Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Rewarding Awards & Random Information

It's my week for getting charming blog awards. And those awards went a long way in making this otherwise irksome week fade a bit. Irksome, you ask? Even with such wonders as ComicCon going on? Yes, sadly, even with (considering I live nowhere near San Diego it's not that surprising). I spent far too much time in the bright hot sun this week attempting to hook up my watering system only to discover that several of my electronic timers were LEAKING. Ugh. Stupid expensive pieces of crap. I wielded pliers. I bought rubber washers. I stood and peered fiercely even. And I might have cursed a bit. All to no avail. Leak, leak, leak. Drip, drip, drip.

But that was another moment in time. Let's turn our gaze instead to the fun side of the week. First it was Suji from funschooling giving me a Blog With Substance award. I am thrilled with this, Suji, thank you so much, although I don't think I am as substantial a blogger as you are. Substantially silly, maybe...

As per the terms of this award, I am supposed sum up my blog motivation, philosophy, and experience in 10 words. Ten words? Who thought up these terms? We bloggers are wordy people. Is this a sort of haiku contest designed to torment me?

Okay. Let's see.

What motivates me to blog? I like telling stories.

What is my blog philosophy? I don't think I have one. Oh wait, I think I do: while I am an opinionated person, the Victorian in me likes to keep it polite. I am unable to write rude without at least a little bit of wit. It's one of the more Unforgivable Story Teller Crimes, in my book.

What is my blog experience? Mostly great. I love reading other people's blogs. I find so much inspiration in other people's blogs. It has expanded the fun quotient of our homeschooling world immeasurably. And enabled me to enjoy this temporary incarnation as a mother more than I probably would have otherwise.

So. Ten words. Hmm. You know, I'm going to steal a line from Max, aged 3. Whenever he did anything inexplicable, like, say, tossing a Hot Wheels car off our balcony, and I'd ask him why he did it, he'd say "Because I can!" very spritely. It was such an odd yet reasonable answer I never had a retort. Well, other than "How about you go get that Hot Wheels car?" So here is my summation in ten words or less:

I blog because I can.

So thanks again, Suji, you Substantial Blogger you.

But wait! There's more! Later this week Subadra from Library of Books, Links & More who passed a Versatile Blogger my way. Thanks Subadra! You have one of the more versatile blogs out there, so it gladdens my heart to get this from you. Not to mention the fact that I too love green. This is a particularly nice green, isn't it?

According to the terms of this award, I am supposed to list 7 things about myself. Seven things you don't already know. Hmm. Other than outing myself as a bit of a Victorian? Here goes...

1. I love show tunes. When I was in grade 6 a shiver of thievery ran through the girls in my class: to be considered cool one had to shoplift something and bring it to class to show the Head Mean Girls. Mostly jeans or nail polish or slutty bras. Now, let me preface this by saying that while I was fairly confident that nothing would give me Good Standing with these girls, there was something I really wanted and this seemed like a reasonable philosophical moment to do something about it. Under torture, right? Well, torture of a sort. So when the moment was right I stole my coveted object. But I didn't show it to the Head Mean Girls, because even way back then I knew they would not know quite what to do with me and my Stolen Object. So I took it home and hid it under my bed, when I wasn't using it, of course. That acquisition was probably my best memento of Life In School with those Mean Girls. I still have it, in fact: a cassette tape of the soundtrack to Bob Fosse's Cabaret, with Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli. That was some movie.

2. When I was a little girl I went through a stage when I insisted on eating my meals out of a bowl on the floor, as if I were a dog. I even used to bark and run around on all fours. A couple of years later, I came across the book Harriet the Spy and took to calling myself Harriet and insisting on tomato sandwiches for lunch every day at school. Intriguingly my parents indulged me in these pursuits, although I'm sure the idea that I wanted to grow up to be a dog worried them somewhat. But they needn't have worried: I'd rather be a cat any day.

3. I am afraid of wolf spiders. So afraid that I can taste my fillings when I see one. I turn into one of those stupid shrieking women when one scutters across our floor - ask my kids. Ugh.

4. I am extremely selective about the TV I watch but to the average outsider it looks as though I like weird (and sometimes bad) TV. First, I like the kids show Arthur. I've even been known to watch it when my kids aren't around, although I am not very sympathetic with the parenting philosophies of Arthur's mum and dad (they let DW get away with too much, IMO). I hope one day to be a guest on this show, just like Yo Yo Ma, Art Garfunkle, Jack Prelutsky, Mr Rogers, Click and Clack, Alex Trebek, and even Neil Gaiman, even if I have to be a moose or a skunk. I also like this rather cringe-inducing show called Flipping Out, mostly because of the truly repulsive central figure, a diva of a man I want to smack on the bum and send to his room he's so rude. I say I like it but I've only seen it three or four times; perhaps if I watched it more I'd find him too obnoxious. Finally, when we were living at my parents and renovating this house I became rather obsessed with Family Jewels. It features an aging Gene Simmons, a man I always thought of as a tragic relic from Bygone Sexist Days of Big Dumb Rock Bands. Which he is (remember KISS?). But he's also a very devoted dad. I was mildly astounded that such a sexist relic could be a nice dad.

5. I love action movies. One of the best things about being a parent, IMO, is the fact that I can attend all sorts of silly action movies under the guise of being forced to by my children (2012, anyone?). And yes, I do consider Lara Croft Tomb Raider high art.

6. I am a compartmentalizer. It's pathological, I think. I am firm about not having aspects of my life intersect with other aspects. Richard thinks I am a tad neurotic but I consider myself merely careful.

7. I don't like holding babies. Most women I know relish this kind of activity, but I do not. Yes, I spent many a happy hour mauling my own kids but put me in a room with a newborn and a bunch of women and I'll be the one crouching in the corner hoping like hell no one asks me if I want to hold the baby.

So there you go. Perhaps things you're better off not knowing about me. But now I am supposed to pass these awards on to other people. So let me say this: all of you who read this blog can consider yourself passed one of these two awards. Because I think you all deserve something for having read this far, and well, I didn't say this in my 7 things but I am a bit of a voyeur and I'd really love to see your 7 things.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Overheard at dinner last night:

Boy2: Can we put a spiral staircase off this deck? How about a slide? It could go right into the pool!

(for the record, deck is approximately 20' off the ground - it is a very high deck)

Girl: Only 17 more days until my birthday. Sixteen if we don't count today. I love avocado.

Boy1: Why do we pay for internet? Look, my Touch says there are two unsecured connections around here. How can you like that gross green stuff?

Father: (eats dinner silently)

Mother: I need a haircut. This is the albatross of having short hair. It needs cutting all the time. I have hag hair. I hate having hag hair. I'm poofing.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Post Script

I meant to mention this in my post last night but forgot. Then this morning, while I was outside getting another look at my pruning work from yesterday I remembered.

If you're planning a summer party later in the summer, in, say, 4 weeks from now, for some smaller people having a Fancy Multi-Cupcaked Birthday Party Extravaganza and you want all your almost-at-the-end-of-their-blooming-period perennials like balloon flowers, campanula, daisies, roses, digitalis, and even bergamot to be covered in gorgeously unrestrained blossoms for said party...well, this would be the time to prune them back rather severely.

Not Mommy Dearest pruning (nasty, brutish, & short), more a Super Nanny pruning (firm, loving, & eminently sensible).

This method works well on perennials but isn't always as dramatic with plants like pansies. Maybe it's my pruning method, but they take longer to come back with blooms after a prune.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Garden Thursday

I was out working in the garden for the first time since I injured my back and gosh it felt good. My back is still a little sore (I think I tore something) but I hate watching weeds and grass smother my paths and plants. And watching the tomatoes topple over and turn into crawling things drives me mad, especially when I can't wade in there and stake them before their stems take to those new bendy shapes. Plus the raspberries were in a heap on the ground where the slugs and ants would be able to eat the berries without any trouble whatsoever. I do not willingly feed slugs or ants.

The shasta daisies were in a similar heap but then, they always seem to flop on the ground after a week or two aloft. They are the most relaxed of plants, perhaps a bit too relaxed. I generally end up staking them in secret and mysterious ways (who likes to see my green plastic string snaking all over the place?) but even then they manage to look apathetic about being staked.

I am slowly uprooting the pansies. They really fade when the summer heats up, but the last couple of years, what with us being more permanent about our abodes, I've been cropping them back and leaving them in flats in a shady place. They spend the hot part of the summer growing and come fall I can replant them. Now I have some mixed lettuces in this basket. Or is that letti?

Here is a great combination of bright colours: peeking yarrow (Red Velvet), woolly speedwell (Blue Carpet), some Anise-Hyssop (Honey Bee Blue)and goldenrod.

These plants are the most incredible bee magnet. I suspect the goldenrod of having Super Plant Powers: there was one clump last year and this year there are at least four.

One of the sweet peas I bought this year. I think it's called Blue Foam but since I lost the seed packet somewhere in the Busy Busy Baby Snake Bed and I'm not going to dig around in there to find it even if you cry and beg me. You're going to have to suffer through my disaster of a memory bank, which is really warped from too much Horrible Histories viewing. I have a secret, well, fine, it's not all that secret, crush on one of the actors in the Horrible Histories so when the kids say "Can we watch a Horrible Histories?" I generally answer "Sure!" with far too much alacrity.

Wait, how did this topic come up? I don't get the connection at all. Oh right, snakes. Snakes in the garden.


Okay, moving on...

Here are some crocosmia - Lucifer. These particular ones are taller than me. I like the arching angle the flower head has.

Lysimachia clethroides: Gooseneck loosestrife. You can see by the sweep of the flower head why it's called "gooseneck." This plant is a little on the invasive side but it's so lovely and robust in the hot sun that I don't mind. I just haul out a few stalks here and there and we're both happy. Besides, white is such a great colour in a perennial border - it frames everything else so cleanly and brightly.

This is a poppy - a Breadseed poppy. I bought them because they seemed a bit of a novelty but now I'm wondering how the seeds differ from other poppy seeds. The flower is pretty but otherwise unremarkable. I prefer the more dramatic raggedy red ones. I'd even prefer the blue one I bought last year but it seems to have died on me again, the silly thing. A pox on wimpy poppies!

This time of year is always so dramatically lush. Here's a combination of potatoes, bulb fennel and second year parsley in the very back. I've had to really work on the watering in the section of the yard, because the soil is so heavy. I've mulched it with straw but it still dries to rock when I'm not looking.

A Louisebonne pear. This poor old tree has really suffered in my garden: first I planted it near the neighbour's juniper bush (host to rust) which promptly infected the tree with rust. The leaves were covered in horrible orange blotches. Then they all fell off. So did the three teeny little pears that were attached to some of those leafy places. I took one of the blotchy orange leaves into the garden centre and they all chortled rather rudely. "Who told you to plant a pear?" they asked me incredulously. "That's the WORST kind of fruit tree to grow here. Rust is everywhere! I bet your neighbours all have juniper hedges, don't they?" I felt too foolish to admit that I hadn't actually looked to see if anyone had junipers (who wants a shrub when they could have fruit trees and vegetable patches and flowers?), or that I'd only bought it so I could hang a partridge in it come December and give our Christmas habits some extra levity, so I took the spray bottle of stupid-lame-organic-rust-inhibitor and slunk away. Then I got home and felt even more foolish because there weren't any leaves left to spray. Sob.

That fall I moved it down the slope a bit but that area was too shady and it looked on the edge of its expiry date. This spring I moved it to the end of the brick vegetable garden, where it seems to still have a touch of rust but nothing quite as dramatic as last year's case. And there are, wonder of wonders, some pears on it. There is one there. Plump as a pear.

Look! Peas! Hanging very greenly, don't you think? I like me a pea that can hang so very, err, greenly.

(stop it before you get rude, Sheila)

Finally, we have a tomatillo. I like growing these - no one ever seems to know what they are or what you can do with them and they look like weird mutant vegetables with that hollow green husk. I also like how the light shines through them.

They are, unlike myself, extremely photogenic. I have tomatillo envy, methinks.

Here was one of my other projects today. The twins are gearing up for their birthday. They've decided on a Cupcake Extravaganza. That's right, I'm making enough cupcakes to populate a small country. And that's not all: we're going to attempt LEGO heads and bricks on these cupcakes, as well as model pea pods and whole carrots from the garden, and maybe a few sunflowers too (a la Hello Cupcake!). There might even be fondant involved. And sanding sugar. Not to mention a number of trips to the Martha Stewart website, because, as we all know, Martha has probably done it before. Plus, she includes a lot of pictures in her tutorials...

In the spirit of the venture I made a chocolate layer cake this afternoon. I know, it has nothing to do with fondant, cupcakes, or models of peas and carrots, or even an icing sunflower, but it's a sort of test drive for my baking skills. Right?


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Making Ice Cream Sandwiches

I posted a sort of tutorial on my food blog today. Yeah, right, like anyone really needs to read a tutorial about squishing ice cream between cookies...

Monday, July 12, 2010

Garden Recipes

I posted a few recipes for chocolate zucchini cake, cucumber relish, and peach pie filling for those of you with gardens and heaps of produce to deal with in the near future.

Well, it wasn't Saint Patrick's Day today, but it wasn't until we went into Home Despot this afternoon and the teller we passed said "Hey! You guys all match!" that we noticed. I think I should get Quick Wit points here because when the teller said that I tossed back "We plan our wardrobes every morning!" and we all laughed merrily, me without knowing what the heck she was talking about, her no doubt thinking I was a total weirdo parent. Then I went striding off to where the shortie hoses were kept and glanced back to make sure everyone was with me. It was then that the penny dropped.
We were all wearing green shirts. Even Max the Teenager. When I pointed it out he moaned. "Why didn't I bring a hoodie?!" he groaned, "we look so dorky!"

To be honest even I felt kind of dorky. We were the Slacker Von Trapps.

Green, green, and more green. The funny thing was when we came home: no one changed.

Now that's weird.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


The twins are having a sleepover. They like doing this; they usually sleep in FDPG's room. Dominic tosses down a few denizens from Cushion Land (tonight he's using Big Blue, Little Brother and Big Brother) and uses them as his air mattress.

I crept down a few times when I heard raised voices, just to see what they were up to, because they can get into some pretty heated arguments. And this is what I heard:

(the first time) "Okay, Dominic, here is your math quiz for tonight. You have to do all of that page." FDPG had found an old Math Smart book of Max's in her desk drawer and was giving Dominic a test. She later gave him a grammar quiz.

(the second time) Great shrieks as FDPG loses a tooth. Thundering footsteps as they both race to be the first to announce the news. Tooth is wrapped in tinfoil and placed in a special spot, awaiting an appearance by the Tooth Fairy. "OMG," says FDPG, "I can't believe I was so calm during the whole experience!" Calm? FDPG?

(the third time) "Who was the best Companion? What is Rose's name in real life? How did she leave the show? Who played the Doctor before David Tennant? Which episode were the Judoon in? What is the name of the stuff the Doctor uses to trick people into thinking he's someone he's not? Which episode where the Scarecrows in? What happened in The Idiot's Lantern?" And so on, and so on, and so on. Mostly FDPG, who believes in memorizing every single speck of Doctor Who trivia. Just as Dominic was saying "Billie Piper!" I caused a floorboard to squeak, whereupon they both fell instantly silent. I whispered in through the door "I know you two are awake, I just heard Dominic say Billie Piper!" FDPG sat up immediately and said "I TOLD you that I heard Mum coming down the stairs. When will you LISTEN to me?" Dominic said "Mum, isn't Billie Piper a boy's name?" "Not always," I said, "the IE on the end of it tells you that it's probably a girl's name. Lots of girls used to be called Billie."

"Oh," he says wonderingly. FDPG nods knowingly.

"Good night," I say. "Good night," they say.

Ahh, sleepovers. They sure have changed since my day.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Paul Says The World Cup Is Going To Spain

Paul's called it. Not that you need a psychic octopus to call this game, but it's better than being turned into paella.

Belated Garden Thursday

In Which Sheila Details A Tragedy That Befell Her Back

I've missed a couple of Garden Thursdays, haven't I? Well, this week it was because, very tragically, I did something to my back. I don't know what, but something is pulled or torn or strained. I was trying to pour the contents of a 5 gallon pail onto something several feet away from me and up over a brick wall. There I was, leaning over the wall, keeping my bucket of fish fertilizer aloft, trying to pour it, when I heard a distinct PING in my lower back. Did I drop the bucket immediately? Did I think "Oops, better set this down carefully and walk away?" Did I stop doing what I was doing?

No, I did not. (that's because you are an idiot, Sheila - you think you're Lara Croft Tomb Raider, and it causes you to do incredibly stupid things despite the fact that you never go to a gym and you're not in incredibly excellent shape)

I kept pouring, albeit more carefully, until the pain in my back got so bad I had to bail. So I poured the contents of that bucket of fish fertilizer mostly on my sandals (stay tuned for Toe-Nail Growth Updates) because I couldn't move very well and I had to get that bucket out of my hands. Then I hobbled inside and sat down. And thought "Oh no, I've reached that time in my life when everything I do unleashes a strain or a twinge or a rip or an ache." There might have been a few $#&'s and **@'s and even one or two $#&@'s in there as well, not to mention a brief & interesting perusal of my very dirty feet, but being the good Jane Austen heroine that I am I will refrain from being too explicit. Suffice to say that I felt old and very very feeble.

And so, I've been kind of sitting around all week. Barely any walking, no driving, and no - gasp - gardening. Well, no gardening other than turning on taps and things. Thankfully the garden is on soaker hoses and timers and the World Cup is on. I've been making careful notes of Who Has Good Hair (Forlan) and Who Has Truly Bad Hair (Messi, Puyol). Among other things.

But yesterday I felt considerably better so I went out and picked up my order of lemon trees. Yes, you heard correctly. I am going to grow lemon trees. A fellow over the way grows them in his back yard - at least a hundred of them - along with limes, kumquats, mandarins, and oranges. He even has a guava or two. And that's not even mentioning the hundreds of apples, plums, cherries, and berries he has growing, staked and espaliered and cordoned. It's shockingly impressive. Even better, each spring he brings in an order of fruit trees to sell, which is how I ended up with two Meyer lemon trees (I'd wanted an orange but they never came in).

Here is one lemon. A happy lemon, as Dominic says. Hopefully it will be so happy I will get the crop my friend gets. At the very least get the flowers - the scent of those alone would be delightful.

And luckily some of the apple trees are doing well. This Gravenstein never got hit by the LGW (little green worms) and I don't see any signs of codling moth either.

The Crown Princess Margareta. I give her a martini every night and a glass of champagne on Sundays and so far she's quite happy.

I'm quite taken with how this Blue Star Creeper crept into the Irish Moss.

Poppies with lovely raggedy petals.

The one hybrid tea I've not been neglecting: Strike It Rich.

And here's another reason I've been forgetting my usual blogging habits. It's been really really hot here this week. Unusually hot. So hot we've broken records (35ºC on our deck yesterday) in town. Richard the Pool Boy set up the little pool and everyone's been happy. The twins play Make Wave games, games, Blow Bubbles On The Other Person's Back games, Go Underwater And Look At Each Other games, Fling The LegoMan games, and Run Wildly Around The Outside Edge Of The Pool Until There Is A Massive Current Then Plop Down And Ride The Current games. And in between we've been eating home-made ice cream sandwiches (using Hob Nobs and even Chocolate Covered Digestives), home-made fruit pops (blend together nectarines and strawberries and freeze in popsicle molds), and iced tea. Very very pleasant.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Octopus Has Chosen

Paul the Psychic Octopus picked Spain to win today and he was right. If you don't believe me click here and read it for yourself.

Who will he pick to win the World Cup, I wonder? Spain or the Netherlands? Bookies the world over are wondering.

Food, Glorious Food!

The Garden Basket.
In every garden magazine you always see people collecting their garden produce with these sorts of baskets. These people wear wide brimmed hats, sunscreen, and sensible-coloured clothing (that matches from head to toe and probably has no carbon footprint, not to mention the fact that it probably decomposes nicely after they discard it). They always have a proper hairstyle. They wear garden clogs (fancy clean garden clogs with fancy clever patterns on them). They have nice smiles, too (gleaming sets of teeth that give me huge Tooth Envy). And their baskets are always the same: wide, flat, natural fibres. Filled with strangely coloured vegetables I've never been able to grow. They stand in their twenty perfectly groomed acres plus super cool greenhouse-made-from-antique-glass-windows with their baskets on their arms, dog frisking around their feet, chickens off to the side. Stuff like that. It's a beaming portrait of garden bliss.

It's also rather galling. I am so not a beaming portrait of garden bliss. Ask the teenager - he's taken to giving me startling and horribly disconcerting comments on my advanced decrepitude of late. Tonight we were discussing the Spanish soccer player Puyol at dinner and how he's the Old Man of the team (at 32) and Max burst out with "Ha! Imagine what YOU GUYS would be if you were on that team! Ha ha ha!"

Editor's note: Teenager now knows never to refer to mother's age with scathing/mocking/jocular tones ever again, particularly if he wishes to live to see his own decrepitness one day. He also knows not to chortle too loudly with a open mouthful of hummus when mocking mother's imminent senility but we won't get into that...

Anyhow. Back to me and my decrepitude. It's why I never feature photographs of myself in my garden on the blog. My summer clothing is always a tattered stretchy dress and rubber boots or grubby, falling apart runners. My figure is a little on the frumpy side. I neither gleam with rude health nor do I glide around gracefully in my well-matched garden twin-set. And most of you already know of my travails with my teeth. No gleaming, beaming well-matched sets there, either. (Sheila gives a sob as she considers the rude state of her teeth)

But...I do have a basket. I almost gave it away to the Sally Ann a while back, thinking as I did so about all those Beautiful Garden People and their baskets. "Ha," I thought, "this is a stupid-looking basket. Who gets stuff out of their garden with this? I'd feel completely idiotic."

I saw one of these baskets on Martha Stewart's blog the other day, funnily enough. It was filled with way too much tarragon, a fact which made me wild with envy because I love tarragon and it's the one herb I struggle to understand. I bought five plants when we moved here and today I have two and a half (the half is somewhat dead and no it is not pining for the fjords). And you what my first thought was when I looked at that gorgeous Martha basket of tarragon? I thought "OMG, Martha and I have the VERY SAME BASKET."

Can you guess where I'm going with this? (Sheila rolls her eyes)

I started using my Martha Basket. I gathered kale leaves, young beets, lettuce, peas, and stalks of mint before dinner. I used it to collect cut flowers for the house. I put a little peg on the wall near the door so I always know where it is. (I also used a big whack of duc tape to mend the handle but maybe we shouldn't get into that - kind of spoils the picture, doesn't it)

And I hate to admit this, given how much I take the mickey but it's actually a very sensible design: the flowers can lie flat, the vegetables can recline in their own little corner without rolling together, and you can pile a fair bit of greenery in it.

So there you go.

I would have subtitled this post In Which Sheila Has A Moment Of Rude Awakening About Garden Baskets And Discovers That It's All Good but that would have given it all away, then, wouldn't it?

By the way, I made some of these ice cream sandwiches for my kids and their friends today. I cheated a bit, using a box of cookies and some big box store ice cream and chocolate chips on the top (instead of ganache) but it's hot here right now. Too hot to be baking and ganaching. But they sure were good. So I'm going to leave you not with my Tarragon Travails but with a nice sweet finish.

Monday, July 5, 2010

New Looks At Old Myths

Demeter's hair was yellow as the ripe corn of which she was mistress, for she was the Harvest Spirit, goddess of farmed fields and growing grain. The threshing floor was her sacred space. Women, the world's first farmers (while men still ran off to the bloody howling of hunt and battle), were her natural worshipers, praying...

Demeter had but one daughter, and she needed no other, for Persephone was the Spirit of Spring. The Lord of Shadows and Death, Hades himself, the Unseen One, carried her off in his jet-black chariot, driven by coal-black steeds, through a crevice in the surface of Earth, down the the realms of the dead...

With Zeus' help, the mother retrieved her daughter, but Persephone had already eaten a pomegranate seed, food of the dead, at Hades' insistence, which meant that she must come back to him. In the end, a sort of truce was arranged. Persephone could return to her sorrowing mother but must spend a third of each year with her dark Lord. Thus, by the four-month death each year of the goddess of springtime in her descent to the underworld, did winter enter the world. And when she returns from the dark realms she always strikes earthly beings with awe and smells somewhat of the grave.

— intro. "The Way They Came"
from Sailing The Wine-Dark Sea: Why The Greeks Matter by Thomas Cahill

Random Twits

I don't really have a Twitter account, but I like the idea of posting random little tidbits that stand out during our days.

Overheard: FDPG reading Marguerite Makes A Book aloud to Dominic, in an English accent. "Mahhhguerite went into the town..."

"What is this thing? Look! The handset is attached to the box! Wild!" Listening to Max learn how to navigate the intricacies of that old-fashioned implement: the dial telephone. Apparently a thing out of prehistoric days.

"This is a LEGO magnetic stick. I made it so that I can slide it underneath pop machines. All the coins people drop will stick to it! I will be really rich." Dominic, AKA The Money Magnet Boy.

"Only 31 days until my birthday!" FDPG, plotting her birthday cake, her birthday present list, and her birthday party. I think this kid is looking forward to turning nine.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Making Things From The Garden

If you like saving herbs this is the time to be gathering them; once they flower (and from there go on to set seed) the taste of the herb can really change for the bitter.

It's easy to dry your herbs - what you do need is a space where they can dry without getting cramped or squished, because that encourages mold. Here's what I usually do: the day before I douse all my herbs with a thorough shower from the hose. This way you aren't rinsing and cleaning in the sink after cutting (and thus filling your sink with dirt or bits of garden debris). The next day, with the herbs dry and clean, I snip all the clusters I can and put them in biggish paper bags, which I then clothes-peg to a line in the basement. Sheila's Tip #29: write the name of the herb on the outside of the bag. One summer I harvested bag after bag of garden herbs, not realizing until much later that I was collecting the same plant every time. There I was, with 10 bags of dried oregano. Lovely. Sigh.

This is also the time to be picking flowers for medicinal salves or flavoured oils. If you've never done this before, here is a site that gives some basic salve recipes as well as some ideas as to which herbs to use. Here is a jar of St. John's Wort flowers, sitting in some olive oil. I add this oil to a skin salve. If you've never put St John's Wort flowers into oil, it's a very cool experience because the flowers turn the oil golden red.

Other plants that work well in a salve: plantain, comfrey, marigolds, apricot pits, sage, and mints. I like to add cayenne for the vitamin C/ skin-knitting aspects it has but this is not for everyone.

Calendula flowers sitting in oil. Yes, we do have a lot of bowls and glass jars sitting around the house right now. Mullein oil, plantain oil, you name it, I've probably doused it in oil at one time. Just don't leave them where someone might tip them over or you will have a Major Mess on your hands. Don't ask me how I know this.

My Hanging Gardens of Lavender.

If you want to dry your lavender, wrap the stems with elastic bands before you clip them to a drying line. As they dry the bundles shrink a little, allowing some strands to slip out (which can lead to the entire bundle falling onto the floor in a big messy pile, but again, don't ask me how I know this). If you use elastics the elastic will expand and contract with the widths of the stems. No more lavender all over the floor!

Love, Nebuchadnezzar.

Things To Do With Dried Lavender:

Baking: get a big jar of white sugar, and crumble several teaspoons of lavender into it, then seal it up and leave it for a few weeks. The lavender will give the sugar a lovely scent and you can use the resulting scented sugar for lavender shortbread, sugar cookies, or to enhance Earl Grey tea. Purists insist that you clip the bud before the flowers open. Some years I manage this, other years I leave it for the bees. The scent is certainly stronger before the flowers open but since I don't camp out in my lavender garden this is one of those Hit Or Miss Projects for me.

We've sometimes sewn it into sachets for clothes drawers. If you sew a little loop of ribbon on one end you can slip it over a hanger and scent your clothes that way. Add a little orris root and the scent should last that much longer.

FDPG likes to glue it onto her flower collages. You can also just leave it on the plant and let the birds pick it apart they want. Be warned, though: lavender is one plant that needs a good prune at the end of the season. If you don't you'll often end up with raggy bits that don't flower and a misshapen shrub.

Finally, here is the bird suet we make every whenever we accumulate enough bacon fat. I realize this has nothing to do with the garden per se but our family does a lot of catering to birds and insects, so this kind of fits in, right?

I freeze this stuff in sandwich bags because they exactly match the shape of my suet feeder.

Here's our recipe:

bacon fat (I collect it every time we eat bacon and store it in the fridge in glass bowls)
peanut butter
bird seed
other seeds & grains (oatmeal, flax, millet, sunflower, etc)

First you melt the bacon fat in a heavy pot over low heat, add almost equal parts peanut butter (I always freeze when it comes to adding equal parts because it seems like the peanut butter DISAPPEARS faster this way) and stir until the mixture is entirely melted. Turn off heat. Pour in lots of bird seed and whatever else you have handy. The idea is that you add enough seeds to make a thick, gloopy, stodgy mess. Mix it well then bag it. Then freeze it.

Mid Season Fillers

I'm trying to distract myself from watching Argentina get routed by that well-oiled German machine.

If you're looking for ideas to add spots of interest to your garden, particularly as the summer progresses and your garden looks a little tired, try this: dig up some of those perennials seeding themselves everywhere right now and pop them into clay pots. Keep them in a shady spot for a few days so they can get used to the shock of having been dug up, watering all the while. Here is some ornamental sorrel (which is an absolute bugger to control - it seeds itself while you're not looking), some Creeping Jenny, a little feverfew, and some Irish moss.

Oh no. Another goal for Germany. Sob.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Thank You For Your Coropotion

We got some new dry erase pens the other day, which turned FDPG and Dominic into Scribbling Machines, as you can see. Nothing like a fresh dry erase pen, is there, especially when there are so many colours to choose from, not to mention that great big blank canvas.

Dominic: do not erais my cool D if you want to erais this you have to tell Dominic do not erais wrighting

FDPG: Please do not erais the things drawn in green blue red and orange without Katie's permission thank you for your coropotion

And now back to your regularly scheduled programming (Argentina vs. Germany)...