Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Sunday Afternoon of the Year

Photo by Mary Liz Austin of Vashon. I don't know her, but I sure like this picture of a summer sunset from the island.
We’re coasting into late summer. I figure that after the Strawberry Festival, there are a few weeks left of wearing shorts and tank tops and going to the beach, but you might as well acknowledge that fall is coming.
Not this year, maybe. Between El Nino and Climate Change it seems that the climate of Central California has moved here. I can’t decide if it makes me less or more homesick for California, “the Golden State,” as it calls itself. It was only after I lived here a few years and went back to visit the state of my birth that I realized that all that gold was grass that hadn’t had any water lately.
Now California is the “Parched as Beef Jerky State.”(Motto: “When we get dehydrated, we elect Jerry Brown.”) I’ll be going down there in September for my 50-year high school reunion, so I’ll get to see their drought up close then.
I hear that we are suffering from a drought here in Washington, also. I reckon it’s true because I had to start watering my yard in early May, and have had to keep it up every other day or so all summer. For most of the years I have lived here I didn’t have to water the garden until sometime in July. This having to water for months instead of weeks has me thinking of planting truly drought-tolerant plants, as in, if I don’t water for five days, they’ll still be alive. I’m open to suggestions for possible plants.
In France, I’ve heard, everyone goes on vacation for the month of August. I always thought everybody saying to heck with work for a month was a great idea. It has never caught on in this country, and would be a tough sell – God forbid any American should find something preferable to WORK – but August is a popular month for our vacations, as well. The kids have all been to camp and had their swimming lessons and there is a lull before everyone gears up in September for going back to school or away to college or simply concentrating more on the job because summer is over. We fill this slack time with vacations, or we stay home to paint the house or some other chore we think we can do in our vacation time because we are workaholic boneheads.
August is like a month long Sunday afternoon, rather drowsy and directionless if left to itself. You could read, or take a nap, or take a nice drive somewhere in your solar oven/crossover SUV, go camping or hiking, or visit Disneyland or some other entertainment mecca if you’re the kind who likes or needs to be entertained, or (sigh) you could paint the house or do repairs or mend all the old jeans or otherwise be virtuous and productive.
Americans like to be virtuous and productive, most of them. I consider it a shortcoming in the national character. I think if you get time off and spend it working you have missed the point.
Although, if you’re having fun doing the work, I suppose that’s not so bad. I am enjoying cleaning paper clutter out of my house, for example.
My idea of a great August is swimming, napping, and sitting around a fire (real or electronic – c’mon, you know I’m not the “I never watch TV” type) in the evening, then tucking into the nice clean line-dried sheets of my own bed and reading a romance or mystery novel. Ah.
I did not reference mosquitoes in that paragraph because they are pests that infringe upon the romantic dream, nor do I mention that those line-dried sheets had to be laundered and hung up by yours truly. Laundry and mosquitoes, both tedious and persistent in August. Hey, nothing’s perfect.
I hope you are enjoying this slightly imperfect August. I hope you get to be a little lazy, and feel guilt-free if you’re doing absolutely nothing. I hope you smile, and relax, and feel how much you are loved and how important you are to this imperfect world, and how wonderful it is to be living your imperfect life. Take it easy, because if August is the Sunday afternoon of the year, September is the Monday morning, and we don’t need to be in a hurry to get there, do we?
I thought not. Peace, you all, and resist that urge to do something useful.

Even Smart Alecks Need Days Off

 Photo by Laurie Shepherd Heath
Folks, it pains me to rerun an old column, but your smart aleck has been ill this week, and my brain has put up a “closed” sign. While out watering my nasturtiums and hollyhocks today I felt a bug on my arm, and it was an earwig. It reminded me of this column. So, from 2013, I bring you:

The Icebugs of Grylloblattaria
This has been the most beautiful summer I remember in years. Day after sunny day dawns, and we put on our shorts and tank tops and sandals, those of us not restricted by bothersome things like jobs, and go out to meet the delirious, delicious summer day.
We water our gardens, we admire the blooms of our flowers, we revel in the sweet juiciness of our homegrown fruits and vegetables. I have five tomatoes on my single tomato plant, and if the weather holds, they may have time to turn red. Meanwhile I love to touch the leaves and smell the tart muskiness of tomato plant, a scent that says “summer” to me.
The sun discourages, but does not stop, the slugs. I got some of that “safe” slug bait and while it may kill slugs, and I’m not saying I have any proof of that, it is apparently a tasty treat for mice.
Our son told me that every time he went out on the kitchen porch, he heard the scurrying of little feet and saw mice bailing out of the slug bait container and running away. I never saw these mice, but a quick check of the slug bait stash revealed a liberal sprinkling of mouse turds among the few remaining pellets.
Rather than trying to trap and kill the mice, I figured that when the slug bait was gone, the mice would forage elsewhere. Let the problem resolve itself, I thought.
NOTE: this benign neglect method may work with mice, but I have been informed it does not work with raising children. Little tip for you young parents (although nothing you do or do not do will forestall the day 10 or 20 years from now when your adult children will tell you the mistakes you made as a parent), be of good heart. Taking the blame for everything is a little service that parents provide for their adult children.
Where was I?
Another feature of this long hot summer is that the spiders are spinning early. Usually I don’t run into spider webs until August, but this morning I had to clear a web before I could walk out the kitchen door. I can only imagine the size and extent of the webs we’ll have in September.
The mosquitoes have been numerous and hungry this year. Eh, that’s usual here on the edge of the woods.
Speaking of hungry creatures, the deer have stripped the leaves and buds off of my roses three times this year. I don’t begrudge the deer their need to eat. I only wish they wouldn’t eat my roses, then wait long enough for the plants to recover and begin putting out buds before stripping them nekkid again. It’s the repetitive dashing of hope that gets me down.
Lastly I mention earwigs. Earwigs comprise the insect order Dermaptera, according to Wikipedia, which also says, “Many orders of insect have been theorized to be closely related to earwigs, though the icebugs of Grylloblattaria are most likely.”
The icebugs of Grylloblattaria!* Isn’t that glorious? Doesn’t that sound like a science fiction novel?
Earwigs like to inhabit crevices. We all know this from experience. Quite often earwigs will inhabit crevices in flowers I bring in from the garden and a few hours or days later I find earwigs crawling across the kitchen table, or the kitchen counter, or the living room rug. I have an irrational dislike of earwigs, and will usually crush them without hesitation or compunction. They give me the creeps.
So it was extremely creepy when I opened up my bedside CPAP machine the other night and found an earwig inside. Ugh. I walked it into the bathroom and sent it for a quick swim in the bathroom sink. Beats me how or why it got into my machine. The darn thing simply showed up. I guess that’s why I don’t like them – they’re always sneaking up on me. Give me the oogly-wooglies.
Even the most wonderful summer is bound to have some down sides, but all these critters aren’t stopping me from enjoying this summer. Hope you are enjoying your summer, critters and all.

*”Grylloblattidae is a family of extremophile and wingless insects that live in the cold on top of mountains.” – Wikipedia. Now you know.

The Rotten Part of Life

Everyone understands the importance of cleaning out the refrigerator on a regular basis. Granted, sometimes the motivation is a certain something in the air that turns out to be leftovers from three weeks ago.
Yesterday I cleaned out the condiments and containers in the refrigerator door. They’ve been in there a long time. That jar of pickle relish? I don’t eat pickle relish. Rick loved it on sandwiches. He’s been gone for a year and a half. This is both a math and a logic problem.
I pulled out a couple of virtually empty mustard jars, some highly suspect yogurt – it made a little “pfff” sound when I opened it – a container of apple juice which I remember bringing home a year ago, and other interesting archaeological finds.
I’m not sure if Worcestershire Sauce has an expiry date. That’s the trouble with condiments in general. Let’s see – barbecue sauce, salsa, soy sauce, blackberry pancake syrup? If it’s not growing mold, is it okay? If it’s the kind of thing that tastes a little expired when it’s fresh and new, how do you determine if it’s spoiled?
Maple syrup: I keep it in the fridge because if it is not chilled, it starts to ferment. It stays.
In the vegetable drawer, the appearance of the food can be the deciding factor. I am aware of the sensible advice that a little brown on your lettuce leaves won’t hurt you, but when the leaves have gone all the way to black and the texture has become slimy, I return lettuce to the wild.
I take aging vegetables and other moldy or slimy carbohydrates to the compost heap, where the raccoons and other scavengers trundle up from the ravine to browse. 
Now, this is not an upper middle class tragically hip compost heap. This is a circle of wire that mostly keeps the dog out and the compostable garbage in, and that's all. It's not a plastic drum that can be rotated and fussed over. Nope. This is simply a place to toss expired food. I even sometimes throw in cooking grease, gasp. The compost predators never complain.
An awful lot of expired food has gone in that heap over the years, and most of it didn’t stay there for long. When I go out every day or two to toss the compost bowl from my kitchen, all that is visible in the heap is a lot of coffee grounds and filters, plus a few things like melon rinds and corn cobs and shucks. And clam shells. FYI, clam shells do not compost, at least not within your lifetime. I would like to think I wasn't the one who threw them into the compost, but I might have.
Despite the paucity of actual vegetable matter that stays in the heap, I know that if I removed the fence and dug in, I would find a huge writhing mass of worms doing what comes naturally, and around, under, and beyond them, lovely black compost. I know this because I’ve dug in a few times. I like to throw a few shovels of compost into the hole when I plant a rose, for example, to get the plant off to a good start. Don’t want the deer eating inferior roses.
What I noticed a few years ago was that the compost was leaking out the fencing at the bottom of the heap. It radiated out in a circle. I also noticed that plants near the heap benefited from that creeping black soil. They were flourishing.
Then I heard about keyhole gardens. A keyhole garden is a circle with a compost heap in the middle, and a little path from the edge of the circle to the compost heap so that adding compost is easy. This central compost heap has wire fencing, like my compost heap, and the compost leaks out the bottom, same as my compost heap, but in a keyhole garden the compost is going directly into your garden soil, so you’re enriching your soil with compost from below while growing things in the garden on top.
I have seen keyhole gardens with walls built out of stone, and cinder blocks, and empty bottles, whatever is on hand to build a wall.
I’ve wanted one ever since I saw keyhole gardens online, but have never got around to making one. I don’t have enough stones, cinder blocks, or bottles.
I suppose I could start drinking.
Just kidding.
It would be great to have one of those gardens. I’d feel so righteous every time I emptied the compost bowl, or cleaned out the refrigerator and fed the compost heap.
Nice to participate in this upside to rot. Go, worms! Go, bacteria!
Ah, the circle of life.