Aug 032016
 

Wow.  My 50th post since I began posting (semi) regularly. You’ve all heard the old adage that when you do something regularly for 21 days, that it forms a habit?  Well, not so much.  There’s some basis for the saying, but the truth of the matter is that it’s basically the same as the stuff that comes out of the south end of a north-bound horse.  It usually takes at least two months of repeating an action before it begins to become a habit.

But with this being the 50th post, well… that’s getting close to two months worth, right?  Right?  I’m going to say yes.  Big Smile

These weekly postings are becoming enough of a habit that I definitely miss it when I don’t get something up here on Wednesdays. Last week, it was nothing more than an experiment on a new way to let people sign up for my publishing announcements (a successful experiment, I might add.)

This week, there’s a bit more to talk about, so let’s get to it. I have another habit I’m working on (writing) and I need to get back to it.   Wink

 

Writing –

I got a couple of late responses back from three of my Chucklers beta readers.  Comments from two were that they much preferred the new ending, so it looks like that was a good call.  And last night I got another one, where the reader found a couple of flat-out mistakes in the manuscript that got past me, and all the other betas!  I know that no manuscript is ever, EVER perfect, but these mistakes really made me shake my head. There is a missed first-person pronoun, that hearkens back to the earliest “first person” version of the story (before the cast of POV characters got big enough to make first person impractical), a character named incorrectly (again, back when the character had another name in a previous version), and a less critical, but still noteworthy misspelling.  Oy!!  Beat Up

In the meantime, End Point Pangaea is going well.  I’m about 8k words into it, and moving right along.  With any luck, the first draft will be done in a few months.

 

Gardening – 

Melon01The cantaloupes are starting to ripen like crazy, and it seems like we get a new one (or two, or three) every day. And some of the watermelons are so close to being ripe that it’s driving MBH & I crazy waiting. We’ve been SO tempted to go ahead and pick one just based on the size, color, and the “thump” sound when we tap one.  But everything I’ve been told, read, and learned last year, says that we have to wait until the “spoon” leaf dries up, and the tendrils closest to the fruit turn brown.  So we wait.  (sigh)

We’ve got all kinds of peppers coming in, and we’re getting some eggplants, too.  No more tomatoes, though.   Frown  And despite throwing tons of diatomaceous earth on the squash bugs that killed our zucchini, they migrated to the cucumber plants and killed them too.  I’ve got some neem oil and am planning to spray the crap out of the little buggers with that tomorrow morning.  If I don’t, then I run the risk of them migrating to my melons next, and that simply cannot be tolerated!   Soldier

 

Personal –

Remember a few weeks back in WW48 when I talked about the problems we were having with the girls fighting? We were to the point of being willing to give Cricket to a new family, despite the fact that it was going to break our hearts.  Well, that new home didn’t happen, and we’re still going through their training regimen every evening.  And (fingers crossed) it looks like it may be working.  Neither MBH nor I want to jinx anything, but the girls haven’t fought in more than two weeks, and they seem to be accepting their new roles in the pack.  Bella is doing better with the training exercises (trying to get Cricket to lay down is frustrating at times… she seems to think you want her to roll onto her back and submit), but we’re seeing progress.

And like I said, I don’t want to jinx anything.  We still have a few months of this regimen before we can really begin to relax.

So that’s it. Time to get back to work. Take care everyone, and as always, stay safe.  Bye

Jul 062016
 

What to write about?  There’s been quite a bit going on since I last posted…. what, two weeks ago?  WW46aThe dogs have been fighting again, resulting in a lot of anxiety in the Brackett household.  For some reason, this keeps happening, and we’re at our wits’ end as to why.  This time, Cricket got a good puncture on her flank and the vet put three staples in to hold the wound closed.  Cricket had two of them out within the hour.  The third one took her an extra day to get out.   Struggle

In other news, I recently got a reminder on Facebook that showed some of last year’s garden photos.  I was surprised to see that I’m actually doing better this year than I was at this time last year.  For instance, two days ago FB memories showed me a picture of the cantaloupe bed that I had posted exactly one year previously.  The vines were just getting started, just beginning to fill the bed.  This year, not only have the plants completely filled their bed, but we already have small cantaloupes growing.  Some are a bit larger than a grape, others are about the size of a baseball.

WW46bBetter yet, some of the Black Diamond watermelons are beginning to mature.  So all in all, I suppose I’ve learned a bit since last year’s gardening attempts.  I know I can grow the heck out of cantaloupe (and hopefully watermelon) plants.  We’re also doing better with the tomatoes, though still not as good as I would like.  I planted several varieties this year, but the only two that seem to be doing well are the San Marzanos and the Big Boy tomatoes.  The San Marzanos are putting out all kinds of fruits, (although they aren’t yet ripe), and the Big Boys have put out only a couple of maters, but the plants still look nice and healthy.  Some of the others may have put out one or two tomatoes, but the plants don’t look like they’re thriving.  I’ll see how they do over the rest of the season, but so far, it’s looking like I should concentrate on these two varieties next year.WW46d

But while I may be doing better this year than last, I definitely still have a lot to learn.  For instance, the garden tower that was such a huge success last year isn’t doing so well this year.  I think I mentioned that I had devised a little automated watering system for the tower.  I cobbled together some bits from the drip irrigation system repair kit I had, and was actually pretty proud of how it turned out.  Every morning at 5:30, the little sprinklers would kick on for fifteen minutes.  Then again at 8:30 at night, they would kick on for another fifteen.

Note to self – next year DON’T DO THIS!  I now have white mold in the potting soil, and something called fungus gnats.  On top of that, all my lettuce went straight to seed.  (sigh)  So this year the garden tower is pretty much a bust.

And the zucchini plants were doing great until a couple of days ago, producing a few zukes every day for us.  Two days ago I noticed that two of them were beginning to wilt.  Today, it’s four of them, and their productivity has almost completely halted.  At first I thought it had to do with the fact that I had turned off the irrigation system for a few days.  It had rained for a few days, and I didn’t see the need to keep irrigating them when Mother Nature was doing a much better job of it.  But when I saw that things were getting worse today, rather than better, I ran a quick online search for the most common causes… then did a face palm when I realized what it likely was.  Zucchini is a kind of squash, and squash plants are notoriously susceptible to squash bugs.  I looked up pictures of the little critters to see what they looked like, then went out to see if I could find them on the plants.

WW46eSure enough, I found what I was hoping NOT to see, but feared I would.  Squash bugs are killing my zucchini plants.  I can spray them with diatomaceous earth, but that will also kill any bees that come by as pollinators.  I suppose I can try only putting it on the lower parts of the plants, but that’s going to be difficult to do with the wind blowing the way it is.  I’ll have to think on it for a bit.   IDK

The rest of the garden is doing pretty well, with various bell peppers and jalapeños popping up.  The cucumbers got off to a bad start, and I don’t know that they’re going to do much this year.  But from what I recall from last year, my cukes didn’t really take off until much later in the season, so I won’t give up on them just yet.

WW46c

Largest bocking #14

And a couple of the eggplants are looking like they’re going to put up fruit in a week or so.  The Anaheim peppers aren’t doing anything yet, but the plants still look healthy, so I’ll see if they’re just late bloomers.

WW46f

A single comfrey leaf

And the comfrey!  It’s going to town! I now have four comfrey plants; two bocking #4, and two bocking #14.  I got the #4 plants last winter and overwintered them in buckets until early this spring and they’ve done well.  I got a couple of #14 plants from a friend on May 24 of this year.  That’s just six weeks ago.  When I planted the #14s, they had two or three small leaves on them, and were about six inches tall.  Today the one of them was a couple of feet tall (picture to the right), and I harvested leaves from it for the dehydrator.  The second one isn’t doing quite as well as this one, but it’s still doing all right.  I figure I’ll probably get another four or five harvests between the two of them before winter sets in.  Plus I’ll get about the same from my older #4 plants.  All in all, I figure I’ll be set for medicinal comfrey by winter.

And that’s about it for the Brackett Homestead Garden Report.   Grin

 

Now, on to writing news…

I got the manuscript back from the Severed Press editor, and edits are ongoing.  We’ve also been going back and forth on cover art.  So far, they haven’t sent me anything that really blows my socks off, but I don’t want to be a complete pita either.  The latest concept piece they sent me wasn’t bad.  I won’t say it’s amazing, but it’s not bad.  Maybe I just got spoiled working with Streetlight Graphics.  Unfortunately, going with a press means I don’t get to work as closely with the cover artist as I was used to with SLG, and I may have to compromise more than I’m used to.  The main thing is to get the book out, and get some sales rolling in – get my name back out there after a much too long hiatus.  And that’s what Severed is supposed to excel at. So I have to trust them with my baby at some point.  Right?

So with edits ongoing (I’m about halfway through), and the cover design in progress, I’m guessing that the first Chucklers book will likely be out in the next few months.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed anyway.

End Point Pangaea is on hold while I work on Chucklers edits, but it is going to be my main project as soon as edits are done.  My goal is to have at least the first draft done before the end of the year.

And that’s about it.  Time to get back to work.  So stay safe everyone.  I’ll see you next time.  Bye

Jun 012016
 

WW43Writing –

Well, I hinted in my last post that I might have some news on the writing front.  I’d hoped to have everything hammered out by now, but I suppose that was too much to hope for. Bottom line… I still don’t have anything definitive that I can tell you. However, I can say that I am working with a small press trying to come to an agreement for the publication of two series of books. Not two books, mind you… two book series.   Jump  Now, I’m going to just pretend that this isn’t awesome news, and that I’m just so very macho that it doesn’t make me want to jump up and down like a little kid.

Yeah, I’m way too mature for that.

Riiiight….   Party

I know the whole thing still might fall through. We’re in the back and forth part where they make a boilerplate offer and I counter. For all I know, they might decide I’m not worth the counter and rescind the offer. But this is where I have to decide what my writing is worth, and live with the consequences. And I’ve decided to concentrate on the positive side of this. I’m not going to dwell on the fact that I could conceivably hose up the whole deal, and be left holding the proverbial bag. Instead, I think my takeaway from all this is going to be that I have two book series that someone is interested enough in that they’ve made me an offer to publish them!

So excuse me for a moment while I do a little happy dance.   Fingers Crossed

And if they don’t accept my counter, I just have to bite the bullet and do it myself. After all, it’s not like I haven’t already self-published. Sure, going that route eats up money on the front end, but you eventually make it back. So one way or another, I’m going to have more books out in the near future.

 

Personal –

On a more personal note, my efforts in gardening seem to be better this year than last. I’ve got more plants (healthy plants) in less space this year, and they appear to be fruiting up much better than last year. I’ve learned from a lot of friends, and actually am at the point that I’m having to give seedlings away. I have way too many cantaloupe and watermelon seedlings. Many more than I have room for. Luckily, I know people in the area that will take some off my hands. I like the idea of spreading the wealth, so to speak. That way, if I screw up and kill mine, there are still others who will be able to reap the benefits.   Wink

And that’s it. I need to get back to work. So stay safe everyone.  I’ll talk to you next week.  Bye

 

UPDATE:  I was just about to post this when I received an email. We have a tentative agreement on terms! All that’s left now is the actual signing of the contracts.  Looks like I’m going to transition into being a hybrid author.  Well, what do you know?  Heh

Apr 202016
 

WW40cFirst of all, to my friends and family in Houston… I know some of you took some damage from the insane rains this week (Scott, Adam…). You have my sincerest sympathy. I know I whined about being scared by a tornado a few weeks back. You guys really didn’t have to do this just to show me up!  Thinking

I lived most of my life in and around the Houston metroplex. One thing I learned is that, while it doesn’t happen often, those floods can be devastating. I remember being stuck in my neighborhood a time or two, and MBH recalls being flooded out of her house when she was a kid. I even lost a friend during Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 when she was told to move her car from a flooding underground parking garage. She took the elevator down, where the rising water shorted it out, trapped her inside, and filled with water. Kristie and I were both members of the Woodlands Writers Guild, and had worked on some writing conferences together.

And I guess this post just took a rather maudlin turn, didn’t it?

Moving to a more upbeat tone… I spoke to my mom this morning, and she seems to be recovering from her knee surgery wonderfully. The staples were removed from the incision yesterday, and she has regained motion in the knee to the point of being able to bend to nearly 90 degrees (although she says bending that far is still painful). All in all, she’s doing great.  Big Smile

Chucklers is moving right along. Restructuring the book has led to some rewrites and character expansions. Otherwise, most of the first book would be from Charlie’s POV, but interspersed with occasional chapters from other characters. In short, it would be completely out of balance without the reworks. But like I said, the work progresses. At the current rate, I should know soon whether the existing manuscript is going to be one book or two.

WW40bA final note. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve begun researching and applying some herbal medicine skills. There are a lot of pieces to those skills. You have to learn what plants have what medicinal properties, how to make them into infusions, tinctures, infused oils, salves, and poultices. But none of that knowledge does you any good if you aren’t able to identify the plants accurately. Well today I learned to identify a new plant. I’d read about it in several herbal medicine books, and seen it on various websites, but Plantain has so many variants that it threw me. And seeing pictures of something just isn’t the same as being able to put your hands on it and see it in real life.

Today, while I was walking the girls, I noticed a plant in a neighbor’s yard that looked very much like the descriptions and pictures I’d researched. And after all the rain we’ve had here (no, nothing like Houston) they were pushing up an easily identifiable flower stalk. But I still wasn’t sure, so I took a picture and posted it to a wildcrafting site I follow asking if it was, indeed, plantain. Sure enough, several wildcrafters confirmed it for me.

WW40aBut I didn’t want to go into the neighbor’s yard and start digging up plants. Besides, I sure didn’t want to make an infused oil from a plant that could have pesticide or other chemicals in it. So I decided that since I was now able to accurately identify this handy little medicinal, I went into my own back yard, hoping to find it there. It wasn’t until I had walked all the way to the back that I found it, but once I did, I was happy to see that there’s quite a bit of it near the back of the property. (Most of the broad-leafed plants in the picture to the left are plantain.) Specifically, it looks like I have Kentucky Plantain growing in relative abundance in my back yard.

Plantain is one of the better antidotes for insect stings and bites, snakebite, poison ivy, rashes, burns, cuts, and other skin ailments. When heated, the leaves can be applied topically to swollen joints, sore muscles, sprains, etc. Studies have shown that it is rich in tannin (which draws tissue together to help stop bleeding), allantoin (which promotes the healing of injured skin cells), and is an anti-inflammatory. There are other reputed uses, but I’ll stick with the ones that have scientific studies behind them.

So that’s my little bit of excitement for the day. Now I get to experiment with trying to dehydrate it, and make some infused oil out of it. I’m curious about whether dehydrating it significantly lowers its potency in infusions and oils.

I guess I’ll find out.

And that’s it. Time to get back to work. Stay safe everyone. I’ll see you in a week.  Bye

 

Mar 232016
 

WW37aNo writing news to speak of this week.  And much of this is a rehashing of a Facebook status I posted last week.  But there could be one or two of you who don’t follow me on Facebook, so here goes.

Spring has officially sprung. And as if to prove that she’s mellowing, Mother Nature has given us a few weeks of really nice weather, varying from daytime highs from the sixties all the way into the occasional eighty-something.  So last week I decided it was time to start getting ready for this year’s gardening.

Last year, I planted a huge 40 x 40 foot garden, planting hundreds of onions (don’t ask me why I did it, call it a momentary lapse of sanity), several varieties of peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, asparagus, and some corn.

I’m scaling back this year.  I still have a bit of variety, but I’m cutting back on the quantity, in most cases planting only one or two of each cultivar.  For those of you keeping track at home, in the main garden I’m planning:


• Red Malabar spinach
• Bloomsdale spinach
• Anaheim Peppers
• Texas Cream peas
• Jalapeno peppers
• Iceberg lettuce
• California Wonder bell peppers
• Black beauty eggplant
• Bibb lettuce
• Black Beauty zucchini
• Poblano peppers
• Black Krim tomatoes
• San Marzano tomatoes
• Straight Eight cucumbers
• Cherokee purple tomatoes
• Orange Oxheart tomatoes
• Golden California Wonder bell peppers
• Roma tomatoes
• Better Belle bell peppers

 

And since some of last year’s strawberries not only survived the winter, but are actually spreading, I decided to take some of them and put them in the top area of the Garden Tower (which was a huge success last year). Additionally, in the “pockets” of the tower, I planted:

• Cilantro
• Lemon basil (from the seeds I gathered from last year’s growth)
• Garlic chives
• Oregano
• Cimarron Romaine lettuce
• Buttercrunch lettuce
• Little Gem lettuce
• Common chives
• Sweet basil
• Arugula
• Iceberg lettuce (which probably won’t grow in such a confined area, but it’s an experiment)
• Genovese basil

Additionally, I still have the four pawpaw trees, two Cornelian Cherry trees, one tiny peach tree, three of the cold hardy Issai Kiwis (though one is male), two Honeyberry bushes, two Sea Berry bushes, and my wife’s fancy honeysuckle. The newest addition (planted just last week) is a new seedless white grape-vine we planted in the back, southwest corner of the fence. We planted it there so we can train it along the fence rails as it grows.  I also have some bocking #4 comfrey that I’ve grown from root cuttings in those two white buckets in the picture.  Comfrey is a fantastic medicinal plant, as well as a natural fertilizer, so I’ll be transferring the two I’ve got from the buckets into the yard near the other trees in a few weeks.

And since the cantaloupes were such a huge success last year, I’ll be planting more of them this year, as well as some Black Diamond watermelons (I saved seeds from the one good melon we got last year, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed).

In the front bed, last year’s rosemary plant not only survived the winter, but is now three times its original size. And the peppermint is coming back as well.  Additionally, I’ll be planting more basil there, (because you can NEVER have too much basil), and more Swiss Chard and Kale.

Hmmm…  You know, when I actually write it all out, it really doesn’t look like much of a scaling back, does it?  But it really is… I think.  Struggle

WW37bBut here’s the real kicker.  You remember how I mentioned that Mother Nature has been all mellow lately?  How the temps have been so nice?

Well Mother Nature can suck it!   Teeth  Don’t let her fool you!  She’s a lying, deceitful, conniving bitch who was just waiting for me to commit those seeds!  And of course, the day after I did was the day I found out that we had some “unseasonably late freezes” headed our way.

Now, I’m not too worried about the seed trays.  Those are easy enough to bring inside while it’s cold.  But the garden tower is too big and heavy to bring in out of the cold.  Luckily, I still have the economy pop-up “greenhouse” I bought last year.  And while some of the parts have been scavenged for other uses (the metal support poles make great tree stakes), there was enough left of the main structure that MBH and I were able to put it up around the garden tower.  Hopefully it will be sufficient to get us through the next week or so of freezing temps.

That’s it for now.  Next week there will be more interesting items to post, I promise.  But for now, stay safe.  I’ll talk to you later.  Bye