Confessions of a former botanophobe: the aftermath

I know the growing season isn’t entirely over yet, but here in southern Ontario, the nights are getting cool and we’re preparing for the onset of winter. So I thought I would give an update on how my gardening efforts, the first time I seriously attempted growing anything, progressed from the beginning of the season.

The stars of my garden were the seeds I harvested from grocery store vegetables—tomatoes and bell peppers. The latter had a slower start, but has borne a lot of very healthy-looking fruit in the past month. The jalapeño seeds took even longer to grow much, but finally yielded its first pepper in the past couple weeks, and since we brought it inside, it has bloomed another couple flowers.

Mostly, the vegetables haven’t been ready to harvest yet. However, I did eat my first tomato yesterday, which was very tasty.

I had an exaggerated sense of how temperature-tolerant the plants were, which may have stunted the ripening process for many of the tomatoes. With a frost warning tonight, I decided to go ahead and harvest the rest and let them ripen indoors (hopefully, or else I’ll see how fried green tomatoes actually taste).

Perhaps not a particularly bountiful harvest, but not bad for my first try.

I’m quite interested to try a home grown bell pepper, though the only colour they have exhibited so far aside from green is some purple striping when it got a bit chilly for them overnight earlier this week. They have been living inside since and the peppers have gone back to green, and continued growing, if slowly.

The lettuce was a big surprise. After a couple of false starts trying to start the seeds indoors, I gave up and planted the rest of the seeds in their final home, and they proliferated so much that I was able to harvest a few salads’ worth, until the squirrels dug them up so much that they stopped growing back.

“I’ll just throw the rest of the seeds in here.” Two weeks later: “Oh.”

Having never grown or known much about growing anything that did not produce food as some sort of separate fruit, however, I was blown away by the idea that I could just rip the leaves off and they would just keep growing.

Alas, after their initial burst, my pumpkins didn’t do so well, and I finally gave up on them a week or two ago. I don’t know what it was I did wrong. I thought, after seeing a family member’s progress on a similar squash that had required a lot more water than I had been giving my pumpkins, that they were just thirsty, but either that wasn’t the solution or it was already too late by then.

Now that we’re at the end of the growing season, we’re looking ahead to next year. After reading that in warm enough conditions, bell peppers plants will continue growing and producing for a few years, we’ve decided to keep tending to them now that they’re inside. Same with the jalapeños. Both have now attained a semi-permanent home in a south-facing room upstairs with a full-spectrum light on a timer set nearby.

I enjoyed raising my garden enough this year that I’ve decided I want to create a proper one next year, though I need to start preparing a plot for that now to be ready for it. More tomatoes are a given, and I want to try pumpkins again. I will definitely be planting more lettuce next year. Other options I’m considering include green onions, celery, green beans, and zucchini.

In all, I’d call this experiment a success.

July update and NEW BOOK!

the-light-between-stars-m

Okay, so only about 1/10th of the content of this book is actually my writing, but I’m still very proud of this new book. It’s an anthology of stories from authors I’ve been privileged to publish over the years, and every story in it is fantastic. It even includes one from me about Liam from the Sisters of Chaos trilogy, and a story from J. R. Dwornik about Lyle from the same series. So please check it out!

Now, on to my terribly delayed monthly update for June.

june-prog-1

june-prog-2

So, clearly I still fell well short of my monthly goal of 20,000 words, but I did far better than in May, and at least achieved half of my goal. The problem, obviously, is that I simply didn’t write for many days. I rarely allow myself to fall short of my daily word count goal when I actually sit down to write, I just too often don’t end up trying. To be perfectly honest, usually it’s simply because I don’t feel like it/don’t want to write.

Most of that comes from the fact that I’m feeling dissatisfied with the story. I know it can, and will, get better, but I suppose it’s been so long since I really did any heavy writing that I’m getting discouraged a lot easier when what I write doesn’t immediately come out worthy. Mainly I continue to write new scenes that end up as large blocks of exposition. I will improve on them, I just need to get past my own perfectionism and blank page syndrome to simply advance the story.

I should have a 120,000-word manuscript written by the end of this month, but at present I’m only clocking in a hair under 70k. But hey, 70,000 words is a pretty decent book on its own, and it’s still 70,000 words more than I had at the beginning of the year. I need to focus on that more than how much I still have left to do, and just write.

DwZtAbsU8AI7tqV

Beyond writing, I haven’t done much of note recently. Stress/overall emotional state has largely reduced my extracurricular activities to reading and another play-through of Trials of Mana. I have only a few books left in my TBR pile, though I’ve had occasional diversions with books from daughter’s collection or library acquisitions, and have added a couple as well. I’m looking forward to having an excuse to dive into the many ebooks I’ve collected over the years.

Of course, being halfway through the month, my course has already been pretty much set, and so far my writing hasn’t progressed much better in July than it went in June.

But there’s still time to improve that.

Confessions of a former botanophobe

Growing up, there were always plants in the house. Hostas, ficus, Norfolk Island pine, aloe vera, maybe some herbs on the kitchen window sill. Green things, rather than flowers or fruits or vegetables. That seemed to be common among the houses I visited as well. Maybe it’s a Texas thing. It’s certainly too hot to tend an outdoor garden for half the year.

I was never involved in the care of those plants. As a kid—teenager—I wasn’t really interested in taking care of plants. It’s never been a bug for me, and after moving out, I learned that I have a brown thumb. I’ve killed cacti. I’ve killed plants that are notoriously hard to kill.

Granted, a large reason I’ve done poorly with plants is neglect. I forget, or rather decline, to water plants and then throw them out when they’re nothing but dried husks. But I tried, I really tried, to properly care for a seedling my daughter brought home from school, which was supposed to be a very easy to care for plant, and I still killed it.

So a year or two (three?) ago, I officially gave up on trying to grow anything. I’ve never really missed having plants around anyway. 20180424_154039When my daughter later brought home a gladiolus bulb, I told her it was her job to care for it. I bought a spade for her to plant it in the back yard and took pictures of her doing it. That was about the extent of my involvement.

Truth be told, I don’t think it received much in the way of care from my daughter either after that point, but it bloomed beautiful red flowers in summer and grew taller than her, before a squirrel stole the bulb in the fall and it subsequently never came back. But it grew. A plant, within the borders of my home, did exactly what it was supposed to do and thrived.20180719_094944

I always love seeing flowers in the spring. The warmer air and sight of green things and beautiful colours never fails to cheer me. Many years, I walk around the neighbourhood and think about beautifying my own home. Add some colour, maybe a hanging plant or two. But, I’m still just not interested in gardening. Certainly not enough to be worth the fight to keep the cats from getting to it.

For some reason, however, a few months ago as lockdown began to stretch on, the thought of growing vegetables stuck in my head. I still don’t know why. But I figured that lots of people grow gardens successfully, it can’t really be that hard.

I started small. I knew my own history with plants, and my historical lack of interest in caring for them. So at first, after looking up regrowing vegetables from scraps, I decided to try regrowing an onion. And what do you know, it did. I don’t have a whole onion yet, but it’s regrown quite a bit of greens and a little bit of the vegetable itself. Same with celery and lettuce (I later killed the lettuce, but mainly allowed that because I got better stock).

So, continuing the trend of minimum investment, I collected seeds from a bell pepper and from a tomato and, after buying some soil and peat pots, planted those. Lo and behold, they sprouted as well! In fact, these ones ended up sprouting too well and became bushes. After buying some larger pots, I replanted a number of them and, despite being dug up by squirrels a couple of times, they’re growing quite well now.

I ended up buying some seeds in addition to those I collected. I chose a poor location to browse for seeds, as there was very little selection left. At the same time, I didn’t have any idea what I was actually looking for, so I suppose it’s just as well I was only given a few choices. I ended up buying lettuce, oregano, and pie pumpkin seeds, as well as a couple flowers I’m less invested in.

20200613_145515
I am the pumpkin queen.

The pumpkins amazed me. I started the seeds in peat pellets and they literally sprouted overnight. After replanting them in their final home, they were growing at least half an inch per day (until being dug up by squirrels… an ongoing problem). I’ve even had the second seeds from each pellet sprout, weeks after one had already dominated its pellet. They’re growing far better than I would have expected, and far quicker than anything else.

Everything’s in pots, and I’d been bringing them inside at night to keep them safe, though they’ve remained outdoors over the past week. I was concerned for them when we got heavy rain this week, yet all of the plants (aside from the flowers, which I planted in an old salad tub but forgot to add drainage) seemed to love the extra water, so I’m watering them a bit more each day now.

All told, everything’s looking really good so far. I cooked off my first oregano seeds and didn’t harden off the lettuce properly, so I’ve started new seeds for both of those, which are going to stay in their greenhouse a little longer. (Since the pumpkins sprouted so fast, the lettuce and oregano got replanted too early.) I’ve done a lot of reading about how to care for these plants and I’m enjoying watching them grow, and taking care of them this time.

As I tend to do with new projects, I had ambitious thoughts of a complete garden rushing through my head with these successes, but fortunately, I managed to keep my impulses in check. If I succeed and enjoy growing these plants this year, then maybe we will set up a proper garden in the back yard next year. I’ve never had the opportunity to step out my back door and pick food for the dinner table, so I’m excited about the prospect of getting some vegetables out of this.

#blacklivesmatter

20200606_135216I went to my first ever protest this afternoon, a Black Lives Matter protest here in Milton, Ontario. I found out about it just the other day and immediately made the decision to go.

I’ll be honest, I was scared. The images and videos continuing to come out of the U.S. are terrifying. This may not be America, but Canada isn’t very far away, and while our society is different in this respect, racism remains rampant even here.

However, there was a much larger and entirely peaceful protest in Toronto just yesterday. I planned to be careful. And even if things did turn ugly, it wouldn’t be nearly as ugly as what happened to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and all those other Black people we know, and those we don’t. It was important for me to use my voice and show my support.

I needn’t have worried. In fact, quite the opposite happened: it was an incredibly heartening experience. As many as half or more of the cars that drove by honked in support. Some people held their own signs out their car windows or taped them to the hoods of their cars, and many raised fists in solidarity. People of all colours honked, cheered, and/or filmed with their phones as they drove past. The support from the community was overwhelming, particularly in a town as traditionally conservative as Milton.

Even the police officers involved were very polite and understanding. They ended up blocking off part of the road and redirecting traffic after we marched for a while an hour into the protest. People were handing out bottled water and snacks. Another man I passed while wheeling my bike and carrying my sign along near the back of the group told me to ‘please stay hydrated’.

I don’t know how many people were there. I didn’t spend much time looking around or taking pictures. One of the things that was consciously on my mind as I did this was that this is not about me. Hence, I didn’t take any selfies or want to do anything to play up my own involvement in the event. The key thing was to use my voice, my whiteness, to help draw attention to the struggles of Black people in the U.S. right now, without making my voice dominate theirs.

On a more personal note, however, aside from the joy I felt at all the support the protest got, I was pleased when people filmed me or took a picture of my sign, knowing that those images and videos will be shared on social media. They will reach people I never could alone, so that the impact of my presence at the protest will spread and my message will get out farther than it would on my own.

For those curious, here is the sign I made for the event:

20200606_125258

It was truly an inspiring experience. My arms are sore from holding up my sign, I may have gotten some sunburn, I’m hoarse from cheering and chanting along with the protest group, and I would do it all again in a heartbeat. This is the least we can do for those who so desperately need justice.

Emotional protestations

protest-1567028_640I’ve had some pretty rough days since lockdown began. I still don’t know why, as I’m enjoying having my family at home with me and am not really experiencing much extra stress, but that’s another post. Regardless, I’ve had at least a week’s worth of days when I simply can’t handle anything, and it’s all I can do to try to get my emotions under control without getting anything done during the day.

I’ve had other days in which I’m not consciously feeling so bad, but am curiously aware that my mental state is very fragile, and I know that I have to focus on self-care to keep myself from falling apart, for all that I seem like I have everything together.

At the moment, I’m having a prolonged case of the latter.

Of course, I’ve been hearing about everything that’s happened in the U.S. over the past week. It is saddening, enraging, appalling, and frustrating. Some part of me knows that I just can’t handle the anger that these events would normally instill in me, and so I’ve distanced myself emotionally from them.

I also understand that white privilege allows me to do that.

That doesn’t mean I’m numbed to the events themselves. Frankly, it boggles my mind that ‘human beings want to survive’ would be considered a political statement, or at all a controversial one. That shouldn’t need to be qualified. It can be, though: unarmed, innocent, cooperative, upstanding, hardworking, U.S. citizens. Pick one. A name can be attached to any of them.

How someone can look at any one of the dozens of stories of consequence-free police murder of black people over the past years and not be furious for the victims is beyond my comprehension. It says to me that police apologists and “well he should have”s have no humanity.

End of story.

The images of the riots may be horrifying, but not as horrifying as the images, videos, and stories of men and women gunned down in the streets, in their cars, even in their own homes. And that’s just (just) the deaths. How many bruises, cuts, broken bones, and concussions are we not hearing about? How much unwarranted jail time? How much emotional and psychological trauma? How about the pervasive fear for their lives black people feel from the police, who are supposed to protect and serve? How about the black police officers, who are reported for “looking suspicious” as they do their jobs in a profession that clearly despises them?

No matter what they do, black people have and will be killed for simply existing.

So, in response to the riots, I say let the system burn. It has failed too many people for far too long. The unheard are using their voices. It’s time to listen.

now-or-never-quote-3793316

May check-in: Falling off the wagon

The story of my writing in April can be pretty well summarized by the graphs of my progress:april-prog-1april-prog-2

Truth be told, I struggled a bit emotionally in April. As a result, I focused on self-care, which meant allowing myself to not write if I wasn’t feeling it or couldn’t get into the scene. I just didn’t have the mental spoons to beat myself up over my own goals.

So, I ended up with a large lull mid-month. And while I started off well enough increasing my daily goal to try to recover from it, I lost motivation at the end of the month and only ended up with 15,385 words of my goal of 20,000.

But I’m not worrying about it. I’ve adjusted my daily goals for May to try to make up for those last few thousand words I didn’t hit in April. It’s not a huge difference, so hopefully I’ll be able to manage it.

I didn’t do much else creative last month, either, particularly in the second half of it. Mainly, I’ll admit, because I’ve been playing video games. I received my preorders of Final Fantasy VII Remake and Trials of Mana, and the latter has been a great stress reliever in the past week.

I have also been continuing to play guitar. Not as consistently as I’d like, but I’ve played enough to now surpass where I got before I gave up last time, in both rhythm and lead guitar. In fact, I’m into it enough that I’m lamenting the brief instruction time on Yousician free and starting to consider a subscription to the app. (Of course, part of that may be that my tablet’s battery is too weak anymore to use for playing tabs I download.)

I’ve also maintained another good habit.

Screenshot_20200501-115656_Fit

(Six weeks ago I missed one day due to bringing home the kitten.)

I’ve been doing very little activity aside from 20-25 minutes on the elliptical every weekday, and unfortunately my body seems to be growing used to that. However, I’m glad to be keeping up this routine, and to anyone else struggling right now, I can’t stress this enough: get some exercise if physically able.

For May, I’m playing it by ear. The month is starting with gorgeous weather in southern Ontario and I’m actually trying to grow some vegetables. (This is a big deal; I finally gave up on trying to fight my lifelong brown thumb a few years ago.) But I may need to resort to more Trials of Mana and not just because I like the game. I’ve adjusted my writing goals, but I’m going in with no expectations. Lockdown is hitting me hard, despite that my life has received less disruption than many and I’m enjoying staying at home and having my family around me. Above all, I intend to continue being kind to myself. I hope those of you having a hard time out there feel the same way.

Why I’m so excited for Trials of Mana

Hype for Final Fantasy VII Remake has reached maximum capacity, but I’m even more excited for another remake releasing this month: Trials of Mana.

Buckle up, kids, because I’ve got a lot to say about this.

Seiken_Densetsu_3_Front_Cover
Seiken Densetsu 3 for the Super Famicom

First, a little background: the original Seiken Densetsu was released in North America as Final Fantasy Adventure for the original Game Boy. Seiken Densetsu 2 was released as the classic Secret of Mana for Super Nintendo. However, Seiken Densetsu 3, despite being an even bigger endeavour, never made it to North America, largely because it was released in Japan in 1995, the same year that the original Playstation came out. With the time it would have taken to translate the game, it wouldn’t have released in North America until after the next generation of systems were on the market, an effort Squaresoft and Nintendo of America understandably didn’t want to undertake. It simply didn’t come here, and the next Mana game North America received was Legend of Mana.

I had heard about Seiken Densetsu 3 for a few years after its release, but being not Japanese, I didn’t have any opportunity to play it. It wasn’t until around 2005 that I found a fan-translated ROM of the game.

I immediately fell in love. The characters were fascinating, the story was great, the soundtrack was beautiful, and the game play was incredibly fascinating. When you start a game, you are given a selection of six playable characters. You choose one to be your main character and two others as support characters. They are your party for the entire game. That means that the game plays out in six different ways depending on who you choose as your main character.

There are three major villains, so that three pairs of characters share the same final boss, though the main character’s own storyline still differs. The story overall plays out the same, but there are a lot of minor differences. Some characters forge relationships with each other that develop differently depending on whether you have one of them as lead and the other as support, if both are supporting, or if one isn’t on your team.

Furthermore, each character goes through two class changes during the game, which alter character abilities and fighting style. Both class changes offer a light and a dark option, meaning each character has four different variations of their final form.

I ended up playing the game to completion five times in the span of a few years, and I ordered in a CD soundtrack from Japan. Now, Seiken Densetsu 3 is being released in North America officially for the first time, completely remade in 3D using Unreal Engine, as Trials of Mana.

trials-of-mana-switch-hero
New and improved art while keeping the charm and promise of the original. Good sign.

I was thrilled when I learned this, and doubly so when I discovered that—despite the recent release of Collection of Mana containing an official release of the original Super Famicom version of Seiken Densetsu 3 being exclusive to Nintendo Switch—it would be available for Playstation 4. I immediately placed a preorder for the game, and about a week and a half ago, I downloaded a pre-release demo and started playing it.

I’ve pretty much been squeeing constantly every time I play it. The upgrade is phenomenal. The graphics may not be quite up to the level of the FF7 remake, but they’re sharper than all the other games I’ve gotten for PS4 so far. The characters and world are brought beautifully to life. Especially after the disappointing remake of Secret of Mana of a couple years ago—which remained a top-down action RPG despite completely rendering it in 3D—Trials of Mana is fantastic. Even after having played the game so many times, the mere fact of seeing it and interacting with it in full 3D makes the world completely new to me. I don’t even recognize the scenery.

I chose Riesz as my main character, and so far, her voice acting is okay. Sufficient, if not perfectly natural. Other characters seem to come across a little more natural. Game play and battle have so far been fun and rewarding. The music; oh, the music is stunning. Every single track is an absolute delight to hear in such improved quality. The story so far seems to be a direct translation of the original game, without any rewriting or expanding on anything. (Assuming accuracy in that fan-translated ROM, anyway.)

My only real criticism so far is the camera. It remains fixed in the Z-position, so that I’m constantly moving it around to explore the world properly and see where I’m going when I turn. I haven’t yet found a way to make the camera follow me, but I hope it’s there.

For those unfamiliar with the original game, some minor concepts may come across a little dated. Nothing objectionable, just things like some character choices or the dancing shopkeeps that probably wouldn’t fly if the game was rewritten today. I will also admit that the preorder bonuses are… weak, to say the least. The only preorder bonus offered with the standard release is a small button you can adorn your character with in the game. The limited edition prerelease offered only through PSN includes the Rabite adornment as well as a set of PSN character avatars. I was sorely tempted by those, but I honestly don’t feel that’s worth an extra $10. While I don’t buy a game for preorder bonuses, I do enjoy them, and seeing the sorts of things offered with games like Final Fantasy VII Remake make me a little disappointed that there isn’t more with Trials of Mana.

Regardless, if you played and enjoyed Seiken Desetsu 3, you need to preorder and buy this game. If you never have, you’ll find an engaging story told by memorable characters at PS4 quality with a lot of replay value.

And as someone who’s been waiting for this game for fifteen years, I implore you: please go buy this game.

April check-in

people-1492052_1920There, it’s happened: March 2020 is finally over.

Not that April shows much more promise yet, but it’s a welcome reminder that all things are temporary. Hang in there, everyone. We will get through this.

So, was March better or worse for my writing? Neither, really. As the owner of a home-based business, the biggest changes to my day-to-day life have been having the family at home all the time and the cancellation of extracurricular activities. The latter has had a bigger impact than I was prepared for (though shouldn’t have been), as spending an hour or two alone waiting for lessons to complete four nights a week provided an excellent opportunity to get writing done, and indeed became my routine for half the week. I’ve had to fit in more time for writing at home, obviously, which comes with its own challenges.

Fortunately, I haven’t had to combat heightened stress or anxiety, so struggles with writing usually pertained to the normal issues: blank page syndrome, figuring out where a scene is going, just not feeling it some nights. Overall, I’ve kept up progress pretty much in line with my goals, and ended up just falling short on the last day of the month, due largely to a general devil-may-care attitude this week, and yesterday in particular.

I’m not disappointed with my progress though.

march-prog-1

march-prog-2

Note that these figures only begin from the day I started the spreadsheet to track my writing progress, on the 8th.

The story itself is progressing well. I don’t feel like it’s moving too quickly or too slowly, though how the remaining 2/3 of the story unfolds remains to be seen. I should note at this point that 120,000 words is an easy goal for the length of the manuscript, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it falls short of that.

Aside from writing this book, I’ve dipped into some other creative pursuits in the past few weeks, which I’ll share in coming posts. I continue to work on playing Tales of Vesperia, the first game for PS4 that I started playing in earnest, which I’ve almost finished now, some fifty hours in.

I even picked up the guitar again after at least a year of letting it collect dust. I need to build up the calluses on my fingers before I can start properly playing chords again, but I’ve done enough work on lead guitar over the past week or so to be back to the point I was at when I stopped playing before. I’m not going to make any promises about continuing–it’s easy to say I’ll keep doing it when I don’t have to make those four trips out per work week, making sure dinner is ready precisely on time every night–but I’d certainly like to keep it up. And, given that the app I’m using to learn it only allows me about ten minutes per day of instruction, I could do that in the afternoons instead of, say, that stupid mobile game I keep playing, if at a limited rate.

Also, I got a kitten.

20200401_140502

So, here we go, April.

Surviving the apocalypse

People on Facebook seemed to enjoy my live updates as we attempted our regular grocery run during the Doomsday Shopping this morning, so I thought I would share the whole thread here.

10:41 a.m.: Thought getting groceries on a weekday morning would be okay. The checkout line is wrapped all the way around the store.

10:50: Abandoned carts are everywhere. Shelves are empty. It’s like the apocalypse happened while people were still preparing for it.

10:52: I sent my husband to the next aisle for applesauce five minutes ago. I fear he may be lost.

10:59: Legends tell that once, there was toilet paper. Now, only empty shelves and fallen price tags remain.

11:00: But you know what they still have? FRICKING KLEENEX. What do these people think they’re stocking up for?!
89283005_2781060851929415_3894451712928251904_o

11:12: Checking the strawberries and the hubs says if they’re not ripe now, they will be by the time we reach the registers.

11:16: I’m trapped on the wrong side of the lineup. Everything’s going dark.

11:21: We’ve joined the line. It was nice knowing you all. I hope future generations will learn from our fossils, clutching bags of expired milk and dry beans.

11:27: Being Canadian of course, there’s a lot of sorrys, patiently waiting in orderly queues and friends greeting each other. It’s the friendliest apocalypse I’ve ever seen.

11:28: Though I can’t help but wonder who all these people have been in contact with…

11:34: We just saw a man walk by in a dust mask with four boxes of Mini-Wheats in his arms. We’re up to crisis level 4 now.

11:45: The end is in sight! Repent, o sinners, and you may yet earn the Cashier’s mercy!

11:50: At the end of the line is chaos. Where’s a traffic cop when you need one?

11:54: Order is breaking down. Anarchy is imminent as people make desperate last moment runs at the register.

12:03 p.m.: We have survived! Freedom! Sweet, blessed freedom! I have never earned groceries so dearly.

12:13: The groceries are put away. The ordeal is over. I’m going to sit in my house the rest of the weekend under a blanket with my Oreos and my Tito’s. You guys are on your own.

12:27: That moment when you realize you were so caught up in the madness that you forgot to pick up your prescription. Well, back we go!