Archive for July, 2008

The most expensive beans in the world.

Bolstered by the exuberant breeze, I ventured into the overgrown, ill-conceived Garden of Shame yesterday. And while I was furiously pulling 3ft-tall weeds, I came upon these shining beacons of vegetable hope. Beautiful green beans. I squealed and hollered for Isadora to come and see that the myth of planting seeds in the soil to grow your own vegetables may not be a myth after all. “We grew these beans!” I repeated to her as we picked and hours later as we ate them with our supper. They were everything that home-grown, heirloom vegetables were supposed to be – bursting with freshness and flavor and, we trust, nutrients. And we all were in awe. Given the general state of the garden, that is. They were some kind of vegetable miracle.

Yeah, I haven’t talked much about the garden yet, mostly because I’ve been spending all my time in the corner, whimpering and licking my wounds. In short, it’s been a debacle. Normally one of our favorite words – it hints of something worse than a disaster with an added element of folly. Yes. That about sums it up.

I started the growing season all starry-eyed and ambitious and completely ignorant. Hours and hours and hours and hours were spent reading, discussing, thinking, planning all things garden. Because, while I’d certainly grown things before, I’d never really ventured so far into the edible garden scene. Especially on this scale.

Phrases like that should be a dead-giveaway as to one of the reasons for the lack of success. We started way too big. Even as I was forced to reprint blank pages of the seed order form to complete my order, I noticed faint warning bells ringing in the distance. The methodology seemed sound, however. Our goal was to forgo joining a CSA this year and try to raise all of our own vegetables. Oh, we’d cut our grocery bill in half or more, we guessed, since the bulk of our shopping cart was filled with organic, often locally-grown veggies. So the question of what to plant became the answer to a more important question: “What do we want to eat?” Because we’re rather adventurous eaters, so you can see how this swiftly got out of hand.

The seedlings were paltry and disadvantaged. It was my first year starting seeds indoors. I now know that they would have liked some supplemental heat and probably more light as well. I determined this when trying to understand why my seedlings were only 2 inches tall, compared to others’ 12″ or taller specimens. I also remember feeling a bit overwhelmed by the abundance of seeds in each packet, and didn’t consider that I didn’t have to plant each one. They may have been a bit crowded in there.

We were greatly delayed in planting. Our planting season in this region was greatly altered by the delayed spring and then the massive rains and flooding. Our garden was not the only one that was planted late, but our biggest hold-up was trying to crack the code of drip irrigation. I knew full well that I’d not be watering 3 gardens manually, I knew that this lack of watering had been the downfall of previous (child-size) gardens, and it was also the method highly recommended by the gardening book I had selected as my bible. Weeks went by while I tried to decipher the foreign language of the irrigation world enough to build a small-scale system appropriate for our garden. And it does seem to be a great system: a series of hoses channel the water to each row, where a line of small tubing allows drips to emit directly into the soil. All of this is connected to a timer, which I’ve programmed to my delight. By dripping the water slowly into the mulch, there’s little evaporation (waste) and the water is directed to the very place it’s needed: the roots.

Each of these setbacks, I think, could have been overcome or at least minimized in their impact, had I not continue to err.

Perhaps my greatest mistake was this: planting the seeds and seedlings into a mulch, rather than directly into the soil, surrounded by mulch. I had access to an All-You-Can-Eat buffet of composted horse manure, which we hauled in by the trailerload. It seemed like the perfect medium to plant in, being so rich in nutrients and able to hold some moisture. It also was a solution to the problem of dealing with a garden that had been growing wild with weeds for 2+ months while I had tinkered about solving the puzzle of irrigation. Applying the principles of Weedless Gardening with a smug confidence of a star student, I chose to layer cardboard, then compost over the crazy-tall weeds and smother them. Despite my initial misgivings about the garden project, I felt like I had it pretty well figured out now.

Except that nothing was growing. Nothing. At all. The tomato seedlings remained just that, stunted seedlings frozen in time. All 6 or 8 or 10 varieties remained the same, exact puny size for weeks, until many gave in to the pressure and expired. Maybe they’re too small to be put out, we had thought, so I replanted where needed and painstakingly covered each with a rather ingenious make-do version of a cloche to insulate them: a quart Mason jar propped up to allow for ventilation. Still nothing. Or nothing much. Yesterday’s investigation uncovered some plants that were almost greenhouse-starter-seedling-size. But no blossoms yet. (all respectable tomato plants in this area are bearing fruit that’s ready to pick or moments away from it) Perhaps if we experience a super-double-extended-bonus Indian Summer I may see some tomatoes from these plants. Don’t know – that’s way beyond my Rookie expertise.

This point is where it all fell apart, all pie-eyed morale was lost. The tomatoes were to be the showcase of the garden. There had been visions of canning them, drying them, eating them for months in the cold, dark winter. No more. From this point on, I avoided the garden like the plague. Some of this avoidance was deliberate: it was hot and I don’t do well in the sun (being nearly albino), the mosquitoes were horrible, I can’t even get to it through the tangle of waist-high grass surrounding it…. But in fact, much of the avoidance was unintentional. I had very little time to actually give it. There was the Chicken Drama, which continues yet, with different chapters and a rotating cast of main characters, yanking our attention away from anything else we may be trying to accomplish. There’s the ever-changing Important Family Event that requires our presence, wonderful catch-up-with-the-family time, but inevitably returns us home feeling like we’ve been flung off a g-force merry-go-round into the disaster zone that we left behind. And quite frankly, we’re completely overwhelmed by the amount of work that comes with a house and property of this size and haven’t quite figured out how to balance that with the other demands of our time that we brought with us, not to mention the drastically-increased commute to work and town.

The moral of this particular story, as I see it:

We’ve come to realize that no transition, especially one as dramatic as ours, is without the growing pains of traveling up the often steep Learning Curve. I find that I rarely come across this harsh reality when I travel through the pages of others’ “Back to the Land” accounts. (my favorite genre) From the start, I’ve intended for this blog to capture our particular journey with a little less glitter and gloss and tidy outcomes that seem to be the normal fare of this kind of story. By poking fun of ourselves and even highlighting our occasional follies, I hope to present us as Real People who have great, big intentions, but haven’t quite got it all figured out yet. We’re accomplishing things, lots of them, but not so perfectly on the first go.

So we have green beans. Despite our best (unintentional) efforts to thwart growth of any kind in the garden, the beans have persisted and grown into something marvelous. There’s also Dill, with the Volunteer Dill being much more vigorous than the measly dill seedlings I planted. There also appear to be carrots and maybe even parsnips. And lima beans and basil and calendula and hopefully some red onions, if the critters living there don’t eat them all up. Maybe, just maybe, if I can carve out some time out to de-forest the lettuce garden, I may find that the collards and kale are hanging in there, too. We’ve already harvested over 10 bunches of nettles; we’ve got apples and pears and plums filling up the orchard with the promise of homegrown fruit… All’s not lost after all.

But as it stands now, these are the most expensive beans in the world.

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The Five Minute Skirt that fell into a black hole.

There has been a lot of chatter of late in the blog circles I frequent about Angry Chicken’s Five Minute Skirt. Who could possibly resist the prospect of that??! Not I, says the girl with a newly-acquired of stack of vintage feedsack fabric from the family collection. And I’m not alone. Last week’s Craft Day Tuesday, which seems to be something of a weekly thing now, found me with the simple instructions, the prewashed and dried fabric, an outing planned for the evening to debut the finished skirt, and a willingness to get it done. I had already ordered and received my Fold Over Elastic (FOE) that gives the skirt it’s five-minute magic. Isadora was deeply entrenched in the world of colorful, pourable, vintage buttons, so the coast was clear. Indeed.

I’m sorry to say it did not take me five minutes. Not even close. (totally NOT Amy’s fault, though) I think it took me longer than that to draft the pattern. Not because it’s hard, but because that was a big pattern to draw and I’m slow.

Measure, calculate, mark on paper, draw, cut, cut out fabric.

Oh. Had to do some splicing on the fabric to get two pieces big enough for the pattern, because it’s cut on the bias and a somewhat full skirt.

Sew seams.

Now sew the FOE on the waist, stretching as you go.

Here was my sticking point; it was my first rendezvous with FOE, so I wasn’t comfortable stretching it too much. Way, way, way too big in the waist. So I made up two very large darts in the back to take in the slack. That worked pretty well, though it does slip down some if I’m really moving.

Today, thanks to her FOE Tutorial, I realize my folly – I was a complete wimp when stretching the FOE. I’m a little ashamed to admit it – usually my downfall is over-muscling something, not under. How embarrassing.

Nevertheless, the project was a raging success, as I’ve changed the name of the skirt from The Five Minute Skirt (which we know is not true) to The Skirt I Wear Everyday. No doubt the next one will be made in five minutes or less, giving this one a respite and a chance to be taken out of the rotation long enough to hit the wash.

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Fruition, unbeknownst to us.

I was greeted with a shocking surprise this afternoon while doing some housecleaning for the Finch Family. (You may or may not know that a family of finches took up residence in my porch-hanging begonias)

Way back at the start of spring, when we didn’t dare believe that winter would ever end, Isadora and I headed outside with an offering to the industrious bird-nest-builders that we knew would soon be beginning construction. We blogged the project here, and were hopeful that we’d see the results of our collaboration turn up in a nest somewhere. Quickly, though, I realized that all the nest-builders I saw were furtively working in secret, in the secluded, tucked-away subdivisions of the soffits of our house. Where we weren’t privy to the technicolor masterpieces I imagined they were weaving with stick, string, mud, and our lovely wool bits. A buzz-kill, to say the least, so I quickly forgot about the project and my grand, naive ambitions.

Then the Finch family moved in, and in the excitement of hosting them in my begonias, I never even noticed that they had selected a choice piece of blue wool and worked it into the nest beautifully. Only now, after the family has moved on, a generation has grown up, occasionally visiting our maple tree, do I see the fruits of our collaboration – a lovely, restrained use of color in a minimalistic, utilitarian setting. Those Finches…what exquisite style.

And while I’m on the subject of hosting bird families, I have to take a moment to say that I’m a lot surprised by our apparent hospitality to the bird community. I feel a little like the cool parents in high school, with the cool house, where everyone ended up hanging out weekend after weekend.

The Wren Family’s summer home, interior shot.

Wren home, neighborhood shot.

I guess I can’t blame them. It’s a child-friendly neighborhood, with good proximity to shopping, dining, and a burgeoning arts district, all at an affordable price. We’re glad to have them, too – the Wrens have proven to be a lovely, musical family, though they too have moved on to pursue their lives elsewhere.

We’re anxious to see who else moves into the area. A garter snake was seen a few days ago, scouting the area for suitable accommodations. They would diversify the neighborhood a bit, which is always good. We’d hate to be seen as exclusively catering to the Avian crowd.

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We hope for more sand in our future.

Here’s wishing you all a great weekend!

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Looks like I’m on a roll…

Lucy approves, but with less enthusiasm than desired.

After much fanfare, cutting, sweating, and crocheting, I’m happy to declare this rag rug DONE. (insert clapping, whistles, and orchestral explosion of “Hallelujah” here) And in the nick of time, too, as my attention span had almost written off the project on account of boredom and bigger, better, flashier prospects on the horizon. That attention span – so fickle.

But I’m happy to say I really, really enjoyed the project, which is good, because it’s a big house and there are countless more rugs to make for it. Up next: a shoe mat for the kitchen. This would be for the shoes that absolutely refuse to live on the mat that already exists, just a few steps away, and also refuse to live anywhere else but in that particular corner of the kitchen. Not that I’m pointing any fingers here; some of the shoes are mine. So I’ve decided to accept that this must be where they live when not on our feet, but not without a campaign to beautify the operation. So a rag rug it will be, which is perfect, because rag rugs are infinitely washable and absolutely look the part of this vintage-chic kitchen.

This whole giving-in attitude reminds me of a passage in a book I read a few years ago. I think it was this book. She talked a lot about the process of building something or laying out a design. In this case, it was her garden and the paths within it. Rather than arbitrarily laying down paths and plunging forward, she decided instead to observe where the natural paths lay. Where she, pets, and others found themselves taking short-cuts through the yard. Where it was always a hassle to walk around a particular bench, when the natural inclination was to go right through. There are undercurrents of Feng Shui here, to be sure, though I don’t remember her saying as much. This “Observe, then build to suit Function” mentality has stuck with me ever since. It works well with my general attitude of serendipity and go-where-the-wind-blows-me. And this, our first year in this house, is full of observing – what is blooming, how the trees are changing our view, what life is like with chickens. It’s good to keep reminding myself to slow down, observe, and not try to plunge forward so quickly into the realization of this self-sustaining dream. That kind of unrealistic, unresponsive momentum can only lead to the kind of backfiring that we’ve seen here of late, where our expectations (mine, especially) have not matched our results.

So a shoe mat it will be. Queuing Rag Rug Number Two.

And look at how nicely Rag Rug Number One plays with Tablecloth-Turned-Curtains. This bathroom is coming around nicely.

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Our tee time is set for 4:30.

The Mayor called this morning and declared today Craft Day. Or, “Make Yourself Some Sanity” day. I happily obliged. I had some curtains to finish, a half-hearted attempt to curb our brazen exhibitionism through curtain-less windows. Peep show’s over, folks, at least out the bathroom windows.

While I crafted my way into higher moral ground, I had no choice but to let Isadora play with me in my studio. She was given access to several packs of vintage beads that I had thrifted for her and they were soon strewn about the floor. The remainder found their way into an assortment of glass jars I provided.

This particular project has been a work in progress for a long time now. Had you been in our shower bathroom in the past 6 months, you would have no doubt noticed the vintage golf clubs placed in the curtain rod holders. No, I’m not a crazy golf fanatic. I just realized how beautiful these vintage wood clubs were at about the same time I realized that we needed some clever curtain solutions in the bathroom. A classic case of creative synergy, not unlike this racket/painting combo that graces the walls of the same bathroom.

The curtains themselves, which I finished today in honor of Craft Day, were a bit of a challenge. They were cut from a beautiful, albeit tattered and stained vintage tablecloth. And most vintage tablecloths I’ve seen fall into this same category, so the skills I picked up in this particular project will no doubt prove invaluable in projects to come. After devising a way to work around the tatters and major stains, while mazimizing the floral pattern of the piece and the constraint of making two kinda-matching curtains, I spliced two pieces together and embellished the seam with some simple, primitive-looking running stitch embroidery. I almost lined the curtains with a white backing, but alas, did not manage to cut it square, throwing off the whole shape and requiring major work to right it all. I scrapped that idea pretty quickly, reconciled with the idea of a less-than-opaque privacy curtain. A backlit naked silhouette is an enormous improvement on the full-frontal exposure of the past.ยน

1. OF COURSE I’m exaggerating. A lot. You may also remember that we live in the country, surrounded by deer, cranes, domesticated poultry, ticks, and mosquitoes. They’ve not yet filed an indecency complaint.

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We have finally arrived at summer.

The thermometer has been rising, outdoor busy-ness has commenced, thunderstorms have arrived with a vengeance, and yet we’d not personally arrived at summer. We’d not yet jumped into the free-for-all of sun, beach, grass between the toes, and ice cream that define the summer season. It was as if our Crazy Train of Life missed the stop at Summerland.

Whatever the case, we’ve finally arrived, though not without a few bumps. On the verge of a whirlwind 4th of July weekend, a mysterious illness knocked me on my ass. I can’t remember ever feeling so sick, but I’m thankful to confirm that it wasn’t Lyme Disease, a real possibility in these tick-infested parts. Whatever the diagnosis, it was tamed with antibiotics enough to get in the car and begin our first round of fun – a great, big family get-together with Andrew’s family and small army of close family friends.

One of the highlights: the inaugural run of Isadora’s very own fishing pole. It was her first gift from Grampa, when she was only a few days old, and it has waited patiently all this time.

Worms. Every bit as fun as the actual fishing. I suppose she comes by that honestly.

The Dads worked the pretty pink fishing poles with a dedicated intensity that we’d never before seen, determined to catch and hook the fish for the girls to reel in. And by some stroke of magic, the first fish was caught, reeled in by Isadora, and then soon followed by her cousin’s own fish. Back and forth the bounty shifted, the fish somehow magically following the rules of sharing and turn-taking that make a cousins’ partnership harmonious. The Daddies kept the pace timed perfectly for a 2-1/2yr-old attention spans, with little time for worm interludes between the excitement of reeling in the next catch.

Not too shabby, Daddio.

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Cookbook love.

Cookbook Love

Last week I had to take matters into my own hands, Rosie the Riveter style. Cookbooks were amok, buckets and baskets strewn about, and every revolution of the washing machine’s spin cycle sent the clutter atop the heap into a frenzied break-dance. The project intended to curb all this chaos had been started a week or more ago, but had gotten swept up in the current of Our Lives and washed away to some remote place downstream.

At some point last week, the steam built up enough to make this kettle whistle, loudly, and I decided that enough was enough. I’m actually pretty capable and handy and all that, but for some reason, inserting anchors into plaster walls seems both too cumbersome and not nearly instant-gratification-enough for me. So I usually leave it to my handyman, Mr. Andrew. (he’s the husband in this story) Turns out this handyman’s itinerary is miles long, with much more pressing projects, if you can believe that.

Enter drill, anchors, perfectly sized screws (bought by Mr. Handyman specifically for the project), some barn wood from our demolished barn, some shelf brackets, and you have yourself the ingredients for some clutter-busting, order-making sanity. My favorite kind.

That’s much, much better.

Really, though, this just may have been an excuse to create a space for this family-heirloom scale and thrifted vintage apothecary bottle.

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