Friday, July 31, 2009

garden success

I may be a complete failure when it comes to growing tomatoes, but I am still enjoying my garden and yard. Here are a few pictures of my recent doings:

Peppers: About a month ago, the squirrels harvested my only three (at the time) nicely sized bell peppers and engaged in a game of kickball with them around the yard before they decided to gnaw them to death. I recovered two of the peppers, in opposite corners of the yard, looking bruised and battered with little tooth marks all over them. I never found the third pepper. But, the pepper plants have fought back. Now, both bell pepper plants, as well as the jalepeno plant in the container, boast beautiful peppers. I feel hopeful this time. But I know making my optimism public guarantees that I'll get home tonight to find all of the peppers either eaten or missing. I dare the squirrels to mess with the jalepeno peppers. They might just get what they deserve after all!


Herbs: Yes, growing herbs is definitely my strength. I adore my crazy little overgrown herb garden. I cook with fresh herbs every single day. DC Readers: you are welcome to come over at any time and pick as many herbs as you'd like. I'd love to share.


Hanging baskets: I took down the lanterns (pictured in a previous post) and opted for hanging baskets during the summer. I love, love, LOVE them. I get excited when I gaze out the kitchen window or door and see baskets of flowers. And the squirrels and birds haven't bothered them yet (again, I hope that I'm not jinxing myself).


Deck furniture: I mentioned in a recent post that Brad and I eat every meal outside now. I found this great little dining set at Lowe's for a ridiculously cheap price. It's cute and it fits in the small space perfectly! And the table even has a little shelf underneath, perfect for a plant (which you can see that I took advantage of)! I hope to sew seat cushions for the chairs eventually.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

operation tomato: failed

I've been in denial for weeks now, but I can't ignore the truth any longer. After two tomato plants (one cherry, one heirloom), at least eight uprootings from squirrels, numerous replantings, use of Critter Ridder, red pepper flakes, and everything else under the sun to control pests and birds with hungry appetites, a very rainy spring, and three weeks of drought in July, I have completely failed to grow tomatoes this year. I surrender. The squirrels, birds, and elements have won this battle, but rest assured that I vow to win the war.

Despite The Slow Cook's claims that tomatoes grow easily and anywhere, I have failed miserably. I invite The Slow Cook to come on over to my yard and give it a try.

Once the tomato plants finally took root after being dug up over and over again by squirrels, my hope began to build as they grew and blossomed. The cherry tomato plant bore fruit quickly, at first the size of a skittle, and then eventually reaching the size of a large blueberry. Although the tiny tomatoes were still green, I noticed them disappearing rapidly, before they ripened or grew to full size. I caught a squirrel with one clutched between his greedy little paws, gulping it whole when, like a madwoman, I went for his bushy little tail. So that's what happened to the cherry tomatoes. Then one day recently, the plant just up and died. Enough was enough. It quit.

The heirloom plant looked healthy at first, covered in blossoms that I anxiously awaited to turn into fruit. But the blossoms started to disappear, snipped clean from the stem. And then I noticed the influx of birds swooping into our yard regularly and the thieves' identities became apparent to me. While this plant is still alive, it currently has no blossoms or fruit. I think that it's dying a slow and painful death.

I'm almost embarrassed to post pictures of this disaster. Ignore the pepper plants and chives in the background (more on those later). The cherry tomato plant is on the left... you can barely see it... look for the dead brown twig with a few straggling skittle-size tomatoes. The barren heirloom plant is on the right.


A closer picture of the cherry tomato plant:


Oh well, there's always next year. I will definitely give tomato farming another shot.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

my summer scent


I smell lovely these days. My signature scent has taken a backseat to more practical needs this summer. Because the mosquitoes in our backyard are every bit as aggressive as the squirrels, I spray insect repellent liberally the minute I step onto our deck, no matter the time of day or my purpose for venturing outside. Even running out to the herb garden for a few minutes to harvest some tasty morsels for dinner usually results in at least two or three new welts if I fail to take precautionary measures.

Between the two of us, Brad and I have emptied three large cans of OFF! so far this summer. In the over six years that I lived at our old apartment, I only used half of one can. We never experienced mosquito problems on the rooftop deck. It may have been too high in the air for them.

Now that we have a table and chairs on our deck, we eat almost every single meal out there, which means that we smell like OFF! all day and night. I am pleasantly surprised, though, by how much better it smells than it used to. Or maybe I've just become more accustomed to it this summer.

Monday, July 27, 2009

highlights of staycation

I enjoyed a staycation last week, and am happy to report the following accomplishments and activities:
  • I finished four, yes FOUR, painting projects at home. I spackled and touched up paint in the dining room, staircase walls and upstairs hallway, and the banister. I painted the risers on the stairs leading to the second floor and the adjoining trim (what a pain... so thankful to mark that task off of the list).
  • I ran 10 miles one morning in the heat, my longest run since the marathon, and overall I ran 27 miles over four days.
  • I chose and ordered a leather storage ottoman for the living room.
  • I sold our faded red couch and chair and received our new living room furniture. And we had a glass storm door installed in the front to allow more light into the living room when we're home. Hooray! I will post pictures as soon as I can find one more piece of furniture for the living room.
  • I cleaned, gardened, and cooked.
  • I took a friend to Proof for lunch to celebrate her birthday. Fun restaurant!
  • I read the entire Twilight Saga for the second time (well, I'm almost finished with book four again). Once wasn't enough for me; my addiction still runs strong and I find myself savoring the books more the second time around. I told Brad that when we take a vacation to the Pacific Northwest someday, we WILL visit Forks! (He rolled his eyes...)
  • I ventured to the pool one day, but only enjoyed 30 minutes of relaxation until the skies opened up and it stormed the rest of the day.
The only major project that I didn't get to was to practice sewing and to finish the accent pillows that I am making for our bed. I inherited a sewing machine (circa 1983) from Mama Millie, and my mom taught me how to use it when she visited in June. I am practicing the basics by making pillows, but I hope to be able to make my own draperies soon. I really abhor the living and dining room curtains that the former owners left for us, although for privacy reasons, I'm thankful to not have naked windows on the first floor.

While I do enjoy traveling, I really appreciate and love my increasingly more regular staycations. In fact, I think that I could use another one, very soon.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

daily practices

I am such a creature of habit, which I find both a good and a bad thing. Once I adopt a routine, you can be certain that I will stick with it. I don't quit anything easily, even when it's in my best interest to do so. I can count on one hand the number of books that I have started reading, but not finished. No matter how much I hate a book, I will almost always finish it, naively believing that it will get better. Despite my perpetual optimism, I usually end up disappointed with the book, and frustrated that I've wasted my time, but I can't seem to kick this habit.

Over the years, I've adopted a few daily practices that have become as routine for me as brushing and flossing my teeth before bedtime. One of my favorite practices, which began over 20 years ago, involves recounting each day's noteworthy items on a weekly calendar. It's not a diary, per se, although depending on the day and the level of drama associated with it, it could certainly be construed as a diary at times. I simply log the tasks, events, or emotions that stand out each day. Some days, it's simply a laundry list of my activities. On other days, I share my joy or sadness regarding a particular accomplishment, epiphany, or event. There are no rules for the content.

I prefer the soft, spiral-bound weekly calendars with a picture on one page and the seven days of the week on the facing page. This format includes limited space for journaling, but just enough room for the highlights. More in-depth stories that I'd like to remember were archived in diaries when I was younger, but are now usually posted on this blog. This task takes no more than two minutes each night before bed.

While you may think that many days are mundane, and there's not much worth remembering, I beg to differ. To use an old cliche, don't fail to see the forest for the trees. I live many more boring days than I'd like, where I do nothing but work, run errands, perform chores at home, and read (especially since I'm teetering on the edge of becoming a recluse). But the sheer delight of this 20-year-practice is to see the change and growth that has occurred over time. Although I don't do it as much as I used to, I take joy in skimming through my records of past years. Reliving and reflecting on one's good and bad decisions builds character. Sometimes revisiting the sad times helps me to see the growth that has occurred since then, and to better understand the myriad ways that prayers are answered. And the good times, well, who doesn't want to relive those occasionally?

Of course, these records are for my eyes only. How embarrassing if anyone else ever read them!

What practices do you engage in on a daily basis? Please share!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

summer fresh

In honor of summer, I thought that I'd share one of my favorite recipes. It's perfect for those of you with an overgrown herb garden, like me. I can't take credit for inventing this recipe though. Kudos to my friend and former co-worker, Amy H., who has generously shared so many of her wonderful recipes with me. She should seriously consider publishing her own cookbook!

Pasta and Chicken in Hot Oil

Ingredients:
Olive oil
LOTS of fresh basil (slivered), oregano (whole leaves pulled from the stem), and parsley (whole leaves pulled from the stem) (Note: you need FRESH herbs for best results...)
Minced garlic (4-6 cloves)
1 package cherry tomatoes, cut in half
Freshly grated parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste
3 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 box of penne or the pasta of your choice

Directions:

In 1/3 cup of olive oil, saute the garlic lightly. Add the cherry tomatoes, fresh herbs, and salt and pepper to taste. Warm it up, but don't let the mixture really cook. It's best to warm the mixture first so that the herbs and garlic infuse the oil with their flavors while you prepare the rest of the meal. You can warm up the mixture again right before you pour it over the chicken and pasta.

Cook pasta of your choice according to the package directions.

Saute the chicken in a little butter and olive oil until cooked. After draining the pasta, put the chicken on top of it and pour the olive oil mixture over the chicken and pasta. Toss and serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Monday, July 20, 2009

one book meme

Note: Stolen from The Bluestocking Society.

One book you’re currently reading:
Hamlet by William Shakespeare

One book that changed your life:
The Bible

One book you’d want on a deserted island:
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

One book you’ve read more than once:
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

One book you’ve never been able to finish:
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

One book that made you laugh:
Tabloid Love: Looking for Mr. Right in all the Wrong Places by Brigette Harrison

One book that made you cry:
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (book 7)

One book you keep rereading:
Charlotte's Web by E. B. White

One book you’ve been meaning to read:
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

One book you believe everyone should read:
The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Grab the nearest book. Open it to page 56. Share the 5th sentence.
"She had never sent for him before." The Awakening by Kate Chopin

The fun part of this survey is that I could fill it out again and again with different books every single time. Consider yourself tagged if you are reading this. I'd love to get a glimpse of your literary tastes.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

a runner's rite of passage

Although he already declared his retirement from marathon running, Brad leaped into the serious runner category two days ago: he lost his first toenail on Tuesday night.

Before I go on, please know that losing a toenail from running is NOT painful and it is a common occurrence for people who run long distances. It sounds much worse than it really is (from what I know from others). My friend and running inspiration, Susannah, first introduced me to this phenomenon years ago. I've known many people who have lost toenails from running only half marathons. So after completing two marathons, I wonder why I haven't had this experience yet.

Brad and I both developed a couple of funky toenails during marathon training, but while one of his continued to loosen after the race, and finally fell off two days ago, my nails are still firmly attached.

I must not be pushing myself hard enough.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

on being a hermit

After years of denial, events of this summer have forced me to finally acknowledge the end of one phase of life and the beginning of a new one. Gone are the days of flitting around as a social butterfly and acting as everyone else's social coordinator. I have officially evolved into somewhat of a hermit, sometimes a cantankerous one.

I mostly blame Brad for my transformation. He can be a bit of a curmudgeon when forced to attend social outings that hold no interest for him, and unlike me, he's never been concerned with his social calendar. As long as I've known him, Brad has preferred to stay in rather than go out on most occasions and I'm afraid that his attitude has finally rubbed off on me.

During high school, college, and my early 20s, I delighted in making sure that my friends and I were always well entertained. I was the one who volunteered to go to Lake Michigan's front at noon on July 3rd to camp out all day in the heat and reserve a large space for my friends and I to enjoy the Taste of Chicago's amazing fireworks display that night. Before the Internet's birth, I began the round of phone calls on Tuesday nights each week to coordinate schedules and plan our Friday and Saturday night excursions. My roommate in Chicago and I hosted numerous parties and dinners during our two years living there. I can't recall many, if any, Friday or Saturday nights during those years when I sat at home with nothing to do. Believe me, at that time I would have been devastated to face such a predicament.

I've gradually let go of a few social commitments over the last ten years as my priorities and activities have changed, but this summer has really shown me that I am not only in danger of becoming a hermit, I fear that I've fallen in love with my reclusive lifestyle and may never turn back!

This summer has been the most low-key season of my entire life. My Thursday evenings are free because I teach only during the fall and spring semesters. Our church small group has taken a summer hiatus, thus freeing up every other Tuesday night. Our co-ed softball team folded, which provides Brad and me an average of two free evenings each week as well as an occasional Saturday. Brad and I only have one wedding to attend this year. We've already taken our brief vacation. Marathon training is finished, and I don't have any other big projects on my plate, such as writing a dissertation. Although the house projects seem to never end, my Twilight obsession taught me that it's okay to prioritize reading time over my to-do list sometimes. Life still went on even though the house was dusty, the menu simple, and the ugly curtains still dominating the living room! I've only had one week this summer of social commitments every single night, and while I enjoyed seeing different groups of friends each night, it darn near killed me. I will not overschedule myself like that again.

Sadly, I find myself even avoiding summer events that have somewhat become traditions, just because I'd prefer to go straight home after work and not leave the house.

We've had a fair amount of company this summer, but even those social obligations have been subject to restrictions. I only promise gracious hospitality to overnight guests for a maximum of three nights. No open-ended stays are allowed at Hotel Blondie. I need to know when you're leaving. I find myself scheduling dinner parties and BBQs earlier in the evening than I used to, in hopes that guests will leave at a decent hour so that I can retire at my desired bedtime. If this behavior continues, before I know it I'll adopt my friend's husband's practice and just start distributing coats and purses unsolicited when I'm ready for people to leave. I do admire his courage!

I have two things this summer that I've never had before: a relatively open schedule and time on my hands.

I think that I am in love.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

can you say Judy Blume???

I just discovered the list of authors slated to attend this year's National Book Festival on September 26th and I am most excited to see Judy Blume's name! The Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret author made such an impression on me as an adolescent. My book club even read that coming-of-age tale only a few years ago so that we could laugh about our own puberty-related stories (yes, it's easy to laugh now, 20 years later) and share our admiration for Judy's influence on our lives during those rocky years.

A number of other authors that my book club has read are scheduled to attend:
  • Julia Alvarez, In the Time of the Butterflies
  • Jodi Picoult, My Sister's Keeper
  • Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle
  • David Wroblewski, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
  • Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran
And there are many more big names on the list! Check it out, and I hope to see you there!

Monday, July 13, 2009

silky smooth

What is it about hair, either in abundance or dearth, that inspires humility?

Whether you fight a constant battle with a receding hairline or you should buy stock in the latest waxing products, or both, I suspect that most people have hair issues at some point in life.

Consider my trip to the salon last week. I decided that it was time for my semi-regular eyebrow and lip waxing appointment. As a very fair-skinned blonde, I consider myself lucky that I don't have to wax my face as regularly as many of my brunette friends do. Although my minimal facial hair is very light in color, I still fear looking or feeling fuzzy, so I prioritize professional removal every few months and then I meticulously maintain my facial landscape by plucking, trimming, and tweezing in between appointments. Let me assure you that I am diligent about this maintenance. And, even if I slacked off in my personal grooming habits, I know that Brad would be the first to tell me the minute I sprouted anything close to a 'stache.

Imagine my shock and horror when the waxer attacked my entire face. TWICE. It was as if my face had sprouted a forest and he deemed it his personal responsibility to remove every single sign of growth. I don't understand how I have eyebrows left at all. He slapped piping hot wax in huge quantities all over my face. Although I asked him to focus only on my eyebrows and upper lip, he slathered wax around my entire mouth and spread it out towards my cheeks, where hair is nonexistent. TWICE. And then he went to town with a tiny set of tweezers after he nearly waxed me to death. He plucked every little hair that he could find. Although this procedure normally takes less than five minutes, this man spent at least 20 minutes working on my face.

Perhaps this man is a new employee and I was his very first waxing appointment. Or maybe my facial hair really was that bad.

I didn't know whether to feel insulted (I KNOW that I did not have anything close to a moustache) or grateful (he DID work so hard on me and used twice as much wax as he should have).

I erred on the side of feeling grateful. I gave him a larger-than-normal tip and left the salon enamored with the feel of my silky smooth face. Maybe I won't wait so long until my next appointment.

Friday, July 10, 2009

books win every single time

Gentle readers, I must query you:

Have you ever read a book, then watched the movie (or vice versa) and preferred the movie more than the book?

If so, please comment and tell me which book you liked better as a movie.

You see, movies have never done it for me. And I don't think that they ever will. Growing up in the middle of nowhere fostered my overactive imagination and movies simply never live up to the visions that live in my head while I read.

Because I know my own biases, I didn't expect to like the movie Twilight more than the books. But I feel too kind when I say that this movie is an absolute disgrace to Stephenie Meyer's creation. The actress that plays Bella is cold, awkward, uptight, and not very likable, completely unlike the Bella in the book. And some of my favorite lines and scenes from the book are either nonexistent or completely taken out of context so that they don't make sense in the movie. Viewers are also not privy to as many thoughts and feelings in the movie, so the relationship between Edward and Bella seems forced and very random. Sadly, the romance is completely missing.

Sigh. On second thought, I may stay at home in November when the second movie comes out. My time would be better spent rereading book two instead of watching it on screen.

I will say that Robert Pattinson is kind of a cutie:).

Bottom line: Please do not let the Twilight movie turn you off from the books. I promise that the books are worth your time, so much so that I may read the series again as soon as I can slog through Cokie's book.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

and the daisies will rise again

After a gruesome beheading by pesky critters only days after planting, one lone Gerber daisy has fought back and bloomed again.

This resurrection has taken months. And thus far, only one Gerber plant is brave enough to blossom again, but I have faith that with my diligent watch and care, the others will soon follow suit.

The red spots on the leaves in the picture are red pepper flakes that I have scattered EVERYWHERE to try to deter the squirrels. I monitor the situation day and night. While I still chase the nasty creatures from the yard each time I enter it, thus far they've left the pretty yellow bloom alone.

They must be too busy gulping down my just-ripened cherry tomatoes whole to notice the flower.

I may not harvest enough ripe cherry tomatoes for a salad this year, but I'm determined to keep this bloom intact and beautiful.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

the best of the best

Because:
1. I love books, and
2. I also love lists...

... I am always a sucker for any type of best books list. Newsweek recently analyzed ten top books lists to create their own top 100 books of all time, a meta-list of sorts.

I was particularly pleased to see that Charlotte's Web by E. B. White made the cut. That book made such an impression on me as a child that I have read it over and over throughout my life. To this day, I can recite the last paragraph of the book from memory. I bawled from the first message in the spider's web ("some pig") through the end of the movie when it came out two years ago. I'm thrilled to see that others recognize the book's greatness.

I am happy to at least recognize most of these titles, although sadly, I've read few of them. What do you think of Newsweek's picks?

Monday, July 6, 2009

book finishing blues

I finished all of the books in the Twilight Saga last week, and I've been in mourning ever since.

I'm fighting the inevitable post-book blues not because I hated the ending, or the last book disappointed me. On the contrary, I am very satisfied with the saga's conclusion, I believe that book four was one of the best of the series, and I love love LOVE the characters even more now than I ever did. I just feel so sad that the tale is over. I raced furiously to the finish... pulling some near all-nighters in the process... I couldn't help myself. But now that the story is over, I, as Stephenie Meyer would say, still thirst for more.

Reading has always been such a glorious escape for me. I grew up in such a rural area, only able to access two channels consistently on television (CBS and NBC) until I moved to college and discovered cable (but by then it was too late for me to develop any real TV habits), and as soon as I learned to read, books became my most favorite pastime. I carry them everywhere with me. I'm rarely caught without my current book in my purse, just in case I have a few extra minutes before a meeting or while waiting at the dentist's office. The Twilight Saga really brought out the worst in my reading habits. I barely spoke to Brad. I flew home each day to throw dinner together quickly so that I could have more reading time that evening. I blew off social engagements and did the bare minimum around the house. I became so addicted to the story, simply needing to know what happened next that I began reading a few paragraphs at each red light on my commute to and from work each day. Amazingly, I only was honked at twice because I missed the light change!

Now that I've finished the series, I plan to rent the first movie ASAP. And my calendar is already marked for the November 20th release of the second movie, New Moon. I can only imagine Brad's enthusiasm when I drag him to the theater in November. I'd better start preparing him now for a theater full of lovestruck teenage girls... and us. Today, I plan to download and read Midnight Sun, which is the unfinished and unpublished version of Twilight told from Edward's perspective. This novel was leaked on the Internet last summer before it was finished, and because of that, Stephenie Meyer decided not to finish or publish it, but to share with her fans what she had written thus far.

I pity people who don't enjoy reading. It pains me to think of all that they miss out on. Granted, I acknowledge that the world of vampires and werewolves and small towns and first love and eternity is not for everyone. But I do believe that everyone could find real pleasure with the right book, if they would only read enough to determine their literary tastes.

Most fiction authors that I've heard speak at the National Book Festival tell of the mourning period that occurs after they finish writing a book. The authors live with the characters' voices inside their heads for so long that they become real people in their minds. With books that really get under my skin, I feel a similar loss as a reader. Knowing my own despondence, I can only imagine what authors go through.

After the fantasy that I've lived in for the last two weeks, I am now struggling to read my book club's July selection. While Twilight was like drinking five cups of coffee before bedtime each night, Founding Mothers is like overdosing on Tylenol PM. It knocks me out within minutes of picking it up. I mean no offense to Cokie Roberts. I know that her book is good for me and one that, as an American and a woman, I should read. Had I not gotten sucked into the Twilight craze, I would probably enjoy reading her book much more than I do. But if given the choice, I'd much rather still be living in the magical world of vampires.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

goal update

Now that 2009 is half over, in an effort to hold myself accountable, here is a progress report on my goals for the year:

Running goal: 720 miles
As of 6/30/09: 450.9 miles
Assessment: I'm almost 100 miles ahead of where I should be at this point! Running a marathon helped. I need to sign up for another race later this year to help me fight the temptation to be lazy when the alarm sounds at 5 a.m. some mornings. These five-mile runs before work seem much more difficult than the 26.2 miles that I ran a month ago! As I've said before, running is such a mental challenge.

Reading goal: 26 books
As of 6/30/09: Only 10 books finished. And that includes the first three Twilight books that have consumed me just in the last week or two.
Assessment: Ugh. Running, moving, and settling into the new house have trumped my reading time during the first six months of 2009. But I hope to cozy up with many more books in the next six months. I may prioritize reading the shorter selections on my wish list first to boost my numbers. You don't think that's cheating, do you?