Appreciating the October Garden

The trees are just starting to turn here in Connecticut, but the weather’s been unseasonably warm and sunny and we haven’ had a hard frost, so flowers are still blooming. It’s a funny time of year for the garden, with pruning on the agenda, as we wait for the leaves to fall and for the annuals to die.

I harvested the last of the tomatoes and basil, and pulled them out of the raised beds for compost. I’ll process the basil with some olive oil and salt and freeze in mini plastic containers to use all winter. The frost had kissed, but not killed the green basil, and there was a little of the red basil left. It didn’t produce that well this year. The tomatoes were spent.

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I harvested more broccoli but left the plants alone for the most part. Despite harvesting almost every day, eating a lot and blanching some to store in the freezer, some broccoli flowers and goes to seed. I love these humble broccoli flowers, and so do insects. You probably can’t tell from this picture, but there are at least 9 species of insect feeding off these plants, including four kinds of bees, two kinds of moths, a ladybug, some other small flying bug I can’t identify, and one noisome garden pest – these gray aphids that form huge masses on the plant and suck the life out of it.

I prune off aphid-infested stalks and let the rest of the flowers go. The bees get rather aggressive at this time of year, as the flower supply dwindles.

While autumn color is still a few weeks away, my blueberry bushes are doing their own thing. I have three varieties in my garden, and they’re all donning their autumn colors on their own time.

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The fully green bush to the left is the “Blue Crop” variety, a midseason berry. Its scarlet neighbor is “Jersey,” a late season berry and the coppery neighbor to the right is “Earliblue,” an early variety, of course.

We pruned the lilacs and holly bushes so they won’t crowd the driveway and sidewalks this winter. I still need to do the roses, but that will have to wait for another day.

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Cheap and Easy… and I Am Not Talking About Myself

I finished my first project from my Magic Quadrant for Sewing Project Selection: a sweatshirt from the “cheap and easy” quadrant, in the “need” category.

 

The pattern is out-of-print Kwik Sew 3452 (copyright 2007) and I added the kangaroo pocket from the dress in Simplicity 8174. It’s just the right size to hold my cellphone. I am going curling Saturday night, so I will wear it then. It ‘s made of a light 100% cotton sweatshirt fleece – the perfect thing for layering.

This was indeed a cheap and easy make. I got the pattern for free from a friend at PatternReview.com, got the zipper for $1 in New York’s Garment District, and the fabric cost about $10 from Fashion Fabrics Club. The biggest expense was thread. Since this has 1/4-inch seam allowances, I constructed it on the serger. I needed to buy three cones of red serger thread, which set me back $12. Since red is my favorite color, I decided it was a worthwhile investment.

So far, so good with the Magic Quadrant to help me select sewing projects. I decided that for every two “needs” I sewed, I’d do a “want” project. I also decided to do cheaper “needs” and save my money for a big “want” project in the “expensive and difficult” quadrant (upper right). That left the two “needs” in the “cheap and difficult” quadrant (upper left):sewing plan 3

I flipped a coin and got “button-up shirt.” To keep costs low, I’ll use fabric and a pattern from stash. I have 2 yards of really nice white stretch cotton shirting, bought last year at Banksville Designer Fabrics in Norwalk, Conn.

For patterns, I have four choices in stash, all of them “difficult”:

  • Crazy asymmetrical “Joker” shirt from Oki Style.
  • Adapt McCall’s 6696 shirtdress to just make a blouse.
  • Camicia 10 from the August/September 2016 issue of “La Mia Boutique” an Italian sewing magazine similar to Burda Style.
  • Camicia 37 from the same magazine.

Adapting the McCall’s shirtdress to just a shirt may be more trouble than I’m willing to take on, and I want a long-sleeved shirt anyway.

The two Italian sewing magazine shirts are nice-quality patterns and I was delighted with the fit on the sleeveless blouse I made earlier this year. But these are more complex projects and my Italian is not up to the task. Plus, Camicia 10 is really more suited to a silk or rayon georgette or other light fabric than a stretch cotton shirting. Camicia 37 has cool details, such as armpit gussets and interesting pockets, but it’s “plus size” (in Italian called “donna piu” or “more woman”). The smallest size would be big in the bust, so I’d need a sad “small bust adjustment,” but the fit would be good for my waist and hips. And it requires a bit more than 2 yards of fabric.

So, I chose the “Joker” shirt. It fascinates me, with all its darts and asymmetry. Plus, we at PatternReview.com have a little sew-along right now for “lonely” patterns that have no reviews. So I called “dibs” and now I have to deliver.

Blogging About Weight Loss

When I lost 50+ pounds several years ago, I ate controlled portions of real food, I exercised, I recorded everything, I weighed myself once a week – all pretty standard weight-loss disciplines. I also kept a blog that I updated almost daily. This blog was a big factor in my success. It was hosted on a platform restricted just to dieters, so I never encountered trolls, but rather took in a lot of encouragement and good ideas. I made a few friends, although I don’t hear from any of them anymore.

I kept the blog from 2010 to 2016, when the blogging platform shuttered. Right before it did, I copied all my blogs (more than 1,500 of them) into several Google Docs files, so I could have them for all time. I even copied many of the comments.

I was looking for some info in an old blog recently but I found myself reading every blog I wrote in 2011. It took a couple of hours. At that time I weighed a little less than I weigh now, fluctuating 8 pounds or so. It seems like a long time ago, and it seems like yesterday.

How many of the same issues still bother me? A blog about a binge. A blog about a fraught family meal. Some health issues. Some work stresses. Shopping trips full of joy at smaller sizes and stylish looks. Resolutions to swear off sugar, or alcohol, or whatever else ailed me at the moment.

I will never change. I will fight to keep the weight off as long as I live. It’s part of the deal, sorry to say. I have accepted that.

I have not written much about weight loss here because I feel like I said it all already in that other blog. Besides, who cares? It’s one thing to write in a dedicated platform, but quite another to put struggles and ideas out there for everyone to see.

I realized something, however, when reading my old blog. I really wrote the thing for myself. If other people read it, commented, and formed friendships with me, that was great. But mainly I wrote the blog so I could remember what the weight-loss struggle was about, because I was dedicated to the idea that someday I would lose the weight, and on some distant day, I would not remember what it was like to be so overweight and unhealthy.

That has been 100% true.

So, I may post about weight loss from time to time. It’s definitely a distaff-side pursuit anyway.

“That’s a lot of money for something that’s going to end up in the toilet.”

That’s my reaction to eating at fancy restaurants these days. We were on a long weekend trip and wanted to get together with some friends. They suggested their favorite restaurant. We said “OK.” We ended up spending about $350 for the meal.

Sheesh.

I am so over restaurants. I feel like restaurants are the worst kind of indulgence.

  • You stress about getting a reservation, which is basically permission to spend your money at the restaurant. You’re all happy like you won the lottery if you “get in.”
  • You show up and everyone fawns over you and waits on you like you’re the queen of something.
  • There are all these little stupid euphemisms, like how the menu says “crispy” instead of “fried,” and when the waiter goes to take away your mostly empty plate and he says, “May I clear this, or are you still enjoying it?”
  • The menu descriptions have to say the lettuce is “local” and the tomatoes are “heirloom,” like there’s no way you can get this stuff at your local supermarket.
  • The waiter congratulates you on your menu choices. Like he’s going to say, “I wouldn’t get the duck if I were you.”
  • Someone refolds your napkin when you get up to use the bathroom. Why?
  • Maybe the chef comes over and really piles it on. In this case, the chef overheard my husband remarking that there were not many red meat choices on the menu, so she offered to make him something special. He took her up on it.
  • You get a freebie, like an extra dessert, and you’re sooooo impressed.
  • You can’t get over how the food is so good. Of course it is! You would never put this much fat, sugar and salt in food you make at home. You would never spend hours prepping vegetables, making stocks, reducing sauces and everything else. Nor should you.

We had one of these marathon sessions of eating and drinking and all I could think was “I would so much rather spend this money and time doing anything else.” The pleasure for me was in visiting with friends, not stuffing my face. I would have been just as happy having a meal at a little ethnic restaurant, or a picnic in the park, or best yet, eating at home.

When we left the restaurant, my husband kept gushing about it. He went to the bathroom to turn some of the $100 bottle of Pinot Noir into urine, so when he returned, I said: “It was nice, but that’s a lot of money for something that’s going to end up in the toilet.”

His face fell. I have to remember that line for next time.

Who Loves a Business Trip?

I’m on a business trip for a few days. Nothing fancy, just a hop on Amtrak to Baltimore for a couple of days.

I love business trips. Although I’ve been traveling for work a little for 20+ years, it’s still thrilling somehow. I feel like Peggy from Mad Men with her smug satisfaction, even if it means staying at a budget hotel, drinking low-quality whiskey.

Or, in my case, a fruit, veggie and hummus plate from Amtrak…

Business trips cure my craving for alone time. Something about a hotel room, all to myself, a flight without a companion, even a meal alone feels great. I get time with coworkers during the day, or I interact with lots of strangers at a conference, but any time after that is MINE. At home there’s always something that needs doing, or my husband wants to chat, or the TV is blaring… Always something demands my time. 

Most importantly, I get lonely after a few days, or I wish I was home again. And then I am – feeling refreshed.

Exorcising Demons in The Artist’s Way

I’ve hit a roadblock in my efforts to follow the book “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. The roadblock is unexpected, scary and very hard to get through. I have been thinking about it since June.

In brief, the book recommends readers follow a multistep process to gain increased creativity. (For some old posts about the process so far, see Trying “The Artist’s Way”An Artist’s Date to the Vintage Shop and An Artist’s Date on the Linear Trail.) I am doing this to try to break through my fear and inertia to do more creative writing.

One of the early steps involves exorcising demons, in a way. You’re meant to write down times in your creative life when you felt discouraged, ridiculed, scared, or otherwise blocked by someone else from living the creative life you’ve wanted. Maybe your parents discouraged you as a kid. Maybe classmates tore your work apart with criticism. Maybe your husband or kids or job gobbled up your energy and will.

This exercise brought up a memory of college. I recently ordered my transcript to see if I could do a little fact-finding into this episode. There the class is – MET EN202, Creative Writing, spring of freshman year. I got an A-.

I was a full-time student at Boston University, but I took a creative writing class at the BU night school (called Metropolitan College) to ease up my schedule a bit so I could work at my day job more hours and make more money. Adjuncts taught these classes. The professor was this older guy – a tall, skinny man, with a long face and a short gray beard. I can’t remember his name. He had published a few short stories, including one in The Atlantic of The New Yorker or something prestigious. I vaguely remember one of his stories – about some short guy who wore a fez around to attract women and to make himself look taller.

I was working on a story about this kid I knew in high school. I don’t remember anything about it. That is, whatever that story was about, it wasn’t memorable. I once had to go to the professor’s office hours, which were at night of course. His office was on one of the upper floors of a crummy building in this campus no-man’s land along Commonwealth Avenue. He didn’t sit behind his desk but rather sat in this little sitting area to the side, and I sat opposite him, where I could watch the neon Citgo sign from Kenmore Square grow and shrink and grow again over his shoulder.

The other thing that was growing was his erection. I was no virgin as a freshman in college, but I was still pretty inexperienced. I knew and yet I didn’t know what was going on. He talked about what a great talent I was. He talked about how the publishing world loved the young. If I could publish my first novel before I was 21 or 22, I would have the literary world at my feet. All I needed was someone who could help me. Of course, he could be that someone. I was 18.

I was wearing this peach-colored L.L. Bean mock-neck T-shirt that I’d had about a year. I remember it because I wore this shirt one of the first couple of times I had sex with my high-school boyfriend. My boyfriend didn’t like the shirt because it pulled on over my head. He wanted to a button-up shirt so he could watch my breasts emerge as he unbuttoned it. I never wore it with him again. He was well out of the picture by that spring. But all I could think about was how my breasts looked in that shirt and how I wish I’d kept my jacket on for the meeting with the professor.

Nothing happened. That is, he didn’t touch me or proposition me directly, or expose himself or anything like that. He just sat back in his chair, his legs crossed widely, ankle to knee, and displayed his bulging crotch through his khakis while he spun a story of my swelling genius.

I was majoring in journalism, not creative writing or English or anything impractical and doomed to unemployment. I came from a lower-middle-class family, which regarded college as the place to get skills to get a job, not as a place to sit around and write great thoughts. I was conflicted about journalism. I threw myself into it and I liked the writing, but I didn’t really click with it my freshman year. The professor discouraged journalism, saying newswriting’s flat tones and deadline pressures would “ruin my voice.”

I left that meeting and finished the class and got my A- and never went to his office hours again. I did very little creative writing after that. I took another writing course in the English department, called “Advanced Composition,” (for which I earned an A) but the pull toward an English major was over. I got instead into literary journalism, finished up my courses, got my diploma and started at a small newspaper making $300 a week. Journalism did not work out for me in the long run – I was a journalist for about 12 years and then gave it up for corporate jobs.

The next time I wrote fiction was just a couple of years ago, when I tried NaNoWriMo. I had forgotten about this tumescent professor and his promises. I really forgot. Maybe I blocked it out or maybe the significance of this event faded with time. But now I remember it well enough to ask: Is this the reason I gave up the hopes of a literary life? Did he scare me enough to kill my ability and desire to write? I really don’t think I was any child prodigy genius, but did I have something that smothered before it sparked? Or, am I blaming him for my own failings?

I’ll never know. That’s the problem with introspection – you can ask yourself questions all day and never get answers.

“The Artist’s Way” encourages you to write letters to people who held you back, then destroy them, as a way to exorcise any demons that whisper to you that you’re not good enough. I have been wanting to but unable to write this letter to this professor. I have been stuck for since June on this problem. I figured I’d write about it here to see what happens, before I plot my next move.

Yes, I Do Windows

The windows in the kitchen badly needed cleaning, so who cleans them? Me.

Another job for The Distaff Side!

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My husband didn’t even notice when he got home this afternoon. He’s a pretty clean guy. When we were dating, he’d always spruce up the kitchen and bathroom, freshly vacuum the carpet and sweep away clutter. But there would be dust everywhere. And the windows and mirrors were never washed. He really just doesn’t “see” it. I guess like how some people don’t “see” that they’ve gained 50 pounds. Willful ignorance is more like it.

“I don’t do windows,” is one of those catch phrases that comes from a life of ceaseless toil. A housekeeper or maid was expected to do all kinds of jobs, but windows were such a thankless and irksome task that they could reasonably refuse. It’s the kind of job you need to hire special for.

When we first bought our home, built in 1908, I guessed that the windows had not been cleaned since 1970. (That’s the year I was born, and I am old as dirt, so it made sense at the time.) I called around to some window-washing companies to get a quote for doing our house, and I was laughed right off the phone. I lived with the dirt.

Years ago we replaced the drafty, rattling old wood windows with newfangled ones that tilt in for easy cleaning. Excuses over, time to get out the Windex and paper towels. Don’t tell me that vinegar and newspaper are the way to do this, in an effective and environmentally responsible way. All you get for your troubles is a big mess. Hey, I take public transportation and bike whenever possible – so what if I burn through half a bottle of Windex and half a roll of paper towels?

Anyway, the windows are nice and clean now. I can look forward to looking through them all winter. And in the spring, they will probably need to be cleaned. Again.