Archive for the ‘Gardens’ Category

Growing Research

October 17, 2018

Blue Speckled Tepary Beans

Last year, I was doing research into desert ecosystems for a story project.  Among the books I read was a short one produced by the Arizona Desert Museum about how various plants and animals adapt to an environment that not only gets very little water, but which also experiences extremes of heat and cold.  The plants mentioned included those that had been domesticated by the indigenous populations.  One of these was a type of bean I’d never heard of before: the tepary bean.

Tepary beans were said to grow in high temperatures, need very little water, and produce beans that are flavorful and very high in protein.  What wasn’t there to like?

Love at first sight is an irrational reaction, so I’m not going to attempt to explain why, but I fell madly in love with the idea of adding tepary beans to our garden.   Oh, I can give logical arguments, such as in recent years we’ve been dealing with temperatures peaking in the low 100 degree range for weeks at a time during the summer, but such logic would diminish my irrational obsession with the idea.

Plants of the Southwest here in Albuquerque carried seeds for a couple different tepary varieties. I chose the one that had a shortest growing time.  That the “blue speckled tepary bean” also sounded rather pretty was an added incentive.

For the next few months, I mulled over where to plant the seeds.  Although we are enthusiastic gardeners, we’re also practitioners of what has sometimes been called the “oasis watering” strategy.  In this, only limited areas (the “oasis”) receive regular watering.  The rest are watered more irregularly.  In our case, we often water by hand using “grey water.”

My research showed that even though tepary beans were listed as needing very little water, they did benefit from being planted in flood plains or other areas that experienced at least limited deep soaking.  I recalled that, in the long bed on the southwest side of our house, there was one row where anything we planted died.  We’d come to the conclusion that its orientation combined with the closeness to the side of the house (which soaks up heat) made this area too hot.

(For those of you who garden, yes, we did make sure the area was getting water.  Yes, we did rotate crops.  Yes, we did amend the soil, including regular trench composting to add slow-releasing nutrients.  Yes, we dug over the soil to assure salts hadn’t built up in that area.)

Since this row had become more or less waste space, we decided to put the tepary seeds in there.  After all, part of the appeal was that they were supposed to thrive on heat and low water.

The seeds germinated rapidly – far more quickly than the bush beans and lianas that we put in around the same time.  The plants leafed out quickly as well.  We observed that during the heat of the day, the leaves would re-orient, almost folding so as to receive less direct sunlight.  Fascinating!

Although the tepary bean plants leafed out quickly, they didn’t flower.  I did some research and decided that maybe – even in that hot, brutal zone – they were getting too much water.  Since we use soaker hoses, it was easy to move these to one side so that the bean plants received less water.  Soon we began to see flowers, tiny pale pink blossoms that shared the tendency of the leaves to hide during the heat of the day.

Later, these produced small pods holding (on average) three to five seeds.  For quite a while, we thought we might only get back what we had planted.  The minute seeds took forever to fill a baby food jar.  Then, late summer, when the bush beans had long ceased to produce, we began to discover more and more tepary pods.  Soon we filled the baby food jar and moved to a larger jar that held about a cup.  We filled that, and moved to a two cup jar.

We quickly learned we needed to pick the pods as soon as they were dry because – unlike most beans (where you can just pick the entire plants and the beans will stay in the pods for later harvest), when a tepary bean pod dried, it twisted in on itself, releasing the beans, sometimes at a distance from the original plant.  We learned that a pop and rattle from the cupboard where we stored the unshelled beans meant that the beans were shelling themselves.

As of this writing, that jar is full and we’ll probably get at least a quarter cup more.  That may not sound like much, but that’s many, many times more than we initially planted.

We plan to save some seeds for next year’s planting, and intend to try some even less hospitable parts of the garden, just to see how much the tepary beans can take.  We might even try a second variety.  There’s one called Santa Rosa that isn’t as pretty, but produces a larger seed.

So, from research for a story came a very interesting gardening project.  We have yet to cook any of the beans, but I’ve heard that tepary bean humus is very tasty.  I’ll let you know!

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Toads, Gardens, and Stuff

May 23, 2018

Look Carefully. He’s There!

Today’s picture shows one of the residents of our yard.  This little toad (here shown in his hole) has chosen to make his residence under one of the hollyhocks in the bed against our east wall.

I’m very impressed…

Why?  Because this bed is about twelve inches off the ground.  This toad stands maybe two inches tall – if he’s not lounging flat, which happens to be his preferred posture.  So, if he were a human who stood six feet tall, that would mean he would be capable of jumping thirty-six feet in a single jump.  Talk about superhero moves!

Yep!  It’s now late spring, moving rapidly into summer, and, once again, my yard is providing me with a great deal of amusement.  If I were naming the seasons, I think I’d call this one “Potential,” because everything is fresh and green, we’re putting in new plants and seeds, as well as experimenting to see if we can make what failed last year succeed this time around

Last summer was particularly hot and dry – even for New Mexico where months go by with no rain at all.  So, why do I garden?  Isn’t that wasteful?  Shouldn’t I be more ecologically sensitive?

Well, I suppose from one perspective what I do could be seen as wasteful.  It’s easy to buy vegetables cheaply in the store.  Of course, they don’t taste as good, and they aren’t as good for you, but it’s possible.  So responsible gardening provides us with better tasting, healthier food.

Jim and I are very responsible.  When it rains, we collect water.  When it doesn’t rain, we water using soaker hoses, which saturate the ground while losing less water to evaporation.  We have designated specific high use areas – all of which are either raised beds or sculpted in one way or another to preserve water.  Borders around plants and mulch are two of our most frequently used tactics.

The majority of our yard relies on low water use plants.  We even – brace yourself, especially those of you “back East” to whom weeds are anathema and a green velvet yard is the goal of many – let weeds grow.  Of course, we don’t think of them as weeds.  We think of them as native plants.

Growing native plants has several additional advantages.  They are usually adapted to low rainfall.  They provide food and shelter for birds and small animals.  (We often leave native plants to go to seed for this reason.)  They hold down the loose soil, preventing erosion from wind and rain.

True, many of New Mexico’s native plants have stickers and thorns, but we choose what plants to pull, what to leave.  After over twenty years tending this one small ecosystem, we have a lot fewer plants with stickers, a lot more with flowers and nutritious seeds.

As a result, I can pause in my writing to watch finches busily harvesting spectacle pod seeds, or robins tugging up tufts of dry grass with which to line their nests.

We also provide water – although not a lot.  We have a tiny pond and a bird bath.  However, these are enough to attract a wide variety of birds and insects, including bees.  A little later in the summer, we’ll have dragonflies and butterflies.

The fact is, human land use has removed the sagebrush, wild grasses, and the like that formerly helped keep the ecosystem able to support itself even during dry years.  So while in one way we’re still being very human, in another, we’re being ecologically sensitive, providing food, water, shelter, nesting areas – and even damp places where toads can dig their holes.

I’m off to write now but, when I need to stop and ponder the next twist of the plot, I’ll wander outside, pull a few weeds, maybe plant a few more seeds.  Thus an additional benefit of gardening is that it makes me a more productive writer – a win-win situation all around!

FF: Not Quite Killing

November 3, 2017

Last week a killing frost was announced.  When Jim and I returned home from Denver and MileHiCon, we discovered that there had been frost, but not quite killing.  And that a rogue pomegranate evaded being picked…

Persephone In Mythic Mode

For those of you just discovering this feature, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

Fairy Tail, manga, volume 12 by Hiro Mashima.

Another Fine Myth by Robert Asprin. 

Myth Directions by Robert Asprin.

Fer-de-lance by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.  Interesting not only as a story, but to see how the characters of Nero, Archie, Fritz, and Theodore started out before Stout solidified their personalities.

In Progress:

Myth Directions by Robert Asprin.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire.  Audiobook.

 Also:

Much background reading as I ease myself back into the Firekeeper universe after ten years away.

Life’s Peachy!

August 23, 2017

This week as we lead up to Bubonicon, New Mexico’s annual SF convention, I’m pulled in about three different – all very enjoyable – directions.

Sweet Bounty!

Let’s start with the convention.  Bubonicon is always a great show, and this year it’s extra interesting for me.  One of the Guests of Honor is C.J. Cherryh, whose works I first encountered in college.  Now I’m actually going to be on a panel (“Felines and Feline Aliens in SF: The Cat’s Meow”) with her – and as a participating author.  I wish I could go back in time and tell my eighteen-year-old self that!

She wouldn’t believe me, though.

Still, maybe I’ll get the chance, since the Bubonicon theme this year is “time travel.”  Perhaps someone there will have a working time machine I can borrow.

I’m on a bunch of panels at Bubonicon, including one on short writing exercises that I’m wondering if I’ll screw up.  I’ve never been a “writer in the window” sort of person.  Still, this one is hosted by Josh Gentry, host of the “Snack Read/Snack Writes” website.  I couldn’t pass up the temptation.

On Saturday, I’ll also be giving a reading, probably from an unpublished short story.   And on Sunday (after a panel and my chance to be a fan girl watching the GOH’s get interviewed by none other than the marvelous Ursula Vernon), I’ll be helping out with the Afternoon Tea.

For the Tea, I’m making a new (for me, at least) savory cheese cookie.  My test group loved the first batch, and I’m looking forward to sharing with a larger group.  Tea hosts this year will include Diana Gabaldon and Sherwood Smith.  Remember that those who wear hats and gloves (creative, elegant, just plain silly) are eligible for special prizes!   Sign up in advance, since spaces at the tea are limited, and we’re only doing two sessions this year.

Additional Bubonicon coolness includes…  Elizabeth Leggett, with whom I had a great time last year on the David Bowie panel, is going to be Artist GOH – hot on the heels of her Hugo win as Best Fan Artist.  Two other 2017 Hugo Winners will be attending as well: Ursula Vernon and Daniel Abraham (who is half of James S.A. Corey, of The Expanse).  The Bubonicon committee members clearly know how to pick their guests!

Bubonicon launches my personal public appearances cycle.  In late September, I’ll be one of the presenters at the Southwest Festival of the Written Word in Silver City, New Mexico.  It looks like a fascinating event and, as a bonus for me, will be my first trip to Silver City.

In late October, I’m one of the Guests of Honor at MileHiCon in Denver, Colorado.   More on that as we get closer.

Finally, in November, I’ll be supporting the Albuquerque Museum by participating in the “am Author Fest” on November 11th.   Come and get a head start on your Christmas shopping, while supporting the museum and hanging out with local authors.

So…  Public appearances is one direction my life is pulled in.  Another is writing.  I’m working intensely on a new novel, which topped 120,000 words last week.  No title, but I’m very much enjoying.  Also, I’m nearly done with one reprint-related project, and beginning to set up the schedule for my first self-published original novel.

Then, as if that isn’t enough, the harvest is coming in.   The monsoon rains are helping a great deal, and my garden is producing a bumper crop of eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, and string beans, as well as various herbs.  We’re trying an experiment with our summer squash this year, and are hoping for a solid late harvest.  We’re waiting to see if the cukes do more than flowers.

Additionally, our friend Samantha Thompson has gifted us with some of her home orchard’s bounty.  I currently have a dishpan full of peaches waiting to be processed (as well as some to be eaten immediately).  Next to that dishpan is a bag containing an utterly astonishing amount of seedless grapes, many of which will graduate into raisins.  There’s a bowl of miniature Bartlett pears on top of the fridge.

So…  There you have it: public appearances, writing, and dealing with produce.  Three directions, all quite a lot of fun.  Basically, life’s peachy!

Hope to see you at Bubonicon!

Wrist Twists Insists

July 5, 2017

Last week was rather exciting.  On the good side, we harvested our first tomatoes, some interesting carrots, and enough eggplant to make a vegetable curry.

Deep Red Carrot

A week ago – making me glad that I had already posted the WW – we also had five blackouts in one day, with the grand finale coming on Thursday morning.  Happily, because I tend to obsessively back up as I work (a relic of days when computers didn’t do so automatically), I didn’t lose any writing.  However, it did mean time when I didn’t want to work on my computer (I use a desktop), so I settled in my kitchen and drew maps.

Another interesting development is a slight twist to my wrist.  This was probably acquired when wrestling Kwahe’e the cat, who does not like getting his tri-weekly dose of subcutaneous fluids.  Not one bit…

We’re giving fluids to two cats right now, staving off the worst impact of kidney failure.  Ogapoge is fairly patient as long as I tell him a story.  He likes stories, and has had a bedtime story for quite a long time.  Jim is the usual bedtime storyteller and over the years has created a vast cast of characters, drawn from books, television shows, and from the regular inhabitants of our yard.

As soon as Ogapoge hears the familiar words, “Once upon a time, in a cold dark place, there lived a little kitten, who came from outer space,” he snuggles down and more or less resigns himself to having a needle between his shoulders for the next ten minutes or so.

A story does not work for Kwahe’e.  He needs to be sung to, and the song has to change periodically.  For a long time, a sort of “counting song” that encouraging him to “get it done in one” worked.  Then we segued into a chant, with a nice Native American-inspired refrain of “hey-yah, hey-yah, hey-yah.”  But it’s looking as if I’m going to need to come up with something else.

Anyhow, my wrist is okay once it loosens up, as long as I don’t do anything too stupid.  I can even type without any difficulty.

I’ve been writing vigorously over the past couple of weeks, averaging about thirty pages a week, more or less.  What started out in my mind as a relatively simply story is getting more complex.  Not last week, but sometime the week before, two characters decided to react completely differently than I had imagined.  This threw the entire plot into loops and whirls.

The thing is, they were good loops and whirls, so I went with them.  People always talk about writing as if it’s a calm, measured activity.  Honestly, for me it’s more like one of those giant waterslides, the type that are shaped like huge hamster tubes, where you rush along, going upside down and around, before eventually splashing down.

So, I’m off to do more of that…  The characters who were being so difficult have been left behind, but now it turns out that someone who I thought was going to be left behind is insisting on coming along, at least part of the way.

I wonder what’s going to happen next?

Opening a Vein?

April 19, 2017

“There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”  So said Ernest Hemmingway.

Where I Write

Actually, there’s some doubt that Hemingway actually said this.  Variations on this statement have been attributed to a wide variety of people for a far longer time than you might imagine.  These include sports writer Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith, poet Reverend Sydney Smith, philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, and writer Paul Gallico (to provide a not at all conclusive list).

If you’re interested in variations on the quotation and where it might have originated, you might like to look here.

What I want to talk about is not the source or who said it first.  I’m more interested in the concept.  Do you need to be seated in front of a typewriter – or at least have some writing implement (computer, tablet, pen and paper) at hand?  Do you need to bleed to write?  If you do need to bleed, how much blood do you need to shed?

As with most statements like this, I both agree and disagree – but more importantly, I think that many people misunderstand what Hemmingway and the others who have made variations on this statement mean.

Let’s start with the simple part.  Do you need to be parked in front of your writing device of choice to write?  Yes and no.  I’ve done a tremendous amount of writing far away from any writing device.  Maybe “writing” is stretching the point.  “Composing” might be more appropriate – and that gets to the heart of what’s meant by “bleeding.”

The Hemmingway quote above apparently appeared first in a book published in 1973.  (Hemmingway died in 1961.)  It – and many unattributed variations of the same – link the physical act of writing (on typewriter, computer, or whatever) and the “bleeding” of composition so tightly that I believe the meaning of “bleeding” has become distorted.

An earlier version of the same quotation – quite possibly material Hemingway may have unwittingly paraphrased – came from then-famous writer Paul Gallico.  In his 1946 book Confessions of a Story Writer, Gallico wrote:

“It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader. If you do not believe in the characters or the story you are doing at that moment with all your mind, strength, and will, if you don’t feel joy and excitement while writing it, then you’re wasting good white paper, even if it sells, because there are other ways in which a writer can bring in the rent money besides writing bad or phony stories.”

Note that although Gallico mentions “the page” and “good white paper,” his emphasis is not on the physical act of writing but on the emotional investment.  The really important statement is the first part of the second sentence.  This is so important that I’m going to repeat it:

If you do not believe in the characters or the story you are doing at that moment with all your mind, strength, and will, if you don’t feel joy and excitement while writing it, then you’re wasting good white paper, even if it sells…”

Here it’s made clear that by “bleeding” these writers didn’t mean putting oneself through some sort of endurance trial.  They’re not talking about staying locked in place until you write your quota or do your homework or whatever metaphor you prefer.  Yet lately, on panels, on social media, I keep encountering the idea that what defines “real” writers is that they produce quantities of words on a page (or a computer file or whatever).  The question as to whether these words mean anything, whether they have any heart, gets lost in an emphasis on production.

I have several works in progress right now.  One of these is beginning to look as if it may be a new novel.  I’m in the exploratory stages now and so I’m not putting as many words down on the page as might be expected.  Instead, I’m busy bleeding…

This weekend I landscaped a portion of my yard.  (Go look at the photo.  Doesn’t it look pretty?)  While I was weeding, raking, prying up the roots of bunch grass with the tip of a shovel, I was also composing.  I was thinking about the six characters around whom the story appears to be taking shape.  Each of them have different goals.  Many of them have secrets.

But I’ve been thinking about little things, too.  The things that make me believe in the characters.  What will the chain smoker do when her cigarettes run out?  What will the knitter bring with her?  How do the three characters who didn’t plan on this turn in their lives feel about it?  How do those who did plan deal with disappointment?

When I think about these things, I’m not chalking up any word count or page count, but I am bleeding.  I’m also getting excited, looking forward to the time when I’ll get back to the keyboard and see how the words fit around the idea.

Meantime, I can enjoy the landscaping, rather than having frustrated myself by trying to come up with words for no other reason than I’m “supposed” to do so to be a “real” writer.

My Thyme Garden

March 29, 2017

News Flash!  This Sunday, April 2nd, at 1:00 pm.  I’ll be joining editor Gerald Hausman and some of the contributing authors to the anthology Guns at the Jean Cocteau Cinema in Santa Fe.  Plans include a discussion followed by Q&A, culminating in a group signing.  Go here for more details.

You Can See the Sundial’s Shadow

This weekend we went out plant shopping.  In the process I managed to combine two of my great loves: gardening and books – of one book, especially, in particular.

Despite my dire predictions last week, we did not get snow.  However, I feel somewhat justified in my doom and gloom because the temperatures did drop, and snow was even predicted for one night.  It didn’t happen, but it was predicted.  What we did get was the horrible howling winds that distinguish New Mexico springs.

By Saturday, the winds had decided to go bother someone else, and the temperatures were predicted to be moderate.  Jim and I saddled up (figuratively) and went on a quest for an apple tree.  Now, as you may know, most apple trees need a compatible tree for reasons of pollination.  Even “self-fruitful” or “self-pollinating” trees do better if they have a partner.

Since our remaining apple tree is a Gala, we were restricted a relatively limited list.  Eventually, at Alameda Greenhouse we found three options.  We didn’t want a Granny Smith because, while those apples are tasty, they’re tart, better for cooking than eating.  (Unless you like really tart apples.)  That left us with Jonathan and Fuji.  The Jonathan trees looked nice, but they were obviously younger, with more slender trunks.  So we settled – quite happily, actually –on a nice semi-dwarf Fuji.

You’d think putting the new tree in would be easy, because we were using the same spot where we had taken out the previous tree.  Hah!  When I went to dig out the area, I found it was completely infested – there’s really no other word for it – with Bermuda grass roots.  Since water is precious here in the southwest, I didn’t really want the new tree to have competition.  So I started digging out the roots.

Several hours and six gallons later – I know, because I was putting the roots into buckets, and those had a measurable volume – the ground was finally more or less clear of Bermuda grass roots.  I then dug a hole twice as wide as the tree’s base and somewhat deeper.  This was then lined with fresh compost from our own bins.

(Jim had been emptying these while I’d been engaged with the Bermuda grass.)

We then set the tree in place, refilled the hole with a mixture of sand (which is what we have here rather than soil) and various amendments, then soaked with a mixture of water and root stimulant.

We’re debating whether to take off an anomalous, but sturdy, lower limb as the woman at the greenhouse said she would if it were her tree.  On the one hand, she’s right, that would encourage the tree to grow a solid upper crown.  On the other hand, that would leave us with a very silly-looking stick with a ball of leaves on top, sort of like a poodle’s tail minus the poodle.

The jury’s out for now, but I’d welcome advice.

While we were out questing for apple trees, I spotted some lovely thyme plants.  Last summer, we finally lost the plants that had flourished at the edge of our tiny pond for several years.  I was determined to plant more – not only because it’s an attractive, heat-hardy plant, but also because thyme is a key element in one of my favorite self-created recipes: Scarborough Faire Chicken.

If you’ve guessed that the key seasonings are parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, you’re right.  The fact that I grow all of these myself adds savor (pun intended) to the mix.  I also use ample garlic powder (not garlic salt) and fresh onion.  Bake covered, skin-side down at 350 for about 45 minutes, then remove cover if you want the onions to brown.  Cooking time, obviously, will vary according to the size of your pieces of chicken and other such factors.

It’s good, though.  Very.

So I wanted thyme.  Why then did I get not just one thyme plant (which would be ample), but three?  And why didn’t I get all of one variety, specifically, the English thyme that has done well at the past?

Blame it on a book called The Time Garden by Edward Eager.  If you didn’t know it already (and I didn’t when I was a kid) “thyme” is pronounced “time.”  And The Time Garden is about three pre-teens and one teen who spend the summer at a house where the thyme garden proves to be a means of time travel.  When you go depends on the type of thyme you pick.

In the best tradition of E. Nesbit style fantasy novels, the thyme garden also has the Natterjack, a guardian who explains – grumpily and reluctantly – the rules of the magic.  A Natterjack, if you don’t know is, as he himself explains, a very superior sort of toad.  This one is descended from a London toad from Covent Garden who emigrated to the New World.  “Any magic as I ‘ave,” he explains, “I puts right into this ‘ere garding.”  The kids are quick to pick up on the hint.

The first thyme picked – appropriately by impulsive Eliza – is “wild thyme.”  After that, although the children take great care with what sorts they pick, they still manage to have some interesting adventures.

When I saw that in addition to the English thyme I’d intended to get, the store also had lemon thyme and gold lemon time (this last with lovely yellow veins in the leaves) I couldn’t resist.  I planted all three varieties near the pond where – just by chance, of course – we have a sundial, and where, again, just by chance, Jim has built what he calls his “toad temple.”

If they take, I’d like to add more. Wooly thyme is lovely, as is silver thyme.

Of course we won’t have magical adventures…  That doesn’t happen to grown-ups, or so I’ve been told.  But then, as the Natterjack says in The Time Garden, time will tell!

Does Spring Seem Ahead of Schedule?

March 22, 2017

Spring is advancing ahead of schedule, or so it seems here in our corner of New Mexico.   Temperatures already have repeatedly hit the 80’s.  We’ve seen the first toad of the year soaking in our pond.  Last year, according to our records (yes, we keep records of such things), we didn’t see the first toad until well into April.

Apple Buds, Ready to Open

All around us we have seen cherry blossoms, pear blossoms, peach blossoms, and even apple blossoms.  Pretty as these are, this is a disturbing development because, if we get a cold snap – and I have recorded snow at my house as late as May – then we’re likely to lose much of our fruit and even some more tender plants.

I’m debating whether or not to plant cold weather crops such as carrots, radishes, and arugula.  Usually I’d wait – mostly because the high winds can bury the tiny seeds if I plant too soon –but I’m wondering if I wait if I’ll miss the best time to get these plants started.  Radishes tend to bolt and go woody if planted when the temperature has already risen.  Carrots don’t do much better.

It’s funny to realize that if I had a chance to gaze in a crystal ball, what I’d want to check would be the temperature trends for the next four weeks.

This winter finally did for an apple tree Jim and I put in over twenty years ago.  That tree had never been strong, but we kept working with it.  Still, this year I could see that the fight was over.  Last weekend, we dug out the base, then loosened up the soil, removing as many Bermuda grass roots as possible.   (No.  I didn’t plant the grass.  It’s the unwelcome heritage of a prior owner.)

We figured that we’d have plenty of time to get a new tree.  Most years, our apple tree doesn’t flower until mid or even late April.  This year, our remaining apple tree is already  budding and looks as if it could burst into flower any moment.  Even if we get a new tree nearly immediately, the chance for the necessarily cross pollination (something that is a good idea even if one has “self-pollinating” varieties of apple) to happen is greatly reduced.

However, when we went out to buy a new tree, we found the garden centers nearest to our house (we checked three) hadn’t yet received their full deliveries of fruit trees.  What they did have were mostly earlier season plants.

Well, I have the arugula seeds.  I can plant those.  Then watch, it’ll snow next week…

Stay tuned!

Off to Pittsburgh!

June 29, 2016

Last week, Jim and I spent several days in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  There’s nothing like travel to remind you how varied the U.S. can be.  We left Albuquerque during a series of dry days where temperatures topped 105  degrees, then arrived in Pittsburgh to rain and 72 degrees.

Me, Scot, and Jane Among the Dinos

Me, Scot, and Jane Among the Dinos

On Friday, our friends Scot and Jane Noel picked us up and took us to see some of the sights of downtown Pittsburgh.  As you may recall, I worked with both Scot and Jane on the computer game Chronomaster.  After the game was released, we stayed in touch. Since then, we have worked on a variety of projects, including an art contest for which I wrote the short story “Born from Memory” to go with the first place winning piece.

Last time we saw Scot and Jane was in New Mexico where we took them to see various things, including the petroglyphs near our house.  This time, the sights were a lot greener and more brightly colored.  We started at the Phipps Conservatory which amazed and delighted us with its marvelous variety of plants and sculptures.  Again I was fascinated by what a difference a shift in climate can make when growing the same plants.   I grow Swiss chard, but I’ve never had any success with the “Bright Lights” variety.  At Phipps, not only were they successful, their chard had leaves big enough to wrap a baby in!

After we’d finished with the Conservatory, we moved on to sample the Carnegie Museum.  We didn’t have time to see anything close to all of the exhibits, but we very much enjoyed the dinosaurs, gems and minerals, and a few other fascinating and beautiful things.  We also enjoyed what we saw of Pittsburgh itself, especially the widely varied architecture and numerous bridges and tunnels.

On Saturday, my sister, Susan, and two of her kids took us to Meadowcroft rock shelter.  In the world of archeology, Meadowcroft is famous for being one of the places where their discoveries broke the “Clovis first” theory of human habitation in the New World, pushing back the span of human habitation by several thousand years.

We were extremely lucky that James Adavasio, who directed the excavations at Meadowcroft, was in the area and giving a lecture.  Adavasio is an excellent speaker, with a wide breadth of interests.  One of the elements of his talk was showing how the theories put forth in early archeology – in which the work was done almost solely by men – were shaped by the male perspective to the point of ignoring the contributions of women and children.  He managed to be humorous, as well as informative.  I know that Jim and I enjoyed the subsequent tour all the more for having heard his talk.

Afterwards, we toured a model Indian village complete with a variety of dwellings.  I found myself taking feverish mental notes (and asking Jim to take a few photos) of some of the different types of shelters.   We also had a chance to throw atlatl darts at a deer-shaped target.  We all missed…  According to the docent, this meant we should all have only salad for dinner, as a reminder of how hard it can be to put meat on the table.

The weekend wasn’t all museums, conservatories, and academic lectures, of course.  We went and watched my young nephew play baseball, hiked, talked about books, and even played Clue.  This last led to us renting and watching the very silly movie based on the game…

I discovered that, after something like thirty years, I still remember how to play badminton.  Jim’s whiffle ball pitching got a thumbs-up from our baseball loving nephew.

Now that we’re back in New Mexico, those rolling green hills and that strange atmospheric phenomenon called “rain” seem more like myths than reality.  And I have a short story to review.

Funny thing.  Much as I enjoyed my holiday, I’m looking forward to getting back to the writing.  Life is pretty sweet.

Mission Accomplished (Almost)

May 18, 2016

This weekend, Jim and I finally got most of the garden in.  Most of what we plant is seeds because in this dry, hot climate we find that the plants do better if they have a chance to establish from seed.

Look Carefully for the Giraffe

Look Carefully for the Giraffe

*This is probably a metaphor for writing, but I’m not sure exactly how to work it out. *

We purchased seedlings from a local nursery for peppers and eggplant and, this year, most of our tomatoes.  For some reason, the tomatoes we started from seed didn’t do well this year.  Unlike last year, when we planted twenty-one seeds and ended up with twenty-one plants –  most of which grew up to monster bushes that produced lots of fruit – this year we planted twenty-one seeds and ended up with only three surviving plants.

*There is a reason I would not want to be a farmer.  Farming makes writing for a living seem almost like a sane and predictable career choice.  Kindly note, I said “almost.”*

Now the fun begins.  I’ll start my morning by opening the blinds in the bedroom and looking out.  First a quick count to see if the seven tomato plants I can see from there made the night.  Next, have any of the beans sprouted?  We plant the climbers to grow up a net right outside our window.  By midsummer, if all goes well, we’ll have a natural curtain of green livened with lavender (liana) and red (scarlet runner) bean flowers.  Oh, and lizards.  They like to climb the bean vines.  And hummingbirds come by to sample bean nectar.  The cats love it.  So do we.

But that’s later.  Right now, the game is spotting what’s coming up.  The squash bed is a bit further away, but zucchini seedlings have fairly large leaves, so sometimes I can see what’s come up from a fair distance.  Carrots and radishes, however, require a closer inspection, as does basil, chard, cucumbers, and various herbs.

*I suspect this is also a metaphor for writing.  Probably something to do with coming up with ideas that aren’t obvious.  Hmm…*

We didn’t quite finish planting this weekend.  Many of our perennial flowers are already doing very well.  The lilies are shooting up, and we should have blossoms in a couple of weeks.  The window boxes have been spruced up with snapdragons and dianthus that we purchased leafed out and budding.  We’ll plant a chaotic assortment of zinnias and portulacas in other planters,  as well as among the hollyhocks, so we have color when the hollyhocks are done with their first round of flowers.  We’ll also plant more zinnias along the sidewalk leading to the front door.  By the end of the summer, getting up that path will involve skirting flowers.

*Probably another metaphor, although whether for writing or for life in general, I can’t say.*

So, we planted most of the garden this weekend.  Of course, that’s just the beginning.  Persistence and patience will be needed if we’re to see fruit and flowers, rather than just dust and dry stems.

*And this is truth and also a metaphor.  Funny how that works, isn’t it?*