Thursday, April 30, 2015

Z is for Zucchini Boats

Zucchini is remarkably easy to grow here in Colorado. In fact, it's sorta like a weed.

The only time I haven't had success with it was the year my neighbor accidentally poisoned my garden by spraying for weeds on a windy day. Bad neighbor!!

But I almost always end up with a surplus, and try as I might to harvest them when they're small, some inevitably get away from me.

So this past fall, when I was overrun with limb-sized zucchini, I decided to make zucchini boats.

This was one batch... I think I made 4 like this!
The recipe is very simple. You just cut the zuke lengthwise & clean out the seeds. Then you make a filling... your filling can pretty much be anything you like. Mine were all variations of beans & rice, with bits of whatever else needed using up. Some had ground beef, some had cheese, some used quinoa instead of rice, there were tomatoes, chives, onions & peppers as well.

The only rule of thumb for good filling is to add an egg to the mixture to help it hold together well.

Once you've got your filling made, you just spoon it lavishly into your zucchini boats, stick it uncovered in the oven for 40 minutes or so, and you're done.

I filled my chest freezer with several dozen of these.

I must say, I have been quite grateful to have them for a quick meal when things get busy... like, say, when you temporarily go insane and join an A-Z blogging challenge. The insanity is only temporary, isn't it? ISN'T IT?!?!?!?

Anyhow, the only downside to freezing these suckers is that when you defrost them a LOT of liquid comes out of the cooked zucchini.

My technique for dealing with this was to use a cheese grater to hold the thing together and then drain the excess liquid from the plate after nuking it in the microwave.

Perhaps not the most elegant solution, but it certainly worked. And once I melted some fresh cheese on top and added a hefty dollop of sour cream, you could hardly notice that it was a little bit smooshed!

So there you have it! Fast food CatLady style!

And with that, folks, I have officially completed my A-Z blogging challenge! Whew! I hope I haven't bored you all to tears. If I have, not to worry, I'll be taking a break for at least a few days because at the moment I am Z for Zonked!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Y is for Years

At some point, when I was in the 5th grade, my best friend and I woke up to the idea that we might actually grow up one day. I'm not sure what triggered this event, but we spent an entire recess huddled in the corner of the playground performing calculations.

We worked out what year we'd get our driver's licenses, when we'd graduate from high school, what year we'd turn 21, how old we'd be in the year 2000, and a variety of other milestones.

The thing is, in my heart of hearts, I'm not sure I ever really believed it would happen.

I mean, when you're eleven years old, even one year seems like an inconceivably long time, so trying to fathom a life many decades into the future was darned near impossible.

Funny how that changes.

It just seems that time moves slower when you're a kid.

I used to think that this was purely a mathematical phenomenon. Like when you're young, xyz amount of time is a greater proportion of your entire life so far, so it seems longer to you than when you're older.

And while I do think there's some truth to that, recently I've started to believe that a bigger part of it is that children are simply much more grounded in the present moment than adults are.

I mean, have you ever tried to meditate? Seriously, if you want to make time slow down, that's the way to do it. This clip from the film Eat Pray Love portrays the sensation pretty accurately. (Don't worry, it's a short clip.)

I guess that sorta begs the question - why do we adults have an aversion to living in the moment? Is it simply a habit? Are we just so busy with our lives and our commitments, and our plans, yadda, yadda, yadda?

Probably - but I think there's another facet to it as well, one summed up quite nicely by a dear friend from my youth:

Somehow I can't help but think that our tendency to hurry through our lives, to agonize over the past, to worry about the future, and all of the many other things we do that keep us out of the present moment are, at least in part, our own attempts to protect ourselves from unpleasant stuff.

It's like the movie Click where Adam Sandler's character stumbles upon a "life remote" that lets him fast forward past all the stuff he really doesn't want to deal with... which is great, except that before he knows it he's fast forwarded past his entire life.

So I dunno. Maybe in a certain sense the passing of time is not a fixed constant, but rather a subjective experience that varies tremendously depending on our approach.

If that's true, then perhaps the key to living a long life has less to do with the number of years we're alive, and more to do with how present we are for those years.

What do you think? Is this all just philosophical psycho-babble, or do you think I'm on to something? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this whole topic.

X is for Xeriscape

I have a confession to make... I hate grass.

Actually, I should clarify. I don't hate grass per se, I just hate being expected to grow a lush green lawn in an arid climate that's really not conducive to the stuff.

So when I bought my house 20 years ago, I decided that I wanted to xeriscape the front yard.

Those of you who live in more moist climates might not be familiar with the word xeriscape. Essentially it's landscaping using low water plants - but I tend to think of it as the quest for socially acceptable weeds.

A Portion of my Xeriscape last July
I suppose most people would have hired someone to do the work, or would have taken it on as a "project" but alas, I don't really have the "project" gene, so I just work on it here and there when I have time, digging up a bit more turf every year and replacing it with something that doesn't need watering or mowing. At the rate I'm going, I'll be well into my 90's before I have the thing "finished" but oh well, it's a process, not a destination, right?

Some plants have been more successful than others, and I fear the success of some has been the demise of others!

Anyhow, I thought I'd give you a little tour of my xeriscape with notes on what has worked and what hasn't. I have the hunch these sorts of things are very climate dependent, so what works in Denver probably wouldn't work in San Antonio, etc, but here's a brief look at my successes and failures.

Silver Stone Sedum -
Success but it takes over

Silver stone sedum is by far the most prolific plant in my xeriscape. A small clump of it arrived with some iris from a friend back when I first started the garden, and well... it certainly propagates well! Seriously, you just break off a stem and stick it in the ground and it will root and spread.

The problem is that it tends to take over, so I'm having to dig out chunks to make room for the other plants. But it does send up long spires with brilliant yellow flowers every June. The photo at the top was taken when they were just at the end of their blooming cycle - all of the yellowish browinish stuff sticking up was bright yellow just a week or two before (so much for timing my photos well!)

Sedum Angelina - Success!

This stuff is really pretty and it's very easy to grow. I love the yellow/orange color of the tips, and it propagates well by simply sticking a hunk in the ground. It needs virtually no irrigation, so it's a big win!

Creeping Phlox - Success-ish

This is one of the first plants that I added when I started my xeriscape a dozen years ago or so. It has done well, although unfortunately it seems to be creeping onto the sidewalk rather than spreading into the surrounding dirt - so I need to see if I can find a way to relocate a portion of it without killing it. But it blooms nicely every spring and adds some welcome color, so hopefully I can find a way to get it to spread into new territory.

Marigolds - Success!

Marigolds are an annual, but they reseed easily and seem to do well in our climate. They bloom most of the summer and only need the occasional squirt of water. Yes!

Purple Iris - Success

Purple iris were one of the first flowers I planted when I started the garden. A friend was thinning hers so I got a bunch for free. Recently I've noticed that they haven't been blooming as much and I concluded that they needed to be thinned. So last fall I attempted it with about half of them. It's too soon to tell if it worked or not, but most of them are coming up so hopefully that means I didn't kill them!

Dianthus - Success

Dianthus do well with very little water or care, and they bloom several times throughout the summer. I only wish they would spread quicker, but I'm working on gathering seeds and seeing if I can get some seedlings going - minimal success there, but not giving up!

Ice Plant - Failure

Lots of people in Denver seem to be able to grow ice plant, but I haven't been able to crack the code. I've tried 3-4 times and at best I can keep it alive for a year or so. I'm not sure if it needs more soil amendments or more water or what. It also might be that it got covered with bindweed and that killed it. But in my book, it's three strikes and you're out so I have officially given up on ice plant.

Nasturium - Total Failure

This stuff looks so pretty and in theory it's easy to grow, but I haven't been able to keep one alive for more than a few weeks. My hunch is that it needs more water than it's getting and/or it can't handle the hot weather. I think it's in the same family as cabbage and other cruciferous veggies, all of which I have had terrible luck with. Not sure what it means, but I don't feel real inspired to try again.

Echinacea or Purple Coneflower - Failure

At one point I had 3-4 of these plants in various places throughout the yard but they all died. I think that they didn't get enough water. Sigh.

Perennial Candytuft - Success!

This stuff totally rocks! There was a bit of it in the front planter when I moved in 20 years ago and it's filled in really nicely. Last year I took some cuttings and used root hormone to get them started and they all lived! Hooray! So I've got little bits of this throughout the garden and I hope to start some more cuttings this year. They bloom in the springtime and the rest of the year have a nice evergreen groudcover look.

Creeping Bellflower - Success-ish 
They tend to take over

This stuff is a success if your definition of a success is that it grows and spreads without much water. It even chokes out bindweed - of course it also chokes out just about everything else too! It grows from big bulbs and the "creeping" part is a bit misleading - "galloping" might be more accurate! Anyhow, mixed feelings on this one, but it does take up space and bloom - both good qualities in my book!

Shasta Daisies - Failure 
but maybe worth another try.

These did really well for about 2 years and then they died. I'm not sure if it was the water situation again or if they just got overrun by the creeping bellflowers. Anyhow, they might be worth another try.

Garden Cosmos - Success - I think

I've only tried these for one season but so far I think they are in the win category. They do really well in full sun with minimal water and poor soil! Whoopie!!!! I'll be planting more this year!

Hens & Chicks - Success but of the slow motion variety

Hens & chicks are one of the first plants that I think of when I think xeriscape. They do really well with very little water, and they're pretty cool looking. They even send up these long crazy spires when they bloom. The only problem is that they are really slow to fill in, so you have to have a great deal of patience... not my strong suit!

Flowering Oregano - Success

I planted some oregano in my vegetable garden years ago and the stuff has spread incredibly - I've actually had to start digging it up because it was sort of taking over. But... since it did so well and even came up in the cracks of the driveway I figured it could probably withstand the neglect it would receive in the front yard, so I transplanted a few hunks into the xeriscape and it's done really well. It flowers all summer long and while the blooms are tiny, they are pretty and it attracts lots of bees.

Autumn Joy Sedum - Success

This is another one that's successful but slow. I planted some over 10 years ago and while it has done well, it hasn't spread much. I've been trying to separate off little hunks and move it around to other parts of the garden with so/so results. Still a win though because it blooms in the fall and adds color to the garden at a time when it would otherwise be pretty blah.

Yarrow - Success

OK, to be fair, last year is my first attempt at growing yarrow but it's done really well! It spreads nicely and seems to thrive with virtually no water. Yippie! I have both a yellow and a red one, and I've got a packet of seeds that claims it's mixed colors, so I'm hoping to add some more this year.

Purple Salvia - Jury's still out, but it's not dead yet

I planted 2 purple salvia plants about 3 years ago and I'm still not sure how they're doing. They haven't spread or grown much, but they're also not dead yet, so hopefully that's a good sign. This picture is not mine, mine are, ahem, much punier than this one. We'll see... hopefully it will turn out to be a keeper.

So there you have it - a brief tour of my xeriscape plants. I'm sure I've left some out, like most of the spring bulbs, but you get the idea. So tell me, what is the gardening climate like where you live? Which plants have worked for you and which haven't?

Monday, April 27, 2015

W is for Who do you Look Like?

Have you ever been told that you looked like someone famous?

When I was a kid, I used to get stopped on the street because people just had to tell me that I looked EXACTLY like Amy Carter (the daughter of then president Jimmy Carter - for you young'ens who can't remember that far back.) 

I suppose to the general public, all little girls with strawberry blonde hair and glasses just look alike, but I never really saw the resemblance, and totally HATED the comparison.

Of course, it didn't help that the press was so fond of referring to her as "homely." Pardon me for saying this, but I hope there's a special place in hell reserved for the person who started that one. Not that I actually believe in hell or anything, but calling a kid "homely" is just not acceptable in my book. Resemblance or not, I do have to give Amy props for the cat!

When I was in high school, I inevitably got compared to Molly Ringwald. That's another one that I just never really saw - well... 1980's fashion notwithstanding.

I guess all of those red heads just look alike!

CatMan has told me that he thinks I look a bit like the actress Daryl Hannah. I dunno... maybe a little tiny bit. At least that one is based on something other than hair color!

Sorry the top of my head's cut off - I've yet to master the art of the selfie!

But honestly, if I do really resemble anyone, I think it would have to be my mother.

Me at age 17, my mother at age 20

That one always left me with mixed feelings too, since my mom & I didn't have the best of relationships.

Actually, these photos were taken at my parents' wedding, and I never saw them until after she had passed away. The woman I knew looked much different because her weight had more than doubled by the time I came along. But even so, there was enough resemblance to wipe out any notion that I might have been adopted - a reality that I lamented often throughout my crazy dysfunctional youth!

Both of us were age 20 in these photos

It's funny the different cues that different people use when sorting out a resemblance. In the process of writing this post, I stumbled upon a whole pile of "celebrity doppelganger" pictures. Some of them I thought were quite compelling, but CatMan didn't think there was much resemblance at all.

Andrew Johnson and Tommy Lee Jones

Mark Zuckerberg & King Philip IV of Spain

WWII General Douglas MacArthur & Bruce Willis

Maggie Gyllenhaal & Rose Wilder Lane (Daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder)

Peter Dinklage & Diego Velazquez's portrait of Sebastian da Morra

Of course, what the heck do I know? I'm notoriously bad at facial recognition. I'm the person who is always lost while watching movies, because I can't keep any of the characters straight. I watched an entire movie once, only to realize in the last scene that there were actually 2 separate female characters with long blonde hair, not one - no wonder I was lost! And if someone changes hair or "looks" mid-movie, I'm completely doomed. Sigh.

Anyhow, what do you think? Do any of these comparisons ring true for you? Do any of you have a doppelganger out there? Are you good at recognizing faces or do you suck at it like I do?

Saturday, April 25, 2015

V is for Vision

I played softball as a kid. Well... in high school - are you still technically a "kid" in high school? Guess that depends on your perspective. But, from where I sit now, I was a kid then, and this was my team.

Looking at this photo brings up all sorts of interesting emotions for me, because within a year or so of it being taken a few things happened.

Thing number 1: two of the girls in this picture, we'll call them K & R, were killed in a car accident. In truth, "accident" might be a bit of a stretch. It was winter, and they had gone for a drunken joy ride with their boyfriends.

I think the reports said they were going well over 90mph when they hit a patch of ice and ran off the road into a telephone pole. The guys (who both survived) were in the front, and when they hit the pole K & R were both sent flying out the back window. One was killed instantly, the other died a few hours later at the hospital.

I would like to be able to say that K & R were my friends, but the thing is... they really weren't. You see, they were the uber-popular cool kids, and I was head of the dork patrol.

Still, even though they treated me like shit on a biscuit, I looked up to them and admired how pretty, and cool, and "perfect" they were.

A few months after they were killed, softball season started again. Despite the obvious emotional struggle that we all were going through, we had a good season. Somehow things started to click for me that year, and I was hitting home runs almost every game. Plus, center field had sorta graduated from being the position where you stick the stupid kid who can't play, to an important factor in the game.

I hate to say it, but I was starting to feel like coolness might be within my reach after all.

Anyhow, the season culminated in a trip to the state tournament, and that's where thing number 2 happened.

The tournament was held in little town half way between Denver and the Kansas border that year. Since the town didn't have much to offer in the way of hotel accommodations, we all "slept" on the floor of the local high school gym.

Suffice it to say, rest was not exactly in abundance that night, so when we got up for our 8am game the next morning I was a tad bit drowsy.

So, as I stood out in center field I was being sorta lazy, resting my hands on my bent knees.

If Lou Gehrig can do it, so can I, right?
Normally this wouldn't be a big deal, but all my life I've suffered from a condition called orthostatic hypotension. That's a fancy way of saying that if I stand up too quickly the blood rushes from my head and I suffer from symptoms like dizziness, ringing ears, and if it's extreme, I temporarily go sorta blind. And.... it gets worse when I'm tired.

Soooo... there I was in center field, when a girl hit a perfect line drive right to me. "No problem," I thought as I bounced up and lined myself up to catch the ball. Then the head rush hit me and suddenly, I couldn't see a thing.

Fortunately I had lined myself up perfectly to catch the ball before the blackout occurred. Unfortunately, I was holding my glove about 2 inches too low, so the ball sailed right over the top of my glove and hit me square in the face.

You know those old Looney Tunes cartoons where somebody was always getting bonked on the head and the next thing you know they'd have stars swirling around their head? Well, that really happens.

So as I was loosing consciousness the last thing I remember is laughing as I was falling to the ground, because the whole seeing stars thing just struck me as really funny.

Things were a tad bit, ahem, less comical when I woke up. There was blood everywhere and I couldn't see out of my left eye at all.

I ended up with a broken nose and internal bleeding in one eye. They had to let my nose heal crooked and re-break it later (something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy) because they were concerned that trying to set the nose might do further damage to my eye.

Long story short, I spent several weeks in the hospital with a patch on my eye, not sure if I'd ever see out of it again.

I wasn't allowed to do much other than watch TV and think... which I did a lot of.

I thought about how much worse it all could have been if the ball had hit me in the temple rather than the eye, and how lucky I was to be alive and relatively intact.

I thought about my obsession with trying to be perfect - the agonizing over my grades, the hopeless attempts to crack the "cool" code and finally fit in, and how meaningless it all seemed from my new perspective.

I thought about the little old ladies who populated the eye ward of the hospital with their cataract surgeries... were they happy with the way they'd lived their lives?

But mostly I thought about K & R who hadn't been so lucky, and who's popularity and "coolness" had landed them six feet under... dead... gone... no more chances... ever.

You know, there have been a lot of pivotal experiences in my life, I've written about many of them in my "How I Escaped from the Rat Race" series. But for some reason this one stands out as the "watershed moment" that really started it all.

It's like when that ball hit my face, it didn't just break my nose and damage my eye, it somehow put the first crack in my emotional armor, and allowed me to begin to veer from the path that my life might otherwise have taken.

I still had a LOOOOONG way to go in terms of living life on my own terms rather than those set for my by my parents, or teachers, or by society at large. But the sudden realization that I was, in fact, very mortal - and that mortality could rear its ugly head at any moment, really gave me the courage to take life by the horns in a way I'd never been willing to do before.

When the bandage finally came off, I was indeed able to see out of my left eye. It still doesn't quite work as well as the other one... the pupil is slow to contract, leaving me with a bit of a zombified look and making my vision go a bit wonky when I transition quickly from dark to light.

But you know what, when I look around me at the people whose lives turned out like mine was "supposed to" - with their high power jobs that they hate, their big houses full of stuff they'll be paying off until they die, their overbooked schedules leaving them no time to breathe, and their kids who they are busy pressuring to make up for all of their shortcomings - I have to say that I am more than happy to trade the small deficit in my eyesight for the deeper vision that the events of that year helped me to acquire.

They say that those who leave this life in an untimely manner give us a great gift... that they are teachers for the rest of us. Apparently that's true, even if they weren't people you could count as your "friends." So I am forever grateful to K & R for the gift they inadvertently gave to me.