Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Ringing Out the Old

New Year's Eve always makes me, well, maudlin for lack of a better word.  It always seems to me that before I know it, it's New Year's Eve and I feel left out of the real fun.  It's like somehow, someone has taken all the fun and hidden it from me.  Or all the people I know are out having fun and purposefully leaving me out in a weird conspiracy to make me miserable.  It's like I am somehow deficient for not being uproariously happy on New Year's Eve and at the exact stroke of midnight, I am not singing badly and kissing my one true love.

It's weird, I get that.

Perhaps I can explain it another way.  It's like I'm in mourning.  It's a loss.  An end.  There's a lot of stuff out there about how the new year will be fabulous and it's a new beginning and lalala life is wonderful and we should all seize the day.

Fine.  I can carpe that diem with the best of them.  But, I can't help looking back to find some things wanting.  I see missed opportunities and blatant errors in judgement that I wish fervently I could just take back.  Then I see an absolute abundance of uninteresting days that all blur into each other and a dearth of excitement that I tell myself is contentment.

It is what it is.  I get that, too.

So, every year it's the same thing.  I spend New Year's Eve in a funk.  I try to find something fun to do and I fail, frankly, because I don't really think about it until the very last minute and I'm in no mood to have fun with this funk.  It has to wear off and be replaced by something decidedly unfunklike.

Like spring maybe.

Today I noticed that the guy who runs the local ice cream hangout has closed up shop until March 14 which is a little later than usual, I think.  He closes up every year just before Christmas and spends the winter doing God knows what. Then in the spring, he opens back up and it's business as usual while he rocks the spring, summer and fall away selling ice cream and making awesome broasted chicken.

I sort of do the same thing.  Every fall, sometime in November usually, I close up the garden for the winter and go into the house and close the door and wait for March so I can start the new bedding plants.  Plus, I plan out what I'll spend the winter doing and usually some of it actually happens.

I always have a staycation planned over Christmas and New Year's to have downtime on my own and spend time with the people who mean the most to me.  In addition, this year's downtime holds some new recipes that I'm trying out, a foray into cotton yarn crochet for the kitchen, a re-discovery of my love for ATS (TM) belly dance, and delving into home soap making.

First batch of castile soap

I have quite a list, actually.

So really, I should be looking ahead with anticipation for the new year.  After all, it's a chance to pay attention and see those opportunities before I miss them.  It's a time when I can stop and think before the errors are made.  It's a chance to look for the interesting things in every day that can add excitement to my life as well as those things that bring contentment.

Today a friend inadvertently reminded me of a thing I used to do every year.  I would spend some time in contemplation and choose a word that I wanted to keep close to the surface of my mind for the coming year.  One year, it was 'tolerance.'  Another year, it was 'persistence.'

This year, I've settled on 'authenticity.'  Not in the sense that everything in my life has to be authentic to be acceptable, but in the sense that the things I choose to do and become are authentic to me...that they feel right to me.  Not what I 'should' do, necessarily.

Sorta what I try to do all the time, I guess.  But now I want to be more purposeful and consistent about it.  Not a resolution exactly.  More like a guideline.

Yes, this is an attempt to talk myself out of the funk.  It might be working.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Take Your Canning Outside and Beat the Heat!

I saw something on facebook the other day that stopped me in my tracks.  Normally, I flip through the status updates and shared photos rather absently.  But this.  This was a deal changer.  Once I saw it, I knew I had to have it.  Yeah.

HOLY CRAP how did I never think of this myself?

Not a week ago I was dreading canning season.  It's running late this year like everything else and I just wasn't looking forward to heating up the house with simmering and blanching and processing endless batches of salsa and sauce and etc. 

So.  I bought a propane camp stove.  I should say up front that I'm not a camper.  I don't enjoy sleeping on the ground with the bugs and the rocks.  Cooking outdoors really is limited to burgers on the grill for me.  Until this morning.

I got a Camp Chef double burner propane stove from Amazon.com.  No.  They did not give it to me to test.  I bought it myownself after spending a couple of evenings reviewing reviews.

I fired that puppy up first thing this morning after getting my first batch EVER of ketchup going in the kitchen.  I used the crock pot for the actual cooking which might be another post altogether.

So this is what it looks like with the water bath canner going full tilt on a sunny Tuesday morning in September.  I processed thirty-two, 4 ounce jars of ketchup.

Since I didn't feel right about leaving this set up to run on its own, I spent my time waiting for the processing to finish sitting in the shade with a good book and a cup of coffee.

I admit there might have been more than one cup of coffee.  It took 40 minutes per batch of jars. There were 3 batches.

Alton Brown is so much fun.

And that might be my favorite coffee cup.

Here's a nice, close shot of some of those jars.  We have really, really hard water in our little town so the jars are covered with a haze of calcium and magnesium salts.  Fortunately, the haze will wipe away with a damp cloth.  I've been told that adding a little vinegar to the water bath helps keep the salts from collecting on the jars.  So far, all it has done for me is make everything smell like pickles.

So that's my new set up.  I could not be happier with this arrangement.  The best part is that I did not heat up the whole house and crank up the electric bill.

I have ketchup.  I have a cool canning set up.  I have an excuse to sit out in the shade and read a book.  What's next?  Next I get out my pressure canner and give it a go.  After I process the pizza sauce I have cooking up right now.

Monday, September 2, 2013

A Long Awaited Promise Fulfilled

Earlier in the year, I hinted at something really cool that was coming to my garden this summer.  Good things come to those who wait:

Many, many thanks to my wonderful husband for constructing the base and helping me assemble my fantastic little greenhouse.  A lifelong dream has come true.  I can hardly wait to use it!!!  He'll be doing a more in depth blog about the actual construction and when he does, I'll link to it.

We still need to finish the floor and install shelves but the bulk of the job is done.


Found it!

Wonder of wonders! Today I found my long lost and much lamented Garden Journal for 2013.  So I spent a little time reading up where I left off and then softly swearing under my breath at all the things I had to update.

I lost the journal shortly after returning from vacation in early June.  So most of the planting and etc. had been done already. Between the blog here and my sieve-like memory, I hope to piece enough information together to fill in the biggest blanks in the journal.

So, while I try to piece things together, let's have a little fun with before and after pictures.

New beds:

Tomato and asparagus beds before.

And after.

Herb garden pot:

Potted herb garden before.

Potted herb garden in August.
Pumpkins and dill:
Tiny pumpkins and dill before.

Tiny pumpkins growing ON the dill.
Oh yeah!  I have a way better thing to show you than this.  Hang on a tic.

Friday, August 16, 2013

They're here:


Madison: The Highlights in Pictures (in no particular order)

Very cool camel in the entryway of the conference center.

Wisconsin capital building.

Photographic evidence that Madison has its ducks in a row.

An fun elephant.


God light on the lake.

Room service.

Laid back lady.

A view of Lake Mendota.

And a view of Lake Monona.

A spiffy raised bed with a trellis in the middle.

The doorway to the Red Gym.

Very nice flowers at the hotel.

Lake Monona from my hotel room window at night.

The best for last.
The best thing about my trip to Madison?  The community garden I found growing on the south side of the capital square.  Madison is aces.

Monday, August 5, 2013

A Stroll Down State Street

Here I am in Madison, Wisconsin for a work-related scientific conference.  In the 24 hours that I have been here, I have quite enjoyed the hospitality of the locals. 

My hotel is the Monona Terrace and I have a fabulous view of Lake Monona from my hotel room window.  Almost immediately upon my arrival, I ordered the finest bacon cheeseburger ever made and discovered there was a water skiing show on the lake.  I enjoyed both from the cool comfort of my room.  Quite relaxing following the adrenaline rush of two flights with a 45 minute layover in Minneapolis.  Not for the faint of heart.

Today, I decided to go down and check out the waterfront in spite of the light rain that was falling.  After scarfing down the divinely inspired Tuscan Breakfast Pizza in the Olive Bar, I donned my light jacket and grabbed my camera and made my way down to the waters' edge.  There was a slightly too cool breeze, so I didn't stay long.  But I did explore the 'terraces' for which the hotel is named.  I have since discovered that the terraces were either designed by or inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright.

I found some familiar flowers and some that are not so familiar.

I also saw my first ever loon although I could not get a picture of the bird.

After checking in with work and making sure all was as well as could be expected, I decided that since the rain clouds had cleared, I'd hike around the downtown area and see if I could find a) the Pyle Center where the conference is starting later today and b) a suitable place for lunch.  I was feeling adventurous.  I headed around the capital building to State street and started walking.

After about a half a block, I found a very nice little restaurant called Diego's Mexican Bistro.  Suddenly starving, I decided this would do.  The moment I walked in the door, I knew I had the right place for me.  For there, on the blasted brick wall, was a huge oil painting of Frida Kahlo looking as angry and annoyed as ever I saw her.

The waiter seated me at the window table and I ordered the Sonora salad.  To. Die. For.  It was huge, so I packed half of it into a box and took off down State Street to see what there was to see and to see if it really was a mile or so the Pyle Center.  It is, but that's not the end of the story.

My walking tour had only gone another block or so when from out of the corner shop doorway to my right came a pair of men running full speed.  The chaser was shouting at the chasee to 'give me my glasses and wallet you son of a bitch!'  The chasee was tackled in the middle of State Street and the chasee cried, 'Here take it, takeittakeit," while scattering the other man's belongings in the street. A scuffle ensued which was broken up by a passing, off-duty cop who grabbed and promptly sat on the chasee until the on-duty cops got there.  A good sized crowd had gathered and there were many comments about how rough the off-duty cop was being although I didn't think so.  He was really just detaining the much larger man by sitting on him. He showed the man his badge at least twice that I saw.  The off-duty cop's wife ran to their car and returned producing a shiny pair of handcuffs.  The squawking by the chasee got much louder.  Seriously!?  The off-duty cop had SEEN what happened.  He had been right there.  How in the world could he deny it now?

Several people paused long enough to take a photo of the incident and then went on their way.  I don't know how many photos there are now of the cop sitting on the man in the street with his torn shirt and bleeding lip.  There were so many comments about the off-duty cop that, disgusted, I decided to leave as the police cars and rescue squad were arriving.

It was discouraging to this small town girl.

I had been given a pretty brutal reminder that even though Madison is a Midwestern city and seems very much like where I've lived most of my life in many ways, it's still a city and suffers from the same woes as any large city does.  The incident sort of cast a shadow over the rest of my trip up and back on State Street. I found myself walking a little more quickly and holding onto the strap of my purse and camera bag more carefully. Rather than spending the time I had intended to spend lingering in front of shop windows and considering a trip inside, I hurried past trying to look like I was going somewhere and not a 'tourist.'

I did not like how it made me feel.

I found the Pyle Center and made the trip back up State Street walking on the other side this time.  I passed the place where the two men had fought and the chasee was sitting in the back of a cop car.  I congratulated the chaser on his mad tackling skilz.

On a much more positive note, as I was rounding the corner and had my hotel once more in my sites, I found something wonderful.  A vegetable garden.

Yes.  Right there on the grounds of the capital building was a small vegetable garden complete with peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, dill, onions and I don't know what all for sure.  My inner goofy tourist/gardener/plant nerd came out and I took several pictures of the garden.  This is the sort of thing that gives me hope for the human race and helps me see the big picture.

Even though just down the street people are stealing from each other, other people--smart people--are showing how even a small space on the corner of the capital grounds can be used to grow the food we eat.

How refreshing.  I think I'll google for some more gardens to tour...

Friday, July 26, 2013

Silver Linings

This week has been a struggle, if I was prone to believing in such things, I'd say it was Mercury being in retrograde...whatever that means.

Today was no exception.  Work was the sort of day where I could NOT do anything right the first time I tried.  Not a darn thing including drive home.  I got about 1/3 of the way home and a blew a tire. A perfectly fine tire, by all accounts from my local mechanic shop. 

So I call AAA and promptly get disconnected because, again, I can't do anything right the first time.  But the guy on the line was very nice and helpful and promised the repair guy would be there within 40 minutes.

So I wait on the side of the road with my hazards flashing and my AC on low.  The cars are zipping past on the highway and about 2/3 of them are actually obeying the state law about changing to the center lane when passing a disabled vehicle.  Along the way, I notice not one, but two people I work with drive by ignoring me.


While I was on the phone with AAA, The Guy Who Wants To Help stopped.  It happens every time.  I've been stranded on the side of the road my share of times, I guess, and every time ONE PERSON stops to offer assistance. 

One.  Wow.

The interesting part is that every time, except for one, the guy who stops is riding a motorcycle.  Yep.  The guys that everyone avoids when they are stopped on the side of the road are the ones who always stop to render aid to me.  And the one time it wasn't a guy on a motorcycle?  It was January, in Nebraska, and 12 degrees.  No kidding he wasn't on a bike.

I like me some biker types.

So the guy from Loren's Tires in Wahoo, NE finally shows up.  I say 'finally' when he only took 20 minutes of the 40 to get there.  Nice guy.  He had his two little girls in the truck with him which I thought was unusual but I went with it.  We chatted.  He looked at my tire and my spare and we decided that the used tire he probably had at his little one-man tire shop was the best option.  While he was loading my car onto the flatbed, I noticed that there were 100's of little grey-headed coneflowers on the side of the road.

He did in fact have a tire.  So, I spent the next 30 minutes being totally enchanted by his two daughters.  They are 5 and 9 years old.  As my husband says, "They're cute when they're little."  They were adorable and not the slightest bit shy.  When I wasn't looking, one of them slipped a tiny rock into my pocket.

The next thing I know, I'm heading down the highway on my way home with a fixed tire.  On the way home, I saw in various locations three deer, a fox, five ducks and a coyote.

This is where the silver linings part comes in.  I have tried to write this down properly and I can't get it right, so I'm just going to make a list:

  1. It was 80 degrees and not 100 degrees like it was last week.
  2. At least one person stopped completely unprovoked and offered assistance.
  3. I had actually remembered to renew my AAA membership.
  4. Loren figured out on his own that he needed a flatbed truck for my all wheel drive car.
  5. I found some cute little coneflowers on the side of the road.
  6. Loren had exactly the right tire for my car in his shop.
  7. Loren had the skill and tools necessary to make short work of taking off the ruined tire and installing the used tire.
  8. Loren did not once try to take advantage of the fact that I'm a woman and this was a car issue.  I'm no mechanic, but I know when I'm being played and I don't appreciate it.  It happens more often than you can even imagine.
  9. The charge for the tire and the labor involved was less than a 'big garage' would have charged me just to fix a tire.  
Score one for the small businessman.  Chances are that when I'm ready to buy a new set of tires, I'm going to see Loren. If you ever find yourself in or near Wahoo Nebraska in need of a tire or tire service, go see Loren.  You won't regret it. But bring your checkbook.  He doesn't take cards.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

360 Degree July Garden Tour--2013 Edition

Phew!  Still hot! Not 360 degrees, but 97 is pretty warm. Yesterday was a scorcher!  So I spent my day indoors looking at and editing a whole slew of pictures I took of the garden inhabitants over the last week or so.  Let's start in the back garden where I have the vegetables growing.

Okay, so these aren't technically growing anymore.  Lying here on the edges of my Top Hat Blueberry bushes drying in the sun is but a mere portion of the onions I planted this year.  I planted them in three waves about 2 weeks apart and guess what?  They're all coming on at the same time anyway.  That's the last time I try that.  In the background, you can see where the bush beans will be emerging any time now.

This is the boatload of shallots that I got from the 12 or so sets I bought in the spring.  Note the cutting edge, high tech drying tray.  Can you tell I made it myself from an old trash can lid and a brick to keep it from sailing away in the wind?  Nothing but the best.

If you look a little left-ish from the onion drying station, you'll find where some of the onions had been growing and some still are, a respectable stand of volunteer dill and my potato buckets that have been re-purposed for cucumbers and tiny pumpkins.  I have created a 'trellis' by drilling holes in the edge of the buckets and running twine from there up to the edge of the patio cover.  Since I took this picture, the cucumbers in the two right hand buckets have grown at least a foot.

Against all the odds of a crazy spring and summer, I have an actual tomato.  I have spent a little time wondering if I would get any.  Apparently, I will get at least one little Roma.

Here we find a close up shot of the coleus I started from seed.  It was called 'Rainbow Mix' but all the coleus are pretty much exactly the same.  What are the odds?  Not much of a mix, if you ask me.

On the back arbor, I have hung four little planters with begonias, white petunias and moss rose.  An odd combination, I know.  I just went to the garden center and picked out the plants I liked the best.  This is what I wound up with.

The white petunias.  You can't tell in this pic, but there is a slight pink cast around the edges.

A particularly nice moss rose blossom

Look behind you and you'll see what might be the silliest garden thing I've ever done.  Yes.  That's corn.  It's a special variety called Corn On Deck and I got it online from Burpee.  I can't say I can recommend it though.  I got a package of 30 seeds and planted them according to the instructions.  This is all I got.  Admittedly, they are starting to tassel but whether or not I get any corn at all remains to be seen. And no, Burpee didn't pay me to say those things or give me the seed.  As much as it pains me to admit it, I bought it myself.  Let's step over to the berry bed.

These are the first raspberries I've ever grown.  They are black raspberries.  The tiny handful that I got were delicious.  Continuing on around the corner we find my second tomato bed.

The plants are still small but they are sturdy and there are blossoms forming.  I am always impatient for tomato season to begin.  This year has been torture.  That gigantic plant on the left side is my tomatillo plant(s).  Lots of sweet little yellow flowers but no fruit yet.  The marigolds in the front are from seedlings I started in March.

In the foreground here, my much anticipated asparagus plants have sprouted!  All but one of the crowns I planted has come up.  I was expecting a 50% survival rate, so this is unprecedented.  Looks like we'll have a good bed if they all make it through the winter.

 Just look what the cabbage loopers have done to my brussels sprouts!  I am constantly on the lookout for these tiny green menaces and my response is swift and squishy.  Next year, the brussels sprouts get the row cover treatment instead of the squashes.

A wider shot of the fence in progress.  Yes, the white chairs are for sitting and admiring the work so far.  Come around to the front yard.  There are some really great flowers to see there.


This is what I've been waiting to get to!  My hen n' chicks have flowered!  I've seen many beds of these succulent lovlies, but never any in flower.  They look FIERCE!

The most beautiful orange lilies I've ever grown.  The picture honestly does do not do them justice.  Stunning is the word.

On the other side of the bed we find bee balm in lavender.  This is the 'natural' color of these flowers.  It is just starting to come out in bloom now.

This is a hybrid bee balm...I've forgotten the variety just now.  I should write these things down.  This blossom is past its prime, but the red is spectacular!

Due to the fence construction activity, I've had to relocate my potted peppers.  Here they are sitting on the end of the driveway.  Lots of leaves and not many flowers yet.  But their time is coming.

On the fence around the kennel area are these two hanging pots with impatiens and coleus.  I did not start these from seed.  Aren't they beautiful?

Well, I guess that's it.  Good thing too as it's getting hot again.  What does your garden look like in the middle of summer?