Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wraping Up the Garden

Overall, we've managed to make some real progress toward supplementing our lives with some home grown food. The hens were a success from day one. This year's garden was more successful than last year's, for sure. We started earlier and got some spring crops, then we had a long summer with some decent harvests followed by a late crop of more lettuce and chard.

On top of that, we finally saw the pomegranate produce actual fruit!

The lime and lemon trees (in pots) are finally both producing with the lime tree going crazy with really great limes.

There's been talk of expanding the garden a bit in the spring. Right now it's just talk, but I'd love to double the garden space!

On the minus side, we lost Brussels sprouts, lettuce, spinach, and a ton of tomatoes to bugs and mice and squirrels. We caught something like seven mice ourselves and we know that the neighbors to one side of us caught at least that many rats and several mice. The folks behind our house got several rats. They suggested that maybe the rats/mice population explosion was due to our chicken feed. We pointed out that we keep everything sealed up tightly. Of course they have five large bird feeders in their back yard dropping seeds all over the ground... The final answer, I'm sure, is a mixture of several things.

I read that the extra wet winter last year led to a bumper crop of rodents. Also, we know that some of the pests had discovered our compost pile and garden. So between the extra rain leading to extra food, and the compost/bird seed/etc., it's no wonder the place went crazy with rodents.

This year we plan on being on top of thing with traps.

Hope to sit down and make more serious plans for expanding the garden soon.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Chicken Update

Finally, after nearly 10 weeks our hens are beginning to lay again. We got just 10 eggs in early October, and then nothing until yesterday when we found a perfect egg waiting for us in the nesting box.

It was a rough 10 weeks for the hens, I'm sure. They molted, but the weather changed back to warm and then cold a couple of times. Glad that we've started to turn the corner.

Now they they're about to turn two years old, I suspect that their egg production will slow. That's fine though.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Nanowrimo 2010

Nanowrimo has been tough this year, but then I bet I say that every year. The story is coming in fits and starts and I'm doing what I can to get enough time to finish. I'm writing at work, early in the AM, through lunch, etc. because it's so hard for me to write at home in the evenings and on the weekends.

But what's making this year difficult is, I suspect, the fact that I'm finishing up the "trilogy" for my daughters. It's been harder than I expected to find the right ending. I had an idea in my head when I started this two years ago, but since then so many things have changed that the original ending seems flat. So I'm scrambling to do better.

Then, once this is over, I can relax and decide what to do about next November. I have a great idea, but I might also consider taking a year off.

You know, like in college. And we all know how well that works!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Fall Garden

Our Fall garden has been much more satisfying than our Spring/Summer garden. The bugs are mostly gone, the mice never came back, and things seem to just be easier.

We grew a lot of lettuce and various salad greens. Our peppers continue to crank out fruit. And we're eating it all, which is nice.

Of course, almost on cue, the chickens started molting and haven't laid an egg in two months! I'm sure the crazy weather had something to do with it as we went from very hot to cold and rainy back to hot again here in the bay area.

We've been giving the hens some extra protein to try to help with the stress, but so far they just seem to be getting uglier by the day. :)

In other chicken news, the coop and run are integrated so the chickens have 32 square feet of run they have constant access to, but when we let them out to range in a netted area of the yard we have to move several things around and it's generally a pain. We do it now by leaving the door to their run open. Also, they manage to find their way out of the netted section frequently.

So the plan is to make some kind of popdoor in the end of the run and then do something a bit more secure on the netted section of the yard. That way we can open the door from outside of the run without having to leave the main door open. They'll be able to range outside and everybody wins.

To start that plan in motion I took some leftover lumber from when we built the coop and painted it with the same sealer (nontoxic/etc.) as the rest of the run. I'm going to use that to make a frame/channel/etc. for a guillotine-style door.

I was hoping to make that this weekend, but now it looks like it'll rain. Sorry birds, maybe next weekend.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Moment of Pomegranate Truth

It started raining here this weekend and so I thought it was about time to harvest the pomegranates. Here's what they looked like after I brought them inside:

 (click for larger view)

 That one on the right is really big... And then I couldn't wait and decided to open the largest one right away. The skin/rind was spongy and the fruit was light for its size, so I didn't have high expectations. In fact, while I was peeling it open, a spider crawled out of of the bud end and scared me. Sigh. Anyway, the seeds were still sour, so I obviously picked them too soon, but they sure are pretty!

Next season I plan on thinning the fruit myself (rather than letting various animals do it) and leaving them on the tree a bit longer.

Monday, October 11, 2010

My Red Box Adventure (Part Three)

(Possible Red Box adventure spoilers below)

(DM Screen not included)

This time around I swore I'd be ready. On Saturday night after the kids went to bed I set to work on the dining room table. Gone were the salt and pepper shakers, the napkins, and the placemats. The lazy susan stayed (the players put most of the dice and left over figures on it, too bad it turned into a distraction for the younger one). I put out the map for the "Crossroads" encounter and set up a screen behind which I would work my DM magic. I went through all of the encounters in the Red Box and did my best to not only understand them, but to set aside the right tokens and try to figure out what would happen in each room.

I put the kids' character sheets at their places at the table and even handed out the "Second Wind" cards and action point tokens. I liked having the cards for each of the powers there, it added something tactile to the experience and knowing my girls, it would help them remember which powers they'd used. But while I was handing out the cards, I noticed something. My friend had created his character (Human Fighter) using the Character Builder tool. And I had created a fourth character (Dwarven Fighter) for the group for some additional muscle. While I didn't expect the Red Box to provide a card for every fighter power, the set seemed to be woefully under serving the fighter class. I looked through the cards three times. Not a single fighter Daily Power was to be found. I wonder if I missed something, or perhaps a sheet of cards never made it into my box. The cleric and mage classes had a ton of cards though.

For all of the other powers, we just cut out the ones we printed from the character builder.

I went to bed late on Saturday night as prepared as I could be.

Sunday morning came and we were ready. My friend arrived with a couple armloads of snacks and beverages, further endearing him to my daughters.

A few things conspired to trip us up, but we did the best we could. A massive heatwave rolled into town so we moved the game time up to 10AM rather than post lunch to help avoid the worst of the mid-day heat.

My older daughter sat down to finish the last two pages for her character and noticed that our d20 from the Red Box was missing. Odd! I suspect our cat absconded with it, but we looked all over the house and never did find it. Luckily my friend brought plenty of dice with him.

My friend was still learning the new ruleset and so he felt it would be better for me to do the majority of the work for the fourth character (the Dwarven Fighter I created for them). This made my job tricky as I had a lot of balls in the air. I did my best to make the dwarf just bonk whatever was closest and not do much based on the DM information I had (separating DM knowledge from player knowledge from character knowledge! Phew!). In turn, my friend kept track of the HP and healing surges for the whole party and generally stepped in with ideas whenever the kids seemed to be stuck. That was a tremendous help.

In a few places I gave the kids some hints about searching rooms or examining objects. For example, even though I mentioned the pool of water and the basins and the braziers in encounter 1, they never thought to examine them. So I said things like "you notice something sparkle at the far end of the room." And my friend helped with these things too.

The party moved on to the encounter with the white dragon and decided to try to talk their way through it. I think those kinds of skill challenges are fun and I was happy to have them attempt alternative approaches.

Of course, I just plain failed at coming up with a way to make the conversation last for at least 8 skill checks. I ended up letting them pass after just four or five successes with zero failures. Part of this is, again, my lack of experience as a DM. I knew exactly where the conversation was going to go, but I just had a hard time coming up with what seemed like obvious filler. What could have been an epic encounter for the party fell a bit flat. That said, I overheard the girls in the next week talking about bluffing their way past dragons...

From there they went into the room with Kurrash (Kurresh?) the bugbear and we decided that would be the final battle of the day. Everyone used their daily powers and the party made quick work of the enemies. What a remarkable difference from our first attempt where a handful of goblins handed out a TPK.

And so we put the "The End?" on the session with the plan to eventually meet up to finish the rest of the small adventure.

Now, some things I handled incorectly as DM:

  • I had no idea how the thief works, and so I didn't know how to guide my younger daughter in doing anything other than throwing daggers all day. I know I could have made it a lot more fun for her if I could have had more for her character to do. I will add that to my list of things to learn before next time.
  •  Skill checks. I tried to throw a few in there for them so they could get more into the non-combat parts. I can do better there for sure.

  • Keeping it moving. Working the fourth character as well as the monsters was just too much for me to handle. Even with a large area behind the screen in which to keep my notes/etc. I still kept losing my place and forgetting stuff.

  • Modifiers! There are just too many of them! It's so hard to remember who has combat advantage, who's used a Second Wind, who's standing in a hex/field/area of effect/etc. etc. Add in "marked" targets, bloodied, etc. and I just plain had a hard time keeping it all straight in my head. I'll need to rely on the players to do a better job of keeping track of their modifiers so I can at least just have the monsters' to track.

  • FUN! I didn't quite make the experience as fun as I had hoped. For our first/aborted/ill-conceived attempt a few months ago, I had written a lot of backstory and descriptive text that was tailored for my friend and my daughters. They seemed to enjoy that part of things. Using this adventure, it was up to me to add in the fun stuff that would keep their attention but I was so worried about keeping track of everything else (writing down initiative, tracking every monster's HP, conditions, etc., etc.) that I didn't improvise enough. And, yes, I should have been thinking of things before the game to keep drawing the kids in. I know next time will be better in this regard as I've had more time to learn.

And there you have it. One man's (and his daughters') experience with the Red Box.

LOVED: Lots of goodies in the box that I can use for future sessions.

TOLERATED: Typos/inconsistencies in the materials (a real pet peeve of mine for professional writing) and seeming lack of cards for the fighter class.

Friday, October 8, 2010

My Red Box Adventure (Part Two)

Continued in Part Two...

I tried to DM the game, but I didn't have any of the source materials other than two small adventures I had downloaded from the internet. I didn't know enough about saving throws and the death mechanics and initiative and equipment. I had to dash down the hall to use the character creator to find out what a characters new AC would be if they bought a shield, for example. This really sucked the life and the fun out of our afternoon.

The game started out fine though. I had the characters meet on a snowy mountain pass. My daughters' characters knew each other, but they had yet to meet my friend's character. He arrived in somewhat spectacular fashion, being chased by both an avalanche and a goblin riding a wolf. At this point, we all agreed this was the Best Day Ever.

We didn't have enough miniatures to represent the whole party so we used an old cork and maybe some Lego's or some other little bits from around the house. The girls thought that was funny.

Maybe my younger daughter wasn't quite ready for D&D. At one point she asked if her thief could sneak up and tie some enemies shoelaces together. Alas eventually the wheels fell off. The game got a bit more complicated, more rules came up and were discussed.

Soon, a minor encounter with goblins turned the four character party to mush and we agreed to table the idea and maybe come back to it later. As the DM, I knew that I was the cause of the failure.

The whole problem, I know, was due to the fact that I didn't want to go out and buy $60 - $100 worth of materials to run a test game to find out if the kids would want to play more. I was hoping to get by on the cheap for a quick adventure. And I was learning as I went along -- a bad idea.

And then I saw the Red Box mentioned at Wired GeekDad. Well, technically it's called the "Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game Starter Set." But that's a terrible name. We'll go with Red Box from here on out.

This, I thought, would be perfect! According to everything I read, the Red Box had all the bits I'd need to get started and even a "Choose your own adventure" style rule set that takes you through creating a character and a solo adventure. Perfect.

I couldn't wait to get my hand on the game and give the whole thing a second try.

I mentioned it to my buddy and he seemed enthusiastic (apparently enough time had passed since our first fiasco to warrant another attempt).

A couple of weekends later, I had my opportunity. Circumstances had aligned to create a perfect storm for family gaming. My daughters had both had exceptional weeks at school. They had done a great job with chores around the house. We were heading to the mall to buy some clothes (the kids grow so fast!) and the local game store just happened to be less than a mile away from the mall. Perfect!

I hadn't been in a game store in years. Probably a decade at least. I stopped the girls right when we got to the door. "Ok, there will be a ton of stuff you'll want to play with or look at. That's fine, but ask me first before you pick up anything."

The guy at the counter took one look at me and knew I was out of my element.

"Can I help you find something?" He asked slowly but pleasantly.

"Uh, Red Box?" I held up my hands, pantomiming a square.

"Ah! Yes, I have them in the back. Hang on."

Meanwhile my daughters had discovered miniatures. They were fascinated by the racks and racks of them. I tried to show them the dice -- the stuff that had captured their imagination in the first place -- but they were locked in on the figures. I had planned on buying each of them their own little set of dice... Alas.

They liked the cheap plastic miniatures more because they were already painted. I let them each buy a pack of official D&D figures (they were on sale) and we brought the whole stash out to the car. My wife smiled as the kids tore into the figures and I ripped the plastic off the Red Box. We drove home to calls of "What's an arbalest?" and "Oooh, a giant unicorn!"

The Red Box was all it was advertised to be: the battle grid, tokens, dice, character sheets, all of it. The girls wanted to play with the tokens. My older daughter started in on the Player's book and began to create a character as I left the room. I came back later and she had her nose buried in a Harry Potter book she'd read twelve times already.

"What happened?"

"Well, it said 'If you want to be a mage, go to page 14,' but page 14 didn't mention magic users at all!"

Turns out that the book said to go to "number 14" not "page 14" -- oops. She swore she'd take another stab at it later in the week. Friday came and she still hadn't tried again. I was worried.

"Are you going to make a new character?"

"Sure! I call dibs on making my character first!" Her sister was not in the room, rendering her dibs null and void. But I didn't tell her that. So, hopefully character creation would take place after school. She set to work on Friday night and finished all but the last two pages. My younger daughter never did create a new character using the Red Box so we let her use the Tiefling Thief she created with the builder for the last game.

I read the rest of the Red Box's DM book on the train to and from work during the week and I listened to some podcasts of games being played (PvP, Penny Arcade, Wil Wheaton). I felt like I was ready to give the whole thing another shot.

Continued in Part Three...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

My Red Box Adventure

Like many folks my age (old), there's a special place in my heart for the old school Dungeons and Dragons experience. As I got older I moved from dice to mice though -- I stopped playing pen and paper games and dove headlong into video games. I'm an introvert so finding people to play PnP games with is just too daunting most of the time.

But still, through all of these years I had visions of dice rolling in my head.

A few months ago my daughters were poking around in my desk and found an old "lead" and a little set of dice. They were immediately fascinated and the following barrage of questions only served to get them more excited. What can I say, excitement is contagious.

A friend had given me that lead figure (hand painted, beautiful) and a small set of dice years ago, as we briefly entertained the idea of diving back into D&D. That game never materialized (we're both introverts so we don't have a lot of friends to play RPGs with) so I put the items away and pretty much forgot about them until their re-discovery.

The girls (9 and almost 11) had many, many questions about the game. And after I had answered most of them, they decided that they really, really wanted to play. They recognized immediately the fact that the video games daddy played were based on the same ideas.

Well, how could I say no?

I called my friend, the one that gave me the dice, and we arranged to play a game on an upcoming weekend -- on Sunday to be exact.

Leading up to that weekend, I had the girls create characters via the free character creator application and we began discussing backstory and personality. We were really going to do this! I spent my lunch hours writing an introductory scene and overarching "campaign" that would tie the characters to the mini adventure/delve thing I had downloaded. I wrote a fourth character (Dwarven Fighter) to help out the party. His backstory was so much fun to write it came to a couple thousand words.

On Friday I sent the opening scene and background information to my friend via email and had printed copies waiting for my kids when they got home from school. On Friday night my friend replied how excited he was about the weekend.

That game, using D&D 4th edition rules was a complete and utter disaster.

Continued in Part Two...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Big Spider

This one built a web right next to our barbecue last night. She's a huge one! (click on the image for a closer look)

In other news, those green tomatoes we picked all ripened at the same time so we've been eating as much as we can and giving away the rest. I suppose in the end, the tomato harvest wasn't a bust after all.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Attack of the Commas!

I think I use too many commas when I write prose. With 5 "nanos" under my belt, I figure I have enough data to see what I'm doing, comma-wise, over the last few years.

I wrote a quick python script and here's the output for my 5 nano novels:

#file    :  nill_1.txt
#commas  :  3609
#words   :  50046
#commas per 100 words is : 7.2
#file    :  icarus.txt
#commas  :  3319
#words   :  50002
#commas per 100 words is : 6.6
#file    :  horace.txt
#commas  :  3392
#words   :  50006
#commas per 100 words is : 6.8
#file    :  jute.txt
#commas  :  2703
#words   :  50102
#commas per 100 words is : 5.4
#file    :  jute2.txt
#commas  :  2267
#words   :  52449
#commas per 100 words is : 4.3

Wow, that's a pretty drastic/impressive drop off in commas. The "horace.txt" story had a ton of dialog in it, which inflated the commas a bit, I think.

So yeah, a great excuse to play around in the python today. My nanowrimo script does all sorts of useless things already, and this year I'll add "commas per 100 words" and maybe a few other fun/useless features or metrics.

Oh, and I should see how my comma totals compare to other 50k fiction novels. Maybe tomorrow...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Some Harvesting / Some Planting

Due to the mice, we pulled out all of the tomatoes. Wow, we had a LOT of tomatoes growing in that box! As we cut and pulled, we kept finding more and more half-eaten fruit. It was a painful process. In the end, though we found ourselves with more tomatoes that we could eat anyway. Too bad they're all green. We're hoping to ripen them indoors -- many of them are still on large sections of vine.

So, the potatoes weren't too big, but the kids had fun digging them up.

And there are still some cucumbers growing out there:

And where we once had tomatoes, we've planted a bunch of lettuce starts.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Desperate Times/Measures

So the mice and squirrels are winning the garden war. There's no disputing that. Here's what's left of the indian corn:

And this one hurts the most:

Aside from putting out mousetraps (which we do!), there's just not much I can do. Poison is certainly out of the question, and in my cozy neighborhood, so are firearms. I'm going to try odd/pointless things like this:

Of the original dozen or so pomegranates, there are now just three remaining. I'm hoping that when the squirrels come to eat this one, they'll laugh so hard they decide to leave it alone and go bug a neighbor.

That corn though... We have about 10 little tiny ears of strawberry corn (popping corn) and 1 ear of indian corn left. Tragic.

And the tomatoes... The mice have just plain destroyed the tomatoes this year. Today we're going out to yank the tomato plants and try to ripen the remaining green tomatoes in the house.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Garden Surprise

I suppose all is not lost. We  had written off the cucumbers as a complete failure and stopped paying attention to them over a month ago.

Well, here's what we found today:

Even a lemon cucumber! There are a few more on the vine, too.

And then we have this:

No, those aren't beans or peas. Those are the pods on the potato plants. The flowers are pretty and they seem to be growing well. Perhaps we should stop watering them?

Friday, August 27, 2010


I'm kind of getting this "stuck in a rut" feeling. Like I'm just running laps -- I keep passing the same landmarks. Over and over they pass by or maybe I pass them by. But it doesn't matter; either way it's just perception. The kids started school again. Just like last year and the years before that. Our garden is slowly losing the battle to squirrels, bugs, and birds. Just like last year and the years before that.

What did I do this morning? I got up and took a shower. Then I spent 20 minutes with the family and then went to work. Just like yesterday. And the days before that.

Yeah, I'm complaining, but I can't complain. And by "I can't complain" I mean I'm socially and possibly legally, morally, and astrologically not allowed to complain. And yet I do.

I suppose the good thing is that since I've been here before, I also know I'll be _there_ again. Yes, there. There, where I'm active and engaged, where the kids are behaving and miraculous, where the job is interesting and the vegetables grow. There, where the pieces fall into place faster than I realize they weren't in place before. Where I have revelations and big ideas in the shower in the morning before work. Where metaphors don't escape me and words snap together into perfect, shiny piles.

Where I matter.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Argh! (Or, Patience is for Squares)


Something got to the largest pomegranate. Also, something pulled the second largest one off of the stem. So that's two down. We still have a dozen more fruit on the tree, and who knows, maybe thinning things will turn out to be positive in the long run...

But, that said. ARGH! I'd been waiting years for that pomegranate.

Also, aphids moved onto the corn (soap to the rescue, hopefully) and it looks like my liberal application of BT (which, it seems Home Depot doesn't carry) has paid off in the garden as we haven't been able to find any more caterpillars/worms in there.

Also, we're fairly sure something's gotten to the giant tomato, so we'll pick it even though it's only yellow. Sure wish we could have had that thing make it all the way to red.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Garden: Good News/Bad News

Besides the mice that got all of the cucumbers, we have had a few more pests visit the garden.

Here's where worms are doing serious damage. I pick a dozen or so off of the plants each day. We really need to go get some BT!

And here's some mildew...

But then there's the good news!

Giant Tomato

Corn zooming along


Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Our garden is teaching me to be patient. I doubt I'm getting much better at it, but this year especially has shown me that I need to be more patient. Many years ago (7 or 8?) I planted a little pomegranate plant in the back yard of our new house. I'd always wanted a pomegranate tree and vowed that if/when I ever did end up buying a house I'd plant one.

And it refused to grow fruit. Year after year, it mocked me with its brilliant blossoms and vigorous growth.

I nearly pulled it out last year. Nearly chopped it up and composted it. But I waited yet another year. And... Success. It took this long, but we FINALLY have some fruit growing (one of which is size of a tennis ball).

On a much shorter scale, the tomatoes and corn we planted seemed to take _forever_ to finally start to produce. We have a jungle of tomato plants and we have 4 or 5 actual tomatoes growing. And our corn went from zero ears to a whole bunch in what felt like overnight.

So yes, the garden is teaching me patience. And just in time, too, as the kids race toward their teenage years!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Photo Update

This weekend I rented a lens from Borrowlenses, who was kind enough to move into a store about a quarter of a mile from my house.

On Saturday AM, something woke me up at about 5:40 (our cats were the culprits, most likely) and so I woke up my older daughter and we headed out into the overcast morning to see what we could find.

We mostly drove around the town of Woodside, CA, and we spent most of the hour just talking and goofing off. We stopped, finally, on the way home when we saw two horses chasing each other around in circles and generally acting silly.

Unfortunately, I was so busy laughing at the horses and talking to my daughter that I did not concentrate much on the quality of my shots. Here's literally the best one I took.

But it was just great to get a nice quiet, fun hour with my 10 year old before she magically turns into a parent-avoiding machine.

Tomorrow: Tide Pools!

Saturday, July 24, 2010


We finally managed to grow some full sized, honest to goodness, actual carrots! This is after many attempts, so we're really happy.

(click for larger view)

And of course, the chickens pitched in to help too, donating one perfect egg each.

We ended up tearing out the lemon cucumbers as they've failed to produce and we got tired of waiting/feeding the mice. We threw the plants into the compost (135F today) hoping it would help with the smell.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Another Garden Update

Our potatoes are flowing, so that means it's about time to harvest them, right? I don't even remember when we planted them, but they were huge for a long time until the neighboring cucumbers came along and took all the sun. The kids are absolutely giddy with the thought of digging them up.

Also, the corn is 8 feet tall, complete with the little things that grow up out of the top:

Oh, and we finally have our first tomato! I'm sure a mouse is nibbling on it as we speak. This is a huge deal because we had about 6 plants all grow up to about the size of a small tree, and zero tomatoes. Of course, we have no idea what kind it is.

The pomegranates are huge, and I think we have about 6 that have a legitimate chance of becoming actual, edible fruit. Fingers crossed!

Some poblano/pasillo peppers. This is the best we've ever done with peppers in our garden, so we're wondering if that means we're getting better, or if the garden fairies are coming at night and replacing the dead ones with real, live peppers.

And then, a question. We have a blueberry bush we planted this year, and it has these nice healthy shoots growing up from the base of the plant. I figure that they're "suckers" from the rootstock, but I don't know if that's how blueberries work. Should I cut them off?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


That dragonfly sure loves our yard:


The compost pile was at 155F last night when I checked. That is a new all-time record for our composting efforts. This is great news as the stuff we pulled out of the chicken run continues to run hot. The problem is the smell (a little like urine/ammonia, bleh). I think we need more browns in there (I need to remember to throw in the spoiled hay we have...). I'm hoping the neighbors haven't really noticed yet.

We try to keep two batches going. The first side is the "in progress" stuff where we're throwing new stuff, and the second side is the "finishing" side where we let it just sit there and finish up. Our finished side is, well, finished and so we're looking to use it to amend soil/etc.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Little. Furry. Evil

After getting three quick, large cucumbers, we figured our garden was about to head into overdrive. We imagined having home grown cucumber salad every night with dinner. "Oh my," we'd say, "you simply must take some of these tomatoes and cucumbers off our hands!" As our neighbors marveled at the bounty.

Alas, mice have again discovered the garden and have managed to destroy every cucumber after the first three!

The mouse traps are working, slowly. We've managed to eliminate several mice over the last few nights, but that's not enough. They're still out there. Lurking.

I'll say this, though. If those rodents get a taste for pomegranates, there will be war.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Big Things in the Garden

Just a quick update on the garden. The tomato plants are 6 feet tall, covered with blooms, and not a single tomato in sight.

The corn is over 6 feet tall, and not a tassel in sight!

The pomegranate? See for yourself, here's one of 4 or 5 that have set:

And finally, check this guy out! He sat there for a 10 minute photo shoot! My kingdom for a better zoom/macro lens!!!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Raiding My Kids' Bookshelves

Recently on a vacation back in New Hampshire, I happened across a book on my step-mother's bookshelf: Choose Your Own Adventure #5: The Mystery of Chimney Rock. I grabbed the book (with permission of course!) and threw it into my suitcase for later inspection -- you know, research. 

Mostly, I did so because as I move slowly toward finishing up the first Jute novel, I realize that I haven't read a ton of current "Middle Grade" stuff. Of course, this book is 30+ years old, but still, it's a start!

Reading it was 2-parts nostalgia and 1-part "Wha???" Not to spoil it too much, but the vast majority of the endings were negative, including death, broken limbs, and other evil fates. I don't recall the books being like that as a kid, but I have to say I enjoyed reading it today!

And that got me thinking. I wonder what kids books are like today. Ah, I can hear it already "What? You don't pre-read every book before your kids read them?"

Alas, I have a confession to make. The kids have hundreds of books and they're always adding more. Sure, we read some of them (anything on the "teen" side of pre-teen), but generally we let them have quite a bit of freedom when it comes to getting books from the appropriate section of the library or bookstore.

So I went into the kids' room and raided their bookshelf for some reading I can use to see how Jute stacks up. I mean, what if I'm using an overly mature vocabulary? What if I'm dumbing things down too much? I want to be sure I'm hitting my target of 8 - 12 year old girls. (My two daughters seem to agree that I've done so, but something tells me their opinion might be a bit biased...)

Today I started book one of "The Sisters Grimm." I got on the train platform in sunny San Carlos, California and opened my backpack. That's when I realized that I was almost hesitating to remove the book. What if someone sees me reading this little kids' book?

Shaking my head, I retrieved the book and started reading. At first, I paid strict attention to the pacing and the word choice and any minor plot hole (how did the little sister get home from kindergarten if her parents disappeared? Huh? Huh?) and then suddenly I realized that I was about to miss my stop. I had read the first 40 pages in the blink of an eye. That's a good book, folks. And there are, what, 8 of them in the series?

I suppose I should finish reading it... You know, for research purposes...

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Late June Garden Update, From Pests to Pomegranates

Took the camera outside today (sorry for the blown out images, bad exposure setting by me) and here's what we're looking at (click for larger versions).

First up, here's what took over eating our brussels after we got rid of the mice. We don't seem to be able to win here:

Here's the main box. From left to right: Pomegranate, potatoes (in raised side), cucumbers, tomatoes (too bushy/not any fruit yet!), beans (purple), lime tree, behind the lime tree is the set of tiered boxes we built, with strawberries on the top (under the wire box) then some basil and thyme, and then squash/peppers on the bottom, and way over on the right is where we finally planted the blueberry.

Next is the corn. We planted them in these pots some other plants came in and never got around to transplanting them. They seem to be doing fine so far, but still no tassels (they've been in there since May 1st). on the left is some generic "Indian" corn, and on the right is "strawberry" corn. Whatever that is. I just hope the seeds weren't modified somehow to not grow into real corn...

And finally, pomegranates! Yes, I know I spend too much time doting on these two, but this easily a month longer than any blossom has ever stayed on the tree/shrub before. And they're huge compared to the last blossoms that looked like they might be fruit. Huge!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Inspiration Awkward

I've struck an incredibly rich vein of inspiration here lately. I've bragged about it on the various intertrons and have been generally really happy about it.

Except for one thing.

95% of my new riches are directed toward things other than the third book in the Jute series. I really, really want to finish up that book and move on. But right now, my B novel looks incredibly interesting and I can't wait to get to it -- and all of this new found energy is pouring into the outline and notes for that book.

So now I'm sitting here and I'm "complaining" about only having these great ideas for things other than J3. Also "interesting" is that I'm motivated in work-related writing as well.

I'll still have to dig into J3 soon though. The question is, should I get to work on it prior to Nanowrimo this year, or should I wait? The other book, the B novel is clawing its way up and out regardless of what I do.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


There's something about collaborating with someone, creatively... I'm a big believer in things adding up to more than the sum of their parts. Take my 365 photo project. Tons of people start them -- dutifully taking a new photo each day and posting it on the internet. And that's great. But what keeps me interested in mine, what keeps me pressing that shutter, is that I'm collaborating. Each day a friend and coworker of mine posts her photo alongside mine. The result is something more than just a photo-a-day. Sure, quite often the combination of the two photos isn't spectacular. A typical pairing rarely inspires an "ooh" or an "ah." But sometimes an unexpected theme shows up or things get just plain creepy.

And I see opportunities for this kind of thing every day. I want to collaborate with my friends and relatives. I want to write books together. Make photo albums. I want to make stuff.

I've noticed that my friends and relatives have such unique views and experiences that I can't help but wonder at how much better the meager things I create could be... How much they could benefit from an influx of creativity and perspective.

I have another friend at work who has inspired me to write some very fun sarcastic and silly stuff. And he did it just by participating in some silly IM conversations with me.

I met a fellow aspiring author via Twitter and the opportunities for collaboration are real, even though he's a complete stranger to me.

I remember one time my best friend showed me some of the ideas he had for novel plots and I got so excited about them I was jumping from foot to foot while reading them. Alas, they remain unwritten!

Just this last weekend my cousin came to visit. He's about my age and has a family almost identical to mine (wife, two daughters, similar ages). The things that interest him are things on which I'd have never spared a second glance. He really cares about the story behind things, about how things got the way they are and everything he does is steeped in nostalgia. Hearing about them from his point of view made me interested, made me want to experience them. I want to see the world through his eyes, and what better way than working on something artistic together?

Sometimes it's just not as easy as saying "we should work on that together." People are busy, schedules don't align. Does asynchronous collaboration work well?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Pomegranate Part Three

Well, right now I'm the most hopeful I've been in a long while... I have quite a few pomegranate blossoms that look to be turning to fruit. Here's an example. The bloom on the left is very different from the skinny one on the right:

My fingers are crossed and I don't think there's much else I can do. Wish me luck!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Bird Tetherball - The Latest Craze

World Cup Fever! A few of the local birds, inspired by the futball/soccer phenomenon, started playing tetherball on top of our garden (click for a larger view).

Ok, maybe they were just trying to get the string off of the top of the stake, but it was amusing to watch...

My kingdom for a zoom lens! I have my eye on a really cool 70-200mm lens, but I think I might have to win the lottery first...

In other photo news, I've been filling up my flickr account at an alarming rate!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Score Is Tied; and Gapeworm?

It may have just been two mice, because we've had no further damage after catching a second one...

In other news, Cheepers (photo, right) spent a whole day making these exaggerated yawns and occasionally, violently wiping her beak on the ground. All signs pointed to gapeworm. We decided wait and take action the next morning, but we awoke to find her completely back to normal. We've continued to check on her all weekend and she seems to be completely fine.

The rest/remainder of the garden continues to grow. We've harvested quite a few radishes and snow peas. We have blossoms on a squash, some beans, and most of the cucumbers. Nothing on the tomatoes or potatoes yet, and the peppers and carrots are severely underperforming. The lettuce seeds we planted to make up for the mice's devastation haven't sprouted yet, but we expect something very soon. Planted more strawberries only to lose one to a particularly mean squirrel.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Mice: 2 -- Us: 1

On Tuesday I asked "Now the question is, how many friends and relatives did he have with him? Will our entire garden be chomped away night by night?"

The answer was a resounding "You bet!!!!"

Everything in that box (except for some spinach we protected via a 1/4" wire mesh cage) has been eaten by mice! Every last bit of greenery that they could get their greedy little mice hands on.

Now we're worried. It's only a matter of time before they find the other, larger garden box. We're going to have to go on the offensive now, and maybe try to place some traps outside of the garden itself.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Mouse Ate Our Lettuce

And our brussels sprouts and most of our spinach... Jeez, that little sucker got in there and mowed down all sorts of veggies. We were planning on harvesting the lettuce on Saturday, but when we got out there, it was all gone!

How do we know it was a mouse? We caught one in a trap next to our lone remaining brussells sprout last night. Good riddance.

Now the question is, how many friends and relatives did he have with him? Will our entire garden be chomped away night by night? Bleh.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Porch Storage Bench -- Finished

Several months ago we started a project. We wanted a bench on the front porch, one we could use for seating, but also something that provide lots of storage for the girls' skates, helmets, pads, and whatever else will fit.

That weekend we built the bench and did everything except for paint it and attach the lid. Then it got rainy and we got busy and a lot of weekends slipped past.

But we finally buttoned up the last little bit and now it's finished. Even right this moment it's doing it's girls' stuff storage task with efficiency!

We started with a very sturdy redwood base from 2x4s.

We got some pine siding that matches our house. Here we're just starting to cut/fit/attach it. Got very lucky in that we didn't need to rip any of the siding (no table saw, and so long cuts tend to be a bit iffy...).

Got some help along the way. *(this was a pose! The kids do wear eye protection and they know to keep their fingers out of the way/etc. Well, mostly...)

The awkward "you mean it's not a boat?" moment:

Here it is, primed and sitting on our porch.

Working on the lid. The siding made the box a little to wide for the plain piece of wood we were going to use for the lid, so we wrapped the board on three sides with quarter round...


Now, several months later, paint!

And the finished product, complete with lid:

We like that we made this ourselves, and that we made it very sturdy. The materials didn't cost that much, compared to buying one already built. Of course, we could have done some things better, and the finished product is _heavy_, but really, it suits our purposes just fine.

Ugh, now to refinish the porch!!!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Micro Harvest

Here's what we harvested one day this weekend. Well, there were a few more snowpeas, but the kids got to them before I could take this picture.

Still, those radishes sprinted to maturity! We have a dozen or so more radishes in the garden and some of them are close to ready. The kids don't like radishes, so two at a time is plenty. The carrots, though, seem to be getting shaded by the pomegranate shrub/bush/tree/thing. not sure they'll ever finish.

The potatoes are growing like mad. A couple of the tomato plants are starting to do their thing and a purple bean of some sort started to get these little blooms. Yay!

Should have more lettuce and spinach this weekend, too.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Mohawk, the Broody Hen

Good ol' Mohawk (photo on the right side of the blog...). We can count on her to go broody about every 3 or 4 months. We have three hens but she's the only one who's ever been broody. This is her third time in the year or so that she's been laying eggs.

The first time it happened, we tried all of the remedies we could find that didn't involve confinement. We tried luring her with treats. We tried dunking her undercarriage in water. We tried all sorts of things. Finally, we gave up and put her in the upside down cat carrier. Three nights in there and she was back to her usual self.

The second time it happened, we skipped the other stuff and went straight to the cat carrier. Three days later, bam! Back to normal.

This time, we had our fancy "new" broody box that we got for free from someone on the block. We figured this would be perfect because it's much larger than the cat carrier. It still had a vented floor, so we figured it was an improvement. Here she is in the new, blue broody box, inside their run.


Well, 4 days later and Mohawk's still broody. Looks like it's a little _too_ comfy in there. I wonder if the floor is not "airy" enough or whatnot...

We'll give her until tomorrow and if she's not done, we'll break out the upside down cat carrier again...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Pomegranates and Potatoes

The potatoes are growing like crazy. They're by far the fastest growing thing we've planted.

Also, the pomegranate has a few more blooms. Fingers crossed there.

We planted some basil and other herbs in the tiered planter; however, we haven't found any strawberries to fill out the rest of the boxes.