Friday, December 28, 2012

Friday, December 21, 2012

Went & Discovered

We've been taking advantage of the Discover & Go program of the Oakland Public Library (which the Berkeley library and the Contra Costa County library now offer as well).

It wouldn't have crossed my mind to go see art at Saint Mary's College, but their Museum of Art had a knock-out show this past year. It caught my eye in the D & G line-up, so we went and felt very lucky. Even ran into some friends.

We also took advantage of the free tickets at Cal Shakes' for Blithe Spirit (somewhat listless) and Hamlet  (wonderful, but free-ee-zing).  And just two weeks ago we ambled out to the California Academy of Sciences. (If you possibly can, play hooky and go on a weekday afternoon. The school tours have mostly left by then and the decibel levels have declined to below "painful acoustic trauma".) We caught the baby ostriches on their last day there. Simply adorable.

And what do you do with the money that you've saved?  Duh, you blow it all on a wonderful meal at Chapeau!  Ooh-la-la!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Happy Birthday, Princess

A Turdmuffin
We believe that Princess was born in early December, 2009, one of seven kittens.  She showed up here, along with her two brothers, as foster kittens from the Humane Society in January, 2010.

She arrived with the name "Doughnut", but because she was so sickly, she and her one unhealthy brother were both re-named the "Turdmuffins." You can just imagine....  Princess's name comes from her other nickname of that time - "Princess Dag." Most Americans do not know the meaning of dag, which is probably just fine.

Three Years Old

Friday, December 7, 2012

Chickens & Eggs

So, which came first, the eggs or the breakfast?  

Just kidding... But if you are as lucky a person as I am, you too have friends who raise chickens. And these friends are good friends, oh-such-good friends that they share their fresh eggs with you.  

So, you know.... you immediately know which of the above eggs is from the happy, local, run-around-loose-and-get-into-trouble chicken and which is from the grocery store, right?

Friday, November 30, 2012

You Say Potatoes, I Say...

Last winter, I bought five pounds of seed potatoes (little spudlets) from Fedco's Moose Tubers.  Half of them were "Augusta" potatoes, a Yukon Gold type. And goodness, did those potatoes ever go for the gold.

(The other 21/2 lbs were "Purple Viking, but more about them later.)

Most of the Augustas were planted in early April. They grew into beautiful, large, healthy plants with pretty flowers. They even came out with flashy seedpods that looked like little green tomatoes.

Three months later, I dug up the potatoes (forget about your manicure folks, this is dirty work). And the harvest was thirty-five lbs. of gorgeous potatoes. Big and little ones. All golden and tender. And all organic, meaning expensive to buy but very safe to eat.

"Best roasted potatoes, ever," was the quote at home. Yup, my spud-loving, best guy was happy, very happy. But where do you put all them 'taters in a little bungalow? Under the bed?

Answer: Eat them. Share them - with friends, family, neighbors, your barber, your dentist and whoever is around and might appreciate them. But insist that they tell you how the potatoes were prepared, and whether they tasted better than regular ol' potatoes.  Surprise, surprise, everyone quickly cooked them up and said "yes!" But really, what are you gonna say to free, home-grown potatoes?  Especially organic ones.

OK, small print time. There is a fair amount of dirty work involved in growing potatoes - literally, someone has to haul buckets of dirt or compost to pile up around those plants as they grow. And these potatoes were totally boo-booed: they were hilled three times; grown without chemical help; and lived on a drip watering system. But the payoff was enormous - typically, you can expect one lb. of seed potatoes to produce 5 - 10 lbs. of harvest. I got a lot  more - almost thirty-eight lbs. of Augustas alone. And did I mention that they really tasted wonderful?

Would I do it again? I plan to. The Augusta potato was a big winner. I'm saving some of the tubers and will re-plant them in February or March, but on a smaller scale. Gotta leave some room for their cousins, the San Marzano tomatoes.

P.S. I would never have even considered growing potatoes in my teeny backyard without the encouragement of my sister Jane and my friend Sarah. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Wild Turkey

photo courtesy of Kathy Kenny
We all know what we are supposed to do this Thursday - eat and eat and eat ourselves silly. And then have sandwiches a few hours later, with football or perhaps the National Dog Show filling in the gaps. 

All in honor of Meleagris gallopavo, the wild turkey of North American. Benjamin Franklin confided to his daughter in 1784 that he considered the wild turkey to be far superior to the bald eagle as a symbol of this country.  He wrote, 

"For in Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America... He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on."

Ben, however, was not quite correct - the wild turkey is not native to all of America.  At least not in California for the past 10,000 years or so. Though in all fairness, at the time that he was writing, California was not part of "America" either.

If someone asked me, I would have guessed that the turkey arrived in California along with all those other nineteenth century immigrants on the Oregon Trail. (There is a wonderful poem, "Turkeys" by Mary Mackey, which describes her great uncles driving - as in shepherding, propelling, pushing forward - their turkeys to market. And I thought herding cats was hard.)

But turkeys got here along a different route. They didn't come with the pioneers. And attempts to introduce them in the 1870's and again in the 1920's were unsuccessful.  It wasn't until the 1970's when California Dept. of Fish and Game introduced a subspecies from along the Rio Grande - small, tough immigrants from a different part of North America - that the birds decided to stay. And flourish: an estimated 240,000 turkeys now live in the state.

You don't have to go far to see wild turkeys in Oakland. I've seen small flocks along College Ave. in the Elmwood and in Rockridge, and Mountain View cemetery has enough turkeys to supply a small food bank. Although, during the week before Thanksgiving, not a one of those "Birds of Courage" was to be seen. They may not be as brave as Ben thought, but they aren't silly either.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Bay Nature
KQED Quest

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

My Civic Duty

It was a lovely day to get out of town, so we got in the car when it was still dark and drove to Reno. We thought we might help get out would-be voters for Obama in Nevada. 

The Nevadans were most welcoming, fed us muffins and coffee, handed us clipboards with names of likely voters and told us not to come back until we had knocked on all the doors of all those people. We did our best that morning. Then they tanked us up again and sent us back out to a different neighborhood to do it once more.

Well, I never knew that so, so, so many people in Nevada had oh, so, so, so many dogs. Like almost every house. And more than one dog. Thankfully only one person was bitten, and she was the dog's owner.

We stayed in Reno for the party. The crowd went home very happy. So did we.

Me, a cuppa tea, and a young Obama helper

Photos courtesy of Michael Reardon

Saturday, November 3, 2012

I Know What I Did This Summer...

You thought I spent my entire time out on the patio, goofin' off with the damn cat. Playing dress-up and chasing after bugs.

But, nooo, I was busy, busy, busy making lampshades to pair up with some beautiful lamps that we have at the shop. 'Cause the lamp shop has now been around for forty (yup, four-zero) years, so in celebration, all this year we have been showcasing some very special pieces. It's been a load of fun, too.

At this point, we're moving on to the annual BIG Fall Lamp Sale.  The sale runs until Sunday, November 11th, so you still have plenty of time to harvest the last of the tomatoes, prick up your ears for the remaining katydids and snag a bargain. Just in time for those dark, wet winter nights.

Only remember to bring your lamp, wear comfortable shoes and be really nice to the staff.

Photos courtesy of Mary Shilman

Monday, October 29, 2012

Late, Very Late, Summer Blooms

For the past five summers, I have been growing sunflowers in the front yard, right along the sidewalk for the enjoyment of everyone.
Including the bees. And then I count the bees for The Great Sunflower Project, a citizen science project aimed at studying bees and other pollinators.  And sadly, their decline. 

Participation in the project is not hard to do, takes very little time, and provides the investigators with buckets of data. I especially love the map showing all of the observation gardens. (Next year, you too could be a little colored circle on the map...)

But this year, nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Zero. The bees were out and busy, but I couldn't get any sunflowers to show up. The seeds just wouldn't germinate. If they had, I could of blamed the lack of results on the hungry snails. Instead it had to be all my fault. Except... except for the one little, brave plantlet that could. And slowly, slowly did.

Until finally, it produced its first blossom. On October 10th. And who is that perched on the lower left side of the flower? A most very patient bee.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Brag, Brag, Brag #4: Miquette Elliott (and Courtney & Mark Camperell, too)

Photo courtesy of Pauline Marcou 
Miquette strikes again!  She is one of the featured artists at the Dharma Trading Company, a most excellent supplier for textile artists. She now also works full-time at Volcom (think youth, hip and not me).  Once is a while, she even gets to model some of the Volcom creations.

And, in all her free time, she collaborated, designed, created, sewed and, you know, put together a lovely dress for her adorable cousin Courtney (photo at left) for her rehearsal dinner (wonderful wedding last Saturday). Mark, a very special groom-guy, is also in the photo.  On the right.

We wish them all well.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Cover Ups

Yup, those fun, gauzy, drapey fabrics which conceal so many fashion "eh-hms" (otherwise known as lumpy-bulgy things that we don't talk about) also help out in the garden.  Called "floating row covers," they are used to protect plants from the ravages of insect life, generally caterpillars and other icky, creepy-crawly life forms that you really don't want to find on your dinner plate.

The plants which seem to benefit the most from row covers include lettuces, broccoli, cabbage, collards, turnips and other members of the mustard family.

I've found that row covers work best when the plants are small. For plants in tin tubs, grab a few of those bamboo chopsticks (you know, the ones that you rescue from take-out sushi) and stand them up in the dirt so that they are taller than your little seedlings.

Drape the row cover over the pot and clip it to the pot with clothespins.  No one can get in. You can even water right through the fabric. (Kinda. I usually end up watering my feet.)

Even if you don't do any of this, at least save those chopsticks and put them in the green bin. I mean, whaddya think, bamboo grows on trees or somethin'?

I use the same technique when I put new seeds in the ground, only I have to use rocks instead of clothespins. This way the regular Oakland night marauders - raccoons and skunks - have a much harder time digging up everything that you just so carefully planted.

Finally, if you are lucky enough to spend time with those young fairy princess types, row covers are the absolute best for playing dress-up. Just ask Princess.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Lily Lust

The lilies were absolutely spectacular this summer.  
For a glorious show next summer, plant your bulbs now.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Free(!) Rain Barrels in Oakland

Yup.  No cost.  Except somehow there's sales tax... ask Governor Jerry.  I'm sure he'll give you an explanation.

In the meanwhile, and just in time for the rainy season (keep your fingers crossed), the Oakland Dept. of Public Works has free rain barrels for your home. The program lasts through December, 2012.

A while ago, they were "low-cost", but not low enough to grab my attention. Now, we have one here (the top one) and our neighbor has one too (the bottom one). Ours, at 60 gallons, is one of the smaller ones. It cost around $6.

Tricks to the program? Well obviously, you have to pay the tax and be an Oakland resident.  Then you either have to pay for delivery or go pick up the barrel(s) at the The Urban Farm Store in Richmond. You also are responsible for the installation.  Not hard - a few tools and bits of hardware - and instructions are included. Just remember to strap that puppy in - water is heavy and big earthquakes make big messes.

Don't live in Oakland? Silly you. But all is not lost. Now many municipalities throughout the country have low-cost rain barrel programs, so check locally and see what is available in your area. You also may want to start practicing those rain dance moves. 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Shameless Plug #4: Michael Reardon

Sonoma Fountain by Michael Reardon

He's off again, leaving Princess and me to take out the garbage and do lovey-dovey on the sofa all by our little furry selves.

Uh huh, Sonoma Plein Air, the week-long festival of plein air painting designed to raise funds for art education in the Sonoma public schools starts tomorrow. And, for the first time in years, there is no rain in the forecast!

The artists (all 40 or so of them) spend the entire week painting outdoors in Sonoma County and then showcase their work at two big public events: a gala dinner and art auction on Friday evening (it's already sold out, so wish them well) and an art show and sale on the Sonoma Plaza on Saturday from 10 - 4pm.

Sounds like fun, huh?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Your Civic Duties

Yeah, yeah, they say it's your civic duty to vote, and they're right.  Donating blood (and I don't mean playing rugby) is also your civic duty, but lots of people don't do that either.

Personally, I think that donating blood is more fun than voting, even with that big ol' needle:  first, all you have to do is show up and they are soooo very grateful (kinda like your parents at dinnertime.  Although it's always good to wash your hands);  second, they serve cookies and juice;  third, you really feel that you are truly helping out.

But you still gotta vote. Even without the cookies and juice.  And this year, in case you weren't paying attention, you have one big-ass election to work with. On November 6th, to be precise.  So if you're not registered to vote (or can't remember, or just moved, or whatever), start here.

Even if you will be away from home in November, you may still vote, only you have to do it by mail (yup, you'll also need one of those things called "stamps"). But first you have to be registered.

Then you can request an absentee ballot. For an absentee ballot, click here and let them lead you through the process. It's really easy, but do it soon. Because in many states, even by early October, it may just be too late.

As for donating blood?  Keep in mind that you can do that pretty much any time of the year. And rugby - who knows exactly when that season is?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Amaryllis Summer and Winter

Winter Amaryllis

We all know and love those happy holiday blooms of the amaryllis (hippeastrum cultivars) which brighten up winter's short, dark dampyness. Often they even come packaged with their own pot of dirt. They grow, they bloom, look lovely, fade, and then get thrown away. And the following year you buy new ones to shine during those dark days.

That's cool. But what do you get if you keep them throughout the year and allow them to re-bloom?

Summer Amaryllis
Well, what you get is is a monster-blooming, hunk'o flowering thing that won't let up.  Last winter, (after five or so years here), my amaryllis had four stalks of flowers in January. And then in March, it popped out another two stalks ready to bloom. Pretty nice.

After its winter blooming cycle, amaryllis need to go outside for a summer holiday.  And what happens then?  You get another one or two blooming stalks appearing in August. Bad timing, because that is pretty much when they should be stashed in the garage for a long, quiet nap.  Nonetheless, sure lovely to see in the summer.

I would like to say that this show-off performance is utterly miraculous, except that I have two plants that act in this same silly way. And I would love to take credit, but really, it's all their own personal glory.

For (very) complete details on keeping amaryllis bulbs going for years and years, click here.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Well, That Was Fun...

and delicious! Last Saturday, my friend Liz and I went out to Annie's Annuals & Perennials to taste tomatoes from Brad Gate's Wild Boar Farms. The tasting at Annie's seems to be a yearly event.

The weather was windy, cold and nasty (welcome to August), but the tomatoes sparkled. We all tasted a wide range of tomato varieties, many of which were discovered and bred right on the farm. And we all had opinions.

For Liz and me, the yellow "Porkchop" tomato was the hands-up scarfing-down most favorite.  We also really liked the "Green Zebra Cherry". (I bought some of those and fed them to my husband that night. He approved.) And "Evan's Purple Pear" tomato was soooo sweet (Evan was at the tasting, too) that it almost didn't seem like a real tomato.

Wild Boar Farm sells tomato plants and seeds, so I'm preparing to buy some Green Zebra seeds for next year. I would love to pretend that I can grow the large, heat-seeking Porkchop tomato here but I take my disappointments too seriously. And in fact, for cherry tomatoes, the Green Zebras are really big...

If you are not into tomatoes, you still get to wander through the most amazing array of flowering plants anywhere. With lust in your heart. And wish that you had an estate. With staff, of course.

I bought only one plant. Liz gathered up four. Or was it five? In all fairness though, that lupine was irresistible.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Sounds of Summer

Young Katydid on Xhosa's Dream Herb blossom
When most people conjure up the sounds of a late summer's evening, they think of the endless repetition of field crickets scratching away, and remember that time when...

Sadly, I don't have crickets in my yard. Instead, I have katydids.  Closely related to grasshoppers and crickets (all three groups are considered part of "the night singing insects." Almost sounds like the name of a folk-rock band...), katydids look like whacked-out grasshoppers, only smaller and sweeter.

The most common katydid here is the Greater Angle-winged Katydid (microcentrum rhombifolium - could be the name for a new vitamin for dieters) and its call sounds nothing at all like "katy did".

If I'm lucky, I begin to see baby katydids in early spring, in shades of soft browns and greens.  Then they are veewy, veewy quiet.  But by full-on summertime - one very wet year, it took until early October - they begin to make noise.  Not loud the way crickets are, but kinda like a metallic clicking sound. Until you know what you are listening for, their call is somewhat hard to hear. But once you recognize the sound, you will hear it throughout the day and night, usually well into December.  And then you will think back to that time when...

Adult Katydid

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Volunteers of Oakland #1

I'm losing my most friendly and loyal and helpful garden volunteer. It's so sad for all of us here! Ben (right) and his family are moving away this week.

Most of the time Ben is out and about playing with the other kids on the block. (Yes, the helmet is absolutely critical because of the outrageous vehicular - trikes and scooters - traffic on the street.  Or rather, on the sidewalk.  For these drivers, "sharing the road" is still a very airy concept.  Heaven help us when they graduate to machines that only start with keys.)

But when Ben has had enough of riding, or the older kids are across the street (he's not allowed to cross the street without an adult, and he deeply respects that rule.  As a kid, I don't know that I would have been able to stay behind...), then, well, then I have a helper.

We knuckle down and get straight to work. Watering. The onions, the sunflower (yes, singular, and not even blooming yet - completely piss-poor germination this year), the basil, the rosemary, my pants, his shoes and anything else within range. Occasionally Ben's younger brother Leo gets involved too, and then we all practice that vital life skill: taking turns.

Once they're gone though, who's going to help me with all my yard work?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Brag, Brag, Brag #3: Kathleen Hawkes

Kathleen Hawkes, our niece who has just signed up to be a professor of photography at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, has been living in Fiji for the past five-plus months, compliments of the Fulbright Program.

While there, Kate's been working on a photography project looking at contemporary life and domestic space in the South Pacific.  (As a punk kid, Kate and her family lived in Western Samoa for a year.  For her, the big disappointment of that trip was that they weren't able to live in a grass hut.) 

We tend to think of Fiji as a place for a romantic get-away, which I'm sure it is. Gorgeous landscape there. There being an archipelago of over 330 islands, not near anybody else except for a bunch of other islands - not only is Fiji "down under" but "sorta off to the right somewhere" as well.

Approximately 850,000 Fijians live and work on the islands. And they have normal everyday problems just like everyone else - fishing to do, families to raise and homes to rebuild on stilts now because of flooding.  Hmm...

Kate's camera has documented all of these activities.  Her blog Pacific Island Nation features some of what she has been working on while in Fiji.  And her professional  website shows even more goodies.

So, if you're thinking of visiting Fiji any time soon, let me know.  I think I have someone who can show you around....

Photos courtesy of Kathleen Hawkes