A Good Week in Suburbutopia

It’s been an embarrassingly ridiculously long time since I posted last. Evidently, living in a rented room writing about your husband’s gardening adventures is not quite the same as actually living with and sharing said adventures. It took a while (over two and a half years) for me to be able to quit my day job and move the 500 miles between said job and said husband.

That said, This Week in Suburbutopia:


Saturday: The guys from Solar City woke us up. “I know we’re not scheduled to come until Monday, but can we stop by and install your solar panels today?”

Hell, yes!

They were nice, very friendly and helpful, and it’s a good thing that they came a couple of days early. We’d showered the night before and pulled one of those “I thought you emptied the graywater barrel.” “What? No, I thought you emptied the graywater barrel.” The nice electrician from Solar City went down to the basement and came up quickly with the news that there was water all over the basement floor.

Many happy hours later, we had a dry only slightly damp basement and solar panels on the roof. The crew even drank some of my sun tea, although they said, “Sun tea?” in That Sort of Voice and I had to explain that it was regular black tea, not some kind of weird herbal thing, just that the hot water came directly from the sun rather than being run through a photovoltaic system and a stove burner. They may be the bringers of the Post-Oil Future, but they’re still construction workers.

Sunday: We actually rested. Between staying up late Friday for my son’s birthday party (That’s a quarter of a century, Zeke!) and the unexpected early wakeup from Solar City, we were bushed. Oh, and crawling around the basement with the wet vac apparently takes a toll.

Monday: Harvested the first cabbage, sliced it up and layered it with salt in a crock for sauerkraut. Zuke Oops: Was making zucchini bread and asked Ralph to grate the zucchini while I mixed up the batter. Our kitchen counter is L-shaped, so my back was to him. He left the grated squash over where he worked and I blithely put the batter in the pans and the pans in the oven sans zucchini. Turns out that Zucchini Bread tastes just as good without the Zucchini. Made another batch anyway, since what good is a big bowl of grated zucchini without the Bread part? (Yes, you can make zucchini fritters, but two dozen? For two people? At 10 pm? Unlike Zucchini Bread, they just aren’t the same after they’ve been frozen.)

Tuesday: Shed window. Ralph cut the hole weeks ago, and after saying, “We should put up the screen and trim,” repeatedly, I just went ahead and did it. He keeps saying it looks crooked. I used the level, dammit, which is more than I can say for the hole he cut.

Wednesday: Squashapalooza. I should probably mention that we have one yellow squash, one zucchini plant and a total of 3 cucumber vines. Took the last couple of day’s pickings, froze most of them, and mashed up the rest for squash fritters. Not quite as tasty as corm fritters, but quite acceptable. Just to let you know, that tub below holds over 1 cubic foot of squash. God help me, it’s only July.

actual dimensions 12 x 12 x 14 inches

Thursday: Senior Day at the Delaware State Fair. I got in free. Hubby still has a year to go for that perk. We watched them judge the ponies and miniature horses.


Miniature horse, actually.

Miniature horse, actually.

Silly me, I always thought that the difference between a pony and a horse was size: over 14 hands 2 inches = horse, under = pony. However, miniature horses are smaller than ponies. Way beyond cute, too. Then we wandered over to the Poultry Barn to check out the fancy birds. They had an incubator full of hatching eggs with a sign beside it so unintentionally hilarious I had to film it. Alas, WordPress wants me to pay them money to show it to you, so I’ll just have to describe it. At the Bottom of a sign covered in baby chick facts is the directive, “Quiet, chicks are resting.” This, in a barn full of roosters crowing non-stop.

I have no idea what breed this is, but it is clearly on acid.

I have no idea what breed this is, but it is clearly on acid.

Next adventure, the Dover Building, full of food and crafts. Apparently, if a human can do it, there’s a State Fair competition for it.


Yes, that is the Delaware State Grand Champion Lego structure.

 I got a lead on a local quilt group, the Helping Hands. Need to amble over to the Amish quilt store to connect with them.

Friday: Second cabbage harvested, sliced up, seasoned with vinegar, and sitting in the fridge waiting for tomorrow’s potluck. Coleslaw is always better the second day. Made broth out of the leftover cabbage bits and put three pints in the freezer. Put up four jars of hot pepper jelly using Anaheim peppers and dragon cayenne from the garden, using only the non-seeded tips of the cayenne.


Then I took the rest of the cayenne, including the seeds, mixed it up with vinegar, salt, sugar, ginger, an entire bulb of homegrown garlic, half an onion, and a handful a Thai basil, ran it through the blender, and put it in the basement to ferment alongside the kraut crock. Tasted a little dot on the tip of my tongue and can certify that it is hot. Not OMG I’m-going-to-die hot, but hot enough that after five minutes I decided that it wasn’t going away by itself and drank some milk. Put up three pints of pickle relish and made a big bowl of cucumber salad with 1-2-3 dressing. Then Ralph found two more pickling cukes that I’d missed and notified me that there were 4 salad cukes almost ready to pick. It’s almost enough to make me look forward to frost. Got any good pickle recipes? 

1-2-3 Dressing

1 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons vinegar

3 tablespoons water

salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients, Stir or shake until salt and sugar dissolve. Pour over 1 peeled, (or not, your choice) sliced cucumber. Let stand, refrigerated at least 1 hour. Serve cold. You can add a little sliced onion, if you like.

Ralph took five yellow squash over to Mrs. Stanton. I still have four of the little suckers sitting on the kitchen counter. Did I mention we only have one yellow squash plant?


Oh, Crape!


How can anything so beautiful be so evil?

crape myrtle

I never had pollen allergies until we moved to Oregon. I’d followed my job to Salem, the state capital, in the lush and scenic Willamette Valley. (That’s pronounced Willamet, as you will be informed the moment you arrive there and open your mouth. Then they will tell you it’s Ory-gun, not Or-a-gone. So much for phonetics, but I digress.) Willamette, they tell me, means “The Valley of Sickness” in one of the local Native American tongues. It’s lush, the same latitude and distance from the ocean as the fabled wine-growing regions of France, with topsoil depth exceeded only by the Nile Valley. Plants love it, and as we all know, when plants make love, they make pollen.

So when I followed my job, and Ralph escaped from the clutches of Kaiser Permanente to get treatment for his year-old car accident injury, I thought, “Hey! Back to the East Coast, where the pollen is all familiar to my immune system!” The fact that we moved in the Fall let me hang with that delusion until late June.

The lovely crape myrtle is ubiquitous in the South. Not in the mid-Atlantic, where my immune system grew up. Apparently my T-cells regard Crape Myrtle pollen the way Atlanteans regard Sherman. Or maybe vice versa, I don’t know. Between the Allegra, the Benadryl, the Quercetin, and nettle tea, I’m not sure my brain is able to function at all. In fact, all of the above only seem to work if I take the additional step of rinsing my sinuses with saline solution every time I’m exposed to the great outdoors. And using eye drops.

Pollen allergies are interesting, particularly if they present a moving target, as mine seem to. You prepare for the expected, carrying a bottle of your chosen med in your purse as the season advances and the offending plant begins to bud. You see the first bloom! You take a pill! Problem solved via forethought and planning, right?

Apparently not. What worked last year required an upgrade from the prior year’s meds, which required an upgrade from the stuff that kept me functioning in Ory-gun. This year has taken a couple of giant steps upward in the medapalooza. Pollen allergies can be sneaky. I spent precious hours asking myself, “Didn’t I get enough sleep?” “Is it that glass of red wine I had with dinner?” when the simple answer was, “It’s the pollen, Stupid.”


Real Friends and Imaginary Family

2x wr

So if you’ve been reading my blog, you know we’ve gone through a rough patch. Due to Ralph’s medical issues and the job market, we’ve moved twice in the past 3 years and became serial home buyers in the process. Just when it looked like the Oregon renters were about to buy the house, they called and said they’d bought…a different house. The North Carolina renters had fallen behind on their rent, but were constantly promising to catch up, and then failing to make promised payments. They just left, still owing some money, but at least they left the place spotless. (The only way to keep me from going after them for the rest of their debt. Whatever works.)

One bright spot: I’d been quilting and showing photos of my work to friends. They’re starting to buy wall hangings and crib quilts. I’m getting offers to show my work. Life is good, right?

Well, on Wednesday, my day off, I cut up a bunch of fabric and set up the machine. I only had a couple of pieces to go on the rainbow double wedding ring I’d promised a co-worker, and had gotten some interest in piecework-embellished tote bags from other co-workers. Two days to payday. I could knock them out.

Plugged in the machine, a trusty Pfaff my mother bought in 1963, old enough that all the internal parts are metal, not the cheaper plastic they use now. Flipped on the light. Put the pedal to the metal.

Bupkis. Nada. No sign of life from the motor. Life decided to mess with my head yet again and told me, “That light at the end of the tunnel? Train.”

That set off a spate of research and a trip to the nearest sew ‘n vac, about 15 miles away. Two weeks, the lady said. Two weeks without the means to complete my projects. Financial distress didn’t stop me from hitting the Hancock Fabrics in the same strip mall. (Yes, one can become addicted to fabric.) Picked up a half a yard of black and white print on sale and fat quarters of a gray calico with little red and orange stripes, just the thing for “Winter” in a series of seasonal quilts I have in mind. Then I did a little more research and got a cheapo Singer to tide me over the two weeks, planning to sell it on Craigslist when I got mine back. Ten bucks off if you open one of their credit cards! I bit.

The cashier was a very sweet elderly woman who had never learned to type. It took a while as she hunted and pecked her way through my eight-letter name and five letter address. Thank God I’m not named Kryszinskiopoulis.

Had my usual fantasies on the way home. This is embarrassing to admit, but since my daughter announced her engagement last year, I’ve been jonesing for a granddaughter. You must understand that their plan is to finish their educations, pay down student debt, and get their careers on a firm footing before replicating themselves, which I applaud. I have no desire to watch them stress financially while bringing a little one into the world, but as I walk through stores cute little outfits jump out at me. Books and toys accost me, screaming “Buy me! She will love me!” I see prints in the fabric store and think of cute little dresses.

Of course, Nathan is one of four brothers, no sisters, so the odds are against the whole granddaughter thing. But Ariel’s dad is one of four brothers, no sisters.

So there.

When she turns 5 or so, the age at which I started handing pins to my mother as she laid out patterns on cloth, my little Lily would start handing pins to me and go home with outfits. Maybe I’d even hang on to the machine (So cute! So little! So pink!) and give it to her.

Jebus. She, or more likely he, won’t even be born for 3 or 4 years and I’ve already named her without consulting either future parent. Talk about fantasy. But back to sewing. I set up my cute little sewing machine, which had a hilariously small foot pedal, like a toy version, and even had a skinny little toy-sized electrical cord, I put in the cloth and set the pedal to the metal.

Bupkis. Nada. It did click a couple of times, though. I looked closer. There was a switch on the front, labeled, “Low-Off-High” Of course! Flipped the switch to Low.

The damned thing took off sewing on its own. The foot pedal had no influence on it at all. Flipped the switch back, and of course it went too far, onto High, and just galloped across the fabric. Behold the stitch ripper!

I made a few attempts at seams, gaining a little control, but decided that giving my potential granddaughter a sewing machine that made the user want to drop the F-bomb every five minutes would not be an act of kindness, and might, in fact, destroy our entire imaginary relationship. I took it back to the store. That, of course, took two tries, since what I thought was the receipt was really the receipt for the credit card application.

Fortunately, there are friends and kindness in the world. I announced my need for a loaner sewing machine to my crit group, and Voila! Jason called his wife Lisa and she agreed to let me use hers.

It’s good to have friends.

ps–I reached for the phone to upload a picture of the double wedding ring wallhanging. No phone. Further, no wallet. Where had I left it?

Last used at the grocery store. Last seen in the shopping cart. I blazed out the door.

“Good evening,” said the cashier. “How are you doing tonight?”

“Not so well. Has anyone turned in a blue clutch purse?”

“And a phone in a blue case?”

Amazing. The wallet and phone had been turned in by two different people. I am so blessed. Despite what you may read in the headlines, there are so many good people in the world.

So sometimes the light is the end of the tunnel, after all.

The Founding Father of American Agriculture


Listening to my local NPR station on the way home last night, I was lucky to tune in to in interview with a gentleman from the State Ag Extension Office and Peter Hatch, the Director of Gardens and Grounds at Monticello. Rather than blather on about Jefferson’s importance, not only in writing the Declaration of Independence, serving as the first Secretary of State and third President, founding the University of Virginia, designing his own house, in addition to his influence on American agriculture, (Did the man ever sleep?) I’ll just refer you here:


Monticello is definitely on my bucket list.

Better Late Than Never–Posting, that is….

kiss May 25

As you can see, I’ve been busy. That lovely lady and handsome fellow are my daughter Ariel and her new husband, Nathan, just married on Saturday.

We had First Fruits today: mesclun on our sandwiches at lunch and collards for dinner.


And although I’ve been a little too preoccupied to write, the garden has continued to grow. What a difference a month makes!

collard and broccoli sets         collards may 27

May 4                                                                      May 27

Text Only

Sorry about the late post. Drove up to Delaware on Wednesday. Got my computer talking to the internet, but the iPhone wouldn’t accept the old “Push the button on the modem” trick. So the photos I’m taking will have to wait until I get back to Charlotte. There will be photos: of the beginnings of various projects, of plants, and more plants, and of the amazing field of violets next to the driveway.

It’s been busy, so far. Got hand-me-down cinder blocks for the greenhouse base yesterday, along with a couple of loads of firewood. Some of the wood was rotten, so we got to turn two negatives into a positive: rotten, unburnable wood, plus a strip of permanently shaded yard = mushroom habitat. Have to research sources of mushroom spores on the net.

I helped move it all. Ralph told me about John’ wife refusing to get  job, because it’s his job to support her. Apparently she might qualify for some sort of disability, but she won’t apply for that either. “I told him, “I’ve gotten a lot of prissy wives in trouble.” Along the way we stopped at Felton Hardware, a delightful relic from another age: plant sets out front, seeds in jars for you to scoop out and buy by the ounce or pound, a place where you can walk in, ask for one of those thingamabobs that have the little whoosit that you flip over, and they’ll ask, “You want the 1/4 inch or 3/8?”

Came home, ate, and reorganized my sewing room, which was full of boxes where the movers stacked them last year. Ralph had set up the bookshelf, but on the wrong wall, so we unloaded the shelf, moved it, and reloaded. It reminded me that my body has been toughened by 13 years in a call center.

So we went to Spence’s Bazaar today, which was way cool, but not likely to bring in more than a hundred or so each time he sets up his veggie stand. Cheap prices from the two competitors. We hope to compete by selling stuff that’s a little different. Yellow pear tomatoes, basil, handing out recipes. Still, every bit helps.  Nice place to shop, though, wandering through the sellers of collectables and hand-made soap, veggie starts and designer knock-offs. Bought  tomato, eggplant, and banana pepper sets from Mrs. Peterson, who has a greenhouse and some harlequin marigolds from another fellow, whose name we didn’t catch.

Came home, and I napped, while Ralph went to haul 4 x 4s and pavers. Woke up after a bit, and tackled the rest of the boxes, stacking them neatly along the wall next to the sewing machine table. Then set up the sewing machine.

Then I tried to plug it in. Um, there are now eight boxes in the way. Sigh. Heavy boxes, most of them.

Ralph returned and I helped him move the lumber and pavers. I couldn’t lift the pavers. They’re 18″ x 18″ of 2 inch thick concrete. So he loaded them into the wheelbarrow, I move them and he unloaded and stacked. So we now have a greenhouse floor. In a stack next to the fence.

I planned to move those damn boxes again after dinner, but found getting out of a chair kind of about as good as it got. So we played Mr Wizard with our Luster Leaf soil test kit. I’ve got pictures of the difference a year of compost application makes on garden soil. My boys visit tomorrow, and the honeydew list is growing. Moving those boxes is on the top of it. Then maybe I can get some sewing done. If I can stay awake.

Greenhouse Project, Phase 2

horizontal sash windows

horizontal sash windows (Photo credit: doublebug)

Ralph got some pick up work for a contractor. Not much pay, but the bennies include–well, are limited to–being able to take home anything that lands in the scrap pile. In the past this has included scrap lumber for firewood and the half-dozen windows that inspired the greenhouse project in the first place.

Now they include two sliding glass doors.

Woah! Woot! That takes care of most of the east and west walls, with the sash windows currently burdening my car’s trunk for the south wall and the side of the toolshed for the north.

Pretty exciting stuff, even though the tracks for the sliders didn’t seem to get included in the deal. (One step at a time, she reminds herself.)

I’m looking forward to the end of the month, when the windows and I migrate North to see my hubby, attend my daughter’s bridal shower, tackle a sewing project or two, play in the dirt with seeds and baby plants, and play jigsaw puzzle with a bunch of old windows. (The south wall of the greenhouse will look something like the photo, but a lot greener.)

Stay tuned.

Reversion to the Mean

Reversion to the Mean

I was thinking about suburbia the other day. If you go back far enough–pre WWII ought to do it–you find that most of today’s suburbs were farms. So is it really that weird for me to do a little farming on my little piece of former farmland?

Payback’s a Bitch

Ben came over the other day. He’s something of an acquired taste, one that I’m still working on, but he’s been Ralph’s friend since high school, so there it is. Ben, on a good day, is only good for about 3 hours work, and that was before he had that heart attack and the doctor told him to take it easy.

So he came over and sat himself down on the sofa. Missy, our younger dog, was curled up next to him, taking a nap. He tweaked her ear. She woke up and looked around, then went back to sleep. He messed with her ear again.

“Why are you doing that?” Ralph asked.

“Heh-heh-heh” Ben replied.

The third time he woke her up, Missy gave up and went into the bedroom to finish her beauty rest.

When she came out, Ben had just begun his, and slouched, snoring, on the sofa. She went over to the wood box, picked up a stick, and ran across the sofa.

Whack!  The stick met Ben’s head and he woke up with a shout. Missy stood there, stick in mouth, grinning at him.

“Very funny,” he said, and closed his eyes.

She did it again.

“Damn dog,” he jumped to his feet. She ran to the end of the room and turned. This was way more fun than she’d expected. She raced towards him. He lunged and missed. Whack! She ran between his legs and got him on his shin.

“Payback’s a bitch,” observed Ralph.

We may have to change her name.