30 June 2009

black and blue

berries! the rails-to-trails path is loaded with blackberries this year.

we went out there twice, and gathered enough to make a big batch of jam.

the path is mostly shaded, which makes for pleasant picking, unless it is 90 degrees out there, which it was, on one of the days we went.

still, we had a great time, and only ended up getting a few chigger bites, the second time we went. the first time, we were a bit more diligent about tucking our shirts in, tucking our pants into our socks, and putting on some bug deterrent. we must have let down our guard the second time, and those little buggers show no mercy!

yesterday, cosmo and i spent three hours out at bray's you-pick, for blueberries. we ran into julie, and her girls, and had a great time visiting and picking with them. with temperatures in the seventies, couldn't have asked for a nicer day! we came home with almost twenty pounds of berries! we had enough to freeze and make two batches of very-low-sugar jam. we still had a handful of blueberries in the freezer, and one half-pint of jam left in the pantry from last summer. think i'll go make some toast.

addendum (later in the day): we just went back out to the rails-to-trails (another gorgeous day) and found that there are still plenty of berries out there. so, any local readers of this blog, there's still time! as cosmo says, "there's plenty for all bodies. plenty for all the people!"we picked some to eat fresh, and are taking the rest to mother hubbard's cupboard (let's hear it for free food!). also, i just found out that what we have been picking is black raspberries, not blackberries! the key differences are:
1) black raspberries ripen in june, and
2) when you pick a black raspberry, it is hollow in the center, it leaves the core on the vine.
blackberries, apparently keep the core in the berry when picked, and they ripen later in the summer. we may have seen some blackberries out there, but they are far from being ripe. thanks to amy for the heads up.

27 June 2009

reduce, reuse, recycle

cosmo's got the recycling bug. i don't think it has much to do with an ecological awareness, he just likes to sort, and put things where they go. our curbside pickup doesn't require that we sort beyond keeping the paper and cardboard separate from everything else. but cosmo has plastic in one bin, glass in another, cans in yet another, and the paper and cardboard is in a separate spot, inside. first thing, when he wakes up in the morning, he wants to gather up any bottles and cans from the night before, and take them out to the recycling bins.

we recently took a field trip to the solid waste recycling center, so cosmo could check it out. he loved it, and since we didn't have much of our own to recycle, we took things from various visitors, and put them in the proper bins. when it was time to go, i swear, cosmo was crying that he didn't want to leave!

picking up trash in the neighborhood is a favorite activity, and, it's one of those things where once you start looking for it, it's all you see! on a recent trip on his bike, he would spot a bit of plastic, and have to stop the bike, and try to reach for it.

sometimes he'd be forced to ditch the bike altogether, so he could focus on getting up all that trash.

such a good citizen.

25 June 2009

monkey swing

our next door neighbors have a rope swing that has been a lot of fun for cosmo and sylvan to practice swinging, and strengthening upper body muscles. cosmo and i got a long, red rope at biglots one day, and kevin (again, with the wonderful next door neighbors!) came over with the extension ladder, and got it tied to a tall branch in the silver maple tree.

a rope with knots is wonderful, but little arms tire rather quickly. carl tried tying a loop at the bottom, for a foothold. better, but a bit difficult for cosmo to do on his own.

our friend and neighbor, alan, suggested i make a wooden circle seat for it. i wasn't sure how comfortable that would be, or if i have the tools to cut a circle. i thought i'd just be on the look-out for something suitable.

the next day, we came home from some outing, and situated on the end of the rope was a plastic circle, just right for a little butt to sit and swing. alan had drilled a hole in one of those seats they make, for 5 gallon buckets. i don't have a good picture of the seat itself, but maybe you can tell from cosmo's face, it is perfect (or as cosmo says, "it's just the right thing").

cosmo cannot get enough. he swings on his own, but really loves it when we give him an "underdog," and swing him "super high!"

24 June 2009

honey bee sanctuary

in our current location, we have a big lawn. if it was our own place, i imagine a big chunk of it would be tilled up for vegetable gardening, and another spot would be devoted to native grasses and flowers. as it is, we have quite an array of plants mixed in with the grass. clover dominates one whole section, and this year, it started blooming before we got around to cutting it. we noticed a few honey bees buzzing around the flowers. carl does all the mowing and he decided to leave the clover for the bees. in no time, the framed clover field was in full bloom and all abuzz with honey bees and bumble bees.

since then, i read a suggestion in organic gardening, to leave some of your lawn long, and heard that there was a piece on NPR about not mowing clover so the bees can access it. that's my carl--always cutting edge. a trend-setter, really. don't you think?

here you can see the line, where the clover stops, and the mowing starts.

we recently visited the hilltop garden and nature center, which is a wonderful spot for gardeners. they have a few bee hives, and when we went to check them out, a bunch of them were gathered on the outside of the box. cosmo informed us that the bees were "dancing, to show the other bees where the food is." while i know he has heard about this phenomenon several times, it always surprises (and delights) me when cosmo shows that he has retained knowledge.

18 June 2009

blue tarp = summer fun

what can you do with a blue tarp? you can drag it down the street to the giant mulberry tree-- the one that's staining the road beneath it, and, apparently feeding all the birds in the neighborhood (according to all the purple droppings splattered on windshields and lawn chairs). many people find mulberry trees to be more of a nuisance, than a community treasure. the joy of cooking has this to say about mulberries:
purple-fruited mulberry trees are best suited, in our opinion, for varying the diets--and flexing the muscles--of marauding schoolboys.
but our buddy, euell gibbons is not so dismissive. he offers the suggestion of placing a plastic sheet, or tarp, under the mulberry tree, shaking the limbs, and gathering the fruit.

that's what we did. and then we dragged that tarp all over the neighborhood, sometimes with a passenger, and gathered enough berries to make the mulberry jelly recipe in stalking the wild asparagus. with all those stems and seeds, they aren't really suitable for jam making. but with a little pectin added, they are just right for jelly.

ours was more like a seedless jam, because i am not content to simply allow the juices of the fruit to passively drip from the jelly bag. no, i have to stir and push and wring the pulp filled bag until every possible edible particle has passed through. so, ours is not translucent, like some jellies, but it did jell. and i, personally, prefer this texture to "pure" jelly anyway. this year i was lucky enough to find low methoxyl citrus pectin (at bloomingfoods), which allowed us to cut our sugar almost in half, without using the questionable, sure-jel version of low sugar pectin. we ended up canning almost seven, half-pint jars, and the stuff is yummy! cosmo loves it, though i dare say, not as much as the fresh berries, right off the tree (or, ground right next to the tree, as the case may be). we've already been out to the rails-to-trails for black berries, and we'll head back out to bray's for blueberries, probably next week.
what else can you do with a blue tarp? construct a make-shift kiddy pool. this one is all carl and cosmo. cosmo saw a slip and slide at kroger(?), and has been talking about wanting to get one. i told him about the budget one my mom made for us as kids, out of an old shower curtain, and the garden hose. with the tarp already out, carl thought it might work. it didn't. tarps are not very slippery.

but, with a little ingenuity, he and cosmo built up an edge around one side (employing that multi-purpose dryer vent hose, once again!), and made a giant, blue puddle, perfect for splashing and wading in on a hot summer day. it also stores a little easier that those hard plastic kiddy pools.

07 June 2009


for the past few months, i've been busier than usual. i've been working part-time, on a contractual basis, at the wonderlab. mostly i've helped out with graphic design for exhibit labels, and some assistance with assembly of new exhibits. it's a lot of fun to get behind the scenes of one of cosmo's favorite spots in town, and he's always curious to know what i am up to when i go off to work.

i've been volunteering with middleway house, assisting with the new wings partnership, which is a fantastic project involving historic renovation of the coca-cola building, into a commercial kitchen/child care center/apartments, plus a new 3 story shelter for victims of domestic violence, next door. it is a green building project, which includes some roof gardening on the old building, a living roof on the new one, a courtyard garden, rain garden, cistern collecting roof run-off, solar panels, energy efficiency, operable windows, worm composting in the basement...exciting stuff! what a joy to be surrounded by such awesome women, in a supportive, feminist environment. can't think of a better place to get my architectural feet wet again.

i also took on a design project for a group of musicians, putting together a performance concerning music and culture in the time of shakespeare. they'll be performing in libraries this summer and, most likely, schools in the fall. they asked me to come up with a few pieces that would suggest the period, without being full-on costumes.

i'm not a seamstress, nor a costumer, but i hate to pass up a design challenge, especially for a friend. i made puffy sleeves for the women, padded shoulders for the men, a floppy hat, with a stiff brim (puzzled over that one for weeks), and breeches for the men--all from thrifted clothes and otherwise re-purposed fabric.

and. i. made. an elizabethan neck ruff.

what is a neck ruff? it's what you call those stuffy looking lace collars that we associate with shakespearian times. also referred to as cartwheel ruff, or head-on-a-plate.

at first i fussed around with folding paper, to make a mock up... i got some starch...but nothing i tried was working. then i found some instructions online that actually made sense to me (there were plenty that didn't) and i followed them precisely. after seven hours or so of tedious labor, i had a believable ruff. then i made a second one.

the trickiest part was dealing with two needles plus all that lace.

i had 15 yards of it, and didn't want to cut it until i knew how much it was going to take. so, i had to contend with it getting twisted, and just generally being in the way. once i got the hang of it though, it was nice work--slow, but pleasant.

the ruffs are decidedly a hit, they really make the whole look of the ensemble, if i do say so myself. and the musicians report that they can easily play their instruments while wearing them (a big plus).

i won't go into all the details of construction, since the instructions i used are readily available-- should you ever, for any reason, want to make a ruff. i have extra lace. i am considering making more to sell. though, to whom, i am not quite sure. maybe i can capture a niche market. is there such thing as elizabethan erotica?