Monday, February 27, 2012

Weather - Or Not

I was planning on starting the outdoor Spring greens this week, but that may get put on hold for another week. We are supposed to get snow later in the week. I know that won't really affect the seeds too much, but I was going to put up the temporary, experimental hoop house plastic as well. And since what I've got isn't all that heavy, I'm not sure I want to see snow dumped on it. I decided to use the lightweight stuff since it was free, and this is an experiment to see if it helps things grow better in the early part of Spring up here. If it works, I plan on getting better stuff for future use. Will have to keep an eye on the forecast and see what they are talking about as far as accumulation goes.

It may get put off anyway, if the weather seems to be uncooperative, since we are not going to be home this weekend. We are going to North Conway, NH for the Chilly Chili Stroll. We are not competing at this one. This will be the second year for an ICS sanctioned cook off there, and the BaldMan and I are Chief Judge and Scorekeeper once again. It's a fun event. The village of North Conway does the Chili Stroll every year. They have several tasting areas along the main street in town, and people buy "passports" that allow them to taste whatever is being offered at each stop. They have local restaurants and businesses that offer chili, cornbread, wine, and other stuff to taste, plus our competition cooks will have their People's Choice, also. It gets people out to explore a little of North Conway, which is a pretty town with a lot of little shops and boutique type stores. We are in the Mount Washington Observatory Weather Discovery Center parking lot, which is right across the street from the main ticket selling area for the event. Should be a lot better than last year, when we were in the parking lot of a restaurant off the main street and not easily seen from the street where most of the other activity is. We are looking forward to a fun day with our chili friends. Come on up, if you are around!

This run of colder weather we've been having has not been good for my poor old dog, either. He's been having more trouble with his legs. At least, I hope it's partly weather related. He does have some neurological problems, as well as the arthritis. I know the neurological stuff isn't going to be so much weather affected, and it could be that getting worse. He just has more trouble coming back up the stairs into the house. It takes a few steps for him to get going when we're out. The right hind leg is turning more when he walks, and there are times it just goes out from under him and he can't get back standing solidly again for a bit. I feel sorry for him because he's such a good boy, and he wants to go out and walk, but I've been taking it a bit easy on him.

Other than all that, things are quiet. The BaldMan seems to be recovering well from the knee surgery. The days are getting longer again, and it is light out much later in the evening, so I guess the wheel continues to turn. That is a good thing, yes?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Dragon Quest by Donita K. Paul

DragonQuest (DragonKeeper Chronicles, #2)DragonQuest by Donita K. Paul

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Perhaps I didn't give this book as fair a shot as I could have. When I bought it, I couldn't find the first book in the trilogy, so I got this one and the last. And perhaps the reading suffered from not having the background laid in the first episode.

Kale is a Dragon Keeper. She can help dragon eggs quicken and hatch. Formerly a slave, when her abilities are made known, she is sent to train at the Hall, where she is to be trained to be in service to Paladin, the leader/spiritual guardian of Amara. In this story, Kale is summoned from the Hall to the Bogs where the wizard Fenworth needs her to help in the raising of the meech dragon whose egg Kale quickened. Meech dragons are intelligent, strong, and fast-growing, and so need training. Along the way, they fall into another scheme of the evil wizard, Risto, this one involving a second meech. Kale and her companions set out to rescue the second meech, and keep Risto from causing a war that could tear the kingdom apart.

Most of the story was independent of the first book, and much of the backstory was filled in with enough detail to give the reader everything needed to understand what's going on, without getting bogged down in too much retelling. The one thing I found confusing was the number of different races (seven high races and seven low) that inhabit Amara. It was hard to keep them all straight. There is an appendix in the back that describes all of them, as well as the several types of dragons, but it was unwieldy to have to keep turning back and forth. Maybe they were introduced more fully in the first book, and so I have to lay some of the fault here on me since I didn't read it.

The characters were generally good. The wizards in Kale's company are eccentric, with just enough humor in their character to make them fun. I did find Kale a little flat, and a little too predictable. Other supporting characters were okay, with the meech dragon Regidor one of the most interesting.

The world building is fairly minimal, but, again, that might be the fault of reading a second book first. Since the action takes place within the kingdom of Amara, there may be less need to detail a lot if it was set up in the first book.

Paul is a Christian writer, so there is a fair amount of religious allegory, although references are more subtle and not direct, a bit like some of C.S. Lewis. A reader need not know or be able to identify exact references to understand the story.

All in all, it was a decent read. I would suggest not following my lead, and read the first book, Dragon Spell, first.

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Fear and Finishing

First, some general updates. Looks like I will be on chef duty at least for a bit next week. The BaldMan is having a torn meniscus in his knee fixed up on Tuesday, so he will be off his feet for a few days. I had a similar thing done a few months back, and while it did not take long for recovery, there are a few uncomfy days, and the crutches kind of get in the way. So, watch out, World! I'm in the kitchen next week!

The weather continues to be odd, at best. We may get a dusting of snow this weekend, but then it will be warming somewhat again. One nice thing is that the days are noticably longer now. It is decently light when I take the dog out after his dinner in the evening. I no longer have to grab a flashlight to see where we are going.

Yesterday was so nice, I decided to give the chicken coop a partial clean out. Just shoveled out a wheelbarrow full of winter bedding and spread clean shavings. The old stuff gets dumped at the back of the yard to compost.

So, the fear thing. It's kind of a odd occurrence. As of right now, I have one rather short story just about done, another rewrite on what will probably end up as a novella length story and, of cousre, the novel. That last one is still far enough out from what I'd call done, that it isn't falling prey to the fear problem. The other two? Not so much.

I get this close to being "done" with something, and I fall into a sort of paralysis. I can't seem to put out that final push to the end. I guess it's because then I have to think about doing something with them. The odd thing is that I do have a plan for what to do when done. I've researched markets, looked into options, and I have a reasonable idea how to proceed. It's that nasty little voice in my head that holds me back.

Another funny thing is that I can (usually) turn off the Editor-Inside while I am writing. Or at least while I am writing drafts. It's once I am facing the option of sending it out there for real, that I get the willies. I'm not really sure why it is so different. But I have guess.

I can take criticism. I don't always like hearing that there are problems with a story, but I also know full well that practically no one writes the perfect first draft that doesn't need any work. Tell what's wrong. Tell me what you don't like. Tell me what doesn't work. I can fix it. (Or not, but that's my choice.) I do value the feedback.

And I think that's the problem with having a piece on submission. When you get that rejection, there's no feedback. Just the "doesn't meet our criteria" form letter in most cases. Which kind of leaves me feeling- inadequate? Or something like that. At the very least, it fuels the voice that says "you suck." I know that's not necessarily the case, and stories get rejected for lots of reasons that have nothing to do with whether or not it's any good, but not having a reason seems to unnerve me, and I don't want to subject myself to that.

I'll get them done. I'll send them out. I'll probably get rejected. I've had it happen before. I lived. I'll survive again. And I'll send 'em somewhere else. But this finishing up part of the process continues to be one of the worst parts of the whole thing for me.

Friday, February 17, 2012

In The Midnight Hour by Patti O'Shea

In the Midnight Hour (Light Warriors, #1)In the Midnight Hour by Patti O'Shea

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What to say about this book? I have never been a big fan of romance novels. Honestly, I find them rather one-dimensional and almost funny, which I don't think is the intention. I got this one as a free download a while ago, and since paranormal romance is somewhat of a "hot" genre these days, I thought I'd give it a shot.

Ryne is a Gineal, one of a race of humans able to wield magic and living among normal humans as a protector of sorts against all the evil magical beings among us. She has been tasked with hunting down and stopping her former mentor, who has gone completely over to the dark side of magic. So far, she has been unsuccessful. She has also become obsessed with a cartoon private eye, who she believes has a real man's soul trapped inside. She frees him, and discovers that he has some sort of key information that will help defeat her mentor, once and for all. The problem? He has no idea what that information is.

I liked the paramormal aspects of the book. The Gineal, while not fully developed or explained, are interesting. Perhaps more is revealed in further books. The magic use is decent, and the book opens with a nice action sequence of Ryne in a magical battle. Most of the action is good, if not exceptional.

Setting is pretty much a secondary part of the book. Most of it takes place in Ryne's home, with a side trip to LA. Since it is modern day, not a lot of time needs to be used to detail things. We all know what a car, an airplane, a telephone, or TV is.

The characters were pretty much what I expected from a romance novel. Ryne is independent, tough, and, determined not to give in to her attraction to Deke. Deke was the biggest issue for me. I understand the attempt to make him the "bad boy" type, but he was sarcastic and manipulative to the point that I ended up disliking him. He also had complete turnarounds from sarcastic, caustic, button-pushing jerk to sensitive, caring, protector in the space of less than a heartbeat. It just seemed unrealistic. Not that I couldn't believe he might have a good side, especially as he realized he was beginning to really care for Ryne, but the transformation was so sudden, it was almost jarring. The rest of the characters, including Ryne's sister and her mentor, were secondary and not given much development.

And the romance? Again, about what I expected. I am not prudish or squeamish, and I don't shy from either sex or violence in a story, if it fits. But the way the sex is depicted in this (and the admittedly extremely few) other romances I've read is just so over the top and contrived, it seems silly. But, of course, you can't have a bodice ripper without a few bodices getting ripped, right?

I'm not trying to say anything against those who enjoy this sort of story, just that it is not my thing, and this book didn't change that opinion. To each his or her own, absolutely.

For the most part, the paranormal aspect was interesting (which is what kept me reading), and the writing itself is not bad. If you are a fan of rommance and paranormal, or a romance reader that would like to try a venture into paranormal, this would probably be a good choice.

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Monday, February 13, 2012

I Got A Maid!

See, the thing is, I hate housework. Oh, sure, I know there are a few crazies out there among you who love all that cleaning, scrubbing, polishing crap. Cleansing, you say. Meditative, you say. Satisfying, you say. Bullshit, I say. It's dreary, soulless, no fun drudgery. But it has to get done. Eventually. I hate it.

A few nights ago, the BaldMan came home with a maid...

OK, not a real, human-type maid. And mine just does floors- no windows, laundry, or dishes. She's an iRobot Roomba 545, and, in case you don't know about the Roomba, it's a robotic vacuum cleaner. The one we got is supposed to be good for pet hair, and since we have one chocolate Lab and five cats, that part was a no brainer. I've used it for a few days now, and I gotta say, I like the thing. It's picked up more crap off the floors than I ever thought it would- including a boatload of pet hair.

How does it work? Basically, you set it down where you want it to vacuum and press the Clean button. Off she goes, spinning and rotating around the room in a wildly random looking pattern that is actually amusing to watch. You'd never think the thing could vacuum the whole room watching the way it spins, zigs, zags, and bumps its way along. But it does. And it does a pretty good job of navigating around obstacles. It gently, very gently actually, bumps into walls or furniture (or the dog if he doesn't get out of the way!), turns and takes off. It navigates doorways, carpet, and varying height room divides without any trouble at all. The only time it had trouble was up in the bedroom, under the bed. And that was only because there is a lot of stuff stored under there, and she got lost in the maze of equipment cases, expansion board for the dining room table, and storage bags. Other than that, she's been able to just go around or over anything she encounters. (Yes, I think of the thing as "she". I'm looking for a good name, also.) When the rooms are done, set her near the recharging station, push the Dock button, and she rolls right onto it and recharges, ready for the next time.

If you want to confine the cleaning to one room or area, there is a sensor that you put across a doorway or whatever boundary you choose. The robot senses it and won't go across the boundary. It came with one, but I think I want to get another. That way, I can confine her to cleaning one room if I want.

Drawbacks? It doesn't fit everywhere, so some corners don't get swept. The collection cup isn't huge, and if you have a particularly dirty area, you may need to empty it a few times. Minor stuff, to me, compared to the convenience of just putting it down and being able to go do something else while the vacuuming gets done.

What I like? It works. We have a guinea pig who resides (in her cage) in the living room. She gets hay every day, like all good guinea pigs should. The hay is messy. There are times when the living room floor looks like I've decided to strew herbs across the floor. She handled it fine, just needed emptying a few times. It's also easy, so I think the rooms will get vacuumed more. Since it sits on the dock in the corner of the living room, it's easy to grab for a quick pick up (it has a Spot setting for small jobs), rather than having to pull out the big vacuum hose and attachments.

Here's a little video of her, cleaning up the kitchen:

I think I'm going to like my maid!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Shotgun Gravy (Atlanta Burns #1) by Chuck Wendig

Shotgun GravyShotgun Gravy by Chuck Wendig

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Atlanta Burns is not quite your typical high school girl. Sure, she has an attitude, like most teenagers. She is bored with school, also like a lot of teenagers. She's also back in town after an "incident" invovling one of her mother's boyfriends and a .410 squirrel gun. Most of her teachers are letting her coast through class without any effort on her part. She's quite happy with that, and wants nothing more than to keep things just the way they are. Or so she thinks.

Atlanta ends up getting in the middle of some serious bullying, first by a trio of teenage thugs against an Hispanic classmate, and then from a group of Neo-Nazis taking aim at a gay high schooler. In the process, Atlanta makes some new friends, and most certainly, some enemies. However, she does still have that shotgun...

That's just the bare bones of this story. Is it YA? Probably, although there are some very dark elements here. It's not really a happy story, even if the conflicts are mostly resolved by the end. A lot of what happens in the story does happen in real life and Wendig does not shy away from it. Teens go through a lot of this stuff every day, and the events are handled in a gritty, realistic manner.

The real stars of the book are the characters. They shine, not because they are "good," but because they are real. Atlanta is tough, mouthy, and not afraid of anyone or anything. She also proves that she has feelings, even if they are drawn out of her reluctantly. The other main characters are equally well- written.

Shotgun Gravy is a novella, and so it is a fairly quick read. Pacing is good, there is drama, tension, and action, and is easy to finish in a single sitting. But when you do, you will end up wishing it were longer. Or that the sequel, Bait Dog, was already out. It's that good.

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Friday, February 3, 2012

Into the Wild (Warriors #1) by Erin Hunter

Into the Wild (Warriors, #1)Into the Wild by Erin Hunter

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Yes, I know- it's a kid's book, usually placed as middle grade. But I like cats, so I thought I's give it a try. It's not a bad book. There are some moments of predictablility, and the writing is a bit simplistic, but it is aimed at children, so those can be somewhat overlooked.

Rusty, a housecat (or "kittypet" to the ferals), has a pretty good life with his humans. But he dreams every night of being free in the forest, hunting mice. One night, he stays out to explore and runs into the feral cats, who invite him to join their clan. Rusty eagerly accepts. (Of course, I couldn't help thinking, "But his people are going to be sad! They'll worry and miss him!" Of course, the focus of the story is Rusty and not his people.) He is renamed Firepaw, and begins to learn the ways of a warrior cat in the clan.

His new family, ThunderClan, is one of four that have shared the forest according to laws set down by the ancestors. But food grows scarce, and the sinister ShadowClan plans to make sure they are the ones to survive as strongest. Firepaw is pulled into the conflict and must figure out the intrigues as well as the battles to save his clan.

The cats are nicely done. These are not humanized animals, although they do have personality. They hunt, kill, fight, get hurt, and some die. The hard life of a feral cat is outlined, but never made to seem extreme. The cats are happy with their lives. They have a clan structure, with leaders and teachers. They hunt their own food, but there is no graphic description of the killing. The battles are well described, although, again, not overy graphic or bloody.

The story is a little bit predictable at times, but as it is aimed at younger readers, I don't think it would be nearly as effective if the plot were too complex and convoluted. The ending resolves some of the problems in the story, and leaves others open for future volumes.

It was a quick read for me, and reasonably interesting. I'm sure a middle elementary student who likes cats, or animals in general, would enjoy these books a lot.

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Chickens are Silly Creatures

For those who don't know, we have chickens. Thirteen hens live in a very nice coop/garden shed we built, with a big fenced run. We have put up some temporary fencing in part of the yard, so I can let them out to free range. We get really good eggs from the girls.

Lately, the "gate" section of the fence has been frozen to the ground, and the yard was covered in ice/snow. So I haven't let them out into the yard. When we had that nasty snowstorm in October, the "roof" of netting we had over the pen collapsed, and we haven't gotten the chance to fully repair it yet. That's the set up.

I went out this morning to feed them and collect eggs. I looked in the pen, and our Buff Orpington, Dusty, wasn't in there with the rest of the girls. I figured she was on a nest box, and opened the coop to look. Nope, she's not in there, either. Ok, well, they have been finding holes in the collapsed roof now and then, and one or two will get out. Dusty has been one of the most clever at that, so I thought she'd gotten out. I decided to feed the rest and then go looking for her. I got the water and feed holders done, and opened the pen to go in and give the girls their morning treats. We save kitchen scraps for them. I have a big plastic underbed type plastic box in there that I dump the treats into. They tend to knock it around, and push it over as they jump in and out of the box gobbling their morning treats. I reached over and picked up the overturned box and *whoosh*! out scurries Dusty! I think the darn thing was upside down yesterday, so she may have been under there all night. She seemed fine, just fluffed up her feathers and headed for the food.

Now the thing is, she's not a small bird, so she had to be all hunkered down under there. And the box is pretty shallow, so I'm thinking if she tried, she could have gotten out. But then again, chickens don't have the biggest brain in the animal kingdom, either.

Oh, well, chicken found, and I didn't have to spend my time running all over the neighborhood looking for her!