Archive for February, 2012

My favorite things about winter: the crisp air, the stillness of freshly fallen snow, and the fact that, where I live, it’s usually not cold for long.

But when it is cold, I pull out a few of my favorite clothing items:


I love, love, love my Patagonia long underwear. They aren’t cheap, but I’ve had several pairs for going on 20 years now, so they are worth every penny!

Another of my absolute favorite items is my hoodie sweatshirt.


I actually have two of these sweatshirts, advertising a former employer, and I wear them pretty much every night and on weekends. Even though I wear hats when I’m out walking, the hood provides extra warmth. And maybe the neighborhood kids think I’m cool. (ha)

Another favorite winter item is a scarf.


I’ve got several store-bought scarves along with the beautifully handmade ones above (thanks K and M!).

And on winter nights, I snuggle up in my flannel sheets.


But thinking about it, my new absolute favorite “warm” thing is:


My new dual-fuel heat pump and programmable thermostat!

Now, me being a Nell, I tend to keep things for years (note the age of the long undies referenced above). So of course I wasn’t going to rip out a usable gas pack until it no longer worked.

But how I wish I had chosen to do just that sooner! The difference in my utility bills is amazing, and I’m keeping the house way warmer than ever.

And I love that the new thermostat can be set so that my house is toasty warm when I get up in the mornings.

So when the dog bites or the bee stings, or I’m feeling cold, I simply remember my favorite things and then I don’t feel so bad. (Apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein)


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(photo courtesy of Google)

One of my absolute favorite tools of all time is my hand blender. I don’t know how I lived without this!

MamaNell gave me the hand blender a few years ago, and I use it mostly when I blend soups. And do I blend soups! Bean soups, veggie soups, creamy soups… And because I make such large batches of soup at a time, it’s so much easier to blend in the pot rather than transfer small batches to a stand blender or the food processor.

I say a prayer of thanksgiving to MamaNell every time I use my blender. For you see, the lovely Cuisinart she bought for me was about twice as expensive a few years ago, and she is on a very limited income. But she insisted on giving me something I really wanted (and not just money toward it), so I am ever grateful.

Another of  my favorite tools is my rake.  Yes, rake.  Not … leaf … blower.

There’s something soothing about the act of raking up the fallen leaves onto old sheets, then placing those leaves in one of my many compost piles.   I can spend hours raking, perfectly content while listening to a football game on the radio.   Well, I must be honest:  sometimes the level of contentedness equates to the score of the game.   And seeing as how I’m a Duke fan, those scores are usually not very favorable.  But regardless, being outside on a beautiful day makes most things in life much more enjoyable.


And though it’s not quite a tool, the coffee cup pictured above is one of my favorite material items.    I bought this cup in Ireland, after spending two weeks walking the countryside and connecting with cows.

I’ve always liked cows.  I remember when I was little, living in Connecticut, and my parents driving down country roads.  One of my favorite ways to pass the time on those long road trips was to roll down the window and moo at the cows.

Fast forward to 2010 and my trip to southwest Ireland.  During my long walks, I would often stop to enjoy the views, which included herds of cows. And literally every time I stopped, one or two cows would head toward me and spend time looking me directly in the eye.   Maybe this is normal behavior for cows?

Anyway,  I have felt a bit of a soul connection to cows since that trip.  I don’t randomly moo at them anymore, but when walking by a field of cows, I do stop to say hi.

So when the dog bites or the bee stings and I’m feeling sad, I  simply remember my hand blender, my rake and my cute-as-a-button cow coffee cup, and then I don’t feel so bad.  (Apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein)


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Another of my favorite things is my cat, Patches.   But before talking about the greatness that is Patches,I’ll share a brief explanation of how I, a dog person, became the “crazy cat lady” in my neighborhood.

I moved to my current house in December 2001.  In the summer of 2002, two things happened:  I started noticing several ferals with kittens around my yard, and I adopted two dogs who thought cats were toys.  (Insert sad story here.)

Anyway, at the time, the rescue organization from which I adopted my dogs was willing to help me trap the ferals and try to find homes for them.   However, my neighbors B and T strongly resisted that idea.  Seems they wanted the cats around to kill the mice, and they fed them just enough to keep them hanging around.

However, B and T didn’t really feed the ferals enough, and they certainly didn’t attempt to spay/neuter any of them.   One of the mama cats was so starved that she jumped on the deck table while we were eating and tried to take food off our plates.  WHILE WE WERE THERE.  AND SHE WAS FERAL!!!!

That incident, plus the already alluded to problem with my dogs, led me to agree  that the cats could stay but they had to be fed properly and they had to be spayed and neutered.  NO MORE KITTENS!!!  My neighbors agreed in principle.  However, as you may guess, I was the one who ended up feeding, trapping, spaying/neutering, and attempting to socialize the cats.

So, long story short, this dog person has spent the past 12 years spaying/neutering seven cats and finding homes for seven others.  The lucky ones to find homes were not feral; rather, they were former house cats or newly born kittens who had been dumped.   The cats who were born feral ended up staying around my house, since it’s just a lot of hard work to socialize a feral, and people in the market for cats opt for ones that are already people friendly.

Those seven ferals have had a pretty sweet life: shelter in my house’s crawl space, as well as access to cat chow,  to water, to plenty of mice if they choose to hunt.  They also have a big back yard in which to roam. Unfortunately some chose to roam across the highway, and, as you may guess, that never ends well…

As of today, Patches is one of only two cats to live at my house.  (The other, Shasta, encamped late last fall and still needs to be spayed.  She’s not around on a set schedule, so I have my work cut out for me.)

Anyway, back to Patches.  He showed up at my house three years ago and decided it was going to be his home.  At the time, he had to contend with my already entrenched cat, Atticus.  The two would fight constantly.  Atticus was a much bigger, stronger cat, so Patches was much worse for wear.  But no amount of fighting would keep him away.

The two called a truce after Patches got neutered and Atticus got tired of being sprayed with the garden hose.  And now that Atticus has passed on, Patches has full run of the yard.  He is living life large.

So  now to why Patches is one of my favorite things:  (Atticus was too, but for different reasons….)

Patches emits joy. He is always happy to see me.

Patches purrs so loudly and strongly that his whole body shakes.

Patches is a talker; he just walks around and meows.  During the summer, he will sit outside my bedroom window and let me know if I’m late with breakfast.

Patches is ecstatic to be fed.  As one of my pet-sitters noted, he never misses a meal.   He doesn’t overeat, though.  He is a bit chunky now that it’s cold outside, but he’ll drop that weight once it’s warmer.

Patches will often follow me around the back yard.  He likes to be my garden buddy.

Patches is silly.  He has been known to taunt the dogs, getting close enough to them to tempt them, but not so close  as to risk his life.

Patches takes advantage of his surroundings.  He has created beds in the most unusual places:


Patches is a mouser.   Yes, I do love that about him.    I only wish he would dispose of the mice somewhere other than by the back door!

For these reasons and more, Patches is one of my favorite things.  So when the dog bites or the bee stings, I simply remember sweet little Patches, and then I don’t feel so bad.  (Apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein.)


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Today was rainy and chilly–perfect weather for doing one of my favorite things: making vegetable stock.

And as you can see from the photo, when I make stock, I … make … stock. Today’s haul was 54 cups worth, to be exact.

My “recipe” for stock is pretty much the same as everyone else’s I’ve read: per batch, I add six cups of water, two potatoes, one onion, one or two carrots, and three celery stalks. Then I add some garlic, kosher salt, pepper, sage, thyme, oregano, basil, and, when I remember, rosemary.

It takes about an hour to bring the large batches of stock to a boil. It simmers for an hour, then cools for another hour.
Then, after using what I need for the day, I divvy up the stock in manageable batches and freeze the whole lot of it.

(Today’s soup was Curried Parsnip and Apple.)

Something about making homemade stock makes me happy. Maybe it’s the appetizing aroma as it cooks? Maybe it makes me feel like a “real” cook versus someone who just follows recipes? Maybe it’s because the homemade stuff adds so much more flavor to soups and stews?

So when the dog bites or the bee stings, I simply remember this favorite thing, and then I don’t feel so bad… (apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein!)

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I love home-grown tomatoes. I also love to grow said tomatoes from seed. There are so many varieties from which to choose, and it’s not that difficult to do. Plus I can grow so much more from seed at a fraction of the cost of buying already established plants.

However, I must admit to feeling a bit lacking when I see those tall tomato plants at the garden center in April. They are at least four times larger than my seedlings!

I think I’ve figured out how to prevent my early spring tomato blues. First, I just need to remind myself of last year’s situation: I planted my puny seedlings the same time my friend P planted her much-taller store-bought plants. I vigorously fed and watered my seedlings, which resulted in my plants fruiting at the same time as P’s.

So this year, I’m going to be better about fertilizing the seedlings while they are living in their trays. I’ll just have to learn to love the smell of fish emulsion!

Of course, I’ll continue to fertilize once they are in the ground.

The other thing I need to do is start the seeds in a timely manner. Today I realized that I really needed to get some seeds started if I hope to compete with the store-bought plants. Problem is I have only one heat mat and limited space on the dining room table.

So, the dilemma before me: which seeds to start now and which to wait another week or two?

I pulled out my seed-storing box and located the tomato seeds. I currently have several varieties left over from last year: Daniels, Granny Cantrell, German Johnson, Bonny Best, Ozark Pink, Barnes Mountain Yellow, Big Mouth, Goldman’s Italian-American, and Bison.

Using a very scientific method (“eenie meenie miney moe”), I chose the first four listed above.

Today was sunny and warm, so after planting, I left the flat outside to bask in the sun. It wasn’t until late afternoon that I realized there was room for one more flat on the heat mat. Oh well…It’s supposed to monsoon (and perhaps snow) tomorrow, so the seed starting will have to wait for another day.

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GrannyB and MamaNell’s friend Margaret passed away this week. I hadn’t seen Margaret in years, but heard through the grapevine that she had been sick, so it was no surprise to read of her passing in the newspaper obituaries.

I went to Margaret’s funeral today and enjoyed hearing stories about her life. The priest recounted when he first met Margaret: she came up to him after his first mass and complained about his homily. He realized later, or so he said, that the points she was making were correct, and he came to cherish their talks.

Margaret wasn’t rude, but she definitely stated her piece. I can remember numerous times my “oh-so-genteel” southern relatives were taken aback by Margaret’s honesty.

Originally from Scotland, Margaret chose to walk everywhere rather than obtain a driver’s license. She also lived in what could be called a marginal neighborhood, with lots of violence and drugs. I have to admit that I would not have felt comfortable living there, much less walking the neighborhood after dark.

But walk Margaret did. If it were especially cold or rainy, or the distance too far, she would accept a ride. But most days she preferred traveling by her own two feet.

A devout Catholic, Margaret was also very loyal to her friends. She would frequently visit my grandmother when GrannyB was in the hospital, listening patiently to her complaints and praying with her. I learned that she did this with others as well.

Margaret lived a full life, and while it’s often sad when people leave the earthly plane, I got the sense she was ready to go. I didn’t feel the need to pray for her safe journey to heaven, since it felt like she was already there.

What I did do was ask for her to act as a guide for me while I train for my Camino. And my heart burst with joy when I felt a resounding, “yes!”

So I’ll be calling upon my training angel, Margaret, for strength, safety and endurance during my walks. I will ask for her assistance in speaking and acting in an honest manner. I will ask for her guidance in living boldly. And I will call upon her (as well as my other guides and angels) when I need reminders that I am always divinely protected and watched over.

Thank you, Margaret, for being my training angel!

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I woke up today and realized that spring break for the university where I work is about three weeks away.

During spring break, students are off sunning themselves on tropical islands, while I’m spending the week working in my yard. That means planting spring crops, as well as digging up new garden beds.

I planted some seeds last fall that are currently overwintering outside (chard, greens, broccoli raab, kohlrabi), but I really needed to get going on the peas.

I usually start a round of peas indoors and have them fairly tall and hardened off before spring break. This way, there’s less of a risk of the birds nibbling the tender shoots.


So I pulled out four varieties of pea seeds: Corne De Belier and Mammoth Melting Sugar (snow peas) and Tall Telephone and Blue Podded Blauwschokkers (shelling peas).

Next, I filled my seed-starting trays with soil. My gardening partner, Patches, made it his mission to repeated knock against my arm right right as I was trying to place the seeds in the trays.


He finally tired of that game and went to lie in the sun. I was then able to actually plant the seeds.


After watering the trays, I moved them inside to the dining room table, where they will live for the next few weeks.


I figure I’ll start harvesting peas in April and May. Until then, I’ll just have to enjoy a nice, comforting bowl of split pea soup.


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