Hello, my name is Sandy.

Garden things in November 2015

my veggie patch at the end of spring

This is what my veggie patch looks like after a growing season (3 months exactly!). Mental, huh?

We have:

  • Flat leaf parsley
  • Corn
  • 3 sunflowers
  • Spinach
  • Basil (sort of)
  • Lavender
  • Zucchini
  • Marigold
  • Nasturtiums

The flat leaf parsley went crazy. My big mistake here was overestimating how much we actually eat parsley, ie. hardly at all. I've been told tabbouleh is the way to use this all up. Parsley pesto ain't half bad either. There's a chance we won't have that much after removing the crap leaves anyway.

an ear of corn

Out of the four corn kernels I planted, three got eaten by something. Probably birds. I replaced them, and only one sprouted, but hasn't flourished. Only the one proud hero stands, bearing two hairy ears of corn. As soon as those hairs turn brown and dead, we'll have our first proper homegrown cob snack.

The sunflowers are crazy tall. Taller than me. Taller than niaalist. Probably taller than if I were sitting on his shoulders. The tops of those giant stalks have buds that look like they'll put out a decent flowerhead. We may have some tasty sunflower seeds to nibble on through summer.

Our spinach was a success. Too successful, in fact. We had more than we found appetising. Don't know if we'll grow it again. We planted a lavender in the middle of them, as a bug repellent. Seemed to work well enough, if we got that many edible leaves, I guess?

zucchini fingers

After my run-ins with powdery mildew, I thought our zucchini crop would surely fail, but to my surprise, we're getting nice healthy looking summer squashes. We harvested a handful for the last BBQ we went to. Gosh, they tasted so good. We'll be having some tonight in a pasta bake!

mo junk in da trunk

Especially this weird one. The front half looks like a little courgette finger, but the butt is huge like the ones you get at the supermarket. I wonder why it did that, and why it's the only one?

grape tomatoes

Just outside the veggie patch are a couple of grape tomato plants that seem to be thriving. I didn't plant these. They sprung up like a weed from our worm compost. Yes, we do the dumb thing of letting seeds go in with our scraps. I don't see it as a bad thing. If they're seeds from our food, they'll make plants we're more likely to eat.

I'm annoyed that the tomato plant I actually made a point of planting and fertilising and paying extra attention to is pretty much dying. Balls to that. But I'm excited to actually get some tomatoes out of this season.

It was the same story with basil. I sowed seeds, I fertilised and watered - in the end, the only one that grew and survived was one that sprung up as a weed. Just a couple weeks ago, I did see that one of my deliberately planted seeds has sprouted. It's in the shade of the zucchini plant, so it'll grow slowly, but I expect it to get going as we clear areas of the bed for the next planting.

My many attempts at growing chilli failed. From seed again. Maybe summer will be better for it.

I didn't get any photos of our marigolds and nasturtiums because they're not much to look at anymore. I'd always thought they produced smells that repelled insects, but this didn't turn out to be the case. They seemed to attract the insects that would have otherwise feasted on my herbs and veggies. The nasturtiums were especially distracting, and grow prolifically. The marigolds lasted longer than I thought. They actually kept their delicious heads, where previously, my marigolds would be eaten very quickly by snails. I'm hoping their impending demise will leave seeds that spontaneously spring up next season. Hooray for sacrificial plants! A+ would grow again.

a sleeping cat

Freelancing has been going well. I am pretty much constantly working my arse off, but we don't call it work anymore. We call it "life choices". :) Today's life choices are newsletter and website copy, twitterature, researching interactive fiction, and another 1667 words on my NaNoWriMo novel. I also hung out the laundry and ate a sandwich. How am I so good.

The precipice of November

Mere hours from the day I've waited 16 years for, I sip cold dregs of tea in anticipation.

NaNoWriMo begins tomorrow. I am happy to finally give it a go. The timing was never right. I was always too busy, too unprepared, too afraid. But this year has involved a great deal of change, so what better way to celebrate than to finally do the thing I'd always put off for "next year".

The book in the picture is "No Plot? No Problem!" by Chris Baty, the guy who founded NaNoWriMo. It takes a bit to get to the point, but did help me feel confident about this exercise. Tl;dr - it's OK to not have a plot, just get to know your characters and universe, and their movements will unfold as you write.

I'm what the book calls a 'corked writer' - I used to write a lot of fiction, then one day stopped. Not by choice. Whatever flowed no longer flowed. But when it did flow, it was exactly as this book says - I'd start writing, and a story would reveal itself in the words. Most times, it didn't feel like me doing the writing; I was nothing but a conduit for events and machinations that made sense at the time. This book also touches on this, being a conduit. I feel validated, reassured that I wasn't crazy. I feel I can be un-corked again.

Just need to spew 1,667 words tomorrow, and it'll be a personal success, whether I make the 50,000 quota or not. It would be nice to finish a whole novel, but I don't want to keep my eyes so fixed on the prize that I forget to enjoy the journey. I'm not ready to be under creative duress. This has to be about the journey. I'm going to need more tea.

What I've been up to lately

It has barely been two months, but offices and cubicles feel so foreign already. This morning, I got out of bed at 9. Is this the slippery slope to becoming nocturnal again? I hope not. I like getting up early nowadays. But for the last few nights - tsk, tsk - I've stayed up past midnight, reading.

Reading. This is now essential to my professional development. Even fun reading has become a matter of study. Heaps of things are now a matter of study. I may as well tell people I'm a full-time student with heaps of prac assignments.

So here's what's been going on:

Gardenhand - After spending 2 years bumbling over how to do this, it's finally live: my gardening blog. Not much to look at now, but I have a pile of notes and drafts waiting to be written properly - answers to questions people have asked me about setting up and maintaining their gardens, little how-to's, and tips for outdoor and indoor planting.

Office Plants - Speaking of indoor planting, this project has also been keeping me busy and out of trouble. Friends setting up small businesses and home offices have asked about putting greenery in drab indoor spaces. So I'm building this site as a resource for busy office people, and as an excuse to study and grow more plants. I am loving my maidenhair fern, which I bought after writing the plant profile.

hand-lettered poster, work in progress

A hand-lettered poster - Some days, I wake up full of self-doubt. My Inner Critic suggests I'm delusional for thinking my recent life changes could ever work. Standing next to my Inner Critic, though, is an odd pair of characters. I can't find a reference to them on wiki, but I call them my Inner Drill Sergeant and Inner Cheerleader. I'm not crazy, I promise. These guys only live in my head. I know they're not real. :) Sarge is all brass tacks. He reminds me that I don't get to eat if I don't get shit done. Cheerleader is sweeter. She hangs onto positive, motivational quotes for the days I need them. Anyway, this work-in-progress poster is of something she's told me often since I started freelancing.

Inktober (day 4) - I started playing Inktober, thinking it would be a breeze after 100 teacups, but... nope. I got six days in, which you can see on my insta. It was fun, but some days, I didn't feel like drawing. I wanted to read about plants, fuss over my new tillandsia, do art that didn't involve ink. Oh well, there's always next year. I do want to finish the story of this boy and his sea adventure. Maybe I can do Inkvember and Inkcember.

Writing, and editing. I can now say I've gone through the process of pitching, writing, revising, and selling a story. Yay, achievement unlocked! More on that later, when I get a copy of the newsletter running the article. I also hit a small milestone last week in writing an article over 2000 words. I didn't think I'd ever have the patience for that, but well - it's done and I feel ever so slightly more capable.

Reading. The damn book that's been keeping me up was "Xenocide" by Orson Scott Card. So good. I thought it would be an extension of a town's relationship with the native population, but it turned into this massive question of philosophy and ethics. I love story books that give you things to bring back to real life. I've just finished reading "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" by Justin Cawthorne. It's a fast read, and gave me the creeps, like a good horror story should. It also kept me up late. I'm now confident I'll blitz my 20 book pledge.

Ned's Pup - A fundraiser for an extended family member with autism. Ned's a good kid. :) It was nice to use my website-making skills to help out. The family are running a couple of events to help raise the money - small charity dinners, a quiz night, stuff like that. We're sitting on $2100 at the moment, so there's a long, long way to go.

And finally, Planetbase - It's like Dwarf Fortress, but in space. I love base builder and resource management games. And I love space. After spending the day super focused on tilling the career fields, it's nice to go colonise a planet. Mm, come on, little space men and women. Build me a bio-dome. ^____^

Now, how bout you? What have you been up to?

Ned's pup

My 6-year-old cousin-in-law just got approved for an autism assistance service dog. This is bloody great news for the family, as they've spent the better part of the last two years trying to secure a structured, safe, enriching environment for him.

When Perth didn't work out, he and his mum moved to the US. That went well for a while, but Ned needed more family around him, so they moved back here to give it another go.

Earlier this year, he got accepted into a special education school with a program specifically for auti kids. He got a proper assessment and access to teachers who understand his needs. He and his mum live with his auntie now, and they tell us all the time about how much he's changed since starting school.

In fact, he enjoys school so much that some weekends, he grabs his school bag and gets ready to go. He's performed in a class play. He's made friends. He's doing more 'normal kid' stuff now, and seems to be blossoming as a result. Slowly, but still blossoming.

Ned in his stroller

One of his assessors suggested he does know what's going on, but being non-verbal, can't express himself well enough to have a proper communication exchange. In contrast, his family is super-verbal, so it must be frustrating for him. Sometimes it's hard enough getting a message across when you can speak, which is why I prefer to email people instead of meeting face to face. Can you imagine how much worse it would be if you were never taught constructive ways to deal with that frustration?

I learned the other day that Ned self-harms. :( Fortunately, he's been doing it less since being given ways to interact with other people.

All this makes the assistance dog thing seem promising. With a trained companion pup helping him manage his moods and behaviours, and generally being a friend who doesn't need words, we think Ned has a great chance of living a normal life.

Autism assistance dogs are provided by Smart Pups, who raise and train a Labrador or Golden Retriever pup over the course of 18 months. At the end of it, they send the dog to its charge and settle them into their new life. As much as I love animals, I'll be the first to admit I wouldn't have the patience for that sort of thing. They sound like a pack of heroes over there.

autism assistance service dog

We're now raising the $20,000 needed to cover the pup's purchase, food, vet bills and training. However long it takes, we'll get there. We've set up a website, in case anyone's interested in supporting the cause.

A couple years ago, I read an article about an auti man who spent his childhood uncommunicative. Finally, in his 20s, he somehow got hold of an iPad, and had a typed conversation with his mother. He knew words. His brain just couldn't link the parts that would let him speak them.

One day, I'd like to have a conversation with cousin Ned. :)

Shut up and eat your nutrient paste

We've been eating Soylent. Yep. It's not as gross or bland as I expected. Certainly looks like it could be made of people, but tastes like biscuits. The one we got is vanilla Aussielent. It's formulated to Australian RDI (recommended daily intake) standards, which meant nothing to me until I had a serve and felt full. No, actually, I only had half a serve, and it did me fine.

It blows my mind how cheap this is compared to real food. Not that it's fake food, but like... aaah. The whole thing blows my mind. It works out to $4 a meal, but it's not junk food. HOW CAN THIS BE?!?!

Anyway, I... like it? I think. It's only been a couple of days, and I'm not replacing all my meals - no chance of that until they make a NongShim flavour. If you're a protein shake kind of person, this could be for you. But I'm having mine hot and thick like a Horlicks. I hope the hot water isn't de-nourishing my nutrients.

Aussielent soylent powder

This first month of my new freelancing/making/homesteading life has tempered many of the anxieties that plagued me throughout my career. It's been interesting to discover that even accomplished and proven freelancers/creatives worry about being terrible. Award-winning Moby, for example:

"When you're working by yourself you can lose objectivity so quickly and molehills become mountains. I'll be working on a song and if I can't get the kick drum to sound right I'll think I'm a failure and walk around Manhattan, mourning my fate. It doesn't matter that I've made lots of records in the past. All that matters is I can't get one kick drum right. And all I can think about is my career's over and I'm going to have to become a fries chef at McDonalds."

--- Moby (pg 63, Future Music 84, July 1999)

(Thanks, Kohan, for sending me this!)

Anyway, the big lesson I learned last month was that it doesn't matter if you feel like a fake (impostor syndrome) or not good enough (perfectionism). What matters is getting the job done, and having it not be just plain shit. The best part is that worrying about this at all shows you're capable of making something better than shit. Creativity will happen through you - most of the time, you just have to get out of the way and let it do its thing. Otherwise you don't get paid and you can't afford to eat. Not even $4 soylents.

I don't expect to wake up tomorrow feeling like a million bucks forever, but today, I have a slightly better process for dealing with the lows. Maybe next week, it will be slightly better still.

And the highs that kept me going:

  • Learning more about plants - the different types, how to care for them, and what they're suitable for. I'm working on a plants site that I will show you soon.

  • Landing a private gardening job. Self-paced hours and room for creativity. My client wants to grow vegetables and herbs too. As a horticulturist, subsistence gardening is the area I'm most interested in, so you can imagine how stoked I am to veggie up a piece of someone's backyard.

  • Learning how to change a tap. And it not leaking after. (CAN YOU BELIEVE IT)

  • Making progress with making. Very slow progress, but I'm OK with that. I have almost all my materials to make my first batch of stuff. More on that later.

  • Getting a guest article accepted by GardenDrum - wee!! If you love cats and gardens, go read it and let me know what you think: How to design and plant a garden for cats

Mona checks out an ivy nook

Postcards from the Kings Park Botanic Garden

WA Botanic Garden 50-year commemorative sign

The WA Botanic Garden in Kings Park is 50 this year. And ABC said the floral show would be spectacular, so of course we went down. It was a lovely high-20s day, the sun was out, some of the plants smelled like candy, we saw ducklings, and it was just fabulous.

Here, enjoy some pictures!

various types of Kangaroo Paw in a garden bed

Kangaroo Paw (Angiozanthos x). I love ones with fingers that go from one colour to another. They remind me of the old Rocket ice creams.

Kangaroo Paw flower bud

Flower bud from what I think is a Tall Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos flavidus).

Light pink waxflower bush in bloom

White waxflower bush in bloom

Saw heaps of waxflower (Chamelaucium x) bushes. So many that it was starting to get weird. Then I realised we were in the waxflower section, and everything would be all right.

Everlastings looking up at the sky

a field of Everlastings

Paper daisies (also called Everlastings). I love these flowers. Sitting in a field of them was delightful. And watching bees bumble around, even moreso.

a bee gathering pollen

Bush Flame pea

This is a Bush Flame pea (Chorizema varium), an endangered native legume.

leaves of the Woolly Wattle

This is a Woolly Wattle (Acacia lanuginophylla). It's listed as vulnerable, threatened by vegetation clearing, grazing and salinity. It's such a strange plant. You could easily mistake it for a fake because the leaves feel like crafting felt. Touching it hit home for me what a shame it would be to lose our native plants. There's a lot of weird shit in Australia, which I think makes us quite special.

seed pod from a Melaleuca or Callistemon tree

This weird thing is a seed pod from a type of Melaleuca or Callistemon shrub.

bee gathering pollen from a green flower

This is a bee enjoying his summer holiday. Well, no, but it looks a bit like it, don't you think? :) I was walking past this very low-growing prostrate bush, thinking it was just a boring bunch of groundcover leaves, when a bee landed on it and started feasting. Then I realised the flowers were green. Are they just young, or did this species evolve to have flowers that match the leaves? What made this a desirable survival trait? What animals preferred green sources of food? All these questions, just from seeing a flower that wasn't a pretty colour.

scented Boronia flowers

This is a Scented Boronia (Boronia megastigma), and it smells delicious. Like the fake fruit flavours in Japanese candy. There is a hipster café in Maylands (Mrs. S) whose table display sometimes has Scented Boronia. If you can't make it to Kings Park, go to this café and sniff the flowers there.

Swamp Star Flower in Kings Park

The Swamp Star Flower (Calytrix breviseta subsp. breviseta) is cute and pretty, and very endangered. :( The Garden doesn't even have a full plant. The tiny specimen they have is grafted onto a hardy rootstock.

a Banksia flower bud

I may have gone a bit mental photographing Banksias. They are just too cute.

fuzzy round flower bud of a native Australian shrub

(not sure if this one is a Banksia, though)

another Banksia flower bud

big pinecone looking Banksia flower bud

Banksia seed pod shedding petals

Banksia in flower

Hee hee, looks like it's wearing a cardigan.

Balga grass gum tree

This is a Balga (Xanthorrhoea pressii), also known as a grass tree or, in antiquated times, a blackboy. Fun fact: flowering can be stimulated by fire.

photographer taking a photo

Ah, a wild photographer in his natural habitat!

large artificial pond and stream

The Garden is well designed. Lots of nooks and crannies. Even with people wandering about, it's pretty easy to find a quiet spot and feel like the crowd is ages away.

native Australian plant, late in flower

I'm not sure what type of plant this is. Looking at the leaves, maybe another Banksia? It looked very cool though.

top down view native Australian shrub flower

Cray cray, huh?

puffy yellow wattle flowers

A type of wattle. I'm not sure which type, but aaaaaa~ so cute.

Cranbrook Bell flowers

A Cranbrook Bell (Darwinia meeboldii).

ducklings at Kings Park

And some ducks. ^___^