Sunday, April 21, 2013

Country Living & City Lights

Somehow, even when I’m getting things done, I never feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to.  Working two jobs again, I’ve actually kept up pretty well with grading and lesson planning.  Having only six, well-motivated students helps enormously.  Having Miss Chef home helps, too.  Not having to work overtime at the bank makes a huge difference—though that may be changing soon.  I’ve been chosen for advance training on a different computer system to which our whole office may be switching within the next year.  It’s a great opportunity, but makes me a little nervous about reconciling additional pressures on my schedule.

This weekend, however, has been too lovely to dwell long on the “shoulds.”  After the temperature began flirting with the 80-degree mark (26°C) last week, a cold front came through, dropping the daily highs back into the 60s (18°C).  Plenty of folks around me probably don’t like these cool temps, but it makes the gardener in me happy enough to purr. 

I love my garden this time of year.  It’s full of hope, and not of weeds.  The cool weather keeps the weeds from growing like the eager parasites they are, and draws me outside just itching to potter around in the dirt.  Saturday I got the hoe out and scratched out most of the tiny weed seedlings beginning to crowd my carrot and pea sprouts.  However, whenever I stop to admire my well-organized bed, it does seem to look the same as it did last weekend.  That’s my excuse for posting so many “garden update” photos, because it shows me the progress I’ve made.

Here’s what it looked like at the end of March, three weeks ago.

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And today…



I had no idea the broccoli was so much bigger—though I had noticed tiny little heads forming already.  And I’d forgotten that the peas in back were invisible only three weeks ago.  Even the garlic along the right has stretched itself above the border, having fended off the nibbles of some mysterious grazer.  (What kind of animal eats garlic, for Pete’s sake!?)  Oh, bonus—check out the difference in Miss Chef’s herb bed in the background, coming over all oregano and parsley.

Last weekend was nearly as lovely as this one, and I crossed another “should” off my list by re-habbing another bed for my limited tomato planting.



This used to be a flower bed, but I needed to get serious about rotating the tomatoes out of the main bed.  Replanting in the same dirt allows diseases to perpetuate, and my paltry harvest last year was a clear sign that I no longer had a healthy home for tomatoes.  I bought the seedlings—an heirloom beefsteak and a sweet cherry—at the farmers’ market, and was hoping to stop in at the wonderful Renfrow Hardware store to pick up some soil or compost.  But before I even left the market, I found Miss Chef’s favorite Mushroom Guy not only had shitakes and oyster mushrooms, but was also selling 25-lb bags of mushroom compost!  I snatched one up, and when it came time to pour it into the bed, I was delighted to see clumps of worms come tumbling out.  Bonus!

You know you’ve got the gardening bug bad when an unexpected gift of worms just makes your day.

Anyway, this weekend Miss Chef and I picked up some basil plants, which will live happily with tomatoes both in the garden and on the plate. Fingers crossed for better tomato luck this year.

In the bed next door, the blazing blue lithodora continues to amaze me.



We have food planted here and there, all over the back yard.  Miss Chef planted herself a little bed of spinach..



…and we have a resident clump of chives in another planter that comes back, year after year, with little to no effort on our part.  That’s the kind of gardening I like!



Since I was looking for more easy, feel-good pottering to keep me outside, I went ahead and set up the zen fountain Miss Chef gave me for my birthday last summer.  Before I know it, it will be too hot and buggy to sit outside on the stone patio, so I might as well enjoy it now.



I love the smooth flow of water over the entire surface.  I accidentally took a shaky video when I thought I was taking the picture above, so here’s 5 seconds of zen for you.


And here’s a little non-gardening news.  Alton Brown came to town!  If you’re not familiar with all your Food Network stars, AB (as his fans know him) was the host of the now-defunct Good Eats, and now emcees the American version of Iron Chef.  He’s always got other projects going on, but Miss Chef and I are steadfast adorers of Good Eats, for its brilliant combination of solid science and ingenious whimsy.  (This 5-minute clip shows him teaching his “nephew,” Elton, about making vegetable soup.  You only need to watch a minute or two to see his dry humor combined with lots of smart food talk.)


Anyway, we really enjoyed the show.  It was part of the NC Science Festival, so he did several demonstrations onstage, all based on ways of moving heat out of food, instead of into it.  In the guise of teaching about endothermic reactions and phase changes, Alton showed us how to chill a beer in one minute using a blender, how to make chocolate mousse using liquid nitrogen and how to use a fire extinguisher to instantly freeze fresh fruit for a smoothie.  There were audience members on stage, ponchos passed out to the front row, and a poor cameraman forced to chug the greater part of a PBR.  And lots of laughter, cheers and applause.  I laughed so hard at one part that I snorted—very embarrassing, but totally worth it.

Unfortunately, taking decent pictures with the harsh stage lighting was beyond the scope of my cell phone’s camera.  On the other hand, stepping outside the theater on the way out, I did pause to enjoy the sight of uptown Charlotte, which is surprisingly charming for being limited to a few square blocks.

Charlotte 04 (2)

Knight Theater, where we saw the show, is part of the new Levine Arts campus, which includes the Mint Museum of Design, and the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art.

The modern art museum is right next door.  Here’s a view past the entrance toward the center of uptown.

Charlotte 04 (1)

Charlotte does lack a few things, but every time we come uptown, I think we should do it more often.  It’s no New York or Paris, but then we did only pay $5 for parking.

And normal folks like me can still afford to live inside the city limits on a quarter-acre lot with a big ol’ vegetable garden.

garden 04 (1)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Spring Sprung



The phlox by the mailbox has turned into a pink pillow of fluffy cheer.  I did not plant these, I only manage to weed the grass out once or twice a year.  This is the only time this bed is actually attractive!


I didn’t plant the Carolina jasmine in back, either. I’m very grateful the previous owners did, though!




I did plant these intense blue characters, just last year.


They don’t much like the heat of our summers, but it looks like they’ll give us a nice show every spring.  By next year, they should spread out to cover the entire bed, I think.


As promised, the little redbud has started its show, too.



But just as exciting to me…


…are the sturdy little pea sprouts emerging boldly from the dirt.

There is, of course, one little hitch…the change from 50-degree days to warmer temperatures shows no sign of slowing.  Tomorrow’s highs are predicted in the low 80s!  That could be bad news for my cool weather crops, if it continues.  It’s supposed to cool just a bit and rain by the weekend, so maybe this will just give ‘em all a jumpstart, eh?

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In the meantime, I have begun teaching again two evenings a week.  It doesn’t sound too onerous, but I also need another couple of evenings for lesson planning, grading and so on.  Funny thing is, when I was in graduate school, I used to prefer doing those to my coursework, so I used my teaching duties to procrastinate from reading long journal articles and writing similarly analytical jargon-filled expositions.  (Can you tell I have no regrets about leaving the hallowed halls of higher education?)

These days, however, it’s the teaching chores I put off by procrastinating with my blog writing!  Fortunately, I have finally discovered the wisdom of hoarding my old (handwritten) lesson plans to use as a jumping-off point for my planning.  I felt like this when I finally pulled them out and realized how much easier this could have been all along:




Still, I forgive myself a little bit…in my teaching career, I was constantly changing courses (and languages!), and this is the first time I’ve every taught the same course more than 3 times.  So by the time I had good, strong lesson plans, quizzes, activities, etc. to use with one book in one course, I was off to something different.

Hey, the best thing about teaching is that you keep learning, right?

Anyway, I have a great situation this quarter, with only SIX students in my course!  There are no men in the class, which seems to leave the women freer to be smart and assertive, without the usual tee-heeing and posturing that goes on in a mixed class (seriously, I can already see a difference).  More importantly, they all seem to be good, well motivated students.  They’ve already listened to some of my study and organizational tips, and have retained a few expressions I just mentioned in passing.  If they keep this up, they will raise the bar for me, too, and that can only be good for everybody.