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April 30, 2010

We had a beautiful morning earlier this week. The clouds were hanging out over by the edge of the sky and the night's rain lingering on the plants made everything sparkle in the sunlight. I went for a bike ride before breakfast and discovered these on the way in the back gate:

baby pears

I have a pear tree full of baby pears! Last year, we had one pear on the whole tree, until someone reached over the fence, picked it, bit it and discovered that it wasn't mature - then threw it back over the fence. I don't know if I should try to throw netting over this tree to protect the fruit from curious neighborhood kids or if I should hope that having more fruit on the tree to start with will result in some of it being left for me.

There are also cherries setting on the cherry tree:

baby cherries

And blueberry flowers galore:

blueberry flowers

And some other flowers:

evergreen clematis in bloom

chive flowers at morning

And probably my best flower (who was supposed to be showing off the height of the Shasta daisies outside the back gate):

Caitlyn at 4yrs, 10 mos.

April 27, 2010

I opened up one of the half-rounds of the Monterey Jack cheese I made in March. It doesn't taste anything like Monterey Jack cheese. It's not bad, just dry and crumbly and on the extra-sharp side. And it's only been aging a month. I don't know if I over-heated, or heated too fast, or over-handled the curds. It could also be the effect of letting it sit in the press three extra hours, but I doubt it. I seem to remember thinking that it was pretty dry when it went into the press.

Also, there was some mold on the rind under the wax this time. So I either waxed it before the rind was completely dry, I wasn't thorough about checking for and removing any nascent mold before waxing, or I managed to trap an air bubble between the wax and the rind. Since I hadn't trimmed down the cheesecloth yet for this round of cheesemaking, I had one surface of the round that was excessively uneven, so even that last possibility isn't outlandish.

I wonder if this cheese's hesitation to melt is a result of it's dryness? Has anyone ever tried to melt manchego? This had a texture much the same, and despite spending nearly 40 minutes at 350 degrees becoming part of tonight's kale enchiladas, it had just started to think about maybe getting around to melting. Not exactly the result one wants in an enchilada, really. Knowing this, I wonder what I'll think up to do with the other half-round...

April 21, 2010

Does anyone know how to find a good home for a tree? It's getting to be time to let go of my Norfolk Island pine. And just thinking about it almost makes me cry.

Norfolk Island Pine

This tree has been part of the family since 1991, when Kathryn gave it to me as a Christmas present. We were in AP US History, juniors at SLVHS, and I still remember how spindly the poor thing was. Kathryn had hung an ornament, not a large one, just a red ball, probably ping-pong ball sized, on its one branch; the weight pulled the whole tree off its center.

The tree lived at my parents' house while I went to college. I remember getting excited the first time it made four simultaneous branches. After Ian and I moved to San Francisco, the tree came to live with us. It started out sitting on a milk crate, but had grown enough to be set on the floor by the time we left for Los Angeles. I drove the tree back to my parents' house, taking the back roads the entire way because the tree was taller than the cab of the truck and I was worried the wind whipping by would snap out the top.

It came back to live with us when we moved to Seattle. The tree was large enough by then to be an awkward house companion, but we found a corner for it anyway. It's thrived in our sunroom, got to be decorated one year for Christmas, and is now approaching the ceiling. The tree is nearly 20 years old; it's been around for more than half my life. And I can't just put it out for the City to haul away.

Norfolk Island Pine

Norfolk Island pines are semi-tropical, despite the name which always makes me think of Maine for some reason, and they aren't pines. In their natural habitat, they can grow to 150 feet or so. But they do all their growing at the top, making it impossible to pinch it back or prune it to maintain a house-sized habit; take out the top and at best you've ruined the shape of the tree. At worst, you kill it. And it wouldn't survive outside here in Seattle, with our decidedly non-tropical winters.

I've talked to Swanson's and they can't take it; apparently there are rules about such things. It needs a warm space with a large vaulted or cathedral ceiling, which rules out most residences (although if anyone knows someone with such a house who wants a tree, send them my way). Ideally, I'd love to find a large building (mall, office building, city hall, community center, etc) that has a super tall ceiling and a plant staffperson. (I'm afraid to just donate it to just anywhere, especially if it's somewhere I'm likely to go, and find it neglected.)

Norfolk Island Pine

So, does anyone know how to find a good home for a tree?

April 16, 2010

I'm not much of a fashion person. I'm too tall for most off-the-rack things, so finding pants that go down to my ankles is a challenge, and all my long-sleeve shirts magically transform into 3/4 sleeve shirts when I put them on. And I'd rather spend money on books or food than pay for custom tailoring. Which would be rather silly, really, since I don't have an office job, don't have co-workers to impress, and would probably ruin things with all the urban homesteading I attempt.

Shopping is depressing for me because things always fit so badly. Retail Therapy is more stressful and aggravating than therapeutic, so it's not that hard to resist its siren call. (I probably could have parlayed the irritation into a reasonable skill-set of fashion design, but by the time that thought occurred to me, I had already become rather entrenched in my Clothing Should Be Practical worldview. I'm just recently starting to sew myself the kind of clothes I want to wear, some of which aren't practical at all since I seem to like long, full skirts. You try cleaning house with 6 1/2 yards of fabric between you and the floor.) I've found a few places over the years that have things that are "good enough", and I stick to those. Eddie Bauer has long pants, if you buy them online. Experience Shoes not only carries my preferred style of Dr. Martens, they've also got sensible black pumps (and a lot of non-sensible ones, too, if you're into that). I'm still looking for reasonably-priced, solid-color, femininely-styled tops with long sleeves that don't become 3/4 sleeves on me, but for now St. John's Bay seems to mostly work.

And then, sometimes, I make exceptions. For special, pretty things. Something nice to dress up my ultra-practical, no frills wardrobe. So, when Inca Mama has an online sale, especially a sale with a 75% off discount, I buy something. It's always soft and warm and makes me feel more like a Lady and less like something that fell off the apple cart. There's the added karmic perk of knowing that I'm supporting another woman's small business and that Carmela donates a portion of her revenue back to the villages in Peru where she gets her fibers. During this most recent sale (which is still going on right now!) I added a Banya to my little Inca Mama collection. Next on my list is a Lucy, if Carmela still has any in my size...

April 13, 2010

Yes, you can say anything you want with statistics. But I'm going to post this anyway:

why a salad costs more than a big mac

(Image from the
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine's Good Medicine via The Consumerist)

The American government subsidizes (makes it cheaper for a farmer to produce, and thus for the consumer to buy) meat more than other food items, despite the same government's official recommendation that we all should eat more of the things it's not encouraging the producers to produce.

This article has some good points about how the chart above visually distorts the data. But I think the point that the chart makers were trying to make is mostly about meat and not about the other categories. The meat/dairy industry receives 74% of the agricultural subsidies, when we're really only supposed to eat 6 servings of protein per day. Really, it's no wonder we Americans eat too much meat. It's the only thing some of us can afford to buy.
We took a little jaunt down to California for Easter with family. My grandfather was celebrating his 90th as well as Easter (he was apparently born on Easter, too) and got to do it surrounded by all available descendants.

Great Grandpa's 90th birthday

Caitlyn was exited by the trip, but extra-enthusiastic at the prospect of spending time with her cousin. The tissue paper from some Easter gifts was a big hit.

Caitlyn and tissue paper

We took Caitlyn down to the beach and watched the waves off West Cliff. There had been a bit of a storm the day before, so there were some good ones crashing into the cliffs and sending up spray.

Caitlyn watching waves

It was a lovely day, and the surfers were out, so we watched them for a while. And then we pointed out the rides visible on the other side of the wharf and Caitlyn - trouper that she is - willingly walked the almost 2 miles there (it's shorter if you go straight, but it's wet, and not even surfers can go in a straight line) to check out the Boardwalk.

Caitlyn at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

We made a second stop in at Grandpa and Grandma's house. Caitlyn got to ride in Grandpa's lifting chair and made a brave attempt to sit still long enough for the dog to snore as promised (the dog didn't deliver). She exhibited a strange ability to locate all the plastic leaf coasters in the house, and at the end, consented to a photo with Grandma and to a Flying Caitlyn hug for Grandpa.

Caitlyn with Great Grandma

Add in a walk in the redwoods (over muddy trails, since we had forgotten about the good-wave-creating torrential downpour on Sunday) and it was a fine trip.

big tree

April 10, 2010

Sometimes I wish I didn't care. That I didn't know what I know. So I could drive wherever guilt-free and buy whatever stupid plastic toy the kids are clamoring for now. So I could enjoy cheap food and cheap clothes and worry more about whether my hair looks good then the list of ingredients of my shampoo. So I didn't have to prepare speeches on Why I'm Not Buying That. So that I didn't evaluate Need vs Want every time I feel the urge To Buy Something.

It's not that I actually want more stuff; I want less stuff in my house. It's spring and in addition to the obligatory Spring Cleaning (time to do the annual dusting and scrub the kitchen floor on hands and knees), I find I'm looking at the bookshelf and wondering, "Do I need to keep this book?" It's actually making walking into Caitlyn's room difficult; her definition of "clean" seems to be that there's a central patch of clean floor in the middle of her room, never mind the piles of stuff ringing the perimeter. I see it all and figure if it doesn't fit on the shelves in her room, she has too much and some of it should go. Asking her to let go of anything is traumatic, though, with tears and pleading and protestations of undying love, followed by goodbye speeches and weeks of random remembrances. It's the same whether she's saying goodbye to a playhouse she didn't use or a scrap of fabric that's been used once as a guitar and left in the corner of her closet ever since.

But I digress. My point is that I'm finding I'm sometimes tired of being the one Trying To Make A Difference. I use those funny shaped, energy efficient lightbulbs that are hard to find. I don't watch TV and thus have no idea who Kim Kardashian is. I pay attention to where my family's food comes from, stocking up in the summer so we don't buy produce trucked from California or Mexico during the winter. I avoid extra packaging, carry reusable bags to the store, try to avoid impulse buys, evaluate how many different bottoms I can wear a top with before I'll buy it, keep Caitlyn's clothes around til they're too small in more than one direction or until they are falling apart.

I don't miss being an American Consumer. Although I'm certainly still consuming at an alarming, unsustainable, totally First World rate, I think I'm consuming less than I used to, and certainly less than Average. But I lose heart when I see other people, in person or in pop culture or in the news, consuming as if it were a God-Given Right and a National Imperative. And really, who's to blame them when the economic indicators are trumpeted on the daily news, with regular reminders that the economic recovery won't really take off until Consumers Start Spending Again. That means Consuming. We don't have a Gross Domestic Product. We have a Gross Domestic Consumption. We're an obese nation - in more than just weight - because the only useful means of contribution has become consuming.

April 08, 2010

I'm still venting about this, apparently.

In returning to the airport for our flight home yesterday, we had to stop and return the rental car. For some reason (flu, warm weather, whatever), most of Budget's staff had called in sick. This meant that we had to stand in line, at the counter, where nothing is ever fast, in order to complete the transaction instead of the check-in-and-you're-done thing that usually happens really fast in the parking lot. Which, in turn, made us later than we wanted to be when we got to the actual airport.

Where we discovered we were too late to use the automated kiosks, and therefore had to stand in another line. Where we were informed that we were to late to check our one bag (which we were going to check since it had a bottle of hair gel (Aveda, $20). The choice became "toss the liquids" or wait in Standby for the 6:30pm flight.

This all was frustrating enough, but the part that's really irritating was the smug attitude of the woman at the counter.

"This is why we tell people to arrive at least 40 minutes early," she says.

"We did. Budget took extra time with the rental car."

"Yes, so you should have arrived early."

It would have been so much nicer if she had acknowledged that there had been a hiccup in the system, a deviation from the plan. A simple "I'm sorry," would have been welcome, and would have gone a long way toward making us a bit happier. No one was asking this woman to hold the plane, to waive some regulation, to take the blame for anything. To ask us to have somehow anticipated that Budget would be understaffed and have factored that into our schedule for the day is absurd. Are we supposed to arrive at the airport at dawn and wait there all day for an afternoon flight, just in case there's a delay, a traffic accident, a strike, someone doesn't get their coffee in time? Shit happens. We'd admitted we were late; we didn't need to have some smug, self-righteous woman in a uniform rub our faces in it.

April 02, 2010

I'm not sure what went wrong, if anything. Maybe I'm short on patience. Maybe this is how the cookie crumbles. But I don't have nearly the number of pea seedlings emerging as I should. Of the three rows of spinach I seeded back in February, there are 2 little plants. It's been so warm this spring, I figured for sure I'd have better results than this. Maybe I didn't water them enough, forgetting that all this warm weather meant it wasn't raining.

In the p-patch, there seem to be only two asparagus crowns left. I can't find signs of the other four. If it's really a case of attrition and not just my inability to see tiny asparagus heads, it's sad that I've lost 60% of what I planted. Although, it does mean that perhaps I won't have to attempt to corral the squash too much this summer. It's a fruitless task, anyway.

So I've pushed soil around the asparagus tips I can see. I've reseeded the spinach rows. And I picked up some pea starts at the nursery and planted them along the pea fence where the seedlings I thought I would have by now aren't.

The onion seedlings and I went out to the p-patch yesterday evening, in a mad rush to do some planting before the sun went down or the forecasted storm arrived. For a while, it hailed what looked like rock salt at me. But the onions, both the tiny seedlings and the larger ones from the nursery are all in. I'm thinking perhaps if I start onions from seed again, I should try deeper starting trays; these poor things are less than half the size of the purchased starts, but their root(s) are all the way to the bottom of the tray. Perhaps they are the tiny things they are because their legroom was so stingy, like how goldfish aren't supposed to grow unless you give them are large, sparsely occupied bowl.

I've read that gardening is about hope. You plant these tiny plants and seeds in the hope that they will feed you later. Right now, I'm thinking gardening is about stubbornness. You plant and replant and weed and reweed out of determination that there will be food. This isn't hope; this is squeezing life out of barrenness. Or maybe I'm just feeling too cranky these days to see the hope implicit in the stubbornness.

April 01, 2010

It's time to finish off the kale. To that end, I harvested all that remained in the garden Tuesday afternoon, filling two plastic produce bags. Half of that was converted into Kale & Roasted Red Pepper Quiche on Wednesday:

kale and roasted red pepper quiche

We're down to our last jar of roasted red peppers. And I can see part of the bottom of the freezer in the garage. There some carrots and broccoli, zucchini and pasta sause left out there, but mostly it's green beans and flour and berries.

But, it's the beginning of April, and our farmers' market starts back up at the end of the month. Of course, it'll be a few weeks before there's anything there but winter greens and Farmer Wade's Apple Juice (will it be cider or granitas on opening day?) but the asparagus won't be too much longer. Our asparagus, some of it anyway, is settling in.

itty bitty asparagus