Packing for My Last Holiday

There are times when I’d welcome a good apocalypse. By good, I mean one where we don’t necessarily die right away—not all of us, anyway. The world isn’t at war, and a plague isn’t following neat little flight paths across the globe. Your neighbors aren’t munching their way toward the end of the cul-de-sac. Let’s say all the lights went out (a popular one), or all the annoying people in the world suddenly disappeared. Poof! Either way, I’m at home, doing okay, and suddenly I have time to read all the books on the bookshelf behind me.

Yes, I want the world to end so I have more time to read.

Of course, if life as we know it was to suddenly cease—leaving us alive, but reimagining our existence—I’d probably have less time for my TBR pile than I do now. In all of my own personal versions of the apocalypse, the acquisition and storage of food is the number one priority, and once I open the last can of beans in the basement, my days will probably be devoted to task number one: get more food.

Actually, I’d probably want to start stockpiling well before we touched that last can. So from about day… let’s say day three. That gives me day one and two to spiral from panic to planning. Then, on day three, I’ll head out to see what’s what.

Despite having read over a hundred stories of the apocalypse, and basically being known as someone who Has Plans ™, my end of the world planning has gotten a little lax, lately. I was down in the basement a couple of weeks ago, looking for a can of black beans, and noted that my can collection is slim. I usually have an entire shelf unit devoted to cans of beans, vegetables, and fruit. The bottom shelf is for large cans of crushed and diced tomatoes alone. The bean collection has often overflowed into the shelf next door, nudging aside the stacks of paper plates and plastic cups (left over from every do we’ve ever hosted, and now waiting, dustily, for a good apocalypse).

Over the beans, we have bags of rice, boxes of pasta, jars of pasta sauce (a special treat, and they were probably on sale), and cans of soup stock. Then there’s the canned soup collection and all the oddball items like beets and sauerkraut. Imagine the world ending, and not being able to taste sauerkraut ever again?

On the second shelf, under the paper plates and so on, I have our camping gear and coolers. A portable stove and the little butane flasks to go with it. Sleeping bags and inflatable mattresses. The tent—which is too big to haul around if we do have to decamp from the basement at some point. And all the souvenir coffee mugs we’ve collected over the past twenty years. We could probably use a new one every day for several months.

I’ve been pretty busy, lately, though, editing a stupid number of books—really, I want the apocalypse to hasten so I don’t have to edit anymore… although it’d be a shame not to see those books published, so let’s schedule it for just after the New Year, okay?

So anyway, super busy, and the bean collection has dwindled to a few cans of the sort we don’t like very much. There are about three boxes of pasta. We are OUT OF RICE. Only one can of crushed tomatoes. No sauerkraut. It’s pretty dire. But the big thing? The revelation that hit me with the force of an uncharted asteroid? We have no toilet paper down there.

(But I may have found a use for all those extra coffee mugs…)

Obviously, there will be more important concerns during the aftermath of The End than a lack of Cottonelle, but one of the grocery items I refuse to compromise on is toilet paper. My war cry is “It’s on sale!” and I can be heard shouting it with glee at the end cap for every aisle as I stock up on discounted favourites. I love Rao’s Homemade pasta sauces, but will only buy them on sale because $10 a jar is just… Francesco Rinaldi is only $1.99 and I usually have a hundred cans of crushed tomatoes in the basement, so…

But I always buy my Cottonelle, even if it’s regular price. If it IS on sale, I fill the cart.

Upon noticing this terrible lapse in apocalypse planning, I also had to acknowledge that a basement full of camping gear and three cans of dark red kidney beans really wasn’t going to cut it. I’ve let things slide. I need to get back on top of this ever impending situation, and so I have started a list. It’s a shopping list for My Last Holiday, which is what a good apocalypse will be for the several months I need to get through the 300 books on my To-Be-Read shelf.

 

Toilet paper – I know I’m going to have to use leaves eventually, or old copies of National Enquirer, but I’m going to put off that day as long as possible.

Tea bags – I’m ordering enough tea to last the rest of my life. I can’t make it through any sort of apocalypse without my morning cuppa. If I am forced to share, however, I also have a list of which leaves and weeds around the yard I can add to a cup of hot water.

Food – Let’s lump all of this into one category. I have a number of shelving units down there, so I’ll pack them with the usual suspects.

Survival – Everything outside of actual edibles: tools (like, food murdering tools), canning equipment, buckets for collecting blood from draining carcasses, seeds, clean water planning, tarps (because you always need a tarp when you haven’t got one), rope (see tarps), duct tape, super glue, barbed wire, grow lights, a bike we can connect up to a generator, that generator, shovels… Okay, you get it. All the STUFF you need to get on with the business of surviving.

Books – Aside from my TBR shelves, all the books I have collected on surviving various apocalypses and how to rebuild from nothing. Medical texts. That old set of encyclopedias (the new/old Google). My collection of Great Books of the Western World. And, what the heck, the 3000 other books I have scattered around the house. All of them. We’ll devote one corner of the basement to my library.

Games – For family time, or for when we’re actually all speaking to each other. (It’s probably going to get tense down there with three people pooping into coffee mugs and drawing straws to see who has to change out the blood buckets.)

Legos – Can be used as a defensive perimeter when we’re not actually building anything.

First Aid Kit – Or maybe we should steal an ambulance in advance and hide it in the garage? Worked for SAMCRO.

Cats – OMG, what are the cats going to eat? I should lay in a few bags of kibble to start. And litter. Or should we get them used to using boxes of dirt? Maybe we all should consider using boxes of dirt.

Bedding – I am not spending the apocalypse on a leaky air mattress, fighting with a sleeping bag. We’re going to need an actual bed down there. Sheets. My beloved quilt and fuzzy blankets. And at least a ten year supply of pillows so I can do my annual “this pillow isn’t working for me” thing and select a new one.

Laundry – I suppose we should wash everything on occasion.

Clothing, etc. – I’ll happily wear the same jeans most days, but clean undies would be nice.

Weapons – are included in Survival and I’d rather not dwell, except to acknowledge not everyone will be as happy in their basement as I will be in mine.

Alcohol – I did say I’d be happy down there, didn’t I?

Bicycles – For when we do have to venture out.

Communications! – Radio equipment.

Notebooks, sketchbooks, journals

Should I start a farm in one corner? Get my chickens accustomed to low light living? Grow some mushrooms? What have I overlooked? A bugout vehicle? A boat, in case the apocalypse comes by way of flood? Environment suits, oxygen tanks, my own spaceship. Fuel.

You know what, this apocalypse is already exhausting. Maybe I should just plan for an actual holiday instead.

 

For another angle on apocalypse planning, read my post: It’s the Snowpocalypse

Author Jody Wallace and me planning for the apocalypse: The Apocalypse Interview

Some more thoughts on apocalypses: My Writing Process

Finally, here are some: Dumb Worries

What Are You Afraid Of?

(Part two of a series of rambles dreamed up at four a.m. on the imperfections of self)

We all have fears, many of them quite reasonable. For the purpose of this ramble, however, I’m going to share my most ridiculous terrors. The things that might (probably will) never happen, yet still cause me to pause in whatever I’m doing for a moment of dread.

The first is…okay, I’m not going to attempt to qualify this. I’m deathly afraid of being caught in the vortex of a sinking ship. That means being sucked down with the wreck. Yep. For this to happen, I’d have to a) be on a ship and b) be in the water very close by as it sinks. This is assuming I wasn’t killed in the explosion that cracked the ship in half, or didn’t brain myself on the railing as I fell over the side. (The latter scenario is very, very likely.)

Why not throw tentacles into the mix? The ocean is vast and scary!
Why not throw tentacles into the mix? The ocean is vast and scary!

I’m not sure why this is a fear. I’m guessing I saw it in a movie—and never forgot it. But I will say that this is a recurring nightmare. I think about it even when shipboard travel is not in my future. It’s a big “What If”.

Now that you’re shaking your head, we’ll move on to my second fear: choking. This one is based on a coupe of very real incident, the most horrific being my daughter choking on a Dot (gummy candy) in a Wal-Mart parking lot. I know, I’m my very own Lifetime Movie. She was maybe two years old at the time.

My daughter is alive and well. After panicking—wailing, hand-wringing and generally thinking my child was going to DIE—I picked her up and performed the abbreviated Heimlich maneuver I had learned in a child care class two and a half years earlier. It worked on the first try. I then put her back into the car seat, sat in the front of my car and sobbed for about half an hour. I still freak out when she eats anything even remotely like a Dot. I’ve only just stopped cutting her grapes in half when including them in her school lunches. She’s fourteen. But these things stick with you and choking would be a terrible way to go—especially if you were alone and had no one to render assistance.

Death by choking is a much more attainable goal than being sucked down by the vortex of a sinking ship. I’m more afraid of the vortex, though.

Let’s see what else we have in my bag of horrors. Oh, aneurysms! And this one is fresh in my mind as I was researching them last night for a WIP. Did you know women are far more likely than men to suffer from an aneurysm? What scares me about them is that they often have no accompanying symptoms. They’re not disease that can be treated and unless you’re looking for one (with an expensive run of testing), they’re not detectable. They just happen.

Ah, Scanners. I need to watch this again sometime.
Ah, Scanners. I need to watch this again sometime.

As an aside, my daughter was not perturbed when I told her that if I had an aneurysm while driving, she’d likely die as well in the ensuing crash. But she also thinks she can swim clear of the sinking ship vortex.

I worry about asteroids hitting the earth on a fairly regular basis. Say monthly? I’m convinced the government will keep the incoming extinction event a secret to stave off panic.

I worry I will fall down the basement stairs on a near daily basis. This one is legit, as I have fallen down them before. I usually catch myself before I fall too far. In my little fear fantasy, I tumble all the way to the bottom and crack my head open on the hard concrete. I usually break an arm or a leg too. This scenario is extremely anxiety inducing as I usually have edits due, or something on a deadline and I hate the thought of leaving work undone as I recover.

Some nights, I worry something is lurking under the bed. Yes, I am forty-seven years old and still think there is something living under the bed. Now and again.

I’m almost at the point where I cannot fly. I actually spend extra in order to fly with certain airlines (the ones with the highest safety record). I have a reasonable explanation for this fear, though. I can’t even count the number of planes I’ve been on. Must be over fifty. Maybe close to a hundred flights (mostly without incident…). I am therefore convinced my number is coming up.

It could happen...
It could happen…

You’d be forgiven for thinking I have transmitted this blog post from my bunker—lead-lined and buried deep beneath the earth, stocked with years of supplies and everything else I might need for any number of coming apocalypses. That I avoid stairs, never dream of cruising to Hawaii (or solving the ultimate conundrum—whether to fly or sail to Australia to visit the folks). That I don’t drive for fear of crashing and that all my food has been passed through a food processor before touching my lips.

(We’re going to ignore the fact there might be lumps in my foodshakes and that my basement is sorta like an apocalypse bunker…)

The basement is cold. I’m actually sitting on the couch—feet propped up by the reclining mechanism that I am sure will trap and kill a cat one day if I fold it back too quickly. I have vacuumed my stairs, both sets, and have just eaten Brussels sprouts with my lunch. I once choked on a Brussels sprout. I tried to swallow it whole and it got stuck in my throat.

Thing is, whether our fears are large and ridiculous, or small and insignificant, we can’t let them rule us. I cannot worry I might be abducted from the Shoprite parking lot every time I made a nighttime bagel run. (They reduce the price of bagels by more than half at about 7:30 pm every night. Doughnuts too. Yes, this is semi-rural Pennsylvania night life).

I like taking the ferry to New York City from Port Imperial.

I want to fly to Australia next summer for my dad’s seventy-fifth birthday.

I will keep writing stories (of ALL kinds) without worrying what some random reviewer or reader might think of them. That they will hate them, and will begin a campaign to rate down everything I write because I’m obviously a hack who should not be published.

(…this is maybe an actual fear…)

I WILL live my life to the fullest each and every day. Not just because my fears are silly, but because I could be the squirrel my dad hit while driving me to school when I was about fourteen. While I wailed and flailed, my dad let me in on a little secret. There’s a force out there and it’s called Fate. That squirrel didn’t know he was going to die when he got up that morning. He didn’t eat his last nut thinking it might be…his last nut. Maybe he should have? But we can’t make every day different or special. Nor can we avoid crossing the road until its quiet. We have to get out there and live. Find our happiness, or make it. And perhaps entertain our friends with silly stories about what we’re afraid of.

(Image credits: First one–I’m not sure. It’s available on a number of desktop wallpaper sites. Exploding head: Scanners. Knotted plane: C’mon, you must know this one! Airplane!)

Looking for part one of this series? It’s here.

 

This is the Future, Baby (“What Happened in Vegas…” Blog Hop)

Vegas-Hop-Graphic

To celebrate marriage equality, twelve authors have written twelve short stories answering the question “What Happened in Vegas…” In my story, “This is the Future, Baby“, I explore what happened to Vegas.

This is the Future, Baby

by Kelly Jensen

The holo outside of Destination Weddings darkened and the projection stuttered as the program restarted, a bud of light growing in the center of the virtual marquee. The light expanded and diverged like an old fashioned firework. Each streamer arced out from the display. Kale ducked as a point of light sailed past his ear. He could have sworn he felt a flash of heat. Turning, he checked to make sure Toby hadn’t been in the path of any errant streamers. His lover stood well clear by chance alone. Head tilted back, lips parted, he was watching the lights dance over and around him with the wonder of a small child.

“Look, Kale! It’s a map!” Toby spun around, arms flying out from his sides, mouth open in a wide grin.

Around him, shimmered a map of the world connected by a ghostly network of lines. Instead of a mall on the 56th level of the dirt scraper, Minneapolis Deep, Kale stood somewhere in the middle of Europe, the bright light of Paris blinking just to his left. Toby was lost somewhere in the south west, the lights of scattered cities glittering around him. He reached out to tap the closest point and the holo projection flickered.

“You have selected Las Vegas, Nevada. For more information on this exciting destination, please step inside the store.”

Kale frowned. “This map is seriously out of date. Vegas is nothing a strip of broken hotels in a desert valley.” And had been since the great drought of 2020. Kale tapped the point next to him. “What about Paris?” Europe still had surface water, and most of their cities towered above the ground instead of below.

Thanks to Charley Descoteaux for hosting my story. You can read the rest of my story here. 🙂 Or download a copy for yourself!

You, a Deserted Island, and Three Books

What would you choose?

It’s not a new question, but always a fun one to answer. Fun in an agonizing sort of way if you have as many favourites as I do. I was recently more entertained by the answers of others in a group post, however.

If the answer given is honest and thoughtful, it says a lot about the person giving it. Some people will list books that supposedly raise their IQ by ten to twenty points. Others will list books they’re supposed to have read and enjoyed. They’re going to hate themselves when they’re trapped in solitude with those three literary gems. One of the answers simply stated: The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. Staring at those six words, I vacillated between amusement and horror. I also wondered if I’d read the books if I was trapped on an island with them. I probably would? In fact, it might be the ONLY way I’d ever be enticed to read them.

The more pragmatic folks listed how-to manuals covering subjects broad: How to Survive Being Stranded a Deserted Isle—to specific: How to Build a Raft out of Sand, Spit and Fifty Shades of Grey.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy featured in a lot of answers. I determined this choice represented wishful thinking. That being stranded on a deserted island would end up being a metaphor or something, and a door would open on the beach, invite the strandee to step through and then thank them for doing so.

Many listed the books of Robert Jordan and R.A. Salvatore. I listed one of Salvatore’s too. But I hesitated over that one because the ‘Legend of Drizzt’ is long and wonderful and could I survive with only one of those books, and if so, which one? I imagine the same would be true of the ‘Wheel of Time’ books. Of course, you might die of exposure before you made it through the prologue of one of those, though.

A lot of SF greats made it on to the list. I didn’t find this odd. The group is for geeks, after all. But there was a smattering of philosophy and a few considered classics as well. There were books I hated, that I’d rather live without, but again, if I had nothing better to do…

So what did I choose? I didn’t spend too long deliberating. I’ve a couple of deadlines looming, so I didn’t have time to take my favourites (hundreds) and whittle them down a few times using a scoring system and a spreadsheet. So, I chose three books that I’d like to read again, that I didn’t think I’d mind reading over and over, if I lived long enough to do so.

Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein

I’ve been afraid to reread this one as I’m not sure it will live up to the experience of reading it as a naïve twenty-year-old. What better time than when I’m facing death by sunburn and rabid sea monsters?

The Ghost King, R.A. Salvatore

I wavered between this one and The Companions. Honestly, I think I’d be content with any of his books, but those two were the books I felt really showcased Salvatore’s love of his characters and world, and his dedication to them.

Earth Abides, George R. Stewart

Holds the distinction of being one of the maybe five books I have actually read more than once, and would consider reading again. Also, it’s my stand in for a survival manual. Or the more moral than practical variety. I’ll start my new society by gathering the seagulls and taming them.

..

Which three books would you choose?

Post-apocalyptic Gardening

You know what someone needs to invent? Grass that grows to a certain length and then stops to provide a lawn of perfectly trimmed and perfectly green beauty. I’d buy it.

One of my irises, with my lovely lawn in the background.
One of my irises, with my lovely lawn in the background.

Not that I hate mowing; I don’t, not really. That hour twice a week (one hour out front and another for the curb, side yard and back) is when I do a lot of my thinking. Sometimes I listen to audio books, which has the odd effect of assigning locational memory to portions of the yard. Elizabeth Bear owns the playground. The tower and swings bring to mind Undertow, Carnival and Dust. The underside of my deck, framed by pillars, belong to Michael Swanwick. The lions from The Dragons of Babel dwell under there. Will sometimes flies over the lawn, directly over Elizabeth Bear’s territory. The slope from the playground to the forest is Stross territory. All of the singularity books have rolled down there. The strip by the creek is Halting State and part of the driveway belongs to Rule 34.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. I listen to a lot of books while mowing the lawn and they’re mostly speculative—which is my approach to gardening, as well. As posted last fall, I’m what I call a Darwinian gardener. It’s all about what survives me and the elements. I’m not sure which is more harsh. Probably me. But my garden does survive from year to year and it does bring me a lot of joy.

I don't know where my black irises come from, but I love them.
I don’t know where my black irises come from, but I love them.

Early this spring, it resembled a graveyard. Lumps of dirt with twiggy bushes that could be homemade crosses or tumbleweeds blown up from Texas. It was a harsh winter. I actually wondered if Mother Nature had out done me and decimated my garden. Turned it into the post-apocalyptic environment I so often read about. It’s fun in fiction—not so much outside my front door. As an aside, when I mentioned my perfect lawn idea to Husband, he told me that that’s how the zombie apocalypse would get started—with the invention of a product that halted lawn growth. Apparently that would get into our water supply and tamper with our brains.

Anyway, as the days warmed, green things popped out of the soil and my garden stirred to life again. I was amazed. Now that my irises and lilies are actually blooming, I’m properly stunned.

The first lily.
The first lily.

I did go in and trim everything back. I dutifully weeded and I finally dug out the Mums that should have been dug out last year, sparse and woody things they’d become. So I have a couple of bare patches that need to be filled—with something other than another split lily or iris. I’m thinking daisies. Daisy bushes are lovely and big and the flowers very pretty. But I don’t know if they’ll survive the winter. I could look it up. I could research a plant that lives from year to year, but then I wouldn’t have the fun of digging out a dead carcass next spring.

Yeah, I did say fun.

Back to the lawn. It’s been raining on and off for close to a month now and the grass that looked dead at the beginning of April, no matter how many stories tracked through, is now so lush and green, I’ve been walking around with my nose in the air. Who has the prettiest lawn on the street? I do. Absolutely. I also have to mow it more often, though, as it won’t look pretty for long if I neglect it.

The herb garden. We put flowers in the front. Not sure what that purple thing is.
The herb garden. We put flowers in the front. Not sure what that purple thing is.

Behind the house I have a herb garden. There is a carpet of cilantro across the patch at the moment. It’s a good thing we like cilantro. The thyme and oregano are well enough established that the newcomer has grown around them. And in the middle I have a hibiscus bush that is taller than I am. We planted that on a whim a couple of years ago and the thing won’t die. Not that I want it to? But it just seems so out of place in my northern yard. I am looking forward to it flowering. Under that I have a blueberry bush that produces one berry a year. I’ll try and get a picture of this year’s prize fruit.

Up on the deck we have our tomatoes and peppers in. I fenced them before the cats decided I have set up outdoor litter trays. Now I just have to remember to remind my daughter to water them regularly. We both tend to forget. We do get fruit, and quite a lot of it, but tomatoes that aren’t watered regularly tend to be ugly things. Striped and split.

And that’s my gardening report (ramble) for this spring. I’ll leave you with this picture (below) I found yesterday which inspired my imagination. I have two creeks in my yard, one at the edge of the forest and one at the edge of the property. None of them are as pretty or mysterious as this one. This one is all secret and I want to write a story about what’s going on in this crack in the earth. Maybe I’ll plot that one out next time I mow the lawn.

Moss Creek, Desert Island, Maine.
Moss Creek, Desert Island, Maine.