Thursday, April 23, 2009

Domestic Dunce

I love eHow and I love the Internet, and I love that websites like this exist. I can look up the stupidest, most basic domestic thing--because, really, how would I, someone who has never owned a house, know all this stuff? I mean, I've lived in apartments for something like five years, but that's not long enough, apparently, to be faced with and learn how to manage every possible domestic problem. Anyway, I love that there are such simplistic instructions only a Google search away--preventing a domestic dunce like me from believing I had no choice but to throw out the bathroom rug, which is rubber-backed and missing a care tag.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day Memories

Boy, I have some boring blog post titles.
I kept forgetting today was Earth Day. Maybe because, as a park employee/botanist, EVERY DAY IS EARTH DAY!!!! Anyway, finally the colorful Google logo reminded me, and I started to think about last Earth Day.
I remember that it was a beautiful day. It was a Tuesday and it was my last day of work at the Writing Center. I remember that carpenter bees were swarming the front porch, and people kept coming in and asking us to kill them. I was getting indignant, explaining to people that the bees don't sting, and I kept saying, "And it's EARTH DAY!" I remember what I had for lunch. I wasn't working my normal schedule that day; I was covering for my roommate as office staff. I remember that I was introduced to, and worked with, another student about whom my roommate had always said nice things. When I went to lunch, she left for the day, and I returned to find a post-it note taped to my keyboard that said, "Sarah, It was really nice meeting you! I hope to see you again soon!"
The Writing Center was not only a workplace that I really loved, but it was also where I met some of my closest friends during my last two years at Rutgers, and some of my favorite acquaintances. In fact, when I first started out as a botany student, after completing my English degree, I was older than my classmates and my science skills (especially lab skills) were a little rusty. Most of my friends had moved out of the area and I felt really lost. The Writing Center was one of the first places where I felt like I fit in. So I remember last Earth Day vividly. For the most part, everything was routine and normal and I had to keep reminding myself, "This is the end." The end of my Second College Career was coming upon me so fast--I kept commenting (mostly in my head) that things were ending before I had a chance to say goodbye. That ended up being a theme of that whole summer...which I didn't know was going to happen.
I am thinking so much about last Earth Day because it was around then--when school ended, when that job ended, three months before my lease ended--that life started to take on that eerie, dreamlike quality it had for...well, that fogginess persisted for months. My life retained that dreamlike feeling perhaps until only a few weeks ago.
Even now, as I move forward, I find myself looking back. I keep writing down details because I worry that if I forget, I'll lose something. I want to remember the details of the time I was so happy, yet also the details of when I lost those things that made me happy. I don't know why; maybe in the future if I am ever unhappy, I can examine these memories and figure out what's missing.

It took me months to throw out that post-it note.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Gardening Adventures

Right here, there should be a picture of my Community Garden plot. I brought my camera there today, but I forgot to take a picture of my plot.
Imagine a photograph that's mostly black dirt, with a few indecipherable green leaves dotted around. I think some of my wildflower mix is starting to come up, and I'm fairly certain my peas are starting. My brassica/root vegetable area has a bunch of activity...but that could be weeds. I may have pulled up a broccoli seedling by accident today. In case it isn't clear, I don't know what the hell I'm doing. Hopefully the Community Gardeners do not read my blog.

I've become something like a devotee of Gayla Trail's writing and gardening instructions. If there are two gardening opinions, I find myself leaning towards hers. I think this is because when I first found myself in a garden job and thought, "Crap! I'm a good research/botanist, but a crummy gardener!" hers was one of the first things I read that was useful and approachable. Her website held my hand without being condescending. It said, here's how to do the basics, but you can try to grow this really difficult plant if you want, too.
This is how I've ended up with my Masdevallia 'Angel Tang' (a good starter orchid), a true curry leaf tree (Murraya koenigii not the Helichrysum that smells like curry powder), some random microgreens in a plastic Driscoll's strawberry container, and now, a clementine container full of toilet paper rolls, to-go coffee cups, and yogurt containers. I found coconut coir for sale at Springfest and bought that, because Gayla Trail says it is better than peat. I have two bags of peat and vermiculite on my "deck" (a roof overhanging the driveway, to which I have access by climbing out a window...there's no railing and I'm sure that the landlords would have a heart attack if they saw me parading around out there in heels...after dark) and I've been mixing up the coir, perlite, and vermiculite. The problem is that the coir is in a really dense block. You're supposed to put it in water and it will expand to a billion times its size. I'm not really sure if I'm doing that right.
So, today I started some okra seeds. "Started." I set them to soak on Saturday night. They were supposed to soak for 24 hours. For various reasons, I had no choice but to let them soak for three times that. So, they might be useless by now--I have no idea. But I planted them. Half of them. Because I ran out of toilet paper rolls. And it was dark out. I got tired of gardening, in heels, on a roof with no railing, by the light of a reading light I dragged out of the window as far as I could get the cord to stretch. Oh, and I need to soak more coir. The last okra seed was planted in mostly vermiculite and perlite.

Monday, April 13, 2009

My garden

(First, I wrote about cleaning my kitchen. Then baking cake. Now my garden. What is the trend here?)

I'll have to write later with some pictures. I have a degree in botany and a job at a garden, but my secret is--I am a pretty bad gardener. My father once called me The Dr. Kevorkian of Plants. In my defense, I do well with some difficult plants even though some easy ones have well...not exactly thrived under my care. I have a lot of "rescues" (therefore it's not my fault if they die--I got them in bad shape!)

Anyway, I have to leave a in few minutes but I couldn't WAIT to write about my garden. I noticed yesterday that the sole hellebore I planted in the fall-a 'Blue Lady'- is flowering. I went down to take some photos of it a few minutes ago and saw that a my toad lily--about which I had some concerns--is alive and well. Among the dead-looking patch of off-white sticks, some variegated-stripey-leafed rosettes have appeared. I realized that the scattering of seedlings all over the hill might not be weeds but could actually be the native aster mix I planted in the fall. And finally--what I consider a triumph--my Chelone glabra is coming up! I bought this plant for $3 (or maybe $1.75!) at the end of the season from the local Agway. It was almost dead. I mean, really, the cashier did not hide the fact that she thought I was nuts for buying it. I insisted that I was a botanist (which is NOT a horticulturalist or necessarily a good gardener) and I KNOW WHAT I'M DOING.
Within a few weeks, the Chelone looked like a few pieces of bamboo fencing stuck in the ground. Probably dead. After reading an article about "cleaning up your garden for the fall," I realized the hollow stems could house overwintering pests and I scrambled outside to cut the stems. Just a few inches of dead-looking Chelone remained. But now! Several shoots have started to appear around the "sticks." It's not dead!

AND some violets are coming up too!

Also the Aquilegia 'Corbett.'

Well, with nothing but a small patch of deep shade, maybe I have created a woodland garden.

(This is an even better feeling than when I cooked my first meal with my OWN curry leaves. I think it's equivalent to when I realized the Lithops I bought for a display at work was flowering.)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Chocolate Cake War

OK, it's not that violent or heated.

My mother has a great chocolate cake recipe. It's her favorite cake ever. Sometimes she makes it every week. (This probably means she has a lot of sour milk to use up. Sometimes we will make the cake just because we don't want to have to throw out old milk.) It's a simple yet delicious chocolate cake. It's easy to make, we bake it in a Pyrex and eat it out of that same Pyrex all week--we like it better than most fancy cakes. It's called Wilma's Chocolate Cake. For more than twenty years I thought it was my grandmother Wilma's recipe, but no--it's ANOTHER Pennsylvanian Wilma's recipe, some lady my grandmother (French grandmother--the one who is not Wilma) knew when my mom was a little girl. I've tried to alter the recipe a little, using whole wheat flour, adding different flavorings, and once, to my mother's dismay, my friend Patrick and I added hot sauce. (It was good!)

A few days ago, I discovered Heidi Swanson's basic chocolate cake recipe, which uses natural ingredients. Her description (a simple delicious cake that you bake in the same Pyrex you serve it in) sounded exactly like Wilma's Chocolate Cake. So, for Easter, in addition to a flourless chocolate cake (my mom) and a flourless orange cake (me), my mom and I have each made a basic chocolate cake. She made Wilma's recipe and I made Heidi's. We are going to have a contest to see which one is better--the white flour version or the "healthy" version.

(I suspect in the end I will be combining both recipes to make a less-processed-ingredients version of Wilma's Chocolate Cake. Wilma's cake updated for the 21st century.)

I'll post the results of the Cake War tonight...

Saturday, April 11, 2009

My clean kitchen

The rest of my house can be a complete shamble, but I will clean the kitchen. The kitchen might be the most clean room in the house, but I will want to take everything off the counters and wipe them off with vinegar-water (my eco-friendly alternative to Lysol) and put everything back, possibly rearranging things. Last night I rearranged my kitchen for the third time since I moved in. First, the microwave was on one side of the oven and the toaster oven was on another. I moved them together. The second time, I realized that the coffee pot did not need to be on the far corner, opposite the toaster oven and microwave from the sink, but could go where the microwave once was. Last night, I realized that the toaster oven and microwave could be separated and still lead happy lives, that I did not have a life (or lease-length) sentence of inconveniently reaching into a corner every time I wanted to use the toaster oven. So I moved the toaster oven to the other side of the sink, on its own. This left all kinds of space between the sink and the microwave and (after cleaning it all several times with vinegar solution) I was able to fill that space with all kinds of useful things--without cluttering or crowding it. Now, every time I walk into my kitchen I feel a wave of contentment at seeing that cheery, open space, with the countertop and microwave top pure white and not with any kind of weird residues stuck to it.

This is probably heightened by the fact that my living room is a crazy mess. Throughout the week, I've been taking everything out of my kitchen cabinets (and some other cabinets) to sort through 1) What I don't need anymore and can give away; 2) What I need to keep in the kitchen because I use it requently and 3) What I don't actually use that much and instead of keeping it in the kitchen making myself crazy!!!! I can store in the attic! This includes most of my plates and glasses. I am one person. I only need one bowl, one plate, one glass, and one coffee mug. I'm keeping a little more than that in the kitchen, but most of it is going upstairs. Why? Because when I have all the dishes at my fingertips, I'm more inclined, during a busy week, to just grab a new plate instead of washing the old one. What happens? By the end of the week, I have a mountain of dishes that I am too tired to deal with. And the cycle continues and the mountain grows. This may not be the way normal people arrange their kitchens, but for me, it's effective.

There was a point to this but I don't remember what it was. I think the point was that I spend more time in the kitchen than I do in my room--in fact, I spend very little time in my bedroom. I pretty much sleep in there, throw things around in there, and get dressed in there. I also tend houseplants in there, because it's the only room in the house with a somewhat-South-facing window.

I spend a lot of time in the living room, but that's really because my kitchen isn't an actual room but just a corner of the living room. I'm in the living room with an eye on the stove or the oven, watching TV shows on while I chop vegetables, looking up new recipes on commercial breaks.

I'm not sure what all of this means (if anything.)

Now that it's warm out, I bet I'll be spending some of that time normally devoted to the kitchen outside on my roof-deck. (That's what I call a porch I have that's actually a roof--a carport overhang thing that's sturdy enough for people to sit on.) That's where I make soil mixes, sort the vermicompost, plant seeds, collect rainwater (ok, I'm not that organized, I just accidentally left some buckets out there and decided it was a good system), clean things that are too yucky and cumbersome to clean in the house (like refrigerator shelves), and also sit and get some sun. I think I get a better wireless signal out there anyway.

Today I bought seeds and a few plants and tomorrow I am hoping--before Easter celebrations commence--to get out to my garden plot to plant them! A large part of this weekend was also spent in a different kitchen with the four generations of my French family--my great-grandmother, my grandmere, my mother, and myself. Mom and I are finally learning the family Easter recipe--pate berrichon. Maybe I'll post some pictures later. (Also, I have this secret goal of redoing the recipe with natural ingredients and also inventing a vegetarian (I imagine lots of mushrooms...) version...definitely! redoing the recipe for future generations without veal!)

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Lately, I've been listening to a lot of indie rock. I've been listening to lots and lots and lots of new bands and albums, but I keep going back to the same three CDs or bands and listening to them on loop. I have a wealth of happy music from which to choose, but I keep going back to Blonde Redhead, Wolf Parade, and Interpol. Certain albums--one I had prior to September 1, 2008, can make me sad. (Well, Misery is a Butterfly makes me sad because well, look at the title!) They remind me too much of sad things that happened in my last summer in New Brunswick, or they remind me of happy times and I miss them--but even thought it makes me sad, I want to relive those times. In some ways, I am still stuck in that summer or spring. I am stuck on April 9, 2008--my 24th birthday where I sat down, actually verbalized the sentence, "I am almost 100% happy now," and made a list of things I wanted to accomplish each day to work toward that 100%. I am still stuck on some desolate road in Wyoming or New Mexico, with Mary, in my silver Sunfire. I am stuck on 287, driving to work not understanding what happened to the home I'd left behind on May 27th, 2008, hoping I could get it back before I moved out on September 1st. That summer was spent in limbo, but I was still happy to have some connection to the life I had on my 24th birthday. And yet, it's not like this year hasn't counted or hasn't happened. I'm certainly glad it did happen. I have done a lot of things that I am happy about.
I think this music I've been listening to, which is kind of uneasy, which has a lot of electronic stuff in it and a very dreamy feeling, I think it fits with this disorientation I'm feeling.

(I've also been listening to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, especially when I'm happy and driving or cleaning the house, and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and lots of blues and folk music.)

In other news, the flowers I planted when I moved in September are starting to come up.