Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Summer Time, and the Livin' is Easy

Yes, it's summer and easy liven' what with fresh produce exploding out of the garden. However, I didn't plant enough beets so we said "yes!" when friends offered us some. 

Uh--some turned out to be two bushels full. So Bill washed and cut off the tops. I kept my biggest pan full and gently boiling batch after batch like the story of the pot that wouldn't stop making porridge.  After I'd filled many pint freezer bags, we tackled the beets. 

I took several and quartered them, then threw them in with my cubed sweet potatoes, yellow onion and peppers. Add a little olive oil and fresh herbs, bake about an hour at 400 degrees. They were fantastic! 

The rest we boiled, blanched and skinned with a couple of easy swipes. They got bagged and frozen too. Except for a few I kept to make "Don't Knock It Until You Try It beet cake." (Note to Bob, our beet benefactor: Did you like it?) The recipe called for grated fresh beets, I grated cooked ones--worked fine.

It's as tasty as zucchini bread, but much more healthful. I added a cream cheese butter frosting dyed pink from 1 Tbsp of mashed cooked beet. Aren't they pretty? 

Just don't tell the kids what the surprise ingredient is!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Ceaseless Wonders of the Beach

If you've ever had the privilege of repeat visits to the same shoreline, you've undoubtedly marveled at something unexpected.

The ocean is constantly changing, and we encounter different conditions, different kingdoms of marine organisms. 

Over forty years of visits to Cherry Cove, Washington  we've been delighted to study the tidal creatures: barnacles' tongues waving in the water, a sand dollar colony where the red fuzzy discs are wedged together, occasional sightings of star fish, and sea lions. 

I've walked the same eight miles of Sunset Beach, NC for ten years and the rule holds true: keep your eyes open and you won't be disappointed. 

This year we saw the damage from Hurricane Bill, which cut slices off the edge of the dunes like a trimmed cake. The cross-section of the mounds stood naked and vulnerable. 

One morning I found a beautiful purple and pink closed sack.  I thought was a deflating balloon. It had a string so I picked it up. Then I saw two more of the mysterious objects along the high tide line. Their strings were wrapped around clumps of dried sea grasses.  I eliminated the balloon theory.

Talking to a naturalist I learned they were Portuguese Men of War. She said she wouldn't even touch them if they were dead. (Blessedly, I didn't manifest any of the possible nasty effect.) They didn't look big enough to be so poisonous. The delicate transparent blue body had a ridge of pink down the midline. It really was beautiful. 

 They  made news when it washed up in New Jersey this week. 

Another day, dozens of minute frogs were jumping across the sand. On their way to the beach? Hatched in the inner waterway? They were only about 1/4" long. No naturalist was around to explain them. 

Then there was this blob abut 8" long. It looked like grape play-dough. 

In a world full of concrete, steel, and hard surfaces, the beach calls to me at its soft union with the unfathomable ocean. For a few days a year I'm Jacques Cousteau, discovering gifts from the sea. 

Where do you feel that awe and wonder?  

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Paradigm shift

photo from wikimedia commons
I have had to make a paradigm shift about gardening. In purely economic terms, I'm producing cucumbers at a loss. The cheapskate in me argues that gardening is a poor use of resources and time. 

Certainly, A packet of bean seeds pays for itself many times over by the end of the harvest. However, when I add to my production costs by spending $20.00 on wire fencing to create tomato cages, or buy $20.00 worth of stakes to hold up the burgeoning plants my cost per unit goes up, and my "profit" goes down. 

That's why the COO, CEO, and CFO of Glover Gardens declared a paradigm shift at the last board meeting. Our vision statement no longer states that we are  saving money, but that the garden is not-for-profit endeavor--a hobby. And we all know that hobbies cost money. My twenty quarts of frozen tomatoes are still cheaper than green fees, scrapbooking paraphernalia, or cruises.  

 The mental gymnastics mean I don't have to factor in the capital expenses  for building the $125.00 raised bed, (labor included) in my bottom line. I don't have to justify the expense with complicated depreciation formulas to reduce the cost per pound of chard.


Expenses are warranted as part of the price tag to stay physically fit, expand the sense of well-being, and enjoy the fresh flavor of a beet only hours after harvest.

It's like cost-benefit analysis, joy being an intangible but huge benefit. 

(All errors in using economic terms are entirely my own. It's creative license.)

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Succulents: the micro version

Really, keeping this drawer inset for 25 years because I might find a use for it is NOT hoarding. It's being resourceful.

I almost threw it out--again--and then decided to act. Instead of filling it with paperwork, I planted micro succulents.  My garden center had a wonderful variety.  I chose those that stood vertically and those that trailed. I liked the one that has pink edges on the fleshy florets. The one in the upper left looks like fat fingers. 

I'm glad I repurposed that drawer liner, it pleases me.

I remembered a bowl that would compliment the colors of the left-over plants beautifully. Had it gone to Goodwill? No!  I still had it. (Not hoarding.)

Tending the plants today I noticed a whimsical element.  Minuscule new growth  sprouts from the serrations. Don't they look like tiny clams? I can't wait to see what happens next! 

I hope the plants stay small, because I don't have a way to care for the giants I photographed at Callaway Gardens. See the April 14th blog, "Super-sized Succulents."

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Inhuman? United 958 Marooned at Goose Bay, Canada

As a former airline employee, I listen to industry news with keen interest.

photo by skinnylawyer at CreativeCommons.org
I empathized with the passengers of United 958 diverted to Goose Bay, Canada enroute from Chicago to London.

Twenty years ago my job with Continental Airlines was in customer service. I worked too many delayed flights due to weather, mechanical problems, crew issues or one terrible night, a crash at the Denver airport. Some days it seemed the lines of inconvenienced fliers went on endlessly. Their reactions to their predicaments spanned the continuum. Some were calm. Many people made demands I couldn't meet anymore than I could have come up with ransom for a kidnapping. (Trade out an airplane, reopen the closed aircraft doors, call the plane back to the gate.) Some were frighteningly irate, nearly out of control. Those made me glad for the bulky desk between us.

In the recent incident, it would have been ideal to have United employees on the ground to handle the passenger needs. But there aren't any in Goose Bay as it's 942 miles as the goose flies from Newark to Goose Bay. And the crew is legally required to a certain number of hours of rest before flying on. 

Emergencies disrupt and delay, but good communication is the most important element of service the airline can give their of customers.  At the minimum there should have been phone, text and email communication. UA should have been able to arrange towels and blankets for all. 

The night must have been miserable. The whole ordeal disappointing, maddening, and frustrating. But I would not go so far as one passenger did to say it was inhuman. 

People were inconvenienced in order to keep them safe. That is radically different than cruelty or barbarism.  It was handled poorly but not maliciously. They huddled in bare beds in a cold building, not on a ship left to drift on its own in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Those "passengers" are being treated inhumanely. 

Let us not confuse discomfort with hardship. That exalts irritation and debases real suffering. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Close Encounters with Hoarding

I don't have to watch any of those reality TV shows to know about hoarding. There are close encounters all around. It can be both secretive, and in your face. 

Years ago we wanted to rent a bungalow and approached the owner who lived around the corner.  The house had been sitting empty for a couple of years and it seemed reasonable she would like to make some money off of it. When we knocked on her door, she opened it just wide enough to stick her head out. I didn't think anything of it, but it should have been a warning. 

And maybe not letting us see inside the single car old-time garage was another clue. Oh, and the stacks of magazines piled up a couple of feet high against the outside of the double doors. She said she was saving them for mulch. But there wasn't a garden. 

When she took us inside the house it was empty, except for the basement. There she stored miscellaneous furniture. That included a large, painted  table. A three dimensional monkey sat in the middle. It was about fifteen inches tall, brown, with a cute face. The odd thing was, it didn't have plush fur but appeared to be covered in frosting. Yeah, cake frosting. So was the body beneath it petrified cake? 

I thought of Miss Havisham, Charles' Dickens' disappointed bride. Her cake was swathed in spider webs. The monkey wasn't as old. I wondered but didn't ask. The landlady said she would remove it. Not throw it out. Remove it. Which she did, (where to?), and we moved in. 

She literally lived 500' away. We always took the rent check over, and she always cracked the door open enough for her arm to snake and snatch the check. We never glimpsed the interior.

That's a tip-off that the saver has disintegrated from stashing to trashing. 

Toys R Us
 A distant family member hadn't let anyone in for years. We suspected, but didn't know how bad it was until she had a health emergency. While she recovered, the family went in to clean. They found meandering tracks between the rooms through mountains of printed matter. It was like walking through the tunnels in an ant farm. The debris from one room filled a small dumpster, and turned up a substantial amount of cash. 

Genetically closer, another relative just says, "Don't go up there. And don't touch anything!" Oh-kay.

Those are the stealthy stashers.

Out here in the country, gathering and guarding happen outside for all to see. Treasures spill over from the garage to the yard-- stacked, covered, and sometimes fenced in. 

If the porch is packed floor to ceiling, I'm bettin' the house is full too. 

 If I don't let you in next time you come over, call my kids. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Sprigs: Give a Shout Out for Raised Garden Beds

middle of May

The raised bed may be the most productive garden in my yard. I planted everything closely, using the square foot method. 

I think I'll keep track of the yield, and do my own infomercial later.
So far I've harvested lettuce, chard, one beet with more to come. Everything (except carrots) is going gang-busters.

The beans are thin green strings, two inches long. The cucumbers and melons are thick with blossoms. Somebody suggested I put them in tomato cages to corral them. It'll take advantage of those twining tendrils to guide the plants up, rather than out.

I always thought since I had so much room in my garden I didn't need raised beds. 

 Primarily I built it to tame a wild patch where the weeds conquered ground covers, flowers, and veggies.  This is practically weedless, and the few intruders pull out easily. 

So far the rabbits haven't hopped in, which they did at my friend's house.

Give a shout out for raised beds! 

first week of June

Thursday, June 4, 2015


See how the wisteria vine twisted as it climbed the upright 2" X2"? The wraps brace the plant against wind, allows it to climb and holds it vertical with a relatively small stem. 

Some gardeners warned me against growing wisteria because it could become unmanageable.

I've trained it to additional supports on my deck, and trim it twice a year. As a result it is a compact plant that produces abundant blossoms.

 I watched the plant wind thread-thin corkscrews around the supports which have grown into finger-sized curls. 

The twiners, curlers, and grabbers in the plant kingdom demonstrate a cunning ability. They're like babies latching onto a finger.  

Passion flower, grapes, sweet peas, cucumbers and melons all reach out for support. I'm going to try to harness that capability this year by training some of them to grow up wire mesh.  

Got something twisted in your yard? 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

In a jam?

Flipping through my 1972 Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook today, I found these pages.

I don't remember trying to make jelly, but the evidence is there. It must have been a heck of a mess. The sugary fruit apparently erupted from the pot like lava out of a volcano. 

I probably fussed and used words my mom would have tsp-tsk'ed about.
 Clean up must have been sticky and arduous. I bet I whined about it to my friends. And I don't remember making jelly ever, so it must have convinced me to never try again. 

My recent trials can be catalogued as disgusting and expensive (termites swarming indoors--yuk!), and annoying and more expensive (a brief hospital stay.) But before long, they won't be much more memorable than the jelly mishap. 

So next time you find yourself in a jam, sooner rather than later, don't be disheartened.  It will probably fade from memory quicker than these splatters.