Monday, October 14, 2013

Fall Updates

 
I'll just call this post my fall update. Really though, it is a gardening update along with news of my recent operation to have some bumps removed from my eyelid that was causing some vision problems.

A lone pickling cucumber braving the last days of Summer.




New crop in: broccoli and collards.

Eggplant-the biggest producer of the Summer.


A couple of sizable eggplants in the fridge.
 
A forest of tomato. Fried green tomatoes anyone?


First, the aquaponics gardening update since this news is better. I just planted my fall crop of broccoli, brussels sprouts, and collards. The two eggplants that completely took over an entire growing bed are now gone, having produced their last eggplant. Also gone are the cilantro and basil. After the new plants were established, I planted some Simpson lettuce from seed. It should take a couple weeks to be ready for transplanting in the system. When the lettuce is ready, I'll start poking it into whatever empty space I can find between the other plants. I'm going to try spacing out the plantings in such a way as to allow us to harvest four heads of lettuce a week for salad.

Brussels sprouts at the far end of grow bed.

The fish are getting big enough to eat and I am planning to pick a fish out every couple of weeks starting at the end of November. I'd like to leave them in longer so I can buy more fingerlings from a local source in Spring. Of course, if our government doesn't get their act together and I have to continue working without pay, my fish may start disappearing from their comfortable home much, much sooner.
 
Baby collards-but growing fast!
 
Also, this summer I replaced my makeshift heater that did not work very well with a couple of actual heaters made for a fish tank. My only issue is that they might prove insufficient when winter finally turns cold. Of course, that won't be until January so I've got time to replace them if necessary. I've also designed a controller for heaters that monitors the temperature of the water in the tank and turns on the heaters automatically if it falls below 28 degrees Celsius.
New temperature controller.
 
Old (Flintstonian) heater system.

So far, I'm very impressed with aquaponics gardening. The picture above showing my heater controller and air pump is about as complicated as things get. I'm at the point now where I can simply concentrate on feeding the fish every day and plopping new plants into the growbeds. Plants grow at a phenomenal rate in this system. Also, there is no bending, weeding, or fertilizing. Another added bonus is the soothing sound of trickling water as I tend the garden or feed the fish.

A pathetic soul.
I've been somewhat out of sorts lately with vision problems, depression problems, and just plain getting old problems. On Friday, I went to an ophthalmologist and had a lump removed from my eyelid. The bandage has since been removed and I'm feeling much better. The lid is still a little swollen but is healing well.

By the way, the growth is my protest to the government shutdown and my lack of pay. I tell everyone that "due to the government shutdown, I can no longer afford razors and must use my small supply sparingly."

I should be back to writing at full-speed soon.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

IWSG - Creative Shutdown

Today, I will keep my comments brief. I've been having some vision issues lately so writing has become difficult as of late. In addition to all this, I have been affected by the government shutdown, although, I suppose, not as much as I could've been.

I've still got a job and will continue to report to work as usually throughout the resolution of our governmental and budgeting woes. Unfortunately, I will be working without pay until further notice. But hey, at least I've still got a job, right?

Because of these things, my creativity has been smooshed. I'm hoping to keep driving on and use my forthcoming dire economic situation to kickstart my creative juices.

It is too bad our Congress and President could not (will not) call upon the benefit of personal economic hardship as a catalyst to get stuff done.

That's all I have to say about that.

To read about what other, more motivated writers have to say this first Wednesday of the month, click HERE.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Today I'm ranting guest blogging at Donna's place. Won't you please stop by and read a very revealing article and honest review? Be sure to comment if you feel so inclined.

Just use the link provided with Donna's name above to get to the party!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

IWSG - Taming the Monsters

 
Since I posted a fine article for my first installment of the Insecure Writers Support Group (a great contribution, if I do say so) allow me to rant and ramble on my second post.

I'm one of those writers who seem to have more ideas then time and/or proper motivation. Usually, I have a hundred random ideas rushing through my head on any given day. Occasionally I must force my ass into a chair, pick one idea, and run with it.

Unfortunately, my hard drive full of half-bake and half-written stories tells me I'm not too good at picking out the solid ideas that might have even the smallest chance of turning into something resembling a finished product.

Occasionally though, with enough pushing, self loathing, and bitter ornery resolve I manage to complete something once in a while.

I continue to work on my mystery crime story, which I'm now convinced, has an absolutely unique main character but my mind often drifts to stories of fantasy and, uh ... things of a more, adult, nature.

Yes, I have been known, on occasion, to venture off into stories of paranormal erotic romance and paranormal romantic suspense, but let's keep that bit of information to ourselves for now, why don't we.

I guess the point I'm trying to make in this installment of the support group is that: If you are like me, always struggling to tame the beast of a thousand half-baked stories ideas, you're not alone.

Keep the ideas flowing, occasionally reaching into the raging current at the stones in your head. Sure, you'll probably spend a lot of time poking at the torrent of slop but every now and then, know that you are bound to come up with a gem worth keeping.

Be sure to check out the other posts by following this link:  http://alexjcavanaugh.blogspot.com/p/the-insecure-writers-support-group.html

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Latest Acquisition



Well, I think I've finally gone over the edge. Yes, I've found another typewriter that I just HAD TO HAVE.

I must say though, that I think I just bought the best that Smith-Corona ever made. The only thing I can do now to improve my typewriter collection is to buy more of the same model in different colors ... although, I've kind of been eyeballing one of the old Corona 3 foldable typewriters lately.

Here's my typecast from the latest typewriter in my collection:


I also must leak some future news in the writing area. I think you'll like it, but you'll just have to wait until next month. I actually thought about writing some of my mystery/crime/suspense works in progress on this new typewriter but then thought about the lack of auto correct, and cut and past, and quickly squelched that idea before it could fester.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Adventures at the Beach



Last weekend we went to the beach with our daughter and grandchildren. As usual, we spent an hour arguing about my driving ability and being lost for every ten minutes of enjoyment. It was a great time had by all. In fact, We're already talking about going again.

Having not been to the beaches of Florida for some time, I realized we'd forgotten some basic knowledge about beach-going. So, in grand JL Stratton fashion, I must propagate my pedagogy to the world so that you may learn from my mistakes.


First and foremost, if I could give you just one piece of advice, that would be:

Wear sunscreen.

Of course, this is followed my instruction that you should apply the sunscreen in places you would not think the rays of the sun might reach because, at the beach anyway, the sun seems to defy all physics and logical thinking to create sunburns in places one might previously thought of as "covered."

Secondly:

Bring a swim suit.

I know. One would think this is a given but apparently, not for me. Overcoming my lack of prior planning forced me to venture into the sea, holding my grandchildren-one at a time-tightly across the fat folds of my ever-increasing midsection, while sporting my plaid shorts. At least I had the sense to remove my shirt. Although I somehow was not fortuitous enough to gather enough wit to apply sunscreen to my freshly exposed aforementioned midsection while frolicking amongst the fish and waves. Sadly, I succeeded in making myself look like some kind of cross between a striped Easter egg and a fully cooked lobster.

Lastly:

Be willing to part with vast amounts of your money.

Thirsty? Want some water? Sure, it's available ... for a price. Again, a little forethought might have allowed me to avoid this, but that's just not my way.


Fortunately for us, we were traveling with our daughter who's been to the beach more recently and planned for such events. Plus, she's a mommy and has aquired mommy ninja skills. She seemed to have an endless supply of clothing for the children , and was right there with the proper toiletries when the granddaughter had to stop along the highway on the way to the beach for an emergency pee break, which turned into something else entirely.

I guess my wife and I had forgotten just what it took to prepare for a simple day at the beach with young children. It did make me feel better though, when I saw a young man struggling to make his way across the white sands with a stroller. Good thing is that, if this young man had any sense at all, this would be the last time he attempted such a treacherous journey over sand with the miniscule hard rubber wheels of a stroller.


Ah, other people's pain and suffering. Somehow, it always makes me feel better about myself.

Just saying.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Insecure Writers - First Post


This being my first venture into the world of participative blogging, I thought I'd start with a related subject area, and one I personally have quite an amount of trouble with ... where to begin.

I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that readers of my stories have (in not so many words) told me that I occasionally ramble along before getting to the meat of my prose. I know there is much advice out there about where one should begin a story but this advice is often much easier to read than to actually follow in deed.

In Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, this question is asked and answered as such:

"Begin at the beginning," the King said, very gravely, "and go on till you come to the end: then stop."

This is fine advice that I often adhere to when beginning a new story, especially with a new character. I like to take a little time and burn a few thousand words finding out just who this character is and what the character is all about. Beginning at the very beginning keeps me focused on how my character got into the predicament they currently find themselves.

Unfortunately, that does not bode well with readers.

I've often heard that a good story begins "In medias res" or in the middle of things. In medias res is term first coined by the Roman poet and philosopher, Horace in his writings involving the Trojan War. He also used the term "ab ovo" meaning "from the egg." a reference given to the cause of the Trojan war after the birth of Helen and Clytemnestra by Leda after she was raped by the god Zeus while he was in the form of a swan. I know, roman mythology is so weird.

Anyway, I've come up with a solution that I believe benefits my need to write about past and circumstance, and my readers desire to enter the story and immediately be cast into the fray.

I just go ahead and write my story from the beginning and then advance forward to the point where I can begin with conflict or action, and make that my new beginning. I then drop these discarded words throughout the story where needed to fill in gaps and explain deeper character without breaking tension or action.

My record so far for amount of story created before actually finding the beginning is 10. Yes, in one story, I actually wrote ten chapters before deciding that this advanced portion would become the new beginning.

So, here's to beginnings, real and adjusted. My hope is that other writers will read this and know they are not alone in providing too much information or backstory and having to reel it in. Please tell me there are others out there like me. Are there any other writers out there that do this? I hope so.

Thanks for reading, and be sure to visit other members here.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Halcyon Days of Summers Past

 
Ah yes, memory take me back to a time. Back to those days of my youth where innocence and sweet ignorance protected me as much as my kaleidoscope memory now blurs the edges and shields me from the pain in my past.

Memories, funny things.

My memories seem to change over the course of time, kind of how an ice cream cone gets that slick sheen just before it deforms and melts down the cone. Time has a way of smoothing the edges and refining what is kept, and what is lost.

But, isn't that a good thing?

I mean, who would want to remember all the bad times, all the pain given and received in the process of becoming an adult. I remember back to when I attended high school. Yes, a trying time for most, I'm sure. Some recent writing research forced me to remember those times. Not just the good times but all of them; some quite painful.

I must admit that in my high school days, I was something of a fly on the wall. I didn't really belong to any particular group or click, wasn't popular, and probably wasn't remembered by most. I tried to fit into many groups. Let me see, I was in the drama club, debate club, hung out with the geeks while I took drafting and creative writing. I hung with the stoners, and the gearheads. I tried out for football, which turned into a catastrophe. I joined the cross-country team and found that running wasn't as easy as I thought. I didn't know who I was back then. I had no idea what I wanted to be. Sometimes I still don't know. But at that time, I was sure that others knew exactly who they were and how their life was going to come together. Of course, with the wisdom of age, I realize that my estimate of just how many were endowed with this magical knowledge was probably way off.

I suppose the saddest part is that I lived in what some would consider paradise but never saw it. I could walk to the water from my house and go fishing. Every day as I stepped out of my door, the majesty of the Olympic mountains graced my vision. On a clear day, I could even see the rugged peaks of the Cascades or even the white top of Mount Rainier, perpetually blanketed with white glistening snow.  Within minutes, I could drive to Illahee State Park or Kitsap Lake.




I know that time has been cruel to my memory in order to be kind to my heart. Deep down, I know that the place I grew up is not as pristine and wondrous as I remember. I had the chance to return to Bremerton, Washington in December of 2007 to make arrangements following my Father's passing. I didn't have much time (for obvious reasons) to look around the area and reminisce, but I saw enough to know it had changed. Even things I knew, buildings, roads, ferry docks, were not as I remembered them.

This truly was a painful event. The news of my father's passing came from a phone call. He hadn't passed yet but was found in his home a few days after apparently having a stroke. There are very few people that know that my childhood was a painful one. My father was an alcoholic, among other things, and when I was about two years old he and my biological mother split (I'm still not sure if they were ever really married) and my father got me, while my mother got two girls. I spent the next few years being shuffled around as my dad changed jobs, mostly living with my grandparents. After I started school, My father remarried. I was suddenly put into a new house with a new mom, and two new siblings. My adjustment was rough to say the least. To this day I truly love and respect my step brother and sister but we never really grew that close and I don't know why. I certainly resisted my step mother who I felt (at the time) was unjustly harsh on me and uncaring. I know now that this was not true and cannot blame her for any resentment she may have felt after having me thrust upon her while my father worked, drank, and spent money. Anyway, by the time I entered high school, I was bitter, quiet, and emotional.

I joke about my childhood to friends but, in my soul searching for a writing project, I found remembering things as they really were to be saddening.

Oddly though, some of the things I remember with fondness are people. Names of these people stay with me for unexplained reasons. Some of them were friends, others mere acquaintances. Yes, I'm going to mention some of these people by name so, if you are one of those people, forgive me.

First and foremost, the name I must mention is John Tyler. John was my best friend and probably the only person I knew more screwed up than myself. We shared much in our friendship, from broken shopping carts (buggies for those of you reading this in the South) throwing rocks at his pet rat after launching him in a boat made from a milk carton, learning to drive in his mom's Ford Pinto-Good times. I often miss John but keep in touch (more with his wife) on facebook. We both eventually left the area for military service. After that, we drifted apart.

Mike Epps was an acquaintance although I'm not sure how close we were as friends anymore. I think he's still in the Northwest working for Boeing or something if he hasn't retired already. Mike played a key role in my developing social attitudes. Sounds strange but I've come to rely on some of those early lessons while living in the South. You see Mike is black. Funny thing is that I never really saw that. Sure, his skin color was most definitely more pigmented then mine. His cultural experiences growing up were different than mine, but we both understood those differences accepted them, maybe even enjoyed them, and moved on. Overall, we had the same aspirations, hopes and dreams. In order to fully understand why this was so important to me, one would have had to have grown up in Bremerton, Washington. The population of anything but Whites and Japanese in the area was nothing like the rest of the country.

I'm certain I barely knew Patience Bassett throughout high school but her name sticks in my head I think because of her brothers. I think one of their names was Luke but not sure about the other. I just remember it seemed they were a very caring family that stuck together and I admired that.

There are many other people I think of even to this day. Mostly, they are all part of a fleeting and unreliable remembrance of past. Most are names that have come up in social sites like facebook, and I find it nostalgic to ponder how they became who they are now.

I suppose the point to this post (if there must be one) is that we truly are a world of brothers and sisters in a sense. One can never completely leave their past behind, believe me, I've tried. And now, as my own children have moved out of the house and are creating their own lives and families, I wonder if they have found who they are; or will they continue to flounder for years as I did, and as I suspect, the majority of my graduating class did? I think that the hardest part of growing up and growing old is finding who you are as a person. I wish the best to all in this endeavor although I cannot really speak with any authority on the subject. I'm not convinced I've figured out just who I am yet.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Remembering Helen

If you ask folks who Helen Thomas was, most would simply shrug their shoulders and cast a blank stare. Helen Thomas had a larger impact on our world than most would understand. She was born in 1920 in Winchester, Kentucky. Her family moved to Detroit, Michigan when she was four years old where her father opened a grocery story.

Her family came to America as immigrants from Lebanon, and neither of her parents spoke English upon landing at Ellis Island. Yes folks the story of Helen Thomas and her family is one of a true American-an immigrant family who contributed to our society.

I'm sure that Helen will be missed by many. If you recall, I met Helen Thomas years ago while on a military mission.  I'll refresh your memory with this picture of me taken beside her inside a helicopter.


Keep in mind that, when this picture was taken, Helen was 74 years old and still the most alert and energetic passenger. Although, I must say, she was not too keen on the idea of skirting across the English Channel in a military transport helicopter. I believe that is why I was sitting beside her at the time.

Of course, when Helen Thomas retired, I posted a blog article about the event. I've posted a link to that long ago article here:

Helen Thomas's Retirement

Even though I posted when Helen retired, I felt it worthy to post again now. Helen Thomas was a truly great American and will be missed.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Officially Obsessive



 I guess it is official. With four typewriters now, I must be a collector.

I must be obsessive.

But in my defense (psychotic, obsessive, narcissistic, people often try to defend themselves) my last typewriter was one I chose to refurbish. No, I went a little further than simple refurbishing and pimped that baby out!

What once was a drab desert sand colored artifact from the late fifties is now a sleek shiny metallic hot rod serving as the pride of my otherwise stock collection.

Here's the typecast from this new beauty with the old-possibly original-ink ribbon still installed. Just received a new ribbon in the mail today but haven't put it in and taken it for a test-drive yet.




















In case the first picture was not enough to get you as excited as I am about this wonderful clockwork machine, here's more:




I must say, mere pictures simply cannot provide due justice to the finish and metallic reflections on this typewriter. I brought this one all the way down to bare metal and refinished it as if it were an expensive low rider project in a custom body shop.

And here's one for all those weirdo's out there into typewriter porn-a picture of what's "under the hood."


Why yes, that is sparkly felt lining the inside of that cover. It's all about the bling!

And lastly, here's what it originally looked like:



Sunday, July 14, 2013

Perfect Procrastination



Well friends, it has finally come to fruition, this weekend I'm on my first furlough for the year. Yes folks, while you were all pinned to the television watching IRS scandals, the country of Egypt disintegrating, and a court case that should have never made it to trial, your Department of the Army civilian employees are being furloughed due to a three percent reduction in the proposed annual increase to the government's budget.

I digress.

The point here is that, due to my furlough days all falling together to give me basically a five-day weekend, I have time to work on some projects around the home.

For years, my wife has been gently prodding me to take action on our garage that has turned into a Sanford and Son style storage facility with no real remaining function and basically a fire hazard allowing no path to safety if calamity should come upon us.

Of course, I've been procrastinating on this for as many years as her gentle prodding.

Well, this weekend, with all this extra time on my hands, the prodding has turned into something more like kicking. The ultimatum was given that I shall sequester myself into that garage until it is cleaned and organized. Now, I don't mind cleaning so much but organizing? I'd rather slide down a fifty-foot razor blade naked. I'd rather suck the snot out of a dog's nose till his face caves in. I'd rather ... well, you get the picture.

But I'm here to tell you, no one can pour more effort into procrastination than me. I mean, when am I supposed to write if I'm jailed in that garage picking up tools and refuse from my last hundred home projects?

Now, as much as I hate to do this, I must admit that I need the kick in the pants in order to get it done. The garage is now well on its way to brighter days. At the very least, a path has been cleared for emergency exit. I've even tested this path on my way outside to do anything else but clean the garage.

Since I've started cleaning the garage, in my avoidance and procrastination efforts, I've mowed the lawn, cleaned the pool, pulled weeds, finished rebuilding my newest typewriter, pulled weeds again, and any other job other than the garage.

It's amazing how much I can get done while procrastinating!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Vintage Word Processing

Well, it's confirmed. I'm on my way to another unhealthy addiction. Received my third and fourth typewriters from the post man the previous week. I have a fifth vintage typewriter on the way but it doesn't count toward this addiction because it is the same model as the fourth machine and will be used to create a refurbished super (read, franken) typewriter.

Here's my typecasting for this post. Note the difference in font between this new Olympia and my original Smith-Corona typewriter. The font on the Olympia is a courier 10 and is all business--just what I would expect from a German-made machine.

 

A beautiful Machine, if I do say so.

Friday, June 28, 2013

In Praise of the [hard] Working Author

Today I feel re-energized, ready to get my writing back in gear.

Lawrence Block, Author Photo

Was it because of some cosmic or religious epiphany? Was it because another person or writer snuck up behind me and provided me with the swift kick in the rear I so desperately need? Maybe, but not in the sense of an actual kick in the rear.

While all of these events would certainly be welcome, it was because, in frustration of not being able to put word on paper, I gave up and decided to read a book--read a book for pleasure, not research.

So, I perused through the ebook listings with little avail until I did a new search for Lawrence Block, one of my favorite go-to authors. Well, I guess he's the favorite, since I've had a falling out of sorts with Lee Child, ending years of infatuation over his decision to allow the diminutive Tom Cruise to be cast in the first movie made from his works. But, that's another story found here: http://jlstratton.blogspot.com/2012/05/tom-cruise-and-end-of-world.html

Anyway, I chose one of his old stories from his pulp fiction days written under the pen name of Sheldon Lord. the name of the book is: 69 Barrow Street.

original midwood title, Rader cover art

The story is a reversal of sorts on the the captive story. But in this case, the captive is a young painter living in Greenwich Village basically being a kept man to a voluptuous, sex crazed, psychotic, blond woman. He hates what he's become and dreams of killing her, only staying with her because he thinks he's in love with her. He befriends a new tenant (who happens to be a lesbian) but his keeper also has eyes for the girl. Yes, this fell into the category of lesbian fiction back in the 1950's and 1960's but, in true LB fashion, is full of suspense and mystery, psychosis, and evil-doing. Plus, you gotta love the cover art done by Paul Rader!

Enough about the particular story, as I don't want to give it away. The real reason for the new found motivation is the writer himself--Lawrence Block.

Lawrence epitomizes the working writer. He's had well over one hundred books published under his own name but never stopped writing. He continued writing even when markets changed. He's written under countless pseudonyms (I'm not even convinced he could remember them all) for publishing houses large and small. He's written everything from lesbian porn to crime fiction and stories for young readers.

What I find so interesting about him as an author though, is that through all this, he remains humble and open to new avenues in writing and publishing. He's even published some stories through smashwords--a primarily self publishing platform--with measured success. I follow his blog, and he's even responded to my comments before. How he finds the time for all this, I have no idea.

I find this work ethic motivating and know I must find time to pursue my own writing with more vigor. I currently have so many ideas floating around in my head, I can't seem to sort them out enough to choose one and write.

Using Lawrence as my motivator, I find that there is no reason I cannot pursue numerous stories at the same time. They are all under different genres including science fiction, mystery (amateur sleuth) historical fantasy, and paranormal fantasy.

I'll just have to find the time, motivation, and organization to work on all of these, more or less, at the same time.

How about you? For those other writers out there, do you juggle multiple projects at the same time? How do you do it? Or, do you just pick one and go with it?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Typecastery

Sometimes objects inspire.

In my case, I am inspired by the beauty and mechanical preciseness of a vintage (antique now) typewriter. So inspired, am I, that I thought I would post my first typecast onto this blog. Probably will not do it too often as it involves much work. Before I do much more of this, I must install the proper software to my printer so it can scan to my computer. A recent realization is that my printer is not exactly plug and play.

So, anyway. Here goes.


Although I was born and raised in a time when we still used manual typewriters, I had forgotten how to use the number "1" as there is no key for this on an older typewriter. It was not until I finished this little note that I remembered to use a lower case "L" as a one.


My first vintage typewriter:  A Smith-Corona Sterling from 1952

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Progress

My aquaponics adventure continues with the addition of fish to the system. The system is still cycling but, given my difficulty in finding a pure source of ammonia (outside of peeing in the fish tank) I've decided to switch to the cycling method using fish.


I purchased forty little feeder goldfish - Comets, I think they're called - and brought them home to my awaiting 200 gallon tank. When I arrived home and checked the temperature of the water, I was unpleasantly surprised to find that the recent temperature drop and approaching storms had dropped the tank to 68 degrees F. That was just outside the three degree limit of transplanting my little feeders coming from a tank that was about 72 degrees F.

Using my hillbilly ingenuity, inherited through ages of cheapskates and country bumpkins in my family, I fashioned a makeshift heater from materials I had on hand. What does every Southerner have on hand? A turkey fryer, of course! Okay, so I'm not completely Southern yet, I will receive my official membership card after I've bought that second turkey fryer, and that car disappears under the grass in my back yard.

 
In retrospect, this makeshift, emergency fish tank water heater works perfectly. I was able to establish a cozy temperature in the tank of 72 degrees F. and maintain that temperature (give or take) for two days now.


Now, if these storms would just pass and the sun would shine again, I could go back to using my makeshift solar water heater until later this spring when I'll struggle to keep the water from a low boil.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

How My Garden Grows ...or Doesn't





Early strawberries
I'm not Irish, but in the spirit of St. Patrick's day, I'm trying to turn my thumb green. A few months ago I posted about building a greenhouse for the Grandchildren so we could try our hand at growing winter vegetables. We had mixed results. We had a great little crop of onions but I didn't create a trellis for the peas in time and they produced only viney bushes. The greenhouse got so hot (even through winter) that the lettuce grew like wildfire. We harvested two heads before the rest of the plants bolted.

Fish tank above ground
Now, as promised, we're trying something new for this year. I've spent the winter gathering materials and knowledge to build an aquaponic garden. Of course, like everything else I attempt, I had to go cheap, so it's been a learning experience.

Aquaponics is a hybrid of aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics (growing plants in water without soil) and can be quite enjoyable for geeks like me because the process uses scientific principles in an attempt to enhance nature. Basically, one uses the natural nitrogen cycle in a closed environment to grow plants using fish poop as fertilizer while the plants and media clean the water of ammonia for healthier fish.

Grandson in hole for fish tank (about 4 foot deep)
I'm now at the point where I must 'cycle' the system in an attempt to attract the proper bacteria so they can grow and attract other bacteria which will process ammonia into nitrites and then into nitrates that will be further processed into nitrogen and oxygen. The nitrogen is used by the plants and the oxygen goes back into the fish tank along with nice clean water, although I wouldn't drink it.

I've learned a few things, mostly the hard way, about aquaponics. Of course, most of my problems were caused by my own stubbornness and stupidity.

First I would say that my aquaponics design was based on some very specific needs -  that is, it had to work for my Grand kids. I wanted the growbeds to be low enough that they could easily plant and tend their garden. I also wanted the fish tank to be low enough where they could look inside and see the fish. So far I have a few plants and no fish in the system.

Complete aquaponics garden with one growbed
You'll notice, in the pictures, that the growbeds are not fully filled with gravel. This was my first lesson learned. Some folks used expanded clay pellets, called hydroton, for their growbeds, but it is expensive. Did I mention how cheap I am? Anyway, I filled the beds about halfway with gravel (still expensive, given how much I had to buy) but quickly found that it can be quite uncomfortable sticking little fingers into the hard rocks while planting. So, I will now have to suck it up and fill the bed the rest of the way with hydroton.

Good thing I've only built one of the two grow beds I would eventually like to have for the system.

Mistake number two came as I entered that difficult and highly scientific process of cycling the system. I chose to use the 'fishless' cycling method because most of everything I read said that I would kill fish during this process. Problem is that in the fishless method, one must add some form of ammonia in order to attract the proper bacteria to get the cycle started. See, I told you it was highly scientific. This ammonia can come in a number of forms. The cheapest way to get ammonia into the system is from urine. I opted not to use urine because it's gross and the urine must be pure, meaning it must come from someone who doesn't drink coffee.

I don't know anyone who doesn't drink coffee, or some other caffeinated drinks except my grandson. Sure, I could ask him to pee into the fish tank but I think everyone knows what would happen if you tell a five year-old boy it's okay to pee in the fish tank. Yep, you guessed it, I'd find him using our fish tank as a toilet all summer long. Still, I considered it because it don't get no cheaper than free.

Instead I thought, hey, I'll just buy some ammonia from the local grocery store and use that. It wasn't until after I'd put the first treatment into the fish tank that I went back to the Aquaponic gardening website and found, upon further reading, that store-bought ammonia is a no no if it has anything other than ammonia in the bottle. I checked, and sure enough, my cheap bottle of ammonia also had 'surfactants' in it. Back to the drawing board.

Well, I finally got the water going again and have planted a couples things in the growbed. One picture shows some lettuce and the other some corn. I'm sure I'll have to transplant the corn before it towers over the top of the growbeds but I have a nearly endless supply of lettuce sprouts I can feed the system with.

lettuce and corn seedlings
How about you? do any of you out there have a garden? Gardening can be a great pastime, and it's always good to have some extra food on hand so you're prepared during the coming zombie apocalypse.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

On the Other Foot

My son is serving in the military. He's deploying now for the first time to Afghanistan ... and I'm concerned.

I guess now, for the first time in my life, the shoe is on the other foot. Being retired military myself, I've experienced my share of deployments. But back then, it was different, it was me deploying, not my only son.

Of course, what I never gave thought to before was, I was someone else's only son. I never understood the heartache my family experienced when I left. For me, it was an adventure -- I was going someplace new without concern for my own mortality.

It is amazing to me that one does not consider such things until it is a loved-one moving into harm's way.

Maybe it was the military training. I was only concerned with completing the mission at the time. I knew that my family would be taken care of, should something happen to me. But what I was unaware of, was the emotional toll my leaving put upon them.

Now, as I think about my son preparing to leave, I suppose I can only hope that he has the benefit of singular focus. Is it possible that my deployments when he was a child will somehow benefit him as he now steps onto that military transport?

In the end, I believe that, despite what many think of our military training and how many believe that the military brainwashes their soldiers into being robots, This training is, in fact, beneficial -- necessary even -- to the survival of the deployed soldier and the accomplishment of their mission.

So see, all you civilians out there? When a soldier must deploy and they don't seem to be emotionally distraut about it, this is to their benefit -- and yours if you are a loved one.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Pesky Pen Names

While most of you (who are not writers) may not empathize with my plight, those who know me well enough will know that I write commercial fiction under a pen name.

... And yes, some of the material written under that pen name is for adults only, or at least those looking for paranormal romantic suspense with no holds barred or general erotica with the slightest hint of a plot.

Anyway, I recently wrote a sequel to a paranormal romantic suspense (crime) novel that was rather risque. The sequel was not risque. In fact the story begins and ends with the main character assumed to still be a virgin. The sequel was pure paranormal romantic suspense that could be read by someone of any age, and it was a dismal flop. Well, maybe not a dismal flop, but a flop nonetheless. It would have been a dismal flop but it managed to sell one copy through one channel (Amazon) so far this month of January.

After talking to some of my writer friends about this, I was convinced that, in no uncertain terms, I should have release this under another pen name. I was actually told by at least one of my author friends, or rather, warned, that I should release the book using some name other than the one I use for general erotic stories. I guess I just didn't listen.

What is it about pen names anyway? I've noticed some authors write exclusively under a pen name, or many, while others stick to their real names.

Jim Grant writes under one pen name for all his stories. You might know this author as there was recently a movie released (oddly enough, on December 21st) based on one of his books and starring Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher. Yes, I'm talking about Lee Child. He is one of my favorite authors of suspense and crime fiction. That is, until he allowed the movie industry to cast the diminutive Tom Cruise to play a character that is six foot-five. Yes, I'm still bitter.

I'm not sure how many of you might know of Lawrence Block. He is a crime and suspense author writing such books as:
A Drop of the Hard Stuff, 2012
Lucky at Cards, 2011
The Girl With the Long Green Heart, 2011
Grifter's Game, 2011
Tanner's Tiger, 2007

The list could go on forever, but if you are not familiar with these stories, you might have read something under one of the many other pen names he's been known to use such as:

Chip Harrison
Paul Kavanagh
Lee Duncan
Sheldon Lord
Jill Emerson
Lesley Evens
Andrew Shaw
Ben Christopher
John Warren Wells

Again, these are just the pen names I'm aware of. I'm sure there have been others. Some of this author's more 'adult' stories were written as Sheldon Lord, Lesley Evens,and Andrew Shaw. Jill Emerson is the name used to write lesbian erotica in the fifties and sixties that is still popular today.

So, I guess using more than one pen name might not be so bad after all. Don't be surprised if you find some of my material re-released in the future under a different name. Just remember, it will still be me writing the material.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Motivation and Misplaced Attentions

I had this unnatural urge to write this post as an update to the continuing gun control saga, but realized it would accomplish nothing. So, I've decided to write about something nearly everyone can relate to; something everyone suffers from, or suffers a lack of.

We are now half-way through the first month of the new year. How many of you are still running toward your resolutions? I ran for a few minutes on January first, but then I got a cramp and I've been walking toe-to-heel ever since. It's not that I don't want to follow through on my self-induced commitments, I've just lost the push, the strength of conviction, the motivation.

Motivation

The word has its origins from the Latin word 'Mover' which means 'To move.'

Think of it as proverbial carrot on a stick one might use to get a beast of burden to move forward. But, for people, or rather, individuals, there must be some other component. I studied motivation from a management perspective for many years throughout my military career and, from an academic angle while pursuing an MBA. In those instances, such things were discussed as: incentives, duty, benefits, advancement. That works fine when managing others, but what is it that makes a person (on an individual level) put one foot in front of the other time after time?

Drive

I believe drive is what pushes a person forward on personal level. But what drives, drive?

Desire, Greed

Yes folks, I hate to disappoint, but it is that little monster that moves, or motivates the individual. If one is told they may get a promotion if they do certain things, they will likely be motivated to do those things but, deep inside, hidden within the caverns of their Id, that promotion represents money to buy their baby mama a new pair of shoes, admiration given by others, or simply a change in status or elevation of their social position.

So you see, desire and greed can be good things. It's okay to 'want' something as long as one is willing to work for it -- As long as it provides motivation to move forward.

Now, you know I'm going to have to tie this into writing somehow. On a personal level, I ask myself, "Why am I lacking motivation?" Is it because I do not want for anything? I know that's not it. I want plenty. That want drives (or motivates) me to write other 'adult' material under a pen name. Why? Because it sells. Now as far as art goes, I do try to employ thoughts, themes, and positive outcomes into that work but sometimes it's not enough.

So this year I suppose I'll just have to double-down on my writing and spend more time working on my mainstream stuff. I have so many ideas they seem to overflow and keep me awake at night. Of course most of them will not work out but there are always that precious few story ideas that speak to me and make feel like they will speak to others.

In other words, I'm hoping to find motivation through a desire to produce more meaningful, more mainstream work with artistic value. I know it's not monetary, but nowadays money doesn't seem to matter much. It seems the harder I work to make more, the more is lost in new taxes, so I choose to get back to my roots and write for my own satisfaction. Of course, I'll continue to write adult stuff to because, after all, mama does like her shoes.

So, what about you? What drives you? Is it money? Politics? Love? Fame? Or, is it something else entirely?