Monday, June 27, 2016

Oh, summer. I could quit you.

This being my 60th summer, you'd think I'd know what to expect.  And yet this year the heat has hit me so hard.  Whenever I have to be out in it I am in utter misery.  I feel like my vital essence is being siphoned off - and this from someone who grew up without air conditioning in the DC suburbs!  I went to college in southern Maryland without air conditioning.  All we had were fans.  It boggles the mind.  

Summer hasn't changed.  I have.  Hormonal disasters within my body have caused me to be utterly intolerant of heat.  I noticed this past winter that I was fine with the cold.  Not turn-off-the-furnace fine, but I never really got cold, even when I was out in it.  ("Out in it" for me means when I walked between my heated car and a heated building.)  I used to be freezing all winter, with the same exposure.  

Winter hasn't changed.  I have.  Maybe, if I could summon up the energy to move to another area, I could go to Maine, or Vermont, or Quebec - assuming the Canadians would let me in, which is doubtful.  What do people do in Canada, anyway? 

Thank goodness no one has to move north these days to escape the heat.  The most marvelous invention of all time, second only to the television and the internet, is air conditioning.  When I come in to our air conditioned house from the boiling swamp outside I feel as if a great weight has been lifted from me.  I can breathe.  I am happy.  All is as it should be.  

I know there are some purists out there who eschew air conditioning.  They talk about "getting used to the heat."  I happen to know that can be done, since I did it in my childhood.  After having air conditioning, it takes about two solid weeks of utter, intense misery to "get used to" the heat, and even then no one is comfortable in it.  Also, environmentalist though I am, I could care less what toxic chemicals are required to run the AC unit.  If it ran on the blood of virgins, I'd manage to look the other way.  I'd even try to find virgins, assuming they are available online, because I'm not going out in that weather.  I also do not care what it costs to keep the house cooled.  Whatever the price, it's a fair deal.  I can do without just about anything else, except internet.  

These days, we venture out in the early morning and late evening, to water the garden and get the mail.  We did a lot of work in the garden when the weather was cooler, and now it's on its own, suitable for viewing from inside the house.  The flowers, stupid, floppy showoffs that they are, seem to thrive on the heat.  So does all the lovely wildlife, and they are welcome to it.  

Summer.  It truly is for the birds.  

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Duck issues and eight pounds of potato salad

Bookmaking continues.  I'm making about one a week, so soon I should be knee-deep in books, unless people start buying.  I'm still enjoying it immensely, and there are a lot of different techniques I want to try.  My latest, listed just today, is "Knave of Hearts."

This little guy was a lot of fun to make, and the small size is intriguing to me.  I bought an antique copy of Chaucer's "Knights Tale," coincidentally enough, thinking I might be able to clean up the cover and use it as it was.  Unfortunately the ink came off as I was cleaning it, so my fallback position was to use it as a substrate.  I colored it with Inktense pencils and my own brown glaze, and then applied a reproduction antique playing card and some metal embellishments.  I left the original pencil writings on the inside covers, but added the original copyright information on the front inside cover and included a few bird stamps on the back inside cover.  The small size of the book enabled me to get two folios out of each sheet of letter-sized paper, which meant less excess paper to recycle.  All in all, a fun project.

We've been having Duck Issues out back by the pond.  We had thought our paired mallards were going to lead babies up to the bird feeder any day, as they have in previous years (undoubtedly
not the same pair each year), and at one point we saw the female with two babies, but we never saw the babies again.  Now there are sometimes five male mallards and the one female, and we assume all or most of them were born here in the last several years, because they get along just fine.  Their ability to coexist is an indicator that there is no breeding going on, and nothing to defend.  It could be that the feral cats around here got the ducklings, or a coyote or a fox.  Really, it's amazing any ducklings ever survive to adulthood.  I also think this female is young and/or demented.  She sometimes stomps around quacking nonstop, and running at the male ducks, only to veer off before a confrontation.  She's peeved about something, that's for sure.

These stripey petunias came from
the garden center.  
I'm not happy with progress in the front garden.  The annuals I started from seed are still not catching up, despite excellent weather, plenty of water, and great compost-enriched soil.  Their perennial counterparts, which have been in the garden for years, are doing great, so it's not an environmental thing.  I'm beginning to wonder if they will ever do their annual job.  I also wish I'd just gone to the damned nursery and loaded up on flowers.  There is an awful lot to be said for instant gratification, especially at my age.  Next year I'll rent a van and buy everything they have!

While I was out front I saw that there was a lot of volunteer dill, so I picked some of it and came in to make potato salad.  Now we have eight pounds of the stuff, and it's so good that it will soon be gone.

In no particular order, here are some photos I took this morning in the front garden.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Foxglove, milkweed, a mystery bulb and a rusty typewriter

Older chives and young lilies before bloom
I have just been taking pictures in the front garden.  The sun doesn't shine there directly until about 11:00, so the morning is the best time for photos.  Probably because we had such a mild winter, this year's garden holds some surprises.  For one thing, a snapdragon overwintered, which is unheard of here.  That's more of a Zone 7 thing, and we're in Zone 5b or 6a, depending on who you ask.  Apparently no one told this snapdragon.  I've surrounded him with snaps I've grown from seed, and they look outrageously puny by comparison, because they are now putting out roots before doing their jazz hands thing.  

I started over 140 seedlings under lights this year.  I used to do it all the time, but when we moved here and had some money I got lazy and started buying annuals from the garden center.  This year for the first time (because I'm slow) I realized how doused in all kinds of chemicals plants at the garden center are.  They are treated with a concoction to make them bloom fast, and another elixir to make their foliage grow slowly, and they are pesticided and fertilized beyond belief.  (How they still arrive with slugs in them is a mystery.)  Also, many of them are genetically modified, a practice which does no one but the growers any good at all.  They certainly don't contribute to our organic lifestyle.

So this year I ordered seeds from Seed Savers Exchange, which claims to sell only heirloom varieties, untreated with anything.  The marigolds I ordered are supposed to be extremely fragrant, "the way you remember them from childhood."  Well, nothing is the way I remember it because it never was that way to begin with, but I live in hope.  Right now the little things are still quite spiky and puny.  

Ferny fennel
We've had a lot of fennels spring up, seemingly from nowhere.  Two years ago we planted a fennel from the garden center.  It never did very well and kind of withered away (perhaps due to the chemicals it came with) but apparently it managed to seed the surrounding area before it gave up the ghost.  This year we have about five strong, strapping gorgeous fennel plants.  They are the host plant for a whole lot of nice butterflies, so hopefully they will be found and used well.  

Hello, butterflies!
We are likewise inundated with milkweeds.  We have several native milkweed volunteers in our wildflower bed to the north, but last year or the year before I ordered one from Companion Plants in Athens, Ohio, which is a magnificent source for artisan-grown plants.  That one plant, like the aforementioned fennel, did all right the first year and then kind of petered out, but it obviously also seeded before dying.  This year we have four milkweed plants in that general area.  They are also vital to the lifecycle of various butterflies, and are very welcome.

digitalis very purpurea
The foxgloves have taken off, too.  Last year I collected and scattered the seeds from the foxgloves, and a few of them have sprouted.  These plants don't know they are bienniel, and they come up in pretty much the same place every year.  Originally I bought them in all kinds of hybridized shades, but as they reappear year after year they have lost their phony whites and yellows and are now back to the luscious pinky purple they should be.  These foxgloves are thugs, and most of the plants are over five feet tall already.  Once they start going to seed I'll slip some knee-high stockings over their seed heads and tie them down tight, and wait for seed harvest.  It's an interesting look for them.  

Probably garlic
We have a six-foot-tall garlic-type plant, which we believe to be garlic.  We're not going to dig it up to find out.  We almost remember planting it, and if we did it was an impulse purchase in the checkout line at the local garden center.  Right now it has this large flower bulb on the top, which bends this way and that depending on mood and whether Mercury is in retrograde.  The other day it was bent at 90 degrees, pointing south.  After a good rain it pointed west.  Several smaller flower bulbs adorn the plant lower down.  If we did have it last year - and again, we can't remember because we forget things - it was nowhere near this large.  If it is garlic, its underground bulb is the size of a dinner plate.

Finally, the old typewriter I put out on a stump earlier this year is rusting nicely.  It was light years beyond use or repair.  Fortunately, it is decorative.  For some reason I was surprised to find it is attractive to birds looking for a place to rest, as evidenced by a few whitish deposits.  Maybe we'll have a nice rain soon to restore it to its former pristine shabbiness.

Overlooking the pond