August Goals Recap, and September Goals

It’s been an up and down month, which has a direct affect on productivity. But I did manage to make SOME progress around here. I can’t tell you how good it feels to cross some items off my To Do list, this clearly isn’t what normal people do. I’ll take it anyway. One thing that definitely helped with my productivity is setting up a desk area in my younger daughter’s room. I found that trying to do anything useful at my kitchen desk is futile; I am far too distracted with anything and everything around me. So while the Call of Pinterest and Facebook is still audible here in the bedroom, I can resist it a bit more than I could out in the open. And setting up a little area all my own brings me inordinate joy.

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Here’s how I fared on the August Goals:

  • Read 2 books.  Surprisingly, I had no trouble with this. Most of my reading tends to occur right before I go to sleep, but it’s been productive.
  • Fix all irrigation problems.  Working on it. Managed to get the emitter issues solved, but then discovered some random patches of wet soil where there shouldn’t have been any.
  • Add mulch to the back rose bed. Deferred until either later on this fall, or more likely after I prune the roses in January. The roses there are doing remarkably well given how little care I have given them this year. My current favorite rose in that bed: Veteran’s Honor. It holds blooms for at least 3 weeks before they show any signs of deterioration. I’m not kidding.
  • Get the carpets cleaned. Scheduled for the 15th. I need to remember to not throw a fit when I see anyone drop food or spill something right after the cleaning occurs.
  • Get skylight film installed. Done, and HIGHLY successful! I should have done this years ago. The difference in temperature and glare in the dining room is unbelievable. I have no doubt whatsoever that my energy bills will reflect this change for the better. LOVE this.
  • Organize and shrink all my digital photos. Working on it. Still consolidating from three different computers.
  • Get on the exercise bike 3 times/week. Epic fail. So what else is new…
  • Update this blog 3 times. Close but no cigar. Hopefully in September.
  • Move photo albums. Done! I even look at them now! Here’s an artifact from a bygone era, just for fun…

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Mere words cannot adequately describe how stylish we were in the ’70s.

I am coming to realize that my Monthly Goals List seems to take at least 2 months (if not longer). Then again, my daily To Do lists tend to last about a week. Not a great pattern, but at least I’m aware of it…

So here’s a stab at a realistic list of September Goals:

  • Read 2 books. Should be easy. Currently in the queue are: Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan; Abigail and John, Portrait of a Marriage by Edith B. Gelles; and My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind by Scott Stossel.
  • Finish fixing the irrigation. This really needs to happen a) to save water and b) before the rains come so that I can tell where the holes in the system are.
  • Finish organizing digital photos, and upload to Flickr as another backup (besides the external hard drive). Apparently Flickr lets you have 1 terrabyte of space for free. Such a deal!
  • Exercise bike 3 times/week. Really.
  • Update this blog 3 times, excluding this one. Having a regular schedule would be nice. Maybe I can figure out something analogous to my quilter friends’ “Work in Progress Wednesday” or “Sunday Stash.” Anybody have any suggestions? Even silly ones are welcome!
  • Get Google Analytics and watermarks on photos (and the plug-ins for each) to work for my blog. Sometimes technology is highly irritating.
  • Defrost the freezer. Yes, I stupidly bought a freezer 13 years ago that was NOT frost-free. I was suckered by the salesman who convinced me that with extra moisture the quality of my food would be better. He lied. So I’m stuck doing this at least once a year.
  • Make batches of strawberry and raspberry jam.
  • Get Through the Mending Basket. I have a basket of jeans, undergarments, etc. that need to be patched or put back together. Not nearly as fun as a new sewing project (baby blanket  and Downton Abbey pillows coming in October, among other things!), but it has to be done. Now to unearth the sewing machine….

Any bets on how much of this I get done?

Bowling Ball Garden Art

I’ve become a Pinterest junkie. There are so many great ideas that I can (and have) implemented around the house. I’ve found plants I want to grow, recipes I want to try, lots of words of wisdom to take to heart. But I’m always looking for cheap and easy ways to decorate my house and yard. My latest addition to the family: the sparkly bowling ball!

Pinterest had dozens of ideas of things to do with bowling balls. Most of those ideas involved a fair bit of work. Some even involved a fair bit of expense. Neither work nor expense are part of what I like to do! Here’s what I did:

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First, I got a bowling ball. It was free on Craigslist. I couldn’t have actually bowled with this thing, it was too heavy for me. But I could lift it well enough to work with it!

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Then I went to the Dollar Store. They had flat back marbles in assorted colors. My bowling ball was red, but I really liked the ocean colors in one of the marble sets. (I got 5 bags.)

I found some silicon adhesive at home; I ended up needing to get another tube. Cost: about $4.

I already had a stand from a gazing ball that broke.

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All I did was put a blob of glue on the flat part of each marble, and then stuck the marble on the bowling ball. Then I repeated this process about a zillion times (to cover most of the ball, I just omitted the area right by the prongs of the stand that would directly touch the bowling ball.

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Garden art is also a great way to reduce water in your garden; you don’t have to have quite so many plants (which require water) when you can add artwork to the yard!

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Cheap, sparkly, and easy. What’s not to love?

 

 

Rose Gardening During Drought

 

 

garden1Roses aren’t just mere pretty flowers to me. Growing roses has been a wonderful hobby of mine since I used to help my father in his Maryland garden when I was a kid. When I moved to California and we bought our house, I inherited 12 rose bushes. My rose garden has changed a lot over the years; it’s moved around to various places in the yard, it’s contained as many as 100 rose bushes of varying types, and it has seen ebbs and flows in terms of how much care it has received from me. Growing roses has been a great hobby for me and it has allowed me to become friends with a lot of folks that I would never have had the opportunity to meet otherwise. But now growing them is a significant challenge due to the severe drought here in California.

I used to be a fairly serious rose exhibitor. I haven’t been as involved for the past few years, and the drought has convinced me that I really don’t NEED to exhibit. (My competitive juices have waned anyway.) I enjoy helping other people exhibit far more than I feel the need to do so myself. In order to be a successful exhibitor, you need to START with very well hydrated roses. You simply won’t get quality, sizeable blooms otherwise. But just because I don’t feel like exhibiting doesn’t mean I don’t still want a nice rose garden.

 

 

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Roses are by nature water hogs. Ideally, they like to get about 1″ (or roughly 5-6 gallons) of water per large bush per week. They’re not exactly drought tolerant. But I’m not willing to give up my beloved hobby because of the drought. There are things that I can do to mitigate the effects of reduced water.

I had a plan, way back in January, of how I would deal with possible water rationing in my yard. I implemented a few of these ideas, and others have just not happened (despite my best intentions). But here’s the original plan:

  • Change the goal of having exhibition-quality blooms to keeping the bushes alive.
  • Cut back on fertilizer, to reduce the quantity of blooms and new growth. (The reality this year: I didn’t fertilize AT ALL.)
  • Cut back on water 20% (which is what Governor Brown requested all Californians to do across the board).
  • Mulch heavily. (This year’s reality: the front yard is heavily mulched (thanks to my fantastic neighbor who needed to get rid of the remnants of a huge pine tree – and HE spread the mulch for me! The back yard has some mulch left from when I last added some a few years ago, but really needs a lot more. It’s high on my To Do list, although I may end up waiting for the Labor Day sales at the garden centers.)
  • Don’t cut back the spent blooms so severely. This was a suggestion from American Rose Society President, Jolene Adams, when she spoke about drought at a meeting of the Santa Clara County Rose Society. Cutting each cane back far down the cane just makes the rose want to produce a lot of new growth, which requires a lot of water. (This year, I have not deadheaded on any consistent basis, and many of the roses have formed hips. While I have had reduced quantities of blooms on each bush, the plants are still alive and fairly healthy.
  • Don’t plant anything new. It’s easier to keep an established rose alive with reduced water than trying to introduce a new baby into the mix. New roses need extra TLC, and I’m not giving any of that this year.
  • Use an antitranspirant. Some friends of mine have used antitranspirants (like Cloud Cover) successfully in reducing disease in their garden. They have even been able to exhibit roses, since the concentration of antitranspirant they use is extremely low (*I can’t remember the exact percentage they use, it’s either 1% or 5% I think.*). (This year’s reality: I had planned to use about a 25-30% solution of antitranspirant in water since I wasn’t going to exhibit – you can’t use that high a concentration without having it show on the rose foliage, and your entry could be disqualified for having a “foreign substance” on it. I got as far as purchasing the antitranspirant. Maybe next year…)

Careful irrigation is another key to drought gardening. Even though there isn’t a whole lot of existing mulch left in my back rose garden, the roses are still doing well because I have a very reliable Netafim drip irrigation system there. Netafim is basically like using a soaker hose, so when you don’t have emitters that can clog, the maintenance is minimal. Putting in the Netafim system a bunch of years ago was the smartest thing I ever did, since I used to lose a few roses each summer due to clogged emitters in my old system.

The front rose garden (which only has about 10 roses, half of which are miniatures) has not fared quite as well because it still has the old emitter-based irrigation. As a result, a couple of roses are suffering because of clogged/damaged emitters that I didn’t catch for a while.  I have some surgery to do on that system ASAP. Have I mentioned how much I detest dealing with irrigation issues?

I made a conscious decision to sacrifice blooms this year in order to keep the roses alive. (I also let part of my lawn die so that any available water could go to the roses. If the drought worsens, the rest of the lawn is going. I know where my priorities lie.)

I’m hoping that this winter we will have an El Niño, and our reservoirs will fill up again. But I’m not going to bank on it. I am researching rain barrels and other types of water storage so that perhaps I can mitigate the high water bills that roses induce. And there’s also the usual water conservation tasks to implement, like catching the warm-up water from the shower in a bucket and then using that on the landscaping. Or catching the rinse water from washing vegetables and taking that out to the garden. Lots to think about, lots to try to implement. But letting the roses die is simply not an option.

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August….Some Goal Setting

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Inertia often wins in this house. I’ve got a whole encyclopedia of excuses (some of which have actually been perfectly valid). I am famous for starting projects and never finishing them. (I get bored. I’m also starting to think I have a bit of ADD.) Concentration, let alone determination to get a task accomplished, is a really variable commodity. I have two friends who have encouraged me to set goals: Major Julie (who gets a frightening lot done while holding down a full time job and having a menagerie of kids and animals at home), and Sarah from Things I Make. (Sarah manages to quilt/sew, decorate stunningly beautiful cookies, and chase around two amazingly active and articulate children.) I am in awe of what they can accomplish over the course of a day.

So in that spirit, I am going to Make Some Goals for August. These goals reflect all sorts of aspects of my life, like fixing up the house and garden, dealing with my digital nightmares, and getting organized. I figured if I blog about it, you can all hold me accountable if I don’t get ‘em done. Plus, I get to make lists, and crossing items off my lists is one of the greatest joys of my life.

So here’s my list of goals for August. I am hopeful that I didn’t bite off more than I can chew. What do you think, am I being realistic?

  • Read 2 books. (Currently checked out of the library: August: Osage County  by Tracy Letts, and Drive by Daniel Pink (who spoke at Sarah’s college graduation and was fantastic). Cookbooks do NOT enter into the 2-books/month equation.
  • Fix all irrigation problems. I’ve mentioned before that dealing with irrigation is the bane of my life. I have several areas in the front yard, and at least 2 in the backyard that have issues. I’ve managed to avoid large water bills by turning off various stations, but even in the front yard (where the water is still ON), I have dying roses. Unacceptable.
  • Add mulch to the back rose bed. This will take a LOT of mulch. But it should help keep the roses hydrated.
  • Get the carpets cleaned. This requires cleaning up huge messes around the house before a steam cleaner can even enter the premises.
  • Get skylight film installed. I am hopeful that this will help our dining room be a comparable temperature to the rest of the house. (It’s currently a LOT warmer.)
  • Move photo albums. We have stored our non-digital photo albums in a server in our dining room. Problem is that when they are located there, nobody looks at them. My “ah-ha” mment occurred when I was at a friend’s house and saw that she had hers on her bookcases. Why didn’t I think of that? Maybe then I can actually enjoy all those photos that I took over the years…
  • Organize and shrink all my digital photos. For some stupid reason, photos taken with an iphone are usually about 2M in size. Ridiculous. I need to shrink them down and then I bet I can backup all my data far more easily. This process will not be trivial. (WHY are they so huge? I need to find an app to shrink them before I transfer them to my computer.)
  • Get on the exercise bike 3 times/week. (I have never managed to have the self discipline to do this on any consistent basis.)
  • Update this blog 3 times (this entry doesn’t count). It’s not like I haven’t had anything to say….

I’m hopeful. And I’m working on nullifying all those excuses that get in the way of my being productive. (And this doesn’t factor in any of the started crafts projects that I really ought to get done, but…there are only so many hours I can potentially waste in a day!)

How do YOU stay engaged in getting things done?

Beef Veggie Soup from Memory

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Many years ago, when I still lived in Maryland, my parents and I used to frequent a lot of craft shows, festivals, and the like. One of our favorite shows was the annual fall festival in Thurmont, MD. Invariably the weather would be cool and brisk, and there’d always be some vendor who was smart enough to serve a phenomenal beef vegetable soup.

Then I discovered that one of my co-workers, Liz Smith (are you out there, Liz?) regularly made this soup up at her farm in West Virginia. She had a big garden and did lots of canning, so she always made huge quantities of this soup. But she used a pressure cooker to cook the beef, and that always intimidated me, so I never got around to making it.

Years passed. I moved to California and lost touch with Liz (although thankfully I have reconnected with many of my other old buddies from the National Agricultural Library). And as I’ve become increasingly adventurous with cooking, I decided to see if I could recreate this soup – a dish I hadn’t tasted in over 30 years. I am convinced, however, that there is a distinct connect between taste buds and memories, and figured this would be a reasonable experiment. So I dug out Liz’s recipe and made some modifications. Here’s what I started with:

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And then there was the beef…

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The first potential problem was cooking the beef. I still didn’t have (or want) a pressure cooker, so I seasoned the beef with salt and pepper, and then opted to brown the chuck roast in a big pot and then finish cooking it in the oven. Liz’s recipe cooked the chuck roast in a cup of water with a bouillon cube; I opted for a can of consomme and about a half a can of water.

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While the beef was cooking, I started prepping and assembling all of the veggies. Liz’s recipe called for quantities like “quarts of tomatoes” and “quarts of green beans.” I didn’t have any of that. So I took some wild guesses and started throwing ingredients together.

Once the beef was cooked, I took it out to rest for a few minutes on a cutting board. Then I skimmed off the surface fat from the broth.

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Next, I chopped any veggies that needed to be chopped,  and then added them to the broth.

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Then came all of the veggies.

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Next, I cut the beef into small pieces and added them back into the broth along with the remaining seasonings.

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Oops! This pot wouldn’t hold everything AND the remaining liquid (still to be added)…how about another pot?

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Much better! Finally, I added the tomato juice and mixed everything together.

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Yup, that fit a LOT better!

I brought it all to a boil, and then let it simmer for an hour (it’s done once the potatoes are tender).

Liz and the various festival vendors always added some sort of noodles (e.g. elbow macaroni) to the mix at the end, but I decided to leave it out. I like it both ways.

Served with some crusty bread, it makes a great meal on a sloppy winter’s day.

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Beef Veggie Soup
 
Author:
Recipe type: Soup
Cuisine: American
Serves: a small country
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
 
Ingredients
  • 2 lb. chuck roast
  • 1 can consomme
  • ½ can water
  • 1 package frozen green beans
  • 1 package frozen corn
  • 1 package frozen peas
  • 4 handfuls baby carrots, sliced
  • 2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • tomato juice
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • handful of dried parsley
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 can lima beans, drained
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1-2 cups elbow macaroni noodles, cooked (optional)
Instructions
  1. Brown chuck roast in 2 TBSP oil in a dutch oven. Add consomme and water. Bake at 350 degrees for 2 hours, or until tender. Remove beef from broth, skim fat from surface. Chop/shred beef, return to pot.
  2. Add remaining ingredients to the pot.
  3. Bring to boil, then turn down heat and simmer for an hour or until potatoes are tender.
  4. Optional: add cooked noodles at the end of cooking time.