Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Bird Feeding Tips: Beyond what most folks tell you

I like to feed wild birds. It's like having a giant aquarium, with aerial battles and better sound effects than an aquarium pump and bubbler. I haven't fed wild birds in a long time. Setting up my feeders reminded me of a bunch of stuff:

When you start out, don't expect a lot of birds, even if you see them all over the place. They not only need to find the feeder, but learn to trust it. If you think about it, a bird feeder is a very weird, unnatural thing. Give them time to figure it out and learn that it's not evil or some sort of bizarre trap.

When you first put out the bird feeder, don't fill it all the way, and prepare yourself for the possibility that the seed may go bad before enough birds come in to finish it. Always clean out the feeder if seeds have gotten moldy inside, and dry it out with a hairdryer before putting in more seed, or the mold will just come back and spoil seed that might have lasted much longer if you'd cleaned out the feeder well in the first place. Not only will birds avoid spoiled seed, but if they're desperate enough to eat it, they can get sick, possibly die, and it can cause problems that prevent them from raising chicks, or kill chicks that they're trying to keep fed. Anyway, unless you have someone else close by who is also feeding birds, the local birds may visit it only sporadically while they figure out if this is going to be okay and safe. Braver, bully birds may be your main customers early on. Plan for that, and increase the amounts you place in the feeder only when there are enough birds to finish it before it goes bad.

About millet: Although a lot of birds love millet, a ton of it ends up on the ground, which gives it a bad reputation among bird lovers. If you watch the birds feeding, you'll find there's usually a good explanation. In my experience the main reason millet ends up all over the ground is because they're part of a mix and jays are sweeping through the tray with their beaks to get to the sunflower seeds. Juncos and other birds that like feeding from the ground can do an all right job of picking up these sweepings off the ground, but the jays can be so messy that they simply can't keep up. My solution? I rarely buy mixed seed. In my experience, if you feed mixed seed then the birds will always keep dumping stuff to get to the stuff they see just out of reach through the feeding port. My chickens are the same way. I feed them a uniform layer pellet in their feeder, and mixed seed (the scratch) is distributed only on clean ground or in small enough amounts in a heavy pan that it'll be all gone in a few minutes. To attract different birds, I put thistle in one feeder, sunflower in another, and peanuts in the shell in a feeder that's a bit tough to get them out of to keep my jays busy and entertained. Seed is relatively cheap, but why waste money by feeding stuff that mostly ends up on the ground?

Speaking of stuff on the ground: it will happen. There are parts of the seed, usually hulls but also bits of seed that escape the birds when they sit and crack them before swallowing, that will end up all over under the feeder. Birds also poop while they eat. Even the mixes that have been shelled will not have pristine ground underneath. If you're fastidious, you don't want a deck feeder, nor do you want a feeder stuck to a window with a suction cup with your favorite lawn chair sitting underneath. I recommend siting your feeder in a sweet spot where you can both see the feeder, but where the debris will serve a valuable service: namely, fertilizer and mulch. I have feeders on and among a grove of deciduous trees beside my house. The trees were struggling along until we came along and pruned off dead and crossing branches, and set up a feeding area under them. To us, those small birds don't seem to produce significant amounts of fertilizer, but that little bit made a huge difference to our trees. The hulls and broken bits of seed provide valuable mulch, contain organics that help loosen and condition soil, and the whole mix of debris attracts earthworms and other organisms that enrich the soil. Alas, it's not worth it to plant pretty flowers around the base of a feeder unless it's a big enough one that they're somewhat protected from all the falling stuff. But, if you have a moveable feeder, you might consider changing the placement by a few feet each year and plant annuals where the feeder was before. Turn what a lot of people consider a disadvantage into an advantage!

A special note about hummingbirds: sugar water can spoil rapidly in warm weather, which will harm the little jeweled jerks. My answer is to feed in fall and spring, when flowers are scarce, and wean them off when the garden begins to flourish through the summer. I have a lot of plants that are great for keeping our hummingbirds well-supplied with nectar, and natural nectar is better for them anyway. Yes, it's nice to have them humming around your window where you can enjoy them, but you can also plant something like a honeysuckle, train it over an arch set over a bench, and voila! Perfect place to read in summer. Not as convenient, yes, but these days we need all the excuses we can get to go outside.

Another note about hummingbirds: they are fast but unfortunately cats can catch hummingbirds. When planting for hummingbirds or when feeding them, consider height. You can't control all the predation that goes on. Cats will get the adorable little hummingbirds and it's sad, but not technically your fault. To keep yourself as guilt-free as possible, place hummingbird feeders very high and prune up plants that produce attractive flowers, or put plants meant for hummingbirds in hanging baskets or in tall containers. The death zone for hummers can be quite high for a skilled cat that has decided that hummingbirds are favorite prey, but it seems to me the worst area for them is at ground level up to about three feet. At that height range even a cat that's not that into birds may be tempted to give it a go. To be safe, try to get feeders and plants up above five feet whenever possible. Lastly, although male hummingbirds will sometimes make attractive nests quite high up, often the females, after choosing that male to be their beloved, will nest much lower and that's where they'll raise their chicks. In fact, many birds nest much lower than you'd expect. So be careful when you're gardening!

There are lots and lots of reasons why you want to do your main pruning, plant moving, etc. in late winter or mid-to-late fall, but one of them is that you may inadvertently destroy a nest full of chicks, or expose them to the weather and predators. Also, beware of disposing of debris piles that have sat around a long time. A random summer day may not be the best time to light that baby up. Quite a few birds like nesting in what they see as a nice, undisturbed debris pile where large predators will have a hard time finding them, if they even bother to look in such a place. The birds don't know it's slated for burning at your next convenience. Thank you for checking or simply waiting until after the nesting season before you dispose of that loose pile of branches from the wind storm a while back. Conversely, if you want to create an odd but often attractive nesting site for birds that like to nest close to ground level, you can build a debris pile for them, and make it quite attractive with complementary plantings and found art. They may or may not use it, and eventually decay will make it flat, but a debris pile can be attractive for quite some time and if you do get some nesting birds there, it's super fun to watch them dash back and forth while they're raising their babies.

Thank you for reading!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Transitioning into Full Time Writing, Pt 2

I've now been a full time writer for a little over three weeks, if you ignore my son's wedding and then going to Canada for a week.

Weird incidentals:
The indoor dog, Chase, is flipping out. She's now realizing that I'm going to be home all day (for the most part, except shopping excursions), every day, and it's turning her into a hyperactive maniac who now races back and forth wherever we go. Going to the garden? She runs the ever-shortening distance a dozen times to my one, ears laid back for extra streamlining, mouth open for more air, tongue inside mouth to reduce drag. Going back in the house? It's up and down the stairs and then back and forth across the deck and then she leaps and bangs her feet against the sliding door because it needs to be opened! Oh, and she scratches at the door not only to be let out, but to let me know that one or both of the cats need to be let in.
Because apparently that's why I'm staying home. To play with her and the cats and to let everyone in and out. It's Chase's job to make sure I stay on top of that.

I'm organizing stuff at home to make things more efficient so I can maximize my writing time. It's true! Weird example: now that I'm home I scoop the litter boxes at least once, if not twice a day. It makes the house more pleasant and makes the litter last longer. (I have decided this is true. Don't burst my bubble!) I realized it would be so much less tedious if I had one of those flip-top garbage cans, just a wee one, right next to the litter box. Then when it's full, I can take the used litter out. Found one with a little bucket inside, handle and all. Mine! Litter stays clean, and I can scoop right after I feed the chickens (and steal their eggs) without having to hunt for a garbage bag. Now I know why some housewives are so organized. It's not necessarily because they're OCD or obsessed with cleanliness. It's because having things unorganized is super, super annoying when you have a lot of things to do.

When our kids were little and I was a stay-at-home mom, I didn't have a lot of things to do except keep up on laundry and make sure that there was food, a lack of medical emergencies, and minimal squalor (was not super good about that last part.) Now that I no longer have a day job and I have no kids, my expectation is that I'll have all kinds of time to write, right? Well, except that clutter is distracting, and dealing inefficiently with the clutter is annoying, and laundry and dishes still need to happen, as does shopping and cooking, and I have to feed the farm animals and get the garden ready for spring and all at once I became aware that TIME IS LIMITED, even when, in theory and barring accidents or illness, you have lots of it. And when it comes to chores, I want to minimize them to maximize this work time thing, and you know, we all know, that if I let things pile up deeper and deeper I won't write, I'll dabble at writing and fret and putter. Which is awful and inefficient. Besides, if I ignore chores too long, suddenly I'm looking at six weeks of solid cleaning and zero writing time to get my environment to the point where I stop looking over my shoulder to see if the laundry is sneaking up on me, preparing to leap and then smother me. This versus an hour or two each day for a couple of chores, which I rotate through, and maybe I can squeeze in a little extra once a week so that you make overall headway (it can be done! I'm proving it to myself!)

When I started this journey I thought I'd be writing all day and writing all night with the occasional foray into book and cover design. Then I ran out of underwear. Which might not have mattered except that all my most comfortable jeans were also dirty. And I ran out of bowls. And suddenly taking a break to have a meal turned into a travesty, and showering in the morning and getting into real clothes turned into a chore, and so I wore pajamas until I had to feed the farm animals and I did that in sweats with a sweater over my sleeping shirt and I thought this is not what I envisioned my dream job to be, where I have to take over an hour for lunch because I have to clear the counters and wash a bowl first. People posted that image of a writing nook with the huge windows looking out at a winter scene, with the comfy chair and the floor lamp aimed just right, and a tidy bookshelf and I thought there is no reason why I have to put up with drifts of dog hair on the floor and stacks of papers that need to be filed all around my computer that I have to shove aside (guiltily, worrying that I might forget to pay that bill there) so I can take some quick notes which I'll immediately lose. No more! No more. I will take time to tidy. I will have my desk set up so I can find things. I will.

I'm getting there. Happily, more writing is getting done. And happily, my house is cleaner. Except I have no bowls again, but that's okay. I'll take care of it tomorrow before I start to write. Easy peasy.




Thursday, January 07, 2016

Transitioning into Full Time Writing, Pt. 1 (sort of)

I'm waiting for the ferry at Tsawwassen, on my way to Victoria, on Vancouver Island, BC. I'm feeling the Vancouver going on. Coming from east of Vancouver, WA, not going to Vancouver, BC but to Vancouver Island. It's weirdly like I'm not actually going anywhere, even though I'm no longer in the same country as I was when I started my journey this morning.

Abandoning a perfectly good day job and writing full time feels like that too. I'm not on anyone's payroll anymore, yet I'm doing most of the things I've always done. It's been six days and I still have the same to-do list as before. I have a series to finish, an outline to finish, emails to go through, etc.

Just a couple of things got added on, and those derailed any sense of actually having nine more hours a day to work.

First off, my son got married. (Yay!) That translated to quite a few hours on facebook coordinating with everyone. Also, that made January 6 and today, January 7, completely disappear from the writing schedule. I might sneak in a few paragraphs tonight after we've settled into our new environment, but making serious progress is not going to happen. So of the (almost, the day is not done yet) six days I've had since my last day of work on January 1, I've had four actual work days. One of those was spent cleaning. One I spent catching up with email and communicating with writers, convention organizers, as well as doing some business stuff.

What kind of business stuff? Writers contemplating full time writing for-reals might want to know!

I had to finalize health insurance stuff. We actually started the process in December, with a landing date of January 1 for our insurance to begin. Well, that worked out, but after they approve you in Washington they want proof, including former tax returns. So about the time we thought we were all set, we had more to do.

•  I had to start a new, fresh action list and prioritize it.

•  I had to clean up a backlog of paperwork and file a large to-be-filed pile that I'd allow to build up for too long because I felt like I never had time to work on it. Found bills. Paid bills.

•  I had to update my freshly-written action list and reprioritize it as I discovered notes buried in the to-be filed pile.

•  I had to go through my business email file to make sure I hadn't promised anyone any stories 'as soon as I retired'.

•  And I had to update my freshly-written action list *again* and reprioritize it as I added stuff I found from my emails.

That ate, as you can imagine, a huge amount of time. I'm still sifting through emails, though most of them are older now.

An immediate pitfall I found with being home all day was that now that I *could* be on Facebook and check my email all day long, I did. In lieu of writing. "I would never do that," you might think. "I'd have my designated time during which I'd be online, and the rest of the time I'd be putting sell-able words on the page." I thought so too. The temptation isn't to socialize, but to hunt down business and networking opportunities. Danger! Danger! When I get back from vacation I'll have designated online hours for real. There's no other way to manage it. With Facebook sending little notifications all the time, it's almost impossible not to check in for 'just a minute.' I have to be able to tolerate those missed opportunities, the ones I'd been missing all along because I was at a day job, and get the real job of writing done. Which is writing.

So this is day six. I'll keep reporting on this process as I sink deeper into writerly despair. Joy. Whichever comes first. Both at the same time, I'm sure.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Back to Work

After the holidays, it's time to get back to work.

This is the first year in a long, long time when I didn't work through the holidays. I did a few business-related things, but for the most part I played, and watched the snow fall. I think I needed the mental break. I feel more focused now. I'll need focus! I have a lot of projects ahead of me, mostly creative projects, but there's always something to do around the farm.

We're sort-of expecting baby goats in February. How many, I couldn't tell you. Twins again? Is more than one doe pregnant? I asked, but they're not talking. They just demand more hay. Anyway, they need the barn divided, so that the new babies don't have to contend with big goats that are not their mothers, and so the big goats don't have to be banished into what will no doubt be a huge storm the day they're born. Because, as we all know, goats pick the day they deliver and it will be a nasty, nasty day. Ginger, the first doe to deliver our very first kids, was nice to me. The weather was fine and good, relatively warm and mostly sunny.

I doubt that MaryAnne will do the same for us, assuming that she freshened. This will be her first time, so we'll keep a close watch over her.

I have two big fencing projects, a fix-the-coop project, gardening stuff, and normal animal maintenance chores on top of that. I'm already sensing that there aren't enough hours in the day, and that's with the knowledge that I'll soon no longer have 40 hours of each week dedicated to a normal day job.

I'm glad I got a holiday before everything ramped up. I hope you all had a wonderful holiday too, and that you're safe, well-fed, and warm. Best wishes, K

Thursday, December 24, 2015

New Computer, New Life

It's amazing how much a new computer gets in the way of things. A big one for this blog was that I was auto-magically signed in all the time, so I'd forgotten not only my password, but which email I'd used to set up the account. Important, because I'd somehow cross-connected my Google+ with my DH's account, and apparently there's no power in the Universe that can untangle them.

This morning I finally decided to take a chance. Finally, I've properly returned to this blog.

Just in time to start posting about retirement from my day job to become a full-time writer.

Although I spent a number of years writing full time, there were a lot of differences between then and now. For one thing, I had small children, and less writing experience. Another huge difference was the publishing process. Short fiction was a vehicle for promoting myself so that I could potentially attract the attention of a book publisher. When I did submit book-length projects for publication, it usually took months, sometimes well over a year, to hear back. I had some personalized rejections which bolstered my confidence in the process, but in a five year period I believe I sent in my manuscript a grand total of three times.

Short stories were a whole 'nother beastie. I submitted quite a few stories, and managed to kill a couple of magazines. (We writers are a weird bunch, in case you've forgotten. When a magazine accepts a story and then folds shortly afterward, we accept blame for that.) I took classes, read quite a bit, became active in a writer's group ....

And then went back to work.

Now, being a full-time writer is a completely different thing. Not only do I have more experience, more connections, and not only have my kids moved out and onward with their lives in separate households, but self-publishing is now a viable option. With self-publishing comes a whole new set of responsibilities and costs. I won't get into that. Lots of others have written about the self-publishing process as well as hybrid publishing.

What becoming (in four more working days after today's shift) a full time writer means now is that I'll have time to finish the series of books that I've not only written, but published. It means I'll have time to work on short stories and submitting them to paying markets again. It means I'll be putting a lot of hours into a semi-secret project for a publisher, to be revealed later.

It means my life is about to change in huge ways that I can't predict. I'm scared, and excited, and I'm hitting the ground running. My office is cleaned up, and my DH and I are going to set up a schedule that includes weekly business meetings. He's been freelancing full time for a while now. He'll not only support me, but guide me. I'll need a lot of guidance.  I must be successful at this. No choice. It'll be a steep learning curve, but those that have gone ahead will show me the way.

I've a got new life to go with my new computer. Happy holidays, and good luck to us all in the New Year.

Monday, August 10, 2015

I am, um, Sparta?

I know. I dropped off the face of the Earth. But I'm back, now, with stories to tell!
I've been working on books, books and more books. I've been gardening. I've been reading. I've been cooking. And, I've begun training.
We're talking some seriously wussy training, here. What am I training for? The Washougal Spartan Race. We just had one, and my friend J. has talked me and my DH into going for it next year.
So what's a Spartan Race? It's a medium (3-6 mile, depending on the course) length run sprinkled liberally with obstacles like a transverse wall, a rope to climb where you have to ring the bell at the top, moats, crawls under barbed wire over a steep, muddy hill, and so on. The idea is to crush the spirit challenge the participants to the limit, and the main goal is to finish the race, although there are folks who are super serious about this and race to win. Those people are in crazy-awesome shape. They are the cross fittest of the fit.
That would not be me. Hence, my training in a pitiful way, though I intend to increase the difficulty of my training days as the year wears on.
My training-thing for today was walking a few miles (I really don't know how many. Let's call it some miles) up a hill to scope out potential trails upon which to train. There's water, steep climb/crawls, bridges, and all kinds of other things where I can attempt to prepare myself for a race that can take up to two hours (or more) to complete. Best time on a recent course in Washougal: 35 minutes.
I've also trotted a few hundred yards through knee-deep water, and I'm taking my attempted chin-ups more seriously.
363 days to go.
I'm so doomed. But it'll be fun!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Happy Birthday Skipper & Lovee



Sometimes big things come in small packages. Today I helped deliver Skipper, a little boy goat, black and white and full of cute, and Lovee, golden and full of adorable. It was about as nerve-wracking as you can imagine, with a young first-time mom, my first time attending a goat birthing, and with a cold draft shooting up through the barn door into the barn.

But, so much went right! First off, triple blessings: we went to check on the goats before going shopping and saw she was starting to deliver, it wasn't raining, and I had everything ready. Sweet!

When Skipper seemed stuck, with just his two feet showing, I massaged a tiny bit and he slipped right out.

Lovee had no problems being delivered.

Momma Ginger appears to be very healthy and happy.

No kids were rejected.

Although Skipper needed a little help warming up, nursing, and standing, once he got going he got stronger pretty quickly. I worried that we might lose him.

There are still concerns. Ginger has stepped on Skipper a number of times and doesn't seem to be careful about where she lays down. We're not sure how the rest of the herd is going to react to the newcomers (they're all locked out of the barn right now.) The last time we had the barn shut up, Ginger pushed her way out. I've reinforced the door, and she doesn't seem inclined to go anywhere, but if she does that again and the babies try to follow, they will be crushed.

We've had a racoon nosing around. It could kill the baby goats.

So, there are worries, but I think they're pretty traditional worries. Part of farm life is understanding that things don't always go well, and sometimes they go pretty horrifically. There's pain, sorrow, loss, grief and regret. Plenty to go around for everyone. But, we had a really good day today so far. In about twenty minutes we'll go check the goats again. Who knows what we'll find? With luck, two healthy baby goats and a content mother bedded down for the night, safe and sound.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Goat Drama

There's terror in the hills!

Okay, maybe not, but there's definitely nervousness, and anticipation.

One of our baby girl goats appears to be pregnant. Scandalous. I believe she was close enough to having 'made weight' if I count back the months that it should be safe, but we certainly didn't intend for or plan this. She's heavy in the body, but not wide, just ... low. And her udder is filling up. We've had cloud pregnancies before, so there's always a chance of that. But I have a feeling that it was just a matter of chemistry. Two young goats, falling in love, and despite massive disapproval and obstacles (two layers of fence between them) they somehow had at least one clandestine meeting and will be ecstatically happy parents. Maybe.

I'm really glad they had their BoSe boosters way back in a timely manner, and that I wormed them way back in a timely manner with a wormer that's safe for pregnant goats, and so forth.

At least the weather has been gorgeous. I don't have a lot of worries about finding a frozen baby goat in the field. That hasn't stopped me for keeping a close ear out for unusual bleats in the night. So far it's always been Thurston, our young buck, who I hear making odd noises when I go out. He's quite the vocal young boy. But one of these days ....

I hope that, assuming she's actually carrying a baby goat or three, that it will be an easy birth, and that we'll have a healthy kid. Or two. Or three. Because her mother and grandmother both often had triplets. Yikes!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

20 Sided Sorceress (review)

The 20 Sided Sorceress series by Annie Bellet. I'm on Pack of Lies right now and it's driving me crazy because I don't have enough time to read! All the books (this is book 3) are quick reads and can be read in a day (or less, if you're a fast reader), if one has time.

Dammit.

So, urban fantasies, and so far we have sorcerers, shape-changers, hedge witches, cults, murder mysteries, a hot guy (were-tiger, yum!) and lots of geeky goodies.

The pov character has a game shop/comic book store. Yay!

There is snark, but not so much that you feel guilty afterward (much) for laughing. Witty internal dialogue, of which there is just the perfect amount.

Plenty of danger. An ongoing serial bad guy ex-boyfriend. Edge-of-your-seat action.

Some romance, mostly in the shape of (an ice bucket! oh, wait, wrong story) on again, off again affair, which is (thank you!) not due to miscommunication or dumb misunderstanding but because they have problems. Does not bog the story down. The female protagonist is totally focused on the problem, and, alas, poor hot guy often comes in second. But a close second, as is correct and proper because of his previously mentioned hotness and because he usually treats her very, very well. When he doesn't, he has a reason. And he says sorry. For those of us who are tired of pointless arguing and contrived reasons for tension in romantic couples in urban fantasies, this will be very refreshing.

Recommended. If you're a fan of urban fantasies, or you want to try one and you don't want to pick badly for your first time, get this. Book one is Justice Calling. Only 99¢ to get you hooked. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Gripe

It's been a long time since I've whined about customers. Apparently someone noticed the lack because they decided to be especially obnoxious just to inspire me. Well, I can't really say that sort of thing anymore. I thought it was all about me, but it may actually be all about them.
So I get called for a carry-out and this gray-haired woman tells me she needs a couple of bags of fertilizer and three bags of bird seed.
On it.
While she goes on ahead to her car, I grab a cart and then wheel it to the pile of fertilizer. One, two. Then I go to the bird seed. Three 20 pound bags later, I turn around and hunt for her. Is that her? Nope, driving away. Ah, that must be her by the black car. So I wheel the cart to the black car.
She looks at the cart, somehow dissatisfied. "I forgot my garbage bags at home. Can you put the bird seed bags down first? They don't look too bad."
Ah, dirty bags. NP. I load in the bird seed, put the fertilizer carefully on top of them, and go back. But wait! There are a couple of extra carts, and there's some dirt that needs to be upstacked. So I do that, and then head back to the store.
Who do I run into on my way in? The lady.
"I wanted you to know that I complained."
????
"I went back and checked and those bags of fertilizer were the dirtiest of all of them."
"I'm sorry. I just grabbed the ones on top."
"I could see putting them in the back of a pickup truck," she said, apparently not realizing that I had no idea what kind of vehicle she drove in, and if she cared so much, why the hell was she picking up fertilizer in it? "But not in my nice car."
"I'm sorry," I say again, feeling slightly less sorry.
"I just wanted you to know I complained."
"I'm sorry," I say, when I really wanted to say well I guess you'll just have to have your slave vacuum out the trunk of your car for you. Oh, but wait, you won't ask them to do that. They have to magically know that it's not up to your standards.
"You should have someone come out here and wipe down all those bags," she added.
What. The. F ... never mind. "Okay," I said. Neither myself, nor anyone else in the store is going to come out here and wipe down every bag of fertilizer and every bag of dirt so that no one else will have this horrible experience that you've had. Oh, wait, you're the only one who cares who brought their 'nice' car to pick up fertilizer. Btw, if she'd asked if I could bring her a plastic bag, I would have. I could have also swept the dirt off with my gloves. But no. She let me load them up and then complained.
Also btw, I went back and checked. I should have given her the two bags with fertilizer caked on the outside of them in addition to the dirt, rather than the ones that had dust and bits of leaves. Those two were not in fact the dirtiest.
Missed opportunity. Next time I'll have to pay attention to which bags I snag.