Thursday, July 31, 2014

What happened to July?

I blinked and I think I missed it! Actually, I had my nose buried in a book – most of the time. But I still got plenty of things accomplished since I last posted back in June. I didn’t accomplish everything I wanted to … but I still did a lot.  Therefore, I am posting “chapters.” They will be as follows:
1.     Bees
2.     Books
3.     Cats
6.     The Garden
7.     Harebrained Ideas
8.     New Phone

Now – I want every one of these to be a separate link to a post. But since I don’t know how to do that… we’ll all be surprised by the results. I’m going to post them all tonight, but some will have a message that they aren’t quite finished yet! Sorry. Please come back and check on them again. 

I am sorry about this unorthodox way of posting, but – I took a vacation day today in order to tackle the blogging issue. Aannnd, ahem,  I cleaned the house instead. This wasn’t a slapdash aim-the-vacuum-in-the-general-direction-of-dust-bunnies normal cleaning. No no – this was the serious clean-the-sides-of-the-oven, vacuum-the-walls, and shine-the-silver kind of cleaning. In other words; It took all day. What a way to spend vacation! And everything is sparkling clean. Aaaahhh, lovely.

Another aspect of the neglect and careless attitude toward blogging is due to - The Weather… oh The Weather! I really hope I am not jinxing it by writing about it – but it has been beautiful! Yes we’ve had a few sweltering days, but nothing significant enough to warrant  hauling the window air conditioners out of the basement. It has been so nice that even on the sweltering days, if you sit in the garden there is a lovely breeze and it is very comfortable. I am enjoying the weather so much – but not without a bit of guilt. I know, I know, this isn’t normal! I should want those sweltering days because that is normal. Yeah – whatevuh! I am enjoying this loveliness! Really! And so I’m just trying to be grateful for the Now. No complaints from me.

What happened to July? - Bees

The bees are still there and doin’ dandy. They are very busy! Those bees.

Matt had to come over and add yet another floor to their condo. They’ve been super productive.  He will be very busy in the next few weeks, but soon, very soon, there will be honey! Yay!

What happened to July? - Books

This is what really happened to July… I was reading.

At the beginning of July in an all staff meeting, it was announced that we will be giving Sue Monk Kidd (The Secret Life of Bees) an award. She recently wrote The Invention of Wings which is now an Oprah Book Club book. In a fit of missing my book club from So Cal very much, and having fond remembrances of when we read The Secret Life of Bees, I splurged and bought the book.
I was instantly enthralled. As mentioned, the weather here has been amazing. After purchasing the book, I gave into temptation. I gave up doing anything productive on a Saturday and read all day. I started in the morning and read in bed for several hours. Then a bike ride. Followed by more reading on my birthday garden-furniture. The weather was so lovely and comfortable, I lounged the rest of the day, surrounded by mosquito candles and incense on my “deck”.  
 Upon finishing the book – I thought… wow … I really miss this! I miss reading a good story.  This one obliged. Feeling withdrawals from the good reading experience, I stood staring at the shelves of books I own. One spoke to me that I hadn’t read yet – Willa Cather – Sapphira and the Slave Girl.
What an interesting comparison. Published in 1940, it was her last book. The similarities are as striking as are the differences. For example the vocabulary Cather feels comfortable using to write the novel, is not used by Kidd. At. All. I would really like to know if Sue Monk Kidd read this book – ever. It is very interesting. But I think if I go on in this vain of questions I might have to write a PhD... and ... I’m not interested at this time…  

What happened to July? - Cats

How did the cats fair? Were they neglected? Not in the least.  Reading and knitting in bed in the mornings on weekends was Swee’pea’s cup-o-tea.  He sits right next to me, happy to receive any kind of pat that happens to be available.  His troubles have not exactly subsided, but they seem to have gotten better, for now.  He is still really adorable.
I did take a workshop at the end of June in DC over a weekend. When I came back his nervous stomach licking was worse than ever. But it seems to have subsided a bit.While Jacques wants nothing to do with the bed in the summertime, Swee’pea does still sleep on the corner of the bed.
Not touching – mind you – but still on the same plane of existence.   

Jacques was in complete favor of my reading marathon. He was happy to sit on the deck, 

or the bench, 
or the table,… 
 it didn’t really matter as long as I was in the yard and he could keep watch in my presence. 
He has started doing some funny things in terms of Miss Mary and dogs next door. If I start talking to any of them, he comes over and chime in. I’d give a good dime to know what he is trying to say when he stalks over, practically squawking at us.  When he’s had his say, he hangs around as long a Miss Mary and I are talking.  After that – he checks on the corners of his yard again… or whatever it is I’ve brought down in a basket to work on…
And no worries, there is plenty inside the house for him to claim as well. 
Tomorrow, bad news for both of the boys, we have a vet appointment. Jacques needs a rabies shot and Swee’pea, well, I think I should get a new subscription and accept the fact that he’s a nervous wreck and he needs “better living through chemistry.” Poor boy.  Since I only have the one cat carrier, I purchased a new one.  The lady at the pet store talked me into getting the one that’s like a duffle bag. I sure hope I made the right decision.  I think I did. I think it will be easier to get poor Sweetie into this one rather than the old fashioned kind. Jacques is (relatively speaking) much easier to shove into the carrier. With Swee’pea there is usually blood (mine). I’ll let you know. 

I’ve left both carriers open upstairs for the week so people can get used to them. 

Someone decided he quite liked the new one. Little does he know…

What happened to July? Clothing and Wearables.

What happened to July? – I sewed… (and knitted)

At the beginning of July I had a hankerin’ for new clothes. But being totally broke because of “no teaching in the summer” I only had one option - pull out fabric and patterns from the massive stash.  So in no particular order here are some of my new wardrobe:

Pink blouse:
I have been trying to sew this blouse for over 7 years. I cut it out the wrong size, then I tried to put it together, didn’t like it, tried something else and finally this summer I’ve decided – time to finish the darn thing no matter what. And phew – finally. Here it is!

I ended up liking this pattern so much I sewed another blouse from fabric one of my amazing students brought back from Ghana. 
She had received a fellowship to travel there and work with a fabric making collective. I asked her to bring some fabric back for me and she more than obliged. This one is one of my favorite designs. Cotton – perfect for the summer.

There is one more blouse cut in this pattern but from stretchy fabric. Fabric I purchased a few years ago and had made into a different blouse. But that blouse didn’t look so hot on me.  I took it apart and have cut the new blouse out. But now I need to get myself in gear to finish it.

I made two.
This one was just supposed to be an experiment.  I also wanted to sew this pattern with vintage fabric which didn’t actually have enough for the sleeves. I wanted to see how it would look without sleeves. It looks fine! But I still haven’t sewn the one from vintage fabric.

The other dress is made from fabric purchased back in - November with Melanie? And because it was a splurge at the time I was bound and determined to sew a dress out of it this summer.  
And I love it. It is very hard not to wear this everyday. Once a week seems like pushing it.  I've received lots of compliments. Not only is it incredibly comfortable but I like how I look in it! Every time I pass something reflective it makes me smile.

Also in the “clothing” section, I think this is a good place to update on the shoes.  
The shoes have lost steam. I know I have to finish them. I do.
 The thing is, I don’t think the leather I used is strong enough to be shoes for very long. I might get a few wears out of them and that is very discouraging. It took so much work.
But I must learn the hard way.  I’m chipping away at this project and I will finish it – even just to spite my instincts, and prove them right. 

And finally, of course I knitted! I knitted a pair of socks for Erin M. Erin is/was one of my grad students. She gave me some lovely cotton left over from one of her projects. She had dyed it herself and it was such a perfect Erin M. color! I decided it was high time to try my hand at some lacy socks.  Did I take pictures of them? Of course not! I forgot.
Then it was time to knit for Jessica. Jessica is due in August  - the 17th – a little boy Kenneth… and Kenneth needs a cute little hat. 
I knitted it a little large so that hopefully by the time the winter rolls around it fits. I also knitted a cute vest for little Kenny, but (looks sheepish) I forgot to take a picture of that one too.

For me I am knitting a pair of socks out of some yarn I’ve been saving for a while.  I am sort of stalled at the heel though – been stalled for about two weeks… I’m not worried though - cold weather is around the corner - I'm sure to finish then.  

What happened to July? - Cooking and Canning

Well, I had to eat.

My farm share has been wonderfully abundant.  Lovely vegetables and I’ve been very good about staying on top of eating them all. There’ve been a few that slipped to the back of the drawer before I realized it, but so far nothing tragic. 

Since my strawberry picking excursion I’ve wanted to do more pick-your-own.  When Katie said she’d love to pick blue berries I was all for it.  We went to one of the closest farms, Linvilla Orchards. Now, I don’t know if they are organic and Pedro calls them a zoo, and I can see his point. But I can also see a lot of good that they do. The place is huge, they have many different crops, and they cater not just to people who want to pick their own and plan to can, but also to children. (It's 15 stems of zinnias for $5.)
Families with kids and school field trips were there in full force. It didn’t diminish any fun we had – in fact it made us happy that here were little kids walking along holding bags of peaches they had picked right off the tree. Since the weather has been so nice, picking was a pleasant experience as well. On that particular Friday Katie and I picked 8lbs of blueberries. That’s enough for six pies, a giant yogurt container full and a bit more for breakfast yogurt. One pie has been baked, the other five allotments are frozen and can be baked at a moment’s notice!

Katie and Jessica partook of the first blueberry pie and it was decided we needed to go back for peaches. So we did. 

 On a cool Saturday morning we drove to the farm passing a heavy rainstorm on the way.  The storm must have hit the farm as well because everything was wet as can be. Perfectly beautiful ripe peaches lay all over the place on the ground ready to be picked up.  Now Jessica, at 8 months pregnant, wasn’t really into crawling around under the trees. So Katie and I took that job while Jessica picked from the trees.  We ended up with something like 30lbs of peaches. That’s a lot of peaches.  I’ve been wanting to make pickles as well, and so Katie and Jessica kindly obliged me while I picked about 10lbs of cucumbers.

 Melanie sent me her dill pickle recipe which is delicious. I was supposed to wait a week after making them , but I really couldn’t.  There is something incredibly satisfying about making your own, whatever it is. 

So the count stands thusly:
2 jars of whole brandied peaches
2 jars of peaches preserved in light syrup
10 jars of peach sauce (just cooked with some spices and a little sugar)
11 jars of pickles. 

Not bad.  

I was also finally able to crack open an experiment from last summer, pickled nasturtiums.  I really had my misgivings about these.  They were so simple even though I only ended up with three little jars of them. I actually only ended up with one after giving the other two away.  Needles to say, people are going to have to request these this year! They are so yummy!

I decided to put them on a tilapia fillet. Trader Joe's has lovely frozen fish.  I made a little bit of a sauce with butter, salt pepper, and a dash of the brine, sautéed the fish in that and added the nasturtiums.  Oh boy. They are so yummy.  I went right out and planted as many seeds as I had kept from last year along with a packet I rustled up from somewhere.  They are coming up and I am so excited to make more of these! They are delicious. Poor Man’s Capers indeed!

What happened to July? - The Garden

 Raspberries were abundant all through June.
  In addition to these (about six cups in one picking) I probably picked one to two cups every other day.  Raspberries are some kind of delicious.

  Most were consumed in yogurt in the mornings or by the handful during the day.  But one batch made it into raspberry frozen yogurt, yummy, and another batch was juiced for jelly. The jelly part didn’t quite happen yet and so it might actually be more like wine or vinegar at this point – I haven’t brought myself to check.
The second week of July we had a few very hot days that dried all the berries up. There was not one single one left. But no complaints I had raspberries for about a month, with the promise of more in September. Yes, they come twice a year. What a perfect fruit.
The Echinaceas and Hollyhocks were next to arrive and have been blooming ever since.

The bees really like them, not the honeybees so much as the wild bees. When we (Katie and Jessica and I) went picking the other week we came across some kind of red echinacea which was gorgeous!!! But at $34 a pot (yes pot, not pop, although in this case it amounts to the same thing) I’ll have to hunt down the seeds and grow them from scratch.  Hopefully.  (Quick google search tells me this will be possible!)

Morning Glories have also graced us with their presence.
When I look out my kitchen window in the morning, I am greeted with the sight of these luminous purple blooms. They make me so happy. There must be something about that color, it seems to glow.

I also have plenty of the pink variety and even missed yanking down some of the wild white ones. Now they are allowed to stay as they are contributing to the overall beauty of the garden. 

Blueberries have turned blue, and I actually had to chase away one of those darn squirrels who sat there picking them off the bush and eating them. And speaking of those little tree vampires….
They have also stolen two of my tomatoes! Nasty little buggers. But I have purchased the necessary garlic to smash and rub all over the green tomatoes and to put in a bottle of water to spray over the remaining plant. Really. This works! 
One of my plants is struggling – I don’t know why.  The other seems to be fine although the tomatoes are having a hard time turning red. I think that’s the result of not enough heat and too much rain.  Some have already been sacrificed to being fried green tomatoes, which isn’t so bad either. The cherry tomatoes are doing just dandy. 
I’m starting to pick about two cups every other day with plenty more growing green on the bush.  I’m surprised by this variety, the bush hasn’t grown very tall – but it is producing like crazy.  So there is nothing to complain about really…

But the garlic… why did I purchase garlic, you ask? Because I wouldn’t want to waste my beautiful heirloom garlic (thank you Melanie!) on those little vampires.   The result is about 30 heads of garlic. One ginormous one and the rest medium and small. I am having a hard time resisting the temptation to eat the big guy – but I also want big garlic next year. So I will have to save it for planting. 
These were finally ready to harvest last weekend, so I did. Washed it well and spanned it on the laundry line to dry.

In the sad news, I think my azalea has died. No indication as to why – but possibly someone peed on it. And I really do mean a two-legged someone.  Mr. El told me he chased someone out of the yard who was doing just that a couple of months ago. And now my azalea, which was thriving! has simply withered away. I’m very sad, it was a gorgeous little plant. 

Other things are making up for the loss:
 I have made so much pesto from this stuff its unbelievable. 
And I've also got what are supposedly ground cherries?
although they look like a weed I normally have. But this is what I planted right here with a sign from the ground cherries which I started from seed. We'll see. The chinese lanterns are finally turning orange, so maybe I'll get some ground cherries yet.  (They are related).

But sunflowers…. Oh my sunflowers have bloomed this week! I’ve been looking forward to these since last October when I said goodbye to them for the season.
I have even more plants than last year! Including teddy bear sunflowers.
   This guy, when he’s done blooming should look like this:
The blooms are encouraging in that most of these came from seeds I saved from last year. I’m planning on doing the same thing again next year until I get tired of them. (snort-who can get tired of sunflowers!?)
The war on the weeds continues as I’m sure it ever shall. Rather than soak the brick walkway with water, or be extremely disciplined about running out directly after a rainstorm, I’ve decided to try a new tactic; light deprivation.  I used all of my remaining trash bags for the end of the walkway at the beginning of June, to excellent results.  Now I’m working on the other end of the walkway. I’ve heard the garden pundits talk about how when you cover the ground up like this, not only do you kill all the weeds but you also kill all of the good bacteria in the soil. In this case, I’m not too chuffed seeing as I don’t want anything to grow in that soil anyway.  But I do think I can come up with a better system than garbage bags. I’m thinking a roll of heavy canvas, exactly the size of the walkway…

As I mentioned the weather this summer has been something unbelievable. I am sitting outside on the deck as I write in shorts and shirt in perfect comfort (aside from the mosquitoes). Today's high was 80°F? This is unheard of. I did some basic maintenance, but more always needs to be done.  Maybe tomorrow I'll tackle the chinese lantern jungle and the mound of morning glories that is supposedly my mulch pile. 

And finally, I have another guest in the garden
 I'm not sure if it is the same mantis, but this one (I'm guessing) moved from my bicycle handle to the sunflowers by the porch. A very wise move, I think.