Saturday, May 31, 2008

Spinach the Size of Rhubarb

I love spinach salad (especially with this dressing) but our growing season for spinach can be problematic. High-desert spring weather can go from freezing cold to wilting heat in the space of a day (and back again - snow in June isn't completely unheard of). It's a delicate balancing act to get spring-seeded spinach big enough to pick before it bolts and starts sending up a seed stalk.

So instead, I sow my little spinach patch in the late fall when I plant my garlic and shallots. I like Bloomsdale Long-Standing, both for its ability to withstand both heat and cold, and for the meaty, smooth, easy-to-clean leaves. With luck, the seeds lie dormant until late February, when the melting snows and lengthening days make the perfect conditions for germination. I've been eating spinach salads for weeks now. In the photo, one plant that was too close to the edge of the protecting wire cage is a bit bird-pecked, but the rest are still doing great. On down the soaker hose behind are garlic and then shallots. Following the hose around to the left are some of the spring-seeded peas, with onion plants further back.

Every week, I cut a plant or two down to a couple of inches. Washed in a sink full of cool water, picked through and stems removed, the leaves keep nicely for days, wrapped in a clean cotton dish towel and then tied up in a plastic grocery bag. This past week we've had cold and rainy weather, so the spinach has just gone crazy. I'm picking spinach leaves the size of rhubarb! Not only do I have enough for salads daily (one leaf can make a salad), but this year, even enough to freeze. I dunk the leaves into boiling water for just a minute to blanch them, then cool in a sinkful of cold water and drain. most of my spinach recipes call for half a 10-oz package of frozen spinach, so I pack a 1/2 cup measure heaping full, make that into a little spinach patty, and put them on a cookie sheet. Frozen on the sheet, each disk is then wrapped in plastic wrap and all stored in a gallon freezer bag. This way, I can easily pull out just enough for a recipe for the two of us all next winter.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day

Thinking of the famous war poem, In Flanders Field, I took this picture of red poppies in bloom, with my flags flying from my deck railing in honor of Memorial Day. We used to have a little, tiny, deck outside the kitchen door, with uneven steps down and then up again to go around the east side of the house. Between the uneven walkway and the house were foundation plantings of overgrown juniper bushes - not really a very good idea in a dry area with the threat of wildfire always hanging over us. Junipers, with their natural resins, can go up like gasoline in a fire situation.

So, when we rebuilt the deck to connect across to the walkway, I was only too happy to pull out those junipers and put something else in there. I scattered some mixed spring bulbs over the area and planted each where it fell (ground squirrels LOVE tulip bulbs, but won't touch daffodils - so mixing the bulbs together means they haven't destroyed the tulips and hyacinths). Since the little garden patch was right outside my kitchen door, I moved some herb plants there too. But it looked a bit sparse after the bulbs died back, so I also threw a bunch of really old wildflower seeds into the area too. To keep the chickens out, a little white picket fence completed the scene.

It's now a beautiful, ever-changing little garden (seen in various other guises in earlier posts). The early-summer wildflowers - blue and white flax, red Icelandic poppies, purple chive blossoms, and something with a cloud of pink flowers - are now three feet tall. I'll use them, and the ones that will bloom later, as my seed supply for a meadow-like garden I'd like to seed outside our fence. I'm just hoping they don't completely crowd out my herbs. All summer long, I pinch bits and pieces as I need them for my cooking, but also cut entire bunches in late summer to hang and dry for winter recipes, teas, and medicinal uses. If it gets too crowded, I might have to move either herbs or wildflowers, but in the meantime I love sitting out on the deck any time of year.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Memorial Services

I'm home again, after a very emotional week in Colorado. My mom and two sisters had taken care of a lot of the arrangements before my two brothers and I made it home. Such a difference from when my in-laws passed. Aries' family is so different from mine - they observed no services, no family get-togethers, nothing.

My family is different. We all needed to be together. There were lots of hugs and tears but it was a healing experience too. One sister had a birthday that week, so we all went out to dinner to her favorite Mexican food place one night. Everybody got into a cribbage game or two, childhood friends dropped by, we took turns checking our email on one brother's laptop, cooked and ate family dinners together. I put together a couple of collage displays for the services from the photos Mom liked best. We three sisters went to a yoga class. We watched another brother's favorite DVD movie. Dad would have loved having the whole family together there (darn, now I'm making myself tear up again).

The memorial service was very nice. Dad was a Mason, so the Masonic Lodge did their formal ceremony. The man leading the opening prayer got so choked up he couldn't finish and I was afraid he was going to collapse on the spot, but another Lodge brother got up and took over. It was very touching. The funeral home had put together a nice video display, my sister's childhood friend sang, the pastor read the obituary my sister wrote, and afterwards there was a luncheon reception with food brought by all Mom's friends.

Dad was WWII Army veteran, having served in the 10th Mountain Division in Italy and the Aleutian Islands. After the service and reception, we had a family-only, full military honors ceremony at Fort Logan Cemetery. Taps was played, and the flag unfurled and refolded and presented to Mom. Half of Dad's ashes, wrapped in his Mason's apron, will be interred there.

The next day, we drove up into the Rocky Mountains to one of Mom and Dad's favorite fishing and camping spots. We chose a high little point overlooking the lake, where a few early wildflowers were already in bloom and a couple of small butterflies flitted, even though a snowbank still lingered down by the road. There we scattered the rest of his ashes, along with some wildflower seeds and our silent goodbyes. Amazingly, a hummingbird perched on a nearby branch to watch. It was all sad and bittersweet and really a lot of planning and ritual, but then too brought a necessary and comforting sense of closure.

So now I'm home, sleeping once more in my own bed. I've got a garden to plant (although it snowed for a bit here yesterday), a campaign to plan, baby chicks out in the dog run, a new dog in the house (more on that later), and with the official Memorial Day start of the tourist season, work assignments starting to come in. Life goes on.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

My Hat's in the Ring

I trusted my gut: saying to myself that I would run for office made me feel calm inside, saying I wouldn't just made me feel anxious. So, I went down to our county clerk's office, paid my $100 filing fee, signed lots of forms saying I'd run a positive campaign and report all my expenditures and that I really intended to see this through. I proved I was who I said I was, and that I lived in the right place to run for this office. They gave me a big packet of information on what I can and can't do and when to do it by, and now I'm an official candidate. Sometimes, if you want to live in a more sustainable, more aware, greener community, you have to work from within the system, and be one of those that makes the policies. Now I'm off to Colorado for my dad's memorial services and just to be with my family.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Albert was Right

A couple of months ago, I wrote about something outside frightening my cat, Albert, so badly that he wouldn't leave the house for weeks. Then, about a month ago, a mile across the valley from us, a rancher started finding his sheep dead with small holes in the neck. They looked like small-caliber bullet wounds perhaps, so he installed a video camera to find out who might be shooting his sheep. A couple of nights ago, with another dead ewe, he reviewed the tapes to see if he could catch the vandal in action. The story and video are here, from our local newspaper's website. At 2:16 on the first video, the powerful body and long tail of the culprit is instantly recognizable - a mountain lion! In the second video, it jumps over a fence, snatches a lamb, jumps back out with it and carries it away. With it now preying regularly on livestock, so close to town and not afraid of humans, the cougar was considered threat enough to be trapped and killed. It turned out to be a 130-pound male. Albert was smart to be scared.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

This and That, and Some Sad News

This is just a quick little catch-up post. The six baby chicks have doubled in size, with wing and tail feathers over bodies and heads of baby fluff. I've been taking them outside to spend the day in the dog run lined with chicken wire. I'm using the cat carrier to transport them, putting it down in a little enclosed, shady spot with the door open. They hop in and out, exploring and scratching and dust bathing, and in the evening they've all gone back into it so I just close it up and bring them back into the house to the dog crate and their warming light for the night.

It was time to have our septic tank pumped out again, so Aries spent an evening digging up the lid and then I spent a morning waiting for the service truck to come. I'm still mulling over running for City Supervisor, but thinking I might as well throw my hat in the ring. It will be quite a learning experience. I transplanted my tomato, pepper, eggplant seedlings into individual little cups so they can be more easily moved to the garden at the end of the month, and have been hardening off the cabbages, broccoli, and kale plants out on the table on the deck.

And now for the sad news: my dad passed away in Colorado last night. I hope I can go as easily when my time comes - he was at my sister's cabin, along with her husband, my mom, and another sister. They'd gone there for the weekend, had just finished dinner, and he was still sitting at the table when he just put his head down and was gone. I'm making plans to fly out there later this week for the services next Thursday, so posts might be a bit sporadic for a while longer. Thank you in advance for your thoughts and your prayers.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Art, Music, and Culture - Free

Sorry I've been a bit MIA here lately - I took for a few days to visit my sister in the San Francisco Bay Area. It's always so nice to see her and her family there, and I love any chance I can get to just go somewhere, anywhere. But I had another reason for going down there this past weekend. We volunteer-ushered a concert Saturday night.

For us, both being big music fans, it's quality time together doing something we both enjoy. I know the bands we heard probably aren't even on the radar of my readers, but I wanted to mention this because it's the best way I know of to get to see and do cultural events, for free! We like live rock music, so we've found the venues that use volunteers for rock concerts, but this idea can work for just about any cultural event, or for museums, in your town too. Volunteering time instead of spending money is a very viable and affordable option to get out and about. Concert volunteers are usually "cut" early in the evening, so then they can just join the crowd and enjoy the rest of the event. Plus, once you get on the list for an organization, you'll also get invited to the year-end thank-you parties, or maybe get free tickets for another show.

As for our concert this weekend, it was the Progressive Nation Tour - with four bands: Three, Between the Buried and Me, Opeth, and Dream Theater (see, you probably never heard of them). The first three bands were a bit too "metal" for me, but I really liked Dream Theater. And I really love working this venue. The Paramount Theater in Oakland, California is a restored Art Deco Depression-era movie theater - a splendid example of ornate, rococo, gaudy, let's-go-nuts-in-public decorative art, fully and lovingly restored and ornamental as all get-out. In order to work there, volunteers have to go through the tour. It was amazing hearing about how the enormous decorative panels forming the theater walls and the proscenium arch were made and then erected, about the pipe organ still in place, the tunnels and crawl spaces above and below, the myriad little decorative touches everywhere - even the restrooms are amazing! When I don't care for the artists performing, I love spending my time just walking around the place, and I really love the interaction with all the people. Figure out what you'd like to see or do, start asking questions - get yourself on the upcoming events list for the places you'd like to spend some time (instead of money) - and ask who to talk to about volunteering.