Sunday, December 21, 2014

Happy Mid-Winter's Day!

It's the season to fight back the darkness, the sun sets early, rises late and most days lately have been overcast or drizzly.   I have strung 400 multi-colored lights in the kitchen, 400 more on the tree and about 300 flashing on the porch.  I put them up the day my daughter and I agreed that it was just too dark and gloomy.

Counter-intuitively, I have Nirvana blasting on my husband's prized 1980's state-of-the-art stereo. The dog has run for cover.  The parrot is whistling along.  The bass line of Come As You Are can fight back any darkness for me, I'll be humming it all day.   I just googled  the lyrics to find out what I've been mumbling for all these years, but I've found in this case ignorance just might have been bliss. Nat King Cole it isn't, but if it gets me in the spirit of the season, so what.

The ripening fruit cakes are in the pantry where I tucked them a month and a half ago. Gifts are purchased, wrapped, hidden and then re-hidden in a new spot, because I'm a sneaky mom that way. The annual letter/powerpoint has been sent out, missing the last two slides, because I was waaaaaaay over the file size for an e-mail document.  This year I added music, because I knew I could, but had never tried.  It will take more practice to get it just right.

Cookie ingredients are sitting on the shelves ready for the right moment, which will come very soon. I feel a sweet tooth coming on. Lemon sugar, molasses crinkles, peanut butter and something with chocolate may be the varieties, may be not, we'll see.

Off to Whole Foods to find goat/sheep/buffalo milk  cheese suitable for the traditional family pork chop/macaroni and cheese dinner for Christmas Eve.  The chevre in the supermarket just doesn't cut it, but my cow's milk allergy won't get in the way of 56 year tradition.

Sunday, November 23, 2014


I started filling my bird feeder a few weeks ago.  The birds have come in abundance, but it is strange, a pint scoop of bird food lasts three days right now.  Last year, I put out that much before breakfast and it would be gone by lunchtime.  The difference seems to be the squirrels.  Last year they were brazen, three of them hanging about the feeder, one swinging  and spinning on the feeder like it is an amusement park ride and two underneath enjoying the bounty sprinkling down upon them.  Then they frisked about, ran up and down the tree and tussled in the yard.

This year there are squirrels, but they are behaving differently.  They hide.  The sneak.  They scoot from one point of cover to the next.  They are acting like the prey that they are. I'm guessing either the hawks have been voracious or a neighbor has a BB gun.  Whatever it is, the birds are able to eat the food that I put out for them.

So far this year, the usual birds, cardinals, juncos, chickadees-both Carolina and blackcapped, bluejays, nuthatches.  The titmice have been hanging out at the picture window making faces at the cats on the other side of the glass, teasing, usually the wrens do that.  The cats tightly swish the tips of their tails and make their "eh-eh-eh" hunting sounds and bonk their heads on the glass as they try to fire themselves through it.  They recover with their usual, "I meant to do that. I knew what I was doing, really." look.  I swear I heard the titmice  snickering.

The crows are strange.  They appear around the hedges from the neighbor's yard and slowly walk, like middle school kids, in a loose bunch, talking amongst themselves.  The stroll down the hill, about 50 feet, and then eat some of the millet  that has spilled on the ground under the feeder. Some days they pick at the ground to eat other things.  When they are done, they gather together and slowly walk back up the hill and disappear back around the hedge.  There are other groups of crows that fly in, but this bunch likes to hoof it. Strange.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Pros and Cons of a Polar Vortex and my "To Do" list

The Polar Vortex is heading this way again facilitating a chore that I have been postponing for chilly weather, insulating the crawlspace under the house.  It could be done in warmer weather, but I choose not to for serious reasons. 

First, I put on one of those Tyvek suits to keep those itchy bits of fiber glass out of my clothes and it is rather warm in there. 

Second, the chilly temperatures change the critters out and about, namely snakes.  I've seen a ginormous king snake, a couple of rat snakes and the creme de la creme of giving me the willies, the copperhead.  The king snake, I know, is harmless, but he/she is so big that it really doesn't matter that I know it is harmless.  The rat snakes and I seem to have worked out a bit of an agreement that they stay out of my way and I'll stay out of theirs, but they keep shedding their skins just to the west of the foundation of the house, so I know that they are still there.  Then there was that little bitty copperhead, the problem with little bitty snakes is that odds are their siblings are also nearby.  The venomous bit isn't exactly a selling point either.  The polar winds will blow and those legless reptiles will wiggle their way into their little holes in the ground and stay there until spring.  Works for me.

Before the polar vortex gets here, I had a few things to get done. This morning, I patched the fault line that had formed in our driveway.  It had filled with weeds and bits of soil and to my surprise, many, many earthworms.  I cleaned it out and patched it.  I loved the instructions on the package that told me that if I didn't feel like renting a tamper, I could always drive the car back and forth over it.  So, with my little Scion, I tamped it.  Doing the pot hole that had formed on the shared part of the driveway was more fun to tamp, it is on a pretty steep incline and I have a five speed car.  Going back and forth over it, having to gun it a bit to pull back up the hill may have entertained the neighbors a little.

Later today my daughter and I will dig up the dahlia corms.  A month ago I should have dug up the irises that need to be divided, but I didn't, maybe that will happen also.  The daffodils need relocating will be dark before it all happens.  Tomorrow is still supposed to be nice, the list will carry over.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Quests for Mincemeat and Currants

The holiday season approaches and as with many holidays past, I would like some of my family's traditional foods.  The problem is that after so many generations the ingredients are getting harder and harder to find.

My family has a policy, we eat no fruitcake other than that someone in the family has made from the family recipe, otherwise who knows what we might be eating.  This year I'm going to give it a try.  I did it a few years back with my mom in Massachusetts, but this effort is to be all on my own.  Except, she has had to help me a bit.  Currants are not to be found in this area, I've checked all the stores.  So, after a few discussions, she located a box and mailed it to me.

The other item we perennially have an issue with is mincemeat. Now I know there are many folks out there who haven't a clue as to what this mysterious stuff is, in fact I spoke with many of them in my search.    At each grocery store where I inquired I was faced with a quizzical look, "Oh, you'll find that in the meat department."  Nope.  I'm not talking ground beef or pork or chicken or meatloaf mix, I'm talking good old raisins, apples and suet, yep, suet.  After a brief discussion, I'm usually asked what the heck would anyone do with that stuff.   

 Once I have found an employee who knows what the stuff is, then I spring on them that only the boxed stuff will do, the mincemeat in a jar has funky thickeners and an an extra bit of flavoring that no one in the family finds appealing.  The grocery clerks scratch their heads trying to get their brain around how anyone would box the mush that comes in a jar. (It's all dried, it needs to be rehydrated before using.) Out come the handheld inventory computers and the cell phones to the folks in distribution.  Everyone seems really puzzled by all of this.  I stumbled upon the right employee in Safeway, my fourth grocery.  After four other clerks hadn't a clue, she pipes up, "Oh that's back in the dairy section on the end cap."  The mystified four all drop their jaws, astounded that this stuff made of raisins, apples and suet is real.  We took a walk to the far back corner where the dairy is always kept, and there it was, next to the jarred stuff.  The clueful clerk noted that the type of tag on the shelf indicated that it was to be discontinued.

I bought eight boxes.  I'll share with my family, a little.The magical filling rivals Twinkies in shelf life, so I know I'm set for a few years, even if a few boxes head north in a suitcase after Thanksgiving.

Pies, lovely pies, I've found there's a bit of a trick.  The package has directions for several different sized pies and how many boxes you'll need to make each pie.  The rule is to make the smallest pie with one box, because the larger pies have the wrong filling to crust ratio.  The big ones are too sweet,  and seem soggy, a small pie gets two crusts and just enough of the filling to go with a cup of tea, without feeling overwhelmed.

It's 3:58 PM, tea sounds like a good idea.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

De-Fauxing Before and After

Spent a good chunk of the day in the bathroom, it has changed a bit.

Before, shiny 1970's faux marble econo-bath

After, 2014 color blast econo-upgrade
It still needs another coat of paint, but the color effect is there.  The cringe I felt every time I went into the bathroom has gone away.  Now to find or make some art to go on the back wall.


Today looks to be one of the last really warm days of the year, it is supposed to be 76 degrees.  I have a project that I have been waiting for the perfect day to do...not too hot, not too humid, no one else home and no appointments or interruptions, today is the day.  I'm going to prime the walls of my lovely vintage 1970 bathroom with a nasty oil based primer.  The only other options would be to remove the walls and start over or live with this:

I'm guessing that the walls are some sort of fiberglass coating on hardboard, trying feebly to be faux marble.  The other bathroom was similar with a blue faux marble effect, primed and painted it is much more bearable.  It was my experiment space, since only my husband and I use it.  It took three primers to find one that stuck properly.  Now it looks like this:
Color not quite right in photo, it is darker and less minty, more green.

The other walls in the "white faux" bathroom, which were dry walled, were done over pretty soon after we moved in. They had been that funky almond sort of color that apartment owners buy by the 5 gallon bucket to cover the dirt of the previous tenant.  I, not known for my color subtlety, did it like this:

The plastic marble white walls will be transformed partly today, with all the windows opened wide, fans turned on venting outward.  They will be merely "white walls" and then in a couple of days I will paint them Benjamin Moore's Sweet Orange, like the rest of the room.  The trim will be white, whenever I get around to it.

I found out when I did the ceiling in this bathroom that the ceiling paints that change color as they dry to help you figure out where you have and have not painted are not the best in the bathroom.  When I shower the ceiling turns pink and then slowly fades over the next hour.  It does seem to be less intense each week as the paint cures.

I am just killing time by blogging, waiting for the outdoor temperatures to get a little higher before I throw the windows open and don my speckled painting attire.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Leaf and Human Printing

I went into the little patch of woods behind my house this morning.  I needed woods.  For a minute or two it was blissful and then the sounds of a lawn tractor and a cart, a chain saw, a car with some sort of customization to make it sound like Formula 1 racing, people shouting above the noise of this car and then a jet flew overhead, any illusion of my solitude was shattered.  It was the weekend and everyone was about and everyone had a loud machine.

I had a day pretty much to myself, my husband and daughter had left very early to volunteer at an event.  I considered heading to an art museum, but then I decided that I needed to do the creating myself.  Since we bought the house I have been playing with the idea of integrating leaf prints from the yard/woods trees into the kitchen in some way.  To do this, first I must try a bunch of methods to see what would work best with the space.  I'll end up with extra stuff and probably some  hideous pieces, but the fun is in creating, experimenting.

I pulled out watercolor paper and  prepped it for painting, which meant that it would be ready the next day.  I needed to do something, so I grabbed some rectangles of hardboard that I had been holding onto for a while.  I decided that I would use spray paint.  I wanted the leaves to appear green on the boards, so I painted them varying shades of green with paint left over from my search for the perfect color for my dining table.  Each board had three shades of green blended in different ways. 

I returned to the woods to choose my leaves.  I was seeking a variety of shapes and sizes to make the project more interesting. I decided pawpaw was a must, spicebush was next, then wild dogwood and then there was one mystery tree that I had yet to identify.  With my handy field guide, I determined that I had a box elder tree, a member of the maple family with sap that can be turned into syrup, good to know.

With hand pruners, I collected my samples.  I climbed out of the little ravine into the sunshine, took a few steps and went sprawling on the ground.  I was so wrapped up in my project that I forgot about the sunken spot where we buried the chickens and ducks that died in the coop fire. (see Painting Over the Memory, January 2013).   (I had been filling it up with leaves and such, but my daughter became upset, because she wanted to be able to see where they were buried, so she raked out the leaves.)  I found myself on the ground with my face in the grass right next to the leaf samples I had been carrying.  The shears had flown out of my hand and were three feet away. The moles and voles that plague the yard had done me a huge favor, the ground was pretty soft.  Instead of leaf prints, I had made a giant human print in the soil.  After a few moments of wiggling fingers, toes, arms and ankles to check for correct operation, I stood hoping that the ache in my ankle was temporary.  All was well. A couple of the leaves were damaged, but there were plenty to complete the project.  I brushed most of the soil off my jeans and continued on.

I had seen a pin on Pinterest where someone had used colored backgrounds and gold paint to create stencils of leaves, so I thought I would try my version.  I laid out some leaves on each board, sprayed two with black paint and two with silver paint.  The result was underwhelming. I decided to try another layer of different leaves and using silver on the black and black on silver.  Better, but not quite there, I needed a little more green, so I did another layer, and on some boards yet another.  They did not come out anything like I thought they would, but in some way they do capture the feel of the woods.  I'm not sure about their future in relationship to my kitchen decor.  I'm going to have to stare at them for a while.


The garden year is pretty well over, there are a few things out there, but it mostly looks bedraggled.  I photographed (with my daughter's camera) the best of what's left and the huge diversity of cool looking mushrooms (if anyone can ID any of them that would be great!).

Joseph's Coat Rose, they aren't at all like the pictures in the catalog.

Love the color of this zinnia.

Aji Cito, a pepper that has a lemony background flavor and a kick in the pants.

Figs that are growing too high for the chickens to nab.


Our lonely persimmon, almost ready to eat.

 Now for the mushrooms, they grow in two areas of the yard.

These are everywhere in this area.

Slimy looking things.

These are cute.

Strange, slimy and funky yellow.

Blue/green tinge in this one.

    These are huddled together, the tall green stuff is chives.  Locally they call it onion grass because it grows in everyone's lawns. It smells like you have been chopping onions when you mow.

These grow in a fairy ring, that doesn't photograph well.

Fuzzy looking mushrooms.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


When my camera fell out of my jacket pocket onto the beach this summer, I was afraid  it would never work again. I gave a sigh of relief when  I picked it up and snapped a shot, but now two months later, it can't focus.  Sand is mucking up the works.  I found a list of things to try to do to get it to work again, no luck yet.

Here's a shot of the beach.

Yes, I was in New England. 

 I was playing with images of seaweed and stones and studying the ways the water left marks in the sand and looking at the shadows the seaweed cast.

I also spent some time studying the tracks of the shorebirds.  There was plover nest site nearby.

Shortly after I took these shots, I placed the camera in my windbreaker's pocket, and sat on the blanket for a bit.  When I stood the camera skidded out of the slippery nylon and onto the sand.  I took more pictures that day and many days after, but the camera chose to jam today--as I was trying to photograph the crabapple pickles I made (which look like eyeballs sealed in a Mason jar).  They were going to be the starting point of this blog, but it didn't happen.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Hunger Games Killed Our Cherry Tree

Weeping cherry, April 2013
If you have been reading my posts, you've seen our shed with the weeping cherry tree in front of it.  The year we moved in it was gorgeous, but it has declined, to the point where the last few leaves on it are withering right now. Now all my regular readers are mumbling, "It's the deer, isn't it?"  It is not the deer. Young Adult fiction killed our weeping cherry tree.

I can hear the."Huh's?" already, but let me explain.  I think it is cool that kids coming of age now have stories that they can relate to, with interesting themes and even strong female characters, but I think a couple of these books need a guidebook to go along with them, specifically, The Hunger Games.  My daughter and her friends role play Hunger Games in the yard, at first I was horrified.  They were playing a game that involved killing all the other players, but then I started listening and watching. They climb trees, form alliances, make tools and weapons from what they find lying around.  I love the fact that most of it is about forming alliances and working together, but the one part that bothers me is one that interests me the most.  The ethnobotany side of things, how people use plants in their lives.  I've found little boxes of plant material tucked into nooks in the yard, a few berries, various leaves and bark, which leads me to my weeping cherry issue.

 Last year I noticed that it wasn't looking quite as nice and wondered if the very hot dry summer damaged it, but upon closer inspection I realized it certainly wasn't the weather. In three places along the trunk of the tree the bark has been peeled back 95% of the way around.
Weeping cherry July 17, 2014

What is left of the leaves.

Three bare strips

Little handles to facilitate girdling.
Gaping wound
  The tree has been girdled. The only part of the trunk that is truly living is the outer layers, which convey the water and minerals/nutrients up to the branches and leaves. It is a sad thing.  It was a beautiful tree, it is no longer.  We'll cut it down and plant some new tree, it is disappointing.

When I showed my daughter, she was horrified, of course she swore that she had nothing to do with it, and maybe she didn't.  We've had so many kids over playing the game that it could have been anyone and what could we do about it now or even fifteen minutes after the damage was done?  Now it is time to figure out what beautiful tree can take it's place and to figure out the logistics of getting the tree down while not damaging the shed, chicken run or anything else nearby.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Week of Reading

The heat, the "A" named hurricane of the year, thunderstorms, yep, it's July!

I went on a reading blitz for a few days, and flew threw several very different works of fiction, some serious, some less so.  It all started with a book I received for my birthday, Ship Fever.  A collection of inter-related stories  with biological sciences as a link.  Mendel, Darwin, Linnaeus, among others, make appearances.  It was strange that one of Linneaus' Apostles (as his followers were called) mentioned in this book, Pehr Osbeck, also appeared in another book I read during this blitz.  Chasing the Rose by Andrea Di Robilant mentions this man as the person who brought Chinese roses to Europe, possibly including the one that Di Robilant is chasing.  Now, I have to find out more about this person, it seems whenever some item or name suddenly starts appearing everywhere it is time for some research.  I guess I know the topic of the next couple of non-fiction books that I will check out of the library.  It is this sort of meandering reading that allows me to collect all sorts of obscure knowledge. I hope he is an interesting person.

Speaking of roses, the pretty little Julia Child roses are still the favorites of Bambi and friends, as well as the Japanese beetles.  The single blossomed rose that sits right next to them has nary a nibble.  The new Joseph's Coat roses planted to hide the "oh-so 70's" metal posts in front of the house are likewise nibble free.  There needs to be a new category of roses, ones that deer and bugs will not ravage, I'll order those.

Yellow roses play a part in The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise, another one of the books that I read...can't get away from thinking about roses, I guess.  This book was much less serious than the others, it was light and enjoyable, and a quick read.

The last two are ones that I have somehow missed, probably because I pretty much boycotted science fiction for the past two decades, after reading many really bad books in a row.  Life is too short for bad books.  I actually chose the first one from a Goodreads list for my husband, it showed up on nearly every must read list for science fiction, Ender's Game.  ( I'll let you know now, there are no roses in these books, that I can remember.)  He was reading it during out recent extended-family camping trip, when my nephew made a few comments on it.  My husband read it right through during  the trip and then I picked it up, reading it by flashlight after everyone else had gone to sleep.  I'm glad we brought extra batteries. 
We both loved the book, and now my daughter is in the process of blasting through it.  One check out from the library and three people read it, pretty efficient.  The next book was Ender's Shadow, the same story as Ender's Game, but from the perspective of a different character. Now having gone to the Amazon webpage several times to write this blog, I know there are five books in the series and book three will have to be on my list very soon.  The series can't be too long, I've a garden to tend.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Bounty!!

It's cool inside, but it sure isn't outside. It was ninety degrees in the shade with 63% humidity, I can't imagine how women survived a hundred or more years ago all bound up tight in multiple layers of clothing.

Baby beach plum (and weeds) in protective custody.
I've been busy trying to reduce the impact the deer have on our trees.  Almost every baby tree has 4' high barrier to keep the deer from browsing.  Some day someone will look at our oddly shaped fruit trees and wonder why we ever pruned them that way and the answer would be, "We didn't, the deer did."

As I was out there cutting fence sections early this morning, the deer were hanging along the edges of the property.  I walked toward them and they did not behave as wild deer should.  They just stood there looking at me.  Some serious deer feeding is going on around here, they are not afraid.  There are two does that we see regularly, the larger buff colored doe and the reddish doe.  We see other deer sometimes, but these two are the regulars. 

One nice flower bud on top, tonight they feast!
They find my Julia Child roses very tasty, which is both amusing and annoying.  Each time the rose gets close to blooming, the buds get nibbled off in the night.  I ran out of fencing. I need to get more.

The critter count for this week is pretty high: bunnies, bunnies and more bunnies, one woodchuck (ground hog), two deer (seen repeatedly), crows (trying to steal eggs, but the girls are laying where they are supposed to and the crows are missing out), blue birds, bluejays, cowbirds, a pileated woodpecker, a snake (in the potato patch), cabbage loopers, harlequin beetles, tomato horn worms, skinks, stink bugs, dog ticks, slugs, deer flies and more.

I haven't seen the box turtle yet, he must be hiding from me.

We have had sugar snap peas for dinner almost every night this week, after having some sort of greens every night for the previous two weeks.  I spent a couple of mornings blanching and freezing greens, now we have ten meals worth of greens ready to go. Now a few days have elapsed, I should get out there to pick some more (when it cools a bit). I'll probably blanch and freeze some of the peas tonight, so we can have more variety later. 

Alpine strawberries
Blueberries, not ready!

The mulberries (no work, and they are one of my favorites!) and strawberries are ripe, the blackberries will be ready shortly.  The raspberries will be ready on about the same time as last year, late next week!

Sorry girls, no cabbage loopers this time.

The girls are laying 3-4 eggs a day.  I have been in a bit of a baking frenzy, so we have been keeping up with them.

The bounty!!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Turtles, Crows and Deer, but not an Aesop's Fable

I've been rather busy, but it's the kind of busy that I have trouble defining what is actually taking all of my time.  Much of it is the garden, I head out there and whoop, two hours--gone!  Not so today.  It is starting to warm up significantly (just checked 86 degrees F, in the shade) and I'm not quite used to it yet.

I'm in the process of mulching the garden with straw, so that the weeding doesn't run my life any longer.  It also cuts down on the watering, which can also be a bit of a time suck.
Baby tomato and watermelon plants, with greens and sunflowers in background.
Three bales down, probably 2-3 to go.  Time to drive the XB over to the nursery to get three more bales.

I bought some blue potatoes at an international grocery a few weeks ago, they were amazing.  Some started to sprout pretty quickly, so I guessed that they hadn't been treated with any anti-sprouting agents that are often on potatoes in the supermarket.  I planted an 18 foot row in the back garden alongside the banana fingerlings and the Yukon golds.  The little blue guys have come up in the past 24 hours!!! 
Banana fingerling (left) and Yukon Gold potatoes

The greens are doing an amazing job in the front garden, we have been having kale and Swiss chard almost every evening, in many different forms.
Lacinato Kale
Swiss Chard

Tonight we start on the collards!  I'll do them up with a cider gastrique sauce that my husband found on the internet a few years back for one of the special meals he prepares for me.  It is brown sugar, half as much water made into a simple syrup (boil it for a couple of minutes) and then add the same amount of cider vinegar as the water, a pinch of hot pepper salt and some sort of allium (garlic, onions, chives, shallots, whatever).  The original recipe called for shallots, but I rarely have any and the markets here often don't carry that sort of stuff, so whatever I have goes in.   The original recipe also called for a bazillion steps, which I refuse to do, and have simplified it to the point where it takes about three minutes from when I pull the ingredients out of the pantry. Beyond this collard dish, I haven't a clue what else I am serving for dinner, last night we had whole wheat rotini pasta tossed with garlic, tuna, olive oil, red pepper, and red Russian kale, with beets on the side.

Red Russian Kale
The strawberries have been doing pretty well, but I've been finding a few with one bite out of them, which means my little friend the box turtle has walked his way back to my garden. I'm going to have to find him and walk him farther away into the woods this time, maybe to the other side of the stream.  Luckily, most of the strawberries are planted in another spot in the west side of the yard.
Tiny Alpine strawberries in the side yard.

The deer have pruned two of the trees that  did not have fences around them, time to get more fencing.  It (probably the doe we have seen a couple of times) ate four of the six medlars on the medlar tree, at least it had the courtesy to leave me a couple to try.

The wild raspberries are flowering, the mulberries should be ripe in about a week, one variety of blackberry (Apache) has developed a fair amount of berries that should be ripe in about a week and the other variety is just flowering. There are just a few blueberries this year, next year they should be mature enough to produce some more fruit.

My mother would be proud, I have been practicing my pie crust and have had two decent ones in a row.  I will have plenty of things to bake in pastry soon!

In another battle with wildlife, the crows have been stealing the chicken's eggs and eating them.  Luckily, the girls have finally started laying under a dome that has been out there for a while and the crows can't see into it.  We placed a plastic egg underneath to help encourage them to lay there.  It usually works.  We were able to retrieve three eggs yesterday, for the first time a in a couple of weeks.

So much to do still!