spring break part 1

It rained all week. On Thursday, I went through the drive-thru of one of my fave local coffee shops for a dozen donuts for a colleague’s birthday, and I watched the “regulars” through the rain-splattered glass and felt that it must be a nice way to start the morning. It’s one of those places where you walk out smelling of coffee and baking.  Alas, there was no time for me to linger, the rain-soggy box was thrown into the passenger seat and I was off, although I did extricate the blueberry cake donut at a stoplight as a consolation (blueberry cake donuts 4-ever).
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We have no spring trips planned. This coming week’s Spring Break for Miss L will be an exercise in “staycation”. She won’t be thrilled about this, but we’ve done fun vacations for the past few years (Chicago, Disney, and North Carolina beach trip) so it’s time for mama’s bank account to recover a bit.

Yesterday the sun came out long enough for me to start raking and begin some basic yard cleanup, but after filling five lawn and leaf bags I feel as though I am making the situation worse. There appears to be no grass whatsoever in my backyard.
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Note the clear and humiliating line of demarcation between my yard and the dentist’s. His is sod!!! It’s not fair.

Today I will spread some grass seed and attend to a couple of other tasks, including the somewhat nasty one of trying to figure out what to do about my infestation of horrible house sparrows in all my nesting boxes. I don’t want to stoop to killing them but I think I need to block the entrance holes with something.
It was a big week at Miss L’s elementary school, with Book Fair and conferences. Miss L had a great conference and one of the funnier moments was finding out from her third grade teacher that one of Miss L’s self-stated goals is “to get into a good college”. I think we actually LOL’ed at this.
I volunteered for two nights at the Book Fair and realized that I probably should have been a cashier in real life. It’s incredibly satisfying for me to have short, well-defined tasks with a beginning, middle, and end. Greet the customer. Scan the books. Take their money. Give them change. Hand them their books and receipt with a huge smile because that task is over, they will walk away, and everyone will be happy. I ended up working way past my shift end on both nights because they weren’t fully stocked with volunteers. The first night was fine, but the second night I was actually bleary-eyed by the time we started closing the registers and counting money. Still, I really love being at the school and I always wish I had more free time during the day to do more things there. However, Widget Central (and my mortgage, car payment, our health insurance, and bills) has me inexorably in a firm grasp.
Still, it’s now the weekend, with a couple of days off next week with Miss L, and I plan on baking, sleeping, and watching another 30 episodes of Forensic Files. I leave you with a screenshot of the My Favorite Murder podcast’s Instagram account, which after their recent live show in Portland managed to combine three highly topical themes – donuts, cats, and murder, with their personalized Elvis the Siamese donut (fellow listeners will recognize Elvis as the show’s mascot). I wish someone would make me an Emmett donut.
Happy Spring Break for those of you celebrating! xo
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mostly tomatoes.

05.2015 tomatoes

This is the second year that I’ve relied on Michigan Heirlooms for my tomato plants. Those of you who’ve lasted out a year with me will remember that I am a bit of a tomatophile and that my best luck last summer came from the Paul Robesons.

I kept the Paul Robesons this year but branched out in some new and different directions, experimentally. My other plants are:

Dixiewine – apparently a damn good, workhorse tomato. Likened to Brandywine but reputed to be more productive with a better flavor.

Brandywine Sudduth’s Strain – later to ripen, but considered to be the most delicious heirloom strain available.

Black from Tula – a black tomato prone to cracking but with a sweet, smoky flavor.

Harvard Square – ok, I bought this mostly because of the name. Somewhat new to Michigan Heirlooms but she loved it.

George’s Greek Beefsteak – everyone needs a beefsteak. These are +1lb and reportedly above average production.

Palmira’s Northern Italian – kind of a classic sauce tomato, more acidic than sweet, very productive.

Zebra Heart – apparently a technicolor tomato, lime green and lemon and pink. Michigan Heirlooms says with confidence that this year, Zebra Heart won’t be found many other places in the world – but she has dispersed seed and expects that it will take off.

Michigan Heirlooms was properly appreciative of my order and said that I have chosen well. I’m pretty excited to watch my plants grow this year and I’ll report back on the varieties that I am most fond of.

which is somewhat about patience.

The last time I ran was in Florida and I came back feeling discouraged. My left shin felt sore and tender during the run, with periodic needle prickles in my calf; my pace was slow and as I ran, I tried to think back over this injury.
I started with shin splint issues last spring, attributed them to my worn-out Mizunos, and switched to a new pair. New pair didn’t help. I bought Brooks, and the pain in my right shin cleared up; the left, however, lingered. It caused me to say no to my favorite half-marathon in the fall and as I ran around the Florida resort, I realized, after adding up all of this time, I’ve been babying this injury for EIGHT MONTHS.

That is ridiculous.

When I got back to Michigan I called the doctor and decided no running until I can get in to see her in a couple of weeks.
I feel a little stupid that I’ve let this go on for so long. It’s tough for me to give up running, though, and I always felt like it was just a nagging, minor annoyance. I don’t usually think about going to a doctor when I have a minor ache or pain. Time sort of stacks up and then you get used to running with that kind of sensation and you almost don’t think about it, except when you look at the big picture of your progress, where you actually are compared to where you would like to be.

I’m trying not to be bummed about the waiting period. Sometimes taking a few weeks off and doing heavy cross-training helps, so that’s what I plan to do. Squats every day and trying some new things like Pilates might help refresh me.

This week has been marked by snow, cold, and snow days.

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I thought Crazy Emmett, the master of the constant bid for escape, might learn his lesson if he were allowed to plunge out into the snow and realize how cold and miserable it is. Miss L told me this was a terrible idea and continued to shriek this opinion as I chased him through the porch snowdrifts. He was quite joyful and came in with wet paws, snowy whiskers, and a renewed determination to thwart me at every opportunity.

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In the midst of this arctic week, I ordered my tomato plants, which I will be able to pick up in the spring when they are new little thriving babies. I mixed it up this year, and the only type that I reordered from last year were the trusty Paul Robesons. I added 7 other heirloom varieties and I can’t wait to get my paws in the dirt of my garden. It sleeps under snow now, but in a few months it will be green and growing and I will be a happy girl.

In the meantime, it is almost Valentine’s Day, and I hope you are as happy with your Valentine as I am with mine.

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oh my, heirlooms

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Oh my gosh, I know my July recap was a bit glum, but if our first tomato harvest is any indication, August is going to be wonderful.  After the earwig disappointment in the first ripe JD Special C-Tex, I was so excited to bring these beauties in, sun warmed and almost pulsing with summer light and good health, still smelling green and fuzzy (I don’t know how else to describe fresh tomato smell). The Cherokee Purples are the big ones and the so-called Paul Robesons (I am still skeptical) are the smaller, pear-shaped ones. I made GB and Miss L close their eyes and taste test slices of each before I mixed them with fresh, creamy buffalo mozzarella, olive oil and a dash of balsamic, sea salt, and fresh basil from the garden.

The general assessment was that the so-called Paul Robesons were just crazy amazing. Such a dark, complicated flavor, almost a smoky finish; but the Cherokee Purples were excellent, too. I am sooo pleased with the first crop and I feel that the effort I’ve put into our plants this year has been very worth it. STAKE and PRUNE, people, STAKE and PRUNE, my new mantra.

Miss L said about her birth month; “Whenever I hear about August it feels like it is already fall.”  This is true. But because my July was comparatively somber, I am pledging that my August is going to be full of optimism and contentment. I am going to declare this a self-care month, a month of identifying happinesses and pleasures, and a month of enjoying my life.

around the house

Summer hasn’t been especially stress-free around this house, but every time I take an amble around, I’m reminded why the place you live matters, and why the effort you put into your surroundings makes a difference.

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Hello, Sarge. 🙂

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The first heirloom tomato is changing color and YES I checked to make sure it wasn’t the reflection from the newly spray-painted trellis or the orange rag I used to stake it. It’s definitely ripening. That means caprese salad with home grown tomato and basil very soon…and gorgeous creamy buffalo mozzarella. It means bruschetta. With great bread. Yum.

The first one out of the gate is on the JD’s Special C-Tex plant, which you’ll remember my friends at Michigan Heirlooms subbed for me when my second Paul Robeson plant wasn’t available. For the record, here is the progress on the Paul Robesons.

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Okay, now, I’m going to go on the record and say that I am viewing these SUPPOSED Paul Robesons with a skeptical eye. They don’t look like Paul Robesons at this point in their maturity, is all I’m sayin’. That quasi-teardrop shape seems more indicative of a Japanese Trifele tomato, no? Which wasn’t even on the seed roster at Michigan Heirlooms, so no idea how that mix up might have occurred. If there was, in fact, a mix up. I am certainly not impugning MH’s reputation or their knowledge of tomatoes and maybe my Paul Robesons will smush out and take on the proper shape. I don’t think I would mind getting a Japanese Trifele by some sort of cosmic accident, since the review I just linked to calls them “a truly transcendent tomato”. God knows I could never pass up a transcendent tomato and I certainly never thought I could be growing one or several in my humble garden.

The Cherokee Purples aren’t even worth showing you at this point. I really view them as a workhorse tomato. They’re growing well but are already cracking in spots. I’m sure this is somehow my fault.

I never thought I could talk this long about tomatoes.

The shade-loving loose plants that I bought at Eastern Market Flower Day are, like last year, absolutely spectacularly beautiful. They thrive in the big containers on my front porch and I have sworn to go back every year to THAT vendor to buy THOSE plants.

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And, a new addition this year, my extremely talented parents refurbished my wood duck welcome sign and it has taken a proud place on my brick. They made me a moonlit snow owl sign, as well, because Miss L and I love owls, but it hasn’t been hung yet so no pictures available.

My father carves the birds, woodburns their feather details, and my mother paints them. They have made some unbelievably beautiful pieces together, from small Christmas ornament carvings to full size decoys. I wish I had a website to direct you to in case you want to buy one BUT MY PARENTS DON’T HAVE A WEBSITE EVEN THOUGH THEY COULD BE MAKING GOBS OF MONEY ON THEIR BEAUTIFUL WOODCRAFTS. Yes MOM AND DAD I AM TALKING TO YOU. And not just because you are probably the only ones reading my blog. 😉

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happy places

I’m enjoying my Sunday morning lie-in in my favorite way, propped up in bed with my computer, a cup of coffee, and the windows wide open to sunshine and birdsong. Also the Weather Channel, but that didn’t sound quite so lyrical. I’m sort of addicted to the Weather Channel. For some reason, I find the constant flow of information about weather in other parts of the country very soothing. It seems to remind me that I am not alone in my own little weather bubble. Emmett and Sarge are out playing dress-up with Miss L in her room and eyeballing Gaston – the fish – with evil intent. They are, I think, still recovering from the trauma of July 4. They spent most of the booming fireworks either hanging from the screens or hiding under the bed.

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Southeast Michigan has been blessed with an amazing weather weekend, sunny and clear and warm without being uncomfortable. Miss L and I spent the day of the 4th in our happy place with a bag of birdseed and binoculars.

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In addition to feeding the birds, we had a little chipmunk following us closely to pick up the dropped birdseed. He even came right up and took seed out of my hand, leaving a generous smear of chipmunk drool. Miss L knows better than to try to feed a rodent with her bare hand so she kept a safe distance and rolled her eyes at me.

We were so busy having fun that I didn’t get out to run until midday yesterday, and pulled out a pretty pathetic 4 miles with a lot of wheezing even though honestly, I had no reason for the hystrionics. There was a nice breeze and it wasn’t too hot. Yet still, I came home a bedraggled red-faced mess wondering why I call myself a runner. I sacked out in the backyard chaise for awhile while I finished ‘Attachments’ by Rainbow Rowell, which was a decent if somewhat fluffy romantic novel. I have little stomach these days for fluffy romantic novels but it was engaging and breezy and the right kind of read for a chaise, although there were constant interruptions by the wildlife in the yard. The hummingbirds are crazy pigfaces this year and can’t stay away from our feeder – their tiny motor noise is constant and they aren’t deterred by Emmett’s wild fishtail jumps at the screen window to get them, or our presence in the yard. And we even have a tiny brave baby bunny who came out from the shrubbery to sit a foot away from my sweat-reeking prone figure and nibble on clover.

The tomato plants that I bought from Michigan Heirlooms are booming and I have many little green tomatoes starting. The horrible Mr Stripeys that I detested last year appear to have reseeded themselves in one of the other beds and I’m waiting to see what they are going to do – if they seem like they are going to develop flowers, I’ll thin them and stake them and see if I can coax something out of them worth eating.

In front yard news, I worried that the pink Annabelle hydrangeas might have been irretrievably damaged by our harsh winter, but they are back and in better shape than ever. The day lilies need to be thinned and the knockout rose bush, which had grown to epic proportions, reminding me of the gnarled thorn hedges around castles in fairy tales, has bounced back as well even after my vicious pruning of it. I am full of plans for the backyard and feel like every plant and every tiny garden space that I invest in weaves a bit more protective magic around the house.

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I’m hoping that this week is short and relatively painless, as Miss L and I leave for a nice weeklong northern Michigan vacation on Thursday afternoon, and I think we both really need the downtime.  I, for one, am looking forward to long sleeps, no makeup, and some time spent outdoors and with my folks.

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For a day that started out so peacefully, with breakfast on the patio with Miss L, yesterday ended up kind of a big deal around here.

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One of the downfalls of being a small framed person is a distinct lack of upper body strength, which translates into the embarrassing problem of not being able to pull the starter on a lawn mower with any degree of success. One of the side effects of the overall life transition that has been occurring around here lately is an increased responsibility for yard work and the mower issue was very frustrating for me. I pondered alternatives that all seemed to point to splashing out for a new mower (not something I wanted to spend the money on at this point) until I had a big AH-HAH moment. A little Internet research + quick trip to Home Depot + a strawberry lemonade to keep Miss L happy with this extremely boring-for-her errand + $100 = solution.

IMG_20140607_172224I had remembered my mom using one of these when I was a kid, only it wasn’t a nice shiny new one with sharp blades, it was an old rusty antique one that I think had been salvaged out of the shed behind our circa-1800’s farm house. Who knew they still make them?

It’s definitely a different solution than a gas mower. It’s quiet, I can use it whenever I want. It isn’t a perfect cut and there needs to be some weed-whacking afterwards, and raking. It jams up with twigs and sticks, which was extremely annoying around our old shedding tulip tree. But I really enjoyed it. It’s a great workout and maybe after using it all summer I will have the arm and shoulder muscles to pull the starter on the other mower. It’s a convenient, cheap, green alternative and my lawn got mowed yesterday. Problem solved.

Saving the best for last…

As I mowed and trimmed our crazy rosebush, Mommy duck was angrier than usual, hissing and fanning out her tail every time I came even remotely close to her. Usually she just keeps quiet unless I’m sticking my face right near her nest. However, mid-afternoon I learned the reason for her increased agitation.

IMG_20140607_160524WE HAVE DUCKLINGS!

The eggs hatched yesterday and by evening, there were at least five little fluff ducklings rolling around the nest and poking their little beaks out from under her sheltering wings. I tried to get closer to take more pictures, but it just made them so upset, it wasn’t worth it. She would hiss and like good little babies, they would freeze where they were. I haven’t been out this morning to check on them, but hopefully they had a good first night and will stick around for a little while before decamping to a water source. Well done Mommy duck!!

The perfect Saturday ended with Miss L. and I enjoying burgers on the grill, a fire in the backyard, and smores. Emmett was furious at being left out and climbed up into the kitchen window precariously to add to the conversation with the occasional indignant yowl (he must have a Siamese back in the family tree somewhere). Life, my friends, does not get much better than that.

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