Saturday, May 31, 2008

A lousy lay

Last year I met some neighbors about a mile away who keep chickens. "Check back in the spring; we're getting some more and we'll have lots of eggs."
Spring has come. Neighbor said, "One chicken we lost to a raccoon, another to old age, and the third has stopped laying. We got another hen who turned out to be a rooster, and we haven't gotten around to adding any more. So no eggs, sorry."

Elvis the rooster (that's Squeaky the non-laying hen behind him) may be sent to a farm, as he cockle-doodle-doos all day long. The neighbors all like him, his guardian says, and she's grown fond of his clownish ways (which include standing atop that ball and rolling it). But I'll bet there are a few neighbors who don't.

Oh, I forgot to add a picture of Welly the Corgi, who is Elvis' friend. They like to chase each other around the yard.

My brief moment of fame

I've been so very busy with mom stuff and house stuff the last few days! Mostly fun stuff, but I've hardly had time to check email, much less get through all my photos, not to mention posting them! So I'm behind on responding to comments, sorry. In the coming week I hope to catch up. Meantime, I thought I'd share something I ran across I'd forgotten about: my CD cover!

Back in the early '90s, my friend Jenny asked if she could send one of my photos to the band negativland to use for a CD cover. I was disappointed the reproduction was so dark, but still, it's my picture! I'm famous! Among a very very very small group. (Have you even heard of negativland? I bet you haven't.)

And for proof, here's a shot taken yesterday of the original print, side by side with a shot of me in gradual school printing it up (taken by the professor).
I took a photography class for fun, and never went much further with it after I finished school. When I took up the camera again a couple of years ago, I had to relearn everything from scratch. Digital is so different! But also so much easier because you don't have to worry about wasting film. I take dozens of pictures of the same thing, and hope that one or two turn out OK.

I've also messed around with all the settings to figure out what works best for certain situations. The features I use the most are the macro setting, the manual white balance (could've used it at left; see how yellow it is?), the long exposure setting and the 2-second self-timer. Those are all handy for low-light restaurant shots. I never use the flash if I can help it, and never, ever on food.

If you have a digital camera, even a little point-and-shoot like mine, you can get some pretty decent shots with a little practice. I don't claim to be a super photographer like some bloggers (say, La Tartine Gourmand, Steamy Kitchen, White on Rice Couple or Use Real Butter), but I'm working toward it, one snap at a time.

Friday, May 30, 2008

When Mom is here ...

The fun never ends.

At the Apple store

You don't even have to go to the counter to make a purchase. The gal scanned the item, then swiped Mom's credit card with her PDA. Voila.

A change of perspective

This is part of the San Luis Valley from above. On the right are the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) Mountains, with the sacred Blanca Peak (14,351 feet) on the lower right, covered with snow.
See all those little green circles on the left?
They're fields irrigated by Rainbirds that trundle around and around in giant circles. The valley is famous for its potatoes. It sits atop a huge aquifer, which makes all that watering feasible.

On the lower right of the satellite picture, north of Blanca Peak, you can see a whitish almost-circle.
That's the Great Sand Dunes, the tallest in North America. They're formed by a trick of geography and geology. The mountains the the west are rising, while the valley has sunk on the sand dunes side. The prevailing winds escape the valley through passes in the Sangre de Cristos, carrying and pushing the sands of an ancient sea bed into that spot. Any sand that ends up on the mountain sides gets washed down again by spring runoff.

The dunes are really spectacular, but boy, was it ever windy! We got totally sandblasted just trying to make our way to the base of them. It's not always that way; we just weren't lucky.
It was fun to visit, and I'm sure I will be back again. Next time we'll take longer. It's four hours away, and that's a lot of driving for just a two-day trip. I'm tired! But happy.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

In beautiful downtown Monte Vista, Colo.

A bed for the night, and breakfast tomorrow.

Road trip!


The other night I went to empty the garbage bin under the sink and discovered ... a mouse! I felt a brief jolt of shock and said, "What the ...?"

Then, "Mom!!!"

She had just crawled into bed but was still awake. "I wondered if you were ever going to see it! It's been there for days. Call it payback for that tattoo caper."

See, about 15 years ago, Mom came to visit without Dad. Before she arrived, he sent me a packet of temporary tattoos. "Put one on and see if she notices."

I put a little rosebud on the back of my hip, just above the panty line. Not obvious, but where an observant mother would surely notice it if she happened to see her daughter getting dressed.

But several days went by without a word. "She's either blind or biting the hell out of her tongue," I told Dad on the phone. Sure enough, as soon as she got home, he got an earful!

"She got a tattoo!" Mom wailed. "But I was damned if I was going to say anything!"

He laughed and laughed, then fessed up. Oh, was she mad! But relieved. And a few weeks later when they went to a costume party, she was the Tattooed Lady, covered with rosebuds of her own.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Lingerie shopping at Nordstrom

Always a trip

Black bean couscous salad

For dinner Saturday night, Mom wanted to make her friend Marcia's black bean and couscous salad. The ingredients call for packaged couscous, but I scoffed and said, "We can get couscous in bulk much more cheaply." Which we did.

Thus I landed myself in hot water. When we got to cooking, the recipe said "cook couscous according to package directions."

Um. Hello, Google? Can you help?

So that is how I came to spend a couple of hours Saturday preparing couscous the traditional way. Soak, then drain the couscous. Spread them in a flat pan. Let them sit. Break up the clumps with your fingers. Drizzle the couscous into a steamer you've rigged up so that steam can only escape through the couscous. Steam uncovered for 20 minutes. REPEAT. And REPEAT again. Some people steam the couscous for as few as two times or up to five times. I did three.

If you have only ever made couscous from a box, this method will be a revelation for you. I confess I have never really liked couscous that much. It just seemed heavy and grainy. But this stuff was light and fluffy and perfect for the bean salad.

It wasn't all that hard, or even labor-intensive. Most of the time the couscous was soaking or steaming away without supervision. So I would say it's worth the effort, as long as you have a couple of hours when you're going to be around anyway.
To make the salad (which we doubled), you'll need:
  • 10 oz. couscous (if you buy the packaged kind, the olive oil and garlic flavor is recommended)
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons fresh lime or lemon juice, or a combo thereof
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • dash of cayenne
  • pepper and salt
  • 1 cup chopped green onions (about 8 onions)
  • 1 medium red bell pepper (1 1/4 cup chopped)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels (baby white is good), rinsed briefly to soften, then drained
  • 2 15-oz. cans of black beans, drained and rinsed
Prepare the couscous the traditional way or according to package directions. Mix all your other ingredients in, adding the beans last so they don't break apart. Serve at room temp or while still warm.

If you refrigerate this salad, you may want to add another squeeze of citrus juice and some fresh cilantro the next day to perk it up again. But it's still quite yummy on day two, day three and day four. (Yes, we made too much of it!)

Monday, May 26, 2008

En garde(n)!

I'm sure a lot of people were disappointed that today was cloudy and cool, with a fine mist later in the afternoon. Bummer for those Memorial Day barbecues. But I was delighted; it's perfect weather for transplanting seedlings into the vegetable garden.
I did not have access to the garden until the end of March, so I didn't have a chance to till it up or make any plans for it until the very last minute. I threw some peas and chard seeds into the ground as soon as I could, then spent several weeks attempting to remove all the bindweed. The whole garden was covered with it.
That's the peas on the left, with the chard down at the end of the row. The peas are the bush variety, so they don't need tall supports. The frames from street-spam signs work well for this.
On the right, I was happy to discover some established herbs amidst all the weeds. Oregano, lemon balm, sage and chives. There's also one wee thyme plant I almost pulled out by mistake.

Beyond them I planted 10 tomato plants and two tomatillos. Also two acorn squash. I put in five cukes, some Thai peppers and sweet red peppers. And some more thyme.

Dug some more bindweed out. Placed the flagstones down the middle and use some bricks to mark off different areas. Some lettuce seeds are sprouting, and I need to get more seeds in. Beans, for example.
When I was putting up the pyramid trellises for the tomatoes, I got a little surprise. I was pushing the legs into the dirt and some sort of yellow pollen stuff started drifting down. Except it wasn't pollen. I looked closer and discovered that huge batch of baby spiders must have just hatched out from some egg cases at the top of the pyramid. Most of them were hanging on to a bunch of spider web up there, but many had also come tumbling down when I jostled the trellis.
I hope they're good spiders. The only bad ones here are black widows. Oh wait. I just googled "yellow baby spiders" and discovered they are common garden spiders, and are beneficial.
Thrive, wee spiders! Eat all the bad garden bugs!

The irrigation line that I punctured happened to be the line to the handy spigot next to the garden. It's all fixed now, and I laid out some soaker hoses. Next year I'll plan better and put in proper drip lines after I till and before I plant. I saved all the drip tubing from my old house (I take it up in winter), so I should be set. But soakers will be fine for this year.

I know it doesn't look like much, but trust me, I moved mountains today!

Silly kitchen gadget No. 5

I love Good Grips products. The vegetable peeler, the 4-quart mixing bowl, the silicone spatula and the whisk all get a big thumbs up in my kitchen. And the salad spinner? I want to marry it. (Except I'm already planning to marry this soup.)
So OXO's decision to make and market this particular gadget baffles me. Maybe I just don't buy mangoes enough to appreciate its existence, but I can't see how this wouldn't create more of a mess than the one you were trying to avoid.

When's the last time you sliced open a mango with a knife? Could you tell which way the seed was oriented? Did the flesh cut away neatly from the seed with no mess? Did you worry the half-cut slippery fruit was going to shoot out from under your knife and land in the dog's water dish?

If the answer is yes, maybe you think this slicer would help. Me, I can't picture using it without creating a sticky, pulpy mess, first trying to orient it to the seed, and then probably getting it stuck halfway down because the seed ends up being bigger than the slicer allows.

That's the way it seems to me. But maybe I'm wrong. If you love your mango splitter the way I love my salad spinner, let me know!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Taking it easy. Or not.

What a nice day! It was in the upper 70s, nice and sunny. Warm enough to want a sunhat and some umbrella shade while reading outside.
That was Mom today. While I was doing this:
Remember that lovely new dandelion digger I got? That lovely new sharp dandelion digger? Yes, it's quite effective ... at puncturing sprinkler lines.


Working hard!

Yesterday I fixed part of the sprinkler system and started digging trenches for the tomatoes and did a lot of weeding. Mom and I also took a walk with Sophie and had lunch in the park. I made couscous the traditional way, steaming them thrice, and was delighted with the results. Mom played a joke on me, revenge for one played on her about 15 years ago. I guess we're even now!

I'll post on most of those things at some point. Meantime, here are some toadstools on a tree at the park:
Neat, huh?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Full day

While Mom's visiting I can't post as much, but I can still take pictures! Yesterday we walked 2.7 miles (love you, Google Pedometer!), which was pretty long for Sophie. Near the end of the walk, we spotted this squirrel on a tree. Someone must be feeding him, because he was not too fazed.
That is, not too fazed until Sophie rushed the tree. Then he beat a hasty retreat.
Good to know the old dog still has some zest for squirrel-chasing.

Later in the day we stopped by the farm, which has some new critters. This calf is a week old. And very curious.
Happy to be petted.
But really hoping for some dinner.
His brother (fellow week-old calf from the same herd) was born with an eye infection, poor thing.
The boys came from a big dairy operation and were in woeful shape. Like boy goats, boy dairy calves are worthless to the milking operation, so they are treated as completely disposable. These two were $40 and will be a 4-H project of sorts for the farmer's children. They will have a good life for a year or two, then be sold for beef.

Speaking of boy goats, you may recall Lucky, who was born three weeks ago.
He's now an accomplished rock-climber.
I also caught up with Cutie. And gave milking a try.
My hands are pretty small, which makes it difficult. I can see getting the hang of it (and very strong hands) with some practice. But here's a hint: If you're going to milk a goat or cow, be nice and clip your fingernails short. Sorry, Cutie!

Nevertheless, she gave us a quart of milk to bring home. Thanks, Cutie!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Can you ID this tree and rose?

Mom and I had a nice walk this morning, and she reveled in the warmth and blooms that have yet to appear in Wisconsin.

We came across this tree that maybe you can identify.
Its blooms are quite spectacular,
and remind me of jelly nougat.
Any idea what it is?

We also saw two examples of this brilliant orange-red rose. What do you call this kind of rose? I'd like to find one for my own yard.
Thanks in advance!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Country in the city

With a new clutch, the car deserves to look good, too. That and Mom is coming to visit. So Sophie and I are walking home after dropping it off for its once-yearly detailing. Nice parks along the way.


While I've long had a general appreciation for honeybees, I didn't know much about them except the general things most people know: they're good for the garden and crops; they're clever engineers; they make something good to eat!

I started to get more interested last year after reading Douglas Whynott's (ain't that a great name?) "Following the Bloom: Across America With the Migratory Beekeepers." As it turns out, I reviewed it exactly a year ago today! (My review is here.)

About a month after that, I saw my first wild beehive, in a tree that had blown down in a storm. I started noticing bees around me more, and wondered where their hives were. Still just in a vague sort of way.

In the last couple of weeks, though, my sighting of three different swarms within blocks of each other pushed my interest up several notches. Where do bees live? All around me! These urban bees are not keeping house in a row of tidy white boxes watched over by a beekeeper but in countless hollowed-out trees and likely an attic or two.

And quite possibly, as I've discovered, in a backyard beehouse discreetly harbored by a bee-loving neighbor. I don't know this for sure, but if there are people quietly keeping chickens in my 'hood (and I know there are), surely there are some beekeepers too.

After I saw that first swarm, I started researching in earnest, and ran across Boulder-based The site has a wealth of information for urban beekeepers and answered a lot of questions I had.

The site also introduced me to the top-bar hive. This kind of hive has been used by beekeepers for thousands of years and is common in Africa. It is not as efficient for honey production as the more recent and popular box-type hives (called the Langstroth system), but is easier to maintain and possibly healthier for the bees.

Isn't it attractive? One of the things that has kept me from thinking I could keep bees in my yard is the very obvious nature of the white, traditional beebox. If just one nosy and ignorant neighbor spotted it and freaked out, I'd probably have to get rid of it. Never mind that honeybees are not aggressive and are good for our gardens. They are not at all like wasps or hornets.

But this hive is both attractive and discreet. It doesn't scream out "BEEEEEEES! BEES LIVE HERE!" Should it be spotted through a gap in the fence, I doubt the casual passer-by would recognize what it is. And the supposed ease of maintaining it (plus the nifty viewing window in the side) has tipped me over from "I wish I could keep bees" to "How soon can I keep bees?"

I could buy a box from the site, but they're quite expensive. Happily, they offer the plans, too, so Pascal is going to see if he can build one. I can order just the top bars, which appear to be the most critical element to get exactly right.

I doubt I will get bees this year, but I am planning on it for next spring. I will likely take a class from the Backyardhive folks, and then watch for a swarm to capture. The lady who who had two this year has my number!

To see all the posts about my bee encounters, click here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

In the clutches of public transit

Because my car needs a new clutch. Ouch.

I would take the bus more often, but working at night makes getting home problematic. It's not very safe to take the bus late, and no one else works my hours for carpooling. Ah well.


I hope he has insurance. He took out the back end of her BMW.

Sweet reward

I came home from work last night to find a little package on my front porch. It was from Mary the Beekeeper, who captured the swarm I found last week.

Inside, a nice little thank-you note and an unexpected finder's fee:
A jar of honey from Mary's hives, and two pieces of comb started by the very bees I saw "in the wild."

When you put bees in a new hive, you have to check on them a few times early on to make sure they are building their comb parallel to the frames. If they start building crosswise, you won't be able to get the honey out neatly; the combs will break off. These must have been a couple of false starts, which Mary removed.
Isn't that an amazing feat of engineering? Each cell perfect, designed to maximize the space. The bees form chains by hooking their legs together and dangling below the comb as they build, creating a natural plumb line. In the beebox I'm considering getting, you lay a line of beeswax along the top bars, so the bees have guide to get them started building in the right direction.

Yes, I'm moving closer to bees of my own. I sent Pascal the plans to see if he can build me a box. He emailed me today and said, "Sounds like fun!" He'll let me know more once he's looked at the plans closely.

(Click on the "Bees" tag below for photos of all my recent bee encounters.)