Monthly Archives: April 2017

Knife Sharpening 101

Still haven’t worked on my novel much, so I thought I’d blog a bit about cooking.

I cook a lot, and I have quite a few nice knives.  However, beyond using a honing steel, I haven’t ever been brave enough to do any maintenance on my knives.  Sharpening seemed too complex and too easy to mess up.  However, all my knives have reached a state of dullness, so something had to be done.  Since I now have more time on my hands, I decided to try my hand at doing it myself.

I admit I was inspired by this video…

I had been intimidated by all the different types of sharpening stones out there.  I finally settled on a set of synthetic diamond stones in three grits.  I started with the crappiest knife- it was a good knife about 20 years ago, but a couple of decades of running it through the dishwasher and opening boxes with it took a toll.  I thought that it would need to be professionally reground, but I decided to try myself.  It took a lot of time, but I restored it such that it cuts paper.  To make it really razor sharp, I either need a fourth stone or a strop or both.  It wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be.  I do find that none of the knives hold an edge for as long as I expect; in theory, one should only have to use the coarse stone (basically for regrinding the edge) once a year, but I find that I cannot restore the sharpness with just the extra fine stone.  So, still, something to work on.  There are more advanced sharpening techniques such as adding a micro-bevel, which should make the edge stronger.  Does that mean it will last longer?  No sure, and haven’t played around with this yet.

Knife sharpening is one of those hobbies that gets expensive really quickly.  My stones cost ~$100 and as I said, I am not capable of getting the sharpest edge with what I have.  Natural stones are even pricier.  But, you can probably get a better edge that what you have out of the box (and certainly after use) by buying a single fine stone.  A sharpening steel, which comes with many knife sets, isn’t really intended to sharpen.  It actually hones the blade or unfolds any ripples or bent spots at the very edge.  To sharpen you really must remove the metal to make the blade increasingly thin as you move to the edge.  The coarse stone removes the metal quickly but leaves grooves and gouges.  The finer stones are slower but leave a more flat surface.  Knives in bad condition require a set of stones or infinite patience with a fine stone.   A fine stone is likely sufficient to touch up newer knives with a fairly intact edge.

It does take practice to get good. (And I wouldn’t say I’m good yet.)   It takes being willing to trash a knife to learn.  If this doesn’t sound appealing, then it is probably worth paying to have your knives professionally sharpened or reground.

Drawing of a Hand

This drawing of a hand is another “picture plane” exercise from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.  (That is not an affiliate link.  This post is about one of the lessons on that DVD.)  Basically, you place your hand under the acrylic window and then trace the projection with a dry erase marker.  Once done, you now have an outline of 2D representation of your hand on the clear window.  This is much easier to draw since it is flat.  You then draw this object on your pad and add in the details.

This is one of the earlier exercises and the first one that I felt that I had really drawn something well.  Shading is one of the last lessons, so it is not that good at this point.  Still, it is good enough that this looks like a real hand.

pencil sketch of a hand


Turtle Mandala, Pt. 2

Normally, I post about my novel revision on Mondays, but I didn’t work on that project at all last week.  I did some freelance work, which has turned into a mess… I’ll write more about that later.

So for now, enjoy a higher resolution photo of my turtle mandala, courtesy of my brother.

A photograph of the turtle mandala

This photo is taken after it was matted, which is why there is a shadow line on the left and the top (from the bevel of the mat).  It was also taken through the glass.

Completed Couch to 5K!

So I officially completed couch to 5K this week.  I’m still not running 5K because I run slowly, but I now run for 30 minutes without break.  My next step was to do a 10K trainer program.  I’m hoping more miles will also help me increase my speed on the shorter runs.  But, annoyingly, both treadmills in my gym are out of order.  They recently replaced one of them with a new machine.  The new machine is much lighter than the old one and has been broken consistently since installed.  It also shakes too much when I run on it, so I avoid it when possible.  But now the other machine is broken too.

I’ve written before about how I prefer running on a treadmill to running outside, but I may need to reconsider if the treadmills don’t get fixed soon.  This also means changing up my schedule- I would need to run at 7 am while it is still cool, instead of using the gym after lunch.  I’m actually pretty worried about this.  I’ve spent 4 months developing a routine, and going running 3X a week is pretty automatic at this point.  Rebuilding that habit at a new time will pretty much mean starting over.  And there is a cascade effect since all of my morning habits will be displaced as well.  So, I’m still thinking it over.


Turtle Mandala

So my latest big project was a turtle mandala.  I followed the symmetry guidelines of a mandala but drew a stylized scene of turtles swimming in a pond.  The photos aren’t great since once again I took them with my phone because the picture was too large for the scanner.

A Mandala with turtles swimming in a pond

Drawing small things is hard.  The little turtles made me crazy.  Even when I was sharpening my pencil every few minutes, I couldn’t draw the detail I wanted.  I had drawn the big turtle previously, and I was aiming for that level of detail.  Plus, the turtle head and legs have a pebbly texture, which I could not capture.

I did take a bit more care in trying to keep things symmetric compared to my previous mandala because I was planning this as a gift.

Here it is framed.

The turtle drawing framed

I’m pretty happy with it, though I still have a lot of improvement to do.

Writing Despair

I’m in a state of writing despair.  I can no longer see any good in my draft.  All I see are the flaws and it is overwhelming.  I’m not sure how to get over this.  I try to work on it, but I get discouraged very easily.  I remember when I read the novel in December (?) and was impressed by how good it was for a first draft.  But now, all I have are chopped up bits of novel that aren’t very good and don’t go together well.

I read my first chapter and I don’t know why anyone would keep reading.  I read the first chapter of a successful thriller or mystery, and I cannot put the book down, even if “nothing” is happening.  How do I get that?

My book starts slow.  The protagonist is an ordinary person who gets flung into a conspiracy by accident.  She is slow to realize that something horrible is happening because it is so far outside the realm of her experience.  So, the plot builds slowly.  Too slowly.  Even when I wrote the first draft I was aware of this problem, so I had a prolog set about half way through the story that was more gripping.  So the reader got a page of excitement, then dumped into the dullness of Chapter 1.  This seems a really inelegant way to do things.

I’ve tried coming up with a really gripping first line, but there is still a huge letdown as you slog through Chapter 1.  I suppose I could cut more, but I’ve cut about half the text already.  And I do want the plot & tension to build…

I think perhaps the solution is to put more interpersonal drama in the first chapter.  Those interactions between the characters might be exciting enough for people to keep reading.  But I’m not exactly sure how to do that.  My book is mostly plot driven rather than character driven, and I’m not sure how compelling my interpersonal dynamics are anyway.  On the other hand, I don’t have much to lose at this point.

So, that is where I’m at.  I haven’t made nearly as much progress as I would like.  I’ve mostly been avoiding writing since I realized this problem (and my lack of solution).

A walk on the beach

This week, I had a really grueling bike ride on Zwift, so I thought I would take a day off and go for a walk instead of running.  The weather was warm, so  I thought walking to the beach would be fun.  I ended up walking about 10 miles, so it wasn’t quite the rest day I intended.

In my wandering around, I managed to circumvent security and end up on a private beach.  Totally not my intent, but the beach is much nicer than the public beach for sure.   The private beach was filled with people in the water as well as sunbathing.  Interestingly enough, once I walked back to the public beach, I saw that there were hazard flags- rip tide and strong current.  No one was in the water, though plenty of people were laying out.  So if you are on the private part of the beach, you have no information about the dangers.

One other thing that I noticed is that I started coughing the minute I hit the beach and I noticed quite a few others coughing as well.  I had thought that respiratory distress only occurred during serious red-tide blooms, but apparently not.  In fact, one of the beach status report fields is how many coughs and sneezes are heard within a 30-second window.  (Yesterday morning’s value was “slight”, with only a few coughs heard by the evaluator.  I would say it was higher than that by the time I got there mid-afternoon.)

The walk was pleasant.  Even before you get to the beach, most of the walk is adjacent to the water.  There are small strips of park/ beach between the main road and the water, so you can stop and watch the waves on the way.




Pencil Drawing of An Orchid

This week, I tried to draw an orchid flower.  I was interested mostly in trying to figure out how to color the petals.  The orchid petal is white, with purple/pink dots of various sizes that blend together.

Photo of a pink and white orchid blossom.

The photo is a little pinker than the actual flower.

Here’s my attempt.

Pencil drawing of a purple and white orchid flower

It really isn’t right…

So I drew dots and then used a blending pencil to merge them together.  But this made the background purple, instead of white.  (You can also see where I spilled water on my paper and then tried to dry it by rubbing.  Not a good move.)

I think the next attempt will be to actually draw concentric dots of different colors.  If you look at the photo, there are darker dots surrounded by a lighter dots.  I thought I could achieve this with the blending pencil, but not so much.  It may be that my blending technique isn’t good either.

Camp NaNoWriMo Plan

So Camp NaNoWriMo has officially started (as of April 1), and I have done nothing…  Off to a roaring start!  I had thought I would plan out my strategy on Thursday last week, but it just didn’t happen.  And somehow on April 1, it didn’t make it on my to-do list.  I thought I was awesome and got everything done by 4 pm, so I cheerfully goofed off and watched TV for the rest of the day.  Oops!  So here is the Camp NaNoWriMo plan, at least for the first week.

As I mentioned before, my novel had terrible pacing, so during the first round of revision, I moved pretty much all the plot into the first act.  And I trimmed a bunch of padding.  I also fiddled around with the plot a bit, so now the first act has a lot of continuity issues.  So my goal for this week is to really carefully revise and edit the first act to clean-up all these errors.  I do have a few more scenes I need to write as well.   I also want to make sure that all my characters are behaving true to themselves and perhaps add in a few more moments that reveal how they think.  I’d like this to be polished enough to share with an outside reader.

I also need to do some research about my bad guy.  I actually got a book on the topic this weekend, so I’ll be reading that this week also.  I’m counting research in my 100 hours goal.  It has to be done.  It is necessary for the novel to be completed.  So why wouldn’t it go in my Camp NaNoWriMo Plan?

I want to make a serious push this week because I’m going on vacation in the middle of April.  So, in an ideal world, I’d get 30-40 hours done this week.  That would give me a bit of a buffer banked.  This seems a lot on top of my other projects, but I tracked my time pretty carefully in March and man, do I watch a lot of tv/surf the internet.  About 25-30 hours worth a week, in fact.  So, if I can just convert most of that time to noveling, then I should have no problem getting everything done.  I’m not sure I’m that strong, though.  I guess we’ll find out.