Popping the bubble
Tuesday January 19th 2021, 11:29 pm
Filed under: Garden,Life,Politics

Oops.

It was only anchored in two places instead of all the way around because I wasn’t actually using it on the mango, nor had I set up its replacement we got under warranty because of a ripped zipper–since we know we’re not traveling anywhere at all, I’ve reverted to frost cover layers with Christmas lights at night. Way cheaper to heat.

So instead I left the old one up to help me kill off winter weed season within its circle. Californian weeds have Darwinian survival to a science: their stabby little sprouts come up before the grass can while their roots can go 18″ deep to grab every bit of water there might be. Depriving them of even what rain there’s been has left me a spot of good ground towards the coming veggie garden season.

And now it’s picked its own spot.

Winds 40-45 everywhere around for hours, gusts at 98 in the hills. I woke up to a big branch on the laurel outside the upper windows there twisted completely backwards again and again. I didn’t know it could do that.

It did not topple.

It’s been so dry that the winds reignited unseen underground embers from last August’s fires and now the firefighters are fighting the CZU complex wildfire all over again on ten fronts and I feel for my friends up in the hills.

But unlike summertime there’s a big rainstorm coming in, Friday if we’re lucky, Sunday through next Thursday after that, nearly three inches’ worth. At long last. Hopefully. And that should do it.

So on a happier note, tomorrow’s going to be SUCH a great day!

And y’know? The frame on that Sunbubble is still in great shape. They don’t sell the covers separately. I wonder–there’s got to be a way I can cut the plastic away and set it up with birdnetting, and that would be absolutely fabulous to have. It won’t be as pretty as if they sold it that way but with the help of the tall guy we can jury-rig that.

Seven Big Boy tomato seedlings have popped up in the last 24 hours and they’ll be happy to take that nice cleared spot in a month or two.

I better move the thing back over there before it rains so I don’t have to fight round two of the pricker-stabbies.

Oh wait.

Might be a little less effective this time.



Winter spring summer or no don’t do that
Monday January 11th 2021, 11:39 pm
Filed under: Family,Garden,Life,Lupus

1. I did the first shingles shot over a year ago and was overdue for the other one. The healthcare provider’s office popped up an auto-notice that my tetanus expired last month.

You do not get near my grands without being up-to-date, not that we can visit them right now, but that was the incentive for me to get it over with.

The nurse insisted on one each arm, not together.

2. I thought about what Mathias had said. Seed starter trays and soil plugs arrived right on cue. I planted tomatoes (or rather, I tried to, they only seemed to actually be able to go in where there was already a hole at the centers.) We’ll make some green inside, too, honey, I thought his direction. And if they get leggy maybe I’ll even buy a plant grow lamp…except that what they need for growth I as a lupus patient need not to be exposed to, and how do you set up a lamp in this house where all its light would be contained and away from me on a timer. Not seeing it yet. Windows will have to make up for my failure of imagination.

3. I twisted my ankle in a good hard fall, more so than last night’s fall, neither one as bad as Richard’s falling over backwards three days ago, and why are we acting so old like that but never mind, icepacks and ankle braces and I’m good to go and he seems pretty much okay now.

4. And now if anyone asks me if the shots hurt I can say no that’s just the other thing. Go, get yours, if you need them!

5. Icepacks really work. I got off easy.

6. Can’t wait to see those tomatoes.

7. There are some pitted Anya apricot kernels thinking about sprouting in their zip locked paper towels in the fridge. I picked out the biggest. One was twins. I am intrigued as to whether that would have any effect at all on what they grow into, other than that most likely they’re duplicates of each other. There is so much I don’t know. I almost chose a botany major and I have at times over the years wished I had.

I could use me some spring right now even if I have to jumpstart it.



Give them a hand
Thursday December 24th 2020, 11:18 pm
Filed under: Family,Garden,Life

With the neighbor’s trees overhanging our house gone now, the holly has berries for the first time in so many years that I’d forgotten it could.

The Christmas tree isn’t up: a few years ago we bought the widest-but-one, fullest, heaviest tree at Balsam Hill for its lack of allergens but this was just not the year for struggling with it.

Which means I didn’t go sorting through the ornament boxes in the garage to find the one with the stockings in it. I asked him his feelings on the subject and he said, apologetically, Well actually bah humbug?

Oh good. Neither one of us had to feel guilty about it, then. (The lights but one have burned out in the garage so it would be one hand on a flashlight and one hand moving and opening boxes.)

We did have a great time of a Christmas Eve, though, wishing Maddy a happy sixth birthday, talking to Mom, and later Zooming with her and my aunt and a whole bunch of cousins–one of whom I hadn’t seen since her wedding in the early 80’s. Aunt Joyce has always thrown a Christmas Eve party for whoever in the family could come and now we all could from wherever we were.

Emily played The Holly and the Ivy on the piano and it was all I could do not to burst into unexpected tears: with her fingertips gone, there were missed notes–but there was so much feeling, so much living, so much rejoicing in those notes, so much forever the musician no matter what and it was a privilege to be able to witness.

Writing that just now led me to Alison Kraus and Yo-Yo Ma’s beautiful Wexford Carol rendition–I have that album. But my CD player did the 2020 thing and repairs have to wait till after the pandemic and yes of course computers and all that but I’ve simply gotten out of the habit.

It hit me that I have needed more music. It has been missing, and a bit of me with it.

As for the stockings: I had to have something, because I’d bought some great treats at Andy’s Orchard to put in them and whatever with the garage, they refused to be denied.

I was standing in the kitchen…

When in Romaine do as the Romaineians.

It’s awfully handy of oven mitts to come with a loop for hanging them. A few long paper/wire twisties that the vegetable crisper doesn’t need anymore, the long thick wire under the mantle we always hang the stockings from waiting for the new set-up, and there you go. No Santa that doesn’t mean your cookies are in the oven and you have to take them out yourself but thank you for offering to help.

I was leaning over the chair taking a picture of the mitts and smashed the back of the rocker into the underside of my nose because 2020 is into slapstick comedy like that.

Next year will be all about the grandkids. As it should be. I can’t wait.



Pageantry
Tuesday November 17th 2020, 11:01 pm
Filed under: Garden

Six years after the initial burst of hope and enthusiasm on opening the box my Page mandarin orange tree came in, the limbs are still thin enough that the tag is still on.

But we did it. My finicky, slow-growing tree’s very first Page is turning orange. My crop of one.

May it live up to all the childhood memories.



The fruit of the tree
Friday November 06th 2020, 11:05 pm
Filed under: Friends,Garden,Life

Ours is a sweeter variety than some.

It was facing the house so I could see the line across its deep pink fruit from inside, the sign that it was just starting to split: that this one was ripe. At last.

Would you like a pomegranate? I emailed my elderly neighbors who are both fighting cancer while doing all they can to dodge this virus; I haven’t seen her at all in awhile. I said, I’ll put on gloves and mask to pick one. I won’t touch it or breathe on it.

She answered. It seems a lot of bother…but they would love. And could I take the vase she would put out on her front step? Someone had brought her flowers. She knew I liked to give flowers from my garden and she knew she would not be using it again.

I’d love to, I answered, my heart stopping a little at that last line.

Latex gloves, mask, pruning shears because the tree requires it.

The vase was already there as I stepped through our gate and over to next door. It was beautiful. I left the fruit at the bottom of their doorstep so they wouldn’t have to bend down quite so far as the single step below.

And came home grateful that my toddler-aged tree had given us such a gift.



Squashed
Thursday October 08th 2020, 11:06 pm
Filed under: Food,Garden

There’s a joke to be made about the Waltham Mass but then maybe only because we used to live north of Boston.

Last night: one homegrown Waltham butternut squash–the seeds bought after Sally and others said that that was the best tasting variety. (I’m blanking. Who all else said so? Claim your credit, you earned it.)

Between being ginger with that back and the bit of flu still, carving it in half just didn’t appeal. Not even the method of putting the cutting board (on the floor, if there’s anything breakable on the counter) stabbing the edge of a large knife into the center of the squash and then going HeeYAH! smashing it into the cutting board with velocity so that it can split open and spew seeds under the fridge.

Like you’ve never done that?

Not doing it.

So I simply rinsed it off and stuck in the oven on a cookie sheet at 350 for 100 minutes or so. Whole. Along with the rest of the dinner after awhile, hey, join the party in there.

It was a pretty big one. We had seconds.

I said to him, That’s the best butternut squash I think I’ve ever had.

He looked up from his plate and pronounced, It’s a good one.

Tonight: I took the rest I’d scraped out last night and cuisinarted it with three eggs, a slight chug of milk (should have added butter) and a bit of ginger-infused maple syrup that was one of those weird things you occasionally find at Trader Joe’s that has just been *waiting* for this moment. Regular real maple would be fine, too. Put the mixture in my two quart Jewel-glaze cake pan from Mel and Kris, sprinkled a little brown sugar on top and took its picture because it was pretty–and again, it came out of the oven very very good and the blog still won’t load photos.

Thank you for the Waltham advice, you were so right!



An answer
Sunday October 04th 2020, 8:04 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Friends,Garden,Life,Politics

Pence thought flying to Arizona would get the Mormon vote to turn the state their way.

And on a different note having nothing to do with that…

This was General Conference weekend for the Mormon Church, broadcast from Salt Lake. There was no in-person audience, the speakers were masked while not speaking and sat socially distant, and the Tabernacle Choir was pre-recorded songs from previous Conferences.

And the song they started out with (video link) was, “Oh Say What Is Truth”. The sheet music is in the link below.

31243, Hymns, Oh Say, What Is Truth?, no. 272

1. Oh say, what is truth? ‘Tis the fairest gem
That the riches of worlds can produce,
And priceless the value of truth will be when
The proud monarch’s costliest diadem
Is counted but dross and refuse.

2. Yes, say, what is truth? ‘Tis the brightest prize
To which mortals or Gods can aspire.
Go search in the depths where it glittering lies,
Or ascend in pursuit to the loftiest skies:
‘Tis an aim for the noblest desire.

3. The sceptre may fall from the despot’s grasp
When with winds of stern justice he copes.
But the pillar of truth will endure to the last,
And its firm-rooted bulwarks outstand the rude blast
And the wreck of the fell tyrant’s hopes.

4. Then say, what is truth? ‘Tis the last and the first,
For the limits of time it steps o’er.
Tho the heavens depart and the earth’s fountains burst,
Truth, the sum of existence, will weather the worst,
Eternal, unchanged, evermore.

Text: John Jaques, 1827-1900

Music: Ellen Knowles Melling, 1820-1905

There were messages of inclusivity for all and they meant all in order to measure up to the teachings of Jesus.

President Nelson said, “I grieve that our black brother and sisters the world over are enduring the pains of racism and prejudice. Today, I call upon our members everywhere to lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice. I plead with you to promote respect for all of God’s children.”

One of the other things he said leaped out just for me. “We can do hard things.”

I instantly decided to take it personally for my right here and now. My back has been so bad that I couldn’t roll over and get out of bed by myself, which wasn’t helping Richard’s iffy back any. Alright, consciously loosen those muscles. No tensing from fear it’s going to hurt that makes it hurt. You can do this. And yes it will still hurt some, but it won’t get better without doing that.

Richard five minutes ago, watching me rise from a chair and turn to go in the kitchen to get a glass of milk: “You ARE feeling better!”

Better being a relative term, but, yes I definitely am and I’m not afraid of it anymore.

I will add two things: I’m still not stupid, though, and, I have very good friends. Phyl and Lee walked over, watered my wilting veggies and a few trees that needed it most, harvested the four butternut squash that were ripe and at my previously-stated insistence, took one home. I waved thanks and goodbye through the window so as not to give them my flu.



Big green water balloon
Thursday October 01st 2020, 10:44 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Garden

Four years after I bought the seeds, I finally planted and harvested a Bradford watermelon, once the most popular in America. But the coming of the railroads pushed them almost to extinction: their rinds were too soft to stack, they didn’t ship well, their market fell apart. Cue Bob Dylan singing, “It’s a hard rind…is going to falllll…”

This article shows you what watermelons looked like in Renaissance paintings; mine with its thick white inner portion isn’t too far off from that.

I’m told my oldest uses watermelon rind in curry but I wouldn’t have a clue how or for that matter why one would, so for the moment there’s a lot of flavor-free melon part that I can’t see what to do with. The actual part you do eat as, y’know, watermelon, is okay but frankly ordinary.

But I can see how it would once have been a very practical thing to have around when you’re at work on a farm on a hot summer day.

There’s a book in the Wizard of Oz series where a little girl (Betsy, I think?) and a man she called Cap’n are shipwrecked at the start of the story. There were melons growing on the island they found themselves on, and Cap’n took satisfaction in that: melons were both food and water, he said; however long it might take to be rescued, they were going to be okay.

That stuck with me because I couldn’t see how you could think of a melon that way. Any melon. Forever after I wondered what the author knew that I didn’t.

Now, I think I do, and I realize that L. Frank Baum was much closer to the time of melons like mine than today’s. And I finally see where the name water-melon comes from.

So much fluid suspended in those cells. Just picking seeds out of one slice I was able to pour off a bit and sample how the juice tasted.

Michelle’s flash of brilliance was that, rather than try to pick all those seeds out, how about using a potato masher on the slices–since there are only three of us to eat all of that and fridge space was at a premium.

I got out one very large bowl and one barely-fitting slice at a time and proceeded to do just that. The Bradford was crisp but collapsed almost without resistance. The interior became little pink icebergs floating in the sea; the seeds rose to the surface and were easy to pick out.

I did it. I grew it. I don’t think I’d ever seen a watermelon growing before. I hadn’t even eaten a watermelon in years. It was fun.

And, curiosity satisfied, I am not spending hundreds of Californian gallons to grow one again.



Firstfruits
Sunday September 20th 2020, 10:25 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends,Garden,History,Life,Mango tree

My mango variety drops its fruit just before they’re fully ripe, and I’ve learned that if you just slightly brush the bottom of one with your fingertips and it falls into your hand, you got it when it was ready to let go.

Two were like that while the fire sky had been gray or worse for three weeks. They were good, but the intensity of the perfume was not at all up to last year’s–they’d needed that bright direct sun the ashes were filtering out.

The third and last one that had survived what the winter had thrown at the tree waited till there was bright sunshine again for several days. It was very small, but held great promise in the palm of my hand.

Like Alphonsos do, it needed a few days indoors. I put it in a beautiful hand thrown rice bowl from my friends Mel and Kris which displayed it with the majesty it deserved.

And man, was I tempted. More than I’d like to admit. I’m not proud of that.

But I was hopefully going to get more mangoes in future years.

There is never enough time, there is not much time, there is hopefully as much time as she and her family need. Her granddaughter gave her a new great-granddaughter this weekend, and there is joy.

I checked with her daughter, who assured me that there was a caretaker there who would open the door; just tell her I’m Jean’s friend from church.

There was no plan whatsoever of my going in and actually seeing and risking her, but I could at least hand something over to them from there.

I had a card that popped up a bouquet of paper flowers for this lovely master gardener. The woman who shared her pomegranates that are why I have such a tree in my yard too, now, having never known before what a pomegranate was really supposed to taste like. Who was eighteen when she witnessed Pearl Harbor, and lived.

Twice she had tried to grow mangoes like back home. Twice the trees had died in our cold. She knew what a homegrown mango could taste like. If only.

At 94, she finally got to have one again.

And I suppose the fact that the sky took away a little of the perfume and presumably (like my figs) some of the sweetness (although it still smelled wonderful), she gets to still believe her childhood Haden ones were the best.



Sweetness and light
Tuesday September 15th 2020, 10:43 pm
Filed under: Garden,Knit

So many things to catch up on that I’ve been trying to figure out where to start.

And then I discover it’s not letting me add pictures now.

The next fish just needs that little bit of yellow wool that I never got around to buying, because I don’t, but I will.

Last Wednesday you couldn’t tell where the sun even was, and we’re far better off now, but still, the figs have been refusing to really sweeten in the heavily filtered sunlight; they ripen and split open and I pick them early in the morning but they’re not what they would normally be nor are they going to be.

A squirrel got to one–I opened the bathroom window and scared him into dropping it and running so he was totally busted–and then the half a fig lay there on the ground, untouched, for two days. Finally something sampled the edge. Nope. Left it there.

The day after that it finally disappeared so I guess something got hungry enough but in the meantime no other fig was touched because man, if they all tasted like that one why let those clamshells snap against one’s prying paws.

It amused me.

This morning I picked two that were split badly, curling in pieces from the bottoms up; I figured this was as sweet as they were ever going to be.

Not much. All the color and fully formed, though, so they were, y’know, healthy. After I washed the ashes that had gotten into those clamshells away.

The air quality index is 40 points better now than this morning, meaning it was unhealthy rather than dangerous to water my squash plants this evening.

I’m going to wait till we have brighter sunshine for a few days before I harvest that first one, and then, if need be, I’m going to sweeten the heck out of it and enjoy it because we’ve been waiting for it for so many months. Honey, brown sugar, or maple–it’s all good.



Nailed it
Friday August 28th 2020, 10:43 pm
Filed under: Food,Garden

Nothing like some good sourdough out of the oven. (Another pumpkin cranberry cinnamon loaf.)

The last two days we had a normal, San Francisco Bay-style marine layer that cooled things down and helped the firefighters and cleared the air a great deal–and the critters got at a few of the ripening figs despite my best efforts.

Today, as containment continues, the smoke was back, the air was gray, and the figs got left alone. They are browning up rapidly now, winding up the season.

So I guess my observation that fire air keeps the critters away seems to hold. I have high hopes for ripe ones for breakfast picked at their morning sweetest.

I was going to go to Andy’s to get some late season peaches, too, while they last, but my tire picked up a nail.

Fortunately easily dealt with–I lucked out, the idiot light came on on the freeway after I hit a rough patch with debris and I could have been stranded there but I was able to get it to my mechanic with no problem.

But it was not what I’d planned. You do not drive out of Silicon Valley on a Friday after 2:30 if you don’t have to. Not even during a pandemic.



While hundreds of square miles burn
Tuesday August 25th 2020, 11:02 pm
Filed under: Food,Garden,History,Wildlife

Not a single apple on the ground for days. Nothing pecked.

Not a single fig taken before its time–and up till this point, my success rate at getting to pick and eat a fully ripe one has been a total of exactly one single one. If I leave them that one last day for perfecting, they’re gone.

Remember these past years where I’ve put a fake dead crow out at night (so they don’t see me and don’t think I killed it) to keep the real ones from wanting to come in my yard? I was never sure that really worked, but I didn’t do that this year and this is the first year I can remember where I’ve had flocks of crows fly over my house. Morning or evening: every single time I go outside. It’s like they know I know where the fruit is so they’re checking it out–and it could well be, given that crows evolved scavenging the edges of human civilization and cast offs, so much so that they can read human faces and expressions as well as a dog can.

The trees they liked to be just far enough away in next door are gone now, and maybe that’s part of it, but they didn’t start coming directly overhead and in waves until things started to ripen.

The ability of–something–to tear through and rearrange the bird netting has been impressive, and the breaking of young fig branches in the process, disconcerting.

Not a single crow around since the fires started. It seems they don’t want to be high overhead in all that smoke. One single squirrel briefly came in view, for that matter, and it did not want to run fast nor exert itself but I still told it it had to leave. It did.

Rather than coming fleeing down out of the hills in numbers, at least this far out the wildlife seems simply to have vanished.

Not a single apple.

Not a single fig, not even the ripening one right there clearly in easy reach where the netting doesn’t go that far. Anything could have swiped it. Nothing did.

I’ll take it.



Flash light time
Sunday August 16th 2020, 10:52 pm
Filed under: Food,Garden,Life,Wildlife

A restless night of not much sleep, not registering that there was a big storm going on out there, and I gave up and got up at a time when it just happened to be quiet out there.

I was washing my hands standing under the skylight when a flash of light startled me into glancing towards the light switch, not fathoming, just as the BOOM!!! hit and the power went out.

Found out later that one of the many lightning strikes had hit a few blocks over.

Thunderstorms?! In the Bay Area? In August? Rain? In AUGUST? A hundredth of an inch, as it turned out, but hey, that’s enough to sprout the fall weed seeds.

More and more house-rattling. I had been planning to go pick the one fig that should have been ripe first thing this morning. There was no going out there.

And then it seemed to settle down and all the booms stopped.

I really wanted that fig. I thought maybe I might chance it.

It wasn’t really raining (oh! Well, not enough for me to have heard from inside), just the slightest sprinkle.

For all that the fig, it turned out, had not finished ripening in the night and I left it there to be stolen later by the squirrels (which it was.)

Ten steps back to the door, I was halfway there, when out of the gray-not-blue, another BOOM! skittered me inside so fast! I could just picture the obituary: Lost Grandma because she just couldn’t bear to give up that one single piece of fruit to the rodents, but it was not the fig that got roasted.

They say we may have a repeat tonight of either yesterday’s PG&E shutdown or another weird storm and a third power outage, so dinner was the fastest thing I could cook so we wouldn’t be stuck with half-raw chicken and a fridge we couldn’t open.

Edited to add: I’m guessing that one of the biggest fire tornados ever may have helped create the atmospheric conditions that led to that storm.



The newest of the old and of the new
Thursday July 30th 2020, 11:03 pm
Filed under: Garden

More pomegranate flowers, and I was startled to see the tiniest little watermelon you ever saw. But it’s there.

I have never in my life seen one grow from seed and there’s this keen sense of exploration. The squashes have huge blossoms that last the morning before they start to fold away; the watermelons have tiny ones that seem so disconnected from the size of what’s to come but they hold on for it, knowing what they can do.



Taking up space
Wednesday July 29th 2020, 10:37 pm
Filed under: Garden

Maybe eight years ago a surprise seedling grew behind my lemon tree and by the end of the summer it was a single trunk seven feet straight up, no branches (no pruning) and it actually had a fig on it. That fast.

But it was already pushing against the fence, the neighbors complained, and they were right, it had to go.

I’ve been whacking at the small bit of stump ever since, although this year it seems to have finally given up. It was determined but I was more so–but the fact that I came so close to having a fig tree is what led to my actually buying a fig tree and putting it in the right spot and living happily ever after. (Carefully choosing a slow-growing type that would stay small, because, man, that other one was a lesson and we have solar panels.)

So when another such seedling popped up under my tomato plant and kept going even though it was completely shaded, never seeing direct sunlight, I excused its smallness on the grounds of lack of light and at the end of the summer gave it a pot to grow some roots in for the winter. Why not. I expected it to take off like that other one. If nothing else, I wanted to see how its fruit would compare to my Black Jack’s.

Here we are, and there’s a five and a half year old mango tree growing where that tomato had been, the little seedling got moved into a large pot awhile ago–

–and it’s given me not one single hint of any fig.

It’s got the wood of a fig, the growth patterns of a fig, it unfurls new leaves exactly like a fig and they are the leaves of some figs, it even has a mild case of mosaic virus endemic to but not hurtful to fig leaves.

I plan to sprout a few more Anya apricots in the spring and one of them will go in that pot; had I had three longterm survivors this year I would already have done that. It’s time the pot got put to good use and this thing has had its chances.

But for the moment, it’s green, it puts oxygen in the air and withdraws its tiny bit of carbon and adds a little bit of landscaping color there. I’ll let it be till its leaves fall.

But what I’ve really wanted all along is just to know the answer to my question: what IS this?