Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day 2010

I post this in gratitude to the men and women who have served, serve now, and will serve to protect everyday people.  Though this is Memorial Day in the USA, I also am grateful to men and women who fight for freedom all over the world.

It's very easy to forget how lucky I am to live under a beautiful constitution that many work to uphold, and to have the ability to vote, among many other freedoms.  

My grandmother's cousin was taken from her side and died in a concentration camp.  When I was an infant, my family was forced to leave a country where the military was unable to hold back invaders that reduced a thriving nation to a third world coal-mining center.  Today I remember to be grateful that the US and other military organizations throughout the world are able to help maintain independence.  No nation, including my own, has a perfect record when it comes to the various rights that humanists long ago fought to establish not only as cultural norms in the western world, but as ideals that they hoped the entire world would embrace.  Despite the imperfections of my own nation, I don't have to worry that machete-wielding men will break into my house to rape and chop my family to pieces.  I live in a place where women are not mutilated under the guise of culture or religion, nor are they killed under local law or custom because they tried to leave home, or protect their children from conscription or slave labor, or they had the audacity to be raped.  I live in a place where children are protected by laws that large organizations work to uphold, and where the vast majority can expect to grow up to be adults.  My home has a very long list of privileges that are so ingrained in my being as basic rights that I often don't realize on a conscious level that other people can only fantasize about them in a quiet moment.

Lots of people live in great places like the USA.  These countries can only hold onto the freedoms they have as long as they can defend themselves against people willing to use all levels of violence to gain their ends.  

I wish that violence didn't have to be used to stop violence, but I learned long ago that strong language will not stop a punch to the face, and wishing will not change that.  I wish that governments had little or no corruption, but I learned long ago that even the best government, any organization for that matter including the military, has people in it that manipulate the system for their own ends.  Wishing will not make these kinds of people disappear, or make it impossible for them to find jobs in key places that give them great wealth and power.  

Neither of these truths tarnish the depth of gratitude I have for what the military, and that means every man and woman who serves in it individually, has given me.  When I see American protesters screaming "This is what a police state looks like!" I have to shake my head and wonder how many of them died in that protest, and how many went home to find that their family had disappeared.  I wonder how many were arrested and remained in jail for the rest of their lives.  A police state?  Really?  But I'm grateful that they have the freedom to protest, as do I.

I don't know if the fallen can accept my thanks, or if my tears can express all the things I feel when I think of the soldiers, oh so young, buried everywhere in marked and unmarked places.  I know the vast majority of their families will not read my words, and I doubt the ones that do will find little if any comfort in them.  

I post this in gratitude to the men and women who have served, serve now, and will serve to protect everyday people all over the world.  Thank you.

Thank you.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
   Scarce heard amid the guns below.

   We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
         In Flanders fields.

   Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
   We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.

             -- John McCrae

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Shelob's Lair

grdn spydrz r gud, no go in ur hous 

We had a big work day yesterday, the kind that takes a disaster area like a combo room (aka a dumping ground for everything you don't know what to do with) and turns that space into somewhere people might actually want to spend time.

The thing about rooms like that is that they collect a lot of spiders.  Spiders like small, undisturbed nooks and crannies and little spider-sized tunnels that take the non-web-using kinds of spiders from their wee resting/hiding spots to their hunting grounds.  

It's not easy being an arachnophobe in the country in the first place.  Put me in a cramped room with spiders everywhere, and the results are pretty predictable.  

Part of my phobia is the squishing part.  I can't handle squishing spiders--it's worse in some ways than having one creeping around on me.  As I've grown older, though, I've learned to get around that.  Vacuuming works.  I can handle vacuuming a spider.  Unless it's too big, or a variety I find particularly heebie jeebie-ish.  Then I have to call for help.

So here's a big thank you to the girl and my mom for the huge amount of help with cleaning yesterday, but most especially to the boy not only for doing a lot of the hard/heavy stuff, but for saving us all from the spidery minions of Shelob.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


I've really gone and done it now.  

My history of doing stuff that makes me feel like that (oh boy, now I'm in for it!) actually makes me all eager and happy.  I've had ups and downs, but mostly ups after taking on a new responsibility, whether it's a job, a big project, or ...

Chickens.  Again.  Yay!

We have seven chicks.  Supposedly I got four Ameraucanas (the kind that lay blueish and/or greenish eggs) and three Silver Laced Wyandottes.  They told me they were sold out of Buff Orpingtons.  I really wanted one.  Now that I've got them home, though, I think one of them might be a Buff Orpington after all.  She looks an awful lot like a Buff Orpington chick, the classic yellow fluff ball ....
Not that I really care what breed they are, as long as I get good eggs.  I hope at least one of them is broody--I'd like a hen that raises her own chicks.  I'd heard that Orpingtons get broody, hence the desire to have at least one.

They're all adorable and regardless I know they'll be good hens, except the one that keeps pecking everyone--she'll be naughty and nice.  Assuming it's a her.  We ended up with a rooster last time, which was a happy accident.  I wouldn't mind having one again.

For our first day I got to be a hero.  One of the chicks had a partially blocked vent.  I probably wouldn't have taken her home if I'd noticed.  But I didn't notice, and I did buy her, so I had to make due.  I cleaned her bottom under warm running tap water, and then blew her bottom dry while fluffing around the vent with a Q-tip.  She didn't like it much, but aside from a few missing pin feathers, she's no worse for the wear, and far less likely to die or end up getting injured from her flock mates pecking her exposed, irritated skin.  Chicks (and chickens) are notorious for pecking at anything imperfect, and if the chick had gotten an actual blood spot from their attention--yowza.  They really go to town on anything red, to the point of murder.

Anyway, it's a good thing I got these because that's the last batch the feed store will order this year.  Besides, there's never anything to do around here.  I needed one more thing to keep me busy.  Yay cuteness!  Yay chickens!  Yay future eggs!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Waste Not, Live Larger

It's the start of another week.  I've had a lot more energy lately, so I'm going to take advantage and try to finish up a bunch of projects.

Do unfinished projects keep anyone else out there from writing at full speed?  I know I write more slowly when my dishes aren't done, and the house looks like a clutter monkey went on a rampage, and the garden is disappearing in the weeds.  But it could be the other way--that I'm falling behind on all these things because I'm not managing my time well.  Writing ends up being just another victim to my snail's pace.

On the other hand, I think there's a danger for a lot of people to over-schedule to the point that it's impossible to get everything done.  I've done that lots.  Sometimes the only remedy is to buckle down and get out from under your commitments, but it's also important to simultaneously say no to additional commitments until I get where I need to be at whatever energy level I'm working at.  People with disabilities or chronic illnesses are probably nodding their heads emphatically, because they know they can only do so much in a day, and on some days just getting up, getting dressed, sitting for a while, then getting undressed and back into bed is all they can really do.  Some can manage even less.  BTW if you haven't read about the Spoon Theory it's definitely worth a look.

The lesson we can all learn from that is to really look hard at our time as a whole, not just where we think we're wasting time.  Professional writers look at how many words they can write in an hour, and how many hours they can work before they start to bleed out of their eyes or before their heads explode.  Folks responsible for cleaning their own living spaces have a good idea how long it takes them to do a load of dishes, or run their laundry for the week (or the day--around here it's a daily chore.)  If I've been struggling for a while, I try to make a mental tally, but it might be more useful to do an actual physical one--making an actual list that includes all the little stuff, and assigning time to it.  It may be that a list like that may reveal that a particular work load is much too heavy when compared against our very human limitations.

Or it may reveal that I've actually been slacking off, playing too many rounds of Snood or surfing the internets for hours rather than the perceived minutes I think I'm surfing.  If I really do need a break, I'd prefer to make that choice and choose something (which may still be Snood or web surfing) than to just do something out of habit.

And that's what it boils down to:  real choices.  Choosing what you do with my life is a huge gift.  I don't want to waste that gift.  When you have a limited amount that you can do in a day, you don't have many options.  When you have a million options, it's easy to not put very much thought into it, which is a shame.  Because when the sky is the limit, the choices we make can lead us to accomplish amazing things.  

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Frightful weather; please, don't let it snow!

We've been sitting through storm after storm around here, with temperatures well below normal for our region for this time of year.  Now I'm especially glad that I didn't put out any tomatoes, except the two sacrificial ones of course.  Those two are doing okay, but after a few days of clear growth they've stalled out.  I would huddle for warmth myself if I were them.  I mean, seriously.  We've been running the heat in the house during a time of year when I normally air out the house with all windows and doors wide open in the middle of the day.  The thought of doing that right now sends additional chills up my already shivery spine.

The sunflowers I planted are still keeping their heads down too.  I don't think that we'll see them for another week (they germinate in 7-14 days) the way things are going.

So much for an extra long growing year this year.  And it started out looking so promising, too!  The notes in my gardening notebook are starting to take a definite grim tone.  But not all is doom and gloom.  The fava beans are doing really, really well.  They appear to be enjoying the cool weather, and are blooming like crazy.

In writing news, I sent out House of Goats.  Wish me luck!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

More on the Rats Wars

Rats Wars isn't as grammatically pleasing as Rat Wars, but I like that Rats backwards spells Star.

It's about the only pleasing thing in this situation. I can't have big vermin like this around the house. They're dangerous and dirty on a lot of levels. But they're also cute.

Yes, I admit, I like rats. I used to have a Chinese hooded rat for a pet. We named him Charm. The fact that these rats are brown/gray/reddish (depending on the individual) and wild doesn't distance them sufficiently from my pet for me to think of them as something radically different from Charm. In fact, I suspect they have a lot more in common with domesticated rats than domesticated cats have with wild cats. I think that if they were hand raised they would be easily tame-able, trainable, and would probably make decent pets just like Charm was.

I found Charm in a Hewlett Packard parking lot. What he was doing there, I have no idea. He ran up to me while I was doing a security check (in broad daylight) and climbed up onto my shoe. He was mouse-sized, so I assumed he was someone's pet mouse. I carried him inside, gave him water and part of my lunch, and put up a sign: Found, Domesticated Animal in Parking Lot. Identify to Claim.

No one asked about any animal at all, so my DH (boyfriend at the time) and I kept him. And he was great. He learned a lot of tricks, and enjoyed running freely around our apartment (though we kept him in his cage at night.)

Back to the present. When I saw an adult female bringing her two young over to the dog food bowl, I knew we were in trouble. We clearly had more than one rat. So far I've identified five--Big Red, a large male with a ginger 'hat', Junior, another male, all gray/brown, who is fighting Big Red for the top spot but is too small to pull it off, the adult female which my DH trapped yesterday (sigh-yay) and her young which I've dubbed big sis and little sis. I'm only guessing at this point that the two youngsters are female.

I wish we could let them be, but I know we can't. Their population will explode (again) and will create new entrances into the house. After all the work we had to do to get rid of the indoor group nesting in our house and garage ... no. Not gonna happen just because these guys are pretty neat.

But they are pretty nifty animals, and I have to admit that I enjoy watching them scurry across the porch (even while part of me is screaming Gah! every time they do it) and using their clever little front paws to pick out the best dog food kibble from the bowl. The girl child likes watching them too. "Why do I like watching them so much?" she asked me.

"You're getting in touch with your inner kitty," I told her. "It's fun to watch prey animals." But it's more than that, I know. I didn't think to mention it at the time, or maybe I did. I just have to admire such a successful, determined, clever animal that can steal food right from under the noses of our dogs.

On the other hand, it's not that hard. Our dogs don't chase small things. They protect them.

Yet another one of those times when I really miss my running buddy, Beast.

So we're trying to deal with them. It looks like their main nests are in the lawn, though they clearly have holes under the porch too. When the weather gets nice (I know, I've been saying this forever) the porch really does have to go. And I have to mow that lawn.

Sorry my little ratty neighbors. I hope you have something that'll warn you.

It's Moving Day.

HoG Synopsis

I'm working on a synopsis for House of Goats.

These things are not easy to write. This is especially annoying to someone who has honed their writing craft for a long time, because they're used to getting into a flow and concerning themselves more with what to right rather than how to write, if that makes sense.

I believe this difficulty happens because the synopsis form is an art in-and-of-itself. Just because you can write news articles really well, it doesn't mean that you can write poetry. Likewise, even if you can write really good fiction, it doesn't mean you can write a decent synopsis.

I don't mean that some people can never write poetry or never write synopses or what have you. I'm just saying that each writing form (and there are a lot of forms out there) is its own animal and you'll need some practice riding it before you can compete in a rodeo.

Most writers have far less practice at writing synopses than they do other writing forms, and they struggle. I fit into this category, so I'm struggling. But the synopsis is coming along. Or I should say, as I type each new version they're getting a little better, and eventually I'll have this thing as good as I can get it at this point in my life.

I'll be soooo happy when it's done, because then I can get back to the kind of writing I love.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Gah!! The Rat is Right There!

"Gah!  Look at that little $&@#), bold as brass!"  I tried to get the Sea of Unconditional Love's attention without scaring the rat that was feeding from their bowl right under their noses.  "Finn!  Brian!  Get him!"
Brian lifted his head lazily and the rat scampered off.
The girl and I watched the rat scuttle back and forth a couple of more times before we hatched a plan.  We let the Sea of Unconditional Love (our two Great Pyrenees crosses--alas, I miss Beast (he would have been on that rat in a second) inside and I set a trap outside.

And we waited.  And waited.

We're still waiting.  The rat appears to be more interested in other things than collecting dog food, at least for now.


Hopefully there'll be good news tomorrow.  But in the meantime, we have cleared all the rats out from inside the house.  Yay!

Now we just have to eradicate the outdoor nest.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Rototilling for Corn

Ten days. Woof.

A while back a great friend of mine gave me a rototiller. She didn't have the kind of garden you really would want to rototill (think English Romantic) so she didn't have much use for it anymore.

Around here, what we could really use is a huge tractor with about six attachments, but since we don't have one of those, we do everything by hand. Rototilling counts as 'by hand', btw, if you're working on about a quarter acre of veggie garden.

Oh, and those advertisements of the thin blonde following casually behind her rototiller, smiling with overly-white teeth?

No. Just, no.

The first 'cut' with the rototiller went in a couple of inches, just enough so that I could see dirt between the thickest clumps of chewed-up grass. To accomplish this, I had to hold the beast back while it hewed, sometimes in vain, at the compacted sod.  This is rather like holding back two huge dogs in harnesses while they try to pull you in surges in two slightly different directions.

Once I went once around with that (this took a whole day) I was able to till under another four inches or so.  Even though the rototiller went deeper, it was a little easier except when I hit a spot when I only grazed the surface the day before.  I'd do a little four foot by eight foot section, the engine would die (the carburetor is really dirty, or that's my guess anyway) and I'd take the opportunity to do a little hoeing and raking to get rid of the balls of grass roots so I'd have less of a chance of the entire section growing back as a spiffy, well-groomed pasture. I'm about a third of the way done. I'd like to say I'm sad that it's too rainy to rototill, but la la la I don't care la dee da dee da I don't have to rototill wee hee hoe.

But eventually I'll have to get back out there, and I trust the rototiller will run better and better as the cleaner we added to the gas starts to work its magic.

What's all this for? I'm going to try to plant a modification of the Three Sisters garden for some of it--corn, beans and squash planted together--and the rest will be corn field.

Planting. There's another thing that sounds easy.

After hauling lines of goat manure onto the pasture and sprinkling it with a special fertilizer I mixed up at the beginning of the year I get to rototill in the goat manure/lime in. Then I get to plant.  That involves hoeing a little trench, running the wheelbarrow down so there aren't all kinds of treacherously deep little holes for the seeds to fall in, then lay down the seed and hoe dirt over it.

Who knew gardening was so 'easy'?

I did set aside a wee section for sunflowers, about 6x6 feet. I always start with such high hopes for sunflowers, only to have them dashed, or rather scratched, by birds.  I usually only have a handful come up out of the many seeds I plant.  But this year, it will be different! That's right, I covered them, and they'll remain covered for about seven days in the hopes that the birds won't be able to get to them. And maybe, once they sprout, the birds will leave them alone.

It all sounds very chancy to me. Maybe I'll find that mosquito netting we have stashed somewhere and put that to use while the sunflowers are just wee seedlings.

Anyway, it's been ten days of gardening. I'm tired. I think I'll go write fiction now.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Tomato and Pepper Gardening in the Pac NW

We finally got some great gardening weather yesterday, which means oh boy am I sore this morning. Sore, but happy. I got two roses, lemon verbena, and lungwort into the ground.  I transplanted a few strawberries out of the shade, as well as some asparagus that I thought was dead due to constant feasting-on by bunnies, and caged two spots for the asparagus (one was big enough that I didn't want to move it, so I put a tomato cage over it and surrounded it with fine chicken wire.)  I weeded two huge beds, and cleaned up around my rosemary shrub, and opened a whole new veggie bed into which I planted my sacrificial tomatoes.

What are sacrificial tomatoes?  Those are those poor things that I plant waaaay too early.   There are a few ways to do super early tomatoes.   You can plant them in soil that's a 'hot bed'--basically a compost pile that's gotten past the super hot stage but still has latent heat.  Warm soil is even more important than air temperature--tomato roots go into shock or can be damaged severely by cold soil.  They need a minimum of fifty degrees Farenheit, I hear, though 55 or 60 would be much better.  Also, if you have a lot of warm days together in spring, you can double dig and then fluff the soil on those days.  If the nights don't get super cold again for a long stretch, you may find that the soil is okay for tomatoes when you measure the temperature.  You can also use solar heat.  After fluffing the soil on a warm-ish day, lay down black landscape fabric or black plastic.  After some days, as long as the nights aren't too cold, the soil should be plenty warm for your tomatoes.

If the soil is warm enough, then the rest is a snap.  I've heard of serious tomato gardeners starting as early as March.  It's doable ....  If you've got enough solar heat, you can go entirely solar for early spring growing--black landscape fabric on the ground, and make a mini greenhouse out of a tomato cage and plastic.  (Make sure there's some airflow, like a few small holes in the top, to vent excess heat and to discourage mold.)  If you really want to go nuts, you could probably find some greenhouse soil warming wires and plug those in.  

My method is to fluff the soil on at least a 4 foot by 12 foot bed on a warm day in February.  I fluff it again on a warm day in April (this also eliminates weeds,) then take a very early, hardy variety like Early Girl (indeterminate, aka vining) or Oregon Spring (determinate, aka bush), fluff the soil during a warm day in May, mix in goat manure from a compost pile (or straight from the barn works too though the pile will be nice and hot if its been in the sun and decomposing nicely) and then set in the plants.  If I hear about cold nights coming, I shelter them with plastic, otherwise I leave the poor dears to their own devices.  

Now the really fun part is this:  I don't care if I get tomatoes off these plants.  If I do, great.  What I'm looking for is A. whether they live (they usually do) and B. when they start to grow.  Make a mark on the stake or cage if you have to, but usually it's pretty obvious when they start to take off.  That's when I plant my precious darlings that I've carefully grown from seed in the wild world.  This has worked much better for me than taking soil temperatures and looking at average day and night air temperatures trying to figure out when it'll be okay for the tomatoes. Typically about two weeks after that, longer if it suddenly gets cold again (which has happened in June before,) I'll plant my peppers.  

BTW, if a tomato dies, it may not be the cold.  I've bought cheap tomato starts that ended up with some nasty diseases.  I've also had some get sunburn (parts of the tops of the leaves turn pale) because the grower didn't harden them off first.  Keep notes about this stuff and avoid growers that consistently sell plants with diseases or that haven't been properly hardened off, but don't avoid them from one failure--one of my favorite local growers had a really bad year and I lost almost all the tomatoes from their nursery that year, but previous and following years their plants have been far better quality than other nurseries.  It would have been a shame to give up on them due to one bad year.  (Most of the other growers had the same problem that year, btw.  Stuff happens.)

Happy growing!

Monday, May 03, 2010

Big *ss Clutter

Clearing out big *ss clutter takes strength, flexibility, willpower, and kittehs

I've been doing de-cluttering/clearing-type housework, and I've also started sorting through my Estrogenfest stuff between bouts of writing. If you're on Facebook and you've friended me, you can go take a look at a small sample of pics I took. I didn't post any pics of people I knew that showed faces, which really limited things.

My non-writing goal for the week--sell the no go, er, I mean the Nova. It's not running, so I'm pretty much pricing places that will salvage it. If you're a huge fan of Chevy cars and the idea of a 1987 Chevy Nova being sold for parts breaks your heart, speak up now! We simply don't have the money to keep four cars running, especially when three of them have problems. (The Bruiser and the blue Nissan both need tuneups at bare minimum right now--they're probably running rough for other reasons that I'm dreading to learn about. The Nova has been sitting so long that it'll need its gas tank devarnished in addition to whatever made it stop running on our hill way back when.)

Also, if anyone wants a big piece of walk-behind farm equipment (it has a PTO and more attachments than I can shake a stick at,) let's talk. I'll be cleaning it up and getting into selling condition as one of my summer projects unless someone is willing to pick it up as-is.

I'll also be looking into recycling a couple of non-working lawnmowers. If you love fixing up lawnmowers, speak up! They'll be gone as soon as I can arrange it.

And so goes the ongoing decluttering/reorganization that seems to be an ongoing part of living out in the country. I think we must have a stuff magnet somewhere in our barn or garage or something. I keep finding things that I have a dim or no memory of acquiring. Yikes. It'll be awesome when it's all gone.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Traffic iz teh suk

Wow. I mean wow. The traffic, it exploded.

I heard a report on AM radio (not sure how accurate it was) that two lanes on our normal bridge home were closed due to construction and then there was a car fire. Seriously. The newscaster said (may he simmer in heck) that we'd save a lot of time if we took the other bridge.


Because we spent an hour and a half just trying to get to the other bridge. The DH called it quits within a mile of the ramp (because the only reason we were moving at all was due to people bailing) and took a side road east. Our plan? Get completely out of Dodge and cross the river in the lovely Gorge. It would take almost an extra hour, but fine, at least we'd be moving.

Or so we thought.

See, people decided it would be easier to head on this side road east too, cut across, and get on the bridge with the car on fire on it because it must be faster than the bridge they wanted onto. I guess they didn't listen to AM radio.

So then (bear in mind this is Saturday and we aren't expecting any traffic at all) we got stuck on this two lane road behind all the people trying to get on a bridge with only one partial lane open.

It took us another hour (I think ...) to get past that. By then, we had to stop somewhere. Had to.

Now we're sitting in a bar. Just about everyone here is waiting for the traffic to clear up. There's no room at the two restaurants on the lovely McMenamin's Edgefield property, but the bars have seating and so we grabbed ourselves a lovely table for two. I had pan-seared ahi tuna with baby boc choi and jasmine rice. My DH had the Hunter's Platter--lots of dead wild animals with yummy potatoes and what I believe was swiss chard seasoned with fresh garlic slivers.

Amazing food. What luxury after being cooped up in a car for so long. We're looking at the traffic webcams and both bridges still look atrocious. Unless there's a radical change before the end of dessert, we're moving on eastward.

Just goes to show that maybe the best fix for a traffic jam is to take the next exit and wait it out in a place with excellent food and even better company.