Monday, October 28, 2013

Seasonal interests

"It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood!" Yes, I'm humming the Mr.Roger's theme song... Fall weather is full of surprises. Today is what I call "warmy-cool," sunny warmth but with a bit of chill in the air. Perfect temperature for sitting on the front porch with a cuppa. I've been slowly & carefully assessing the remainders of the gardening season, since I am still wearing a knee splint. We harvested the last of the Nantes carrots and they will go into a vegetarian au gratin casserole tonight.

The Black Swallowtail caterpillars have crept off to cocoon-up for overwinter. A bit more internet research reassured us the hungry, carrot-green-chomping caterpillars would indeed survive the cold. American Black Swallowtails do not migrate, but produce two to three broods to populate their range, so my doom prediction is happily avoided.

Halloween is coming and we have put the fearsome wreath on the door. This is an easy/quick wreath project. I used a white vine wreath base which I painted with black enamel spray paint. While the paint on the wreath frame dried, I also sprayed some silk magnolia leaves with the black enamel for a spooky shine. The feather covered raven, paper spider and mini plastic skeletons were found at the dollar store and attached with twist ties and hot glue. I added a little blood red paint to the skeletons and the raven's beak for a bit of gore. The lowest skeleton is hanging from a noose and I attached some shiny chain from my toolbox for interest. A very satisfying project that has hung on my door for Halloween the last two years.

I will be trying a new (Pinterest) idea this year; placing glow sticks in empty toilet paper rolls with scarily shaped eyes cut out, to hang in the shrubs. It should look spooky for the little trick-or-treaters, along with my old torn sheet ghost and electrified pumpkins glowing on the front porch. So, Thursday we'll be filling the treat cauldron and popping a scary movie disc in the computer to get in the mood. Happy Boo! to you all and have a safe Halloween.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Fall nostalgia

I am done ranting about the US political situation. I have resorted to wandering about the yard with a cup of tea and appreciating the change of season. Weather has gotten chilly (4-14C/40-58F) and we have had a few days of cold drizzle. The Black Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars are still eating the carrot tops, but I fear they are doomed unless they fly away as butterflies this weekend. There is a frost warning for tomorrow night and my carrot tops are almost totally consumed.

The garden is in decline, but beautifully so. My transplanted yellow rose is still producing fragrant blooms. The marigolds have reached their max height and are starting a massive seed drop. The purple asters are in full bloom and are winking amidst the browning Black-eye Susans. I am still slowly getting some ripe tomatoes but the newest green ones probably won't redden. My sage is quite a prolific herb and I will be gathering more to dry and as well as to season some gnocchi on the menu this week. I am also hoping to harvest some of the Thai Basil seed which has just started to dry on the stalks. Many of the digging plans for the garden are currently on hold though, as I have tweaked a ligament in my knee and am hobbling about with a splint.

Val and I have been excited to open up the cedar chests and pull out a few woolens for the chill; just a couple of sweaters, some cozy neck wear, as well as hats for the family. Julia is thrilled to start wearing her ruby wool beanie on her early morning trek to the bus stop.

I am somewhat "cedar chest addicted" and at this point, I own two. One was handmade, by a woodworker friend in California and the other is a 1960's era Lane Cedar Chest I found at an estate sale. I grew up appreciating the beauty of Lane chests, as each girl in my senior class in high school received a 12" complimentary, Lane locking cedar box about the time we ordered our class rings. My Mother had a Lane Cedar Chest, as well as most of my friends' mothers. It was a traditional accoutrement for young ladies to possess back in the 1950's. Unfortunately, by the time I was getting out of school the tradition was waning. I was saddened to learn that the Lane Company went out of business in 2001. So, I keep my eyes open at estate sales, since Val and I are prolific knitters and need moth-free storage for our yarn and knitted goods.
 I admit I also love the smell of cedar permeated woolens. The scent of cedar, much like the spruce or fir smell of a Christmas tree, conveys a nostalgic sense of comfort and security. In many ways, our sense of smell is a powerful element in our appreciation of the changing seasons. Adding the woolen blankets to every bed, in the next few weeks, will give everyone a perfumed cover for warm sleeping. We look forward to that night almost as much as the first fire in the fireplace or the first steaming mug of hot chocolate. Here's to a brisk and brilliant Fall!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Economic stagnation

I guess I'm not surprised our elected officials will be debating until the final moments before default... I wonder if it is simply all theatrics to prove to their power base how dedicated to the party cause they are. All this petty childishness from our professional lawmakers while the American public remains unemployed & underemployed in a struggling economy.

Take a walk or drive through any suburban neighborhood, count how many cars are parked outside these houses, then think; do they have that many teenage drivers? are they having a party mid-week? or own too many cars for their garage? No, no, no. These vehicles belong to the family members and/or friends who have moved in to save some money. Folks are couchsurfing or doubling up their incomes, just to make it. People work all sorts of crazy hours and multiple jobs to get by; there could be any number of residents in that nice suburban home.

My son moved back home after seven years on his own, he works an evening shift. I work a night shift. My daughter goes to college and works two jobs that involve weekends and variable evening hours. Dinner involves crockpot meals, with everyone serving up their own portion. This is how citizens make a bad economy work for them; they pool their resources and live creatively.

NPR states there is a "psychic disconnect between Wall Street and Washington." Must be something like Wall Streeters and companies are making money, while Washington is trying to limit imaginary money from being spent. The citizen on the street doesn't have any extra money to spend and for some, losing entitlements/public assistance would mean a death sentence.

Wake up politicians! These problems were not created by the general public they were created by YOU, our elected representatives throughout years, maybe even decades of mismanagement, corruption and greed. And still you cannot stop debating the "water under the bridge" elements of Obamacare or entitlements. Not helpful... Do your jobs & vote! Do something! We are swirling the drain out here in John Q. Publicland. At least there was a small glimmer of hope if we default, an NPR guest stated "the treasury has a money cushion" that can cover our a**es for a few days.

Monday, October 14, 2013

What next?!

What should I do to prepare if my government defaults? That is a big question! It would seem the American public is on this roller coaster ride whether we want to be or not... I am fairly certain most of the citizenry is not very pleased to be enduring this sort of treatment from our elected officials. Furloughed federal workers are already in the midst of struggling to keep their lives afloat without a paycheck,  but what about the rest of us? This initial Washington crisis has spiraled out to have a worldwide impact both diplomatically and fiscally, but aside from furloughed workers, us regular working folks are in the dark as to the potential long-term consequences headed our way. I suppose mostly we hope this will all be resolved and simply disappear, but a crucial line of trust has been broken between the average citizen and the officials we elected to serve us. Who will be there to guide us through if October 17 arrives and the US defaults? Would anyone even know what to do?

Already several US companies are being hit by the blow back of the shutdown, direct contractors like Humana and Boeing have stated concerns regarding completion of work already underway . What will the blow back be on someone average like me? Will my home loan interest rate go up? What effect on gas prices or taxes? If my elected representative didn't protect me before the shutdown, will they care about me in default? I kinda doubt it. I guess it is a bit late to be wondering what defensive tack I should implement but heck, I didn't jump off this cliff... I was pushed.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Suburban preserve

Family was outside inspecting the longish grass and the first fallen maple leaves when we noticed some caterpillars on the carrot tops; beautiful little black & white striped fellows with orange dots on the black stripes. You know it fills me with joy to think I have helped create and maintain a productive environment for nature. I guess from now on I will be buying carrot seeds annually. Anyway, after an online search we discovered the caterpillars were immature Black Swallowtail Butterflies somewhere midpoint in their metamorphosis. Now I hope the weather stays temperate enough for them to live to be butterflies...

Adult Black Swallowtail
We have warmed up again to about 23C/75F, but I think it is only a temporary since nighttime temperatures drop as low as 12C/55F. Windows are wide open here and the attic fan runs in the evening, so refreshing. My electric bill had been expensive even with all the conservation methods I have implemented. I anticipate next month's bill with be much more reasonable.

The weather is still dry since all the predicted rain never showered. I will need to water the gardens if we remain rainless. The tomatoes have slowed down their ripening but there are still plenty of fruit hanging on each plant. Our few pepper plants have probably finished their productive cycle as they are yellowing.

Backyard Reykjavik
 I have been scattering some zinnia seeds as they dry out. This week I plan to transplant some of the iris bulbs to make room for some low maintenance Knockout rose bushes. As I age and tend to travel, I need to consider limiting the amount of yard maintenance that needs to be done regularly, especially weeding and weed whacking. Colorful bushes are an excellent distraction to passerby eyes, so perhaps the not so fine edges will be overlooked. As you all know, I do not subscribe to perfection gardening, I am just trying to eliminate my lawn and support the honeybees. Next year I plan to install "honeybee pollination & protection preserve" signs strategically around the front yard.

If I had my way I'd install a short privacy fence and let the lawn grow like Icelanders do. Longer grass really doesn't look bad especially when you intersperse flowers. Truly I would rather spend mower gas money on my car. I doubt the yard inspectors in my town will go for it though.

Creative juices

I have been noticing a surge in my creative juices of late, although possibly the cooler weather has invigorated my overall outlook. Of course, it didn't hurt to take a short vacation either...

 Life on the job front has settled down since the difficult manager was fired while I was away in Florida. No, I am not cutting loose with any revelatory whoops, because anyone losing a job in this economy is dealt a challenge, but this situation surely reminds me that karma abounds. It is a quite a relief to be on the job at a significantly less stressful workplace.

So creativity abounds and I have been finding some new projects. I unraveled a triangular style scarf whose faulty geometry did not allow for long enough tails to tie comfortably around the neck. After washing the "noodle-ly" yarn and re-balling it, I have found a better scarf pattern, to give this self striping wool, a much more flattering display. The narrower perspective of the Chevron Pattern scarf showcases the KNITCOL, 100% merino, #047, allowing the variety of stripes to really pop with what I consider, yellow tinted party colors. It's not quite done yet, nor blocked, but photographed against a winter coat, it does look smashing! This will surely be a fun and versatile scarf to wear for Fall. The pattern is easy:

Cast on 32 stitches.
Row 1 (wrong side): Purl across.
Row 2 (right side): k2, yo, k5, sk2p, k5, yo, k2, yo, k5, sk2p, k5, yo, k2.
Repeat rows 1 & 2 until scarf reaches desired length, ending on Row 1.
Bind off. Weave in ends and block if desired.

Abbreviations: k = knit
                      sk2p = slip one stitch, knit two stitches together then, pass the
                                  slipped stitch over the two knitted together stitches.
                      yo = yarn over
The KNITCOL yarn is a light worsted weight. I have used a size US 9 needle. There is certainly room for flexibility in the pattern for many yarn types and needle sizes. Have fun!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Fall arrives

Lovely late season harvest

The hot summer temps and high humidity have finally gone and  it's just lovely outside! Fall is my favorite season, the skies are bright blue, the sunshine warm and the air is cool. The plants still blooming, crank out one last productive shot before winter amidst the Fall blooming asters & chrysanthemums.The Fall garden harvest is slower, but each fruit or vegetable is a bit more precious.

 My first ever carrots are simply gorgeous & tasty. I purchased Nantes carrot seed online from SeedSavers at and it did well, despite my inept planting. The last of the sweet Carmen red peppers are brilliant amidst their yellowing foliage and taste delicious in my new favorite recipe, Orzo with roasted vegetables. My abundance of zinnias and marigolds (my go to garden gap fillers) are at their peak of cheery Fall color and a valuable nectar source for the Buckeye butterfly.

The yellow rose I transplanted this spring is finally blooming profusely! Unfortunately, I am unable to give an accurate name to this terrific plant, because the tag said it should be a "coral pink Camelot rose"... and that's not what I have, although the "very fragrant" part of the description is definitely true. So my lovely, anonymous yellow rose has successfully acclimated to it's new garden home, surrounded by Thai Basil and a Husky cherry tomato. I think it has a columnar growth habit, so after an early prune next year, I am planning to add some central support.

A few of the "forgotten" radishes have morphed into Halloween veg with grotesque bulbous lumps and distortions. I'll probably pull the last of them for a spooky table centerpiece closer to Halloween. All in all, everything I planted in the new raised beds grew and produced. In the next couple of weekends, I'm planning to empty the beds of soil to extend the free-form gardens. I'll  lay down a few layers of burlap beneath the frames to prevent the pesky Bermuda grass growing up through a foot of dirt from my most imperfect lawn base. Then, I'll refill the raised bed frames with new composted soil for next Spring's planting. Every year I have a new challenge and thus a new learning experience...

I enjoyed an al fresco breakfast this morning on the back patio. No, I did not bake the croissants! I did grow the organic apples you see and they are delicious. They're a cross between the two trees in the yard, one of which was supposed to be a crab apple but now produces these tart and juicy beauties.  An apple crisp is in my plan for dinner tonight along with the first soup pot of the season. I can hardly wait!

There are a bunch of Fall garden projects I should get done before winter. Hopefully, I'll get the bulk of them completed and documented here. Life is unpredictable though, so we'll see. Peacefully yours.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Incremental waves

Capillary waves by Roger McLassuss
Picture a single stone dropping into a glass smooth lake and the expanding concentric ripples which flow away from the center point. This mental picture usually has us envisioning a relaxing image of gently flowing ripples gradually fading into the distance. But, what if the stone were the size of a cement truck, our vision would be one of horror as tsunami-size waves powered out from the core of impact.

Now, let's use this stone as a metaphor for our personal actions and the concentric ripples, the consequences of these actions... Whether our initial action, the pebble drop, was socially acceptable or not is irrelevant, since the wave effect will disperse energy across the water irrevocably. The stone's velocity will also cause unseen waves beneath the surface of the lake to flow incrementally outward.

Consider then, the impact of raindrops on a lake generating the very same ripples, which spread out from the center droplet intersecting with the ripples from other raindrops. With no two droplets identical, no two ring patterns are the same and with millions of raindrops falling, the lake is choppy with intersecting waves.

Sometimes the actions we put out into the world come back to haunt us. Our every action has a consequence either positive or detrimental. These rippling consequences interact with those of everyone else on the lake of life. Think what a pummeling rainstorm creates... a potentially massive and destructive wave surge. I think Washington had better prepare for a flood.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Baking therapy

Since turmoil is raging across the airways regarding the government shutdown and I am already disgusted with the current political quagmire, I have retreated to the kitchen. I baked three loaves of Banana Nut Bread, two for snacking (since the first loaf disappears in a flash) and one for freezing. I am truly not a gourmet cook, even though I am somewhat of a foodie when I travel or eat out. I like solid comfort recipes that turn out reliably even with the tinkering I seem to do with every baking. My go to cookbook is an ancient, stained and falling apart copy of Betty Crocker's Cookbook.This is a basic cookbook, giving concise recipes, using simple ingredients and it also adds several recipe variations for those instances when a grocery store run is impractical. I have created many a Nut Bread over the years and this recipe is old reliable:

2-1/2 C all purpose flour (I substitute whole wheat flour for at least the 1/2C)
1/2 C white sugar
1/3 C pkd brown sugar
3-1/2 tsp baking Powder
1 tsp salt
3 TBsp canola oil
2/3 C milk (depending on how dry the mix, add up to 1/2 C)
1 large egg
1-1/4 C mashed, over-ripe bananas (approx. 3)
1 C chopped walnuts
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350'
Grease or spray bottom of 9x5x3 inch loaf pan.
Mix all ingredients well and pour into loaf pan. This recipe makes 1 loaf.
Bake 55 to 65 minutes until testing stick comes out clean.
Cool about 10 minutes in loaf pan before turning out to cool on a rack.
Cool completely before slicing. Wrap and refrigerate for up to a week.

So the family has been enjoying these yummy loaves plain, spread with butter, toasted and topped with cream cheese or peanut butter. As I sip my cup of tea with my slice of banana nut bread I consider my somewhat Freudian choice of baked good. The government is bananas and the rest of us are driven nuts. Guess I'm up for another cuppa and slice...

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Government shutdown day 2...

I'd say the American people are pawns in this shameful display of Congressional grandstanding. I don't like taking the punishment for politicians who apparently don't know how to do their jobs. I don't feel that my vote mattered, nor do I think that our wealthy representatives care two hoots about their constituents.

Take for example Sen. Ted Cruz's twenty-one hour filibuster... let's see, his wisdom ranged from Dr. Suess's Green Eggs & Ham to Star Wars impersonations, not even original material, nor on topic. If you want to scrutinize his oratory even more, his choice of these topics mean he is speaking from at most, a second grade educational level. Way to go Mr. Ivy League graduate! I'm sure your alma maters, Harvard & Princeton are so proud of you... I don't care what party you represent, you wasted twenty-one valuable hours of possible productive negotiations with your narcissistic drivel. And not to let the news media off the hook either, it seems their main focus was Sen. Cruz's amazing bowel and bladder control... Has our government simply deteriorated to the level of a survival reality show?!

So now federal workers are furloughed, Obamacare is moving ahead anyway and the general public is left holding the bag again! National parks, museums and zoos are closed, sorry kiddos no educational opportunities here. Some Headstart daycare centers have closed, so do little ones stay home alone while parents work? Gotta wonder, I think it's a big screw you, directed at the poor and working classes, their kids too. Those furloughed, "nonessential" workers will surely remember how tough or impossible it was to make their house, car or utility payments without a regular paycheck. Oh, and just for the record, I don't believe any senators or congressmen lose a penny of their pay during the government shutdown they allowed to happen!!! and Obamacare moved forward anyway, just as law required.

 Any politicians looking for votes from these folks, better think again. Oh, I know you politicians depend on us, the American public, having a short memory but you know, if my only vacation of the year is wrecked or my kids are put in jeopardy I'm going to remember it was my elected representative that made it happen. If I lose my house or car or maybe have my power shut off, I'll remember that too because average Americans cannot save two to three months income for these random government shutdowns.

On the upside, finally citizens without health insurance will be able to have the healthcare they need. Any insurance is better than no insurance, not just for the patient but for the hospital and all of us who foot the uninsured patients' medical bills. The cost of care and lost work time incurred by folks who have been denied insurance is paid by each and every one of us; think about it, burdensome overtime, taxes or even the possibility of getting sick from the unvaccinated or untreated individual. Obamacare isn't ideal but it's a start.  

Interesting to note the stock market and big business are thriving without any deleterious effects from the government shutdown. Gasoline prices have dropped here to $2.97 per gallon. Could we somehow be better off without our representatives yanking us around?