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.