Getting to Know My Neighbors


Now that I've been working at home for over 400 days, I've really gotten to know my neighbors--the backyard neighborhood life, that is.

The squirrels have become so accustomed to having a little dish of shelled peanuts that I find them waiting at the patio door as soon as I finish my morning yoga. They have even begun taking peanuts in the shell from my hand when I hold them out.

As I was typing an email for work one morning I heard scratching at the patio door and found a furry little customer waiting, or rather, demanding more nuts. If I installed a little doorbell I wonder if I could get them to ring when they are hungry.😀

In addition to the usual three squirrels who have learned there are plenty of nuts to go around, I've seen birds I never knew about. The Steller's Jays also like the bowl of peanuts. 

Townsend's warbler
Other birds I've seen are the spotted towhee, Townsend's Warbler, nut hatch, bush tit, house wren, variegated thrush, flicker, gold finch, and junco. And hummingbirds enjoy the flowering red currant in the backyard.

Pine siskin
The pine siskin was responsible for a terrible salmonella outbreak among birds this spring in Seattle and people were asked to take down bird feeders for three weeks to stop the spread. I missed my feathered friends, but it didn't take them long to return once the seeds were back.

Black-capped chickadees are my favorite and there are several who have also learned about the peanut bowl. I've seen people feed them out of hand, but haven't been able to do this myself. 

With the warmer weather we've had I've started putting out water for the critters to drink. It didn't take the chickadees long to discover the dish is perfect for a little bath, and the squirrels were drinking by the afternoon.

The backyard visitors I'm not so keen on are the raccoons. They are often vicious, especially if cornered or with young ones. Other backyard friends I am happy to have visit are the rabbits. They are so cute I'll happily share my spinach and strawberries with them.







Stropharia rugosoannulata photo from wikimedia


It would appear that I have a wilted thumb when it comes to growing peas, carrots, beets, or many other vegetables. But potatoes and tomatoes manage to survive, and herbs thrive. While pondering just how many Yukon golds and cherry tomatoes to put in the ground, my husband asked why not try mushrooms?

A day earlier I happened to have watched a video on growing wine cap mushrooms and it seemed easy. The video creator happily wandered through his backyard garden cutting wine cap mushrooms from under leaves and thanking his fungi for providing nutritious food.

What better place to grow fungus than in the Pacific Northwet? After watching a few more videos I sent away for my wine cap

mushroom kit. A few days after it arrived, I got the first bale of straw I’ve ever purchased, too. Straw is necessary to layer with forest duff (decaying vegetable matter covering the ground under trees) to grow the wine caps. Straw is also great for covering the potatoes as they grow.

The straw and duff are laid down in what is called the "lasagna method", and then the layers need to be well-watered. After a thorough soaking, the 15 spawn pegs we received in our mushroom kit were pushed into the layers of straw and duff.

Now we just need to keep everything wet, and with a 100% chance of rain the following day, we picked the perfect Saturday for starting our wine cap mushrooms!

While researching how to grow mushrooms I also learned of the great health benefits many varieties have. Mushrooms such as lion's mane, reishi, maitake, shiitake, and turkey tail protect your brain as you age, help your memory, provide antioxidants, and some even have cancer-fighting properties.

In two to three months I'm looking forward to a crop of wine cap mushrooms popping up in the backyard garden, and I'm hoping the squirrels leave some for us!



Why Trains ~ by Patrick Webb

Have you ever unexpectedly fallen in love with something? That was me with trains. However, there were some moments in my childhood that shaped it.

When I was nine years old, my family visited a local miniature railway, the Old Wakarusa Railroad. I was ecstatic to ride on the tiny train that was only slightly taller than me! The ride around the simple figure eight railway was one of the happiest moments of my childhood. 

Sadly, the Old Wakarusa Railroad was sold in 2008, but one of the engines that used to work there, No. 98, has been preserved at the Riverside & Great Northern Railroad in the Dells, Wisconsin. 

Another influence was a certain cheeky blue tank engine on TV. I’m sure plenty of parents are familiar with Thomas and Friends, whether watching it themselves or with their children.

Thomas the Tank Engine, Image Credit the Thomas Wiki

For me, Thomas represented a form of escapism in my childhood from the struggles of daily life. Following the engines on the island of Sodor gave me a way to relax and inspiration for my own writing. My first attempt at telling a story was based on a PBS news challenge, (I naturally chose Thomas for the subject). While four-year-old me couldn’t figure out if “One day” was spelled with “one” or “won,” it sparked my creativity.

The more I learned online about “The Railway Series,” the books which inspired the show, the more inspired I became. The Reverend Wilbert Awdry spent a great deal of time working on the backstory of Sodor to make it seem like a real place. Worldbuilding for a series with talking engines may seem silly, but that’s part of what made Thomas work: Awdry treated it as stories of a real railway, with real engines who just so happen to talk.

As I grew older, my interest in trains shifted towards preservation. If you’ve ever seen or ridden behind a steam locomotive, you likely have the work of preservation to thank for them still being around. 

Restoring steam locomotives can take years or even decades! 

One of the longest restorations in my current memory is of the Flying Scotsman. Built in 1923, Flying Scotsman is the last locomotive of its class in existence. And what a life it’s lived. Flying Scotsman was one of the first steam locomotives bought for preservation in the United Kingdom. It has traveled to North America and Australia, holds two world records (first steam engine to officially reach 100 mph, and the longest nonstop run of a steam locomotive). Flying Scotsman is now owned by the National Railway Museum (UK). It’s arguably one of the most famous steam engines in the world.  

            Flying Scotsman on display after its newest restoration. 

               Image Credit: David Moyle - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, 

It took a decade for Flying Scotsman to get restored, appearing (controversy, depending on who you ask) in its 1960’s appearance before it was preserved. While it’s not her most famous livery of apple green, Flying Scotsman still looks smart. She’s still running today, providing people entertainment and a fun ride into history. Not a bad fate for a nearly 100-year-old engine.

Trains are a more niche interest. Sadly, the community is often seen as a hobby for old men. However, trains are for everyone.

An example is Jennifer Kirk, who reviews model trains and does livestreams on Monday for people to have a community space. You can check out one of her reviews here. 

It’s hard to imagine me without liking trains. Had I never caught the train bug, I wouldn’t be the same person I am. And I’m certainly glad that my interest in trains has survived beyond my childhood.

My hope, once I graduate and the Pandemic ends, is to travel to various museums and excursion railways, to get up close and personal with the iron giants of the past. And you don’t have to know everything about trains to enjoy them. Look up your nearest excursion/heritage railway or museum and consider going for a ride back in history.

 The Jacobite excursion train on a bridge made famous by the Harry Potter films. Image Credit: Unsplash

Patrick Webb is a Writing Major, minoring in Communication. He enjoys reading Comics (mostly superheroes, but also slice of life), Fantasy, and Science Fiction. You can find him on Twitter, @ConductorPat, and follow his blog, tugandtramblogging

I’m Slow, and That’s Okay ~ Marj Ivancic

“Their victories do not equate to your failures.”

That’s a mantra of sorts for me. I came up with it somewhere around age forty when I had a personal epiphany about myself and how I reacted to other people’s “successes.”  I realized I was allowing their accomplishments, big and small, to make me question my own abilities. I was trying to seize myself up against them. This need to compare stems from some deep-rooted confidence issues, I know. And it took me a while to see it. But now that I know that trait is there, I’ve been making a concerted effort to head it off before it can get in my way. And I’ve done a decent job, though I have to admit, it’s been especially difficult since entering the indie author world. 

Or more specifically, the dark realm of social media.

For an excruciatingly slow writer, seeing post after post of authors celebrating the release of their umpteenth book is painful. I cannot fathom being able to crank out a full-length novel in under a year, let alone four or more. Yet that is what some are able to do.

Yes, I work full time. Yes, I have family obligations, a house to care for…yadda, yadda, yadda. But those obligations aren’t unique to me. Plenty of other writers have those same time-sucks (and more!) and yet are prolific little literary rabbits.

So, why do the words come so quickly for them but so slowly for me?

Perhaps it means I’m not meant to be a writer. Or maybe, I’m just not a good writer. Because a real writer wouldn’t struggle to bring their story to life, right?

And then I stumbled on this little gem: Your Thinking Rate Is Fixed.

In this blog, the author discusses the concept that the speed with which we think and make decisions is set and cannot be sped up. And while the article is primarily focused on decision-making in the workplace, I think it applies to writing as well, for doesn’t crafting a solid story require thousands of decisions?

Does my character go here or there? How does he/she react? Which action verb best conveys the emotion he/she is feeling? What plot twist will keep the pages turning?

As an author, I think about each and every one of those questions. A lot. I roll them around in my mind. I take them for walks. I sit and stare silently at them, waiting for them to talk to me.  And in truth, I do this with nearly all things in my life. I am also terrible at debates, because I can’t process someone’s points fast enough to come back with a good counterpoint. It’s usually days later when I think of the perfect thing to say. Because by then, I’ve had time to consider the statement or question from all angles, to haul forth other information from my brain’s cache store and apply it.

I certainly don’t blame ALL of my sluggish production on the fact that my thinking rate is set to “tortoise” rather than “hare,” but it does relieve some of the pressure. Because like other things I can’t change about myself, such as my height or the size of my feet, I can let it go. I don’t have to waste any more time and effort trying to combat it. Instead, I can move on to the things I can control, like not comparing myself to anyone other than the person in the mirror.

Travel Through the Pages ~ Lexa Fisher



Photo by Jake Blucker on Unsplash

While I no longer feel comfortable traveling, I can still visit the places I'd love to see by reading books set in those locations. 

I love books that allow me to walk down the streets, feel the weather on my skin, smell the roses, bougainvillea, or orange blossoms.

No longer having a daily commute, I  have nearly two more hours a day to indulge in exploring new genres and finding new authors to follow.

In addition to traveling to new places through books, I can also travel to times I'd love to visit. My current work in progress has backstory in the late 19th century and my research involves reading not only fictional stories set in this time, but also reading historical accounts of how people lived back then.

Online newspapers going back to the early 19th century have been extremely helpful. Products that were advertised, recipes, and small town news stories paint a detailed picture of daily life and help me create a more immersive story.





Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash


Another route I've traveled is down memory lane.This trip helps me add greater detail to my work in progress. What were my grandmothers' kitchens like, their gardens, their basements? The latter were always terrifying to this young child with their low ceilings, dim lighting, and cobwebs everywhere, heavy with dust.

Everywhere I've traveled through the books I've read this past year has been from the comfort of my own home, no reservations needed. I only need time to make a warm drink and settle in with my wonderful travel companion--Miss Bridgett. She's quite happy to sit beside me in a rocking chair as I journey through the pages.


Getting to Know My Neighbors

  Now that I've been working at home for over 400 days, I've really gotten to know my neighbors--the backyard neighborhood life, tha...