Wednesday, November 04, 2009


I like candles.  Tapers or pillars, or even in a jar, with real flames.  I think they add a comfortable note to a quiet evening at home, even with lights on.  There's just something about the uneven, flickering light they give, that feels homier than a bulb - even though the bulb is, I must admit, of far more use when reading.

Candles have been taking a hit recently, on several fronts.  They are fire hazards; have you read the warning labels on them?  According to the labels, there's more peril to be had in leaving a lit candle alone in a room for five minutes than in leaving an inquisitive 10-month old in the same room with a bunch of uncapped poison bottles.  It's quite amazing that any of the churches offering votives has survived.  It's bosh, of course.  While one shouldn't leave lit candles for long periods, as long as they are not directly under flammable fabrics or paper and are set in fireproof saucers of some sort (plastic margarine-tub lids are NOT a good idea), they're really fairly safe.

Another recent charge leveled at candles are that they are polluters.  On some micro-scale, I suppose they might be considered an issue of a sort.  But they aren't in enough use - even with all of them out there - to really make a significant difference.  And there are much bigger issues to worry about on earth than the incremental increase in pollution provided by a lit candle.

Light the candles in your house.  Enjoy them.  Have candles on the table at dinner.  Turn off a few lights and sit in the comfortable, flickering, darkness for a while.  It's very soothing to the soul.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Tidy House

Part of living the Good Life is living in a house that is homey.  I think there are a lot of factors that contribute to hominess - warmth, comfortable chairs, good lamps, fires, houseplants, the smell of something good being cooked, hospitality (ooh, more topics!) - but if the house isn't tidy, the residents trip over the comfortable chairs and the lampcords, the something good being cooked includes some unwelcome ingredients like dust and germs, and nobody wants to enjoy the hospitality.  It's chaos, not comfort.

We need to keep the place picked up.  And we need to keep it clean.  They aren't the same thing.  I suppose it's possible to live in a clean house that is cluttered; that is, it's healthy and germ-free in its essentials, but the family's possessions are strewn about and occupy all the free space.  Possible, perhaps, but hard!  To clean, each strewn item would have to be moved and replaced in its random location.  Why would anyone do that?  Better to keep the clutter down to start with, and to clean the uncluttered house.

There have been a lot of programs on TV - and self-help books - recently about helping unorganized people improve their habits.  They all seem to start in the same place: get rid of unused possessions.  Americans just have too much stuff.  I look around the room I'm in, and I see the following: several old (not antique) stand-type cigarette lighters, a plastic streetcar replica that came with a box of chocolates, 6 teapots, a nutdish/nutcracker set with nuts from last year, brochures from the Queen Mary 2, several partly-burned candles in jars, a broken clock, and a bunch of games.  I'll skip the 5 bookcases of books - books contribute to hominess as long as they're maintained neatly in bookcases.  But a lot of the other stuff can and should go.

My view of the Good Life is definitely well-endowed with nostalgia - for an era when we were not as rich and could not afford to have so much stuff.  But that aside, I find a lot of value in going through my possessions and deciding which are truly "keepers" - it forces me to decide what's important.  The rest goes to charity, so I hope the exercise is of value to someone else, too.

Keep the house tidy - and weed out the unimportant things in life.  It's important.

Home Cooked Meals

We eat out a lot.  It's a side-effect of Mom and Dad both working full-time and beyond; when quittin' time finally arrives each day, the last thing we want to do is work on dinner.  It's not a good thing to do this all the time, or even most of the time.  Restaurant meals are expensive for the value, oversized, and full of mystery commercial cooking ingredients that we might not eat if we knew what they were.  And calorie-dense.  But beyond that, I think we're missing out on something key to the Good Life.

You can't have good conversation in a restaurant.  Never mind that the waiter has been carefully trained to arrive at the worst possible moment; that's only part of it.  You're in public!  That rules out energetic ranting, revealing your innermost thoughts, and laughing until milk comes out your nose.  And if you use the time for advanced instruction in civilized behavior, the possibility exists that the people at the next table will disagree with either the style or substance of your comments, and join the discussion.

You also can't have wonderful smells wafting through your house as dinner cooks, if you eat in a restaurant.  And while some of them claim to offer comfort food of one sort or another these days, who wants their child growing up with fond memories of "meatloaf just the way Denny's used to make it"?

We need more home cooked meals.  Lots more.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Fall - and switching to thoughts of the "Good Life"

It's snowing - big, fluffy flakes that are starting to pile up.  I guess Summer's over now - for real, this time.  The tomatoes gave up the ghost about 2 weeks ago, when the temperature dipped well into the twenties and I mistakenly thought that covering them with a tarp would be enough.  About 20 pounds of tomatoes, frozen solid and weeping on my counter, convinced me I'd been too late.  A sad sight - the more so because we never got that many ripe tomatoes during Summer proper; it just never got that hot this year. 

I want to change my focus in this blog - to thoughts on the "Good Life".  I don't mean what used to be called "Keeping up with the Joneses"; rather the opposite, in a way.  Skipping over the material possessions aspect altogether; what elements are required to make life worthwhile?   You see, I work for a living - have since I got out of school.  And nearly all that time, I've been wondering why it doesn't feel natural.  I know that a lot of women fought for the right to do what I do, and I don't want to seem ungrateful that they gave me the freedom to work, but the fact is, they seem - for me, at least - to have eliminated the freedom to stay home and make a life for my family.  As a result, we basically haven't had one, and that seems egregiously wrong to me, and kind of always has.  For some reason, I am freshly struck by these thoughts every fall; there must be something about the cooler temperatures and shorter days that make me wish that home was, well, homier.

So here are some of the things that, brainstorming, would come under the heading of a "Good Life".  I think they'll make topics or groups of topics to explore.
  • Home-cooked meals with everyone around the table
  • A tidy house
  • Comfort over high style
  • Traditions
  • Evenings at home with friends and extended family
  • Seasonal entertainment
  • Seasonality in general
  • The "Sunday roast"
  • Home canning and preserving
  • Hot apple cider and cold lemonade
  • Fireplaces with fires in them
  • And something near and dear to my heart - civilized behavior
Don't know how it will work out, but I think it's worth a start, anyway.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Early Strawberries and General Progress

About the middle of last week, I picked and ate the first strawberry of the season from the plants in the window box.  They seem pretty happy there - fruiting like crazy (although with only 4 plants, I don't see getting enough at one time to make even a "shortcake for one").  The first strawberry was amazing - you get so used to eating the giant, sort of bland examples that show up at the grocery store that, at first, one fresh off the vine doesn't seem to taste quite right, it's so intense.  A few more, and I'll probably never go back.

On other fronts, the spinach has joined the bok choi in growing leggy and producing flowers, so I guess it's done for the summer.  We didn't get much before it bolted, and I'm not sure if I'll bother with spring spinach again.  I might try it in September and see if that works any better.  Neither it nor the bok choi makes sense to me - it's been kind of a cold spring so far, by comparison with last year.

The lettuce is still going strong, and 4 square feet seems to be just about the right amount.  We're staying on top of it, and eating what we pick, rather than wasting it.  As a result, I think we're eating more salads.

The peas are starting to flower; they've grown to within a foot or so of the top of the supports I'm using, and are very lush.  Barring anything weird, we should have enough to freeze and to support healthy snacks (4 square feet of sugar-snap peas - yum!).  And the potatoes in the top box are huge - well the tops are, anyway.  In the middle box, they're about half the size, even though I planted them all at the same time.  Go figure.

I'm not at all sure what to make of the Swiss Chard.  The seedlings sprouted maybe 3 weeks ago, but to look at them, you'd think it was yesterday.  They seem to be in a holding pattern, but I'm not sure what they're waiting for.  In the meantime, they're being outstripped by the carrots, the purple beans, cucumbers, canteloupe, zucchini (which I planted less than a week ago!) and the corn.  I'd put it down to location - they're in the same box with the potatoes that are behind - but so are the carrots and corn and cucumbers and beans and canteloupe.

Now that two of the boxes are in their second year, the soil is hosting some fauna - specifically, roly-poly bugs (I suppose they have a "real" name, but that's the only one I've ever known).  I understand that insects generally mean that the soil is healthy, which is a good thing, but they're eating leaves and in some cases, stems.  Cucumbers, canteloupe, and purple beans are the current victims, although they also seemed to enjoy the bok choi (at least someone got some benefit from it).  The level of damage is marginally acceptable so far, but I think I'll start picking them off and putting them in the driveway to work on weed control there.

On the tomato front, the red mulch seems to be doing well - the plants have all grown from 4" tall to over a foot, and seem to be doing quite well.  The one in the topsy-turvy container also seems undisturbed by having its roots in the air.  It's not as large as the others, but in its defense, it was planted about a month later while we waited for the last frost date to pass.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Another Spring... more veggies

I think I learned a few things from last year, so back in February, I pulled the square-foot wire grids off the beds and made sure we were ready to plant once the various mystic and symbolic planting dates arrived.  Found some more carrots too - we hadn't quite finished them all.  And a lone garlic plant, re-sprouting (I left it - maybe garlic takes 2 years to produce a head?). 

Then, in whichever weekend in March was nearest to St. Patrick's day this year, I began the planting work.  Twelve squares of peas (three different varieties).  Four of lettuce and four of spinach.  Sixteen squares of regular potatoes (I had parts of 2 five-pound bags in the pantry, all sprouting merrily, so in they went), and one square of sweet potato (ditto - but only one specimen to plant). 

Since then, I've added rainbow chard (2 squares, strictly experimental - we have never tried to eat this), broccoli (6 squares - from seedlings), bok choi (3 squares - from seedlings), carrots (2 squares), cucumbers (1 square from seed and 1 from seedling), canteloupe (1 square from seed and 1 from seedling), purple beans (3 squares so far - more to come), corn (8 squares), and eggplant (1 square, again, experimental).

If you add it all up, there are more than 64 squares there - and that's because we have a third box set up, this one 3' x 8'.  Just filled it with soil last weekend, so it only has the seedlings of canteloupe and cucumber and eggplant in it so far.

Another rather interesting surprise this year was that at least one of the onions set seed all over the top box.  I wasn't sure just what was sprouting at first and started pulling them everywhere they showed up.  And then I finally looked them up online and once I realized what they were, I left them alone - if we end up with a bonus crop of scallions this summer, it's all good.  I didn't replant onions this year - in the end, I couldn't get them to last the winter - they kept either shriveling up or getting moldy.

Everything that I've put in so far has sprouted (or it started that way), and we have the corn enclosed in the hardware cloth fence again.  I'm really hoping we get a bit more edible corn this year than last.  We took the few semi-seeded ears we got and stripped the corn off (love that Kuhn-Rikon corn zipper!) and froze it.  When we ate it over the winter, it was like August all over again - really amazingly good stuff.  So I'm hoping we get more than just one vacuum bag of frozen corn this year.

We are still eating the purple beans from last summer.  Getting close to the end of them, but they lasted the entire year. 

We also planted 5 tomatoes - 4 in the barrels from last year, one in one of those upside-down bag thingies, hanging from the pergola.  And I put red mulch under all of them that I could, after hearing from our neighbor next door that she saw amazing results from using it last year.  Oh, and 4 strawberries in the window box - it seems like the best place to keep the squirrels out of them, so I might get to eat one or two.  We'll see.  There are some pretty nice looking berries forming already.

We're already getting lettuce and spinach to eat - my parents were amazed that I was already picking food from the garden in May.  About a salad's worth each evening or so, which is absolutely perfect for us.

I'm going to train all of the vining plants up frames or cages or trellises this year - cucumbers, canteloupe, zucchini, etc.  The seeds for the canteloupe and cukes went in right next to the corn cage and will use that.

Our daughter came back from her first year of college with a small pot full of sprouting seeds this spring - supposedly the 4" pot has sunflowers, bell peppers, and strawberries in it.  I'm giving her some space in the third box to let them spread out a bit - well, the strawberries will probably go in a spot I don't intend to dig up at the end of the season.

Lots of planting to come this weekend - more purple beans, and 1 (ONLY 1) zucchini.  Spring is the best!