Monday, February 24, 2014

Spring Hopes Eternal

Normally one would say Hope Springs Eternal but when I decide to discuss gardens, vegetable seed starting and it is only late February -- trust me, it is Spring Hopes Eternal.

I have been reading those fabulous fantasy books that were delivered in late December - you've seen them, those notorious seed catalogs and all their promises.  I swore two years ago that I would never, ever attempt to grow another garden.  Last year I maintained that promise - no garden.

Sure I would glance out the window to where the raised bed, empty except for a few weeds daring to grow at its edges, would taunt me.  Skeletons of tomato cages of summers passed haunted one end of the garden. A partially fallen tee-pee of bean poles stood at the other end.  Such a forlorn landscape.  It pained my heart and I knew that come the next summer, I would want to attempt another garden.

I perused the catalogs, checking this variety against that variety to best optimize my garden.  Then I factored in price.  Hmm?  Would I do better with a package of 20 seeds for $1.25 from vendor A - a not too well-known place or a package of 100-250 seeds for $6.95 from vendor B - a very well-known company.  Both vendors were offering me the same variety, let's say Beefsteak tomato or California Wonder bell pepper.

The decision finally was based on need.  My small "planned" garden would be only 16 ft long and either 4 or 6 ft wide.  I will plant a total of maybe five or six tomato plants, maybe three peppers and a variety of other veggies.  Twenty seeds seemed plenty for the need. In fact, if I store them properly, they should work for next year... and maybe the year after that, too.

Now, if I'd been planting a farm garden to sell veggies at the roadside or Farmers' Market in town, perhaps 100 seeds would have been needed.  But, I'm not growing for them - I'm growing for me.

Of course, there are other plans to be considered in the new garden this coming year.  First and foremost is a new location.  I can't grow a garden at its present location since it is only about 15 feet from the woods and every critter from a small chipmunk, medium rabbits, large raccoons and huge deer (plus others) prowl behind my house.  Even the insects get into the game mix attacking my garden.

A couple of years ago I lost a whole crop of sweetcorn in one fell swoop in the dark of night.  I'd watered the corn, the scent was very heady.  If I could smell it, just imagine the enticement to the wildlife - especially the raccoons.  In one night they destroyed over 200 stalks of sweetcorn that had been doused with a hot mix of chili, cayenne, and Tabasco. I'd even sprinkled coyote urine around in hopes of stopping any attack.  I lost.  The following year I had an electric fence around my corn patch but the corn had a miserable year and the best I could hope for was maybe 20 ears of corn.  Even the raccoons weren't interested.

Also, my ground is laced with juglone. There once was a walnut grove on my property. Black walnuts produce a toxic juice called juglone which remains in the ground upwards of twenty years AFTER the walnut tree has been removed.  By removed, I mean, tree AND roots!  If the roots are left, start the twenty year count AFTER they roots have finally rotted away.  Also, the juglone can work itself upwards -- according to what I've read -- at most about 4 or 5 inches.  Even the leaves have that toxic stuff in them but in such small quantities they shouldn't hurt a plant.  So, I'll just have to learn to remove leaves and branches from the garden since many of the trees around my house are black walnuts.

So, my garden must be raised.  I built my raised bed 8 inches high and placed garden fabric down before adding the dirt.  Most of the dirt was brought in while I was building a retaining wall, but my son dug some nice topsoil from the edge of the property - about 20 ft away from 2 beautiful black walnut trees.  Need I say anymore?  I planted a very nice rhubarb plant and used some nice black bagged dirt to help it get settled in.  It grew for almost 40 days before I started to see the leaves start curling and in 3 weeks it was just a black stub, dead.  As the roots reached outward, they finally moved beyond the black dirt into the regular soil and juglone, for rhubarb, is instant death.  Very few plants can survive in juglone laced soil.  Okay, weeds really grow well but...

Therefore the new garden will be located in front of the house on the ground behind the 8 foot retaining wall but just to make sure - it will be raised up 2 feet.  Before any dirt is placed into the new raised bed, a very thick layer of newspaper will be put down THEN the IMPORTED dirt will be added.  The last six inches of soil at the top will be from bags of top soil, sand, peat and moss from a local nursery or store.  It should be very good garden soil and great for the vegetables.

My seeds are ordered and I anxiously await their arrival.  I hope to start many of plants indoors and then place them into the garden.  Of course, things like carrots, beets, and cucumbers will be started in the garden in mid-May.  I won't be growing sweet corn -- I'll buy that during the late summer glut, along with the melons.

Once again Hope Springs Eternal as Spring Hopes Eternal.  We'll see how things are doing come July.

Until next I ramble on...

Monday, February 17, 2014

Computer Wizardry

I have a computer and at the time I thought it had all the space I would ever need to store my stuff on. I was wrong.  Oh, so very wrong.

One would think that 50G of space would be plenty of workspace for Windows to do its thing and another 50G for me.

Again, so wrong in so many ways.

It seems, even if I install the programs on the 2nd storage area (D drive) the installation process will still load a crapful of dlls and other strange Windows components on the main drive (C drive) thus eating up all that valuable space.  And some programs don't even give you the courtesy of allowing you which drive you will install the programs on - defaulting to the primary (C drive) storage area.

Tonight, with tongue in cheek and grabbing the seat of my pants in an attempt to fly -- I re-partitioned my drives to give the primary drive more space and thus reduce the secondary drive.  And, trust me, it wasn't because there was an extreme amount of unused space on the secondary drive.

Tomorrow I will laboriously work my way through the files and archive what I can to that backup unit which has a very robust Terabyte of space.  I back up my drives to it -- at least the important areas and made a very small dent - more like a scratch - on the space usage there.

So, now I will archive and remove documents, books, short stories, and other trivial things that I feel are too important to lose.  I will relegate them to the Terabyte system.

I've got music - lotsa music.  I'm going to keep some of more heavily used tunes on my secondary drive but many of them will, like the documents, etc - be relegated to the Terabyte backup device.  I figure I can listen to them from that drive just as well as from the D drive.

Of course, a lot of my anguish could be easily remedied with a simple purchase of a new system.  But really, do I need to upgrade just yet?  I mean, I've had this system for going on 7 years and it works just fine.  Okay, it works a lot better since I upgrade the RAM memory and doubled its size.  I listen to music and I write stories - it isn't like I need a super fast processor or Wow-my-pants-off graphics usually needed for all the new games.  I do play a couple of games but they are simplistic - like Pinball which comes with the system and a couple of others that are simple.  I'm not into those heavily graphic programs that make you feel like you're part of a movie.

I'm just getting into graphics - 3D - and do need a little computing power but for now, I'm still an amateur in that field and feel that what I have should be more than sufficient -- at least for another few months.  I attempted a rendering of a sample lesson. I was told it could take upwards of an hour, maybe longer.  Hmm? After 10 mins the progress bar still read a number I'm very familiar with - ZERO... sort of like my banking account.  Yes, 0% completed in 10 mins.  An hour?  More like an overnighter it would seem.  Of course, that was right before I started my project of re-allocating space on the my drives.  Maybe now it would work faster.  I'll check it out later.

I don't know but it sounds like I'm convincing myself that I need a new computer.  Okay, I'm convinced.  Now I just need to convince the banker that we need TWO new computers.  Trust me - if I tell my wife I need a new computer -- I'm sure she is not going to be too pleased.  Her computer is older than mine!  Part of the negotiations will be including her in getting a new computer so I can get my computer.  As I told my buddy -- I only look dumb.  Maybe they'll have a nice laptop available for Memorial Day Sales -- I think I can hang in there until then.

Yeah, just call me the computer wizard.

Until next I ramble on...

Monday, February 10, 2014

Pressure Writing

Exactly how do you write?  Is it casual with a 'what I write is what I write' attitude?  Or do you write with a certain number of words, a goal, in mind?  Or is it like I'm doing right now - under duress and time constraints.

For me, I enjoy the first method - what I write is what I write.  I like the ability to decide that 50 well-chosen words are the meat of the writing day. Or, if I decide, 2,000 words will comprise my daily endeavor.

Of course, I also find that having a goal in front of me - say 1700 words per day for 30 days will garner me a base novel of 51,000 words.  With that commitment, I can then go back and edit, cleaning up, massaging and adding the depth and detail necessary to gain a nicely sized volume to call a finished product.

Unfortunately, for me, most of the time I find myself under the gun.  Time slips away and before I realize it, the next installment, whatever, is due in very short order.  How short?  It is now 11:30pm, Sunday night, and this blog must be ready to show at midnight-thirty, my usual release time.  I have exactly one hour to finish this and post it.

But, wait, let's go back to the casual writing effort.  The really fun part of that is when I'm not being pressured into a time-freak, my mind can relax and wander.  I can let my characters stroll down the proverbial garden path and enjoy the roses.  In return, they will lead me on a journey, showing me such wonderful and awesome things. My only hope is for me to get all of the words down and keep pace with the characters so I know what is happening.

In my latest book, soon to be released, "Pangaea: Eden Lost" I was writing and had no idea what was going to happen since I'd been taken off-track a chapter earlier.  So, in total befuddlement, I typed "We have company at the gates."

Don't ask me why!  I just did and for the next four chapters, I was on a roller coaster ride of sheer adventure and amazement as my characters took over the story and I typed crazily to keep up.  One of my test readers said it was some of the best stuff she'd read in a long time - very imaginative and exciting.  She found herself so engrossed in the story she almost didn't hear the nurse call her name for the appointment.

So it goes.  Casual writing.

But, then again, when I'm under duress, I can literally fly by the seat of my pants and come up with something pretty good.  Maybe not this particular blog entry, but I've had my lucky days.

During National Novel Writing Month, the 1700 words per day requirement not only works as a great incentive during November but it also works well any other time.

The only problem I've discovered is within me - my terrible case of procrastination.  If I'd be smart, I'd write my blogs on Tuesday for the following week rather than the Sunday before publication.

But then, at my age, I'm retired, there's always tomorrow. Early rising is 9 in the morning and if I want to watch a movie at 1 a.m., I don't have to worry about getting up for work the next day.

Oh wait, this was about writing.  Sort of holds true there, too.  There's always tomorrow until Sunday night.

Until next I ramble on...

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Blog Tour

Exactly what is a blog tour? How to they work?

From what I can tell, there are several different versions of how this can be handled. My friend did a 'whirlwind' tour of 22 blogs in 21 days.  His critique: Wow. Intense.

Seems he was on a new blog each day - well, there were 2 days when he wasn't on any blog - so he had to double up some of the other days. Anyway, when he was showcased on a blog, he made sure that he was available to reply and answer any questions that might be added in the comments. He told me it kept him hopping, especially when he was on two different blogs on the same day.

Another blog group decided to attempt an ambitious tour: Host a writer for a week on 1 blog and then move to the next blog with a total of 15 blogs currently in the mix. So, in actuality, the writer was being advertised, for all practical purposes, a total of 15 weeks... almost 4 months.  If more blogs joined, then the author would continue on until they all had been visited.  Talk about exposure.

But what exactly does the writer do for a blog?

From what I've been able to discover -- the author has different possible scenarios. One site wants an interview to learn about the author. Another wants to detail the book(s). While another may just want the writer's thoughts on the craft.

I've never done a blog tour but I have been a guest on a couple of other blogs.  I've done the interview and I don't think that I'm all that exciting.  I attempt to give a snappy response and show my "fun" side, sometimes it just doesn't work.

So what blog tour can you examine?  Take a gander at this week's offering from Facebook's "Fantastical Reads Event"  It has a great lineup of writers --

February 1st
Elise Stokes- Cassidy Jones
February 2nd
M.E. Lorde
(Michael Lorde)
Tolomay's World and The Pool of Light
February 3rd
R.K. Ryals- Tempest
February 4th
Elyse Sulpeter - The Hunt for Xanadu
February 5th
Sarah Wallace -Canvas Skies
February 6th
P.L Blair - Shadow Path
February 7th
Joseph Lallo - The Book of Deacon
February 8th
David Cassidy -Velvet Rain

Fantastical Reads Event <-- Click to visit;

And, now, the question that everyone has been waiting for the answer to--

Question: Are they any good?

Answer: Perspective. What are you expecting or hope to accomplish. Sales? Recognition? Presence? Each of those, in and of themselves, have their own reward. Maybe sales will increase.  Maybe people will come to know your name.  Hey, you might even get a fan base created for having a presence.  Only you, the one who goes on a blog tour can decide if they are any good.

Until next I ramble on...