Monday, April 26, 2010

Once Upon A Garden . . .

An old Mexican lived alone in Texas. He wanted to plant his annual tomato garden, but it was very difficult work, as the ground was hard.
His only son, Fernando, who used to help him, was in prison. The old man wrote a letter to his son and described his predicament:
Dear Fernando,
I am feeling pretty sad, because it looks like I won't be able to plant my tomato garden this year. I'm just getting too old to be digging up a garden plot. I know if you were here my troubles would be over . . . I know you would be happy to dig the plot for me, like in the old days.
Love, Papa
A few days later he received a letter from his son.
Dear Papacito,
Don't dig up that garden. That's where the bodies are buried.
At 4 a.m. the next morning, FBI agents and local police arrived and dug up the entire area without finding any bodies. They apologized to the old man and left.
That same day the old man received another letter from his son.
Dear Papacito,
Go ahead and plant the tomatoes now. That's the best I could do under the circumstances.
Te amo,

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Ranch

Rye grass in the bottom field
My parents own a ranch on the outskirts of town that we like to visit whenever we can.  On a lark, I took the girls and the baby out for a day trip with the hopes of getting an apiary to assemble.  No dice on the apiary, but the trip was not wasted in the least.

We have had several days of rain and cool weather in my little corner of the world.  Down on the property everything than can in getting up to bloom or has already bloomed.  The rye is tall down on the pastures and the pond is full.  A. and I took a little walk along the edge of the water hopping over little streams and rivulets.  In places where water had become trapped there were small brim and pollywogs.  The frogs have taken full advantage of all this water, their eggs seemed to have been laid early this year.  Wherever we advanced upon their position on bank they would fling themselves full-tilt into the water with a loud "eek!"  A. loved it and we spent a long time searching the banks for more frogs to surprise.
The pond

The land lies in the crook of the Brazos River, south of small dam that forms one boundary of a long skinny lake.  It rolls gently down from the top of the property at the road down to the river.  The river itself is full to the brim with rush water from the recent rains.  I was surprised to see it.  I always forget about the water that is to rise, but every year it does with a regularity that makes me feel out of step with nature.

The mighty Brazos River

In the not so distant past, before the dam, this property was farmland.  They grew cotton and corn.  Every spring the rains would come and flood the lower fields bringing the much need nutrients to the soil that would feed these crops that are such heavy feeders.  After the dam was built, the flooding stopped and the farmers had to depend on chemical fertilizers to build up the soil.
 Now this isn't a diatribe against modern farming.  It is simply an observation.  As the price of corn and cotton went down and the price of fertilizer went up the heirs of the land began to look for other sources of income.  Eventually the crops became less and less productive and the family that had owned the land for more generations than I even know sold it to an investor.  The land was tired, good for nothing more than a development.  Or so they thought.  One day along happened my folks and they fell in love.  They bought it from the investor and have slowly begun to restore the tired pastures using natural methods.

It has become wild over the years, there are many head of deer, javalina, possible a jaguarundi, and many species of venomous and non-venomous snakes.  There is an enormous owl in the southeast corner of the property.  Rabbits are plentiful.  The cardinals never fail to startle with their bright red coats as they streak through the brush and vines near the river.  There are scissor-tails and finches and jays that like to play in the fields up top.  The songbirds are too numerous to count.

I love this place.  It is truly God's country. On this trip, I noted where the blackberries had gone wild and blooming like crazy, the location of two great pecan trees that lean over the road (where pecan picking will be relatively easy and snake free), the wild grapes are setting their first tiny flowers nearby.  We picked wild garlic to go with some homegrown kale.

The new rooster
I need to carry a spade.  The garlic bulbs
stayed in the ground, but these will still be
good eats.

We visited the chickens.  There is a new rooster.  He is big and white with a speckled collar and black feathers.  I think he must be a Columbian Wyandotte.  He herded his ladies like a champ, making certain they did not stray too close to my vehicle, and he kept them away from the 3 year old (the animal world has decided that E. is a dangerous creature.  It is both funny and nerve-wracking).  It appears that they really did need a man around the house.

The girls collected eggs and chased after buttercup colored butterflies.  Too soon it was time to return home.  I made out traditional stop for chopped beef sandwiches (6 sandwiches for $5, you can't beat it).  I'm becoming vegetarian.  It was hard to resist.  I'll have to come better prepared next time.  It never fails that visits such as these make me want to run away to the country and live my life like Little House on the Prairie.  Maybe someday.  Do you have a refuge from the world?

the ladies

Isn't funny how different real eggs
 are from the store bought?  That little egg
has no yolk, but the long oblong one has two!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Question from the Combox

The question is:  How can I tackle the problem of the Grackle?  
For the uninitiated, Grackles are the bird equivalent of rats.  Say what you will about urban sprawl and habitat destruction, Grackles live where we live and can frequently be seen near and around areas that trees and fast food restaurants, and very little competition from other species.  They are aggressive foragers, aggressive breeders, create both noise pollution and actual pollution (in the form of massive amounts of bird poo), and they will wreck your garden if given half a chance.  Grackle abatement is a serious subject of many city councils as they cost cities tens of thousands of dollars to clean up after them.  They pose a health risk wherever they flock.  Among the parasites and illnesses that call Grackle, home, erm, vector, are Coccidia, West Nile Virus, and encephalitis, to name a few.  

A flock of Grackles is called a plague.  I'm not kidding. Early in the morning and near sunset, thousands of grackles can seen gathering in en masse.  The noise is deafening and they can literally black out the sky when they get going.  

Add caption
So what to do?  I don't know.  I don't have Grackle problems.  In researching the answer, I came across several articles that espoused different techniques and different products.  The main tactic seemed to be to let the Grackles no they are not at the top of your local food-chain.  Dogs and cats do not seems to affect them, but then my retriever isn't into hunting trashy birds, just barking at them.  Here are the top recommendations from the experts on the Interweb:
  • limit their food: eliminate bird feeders with trays until they are gone
  • shorten perches on post type bird feeders or invest in thistle seed feeders
  • do not throw seed out on the ground (aka. creating a Grackle free-for-all)
  • change your feed to something that Grackle don't prefer like safflower, black oil sunflower, or hulled sunflower seeds
  • consider a visual deterrent like a faux-Hawk or a giant plastic Owl
  • if you are really desperate call a falconer
Here is the article from the Fort Worth Star Telegram:

Saturday, April 17, 2010

On Gardening . . .

My name is Svetlana and I am gardening addict.  It started so simply, a few plants, a few soil amendments, a hoe. . . I don't know when it stopped being a choice and when it became a compulsion.  After the first week week of spring my cuticles are the color of dirt.   Some mornings I find myself wrist deep in the earth furiously digging out bermuda stolons with animal intensity . . . in my pink fruity pajamas (with my pears in the air like I just don't care . . .  Aaaaaaaaaa! Oooooooh!).  But I can stop anytime.  I don't need help.  Just because six mornings out of the week my husband happens to find me  digging or planting or clipping or watering in bare feet or that sometimes I drive by my house two or three times just to admire my roses that are bursting with white and pink blooms . . .  I'm fine.  Really.

The first Passion Flower
 of the season
Spring has sprung!  Wherever you are in the Northern Hemisphere, signs that the Earth is renewing its spirit after the long (or short if you live in the Southern US) slumber of winter.  For me the urges to get out and dig in the dirt are as powerful as any nesting compulsion I've ever had (and actually, my nesting usually takes the form of some sort of radical desire to homestead, but that is another post).  In years past the desire to cultivate was strong, but the timing was all wrong.  Either time or money was arrayed against me and I would pout until the scorching heat of summer drove me indoors until fall.

Rhubarb in Lasagna Garden bed
Texas has three growing seasons (four if you are in the south), which is lovely, but we do pay for it with 100°F+ days and in many parts of the state, drought.  There is something so miraculous about tending the soil, sowing seed, and bringing forth a bounty of sustenance.   Actually, it is nothing short of habit forming.  

I have used many methods of garden plot planning from sod removal, to raised beds in boxes, raised beds out of boxes, lasagna gardening, container gardens, etc.  This year I have struck upon the method for the Lazy Girl in me.  Garden in a bag.  I use the Square Foot Gardening Technique with this method and it works beautifully.

Bag of Soil with a 3-sided cut opening.
The flap is rolled and tucked into the bag.
Starting with 2 or 4 or 6 one cubic foot bags of soil, begin by selecting your site.  Stab a few holes in one side of the bag.  Flip it over, laying it flat and cut a flap out of the top of the bag.  If you are planting peppers or eggplant, no more than 2 to 4 seedlings per  bag.  For tomatoes, 2 seems to be the limit.  Cucumber and lettuce seeds can be sown directly into the bags and gently watered or poked into place.  Sow radish and carrot seeds together and water in.  For lettuce, radishes, and carrots sprinkling a few more seeds on every 2 weeks or so will keep you going for a long time.   

Once the seeds begin sprouting I like to use a little homemade foliar spray to help encourage healthy foliage and root growth.  Mine is a combination of fish emulsion, cider vinegar, and molasses.  There are lots of recipes online for this kind of spray, including Garrett Juice.  Spraying once a week until you see flowers and then twice a week after fruit has begun to set seems to be a manageable and beneficial regimen.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tiny Vernal Wonders

Flowering Aromatic Sumac
Bridal Wreath Spirea

Tiny Red Flame Grape Budding Flowers
Dew on Red Clover

What Do I Do with the Rest of the Paska Cheese After I Run Out of Bread?

I made a huge recipe of Paska Cheese ala Vladyka Dmitri for Pascha, but after giving away a bunch and eating a bunch (schmears of cheese on apples, pears, crackers, bread, etc).  I still have a pound left.  What to do, what to do?  I know!  Strawberry Swirl Paska Cheescake Bars!

2  pkgs graham crackers
2-3 tbsp melted butter
1/4 cup of sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
Strawberries for Swirling:
1-10 oz pkg frozen strawberries in syrup
1 tbsp cornstarch
3 cups of Paska Cheese
2 eggs
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F and set rack to the middle.
  2. Process the graham crackers in the food processor until crumbs, add cinnamon, and sugar.  Add melted butter and pulse until the mixture looks like wet sand.
  3. Pour crust fixin's into a 9x13 pyrex dish and press firmly into the bottom of the dish.
  4. Take the strawberries put into a blender and blend until smooth.
  5. Pour into a saucepan.  Add cornstarch and cook until thickened.  Set aside to cool.
  6. In a bowl, place your Paska Cheese and crack two eggs into the bowl.  Mix thoroughly.
  7. Pour your cheese-egg mixture into your pyrex dish.  Smooth.
  8. Drop globs of strawberry into the cheese-egg mixture.  With a fork or a chopstick, swirl away!
  9. Bake for 30 minutes until the center is set.
  10. Set on a rack to cool.  Then out in the refrigerate to chill for at least 2 hours.

Coming to a Coffee Hour near you!

Saturday, April 3, 2010


I am making the artos for church.  It is not going well.  I will have to start over.  I hate starting over.  Please.  If you read this and there are hours left in the day, pray for me.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Oh! Logismoi!

I was driven from sleep and not long thereafter, my bed, by the flood of anxiety-inducing, mind spinning, thought-racers, logismoi (log-iss-MEE).

For the uninitiated, it goes something like this:

What if?What if!  I bet she thinks that, if she said that to me then I would say this! And then in typical fashion she would respond with 'X' and I would say [insert brilliant remark here].  And that would show her.

Or more commonly:

Hmm.  I'm awake.  The baby hasn't woken up yet.  What time is it?  I'm afraid to look.  What if he isn't breathing?  What if I heard his not breathing and that's what woke me up?  I'm afraid to look.  Should I get out of bed and go over there?  I can't.  He'll wake up or worse not wake up.  Maybe I should wake up Mr. Flavius and get him to check.  Mr Flavius is snoring.  Snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea.  Does he have sleep apnea?  Maybe that's why he does [insert random idiosyncratic tick].  Maybe I should wake him up?  He could check on the baby. Whatwasthat?!  Was that the dog?  Does the dog have fleas?  Fleas carry parasites.  Parasites are so gross.  Can they get in your epicardium?    

This is my brain on logismoi if I do nothing.

The logismoi is the unending stream of thoughts that are always with us.  Freud called this the id and ego, but I truly think that this was giving it too much legitmacy.  Freud believed the ego was the 'I' and the id was the impulse drive behind the 'I.'  The fathers talk about the nous and the logismoi.  Simply put the nous is the heart or the eye of the soul and the logismoi is
the thoughts which are connected with images as well as with the various stimulations originating from the senses and the imagination. The thoughts logismoi evolve to sin through the stages of desire, action and passion. They are called logismoi because they act in the reason (logiki).
~Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
The Fathers would say the nous, the heart is the 'I' and the mind, full of this logismoi, is the thing that distracts us from our authentic selves.  That most of us do not know ourselves and misidentify the authentic self as this stream of consciousness is sad.  It makes the rise of stream of consciousness as a writing technique and therapeutic tool even more sad.  Is there no place that we have not given over to our lowest passions?  But this is the deal, right?

In reading the Fathers, speaking with my priest, and listening to the podcast of Archmandrate Meletios Webber there is but one consistent answer:  prayer.

I am a particularly lazy woman and sometimes (okay, let's be honest:  all of the time) I would rather stay in bed and drown in this dross rather than struggle against it.  Were it not for the anxiety actually causing me to twitch and fidget, thus giving rise to my other
great anxiety and physically driving me out of bed and then my bedroom I might actually succeed in drowning in the dross.  And once out of bed I find myself with 3 choices:  the Interwebs:  Extra! Extra!  Google all about it!  Logismoi drowns woman searching internet for endocardiac-parasytic-infections-from-fleas-related-to-sleep-apnea!  TV, to drown out the logismoi and avoid the struggle.  Or finally, the Icon Corner, to wrestle with our defeated foe and throw myself on Christ's mercy.  I wish I could say that I chose Door #3 more often.  Struggle, struggle, struggle

I have nothing particularly enlightening to say here about all of this other than to say that Metropolitan Jonah says that when in the course of your struggle you feeling like things are getting worse then it means you're actually getting better.  Maybe it is because we are actually engaged in the struggle.  Fr. Joseph Huneycutt related a story about some-holy-father-whose-name-escapes-me, who said that "when the Devil with his temptations keeps pricking, pricking, pricking at me . . .  I thank him.  'Thank you for reminding me of my Lord.  I had forgotten him, but for your reminding me'."  He went on to say that after that the Devil will leave you because even he will not work for free and bring benefit to your soul. I like what Fr. Stephen of Glory to God for All Things has written about it and I invite you to go read what someone, who is far smarter and holier than I, has said about it.