Category Archives: seasons

Spring gardening, indoor edition

Indoor edition, because it’s 24 degrees out. On March 22. Which is technically spring, but Someone missed the memo. As usual.

This year, I’m planning to start plants from seed indoors, but it’s too early even for that – the packets say to start them 4-6 weeks before the average last frost, which, to be safe, I have to estimate will be around Memorial Day weekend. So I’ll start my tomatoes, herbs, and “bunny tails” (grass that’s fluffy on top, guess who that’s for) in April, and the radishes and sweet peas outside “4-6 weeks before the average last frost, or when the soil temperature is 40 degrees F.” (July?)

Meanwhile, I took cuttings from several of my healthy indoor plants to start some new little plants.

African violet

This happy African violet (above) donated a leaf (below). I’ve never started one African violet from another, but my mom says it’s possible. I had one of my four violets die over the winter, so I’m trying to replace it.

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I’ve also been periodically cutting back my three mint plants and letting them root in water, so I planted a couple of those as well (one is in the red pot, above).

Succulent plant

This succulent (above) has been growing loopily all over the place, so I took a bit of root and a bit of growth from the top and started them in a new square container (below left; below right is another mint cutting).

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The mystery plant from Trader Joe’s shed its orange flowers but is still growing healthy new leaves (below).

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And all the herbs, somewhat improbably, made it through the winter: rosemary, mint, basil, chives, and parsley.

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Lastly, I transplanted some miniature daffodils (paperwhites?) from the tiny pot they came in to a bigger pot.

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It might be a lost cause, but we’ll see. Maybe I can move them outside when other spring flowers start poking their heads up, whenever that might be. (July?)

Yes, it’s springtime in New England! The time of year that the “it may be in the twenties, but at least it’s sunny” consolation starts wearing real thin, and everyone is sick of winter boots, and, upon seeing snowflakes begin to float down from the sky, has a reaction resembling PTSD.

Sudo in armchair

“I just want to go outside without my jacket.”

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Even more snow days

The next time I have to go to work on a Monday, it’s going to be a rude shock. As of tomorrow, it’ll be three in a row, and next week is Presidents’ Day, so I already know we’ll be closed (but who knows, it could be snowing then too, it probably will be if the last three weeks are any indication). I’ve enjoyed the extra time at home to sleep in, read more (including all three books I mentioned in my last snow day post), and cuddle with the dog, speaking of which (whom?)…

Sudo is certified as a therapy dog!

Sudo and her new friend Daisy, certified therapy dogs!

After attending three workshops with Dog B.O.N.E.S. (Building Opportunities for Nurturing and Emotional Support), Sudo, Ben, and I are a certified therapy dog team. This does NOT mean Sudo can (or should) assist the blind in crossing streets, nor does it mean that I can take her on a plane as my “emotional support animal”; what it does mean is that we can visit places like assisted living facilities, nursing homes, colleges, and anywhere else where her presence might brighten someone’s day. Our instructors were great, and the classes were a very good start to what I hope will be a rewarding volunteer experience. (I think Sudo earned extra points for not trying to chew the tennis balls off the walker feet; unlike, say, golden retrievers, Sudo cares not a whit for tennis balls.)

I’m pretty certain she’ll enjoy visiting people who want to pet her. What she is enjoying less is this:

WHY IS IT STILL LIKE THIS?

WHY IS IT STILL LIKE THIS?

But until she learns to use the toilet – and I just can’t see that happening – three times a day we must rouse her from one of the below poses to go outside, at least for a few minutes.

Snuggling with stuffed alligator toy

Snuggling with stuffed alligator toy

Tucked under a blanket on the couch

Tucked under a blanket on the couch

Pretending that outdoors does not exist

Pretending that outdoors does not exist

Somewhat miraculously, Ben’s birthday outing was not snowed out. Six of us made it to Danvers to play indoor mini-golf, because nothing says grown-up birthday party like glow-in-the-dark monster-themed mini-golf. (Right, other grown-ups who read this blog?)

Par three? Are they kidding?

Par three? Are they kidding?

Cool, right?

Cool, right?

Both before and after indoor mini-golf, we stood around in the parking lot and ate homemade cupcakes out of the trunk of our car. This is also a very grown-up thing to do. (Hey, we knew enough not to bring outside food into the establishment. If glow-in-the-dark monster-themed indoor mini-golf can be called an establishment.)

Grown-ups!

Grown-ups!

While I was planning that classy outing for Ben’s birthday, he took me to see Nick Hornby. So yeah, I think we’re even.

What will tomorrow’s snow day reading be? Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug, Howards End by E.M. Forster (it was mentioned in Vanessa and Her Sister), another book from my TBR list? We shall see…

Last, and least, the rose bush got another haircut:

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Almost a year old – it was a Valentine’s Day present last year.

 

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Snow days

The blizzard hit pretty much as predicted in our area. This morning I went out the back door and waded through snow above my knees. We took Sudo out the front instead, so there was only a little deep snow before the street, which had been plowed at least once during the night or early morning. Coming back in, Ben was going to dig a little path through the snow banked between the street and the front steps, but Sudo had had enough of being outside, and tried to jump straight over the snowbank. She kind of got stranded on her belly, since the snow was taller than she was, but she paddled on through, ran up the stairs, and tried to push the front door open with her face. She’d be shocked to learn she’s the same species as a husky.

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In this one you can see how she’s squinting her eyes against the snow and wind.

Inside, we’ve been well provisioned, having purposefully created leftovers for the past couple days in case the power went out (it hasn’t). Fresh baked bread, North African stew, pasta with homemade sauce, chocolate chip cookies, and lots of tea and hot cocoa. And that’s just the food! We also have stacks of books. I finished God’s Hotel by Victoria Sweet (thanks Erin!) and am trying to decide what to read next – The Art of Fielding? The first in Tamora Pierce’s Immortals series? Vanessa and Her Sister? Decisions, decisions.

Back inside and ensconced in her armchair once again.

Back inside and ensconced in her armchair once again.

 

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Fall leaves and apple picking

Fall is here! (Ignore the 75-degree day we just had, and the 78 degree high predicted for tomorrow.) The leaves are changing, and this year the trees are particularly colorful.

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Sudo has been enjoying some ground-level foliage:

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A friend and I went apple picking at Honey Pot Hill Orchards in Stow, where they have hayrides (pulled by tractors, not horses), goats, pigs, rabbits, pumpkins, rows upon rows of various kinds of apple trees, fresh-from-the-oven cider donuts, and North America’s largest hedge maze.

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This is only part of the hedge maze. It really is enormous.

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The maze would have been a totally different experience had the goats been in it, but the animals were across the street in a separate part of the orchard. Probably for the best.

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Spencer apples, destined to become part of an apple crisp. Mmm.

Even on an overcast day, the leaves were bright.

Even on an overcast day, the leaves were bright.

I made an apple crisp when I got home, and the rest of the apples are for eating and for making applesauce. All in all, a good day out.

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Homemade chocolate ice cream

Last summer we made a few flavors of ice cream using the Kitchen Aid ice cream maker attachment. We learned a few things:

  • Don’t even bother trying to make ice cream if it’s already over 80 degrees in the house. The ice cream will not get to a proper consistency no matter how long you churn it.
  • Small batches are better than large batches. Homemade ice cream doesn’t last as long as commercially manufactured ice cream, and it is very, very sad to have to throw it out.

This year, we checked out Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream and Dessert Book from the library. Not that recipes online can’t be trusted (in fact, the peach ice cream we made last year was a Ben & Jerry’s recipe we found online), but the library had it, so why not?

The first recipe we tried (Jerry’s chocolate, with unsweetened chocolate cocoa powder) was a five-star success every step of the way; we have been enjoying it every evening since we made it. (I say “we” but I mean “Ben.” All I did was pour the batter into the bowl. And lick the bowl.) We followed the recipe exactly, except instead of adding the optional chocolate chips, we added Heath bar bits.

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Our friends gave us two excellent reusable containers made for storing ice cream. Before this I didn’t know such things existed, but if you’re making your own ice cream, I can’t recommend these highly enough.

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I suspect they might also be good for freezing soups in wintertime, but I’d be setting myself up for disappointment there: imagine opening a container that says “ice cream” and finding anything other than ice cream inside.

For now, it’s this. And it’s delicious.

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From snow to spring

Winter was especially long this year. Here’s a post I started back in February:

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Nothing like being at work, watching inch after inch of snow fall, and feeling glad you put a shovel in the back of your car this morning. (That’s got to be on one of those “You know you’re a New Englander when…” lists, right?)
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Please excuse the glare from a light on the window (above); I took this photo from inside, ’cause I ain’t crazy.

But it is pretty when the sun comes out…

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***

Winter was especially long, and spring was especially poky in its arrival. But the snowdrops and crocuses began coming up a few weeks ago (though they got battered again by snow, ice, sleet, etc.), and now we’re seeing daffodils, early hyacinths and grape hyacinths, and a few tulips.

Today was finally warm and dry enough to take a blanket in the backyard and read outside for a few hours (until our delicate little flower of a dog got too warm and had to retreat to her fainting couch indoors).

"I don't know about this whole 'outdoors' thing. I like my couch."

“I don’t know about this whole ‘outdoors’ thing. I like my couch.”

In addition to the flowers growing outside, I’ve been indulging in some fresh cut flowers for inside. The blue glass bottle we brought back from Barcelona has been an excellent vase for these mini gerbera daisies:

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Is it ridiculous that aside from postcards, chocolate, and slightly-reduced TBR (to-be-read) lists, the only thing we brought back from Barcelona was an empty one-liter blue glass bottle? Probably. But it was just too pretty to leave behind.

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In other news, I can report that this flourless chocolate cake is as easy and as delicious as promised by both its creator and Deb at Smitten Kitchen (“17 flourless dessert ideas,” 4/16/08). Should you need something to get you through the final day of Passover (sorry I wasn’t more timely with this), this one is a winner.

Finally, for the two? three? loyal readers of this blog who have missed more frequent greyhound photos, here are a couple more:

"What's down there? Floor. Hmm. Floor looks comfortable too."

“What’s down there? Floor. Hmm. Floor looks comfortable too.”

"Helloooo down there."

“Helloooo down there.”

 

 

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Can we go inside now?

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Here we are, not a minute away from our front door, and she’s looking up at him with an expression that very plainly says, “Can we go inside now?” (Two steps further on: “How ’bout now?”) Could not be more different than the husky dog we saw today, happily digging around in the snow, while we were at the sledding* hill.

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Sudo, on the other hand, has to wear little booties to protect her feet from snow, ice, sand, and salt. And you can’t tell in this photo, but she’s actually wearing another coat underneath the orange one.

Fortunately, though, the sub-freezing cold that came with the storm broke today. This morning it was 27 degrees and it felt like a warm bath. It warmed all the way up into the low 30s in the afternoon and we had a nice long walk in the slush.

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*Sledding, naturally. So what if we were the only people our age there who didn’t have kids?

 

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All the salt in the world couldn’t melt that ice

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Here’s our street on the afternoon of December 18. At least this snowstorm (on the 17th) wasn’t immediately followed by sleet, unlike the preceding storm (December 14/15). There’s still a sheet of ice underneath everything, but not on top.

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You can see the ice in this photo from the afternoon of the 15th. This was the only time we took the dog out without booties; poor thing was walking with her toes splayed out so much it looked like duck feet.

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Here she is with the booties on her front feet; she’s much happier that way, though you can’t really tell in the picture. Overall she seemed to manage the snow and ice in a less freaked-out manner than last winter (see photo from last February’s “winter storm Nemo“), but I’m sure we’ve got bigger storms coming.

 

 

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Indoor garden

DSC06113An exceedingly rainy June and a heat-wave-filled July weren’t particularly kind to my plants this year. (Also, I may have started much too early; a friend told me she never starts tomatoes until Memorial Day in May, and I did most of my planting mid-April.) So, my amateur gardening skills plus the less-than-ideal weather combined to create mixed results, but gardening isn’t all about the results – it’s also about the process. (This is different, I think, than saying “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” Unless you enjoy being cooped up in cars/buses/trains/planes and breathing everyone else’s recycled air, journeys really can be unpleasant sometimes, but moving dirt around with a spade is nice and meditative, and feels somewhat productive even if no strawberries come of it in the end.)

As Beth says to Jennifer in Rainbow Rowell’s excellent novel Attachments, “…The same reason Mitch tries to grow giant pumpkins every summer – even though your yard is too small, is infested with beetles and doesn’t get enough sun. Mitch doesn’t want the easy thing. He wants to work a little harder to get the thing he really wants.”

So, how did the plants fare?

Fruit/Berries

Raspberry canes: Unequivocal failure. I did not soak the roots in water for an hour before planting, as it instructed on the package, and I didn’t buy new soil or fertilizer, just stuck them in the ground. These were mistakes. The canes never took root or grew at all.

Cherry tomatoes: Semi-success. One of the two plants drowned (I thought the pot it was in had a drainage hole, but it didn’t), and the other survived but only produced a very modest yield – probably one large handful over the course of the summer.

Strawberries: I repotted these from my too-small containers into 5-gallon buckets. Initially the buckets didn’t have drainage holes in the bottom, but we added them (with a hand-cranked drill) as the rain continued all through June. The plants themselves seemed to thrive, but hardly produced any berries. In fact, I think the only variety that did produce berries was the Ozark Beauty.

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Rosemary cuttings, mint cuttings, onion chives.

Herbs

On the whole, the herbs were much more successful than the berries. The rosemary is healthiest ; a couple weeks ago, I took a few cuttings from the top and let them grow roots in a little jar of water. I planted those in soil today , so we’ll see if they take. The mint is, if not thick and vibrant, soldiering on; there was a pretty insane root system in there when I unearthed it today to transplant. The onion chives probably did least well – they could have used more attention throughout the summer – but I repotted them and pulled out as many of the dead pieces as I could (realizing afterward that I’ve now spent more time on chive-plant-grooming than on my own hair this month).

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I also planted some basil from seed part of the way through the summer; I think it was as late as August. I probably should have spread the seeds among a few different pots, but I put them all in one, which was a little crowded. I know basil doesn’t usually grow well indoors, but it’s still alive, so I brought it in anyway, and we’ll see how it goes.

The African violets and succulents, which live inside year-round, are doing quite well.

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More mint, succulents, basil, African violet.

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More African violets.

And for those of you who are wondering whether the dog has adjusted to the new furniture placement, the answer is no.

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“I will curl up in a tiny ball and look all pathetic until you put the couch back.”

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Potato Leek Soup and Molasses Brown Bread

It seems like summer is maybe on its way out, and fall is finally on its way in. Potatoes have been appearing at the farmers’ market, and we actually had an overcast day or two this week. Which means…it’s time for potato leek soup!

I used my usual recipe (see link above), though I made a pretty large batch, with three large leeks, 5 medium potatoes, and 8 cups of water/broth (no milk or half-and-half though). We ate soup for dinner, and still had enough left over to store 32 oz. containers in the freezer, plus another container (two bowls’ worth) and two Ball jars (one bowl each) in the fridge for later this week.

In addition to the soup (and the Apple Snacking Spice Cake from the Flour cookbook that Ben made earlier in the day), we made molasses brown bread. I tried this recipe once before, and it went much more smoothly this time (primarily because we actually had a 28 oz. can, and weren’t lining a makeshift container with wax paper).

I halved the recipe, thus:

1/2 cup bread flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup molasses
1 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda

First, set up the “steamer” (in my case, my largest soup pot, filled with water so that when I put the can of bread batter in, the water would come about halfway up its side). Put the lid on and set the heat to low while prepping the ingredients.

Mix the dry ingredients, then add the wet ingredients and mix till smooth. Pour into greased can; it should fill it about 2/3 of the way. (You can also use two 16 oz. cans, which I would guess cuts down on baking time a little.) Cover the top of the bread can with aluminum foil and secure the foil with a rubber band or kitchen twine.

The bread can shouldn’t sit directly on the bottom of the steamer pot. (Ben found an old tuna can, cleaned it out, and inverted it in the steamer pot, then I balanced the bread can on top.) Replace the lid and let it simmer and steam away for about an hour and 45 minutes; at that point, remove the foil and check the bread. Ours had risen up to meet the foil. Done!

We let the bread rest in the can until it was cool enough to handle. I used an offset spatula to loosen the bread from the sides of the can, then I inverted the can over a deep soup bowl (Ben’s idea, so the sides of the bowl would catch the cylinder of bread if it tipped over) and tapped the bottom. The bread released easily (hurray!).

This bread is actually not the best complement to potato leek soup (a non-molasses brown bread or a beer bread would be better), but it is delicious on its own.

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