Saturday, March 31, 2012

Don't Believe What They Say about Tulips

The experts say to dig up your tulips after they've bloomed and toss them in the compost. Then buy and plant new tulip bulbs in the fall. That's what groundskeepers do, I know.

Oh, I understand. For some reason I don't comprehend, people like neat beds of tulips, all the same color and perfectly lined up. But what a waste to throw away the bulbs each year!

To prove my point, here's a tulip that was here when we came to Paradise 36 years ago. Every year it has come up and bloomed with no help whatsoever. At first it was just one solitary bloom. Now it has multiplied. It grows under a black walnut tree where few other plants could thrive. I never feed it. Dennis mows it down when the leaves begin to wither.

Let them grow, I say. And good luck to them. I wish I could rescue their brothers and sisters from compost heaps and scatter them all over Paradise.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lost Ground Regained

Several years have passed since I have been able to do any substantial garden work, but yesterday I planted a short row of kale and two Canada Red rhubarb plants. I used a spade to dig two holes for the rhubarb and mixed in compost. I used the hoe to prepare a furrow for the kale. Doesn't sound like much, but for me it was a triumph – lost ground regained.

That I'm able now to do these things is all due to having had both my wrists fused. I've lost a lot of muscle during my fallow period, but that, too, will return as I do more work.

I wish I felt as exuberant as the apple tree this morning,

and as sassy as the dandelions.

I don't have these blooms' freshness. I'm more like the wizened apple one of those blossoms will become. I'm more like the dandelions' naked, rather ugly seed stalks that will appear next week. That's fine with me. I'm just thankful to have regained lost ground in the garden, thankful to be able to participate in this fecund time by setting out broccoli and planting potatoes.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Early Spring Walkabout

This spring seems both accelerated and compressed. Everything is happening at once. I went on a walkabout this afternoon to get a closer look. Apricots and peaches have finished blooming but I found the apple tree about to burst into bloom.

Tulips and narcissus are in full swing, while the daffodils dried up while we were away. Even the lilacs are about to bloom and our native redbud trees are in full bloom.

Violets and grape hyacinths spangle the grass.

All of these things have never happened here all at once. It's no wonder I'm sneezing with so many kinds of pollen in the air. Here's a closeup of a tulip's pollen; most is still on the stamens but some pollen appears as brown flecks on the tulip petals.

On I went to the garden. Because we went on vacation, the spring garden has not been planted, but the garlic and shallots planted last fall are growing like weeds. So are a few turnip plants that survived the winter.

The turnips are no good to eat. I'll leave a couple of the plants to set seeds, though. This one is about to bloom, so seeds are not far away.

Enough wandering around Paradise, looking at blossoms. It was time to harvest spinach and lettuce for supper. Bless these rickety old cold frames. They've fed us all winter long. Spinach and self-seeded lettuce are abundant in this one.

And in the oldest cold frame there's more lettuce, a mix of buttercrunch and romaine. It was sown too thickly and although we've been thinning it all winter it's still too crowded for heads to develop.

Anyone who is building a cold frame should make it shallow from front to back. The back of the cold frame should be no farther than one can reach from the front. Both of ours, one made at a Department of Agriculture Extension workshop, are far too deep, especially when surrounded by bales of straw insulation.

Well, enough of that. I don't know what to make of this spring except to make the best of it, to enjoy it for what it is, early and intense. The walkabout was lovely and I didn't worry a bit about how hot the summer will be. It's spring!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Hello Out There

I had written this journal for two or three years before I recently discovered that the host site keeps statistics on the number of visits to my journal and the countries where the visitors are located.

Wow! Most readers are located in the United States, but people in several other parts of the world are visiting and presumably reading this page.

To all of my friends living in Australia, Brazil, China, Colombia, France, Germany, India, Russia, Slovenia, United Kingdom, Ukraine and Venezuela, I'm honored that you visit and I hope to hear from all of you someday. If I omitted your country, it was not intentional – visitors vary day by day.

As you no doubt know, my way of life in the U.S. is neither typical nor unique. Many other people in this country cherish the earth, strive to leave a small footprint, attempt to be self-sufficient in as many respects as possible, and fervently hope for world peace.

So, welcome to Paradise. I wish we could sit down together for a cuppa' and a chat. I'd introduce you to Dennis, Annie and the hens, show you the garden and take you for a walk in the woods. You could tell me about your life and aspirations. Maybe together we could figure out how human beings can live in harmony with each other and the earth.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Best Part of Travel, Part Two

We spent three nights at a little tourist town called Cannon Beach.

We walked on the beach where the famous sea stack called "Haystack" stands. Millennia ago it was connected to the land, part of widespread basalt deposited by a volcanic eruption near what is now the Idaho border. 

Results of that long process of erosion are evident in the beach sand, which is, like my favorite draft beer, black and tan. From this simple palette the tides create lovely abstract sand paintings. I love to photograph them, but have to guard against butting into the picture.

As we were walking we met another Shirley. She took our picture and I took hers.

Compared to my beloved Galveston Island beaches, this one is barren except for large pieces of driftwood piled against the grassy dunes. Still, there's always something interesting going on:

As we walked north along the beach we noticed a congregation of birds ahead in what we thought was a finger of the sea. As we got closer though, it was apparent that a creek was flowing into the sea, intersecting the beach. Crows, gulls and ducks were bathing in this fresh water and getting drinks.

At the end of our last Cannon Beach walk we climbed the steps that cut through the dunes. At the base of the dunes a thicket of blooming pussy willows caught my eye:

The next morning we headed north to Seatac airport. As we drove away Dennis said, "I'll be glad to get home." Nevertheless, I asked him to stop while I took a photo of one of the ubiquitous tsunami warning signs:

I asked him to stop again in Wheeler so I could document a fraction of the harvested logs we saw on this trip.

At last we were airborne and as the plane was preparing for landing in Kansas City, I was on Cloud Nine:

The best part of travel is always coming home.

The Best Part of Travel, Part One

Dennis and I hadn't taken a vacation together for a long time until we went to the Northwest last week. He wanted to visit friends; I wanted to see the Oregon coast, a trip that has been high on my bucket list for years. Happily, his friends live on an island in Washington and Oregon lies just a few hours' drive down the road.

We saw a lot of trees and places where trees used to be. This venerable stump beside a walking trail is lovely, but the clear-cut areas, which are plentiful, are very ugly.

We saw a lot of water falling from the sky and all around us in various forms: creeks, wetlands, sloughs, rivers, lakes, bays and the Pacific Ocean. Here's a placid marina:

And here's the mighty Columbia River, flowing into the ocean:

I photographed the river as we were crossing it on this bridge from Washington into Astoria, Oregon:

We saw breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean during our drive down U.S. 101.

We ate a lot of oysters that were harvested from bays along the coast. When we saw these heaps of oyster shells, Dennis wondered whether the bays would overflow with oysters if no one harvested them.

We drank a lot of coffee. Everyone who lives there probably does. It seemed to help overcome the stultifying effect of heavy clouds day after day. Little drive-around coffee shacks like this one were plentiful:

To be continued.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Life with Fused Wrists

Often when I tell someone that my wrists are fused, he asks, "Can you bend them?"

No. When wrists have been fused they will never bend again. The surgeon warned, "You can't wipe your bottom with fused wrists." That's the main reason I put off having them fused. Then a younger woman who had both wrists fused called me. She assured me that personal hygiene is not a problem. I immediately scheduled my second wrist fusion.

For years I had lived with terrible pain whenever I used my hands, which we do all day long.  My activities were severely restricted. I couldn't even make a salad for dinner. I couldn't sew. At the end I needed help bathing. Gardening was impossible, which I realized one day last summer when trying to harvest garlic. I remember the pain. I remember saying aloud, "I can't do this any more," and walking away.

Now I can do almost anything I want without pain. I'm stymied by only two things.  I can't pick up something from the floor of my car while seated in the car and I can't wash my chest. The first has an easy solution: get out of the car and pick up the item from a standing position. The second was more difficult. I searched the Internet for a bath brush with a curved handle, but found nothing. Then, in a hospital gift shop I found this handy scrubber with a curved handle. Red isn't my favorite color, but that was the only choice.

To anyone who is debating whether to have wrist fusion, I say, "Do it!" Life without pain is a precious gift. I can cook, I can sew, I can drive my car easily. I gave my collection of wrist braces to the thrift store. You can, too.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sprung Too Soon

We haven't suffered enough! We haven't been snowed in or even shoveled snow! Winter never came and now spring has sprung too soon.

Why are the daffodils blooming now?

Why are the anemones scattered like blue stars in the yard now? In 35 years they never have bloomed this early.

Although many of the spring blooming flora have been fooled and are in bloom, including the apricot trees, we don't trust this early spring. We fear they will be nipped in the bud if normal weather returns.

Temperatures above 80 have set records the past two days. What if this is the beginning of a horrifically hot summer?  It's beginning far too early. Will our garden burn up in June? What does this unusual weather mean?

How many lovely days are spoiled by our worry about the future? Will we ever learn to be here now, to relish the moment fully?  No doubt rocky days lie ahead, but we don't yet know what they are. Que cera, que cera.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Art, Entropy and Frugality

More than a year has passed since I last undertook an artistic endeavor, but with strong pain-free wrists I was ready to start another wall hanging in the "Streets of Delft" series. I wanted to do a fabric interpretation of a stained glass window in a Delft church, based on a photo taken from inside the building. Cleo asked to see the photo.

I asked if she thought it important to include the arch. She said I should and asked, "Will you include the tree shadows?"

My first thought was, "No way!" My second thought was how could I do that? I was hooked.

I knew the shadows had to be behind the window and the only way to achieve that is to use sheer fabrics overlaid on a background with trees. Every night I fell asleep imagining how this could be done. Many experiments followed. I modified the window size and the number of panes in each window section, not wanting to spend the rest of my life on this project. Thanks to Cleo my aging brain got a good workout.

Finally I have finished making the panels and this morning I squared them up to prepare them for sewing  to black dividers.

Entropy in action, the trimmings began to pile up. They began to draw my attention. They began to look like art themselves.

Here's where frugality comes in: I was tempted to save the trimmings for a collage. Thread wads have great appeal to me. Dozens of little boxes in my studio are filled with entropic bits I've saved for just such purposes. "Waste not, want not," is too much engrained in my being. If not kept in check I'd be using ever-smaller pieces and working under a microscope. I threw these trimmings away, but kept a photo record of them.

Now I must figure out how to make the arch.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

French Creeps

One day many years ago Barbara and Sandy came to my house to learn to make cheese blintzes. Barbara brought her young son Aaron, who looked at the French crepes recipe and exclaimed, "You're making French creeps?"

Every culture seems to have its version of filling wrapped in a flat pre-cooked dough. Enchiladas, crepes and blintzes, for example. Crepes and blintzes differ only in their traditional fillings, so we were using a crepes recipe to make blintzes.

About once a year I get the urge to make crepes with mushroom and spinach fillings. Crepes are very thin, so a small amount of batter is poured into the pan and swirled to distribute it evenly in a thin layer. Last June the crepes urge hit, but making the crepes was so painful to my wrists I declared, "That's the last time I'll ever make crepes."

By now I should have learned to never say "never."  I made a batch of crepes this morning aided and abetted by my newly fused wrists.

First I made the spinach filling, which is basically creamed spinach with parmesan cheese stirred in.

It looked like this.

Then I made the mushroom filling. Yep, that's sherry in the little measuring cup.

Then I mixed the crepes batter.

Here's a crepe baking in the pan. A hole doesn't matter.

Filling is the easy part. This one is mushroom.

The first pan of crepes is half spinach and half mushroom.

Altogether there were 30 crepes.

This evening I'll bake the large pan of crepes. The other pans will go into the freezer for a day when I don't feel like cooking.

It sure is good to be making French creeps again, pain free.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Natural Affinity, or, More About Apple Salad

Eating left-over apple salad for lunch today I was struck again by the natural affinity of its ingredients for one another. The taste and textures bring out the best in each other to form a symphony of taste and feel in the mouth.

The same goes for chocolate with raspberries or peaches and sour cream sweetened with brown sugar. In addition to individual dishes which have internal affinities, certain menus are comprised of dishes that enhance one another. Just think of how all the dishes harmonize in the traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Or look at my 2010 post "Quintessential Fall Supper" about sausage, gravy, biscuits and fried apples.

And so it is in the world of humans. We seem to have natural affinity with certain other people, but not with others. We form friendships, we choose mates, we join groups. Always our choice of relationships should be dictated by the answer to this question: Do we bring out the best in each other? If yes, then each of us will be enhanced by the association. If no, then we'd best keep out of each other's way. Otherwise it will taste about as good as chili made with brussels sprouts.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Blustery March Day

In like a lion, out like a lamb, the saying goes. The "in" part certainly fits this March perfectly. Today was no exception. Treetops lashed from side to side. Wind howled and moaned. White clouds went whizzing by.

Sunlight came and went, came and went. Its reflection off a stainless steel pot lid that sat on my kitchen counter created a light show on the cabinet door.

I was working at that counter, making apple salad for the ladies' lunch I would be hosting in an hour or so. Progress was slow because I continually had to wash and dry my hands in order to take pictures of the ever-changing light show. This one shows the context.

Eventually I finished the salad, another example of simple, delicious food.

Sometimes we think only of green salads, and forget about others such as carrot salad, pea salad and, in this case, apple salad. It's so easy to make. I used two stalks of celery, two large apples (one Fuji, one Gala), a handful of walnuts, which I chopped a little, and a handful of raisins that had been plumped in hot water, then drained. The dressing was two blobs of Miracle Whip (yes, I'm a southern cook) mixed with a teaspoon of sugar and the juice of a quarter of a lemon, about a tablespoonful. A light coating was enough. I should make apple salad more often. It was delicious.

Now the day is over. By nightfall the winds were calmed, the sky was heavy, the first mist of rain was falling and my knee quit hurting.

It's been another groovy day.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Simple Fare

For our evening meal I had planned to serve leftover beef brisket, baked sweet potatoes and a salad from the cold frame, but when it was time to eat all we really wanted was sweet potatoes with dabs of fake butter. I added a sprinkle of cinnamon to mine.

These sweet potatoes grew in our garden last summer. The variety is Beauregard, the most delicious of all, I believe. Beauregard is juicy, naturally sweet, deep orange and easy to grow. They keep well in a basket in the basement and will last us until summer comes again.

One can't live on sweet potatoes alone, but once in a while simple fare is all we need or want. Well, to be honest, we did finish our spartan meal with slices of cherry pie as a nod to decadence.

As for brisket, my favorite recipe is called "Jewish Grandmother's Brisket."  You can find it at Tonight we'll have some served as hot beef open-faced sandwiches. Simple fare it isn't, but who wants to be an ascetic every night of the week?

Saturday, March 3, 2012


As anyone who has read this journal from time to time knows, lately I've been assaulted by death of significant humans and beloved birds. Being 76 years old, I am becoming more intimate with death; sooner than later now, death and I will become one.

I'm not bummed by this. To the contrary, I am intrigued.

I recall a lunch at Pam's when she asked a 93-year-old guest what she thought about death.

"I don't think about it," the woman replied with her usual sweet smile. "I know that when I die Jesus will pick me up and take me to heaven."

How many of us at the table of six shared her views, I don't know. I personally don't buy into the heaven or hell scenario. It sounds terribly boring either way.

What do I believe, then? Until recently, nothing. But something got me thinking, wondering.

One evening more than a year ago I fainted dead away. Sitting in the rolling office chair at my desk, I felt it coming: everything was going grey. I called to Dennis that I was going to pass out. Dennis, bless his heart, rushed downstairs and held on to me.

"I'm going," I mumbled, "I'm going." And I went. Dennis thought I was dead, gave me mouth-to-mouth and called 911.

The culprit was a UTI, as it turned out. Visiting with my doctor in the hospital, I told him Dennis thought I was dying and that I had blacked out as if a dimmer switch in my brain had slowly turned down and completely off.

"Oh," he replied, "you couldn't have been dying. When my father died he said everything was growing lighter and lighter. When people die they see brilliant light."

Ah, Enlightenment! Maybe when Buddhists talk about enlightenment it's about getting a sneak preview of the infinite light. Maybe when Hank Williams sang, "Praise the Lord, I saw the light," he, too, had a glimpse of the future.

When Steve Jobs died recently he reportedly said, "Oh, wow! Oh, wow! Oh wow!" I figure he saw the light.

I'm sort of sorry to be coming to this belief because I had hoped to be reincarnated as a crow.

The Quiet Life

Last October I went to my doctor's office to have accumulated ear wax removed. This, I was told, could now be done by no one but the doctor himself. (A lovely nurse practitioner used to do the procedure.) Much to my surprise, the doctor wheeled in an electrical apparatus, removed a wand-like piece from it and stuck the end in my ear. The noise was, well, deafening – literally.

Having cleaned both ears, the M.D. began talking to me. His voice sounded like Alvin the Chipmunk and I could hardly understand what he was saying.

I exclaimed, "That made my hearing worse!"

"You need to see an audiologist," he shouted and walked out of the room.

There began the saga of wondering what people were saying, asking them to repeat, and still often not understanding. I learned that folks have very little patience with hearing-impaired people. I have consulted two otolaryngologists and three audiologists. I have tried two different brands of hearing aids, neither of which helped my hearing except to make a flushing toilet sound like Niagara Falls.

Attention boomers: a pair of hearing aids costs at least $4,500 and health insurance does not cover them so you should start saving now. (All those loud concerts you heard are going to cost you again.)

Sometimes I wonder if I've simply grown tired of talking and hearing people talk, tired of interpreting their words. I hear music just fine. Also, I've grown to like the quiet life, a life without the distraction of conversation and random noises. A quiet environment provides opportunity for reflection without interruption. It is peaceful, albeit solitary.

Misti the audiologist is ordering yet another brand of hearing aids for me to try. To be truthful, I don't much care whether they work or not. I have thoughts to think, ideas to incubate and books to read, all of which require a quiet life.

I must admit, though, that I hope my inept, rude doctor goes stone deaf.