Monday, March 26, 2012

From One Life, Many

Yesterday we had clouds but not much in the rain department, so after a morning of writing I went out and gardened a bit.

The rose I'd planted by Lucky's (our epileptic kitty who passed away not terribly long ago) sat askew. Suspicious, I tugged gently and, sure enough, it came right out. The roots had all been gnawed off.

I'm not sure what critter does this, not for sure. Top of my list is the vole. The cute little mouse-like critters are well-known for destroying what would be a relatively large plant compared to the vole itself (they can take out small trees!) in a relatively short amount of time. Their habit of finding something particularly tasty and hanging out eating on it until it's gone, whether it's a tulip bulb (sigh) or a rose, makes them far more destructive than other critters that may take a bite or two and move on.

Anyway, I had a moment of sadness, followed by irritation, and then I had to do something.

I was on my way to the store, so while I was out I snooped around for another rose. Nothing seemed adequate. I did find some lillies, Midnight Mystery and White Pixels, so I got those to plant to one side. And I went home with a plan.

I have rooting powder sitting around the house--gardeners are weird like that--so I put in some cuttings where the rose used to be, and I'm trying to start the rest of the cuttings from the rose inside the house. I also tried--in vain, I suspect--some rooting compound on the stump and set it in seedling mix. At the moment it looks very convincingly alive, if dormant. It seems to be a nicely-pruned rose waiting to be planted out later in the year. I used a clear plastic container on it so that I'll know the moment roots begin to form without having to disturb the rose itself. The normal-sized cuttings are all in peat pots, and if they take I'll put them out when the roots start to poke out of the pot.

If this works, it may become a strangely wonderful thing. The rose killed over my beloved kitty's grave might become many roses, a whole row that may live on well beyond my own lifespan.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Beginnings of Things

I've been thinking about openings to books and stories lately. One of my favorite recently-discovered openings actually comes from the Miyazaki's adaptation of Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea universe, Tales from Earthsea.

Two main elements make it work for me. First, the spectacle. Two dragons fighting--what could be more awesome? The second was the mystery aspect. The men on the boat watching the dragons are clearly stunned not only by the appearance of these creatures after a long absence, but the fact that they're fighting. The mystery deepens when a good king is killed by his son, who has recently been acting strangely, and the queen's seeming disinterest when servants fear that the prince has gone missing.

The killer--now we go into the prince's pov, and he doesn't know why he's killed his father.

Simply awesome. It makes me want to read the Earthsea Trilogy. I'm a bit ashamed to admit that I've never read it. My daughter owns it. I may have to sneak away with her books when she's not looking ....

Also on my late-to-read list: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Hunger Games. I've actually started The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and I have to say that the opening is much more quiet than I expected, considering all the hoopla. I don't mind quiet openings at all. It's just interesting, not so much to compare and contrast different openings to try to figure out how they work, but to observe that openings might not necessarily be all about functioning as a sort of marketing tool for a book, but that openings must serve the story. They have to be part of it, and stay in character, so to speak. If the reader is interested in that character (and it may be a setting rather than a human character or it may be something even more abstract--I don't mean character in the literal sense) they'll watch to see what happens next.

Anyway, the movie continued to entertain me after the wonderful opening. I suspect that the books will entertain me too. I'd love to be reading them now, but I'm already juggling two books and four would be a bit much.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Seeds and Armor

Two seed trays, three bags of seedling mix, and a bunch of seeds rubberbanded together. I guess that normal people have potting benches out back or do this in their garage. I'm not normal.

I open the seedling mix bag and discover that it's essentially peat moss with a little vermiculite mixed in. Oh well, I'll know better next year. I got myself a soup spoon for a scoop, but that's for later. First, you gotta dump as much dirt into the middle of the tray as you can and then start spreading it out toward the edges. My favorite part is when I lift the tray three times and smack it (gently!) on the dining table to 'pack' the soil down. After I fiddle around with topping off the low cells, I fill the water-catcher tray with about a half inch of lukewarm water and let the cells soak it up. Ideally the cells will be nice and moist with almost no water left in the bottom.

Ah, nice, dark earth (well, peat moss and vermiculite mix--no dirt here) ready for seeds. Some seeds go one to a cell, some of them two. With the more spendy seeds I put in just one and hope for the best. With the less expensive ones I double or sometimes triple up, with the plan of snipping off all but the nicest one in each cell.

Poor things.

And then I put on the tray's 'greenhouse' cover.

I don't like the things, actually. They promote mold, which then has to be combatted with anti-fungals. But I had this worse problem than mold last year ....

And sure enough, after a trip into town, my daughter rats him out.

"Wizard stepped on your seed trays. Sorry, I couldn't stop him."

I lift the greenhouse lid. Victory! With the soil level slightly below the tops of the trays, and the smaller cell size I selected, plus the tough plastic of the clear lid ....

No kitteh footprints here. Yay!

I felt a little bad for starting my tomato and pepper seeds so late, but you know what? It snowed all day, non-stop. I might still be late-ish, but considering the weather, hedging my bets for a later plant-out might not be such a bad thing. I just hope that my indigo rose tomatoes have enough time and heat to ripen. They look soooo kewl!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Diseases and Taxes

My son just picked up his first tax form and booklet ever. I barely remember the 1040EZ, except that it was, well, easy. Hence the name, I guess.

We use a tax service. It just seems too complicated for us, even using software, not to mention the software isn't exactly cheap either. Also also, we can go in any time during the year (for free! We like free) to have them run a wee little estimate so that we know where we're at as far as owing or not owing. When you're running your own business, this isn't just a great idea. Our preparer told us that, as far as small businesses are concerned, we do really well. Too many don't pay enough taxes during their quarterly periods. They end up owing, and put themselves on a payment plan, meanwhile still paying their regular quarterly taxes for that same year. If they can't make ends meet they become tempted to pay a little less on their quarterly taxes then they ought to, and end up with another year of payments after coming up short for that year ... and they never catch up.

A friend of mine has whooping cough. It's going around in our area, and may be spreading around the U.S. in general. Be careful out there. Check with your doctor or local pharmacist and see if it's a good idea to have a vaccination. They don't last forever, so if you had one as a wee babe, it's probably no good anymore. It's especially critical for folks who are elderly, kids in school, and people with infants in the household less than 2 months (who are too young to be vaccinated, and are also the most likely to die if they catch it.)

The world is wonderful and beautiful and all that, but it's also full of icky diseases. Sometimes it's easy to brush off the idea of vaccinations. Medicine seems like it's pretty powerful. But even the bugaboos that we've supposedly 'conquered,' like chickenpox and pertussis (whooping cough) can still kill, and pretty nastily too.

Be careful!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Tom Riddle Update

We had a little more snow today at the house. I hope that whatever it does overnight, it doesn't keep me from work (again.) It's been quite an odd year for snow. We've had it as late as April Fool's Day before, but nothing that stuck for long, never mind kept people at home from work and forced the snow plow guy to come out.

The cats do not approve.

It's very, very pretty, though.

Speaking of cats, our feral/barn cat, He Who Shall Not Be Named aka Tom Riddle (and he is a tom--an unaltered male--with unknown origins that we refused to name in order to keep up the illusion that he's not actually our cat which makes his entire name fun-ly appropriate) had something weird up with his eye. It looked really bad weird, so bad I thought he might have lost it. He'd been missing for three days, which wasn't really unusual, but when he turned up with yellow smeared over his face, one working eye and ribs poking out I thought he might be in real danger of losing his life. We had a plan in place to capture him and take him to the vet, but whatever had been going on with his eye appeared to clear up on its own. He's still very thin, though. We'll keep a close watch on him. The plan is to catch him sometime this summer and have him fixed, so I don't want to move the timeline up (he might not do well in cold weather after surgery, and I don't think we can keep him locked up in the bathroom without the whole house ending up smelling like a meth lab) and I certainly don't like the idea of catching him *twice* for medical procedures.

So, we'll wait. Wish him luck.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Weather Blahs

Rain is predicted for the next long stretch. That's a normal forecast for this time of year, and most locals react to the news of spring rain with a meh, including me.

Except ....

We had such nice weather this year! So now a lot of people going by my counter are complaining. About rain in the Pac NW? Guess what? Me too.

I guess it's true what they say about contrast. You can't appreciate the sun without a little rain. Only, around here, a little rain is a lot of rain. Constant, icy cold, miserable, wind-blown, unrelenting, soaking rain. Did I mention it's cold? It actually feels colder than the snow did. No joke.

And the beautiful flowers at the store? Splotched and droopy, heavy with rain, the blossoms look like someone spritzed them with bleach and then squished them a little bit before spreading them back out. Not attractive. They're fine, of course. But our spring color is drooping, and it feels like winter will never end.

The ducks and slugs disagree. Best. Weather. Ever.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

End of a 244 Year Era!

I heard on the radio this morning that Encyclopedia Britannica has published its last print issue this year, and then, no more. We'll still have it online, of course ...

I bet this last year's edition will become a collector's edition, and that they'll sell buckets of them.

It's a 244 year tradition. I look at that number and think, couldn't they have held out for 250? But with sales reported as being around 8000 last year, I don't think they could afford it.

There we have it, folks. A sign of the end of print books? I don't think so, but print magazines, journals, and yes, dictionaries and encyclopedias, may become casualties of this brave new age.

OMG, I really, really need to save my pennies and buy a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary quick, before they stop printing them! I have a beautiful abridged one that I adore. It's huge, with tiny print and thin pages and it has oodles and oodles of wonderful words in it and sometimes I read it for entertainment.

Just like people used to take a random volume off the shelf and read the Encyclopedia Britannica in their living room for entertainment. Alas! But it will continue, only with an ebook and the person's preferred hot beverage set below the screen level to avoid accidents.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Late Snow Day

Our fluffy gray cat, Carey, came in the door trailing snow from her legs, belly and tail. It's deeper than that, but apparently kittehs don't sink as deep into the snow as I do. My knees and the cuffs of my sweater are soaked--the spots that are exposed above the boots and below the hems and cuffs on my leather coat--from trying to clear out the car and driveway to go to work. Ha. I was so optimistic then. The pic above was taken shortly after I cleared the car off good enough so that it was driveable. Now I'm an hour late to work and it's still snowing buckets out there. It's supposed to melt by 2pm today. Maybe ....
In the meantime, I guess I'll have a second breakfast. I had my first at about 6:30 this morning. I'd expected snow, so I got up early so that I could clear the way to the road and get to work on time.
That didn't work out as planned. I didn't expect it to continue snowing, or for the snowplow's efforts to be in vain. The road has to have plenty of black pavement showing for me to safely make it down the hill. Our free tires that we get from the dealership aren't all-weather tires, and they go bald preposterously fast. The pickup and the two other sedans we own are not running. Not a one. My favorite sedan needs a new starter. It goes ziiiiing! when I try to start the car. The pickup needs a new fuel pump. It'll start if I put plenty of starter fluid in the carburetor, but it'll die again right away. We changed the fuel filter to one of those new-fangled clear thingies and you can see there's no fuel getting to the filter at all. And the no-go, I mean Nova, has been down for a long time waiting for me to accumulate enough money to fix it up. I forget what expensive part it needs to have, but it's almost $600 just for the part.
In short, I'm stuck. But it's beautiful out.
The goats and chickens disagree. I fed the goats, who are staying in the barn for today to the point where they wouldn't even poke their noses out the door when I walked up with their grain. They waited for me inside the barn. The chickens sat on the stoop when I opened the door. Beatrice tipped her head sideways, took a long look at the snow, decided naaaah, and went back into the coop.
So there you have it. A snow day on March 13. Kinda nifty, but couldn't it have happened on my day off?

Monday, March 12, 2012

To peep or not to peep

It's almost chick time.
I both love and hate raising chicks. They're a lot of trouble, but they're also a lot of fun, and sooo cute! Too bad that they poop and peep all day and most of the night.
After the various massacres, we have two very good hens left. We guard them very carefully. I could stand to have a rooster again, I think. I still have hopes that one of the hens will turn out to be broody.
For commercial considerations, hens have had broodiness bred out of them. When a hen sits to hatch her eggs, she stops laying, and she's sort of a nuisance because she'll resist any attempt to collect those eggs she's sitting on. So I completely understand why farmers bred it out ... and yet it's a problem for those of us with little bitty farms who would rather have the hens raise the chicks than to do it ourselves. Commercial places that bother with raising chicks do it with an incubator that automagically turns the eggs and keeps them at the right temperature. When the chicks are born they're transferred to carefully temperature-controlled rooms with automatic feeders and waterers and stuff. Me, I've got a heat lamp, a 20 gallon aquarium, and my office (which is tiled--easier to clean up than the rest of the house.) It's a mess.
I'm seriously considering skipping it this year. And yet ... I'd love to have green and blue eggs again, and maybe a rooster. Who knows? Someone in this batch might be broody ... hopefully not somewhere in the field where she and the eggs will get snatched by a raccoon ....

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Bark Dust on the Race Track

Working around a farm: does it make you crazy, or are you crazy to begin with? Based on yesterday, I'd have to vote for number two, because I can't blame any animals (well, okay, one small dog) for my behavior yesterday.

Chase runs up and down along the fence, chasing cars every day. Hence her name. Her previous owner used to let her chase cars w/o the protection of a fenced yard to keep her from running under the tires or potentially getting hit by another car coming along as she retreats, dodges, whatever. It's amazing she survived.

But I digress.

Her happy-making activities have created what I refer to as the racetrack. It's a strip of mud about sixty feet long and 2-5 feet wide with rises at each end that swoop up against the fence. She made those swoops. Seriously. If it were shorter and fatter it would look like a skateboarder tube. That's how many times she's run along this track. She's done this enough that dirt she carries on her paws and dirt she scoots when she takes off from the corner has built up about a foot on each side.

That's a lot of running.

In wet weather she turns into a total mudball. Our other dogs remain pristine and dry by watching the rainy weather from the doghouse or the front porch, a total area that's larger than my living room and quite comfy if their behavior is any indication. Meanwhile the little idio--Chase--is out in the rain running up and down this track, getting soaked and filthy. Which results, eventually, in a bath. She gets more baths than any other animal.

I thought, in order to help her out a bit, it might be nice to cover this track in bark chunks. (Actually, all my life we've called it bark dust. Why dust? I don't know! I don't make up the local slang.) The truck broke down on the way back home (of course) and it had to be towed to our house and very inconveniently placed because the tow truck had bald tires and couldn't make it straight out past the barn.

It was an interesting night.

Anyway, we had two short days of sun, and because of the tow truck drama I wasn't able to unload the bark dust on the first day. No problem! I'll just unload it after work on the second day, because I know it'll rain the following day and we all hate working in the rain, plus Chase would turn into a mudball again before we got it out.

So my very patient daughter and I jumped out of the car as soon as we got home and grabbed the shovels and the wheelbarrow. I quickly change into my should-have-been-work-jeans-but-became-waiting-for-the-tow-truck-pants and we start hauling bark dust to the racetrack. It's already getting dark but I'm sure I can see just fine. For the first two loads. Then it gets kind of iffy. I memorize where all the branches are so that I don't poke my eye out on a tree. My daughter is raking in the dark. I ask her to spread it as evenly as she can up onto the swoops and she protests with a "I can't see a d-ed thing!" and I respond with "well, feel around with your hands and do your best."

That's when I realized I'm crazy. I mean, that's when I realized again that I'm crazy. And it's not Chase's fault.

But we got it done! The stars were beautiful.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Animal and Weather Update

Wizard is doing well. The minor injury he sustained under his right front leg is healing nicely, thanks to a long line of stitches. He even spent some time outside today. He loved it. Sunny, warm, mild winds ... everyone enjoyed today, even those of us who had to work indoors at a day job.

I think a lot depends on whatever your local normal climate is, but around here when there's sun, people smile, liven-up, get stuff done, and there's a crazy amount of spring-fever energy in just about everybody. The usual for the Pacific NW is a week or three of excellent weather in February, preceded and followed by storm after storm with only rare sightings of blue sky between the clouds. This year has been anything but that--and the really weird part is that we had so much precipitation in our local mountain range that our snowpack is a little above normal. More sun and more snowpack?

I'll take it, thanks.

The thing that's got me a little befuddled is the worming thing. Goats ought to be wormed in spring time. Along with the flush of nice green grass come icky, nasty worms that can kill if they overload the goat's system too quickly. Usually I hold off on worming until April or May, depending on the average temperatures. This year ... yeah. I think I'll have to worm them on Sunday, and probably again in about a month. Two wormings this spring instead of one. That means an extra miniature rodeo. Since we'll be capturing and saving them from doom against their wills anyway, I might as well trim their hooves at the same time. They really love that.

I hope it doesn't rain on Sunday or I'll be muddy from head to foot. (Actually, muddy and covered in other, less savory stuff.) Yee ha?

Monday, March 05, 2012

Mucking Out the Barn

It always sounds so easy.
"Hey, kids, wanna make some money? Go muck out the goat barn. I'm going to go do some gardening."
At least they've done this often enough that they gear up first. Paint-spattered work clothes. Shovels. Our duct-taped together wheelbarrow with washers and screws holding the barrel onto the handle because the original bolts broke through a long time ago. They forget the rake and/or decide that they don't need it.
I go to the garden to put some new bareroot roses into pots. (I find they do better that way than if I put them straight into the ground.) About fifteen minutes later I hear loud arguing, and then the wheelbarrow bumps along past me to the designated new mound of poo where I'll grow this year's pumpkins.
"Need help?" I ask.
I take it that they need my help.
I finish potting up the roses, grab a rake which the child insists we don't need, and head out. I'd planned, of course, to just organize things into piles and make sure that they start someplace more sensible than the middle.
Next thing I know I've got them alternating (whoever takes the wheelbarrow out doesn't help fill it) and I'm working continuously, loosening the muck, helping shovel it in, more loosening and raking while the wheelbarrow person takes the poo to our pile and the soon-to-be-wheelbarrow person rests.
After the first clean corner gets straw laid down the goats come to help distribute it by grabbing a mouthful and dancing out the door, as if any of us have the energy to chase them.
We quote lines from Support Your Local Sheriff and get the blamed job done. It's getting dark. I have just enough time to plant a couple of hellebores that have been waiting for months in their little pots, and I jam in some pussywillows near the road. Darkness falls with a splat.
My 'gardening' day is done.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Smashwords Promotion

To celebrate Read an E-Book Month, many Smashwords authors (including me) are offering special deals on their books. To get 75% off of House of Goats or Masks, enter the code REW75 (as far as I know this is case sensitive) before checkout! The coupon is only valid from March 4 (midnight tonight!) until 11:59pm on March 10th, 2012. I encourage you to visit Smashwords to see other great deals. I hear that there will be quite a few books offered for free!