Monthly Archives: August 2013

sum and substance: my first hosta

Friends, readers, internet–I’m falling in love with hostas. Here’s a picture of my new sweet gem, Sum and Substance:

Newly planted Sum and Substance Hosta.

Newly planted Sum and Substance Hosta.

I listen to a lot of podcasts during my extensive driving. On a recent road trip, my mom and I listened to A Way to Garden, which is a podcast that I love. As an aside, I’ve recently learned that I absolutely love listening to people speak quietly and in great detail on a subject about which they are passionate. This could be due to my ten years in higher education, where I listened to a lot of professors conduct their classes in this manner. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but I’ve liked it for a long time, and only recently have been able to put my finger on it.

Back to the point, this gardening podcast is great if you love to hear people talking in hushed, excited tones about gardening. For me, that’s perfection. So, while we were traveling, my mom and I listened to the podcast on hostas (here’s the accompanying blog post). I hadn’t really known much about hostas, but the podcast really piqued my interest. An ex-boyfriend had hostas at his place. They never did much, but he loved them and worried over them, and that’s what really put the plant on my radar.

In late summer, when my traveling had died down a bit, I bought some half-priced, half-dead flowers to fill an unpromising patch of soil I had prepared on the north end of my home. The nursery also had some beautiful hosta plants, and with the podcast still ringing in my ears, I spontaneously purchased their largest hosta, called Sum and Substance. From the podcast, I learned that some hostas have been bred to have fragrant flowers. The attendant at the greenhouse didn’t know anything about that, and I haven’t found much about it online, but some of the varieties had flowers blooming, and I noticed that Sum and Substance had a very light, sweet, fragrance.

Sum and Substance is also one of the largest varieties. The area I had prepared is north facing and has minimal light. A tree that was removed last year is coming back with a vengeance in bush form, and it’s taking away even more light from the area. The soil is also fairly poor and appears to be mostly clay, despite my attempts at amending it. Hostas are known for doing okay in these kinds of conditions, so I figured I’d give it a try.

Sum and Substance Hosta after being in the ground for about a month and a half.

Sum and Substance Hosta after being in the ground for about a month and a half.

The hosta has been in the ground for about a month and a half now. It hasn’t done much, but now that I compare pictures, I can see that the foliage really had grown. I hope this hosta giant really takes over the space. The foliage is still really bright and healthy looking, and I’m hoping that it’s putting most of it’s energy into it’s roots right now. I think I’ll know more next year. The Sum and Substance hosta is supposed to get huge. We’ll see how much growing it does next year…if it survives the winter.


moving on

This summer has been hectic. I put way too many miles on my car driving back and forth from Utah to Oregon, plus a few other trips. And that’s not all! I still have more traveling to do in the coming weeks, which I’m excited for, but wow, it’s a lot for this homebody.

It’s been a hard summer, and I think you’ve had the sense of that if you’ve been reading this blog. I hate to complain because, big picture, things are *fine*, but still, yikes! I’m glad it’s over and hope that the routine of the semester will help normalize everything. Summers are usually a time for me to relax and recover from the school year with family, and then work on scholarship at my own pace. I usually really like being home with family during this time. I like working on my own schedule. However, this year it was all too much.

I know I’ve been vague about why my life is stressful, etc. But, it’s family stuff, and it’s not my story to tell publicly at this time. And besides, things are going to be fine, they’re just different and that adjustment has been difficult.

In the meantime, I’ve been totally neglecting my boyfriend. He’s great. He’s doing his own thing. Last year was a really happy year for us. I remember having a spring in my step every morning as I trotted off to work. Truthfully, I haven’t been as happy lately, and I want to get back to that place of ridiculous happy because that’s my default.

life is beautiful

Life is beautiful.

School started this week. I needed to spend last week in Oregon, so I’m feeling a little weary as this semester begins–not a great way to feel at the beginning of a school year. I’ve got a new course prep, and I was warned that it would be difficult. As I’ve worked through the course materials to prepare, I think that’s a correct assessment. Hard as it may be, I think it will be a welcome break from summer.

almost already

I’ve been a little stir crazy for the last week or so. I think it’s just the remnants of the (mild) depression I have had this summer, which you can read about here. The blues are lifting, but there is still an errant feeling or two, which I register as “cabin fever” or “stir crazy.” Really, though, it feels good to have the funk lifting.

The boyfriend doesn’t think I really depression because I’m still functional, exercising, making jokes, and laughing at them, et al. I tend to agree. This summer I’ve felt in control, but just dogged by a nagging sinking feeling that I have to talk/back myself out of.

School starts in a week, and I’m ready and excited. I still have a lot of prep work to do, and that will happen mostly next week. I’m teaching a new prep, and I’ve been warned that that learning curve for teaching it is rather steep. I’m hoping to use this hybrid course and parlay it into a conference talk on online teaching. The idea has been banging around in my head for the last year or so, and I think this class will work as a catalyst for some scholarship. So, that’s always a good thing.

I’ve got more driving to do before school starts. I have more family obligations–things that will take work and will be hard to do, but that I absolutely want to do. So basically, I’ve been waiting, and it’s almost already time.

follow up: no poo hair

Two weeks ago, I wrote about my adventures in no poo hair: not using shampoo on my hair, basically. At first, I began using a small amount of baking soda to clean and diluted apple cider vinegar to condition. Baking soda seemed too harsh for me, and after a week or so of that treatment, I decided to shift to a liquid, peppermint scented castile soap, and that has been much better for my hair and easier to apply.

flickr image by Wolfgang Lonien

Everything I’ve read about moving away from shampoo has said that everyone’s hair is different, and it will take weeks of trial and error to figure out the right balance for your head. I’m not going to lie, that’s the hard part, and I’m still figuring it out. For the first first few weeks, my hair was surprisingly easy to comb through, even right after I washed it, and very easy to brush. However, in the last few days, I’ve noticed that it is a little more tangled than it was before, so I’m thinking about incorporating the apple cider vinegar rinse again.

The other thing: sebum. I don’t have naturally oily hair (although everyone who uses conventional shampoo knows the resulting oil slick it creates in a day or two). I did not know what sebum was until I started this no poo experiment. It’s this oily film that your body naturally creates to protect your hair. It’s strange, and you have to clean it off of brushes and combs. That’s definitely a new and unexpected aspect of going without shampoo, but it’s also the reason my hair is so shiny, healthy, and voluminous without shampoo.

Here’s the bottom line: I’m really liking my hair. It feels healthy and thick. It is naturally voluminous and wavy. It has that sun and salt look, that just-got-done-surfing-and-let-it-dry-on-the-beach look. It does not look greasy. I really like that I’m not using harmful gunk on my skin and hair, but I have to admit that, so far, it has been more work. I  wash my hair less frequently, but when I do wash it, it takes more time and care. Shifting from baking soda to castile soap has definitely helped. I’ve been at this for about a month now. Will I stick with it? I don’t know. I think I’ll discover very quickly whether or not this is sustainable once school starts.

adventures in pesto

I did not grow up eating pesto. I grew up eating meat and potatoes, and I turned out fine! (Er?) Anyway, since childhood, I have grown to appreciate pesto. As you know, this year my patio garden is doing better than any of my previous attempts at a patio garden and that includes the herbs.

In the past, I’ve grown herbs just because the marketing is so cute. Who wouldn’t want a tiny little lemon balm plant growing in the kitchen window? Well, evidently, me. Turns out, I don’t use a lot of lemon balm…or mint.

basil bolt bouquet

basil bolt bouquet

This year, I bought rosemary and basil, both are plants I knew I would use in my cooking. And I bought sage and lavender because, even if I didn’t use them as much in my cooking, I still love walking by and covering my hands in their scent.

Part of my success in patio gardening this year has been in growing things I’ll actually use. This year, that included basil. My basil plant has been so spectacular this year. I’ve been using it mostly in fresh salads, but also in some cooked dishes. Because of my surplus, and because it sounded good, I even whipped up my first ever batch of pesto. It was fairly easy and tasty. I followed a basic recipe and used walnuts instead of pine nuts because that’s what I had.

bee on basil (in need of a trim)

bee on basil (in need of a trim)

The outcome was very good, but that’s because it’s hard to go wrong with fresh basil, cheese, and nuts. Next time I make pesto, I’m going to up my basil to nut ratio. It was a little on the dry side, and I think cutting back on the walnuts and adding more fresh basil will do the trick.

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

My introduction to Barbara Kingsolver happened over a decade ago when I first read her debut novel, The Bean Trees. At the time, I loved the book. I had just discovered popular, contemporary women writers, and I could not get enough. I can’t remember exactly what went down in The Bean Trees, but it had to do with a woman living life on her own terms, a theme that makes me weak in the knees. There was probably also some troubling imperialist nostalgia stuff going on there too, but, like I said, it’s been over a decade. Who can remember?

I hadn’t read Kingsolver for many years, when I picked up her latest book, Flight Behavior. The book takes place in Appalachia and centers on Dellarobia, an uneducated, but curious and sympathetic character, who is trapped in an unhappy marriage, which is really just an unhappy life. That life is changed forever when the family land is inundated with monarch butterflies, whose migratory patterns are disrupted by climate change. The butterflies are the catalyst for opening up a world of possibilities and [spoiler alert!] ultimately leading Dellarobia to self fulfillment and transformation. The message is education and information are key.

image from NPR

The book has everything I love: a down on her luck Appalachian woman, monarch butterflies, and sheep! It’s everything I look for in a novel, and yet the book sometimes fell flat. Kingsolver is writing from a rural poor Appalachian perspective, but in many ways Kingsolver herself seems to lack that perspective. I think of myself as someone who understands both sheep farming and the rural poor (though, to be fair, not the Appalachian variety), two things that are dealt with extensively in the novel. The book demonstrates that Kingsolver is a scientist at heart and a keen observer of humans and nature, but seems one step removed.

In regards to the sheep details, I recognized most of the information from a sheep raising manual written by Carol Ekarius, who herself is a transplant to sheep farming and a hobby farmer. In Flight Behavior, these characters are trying to make a living off of sheep, and to do so, they would need a completely different approach than the hobby farming Kingsolver portrays.

Next, it has been my experience that the rural poor have a certain pride, but the Dellarobia character has none of that pride. She is just completely insecure and humiliated by her life in every way. This is made clear as visitors and highly educated scientists begin to visit the butterflies. Even the transformed Dellarobia seemed to lack some necessary perspective in regards to her own behavior. I guess that’s reality though, isn’t it?

The pros of the book are that Kingsolver is a scientist, and her nerdy descriptions of the labs, the butterflies, and the processes are endearing. This kind of novel has the difficult task of balancing an engaging narrative and characters, while simultaneously commenting on environmental politics, and that’s not an easy job. In the end, I think Kingsolver achieved that balance. I read the thing to the end, and got something out of it. There are lovely uses of language and description throughout, and her metaphors are apt. It wasn’t a story that allowed me to suspend disbelief and fully engage because of the moments where I was thinking, “She would never do/say that thing.” Or, “a sheep farmer would never do xyz.”

When I hear “Appalachian women’s literature,” my heart melts a little bit. If you’re like me, Flight Behavior is worth reading. If environmentalist gets your blood pumping, you’ll probably love the book. If you find that this book isn’t for you, do go back and read her first book, though. That one was a real gem.

tomato blossoms

About a week ago, I wrote that I was worrying about my tomato plants. They had hung in the basement for about four days while I was away on vacation, and they had failed to make any new blossoms ever since. They were still going a good job of ripening what was on the vine, but nothing new was forming.

Well, a few days after that post, I saw the first two new blossoms, and since then quite a few new blossoms have formed on both plants. Tomato season is not over yet!

New tomato blossoms at long last!

New tomato blossoms at long last!


Reading: Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior.

Eating: Melty squares of Lindt chocolate, 70%. I recently bought a bar that was 85%. It’s going to be too strong, isn’t it?

Thinking about: Adopting a dog. I do this a few times each year, where I get really serious about adopting a dog. I’m at a place in my life where I can finally spend an ethical amount of time, energy, and money on a dog. Plus, I’ve been writing a lot lately, and writers need dogs don’t they?

I'm enjoying bouquets of gladiolus.

I’m enjoying bouquets of gladiolus.

Enjoying: My patio garden and small attempts at landscaping (though my space is very limited). I’ve created this back patio area, fully decked out with a couch, where I can read for hours.

Watching: I’ve been watching old episodes of Archer. I bought Netflix back May to watch the new season of Arrested Development. I keep forgetting (on purpose) to cancel it.

Loving: Having some time to myself. This summer has been really hectic, and most of it has either been work, or has felt like work. I’ve taken some time for myself this last week, and it feels really good.