Sunday, July 13, 2014

In a Pickle

The cucumbers just keep coming. Yesterday I canned pickles for the first time. They look like real pickles! The directions say to wait two weeks to eat them. So for now, I'll just admire them.

Speaking of pickles, some of you asked for Jody's refrigerator pickle recipe. You'll find it here: We eat these pickles at every meal (okay, not with breakfast), and then I cut up some more cukes and refill the jars. They are addictive.


We have five weeks of summer vacation left. Jack still hasn't found a volunteer job, but he's going to resume his search tomorrow now that driver's ed is over (he has his permit now--yikes!). He seems more motivated since I mentioned to him that if he has a volunteer job this summer, he might be able to get a real job next summer. Employers like kids who have some work experience under their belt.

This is the first summer that I've managed to come up with a chore list for the boys and enforce it. Jack does the trash and recycling, mows the lawn when it needs it (which hasn't been often--we've hardly had any rain all summer), does his own laundry and cleans the boys' bathroom (I can't believe I finally managed to lob that job off on someone else). I suppose exercise isn't typically thought of as a household chore, but it's on Jack's list--he has to exercise at least thirty minutes a day. He's taken to riding his bike for close to an hour every night.

Will's chores include cleaning the downstairs bathroom, doing his own laundry, vacuuming the living room every day, pulling up the trash and recycling bins after pick-up, and baking cookies at least once a week. He gets at least thirty minutes of exercise a day without even trying, so I didn't have to put that on his list.

I am very pleased with myself for finally treating my children like hired help (or more to the point, unpaid labor). And I'm pleased with the boys for doing their work without too much prodding from me. The only thing neither of them seems capable of is remembering to rinse their dishes and put them in the dishwasher. Easiest thing in the world, and it slips their minds every time.

Well, as long as they keep cleaning the bathrooms every week, I'll cut them slack on the dishes.

I am less pleased at how much time I have to spend shooing Will off the screens. Jack has more computer independence, as long as he keeps up with the various things we ask him to do (chores and other things as well), but Will's time is limited. But he has taken to reading ESPN sports news on the computer whenever I have my back turned. "I'm READING, Mom," he'll say. "I thought you wanted me to read." Well, I do, but I want him to read novels and interesting nonfiction books as well as the sports news.

I'll have to ask my mom what she had to nag us about back in the day. Watching TV probably. Screens. It's always the dang screens.


A friend posted a list on Facebook a month or so ago called "Zen Things." As you know, I'm not a zen practitioner, but I play one on TV, so I posted the list on my fridge. Right now I'm focusing on the first three items:

1. Do one thing at a time.
2. Do it slowly and deliberately.
3. Do it completely.

I'm not good at this--I get distracted. I start doing one thing and then remember another thing I need to do. But I'm trying, and I feel a bit more centered when I do. I'm working my way up to number ten on the list: Make cleaning and cooking become meditation. Not there yet, but maybe one day.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Garden Report

Gretchen-Joanna, affectionately known in my book as GJ, left a lovely comment on my last post, complimenting me on the neatness of my garden. Now, normally I would just sort of duck my head and paw the ground with the toe of my shoe while mumbling "Ah, shucks," but the fact is, I've worked very hard on my garden this year. I built the beds and the paths, hauled in the mulch (lots and lots of mulch), and have spent the week since returning home from the beach weeding like a madman. So GJ's comment felt like a little valentine.

In the past, the Man has been, well, a bit of a garden hog. He is a more knowledgeable gardener than I, having spent years helping his granny garden back in the day, and he's of a more scientific mind than I am. He is also a manager by nature, and is good at thinking things through, while I'm more likely to jump in head first and hope the water's deep enough.

But this year, we have His-n-Her gardens, and I got the big one. The Man is very busy at work, and he knew he wouldn't be able to keep up with a big garden this year. He has the small garden by the side of the garage, where he is growing tomatoes, cucumbers and crowder peas. He waters but does not weed. Weeds have not been a huge problem in his garden, in part because it has been a dry summer, discouraging weedy proliferations, and in part because he laid down some serious mulch this spring.

I weed. I tend. I putter and fuss. I am pretty much in love with my garden. I stare at it from the porch the way you would stare at your baby's face while he's napping in the crib.


I have discovered the amazing powers of chicken manure. See that corn (above) at the end of the path (the recently weeded, soon to be remulched path)? Last Wednesday, I side-dressed it with chicken manure and it shot up a foot practically overnight. In the plot next to it, my little sugarbaby watermelon vines looked healthy, but lacked vim and vigor in terms of real growth. After a healthy application of chicken manure, the vines grew six inches in twenty-four hours. I kid you not.

Unfortunately, chicken manure stinks for a few days after you apply it. It's also very expensive--in fact, it's probably cheaper just to keep chickens. The Man is iffy about having a flock, and I respect his hesitancy--sometimes even a good idea can feel like just one more thing to deal with, and I believe right now the Man's plate is fairly full--but, boy, could we use that poop.

Right now we have a bumper crop of cucumbers. I don't know why our plants are doing so well. Usually we have a good week or two, and then they get a case of some sort of wilt or another, and that's it for the cukes. But they've been producing for several weeks and are still going strong. They're in a different bed this year, so maybe that's a factor, or maybe this dry spell is good for them.

So I've got excessive quantities of cucumbers, and while I can easily eat one or two a day all by myself, I can't keep pace with the vines. Back in 2010, Jody over at Gumbo Lily sent me her refrigerated pickle recipe, the one she received at her bridal shower from her high school chorus teacher many years ago, and yesterday I dug it out and made me some pickles. I haven't tried one yet--I thought I'd give them a day to marinate--but I have three beautiful jars in my fridge and I'll be opening one of them at lunch.

(ETA: The pickles are amazing! Wow!)

One of my favorite things about having a summer vegetable garden is that at dinner I can lay out plates of sliced cucumbers and tomatoes (and now a bowls of pickles) and crunchy green beans, and I just feel rich with good food.

I'm re-reading Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek, which I first read about twenty years ago. In one passage she writes, "That it's rough out there and chancy is no surprise. Every thing is a survivor on a kind of extended emergency bivouac. But at the same time we are also created. In the Koran, Allah asks, 'The heaven and the earth and all in between, thinkest thou I made them in jest?' It's a good question."

On my walk this morning, that's the quote I pondered. "Do you think I made them in jest?" No, no I don't.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

And So the Summer Begins ...

The path through the Spring Point Preserve on Ocracoke Island, NC 

I know for a lot of people summer began a few weeks ago when school ended, and for the more literal-minded among us, summer began on June 21st, the summer solstice. But for me, summer begins now. My calendar is clear. I've been on vacation, prepared for my week-long creative writing workshop, taught my workshop, recovered from my workshop ... and for the next five weeks, I ain't doing nothing. 

Okay, so that's not true. I'll be revising a novel, tending a garden, bossing around boys, driving around boys, hopefully making a quilt and putting in some serious housekeeping time. But I'm not going anywhere until the second week of August, when we head to Kentucky for a family reunion, and I don't have much on my calendar except for minor appointments and the like.

It has been a long, long time since I've posted, so let me catch you up on what's been going on or is about to go on:

1. Jack starts behind-the-wheel driver's ed today. He's totally ready. I am totally not.

2. Will has caught World Cup fever. His life currently revolves around the games, especially if the U.S. is playing. I don't understand why the U.S. is still playing. It seems to take a lot to get eliminated from the World Cup. I mean, like you have to lose fifteen times or something. I wonder if everyone gets a trophy at the end, like they do here in Pee Wee soccer?

3. We spent last week on Ocracoke Island, which is part of North Carolina's Outer Banks. Would you like to see some pictures? Of course you would!

The house we rent every year. It's called the Mary Frances, 
and it was built in 1920.

The edge of Springer's Point, the nature preserve on the island. The pirate Black Beard hung out here back in the day and is said to haunt the area, but so far I haven't run into him.

One of the ancient live oaks on the nature preserve. 
I walked here every day of our vacation. 
When I asked the Man if he thought the preserve was enchanted (the trees have a very enchanted feel to them), he said, "No, but it's complex on an astral plane."
 I thought that summed things up quite nicely.

Stacks of netted clam shells on the edge of the Point. I've been reading a wonderful book called The Old Ways by Robert McFarlane, which is in part about walking on old roads and pathways in the UK, and these shells made me think of the cairns that he sometimes found marking trails.

We had a very nice vacation, in fact probably the best family vacation we've had. Usually we're all a little tired of each other by the end of the week, a little surly and rundown, but for some reason that didn't happen this year.

Oh, I wanted to tell you about an author I discovered this vacation! Her name is Alice Taylor, and she's Irish. By chance, I picked up her book The Village, a memoir about village life in the early 1960s, at the library, and I found it absolutely charming. Now I want to read her book about growing up in the country, To School Through the Fields. I'll let you know how it is.

 4. The garden is growing! Get ready for more pictures!

 Butternut squash to the left, black beans to the right.

More beans.

The world's tiniest cornfield.

We are starting to get tomatoes, and there are peppers on the pepper plants, but it may take awhile for them to turn yellow and red. Lots of cukes, lots of green beans.  The watermelon plants are not growing vigorously, nor are the zucchini. It has been a dry summer so far, and I fear they haven't gotten enough water.

5. Big news: I got my braces off! I will end this post with the before and after pictures:

Before (as in about an hour before the braces came off)

And after ...

 Now I am all grown up.

More soon!