Month: August 2008

End of Season Gardening Recap

My perpetually inconsistent pursuit of self-sufficiency in regards to food yielded some mixed results this year. Our lasagna gardening was a spectacular failure. The idea of lasagna gardening is that you place a layer of cardboard over the area you want your garden to be and then layer compost, peat moss, manure, and whatever else would normally be used in a garden on top of it. This is supposed to smother the weeds or grass underneath and give you a rich growing medium for your plants. Well it was a rich growing medium alright, the weeds absolutely loved it. Really I think it was mainly our fault for not putting a thick enough layer on top to smother everything.

But our plants did grow well too, just lost in the weeds sometimes. The onions we grew from seed did great but we harvested them too soon. The sugar snap peas were thriving until one day they completely disappeared. I think some baby rabbits got through our fence. Our peppers that we grew from seeds taken from store bought peppers didn’t really grow at all, we learned our lesson there. The cantelope didn’t produce anything. Our watermelon plants managed to produce one watermelon between them all which I accidentally lopped off with the weed whacker (which gives you an idea of how bad the weeds were).

This was the third year for our strawberry patch and it was relatively weed free and yielded our biggest crop yet but even so the amount of berries we got was pretty pitiful for the amount of plants we have. This was also the third year for our grape vines and still they produced no grapes. They grew a good deal but I’m not sure what to do if they still don’t produce next year. It was the second year for our self-pollinating peach tree. Seventeen peaches grew on it, none of which developed into anything edible. It was also the second year for our two apple trees. One of which seemed to have died over the winter but just the other day I saw that it had begun regrowing from the base and now has a new “trunk” that is a couple feet tall so hopefully it will make it through the winter. Our raspberry crop was large as always though perhaps not quite as plentiful as last year.

Three years into all these gardening attempts has started to be a bit of a downer. Each year it seems something comes up that keeps us from putting the time into maintaining the garden like it ought to be. Two years ago my wife and I were each working full time jobs. Last year we had a new baby. This year I sprained my ankle and was out of commission for awhile.

There was one bright spot for the garden this year though. Our tomatoes came in wonderfully. We had tried doing tomatoes in hanging baskets which failed miserably because the soil would dry out very quickly if we didn’t watter them every day, which we didn’t. But the tomato plants that we put in the garden produced a large crop in spite of not being supported on anything and being smothered in weeds. The tomatoes and a few other vegetables from the store allowed us to make enough salsa to last a year. Before we harvested them and made the salsa I was ready to throw in the towel on gardening all together. Three years of failed efforts were piling up in my brain but the tomatoes helped place me firmly back on the course of self-sufficiency.

The Cable Man Cometh

I reported a couple weeks ago that Comcast had told me they were coming to install cable finally after years of me being stuck on dialup. Then only to have my hopes dashed for the most part by the installer telling me that the survey must not have actually been done or he wouldn’t have even been out there.

And so I waited for about a week for the construction department to do a survey and they did that on Thursday and said they would call me on Friday with an answer on how much it would cost if anything. For those of you who don’t know, if Comcast has to run a line to your house they will cover the first $1500 of expenses and the rest is up to the customer. Well Friday came and went and they never called. But finally today they did call me back and said that it was under the $1500 and so there wouldn’t be any out of pocket expense.

Now I wait. They have to have a contractor run the line back the farm lane and it could be a month or more until that happens so I am still on skinnyband internet for a little while. But I can be patient. I’ve waited four and a half years for this moment.

In the meantime my dialup connection continues to be almost unusable. I’ve eliminated the software and the phone line as the problem so that just leaves the modem or the ISP. I’m inclined to think it’s the modem but I’m not going to spend money on a new modem when I most likely won’t need it much longer. Dialup modems are getting very hard to find locally anyway which would make returning it harder if it turns out that the problem doesn’t lie with the modem. So if my articles suddenly stop appearing for awhile just assume that my dialup connection finally died and that I will be back online shortly. It’s kind of funny that my dialup is dying just as a far better alternative becomes available.

Be Still

The other day I was spending some time with my son outside, he was playing in the yard while I watched him from the porch. The sun was setting and as I looked into the sky in front of me I could see the mostly full moon between the branches of two trees. A thought sparked in my head, wondering if it was possible to see the moon orbiting with the naked eye. Sure you could look at the moon and then look at it an hour later and it would of course be in a different position. But what I wanted to know is if it was possible to see it moving by watching it consistently. So I sat very still and stared at the moon, which is a lot safer than staring at the sun. The two trees that bracketed the moon gave me an easy sense of perspective. And so for fifteen minutes I watched the moon moving ever so slowly across the sky in it’s orbit above the Earth. It was an amazing thing to see.

As our lives move at a faster and faster pace it’s easy to lose site of the simple wonders of the world around us. If we are idle for any amount of time it is often because we are watching television or enjoying some other form of entertainment. There is nothing wrong with those things of course but there is something to be said for shutting all of that down for awhile and quieting your mind. Be still. Be quiet. Listen to and observe your world. Be silent for awhile and listen to what others have to say. It’s hard to learn anything from others when you won’t quiet yourself down long enough to listen to the wisdom they might possess.

Skinnyband Internet

Have you ever wanted to reminisce about what it was like to use the internet in 1994? Well come to my house and you’ll find out. I moved out to the country four and a half years ago and have been relegated to using dial-up internet ever since then. Crappy dial-up internet at that. These past couple weeks I’ve been connecting at 21.6 kbs on good days and my connection lasts about half an hour if I’m lucky. Before I moved out to the country I was making good use of a cable internet connection to manage several websites, play plenty of online games, and discover all the new music that the internet made available to people.

It was quite a shock to my mental state moving into the country and not having access to high speed. DSL wasn’t available. The cable company wanted a fortune to run cable to my house. Satellite internet is ridiculously expensive for cheap DSL-like speeds. Cellular companies offer internet service but again the price and quality are crummy. And so during these long four and a half years I have struggled to make do. Managed my websites as best as possible and have had dozens of internet business ideas that I killed before I even started them because I knew that most of them just weren’t feasible on dial-up. I also haven’t bought a computer game during that entire time because most games these days are heavily oriented towards online play.

A couple months ago I hatched a plan to have the cable company come to my house and run the cable line as close as they would for free and then I would run it the rest of the way. Well I never heard back from them. They were supposed to come and do a survey but someone dropped the ball. So a couple weeks ago I called them again and set up for a new survey…and never heard from them. Once again I was abandoning my hopes of a better internet and began to plan to write this article about my internet plight and all of the options available (crummy as they are) for someone in my situation.

But then something spectacular happened. The cable company called me and said they would run cable to my house! No huge charges for running the line or anything. And then something spectacularly devastating happened. The installer showed up and said he couldn’t do it. That who ever surveyed the house must not have actually checked it out to see if there was a line already heading back to the house from the road. This article was supposed to be the first article I published from my cable connection but instead I am currently connected on dial-up at 16.8 kbs.

The installer said he would contact the construction department and see if it was possible but I’m not too hopeful at the moment. This is indeed a sad day in internet land.

Create an Activity Calendar

Something that retail corporations (and probably other corporations too) are fond of doing is creating Activity Calendars for the store locations to follow. It may be called by different names at different companies but the purpose is always the same: It’s a list of things that “need” done on a specific day sometimes by a specific person. As retail chains have grown larger and money is tight for more corporate personnel, these Activity Calendars have become an easy way for corporations to micro-manage store locations without actually having someone in the stores checking up on whether the tasks were completed. Apparently the store management already being paid for these kind of duties aren’t trustworthy enough to handle the responsibility of micro-management.

So what does this have to do with you? Well I’ve found that an Activity Calendar can be a useful tool in your personal life as well. However, if you are thinking that you can schedule your personal life to the point of assigning specific tasks to specific days, you are completely wrong. Life happens and your schedule will be blown up before it even starts. Jimmy needs to go to soccer practice, Susie needs to go to dance class, Jimmy hurt himself at soccer practice and is now in the emergency room, and it’s now 9:00 a night and you just realized that you never did pick up Susie from dance class. The day went by with none of your scheduled tasks getting completed. Find someone or something to blame, then try again tomorrow. By the way it turns out Jimmy was just faking it because he really doesn’t like soccer he only plays because you make him. Way to go.

I’ve found that a much more effective approach to the idea of Activity Calendars is to plan activities, chores, tasks, or whatever you want to call them during the few days leading up to a new week. I don’t plan specific times for anything and I don’t even try to pick specific days. The tasks get done when I have time during that week. When it happens during that week is irrelevant. Some of those things are on the list every week and some of them are once and done projects. I work the list around my life so that my life doesn’t get in the way of a too-structured list. After a few weeks of this kind of approach to my personal life I find that I get in a rhythm and suddenly the things that I never seemed to have time for before are easily handled in manageable chunks.

If it seems like your personal life is a bit out of control then see if using an Activity Calendar can help bring back a certain level of control without trying to control every aspect of every day.

Reclaiming My Rhythm

It’s been a month now since I started my new job and during that time period I’ve been completely out of rhythm with my writing, music, and tasks around the house. This is partially due to having to adjust to a new schedule and partially due to some circumstances beyond my control. But if I’m going to be completely honest, there were just some days this past month that I didn’t feel like doing what needed to be done.

I’ve gone through phases like this in the past. Most lengthy of which was after our son was born. I mean what kind of father would I be if I didn’t take time away from my creative pursuits to spend time with my family? The flip side of that would be to ask what kind of father would I be if I didn’t do something to try and improve our quality of life?

So here at the beginning of August I am trying to turn over a new leaf yet again. I’m going to do my best to get back in some sort of groove and get things accomplished. I think it’s appropriate here to borrow a couple lines from one of my as of yet unreleased songs, “Hopes and dreams don’t mean a thing, if your decisions keep them from happening.” When it comes to deciding how to use your time, make sure you choose well.

Chapter One Complete

I do 90% of my writing on my lunch breaks at work using a bluetooth keyboard paired with my smart phone. Tonight though I’m sitting up in bed writing late at night. I’ve gotten only about 6 hours of sleep in the last 48 hours but I needed to stay up and do this. After many months I finally finished the first draft of the first chapter of my first novel. Now you are probably saying to yourselves, “It took you that long to write one chapter?” Yes I know it’s pretty bad but I’m proud of myself none the less. At 3,988 words it is the single longest piece of fiction I’ve ever written. And now your probably saying “that’s the longest thing you’ve written and you’re trying to do a novel? Your mad I say, mad!” Okay hopefully no one gets that worked up over my blog. Part of the reason that I’m jumping into writing a novel without writing too much other fiction is because I just can’t seem to wrap my head around the idea of short stories. All of my story ideas are of such a larger scope than could possibly fit into a short story. And probably 85% of short stories and novelettes that I’ve read by other authors all feel like they are just a chapter in a larger story that they author couldn’t quite write so they just pasted some ill-fitting ending onto the story and it ends like a car wreck. I definitely want to avoid that.

And while 3,988 words over the course of several months probably doesn’t sound like much at all, I feel the need to mention that during that same time period I wrote more than 20,000 words on this blog. So I’m not quite as lazy as it may seem. But those kind of lopsided numbers do call into question how I spend the time I have available to write. I enjoy writing non-fiction but I love writing fiction. There’s something about crafting a good story that lights a fire in a person’s soul.

At this rate I will probably have the novel done by the year 2012. Which is no good at all. I do hope to increase my writing productivity but I’m also realistic. I’ve seen some authors say that a book should take about six months to write. That’s fine if you make your living as a writer. But for us aspiring writers, we have to keep normal jobs that pull us away from writing if we would like to continue to eat. It took me four months to write the first chapter. I’d like to write the next one in a month. That would be like quadrupling my productivity. Ask me on September 1st if I achieved my goal.