Easing in

I’ve been so worn out from work and life lately that I just didn’t want to make time to write on the blog. But today I’m feeling refreshed and ready to ease back into blogging with a short post.

It’s Sunday — a much-needed day off– and it’s sunny outside. We rolled the clocks back and resumed standard time, so I didn’t feel bad about lounging in bed for extra time this morning. Because it’s dry and sunny I’m heading out to work in the garden and yard after this, though, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time in front of the computer.

We had a brutal summer here. A couple of weeks ago while B and I were doing some yard work on a perfectly lovely day, we took a break to sit on the porch. B noted that we had barely spent any time out there this summer. It was much too hot and humid, and we holed up inside staying cool. Now that we’re moving quickly towards winter, I need to catch up on the yard work that I would normally have been doing all summer: weeding, trimming, transplanting, and tending to the veggie garden.

During that lovely day two weeks ago B helped me to the biggest chores of closing down the garden. The tomato and pepper plants were taken out, and the supports put away. B turned the compost and chipped up all the small branches and twigs I’ve collected over the year, and I got in some weeding and transplanting, too.

Today we’re going to rake and bag leaves, then put them into storage for the winter. I use dry leaves as bedding in the chicken coop all year ’round, and look forward to replenishing the stock. I’m also going to plant garlic today in one bed, and maybe even part of another. Last year I planted two 4×8 beds with three varieties of garlic, shallots, and multiplier onions. The onions didn’t work out very well (they were quite small) and some of the varieties of garlic produced disappointingly small heads. This year I’m going to just plant the garlic variety that produced larger heads. (I really wish I knew the name of the variety, but I failed to write the names in my gardening records and relied solely on markers with permanent ink that turned out to be not so permanent!)

To close I’m going to mention a new morning ritual that we’ve developed over the past few months. I call it the morning love fest. When I start to stir in the morning (either because the alarm clock woke me, or my internal alarm went off), I hear Hannah dog get up from her bed in the corner and start to stretch and shake. (Dogs always stretch after getting up from a lie down; we could learn from that!) I call her, and she jumps up on the bed and settles down near me. This is when the love fest starts in earnest, as I pet her and stroke her and talk about the dreams and goings on the night before. If B is feeling awake enough, he may join in and start petting Hannah, too. I’ll ease out of bed and stretch my legs while leaning into the bed and continuing to pet her (usually she’s on her back by this time and I’m giving her a good chest and tummy rub) and talking about the day ahead. And then it’s time for me to get really moving, so I stop the petting and she leaps off the bed in a show of great agility, all ready to  go outside and embrace the day. Isn’t that a lovely way to get started in the morning?

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Hot, hot, hot

Summer didn’t officially start until a couple of weeks ago, but it’s already been brutally hot. Last Thursday we had a heat index of 110 F and a city-wide heat advisory. These heat advisories started being issued after the 1995 heat wave that was deadly to over 700 Chicago residents. At that time I was living in an apartment with no air conditioning and spent most of my evenings in a cool tub of water or laying prostrate in front of a window fan. I was young, healthy, and unafraid to open my windows, unlike most of the people who died. But ever since that time the city has issued these heat advisories and prompted people to check on their elderly and infirm neighbors, leave their stifling apartments for air-conditioned city facilities, or call our non-emergency number of 311 to arrange for city employees to visit or transport people who need well-being checks.

In addition to the heat, its been very dry. We are in drought and while the extreme heat has brought it’s share of storm activity, most of the rain has been missing my area of the city. Two nights ago we got a very good shower that provided close to an inch of rain according to my rain gauge. That’s the first shower we’ve had in at least two weeks. I’ve been watering the raised beds full of veggies at least every other day and setting the sprinkler up to water the front and back yard ornamentals about once a week. It’s times like this that I mentally kick myself for not putting the soaker hoses back in place after I took them up nearly two years ago. My ornamentals are all well-established and tough perennials, though, so they are doing OK with the limited rain.

I did make one bone-headed mistake early last week. I set up the sprinkler to water the ornamentals behind the house one evening after work. I started it about 7 PM and then went back into the house to prepare and eat dinner and do my normal week-night things. I meant to turn the sprinkler off after about an hour, but I completely forgot about it. At roughly 1 AM the next morning, I woke up and realized I had left the sprinkler on, so I dashed outside to turn it off. The plants really enjoyed that watering, at least, and this was one of those times I was extremely grateful that older houses like mine in Chicago do not have water meters.

The chickens have been doing very well, too, and for that I’m grateful. According to the posts on the Chicago Chicken Enthusiasts Google Group, two of our local chicken keepers lost hens due to the extreme heat last Thursday. My chickens get a lot of shade and I’ve put out an extra two-gallon water fount for them ever since it started getting really hot. Several weeks ago I also reconfigured the roosts inside their coop to allow for them to spread out more at night and have enough room to cock their wings to dissipate body heat. They also have a roosting bar in the attached, secure run so they could hang out there at night if they want. I’m very impressed that their egg production has stayed so high despite the heat. Most days I get four eggs a day from the five hens. Truly amazing.

“Little roo,” as I call the rescued bantam rooster, is firmly integrated into the flock. It only took him a couple of weeks of getting to know the hens before he started jumping them, but the ladies seem to have him in hand. It was actually a bit funny to watch since he is so much smaller than the hens; this seems to be one of those situations where size *does* matter, so I don’t think there will be any fertile eggs coming from the hens, despite his best attempts. With the extreme heat, I’ve seen almost none of this activity on his part, so maybe he’s giving up for now. His crow has changed lately, too. For the past week he’s sounded almost as if he has a sore throat!

He’s wary of me, and also a bit touchy if it seems like I have “intentions” towards his ladies. When the flock is let out to wander the yard, he’s pecked me on the foot a couple of times and thrown himself at the back of my legs a few times, too. I’ve taken to giving him plenty of room and being firm, but kind when he shows any aggression to me. I’ve managed to catch him a few times, hold him firmly, and stroke his neck. He calms down right away when held and the neck stroking makes him almost purr.

A pair of young squirrels are now living in the big maple behind the house. Hannah dog has been getting quite a workout chasing them along the fence and in the yard. The squirrels are still learning their own limits and one day last week Hannah actually caught one on the ground. I immediately called out to her and she dropped it. The little squirrel hid in among some plants, while Hannah moved away. I routed it with a broom and it scampered to the tree and up to safety, so it was unharmed.

Despite all the fun we have with Hannah’s squirrel obsession, I don’t want her to actually kill a squirrel, and I was happy she was so attentive to my call. There’s more to write about Hannah dog and how we’ve been relating over the past several months, but I think I’ll save that for another post.

Today is a lazy Sunday, or as lazy as I usually let them get. I have to drop off the overflowing recycling (this household produces only one 13-gallon bag of trash every 2-3 weeks, but the recycling is 2-3 times that much! how I wish for a blue cart!) and neaten the house. The dining room table is piled with stuff that needs putting away, but I also want to sit in the cool air conditioning and do some knitting. And since the day will be too hot to take Hannah dog out for a walk (she overheats easily, maybe due to her dark coloring), we’ll have to fit in some indoor play time, as well.

So I am off to enjoy my day! I’d love to read comments from my few readers about what you’ve been up to and how you spend your weekends.

No contest

Life isn’t a contest. Neither is gardening.

It seems I have to remind myself of this every year when it’s late spring I find I have way too much to do in the garden. Well, let’s be honest and say, way too much that *I* want to do in the garden. No one is forcing me be super gardener other than myself.

I was quite proud of my gardening prowess last fall when I planted a bed with a mix of leftover cold hardy seeds and managed to carry many of them over through the winter. We had a very mild winter this year, which I’m sure helped, but I’m still going to give myself a pat on the back for those efforts. Some of the overwintered chard remains, but it is bolting rather dramatically now and needs to be pulled. Since I haven’t yet gotten around to sowing any spring chard (really, I should have done so in March) I’m keeping the bolting as much under control as I can. Between the overwintered chard and the mustard volunteers that keep popping up, I’m able to have meals with greens so far with no planting involved.

We had a hail storm here just over a week ago, though, and the big chard and mustard leaves took a beating.

Hail damaged chard

Hail damaged chard. (And a bolting beet plant in the foreground.)

Hail damaged volunteer mustard plant.

Hail damaged volunteer mustard plant.

The Alliums I planted last fall — garlic, shallots, and multiplier onions — were also bruised a bit. Everything is bouncing back, though, and I was able to make a tasty meal out of the damaged mustard and chard leaves.

More importantly, the chickens came through the ordeal just fine and the coops were undamaged. B and I were both very glad that we can keep our cars inside a garage, too. Every car parked on the street or in an uncovered area had noticeable hail damage.

When trying to do some serious gardening, it really helps to keep good records and that’s another place where I’m failing. I have a nice little garden notebook where I try to jot down pertinent details like what I planted where and when. Unfortunately, I’m not always so good with making these notes. I recorded the seeds planted for the fall bed of greens very diligently; I even sketched out where I planted everything in the bed. I failed to note the date, though.

Even worse, all the stakes I carefully placed at each row of items in the Allium beds have suffered from the elements and all the writing has faded away. (If you think permanent ink Sharpies stay permanent in the garden…think again.) I neglected to sketch these beds out in my garden notebook, too, so I’ll have no idea which varieties of garlic worked best for me this year. Doh!

It’s Mother’s Day weekend, which for most Chicago area gardeners is the traditional time for putting warm season plants in. The garden stores will be crazy this weekend, but I’ll likely take my chances there since I never started anything from seed this year indoors. Of course. Every year I think I may start indoor seeds…and every year I never find the time.

One thing I’m not picking up at the garden stores this weekend is tomato plants. Every year, I put in a few tomato plants like a dutiful gardener. But I don’t eat raw tomatoes. I hate raw tomatoes. (I’m not alone here; I’ve met plenty of people who share my intense dislike for raw tomatoes.) I do like cooked tomatoes, though, and even sun-dried ones. So I have decided I will plant only paste tomatoes this year.

Since most of the garden stores and nurseries around here will have tomato plant stocks slanted heavily towards slicers, beefsteaks, and other fresh eating varieties, I’ve decided to order my tomato plants this year. Too bad I didn’t think of ordering them until this morning, so I’ll have to wait to put those in for at least a week or two. *sigh*

Well, at least the variety I ordered is an open pollinated one. If I like the plants, I can save some seeds. Maybe I’ll even get around to starting them next spring.

On course

It’s Sunday night and time to write again! It’s late and I need to get to bed soon, so this will have to be a short post, though.

Weekends go so fast. Where did the time go?

  • Friday night dinner with Rachael at Xoco. I think I started things off on the wrong foot or it would have been a better evening. I was hungry and hadn’t expected that we would have to wait for over 40 minutes to eat, so I was a bit cranky at first. But good friends understand that you can’t always be at your best. Despite the celebrity chef food, I enjoyed the home-cooked dinner at Rachael’s apartment the last time we got together much better.
  • Cleaning the house on Saturday morning. I actually dusted. I hate dusting. I had put it off for so long, some of my shelves were pretty bad, so it was a necessary evil. To make the time go as pleasantly as possible, I chatted with Adrienne as I performed the dreaded chore.
  • Working out with the trainer at the gym. I like the new trainer I have. She’s very personable and motivating and she’s adding boxing and yoga stretching to my routine. Fun!
  • Going out to lunch with B. We hit another Mexican sandwich shop (the second in two days!). This time it was Cemita’s Puebla in Humboldt Park. The restaurant had been featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives and they have lots of signage noting this honor. It was sweet how we were greeted by the owner as soon as we walked in and given an overview of what makes their food different. B and I shared a plate of chalupas, then he finished his carne asada cemita while I struggled through my Milanesa cemita. I think I liked his better, but they were both very good. Washed down with some Mexican Coke (glass bottles and sugar-sweetened), I managed to finish most of my cemita, but I was absolutely stuffed afterwards.
  • Movie night! After spending a few hours of downtime digesting our enormous lunch, B and I headed out to see Social Network. Actually we had decided to see Nowhere Boy, but the movie times were wrong on Fandango, and we didn’t want to wait another hour at the theater. Social Network was on our list, too, so it wasn’t hard to change our plans. I was a bit confused by all the jumping back and forth between different depositions at the beginning of the film, but it eventually became clear what was going on.
  • Sleeping in. Oh boy did we sleep in today! I did have to get up to take care of the dogs at around 7:30 AM, but I went back to bed and quickly went back to sleep. I finally woke up at 10:30. Unheard of! There was a bit more lounging in bed after that. So much lounging that breakfast was really lunch today. I put together a pot of chili and started it simmering, then it was time to head out to the garden. All of the warm weather plants needed to be pulled: the tomatoes, the peppers, the cucumbers, and the pole beans. Such a lot of work it was, too, but B was helping me so it went much more quickly than I thought it would. There’s more garden clean up to do in a few more weeks, but I’m well set for the first frost. And I think I have enough cucumbers and peppers to last me a very long time, if only they’ll keep. The peppers can be cut up, bagged and added to the freezer, but the cucumbers need to be eaten within the next week or two. I see lots of cucumbers in my upcoming menus.

So, how did you spend your weekend?

Like visiting an old friend

Hello, blog. It’s been a long time since I’ve checked in with you, hasn’t it? I’ve been much too busy lately, but it hasn’t all been dreary work keeping me occupied. I’ve been having a lot fun, too. And it’s really more the fun stuff that is keeping me away.

I actually took 3 whole days off of work recently, and spent most of that time engaged in fun, fun, fun right here in my hometown. I spent a morning having breakfast with G and his mother at Manny’s [his idea; yeah, he wanted me to meet his mother, OK?]; a day with Adrienne; and another day going to the movies and having lunch with G. And the nights…well…let’s just leave that to the imagination. [Oh, yeah!!]

The weather has continued to be very springlike: cool and wet. We’re not used to having a real spring in Chicago, though, where we typically have lingering winter weather and launch into summer humidity and heat. So we wring our hands with worry about this strange phenomemon and try to make predictions about how the rest of the summer will turn out. Meanwhile, I’m very happy to not be heating OR cooling the house so far, and that I have an incredibly lush garden with no watering duty to fit into my busy social calendar.

Look at the evidence of this bounteous spring.

Zucchinis, cukes, and squash galore!

Zucchinis, cukes, and squash galore!

Loads of quicly ripening garlic

Loads of quickly ripening garlic

Peppers, tomatos, eggplant, and beans, with asparagus in the background!

Peppers, tomatos, eggplant, and beans, with asparagus in the background!

Broccoli and the small amount of lettuce the birds left me this year

Broccoli and the small amount of lettuce the birds left me this year

And to end, a thing of beauty.
My beloved zepherine drouhin rose. Great scent, easy growing, and no thorns. Gotta love it!

My beloved zepherine drouhin rose. Great scent, easy growing, and no thorns. Gotta love it!

I turned 42 last week. It was OK. My friends did special things for me like cooking me a lucious, dry-aged ribeye to perfection and giving me adorable gifts. G took me out and gave me a nice bottle of wine, too. I got a card from my ex-mother-in-law and my ex-husband. Interesting.

The next few days will be filled with prep work for the kitchen remodel, which is starting next Monday. I need to vacate the kitchen AND my bedroom, as the bedroom floor will be sanded and varnished, too. So, I get to live in the basement like a hermit. At least I have another bathroom with a shower, a cooktop, and the laundry sink for washing up down there. It will be like living in a poorly laid out open loft apartment. Except it’s more of an underground loft, if such a thing can exist.

I’m hoping this kitchen thing will be over in 6 weeks and then I can start cooking on a REAL stove for a change. [A decade-plus-old electric range with only 3 working burners and a wonky oven does NOT constitute a REAL stove, OK?] I will be enamored of my new kitchen and never want to leave it.

Maybe not. Well, at least I will appreciate it and all the labor and expense it will take to bring a 1950’s kitchen into the 21st century where people routinely use things like dishwashers to clean up after a meal.

And until then, I’ll just eat a lot of sandwiches.

Earth day’s end

Another long day today, and I didn’t even have time to fit in a nap. But it’s Earth Day and the weather cooperated wonderfully.

A sunny blue sky with fluffy white clouds to admire. Warmish temps: not too hot, not too cold. It was a perfect time to bring out the bicycle for my errands today. And riding your bike around town to run errands is just what one should do on Earth Day, too.

When I finally escaped from my home office this afternoon for a gym appointment, I got there on my bike. Later, I treated myself to a facial (it’s been way too long…over a year!), and I rode by bike to the salon.

In between I found a bit of time to collect eggs, feed the hens a treat (some bread ends, limp mustard greens, and past their prime grapes), and check out the garden.

Arugula and lettuce are coming along nicely and it’s nearly time to sow another row of each.  Asparagus is also coming up and I’m contemplating cutting a few spears already. I may have to replace a couple crowns, but only time will tell.

My big excitement today, though, is that the peas are definitely sprouting. I saw just the barest tips peeking through the soil, but now that they have tasted sunlight, they will be sure to grow more rapidly. I was starting to worry that I’d need to get some new pea seeds and re-sow them.

The sun is fading now, but I took time to enjoy this wonderful day despite the demands of work and such. Tomorrow promises to be another fine day, too.

August recap

Yeah, I’ve been a bad blogger lately. Mea culpa and all that usual blah-biddy-blah-blah.

This past month has been BUSY, and although I have my energy back for the most part, I sort of turn into a pumpkin by 10:30 PM these days. If I’m not in bed and asleep by then, I am pretty wiped out the next day. So, no big party nights for me.

The busy-ness that’s been keeping me away hasn’t all been about my job, though. I’ve been to the Michigan Fiber Festival with Adrienne and other members of the Windy City Knitting Guild. I also visited City Farm (a 1.5 acre working farm smack dab in the center of Chicago) during an Urban Farm Field day trip organized through Angelic Organics. And, we completed the new chicken palace.

The new chicken run with the Eglus inside.

The new chicken run with the Eglus inside.

Now, we didn’t actually build the thing. I hired a fencing company to do the building because otherwise it would never have been accomplished. Notice how there are two Eglus inside. The happy hens are in the Eglu to the left and the new chicks are in the Eglu to the right. The hens aren’t so happy with the chicks, though. Integrating these two groups has been a bit stressful for me, as the hens have turned into big thugs whenever I open the Eglu run to let the chicks out. I guess it will take a bit of time to make everyone comfortable together.

The chicks continue their amazing rate of growth. They are nearly the same size as the hens, although their sex characteristics (combs and wattles) are not yet developing. Those won’t start to fill out until they are nearly ready to lay, about 3-4 months from now. Although, I think at least one of the chicks won’t ever lay.

The four chicks.

The four chicks.

From left to right across the front row the “chicklets” are: Speedy, Chickie Lou, and Missy. In the back row is Martha. Martha and Chickie Lou are both Easter Eggers (mutt Ameraucana chickens). This breed has pea combs, so I don’t expect their combs to develop into big, red, crowns like the ones on the happy hens or on the white Delawares.

Chickie Lou and Martha both seem to be developing at about the same rate and are noticeably larger than Speedy and Missy. However, Chickie Lou (the brown one in the center) has taken to crowing lately. Yes, that’s right CROWING. There’s no mistaking the sound. Chickie Lou started making these suspicious crowing-like noises a couple weeks ago (at about 7 weeks old), and now the sounds have become definite crowing. I’m still waiting to see what happens here, though. Considering how closely the development of Martha and Chickie Lou match, it’s possible I have 2 roosters on my hands here. Or, I may just have a hen that makes rooster-like noises. (Yes, that does happen.)

Either way, I’m not going to make any rash decisions and will see how the flock develops. I’m not adverse to keeping a rooster, as long as it is not mean and not really, really noisy. I understand that not all roosters are extremely loud and obnoxious.

As for the chicken palace itself, I’m pleased with how it turned out. It’s a bit tighter in there than I’d like with both Eglus inside, but it does the job: the chickens and dogs are safely separated; it provides an additional barrier against the typical predators in this area; and, it allows the chickens a bit more room to stretch their wings while keeping them out of the garden.

The garden has been doing very well this year, and I’ve been challenged to keep up with it. The harvests of eggplants, tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, summer squash, and chard have been amazing. I had to rip out the summer squash early due to squash vine borer, and the cucumbers seemed to get a bit bothered by cucumber beetles or the virus they spread. At least the hens REALLY liked the squash vine borer larvae. See, there’s a silver lining after all: no more squash, but lots of tasty eggs.