Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Writing Prompt 2

The prompt this week:"Write your character doing two things at once, both of which are plot-specific." Examples: walking and chewing bubble gum, talking and sewing.  I suppose if I want it to be plot-specific, I should take a character from one of my stories.  But which one?

"Hey, Mari," Nikolas said, jogging up to the wagon.  He had a piece of the strange purple grass of the Passage in between his teeth.

"Oh, hi, Nikolas."  Mari scooped some of the corn out of one of the grain bags in the back of the cart.  "Hm," she mused.  "How much farther did you say we had to go?"

Nikolas rolled the stem of the grass between his fingers, watching the tufty seeds on the end swirl and twine.  "It usually takes about two and a half months to get through the Passage.  Don't know but we might be able to shave some time off with this lovely lady."  He walked to the front and tickled Inga under the chin.  She rolled an eye at him, then stuck her tongue out and wrapped it around the piece of grass.

"Hey!" Nikolas protested as the cow placidly chewed on his grass stem.  He rolled his eyes back at her, then dropped back to where Mari was distributing corn kernels into the pens of frantically clucking chickens.  "Why do you ask?"

"Well," Mari said, hefting the corn bag and eyeing it skeptically, "We might run low on corn before we get there.  I think we might want to consider finding some forage for the chickens, too.  Inga obviously doesn't have a problem with the vegetation here, so it shouldn't hurt the chickens, either."

"You're the expert," Nikolas said.  Just then, the alarm call sounded from behind them.  Mari looked up at Nikolas, concerned to see his face drain of color.

"Please let that not be her..." he muttered, shaking visibly.

This is from my re-telling of The Bright Falcon, right about at the part where I'm writing right now.  I think I've got both of them doing more than one action pretty frequently.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Writing Prompt 1

I'm going to try to do writing prompts from the Writing Excuses podcast.  This week's prompt was "rewrite the ending to a story you've already written," so I'm going to ignore it.  (Far too long for a blog post.)  Instead, here's a prompt from S8.E18 - "Write a fight scene.  Bonus points if it's got four people in it.  We don't know what you'll spend those points on."

No one argued the fact - James really shouldn't have been walking his huge German Shepherd through the food court.  But then, Anya didn't need to taunt the dog, either.  And if Ted hadn't been in a bad mood, well, maybe things would have turned out differently.  But that's how things went, and so the outcome was somewhat inevitable.

"Hey," James snapped.  "What do you think you're doing?"

Anya laughed as Toby lunged against his leash at the taco she was holding.  "What, can't hold on to your dog?  He too big for your little muscles?"

James growled but ignored her.  Ted, though, couldn't stay quiet.  "Oh, shove it in a fishbowl, Anya.  You're not one to talk.  James could whip you over the moon and back."

"Could not," Anya said, leaning against the food counter.  "James is a twig with the arm strength of an anemic hamster."

James was trying to keep walking, but Toby was straining backwards, the smell of Trader Joe's taco spice tantalizing his nose.  "Leave it, Ted," he said, snapping at his dog.

"What's wrong with you, James?  You going to let her talk like that?"

"What's he going to do, mumble at me?" Anya retorted.  "You guys are just gutless jellyfish anyway."  She turned back to her food, chuckling to herself.


There was silence.  Even Toby stopped whining.  Anya turned around slowly to glare at the two boys.  James just looked shocked.  Ted's trembling knees belied his belligerantly indignant face, both of his hands tucked behind his back.  "Who's a jellyfish now?" he said with a shrug.

Anya stared at him, jelly dripping out of her hair.  "You, my friend, just went too far."  She turned to the food line.  With one fluid movement, she turned around and whipped a spoon around at Ted.  A white blob soared through the air and splattered all over Ted's jacket.  Some of the mashed potatoes flew past and speckled James's windbreaker.

"Aw, come on, I just wanted to go home," James said.  Toby wagged his tail and started licking at the squashed spuds.

"Oh, no.  It's on now."  Ted dropped the jelly packets he'd been holding.   He stalked over to the drink machines, picked up a styrofoam cup, and started filling it.  "You know, Anya, I've always hated your sunny disposition."  He put a lid on and hurled a grenade of Sunny D at Anya.  She put her hand up to block it, sending a splash of orange liquid all over the food.

"Oh really now," Anya retorted through her teeth.  She began flinging corn at him with the mashed potato spoon.  "That's what I think of your jokes, you pea brain."

Ted picked up a tray for a shield, veggie kernels plinking off of it like rain.  He darted to the cereal bar, pried off a lid, and started pelting Anya with Cap'n Crunchberries.  She retaliated with half a pizza.  Before long, food was flying thickly through the air like a miniature tornado had plunged through a Costco back room.  James was crouched in his foxhole made of a tipped-over table, gripping Toby's collar with white knuckles.  Toby, for his part, was trying to add to the mayhem but his barks were strained against James's stranglehold on his collar.

Just then, Anya worked her way through the vegetable bar, past the gravy, and picked up a pork chop.  There was a loud snap, a blur through the air, and Anya and James both found themselves on the ground. Ted froze, his fingers in the ice chest.  Anya pushed herself up on an elbow, rubbing the back of her head.  James picked himself up, staring ahead blankly, Toby's collar dangling from his still-clenched fist.

And Toby, pork chop trophy proudly held aloft, danced to the corner to feast on the spoils of war.

I think that counts as 4.  I will spend my extra points on ice cream.

Showing Off? Who, Me?

This episode is just some of the things I've made lately that I'm prouder of.  Note: Pictures were taken on my phone so I can't guarantee quality.

So first of all, I signed up for one of those "Pay It Forward" deals on Facebook.  I tried that last year but didn't actually make anyone anything... my bad.  So this year, I told people they needed to remind me, told them I'd make stuff out of yarn, and for them to give me ideas so I didn't delay by thinking "Well, what should I make anyway?"

And then one of my friends told me she wanted me to make her one of her characters, a centaur.

I've made a few dolls before, but... wow.  I've never tried something quite so... ambitious.  So I told her I wasn't going to make it out of yarn.  But then I thought, well, why not?  I mean, all I really need to do is make a horse body - four legs and a cylinder, not so hard - and half a person, which I know there are patterns for online.

She gave me quite a description of this character and all of the stuff she carries and her personality and so forth and I had ideas of how I could put this together, but as I went through, I gave up and just did the body.  Said body description: Black Clydesdale body with white feathered feet, tan skin, purple stripes in hair and tail and purple eyes.

The body part, as I'd suspected, was not so hard.  Easiest part, in fact.  Then I started adding a body.  I wanted to give it something of a ribcage so I decreased stitching and then panicked that it was getting too small and too long and the body ended up looking really strange and bulbous.  But that was fixed later by nestling the human half into the blobby front part and making the back legs go all the way up the body to fill out the hindquarters.

Then came the tedious part - hair.  I may have been overly ambitious at this point, as I decided to tie crochet string on to give her an actual head of hair.  The tail was not so bad, but the head... that took forever.  This is where a lot of the accessories I'd thought of adding dropped off the table because I just wanted to get finished.  And for the longest time, since I was working from the bottom of the head upwards, she looked like some Chinese kung fu master with serious male pattern baldness.

But in the end, it turned out looking pretty good, I think.

The other thing I wanted to show off was the baby gym I made.  For those who weren't aware, I am in fact having a baby.  Soon.  Anytime.  Get out now please.  :)  At some point in the past little while I decided that I wanted to make a baby gym.  You know, one of those things that you put them down in to keep them entertained with little dangly toys and things to play with and excite neural functions or something.  

My original thought was to just make a rectangular-ish pad with maybe a pool noodle across the top for hanging toys.  But as I was looking up ideas online, there was someone who'd already made one (why am I not surprised?) and she said she'd tried the pool noodle thing and it didn't work.  I think it probably could, but I'd need to make adjustments.  However, it doesn't matter, because I liked her alternative solution - hula hoops.  Of course, that also necessitated a circular mat.  Which wasn't much harder.  (Credit to

The only challenges I really ran into were:
 1) The fabric I wanted on the back wasn't big enough, so I cut it into strips and made it trim instead; 
2) By the time I was putting together 2 pieces of heavy fabric, a batting interior, and an extra strip on top to hold the batting solidly in place, my sewing machine foot was having trouble getting over everything, but I'm stubborn enough to make it work; 
3) I tried to make the loops to hold the toys on the hula hoop covers out of the heavy cover fabric which ended up being really thick and trying to sew it together caused problems of the not-sewing-together nature so I ended up hand-sewing it tighter after putting them on the hula hoops; 
4) I'd planned on using regular snaps but ended up not having any so I just got the diaper snaps she'd suggested in the first place; 
5) the exterior lining didn't quite match up on the back so I sewed around the outside in 3 different places to make sure it stayed on well; 
6) the strips of fabric I'd made had to be sewn together to make them the proper lengths; and 
7) I ran out of ideas and fabric for making toys so there are only 4 at this point, with 5 empty loops waiting to be filled.

This is the base mat, pinned together.  It was sitting on the floor like this and Bryan walks past and says "That looks unsafe for a baby - maybe you should make something with fewer pins."
Sewn together and put on - observe loop issues.
Mat and both hula hoop arches

Loops for the hula hoop cover, pre-sewing into a tube.

Okay, so I could have actually measured and made the lines straighter, but still...
I sewed the cross lines on before sewing the border on so I could get those inner bits under the outer lining.
Glad I thought of that before going forward.

The mostly finished product.
The toys I made to put on it are a little "rattle," which I made by cutting down one of the plastic tubes of sugar-free drink mixes and throwing some pinto beans in, then sewing that inside a tube of fabric; a mirror because I hear those are good for mental development and I have a few small craft mirrors, sewn into a fabric backing, which was tougher than I thought it would be; a crocheted square with bells on the corners; and a crocheted sea turtle.  They're mostly also green and white although the square and the turtle have some blue so Bryan's happy.

Friday, April 4, 2014

My Gray-Green Thumb

There are times I really want to grow plants.  It gives me this feeling of accomplishment to turn bare earth into green things even though the plants are really doing all the work and I'm just watering them.  Last year, I tried to grow a tiny garden in the small amount of yard we had.  I also put some flowers along the walk in front of our door.

...Nothing really grew.

I mean, I got a few sprouts, but that was pretty much it.

And this year, I don't have a yard.  So I decided to do something else with the space I have.  Growing things in pots!  Yay!

To that end, I started looking for good plants to grow in pots.  I have a basil plant that my friend Nicole started for me last summer ish, which is a good several inches tall now, but still hasn't been branching enough to actually provide me with all that much usable fresh basil.  Nicole and I also got a few seeds at a garden shop a while ago - I picked up some lavender and some rosemary - and those are starting in little toilet paper tubes on my kitchen counter.  So far, there's a good many sprouts in one and two or three in the other.  I wish I remembered which was which.  And that I knew when to transfer them to their bigger pot.

The other thing I decided to do was get some already-started plants, and these were going to be bigger.  I have, for a long time (since my mom used to get gardening catalogues a long time ago), wanted to grow a mini fruit tree.  A pomegranate or apple or orange tree would be awesome.  However, looking at the options I had on the nursery site I chose, I decided to go with a Tophat Blueberry bush.  They're bred for indoor/patio growth, and get to be about 2 ft. in any direction max.  I also decided to get a bunch of strawberry starts and grow them in the kitchen.

So I prepped everything for the time that they'd come.  I got pots from Home Depot and potting soil to go with it; I got a wire shower caddy to strap to my wire shelves in the kitchen for the purpose of holding strawberry pots; I ordered plant food and starter (from the nursery because they had a money-back deal that meant it cost about as much to add strawberry fertilizer and blueberry soil as to just get the plants) and then I waited.  (Meanwhile my nephew came over one Sunday and enjoyed playing with the big 5-gallon pot destined to hold a blueberry bush.  I wish I had pictures or video of that - it was adorable.)

Finally, about 2 weeks ago, my plants arrived!  Hooray!  I planted them in the prepared pots, put them where I thought they'd get sufficient sun, tried to water them enough, and... waited more.
This is what it looked like when it came.
Not so much anymore.

Well, this is where the gray part of my thumb comes in.  The strawberries started off promisingly, but the blueberry bush began to wilt almost immediately.  I thought, probably just shock from moving.  It'll get over it soon.  It didn't.  Well, maybe it needs more water.  Nope.  It was pretty well saturated.  So... should I stop watering it?  Maybe more light?  I'd had the windows open to give it light and the overhead light on a lot, but it just wouldn't stop wilting.  Move it outside?  Yes!  Wait, no, temperatures are freezing at night.  Meanwhile, half of the strawberries, even the ones that had been growing well, began to collapse and shrivel.  Plus the potting soil I chose seems to be the "Outdoor/Indoor if you don't mind it stinking" variety so our kitchen smells like there's something going bad.  Which makes it hard to detect if something else is going bad.

I finally moved the blueberry bush to our back room which is by far the sunniest in the house and its leaves have stopped turning brown at quite such an alarming rate, and I put a few of the worst-looking strawberries in the kitchen window in the hopes that more sun will perk them up.  But I think this apartment is also not the best one for a garden.

One day I'm going to get a house.  With a real yard.

Update 4/9:  The blueberry bush hasn't lost any more leaves, so I think it appreciates the sunnier locale. Which leaves only the question of what I'm going to do with it when I need that room?  As for the strawberries, well, I finally got sick of the flies that seemed to come with the manure-smelling potting soil (very very peeved about that stuff) and I moved them outside.  Two of the six were still green-ish when I did that, three were looking pretty terrible, and one was about 6 times as large as the others mostly because I cheated and picked up one strawberry plant from the grocery store.  But I wanted one that made me feel like not a complete plant killer.

Update 8/4:
I am a horrible plant nurturer.  I think my buying plants basically dooms them to a short, miserable life.