Thursday, February 28, 2008

one year of blogging

Well, as I said yesterday, today marks one year of blogging for me. I can't believe I've been doing this for a year! I thought I would tell you how it all began for me.

About a year ago, I was looking for info on the No-Knead bread and found a beautiful step-by-step pictorial on Kitt's blog. I scrolled through her blog a little and found a photo of her first crocus. We were still in the dead of winter here in Minnesota so that made me smile. And then a few posts further down I found a photo of her standard poodle, Sophie. Well, of course, she had me hooked right there! I left a comment and she responded by asking for my blog address and saying she'd love to see our dogs. I took a look at Blogger and decided I could figure out how to at least show her the dogs. I did this post and then went on to do another and another and, with a little help and lots of encouragement from Kitt, pretty soon I was hooked on blogging! I thought the blog would be a great way to keep in touch with family and to share my gardens, so I shared my new hobby with them. My dad and Mark's dad are my two most faithful readers - they check the blog first thing every morning. I love it!

I spent quite a bit of time being a "lurker" - looking but not leaving comments on other blogs. Thank goodness I moved beyond that stage! It was so fun when more people began coming here and leaving comments for me. I love being a part of this community. I have met so many wonderful people - it makes my family smile, but I think of you all as friends. It would give me great pleasure to meet each of you and sit down for a cuppa and walk through your gardens and see all of your beautiful handcrafts. I feel honored to be a part of this whole experience.

Thanks to all of you for sharing your beautiful blogs - your joys and sorrows - for touching me in ways you'll never know. I treasure each of you. And thanks for coming here from time to time and sharing my little space in Blogland too. I am so looking forward to my second year of blogging!!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

finicky eaters and other tails

This is Tess trying a new diet. She doesn't seem to care too much for the veggies - lol. Kobie has been battling ear infections for close to a year now. My sweet boy is very stoic, and I usually don't realize that he even has ear problems until they're full-blown - which is perhaps a big part of the problem. But since the first of the year he has been under the care of a doggie dermatologist, and a week ago we decided we need to do allergy testing to see if we can get this under control. The good news would be if the special diet works - the bad news is the food costs $52.00 for an 18-lb bag (the largest size they package). Both dogs have to eat the same food for the testing to be valid. My two lovelies eat about 18 lbs a week - easily. I'm hoping I don't have to go out and find a full-time job to pay for their food and vet bills!!! Yesterday the vet told me I could add certain veggies to increase the fiber content - hopefully that would mean they'd be eating less of the expensive food. Both dogs meticulously picked out each and every piece of vegetable and spit it on the floor. It was pretty funny to see. If I offered them each a bowl of chicken pot pie with vegetables, they'd inhale it, of course. I'll keep you posted.

Look at my growing collection of gently-used knives. When we were married - oh so many years ago! - we bought the best knives we could afford - Chicago Cutlery. But recently Mark started buying Wustof at sales and on eBay. We have a couple more on our list to try and find - but I am loving the ones we have so far.
Last weekend we hit an estate sale and found two treasures for me. The first was this herb cutting knife and bowl. We cleaned and oiled them, and I think they're going to work really well. Now I can't wait for summer and fresh herbs from my garden!

The second find was a new foutain for the gardens. The auction listing said "garden sculptures" - Mark was unimpressed with what he saw sitting in the snow. But I noticed these cattails and thought they might look pretty cool with my grasses. When we went out and started digging a little, we discovered that the cattails were part of a small fountain. Even better!! The entire group is copper and has a beautiful patina. The cattail pieces are sitting on rods stuck in the cement base - and all of that sits in the basin. I think I'll probably add some rocks to hide the cement. The pump attaches to one cattail stem. I can't wait to see it hooked up and working - after we're finally done with freezing cold weather, of course! The top photo is so cluttered, I'm not sure you can see the cattails - but I'll be showing you more photos when it's sitting in my garden.

Tomorrow marks my one year blogiversary. I can't believe I've been doing this for a whole year. I'm planning to put up a post that tells you how it all began...

Thursday, February 21, 2008

a new video

Our neighbors bought a weather vane (I think that's what you call these things??) this winter. It's so cool and I like it so much that I thought you all should see it too. They're planning to attach it to their dock this summer - I hope they put it on our side so we can enjoy it. It's really mesmerizing to watch.

Did you all catch the lunar eclipse last night? It was really cold here, but the dogs and I bundled up and went out every 20 minutes for the first hour. By the time it was eclipsed, the moon had risen enough to be right outside our bedroom window - so I could lay on the bed and enjoy it in comfort!! (and more importantly, warmth!!) (well, guess the comfort part would be excluding the fact that I had two huge dogs jumping on me!) Wish I had a photo to share, but I was too lazy to dig out a tripod so all the ones I took have multiple moons - interesting, but not exactly what I was after.

Monday, February 18, 2008

i have wheels again

Thank you for all of your comments and support last week when I was without wheels. As so often happens, the day after my whining, the truck started, and I spent the rest of the week running here and there and getting nothing done here at home. Maybe THIS will be the week I catch up on blogging and cleaning and laundry and reading and...
Our weather has been a rollercoaster this year - sub-zero way too often - but after a couple freezing cold days, the teens and 20's feel like spring - so guess there's a bright side to everything! This weekend we had two days in the mid 30's!! It was wonderful - but today it was in the single digits again. Our son who lives in Seattle called today and said he spent time working in their garden this weekend. Sounds wonderful - but I still have several weeks before that's even a possibility here, I'm afraid.

Saturday while we were out running a few errands, we saw these three planes sitting on the lake in front of a restaurant near our home. Aren't they cute? I'm thinking jumping in the plane to meet for lunch would be too fun!

I have been very negligent in my blog housekeeping. About a month ago nonizamboni at Peacock Blue gave me this award. And then a couple weeks ago, Tristi gave me the same award. Thanks, guys!! Even though I am very slow at thanking you, please know that I am honored to receive this award. Nonizamboni lives in the Twin Cities, and I love reading her posts - if I lived on her side of town, we would run into each other all the time, I think! And Tristi just cracks me up with some of her posts - her stories about her children's antics are a stitch. Thanks to both of you for making blogging so much fun! And thanks to all of my blogger friends - you ALL make my day!!

Monday, February 11, 2008

i'm tired of this cold weather

This has just not been a good day. I think I need some serious R&R in a nice warm place. Mark drove his car to the airport early this morning. We were pretty sure my truck would start because it was running yesterday, so I opted to sleep in instead of taking him. I was planning to meet a dear friend that I haven't seen in forever for lunch. The truck would not start. It didn't even make any whining noises. So I am without transportation until late Thursday night. If I have an emergency, I have neighbors who would take me wherever I need to go - but being guys, they probably wouldn't consider lunch an emergency. Whatever. I've cancelled all other appointments for the week - and I guess I'll keep busy with blogging, reading and actually getting my work done on time. But what a bummer. Stupid truck only has 200,000 miles on it and it's acting like an old lady.

I've been going through old photos and scanning some of them into the computer. I came across these two the other day and thought you would get a laugh out of them. Being a farm girl, I was in 4-H growing up. I learned to make bread the old-fashioned way - lots of hand mixing and kneading. I truly like the new wet dough way better! This was a bread-making workshop during the summer before my 8th grade year (if memory serves me right). Our loaves look kind of puny - but I remember that they smelled heavenly. Oh - I'm the cute one in the center - LOL!!
Remember the accordion-playing girl? This was me in high school - 64 would have been freshman year. We wore these heavy, itchy wool uniforms for marching band (whether it was 90 or 30 degrees out) and for two band concerts held in a tiny little, sweltering gym each year. I loved band - most of my friends were in band, and we had so much fun. I played the French horn - I can always pick out the French horns in classical music - truly a beautiful sound.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

warm thoughts on a cold day

I realized today that Mark won't be home on Valentine's Day. I was not happy. Over the course of five weeks, he will have been gone a total of four. Believe it or not, I actually prefer to have him here! :) It was so cold this weekend that we didn't even go out for an early celebration. Maybe we'll do something fun next weekend. In the meantime, I said no to roses. I LOVE roses - but I much prefer them in the summer gardens. This time of year I'm yearning for tulips and daffodils. A nice little winter get-away to a beach somewhere would be very welcome also!

One of my favorite Valentine recollections is of one several years ago. Mark left work early and met me at a theater complex to see the 4pm showing of Chocolate. It was so fun - so out of the norm - to go to a weekday matinee. I loved it.

Mark caught Kobie and Tess this week on a warmer day - the bright sun had them squinting, but we were all enjoying the relative warmth.

I am in love with the European Peasant Bread from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. It has a little rye flour and a little whole wheat flour, and the taste is wonderful - kind of a nutty flavor I think. I've also made focaccia from the olive oil dough. I think I'll probably have to try all of the doughs in the book - what a hardship! LOL

Thursday, February 7, 2008

new garden - part deux

My apologies to everyone who visited this post earlier! Mark just picked up books at the library for me - one of them was The Jane Austen Book Club. I was reading the back of the book - this copy has info on the movie. "Kathy BAKER" jumps off the page at me. Oh, no, I know I wrote Kathy Bates - shoot. Yup, a quick check of the blog and indeed that's exactly what I did. I'm so sorry. However, if you see the movie, I don't think you'll be disappointed - Kathy BAKER is absolutely wonderful.

Thanks for the comments on my new garden ideas for the driveway. I look forward to reading more! As I was reading the comments, it occurred to me I didn't give you as much info as I could have. The driveway is on the north-northwest side of our house. Last year I placed half barrels along the edge of the driveway in an attempt to ward off some of the construction traffic on our street. The overview photo on yesterday's post was taken at about 9 am - the sun hadn't made it to the driveway yet. The second photo in this post was taken at 10:30 am - and you can see that the barrel is casting a shadow. The first photo shown here was taken at about 6 pm, so I get at least 8 hours of bright, hot sunshine along the edge of the road - where the garden will be placed. (photos taken around 7/20) ((the shadow on the left side of this photo is me trying to get a photo without a shadow - lol))

Last night I was checking more info on the net and making notes, and I started thinking that I'm not sure actually where my sun is in that area. The barrels did fine on all sides because they get all day sun basically from side to side. But if I plant a taller ornamental grass, the street side may not get as much sun as I was thinking. I'm not sure how the summer sun works its way across this space. I wouldn't be too upset to just plant a lovely big stand of ornamental grass - or to have a few other shorter plants on the house side - it would look nice from the house and patio area. I know Mark wants me to keep as much driveway space as possible because he's afraid I'll eventually treat the driveway like I do the yard - it's all potential garden. I can't actually deny that thought has crossed my mind! :) One thought I had was to plant the grasses kind of behind the rocks I want out there - with half barrels of annuals as fill for the forward space. So many possibilities!! I appreciate your input - and no doubt you will be hearing most of the thoughts that flit through my little brain on this topic.

Tuesday night I watched The Jane Austen Book Club. I loved it. I adored the group of women in this movie. Kathy BAKER played the oldest member of the group - and she was so nurturing to the other women - without being overbearing or cloying. I thought perhaps I want to be that character when (if) I grow up. Or maybe better yet, I want a best friend just like her. She was so confident with who she was - again, without being pushy or controlling about it - I just loved her. I thought it was a good chick flick.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

a new garden?

Okay, I'm kind of psyched. Some blogs I've visited lately have been showing garden photos from last year - instead of snow, snow and more snow - and quite a few gardeners are thinking about plans for this spring. Thank you - started me thinking about my own garden plans!

One area I would really like to do some major revamping is our driveway. We live on a narrow dead-end street that would probably qualify as an alley. Parking is at a premium. But what I've noticed for us is that we need tons of parking only 2 or 3 times a year. Wouldn't it be easier to arrange the parking we need for those 2 or 3 times instead of having this huge open (and might I add, ugly) driveway along the street?

When we first moved into this house, the gravel area you see in the above photo was a grassy area that was about 18-24 inches lower than the street. It's enclosed with a cement retaining wall that runs along the street and back to the garage. When our sons started driving we filled in that lawn area to enlarge the driveway. It was a good choice - for years we really needed all that room for cars. But I'm thinking it's time to make it look pretty and more inviting again.

We still need room for cars and boats and utility trailers in the driveway, but I'm thinking maybe I could dig up a portion of the driveway along the street and fill it in with good black dirt and plant a pretty little boulevard garden. I'm thinking about tall ornamental grasses with shorter plants in front (toward the street) - and, oh yes, a couple of nice rocks to hopefully keep people from driving through my lovely new garden. We would still have room for the utility trailer and to store a boat in the winter. The trailer would be at least partially screened from the street, which I'm sure would make some of our neighbors happier. And our kitchen door and patio area would be partially screened from their view. I'm thinking lots of happier people!!

So, this is where you all come in. Our street isn't as heavily sanded and salted in the winter as a lot of places, but we still get a fair amount. I'll need to plant things that are fairly salt tolerant - both from salt spray and salt in the soil. So far my research has led me to believe that Karl Foerster reed grass is the perfect solution for the screening part. Have any of you grown the Karl Foerster? I'm also looking for shorter plants to fill in around the rocks and in front of the grass. If any of you have suggestions - for tall or shorter plants - I'd love to hear them.

There are lots of primary roads in the Cities that have beautiful plantings, so I can do some research here also and see what cities and counties have chosen for their salt-tolerant plantings. I'm so excited about this! Keep your fingers crossed that I can come up with a plan that both Mark and the city will approve!! An added plus is that I really like ornamental grasses - but can't have them in the main gardens because Kobie eats them - I mean eats them to the ground on a regular basis. This would be an area that he doesn't get to visit without supervision. Gosh, it's beginning to feel like spring! :)

Friday, February 1, 2008

Winter hibernation

A couple weeks ago I posted a photo of some baked ziti I had made for dinner that night. Lynne asked me if I would share the recipe. Of course!! It's from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook - one of my favorite cookbooks.

Baked Ziti with Tomatoes and Mozzarella

1 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for oiling the dish
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
2 tbsp minced fresh basil
1/4 tsp sugar
1 pound ziti (or any short tubular pasta like rigatoni or penne)
8 oz mozzarella, shredded (2 cups)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees - rack in middle position.
2. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil for the ziti.
3. Cook 1 tbsp oil and the garlic in a skillet over medium heat, stirring often, until the garlic is fragrant but not browned - about 2 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes with their juice. Bring to a simmer and cook until thickened slightly, about 15 minutes. Stir in the basil, sugar and 1/2 tsp salt.
4. When the water is boiling, stir in 1 tbsp salt and the ziti. Cook, stirring often, until the ziti is almost tender but still a little firm to the bite.
5. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain the ziti and return it to the pot. Stir in the tomato sauce and toss to coat. Add the reserved pasta cooking water as needed to loosen the sauce.
6. Spread half of the ziti in an oiled 9x13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with half of the mozzarella and half of the Parmesan cheese. Spread the remaining ziti in the dish and sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan.
7. Bake until the cheeses turn golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Note: you can add 1 lb cooked hot or sweet Italian sausage and 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes to the skillet with the tomatoes if desired. I use frozen tomatoes in place of the 2 cans of tomatoes called for. And I use more cheese than they call for. :)

Serves 6

I usually make a half recipe and Mark and I easily get 2 generous meals out of it. I've done both the vegetarian and the Italian sausage - both were very, very good. Lynne, if you try it, let me know what you think!

So, I've been very bad at blogging lately! I guess nothing too interesting has been happening here - it seems to be all about the weather - either unseasonably nice days or deep-freeze cold. Hopefully, we've seen the last of the frigid cold for awhile.

I've been trying to organize my storage areas. I don't really understand why I have to do this EVERY year - obviously I haven't quite hit on the right place for everything yet!! One thing I did that I am very pleased with is moving the barrister into the dining room. It makes a great china cabinet! And it takes up less space than the ice box. The ice box moved into the living room - but, of course, not where I had the barrister. Mark was shaking his head, but it was necessary to move 3 large cabinets to make this all work. :)

Right now, I have crystal in the barrister. But, truth be told, I rarely use my beautiful crystal pieces - even when they're staring me in the face. So I'm thinking about packing the crystal away for awhile and filling the barrister with everyday stuff - kind of leaning toward putting pottery in it. I'm sure you'll see photos if I actually do that!!

The other big move I made was to take all of the photos out of this cabinet. You know the ones - the boxes and bags of photos that should be in albums, but, sadly, are not. I decided I needed more space for table linens - and also a place for beach towels. This cabinet worked perfectly. I kept the placemats in the dining room hutch because we use them more often when it's just Mark and me here. I'm excited about having beach towels handy - we can just grab them as we head out the door to the boat or lake. Kind of a strange combination, but it will work great for us.

My biggest organizing project has been in the basement. But I'm not showing photos of that - lol. You'll just have to take my work for it that right now everything seems to have a place on the storage shelves. I'm quite pleased!!