Saturday, July 31, 2010

Last Week of Summer Break

The last week of summer break has arrived. This always makes me sad, mainly because it means an end to my prolific summer months. No three thousand words a day. No daily submissions off to markets. No Tweeting every hour about how much I've gotten done. I'll have a dry spell until, oh, about Thanksgiving, when I get a few days off and decide to work really hard on something. That fervor might carry me through winter break as well. Last year, I finished two novellas in the November to New Years stretch. Hopefully I can do the same this year.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Best News Yet

I finally feel that I can start to spread this around because I finally got my contract today. My collection of short fiction, All Along the Pacific, has been picked up by Open Heart Publishing, the same company that releases the An Honest Lie anthologies. Fingers crossed, the work will be out by the end of the year.

I'm also very fortunate to include artist Diana Bittleston. She created ten original illustrations, one for each story, as well as the fantastic cover art which ties everything together: trains, coastline, and the Pacific Ocean. I couldn't be happier with the artwork and was totally thrilled to be able to work with her on this project.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Well, it IS that time of year...

Bonnie is predicted to descend on New Orleans early Sunday morning. This will be the first tropical storm of the season to hit the coast, and all I can do is hope that it stays a tropical storm. I really wish I had another rain barrel too, so we could have more back-up water. Oh well.

So I might be out of contact for a while, depending on how long the power goes out for. My chickens made it through Gustav, so I know they'll be okay, but I'm worried about the bee hive and the new bean plants. I hope they don't get too beat up.

Perhaps what bothers me most about Bonnie is that she doesn't seem to understand that tropical storms and hurricanes are not supposed to hit until after I've gone back to work. I need those storm days in late August or September to re-energize. Now she's just messing with my schedule.

Off to copy out calls for submissions on Duotrope so I have something to do when the power is off.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Growing a Starch

Now that I have honey for sweetener, eggs for protein, fruits, and a lot of plants growing to add flavor and greens, my focus turned to starches. We both love potatoes, but it seems potatoes don't love Louisiana. Thinking about our environment -- we are zone nine here -- it seemed worthwhile to start exploring more tropical-type starches. The two most common are cassava/ yuca/ tapioca plant and taro. Luckily for us, we have an excellent Asian market on the West Bank called Hong Kong Market. They had two types of taro and cassava there, so we bought some and brought it home. We tasted both just boiled with no seasoning, and then fixed them two different ways.

Taro seems a lot easier to work with all around. First, it's not poisonous in its raw state, which means the leaves and peels can go to the chickens without concern for their safety. Second, it pounded out much nicer in my pilon than the cassava did. It got perfectly smooth. Third, it seemed it would be more versatile for both sweet and savory dishes. I can imagine taro cakes dusted in cornmeal, fried in bacon fat and topped off with fresh honey... That just sounds like a delicious Sunday morning breakfast.

So we are growing taro. Right now I'm prepping the beds: turned the soil, put up a fence to keep the dogs out, and fertilizing. Tomorrow I'll plant.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

New Read

So many of you know that I'm sort of into backyard farming. Two things happened over the last week or so that have reinvigorated that. First off, I saw Manny Howard on The Colbert Report. I thought he was pretty funny, and I thought the book he was pitching -- how he turned his backyard in Brooklyn into a farm -- sounded right up my alley, so I bought it with an gift card I "eared" doing online surveys. It came yesterday. The assignment he was given by New York  magazine necessitated that he be a little more gung ho about the whole venture than I need to be, but I think it should prove an interesting read for someone as into this stuff as I am. I know it's a cynical treatment of locavorism, but still...

The other thing that we did this week was discover Laughing Buddha Nursery at 4516 Clearview in Metairie. If you are into any kind of sustainability, this is the place to go. We only left with an old olive oil drum to make into a rain barrel, but the connection we made with the guy working -- probably the owner -- was totally worth the trip. They do everything, from trees and hydroponics to protein production. The small plot of land is a model for what urbanites should be doing everywhere. Check it out.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Bees in the Trees

As some of you may know, one of my hobbies is urban self-sufficiency/ sustainability. I live in an old neighborhood in downtown New Orleans that used to be part of a plantation. My property was subdivided in the 1770s, and my house built about one hundred years after that. Like many New Orleans houses, the front sits right on the sidewalk, but I have a rather large back yard, about fifty by thirty feet. Plenty of room to do lots of things with.

We always have a few vegetables -- tomatoes, basil, peas. We've planted many fruit trees: satsuma, apple, Seville oranges, key limes, peach, and lemon. We have two types of grapes: Thompson seedless and scuppernogs.

Our big venture started in March of 2008 when I began raising chickens. I ordered a dozen bantam Silkies from an online hatchery, built a coop, and so far have loved every second of it. About a year ago, we hatched our own too, and ended up with eight new hens and only one rooster in the brood.

Since the chickens were such a success, I felt the next logical step would be bees. Both my husband and I had issues branching into another protein, like rabbits, because we don't like to kill. Having to butcher the occasional extra rooster is bad enough. Raising something just to butcher seemed...well, excessive. But bees would not only ensure pollination in our yard, but provide honey as well. This would be one more step to separate us from dependence on, say, refined sugar. Having a natural sweetener to use when canning and jam making with all the fruit would be just awesome.

I asked for beekeeping stuff for Christmas last year, but didn't get any of it. That was probably for the best. Further research showed that it is rather difficult to get bees in Louisiana. Most people don't ship down here, I guess. So I put that on the back burner and started to think about other things to raise.

Then, a miracle. In an old cedar stump -- the tree went down in Katrina -- a wild hive arrived. I watched it for a few months, and then decided to undertake what many say you shouldn't do: try to recover a wild hive out of a tree. I read accounts online of people who had to cut down large sections of the tree, split it open, and then try to remove the hive. It sounded like a lot of walk, but I prepared myself for the undertaking. First, I ordered the gear (hat, gloves, overalls, liquid smoke). Then I built a hive. I decided to to with what's called a Kenya top bar hive. This is an ancient have form that is quite easy to build. Though it doesn't yield as much as stacked hives with supers and all that, I managed to assemble the entire thing for only $1.09. I had lots of lumber lying around.

Then I went after the hive. Again I got lucky. The termites had already eaten convenient entrances for not only the bees, but also for me. All I needed to do was pull away the rotten wood and remove the comb, bees, etc.

These I put into the hive. I put the top on. I plugged the entrance and am now letting them get accustomed to their new home. Supposedly, tomorrow when I open the entrance, they will get the rest of the bees left behind in the ravaged hive to move in with them if I managed to get the queen. I have no idea whether I found her or if she is smooshed back in some corner of the old hive and I totally missed her. I hope it's the former so that I didn't just end up destroying the hive.

What's next for the yard? I think we are going to get some avocados.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Story accepted today!

One of my science fiction stories, "Tangwen's Last Heist," was contracted today by Pill Hill Press for their Zero Gravity: Adventures in Deep Space anthology. It took me a few different stories to get my foot in the door there. I'm glad this one worked out. I'm happy knowing more of my science fiction is getting out there.

On the downside, I didn't win the flash fiction contest at Crossed Genres. Though I still do have to write another story for them for a different call. I really should work on that now...