Sunday, May 31, 2009

My New Retreat

I really didn’t plan on it turning out this way, but for some reason I am really loving the feel of my balcony.  The plants are growing away, despite they fact they only get direct sun until about noon.  I have ‘fixed’ my glider so to speak (thank goodness for Elmer’s Wood Glue Gel), thrown some old quilts on it for padding.  I needed a table, so I brought out one of my dining room chairs (like I really have a dining room!).  And my foot stool.

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Yesterday I was out here on and off and ended up dragging out the sleeping bag and laying it on the balcony.  I laid here and finished reading my trashy romance.  There was a lit of a breeze and all I could hear were the birds and the sound of the water aerator in the pond.  It was sssssooooooo calm and peaceful.

I have also started drinking my coffee out here on the weekends.  What a nice way to start what will probably be a hectic day, or to avoid housework, whichever way you choose to look at it.

I write a little, doodle some, and find myself meditating a lot.  Just unwinding.

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On the other hand, Noel is not to sure about it.  She will lay down eventually after making sure there is nothing going to get us on the third floor.  But I really think her feeling is ‘but I was sleeping on the bed/carpet in the air conditioning!’  ‘Why?’

Saturday, May 30, 2009

OD’s Final Days……

as a high school student.

These past few days have been very bittersweet at our house.  OD is graduating from high school.  So as things start ending at high school, when she has a minute of down time, she is moaning the loss of her childhood and having to be an ‘adult’.

Prom was the first big step to the end.  There was a whole gang of girls (and a few brave guys) which went together.  A couple of the parents threw a dinner for them before the prom.

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She is really proud of the dress, $28 at a consignment store.  She’s had it for a few months now.  She’s my Goodwill Queen.  She would rather have a shopping spree at the thrift stores than the biggest mall.

Her last big step is the theater class production of “Honk”.  She plays Dot, a goose who is a flight attendant.

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She loves her theater classes and acting, but realizes she isn’t competitive enough to make acting/theater a career.  She’s going into nursing, but has a couple of local outlets to keep her hand in acting.

My baby is growing up. 

Friday, May 29, 2009

Cycling Update

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This is the ‘Blue Bomber’.  I call her such by the fact she is built like a B-52 bomber….big and heavy but gets the job done.  And you would be amazed at the amount of stuff I can get in those baskets.

My only disappointment with the baskets is they came with NO instructions…..like how to use the little pieces they sent to attached the basket to the seat stem.  I think my stem is too big for it to fit onto as the screws they sent won’t even come close to going around it.  And the nuts for the screws have an auto stop on them so you can’t even get it close to being tight.  But twine seems to be doing the job quite well.

Six hundred plus miles so far in walking/riding.  Yesterday was fun.  I came home in the rain.  Thought I could miss the big, black cloud which was looming, but no.  It got me about halfway home.  It was fun riding in the rain.  I felt like a “real” rider.

And the hills I use to walk up are now being ridden up (sometimes, for the most part).

Things I’ve learned….

1.  No matter how big I think I am, I am invisible on the bicycle.  People in cars just don’t see me for the most part.

2.  You are suppose to lube your chain!  Who knew.  But I still have a clank when I pedal.  Don’t know what’s making it.

3.  I can replace the chain when it falls off (happened once while riding, once while lubing).

4.  Depending on what you load in the baskets it will take either one really hard climb to get it upstairs or I have to make 2 trips.

 

Monday, May 25, 2009

Jam….a family heritage

Yes, I make jam.  Yes, I could buy it cheaper in the store.  I do buy my grape jelly at the store, mainly because I don’t have access to enough grapes to make jelly.  But I enjoy making my own jam.  And my family and friends love it when I do and they get to eat the results.  I will brag and say I’ve won a few ribbons, both in Texas and North Carolina at the fairs for my jams and jellies.

Is it brain surgery?  No.  Can anyone do it? Yes.  Why don’t they?  Beats me.

My “jam making season” starts in April/May with the strawberries.  I am completely out this year, so will make 2-3 batches to stock up for awhile.  Texter is my main fan and roots for her favorites and will help out to a certain extent.  Her favorite job… testing the batch once it’s cooled some to be sure it tastes right.

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Then comes peach preserves.  And if I can get my hands on them, pears for pear honey and preserves.  I’ve been known to make blackberry jam, blueberry jam, raspberry jam, apricot and cherry jam.  But not often.  Our favorites, the old standbys, are strawberry and peach.

The whole process is soothing and ritualistic to me.  You get out the jars emptied over the past year.  Get new lids and make sure you have enough lids in the right size for all the jars you are using.  The dutch oven comes out.  Lots of hot water.  Extra towels.  The heavy wooden spoon, stained from past years of jelly making.  A bowl to measure the sugar in.  The potato masher to “squish” the fruit.

My mother (and dad) makes jam.  Both my grandmothers made jam.  One of the best memories I have of my dad’s mother is making grape jelly.  They had a grape arbor and every year made jelly.  I remember the huge bags of grapes they would tie to the rafters of the workshop and let drip juice into buckets.  The smell in there was heavenly.  Some of the juice would be left as grape juice and bottled, the rest would be jelly.  The smell of grape jelly cooking on the stove is a memory within itself.

Back when my grandmother, Ginny, was making jams and jellies she would cover the top of the jam/jelly with paraffin.  Don’t see that anymore.  And there was an art to getting the paraffin off the top of a newly opened jar so it didn’t crumble and you were picking paraffin out of the jam for ages.  If you carefully pressed down on one side of the circle of paraffin with a butter knife or spoon, it might just raise up slightly on the other side, enough so you could slip the knife or spoon under it and lift it out.  Failing that, you would have to hope when you poked at the circle of wax it would break into a couple of big pieces and not shatter into dozens of little pieces.

My dad’s job was always the pear “honey”.  His mother’s recipe, it involves peeling then grinding up the pears, adding crushed pineapple and cooking.  (Please wipe the drool off my chin.)  Dad was the one who was always in charge of that.

We also can tomatoes and green beans.  Freeze peas (Southern, not  English), okra, squash (which I don’t eat) and whatever else was in the garden and needed saving.  I was content to snap beans or shell peas, getting them ready for canning.  It was an enjoyable, hot time in the kitchen with my mom and grandmother.

For years now, I’ve done it, my parents have done it, we just do it.  Canning was something you did in the summer, like making homemade ice cream or eating watermelon or making pickles.  Never thought I wouldn’t can something during the summer.  Nothing like homemade soup or chili in the winter made with your own canned tomatoes.  Opening a jar and breathing in the aroma brings back the memories of summer in the cold of winter.  Canned green beans have a flavor all of their own which you can’t get out of a tin can from the grocery store shelf.

Now I am “trendy”.  Preserving and canning are making a comeback.  I don’t have a garden, but it’s easy enough to buy a bushel of corn, tomatoes or beans at the local farmer’s market.  I don’t put up enough to “see us through” the winter, but I put up some.  Just enough to remember what I do, my mother does and my grandmothers did.  That’s preserving.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Catch-Up Sunday

Today is a “catch-up” day.  I don’t plan any bike rides today.  I had 2 really nice 10-plus mile rides on Friday and Saturday, so today, if I do anything, it will be to take the dog for a lap around the lake.

I have to download my “Favorites” from my Itouch back onto the computer (which crashed about a month ago).  So I am drinking coffee (and later tea), loading up each site and seeing what I have missed over the past few weeks.  Problem with reading blogs is they often take you on tangents you aren’t expecting.  I have my trusty journal beside me to make notes, write down books I want to check out at the library, etc.

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I also have strawberry jam to make.  Aren’t these beautiful!  They are almost too pretty to squish (official jam-makers term), but boy will they be great on some biscuits or buttered toast.  Texter is still sleeping, but will have to get up shortly as I want to get a batch or two of the jam under way before it gets too hot.

OD is at the Animazement convention this weekend.  Six 18 year olds in cosplay outfits.  They are the biggest group of old-maids you have ever seen, which is why none of us moms had problems with them spending 2 nights at the hotel alone.  This is about their 5th or 6th year of doing this and they always partner up.  Always have their cell phones….well, almost always as OD lost hers.  Luckily, this nice couple found it at the convention and she is now reunited with it….not that she noticed it was missing until we called one of the other girls.  They decided who is bringing what food so they don’t have to buy anything at the hotel or convention or go out for dinner.  They want to spend their $$ on other stuff.  My request…go through the trash!  People throw away some really neat stuff.

I have “help” while at the computer.  See these……

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And this……

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I can’t figure out if he really thinks he’s hiding or not.  And Noel is usually here…..

 

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But has decided here is better.

 

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This is also the narrow walkway through my “stuff” from the computer to my bedroom door, so when I get up I have to be sure to watch where I am stepping.  I usually give Noel a chance to move, otherwise we will get all tangled up as she will follow me everywhere.

So a little computer, a little reading, a little artwork, a little “jam session” and it’s a great Sunday.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Saturday Snakes

I don’t mind snakes.  I don’t go into fits and try and climb the nearest high object.  I like snakes better than the little lizards which zip around a garden, scaring the crap out of you.   However, I prefer my snakes to be…….OVER THERE…..and not over here.

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Which is why, at 5:30am, I prefer them to get up in the top of the weeds, be bright green and only 18 inches long, if I have to meet up with them at all.  And he (or she) stayed there until the dog did what dogs do at 5:30am and went upstairs and got my camera and came back downstairs to take it’s picture.

This is better than the 4 foot long one laying in the runoff creek at the park I saw last week.  It was brown and black with a pointy head and looked like it would do some damage.

And no, I do not advocate whacking snakes just because they are snakes.  Just wish they wore bells to let you know they were coming.

Empowered and Connected

(Written on Mother’s Day)

That’s how I feel now, today, at this moment. It’s a little after 6am on Mother’s Day. It’s pleasantly cool and I’m enjoying my second cup of coffee on the balcony. I didn’t actually finish the first one – the dog did – which is why I am already on cup number two.

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Why do I feel empowered and connected? Let’s take connected first. I got my hands in soil again. I have 6 tomato plants, a ton of basil, some lettuce, a pot of herbs, some morning glory and moon flower vines in pots on my balcony. They join the pink geranium OD got me for Mother’s Day (Texter got me WOW cards, but that’s another story). And my two orchids (one of which leapt off my third floor railing and survived), the clivia given to me by a retired coworker and the ever suffering aloe vera plant.

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All my tomato plants have blooms on the (or emerging blooms). My Sweet Million, which I had potted ahead of everyone else, is already about 2 feet fall (it’s now 3 feet). I do have to say that Miracle Grow potting soil rock. It might not be in keeping with being totally organic, but it does seem to work. Red Cherry, as I call her, is sharing a pot with a morning glory and moonflower. I have this vision of the vines up one corner of the balcony with blue and white appearing and disappearing during the day.

Two of the tomatoes are my little Red Robins. They’ll only get about 8 inches tall, but they are covered in blooms – little Christmas trees in the making. I gave one to the downstairs neighbor to pre-apologize for any soil or water which might leak through from my balcony. They have a little girl who I though might like to watch it make tomatoes. One Red Robin is in a 5 gallon bucket with basil. The other is on the railing in it’s own little pot. (Update – the Red Robin in it’s own pot is now on the window ledge in the kitchen with 2 baby tomatoes on it.)

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I have a Sungold in another pot. A nice, consistent producer of yellow cherry tomatoes.

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My other two tomatoes are actually some experimental dwarf tomatoes my tomato guy has developed. One, Emerald Giant, is, as it’s name implies, a green tomato when ripe. And big ones. On a three foot tall plant. The other, Rosella Crimson, is a red tomato. These dwarf plants are only suppose to get 3 feet tall (no staking) and have normal, large tomatoes, with good production. We will see. They are both sharing space in their pots with “Basil”…he gets around.

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I have lavender, lemon balm, parsley, rosemary and sage in a pot together. Lavender may be moved when my thyme (which is in another container) gets bigger. There is some cinnamon and lemon basil coming along. Also a couple of chive plants.

So I sit now and fiddle with the plants and watch my balcony go green. I can walk outside an brush my hands over the herbs and get a wonderful fragrance. I can stick my hands in “dirt”. I feel complete when I garden. I feel my connection to the rest of the world, seen and unseen, when I can get my hands on dirt and plants. The soil "grounds" me and calms me. It's hard to be angry, brooding, depressed when you brush your hand over a basil and come away with that wonderful smell. I am "connected" and complete with my plants.

Oops, need to pick some lettuce. Empowered comes next.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Claude Monet and Me

A couple of years ago I was fortunate enough to visit an exhibit of  “Monet in Normandy” with a very good friend.  I was aware of Monet’s water lily paintings and of the Japanese bridge in his gardens, but that was about it.

One of the pictures which really took my breath away was “Early Morning on the Seine”.  It was very cool, misty greens and pictured trees hanging over the river.  At about 4x4 and I could have spent hours looking at it.  I would love a picture like this hanging in my bedroom.  It was so serene.

The other day I was looking at the pond from my balcony.  It was rainy, misty, grey and I realized I had a real life Monet painting at my doorstop.

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And then there is Monet’s version….

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The original is much more green than this picture of the picture.

I can’t afford the picture painted by Monet.  But I sure can enjoy my own version of it.  

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sometimes I’m Just Too Smart

One of my favorite ways to unwind is to go to Border’s Book Store (I will gladly accept gift cards there) and pick up a huge stack of magazines, order a white chocolate mocha or a strawberry cremekula and browse to my heart’s content.

On my last trip to Border’s (Mother’s Day) I picked up PCWorld Magazine because it had one of those “100 best freeware” lists.

I hit the jackpot! Found the answer to at least two burning questions….no, not burning questions, but a couple of things which I didn’t have an answer for.

My first…..on my ITouch….I do have a connection for going straight to YouTube. However, I have to have an internet connection, which most of the time I don’t. But, having no money, I can go to YouTube and get music videos of some songs, especially artists which are pretty unknown. Could not get YouTube videos downloaded into ITunes so I could get onto my player.

Solution: KickYouTube It is a couple of steps to go from YouTube to ITunes to ITouch, but it works and works well.

So now, I have Simon’s Cat Cartoons which are just too funny to watch if you have animals. I have downloaded some Govi, who is a German composer/artist who plays great instrumentals which have a real Spanish guitar, gypsy feel to them. I will eventually get his CD’s (hint, hint out there) because I love to turn them up and clean house.

And OD is a real YouTube buff and has found some things on there which crack me up. So I got her Emodio set to copy them over also.

The second smart thing off my list…..how to get “stuff” from the IPod/ITouch/an MP3 player to another one. Or at least on the computer.

Voila! Sharepod! As you can see, KickYouTube and Sharepod are both from PCWorld so I have a certain amount of trust in the sites they have listed.

But Texter has borrowed IPod’s from friend’s so she could listen to their songs. And since my computer just crashed a couple of weeks ago, I lost all the songs I had loaded on the computer. But they were on my ITouch. Using Sharepod I was able to move the songs from the MP3 player to the computer and from the computer I can move them to wherever I like. Genius!

The best part, they were both easy enough I could do it. Did have a little trouble with Emodio, but that lies in that program itself and I had to download some additional codec so it would convert from MP4 to SVI files.

Don’t I sound all computer-literate!

Anyway, music is now loaded back onto my computer, music has been pulled from a couple of other MP3 players. I’m having fun, it’s time to crank up Govi and clean!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

500 Miles Plus and Counting…..

I decided a while back I needed to find a way to get off my butt (literally) and get active. So I started walking to work. And stopped. And moved. And started again. And then switched to riding back and forth (which I love doing).

The Virgo in me required I monitor what I was doing in some way. So I joined MapMyWalk to keep track of my distances. (There is also mapmyrun, mapmyride, etc all interlinked) I joined on 11/03/2007.

So, here it is about one and a half years later. I have managed to capture probably about 80% of what I walk/ride. I don’t log the “little” dog walks. I have gone through 2-3 periods where I just didn’t bother to log my walks. And my total miles to date…

556.29!

That’s right. Over 500 miles!

That’s a savings of 31 gallons of gas or about $107.55.

Most of what I have done to date is walking. Now I am seriously into the riding. To the point I plan out errands around town so I can ride to it. I worked yesterday and on the ride home looked very “French” with the baguette sticking out the back of the bike basket. (We have a lady who works part time in a bakery who brings in the bread left over on Saturday afternoon to work to sell really cheap.) I bought 3 loaves of bread and as I walked off with my purchases I remembered I was on wheels. But it all got home nicely intact.

I have transported plants in the baskets. I have gone to the movies and the book store and yes, bike shop. To drool and lust. On this candy red Trek FX 73.0 bike. The bike shop guy said it was “more aggressive” than what I was riding now (a turtle is more aggressive). Personally, I substituted “sexy”.

I can still put baskets on it. IT HAS GEARS!

Anyway, my goal is to get to 1000 miles by 11/03/2009. I think I can do that easily. And then I would like to do another 1000 between 11/03/2009 and 11/03/2010.

RIDE ON!

(ps…only about 6 weeks until 21 days of men in spandex…Tour de France!)