Thursday, May 27, 2010

Settling Back Into Home

Do you ever have periods of time where you get busy, stressed out, etc. so that you begin to feel disconnected from your home? I've been going through one of those phases these last couple weeks. I don't like it, but it happens once in awhile just the same. I've been away from home, busy, having late nights out, and fallen behind on housework and feeling at home.

Matt and I spent last Friday night and all day Saturday camping and doing mountaineering training on Mt. Hood, then spent most of the day Sunday at his dad's house, sorting and packing up Matt's childhood room. His dad is working on staging and hopefully selling the house, so everything has to be gone through and got rid of or stored. Monday night we got some nice garden work in after a rare dinner out, Tuesday night I was out late to yoga and last night we went to see a documentary about a big wave surf spot on the Oregon Coast, Nelscott Reef, and its controversial surf competition. I have spent several nights recently at Matt's, have barely cooked a meal all week, haven't had a chance to shop for groceries, and this weekend we'll be spending Saturday and Sunday going to/in Seattle to see friends and go to the Folklife Festival. While I'm definitely enjoying myself doing all of these things, I haven't been at home much.

Another contributing factor is a new neighbor who plays very loud bass music almost every day, which of course I can hear from my apartment. I wish so much that I could tune it out, but apparently I am not built like that- I find it very distracting and irritating. Luckily it has never gone past 10 PM, so for now I am just trying to find the serenity to deal with it, but it does make me feel less in control of my own space when someone else's noise is invading my home. I am trying my very best not to feel paranoid about it, but it does really get to me. But I also feel like everyone has a right to their own preferred entertainment, at least during waking hours. If it happens after 10 or 11 PM, I will feel justified in asking them to do something about it.

So I just haven't felt connected to my little home recently, for a multitude of reasons.Work has been busy lately too, so I just haven't felt particularly rested in any part of my life, despite still generally enjoying myself. So I am looking forward to taking some time to settle back into my home, and put things to rights within my apartment and within myself. Tonight I will spend the evening home, by myself. There is so much to do, but mostly I just want to feel good at home again. I can do all the things that have been put off for the last (too many) days: cooking a real home meal, washing dishes, changing the bedding, doing a load or two of laundry, taking inventory of what food I have and making lists of what is needed, and maybe catching up on some sewing or knitting. I hope to end the evening by sitting down to watch part of a movie, but not until I get a few other things sorted out!

It's very disconcerting for me to lose my sense of home, to feel a little stir-crazy and lose touch with the routine things of my life and be falling into bed a little too late at night without doing more than brushing my teeth and pulling out clothes for the next day. I am looking forward to this evening, which is mine to do with what I like, and to this long weekend coming up. My office will be closing early tomorrow and closed all day Monday for Memorial Day, so even with the trip to Seattle, I will have some extra time to be at home and reconnect with those aspects of it that I am missing right now.

Have a great weekend, everybody!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Trials of a Gardener

I adore gardening. I really love putting tiny seeds into soil and watching and tending them all the way through their journey up into stout, food-producing plants. I love playing in the dirt, getting my hands dirty, and knowing I am making the earth more healthy by enriching the soil and decreasing my carbon footprint by growing produce ten steps from my back door. I love the feeling of productivity I get after an afternoon of gardening, when I look at my tidy, weed-free plot, with unruly peas woven gently back into the fencing I am training them to climb, chard sprouts thinned, and new starts tucked safely into the ground. And I love the point at which I get to go out in the evening with a basket and fill it with fresh greens and radishes for a salad I will eat five minutes later! This year has been particularly rewarding, as I was able to grow almost everything in my garden from seed, and see the whole journey through.

And yet. Gardeners and farmers, no matter how much work and care they give their plants (or animals) and no matter how technologically advanced they may be, are always at the mercy of nature. As happy as I am with my garden, and as proud as I am of it, not everything is going according to plan. In point of fact:

1. There is a veritable festival of slugs going on in my backyard. All of my greens have holes in them, and when I went scouting at dusk yesterday, I found little slugs on almost every kale and bok choy plant. Most of my lettuce and cilantro sprouts haven't made it past a half inch tall before being eaten into oblivion. I don't really mind eating holey greens, but when my sprouts can't even grow to a size where they aren't killed by some nibbling, something needs to be done. Unfortunately, slugs are endemic to the pacific northwest. We have exactly the nice moist climate that they love. So I'm now on a mission to collect eggshells to break up and use in creating a border around new plantings. From what I can find out, this is the best way to go. Matt suggested the old saucers of beer trick, but I really don't fancy trays of dead, beery slugs all over my garden. So I'm going to try the eggshells first.

2. My squashes and cucumbers are dying. Two of my winter squash plants just totally wilted and died outright.

One of the two Straight Eight cukes that I planted into the garden didn't make it (the other one is thriving...), and both of the Straight Eights that I planted into a big pot by the house both died in the last couple of days.

They were all doing great until I transplanted them outside. I've been reading about the toxicity of Black Walnut trees, and I think this may be the answer, as there is a huge walnut tree at the back corner of the yard next to the compost bin. I'm not certain it is a black walnut and haven't been able to key it out to identify it properly, but this is my best guess so far. Most of the literature says that squashes can handle the toxic juglone that is put out by the tree's roots (and other parts), but maybe it's dependent on the variety of squash? Has anyone else had this problem, or have any suggestions as to what other factors might be? There was no sign of insects or rodents damaging these plants, they just wilted and died. Everything around them seems to be growing fine.

3. My basil is not coming up. I planted two rows about two weeks ago, and there's still no sign of sprouts. For a week after I planted it, we had lots of sun and warm temperatures and I've been watering regularly, so there's something else at play. I've been checking for sprouts often, so I feel like this isn't a case of sprouts coming up and then being immediately eaten down by slugs or insects- they just haven't made it out of the ground yet. My best guess is that this is another case of the soil in my garden being pretty dense, but nothing else has had a problem sprouting so far, and my experience has been that basil is pretty hardy, so I'm not entirely sure what's going on. I'm bummed, because I really really want lots of basil for pesto and salads, but so far it's looking like that won't happen. I may try planting in a container, but I'll wait a few more days to see if they make it out into the light.

4. About a million aphids have been having a party on my pepper plants. I've been hardening off these plants and hope to get them in the ground this week (I'm waiting for the weather to let up- we're currently experiencing a bit of a gale that has come in from the coast). So they've been inside at night, outside during the day, and these aphids went absolutely nuts on them, so some of the leaves started to become malformed and discolored.

I tried the (slightly gross) method of smashing of aphids with my fingers and then rinsing the plants down with water to wash all the bugs off. This worked for about a day before the little green dudes showed back up. Not wanting to use pesticides or anything, I did a little research on the interwebs and decided to try the following: put one teaspoon of mild dish detergent (I use a Seventh Generation one) in a spray bottle, fill the bottle up with water, shake, and then spray the underside of every leaf. This drowns the aphids and makes it difficult for them to regain their footing if they do survive, without harming the plant. So far, it seems to be working really well. Once they are out in the garden, the local ladybugs and other insects should have it under control.

What obstacles or tribulations are you experiencing with your garden? Do you have any tricks or cures for the problems you encounter?

Friday, May 21, 2010


I fell in love with English tea when I studied in London for 3 1/2 months in 2004. I mean, really fell in love. Before I went to the U.K., I did not drink much black tea, and had never (never!) had milk in my tea. But I was quickly converted, as my English host family on Batchworth Lane (now you know where my blog URL comes from!) kept a big tin of PG Tips on the kitchen counter at all times-- it became standard fare for me. I usually drink several cups a day, but had never owned a teapot until a few weeks ago. We Americans have a habit of just using teabags and brewing one cup of tea at a time. Astounded at the difference in flavor when the tea has been steeped in a pot, I finally decided it was time.

Sturdy and green, like most things I enjoy!

PG Tips or Darjeeling with sugar and milk, it's my best form of comfort food/drink. I have a feeling this is true for many others as well. Something about tea....

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Strawberry Treat!

I recently realized that I still have several bags of frozen strawberries in the freezer from last June's trip to the you-pick farms on Sauvie Island. And now suddenly we're coming up on the season for fresh strawberries again, and I need to use up the last of the frozen ones. So, we've been eating a lot of this:

The sauce is a simple one from How to Cook Everything, and the cake is from a recipe that has been in my parents' recipe box for as long as I can remember, called "Easy-Mix One Bowl Cake." It goes like this:

In a large bowl, combine and mix well:
4 cups flour
1 1/3 cup sugar
5 tsp baking powder
1tsp salt

2 tsp vanilla
2 cups milk
1/4 cup oil or soft butter

Stir well, then add an additional 1/2 cup milk and 4 eggs and mix again. Bake in an oiled-then-floured cake pan at 375 F for 30 minutes.

Serve on a warm spring evening with a cup of good English tea. Yum!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Square Meal

It's remarkable how difficult it seems sometimes to come up with a well-rounded meal. Which is also sometimes referred to as a square meal (the left side of my brain is now going: "Wait, how can a square be round?"). I have been making a habit of planning ahead, trying to remember to take frozen soup stock or beans out of the freezer in advance, cooking double portions so there are leftovers for a couple days' worth of lunches, and trying to always inventory what is left in the fridge so I can make sure I always have some veggies, some protein, and some bread or grains of some kind. It doesn't always work (as evidenced by my occasional meals of popcorn), but by enhancing my awareness of what is available to me and by getting my brain used to planning in advance, more and more often I am able to throw together a fairly easy, well-balanced meal at very little cost.

Last night Matt and I had chicken soup with dumplings, and a nice salad with a soy-sesame dressing. Protein, check. Grain/bread, check. Vegetables, check. These are the things that make my body feel healthy, and let my mind rest in the knowledge that I am treating myself (and my partner) well.

A few weeks ago, I put together this meal: (the protein may be a little lacking, but it was delicious!

Throwing together some biscuits:

The Meal:
Biscuits with honey, steamed green beans (of the frozen variety), red kale salad with olive oil and Parmesan.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Bits and Bobs

Things I've been up to lately besides gardening:
  • Mending socks. I cannot figure out why, but I seem to be incapable of wearing a pair of socks without punching a hole in the toe. This keeps me busy with mending, as the only socks that are immune are the thick wool ones, and I have a thing for a certain brand of thinner (and very loud) knee socks. 
  • Putting in steady progress on Tighe & Lisia's wedding present. My brother is getting married in July and while I may have gotten myself in over my head with this gift, I am loving how it is turning out. But still quite a bit of work to go. Luckily there are parts of it I can do in my downtime at work. I will post lots of photos in a big reveal after the wedding. 
  • Learning how to take in some of my button-downs. They were a little loose, so I am attempting to make them more fitted. It seems to be working well so far. 
  • Brainstorming and prepping for lots more gift-making. I have just learned that one set of friends are not only engaged, but are expecting a baby in late autumn! Two other dear friends will be married mid-September, and my favorite little girl, Maya, is turning 2 at the end of May, so I am putting something together to send off in a package to Nebraska here pretty soon. I have lots of ideas floating around. The question is simply, where is the time to get it all done? 
  • Learning to knit! Thank you, Leah! We spent a lovely evening last week sitting on the floor in front of my heater and now I know the basics and am excited to figure out the more complicated stuff. But I'm trying to pace myself!  
  • Getting to know lots of wonderful simple living blogs. Check out the list in my sidebar. There are too many to list, so these are just a few of my favorites.

    Thursday, May 6, 2010

    The Tomatoes are Out!

    I got a good day of gardening in this past Saturday, as I was beginning to feel that I was being cruel to my poor tomatoes by keeping them in their pots any longer. I still have another 4 tomatoes that I'm hardening off this week, which were from the second planting and not so tall, so I will put them out this next weekend. But this particular batch of six got too tall for the lights weeks ago, and I had been putting them outside every day to harden them off and to continue getting light, but had hoped I could last at least a couple weeks into May before putting them into the ground. We've been having crazy turbulent weather the last couple of weeks--hail, torrential rains, wind, and record "low high" temperatures, which made me a little worried about my garden's ability to cope. However, it soon became evident that these tomatoes desperately needed cages to hold them up and more room for their roots. So out they went, and they seem to be doing just fine.

    I had three tomato cages that I bought last year, and then I got some large mesh wire from freecycle a couple months ago, which I planned to cut apart and make into more cages. Matt brought over some wirecutters, but it turned out that I had ended up with the heavy-duty wire that is used to reinforce concrete. Whoops- we couldn't cut through it! So we bent it around into zig-zags between tomato plants, which works just fine, but looks like I've put my plants into a high-security prison. We dubbed it "Tomatotraz."

    I had a couple extra tomatoes that weren't going to fit into my garden, so my friend Alina adopted them, and yesterday stopped by with some golden plum preserves as a thank you. I also passed off a huge batch of tomatos to my coworker Olga last week, and in return she brought me starts of sweet peppers, oriental cucumbers, lemon cukes, and marjoram. I love all this bartering!

    I was planning to put the cukes in where the garlic is growing now, but it looks like the garlic won't be ready to harvest until mid- to late June. So I might have to come up with an alternate solution. Grow cukes in pots? I need to find out if that's possible.

    I planted a couple short rows of basil last weekend, Lime Basil and Genovese Basil, and have a couple little basil plants growing under the lights. I also planted some Rattlesnake snap beans (pole beans)  that Olga gave me, and a row of Empress bush beans from my mom's garden. My marigolds are blooming, the nasturtiums and sweet peas are up and growing like weeds, there are tiny lettuce, chard, and cilantro sprouts, and Matt and I just had a salad that included bok choy and radishes that were picked just 10 minutes earlier. I love this time of year!!

    I am also falling in love with the length of Portland's growing season. To have such a garden this early in the year without a greenhouse or cold frame is a rare thing, and I couldn't do it if it weren't so mild here. (Alas, this goes hand in hand with a gray, rainy winter. Oh, well).

    How does your garden grow?