Sow: voluntold

In the gardening world, there are plants known as “volunteers.” These sneaky little devils are not planted by human hand. They just show up and take root. They could be “planted” by the wind, dropped from a bird’s beak, carried by naughty squirrels moving yummy seeds to their eat later stash, or even hidden in the depths of a compost pile.

In my case, it’s possible they’re here to test my sanity, patience, and goodwill to plant-kind.

After my terrible luck with tomatoes for the last two years I vowed that I would NEVER EVER grow them again. And I meant it. Well, I guess I’ve been “voluntold” by the wind, birds, squirrels, compost or something else to grow them this spring. Maybe rejecting tomatoes will be the best thing that ever happened to my tomato farming. Teaches me to give up on a type of plant.

See, two volunteer tomato plants have appeared in Raised Bed #4, where I grew tomatoes last year. They’re nestled in between the thriving power greens: spinach, kale, and chard. Sneaky bastards. Of course, I didn’t have the heart to pull them out once I realized what they were. They’re doing quite well, flowering, growing,  and enjoying the new irrigation system. They even have nice red cages to protect them as they get bigger. Maybe if I continue to ignore them they’ll be fabulous. I can almost taste the ‘mater sandwiches now…

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Volunteer tomato #1, barging in on the spinach

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Volunteer tomato #2, crowding the kale

My other volunteers cheered me up. I was really sad when the beautiful Malabar spinach got hit by the first frost and croaked. Two little plants provided lots of people with green leafy goodness and looked so pretty covering the trellis at the back of Raised Bed #2 all summer and fall. Well, I guess it’s a perennial or it’s decided to be zombie spinach because it’s back. And it looks like it’s more determined than ever — the little plants seem to be doubling every day. Hopefully it doesn’t squeeze out my one surviving bush bean that’s just starting to get close to the trellis. Or bug the okra. But I know I’m going to be happy to have it around when North Texas’ crazy summer temperatures get too hot for regular spinach. I bet it makes great green drinks.

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Malabar spinach is back! Green drinks for everyone!

But I can’t really complain. Even though I wasn’t planning for them, these volunteers are all doing great. And they were 100% free. I’ll keep you posted on how they do.

 

Gratuitous dog photo of the day:

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Godiva decided to see if Gidget’s crate was good for naps. Photo by Bruce

Sow: spring 2014 update

There’s something so amazingly satisfying about popping out the back door right off the kitchen and picking a super gourmet salad right out of your yard. So far in spring 2014, the things you’d want in a really good salad are growing like gangbusters.

We still have the same set up: 4 raised beds and 3 stock tanks plus a few large pots.

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This is my master planning document. My pal Lisa gave me the PDF with all sorts of gardening planning stuff for Christmas 2012, but this year, I’m only focused on filling this out.

It’s so hard to read so here’s what’s where:

Raised bed #1:
-Pole beans at the back on the trellis
-2 poblano pepper transplants
-2 yellow bell pepper transplants
-2 bell pepper transplants
-2 tam jalapeño pepper transplants
-2 larger basil transplants

Stock tank #1:
-1 poblano pepper (accidentally got an extra)
-tomatillos from seed

Large pot in front of stock tank #1:
-cilantro

Raised bed #2:
-Pole beans at the back on the trellis
-Clemson spineless okra (same kind I grew last year)

Stock tank #2:
-Red velvet lettuce (another favorite from last year)

Raised bed #3:
-Pole beans at the back on the trellis (and last year’s Malabar spinach seems to be coming back)
-bok choi
-Detroit dark red, early wonder and chioggia beets (more favorites from last year)

Stock tank #3:
-French breakfast radishes (a personal favorite)

Raised bed #4:
-Bloomsdale spinach
-Nero toscanakale
-5-color silverbeet chard
-Arugula
-Mixed salad greens (Q’s special medley, gourmet baby greens)

Whew! It’s busy on the urban farm this year and everything’s been growing like crazy.

So without further ado, here are some photos of stuff growing:

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French breakfast radishes: 73 harvested so far!

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chioggia beets: first one picked on 5/4/14

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first bok choi: picked 5/4/14

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a sample salad green harvest — I’m giving it away too!

This weekend we also did a few improvements to the urban farm in preparation for fencing off the urban farm from the rest of the yard:

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mulched and added pavers in the weedy part of the yard. fence is going where the grass starts.

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Guinness “helping” in the back of the truck with the mulch. Gidget is eating dog food that spilled in the bed.

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The rest of the urban farm

Hopefully I’ve caught everyone up enough! Harvesting is underway and each night I look forward to seeing what kind of growth happened while I was at work.

Gratuitous dog photo of the day:

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Gidget “helping” me lay sod in April


Sow: new growth

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herbs!

Now that I’m an avid (perhaps even extreme) urban food grower, I love March because it means that it’s time to get the spring seeds and transplants in the ground—and it’s time for me to spend more time outside. While my allergies don’t love all the pollen in the air, I feel a whole lot better when I have vitamin D fresh from the sun coursing through my body.

Today the Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm looks a little sad. We’ve got a bit of hardscaping happening in the backyard since we decided to extend our patio to make more room for seating, entertaining and eating (and of course, dog lounging). We are hopeful that the concrete will be poured this week and we can start thinking about fun things like building our wine barrel Muskoka chairs and side tables (thank you for the barrels, Marc Pistor!) and how many chairs we’ll want around our new outdoor fireplace (thank you, Grandma!). Even when it’s super cold or super hot, people love to be outside and this will give us much more entertaining space for our dog park dinners and our growing list of Mortroski Midcentury Bed & Breakfast guests for 2014.

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this will be a patio soon

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another view of the soon-to-be patio

But back to the farm: from a distance the raised beds and stock tanks look really empty. When you look closer, there’s no need for sadness—in the Power Greens bed (Raised Bed #4) we’ve got all sorts of salad-y stuff sprouting. Arugula! Spinach! Kale! Chard! All sorts of different lettuces! In two weeks, it will be beautiful and full of baby salad stuff.

Stock Tank #3 is teeming with French Breakfast radish sprouts. They are my absolute favorite radish so I’m pretty excited for the radishes but also for their yummy sprouts. As more sprout, I’m going to have to thin out the Stock Tank so we can have the sprouts on our lunch salads.

Raised Bed #3 got planted with three varieties of beets, two types of bok choi, plus a trellis row of pole beans (green beans) on Sunday. I saw bok choi sprouts this morning but nothing else is up yet.

Stock Tank #2 got a full packet of that beautiful Red Velvet leaf lettuce. I just love how it looks in salads and its big leaves are great for sandwiches and burgers. Plus it seems to like the North Texas temperature fluctuations.

That’s the secret to my planting this year: I’m growing what likes to grow in North Texas. So bye bye tomatoes and hello tomatillos. I’ll be growing tons of peppers. Tons of leafy green stuff. Okra galore. Black eyed peas in the heat of the summer.

Okra will go in after April 1 and it will produce until October or until we get sick of okra and I cut it down and put something in it’s place. I’m growing a whole bed since I like it pickled and several of my coworkers and friends have put in requests for more okra. It’s gratifying because the blooms are pretty and it grows so darn fast.

Tomatillos are this year’s experiment. I have seeds but if I see transplants when I get the peppers (jalapenos, naheims, and bells) I will probably go the instant gratification route. We have made a green chile chicken stew a Boxing Day tradition at our house and it would be really awesome to say it’s from our tomatillos and peppers verses the cheater jar version that we use. It’s delicious, but I bet I could make it from scratch with a little practice.

I re-seeded the cilantro pot although after I cut it back post-freeze, it is coming back like a weed. Same with the mint, oregano and thyme pot. Unfortunately, the kitchen herb garden that has been with me since we moved to the MMC croaked except for the chives. So I replanted with sage, parsley, oregano, golden oregano, basil and thyme. I’ll put more basil in the raised beds once I get everything else in, but I love having the planter right off the kitchen to grab a little of this and a bit of that while I’m cooking dinner.

And I think I mentioned that I’m branching out to flowers and decorative patio plants this year.  I will still keep tucking flowers to attract bees into the raised beds, but I am going for backyard beautification now that I’ve kind of got the hang of the food crops.

Bruce surprised me with an amazing b-day present for the crazed veggie grower: a full-on professionally installed  irrigation system for the raised beds and stock tanks. Yeehaw! It’s pretty awesome and I hope it makes a big difference in how well everything grows. It’s even more awesome than my birthday present from last year (remember the twin spinning composters?).

See why March is such a great month?

Here’s your gratuitous dog photo for today:

sisters!

sisters!

PS: For those of you who are curious, the Lacey dog is doing just great. The folks at Take Me Home Pet Rescue have reported that she is adjusting nicely and even attended their board meeting the other night. Of course, she charmed everyone with her sweet snuggliness.

So: 3-day Guinness celebration

Let Guinness eat cake -- it's his birthday!

Let Guinness eat cake — it’s his birthday!

(WARNING: this post is pretty much all gratuitous dog photos with a little bit of garden and DIY commentary thrown in just for good measure. If you’re not a fan of my dog discussions, you may want to skip this one. It’s been very canine-focused around here for the past week.)

St. Patrick’s Day is a rather big deal in North America, so it’s only fitting that we gave Guinness, a great big black lab, a day of massive celebration for his made-up birthday. Guinness was a stray so we don’t really know what he thinks of the name we gave him, but we know he’s appreciated the three days of celebration he’s had in 2014.

First, on Saturday, the Gs all got a delicious buffalo shin each for their chewing delight.

We were hoping to distract them from being a little sad since their new pal Lacey went to her real foster situation on Saturday afternoon. We all really enjoyed having Lacey around. She was a wonderful houseguest and a super sweet dog that will make her new family very happy.

Once she warmed up to having four larger dogs sniffing her and trying to get her to play, Lacey enjoyed being around everyone. She was great on the leash too, which was surprising for a street dog. She tried really hard to fit in and even slept next to the Gs when we all were watching tv in the office. She loved her crate and went in it on her own (probably to escape Gidget).

Guinness especially enjoyed having a new lady friend. He was quite smitten with her.

A few photos of Lacey during her stay at the Mortroski Midcentury Doggie Bed & Breakfast:

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pre-bath: Lacey was a real trooper and once she got in the shower seemed to enjoy soap and hot water, but she loved the fluffy towels the best. Her new family will be thrilled with her bath time manners and fast drying time.

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We weren’t sure how Lacey would get along with fellow former street dog Gidget, but once they got to know each other, the girls enjoyed each other’s company

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being too big to be a lap dog didn’t stop Lacey from wanting to be held — or wanting to sit in chairs with people before they had their coffee

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Lacey was great in the car and was pretty chilled out as we headed to Take Me Home Pet Rescue, the group that found her foster

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Carpool buddies

At Take Me Home Pet Rescue, we took a last photo with Lacey (we are in our Duck Team 6 shirts):

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We all had fun together and while we were a little sad to see Lacey go, we know she’s going to be an awesome addition to another family. 

Well, with Lacey gone to her new life, the Gs have had to deal with going back to “normal” at the Mortroski Midcentury. Weekends are made for DIY projects! And digging in the dirt!

This past weekend we did a bit of both. Gidget the garden dog was very curious about the dirt digging (a favorite activity of hers).

Guinness spent his time rolling in the not yet green grass (and in the part of the yard which is being turned into a patio this week):

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Guinness, post rolling (he got up covered with little bits of dead grass and dust)

So far for Urban Farm spring 2014, we’ve got sprouting mixed greens, kale, swiss chard and spinach in Raised Bed #4, radish sprouts in Stock Tank #3, three kinds of beets, green beans, and two kinds of bok choi seeds in Raised Bed #3, red velvet lettuce seeds in Stock Tank #2. I replenished the kitchen herb garden this morning (yesterday was too cold for transplants) and have my fingers crossed that we will have lovely weather from now on. This weekend I’m going to get bell pepper and jalapeño transplants in the ground. I promise food pictures as soon as there’s something more to show.

Our DIY project is to get the office/tv room and attached bathroom finished up. We have a cool panel treatment that we’re going to continue throughout the office/tv room and a wall treatment that we need to install in the bathroom. We purchased the wood and metal tracks yesterday, then cut the panels tonight. We’ll install them tomorrow and then Bruce can paint them while I’m traveling for work on Wednesday and Thursday.

In the meantime, we have some outdoor work going on and will have an expanded patio in the near future. I’m excited about adding some flowering plants in planters and maybe some fun lighting. We love being outside.

After Sunday’s wood getting and seed planting, Guinness’ second birthday treat was an extravaganza for the entire family, 4-leggeds and 2-leggeds: steak eating! Yes, it was the people’s dinner and the very spoiled Gs all got meat juice and a fair portion of meat along with a bit of their usual kibble. We don’t have red meat that often around here anymore so it was a real treat.

After we cut the panels for the office tonight (table saw! lots of saw dust! minimal cursing!), Guinness had his third treat: Peanut Mutter Bars from Three Dog Bakery. Yes, it’s a bakery for dogs. You could eat the “cake” if you wanted, but it is not sweet, even though it’s made with all sorts of good ingredients like yogurt, carob, peanut butter, whole wheat flour, etc. Guinness shared with Godiva, George and Gidget but our old man would have loved to have all the treats for himself.

We figure Guinness is now about 10 since we got him 4 years ago in January. At the time the vet figured he was 4-6 years old. We really have no idea. His chin is getting whiter and he’s got more sparkly hairs on his face, but Gidget has brought out the puppy in him and he plays like a maniac with her. Hopefully he gets to enjoy many more St. Patrick’s Day birthday parties.

 

So: elections, again?

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Today was the Texas primary. Most people I know said they weren’t voting because it doesn’t really matter. In their opinion, it’s basically a way to cull out the lunatic fringe, the people who are running to make a point, and those who just want to see their name on the ballot.

It feels like we just had elections not so long ago. Like maybe even November. Maybe that’s because we live next door to a professional political campaign manager who decorates her lawn for the majority of the year with her employers’ signs. This election I put up some signs of my own, which has pretty much guaranteed that I’m not going to be invited over for coffee or a cocktail any time soon. You’ve probably gathered that we might have different viewpoints.

After living in Canada for 12 years, I don’t think I was fully prepared for all the angry and negative political commercials I’d see here. And in primary time, you see people from the same party throwing barbs at each other with so much hate and vitriol that you wonder how they can espouse the same convictions, much less be in the very same political party. It’s maddening since those spots barely give you any useful information, yet they clutter the main networks when all you’re trying to do is see how cold/hot/wet/snowy it’s going to be during the course of the day. You can put on and take of layers, but you can’t escape the barrage of venom.

And then there’s the actual act of voting. I’ve gotten to the polls pretty consistently since being in Texas. The first place we lived had a much more sophisticated system than the one Dallas has. Each time I’m shocked by the Sharpie and Scantron form approach to voting. What are we doing, taking the SAT? And then, there’s the size of the ballot. Today was a huge 11 x 17 monstrosity featuring all sorts of judge positions that I didn’t even know existed. Everything really is bigger in Texas.

Surprisingly, I was prepared, although due to the post-ice storm work day, I got to the poll almost at closing time. But I had done my homework: I had a little cheat sheet of the candidates of my choice to make the coloring in of the dots a bit quicker. When I pulled it from my purse, I thought the polling officials might tell me to put it away. No one blinked an eye which was odd. I guess the bored polling officials were just glad someone came to vote. The counting machine I used said 273 voters after I fed my sheet in. I hope the other counting machines had at least that much. With all the political smack talk around here, it would really be a shame if not that many people voted.

Ok, enough musing about the sad state of politics. Here’s the  gratuitous dog photo of the day:

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“ok, enough typing. let’s go for a walk.”

 

 

So: ice ice baby

this is not what winter looks like in North Texas

our winter is not pretty like this

In some parts of the U.S. and lots of Canada, there’s a mythical event called a snow day, usually when the snow comes down so fast and furiously that the plows and salt trucks can’t keep up with keeping the roads safe for school buses.

In north Texas, we have ice days because we have such extreme temperature swings,  no snow plows or salt trucks, and the sand that they throw down on the streets and highways just makes the ice dirty. It feels like we’ve had at least 4 ice days this winter. Usually we’re lucky if we get one, and it’s a lovely day at home with hot chocolate, fires blazing in the fireplace, maybe a little snowman building.

The rule of thumb at my office is if the school district you live in is closed or delayed, you should stay put at your home for safety’s sake. This works well if only you remember to bring your laptop home and any important papers you might need.

My rule of thumb for this winter is to always bring home the stuff I need to work on the next day because this year, the ice days are nothing, but massive inconveniences. Instead of bringing people together, they make everyone very grumpy. Parents have to work from home and try to figure out how to get work done and kids occupied. Kids get irritated about Mom’s conference calls and Dad’s presentation building. Pets are a bit better, though the Gs saw me sitting next to the back door at the kitchen table and suddenly realized that my opposable thumb could let them out whenever they sat by the door. Bruce left for somewhere on the Eastern Seaboard this afternoon so he and I didn’t have to deal with dueling conference calls or staking a claim to working space.

So I’m one of the lucky ones today. I got tons done and was pretty much able to do everything I usually do on a Monday at work, and then some (I have a bit of homework tonight so this post is a little break). Since I was working in the kitchen, the microwave was handy for thawing out some frozen leftovers for lunch. My slow cooker made me a pretty good soup for supper. And the rice cooker made enough brown rice for a while. I managed to finish the last cup of coffee that never usually gets drank. George slept on my feet during a conference call which was awesome since Gidget ate my Christmas slippers after the first time I wore them. And I caught Gidget in the act of naughtiness twice, so maybe she’ll learn eventually that she can’t tear up her dog bed.

After I took Guinness and Godiva for a walk, I put ice melter on the parts of the driveway that was still icy despite the sunshine this afternoon. Gidget and George got their walk next and I noticed the peach tree is still looking ok. Hopefully the weather didn’t ruin its chances. The collards, kale and cilantro look a bit frostbit but that’s my own dumb fault for not covering them. If they don’t rally, well, it’s going to be time to plant new stuff this weekend anyway.

The polar vortex has moved east and is now torturing the rest of the south. Tomorrow it will be North Carolina’s turn for an ice day.

Gratuitous dog photo of the day:

The Gs were hoping to go for a ride, but instead they figured out that a bag of dog food had spilled in the bed of Bruce's truck. Photo by Bruce

The Gs were hoping to go for a ride. Instead they realized that bag of dog food had spilled in the bed of Bruce’s truck.    Photo by Bruce

 

 

So: polar vortex slowdown

Before anyone states the obvious, I am well aware that in Texas we tend to have warmer weather than the rest of the country during the traditional winter months. BUT NOT THIS YEAR! (Yes, I am yelling.) It has been very cold, much, much worse than usual.  There have been travel delays and “ice days” off from work. Our winter coats, toques, and gloves imported from Canada are getting more than their fair share of use. No offense, but if I wanted weather like this, I would have stayed in Canada and had a plentiful supply of winter fashions that are really warm, drivers who can drive on ice and snow, snow tires, and public transportation for those days when I’m too Californian to venture out on my own.

Yesterday was beautiful and truthfully, somewhat “normal” by north Texas standards for March 1. It was gorgeous, sunny, warm, the kind of day that makes you really glad to be in Texas at the edge of winter.

Today is a completely different story. The daffodils which so bravely pushed their way up to the sun over the past two weeks now lie flattened on the front lawn. They have been pelted by tiny pellets of ice all day long today and exposed to below freezing temperatures starting late last night. I’m glad that they brought joy to me and to several neighbors walking by yesterday. Maybe they’ll rally once the temperatures head back up.

I doubt the peach and plum trees have faired so well. The peach tree was in partial bloom. The plum tree hasn’t started yet. I may be incorrect about the possibilities of fruit, but I fear that it will be the opposite of what happened last year and I should horde my last few jars of precious peach jam. Or at least share them with people who will really appreciate them. Fingers crossed that the plums will pull through. Both trees are gorgeous and I brought the cuttings from pruning into the house—I have two lovely bouquets that will boost my spirits all week if the cold continues.

The driveway is a sheet of ice, as is the sidewalk. The street in front of the house has not been as well-traveled as usual today. Sunday morning dog walkers and runners were absent. The little kids and parents heading to the park were nowhere to be found. The yard and the neighbors’ roofs are white. Neither are supposed to be that way.

Facebook was filled with parents’ statuses about missing kids’ sporting events, friends afraid to go to brunch, parties being rescheduled. Yes, that is what ice, snow, sleet, thunder sleet (yes, there is such a thing and it’s loud), and the newly coined “polar vortex” does to North Texas.

The Gs didn’t enjoy being pelted with ice bits. Godiva’s thick coat kept them hidden away and even a rough toweling couldn’t get them all out. Guinness was irritated by the wetness as usual. I hope he’s peed today. George, being George, did what he had to do and ran for the door to be let in. Gidget got muddy. She’s the most unfazed by the change in the elements. Perhaps her feral life comes back to her during these uncertain weather situations.

We all spent the day inside, hanging out. The Gs following us around sleeping while Bruce and I cleaned up, rearranged, and organized. Bruce braved the elements to grill lunch—he’s still Canadian, eh! Stuff got done, but it was a very chill day. We haven’t really left the house. Lots of coffee was drank. Lots of time in our cozy office/tv room. All the Gs tested out Gidget’s recently reassembled crate (a subject for an upcoming post for sure). Birthday cards got written. Birthday gifts wrapped. Mulch and compost ordered. Menus planned. Lunch food prepped. DIY tv shows watched. Dog pedicures happened. Magazines re-read and put into the recycling bin.

And despite the fact that our plants are not very happy and neither are the drivers, I say THANK YOU, POLAR VORTEX! It was a good Sunday to slow down and enjoy each other’s company. Perhaps more Sundays need to be spent this way, just with warmer weather. I hope wherever you are that you had some slow moments to your Sunday. May you wake up tomorrow reenergized and ready for whatever the week brings you.

The gratuitous dog photo of the day looks a little scary but is actually very sweet since George and Gidget do so much together:

George and Gidget sharing a bully stick. Photo by Bruce

George and Gidget sharing a bully stick. Check out those white teeth! Photo by Bruce

 

So: 2013 lesson

Patience. Stillness. Acceptance. Calmness. Since the 23rd of December, I certainly haven’t been up to my usual tricks.

There’s been no way to cram my Christmas break chock full of visiting, errands, crafts, gardening, organizing, sewing, DIY projects, or really anything that requires lengthy standing. Instead I’ve gotten well acquainted with my insurance company’s online portal, watched a lot of HGTV and the Cooking Channel, reconnected with the sofa, cuddled with all of the Gs, slept way more than I have in years, and sat. And sat some more. And sat some more.

I’ve gotten pretty good with the crutches (Bruce constantly tells me to slow down).

It’s not what I planned.

Looking back on 2013, there’s plenty that did not go as planned.

Take the Urban Farm. Try as I may, I just cannot make tomatoes happen here in North Texas. Cherry and grape maybe, but certainly not anything larger. Same goes with squash, cucumbers, English peas, brussels sprouts, and pumpkins. But okra? Peppers? Kale? Lettuce? Malabar spinach? Swiss chard? You better believe I’ll be planting tons of all of those in 2014. Alas, the big ice storm at the beginning of December while we were off in Palm Springs celebrating our 18th anniversary pretty much wiped the winter veg out. Hindsight being 20-20, it’s a good thing. There’s no way for me to tend it or harvest at the moment and veggies don’t generally wait around 4-6 weeks to be picked. But that said, all the time spent in the garden was very well-spent and I look forward to February when I’ll be back in it.

Take sewing. It’s in the name of the blog, but after February, the machine has stayed ensconced in its case and resided in the spare bedroom closet instead of on the dining room table as I planned. And given my mishap, no sewing is happening any time soon (can’t use the pedal/presser foot). But while I’ve been sitting around, I’ve been surfing Pinterest for inspiration. Looks like I’ll be busy in 2014 if I attempt even 1/2 of what I’ve pinned.

Take work. The end of the year (aka Q4) was as busy as always. (PS: I learned at my management training session that life-work balance is a complete myth and that striving for it just makes people crazy. Don’t do it). Other than writing for work, I did a few pro-bono animal rescue press releases. Doing necessary household chores was exhausting. The dog hair tumbleweeds grew. There were few Christmas decorations this year. Luckily I had made most of my Christmas gifts throughout the year, dehydrating, preserving and saving the harvest, so packing them up was nice and easy.

At this point, I’m guessing Fransi is saying “I told you so.”

You see, my lesson for 2013, delivered at the very tail  end of 2013  is obvious to everyone, including me: slow down.

I’ve always had tremendous energy. The stamina to stay awake and working for days. The ability to throw myself into many different things at once and get it all done. The desire to see things completed and delivered neatly. In high school, my parents worried that I was over-programming myself. I told them I was just fine, but fell sound asleep on family vacations. Like the time we went to Yosemite. Surrounded by beauty, I had to be awakened at every stop. Sitting still in the car, seatbelt on, just shut me down and sent me to Slumbertown. The same thing happened in college. After final exams, I knew better than to start a job right away. The batteries needed to be recharged.

We had a mini-vacation in early December. In Palm Springs, we walked, went on an amazing mid-century architecture tour, rode cruiser bikes, hung out with my parents, went swimming, chatted with strangers at happy hour, visited with Bruce’s aunt, uncle and cousin. I marveled at how well I slept in our cool little mid-century boutique hotel. And I was surprised that things like canceled flights, having to change airports three times, middle seats, and unexpected expenses including plumbing issues and arborist bills from the ice storm didn’t phase me. Why? It was completely escapist. I went with the flow. But I guess it wasn’t enough of a recharge.

And so, here I am again.

This physical break in my foot and the break I’ve had from work and the usual responsibilities have brought me rest, though I can’t say relaxation, exactly. It’s more medicinal than soul-feeding. Even with our annual Boxing Day party, I just sat. It was really all I could do. And poor Bruce had to carry on with the party preparations, running around and picking stuff up. Still, I have to say it was the best one we’ve had. I really had a chance to visit with our guests and catch up with dear ones we don’t see often. And I relished each and every hug. Of course, I parked my butt on a chair near the door so no one could leave without me seeing!

Lest you think I’m ending 2013 on a sour note, let me assure you I’m not. It was a fantastic year. I reconnected with friends I haven’t seen in years (yes, you, Ida-Rose and Laura). I spent loads of time outside. I got to see my best friends (Reesa, Clair, and Simone) much more often than we thought geography would allow. The Gs, Bruce and I fostered and kept a puppy (Gidget) and found volunteer work that we really love (the Gs especially enjoy it when we are bagging dog food).

Gratuitous dog photo:

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It’s definitely cold enough for Gidget to put on her puffy pink coat tonight

We got to see a fair amount of far-away family members. My grandma turned 99 on Christmas Eve! Work was great. We spent more time discovering Dallas and are inspired to try lots of new stuff in 2014. We hung out with Fransi (one of my advertising idols). I read so much great writing—especially blogs. I ate lots of great things, including stuff I grew. Whew! 

As the last few hours of 2013 happen, my wish for you is that you appreciate all that you have right at this moment. If you’re making resolutions, think about what you’ll gain, not what you’ll lose. 

As for the residents of the Mortroski Mid-century, to celebrate the end of 2013 and the start of 2014, we’re going to make a pizza, then I’m going to put my foot up, watch a little tv, call some friends and family, and probably hit the hay long before midnight. Remember the Gs don’t really get what all the fuss is about — their tummies will tell them it’s time to wake up long before this human is ready to rise. Bruce is walking all 4 at once for the next few weeks, so please think positive thoughts for his poor back!

Cheers to you all and Happy New Year!

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Happy New Year, y’all!

 

So: winding down

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pepper haul (from top): bell peppers, Anaheim peppers, jalapeño peppers

2013 is winding down and this lucky, yet turbulent year is promising to end on the same chaotic, always changing, yet exciting note that it started.

First, a quick Urban Farm update: After last week’s earliest freeze in 13 years, I lost pretty much all of my pepper plants. They were covered with peppers so we were able to save the peppers even though the frost killed the plants.  There are two which are now cut down to tiny things and one that was more protected that’s still looking nice and bushy. We’ll see what happens in the next week or so since we have snow predicted. After I harvested all of the peppers, my plan was to can “cowboy candy” aka pickled jalapeños this evening to give out as holiday gifts, but the powers that be had other plans and I was not in the right frame of mind to can. Spending a chunk of the afternoon at the vet, giving the old credit card a little bit of a workout will do that to a gal.

I also lost the beautiful malabar spinach vines, but not the plants. They’re still hanging on and I’m hoping they hang on through the winter and do their thing all spring and summer again, even though Bruce really isn’t all that crazy about their thicker, more juicy than North American spinach leaves. The haricots vertes aka green beans were also murdered by the frost. The last ones were quite good and worth planting again in the spring. One hidden basil is hanging on, though it will most likely be a casualty in the coming weeks. Still I supplied many people with tons of basil this summer/fall and that was really gratifying. Plus, we have a bunch of pesto in the freezer.

On the plus side, we are having a lovely bok choi harvest, growing plenty of leafy salad greens for lunches, and enjoying the beauty of tons of bushy kale and brightly colored chard. The radishes were also quite good, though they are done. Hopefully the carrots they were planted next to can do their thing. The beets are pitiful compared to the spring ones, but I’m hoping that the ones that are there are at least delicious. Snow peas are slow growing for some reason. They are not loving North Texas fall. The herbs are all growing like champs.

The Gs are also in rare form these days. The cooler weather is bringing forth some rowdiness and naughtiness, although you wouldn’t guess it from the dogs spread out across the kitchen floor at the moment. But they’ve had a tough couple of days.

You see we’re trying to give Gidget more freedom and less crate time. Yesterday’s weekday attempt was a bit of a fail. Notice in the photo below that there are little yellow-orange half-chewed pumpkin-y things lying on the dog beds and floor. Those are the decorative gourds that I’ve had kicking around since Canadian Thanksgiving and was hoping to keep around until American Thanksgiving (a week from Thursday). That is not to be since George and Gidget think they are delicious. George greeted Bruce at the back door with one in his mouth last night. Godiva also took several dainty bites out of a bright orange mini pumpkin looking gourd. Needless to say, we have no more gourds lying around the house. And I’ve moved my big pumpkin and anything else that might look tempting to Gidget to higher ground. At least no one experienced any GI issues due to the gourd consumption.

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the Gs gourd-ous handy work

And then there’s the vet. He has just joined the practice and the 4G network just might be his opportunity to put his kids through college. Last week it was Guinness with an ear infection. He is prone to them and no matter what we did ourselves to doctor him, it wasn’t enough this time, despite training from the vet, consultation from our vet tech friend, and OTC products. He’s now doing much better with special ear meds and a prescribed course of hard core cleaning. Cha-ching!

This week (today) it was Godiva. Cha-ching! I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say, she must not lick a certain body part for the next 3-4 days so she’s going to wear the Cone of Shame when she’s not being supervised by us. She is on some serious antibiotics and steroids to get the itchy situation under control. And she’ll be hanging out with me at work for the rest of the week, since leaving her at home in the cone, puts her at a disadvantage with the rest of the Gs. It also makes her very sulky. And that in turn, has made me feel rather sulky. Or maybe I am just suffering from lack of natural vitamin D.

Gratuitous dog photo of the day is of disgruntled Godiva:

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poor Godiva

So: great house

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Pretty in pink (photo by Trish at Three Dog Bakery Plano)

As you can guess by the big smile on Gidget’s face, she’s pretty happy that Bruce bought her a puffy coat last weekend in preparation for the earliest frost in 13 years that came on Tuesday night. Buying dog jackets/dog clothes of any kind is new territory for us since our bulldog didn’t need any additional insulation and the other 3Gs have thick natural coats. Poor Gidget doesn’t have a lot of insulation and her white coat is very short. Now she’s protected from the elements and won’t shiver during her twice daily walks with the rest of the pack. And believe it or not, she really does seem to like the jacket.

Other dogs are not so lucky. While our Dallas weather is unpredictable at best, sometimes it gets below freezing and that’s not good for outdoor dwelling dogs. So this week, Bruce built a dog house for Duck Team 6‘s Outreach Team to give to a nice dog named Goliath (and I helped). On Monday evening after work to be exact. For about 4 hours until we figured our neighbors would call the cops on our use of power tools in the later hours of the evening. Should have started on Sunday!

This dog house was different than other dog houses. You see, Goliath is a senior Great Dane who has lived outside his whole life. And like most GD’s, he’s very tall. So he really needed a mini shed. Unfortunately, a mini shed wouldn’t fit in Bruce’s truck assembled. So Bruce designed a modern dog house that was made of a preassembled floor, walls, and roof which could be joined together in Goliath’s yard.

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The floor: plywood base with deck posts to raise the plywood off the ground and keep Goliath warmer

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Bruce assembling the frame for the first wall. He attached plywood to one side of each frame.

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Test filling the walls together. The back wall is higher to allow water to drain easier off the single sheet of plywood roof.

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One wall done, on to the opposite wall.

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Gidget making sure Goliath’s house will be sturdy enough.

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Two walls done, on to the sides

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Framing up the side walls

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Final assembled house with Goliath inside—he likes it! It just needs a coat of paint.

More photos are available on Duck Team 6’s Facebook page Operation Goliath if you want to check them out. Bruce got Goliath setter in before the temperature dropped and he said Goliath seemed very pleased with his new digs.

However, on Tuesday night, one of the Gs was not so pleased with her home:

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Naughty Gidget decided to remodel.

And while I did have a lovely harvest on Sunday afternoon:

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Sunday’s harvest from left: bok choi, tons of basil, mixed salad greens, Russian kale, Swiss chard, nero kale, haricots verts, Malabar spinach, bell peppers, Anaheim peppers, jalapeño peppers

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salad greens growing away

it was not a great week for the urban farm. With several very cold days and frost, some plants couldn’t handle it. I have yet to assess the damage thoroughly (I was traveling for business starting early Wednesday morning and got home late last night), but it looks like even with the frost cloth as protection, several of the pepper plants and the Malabar spinach have bit the dust. Oh well, more compost for the spring!

Today’s gratuitous dog photo features four familiar mugs:

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4G Network on a coat buying mission (photo by Trish at Three Dog Bakery Plano): Guinness, Godiva, George, and Gidget