Friday, June 29, 2012

What I Meant To Say

In my last post, before I veered off on a tangent, I started talking about the problem of shorts. Short pants, that is, not men’s underwear.
1897 riding bloomers source
1922 golf knickers source
First, let me say that the last time I wore shorts outside of my home was in 2000. As I’ve gotten older, shorts have become less comfortable, what with the extra fabric of waistbands, pockets, and crotch seams all sitting in the bulkiest and/or sweatiest parts of the body, but they did have the advantage of convenience in some outdoor activities. Still, I discovered in my early forties that I was more comfortable in skirts, both physically and in how I looked.
1940s shorts source
1970s hot pants source
The only time I do wear shorts is for gardening, because skirts just get dragged through the dirt too much. For the dirtiest tasks I’ve been nursing along a 20-year-old pair of cotton knit shorts, but they finally deteriorated too much even for gardening. After searching through the closets and drawers, I found a stash of shorts in good shape, but they were all too small. I’m not sure why. I bet some of you are thinking about pie right now, but let’s try to stay focused on my problem, please.
I have a few choices of how to replace the old shorts.
Option 1: Spend actual money to buy new shorts, which would only ever be used to get really dirty in the garden
Option 2: See if the bottomless closet contains some unloved trousers that can be cut off
Option 3: Make gardening shorts
Obviously the answer is Option 3! I can make some incredibly awesome shorts, maybe even with big pockets for garden stuff! This could be a lot of fun.
I could put multiple pockets on both legs with this pattern.

The Burda cargo pant looks very similar to the McCall. source
Before I get too excited, I should make a point to keep comfort as my main consideration, since I want to wear them outside when it’s over 100 degrees. The need for pockets is less than the need for comfort, after all.
Also, there are other ways to introduce pockets!
Tool belt? source

Do you like to wear shorts, or have you found a more comfortable alternative? (Or maybe it’s way too cold where you live to even consider it!)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Don't Panic

Today my plan was to write something about counter measures for the anxiety that occurs when you discover that none of last year’s shorts will fit over your hips, but as soon as I typed the words Don't Panic, it sent me into the world of Douglas Adams and I haven’t quite escaped yet.

I became aware of The Hitchhiker’s Guide series in the mid- to late 80s, although I see that Adams actually wrote the first book in 1979. I’m not a Comic-Con level fangirl, but I admit I’ve read these books dozens of times. I lost the whole collection to an alternate universe in the mid-90s, but found this amazing replacement a few years ago:

All five novels in one big, biblical binding!  source
I can’t pinpoint exactly what makes these books so great, but it must have something to do with the perfect mixture of clever handling of science fiction with a range of humor veering from the highly intellectual to the utterly silly. Or maybe it’s better to quote a review I read which simply stated, “inspired insanity.”

Sadly for us, Mr. Adams departed this plane in 2001, but prior to that he wrote several other books and produced numerous other forms of entertainment. I don’t have a complete inventory, but I do know of his Dirk Gently series, of which there are unfortunately only two.
I like the Dirk Gently books for a couple of reasons. First, you can suspend all reliance on your understanding of the laws of physics. I don’t really understand the laws of physics to begin with, so I'm right at home. Second, the second book has one of the greatest book titles of all time: The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul.
Finally, there is a very interesting volume which to my mind is a complete break from Adams’ previous work. The title is Last Chance to See.

It was published in the US in 1991 (UK date was probably earlier), and it chronicles his trip around the world to see six animals that were nearly extinct at the time. I went to a local bookstore to see Adams when he did his signing tour, and he read a bit from the book. I was impressed that he could write forceful, meaningful words on such painfully serious topics yet still inject humor and make the book very readable. (If you feel that you can handle a good news/bad news scenario without having it ruin your day, feel free to page down below my signoff to find out about the current status of the animals he visited.)

So getting back to the Hitchhiker’s Guide, I never cared much for the television or movie versions. The 1980s BBC television adaptation had its good moments but mostly it lost the balance between high and lowbrow humor that was so important in the books. I think I would have liked to hear the radio episodes, for comparison. The 2005 movie just seemed to be an opportunity for some Hitchhiker fans to get dressed up and replay their favorite scenes. Of course, that’s how I feel about most book-to-film conversions! I am a book person through and through.

Well, you may have discerned from all this that I recommend Douglas Adams’ books. If you don’t have them or haven’t read them, I say you should go out immediately and get the first copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy you can get your hands on. If you know and like the series, I recommend getting The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide because it has all five of the novels, plus an additional story, plus a nice introduction by the author that describes among other things what might happen if you get drunk and lie down in a field in Innsbruck in 1971. (I actually was in Innsbruck in 1971, but alas did not have the opportunity to get drunk or lie down in a field. If I had, I'd probably be a famous author now.) Also it is lovely to have a big hefty leather-bound book with 820 gilt-edged pages to luxuriate in.

What are you reading these days? If you were a fan of Douglas Adams during the Hitchhiker heyday I would love to hear about it!


Okay, here is the aforementioned good news-bad news. In putting this post together, I mistakenly thought it would be interesting to follow up on each of the species that Douglas Adams visited 20-plus years ago, and see how they fared. I should have assumed the news would be bad.
In fact, the results are mixed. I was pleasantly surprised to see that two of the animals, the Mountain Gorilla and the Rodrigues Fruit Bat, are improving due to intensive conservation efforts, and I suppose the Komodo Dragon is holding steady. (I don’t know how many of them there are supposed to be.) On the other hand, the Kakapo, which is a New Zealand parrot, distinctive for being very large, nocturnal, and flightless, is still struggling with a very small population. The Northern White Rhinoceros is extinct in the wild, and the few remaining individuals live in zoos.
Douglas Adams’ last visit was to the Baiji, a pale gray, long-snouted river dolphin also known as the “Goddess of the Yangtze.” Today the Baiji is assumed to be extinct. No confirmed sighting has been made since 2004, and even before that, population levels were too low to support breeding.

My unverified statistics on current populations (from various websites):
Mountain Gorilla                             780 and rising
Rodrigues fruit bat                          3000 and rising
Komodo Dragon                              4000 - 5000
Kakapo (Australian parrot)            127
Northern White rhinoceros           7 (seven!)
Baiji (Yangtze dolphin)                    Extinct
Now I am going to go and cry over all the lost dolphins, and try to plan my future posts more carefully.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Not-So-Big Reveal

The reorganization is finished and although the sewing/craft room is clean and fairly neat, it isn’t something you’d see on HGTV or a design magazine. I left the walls white, because although I love color to the point of an unhealthy obsession, I need a relatively blank background on which to do my color “thinking.” I didn’t buy any new furniture, so the skinny shelves meant for books are now holding rolls of fabric and stacking supply boxes, and my dresser from 1974 contains paper, pens, and bookbinding supplies. Still, I think it is an improvement.  

The good news is that everything is very clean. The carpets look and smell better, at least temporarily. I cleaned the windows, walls, shelves, and everything else as I was moving things around, so there had better not be a speck of dust in there.
The better news is that I accomplished my goal of dividing the room between sewing supplies and art supplies. The only exceptions are the dressforms, which move around as needed.

The best news is that I took three truckloads of craft supplies and small furniture to various donation centers. This freed up some space, but not much, as you will see.
The sewing table looks HUGE now that I have the piles of fabric and pending projects put away. I can even open the shutters, although not for very long, since the light will fade fabrics in no time.

I finally have all my books and patterns in one place! All the notions, linings, interfacings, and various cotton fabric types have their own shelves. The larger fabric collections are still in plastic bins on the floor.

The much-reduced paper and paint collection is better organized but still takes up almost one whole side of the room. Again using only what I already had, I’ve made extensive use of rolling carts on the floor in addition to the dresser drawers and various types of stacking bins. The big blank space on the wall is waiting for a cork board.

The last section is a no-man’s-land between the door and the closet. Here’s my 35-year-old stereo cabinet with what must be the last surviving TV/VCR combo so I can watch my yoga tapes. I put the ironing supplies here as well.

I admit that I did slack off in a few areas. For example, I did not sort through my thousands of collage paper bits as I was transferring them into a drawer. Also, the closet is still a bit of a dumping ground for the things that just don’t fit anywhere else, like all the pre-digital camera equipment, a big basket of toys, and empty boxes I might want to use again (hoarder alert!). And let’s not forget the queen-size airbed, my sole concession to the fact that this room is also a guest room. Imagine the poor guest who has to lie down in this place and risk bashing his or her head on so many hard corners and sharp poky things.

And so, the final result does resemble my “reorg chart” (thanks Lilly Forever for that hilarious reference). The new setup will certainly make it easier to find what I need and I should be able to handle some of the larger projects without having to haul them around the house looking for a big enough table.
Now I think I’ll just leave it alone for a while. It’s too nice to mess up!


Friday, June 22, 2012

More Garden-Themed Skirts

Here’s a quick project I sewed up right before the madness hit and I went into demolition mode on the sewing room.

I had this citrus fabric, which was actually a tablecloth. It’s not really vintage, in fact it was labeled “Charter Club” (Macy’s brand) so it’s pretty recent. But I can’t resist citrus, and I can’t resist $1.99 items at the thrift store.

Also I had this skirt, which is paneled and pintucked and has an interesting drawstring waist in addition to the button front. I call it the Ladybug Skirt, even though the ladybugs are barely visible next to the huge daisies.
I got it last year from an Etsy shop, Call Me Chula. It fits great and I’ve wanted to make more in a similar style.
The citrus fabric seemed perfect for this kind of skirt, but it turned out I didn’t have enough for all the tucks and the extra panel for the button front.
I ended up just making an 8-panel skirt with a back zip. It turned out pretty well.

Nothing more summery than that!

Next week we’ll take a look at the now quite clean and somewhat organized sewing room.

Happy weekend,

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Midsummer Daydream

There’s still something magical about the summer solstice, even though the day length doesn’t vary much at this latitude, and I’m unlikely to dance in the forest at midnight. (Just saying it’s improbable, not impossible.) Today I might find a snowy movie to watch or maybe read a book set in Iceland or Alaska.

For more cooling effects, here are some photos of cool places I visited on my last trip to Northern California.
My favorite bridge
A very blue Pacific
Quiet beach
Favorite Inn

Gardens at the inn. So green!
Sweet-smelling jasmine directly below our window!

Favorite restaurant

I hope you enjoy cool breezes or warm sunshine (whichever you prefer!) for your summer celestial celebrations.


Monday, June 18, 2012

Last of the Spring Produce

As we near the longest day of the year here in our corner of the Northern Hemisphere, we are also having our 37th day over 100 degrees F (only three and a half more months of this!). It’s time to hide, hibernate, or go somewhere else, until conditions improve. At least that’s the survival strategy of the desert flora and fauna.
Another useful adaptation: carry your own water. (source)

There’s not much wildlife activity except nighttime rustlings and the irrepressible notes of the mockingbird. The desert plants have lost their leaves and will simply endure as they’ve evolved to do.
At the other end of the gardening spectrum, our precious vegetables will require some support from me. This will mainly take the form of water, shade, and pest control. The tomato plants are in suspended animation – not dead, not growing – and if I can somehow keep them alive until October we may get another flush of flowers and fruit for winter salads. The squash have temporarily given up sprouting plate-sized leaves, but are still producing flowers at the rate of approximately 750 males to every female.

The grapes started to ripen all at once, and I harvested all of them, including the unripe ones, to make sure the dogs didn’t get into them. (No grapes for dogs! They can be toxic!) I tossed the greenest ones over the fence for the birds, and ripened the rest on our kitchen counter.
Very nice color. Variety unknown.

It was A LOT of grapes.
 I should have weighed them, but I didn’t think of it at the time.
We ate about half, until we were tired of picking the tiny stems off. The rest I put through the juicer and we had two quarts of very sweet, delicious grape juice.

That will be it for home grown veggies, other than the rare squash, until mid-Fall. Fortunately we’ll have the herbs going for a while, and can console ourselves with herb breads, pesto, fresh leaves in salad dressings, and anything else we can think of.

How are your gardens growing?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Reorganization Time Again

Back in the old corporate days, we dreaded our company's continual, arbitrary reorganizations, because so much time was wasted and the result seemed to be so much disorganization.

Now that I find myself regularly reorganizing my own workspace, I don’t think the effort is much more productive, but I do have a few moments of feeling quite accomplished as I view the clean surfaces and the color-coordinated supplies stacked on shelves.
This time I’m going all out and taking everything out of the sewing/craft room, including furniture, so I can clean the carpet and then reconfigure the layout. Due to the piecemeal acquisition of things, I’ve got five bookcases on three different walls, two rolling desks, a table and two chests of drawers, all randomly placed. Plus my creative activities have to get their own storage spaces. Currently there is no single area to go to for paper arts, or even sewing for that matter. Every drawer and shelf contains a jumble of unrelated items.

This is the current situation:
It’s hard to see my scribbles, but the basic theme of disorganization is probably visible. There is actually much less open space than the drawing indicates, since I didn’t bother drawing all the miscellaneous boxes and bags on the floor.

So the first step is to get everything out.
Next, go through and discard everything I can.

Getting the carpets cleaned will be a high point of the process.
Then the furniture goes back into the room. Hopefully this time it will be in a more logical and utilitarian layout:
My goal for the supplies is to put all sewing and fabric-related items on one side, all paper and book-related items on the other. The plan doesn’t show the ironing board or the dress forms, since those tend to move around in response to my immediate needs.

Check in next week to see if I can actually accomplish any of this!


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Return of The Piemaker

The Piemaker wasn’t exactly gone, although I wouldn’t blame him if he disappeared for a good long while. He just got completely buried by work for a couple of months. Those of us who are unemployed tend to forget that the ones who are left on the job are forced to take on gargantuan workloads, while carrying the weight of survivor guilt. The Piemaker is fully aware that his situation is better than that of his fallen comrades, but it doesn’t make the 12-hour days or the working weekends any easier. Currently he is performing five part-time functions in addition to his own full-time job.

With all that, it was a real treat for him to return to our world long enough to make a pie.  
Piemaker pie

Southern Living pie

The June issue of Southern Living was not exactly scant on pie options, but we had trouble agreeing on what to make. There were several mouthwatering citrus pie recipes, but I am reluctant to buy citrus in the off season since we have such an overabundance during the winter. The Piemaker was pushing for Peanut Butter-Banana pie, but even the thought of it made me gag and I expressed that to him in a series of dramatic performances. I liked the look of the Strawberry-Pretzel Pie, and although he had his doubts, I eventually converted him to my way of thinking after quietly mentioning it about fifty times a day.

It is basically just another twist on the standard frozen strawberry dessert, but it far surpasses the quick-n-easy version made with that waxy “whipped topping” that comes in a plastic tub.

The cream component of the pie comes from cream cheese, condensed milk, and gelatin, which makes for a very dense texture. The two cups of strawberries are the only other ingredient, so the main flavor you get is STRAWBERRY!

The pretzel crust has a nice crunchy texture but is not noticeably pretzel-flavored. Broken down into their components, pretzels are just flour, water, and salt, which are three main ingredients of any crumb-style crust. With the added butter and sugar, it tastes just like a crunchy cookie crust with a hint of salt.
Recipe here
One thing to know in advance: the pie needs to freeze for 8 to 12 hours to solidify, so plan ahead.

We enjoyed this cool and refreshing treat on a day when the thermometer reached 111 (44 C). If you don’t already have a favorite recipe for a frozen strawberry pie, this one is worth a try. And, if you feel that you just can’t get enough strawberry pie, I also recommend this one.

What delicious delicacies have you whipped up recently?


Monday, June 11, 2012

A Very Special Birthday

Today is my dad’s 80th birthday! Hooray!

Dad is a doctor, astronomer, photographer, naturalist, inventor, teacher, traveler, writer, baker, and gardener, as well as being an excellent all-around family guy.

The Piemaker and I made a quick trip out to California for a family celebration of the big birthday. It was great to see some aunts, uncles, and cousins (including some brand-new baby cousins!), in addition to Bro, SIL, the Niece, and of course, my parents. We had a lovely visit, breathed in the cool air, and now we’re back in Arizona. Hope to get back to the coast soon.

Happy Birthday, Dad!


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme. And Oregano.

I picked handfuls of herbs for The Piemaker to take to a friend. We are getting a very good crop, in spite of the extreme heat and hungry pests.

Front, L-R: Curly Parsley, English Thyme, Greek Oregano.  Back, L-R: Purple Sage, Upright Rosemary

Soon we'll be heading off on another quick trip to San Francisco. I’ll be back posting again next week.
Have a great week (and weekend)!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Reality Check: My Garden

I remember the day I started volunteering at the local arboretum, and the volunteer coordinator had recently been featured in Phoenix Home and Garden with her extensive and beautiful plant collection. I was in awe of her, and asked if she gave tours of her gardens. She laughed and said no, she never had a moment to prune or weed, her property was an absolute disaster, and she would be utterly ashamed if anyone ever saw it. I was delighted! A popular, respected plant expert had a garden exactly like mine!

My garden has its good days and bad days, its high points and low points. I usually photograph all the pretty flowers and the shiny leaves and the rare weed-free areas, but today I thought I would offer you a dose of reality.
I have weeds, insects, bird and mammal pests, heat, sun, wind, drought, and dust. Right now, bugs are eating everything, including the herbs, which surprises me. I thought that strong-smelling plants were less likely to get chewed, but the mint and the sage have lots of holes.

The grape-leaf skeletonizers are doing that thing that they do so well.

And we’ve always got grass, growing everywhere we don’t want it. 
This is English Thyme, although it’s hard to see due to the grass that’s trying to take over.

The tomato that mysteriously appeared in November just kept going. It grew past the supports and pushed as far as it could against the shade cloth, so it’s now growing back downwards.
 To get an idea of the size, the cement wall behind the plants is almost 6 feet tall.

It is sunburned and missing half its leaves, but still producing fruit by the dozen.

This squash tried too hard, too early.
It is an heirloom Hubbard from seeds that The Piemaker’s mom saved. The plant is accustomed to the nutrient-rich soil and cool night air of California’s wine country, and in our early desert spring the vines started shooting up out of this pot, growing several inches a day. As soon as the 100-degree days started, it curled up in utter shock, and has not been able to recover. It just hangs there, half dead.

The rest of the squash plants are experiencing an extreme gender imbalance. I have seen nothing but male flowers on 22 of the 23 plants for two months now. It is getting very tiresome.
male, male, male
male, male, male. What are you going to do with all that pollen, guys?

This one plant finally had some female flowers and is getting some pretty little fruit.
Golden Scallopini Squash

The finches keep nesting in our roof. Every year we clear the space out and put up wire to keep them out. Every year they somehow pry open the wire and build a nest again. What a mess.
Can you see the hungry little yellow mouth up there?

Then there's this type of pest. 
Awww. Look who has a dirty mouth (and possibly a guilty conscience?). Her brother ran away from the camera because he stole a tomato and he didn’t want to have his picture taken with the evidence.
So that's a quick view into the reality of my vegetable garden. Don't even get me started on the front yard. I prefer to just avert my eyes when I have to go out there.

What's happening in the nooks and crannies of your gardens?