Monday, October 13, 2014

A Roadblock

Forty-four and a half years old. Never broken a bone, never fainted.

Why I could not continue on with this happy trend, God will tell me one day.

Last Wednesday morning, I slipped on a stupid rock and broke my arm. Not in an easily fixed way, oh, no, not me. I will be having nails and screws put in my bones. Yes, that’s right: surgery.

Blah.         
 
I fainted twice during the event, when I first fell (I do not remember the actual impact on my arm, but B says I lay still and quiet for a few seconds before I started screaming), and then when J was trying to help me up so that he could drive us to the clinic.

That time, I knew I was going to faint. Announced my intention to J. The next thing I knew, I was back on the ground with my foot sticking into…well, an uncomfortable place.

And my arm still throbbed with a searing pain, bone popping and shifting with every move I made.

So if I get a little quiet on the blog, you have an idea why. Typing with one hand is rather cumbersome.


But don’t be surprised if, in one of my upcoming novels, I have a character slip on a rock and break her arm.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Great Reads For My Readers

I had an idea the other day. I know how hard it can be to find good, clean romance novels – the descriptions don’t always point that out (mine do!), and sometimes when you search using the keywords “Christian romance” or “inspirational romance”, you come up with books that are…not.

And many times, when you’re downloading a free book from Kindle it’s been written by an Indie. Some of those aren’t too great.

So I thought, why don’t I occasionally share the Kindle works I’ve read and enjoyed recently? Many (if not most) will be “permanently free on Kindle” books because they are the first in a series. The author hopes, of course, that if you like the first one you will buy the others (which I do, on occasion).

Don’t worry! I’ll never recommend a book that isn’t its own complete story. I hate it when publishers FORCE you to continue the series by leaving you hanging at the end of a book!

All that said, here is a list of my favorite recently-read books (all available in the Kindle store, most written by Indie authors):

  1. Roadtrip To Redemption by Laurie Larson
  2. Miracles In Disguise by Michelle Lynn Brown
  3. Out Of Control by Mary Connealy (romantic suspense)
  4. Jenna’s Cowboy by Sharon Gillenwater – I actually read that a while back, but it was good and so worth mentioning.
  5. The Old Homestead by Ann Sophia Stephens – This is an old one, and not quite a romance but a fantastic, engaging, and charming story. If I could only come up with a complicated plot with a surprise ending like this! It might make you cry. It’s in the public domain, so it’s free.

Happy reading!

Emily Josephine

PS – I am now in the process of proofing/editing the first draft of my latest novel. Hooray! :)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Solar Lights Suck

For various reasons, mainly because of the ridiculous inefficiency and high cost, J and I have decided not to generate our own electricity from solar panels. Well, turns out that solar technology needs a lot of work with small gadgets, too.

When I learned about solar-powered lanterns and flashlights a couple of years ago, I was all over it. “We can use these in our house instead of electric lights!” I told to J. He was fine with that, so we eventually spent around $200 in solar flashlights and lanterns.

That turned out to be a non-economical, non-sustainable idea. Here’s why.

Solar lights don’t last very long.

Two of the flashlights have already quit working. Quit working. I’ve never seen a flashlight with a shorter life than these. There was nothing to do but throw them away. It’s not like you can change the batteries and make them work again. So we had to add yet more garbage to the ever-growing landfills.

The el-cheapo solar camping lantern, which was our first purchase, also died a few months ago. That was more of a case of you-get-what-you-pay-for than anything else. A-hem, and it probably didn’t help that we left it out in the rain one day and it turned out not to be as waterproof as the more expensive lanterns.

Oops. 

The charging mechanism can go haywire.

One of our $40 lanterns, which are the biggest and put off the most light, will no longer charge to its full capacity. It stays dim, no matter how long you charge it. The good news is, it makes a perfect nightlight to replace the other, completely broken lantern that B had been using before while he slept.

The lanterns won’t fully charge between autumn and spring.


Due to the earth orbiting around the sun, we recently began experiencing shorter days. Instead of fifteen or sixteen hours of daylight, we’re down to about eleven – and decreasing a bit more every day. To my chagrin, I discovered that the big lanterns won’t fully charge without at least twelve or thirteen hours of daylight.

The good news with that is that these same lanterns are able to be charged via an electric outlet or a car battery, as well. And since the light bulbs are LED, they require such a miniscule amount of energy to charge, the impact of charging them via electricity is negligible.

But there goes another one of my “good” ideas of not having to use any power from the grid. *Sigh.*


We’ve decided to buy a couple of lamps, one for downstairs and one for the loft, and light them with LED bulbs. We’ll have all the light we want, whenever we want.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

We Are Going Underground

I haven’t meant to make you wait on pins and needles. I didn’t mean to take this long to tell you exactly what kind of house we are going to have built next spring. But the truth is, just the prelimaries to construction have had us a bit stressed out, and I think I’ve needed time to process everything and make sure before I announced the specifics about our new house to the world.

Finally, without further ado, here I go (drum roll, please!): next April (tentatively scheduled), Ralph Smoot, his son Conrad, and three other guys are going to spend about a month on our place building an earth-sheltered house.

Yep. That’s it. We’re going underground. Here’s what the guys at Conrad’s Castles do: they come and build the concrete shell, which consists of eight-foot, rectangular walls with a monolithic dome for a roof for each module. We are having two twenty-four square-foot modules built, with a 176 square-foot room on the east side, and another on the north side. These two little extra rooms will enable the house to be buried in more dirt and therefore have greater thermal mass.

Here’s what we do: we get the site excavated ahead of time, then after the shell is built we have to waterproof, put in a floor, and bury the structure. Plus finish out the inside, but that won’t be a big deal.

Why an earth-sheltered house

  • It requires very little energy to heat and cool.
  • It’s fire-proof, bullet-proof and tornado-proof (and hurricane proof, but that’s not an issue in southeast Oklahoma), and during a very windy storm we won’t get nervous.
  • It’s very quiet. You don’t hear outside noises.
  • You can grow food on the roof (the dirt on top ends up being about five feet).
  • It’s so tight that dust takes a long time to accumulate. Ralph says that his wife only has to dust three times a year!
  • It requires much less maintenance than a standard house (no roof to replace, ever!).

“Won’t it be dark?”

The south-facing side is exposed, and we plan to put windows all along the entire forty-eight feet so we will have plenty of light (not to mention passive solar heat in the winter). In addition, the dome roofs, which create a thirteen-foot ceiling, are great at reflecting light. A home built the Conrad’s Castles way needs a third less lighting than a conventionally built house.

“How much will it cost?”

We estimate the entire process – including paying for food and lodging for the workers – will end up costing us around $100,000. I’ll let you know the final count when all is said and done.

Ralph says that an owner who is willing and able to do all the finishing out himself can end up paying $50 per square foot – but that does not include the food and lodging, the excavation, or the burying (which is going to run us around $10K thanks to the rocky soil here).

“Why did you guys ditch the earthbag house idea?”

If you read my former blog, I think I mentioned we were planning to build our own earthbag house. We changed our minds, first of all because we really, really don’t want to do it ourselves. Second, figuring out how to get the right soil to fill the bags turned out to be a logistical nightmare for us, since the native soil here wouldn’t work.

Finally, while an earthbag house (especially the domes we had planned to build) would do somewhat better than a “stick” house as far as moderating the indoor climate, it wouldn’t do nearly as well as an earth-sheltered house. Since we can afford it, we decided the wisest course would be to build the house that we would be happiest with for the rest of our earthly lives.

The size of our new house

A this point in my life, my ideal home would be between 500 and 600 square feet (but try telling that to my twenty-five-year-old self who felt cramped all by herself in a 400 square-foot apartment!). However, according to Ralph, a house in our location would need to be at least 1200 square feet in area in order to maintain a summertime indoor temperature of around 80 degrees. Hit 1700-1800 square feet, and one could maintain a temperature not to exceed the upper seventies.

Although our house is going to be about 1700 square feet, we’ll only be living in 750 square feet. The room on the north side will be a (nice and big!) cool pantry, and the west module it will be attached to will be left open – no rooms, no furniture. It will be a place B can run around in (literally) when weather keeps him cooped up inside, as well as, right next to the windows, a place where I can grow peppers, tomatoes, and greens in the winter. And of course, have a lemon and lime tree, maybe even a banana. I’ll see how much space I end up with.

So, there you have it! Our full disclosure about our new house. I won’t deny that we’re overwhelmed by the whole process, but by this time next year I believe we’ll realize that it was worth it.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Lessons I Learned From My First Big Garden

As I promised in my post about my garden successes and failures this year, here I tell you about the lessons I learned from my first big garden. It was a year of gardening experiments, and every thing I tried taught me a useful lesson. So, here we go.

1. Ruth Stout’s method doesn’t always work.

Ruth Stout was a gardener who, back in the 1960s (perhaps a bit earlier), stumbled onto organic gardening without ever having read about it. She just began to question the need to pour all those toxic chemicals all over her garden, and into the soil. By the 70’s, she had written several articles about her newfound method in Organic Gardening magazine, and subsequently had a few books published.

Her method in a nutshell: mulch, and lots of it. She specifically recommended, and used, spoiled hay. She even said that she never had to water during a two- to three-month drought. She just had to water everything well at the beginning of the growing season, and then cover everything with several inches to a foot (even more) of hay. She had few pest problems, abundant crops, and only put a little bit of cottonseed fertilizer down once a season.

That sounded great to me, so last fall we bought six very large bales of hay and spread them over the garden. Did it work?

Not as well as I liked. I still ended up with tons of squash bugs (welcome to gardening in the South – Ruth Stout lived in Connecticut). I did have a lot of production without fertilizing. But I also ended up with a ton of grass and weeds growing in my garden that wouldn’t have otherwise shown up – they were from seeds in the hay.

Worst of all, I found out that however hot it gets in Connecticut during their so-called drought, it must not come close to what we have in the Deep South. This year, God helped me out by sending rain about once a week – an unusual frequency for this part of the country during the summer. So for a long time, I couldn’t really tell if the hay was composting quickly enough to continually add moisture to the soil and therefore eliminate all irrigation needs.

But during the last two weeks of August, summer decided to show up. It was consistently in the mid-nineties and above, and didn’t rain for over two weeks.

And my garden got sad. The soil got dry. The hay was not enough.

HOWEVER…maybe I needed a few more inches of hay around the base of each plant?

I don’t know. Obviously, I’m not going to remove the existing hay in my garden. I’m going to let it turn into nice, rich compost. But from now on, I’m going to source mulch from our property, from grass and weeds that have not gone to seed.

And during a normal summer, I will plan to water by hand.

Which leads me to my next lesson…

2. We need an additional source of water for irrigation.

I’d thought that the two fifty-gallon rain barrels would be sufficient for supplemental irrigation during the summer. But since the hay isn’t doing as well as I’d hoped (and as Ruth Stout implicitly promised), I told J we’re going to need a small pond to catch a few hundred more gallons of water.

3. Solar dehydration is not a reliable food preservation method here.

It’s too humid much of the time. Need I say more? 

4. Fifteen tomato plants is more than enough.

I had thirty this year, and had many more tomatoes rot on the vine than I could use. Of course, without an electric dehydrator or freeze-drying system, or the space to store multiple jars of canned tomatoes (until we have a bigger house), I couldn’t put up a lot of them. Then there were the plants themselves – I had to do some serious pruning several times because they grew all over everywhere.

Fifteen vigorously-growing plants is plenty to keep us in fresh tomatoes during the summer, as well as provide us with enough dehydrated and canned for things like ketchup and tomato soup on a cold winter day.

5. I need to plant only two melon plants, and then one month apart.

We ended up with four plants. WAY too many for three people. And by planting one a month after the other, I spread out the harvest so we’re not literally watching them rot on the vine because we can’t eat them.

6. I shouldn’t plant warm-weather crops here until May 1.

I know, I know, we had an unusually cold winter. But I work hard to grow my seedlings. I don’t want to risk them. And because my garden is so large, it would take a lot of work to cover and uncover them in the event of a frost.

7. Two cucumber plants, put in a month apart, is more than sufficient.

See number five. And Beit Alpha fruits are superior to Yamato Extra Long, however prolific the Yamatos are. The Yamatos turn bitter four to six weeks after they start producing. They are also not “burpless”, like the Beit Alphas.

8. I need to spray the cukes for powdery mildew.

I’m happy to say that I can do this with diluted el-cheapo milk, nothing that will bother the bees or anything else. But diluted milk is said to keep fungus off of plants, so I’m going to try it next year to keep my plants healthier longer.

9. Don’t use twine for trellising.

J had more important things to do this spring than build me nice, firm trellises. He did put cedar posts in the garden for my blackberries, tomatoes, and cucumbers, but I said I’d take care of the climbing medium.

I used old-fashioned twine. Not nylon, the natural stuff. They didn’t even last a month.

The next time we go to Lowes, we’re getting livestock fencing to replace the twine.

I’m sure there are a few other lessons I learned this year, but those are the major ones. If you are thinking about gardening, feel free to live vicariously through my experiences and make fewer mistakes. ;)

Take care, and be well!  (And don't forget to follow/share this blog if you like the content! :) )

Thursday, September 11, 2014

How Did My Garden Grow?

As the average first frost date for our location is less than two months away, I thought this would be a good time to tell you how the biggest garden – 1600 square feet – I’ve ever had has fared this summer. I’ll keep the berries, since they are perennial and generally do well, out of the picture and focus on the rest.

Successes

1. Peas: As we had a cooler than usual spring, and the warm weather took longer than usual to get here, we got more peas than ever before for a spring planting. Not a huge amount – I didn’t plant that many – but enough to give several salads a nice, sweet crunch. They do better in the autumn here, however.

1. Green beans: Green beans prefer warmth, but not the heat of Deep South summers. But because the 90+degree F weather was so long in coming this spring and summer, I harvested – and we ate – an unprecedented amount of beans. They kept growing flowers, which became beans, then more flowers, which became more beans. I didn’t even have that many plants, maybe sixteen or so?

3. Okra: I quit harvesting them, because none of us like them that well, and they make such a sticky mess both to cut them off the plant and to slice them up. That’s not to mention how the leaves make me itch, worse than green bean leaves!

I am not going to grow okra anymore, unless I want to grow one or two plants for fun in front of the house just for the beauty of the flowers. Nevertheless, I have harvested, sliced, and dehydrated a good many of that Southern fruit. Now, dozens of fruit continue to grow.

4. Chinese long beans: I also have a good bit of dehydrated Chinese long beans. During the winter, I plan to once in a while sauté these with some okra slices – after rehydrating both. But I’m not sure I’m going to grow this veggie again, either. They don’t taste very much like green beans, their flavor being much stronger. The flowers, however, are beautiful, and the purple beans can grow to over a foot and a half long.

6. Tomatoes: I haven’t been able to keep up with them, having planted thirty plants donated to us by a neighbor back in May. I dehydrated them for awhile, but now we just eat fresh when we want, and I fix a tomato soup a couple times a week. It’s sad all the fruit that is rotting on the vine, but I’m not going to can, and it’s gotten too humid to dehydrate via the power of the sun.

7. Cucumbers: So successful that I’ve cut down three of the four plants I started with! Actually, three were a variety called Yamato Extra Long, and once the plants developed powdery mildew the fruit all turned out bitter.

Next year I will spray Plant Wash to keep the mildew away. This year I was too stressed out by all the adjusting my family has had to make in this new lifestyle, not to mention frequently lethargic thanks to the very humid summer. So I didn’t want to do anything extra, like spray.

8. Watermelon: Well, this was semi-successful. Eventually, the plant developed a disease that caused malformations and under-ripening of fruit. I finally tore it out, but nobody cared. I discovered I can’t eat it without experiencing overly soft stools and cramping the next day, so I’m not going to eat it anymore. J got sick of it, and B never liked dealing with all the seeds.

9. Crenshaw melon: We’ve had a few duds lately, but up until then this cantaloupe-like fruit (bigger and sweeter) has produced enough so that we saw a noticeable decrease in our food expenditure for about a month. There are still a few fruit that look like they are going to ripen well, but I think that will be the end of it – it seems to have developed a disease, as well.

10. New Zealand spinach: Growing a watermelon and the NZ spinach proved to me that sandy soil is better than the clay soil I used to have to deal with. Watermelon wouldn’t grow for me at all in North Texas, and it would take at least two years for a New Zealand plant to grow as big as the four plants I got in the garden this year became.

11. Red malabar spinach: A no-brainer for hot climates. While two of the four original plants succumbed to rotting due to the mud underneath the hay (I’ll talk about that in a later post), the two that survived went crazy and covered a cedar post that is part of the trellis.

12. Lettuce: I should have put this at the beginning! Since I was unable to start plants this year, and the freezing weather took forever to end, I ended up buying starts from the hardware store. It felt like forever before they were big enough to pick from, but once they were, I was able to stop buying lettuce for a good two months. I ended up with eleven plants, consisting of both leaf and Romaine types.

Failures

1. All the brassicas – kale, broccoli, cabbage. I had a hard time getting them started from seed (like I would leave the trays of seeds in the rain and end up with a flooded muddy mess), and those I seeded in the ground didn’t fare much better because we didn’t have a lot of water in our tanks back then and I refused to use what precious little we had to water seeds.

So by the time the few that came up, came up, it was too hot for them.

2. Other greens: Flea beetles attacked the beet greens. I did manage to get a couple servings of collard greens, but since they developed aphids much sooner than they ever had in Texas, I consider them a failure. Only three spinach ever germinated, due to my not watering the seeds. And it was too late by then – I got a few leaves a couple of times, and then the plants went to seed.

3. Jalapeno peppers: I had one out of six plants ever produce anything for me. The fruit have been small and pathetic, though they taste okay.

4. Bell peppers: Did even worse than the hot. The one pepper that grew began to rot when it was almost all red. The plants have new buds and flowers on them once again, and look as healthy as they ever have (I thought they were all going to die in May – leaves were turning yellow and falling off so that the plants looked skeletal), but I’m not going to hold my breath.

I figured out that peppers do not like a lot of water and cool weather, hot or bell. The reason this new batch of flowers may produce something is that we’ve finally had a couple of weeks without rain.

5. Amarillo carrots: This is a variety of carrot that can be grown in the summer. But every time the greens would pop out of the ground, the darn pill bugs would eat them up! I decided growing carrots the old-fashioned way, in cool weather, is the way I’ll have to go.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll post about the gardening lessons I learned this year. In a couple of months, I’ll let you know whether the bell peppers ever did anything, and how the sweet potatoes turned out. If all the slips that turned into vines bore the amount of potatoes they are supposed to, we will end up with about 100 pounds of potatoes!

However, I’m not sure how well the roots will have developed in the rocky soil. I may have to build a raised bed to successfully produce sweet potatoes.

Thanks for reading this post, and stay tuned for more! :)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Good-Bye, Outlines

Years ago, I was reading a book about writing wherein the various methodologies of various authors were expounded. That is to say, the author of the book was quoting how different authors write stories. One of the authors stated that she never wrote up an outline ahead of time, just went with the flow and let the story write itself.

I cringed. That sounded disorganized to me. I needed to know the beginning, middle, and end of my novel before I wrote it. And so that’s how I’ve operated ever since.

Until recently. A few weeks ago, I wrote on this blog that one of the reasons I hadn’t been writing much on the blog was that I was working on a novel outline. True confession time: I couldn’t make the story turn out the way I wanted. Mainly, I couldn’t figure out the middle of the story.

I got frustrated.

Then one day J was reading to B – at B’s request, mind you – the editorial comments Bill Watterson wrote in one of his  compilation books about his renowned comic strip, “Calvin And Hobbes.” As J was reading, one particular comment made me perk up my ears. Watterson basically said that he liked to take a story and just go with it, letting it write itself, rather than plan it out ahead of time.

Hmmm. I quit outlining the story. Frankly, I set that novel aside for a time, believing I wasn’t quite prepared to turn it into the masterpiece I wanted it to be. And I started a new one.

Without an outline.

Okay, truth be told, when I first embarked upon the new project I was still not convinced of the wisdom of Watterson’s words, still didn’t think that kind of “free-for-all” writing was for me. So I tried to outline it at first.

And it just wouldn’t work.

I almost gave up on the story. Then I thought about that book about writing. About Bill Watterson’s comment.

I turned on my NEO2, and started typing away.

I am more than halfway through, and am thrilled with the results! Sure, I get stuck sometimes – but I did when I was using outlines, too. But I am convinced that the story is much more interesting than it would have been had I written a prior outline, and then stuck to that outline. The characters tell me where to go in each chapter, how to increase tension and suspense; and these events, working in tandem with the characters, guide me into each subsequent chapter.

With non-fiction books, an outline is almost an imperative. But not with storytelling. I’m having fun!

Gee, maybe not trying to have complete control over my life might be more fun, too. I’ll have to give that some serious thought.