Saturday, December 31, 2011

Bird House Gourds

One of our daughters brought home a gourd plant that she started as a seed at school. All the kids in her grade did, apparently. Well, we planted it in a spare container along with some snow peas and kind of just forgot about it.

After a few weeks the thing had just taken off like a rocket and had produced tons of these really neat white flowers. They were the kind of flower that opens at night. What's that called? I keep forgetting. Anyway, we ended up with three that seemed to have survived the growing season and are now drying/curing/whatever in our garage. Apparently the process is a long one, so I still have no idea how these will turn out.

I really liked the plant and wouldn't mind planting another one this coming spring. Ours grew up next to the fence and then along a trellis-like extension. While it did get tangled up in there along with other plants, it didn't shade our vegetables or choke out any other plants except for the snowpeas. We'll have to do better with snowpeas if we decide to plant them again.

Here are the three we kept. The one in the front was harvested much earlier and so it's darker and weighs much less.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Winter Garden Update

We've got a decent amount of winter veggies sprouting up in the box. Looks like way too much bok choi though... :)

But what about next season? Any plans?

Plans? Why yes! In the past, I've proposed that we remove as much as half of the lawn and replace it with raised beds. We already have the irrigation in place since we can repurpose the lawn sprinkler heads. But with the kids (older daughter was doing a lot of softball pitching and batting practice so we needed more lawn) we always ended up saying "maybe next year" and leaving that thirsty lawn in place.

But this winter we've started talking about how much more stuff we could grow (we've never really had melons or pumpkins due to the space constraints and we'd LOVE to grow more than 5 stalks of corn) and now it seems closer to being a reality than ever before.

Fingers crossed. Of course, there's another reason we've not dramatically increased our garden space. It's a dirty secret, but really, it's my fault. As much as I love the idea of a larger garden, I suffer from a very predictable summer malady. I love the garden in the spring, but by the dog days of summer I'm not always thrilled about going out there and weeding and taking care of plants. This is one of those things that I'll just have to do. Make it just something I do, because it's part of what needs to be done.

I mentioned that we wanted to grow more corn. The plan is to grow some feed corn for the chickens. I know we wouldn't be able to grow enough to feed them all year (we give them a little cracked corn just about every day), but it would be able to make a dent in the amount we buy at the pet/feed store.

We'd also like to grow some popcorn. We grew "strawberry" popcorn two years ago and it turned out nice. It was fun to experiment. This time maybe we'll go with some of the "hull-less" varieties...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Two of our three hens are molting. Here's a picture of the alpha hen, Mohawk. If she was a crabby (but not too violent) top hen before, she's even worse now. You can see that her tail feathers are gone. Her bum is showing too. Most of the feathers have started to grow back in on her shoulder and neck

Saturday, December 17, 2011


After last Christmas I sat down with my kids to talk about maybe trying to take some of the commercial aspect out of gift giving. I wanted us to give things that meant a little more. They seemed to think it was a good idea and so we made a few of the gifts we gave this year.

That's an orange and black duct tape wallet for a San Francisco Giants fan we know. Also, some "survival" bracelets made from paracord.

We also made some little sewing kits that we put inside these cool metal tins shaped like mint tins, but about 10 times stronger. My older daughter did some sewing projects for gifts as well. Overall I'm pleased and I think we'll try to do more in the future.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Go Bag

Just got the first thing for the go bag. A document folio. This will replace our "govelope" which was a comically useless used envelope we were using to hold a whopping $40 in emergency funds. I know this was a bit of an extravagance, buying something like this, and we won't be filling out the whole list with brand new stuff. But I saw this one and really wanted it...

We'll put our passports, some money (small denominations), emergency numbers/addresses, pictures of the kids, each other, and the pets, etc. in there and grab it on the way out the door.

And that's the next task: printing out recent pictures of the family/pets. The kids are easy: school pictures. And I know we took some pictures of the cats recently...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Go Bag (Car Version)

I've had a little first aid kit in my car ever since I started coaching my daughter's softball team. Seemed like a good idea. And it came in handy on a family trip when someone got a big cut after falling on some rocks.

But now it's time to build a better kit for the car, something more like a go bag/emergency kit.

I was poking around in the garage and I saw my daughter's old backpack in the "donation" pile. She needed something larger for school so this one went into the pile of things they've outgrown. It's incredibly dirty, but still mostly intact. After I finished putting everything in it, I found out that my daughter was planning on using it again for things like sleepovers. So... Plan B! I found an old duffle bag, and I'll use that until/unless I come across a backpack (I prefer a backpack as it seems more portable...).

Into the old backpack, er, I mean duffle bag:

  • first aid kit (existing)
  • clothing in ziploc bag(s)
  • long sleeve
  • hat
  • socks/underwear
  • sweats
  • small blanket
  • carabineer (why not?)
  • food?
  • water bottle
  • rope/cord
  • scissors
  • lighter?
  • small bungee cords
  • TP

Still to do/Next Steps

Two items I don't have yet are the lighter/matches and the food. I'll work on getting those.
I should probably get a charger for my phone that can plug into the car.   
Oh, and I haven't gotten spare clothes for everyone else, yet, but I'm working on it.

We have two cars, so we'll need a similar bag for my wife's car. Technically, we've already started as I put the small first aid kit in her car when I put a newer, larger one in the bag in my car.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Go Bag and Earthquake Readiness

Look around... Read the paper, watch the news, surf the web. The world is ending. Zombies. Government out of control. Floods, fires, earthquakes, locusts. The place is crumbling and I'm not ready! I'm not prepared!


It's easy to get swept up in a kind of frenzy, to feel so helpless in the wake of so much bad news. I don't want to the let the craziness win. Luckily there are several things I can do to be better prepared for the more realistic emergencies such as earthquakes (I do live in California after all) or flooding (in our neighborhood minor flooding is possible).

I think our best solution would be to sell everything and buy some remote land and begin a homestead. But that's just not feasible for us. We have to have jobs in order to pay for our elderly parents' medical bills.

With that out of the picture, we'll have to settle for handling the things we can control.

So putting together a "go bag" and preparing the family and house for a "72 hour emergency" is a good first step.

I got started on some of this stuff, but as I said before, this won't be done in a week, or a month. It'll take while but every item I cross off the list now is a step closer to being better prepared.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Resolutions / Goals

I've never really been a "New Year's Resolutions" kind of guy. Something about needing to wait for a specific trigger (Look it's a new year!) always seemed to rub me the wrong way. It feels arbitrary. Not that I don't understand why it works or why people like it. It just seems inefficient to me.

I do, however, love to make lists and cross things off. I like to set goals. So that's what I've done. I've started setting my goals for 2012. But after writing a few of them down I looked at the calendar.

I still have a whole month!

So I've decided to start on some of the list items early.

Here are the first two I want to at least get started this year:

1] Replace our desk

We had a desk. It was crappy, cheap, made of particle board, and it disintegrated when we tried to move it when we had the floors refinished. I do not miss it. We got what we paid for: lesson learned. Now we're using a small table. It's uncomfortable and unstable. We've got stuff that used to be in/on the desk (and the attached hutch) piled up in boxes around the room, making a small space feel even more crowded.

We want a new desk made from recycled/re-purposed materials.

Now, I _may_ end up just making one myself. I mean, I have a table saw and many other power tools/etc. I could do it, but I like the idea of supporting a local craftsman and of using recycled materials. Also, I know what mine would look like and I'd like something that's a bit more professional looking.

I think a realistic milestone for this goal would be to find a few places/people that do this kind of thing somewhere near where I live.

2] Put together a plan for Earthquake Readiness

Earthquake Readiness -- you hear it so often here in the San Francisco Bay Area that it becomes mere noise. Everyone knows we should be ready, but we all say the same thing. "Yep, I've got to get that earthquake kit together..."

We have a few odds and ends put away, but we need more. We need a comprehensive plan:
  • Evacuation/meeting plans
  • Emergency contacts
  • Family training (fire extinguisher, gas shut off)
  • Buy a fire extinguisher
  • Build a "go bag" for the house
  • Build emergency kits for the cars
  • Build a "72 hour" kit including food/water for the whole family/pets/chickens, etc. etc.

I won't finish this in a week, or even a month. But I'm going to start on this now and try to do something every week.

I think a realistic first milestone for this goal would be to build the go bag. But another might be to do the family training parts.

I'm going to chronicle some of this stuff on the blog if only because then I'll feel like it's more "real."

Friday, December 2, 2011


A good friend of mine lost his son over the Thanksgiving weekend. As a father I can fathom the loss, I can get my arms around it, measure it, do the math. But I just can't comprehend it. The pain he and his wife must be feeling. I can't imagine it.

I went to the memorial service.

In my whole life I've managed to avoid all but two other memorial services/funerals/etc. I don't do well in those kinds of situations. Heck, I don't even go to "going away" lunches for coworkers. I don't like saying good bye. I don't like sadness. I don't like loss.

I never know what to say or do. You offer your help, your assistance. "Let me know if there's anything I can do." But what can I do? Mow the lawn? (I really did offer to do this, and other household chores) Alas, what I cannot do for them is offer any real help. Anything to remove the pain, the hurt. The loss.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Nanowrimo 2011

Nanowrimo 2011 is in the books. I finished a few days early (look at me, showing off) with a novel I really enjoyed writing. I enjoyed it so much that I've actually looked at it a few times since I finished on Sunday to do some minor editing. Now that's unusual for me.

But what I need to do now is let it sit, let it just rest over there on the back burner for a month or two or five. Then come back to it and see if I still like it and how much editing I can do. And that's a good plan because of how busy I am at the new job.

I did most of my writing on the weekends and the days I had off between jobs or during the holiday. In fact, I think I wrote fewer than 5k words during lunches/etc. at work. Where in past years, I've written all about 95% of the words while I was at the office either early in the AM or during lunch. I've just always had a better writing environment at the office.

This break in the middle of November meant that my Nanowrimo python script's logging data was spotty at best. Hopefully next year I'll have it running the whole time. I was excited about this year because I finally got the web/twitter posting feature fixed. Ah well, next year...

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Nano, and Catching My Breath

Nanowrimo continues. It's inexorable, daunting, a clock tick-tick-ticking away. And even though I have started a new job and have even less free time than ever before, I'm in. I'm in and I'm doing well, having crossed 40k words last night. I hope to finish of the story this weekend, marking my 7th straight Nanowrimo "victory."

Seems like I haven't had time to relax. I'm spending any spare time writing or working (where I also write, but not novels unfortunately).

And I'm exercising a lot. Maybe too much.

When I mentioned catching my breath, I was being literal. The other day after a medium-sized workout (pushups, dips, crunches, exercise bike) I spent the whole day feeling like I couldn't catch my breath. I was worried about that, which made things even worse. I was even contemplating the dreaded D word (doctor).

But then I realized that I was incredibly stressed about my new job. Not that it's not stable or fun or rewarding -- I just have very high expectations for what I can do to contribute and after a whopping 5 days I didn't feel I was making enough headway.

I stepped back and put it all into perspective and then took the weekend off. Date night on Friday. No exercising Saturday or Sunday, only writing when I felt I wanted to, not when I felt I needed to. The result was a feeling of rejuvenation.

Monday I came to work with ideas and plans, things that would work, would make an impact.

Things aren't perfect, but I feel better prepared to tackle the bumps and take the bruises.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Moving On...

Friday was my last day at my job. I had worked there for over 7 years. I built the team from zero to ten (10!) technical writers, hiring most of them myself. I loved most of what I did and who I did it with, but it was time to go.

So, I'm moving on to a much smaller company. From 70k people to less than 70.

I'm really looking forward to the opportunity and I really can't wait to get started.

But last week was a tough week. I knew it would be hard, leaving the people I had worked with for so long. But I didn't know it would be _that_ hard!

Monday started out fine with just a tad of melancholy. I had told my team the week before so at this point I was simply running out the clock, doing my best to ensure a smooth transition. By Wednesday I was spending a lot of my time sneaking words in on my nanowrimo novel and generally avoiding human contact.

On Friday, I went to lunch with the team and we did our best to not talk about my leaving. We were all in denial.

After lunch I put the few remaining items from my desk into a box and took it out to my car. I really, really wanted to just get in and drive home, but I felt I needed to say one last goodbye so I went back in.

It's funny, saying goodbye to people. This experience reminded me a lot of the end of senior year in high school. There's a chance you'll never see these people again. The yearbook signing was a way to lessen that blow. "Keep in touch!" we write, not sure if it will ever happen.

LinkedIn is the digital yearbook of the business world.

"Yeah, link me on LinkedIn and we'll stay in touch!"

Monday, October 17, 2011


I've been able to get myself up and motivated to exercise more regularly lately, due in no small part to a fun website called Fitocracy. I have a few friends on the site and we manage to keep each other motivated via positive messages and, yes, maybe a little friendly and supportive competition.

But today I read an interview (at Fitocracy) with someone and when she was asked how she motivates herself, she said (basically) that it wasn't motivation. It's just what she does. Just like brushing your teeth or going to work every day, it's what "mature" adults do.

And that really struck a chord with me because I've often felt that way. When I was in my 20s and living in a house with 10 other people it was very easy to blow off work, or bills, or whatever else seemed boring or difficult. But then I took some night classes and got a second job. Everyone else at the house was asking how I motivated myself. I didn't realize it at the time, but it became more than motivation. It was just something I did.

So, does this mean I'll wake up and do crunches and push ups and ride the exercise bike every day? Nope. But I think I'm moving from being motivated to keep in better shape (for my family as well as myself) to it just being something I do.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Still More Editing Notes

Just finished editing the second book. I really had fun editing this one as I went back into book one to add some seeds for plots/etc. that would be revealed in book two (and three).

But mostly I liked these rounds of edit so much because I could tell that I had continued the voice/tone I used in the second half of the first book. That made editing much easier as I went through.

Now, on to the third book where I actually have to add another chapter at the end. So I'll be doing some more substantial writing as well as editing. I hope it lives up to my expectations, as that's a long way to go for disappointment! Grin!

I have the first two books up on Lulu in .pdf and printed versions, but the cover for book two isn't done yet. And, of course, I'll need something for book three. Then? Well yeah. Then.

That's the question, isn't it?

But I need (well, want anyway) to get this all done in the next two weeks (18 days, actually). Then I'll start on the book for this year's nanowrimo. More on that (you've been warned!) later... :)

Friday, October 7, 2011

I'm Old

I'm old. I suppose that's not news if you know me. I complain about "kids these days" all the time. In fact, I cannot resist. Here's one now: I saw a girl this week with a rain coat literally tied around her waist. She was standing in the pouring rain, wearing just a t-shirt. I think she didn't want to be seen at school wearing a rain coat. What kind of a dork wears rain coats?

But today I realized that this getting old business is real. And that's fine. Happens to everyone, or so I'm told. What sucks, though, is the way the world is letting me know I'm old. It's these little, almost subtle things. Like when the Sci-Fi channel changed its name to SyFy and replaced most of its programming with Professional Wrestling, Ghost Hunting/Finding/Recording shows, and Sharktopus-esque TV movies.

Message? Kids watch wresting and like ghost stories and watching somewhat known actors make "rent movies" about monsters.

And Taco Bell? What happened to you, man? You used to be cool. We used to hang out. I'd get some nachos, maybe an enchirito, maybe a burrito supreme. We had good times, right? But now? You're selling stuff that needs quotation marks: "food" I guess you'd call it. I mean, making taco shells out of Doritos? Is that even legal?

Now, where are my reading glasses and my cane? I think I hear hoodlums out on my lawn.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Goings On

On the writing front, I've gone through Jute 1 and finished with the editor's changes. A couple of notes there:
  • I'm going to take this opportunity to add a few things now that will be the seeds of sub-plots and reveals in the second two books (which are also already written, but need another pass).
  • The editor had some great ideas (and some I didn't agree with), but I found 6 (six!) typos that the editor missed on their pass through the text. I had paid for an editor because I wanted that kind of peace of mind -- knowing that the little typos would be found (you instead of your, for example). Alas, buyer beware! Now, I don't know if this is my fault or, really, if there's any blame to be had, but I know that 6 typos (that I found myself, who knows if I missed any?) in 160 pages is too many.
  • Do I mention this to the editor? It's been over a year since we last emailed and so I'm assuming that while it might help them do a better job in the future, they might not want to hear from me after this long.
I'm about to start on book 2, and I still have to get book 3 finished up. I hope to have it all done by October 31st... But then what? I really don't know! Self-publish? Submit? (both?) Create a website? Ebooks? Printed? "Middle Grade" is a good market, but I have no idea (yet) how to get in there.

Ok, on to the garden. Our tomatoes have done very well. We planted two varieties (some kind of roma and some kind of little grape or cherry ones -- those guys taste so good!). Also, we had a volunteer sprout up -- looks to be that uber late blooming heirloom-ish variety we tried last year. You know, the ones the mice destroyed?

Well, the volunteer is huge, and its fruit are taking forever to ripen. They're still green and growing larger.

Speaking of mice, we've been waiting for them to show up this year. Last year was so bad, there was even an article in the local newspaper about it. We have some of our garden encased in chickenwire. On Monday morning, we had two mice to dispose of. So, just two so far! I know there's plenty of time left for the rodents to attack, but we've already gotten so much from our measly little garden, at this point I'm calling this year a success. Well, unless you're a pomegranate tree/shrub, in which case you should sleep with one eye open as I'm THIS CLOSE to chopping ours down. Dropped every bloom again!

Monday, August 29, 2011

More Editing Notes

I'm a third of the way through the first book, and I'm into my second really tough section. The issue here is that I hit the fast forward button and only provided a summary of what happened when I wrote the first draft:

"Over the next several months..."

Like a montage in a movie, but with even fewer details. It makes sense from one point of view: I had the section in there because it helps move the story forward. That said, what we're skipping over is the first few months of a friendship and a lot of research/exploration. That kind of stuff is a treasure chest of opportunity, so I'm working at fleshing it all out. It'll take a while, but I planned on this one being the biggest hurdle.

Also, since I've already written all three "books" (50 - 60k words each), I can go back now and "retcon" some facts/scenes to make things work better.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Edits, Part Two

Eight chapters in and this is hard work. I'm finding that I get distracted easily, and then getting back into the work is hard. I love the story, and I know what I need to do to fix it, but it's "hard" work. It's not just fixing typos. It's moving sections around, grafting and transplanting, and then fixing all the plumbing so all the pieces line up.

An hour or two per day, I tell myself. Just that much time and I can be done with all three Jute books in time for November's NaNoWriMo. I can do this!

Today was interesting because I found that I had a slow "flashback" section up near the beginning of the story, but it really didn't need to be there. Instead, that information could easily be included in a later conversation/scene and I could have it explained from the MC's point of view, rather than as a momentum-killing infodump. So the day's work is clear, but making it happen is not, er, happening. I find any and every excuse to context switch away (hello, blog entry!).

Anyway, removing/dealing with the show-don't-tell sections (I don't think there are _that_ many of them) is always an interesting challenge. I don't want them to seem contrived. Each one is a puzzle to solve.

Now, if I could just stay away from flickr/twitter/blogger long enough to solve a few of those puzzles...

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Edits

Today I went through the comments and suggestions and edits from an editor I hired a little over a year ago. She dissected my Nanowrimo novel I wrote for my daughters. I've mentioned the book before, it's the first of three in a series for the "Middle Grade" audience about some girls who discover they can make magic charms. Before you roll your eyes, at least there aren't any zombies/werewolves/vampires/Biebers. Just sayin'.

Well, I actually went through every comment, every line and really tried to see a larger picture behind them, rather than just the one sentence or word or section they mentioned.

And I think I have a good understand of what she was trying to say, and after not really looking at the book or the edits for a year, I'm really in a good place to squeeze every bit of usefulness out of them, while not taking anything personally or rabbit-holing on minor points.

The end result was about 1000 words in a new scene, and about a thousand ideas for places and ways in which I could improve the story. I'm off for the weekend, but I hope to get back into this same writing groove next week.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Slows (and a garden rundown)

Yes, it seems that I've slowed down quite a bit, eh?

Well, that's only because just about everything else has fallen into a kind of quick pace. Seriously, time is flying past all too quickly. I'm finding myself scratching my head, wondering "where did the week go?"

The garden is growing. Tomatoes coming in (yum!). Oddly enough, the pests seem to be leaving the tomatoes/cucumbers/peppers alone. Heck, even the blueberries are safe. Can't say the same for the poor strawberries though. All season long we only got about two of them. The rest got chomped.

We never did follow through on our threat to go crazy planting corn. Instead, we ended up with a lone plant, something one of the kids brought home. It grew to about waist high before a squirrel (I presume) gnawed through the middle, cutting it down like a beaver fells trees.

I trimmed the heck out of the pomegranate during the late winter. It's tripled (at least) in size since then but unfortunately it's returned to its former habit of dropping every single blossom. It's frustrating.

Anyone know if peppers can cross pollinate? We have a plant that produced two measly jalapeno peppers last year. It survived the winter so we left it growing. Yesterday we harvested what should have been a very large jalapeno. Instead, it was a somewhat small bell pepper.

The sweet potatoes we planted got shaded/crowded by some squash and so they're still relatively small. No idea if we'll tear out the squash or just let things go. See, we're lazy. Not really "I'm too lazy to go outside" lazy, more of a "I don't feel like experimenting in the garden" lazy. It's sad.

The potted lime tree is zooming along, there has to be at least 20 limes on there now. Can't wait to start harvesting. The lemon and key lime... Well, let's just say they're not participating.

And the chickens! They're doing well. We only have the three, but they lay enough that we're always falling behind, giving away eggs occasionally as the fridge gets packed. One of the birds, Mohawk, goes broody every couple of months.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Project: Floors and Baseboards

When we moved into our house way back, oh, nearly 11 years ago, we pulled up the carpet and exposed the original parquet hardwood floors. They were in terrible shape, but we preferred that to the "renter" carpet that had been in place for the last several years.

But two rooms, the back bedroom and the office, gave us problems. The bedroom's hardwood had been removed at some point, so we had to put carpet in (we couldn't afford the cost or time it would have taken to put in hardwood). And the floor in the office was so bad we felt we'd have to put carpet back in.

We finally got around to putting hardwood in the bedroom and refinishing the floors in the office. Some before and afters:

 Above: Office, just look at that floor. Ick. Below, the girls room, with the 11 year old carpet and original baseboards:

 Above, a closet we added during the remodel. That's laminate floor in there. Below, the original closet in the bedroom with the some original floor they didn't tear out.

And so that was "then" -- And here's now! We did the "demo" work -- tearing out the old carpet, tack strip, staples, and baseboards. The floor guys put in the floors (PROTIP: If you're a contractor, send your A team to work on a house, or let the homeowners know you're sending the scrubs in. Some people would prefer to pay a bit more to secure your full attention and/or skill set.). Then we put in the baseboards ourselves. We bought a really cool electric brad nailer and my wife did all the installation while I did the cutting in the back yard. Worked like a charm. We did the two rooms in maybe 5 hours, with several breaks. Easy!

 And here below was the only real tricky part, that's a 45 degree corner, so each of those angles on the baseboard is 22.5 degrees. This was our first and only attempt. Got it close enough that a tiny bit of filler in the gap was all we needed.

 And the girls' room. More of the same (another 45 degree corner) with two closets and a 13 foot wall, this one took longer, but it all came together and the kids are thrilled with their new floor.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Writing Update/Validation

I haven't been writing much at all lately, but I do have an update. My younger daughter is just about to finish fourth grade. Bear with me here. Her teacher spends time reading aloud from books during the year, mostly on Thursdays but occasionally at other times when there's a spare moment.

Earlier this year after the teacher had finished reading whatever story they were going through, my daughter asked the teacher if she would read "my dad's book" to the class. My daughter has a copy I gave her and she keeps it in her backpack.

The teacher agreed, but only if she had my permission. I was surprised to find out, and nervous, but also very curious about what my target demo would think so of course I said "Yes!"

Fast forward to two weeks ago when I went to the school to pick up my kids. Several fourth graders approached me and started asking all kinds of questions about my book! They wanted to know if I would draw a picture of a statue mentioned in there, or if I could tell them what was going to happen next. Apparently my daughter flat out refuses to "spoil" her classmates.

And now with just one week of school left, they're on the final chapter. There's a chance they won't finish the book so I pointed the teacher to the free .pdf download at so she could tell the kids' parents where to find it if they're interested.

I have to admit that this has started to rejuvenate my interest in writing again, after a good long 6 months of apathy. One of the interesting things about this whole story is that the teacher told me that every kid in the class voted to keep reading my book and they have all expressed interest on their own without being prompted. I'm sure my press agent, er, I mean daughter, has something to do with that but I also like to believe that the kids are really enjoying the characters and plot and setting. Also, hearing that the kids actually laughed at the parts I intended to be funny led to a sigh of relief.

And that's especially fun for me because an editor I hired to read that book told me that I should "spend more time around kids, maybe volunteer to be a big brother" thinking that I was not relating to my target audience.

But I think this is a little validation, and who doesn't like a little validation?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Softball, Part 2

Over the last 5 months, I've spent an incredible amount of time with my daughter, mostly just the two of us. We play catch for hours, lazily chatting away. We drive to games and practices, arrive early, stay late, all the while making me the happiest father on the planet as I absorb and savor every last moment.

You see, I know the end is coming.

My older daughter is only 11, but I know the time will come -- swiftly -- where she won't have the time to spend with me.

But for now, we're learning about life via softball. Now, don't get me wrong. We play in a recreational league and we don't have our hopes pinned on an athletic scholarship or anything, but she loves playing and I would love just about anything that keeps us close like this.

As the season progressed, the A pitcher ended up missing a total of 4 games which mean that my daughter (B pitcher) had to pitch four complete games along with some fill-in innings in the rest of the games.

In every game, she faced some girls two years older than her and as much as 18 inches taller. She stood in there and pitched against them all. She gave up hits, hit batters, walked in runs. But she kept trying and kept practicing.

"Ok, just one more strike, then we'll go inside," she would often say as she pitched on the sidewalk in front of our house with me playing catcher. And I'd smile and forget about dinner for a while longer as the sun set and forced me to squint to find the ball in the dim light.

But in our modern society with our upward mobility and tiger moms, it's tempting to focus on the results. And her team lost every game she pitched. (They also lost all but one game the entire season...)

In the last game she pitched, we had an umpire that really seemed to get that this was a league where learning was as important as winning. He walked out to the pitcher's circle in the first inning and explained to my daughter why he had called the last pitch a ball, and how she had to "present" the ball/etc. prior to pitching -- just some basic rules she had to follow.

I saw a look of determination on her face as she got ready to pitch to the next batter. She threw the fastest pitch I'd seen her pitch all year, and it was a strike. She built on that success and struck out two batters. She managed to get out of the inning only giving up two runs. Then she went right back out there and did it again. In fact, in one inning she struck out three batters, one on a "change up," but still gave up 3 runs (dropped third strike rule...).

She never once blamed the catcher for dropping those third strikes. She didn't blame the umpire for calling some close pitches against her. She didn't give up when she got called out on strikes twice at the plate. She cheered on her teammates win or lose, even if they couldn't really hear her tiny voice.

Yes, they lost that last unremarkable and unimportant game by two runs, but she had her best game yet. We got into the car and she immediately started to make plans for more pitching lessons, more time outside on the sidewalk and in the yard, working on hitting and bunting. I smiled all the way home.

Monday, March 14, 2011

On Guts

My 11 year old daughter has more guts than I did at that age.

She's learning how to fast-pitch softball (taking lessons for the last 3 months) and is in the local girls softball league. She loves pitching but she's much smaller than most of the other pitchers, as much as 18 to 20 inches shorter! She's the second youngest girl on the team, and there's more than 18 months age difference between her and the oldest kids in the division!

Anyway, my daughter is the designated backup pitcher for our team. The first game was this weekend and the main pitcher for her team was traveling on vacation so it fell to my daughter to pitch the whole game. This was her first live game pitching with the 12 inch ball and from the 40 foot rubber.

She was very nervous.

She gave up just 3 runs in her first inning and even managed to strike out the side. Then the second inning came and she got only one out before the other team reached the per-inning run limit. Same thing happened in the third inning. There were some groans from the parents, but mostly on the really close pitches. I checked on her there in the third inning because I could tell she was having problems. When I talked to her I was prepared for her to ask to come out of the game (which would have meant we'd have to put in someone who had never pitched before...) but she surprised me by saying that she knew what she was doing wrong with her motion. She wanted to stick it out. She wanted to finish the game because she still liked pitching even after giving up 6 straight walks.

In the mean time, offensively, the team was a real mess. The opposing pitcher was a foot taller than my daughter and had been pitching for years and she can throw about 10 miles an hour faster than my daughter. She was blowing through our batters, making them look like statues as the ball zipped past for strike after strike.

In the bottom of the third inning, after some errors, a LOT of walks, and some sagging shoulders, we told the kids that the runs just scored against them weren't important. That we just needed to have some fun and do our jobs and use our heads. We needed to score our first run of the season and then build on that.

Our first batter, the only girl on the team younger than my daughter, worked a walk and then my daughter came up to bat. She had zero hits all of last season. She always jumps out of the batter's box, even on strikes. She's just too timid. But not this time. On the first pitch, from the pitcher who had struck out our best hitters in three pitches, she swung the bat, made contact and reached first base safely. Her first hit in over a season! I was very proud of her. Not because she got the first RBI of the season. Not because she went on to steal a base and make two perfect slides. And not because she went out in the 4th inning and held the team under the run limit.


I was, am, so proud of her because she didn't quit. She didn't give up when it would have been just so easy. No one expected her to be successful. No one expected her to swing the bat or get a hit or steal third with a beautiful slide.

She gutted it out. Gutted out the 18 runs she gave up. Gutted out the impatience of the infield, the throwing errors she and her teammates made. She gutted it out, end to end, and earned some respect. Not bad for a super shy 11 year old.

Looks like she'll be the sole pitcher again in a month or so. We better get practicing!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Cringes

Today I found myself cringing again. I can't help it. Every time I look at my "to do" list, I see that one item that makes me cringe. That item that causes me to shy away and look for other things to do.

"Finish Jute 3"

Three oh-so innocent words. Heck, that's really just two words and a number. Eleven characters and two spaces. Weak.

And yet I can't even think about them without feeling uncomfortable. It's the kind of uncomfortable that I feel when I'm in an awkward situation.

I wonder if that's because I am 99% of the way through writing the last book in the series. I wonder if maybe I'm reluctant to part with it after three years. More likely, it's that I know that the final 1 percent represents a ton of hard work and plot hole fixing and loose end tying. When I wrote the first draft for book three, I knew there would be one difficult part to write, and I kept putting it off and putting it off.

Finally, I got to the end and there was this hole just sitting there, staring back at me.

Darn hole.

My daughter has declared that if I won't finish the book, she will. And I'm close to taking her up on it. I mean, at least she's willing to try. I can't even open the word processor for fear I'll have to type something.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Of New Beginnings

So far, the new year has brought more than its fair share of newness. Nothing major, of course, but a host of changes and new experiences have been lining up since early January.

My best friend moved away (again!). I'm going to coach my daughter's softball team. I have some new team mates at work. Out of the blue, my older daughter -- the shyest of the shy! -- auditioned for the school play and will be up there on a stage singing and dancing. My younger daughter seems to have suddenly turned a corner and matured about 3 years over night.

With so much new and changing around me, I would typically expect to be feeling uneasy and uncomfortable. But that's really not the case at the moment. I'm happy. I'm encouraged and excited and filled with an eager anticipation.

There are some larger changes on the horizon, though. Things hurtling toward me that I won't be able to avoid, even if I want to. Of course, we'll tackle those as they come, enjoying the good and dealing with the less so.

This is all reflected in simple things like our garden. The chickens are laying again, the sun's been out for weeks, the winter garden never stopped, but now we'll have to make room for the new stuff we're about to plant.

So here's to the year of new!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Chickens Back Online

No, we didn't put wifi in the coop, but all three hens are back to laying. The alpha hen, Mohawk, was the first to start back laying after the winter molt. Cheepers finally came back on line on Sunday, ending a 3+ month drought!

Mohawk laid two soft-shelled eggs in January and so we're still keeping an eye on her just in case. But she's as hungry and "Mohawkish" as ever so that's good.

We're still feeding them lots of leftovers from the fall garden and they go nuts for the chard and spinach.

Next up is to finally get around to adding a pop door to the run so that we can let them out into the yard without having to open the main run door and leave it open all day. We'll have to be sure to make the new door very secure as we don't want to add any weak links in the security.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Rainy Day Photo

Alas, it was a trap. Today was cold and rainy. I stepped outside during a break in the weather and took this photo.

Should be nice weather again later in the week, though.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

It's a Trap!!!!

It happens every year, and even though I know it's going to happen, I fall for it every time. My wife calls it the January Trap.

That's where you go outside (here in the sunny California Bay Area) in January and it looks and feels like spring. So you start doing outdoor chores. Maybe plant some seeds, you know, get all excited about the garden.

And the plants and birds all fall for it too.

But then February comes and the temperature plummets and we remember again that it's only January and we still have another six weeks of cold weather.

Now, I know that people living where they have actual weather probably don't feel much sympathy, but alas...

Today we spent hours in the back yard trimming and sweeping. We fixed/set up/rerouted all the irrigation for this year's garden areas. There's this annoying palm tree that I have to trim about every two months so that it doesn't knock over the fence (again). And cleaning up those giant fronds is never fun (inevitably I get stabbed by the ultra sharp needles near the thick end of the branches). We cleared out the old mint box and got it ready for a new crop. Can't wait!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Woodpecker (finally)

About a year ago we noticed some woodpeckers had moved into a tree in the yard. They're beautiful birds, really, with black and white stripes and the male has a red head. I vowed then to photograph them, and I tried many times over the summer, but I had no luck.

Until now that is. Introducing two Nutall's Woodpeckers living in my back yard (click to enlarge):

That last picture shows the female. She's really shy, and this was the best shot I could get.

Friday, January 21, 2011

In Other News

A friend and I started a "365 photo" project early last year and for a while we really kept it up. See, lots of people say they're going to do one. And lots of people genuinely believe they will. They have a plan, they say.

Well, we knew going in that we'd need something a bit different in order to get us to stick with it for a full year. Our gimmick (not our original idea though, sadly) was to post our pictures together, side by side, every day, without knowing what the other person would be shooting. It was a brilliant idea! A gym-buddy for the camera. (my images are always the ones on the right side of the page)

And we did well for a while. But alas. We pooped out about half way through the year. I mean, Day 173? That's sad!

Of course there's always a good reason for things like this. And while I kept taking photos (I have them saved up through about day 210), it stopped being fun without my friend's participation.

So I'm adding this to my list of things I want to get done this year along with the garden. I want to take more pictures. I still want to finish the 365 days, even if it takes us closer to 600 days to get it done. Some of the combinations were interesting. And we have some ideas for a new direction for the second half of the year.

I've also been posting stuff to flickr the whole time, so it's not like I've completely stopped.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Corny Goals

One of the things we grew last year that we really wanted to focus on again this year is corn. We grew "indian" corn (I really should find out what that's supposed to be called) and some little strawberry popping corn. We planted them in large landscaping pots (those black plastic pots that plants come in when you buy them...) and they grew well. The indian corn didn't pollinate itself much so most of the ears had poorly formed kernels (if any), but the strawberry pop corn ears were great.

We did have an issue with squirrels jumping up and trying to eat them. Also a mouse or two got to them in the early stages.

But this year we want to triple the amount of indian corn we plant. We love making our own cornmeal and would like to make our own cracked corn for the hens. The question is, what's the best way to go about it? Planting it directly in the ground is probably out of the question. So we want to plant more in the large pots. They grew just fine there last time, so it's just a matter of ensuring they pollinate better and that we find a way to keep the rodents away.


Monday, January 17, 2011


Here's what I noticed recently on our little blueberry shrub we just planted late last year.

Are those actual blueberries forming? I'm not positive we've placed the pot where it gets the right amount of sun, but things look to be growing well enough.

Now, if those are actual berries, we'll have to find a way to keep the birds away...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Pile (and some mint)

Weather, family, and work all conspired to put us a little behind on chicken coop/run maintenance. So when we did get out there to do a massive clean out, it was a bit smelly! Our poor neighbors... We did notice an area that was getting wet that did not get wet before so it's a good thing we dove in when we did so we could fix that before it became an issue. We found a couple of beetles in the run. How on earth some beetles could live in there without being gobbled up is beyond me.

We emptied the coop into the run and then raked out the whole run and put all of that into the empty side of the compost bins nearly filling up the side. I put the thermometer in and it read 58F. Checked it again the next day, about 25 hours later and it read nearly 160F! That stuff is baking fast!

And that's a good thing because it smells. Still, I figure we'll have two completely full bins of finished compost in time for the spring garden. The winter garden is really slowing down, finally. We're feeding most of the stuff to the chickens who really love to do their part to help out by munching it all down.

One of the things we hope to do in the early spring is re-do the mint box. We have a 4ft x 7ft planter box in which we've been growing mint for a few years (Mojitos with home grown mint and limes!). This last year the stuff finally really started to get leggy and the tree above it kept dropping branches/leaf litter/etc. Finally we decided to just ignore it and hope it died out and then replace it this year.

Looks like we got our wish. More on that later, once we start actually doing stuff in the yard.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Increase, Improve, Measure

Those are my three goals for this year's garden. And, oddly enough, while "measure" is one of the goals, I don't know that I'll have a really great way of measuring my success at the three goals...


I hope to increase no only the amount of stuff we grow, through extending the season/adding spring and fall crops. I also hope to increase the square feet of garden we plant. One idea is to pull out part of the lawn we put in. Another would be to chop down a tree or two in order to open up more sunlight hours on the patio for potted plants. I'm rooting for the "tear out the lawn" idea myself. We'll never be able to plant squashes/pumpkins/etc. unless we drastically increase the space we have, or reduce the amount of stuff we're trying to grow in that space. I'd rather add more space than give up pumpkins or reduce the other things we're growing. I also hope that we end up getting another fruit tree of some sort up and running. We planted a blueberry bush late last season and it got a few little white blooms on it. We're hoping that's a sign of things to come this year. The artichoke plant (in a pot) was moved and nearly died this year after giving us three or four chokes the year before. I'm really hoping it can get back into the swing of things and start producing again in 2011.


For this one, I hope that we can improve the yield and quality of the crops we do grow. I want to get five or more fully ripe pomegranates, for example. I want to get more potatoes. Et cetera. But not just the food itself. There are many things we could be doing in support of the garden. We should improve the compost system we're using. Improve the irrigation, fertilization. Improve the way we handle pests. We did a lot of things on a "Just in time" scale, where we could have done better if we were better prepared. Less reaction and more pro-action.


We haven't done much in the way of record keeping. We did eventually start to keep a tally of the eggs we receive from our three hens, but we don't track anything else from the garden. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. We could be tracking the amount of lemons and limes we get. When we get them. The amount of vegetables. We can and should also track things like when and what kind and how much fertilizer we add (if any). What kinds of seeds gave what kinds of results. We have never bothered to track costs of things like chicken feed, hay, seeds, etc. We both LOVE data so this is something that I'm hoping we dive into with gusto.