Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Getting by

Coming back to work after a wonderful week away (more on that later) is a dose of reality I'm not all that fond of. I spent most of yesterday nursing a massive headache and crying inwardly about being back in my cube, staring at a computer, sitting in an uncomfortable chair with coworker gossip rattling in my brain. I wanted the loons, the open water, the peaceful quiet of the North.

Today I woke up and knew I was in for another depressing day if I didn't take matters into my own hands.

So I put on a favorite dress.

And those acorn buttons that Mom helped me convert into earrings.

And my red shoes.

And I went out into the garden as the sun was just coming up and everything was still covered in a layer of dew, and I harvested all sorts of things to bring in for my gossiping - but lovely - coworkers. Eggplant, grapes, melon, cabbage, kale, chard, and flowers.

And I brought the bag of homegrown treats with me on the bus, where it sat by my feet as I read The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury. The story I read was about a man who goes to Mars and then returns to Earth to realize how different it feels. Did he remember it incorrectly or did his new experience change it somehow, forever? I was struck by how the experience of leaving your life - even briefly - and returning to it is the same in this world as it is in a sci-fi story. In both cases we feel a little ungrounded when we return, the place we've just been quickly becoming distant memory despite our desperate grasping, and it's the little glimmers of happiness that are necessary for survival.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

August Garden Tour

August is the best time for gardening. Or rather, August is the best time for enjoying the fruits of your labor! Now is the time of year when you can't go out into the garden without returning with an arm-full of produce. Before I break this down, here's a big picture view of my August garden:

Now, get ready to be hit with a crazy amount of photos. I'm about to break this down. This year my garden - with almost no TLC from me, mind you, except for a lot of mulching and very strategic watering - really is happier than it's ever been. There is probably some lesson in there.

Garden Tour: August 2012

1) Beans

My beans were destroyed by the bunnies, but I love that one plant survived and climbed up my improvised string trellis. Even if I only get 10 beans this year, at least they will be ten purple beans.

2) Squash/Squash-like Things

The photo on the left is delicata squash with a buckwheat flower poking through. I had planted a cover crop of buckwheat that the bunnies found too tasty to resist. This is the only buckwheat that survived. As you can see from the pumpkins and butternut squash on the right, these plants take up a lot of space. Lots of pumpkin and butternut squash blossoms, but none have started to turn into squash yet...hopeful...waiting...we've got till Halloween...

3) Cabbage

I'm known amongst friends as having a over-the-top love of slaw, but I'm afraid even I don't have the capacity for slaw that this year's garden promises. Check out that huge cabbage! Need to harvest it.

4) Greens

Kale and chard, with marigolds and cosmos throughout. Having lots of fresh greens is one of my favorite parts of having a backyard garden.

5) Eggplant

I tried a few new things with eggplant this year per some reading I did. First, I got a different variety, the long, slender Chinese eggplant. Next, I attached them to trellis' at a very early age so they would have support and possibly be able to hold more eggplant. Not sure if it's the variety or the support system, but this year is a bumper crop of eggplant. I make eggplant "chips" a few times a week (cut into rounds, sprinkle with olive oil and salt, and bake - turning over once - until crispy).

6) Herbs

Nasturtium is not an herb exactly, but I put it here because not only do the flowers taste great on salads, but the plant itself is a nice compliment to squash and many other garden plants. My little herb garden, surrounded by petunias, is really happy. That's new this year with bricks I found throughout my yard. Sage, rosemary, oregano, and parsley.

7) Raised bed: onions, beets, carrots. 

My onions are really happy (and ready to be harvested and cured for later use), but for some reason my beets did not do well this year. You can see a few of them going to flower, which I don't understand at all. I will try to harvest a few soon and see what's up under the ground. The carrots are a rainbow variety - orange, yellow, purple - and I cannot wait until they are ready!

8) Peppers

This is my first year of success with bell peppers! These are actually an orange variety, so you can see this guy has a few more weeks until ready.

9) Flowers

I love the way this sunflower is growing: a lot of small flowers off one big, main stalk. That's not typical for the variety I have sprouting up throughout my yard. The zinnias were new this year: I normally don't bother with annuals, but this is one of my favorites and they are so cheery. I decided to put them in rather unsightly areas throughout my yard and, as I hoped, they've really brightened those areas up. I also watched the world's most boring youtube video about zinnias and learned that if I keep breaking off the dead flowers they will keep blooming. I have three clusters throughout the yard and they have been blooming wildly for over a month!

10) Melon

I have two varieties of watermelon this year (although only one is pictured here). One is the classic variety, with the deep red center, and the other is a dwarf-yellow. I harvested one of the classic variety a few weeks ago and as I was cutting it open and saying to my roommate "Moment of truth" I was presented with a totally under-ripe, white interior. Very sad moment of truth. It's also made me unsure of when to harvest them. I picked one of the small yellow ones this week, cut it open and it was a beautiful sight! It was perfectly ripe, juicy, flavorful. That's more the type of moment of truth I like.

11) Tomatoes

I planted three heirloom varieties this year, and two are pictured here. I am not sure what accounted for my success with tomatoes this year, but this has been my best year ever. The last few years have been perhaps too wet, thus producing the dreaded "blossom end rot." This year it was very dry, with a few well placed rain storms, and just a few waterings from me. (Again, I didn't water much, I tend to expect a lot of my plants - they'll survive if they want to sort of thinking.) I think the dry heat made them very happy because I have more tomatoes than I know what to do with. I'm looking out my window now and see about a dozen big ones I could pick, not to mention the dozens of tiny, yellow cherry tomatoes. One thing I'm sold on: heirloom all the way. These are some of the most flavorful tomatoes I've ever eaten.

Okay, so now that I've rattled on and on about my garden, I better get out there and enjoy the day. I leave you with two "from a distance" views of the garden.

Friday, August 17, 2012

August Garden: Preview

What I like best about this little bouquet is the pile of pollen gathering beneath the sunflower.  The sunflower already looks like it's peering out at the great, big, beautiful world, and the little pollen pile is almost like its exuberant gift that declares "I was here. I exist."  Or it's flower drool. One of the two.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Little Inspirations

I will be making one of these:

It's called a Little Free Library and they are springing up all over town. My idea of mine is to be a mini version of my blue house - except with a green roof like the photo above. So basically, what I dream my house could be. And it will hold all the great books I hope my neighbors and folks passing by would enjoy. Much loved books from my childhood such as: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Maniac Magee, and The Giver; and new favorites like Dandelion Wine, East of Eden, and Middlesex. I'm also excited to think of the new books that will appear. That's the beauty of these little libraries: they grow and evolve as readers visit them and leave their own 'favorites.' It really is a conversation between members of the community. The book-worm and community organizer in me rejoices!

Another benefit of this L.F.T: my house is a block from a fast food establishment and I often find trash in my front gardens and boulevard. There is also a bus stop in front of my house that seems to encourage people to litter in my yard. I've long had a vision of building a bench into the hilltop in front of my house (right by the bus-stop sign) and having a trash can. Now there will be a library as well. I'm in love with this vision of my front yard!

Today I was telling my friend how I long to be more creative in my life and work. He said to look for the little ways to satisfy that need. I didn't mean to be so literal when I thought a Little Free Library would be a nice way to dive right in.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Cooking Alone

I just spent two hours in the kitchen chopping up the fresh vegetables of the local harvest (and a few out of season and out of the region gems, namely AVOCADOS) to try out some new recipes. I think I've found two new favorites.

First though, I have been feeling awfully smug lately when I use things from my own garden in my cooking. For instance, I brought a salad to our neighborhood National Night Out celebration with my own orange pepper, kohlrabi, and tomatoes in it and I was downright obnoxious. Like carrying it over as if it were a winning lottery ticket. (I could just hear the voice in my head singing Ta-Da!!) Granted, this is my first ever successful sweet pepper AND my tomatoes have failed the last two out of three years, but you know, I didn't know I had it in me to be so proud. 

Tonight wasn't that impressive but I did make use of my own: chives, thai basil, sweet basil, and beet greens. Okay, written out like that, less than impressive. But I do think the combination of basil varieties brought my dressing to a whole new level. So that's kind of fun.

Here are the deeply satisfying vegetarian recipes you too should try, from a newly discovered cooking blog:

They both have a lot going on and, given that, were a lot of work. Gut reaction: worth it.

It was additionally really nice to spend some time alone in my kitchen: chopping, mixing, tinkering, tasting, thinking, humming, and stepping out to the garden every once and awhile to grab more herbs. I've had a whirlwind of a few weeks and coming home today with nothing on the calendar and deciding to make a wholesome, delicious meal just for me, was exactly what I needed. Cooking has really become a respite for me in an otherwise very chaotic busy life.

As I cooked I was able to think over the last few weeks, full of celebration and visitors and so much  love...and ultimately bittersweet goodbyes that are always a part of getting visits from friends who live far away. As of yesterday afternoon, when I dropped Joseph at the bus and said my last goodbye, I've felt a deep, deep quiet.

It's the quiet that comes after a beautiful storm. And as I've always known, I'm happy to be able to feel such deep sadness at the end of such uplifting, joyous merriment. To be able to access the extremes - all of them - makes life worth living. The good is better when we know the other side just as intimately. Seeing 'long-lost' friends and then having to say goodbye again, without certainty of when they will come back, is just a part of this crazy, beautiful existence.

So tonight I sat at my table alone, eating a very delicious meal, thinking of all the people I have seen or connected with over the last month who I would have liked to share it with. But then I thought of the ways all my far-flung loves and friends are constantly with me - Hannah in the moments of pure poetry, Adam when I have a crazy YAY moment, Sarah C when I am tending my garden, Joseph when the world moves me to laughter or tears - and I ate on happily, alone in body but not in spirit.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

garden discoveries

Moments after taking this picture of some sunflowers blooming outside my house, I discovered a decapitated baby bunny in my backyard. One of the strangest parts was how untouched and clean the body was. Truly it was just a little, perfectly clean, headless creature - the gore restricted to the ripped off head region.

That discovery pretty much screeched to a halt my mid-summer-garden-photo-essay. Who can take a leisurely stroll through the garden when they are busy cursing out and screaming at a tiny, decapitated bunny?

I know what you are thinking, and yes, perhaps I wished too hard for the bunnies to DIE.

On the positive side, my housemate was impressed with my efficient removal of the dead bunny. Of course I've had loads of practice with squirrels and mice. What's next universe?!

My only lingering question is when and where will I find the head?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

the little things

My roommate gave me a great gift: 

Bits and pieces of my garden, artfully, thoughtfully arranged, and left for me to discover.

Friday, August 3, 2012

when life gets in the way

Writers block is such a dumb thing. Do y'all ever feel like the more you have to say, the harder it is to say it?

It's been a wild few weeks and while the thought has - dorkily - crossed my mind "I need to blog this!" I have failed to do so.

And now I have a dear, dear friend in town - who I haven't seen in three years - and some other dear, dear friends are getting married. So basically...silence for just a few more days.

My loyal audience of one, two, or three: updates soon!