Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Plant Sale Disappointment

I have always loved and used libraries in any town or city where I've happened to live. They have always given a sense of connection with the community itself as well as with the larger world that books and libraries open up. Living in the country, there is just not that much that is within walking distance so I love that our little town library can be a destination walk for me. But it is really so important to me as that link to community that I have found frustratingly elusive in this particular rural setting. So I try to support our library in any little way I can.



Last Saturday, there was a plant sale to raise some money for the library. I have many plants that are in need of dividing, so I did some digging and potting between rain showers on Friday. I really was not in the market for new plants unless there happened to be some vegetable sets so I did have to check out what was available. I did not need any more perennial flowers, but then of course I succumbed to the desire for some.



The sale works like this--you look around and find your first pick and then stand by it, guarding it until the leader gives a signal to make your first pick. You grab the plant and then run to guard your second choice. Your first choice costs $5.00; the second, $3.00; until its just grab what ever for 50 cents. I picked out an oxalis, dahlias, obedient plant, zinnia starts, and a small ground cover plant, the name of which I have now forgotten. Since my car was parked fairly far down the green, I piled my plants together in an out of the way spot and went to pay up. Then when I went to gather the plants into my vehicle--no plants to be found. I assume that some one's child or spouse was helping out a plant purchaser and loaded them unnoticed into a car by mistake. It was a disappointment though. Still, I didn't need them and sometimes the universe conspires to remind you of things like the difference between wants and needs. No harm done. And now I do not have to look for another place to expand or start a new flower garden. Taking on the new veg patch was enough for this year.

Blue Birds



Five years ago the neighbors' cat killed a female blue bird under the lilac bush. Mike ran to get the bird away and started blowing on it (bird CPR?), but it was really mortally wounded and died within the hour. It was crushingly sad. The male hung around for several weeks but it was forlornly mateless. We didn't have another pair of blue birds nesting in the yard again until this year. They're back!

We have been watching a pair that appears to be nesting over by the shed. They seem to like the deck and make a trip there in the evening as we are cleaning up the supper dishes and in the morning as we are having coffee. from the kitchen sink and from the dining table, we have a great vantage on their deck time activities. They like to plop a fat worm or a bug on the railing and have a bit of a picnic. They are very keen on perching on the metal hanger for the hummingbird feeder and take turns doing that--sitting there surveying the yard. The hummingbirds do not like this development at all but the blue birds hardly seem to notice the histrionics. Well, the hummingbirds have full reign over the deck for quite some time now. I mean there are times when they try to chase Mike and I off the deck, so they do need to be taken down a peg. Birds are so territorial this time of year, but the smaller they are the grander their hostility. Anyway, it's so good to have the blue birds again.

Nuisance Vegetables

Another early harvesting here in zone 4 country is rhubarb. Mike classifies rhubarb, along with zucchini and anything onion, as "nuisance vegetables." He finds it particularly distressing if my culinary creativity leads me to the use of such vegetables in some baked form like muffins or cake.


Well, rhubarb is hardly a nuisance. Did you know it can be used to clean burned pots and pans, as a hair lightener, as an insecticide, as an ingredient in homemade art paper? Everything you could possibly want to know about rhubarb can be found in The Rhubarb Compendium (http://www.rhubarbinfo.com/). What a thorough resource. I wish I could find a similar site for chives!

Let the Harvest Begin

Vermonters have been busily putting in gardens over the past week--even though yet another frost warning is in place for tonight, the last night of May. I've lost my cucumbers and half the basil to frost. I think the tomato plants will not survive either in spite of the fact I rushed out to cover everything at the mere hint of frost. On a brighter note, the first lettuce is up and I noticed today that some green beans have sprouted. And then there are the old reliables. Chives and rhubarb seem to grow around here more like weeds than standard vegetables.
So I have been harvesting the chives and adding them to my (but not Mike's) salads, potatoes, and soups. A bit here and a bit there and I do find it quite satisfying to have something freshly plucked out of the herb garden, but, let's face it, this amount of use is not making the slightest dent in the two thriving clumps of chives I keep.
Poking around on the Internet, I did find a recipe for chive oil that can be served over pasta. It uses a lot of chives and sounds like it would be delicious over hearty pasta with a grating of Parmesan cheese and good Italian bread on the side. Next time we have guests I'll try it--and reserve a bowl of pasta to serve with plain oil and cheese to Mike.

Chive Oil
Puree in a blender:
1/4 cup extra virgin
olive oil
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 3/4 cup chopped chives
3 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon of coarse salt
dash or two of ground pepper
Use immediately.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Computer Matchmaking Services

There are plenty of advertisements on TV related to finding your true love, soul mate, perfect match. Wow, it's mind blowing. There are tests you can take to show with whom you would find life time love and commitment. I wonder--if Mike and I were to fill out the questionnaires, what are the infinitesimal chances that we would be matched to each other?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Summer Hair Secrets

Health magazine for June has an article about 50 secrets to fabulous and funtastic summer hair. By far my favorite for a laugh:

Wrap sections of your damp hair in cotton tube socks and tie the ends of
each sock together. Go to bed for the night. Socks are more comfortable than
rollers, you see. (Does anyone really do that? Sleep in rollers, I mean?) Then
in the morning take out the socks, fluff your hands through your hair and enjoy
the waves.

My hair is already wavy so I don't think that I'll try this. Because my hair is wavy, I naturally yearn to wake up with perfectly straight hair. Also no one in the house has tube socks. It would not be worth the trip to K-Mart or where ever it is one goes to purchase tube socks. This little beauty secret would pretty much hatchet any chance of getting lucky that night and I still think it would be hard to sleep with knotted socks all over your head so you might want to be occupying your time somehow. And really, if I ever did try this, that would be the night the furnace blows up or the chimney catches fire. I'd have to run out of the house and wait for the volunteer fire department on the front lawn while curious neighbors wonder why I'm wearing socks on my head. Nope, I skip this one.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Planting Time

Memorial Day is the official planting time here in Vermont. Of course, Memorial Day used to be May 30th when it could be more safely assumed that the season's last frost had occurred. Now that they've gone to the three day weekend approach to so many holidays, Memorial Day fell on the 25th. Most of the neighbors were out planting just the same. I'm impatient enough to have put in three tomato plants, a cucumber hill, basil, and parsley. The lettuce is already sprouting up from seed. So guess what--frost and freeze warnings out for tonight.

Memorial Day

There was an appropriate piece in the Burlington Free Press yesterday, the Chris Bohjelian column. He told about the elementary school in his small town of Lincoln, VT. The entire school walks to the town cemetery for a Memorial Day observance. Students can find graves marked with GAR, soldiers who had fought in the Civil War. In a small town there are many connections between the past and present and this struck me as such a fitting way to honor that. Reflection can sometimes be overlooked in education's current focus on meeting test standards.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow (1)
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
by John McCrae

Today I went to the cemetery to plant flowers at my parents' grave sight and reflected on the life and opportunities they gave to me and on the dream of peace, an end to war and whatever it is that gives cause for wars.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Animal Rights

A woman in New Jersey is being prosecuted for animal cruelty. She is the owner of a business called Critter Ridder, hired to get rid of a pesky squirrel. Oddly enough, the squirrel died in a trap on the roof of a building. She was charged with animal cruelty, including failure to provide adequate food. Nothing against squirrels--they're fun to watch--but if I had one living in or around my attic, I would try to get rid of it I guess. I've heard they can become quite pest like. On the other hand, I would hope this could be dispatched humanely, maybe through a relocation program. Although if you really stop to think about it, sending your average city dwelling squirrel out to fend for itself in the woods amidst the owls and foxes that might want to eat it has its cruel side as well. Still, who knew you had to offer that last meal.


At the same time, officials in Alaska plan to prosecute a man for actually feeding bears. Apparently he is quite friendly with the neighborhood bear population and has even been seen scratching a bear tummy. Sure some bears can be dangerous, but here is a clan that seems willing to work on a peace initiative with humans and they've found a man with enough courage to sit down with their tribunal and hash out some kind of deal. i say more power to them all.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Canoe and the Beaver

I'm a little anxious about canoe travel. I've been known to dump a fully loaded canoe. Our trip across the reservoir where we camped this week started out on a less than auspicious note, too. It was windy, a warm wind blowing dirctly out of the south, but it made the water choppy. No mishap on the way to the camp site, though.
On Friday we took a couple paddles out and around looking for signs of spring and possible wildlife activity. We've seen, in the past, a snapping turtle, an eagle, loons, otter, deer, beaver, a moose, camp site marauding bands of ducks. This time it was something new--at least I'd never seen a sight quite like it--hundreds and hundreds of toads in a marshy area in the farthest corner of the pond. It might have been mating season. Or, they might have all been on a toad holiday and were playing rousing games of horse-back rides. Oh, and then there were the dozens of butterflies floating around the little beach at our camp site. So, I guess we found our signs of spring. But my point is that there were no canoe mishaps that day either.
So, as it nearly always does, it started to rain on the last morning. We packed everything up and headed out. It was rainy but not windy/choppy and I was kind of getting mesmerized by the sound of the water lapping against the metal canoe. Paddling in very calm water has a wonderful sound. But then--clunk--we were in too shallow water and hung up on a rock. We were stuck good, too, and surrounded by more large rocks. I stopped breathing. Getting free involved a bit of rocking, very careful rocking, and a lot of pushing this way and that with the paddles. Luckily, we did get free before I passed out from the lack of taking any breath or before we were tossed onto a slippery and cold, wet bed of rocks.
We got free without dumping!! Imagine the relief that flooded over us--me especially! We got the canoe turned around in the right direction and there was a beaver swimming in front and watching us. I swear it. He was laughing at us. Laughing, the cheeky bastard.

Eureka! A New Tent

When spring is lovely in Vermont, it is just wonderfully lovely. Since three such days were being predicted for Thursday through Saturday of this week, we took the opportunity to try out our new Eureka! tent. New to us anyway. Mike bought it last fall on e-Bay. This has a screen front room which we had wanted after spending a few miserable trips huddled in our old, much smaller tent either because it was pouring rain or the bugs were unbearable last summer.

We camp in the wilderness--primitive style camping. The new tent was very comfortable. There aren't so many bugs at this time of year but it was unusually warm for May so we appreciated the screened area for respite from the sun. We ate well. I had fixed two cold lunches--shrimp cocktail, cheese, crackers, olives, and wine for one day and cold chicken and salad (and more wine) for the next. Mike cooks over the fire at night and brews the coffee over a small fire in the mornings. We relaxed and read. And there's nothing like the kind of sleep you fall into out in the mountain air. And then, as had not been predicted (but we were camping after all), it started to rain on Saturday morning so we packed up and came home.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Too Much Time on My Hands?

A while ago I did a wardrobe inventory and cleaned out the closets a bit. One thing I noticed is that now that I'm retired there are certain articles of clothing that don't get worn as much as they used to. I don't really have to project that professional image so much anymore, but one always needs a suit hanging in one's closet, I think.
I have quite a growing selection of fabric pieces so I decided to use some of these to make a couple dust covers for suits and dresses. Well, I whipped up a pair this morning and was putting them on the designated clothing in the closet when my husband happened to come in from running his day's errands. Of course I had to explain to him about dust covers and garment bags. His response, "You have too much time on your hands and I think anyone who saw those would say the same thing."
Personally, I think anyone who saw my dust covers would say I have a very organized closet. Maybe we are each thinking of a different camp of "anyone."

Monday, May 18, 2009

Out of the Mouths of Babes...

I was taking my grand daughter out to lunch yesterday and we went by a highway sign that proclaimed, "Click it or TICKET." Kristen wanted to know what that meant. I explained to her that it meant that you should wear your seat belt and her response was, "But I always wear my seat belt."

So, yes, some people wear their seat belts because it's the safe and smart thing to do, but some people need to be reminded and the police will remind them with a ticket. "Like Mike," I said. "Sometimes he needs to be reminded to fasten his seat belt."

"And my dad, too," she commented. "Why are men like that??"
Good, classic question.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

My mother once said to me, "I feel like my brain was programed to last for 75 years and now I'm 80 with a useless brain." It was actually a few more years before the rest of us started to notice evidence of big memory lapses and the start of a long term decline into dementia that ended when my mother was almost 92. I've often thought that her statement about a useless brain meant she was aware of something not right going on in her head. It was doubly poignant to me because she had suffered from mental illness throughout her life. To be lucid about the shifting nature of her thoughts was so curious. It was a comfort to read Still Alice.



The story is told from Alice's perspective. Her life as a Harvard professor, high-powered neuropsychologist, internationally famous for her research in linguistics is all drastically and dramatically changed when she loses a word and the losses start quickly piling up. It is a fictional account, but realistic. So many of the experiences described rang true. Lisa Genova apparently has some background with Alzheimer's disease and access to current research and treatments. It did comfort me to be reminded that there could be a dignity and a quality to life even without an intellectual component.



I'd rather not experience it first hand (not surprisingly, a constant fear). I was intrigued by her plan (set up in her Blackberry, no less) to commit suicide with an overdose of sleeping pills when she reached a certain point of decline. That's definitely my solution to long term care insurance. But then she forgot to die and that wasn't so bad. Still don't want to experience it though.



I did find one thing unbelievable, however. After her diagnosis, Alice stops settling for frozen yogurt and starts eating ice cream again. So in one scene, she goes into a Ben and Jerry's scoop shop, gets three (that's three) scoops of chocolate peanut butter cup in a cone, pays with a five dollar bill and leaves the change in the tip jar. Please. Five dollars for three scoops of Ben and Jerry's and change left over. Never happened, not in 2005. Maybe I missed that it was another sign of her failing ability to cope--that she actually gave them a twenty dollar bill and left the change.

New Fence


We spent the afternoon digging two feet deep post holes--seven of them by hand with shovels and a trowel when needed. The rail fence itself went together quite easily and I think it adds a finished look to the house. My idea was to have the suggestion of a garden room when I walk out the front door. The daffodils have just gone by. In a couple of weeks I'll plant some annuals, set up a lawn chair and a small side table, sit out in the shade of the afternoon and watch the traffic go by.
We had the siding put on two summers ago. i think it made a big difference in the look of the house. That red Masonite was getting really tired and the barn board look, just too 60's-70's.




Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Community Supported Agriculture

I was reading Vigor, a health related newsletter from my health insurance provider (http://www.bcbs.vt.com). The article was "Five Reasons to Join a CSA Program."
The arguments were pretty straight forward:
  1. It will change the way you eat--meaning that you learn to appreciate food in its season. We have great strawberries locally, for a very short time in spring. Local tomatoes and fresh green beans cannot be beat in the summer. Apples and pumpkins and squash are yummy in the fall. So that makes sense.
  2. It's green--no long distance shipping mean fresher produce and no big carbon footprint from transportation across long distances. Green is good, all the rage.
  3. It will change the way you cook--meaning that with all the fresh veggies in the fridge you're less likely to turn to processed foods. Sounds like a good enough idea. We all are aware that processed foods are not good for us and eating more vegetables and fruits is always in nutritional advise.
  4. It will help a local farmer--and no problem with that.
  5. It's easy--just sign up and pay your money. Then pick up your food as it's ready.

So why don't we sign up? Well, if you knew my husband and you read the whole of #3, "It will change the way you cook," you'd instantly see the deal breaker. Here it is (with emphasis mine):

There's nothing like a refrigerator full of vegetables to make you pass up
processed foods when you shop (which is pretty infrequently for me
now). I use web resources and the CSA's recipes and tips to find
unique ways to use the foods in my share. Maybe I''ll find a recipe
on EatingWell.com for a big batch of potato leek soup that will last all week. When company's coming, I'll recreate a restaurant dish by wrapping beets, carrots and the share's local goat cheese in filo dough and serve it on a bed of parsnip
puree.
While it's not essential to get really creative when using
your farm share, it's certainly easy and definitely fun.

I shouldn't blame our lack of support for local farmers entirely on my husband who never eats soup, never eats anything in the onion family, never eats beets, eats carrots only raw, and, I am quite sure, doesn't know what a parsnip even is. Goat cheese and parsnips are deal breakers for me too.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mothers' Day

I was looking at the weeding requirements of the yard--so many dandelions pop up. Even violets, which I love, are weeds in the lawn if you want to define weed as any non-grass growing where lawn should be. And lily-of-the-valley, by far my favorite smelling flower, are wandering out of their designated territory into where the lawn should be--making two of my all time favorite flowers "weeds." I'm thinking this way on Mothers' Day because my own mother always said that dandelions were her favorite flower. Dandelions are what are plentiful in May and my brother Richard always picked her a huge bouquet of cheery yellow blooms. I, of course, always picked bouquets of vilolets and lily-of-the-valley, which were, as I have mentioned my favorite flowers. This, perhaps, explains why I was not the favorite child of the four of us. Please, this is not paranoia--these things all come out when dementia takes full hold. And that's all okay. Happy Mothers' Day!



Saturday, May 9, 2009

Web Incompetence

So I log on to the blog and see "customize." I click on that thinking it would be good to jazz up the page. Trouble is that I simply do not understand the language. To me, a computer is a glorified type writer. Remember those? Any way, site maps, gadgets, crawling, html--all mean next to nothing. I don't know what to do with any of it. I'm lucky I learned to type. We had an old manual type writer (Remember those?) when I was a kid. By the time I was in high school my father had brought home a used IBM Selectric and weren't we just in the space age then.
I didn't take typing in high school, but my mother insisted that I learn to type. Her plan had always been to go to college and that was certainly her plan for her children. Unfortunately, her dad lost his business in the depression, which hit just as my mom was graduating from high school. He could no longer afford to send her to college and she ended up going to a secretarial school so she could get a job and help support the family. Of course that made her more determined that her children should go to college, but she wanted to hedge her bets with me. "You have to learn to type so you will always have an employable skill" was her mantra to me. So I ended up taking a night school class. I remember a young man taught the class and there were a dozen of us. I was the youngest, still in high school. There were two electric type writers and ten manual type writers available and the teacher warned that we would have to rotate around to use each machine. After my first attempt on a manual--when not a single letter actually showed up on the paper (weak hand strength)--I was assigned to an electric on a permanent basis. Oh, well for everybody else.
But even if it just for the superior ability to type stuff--well, and shop on-line, of course--I'm glad we have the computer. I just wish it didn't make me feel stupid and bereft of any employable skill.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Vacuum Cleaner

I have owned eight to ten vacuums in my life of vacuum ownership. In contrast, my mother, when she died in her early 90's, had owned a grand total of two. There must be something to that old saying, "They just don't make them like the used to." Of course, I did arrive at my mom's one afternoon to find her attempting to mow the lawn with her old Hoover, but that's another story entirely.
The upright, bagged machine I have now is fine for carpets, which cover most of my floors, but it has no attachments. Instead, you get the little canister thingy with the attachment assortment. I'm sure you've seen it--it is capable of sucking up a twenty pound bowling ball. Sucking up toast crumbs and cat food off the kitchen floor--not so much. Since I rarely to never feel the need to suck up kitchen cluttering bowling balls, I'm not particularly impressed with this little system. Not only does it not do the kind of cleaning up service I would want, especially for the price I paid for it, but it routinely falls apart in my hands. The hose pulls out; the wands fall off; the attachments stick when you want to take them off and fall off when you need them to be on; the hooks for winding up the cord has been replaced at least twice and it fell off again today; the front wheel fell off and the rear wheels wobble badly. You would think from looking at it that I was a demolition derby style vacuum babe.
I'd like to demolish it, but I can't justify buying a new machine at this point since I mange to get things reasonably clean in spite of the personal aggravation. I'm trying not to be wasteful. On the other hand, I know if I live to be in my 90's I'll not be taking that particular machine to the nursiing home with me.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Canoe Trip

Last Sunday we were driving to the Waterbury Flea Market, and as we were going along the Winooski River, Mike commented that the water was too high for a canoe trip. "You're safe," he said, "or I'm safe." Funny little reference to my proclivity for tipping over the canoe based on my complete and utter lack of any intuitive knowledge of physics and its application to canoe paddling.


Last year we took a trip down the river in May. The water was kind of high and moving fast--made for an easy paddle. We stopped at an island to have a picnic lunch. Mike wanted to go to paddle around to the back side of the island. On the way we veered too close to the shore and tipped over so fast we didn't know what hit us. The day was warm and sunny but the water was still cold. We ended up laying our clothes on trees and having a naked picnic lunch. Then when things dried out a bit, we headed on. Just passed the interstate bridge, we came to fork in the river. We headed to the left, hit a submerged log and over again in a wink. We dumped the water out of the canoe and kept on going another mile and a half to the pullout spot.

Later in the summer on another canoe trip on a pond, Mike yelled, "Take your paddle out of the water...So that's how you do that!" I don't know how I do it--tip the canoe--but it is clear it is my fault. Always my fault. Yeah, I'll be convinced to take another river ride real soon.

Girlie Dresses

I made this dress for Kristen last summer. There's a matching American Girl doll dress--which got me going on a nearly endless supply of projects.
The dress I made for myself was not making me happy. I needed to practice and I saw these adorable Amy Butler prints in the local fabric store. One is a procession of ants and the other is bumble bees. I'm sending them to California.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Another Blog and a Language Dilemma

I started reading stepford dreams, a blog that is written by a young woman in Australia. She put her legal career on hold to be a housewife. Being of the bra-burning era feminist persuasion, I was prepared to be derisive but found myself enjoying the wry wit. I guess the experience of homemaking is fairly universal (no matter what else complicates it), but that's what got me thinking about the language. I mean "homemaking," "housework," "child rearing," "parenting" -- these are all things that get done however one chooses to label oneself at various stages of life.
When I had my first teaching job I had two small children and a husband just out of the army who was going to start college. For a while, he was a "househusband," pretty rare at a time when women were almost embarrassed to be "just a housewife." Now, I know plenty of "stay at home moms" and "stay at home dads" but no "working moms" because that implies that those at home do not work. You have to explain earning an income if you're a woman but explain not earning a salary if you're a man
Some of the labels stay throughout our lives. I'll always be a parent. Some labels get added. I'm a grandparent now too. Some labels get modified. I'm a retired teacher. Some labels just never seem to fit though. I spend most of my time at home now doing traditional kinds of things like cooking and cleaning and gardening and sewing (and enjoying my home immensely!), but I never say I'm a "housewife." I just can't or don't or won't.

Recent Reading

Those Who Saved Us by Jenna Blum is a fictional, but all too believable, account of a German woman who lives through the hell of World War II by doing whatever it might take to keep herself and her daughter alive. It also stories the impact on her daughter as she finds out her mother's secrets. It's very sad and at the same time life affirming.

I thought that Love Walked In by Marisa De Los Santos would be kind of a light read. It is essentially a romance but with and added fairy tale like element from the perspective a young girl who is trying to find her parents.

Now that HBO is running the series, I decided to re-read the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. The TV version was striking me as very similar in impression to what I had remembered about the books, but I'm finding that the books are richer than I had remembered. I'm enjoying and appreciating them more with the second reading.

I just finished reading Jodi Piccoult's Handle With Care. I thought it was pretty typical JP--topical, prodigiously researched, and sadly soul numbing. To me, she has an odd JerrySpringeresque take on life but I still get sucked in.