So: good scents

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photo by Brian Jimenez | Unsplash

As much as I love apples of all kinds*, when citrus fruits from California and Texas appear in the grocery store, it always makes me very happy. Maybe even a little giddy. As much as I enjoy a gigantic Rio Star ruby red grapefruit as a decadent sweet-tart mess, those tiny clementines that usually come in a little wooden crate or a mesh bag are my ultimate favorites. Juicy. Plump. Vibrant. Portable. Self-contained. The unmistakeable fragrance lingers in the air (and on your hands) long after the fruit is eaten. It’s a dessert and an air freshener all-in-one, perfect for dining al desko.

The sharp scent of citrus also means that the year is winding down and the promise of a new beginning is on the horizon. But for now, frost is in the air. I think of—and want!—soups, stews, roasting, potatoes, pasta, big pots of this and that. Warming food. Comfort food. Hark! The Eating Season is beginning. Get the stretchy pants ready!

One Boxing Day party not so many years ago, I put a big bowl of clementines out on the buffet table, more as an in lieu of flowers decoration than as food. When I was cleaning up at the end of the night, I was very surprised that there were only a few left. I guess my friends like their delicious cuteness as much as I do. Or maybe by that point in the Eating Season, everyone was feeling stuffed from Thanksgiving dinners, company parties, friends’ parties, and Christmas dinner. They welcomed a little sweet treat that’s not cookies, pie, candy or cake.

A virtuous snack. Almost medicinal, right? After all, doesn’t Vitamin C cure colds? If that’s the case, I’m going to keep working on not getting one any time soon.

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Continuing the orange theme, today’s gratuitous dog photo of the day:

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George!

*although not nearly as much this year. The Invisalign teeth-movers I’ll have in my mouth for the next year make apple eating less than desirable.

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So: in summary

Hey! Long time no write! Me, not you. To say that 2014 has been full of surprises is a major understatement. If there’s one thing that 2014 has been, it’s unpredictable. And while many parts of its randomness have been fabulous, they have also sucked up my writing time.

First, let me bring you up to speed about the weather this summer in North Texas. You may remember my frequent rants about the ever-changing weather patterns and their effects on the Urban Farm. This summer, the weather was milder than the usual 100 day strings of 100°F+ temperatures. It rained. Several times, even.

Second, plants like it when they aren’t trying to survive on the surface of the sun. They like it a lot. And they produce tons and tons of vegetables. And when you plant things that thrive on the surface of the sun normally, they go crazy for the cooler weather. I’m not complaining: I have bags of black eyed peas, okra, and roasted tomatillos in the freezer. We have enjoyed many yummy meals and so have our friends and coworkers!

It’s still going too. Fall crops are in — spinach is sprouting, kale transplants are getting bigger, collards are fighting some bug that’s nibbling one them, chard is so beautiful. My coworker’s chickens Jenny and Penny are enjoying all of the “chicken treats” I  bring them from the garden and giving me some eggs in return. The composters are full so I’m glad for the girls.

 

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One of my many instagram photos from the 2014 harvests. Follow me @julie_petroski

 

And that darn feral tomato plant has gone completely insane. I named him “Seymore” after the Little Shop of Horrors’ plant. Seymore is covered in tomatoes (again) and taking up all of raised bed #4. I’m looking forward to more free tomatoes!

 

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Seymore! He’s a Sweet 100 tomato plant.

Third, we built things! Painted things! Traveled to see things! Bought a big thing! More about that later in the month since I’ve decided to force myself to write again by doing NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month). Wish me luck. I may need to can and schedule some posts in order to fulfill my !

NaBloPoMo_November

Fourth, 4th Quarter. Work’s been a little bit busier. Interesting stuff though, so I’m definitely not complaining. In fact, my company let us go home at 3 pm tonight since it’s Halloween. Sweet! Now I don’t have any big plans for it, but if you do, have a great time and don’t eat too much candy. I’ll talk at you tomorrow.

Back by popular demand (ok, mine) is the Gratuitous Dog Photo of the Day!

George says, "it's about time, lady."

George says, “It’s about time, lady. Get back to blogging already.” Photo by Bruce

 

So: only ten?!?!

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I keep getting tagged on Facebook (thanks, fellow book lovers, Stuart and Sheree!) to share the ten books that have made the biggest impact in my life. This started happening right before I went on vacation a few weeks ago and until now, I haven’t had the bandwidth to address to this mind-blowing ask.

Mind-blowing because I have been reading forever—and there are a lot of books that have impacted me. No joke since my mom was a teacher and taught me how to read before I was in pre-school, probably so I would amuse myself while she looked after my two years younger brother. Instead of napping (which I hated), I’d head to my room to read. And stay there for hours. No one ever had to encourage me to go to the library. Teachers never had to prod me to challenge myself—I read what I liked and looking back on it read books I probably didn’t fully understand when I was in elementary school.

But in the past 8 years, I’ve gotten out of the habit. Reading social media posts, blogs, snippets of information, and magazines have replaced the books in my life. TV too. It’s easy to keep looking at screens after looking at them all day. And that’s why I decided to abandon my iPad. Although I love the convenience of having lots of reading material at my disposal, those books and magazines are languishing behind the glass. I forget that they’re there.

A BIG thank you to my sweet friend Melissa for giving me the book Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life (perhaps a hint, but a nice read regardless) because it really and truly was the catalyst to reigniting my passion for reading earlier this summer. And reminding me just how much I really loved to hold a real book in my hands.

Then I read two books (Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined the 1980s and Divergent) during my vacation and they applied a swift blow to my noggin with the long-lost steel-toed Doc Martins of my youth. “How could you have forgotten us? We’ve been friends for most of your life? We will not be replaced!” they said, speaking on behalf of the shelves of their brethren I’ve plowed through and cast aside. So now it’s back to paper for me.

I’m frequently mocked for being a fast reader. Truth is I’m a reading glutton. If I love a book, it’s a deliciously gooey and decadent feast. No matter how much I get through, I can’t get enough. I will devour that book—sleep, chores, whatever, be damned. If I don’t love it, I know myself well enough that it needs to be donated to charity immediately. Or returned to the library. Or left in an airplane seat pocket. Otherwise, it will languish on a dusty bookshelf until we move to another dwelling.

Yes, my name is Julie and I’m addicted to reading. Now that you know another of my dirty little secrets, you’ll understand why I’m reading more again. It’s a great vice for a middle-aged writer. And it won’t make me fat or put a hurting on the bank account.

Without further ado, here are 10 books I love that influenced my thoughts, perspective on many things, and writing. Admittedly I am cheating just a wee bit with the excesses presented in my list. And my list could change tomorrow once I ponder what I’ve forgotten, but today’s 10 are a certainly a diverse and motley crew:

1. Ogilvy on Advertising: Without a doubt, this is the book that made me realize that advertising was the right career for me. I was given it as a first day of work assignment by my first “adult job” boss and I polished it off in a couple of hours. Then I re-read it. And thought to myself, “One day, I want to work for this guy.” I never got that wish, but many years later, I worked at the place with his name on the door.

2. Neuromancer by William Gibson. Yes, I love sci-fi. And dystopian fiction. And all of William Gibson’s books. Nerd!

3. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Canadian content that I didn’t realize was Canadian when I read it back in high school. And more dystopian fiction.

4. Anything by Dr. Seuss. I’m a big fan

5. The Bobbsey Twins entire series/Hardy Boys entire series/Nancy Drew entire series. And I am thrilled that my three little nieces will get to enjoy the ones my mom squirreled away in a box in her garage (they were hers too!) in a few more years.

6. The Little House on the Prairie series.

7. Lord of the Rings series (If it’s not obvious yet that I really, really, really like books that come in series, you may need to know that I also loved the Twilight series and all the Harry Potter books, although not the movies. Also all of the Shopaholic books and anything by Sophie Kinsella. Truthfully, I don’t really like the stories to end and the characters to leave me.)

8. The Diary of a Young Girl. It gave a face to something completely incomprehensible to me. Another book I’ve read many times.

9. The Catcher in the Rye. Yes, I could be a moody teen. I loved all of Salinger’s works and really do hope that he left us a manuscript.

10. tie: The Riverside Shakespeare and New Oxford Annotated Bible. Both of these books were critical to my undergraduate degree in English and what I learned in the classes where I used them has proven to be extremely useful in adult life for a whole variety of reasons.

And if you’re wondering if my book choices are similar to others, here’s a cool infographic.

If you’ve been missing the gratuitous dog photos because I’ve been too busy reading/gardening/working/vacationing/a whole bunch of things I’ll catch you up on later, don’t worry, here’s a cute one:

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George snuggling with Guinness during a thunderstorm

 

PS: In the past few weeks I’ve been reading whole novels in one sitting. Real books, not on my iPad. I’m thinking I’d better renew my library card. I seem to be loving young adult novels: Tuesday night’s was The Fault in Our Stars and I plowed through Divergent on our flight back from London. Both were exactly what I needed to relax and enjoy some time well spent.

Sow: seed saving

It’s been one of those months. Actually 2014 has been one of those years. I started this post on July 7 and for one of the oh-so-many reasons I haven’t written much this month, including the extra crazy daily harvesting, it got saved to draft.

Well, I’d better get back to writing since believe it or not, in North Texas, late July and the beginning of August is the right time to start getting stuff in the ground for the fall garden.

Yes, I am well aware that it’s the time of year when our little piece of heaven resembles the surface of the sun and children try to fry stuff on the sidewalks and even 5:30 am almost too hot to walk the Gs. But the grass has been unnaturally green for a good long while and the tomatillos and okra are touching the sky. I thank both the random rainfall we’ve had and the fabulous drip system we added to the urban farm.

We are in for another few days of abnormal rainy and cooler weather which seems to be the new normal down here. I hate to say it but it breaks up the sameness even though George has to sleep in his Thundershirt. (I really need to get him a modeling gig with that company.)

One plant that needs to get its seeds planted pretty soon is cilantro. Although you’d think that cilantro would grow wonderfully all year ’round here, it doesn’t. Like many Texas residents, it hates the heat. And the humidity also makes it look ugly, much like my crazy giant Texas hair last Thursday and Friday.

As soon as the weather heads up past 80°F (around 27°C, if I remember right), cilantro goes right to flower and starts tasting like soap. But if the taste of soap brings back wonderful childhood memories of special quality time spent with mom after expressing yourself with colorful grown up words, you’re in luck. You just won’t get any takers in the Mortroski Midcentury. We’ll eat ultra-bitter arugula and like it, but not soap-flavored tacos and guacamole.

I decided instead to let it go to coriander. Yes, that’s right cilantro the fresh green plant makes seeds that are ground into the spice coriander. The plant is also called that in some places, but it’s a little confusing when you ask for it as coriander at the supermarket around here. The dude you ask will take you to the little bottles of spices lined up in alphabetical order, not the produce section.

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Cilantro seeds (aka coriander) drying

So basically, I made my own pack of seeds to plant for the fall/winter crop. And all you have to do is let the cilantro go to seed, then let it dry out on the plant. Then cut the stems and bring them inside to dry out a bit more. I felt a few days was enough.

Next you’ll want to pack your patience or be in an especially cheerful, focused, or maniacal mood because you’re going to pluck the little seeds from the twiggy leftover bits of plant. One. By. One. I actually found it pretty therapeutic, but I also like to destem bushels of basil or shell blackeyed peas before work. Do it at your leisure, however. It does take a little time and if you rush, they go everywhere and one of your dogs will eat them and have breath that smells like an Indian restaurant, which is an improvement in George’s case.

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Coriander up close — looks just like the seed pack or the spice jar!

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The finished result: looks like I’ve got more than enough for fall planting — might have to share

So the cilantro seeds go back in the ground next month. Even though all of the other herbs are growing like crazy it’s the one I miss the most. Maybe it’s that soapy taste. I do have a fondness for spiciness.

Since I know you’ve missed the gratuitous dog photo of the day, I’ll give you a couple:

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Godiva tolerating George

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George tolerating Gadget

 

Sow: green sauce

Happy July 4th and happy post-Canada Day! It’s the time for celebration! Fireworks!* Parties! Eating!

Remember when you were a kid and the summer was the fun time of year when you could do whatever you wanted to do. Every. Single. Day. Eating ice cream and watermelon (spitting the seeds when your mom wasn’t looking). Riding your bike. Swimming from dawn to dusk. Staying up late. Running around and playing outside.

Even though this grown up is mostly enjoying this summer in the over air conditioned comfort of a concrete and glass box, I’m trying to make the most of the sunshine and fun that comes with the season. Like right now: I’m sitting at the patio table (yes, we get wifi outside!), enjoying the sounds of summer (leaf blowers and birds chirping), admiring the jungly Urban Farm and watching the Gs lounge about.

It’s been fun seeing old pals (right, Helen, Christine, Fred and Chris?), meeting new ones (that’s you, Cam, Jon, and Louie), enjoying an amazing harvest on almost a daily basis, enjoying long walks with Bruce and the Gs, exploring new parts of Dallas, and yes, enjoying tasty treats. Luckily for us, lots of yummy stuff is coming directly from the Urban Farm.

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the first tomatillos with their husks still on. in the supermarket the husks are usually pretty dried out and more brown. they are also $2.99/lb at our local Albertsons.

One of those treats has to do with my tomatillo experimentation. I’ve harvested about 1 1/2 pounds of tomatillos  so far with more to come (so about $4.50 worth if you’re shopping at Albertsons). I planted them so I could make jars of homemade salsa verde (literal translation is “green sauce”.)

I’ve never really made it before—or knew how bountiful the plants could be. Usually I just pick up a jar at the grocery story.

When we got the latest issue of Bon Appetit, Bruce mentioned that he saw a simple recipe for salsa verde on one of the first pages of the issue. With almost all the required ingredients, I decided to give it a whirl, literally, as you’ll see in just a moment.

So we had tomatillos, onions, and cilantro leftover from a recipe (it’s too hot for it to grow here right now, it’s a fall/winter/spring herb). And lots of peppers.

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lots of peppers

But we didn’t have Serrano chiles. We have poblanos, jalapeños, and bell peppers. I picked jalapeños as my Serrano replacement, but I guess any spicy pepper would do.

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the recipe inspiration — thanks, Bruce!

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ready for a whirl in the Nutribullet

It was pretty easy to husk and quarter the tomatillos. I peeled and quartered the onion. Threw the cilantro in there too. And I was careful with the jalapeño since sometimes they have a big unexpected bite. I didn’t really bother to chop anything up much because Bruce’s magical green drink blender was going to do all the hard work.

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the finished product: a big jar of salsa verde in mere seconds!

If you make it, grab some tortilla chips and a bunch of friends and plow through it—this is good stuff. We also like it as a sauce on white fish (excellent on cod for example). It’s good on eggs, tacos, grilled meat, perhaps you’ll want to try it on some  veggies or as a quick alternative potato salad dressing. I made it last weekend and  we still have about 1/2 jar left but I bet it’s gone by Sunday. Let me know if you try making it. My next version will be roasting the tomatillos first because I like the smoky char taste.

Today’s gratuitous dog photo of the day is our 4th of July boy George:

George and his trout

George and his trout (there may also be a tennis ball in his mouth)

 

* Despite my love of fireworks, they’re not allowed at the Mortroski Midcentury. Our sweet Georgie is ours as a result of a fireworks accident. Read more about his story here and here. Please keep your 4-legged pals safely inside tonight if you’re located in the U.S.of A.

So: paint my pup

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On Sunday afternoon, Bruce and I set off to do something different and explore a new (to us) part of Dallas. It was pouring so it put a little damper (ha!) on our attempts to explore the areas surrounding White Rock Lake. But that wasn’t the main event. You see, I signed us up for a “Paint Your Pet” class at Pinot’s Palette, a franchised drink wine/eat snacks while you paint place.

Even though it’s completely wrong to pick a favorite when you have four dogs to choose from, you may have gathered from my previous posts that George has grabbed a bigger place in my heart than the others. His goofiness, his need to  carry toys in his mouth at all times, and his love of snuggling may have started this love fest, but the fact that he follows me around (the others all follow Bruce), didn’t hurt. So I decided that I’d paint my favorite photo of George. Yes, he has two tennis balls in his mouth. He had three but he dropped one before the photo was snapped.

The whole process was easy. When we showed up, the photos we provided were already printed on the canvas (see above) and they had put brushes, a cup of water and a paper plate with black and white paint on it. The instructor told us to bring our photo and the paper plate and line up to get the rest of the paint we needed. While we were getting paint, the helpers told us how to mix the colors we needed.

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One coat of background green underway

We then went back to our easels to paint the background. I chose a bright green to make George stand out more.

Background done. Time to start painting.

Background done.

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Since we are not framing our “masterpieces” we painted the sides the background color too. Photo by Bruce

After we were happy with our backgrounds, it was time to start creating the shading and definition. The instructor helped us to understand why it was important, but he also made it look too easy. It was actually hard! And mixing the colors was also a little tricky. So I kind of forgot that we were also supposed to be drinking wine while painting. Probably better for the painting though.

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some shading and white underway

Lots of things were really hard to paint: the tennis balls and George’s nose. All three are a little lopsided. But his eyes turned out much better than I thought they would. The pink area is George’s scar tissue where his fur doesn’t grow.

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It kinda looks likes George. Photo by Bruce

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The painting kinda resembles the photo. Not bad for a first timer.

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The finished George painting.

Bruce picked Gidget. As the last to arrive, Gidget doesn’t appear in as many photos around the house, so I think he wanted her to have a nice picture too. He also liked the blue color of her pool as a background color.

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Bruce painting the background.

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Bruce did a great job on Gidget! Photo by Bruce

No gratuitous G photo today—you got to see plenty of gratuitous George and Gidget. But if you’ve ever thought about doing one of those paint and drink wine classes, do it! It’s fun and you get a souvenir to take home.

So: eating okra

I’m not from around these parts, so plenty of people find it very humorous that I grow okra. Usually these native Texans tell me how much they hate okra, how it’s yucky and slimy. Maybe their moms or grandmas made them eat it, but I never ate it regularly as a kid. My grandmother put it in one of her soups and I always thought it was pretty cool since it looks a bit like a flower, but since I didn’t see my grandparents all that often, it wasn’t on the normal vegetable rotation. Still I always scoured my bowl looking for the “flowers.” She probably thought it was pretty funny that I liked it so much.

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how okra grows

Bruce definitely NEVER ate okra until we moved to Texas, at least not knowingly. In Toronto, I don’t remember ever seeing it in the grocery store except in the frozen section. And while it probably grows in California, my mom never bought it.

So here we are in a climate where it’s super hot and dry. Okra likes both of those things as does Malabar spinach, peppers of all kinds, tomatillos, and black eyed peas.Can you tell  I like being a successful gardener (remember my tomato despair)? That’s why we’re eating what grows locally. Just a few okra plants will produce several meals worth per week for two hungry adults until the killing frost comes in November. Nothing is fresher than heading out to the urban farm and picking what’s for dinner right before dinner!

We’ve already had a couple of okra meals in the past two weeks. In North Texas, most people will fry their okra. A few pickle it—I love pickled okra but it’s still too early in the season to do it. You need volume and that won’t really come until August or September. Some people now roast it or even grill okra. All four of those ways are very good, but since we’re of the age where you shouldn’t consume much fried stuff, fried’s not really on our table.

Here’s how we usually eat it:

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Sauté some chopped onions and a jalapeño or any pepper you have on hand in your favorite olive oil (I use a garlic one from Trader Joe’s).

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Chop up some okra into rounds and add to your skillet.

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Let the okra start roasting, then add some frozen corn (or fresh if you have it). 

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Add a can of diced tomatoes (or fresh if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere where you have nice big tomatoes) and let the whole thing cook down for a few minutes.

Now you could season it all up with hot sauce, salt and pepper and pour it over rice or pasta or quinoa and eat it as is, but we usually throw in some fish and have a one-pot meal. I’m also going to try it with chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) this summer.

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This is thawed frozen cod. I just put it on top and let it cook until done. No flipping necessary. I’ve also used tilapia and other white fish.

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The finished product served over a quinoa/rice mixture! See all the little flowers? Add hot sauce if you like — I usually do.

An easy-peasy delicious weeknight dinner that we’ll enjoy many times over the months to come. Let me know if you try it and what special touches you put on it. If I have cilantro, sometimes I add that. Or I use salsa instead of canned tomatoes. The main thing is if you are afraid of slimy okra, do something like this and cook it with something acidic like tomatoes. There’s no sliminess at all, just deliciousness. You can make it with frozen okra too—I freeze our okra whole, then thaw and slice when I’m ready to use it.

Today’s gratuitous dog photo:

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Guinness and George are snuggling together a lot more these days. Not sure what has brought this on, but Guinness doesn’t seem to mind at all. Photo by Christine Watson.

Sew: ball of confusion

Like many women of a certain age, my love affair with Pinterest waxes and wains. It’s directly proportional to the amount of time that I need to spend waiting for something or someone. It is a major time vortex. If I’m not careful, I can be in there for hours, pinning recipes I’ll never make and holiday crafts that I’ll remember long after Christmas is past. It’s a late night guilty pleasure, much like some lovely chocolate or some nice leftover snagged out of the fridge.

Pinterest is also my messy filing cabinet. My armchair travel agent. My restaurant critic. My dreams of crafty magnificence. My tentative plans for the big 50th birthday trip I’m planning for Bruce. And of course, a slew of sewing projects for the day when I finally allow myself to get onto the sewing machine and mess around.

There’s also a board devoted to the Gs. And to this blog, though I am massively behind on my pinning (sorry, Frances, and everyone else who loves Pinterest and would prefer to find my updates there).

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Gidget the black and white dog with her partner-in-crime George • photo by Bruce

As you may have gathered, Gidget, the newest G, is the youngest and remains to this day a “handful”. We thought we were done with her  crate (which takes up far too much space in our office/tv room), but every time we put it in the attic, she shows us that she really needs to be in solitary confinement when there are no humans in the house. I assume her four legged siblings are too busy napping to administer any discipline or tell her that she’s an idiot if she pisses off the two-leggeds with the opposable thumbs that can open the magic cold food box, the treat cabinet and the food bin.

In any case, Gidget needs to be busy. And don’t let that sweet and innocent look fool you, she likes to tear stuff apart. Maybe “de-stuff” is more accurate. Dog beds. Dog toys. Stuffed animals. She loves to make it snow fluff all over the house.

So I decided that a ball of confusion might help her with her drive for mayhem. While it’s not really a “sew” project, it’s as close as I’ve gotten in a while:

8. For a dog who loves to tear apart stuffed animals, make a durable activity ball with a Hol-ee rubber ball, scraps of fabric, and treats.

So first, you get a Hol-ee rubber ball (thanks, Bruce!):

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Then you need strips of fleece or some other durable-ish fabric that Gidget won’t destroy immediately. I chose my funky dotted (yet extremely hole-y) bathrobe that I got for free from Ulta when I purchased a whackload of ever-so-necessary cosmetic products around Mother’s Day, Christmas or another important retail holiday.

 

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Next I broke out the wedding gift sewing box that truthfully hasn’t gotten much use in 19 years, except when Bruce needs to fix something of his (sorry, Mom, you know I’m hopeless as a housewife):

 

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Then I started shredding up the bathrobe. The good thing is the sash was already cut to desired thinness. It just needed to be cut into more manageable pieces. The rest of the robe was another story. Let’s just say, we have enough bathrobe to make another ball or restful with clean strips once the current strips are too slobber covered to restuff.

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First strip is wound up and inserted into the Hol-ee ball:

 

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Crammed full of carefully coiled bathrobe strips, ready for Gidget to rip out:

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Once the ball was ready to go, everyone except Guinness seemed very interested because it was a new toy:

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Gidget seemed interested:
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But in the end, the leader of the pack decided to test it out first to make sure it was suitable:

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She was pretty proud of herself:IMG_5286

Since Sunday, there have been strips of cloth all over the house. I keep stuffing them back in. And sweeping up the fringes. While Gidget is interested in this ball of confusion, it appears that Godiva and George are the biggest fans. (Guinness does not play with toys at all.)

And if you’re expecting a gratuitous dog photo today, I’m afraid that you’ve gotten so many in this post that you’re not going to appreciate another. So instead, I leave you with a gratuitous garden photo that’s foreshadowing:

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Black eyed peas: they’re what’s up next

 

Sow: long weekend landscaping

It’s been a long day with a very tight deadline for work, so I’m up late and writing more as a little wind down, despite my laptop feeling like it’s overheating from the exuberant pounding I’ve been giving it all day. Whenever I am away from the office for a week, there’s usually some sort of fallout. I expected today to go exactly the way it did and I was not surprised.

On the plus side, the weekend was a long one (Memorial Day here in the USA), so today, you’re getting lots of photos. First up was our long weekend landscaping project which fortunately was not hampered by all the (much needed) rain that we’ve been getting since Sunday.

A few days ago, I mentioned that Bruce and I were very unimpressed at the high cost of the type of patio planters we were looking for so we looked to the Urban Farm for a little inspiration: Stock Tanks! These mini stock tanks from Tractor Supply Company are absolutely perfect for some patio accents. Now we just need to find some patio lanterns (ah, a wee bit of Canadian content for you hosers).

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Look at me all covered with dirt and happy as can be. We picked up two tiny stock tanks for the new patio and put blue agave and lemon coral sedum in them. I like ’em! • Photo by Bruce

And guess where they're made...

And guess where they’re made…and if you’re wondering what the blue thing is in the driveway, it’s Gidget’s and Godiva’s wading pool • photo by Bruce

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Mini stock tanks in context after the first of the weekend’s rain storms. At least all of the plants, the grass, and the Urban Farm are super happy with all the water. Our new rain gauge said we received 1/2 of an inch yesterday.

Lots of good stuff to harvest yesterday…and more today.

The gigantic harvests are starting. Lots of good stuff to harvest yesterday…and still more today. From left: power greens mix (spinach, chard, kale), big bag of mint, a huge head of curly lettuce, a bell pepper, a bunch of beets, two jalapeños, and a big bowl of salad greens. 

As a special treat, it’s gratuitous dog photos galore!

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George could finally relax and sleep through the night again. • Photo by Bruce

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And here’s a little update on my sweet pal Murphy: here he is with his new sister Harley. He looks pretty content, don’t you think? • photo by Debbie

So: trip down memory lane

I’ve spent the past couple of days visiting with my parents. The place where they live these days is not one of the many homes I grew up in. It has become somewhat familiar over the past 14 years, but truthfully I have not visited here as much as I should have. I’ve met up with my parents in another of other places, usually with lots of other people around.

This time I had them all to myself.

There was a lot of show and tell, mostly because my parents are avid travelers these days. So there were hours of hearing lots of stories, showing of souvenirs, flipping through amazing photos of exotic and not-so-exotic locales. We ate a lot of food. We drove around in their golf cart. My mom and I spent a couple hours at the pool. We just hung out.

But one of the other things that I did was go through a big box of stuff that my mom tells me that I wanted to save so she’s moved it several times. And at this point, she wants it out of the garage. (She also offered me some vintage Daisy covered 1960s outdoor cups, a matching ice bucket, and a matching pitcher that she had in the garage. She’ll ship them to me.)

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picture from etsy of a similar daisy ice bucket and tumblers that my mom wants out of her house


By the way, I had no recollection of this box or putting things into this tattered box.

I put off digging through it until after dinner tonight because there was so much reading involved. You see, in amongst certificates earned for playing the piano, programs for long ago violin concerts, science fair programs, attendance and field day certificates, a couple of sweet love letters from a very articulate high school boyfriend, a few pieces of jewelry, 80s LPs, some trinkets from my grandparents’ vacations, and a bit of random proof that at one time in my life I could do math, I found many reasons why there was no other life’s work meant for me besides writing (well, maybe except for farming, but I consider that a Plan B career possibility).

I also found BandAid's "Do They Know It's Christmas?"

In addition to this classic, I also found BandAid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

 

The box was crammed full of paper. But what was obviously important to me were the words on the piles of paper (and the grades earned).

So tonight I:
-read a completely incoherent “story” that I wrote and illustrated in kindergarten.
-found countless book reports and essays marked with neat A+ grades, some with the occasional comment in red about my atrocious spelling.
-saw how I could put together very technical hand drawn graphs, charts, maps, and handwritten copy and make a lovely presentation.
-enjoyed a “book” I titled Absurdities which had bizarre drawings of things like a four-legged woman and a pink cat and crazy descriptions that made me wonder if my teachers in the 1970s were feeding us kids mind altering substances.
-continued to see a pattern with poor spelling and frustrated teachers who wanted to give me a lower grade for my sloppiness, but couldn’t because they were amused by the work (and the drawings).
-laughed at heartfelt (but horrible) attempts at poetry, elementary school journalism, and even 4th grade marketing.
-chuckled at a couple of “memoirs” that date back to high school days.

But one thing was clear as I flipped through these ancient relics of my childhood, I loved to write. And I found my voice, my life’s work, and my joy at an early age, but didn’t know it. I am so lucky to have these gifts—and to have had them with me for such a long time. I must never forget that they’ve been a part of me since practically the very beginning — and kindergarten was oh so very long ago. And I can rest easy knowing that spelling has always been an issue for me. I am not losing that gift. I never had it!

I’m trying hard not to be a packrat (I’ve already gone through many “treasures” from high school and college and whittled them down to a very few pieces that are stashed in my closet at home.) While most of this crumbling debris is destined for the recycling bin in the morning, some of it is coming back to Dallas with me as a not-so-subtle reminder that no matter what, writing is what I’m meant to do.

Today’s gratuitous dog photo features the boys:

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Stoic Guinness and anxious George anxiously await my return home • photo by Bruce