What I learned from my garden this year


Beginning of summer

So this was my first year to have a raised bed garden.

Some backstory: I worked for years as a florist. I took cut flowers and arranged them into pleasing shapes. I have always been unfortunately adept at killing houseplants, so I liked to think of myself as a plant mortician–not much good at keeping them alive, but I can make them look nice once they’re dead.

My sister-in-law, who lived across the street until just recently, on the other hand, had four raised beds and had more tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers than she knew what to do with.  We received some of the overflow, and when they moved this spring, they offered us one of the raised beds. We’ll take it, we said, but I admit I was doubtful at my ability to keep the plants alive.

Well, keep them alive I did, and here are some things I learned and reminders to myself for next year:

  1. Start your seeds earlier. Read the packets and note how long it takes stuff to grow to harvest. You’ll want that information later.
  2. Do get your children to help you germinate the seeds and plant the seedlings. They love it and it turns out at least one of them will eat a vegetable raw, if he helped grow

    My new best friends, the bees


  3. When the packet says to thin the carrots to two inches apart, do it. Your carrots came out all weird and stumpy this year in part because you didn’t and they were pressed up against each other.
  4. Next year, plant with an eye toward the sun. The cucumbers and tomatoes grew so fast, they shaded the poor peppers into stuntedness. Moving the pepper to a pot was a success (now we have bell peppers!) but next year, put the fast growers in the middle and the peppers toward the edge.
  5. Garden bugs are a nuisance and squash bugs are the very devil. They killed your cucumbers, and you blame them for the butternut squash, too. Next year, squish to kill as soon as you see them. You know what they look like now. And maybe plant the curcurbits with some distance between them to make it harder for the little bastards.
  6. cukeIt’s okay for you and the child who eats vegetables to mourn the cucumber plant. He grew it from a seed, after all, and learned that he could eat a whole cucumber. You were both sad when you pulled up the desiccated remains (damn you, squash bugs), but he was the one who cried.
  7. Maybe more marigolds between the plants next year?
  8. There is no flavor like the flavor of a cucumber you just picked. You sliced one for the first time and the whole kitchen smelled like summer.
  9. Next year: plant less basil. This sounds like heresy, but hear me out. You could make a mountain of pesto right now and still have basil left over. Plant more dill. You never had enough for cucumber and tomato salad.
  10. The cantaloupe didn’t produce many melons, and they weren’t very big, but the boys adored them. A++, do plant again.
  11. The summer crop is coming to an end, and you’re already eyeing lettuces and radishes and more carrots (thin them this time!) Let’s do it.
  12. Next year, more eggplants.
  13. Also, sweet potatoes.
  14. Maybe onions?
  15. We’re going to need another bed.


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Signs of Fall

October of 2012 to be precise

Blue skies of yesteryear

Fall technically started six days ago. Today was the first day that I felt a chill in the air–in the morning anyway. By the time I took my eldest to soccer practice, it was sunny and hot. But it was the pleasant sunny and hot, the kind that results in mere perspiration rather than dripping sweat. I was able to sip hot tea at midafternoon and feel no need to crank the AC lower.

Fall is my favorite season, followed by spring. Both, in Alabama, are when it is truly pleasant to be outside, not damn hot, or pretty cold (pretty sure those from northern climes would consider our winters merely balmy, but to be fair, they would consider our summers heatstroke.) There’s something about an autumn sky that’s bluer than any other, the better to display leaves of red, gold, yellow.

This year, fall’s a little late. The sky is black (and until today, hot) when I wake up and the leaves have started falling before the temperatures drop. We’ve lived here long enough that I know what trees I’m looking forward to seeing in their fall clothes, and fingers crossing the heat and the drought don’t keep their autumn glory from full fruition.

Looking forward to frost on the leaves.

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Endings and Dissonance

So we watched the last episode of Castle last night. To say it was a disappointing ending to


Rick’s got my expression as I watched the end of the episode.

the series is an understatement. Part of the problem for us might be that we stopped following the show this last season; some of the narrative choices the writers made weren’t very interesting to me—mainly Rick and Kate’s relationship being on the rocks. There are so many interesting ways you can add conflict to long-term relationships (which I thought they actually did a great job with earlier on with regards to the wedding planning, keeping their life separate from their work, etc.) that this seemed like a retread of the earlier will-they, won’t-they dynamic. I didn’t need to see that; they’d already done it. SPOILERS ahead for the Castle finale:

Continue reading

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April Short Fiction Read

I am tracking the short fiction I read this year for nominating purposes next year. An asterisk is a reminder to future me to revisit that story.

“The Stories She Tells Herself”-Kelly Sandoval at Daily Science Fiction

*“Sea of Dreams” -Alter S. Reiss at Beneath Ceaseless Skies

“Rocket Man”– Lynette Meija at Daily Science Fiction

*Every Heart a Doorway-Seanan McGuire, Tor.com

“From the Editorial Pages of the Falchester Weekly Review”-Marie Brennan Tor.com

“When Lydia Becomes a Dinosaur”-Rachel K Jones at DSF

The Escapement of Lord Blackwell-Mary Robinette Kowal

“Forgetting How to Fly”– Arielle Freidman, DSF

*”Big Thrall and the Askin’ Man”-Max Gladstone, Uncanny

Wylding Hall-Elizabeth Hand

“Razorback”-Ursula Vernon, Apex

“Red as Blood, White as Snow, Black as Ebony“-Jordon Taylor, Fireside

“The Memory that Became a Girl”– Jennifer Campbell-Hick, Fireside

“Forever Now”– A.E. Decker, Fireside

“Abomination Rises on Filthy Wings”-Rachel Swirsky, Apex

“Feature Development for Social Networking”-Benjamin Rosenbaum, Tor.com

“Bear Bear Speaks”-Beth Cato, DSF

“The Sweetest Skill”– Tony Pi, Beneath Ceaseless Skies

“Rabbit Grass”-Kelly Stewart, BCS

*“Will It Fly?“- Cheryl Wood Ruggiero, DSF

“Welcome to Welton”- Marie Brennan

*“La Beaute Sans Vertu”– Genevieve Valentine, Tor.com

Only a Little One“-Patricia Ash, DSF

Out of the Black“-KC Myers, DSF



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Shadow Puppets and Sketchbooks

So, UAB offers a series of pop up studios every semester or so and anyone in the community is welcome to attend. (And they’re free!)  I hadn’t heard of them before, but I signed up for two, which I attended last week.

Monday evening was a shadow puppetry workshop. I was aware of shadow puppets mainly 20160418_163934via Mary Robinette Kowal’s amazing book trailer for Shades of Milk and Honey. The instructors were fantastic–very enthusiastic, and very informative. They laid out a few basics, showed us a few ways to articulate joints, and then let us have at it. It was a two hour workshop, but I could easily have kept playing for longer. The stage is easily made at home with a cardboard box, wax paper or vellum, masking tape, and a light source.

20160418_184728I made a bird out of cardboard, lace, wire,  and brads. I’d articulate the wings differently next time, but as the instructor pointed out, the best way to learn these is by diving in and making a puppet, coming up with solutions as you go. (Much like writing, in fact.) The bird is not much to look at in the light, but I was very pleased with how it looked against the stage. I was also charmed by the trees–they’re just sprays of baby’s breath taped to the hills. One of the other participants made a dog and covered it with frayed burlap, which made very convincing fur when backlit. Part of the fin was thinking about how the light would affect the shapes, in addition to problem solving the articulation. This is something I’m looking forward to playing with some more.

The second workshop was about sketchbook prompts. I wasn’t sure what to expect from 20160425_111132 (1)this–maybe a lifedrawing session–but it turned out to be more conceptual: ways to generate ideas and explore shape and color. To loosen up, we started out by drawing a series of pencil frames and tracing rubber bands dropped randomly in them, then repeating the exercise with our non-dominant hand. You could do this with shadows from plants, a tangle of yarn, coins, anything. I like starting with the frames, too. You’re not worrying about the whole page, just this one little thumbnail.

20160425_111143Then all the participants generated a list of prompts with the theme “first”: first breath, first word, first friend, first loss, first love, etc., and then with thick markers and as quickly as possible generated a series of non-representational symbols for those words. I found that I started building some of the symbols as a narrative of sorts. I made a symbol for step and a symbol for friend, and then used both of them together as the symbol for pet (because my dog is my walking friend.)

We also got glue, brushes, and torn up magazine pages, which we then used to make 20160425_111157thumbnail collages (top row). We then did contour drawings of the collages, then used watercolors to paint them. With more time, you could keep going on iterations: a black and white drawing of the painting, zooming in on one corner and then drawing or painting that, using a copier to blow up a thumbnail and paint it on a larger scale, using it as the basis for a color print–different ways of iterating the artwork until it no longer much resembles the starting point.  The final exercise was another iteration: a mind map from the starting point of M&Ms (the instructor gave us each a pack for inspiration and snacking.) The idea was to take whatever was the oddest point you got to from the starting point of M&Ms and then use that as a starting point for another mind map. This is a way of easing your brain into topics you might want to paint (or write) about–starting with something inconsequential and finding something meaningful and interesting to you by sneaking up on it sideways.

Both of these sessions were great, and I’ll keep an eye out for future ones. It’s great to step outside of routine and try something different, and these gave me plenty to think about in addition to just being fun.

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Showing, Not Telling

These two links are probably as elegant a demonstration of show, don’t tell as I’ve ever seen. I found them very useful and am leaving them here for 1) future rereading and 2) in the hopes that someone else might also find them useful:



(Actually, the entire Raven Cycle thus far is a great demonstration of this, but it’s great to see Stiefvater break it down like this.)

I know I have a tendency to spell things out too much in the first draft, and then revise some of the obviousness out once I’m no longer telling myself the story for the first time.


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Short Fiction March 2016

This month, I filled out my first ever Hugo nominations. Yay! Go me! However, it made me realize that I don’t track my short fiction reading, and it was tough to remember what exactly I read in the 2015. (There was one story that I never could find, and I’m not even sure it was published in 2015….) So going onward, I’m going to track it so that *next* year, I’ll be able to remember what it was I read. This is short stories up to novellas.

An asterisk to the left of a story is a note to myself to consider it for award time next year. Obviously I will have to cut it down a lot if I keep starring at this rate. An asterisk to the right means I thought it was really good, but it wasn’t published in 2016.

I Am Graalnak… – Laura Pearlman

To Be Read Upon Your Waking–Robert J Bennett *

The Curse of Giants– Jose Pablo Iriarte

*A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers-Alyssa Wong

*The Ballad of Black Tom- Victor LaValle

Monstrous Embrace– Rachel Swirsky

Your Orisons May be Recorded– Laurie Perry

*That Game We Played During the War-Carrie Vaughn

The Builders-Daniel Polansky

*The Terracotta Bride-Zen Cho

The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill-Kelly Robson*

The Waters of Versailles-Kelly Robson

Spacedad– Amanda Grace Shu

Love is Never Still-Rachel Swirsky

The Shootout Solution- MIchael Underwood

Pockets-Amal El Mohtar*

The Sad Tale of the Tearless Onion-Ann Leckie

*Forest of Memory- Mary Robinette Kowal

*The Second Death-Teresa Frohock



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