A Nerd in the Garden – Busy Spring

Spring Tulips

Cappuccino Lily

Cappuccino Lily

last year we spent a couple of months clearing out a lot of weeds and preparing our garden space. We put in 7 raised beds and planted them. We also mulched heavily with hazelnut shells. The mulching worked like a dream. This year there were very few weeds and they were easily pulled. The entire garden space looks neat and well cared for.

We learned also that the squash, pumpkins, zucchini and like vining vegetables will take up all the space they can. We had 20′ vines, possibly even longer. they have been banished to the side yard.

Gunnera

Gunnera

This year we put in two more raised beds and have been cleaning up the side yard. We have a problem with Himalayan Blackberries, which are very thorny and grow very fast. They are all but impossible to get rid of once they have gotten a foothold. Every year we tear out so many sharp thorny vines. The thorns go right through leather gloves. Those are probably the worst of the offenders, although no one told me that Clerodendrums propagate underground so I have to pull some Clerodendrum shoots every year. Likewise catnip. I planted it many years ago, all unaware of its propensity to propagate underground, for the neighborhood kitties. I’ve almost got the catnip out for good but it’s been a battle.

Of course there are the usual suspects too: Dandelions, thistles, broadleaf weeds, clover, various grasses and bindweed. There is a lot of weeding to do and clean up takes a lot of time and effort. It’s very satisfying when it is done though.

Raised Beds

Raised Beds

You may notice the inverted pot on the side of the raised bed. This is to set my sprinkler on. It gets it high enough that I’m not wasting a lot of water watering the sides of the beds and the pathways.

We have a gorgeous garden this year and at long last the flower bed we’ve been putting in the side yard is starting to look like we want it to. The attempt to dig up and move the Crocosmia was unsuccessful. It came back where it was dug up and did not grow where it had been planted. In the fall I will try again.

Rose Taboo, Mallow, Dutch Blue Iris and Crocosmia Lucifer

Rose Taboo, Mallow, Dutch Blue Iris and Crocosmia Lucifer

We planted dutch blue iris and they came up beautifully. Likewise lilies and earlier in the season tulips. The Gunnera is finally thriving. It’s a swamp plant so I have to water it frequently but I love it. We had to mulch it heavily to get it through the winter but it survived and has rewarded us by getting to a height of 4 feet. The leaves are easily 3 feet wide.

Spring Tulips

Spring Tulips

The area will take several years to get all of the weeds out and mulched, since we are doing it ourselves. Sure we could hire professional landscapers and they’d do it in a weekend but it would cost thousands of dollars that we just don’t have. By spreading out our planting, and our clean up and preparation we are dividing the project into manageable chunks and spreading out the cost so that we can pay as we go. It also gives us a chance to correct errors as we learn. Sure it’s going to take years to get this yard looking the way we want it to but it won’t consume too much of our time at one time and it won’t break our budget.

In the fall I planted a lot of tulips and lilies. It was a delight to see the tulips bloom this spring. The lilies are starting to bloom now and will carry through the late spring/early summer. Then the roses will be in full bloom. This year the roses got an early start.

Flower Bed

Flower Bed

Purple Prince Lily

Purple Prince Lily

Cold Weather is Upon Us, Finishing Up For Winter

Second side begun and Elephant Ear plants removed for winter.

Getting Ready for the other side of the walkway

Getting Ready for the other side of the walkway

This may be the last weekend A Nerd In the Garden can actually garden. We’ve gotten cold weather this last weekend. Rain is one thing, a good raincoat will get you through but cold weather is quite another.

The last thing I need to do is prune the roses now that the weather has turned. I try not to prune the last bloom of the roses so that the plants can set fruit and get ready for winter. Then when I’m fairly certain they won’t start leafing out again I do a hard prune to get them ready for winter. I’ll do that and melt candle wax over the cut stems to keep the borers out.

One Side with Elephant Ear plants

One Side with Elephant Ear plants

It had been my intention never to buy a plant that would have to be dug up to winter over. However; I was looking at the growing instructions for the beautiful elephant ear plants I’d put in the side yard and to my dismay, discovered that they shouldn’t be out in weather colder than 50 degrees F. Eeek! It’s been high 40’s for the past couple of weeks at night and now about to get much colder.

So I had to race home from work and quickly, but carefully, dig them out of my garden. They are in buckets in the garage. I hope that stays just warm enough for them. I hesitate to bring them into the house proper but it may come to that.

This weekend I dug up the Crocosima Lucifer and moved the bulbs. That took a lot more work than I had anticipated. I only got 2 clumps done before I had to call it a day. There are at least 3 more clumps to be worked. I’ll just have to move them in the spring. There is still quite a bit of weeding to do too. I’m about 1/3 of the way done with the area I wanted to clear, so around 100 sq ft.

The raised beds for the vegetable garden are just about ready for winter. I wanted to put some landscaping fabric over them but I’m not sure I will.

Second side begun and Elephant Ear plants removed for winter.

Second side begun and Elephant Ear plants removed for winter.

With the Crocosima in place I was able to replant some of the bearded Iris I saved while cleaning the area out. I don’t know what colors are in the box but I know they’ll be beautiful. I’m kind of hoping for a peach one I had blooming in the area years ago is one of the ones that got saved.

Lastly I got started on the east side of the walkway border. I ran out of bricks to do the edging or I would have gone farther. In clearing off the brick walkway I discovered that the west side was around 6 inches to far south and didn’t come all the way up to meet the north edge. I debated leaving it but couldn’t. So I extended the channel a bit and slid each brick up to move the entire run the distance it needed to be flush with the patio.

crocosima bulbs dug, cleaned and ready to replant.

crocosima bulbs dug, cleaned and ready to replant.

Digging through cardboard to plant bulbs

Digging through cardboard to plant bulbs

Vegetable garden ready for winter

Vegetable garden ready for winter

Zucchini Lasagna & Some News From The Nerdverse

Spaghetti Squash supported on tomato cage.

Spaghetti Squash supported on tomato cage.

Spaghetti Squash supported on tomato cage.

This last week the first fruits of the garden ripened and were harvested. It starts slow but as things get going there will be plenty more squash, herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers and other delicious things to add to our diet fresh from the garden.

Because this is the first year of the garden I haven’t used any pesticides, weed killers or sprays of any kind. Just water, soil and sun have gone into these veggies. You can’t get much more organic than that.

We got two zucchini, one cucumber, a handful of basil and two patty pan squash this week. The Vintage Wine tomato is absolutely loaded with green tomatoes right now and when they ripen we will have a lot of them. Likewise the spaghetti squash and pumpkins. The squash keep well in a cool dry place and should last well into winter if we get enough of them.

Some ingredients

Some ingredients

On my search for something creative to do with zucchini, instead of just zucchini bread (which we all love) I found a recipe for zucchini lasagna. Now there’s an idea. The recipe called for using grilled zucchini in the place of the pasta (do I sense a low carb lasagna?).

Since I already have a really good lasagna recipe I thought I’d just substitute the zucchini (and since I had it some patty pan squash too0 for pasta in my own recipe and call it good. Things to keep in mind are that zucchini and patty pan squash have a lot of moisture in them, that’s why they suggested grilling the slices first. I didn’t want to fire up the grill just for some zucchini so after I used my mandolin to get thin slices I let them rest on paper towels for a while to absorb some of the excess moisture.

My mandolin is not adjustable so I only got really thin slices of squash when I used it. Since the texture is what you are looking for when substituting anything for pasta I’ll have to see if this works or if I need to get a mandolin with an adjustable blade.

Zucchini Lasagna:

2 Zucchini
1 lg patty pan squash
4 cups mozzerella cheese
1 cup parmesean cheese
1 lg container of ricotta cheese (16 oz)
1 lb ground beef
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 tsp italian seasoning
2 tsp fresh basil
2 eggs
1 tsp worchestershire sauce
1 jar spaghetti sauce (when the tomatoes are ripe homemade is the way to go)

Tools

Tools

Rinse squash and basil in water. Cut ends off squash and run through mandolin so that you have a nice pile of thin slices of squash. Spread out on paper towels and blot to dry a bit.

Brown ground beef in skillet with salt, pepper, italian seasoning, and 1 tsp of the fresh basil sliced thin. In a medium bowl mix ricotta, parmesean and 1 cup of mozzerella with 1 tsp basil and 2 eggs.

Spray 10 X 19 baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Spread 1/4 to 1/2 cup of sauce in bottom of dish and sprinkle a little bit of the cooked meat. Layer in the squash, overlapping the edges just like you would with lasagna noodles. Cover with half of the ricotta mixture, 1/2 cup of mozzerella cheese and 1/2 the remaining meat and 1 cup of the sauce. Repeat layers. Put a final layer of zucchini on the very top, cover with sauce and sprinkle with cheese.

Thin sliced zucchini

Thin sliced zucchini

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until cooked through. If it’s watery, try grilling the zucchini slightly or broiling it for a few minutes to drive out some of the excess water.

Starting the layers

Starting the layers

Layer the zucchini

Layer the zucchini

Cheese, meat and sauce then repeat layers.

Cheese, meat and sauce then repeat layers.

In the Nerdverse I’m way behind on movies I want to see and with the release of Ant-Man I’m even farther behind. I didn’t get to Age of Ultron due to illness, nor did I get to Intersteller. Both are movies I will have to see on DVD.

I’m conflicted about Ant-Man. I truly hope they don’t go down the route where he tries to murder his own wife because he’s an abusive misogynist. Heroes do not try to murder their wives; heroes do not abuse women or any other people full stop. In fact heroes stand up for people who are traditionally abused or oppressed by the culture. That’s why we love them.

I still want to see San Andreas and Jurassic World. I love a good disaster movie and I love a good monster movie. To be honest I love cheesy disaster movies and monster movies too. Which is why I was somewhat pleasantly surprised to discover there will be a third Sharktopus movie. Because there were so many unanswered questions from the first two. The third one, apparently, will be Sharktopus vs. Whalewolf. Yeah, tis going to be a festival of goofballery. But I’m a push-over for a good (or terrible) mad scientist movie. According to IMDB 7/19 is when it premiers.

Finally, news has been rather sparse for the Toho 2016 Godzilla. I keep hoping to hear more updates. It would be fantastic to have another Godzilla movie from Toho. Plus I don’t want to wait till 2018 for the next legendary Godzilla. Also they just started filming the second Pacific Rim movie and I am impatient for them to finish it.

That’s news from the garden and the less main stream nerdverse, more of an outlying nerd nebula, like a satellite nerd nebula than the nerdverse, but that’s what I’ve got for you this week. K.

squash vines

squash vines

How Windows 8 and Acer Drove me to a MacBook

MacBook Air -- Picture by K. L. Zolnoski

MacBook Air -- Picture by K. L. Zolnoski

MacBook Air — Picture by K. L. Zolnoski

Despite the amount of writing I wanted to get done yesterday for War In Flesh, and the fact that I was very excited to let you, gentle reader, know that I had set up a Tumblr account, my laptop decided to lock up once again. What follows is my account of the events that led me to get this gorgeous and sexy new MacBook Air that I am currently using.

I’ve been a PC girl since, well since PC’s got affordable. While it is true that my first PC was an Amiga (which I loved by the way), since that faithful machine went to PC heaven I’ve had a variety of Dell’s, an Alienware laptop, Vaio and other machines that have served me well and made my computing experience pretty much what it should be. I got things done and I surfed the web with a minimum of fuss or trouble.

That all changed when my Alienware laptop, after years of service, simply gave up just before Christmas this last year. Due to it being Christmas I used a loaner Vaio to save some money rather than rushing out and buying a new laptop. There was another consideration for me trying to limp by as long as I could without my own machine. Win 8 had been released into the wild and I wanted no part of it.

From my experience, the Windows OS, much like Star Trek movies, only gets it right about every other time and I had unfortunately purchased my Alienware when Vista had just been released and got stuck with that. It was a pain in the behind but not impossible. From what I had been hearing about Win8 I feared it was the next of the less than stellar OS’s that Microsoft was releasing. Unfortunately it is difficult to get out of the cycle once you buy a computer with one of the questionable Microsoft offerings for an OS because the time to replace a computer invariably falls during the next round of undesirable systems.

Unfortunately I reached the point where I simply required my own machine to work on. To that end I went to a local Best Buy to see what they had to offer. Now I only require one thing from my computer: Stability. I’m not a huge gamer and I don’t edit a lot of videos or anything like that. Sure I like to have a dozen or so web browsers open, some of them to sites that might make things a bit busy but it’s not like I’m playing WoW in one window and editing videos for YouTube in another. Ok, ok, yes I will have two or three word documents open and word is a pig but that shouldn’t tax a modern machine. (Yes I had an Alienware. Yes I was like the little old lady driving a Maserati.)

Now the sales kid was very friendly and helpful and directed me to an Acer laptop that seemed pretty ok. I know Acer in the past has had some platform stability issues but the latest write-ups had indicated they had solved those problems and were well on their way to being the next reputable thing in laptops. Thus began my 6 weeks of computing purgatory.

Win 8 is completely unlike any interface I’ve ever used and, worse in my opinion; there is nothing intuitive about it at all. It’s all flashy icons (charms w/e the h-e double hockey sticks they call them) and no substance. Worse, every time I tried to move my mouse from one side of the screen to another, say during the editing process of writing an article like this one, the stupid charms sidebar would immediately pop up, overlay what I was doing with the time and date and I’d have to get out of that before I could continue. Also, and no less annoying, if I let the mouse sit on an app for too long it would decide that I meant to select it and open it without my express permission. This resulted in having to close a lot of apps and windows I never wanted open. And yes I watched it, it did this when I wasn’t even touching the touchpad at all.

The mouse jumping and selecting things I didn’t want was also responsible for resizing my WordPress blog such that it was almost unreadable for me and I never did figure out how to change it back. Thankfully the migration to the MacBook has corrected that issue.

The main screen was full of icons for things that they wanted me to buy from their store, apps they wanted me to buy from their store that I didn’t want because I have the apps I like on my iPad where I like them. The start button was gone and the menu that allowed me to easily find things was also gone. It was awkward and I presume they were trying to simplify things for people but they went so far that I actually felt the OS was actively working against me.

If I want Cylon level of malevolent intelligence in a computing system I also want it to be Cylon shaped and at least have that nerd cool factor going for it. And I can’t even say the system was malevolent, it was just unbelievably stupid.

Add to that the mouse jumping around constantly and clicking on things I never clicked on and it was an exercise in annoyance just to touch the stupid thing. Now I know that was the settings from Acer, or at lease I presume so although that is not the only pc I’ve used where the mouse jumps around so maybe it’s something to do with Windows. I honestly don’t know at this point.

All I know is that the Acer machine locked up completely, to the point where it wouldn’t let me log in or even show the desktop twice in a 6-week period. Each time I lost a full day of work, not to mention the stress of wondering if the last thing I did was lost forever and my new laptop was now a pretty paperweight. Oh and the mouse driver just gave up one day and I spent half a day Googling (on my iPad) for answers, finally downloading the drivers again and getting it to work. So yeah I was running into complete work stoppage every 2 weeks on average with that machine. Added to that the unbelievable hassle of trying to work around Win 8 and I had just had it with that machine and Win 8.

True it wasn’t all Win 8’s fault but I wasn’t happy with it anyway. So we went back to Best Buy and I was irritated. Laptops aren’t cheap and I had something that was unusable. I had asked for one thing and one thing only: Stability. And they hadn’t come through. Plus I was outside the 15-day return window. I was angry.

This is where my story takes a happy turn. The gentlemen at Best Buy didn’t even hesitate, they took the Acer back although they were quick to tell me the best they could do was some store credit because I was outside the return date, they didn’t quibble about giving me some store credit and because they were so helpful and professional I upgraded. I went from an Acer to a MacBook Air that cost easily twice as much.

Now I’m only on my first full day of owning my MacBook Air but already I’m liking it so very much better. The mouse doesn’t jump, and I type fast! The user interface seems very intuitive to me. I love it when I can jump right in on a computer and figure out how to use it. Win 8 assumed that is how it should work, then made an interface that actively got in the way of getting done what I wanted to do. My MacBook is the opposite. I was having a tiny bit of a snag downloading Windows Office for the Mac and I went to the dropdown menu in the upper left and within seconds found something that seemed to me to be what I wanted. I clicked on it and ta-dah!

That is how a computer should work. The only thing I miss is the left click on the mouse bringing up spell check for a single word in Word. That is a small price to pay for a laptop that works reliably and a user interface that gets out of my way and lets me do what I need to do, more than that the MacBook user interface is actually helpful. Now if it just works with the consistency and reliability of my other iDevices I’ll be a Mac girl from here on out.

Research and Writing

Although the scenes are brief where the knowledge is useful I have spent many days researching ship building and different ship designs for In The Flesh.  I have studied wooden sailing ships from the 1800’s and researched riveting and welding techniques for steel ships.  I researched the Titanic’s structure and that of the US Victory ships of WW II. I have also researched SWATH (Small-Waterplane-Area Twin Hull) ships  and their pros and cons.  I even did a quick Google browse of steampunk ships which is a genre that I am finding more and more interesting.  Not only do I enjoy research but I also feel it brings a bit of realism to what is a fictional tale.  As a nerd I enjoy this kind of detail in the books I read.  As a Science Fiction fan I like books that give me a taste of what is real along side the flights of imagination and futuristic speculation.

Today I feel I have written one of my best scenes yet and I hope when you read it, you will enjoy it as much as I have, even if you never know how much effort went into this labor of love.