Saturday, May 15, 2010
On the up-side (for me anyway, maybe not for John), Lex comes home today. I've missed her! She'll be heading straight to Austin to check out a hot lead on a vacancy in a Hyde Park duplex that's in walking distance to Central Market and a bunch of other cool stuff. Keep your fingers crossed for her!
Friday, May 14, 2010
Woe for the tragedy that is wasted time -- time spent believing I hated beets, when what I really hated was the canned facsimile that is sold in grocery stores. Thanks to the wisdom that sometimes comes with age and experience (such as having discovered the difference between fresh asparagus and canned) I thought perhaps it was time to give fresh beets a try.
First, though, I decided to consult the experts. I posted my intentions on facebook, and asked for tried and true recipes from my beet-loving friends. Then I ordered fresh, locally grown, organic beets from The Bountiful Sprout. Oh, and I bought some goat cheese. Mustn't forget the goat cheese!
Tonight was the night. First I followed Susan T.'s suggestion for roasting the beets: "Cut top and roots back to 1/2", then halve or quarter, depending on size. Place in a baking pan with 1/2" water, 2 T. olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover tightly and bake 45-60 minutes at 350 F. Let cool slightly, slip skins off, and eat as is."
Only I didn't - eat as is. Instead I sprinkled the still warm beets with just a scooch more olive oil (the really good stuff this time), and then followed friend Nicki's suggestion and topped them with a bit of crumbled goat cheese. Oh my word! Well, all I can say is, better late than never.
If you're looking for good advice, you'll not find it here -- unless maybe it's "Do not try this at home!" I've been sitting here all morning, wondering "Where the heck does my time go?" You would think that, what with being here alone all week, and not having any meetings or appointments for once, I could have plowed through my to-do list zippity-do-dah-done! But no. My house is sorta picked up, but not really clean. There's still a pile of unfiled paper's atop the filing cabinet...still a chair full of books and photo albums sitting in front of my already packed bookshelves...still several pieces of unmended clothing draped across my sewing machine...still two large flower-beds-to-be that need loosening, de-stoning, composting and mulching...still a huge cinderblock wall that is only half-painted...still a crappy weed-choked bed around the AC units.
Oh, don't get me wrong. It's not as if I'm here eating bon bons all day, as my hubby is so fond of saying (more likely to be locally-made-organic-peanut-butter-protein-bars). I stay pretty busy most every day, but I'm selective about my endeavors -- and pretty good at ignoring certain unrewarding projects. I like projects that offer tangible rewards...bang for my energy buck...projects with at least semi-lasting results. I love things like designing a new garden, growing some food, writing a story, knitting gifts or a set of washcloths, cooking something yummy, etc. I'm just not crazy about spinning my wheels or beating my head up against a brick wall.
You see, there's something truly evil about that bed along the orange wall and around the AC units. By the time you've worked your way from one end to the other, the weeds are already knee-high back where you started - no matter how often we mulch it. Likewise, by the time I work my way through that pile on the filing cabinet, there's always another pile on my desk ready to take its place. By the time I rearrange and purge the bookshelves, making room for everything in that chair, John will be showing up with a couple more cratefuls from the townhouse. Soooo, I tend to put these kinds of chores off...and off...and off...and off.
What will finally motivate me to tackle them? Nothing short of an axe hanging o'er my head. A metaphorical axe that is - something like the family reunion I'm hosting this summer. A week or two before everyone is due to arrive, sheer panic will finally send enough adrenaline coursing through my veins to switch me into high gear. Hubby and kiddos will be driven bonkers, but amazing feats will be accomplished. Unfortunately, should you happen by a couple weeks after that? We'll be right back where we started, I guar-one-tee!
Thursday, May 13, 2010
"I think often now of that old economy, which was essentially the same from a farm household that was fairly well-to-do...to the household...which would be classified as poor. For many years now that way of living has been scorned...It was an economy directly founded on the land, on the power of the sun, on thrift and skill, and on the people's competence to take care of themselves...Now that we have come to the end of the era of cheap petroleum, which fostered so great a forgetfulness, I see that we could have continued that thrifty old life fairly comfortably -- could even have improved it. Now we will have to return to it, or to a life necessarily as careful, and we will do so only uncomfortably and with much distress." ~ from Andy Catlett: Early Travels, by Wendell Berry
Wendell Berry is an American poet, novelist, essayist, philosopher and farmer. Not a bad resume, eh? I've been stumbling across quotes of his right and left lately, and was amazed at how hip and current he was, for a 76 yr. old. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that most of these quotes were from books and poems he wrote years ago! Too bad more people didn't pay attention back then. Might've saved ourselves a world-full o' woe. I was so impressed by all of theese quotes that I finally went to the library to see if they had any of his books. The one I found was Andy Catlett, quoted above, which had much to do with the sense of place -- a topic dear to my heart. "Turning into that gate was not, for me, merely the entrance into a place. I was also entering my sense, almost my memory, of my father's childhood...of Grandpa's childhood...Before that I had a memory, dark and indistinct, only a feeling really, of the Civil War and some soldiers coming in the night to take away my great-grandfather..."
If you are unfamiliar with Berry and his writings, here is what Wikipedia has to say about his ideas regarding "the good life":
"His nonfiction serves as an extended conversation about the life he values. According to Berry, the good life includes sustainable agriculture, appropriate technologies, healthy rural communities, connection to place, the pleasures of good food, husbandry, good work, local economics, the miracle of life, fidelity, frugality, reverence, and the interconnectedness of life. The threats Berry finds to this good life include: industrial farming and the industrialization of life, ignorance, hubris, greed, violence against others and against the natural world, the eroding topsoil in the United States, global economics, and environmental destruction. As a prominent defender of agrarian values, Berry's appreciation for traditional farming techniques, such as those of the Amish, grew in the 1970s, due in part to exchanges with Draft Horse Journal publisher Maurice Telleen. Berry has long been friendly to and supportive of Wes Jackson, believing that Jackson's agricultural research at The Land Institute lives out the promise of "solving for pattern" and using "nature as model."
The concept of "Solving for pattern", coined by Berry in his essay of the same title, is the process of finding solutions that solve multiple problems, while minimizing the creation of new problems. The essay was originally published in the Rodale Press periodical The New Farm. Though Mr. Berry's use of the phrase was in direct reference to agriculture, it has since come to enjoy broader use throughout the design community."
Do yourself a favor, and see what your library has to offer by this man. You won't regret it.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
As with most things I do, when it comes to my garden, I like getting bang for my buck. I want the biggest WOW-factor for the least amount of effort, and I've picked up a few tricks over the years.
The first thing I learned was to stop choosing all my plants based on their flowers. If you can get past that hurdle, you will make huge strides towards having a better looking garden, for a lot less moolah. If you are choosing shrubs and perennials based on their flowers, you have to keep in mind that those flowers may only last a couple of weeks. What will that plant look like for the other 50?
Annuals bloom for a much longer period, but most all of them prefer either hot weather or cool. So at the end of that one season, you rip them all out, head to the nursery, and start all over again. Instead of zeroing in on the blooms, look at the plant as a whole - it's structure, it's foliage, it's berries, it's bark. Some of my very favorite plants never bloom at all!
Another trick I picked up is "color-echoing". One of the best gardening books out there, when it comes to pizazz, is Making Gardens Works of Art, by Keeyla Meadows. She believes that an appealing garden composition has much in common with a successful drawing or painting -- it needs a strong focal point, such as a tree, bench, fountain, or other feature, and the focal object should interact with its setting, bringing into play whatever is around it. She makes fabulous glazed ceramic sculptures, pots and plaques, which she uses as focal points throughout her garden, then she chooses her plants to "echo" the colors in her sculptures, and those of the other plants nearby.
That is why I love having Bright Lights swiss chard planted in my corrugated metal pot. The chard's pink and orange ribs echo the pink and orange ridges of the pot. Beneath the tree where my crazy "Lucy" bird feeder and chili pepper wind chime hang, I have planted a grouping that echoes the precise colors of that ceramic wind chime. In the photos above, check out the way that lime green sweet potato vine makes the same color pop in that funky Schwarzkopf aeonium next to it. See the way the magenta veins of those pink petunias echo the magenta veins on the perilla's foliage, and the black mondo grass picks up the black veins of the sorrel planted nearby? See how much color there is in the garden, but how little of it comes from flower blooms? That, my friends, is how you get bang for your gardening bucks!
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Too bad my entire family will still be tied up in Houston this weekend. We've got both fun and not-so-fun activities on the agenda, and it looks like I'll be going it solo to both.
First up is the monthly coffee-house concert at Susanna's Kitchen, where the headliner just happens to be our neighbor, Alejandro Escavedo. We've all heard him on the radio, and I was lucky enough to catch him on Austin City Limits a while back, but none of us has ever seen him perform live. I'm sorry John and the kids won't be with me, but I've already missed seeing Alejandro play Susanna's twice, and I just can't do it again. Guess that means I get to do the deer-dodging drive home on my own afterwards (my night vision sucks).
In the not-so-fun department we have Saturday's special meeting of our neighborhood P.O.A., which has been called so that we can "make recommendations to the Architectural Control Committee about the amount of special assessment to fund the litigation" that has been lodged against us over that damn gate. Crap. Double crap.
P.S. Many thanks to twangville.com for the above image.
Monday, May 10, 2010
Last night a young friend, still in her 20's, told me somewhat apologetically that she had "wasted a lot of time" figuring out what to do with her life. I had to laugh, for it was obvious she knew nothing about my career-hopping history. My reply to her was that none of it was wasted - it was all part of the path. As long as you learned something along the way, that is.
I remember a conversation my sister and I once had, about attending high school reunions. She bemoaned the fact that she was one of the few that was still unmarried and without children, while I hated having to go and answer everyone's "What do you do?" queries with "Oh, I'm just a housewife." Like my young friend, I was a bit embarrassed by all the time I had wasted - starting over in new jobs each time my husband got transferred, taking time out to raise babies, not working at all while we were in Indonesia... It wasn't until much later that I could look back and put it all into perspective. When I finally landed the job of my dreams, as a visual merchandiser, hardly a day went by that I didn't send up a little prayer of thanks for all that "wasted" time, and the skills that each of those little jobs and oddball life experiences taught me.
I honed my organizational skills working for a caterer back in west Texas, while the kiddos were wee tots. I learned to make those lists and check 'em twice, before loading up the van for a gig that might be a couple of hours away. You sure didn't want to show up for a party, only to discover you'd left all of the sterno, or maybe a wedding cake, back at the kitchen! My boss there was a whiz at tablescaping, and taught me all of her tricks for turning a boring buffet where every platter sits flat on the table, into an eye-catching arrangement of varied heights and blended colors that could stop you in your tracks - tricks I used every single time I had to arrange new merchandise on the tables and shelves of the giftshop. Without the plant knowledge I picked up in horticulture and landscaping, I would have been mixing shade plants with sun lovers in my outdoor displays. Customers who fell in love with my combinations, and tried to recreate them at home, would have been very unhappy when half the plants crapped out on them right away. I picked up similar skills from each of my other jobs, and as you can see in these photos, one thing we all learned in our time overseas was how to improvise and make do with what is at hand. We made our own fun (if you call being shoved up onto an elephant fun), provided our own entertainment (what I wouldn't give for my hubby's legs!) and whipped up costumes out of draperies and coat hangers (yes, that headless horseman IS amazing).
Now, once again, I've moved in a new direction - to writing! Would I even be sitting here at this very moment, with pen in hand...would I ever have agreed to marry John and follow him to Indonesia the first time...would I now have almost three year's worth of blog posts under my belt, and books yet unwritten about our travels and adventures...if I had been determined to focus on one career, stay in one place, with one company, for the last 35 years? I think not. Which is why I told young Stephanie, "None of it was wasted - it's all part of your path." It's what will shape you, into the woman you are meant to become!
Sunday, May 9, 2010
The garden still has life in it, despite being deserted for most of the week - in 90 degree weather, no less! I have two things going for me here. First of all, it appears that the raised beds, with those nice thick stone walls, retain moisture better than your average bed, though they still drain well. Second, our house and the hill behind it cast a nice little shadow over the entire Cantina Garden each afternoon, protecting it from the worst of the scorching sun. You'd think I planned it that way, but no, just a lucky fluke.
So, here's the good news/bad news run down. On the plus side, my tomatoes have almost reached the tops of their cages, with no signs of horn worms (yet), and with plenty of fruit on them. (Last year it started hitting in the 90's before they had a chance to set anything!) My crazy, squiggly plant stakes arrived in the nick of time, and now have pole beans wrapped around them (wonder if they could support a cucumber vine?) and the bush beans are flowering. On the downside, topsy turvy strawberry planters aren't meant to go 4 or 5 days without water, and new baby peach trees should probably be protected with chicken wire. It would appear that certain 4-legged, doe-eyed rascals have chewed off every single leaf on the lower half of our tree, and the limbs are lookin' a bit stubby down there too.
Oh yeah, one more good thing! Our agarita shrubs are covered in berries, and they are beginning to ripen. I tasted one for the fun of it, and it reminded me of a pomegranate seed. Anyone who's willing to brave all those pointy leaves can come pick all they want. I hear they make a good jelly. The persimmon tree is fruiting as well. Should be a bumper crop!