Friday, August 26, 2016

First World Problems.

So, I was driving to work on Monday when suddenly a buzzer sounded and several warning lights came on the dashboard. What. The. Hell. I pulled over to the side of the highway and called my husband. Our initial plan was to get me to work, but on thinking it over, I pulled my car ahead a bit to a safer location and we called AAA for a tow truck. And waited. And waited. Three and a half hours and another call later, they sent someone from a different company. A guy named Cory called to say he was on his way and as we waited we both made guesses about what he would look like. My guess was about 28 years old, average build, light brown hair, a beard and mustache, black work boots. My husband's guess was a 40-something heavy set guy, brown boots, and some form of camouflage clothing. When Cory got out of his truck we both laughed - except for his shoes being black sneakers instead of boots, I was dead on. The only part my husband got right was that he had on camo shorts. "Wow," he said, "You totally nailed it!"

While we waited, I'd also started calling and canceling out my patients for the day and we followed Cory back into town to a Toyota dealership. Because no other mechanic we could find would work on the electrical system on the Prius. Many hours later we got the bad news - the hybrid battery needed replacing. Which might not sound like a big deal until they explained that we were looking at nearly $4000. That presented something of a dilemma - my battered little Prius is a 2008 with 154,000 miles on the odometer, so it is not worth even that much. On the other hand, it is definitely not in the budget to get another car. My husband did some research and discovered that this costly repair was likely the only serious one it would need. The Prius doesn't have a regular transmission with multiple gears. Instead it has an electronic continuously variable transmission unit which uses a single planetary differential gear set to combine power from two electric motors and a gasoline engine. I honestly don't have a clue what that means except that a Prius doesn't have transmission problems the way other older cars do. So I gritted my teeth and handed over my credit card.

It's weird when you have some major repair done on a car that doesn't involve body work. It looks exactly the same. And because it failed rather abruptly, it even drives exactly the same. But with any luck, I'll continue to use it for commuting and running errands and hauling a surprising amount of mulch and garden supplies for at least a few more years.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

War on weeds.

In addition to making sourdough bread (which I am still doing, every week), I've been pre-occupied lately with yard work. Okay, let's be honest - when am I NOT pre-occupied with yard work? Even a couple of days before my wedding I was outside pulling weeds.
So, about a year ago I declared a fatwa on ground ivy. Also known as creeping charlie, this stuff spreads by long runners to blanket the lawn and infiltrates into the mulched beds. It's not a bad looking little plant and has a spicy smell but I hate it. It's a member of the mint family if that gives you any idea how invasive it is. My dilemma is that I'm not willing to use poisons, so my one recourse is to pull it up by hand.
And lately, I've noticed an upsurge in crabgrass. I also hate crabgrass. I am weirdly particular when it comes to weeds - crabgrass and ground ivy have earned my wrath but I'm happy with clover and wild violets. At any rate, I made the decision to try to improve the grass in front by de-thatching and weeding and then over-seeding with grass seed when the weather cools a bit.
This involves raking through the grass one patch at a time to scrub up the thatch and pull out vines of ground ivy and then digging out the clumps of crabgrass. I would like to say here that I love this garden tool. It has tines on one side and a hoe-like blade on the other and is incredibly handy.
While I work, I can watch the cardinals battling for territory in the dogwood tree and the hawks being chased by angry crows in the sky above me. Bees hover nearby and earthworms move out of the way. And I am often supervised by Hödr, who lounges in the sun like a panther in the jungle.
There at least half a dozen holes in the front yard, which I believe are entries and exits to some interconnected burrow. This is the largest of the openings. I don't know who lives here - rabbits? chipmunks? a chupacabra?
I worked for hours and hours last Saturday and Sunday and left this pile to be taken away by the city. I ended the weekend sore and sunburned. I was more careful this weekend, working in long sleeves and retreating into the shaded area as the sun took over the yard. By mid-day yesterday, I'd pulled probably 80% of the crabgrass and ground ivy out. I say 80% because every time I look, I find renegades.
This morning in advance of the forecasted rain I scattered milky spore powder, a safe method of infecting Japanese beetle grubs in the soil without harming the pollinators I love. It should soak into the ground. When I researched it, the article I read said you could tell if a grub was infected if you lopped off one its legs and milky liquid ran out. Um, no. I will not be testing it. I don't mind the grubs dying but I'm not amputating their tiny legs.
So now the front yard has bare spots and is largely violets with sparse patches of grass. I am planning to put some compost out next month and then scatter a seed mix of grasses that are shade and drought-tolerant and mini white clover. And then hope that I end up with a bunny-friendly yard that doesn't make me wince at the sight of it.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Back to regular life.

The trip home from Italy was mostly uneventful. Except that while we were in the Amsterdam airport between flights we decided to stop in at the Irish bar for a whiskey, to remember our previous trip. We walked back to our gate to catch our next flight, holding hands and talking. We were clearly a couple. Two tall young Dutch guys were walking in our direction and as we passed, the closer one leaned into my face, made eye contact and said softly, "Hey girl." And kept walking. My husband and I looked at each other, flummoxed. He said, "Um, am I supposed to kick his ass now?" We both laughed and continued on to our gate. It was an odd but funny ending to the trip.
There was so much to do when we returned - putting away things from the wedding, writing thank you notes, catching up on gardening, returning to work. So naturally I decided I should learn how to make sourdough bread. I started working on making a batch of starter, which I dubbed Frances. Okay, at first I called it Francis, after St. Francis, because sourdough makes me think of San Francisco. But later I decided that something that gives life should have a female name and I changed the label. I had read that it is traditional to give your starter a name.
I spent a week feeding it every night and once it was ready, made the first loaf. That involves taking half a cup of the starter out of the fridge two nights in advance. I put it in this old glass measuring cup with a quarter cup of flour and a quarter cup of water and let it rise until the next evening. Some people pour off the liquid ("hooch") that forms but I stir it in because I like the flavor.
The set-aside starter is mixed with whole wheat flour, water, and a little olive oil.
That's it. The wild yeasts in the air that make the starter a living thing take it from there.
After another night, the dough has grown and abandoned its ball shape.  I have been letting it rise in the garage where it's a little warm and it expands like crazy.
The bread gets folded down and left to rise again for half an hour. And then into a ceramic crock to bake. I put in a bowl of water in the oveb next to it to provide a little steam.
The first loaf I made was pretty flat and dense, but I've been gradually improving as I figure out what works best. I have to say, it's pretty good. And good for you, since it's all whole wheat (except for the starter). My younger son loves it and I frequently seeing him cutting a fews slices for himself. I think this new hobby is going to stick.