Dead Celebrity Cosplay

Here’s why you’ve got to love Fort Collins- last year there was a Dead Celebrity 5K, the week before Halloween, an easy out and back flat run from Old Town, to the Cemetery, and ending at the Rio Grande Restaurant, famous for their margaritas and their…well, just their margs, really.  I ran it (slowly) dressed as Isadora Duncan (too soon?) and had fun, but resolved to recruit other people to run with me this year.

Then we heard the news about Leonard Nimoy, and my husband said he would run it dressed as Spock, if I ran as Arlene Martell.  She played Spock’s fiancee in the Star Trek original series episode where Spock finds out his arranged marriage just isn’t going to work out. So I have been thinking about this costume for 6 months now, and then about a month ago, I realized I hadn’t gotten an email or anything from the race organizers, about registration. I looked it up, and there isn’t a dead celebrity race this year. I am beyond disappointed.  Talk about all dressed up and no place to go.


Of course I finished the costume anyway. Or almost finished it- it isn’t Halloween yet… I still need to attach a Nehru style collar, and adjust the sleeves. Wait, what’s today? Maybe its fine as it is- also, what am I doing with my hair?

I wanted to be able to run in it, so it is a silver knit tee, with a pleated skirt, which I can wear around my ribs, as in the show, or more comfortably around my waist. I used foldover elastic to make the waist, and since I used a metallic chiffon, which frays like crazy, I made French seams, which encloses the fraying edges inside a row of stitching. In hindsight, I wish I had bought more fabric- I cheaped out by only getting a yard, so the skirt isn’t as full as it could be.IMG_0728

I used the tee pattern from the Alabama Stitch Book, but machine sewed it, rather than the hand sewing method from the book (have you become obsessed with Alabama Chanin yet? It is a wacky subculture of handmade clothing- love the aesthetic). I will figure out a place to wear this- Halloween is on a Saturday this year, so we’ll do something. Maybe it will involve a 5K run.  Maybe it will involve a margarita. Maybe both?

Baby Lavender

I set out to write a diatribe on how evil weed barrier is, but Love is stronger than Hate, right, so let me write a little ode to lavender. Lavender is a fragrant sub shrub- I think it is actually what people think of when they say they want a shrub next to the patio- they want something a couple of feet high, with flowers, but mostly just green leaves. When plant people say shrub, they mean something that grows between 6 and 12 feet high- what the knights who say ni mean. knights who say ni

Anywho- I have a nice little lavender plant in a xeric bed in the back yard, but one of the other things about lavender is that is doesn’t have a very long life- my plant in the back yard is about 5 years old, and it won’t live much longer, no matter how well I treat it (sometimes it is not about killing exotic plants, different things just have different life spans) This little lavender bush will never grow taller than the house, like the oak, or form a sneak-out proof thicket in front of the window, like a rose bush (take that, sneaky teens!) It will just stay knee high, with fragrant leaves and purple flowers, much loved by bees.
Now, the reason I bring up weed barrier is that I was cleaning weeds out of the flower bed by the driveway. Previous owners had planted peonies and roses, in plastic weed barrier with lava rock on top. The bed is gorgeous in June- I probably wouldn’t have chosen those plants and that location and that quantity of lava rock, and certainly that black plastic weed barrier. I do love the garden, though.
The problem with the lava rock on top of plastic is that it doesn’t actually get rid of weeds, it just changes the way they present themselves.Over time, the lava breaks down into smaller chunks, and organic matter like leaves blows in. Weed seeds drift in and sprout. Bind weed finds a way to snake its roots up through any gap in the plastic, making it that much harder to pull out. In addition, the plastic cuts off oxygen to the soil beneath, preventing worms and other soil creatures from living there. It is awful. But, as terrible as weed barrier is, I love the little garden strip, and can’t face digging out the whole area to get rid of the plastic.
This all went through my head as I was cursing the weeds, so I figured out that I could dig it out the way the guy in the Johnny Cash song stole his Cadillac from the factory- one piece at a time.
I was working on an area with a small stump poking through the plastic- something had been planted there, and hadn’t survived. It created a 3 foot long space between peony plants, where opportunistic weeds jump in. So, I pulled the weeds, scooped the lava rocks to one side and cut and ripped out as much plastic as I could get to- there were fat worms living in the mix of crumbled lava and organic matter on top of the plastic, none at all in the dead clay beneath. That’s a problem. I added a scoop of composty soil from the back yard, dumped the lava rock back on and some wood chip mulch.
A few days later,after a trip to the nursery, I popped in a Provence lavender plant. I figure the lava will help aerate the soil, and help the clay soil drain better, which is important for Mediterranean plants like lavender. Three months later, with plenty of rain and sunshine, the baby lavender looks good, and more importantly, the few  weeds encroaching on it are easy to pull from the loose soil. Next year, I’ll clean up another chunk, pull out some more plastic, and plant something else- something herby? Any ideas?

Don’t call it a cello bib- bibs are for babies

Will is signed up for orchestra this  year, and since his piano teacher also teaches cello, we decided to get him time and a half lessons over the summer, because, what else was he going to do with his time? Go outside? Ha! So part of the lesson is piano, and part is cello, as he builds his callouses.
Why did he choose cello? several reasons, including having seen these videos
His teacher showed me a quilted bib, or cape, that goes over the back of the cello, to pad the part that leans into the chest, which probably has a name, but I don’t know what it is. She told me, “eventually he’ll get a callous there on his sternum, but as a beginner, it’s nice to have a pad.” (Ack- my baby with a calloused sternum!)
When I googled it, I learned that it protects the sternum, but it also protects the finish of the cello from shirt buttons. Not that Will wears shirts with buttons very much, but he will for concerts once middle school starts. (Ack, my baby in middle school!)
Google didn’t help very much in terms of directions for how to make one. (what are we calling it? a cape? a bib? a protecto-quilt?) Maybe because it is pretty simple. I had material in my stash for it, but if you are starting from scratch, you would have 2 layers of fabric, with a layer of batting between, about 8-10 inches square.
The layers of fabric with batting in the middle are what is known as a quilt sandwich- you could make 2 of these with a quarter yard of fabric, or look in the remnant bin for some purple velvet- that would look classy. We didn’t go classy, we went cute, with a bright blue and green print on one side and a paler blue solid on the back.
I hand quilted, because I enjoy the process, but it can be done on the machine as well. I just made straight lines across diagonally, then bound it (link to directionsIMG_0720) The original plan was to have enough extra binding to stretch over and make a velcroed loop to attach it to the cello when needed, but you know how they say “measure twice, cut once”? Yeah. Anyway. I had to sew on extra for the loop.
Now that I think about it, I don’t know why you couldn’t just get a hot pad from the dollar store, add a loop to go around the cello and use that as the cape. Bib. Protecto-quilt. Just until your baby develops the sternum callous.

A science experiment- you can grow that

Tomato A, with rich chunky, water retaining compost.

Tomato A, with rich chunky, water retaining compost.

I had a paradigm shift this spring. I love that. I have always read that tomatoes are heavy feeders, that they need rich soil, so I have planned my rotations to give that to them. I hopscotch my compost bin around the garden, trying to balance out the need for soil improvement with the pain in the neck factor of walking all the way to the back corner of the yard when I need to dump avocado peels.
I read in The Tao of Gardening, by Carol Deppe that tomatoes will produce fruit earlier when they are grown in poor soil. So, they would be heavy feeders if they were allowed to be, but it makes them slow and lazy.
I decided to test it. I had the lovely, chunky nutrient rich black soil, with some still identifiable avocado peels (those things take forever to break down) where I had intended to place the tomatoes in the first place, and a few feet away, some clayey, brown soil. It wasn’t terrible, It has had compost added to it in the last few years, but it wasn’t the rich soil I usually reserve for the tomatoes. They both get about the same amount of sun, and while they are different varieties (Fourth of July and Juliet) they both have about the same number of days to maturity and I have given them the same amount of water.

Tomato B, no soil enrichment.

Tomato B, no soil enrichment.

In my day job, I have had a paradigm shift as well- I have always taught English, and beyond that, I have always been an English teacher, with that mindset. This past year, I have been working with students who are learning English in their math and science classes. It’s been weird. Good, but weird. I had to think in a way that I’m not used to. Staving off dementia one hypothesis at a time.

So the hypothesis in this tomato experiment was that the tomato plant with lush soil would produce a lot of leaves, but would fruit later, and the plant in poor soil would make fewer leaves, but would fruit earlier. Well, on August 4, I don’t have ripe fruit from either of them. The one in poor soil has slightly pinker fruit, but not by much. There are many more tomatoes on the plant in richer soil, so i would prefer to balance out quantity over earliness. Another detail, which I wasn’t hypothesizing about, is that the one with rich soil is much more drought tolerant. When we left town, temperatures got over 100 degrees F. When we got back, the plant in good soil was still lush and green, and the one in poor soil was slightly withered. I think it hasn’t completely recovered from that drought stress, where the other plant had enough moisture reserve in the soil that it did fine.As you grow, remember that it isn’t just about the fruits and vegetables, you can experiment and learn and improve.

Science- you can grow that.

Dear Asparagus

I don’t know why I can’t quit you.I keep trying to grow you, trying to make a home for you that you can keep coming back to, year after year. And I keep coming back, broken-hearted.
I try to tell myself that you aren’t worth it, my kids don’t like you, you’re difficult, you make my pee smell funny. But inside, I know it’s just a lie- I want you, I miss you. I find myself worried when you aren’t home, I find myself looking in the ditch, knowing that if I found you, I would bring you home and clean you up, cook you, and eat you. Maybe pickle you, if there was enough…

I just love you, and I can’t face paying 3.99 a pound for you at the grocery, and you aren’t even at the farmers market. At least not when I’ve been there. Are you avoiding me? It doesn’t matter- I forgive you. I’ll keep trying to make this relationship work. I’ll dig a trench near reliable water, but also in complete sun, I know how much you love the sunshine, I’ll plant out your little roots, and watch for your little shoots to poke out from the soft compost.  I just love you too much to give up on you.


Carrying a Torch


Resilience- you can grow that

kate hailstorm

“Hurry up, mom, it’s really cold!”

We had a hailstorm last night- after a lovely, breezy day with lots of garden puttering, I was sitting on my patio, listening to the neighbor kids scream on their trampoline. I heard thunder to the south and decided to move in. By the time I gathered up my iced tea and got the screen door shut, the rain had started, and then came the hail.
Kate decided it would be cool to go out onto the porch, then regretted it almost instantly- it was being blown under the roof. She struggled with the screen slider, and got hit in the shoulder. The stones were dime to quarter-sized, and they shredded the garden. Giant splashes came up from the pond, the iris and the peonies flopped over, ash leaves made pesto on the driveway. Looking at it through the window, I wanted to cry. I wanted brownies. I hate hail.
It poured rain for a good long time after, and we got probably another 1/2 inch, on top of the five inches we got during a very wet May. We usually get about 16 inches of moisture around here per year, so 5 inches in a month is crazy- the soil is saturated and there has been flooding downstream from us.
Now it’s the day after, and I hear a chainsaw going around the block. I take a tour of the yard with a cup of coffee.
Not actually that bad. Here’s where I get to my point about resilience.

Direct hit!

Direct hit!

The water lily leaves have holes in them, but none of the fish are belly up in the pond, the iris are still flopped over, but they were pretty much finished blooming anyway. The few peonies that had opened are shattered, but the rest that are still in bud look fine.The new baby peach tree seems fine, with just a few torn leaves. The giant ash trees took most of the brunt of the storm, most of what was in their shelter is okay, and no large branches fell down. Tomatoes were in walls of water, which protected them from damage. The traditional, “grandma’s garden” types of plants show damage, but they should bounce back.

Supposed to keep the tomatoes warm at night, also protects against balls of ice falling from the sky, apparently.

Supposed to keep the tomatoes warm at night, also protects against balls of ice falling from the sky, apparently.

Now, I planted a garden bed last year, in full sun, no shelter from big trees, of mostly native and dry-land plants. How did these baby plants do? They look fine. I can’t tell they were in a storm at all, other than the fact that there are some shredded leaves that were blown onto them. These native plains plants have evolved to get hailed on periodically, go without rain, shrug it off and grow anyway.
I got my collection from the Garden in a Box program from the city- sometimes you can get rebates. The garden was designed by Lauren Springer, and cost less than what I would have paid at a nursery. The water department wants people to plant them to minimize the amount of turf that people feel obliged to water. The side benefit is that they are resilient to other weather events, too.

We happen to live in a hail zone, with frequent thunderstorms, and infrequent (fingers crossed) tornadoes. Maybe your extreme weather events include blizzards, or floods, deep freezes, droughts (I’m looking at you, most of American Southwest). Why not plant things that thrive in the weather that you have? Plant things that have evolved, or have been bred, in a climate like yours, that don’t take additional irrigation once they have been established. For my homies along the Front Range, Lauren Springer has books ( go to the library, I don’t make any money off this, not that you shouldn’t buy the book, but libraries are good, too) or David Salman runs a Santa Fe nursery called High Country Gardens. His catalog is an education in itself. Bounce back after sever weather. Resilience. You can Grow that.

On the 4th of the month, C.L. Fornari challenges garden bloggers to share encouraging words about what is growable. Search for other You Can Grow That posts!

Basil from the grocery store- you can grow that!

IMG_0682My friend Molly was telling me about her stash of pesto running out- she figured she would have a year’s supply of pesto when she made it and froze it last summer, but here it is, May, and she is down to the last little bit of pesto. She doesn’t want to be in that boat next year, so she is planning where she is going to put basil at her new house.
Basil is one of those plants that needs time to grow from seed, so I usually buy plants at the nursery, which gets expensive.
3.95 for herb plants last summer. To get a summer’s worth of basil, let alone a year’s worth of pesto, I would have to pay a fortune. Shortly after this conversation I went to the grocery, and saw big plastic boxes of basil for 2.99, a quarter pound, lots of stems. What if I rooted these stems in water, and transplanted them? I did this more or less accidentally last summer, and when I put the little plantlets into the soil outside, they did great.
I brought the box home, and pulled off the large bottom leaves for making a batch of soup, and put about a dozen stems into a glass of water on the windowsill. Each node where leaves had grown is the location of a bud where roots can sprout.
Once roots form, I’ll put the stems into small pots with soil so that they can expand, then harden them off to plant outside after the last freeze. Basil are in the mint family, and other mints will root as easily as the basil does.

A Memorial. You can grow that.

I was out for a run this morning (zombies weren’t even chasing me- I was running for pleasure) and all over the neighborhood tulips are blooming. My heart bounced up at all of them, but especially the red ones.

They look pink in this shot, but I assure you, the tulips are red.

They look pink in this shot, but I assure you, the tulips are red.

My dad was not what you’d call a keen gardener.  I remember planting radishes with him when I was very little, and he took great pride in his lawn, but he certainly wasn’t where I inherited my love of plants. He did work hard on his red tulips, though.  He planted them beside the front door, and after they bloomed and the foliage faded, he would dig them up, and separate out the daughter bulbs, or offsets, from the ones that had bloomed, then save them on screens he had built until fall, when he would plant them again. I can only ever remember him having red tulips- not sure why.

My dad died about 11 years ago. Kate barely remembers him, and Will only knows him from stories and pictures.  The spring after he died, we planted a Burr Oak tree in the back yard, and it has thrived- it so represents him- strong and tall. He was an oak.  Additionally, that fall, I ordered and planted 100 red tulips, which I put under the oak.  That next spring, they bloomed strongly and vividly- a blanket of red under the little oak. I didn’t follow my daddy’s example, and dig them up and sort them. I never do- I try to select varieties that naturalize, and just let nature take its course.

Nature’s course with tulips is that the bulbs form offsets every year, and they don’t send up flowers until they are big enough. They may come back after a couple of years, but if they aren’t divided, they tend to peter out. Last year, there were one or two flowers, this year I don’t see any.

It strikes me that grief is like that- early on, a blanket of red, and as time passes, the feeling fades, only to be brought up again, with a reminder, or a dream, or a pun. (One of my colleagues recently broke her arm in 3 places. I laughed and told her to stay out of them places. No one in the teacher’s lounge laughed, but Daddy would have.)

Now, I’m not saying that oaks and red tulips are a universal memorial, but if you are grieving someone, think about what they loved, and what you can plant to help their memory stay with you, so that when you smell lilacs, or see daffodils, or pass by a lily, you remember.  You can grow that.

(If you are curious about why no blogging recently, nothing’s wrong, just very busy with they day job, family stuff, and of course, exercise and coffee. I’ve got some ideas of things to write about, and I will, as I have time.)

sashiko wrap

In Last Minute Quilted Gifts, there is this simple lovely idea- a quilt with dupioni silk on one side, rough muslin on the other, hand quilted with bright embroidery floss in big, rough stitches. I haven’t been able to get that quilt out of my head, and I have designed a variation- rather than muslin, I wanted the fuzziness of fleece on the inside, and I decided to make it as a wrap, to drape around me watching TV, or fling on the back of the chair to look cool.

I found dark teal silk- it is woven one way with teal and the other direction with dark brown threads- there are natural slubs and rough spots in the silk.  I got a yard, and cut it diagonally, then pieced it together to make a long parallelogram. I chose to fell the seam, since this fabric is really ravelly. Felling is folding the seam down, and stitching close to the original seam line.

I love the contradiction in it- the silk contrasting with the fleece and the  hand stitching.
I got a dahlia flower stencil from Shibori Dragon. They are a great source for sashiko kits and stencils and Asian fabrics and stuff. (we had an exchange student from Spain this summer, and whenever I would say, “and stuff.” she would ask what it meant. Umm…it means et cetera? I guess…and stuff… By the end of her stay, she was saying it. American incoherence FTW!)

I used bronze sharpie to trace the stencil. I couldn’t face using chalk pencil and having it rub away. The sharpie ink will wash out someday, I’m not too worried.  I picked brown fleece and  brown thread to go with the brown warp threads. This quilting is very basic, sashiko style, with a running stitch following the design, which I repeated multiple times on the wrap. The work is slow- I’m not zipping through it fast with a machine, I’m just slowly following a line with a needle and thread. This will take me forever to finish, and that is fine with me.

Sashiko was originally invented in Japan as a way of making utilitarian objects even more utilitarian- mending or patching garments, reinforcing the knees and elbows of work clothes to get a little bit more wear out of them. Karen Kim Matsunaga’s Japanese Country Quilting has great instructions and a bit of the history behind it. But here I am, buying silk, and cutting it up to make a quilt, when there are certainly utilitarian quilts out there in the world already. If I want something to snuggle under while I watch TV, why not use one of the fleece blankets we already own? What do you think, is this just another example of quilting madness, where people buy big pieces of fabric, cut them into little pieces, then sew them into big pieces again? That drives me crazy, so why am I doing it? Any insight is appreciated.IMG_0666

Water Garden- you can grow that!

My happy place.

My happy place.

Pretty much every morning, I go out to my patio, set my coffee on the table, put my feet up on the big terra cotta pot, and watch the sky reflected on the surface of the pond.

To be clear, this is a horse tank, 100 gallons of galvanized metal with a lily plant and a few goldfish swimming around munching the mosquito larvae. There is no fountain, no water filter, no waterfall, just a flat surface.  If I had to move to a place with a smaller yard, a small pond would be the number one thing I would have- and I would keep it tall, above ground, rather than in the ground. Having it up high makes it easier to maintain, and the structure makes it feel like it takes up more space in the landscape.

This is the third iteration of a pond in our yard- I started with a 20 gallon tub, then sprang for a whiskey barrel, then a couple of years ago I picked up a 100 gallon trough at the farm supply store- I call it a hillbilly goldfish pond. The dull metal works with my aesthetic, if I wanted to be fancier, I would side it with stone, or cedar or something. Or maybe not, that seems like a lot of work.

The beauty of the larger pond is that it is less work than the smaller ones- the additional water acts as a buffer for temperature swings. You also don’t have as many issues with ammonia build up from fish waste.   I bought five very cheap goldfish at the beginning of the year, a couple of them died early on, and the others have gotten very good at hiding- I see the ripples of them moving around beneath the surface, but haven’t seen a tell tale orange fish in about a month. Will says he saw one being eaten by a preying mantis. I asked him why he didn’t film it, and he looked at me like I was crazy.  It is crazy to ask a kid to stop watching an insect eating a fish, run inside, find his camera, replace the batteries, then run back outside.  The circle of life.

About once a week, I use a bucket to scoop out some water and dump it onto the patio pots- they appreciate the “nutrient rich” water- it winds up being a very dilute fertilizer. Then I turn on the hose and top up the tank. The water lily, water hyacinths and other plants use up other nutrients- the more surface of the water is covered with plants, the less algae growth there is.

Anyway, I cannot recommend more highly the idea of getting a big tank of some sort, putting in water, and a couple of cheap feeder goldfish. Add a plant or two, and place a cinder block so the fish have somewhere to hide, then make a cup of coffee. It is so worthwhile to have a water garden. And you can grow that.

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