Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Pimping my pals

One of the happy side-effects of participating in NaNoWriMo over the years has been getting to know lots of interesting people who love words. A couple of those people have new stuff going.

Holly Jahangiri has written almost everything, from poetry to tech manuals. Holly has just published her second book for children, A Puppy, Not a Guppy. It's the story of Irma, who really wants a dog, but ends up with not just a guppy, but three of them. Irma is visiting a number of blogs this week, so you can get to know her and hear a bit more about her story. The tour starts here, with a visit to the book's publisher. (And if you have a kid who is freaked out by the monster under the bed, check out Holly's previous book, Trockle, about a monster who is freaked out by the kid above the bed.)

Jon Renaut has been writing in his blog, Ebooks Yearn to Be Free, about finding a new model for for digital distribution of content . Last month, he launched Manfred Macx, a new kind of publishing company. The idea is to let authors make money by selling any number of things (not just print books), while still allowing free distribution of e-books. An author could sell a personal letter, or a batch of fudge, or a phone call on your birthday, as well as print copies of a book. Once her monetary goal has been met, the e-book is released for free.

Check them out!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Hanging around

Ginger cat
Originally uploaded by chaimann
Video may have killed the radio star, but Facebook killed blogging - or at, least, diverted some attention from it. Within seconds of activating my Facebook account a few months ago, I received a Wall message from a friend who said, in essence, "Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated."

I'll give Facebook credit - It has attracted people who would never have a blog, including some technophobes I know. Updates are quick, and it's pretty easy to check up on a whole bunch of people with not too much effort. Seeing an update from my best friend from junior high or my college roommate makes me happy, since I know neither of them is likely to read this blog, and we are all pathetic letter writers.

Also, my work schedule has been crazy, and my attention span has shrunk to nothing. (Keep your fingers crossed that this situation will improve in the near future. The work, at least. We'll see if that helps the attention span.) Who has time for a thoughtful, entertaining blog post?

But, my desk still faces the back window, and I still watch the finches working the feeder, watch the leaves change and fall, watch the shifting colors of the sky.

The picture is of our current four-legged hanger-on. Unlike the late Shed Kitty, Ginger Kitty is extremely friendly. He tries to rub against me if I approach him, and tries to come into the house if he thinks there might be food in here.

Like him, I'm still hanging around.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

A sweet night

Last night, we had a visit from my college roommate and her husband. They live in New England, and I used to get out there every few years to visit, but haven't been out in a long time. How long? I think the last time, her youngest was not in school yet, or possibly in kindergarten. That one is now a college graduate and planning her wedding this fall. They had never met T, and we've been traveling together for 14 or 15 years now.

We picked them up after we got off work and went to Raccoon River Brewing Company for dinner. Then we drove around the old haunts, and ended up at a coffee shop with a patio, where we sat and visited until they ran us out.

My friend once said, "Even when we haven't seen each other for awhile, when we get together, it always seems like it was just yesterday." I wondered, though, if that would still be the case, after so many years.

It is.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

If you fill it....

Peaceable kingdom
Originally uploaded by chaimann
They will come.

Animal guru Sand advised me to be patient. Eventually a bird would find the feeder. Then he would go back and tell his buddies, and pretty soon it would be THE lunch spot in town.


Just this morning, I have seen several pairs of goldfinches (I had never seen a goldfinch until I put up the feeder), the usual house finches, and a bunch of chipping sparrows. A larger gray bird also stopped by - catbird, maybe? I didn't get a close look.

The social interaction is entertaining. A goldfinch will eat with its mate, but doesn't want any other pairs horning in on them. They don't mind the house finches, though. The house finches are larger and flap their wings occasionally, as if to say, "Pipe down, kids, I'm trying to eat here."

Sunday, June 14, 2009

It works!

Originally uploaded by chaimann
Recently, I bought a finch sock. I filled it with nyger and hung it in the back yard, and waited for the neighborhood house finches to flock to it in gratitude.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Today, I just happened to glance up from the computer to see a bright goldfinch perched on it. According to noted bird expert Sand, one finch will find the food, then go back to the tribe and brag about this great new restaurant he found, and then they all will come check it out.

I can't wait.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The spring collection

We've had a couple of weeks of delightful spring weather - a little warm during the day, a little cool in the evening, rain every now and then. With the windows open, we go to sleep to the sound of crickets, and wake up to bird songs at dawn.

Last night, I saw fireflies. Just a few, a tease of fireflies, if you will.

With the demise of SK, other critters are more active in the backyard. A rabbit wandered in today. The cardinals and robins are there, of course, and occasionally I hear catbirds, although I haven't seen them. I assume the finches are still around, too, although I hung a finch sock for them today and haven't seen anyone come near it. Three starlings showed up the other day, talking loud and strutting around like they've had that last drink you can have before you get incoherently stupid. Fortunately, they also had a drunk's attention span, and after posturing for a couple of minutes, they wandered off. They look like badasses, though, so I'm going to keep an eye out for them.

T and I have been hacking away at the stuff growing in the backyard that we don't want growing there. Ideally, at some point, we will replace it with stuff we DO want to grow there, but one step at a time.

Meanwhile, indoors, I have been taking leisurely tour through "The Discovery Of Poetry" by Frances Mayes (of "Under the Tuscan Sun" fame). While it is described as "A Field Guide to Reading and Writing Poems", it is much more about reading and understanding poetry, with just a smattering of how to put that knowledge into action. It is also a simply wonderful collection of poems. Every time I take a half hour to read from it, I feel like I am a little better than I was before.

I don't know if this book had anything to do with it, but I went on a poetry writing frenzy today. I picked up a literary journal at the bookstore this afternoon, and the poems in it were awful. Really, really, awful. "Is that all it takes to get published in a literary journal?" I asked my friends. "I can do that in no time."

I picked a few random words out of the magazines on the table and started writing. (T gets special muse credit for daring me to use the word churlish. With pleasure, my dear - what a nice, juicy word!) Within an hour, I had written four poems, two of which were actually not too bad. It turns out that even when I try to write self-indulgent crap, my brain still tries to find a theme and put layers of meaning into it. That's me, always trying to make sense of it all.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Good times, bad times

The holiday weekend was quite enjoyable. Saturday was a yarn crawl with my knit buds. Sunday was a barbecue. Monday we did some long overdue yard work. We now have a big pile of limbs and whatnot waiting for disposal. Today is a little cool, and a little rainy, and it is going to be good sleeping weather.

When I got the lawn mower out to whack the grass in the backyard (it was a few days overdue for cutting), something caught my eye in the dark corner of the yard. A cat - a dead, black cat. I called Terry over, and he confirmed it. "That's the Shed Kitty."

The cat has been hanging around our property for a couple of years now, and was mildly tolerant of us, at least when we took food out on bitter cold days this winter. I was hoping that I could spend more time outside as the weather got warmer, and could entice the cat to take a trip to the vet for a check up and shots. I figured I owed the cat that much, since the feline presence has apparently driven away the groundhog(s).

Thanks for that, Shed Kitty. May the hereafter give you bountiful hunting and a warm bed.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Midwestern Spring

Originally uploaded by chaimann
Nineteen days ago, I was watching it snow, and trying, somewhat unsuccessfully, to take a picture of a cardinal in the back yard without opening the window.

Today it is 86 degrees. Every window in the house is open, and I put on a sleeveless shirt to mow the back yard.

And, after I work for a few hours tomorrow, I will be on vacation. Not a furlough, but an honest-to-goodness vacation.

I love spring.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The promise of spring

Not quite lilacs yet
Originally uploaded by chaimann
Easter morning started out sunny, but by afternoon it was cloudy, cool, and breezy. Still, little spots of color on the lilac bushes just outside my window remind me that spring may be a little slow to arrive in these parts, but it will arrive.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Palm Sunday in Iowa

Originally uploaded by chaimann
Nothing says "Spring" like a snowstorm on Palm Sunday.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The coming of spring

Originally uploaded by chaimann
We had some lovely spring days last week, and some lovely spring rains. The finches are going crazy with their turf wars or mating or whatever it is. This year, they found a little nook over the kitchen window for their nest. The grass is greening up. The lilac buds are sending out tiny leaves, which made a nice little basket to catch today's snow.

In rogue cat news, we haven't seen Shed Kitty for a couple of weeks. I hope s/he is just out walkabout, and not the victim of a car or a jerk that doesn't like black cats.

FYI for commenters: I turned on moderation because I was getting spammed. I don't need insurance in Australia, and I don't think most of you do, either.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Originally uploaded by chaimann
T bought a digital SLR camera recently. It has a ton of tasty features, but the true test of any camera we own is, "Can I take gratuitous photos of the cat and post them to my blog?" The answer? Yes!

He got the camera for astrophotography, but doesn't have the connector doohickey that will make that possible. And outdoor scenes aren't that charming yet, although confidence is high that spring is approaching. The irises and the tulips are starting to push through, the finches and the cardinals are making a ruckus in the lilac bushes, and Shed Kitty is spending a lot of time sitting in the sun.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

News from the backyard

I'm Shed Kitty! Who are you?
Are you Shed Kitty, too?
Then there's a pair of us -- don't tell!
They'd banish us, you know.

--with apologies to Emily Dickinson

As we pulled into the driveway just now, we saw Shed Kitty zipping through the neighbor's yard, headed for high ground. Then we saw Shed Kitty, sitting in the neighbor's yard, staring at us.

This would explain why I think SK looks different at times, and maybe why Sand and I disagree on whether it is a boy or a girl. Runaway SK has a fluffy tail. Sit & Stare SK's coat is more sleek and velvety looking.

Maybe if both SKs are piddling around the groundhog burrows, Chuckie will decide that the neighborhood is going to hell, and will pack up and move out. I like watching Chuckie, but I would also like to put in a little garden this year, and that will be a lot easier without a woodchuck around, mowing down everything that gets in his way.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A bit of snow

A bit of snow
Originally uploaded by chaimann
Despite the recent warming and melting, it is not spring yet.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Daytime moon

Daytime moon
Originally uploaded by chaimann
It's warming up, finally, and I took a short walk this afternoon. It was cloudless and clear, and the gibbous moon was high in the sky.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Finally, some new socks

Jitterbug Socks
Originally uploaded by chaimann
I think I have spent almost a year working on these socks, but I finally buckled down and finished them. Love the yarn (Colinette Jitterbug, Toscano colorway), love the pattern (pinched from a British knitting mag and tweaked to suit), and love that I finally get to use the cute sock blockers I bought at Stitches Midwest last fall.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Houseplant 911!

This pathetic specimen showed up in my office today.

The stalk is nice and green, and tied to a support stick. It has a couple of little sprouts of new growth down low. You can see one of them below the lower tie. The pot is probably about 8 inches.

So... What is it, and what should I do about it?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Why proofreading matters

From this post about the peanut butter recall (emphasis mine):
This month's King Nut peanut butter recall is different. That brand isn't sold directly to the public, so consumers don't have any sitting on their shelves. But on the other hand, it might be contained in some other products in their panties, which could make it even more dangerous.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

No frostbite here

We survived the cold snap last week with not too much trauma. Thursday, it was - 18 F when we left for work, and that is not including wind chill. Temperatures like that can make your nose hairs hurt. But today it got up to, and possibly even above, freezing. I wheedled T into taking the car to the car wash. I know it won't stay clean for long, not with all the snow and slush we have around, but it was nice to rinse off the old mud and start on a fresh layer.

Shed Kitty also survived the cold. T took food out to her a couple of times during the worst of it. (I have no idea if SK is a he or a she. I just say "her" because I have not observed any cojones.) Today, we saw her sitting outside, so I took some more food out. She ducked under the shed when I got close, but I didn't get very far away before she came out. She looked at me in that calculating way cats have, and I talked to her. Finally, she finished her risk analysis and concluded, "I'm more hungry than scared." She strode over to the bowl and tucked in, and let me stand there and watch her. We may get to be friends yet.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Best garbage ever

Tonight was my tai chi class, and we were a little late getting home from work. I didn't even go into the house, just dropped T off at home, took the car, and went to my class. But before I left, T pointed out that he had a couple of packages - some gear he had ordered in hopes of being able to revive his broken telescope.

When I came home, I was greeted with this:

And this:

Whatever he got, it was packed in a bunch of six-inch discs of soft pink foam rubber. They are so much cuter, and so much more substantial, than packing peanuts, that it seems a shame to toss them out. But I also can't think of a good reason to keep them.

I haven't been to tai chi for a couple of weeks due to the holidays, and oh, boy, can I tell I am out of the groove. Note to self: Clear out a spot in the basement so you can practice even when there is no class.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Welcome 2009!

Here's to a year in which some of the things that are broken get fixed. (Insert your own list of broken things that need fixin'.)

Last night, I managed to stay up until midnight, barely. The clock said 12:00 when I got into bed.

I am resolutely trying to avoid resolutions, although in my heart I have some. In my heart. Don't go looking for the list here.

I did commit to write some Backyard Astronomy articles for The Piker Press this year, in honor of the International Year of Astronomy 2009. The introductory article went up this week, and I'm planning to write them more or less every other week.

I also got a Twitter account for Backyard Astronomy. You can see the feed over there on the sidebar. The account is BackyardAstro. This introverted geezer doesn't quite know what to make of this social media stuff, but new year, new beginnings, what the heck, give it a whirl. At the very least, I can report when new articles go up.