Monday, September 26, 2016

Low key weekend

     I had a rough week, with Phi's demise and some other difficulties (which can't be explained on the blog right now), so I tried to take it easy on the weekend.
     On Saturday I had the perfect frugal day. First, there was a neighborhood-wide garage sale nearby. I didn't find anything I wanted to buy, but on my way out of the area, I drove by some stuff on the side of the road with a "free sign" and scored three things I really wanted - a wheelbarrow (for hauling compost), a bucket, and some very high quality hoses for watering the garden. Next, my friend D and I went to a new museum to take advantage of the annual free museum day held in DC. This museum is the perfectly-preserved 60's era home of some philanthropists, filled with their personal art collection. I felt a bit awed by people who could afford to decorate their personal living area with Renoirs, Van Goghs, and Picassos. I had brought some apples and what turned out to be perfectly-toasted walnuts as a snack, so we drove to the grounds of the nearby National Cathedral and listened to a whole series of songs played on their bells while we snacked.
     Sunday I made apple butter and pesto. This turned out to be more work than I expected, but it feels like the perfect fall activity to be stockpiling foods for the winter. My enthusiasm for the pesto was aided by my personal dislike of purchased jarred pesto, and my friend E's contribution of her extra basil. In a few cold months, it will be a nice taste of summer.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Goodbye to Phi the Cat

     Today was the last day of Phi's life. She lived 17 good years. By the end, she was blind and deaf, but until yesterday she was still walking around and enjoying the good life in between increasing numbers of naps. Last night it was clear that her body was just shutting down, so today I had her put to sleep and I buried her under the fig tree.
     I've never had a cat who liked people so much. She was tolerant of all people, kids, and dogs but felt that the best defense was a good offense when it came to other cats; she made many a cat twice her size retreat in fear. I'm pretty sure that Andrew fell in love with Phi before he fell in love with me. She and I lived in eight houses during our 15 years together, and that's a big chunk of my life.
     I will miss her.

Thursday, September 15, 2016


     Last week was one of celebrations. First, I turned 41. I celebrated by baking not one, but two, unpalatable cakes. The first was a steamed chocolate pudding (i.e. the type that is common in England). I haven't made one in years, but I remembered them as very moist and flavorful, since they are steamed in a closed mold instead of baked. When I unmolded it, I found a dry and dense, but tasty, cake. It was clearly inedible as is, so I froze it* and made a back-up cake. Unfortunately, I was pressed for time and ingredients, and learned the hard way that you can't use 25-grain whole wheat bread for bread pudding. Even a large ladle of custard sauce won't cover the fact that the bread is too healthy to be used in a dessert. 
I am, well, extremely self-confident about my ability to cook, and was almost shocked that I could bake two inedible things in a row. I will have to make a lot of ice cream to build up my self confidence again...
     I also celebrated by planting two blueberry bushes, gifts from my in-laws. This is a gamble, because by friend S, an exemplary and highly knowledgeable gardener, has told me that blueberries don't grow well in Maryland. I decided to pretend I didn't hear her, and planted them anyway. I will risk two bushes, some soil acidifier, and two years' effort of watering. It's a bet I'm willing to take.

And, of course, last Thursday was the 50th anniversary of the original Star Trek airing on television. I was invited to a showing of the first episode at the Smithsonian Air & Space museum. I went with two friends who can remember watching the original series with their parents, which was pretty cool. Gene Roddenberry's son was there to answer questions, along with the two fans that organized the letter writing campaign that saved Star Trek. Watching the episode, I was amazed by several things: There are many elements that became "canon" already present in the first episode. They were telling excellent stories using the cheesiest of props and special effects. Also, the way that women were treated in the 60's BLOWS MY MIND. I knew they stood around in miniskirts, but their main role seemed to be to carry trays of food to the officers, flirt, and be openly leered at by the men. We really have come a long way.

*I think the dry cake can be rehabilitated with much sherry in a Christmas trifle.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Growing things

     The summer garden is nearly done and the fall garden is just starting to sprout, so I figured it was a good time to take stock of how things went this year. This post is partly for all the armchair gardeners out there (I'm talking to you AinA) and partly for me, so I can remember what I need to work on next year.
     After my three years of growing stuff at the Pink House apartment, I figured I was a whiz. This year I had mixed results, so I guess I'm not an expert yet. I can probably blame this on my two-week absence in July, or my attention being focused on house updates, or not knowing the sun and soil in my new place. Next year I hope to have more time for gardening, and then we'll found out who's really to blame.
     First, the successes:
Eggplant. It's sort of hard to see, but there are probably a dozen eggplant growing on those bushes right now. Whatever I don't eat immediately, I saute in olive oil and freeze for easy additions to meals.
Black-eyed Susans. I didn't plant them, and in fact I actively tried to wipe out that bed, but they provided a huge patch of color in the backyard and are clearly here to stay.
Herbs. Here you can see lavender, rosemary, and garlic chives, but I have half a dozen more. Those herbs moved twice in the last year  - once from the Pink House and once to a new bed - but in spite of that they all look great.
Watermelon and squash. At last count I had four watermelon in my fridge, and the squash just don't  (won't?) stop ripening. Alas, both of these vegetables don't freeze well, but they have been delicious eating.
Other successes: garlic, carrots, arugula, peas, and lemon grass.
     And now for the failures:
Beans (aka pole beans). They grew great and have tons of leaves, but few beans. That means they might not get enough sun, or someone may have previously fed that bed with a high-nitrogen fertilizer. They'll be in a new location next year.
Tomatoes. I ate lots of cherry tomatoes, but almost no Romas. There's no picture because I've already ripped out all the dead plants. I bought a special hybrid that was supposed to be resistant to blight. They did resist blight, but died in July of something else. I'm going to ask my gardener friend S for recommendations, because this is the second year in a row I had bad tomatoes.
Zucchini. It died after it grew a single zucchini. I blame a zucchini vine borer, but now I know how to stop them. Next year all my zucchini plants will sport medical gauze wraps at earth level.
Other failures: leeks, fennel, cosmos, bachelor buttons, cucumbers and kale.
     Lastly, the future successes:
The asparagus came up well, and is a big tangled mess o plants. That's exactly what they should look like, and hopefully all the ferny leaves are busy storing lots of nutrition in the roots so that in 2018 I can harvest the early sprouts. Several garden visitors have been surprised to see my asparagus, because they don't know that you let the plant get strong, the harvest the early shoots the following spring.
But when I show them a close-up of a newer sprout, then they believe me. The raspberries and the fig tree filled out a bit, so I hope to be enjoying those in 2017.
If you want, gardening can be almost a year-round hobby. I've put in fall crops that I can harvest until October, and then the serious gardeners start buying seeds and laying out their garden plans in January. In just six months, I'll be planting the spring garden again. I've got to say, growing things really keeps me aware of how cyclical nature is.

Thursday, September 01, 2016


Next Thursday is the 50th anniversary of the first episode of Star Trek airing on TV. I will celebrate by watching said episode on an IMAX screen at the Smithsonian Air and Space  museum. I also found this book at the library yesterday. It's a little amazing to me that someone wrote an 800 page book on the oral history of Star Trek and even more amazing that my working class neighborhood library bought a copy. Either the library purchasing department bought this book just for me or there is a whole subgroup of nerds hiding in my city that I don't know about.

Monday, August 29, 2016


     It was a weekend of puttering around the house. I had almost nothing planned the entire weekend, so I decided to enjoy the solitude and work on odds and ends. I've noticed that when I "finish" a project, there are always a handful of things left undone, sometimes for an embarrassingly long time. Since painting my bedroom in February, there have been no covers on any of the electrical outlets. I started to change them out (since every outlet in the house is either dark brown or painted a bright color) but got stuck when a screw in an outlet box broke, leaving me with a head-less screw and unable to go further. If I had small kids, it would be a problem to have wires capped with a bit of electrical tape hanging out of the wall for six months. Since it's just me and two non-curious animals, it just sat there. But now all the outlets are changed and it's looking pretty finished up there.
     I also fixed the toilet. It's had a tiny leak, just filling up the tank for a few seconds every now and then. Fixing the flapper (a rubber piece that can grow old and fail) was the first thing to try. The internet assured me this was a five-minute job. And it is, as long as you don't call the phone call to your dad, the 25 minutes of informational YouTube videos, and the 30 minute trip to Home Depot to get the part. After that, it's really only five minutes.
     I had a chat with one of my neighbors while I was doing yard work. I've mentioned before that I really like my neighborhood. My next-door neighbors have been quite welcoming, and I like them a lot. They do regularly play super-loud music, but it's almost always on the weekends and never goes very late. They've helped me shovel out the drive during an epic snowfall, and diagnose a car problem. I've now figured out why they like me. Remember the loud Latin music? It turns out that dear old Bill, the previous owner, called the police regularly about them. So I think I get points just for not being Bill.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Project day

Once again, it was my turn to host project day. Because I had just taken project management training at work, I whipped out a project plan laying out goals, resources needed, timeline, people involved, and, of course, menus. Luckily, all this planning did not scare off my friends and they arrived, shovels and extra clothes in hand, for we were... de-gardening!
It may come as a shock that I wanted to rip out existing gardens in the yard, considering my love of all things growing. But it turns out that my love only extends to edibles, and despite my best efforts these gardens mainly grew weeds. I think the previous owner may have put them in decades ago, when the trees behind them were much smaller. I considered putting in shade-loving perennials, but then I'd spend a lot of time weeding shrubs that I didn't want in the first place. Instead, I decided to rip everything out and replace it with lawn. And since cool-season lawns are best planted in fall, the de-gardening needed to happen now, in the heat of the summer.
I'm not sure those pictures do our work justice, so let me elaborate. In 31C/88F weather, we relocated an herb garden, removed a small shed, pulled up pressure-treated wood dividers, removed armloads of bricks and rebar, and tore up ivy. We pulled out shrubs (So. Many. Shrubs), relocated the compost heap and the wood pile, and sawed out metal piping that protruded into the air. 
The only thing left in the space is a pile of brush to have picked up by the city, and then I can till and seed the lawn. This is not insignificant work, but it *is* achievable by me without any help in the next few weeks. Whereas when we stared this morning, I doubted whether even five adults together could clear the space. 
I had hoped to relax with a glass of wine tonight, but it turns out that I just want to drink two quarts of water and go to bed. But tomorrow morning you can trust that I'll be outside with my coffee, enjoying the hard-earned view of plain dirt.