Thursday, October 30, 2014

NEO2 Review

Ever heard of the NEO2? How about the AlphaSmart? AlphaSmart was the previous name of this awesome device that has changed my writing life forever. I learned about it over a decade ago at a writer's guild meeting, but would not buy it because, after all, I had a computer. Why did I need a separate word processor?

The answer came to me some time a couple years ago after having suffered from chronic eye strain for about three years. The NEO2 is a lot easier on the eyes. The screen does not have the same wicked brightness as a computer screen does, and so I can watch the screen as I type.

Up until a couple of weeks before buying this little gem, I would write blog posts and Kindle products (including the first half of the novel I just finished) long hand on a piece of scratch paper first, then type them into the computer. It is much easier for my eyes to copy from a piece of paper than watch a computer screen. When I copy, I only have to look up once in a while to check for spelling errors.

But working that way, it took me at least 50% more time to write something than just typing it straight into the computer.

Tired of taking so much time to write just a few pages a day, I began to wonder: did the AlphaSmart still exist? My husband did some searching, and discovered that, indeed, it does, only under a different name! (I'm not sure how he found it, because I didn't even remember the old version was called AlphaSmart!)

Advantages and disadvantages of the NEO2

Now, it does not do everything that Word (or the Mac version of Word) can do. It does not check spelling as you go (and its spell check function is TERRIBLE). If you want to bold, italicize, or underline a word you have to go in and do that once it's on the computer. You have to go back in an do headings and subheadings. I totally miss not being able to right-click and immediately find synonyms for a word that I know I am overusing.

BUT...the NEO2 keyboard is easier to type on than a laptop keyboard. The screen does not kill your eyes. I can now type ten pages of a novel in less than three hours (unless it's a bad day) - and I am only writing everything ONE time.

You can have up to eight documents going at one time. I don't know the size of each file space, but each is large enough to hold a few hundred manuscript pages.

How the NEO2 works

So, how does the NEO2 work? When you plug the USB port into the computer, the computer sees it as a keyboard. Whatever you have typed will e re-typed automatically into whatever document application you have up and ready to go.

For example, I typed this post on my NEO2. To get it into my WordPress blog, I brought up a new text box for a blog post, connected the USB cord from the NEO2 to my computer, then hit the "send" key on the NEO2. If I wanted to stare at the computer screen - which, of course, I do not - I would be able to see the words get typed into the text box as if by magic, or invisible hands.

There are four different speeds you can set the words to be typed. The highest setting will type ten pages (Times New Roman, size 12, double-spaced) in about three minutes. The next setting down is considerably slower. I don't know why anyone would mess with that, unless they wanted to watch the process and catch errors as they occurred. You can't fix errors until it's all done, without canceling the whole process and starting over.

Anyway, whatever settings you have fixed for your computer word processing application - font, size, spacing - is how the text in your NEO2 file will show up.

Isn't that cool? I wish I'd bought the thing when I first heard about it. At under $200, it would have been well worth saving me the eventual severe eye strain.

Well, live and learn. In case any of you want to know my secret to whipping out novels so fast, the NEO2 is now a big part of it. You can buy one here.

Blessings to you, and happy reading (or writing!),

Emily Josephine

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Walk The Walk, Or Hush

Between struggling with whether to use solar panels for energy at our home, and reading something about university students picketing for divestment from fossil fuel stocks, my brain has been kicked into high gear about the whole climate change issue.

Okay, so that’s an exaggeration, but I’ve had a thought here and there about it. Finding out about the recent huge anti-fuel protest march in NYC has almost made me spend an entire five minutes ruminating on the subject.

If I sound flippant and like I don’t care about our planet, I do care. Thing is, not only is the whole controversy based on conflicting theories (not facts, only theories), but also now the whole thing has gotten so out of whack that they’re blaming cows for the greenhouse effect.

First of all, after the previous four winters (and it looks like the trend will continue this winter), I refuse to believe in “Global Warming.” Another impending Ice Age is more likely. Or, maybe the global warming trend of the past few decades is now turning, so that the planet’s climate is going back to what it was in the 1970s and earlier.

You know, that’s natural, for the earth to go in cycles like that: colder for a few decades, then warmer, than cooling back down. So do I not believe that greenhouse gases are causing a problem? Sure! I believe they are increasing my risk of lung cancer, and piling up Lord-knows-how-many toxins in my body that might cause me to die young. This is one reason I wanted to move out into the middle of nowhere.

Are they causing climate change? Honestly, I don’t know. And I don’t think anyone else can honestly say they know, either.

But my biggest angst with the whole climate change debate isn’t about “experts” trying to convince everyone else of their certitude one way or their other. Rather, it’s the hypocrisy of the people in the movement.

Hot dogs, anyone?

A growing number of people are at least trying, if not sticking with, veganism. Part of that has to do with the unfortunate bill of goods they’ve been sold about how animal farts are melting the polar ice caps. But I wonder: how many card-carrying environmentalists have given up meat and dairy? How many of those afore-mentioned marchers took advantage of the many NYC street vendors selling hot dogs?

And that brings me to the quintessential example of anti-fossil fuel hypocrisy. Few of those involved in the recent protest walked, biked, or drove a solar-powered electric car to it. No. Some of them actually flew in a plane. To protest the extraction of fossil fuels from the earth.

Then they went home to their oversized houses, and do you know what they did? They cooked some meat from their upright refrigerator on their electric range while charging their smartphone, did a load of laundry and dried it in a clothes dryer, then drove their kid to soccer practice…six blocks away.

I know, I know. Not everyone who protests against fracking and coal and proposed pipelines lives like a mini Al Gore. But most do.

Understand, I’m not mad at you if you use a clothes dryer or a refrigerator. However, I’m not thrilled if you’re the “average American” when it comes to electricity use, and then get upset when the world’s health must be compromised in order to keep up with your energy usage.

It’s easy to protest pollution with signs. But change never comes by doing things the easy way. Walk the walk, or stop talking. All that hot air is killing the planet. 

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.

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.


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! :) )