Seasons of Adventure

Seasons of Adventure

Friday, March 14, 2014

Everything Pinterest Says Is A Lie

Unless it has to do with the overwhelming coolness of Loki and/or Tom Hiddleston's general superiority as a human being, everything Pinterest says is a lie. Those "easy, cute cupcakes"; they took four hours to decorate for that photo. That "simple rag rug like Grandma used to make"; yeah, right--Grandma did not have nearly that much time on her hands. And that "strawberry planter box out of a simple pallet"; all I can say is that whoever made that one up is the devil.
The first problem with the pallet-cum-strawberry-box is that the "simple" pallet shown is not a simple pallet. As a person whose husband brings many pallets home from his job at a diesel shop, the pallet shown there is sort of the the Cadillac of pallets. Not only that, but it looks like it was power-washed. What pallet is that pretty? All the pallet-based non life-forms around our house are much more workaday than that pallet.
Next problem: Oh, look how easily we just sawed that pallet into three perfectly matching pieces! No. That's a scam. Unless you are willing to use a table saw on that pallet, which seems a mite unwieldy to me, you're left with few tenable options. I suppose you could go all Texas Chainsaw Massacre on that pallet's expletive deleted but that also seems unlikely to result in even cutting. That leaves your trusty, rusty hand saw. That, folks, is how I sawed my pallet. It was a bit like sawing through a glass-sliver-encrusted piece of granite. Unless you have the patience of a saint and Kevlar gloves, that is just not going to go well. I have splinters in my splinters.

I admit, the instructions from this pin say something about trimming excess wood away and they also tell you to find a very specific type of pallet. That's where my trouble with the application of the word "simple" is entering. Going on with the instructions, we see the recommendation of owning a jigsaw (oops) and putting chicken wire in the bottom with a layer of weed block over that so you don't have to construct a floor (yay! more lacerations!) Then there's some gettin' fancy with straw and finally the most artistically planted strawberries you have ever seen. Bull.

Okay, now it is time for my disclaimer. The owner of the blog Lovely Greens did in fact make this pallet box. This blogger is clearly both more power tool savvy and better at planning ahead than I am. It is probably possible to make a pallet box every bit as swanky as hers if you follow her instructions to the letter. She deserved citation and major kudos for her beautiful box. She also has a very pretty cat. You should probably be reading her blog instead of this one if you have DIY aspirations. All I'm saying is it ain't as easy as Pinterest makes it look.

Now on to my tutorial for how to make a half-vast pallet strawberry planter with half-vast plans. I am nothing if not amusing, eh? So I started with my grubby, splintery, totally unlovely pallet and sawed it up using a hand saw and creative profanity, as I previously said. At that point, I was not thinking in terms of amusing blog anecdotes, so I wasn't taking pictures.
My pallet was of a more plebeian variety than Ms. Lovely Greens's. It was smaller, for one thing. It's planks were all wonky and uneven. And it will probably produce carcinogenic strawberries because I have no idea what kind of chemical treatment it went through. But you can't have everything, right?
After I sawed mine up, I realized that I should have just left it alone. Since it was too late, I had already lost count of my splinters, and I had extra plywood lying around I began cobbling together a sort of shallow box with more slats on the bottom than the top. The slats on top were meant to divide the strawberry plants while the slats on the bottom were meant to hold in the dirt. The general idea was portability and keeping my strawberry patch from looking like an orgy of tarantulas (which is what happened last year.) I'm also working under the unsupported assumption that my apparatus might discourage slugs, since voodoo rituals seem to have no effect on them.

Back to my embarrassing attempt at carpentry... It quickly became apparent to me that there was no way I was going to create a solid floor with the plywood and spare pallet slats I had. For one, the thought of sawing all that plywood into appropriately sized pieces with a hand saw threatened to bring on a prolonged bout of hysteria. For another thing, prying slats off of old pallets that have been sitting outdoors for a year and more is every bit as easy as bench pressing the Rock of Gibraltar. It takes about that much strength too. The pallet slat will break into splinters perfect for staking vampires or starting camp fires before you will ever manage to pull those nails loose.
Once I got a box floor with gaps in it no more than an inch wide, I decided that was sufficient and I could now afford to cheat. I do not have a good relationship with chicken wire and I used up all the weed block fabric a couple of years ago when I was making my patio of which I am still intensely proud (see entry Last Week I Ruined the Lives of Thousands of Ants). I went for the old standby--newspaper. Layered newspaper is a great way to conquer many garden problems. You can make it into plantable pots, or lay it down as weed-blocker, or sort of mulch around plants with it to hold in extra moisture. As it happens, you can also put in in the bottom of your pallet planter box when you get tired of playing Unstoppable Force/Immovable Object with petrified pallet nails.
After that, it was as simple as filling the box with dirt and putting the strawberries in it. And figuring out where to put the box. And then figuring out how to move the box because I was too dumb to build it where I wanted it. And then watering it without making all the soil run out in a mudslide of life-ruining proportions.
I'm not recommending you go about this project the way I did. As a matter of fact, if you have the means, it would be a heck of a lot easier to make this box out of cedar slats and 4x4 posts and forget about the masochistic messing about with a pallet. If you have pallets lying about and a desire to do this project frugally, then you should definitely follow Lovely Greens's instructions. But if you want to laugh at someone's expense, I'm your gal. I feel I owe an apology to Nicholas Steill who did his level best to teach me something in Wood Shop. I've failed you and I hope you can forgive me.

By the way, even my photography is a lie. I've shown you the box I made that turned out looking pretty good mostly because I started out with a basically complete pallet box and only had to put sides on it. The one I was describing in the above tutorial is this masterpiece:
Incidentally, gardening/carpentry projects become doubly challenging in gale force winds. I have no evidence of the added difficulty except for this:

Katniss Everdeen's braids never had to put up with this expletive deleted...

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Solemnity of Abandoned Places

The change of seasons always seems sudden to me. A few days into March, it snows and ices. A few days later, I'm out in the yard in a tank top starting flower seeds in pots. A couple of days after that, it's raining like the first days of Noah, and I'm thinking I should've saved the seeds a little while longer. I figured I was out of danger of frost, but I forgot about flood.
To me, that drives home the point of how stupid it is to have "first day of Spring" marked on the calendar as though you can pin that down. I figure the daffodils know when spring is happening. I've seen their leaves poking up through the dirt, so it's happening. But the other thing the daffodils and I know is that spring doesn't come. It doesn't arrive. It happens and goes on happening and you can't really do anything but kind of sway in the breeze.
For us, that means getting outside and maybe even off the road when the getting is good. We had gotten it in our giddy heads to try trapping crayfish in the river this spring. Something about March brings out the hunter/gatherer in us. So when the weather was lovely, we put out a trap. Luckily the weather was still lovely the next day when we went to check it. Alas, our trap yielded no crayfish, nor even any mudbugs as the colloquialism goes. Two extremely confused minnows were hanging out waiting to be traumatized further before being set free.
We were undaunted. Crayfish aren't half as interesting as the things available to be seen on river banks. Belted Kingfishers with their messy hair-dos, chasing and chittering. A safe on its side in the middle of the river. Monster dog footprints. A whole Chevrolet Bel Air embedded in the river bank. (Didn't get a picture of that one.) I don't approve of litter, truly, yet at the same time the strange traces of human presence always create a solemn ambiance where they intrude.

After encountering the safe and the car, the kingfishers and the sunshine, I had to drive. A bizarre recipe, I know. Apparently, rusted metal makes me thirst for adventure. And apparently adventure for me is defined by abandoned buildings and creepy birds. That is exactly what we found on one of the great roads around here that is not wide enough for two goats to pass abreast, but somehow people drive down it with wagons full of extra-large round bails.
Abandoned houses always appear very solemn from the outside. There's something a little bit artistic about the vines climbing up them and the broken glass and the air of solitude. The chicken house with its nesting boxes still full of straw. The forlorn little pond. The trees marching right up to the siding. The giant black headed vultures alighting on the roof. Yikes! Maybe we should get out of here... I'm not sure whether they saw Abraham and imagined him with dipping sauce packets, or whether they were simply attracted by the stench inside the abandoned house. Because, unfortunately, the solemnity of abandoned places is often ruined by the smell...

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Oh, Sorry, March. I Didn't Know It Was You.

Somehow, it's March. I didn't realize this fact because when I measure weeks by my husband is home from work-- it must be Saturday, I tend to lose track of the greater scope of time. I beg your indulgence; I do know exactly how blessed I am to be able to lose track of what day it is, let alone what month. I know how abnormal and serendipitous my ability to look out the window at the snow and think pretty instead of road hazard is. So, for my part, I forgot it was March and was perfectly content to watch the ice lightly coat the trees before the snow softly enveloped the ground on Sunday.

I've been listening to everyone abuse winter for a while now--how they hate it and want it over, how they'd dance nekkid under the full moon if it meant they could bring spring early. (Okay, I haven't heard anyone say that, but I'm pretty sure they were thinking it.) Shoot the messenger if you want. (Most people enjoy shooting messengers.) For me, the snow is still sunlight's winter playground and ice still transforms the sand cherry tree into a magical plant that grows diamonds when it's cold out.


There's a quote at the top of this blog, just under that title. I'm relatively sure most of you haven't read it (shame on you) but go do so now. While I'm completely aware of the uniqueness of my situation, I'm still going to seize this opportunity to say that I hope you make chances, whenever and wherever you can, to enter the other worlds that are all around you.

It is so easy to forget, even in my charmed life, what the point of all the work is. We live in a time and place where we're not desperately chasing our day-to-day survival. Yet we have bills to pay, and sometimes it seems like that's all we accomplish. Sometimes it seems like there's never any room to breathe, never anything left over after the bills are payed. I get that. I feel that, too. Joe Walsh, singer and sage, said, "I can't complain, but sometimes I still do." I confess, that is me. 

But then days like Sunday happen. God coats the trees in tiny, temporary diamonds. He scatters rainbows around like confetti when the light hits the snow flakes just so here and there. I walk into the woods just across the road and it seems like a place I haven't been before. Even the cold tensing my facial muscles seems to be telling me to smile. I breathe deeper, and more freely. It ceases to matter that I can't afford to go have a shrimp dinner at O'Charley's, or that I have to think twice or three times before spending twenty bucks on a new pair of jeans. I can even forget that I have cars to feed, repair, and insure, which are always alternately making believe they are boat anchors waiting to be put to sea. I'm surrounded by clean air, thaumaturgic newness, and my sons, and I think This is the point of all the hours spent on laundry or cleaning or chores or scheming ways to save a buck or commuting or at work an hour and a half away. Not so we can afford something or other, but this. This.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Funny Things Pearsons Say

A little bit of back story, as all good authors of serial publications will give:
Charlie once asked me why I am not ticklish. I have a secret. My secret is that I am ticklish, but I won't tell him where No, I won't tell you either. I always just tell him that to be ticklish, one must possess some level of innocence, and I have grown too evil to be ticklish any more.
So, today I am starting to get a nasty headache.
I exclaimto the ceiling tiles, "I do not need a migraine today! Why does the Universe hate me!?"
Charlie, with impeccable comic timing, as usual, replies, "Because you're evil not ticklish, that's why."
Well played, boy. I'll get you next time.

In a conversation during morning snuggles one day:
Charlie was lying to the right of me, and Abe to the left. Charlie sneaked away while I was talking to Abe, but I noticed. 
Me: Where did Charlie go? Did Spider Monkeys come and carry him away to be their king?
Abe: Fider Monkeys don't have a cro-own!
Me: They make one out of thorny vines.
Abe: Then they paint it!
Me: They don't have any paint! But they put berries on it for color.
Abe: That's why they wanted Shawlie; so he could teach them how to paint!

Yellow has always been my favorite color, at least so far as concerns the lifetime of the individual in question. Yet Abe has, for some reason, become convinced that I used to like purple best and have thrown it over for another color like some kind of unfaithful painter. After breakfast, Abraham clearly had this weighty matter on his mind:
Abe: Mommy, do you like purple?
Me: Yes, but yellow is my favorite.
Abe: Why don't you like purple best anymore?
Me: I don't know. Yellow is just so happy all the time.
Abe: No it isn't! I'll show you!
He procures markers and draws picture of a frowny yellow sun. The frowny face is drawn on with purple marker. The child has a sense of dramatic presentation that has decidedly advanced beyond his years.
Clearly, my argument is invalid.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

This is the Way the Winter Ends...

Not with a whimper, but a bang.

I don't know if winter is done. Everyone seems to be hoping it is, but I like the snow and ice. When winter consists of mud, chill, and damp, pervading grayness, that is when I can't wait for it to end. A snowy morning is somewhat like church: you cross its threshold and reverence and introspection just seem natural. An icy morning is like New Year: everything is lustrous and a little bit explosive. True winter is always just a bit at war with itself. It can't decide whether to be quiescent or boisterous, muted or brilliant, soft or hard. In Kentucky, it can't even decide whether to be winter or spring, which is why I say I don't really know if it’s over. Last year, we got six inches of snow in April that lasted all of one day before reverting to mud. In similar style, we had a lovely, blanketing snow Sunday last and now my yard has reached its mass moisture capacity and is contemplating swampdom. Everyone in Northern Indiana can just stop whining already. At least they can still walk on top of the ground without miraculous intervention.
I took a walk alone on Sunday afternoon. I wanted to see the snow on everything without any interruption. One of the best things about a walk alone in the snow is that birds come out to investigate you if you're quiet. A downy woodpecker played hide and seek with me around the trunks of some trees. He inspired my alone-ness. When I heard a car coming up the road, I played hide and seek with it around the snowed bulk of a small cedar. I would like to think that, just like the woodpecker, I was a telltale flash of red in the corner of the driver's eye. I don't know why I didn't want to be seen; just that I didn't. 
After the walk alone, I took a walk with children. One of the best things about a walk with children is that everything is twice as tactile with them. You can't just walk in snow, but must lay in it. You can't just lie in snow, but must eat it. You can't just admire an icicle, but must sword fight with it. And no matter how many times it has been proven that your snow boots are not water proof above the ankle, you must, at all costs, walk in the run-off stream. Feet aren't truly cold until they're frozen, after all. When I walk with kids, I don't see wildlife. I see Wild Life. I see kids. So if winter isn't done yet, that's okay with me. I don't have to drive in it anyway. Neaner, neaner, boo-boo...

Honey Locust don't care....
Wild Chipmunk sighting


Who lives here?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Getting Away From It All... Right Behind It All

I am not even going to bother trying to excuse or explain the absence of entries on this blog since summer. I've tried in the past. Made New Years resolutions or Faustian deals or promised myself treats I clearly did not want badly enough to keep me blogging steadily throughout the course of the year. The fact is that there are apparently not enough caffeine molecules in the universe to create wit in my brain 52 weeks of the year, and I otherwise lack the discipline. That said, after a long absence that you can all just forgive already because I used the word "Faustian" in this opening paragraph, here I am again!
And what I am contemplating is this:  
In general, we try to be good parents. Like we try to make sure the kids eat vegetable at least once a week and we don't condone WWE maneuvers wherein one child jumps onto the other child's lower back from the height of the couch. We try to say things like, "Will you please go watch a movie so I can get this done!?!?" only once a day or so. I even drag myself away from the riveting pastimes of "cleaning" and "taxes" to spend time whupping them at Monopoly. I use the term "I" there because the man of the house doesn't "do" board games. And I use the term, "Monopoly" because my nine year old has actually surpassed my skills at chess. You're only allowed to mock me about that if you know what the castle shaped players on a chess board are actually called. 
Anyway, part of being good parents is getting the kids out of the house on occasion. But when the man of the house gets home after a week working away from the house, he doesn't particularly want to leave the house. Who can blame him? I spend all week in the house and I still don't particularly want to leave the house. But the kids are another matter. They would likely set fire to the house if they were sure it meant getting out of it for a while. So we had to find a solution as well as an outlet for that budding pyromania where no one would get hurt. The long and short (but mostly long) is that we have had to find ways to get ourselves out of the house on weekends without actually having to leave home behind. Going out into the yard doesn't work. It's too easy to look around there and see things that ought to be done. Chores-- Bah! Humbug!

The Hill (otherwise known as  most of our yard) is good for a few minutes of entertainment, especially now, when we've had snow, followed by ice, followed by snow. That creates the perfect sledding environment for severe injury and possible dismemberment. The problem is that lugging the sleds back up the hill quickly tires us. It's like waiting in line for the Mean Streak at Cedar Point for an hour and half only to have the ride over in four minutes. Cost-benefit analysis fails to impress.
So, being creative folks, we've taken up the time honored hobby of traipsing off into the woods and starting fires. Why are you looking at me like that?
There are always things to see in the woods after an ice storm. There are icy trees, and icy grasses, and icy rocks, and icy moss, and icy... ice? There are also probably deer and rabbits, but two boys make too much noise to see any of them. That's okay. Really it is, because boys are meant to make noise and climb things and eat the icy ice. Sort of like monkeys, really, except I don't know how monkeys feel about ice.
Traipsing and ice munching turn out to be a cold business. That's where lighting things on fire comes in. Well, that and really how do you know you're having fun if fire isn't involved? So after we hiked to Where the Moderately Untame Things Are, we started a little camp fire in the snow. This involved dry cedar sticks, leaves, magnesium, a Swedish neck knife of some sort, sparks, and a great deal less swearing than you might expect given that there were two children present. Also, a butane lighter when the kids weren't looking, because a real Bushman knows that the first rule of survival is "Always cheat."
In all sincerity, it wasn't that long of a walk. Just back through the fields behind our house and into a twenty acre wood, barely more than would qualify as a copse. A hilly walk, with lots of variety. A walk with birds, and tiny streams, and sparkly sunlight on ice. And a tiny campfire by a cedar tree with thick grape vines and lots of character. It wasn't far away, but it was away from it all. The sort of place you can forget that bills and body aches and defunct car batteries and b.m.i.'s exist and just relax with a cold butt in the snow and warm heart by the fire. It's more relaxing than you'd think. At least, it works for us. Now if only the phrase "freezing our butts off" was more literal and less euphemistic...

Friday, June 14, 2013

Just Wanna Have Fu-un

Oh, Joy! 

Oh, Rapture! 
Joe took an actual vacation! That is to say, he took a week off of work on purpose, and not because he had to fix a transmission or build a chimney or whatever else he usually has to do during extended absences from work. Not that we went off to Belize or anything. I don't even know where that is. And who would want to go to Belize if they could vacation the way that we do? We started the week with cleaning up all the accumulated junk that has been around our house. If that sounds like work, it's because I haven't gotten to the payoff. Old logs too hard to split, and all the cardboard we could find made for a couple of very impressive bonfires. It had been so long since I'd sat by a bonfire in the dark that I had forgotten how it can melt tension off of you. It was the old adage about the cleansing nature of fire given a whole new meaning. Also, miniature marshmallows (which were all that we had) roast in about 1.7 seconds flat and are much less messy than the big ones. I may never go back. The second night we so perfect that we almost all fell asleep on the blanket in the yard. We might have had it not been for the mental image of waking with ticks in our ears.
Burning things isn't the only way that we know how to have fun and it also isn't the only way we know how to pick up ticks. We also took a trip over to our favorite new Poison Ivy Paradise. I don't mean to be sarcastic, except about the state of Kentucky's total lack of care-taking of the place, because I really do like Quiet Trails Nature Preserve. It boasts at least one (because I saw it!) Scarlet Tanager and a field full of very pale yellow Sweet Pea vines. There are also a couple of ponds with some unnaturally non-skittish bullfrogs, a couple of fungi that I got to look up in my dandy field guide, and a box turtle. Not only that, but it's only about three miles away! For people as hodophobic as Joe and I, that's a major plus. (That's "morbid fear of travel" to anyone who doesn't want to Google it, which is how I found out the word.) And for me, any chance to use my cool military surplus hiking pack qualifies as "major fun."
Unnaturally bold bullfrog...

Stalked Scarlet Cup and old Sulfur Shelf or "Chicken Mushroom"
Sweet Pea and Daisies at Quiet Trails

Ghetto telephoto of what I think is a female Widow Skimmer

Juvenile Northern Water Snake
Our vacation week involved more than a little bit of not cleaning anything up that normally gets cleaned up and watching The Hobbit and Captain Jack Sparrow for the umpteenth time. (By the way, even people who don't have kids should see Wreck It Ralph because it's just really clever.) But the real coup de vacances was that we got Joe to go to our favorite swimming place at the river. Funny how fire and water can both have the same effect on me. Nothing that was wrong seems wrong any more when I am at the river. The river has shiny shells and cliff swallows with a mud nest colony under the bridge. It has Killdeers and tree roots and dragonflies. It has tiny fish and huge fish and crawdads that bump into your feet when they go zooming backwards to escape. It even has the occasional tiny snake, empty turtle shell, or giant grub thingie that turns out to be a larval Dobsonfly. I know you'll be crushed that I didn't take a picture of that one. Mostly, the river has flowing water, blowing breeze, and all my men with smiles on their faces at the same time. And that, my friends, is really something... something that it seems is only ever accomplished by fresh-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies on a normal day. We're simple people.
I wrapped up the vacation by trying to kill Joe. That is to say that we finished building, shoveling dirt into, and planting our box garden all in one day. Before I forget, I really should thank KYDOT for all that loose chip-n-seal gravel that they cover our road with every year before snow plow season. They dump it out just in time for the plows to throw it into my front yard where I cheerfully harvest it for many uses, including a drainage base for a 50 square foot box garden. Who says they don't put our tax dollars to good use? I digress. A box garden really is kind of the most awesome way to go. I have two small raised bed gardens totalling probably somewhere around 75 square feet. That's really not much space. That's less than a 10 foot by 10 foot bedroom. And in that space, I have 8 strawberry plants, 14 tomatoes of different kinds, 9 pepper plants, 4 rows of beans, 1 row each of tennis ball lettuce (definitely recommend!) and spinach, and more carrots than Bugs Bunny could crunch in all his years of animated life. Oh, and some marigolds. I weed, hoe, water, prune, and harvest by hand, fertilize once a month, and decorate excessively. Seriously, I think I need to go back on my meds. Since we put the thing in, I painted two gourds to hang by it, made bead flowers to attract hummingbirds to my feeder there, and made a wind chime for it with old keys and dog tags. Between that and all my bird feeders and houses, I'm going to turn into the world's dumbest looking lawn gnome from all the time I spend standing out in my yard with a goofy smile on my face.



If all that doesn't sound like a vacation to you, I can only conclude that 1) you're probably more normal than I am and 2) I don't get out much. Still, I was well content. Bring on canning season!