Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Garden Roulette

I grew vegetables the first year I moved to the country. I had a dream of self-sufficiency, and with 3½ acres, why not? I flagged down a farmer with a plow one morning, offered him $10 to plow me a small plot, and I was on my way. I learned a few things--beans are great producers, and I knew nothing about growing corn.

But my career got busy, and since gardens take work, I abandoned the practice for several years. After all, the stores were full of produce, and veggies were only part of my diet anyway. Things change, though. Fruits and vegetables have become most of my diet (for both health and maturity reasons), and with that much more skill in choosing them and constructing appealing meals. Add to that sharply rising prices and not always a good selection out here in the country without traveling to the city all the time to a superstore, and it was time to grow again. Anyway, I kind of like the “back to the land” thing anyway.

Time was still scarce, however. What to do? Experiment.

I designed a few separate plots. I did not invest in extensive turning of the soil, but rather hoed a few rows at a time with the intent of creating a “rolling harvest,” not a ton of produce due all at the same time (as I’d be too busy to deal with such a harvest during the academic year). I covered these plots with large sheets of black plastic with slits for the rows--the idea was to eliminate the need for weeding and to see if I could extend the growing season by creating warmer mini-climates. (The plots in different areas would also help cope with the weather, since different spots receive differing amounts of sun and water. One year one will be too wet, another year too dry, while another plot may be fine.)

At first, nothing. I had forgotten one thing--rabbits. I bought metal stakes and chicken wire, dug trenches around the gardens (to bury the bottom of the fence), and with the fences--suddenly I had lots of produce. (I still need to fence the strawberry plots, but one thing at a time. The strawberries will probably need netting too if I want them before the birds.)

OK, I had forgotten two things--vines climb. Without other opportunities, they climbed the chicken wire--and it’s just not sturdy enough to bear all that weight. The fences are still sort-of there, but I’ll have to invest in sturdier construction and something solid for vines to climb. (While I’m at it, I’ll enclose clear plastic between the new fence and the old chicken wire, then build similar panels for the top. That way. perhaps I can create warm enough spaces to start planting in April and grow through October.)

I didn’t start planting this year until June, so I was taking a lot of chances. I lucked out on the weather, though, with the first frost in the last weekend in October. I harvested lettuce, spinach, peas and beans all summer long, and I now have a few cantaloupe, one pumpkin, a fair amount of small, baby watermelon, and two copier boxes full of “close to ripe” green tomatoes (which will hopefully ripen soon). I didn’t get anything from the peppers I planted--just not ready yet.

What really hurt was the broccoli. I harvested a grocery bag of it, but it was just getting going, growing quickly. In another week, I’d have had 7-8 bags of it. Oh well. Next year.

At least I now know which crops do better in which plots and can plan accordingly. I’d also like to start growing some produce indoors--see if I can plant a little each week and hopefully have fresh produce ready all year round. At least so for, my gardening gambles have worked reasonably well.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Remember these hunters?

Once a year, for one month, men with red plaid coats and red caps, hunting licenses pinned to their backs, took their rifles into the woods to hunt deer. When I first moved into country (in 1987), the first day of deer season announced itself at sunrise with a rifle shot every few minutes. I remember this vividly because my shepherd mix was afraid of lightening, fireworks and firearms, so she’d try to hide in the bed with me. One the way to work (leaving my poor dog inside), car after car lined the country roads, their owners woodsmen doing their best to bag a buck. Some succeeded quickly, many others would talk for the next few weeks over coffee at the corner store: “Get your deer yet?”

Those guys are gone.

First, forget the once a month thing. Deer season alone lasts months--bow season, muzzleloader season, antlerless season--this November sport now lasts all fall. And hunting starts far before that and lasts long after. Something is always in season--small game, turkey, grouse, you name it. Guys with guns patrol the trails month after month.

That’s right--the trails. No woodsmen here. They want it easy. No parked cars at the sides of the roads by the woods either. Instead, pickup drivers sit by the fields with binoculars, waiting practically until all they have to do is step outside and fire.

I haven’t seen a red jacket for at least a few years. Safety seems out of fashion, at least visually so. Instead, everyone wears camouflage--pants and jackets. Everyone. And hunters don’t walk--they sit in blinds. They don’t even climb trees--they nail steps to the tree and build a platform.

And the old official start of deer season? It announces itself with large “Welcome Hunters!” banners at the corner store, announcing special quantity deals from the various beer sponsors--opportunities well used, starting first thing in the morning.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Stall or Barn?

Well, my neighbor finally finished her horse “barn,” a small particle board contraption anchored by buried 4 x 4s, framed with 2 x 4s. So far so good—but what I thought was just the beginning of construction is actually the entire “barn.” More realistically, it’s a stall with three walls and a roof—just enough room to a horse to stand inside. Never will it keep out the elements, especially since we live up on the hills. She should try standing inside it herself on a windy day. One good snowstorm, and that silly thing will be waist deep in snow. What is she thinking? And what horse is going to voluntarily walk into such a blind structure?

We’re talking about a different horse now. Jackson disappeared one day. “He was too hard to handle,” she says of this gentle four year old, “So I sold him.” Well, her horse. The new horse is “Lucky,” a skittish twelve year old who screams a lot. “I couldn’t believe it!” my neighbor explained. “I saw this add in the paper, and sure enough, it was him!” She’s owned this horse before, when he was young. “We named him Rebel, but he took a long time to drop, so he earned the name ‘Lucky’ (i.e., he kept his testicles the longest). He doesn’t scream as often now. He is still skittish, but calmer. He comes to the fence and stands his distance—but I’m packin’ carrots, so he eventually gets close enough for treats.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Rolling Beethoven

As much as I need the time, I was glad to see the symphony schedule—Beethoven. Good. All those years in the practice room and on stage will come rolling back, focusing my attention on the necessities of professional performance, and on music that deserves that kind of attention. Lots of work, but oddly relaxing. Meditative.

And so it started. Thursday night’s rehearsal was a welcome release—I didn’t even mind the second bassoonist playing games on his cell phone at every opportunity or the new principal flutist, still a kid really, struggling with the New York Times crossword puzzle (why do people pursue professions that bore them—especially professions that don’t pay well?).

The program was a bit odd—After the Prometheus Overture, we’d play the Violin Concerto. At its premiere, the musicians were sight reading, and the soloist decided to sneak his own composition into the cadenzas—so it didn’t go off well. Beethoven shelved the violin version and converted it into a piano concerto. The violin version was forgotten. Fifty years later, however, the violin version was rediscovered, and the piano version was shelved. This concert would feature both.

Then Friday we met the soloists, a brother and sister team: Franziska Koenig on the violin, Iwan Koenig at the piano. OK.

The violin version went OK—she’s all about notes instead of the beauty of the phrasing inherent within those notes, but not bad. She can, at least, play those notes (and there’re lots of them), and overall, fine. A regional orchestra can’t pay the fees major artists charge, so management settles. It’s OK.

Then her brother takes the stage. Oy. “Attacking” the notes takes on new meaning, and it isn’t good. Noise. No phrasing at all. Nothing. Notes.

Beethoven added an extensive tympani part to the piano cadenza. News to the conductor and the timpanist, who had no such part. Iwan insisted on rehearsing this. The conductor explained that wouldn’t be possible until the next day. Iwan insisted. The conductor repeated that this wasn’t possible, adding that we were under time constraints and that the next day we could rehearse to his heart’s content.

“What kind of a rehearsal is this?” Iwan complained. “I have never played this with orchestra before. Tomorrow we must perform it.” He left the stage.

Just in case you’re wondering, no, this isn’t common behavior for a “professional.” One of the horn players behind me remarked, “Well—I haven’t seen THAT since college…”

Iwan’s parents were there (no, that’s not normal either--both siblings are adults) and (in German) turned him back to the stage.

Rehearsal finished. The next day, Iwan got all the time he wanted. Not a hitch (our timpanist is a professional). We played. She played. He played. We went home.

So much for a break from the bullshit.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Mike and Jake

I’m in hell.

I’m exhausted, and I have yet to complete a week packed morning to night with classes, meetings, and rehearsals. Add to that mounds of papers to grade, survey data to compile and evaluate, text adoptions to make, online course to complete and post, midterms to complete, promotions binder to complete—all within the next two weeks. How can I do this? Yet somehow I have to do it—all of it.

Let alone that I’m already ignoring SEVERAL pressing issues at home, from garden to lawn to trees to winterizing to cleaning to home repair to financial paperwork—not to mention relaxing or having fun. Sleep and eating habits aren’t good, I’m tense all the time, and the catherine saga (new readers—see old posts; old readers—updates coming eventually) continues on its ever complicated path. I even pushed a doctor’s appointment this month back to January—I just don’t want to deal with it until I have a little time. And let alone writing and reading projects.

So I had to force myself to go to Stoney Pond with Shanti. Not much of a run, really, just to let her get out.

“Hey! Sorry!” I hear. A black lab comes racing down the trail.

“We’re fine!” I call back. Everything canine looks like nothing more than play.

“Oh! Shanti, is it?” calls a man running around the trail’s bend.

“Yup!” Now I remember—Mike and his dog Jake. Shanti and I have come across them before.

I let Shanti loose to run, knowing they dogs will stay around us.

I don’t have time to talk—but I welcome it. We discuss dogs, past and present, hunters, campers, bicycling and dogs, cross-country skiing, deer, storms and trees, sticks and dogs, training—and more, until the darkening skies and threatening storms get us to pick up and move along, work awaiting. Our dogs, calm after a good, friendly workout, obey our quiet commands immediately and cheerfully, their romp just what they needed.

It’s what I needed as well. Time for a good night’s sleep, and early tomorrow, back to work.


Monday, October 8, 2007

If it’s so easy, why is it so hard?

I know what to do, and it works well—eat fresh fruits and vegetables, go for a nice long run with my dog everyday, pass on the beer, pack healthy lunches/snacks instead of grabbing something on the run. I even like fruits and veggies; I even like running. I feel better, more energetic, look better, my blood pressure drops to wonderful, my weight is buff—so what’s the problem?

At the moment, everything wrong just seems to call. Grab the quick food. But why? An apple isn’t quick? I always feel better after exercise—but have to force myself to start.

And I’ve already been through this healthy/slip healthy/slip healthy/slip pattern before, so I’m keenly aware that getting back to healthy is harder and harder every time. Why, even in people like me who WANT that and like it?

Thoughts and theories welcome here.


Saturday, October 6, 2007

Shanti and the Siberians


Slept in today (over the top stress), so my “morning” run started not long before noon. Wasn’t much of a “run” either. Slow jog, perhaps? But Shanti, my husky mix, was glad to go either way.

Anyway—on the way to the state forest trails, we passed a small group of people with horse trailers. The horses had apparently finished their stroll around the trails, literally pooped out (alas for other users), and the owners were sitting in resin chairs, imbibing. They certainly carried their weight, barely squeezing into the chairs.

Later, I met these same people on the trail—with two Siberian Huskies, one a little heavy, with one blue eye and one brown, the other just over Shanti’s size, with two blue eyes.


Shanti normally lunges ahead, all friendly, ready to play hard with any dog(s) she sees, usually so enthusiastically that the other dogs get defensive or just want her to leave. In this case, however, although she was still happy and ready to play, she was almost deferential. The other huskies, clearly not used to the activity perhaps commonly pursued (they were both wearing “gentle leaders” over their noses along with their leashes), were nonplused. They not only didn’t mind Shanti’s advances, they simply treated them as “hello.”

Lots of sniffing and tail wagging ensued, but nothing like the typical morass we face when meeting other dogs. I’m confused by this, but I could see this was important, so we lingered.

The heavy people noticed it too, especially when their dogs coddled up to my hand, their faces pressed against me. “She never does that with strangers!” remarked the owners.

I guess Shanti just met her kind. I hope one day I do as well.


Monday, October 1, 2007

Yell--it ensures you won't communicate

Yelling--the ever so effective conflict resolution. Where do people get this idea?

Remember all those times your boss yelled? Did it work? Or just until the boss left the room? What happened to productivity? Turnover? Profitability? Employee theft?

So why do people get the idea that yelling themselves effectively addresses anything?

I can think of only one answer--without any valid points to present, or without the patience to present them, yelling is expedient. It replaces the unwanted conversation.

Granted, I can think of appropriate times when speedy communication takes precedence over discussion. I can imagine a shop teacher, for example, yelling, "Put that nail gun down NOW!" But usually, it's the opposite of communication.

Even yelling at a dog isn't effective--the dog just learns (and quickly) to avoid you (and don't confuse this with shooing it away), making up its own rules and changing strategy.

Perhaps this just reflects my personality, but over the years I've had relationships end this way. She screams at me over the phone. I don't do yelling. I hangup. She's furious or sorry, but my passion has chilled. I like peace and cooperation.

This, of course, has always been my problem. I like to work somewhat independently, but as part of a team. Unfortunately, I live in a world where the thinking seems hardwired toward "every man for himself." Counterproductive, since we spend so much of our time competing instead of accomplishing, but things are what they are. So I usually work alone.

I'm no saint. I've lost my patience and yelled at times--and always regreted it later, as I achieved nothing by it. When I do, people freeze--partly because as a classically trained wind musician, I have quite a bit of lung power and vocal projection, and partly because I'm normally soft spoken, so the yell is a shock. And people just learned to avoid me, cooperation over.