May Reading Recap

The first book this month was The Agony House by Cherie Priest, a YA horror story featuring a comic book. How does one incorporate a comic book into a novel? By including pages of said comic book in the chapters, and it was done really, really well. I loved how the creep factor was cranked up subtly throughout the story until things hit the fan at the climax.

The other book that I read was Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy. I watched (and loved) the Netflix movie, and it was what made me borrow the eBook from the library. Understandably, the book and the movie are pretty different. The pageant is nowhere near as prominent in the book as it is in the movie; that space is filled by compelling relationships, both romantic and platonic. It was definitely worth the read (even though I missed seeing more of the Hideaway!).

That’s… all I read in May. It was a bit of a rough month, so I’m happy with being able to get through those two books. I’m hoping that June is better.

Have you read anything good recently? 

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Interlopers

When I dismantled the garden last year, it didn’t make sense to throw away the used potting soil. And the internet seemed to be pretty much in agreement that reusing potting soil wouldn’t be a problem so long as I didn’t plant tomatoes in the same soil next year.

I figured I’d do a little composting over the winter to replace whatever nutrients I could and add plant food during planting in the spring. In fact, that had kind of been happening already; whatever tomatoes that weren’t harvested in time ended up as fertilizer in other pots. So all the plant matter–stalks and roots and leaves–from the garden ended up in a Rubbermaid tub along with the soil in late November.

Fast-forward to spring. All the old soil had found its way into pots with new seeds, and I went out of town for a couple weeks. When I came home, seeds had sprouted Even in pots and planters that I hadn’t planted anything in yet. And in ones growing alongside different sprouts. Like, I knew for certain what carrot sprouts should look like and the little green things growing in the carrot bucket weren’t them.

I plucked the foreign sprouts from the otherwise occupied pots; curiosity led me to let them continue growing in one with last year’s soil but no new seeds (yet). I suspected they might be parsley since that had kept growing in the Rubbermaid compost bucket for a month.

I figured out what they were after about a week. Some were marigolds, others parsley, and others tomatoes. The first and the third I found interesting because the seed packages make it seem like they’re so finicky to grow.

While I can foresee weeding these interlopers from other planters for a good chunk of the growing season, seeing these sprouts grow from last year’s plants has actually been a good thing in terms of saving money. It means that harvesting seeds at the end of the year is both feasible and could very well mean not having to buy seeds again next spring. It’s a little thing, but I’m excited to move closer towards being self-sufficient.

April Reading Recap

With a trip to Myrtle Beach in store for April, I knew that I’d probably read more books than normal. Maybe four instead of my usual two or three. I read six. The Libby app and being able to easily borrow eBooks from the library definitely upped the count.

I read John Scalzi’s Lock In in a little over a day, which is a testament to how good it was. It took a dozen pages or so for me to get a hang of the world, but it wasn’t set so far in the future for me to wrap my mind around it. I can’t say enough good things about the characters, the mystery itself (which I didn’t solve ahead of time), and just the world in general. I’ll be reading book 2, Head On, soon.

While I started Hardwired by Meredith Wild in March, I didn’t finish it until early in April while house-sitting for my parents. It felt dated (being published around 2011 when social media was still gaining traction). I could have overlooked that, but there were other things that bugged me. Where to start: a controlling, manipulative hero; every guy trying to make a move on the heroine; and a sudden venturing towards BDSM (possibly as a way to explain the hero’s controlling nature?)

The next book that I read was Symbiont by Mira Grant. The second in her Parasite trilogy, it picks up with apocalypse in full force. Sal and Nate and all the regular players are still there. But now things are more than a little dicey with a new villain on the scene (and who has no problem with human/tapeworm experimentation). I’m liking the non-zombie apocalypse story whole still touching on those same themes.

I picked up Ashley Poston’s Geekerella from the library on a whim, deciding to give it a try but not giving expecting much. To my absolute delight, it was a sweet, geeky retelling of Cinderella featuring clever spins on the fairy-tale’s touchstones. There’s still an evil stepmother, a pumpkin, and a handsome prince. The sequel has a rather long wait list at the library, but I know that it’ll be worth the wait.

Next up was The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley, which just came out a few weeks ago. It’s a futuristic, science fiction story with time travel, and it examines (in a heavy-handed way) capitalist society and how it impacts humanity. I enjoyed the time travel elements and found the war sections really well done. I just wish there’d been more of an external plot than fighting against capitalism.

Finally–and finished three days before the loan was going to expire–I read Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire. And I loved it. McGuire is a sure-bet whenever I’m looking for something part whimsical, part dark, and 100% addicting. The story takes place at a home for children who’ve gone through doorways and into magic lands, and it turns into a gruesome mystery pretty quick. I’m kind of glad that it took me so long to read it: I don’t have to wait for the next three novellas.

What did you read in April? What’re you looking forward to reading in May?

 

The Hollywood Wax Museum at Myrtle Beach

PROJECT ADVENTURE: VISIT SOMEWHERE NEW (IDEALLY) ONCE A MONTH.
ADVENTURES COMPLETED: 3

Myrtle Beach. The name conjures the image of a peaceful sandy beach, a pier in the background with a white Ferris Wheel standing out against the light blue sky. And that version of Myrtle Beach probably exists; I was just blinded by the shininess of a couple tourist traps during my most recent visit.To be fair, tourist traps are one of the ways that locals make their money and local governments collect tax revenue. I can’t–and won’t–fault them for that. And to be completely honest, tourists traps can be fun.

The Hollywood Wax Museum in Myrtle Beach is a massive, cartoonish building that houses the museum, a zombie laser hunt, and a mirror maze. You can visit them all for a measly $30.

I opted for just the Wax Museum, which starts off with a one-story tall King Kong. There’s a photographer to take a picture of you inside his hand and those pictures are available for purchase in the gift shop.

I walked into the museum and right into a quasi-red carpet room with wax figures on either side. The layout fluctuated between red carpet, actors in their famous roles, and celebrities on stage. Each little “stage” for a figure had props for visitors. The whole place was pretty much an excuse to take pictures with wax celebrity lookalikes.

My favorite section was the horror-monster section. Not just because I freaking love scary shit, but because it contained three of the original Universal Monsters portrayed by their original actors: Imhotep, Dracula, and Frankenstein’s Monster. I could take a picture next to Boris Karloff decked out as the original Mummy and as Frankenstein’s Monster.

But the figure that made my day was Dracula himself: Bela Lugosi. I became obsessed with him after taking a class on Universal Horror Movies of the 1930’s and 1940’s in college; my bookshelf of DVDs has around twenty of his movies on it. Seeing him tower over me (he was 6’3″ compared to my 5’3″) and the regal costume that I’d only seen in black-and-white was amazing.

I gave the gift shop a passing glance; it had a small amount of souvenirs actually based on the museum. The rest could’ve been found at any mall.

Was the Hollywood Wax Museum worth the price of admission? I’d say a qualified yes. I enjoyed myself–and the horror monster area was worth it for me–but it would be far more fun with a group of people. And it’s definitely somewhere that’s fun once. I’m glad that I visited.


Want to see more pictures from my trip to the Wax Museum? Check them out on Instagram!

Seeds & Sprouts

The garden has come together piecemeal over the past month. It’s not done of course; I’m planning on sowing season-appropriate plants throughout the year. But the planting is done for now. Which is a good thing since there’s no more room on the patio.I did the first round of planting–the seeds more tolerant to cooler weather–at the end of March and before I left for Myrtle Beach. Lettuce, green peppers, basil, rosemary, parsley, carrots, onions, and a myriad of flowers. Most of the flowers sprouted while I was gone; the vegetables took their sweet time and only began poking through the soil after I returned in mid-April.

I planted the second round of seeds on the first clear day after getting home. The weather looked like it would be warming up for good, so the tomato and cucumber and watermelon and

pumpkin seeds all went into potting soil. I also rearranged the entire patio so all the planters would fit in the minuscule space (also known as one of the biggest apartment patios I’ve ever seen).Now that the planting is done (for now), I have to actually remember to water them and then watch them grow.

Oh, and I need to find a salsa recipe.

Want to see more pictures of the garden? Check them out on Instagram!

Project Adventure: The Range

PROJECT ADVENTURE: VISIT SOMEWHERE NEW (IDEALLY) ONCE A MONTH.
ADVENTURES COMPLETED: 2

Growing up, the closest I came to shooting was turning my brother’s paintball gun on a tree in our backyard. (He was going to let me shoot him to test his paintball vest, but he decided against it at the last second. Apparently he’s not a fan of the muzzle drifting towards his face.) My S.O. offered to take me to the range shortly after we started dating, but I kept putting it off again and again. Not from any desire not to visit the range; more because I’m a creature of habit and rarely leave the apartment on my days off. He insisted just recently, and so we headed to the range.

What struck me the most when I walked into the indoor range was how small the whole setup was. My shoes squelched on the gray sticky-mat (which the informational video later told me was to avoid tracking lead), and I found myself in a yellowish room that was longer than it was deep. A flat-screen TV was mounted to the same wall as flyers for firearms classes. On another wall were windows that looked into the range itself. And directly across from them sat a waist-high glass case with shelves of pistols inside; it looked like a grownup prize case from Chuck-E-Cheese.

S.O. and I had already browsed in the attached store, so I was starting to feel more than a little intimidated with the whole situation. I felt intensely outside my element and probably would’ve backed out if S.O. wasn’t there.

We picked out a pistol for me to shoot–the Smith & Wesson Shield EZ 0.380–before donning our hearing protection and heading through a set of doors and into the range. S.O. mounted the target before walking me through the basics of how to safely fire a gun. He reminded me to keep my fingers away from the slide, told me to relax my shoulders, and encouraged me not to worry about recoil making the gun fly out of my hands. Then he took a few shots to show my how it should go before letting me take over.

The best way to describe the feeling that rushed through me when I pointed the pistol at the target for the first time has to be dread. Dread that I’d miss the target completely or the recoil would knock the gun from my hands.

I aimed for the center of the target and squeezed the trigger. The bright muzzle flash caught me off guard, as did the kick of the recoil. But when my eyes readjusted, I spotted a hole in the bottom six inches of the target. I went through a magazine-worth of rounds, always hitting the neon green target but not where I thought I was pointing.

S.O. popped out of the range to grab another target. He then showed me how to use the sight–and it’s three little white dots–to better line up my shot. And boy did that make all the different. I went through the remaining bullets, firing from about seven yards away. Everything hit pretty damn close to where I’d wanted. I even shot half a dozen shots or so through the X at what would be center mass.

Did I feel more comfortable when I left the range than I had walking in? Absolutely. Do I feel like I’m confident enough to go back solo? Not quite. Will I be going back? Absolutely.

Gardening Interlude

While I was house-sitting for my parents, they asked if I’d start their vegetable garden. Their new house doesn’t have a designated garden yet, so they wanted to plant a couple tomatoes and peppers in pots on the patio. And since I’m always itching to play in dirt and my garden will never bit enough to sate that desire, I said YES, ABSOLUTELY, WHEN CAN I START?

It’s a small garden with two tomatoes, a bell pepper, and a mammoth jalapeno. We bought four bags of soil, and I only ended up using two. I’ve already been given the go-ahead to take the extra bags home with me, which is exciting in and of itself.

I also found that I vastly prefer starting plants from seeds to buying seedlings from the store. There’s a certain–satisfaction, or maybe wonder–at seeing little green stalks poking through the soil.

And another lesson: Sam and Grace like to eat potting soil. I envision them trying to eat the plants as they grow, so it’ll be interesting to see how long the leaves are without doggy bite-marks.

If you have a garden, what are you planting in it?

The Libby App

I’ve become more inclined to read on my phone. It’s more convenient than stuffing a paperback into my purse and hoping that the cover or the pages don’t crease, and it’s far less bulky than sitting with a massive hardcover on my lap.

eBooks are plentiful on Amazon and Kindle, but the cost adds up quick. I shy away from ones priced above $2.99 but sticking mainly to the $1.99 books (aka on sale). I can usually justify such a price, but the budget has gotten rather tight recently.

Enter Libby: an app that allows the user to borrow eBooks from their local library.

Libby let me choose my library and browse its collection of eBooks and audiobooks even before I entered my library card number. Once I entered that bit of information, I could borrow and put holds on books. I’ve already buzzed through one book (Lock In by John Scalzi), have a second one downloaded, and have two holds that should be available in a couple weeks.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg library is substantial, but I hadn’t gotten a library card until finding Libby. It’s one thing to drive all the way to the library, spend forty-five minutes browsing the stacks, check-out with the librarian, and then drive home. It’s another thing entirely to browse through the Libby app and press a button to either borrow or put a hold on an eBook. Plus there’s the whole difference in returning said books. One involves driving back to the library. The other involves opening the app and pressing a button.

I’m not knocking physical libraries at all; there are few things better than meandering through shelves upon shelves of books. It’s just that I don’t have time in my schedule. So Libby lets me borrow library books without the logistics of going to the library.

Do you borrow books from the library? Do you prefer borrowing physical books or eBooks?

Playing the Long Game

There’s a concept… well, more of a fact that the writers I follow on Twitter repeat over and over: writing is a long game.

What exactly does that mean? Well, exactly what it says: building a writing career doesn’t happen overnight.

Okay, the occasional writer wins the publishing lottery: their debut sells for six-figures, it immediately hits the New York Times Bestseller List, and movie studios bid millions of dollars for the movie rights.

But that’s not the norm. Most writers fight–tooth and claw–to establish a mid list career over decades. They battle publisher shenanigans, poor marketing, and even books that just don’t sell (to publishers or readers) despite being absolutely amazing.

A writing career isn’t for the faint of heart.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the writing career that I want, but I haven’t put as much thought in the steps that’ll get me there. And the challenge is going to be thinking two steps ahead while still staying focused on finishing and editing a draft. I’m up for it though.

So what’s my first step? Easy: finish this draft of the blog serial. Second? Tackle the first draft of Project Voss. After that? I guess I’ll figure it out when I get to that point.

Because at the end of the day, I want to accumulate a substantial backlist and earn an audience that’ll grow slowly but surely. It’s going to take time. But that’s okay. Writing is a long game, after all.

Project Salsa: Preparation, Strawberries & Daffodils

Warm weather during the day makes me itch to press my fingers into the soil and rip open seed packets and sew specks that’ll grow into flowers and vegetables. But it’s still spring yet not quite SPRING, so the temperature drops low once the sun goes down. I have a couple seeds that’ll probably do okay, but I’d rather plant everything all at once.In the meantime, I’m preparing everything. Buying buckets. Making drainage holes in the buckets. Buying and organizing seeds. Planning out the garden layout. Buying (hopefully) enough garden soil.

During my latest trip to Lowes, when I was shopping for garden soil, I wandered through the aisles of started-plants: the herbs, the blueberries, the fruit trees, and such. I start my plants from seed since it’s cheaper to buy a packet of seeds than three or four actual plants. However I’m doing strawberries this year and starting them from seeds isn’t on the agenda. I’m sure strawberries are no different than planting tomatoes or cucumbers from seeds; I just want this year’s garden to go well. It’s my first attempt at growing a usable amount of food (not just snacking on tomatoes here and there), and I’d like to minimize the what can go wrong part of the equation the best that I can.

Strawberries grew behind my parents’ house in Massachusetts. They received pretty much no care as far as I remember and survived multiple New England winters and then produced crops of strawberries. We never got the chance to eat them, though. The neighborhood rabbits chowed down on them first.I picked up four strawberry plants from the shelf at Lowes before heading inside the Garden Center to pick up soil and two more packets of seeds.

On my way to checkout, I spotted small, gorgeous daffodils and couldn’t leave them behind. I’m going to figure out how to harvest the bulbs in order to plant them again next year.Now that everything is home and prepped for planting, it’s a waiting game until the weather turns for good.Are you gardening this year? Have you started growing seeds inside or are you waiting for warmer weather? Let me know in the comments.