The Money Pit

Oh my god. I’ve massively forgotten about this blog. I’ve neglected it for so long that I fear no one is reading it or even checking any more. But my life has been crazy the last several months. And this isn’t the typical “Oh, she got married so now she’s happy and has nothing interesting to say anymore” deal. I haven’t had time to do any writing. Any. None. Not even my novel. Sadly. Or letters to my pen pals Sarah and Mr. Kincaid (my high school English teacher with whom I’ve been corresponding since I graduated high school).

Our house has become the Money Pit in a big, big way. First, it was the plague of mice. We–that is to say my cat, Nicki–found one mouse climbing out of a space underneath the master bathroom cabinet. We set out some traps and caught 18 overnight. We broke down and called Orkin to assist, which put us on an overly-priced plan where they basically set glue traps and poison out, which we could have done on our own for much less. But we panicked, having never been plagued with mice before.

Then, came the Great Flood in May. The storm that came through and wreaked havoc on the Cuyahoga Valley and most of the surrounding area, turned a leaking problem we were aware of in the basement into a much more serious problem. During the storm, a literal waterfall formed on the hill behind our house, dumping into the walls of our basement. A hole formed on the wall out of which spouted water like a fountain. While we were finding buckets, the basement filled to our ankles with water and then sewage as our septic tank backed up into the basement as well. The storm rain had flooded the side of the yard where our septic tank is, filling the tank from its access points. Of course, the sewage water had nowhere else to go but back through the pipes and into our basement.

When all was said and done, there was 16″ of water and sewage in our basement. We tried to rescue some of the stuff on the floor as the water quickly filled but we did not get to everything. We had a room filled with items in Rubbermaid tubs, since we knew that we had a problem with water in the basement, and the tubs were on boards held by bricks about 6 inches off the floor.

Throughout the night, I could hear crashing noises. The Rubbermaid tubs had become buoyant, since the water was higher than our makeshift shelves, and they tipped. The next morning, after we had drained the basement with an extra sump pump, that room was filled with tipped tubs. A lot of our personal items were damaged. It was a mess.

It’s taken us weeks to clean up the basement as well as go through all the damaged items. We’ve had to rip out all the dry wall (we found black mold in several places, some of it could be older than this flood) and some of the lumber in the walls. We removed the vinyl floor (which contained asbestos and had to be removed while damp) and we’re still cleaning up the glue goo (which also has to be wet because it may also contain asbestos). Our basement looks like a war zone.

I’ve tried really hard to not hate my house for all the financial stress and problems it’s caused us since we bought it. There have been many issues–heating oil costs over the winter, new windows it desperately needed, a leak in the water line. And, on top of everything, our upstairs refrigerator quit working that same week. I feel like the honeymoon period with this house is over and I no longer see it as I once did. Now it feels like a burden sucking the life out of me. We’ve had to cancel our vacation for this year. I’m not going to meet the deadline to complete my novel by October 31st. I’m just so depressed.

But then, this past weekend we took the time out to go to Canal Park to see the Akron Rubber Ducks play. The towpath, which is not even a mile from our house, goes directly to downtown Akron. So we took our bikes down to the park and met my parents there. It’s only 10 miles from our house and a very enjoyable ride through the woods, away from all the roads and craziness of traffic, until you get to Akron. It was such a beautiful day and I had to remind myself that was the reason why living in the valley is so great: all the access to resources we have. The weekly farmer’s market is only 2 miles from our house, also a bike ride away. A new nano-brewery opened up in the Merrimen Valley, just a few miles from our house as well. I could spend the whole summer down here and never have to leave.

I keep thinking that one day Crow and I will get this house all fixed and perfect. And then it will be a happy place to be. I try to remind myself that all that house needs is a little TLC. It is in an ideal location with an admittedly beautiful yard. We have bird feeders and every day I see all these colorful birds of many kinds. I see hummingbirds at the feeder I made for them all the time. Every night, we hear owls and coyotes. We have a huge garden. This place could be paradise.

I just hate having to sacrifice a lot of my time to get the house to that perfect place. I’m not someone who enjoys fixing things up. I’ve found a love of gardening and flowers since moving here, but I still have no desire to do any construction. My motto in life has always been, “Why do it yourself if you can pay someone else to do it.” Except, well, there’s not always the money to pay someone else to do it.

People always tell me that I will have time for writing my novel later. As a widow, I have a really hard time accepting this comment. I know that I’m alive today. So whatever I want to do today should be done TODAY. I could get Alzheimer’s  (my grandma had it) and then I won’t have the capacity to tell my stories. There are a lot of random accidents that could occur. You just don’t know. So it makes no sense to me to ever put something on your list of things to do when you retire because you just don’t know that you will live long enough to get there. I’m not being fatalistic; I’m being realistic.

Ever since I lost Mike, my life has been filled with a very urgent need to fulfill my dreams. If I want to go somewhere, I just go. No time like the present! I’m young now and I’m healthy. Live for the moment!

The house just feels like a waste of my time and energy, even though I know it’s an investment for the future of my and Crow’s life together. I’m impatient. I can’t wait. I want to go places, see things, experience life, and then I want to write it all down. I don’t have time for fixing up a house full of problems.

I guess the lesson learned here is that you should buy something huge like a house with your logic instead of your emotion. The house seemed so perfect for us, located right along a road used frequently by cyclists and in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park that we love so much. It had the screened in porch I’d always dreamed of having. Sadly, both Crow and I admit that had we known we would have this many problems with the house, we’d have not bought it. Hindsight is always 20/20. We had some warning signs, though, of the problems we have had and we should have listened. But like star-struck lovers, we overlooked the glaring issues because we fell in love with the idea instead of the reality…

Green Thumb

The other morning when I woke for work, I immediately recognized the sound of rain pounding on the roof.

Normally when I hear that sound in the spring and early summer, I frown and drag myself to the shower in dismay. I can’t ride my bike to work. I have to work out in the gym. And, besides that, I’m stuck in the house all day. Even though 8 or so hours of my day are spent indoors, the sight of a gray rainy day in Northeast Ohio depresses me (even though I’ve lived here most of my life).

But this morning was different. My first thought was: Oh, good, the garden and my flowers will get watered!

It hadn’t rained in about a week and we’d just planted about 90% of our vegetable garden. Not to mention the plants I’d recently planted  around the house in my new flower beds. And the red bud tree I’d planted about a month ago, nursing it out of infancy by watering it from the hose every couple of days.

I was relieved because Mother Nature was going to take care of all the plants for me and I wouldn’t have to worry. What a change in perspective for me! Especially considering I had not once planted a vegetable garden at any of my previous residences (though I always wanted to but couldn’t find the time), and I’d taken not one iota of interest in the flower beds I’d planted at my previous homes. Except occasionally to enjoy a flower or two, I pretty much set up my flower bed and let them do their thing. Which meant that the weeds got as big as anything I’d purposely planted.

Up until this point in my life, I found gardening to be a waste of time. It got in the way of my bike riding, writing, socializing. The one or two weekends a year that my mom would come over and force me to plant and then mulch the flower beds was pure boredom to me. I just wanted to get through it as quick as possible and get on with my life.

What changed?

I think it partly has to do with this house. I love it here. I think I’m living in as close to a dream home as I’ve ever desired. It’s odd but I had this vision of living in a place like where I live now as far back as my first husband. I never ended up there as a single person because, well, I guess I knew I didn’t have time for it. Also, I was probably intimidated by the whole idea of living on 3 acres of land in a house where the water comes from a cistern and the waste goes to a septic system. It seemed like too much work (and probably is, Crow handles most of the filtration system maintenance so he could tell you better).

It’s really a house in the woods, as Crow is quick to point out, but to me it’s a cabin. It’s our own private getaway from the world that’s still close enough to all the amenities of a city. I think sharing a place like this with Crow makes me want even more to make it beautiful.

So, initially, I planned to just remove two beds of pachysandra growing on either side of the entrance to our house. I asked my mom to come over and help me remove them and then plant something–anything–in their place. The entry way did have a big rhododendron plant that we wanted to keep. But after all the pachysandra was removed, there would be a lot of open space for plants. Fortunately, my mom is an avid flower gardener and she was able to bring pieces of her own plants over.

I also had three pots of salvia–a housewarming gift from Crow’s aunt and uncle–that had somehow miraculously survived the winter neglected in the front of the house between the ugly bushes. I didn’t mean to neglect them. We were so busy with indoor repairs and remodeling that I just didn’t have time for them. By the time winter came, I thought they were goners, but I didn’t bother moving them. (Hey, the label said they were perennials, so…) I was totally thrilled they were still alive to plant!

I planted the much diminished little salvia plants among the day lilies, forget-me-nots, and hosta plants my mom brought. Two of the three plants have survived and one of them is thriving quite happily! I’m not sure what happened to the third one. It was starting to grow and then it just gave up. I felt horrible when it did.

Happy king salvia!

Happy king salvia!

Well, the external remodeling did not stop at the two flower beds in the entry way. Oh no. There were several ugly pine-like bushes in front of the house that Crow and I both despised and decided they must go. My mom returned another Saturday afternoon and, using Crow’s car for muscle, we yanked those suckers out of there. Of course, this meant we had even more space to plant flowers. My mom again provided some miscellaneous plants.

It didn’t end there, though. I found myself stopping to look longingly at plants in the greenhouse section at Lowe’s. I wanted a Miss Kim lilac bush because it was one of the plants my mom had planted at my house in Stow that I really loved. Miss Kim lilacs bloom after the regular lilacs and smell just as intoxicating. Lilacs are, and always have been, one of my favorite flowers not only because of their generally purple color (except for Miss Kim which is white) and their fragrant smell that reminds me of spring.

Besides the Miss Kim, I started seeing other plants I wanted to try: petunias, pansies, several nameless flowers that I recognize from my mom’s various gardens throughout the year. The next thing I knew, I was actually buying my own plants, reading their instructions, and planting them! I lacked the confidence, though, to believe that I wasn’t going to immediately kill them… I worried as I put them in the ground. Was I doing this right? I talked to them and fertilized them with MiracleGrow and started–this is earth-shattering–checking up on them daily! I started spraying weeds with Roudup and then plucking them out of the garden! This is really monumental if you’ve known me in any way, shape, or form before this house.

Pachysandra be gone! The improved entry way to the house.

Pachysandra be gone! The improved entry way to the house.

Up the street is a place called Crown Point Ecology Center that has a big organic plant sale in May. Crow and I went there to buy some starter plants for our vegetable garden and I ended up buying, on impulse, a nasturtium and a celosia. This was a huge step for me as it was the first time I bought flowers without asking my mom about them first. I was afraid to plant them without advice but I did so anyway following their tags’ instructions to plant in full sun.  The nasturtium really took off and it seems to keep getting bigger and healthier looking each day. I’ve really grown to love those little orange flowers and I wish I’d bought more in different colors. People keep pointing out to me that I garnish salads with the tasty flowers, but they are just too cute to pick so I enjoy them on the plant instead. And eat them? I’m not a cannibal!

Orange nasturtium, much too pretty to eat!

Orange nasturtium, much too pretty to eat!

The celosia is not doing bad either and I think soon I will get to enjoy it’s signature scrunchy, fluffy flower.

Celosia, aka "cockscomb" (hmm... the origin of that word given the appearance of the flower suddenly makes me ponder...)

Celosia, aka “cockscomb”

We bought a lot of mulch. Much more mulch than we needed for the front of the house. My mom suggested mulching along the side and back of the house as well. The previous owners had planted two holly bushes on the side of the house that we liked very much.

New and improved front of the house.

New and improved front of the house.

Various plants including my Miss Kim (right).

Various plants including my Miss Kim (right). Celosia (left), some begonias, and a coleus.

Side of the house featuring the amazing ever-growing hosta and one of the original holly bushes.

Side of the house featuring the amazing ever-growing hosta and one of the original holly bushes.

It was my idea to frame the garden with rocks. My mom’s flower beds at the house where I grew up were all framed by rocks and I always thought it looked really professional. Fortunately, we didn’t even have to buy these rocks. Dig anywhere in our yard and your shovel will hit rock in no time at all! We removed our rocks from the soil Crow dug up in the wooded area of our land. We actually have some really rich soil and so we decided to “transplant” some of it from the woods to the flower beds before we mulched. Much cheaper than buying more soil, for sure.

I would also like to point out that the hosta plants featured in these pictures were but little tiny numbs of plants–rolled up leaves in soil that looked to me like that wiggly plant the medicine girl uses to save Captain Kirk in the episode “A Private Little War.” These plants define prolific! The one shown above got haphazardly moved by me twice and it’s still alive. A great plant, I must say, for the beginning gardener.

Back side of the house. Still needs a little work, but at least there are some hosta in the meantime!

Back side of the house. Still needs a little work, but at least there are some hosta in the meantime!

The backside of the house still needs some work, I admit. It’s kind of hard to plant anything there because it’s shady pretty much all day. A few weeks ago, Crow brought home some coleus and begonias, and I planted some back there, but they are not doing well. I don’t know if they got affected by the frost we had at the end of May or what. I keep feeding them fertilizer weekly hoping they will suddenly feel better. I will be surprised if anything happens, though.

Regardless, I’m proud of the work I’ve done. I admit that every day I walk around the house to check my little babies out. I feel personally responsible for every plant I’ve put in and when they don’t thrive or they die I feel like I’ve failed. It’s odd how attached I feel to the plants. I guess because they are alive, I feel some sort of cosmic connection to them. Like us, they need good food (from sunlight and the soil), a warm place to stay, and plenty of water. I try to find a place that can provide all three. I find myself talking to each one as I plant it in the ground, asking it to thrive and not die on me. “Please be happy, little plant,” I say. I guess this is where your maternal instincts go when you’re 38 and childless…

Another impulse buy--Santa's Delight holly bush.

Another impulse buy–Santa’s Delight holly bush.

So my successes gardening emboldened me to step it up a level. When Crow was buying some trees for our aforementioned vegetable garden, I mentioned how much I love red bud trees (can you guess why??). At the greenhouse, we decided to look at some. They were a bit pricey, but I ended up buying what I felt was a hard luck case–a prospering red bud tree that did not get sold last season. It was bigger than all the other plants and, according to the worker at the greenhouse, probably “itching” to get out of that pot. I liked that it was the kind with reddish purple leaves–a “forest pansy.”

I planted it under Crow’s direction one evening. Crow was sick with a fever and could only sit in a chair and “supervise” while I dug and rototilled the area where I was going to plant it. I needed him there because even though he is also pretty much a fledgling gardener, my instinct before doing anything I’m not versed in is to ask over and over, “Like this? Is this right?” I carefully read the instructions several times and planted the tree with the bulb above ground. We filled the hole with dirt and peat moss and, a week later, I bought a few bags of mulch to give it an extra level of security in its new home.

My red bud blooming shortly after I planted it in early May.

My red bud blooming shortly after I planted it in early May.

I’ve kept up with watering the red bud when it was dry for too long. It seems to be doing really well where I’ve planted it at the treeline on the edge of our yard where I can view it from the kitchen window. I’ve enjoyed it both during its blossoming stage and with its head full of rusty leaves. I really look forward to watching it grow bigger and more magnificent with each year.

Red bud tree with reddish leaves, aka "forest pansy."

Red bud tree with reddish leaves, aka “forest pansy.”

In the last few weeks, we’ve added two clay pots of flowers in addition to the flowerbeds. I wanted some petunias because I heard they attract humming birds, but I had no more room in the sunny spots of my garden. I’d particularly loved the colors phantom and black velvet (any guess why? anyone?). Okay, my pot is pretty much comprised of several varieties of purple petunias and one “candy cane” striped color that I added so that my leaning towards purple would be a little less obvious.

A pot full of purple petunias. And one red and white one.

A pot full of purple petunias. And one red and white one.

Crow put together a pot of pansies which he placed on the stump of an old tree we cut down. As you can see, his color choices are a little more varied than mine… (But he did put a purple one in there!)

A pot full of pansies.

A pot full of pansies.

And now… the vegetable garden… Well, that’s an epic story of its own. We fortunately have a big clearing of trees behind our house that allows sunlight for a majority of the day. This is pretty amazing for where we live. I couldn’t even put in a garden at my house in Stow because my backyard was 100% shaded.

When we originally decided to plant a vegetable garden this year, despite all the other things we had going on, we assumed we’d cordon off a big area of the clearing for future expansion. Because we live amidst deer country in a national park, we knew we would have to build a fence around any vegetable garden we intended to plant… So Crow planned a fenced in area that would be enough for present and future purposes. He got a crew of friends and built said fence… and meanwhile, we went a little crazy with our seed planting and plant buying because it just seems too good to be true that you can grow the food you love to eat.

Our garden and the 9' fence that surrounds it.

Our garden and the 9′ fence that surrounds it.

Needless to say, over several weeks, we got most of what we bought planted: lettuce (three kinds and a bunch from seed), tomatoes (12 plants, several from seeds started in March, several more that we bought while shopping), hot peppers (4 starter plants), sweet peppers (4-6 plants, some from seed, most from starter plants), pumpkins (from seed), spaghetti squash (from seed), acorn squash (from seed), brussel sprouts (2 starter plants), watermelon (2, I think), strawberries (2 starter plants), red onions (10-12 starter plants), basil (3 plants: Aton, cinnamon, lemon), chives, cilantro (not sure it’s going to make it), corn (just in from seed last week), curry (which isn’t really curry, but it smells like it), mint (chocolate and regular, both in a pot) and sunflowers. Additionally, we planted 3 grape vines, a blueberry bush, and two kinds of raspberries (I think–this was Crow’s pet project). And then there’s our starter fruit grove: 2 cherry trees, 2 plum trees, and 2 peach trees. We won’t be getting fruit from those this year because we want them to grow.

Tomatoes of various kinds, sizes, stages of development.

Tomatoes of various kinds, sizes, stages of development.

Lettuce, onions, herbs, and the grapes (on the right).

Lettuce, onions, herbs, and the grapes (on the right).

Hot peppers, some berry bushes, and corn (not above ground yet) to the right.

Hot peppers, some berry bushes, and corn (not above ground yet) to the right.

I’m sure I’m missing something. As I said, we got a little carried away. I don’t expect everything to work out, but I’m enjoying the experience of trying. What impresses me most are the plants that we grew from seed in small containers. When I planted them, they were very small and frail. Most of them have grown immensely in the few weeks they’ve been in the ground. I’m so impressed that something so small has started to thrive. The tomatoes have been particularly successful. I’m totally convinced that tomatoes are a new gardener’s best friend!

Full view of the garden.

Full view of the garden.

Our fruit tree grove. They are very young, as you can see. But someday....

Our fruit tree grove. They are very young, as you can see. But someday….

I feel like I’m starting to understand the development cycle of plants. Watching them grown has forced me to slow down and pay attention more to the plant life around me. I now can identify tomatoes and peppers at a distance from their leaves. I’m even recognizing certain flowers in other people’s yards! I’ve never noticed these details before. But just over Memorial Day, while on a bike ride with our club, I pointed out to Crow every single rhododendron I saw! Two months ago, I wouldn’t have known a rhododendron from a hibiscus or a peony! Now I can identify all three.

It’s been a really interesting journey of discovery for me.  I’m already making plans to plant some lilac bushes and another red bud. Oh, the things I will be able to do to this yard! I’m so excited to see how everything turns out.

Speaking of those plant life cycles, much like people, plants want to survive… As I learned last night when Crow pointed out this lonely descendant of the pachysandra I removed hanging on to the gutter pipe as if to say to me, “Hey, I’m not technically in the garden. So na!”

I didn’t have the heart to hit it with Roundup.

Just yet.

Weeks after being removed, a lonely pachysandra volunteer taunts me from the gutter pipe as if to say, "Hey, I'm not in the garden!"

Cycles

Well, it’s been a long time.

I know, I know. There are no excuses for what is apparently the longest I’ve ever gone without posting to my blog.

But I’m going to try excuses anyway.

Let’s just say that I’ve bitten off far more than I can chew lately. I guess it wasn’t complicated enough that I was planning a wedding and making numerous changes to the new old house that Crow and I bought. No, I had to take it a level higher. I applied for and accepted a new job. True, the environment at that other job was so miserable that it was literally painful to walk into that place every day. And then I got passed over for a raise at time when I felt the most financially drained. I could have stayed there and accepted the comfort of complacency… But no, I had to go looking elsewhere.

Don’t get me wrong. The environment at the new job is 100% better. And the work a bit more challenging as I’m the only technical writer and I’m tasked to create something out of nothing for a software product that is long past needing some comprehensive documentation. Both of these are good. The benefits are better, the pay is better. Good, good, good.

But why now? I ask myself every day. I could have gotten by at the other job, miserable, but using half my brain to focus on the wedding and the house. Oh, but, I’m a restless one indeed!

And then there’s my personal writing. I was going a long so well on my goals, motivated and inspired. I had joined a writing group and I felt even more compelled and inspired to write. So I was trying to squeeze writing in between everything else I was doing. I’ve got two open novels that are begging for me to work on them.

I turned in to my writing group a rough draft of something I’d been working on. It got devoured whole and regurgitated in a lump at my feet. Or at least that is how it seemed to me. I cried the whole way home in frustration. I’m not entirely sure I was just crying about the review, though. It was probably part stress. I broke down because, I don’t know, some part of me pridefully believes I’m instantly brilliant without a lot of work. Stupid, right? It’s been a long time since I’ve done any serious fiction writing that I’ve let anyone read and I think it showed in the piece I submitted. I was ashamed of myself because somewhere along the line I lost the fire I had when I was younger. Not that I was instantly brilliant then either. I just had a lot more confidence about myself and I could take criticism easier. I’ve gotten brittle and faint at heart in my elder years. Lack of exposure, I guess.

That was in March, the day before my birthday (NEVER submit your art for review the day before you’re birthday). It launched me into a depression that I’m still not sure has completely lifted. Well, for the first time since November (and NaNoWriMo), I haven’t touched either of my novels. I’ve gone into the file and looked at them, messed around a bit, and then just lost interest. All the fun is gone. From just a few words from people trying to help me with my art.

I think my frustration stems from the fact that somewhere within me I believe that my writing is my last chance to having a career I actually enjoy. Which is completely and utterly stupid. Unless you’re one of the lucky ones, the chances of making actual money solely from being a novelist is mighty slim. It’d probably more likely that I’d win the lottery. It’s definitely not a career possibility. It’s just a fun hobby that I have to figure out how to do on the side.

At this point in my life, I know that the best I’ll probably ever achieve is to self-publish something. (And I would do it right by hiring an actual editor.) Again, hobbyist. Not a career. I know I’m not instantly brilliant or even brilliant. Period.

It’s like this blog. I write it really for myself but I know that I don’t have many real readers. I have a few trolls who spy (and I suspect are people who know me in real life and enjoy trying to hurt me). A few friends who read with passing interest. My mom. I guess I haven’t felt compelled to update this blog for those same reasons….

Anyway, my point is, the problem with believing that my writing is my last chance to career happiness is that when I hit a road bump–such as criticism, no matter how constructive–it becomes a real obstacle. It’s the deflation I need, though, to come back down off of cloud 9 and back to reality. It’s the reality that made me cry. The reality that I faced a long time ago and I’ve faced over and over and over again.

I think I can go back to the writer’s group once things calm down over here. Maybe after the wedding and the honeymoon. When I’m ready to focus on my writing, and I’ve accepted the reality that I’m just doing this for fun, I will be able to face the group again. I’ll go back humbled. I’ll listen intently. I’ll be a little less arrogant about my abilities.

Crow pointed out, though, that it was a huge step at all for me to show my writing to anyone, which is something I haven’t done (other than my memoir piece about losing Mike, which has to be the best thing I’ve ever written) since college. So it’s progress.

What else has gone on in the past four months?

We have finally put some sort of covering (blinds, curtains) over every window in the house. At last. After a year.

I planted a red bud tree in my yard. They are such beautiful trees and not only did I get to enjoy its flowering beauty this past spring, but I’m now watching its pretty red heart-shaped leaves quiver in the breeze.

Together with my mom, we tore out some ugly bushes in front of the house, removed some pachysandra in the entryway of the house, and replanted a flowerbed in the entry way that also wraps around half the house! We planted a bunch of hostas, some day lilies… The purple salvia Crow’s aunt gave me last year miraculously survived the winter. Two of the three plants are now blooming happily in the front flowerbed. Crow bought me some coleus and begonias and I put those in the shadier areas.

Crow built a huge 9 foot fence around what is to be our vegetable garden. We planted six fruit trees there (2 plum, 2 cherry, 2 peach) this past weekend. I planted tomatoes, peppers, hot peppers, and some basil. We still have some other veggies to plant–lettuce, spinach, corn, squash. I admit that the garden was a little over ambitious… But… why not?

I competed in Calvin’s Challenge with a migraine headache and the left-overs of a flu. I felt awful the first 70 or so miles of that ride. I couldn’t eat because I felt nauseous. I almost SAG’ed out in the middle of the second 50 mile loop. But after laying down at the rest stop for a bit, and sucking down one of those awful goo gel pack things (which was strangely inoffensive in my state), I found a second wind (called a tailwind) and I completed the entire 12 hour race with 122 miles. Not as grand as 2011’s 154 miles, but still a notable effort considering how sick I felt for the greater part of that ride. And I won a silver medal!! There were only two women in my age group.

(Somehow the words of my friend Joanna keep coming to mind, “Heidi, if you used half the effort you do in cycling with your writing, you’d be a star.” Ha. Probably true. Where’s the stubborn tenacity I have while riding when I’m writing?)

I commuted to work by bike once thus far.

I sold my Stow house at the beginning of May! No more paying 1.5 mortgages! No more payments to utilities I wasn’t using. I was a little sad to let go of the house, though, after all the work and money I’d put into it. I’d transformed it nearly into something that was my own. The kitchen–the one big room I never got to remodeling–was just a sad reminder of the dreams I had for it. I hope the new people do something fabulous with it. I like where I’m living better now… But I believe I was actually attached to the Stow house.

It’s been a journey these last several months. A bit of change. Some adjustment.

I’ve noticed I’ve started falling into new patterns. Older ones left over from perhaps my life with Mike are falling away. It’s a lot less painful than I thought it would be.

People are wrong when they say that a relationship doesn’t change you. Or that it shouldn’t change you. The fact of the matter is, when two people come together, they become an entirely different being at some point. A new person exposes you to new experiences. You find new interests together. You get into new habits together. You change some of your old habits to accommodate the other person. And vise versa, if it works. It has to go both ways to work. There’s an adjustment period… But then one day you catch yourself enjoying gardening, picking up new catch phrases from the other person, making references on you and he understand. Sometimes you even catch yourself doing the laundry differently (I used to wash everything in cold!). It’s weird. But exhilarating.

Slowly, bit by bit, the wedding details are falling into place. I’m looking forward to my special day with Crow… and especially for the three weeks following where we will do what we do best together: explore the natural world. I’ve not had more than an extra day off of work since last summer and even that was a working (on the house) vacation. I really need some time away. I feel so tired and exhausted.

I hope that when I return, I’ll feel fresh again about writing. I still want to do NaNoWriMo (though I’m not sure what I’ll write). I still want to take some bass lessons (it’s out of the question at the moment, I’m not going to throw myself even more off balance). I’ll do what I need to do to get back on track. And I’ll try to update this blog. For what that’s worth.

I can’t find my winter clothes…

What the heck? Did I miss blogging the entire month of July?! This is completely unprecedented!

And unfortunately indicative of how busy my life has been lately. First of all, Dream Home had a lot more work to do than either of us were prepared for.  The carpets were so ancient that none of them were liveable. We ripped them out first thing and have been living on sub-floor in three rooms ever since. We have purchased the replacement flooring (wood!) but are awaiting my father to install them (he’s finishing up work on my Stow house). We had to take down wall paper in the hall, and then spackle a few spots, and now we need to prime then paint it. We took out a closet in the hall that was abutting the master bedroom closet to make a bigger master bedroom closet so the access to the hall had to be dry-walled up. Two of our three toilets were leaking, so we replaced all three. We had to cover the floor in the bathroom with a cheap (but nice) flooring since it too had had old (stinky) carpet.

Crow’s been up in the attic most recently trying to wire the house. It was built in 1972 before internet requirements made it so every room needs to be wired. Plus, our “tv” is a projector and a wide screen and we dropped cable so that we can watch programs through the internet. I guess that’s the fun repair for us when it gets done; however, it’s taking more time than we anticipated since our nice vaulted ceiling actually makes it difficult to run wire.

We have a slight electrical issue between our hall and the office (sometimes a breaker blows when you turn the hall light on if all the computers are running in the office). Crow’s been trouble-shooting that one but it looks like we might have to actually call in a professional electrician.

It took us an entire weekend to paint the living room. To date, I’ve painted–including the ceilings–the master bedroom, the office, all of the closets and the library (and I’m not finished with the library).  I still have to paint the guest bedroom, the hall, the main entry way, and the master bedroom closet. Ugh.

We’re literally still living in boxes because we can’t put anything anywhere until our flooring is installed. We can’t put new fixtures in any of the closets until the floor is installed. Half the time, I can’t remember where I packed something I need. It takes twice as long to do any task in the house because you have to figure out where the stuff you need to work with is. I’m so fortunate to work for a company with a very casual dress code, for I’ve been wearing t-shirts, shorts, and my Birks for months. Come fall, I’m going to be in trouble because I’ll need to locate my jeans and warmer clothes, all of which are in bags somewhere in the massive pile in our guest bedroom.

The most depressing thing to happen, though, is completely out of our control. The small township that owns the part of the road just north of us (we’re Cuyahoga Falls), has decided to close the road north of us because they cannot afford to repair the road which is falling away into the creek that runs along side it. This cuts off our easy access to I-77, forcing us to go around out of our way to get to the highway (which is also a bit confusing to give to people as directions). It also ruins a perfectly beautiful, non-trafficked bicycle route that my fellow ABCers use on a regular basis. (Remember, I said in a previous entry that I used to bike this road, dreaming of living here.)

The road was closed, to our surprise, the week Crow moved his stuff in. We were very bummed about it and it seriously may have affected our decision to buy the house had we known about it. But not even the neighbors knew. They said there had been a neighborhood meeting and it had been decided the road would be repaired, end of story.

In the valley, when roads close, they fall to depressing ruin and become even impassible by bike. We do not want our road–even if it’s just that end of the road–to meet this fate. Our road would go from being an alternative access route to different parts of the valley to an empty cul-de-sac. It’s very sad.

The closure is not yet declared permanent. The matter is still under review by the county board. Thankfully, Cuyahoga Falls, the national park, and the county metroparks oppose the road closure. But someone needs to pay to fix the road and that’s still being batted about. I just wish we could do something to save it.

We did spend about two-three weeks working very hard on the house. Additionally, I had to spend time at my old house, emptying it and cleaning it in preparation for its sale. I regret that my focus has fallen completely off of it and that my parents have picked up with the slack with beautifying it for me. Still have not had a single person request a showing of it, though. I think I missed the best part of the real estate season, but I simply was not ready before this time to get the house on the market.

We did manage to take a break to have some fun. You have to. Despite the fact that you’re living indefinitely among boxes and you can’t even think about having a house warming party yet. But we were going nuts feeling trapped in our house. Crow and I are active types… We like to go places and do things. We’re definitely not homebodies, though this house has forced us to become such due to its continuous sucking of funds.

First of all, the day we got handed the keys to the house, we left for Grand Rapids, Michigan to do the MS 150. I started writing a blog entry about this trip twice in July. I plan to finish it, I simply haven’t had the chance. Memory of the trip is starting to fade to write it well, but I do have lots of pictures to share! We had a great time exploring microbreweries in between and during our ride. This was probably are last big trip for awhile.

We did the 50 mile route for Eddy’s Sweet Corn Challenge on July 29 which starts and ends in Richfield, Ohio so no travel required. This was only the second time I’ve ever done that ride and it was easier than I remembered. The first time I did it was 2006–the first summer I had my road bike–and I ambitiously tried to do my first century but ended up bailing to the 50 mile route after the first 25 miles. It’s funny because I remember that Valley Road in the Brecksville Reservation seemed incredibly hard to me at the time. That road is easy to me now.  But, anyway, I felt pretty good about doing the ride this time as I ride those roads frequently on Wednesday nights with my club. It was also nice because Crow’s friend Mark (with whom we stayed in Grand Rapids and also one of our groomsman), his brother, and his nephew were all also on the 50-mile route of Sweet Corn so we got to hang out with them some.

Me, Crow, Mark and friends on Eddy’s Sweet Corn Challenge.

On August 4, we did the 100-mile route for the Mad Anthony River Rally–my favorite flatland century in Ohio. I’ve done this ride several times, as you know, and I really do think it’s one of the best run rides I do regularly (which is why I keep coming back!).

Me and Crow together in ABC cycling garb on the Mad Anthony River Rally. (Photo credit: Sue Richards)

This past weekend, we rode the 75-mile route of the ever-beautiful and scenic Roscoe Ramble. This is a very special ride for us as last year we hit it off while hanging out drinking beers at Uncorked in Roscoe Village and the rest, as they say, is history. We’d gone out in May and I blew him off for my summer with Bono. What a fool I was! As we spent a few hours chatting over beers, I realized what a great guy I’d passed up. At some point, we ended up holding hands… (no one knows who started it). And we didn’t stop holding hands for practically the rest of that night! We, embarrassed, arrived late to the dinner at the church, raising the suspicions of our cycling friends who now claim that they saw our romance coming.

Me and Crow on Day 1 of Roscoe Ramble after a long climb. (Photo credit: Sue Richards)

So this year we went again to Uncorked, sat on the same cozy couch, and reminisced as we told our story to our ABC friends Bob, Sue, and Randy who shared some drinks with us… Though it rained and was cold this year on the first day of the ride, I enjoyed reliving the spirit of the ride and remembering that special day last year when I fell for this guy I’d known and enjoyed talking to for three years. I admit that I always had kind of a crush on him, but our circumstances were never really right until last year. The stars were finally aligned, it seems. I still marvel how I knew Crow for so long but never really knew how compatible we were. Life is weird.

Sunday was the complete opposite of Saturday–sunshine, comfortable temperatures. We had a late start so we were perpetually behind the crowd the entire ride. We rode a casual pace and I was definitely a lot more cheerful to be around now that I was not forcing myself to ride in the most unlikely conditions (I so hate riding in the rain). The best part was the free ice cream at Oser’s in Canal Fulton at the end where I discovered that I like the flavor of black raspberries. Since I don’t like raspberries, it was a complete risk for me to try the Black Raspberry Fudge ice cream. Holy cow, was that good. I guess you can never go wrong with something that is colored purple.

Me and Crow on Day 2 of Roscoe Ramble on the last big climb before Apple Creek, Ohio (and lunch!). (Photo credit: Sue Richards)

So that’s been our lives for the last two months. I guess it looks like we’ve still managed to stay pretty active, but we really only geared up for fun on the weekends the last three weeks. We’re staying home the next couple of weeks to try to focus on the house again. But there’s still so many great local things to enjoy where we’re at–evening rides with our bike club (which are now easier to get to), Cleveland Orchestra concerts at Blossom (which are only $20 a ticket and you can bring in your own wine or beer and snacks!), Akron Aeros games (which we have yet to do), Music in the Meadow (some Wednesday nights). We rode our bikes on the towpath to Lock 3 for the Blues & Brews a few weeks ago–that was fun. It seems like there’s always something to do in and around the park.

I’m still managing to commute to work at least once a week. My commute is now 11-12 miles, depending on the route, instead of 15. It’s amazing how much of a difference the shortening of 3-4 miles makes for the ride. Now, I can get to work in under an hour every time and I can make it home in even less than that since the return route is mostly downhill. I bought this nifty new bike computer (cuz I lost the one I had) for my Surly that calculates the amount of reduction to my carbon footprint that I make each time I commute to work! It also has an ETA time and graph so that while I’m riding I can see what time I will get to work going my current speed. The exciting extra is that there’s also a temperature reading on it! (Yesterday I noted that when I arrived at work it was 71 degrees.)

I like the routes I can pick to get to work. There’s actually still a lot of options. The only thing I miss is that there is only climbing in one direction (to work). But I guess since the commute is now shorter, I could throw in a bonus hill when I’m feeling spunky and I have the time to make the commute home longer. I can also take the towpath since it runs very close to my house, which is a nice occasional alternative to the road, especially in the morning when no one is on the towpath.

There’s a big farmers’ market on Saturday mornings just two miles from our house. We are less than two miles from Szalay’s for getting fresh produce and specialty goods as well. We can hear Blossom concerts from our house (which isn’t always good as some head-banging annoying festival was there last year) but they aren’t too loud to be disruptive. If they have fireworks at Blossom, we can see them.

Also, last month, the Burning River 100 mile endurance run route went right down our street!! We were at mile 85 and all evening we saw the headlamps of runners running down our street. We ended up walking down to the Everett Road Covered Bridge where they had a water station set up. It was really cool–the bridge was all decorated with strings of lights. It was an exciting atmosphere to be around… Though I would never run a marathon, let alone 100 miles, I am athletic in that way… I recalled the spirit of riding Calvin’s Challenge where I had to push myself to keep going towards the insane goal of seeing just how many miles I could complete in 12 hours. I guess one man’s running of 100 miles is another girl’s cycling of 154 miles. (Though I think it’s a lot easier to ride a bike 100 miles than it is to run 100 miles!)

Anyway, that was pretty exciting. It just makes you realize what a great resource is found in the Cuyahoga Valley. I feel very lucky to be living there despite the fact that my house is proving to be a bit of a challenge. I just try to focus on the fact that some day this house will be awesome. It just may take some time to get there. We are happy here now (if not stressed out) but we will be very happy here if we stay for the rest of our lives…

…I guess even Dream Houses come with a price. But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight. I’ve always believed that. I expect I’ll really appreciate this house when we’ve finished with it because it took a lot of our own sweat to make it fit our dream.

Introducing my library…

My one and only goal for this winter was to convert one of the rooms in my house–which was then being used as a default storage room–into a library. I knew I would have to buy some bookshelves, a comfy chair, and nice reading lamp. Well, my dad helped me get some bookshelves and I bought the comfy chair this week, so my library is 90% done. Pictures don’t do it justice, but here they are anyway.

My papasan -- the comfy chair!

It’s a small room and the bookshelves probably make it look smaller, but that contributes to the coziness of the place. And it smells just like a library should–like print books!

Not all of the bookshelves are being used for books, however. I have devoted two for displaying my various sci-fi geek kitsch. Here is the first one–the only full one. Also, note the autographed photographs on the tops of the bookshelves. I’ve got Majel Barrett (thanks to my college roommate, JenBo, who actually saw Majel at a con), Nichelle Nichols, Rene Auberjonois, Andy Hallet, Viriginia Hey (she was kind of flaky), Dirk Benedict (he flirted with me… A LOT), and Peter Tork with his folk band Shoe Suede Blues.

Geek shelf

My geek collection is displayed!

And my prized possession…

DeForest Kelley -- Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy

Yes, DeForest Kelley, personalized to my high school English teacher, Clyde Kincaid. Mr. Kincaid bequeathed this lovely picture to me as a wedding gift. He always told me I would get it; I thought he meant when he died for I could not imagine giving up such a wonderful possession in life. I was really honored, delighted, and touched that he gave it to me on the best day of my life. I guess he figured I’d take good care of it. And I do! I love it with all my heart!

I also have the autographs of George Takei and James Doohan in a magazine from the sixth movie. Since they are in a magazine, I don’t really have a good way to display them. But if you come over, I’ll proudly show them to you!

A shelf of McCoy.

The long wall.

When I first started emptying my boxes of books into my newly erected bookshelves, I didn’t quite get the concept of a full room within which to spread my books. So the first bookshelf I ended up filling completely. After that, I decided to spread out for visual balance. I have a whole room now, I don’t need to cram everything in one little space!

One full bookshelf.

I’ve even tried to loosely organize the books into sections. One of the shelves contains all of the memoirs I’ve acquired as part of my intensive memoir study (for possibly writing one of my own). Another bookshelf contains some textbook literature books (such as the cherished Riverside Shakespeare which I revere almost as highly as one would the Bible). I separated science-fiction from general fiction. I tried to give hardbacks their own area. I even have a small shelf for all my VHS (!!) tapes (that I can’t play because I no longer own a VHS player) and I kept the old space-scened shelves my ex-bf Ted gave me when he moved to Toronto to hold my DVDs.

Visual media section.

Incidentally, the Captain Kirk Bear was a birthday gift from blog-reader and friend, Bad Dog. Thanks, Bad Dog!

The fire exit. Or, well, the exit.

You are looking at future expansion of my action figure/geek kitsch in the empty bookshelf above. Yes, the library has given me freedom to BUY MORE geek stuff.

Another sweeping view from the door.

I obviously need to concentrate on a legitimate window covering (the ones shown above are not bolted in, they are left over from the old room before my dad put new molding around the windows). I tend to be lazy and just buy blinds. But maybe this room needs real curtains… for literary ambiance.

Another peek into the room.

Still looking for a good reading lamp, too. The floor lamp (shown in the left of the picture above) is an old one that was originally in this room as part of storage. It’s definitely not what I’m envisioning as the final lamp for this room. That one will probably end up in my finished basement rec room. Which is the next project on my home improvements list. I’d like to turn my guest room down stairs back into a guest room. It’s currently a storage room for all the stuff that goes in my basement while the basement is undergoing renovation. There’s also a bathroom in the basement that’s being remodeled. With a house, the list of things to renovate never seems to end… I fear that when I finally get my place to look how I want it, I will end up moving out!

Oh well. Until then, I’m going to enjoy reading in my library. Which, by the way, I’ve designated a No Technology zone. Laptops and cell phones must be left at the door. Maybe I should make a little basket for leaving cell phones in… HHmmm….

Curried Lamb with White Beans

I know I promised way back in November that I was going to make a recipe each month of winter out of  The Best Slower Cooker Cookbook Ever, but, um, my lack of domestic skill or interest kind of derailed me. Even though my usually uncreative and bland cooking leaves me wanting more and slow cookers are the easiest things to use because it generally has that “set it and forget it” sort of concept working to its advantage. Plus, I generally can make enough food for a night’s dinner with enough left over to freeze and eat once a week for a couple of months!

Anyway, I tried the curried lamb with white beans recipe I’ve been wanting to make. Now I know some people have their qualms with eating lamb; I love lamb, it’s one f my favorite meats. I know it’s gamey, but I think the gamey flavor is the best part. Plus, lamb tends to break down into softer meat when slow cooked and then it flavors the rest of the stew. It seems to be a great slow cooker meat!

The result was generally pretty good, but I think it’s missing something in flavor. I think it needs more heat or more curry or spices or something. I have to figure out what it is I need to put more of to make a tastier result next time. Any ideas from the experienced cooks out there?

Ingredients (Makes 6 to 8 Servings):

1 (16-ounce) package dried small white beans, rinsed and picked over (I didn’t rinse them or pick them over — they came in a package after all! Why would I need to do this?)
2 cups very hot water
1 cup dry wine (I used that Oak Creek Pinot Gris from Giant Eagle because it’s only $2. It’s a good cooking wine because it’s totally tasteless for drinking! Which probably makes it a bad cooking wine, but I wasn’t about to waste one of my good more expensive whites for cooking!)
1 red onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced (Hmmm… maybe it needed more garlic…)
1 large Granny Smith apple, chopped (I forgot that was in there!)
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped (I put the whole thing in of both.)
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon of Madras curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon Beau Monde seasoning
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 pounds lean boneless lamb stew meat, trimmed of fat and cut into 1-1/2 inch cubes

Instructions:

1. In a 4-quart electric slow cooker, combine the beans, hot water, wine, red onion, garlic, apple, green and red bell peppers, 2 tablespoons of the curry powder, the cumin, Beau Monde seasoning, and turmeric. Add the lamb and mix well.

2. Cover and cook on the high heat setting for 1 hour. Reduce the heat setting to low. Cook, covered, on low for 5-1/2 to 6-1/2 hours longer, or until the beans are tender but not mushy. Stir in the remaining 1 teaspoon curry powder.

Does anyone know of a hot Indian pepper I might add to the recipe? I think I’d like my nose to water or something! Or a least for my tongue to tingle a little… I have to admit, though, that despite my slight disappointment with the taste of the outcome, I was inspired to perhaps attempt some Indian recipes.  I love Indian food! (And Thai, Mexican, Italian, Japanese, German…)

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Holiday Ornaments

My ornaments

This year I had this spontaneously wonderful idea to make sour dough ornaments with my mom. We used make these as kids, a fun activity my mom had us do with her a couple of years that I remember fondly. I guess I really like to do crafty things on occasion. Actually, I had a lot of fun in an art class for elementary ed majors in college. We learned how to do a bunch of different things and I really got into creating pictures with acrylics even though I totally suck at drawing. I always see great pictures in my head and I can’t translate them to paper. However, I found that if I really, really studied something I was looking at, I could draw it somewhat competently. As long as it wasn’t people.

I used to get into a sort of meditative concentration where I would really study the object as I tried to get my hands to draw what I was seeing. It was soothing. Relaxing. You could sit there for hours just trying to get a small segment of the object just right, and your mind would be so focused and lost, and you didn’t have to concentrate on forming words which is what often makes writing less meditative for me.

I kind of got like that yesterday as I painted these ornaments. My mom did, too. We had the radio on–first to Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion and then to a station with Christmas music and eventually to some Leonard Cohen CDs my mom has–and we just silently worked on decorating these ornaments. Occasionally we’d look over each other’s work and compliment each other, or we’d ask to borrow a color we liked that the other had mixed, and then we went back to our own quiet, contemplative modes. Too much concentration to really chatter. I suppose we were taking our art work too seriously, producing quality instead of the quantity I’d hoped to finish.

I, for one, know that I spent a little too much time on some of mine. With memories of the badly painted ones from my childhood (and seriously being displayed as a child about how bad mine looked in comparison to my mom’s), I was really concentrated on actually making my ornaments look good. Unfortunately, in the process, I grew attached to my ornaments so I decided against my original idea of adding them to Christmas cards that I give my office mates at work. They won’t appreciate them as much as I do and they’ll probably throw them out or something. So I’m going to have to just give them candy canes or something they can eat and appreciate.

Anyway, now that we painted about 1/3rd of the ornaments we made, we need to put shellack on them and then loop string through the holes we formed in them for hanging. Personally, I had so much fun working on these that I want to finish painting the rest of them. I enjoyed spending the time with my mom as well as concentrating on something that didn’t involve trying to form the right words (which I’m constantly worried about, even when writing a blog entry about the mundane experiences of my life; every word has to count and it stresses me out).

Of course, I’m still not that great an artist. My ornaments look way better from afar than they do close up–I can see all their imperfections and crooked lines. It frustrates me because I know that a real artist would be much neater.  I was never good at coloring or staying within the lines. And none of my ornaments ever looked as good finished as I imagined them. It’s really hard to take a vision and translated it to something others can view, whether by writing or by painting.

My mom, as always, did a great job on her ornaments. She’s much better at the “people” ornaments while I’m much better at the “things.” My candy canes and presents and wreaths looked good, but my snowman, gingerbread man, and cats look like they were painted by a first grader. I didn’t dare attempt any of the clown ornaments. In fact, I gave up trying to make the cat ornaments look like real cats so after the first two, I just went with abstract.

At one point, I was working on three or four ornaments at one time–painting the background color on several (ie, the white on the candy cane) and, while waiting for these to dry, painting finer details (ie, black outlines) on others. My enthusiasm for the project fed the artistic trance. I used to get in trances like this when writing. I miss that feeling a lot. It’s been a long time since I’ve found myself so lost in the art that even the contemplation of what to do next was thrilling rather frustrating.

Mars Mom's ornaments - Check out those outfits on the girls and boys!

Regardless of my assessment of my artistic ability, we had a lot of fun. And that was the point, really. Just some time to spend with my mom, reliving holidays past from a different time in my life than the one I usually slip into. This year, a lot of my holiday thoughts have slipped back to things I did as a kid. Though, I suppose I’ve been doing that already for the last couple of years with going out to get a live Christmas tree with my dad. In trying to rebuild new Christmas traditions as a single person, I find myself reaching backwards to those things I found exciting as a kid. I don’t know if it’s really an effort to avoid remembering the few Thanksgivings/Christmases I shared with Mike, but it’s definitely an attempt to try on my own traditions as a adult which I probably never got a chance to do before. And I find myself pulling out those things that stand out from my childhood as really great memories.

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Mystery of the Leaves

So last week, I bitched about all the coming yard work I had to do due to the immigration of leaves from the trees to my backyard. I thought I had a hopeless, daunting task to attend to this weekend… But something unexplainable has happened. I do believe the Mothership must have come down and raked my leaves for me. When I returned home from the Red Flannel Ride and “after party” at Michael’s, I pulled into my driveway to see piles of leaves in my ditches in front of my house. At first, I was furious at my neighbors–what right have they to put their leaves in my yard for the city collection when I had thousands upon thousands of my own leaves to pick up and put in the ditch.

Until… I happened to look in my backyard the next morning and saw that all of the leaves on the one side of my yard were mysteriously gone! As if they’d never been there.

DSCF2775

The mysterious clean backyard.

Hmmm. I thought. Surely my neighbors didn’t pick up my leaves for me? Is that even possible?

Well, I don’t know what happened to the leaves in my backyard, but there was basically just a small contingent remaining by a tree in the far corner. So today I chopped them all up by running over them multiple times with my lawn mower. I certainly was not about to spend hours raking them up. No way. Even if I had missed my morning bike ride and needed desperately to get some exercise before going out to dinner (and Don Giovanni) with my mom tonight. The sweat and frustration of rearranging leaves into a pile and then loading them into a wheelbarrow to move to my front yard for the city pickup is just too much work, even for a 64-degree day in November. There’s always much better things to do than yard work.

I mowed both my front and back lawn, chopping up all the leaves so that they can hopefully be used as compost for the lawn. Much, much easier work than raking the leaves.

But, still, I wonder if one of my neighbors was actually nice enough to help me out last weekend. Or maybe it was just a freak of nature–all the wind blew the leaves that carpeted my yard into someone else’s yard. Or maybe all the leave-blowers in my neighborhood created a giant vortex that swept my leaves off into another dimension where leaves are loved like diamonds. I don’t know. Either way, out of sight, out mind for me.

I now feel bad for ranting about my neighbors’ apparent dislike of me in an earlier entry. Perhaps one of them lurks on my blog? Ha, wouldn’t that be something? Confidentially, I’m hoping I have a handsome secret admirer out there who, knowing that I was on the Red Flannel Ride, came out and took care of my leaves for me. I don’t think it was my dad, though. He’s the one who told me to run them over with the lawnmower.

DSCF2774

The side of the yard where I mowed the leaves.

Curried Pumpkin Bisque

I’ve had this cookbook–The Best Slow Cooker Cookbook Ever by Natalie Haughton–for about six or seven years now. I got it when I lived in Colorado and was dating a guy who liked to cook, which kind of/sort of inspired me to attempt some more daring cooking. My one and only specialty dish–the one I can actually claim fame for among my friends–is my white (chicken) chili. I have perfected my chili over the years and can pretty much do it without looking at the instructions anymore. It is cooked slowly over 3-4 hours in a crock pot. I usually get everything together in the crock pot the night before I intend to eat it, then I set it on low and let it stew all day while I’m at work. I usually open the door to my home to the lovely smell of garlic and pepper on these days… very nice! And it’s totally ready to eat.

I always keep the recipe card for my white chili between the pages of The Best Slow Cooker. So a few weeks ago when I reached into the book to recheck that I had all the required ingredients, I found myself looking through the pages at all the other recipes. I must have looked in the book before for there were post-it notes marking a few recipes and my mouth watered when I read the description of the “Curried Pumpkin Bisque.” I was immediately intimidated because the instructions indicated that I would have to “puree” mixture at some point. I fretted about not having the “proper equipment” to perform this procedure. I wasn’t sure I had the mad cooking skills to accomplish this recipe. However, after consulting my mother and learning that I could use a blender to puree something, I nervously decided that maybe I should give it the old college try.

The most difficult part of this endeavor was procuring all the correct ingredients. I did not know what Madras curry was and I could not find it at my local Giant Eagle. It took several attempts before I realized that I wouldn’t find it in the spices section where I originally thought, but rather in the area of the store selling Indian or Mediterranean items. When I put the query out on FB about Madras curry, my friends assured me that I could probably just use the curry I had around the house. But I was determined that I needed to follow the recipe exactly as written, for I’m not creative enough at this point in my cooking career to just improvise ingredients. It was all or nothing. Though, I did eventually compromise on green onions for scullions as I could not find anything labeled scullions at the store. (I know, you’re thinking I’m a complete cooking retard.)

Anyway, I’m proud to say that the experience was a complete success. Not only did I cook the recipe correctly, but it turned out to be really scrumptiously delish! A pumpkin lover’s dream! And it was after this success that I decided that I’m going to try one slow cooker recipe from this book a month this winter… I’m going to find something that sounds delish and then I’m going to attempt to make it. I’m going to become a connoisseur of unique slow cooker dishes, dammit, if it embarrasses me to try. Perhaps it is time I gave up my lifelong determination to not learn to cook, which started out of fear that a man would force me to be his woman servant, cooking his dinner and waiting on him hand and foot. Yes, believe it or not, but I had a fierce determination to refuse to cook because I did not want a man order me to cook his dinner for him; I feared simply knowing how to cook would encourage this behavior. I didn’t want to any man to expect me to have dinner waiting when he got home from work. (Ha, but did I mind it when the situation was reversed, as it was in my marriage, when I arrived home to a cooked meal? No! That was retribution for all the women in the world who were repressed to a life of servitude, I say!)

I’ve pretty much figured out that learning to cook is a benefit to me. To my survival. After nearly 10 years of living by myself, I grow tired of the many microwave cuisines I’ve invented for myself. You can only eat so many different combinations of vegetables with a potato in a lifetime. Or Lipton ready-mix pasta with potato. Or some sort of meat with some sort of vegetable. Or, my standard classic: a tasteless stir fry (tasteless because I never know what spices to put in, so it’s basically just some stir-fried veggies on top of white rice with soy sauce… good combo but bland…).

Well, I thought I’d wrap up with sharing the Curried Pumpkin Bisque recipe. If you’re not following the recipe as strictly as I did,  you may have better ideas to improvise. I’ve included my own notes.

Ingredients (Makes 8 to 10 Servings)

1 (29-oz) can solid-pack pumpkin

4 cups homemade (*cough, cough*) chicken broth or canned chicken broth (as Mars Girl would do)

2 medium onions, chopped (by accident, I ended up using two sweet onions just because they were medium in size. I don’t know if this made a difference in the result or not since I am not an expert on onions)

2 garlic cloves, crushed through a press (and, yes, I own a garlic press thanks to Pampered Chef)

1 1/2 tbs Madras curry powder (a must! this stuff smells great!)

1/2 tsp seasoned salt (miracle of miracles, I had this!)

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup milk

1/2 tsp sugar (I did not end up using this… the heavy cream and the milk add enough sweetness that I think the sugar is unnecessary.)

1 or 2 (4.5 oz) cans of mushrooms (Mars Girl used two cans because Mars Girl LOOOOVES fungus!)

Sour cream and chopped scullions (whatever those are) or crisp bacon bits for garnish (not being much of a sour cream fan, I did not use this… I did add green onions, though, for “garnish.”)

Instructions:

1. In a 3 1/2 quart electric slow cooker, mix together pumpkin, broth, onions, garlic, curry powder, and seasoned salt.

2. Cover and cook on the high heat setting for 3 to 3 1/2 hours. Carefully puree the hot soup in 2 or 3 batches in a blender or food processor until as smooth as possible. Return to the slow cooker.

3. Stir in the cream, milk, sugar (or not), and mushrooms. Cover and cook on high for 15 to 30 minutes longer. Serve immediately in soup bowls garnished with sour cream (or not) and scallions or bacon bits.

YUM! I found it tastes great if you have some bread to dip into it, too. Well, what soup does NOT taste better with some dipping bread?

So… next month I think I’m going to try the other recipe with the post-it note stuck to it: Curried Lamb with White Beans. Do I sense a theme? Guess what? It calls for that Madras curry powder again, which I now have an entire jar of at my disposal. It must have been the author’s favorite curry mix or something. The recipe also calls for cumin–my second favorite spice! And 1 cup of white wine! Does this mean I get to open a bottle for cooking, and then drink the rest? If so, I think I am going to like this cooking thing…!