Why Gardening Hurts

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Palms have teeth! Different types of palms have different types of teeth, but all those teeth hurt! Big palm fronds that die back have to be removed with a chainsaw, then you can drag the frond away. By the teeth.

Also, let me just say two words: Spanish Dagger. This is the name of a plant, a type of yucca. It was taller than me, and every “leaf” was tipped with a 1.5″ long incredibly sharp needle. Yes, like daggers. The strap-like leaves covered the multiple stems from top to bottom. We had to remove this, too. Oh, and paper wasps had built a nest inside it, which we didn’t know until removal was underway.

IMG_0397Not all the gardening here is bad, though. Let me leave you with a surprising photo. This looked to me like popcorn growing under a fern, but it’s the sporing portion of the plant. Fun!

 

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Achievement: 90,000 words!

Cue the confetti:  In today’s writing session, I hit my novel’s (very-guesswork) target of 90,000 words.

I did not, however, manage to type “The End.” No, early on, I managed to wander a bit, getting a feel for the flow of a novel instead of a short story. I wrote too much, expanded on extraneous details and expounded too long in the interests of “characterization.” Yeah, this is definitely a learning process for me.

This is a first draft, however, so I’m not going to sweat it (too much). I just keep on typing. There’s time for cutting and condensing later, during the second (and third, and fourth, etc…) drafts. I have a whole raft-ful of things I know I need to cut, to add, to re-arrange. But none of that can happen until I finish! So–onwards, to the The End, wherever that may be, wordcount-wise. The final draft, I’m guessing (still guessing! that’s me :-) ) will be right around the 90,000 word mark. That’s the goal. Wish me luck.

Still, it felt pretty awesome when Scrivener popped up with the message “Project Target of 90,000 words reached.” Yay for reaching a goal, no matter how far the goalposts have moved since it was set! Celebrate the tiny victories fiercely, since you never know when the next victory, tiny or otherwise, may come around. Woo-hoo!

It’s also a great “stopping point” for a long weekend with our first houseguest in our new home. See you next week, back at the keyboard, as I dive back in to writing–and finishing–this blasted (lovely, wonderful, intriguing, utterly vexing) novel.

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The Moon and the Sun…and Bats in between.

We managed to catch the lunar eclipse earlier this week. It was spectacular! Just as the moon sank towards the horizon, and as it was brightening in the east for pre-dawn, the full moon turned a dusky red that was eerily beautiful. Unfortunately, the treeline obscured the retreating eclipse so that’s all we saw. But it was worth getting up a bit early to see this. I don’t have any pics, but I’ll direct you here, where there are gorgeous images aplenty.

In North America, there’s also an upcoming partial solar eclipse later this month, on October 23. Where I’m living, it won’t be much at all, so I doubt I’ll bother “eclipse watching”–especially since I’d have to order special protective glasses for this (and so should you, if you’re going to watch it! Just saying…). But many of you live in places with a bigger slice of the sun being darkened, so you might want to check it out. More info here, at EarthSky.org.

Other news? I didn’t get a story finished over the weekend–really, what was I thinking? Hope springs eternal and all that, but really! Still, I came hope sleep-deprived and happy. And I’ve dived into the last section of the novel with gusto. I am so psyched to be at this point at last.

Last night hubby-dearest and I drove to the UF bat house and bat barn just before sunset. The area around the structures is fenced off to keep gawkers from disturbing the resting bats. Even so, the stench of bat guano is overpowering. It was burning my eyes by the time we left, and it took a long while to clear the searing smell from my poor, overwhelmed nose. But it was so worth it.

At 20 minutes after sunset. A bat flew out the bottom. Then another. This continued for a minute, with one or two bats exiting every few seconds. “Eh, exciting-NOT!” was my thought.

And then…BOOM! Like someone pulled a trigger, hundreds–thousands–of bats came pouring out the bottom of the bat house, and in a stream they circled to the pines, then right above the watchers under some oak trees. You could see their wingtips just barely not brushing the leaves of the tree, even as the leaves began to shimmer and flutter in the gusts made by their passage. They quite literally “darkened the sky.”  They flew in a stream, like migrating birds will do, swooping and uplifting en masse, until somewhere, somehow, they spun off on their own. And they kept coming, and coming. It seemed impossible that so many bats could be inside that one structure. (The estimated population of both structures is 300,000. The estimated capacity is 750,000.)

Then the other structure started evacuating bats. Same thing: a huge stream of tiny bats. They streaked overhead, intent on filling their bellies with bugs. It was quite giddy-making!

Oh, and finally: not only did my fish have babies, but one of the earlier baby fish had babies! (I know this because two females were separated out and put into an outdoor fountain to eat mosquito larva–and now there are babies in there.) Words of advice: DO NOT BUY SWORDTAILS for your SMALL aquarium. If you do, you may want to consider piranha, as well.

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Writerly and Life Update, Fall Edition

It’s been a busy time for me, both as a writer and as a person living life. In the “life” side of things, the spousal unit and I have been attempting to settle in to our new home, and new routines. But the season is changing, making everything unsettled. More unsettling is how the season is changing. I’m used to leaves changing colors, temperatures dipping towards frost at night and gardens needing closing up for the coming snowy, cold winter season.

Here, however, this is just not the case. Gardens are ramping up, not down. Case in point: I just finished planting out into the garden carrot seedlings, and yellow pear tomato seedlings. The beets are growing nicely, and it looks like the bell pepper plant left for me may yet pull through–it’s regaining leaves and sports a lovely blossom right now. The basil is rejuvenating, and the recently planted Meyer lemon tree is growing like a flipping weed!

Another case in point, on the ornamental side of things:

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This is a tropical bird of paradise plant. I will have to cover it once cold weather (below about 50°F) sets in, but just now, it’s covered in blossoms. Eleven of them, to be precise. It’s hard to feel “autumnal” when tropical plants are blooming in your yard.

But the weather has cooled off, even if the rains haven’t released their hold. The last two days have seen highs in the low 80s, and lows into the low 70s to upper 60s. Definitely “open window season,” by my take, despite the drizzly, all-day rains and (obviously) high humidity. And today there’s a pot of stock cooking on the stove, enhancing the “fall-ness” of things. Mmmm, homemade stock. Soup for dinner tonight. Probably something SE Asian in feel–it just isn’t cold enough for anything heavier.

This weekend, we travel northwards for our nephew’s wedding. We’ll get to sample fall in Buffalo (brrr, but yay). Which leads into writing.

I’ve been focused on the novel, trying to get caught up and falling ever more behind, instead. And all those short story ideas are just…killing me, begging for my attention. Not writing short stories and having lots of submissions out makes my inner critic scream at me that I’m a slacker, not a real writer, all that stuff and nonsense. And while I know it’s nonsense, it also feels like a real critique, a dart that finds a home and hurts. Because, you know, Inner Critic knows how to aim really well.

So, during the weekend of wedding travel, I won’t be working on the novel. I’ll be working on short stories! Hurray!! I’ll come home ready to start the next phase of the novel, refreshed (I hope) by the distance, and I’ll have a short story (dare I hope for two?!?) to keep that nasty critic at bay for another few weeks.

And so it goes: a balancing act of long and short, writing and life. How’s it going for you?

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Happy Autumn!

Well, it’s here: officially, it’s the first day of fall here in the northern hemisphere. Weeee!

In north-central Florida, that seems to mean the temps may fall into the upper 60’s at night, and only reach the mid-upper eighties, maybe 90F, during the day. And it rains a bit less. It’s become garden-planting season, since the intense heat and humidity of late summer (which wilt and rot new growth) are waning. I am so ready for this.

I’ve got carrot seedlings to plant out, and green onions, too. Yellow pear tomatoes to transplant (and as always, extras to try to squeeze in or give away. I always seed so many, thinking that none will grow–and they ALL grow. Then I feel bad thinning them…). This is not my “normal” fall activity, but I’m okay with that. Life is change, blah blah blah, and all that.

Then Spousal Unit and I went to a greenhouse yesterday, and came home with a fig tree. Really! I can’t wait for the first harvest of sweet, tiny figs. Add that to the Meyer lemon tree I brought home earlier in the week, and … well, you can see I have a problem with food plants. I love them: love growing and nurturing them, and harvesting from them. Love having them around. They make me feel rich. But fitting them in is hard. Especially if they’re trees.

Other fun things: in the evenings, I’ve been hearing a male short eared owl. In the wee hours of the night/morning, I often hear a great horned owl. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology makes identifying the unfamiliar calls not only possible, but fun! A red-shouldered hawk soars overhead during the day, with it’s keening cry, and feeds (or attempts to feed) from our bird feeder. Not the seed–the birds eating there are its target meal. This place is way more fun than should be legal, wildlife-wise.

Just so you don’t think I’ve given up on writing, let me assure you that I’m still getting words down on the novel. And short stories are banging against my cranium, trying to get in. Or out. Whichever. But stories follow their own seasons, not those of Mother Nature.

If you’re somewhere in the north, and fall is descending upon you with its normal temperate fervor, enjoy a crisp fresh apple for me. A Winesap, when they come in. Or a McIntosh. Yum. I promise to eat an orange for you, when they come ripe December-ish, just south of here. :-)

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“Backstitches in Time” now up at Every Day Fiction

 Head over to the Every Day Fiction website to read a flash fiction story every day (like the title says). Today, especially, I invite you to wander over and read my story, “Backstitches in Time.” Then, dive into the archives for other good stories, in all genres. If you like what you read there, you might consider tossing some coins into the funding bucket to help keep  them afloat.

Here are some extra tidbits about the story:

This story was a strange one for me. It came at me sideways, as it were. Title first, then a concept, then a structure, and lastly, the story itself with the grandmother and her granddaughter. Not my normal way of doing things, but there you have it. This time, it seems to have worked.

The character/story itself is based on Greek mythology, with the figure of Fate (sometimes one woman, sometimes three women) who weave the tapestry of life from pre-measured threads. Cutting a thread in effect cuts someone’s life short–shorter than Fate had measured out for them–and that really pisses off Fate. She/they would often send the Furies after those who’d meddled in her/their weaving. But training up your replacement? And the honest mistakes of children, especially to whom you are related by blood? Made me wonder.

The title is a play off the old saying that “a stitch in time saves nine.” To effect a repair, a needleworker (I hand quilt) takes a tiny backstitch, anchoring the new stitches into the fabric, before proceeding forward with the repair. And if you’re repairing time, then “a backstitch” seems necessary–even if it’s only metaphorical. Thus, nine happy endings once the repair of Fate’s threads are completed with backstitches in the fabric of time.

So, that’s the peek behind the scenes. I hope you enjoyed the story, and the backstory.

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Writer’s Desk, 9/15

Drama! Action! Excitement!–Someone sitting at a desk and writing!

Out the window: Sunshine dapples through the Lady Palm (which I’ve pruned to no longer actually tap on my window screens), shockingly bright. And out the other window, where the sunlight hits the white paint of the porch, it’s blinding. Soon I’ll have to close that blind so I’m not squinting at the computer screen, simultaneously trying to see and to not see.

On the desktop: A small, rather neat stack of papers to scribble on and reminders to myself about various small or side characters in the novel. And a jar of push pins.

Today’s Work-in-Progess: The novel. The novel. The novel.

But my mind is drawn to a short story that I really want to write. Can you say “cat vacuuming?” Unh-hunh. Back to the novel. (*sigh*)

And Another Thing: The real reason for the tidy desk surface is that I finally got a corkboard and hung it right over my desk. Now most of those miscellaneous market listings, reminders, great words to use, terrible words to avoid, etc., are all hanging up there! I should have done this years ago. I’m feeling so organized ^–^

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Wherein I See My First Alligator!

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click to embiggen and to read the smaller text.

On Sunday, between rainstorms the spousal unit and I went to Payne’s Prairie. I’d been hoping to go there sometime, and suddenly, it was the time. It’s a huge area–a 21,000-acre savanna that’s now a Florida Preserve State Park with numerous entrances and trails.

We decided to visit La Chua Trail. From their website: “The LaChua Trail is three miles round-trip from the North Rim of the Prairie to the observation tower. This trail provides scenic views of wet-prairie and marsh habitat including Alachua Sink and Alachua Lake. … For safety and wildlife disturbance reasons, the trail closes 1 hour before sunset. …  Foot traffic only! Pets are not allowed on this trail.”

No pets because pets may become alligator bait. Seriously. Alligators can walk across the dike the trails are on, and high water effectively “lowers” the trails closer to the watery areas right beside them, making pets a draw for the hungry alligators. How close are the gators? This close:

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That is, when I spoke to my husband, excitedly pointing out the alligator sunning on the banks, it turned its head to look at me with an open jaw. I backed away, like a smart human who wants to keep all her limbs, and snapped a photo on full zoom.

We also saw lots of anhinga, moorhens, egrets and herons. On the trip back, we saw 4 more alligators sunning on the opposite side of the pond from us, one a real monster that was probably 10 ft long.  Also, there were signs that wild pigs (nasty, invasive things) had been rooting and feeding in the area some while before–turned up earthen areas, and the “sweet” smell of swine manure. Even after the morning’s rains, it was still pungent. Dragonflies raced through the sky in huge numbers, almost seeming like flocks–red ones, blue ones, ones that sped by so fast I couldn’t track their colors.

Frogs croaked and birds piped and American lotus were blooming above their pads that thrummed like drumheads when moorhens ran across them (my photo turned out poorly, so no pic here–sorry). Ferny wild fennel grew taller than our heads, and smelled like anis if you crushed a leaflet. And above it all, over the wide, flat horizon, clouds piled up and grew taller as they drifted ponderously by, and some were raining down on areas below while others shone bright white against a dark backdrop of rain caused by the former. Through them, the sun shone so that down below we sweated and thanked the breezes carrying the sweet and cooling scents of rain.

Unfortunately, we did not see the bison, or the wild horses or cracker cattle that roam the area, although I’ve been told they do show up in that area. Perhaps next time.

 

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