Friday, April 30, 2010

Spring Bulb Bed

It's been a pretty busy week - things to do and weather-wise. Around here, especially this time of year, they say that if you don't like the weather just wait five minutes and it'll change. Since my last post about the fog, we've had sunshine up in the 70's, rain, horrific winds, and even another snowstorm.

I love this photo, taken through my living room window. The rain and reflections on the deck look like an Impressionist painting, and the late Spring bulbs now blooming in the herb bed are so pretty. Tulips are really hard to grow around here. Not because of the weather, but because of the ground squirrels. They'll dig up and eat every tulip, and I've lost hyacinths to them too. But this bed (knock on wood) has done great for years - long enough that the original single bulbs have all multiplied into beautiful clumps.

I'm not sure why these have survived. The ground squirrels (not pretty, fluffy-tailed tree squirrels - these are burrowing, scruffy-tailed rat-like squirrels) are still out there, scouting around under the bird feeders, dashing for their holes under the wood pile when I let the dog out. I know the squirrels won't touch daffodils, and when I planted these bulbs I mixed all different kinds together, tossed them out onto the ground, and then planted each one where it landed. Maybe having the daffodils scattered throughout, besides giving me an extended and ever-changing show each Spring, also deters the squirrels from the tastier tulip bulbs.

Or maybe it's the perennial herbs that are just now coming up. Oregano and marjoram are a dense green carpet now, thyme, rosemary, and chives in small clumps, and a big clump of tarragon. As summer gets closer, they'll take over, hiding the withering leaves of the bulbs. Right outside my kitchen door, this little garden is a joy throughout the year. A wandering line of round stepping stones, a few rocks, a cement sculpted turtle, and some hollyhocks for vertical interest makes a wonderful view, sitting out on the deck in the morning sun.

Or some days it's better from inside looking out, and a warm fire going in the wood stove. Day before yesterday, the cherry blossoms were capped with snow. Right now, I'm not sure whether I'll be getting any fruit this year, or not. The night temperatures have only dropped right around freezing, not much below, and the snow might even have provided an insulating layer. We're a bit above the valley floor, so the coldest temps slide on down the hill, past us. So, even with these snowy photos, there's still a chance the blooms will set some fruit. One can always hope.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Chickens in the Mist

Yesterday morning's snow turned to rain by nightfall, melting the snow and giving us a rare high-desert sight to wake up to - morning fog. I was glad I wasn't out on the roads. They had to close the entire length of our new state highway bypass, both directions, for about 90 minutes this morning - the icy roads and heavy fog caused multiple accidents. Aries said his commute up to the lake wasn't too bad - as soon as he started to climb the pass, he was out of the fog and the road just wet in the rising sun.

Before lunchtime, it had pretty much burned off here too, and proceeded to warm up into a really nice day. I got my little indoor seedlings thinned, writing about it for my turn to post on the Simple Green Frugal Co-op blog. For the past few cold and grey days, I'd moved the hardier seedlings in under the lights with the tender ones. But with the sun coming out, no wind, and today's beautiful warm temperatures, I put them out on the deck in the sun. Tonight, they're back inside, on the kitchen counter. I want to let them get a little bit bigger before setting them out in the garden. More storms are still in our forecast, and I haven't been able to get the planting bed ready anyway.

As usual, I don't know what kind of fruit crop I'll get this year. The plums are all in full bloom, and the Asian pears and the sweet cherry have just started. Despite the snow, the temperatures haven't dropped too far below freezing, and the wet just might have insulated the blossoms a bit. I saw some bees on the Oregon Grape this afternoon. I've been watching for them, and it's nice to know a hive still survives somewhere nearby.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

More Snow

This morning, it was the tulips and hyacinths turn to get buried in snow. Here at the house we got about three inches overnight, just up the hill it was more like eight.

When I went out to shovel off the deck, I found Dot, our old Golden Laced Wyandotte hen, dead under the steps, sopping wet and covered with snow. She was at least 10 years old, and had been a bit gimpy for the last year or so. But she managed to hippy-hop around ok, her wings were in fine shape, and she had no problems getting up onto the roost at night. I've been letting the flock out or the pen around sunset, for a little runabout - it's a short enough time that they don't get into too much mischief. We'd gone to a lecture at the State Museum (about Nevada rock art - petroglyphs and pictographs) last night, but were back home just as it started to get dark. I'd have seen her if she was still out in the yard, or having trouble getting back, when I went down to shut up the coop for the night.

So I'm thinking she knew it was her time, and hid like animals sometimes do. Maybe she just preferred freezing to death over dying in the coop. I've heard freezing is not a bad way to go - you just get sleepy and don't wake up.

She had a little quirk that gave me quite a start numerous times over the years. She'd sunbathe. Sprawl over on her side, her legs stretched out one way, her neck the other. I'd think she was dead. More than once, the neighbor kids would call to me across the fence, saying I had a dead chicken lying out there in the dirt. So I'd head over to check, and her head would pop up. So then, I'd think maybe something had happened, she couldn't get up; in later years, that maybe her gimpy leg had given out on her. But then I'd get a bit closer, and she'd give me that beady-eyed chicken look, like "Oh, must you?", jump right up, fluffle out the dust, and wander off. It's always sad to lose one of our chickens. They all have such different personalities, and Dot really was quite a character.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Unmaking the Bed

Please don't tell my mom. As a child, the house rule was "if your bed isn't made before you leave the house in the morning, you're grounded for the rest of the day." During my earliest years, I shared a double bed with my sister - I was really good at making half a bed. A little later, we got bunk beds, and being the oldest, I got the top bunk. I quickly figured out the easiest way to make my bed then was to do so while I was still in it - pulling up and smoothing out sheet, blanket, and bedspread over my head, then sliding down and out the side. A quick straightening over the pillow, and I was good to go.

In my teen years, and later in my first college dorm rooms, I did everything sitting on my bed. Having everything pulled up neat and tidy made for a nice work area or company seating, still leaving me with a clean bed to get into at night. As I moved out into houses or apartments, I finally had a separate bedroom where I could just close the door to hide the mess. But I still made my bed each morning. Old habits die hard.

And then, I got married. And moved into my new husband's house and bed. The house heated with only a wood-burning stove; the bed an old baffled waterbed - unheated. That was fine with me. I much preferred it that way, rather than sleep surrounded by electricity (especially with the possibility of adding water into the mix). I'd read about how close contact with electric currents could be harmful to our health, so no electric blankets either.

Instead, we insulated ourselves from a cold, clammy waterbed mattress the old-fashioned way. A few old blankets beneath a felt mattress pad, and then in the winter, add a featherbed mattress atop that. Slide in between flannel sheets, with a down comforter on top, and we slept nice and cozy through the coldest winter nights, even after the fire in the living room died down.

But I also quickly learned that making the bed first thing each morning wasn't the right thing to do anymore. A featherbed mattress needs to be fluffed up and left open to the air to be most comfortable at night. Smoothing and straightening and covering everything up was counter-productive. I'd flip all the covers off each morning, fluff, and usually even flip that featherbed up most mornings, pillows over on our respective captain's chairs. Then, I'd make our bed in the evening, just before bedtime.

Years later, that old waterbed mattress finally cracked and sprung a leak where it couldn't be patched (yay!). So, we went shopping for a real mattress (do they even make baffled waterbeds anymore?). But I kinda liked unmaking my bed every morning. I liked letting the sheets air during the day, only smoothing and straightening it all up at night, just before bedtime. So please, don't tell my mom, but I don't make my bed in the morning (unless she or my sisters are visiting - then yes, it does get made in the morning as long as they are here. What can I say?).

I'm certainly not going to post a picture of my unmade bed for the whole world to see. The bed in our master bedroom is out of sight of any casual visitors, and so shall stay that way. The guest room, on the other hand, is right off the living room. Everyone can see that bed. It's always perfectly made up. There are appearances to be maintained, after all.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Regarding Helium Balloons

First, let me be very clear that I really don't care for helium-filled balloons as party decorations. I don't mean to be a party pooper, but I think there must be better uses for our resources than use-once-and-throw-away rubber sacks, and the steel tanks used to fill them. I especially don't like to see them used outdoors (such as the current ubiquitous attention-getters flying at all the local car dealers just down the hill from me - invariably, some do escape), and absolutely HATE when they're "set free" to signal celebration.

I finally, just this past year, got my Soroptimist Club to stop doing a pink balloon release as part of our big mammogram fundraising golf tournament. Flying balloons do not just float away and disappear - eventually, they break or just lose their buoyancy, return to earth somewhere, and become either litter or endanger the health of birds or other wildlife. Ok, I'll put away my soapbox for now, and proceed to the random observations part of this post.

Each week, I volunteer for a couple of hours, doing computer stuff, for the local Democratic Party Headquarters. When I went in on Friday, they had bunches of balloons in there that had been used as decorations for a fundraising dinner earlier in the week. At least, instead of just throwing them away, they'd been brought back to be re-used for a Fashion Show the Women's Club is doing next weekend. Since I would be going to the Women's Club meeting on Saturday, the Office Manager asked if I'd mind taking the balloons home on Friday, and then delivering them to the Fashion Show committee on Saturday.

Have you ever driven with helium balloons inside your vehicle? These were clumped together into three bunches, held down by ribbons tied to sand-filled sacks. So I wasn't worried about them getting away. But just getting them all stuffed into the back seat was quite an endeavor. And then, being lighter than air, they don't move like everything else does. You know, when you start a vehicle moving forward, it pushes you back in your seat? Balloons float forward. When you go around a corner, how centrifugal force makes things slide towards the far side of the corner? Helium balloons float towards the inside-corner side of the car. Eerie.

When I got home, not knowing how below-freezing temperatures would affect the balloons if left in my car overnight, I brought the bunches inside, putting them on my dining room table until the next day. They terrified the cat. As soon as we start up the wood stove, he's usually stretched out in front of it the rest of the evening. Late that night, noticing there was no cat to trip over, I went looking for him. I found him crouching in the bathroom. Carrying him into the living room, he about tore my shoulder apart as soon as we got within sight of the balloons floating over on the other side of the room. I ended up moving the balloons into a corner of the guest room. The cat crouched and slunk around the rest of the night, and again the next morning, looking for those balloons but not really wanting to find them. I know all of us were glad to get rid of them the next day.

Friday, April 9, 2010

State of the Cellar

It's so nice to see Spring moving in, even with its starts and stops. It means fresh change for our seasonal eating choices.

The cellar has served us well through the winter, but most of those shelves are now bare. The last few carrots have been brought up to the refrigerator vegetable crisper, as have the last couple heads of cabbage. The kraut crock is down to its last inch, and as the weather continues to warm up, will be repacked into a smaller container and also brought up to the refrigerator.

The onions are gone - I ended up buying a small bag a week ago. I was very disappointed with the keeping ability of last summer's Big Daddy onions. They had grown into beautiful onions by Fall - nice size, small necks, brown skins, and then well-cured. Or so I thought. Many of them were used in the fall's salsas and tomato sauce canning batches. But as I went to use them through the winter, about half had to be tossed and others, even those that looked perfect on the shelf, were rotting from the inside out. I've ordered Copra plants for this year, and am starting seeds of Utah Sweet Spanish for an open-pollinated trial variety.

The only things left in the cellar (besides beer, hard cider, and two potted fig trees) are apples and potatoes. Both Russet and Yukon Gold potatoes have held well for me again. I have plenty left for this year's seed potatoes, and will be getting those up and going soon. The apples have softened and sweetened a bit, but there are still plenty of them in good condition too. So many, in fact, that as the cellar warms, I may be canning a batch of applesauce from some of them, and pressing out another gallon of juice to ferment into hard cider to refill my vinegar jar. Plus, enough to bring up a weekly basketful for snacking and my breakfast oatmeal until probably June. And then, of course, to make Aries' his traditional birthday apple pie earlier this week, too.

Monday, April 5, 2010

April Showers

We woke up this morning to four inches of fresh snow. They say Eskimos are supposed to have lots of different words for snow, but so do I (no, and not those kinds of words, either).

When I lived in Leadville Colorado, the high altitude and below-zero temperatures would produce the famed champagne powder - a light, fluffy snow, so dry it wouldn't even pack into snowballs. But in April in Nevada, we get Sierra cement - sloppy, wet, heavy stuff. Pack this stuff, and you have slushballs.

Luckily, cold temperatures have kept the trees and bushes from leafing out much as of yet. Most of my trees bear the scars from May snowfalls. The only casualties so far this Spring have been the earliest apricot and forsythia blooms. And we do need the water. Our 7 inches annual precipitation almost all comes in the form of snow, so it's now or never for this year.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Flat to Fitted Flannel

(Try saying that post title three times quickly) I love having flannel sheets on my bed when it's cold. They're so nice and snuggley, warm to the touch as soon as you get into bed. So for six months out of the year, my bed is made up with flannel sheets.

But flannel sheets are sold in "sets", and therein lies the problem. The fitted bottom sheet always wears out first. First the flanneling wears off, leaving just a regular-type sheeting material. I can live with that, but then even that wears thin, and eventually shreds or tears. If sheet manufacturers really wanted to package a practical sheet set, it would have two bottom sheets with a coordinating flat top sheet, pillowcases optional or sold separately. They'd have my undying consumer loyalty forever (100% cotton please - I can't stand any amount of polyester in my bedding).

I buy a new flannel sheet set every few years, when the previous bottom sheet becomes too worn. I looked at the flannel sheet sets on sale at Christmas time, but decided the current one would make it through until warmer weather got here. It didn't (a very wet winter meant I haven't been able to completely dry my sheets out on the clothesline as often - having to use the dryer really took its toll). About a month ago, I noticed a really thin spot. The past couple of weeks, the mattress cover underneath started showing through, and I knew it would be only a matter of time before it ripped completely.

But it's still so cold at night. I didn't really want to change over to cotton percale sheets yet. So, a few days ago, I went sheet shopping. But, no luck - local stores are all out of their flannel sheet sets until next winter. I double-checked my linen shelf - maybe there was a forgotten flannel fitted sheet for our bed at the bottom of the stack. Nope, just three orphaned flannel top sheets.

Now, I'm a real Princess and the Pea when it comes to my bed. Forget a lump the size of a pea, the thickness of a creased sheet will bother me. I want the nice flat, smoothness of a fitted bottom sheet. Those flat sheets just won't do for a bottom sheet. Well, duh - I have a sewing machine and thread, and I do know how to sew. I can make fitted corners, no problem.

We have a pillowtop mattress, so we don't flip it, but I do spin it top to bottom every six months to equalize the wear. To remind myself, I rotate the mattress around the equinoxes. On this week's sheet-laundry day, I had already planned to turn the mattress. So, since I had the mattress up out of the bed frame, I laid the nicest, thickest flat flannel top sheet out over it, upside down to make the pinning easier, and fitted each corner. I didn't want to cut the fabric and finish the edges inside the corners, so after sewing up the corner, I then folded the excess triangle over to the head and foot sides and sewed that part down (like wrapping a package and taping down the corners). Last little bit was making a small corner to fit underneath the mattress, folding and stitching that part down as well. It's not really pretty, but who's going to see it? It works. And once again, our bed is warm and snuggley, with a nice stretched smooth fit. And the old fitted sheet? The center is worn thin, but around the outside edges, the fabric is still quite good. I think there's enough there to make myself a pair of flannel pajama pants.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Casting Call

I love hearing from my readers - both in the comments and via emails sent to my address in the sidebar. Most are questions about things I've written about - those I try to help, or tell them where they might find the information they seek. Others are requests for links or free advertising. Those, I'll consider regarding the applicability to the things I write about and the tenor of this blog. And every once in a while, I'll get something really different.

Survivor is the only reality-type television show I watch regularly. But I know those types of shows are very popular with the general public right now. For me, I don't like seeing myself in videos, or hearing recordings of me speaking. Reality just doesn't jibe with my own self-image, and I prefer to maintain my self-delusions. Plus, I tailor and re-fashion my own clothes, to fit my own ideas about style. But for those that don't suffer from those restrictions, I'll relay the contents of an email I recently received.

The people that produce Project Runway are putting together a new show, featuring a couple of top designers, and are looking for everyday people with a special event coming up. Here's what they sent me, should you wish to "audition"

"Do you have an event that justifies a new designer outfit, but have nothing to wear?! (Wedding/Birthday/Reunion/Shower/etc) We are currently casting for a new cable network television program featuring two top designers. They will be traveling the country, designing one-of-a-kind outfits for women who need something extraordinary to wear to an important event in their lives.

"If you live in a SMALL TOWN in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, California or Nevada and you're interested in this once-in-a-lifetime experience, more information here.
(The Event in California or Nevada must take place in July or August of 2010 - and fall on a SATURDAY. We will be meeting ladies in the next 3 weeks to put them on tape.)"

There you have it. Anyone that dreams of being on television, wearing a custom-made designer creation to an upcoming special event, can take it from here (no fooling).