Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 -> 2014

And that's about it for 2013. At the beginning of the year, I set out to do something big... "Make no little plans" I said.

I did manage to publish my book (books 1 and 2 of the trilogy, actually) and that alone was enough of a learning experience to count as a big plan. And I think I kind of pulled it off, even if I haven't made any money...

We built a cool treehouse/fort thing for the kids, which they love.

We did a lot of work on the front and back yards, removing some really bad trees and about 1/2 of the front lawn. We built our take on an herb spiral, and it provided an overabundance of rosemary, sage, thyme, and basil. Tons and tons of basil. Our mint garden did it's usual thing, growing like a weed for most of the year. We planted a lime tree, to go with our dwarf Meyer lemon, key lime, and other dwarf lime trees.

The vegetable garden was a mixed bag. We had a bumper crop of arugula, bell peppers, and mild chiles, but the potted corn was a bust. We got quite a few tomatoes and a few small eggplants.

We lost our alpha hen, so we brought in a golden laced Wyandotte named Cinnamon to bring our flock back up to the maximum allowed (three). Then we lost another bird.

I wrote a 50k word novel in November as part of nanowrimo, like I've done each year for the last 8 years.

I did a ton of crocheting. I visited my mom, and then my dad. We had a great Christmas in Maine with my siblings and nephews and nieces and parents.

In 2012, I focused quite a bit on my health. 2013 was not exactly unhealthy, but I did not exercise as often. I ate well, though.

I discovered, as we all do I suppose, that life does not always align with our goals. I try to spend more time with the kids, but as they get older, they get busier. It's harder, it's more work. We had to get a bit more creative.

And now it's time to start it all over again.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Paracord Crochet

Earlier I posted a picture of some of the bags I had been making. Since then, I continued on and made several more crocheted bags for holding small gifts or whatnot. As part of that process I wanted to try to find some more yarn. I had begun to tire of the colors I had at hand. So I rummaged deep into the closet and I found my bag of different colored paracord.

And that's the result. It's hard work, crocheting paracord. My hands were a bit sore the next day. And that stuff is stiff enough as to be almost unforgiving.

I'll probably just leave it in the pile of finished but unused projects. Or maybe I'll hand it to my younger daughter so she can add it to the ever-growing pile of crocheted baskets and bags that she's always "rescuing" from the unused, unfinished, un-presentable pile of my experiments.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Just Be Nice

I walked into the post office this morning hoping to use the self-service kiosk to mail a gift. I had the box all set, I just needed to buy the postage, and the line to go in and talk to an actual postal worker was over 20 people long. It looked like a good 20 minute wait. That's why I like the kiosk.

One person was using the machine, and one other person was waiting. Overall, not too bad.

Well, the person using the machine had a _stack_ of what looked like Christmas cards, and was purchasing stamps for them, individually. At a little of 1 minute per transaction (if you know what you're doing) it would have taken her about 30 minutes to finish her pile. I was thinking about leaving when another person walked in and got in line behind me.

This person had a child with her and instantly went into the whole "Stand back, I'll fix it" mode and began to question the already flustered person trying to buy stamps.

"What are you trying to do? Buy stamps? Did you press the... yeah, that one. Maybe you can't buy those kinds of stamps here, you might need to go in line. Did you try..."

This, followed by some audible sighs let me know that the lady in line might have been having a bad day, which is fine, I mean that happens, but she was unable or unwilling to contain her frustration.

It turns out, the person using the machine only needed to buy 5 more stamps, not 30+ and was simply trying to find a way to bulk purchase the 5 identical postage stamps for her cards desitined for Europe. It took another minute or so, for the person to buy the stamps. English was not her primary language and yet she managed to do the whole thing in just a couple of minutes. Even at the end the lady in line was still trying to rush things along.

I honestly did consider letting the impatient lady go in front of me. I was in a hurry, but nothing like what her barrage of sighs would lead one to believe about the urgency of her day. But in the end I opted to just go ahead and do my transaction because I knew I could be done in a single minute and then I'd be free.

Once I finished I took my box to the side so I could attach the postage sticker/etc. and she rushed up to start using the machine.

Then, kharma let the rushing lady know that maybe she did not need to be a jerk to those that are in her way. As I dropped my box into the package bin, she asked me if there was a trick to getting her debit/credit card to work in the card reader. Immediately other people in line started offering their own swarm of hints and tips on how to hurry up and get a move on.

"Did you try wiping the magnetic strip?"

"Turn it over. No, the other way."

And yes, maybe another sigh or two.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Homemade Gifts: Alcohol Ink and Sharpie Art

Saw some examples of this kind of art project out on the internet and then I realized that we have a lot of white tile left over from the bathroom remodel, and we also have a lot of sharpies:

We thought of making them into coasters/trivets as a present the kids could send to their grandmothers.

The kids had a blast, but honestly, they needed lots more time experimenting. I liked just making psychedelic patterns from the alcohol inks we bought at the local craft store, but the kids wanted to draw pictures and write words. It was a mixed bag of success, other than fun. We definitely succeeded at fun.

Well, except when my older daughter's pony tail flopped forward and landed on her tile, where there was a ton of wet magenta and shellac. It took a long time to comb/wash out, but she's okay now.

The process is simple and outlined in many, many places on the internet. But the one part of it that isn't explained as well is the clear coating.

We ran a bunch of experiments.

We used three kinds of clear for the tiles: Enamel, Lacquer, and Shellac.

The best from my expermentation was the enamel. It dried nice and smooth, did not tend to re-activate the inks, and generally worked great.

The lacquer was an okay middle ground.

The shellac, though, was the most interesting. When I sprayed shellac on the tiles, the ink reacted, often running or blending in with nearby colors. It was like misting some of the alcohol/blending agent on the dried tiles. This had a really interesing effect the girl's liked and wanted to use.

In the end, I wound up clear coating in two steps: first with the shellac to create the intestesting effect, then applying a nice coat of enamel to seal it all in:

Next we added some felt feet and bundled them up to ship off to the grand parents.

Thursday, December 12, 2013


We don't usually get prolonged periods of cold here in the Bay Area in sunny California. But we sure got some recently.

Here you can see the frost damage on our lime tree. All of the limes are brown now, unfortunately. Our lemon tree survived just fine, and it's about the same size. Alas.

Looks like the worst of the cold snap is past, for now, but the damage is done.

Monday, December 9, 2013

On Magnetic Fields (or, how my electronic stuff decided to revolt en masse)

I read recently that the Earth's magnetic field is about to reverse polarity. The sun's field switches about every 11 years, but Earth is more like 800,000 years. I think I may be part of the proof that the ol' switcharoo is coming.

Had a bad week, digitally. It was one of those spans of time where electronics in general just seemed to not like me any more. It started out innocently enough when I noticed I had a couple of duplicate blog posts labeled as "Draft" -- so I deleted them. Only, what ended up being deleted was not the draft/duplicate post, but the original, including all of the comments.

Then my cell phone "died" during a firmware update. Apparently the phone was just finishing up installing an update and then it had some issues. It went from being a phone to being a paperweight. I took it in to the local Sprint store where they told me it was a "known issue" and that I was lucky because they were not going to charge me the $75 service fee. Wow! How "lucky"! And how generous they are...

I went to take some photos of the kids and the camera decided it needed to greatly underexpose the first 10 - 20 pictures I took. Then, magically, it started to behave. Yes, I changed some settings, but I gave up when it appeared that my changes weren't really making any difference. Then, suddenly, it just started working again. For the record, I've taken about 10k photos with that camera, so I know enough about the controls to know that something was not acting normal.

And then the name of my ebook on Amazon suddenly did not match the name of the print version, so Amazon started treating it as two separate books. I could understand if I had changed the name, or even if I had somehow typed it in incorrectly, but that was not the case when I entered the book into the Kindle Select program (which mandates that the names be the same).


Here's hoping that I have gotten all of the digital weirdness out of my system. I'm looking at it like a test run for the magnetic field reversal -- like I'm in an early beta program.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Self-Publishing: Doing Book Giveaways

Sales of my book have been slow. There, I said it. It's the truth. There's so much more to self-publishing than writing -- indeed the writing is the easy part.

You also have to do all the marketing yourself. And if you take your foot off the gas, the engine stops. Instantly. Plus, there's a long lead time for many marketing avenues available to the small time author.

Blog reviews? You need to find the blogs, convince someone to read and then review your book, and then find time to post it.

Advertising? That can be expensive, and honestly I haven't really managed to find a good plan for where to spend advertising dollars.

This was never a money making proposition for me. I knew going in that I would be lucky to even receive one residual/royalty check from Amazon (still haven't) because the margins are thin and I don't know the first thing about promotion.

The one message I do hear repeated often is that in order to get any kind of real promotion to be worth the time and effort, you have have a lot of reviews out there for your book. In my case, I'm talking about reviews over on sites like (and almost exclusively) Amazon. (as of this writing, I'm stuck at 7 reviews...)

The more positive reviews you have, the more likely someone is to take a chance on picking up a book from an unknown author and the more likely some more popular websites might mention the book. Etc. It's a snowball effect.

One way to get reviews (other than begging friends and family) is to offer free copies of your book in exchange for reviews. You can also just do blind "book giveaways" on sites like Goodreads (paperback only) or Library Thing (ebooks ok) or many others.

I went ahead and did a giveaway at Goodreads (they automate much of the process for you, but in the end, you still need to physically mail your books out yourself) and today I just mailed the books to the 10 lucky winners. I included a brief note with the book, congratulating them on the win, hoping they enjoy the book, and asking for them to consider reviewing it.

But was it really worth it? We'll know in a few weeks, I suppose. But honestly, it can be expensive to do book giveaways. For my Goodreads giveaway, I probably spent over $70. I'd have to sell over 35 printed books to break even.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

NaNoWriMo - 2013

This year's writing is going smoothly. I've built up a small cushion, one that I use up during the weekend and spend the next week building back up. I have a great system down and it almost feels... robotic at this point. But fun too.

I find myself thinking about publishing a bit while I'm writing. Not that it changes how or what I write, but I think about the audience a bit more -- something I eschewed before.

Ultimately, I find I enjoy the month and this is my 9th year of writing. That'll be well over 450,000 words.

Once this month is over, I'll spend December (and part of January no doubt) putting the finishing touches on my third middle grade novel for Jute and then... Who knows?

The two (soon to be three!) books I that I published were born of these November larks, and I've really enjoyed that process. (I need to do so much more there though) I have gotten great feedback and the response has been very positive. I still cringe every time someone says they are going to read the book, certain they'll hate it. Alas.

Onward to 50k!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

More Crochet

I'm working on more crochet -- small-ish simple bags to hold tins of English toffee we'll make. This pattern is very easy (here's my project on Ravelry.com).

I can do a bag in an evening while watching TV or just sitting on the couch chatting. There are two more not shown in the picture, and also a scarf I managed to finish. I'm almost out of yarn though, so I'll get/have to head back to the yarn store soon.

Monday, October 28, 2013

A Windy Night

  Last night around 10PM we had a big windstorm hit and it knocked out the power to our area.

At first, I was a bit put out -- I was missing a television show I wanted to watch, and how would I check my email again before bed if the router was down?

But, once we found the flashlights, my wife and I stopped to listen to the wind. Instantly I felt relaxed. We had just put flannel sheets on the bed so we climbed in and I know it sounds cliche', but I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Best night of sleep I'd had in months!

In other news, I spent about 10 hours this weekend crocheting some items for gifts around the holidays as we've decided to try to make as many gifts as we can. We can afford to buy presents, but the older I get the more I feel like that's the wrong approach. I know that personally, things mean more to me when they're something that's given from the heart and not just the Amazon wish list.

Also, I took a trip to New England and so I brought my camera, hoping for some nice leaf shots. But alas, the leaves were not cooperating. I ended up getting just a few so-so shots (but the trip itself was wonderful).

When I got home, I put my suitcase up on the bench by the front door while I fumbled for my key. And of course my suitcase fell off the bench and when I got in the house I realized my trusty and well-loved 50mm 1.8 lens had broken when the bag fell.

I looked through my photostream and realized that I used that lens for over 90% of the photos I've posted. Luckily it's relatively cheap, compared to most lenses.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Tough Sledding: Book Promotion

Well, one thing I'm learning is that there really isn't any easy way to get your self-published book to sell itself. You have to do the work or it doesn't happen. And part of what you need is reviews on sites like Amazon. People are more willing to buy books other people have read, and liked.

When I published the first Jute book, I sent the following email to about 20 people I know. Feel free to read it, but the gist is that I asked for a review on Amazon in exchange for a favor I'd owe as well as an offer to "pay it forward" - where I would volunteer one hour for each review over 10 that I received. I'm up to _7_ reviews, so maybe I will end up doing some community service soon. Fingers crossed!


As you may know, I've been writing novels for a while* as part of National Novel Writing Month - or nanowrimo. What you may not know is that I've finally gotten around to publishing one of them. And if you're reading this, you helped me at some point along the way. Maybe it was a kind word, maybe it was inspiration. Maybe you read a draft, offered advice, or wrote something that I found helpful. Maybe you replied to an email, answered the phone, visited my blog, or shot me a friendly smile when I needed one.

Yes, I finally published the first of the three Jute books I wrote for my daughters. It's aimed at kids in 4th - 8th grade, especially the smart ones.

I published it first for Kindle and in paperback up on Amazon.

BUT! I'm not writing to ask you to buy it.**

Rather, even though you've already done so much for me, I'm writing today to ask a favor.

A friend and self-published author gave me some advice. He said that the key to success at my level is to get as many reviews on Amazon as possible. That's what helps get the ball rolling. And a good first goal is ten reviews. They don't all have to be 5 stars but hopefully there aren't any at 1 star either...

So I'm writing to you to ask if you might want to review the book. No pressure! If you're busy or not interested, or didn't like the draft you read I completely understand. You're still awesome and I still thank you for everything you have done for me. Seriously, thank you so much!

And if you do have time to post a review at Amazon (or elsewhere!) I thank you from the bottom of my heart. If you want a review copy, let me know and I'll send you one. This means so much to me. Also, you look great today!

But that's not all. How could it be? Your time and energy is valuable. It has weight and heft. It's not like you just go throwing that stuff about willy-nilly! And if you're willing to help me push forward... If you're willing to shove me out of the comfort of my nest, baby bird style, so I can learn to fly... If you're willing to lend me your hand, I will do my best to repay you.

I will owe you a favor.

Maybe you need a dog walked? Maybe you need a recommendation? Maybe you need help out in the yard. That lawn need mowin'? I'm your guy. Need someone to proofread something you're writing? You got it. Need a lift to work? Or home from a bar/restaurant/party/etc.? Done. And if I can't be there in person to help you, I'll do what I can from here via the magic of the Internet. Likes? Retweets? By the bucketload! Back your Kickstarter? Backed!

But wait. Sure, there's a little something in it for you and for me. But now you're thinking bigger. Now you're asking "What's in it for everyone else, Garrett? What's in it for humanity?"

Want me to pay it forward? I can do that!

I will donate one hour of my time to a charity (Second Harvest Food bank, for example) for each review I get. That's right, I'm putting my money where my mouth/Internet ravings is/are. I'll cap it at 40 hours (ha!) for now, and I'll post/blog/whatever about what I do so you can have a little extra bounce in your step knowing you helped the needy just by posting a quick review on Amazon.

So, let's recap. I published a book. You helped me before, somehow. I'm asking for a bit more help, and in return, I'm offering:

 - My sincere thanks!
 - A favor to be named by you and repaid later (but within reason/bounds of law/etc.)...
 - Hours of my time donated to charity for the betterment of humankind!

* Since 2005
** I mean, I wouldn't try to talk you out of it or anything...

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Halloween Harvest

So we ended up doing rather well with the improvised pumpkin patch. Here they are in all their green and orange glory:

The corn was a bust. Alas.

The cucumbers continue to produce, as do the lime trees. We have a ton of mint, too. Seems there should be a cucumber/lime/mint dish out there somewhere...

Saturday, October 12, 2013

DIY Halloween Headstone

I had just enough time to make a quick Halloween decoration today:

I mixed equal parts portland cement, peat moss, and perlite (yes, not the healthiest/friendliest ingredients) with some water and put it into a form I made for this purpose several years ago:

Then I added in some rebar bits I had and in a few hours we'll carve a few details (maybe some scrollwork? Maybe a silly name like: Brainzar Tastee or whatever). This mixture makes a very lightweight cement.

We have about 5 or 6 of these and they're great because of light they are. The rebar works great for standing them up in the yard.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

PROJECT: "Tree" House 07

Work on the treehouse is on hold until the pumpkins have died back. The vines have grown all around, under, and even into the treehouse and in order to avoid squishing them before the pumpkins are ready to be picked, we're going to leave things alone.

The powdery mildew always gets the pumpkins, and it's really begun to take its toll. I think there's enough left of the plants for the pumpkins to finish, so we may be back in the treehouse/fort sooner than I expected.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Corn Update

Our container corn experiment continues. We planted about 30 seeds and had 100% germination. We've noticed a pattern. The plants do fine up until about the time they begin to develop the tassels and then things just seem to slow down.

I did more straight fertilizing this year, where last year we had such good compost that we used compost tea. Our compost this year was terrible. The pots are all completely root bound by this point, even the much larger 10+ gallon pots. This has also happened every time we've done container corn, so it means having to throw away giant rootballs and then we have to get new dirt for next season. I'm certainly ready to give up on container corn.

Of course, the biggest question is the yield, or harvest. The first year we tried this we got some corn and were pleasantly surprised. Since then, however, the yield has been terrible, even when we get a lot of ears, there are hardly any kernels. We've not had too much in the way of insect pests, though we have lost quite a few ears to squirrels/rodents in the past.

This year we've had good luck with the weather (no wind storms knocking the pots over), pests (so far, no bugs or rodent damage spotted... fingers crossed), and potential (many more ears this year than before).

We changed things this year, increasing the number of pots but planting fewer plants in each.

But the final verdict will be in once we harvest the corn.. Should be in a week or two. Had a couple of ears that seemed to be broken off so we picked them and they definitely had more kernels than prior years, but still, we're miles away from a good 'ol full ear of corn. Drat!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Blog Mentions!

Jute was mentioned on a couple of blogs:

- Dubious Quality (http://dubiousquality.blogspot.com/2013/09/writer-boom.html) one of my favorite stops on the Internet, period.

- Kindle Fire Department (http://fireapps.blogspot.com/2013/09/free-and-bargain-kindle-books-for-915.html) what a great resource for Kindle users!

All of this led to a "spike" in sales and I've reached my first internal/mental milestone. I'll celebrate this weekend as I'm putting the finishing touches on the Jute 2 layout.

Still haven't looked to publish on multiple electronic platforms and so at this point I should probably enroll in Kindle Select.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Kindle Sales for Jute

While I'm mulling over whether or not to enroll in Kindle Select (and make my book "exclusive" to Amazon for 90 days) I haven't pulled the trigger on publishing on D2D or Smashwords to reach other sites/platforms like the Nook or iTunes.

In the mean time, however, I have not been idle!

A friend and fellow self-published author helped me get the book mentioned on a couple of websites/blogs, and I sent an email out to a bunch of folks I know, asking for Amazon reviews. Apparently that's part of the puzzle -- getting more reviews helps people feel confident in purchasing the book.

I'm up to two reviews so far. Alas.

As a result of the blog mentions, my sales more than doubled over the weekend and I actually have a chance at receiving a royalty check. The way I configured my account at Amazon, they'll send a check to me once I've reached $100USD in royalties.

So, with sales in the double digits I'm actually really happy. I know at least some of those copies went to people I don't know. Hopefully they'll like the book and maybe spread the word, or write a review. Fingers crossed!

If all goes according to plan, the next book blog post will be about life outside of Amazon, publishing via D2D to reach B&N/etc.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Chickens: New hen's first egg, Loss, Bad Habits

I figured it's about time we had a big ol' chicken update. Our original flock (pictured right) was three barred rocks, all hatched close to the same time. They got along ok, with only a little bit of pecking and hardly any bullying. Things were good.

The alpha hen, Mohawk, was always broody. Sometimes going through multiple broody cycles each summer. Seems like whenever it got hot, she got broody. Eventually that stress took its toll and Mohawk died.

With the old top hen out of the way, the former bottom hen, Cheepers, took over. The middle bird didn't seem to mind the change in management, but I'm sure she missed her old buddy. She stopped laying eggs the day Mohawk died...

Then at some point we had the brilliant idea to buy a new hen. So we brought home Cinnamon, a 14 week old golden-laced Wyandotte. This was about 3 or 4 months ago. Here she is a few weeks ago, in a "extra vivid" picture my younger daughter took for a report at school.

We did our homework, and followed the general advice for introducing a new bird to the flock... Quarantine. Then adjoining pens, then finally slipping the new gal onto the perch in the middle of the night.

The top hen wanted none of that and chased the new bird relentlessly. After a few weeks, they got along just barely well enough that we figured we could try to keep the new bird. This went on for about three months.

Then disaster struck.

Our middle hen, Mathilda, died. She got sick and then lethargic and then even sicker. It was sad and nothing at all like Mohawk's clean quiet death.

Now we're back down to two hens. The good news is that Cinnamon laid her first egg yesterday (so tiny!) and even with the chasing and flapping, the alpha hen hasn't drawn blood or started plucking poor Cinnamon's feathers.

Here's a picture of three eggs. The leftmost is Cheeper's regular egg. The rightmost is Cinnamon's first egg. Note the darker color. The middle egg is Cinnamon's second egg. We hoped that by getting a different breed of chicken, we'd get slightly different colored eggs so we could tell them apart. Sigh.

The bad news is that now Cheepers is taking on the role of rooster, climbing down off the perch incredibly early each morning and doing her best (and loudest!) rooster impersonation. She's still laying eggs, though. What an odd time.

Now we're not sure what to do. Cinnamon is still very afraid of Cheepers. Cheepers is waking up the neighbors at sunrise. We're allowed to have three hens here, but honestly, I'd kind of like to start all over with three peeps like we did the first time. I'm not sure getting another hen or pullet is the right move here.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Self-Publishing Lessons Learned

Self-publishing a book involves lots of steps and tasks across a few different skill sets. I won't pretend to be an expert, or to be able to do a perfect job explaining it all. There are entire books and websites and communities dedicated to self-publishing.

Instead, I'll talk here a bit about my experience and what I learned.

Mainly, there's so much more to it than just writing the book...

For example, you'll either need to be a graphic artist/illustrator, or hire one to make your cover. If you're not an editor (or even if you are!) you might want to hire one to review your book.

You may be a writer, but are you good at desktop publishing and layouts? Do you know what a gutter is? If not, you'll need one.

Do you read ebooks? If not, you may need to bring in an expert to help you create the ebook version of your book.

And then there's actual act of publishing... Do you want to join KDP Select, Amazon's exclusive publishing system? What about publishing to platforms other than Amazon? D2D or Smashwords? What about the printed version?

In all, I counted about a dozen things that I either had to know, learn, or hire out. I could do the layout myself, and I muddled through the various publishing steps (or, rather, I'm still muddling through). But I couldn't make my own cover, and I'm a firm believer in not editing/proofing your own work.

And then there's marketing! This is most definitely not my strong suit. Arranging blog interviews/tours. Getting the word out. Finding places to show off your book. This is all alien stuff for me. Things about which I should have done (and am doing) much more research.

At least now that I've been through the cycle once, I can take the lessons I've learned and the friends I've made and apply them to books going forward.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Finally! I Self-Published

I've mentioned this many times before... I've been working on some books I wrote for my daughters as part of Nanowrimo. I used to find the strangest things in their pockets when I would wash the laundry, and I started daydreaming about what a young girl would find so interesting about the random objects. And then, the idea was born.

I actually started this stuff way back in 2008 and I've finished writing all three books.

But I never really did anything with them.

Well, I finally got around to it and I've published the first one! It feels great to check that box on my 2013 "to do" list that's been hanging around all year. My younger daughter will be thrilled to see it up on Amazon (Kindle version here, print version coming soon) as she's been my biggest cheerleader on this project. She even got her 4th grade teacher to read a draft to her class! (and I've met some 4th graders who were in the class and they had such nice things to say, even the boys!)

Along the way I've had a lot of help. I've hired an editor (hi Cassandra!) and a cover artist (hi Heidi!). I've had lots of help from other self-published authors, especially Jason Letts and Raymond Masters. And of course lots of friends and family have put up with my requests for readthroughs and feedback.

At some point I decided I was going to publish this "just for me." And by that I mean that I'm not expecting any success. I'll be lucky (and shocked, and incredibly grateful) to sell even one copy. And that's ok. It might not even resonate with the target audience (4th - 8th grade girls, especially the smart ones) but I'm still happy to have followed through.

I am going to go into more depth on some parts of the experience in later blog posts, but for now I'm grinning ear to ear.

Now that I've gone through the whole process once, I figure book 2 should be a snap!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

PROJECT: "Tree" House 06

Now we're getting somewhere!

Got the roof on (thank you, local Feecycle for the shingles).

That cool extra cheap window fits the angle almost perfectly and the other two reclaimed windows are in and working fine. We tried to add some "soffit" vents above the big window, but they really stick out without paint...

Still to do:
  • Trim
  • Floor
  • Ladder
  • Window "hardware"
  • Decking
  • Painting
  • Fold down desk
(and probably a few other things I've missed)

The kids love it, but honestly, they haven't really been all that interested in helping build it. They are more than happy to use it, but they just don't seem interested in the process. I'm sure there's something I could do differently to help coax them into getting involved, though it may be too late by this point.

Monday, July 22, 2013

PROJECT: "Tree" House 05

Ok, got a lot more done on the project. Here it is in all its "Oops! Paint from the hardware store, ran out in the middle some sections only got one coat, plus the kids did the painitng" glory!

We have to fix a couple of small pieces, then put on the roof, install the windows, and do the floor.

Then we'll put some trim on all the corners/edges (so you won't see those ungainly corners! ;) ) and maybe get a door on there.

Still, it was a lot of effort to get this far.

Too bad we won't have time to work on it again until August!

Friday, July 12, 2013

PROJECT: "Tree" House 04

Ok, we've come a long way over the last few days, working into the twilight after coming home from work.

The kids get back from camp today, so while it isn't finished yet (that was never the plan) when they left it didn't really even have a floor, and now...

Wow, that was a lot of work. Adding that bump out on the left side (we call it the front though) added quite a bit of time.

Next up is finishing the framing (we're 95% done) and then adding the siding and floor. Then the roof, windows, railing, ladder, and a few other fun touches.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

PROJECT: "Tree" House 03

Here's where we are as of Sunday, July 7th

Of course, I already knew this, but this project really reminds me that making changes in the middle can really lead to distraction and long delays. Sure, it may be necessary, but it wreaks havoc with the schedule we had set

Anyway, we added a small "bump out" to the front and that really set us back. Since I took these pictures, we put in another day of work. More pictures next time. I don't think we'll finish the walls/roof/siding before the kids get home on Friday.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

PROJECT: "Tree" House 02

Picked this wonderful thing up for just $9 at the Habitat for Humanity store!

You can't see this part yet, but we had a sloped roof in mind from the beginning. And so today we lifted the window up to the wall and it fit the angle of the roof perfectly! Couldn't have planned it better.

On the minus side, we were woefully short on 2x4s so we went and bought about $40 worth.

Should have all of the walls and the roof framed by the weekend! Fingers crossed...

While we were out in the yard working on the house, a few black phoebes came around and amused is with their sharp chirping and tail flapping. Hadn't ever noticed those kinds of birds in the yard before...

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Corn Again

We're trying to grow "indian" corn in pots again this year. As always, it's off to a great start.

Let's hope it turns out better than previous years. A couple years ago we lost a lot of corn to pests (mice/squirrels/insects) and last year we just didn't get much in the way yield at all (3 or 4 very small cobs).

I'm fertilizing with that smelly "kelp juice" occasionally.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

PROJECT: "Tree" House 01

The kids have been asking for a tree house for years and we just never really had the time/space to build one. But we're going to do it anyway!

Here's the corner where we're going to build it:

Notice the trees?

Yeah, well, turns out that they are destroying the fence, the neighbors irrigation, our planting boxes, and the neighbors grape vines. Plus they're messy trees. So we had them removed.

Talk about a blank slate! :)

So, really, it won't be a tree house, it'll be a free-standing platform with a roof...

Phase 1, or "Materials gathering" has been going on for a while now, actually. We've been trolling FreeCycle in our area for supplies and we've managed to gather:

Asphalt shingles for the roof
Miscellaneous scrap 2x4s and other lumber
Several used pallets

Today my younger daughter and I went and picked up a pile of left over shingles that a nice person was willing to give us. The lady was incredibly nice and, coincidentally, her leftover shingles were from her own tree house project! So she took my daughter on a tour of their tree house while I loaded up the shingles (and one ENORMOUS spider... [shudder]

We're going to see just how much of this thing we can build using repurposed/recycled materials.

We have enough stuff to get started building it, but the weather is just not cooperating. It's been in the 90s (F) for the last several days. I'm hoping we can start working on this thing on the 4th of July.

Fingers crossed!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Integration "Progress"

Well, one of the two barred rocks has a real problem with the new girl, Cinnamon. We have the new bird in a run right next to the existing flock. They can see each other and the new bird tries hard to follow the other birds around, but if she gets too close to the fencing, one of the rocks tries to peck her.

We let them all out of the runs to free range in the back yard, supervised, and the rocks ignored the new bird for the most part. That is, until she got too close and then one of them would chase her away.

Our plan is to slowly increase the amount of time they free range together and also give her some time in the coop/run alone so she can find her way around. Eventually we'll try to slip the new girl onto the roost at night. But it may take a while before we get there.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Chicken Update

Alas, it was bound to happen.

One of our 3 Barred Rock hens died recently. No signs of trauma or disease, though we did not opt to send the body our for a necropsy.

The kids took it very well, which was nice.

Today we headed over to the feed store to buy a new hen. We're allowed to keep three in our city and so we figured it was time to fill out the flock. We already had two barred rocks so we agreed we'd get something different. I had been keeping my eyes open for a replacement, but the feed store turned out to be the best option.

We ended up bringing home a 14 week old Golden-laced Wyandotte. The kids took one look at her in the coop at the store and named her "Cinnamon" so... Hello Cinnamon!

We have the new bird in the old broody cage for now, right next to the existing flock. The Barred Rocks did not look happy to see a new neighbor, but we're hoping a nice slow introduction will ease the pain. Fingers crossed!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Granny Square Quilt: FINALLY

Wow, this one sure did take a while. I took a long break during the "joining" phase but I finally got back around to it and finished it up.

I learned as I went along, so my first few squares were odd shaped, and some were missing a stitch or two, but I kept almost all of them.

The finished blanket is 14 squares by 11 squares. I used whatever yarn I could find, including some really scratchy wool, a few "single square" colors where a neighbor donated some yarn ends, and even some old cotton yarn. My kids helped me with the layout -- went for a diagonal rainbow order, starting over on the same edge each time.

I've been looking over at the crochet supplies recently, and thinking about making more stuff, so I'm thinking maybe some small items for christmas? I guess we'll see...

Monday, April 1, 2013

Still Around

Yikes, it's been a while since I posted. It wasn't for a lack of want -- things have been very busy around here. But stuff is happening...
  • I finished up the granny squares (now I have to join them)
  • I did a bunch more crocheting
  • I visited my 90 year old grandmother who gave me a giant pile of her old crochet hooks
  • The garden is started, the blueberries are forming, the lemon, lime, key lime, and tangelo potted trees are all loving their new places in the yard.
  • The chickens are going gangbusters, we had a couple 3-egg days in a row(!)
  • Major changes to my job
  • All the arugula bolted again 
  • We built window cornices for the kitchen and they came out great
I don't have a good picture to add to the post. But I'm hoping to finally take a picture of the cornices and maybe some of the crochet projects...

Monday, February 18, 2013

More Crochet: the Grey Bag

My 13 year old daughter and I have been taking crochet lessons together and Sunday was our last "class." My daughter finished two hats and a neat baby blanket.

Today I finished my most recent project (here on Ravelry) - a neat grey tote/bag thing:

It's about 10" by 10" give or take.

In other crochet news, I am up to about 105 granny squares, and with the target size of 11x14 (squares) I still need to make 49 more squares. Still not sure how I want to edge/join/finish this, but the girls want to help figure out how to lay out the squares and I think that in itself will be fun.

Saturday, February 16, 2013


After taking about 4 months off from laying (last egg in 2012 was laid the first week of October, and the first one of 2013 was laid the 10th of February), the birds are finally (mostly) back at it. In 6 days, the three birds have given us 8 eggs.

We're looking at a noticeable drop in laying this year, but that just means we won't have extras to give away. Next year, though, might be the year that we have to start making some tough decisions...

In other garden news, bugs have begun infesting our "space broccoli" (can't recall of the top of my head what it's really called, but it's got these little pyramid shaped bumps that form in a spiral cone...) and so we're trying to find a good way to rid the plants of them. We ripped out two plants that were just too infested. The bugs seem to have sprung up over night.

All of the daffodils are blooming and spring seems just around the corner. We have some other bulbs that we planted a bit late, and so we're hoping that they still get a chance to bloom this year.

Time to start thinking about getting the garden planted for the spring/summer.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Granny Square Check-In: 50

Ok, here's what 50 granny squares looks like:

I'm just using left overs/odds and ends. Some wool, some cotton, plenty of acrylic and various blends, this thing runs the gamut. The final quilt will be an eyesore, but I can't wait. :)

I'm trying to keep up a pace of at least 10 squares a week, and the final total I'm hoping to get is about 240 or maybe a bit more.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

2012 -> 2013

Yes, yet another "year in review" blog post. Everyone does them, and yes, they can get repetitive, and filled with navel gazing, but I like the idea of a summary...

Believe it or not, I went in to 2012 with a plan. I was going to continue my late 2011 exercising push. I was going to spend more time with the kids. I was going to eat better. 

I spent a lot of time in 2012 focusing on health.
  • I ate less, and what I ate was better for me.
  • I exercised quite a bunch (178 "workouts" or activities, including over 26 thousand crunches and over 10 thousand push ups). I even managed to do 20 pull ups in one set.
  • I took up some new "skills" with the intent of keeping my mind sharp (learned to juggle and started crocheting).
  • In November I moved to a standing desk at work.
I'm giving myself an A on the health goals. 

I did spend a bit more time with the kids, though my older daughter stopped playing softball so I stopped coaching her, running practices, etc. We found other ways to spend time together, though. I'm going to give myself a C+ on this goal and will certainly carry this one forward into 2013.

For 2013, I'm going to adopt two mottoes and see how that works out for me.

Motto 1

The first, I admit, scares the pants off of me. It's far too ambitious and will certainly require too much of a commitment, but I'm adding it here anyway:

“Make no little plans: they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” - Daniel H. Burnham

Yes, that's a bit over the top. I've always been a guy who takes small, sure steps. I'm not afraid to fail, but I don't like it at all. I'd much rather reduce a lot of the risk and take the safer bet.

Maybe I'll make some larger strides in 2013.

Motto 2

The second motto is something I read last year from Paul Graham:

"Don't ignore your dreams; don't work too much; say what you think; cultivate friendships; be happy."

He says he keeps that at the top of his To Do list and I like it. It's much more approachable. I especially like the part about friendships. I don't have enough of them. I'm too shy to make new friends, it's such hard work!

Now, those two goals can be at odds, but I think that they can work together, too. It's all in how you look at it.