Friday, July 29, 2016

A Good Finish

It's been a busy week or so, but a productive one.  I finished the editing project I took on--on very short notice--at the start of the month.

And I finished five days early, thank you very much.  So I felt really good about the extent to which I stayed focused and on track with that.

That said, I still need to finish the article that I've been working on... forever.  I set myself an end-of-the-month deadline for that as well, so... fingers crossed.

But in the meantime, while procrastinating on that, I guess you could say, I managed to get my courses ready for the fall.  So those are poised for the start of the semester which is, at this point, only about a month away.


Sorry, couldn't help that.

And this week marked a little gardening triumph.  Last April, I planted potatoes in both a tower and in a raised bed.  On Wednesday, I decided to bite the bullet and see how the plants in the raised beds had fared.

Planting potatoes isn't difficult, per se, but it has some little quirks.  The largest of which is that you can't really see how, when or even IF the plant is actually producing potatoes.  You'll have foliage, you'll have flowers, you'll even have "fruit" appearing above ground, but the actual potatoes themselves?

They grow as "tubers" on the "stolons" that form underground  Like so:


There are a couple of ways to tell if things are going okay: one of my friends told me, "If you've got flowers, that's a good sign."

And the foliage should look healthy, obviously--because potato plants will just grow upwards seemingly indefinitely, and if you keep piling dirt up over the leaves and around the stem ("hilling"), you will get more potatoes (at least in theory).

So this was the theory behind the potato towers that I built.  But because I had never grown potatoes before, I decided to also plant them in a raised bed and see what happened--that way, I could decide which was easier or more productive.

The only way to harvest potatoes, is to dig around the plant (carefully) and extract the potatoes, or dig it up (carefully) and then put it back.

I started by digging around the plant a bit to see if there were any potatoes at all (my fear being, obviously, that there wouldn't be) and what size they were.  If you wait and let the foliage die back, you'll have better-sized tubers (potatoes), but you can also harvest "new" potatoes, which will be smaller.

So this is what I initially found, when I dug around the base of one of the plants:

On the basis of this, I made an executive decision (formulated as "oh, what the hell--why not just dig them up?" and I dug the 4 plants in the raised beds up.

This was the result:

Potatoes!  Both red and yukon gold, in a variety of sizes (and shapes).

That's a 10 qt bucket, so that means that, from 4 plants, I got (very roughly) about 20 lbs of potatoes.

I put the decent-sized ones in the basement to "cure."  This means letting them rest so that their skins toughen up a bit, and the you can sort through and deal with any that are diseased or problematic.  They have to be stored in the basement because, if exposed to light, potatoes will take on a greenish color.

If they do, it means they've produced "solanine" and shouldn't be eaten until you peel them and remove the green (it's a sign of chlorophyll, which tends to suggest the plant is producing solanine as well).  If they're really green,'d have to eat quite a few to get actually sick and they aren't going to taste very good, in all likelihood.

Luckily, my potatoes aren't green, and I have a nice darker corner in a humid basement, so they're resting comfortably.

In the meantime, however, I ate the smaller ones (because I have cats and if you line up a bunch of small, golf-ball sized objects on a shelf, you're just asking for trouble).

Here's what they looked like, all ready to be made into herbed-salt-and-vinegar potatoes:

The ones that weren't eaten?  Well, stored in a dark basement at temps above 40 degrees Farenheit, they should last for several months.  Stored at a slightly lower temp (35-40 degrees F), they'll last about six months.

But I don't have a root cellar, so I'm simply going to have to monitor and eat them before they go bad.

And given how good they taste, I don't foresee that being a problem.

Monday, July 18, 2016


So here's the second Persian color-work motif:

I confess, I was kinda hoping to move more quickly on them, instead of creeping along at the rate of one per week.  That hope would have been more realistic, however, if I had not already had about 10 other knitting projects started, that I also feel compelled to complete ASAP.

So I've (somewhat) reconciled myself to creeping along, because even at the rate of 1 per week, this means I will finish the blanket sometime in the month of December or January.  (Assuming I can basically just wiggle my nose a la Bewitched and the motifs will magically assemble themselves into a blanket, of course.)

And this will be when it will still be cold enough to actually use it.  That said, 2-3 per week would be a lot better, though. Obviously.

I'm much more pleased with the writing progress.  I'll need to meet an end-of-the-month deadline for one project, so I've pretty much roped the a second project to that same end-of-the-month deadline.  And I'm alternating between the two projects--a dynamic that seems to be working well for me, since one of the projects requires me to write and the other project minimizes the writing and maximizes the editing.

So they're two processes that complement and fuel one another pretty well.

I've stumbled on a book that rethinks the Karpman Drama Triangle, something that I blogged about last summer, specifically in terms of the role of the "Rescuer" (my own personal go-to point of the  Triangle, I fear).

David Emerald's The Power of TED* (The Empowerment Dynamic) (2009) reassigns the roles of Karpman's Drama Triangle along a more therapeutic model: "Victims" are encouraged to conceive of themselves as "Creators," "Persecutors" are "Challengers" and "Rescuers" are "Coaches."

While I'm only a short way into Emerald's book (and to be honest, it's not the best written book I've ever read--it's a bit hokey at times, although I'm trying to see past the ... hokey-pokey?... and glean the concepts and assess their applicability), the points of the Triangle are interestingly re-conceptualized.

While "Victims" tend to be mired in their problems, beset upon by all the Persecutors of the world, shifting that focus to thinking of oneself as a "Creator" could, arguably, create a stronger focus on solutions.

Which makes sense, because in psychological studies of rumination,  Ruminators--those plagued by obsessive thinking (better known in the vernacular as the Chronic Worry-Warts among us)--are advised to shift to process-oriented questions in order to cut back on rumination.

Instead of obsessively asking themselves, "Why does this always happen to me?  What if it never goes away?" people with a tendency to ruminate should thing in terms of "how" or "process" questions--"How can I take steps to prevent this from happening to me again in the future?" "How can I make today better than yesterday?"

Basically, instead of formulating a slew of unanswerable questions about cause-and-effect, the antidote to excessive rumination is, not to try to "stop thinking about it," but actively try to think differently about "it."

In the same vein, thinking of "Persecutors" as "Challengers" takes away some of the dynamic of judgment and conflict and incorporates the idea that even the most problematic people in our lives can offer us something that helps us clarify our own personal goals and desires.  Instead of positing ourselves as somehow always at their mercy, it suggests that we can perceive and interact with them in ways that give us a stronger sense of ourselves.

And Rescuers, those poor, sweet, struggling bastards--well, they need to think of themselves as "Coaches."  Similar to the oft-cited idea that a lighthouse does rush into the sea and drag a boat to shore (it simply stands there, offering light and, assuming a sane and sensible ship-captain, a point of guidance), a "Coach" does not play the game for someone.  S/he advises, to the best of his/her ability, and stays a safe distance away, on the sidelines, offering support and guidance, but not entering into the thick of things, or grabbing the ball, or moving the goal-posts or whatever.

I find these slight shifts in perspective interesting, because they change the entire dynamic of the Drama Triangle as a whole.  Instead of being organized around what is wrong with the interaction, it becomes a way of conceiving of what could be right about the interaction, properly applied.

To me, this emphasis on articulating and pursuing a positive process and outcome is a particularly appealing way of working towards one's own goals--in my own case, a significant decrease in the tendency to function as a Care-Taker of others' problems.

It's a way to work at small shifts in perspective, that slowly but steadily align me with the goals I want to achieve. 

Sunday, July 10, 2016


I'm determined to stay focused and on-track during the month of July, so that August won't be a mad scramble to finish everything that should have been done during the summer in the weeks before school starts.

So right now, the top priority is writing.  And I think I've found a way to move through the various writing and revising projects, without making myself miserable.

I started a new knitting project.  It involves doing a lot of color-work and making approximately 24 motifs, like this one:


I know.  I think it's rather purty.  Each color-work motif is different, so you never quite know what the completed one will look like.  Eventually, all of them are joined to make a blanket that is even more beautiful than the sum of its parts.

I've decided that, each time I finish one, I'll post it in a blog post.  Since I'm motivated to do them, it means I'll gain blogging moment along with them.  And writing momentum in general.

In the meantime, I had this to contend with this week:

 I've made the picture quite large so that you can (maybe) see what the issue is: the deer are eating my flowers.  These are morning glories, and I woke up one less-than-glorious morning last week to discover that they'd been decimated.

Guess the deer missed the memo about the fact that they don't "like" morning glories.

The larger problem is, once they finished doing that, they began to nibble on my tomato plants.  So this is what I did to try to stop--or at least slow--their onslaught with those:

Meanwhile, in the back yard, I had to do a similar thing to keep the rabbits away from the new garden beds I installed there--like so:

For the record, installing fencing is really kind of a two-person job.

At least, that would have made it go a bit more quickly.

But in the end, it's done.  The good news is, since I'm not dealing with a fox-in-the-henhouse kind of situation, the fencing doesn't have to be absolutely perfectly installed.  It just needs to stay upright and block the critters so that my gardening efforts don't go to complete waste.

Because at this point, I'm finally beginning to see some of the fruits of two months' labor.  I've had kale and kale and more kale, but yesterday, lo and behold, there were also beans... and carrots!

So this is good, and we definitely want it to continue.

In the meantime, it's also blueberry season, which means that berries are ripe for the picking. Here are a couple of highlights of that:

They taste as good as they look. Really, really good berries this year. It's a tie between the cherries and the blueberries, at this point.

With all of this produce inspiring me, I think I will be inspired to produce. Less than 3 weeks left in July at this point--the summer is flying--and I'm going to take flight with it.

That's the plan.  And I'm determined.

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Fourth Time is the Charm

It's JULY, and as you no doubt noticed, my blogging resolution seems to have gained zero traction in June, despite my good intentions.  So at this point, I've written blogging on my to-do-list.

As in, "blog posts--3/wk."  That means I'm trying to remind compel myself to write 3 times a week during the month of July.  Because in all honesty, I do think I have blogging material, I just don't put my brain to the grindstone and grind it out.  And then it's gone.

I'm also trying to finish two other writing projects: an article on Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace and Truman Capote's In Cold Blood and the revisions to that ... blessed... article on Zola that I started lo these many month years ago.  That's the plan for the summer--and specifically for July.  Those two things.

Oh, and the courses that I'm revising and revamping as part of a curriculum proposal. (A course on literary journalism and two courses on world lit., thank you for asking.)  That work isn't difficult, it's just a bit time-consuming, and you kind of have to be in the right mindset for that too.  Personally, I find it easier to think about school-things when I'm teaching, but that's just me.

So what did I do, in my infinite wisdom?  I took on another project.  One with a concrete deadline and a contract.  It's an editing project and it's due... gulp... July 30th.  (As in, 4 weeks from now.)

In a strange twist of fate, an editor emailed me on Friday night (which was sort of odd timing, but whatever) and asked if I'd be willing to work on a small editing project involving Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde.  One that has a short turnaround time.

Normally, if I were swamping and trying to stay afloat, I'd say, "No, sorry."  But in the first place, I find it very hard to resist anything involving working on Jekyll and Hyde and in the second place, there was a little voice in my head that said, "This will keep you on-track and on-task."

I began to wonder if I was going insane and hearing voices the next morning, when I revisited my decision, but in retrospect, no, I think it was the right choice.

Because often, working on someone else's writing--the project requires some researching and quite a bit of editing of an existing essay--will get my brain fueled up to work on my own.  And if I've got that July 30th deadline staring me in the face, I can be pretty good about chunking out all of the components of the various projects, so that I'll make headway on all of them.

Really, I can.  I've done it before, had super-productive summers when it comes to writing.  It's all about getting into The Zone.

Because the temptation, unfortunately, is to occupy a very different zone.  One like the one I was occupying Friday afternoon, before the editorial email landed in my inbox.

Yes, I went cherry-picking.  Yes, it's an hour and a half drive each way, for all of about an hour of actual picking time.  Yes, I got a lot.  (Don't judge me.)

So now the temptation is going to be to make jam, and it's going to be exacerbated by the fact that I'd also like to make mustard.  And this is what happens and where the time goes: onto these little projects that give me a wonderful sense of joyous accomplishment, but that--if we're being honest here, and I'm afraid we have to be--also offer infinite tiny distractions from writing and work.

It's all too easy to step away from the computer (or the book or the paper) on the pretext that I'm going to recharge my brain-batteries by working on a little something else for a bit, and then... the month of June has somehow just rolled by.

At this point, the garden is in place (heaven help me), the fitness regimen is place (ditto on the heaven-helping), and the health is good (knock wood), which means that it's time to simply buckle down and do what needs to be done.

And the fact that I keep reminding myself that the sooner it's done the sooner I can get back to knitting and berry-picking, well... that's just how that is.

I hope all of my American readers out there have a very Happy Fourth of July!