Thursday, April 30, 2009

Water Chestnuts

I was surprised by the water chestnut poll. I thought everyone disliked them.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Francesca and I were working (playing) in the garden yesterday. We had suspected a nest in a birdhouse that is simply sitting on the potter's bench. I never got the chance to hang it up. Francesca convinced me to lift the lid to see if there was a nest. Indeed...a nest with four perfect little blue eggs.


It turns out there are two eggs after all. We've been quiet and cautious on the back porch so as not to disturb our growing dove family. Yesterday the nest was unoccupied so I took the liberty of getting another picture. Much to our delight, we can look forward to two new doves.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Moss in Jars

I am captivated by these...


Sara Boo came to The Compound via Uncle Matt. He rescued her while on a fishing trip. She brought fleas and all sorts of other issues to our lives. She likes to sleep on the top bunk in Francesca's room.

Alley Em came from the cat shelter. She was four months old when we adopted her. She likes to play with pipe cleaners and the reusable plastic bags we use for bread and produce. Her main goal in life is to become an outdoor kitty.

Tea Cup Swap

My friend Jane is hosting a tea cup swap. I think it is a wonderful idea. I have already chosen the cup I will send but have not yet been assigned to a person. We are also supposed to send five bags of tea. I will choose the tea once I receive my swap information. It might make a difference if I am sending tea to a person in Maine or in Alabama. I'm not certain why it would make a difference but I believe it will. Jane has had her blog for sometime and it makes me feel good every time I read it. She has a simple way of sharing her life and ideas and she takes wonderful photos.

You can read her blog here...

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch stretches between California and Japan. It is estimated to be twice the size of Texas. It is made up mostly of plastic, plastic that could have been recycled or better yet, never manufactured in the first place. In some places the floating garbage island is 90 feet deep. Man is the scourge of the Earth, disrupting ecosystems to perpetuate his insatiable appetite for convenience.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Mom's Birthday

Today is Mom's birthday. I am preparing the meal she requested, a beef roast with mashed potatoes and gravy and green beans. Yesterday afternoon I made tomato Parmesan bread so we'll probably dip into that as well.

She didn't want any gifts but we got her one anyway. She would have done the same.

When we were children and celebrating a birthday, Mom would decorate the kitchen table with streamers and balloons. Sometimes there was a theme like Holly Hobby or The Six Million Dollar Man. This took place while we were at school so it was a surprise when we would arrive home, the table in full bloom with presents. As we got older we expected it but the thrill was just the same. She still does this to an extent.

HApPy BiRtHDaY MoM!!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Skinny Jeans

I have noticed the last few times I have been shopping that the clothes look like they did in the eighties when I was in college. Skinny Jeans are back. It seems peculiar an item with skinny in the name would come in a size 16. These jeans were wrong in the eighties and they are wrong now. I refuse to wear clothing that hurts.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Our Daily Bread

There is a fine Chinese proverb: If you have two loaves of bread, sell one and buy a Lily.

I bake bread several times a week. Our home is completely free of mass produced baked goods posing as bread...It's easier than one might think and each loaf is a mystery. I don't have a good kitchen scale so I measure ingredients in cups and tablespoons. The key to consistent bread is measuring by weight. No one seems to mind the inconsistency of our daily bread. Sometimes the crumb is more moist and the crust a bit crisp. Other times the center is too chewy. Nonetheless, it is real food and something about that makes me feel good.
Bread Recipe
6 c flour
3 c water @ 120 degrees F
1 1/2 tbsp fresh yeast
1 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
  1. Place all ingredients in standing mixer bowl. I use a kitchen aid with a dough hook.
  2. Mix on low for 5 minutes or until dough is smooth.
  3. Cover, not airtight and leave on counter top for a time until dough rises and flattens on its own.
  4. Place in refrigerator for an hour.
  5. Pull off a 1 pound chunk and shape it into a ball.
  6. Place on cornmeal coated peel and let rest for 40 minutes or so.
  7. Make a few slits in dough to allow for expansion and to make it pretty.
  8. Bake in preheated 450 degree F oven on stone or baking sheet for 35 minutes.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Unusual Object

If you paused for a brief moment and asked yourself, "What is the most unusual object in my home?" What would the answer be?

Our home is filled with oddities, lots of art, a vintage camel whip from Saudi Arabia, a vendetta-type knife allegedly used to kill the lover of a cheating family member, a James Brown doll and the list could go on and on.

I've decided the most unusual object, however, is the hornet's nest that hangs in the kitchen. We can't recall how long we've had it. I might venture to say 15 years.

My mom saw the nest each day when she went to work. She had asked the grounds maintenance crew if they would cut it from the tree. They thought she was crazy. They feared hornets would come rushing out and poise themselves for an attack. Mom reassured them the nest was no longer in use and there was nothing to fear. Several days later they presented her with the nest attached to a 20 foot branch. She returned home that evening with the nest and Dad gladly hung it from the ceiling.
Oddly enough, not too many people question the nest. It just seems to be a part of the house and I suppose people accept it.

The Perfectly Poisoned Lawn

The perfect lawn has no chemicals sprayed or sprinkled upon in to promote the growth of one plant and to stop the growth of another. The perfect lawn has toys strewn about. The perfect lawn has dog poop in it and the occasional goose poop, too.

I read a perfect lawn how to written by a local horticulturist. There were four steps to perfection and each of them required the application of man-made poisons.

I don't like the perfectly poisoned lawn. To some it is a sign of wealth and prestige. To me it is a sign of selfishness. That a lawn could be more important than the safety of our kids, our pets, the birds and bugs seems absurd to me.

Residential lawn care uses more chemicals than the agricultural industry each year.

I think there are closet lawn poisoners. I know people who practice good stewardship in nearly all aspects of their lives, but when I have visit their homes I have noticed they have a perfectly poisoned lawn.


Francesca started hooping in 2007 after she saw Mandy, an artist at one of my shows, doing it. We later met Amy, who made her own hoops and also sold them. We bought some and now hooping is a regular activity here at The Compound. It is a lot of fun. Francesca gets a kick out of the fact her dad is unable to do it. He is a drummer and despite his rhythmic skills, he cannot keep the hoop from falling to the ground. Francesca has mastered the art of the hoop. She can do two at a time and some other tricks.

Chalkboard Drawing

We have a wall in the house painted with chalkboard paint. Last night Francesca and I made bears. She commented on how my bear was better than her bear. "What makes it better?" I asked. She said it was because I had been drawing for a long long time and that is probably why it looked better. I think her bear looks terrific.
There comes a point in some children where they simply stop drawing. I never stopped drawing. I can't imagine Francesca will either.
When children are little they draw without limits because this is a truck and this is a tree and then they get older and someone starts telling them that that is not a truck and that is not a tree. As grown-ups, we keep our children from becoming artists because we impart expectations that, for some children, are too high.
Children should draw. Children should draw often. And no amount of criticism is justified.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Nest III

I learned a few things about these lovely birds. The male chooses the nesting location. It takes about ten hours over the course of 2-3 days to build a nest. Both the male and the female participate in the nest building. Once the egg/s, there are usually two, arrive the parents take turns with the incubating. The female sits on the egg/s most of the time. The male sits on them from early morning to mid afternoon. The egg hatches in about 14 days. Both male and female doves produce crown milk. This is all the baby will eat for the first 2-3 days of life. The mother will feed the bird regurgitated seeds and such for the first 15 days. The male will then care for the baby for another six days. By 21 days the bird should be able to care for itself but will remain close to the nest. At 85 days the baby will be able to reproduce.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I Like Old Bricks

Last summer an odd fellow named Allister helped me dig out some bricks that were sinking in the Earth beneath a row of five trees. Many were damaged and only good for lining the bottoms of flower pots but some were intact enough to display proudly in the orchard. The orchard consists of two cherry trees and a yellow apple tree that has yet to prove itself. I planted some creeping thyme and a delightful creeping ground cover with yellow flowers. Spring has allowed them to reappear.
A neighbor, and the mayor of the village, has property up the road a bit where the tree line begins. There's an old house and a few old sheds he plans to tear down. The driveway is made up almost completely of 12 x 12 bricks from the old Robinson Brick and Clay Co. They're old but not as old as the Wagner bricks that make up two of the walks surrounding our house. The Wagner Family built our house in 1867. They owned the Wagner Brick Co. across the street near the railroad tracks. I had always wondered why they didn't build a brick house until I learned they had moved to Cleveland around the turn of the century to get into the lumber business.
I'd like to get my hands on the neighbor's bricks.

Nest II

The construction is complete on the deluxe loft apartment for three. I say three because the egg has arrived. Mother has spent much of the morning sitting on it. Father keeps a watchful eye from the dogwood. He will venture out to the magnolia for a birds eye view on occasion. The feeder is near, only ten or so feet away. There is always a flurry of activity with sparrows, nut hatches, finches of various colors, robins and the occasional red winged black birds. The doves are ground feeders and are rather the clean-up crew. Aside from me and my camera they are living, how shall I say, quite large.

Press One for English

I have often wondered why certain people are annoyed when they call a business and are asked to press one for English. I find it remarkable that we live in a country whose businesses are so outwardly accommodating to non-English speaking customers they are willing to provide such a service.

I had traveled to St. Lucia in the Caribbean some time ago. When calling local restaurants to inquire about vegetarian food availability I was usually met with a person who spoke bits of French and English but there was never a press one for English option and my questions remained unanswered due to language barriers. I was still able to enjoy my stay and I did not starve.

Imagine how much longer we might have to wait for customer service if the press one for English option were not available. We would have to wait in line behind the non-English speaking customers as they were routed to representatives who speak their language.

I embrace all cultures and don't see myself as an American so much as I see myself as a citizen of the world.

I will gladly press one for English but wish I could press two for Spanish and three for Italian and four for French....but English is the only language I speak fluently.

Spitting in Public

I had several errands to run yesterday. My first stop was a local drug store to pick up cotton balls, batteries and witch hazel. I pulled into the parking lot and noticed a man sitting in a red pick up truck a few spaces down. As I exited the Jeep I saw him spit out the window of his truck. A large white glob of spit lay on the contrasting black pavement. Sigh.
I had much to mail and was unsure of the weight of the envelopes so I decided a trip to the post office was in order. There was a small line of patrons and I patiently waited for my turn. I glanced out the window at the rain and silly people trying to avoid it. A man was sitting in a blue pick up truck directly in front of the post office in the handicapped space. The line moved slowly and I continued to watch the rain splash in the puddles. The man in the blue pick up rolled down his window and spit into the very puddle that had kept my attention. Disgustingly, the spit floated on top and looked like melting ice cream. Sigh.
I had to stop at a local garden center to inquire about plants I plan to purchase for a new shade garden. I rode over the gravel parking lot slowly and admired the pansies and primrose whose colors seemed more vibrant than usual against such a rainy, gray day. There were large piles of mulch that can be purchased by the scoop in various shades from red to black. A man in a yellow pick up truck with rust along the wheel wells was parked near the mulch piles. His window was rolled down and he was smoking a cigarette. As I made my way toward the building entrance he spit into the giant pile of red mulch. I stopped short and noticed it was stationary. The glob begin to ooze downward and as the rain became heavier it was washed away altogether. Sigh.
I continue to ponder the correlation between public spitting, waiting in parking spaces and pick up trucks.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


It seems a devoted pair of Mourning Doves has decided to take up residence in a basket I have hanging from the rafters on my back porch. I scare them away each time I try to get a closer look. Their construction project is well under way despite their lack of a building permit. I anticipate a baby soon. I will attempt to document the project without disturbing them.

Mosquito Assassins

I am a council member in a village of 238 people. I believe the student population at my daughter's Catholic elementary school is greater. Every year about this time the village has to approve the contract for the mosquito assassins. They charge $2.10 a minute. That figure has not changed for 30 years. It is much like the price of table salt, one of the few commodities that has seen no significant change. At the council meeting last night I was torn between what is best for the village and what is best for my peace of mind. I decided....despite the disease carrying capabilities of mosquitoes and their ability to wipe out millions of people, I was opposed to the assassins coming around in their oddly equipped truck. I live on nearly one and half acres, complete with rain barrels and at times, standing water. I have never noticed an unusually large population of mosquitoes, so perhaps the assassins mysterious spray works. I would rather like to think it is because dragonflies and birds consume them in great quantities such is life and the natural order of things. I did not vote for or against the contract with the assassins, I merely abstained from voting. My call to the local health department to find out the content of the death spray remains unanswered. I believe the environmental director is out to lunch.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Dinner

I had a fantastic Easter with my family. Around our house, holidays tend to be about food more than anything else.
We have an Easter tradition...The Golden Egg search. Francesca is the only child in the house so we usually let her find it. My mom tells me this is a childhood tradition of her mother, Mary McPhie McCabe of Scotland. I hid the egg this year. When my dad was alive it was always something he did. Francesca found it...and ate it immediately. Dinner was terrific. I made tenderloin of beef in puff pastry with a shallot Madeira sauce for the meat eaters, asparagus with horseradish butter, the infamous vegan feta, popovers that actually popped, potato gratin, artichoke hearts with sherry sauce and creamed spinach. It was a delicious and decadent meal.
I had a fire in the kitchen fireplace going all day and a fire in the oven when the popover grease spilled over. No harm done.
I spent the morning in the garden. I moved the herbs to a new bed and hope they will survive the 25 degree temperatures expected tonight. I planted more carrots, lettuce and radishes.
I missed having my brothers here...and I missed my dad. I always miss my dad. I feel so blessed to have this wonderful family. I wonder if Francesca will one day feel that way.

Vegan Cheese?

Vegan Feta

1 c blanched almonds

3 tbsp + 1/4 c good olive oil

1/4 lemon juice

3 tsp kosher salt

1 clove garlic, peeled

fresh herbs, your choice

Place almonds in a bowl and cover with three inches of cold water. Soak for 24 hours. In a food processor add all ingredients but 1/4 c olive oil and herbs. Puree for 6 minutes, stopping every minute to scrape down sides of bowl. Place in strainer with three layers of cheesecloth. Allow to strain over night in the refrigerator. Squeeze out excess moisture and remove cheesecloth. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat oven to 200 F. Place cheese on baking sheet and form a six inch round nearly an inch think. Bake for 40 minutes. Cool then chill.

Place remaining oil and fresh herbs in a saucepan and heat but do not boil. Drizzle herbed oil over cheese and serve.


If you do not bake the cheese it can be used as a dip or spread. Baking it gives it the traditional crumbly texture of milk-made feta.


Some thought this sounded terribly disgusting but it is very good.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Painting with Francesca

I asked my daughter, who is six, to do a drawing of a face. I did one as well. I cut the drawings in pieces and we combined the two to make one. This is not our first mother/daughter piece. It is, however, one of my favorites.

Digging in the Dirt

I started seeds on March 23. I wanted to try some unusual varieties this year. I planted Edmund's Blood Red Turnip Beets, Longfellow Cucumbers and Henderson Lima Beans. I planted Leek seeds as well, Giant Musselburghs, but the cats are eating them. Some growers trim there leeks as they grow to promote a healthier bulb but I think the cats are eventually going to kill them before I can get them in the ground. I have several varieties of carrots, lettuce and radishes already growing outside. I have begun to clean out the beds and prepare for the planting season next month. All of my perennial herbs survived the Winter thanks to a heavy mulching of leaves. I am considering moving the herb bed. I have three different varieties of lavender and hope to get new varieties this year. My twelve year old lavender topiary came inside for the Winter. It looks a bit leggy but should bounce back once it is back in the garden.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Eat Like You Give a Damn

I think about what I eat and what I feed my family quite often, not to the point of obsession, but perhaps too much. I am not so concerned about certifications from the government as that usually doesn't mean much considering our food is regulated by two different agencies with something like ten agencies within them. Somehow I believe the food aspect gets lost in the paperwork.
Years ago I came across a Shopper's Guide to Pesticides published by an organization that like most organizations concerned with the health of humans and the rest of the planet is considered to be liberal or bleeding heart or whatever the buzz word du jour happens to be. In this guide, which you can read here is some nifty information about the fruits and vegetables containing the highest amounts of residual pesticides. Something in the logic part of my brain tells me, no matter how much anyone tries to convince me otherwise, pesticides are not something I want to eat. Ever.
I like to buy food grown as close to home as possible...and when that is not always possible say in the case of bananas or mangoes, I like to buy organic. When I buy food close to home I can sometimes come into direct contact with the farmer who grew it. Some argue this is the trendy shopping habit of the elitist, but I must disagree. A producer's reassurance his food was grown in a sustainable manner is usually enough to convince me it is a safer, healthier alternative to food produced in a factory setting with no regard to the aftermath that is conventional farming. When purchasing the certified organic food that has traveled a distance, I do feel a bit guilty about the required resources needed to bring the food to my table.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

James' Idea

I met a man. One of those friend of a friend online kind of meetings. His intentions were artistic. He was recruiting twelve artists to create pieces of art for a show he plans to have at his home. I think it might be an excuse to have a dinner party and to gather creative people in one place. I was honored to have been asked to make art and to be in the company of others, like me, who still do this. He presented me with an 18 x 18 canvas and I admit, I did not immediately get to work. I pondered. I pondered some more. I drank some vodka. I pondered some more. I may have even pondered some more. I did, eventually do a painting for James. This is the result.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


I have been fond of the old Magnolia tree in the back yard for as long as we have lived here. It is a safe haven and home to many birds. It is one of the first signs of Spring with it's giant pink blossoms. An arborist once told me it had some hollow spots from ants but assured me it would be around for another 10 or 15 years and that was 10 or 15 years ago. Curious how we become attached to trees. Last summer we had to take out a 100 year old Maple and it nearly broke my heart. There is still about a cord left that I burn in the kitchen fireplace to get the chill out of the house on these cool mornings.


I let Oscar out right before I jumped in the shower this morning. He wears, or is supposed to wear a radio collar that I neglected to put on him. He's only left the yard 3 or 4 times in 8 years. When I got out of the shower he was nowhere to be found. Numerous bellows of his name proved unsuccessful, so I headed out in the Jeep with hopes of finding the beast unscathed. I feared I would find him on the road, lifeless. I reached the end of the driveway and spotted movement across the street in the field just South of the house, perhaps 200 yards away. I often see cats and groundhogs scampering about. As I proceeded I was certain it was Oscar. I drove nearer his location, pulled off the berm, onto the grass that edges the field. His bigness was enamored with a deer carcass that had been feeding the scavengers for two weeks. He jumped in the Jeep at my request and we turned to head for home...and to put that collar on him.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Traffic Lights

There are nine traffic lights between my house and my daughter's school. If we leave at exactly 7:22 in the morning we can usually glide through green lights all the way...unless there is someone tripping the sensors at the cross streets...which happens frequently. If we leave at exactly 7:21, we hit every red light. Sometimes we make it to school in four minutes, sometimes in 15. It has been said that we spend 7 years of our life sitting at red lights...and another 7 in the bathroom. Sigh.
I recall my paternal grandmother telling me about one of the first traffic lights installed in the US. It was in Cleveland at Euclid Ave. and 105th. St. She said it made little buzzing noises so you could hear it as well as see it. I wonder where that light is now.

Learning to Read

My daughter can read. It is an amazing thing for a parent, a mother in my case, to witness this rite of passage, as it were, to see her learn...more than I thought was possible in such a short amount of time. Scribbles on a page have become symbols that represent words. I tell her, once a person can read the whole world opens up to them.
I learned to read before I went to school. I was alarmed when I got there to find out I had to learn it all over again. The school I attended had an odd teaching tool called ITA. I had already mastered, I use that term loosely, the 26 letters that have come to represent the 40 or more sounds, the phonemes of English. Sir James Pitman had devised a teaching tool called the Initial Teaching Alphabet (ITA) that supposedly made it easier for children to read the traditional alphabet once they had mastered ITA. The Initial Teaching Alphabet has 44 symbols instead of the conventional 26; each of the 44 symbols represented one and only one sound. The alphabet is basically phonemic rather than strictly phonetic. Twenty-four of the 44 symbols are the traditional ones; 14 of the augmentations look very much like two familiar letters joined together. The other special symbols represent the remaining phonemes.
Suffice is to say, ITA did not ruin my life or prevent me from reading. I don't believe, however, it did me any good.

April Fool

The history of April Fool's Day varies. Some believe it evolved simultaneously in several cultures at the same time, from celebrations involving the first day of spring. Nonetheless, it seemed an appropiate day to introduce Sift.