Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Backyard Stories

Little by little I work on taming this big backyard of mine.  It is a huge chore, and I often wonder what I could do to make it easier.  Last summer I looked into the idea of hiring a herd of goats to come eat down ivy, but it was beyond my budget.  So, no cute goat solution.  Sometimes I imagine owning a couple of goats, just to have them on hand, but I don't know anything about raising goats, and the kind I want (tiny ones) would need a dog to guard them from our occasional predators (coyotes and maybe hawks?).
Anyway, for now the solution is the lawn mower, which punishes the machine because the terrain is full of rocks and decaying logs.

The wild part of the yard

When the children were small, they used to naturally keep all the ivy down. Fallen sticks became swords or huts, and pinecones got loaded up into wagons and hoarded as ammunition.

We also used to have a lot of outdoor parties in the fall and winter.  Under the existing clumps of ivy is the site of our old fire pit. I found the remains of burned wood today, though I've long ago removed all the granite stones that rimmed the fire ring to use as a decorative boarder in the more organized, less natural part of the yard. A few of the almost entirely decayed old stumps people used to sit on by the fire are gradually crumbling back into the earth under the ivy.
Neighbors and friends used to come with food and sing and swap stories and kids roasted hotdogs and marshmallows and ran all over the place.  I remember one party where there were about twenty or more kids armed with glowing light sabers engaged in battle on the more lawny part of the yard away from the fire.
My oldest son celebrated his off therapy party with a backyard cook-out.  A young guest accidentally smacked him in the face with a flaming marshmallow!  So terrible!  It was impossible to see what was black burned marshmallow and what was burnt skin.  I phoned the doctor immediately.  All turned out okay.  The party even continued.  But, what a shock!

Now, I don't have any kids running around, and the dog is kind of old for chasing squirrels.  So, it's up to me to go out and pull down ivy that runs up the trees year after year.  And deal with the cut down bamboo my son and husband got a little over zealous in felling (they enthusiastically to cut down the stalks, but then just left them lying there).  What to do with this bamboo? 

Older neighbors (who have passed on now) used to tell me about Mr. Childs, who owned this house long before I did, and how beautiful he kept this backyard. Indeed, bits of his work still exist, but I am sad to say I am no Mr. Childs.

This morning, I cleared and cut and pulled ivy and dead limbs.  The rabbits ran around for a bit until it got too hot for them and they hid.  Have I got a guard dog here, or the big bad wolf?  More big bad wolf I'd say, but hawks looking down might think otherwise.

Of course, I wasn't the only one out working this morning.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Hiking in the Heat: DeSoto Falls

Well, we tried to find somewhere cool.  We headed to the hills, to leafy woods near water.  But it was hot anyway.  Too hot really to be thoroughly enjoyable. The air was thick with humidity, everything everywhere perpetually damp.  But it was a short hike with sweet details along the way.

Late rhododendron. Petals scattered across the trail as we walked.

Moss on more than just the North side.

The trail cut between two waterfalls and we hiked to both the upper and the lower fall.  The falls are not incredibly dynamic in the Colorado or Washington kind of way, but they are splendid nonetheless.

Upper falls--which may be only the middle falls--as we heard that the upper falls trail was blocked by fallen trees that were harder to remove than merely shutting the trail and relabeling the signage.

Lower falls

At the end of the hike, we found ourselves in one of those crazy Southern cooking places--a real House of Heads.  They stared out at us from every wall. Not sure I understand the psychology of this--why you want to admire the beauty of an animal you have killed, or are eating.

Monday, July 18, 2016

High Summer

I saw this banner yesterday, and it truly is high summer now.  I am realizing I only have a few weeks left and then I am back to school again.  In fact, even I was writing this, someone texted me about work stuff and I had to shuffle around in that world a little.  (Ah!  It's like the tide is coming in!)

The Studio Ghibli weekend movies have come to an end.  We had such fun seeing them!  If you are not familiar with them, they are animated Japanese films.  We chose to see the subtitled movies, though some are dubbed.

While, I would say, the beauty of nature is a major delight in all of the movies, several have overtly environmental themes--Princess Mononoke and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Pom Poko. Pom Poko is about some raccoons that lose their habitat.  It was my least favorite of the movies I saw and I would really put it into another category--the"cute" movie.  Pom Poko and the popular My Neighbor Totoro were both child pleaser type movies with cute beasties and lots of happy images.
I preferred the historical movies like The Wind Rises (about an airplane engineer during WWII) and the sad, sad, super sad Grave of the Fireflies (about orphans in WWII).
Best of all I loved the mysterious, are we in this world story movies Spirited Away and When Marnie was There.  I didn't get to see Howl's Moving Castle, unfortunately, but I think it would fit in this category too and I hope to see it one day.

Haha!  I sound like a real fan, eh?  Well, thank you to my wonderful son who pulled me into these.  I certainly would not have gone to these movies without him! They were so delightful, unexpected, gorgeous, and creative!  I really loved them.

Meanwhile, it rains and thunders.  The garden grows.  I read and knit.  On and on.

Boot toppers--my 2nd venture into cables  Pattern from

Sunday, July 10, 2016

High Winds and Indian Cuisine

The heat here is, as usual for summer, intense.  Heat and intermittent showers push everything into the tropical zone.  When the rains lift, hot steams rise off the pavement in rolling ghostly waves.

Storm winds rock the trees, which squeak and groan in my backyard, and weaker branches give up their hold and crash, sometimes to the ground, and sometimes just into other branches.  I've seen a fresh lightening scar on a big pine near my house.  A pine will often endure these strikes; one in my yard has stood for years.  The wind can bring a whole tree down.  Oh the trouble of building a city in the woods! A tree crushed an acquaintance's house just last week.  A few years ago, a tree smashed through a good friend of mine's house, leaving the door to her daughter's bedroom opening into the out-of-doors--beyond scary these incidents!  (Luckily no one was home in either instance.)  A big wind can fell enough trees to cut off roadways and power lines for a couple of days.

A few nights ago, I got into the cupboards and decided to cook some of the things that have been sitting around too long--namely beans.  Summer is not really a dried beans kind of cooking time, but I seemed to have a few little collections of beans, and cooking them up in the pressure cooker at night didn't heat up the house too much.

I pulled out some of my favorite Indian recipes which I haven't used for quite awhile.  I have found that I don't really cook Indian food that much anymore.  My Indian cuisine seems totally lackluster in comparison to what I can easily find nearby.  It is also work, compared to just zipping over to one of the many, many Indian eateries five minutes from my house.  A few years ago, what was a mostly defunct and largely squalid shopping area metamorphosed into an Indian marketplace.  I was thrilled when I saw the onion domes going up.

It is a great place to buy whatever supplies we might need to make a fantastic Indian meal, but it is also a great place to by-pass the making, and just buy a meal!  That is, if I make it to the shopping area before stopping in a church that is now an Indian restaurant or several fast food places that have converted to being Indian take-out.

Our meal turned out quite nice though.  In fact, there was enough for three meals or so and it all got scarfed up quickly.  No left-overs sitting around growing mysteriously in the fridge.

Our poor dal ended up looking like oatmeal because I was out of turmeric!

Meanwhile it rains.  And heats up.  And then rains some more.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Edging into July--Cookies and Knitting and Such

Summertime means catching up on all those appointments I don't have time for during the school year--doctors, dentists, eye exam, etc.  So each week there seem to be some of these for me or my family.

I've also started going to a tai chi class once or twice a week, whatever I can fit in, and going to the Studio Ghibli movies (these are Japanese--you may know Spirited Away or Totoro) that are running here on the weekends.

In between these obligations and sweet pleasures, I've had time to make almond and anisette cantucci (known more commonly here as biscotti).  When I lived in Italy, I did not live in a region that had these kind of cookies--though I love them.  I am going to make another batch of them with pine nuts and rosemary.  I love them dipped in my morning coffee, though traditionally they are dipped in sweet wine.

Cut from the log shape, cookies are ready to go in the oven for 6 more minutes to get crispy.

 I have also been knitting--learning cables!  I made this hat (which was a happy, quick-make relief after my oh-so-brown mega-sweater project: hat pattern here), and thrilled with cables and patterns from tincanknits I am now working on some cabled boot toppers (also a quick-make project: boot topper pattern).  I also delved into a kit I bought back in December.  The written pattern was just not clear enough for my overcrowded mind at the time, but I've figured it out now and it is zinging along surprisingly fast.

Lovely wool, but a little too grape colored in the end. 

Look at that thready ball of glittery something and alpaca.  Lordy, what a big o' ball!

And yesterday was the 4th, so we got together with family and friends and grilled up a bunch of vegetables and weenies and etc. and talked about snakes and Prague and dogs and the fall of the Berlin Wall and men who sit beside unaccompanied young girls in movies and many other things until it was time for the youngsters to ramble on to their pyro-technic plans and the older ones to go home and guard their trees and roofs from pyro-technic plans gone awry.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Last Looks at Colorado

Kind of creepy antler and taxidermy place in Gunnison 
Monarch Pass at the Continental Divide

Hand-painted flower chart! I saw almost all of these!!

The snake hunter who struck out this time (except for one dead garter snake and one snake that "got away" in the talons of a hawk).

We had such a good time out West!  It was wonderful to get the cousins together and share so many laughs along the way.  Traveling brings such a glorious relief and break from routine.  We left one type of world and went into another for awhile and came home full of sun and happiness and renewal.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

On our circle of Colorado, we had time for one more National Park--the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.  We drove north on highway 550 leaving the desert and climbing up and up into mountains.  We passed through the gorgeous mountain surrounded towns of Silverton and Ouray (stopping to sample varieties of dried jerky--beef, venison, elk, alligator, buffalo), and stopping often to take pictures along what is called the "million dollar highway."

Hokey roadside trading post

People who didn't pull off, drove right over this fall, having no idea it was there
 We got to the Black Canyon late in the day and did not have time for a real hike, though we did ramble around from the car to the look-off points, some of which were hike-ish in that you had to walk a ways to get to the look-offs.
The size of the canyon is mind boggling.  It is also pretty camera boggling!  It was impossible to photograph really and capture the immensity of the rock and the drop to the river at the canyon floor. Also, the look-offs had rails so you could sort of lean over and get a view, but the majority of the canyon rim is just open.  In fact, after we left, we heard that someone fell in and lost his life the very day that we visited.  !

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Along the unprotected edge

Who would guess at the immensity of the canyon between this hill and the next?

This is such a surprising park.  The terrain seems to be these rolling hills, and if it weren't for the brown National Park signs, you would never suspect there might be something more to the landscape. I imagine people used to graze herds on these hills and then come to a drop off point where they realized--holy cow!
I once camped in a place like that (Dead Horse Point in Utah).  We pitched our tent after dusk, and woke up to wander a bit from the campsite to discover a huge canyon below.  Talk about a sharp gasp!  I understood exactly how the horses ran over the edge and gave that canyon its name.