Bag Those Apples


We have an old standard apple tree that came with the house- don’t know the variety, but it is sour, a pie apple, rather than a sweet one. I have also planted a yellow delicious, which is my favorite.

Most years, the big apple tree produces more than we could ever eat- we give away bags of them, and I made apple sauce last year, but many, many go on the ground, and in the compost pile. I don’t spray for worms, and because I don’t kill the worms, there are more worms every year.

I’ve been researching what to do, because even though we don’t love the pie apples, the golden delicious, which is my favorite, is just getting big enough to produce- we had two apples from it last year, but this year it bloomed well, and there are a bunch (get the number) I still don’t want to spray poison, so I researched what to do to get organic apples. Organic apples with no worms, I mean; mine have been organic for years, with a nice shot of protein…

Most websites I found suggested sprays and traps and pheromones, which I don’t really want to mess with. Expensive and time consuming.  Then I came across this guy ( Fine Gardening magazine, and got a paradigm shift- instead of trying to kill all the bugs, why not just prevent the bugs from getting to the apples?


Put staples in the edges of the bags while sitting in the shade, then slip the bag on the apple and do the last staple.

So, it’s late June, 4-5 weeks after my apples bloomed. I go through, select the biggest apple in each cluster that I can reach, and staple a paper lunch bag around it. The apple will grow inside the bag, moths won’t get to it to lay their eggs, and by picking off the smaller apples in the cluster, the chosen one will get bigger. The paper bags are kind of ugly, but I am hoping they will fade into the background- I’m not hosting a garden tour or anything.

I will start with the golden delicious-(it’s my favorite, did I mention that?) and then put bags on the big tree for as long as my patience (and my stapler) holds out. I bought a package of 100 bags, but I don’t think I’ll get that far. This fall, I’ll update how it goes.


Holey Socks, Batman!

Can you see where the hole was? Hint- it is the bumpy lumpy patch by the was my first try- I'm sure I'll get better.

I have been knitting socks for about 4 years- I make them for myself, and the kids and DH (by the way, if you see an acid green pair, they are for his birthday, and I kind of lost them) I also make them for gifts for other people I love, but don’t go hinting around about buying a pair- I’m happy to teach you to knit socks, but I it doesn’t make sense to make them for money rather than love.

It takes about 8 hours of work for a sock- usually it is work while I am doing other things, watching softball practice, or swimming lessons, or waiting at the dentist. I usually have 1 pair of socks going at all times, and it helps my mental health and concentration, so I do it at staff meetings and trainings and car rides. So on the one hand, it is borrowed time- I am rarely just knitting, but on the other hand, it is a lot of time to invest in a sock, so when a couple of pairs got holes, rather than toss them, or turn them into puppets, I decided they needed to be darned.

Not right away, of course. Projects need to marinate, for a while, sometimes.

When I was a kid, my mom had taught me to darn by kind of weaving across a hole, which is one way to do it,   In my research I found a different process, sometimes called swiss darning, sometimes called duplicate stitch, where you kind of trace the  stitches at the bottom of the hole, then create new ones where the hole is, then connect them to the old stitches at the top of the hole. Kind of amazing, and prettier than a woven patch.  It appeals to the witch in me- making something out of nothing. The muggles will never figure it out!

Here’s a link to darning with duplicate, with a demo on something that actually needed darning, and another, that just shows duplicate stitch as decoration, but was the best demo of where your needle should go, and when.

Getting dressed from the clean clothes pile

A mom of  a friend of the Girl and I were talking the other day- I was getting cleaned up for a party,and she said that she honestly expected to have a messy house until her kids moved out- she joked about getting dressed off of the clean piles of clothes in the living room. I’ve done this, of course, and you probably have, too.  Maybe not.  Maybe you are better than me… just stop rubbing it in.

When I was planning our party, I figured that I would have to spend like an hour a day cleaning, and I wanted it to be really clean, not just have all the piles of stuff moved into the bedroom, which is what I usually do.  The problem with doing an hour a day, is that is so bleahhh- there’s no system.  Then I came across

I had read about it in the past- in lady’s magazines.  It is a cute little cult about changing your life by setting up routines about keeping your house clean. Cult is mean. It’s not really a cult. Don’t be mad at me, FLYlady!

The routines are simple things like “shine your sink before you go to bed” at first you’re like, what? why clean my sink? but I have been doing this, and it makes a huge difference- when I leave dirty dishes in the sink overnight, they make breakfast that much harder, then DH and the kids pile more dishes in, then we have to run the dishwasher, unload it, then reload it, the counters are awful, and it becomes harder to do anything in the kitchen. But, if I clean the sink and run the dishwasher before I go to bed, then unload it while I am waiting for coffee, everything is smoother, all day.

Another routine is “put out hotspots.” A hotspot is a place where junk accumulates- at our house, my dresser top is one (we have several, but only I am responsible for my dresser) If I don’t take 2 minutes to put my clothes away,then my dresser is piled with bras and unmatched socks, and shirts, and that isn’t any better than getting dressed in the living room. I deserve to live in a clean house.

So, a couple of weeks into these routines, and our house is still relatively clean after cleaning it up for the party.

FLY, by the way, stands for finally loving yourself, and at first I thought, ick, mushy self-love, but I am realizing that I do deserve to live in a clean house, and I have been taking some time to make that happen, rather than yelling at everybody about it.

I’m not killing the slugs, I’m inviting them for a beer, then they die.

Homegrown, organic beautiful, and eaten by me, not by neighborhood gastropods.

We have been having such a wet June (global weirding, or is this normal?) that the slugs are having a field day. My strawberries are getting ripe, and the slugs have been eating half of them. Now, I’m a generous soul, if the slugs would eat some berries, I wouldn’t mind so much, but they seem to eat half of each one.
My MIL has taught me the solution- cheap, grocery-store-type beer in a saucer at ground level. She saves her margarine tubs for this, but I’m too snobby for margarine, so I use salsa containers. You have to bury them so the rim is just at ground level- the slugs are attracted to the carbon dioxide coming off the beer, then they drown in it.

The Boy checks the trap the next day- "EEW! there's beer on my hand!" Our take, a couple of slugs and a spider. Collateral damage- sorry spidey.

I will also set out board traps- pieces of scrap wood on the ground- the slugs hide under them during the day, so I can scrape them off into the compost pile. My friend Schnied’s mom feeds slugs to her goldfish, but I think these slugs are too big for my fish.

There’s been a radio ad recently that just curls my hair- a major pesticide company telling me I need to kill the bugs that are eating my precious garden crops. It just makes me mad- they want me to dust poison on the food I want to eat. Grrrrr. With beer, they die, but it is their choice. And not all of them die…maybe I’m still conflicted.

I’ll add new beer to my traps before we leave for the weekend. Last year, we barely had slug damage, I think, because the garter snakes stepped up to the plate. I realize that for some people, snakes are worse than slugs, but garter snakes are slug eating machines. And you hardly see them- we’ve got great ground cover, which is good snake habitat.

Bloom Day- Look at those Peonies!

We have lived in this house about 10 years, and there are certain things that the previous owners did that I just have to wonder about. For example, they crammed about 4 different rose bushes into a square about 2 feet by 2 feet at the end of the driveway. It looks great for about a week in June and a week in September, but then it grabs passersby with spiny tentacles the rest of the year.
They also put Russian sage under the mailbox- a sub-shrub that gets 6 feet tall and 6 feet wide, and is extremely attractive to bees, right next to where the mail goes.
What I have to approve of, though, is that they put peonies lined up next to the driveway. I don’t think they are fancy named varieties, just dark pink, light pink and white, but they have bloomed reliably every June that we have lived here, with virtually no care, other than pulling away the brown leaves and stalks at the end of winter. And this year, I didn’t even get around to that.

Mock orange- gets to be 6-8 feet tall, and has amazing-smelling white blossoms.

Mid June is the best time for blooms around in my yard, peonies and roses, and the herbs, and honeysuckle and the mock orange, and the bearded iris are finishing but the Japanese iris are budding out. I love it.

Blanche Sandman honeysuckle, worm's eye view.

Through an accident of fate, we are not taking our vacation until early July, and I am so glad  I get to stick around and enjoy the best flowers of the year.

The bees love the thyme and chive flowers- I wonder what the honey would taste like?

Lazy Granola with Chinese 5 Spice

I’ve been cleaning out the freezer in the garage, not cleaning cleaning, you know, just sorting out what’s in there and eating it if possible. I came across a quart of peaches in vanilla sugar that I had sliced and frozen last summer. Since we are only a month away from new peaches, I figured I should do something with them.
Last year I made a peach crisp and instead of using cinnamon, I used some Chinese 5 spice powder. I had gotten it at our co-op, where you can buy bulk spices and herbs. I like being able to buy a tiny bit of things I’ve never tried before. I open the jar, smell it, scoop a little in a bag- it winds up being like 25 cents for a recipe’s worth. (It drives DH crazy, though, because I never label the bags, so there are all these bags of green herbage in the cabinet)
I had first used the 5 spice in a dry rub for steak, which got a thumbs- down from DH, and a thumbs up from me. So, then I tried it in peach crisp, and loved it, but it got a thumbs down from basically everyone else that I made taste it. We are picky around here, I tell you.
According to the Spice House website, which is a supplier of herbs and spices, their 5 spice mix is: “Gently hand mixed from China Tung Hing cassia cinnamon, powdered cassia buds, powdered star anise and anise seed, China No. 1 ginger and ground cloves. By my count, that’s only 3 spices, unless the seeds of anise taste way different from the pods…and the cassia buds taste different from the bark… which I guess it could, but that still only makes 4. It’s a mystery.
Frontier is the distributor of the bulk spices at my co-op, and their website doesn’t list any ingredients at all- their listing reads like the J. Peterman catalog: “Chinese Five Spice Five Spice Seasoning includes all five tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and hot or spicy. Thought to create a balance of yin and yang, this spicy blend makes for a great twist on American dishes too. And it’s salt free!
Maybe I should sell it harder with my kids, “C’mon, try it, you know how you’ve been needing to balance your yin and yang!”

I loved the 5 spice, but I am virtually the only one in my house who does. So, then, I figured the streusel topping stuff was essentially granola, and wouldn’t life be easier if I could just slice some peaches, put yogurt on top and sprinkle it with granola. I could cook up a big batch on a cool day, and have it ready for peaches any time I wanted.
Lazy Granola
2 cups rolled oats
1/3 cup oil
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons 5 spice powder, or cinnamon, or whatever spice floats your boat
½ cup almonds
Dump everything into a bowl and mix with a wooden spoon- all of the oatmeal flakes should be pretty evenly coated with the sugar/oil mixture. Preheat oven to 250, pour the granola mix into a sheet pan and toast for an hour. Shake and stir it every 15 minutes so it browns evenly. When it cools, store in an airtight container.

No photos- beautiful arty pictures of year-old frozen peaches, or uniformly brown granola are beyond my food stylist skill level right now.

I don’t believe in jinxes. However…

A couple of weeks ago, I bragged about how awesome it is to have the kid up the street mow my lawn, and it’s such a bargain, and he mows around the ripening bulb foliage and blah blah blah.   His mower has died. Like, seriously died.

I’m not superstitious, but I somehow think it is my fault.

I was in denial for a good week and a half, thinking it was just a part that could be replaced, and while I was in denial, the back yard just kept silently growing. And growing.

You might be thinking, what’s the big deal, just let him use your mower, or mow it yourself, you big baby.

Maybe if we gave it a name, like "Ol' Bessie" it would be more pleasant...

Well,  when we moved to this house, we were feeling very green, and we bought a reel mower. It’s really hard work to cut grass with a reel mower- I used to consider it my workout and use it as an excuse to lie on the couch the rest of the day. In an unspoken agreement, DH always did the front, and I did the back- bit by bit shrinking the amount of grass.  Trees, shrubs, flower beds, stone patio have replaced the lawn back there, but not fast enough. Last year, when the kid up the street offered to mow, I was happy to give up the reel mower and let him pollute the air. It’s not easy being green.

Yes, that's a ruler, and the grass is taller than it....

Maybe it’s not a jinx, maybe it’s karma. I worked on the back today-  ankle-deep grass, much of it just flopping over when the mower rolled over it, some of it getting cut. I’ll go the other direction in a couple of days to get the tufts- it’s like when I used to try to cut the Boy’s hair with the clippers- it looked terrible, and we both wound up crying.

Did those posts used to be something else?

So, like 5 years ago, I got the idea that I was going to cobble together a canopy bed for the Girl, so I bought some old staircase balusters and did nothing with them. Ideas are sometimes like that- you buy the materials, and then…the materials have to marinate a while.

Time passed, and a canopy bed no longer seemed like a good idea, but I had these 4 turned posts, so I painted them blue and put them by the apple tree, propped up in the holes of cinder blocks. When people asked me if I was going to do anything with them I couldn’t really give them the answer, “I did- look, there they are!” I would mutter something about birdhouses…

3 birdhouses and a finial. Guess which ones I painted?

So I kept thinking.  We had painted some birdhouses a couple of years ago, what if these posts were supports for birdhouses? These aren’t the kind of birdhouses that birds really want to live in- you can’t open them and clean them, they aren’t really “habitat” they are more “decoration.” And I could plant something at the base that could climb them, so they would add some color and some structure. Then the question was how to stand them upright without putting them in cinder blocks. I also didn’t want to bury the bottoms in the ground, because that would make the posts really short.

This spring, I came up with a solution. In the grand family tradition of not spending any money on anything, I used some PVC pipe pieces, some blue duct tape and some rebar (okay, I did buy the rebar, but it was for a different project, so it doesn’t count. I just didn’t want you to think I was going around stealing rebar.)  I taped the PVC to the bases of the posts, hammered the rebar into the ground and slid the pipes onto the rebar.

There's a can of blue spray paint in the garage, I may spray the PVC...

I planted them asymetrically. If I I have learnedanything from making bulletin boards, it is that if something is supposed to be straight, and it’s just a little bit crooked, it drives you crazy. However, if it is supposed to be off-center, then no problem. Unless you are already crazy.

Now, they next step will be attaching the birdhouses on top. The Girl has suggested super glue. Any thoughts?

Sculpture park

There is a park close to my house that is a perfect walk- a loop around is about 2 miles.  it’s a lovely little spot. I’ve especially been admiring the design lately. Admittedly, sometimes it seems like they just keep cramming in sculptures, but they are mostly quite nice. My favorite is the origami horses above. There are also 2 bridges, each great in its own way- one is a rough wooden walkway by a mini-waterfall, and the other is a gentle arch over the swamp- I mean, wetland.

The land it was on was originally wetland, and it is part of the chain of irrigate-y waterways that snake through town. It links a ditch with a lake, linked to another ditch. Someone has designed this, though, to keep it natural-looking.

It's funny how the mowed edge of the grass sets off the wildness of the wetland- although they probably mow it mostly for tick control

I lived for a while in Sidney, Nebraska, and there was an old creek bed there that had caused flooding problems, so the Army Corps of Engineers came in and moved it, straightened it, and terraced it. They built a park around it, and built a recreation trail…and it was horrible. I mean, I’m sure it was horrible to have your house flooded every 5 or 10 years, but as a park and rec trail…it was obviously engineered rather than designed. The corps didn’t care if it was exposed and windy and hot. There may have not been enough budget, or anyone to speak up.
Over the years, the people who have been involved in the Loveland Sculpture park did speak up. I’m lucky enough to live nearby.