Saturday, August 19, 2017

Five More Minutes


The other day, as I was lying in bed hearing the alarm on my phone beep, I suddenly had a vivid memory of my Mom waking me for school.  She would stand at the top of the stairs and knock on my bedroom door.  Invariably I would ask for five more minutes and dose off again immediately.  Eventually Mom would have to leave for work and she'd come all the way into my room, call me by my middle name, and stand there with her arms crossed until I threw back the covers and dragged my sorry, teenaged behind out of bed.  

Fine. 

When she turned to leave the room, she would sometimes have a slight smirk on her face.
Something like this.

I knew she remembered how it felt to be a teenager.  I sometimes thought she got a bit of pleasure from it although she would deny it with a smirk.  I can't begrudge her that smirk.  After all, I've done some smirking in my time.

...and something like this.

Over the last few years, I've discovered that not everyone has had a solid relationship with their Mom.  There are several people in my social circle that do not or have never gotten along with their Mom.  Some simply never had a relationship at all.  Some have had outright estrangement.

What I'm trying and failing to say is that I feel lucky to have had a Mom who would give me five more minutes at least three times every morning before school.  Not everybody got that.  I did.  I was fortunate.

Today marks the second anniversary of Mom's death.  Ironically, I have found myself completely unable to sleep another five seconds much less five minutes this morning.  But, as I laid there awake with my eyes squished tightly shut, I kept on thinking (maybe wishing a little), "Just five more minutes."

What I wouldn't give for five more minutes.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Sitting Zazen Among the Onions



Those are some weedy onions.
This is probably going to sound crazy.  But, I'm used to the stares and finger-pointing now so it's okay.

I like to sit in my garden.  Literally sit in my garden.  On the ground, next to the onions, on a small cushion I purchased just for this exact use.  I like to sit there and pull the weeds out of my garden one by one.  When I run out of weeds within easy reach, I scootch my cushion along the path and weed some more.

My husband finds this all quite ridiculous.  I find it relaxing.  Sitting amongst the onions and cabbages is calming.  They are endlessly patient as I tease the bindweed out from around stems and uproot the pigweed and black nightshade pretending to be a pepper plant.

More onions with fewer weeds.

I pull the weeds.  I listen to the wind and the birds.  Cars go by on the street.  Trains roll by on the tracks horns blaring at the crossing.  Children ride bicycles or skateboards or those crazy hoverboards down the hill chattering with each other and laughing. And yet, I calmly sit with dirty hands and extended posture as I stretch to reach a weed just barely at my fingertips trying hard not to lose my hat or get a muscle cramp.

Happy onions.  They really seem happier once I've pulled most of the weeds.
There is a smell in the garden.  The smell of the earth and of growing things and of things rotting back into the earth.  There is a complete cycle there.  A cycle of birth, life, maturity, death, and the waiting for rebirth.  All of these things I ponder as I pull the weeds and clear the way for my desired plants to flourish, and therefore, nourish me in body as well as spirit.

My very first cabbage.
I've grown a lot of different things in my gardens over my lifetime.  In good times and bad, my garden has been my sanctuary.  It is a portal of sorts for me.  A portal to a very special and spiritual place that I just can't find any other way.  It is like brushing my fingertips against some divine being...being in the presence of something bigger than myself.  Sitting in my garden, the world shrinks down to a tiny place where there is just soil and weeds and pulling and scootching and more weeds with a constant undercurrent of my thoughts.

Zen.  It is very zen.  It is all so temporary and yet it is all so constant.  The garden is my constant companion.  Even in the dead of winter, the garden is there waiting for me.

The first harvest of the season.
It calls me and I go.  I grow the things. I watch them sprout and grow.  I tend them and they bear fruit which I consume and preserve for later consumption.  I share the bounty with those around me.

But, if I'm honest with myself, even if there were no bounty I'd do it just the same.  For me, the act of gardening is more than the sum of its parts.  It's more than a means to an end.  It's a life-giving process.  It's a part of something bigger than me.  Something that accepts me as I am...even with all the scootching on cushions and weed pulling and funny hats and contortionist poses.  It fills more than just my cupboards and my stomach.  It feeds my soul and fills my life with meaning.  I belong there.

Me and some of the tomatoes.
Kinda swell picture of the okra in the early morning.
The absolutely enormous flower of a volunteer squash vine.  This flower was at least 8 inches across. I can't wait to see what kind of squash grows from it!

The first broccoli of the year.  It was tasty in stir fry.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Sometimes It's Enough

You may or may not know that I started a new job about two months ago.  I left the world of health care behind and landed right back in a lab.  It's a little different from what I'm used to, though.

I am a legit miner.

I work in a sand mine.  It's really just a big ol' pile of sand.  The company I work for dredges sand out of a river, washes it, grades it, and sells it.  My little bit in the big picture is in Quality Control.  That's right.  I measure sand.  It's every bit as exciting as it sounds.  But, it is infinitely better than the last job I had.

As I said, I've been at the job about two months now.  The last couple weeks, I keep getting the same question:  "So, how you like the job now?"  It's asked with an air of anticipation and a bit of a smirk.  I'm not sure what they're wanting to hear so I usually give them a thumbs up and say something like, "It's all good."  Last night, someone went a little further though.

"No. Tell me what you really think."  What I really think?  I was lost for words at the moment wondering if they wanted a litany of complaints or a realistic assessment of the job so far.  So, I decided to give it some thought.

This is what I think:

My job is physically and psychologically challenging.  I work hard on my feet for 12 hours at a stretch often without much of a break.  I have to eat almost literally on the run every night.  The work is strenuous and dirty and often requires intense mental focus.  I hurt myself in a hundred little ways almost every night.  Some nights I'm riding the learning curve with a crop in my hand.  Other nights I'm dangling from the same curve by my fingernails. 

About half the time I am required to work in a railroad loadout bay taking samples of sand while it is being loaded into railcars and tractor trailer rigs using a sampling device that weighs roughly the same as your average sledgehammer.  The equipment is heavy.  The loadout conveyors are loud.  The locomotives are very loud, very hot, and VERY smelly when you are positioned above them as they go by.  The sieving machines I operate are loud and clunky.  The clanging and banging and hissing and roaring is enough to drive me right out of my damn mind sometimes.  There is sand and dust literally everywhere.  Everywhere.  If there is a horizontal surface, there is sand and dust on it.  The personal protective equipment is cumbersome.  There are two separate radio systems that I have to monitor for clues about what is going on around me.  The radios add a layer of complexity in that much of the time I cannot understand a word of what they are saying.  I'm hoping that improves with time.  The best thing about this part of the job is I get to spend a lot of time outside.  It's also the worst thing about this part of the job.

The other nights, I work in the main lab.  It is not as smelly. But, it is by no stretch even a tiny bit quieter.  On those nights, I spend my time chasing timers as I move from one process to the next often tracking multiple tasks at the same time and trying to stay on top of the paperwork and data entry.  The best part about working in the main lab is I don't have to go down then back up a flight of 37 stairs to get to the bathroom and back to my work. 

Yes, I've counted them.  Last night, I was up and down those stairs six times.  It doesn't seem like much on the surface. But, try doing it while wearing a respirator and steel toed shoes...and carrying a bucket full of little bags of sand all while trying to maintain three points of contact for safety.


My co-workers are a motley crew for sure.  They are all honest to goodness people with foibles and quirks I find enchanting and irksome by turns.  Most of them are just ordinary people living ordinary lives and hoping for a couple beers after work.  The language is often coarse...most especially when things aren't going to plan.  The common denominator is they all know their jobs and are doing their best to do their jobs.  It is a production environment, after all.  Our paychecks are tied directly to our productivity.

In the mornings after I've waded through the dunes to file my retained samples and cleaned up the accumulated sand from my workspace and passed on any tidbits of wisdom from the night to the oncoming crew, I clock out and head to my car to drive home.  I'm exhausted both physically and mentally.  I hurt in a minimum of four different places.  I'm filthy and I usually have sand in my hair, my ears, my socks, and sometimes my underwear.  If I'm lucky, I remember to take off my hard hat before I try to get in the car.

By now, I imagine, you're wondering why in the world I stay.  If it's such a challenge, why would I do this?  Well, I could give the pat answer about the money and the benefits being good.  And they're not bad at all.  Lots of the time, I couldn't give you a really good answer to that question other than I've had worse jobs.

My commute is about 30 minutes.  Vastly improved from the 90 minute commute I used to have.  The highway winds through some lovely countryside that is nearly always shrouded in mist early in the morning due to the presence of several creeks, rivers, and sandpit lakes.  I dodge both living and road killed critters of every stripe along the way.  I get a little time to decompress.

This is what greeted me this morning as I headed out to the 'parking lot' to my car. 
On my way home, I stop at the Picofarm and check on the garden and the rabbits in the cool of the morning.  When I get home, I feed the dogs then take a shower to get the sand out of my ears.  It's still quiet at that time.  I have a small snack and I settle into bed.  I work night shift on a rotating schedule that has me on duty 7 of 14 days. It's more than full time hours but it feels like a part time job.  It's a job that I can leave at work and not even think about until I have to be back in a couple days.

I've lost a little weight.  I've gotten physically stronger.  I'm considerably happier than I was even three months ago.  By that assessment, I'd say I'm actually thriving.

No.  I did not see this coming at all.  This is not where I'd hoped to be when everything fell apart a few years ago.  But, I'm still kicking. 

Sometimes, that's enough.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Late Spring Update

It happens every year.  I get going on the garden and everything else goes by the wayside.  Here's a little update on what's been happening here at The Slice.

Onion plants

After trying to start onion seeds and wasting three packages of seeds in the process, this is what I have.  One onion.  I hope it gets big enough to eat.  I had ordered a bunch of onion plants online,  I was sorely disappointed in what I got in the mail.  But, I planted them anyway.  A lot of them seem to be doing okay in spite of their spindliness at the beginning.  Good thing my neighbor gave me the rest of his sweet onion sets.  They're growing really well.

Watermelon radishes

Germination was iffy at best for me this spring.  Every last one that did start to grow almost immediately bolted and set seed.  I will try again in my fall garden.

Cabbages


Holy cow have they been growing like mad!  I discovered that one of the cabbages I bought is actually a cauliflower, but what the heck?  Let's see how this turns out.  The broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts are all doing very well.

Sweet potatoes


Following the disasterous results of the first attempt at growing sweet potato slips, I tried again with a new potato and got some very small slips.  They were really tiny so I just planted the whole potato in the pot.  We shall see what happens.  I also bought a couple plants at a local garden center as well as some mail order slips.  I was deeply disappointed in the slips when they arrived.  But, I planted them anyway and more than half of them have new growth.  If I actually get enough sweet potatoes, I plan to try canning them this fall.

Okra

The okra was a last minute addition to the garden plot this year.  I impulse bought a fifty cent pack of seeds at the local dollar store. I think every last one of them came up. I don't even know if I like okra.  Guess I'm going to find out.

Chamoe

Chamoe is also called Korean melon.  I totally blame Hollis for this one.  I ordered the seeds and planted them out about 10 days ago.  These are the babies. 

Infrastructure

My hubby built a new trellis.  By the time it was done, most my vining crops had been planted elsewhere.  So I plan to train whatever sweet potato vines I get if I get any at all.  I also planted a few Sweet Dumpling squashes in the farthest pot.  They will probably climb the trellis all by themselves.

Eggplant

Other than a little flea beetle damage and a healthy coating of weeds, the eggplants seem to be doing just fine.  I planted three varieties...maybe four...and they're all growing well and fixin' to flower soon.  I tried an eggplant recipe that a friend cooked for me last week and it was edible.  It is my goal in life this year is to find an eggplant recipe that I like.  We shall see if my hopes are in vain or not.

Tomatoes

My beefsteak plants have set their first greenies.  The Homestead plants were first to the mark this year and I noticed some Romas today as well.  The plants are looking fabulous.  I added some 'Jubilee' tomatoes that I impulse bought.  They're orange tomatoes and I love them.

Squashes


I have severely curtailed my squash planting habits this year.  I've planted only delitica, sweet dumpling, black beauty zucchini, and yellow crookneck.  Above is an image of my delitica seedlings which were ALREADY being menaced by the evil and dastardly squash vine borer just today!  Blasted things anyway.  My plants are small on purpose to hopefully avoid infestation.  We shall see how it goes. I'm hoping to avoid the use of the dreaded garden dust.  But, I will if I have to.  I've also found a few squash volunteers from last year's plantings.  I've decided to let them grow and see what I get.  And maybe the vine borers will menace the volunteers instead.

Melons


In addition to the chamoe melons, I have Sugar Baby watermelons and Minnesota Midget cantaloupes.  This picture is the watermelons.  The cantaloupes have only just sprouted in the last couple days.  Hoping for some juicy melons this summer.

Well, that's about it.  See you later!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A Few Little Bumps in the Road

Not my farm.  But, I can dream, can't I?
Sometimes life is smooth sailing.  Sometimes you can't do a thing wrong.  Other times it's like you're crossing an old cornfield on a 10-speed.

Things get a bit bumpy.

I hit a particularly hard bump at my paying job a few weeks ago when I twanged my back.  Almost a month later, I'm off work and on physical therapy with orders for activity as tolerated.  That is probably the most non-specific thing I've ever seen a doctor order.  The bad thing is, I don't know what is too much until I've done it.

But I digress.

The bumps in my road these days seem to happen one right after the other.  Bad tires on the truck lead to the discovery of a bad wheel bearing...oy.  But, fortunately the rattling noise from under the truck was not the exhaust system fixin' to fall off.  It was just a loose heat shield which the guy welded back on for nothing.  Thanks to my Dad all is done and dusted in the repair department.  Which is a good thing because that is my farm truck and I'm going to need it pretty soon to haul compost, peat moss, potting soil, and etc.

So, as you might imagine, I've bee a bit limited in what I can manage to get done in the garden.  I take my little cushion and my little hand spade out and sit by the raised beds whittling away at the grass that has been invading and simply won't DIE.  I got the old black raspberry canes mostly cut down and then tied up the year-old canes that will fruit this summer.  I discovered a new plant not too far away.  Did you know that if you let the ends of the canes of a black raspberry bush touch the ground for too long, they'll root in and start another plant?  Neither did I.  Criminy!  That thing could take over the whole place in a couple years!  I've also been whittling away at the mounds of rabbit droppings under the hutches.  Setting up winter quarters on top of the raised beds was a genius idea if I do say so myself.  All I have to do is re-distribute the rabbit poo to the other beds and get the rabbits back to their summer digs by the end of April. 

Soooon...

The enforced downtime has allowed me to plan and plot and plan my plots to the point where I think I know where every dang plant will land when I get it all...erm...planted.  I started a "let's grow onions from seed" project that didn't really go as hoped.  The bunching onions are doing great!  The Spanish onions have pretty much bit the dust.  The other onions, the name of which escapes me, never germinated at all.  So, I ordered onion plants online.  They should be arriving soon.  Oh, and the sweet potato project never really got off the ground.  I got a few roots.  Then one of the potatoes started to rot so I threw the whole shebang into the trash and ordered slips online as well.

There comes a time when you have to throw in the towel.

Once again, my kitchen shelf space is brimming with seedlings.  I have 6 kinds of tomatoes (I think), several kinds of peppers, a few cabbages, some broccoli (hopefully the second round does better than the first), some brussels sprouts, a whole bunch of basil, and a few sage plants.  Yesterday, I was gifted a bunch of cilantro seeds.  I'll grow them.  But, it will have to be outside.  I can't stand the smell of the stuff and I won't have it in the house.  Bleh.*

*cue the outcry from cilantro lovers.

Another exciting thing has happened.  I know you're not going to believe this, but two out of three mint plants survived the winter!  For most people this is nothing to write home about.  For me it's a dang miracle.  I've tried for years to establish a variety of mints in my garden.  Every year it's the same thing.  They winter kill.  Not this year, though.  I discovered this when I was working on the herb garden trying to get the damn grass out of it and I kept digging up much fleshier roots.  Finally, I pulled on one of those long suckers and it ran right up to the dead-looking mint plant.

Gobsmacked, I was. 

All along that root were tiny, green shoots.  I promptly dug it all up and replanted it in some buried containers to hopefully, well, contain mint's apparently well-deserved enthusiasm.  Just in case I managed to kill the momma plants anyway, I took a few root cuttings that are growing like weeds in amongst my other seedlings.  The two that lived are spearmint varieties.  The chocolate mint didn't make it.  No matter.  I'm going to get a new plant and move it to the magic mint bed with the other mints.  I hope to find some other kinds.  I have four more containers set into the ground already.

So excited.  Simple pleasures for simple minds.

I could blather on all night, but I probably shouldn't.  I'm getting the hairy eyeball from the spouse about it being suppertime.  But I don't mind.  I kinda like having the bum around. He kinda smoothes out the bumps sometimes.

Toodles!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Not-Quite-Spring-Yet Gardening

My favorite spring comic by Dan Piraro.
Spring is showing up early this year.  The grass is already getting green.  I noticed a neighbor might actually have to mow this weekend or next.  It's kinda crazy.  But, we all know what spring really means.

Gardening.  Yup.  That's right.  Early spring gardening.

This last winter, I discovered a new YouTube channel called Hollis & Nancy's Homestead.  I was hooked from the first video.  Hollis & Nancy are in Virginia which is a couple of USDA hardiness zones warmer than mine.  But, I don't need to be in Dixie to glean a ton of useful information about things I already grow as well as learn a bunch of stuff about things I don't grow (yet).  I'm also learning a little about Asian cuisine through Nancy's Asian/Redneck Fusion cooking videos.  While I don't agree entirely with the way Hollis does all of his gardening, I can't deny that his methods seem to fill their larder and their freezer pretty darn well.

Plus, he's given me a few new ideas.  For one, I'm going to grow potatoes in big containers!

I know, I know.  Growing potatoes in containers is not a new thing.  I've even tried it before with dire consequences.  However, after watching the videos tracking his potatoes from planting to harvesting, Hollis has convinced me to try it again.  I can see where I went wrong before and I'm ready to go again.  I have five kinds of potatoes to plant this year:

  1. Red Norland: Classic, red skin potato
  2. Russet Norkotah:  They make good baked potatoes 
  3. Magic Molly I:  A fingerling potato that is either blue or purple.  It's hard to tell from the picture.
  4. Pinto Gold I:  Another fingerling potato with gold flesh and red skin with gold patches.
  5. Yukon Rose:  A gold potato with red skin.  Honestly?  We had these with fried chicken last week and they were so good!  I just took a few from the bag I bought at the grocery store.  I have them in the window and I hope they chit.

As usual, the packaging that accompanies the seed potatoes I chose is not terribly forthcoming with information.  Through Hollis, however, I have learned that, like their kin tomatoes, there are basically two kinds of potatoes: determinate which set and yield their fruit pretty much all at once and indeterminate which will continue to fruit until the plant just dies.  Indeterminate potatoes are difficult to locate in my neck of the woods as there aren't a lot of indeterminate varieties to start with.  So, mine are all determinate.  What's the big deal?  Well, I'll tell you.  It has to do with 'hilling'.

Ask any old timer you know who has grown potatoes and he'll tell you that you gotta hill 'em up as they grow so you'll get a better yield.  Well, yes and no.  For determinate type potatoes, the hilling in question does more to prevent the potatoes from being exposed to sunlight and thus producing chlorophyll and turning green than actually producing more potatoes.  There's an old wives tale that holds that green potatoes are poisonous.  They do contain a toxin called solanine which can cause headaches and bellyaches if you consume enough.  However, it is unlikely that you could consume enough by eating green potatoes to actually be dangerous to your health.  That said, I would always recommend NOT eating the green ones.  They don't taste as good anyway.

'Hilling' indeterminate potatoes will increase your yield not only by eliminating green potatoes, but by actually growing more potatoes along the stem. By incrementally burying the stems as they grow, you will encourage the potato plants to create more 'stolons' which are where the baby potatoes are born and raised.  Hollis does an excellent job of explaining this in this video here. As both he and I can attest, doing this to determinate varieties does not work.

Thanks to Hollis & Nancy, I'm trying a couple of new vegetables this year.  One of them is Watermelon Radish.  It's basically a GIANT white and green radish that is reddish pink on the inside.  Hollis swears it's not hot at all.  Nancy makes a couple of interesting dishes with it.  So, I'm in.  Let's try it this year.

Also new to the garden this year is Chamoe or Korean melon.  Since I don't read Korean, I had to hunt pretty hard online to find the seeds, but I finally did find some on eBay.  I plan to grow them on a trellis as Hollis has done in his garden.  I must say I am really looking forward to seeing how they do in my zone 5b garden.  If they do well, I plan to save some seed for next year.

Well, that's it for today.  I have a lot to do in the garden after all.  I didn't get much done last fall before the weather got too cold for my liking.  It's just as well spring is a little early this year.  That gives me more time to get ready!

Monday, January 16, 2017

This Can Only Mean One Thing (onion experiment part one)

Uh oh.  This can only mean one thing.
Yep.  It has been a while.  The last couple months have dashed by in the particular way that only the holiday season can do.  I've been busy with craft shows and market store and my job and my home and my family and...

I think you get the idea.

Now that the dust has settled somewhat, I'm back to thinking about my slumbering garden.  I didn't get nearly enough done this fall to put things to bed out there. I'll have quite an undertaking getting things ready in spring.  But, it is what it is.

Today we are in the midst of an old fashioned January ice storm.  We have about a quarter inch of ice on the trees.  The streets are ridiculously slippery.  But the worst part is the sidewalks.  I nearly crippled myself getting to my car after work last night.  I cursed myself as I remembered my Yak Traks sitting on the shelf at home.  Dangit.

However, today I am toasty warm in my little house and I'm thinking about the garden.  I joined a group on facebook called Grow It Cook It Eat It.  Together with a bunch of other gardeners all over the world, I am learning to grow some new things.  I decided to join the 'growing onions from seed' group there.  Today, I started my onion seeds.  Yep, it seems early to me, too.  But I'm assured that 10-12 weeks is not too early for onion seeds.

The two brown containers are Sweet Spanish onions.  The black containers are Lisbon bunching onions.

Here they are on the plant starting shelf.
Every year I look for things to try to make my seed starting more successful.  This year, I'm sprinkling my seed starts with cinnamon to help ward off fungal infections.  I'm also using a small fan to gently blow on the seedlings. This is supposed to make them tougher and stockier from the get go.  We'll see.

I hope to keep up on my blog with the progress of my onion experiment.  Meanwhile, I'm going to go work on my latest personal crochet project.  I am in the midst of crocheting a collection of afghans for my living room.  Snug Netflix binging awaits!