to suffer from altitude sickness. The care and treatment is pretty similar to that of humans. They should rest and stay hydrated. If your dog doesn’t seem to be getting enough fluids, or is really unusually punky, get him off that mountain! I don’t know if it’s genetic, but I think it’s very suggestive that both of my unrelated mastiffs had altitude sickness, and I think it may be more common among the giant breeds (except for the mountain breeds, I’m sure). They really perked up when we got them back to sea level.

Dog Barriers–We used a tension-mounted dog barrier to keep the dogs in the cargo area of our Chevy Suburban. Chewie is an excessively loyal dog, and he viewed the barrier as an unacceptable separation from his humans. Remember how I said that travel stress exacerbates behavior problems? Well, Chewie is a near-perfectly behaved dog, but he is extremely loyal and very intelligent. The barrier turned out to be Chewie’s Waterloo–and ours. He systematically destroyed it. Here is where you separate the Corgis from the Corsos. If you have a dog that is 150 lbs, 200 lbs, or more, you need to invest in a very solid containment system. Chewie’s attacks on the barrier created an unsafe situation, and we had to pull off the road many times to re-secure him, sometimes even on the side of the highway with high speed traffic zooming by. I recommend the Acme Velociraptor Special, available through any major chain pet store. The solution we ended up cobbling together was to rig up the X-pen with bungees, attach Chewie’s collar to the vehicle with a rope to keep him away from it, and then drug Chewie with benedryl to make him sleep.

X-pen–One of the best pieces of equipment we had for the dogs was an exercise pen. In fact, we actually had two of them that we connected together. It’s sort of a portable “dog corral,” and it’s really a lifesaver. We put them in there for feedings and any time we needed to get them out from underfoot in the trailer. They also enjoyed the sights and sounds of the outdoors. I picked this idea up from a Newfoundland dog show. There were many RVs parked around the grounds, each with its own round exercise pen filled with huge dogs.

Crate–Neither our home nor our vehicle will accommodate crates for our big guys, but if you can fit them in, do consider using it. Because we spent so many hours driving, Courage identified strongly with the Suburban as his den, which was cute and useful at times. Unfortunately, we couldn’t always accommodate his desire to hang out in there, because the inside of a car can heat up dangerously in the sun. If we had a crate, we could have moved it to a shady spot.

In and Out–On long trips, your dog will have to get in and out of the vehicle. If he has trouble, you may need to invest in a ramp or a set of portable stairs. We were lucky in that one of our dogs is a good jumper and has no problem leaping up into the back of the Suburban. The other dog can climb in if we help him. We think of it as power lifting.

Records–Make sure to get all of your dog’s vaccination records from your veterinarian. In the unlikely event that he bites someone, you will need proof of rabies vaccination for legal reasons. Those records will also be handy if you need to use a boarding kennel. Even if you haven’t planned to do so, some emergency may arise which will force you to board your dog while you deal with it.

Supervision–When you are traveling and exhausted, it can be easy to let your attention lapse and lose track of your dog. This happened to us once, when both dogs got away from us while we were setting up camp and got involved in a minor, bloodless fight with another dog at a campground. The whole incident was massively embarrassing, but it was an important lesson learned. Even if your dogs are behaving well and would never normally fight, they are under stress and in an unfamiliar situation, and their reactions may be unpredictable. Later, at that same campground, we saw the same thing happen at another campsite, where an poorly-supervised dog slipped away from his owner during camp set up and came charging at our leashed dogs. Even if you are really, super tired, take time to make sure your dogs are secure while you are setting up and packing up.

Dog Friendly Campgrounds–We mostly had no problems finding campgrounds that welcomed our dogs. However, some only allow small dogs, and some forbid “aggressive breeds.” At one campground, we were asked if our dogs were an “aggressive breed.” I was baffled because I had no idea what breeds they considered aggressive. At that campground, we established that mastiffs were fine, but they were expressly forbidden at a Provo, Utah-area KOA that we checked out. You unfortunately always have to check the camp rules when you’re traveling with the big guys.

National Parks and other attractions–Dogs are not allowed on hiking trails at most National Parks. There are exceptions, but it’s determined on a park-by-park basis. Serious hiking was not on our agenda, so that worked out well for us, but it’s something to check before you commit to a trip. Some attractions also offer dog kennels. There are kennels at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon (we visited the North Rim). Sea World San Diego also has inexpensive kennels that visitors can use.

Leaving your dog alone–You should never leave a dog alone in a hot car. We figured since we had air conditioning in our trailer, that wouldn’t be a problem. However, traveling through areas where the temperature was well over 100, we didn’t have any safe place to leave the dogs if we wanted to eat a restaurant or something, and even if we had a power hookup on the road, it would take hours to cool the trailer in those conditions, if we could do it at all. The only option was to keep everyone in the car with the air conditioning, and keep the car on the road (so that the engine wouldn’t overheat). That’s not a very comfortable situation and I don’t recommend it. My advice would be to minimize your travel in and through dangerously hot conditions if you are traveling with any pet. We did find that in moderately warm temperatures, up to say 90 degrees, that it was fine to put our dogs inside the Airstream trailer. I don’t know about other models of trailer, but the Airstream is insulated and does not heat up excessively in the sun. It basically doesn’t get any worse than the outdoor temperature, so if the temperature outdoors was reasonable, we felt safe sticking the dogs in the trailer while we went inside stores and restaurants. The Airstream, basically, was like a giant rolling dog kennel. I am wary, however, of leaving dogs in air conditioned trailers for extended periods–like all day, because the unit may malfunction or the power may go out. I would only do this if I felt the outdoor temperature was safe. Most campgrounds do not want you to leave your dog alone outside for any length of time, and I don’t blame them. Anything could happen.

Admirers–This is usually the fun part of traveling with giant breed dogs. Because they are eye catching and unusual, many people will approach and want to meet them. That’s usually ok, but if your dog is having a bad day, you may have to assert yourself and insist that strangers give your dog some space. It’s great that so many people love huge dogs and believe them to be perfect angels, but they are dogs and dogs under stress can bite. If you have any reason to believe that your dog may be feeling threatened by strange people or dogs, it’s your job to control the situation. Fortunately, our dogs very much enjoyed the adulation of their many fans.

Women and Blogging: In Which I Listen

Well, it looks like the white males are finally going to shut up and listen to women bloggers talk about their own issues, rather than explaining it to them. They are shutting up any time now. Shutting up in 3, 2, 1… Okay, they are definitely going to shut up, but after they make one more very important point. And then just connect it back to their original point, and wrap it up with a funnel paragraph. And respond to this one semi-tangential objection. Shutting up now. Quiet! Not saying anything! Ok, well, let’s hear them out, then.

John Scalzi and Jim C. Hines have both been talking about harassment of women bloggers, inspired by food blogger Shawna James Ahern’s post about the hate mail she receives. John’s post, The Sort of Crap I Don’t Get, points out that as a moderately highly trafficked male blogger, he’s never had the kind of hateful comments that Shawna has. Jim speculates about how his career might have been different, and harder, if he were a woman in Jane C. Hines. John follows up with Shut Up and Listen in which he opines that men should do exactly that (and I couldn’t resist a bit of teasing, above).

As astute as those posts are, I couldn’t help noting the irony that, at least from my perspective, men seem to be leading the conversation. Those crafty devils! Do they distract us with cookies or what? At this point, I don’t have anything insightful to add to the discussion, but I thought I’d go into shut up and listen mode myself and offer some of the women I am listening to on this and related subjects right now.

Seanan McGuireBeing a Female in the Age of the Internet

This is a very thought-provoking post, much in the same vein as Ahern’s. I begin to wonder if that particular brand of vitriol has as much to do with society’s body image issues as it does with gender issues, since a lot of the abuse she describes is, again, weight related.

Nnedi OkoraforNnedi’s Definition of Feminism

In her blog post, Nnedi lays it out for you. What is a feminist? To her, feminism involves equality and partnership between the sexes. If you check out her Twitter feed, @Nnedi, you can find some quality righteous indignation as Nnedi deals with, dare I say, even crazier attacks than have been described heretofore among her Nigerian readership.

Nalo Hopkinson 

A writer and a blogger worth reading, in general. Nalo has an interest in food and feminism. If you watch her, she might have something interesting to say about hate and abuse of women bloggers.

Mary Anne Mohanraj 

Likewise another smart blogger and writer to watch on feminism and other cultural issues.

Sandra TaylerTraditional Roles for Women

The business brain of the Schlock Mercenary franchise and a writer herself, Sandra wrestles with women’s roles and identities. Is it really so easy to shed things you care about and upon which you’ve built your identity for the sake of fairness?

Marissa Lingen 

Marissa chimes in on the Jane C. Hines post with some good points about how gender-based challenges may have non-linear, non-proportionate, or non-expected effects on people.

My First Story Now on Amazon

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I’m really thrilled to have “reprinted” my first published story on Amazon. The story, “Improving Slay Times in the Common Dragon,” garnered enthusiastically positive comments from classmates and instructors at Clarion in 1997. I had written it shortly before Clarion and used it as one of my entrance submissions. I then sold the story immediately after the workshop to Liz Holliday, who was editing the magazine Odyssey, at the time. My first professional sale! I’ve had it up on my web site in a rather rough PDF form for years, and have appreicated occasional positive comments, so it’s very nice to present the story in Kindle form. I splurged on the artwork I used for the cover (isn’t it cute, and, like, so PERFECT?), and I’ll need to sell about 150 copies to break even, so if you’ve read the story, please consider giving it a review. (I kind of figure most people reading my blog who might have wanted to read the story have already done so at some point since 1997.)

Going through the story to prepare it for publication was an interesting exercise. I’ve developed as a person and as a writer since then. I was in a deeply, deeply cynical place in my life at that time, hence the deeply, deeply cynical ending. And I think that’s what ultimately appealed to people the most.

It should be turning up at Barnes and Noble, soon, too. I haven’t yet decided if I’ll try to do Sony/iPad, etc. Those are somewhat more complicated.

Here’s the listing. Improving Slay Times in the Common Dragon.

 

Now that I know how to do it, I’m planning to publish a bunch of older stories and articles that I have rights to. Much of my freelance stuff is work-for-hire, but I’ve got designs to expand and rewrite some of those concepts for a different audience.

 

Airstreaming Across America

Now that we’ve done it, we can’t believe it was real. Fortunately, we have photographic evidence. It was amazing to see so much of our beautiful country in all its glory. What we ended up doing was cutting a cross section right through the middle of the country. It was a transect–perhaps a more humble version of the ambitious transects Michael Fey has made through the rainforest.

A transect does not allow you to dive very deep into any one region, but it lets you see transitions and make comparisons.

Some overall impressions I took away from this trip:

1. Politics. We started in a Blue corner of a swing state, headed deep into Red territory, and popped out again into Blue. Our experience of politics was cursory and superficial. A billboard here. A random conversation there. I ended up feeling somewhat more concerned about political divisions in our country than when I started. It’s easy to dismiss political conflict as a media construct or something that “real” people don’t buy into. But in our little cross-section, we encountered ample evidence that a good many people ARE buying into a lot of very high-emotion, high-conflict positions. At the same time, my belief in how to deal with it is unchanged. Even confirmed. People need to get to know each other and communicate on a human level. And they need to do this with people outside their immediate cultural group, as much as possible.

2. Climate. It’s fascinating that much of the scenery looked exactly like it did in pictures. Yet having a 4 dimensional experience of it helped me understand how it all flows together, how one biome blends into another. How gradual transitions happen. How sudden transitions happen. How MOUNTAINS impact both climate and human geography. All of this is very hard to get by looking at a map and reading books. Our trip took us through many extremes. We saw fresh snow in the Vail Pass, and we drove through scorching 116 degree heat in the Mojave desert. I also got to experience how elevation affects climate, and that was fascinating. (Again with the mountains!) My observations led me to have serious concerns about so many people living in arid regions where they are so dependent on air conditioning and piped in water. That seems a wasteful use of resources, especially when there’s plenty of room here in Michigan where we have plenty of water, and it’s not so hard to do without A/C. It seems like if people are worried about fossil fuel consumption and water conservation, they ought to move out of the damn desert.

3. Drivers. We noticed strange trends in driving, passing through so many states. The most aggressive drivers we found were in Wyoming and Utah. We had people cutting us off AND flipping us off if we didn’t move fast enough. (And pulling a trailer, we often had to go slowly and carefully. No choice.) Drivers through the deep midwest, like Iowa, were probably the most courteous. People in California, especially the LA area, drive like they are on drugs. Yes, there’s a lot of traffic there, but we concluded that fully half of the problem has got to be caused by people driving with crazy desperation, trying to weave through and around the traffic, and thereby making everything worse. When we got back to Michigan, we again noticed an uptick in aggression and excessive speed, although still not as bad as Utah. (What the heck, Utah?) (Our on-the-ground experience of Utah was as a very friendly place.)

4. Culture. It was very interesting to see the heavy hispanic influence basically everywhere west of the rocky mountains. I enjoyed it, and when we were listening to spanish radio, I could feel my brain separating the language into known words and possible words in background mode. I wish I could soak up just a bit more and be functionally fluent in the language. I see it not only as harmless, but as greatly enriching to our diverse national culture. However, I can see how people who are predisposed to feel threatened by immigration may see confirmation of their fears everywhere they look. Unfortunately, there’s not much for that but for them to get OVER it already. Sheesh.

5. Altitude. We camped everywhere from sea level to 9000 feet. I expected to feel ill effects from the altitude but largely did not. I noticed a tad of lightheadedness when we first got to the Grand Canyon north rim (9000 ft), and I definitely got winded easily when we were running from the hail, but overall it was not really a problem for me. Others in our group suffered from headaches and other symptoms (especially the dogs), so we tried to minimize the time we spent at very high altitudes.

6. Hostile critters. We shared space with dangerous and aggressive wildlife including killer bees, mountain lions, and bears. We never had a problem and largely didn’t even see them.

Overall, although I thought the mountains, desert, and coast were extremely scenic, I felt relieved when we returned to flatland east of the Rockies. I found the barren landscapes uncomfortable, and at times scary and alien. It was a relief to be back where there’s green grass and trees grow without anyone watering them. (I know, I know, there ARE places like that out west. I’m generalizing on purpose, here.)

The trip was also more difficult and more expensive than we expected. Because we underestimated the amount of driving we could do in a day, we were not able to cook as many of our own meals as we wanted. Also, because the water pump was broken, we were unable to take advantage of as many free camping opportunities as we otherwise would have. It would have been nice to park overnight at a Walmart or something, but we would not have had any access to a bathroom. That meant paying for camping every single night. In the future, we will be able to do our trips more economically by cutting back on driving time and getting the water pump running so we can “boondock” (camp for free).

Colorado and Mole

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We made it to Colorado in time to spend an evening with my sister and her new dog and meet her new boyfriend. They had been dating long enough that it was about the right time to do family introductions, and that all went quite well.

Meeting the new dog didn’t go as well. Chewie made friends immediately, but Courage showed every sign of wanting to eat the dog–a cute, fluffy, American Eskimo. The problem was that the new dog is a shy, fearful dog, much like Courage himself. He normally does ok with strange dogs, but having the little white fluffy dog show fear of him brought out the worst in Courage. I’m not sure what his intentions were, but we had to restrain him numerous times from chasing her. Ugh.

We camped in the boyfriend’s driveway, which was a nice change from campgrounds all the time. Unfortunately, we were in a heavy cattle ranching area of the state, and the occasional clouds of eye-watering manure odor that wafted through were overwhelming to me. When I was awakened in the morning by one such cloud, I knew we had to go. Maggie was heading back to her home to prepare for work, anyway. So we said our goodbyes and hit the road again.

We finally had a good day of driving. Usually some crisis or recurring problem prevents us from covering a decent amount of miles. But with mechanical problems resolved, humans settling into an efficient routine, and troublesome canines drugged out the wazoo, we covered more than 500 miles and camped near Des Moines.

Sadly, we missed out on eating at a restaurant in Omaha that my dad recommended. It’s called Anthony’s steakhouse, and he said he had the best steak of his life, there. However, when we arrived, the restaurant was closed, apparently because it was Sunday. Because why would you want to make thousands of dollars from people eating out after church when you could be at home watering the lawn or something, eh?

The next day, Monday, was more driving driving driving. That was a work day for me, once again. I sorted of dreaded doing the mobile office thing once more, after a solid week of vacation, but once I got started it was quite pleasant. I keep forgetting–I have a great job that I love! And fortunately, I have not been troubled by motion sickness as I feared.

We listened to an audiobook–Watership Down–and the miles passed quickly. WD is such a beautifully written book that we all quickly became engrossed in the fluffy adventures of Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig, and the other tough bunnies of the Down.

We made good progress, but there was one hiccup in our day. We stopped at a rest station in Illinois. While Brent was walking the dogs, he suddenly called out to me. I ran over, anticipating some kind of injury. Instead, the problem was the Courage had caught a mole and wouldn’t give it up. He has a habit of digging at holes he finds in the ground, and this time he was rewarded with a really huge, fat mole.

The effect was made more horrifying by the cute mole paws hanging out of his mouth. The big paddly feet were the size of a silver dollar with long claws. The whole animal was the size of a soft ball. And Courage was not going to let us have it. We tried offering him tasty tidbits in exchange, but it didn’t work.

See, getting a dog to “give” or “drop” something is mostly a matter of convincing them they’ll get something better in exchange. But there’s nothing better in the whole world than a dead mole. We failed at prying his mouth open. Mastiff jaw pressure is over 500 psi, so if they don’t want to open it, they really don’t have to. We finally gave up and threw him in the back of the Suburban, with his mole.

We hadn’t had lunch, but we were all feeling kind of sick at this point. Courage was happily sucking on his mole as we drove to a gas station. I bought a stick of beef jerky, which Courage loves. But when I offered it to him in exchange for the mole, he started growling at me. Not his cute, playful growl, but a real, serious coyote-crazy growl. Chewie was right next to him, and when he heard this, he went, “Oh hell, no! You don’t growl at humans!” and attacked Courage. A dog fight ensued. In the back of my Suburban as we were parked at the gas pump.

My first priority was to get Glen out of the way. Glen was trying to break things up, and I wanted him safe. Brent, however, had the presence of mind to GRAB THE MOLE and get rid of it while the dogs were fighting.

Fortunately, our dogs don’t bite to draw blood, so no dog as injured. When it was over, Courage looked around desperately for his mole. I really felt sorry for him. He would not accept any jerky, either. The rest of the day, there were many mole jokes. Glen, particularly, got a lot of mileage out of it. We soon found we were hungry after all. We threw the dogs in the trailer and had a leisurely dinner at Red Lobster before hitting the road again.

By 10 PM, we reached Brent’s mother’s house in Battle Creek. When we took the dogs out of the car, they were overjoyed to be back in home territory. They frolicked around the yard and property, returning to us frequently in tail-waggy happiness, as if to say, “Hey, did you know we’re at Gramma’s house?” By then, Courage had forgotten and forgiven the whole mole thing. Thank goodness for short memories.

Although I do believe the trailer and the trip was a success, it was a great relief to sleep in a real bed and have some semblance of privacy for the first time in 3.5 weeks. Phew!