Wednesday, July 1, 2020

God's Country and the making of a knife

First, an announcement.

On July 7, 2020, my novel God's Country will be released. You'll find it on Book View CafĂ©, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

If you have ever asked the question what does sex, prostitution, crooked cops, televangelists, psychopaths, an eclipse and illicit neurochemistry have in common? The answer would be my novel, God's Country.

This is the beginning of a trend.

Welcome to Witchlandia came out in 2016. Simple Things came out December, 2019. Summer, 2020, it's God's Country. September, 2020, my novella The Long Frame will be released and next December comes my novel Jackie's Boy. 2021 isn't yet planned though I have some ideas.

So: stay tuned.

Now, on to Doing 2: The Making of a Knife.

I have been collecting old metal for a while. By "collecting" I mean not throwing away stuff or grabbing thrown away metal when it comes my way. This includes rusty shears, old files, broken lawn mower blades, etc. Part of it is my incredible reluctance to throw things in landfills-- especially things that show embody significant effort.

Think of it. A file is a chunk of hardened steel. It was pulled out of the earth as stone, smelted into steel, drawn and stamped into shape and ground (I think) into its final form. Can't I think of something to do with it other than throwing it into a whole?

I have a lot of stuff like this. I dread what my descendants will have to do when I pass on. I remember what my sister and I had to go through after my mother died.

I'm not a hoarder. I'm a deep recycler.

At any rate, I've been thinking about the classic "turn a file into a knife" for a bit. If you enter that into google you will get a million and one websites and videos on how to do just that. Most of them involve heat treating and I've been reluctant to build a forge.

Then I ran into Alex's Outdoors55 youtube channel and this particular video.

To summarize the video for the purposes of this blog (but not to deny the video. It's good. Go watch it.) file steel is intended to be hard. It's purpose is, after all, to grind steel. So it has to be harder than that which it is grinding. Makes sense, right?

But there are dimensions to the nature of steel. Steel can be soft, hard or tough. Pick one.

Soft steel is ductile and useful for twisting into shape-- a garden fence. Cheap steel railing. Wire. Good for some things but not for a knife. Steel can be hard-- good for ball bearings and files.But hard steel is also brittle steel. A knife has to be tough, hard enough to take and edge but soft enough that a sudden impact won't shatter it.

All of this is done by handling the knife with temperature and quenching.

Most of the knife making videos and website (especially those that start with something hard like a file) first make the metal soft with heat. Alex pointed out that this might be unnecessary since we're starting with something hard.

So, following his procedure, where's what I did.

First, I took an old file and ground it down to the rough shape as you can see here. The important thing here, according to Alex and my own observation, is to make sure you don't get the pesky thing too hot. If you do, you lose all that wonderful temper.

It's pretty ugly here. There's no bevel on the knife-- what separates a knife from a slab of iron.

The knife shined up pretty well here on the sander. Here's an example of a lack of decisiveness on my part. I never made a clear decision what to do with the grooves on the handle. I started to sand them away then changed my mind.

This had knock on effects in that the handle was no longer exactly flat. Something I'd have to handle later.

Once I had the knife about where I wanted it, I had to change the temper. Remember, the steel from which the file is made is hard. I wanted it tough.

My understanding is very basic but here's what I gleaned in my reading.

  • Soft iron: take the iron, heat it up to where it's no longer magnetic and let it cool slowly-- some people bury it in vermiculite as a non-burnable insulator.
  • Hard iron: take the iron, heat it up to the same point and quench it in oil or water. The sudden heat shock makes the iron hard.
  • Tough iron: take the hard iron, after it's cold, and heat it to 400 degrees and hold it there fore two hours. (Some say 3 hours. Some say break it for 10 minutes or so in between.)
The result is stained yellow. This is desirable. Sand or buff off the stain gently so as not to take out the temper you just achieved.

Now, I had to put a handle on it.

I've been keeping wood scraps around for a while. If we cut down a tree, I look at the wood to see if I can use it for something. (See above about saving metal. Maybe I am a hoarder.)

In this case, I had some apple wood from a tree we had to cut down. The two halves (called "scales" in this case) were cut more or less to fit.

Here I ran again into a problem. I've been building my shop for decades using the cheapest level of tools available to me. If it weren't for bad tools I'd have no tools at all.

Mostly, this has been fine. But here they failed me. My bandsaw wouldn't bandsaw. My drill press wouldn't drill the steel handle to put in the pegs.

I did what all brute force carpenters do: I reached for the expoxy. This had the nice side effect of making up for the lack of flatness in the steel handle-- see indecisiveness above.

Once I had the above mostrosity, I had to pare it down to something usable.

I tried sanding. I tried the bandsaw again-- it didn't.

Then, I found a lovely little tool I had purchased years ago. That odd, little cylinder is filled with holes and cutting surfaces. I think it was made by micro-mesh but I don't know where to get it now.

It tore through the wood. I shaped it in about 45 seconds.

All that was left was sanding and polishing. The result is at left.

I am not a production knife maker. I can see about forty different things I'd do differently. This was a proof of concept to me to see if I liked it.

I did. I'd like to make more knives.

But I have been made humble by the inadequacy of my tools.

It's said a poor workman blames his tools. But a good workman should have good tools-- since I'm a poor workman, I need good tools to make up for my shortcomings.

Hm. A bandsaw that bandsaws? A drill press that drill presses? What could I be thinking.

I've been saving my pennies...

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Upcoming Zoom Event vs Writing on Writing

First things first.

I'll be doing a zoom event with Jeff Carver over at Annie's Book Stop in Worcester @2pm on Saturday, 5/9. The link is in there blog. (See here.)

Unfortunately, I was unable to get material to them in time so only Jeff is represented there. But the Facebook link is there to RSVP. If you want to join us on Saturday.

They asked several questions. Since these aren't going up on their blog, I thought I'd put them here.

  • Can you please tell us briefly a little about yourself and your writing? How would you like us to introduce you.
My father was an engineer with the heart of a poet. My mother was a writer with the heart of an engineer. So I became a science fiction writer. My day job is as a software engineer in aerospace. Right now I’m working on the Dream Chaser vehicle intended to supply the ISS.

  • Where can people find your work? (Besides Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester--though they should totally check here first!)
Annie’s first, of course. For the ebooks, first would be and second, Amazon. The print versions are available at both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Annie’s is clearly the first choice.

  • How can we follow your work and share your awesomeness

I have a blog I keep up regularly. In addition, since I do most of my publishing with, that’s a good place to go. They also have a newsletter.
  • For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write?  What can readers expect from [newest release/spotlighted release]?
I’m interested in how human beings navigate novel situations. Simple Things is a story collection so there is a broad swath of things that happen to people and how they deal with them. Welcome to Witchlandia looks at what is now called “paranormal” and back in the seventies was called “psionics” in the context of athletic or cognitive ability. It’s a crime novel. Crime novels are interesting in the way they allow you to take characters out of their comfort zone.
  • What kind of research went into writing this book?  What is your favorite research story? What cool facts and findings didn’t make it into the book, but you loved discovering?
Welcome to Witchlandia is deeply embedded in both Boston, Massachusetts and Columbia, Missouri. (Part 1 is in Columbia. Parts 2 and 3 are in Boston.) Since the main character has the ability to fly, her ability comes under FAA rules. I’m a pilot and this was very interesting to me. However, I could only reference a few aspects of flight in the book. Simple Things is a story collection and covers a lot of ground. One story, Jackie’s Boy, involves a young boy and an intelligent elephant navigating a post-apocalyptic landscape. They end up at (or near) the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee. Given their environment, I couldn’t explore the sanctuary there. However, it is a wonderful place and I happily shout out to them now:
  • What else can we expect from you in the near future?
I have a new novel, God’s Country, coming out in July. If you were to ask the question what do recreational drugs, the discovery of a higher beings, prostitution, cults and biochemistry have in common, the answer would be God’s Country.
  • What is/are your passions when you're not writing? How do you make time for your non-writing hobbies/things you love?
I do a lot of woodworking and gardening. Like anything else, you have to make time for that which (or who) you love.
  • While you're writing, do you prefer music, silence, other? Please elaborate!

Music without words or words in a language I don’t know. I listen to a lot of Japanese pop music.
They asked several other questions that I was uncomfortable in answering in this format. I had no snap answers. (Jeff, as you'll see from the blog entry, is far better at this than I am.) They involved the process of writing, something I've not talked about very much here.

Why not?

Well, that's a good question and I'm not entirely sure of the answer. For one thing, writing isn't really optional for me. To paraphrase Rorschach said in Alan Moore's Watchment: I don't do it because I choose to. I do it because I am compelled. It took a long time for me to come to terms with that.

Given that-- and given that it's important to me-- the actual process is a strange alchemical process that seems driven by its own opaque rules. I don't mean creativity is a mystery too arcane to be within the ken of mortal man. I mean I don't understand how my mind works with this. It is a compulsion-- if I don't do it for a bit I get itchy and irritable. I also get worried I'll never get back to it-- it's not like the world cares.

But it's even stranger than that. I underwent therapy a number of years ago (I'll talk about that someday but not right now.) and one thought I had was if I got better, would I stop writing? This, apparently, is a common idea. As if the writing was a symptom of some kind of sickness.

As an aside, in Norstrilia by Cordwainer Smith, the drug, stroon, grants immortality. It is distilled from the exudates of sick ship on the planet Norstrilia. I wonder if stroon was, to Smith, a metaphorical equivalent to writing.

I got better and the writing improved. But it did not become any less mysterious. I sit down and conversations, scenes and characters come. I do work at breaking them down, lining them up and figuring out as much as I can ahead of time so that when I do sit seat of pants to seat of chair, the material is there to be put down.

That said, I've also found there's a delicate balance. I know writers that outline within an inch of their life. (An apocryphal story about Faulkner is he outline meticulously and then wrote while drunk. I have no idea if this is true.) I know others that don't. E. L. Doctorow said that writing is like driving in a fog where you can't see past the hood ornament. But Doctorow is clearly an uncommonly thorough researcher.

For me, if I know too much about what is going to happen, the work stop. If I know too little, the work stops until I know more. Sometimes I'll restart a section or work several times until I get the right take on the stuff and then it writes itself. I go from struggling creator to transcriber.

It feels like there's another entity at work here beyond my conscious mind. I'm not a particularly spiritual person so I don't think this is an intangible being. But I also can't tell whether it's my subconscious or the other half of my brain yelling across the corpus callosum. "Muse" might be a good word for this. "Harry" might be another.

The rest is finding time.

I get about 90 minutes a day, five days a week. Weekends are taken up managing the garden and the household. 9-10 hours a day are taken up during the week by my job. The remaining time is family  time, reading and all the other stuff. In that 90 minutes I have to write my own material, critique other people's material, format books and write this blog.

And that's pretty much all I have to say on writing. Time's up.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Consideration of Works Past: The Revolving Boy

(Picture from here.)

By now it cannot be a secret that I like small stories.

These are stories where there might be a major cataclysm, catastrophe, war or other great event but that is backdrop. It might impact the story and the characters. It might not.

But the story of the characters is what interests me.

I read The Revolving Boy when I was a boy. It had resonance with me then. It has resonance with me now.

The author of TRB is Gertrude Friedberg. That's about as much as I can say. The wiki article says she wrote two plays that were well received-- one, Three Cornered Moon, had Ruth Gordon in it and was almost immediately made into a film. She wrote three SF stories and one novel. She was admired but, as far as I can tell, doesn't have much impression on the internet as a person.

This is a shame. I would love to know more about her.

I do know a lot about The Revolving Boy in that I've read it more than once recently.

First, like any SF book of that era, it has a lot of SF tropes like flying cars, fancy home machines and the like. I think the problem with a lot of those works is people didn't expect to actually reach the future. One of the interesting things about current near future fiction is its conservatism: people have read those dated works and don't want to have their own works suffer the same fate.

But Friedberg wrote TRB in 1966 and she was fifty-two. She'd already seen how works dated. Much of the future stuff is a bit over the top. I suspect Friedberg was having fun.

That said, it's a minor criticism and can be easily overlooked.

The book is the story of Derv Nagy from his early childhood until his late middle age. As I said, this is a small book. The big things happen around in his life and don't necessarily affect him all that much. The book is tightly focused on Derv.

Derv is born (and expresses at an early age) a marvelous sense of absolute direction.  He can tell north without thinking about it. He feels twisted over the course of daily life relative to his sense of direction-- to the point of unwinding over the day.

Later in his life (early in the book so I'm not giving much away) he determines that his sense of direction is relative to something absolute. He doesn't know what it is. He only knows where it is and he must bend his life around that direction.

Friedberg has done something remarkable here. She takes something as simple as a sense of direction and pins it down as a pivot around which someone orients his life in a very real, physical way. By doing this, she shows us how people are bent by simple things. It's easy to extrapolate from this to higher moral conundrums but she does not. She stays with this simple, fundamental thing Derv must accommodate. Derv revolves.

Derv is a true character. He has a sense of humor. Like anyone, he tries to find his place (and a place for his uniqueness) in the world. He does not become a hero or a captain of industry. He finds love. He finds a life. He finds a job. There is nothing dramatic in what he does except where those things are dramatic to him.

There were a couple of things I pulled from this book-- reinforced by other books I was reading at the same time. Derv reminds me of Huckleberry Finn. Huck also makes his way through his life. He does not accomplish great things. The world is not greatly changed by his passing through it any more (or any less) than Derv's world is changed. Raintree County is another book I read at the same time.

What these books have in common is the placement character in the context of the larger world. The world is unchanged by their movement through it-- and that is just fine. Most of us don't change the world much. We change our little piece of it in our friends, our family, our children.

I have no illusion that my writing will change the world-- it won't. The wheel of the world will go on pretty much unswerved by anything I do. But I do like to thing I have made some things, some people, some situations, a little better for me having passed through by. No doubt those changes will be swallowed up by time. I don't have a problem with that.

I never knew Gertrude Friedberg. I wish I had so I could tell her that her book made a difference to me. And I hope that difference will shine through my own work and further its effect, as little as any effect I have might be.

While the differences she made will likely outlive my own, they won't last a thousand years.

So what? What does?

Sunday, April 12, 2020


Okay. I've been home a month now.

Things have settled out some. There's no longer the issue of feeling anxious until I start to work. My desk had three monitors on it but I can only use one at home. That took more accommodation than I expected.

Being home with my wife is nice. But I find I miss the commute.

I took the train in and out every day. 90 minutes, one way. About 50 minutes on the actual rail plus 30 minutes, plus or minus, on the subway, walking or biking. I didn't much care for the subway but getting a good half hour workout by getting to work was worth the deal.

The 50 minutes was where I did most of my writing.

Now, at home, I have no defined time for that and my writing has suffered. I've managed to get an hour in just before work but it's been hard to increase it.

But there have been other issues. One is what I call the Urge to be Doing.

For me, there are a number of itches that need to be scratched in my life. Time with people. Writing. Work. And, doing things. By this I mean doing something beyond what needs to be done just to keep going. Work, writing, time with people-- these are necessary actions of living. Doing things is one step beyond that. It could be as simple as making a new base for a lamp. Or making something out of a worn out pair of shoes. Or going fishing. Or taking a walk in a new place. Or seeing an art exhibit. Sometimes, it's this blog.

The instant something moves into the has to be done category, it falls out of the category of doing things.

A couple of weeks I found myself itching to do something. Go for a walk or a bike ride? Weather was awful. Can't go out to see something-- social distancing.

So I went into the shop and made the pen and tiny bowl above.

These are not great works of art. The pen is made from some black birch I had lying around. Birch is soft in general and this wood seems especially porous. I probably should have stabilized the wood, first. But I've been having a little trouble with my lathe tools and stabilized wood feels like turning a rock. So I was lazy and didn't do it. The pen came out okay but not great.

The bowl was nicer. It was from a piece of plum wood I had saved when we had to cut down some fruit trees. (See here.) The wood is multicolored and has a slight tinge of pink. Unfortunately, the wood developed a crack as I was turning it. I finished it and it is usable as a little pill bowl but it's, again, not great.

That said, I felt great afterwards.

I had done something.

I think it's important these days that we remember it's not enough to do what we must do to survive. To make sure we and our loved ones are safe. We must also live. We must satisfy those itches and needs.

I've been doing a lot of teleconferencing at work and over time people have quit using their cameras. It's not surprising as video taxes the network and servers of most of the teleconferencing applications.

But I hate it.

I've been home for a month. I've seen my wife, dog and cat regularly. A couple of times I've seen my son. The only other human visual contact I've had is via these teleconferences. To see a blank screen with someone's initials just doesn't satisfy that need.

Humans are not solitary creatures. We need other human beings like we need oxygen to breathe.

So talk to each other.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

State of the Farm: Grape Pruning, 2020

I spoke a few weeks back how I'd pruned the grapes. (See here.) At that time I said I would go into it more when I was able to upload the pictures.

Well, the pictures are uploaded now. Heck, they were uploaded a few days after that blog entry. But COVID-19 intervened.

So I said to myself: Self! It's time to get those pictures up. Things are budding. In just a week they're going to be out of date.

Here they are.

The first picture, up at the top, shows what I started with. Recall, we had grapes from the Concord but they were little and puny and there was a fungus problem. I surmised the problem was, at least in part, that the vine had become too thick. Not enough light and air movement for the grapes to grow in a healthy way.

In this picture, you can see the branches are all over the place. It's interesting that where the branches were the thickest is where the grapes had the most difficulty-- evidence for my hypothesis.

This picture was taken about half way through the process.

A lot of grape vines are designed to maximize production of a few, very high quality bunches. That's why you see very spare vines in the vineyards.

I've take a somewhat different tack. I have limited space so I can't sacrifice a hundred feet of many grape vines for twenty pounds of grapes. I need to have this vine produce fifty pounds of grapes in the space I have.

Consequently, I've thinned the vine down to a few strong horizontal leaders. But there are still some crosses-- vine branches that cross one another.

This is where I stopped. I could have trimmed more aggressively. There's a little complex towards the second bar I could have brought from three to one. I decided to wait and see. From that complex, the lower branch goes along the top wire. The middle goes up towards the top bar. The left branch turns back towards the camera on the other side of the top wire. I'm asking a a lot of that complex so we'll see.

The next picture is not the Concord but the Marechal-Fochs vine. We got a good harvest from that last year and I did very little.

This is an extremely vigorous vine. The structure here is sort of like a house in that there are slanted faces to the east and west. (The Concord slants towards the south.)

There are two vines here, one at each corner of the far side of the "house." Between the two of them, cover both sides of the "house" and follow the fence and terminate below that green garden stake in the foreground.

I decided I need do nothing about it this year.

That said, I may regret that decision. The weather has been chancy over the last few years and one of the effects of this is to have different sections of the vines ripen at different times. And it's possible I'm just asking too much of them. But I like the vine going everywhere. It fights with me and tries to take over the pears. It tried to take over the cherry. It's a tough customer.

Okay. That's it for now.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Consideration of Works Past: A Mirror for Observers

(Picture from here.)

I've been wanting to reread this for a while now for a number of reasons. It is a small novel-- the great movements and changes that SF is so famous for are either absent or merely backdrop for the transition of the characters.

I like books like this-- for that matter, I write books like this. I like a great space opera as much as the next SF reader but there's a soft spot in my heart (or head) for little books.

The other book I was considering was The Revolving Boy by Gertrude Friedberg but I decided on this one. It has a plague in it.

Edgar Pangborn, like Clifford Simak, is a writer that has fallen out of the limelight. Both are good writers of their time but their time has largely passed. It is interesting how what I considered canon when I was younger in fiction and in film has changed. Heinlein and Asimov remain but I think, like Pangborn and Simak, the change is generational. New readers don't tend to read them unless it's part of a class or a book club.

A Mirror for Observers tells the story of Elmis, an expatriate Martian-- who name themselves Salvayans-- who has lived for hundreds of years. His species came to Earth over thirty thousand years ago and live among humans. Some guide human beings. Some vilify them. Some leave them alone. Elmis is an Observer: a Martian whose task it is to live within humanity and report. Observers are hopeful of humanity's future.

Elmis is pursuing a boy named Angelo Pontevecchio, a precocious child of tremendous potential. Also pursuing Angelo is Namir, an Abdicator-- those Martians who want to find human beings a lost cause and want to destroy them.

Angelo is the intended target of influence of both Martians. (I was reminded of the Giacinto Gimignani painting at left.) Elmis meets Angelo when Angelo is twelve.

Pangborn writes love stories. Not romantic stories but love is often the primary motivation between people in his works. This was true of West of the Sun. Like WOTS, Mirror is about love and the lack of it. Again, I must emphasize, neither novel is romantic at all.

The book is in two parts. The first part, where Angelo is a child, consists of the tug of war between Elmis and Namir. This ends when Angelo flees them both. Later, Elmis rediscovers him.

One would expect the love Elmis has for Angelo would be the center of the story. And there is a good deal of it. Elmis loves people and Angelo in particular. He was married for decades but his wife is dead.

However, the real affection here is between Elmis and another child prodigy, the musician Sharon. Pangborn was an artist and musician. It's not surprising, then, that Angelo is a gifted painter and Sharon a gifted pianist.

This relationship is the heart of the novel. Elmis has some affection for Angelo but he deeply loves Sharon. And she has great love for him-- though, of course, her romantic fixation is for Angelo and his for her.

When I read this book-- when I remembered this book over the years it was this relationship between truth and falsity, the continuing philosophical discussion between the characters and the mirror-- a Cretan masterpiece referred to in the book-- that reveals the truth of the person. Not in a crass way-- that person is a Martian. This is a human. But the underlying self. Pangborn stays inside Elmis throughout the book so when revelations come to the characters, he can only see what they do and say and is denied their internal revelations. There are several scenes where such a revelation occurs and Elmis cannot know what it is because the character does not reveal it.

In rereading this book, I found I wanted Pangborn to be a better writer. He chose a set of mirrors himself in which to write the book. Elmis is writing letters back to his friend Drozma about what has already occurred. I am no fan of epistolary novels. I find them tedious. They lack immediacy.

It is worse in this novel. Elmis is already removed from the changes in his character just by being the point of view character. He's further removed by not being human. And, finally, he is removed further in the writing of these letters.

The first section feels too long. Pangborn skips the intervening years where Elmis is searching for Angelo-- a first rate opportunity to see how Elmis ticks. The second section-- where the plague happens-- feels actually too short, though both sections are more or less the same. We never find out what Angelo is capable of or if he will realize anything at all-- which doesn't bother me. The book stops before  Angelo can show that.

Mechanical issues aside, Pangborn is not afraid to show love in his work and he's not terribly sentimental about it. That part I liked.

The plague is well executed, though contrived. It comes with a sort of leaden inevitability.

I don't remember when I read Mirror but it was probably before I graduated high school. The book cannot mean the same to me now as it did then. But while it did reach as far as I remembered, I did enjoy the love.

Which brings us to our own plague. This is one of those situations where if we sit still and do nothing, the reaper might pass us by. Even more, we might enable it to pass others by as well.

This is not a narrow temporary thing. It is a marathon, not a sprint. And when we reach the other side, if we are honest,  how we dealt with this will remain with us. Will we handle it with kindness and patience? Will we blame people with whom we did not agree?

Will we act with love?

Sunday, March 22, 2020

State of the Farm: Spring, 2020

(Picture from here.)

With the advent of COVID-19, the state of the farm is intimately connected to the state of the country. So, we'll start with that.

This is the beginning of week 2 staying at home. Draper Labs (my employer) told us to work from home starting last Monday.

Because of my wife, Wendy, we were prepared. Wendy has been tracking the virus since middle January. We've been apocalyptishopping ever since. We have about three months of staples.

This sound like a lot but it's actually not all that much more than we usually have. When we moved into the house back in 1993 we were at the tail end of the electrical lines. We lost power when the wind changed direction. That first winter there was so much snow that roofs collapsed all over Massachusetts and interior floods so frequent that the resulting claims for damaged walls and floors weren't even investigated. Adjusters said, "Go ahead. We'll cover it."

That winter, when the roof blockages sent streams of water across the walls inside, we looked at our new house and developed a mantra: "There is nothing wrong with our house."

We developed a sort of apocalyptic mindset. Every essential piece of equipment had to be doubled-- with a 150 foot drive way and a foot of snow a week, the snow blower became essential equipment. We had two: one we bought, one we inherited from my father-in-law. We had a generator. We had two cars. We had enough food that we could hunker down for a couple of weeks if the weather forced us to.

So, hunkering down these days isn't that much of a stretch.

But I find it depressing, just the same.

The main problem for me is finding that my main stay of human contact is work. Wendy and I get along very well but our son is out of the house and it's now just us. That's a great burden for any couple.

We've been managing it, so far, through technology. Skype, webex, duo and the like. So far it's been adequate. I'm unsure how it's going to handle the long haul. Our Incompetent-in-Chief disbanded the pandemic response team early in his administration and didn't seem to understand what he was being told until it could no longer be ignored. Because of his administration we're in a bad situation.

It's possible someone else would have done no better. But so what? He's the one in charge and he dropped the ball. No, he deliberately tossed the ball off the field, declared he didn't need it, that the ball was a lie and then was forced to trot off the field and dig through the weeds until he could find it. He still hasn't yet been able to bring the ball back on field.

But even he had to finally state that this can go as far as July. I think he's wrong again, there. I think we're going to be dealing with this until we get a vaccine.

So. Back to the farm, I suppose.

Last year we had a poor crop of Concord grapes. I think the grapes had grown two clustered and could no longer get good sunlight and air circulation. The grapes had no obvious fungus but looked withered. So this spring I cut them back hard. I have pictures of them but the upload isn't working quite right. So, I'll leave that for a future post.

The Ruth Stout method I talked about before-- laying down a layer of straw and planting potatoes under it-- was so successful we're expanding it significantly. We increasing from two 4x8 beds to about three times that much. The idea is that we want to be as calorie independent as possible. (See COVID-19 above.)

Corn is already sprouting in the greenhouse so that will go in by the end of May. We're going to aggressively try the Three Sisters method: corn, beans and squash. We've practiced this before with significant success. We're using Glass Gem corn-- it looked so cool I had to try it. It's a seed corn so we'll have corn meal. It can also act as popcorn.

Lots of beans this year. We already have had success with tomatoes. We're going to try intercropping the tomatoes with carrots-- an idea we got from a video from MIGardener.

We've been essentially practicing to get the most calories and nutrition from the garden for some time. This year is no longer practice. The goal is to have a substantial portion of our diet to come from the garden over the winter.

In addition, we've had good luck from our peaches, grapes Cornelian cherries and persimmons over the years. Peaches go into the freezer. The CCs, grapes and persimmons go into wine.

This last week we bottled the Marechal-Foch and a Concord/persimmon combination. The M/F did not taste great. It didn't go bad. It just wasn't very good. So we bottled it with the name, Unpromising. The C/P combination, by contrast, is very promising. We've transferred some additional persimmon wine from primary fermentation to the glass rack stage, where it will remain for some months.

One of the persimmon wines we cooked up with an amylase-- we were of the opinion that the persimmon had a lot of starch in it by the way we were able to make persimmon bread out of it. Amylase breaks the starch into sugar and makes it more available to fermentation. The result was dubious. The remaining specific gravity was 1.005 (1.0 == water) so there was something left in the proto-wine that had not fermented. Was it unfermentable sugars? No clue.

There was also a great deal of material left over from the process. This was not left over yeast. It tasted persimmon-ey. So we tried some in bread and it seemed to taste okay. We froze it and maybe will use it in bread making. Sort of like chestnut flouer.

Regardless, we want to make better use of the fruit material. Wine is good and all but it's not a source of nutrition. We're considering the problem.

As I said, we have about three months of supplies in house. But we're expecting our first harvests in May. The spring peas are in and other cold crops are being prepared for planting.

The big fear we have is another cold, wet May and June like we had last year. We're probably going to put out some crops under row covers to see if that helps. It's possible that eventually we'll have to follow some of the solar gardening principles (See here.)  and put everything under semi-permanent covers. At least until July. But we won't have that ready this year.

That's it for now.

Be safe out there. Maintain social distance. Don't be stupid. This bug is nasty to people with comorbidities such as age, obesity, smoking or diabetes. It turns out over 35% of the population has one or more of these so if we're not personally vulnerable someone right next to us is.

The whole idea is to keep within the capacity of the health care system so people don't die from lack of care rather than the disease itself.