Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Preparing for Nanowrimo

It's nearly November and that means that for the eighth(!) consecutive year I'll be spending the month writing a 50,000 word novel. I always have a blast doing this, even though I do ge a bit apprehensive in late October. I wonder if I'll really have enough time this year. If I can justify the extra couple of hours it takes to maintain the word count. Maybe I'll run out of ideas or finally realize just how crappy the writing is. Etc.

But I do it anyway. I think it's good for me. I've managed to get my daughters to try it before, and maybe this will be the year they really follow through (a teacher at their school is promoting it, too). In order to help spur my young writers along, I've shamelessly offered all manner of bribes: a nanowrimo t-shirt? You bet. Stickers? Done. Extra computer time? Check. Crocheted one-ear-flap beanies in the yarn of your choice? Check and check.

I've refined my own strategy over the years. The basic idea is to keep up with the word count daily, rather than doing the "binge" method of waiting until the weekend and trying to bang out 10k words. That's not a supportable model in my life (though it certainly works for other writers!). But not me. I'm a slow and steady guy -- I try to keep up with the 1,667 words per day that I need to get 50k by 11/30/12. I write a bit before work, then through lunch time, and then finish up what I don't get done that evening. I can easily type 40 words per minute (I can type much more quickly, but then I do tend to go back and do editing which slows things down tremendously) so if I have the scene/plot all set in my mind, I can usually get the 1,667 words typed before heading home after work. Then there's the matter of catching up with the weekend words. I try to get a little ahead during the week, to build up a kind of word buffer for the weekends when I can't guarantee I'll have time.

I've finally finished the three books I wrote for my daughters in 2008, 2009, and 2010. They're finished, edited, and just waiting around for me to decide what to do with them.

Now, time to go try to plan out some plot points for this year's novel.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Now It's a Planter Box...

Yeah, we realized that unless it was going to be an actual spiral, the project wouldn't work, so we went for more of a planter bed/box instead. Here it is ready for me to figure out the plumbing and then add the dirt and plants.

That's next weekend, as I'm beat! Now, in the photo the blocks appear to be unlevel but that's not the case at all! I'm surprised at how well the "strings and stakes" method we used actually worked.

And while we were digging around for this project, I unearthed this old sprinkler head.

You may not be able to tell from the photo, but the elbow is actually clear plastic! How odd.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Spiral Progress

Today we went to a local farm and bought some extra pumpkins to augment our crop. Yes, I'm calling it a crop of pumpkins because we got 4 or 5 actual pumpkins this year. A miracle, I tell ya.

While we were there we picked and shucked 150 ears of "indian" corn -- 1/2 of which we left for the farm and the rest came home with us for grinding and what not. The kids LOVE the corn picking/husking, maybe because of the jillions of lady bugs/corn worms/etc. they find.

When we got home we jumped right into laying out the spiral and then got to work on digging the base trench. We're going to make this thing very level/etc. and so we dug a 4" trench which we filled 1/2 way with baserock. The idea is that the first course of leftover cement blocks will be 1/2 buried and very level, then we'll just build up from there. Fingers crossed. It's not easy to level a spiral, so we ended up just putting a bunch of stakes in the ground with twine wrapping around each of them, then we just leveled the string and filled up the trench with baserock.

That's where we ran out of juice and we'll pick it up in the morning (if I can still move my hands). The rest should go fairly quickly... Knock on wood.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


A small garden update. We've just about finished off the summer. There are a few more tomatillos that look like they might make it, but the tomato plant is done. We harvested some nice pumpkins (our first ones ever).
We tried some late season radishes, but while the greens grew like crazy, the roots just got longer and longer and never really started to form radishes. We pulled them up and the chiekens had a nice snack.
Planting some fall/winter stuff now.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Herb Spiral Research

The one big thing in the front yard project we're doing ourselves is building an herb spiral using the old cement blocks that we pulled out.

Our idea for including an herb spiral came from two inspirations. First, a post on this blog: (, (which is a terrific blog, btw) and second, a huge pile of ugly cement blocks we wanted to recycle or re-use.

I did a little research online and doing an image search for "herb spiral" returned so many fantastic pictures that I got even more eager to start the project. Even the lead guy from the crew doing our patio told me he was looking forward to seeing it finished. He said it was a great idea and a good way to use up those ugly blocks.

The place we're putting this gets partial to full sun for several hours a day, enough to grow grass and flowers like daisies, but not really enough for vegetables. The original idea I had was to create a very basic spiral. But my wife wanted something that was taller on one side, so it would have a kind of "back wall" that would sit on the property line.

We went through several iterations, from a traditional spiral to a tall-backed set of tiers/terraces. The plan we landed on was a combination of the two, a kind of double spiral coming down to the right and left sides from a central high spot, sort of an inside out double spiral. My chief worry is that it won't provide a variety of zones, but I think it will be pleasing to look at. Something like this:

I confess that I like the idea but I'm wondering if it will work in practice with the number of blocks we have (slightly more than 80, and they're 12 inches long on the widest part, 9 inches on the back), but we'll give it a shot.

While researching for this I came across keyhole gardens.

Those look really interesting, but wouldn't really fit into this space.

Here's a list of concerns and things to keep in mind while we're designing and building this:

 - Irrigation. We'll have built in irrigation available should we decide to use it.
 - There's a drain cleanout near the "front" of the spiral and so we'll have to be sure to not cover it.
 - There are quite a few animals that will be walking past this thing every day (or night/etc.), including raccoons, possums, squirrels, and house cats. I'm sure there are other creatures (including tons of birds and maybe even some reptiles). That's going to mean that some will come by to have a snack, others to dig up dirt to plant seeds, and still others looking for a latrine. I'm hoping we can find a way to co-exist.
 - This will be in our front yard, so it has to look "clean" enough that it's not an eyesore. Were we to build this in the back yard, I think we'd concentrate much more on yield and less on curb appeal.
 - The area around the spiral will need to be "walkable" -- maybe a gravel or woodchip path of some kind.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

My First Crochet Project: The Asymetrical Beanie

Well, it's certainly not perfect, but I've managed to complete my first crochet project (well, first other than the bookmarks I made while learning the various stitches)!

I wanted to make something my younger daughter (11) would think was cool. She love strange stuff, so I had this idea of making a beanie with just one ear flap. I looked around on the web for patterns (and for how to read patterns!) and found a fairly simple beanie but nothing with one ear flap. So used that pattern and I made up the ear flap myself.

Here it is, finished (click for the larger version):

The kid loved it, and even though it's slightly too big for her, I think she might steal it.

I used a K hook and some (very) old yarn (the yarn has a $2 price tag from Wolworth's, and so that makes it over 20 years old!) we had lying around. I'm not a fan of the color (or the yarn, really), but we had plenty of it and really, this is just a practice project. I missed a few "joins" (I really should learn how to do them) and of course the stitches aren't very consistent, but I had fun making this over the last three nights. I used some double crochet, half double, single, and "weird ones I kind of made up" on the ear flap where it was a cross between a double and a triple spread across two stitches... Uh, yeah. The good news is that I think I know/understand all of the mistakes and so I could/should do much better on the next project.

If/when I make another of these, I'll use a better yarn, and make the single flap more pronounced.

AH! I just searched around a bit on the web and found another beanie/hat with one ear flap. For that one, the flap becomes a built in scarf (something I toyed with doing but gave up on). So obviously I wasn't the first to think of this (that doesn't surprise me), but I bet there aren't any other kids at school wearing something this silly!