Monday, July 25, 2011

Survival of the Fittest

Even though there was a 4 day heat wave this past week the garden looks remarkably unaffected. The flower beds only get watered with whatever mother nature provides but the containers and vegetables are watered just about daily with saved water from the rain barrels. The containers on the porch are doing especially well.
Petunias and sweet potato vine:

Goldenrod, hosta flower and red day lilies on the south side of the house.
Pale yellow day lily. It's taken this plant several years to finally bloom and it's been worth the wait.
Peach-colored fancy day lily.
Deep red day lily planted by the previous owner of our house. Love the unusual red color.

Purple coneflowers. The bees and goldfinches love these.
Queen Anne's lace. My grandmother used to pick this and once showed me how, if the stem is placed in water colored with food coloring, the flower would turn that color.
Orange and yellow day lily from my friend Cynthia.
Back garden along the fence: Black-eyed Susans, gayfeather, phlox and bee balm.

The garden has evolved quite a bit over the past 20 years. If a plant doesn't do well under the conditions provided I don't force it. New additions are watered for the first year and then left to survive pretty much on their own. This way, I know whatever is there is tough enough to weather a hot, dry year without any pampering, which cuts down on the amount of water we use. This is the 2nd year I haven't needed to turn on the hoses!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Acid Trip

In my quest to find all-natural cleaners for every purpose in the house I have come across a new and effective weapon. Citric acid! I've been using vinegar and baking soda to clean the bathrooms for about a year and for the most part, find either or both of these clean very well, with one exception: the glass shower door. Everything else sparkles but there is a dull white film on the door, no matter how much I scrub.

I accidentally came across some information online while searching for something else that said citric acid is an excellent cleaner for hard water stains. I was intrigued! Apparently one can purchase it in the grocery store in Australia, but I didn't have any luck locating any here so bit the bullet and ordered some online.

The information I had found recommended using a 10% solution for cleaning hard water stains, but I've since read that 6% will do the trick. Why use any more than is necessary? I put it to the test last night after mixing up a spray bottle with distilled water and the citric acid granules. Because it is an acid I did wear gloves for the measuring and mixing. Once diluted, I sprayed the shower door and gave it a good scrub. Voila! Finally a sparkly clean shower door.

Citric acid is used in foods and beverages as a preservative and/or flavoring to add tartness. It's environmentally benign so I feel good about using it when I need to without the worry that I'm putting something potentially toxic down the drain or into the bathroom air when I spray it.

Here's my recipe so I won't lose it:

Citric acid cleaner

60g citric acid granules
1L distilled water

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Comfrey Salve and Cuticle Cream

I'm going to record these two recipes in order to have them written down. I'm forever losing the scraps of paper that I jot things down on and I hope this will get around that little problem.

Comfrey is supposed to be excellent for minor skin abrasions and muscle aches. Since I seem to always have at least one scratch or cut at any given time I thought it might be a good ointment to try to make. I infused some olive oil with 0.3 oz of dried comfrey leaves for 3 days. After straining the comfrey out I mixed 60g of the oil with 6g of beeswax and heated it until the beeswax melted. It's a pretty pale green color now that it's hardened and the perfect consistency for applying. It absorbs quickly, though is a little bit oily feeling. *Note: I've been told by a trusted friend that applying comfrey-infused oil to cuts can result in infection by trapping bacteria underneath. Good to know!

I came across this cuticle cream recipe online and wanted to make some up. I've tried Burt's Bees cuticle cream and love it, so I hope this will be close. My hands are always a mess, thanks to gardening (without gloves) and soapmaking (again, without gloves!). Hopefully they'll look a bit better with this cream.

15g beeswax
4g stearic acid
30g shea butter
20g olive oil
25g jojoba oil
15g avocado oil
1-2g fragrance (1g rosemary 1g peppermint EOs)
1g suttocide preservative.

Everything was heated in the microwave and stirred until melted. I'll update with how these new additions to the medicine cabinet work. *Edited to increase the amount of beeswax- the cream was a bit less firm than I like so I added an additional 10g of beeswax to the original 5g.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Special Gift

Since I removed the wallpaper and painted our bathroom walls several years ago the spot to the right of the sink has remained unadorned. I've tried various pictures and pieces of art but have never found a piece that looked as though it belonged there. Preferring not to force it, I decided to wait until the right thing presented itself. I knew that I'd know it when I saw it.

Then one day, a box arrived from Pittsburgh, which contained a pastel done by a dear friend who had recently died. Her best friend kindly framed it up and sent it along as a remembrance of her. Immediately upon unwrapping the gift I knew exactly where I would put it: the empty spot on the bathroom wall. I did try it in other places, just to be sure, but knew that would be where it would hang.

Whether or not you believe in fate, I honestly believe that there was some kind of cosmic plan that had me reserve this particular spot for Sandy's picture. True, it would have been very easy to switch it out had another piece been hanging there, but it is all the more special and noticeable because the wall had been bare before her art arrived.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


A patient person I'm not.

Well, actually it's strange; sometimes I can be very patient - for example with certain situations or people I'm able to keep my feelings in check and wait for a situation to play out. I quilt and knit, both endeavors which require some degree of patience. I can sit and wait for an hour in a doctor's waiting room with barely a grumble. Yet, when it comes to growing vegetables I'm sorely tempted to peek beneath the soil to see how things are getting along.

Oh, I know that's the worst thing you can do when something is growing. This isn't a rational impatience! Plants need to be left on their own, undisturbed, to do their own thing and produce their fruit. Intellectually, I know this is true. But somehow I have the most difficult time resisting the urge to dig around - just a little bit - to see if there truly are any bulbs or tubers forming.

Clearly, this is something I need to work on, so the next logical step is for me to formulate a coping mechanism. (After all, that's how I am able to sit in a doctor's waiting room for nearly an hour - I have a plan for how to deal with that situation and bring a book or some knitting!)

I decided today, as I was itching to tug on a set of onion leaves, that I'd dig up one of the potato plants to satisfy my curiosity. Hopefully that will tide me over until the underground crops are ready to be harvested. The potato had flowered (which is when the tubers have started to form) so I knew there had to be something under all that soil. I tugged and the plants came out with little difficulty.

Not having much experience with potatoes I didn't know whether this was a good or bad sign. Maybe there are no potatoes growing, which is why the plant came up with so little protest? Or perhaps they are ready for harvesting and that is why the plant was easy to remove? Only one way to find out: don the gloves and start digging.

Way, way down below the soil level my fingers touched something smooth and round: a potato! From one square foot I removed a total of 6 small Yukon Gold potatoes. So exciting! We're going to eat them this evening with our pulled pork sandwiches.

Now that my curiosity has been satisfied I can leave the rest of the underground vegetables alone to grow and hopefully produce more crops. I need to trust that mother nature will do her thing, but I still can't seem to get over the fact that it seems like magic when I pull something out of our garden to put on the dinner table.

Monday, July 4, 2011

How to be European

Sitting outdoors under a sun-umbrella, sipping a small glass of chianti and eating a delicious impromptu meal of pasta, cheese and arugula on Saturday afternoon we decided that we felt entirely European. Maybe it was the wine talking, but it felt decadent to be enjoying something so much that we didn't even plan. It was then and there that we decided it would be a good thing to try to do something European each and every day.

Perhaps we should define "European"- at the time we were indulging in a simple pleasure- lunch outdoors with friends- so for our purposes we decided that it would be a special moment incorporated into our day.

Each person's definition may differ slightly. My goal is to make more effort to be spontaneous. (Does it count if you are planning to be spontaneous? hmmmmm...... sounds like an oxymoron to me) Slow down. Enjoy things more by being present, even for tasks I don't particularly enjoy. Bring fresh flowers in each day. Grow and prepare my own foods as much as possible. Purchase less. Streamline. Hostess more. Stop trying to fix other people's problems.

Whoa! I'm getting away from myself here, that's quite a list. All worthy goals and things I would like to work towards, but for now I'll start by incorporating a special moment into each day, even if it's just taking a minute to cut a few flowers and bring them in. Gotta start somewhere, right?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Today's Your Birthday

I suppose the older you get it naturally follows that the calendar fills up with anniversary dates: someone's birthday, an anniversary of their death or how long it has been since you've lived in a particular place. Although the yearly markers can be painful or bittersweet, it is evidence of a life well lived, or so I hope.

It seems that each month now has several sad anniversaries in it. Today would have been Sandy's 30th birthday - something most people take for granted. It seems so unfair to have such a talented and special person not even make it that far. It definitely gives credence to the saying "only the good die young".

I don't know whether there is any awareness after death; I'd like to think so and know that Sandy would be honored by her memorial service tomorrow. Her closest friends, some food, drink and a tribute to who she really was - no religious mumbo-jumbo, no church service. Friends, shared memories and camaraderie. The important things.

Happy Birthday to you, Sandy, wherever you are. Thanks for being such an inspiration and good friend. You are greatly missed.