Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Last summer I had grand plans for a garden. I was going to buy four by fours and build a raised garden. I would rotate crops and have so much produce that I wouldn't know what to do with it and would share my bounty with the women at work, who would gaze enviously upon my three foot zucchinis.

That never happened.

(besides, no one is ever envious of a three-foot zucchini. Usually it's more like "oh God, not ANOTHER zucchini")

 I did manage to get two tomato plants into the ground, and while they were abundant producers, they were not exactly the Hanging Gardens of Babylon I had envisioned. Then Hurricane Irene hit, and the saltwater sprayed on them from the James River pretty much put an end to 2011's garden. The hurricane also knocked off every dead and deadish limb off the trees in the yard, which we dealt with in a perfunctory manner by having a huge bonfire. The bonfire, in turn, resulted in a six foot burn hole in the yard. This is where part of this year's garden is.

 It started off when Jeff bought a pack of pea seeds and, in the best tradition of kindergarteners, stuck them in the ground. No preparation, just blind faith they would grow. I was skeptical, then one day I came home from work and tiny little green shoots were poking out of the ground. I strung up some branches and twine so they would have something to grow on, and thinned them out a little. Fearing bunnies, I bought some chicken wire and built a "pea pen." Then I went to the farmer's market and accidentally bought fourteen tomato plants. Jeff's mom brought over zucchini, patty pan squash, and cucumber seedlings. I found some basil and dill seeds at the grocery store marked down fifty percent. And so forth. Everything is in the ground and is coming up gangbusters, especially the peas, which are delicious right off the vine. The zucchini and patty pan squash, which looked especially shell shocked right after they were transplanted, are going crazy. And I haven't had to buy lettuce for salads or sandwiches for a couple weeks (sorry, did I forget to mention I also planted crinkle leaf lettuce and romaine lettuce?).

The tomatoes are my favourite though. In addition to another two Better Bush plants, which are the same crazy producers from last year, I have two Beefsteak tomatoes and six Roma tomatoes. I had to give the other four plants away to the neighbor though...who had room for fourteen tomato plants anyway? Not everything is in the pea pen, some things are planted along the side of the house, but they are all green and happy. The tomatoes were a little unsure at first, but last Saturday I noticed that they were starting to get the point where they needed caging. One of them even has a blossom on it already! I used my two cages from last year, and I also borrowed another six cages from my neighbor. They were stacked behind her shed, which backs onto our property, so I had to dig my way through some foliage and knock off some pine straw to get at them. Even though they are rusted, they are working though, and I'm so excited about the prospect of fresh and canned tomatoes this year.

There is something about planting things you plan to eat. A leap of faith. I've been paying a lot more attention to the weather. Deciding whether to tempt fate by buying a pressure canner now or waiting until I have something to can under pressure. Debating whether or not to snare and eat the rabbits that have suddenly appeared in our yard--the pea pen is holding, although I've noticed the top of the chicken wire is bending, possibly deer? And of course, deciding what to eat for dinner is out of your hands. Throwing away produce from the store is annoying, but watching something you've been cultivating start to rot is frustrating beyond belief.

 Of course, not everything about growing things is fun and games. It's already getting hot here in Virginia. And those tomato cages I dug out from behind the shed? Turns out there's poison ivy back there. Yeah, I got a few little spots on my arm and my leg. Nothing major, but it's definitely itchy and burny. Now I get to experience the not so fun side of gardening, when you have to go in and Round Up a plant out of existence. But, at least the tomatoes are safely staked, it's rained all day so I don't have to water, and I'm confident that we're in for a bountiful harvest.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Not posting

I know I haven't been posting recently. I've been depressed again. Not really sure how to go about getting it fixed this time. But everything I do seems too banal to write about, so I haven't been updating.

I did get to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in January with a couple of friends, and that was a highlight. So here is a picture of Alison and me on our first day, being crazy stupid thrilled to be in Hogsmeade.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Riding the Tide

The Tide in all its glory

Last Saturday Jeff and I had a totally frivolous day. Hampton Roads recently spent $338 million dollars on a brand new light rail, a commuter train to help alleviate some of the crazy car traffic. It came under a lot of flak because it was two years overdue and cost about double what it was originally supposed to, but now that it's up and running, the ridership is already twice what was projected. I love trains, I love mass-transit...it's so convenient not having to worry about parking your car, being able to read or eat or put on makeup or tweeze your eyebrows while you're driving. Yeah, sure, there's never a bus coming for twenty minutes and then there's three, but overall, I'm very pro mass transit. Right now the Tide, as the train in Norfolk is lovingly called, only has about ten miles of track, but there's already talk about extending it down to Virginia Beach...I hope they do. As nice as it is not to have to pay for parking in downtown Norfolk, it would be REALLY nice not to have to park a car in Virginia Beach.

So, I wanted to support the Tide. First, we had to drive for an hour. Then we parked (for free), bought our tickets from a machine (Jeff, who's a bit of a coin collector, was geeked out that the change came in dollar coins), and settled in for the ride. The Tide is brand spankin' new, shiny and clean. Cleaner even than the Waterloo line in London. The train is really only fifty feet long, with a bend in the middle to get around the curves...baby trains that remind one of caterpillars.

First we meandered through Norfolk suburbs, before sailing high over Norfolk State University. Then we gradually landed in downtown Norfolk itself, and disembarked near MacArthur Center. The Tide is small enough that it has to obey traffic signals and it even has an electronic trolley bell to warn pedestrians its near. Our tickets were also good for the ferry that goes across the Elizabeth River to Portsmouth, so we headed across for dinner at one of our favourite restaurants, the Biergarten. As the name suggests, it is a German restaurant, and yes, there is bier. 306 varieties at last check. Although we've had good meals there before, this time was a bit of a letdown. Too many kids in one warm room plus disappointing schwarzewälder kirschtorte made for a long meal. Still, bier. Also! I finally got to see inside a store called Skipjacks, which is nautical themed, with lots of antiques. If had several thousand dollars and several living rooms to decorate, I could have spent DAYS in that store. And they have a dog named Jack...I didn't ask, but I suspect that he may have been named after Jack Aubrey.

Here's a map in case you're getting confused. Click on it to make it bigger...we got on at Newtown Road and off at MacArthur Center. Not shown: the Bier Garten and Skipjacks, which is south of the Elizabeth River. It's important to be specific, because normally when you say "south of the river" you mean the James, which is where we live. There are a lot of rivers in Hampton Roads, hence the name "roads."

The weather was absolutely wonderful, warm and sunny, even when we were on the ferry, which is an adorable fake paddlewheel. Honestly, I would live in Portsmouth and work in Norfolk just so I could commute on the ferry every day. The best part about riding the Tide was not reliving the happy rides of time past, but of watching people who had never been on a train before enjoy it. You could see parents relaxing as they watched their kids frolic on the turntable bed in the train's floor...ladies of a certain age wearing hats, headed down to MacArthur Center for some shopping...a Navy guy in an Admiral's uniform (hockey, not dress blues) headed to a game. More than anything, this made me cheerful and happy too. I hope that everyone who was riding--especially people who ride every day--will see how great trains, buses and even ferries can be and then maybe we can saturate this country will mass-transit, like it is in Europe.

I'm definitely enjoying this whole not working in the evening thing...so far this week I've cooked dinner twice and reveled in dishes duty. Ah, domesticity! How I have missed thee.

Sunday, January 01, 2012


This is where the pretty pictures of a lovely Christmas at home are supposed to go, then a joke about how hard it is to update my blog when I'm typing on my new iPad (thank you so much, mom and dad!) and there's a beagle on my foot, but it's been a long couple of weeks. No, screw that, it's been a long couple of months.

Starting in August, I began working at the Busch Gardens costume shop, a local theme park. The job is more fun and less stressful than CW but those extra hours, combined with going home in September, continuing ghost storytelling tours and managing a Christmas program in December meant that I haven't worked less than 60 hours a week since then. The two weeks around Thanksgiving I worked so much that I doubled my paycheck from CW. The three remaining work days of the week afterwe got home from our Wisconsin Christmas I got six hours of sleep each night because I had to work at night.

Why am I saying these things? So all my loyal readers will understand exactly what I've been up against these past months and why I've neglected my blog. I know I'm supposed to feel grateful to have a job, much less three or four, depending on how you look at it, but I just can't do it any more. I twisted my shoulder in my sleep last month, and I'm convinced that overexertion due to my job contributed to it. I've gained 30 pounds in the past two years, but with limited time to eat right and exercise, my knees are starting to creak ominously. It's not that I am being whiny and saying I can't keep up this pace--clearly I can--but that I just can't physically or mentally do this anymore.

What the alternative is, I don't know. It seems like a good time to consider and calculate, since I have no evening jobs during the month of January. It's a new year, time to make a new start. I'd like to leave the dishes pile up because I'm busy writing, not because I'm working. I'd like to go see some movies, not just watch the trailers and miss the feature. And I really want to sit quietly by the window and read, with no other claims on my time. I've already made plans to go to Harry Potter world at Universal later this month...yay, a real vacation! Yet, I'm already living in dread of March, when hay making time comes again. I need to plan now to avoid that madness.

I hope everyone who reads this is happy and healthy and doing exactly what their hearts desire. I love you all and think about you all constantly, even if I don't call you and tell you enough. You are all so important to me...2012 is going to be good!

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Lo, for a thousand tongues to sing...

I finally managed to scratch enough time out of my schedule to join the choir at the Methodist church I've been attending. I was excited to join because they were singing a cantata for Christmas. Even if I couldn't be at every rehearsal, or every Sunday, at least I could sing the cantata. It's not Christmas without a cantata.

Except, this choir is unlike any one I've ever been in before. I like the choir members. Don't get me wrong. They are a fun group of people, and for once the men almost outnumber the women. But they are a very...democratic choir. Meaning, at any given moment, any one of them might be talking to their neighbors. Conferring about what page we're on. Where we are starting and who exactly is singing second soprano and did you remember that we're not turning pages until the solo is done? The choir director is the sweetest, meekest woman I've ever seen stand in front a choir, and has absolutely no inclination to interrupt anyone. She also directs using a kind of stabbing motion...anyone who's ever been in a music group knows how helpful downbeats can be, but they are cast aside here. In addition, the children's choir director (who's less talented in the directing department, but a more forceful personality than her adult choir counterpart) is apt to leap up and offer her two cents. Her cutoffs to held notes can take two or three beats. Enunciation, ending words with their proper consonants, matching vowels--oh, trying to blend a choir full of Southerners, a few Eastern Shore-ers and me, a Yankee surely must make angels wince--all these techniques are lost on these folks.

I truly despaired after the first rehearsal. The choir, enthusiastic as they are, seemed more interested in getting through the music at top volume while loudly complaining that the CD moved too quickly for them. Oh--did I mention we're singing to canned music? Yup. I get that it's a small church with few resources for musicians. But I would rather sing with a plain piano or organ than a CD. I honestly questioned whether this was a group I wanted to get involved with. Even the cantata seemed a little boring. Too much reliance on key changes for dramatic effect. I'm embarassed to admit that I thought I was "too good" for this choir. I've had the advantage of excellence musical training in my life, which, like the proverbial bicycle, comes back without a second's thought.

Yet, after that first rehearsal, as I was standing there metaphorically pulling my hair out at the fact that we had accomplished about an hour's worth of singing during a two-hour rehearsal, something happened. People came up to me, introduced themselves, and said they were glad to have me. When i went to the second rehearsal, people came up and again introduced themselves, and again said they were glad to have me. They encouraged me to pull out that high "E" at the end of the cantata "--if I could!" and seemed relieved and appreciative when I did. I practised good choir skills, sitting straight on the edge of my chair, working my breathing, and counting--counting--rest phrases, something I hadn't had to do at my old choir. I remembered John Wesley's covenant prayer...

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.

...and remembered sometimes we have to be put aside. Not our will, but God's. I thought about how instead of bitching about the choir, I could be a good example, showing up on time and practising good choir behavior. I like the people in the choir. They are truly the heart of the church, more enthusiastic and energetic than any other congregation I've been a part of. I want to sing! But also want to help the choir channel their enthusiasm into focused rehearsals. It would make everything run so much smoother. That's a tall order, I've only been a handful of times, but the more I go, the more I enjoy it.

If anyone is going to be around, we'll be singing Saturday and Sunday evening...

Saturday, November 05, 2011

It's curtains, sheee?

I am ashamed, loyal readers, to admit that until about, oh, three hours ago, we had no curtains in our bedroom. This wasn't a problem, since the house next to ours is set further back, so they were unable to see in our windows--a perk of living in the country. But now the house beyond that one has been renovated from a summer cottage into a year-round residence, and that one, loyal readers, is evenly set back from the river with ours. Giving those neighbors an unintentional front-row seat to our bedroom, and making curtains a priority.

Oh, sure, we covered up our windows, we're not heathens, after all...

Not shown: the English flag Nicki used during the 2006 World Cup, used for covering up the right window

...but somehow using a British flag seemed so...collegial.

(For educational purposes, must just point out that this flag is actually known as the King's Colours...we use this flag when we're reenacting. This flag was created just after the union of Scotland and England...St. David's cross, a red "X" was added later when the monarchy realised that they had Wales as well.)

So, curtains. I have been halfheartedly looking for something--anything--but the availability of curtains in my price range is depressingly limited. It's hard to pay $30 for some cheap polyester thing that I could make myself for half the price. I can sew, after all! But there again--I get distracted so easily. If I can't do a project in two hours, forget it. I think that's one of the reasons I'm not "crafty." I build things out of sheer desperate necessity, usually weeks after a deadline and only then if I can't buy it somewhere.

Today, after watching the neighbors enjoying their dock (the rockfish are running!), I finally decided to make some damme curtains already. I started by surfing around the internet...and quickly ran across this site. Using drop-cloths as curtains seemed right up my alley. However, I had a different set of criteria: first of all I wanted to spend no money. With the amount of fabric and notions we have floating around this house, there was no reason to go out and buy fabric. That included, secondly, a new curtain rod. There are several of the boring "cover up with anything that has a channel" variety of curtain rods out in the garage, and I was determined to use one to save money (see previous statement). Curtain clippies are nice, but they do require a curtain rod that is not ashamed to be seen. Thirdly, I had no drop cloths. And I have an inherent dislike of sewing projects that involve no actual sewing...in my humblest, most polite of opinions, if you're gonna be crafty, you're gonna have to put in a hem every now and then.

So, to start with. I had no drop cloths, but I have sheets. Lots and lots of random sheets. I pulled out a plain white one with a bit of satin edging at the fall and thought "great." Except this sheet didn't belong to me, and, while I was totally willing to slice it in half and hem it, I wasn't sure that Jeff's mom would appreciate it. Also, a curtain that opened to the side would mean revealing an ugly curtain rod. Roman shades perhaps? But, urgg, that would require measuring and sewing rings and being fiddly and perfect and that just seemed...like a lot of work.

In the end, what I ended up doing was this. I folded the top of the sheet down enough so that the fall of body reached the top of the window almost to the floor. Then I ran a straight seam using a basting stitch along the seamline that held the satin detail in place...one quick seam that can be ripped out easily. This created a channel that was 17 and 3/8" deep...hiding the ugly curtain rod.

Now what I had looked like this:

Not shown: piles of clean laundry that haven't been put away for three days.

Usually I get annoyed when chirpy crafty people go "I used some buttons I just HAPPENED TO HAVE LYING AROUND for this next step!" but in this case, that's exactly what happened. I used some buttons that I just happened to have lying around, tacking them on to the sheet at the level of the seam. Then I cut a length of jute twine, knotted it to make a loop, and whipped it to the back of the sheet, again at the level of the seam. I used jute twine to try to achieve a "shabby chic" look with the white fabric and the bronze buttons. When the loop is pulled under the curtain and buttoned on to the button, it polonnaises the curtain like an eighteenth century dress. And it has the unexpected effect of looking like a sail.

Not shown: Nicki doing the happy dance when she realises she has an awesome curtain that LOOKS LIKE A SAIL.

So what do you think? I'm pretty pleased. Not only does it fulfill all my requirements: cheap, using materials I have, hiding ugly curtain rods, bonus sail-like qualities, but it's easy to get up and down and it's clean looking. I'm hoping to get permission to cut a sheet in half soon so I can do the same thing to a dormer window facing the front of the house...but judging by how long it took me to get around to making these curtains, don't hold your breath.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Michelle Obama Wants My Money

I got a letter in the mail today from Michelle Obama--actually from the Obama For America campaign--asking me to send money to her husband's campaign. I am skeptical. Not only because I feel that more than a year out it is way, waaaay to early to encourage these yahoos to start campaigning, but also because I don't know if this time around I can support President Obama.

Oh, don't get me wrong, I still think Obama is a better person to have at the helm than most politicians currently involved in the fray. We align on several issues, even though he out of necessity does more politicking than I do. I am still upset about the fact that the final version of the healthcare reform bill did not include universal, government-sponsored healthcare. Or access to buy into the Medicaid program for everyone. Especially since during those heady days Obama's party controlled both houses of Congress.

I don't want to be a one-issue voter. I hate the idea of blaming the government for things they do or do not do. I have health insurance now...but I can't help but think how many more options myself and so many of my friends would have if we weren't tied to jobs "just for the benefits."

It's just a niggling issue for me personally. I intend to become more well-informed before the next election. Maybe this time around Barack Obama won't be my candidate of choice. So for now I'm hanging on to my money.