Friday, March 30, 2007

In Case of Apocalypse

Jen has a very interesting post up with a review of the book The End of Food and some comments on gardening. I wouldn't have thought of gardening as subversive--I worked in the yard yesterday and felt that I was, in fact, becoming very suburban-cliched, though I suppose I was weeding the flower beds and spreading mulch (and getting rid of the stupid landscaping fabric the previous owner put down and then didn't adequately cover) at the time rather than planting seeds. But I see what she means; my same-age peers have always been amazed that I cook my own food, let alone grow it.

(My broccoli seeds sprouted. I don't know where I'm going to put all this broccoli. Not to mention the tomatoes and eggplants and basil that are crowding my southern windows. And I've still got zucchini and cantaloupe to start in April. I'm going to see if the mothers want any plants, or if anyone at work does. Next year, when I have more confidence in the inherent ability of seeds to grow, I'll plant more wisely. Was this another facet of society's growing disconnection from the earth, or just simple lack of faith in myself?)

There was a post on a gardener blog I read recently--I can't remember where; I've been all over the blogosphere lately, staving off boredom when I run out of things to do at work--in which she posited that you could save only five seeds (species) to survive on after an apocalypse. She chose three vegetables--one was the tomato--and two flowers, as I recall, snapdragons and something else with an edible tuber. She said you can't live without beauty. I considered this and decided that mine would be some sort of grain (amaranth/wheat/rye/quinoa--I'd have to research their nutritional and growing properties to choose properly), a bean (protein, stores well), potatoes (healthy, filling, stores well), flax (seeds for eating, fibers for clothing, and hey, the flowers are pretty), and I'm not sure about the last--some sort of vegetable, maybe a green since I don't have any, but then greens don't keep and if anything botanical has survived, I bet dandelions have and we could eat those. I considered tomatoes, since they have lots of vitamins and can be dried for winter (I was really concerned about winter--though one of the first things I'd do if it became evident I was going to have to live off the land and my two hands is move south), but then the rest of the plant is poisonous. Maybe carrots. They'd store well too. Or raspberries or blackberries, maybe--fruit would be important, but trees would take years to get established and we could die of scurvy before then.

I mentioned this to Eric last night--he suggested corn as an alternative to grain or flax--and this got us on the subject of whether we'd survive an apocalypse, assuming it weren't the nuclear-war-everything-is-going-to-die kind. Perhaps a modern Black Plague wipes out 99.9% of the population (Eric got concerned about the gene/labor pool and I pointed out that 0.1% of the population is a lot more now than it was in 1346), or non-nuclear warfare devastates the country/planet, or asteroids hit, or Prada and Lean Cuisine go out of business the same day and most of the world commits suicide in despair. I can garden (at least a little, and if the apocalypse holds off a few years I'll know more), spin, knit, sew, and cook. Eric said, "I don't think I'm going to be very useful," but then he knows a lot about chemicals, smelting, medicine, and random stuff generally, and he's good at building things. If we had his mother along we'd be okay for water (she's head scientist at the local water company), and if we had his sister along we'd be good for medical care (she's a nurse). We discussed what we'd need, what we'd want put into an emergency pack or stash. This is the first time I've ever heard him willing to own a gun. We discussed what we'd do with pets, how to get people to band together for survival, whether it would be best to head away from the remains of civilization for a few years, what to do with useless or dangerous people, how long it would take to communicate with other continents and to rebuild if we knew what we were building toward. We'd want to record things, to make sure that we didn't lose what knowledge we have, and to try and avoid whatever mistakes led us to the apocalypse. I said, "There would be no more chocolate. No tampons, no birth control…and no epidurals." And no World of Warcraft, but then, we'd kind of be living it. He said, "This would be an interesting book to write. 'In Case of Apocalypse, Read This Book.'"

The Parable of the Sower discusses this a little--the story is about a collapsing American society and a girl who prepares for the collapse with an emergency pack and survival skills that she eventually has to use and is able to begin a new community with. (It doesn't mention epidurals.) And Eric says I need to read Nightfall the novel, as it also discusses how to start over and the political types who would try to take advantage of other people. But mainly I want to start reading more practical stuff--I wanted to learn more about canning and preserving anyway (I have some apple butter in the cupboard, but if I have as many tomatoes this summer as I hope to I'll have to branch out), and I have books on medicinal herbs and basic survival skills, and of course I want to learn more about growing things, and as my family gets bigger my gardens will get bigger. I hope I won't ever truly need these skills--I think--but I'd feel a lot better knowing them.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

That which binds

I've been sewing wedding invitations. No, it's nothing as fancy or crafty as that; but they look like books, and so to give them a real "binding," I've been sewing the vellum to the linen cardstock. My needle is going to need changing as soon as this done, and I will be giving Caroline a well-deserved oiling...nasty thread-jams aside.

I have not been doing anything creative, other than considering which of my various leftover and stockpiled yarns would be best for this ruffled baby hat. I've been working on wedding stuff mostly, and getting over the cold (the cough is even yet holding on), and talking to Eric about marriage and babies and love. He considers us already married. So do I...sort of...but I wish I didn't, because I think I'm already into that settled, why-isn't-this-any-better stage. I don't feel I have enough time for everything I want to do--admittedly, this is because I want to do a lot. (Also because Eric wants me to get to level 70 in World of Warcraft because then he can play with his other friends.) But I don't feel I'm doing the things that will be most important to me. I'm not sure what they are. But preparing for a wedding to celebrate a marriage that's already, in our hearts, taken place, is not one of them. Doing creative work, of some kind, is...I'm pretty sure. And when these invitations are bound up--and the flowers ordered and the dresses bought and the hair figured out and the ceremony written--I will be able to pursue what it is I want to do and what I really, in my life's heart, need to do.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Big green mess

It's been not very rainy at all today--quite beautiful, in fact, which was not what I was led to believe would happen. has been pretty darn unreliable the last couple of weeks, in fact (though it got the general "warmer" trend right). So after Eric and I took a nice walk, noticing some purple crocuses (?) in our front grass, and met a young man who asked us where to go to meet girls, I did some work on the yard.

I bought a rake and a hand cultivator on Friday, along with dirt and some pots, and I used my new rake to start getting rid of some of the leaves in the flower beds. I love my new rake. I hadn't realized how very thick the leaves were. I ended up leaving the leaves (and dead twigs, and weeds, and Roundup-ed grass) on the driveway and the grass, to clean up tomorrow, since we'll be working on the trash pile anyway and I knew I didn't have that much time. I discovered tons of bulbs in the back of a flower bed in the front. I discovered that the previous owners loved that black landscaping cloth. I discovered that the previous owners' son had been obsessed with purple chalk, because I found bits of it everywhere. Some blue and some green, too, but mostly purple.

I planted some bulbs (some that I bought from Michelle for a school fundraiser and some that were in obviously weird places in other beds) on the house side of the driveway, and cleared all the junk from the other (noticing in horror a multitude of little seedlings that are almost certainly growing from the seeds of some weed I let run wild last summer). It's quite a nice little bed over there, actually, and I feel like I want to do something with it other than what I saw of it last summer--it felt crowded and monotonous--but I don't know what. I read part of The Secret Garden Friday at work (online), and it made me want to plant flowers. I've never been interested in flowers before, so this is new.

Eric and I walked around the yard a bit before he went in to do his taxes, and agreed that the tree on the house side of the driveway needs to come out--it's pretty, but it was planted way too close to the house and it obviously shouldn't be there. Also a bushy vining flower will be coming out. The previous owner had pointed it out in exultation when we toured the place, but I think it's ugly, and Eric concurred.

Also we decided where to put our new peach tree. When I went to Lowe's for my rakes and dirt I looked longingly at the fruit trees and noticed that they had winesaps, an extremely tart apple that both Eric and his mother adore. I mentioned this to Eric and he mentioned it to his mom, and after we assured her that there were other apple trees near enough to pollinate it, she requested that we purchase one for her. I'd suggested it to Eric for us, but he pointed out that we're going to be gone in two years, while his mom will quite possibly live in her current house until she dies. While we were there I expressed my longing for a fruit tree, and after I reluctantly passed up a nectarine tree because I'm the only one who really likes them, Eric pointed out that the peach trees were already flowering which meant they might produce fruit this year or next, and we bought a Red Haven peach. We already have a pear tree in the middle of the backyard, and I suggested that we place the peach tree near it and make an island of sorts, maybe plant some bulbs or small ground cover in between. Eric liked that idea. "You could extend the garden behind the island," he suggested. "Then I wouldn't have to mow back there at all."

I intended to plant peas and carrots, but I also intended to get the compost out of the compost pile and work it into the dirt first, and I discovered, after this yardwork, that the usable compost is mostly compressed in a tight dry brick. So I'm going to water it and use it when I can. The compost pile is in a real compost box, and there's a door at the bottom for getting the oldest compost out first, which would be awesome except I can't get the door open. I'm trying to decide whether I should break it or not.

I also repotted the newly-sprouted green peppers and tomatoes. These are exciting because I hadn't necessarily expected them to grow, so I'm trying to give them all the care I can. The seeds from the cherry tomato especially are growing up gangbusters. And the basil and marigolds have sprouted, and the oregano is a forest of tiny little seedlings. I've already rotated the container because they were all leaning towards the side.

And that first eggplant seedling? I think it's a weed. It doesn't have cotyledons; instead it's just a long slender blade. There are enough other eggplant seedlings coming up that I'm not concerned, but it's funny that I was so soliticious of its wellbeing before. I'm going to wait a bit to be sure, but I think it's coming out. It's amazing that all this stuff is coming up all at once. Is that how it always is, or is that just a factor of when I planted? I still have strawberry seeds to start (and zucchini in April), but mostly my seeds are started and on their way towards becoming real plants.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Things that grow (and shrink)

Eric asked last night whether I was going to have a gardening blog. I said no, two was probably enough. Now I kind of feel like starting one, of course. And then I’m afraid my current preoccupation with little green things will become very boring, very quickly. But whether I do or no, for now: things are growing! Yesterday morning I checked on the seed trays in my window before work, and decided to add a little water. As I did, I discovered a tiny slender shoot in a corner of an eggplant peat pot. It was so far in the corner, I was afraid it wouldn't have room to grow, so I fetched a plastic spoon and carefully dug a hole in the middle of the pot, then carefully dug up the seedling. I didn't go down deep enough--those roots are long; no longer they take two weeks to come above ground--so I dug the hole in the middle deeper, and disturbed another long root. I replanted the seedling in the new hole and watered it and prayed I hadn't killed my only two seedlings. Last night, the seedling was bigger, and a new one had come up in a different pot. So yes, I may end up with eggplants this summer…if I can keep them alive long enough.

Also two of my saved pepper seeds are pushing little green stalks up, which excites me since I had figured I'd harvested them too green. It's so amazing that seeds grow. Kind of like Eric's sister last night (we visited to play with the baby and see how they were dealing with being home with each other all the time--her husband took two weeks off), saying, "It's so strange to think that I make everything she needs to live and grow."

We met with Paula, the cake-making lady, last night before visiting Eric's sister, and had a great meeting. She loves our idea for the cake, and she's happy to make three or four different flavors for the three or four different cake layers. And she advised us to go with slightly less cake, because not everyone eats it. We met her through Edith. In the car afterwards, I asked Eric, "Are you okay with not having a contract?" He said yes. I said I was a little nervous but I trust Edith, and he said, "A lawyer friend of mine said in a [World of Warcraft] discussion that there are two types of contracts that never go to court. One is the four-hundred-page one with all the ts crossed, and the other is the neighborhood handshake over a backyard fence."

Of course I wouldn't sue Paula if she didn't show up with the cake. She said, "And you can pay me whenever, afterwards if that's easier for you or whatever." I'm figuring on giving her the check when she shows up with the cake. If she didn't, we'd just tell everyone that we'd decided on ice cream instead of cake and pretend we'd planned it that way. And then Edith would never eat at her restaurant again. And that would be sad, because it's good food (and ice cream).

This weekend we will, if all goes as planned (ha!), get three projects out of the way: taxes, invitations, and the trash pile by the driveway. This is the trash pile that the previous owners said they'd move, but didn't. Last summer it grew volunteer tomatoes, so I don't know what they put in there--it's mostly old boards and some paneling and a lot of dead vines. But it's ugly, and it's useless, and I want it gone. I have already secured Eric's consent to help, and if the weather cooperates at all, we'll be out there once he can't stand working on grading anymore (which shouldn't take long). Yay for a prospectively productive weekend, especially since these past couple days I haven't gotten much done at all. Well, that's not true--I've visited people, helped Shel make lemon bars (and thereby make Eric's mom drool), and accomplished a wedding thing. (I also called the ring people. The girl who answered took my information and said someone would call me in a few days. Dunno why.) But this weekend will be more conventionally productive. Especially if I turn out to get a tax refund.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Gearing up

My garden is not that big. Maybe twenty by twenty? And part of that is a pathway I plan to lay and an Asian pear tree I plan to pamper as much as is necessary (which shouldn't be much--all I did last summer was pick the fruit and it was happy). I planted four raspberry canes and two blueberry bushes (in pots, as they like acidic soil--I hope I got approximately the right amount of sulfur in there with them) and a row of spinach and lettuce. Completely forgot about the peas, but I'll do that tonight (plus carrots) if it's not raining when I get home. If not, as soon as I can, just like renewing my driver's license, too. Oh, and call the ring place, since they won't accept an order by e-mail, and call to yell at my bank for not getting me online access to my savings account for the second time after I requested it--not that I'm bitter or anything.

Anyway, what was I saying? I was saying my garden isn't big. It will, however, afford me a decent amount of exercise, I can tell already. For one thing, I killed the grass last year and now it needs digging up, plus the whole thing needs digging in with humus and such. (I bought topsoil and a 90/10 mixture of humus/manure at Home Depot yesterday. The humus was cheaper. I also bought an aloe plant for at home and a "Polkadot," a coleus-like plant with red/green, pink/green, and white/green variations planted together, for work. It needs a different pot, though. This one's pink. It's also got a sticker saying "NOT FOR CONSUMPTION" on it, which amuses me no end.) There's actual planting, there's mulching (both the path and the plants themselves--apparently grass clippings are good for that), and then there's weeding. I'm hoping I got rid of a good number of weed seeds by pulling up the black fabric the previous owners had placed over most of the raised bed, but I'm sure plenty are still lying around, waiting for the first warm spring rain. Which is today. Hello, little weed nemeses.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Being sick in the garden of exploding eggplants and weddings

Being sick is lousy. This is not exactly an original thought, nor an original excuse for absence; but that's all I've got. Sniffling, nose-blowing (and accompanying Vaseline-itizing of my nose, a slightly disgusting but pain-saving measure), coughing, and popping aspirin have been occupying most of my time the past...two weeks now, though I was getting better last week and had this annoying resurgence. I'm sure my colds didn't used to last this long. I must be getting old. I've still got a dry cough that only responds to lots of liquids--medication doesn't seem to be helping at all. Yuck.

I've been anxiously awaiting planting weather, and it will be here Wednesday. I've never looked forward to spring quite like this. We bought raspberry canes and blueberry bushes and one grape vine this weekend, and I'll be planting them this week. I'm trying to decide whether to put the blueberries in containers, since they like somewhat acidic soil, or to plant them in the ground and put strawberries in the container instead, which will free up more room in the raised bed for parsley, which I want to grow for tabbouleh this summer. So many choices. Good for occupying my mind, though, since it requires no work and that's about what I've been capable of (or at least inclined for) until the last few days.

One night near the beginning of the cold I dreamed that I had planted zucchini and tomatoes in my bed, and I was trying not to move so that I wouldn't disturb them. I was disoriented for quite a while before I woke up enough to realize that there were no plants in my bed whatsoever and there was no reason I couldn't get up and reapply some cough syrup. (This was before I realized the cough syrup wasn't actually helping. All that horrible taste for nothing.) Another night I dreamed that my cousin Bev had planted eggplants and asked for my advice. I told her that the ones that had fallen backwards were fine, the ones that had fallen forwards were in trouble, and the ones that had shot their fruits up in the air like firecrackers were unusual but not a big problem.

We have two months and eight days until the wedding. This has scared both of us. The invitations are about half printed--it's on vellum so we're going slowly so as not to smudge them--and the map that Eric is spending way too much effort on is almost finished. We've decided that wedding stuff must now have first priority. We'll see how that works in practice. The house is a mess, partly because I haven't been on him quite as much to put stuff away, and I want it to be in good order (not just cleanliness-wise but things like putting up shelves, mulching the flower beds, putting the books away) for the relatives who will be coming to see it and the after-party that will be held in it. Not to mention a possible wedding shower Edith is--maybe--throwing for us. It's a nice thought but she seems to want us to do all the work, and neither of us are inclined to plan our own shower, especially since there are only two months and eight days until the wedding.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

I had forgotten.

Oh my GOD does Robitussin taste bad. But I use it anyway, because my parents drilled it into me when I was small that if it tastes bad to me, it'll taste bad to the germs too.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Gardening, 2007: The beginning. I hope.

This year, I am growing a garden. I saved seeds last fall, tomato and pepper and eggplant and butternut squash and pumpkin and cantaloupe seeds, from things I bought and ate. I've bought seeds from The Andersons and Seed Savers and Pinetree Garden Seeds. I have little peat pots and growing soil and old containers and the gardening kit Phoebe gave me. I have a list of what needs to be grown when, and I have a map of what needs to be planted where. I am not sure that I will actually stick to this, but I'm not sure I won't, either.

I've never had a garden of my own. My childhood was full of our backyard garden, helping to move rocks (again: why aren't there any rocks in Ohio ground? It's unnatural!), breaking off sprigs of parsley to munch on, pulling up young carrots and eating them with salt and lemon juice. One year Mom and Dad planted the garden as usual and that year James and I got old enough that we stopped playing in the backyard, and in the fall they were shocked to discover they had a ton of fat carrots in their garden. We had carrots in the garage for months. In Baltimore I never thought of growing things. In Dayton I had a couple of tomato plants in pots on the balcony, but I honestly can't remember whether I got anything off of them. I must have, because every day during that hot summer I would come home and find them wilting, and water them, and by the time the sun went down they would be upright again. I wouldn't have gone to that trouble if they hadn't given me something for my trouble. Then when I moved to the house I planted some things, but they didn't do well, mainly because I didn't take care of them. And last summer it was too late, and the inside of the house had a higher priority than the outside, so all I did was pull up some weeds and plant a couple of poor plants that actually didn't do half bad, considering.

But I want a garden of my own. I want to grow things, and look after them, and eat their children. (Um.) Eric has already said that he mows the lawn and I can look after the rest of the outside (though he has agreed that watering is something he can do if necessary, though I have a greater heat tolerance than he does so it'll only be necessary if I'm incapacitated or, perhaps, overly resentful that I have to work while he gets the summer off), so this project's all mine. Which is why I'm planning on growing (or at least trying to grow; apparently saving seed is a risky proposition in these days of hybrid vegetables) zucchini and eggplant and butternut squash. There will also be things the boy can eat, like tomatoes and peppers and (especially) raspberries and strawberries, but mainly, this garden is for me. As if I need another hobby. But at least this one will get me some exercise and fresh air.

And so, here is my very first attempt for the year: starting my saved eggplant and pepper seeds. I've also ordered some heirloom eggplant seeds, but they haven't come yet--I was a bit late with the ordering because I thought Edith might want to order something and figured we'd save shipping--and I figured I shouldn't wait any longer; I'm about a week off as it is. These trays are from work; they hold tubes suitable for putting small bits of stuff in, and I figured they'd also be useful for putting small amounts of potting soil in to see if my seeds will germinate at all. I'm not positive this was a good idea, but hey; the seeds were free, and if all else fails I can always buy plants at The Andersons in a few months.

The river and me

Up until yesterday, the river had actually started to thaw. I drove to Andersons the day before yesterday, the sun beating at my cheeks, making my car almost uncomfortably warm, and crossed the river that was dark and flowing, and I wanted to cheer. My usual commute to work involves taking the big, I-75 bridge across the river (the Maumee, incidentally), and instead of being flat white it looked like a junkyard, or--better--like a beach after a rainstorm, sandy slabs piled over one another, cracking and crumbling, the water rippling and shoving from behind.

Yesterday, though, it was cold, and today it's snowing. I heard a weatherman say on the radio today that it's good we're getting cold weather in March, because if we didn't we'd be getting it in April. I'm still not used to this prolonged winter, and I've lived in Ohio for, what, four years now? (Christ. And another two to go.) I went to Andersons for soil and seeds to start some plants going, but I haven't employed them because I've fallen prey to a cold. I don't know where it came from, unless my seat at the symphony Saturday was germy, but my head aches and my sinuses hurt and yesterday my muscles hurt, and I've been having boring, stifled dreams. I had hoped that would be a fluke, but no, it seems that boring dreams are here to stay, at least when I'm sick. This is completely unfair. Last night I dreamed I was trying to start my garden, only I kept getting interrupted because I had to answer the questions: What is a garden? What is life? What makes for a good philosophy? etc. because they were crowding around me, blocking me from doing anything. And then I had to make a grid of all possible coordinates for someone. Blechh. My boss's boss is taking us to lunch today, as a thank-you for holding down the fort last week while half the department was gone, but I think I'm going to skip it and read Pride and Prejudice (I started it last night; I was in the mood for comfort reading) instead. We were going to Tony Packo's so it's not like there would be anything for me to eat anyway.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Mawwiage. And weddings.

We did some wedding stuff this weekend, finally. Eric got started doing the invitations (he's designing them in Illustrator, and getting an unholy amount of glee out of doing it) and I arranged a meeting with the cake maker. Today he's going to call the person at the thing (you had to be there) to find out whether we actually get a honeymoon this year, and I'm going to go get paper samples. And maybe some muslin for the kitchen curtains, because this lovely green linen blend I got is too dark. Any suggestions on what to do with approximately one-yard blocks of green linen are welcome.

And I was reading this Whatever post on how marriage is now mostly for the upper classes, or at least the non-poor. The comments veer towards the cost of weddings, with mentions of how marriage changes things. I don't think marriage will change anything fundamental for Eric and me. We've already committed ourselves to each other; we're already dealing with finances and obligations and life in general as a pair. (I still talk about my money as separate from his, but only in the present tense. We haven't technically joined finances yet, just bill payments.) We've had eight years to get to know each other, even though we've only spent the last two as a couple.

Bev told me that she felt the moment of legal marriage was more important than the ceremony. I'm sorry she feels that way, since we're going to be doing the legal stuff the Friday before and having the wedding on Sunday (but hey--at least they're only separated by two days, rather than my parents' two weeks), but I don't agree. (I'll take her along as a witness, though.) Some of those comments were on how doing things the traditional way is what drives up the expense of weddings, but they want those traditions--the cake, the dancing, the being carried around in a chair. I want that too--well, not those things specifically, but the reason that we're having a wedding at all is because I felt the legal recognition is not enough. We're not religious, but I recognize the ceremony of a wedding as deeply meaningful, to this culture and to me personally. I don't need my marriage recognized by God or state (though state is definitely useful, which is why we're doing it), but I do feel the need to stand up in front of everyone I love and say that I am no longer me but we; that on that day I am part of a new family as well as the old. Though in some ways that's false, because the new family is already begun. But I want the rite with which to say it, publicly and all at once, to everyone important to me and everyone who will need to know it in the future.

That aside, though, weddings are a pain. This is an extremely low-stress, relatively low-cost wedding and I'm wishing we'd gone with "a party in each hometown" or "ceremony at the courthouse, post pictures on a website afterward" instead. I've never been good at hosting parties. I hope this one will be fun. A lot of people are coming a long way at high cost to see this, and I want it to be both meaningful and enjoyable for them. Someone in that comments thread on Whatever said something about perhaps big, lavish weddings tend to precede failed marriages because the weddings become about the bride rather than the couple. (Notwithstanding that in the early days of wedding planning people kept telling me "Do what you want; you're the bride." Probably they still would if I were still talking to anyone about wedding planning.) I'm starting to think that the wedding is really about the guests, the way ceremonies are often about the witnesses. Trees falling in the forest, you know. Cats in a box with poison gas. Or maybe I just feel that way because I'm me, and I'm having second thoughts about walking up the aisle (of grass, under preferably non-dripping trees…), not because of who I'm walking towards but because I'm going to have to say things in front of nearly a hundred people and I'm probably going to be crying. Whose idea was this anyway?