Sunday, July 06, 2014

The Garden Report: July 6, 2014

I haven’t been doing a lot of gardening the last few weeks; mostly, I’ve just been dashing out, grabbing anything that looked ready off the vine or bush, and running back into the Den as quickly as I could.

This has mostly been due to it being nightmarishly hot the last couple weeks, especially on my precious weekends – and hot from very early in the morning, just to add insult to injury.

There was a time when I would have talked myself into doing the work anyway, on the theory that if paid gardeners can take it (which they do, all the time), well, so can I.

That time has passed.

I am older and wiser now.

Well. Older, and more experienced now. And repeated experience has taught me that overdoing things is only going to lead to sorrow. So in my continuing attempts to be smarter, dammit, I have eschewed things like attempting to garden in direct sunlight on days when the average temperature is in the three digits.

I can be taught, apparently.

But I digress.

It was still pretty darned hot this weekend too, but Sunday was finally at-least-not-triple-digits so I finally got out there to actually DO stuff.

The green beans have begun their mad production period. I’d already pulled about two pounds from the bushes last week during one of the mad-dash afternoon harvesting expeditions, so I knew what to expect when I went out there “for real” today. Which was bushes loaded down with beans.

(They’re a little hard to see – the main cluster is pretty much dead-center, and every bush has at least three clusters like this!)

We ended up with seven pounds of them. Good grief!

I told Captain Adventure he could have his turn on the Wii after we – we – had picked the green beans. So in spite of his absolute hatred of the Outside…

ugh, ugh, ugh, this is HORRIBLE, the green-growing-thing is TOUCHING me! It might have BUGS! it might have DIRT! This sunshine-stuff feels like sandpaper on my skin! I hate this! AAAAH! BUG! BUG! THERE’S A BUG!

A pair of gloves between his skin and the icky unfamiliar feeling of green-growing-things bought us a few more beans-picked…

…but then I relented and let him flee back to the relative comfort of the Den. (But no games until the job was done. That was the deal, and now it’s going to take twice as long, bud.) (Ah, the delicate balance between making him at least TRY stuff he doesn’t like and not pushing him too hard and ending up with an autism-driven meltdown on your hands) (<= those are not fun, for anybody involved).

Shortly after that, guess what showed up?

…this is the rarely-sighted Boo Bug, also not exactly the biggest lover of things involving DIRT or BUGS…

Here, the Boo Bug is seen reluctantly posing with a bean, making the ‘my mom is a lunatic’ face.

And then a wasp flew by. End of Denizen assistance. (I can’t really blame her. Unlike the gentle bumblebee who only stings as a last resort upon being backed into a corner or the scary-looking-but-actually-harmless soldier fly, wasps are like the drunken asshole bar fighters of the insect world. Oy, you! yeah, YOU, ugly! Get outta my Outside with your ugly face! Ohhh, you’re askin’ for it, mate, you’re askin’ for it, you wanna piece of me? do ya? do ya?! I’M FOR YA! {sting-sting-sting-sting-sting})

The husband and his buddy were working on the greenhouse, so of course as I’m going, ‘C’mon, honey, hold up the bean! Boo! C’mon, show me the bean you just picked! Pleeeeeeeeease, just humor me, OK?!” he’s all, “Hey, aren’t you going to take a picture of me out here working on your greenhouse?!”

Of course, he says this after I’ve hit the lock button and put the phone back in its holster. So then I’m all, “OK, hang on…don’t move…stay still…gotta unlock my phone…darn it…hang on, DON’T MOVE! It’s trying to find your face…”

And that’s why he looks like he’s caught between laughing and an angry tirade in this picture.

(Yeahhhhh, my phone is really not meant for ‘action’ shots. It does a great job with still-life stuff, but it takes approximately forever plus ten years to actually snap anything. I have a crazy number of colorful blurs from Denizen events where I’ve tried to capture them, say, walking across a stage, or talking with friends.)

I found a few aphids starting to make themselves at home in the beans, and was thinking I might need to break out the soap…but then I found that the troops were arriving to handle the problem for me.

Ah, glad you’re here, Colonel. Carry on, and I shall leave my mostly-useless-by-the-time-the-damage-is-noticeable-anyway organic insect-soap in the shed…

The zucchini bushes are not long for this world; they were actually planted in a spot that is about to become part of a construction project we’re doing. BUT, until they actually break ground, I’m going to continue enjoying a few zucchinis a week from them.

(These are Renee’s Garden ‘Raven’ zucchini. The two things I love best about them are that they don’t sprawl all over the place but instead maintain a nice, compact bush, and that they aren’t as pokey as other zucchini bushes. They can still bring me out in a rash if I disrespect them, but they don’t go out of their way to do it like some zucchini bushes seem to; but – and I’m not sure if this is the zucchini plant, or the nasty weather at work, so, grain of salt, y’all – I have noticed that they also don’t seem to produce as wildly as others I’ve grown. Which is not actually automatically a bad thing, since I’ve had years where we’ve all come to despise the very SIGHT of a zucchini due to too darned many of them syndrome)

The cucumber vines are loving the heat; ever since it started getting too hot for us human-types, they’ve been flourishing.

I love looking into the little valley between the two rows. It’s like a little secret cucumber forest or something.

These are actually pickling cucumbers; right now, the bushes are giving us one or two “full sized” cucumbers a week, but I’m seeing a lot of baby-cukes on there right now so I suspect in another couple weeks, we’ll get the main flush and be able to start making some pickles.

Dear Cucumber: Please do not let the zucchini put on airs and pretend you aren’t related. While it is true that you are genus cucumis while zucchini are cucurbita, you are both of the same Cucurbitaceae family. You both have a long and luscious history of being beloved by humans, and have been written into our songs and legends. Stand proud, my warty little friend!

The yellow beans really wish they weren’t in the middle of all this. Also they wish that I would be more consistent about weeding their bed.

Speaking of weeds, just because it was too hot for me to be out there doing stuff for the last few weeks doesn’t mean it was too hot for the weeds to come out to play. No indeed.

My new “potato squares” were 100% covered in purslane.

This is something new I’m trying: Usually I dig a deep hole, plant the potatoes, and then basically fill up the hole as they grow. These are planted at a more modest depth, in the center of stone squares. As the bushes (hopefully) grow, I’m going to add layers of additional stone around them and fill them in; what I’m hoping for most is an easier time getting at the potatoes at the end of all things, because frankly trying to dig them out is a royal pain in the neck. And back. And I end up slicing through a remarkable number of them, no matter how slowly and carefully I try to go. Argh. I’ve got Red Pontiac, Yukon Gold, and Blue Nile potatoes in the ground – here’s hoping they decide to sprout for me.

And then…there was this.

Yeahhhhhhh, I *may* have neglected this corner a BIT longer than I should have.

So I started weeding. And weeding. And weeding. And I found the new box I’d slapped together because I thought I would grow some beets in it. And I started pulling out the yet more purslane from it and guess what I found?

Some of the leggiest beets I have ever seen.

Seriously, isn’t that pathetic. Those poor things have been streeeeeetching out, trying to get even a little light. I’m not sure if they really can be saved, but I’m going to try to at least give them a chance…seems the least I can do, after planting and then ignoring them so badly all this time.

This is how far I got before I got slammed with The Tireds and said, “OK, stopping now.”

Holy smokes, this was a lot of weeds.

Super-full.

On the way back in, I stopped to check the tomato bushes; most of them are teasing us with plentiful but very green fruits.

But we do have at least some color, here and there.

That’s about it for last week in the garden; the list of things I want to do keeps getting longer and longer, while the list of things I actually get done seldom seems to grow at all.

Hopefully the weather will work with me a bit more soon, and I’ll be able to turn that around; until then, I’ll just be grateful for what I’ve gotten done, and enjoy having something from our own yard for dinner more often.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Pride and joy

So…over the winter, it was decided by the folks who decide such things that our county fair would be giving 2014 a miss. I can’t pretend I was actually surprised by that news. The fair has been positively bleeding money for quite a while, and the county isn’t exactly made up of nothing but filthy rich bastards who are going to walk around a fair randomly flinging hundred dollar bills at the vendors or anything.

Quite the contrary.

Fortunately, the same person who told me that the fair was going to be taking the year off was also the person who told me that the only part I cared about was still on, just, details TBD at the time.

And she was able to tell me both facts at the same time.

So there was, like, only a split second of panic in re: what about the 4-H auction?!

You know…there are some groups that fold up like a cheap collapsible chair when they hit a headwind. And others that end up racing frantically in circles screaming wildly and hitting each other with clipboards and stuff until eventually everybody goes home to put band-aids on their wounds and snark off about how if it weren’t for that other guy they totally could have triumphed over this adversity.

4-H and FFA? Are not those groups.

They just went, “Ooooookay, so, there’s no fair for our auction to be held within, soooooooo…we’ll just have ourselves an Ag-Fest. Bam. Problem solved.”

A whole lot of hard work later, they are not only putting on an agricultural festival – they are putting on one heck of one.

You know, I have to say, even though I had nothing to do with any of that apart from pledging to show up and support it…I’m so proud. It makes me almost weepy-happy to know that there are still people, still kids, out there who have the ability to just kind of…take things in stride, roll up their sleeves and put sweat equity into what they want like that.

It also shames me a bit; I bitch and moan longer and harder over minor inconveniences every year, and can be way too willing to just throw up my hands and say something is too hard, or too unfair, or too unlikely to succeed.

It’s like I’ve forgotten what it even is to have grit.

And it gives me incredible joy to be shown what it looks like by others. I can be more like these kids – and their parents and benefactors – when I grow up.

Which I totally intend to do someday. Probably.

ANYWAY. The auction is this weekend; my buyer card and information brochure arrived in the mail today. And I went, “SHRIEK!” and promptly showed it to the cats.

They were supremely disinterested.

Because they’re cats, and disinterested real or feigned is kind of how they roll most of the time.

But I am not a cat, so I’m still all excited. Day after tomorrow, I can finally put my money where my mouth is. Kinda literally, come to think of it.

Sweeeeeeeeet!!

Even better, Swingle Meat is back on the processor’s list (last year, they weren’t doing hogs, which was the only ‘larger’ meat I was buying…we still had an awful lot of beef left at the time, and I won’t lie, I was pretty moody about it); I can’t wait to have more of their smoked ham hocks, bacon, and frozen-in-marinade roasts on hand.

It’s going to be a delicious summer. And fall. And winter. And spring.

I can just tell.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Beans and blame

I hate my Crockpot right now.

This morning, I put about two cups of dry black beans, a can of diced tomatoes, a big old smoked ham hock, a couple whacked-up cloves of garlic, a small can of diced jalapenos, some cilantro and cumin in there, added water to cover, and turned it on with the expectation that I could, you know, ignore it until shortly before dinner time, when I’d need to add some caramelized onions from the freezer and chopped up smoked beef steak from the fridge, nudge the spices a bit in the ‘chili’ direction (but not too far, because I don’t want to lose the caramelized onion flavor, because that would be downright criminal)…and maybe make some cornbread, because I’m pretty sure there’s an actual law that says you have to have cornbread with even faux chili.

BUT NO. I can’t ignore it. Because you know what it’s doing right now?

It’s sending this smell through the whole house. This insanely rich, savory smell.

It’s wafting up the stairs. It’s drifting down the halls. It’s curling up on the front porch like a smug, overfed cat.

There are still a whole lotta hours between now and dinner-time, and it is making me continually hungry this afternoon.

And I think the beans are actually probably getting close to done already, too.

It is entirely possible that I will have dinner for afternoon tea.

And then have it again in a few hours.

And when my jeans don’t fit right tomorrow? => I will blame the Crockpot manufacturers, because, uh…well…WELL, CLEARLY, they did not make the lid tight-fitting enough on this thing.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Garden Report: May 18, 2014

A lot has been happening in the garden this year; unfortunately, most of it is the kind of work that doesn’t necessarily show.

The bane of my existence right now is this.

 

Doesn’t look like that big a deal, does it. This is a pile of dirt that measures about 3’ high, 5-6’ wide, and 15’ long. It’s all the dirt excavated from the greenhouse site, and it all has to go somewhere else.

Happily, there really isn’t any such thing as too much garden-bed dirt. I’ll need every last grain of sand in that pile somewhere.

Unfortunately, this is not garden-bed dirt yet. I can’t just toss shovelfuls into the wheelbarrow, race across the yard and dump them into beds.

Well, I could, I suppose – but it wouldn’t do me a whole lot of good.

It is clay with a lot of trash in it (bits of concrete and broken glass from the original construction, the green webbing from the original sod, bits of broken plastic toys from its time as ‘support for the play structure’, etc.) and absolutely zero nutrients left.

So before I can dump it into a bed and start growing things, I need to tinker with it; sift out the trash, mix in things like finished compost, peat moss and vermiculite to lighten it up a bit and add back some nutrients.

It’s a lot of hard, sweaty, really dirty work. The kind of work that when you come in after a few hours of doing it and get into the shower? The water running off you is murky.

And it is slow-going. I feel like I’ve been doing battle with that damned pile for months, and it only just started to look like I’ve made any progress.

But that aside…what else is new? Well, we started a small orange grove in the front.

These are three different kinds of dwarf orange trees, each of which is supposed to fruit up at a different time of year – hopefully, once they get comfortable, we’ll have some kind of orange to enjoy for all but a few months each year. The one in the middle is trying to set some fruit, but I’ll be very surprised if anything actually comes of it – they’re still babies.

The horseradish has done its usual oh, is it spring? I’M HERE!

Of the five currants I planted, only one is still thriving at all.

The rhubarb made me so happy; I was 100% certain that it was completely dead. And then it was all, Nope, I’m still here.

This whole area needs a makeover right now; it’s a tremendous mess, but, it also suffered the worst impact from the damned gophers this year.

I started to pull out the poppies, but they were too pretty. Plus there was chamomile in there. And if the one wasn’t pretty enough, the two of them together are kind of swoon-worthy. So I left them alone. 

We’ve gotten a few artichokes this year, but I have to say: The plants are not doing too hot, overall. They aren’t getting particularly good growth; I think the “old” plants died over this last winter, so we’re only getting growth on their newest babies. Circle of life and all that. 

Meanwhile, we have been discovered by the rabbits: I looked out the kitchen window one evening to see one happily perched on the edge of the bed, daintily nibbling on the celery I’d just transplanted.

Your move, Wabbit…

(The white stuff is coyote pee. So not only is the celery caged up, it is surrounded by Eau d’Predator.)

Likewise, the squirrels have discovered the Shangri La that are our trees. The stone fruit tree was trying to create some fruit for us.

But the squirrels had a marvelous time picking each and every one of them, taking one bite out of it, and going, “BLECH! NASTY UNRIPE FRUIT! Hmm. Maybe this one will be tasty-good…BLECH!” <= lather, rinse, repeat.

Dumb animals.

I’ve got some cucumbers starting to catch their stride.

I had to replant and cage a bunch of these as well, since the disgruntled rabbits didn’t waste much time moving over to this bed; while they’re still small, those little green baskets like strawberries come in work really well for it.

I made a new, small-ish bed-of-sorts and dropped some zucchini into it; as always with that plant, they are plotting world domination. I’m pretty sure we’ll have a good 5-6 decent-sized zucchinis to enjoy this week. This is a thing with zucchini, they go from “hmm, I think that’s going to be a squash eventually” to “holy mother of gahd, that thing is enormous!” seemingly overnight.

These guys actually came out today – dropped a couple wheelbarrows of fresh soil in there and planted kidney beans with a red onion border to help keep the pests down a bit. (That works pretty darned well, by the way – once those onions start sprouting, they do a really good job deterring creepy-crawlies.)

There’s a lot more back there – spinach, broccoli, golden beets, green beans, cantaloupe, carrots, yellow and candy onions, strawberries, and about eight different kinds of heirloom tomatoes.

It’s going to be a busy year; and hopefully a productive one as well. The last couple seasons have really sucked, mostly because I just didn’t put the time and energy into it that I needed to if I wanted anything to come of it.

But this year feels different. This year feels like it is moving again, like all the things that were just sitting there waiting for something, something I couldn’t seem to find…found their motivation.

Maybe it’s this: A bunch of scrap metal lying all over the yard suddenly starting to transform into a greenhouse.

It’s going to be something else, isn’t it?!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Pictureless instructions for sharing and candy

@PipneyJane: I blame you. I got totally sidetracked into the whole ‘share button’ thing. The easy, sensible way to do it is to go into your Design => Layout, click on the ‘edit’ hyperlink under ‘Blog Posts’, and fourth from the bottom there is “Show Share Buttons.” Which is what I was doing until I noticed that mine was apparently showing what was supposed to be hover-over text. And I couldn’t find the bit in the HTML where it would be doing that, because this sometimes happens when you use “shared, proprietary” code. They hide it from you. On purpose. Because otherwise people like me (who think they know some stuff but hahahaha, don’t), get in there and try to hack it. And suddenly everybody who uses it is all how come it doesn’t work like THAT?! and it just gets to be a real headache for the dev team.

ANYWAY. One journey down the rabbit hole later, I found this post from The Blog Decorator and about five minutes later I had much cuter share-buttons. At five minutes and thirty seconds I had a different set of buttons, because I’ve actually heard of Tumblr. Then at five minutes forty-five seconds I was all, how in the HELL would somebody ‘Tweet’ one of these posts?! and ended up with what I have now. Because sticking with the copy/paste I was given and which worked just fine would be too easy, apparently.

In other news, The Blog Decorator seems to be a fine purveyor of exactly the sort of thing I should stay away from and I hope they never notice a link back from this place to them because they may send me some kind of ‘cease and desist, we only want pretty blogs like the ones we design to link to us’ and then I might cry.

OK, not really. I mean, maybe, but they don’t look like the kind of people who send Nastygrams to people.

Plus, I’m a database developer. We don’t cry just because somebody called our code ugly. Pretty much we just look at you expectantly waiting for the actual content of your observation. Because saying that backend database code is “ugly” is kind of like walking up and saying, “Meetings sure are a pain in the arse.”

This statement is clearly not the core reason you are taking time out of your busy day to take time out of my busy day. That was just an opener. There is more to come.

But I digress.

So – the lemon peel candy. This is not your traditional “candied lemon zest.” It’s a lot thicker and chewier, and definitely not much like that delicate little curlie-queued froodiddery that sometimes tops $6 cupcakes that have, like, lavender essence in them or something.

The end result of this is something with a lot more substance to it; it’s thicker, a bit chewy (but not like Gummy-Bear chewy)…it’s a little hard to describe, actually. I’ve found that most people either really like it, or really don’t. Not a lot of folks in the middle of the road.

This is definitely one of those sorts of things you’ll want to do when you have a weekend mostly free; while the actual hands-on stuff is actually fairly limited, there’s a ton of “then ignore it for x-many hours” that goes on here, including one overnight soaking in syrup, and another overnight drying period.

Oh, and this is pretty much lifted from Canning For A New Generation, which is one of my favorite canning books. I mean, yes, the ‘Complete’ book put out by Ball is the go-to for “hmm, what do I do with THIS, I wonder” but the new-generation book puts together more interesting spices and spins on things, and has a lot of that sort of…Indian-Asian twist going that a lot of the more ’Murican cookbooks tend to avoid. (“How To Make Authentic Indian Curry: Step 1, buy premade curry paste…”). But I digress again.

You’ll need:

  • 5 pounds of lemons
  • 5 cups of sugar, plus about half a cup or so
  • LOTS of water

Steps

  1. Scrub and juice the lemons
    1. You want to get rid of the pulp (juicy, membrane-y inner parts)
    2. But don’t worry too much about the pith (the bitter white inner peel most recipes will demand that you pare away) – that’s the payoff of this method, you don’t have to make yourself crazy and/or lose half the skin off your fingers and/or give up gosh knows how many pounds over time of candy cutting away all that pith
  2. Cut the peel into fairly large slices
    1. I usually take each half lemon and slice it in half, and then slice that half into thirds for our monster-sized homegrown lemons, or into half for more normal store-bought sized ones
    2. Aside: The best way I’ve found to do this is actually to stack up 2-3 lemon halves and do that whole stack at once.
      1. It’s way faster than doing each one by itself
      2. Plus it makes me feel like a bit more like She-Ra, Goddess of Warfare And Also Kitchen Knives than Esmeralda Frump, Too Cheap To Throw Away Lemon Peels 
  3. Put the sliced-up lemon peel into a pot big enough to hold them and enough cold water to cover them by an inch or so
  4. Put the lid on the pot and bring to a boil, boil for 10 minutes
  5. Drain and do it again, another 10 minutes
    1. Don’t skip this
    2. Trust me
    3. The pith will still manage to be bitter somehow
    4. It is like nature’s little miracle, how elebenty-bazillion tons of sugar cannot overwhelm the bitterness of that pith…but an extra cycle of boiling can
  6. Cover with cold water one more time, bring to a boil one more time…then lower the heat and let it simmer for ~ 30 minutes, until the peel is tender
    1. Test this with, like, your thumbnail or a fork
      1. Not by biting into it
      2. It’s not nasty-bitter anymore, but it ain’t candy yet either
  7. Drain in a colander
  8. In the same pan, put the 5 cups of sugar + 5 cups of water and bring to a boil
  9. Stir just until the sugar is all dissolved, then stop
  10. Continue not-stirring while it boils and makes you incredibly anxious because shouldn’t I be stirring that? just a little bit? Or something? (No. You should not. Resist.) until it reaches 220 degrees, ~ 15 minutes of nail-biting, no-stirring anxiety
    1. …or is that just me…?
  11. Add the peel (carefully, that simple-syrup LOVES to splash up and burn ya), bring back up to a simmer
  12. Simmer without stirring again (they’re killing me here) until the peel is translucent, ~ 45 minutes
    1. It isn’t actually see-through translucent, more glassy-looking-lemon-peel than see-through-like-window-glass
  13. Remove from the heat and let stand, undisturbed, overnight
  14. The next morning, bring to a boil and let cook without stirring what is WRONG with these people?! until it reaches 226 degrees – about 30 minutes
  15. Let stand for 2-4 hours
  16. Bring back to a boil and again with the no-stirring thing until it gets to 228 degrees – this tends to happen really fast comparatively speaking, maybe 10-15 minutes, so keep an eye on it!
  17. …then ignore it for 2-4 hours again…
  18. ONE LAST TIME! Bring to a boil, then take it off the heat immediately
  19. Wait for it to cool down just enough to not be like handling living, radioactive death-juice with a grudge against you PERSONALLY
    1. You want to, you know, not die if/when it splashes a bit
    2. But you don’t want it to have gotten cool enough to start thickening up on you – that’s a stone drag to deal with
  20. Normal Finishing Method:
    1. Fish out with a fork or tongs or chopsticks or whatever floats your canoe and arrange on wire rackets set over baking sheets
      1. No fraternizing! Pieces should not be touching
      2. If they touch, they will never come apar
      3. Hopefully there’s a bunch of lemon simple syrup left over
        1. 1:1:1 lemon juice, simple-syrup, and water usually makes a pretty darned good lemonade – you can also mix up the syrup and the juice and freeze it, and “reconstitute” it with water when you want it.
        2. It’s like a magic trick! Behold! Homemade lemonade on-demand, I AM A WIZARD!! 
    2. Put them into a turned off oven to dry for ~ 24 hours
    3. If you have a pilot light, that’s fantastic, you’re done. Well. With this step, anyway.
    4. Otherwise, you can flip on the oven light for a bit now and again – mine will heat the oven to right around 100-115 degrees-ish, which is a great temperature for slow drying things like this…but it does get a little too hot if I just leave it on 24/7, so, it’s kind of like two hours ON, three hours OFF, which can get a little annoying
    5. The peel will still be distressingly sticky, so give it a toss in ~ ½ cup more sugar
      1. Any leftover sugar is marvelous in tea or on top of scones, just sayin’
    6. Set it back on the racks for 1-2 hours and ohmygah, FINALLY, you’re done
  21. Alternative Finishing Method For Crazy People Who Own This Kind Of Stuff:
    1. Fish out as above, put on your dehydrator racks
      1. Use the “non-stick / porous” liners, like you’d use for strawberries, banana chips etc. (not your fruit leather ones)
      2. Least Fiddly Way: Put them on the racks peel side up and don’t even THINK about the whole ‘which side up’ issue again
      3. Unnecessarily Fiddly Way For OCD Types, Part I: Arrange them peel side down
    2. Set dehydrator to ~ 125 degrees and let go for ~ 18 hours
    3. Flip racks halfway through: Top to bottom, back to front, the usual drill
      1. Unnecessarily Fiddly Way For OCD Types, Part II: Flip the slices peel side up when you restage the racks
        1. This makes them a bit less “gooey” at the end, and ends with a nicer ‘glossiness’ to the ‘up’ side of the peel
        2. BUT, it is 100% completely not necessary to end up with good tasting candy, so, it really is a rather silly thing to put yourself through
    4. Toss in ½ cup sugar to keep from sticking; if you like ‘raw’-type sugar, it makes an excellent finishing move here
    5. Bonus for owning the dehydrator, they are not generally still so sticky that they need a second round of drying – unless it is a bit humid out, I’ve generally found I can put them straight into the airtight container at this point

Keeps in an airtight container for ~ 2 months at room temperature, or almost-forever in the freezer if you’ve got it well-sealed. Or so I am told, it doesn’t usually last more than a week or so around here, no matter how much of it I make.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

In which I am not keeping up with the Blogosphere

Every so often, I look at this tired old blog of mine and think, “Ya know, this thing is a bit dusty, don’t you think? How long have you had this particular template? Which by the way I think you downloaded free from somewhere, back in the day?”

And then I go poking around looking at what everybody else is doing and, somewhat stunned by the fabulousity out there, I stagger back and think, jeeeeeeez, I really do need a makeover or something…

Inevitably, this leads to me fiddling with settings. And flipping through endless and I do mean ENDLESS numbers of “fully customizable” templates. And trying to figure out how to make a banner do thisno no, dammit, not THAT, stupid thing, I want you to do THIS…

When I get to 28 dammits per hour, I get serious. Pretty soon, I’ve clicked my way to some site or other that is enthusiastically pointing out all the things I absolutely must do or have in order to put together a successful blog.

At this point, one of two things happens. Either I immediately start laughing and back awaaaaaay from the whole thing…or I burn another few hours reading articles about how to making my posts “relevant” or how to create pictures with “life” in them.

When that second thing happens, well, it’s really sad.

Because no matter how many times I read “how to write amazing content that will catapult you into blogging history” – what I will go on to produce will be…erm…this.

No matter how often I embrace the concept that I really-really-really ought to post at least somewhat regularly…well, I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but, the thing is? It always seems to be that when my life is at its most interesting, it is also either very-very busy, or very-very exhausting, OR very-very full of stories I shouldn’t share for one reason or another (like, they aren’t necessarily my stories, I’m just involved in some way, and those whose stories they are might not appreciate me leaping into the Internet to start airing out their dirty laundry).

Plus I don’t like to post things while I’m still agitated about them. It’s like a super-fast express lane to issuing apologies to everybody I know.

And I could probably read every photography tip known to man, and what will I still end up doing?

Something like this.

Making Lemon Peel Candy

any questions…?

(Yes. This is all the pictures I took of a three day process by which I turned about ten pounds worth of lemons into lemon peel candy. I am a giver, Internet.) (WAIT, HANG ON A SECOND, I THINK THERE’S SOME LEFT DOWN THERE…) (…holy crap, it really is almost all gone…I’m not sure whether I’m more pleased that it is so popular, or irked because something that takes that flamin’ long to make should not disappear twice as fast…) (OK, here we go) (…wait, I’m not supposed to use colored plates because they make it look weird-colored or something…) (…crap, auto-flash was one, one sec…) (OK, so…wait…it’s not supposed to be centered because of…reasons…and stuff…)

Voila! Two (2) pictures. I am a photo-blogging machine right now, y’all…

OR, there’s always things like this.

…taken one-handed, with my phone, while juggling a coffee, car keys, and a bag in the other hand. But it shows ‘life’, right? right?!

The “life” is right there, next to the blue arrow only someone with truly mad photo editing skills could manage!

(And that life is saying, congratulations, jerk-face, you captured my fail-blog worthy first attempts at flight and posted them to the Internet, hooray for you…)

I am not laser-targeted on a single subject. I am not going to make networking my primary goal in life. I’m not going to go around slyly inserting link-backs to my blog everywhere I go.

Shoot, I’m hard-pressed to remember to use the one-button click to post links to my Facebook account. (This gets me in trouble sometimes. I’m still mad at Facebook for removing that feature where posting here auto-magically posted there, because that was the only reason that my scintillating stories were getting onto Facebook for family pickup in the first place. Curse you, Facebook, for not providing all the tools I WANT free of charge!)

So, to review:

  1. This is never going to be a “successful” blog.
  2. Baby birds do not appreciate having their pictures taken when they try – unsuccessfully – to fly for the first (dozen or so) time(s)
  3. Lemon peel candy is pretty delicious

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

When karma runs over dogma

I had possibly the least-productive day at work in my entire life to date yesterday. We’re not talking about one of those days where you flit ineffectually from one thing to another, dabbling your little pollinators into various stems without picking up a whole lot of useful things to bring back to the hive.

We’re talking about the kind of day where you literally keep catching yourself…basically sleeping at your desk.

With your eyes open.

Or mostly open, anyway.

The kind of day where you just sort of become aware that you have been sitting there, as if in a trance, staring bug-eyed at the same…wait, what IS this even?!…for the last…uh…undetermined amount of time…and you can’t even remember why you had this document open in the first place.

I did a bunch of the things I normally do to perk myself up when Such Times are upon me.

  • standing up and working for a while
  • walking around the room while on meetings
    • Fiddling with things
    • because, have you MET me?
      • which I’m sure is not annoying or distracting for other people on the call
        • …oh hai, yes, that was me NOT being on mute whilst I dusted mine shutters during thy speech, kind sir…
        • …aaaaaaaaand, NOW that was me not coming OFF mute before launching into mine own speech, ha ha ha…ahem…so, to recap the conversation I just had with MYSELF apparently…
  • brisk walk around the garden
    • without a jacket
    • at 6:45 a.m.
    • it was a tad chilly-ish
      • and still I could not call myself ‘awake’
  • drank as much water as I could force down
    • the first thing I always think when I’m tired is, “Am I dehydrated?”
      • correction: the first rational thing I think
      • because there are typically a few irrational things I tend to think first
      • ermahgahd, maybe it’s CANCER! or…that THING, you know, that WEIRD thing? the one that person had in that show that one time?
        • …you mean the swamp-fever thing that you could only catch by being directly bitten by a mosquito who had dined within the last three hours on the ultra-rare, only-five-left-on-the-planet booah-booah bird, which is only found in a 0.25 acre range in deepest, darkest Africa? That thing?
        • …um…yes…?
        • …oooooookay, alternatively, perhaps you are merely dehydrated? shall we try a nice big bottle of water before we order in an EMT with a side helping of insanely rare serum?
        • …yes, please…
  • ate a banana
    • my go-to cure for just about everything, such as:
      • “I think my blood sugar might be a smidge low”
      • “I am hungry but I do not have time/inclination to eat a meal right now”
      • “I am not hungry but believe that I should be”
      • “I so totally want to eat my own body weight in sugar right now, omg, the craving, it is overwhelming, I can’t TAKE it, I MUST EAT ALL THE CANDY, ALL OF IT I SAY, MWAAHAHAHAHA!” 
  • ignored my ‘official’ task list in favor of ‘interesting stuff’
    • sadly, this can work wonders for my energy level
    • “Create a .bat file for an AutoSys job to execute? zzzzzzzzzzz…”
    • Figure out some way to automatically handle archiving and record retention management using just meta-data containers and a batch_id column which may or may not have a direct 1:1 relationship with date-of-load information? …you have my undivided and suddenly wide-awake attention…

None of this worked.

Like, at all.

Even while I was being physically active, I was still just dragging. I’m pretty sure I could have crawled into bed and actually gone back to sleep.

Even with Captain Adventure exploding into the room about every fifteen seconds because did I mention he’s on spring break? and that Grandma brought him an Easter basket? and that he was an ANIMAL during the Easter egg hunt and appears to have cornered the market on candy-bearing plastic eggs?!

Sometimes, I’m sorely tempted to just dump all his candy onto his bed and say, “Go ahead. Eat all of it.” Just to get it over with, you know? Eat it all, get horribly sick, not have the “every few minutes, I suddenly remember that I have chocolate I could be eating MOM! MOM! MOM! MOM!” thing.

But I digress.

It didn’t take long for me to start feeling guiltily aware that I was very much NOT pulling my weight right then. And that this was probably not going to change: It was just one of those days, when some combination of Things was coming together in a perfect storm of I should probably all kidding aside just go back to bed right now.

And I thought to myself, You know…you should totally just send out one of those “I’m not feeling too well, I’m going to call it and take the rest of the day off” emails, and log the rest of the day as PTO.

Because to me, this would be the honorable thing to do: I am providing exactly zero value to my employer, I am apparently completely incapable of shaking this whatever-it-is off right now, and therefore my presence is at best a waste of resources, and at worst could actually set our projects back if I were to do something really stupid while in the throes of this General Malaise™.

And then I thought, …oh…wait…ugh, no, I really CAN’T, it’s the day after a holiday…

This is one of those Policy things: While it is not exactly “forbidden” to call in sick the day before or after a holiday (whether an ‘official’ corporate day off or merely one of those ‘“everybody” is doing something for it’ ones), it is…discouraged.

And if you do it x-many times (I have no idea how many, I’m not really in the category of person who needs to know or keep count of Such Things; thanks to our robust work from home policy and ability, I probably only have 2-3 days a year where I even consider using a sick day – it has to be pretty bad before you can’t prop yourself upright and work from home, you know?), it becomes something you will be scolded about, OFFICIALLY.

So much of my career was spent as an hourly employee – and a fairly pricey one at that – that to me, it doesn’t matter whether it is Tuesday, Christmas Day or Doomsday: If I’m not pulling my weight because I’m sick, extremely ‘off’ or whatever, I need to not be billing the client for that time.

I need to leave, and save whatever budget they have for when I am on my game.

It is a matter of both ethics, and long-term returns. If you’re working on a project and they keep going, “But what are we spending this money on? Because we keep signing checks without seeing a whole lot of finished stuff…”, you get a certain reputation, you know? Whereas being able to finishing things up on time and within budget gets you a different reputation.

As tempting as it may be to ‘front-load’ your hours when you’re working on an hourly basis, I’ve found it paid me better over the long term to make sure my clients were always getting the benefit of my best heavy lifting, you know?

So it felt really, really weird to be saying to myself, “Well, yes, I am completely useless today. Buuuuuuuut, I really shouldn’t call it a sick day and keep my inability to tie my own shoes on my own time, so instead I’ll just sit here faithfully moving my mouse around and failing to actually accomplish anything. Because that’s the right thing to do right now.”

Weird, and unpleasant.

I wonder how much of that is just old habit dying hard for me, and how much would still be true for me even if instead of pretty much going straight into that hourly-based-and-therefore-extremely-focused-on-productivity-per-hour-purchased consulting all those years ago, I had trudged into Corporate America, and been in this same ‘I get paid the same no matter how well or poorly I do my job’ sort of position.

I think it’s just me, because…well…this too is my life. Everything I do. The fun stuff, the work stuff, the stuff I really wish I didn’t have to do, the have-to and want-to, the easy and the hard, the pleasant and the unpleasant.

It’s all…me. Who and what I am. So I don’t want to go about things all half-arsed just because I deem them “not as important” or “boring” or “not what I want to be doing right now.”

So what if it isn’t the part where I get to drink champagne out of a dress shoe? (aside: ew, no, I’ll take a glass thank-you-all-the-same…the desire to slam down a drinky-poo or two now with extra foot-sweat really has not seized me yet.)

It’s still going into my little ‘What I Did With This Life’ book, you know? So I want to do my best, and get to the end of the day looking at my score and at least saying, “Good effort.”

Not all swings are going to knock the ball out of the park; not all pieces are going to be masterpieces; not every day is going to be super-crazy productive. But I don’t like a day that makes me feel ashamed of my lack of effort, or that ends with me not even able to say, “Hey, you did your best, you tried.”

It makes me feel more like a loser than even my worst belly-flops and brilliant-idea-that-wasn’t-so-brilliant-actually.

But, I will have to accept at least a certain number of ‘working through the meh’ when it comes to Mondays, Fridays, and days-before-or-after-holidays.

’Cause HR (bless their hearts) would rather I sit there and be a stump than use up 8 hours of my ‘float’ time to do it on my own time on those days.