Sunday, June 28, 2015

Time for Creativity

 Last Friday I knew I needed to spend time with Lillian and art work. We had plotted to do that since school started last year, because we both felt we hadn't done enough over the summer. So while it was still cool in the morning, we opened the garage door for lovely natural lighting, and perusing my shelves, looked for inspiration.

I dragged out a sketch pad, one of many that I hoard but rarely use because of my phobia about "using up good materials on practice pieces." She immediately began to sketch, exclaiming about how much better the tooth of the paper took the pencil lines than the copy paper she usually uses; I stood at my worktable wondering what on earth I ought to do.

Shrugging, I used my pencil to make random dots on my sheet of paper. Then I connected dots with thin lines, also randomly, making sure no dot was left unconnected. The result was actually pretty cool-looking, and Lil was impressed by the idea. I myself was once again impressed with Lil's ability to bring out a creative side to my work that usually is hidden.

Taking a break from our sketches, we talked about graphic editing programs -- I use Photoshop, she uses Manga Studio, she longs for SAI. At one point, I showed her how to use the Paint Daubs filter in Photoshop (see the pic at top) to better "see" the actual colors in a picture without the brain suggesting names for the colors. Thus some of the "green" in the photo is, in reality, gray; part of the "white" of the blossoms is also gray, but a different gray.

My coloration of my sketch isn't done, but I am looking forward to playing with it some more, and using the random dots idea in a couple other ways.

And then there's writing, which needed a jump start of creativity, too...

I haven't been writing. I don't like that, it hurts me to not write, I have nightmares when I don't write, my hands want to be typing out words, and I haven't had any words coming to mind. Troubling. Am I no longer a writer? How awful!

At the beginning of May, the Piker Press vampire writer, Lydia Manx, went on hiatus from her serial fiction. Needing something to fill in the spot, I thought of my long-abandoned foodie soap opera Going Hungry -- I knew there was about 80,000 words of unedited story there, so why not brush the dander and dust off it and use it to pass the time until Lydia was ready to hammer on her stories again?

We're about nine episodes in now, and I have probably another five edited that just need illustrations; there are some flaky chapters that need some brushing up ... and then the document ends with the end of the story. Most of the middle part is in another document.

It took me several days to figure out how to find the other document, as I'd forgotten what it was named in the five years since I worked on it.

Another few days passed as I re-read it, not remembering most of it, making notes of continuity boo-boos and rambly pointless bits.

Today I reached the end of the document, the last sentence of which reads, "I've died and gone to heaven, Gloria thought, and ended the damn boring stupid story for the time being." When I read that, I laughed out loud. That was a plot twist I definitely didn't remember!

Looks like I've just put some oompf into a creative writing prompt: Finish the damn novel or look like an ass.

Yep. Time for creativity.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Gardening in the Time of Drought

There they are, fifteen pounds of tomatoes.

Half of them I picked yesterday, but quit when my back began aching. (I'd been out on the horse for over an hour.) The rest I got today.

We gave away about eight pounds a couple days ago, and Bernie used another eight or so making an incredibly delicious canned salsa. The salsa was so good that he could use this whole batch as far as I'm concerned. There are plenty more to come, too, depending on how bad this coming heat wave is. Sometimes it gets too hot and the fruit more or less cooks on the vine.

Only one cluster of grapes from our vine has ripened -- the rest look to be about a month away from edibility. No idea why one ripened so soon, but it was a delicious preview of coming attractions.

That many tomatoes during California's drought? you may well ask. And I will tell you in answer that the key is water management. Aside from a little square of grass in the front yard, which has two automatic lawn sprinklers on it, the entire rest of the property is on a drip system, which puts a small but adequate amount of water on individual plants.

What had been perfectly useless lawn was removed, and Bernie built planter boxes, which will eventually also be on a drip system. See the black tubing? That carries water to three small fern pines (podocarpus -- neither fern nor pine, really) and some tomatoes. Each plant has its own emitter; weeds get no water, empty dirt gets no water, sidewalk and gutter get no water.

Is it enough in high summer? Just about ... but we make up the difference from inside the house. Any time we run water, waiting for it to heat up for washing dishes or taking a shower, we collect that runoff into buckets. Some of those buckets go directly into container plants, but what is not urgently needed goes into my "well" -- a 33 gallon plastic garbage can, to bank against dry and excessively hot days.

Looks a little bit like Mars there, with no plants, but by next Spring, there will be drought-tolerant lavender, maybe a few blueberry bushes, and bark mulch to hold moisture and soften the view.

Ahh, the view. That's the back patio in the morning, more container plants, everything on drip or hand-watering, no lawn ...

... And all gorgeous. Fortunately my neighbor to the north used to live in the mountains near Santa Cruz. She's heavily invested in her urban forest, too; ground shaded by trees doesn't need as much water.

So far, so good.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015


What is not to love about growing corn in containers on your patio?

This is the 2015 planting of On Deck Burpee hybrid container corn. I sit in its shade in the mornings, admiring the curving leaves and the gentle rustling sounds they make in the early breeze.

A few aphids tried to infest it, but I just hosed them off, and I haven't seen any since. During the time of the aphids, I saw some tiny wasps hanging around the corn; some gardening advice pages suggested that some species of wasps eat the aphids, and that I shouldn't use a pesticide -- which I'm glad of, as I'm not fond of chemical solutions.

As for my tomatoes, I sampled both Super Fantastic and Rutgers, and the wild tomato that over-wintered. Not impressed by any of the three. Very bland, not up to the huge flavors of Container's Choice or Early Girl. I was particularly disappointed by the wild one, as it is loaded with fruit.

Maybe it will make a good sauce.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Oh, the Color!

There they are, the first two tomatoes.

Yes, the one on the right is a little pale, but I was not about to let my first crop fall prey to slugs or birds or whatever. Once they start to turn color, tomatoes are ripe, but it is nice to let them hang out on the counter until the color is deep and they soften to provide the richest taste.

I love tomatoes. But maybe I love tomato plants more. I think the tiny yellow blossoms are cute, and the foliage is pretty. The smell of the vines is intoxicating to me, rooted deeply in the memory of my mother's greenhouse, where she started tomatoes from seed to sell, reserving a few for her garden and mine. When I wade in and tie my tomatoes to their stakes or cages, pruning a sucker branch here or there, tickling the blossoms to make them set fruit, the green stain on my hands and arms amuses me; watching the soap and water turn greenish as I clean up afterwards makes me smile. My tomatoes and I have had a close contact.

All but a few of my plants are in the ground. Most of them are in containers. I started with three Early Girl, known for flavor and -- earliness -- added two Shady Lady, that would be the ones in the picture to the right. Of course I made sure I had two Roma plants, for Bernie's salsa endeavors.

Then I bought two Rutgers, because the literature described their flavor as "incomparable." And because they were available, and I had some space, I found a home for a Better Boy and a Super Fantastic.

A spot was reserved for a wild tomato that came up last fall and over-wintered, much to my surprise. It formed the illustration for Anna Sykora's Piker Press article, "Crazy Tomato," and I was shocked that it made it to Spring. (It's a monster, with a scary amount of fruit and tendrils spanning four feet across, btw.)

One tomato plant made it home with me after I had a fervid conversation with a man I met at the hardware store -- he gifted me with a plant called "Delicious," a plant that has ended up on the endangered list in my garden after it failed to thrive. From its isolation ward spot near the avocado tree, it looks over at yet another plant, Container's Choice, that has a knack for vigorous growth and hiding ripe tomatoes under it's foliage.

And I was done with buying tomatoes at that point, especially since I found another wild tomato growing up near the Better Boy and Super Fantastic, the only non-container plants in the bunch.

Until the supermarket marked down its veggies, and I found a pony-pack of Beefsteak tomatoes whimpering at me. I bought a couple giant terracotta pots and another cage...

Day before yesterday, Bernie and I held a four-way taste test of ripe tomatoes from Early Girl, Shady Lady, Container's Choice, and Better Boy. Those are the cut ones in the middle, minus the Container's Choice, which was my favorite, and I ate it all before I thought to take a picture. Bernie's favorite was Early Girl. Then he made salsa from all the others.

Next day I picked another 16 tomatoes.

Today, Bernie is researching tomato paste and pizza sauce recipes.

I myself am waiting to find out what Beefsteak, Rutgers, and Super-Fantastic taste like.

And the wild ones. I love summer tomato season.