Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Pin me

Before I moved to Davis, heck, before I even accepted their offer of admission to the University, I checked out the crafting opportunities here. I thought I would have to take classes for credit to get in my art quota, but lo and behold, there was something called
The Craft Center

(the heavens open up and there are angels singing). It's my saving grace; without it, I think I would go crazy with the science and the studying. So I signed up to volunteer there immediately and I never regretted it. As a volunteer I can take free classes, have free access to the labs, and get discounts on supplies, it's sweet. Plus, I'm exposed to so many new crafts! In the last six months I've learned to screen print, make small stained glass pieces, weave, and enamel. I've also picked up a lot of information about other crafts because one of my duties there is to check out tools to people working in the labs. I know what a square is, and a lathe tool, and router bits, and heddle hooks, blah blah blah, etc. My knowledge of craft paraphernalia has increased exponentially.

Anyway, I made these pins there last quarter with the button maker that they keep behind the counter. I kind of went crazy with it, until one of the managers reminded me that I should probably pay for each pin that I made. Then I stopped. But not before I made this adorable little series of bug and polka dot pins. I would love to have a button maker (a 1" one so I could make leeeeetle buttons to put everywhere!) but I looked on e-bay and the cheapest ones were still over $200. So I'll have to be content with illicitly making them during my volunteer shifts.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Barky McWooferson

It's been raining a lot lately, but there was a patch of sunshine yesterday that smelled like spring. Marshall, my housemate's 6 month old beagle enjoyed it thoroughly, seen here. He likes to chew on bark and you can see him carrying it around and sitting with it in his mouth in these pictures.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Live Green - sprouting and canning

I recently read Michael Pollan's book "The Omnivore's Dilemma," which was one of the best decisions I've made in the last few months. He made me think about where my food comes from, and I'm not talking about what store I bought it from, I'm talking about way further back than that. What industries and companies am I supporting with my money when I buy mass-produced food? Do I want to support a system that relies on oil to transport food from places across the world, just so I can eat strawberries in winter? These questions aren't necessarily new for me, but reading the book helped me to organize my thoughts on the subject a bit better. He reports on the process of food production from the soil to the meal, and I just devoured it (tee hee). The most interesting part by far is the farm in Virginia that is based on a polyculture: Different species using the same land, producing more from it than could ever be produced if it were simply a monoculture of corn or soybeans. Here's an article from the New York Times that reviews and summarizes the book better than I ever could. After reading this book I feel re-energized and recommitted to the things in life that I really care about. It's more than just eating local-grown foods (like the veggies from my CSA), it's more like an attitude and life style. What changes can I make to my daily routine or way of living that would cause me to leave a smaller footprint?

I've decided to make sustainability one of the themes of my blog. I'm learning new and exciting ways to live sustainably every day and I really want to share these things with others. In that spirit, I found this great article the other day in ReadyMade all about canning your own foods. In California this isn't a big deal because you can get fresh local food year-round, but back east this could really come in handy. I am all excited about finding a canning kit and trying this out; the kumquat marmalade looks delish. This way I can be more self-reliant; stocking food away in the summer months by jarring and canning it, and buying less processed food during the winter months.

ReadyMade - Canning

I have also taken to sprouting my own seeds for salads or sandwiches, or to eat with crackers and cheese (my top choice). I use red clover; they're not bland like some of the alfalfa sprouts can be, they have a nice green taste. The next step for me is sprouting beans, though I don't really know what I would do with them, probably use them in a stir fry or something like that. Sprouting seeds and sprouting beans are a bit different, so here are the instructions for sprouting seeds (like alfalfa, clover, or broccoli):

  • transparent jar, cheesecloth, rubber band, seeds

to do:
  • you can basically assume that the sprouts will be many many times larger than the seeds once they've sprouted (duh), so I would start by using only a teaspoon or a half-teaspoon of seeds for your first try, then once you get the hang of how many sprouts that yields you can use more.
  • put the seeds into the jar and secure the cheesecloth to the top of the jar with a rubber band
  • rinse the seeds and strain them through the cloth a few times
  • cover the seeds with about an inch of water and let them soak over night
  • drain them the next morning, rinse (making sure to drain as much as possible), and leave the jar on its side in a place out of the sun
  • rinse two to three times a day, placing the jar upright after the first day and harvest when you feel the time is right!
It's so easy and satisfying, I love it. And watching the seeds sprout fills me with as much awe and wonder as if I was still in first grade planting beans in a wet paper towel and watching them germinate. It's wonderful. I will hopefully be learning more great ways to leave a smaller footprint (like recycling my food scraps with the vermicomposting bin I made today - a post about that later), so keep on the lookout for more DIY posts!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Rutabaga, Rutabaga, Ra, Ra, Ra!

I picked up my latest CSA box yesterday; check out the beautiful array of colors and textures! The maroon/magenta on the green onions makes me happy, and I'm excited about using those mustard greens (I've never cooked them before). There was one nice little grapefruit which was surprisingly sweet. I'm used to ruby red grapefruits being sweet, and the white ones being sour. That's the way it is on the east coast. But this one was actually part pomelo, and it had the thick rind to show it. It was picked before the freeze and refrigerated for the later enjoyment of all the CSA subscribers, which I'm thankful for because I won't be able to afford citrus this season. For anyone who doesn't know, the Great Central Valley of California had a freeze earlier this month that destroyed a lot of the citrus crop and put the citrus farmers into a frenzy. The Governator even had to get federal assistance to help them out.

Here's a picture of my last CSA box; turnips and rutabagas! The purple, green, and cream colors of those rutabagas make me smile. I've actually been obsessed with the word rutabaga ever since these arrived; it rolls right off the tongue, despite those hard Rs and G. It's even better than the word naugahyde. I ended up cutting up the turnips and rutabagas and roasting them in the oven with some salt. Unfortunately, I used too much salt and they were unpalatable. Ah well, maybe next time.

I saved the rind of the grapefruit because I just can't bear to throw it out. There must be a way to use it, maybe in a potpourri type thing or in a recipe if it lasts.

Pfahl-ing in love

I discovered John Pfahl in college when I was obsessed with "Environmental Art Photographers"; he wrote the foreword to Edward Burtynsky's book "Manufactured Landscapes," I think. His photography is amazing, dealing mostly with landscapes of various types and interpretations. One of my favorite series is called "the very rich hours of a compost pile." The pictures are so incredible that I can feel the warmth coming off of them as they decompose. Just look at those swiss chard leaves! Gorgeous.

Another of his series that I adore is called "piles." The texture in these photos is unbelievable. A pile of hay becomes a pile of light. A lot of the piles are entitled "Future Site of XYZ Shopping Mall" and things like that, or they are piles of a specific type of trash. I really like the ambiguous political nature of this series because though I'm a tree-hugger at heart, I can't avoid believing that everything can be beautiful. I like to be pushed past that comfort boundary into a place where a pile of oil cans makes me smile.

Other "landscape" photographers (or "Environmental Artists") who make my knees weak:

Andy Goldsworthy - It's hard to pinpoint one thing about him that I love the most, but it might be the black holes he creates in the ground, or the ice sculptures
Joel Meyerowitz - "Cape Light" was the book that got me into this type of photography in the first place - I have two copies of it
Edward Burtynsky - His photos of oil refineries make me so excited to be living that I have to take a nap because I don't know what else to do with myself.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


When I work in the greenhouse I listen to my darling little priceless iPod Shuffle. How do I love thee. I've been listening to only a few artists lately:

Dolly Parton - She is the most amazing woman. See the side bar for a link to an interview with her on NPR. I'm pretty obsessed with her right now and I've been listening to her album "The Grass is Blue" non-stop and I just downloaded "Little Sparrows" and listened to it for the first time yesterday. I love it and I love her. Here's an amazing cover of "Shine" by Collective Soul from "Little Sparrows."

Iron and Wine -
"She says if I leave before you darling
Don't you waste me in the ground
I lay smiling like our sleeping children
One of us will die inside these arms

Eyes wide open
Naked as we came
One will spread our
Ashes round the yard"

-Iron and Wine, "Naked as We Came"

Cat Stevens - His lyrics don't really translate well to the typed page; they end up sounding incredibly corny and stupid actually. For example, "I'd like to live in a wigwam/Yes I'd like to live in a wigwam/I'd like to live in a wigwam and/Dance round the totem pole." Deep, very, very deep. But when I hear the music and that beautiful tortured voice I almost cry because of the passion and feeling (sometimes I do). This is my favorite Cat Stevens song, "Father and Son."

Joni Mitchell -
"Blue, songs are like tattoos
You know I've been to sea before
Crown and anchor me
Or let me sail away

Hey blue, here is a song for you
Ink on a pin
Underneath the skin
An empty space to fill in"

- Joni Mitchell, "Blue"

Monday, February 19, 2007

Ask and you will receive . .

As I entered the greenhouse today I was greeted with more gerberas! What a fabulous sight.

My mother also e-mailed today to share her "winter garden" with me, which consists mostly of plants that I have given her or that are actually mine but I couldn't fit in the car when I moved out here. This is a Veltheimia ("Red Hot Poker") that I brought home when I worked at Longwood Gardens in PA last year. There are two in my parents' house, both blooming beautifully.

This is our collection of african violets; my favorites are the mini violets, though they are growing really fast and look like regular sized african violets at this point.

And finally, the hoya ("tortellini plant") that I gave my mom to match the one her sister Aunt Emmy has in her house in rural PA. I absolutely love hoyas, I have two in my room here and I plan on amassing a collection of them. They are called "waxflowers" and you can see why because those little bundles of flowers seem to be sculpted from wax, they're so strange and perfect. Hoyas are actually tropical relatives of the milkweed plant, for all you plant nerds out there.

Weak Coffee and Daisies

I made some absolutely horrible weak coffee this morning from the grounds left behind after M left. We're not coffee drinkers here in my house in CA, so M had to go buy his own grounds and we spent a few days perfecting the percolation method. I refused to let him use any of my tea paraphernalia for his coffee, so he had to buy his own tea strainer and use it over a non-tea mug, all a huge hassle in order for me to maintain the integrity of my tea. Which is important.

These are the only gerbera daisies left after I brought home a huge bouquet from the greenhouse. There are lots of experiments going on in the greenhouse where I do my GSR (a graduate student research position), mostly on gerbera daisies and roses. So every so often there will be a bucket set out with over a hundred flowers that have been cut from the plants in order for the next phase of the experiment to proceed. Getting the first pick of them is rare; usually I show up and there are three or four lonely bedraggled flowers left over after the rush of other students and research assistants pick them over. But two weeks ago I was in the greenhouse doing my own experiment and I saw a girl pass by carrying hundreds of gerberas just slung over her shoulder and I knew that today was my day. I got a huge bouquet of them, almost fifty, and they have lasted for two whole weeks.

I've always been kind of disdainful of gerberas because they are impossible to grow as houseplants and they have to be wired in flower arrangements to keep them nice and straight and keep them from drooping. Sometimes florists take clear plastic straw-type things and slip the stems in there to keep them straight, but inevitably the stem will rot and look gross. However, I've discovered that if you change the water fairly frequently and continue to cut the stems to reveal new vascular tissue for water uptake, then they last forever! It's great, I think I am a convert.

The reason they last so long is that the "flower" is actually an inflorescence made up of many tiny flowers like many other plants in the Asteraceae family. Sunflowers, dandelions, etc, are all asters with "ray flowers" which look like the individual petals, and "disk flowers" in the middle. So basically they just keep blooming in the water and will last a really long time because when they are harvested most of the flowers haven't bloomed yet. It's funny because they get really hairy looking as the disk flowers begin to bloom. I can't wait until the next harvest.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

My first blog post . . .

I've really enjoyed reading other people's blogs, especially yarnstorm, and I'm interested in sharing my own aesthetic sensibilities with others. I recently moved from the New Jersey/Philadelphia area to Davis, California to attend graduate school. I'm getting a Master's degree in Environmental Horticulture and living in a semi-broke down house with three other people and a beagle puppy named Marshall. I'm trying to live my life in as sustainable a way as possible while attending classes, crafting when I can, and maintaining a long-distance relationship with my boy M in West Philly.

In addition to yarnstorm I've recently been inspired by 3191, a visual blog by two people living 3,191 miles apart who each take a picture every morning. I find it desperately romantic, even if they're not a couple. Every day I'll be posting my own "morning picture" at the top of the blog.

The blogs I read are mostly written by women a half-generation older than me who have families and beautiful houses and careers. So this will be a little bit different as you hear me talk about my classes and my relationship and see pictures of my less-than-perfect house. But I like it that way, that's where I am in my life right now. Now, onto some pictures. The following are all morning pictures from the past two or three weeks.

My backyard, with dandelions going to seed in February. This was a few weeks ago and now there are new dandelions blooming again amongst the old heads. I saw birds out there this morning stretching up on their tippy-toes to eat the dandelion seeds from the top of the seed heads. You can also see the yard of the elementary school that shares a fence with us.

Two weeks ago it rained for about four days. It's rainy season here and it was a much needed dousing. However, M was supposed to come visit the week after so I was not pleased with the rain. But I actually love to photograph in the rain so it provided some nice new material for me.

Ah, M and his wonderful flannel. This is one of my favorites; he and I have a similar affinity for tacky things and it spills over into our aesthetics. Though his fashion reflects it more than mine (at least I'd like to think so). But this flannel fits in wonderfully with the 70's wood cabinets and awful/wonderful wallpaper in the kitchen.

He left this morning and I've been keeping myself occupied with cleaning the house, doing laundry, and blogging so as to avoid missing him. I made some nice chrysanthemum tea and have been listening to NPR all morning. My housemates all went home for the three day weekend (they are native Californians) so I am cleaning house for their return and putting off doing my problem set as I listen to Car Talk; Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me; and Prairie Home Companion. It's been a fairly productive day actually and cleaning always calms me and allows me to occupy my mind with busy work instead of sadness.