Worms

red-worms-4

Doesn’t sound like a very exciting topic, does it? Well I raise worms here on the farm. I have three fifty-five gallon plastic garbage pails that support a lot of worms. Why worms? Well when the worms are finished processing all the kitchen scraps the chickens don’t want you have this wonderful soil for growing things.
I use to raise rabbits and the wastes from rabbits is the best soil maker around, but now we have too many neighbors close by who do not contain their dogs. Fifteen rabbits went to heaven one day and I was too discouraged to try again. I had dog-proofed as much as possible with extra fencing around their cage areas, but the dogs were determined.
So I looked for another way to create soil that was wonderful for growing garden plants and vegetables. Worms and worm bins. Commercially manufactured worm bins are expensive. On the farm you make do with what’s available. So I made my own worm bins.
How do you make and maintain a healthy worm colony? Well, start with a large container that will not rot when filled with soil. I use a dark colored garbage can with a tight fitting lid so they won’t escape. Drill holes around the bottom edge to drain excess water. If you want to collect the water, put a pan under it. It is compost tea. Great for potted plants.
Situate the bin in an area where it will not get direct sunlight. The dark can will get to hot for them to be comfortable in full sun. I have them under a large climbing rose so they have more light in winter when there are no leaves and shade in the summer when it is sunny.
Next find shredded paper. Paper is not necessary, but it does lighten the end product and the worms seem to like it. This should not be glossy, full color paper, but waste typing paper and old computer printouts and the like. I shred it and put it in the bottom of the garbage can. Next add a little plain old dirt. Worms like a little grit in their diet.
You can purchase worms by the pound for about $30 plus shipping. As I said previously, we make do around the farm, so I went out with a shovel and searched for some worms. Local worms are the hardiest. I managed to dig up about eighty in thirty minutes. I put them in the garbage can with 1 cup of cornmeal. Cornmeal to make them happy in their new home.
Then from time to time I add kitchen wastes. Some purists tell you you should never add onion skins, garlic skins, or citrus peels. Phooey. They love them. One of their favorites is banana peels which the chickens won’t touch. Pineapple shells, lettuce, leaves, weeds, any garden wastes that you don’t feed to the chickens, which for you city folks would be everything but egg shells and bones. These do not compost well. Add a little, not a lot, of shredded paper occasionally, if you like.
Two years ago, I read a label on a corn chip package that said it was completely compostable. Well, I put it in. I decided to put just one in and see how it went. It didn’t. Two years later it is still intact and shiny in the worm bin. I took it out and threw it away. The company has since taken that information off their label. The same was true for compostable doggy poop bags, though I don’t put doggy poop in the barrel. I guess you could, you just wouldn’t want to use it for growing vegetables. The same goes for cat poop too.
If the worms seem too dry, which is uncommon, add a little water, but don’t drown them. Keep an eye out for the wetness/dryness of the bin. If the water is rising, your holes in the bottom are plugged and need to be cleared. Worms don’t like to swim, the reason we see them above ground during heavy rains.
When we lived in Beijing, I started a worm bucket. It was a five gallon bucket with a tight lid. I added all our kitchen wastes and a little dirt. Finding the worms was the real hard part as the soil was like cement in the back garden and all I had was a large spoon with which to dig. I did find some searching in the moistest locations I could find. The result was some good worm compost I used to pot up jasmine, scarlet runner beans, and a few geraniums. The hardest part was to keep the bug away from the plants. They were voracious.
Well, there you have it. Happy worm bin making and using. Your plants will love you for it!

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The Moon is Shining as Bright as Day

Ballerinas awaiting their turnA couple of nights ago, I got up during the night (1 a.m.) to address the call of nature (an old lady thing) and thought that we had left a light on outside. Or maybe my husband’s truck had the interior light on inside the cab. I peeked out the window and the moon was shining as bright as day. I remember when I was small we had a clear, bright red phonograph record of children’s songs and this one was on it. Whenever I see the moon so bright, I sing this in my head. Does anyone else remember this song? The following is from Wikipedia.

Girls and Boys Come Out to Play’ or ‘Boys and Girls Come Out to Play’ is a nursery rhyme that has existed since at least 1708. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 5452.

Lyrics

The most common versions of the rhyme are very similar to that collected by James Orchard Halliwell in the mid-nineteenth century:

Girls and boys, come out to play,

The moon doth shine as bright as day;

Leave your supper, and leave your sleep,

And come with your playfellows into the street.

Come with a whoop, come with a call,

Come with a good will or not at all.

Up the ladder and down the wall,

A halfpenny roll will serve us all.

You find milk, and I’ll find flour,

And we’ll have a pudding in half an hour.[1]

Other versions often put boys before girls in the opening line.[2]

History

The verse may date back to the time when children were expected to work during the daylight hours, and play was reserved for late in the evening. The first two lines at least appeared in dance books (1708, 1719, 1728), satires (1709, 1725), and a political broadside (1711). It appeared in the earliest extant collection of nursery rhymes, Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book published in London around 1744. The 1744 version included the first six lines.

Well, I guess the moonlight always makes me want to go out and dance in it. However, it was the middle of the night and the temperature was about 35F. I declined and tottered off to the WC.

We have had several consecutive nights of bright moonlight. I usually use the lightness of the bedroom windows to tell me if it is about time to get up. The moonlight confuses that. Midnight moonlight and the gloaming of 6:30 a.m. look about the same these days. I went back to bed and went to sleep.

Occasionally when I am driving home at night through the area where I live, which has very straight roads, if the moon is shining bright as day, I turn off my headlights and go home by moonlight. So far I haven’t alarmed anyone coming from the opposite direction. Can you imagine me turning on my headlights when they didn’t know anyone was there?

This full moon is particularly interesting as it is the Lantern of the Lunar New Year. The fifteenth day of the New Year. New Year ’s Day is always the dark of the moon. Then as the moon grows in size various celebrations happen over a two week period. Example: New Year’s Eve, eat jiaozi (dumpling with pork and green onion) and visit with family. Days one through five you should not take anything from your house, even corpses. It is bad luck and you will lose your wealth. We went traveling in Hunan Provence on the fifth day and I commented to my Chinese student “Look at all the funeral processions. Was there a major disaster or accident?” He replied that it was the fifth day. The people who had died after the New Year could now be buried. There was also a slightly larger number of deaths after the new year as people try to stay alive just one more year and succumb shortly after.

Second day, married women visit their parents. This is something that doesn’t always happen as the husband’s parents take precedence once you are married. The seventh day is considered the birthday of all the common class people. They will all celebrate this day. Important figures have birthdays on their day of birth. On the thirteenth day some families fast or eat reduced amounts of vegetarian foods because they have been feasting for twelve days. Day fourteen is a preparation day for the Lantern Festival when new lanterns will appear fresh, and red in front of shops and houses.

Lantern day is celebrated by gifts of oranges. When we lived there, small mandarin orange trees covered with oranges on their branches and about three to four feet tall were given as gifts to family. Sweet rice balls are eaten to commemorate the full moon. Tāngyuán, a soup of round balls is also served. The “ruler of heaven’s” birthday is supposed to be on the fifteenth day. He is responsible for good luck, good fortune and wealth.

So dancing in the moonlight is probably a good thing. Even though I want to do it now, I will probably wait until we are sleeping outside this summer when dancing in my nightgown won’t pose issues of hypothermia.

Happy New Year.

 

OOOOOPS! Dancing with Stars Error

snow geese

Well, it appears that I really goofed up when I posted “Dancing with Stars.”  Since I write in another program and copy and paste to wordpress, it seems that I only transferred part of the story.  The whole point of dancing with stars was left out.  So here it is again in the complete state.  So sorry.

Deon

Dancing with Stars
Yesterday my husband and I decided to go north to the Skagit Flats to see the snow geese migrating north. In the past when we have done this, there have literally been several million resting for the night before finishing their migration to points further north than Washington.
It was a cold, blustery, late February Sunday. The fourteenth day of the new lunar new year. Today is Lantern Day in the Chinese calendar celebrated with the full moon as the lantern. Last night the almost full moon guided us home well after dark with a few clouds to add interest to the night sky.
Well there were a few geese, but nothing as spectacular as the last time we saw them. We also saw the trumpeter swans, but the lazy ones spend the winter here instead of going to northern California.
We had planned a picnic lunch for the trip and were trying to decide where to eat it that had a nice view. Hart Lake at the foot of Mt. Erie on Fidalgo Island was our final choice. We sat in the car at the water’s edge and ate our chicken and wild rice soup with cornbread and watched small fish jump and only a couple of waterfowl. By then the sun was peeking through the clouds and the car was warm and cozy. It was too cold to sit outside. There was not a soul around and we had the park to ourselves.
If you have not visited this park system which is part of the City of Anacortes, you should take the opportunity. Mount Erie is a great vantage point to see the surrounding area including the San Juan Islands. You can hike it, ride a horse up the trail, take a mountain bike or, for the faint hearted, you can drive. We can see the mountain from Freeland here on South Whidbey. It is a popular hang gliding location as well.
While we were picnicking, my husband reminded me of an event we experienced many years ago in the lake down the road. When we were young and adventuresome, we enjoyed eating at a fancy restaurant in LaConner, Washington called the Black Swan (it is no longer there). We would indulge in extravagant cuisine and spend the whole evening eating it. Since the restaurant was more than an hour and a half from home, we were not too inclined to want to drive all the way home after eating. Since we had spent our stash on food, we had little left for a normal accommodation for the night.
We owned a Chevy paneled van at the time. Since our bones were younger then, we would sleep for the night in the van with our dogs and drive home in the morning.
The Skagit Flats are just that—flat. We slept in farmer’s accesses to fields, behind freestanding barns, next to drainage ditches. One night when we were sound asleep a hail storm came through. Wow! Is that loud when you are sleeping in a metal box.
So on one trip we decided to scout out a place to sleep after dinner before going to dinner. We went to the fishing access for Lake Erie and put our canoe in the water. We had brought our pup tent with us too. It was summer and the weather was clear and warm. At the time, the north side of the lake had no residences as it does today. We paddled across looking for a suitable place to pitch the small tent. A nice little space of dry, flat beach was on the opposite shore about a quarter mile away. We set up the tent, rolled out our sleeping bags and took a general look around to be sure that we were not infringing on anyone’s space. There was nothing but woods around us. When we returned to the fishing access, we sighted across the lake to establish the specific direction we must paddle to find our campsite as the lake isn’t small and we didn’t want to have to circumnavigate the entire lake to locate our patch.
Off we went to an evening of a wonderful dinner. It was late, and well after dark when we returned, probably after eleven. There were no lights in the few houses at one end of the lake. Folks living in this area did not feel the need for yard lights to light up the countryside. It was black as could be with a sky full of wonderful stars. It was a spectacularly beautiful, starry night. We pulled the canoe out and got our paddles, changed into more appropriate shoes and hopped into the canoe with one flashlight to try to spot the tent when we got to the opposite shore.
Since we had taken a bearing on the site from the fish access, we headed the canoe in the same direction in the dark, hoping that the two of us could paddle in a straight line. We could not see the opposite shore with the flashlight.
I was concentrating on paddling at the same pace as my husband and the same strength so our course would be a straight line. I didn’t notice, until we were probably several hundred feet offshore, that we were flying through the sky, or so it seemed. The stars were so perfectly reflected in the water that it was hard to tell which way was up and which way was down. It felt as though our canoe was flying through the cosmos, a very vertiginous feeling. It was spectacular! We are watching the stars above and below, not paying particular attention to the straight line we needed to keep.
Ooohhhhing and aaawhhhing, we enjoyed the sight and sensation of weightlessness. Suddenly out of nowhere came a tremendous whirring sound. The water is roiling and the boat starts to rock. No it was not the Lock Ness Monster. We had paddled directly into a raft of ducks. They took off in hectic flight, all around us. I almost had a heart attack. I guess they hadn’t heard us coming
The good news, when we turned on the flashlight, the shore was about thirty feet ahead and our tent was waiting right there for us. We climbed out, pulled the canoe above the waterline, climbed into our sleeping bags and took quite a while to go to sleep as we waited for our hearts to stop pounding. It was dancing with stars—-and ducks.

 

 

 

Dancing with Stars

snow geese

Yesterday my husband and I decided to go north to the Skagit Flats to see the snow geese migrating north. In the past when we have done this, there have literally been several million resting for the night before finishing their migration to points further north than Washington.

It was a cold, blustery, late February Sunday. The fourteenth day of the new lunar new year. Today is Lantern Day in the Chinese calendar celebrated with the full moon as the lantern. Last night the almost  full moon guided us home well after dark with a few clouds to add interest to the night sky.

Well there were a few geese, but nothing as spectacular as the last time we saw them. We also saw the trumpeter swans, but the lazy ones spend the winter here instead of going to northern California.

We had planned a picnic lunch for the trip and were trying to decide where to eat it that had a nice view. Hart Lake at the foot of Mt. Erie on Fidalgo Island was our final choice. We sat in the car at the water’s edge and ate our chicken and wild rice soup with cornbread and watched small fish jump and only a couple of waterfowl. By then the sun was peeking through the clouds and the car was warm and cozy. It was too cold to sit outside. There was not a soul around and we had the park to ourselves.

If you have not visited this park system which is part of the City of Anacortes, you should take the opportunity. Mount Erie is a great vantage point to see the surrounding area including the San Juan Islands. You can hike it, ride a horse up the trail, take a mountain bike or, for the faint hearted, you can drive. We can see the mountain from Freeland here on South Whidbey. It is a popular hang gliding location as well.

While we were picnicking, my husband reminded me of an event we experienced many years ago in the lake down the road. When we were young and adventuresome, we enjoyed eating at a fancy restaurant in LaConner, Washington called the Black Swan (it is no longer there). We would indulge in extravagant cuisine and spend the whole evening eating it. Since the restaurant was more than an hour and a half from home, we were not too inclined to want to drive all the way home after eating. Since we had spent our stash on food, we had little left for a normal accommodation for the night.

We owned a Chevy paneled van at the time. Since our bones were younger then, we would sleep for the night in the van with our dogs and drive home in the morning.

The Skagit Flats are just that—flat. We slept in farmer’s accesses to fields, behind freestanding barns, next to drainage ditches. One night when we were sound asleep a hail storm came through. Wow! Is that loud when you are sleeping in a metal box.

So on one trip we decided to scout out a place to sleep after dinner before going to dinner. We went to the fishing access for Lake Erie and put our canoe in the water. We had brought our pup tent with us too. It was summer and the weather was clear and warm. At the time, the north side of the lake had no residences as it does today. We paddled across looking for a suitable place to pitch the small tent. A nice little space of dry, flat beach was on the opposite shore about a quarter mile away. We set up the tent, rolled out our sleeping bags and took a general look around to be sure that we were not infringing on anyone’s space. There was nothing but woods around us. When we returned to the fishing access, we sighted across the lake to establish the specific direction we must paddle to find our campsite as the lake isn’t small and we didn’t want to have to circumnavigate the entire lake to locate our patch.

Off we went to an evening of a wonderful dinner. It was late, and well after dark when we returned, probably after eleven. There were no lights in the few houses at one end of the lake. Folks living in this area did not feel the need for yard lights to light up the countryside. It was black as could be with a sky full of wonderful stars. It was a spectacularly beautiful, starry night. We pulled the canoe out and got our paddles, changed into more appropriate shoes and hopped into the canoe with one flashlight to try to spot the tent when we got to the opposite shore.

Writing

filled donutsWhat am I doing writing? I am a painter. I paint for a living, I teach painting for a living. I find both very satisfying. I love to paint. I love to teach others to paint. I now teach at a senior center, students who have retired and are seeking something of value in their retirement. Why am I writing?
Well this writing thing started out as a way to complete a rather length diatribe I began when I lived in China. I had about 700 pages of materials about my life there and wanted to work it into a book. Well 700 pages is way, way too much for a book. Thus I took a memoir writing workshop to figure out how to deal with it. I started recomposing the whole piece and got totally lost in the process. I am still working on it, but the momentum has come to a snail’s pace (or in the case of Washingtonians, a slug’s pace).
When I chose to write about my life (outside of China), I decided to write about the things and memories that made me happy. There is too much sadness in the world to foist it upon my readers and myself at this time in my life, approaching quickly, my seventh decade. So these pieces, I hope, will reflect the upbeat memories I have about my life. It certainly puts me in an upbeat frame of mind to write them. I don’t want this memoir to be a catharsis. I already went through that years ago when I had to deal with the bad things that had happened over the years. Hopefully, if you are feeling down, you will find some uplifting in spirit from reading these.
As I write, I wonder what ties these installments together. Probably nothing, except they all happened to me. They skip around from ages ago to events that happened yesterday. A hodgepodge that hopscotches from episode to episode and decade to decade and back again. Don’t try to sort it out, just enjoy it as a group of short stories by a rambling old woman who for some reason felt compelled to write it down.

Corncakes

When I was growing up, Saturday mornings were always corncakes. Mom would make a mixture which is similar to cornbread, but wetter and make cornmeal pancakes. My grandmother lived in Santa Barbara, California. She had a gigantic lemon tree in her backyard. Every so often she would send us a box of fresh lemons. She would include fresh figs from her fig tree too if they were in season. The lemons were always a treat because, at the time, they were very expensive to buy in the local grocery.
We would eat corncakes a little larger than silver dollars with butter, white sugar sprinkled generously, and lemon juice squeezed from fresh halves of lemons over the top. This was a real treat for us. I don’t think we had ever tried maple syrup. It just wasn’t something in our cupboards. I don’t know where we got this idea, but the butter, sugar and lemon must have been reminiscent of lemon curd to someone in the family, though my sister and I had never heard of or tasted it.
Cornbread had an important place in my family history. My mom always said it was cornbread that won my father’s heart. My father always said it was his Oldsmobile convertible that won my mom’s heart. Anyway cornbread appeared often in the menus of my childhood. We ate cornbread with chili. We had cornbread slathered with sausage gravy for breakfast. Sausage gravy that was dark and well browned during the frying to create a brown, not white and gluey, gravy with onions in it.
Corn pone was another manifestation of cornbread in my youth. When there was a turkey carcass around, the bits and pieces were picked for Turkey Pone. My husband and I still carry on this tradition and he is very disappointed if I make turkey soup from the carcass instead of pone. Make a batch of corncake batter. When it is ready to cook, pour a little into the pan and smear around until you have a thin corncake. Sprinkle liberally with the turkey pickings. Cover with a little more corncake batter. Cook, flip and serve with leftover turkey gravy and leftover cranberry sauce. Yum.
This morning I treated myself to the corncakes with lemon and sugar. I remembered those Saturday mornings of my childhood when I could smell it cooking as I arose from bed. I never tired of it. The smell of fresh lemons is still a reminder of those days. You should try it sometime. Another variation is to use honey instead of white sugar, which is almost as good, but not the same.
Enjoy!