CES Jr Update: She’s FLOWERING!

And it’s looking like the best flowering season she’s had yet! Repotting this Camellia effing sinensis Jr made her very happy indeed. Here’s the picture proof:

You know, seeing the success of CES Jr now going into her…fourth year, I think, or fifth…I can’t help but think of her predecessor, my first Camellia sinensis, which didn’t make it through its first winter. There’s a line in the Witcher TV show that I think readily applies here: “Sometimes the best thing a flower can do for us is to die.” I learned a lot from my first Camellia sinensis. Heck, she didn’t even get a cute nickname like CES Jr, but she did teach me a lot about growing tea plants. I almost dishonored her memory by waiting ALMOST too long to pot up CES Jr, and then we’d have to have a CES The Third and that just doesn’t roll off the tongue as well, you know?

But just look at those glossy green leaves piling in together in a mad rush to GROOOOW. Just look at those chunky white petals and the yellow stamen (stamen? pistils?) so thick that they bust those petals right open to scream COME AT ME, YOU BEES! FEAST UPON MY NECTAR! Here are some lovely perfectly round spherical flower buds and then BAM STAMENS ALL OVER THE PLACE HAHAHAHAHA.

It’s rather a rude plant, now that I think about it. But that’s why it’s Camellia EFFING sinensis, Jr.

There’s a moral here somewhere. If you’re a budding gardener (HAHAH!) don’t be discouraged if/when your plants die. They will, you know. Guaran-fucking-teed. But don’t be discouraged. Learn from it. I learned from my first Camellia sinensis how to get my second one through its first winter; and its second winter, and its third winter because I was scared okay?! But now that she’s potted up, I think she’ll be alright through this next winter.

Nah, no, I’ll still bring her inside if it looks like a random frost. Because she’s in a pot! Yeah. Not because I’m scared. Anyway, learn from your dead plants. They’ll be very helpful ghosts.


Ok, y’all, anyone who’s been following this blog knows I’ve been meaning to repot my Camellia effing sinensis (CES) Jr for around 2 years. Well, today I finally did it. I read a thing while researching something else, and it said as how you should repot your container-ground Camellias about every 3 years, and realized this shrublet is probably around 3-4 years old. And has NEVER been repotted. So I finally got off my butt today and did something about it.


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I am BEYOND excited to announce that I’ll have an author booth at the Fredericksburg Independent Book Festival on October 2 in Fredericksburg, VA!

Check out their website! But don’t judge it though because they haven’t updated everything yet!! https://fredbookfest.com/

That second one is clickable! Here’s a clickbait filler picture that I literally just stole off their website of the location! It’s a rendering, but I’m willing to bet that the location is a real place!

HAHA, y’all, I’m just really excited about festivals again.

Especially this one, because it’ll be a day trip for me. COME SEE ME ON OCTOBER 2 YALL!!!!!

Hike Like a Girl: Part Three: The Clothes

Clothes make the man! People say that, right? I’m pretty sure I’ve heard someone say that. Anyway, for backpacking and hiking in general, it’s absolutely true.

Lightweight, packable, comfortable: these are key words to keep in mind. You’re going to be carrying enough weight in your pack in the form of water, food, tent, and everything else. For a 7-day trip I generally pack: 1 rain shell, 1 midlayer insulator, 2 base layers shirts, 1 pants, 1 shorts, 2 pairs of socks, and (unfortunately) 2 pairs of underwear, 1 pair of gloves, 1 insulating hat. LEAVE YOUR BRA AT HOME. Fuck it, throw your bra away. Fuck bras.

A rain shell is a lightweight packable jacket that is waterproof and, preferably, windproof. An example of a midlayer insulator would be a waffle fleece or suchlike; I pack my trusty ArcTeryx Atom LT jacket. You can get one HERE: https://arcteryx.com/ca/en/shop/womens/atom-lt-hoody And honestly, I do recommend getting one. It’s absolutely worth the price. I love mine!

That’s a pic of me wearing my Arc’Teryx Atom LT jacket as well as a pair of the pants I tend to bring backpacking. Lightweight, durable, quick-drying, HAS POCKETS (*sigh*), and can be rolled up easily. I’m actually describing my Atom LT jacket as well as the pants.

This is more than a love-fest for the Arc’Teryx Atom LT jacket though. My laundry list above of the clothing I bring on a 7-day backpacking trip may look minimal, but it’s really all you should need. The trail doesn’t care if you stink. Honestly, neither my partner nor I smell our stink until we’re back in the car (where you should absolutely have a change of fresh clothes and a thing of deodorant available upon your return.) The trail doesn’t care if you’re dirty. The trail doesn’t care if you walked around wearing the same outfit just two days ago. And you damn well better not care because if you bring extra stuff then that’s just more weight to carry and more stuff to take up valuable room in your pack that could otherwise hold another pouch of freeze-dry dinner or another bag of water.

You’ll get mixed recommendations on wool vs cotton vs synthetics vs etc. Whatever. They’re all right, and honestly they’re all trying to sell you something. Lightweight, packable, comfortable. Lightweight, packable, comfortable. Lightweight, packable, comfortable. These are the keys. I don’t get any more philosophical than that.

Oh, and one more thing: if you’re going into the mountains (which honestly is where most backpacking trips go isn’t it?) then do not pay attention to the weather forecast. Or, if you do, take it as a general guess; which honestly is always how I treat weather forecasts anyway. The mountain does whatever the fuck it wants. The trail conjures up whatever weather it fucking wants. If you layer as advised, you should be prepared for temperature fluctuations. Remember: you WILL warm up as you hike. TRAPPED SWEAT IS YOUR WORST ENEMY. If you are sweating, shed a layer. Your sweat is designed to cool you as it evaporates. If it can’t evaporate, you will be miserable.

Paper Towel Seed Test

Got some old seeds around and not sure whether they’re viable? Me too! I kept ignoring these pumpkin seeds in their mason jar for roughly 4 years and first tested them about 2 weeks ago by soaking then for a few hours. They all floated, which supposedly means they’re not viable. But I wasn’t totally convinced and figured I’d try another method: the paper towel test!

The idea here is that you moisten two paper towels and lay out the seeds between them. Seal these in a Ziploc and place somewhere warm but not in direct sunlight. I left them alone like this for about a week, and came back to surprising results!

Success! I sowed these wee plants this morning and we’re now sitting under a tropical storm warning with rain starting 2 hours before it was supposed to. They’re off to a marvelous start!

On To the Next!

I’m happy to announce that I’ve started drafting the third book in the Civil Dusk series already! In this story, tentatively called “By Appointment Only,” Hugh meets with the spirits of Skara Brae to get his dian-stane fixed. They tell him to journey to New Hampshire in the USA, where descendants of theirs journeyed and built a settlement 4000 years ago. But how will he find it in a country to which he’s never been? Perhaps a local guide can assist!

Stay tuned for a completely unique story that’s already a page-turner! And in the meantime, get your copies of Civil Dusk and First Watch; links in the Buy My Books link above!

Hike Like a Girl: Part Two: Backpack

Obviously, the sport is called backpacking, so the backpack is one of (if not THE) key pieces of gear to make sure you get right. I’m not even going to touch on the argument of external versus internal frame. When you think of the old school Boy Scout backpacks that have a big steel frame to which the backpack and other gear are strapped, that’s an external frame. Most modernly constructed backpacking packs are internal frame packs, which have a rigid structure built into the portion that touches your back and that’s it, generally.

The key things that make a backpacking backpack (or, “pack”) different from a school bag (or, “daypack) are this frame, the hip belt, and the sternum strap. A pack is designed and meant to hold up to 1/3 of your body weight comfortably and without putting excess strain on your back and shoulders. A daypack is not designed for this purpose. Therefore, if you’re planning on bringing enough stuff to survive in the woods for at least a day and a night, make sure you’re looking at a pack.

I use the Osprey Viva 75, which apparently isn’t being made anymore. Here’s a picture from 2015!

That’s legit the only picture I have of my pack without a rain cover on it, and right now it’s in the storage unit, so that’s what you get. PRO TIP: Get a rain cover that fits your pack size. These are great for rain and also for keeping the pack relatively clean when you put it on the ground.

Key thing 1: The hip belt should generally be at least an inch wide and padded with ventilation for optimum comfort. This is designed to wrap AROUND (not above or below, but AROUND) your Iliac crest, which is the portion of your hipbones that stick out. This area is the most structural part of your entire body and the place that will bear the weight of your pack.

Key thing 2: The sternum strap is typically much thinner and is meant to help balance the load of your pack from shifting on your shoulders. It should be comfortably snug and positioned in roughly the middle of your breast.

Key thing 3: Your pack should be sizeable. If it’s not, MAKE CERTAIN that you get the correct size for your measurements. Your outfitter should measure from your C7 vertebrae (the one that sticks out when you tilt your chin down) and your Iliac crest (see Key thing 1). This measurement is what you will use to select your pack size. An improperly sized pack will not fit correctly, will not distribute weight correctly, and will cause pain and possibly injury over a longer trip.

Key thing 4: CARRY ONLY WHAT YOU ACTUALLY NEED. Don’t buy a pack with a bigger liter volume than you actually need. If you do, you will be tempted to carry additional things that you don’t need, and TRUST ME, that weight is better off being water than additional shit you don’t need. Water is the heaviest thing in your pack. Water is the heaviest thing in your pack. Water is the heaviest thing in your pack. When you’re preloading and weighing it, make damn sure you include however much water you’ll carry, because it’s the heaviest thing in your pack.

PRO TIP: When you are wearing your pack and the hip belt is secured, it should feel relatively weightless. This is because your hips are meant to be supporting the weight. If you feel a pull on your shoulders, adjust the fit and hip belt until you don’t. AT THAT POINT, tighten the shoulder straps until they are comfortable and prevent the pack from wobbling around. You may need to adjust the straps and belt throughout your trip as the composition of your pack changes (you use water, add water, just shove everything together because it rained and everything sucks, repacked everything neatly because it was sunny and breezy and everything is grand, etc).

Hike Like a Girl: Part One: Shoes

Okay, hey fellow tomboys, don’t look at me like that. If your feet aren’t happy, then your hike is GOING TO BE MISERABLE, guaranteed. Out of sheer stubbornness I wore my Vibram Five Fingers on a backpacking trip one November. We had to do some stream crossings (because OF COURSE we did, there is always a secret stream crossing that you didn’t expect) and after that moment they NEVER dried out. My feet were wet the whole trip. I brought two pairs of socks, but because it was generally misty the whole time those NEVER dried out, and my feet were wet the whole trip. I legit don’t remember much of that trip except that my feet were wet the entire time. It makes THAT MUCH of a difference.

So, I’ll wear my Five Fingers on future day hikes, but maybe not backpacking trips where you want to limit what you’re carrying. For backpacking trips, I wear my Ahnu boots. I got them so long ago I can’t remember if they’re the Sugarpine or Montara model. Whatever they are, they are genuinely waterproof and breathable.

As a section-hiker, here are my key tips for how to pick the best pair of shoes for your hiking/backpacking trip:

  1. DON’T BE STUBBORN. Don’t pick a pair of shoes just because you like how they look or a friend told you they LOOOOOVE their pair of Kangaroo Tree Hopper Bullfrog-Skin Skyboots. Okay? Don’t do it. I did it, and all I remember of that trip (reminisced above) is that my feet were wet the whole time.
  2. CHOOSE COMFORT. You want your feet to be comfortable. If the pair you tried on is too snug in the toe box, try a different pair. Sure, they MIGHT stretch out, but you’re not going to spend the right amount of effort breaking them in before the trip, ARE YOU? So try pairs on until you find something that makes both feet stretch out and relax.
  3. TRY SHIT ON. I feel like this goes with the above tip, but seriously, don’t just order shit online. Go to a store and try shit on. And preferably buy from the store at which you tried shit on, instead of then going online to buy the same shit. Support local businesses.
  4. BREAK THEM IN. Spend a mile or two at home, BEFORE YOUR TRIP, wearing your new shoes in as many different environments as you can. This will tell you via blisters whether the shit you bought is going to be comfortable on the trail. Blisters suck at home. THEY ARE TEN TIMES WORSE ON THE TRAIL. Especially when the shoes that caused them are the only things you have to wear.
  5. MEASURE TO YOUR ARCH LENGTH. This is a thing that surprisingly most folks have zero clues about. At a proper store, they will have a device called the Brannock device which rather looks like a torture implement but is not. In the right, educated hands (SUPPORT LOCAL BUSINESSES!!) this device can be used to measure 1) your arch length, 2) your toe length, and 3) your foot’s width. There are Mens and Womens Brannock devices. If you are buying a pair of Mens shoes, use the Mens Brannock device for sizing. Likewise with Womens. I don’t give a fuck if you’re a woman buying a pair of Mens shoes because the toe box is always wider or the colors are better, use the Mens Brannock device if you’re buying Mens shoes. Gender is stupid. Hiking shoes are designed to bend where your foot naturally bends, and this region is called your arch. If you measure to your toe length and your arch length is DIFFERENT (which it generally is) then your shoe will be bending at your toe and that’s going to result in painful, unhappy feet at the end (or, indeed, middle) of a hike. If the store you’re at doesn’t know how to use the Brannock device, fucking pull out your phone and Google/Youtube that shit. It’s not hard.
  6. HIGH-TOPS DO NOT GUARANTEE ANKLE SUPPORT. In most cases, they don’t provide it at all. Think about it. If the bit that comes up around your ankle is SOFT MATERIAL THAT IS PLIABLE AND BENDS, it is NOT going to prevent you from rolling an ankle. If it’s thick, sturdy leather, then okay maybe there will be some support but you ABSOLUTELY have to make sure that the lacing is done correctly so that the upper wraps around your ankle with COMPLETE CONTACT IN THE BACK AND SIDES. If there is room between your leg and the upper material for air to move around, let alone a finger to get in there, it’s not a good fit and will NOT prevent you from rolling an ankle. Worse, it’ll make you THINK it’ll prevent you from rolling an ankle, which will make you take risks, which will INCREASE your risk of rolling an ankle. True story.
  7. WEAR WOOL SOCKS. Wool socks help to regulate your body temperature, they wick away sweat which helps prevent blisters, and they are less prone to getting an odor. Wool is great. If you’re about to comment that wool is itchy, fuck you, that’s what Merino wool is for. (If you genuinely have an allergy to wool, consult your doctor.)

Enjoy your hike!