Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

Potting up and other stories

The book said "bleach your possibly disease ridden pots." So I bleached my possibly disease ridden pots. The book said, "put down pebbles in the bottoms of your pots." So, I put down pebbles in the bottom of my pots. Then the book said, "mix sand with your potting soil." and that's where I stopped. There's always a limit to everything. A limit to getting things done, a limit to details, there's just a limit. Mixing sand with potting soil was my limit. Bleaching the pots and actually having pebbles from a past project was stellar in my book. The sand would be for a time when I had sand around.

I'm not a detail sort of girl so I was pretty damn proud over my neat rows of potted bulbs. They're for later this next year, about January and Februrary when many of us go stark raving mad for color, please God, color. Some of us around then need something different from glaring white or the washed out hues of brown and yellow. These little pots hold gems of color and I trust they will not let me down. I'm going to do it right this year and monitor them like people with hard hats monitor nuclear plants. That's right. That's monitoring.

Last winter was a financial failure. I got my pots, my soil, my bulbs and with very limited information, I planted and stored the bulbs away. I watered faithfully but come around January, something was horribly wrong. Nothing grew, nothing came out of the soil. I was in a funk with the failure of it but steeled myself. Next year, I vowed, next year, I would arm myself with intel and get these little things to bloom.

And yes, oh yes, we have the intel. I picked up a discounted book on bulb forcing from Smith and Hawken in the late Spring when the sting of forced bulb failure was low. I read the book and realized all the terrible mistakes I had made. They were terrible. And then I put the book away and went through the summer, languishing in the heat, picking up on the cooler days. Just having your basic summer.

Today, I followed the book- almost absolutely. My bulbs and their pots are tucked into the garage. I have written down dates in my date book (take out pots to be warmed in cool room, etc, etc). I have figured out how to deal with the garage freezing (put the pots in old stryofoam coolers! Go figure!). I have labeled them. They are a small army but they will succeed.

Now sitting here, reading a bit more on forcing, having laid out the dates of when to do this and that, I settle into the couch and think, wow, the taste of doing something well tastes very good indeed. This rarely happens because I tend to jump steps in my haste or do something by myself without stopping to get info. This time I didn't. And it's all over. They're all settling in, getting ready to sprout their roots. And thinking about this leaves a good taste in the mouth. I am pleased with my work. And that's no small thing for a hasty perfectionist to say.

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How to Get Through a Big Book

How to get through a Big Book and have a little fun too.

  1. Make and eat food mentioned in the book (big books always include food, usually in meticulous detail).
  2. Read a little bit each day.
  3. Make a soundtrack.
  4. Dress like a character from the book for a day. Or a week. Or a month if it really grabs you.
  5. Ten minutes to kill? Daydream about the landscape or what the characters are seeing as they move through their day.
  6. Read passages you enjoy out loud. If you’re in the right mood, record yourself reading passages and share it (Instagram is great for this). Include illustrations if you like (thank you, Shirin).
  7. Whip out a highlighter or some sticky tabs for those great parts.
  8. Pace yourself and remember, reading gigantic books isn’t a race. It’s about the journey. Might as well bring along snacks, good drinks, great lighting, and enjoy the ride.

How to Search for Story Settings

A big city not far from mine has a casino. I’ve heard a few stories from friends that have worked there. Most center on being treated badly by a customer and revenging themselves by throwing the customer’s car keys into the Fox River. Karma is enacted on a regular basis at the casino.

There’s something about that river, flowing by, murky green during the day and black at night, a bottomless pit for car keys.

The river divides the city in half, east to west. The Fox flows along the old warehouses, limestone and brick, built back when the city had manufacturing plants and industry. Now the warehouses sit sturdy and silent, crumbling ever so slowly. Their roofs are flat and give the illusion of brick walls running straight into the sky. Some were built like prosaic wedding cakes, higher and higher, until the final topping is small square with tiny windows. Industry has never been about aesthetic needs and wants.  And yet by some miracle, these old turn of the century warehouses have achieved it just the same.

I observed the warehouses from the back deck of the riverside café, clutching my cup of earl grey and wishing I had put sunscreen on. It was the first time I had ever been to this café and I came because I needed a new setting for a fiction story I was working on. None of the cafes I remembered from the past were working for me. I needed this kind of café, one that hung out in an old manufacturing city where there wasn’t much industry left. There was, at least, a casino and many local businesses and this café hung on, here at the water’s edge.

A little further up was the casino where my friends had thrown those keys into the water. From my point on the deck, I could see the grimy metallic white heel of the building jutting out. Another friend told me that he goes there regularly to play black jack. It relieves stress and earns a little extra cash for his family.

The wind picks up a little and despite the sun, it’s chilly. Spring plays these tricks on us.

There is no sign of life in the warehouses all around me. We’re all boxed in together and the light plays off their empty windows, open and blank to the sun. I sip some tea and play “Over the Hills and Far Away” by Led Zeppelin just to see if this café will work for my story. It only takes a few bars of listening to the song and I know that this place is perfect. This spot on the river is perfect for many stories. It’s  been perfect for all the stories I know nothing about and the ones that I’ve caught the smallest glimpses of.

A mallard suns himself in the weeds that line the water’s edge. The river moves fast and sure and I turn off the music. No need to for further noise. The song is already there.