Thursday, August 30, 2007

End of August

It’s a Spare the Air day.
Don’t drive your car.
Don’t talk too much.
Don’t breathe too deep.
The boys are back in school,
The day spreads down the coastline.
Below my bike, the road shimmers.
No cooling wind from Ocean Beach.
The sky is filled with boat clouds.
How will I fill my sky?
I wheeze up Winston, breeze down Moncada,
Smell the toasted grass.
I’m energized.
I’m enervated.
I’m elated.
How will I fill the hours till three o’clock?

(Sky Above Clouds IV, 1965, Georgia O'Keeffe)

Monday, August 27, 2007

Welcome Lucy Alice!

My new little cousin came into the world yesterday in New York City. She joins a couple of other lovely ladies with a middle name in honor of Grandma Alice.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Tastes of Summer

Today we made our eighth batch (I think) of ice cream of the summer. It was fresh peach, which is my favorite except for fresh strawberry. You can use the same recipe to make either one. This recipe is from the brochure that came with my Cuisinart ice cream maker, except that I adjusted the ratio of whole milk to cream because I like it a little less creamy.

Fresh Peach or Strawberry Ice Cream
3 cups sliced fresh strawberries or sliced fresh peaches
4 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1-1/2 cups sugar, divided
1-3/4 cups milk (anything but fat free)
2-1/4 cups heavy cream
1-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
In a small bowl, combine the fruit with the lemon juice and 1/2 cup of the sugar. Stir gently and allow the fruit to macerate in the juices for 2 hours. Strain the fruit, reserving the juices. Mash or puree all the fruit, or if you like small chunks in your ice cream, mash or puree 2/3 of the fruit and finely chop the rest.
In a medium mixing bowl, use a hand mixer on low speed to combine the milk and remaining sugar until the sugar is dissolved, about 2 minutes. Stir in the heavy cream, reserved juices, mashed fruit, and vanilla. Put into your ice cream maker and freeze according to instructions. Five minutes before mixing is complete, add the reserved sliced fruit, if desired, and let mix in completely. Transfer ice cream to another container and let harden further in freezer for at least 2 hours.
Makes about 14 half-cup servings, or almost 2 quarts.

I also made a sunflower cake in honor of the first sunflower that bloomed (not counting the volunteer). It was a simple pound cake baked in my sunflower pan.

Have you ever noticed that sunflowers are like people, standing in the garden? Sometimes I catch sight of one out of the corner of my eye and think for a moment it's a person, face turned toward the sun.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Runts Rule!

These are the runty sunflowers that grew between the larger, more vigorous ones in my row in the backyard. I decided to thin them to allow the stronger ones to grow, and on a whim planted them along the side of our house to see how they did. They were frail things that I had to stake so they wouldn't blow over. Now they're doing great! In fact, they are a lot bushier and sturdier than the backyard ones, if not quite as tall (these are thigh high). The reason? Better soil! The soil on the side of our house is sandy and loose, and has been cultivated before. The patch where the backyard ones are has soil that is compacted and clayey. They are growing are right up against our retaining wall, where there has been nothing but a layer of sod before the pile of lumber for 9 months. I think the runty ones will all be goth sunflowers. I can't wait till they bloom.

Okay, swedish gorilla, here's the naked, unvarnished, full-length (almost) backyard photo. (Cringe.) For my blog I like to pick the best-looking thing in the garden and take an artful shot of it, making sure to leave out the bare earth and other unsightly elements. But here is what it is, bare earth and all. I'm not the only one whose garden is half in her head. Amy Stewart (see book list) writes that she saw her garden with an outsider's eye when a friend was coming to visit, and realized that all the things that she was seeing in her head (the gazebo, the masses of flowers, the neatly mulched paths) hadn't actually been achieved yet. That's how I feel. You can't see the newly enlarged raised bed, the overflowing blooms of nasturtiums that haven't been planted yet, the curved flagstone paths I drew out on graph paper, and...and...some other stuff.
This photo does show the backyard sunflowers, now waist high, and how spindly they look. But they are about to bloom, too. There is lots of worm activity around them, due to the watering and compost I put down. There are castings all over. Yay.
A blogger named cloudscome has a Sunday Garden Tour with links to other blogs. This is my Sunday Garden Tour, although I couldn't figure out how to link to the official tour. She has lovely photos of her garden and her own haiku. Read the ones about the butterflies.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Vacation Snapshot #3: The Hike

On our last full day at the lake, all the sisters and brothers-in-law and nieces and nephews had gone home and it was just our family and my husband's brother. We took a hike on the Royal Gorge cross-country ski trails, abandoned in summer. Technically we were trespassing, but we knew no one was checking. We had a need to go exploring, maybe see some land that could soon be changed forever. A development company has bought the ski resort and just filed a preliminary request for a permit to build a massive ski camp, artificial lake, new ski runs and double the number of residences in this tiny, quiet shelf of granite surrounding the lakes. The whole project is preposterous, especially since there is not sufficient water on the land to support increased visitors, even at less than 50% occupancy rates, without dredging and draining the two small Serene Lakes as the water supply. And the sewage...already they have to spray excess treated water on the hillsides in summer to avoid overloading the streams with it. Before we came up to the cabin this year, I researched who to write to protest the project (there is a website devoted to this) and printed out multiple copies of letters for us all to sign and send in.

The land seemed more vulnerable to me than it has in the more than 15 years I have come here to vacation. The growing season is so short, and already the meadows are dry and parched. There are many human marks on the land: tall signposts with the names of the ski trails and a roughly bulldozed road where the trails go. It's not a wilderness by any means. But it's not paved, and there are beautiful views down the canyon of the North Fork of the American River and up at the Sierra Crest. We saw no one on our entire 5-mile hike. We saw a grouse, who peered anxiously over her shoulder at us from between the trees (I decided it was a female Dusky Grouse). We saw many many orange butterflies, which I decided were Fritillarys. We saw a hawk, too far away to identify. We saw fresh bear scat. I hope it's all still there five years from now.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Vacation Snapshot #2: Three Great Things in One Day

Sometimes on a vacation the days blur together and it's impossible to distinguish one from the next. But sometimes there is one day that stands out above the rest.
On this day, my youngest nephew was seven years and one day old and learned to ride a bike. I looked out of the cabin window as I was getting dressed and saw my brother-in-law holding on to the seat of my nephew's bike, while my nephew wobbled along without pedaling. I thought, "That's not gonna happen." I went downstairs, and then heard someone say, "He did it!" I raced back upstairs to look out the window and there he was, pedaling along by himself. There's something magical about crossing the line from not knowing to knowing how to ride a bike. You can't go back. He was very proud, and gave high-fives all around.
Also on this day, my 12-year-old son learned how to sail a Snark, a small beginner's sailboat. None of us really knows how to sail, so we couldn't give him much instruction. The day before he went out in the boat and put up the sail, which promptly ripped. We repaired it with duct tape and on this day he got in again and fiddled around and figured out how to coordinate the rudder and the sail. Back and forth across the tiny cove of the lake he sailed. He washed up on shore once and we had to tow him back out in the canoe. It was thrilling to see him get up speed and whip past us with waves breaking on the bow, then come about and shift his weight to sail back the other way. He was the captain of his craft.
On this day, too, I took the 7-year-old with newly acquired bike riding skills and his older sister out for a ride in the canoe. An osprey appeared, as it does every afternoon, and we watching it fishing in the lake. It circled directly above us, twisting its neck from side to side, looking for fish. I wondered if it was thinking, I wish those people would get out of my lunch bucket. At last it swooped, slowly and calmly. It picked up a fish with its talons as if it were picking up a sandwich from the table, then rose up in the air again, circling. Was it looking for a spot to land, or waiting for the fish to die? At last it flew away with the silvery fish glinting in the sunlight.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Vacation Snapshot #1: The Bear

We just got back from a week at Serene Lakes, two small lakes just west of Donner Summit near Tahoe. At one point we were 13: the four of us, two sisters, one brother, two brothers-in-law, one nephew and three nieces. No Internet access, but a lot of fun.

At Tahoe this summer there has been a record number of bears hit by cars, and an increase in break-ins to cabins--by bears. Most cabins now have bearproof garbage bins, but it's pretty impossible to bearproof a cabin. Last year my sister-in-law and her two kids saw a bear in the middle of the day, just stopped by the side of the road to the lakes. We've also seen bears in the middle of the day on a trail near Lake Tahoe: a mother and two cubs. I admit I did have bears in the back of my mind when my husband and I went out to look at the stars one night. There was no moon, so the night was quite dark and the star-gazing was perfect. The Milky Way glowed in a wide swath across the sky. We could hardly see to stumble down the path to the lake and lie on the air-filled AquaGlide, a massive inflatable raft that we called the RV of the Lake. One red and yellow shooting star burned slowly across the sky like a satellite. We watched more shooting stars for a while, then found our way back to the road and walked a block or so, but it was so dark that we were afraid we'd lose our way back to our cabin if we ventured too far without a flashlight. As we walked through a particularly dark spot in the road, my husband suddenly stopped, then grabbed my arm and started walking backwards. "Did you see it?" he asked me quietly. I saw a flash of green reflecting an animal's eyes about six feet away, and heard a snuffling noise. "Was it a bear?" I asked him. "Well, if it had been a dog, it would have barked," he said. "Maybe it was a deer." "Deer don't snuffle," I said. "It was a bear." A bear at night seemed very different than during the day. At night, they can smell while we are nearly blind. We walked swiftly and quietly back to the cabin. The next day, I walked over to the spot where we sensed--rather than saw--a bear. I don't know what I was expecting to see. Maybe the contents of someone's refrigerator strewn across the road? But all there was to see was this sculpture. We didn't have any bear break-ins--or any other kind of bear encounters--on the trip.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Bike Lady

This represents a triumph for me. Not only did I walk into REI and buy a bike rack for the roof of our station wagon but I attached and assembled it with only the help of my younger son, an expert at putting small things together.
The bike rack is one of those things my husband and I have been going around and around about and neither of us has done anything. Here's the conversation:
"Honey, let's go on a family bike ride."
"Our bike rack is too wimpy for more than two bikes, it'll wreck our hatchback and they're not secure, they might fall off on the freeway and it's too much hassle to try to put them in the car, etc. etc."
"Okay, let's buy a roof rack so we can get them all up there and bring them when we go on vacation."
"It's too high, you won't be able to lift them up on the roof, etc., etc."
"Oh, forget it."
But yesterday I was having lunch with my mom and stepdad and sighing about how we couldn't bring our bikes on vacation with us, and how my husband had even checked to see how much it would cost to rent a car that we could put our bikes in ($500 for the week), and rejected the idea. They said, "Just. Go. Buy. A. Bike. Rack."
They accompanied me for moral support. Once the 9-foot-high bike rack expert started talking about Thule parts on Yakima racks and Yakima parts on Thule racks and attachments kits and optimum attachment positions, our eyes began to glaze over. "Pay attention," I told myself, while he scurried around the racks collecting feet and kits and bars and totalling it all up: just over $200.
"That's not bad," said my stepdad.
"'Course, you need the locks," said the bike rack expert. "You need a minimum of 4 for the rack, and one each for the bike carriers, but they only sell them in even-numbered packs. And how many bike carriers do you want?"
"Oh, is that extra?" I asked nervously. It turned out the $200 was just the cost of the rack, and I needed three bike carriers at least (we didn't all have to go cycling at the same time, did we?). I gulped as he added up the costs to a ridiculously large amount (let's just say more than the cost of renting the damn SUV), and then I stood there paralyzed, trying to make a decision.
My stepdad wandered over to the racks that attach to a hitch. "Do you have a hitch?" he asked hopefully. The ones that attached to a hitch were half the price.
"Uh, yeah," I said. "Maybe we should go with that."
He looked at me a bit doubtfully. "I'll go outside and see what size hitch you have."
He came back a few moments later, grinning. "No hitch. I guess it was just a figment of someone's imagination."
It was either the roof rack that cost more than my new bike, or nothing.
Here's how I rationalized it:
1. We could keep it after the vacation, unlike the SUV we weren't going to rent anyway.
2. It could be transferred to any future car that we might buy when our station wagon conks out ("Of course you may need different attachment feet..." the bike rack expert said).
3. It could be used to attach the cargo box we've also talked about buying for our camping trips.
4. It would increase the number of activities our sons will consent to do with us.
5. It would be nearly impossible for our bikes to fall off on the freeway, and we could lock our bikes onto the rack, enabling us to stop at the supermarket on the way without worrying about getting our bikes stolen.
Feeling a bit intoxicated, I bought it. We are REI members, after all.
So there would be no chance for second thoughts, my son and I spent an hour attaching the rack that afternoon. Actually my son spent about 20 minutes and I spent another 40 minutes in my windbreaker in the wind and fog. His contribution was mainly his can-do attitude, gained from years of assembing complex Lego constructions from wordless diagrams. "Remember, this is just a big Lego," I told myself as the wind whipped my hood off. It would have helped if the Thule people included a diagram showing how the whole thing was supposed to look when it was all assembled, the way the Lego people do. There were lots of close-up diagrams showing how the bolts fit into the washer plate and how the key fit into the lock, but no diagrams of the successfully assembled rack with bike attached.
Also, the REI bike rack expert had specifically mentioned that it was important to attach the feet at the optimum point indicated in the instructions. The instructions did not say anything about where to attach the feet, although there was this cryptic expression next to a picture of an allen wrench tightening a bolt: "2.5Nm/1.8ft-lb/1,8pi-lb." Could it be that I was actually supposed to measure the force I was using to tighten the bolts? That was laughable.
I finally called REI and asked to speak with our bike rack expert but he was "at lunch," so I explained my worries to the other bike rack expert who answered the phone. He said not to worry about it. "Okay," I said.
I stopped worrying about if I had attached the feet in the correct position and started worrying about how I was going to install the bike carriers. I studied the Thule website and downloaded the instructions for my model, but they were different than the instructions in my box. I decided to call it quits for the day.
The tricky part was that evening, announcing the fact of our new bike rack to my husband. To my credit, I did not lie about how much it cost. To his credit, all he said was, "I have my doubts."
But the next day, it all became clear. It's amazing what a good night's sleep can do. I finished installing two of the carriers, and me and my son got the bikes in the rack and drove down to Crystal Springs for another great ride, this time with some friends.

Here is that photo of the fog creeping over the hills that I wanted to get last time.
When my husband came home tonight, he said he was glad the bike rack worked out. Not another word about how much it cost. He is a great guy.