Writing, Updates, a Link

A. Finished one story that’s been rattling about unfinished for years, about a musician who doesn’t know he’s an artist, and an artist who knows he is. In space. With cool tech. And bureaucratic intrigue. And with some literal cliff hanging

I still like it, 3 days later. This is an achievement of sorts, whether of growing confidence or self-delusion, I don’t know. Now need to find some place to submit it, but I think I’ll let it sit a few more days first.

The coolest, most encouraging part of all for me is that this is the first story I’ve *finished* finished in the grand SciFi world that has been rattling around in my head for a decade or two. Have draft-like objects of a couple more stories, some outlines of couple more, and an incomplete outline and many pages of notes to what is looking to be a multi-novel series. (I can’t write one novel, but I can *plan* a series. Pathetic.)

In my head I call this world ‘the Systems’, a lame but functional title. It centers around a trip made by a generational ship to a three star system, where two of the stars are stable little suns, each having nice inhabitable planets and moons. These two orbit each other, and together orbit a third, more distant star, which is not so stable, but somewhere along the path to being a red giant.

Cool made up tech

The underlying future tech stuff is nothing screamingly original, although I of course try to make it cool; the interest for me is in how one would maintain a sustainable, liveable culture under the mentally and emotionally harsh conditions of the original trip, how people would deal with decades-to-centuries long terraforming exercises after the trip, and how successfully people can transition from epic explorers/conquerors of new worlds to – what? So, you won! Hurrah! Now what? You farm, or just hang out while the bots take care of it for you?

I’m attempting to deal with the central problem Star Trek solves by its most egregious handwavium: in a super cool high tech socialist paradise, what do people *do*? Some tiny percent explore strange new worlds, etc., but most, it is implied, become Trobriand Islanders, only with better toys and manners. They have no hope to better themselves or the world in any objective sense, so they raise yams, figuratively, and screw, trade ‘art’ to reinforce social standing and improve self-esteem , and scheme for enhanced social position.

Talk about Hell. I want to look at this in more detail.

The main challenge for very amatuer and inexperienced me is setting up the overall arc of the stories. It’s fun to fill in once you know where you’re going, but, for me at least, I have to know the destination. I’ve started writing out character arcs for major characters, which can run thousands of words each, but does help me get clear. The plot itself has 4 major incidents, where character is revealed and Rubicons are crossed; I must know how each of about 8 characters deal with them….

One very cool thing: I had a major plot point for which a sympathetic mom had to do something pretty terrible. I’d gotten hung up on that for a long time – why did she do that? Then, months later, I figured out why. Weirdly gratifying.

Another thing: so far, all the most interesting characters are women. Plenty of men, and plenty of derring-do to go around, but so far, it’s the women (and girls – children figure prominently in this) who are most interesting. To me, at least. This will likely change as time goes on.

Anyway, fun and frustrating. At this rate, I’ll be almost done by 2035 or so…

Then made the mistake, maybe, of rereading the last story I finished, a couple months back, which story, in a fit of reckless enthusiasm, I even submitted for an anthology.

Well. I sure can write some trite, awkward stuff, I can. Sheesh. I’m embarrassed by it. Making it better would not have been too difficult, but I seem to have needed some space to see it.

We are assured that humility is a good thing – I’m going with that. And I’m working on cleaning up and finishing some other half-finished stories. See how it goes.

B. As obsessively dedicated readers with long memories here may recall, I lead a religious ed group down at the local parish called Feasts & Faith. Each week, I give a talk/slide show about the week’s feasts, including the saints days. We try to have appropriate snacks, such as foods and drinks from the countries the saints are from. Many big or locally important feast have foods and activities associated with them already, which makes it easy.

The point of all this is that the Church gives us the saints as models and leaders, and the liturgical year lays them out for us in convenient and persistent small doses. There’s really is nothing happening to us today on a personal, political or ecclesiastical level that some, usually large, number of saints have not already gone through. Temptations? Betrayal? Political oppression? Church corruption? Reading the lives of the saints tells us these things are nothing new, they happen in every age, and will be with us until the Second Coming. And, most important, that people did get through them faithfully. I also, you’ll be shocked to hear, digress into long discussions of history, in order to provide some context. Doing the research for these meetings has been very enlightening.

So I was pleased to read this post from David Warren. A sample:

Among the uses of the Catholic (and Orthodox) cult of saints, is the groundwork they provide for the student’s sense of historical time. The saints arrive in succession, some earlier than others. Yet each is a figure who comes from outside time, and leads us, as it were, back where he came from. There is no “progress” from one saint, or generation of saints, to another. Each is sui generis — one of a kind — and each is “perfect,” by which we don’t mean entirely free of sin but complete to a purpose.

In their immense numbers they provide a constellation of light to our dark world, invisible to most but visible to many. The liturgy brings one after another into view, to serve as searchlights of us: thousands or millions of “little Christ lanterns” spread as the stars from horizon to horizon.

The custom of assigning saints to functions, of naming “patron saints” for trades and activities, sufferings and conditions of life, should be self-explanatory. To the faithful, of course, it is more than just custom. The Christian faith was from its origin extremely practical. (“Do this, in memory of me.”) To say, as they teach in our schools today, if they teach anything besides juvenile delinquency and despair, that the cults within our religion are “pagan survivals,” or “old superstitions,” is all very well; so long as we realize that this misses the point entirely, as all acts of malice tend to do.

C. The Endless Front Yard Brick Project is slowly progressing. Did have one of those moments that is both encouraging and discouraging at the same time: Leading down from the front porch, which is already complete as far as brick paving goes, will be a gate and two steps down into the front yard orchard. For some reason, I have been wildly overthinking this. Curved footers on weird radii, lots of holes, steel and concrete, hard-to-stake out forms – every time I thought about it, it got more complicated. Been putting it off for like 2 years now.

The encouraging part: once I stopped making it into the Great Wall in my head, a good and very simple solution presented itself. Just not that complicated. So, on the encouraging side, I think I can knock it off in a couple days with a minimum of digging and concrete pouring; on the discouraging side – why do I work myself up into knots trying to make things hard? If only this were a rare event…

Further updates and pictures as events warrant.


Endless Brick Project Update: You Know You Want It!

It’s been almost 2 whole weeks! And I did a bunch of insufferable culture/politics/education posts. So we all need a break:

We we last left the endless brick project, I’d just run into a nasty root: (1)

Got that sucker out:

Next steps included putting in part of the forms for the footings under the planter walls, so that I could get the depth correct on the *other* little footings that go under the places where the brick path ends without the support of the planter or the curb. What I mean is, the brick walk is just bricks on sand and a little gravel with a little bit of mortar between them. Where the walk transitions directly to dirt, such as where it ends at the power pole and in front of the water meter, the bricks will likely soon work themselves loose just by people walking on them. So I’m putting in a little 3.5″ deep, 8″ wide strips of concrete with a little rebar in it, so I can mortar those transitional bricks down so they don’t readily come lose.

That make any sense? Here’s what it looks like in front of the water meter:

For most of its length, the brick walk butts up against the curb on one side and the planter on the other, helping keep the bricks in place. Here, the bricks would end at what will be loose dirt – people stepping on them would quickly work them loose. Thus, a bit of concrete to firm it up and on which to mortar the bricks.

It’s a little tricky, since the footers under the walk are at a lower level than the footers under the planter walls. I need to have the walk footers in, and maybe even the bricks mortared on to them, before pouring the concrete for the planter. At least, it seems like I should at the moment; I can imagine some workarounds.

Here’s is where it sits as of this morning:

Looking south from the finished portion. Brick walk will be on the right to within 2′ of the pole; planter with wrought iron style fence to the left.
Looking north. The 2 2x4s are set to the correct height and position, so that I can gauge depth and position on the curved bit around the pole that ends the walk and that I’ve yet to pour. Eventually, more forms will be added, leaving a 12″ wide strip of open dirt down the middle where the planter proper will sit, with walls on either side and towers to support the wrought iron style fence at either end – just like the existing planter/wall.
This little curved trench will have a 3-4″ deep slab poured into it, upon which will be affixed brick; at the top of the curve, in the center, a bit of the planter walls will sit atop the curve; bottom right, the planned south wall will begin where the curve ends.

Today or most likely tomorrow I will put in some rebar and pour the curve section. Youngest son will be back from a week of Boy Scout camping on Sunday – I’ll wait for his help and rent a mixer to do the planter footings, so next week, maybe?

Then I’ll be all set to while away many hours on my hands and knees laying bricks. Hope to be more or less done with it by the end of summer. This will satisfy my bricklaying Jones for many years to come, I should think.

Update to the Completely Unnecessary Update

Hey, at least this one will be short.

First, an overview of the Insane Eternal Brick Project (Eternal here denotes project duration, not assumed useful life). Several years ago, when this project was only a glimmer in my deranged mind, I made a bunch of nice diagrams on graph paper (of course I did) to help visualize, on the one hand, and estimate the number of bricks I’d need (answer: lots. thousands.) so that we’d know how hard to hit Craig’s List for free bricks. We’ve got LOTS of bricks. Enough, I think.

But pencil on graph paper is unlikely to scan or photograph well, and I’d have to look for them, so: here’s something lame I whipped up on Paint:

North is to the left, in case you’re wondering. The whole ramp, porch, little towers with the handrail thing is not included. It would be just above the completed work shown. That was almost as much work as the entire other completed area. And there’s more to do on the porch as well. INSANE.

So: the recent unnecessary update had to do with the yellow In Progress area, as does today’s update to the unnecessary update.

The large root I removed yesterday was to the right of the water meter; today I worked on the trench for the footer on the upper side of the In Progress planter. It only needs to be about 4″ wide, as it only supports a single depth row of bricks (1) .

Guess what? There were more roots:

The red mandorla mostly surrounds one root about as big around as my thigh. At the top is a place where I managed to chop out most of a couple lesser branching roots, and get started on the Big Kahuna. At the very top of the picture is the hole left by removing the *other* big root.

Trying to pace myself, in the sense of not courting heat stroke or a heart attack too vigorously, so I’ve had enough for today, will try again tomorrow. This is the area right in front of where the tree, a large, old walnut, had stood for 75 years or so, thus it’s hardly surprising there would be some serious roots right here. I’m telling myself that the next phase, the planter on the south border, farther from where the tree stood, will not have any giant roots in it. Right? Please? I’d like to get this done this summer, or at least within my lifetime…

  1. The footer in the front holds up an 8″ double row of bricks; it is tied to the back 4″ footer at either end by the footer for the little towers that hold up the wrought iron style fence, and by little steel-reinforced concrete strips at two places in the middle of the planter. It acts as a whole 24″ wide structure. Don’t want my little walls tipping over en mass.

Completely Unnecessary Update. With Pictures.

I Suppose I could come up with some metaphorical or even allegorical use of a story about chopping out an old root of a tree long dead, the presence of which brought progress to a halt, about how impossible it seemed until the rot was exposed, and – lame. Not sure it’s any lamer than just telling the story….

I think I’m ready for a little sissified organizing stuff type home improvement project, one you can do mostly sitting down. All manly-ed out for the moment. Recap: Sunday, got up early when it was cool out to excavate a few inches along the front of the property where I’ll put in a brick walk, and dig some trenches behind it for some small footings for a wall/ planter thing. Next steps on the Eternal Brick Project. Made good progress.

As the intrepid, not easily bored reader may recall from a couple blog posts ago, I ran into a root. A walnut root about a foot wide, partly blocking one corner of the footer trench:

Hard to get a sense of scale, and it’s mostly buried in this pic.

My attempts to remove it on Sunday were failures: it wasn’t going anywhere until I dug around it, figured out its full extent and what was holding it to the ground. One end was not too far from where the tree stood, and so was likely detached from where we’d had the stump and major roots ground. (Guess they missed one.) The other end ran more or less toward the street, so chances are we’d detached it already, more or less, when we did the last round of bricklaying. But was going to need to dig to find out.

So I got up bright and early, went to early mass, grabbed a cup of coffee – and stalled until about 10:00. My spirit was willing and stupid; my flesh was less willing and wise. Spirit, being eternal and all, refuses to recognize I’m a 61 year old man – what is 61 years measured against eternity? Flesh, on the other hand, remembers, mostly in its arm muscles, what is involved in chopping out a root of that size. Eventually, enthusiasm overcame wisdom, and I grabbed my good ax, sharpened that baby up, grabbed a pry bar and shovel, and went to work.

Dug all around. Seems it was attached to branching roots in four places, had a parallel much smaller but still significant root running along one side (and thus in the way), but was, as expected, more or less detached on the end toward where the tree had stood. The biggest branch root ran more or less toward the street.

All that took about 10 minutes. The strategy: chop out the parallel root, chop out the obvious branching roots, then try the pry bar and see what happens. Best case, it comes loose; worst case, there are one or more roots heading down from the main root, where chopping them out will be involved.

A nice sharp ax is a good tool and fun to use, but it still requires that whole swinging thing.

I lasted maybe 15 minutes, until I had an almost involuntary ‘I have to sit down’ moment. But before I gave up, I tried the pry bar and, unlike Sunday, the thing moved! Progress! But more work ahead. The earth around it and the box containing the water meter also moved, indicating the root was still anchored somewhere, so just trying to manhandle it out seemed unwise. I don’t imagine utility companies laugh off breaking one of their meter boxes.

Seemed only the street-facing end was still attached – but it was good and attached.

Much more exposed, with ax for scale! I’ve chopped out branches on the left, right, and top, but have a serious root still holding at the bottom.

Later that afternoon, decided to try again. Dug out around the edges, identified where I’d need to cut to free it up on the street side and near the water meter box. *Carefully* chopped it lose, and tried the pry bar again.

Seriously rotted out on the underside – phew! Would have been murder if it were as wide and solid all the way down as it was on top. Still weighed enough that it took some effort to move it.

And out it came! Seems to have been much wider and more solid on the top than on the bottom, which seems to have rotted out a bit since we had the tree removed 4 years ago. There are one or two much smaller branch roots which head off under where the path goes, which I should remove now rather than waiting for them to rot out and cause the brick walk to sag in a few years – no concrete under the path, just gravel and sand.

Lamest update ever. I felt good about getting that thing out without the help of my strappin’ male offspring (who would have helped, but were unavailable). Now for some more digging, some forms, some rebar, and some concrete. Then maybe rearrange a drawer or something.

Holes. Update. Manly Diggin’ and Choppin’

Even though Foxfier kindly suggested in a comment to this post that organizing stuff is a perfectly manly thing to do, discreetly ignoring that what I literally did was spend hours making cute little wooden boxes and painting them cheery primary colors, I still felt the need do some, you know, manly stuff.

So I dug some holes and chopped some roots.

Have to drop the level enough to add gavel and sand under the brick walk, then enough next to that to add forms for the footings that go under the wall. and had to rearrange a bunch of bricks and clean up to have room and a place to dump the dirt. About 4 hours of work.

See the nice brickwork – manly brickwork, I hasten to add – in the background? Well, I need to do that again on this side of the water meter, visible just below and to the left of the white bucket top center. So yesterday I dug out about 10 wheelbarrow loads of our hard clay dirt, screened 4 buckets of gravel and rocks out of it (as you can see in the orange bucket) filled in some low spots with a couple loads and dumped the rest in that pile you can see top right center.

Then yesterday evening, ran into this:

Right next to the water meter, occupying the upper left quadrant of what is to be a footing for the little towers at the end of the brick wall, is a nasty, thoroughly not rotted out chunk of walnut stump & root. So I grab me a splitting ax – heavy blunt blade on one side, sledge hammer head in the other – and a long heavy duty pry bar, and had at it.

My hope was that it had rotted out enough that a little blunt trauma would loosen it enough to work it free without having to chop it out with a regular ax. Nope. Hit it a dozen time with the sledgehammer end, and – nada. Just bounced off. Next, tried chopping it a bit – you can see what little damage a heavy but blunt ax did. Finally, tried to ram the pry bar under it, in the fading hope that maybe it would pop up with the proper application of leverage. Didn’t happen.

Well, the sun had set, and the next step would be getting out the garden adz, shovel, and my good ax, excavate around it, then chop it out. which will take time. So I called it a day. A manly, sweaty day!

Shortly after showering and sitting down for a bit, my body reminded me that I am a 61 year old man. Took some acetaphetamine. Couple hours later, took some ibuprofen. Today, got up with high hopes of doing some more. My arms had different ideas. After breakfast, I sat down at the piano a bit. My right arm started getting numb – it didn’t even want me to hold it up over the keyboard. So, maybe tomorrow? Lots more digging to do, which, while tiring, isn’t, I think, as hard on my arms as swinging an ax. We’ll see.

Not half done with the digging, then need to put some forms down, add some rebar, and pour a bunch of 4″ concrete slabs to support a couple walls – the south side is not pictured, and it is getting a much simpler wall/planter, but there’s still digging to do on it. 15 year old son will help, when he’s home – he’s pretty good with an ax and has helped me pour a lot of the footings, so there’s that. The digging is pretty much me, however.

Hope I don’t hit any more major walnut roots.

On a cheery note, the cherries are ripening and the pomegranate is setting tons of fruit:

There’s only maybe one nice bowlful of cherries on the tree – first year bearing fruit – but it’s still cool!
One of many little pomegranates.

The potato vine we planted by the two little towers by the front door is doing great, too:

That’s more than enough for now. Needed a break after the Epistemic Closure opus. Maybe finish/review a few more books?

Spice Wrangling: Home Improvement Project

This has got to be the 2nd lowest bang for the buck home improvement project ever, after the truly out of control compost bin I built a couple years ago (which is even now falling apart, and will soon need replacing): Behold! spices being organized!

Yes, I, an adult-level male human, spent something like 8 hours building 6 little wooden boxes and painting them colorful primary colors, just so our spice collection could be better controlled.

We cook and bake a lot in the Moore family. Over the years, we’ve acquired a very wide variety of spices and specialty seasonings. You want to make gumbo or tikka masala? Got you covered. Red Hatch chile sauce or humus? Good to go. Pastrami rub or gyoza? No problem. This, in addition to all the normal stuff needed for cookies and cakes, roasts and burgers, burritos and stir frys, and so on. Also, you need not just oregano, but leaf, ground and Mexican (essential for guacamole) oregano. Not just chile powder, but Hatch chile powder, bulk chile powder, some hot, not so hot, and a couple varieties of whole dried red chiles – because you need them! You do!

Further, we’ve reached the point where we end up with 2, 3 or more containers of things, because, when we looked, we couldn’t find it, and so bought another. I’ve got multiple smoked paprika bottles (good for pastrami rub) because the previous bottle got shoved to the back or moved to the counter, and I missed it.

Here, we see about 75% of the extant seasonings. I threw a ton away after determining that they were at least 6 years old, maybe much older.

So, cute little boxes with cute little labels. Aaawww! Sheesh. There’s more to do, but my manliness demand I chop wood or dig holes or something man-ish before I spend any more time consolidating spices into cute bottles, labeling them, and placing them in the right little box.

Here’s some details:

Bottom shelf. Baking stuff, mostly. We own about 10 different extracts – they’re in the back. Vanilla, almond, lemon, lime, etc. The little red box pulls out separately; it holds half-sized bottles and other shorter things. Yes, I printed cute labels and afixed them. I’ll do some tequila shots later to wash the shame away, promise.
The Savory set holds all the common stuff, as well as bullion (vegetable, chicken and beef. We also keep beef and chicken stock on hand.) I went yellow because I had an old can of yellow spray paint and why not?
Top shelf. Labeled exotic with quotes, because it’s mostly completely normal, for us, anyway, it just gets used slightly less often.Rubs for barbeque, Indian and Asian spices, gumbo file, that sort of thing. Bags of dried chile on the top, along with other bulky stuff.

So, let’s see: still got a couple thousand bricks to lay out front. Let’s do that!

Rustic High Table for the Pizza Oven

Sunny and about 90F today, so spent hours cleaning up around the pizza oven, trimming back the overhanging olive tree, cleaning up the piles of junk lying on the ground, leveling the dirt (a pile had formed during the excavation for the footings for the oven, and sort of never got dealt with). THEN decided it was high time I made a high table to go next to the oven as a working surface.

A friend from church gave me this:

Casualty of a bathroom remodel.

Figured I cut cut the sink hole portion off, and still have maybe a 42″ x 20″ table top. So I hit the scrapwood pile, and found some old fence posts and runners, and had at them:

Sized and notched.

Put them together so:

A bit too much on the dirty side of rustic…
Definitely need to run some sandpaper over this…

Added a little shelf. Then worked to get the area where it’s going to be level enough. Then positioned the table and tried to put the top on it.

Sanded it down some, added little slats to make a shelf and add stability. It’s pretty sturdy at this stage.

It was heavy. Too heavy, it seems, to support the end with the sink hole, which decided to break off and shatter on the ground just as I was positioning the top.

Oh, well. I was planning to cut that part off anyway.
Position relative to the pizza oven. Made it almost as tall as the oven floor, so that swinging stuff from the table to the oven and visa versa should not require adjusting height – a good thing when what you’re swinging tends to be very, very hot.

A that point, decided that having spent 6+ hours total working outside in the heat today, that I’d get out the diamond blade and angle grinder and clean up that edge first thing tomorrow. And clean up the mess. Ya know?

It will be cute, I think.