I’m sure there’s stuff going on around here that isn’t related in some way to plants but my mini-garden is such a source of joy that it takes up most of my thoughts these days.  The backyard is slowly coming along.  A few weeks ago we planted our pea seeds and today we got our wee little elderberry bush, a couple of teensy echinacea seedlings, and the Captain Kirk Hostas along with an ostrich fern and some ajuga to fill in the weird half-planted shady strip along the path to the back gate.  Despite rushing to get the plants in before the rain came through, it was really nice to get my hands dirty again.

The bee house went up last Friday but so far there’s not been any action.  Haven’t seen any bees around the neighborhood yet at all.  I am trying to stem my impatience enough to keep it a fun little experiment.  We should be past frost so hopefully we will get the rest of the seeds sown this week–mostly flowers for the bee garden but we’re taking a stab at cucumbers as well.

We have a couple of herb sprouts, though I forgot to label which pot was which.  It’s catnip, basil, parsley or cilantro.  The strawberry pots are still bare, but I guess it’s a bit early still.  I think perhaps tomorrow I will try moving them outside to see if more access to light helps as I’m not entirely sure our kitchen bench gets enough.

The rest of the time is spent frantically trying to catch loose ends into something resembling neat little plaits.  The truth is that I’d rather be pottering about with a cup of tea, staring out the window at the birds at the feeder, or shoving my hands into the dirt.  That I can do that, at least some of the time, is such a blessing.

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The one where I pretend there isn’t sewage in my basement

Aside from not being able to flush the toilet or run water without racing down the stairs to make sure the flow of water is relatively contained, I can hardly tell that the floor of my storage/electrical closet is covered with murky water and toilet paper (GAG).  Whilst I wait for the plumber, after having cleaned up all I can clean up and thrown out all that cannot be salvaged from where the water seeped out, I have decided to thoroughly ignore that any of this is going on by staring out the window at the hordes of birds and squirrels feasting merrily on the seed they finally noticed.  I am also happy to note that our new composter has arrived and I am seriously contemplating putting it together because nothing alleviates anger and frustration like assembling plastic things.

Did I mention there is sewage in my basement?  Because I am so completely grossed out and, to be honest, dreading finding out exactly what could cause the back-up.

Actually, to be totally honest, I am really peeved any of this is happening at all.  The back-up, the murky water, the kids who are home from school because I didn’t hear from the plumber until after they were due to go in, the fact that I really wanted to spend the day puttering happily about the house instead of pretending the Deep Ones aren’t ascending from my drain.  And maybe a little bit peeved that I keep forgetting not to flush.

So while I am pretending, and watching the birds, and wishing the kids were in school and I was surrounded by gardening catalogs, I am making apple pie out of leftover apples and getting ready to plant some seeds with the kids.  I guess it’s not such a bad way to spend a Monday after all.   Happy Pi Day–at least the pie may be ready by 1:59.


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But enough about me, let’s talk about…me.

I really like to buy things.  I’m not proud of my enjoyment of conspicuous  consumption, and I am quite thankful that my consumption tends toward the $50 spree at the drugstore rather than the $500 pair of shoes, but the fact is this morning when I shipped my kids off with Grandma for the day, the first thing I did after pounding a cup of tea and installing the bird feeders in the backyard was head for the aforementioned drugstore.  I like to think that my penchant for “useful” things like pencils and erasers and plant kits for the kids makes it okay that my first notion of leisure time involved strolling leisurely through the aisles of the local CVS.  I’m probably deluding myself, but I do have to admit, I am sitting here munching on some leftover root veggies and feeling rather excited to see the kids’ faces when they come home to some cheap crap I bought them 😉

I inherited my shopping style from my grandmother, queen of the bargain who is constantly on the lookout for kids activities or little gifties.  And, like her, I sometimes struggle with the impossibility of my excitement at passing along a little something being reciprocated in exactly the way I intended.  I buy things for the kids because I am reminded of them and want to make them happy, but their happiness is not always commensurate to my anticipation (and often is accompanied by little child attitudes which tend toward being, well, childish.  The nerve!)  Still, I have to chuckle as I catch myself separating my goodies into piles–two plants for Francis, two for Lucinda; pencil erasers on top, then pencil sharpeners–one blue, one red; St. Patrick’s Day stickers, two sheets apiece, off to the side.  Then do I divide the box of pencils in two (carefully counting to make sure each child gets the same) or do I make a pile that is for both children so that they can learn to share (yes, right in front.)  I am amused by my piles, the amount of time I have devoted to setting up the surprise even as I know they will come home tired from a long day of fun and probably won’t enjoy their presents nearly as much as I had getting them.

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Wherein I struggle to feel at home

I have this problem.  See, no matter how tremendously fortunate I feel to have my life, every so often (usually when I emerge from a spate of excitement or busyness) it feels a little like a cloud falls away and I’m left feeling…lost.  Intellectually I understand that there is no great reveal of my alone-in-the-cosmos-ness.  It’s my fear of being viewed as not productive enough, not worthy enough, not enough in general, and the only reason why it’s smacking me in the face is that I have stopped running around long enough to look for the next thing to think about obsessively.

And I am writing about it because if I don’t, it will fester and grow.  If I don’t, it will make me shut down until I have proven to myself that I am everything I fear.  Irresponsible, unloveable, unreliable, selfish, unworthy.  A fraud.

The funny thing is how uncomfortable it makes me to look at what I’ve written even though it’s been going through my head.  The quandary I find myself in is this:  how do I go about finding some balance between busyness and leisure that helps me to be comfortable in my own life without forcing a choice between stress and depression.  Because I’ll tell you, the last couple of days have sucked and I’m tired of repeating them every three months.



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seeds and other miseries

It seems strange to be thinking about gardening with snow (back) on the ground.  Be that as it may, we are slowly amassing supplies and I find myself thinking back to the last time I attempted seed-starting and the challenges experienced in the midst of that attempt. Now, this time around most of our seed-starting is to stave off the frustration of waiting to get into the garden proper, and another part is to give the Bub the experience the magic of watching a seed sprout into beautiful greenness.  Yet another part is that we can just get more types of plants to try out from seed than from seedling, at a lower price.  Lastly, NO VEGETABLES!

We are starting a variety of plants from seed, mostly of the bee-attracting variety.  Borage, Echinacea, Lemon Mint, Coriander, Phacelia, Bachelor’s Buttons and Lemon Balm.  We’ll be starting Basil and Catnip, plus giving chamomile a stab.  Some will be direct sow, like the purslane (sweet Jesus I love me some purslane.)  Many will go into those make-’em-yrself newspaper pots in a location-to-be-determined later.  If they don’t germinate, we’ll move on.



Despite my reticence, I am excited about this garden.  The next step is waiting for the pile of snow to melt so I can measure how large each of the flower beds is.

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I like bugs.  Not in the “let ’em crawl all over me” sense (ew) but in the sense that I like learning (on a fifth grade level) about insects and arachnids.  I blame my grandmother who purchased a bug house for me when I was a wee lass and made several attempts to hatch cocoons and caught praying mantids for me to look at.

Once upon a time I was very afraid of spiders, but to be honest merely having a friend with pet tarantulas and hearing her talk about their habits made me acquire one of my own (the infamous Perpetua who spent several good years with me).  Lucinda has had her own tarantula as well–Ruby Red Rump–who she adored so completely that while the anesthesia took affect for her open heart surgery, she was telling the OR guys all about her and how cool it was to watch her burrow.

The moral of this ever-lengthening story is that I am afraid of bees.  I have been getting less afraid of bees as I grow older (and go longer without being stung).  I also have been concerned about the diminishing number of honeybees but unwilling to commit to full-on beekeeping.  Imagine my delight when, browsing through decorative gardening crap (I am not a face-in-the-tree, gnome, gazing ball sort of person), I came across the Mason bee house.

The Mason bee is really effing cool.  I have been doing some research on this little pollinator and the more I read about them, the more I have come to want Mason bees in my backyard.  So this morning I finally pulled the trigger and ordered a Mason bee home.  The current plan is that we are going to put up the house, make the little mud area, and see what we attract.  Based on this first year’s observations, I will decide if I order bees for next year.

If you have even a passing interest in learning about Mason bees, I recommend you check out Crown Bees. I am very excited (and just a wee bit nervous) to see how this little experiment turns out!

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Nom nom nom

When I was in junior high, in some sort of strange effort to engage in what I had convinced myself was  some sort of rite of passage, I enrolled in Home Economics.

You’ll be happy to note that I aced the babysitting module and, inexplicably, ironing.  This prevented me from outright failing  the course because when it came to cooking and sewing, I quickly found I did not give two shits about either.  I overcame my aversion to sewing when I found work in a pants-manufacturer after dropping out of college, but my cooking experience was pretty much limited to boiling water, nuking frozen food, and the three times I engaged in the preparation of vegetable soup from scratch between the years 1996 and 2000.

Over the past year, in conjunction with treatment for depression/anxiety, I have been slowly overcoming my fear of cooking.  I’m not an over-enthusiastic cook, nor do I prepare anything very complicated.  But I am quite proud of my newfound ability to prepare a complete dinner without a recipe, and yesterday I was bitten by the same bug that used to compel the veggie soup.

I have been meaning to make a garam masala for over a year and I’ll never know why I finally decided that yesterday was the day but I came home from dropping Lucy off at school, washed out my mortar and pestle, and got to work.

Jen’s Garam Masala

  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp black peppercorn
  • 2 T coriander seed
  • 1/2 T cumin seed
  • 1/2 tsp whole cloves
  • 1 T ground cardamom
  • 2 T turmeric
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 chile de arbol, de-seeded

roasted on low (minus turmeric, chili, cardamom), stirring constantly.   Let cool slightly, then mixed in turmeric and cardamom.  Lots and lots of mortar-and-pestling before I realized that I couldn’t hand grind the cinnamon.  Quick trip through the coffee grinder, and then into airtight plastic container.  I didn’t think of the chile until later so it was torn up rather than ground.  I think next time I will do half the cinnamon and two chiles.  And definitely will get cardamom pods instead of using ground cardamom.

I actually made the garam masala without having a clear idea what I would do with it but since we had tomatoes and lentils, a dhal made the most sense.  I spent about an hour looking at recipes online before deciding to use this one as a basis.  Obviously I used my garam masala instead of her spices, and I didn’t have all of her ingredients so this is what I used:

  • 1 cup yellow lentils
  • 1 small white onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • Jen’s garam masala (about 1/3 of what I made above)
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 can tomato paste (6 oz)
  • 4 chopped tomatoes
  • 6 baby carrots, grated

I covered the lentils with 2 inches of water and cooked them for not long enough–probably 20 minutes (next time I will give them the full 45).  While those were cooking I sauteed the onions for 5 minutes in olive oil then threw in the garlic and masala for another 5.  I added the 4 cups of water and stirred, then the drained lentils and tomato paste, simmering for 20 minutes.  While it was simmering, I grated in the baby carrots which thickened it.  After simmering for 20, I added the tomatoes and cooked until the lentils were tender.

Then, because I am a freak and cannot stand the texture of tomatoes, I poured the whole mix into the foley food mill and pureed it.  I served it over Jasmine rice and if I had thought ahead I would have garnished with some cilantro for the husband and parsley for me (I hate cilantro.)   Next time I will also add more garlic, probably 6 cloves instead of 3, because the spice needed rounding out.

I have been really bad about making meatless meals–as a novice cook it is much easier to do a one-pot meal with meat than without.  I’m hoping to do more experimenting with beans now that I have successfully done one dish.  Tonight I’m back to stir-fry though 🙂





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