28 January 2009

winter wears on

“‘As the days begin to lengthen, then the cold begins to strengthen.’ That was in the almanac. We stay closely housed. There is little to be done outside except chores. Cows are milked, horses bedded and fed, all animals kept warm and comfortable. The barn smells agreeably of hay and grain and of animal flesh. The sound of munching hay and moving feet is pleasant and assuring. The fowls venture but seldom outside their coop. Warmed water, warm meal mash with a little red pepper in it, and shelled corn are given them night and morning. The water in their drinking pans freezes in between.”
—From The Country Kitchen, by Della T. Lutes
Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1937

(Perfect chapter opening for a blustery winter evening.)

B picked this book out of a pile bound for the recycling plant at the transfer station last fall because he liked the cover. I like the drawing of the man reading—is that a garden catalog?—by the wood stove.

For the benefit of JGH at Nyack Backyard, here’s the recipe index from the back of the book (you can enlarge the image by clicking on it).

26 January 2009

desert island choices

Sunday afternoon conversation in Greenwich Village:
J: Shirl at Shirl’s Gardenwatch has asked what three plants we’d take with us to a desert island. What would you choose, B?
B: Who’s Shirl? Wait, where?
J: On Blotanical.
B: Blotanical?
J: Yeah, the place I’m always hanging out, so that you never get to use the computer.
B: Ohhh. Well, it’s too bad it’s a desert island, because I’d choose lilacs, but I don’t think lilacs grow particularly well on a desert island.
J: It can be any plant at all! Lilacs, too!
B: But, J, lilacs bloom in the spring, and would the desert island have spring? Besides, how would you water them? And they need cold to bloom, don’t they?
J: No, no, no. Any plant at all, even a lilac! This is a hypothetical question.
B: Well, the thing that makes lilacs special is I don’t think anyone has found out yet how to get them to bloom any time other than spring. You can get tulips year round, and roses, and chrysanthemums, but I’ve never seen lilacs except in May. I’d choose a fragrant, dark purple lilac. So long as it bloomed, even on a desert island.

So, that’s B’s first choice. Mine, too.

Lilacs bloom around the time of B’s birthday, so he has pleasant associations with them. Which led me to think about the flowers that make me feel wonderful. And, you know, nothing makes me feel better than seeing a bunch of daffodils blooming after a long winter, just when I think that I can’t take another snowy day or muddy, mucky walk across the garden (and in Washington County, New York, one sort of day follows fast on the heels of the other in April). I might choose “Van Sion,” because it’s so crazy and wonderful.

But then I might choose a simple white narcissus with a small fragrant cup. They glow in the April sun. Very hopeful.

And that leaves me with one more plant for this beautiful desert island landscape, and I think I would choose it in honor of Mr. Robinson, a gardener of the first order who hired me to take care of his lawn and gardens when I was a teenager. He was an inspiration and a gentleman. And he had a beautiful larch tree at the turnaround of his driveway. B and I planted a larch at the bottom of our driveway a few years back in memory of Mr. Robinson. I love larches because of their soft, deciduous needles, their beautiful fall color, and their slightly drooping shape. Ours isn’t as tall yet as the one I’d like to take to the desert island and won’t be for many years, so here’s a photo from the Web. Ah, the larch!

Daffodil, lilac, larch: Three plants for the desert island. Added to everyone else’s choices, wow, what a fantasy island!

24 January 2009

question about garlic

I never get around to planting garlic in the fall, because there are so many other chores to attend to, and I always forget to order bulbs in the first place, and then when I DO think about ordering bulbs I always forget which sort I should order: hard- or soft-neck. So much agony.

All that aside, I know that garlic needs to be planted in the fall because it needs cold in order to grow well, but would it be possible to mimic that chilling by refrigerating the bulbs before planting them? Or potting them up, refrigerating the pots, and then planting them out after the ground thaws? (It’s not as if I have a lot of extra room in my refrigerator, but I wonder . . .)

A very important question for late on a Saturday night.

blotanical: let me count the ways

The main reason I created my blog was so that I would have a place to write down and remember what was going on in B’s and my gardens. I didn’t want the lessons we learned about growing things in our Zone 4/5 garden one year to be forgotten by the next. At that initial point back in 2007 I considered Pleasant Hill Rambles to be an online gardening journal we could both consult.

I told a few friends about it, and they would check in now and again, but the knowledge I felt I was gleaning from our digging and planting wasn’t as important to them as it was to me.

And I craved feedback from and contact with other gardeners.

So I did searches on Google for gardening sites and blogs and found a few I really liked, including Garden Voices, which was The List of garden blogs for me for a little while. I’d click through posts, bookmark blogs I really liked, and then go back and visit them, leaving a comment here and there.

At some point in early 2008, I became aware of Blotanical, perhaps through Nancy Bond at Soliloquy. It sounded really interesting to me, this community of blogs that I could join and participate in on a blog-by-blog basis or through the built-in messaging feature. So I joined!

Since then, I’ve met a bunch of wonderful gardening friends, garnered some very helpful feedback on projects I plan, and found my way to dozens and dozens of blogs I probably wouldn’t ever have visited if they weren’t also members of the Blotanical community.

I think it’s this last feature I’m most grateful for. Whenever I log on, I visit the Current List of picks first, then click over to New Garden Blog Posts, and I always find something new and interesting to read.

For example, in the last 24 hours through Blotanical I did the following:
I could go on.

Blotanical, of course, is not just a networking tool for garden bloggers. You don’t have to have a garden blog to join. You only have to have an interest in gardening locally, nationally, or internationally.

A huge thank you to the members of the Blotanical community for providing such interesting and useful things to read, and to Blotanical and Stuart for creating this wonderful online community!

apply as needed

More on De La Vega here.Link

23 January 2009

new photo effect: tilt-shift

Kris over at Blithewold learned how to apply a nifty “tilt-shift” effect to photographs that makes them look like miniatures. She wrote a post about it and provided a link over to a site called TiltShiftMaker that will create the effect on any photograph you have. I uploaded a shot of the prayer shack and tilt-shifted it, and I think the result is pretty magical.

A different perspective is always welcome!

For the sake of comparison, here’s the original:

Pretty darn cool.

21 January 2009

the lay of the land

Nancy Bond asked whether the current image in the header is our house. It certainly is, taken from between the house and barn, with the garage and chicken coop in the center there, the little prayer shack in the distance, and the long and steep slope between the garage and the prayer shack. Beyond the prayer shack is an old apple orchard. Our birdfeeder is under the crabapple tree on the far left. I like to watch the birds at it from the kitchen, where our computer is set up.

I went onto Live Search Maps and did a search for our address and then chose “Bird’s eye” as my view, and this is what I got:

The green rectangle is the approximate boundary of our property. We have stone walls on the south and west, and an American wire fence on the north, beyond the barn. I’ve marked the house, garage, and barn, so that you can see how they relate to each other.

This aerial view requires a little explanation. Directly to the west of the house is a steep, woody slope that extends pretty much to our property line. And to the north of the barn is a thicket of old growth that we will someday clear out. So what we’re actually working with is the area directly around the house and to the south of the barn (where B’s vegetable garden is; you can see the square-foot boxes faintly below the white metal roof).

More than half of our 6.5 acres is woods.

I think it all looks very tidy, but I know it’s not! We have lots to do!

Directly across the road to the east is the meandering Black Creek. We don’t have any water on our property, but in the summer if we listen hard we can hear the creek burbling along. We don’t bother keeping a birdbath, because all of our birds have the real thing across the road. In the spring and fall the Black Creek sometimes floods the field across from our driveway.

This aerial view is deceptive, because it looks as if the property is broad and flat, when in fact the driveway is all downhill to the road and the hill to the west of the house is steep. The only truly flat expanse is between the house and barn.

The view to the east across the road is gentle; fields of corn with the Hebron hills beyond. Very cozy. Not at all grand. In fact, the whole place is pretty sweet and easy, except in the winter, when we have to take a running start to more or less slingshot the car to the top of the driveway. But we’ve gotten very old hat about that.

So that’s Pleasant Hill, so named one summer weekend when B and I were headed up the driveway:

J: So pretty, so gentle, so nice.
B: This is a pleasant little hill, isn’t it?
J: Eureka!

20 January 2009

poem for the inauguration

Praise Song for the Day
by Elizabeth Alexander

Praise song for the day
Each day we go about our business
Walking past each other
Catching each other’s eyes or not
About to speak or speaking

All about us is noise
All about us is noise and bramble
Thorn and din
Each one of our ancestors on our tongues

Someone is stitching up a hem
Darning a hole in a uniform
Patching a tire
Repairing the things in need of repair

Someone is trying to make music somewhere
With a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum
With cello, boombox, harmonica, voice

A woman and her son wait for the bus
A farmer considers the changing sky
A teacher says Take out your pencils

We encounter each other in words
Words spiny or smooth
Whispered or declaimed
Words to consider, reconsider

We cross dirt roads and highways
That mark the will of someone
And then others who said
I need to see what’s on the other side
I know there’s something better down the road
We need to find a place where we are safe
We walk into that which we cannot yet see

Say it plain
That many have died for this day
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here
Who laid the train tracks
Raised the bridges
Picked the cotton and the lettuce
Built brick by brick the glittering edifices
They would then keep clean and work inside of
Praise song for struggle

Praise song for the day
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign
The figuring it out at kitchen tables
Some live by Love thy neighbor as thyself
Others by First do no harm
or Take no more than you need

What if the mightiest word is love
Love beyond marital, filial, national
Love that casts a widening pool of light
Love with no need to pre-empt grievance

In today’s sharp sparkle
This winter air
Anything can be made
Any sentence begun
On the brink
On the brim
On the cusp
Praise song for walking forward in that light

Read by Elizabeth Alexander at the inauguration of President Obama, 20 January 2009. I transcribed this from her reading and have no formal permission to post it, but hope you will excuse me, because I think the poem is beautiful and wanted to share it.

General note: The criteria for every piece of correspondence I write has always been: Is it kind/true/necessary? If it doesn't fulfill all three, I don't send it, or I rework it. From now on, I will apply the same criteria to any comments submitted for posting to this blog. Thanks.

18 January 2009

sunday morning song

Come On Up to the House
by Tom Waits, performed by Sarah J.

Well the moon is broken
And the sky is cracked
Come on up to the house
The only things that you can see
Is all that you lack
Come on up to the house

All your cryin’ don’t do no good
Come on up to the house
Come down off the cross
We can use the wood
Come on up to the house

Come on up to the house
Come on up to the house
The world is not my home
I'm just a-passin’ thru
Come on up to the house

There’s no light in the tunnel
No irons in the fire
Come on up to the house
And you’re singin’ lead soprano
In a junkman’s choir
You gotta come on up to the house

Does life seem nasty, brutish, and short
Come on up to the house
The seas are stormy
And you can’t find no port
Come on up to the house

There’s nothin’ in the world
That you can do
You gotta come on up to the house
And you been whipped by the forces
That are inside you
Come on up to the house

Well you’re high on top
Of your mountain of woe
Come on up to the house
Well you know you should surrender
But you can’t let go
You gotta come on up to the house

(The version B and I have been listening to is by Missy Burgess from her album “Pour Me a Song.” Very gentle cover.)

16 January 2009

mid-january garden itch

Alan called last night and left a message for me on my cell phone.

“J, I was looking at the White Flower Farm catalog today, and I saw a bunch of really nice pink dahlias that I think would look amazing in your garden.”

And so the garden bug of 2009 is transmitted.

I thought I might avoid catching it this year until at least early February. The catalogs have been arriving, and I’ve been making space for them in the magazine holder. But I haven’t had the desire to sit down and really go through them yet.

And frankly I don’t want to spend a whole lot of money on plants this year; I want to work with what I’ve already got . . .

But when a good friend calls and says he has seen something he thinks would “fit” you, you owe it to him to take a look. And to consider what he might like.

So, I called and left him a message: “Alan. Bluestone Perennials catalog. Gaillardia ‘Amber Wheels.’ You need this in your garden.” (Truth? I probably need it in mine, too.)

(The dahlias offered by the folks at White Flower Farm this year are on pages 74–79 of their catalog, however, Alan thought I’d like the Shades of Pink dahlia collection; the Gaillardia I like is on page 28 of the Bluestone Perennials catalog. Nice.)

15 January 2009

nesbitt for dinner

UPDATE: Gee, look what Google does! You can preview the book on Google Book Search.

A pretty basic dish, but on a cold night, when you don’t want to do a lot of prep work or wait too long for dinner, it’s perfect. B says it’s the cafeteria food they must serve in heaven.

This very simple recipe comes from Karyl Bannister’s 2001 cookbook Cook & Tell: No-Fuss Recipes & Gourmet Surprises. She also writes a monthly newsletter out of Love’s Cove, Maine, that is a lot of fun and very useful (10 issues a year for $20). Most of the recipes in Cook & Tell are keepers (Nesbitt, curried cauliflower jacket potatoes, spare ribs and sauerkraut). A few are clunkers (Swedish meatballs with corn chips: why would you ruin perfectly nice Swedish meatballs with nasty-tasting Fritos?), but this you will find in any cookbook. I love her writing style and her approach, which is: “I think food should be reasonably wholesome and taste good.”

So, here’s Nesbitt (serves 4, but only 2 extremely hungry J-and-Bs), with a little bit of an introduction by Karyl Bannister:
OK, so nobody likes fish, and chicken has gotten boring. Then make Nesbitt. Totally untrendy, it’s the consummate gang’s-all-here or summer-cottage supper (it doubles easily). Priscilla Talley’s family named it for the Misses Nesbitt, who brought this dish to them every year upon the Talleys’ arrival at their summer place.

1 cup uncooked elbow macaroni
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with their juice
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese (about 6 ounces)
Pinch of sugar
No salt!
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 1- or 1 1/2-quart baking dish. Partially cook the macaroni in a large saucepan of boiling water, about 7 minutes. Drain and return to the pot. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat and sauté the onion until limp and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the sautéed onion, tomatoes, cheese, and sugar to the drained macaroni and stir gently but thoroughly. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish (it will be loose and wet). Bake for 45 minutes, or until bubbling and nicely tightened up. Serve hot.
A few notes: (1) I use an 8x8 glass pan; (2) “partially” cooking the macaroni for 7 minutes results in fully cooked macaroni on my stove, but no matter, that’s what I do; and (3) just FYI, my mixture is not so “loose and wet.”

Serve with a salad. We’re having ginger snaps and milk for dessert.


14 January 2009

alberta clipper

Apropos of our current weather, I’ve been seeing the term “Alberta clipper” all over the weather sites, and the name sounds so romantic to me, bringing to mind images of a ghostly white ship out of Canada crewed by pirate ghosts with frosty, wind-whipped beards (all right, so maybe I’ve had too much coffee this morning).

An Alberta clipper (also known as a Canadian Clipper) is a fast-moving low-pressure area that generally affects the central provinces of Canada and parts of the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes regions of the United States. Most clippers occur between December and February, but can also occur occasionally in the month of November. Alberta clippers take their name from Alberta, Canada, the province from which they appear to descend, and from 19-century clipper ships, one of the fastest sailing ships of that time.

It is not uncommon for an Alberta clipper to cause temperatures to drop by 30°F (16°C) in as little as 10–12 hours. Often, the storms bring biting winds with them, only increasing the effect of the newly lower temperatures. Winds in advance of and during an Alberta clipper are frequently as high as 35–45 mph (56–72 km/h). These conditions would cause wind chill values to drop into the –20 to –50°F (–30 to –45°C) range.

Two variations of Alberta clippers are Manitoba Maulers and Saskatchewan Screamers. These two types of systems are far less common than clippers, and even when they take place they are still often referred to as clippers. The main difference between the three is the Canadian province from which they begin their southward trek.

The definition of an Alberta clipper is from Wikipedia—what would we do without Wikipedia?—and the image is adapted from one I found on wreckhunter.net.

13 January 2009

cold is coming

And what zone did I say we were? Zone 5? If the temperature this week doesn’t go below –20°F, then we’re still zone 5, and some of those pretty zone 5 plants I’ve got in the ground may be all right, snug as they are under the snow. If it dips to –25°F, I stand to lose my Miscanthus, butterfly bush, Japanese anemones, and others. It will be a bloodbath.

Just clicked on over to weather.com and saw that International Falls, Minnesota, is reporting a nippy –17°F, with a windchill of –29°F!!! Shiver me timbers!

And it’s headed our way . . .

12 January 2009

fruits of tidying

Spent the afternoon yesterday organizing two shopping bags of 2008 paid bills, letters, and other stuff (and a few things from 2006 and 2007, too, whoops). I also emptied out the magazine holder of last year’s gardening catalogs to make way for this year’s.

I always think I should save all my gardening catalogs for the “archive” (which would be a cardboard box shoved into the back of a closet or an enormous pile of paper underneath the bedside table), and then I realize doing that is maybe a little crazy. Out with the old! In with the new!

I’m especially excited about this year’s Baker Creek catalog, which has been redesigned and looks a lot better organized than it has been in years past.

In the course of my organizing and filing, I came across this postcard B found for me last summer over in a card store in the East Village. Love it.

11 January 2009

dahlias, late summer 2008

The last of the cell phone pictures: Dahlias from the summer. I had enormous good luck with the dahlias this past year. After the killing frost, I dug the tubers, labeled them, and am storing them in tubs of peat moss in the basement for the winter. Each little tuber grows into a plant, so if I plant them all this spring, I’ll have a boatload of dahlia plants this summer. Amazing! Where to plant them all?

At any rate, here are the dahlias out by the chicken coop. Again, no real detail, because my phone doesn’t allow for that, but you can see that the plants were a good five to six feet tall by the end of the summer. Thrilling!

10 January 2009

young granddaddy

Our family has a family stories blog, and a few days ago my dad added a photograph of my mom’s dad as a young man. Dad told me he sees a lot of my brother, me, and my mom’s brother in my grandfather’s eyes and the tilt of his head. This is a surprise, because (1) I’ve never thought that my brother and I look very much like my uncle; and (2) my family has always thought we take after my dad’s side in terms of looks. Very interesting indeed. And a beautiful photograph of Granddaddy.

barn and crabapples

I went north just for the day yesterday to take care of some necessary business at the house. Flowergardengirl said she missed the barn through the seasons, and I realized I hadn’t added any new images to the slideshow for a very long time, so after I filled the birdfeeders, I stood in the driveway and took another photograph of the barn. It’s now part of the cycle to the left.

Then I stepped back and took a shot of the barn from under the low canopy of a crabapple tree near the house. The frozen crabapples were roughly the same color as the barn, but on such a dark day, you can’t see that very well. So I lightened things to bring out the color. Might be a little TOO light, but I still like the effect (click on the picture to open it in a new window; you can see the colors better there).

09 January 2009

memories of a warm summer afternoon

In August, my friend Gina and I took a long lunch hour to visit Alan’s roof garden. I had bent her ear about it all summer, and she, a gardener herself, was itching to see it. As we were walking from the subway, I called B, and he came along from work, too.

Alan showed Gina around, and Gina was dumbfounded and amazed (as are we all) at what Alan is able to grow on the roof of his apartment building. After she thanked him, and we were getting ready to go back to work, Alan asked us to wait a minute while he checked on the melons he was growing. Sure enough, he said, the Charentais was ready.

If you’ve never eaten a Charentais you will not believe me when I say it’s possible to get a little bit of a buzz off of a slice of melon, warm from the sun and melting and soft and sweet. You don’t see Charentais very often in the greenmarket because they are too delicate. And if you grow them yourself, you have to keep a close eye on how quickly they’re ripening, because if they remain on the vine a day or two too long, they simply expire and collapse in on themselves. That happened to Alan’s Charentais last year on the weekend he came to visit B and me in the country.

Charentais have an orange flesh like a cantaloupe, but that’s about all they have in common with a cantaloupe. We sat down, generous gentle Alan cut the melon into four wedges, and we all got a little tipsy on Charentais.

We followed the Charentais with a beautiful green-fleshed melon and then a gold watermelon. The pictures below are of Gina enjoying the watermelon. I can’t remember the names of those other two melons; they were delicious, don’t get me wrong, but all I can really hold onto is the taste of that Charentais.

08 January 2009

wilbur in the window, scamp in his bed

Another morning in Greenwich Village. When we’re at Pleasant Hill one would imagine that Wilbur would be parked in front of the windows all day long. All those birds at the feeders and squirrels romping through the woods. However, he does that only here in the city. I don’t think there’s very much for him to look at from this particular window, but a pigeon is kind of exciting, I bet.

Scamp knows how to relax. And that’s pretty much that! Notice, though, his alert ears. Might there be a little food involved in this photo shoot? Heh.

07 January 2009

noo yawk coffee cart niceness

There are a number of coffee carts on the way from the 7 train to my office. Occasionally, when I am out of oatmeal envelopes (as I am presently), I will buy a bagel from one of them.

I don't really have a favorite, although after this morning's experience, I'm tempted to consider plighting my troth to Sam's (on the corner of 44th Street and Third Avenue). Nice guy; completely enjoying his job. I like that!

A blog entry by one of his devoted customers is right here. Go, Sam!

more ice please!

Back on 11 December, we were recruited as unwilling participants in the ice storm of 2008. Our power went out on Thursday morning at around 3:00 am, and didn’t return until Saturday evening at 5:30 pm. For those three days B and I bit our nails in Manhattan, wondering whether the pipes in the house would freeze and burst. I went up on Saturday afternoon (I’d had a concert to sing on Friday evening in the city) and arrived just as power was restored.

Fortunately, the temperature in the house didn’t go below 40.5°F. If it had dipped to 40°F the low-temperature sensor would have alerted the alarm company who would have called us. Relief!

But there was a little added extra bonus.

In November, B pointed out a leaning tree on the cowpath behind the garage:

B: We should get that taken care of, J.
J: Oh, B, it’s been that way for a long time; no worries!
B: (worriedly) All righhht.

The ice from the big ice storm coated that old leaner, the top snapped off, CRACK!, and part of it went through the garage roof. The falling branch poked a hole between the rafters, however, and the repair was not difficult or expensive. Very happy about that.

So, this morning the forecast for our area is:



Emphasis mine. Well, at least that leaner is down!

06 January 2009

epiphany morning

Greetings from a chilly fire escape (36.2°F) in Greenwich Village. (In Washington County, the temperature this morning is 9°F; I am happy to be in Manhattan today.)

Journey of the Magi
by T.S. Eliot

“A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.”
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty, and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Some commentary on the poem is available here. Listen to T.S. Eliot himself reading it here.

05 January 2009

reminders of autumn’s color

Okay, so when the digital camera was on the fritz (and it has since miraculously healed itself), I took a few photographs with my cell phone. Never mind the fact that the little lens on the outside of the phone is scratched by house keys that live in the same pants pocket and often is smudged with fingerprints, these photos are colorful! I especially like the gauziness of the images on their edges.

Nice autumnal color combination coming up: Geranium “Rozanne” weeping into Sedum spectabile “Autumn Joy.” A little Miscanthus sinensis “Gracillimus” is leaning in for the shot. The pretty-looking leaves in the lower left are some thorny weed that came in with a load of compost I bought in the spring. Ouch!

Next is the barn through a haze of red zinnias. After the killing frost, I nipped off a bunch of dried flower heads and saved the seeds for next year. Does anyone out there in Internetland know whether zinnias reproduce true to color? I’m going to do a test germination run soon. If the seeds are viable, I’ll be glad to send some to anyone who expresses an interest via a comment. Don’t be shy! (I just sent a SASE for some seeds of stock that I learned about from a post I read on Blotanical.)

Below are some of the summer’s famous dahlias (and a few red zinnias) cut to give to friends and family. The purple is a clutch of Verbena bonariensis, a nice self-sower I recommend heartily.

04 January 2009


Betty and B have left for an early-morning jaunt, and I’m drinking some coffee, looking out the window at the birdfeeder that needs to be refilled, and feeling kind of lazy. B and I spent Saturday taking care of necessary business, which for us yesterday meant housecleaning.

In the middle of the day, I packed up the car with all the recyclables and trash and went to the transfer station in Granville. This is one of my favorite chores. It makes me feel virtuous and useful when all I’m doing is my civic responsibility. I like that!

We recycle in New York City, too, but we’re only asked to put all of our various kinds of paper and cardboard into one blue barrel and all the rest of the recyclables (plastic, aluminum, steel) into another. It’s convenient and quick, but I wonder whether it all just goes to the landfill. I mean, who’s separating this stuff out for further use?

In Washington County, the recyclables are divided into different types of plastic, different types of paper (newspaper, magazines, inserts, cardboard, boxboard), aluminum, steel . . . We have to do the work of separating them so that the next person in line doesn’t have to, which saves money down the line, I suppose. I read an article in a local paper recently, however, that says an increasing number of residents here are hiring private contractors to cart their trash away. These contractors take everything—trash and recyclables alike—to the landfill, so that the quantities of recyclables at the transfer station are decreasing, which means that the transfer stations don’t have enough recyclables to sell to be profitable, which means that the transfer stations may be in trouble.

But how do you encourage residents to invest a little more time and effort in processing the waste they generate? We’re not the usual resident, as we’re up here on weekends only these days, so the quantities of trash we generate are not as large as they would be if we were here all the time. If we were, we’d be visiting the transfer station weekly instead of monthly. And if that were the case I wonder whether we’d think it was a pain rather than a pleasure to take care of this business?

02 January 2009

a new year’s meme

From Jon Katz’s Bedlam Farm Journal:
I am a big believer in memes*, ideas that are spread electronically through the culture. The media meme, popular right now, is that we are all doomed, going over the cliff, heading for ruin. My meme is that things are going to get better, healthier and more meaningful, despite the pain and trouble. Do your part. Spread the word. Send your signal. Our meme is better than theirs.
Say it like it is. I’ve spent way too much time this past year wondering and worrying to no great effect about world economic events. This isn’t to say that I don’t want to be—and it isn’t my responsibility to be—as informed as possible. But a constant diet of panic is not healthy. We need to focus on calm and control.

I think everyone should hang out some at Jon Katz’s blog. He’s an author/journalist who moved to Washington County a few years ago. B and I read his Running to the Mountain: A Midlife Adventure (more information from amazon.com) when we first bought Pleasant Hill, because in it he describes local haunts and people, and we wanted to learn about the area. The book’s primary focus, however, is about a necessary reorientation in life. And because Katz is a big fan of Thomas Merton—one of B’s heroes—he references Merton quite a bit. We really enjoyed this book.

His blog, Bedlam Farm Journal (linked from the left as well as from above), is full of beautiful photographs he takes (most recently of the remarkable winter storms we’ve been having up here) and posts about simplifying, paring back, slowing down, breathing. He thinks that our culture is headed toward “a simpler, healthy life to come, a time of limits, realism, greater awareness of waste and the environment and greater connection to people and community.”

Spread the word! Our meme is better!

* I’ve never really known what a meme is. I knew it had something to do with diffusion of ideas and that it related to the electronic media, and it turns out I’m not that far off. According to Wikipedia, a meme “comprises a unit or element of cultural ideas, symbols, or practices; such units or elements transmit from one mind to another through speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena.” The term was coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in 1976 to describe how evolutionary principles could be used to explain the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. More recently, it’s being used to describe how ideas spread electronically via the Internet.

lemon chess pie


two cats on friday morning

eggs from egg mountain farm

Cindy Miller owns Egg Mountain Farm in Salem. She says she doesn’t have a lot of hens, but the ones she has are allowed to go where they will and lay when they want. Whenever we see her eggs at Battenkill Vallery Creamery, we buy a dozen ($3.00). These are beautiful eggs! They taste wonderful, and the yolks are a deep, deep yellow. (We also like the eggs from another local producer, Reggie’s Veggies.)

A dozen of Cindy’s eggs (modeled by B):

01 January 2009

new year’s day lunch

B has heard tell that the way you spend New Year’s Day is an indication of how you’ll spend the coming year. If that’s true, we’ll be reading, writing, eating good food, listening to music, and enjoying each other’s company. What a great, quiet day we’ve had. I was up early and put on a pot of navy bean soup before I’d even had my coffee. When B eventually ambled downstairs he made some corn bread and doctored a can of collard greens (adding chipotle peppers and bacon). After the microwave-cleaning episode, we sat down and had a nice lunch.

On the stove:On the table:

2009 comes in with a bang

Note to selves: When the inside of the microwave oven needs to be cleaned, best to stick to a damp cloth or, if there’s a lot of crud on the walls, heating a bowl full of water to create some steam to soften the gunk, that sort of thing. Not that our microwave ever gets that dirty, hee hee.

We tell you this because that’s what we should have done.

Instead, B and I thought that a nice Pyrex measuring cup of white vinegar heated in the microwave would create steam and—added benefit—deodorize the interior. So, we set the cook time for three minutes, commented to each other that the smell of vinegar was kind of refreshing, and when it finished set the microwave for another three minutes.

Well . . .

We’re enjoying our morning: B is tidying up the kitchen a bit, I’m playing on the computer . . .

All of a sudden: Loud BOOM, the microwave oven door flies open, and hot white vinegar pours out all over the kitchen floor. B looks at me, I look at B, I look at Dale, Dale looks at B. Fortunately, the Pyrex measuring cup hasn’t shattered, the microwave still works, all we need to do is mop up the vinegar.

Moral: Be careful when you boil vinegar in your microwave. Or, to be on the safe side, just don’t boil vinegar in your microwave in the first place.

A little new year’s wisdom from our house to yours.

female cardinal in crabapple

She’s all fluffed up for warmth; it’s cold out there (22.3°F currently; the low last night was –4.4°F).

poem for new year’s day

Winter and the Nuthatch
by Mary Oliver

Once or twice and maybe again, who knows,
the timid nuthatch will come to me
if I stand still, with something good to eat in my hand.
The first time he did it
he landed smack on his belly, as though
the legs wouldn't cooperate. The next time
he was bolder. Then he became absolutely
wild about those walnuts.

But there was a morning I came late and, guess what,
the nuthatch was flying into a stranger's hand.
To speak plainly, I felt betrayed.
I wanted to say: Mister,
that nuthatch and I have a relationship.
It took hours of standing in the snow
before he would drop from the tree and trust my fingers.
But I didn't say anything.
Nobody owns the sky or the trees.
Nobody owns the hearts of birds.
Still, being human and partial therefore to my own
though not resentful of others fashioning theirs—

I'll come tomorrow, I believe, quite early.

From Mary Oliver’s 2008 poetry collection, Red Bird. © Beacon Press. Buy from amazon.com.