Saturday, December 19, 2009

Turning the Corner Again


It's going to be a very busy week for me. I'll have to do overtime to get all my work done. Thought I'd better post something while I have a work-free day.

We had a great Solstice party/potluck/gabfest/jam session last night. The turkey was moist and tasty, the assorted pot-luck contributions were all wonderful, and the weather was much nicer for driving than last year! Not as many people as previous years, but good friends all. I heard a thing on NPR a few days ago about writing your own Christmas cards. My favorite was from a caller sharing the card she'd written...

"Many things have lost in value this year. But our friends keep appreciating."

I like that. Yes, it's been more of a roller-coaster year than usual. I've been very blessed to be in a secure job. Seems like everyone has a friend who has not been so lucky. Some of our high spots were a good sales week at the Weiser Fiddle Contest, two weeks of violin-making workshop, and finishing his first violin for hubby. A fun week at dance summer school, a raise, and a great gardening season for me. Another year of getting to know all our good friends even more, and re-connecting with long-lost friends on Facebook. Plus we're spending the holidays with my parents - something I treasure more and more as we all age.

In some ways, we can look at the hard times as a silver lining. We've had to think more carefully about how we spend money. But in doing that we've grown more of our own food, started canning and preserving for the cold months, and cut down on the expensive processed stuff. A friend who recently discovered an allergy to corn has got us taking another look at what we eat, and how we can reduce our intake of the ubiquitous "king corn". What a long-term project that's going to be! I may end up making my own granola.

Another change I'm making is to use more cash rather than the debit card. All those banking fees cost money for the local merchants you may be trying to support (like us!), which makes things more expensive for the buyer. And why the heck should we give even more of our money to the banking system than we have to? Although I don't usually make a big deal of my new year resolutions, using cash more often is one way I *can* make a difference. If you want to know more, have a look at this web-page; Use Cash.

The actual solstice event is Monday the 21st. On the darkest day of the year we remember that the corner is turned, the light is already growing. I hope everyone has a blessed Christmas and a much better New Year!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Advent

New beginnings, anniversaries...another winter comes.

I love winters in Idaho. It's my sixth one and I never tire of the snow, the rain, the cold, the wind, the orange moon rising over snowy Shaffer Butte. I've wanted to live in this part of the country for a long, long time. Now, here I am.

I love this time of year. I give a lot of credit to my parents for that. They raised us to think of the Christmas season as what it's meant to be; a celebration of love, forgiveness, and new hope. A time to be with family, make and eat traditional foods, make music and sing, and enjoy celebrations with friends. And now, for me, it's also a time to remember when my husband and I began dating, at the Solstice party he gave in 2004.

Since then, he and I have worked out a blend of our family traditions. We'll throw a Solstice party/potluck/jam session, something he's done for years with his friends and family. On Christmas Eve we get together with my sister, and she and I put together our family's traditional meal. We open one or two presents, eat cookies and fudge, and sing carols.

Christmas morning Santa still comes, leaving floury footprints between fireplace and tree. The kids come over and we open presents in turn, eat oranges and chocolate, take pictures, and laugh a lot.

Since my sister adopted Jasmine, we've added a few new things to our holiday customs. One Saturday before Christmas I take Jasmine shopping for her mom's present while mom shops, then we'll meet for lunch. On another day we'll get together to make our family Christmas cookies.

I have trouble with all the hype and pressure surrounding present giving. I don't recall anyone in my immediate family ever worrying about "competing" to give the biggest or most expensive gift. Gift-giving is not a status-improver, not a contest. I prefer to make or buy gifts that seem special to me, that express something about the recipient's personality, a gift that shows thought. Of course it isn't always possible, but it's what I try for. And getting gifts that show the person put thought and time into choosing it or making it, is what means the most to me.

May your holiday be all you want it to be.

"Green is in the mistletoe, and red is in the holly,
Silver in the stars above that shine on everybody.
Gold is in the candlelight, and crimson in the embers.
White is in the winter night that everyone remembers..."

from the CD 'And Winter Came...', by Enya

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Evening Musings


Hubby's band is here, rehearsing for a St. Andrew's service and the December contra dance. It's fun to have them all here. I like reading or writing while I listen. Makes a calm, relaxing evening.

This month's Fine Cooking magazine has an article on cooking with parsnips AND one on making good fudge. How could I resist!? There's even a parsnip custard pie recipe. Might try it *after* the holidays.

It's the time of year when I do more cooking and baking. I roasted all the pumpkins I grew and put half in the freezer. Used the other half to try two new pumpkin bread recipes. The best one was in November's Martha Stewart Living. It called for sage in addition to the usual spices, which didn't appeal to me at all. So I left out the sage, doubled the amount of pumpkin and spices, and put in toasted chopped walnuts. Made the bread heavier but it's got a lot of good pumpkin taste. This recipe calls for browned butter, which adds a wonderful rich flavor. I'll definitely be using it again!

Hubby is working on the no-knead bread-making method. Tonight was his second try. It smells wonderful! Turned out with a good crust, nice taste, and a bit lighter in texture than the first loaf, which was very heavy and dense. This one rose for 24 hours. He's thinking next time he'll let it go for at least 36 hours.

The days are getting shorter. Harder and harder to get up in the mornings, it's so dark at 6:30. But I'm still getting to the gym two or three days a week. I don't always get to Aikido, unfortunately. Evenings are difficult since I need to work overtime more often than not. Anyway, I've worked up to jogging for more than three-fifths of a mile now. I walk one lap, jog three, walk about a quarter-lap, run another half, and walk the rest. I haven't quite got to the point where I can run three and a half all at once. It's more a stamina thing than tired legs. A good thing to work on. Doesn't seem like a long distance, but it's more than I could do a few months ago.

I've done about half of my holiday shopping. I haven't even thought about Christmas cards yet. Better get busy I suppose! We have some stored away that we've bought on sale, so I don't need to get any more. We'll be seeing my parents in December so I need to think of something for them, even though I've already given Mom her present. Maybe I'll make them pumpkin bread.

I'm looking forward to getting away, much as I like our snow. We're going on a whale-watching trip in the Channel off Ventura. It's a good time of year for it so we should see lots of wildlife. We also want to go to the new Getty again, as well as the Huntington Library, and go see the Rose Parade floats the day after New Year's. They're much more impressive in real life, far more detailed than you can see on TV. I wanted to go to the Museum of the Southwest, but it's partly closed for renovation, so maybe next time. There's plenty of other things to do. We're especially looking forward to walking on the beach and eating fresh seafood.

Busy weekend coming up, with our St. Andrews dance, dinner and ceilidh on Saturday. Hopefully we'll have a good-sized group and it'll be lots of fun. I was going to recite a poem, but I never got around to finding the one I wanted, so I may not do anything for my party piece.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Winter Comes....

It's snow-cold. Smells like snow too. Cloudy and blustery. S'posedly 90% chance of 1" of snow overnight. Lows for the next few nights in the 20's. Brr.

We had a few flakes fall earlier this evening, then it turned to rain. But it's snowing again, and I'm hoping to wake up to whiteness!

Lots to do these next few days. Scrub the bathroom walls before they're painted. Make sure the plaster patches are dry and ready to paint. Clean out the pantry and wipe down the shelves. Vacuum, dust, put things away. Send off all the accumulated boxes of things w/ UPS labels!
I have to use FedEx for my work documents. And they don't do UPS. So I have to drive to a different place....and that just doesn't get done. Too much work to do these past months.

Picked the last 10 or so raspberries yesterday. They weren't as soft and juicy as the ones that ripened in actual sunlight, but some were ok. Strange to be picking raspberries into November. The tomatoes are gone. Used the last couple dozen of the ones I picked to ripen indoors for tomato sauce last weekend. I pulled up my first parsnip yesterday. As much as I think I've dug over and broken up the soil, I still get these gnarled Old Man Willow parsnips. Ah well, they taste good. Maybe next year I'll use one of the half-barrels with new compost.

Three of my asparagus crowns did very well this year. The fourth one is gone. The survivors didn't produce much in the way of spears to eat, but they grew, put out fronds and generally increased in size. I still have to get out there and weed that area, but I have great hopes for next year's crop. It won't be huge, but I might get one meal's worth!

We're starting to think about the holidays. We'll probably have family over for Thanksgiving Day dinner. Not sure of everyone yet, but it'll be at least six or more. It will be a quiet Christmas I think. We're planning to go south. It'll make a nice change from our usual routine. I also want to go to a Gardens Aglow evening at the Botanic Garden this year. It was fun last time. And I'm looking forward to snowshoeing this winter. We're hoping to get some friends to come try it.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

An "Easy" Weekend Project...

...explodes in our faces.

Painting the master bathroom. A simple, bite-sized thing I could do on my own in a few weekends. And with my parents in town, I hoped they'd help give me a jump-start on the most unpleasant part - stripping the wallpaper. I've re-decorated plenty of rooms before, including bathrooms. And all of them had wallpaper to start out with. In the case of my first kitchen in England, there was more than one layer! Our bathroom here looked like it only had one layer of wallpaper, and for as big as it is, the actual wall-space that needed to be stripped was only about 60-70%.

So this past Saturday the folks came over. Dad and I bought some glue-eating spray and a scorer, since the paper has a plastic layer you have to cut so the glue-destroyer can get through. Between Dad, Mom, and I, we had the hardware off the walls and the paper scored pretty quickly.

But it wasn't too long after we started getting the paper off that the trouble appeared. Termites. Paper-and-wood-eating bugs living in our walls. Ugh. We peeled off some of the wallpaper and found the paper layer of the sheetrock eaten away, with little trails etched into the plaster and lots of powdery stuff. There are at least three basketball-sized areas of sheetrock with significant damage, and some other small areas, most of it confined to the walls around the toilet and shower area, which adjoins the older half of the house.

Part of our house was built in 1952. It used to be two bedrooms and one bath, with a living room, dining room, kitchen, and a small basement. In the early 70’s whoever owned it added on a large family room, master bedroom and bathroom. And (of all things) a wet bar, with wall-to-wall long shag carpet in burnt orange and black that goes all the way up one wall to the ceiling, with a double band of ‘antiqued’ glass tiles going across at about head height. Oooh baby. :\ They also remodeled the kitchen with dark wood, dark yellow formica counters, and blue indoor-outdoor carpet (yeah, I know). I can’t complain about the quality of the materials, but I could argue about their color choices.

Anyway, we’ve called an exterminator and they’ll come do an inspection tomorrow.

At least we were able to get the wallpaper off. My next job is to remove all the little bits of paper still stuck to the walls and scrub them down so they’re ready to paint. It might be a while til I actually get to paint, but I might as well do what I can. The counter and shower enclosure are covered in one-inch tile in various shades of terracotta orange, and the tub has a wide band of the one-inch tile above it. The floor is six-inch terracotta tiles. So I have those limitations to work with, color-wise.

I brought home some three-color paint chips and I’ve been looking at various combinations for a few weeks, at different times of day in different lights. There’s a chair-rail strip in the toilet area that I can paint in a highlight color. So I figured I’d paint that terracotta to tie in with the tiles. For the walls I’m thinking a light olive green. I want a touch of warmth to it. I think. Anyway, I have a little time to think yet.

Aside from the re-decorating project, Mom “helped” me clean the refrigerator. She did most of it while I worked on dinner. It looks wonderful now. Then she showed Ken how to process the grapes for grapejuice, and can the juice. It worked great and all five jars sealed. So he did it again last night on his own and got four more quart jars done. It tastes good too. It's nice to have helpful, active parents who know how to do these things.

Sunday I worked outside, getting things ready for winter. Cut down old dead stems on some of the perennials, and weeded one of the front beds. Transplanted an aster out of its pot and into that bed, then spread compost. It looks nice now, tidy and cared-for, ready for the bulbs to come up in Spring. I’ll have to do the other bed next weekend. These are the beds I can see out the kitchen window, so I like to have them looking good for the winter.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Weekend in the Sawtooths

We went up to Stanley, ID, last weekend. Originally we planned to camp somewhere off Fourth of July road or Fisher Creek, out in the White Clouds. But the Wednesday before we went a winter storm blew in. The forecast said the mountains would have snow by Sunday morning. So after dithering a bit about where else we could go, not wanting to give up on getting out into the mountains, we got a cabin at Redwood Cabins in Lower Stanley. I found a picture of the Sawtooths from Lower Stanley on Google maps/Panoramio. The weather didn't allow us to see this view.

We drove up Saturday morning, through Horseshoe Bend, east on the Crouch-Lowman Hwy, then north and west on Hwy 21 to Stanley. We got there around noon. It was cold and blustery, with patchy clouds. We got to where we’d turn off east for a hike into the White Clouds mountains, but we could see the snow was already falling out there. The sky around the Sawtooths was still clear. So we decided to hike out of Redfish Lake instead. Redfish is at about 6,400 ft. There was already fall color on the underbrush and very few people around. When we started hiking around midday, we thought sure we’d be walking back in falling snow.

The trail takes you up along a ridge on the west side of the lake. I was happy to find I could set a good pace. We’ve been working out more regularly and my stamina has improved. Just as well, since the first half mile or so is pretty boring. There’s no view, it’s dry, dusty sagebrush, and even when you reach the trees it’s still fairly dull – no water, no view, not much of interest. Like walking through a pine plantation. But eventually you reach the top of the ridge and you can see the lake on your left, with the White Clouds beyond. As we got higher we could see some of the Sawtooth peaks further west through the trees, with shifting veils of falling snow around them. Eventually we reached the turn-off that switchbacks up to a bench at around 8,000 ft. where there are four small lakes – the Bench Lakes. It’s a 3.5 mile walk one way. Not far, some altitude gain, but a relatively easy hike.

By the time we reached the Bench lakes it was mid afternoon. The lakes were surrounded by willow and some kind of rhododendron with red and yellow fall coloring. We took pictures and stopped for a drink and a snack. I’d brought some Larabars, not having tried them before. They were awful, especially the lemon one. Like eating a block of tar with lemon peel in it. But we choked them down for energy, laughing over what people would suffer through if they were hungry enough.

There were bands of clouds blowing over us all the way up, with scattered flakes of snow drifting down, but it wasn’t cold or cloudy enough to snow. We still had periods of sunshine. We headed back around 2:30. Although one inevitably walks faster going downhill, I’ve reached an age where going downhill hurts more than going up. My right knee started hurting. The new hiking boots keep my toes from hitting the front of the boot and they’re plenty sturdy enough for rocky trails. But I’m not sure I like the high-top style. I probably need to break them in more. The part around my ankles doesn’t flex well, so that area starts feeling sore and bruised by the end of a long hike. Ken’s boots were letting his feet slip forward, squeezing his toes. By that last half mile we were both getting to the point where aches and pains were stronger than the fun of being out. Still, the weather held and we didn’t have the added annoyance of walking in falling snow.

That evening we wanted to go to Prime Rib night at Sawtooth Inn, but it was full. So we went to the Bridge Street Grill, right next to our cabins. We were hungry enough to eat just about anything, but I don’t think we’ll go there again.

In the morning we woke up to a couple inches of snow on the ground, with more falling steadily. It was the new car’s first snow, and it did great, small as it is. Front-wheel drive makes a difference. We had some coffee, took pictures, and went to Stanley Bakery for breakfast. Back in September 2001 when my sister and I camped at Alturas Lake and got snowed out, we’d retreated to the Redwod Cabins and had breakfast at the Bakery. Those were the best sourdough pancakes I’d ever had. There’s always a line on Sunday mornings, but somehow it works out that after you stand in line to order your food and get your coffee, a table opens up. People who go there understand how the system works and don’t sit very long after they’ve finished. The waitresses are amazing and the food is always good.

After breakfast we headed home the long way on Hwy 75, through Sun Valley/Ketchum. We stopped in town to walk and do some window-shopping. I bought a book on hiking trails in the White Clouds. Now I’ll have a better idea of where I want to go next time. It was still snowing pretty steadily, so after a cup of coffee we headed for home. It was really nice to get out and away from everyday stuff for a few days.

Putting the Garden to Bed

It’s not even Halloween yet and we’re having a “hard freeze" tonight. I’ve been covering the tomatoes against frost for a week now. I’ll have to get out there again this evening w/ the sheets. There are a few more tomatoes I’d like to get a bit riper. We still get a handful of raspberries every few days, but that could end tonight. We’ll see.

So I’m still getting tomatoes from the Virginian Sweets, Paul Robeson, Legend, and C. Genovese. The Sprites are done. The peppers have taken ages to get close to being ripe. I finally pulled the long ones off tonight. The little ones are still green, and I’m hoping they’re sheltered enough they’ll make it through the cold. Guess we’ll see.

I have at least six pumpkins or more. If it’s really as cold as the forecast says, I’ll probably harvest those tomorrow too. The parsnips are still doing well. They can stay out there for the time being.

It was a good year for the garden. Everything except one pumpkin variety did really well. Strange to think the season is almost over. It seemed to go really fast. I guess we were pretty busy. Next summer I’ll have to do less. I expect to be away for two weeks in late July for the SCD exam.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Fall Chores


We went shopping today and I bought six pairs of socks. When I got home, I found there was no room for them. So I spent part of the evening organizing my sock drawer. Threw out the old ones with holes and some I never wear because they creep down into my shoes. Can't even remember what I did yesterday. The excitement of fitting all my socks into the drawer has completely blotted it out.

It was cold enough last night for all the blankets. Blanket layering is an essential skill in late summer/early fall in Idaho. One day it might be 92F, with the overnight low around 70F, and the next day it could be 78F with the low around 55F. We leave our windows open at night as long as the season allows. So we have a cotton blanket, with a wool blanket over it, and a quilt over that. It lets us adjust according to the temperature. Last night we actually pulled them all up instead of folding down the warmer ones. The next step is to add another thicker blanket or change the blanket combo altogether. The forecast says we'll have temps in the high 70's and 80's all week, but the lows are down in the 40's! That's quite a range. Typical Fall in SW Idaho though. By Halloween we'll be getting frost at night. Fall and Spring don't last long here.

I still have tomatoes coming along. We'll have sunny days for a few weeks yet, so I might get a lot of them to ripen. The raspberries have slowed down a lot, but I can still find enough each morning to put on our breakfast cereal. I have about six parsnips in the ground, waiting for the first frost. It's supposed to improve the taste, so I'm going to try it this year.

The pumpkins are coming along. I'm hoping to have at least six full-size ones. There are lots more, but they may not have enough time to mature. I've never grown them before, so I'll just have to see how they work out. This is a small pumpkin variety, Pump-ke-mon, white with orange stripes. They have turned out to be pretty resistant to our rampant squash beetles. I've sprayed with insect-killing soap, but it just slows them down a bit. There are beetles crawling around, but they haven't managed to damage the vines enough to kill the plant. I hope the pumpkins are ok. They seem to be.

This coming Saturday morning we're appearing as pioneers at the Museum Comes to Life event at the History Museum. They have re-enactors from all different periods set up on the lawn. They do skill demonstrations and try to involve the public in various activities. It's a fun day.

Then at noon we take off our pioneer clothes, drive over to the Fairgrounds, and put on our Scottish dress for the Highland Games. We'll dance at 3:30, shop at the vendor tents, eat fun food, and help in the booth. Hopefully our dance performance will go well and we'll get a few new dancers out of it. That evening we have a family birthday to go to. I plan to be sleeping in on Sunday!!

Oh, now I remember one thing I did yesterday. Fight off the ant invasion. We have a lot of ants outside. And now with the colder weather a lot of them are looking for food and shelter INside. We've been killing ants all week. It's a real pain. I'd like to get the outside of the house sprayed, but we haven't looked into it yet.

Anyway, that's my exciting week. There are many days when I can't think of anything to write about in this blog - hence the long gaps - and then there are those days when it just about writes itself ;-).

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Falling Oak Leaves

The oak tree outside our bedroom window already has some yellow leaves. I just noticed this morning that there are more and more leaves on the back deck. When the heck did that start happening!? It's only mid-September! I don't mind the (slightly) cooler weather, but I'm not liking the shorter days this year. It always takes me a long time to get used to it being dark at 6:30 am, when we usually get up. I hate getting up in the dark. Once the days get this short I can't tell the time anymore by just barely opening my eyes to look outside and then fall back asleep. I have to reach over, pick up the alarm clock, and make my eyes focus to see the time. By then I'm awake.

This Summer I got myself into the habit of getting up about 6:30 and going out to walk/jog with the dog. It was nice because there aren't many cars out that early, it's cool and quiet. I went about a mile, trying to jog most of it and walk when I had to. Not a huge distance, but it built up my stamina for TAC summer school. And I liked it enough that I kept doing it afterwards. But once school starts up again there's more traffic. Then the days shorten so much that it's still pitch black at 6:30. So I had to stop doing it. But I can't just not exercise. I'm not willing to give in to the creeping weight gain that can so easily happen once you get into middle age.

So today I got up and went to the Rec Center with hubby. I walked/jogged a mile on the indoor track, and then we did some weights in the weight room. I don't really like weights, they're pretty boring. But it's a way of keeping my arms and shoulders toned, so I'll keep at it. Ken does more than me. I do the machines I like, and then stretch. That'll probably help me get ready to go back to Aikido, too. I haven't been since mid-July for various reasons. I'm hoping to go next week.

Last week I had a mini-spree on Amazon, finding some new SF/Fantasy authors to try. I tend to read more in the Fall and Winter, so it's a nice feeling to have a good pile of books I'm looking forward to.
I just discovered the first book in Jane Lindskold's new series, 'Thirteen Orphans'. Zipped through it, and now I'm waiting for the next one, 'Nine Gates', to come out in paperback.
I also got 'Path of Fate' by Diana Pharaoh Francis, 'Black Ships' by Jo Graham, and 'The Serpent Garden' by Judith Merkle Riley. They all sound like good reads, but I'm particularly interested in 'Black Ships'. I seem to be on a Troy kick lately. I just finished 'Lavinia' by Ursula Le Guin, about the Roman wife of Aeneas. She's just barely mentioned in the epic poem, so this is Le Guin's effort at fleshing out the character. 'Black Ships' is about a slave girl from fallen Troy who becomes a seer, and joins Aeneas on his quest.

I'm currently reading 'Georgiana' by Amanda Foreman, the book that the movie "Duchess" was based on. It's way better than the movie, as usual. I also have Michael Pollan's 'The Omnivore's Dilemma' in the pile. So it'll be a good winter for reading.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

2009 Veg Garden Notes


Well, the last weekend of August is upon us. We had a huge thunderstorm last night, with about five minutes of "nickel-sized hail", as the weather warning system calls it. I went out before the storm closed in and picked everything that looked ready. You never really know here if storms will actually drop any moisture, or if they'll just blow over. But heavy rain doesn't do raspberries any good, so it was worth getting those.

This morning I went out to check on things. I took some pictures of the squash and rhubarb to show the holes made by the hail. But I was happy to see the tomatoes were in better shape than I expected. Some of the riper exposed fruit had obvious hailstone marks, but otherwise no real damage. So I picked those. I think one thing I'll be doing today is making tomato sauce from the over-ripe tomatoes we haven't been able to eat. I've been giving some away, but without dance class I don't have as many vic- uh, friends ;) to give them to.

Of the 7 tomato varieties I planted, I have been most surprised by the early season one, Legend. I wasn't happy with Early Girl at all last year, but Legend has been great. A lot of good-sized fruit, good taste, and sturdy plants that don't go crazy with long leggy growth. I'll be growing Legend again.

Costoluto Genovese is one of the sprawlers. Lots of fruit and very pretty. Good taste too. But if I grow it again, it's going in one of the taller bigger wire frames. The small one I used is completely overwhelmed.

I am much happier with the purple-fruited Paul Robeson than I was with the purple one I grew last year, Cherokee Purple. The fruit is bigger, tastes better, and the plant is sturdy and upright. It was the next one to fruit after Legend.

I tried the Landis Valley strain of red Brandywine this year, from Tomato Growers. The plants are similar in size to Paul R. The fruit is very good tasting, but it hasn't really produced as much as I hoped. So I'm not sure about this one. I might try another strain of Brandywine, or another kind, maybe Rose, next year. Both this one and Paul R. need the bigger wire frame.

Virginia Sweets, the yellow-and-red-streaked fruit, is amazing! I love everything about it. The fruit is beautiful, tastes wonderful, and some of them are HUGE! I have one right now that's at least 2-3 lbs, with another on the way. This plant definitely needs the larger wire frame. It truly is a later-ripening variety, but it's worth the wait.

Of the two grape tomatoes I've grown, I definitely prefer Sprite to Juliette. The fruits are smaller and I like the taste better. I'm pretty sure they're not the kind you buy in the store (which I love), but they're closer. I may try Sprite again next year, with another small one. One advantage of Sprite is the smaller sized plant. Only a few feet tall, and although it sprawls it's on a smaller scale so it hasn't been a problem.

The other small-fruit type was Ceylon. It's an unusual shape for a small fruit, and the catalogue said it tasted great, so I fell for it. It does taste good, and it's prolific. But I'm not happy with the large blossom-end ring and the deep stem. I don't like eating the hard white area around the stem, so I'm not as likely to just pop a whole Ceylon tomato in my mouth, like I am with Sprite. The plants aren't tall, but they sprawl a lot. Not really structured for a wire frame either, so I'm not sure I'll grow it again.

I tried a different variety of soybean (for eating while green) this year, and they were much nicer. More prolific and more beans over a longer season. So those are a keeper.

The peppers I'm not as happy with. The Marconi Italian type I grew last year were great! Took them a long time to ripen but it was worth it. I didn't grow an Italian type this year, but that's ok.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Summer On the Way Out


We've really started noticing the days getting shorter in the past week. Sunset is a whole half hour sooner now, and dawn is getting closer and closer to 7:00am, rather than 6:00. For us this means the evenings are getting cooler. Being at a relatively high latitude, we get a lot more sun during the height of summer, and the heat builds up well into the evenings. We had a lot of rain last week from a very a-typical Pacific storm that blew through. It was wonderful to have a few cool, cloudy days, and we loved the rain. In fact, temps in general are lower overall now. Only got up to the mid-high 80's today. Pretty nice for a mid-August day here!

The red raspberries are going strong, and the Autumn Gold ones are starting to come in. I've been picking nearly two pints a day. So we have lots of frozen raspberries, and still plenty of fresh ones to use. I made up a pie this weekend. Bought a graham cracker crust, put in a layer of fresh raspberries, whipped together Neufchatel (low fat) cream cheese and vanilla low fat yogurt to put on top of that, and put more fresh berries on it. We had Brenda and Jasmine over for dinner. It was a little tangy for Jasmine, but the rest of us loved it. I'll have to try it again.

I put up a photo of the garden now, to compare with the picture from June. The tomato plants are nearly as tall as I am, and we're getting some really nice tomatoes. The Paul Robeson ones taste amazing! The early one, Legend, is putting out reliable, good-sized fruit with a great flavor. And the little Ceylon tomatoes are great! My grape tomatoes, Sprite, are only slightly smaller than the Juliette grape tomatoes I tried a few years ago. They taste good, and the plants are a manageable size, so that's an improvement. I haven't had much from the Virginia Sweets. There's plenty of fruit set on the plants, but none of it has ripened yet. I should trim off the tops to help it along.

It's been a busy summer. I haven't been nearly as conscientious about watering my flower beds this year, so I may lose a few things to dryness. Only myself to blame. :( I've just turned on the sprinklers this evening, so hopefully a few of those sad droopy perennials will perk up.

This past Monday hubby and I went out to test drive a few new car models he's had his eye on. We'd been tossing around the idea of doing the Cash for Clunkers thing with his old '97 Chevy Tahoe, so we thought we'd go have a look.

We went to the local Kia dealer and drove the new Rio, and the Soul. The Rio was small, inside and out. And it felt very much like a basic economy car. Looking ahead 10 years, it was hard to see ourselves being very comfortable in it. But I was very surprised when hubby started getting serious about the Soul. It was black, which neither of us like, and the dealer didn't have any other colors left. But it was fun to drive, has great gas mileage compared to the Tahoe, and had the features we wanted without being so feature-loaded it was more expensive. It looks small from the outside, but sitting in it you don't feel crowded at all. It's really quite spacious for such a little thing. Then the dealer looked up our Tahoe model to see how much we'd get - and it was the full $4,500! I think that tipped the balance. We talked price, decided to do it, and signed the papers.

We'd gone out to do test drives not expecting to actually buy something, so we weren't prepared with all of the Tahoe's paperwork. Thus followed two days of running around, searching the house for records, and scrambling to get the Tahoe working well enough to drive to the dealer. The alternator was dead, so it wouldn't start. We ended up calling AAA to have it towed to the street outside the Kia lot. The AAA driver started it with the jump-box, took that off, and hubby drove off hoping to make it the 100 yards to the car lot. It stalled after only 50. So they attached the jump-box to the battery and left it on while he drove onto the lot and back to the Clunker parking area. And that was it.

The Tahoe was a good car. It was great on long drives, comfortable and roomy. And we really appreciated the power and four-wheel drive that time we had to drive to the Oregon coast in winter, over the Cascades in heavy falling snow. But it had over 190,000 miles on it, and sooner or later something else would have gone out and had to be replaced.

So now we have this little black Soul sitting in the car port. It looks odd there. So small in that space where we're used to seeing the hulking Tahoe. It makes my Charger look big. We're having a bit of post-purchase anxiety about making car payments after so long without any at all - both our cars are long paid for. But I think it will be ok.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Things Fall Apart


I hate getting older sometimes. My right knee has decided it's unhappy and wants more attention, so it's been hurting on a regular basis for the past few weeks. This is the knee I tore some ligaments in back in 1998. It's done pretty well until recently. I think the main problem is I've allowed the small muscles around the joint to get a bit flabby. I should do my PT exercises more, but I don't get around to it enough. I have to make a serious commitment to doing them every day multiple times if I want to get through an entire week of dancing at summer school just four weeks from now!

At least the garden is doing well. The tomatoes are, so far, sturdy and healthy. Lots of flowers, which bodes well for a good tomato harvest. I've got three parsnips from the first seeds I planted, and now four more from the second time! Whew! I also have a lot of volunteer French marigolds coming up, so I've been transplanting them to around the tomatoes. My sister gave me a bunch of volunteer calendula (pot marigolds), and those have been doing really well too. I've even had one very precocious Autumn Gold raspberry get ripe. There are lots of green berries now, so probably by the time I leave for summer school we'll have a whole bunch of ripe ones. Yippee :\.

We turned on the AC yesterday because temps got up into the 90's. Sometime during the winter the AC may have died, because all it did was pump out a lot of hot air. So we called the repair guy today. Hopefully it's relatively simple to fix. Today won't be so bad (mid 80's), but the weekend will be hotter.

The sprinklers are struggling a bit. There's a whole zone of the lawn that doesn't work, and the zone behind the house must have a leak somewhere underground because the water pressure is low and the water doesn't reach everywhere.

It's just one thing after the other lately.

Friday, June 5, 2009

In Memory of Beau-kitty

This is a post I wrote in early June and procrastinated about posting...

I think the first cat I had that really felt like "my" cat was one that originally belonged to my sister. Beaumont. He died about this time of year back in 1991, so he's been on my mind lately.

I remember taking the Greyhound bus up to visit my sister in San Luis Obispo one weekend. The cheaper ticket was the bus that stopped. So we stopped (and stopped, and stopped) at nearly every little town between Thousand Oaks and San Luis. It took forEVER! Felt like midnight by the time I got there. Brenda and I had a good time though. We went to Morro Bay to poke around the little shops and had sushi for lunch. And to the mission in San Luis. And I seem to remember some place we went for breakfast that had wonderful sourdough pancakes.

Brenda had a really nice cat, Beaumont. Long white hair with gray blotches, one blue eye and one green eye. She'd leave the window above her bed open and he'd come in and out as he liked. I think Brenda said he didn't usually take to strangers, but Beaumont and I got along right away. I remember sitting on her bed and petting him. He was just the kind of cat personality I like. Affectionate, but not clingy. He could take care of himself outside, and he liked to play, but he was a gentleman about it, not bitey. And he never missed the litter box.

Sometime later Brenda moved up to Seattle and couldn't take Beaumont with her. So he came to live with me at Mom & Dad's house.

Beaumont arrived and seemed immediately at home. He was definitely my cat. My room was his room. He slept on my bed, came home for dinner when I called him, and followed me around the house. My parents' house has an open staircase with carpeted treads and no risers. It was like a giant cat climbing toy! I'd get my bathrobe tie and dangle it down over the stairs. Beau would have a great time hunting it, hanging upside down underneath the stair treads and pouncing out from between them onto the "snake". We'd play tug-of-war with the robe tie, or human hand vs cat paw "chicken". He certainly didn't pull his claws in for that game, but either I was quick enough or he didn't want to hurt me, cause I never got scratched.

When we got Beau I'd returned to college to get my teaching credential. Two years of Education and English coursework, then a year of Student Teaching. I had a tough time in Student Teaching. Education profs tell you not to get married, have children, get divorced, move or buy a house during Student Teaching, as it's one of the most stressful things you'll ever do aside from those things. They really aren't exaggerating.

I was shy enough that class discipline and talking in front of large groups was really hard for me. My first semester of student teaching was at a Jr. HS in a high-income area. The teachers were polite, but snobby, and not very good at giving constructive criticism. I'd be up in my room sitting on the floor with papers spread out around me, working on teaching plans, correcting student essays, writing self-evaluations...the work was never-ending, and I'd get tired and pretty discouraged at times. But it seemed like Beau-kitty would always know I was feeling bad. He'd come upstairs, rub his head on my arm, say 'merrrouww' and want petting. He was a great comfort. It was hard to imagine life without him.

Sometime during my final semester Beau was in a scuffle with a mangy neighbor cat and got bitten on the ear. Two or three weeks later poor Beau was skin and bones and not eating. He didn't want to play anymore, he just laid around looking thin and sick. We didn't know what was happening.

I came home one day and he was gone. Dad had taken him to the vet. The vet said Beau had feline HIV and there was nothing to be done. So they put him down. I didn't even get to say goodbye! I hadn't realized how serious it was. Poor Beau-kitty. 25 years later and I still miss him sometimes. He cheered me up a lot during a rough time in my life. He was my first and best cat. I wish I had a picture of him, but I haven't found one.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Almost June


It's amazing to think May is nearly over. At the beginning of the month it still felt like spring. Now it definitely seems like summer. It's been high 80's or more all week, the cheat grass is already setting seeds, and the morning glories (bindweed) are starting to bloom (ugh). I'm so glad we mowed last weekend. It looks so much better than it did.

I'll be planting out the peppers and pumpkins tomorrow. That is, if I can find space for the pumpkins. The three extra rhubarb plants are taking up more room than I'd like. So I'm not sure where I can fit in three pumpkins. Maybe I'll rip out the old arugula along one edge, so I can train the pumpkin vines outwards. That might work.

The tomatoes are doing really well so far. It's only been a week and I can already see more height and new leaves. I have 16 plants this year, all planted from seed. That sounds like a lot but five are small fruited; two grape variety, Sprite, and three of a cool-looking one called Ceylon. You can see them both here. I really hope they grow and produce a lot, 'cause the fruit sounds wonderful.

Of the others I ended up with two Legend and two Costoluto Genovese, both earlier types. There are two purple-fruited Paul Robeson, two Red Brandywine, and three Virginia Sweets, a red and yellow bicolor I am very curious to see. The picture in the catalog (bottom of the page) looked beautiful, and they sound delicious too. If all goes well, I'll probably be giving some away, but that's alright. We'll have plenty of yummy tomatoes around.

It's been a long week. Aside from the normal stuff I do - fieldwork interviews and report typing, I volunteered to help out on a smaller contract we have with the US Forest Service; fingerprinting their first responders. So I and three colleagues spent all day Wednesday fingerprinting firefighters :). The only training I had was a video, but at least that gave me the basic idea. For my first vic - uh, fingerprintee, I got a policeman. He was very helpful in showing me how to do the edge-to-edge roll for the single prints. The four of us did over 100 people that day, two full cards (left and right hands) each. That's a lot of fingerprinting. It wasn't hard, but the tables were all too short, so we were all bending over. The taller, more muscular guys with tight shoulders really had to contort themselves to let me do the edge-to-edge roll, especially on their ring and pinky fingers. I had one, probably the tallest guy I printed, who finally just bent over at the waist so he could get his shoulder down low enough for me to roll his fingers correctly.

It was a nice change from normal - and hey, I know how to fingerprint someone now! - but it did put me behind on my other work. I drove nearly 200 miles on Friday, running around trying to get things done.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Memorial Day Weekend


Got my hair cut yesterday. I think she took 3-4 inches off. It was so long that I wasn't enjoying it anymore. And it was HOT! I was torn between going as short as it was in Korea, and where it is now. But she layered it a bit, so some of the natural wave comes through.

I planted out most of the tomatoes today. Still have the peppers and the small-fruit tomatoes to do, but they're going in a different area. Two or three of the new "Espresso" glads have leaves poking up, and the raspberries are really getting thick. I think I'll have to go through and thin out some of the canes.

I also planted up a new pot for the deck. I didn't really think about it at the time, but I seem to be going for a pink & purple theme this year. The first picture is a pot I planted up about three weeks ago. The white lobelia doesn't have any flowers yet, but I hope it will soon. The bottom pic is what I did today. It has a yellow-leaved fuschia, the black & green coleus, rose lobelia, and those dark pink torrenia. I think I'm going to like the torrenia - they're almost like trailing snapdragons. Neither pot has really filled out yet, but I hope they'll do well. It will be a challenge finding spots for them where they don't get sun ALL day.

There's a storm cloud overhead, but it hasn't rained. I'm not sure I want it to or not, since I plan to mow the back field this weekend, around the cottage garden area. I want to bag the cuttings, rather than mulch them, so it might take me a while. I just don't want all those seedheads put right back on the soil.

Sure is nice to have three days off. We're thinking about going for a hike in the Owyhees tomorrow, depending on the weather.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy May to Me


I guess it's not so unexpected that May is my favorite month. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that everyone's favorite month is the month they were born. Maybe each person has different reasons, but surely there is some natural affinity for the time of year you entered the world. Me, I like May. Especially here in Idaho. However much we might think Spring has come, when May arrives the Mayflower blooms, the iris open, asparagus and rhubarb are there for the picking, the irrigation ditches fill, the snow starts melting off Schaffer Butte, and the rain (usually) falls.

My tomatoes and peppers are getting much bigger. I have eight sugar snap peas growing, a few parsnips sprouting, and all four asparagus crowns made it through the winter. The red raspberries are spreading nicely into the empty space left by the black raspberry we dug up last fall, and the Autumn Gold are spreading in the other direction. Not as thrilled about that, but it's hard to be unhappy about more raspberries.

My colleague and gardening friend who gave me the rhubarb crown let me come over this week to pick some of his rhubarb. Mine isn't big enough yet. I wish I'd taken pictures. In spite of splitting it last year, this rhubarb is once again a monster plant that would look at home in the Pleistocene undergrowth! I'm going to have a great time tomorrow making stewed rhubarb and rhubarb crumble. Mmmmmm!

Last weekend we went to an organic farm tour organized by Idaho's Bounty, an organic farming co-op that a friend of ours belongs to. He's an organic herb farmer who sells his produce to local restaurants and stores. One of his neighbors raises grass-fed beef organically. The two of them gave the tour. There were about 40 people, many from Boise but some from our area and further west, including a winemaker (Zhou-Zhou and Hell's Canyon). These were all Co-op members, both growers and eaters :).

First we went to Mesquite Cattle Co, to walk around the various pastures, learn about growing grass, grass types, gravity-fed irrigation, various breeds of cattle that do well on grass, etc. This farm used to run on the customary industrial farming model. But in the last five years he's gone into organic grass-fed beef, without the corn-fed finish. Then across the road to Purple Sage Farms to see and smell the poly-tunnel greenhouses full of perennial and annual herbs. Our favorite was the rosemary! Mmmm!

Afterwards we all went to the house for a pot-luck of dishes made with Idaho-grown produce. So we got to try the grass-fed beef and herbs, as well as lots of other things. Really wonderful food. The big emphasis of the day was how connecting consumers to producers can benefit both groups, and the importance of supporting local food production.

After dinner hubby, our friend, and a few others sat down to play some tunes while the rest of us chatted and watched the lambs play out in the field. I fell into conversation with the winemaker about Scottish Country dancing. Who knows, we may be doing a dance and music gig at the winery in July!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Newest Iris


Finally the iris I've been waiting for has opened, "Prank". Last of the bunch. This is the one I wanted when I ordered from Iris Sisters Farm. Yellow petals with a light blue beard. Supposedly scented, but it's only 9" tall, so hard to get close enough. I also ordered "What Again", which has done the best of all. I may be digging up some of it to give away after they finish flowering. Along with my order they sent me three or four other kinds. I have the names written down, but don't remember them right now. All flowering now.

So, another birthday this weekend. At least I'm not recovering from surgery this year. Hopefully I can stay healthy and get back in better shape before I go to TAC Summer School in July. I went for a walk this morning, and expect to get to Aikido class tomorrow night. Then walk again on Friday. At least it's lighter now in the mornings so I can get out there earlier.

We're planning to go see the Ansel Adams exhibit at the Boise Art Museum on Sunday, as part of my birthday celebration. And I think we'll buy some salmon for dinner. Yum! Plus, the new Star Trek movie opens next Friday. I don't care how nerdy it is, I want to see it.

My parents should be in Boise for a visit in a few weeks. It will be good to see them.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Springing Into the Garden



Wow. How did it get to be late April so quickly? I've been waiting and waiting for the weather to be Spring-like, but it's been the usual roller-coaster 80's to 30's and back again, and here we are, nearly May!

Last weekend hubby and I drove to Yreka, CA, and Ashland, OR, to see his father and go to an Alasdair Fraser & Natalie Haas concert. I put some pictures up on my flickr page. We drove out on Thursday, out to Burns, south to Klamath Falls, and down past Mt. Shasta to Yreka. Parts of it can be pretty boring, so I amused myself by taking photos from the moving car. Sometimes you can get some great shots in spite of bushes, signs, and fence posts that literally jump in front of the camera.

The concert was on Friday night. We had a nice dinner in Ashland beforehand, at a Thai place. Alasdair was wonderful, as usual, and more relaxed and full of funny stories than I remember him being 20 years ago. Natalie was good too.

That day, walking around Yreka, hubby and I had seen a poster for the concert and saw that on Saturday morning in Ashland there was a Fiddle and Cello workshop! So Ken called and managed to get in. We drove up on Saturday morning. I sat in on the workshop. It was definitely worth it. I enjoyed it too, and I just sat and listened. Nice to see Alasdair again after so long. He was always a good fiddle teacher, in my opinion, but he's got much better at explaining things over the years.

After the workshop we walked around Ashland for a bit, then had lunch at the Standing Stone Brew Pub. I had an amazing pizza w/ pesto sauce, feta cheese, artichoke hearts, walnuts, and then sliced grapes put on after it was cooked. It was sooooo good. Probably helped to be hungry, but it's definitely a recipe I'll try myself. I also had a Belgian-style ale that was very nice.

We drove as far as Burns, OR, that day, spent the night, then went to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in the morning. Saw lots of birds in the marshes and seasonal lakes, including trumpeter swans, sandhill cranes, ruddy ducks, cinnamon teal, buffleheads, goldeneye, grebes, white-faced ibis, curlew, and snow geese. At the southern end of the refuge is French Glen, with an old farmhouse hotel-turned-restaurant now owned by F&W. We had lunch and headed home Sunday afternoon, tired but happy.

This weekend I'm trying to catch up on some gardening. This morning we went to the Boise Farmers Market, then to the Botanic Gardens plant sale. By the time we arrived there weren't many plants left, but I found an aqualegia I liked, as well as nepeta sibirica "Souvenir d'Andre Chaudron". I hope this one does better than the one I tried to grow in England. It apparently likes drier conditions, so perhaps this will be a better climate for it. I did some weeding this afternoon, and planted the new gladilous "Espresso" bulbs.

Three of the four asparagus crowns have sprouted, so that's a relief. They don't seem real vigorous, but at least they're still alive. I should try to feed them up a bit. I think I'm going to dig over that area gently to get rid of the ant colonies, and take out the stupid strawberries. They don't look good at all.

Tomorrow I want to plant my new blueberry in the half barrel, pot-on the veggie seedlings, and maybe re-plant some parsnip seeds with seed compost in the row. It's been over a month and none of those have sprouted. Whereas six snap pea seedlings have come up. I'm excited about the rhubarb - it's doing really well so far, and I'm hoping I can cut some of the stalks by next weekend!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter


What a nice weekend it's been. Two sunny days in a row after a week of rain and storms. I like stormy weather, don't get me wrong. But Spring is special. I know it must be partly the Easter holiday, but today it seemed like everything was looking brighter, and fruit trees and spring bulbs were coming into bloom. Even the buds on our apple tree look bigger today than they did on Friday.

This is the time of year when I really miss being in England. So many daffodils everywhere, gardens already in flower, weather soft and warm after all the cold wet. And the bluebell woods....I miss walking in bluebell woods. Bright lime-green beech leaves over a carpet of fragrant ultraviolet-laden purple-blue bluebells. Cameras just can't capture the color. You really have to see it. And even this doesn't *quite* have the impact of real life. It's probably a bit too early right now, but April is usually a good time.

Today my sister and her daughter came over for Easter dinner, and she took the picture above. We had turkey-ham, potatoes au gratin, and steamed asparagus, with pineapple upside-down cake for dessert. Talked, walked around looking at the garden. Ate Easter candy. It was fun.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Spring Yet?


Finally a Spring-like day. I think it's supposed to be mid to high 60's with cold nights for the next few days, with little chance of rain until Thurs. So I'll have to keep an eye on the seeds out in the garden. Don't want them to dry out too much.

The rhubarb is making reasonable progress, considering how cool the weather has been. I left the hose in the frame for scale. Still no tulip buds yet, but other things are beginning to peek out. I have tiny leaf buds showing on some of the raspberry canes, and new leaves coming out of the ground. The strawberries and asparagus are not doing much yet though. That is a worry. I'm considering what to do about both, though I'll wait and see how they look by the end of April.

Only one of three asters in the half barrel out back survived the winter. Disappointing. I'll probably re-plant that barrel once the bulbs have finished. They seem to do well in the open ground. I might try parsnips in the barrel, since they don't like our garden soil, however much I dig. They don't germinate real well, and you get a lot of forked roots if the soil is clumpy. I just read a good hint on growing parsnips today. Make a 6" trench and fill that with good, sieved seed compost, then plant the parsnip seeds in that and cover lightly. So that's something to try. I only got four parsnips to grow last year, out of two rows of seed.

So here is the newly-cleared "cottage garden" area. As you can see, I am barely able to hold back the weeds around it. Morning glory is a constant menace. Even cedar mulch didn't help for long. It's a losing battle and I just don't have enough time to be out there every weekend spending hours pulling out morning glory roots. I daydream about hiring a bulldozer and just scraping off all the topsoil so I can start with new. Yeah, like that'll happen. The nice thing about this area is how well all my new iris are doing. On the far left, the round clumps of shorter leaves are dwarf re-blooming iris in their second full season. I'm hoping I'll get flowers in spring AND fall this year. We'll see.

I saw a cedar waxwing in the garden today. They're around here all year, but that's the first time I've seen one in our area. The only ones I've seen were up near Kooskia when we went rafting on the Clearwater. They are pretty birds. I like the tanagers too, but those pass through a bit later in the year. I saw three or four of those last year in early summer.

It's been a week since I applied the pre-emergent weed killer to our lawn. It's still hard to tell if it's made a difference. I'm thinking I'll have to do more to get things cleared up so we can re-plant. Once we have a decently weed-free area, we want to plant a low-water fescue lawn. One of the locally-owned garden & farm supply centers has the seed. That's one of the bigger projects for us this year - getting the lawn to look like a lawn again.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April 1st


Here it is, April already. It doesn't seem like Spring is here yet, and we're already in the fourth month of the year. The weather forecast is predicting rain and snow showers in the next two days. I hope if it snows on Friday that it comes in the evening. I have to drive to Mountain Home on Friday morning. Never fun in falling snow.

Supposedly the tulips are behind this year. The only one blooming now is a species tulip, T. clusiana chrysantha. At least that's what I think it is. Seems to match the pictures. All the other tulips are just leaves. Looking back to last year, I didn't have any other tulips blooming in early April then either. But by late April things were taking off. I'm still waiting for the asparagus to come up as well. If there's no green peeking out of the ground by the end of April, there could be a problem.

My veg seeds haven't germinated yet. It's only been a few days, but I always get impatient. The sweet pea seedlings aren't looking too happy. I'm hoping they all have enough of a root system that they'll hang on and recover once I've planted them in a larger pot outside.

I'm looking forward to April 17th. Hubby and I are going to an Alasdair Fraser & Natalie Haas concert. It's been a long time since I saw Alasdair play. We'll take a long weekend and camp out one night on the way home, at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. If it doesn't rain or snow we should have a good time. It will be relaxing to get away for a bit.

Found some beautiful gladiolus bulbs last weekend, a color called "Espresso", a beautiful velvety dark maroon color. The glads I planted last year did well, so I thought I'd try some new colors. With this new bag of 18, I now have over 40 bulbs. Not sure they'll fit where I put them last year. Might have to find somewhere else.

Once again, not a particularly earth-shaking post. But then, I haven't been feeling particularly inspired or energized about anything lately. Sure ready for some nice Spring weather and gardening. Much as I like winter, it's time for the season to change.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Chionodoxa in Bloom


These are some new bulbs I planted last fall - Chionodoxa luciliae gigantea, or "Glory of the Snow". They're a wonderful blue color. I've got some in the front bed, and some in a half barrel outside my back window, so I can see them while I work.

Winter is hanging on by its fingernails here. Today was in the high 50's, but we're supposed to get a winter storm tonight that could leave some snow. It could drop the temperature down 15 degrees by morning. I never know if I can rely on the weather forecasters here, so we'll see if it happens. We can always use the water, so I don't mind if it rains or snows.

I've been putting off planting seeds. I meant to do it this week, but haven't yet. So tomorrow I'll get myself organized and do the indoor ones at least. I'll wait on the outdoor stuff until next weekend. I've got sugar snap peas, mesclun lettuce mix, and corn salad. All of those would probably be fine with the cold weather tomorrow - but I don't want to plant them in the rain!

There is arugula self-seeded all over our veg plot. I've been putting off digging it out, but I'm going to have to do it soon if I want to plant other things. It hung on all winter. On warmer days I could go out there and pick some for salads. I think I'll leave some near the rhubarb and dig out the rest. I can already see little tiny seedlings coming up everywhere, so it's not like I'll be running short! Be nice to try something else, like the corn salad, this year. I also hope the sugar snap peas do well.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Rain and Daffodils


Rain. Isolated downpours blowing through every hour or so, with the sun still peeking through. We went out to take photos, trying to get reflections of the rain drops. This one shows the drops well, though the framing isn't great. It's nice to get some moisture on the garden. Things were starting to look a bit dry.

The next picture is the first daffodils. They just started to open in the last three days. There are lots of tulip leaves coming up but no flower buds yet. I like bulbs. They're so easy, and they surprise you every year by coming up again and looking pretty when so few other things are in flower.

We have at least one or two of our three remaining hens laying eggs. One of the two red ones is eating them almost as soon as the others lay. Once they learn how to do that you can't stop them, so these hens probably aren't going to be around a lot longer. Hubby has been saying that for over a year now, since they are getting older and laying fewer eggs, but we still have them. They're canny old girls, having taught themselves to roost in the oak tree at night.

There's an article in this month's Sunset magazine about keeping chickens. Hubby thought a few of the things they said were silly, but it's good to see more encouragement for growing your own food in mainstream media.

I clipped and washed the dog today. He doesn't enjoy it, but he puts up with it - having been a poodle all his life. And he's always really happy to be clean and dry. I took pictures, but I have trouble getting good posed pictures of him because he keeps getting up to come see the camera or ask to be petted. He's been trained to sit and stay, but once I start talking to him to get him to look at me, he looses focus. He's a toy poodle after all. Not a lot of space in that skull.

I'm not an expert at clipping, but I've got better over the past few years. I can get his face mostly the way I want it and clip the body hair evenly without divots. Every once in a while I take him to the groomer because she can get the hair out of his ears and all the other details I can't bring myself to do.

Not much going on here lately, as you can probably tell from this post. Just wanted to bring any of you still reading up-to-date. I have the coming week off, so I plan to get the veggie seeds planted, inside and out. The rhubarb crown has lots of new leaves just starting to unfurl, so I'm excited about that. There's weeding and leaf raking to do, and I'll go have a look at the local nursery for blueberries. They might have them in by now.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Growing Stuff


Yesterday a work colleague who also gardens gave me a huge piece of his rhubarb crown. The picture only shows part of it, as it broke getting it out of the bag. There are three other pieces planted elsewhere, in hopes a few of my friends might want them.

This rhubarb has been in his garden at least 15 years, he thinks. It came with the house when he moved in a couple years ago. Last year he offered me some of the stems, so I went over one afternoon. The leaves on this plants are HUGE - like prehistoric jungle undergrowth. Literally three feet long and nearly as wide. The stems were as big as two of my thumbs. And it was great rhubarb. I made three jars of stewed rhubarb and a pie.

So I am *thrilled* to get a piece of this particular rhubarb crown. We dug a big hole, mixed in some manure compost, watered the bottom of the hole, and tried to get the buds level with the surface. It's just started to bud out, so I hope to harvest a little this season. It'll take up more space in the veg plot than I'd like, but right now I don't care. I just want it to do well. Perhaps eventually I'll move it somewhere else when we get some of the other garden areas under control.

I have nearly all my seeds now. I'm really excited about the tomato varieties. I have Brandywine Red Landis Valley Strain, Virginia Sweets (yellow-orange), Paul Robeson (purple), Legend (early type), Costoluto Genovese (ribbed Italian), and two grape types, Sprite and Ceylon. I also have Holy Mole Hybrid and Rocotillo peppers, Fairytale and Pump-ke-mon pumpkins, Misono soybeans, and Cobham Improved parsnips.

I want to get some of the seeds started in a few weeks. I had pretty good luck with the tomatoes last year, so I'm hoping it goes well this year too. Once the rhubarb has some leaves I'll put a pic up of those as well.

Monday, March 2, 2009

In Like a Lion


Happy March! I still want some snow to fall, but it's looking less and less likely - unless it's a light dusting one night. Spring is on the way. I've got crocus and one snowdrop in bloom, and daffodils are coming up. I planted a lot more snowdrops a few years ago, but this is the only one that's come up so far. I guess I'll just keep encouraging it and see if it spreads. They really don't like being planted as dry bulbs. But you sure can't get them "in the green" out here in Idaho. So I might try to get some bulbs again this fall.

Lots of digging and weeding to do in the next few months if I want to get a head start on all the weeds. Last weekend and yesterday I made a start on the vegetable garden. Pulled out all the old dead plants, weeded and dug in some manure. I still have about 1/4 of the plot to go. It's hard to make myself dig up all the arugula that made it through the winter. I can go out there now and pull enough to make a salad. So I'll have to decide where I want the survivors to be and dig up the rest.

I weeded the perennial fruit and veg area and sprinkled some Dr. Earth there too. I'm hoping to have 4 crowns of asparagus producing this year. We'll see if they do anything. I'm not so sure about the strawberries. Maybe I need to feed them more. They don't really produce as much as I'd like.

Anyway, I'm planning lots of tomatoes, peppers, soy beans and parsnips this year. And perhaps lettuce. I've got a lot of the seed already, just haven't quite got organized to start any of it. Need a few more things.

The chickens have started laying. Not sure when exactly, but hubby found three eggs yesterday. So the days are definitely getting longer. We've had a lot of storm clouds blowing through, but not a lot of rain. I'm hoping we'll get some this week.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A Walk Along the Snake River

We took a leisurely walk along the Snake River today, at Celebration Park, "Idaho's First Archaeological Park". It's an area of the river where there are a lot of petroglyphs. I'm not sure they know why, but the ancient people tended to use the larger lava boulders with smooth sides facing the water. I don't think they've even deciphered what the pictures mean. Some look like stick people, butterflies, turtles, stars, snakes, but it's hard to say. Still, they're interesting to look at. I'll put more of the pictures I took today up on my flickr site.

It was cold and windy out there, probably in the low 40's. But after we'd been out for a while the wind chill got to us and it felt to me more like the mid 30's. It was great to be out by the water, with a big cloudy sky, the huge river, and snowy Owyhee mountains in the distance. It doesn't seem so bad now, when it's cold. But I can't imagine how hard it must have been to come through this area on a wagon train. Away from the river there would have been just miles of sage brush, alkalai flats, lava fields, and no water. Especially in the hot season.

I keep watching for signs of Spring here, but there aren't many yet. There are daffodil, iris and crocus leaves just starting to poke out in the front garden, but otherwise not much. I have a lot of work to do to get the veg garden ready for planting. And snow predicted for this week. Maybe next weekend, if it's not snowing.

We had a nice St. Valentine's Day. I made a red velvet cake with chocolate frosting. We had King crag legs, sauted scallops, steamed asparagus, new potatoes, and chardonnay champagne, with cake for dessert. We had 'Lost in America' from Netflix to watch on DVD, but the disk was cracked and wouldn't run in our machine. So we watched the last three episodes of Northern Exposure season 3. It was a nice evening in. We treated ourselves to some favorite foods and it still cost less than going out.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

So many projects, so little time.

There are so many things I want to be doing besides work. Sometimes I wish I was old enough to retire, 'cause I could definitely keep myself busy doing all the projects I have planned.

Made spiced candied walnuts today. Found a recipe on Epicurious and made my own adjustments to it. I'll post the recipe on my Facebook page.

Found a cool book at the bookstore yesterday. About making skirts without patterns. It was so full of great tips about how to measure and draft basic skirt shapes that I couldn't resist. I've been sewing since middle school and making period costumes since my 20's using the measure and draw method. But this book had good info in it that I'd either forgotten or didn't know, with clear pictures and some fun ideas. Very inspiring. (If only there was a book like it for fitted period bodices :). This book is going to help me make a petticoat for my 1800's outfit. And maybe a new SCD dance skirt.

I ordered seeds this past week. I've already received my order from Territorial Seeds. Still waiting for Tomato Growers. There's many more seeds I'd like to get from other places, but with 8 different tomatoes already, plus parsnips, soybeans, and two kinds of pumpkins, I figured that's enough for this year. I also want to try lettuce from seed tape. It sounds so easy - I might actually get myself to grow three or four heads at a time and plant again every a few weeks over the summer. So I may still order that. Those are from Burpee. They may have been somewhat unkind about taking over Dan Hinkley's garden at Heronswood, but they do have some cool seed varieties.

I've also got at least three embroidery projects in various stages. One is a copy of a really cute Christmas wreath I bought years ago in Jamestown (eastern Calif). It has little stuffed felt shapes; mittens, stars, trees, hearts and moose heads, in various colors of felt with snowflakes embroidered on them. I hope to finish that one in time for next Christmas, for my mom.

I managed to finish the Laura I. Wilder outfit in time - almost. I had to use big safety pins to close the skirt, cause I just couldn't make myself stay awake long enough to competently sew on hooks and eyes. That won't take long to do one afternoon after work. Plus a few other touch-ups I want to do on the skirt as well.

The event itself went pretty well. The theme this year was Little House in the Big Woods. There were over twice a many kids this year. They didn't have baby chicks to look at, but there was soap carving, pretend baking with salt dough, butter-making, hair-braiding, cornpone to eat, plus old-time household items and animal skins to look at and touch. Ken and I were supposed to teach a few rounds of Strip the Willow, but there were just too many people. So he fiddled and I did rhythm with the straws on his fiddle strings. We got lots of compliments and appreciative comments. Ken found an old picture of someone doing that while looking for old fiddle pictures online.

No daffodil leaves coming up in my garden, far as I know. I should probably have a look. It's still pretty cold here. We're supposed to get a bit of snow overnight, but it's going to get up to 40F during the day. So the snow won't last. I'm not quite ready for winter to be over. But I'm sure there are plenty of people in the midwest who would be thrilled, so I can't begrudge them. Spring doesn't last long here, but it's beautiful. Always makes me wish I'd done more during the Fall to prepare the soil and get more Spring-blooming plants put in. It'll be time to rake all the oak leaves off the back garden pretty soon. Lots of garden projects out there waiting for enough time to do them. Once it's warm enough I'll have to pull out all the dead plant material from the veg garden and get a few loads of composted manure on there. Hopefully next month we can do that.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Short Gown is Done


Here it is, February, and I haven't posted here yet. So here's a quickie until I can write more.

I'm done with the short gown and working on the skirt for the Laura Ingalls Wilder celebration on Feb. 7th. I'll probably have to finish things up on Friday evening if I want to be ready. I want to go to Aikido tonight, but I'm not sure I should.

This is a picture of the short gown. I'm not happy with the fit. I should've put a bit more width into the whole body, just for added ease. I also need to change the curve between the body and arms. It's too short and narrow so it bunches up a bit under the arms. The pattern, which is really just a series of measurements that allows you to draw the pattern pieces onto your fabric, lets you draw that curve. So I'm thinking next time I'll try a coffee can or something bigger, to make the curve more gradual.

The lining worked out ok, but it feels stiff to wear. I have more of the fabric, so I could do another one, but it seems a shame to have made the first one and not wear it. Guess I'll see how it goes on Saturday.

The skirt is coming together pretty easily. I just don't have time to do the cartridge pleating, so I'm going to do big gathers instead, as big as the sewing machine will allow. The pattern instructions don't call for interfacing in the waistband, but I'm thinking it would be nice to have. I think I can dig some up from my own supplies. I'll be sure to post a few pictures when all is done.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Happy Inauguration Day!

It happened. It's real. Barack Obama is our new President. How wonderful my sister could be there. At least one person in the family was eye-witness to an historic event. I spoke to her on the phone this evening. She spent Monday night sleeping on the floor at her work's offices (The Wilderness Society) in downtown DC. Then she and a work colleague walked two miles to the Mall, to their ticketed space in the Blue zone on the Capitol lawn. They were on the far right side, so they couldn't see faces, but one of those giant screens was right in front of them. She says she wore three layers of clothing, gloves, a scarf, hat and ear warmers. I think they had to walk miles afterwards to get around some of the streets that were closed. But it's good to know she was there, representing all of us, her family and friends.

I was happy to see the announcement yesterday of Rebuild America Together (USAservice.org). I was hoping the Obama administration would start some kind of public service initiative. My sister and I are members of a small group of Obama supporters, Voices for Change, part of his grass-roots community organizing effort. As a group we agreed we're more interested in serving our community in a non-partisan way, rather than doing things that are seen as particularly Democratic interests. At our first meeting we agreed to donate food to the local Food Bank on a monthly basis. We also decided on local mass transit as a project we were interested in working towards. We plan to make a presentation to the mayor of Boise about it. Some of our members worked at the Food Bank yesterday as part of the nation-wide community service effort for Rebuild American Together.

It's another meeting to add to my schedule, but one of my resolutions for the new year is to actually DO something, not just talk about my social and political convictions.

For the same reason I've decided to contribute to the Central Asia Institute. If you've read "Three Cups of Tea", about Greg Mortenson's efforts to build schools in villages of remote border areas in Pakistan and Afghanistan, with a special emphasis on educating girls, you'll know what I'm talking about.

We don't have a lot of extra money right now, but I can give up going to Starbucks at least once a week and put that money into my Pennies for Peace jar. If we want any kind of lasting peace in that area, it's in our nation's best interests to help the children there get an education. That's going to do more good towards long-term peace than any military action.

The schools Mortensen builds provide a balanced education based on a curriculum decided by a consensus of the villagers themselves. Education is one of the most effective ways to combat extremist religious beliefs, and give people the tools to improve their lives. Many studies show educating the girls is especially important. Educating girls and women helps the whole community by bringing more economic opportunity and productivity, reducing child mortality, improving family nutrition and health, and makes it more likely the children of those educated women will go to school.

I lived overseas for seven years altogether. Living in other countries is a great way to see your nation through other eyes - even when the view isn't all that complimentary. Living overseas also teaches you that even though people appear to be very different on the outside, we're really pretty similar on the inside. Being the greatest nation on earth doesn't mean we haven't made mistakes. But sometimes the negative perceptions people in other countries have of Americans is caused more by miscommunication and misunderstanding about each other than any particular thing we've done.

The US has lost a lot of credibility in the last eight years. I'm hoping with the new administration America will begin to re-establish itself as a credible force for good in the wider world. By helping people in other counties we'll be helping ourselves as well.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Sewing!


I've moved all my sewing things into the new sewing room. Last weekend my sister-in-law and I went to the good fabric store in town. She found some wool twill tartan to make practice kilts from. I found the upholstery remnants! There were a few pieces I couldn't resist. Now I'm all excited about making some Renaissance bodices from these. The cream colored one is my favorite. I like the reverse side nearly as much as the right side.

Hubby has accepted a music gig at an annual Laura Ingalls Wilder day at a local library. We wear our "old time" clothes, he plays fiddle and I teach some simple barn dances. My outfit last year was shabby; a calico shift with two dyed gauze skirts over it and a leather belt. Pretty "down-market" for what I'm doing.

So this year I'll make a calico bodice and skirt. I've ordered a gauged skirt pattern that should be a great improvement. It's got a double-fly waist opening that will make it very adjustable, and cartridge pleats in back. I'm out of practice on those, so I'm hoping for good instructions.

The bodice is old-fashioned for the L.I. Wilder time period. I won't be very fashionable for 1860, but the outfit will be useful for other 19th C. events we do, so that's ok.

Today I cut out and sewed together the bodice, a "short gown", in muslin. I'm glad I did the muslin. It helped me work out the best measurements to use, and I found out I wanted the neck-hole smaller. Showing that much decolletage in a day dress was not done in 1860. This is the back view. You can see the tucks at the waist, and the bottom section is a peplum. The waist needs a drawstring, but I won't bother with that for the muslin. Now I have a better idea of what I'm doing I can work on the blue fabric. It was encouraging to see it come together in one day. I plan to line the blue one, but that shouldn't make it much more complicated.