Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The crops

Eli and I went out to The Farm today--our 20x50' community garden plot.  It's been very dry here in Iowa, so we wanted to irrigate our crops.  Our irrigation system = a 5 gallon collapsible water container (identical to the one we took camping when I was growing up!), two 1-gallon milk jugs, and a plastic watering can.

 Here's Eli on our plot.  The community gardens are on a stretch of city park along the river.  It floods every so often, so the soil is more sandy than my back yard, but it's mostly that black Iowa soil that everyone in the world covets.  I feel so fortunate to be able to garden here in Iowa!

As you can see, our plot has a lot of crabgrass growing in it.  Most of our crops are space-hogs--pumpkins, gourds, and watermelon--so there's a lot of empty space around each plant.  We did some hoeing last time, and mulched with straw, but there's still plenty of space for weeds . . . maybe we'll just have to keep hoeing until weed season is past (they slow down around mid-July).

I love seeing the other plots here.  I would guess there are about 200 or so, each 20' x 50'.  Our neighbors have these beguiling pea frames made of branches.

Others have rows of crops of various sorts, many with gallon milk jugs still protecting the tomatoes from frost (and cutworms?).

Despite the dry weather, our crops are doing well.  The pumpkins are especially healthy-looking.

My Brussels Sprouts are doing fine, as well.
The Romanesco Broccoli and Zinnias are up and looking good, but are just tiny seedlings yet.

On the home front, I bought flowers for my big concrete pots that are on the patio.  I moved one pot close to the back door--the one most people use.
Looks handsome there, I think.  It'll be fun to see that when I come into the house.  And there's another pot almost exactly the same, near the chair where I like to sit and read or crochet on the patio.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mother's Day Kindle


The boys bought me a Kindle Fire for Mother's day and I am enjoying it very much!

Look at how easy it is to use, even when there's a kitty on my lap.  

Mostly I'm using it as a web tablet.  In this photo I'm looking for online patterns and tutorials about how to make a case for it.  Already I've used it to search for recipes and browse on Ravelry, of course.  

Before this tablet, I just used my laptop for this kind of thing.  I can sit at my little desk in the kitchen, or take my laptop to the couch.  But sometimes when I sit on the couch, my lap is occupied (see photo)--no room for my laptop.  Plus, laptops--mine anyway--get HOT.  A small tablet will make it easier and more fun to look for stuff.

I've been shopping around for a tablet for a few months now.  Just kept putting off buying one.

Eli knew I was shopping and thinking about tablets (he loves shopping for electronic devices, too, and thought a Kindle would work well) so he spearheaded a campaign to get one for me for Mother's Day!  

So it's great for web browsing, but will I use it to read?  I did buy one of those long article/short books already from Amazon, Don't Trade the Baby for a Horse by Wendy McClure, who wrote The Wilder Life (awesome book, BTW).  But probably I'll stick to books if I can.  I like going to the library, and I have nothing against books.  

Still.  I'm guessing that eventually I'll shift to e-books.  The thing is, what I really like is reading, not books (unlike my brother, who likes both!).  I don't buy books because when I'm done reading them, I'm done with them.  Although it'll have a different feel--and paging around in them will take some getting used to--I'm thinking that reading is reading, and that I'll have no trouble using e-books.  

As long as I can sign e-books out from the library, because with my reading addiction, I'd go broke if I had to buy all the books I read.

Thursday, May 3, 2012


From my Penzu:

When Bruce came home for lunch, I went out to join him in the kitchen and almost stepped on a bird.  It was lying, face down, wings outstretched, on the family room carpet.  How did it get in the house?  Bruce pointed out that I'd left the sliding door cracked open--to let the kitty out.  I wondered briefly if the kitty had brought the bird in, but knew that she wouldn't have.  She can barely catch butterflies, and she was outside basking in the sun.

Probably this bird got confused by the windows of the sliding door, maybe hit one and ended up flying inside through the partially opened door.

I picked the bird up, gently.  It moved a bit, but settled in my hands.  Its heart was beating briskly.  No blood.  Its eyes were closed, but it opened them and looked around, then closed them.  

I felt badly that it had gotten inside the house.  A few years ago, I bought some window decals after the red-bellied woodpecker I'd been watching all winter crashed into the window and died, its long woodpecker tongue flickering out one last time as I came out to see what had happened.  I was so sad about this that I'd cried as I buried the woodpecker.  

I didn't know what kind of bird this bird was.  It was tiny with stripy brown feathers.  There was a bit of yellow at the rump and along the wings.  I took a picture; I didn't want to put down the bird to page through my Peterson's guide.

I took it outside to see if it would try to fly away, but it didn't. It just sat in my hand and panted, heart pounding. I decided against just putting it on the ground--afraid the kitty might see it, though probably she wouldn't--when it comes to stalking, she only sees moving things.

So I sat there with the bird in my hands on the patio.  Her heart beat quickly against my palm, her beak was slightly open.  (I found out later it was a female Pine Siskin.)  I wondered if she was frightened--of me, or of dying.  I hoped she wasn't in any pain.

As I sat there holding her, I thought about the car accident I was in last week.  A driver ran a red light and ran into the passenger's side of my car.

I only barely saw it coming, out of the corner of my eye.  It was mostly a surprise, as my car was hit (I think I said "Oh!") and spun around, hitting a telephone pole.  I just kind of sat in stunned silence after it happened.  

I also thought about that Lewis Thomas Essay "On Natural Death" in which he writes about seeing his cat with her prey and wondering if the mouse felt pain "all over its body" as it was being carried in the cat's mouth.  A doctor and scientist, he decides that the mouse did not feel pain.  

"Pain is useful for avoidance, for getting away when there’s time to get away, but when it’s end game, and no way back, pain is likely to be turned off, and mechanisms for this are wonderfully precise and quick." *

Thomas had actually seen this mechanism in action, as he witnessed two soldiers trapped in the wreckage of a car.

"The worst accident I’ve ever seen was on Okinawa, in the early days of the invasion, when a jeep ran into a troop carrier and was crushed nearly flat. Inside were two young MPs, trapped in bent steel, both mortally hurt, with only their heads and shoulders visible. We had a conversation while people with the right tools were prying them free. Sorry about the accident, they said. No, they said, they felt fine. Is everyone else okay, one of them said. Well, the other one said, no hurry now. And then they died."*

I wonder if that's what the bird was feeling.  I hope she wasn't feeling pain, just feeling stunned.

I got a rag from the kitchen, because I wanted to set the bird down in the ivy under the hydrangea, but I didn't want her to be cold.  I put her on the rag, and, before I could set her in the ivy, she stretched out her wings once, twice, and then she tucked her beak into her breast and died.

The way life departs from a living being is remarkable.  One moment there is life, the next, there is a handful of feathers. 

Remembering the Thomas essay, I thought of his humane scientific explanation of endorphins and pain receptors:

"If I had to design an ecosystem in which creatures had to live off each other and in which dying was an indispensable part of living, I could not think of a better way to manage."

Dying is inevitable, so there's a mechanism to make it bearable.  But there's also the pain from watching another being die--as far as I know, there's no mechanism yet to turn that off.

*[From The Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher, by Lewis Thomas]

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

@ the farm

Eli and I were out at Our Farm yesterday, the 20'x50' city garden plot we've rented down by the river.  We decided we had a small window of dry weather and we'd get our plants in!

Eli planted:
two kinds of giant pumpkins, Big Max and one other type.

snake gourds

Small Fancy Mix gourds

I planted from seed:
Nantes half-long carrots
California Giant Mix zinnias

Sugar Baby Watermelon
Romanesco Broccoli

Robbie requested this one.  "It looks like a 3-D fractal," says Robbie.
I also planted Brussels sprouts from plants I got at Peck's.

I think we'll visit The Farm this weekend in between scattered showers, and I'll try to get some photos!