Self-control … yeah, right.

Now that we’re on the upside of the winter solstice, I’ve planted my garlic—108 cloves, which should yield about 100 heads, assuming my usual success rate.

That’s absolutely too much garlic.

It’s a bad omen. I drew up my garden plan this morning—a garden roughly three-quarters the size of the one I’ve planted for the last decade. Hopefully it won’t yield 200 pumpkins and 80 kilos of pickling cucumbers next year when my teenage son won’t be around to eat them all.

But, plan or not, if I plant other crops with the exuberance with which I planted garlic today, I’ll end up with a garden every bit as big as past gardens. Some time in the next two weeks, before this year’s seed catalogue arrives, I need to get control of my gardening urge.

Wish me luck.

Backyard Biodiversity

Craterium minutum

I know it’s been a good weekend when I arrive in my office Monday morning to find my microscope in the middle of the desk, and dirt and bits of plant material strewn about.

It means I’ve been outdoors, seeing cool stuff, identifying plants, insects, or other organisms.

Once you start looking at and identifying what lives around you, the variety is astounding. A glance at the citizen science website iNaturalist shows a pile-up of dozens of observations at our address—and those are only the species we’ve bothered to upload.  I’ve identified 58 species of weeds in the vegetable garden alone. We have half a dozen slime moulds, dozens of fungi and lichens, who knows how many insects and other invertebrates. Then, of course, there are the birds, rats, mice, stoats and other vertebrates. I’ve never bothered to make lists of anything beyond the weeds.

So here in the dark depths of winter, I’ve decided to start a comprehensive list of the biodiversity on our little acre and a half. It will take time. It will require my microscope and many Monday mornings brushing dirt off my desk. But wouldn’t it be cool to know exactly how many other species we share this patch with?

And though many of the species I’ll put on my list are ones I’ve noted many times before, I’m sure some will be new and surprising, like the beautiful slime mould, Craterium minutum my daughter found last week.

Because, the truth is, we needn’t travel far to find natural wonders. We merely need to look closely and have a sense of wonder.

The Scarlet Letter

I’m sorry
I’m sorry
I’m sorry
I do not know this nation
To which I was required to swear allegiance daily until age eighteen.
This nation obsessed with delusions of grandeur.
This nation drunk on power.
Convinced of its own morality
Because why else would God
In His infinite wisdom
Have endowed the nation with abundant natural resources
Free for the stealing from the native peoples
To provide wealth to fuel
White male subjugation of the world?

From afar, the disease is evident
A grotesquery
From a time when
Two-headed foetuses were displayed in circus sideshows,
Masturbation caused blindness,
And livestock could speak multiple languages.

Bombast
Obfuscation
Gaslighting
Narcissism
Outrage
Denial
Lies

The currency of the politics
Of the diseased.
They feed
And breed
On this offal,
And when one invariably falls
The others descend
In cannibalistic orgy.
Me!
Me!
Me!

All this I watch
From afar.
But the 10,000-mile moat
Is not enough to distance me.
Even the mighty Pacific,
Reservoir of half the planet’s water,
Cannot dilute the stench.
It wafts across the waves
And clings to my American skin
Like a caramel’s sticky residue,
Long after the taste has gone off in my mouth.

It is the red A branded on my chest.
My shame stitched in glittering embroidery for all to see.
Oh! To be as proud as Hester!
To own my heritage
And wear it with straight shoulders
And an uplifted chin!

But instead I write
Because to speak would betray me.
My flat vowels
And voiced H’s
Confirm my guilt.

I am sorry
I am sorry
I am sorry
I do not know this nation.

Here Comes the Sun

After weeks of grey, unending drizzle, we’re finally seeing a bit of sun. Mushrooms abound in the yard, revelling in the dank mist we’ve been swimming through for a fortnight. We are all eagerly awaiting passing of the solstice and the lengthening of the days.

Though it is still pretty dark and drear, and the days will still be short for some time, there are signs of the spring to come.

Lambing has started. This is the time of year when the neighbours grow noisy, with lambs and ewes calling to one another day and night.

The preying mantids are gone, but their egg cases are dotted around the yard, promising a healthy population of my favourite predators come spring.

The daffodils and snowdrops are coming up, and I’ve even seen them blooming in other people’s yards.

And tomorrow is the solstice. Friday, the sun will remain above the horizon fractionally longer than it did the previous day. We’ll be on the upswing.

Good Things Take Time

I’ve had a fascination with reflective fabrics for a while. The amazing reflective fabrics being manufactured today have so many creative possibilities that I itch to get my hands on some of them. Unfortunately, most aren’t available here.

Recently I managed to get my hands on some reflective fabric tape, and designed a new jacket with the tape in mind.

But first I had to turn the tape into piping.

Then I made a few test seams with the piping and the wind-block fleece I’d chosen for the jacket. I found the combination of fabric and piping was singularly unforgiving—the fabric stretched too much, and the seam had to be sewn perfectly to look good. Even the slightest sloppiness caused it to look awful.

That meant hand basting the piping to one side of the seam first, and then hand basting the seam together before sewing it on the machine.

Then each seam needed topstitching to make the most of that precise seam.

The upshot is that every seam on this jacket (to which I added seams for style purposes) has to be sewn five times (two of those times by hand through four layers of quite tough fabric).

What was I thinking?!

I’ll admit that by the time I’d managed the first seam (having had to rip it out twice because it wasn’t perfect), I was nearly ready to scrap the project.

Then I looked at the gorgeous seam I’d just finished.

When I finally do complete this garment, it’s going to be lovely. I’ve chosen fabric I know will look good for a decade or more of hard use. Its reflective piping will give me a measure of safety for the nighttime walks I enjoy. It will be warm, windproof and nearly waterproof. Yes, it will take me quite a bit longer than I’d hoped to make. But, as they say, good things take time.

Throwback Thursday: A Journey with Sammy Sandoval

Home sweet home

I started writing a post about the winter weather we’re experiencing this week, but it was as grey and dull as the sky.

Then my husband played a song by Sammy and Sandra Sandoval, and I was transported back 25 years and 11,000 kilometres to the tropical heat and sun of Panama in 1993, where we served in the Peace Corps.

Like all our neighbours in the province of Coclé, my husband and I loved Sammy and Sandra Sandoval. They would play in the little villages sometimes, and we’d go see them whenever we could. Their music was loud and joyful, and we’d walk hours to pack into a crowded room and dance to it.

But what I remember most is the silent walk home from the first of those dances. Leaving the noise and sweat of the dance hall, we stepped into the dark night of the campo. No lights, no roads, just a packed clay footpath and the sound of music receding behind us.

That walk was magical. I don’t know if the buzz was from the music, the beer (Cold beer! What a luxury!), or the faint glint of moonlight off the palm trees. Most likely, it was from the blessed silence and the recognition that, in walking an hour and a half to dance Panamanian tipico, we’d stepped irrevocably out of our previous lives.

Navigating our way home on a familiar path lit only by moonlight, we traveled much further than the few kilometres of hilly mountain terrain between the dance hall and our house. In that short space, we traversed a one-way path that left our past lives behind. Yes, we’d already made many steps along that path before, but that night was the moment I knew we could never go back. The magic of that moment is that I never heard the door click shut behind us; I only saw the landscape open out in front.

Pumpkin Pancakes

Now that winter has set in, we’ve turned our culinary sights from eggplant and courgettes to pumpkin, pumpkin, and pumpkin. I blogged about our excellent pumpkin harvest earlier this year. That post was written mid-way through the harvest–ultimately we picked nearly 200 pumpkins and other winter squash.

So w’re eating a lot of pumpkin. That’s not a problem.

Yesterday I made lovely pumpkin pancakes for breakfast. They were moist, dense, and spicy—excellent with maple syrup or redcurrant jam.

To make these delicious pancakes, start with a double batch of my World Famous Pancake Recipe. Add 2 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp cloves to the dry ingredients. Add 1 1/2 cups pureed pumpkin (or other winter squash—I used kabocha squash) to the wet ingredients.

If your pumpkin is dry, you may need to increase the milk to achieve the right batter consistency.

We found these pancakes didn’t store/reheat as well as regular pancakes—they became quite fragile upon reheating (though they were still delicious).