Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Storytime with Beth: Taking the Wheelbarrow For a Walk

Story #1

Matt goes for a nice long walk most mornings before he heads off to work.  The other day he came upon a pallet stacked with bricks next to FREE sign on his walk.  When he got back to the house he hopped in the car and went back for a load of bricks.  He only had time for one trip though.  It was an auspicious find since we've been building more solid (and less muddy) garden paths this year.  We didn't really want to invest money in the paths though and had been acquiring fairly flat natural rocks at a slow-and-steady pace when we happened upon them.  We also commandeered some faux wood that the neighbors had put out with the bins on trash day.  So, the paths are coming along, but this mountain of bricks would really speed things up, not to mention look real sharp.

The paths from left to right:  Dirt path, dirt path, faux wood, (old) red brick, real wood, (new) tan bricks.  

I typically rouse myself shortly before Matt leaves for work so I can chat with him for a few or at least share a "good morning" and a kiss goodbye.  On this particular day he told me about the bricks and said he'd go back for the rest after work, but that if I had time to get a load that'd be cool...just in case someone else might swoop them before he had a chance to go back.  I had time and was absolutely on board to snag them pronto.

Matt takes the car to work though so that left me to haul them in our big honkin' wheelbarrow.  I walked it up the street and around the corner a ways to the brick pile  I filled the wheelbarrow about half full, reckoning that if I filled it any fuller the thing would drag me down the hill behind it.  I walked my wheelbarrow full of bricks home and added them to Matt's stacks on the porch.  I took a second trip back to the brick pile.  

On my second return trip the crossing guard for the nearby elementary school hopped out of his truck with a smile, "Now that's something you don't see every day!" he says, nodding at me walking with my wheelbarrow.  "And what ARE you up to?"  So I told him about the free bricks, only having one car, the garden paths, and the organic way I was getting my strength training done for the day.  Oh, how he laughed as he got back in his truck and I continued on my way.  It was a delightful exchange.

We ended up with about 75 bricks for just a tiny bit of effort.  They look perfect out in the garden.

Our "new" brick path in the garden.

This wheelbarrow brick story leads me to a second story.

Story #2

We found the wheelbarrow while we were out on a bicycle ride one day some years back.  It was perched, upside-down, on top of mound of black garbage bags.  Matt stopped hi bike to inspect it and was wondering aloud why someone would just throw it away since it seemed so sturdy.  One of the neighbors was out in her yard and said basically the same thing.  "I don't know why they're just throwing that out..."  

So we decided to adopt it.

...but we were on our bikes and more than a mile from the house.  What to do, what to do?

Matt's solution was to just walk them both home.  He picked up his bike and laid it across the bucket of the wheelbarrow and then off we went, him walking as I pushed my bike alongside.  We could hear the neighbor laughing in high amusement as we headed for home.  It is a really great wheelbarrow.  Deep and heavy-duty.  We have another that we use regularly, but this curbside trash wheelbarrow is the primary go-to.

I like to think that not only did we salvage some useful items from an early demise, but we brought a little joy to the people who saw us out and about on our wheelbarrow walks.  :)

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

A Garden of Goodness and Plenty!

Badminton with my nephew Eli.  10/10/2020

We did our big garden harvest this week.  I won't say it is the final garden harvest because we've got stuff in the greenhouse yet, but the garden is pretty much put to bed for the year.  It looks so naked without that hedge of tomatoes and the sprawling zucchini and butternut vines.

An empty garden, pretty much.  10/14/2020

Matt commented that it has been the nicest weather we've ever had for our big pick.  He was in a t-shirt.  Our fall has been extra warm and sunny and we've been capitalizing on that slowly and steadily.  It seems like we're always trying to push the growing season envelope so we can squeeze the last drop out of our limited window for red peppers and tomatoes.  And then we end up harvesting the garden in a cold fall drizzle because we pushed it too far.  Not this year!  The warm weather held and we were satisfied and ready to call it a day.  Plus, the cool weather and perhaps even snow are in the forecast.

The basket at left are Green Zebra tomatoes which truly ripen to that green color.  Matt will make green tomato ketchup from those.  The basket on the right in the same row are tomatoes that matured to purple.  We also had Moonglow tomatoes that ended up a brilliant orange color.  We canned one batch of tomato sauce made exclusively with Moonglows and so have a handful of jars that are a radiant orange color.  The rest of the baskets are a mix of roma and paste style tomatoes.  10/14/2020

Man! What a wonderful garden season we had this year!!!  I sure wish we'd been tracking the harvest weights.  We got lazy and kept absolutely no garden notes whatsoever this year.  I bet it would have blown us away.  We has some big hauls this year.  I stand by my early assessment that increased time at home and more sun following the tree removal would contribute to our best garden yet.  Indeed it has.

A full garden, pretty much.  That one tree is always the first to turn at our place.  10/7/2020

  • We harvested 20+ big beautiful butternuts plus three squash of an unknown volunteer variety.  We've never been this successful with winter squash before.  I adore roast squash and am over the moon.  
  • There are 11 baskets of tomatoes in the livingroom waiting to be processed into ketchup, sauce, and salsa.  That's on top of the dried tomatoes, salsa, bruschetta, crushed tomatoes, and sauce we've already stored away or eaten.  It has been a crazy tomato year.  Near the end of the season we noticed aphids moving in on one of the two rows of tomato plants.  That was new, but only cements the idea we had about buying a batch of ladybugs and/or praying mantises to watch over and enliven the garden next year.
  • The vegetable drawer in the fridge is packed to the brim with orange, green, and red sweet peppers, many of which will get chopped and frozen for winter dishes.  I harvested one plant this week that had 12 large peppers on it!  It was like hitting the jackpot.  They've been incredibly productive this year.  The seedlings Matt started in the basement were also the most vigorous we've ever produced.  I had high hopes for those peppers and they did not disappoint me.  Peppers are my favorite vegetable overall.
  • I added three more handfuls of cayenne and bird peppers to my stash of hot peppers and have made several batches of hot sauce already.  I made one yesterday before work in fact.  So much spicy deliciousness to be had.
  • We did a terrible job of keeping an eye on the zucchini and thus got mostly fruit the size of my thigh.  I prefer them about the size of a banana.  Oops.  They're tricky like that.  Stop paying attention for just a few days and they balloon right up past the ideal stir-fry stage.  We've got a tote full of the mondozucchini in the basement.
  • We ate our last eggplant two weeks back.  That was a nice long run of them.  Unless we treat ourselves to some Siam Thai we won't eat eggplant again until next summer now.  It is a truly seasonal food for our household.  The white Asian variety was particularly productive.   Matt perfected his veganized take on Eggplant Parm, too.
  • Matt decided we should only grow fingerling potatoes this year.  They're his favorite and they're relatively expensive to buy at the grocery store.  He figured it was more worthwhile to grow fingerlings than Russets or Yukon Golds.  And boy wasn't it!?  What a bumpercrop of spuds!!  Matt sorted them by size and has them stored in bags in the basement.  They are magnificently yummy in every way.
  • Most of the peaches fell off before they were ripe and though we tried to ripen them in boxes it didn't really work.  So we put out the boxes for the friendly neighborhood squirrels.  It is hilarious to watch.  That alone might be worth it, though we hope for a better peach harvest next year.  Matt's work-friend has a peach tree and said it was a strange year for it with such a long hot summer and prolonged heat even into fall.
  • The squirrels also enjoyed my Grandma Grapes, though I kept chasing them off in that case.  They might call me greedy, but I wanted those grapes for myself.  They taste like candy to me. We have a couple quarts in the freezer for smoothies and I'm down to my last cup of fresh ones.  Matt won't eat them fresh and so I am almost glad to see the back of them.  I was starting to feel a little pressure to eat them while still in their prime.  There were a lot this year--hooray!
  • We picked a bunch of apples from Ryan's tree and the neighbor's, but our duo in the backyard had a bad year.  The Honeycrisp, to my dismay, cracked down the trunk mysteriously and died.  We pulled it and now have a bigger badminton court.  We might replant.  We might not.  The Haralson apple tree just didn't make much fruit and what it did fell in the wind before ripening.  Thankfully apples are easy to come by around town if one keeps an eye open.  We only made applesauce this year since we still had a reasonable amount of pie filling left from last year.
 Bell peppers, fingerlings, and bruschetta.  9/26/2020
After unintentionally skipping last year we were all set to do No-Shop November for 2020.  In the end though we decided against it.  I have no doubt that we could have pulled it off quite easily, but we opted to keep our pantry full instead of eating it down this year.  Who knows what is gonna happen with the pandemic or what people's responses to it will be.  We want to have a full pantry just in case everyone loses their mind and buys out all of the pasta or beans again like the did back in March/April.  So, maybe next year.
Matt showing off the cayenne pepper that is grew to chest height.  10/1/2020  
We still have tomatoes, peppers, and basil in the greenhouse.  Soon enough though it will become the winter hammock clubhouse again.
This has been an especially stunning fall.  So much red, orange, yellow, brown...my favorite color scheme, really.  Especially against that big blue sky!  10/7/2020

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Love Must Go On

I attended my first Zoom wedding on Saturday, a digital celebration for my stepsister, Stephanie, and her new hubby, Tony.  The wedding was originally scheduled for early April, but was postponed until the fall in the hopes that we could all gather together again by then.  Since that hasn't proven to be the case Steph and Tony decided to scrap their plans and reboot completely.  

I have to say, the Zoom thing worked out pretty slick given the limitations under which they were were working.

Stephanie and Tony about to enjoy a bite of their wedding cake.

Matt, my nephew Eli, and I parked on the rims and found a big slab of sandstone to use as a bench.  The fall leaves decorating the city spread out below made for a lovely wedding venue on our end.  The Washington Monument  and greenery in the background made for a gorgeous wedding venue on the other end.  I was in a dress.  Matt wore a collared shirt.  We even brought a drink along so we could share in the toast!  

Our warm weather has been holding and I think the leaf change has been even more spectacular as a result.

Obviously, I wish we all could have been there with them in person, but at least friends and family were not only able to be there in spirit but as fairly active participants even!  The folks catching up with each other before the start of the ceremony were so delighted and full of love.  It was pretty darn great.  There were 60 lines on the call, I think, and many featured multiples and family groups.  Steph and Tony were surrounded by family and friends as they said their vows even if we were scattered from coast to coast at the time.  

Matt waving at my mom and Grandma.  

There were moving and funny toasts and speeches, a bottle of champagne and cake, a fantastic first dance, and it was obvious there was a whole lotta love and laughter there.  Tony and Steph looked so beautiful and happy together.

It certainly wasn't the wedding or honeymoon they'd envisioned, but love must go on regardless.  It was grand and heartwarming to hear their affirmations of devotion, including those of surviving and thriving together in a tiny apartment during a pandemic lockdown.  

The newlyweds popping a bottle of champagne!

I could never have predicted the phrase 'Zoom Wedding' would be part of my vocab, but unusual times call for innovative solutions.  I think they did really, really good and I'm tremendously pleased that we were able to share in this celebration with them.  Making the most of it or making lemonade when life hands you lemons has to be one of the most valuable life skills.

Cheers, love, and best wishes to Steph and Tony!!

Monday, October 12, 2020

The Simple Cats' Daybook

I fully embrace my cat-worship, my crazy-cat-lady status.  They are magnificent creatures and I'm lucky to call Ginger and JD my furry, four-legged roommates.  With that, I think it is time for another segment of a Simple Cats' Daybook.

Outside my window...
Ginger: ...is this pretty great view of the yard and the squirrels.  I can sit on my cat tree and gaze and sniff, gaze and sniff.
Johnny:  ...there is this little birdhouse and sometimes these birds come and land there.  They also land on the sunflowers nearby.  I like to watch.  I wish I could get out there.  I'd like to get a closer look at them.

I am thinking...
Ginger:  ...maybe the kibble does taste better from Johnny's dish.
Johnny: ...I'm sooooooooooooooooooo itchy.

I am thankful for...
Ginger:  ...grasshoppers to chase, the new garden path, and how easy it is to convince Beth it is "treat time."
Johnny:  ...Matt and Beth.

From the kitchen...
Ginger: ...I like it when the humans open the fridge and get out that "butter" stuff.  That is some good stuff.  Or anything bready like waffles or biscuits or rice.  Oh!  Buttery rice!!!  That is some good stuff, too, and I can usually convince Beth to share, even if Matt grumbles.
Johnny:  ...comes a lot of false alarms.  Ginger will be out there yelling her fool head off about treats so I get up...and then, when I get there, no treats are dispensed.  I guess we get "too many treats" or something.  Supposedly.

I am wearing...
Ginger: ...my back-up collar.  I lost the other one this summer in the neighbor's yard.  They gave it back, but nobody ever swapped it out so I'm still rocking this one.  It has a little heart with my name on it.
Johnny: ...this stupid bandana.  I didn't used to mind it.  I swear, I didn't.  But then I got to run around totally naked for a couple years and I really got used to that level of freedom.  Now I just hate this stupid thing.  I keep trying to kick it off, but Matt and Beth always stop me.  They say it is for my own good, but I'm not buying it.

I am creating...
Ginger: ...a depression in the middle of the yard because I beach myself there all day in the autumn sun.
Johnny: ...a bunch of bald spots.  I've been licking and licking and licking so I've got a lot of them at this point.  On the bottom of my feet, my neck, my right forearm, my chest...

I am going...
Ginger: ...to kick that neighbor cat's butt if I catch her in my yard again.
Johnny: ...to steal Ginger's spot in the bed at night.  Let her take the footzone, I'm going up to the top.

On my mind...
Ginger: ...wet food.  How looooooooooooooooooong has it been since we've gotten the good stuff.  I am sure it has been foreeeeeever.
Johnny: ...laps.  I've never really been comfortable sitting on human laps.  Usually I am more of a hip-adjacent sorta gal.  Lately though I've been trying the lap thing out.  It seems to increase the amount of time they sit still in one place and pet me so I might be sold on it at last.

Around the house....
Ginger: ...we miss Beth!!!  For six solid months she hung out with us aaaalllllllllllll day and now she ditches us every morning again.  I hate it.  
Johnny:  ...Yeah!!  We liked it better when she worked from home.  And I don't get it.  I mean, we were oh-so-helpful with processing magazines and stuff. 

One of my favorite things...
Ginger: ...catnip.  
Johnny: ...naps in the green chair by the puzzle table.

A few plans for the rest of the week...
Ginger: ...stalking bugs, naps, chasing leaves, and staying outside as much as possible.
Johnny: ... lots of licking and napping, belly rubs (of course!) and working on the puzzle with Beth.

A small window into my life...
I have typically stuck to discreet places in the garden, tucked in the raspberry bushes, say or secreted under the garden sink.  I am a stealthy girl.  Recently though I have taken to high visibility posts instead as part of my turf war with the neighbor cat.  I want her to see me so these days I park myself in the dead-center of the yard instead.

I am plagued by manic periods of "overgrooming" where I lick and scratch myself until I'm bald and scabby all over.  I've seen loads of doctors about it, but the most successful management strategies we have found are interference measures like the bandana and nail caps.  I don't like them, exactly, but they help me get past the most manic days without causing myself bodily harm.  The humans are very adamant about it and I like to be a team player so...  sometimes I DO kick off the bandana though.  Like in this photo where I've got it around my middle instead of around my neck.  I tried to tell them I was working on my Miss Catmerica pageant routine, but...they just put it back on my neck again.  Oh well.  It was worth a shot.

This format comes from the Simple Woman blog though I doubt this feline version was what she'd intended.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Finding My Calling

I never really had a driving vision of what I wanted to be when I grew up.  A calling, so to speak.  I had phases of wanting different things, of course. There was a time when I thought I'd be a teacher, a writer, a forester, join the Air Force, become an astronaut, a farmer, or a park ranger, sign up with the Army Corps of Engineers or the Peace Corps.  My dad likes to remind me that for a while I asserted that I was going to become a nun so I could take care of him when he was old.  I never really had a lasting dream though.  Nothing that stuck.  No specific passion for being a pilot or saving lives or starting my own business that filled my imagination and guided my choices over the years.  

A doe and fawn near the cabin we rented for Matt's birthday weekend--our first real trip in months!

And it wasn't just work and career stuff either.  I didn't have a strong and consistent vision of what I wanted to do with my life or where I wanted to live it even.  I didn't know if it would be a big house in the country or a tiny apartment in the city or an RV on the open road.  I had lots of different ideas.  As a kid, I think I always expected to end up with a husband and children, but it wasn't a burning desire of my heart exactly, just something that people usually do so I figured I probably would, too.  I assumed I'd leave Sidney, but where I'd land....I never really had place that called to me insistently, beyond my innate (and biased) love for Montana.  I thought about New Zealand, too, though.  And California.  And Colorado.  

I entered the library world through total happenstance*.  I ended picking where I moved to similarly**.  I've sorta drifted here and there, snagging opportunities and dabbling in a lot of everything that interested me.  Even while taking my studies in college I had no grand plan for the future and picked classes that sounded most fascinating, even if not the most practical, whenever possible.  I had no specific career goal waiting at the end***.

The pond at the Garden of 1,000 Buddhas.  We have wanted to visit the garden for a number of years and finally made it happen for Matt's birthday.

This line of thought was starting to bum me out recently.  "I don't have a calling." I told Matt with something close to dismay in mid-September.  "I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up."  

An overview of the Garden of 1,000 Buddhas.  We want to go back when it isn't socked in with so much smoke.  Even still it was beautiful and tranquil.

As we talked it out though I had a flash of revelation.  A flash I've built on in my contemplations this past month.  I was wrong.  I DO have a dream, a vision, a passion.  I have for as long as I can remember.  My calling is travel.  Exploration.  Journey.  Adventure.  Going, being, doing, seeing.

The thing I have consistently wanted and imagined for myself all along is traveling this big, beautiful world.  Soaking in the landscapes, meeting the people, trying the food, observing the critters, experiencing the climate, studying the plants, reveling in the differentness-and-sameness.  

I love having my cozy little home to return to, but I always want to take the long way home to get there.

We tried Korean food for the first time along the way to the cabin.  Whistle Pig in Bozeman.  Mmmmmm....we love those Asian flavor profiles.  I didn't even know that sweet potato noodles (aka glass noodles) were a thing!

When I thought back, I realized that I got my very first job strictly so I could pay my way to Washington D.C. and New York City on a school trip.  I started working so I could start my own travels!  But it started earlier than that.  I absolutely treasured our regular family weekends camping at Fork Peck Lake in my youth.  I loved road tripping with my family, though not being sandwiched between my sisters in the backseat.  Spending more than a month in Europe was a life changing experience for the 18-year-old me.  My heart sings when I recall my three-generations trip to Mexico a few years back.  I have basically only one regret from college and that is that I didn't seize the opportunity to study abroad.  My maternal grandparents are undoubtedly a foundation stone in my travel fever.  They went around the world together--Russia, the Cook Islands, Ireland, Egypt, Australia, Germany, Mexico, and so, so many other places.  I treasured their souvenirs, photos, and stories.

The A-frame cabin we rented for Matt's birthday weekend.  It was right on Rock Creek and the babbling water sounds were heavenly inside and out.

Travel is in me.  I've got the metaphorical itchy feet.  I want to head off into the sunset.  To get up and go.  I want to watch the land roll by and wake up under a different sky.

Like a lightning bolt I realize that this is a major player in my declining sense of mental balance as the pandemic spins on and on.  I cannot fully actualize my only consistent and lifelong drive.  The ability to satisfy my wanderlust has been seriously curtailed.  Travel is calling and I can't just pack up in answer, as I am accustomed to doing.

More from the Garden of 1,000 Buddhas.

I'm adapting to wearing a mask, but I ache to soak in the desert sun and come home with sand in every zipper, nook, and cranny.  I am on board with outdoor social calls with my galpals, but I miss three-night-runs boogieing as we watch the sunset over Red Rocks.  I knew, even at the time, that 2019 was a spectacular blessing of travel and experience for Matt and me--well above average.  It is hard not to compare the two with a sense of loss.

Taking a soak at Bozeman Hot Springs on a quiet Thursday evening.  We camped near Bozeman as a pit-stop along the way to the cabin.  We not only enjoyed the water, but the chance to visit with our camp neighbors about the Yellowstone (where they'd just been) and Glacier National Park (where they were headed next).  Matt and I thoroughly enjoy chatting up other travelers.  We have sure missed it.

Yet I endeavor always to keep a grateful heart.  I remain thankful for all I have, even as I pine for what I've lost.  This won't last forever.  Nothing does.  At least now I have a better sense of where I am and why.  That's helpful.  I might not be willing to hop on a plane bound for Arizona right now, but we can still scratch it other ways.  Renting a cabin in the mountains for a long weekend for Matt's birthday was truly restorative.  I felt like myself again!   

So, we're planning a couple similar sort of journeys--those which doesn't involve gobs of people or out of state travel, say.  I don't think I can view these excursions as frivolous goodtimes any more, but as crucial to my mental health and sense of well-being.  They ground me.  I need them.  The journey is my life's calling.

A nature shot from my scrambling hike up the mountainside behind the cabin.  

*I got a student job at the library in college because my sister, Sarah, worked there and said you got paid to do your homework a lot of the time and the bosses were cool.  I didn't even qualify for work-study funds and yet, somehow, Sarah convinced 'em to hire me as a part-timer.

**I received a full academic scholarship that I applied for on a whim at the very last minute.  I was still not quite sure I even wanted to go to college, let alone here.  I was going to move to Missoula and study Forestry, but couldn't turn down the free ride for obvious reasons.  To my pleasant surprise I found that southcentral Montana quite suited me and here I am all these years later.

***During my final year of college I was encouraged to apply for my current job at the library down the street from my alma mater.  Since I still wasn't sure what I wanted to be when I grew up I decided to stick with libraries.  I'd more than enjoyed working in the library during my college experience.  The librarians were smart and fun and got to help people.  That seemed like a good gig and a fine group to ally myself with.  And so I became a librarian.