Friday, July 31, 2009

Keeping Busy on These Long Lonely Summer Days

I do live a charmed life in many ways. I was thinking about this as I rode my beach cruiser along the Iowa River, listening to Doug's iPod and feeling relatively good while riding into the sunset. When I arrived back home, I trekked back to the garden to grab a handful of tomatoes to immediately devour. As I was searching out the bright red dots among the green tomato jungle vines, I began to feel tiny, painful bites on my neck, face and exposed arms. MOSQUITOES! I literally dropped everything in the grass and ran back to the front door of the house where my bug spray is kept. Those little buggars bite hard this time of year. I covered myself in bug spray just for the 45 seconds it would take to walk back there and collect my things. It was that bad.

While I was back there, I managed to get 11 cherry tomatoes and 3 Serrano peppers. I also noticed that there were many yellow, soon-to-be-red tomatoes, maybe 20-30. These are the days.

On the downside, I must've gotten 8 mosquito bites in a matter of 15 seconds. I don't think I got any of them back. So unfair.

On another downside, Doug is in Des Moines again, still tending to his grandparents, who really need him right now. That means that I am here in the house on my days off trying to stay busy and positive so that I can send some good vibes his way and get some projects done.

One project I took on this afternoon, before my bike ride, was to make a bunch of delicious croutons from the almost-stale whole grain bread I had on the counter. It went smashingly well and I have been snacking on them shamelessly. I warmed a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a skillet and loaded it with Italian herbs, some of which were grown in my garden and dried in my kitchen. Use your imagination when you make yours....oregano, basil, thyme, black pepper, Parmesan cheese, etc....and be generous with them. Warm the oil over a low heat.

While the oil is warming up, cube several slices of the bread of your choice. I like to use bread that's not fresh enough for sandwiches, but hasn't yet gone stale. I used a Pepperidge Farm 7 grain and I leave the crust on since I think it's the best part. Toss it in the skillet until the cubes are covered in the seasoned oil.

Lay these delicious little cubes on a cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Let them cool completely before storing them. If you're like me, you'll eat them all before you get the opportunity to store them.

They actually are better after they have sat out for awhile, or at least that's when I think the crunch is best. Those of you who know me know I am all about the crunch. ;)

As For the Crafts......Projects in the Hopper......

I am teaching myself to embroider, mainly by watching youtube videos explaining the various stitches....but don't expect to see any embroidered teddy bears...I am sticking strictly to that which shocks....roller derby girls and abstract forms....i welcome ideas, got any? Here's the shirt I am presently embroidering. This embroidery is on the right sleeve. I will do a similar design on the left side of the torso also.

I am also taking on a project for Doug, now that he trusts me enough to have at his clothes...gimme gimme....
I am taking in a shirt that is too big for him. The sleeves and trunk of the shirt are the right length, but just too big around. I have basically just begun to take it in about an inch in those areas. I have also added a patch on the shoulder to cover a couple tears. Looking pretty good so far, considering I am doing all this by hand. Better appreciate, Doug!

Now, I am headed back to work on my black t-shirt.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Almost Moving Day

The end of the lease year is an event in Iowa City. This is the time when a great portion of the town has to move...move to a bigger place, a smaller place, a place closer to campus, or just plain move away. It's the best organized chaos of the summer.
I have moved 7 times in the 10 years I have lived in Iowa City and I have relished the years when I have been able to stay put. Moving day is anytime between July 29th and August 1st which means that the heat and humidity are near unbearable even when you're not carrying a sofa up and down 3 flights of stairs. Movers are usually seen armed with gatorade and brow-rags for wiping themselves down between loads. For many of these tenants, there is a gap between the time the old lease ends and the new one begins. This is good news for the storage unit businesses in the area, but they're about the only ones. For those of us that are homeless for 2-3 days out of the year, it's a huge problem. It means either renting a u-haul for the entire time (if you planned early enough to have gotten a u-haul reservation) which is pricey or to store all your stuff somewhere and crash someone's couch for a few days. All the way around it is a huge pain in the booty that there is, apparently, no better solution for...

Moving day(s) also means that the city is a giant swap meet for unwanted and discarded items. You can drive up and down the blocks and find displays of furniture and household items on front lawns with notes saying "FREE- PLEASE TAKE" If you're one of the lucky ones, you might just find a treasure. Several years ago I picked up a near mint club chair up off the curb and loved it for two years until I had to move again and leave it on the curb for the next person. Doug and I also found a perfect steel bookshelf for our friends who, at the time, were in need of one. It's not always trash, although there is a great deal of that, too.

I was riding my bike home down Dubuque Street a couple days ago and saw one of the above-mentioned junk piles waiting to be scooped up by our reliable trash collectors. It makes me very sad to think about where all this stuff ends up and if any of it could have instead been donated or reconstructed or even recycled.

Another common sight in Iowa City these days is the FOR RENT sign. You'll find them stuck in front lawns, stapled to posts and on bulletin boards everywhere. I remember what it's like to write down 15 phone numbers a day and then make calls only to discover the place is too expensive, too dumpy or doesn't allow pets. (Iowa City landlords could do more to cater to responsible pet owners in Iowa City.....this has been my biggest frustration for the better part of the last decade.)

If you're living in Iowa City and you have reusable items that you'd like to donate instead of throwing them away, click the title of this blog for information on how to donate to Rummage in the Ramp, going on until August 1st. (They will have volunteers pick your stuff up so there's no excuse not to donate that chair that doesn't fit in your car!)

Also check out This is a great site designed to hook up people seeking things/getting rid of things so that all these things don't end up in landfills. Look up your city's message board and see if anyone is in need of the things in your garage that you no longer need. In fact, I am going to go check them out right now. You should too.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Moment of Gardener's Zen

I did a beautiful thing last night. I walked out into the yard at dusk, went back to the garden and picked a few red grape tomatoes and a few yellow pear tomatoes. The plants smelled great and the tiny tomatoes practically jumped off the plants into my hand. I brought them inside, sliced them up, and put them on two sandwiches for Doug and I. I have been waiting for days like this for a long time now. These are the days when I can eat a handful of tomatoes grown by my own hands. It feels good.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Playing in Doug's Room by Chico

While Doug has been away, I've tried to keep busy....I tried reading....

But that only last for so long, before I start to wonder about Doug again. I know he'll come back, but still I try to pass the hours without him. I tried to do some yoga to relax myself and free my mind.....

......but then I fall asleep.

Age tries to help by enticing me with toys, but I just can't get interested. Maybe later, Age.

The only thing that's not a problem is eating. I still have my appetite. (C'mon, he'll be back and I can't resist a meal.)

I have tried to spend some time in the's pretty nice back there. Lots to smell and mark.

I tried to warn age not to follow me back there. It stinks to have zero privacy in my own yard.

Well, I guess I should try to enjoy myself a little. Age and I are going to go jump on Doug's bed. Shhhh....don't tell him.

Well, this is Chico signing off. Doug, if you're reading this, I can't wait to see you! Tell Grams and Grampa I say hello


Disasters, Lessons & Victory

late April ------> early July

We’re well into summer and my garden has been more successful than I had planned back in February, when I started sprouting my snap pea seeds. My blogging efforts are the only thing that I can say has been less productive than I had hoped. While I wait for things to be ripe enough to harvest, I am reflecting on the endeavor so that I can be prepared for next year.

Yesterday, I ate an almost-perfect cucumber from the potted cucumbers. I have been surprised (but not really) by how much more flavor they have than store-bought cucs, not to mention they lack the gross shiny wax that grocery stores think make ‘em pretty. Yuck. The vine has gotten so long that I have just been tying it to the fence, which keeps them from rotting on the ground, and make them easy to harvest without hopping the little garden fence. They have done the best with the least amount of maintenance.

The tomatoes continue to make a jungle of my garden plot. They are so big and branchy that I can no longer distinguish one from the other. The upside: trillions of green tomatoes basking in the hot July sun.

It is now clear to see that the grape tomatoes really do grow in bunches and I have already eaten a handful while they were still warm from being on the vine. My plan for the next garden: space those t’maters out by 2-3 feet and starting placing cages and stakes earlier in the growing process. Separate but equal…so that I can walk
inbetween the plants.


There has also been one complication to the tangled mess of tomatoes. Friday night’s thunderstorm deposited a very large tree branch right in the middle of the tomato jungle. The plants are hardy enough that the only real damage is that now they are all leaning drastically to the east. Also, I lost a few green tiny tomatoes during branch removal. It coulda’ been worse. Tomorrow I will go out and stand them all back up again.

The upside to the giant branch: free fire wood. I went out with my neighbor’s handsaw to deconstruct it, but promptly quit when I felt a tickle on my neck that I discovered was a spider crawling down into my shirt. I shook it out and then immediately went inside to strip off my clothes and shake ‘em out. I felt like I was crawling with buggies. I am proud that I didn’t shriek and rip my shirt off in the yard. Who says I’m a girlie girl?

I abandoned the project =(

The peppers are another story. The serranos are doing just fine and producing the most baby peppers, but the other plants aren’t looking so hot. They seem to get droopy in the heat often and I need to be more proactive about watering them. The green and yellow bell pepper plants are still flowerless. Perhaps I need to do some more reading on growing peppers. Maybe some plant food will help them along. Any advice from my pepper growing friends?

Serrano Peppers

I let my lettuce down. L Despite it sitting less than ten feet from my front door I’ve been terrible about watering it; it wilts every week and every week I bring it back. I also need to remember to trim it to encourage more growth.

Neglected Lettuce

Trimming the herbs has helped them flourish. Here’s the mistake I made with the herbs: while they look lovely busting out of one planter, I now can barely tell the difference between my cilantro and parsley. Also, the parsley has taken over. It’s taller and bushier than all the other herbs. I have to trim it back often so that sunlight can get to the oregano, which I use much more than parsley. Grow, oregano, grow!

Harvested Herbs

The sage has been mostly useless, except for throwing it on the firepit to make a lovely aroma. It, too, is a not-so-useful herb that has grown like mad. If anyone would like to have some of my fresh sage, speak up. I am unlikely to do anything more than burn it (and that’s a lot to burn).

I put my basil in its own pot a few weeks ago and that turned out to be a smart move. It has spread in the pot and I dried quite a lot of it today for Doug & my next batch of spaghetti sauce.

Last, but not least, the pencil eggplant are popping up all over those giant, leafy plants. Time to find some more eggplant recipes. There is only so much fried eggplant a person should eat. Any one have recipes for me?

I think that’s plenty for now.