Monday, August 31, 2009

the Creative License

For anyone out there who has ever been inspired by life's little details, I recommend this book by Danny Gregory. He has a couple other great titles (see Everyday Matters), but The Creative License: Giving Yourself the Permission to be the Artist You Truly Are helps you see each day through a whole new set of lenses, and the possibilities begin to seem endless!

"[Danny Gregory] gently instructs us in the art of allowing ourselves to fail, giving up the expectation of perfection and opening our eyes to the beauty around us. The result is...a wild celebration of amateurism, full of humor, passion, and encouragement, sure to inspire every doodler, frustrated writer, wannabe musician, and midlife-crisising executive--in other words, the artist inside every one of us."--Hyperion Books

Excerpt from Everyday Matters:

"...Then one evening, I decided to teach myself to draw...I committed to drawing the things around me, sticking to studies of real things... my first efforts were horrible... But one quiet evening, ... Something about that drawing was different from anything I'd ever done before. I took my time, and then suddenly I zoned out. My mind went blank, my breathing slowed, and when I finally stopped to look at my page, I was amazed that I had managed to create anything so beautiful. At first, it seemed like a fluke... but then I drew the contents of our medicine cabinet (slowly, slowly), and again I saw something new...

What was different was not the drawing but the seeing. I caressed what I drew with my eyes, lingering over every curve and bump, gliding around contours and into shadows. No matter what I looked at in this way, I saw beauty and felt love. It was very weird but it happened again and again. When I slowed way down and let my mind go, I had the same incredibly sensual experience. It didn't matter what I drew. And then I discovered it didn't matter what the drawing was like. In fact, I could simply toss it away, like the skin of a banana. What mattered was the slow, careful gaze." --Danny Gregory, Everyday Matters

P.S. Click here to check out his blog

photo credit:

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Summer Highlights

Though autumn officially begins just shy of a month from now, I am ready-- ready for the cooler weather, fall planting and the fall semester of school (for the kids plus myself). Overall, this has been a satisfying summer... lots of family bonding and fun with friends.
Some lessons learned along the way these past few months:
The messier, the better (when the kids' entertainment is concerned, that is)...
There's always enough time to pull over and enjoy the view (& talk to a goat or two)...
You never know what you may come across on your travels (camels in CA?)...
Firefighters and fireworks are a dangerous combination...
You can never grow out of skinny dipping, pillow fights, or catching frogs, tadpoles & butterflies...
The best meals are improvised (and the more, the merrier!)...
Love knows no boundaries (just ask a preschooler)...
And, no matter how bumpy the road, the beauty's in the details.

"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves."
--John Muir

Saturday, August 29, 2009

...the last of our spring garden...

"At the heart of every garden is the perennial cycle that I hesitate to name, 'it is so near to the heart,' of the death and rebirth. Mythologies and cottage wisdom have always linked the span of a human life, or incarnation, with the mysteries of seasons and the account of life lived on a particular farm is a response to the gesture of a sea breeze or the slap of a rough wind, a language more clearly voiced by catbird or redwing in the cedars, or by the miniature English robin, territorial and eloquent, who would settle on the hilt of my cliff shovel, tiny talons to steel. In that instant, a word appears, as natural as butterfly weed or nettle. And I hear the [ocean] strike sand particle and rock, part of the ground we share, eventual soil." --Scott Chaskey

From that:

To this:

"Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower. "

--Albert Camus

It's about time to clear out the spring vegetables and begin preparing the soil for the cool season crops of autumn. My first experience getting my hands in the dirt proved to be fulfilling to the soul and mind. Here are some tips I learned from trial, error and research:

Organic Vegetable Gardening 101

(according to the Fox Den's experiences this last spring)

Good dirt is essential. Loamy, nutrient-rich soil is the key ingredient to a successful garden (along with the basic essentials of fertilizer, compost, and mulch, there are some other optional soil amendments--such as lime, potash, gypsum, etc.--available as well to prepare your vegetable beds). You can purchase your soil, or you can prepare it yourself...just depends on how much money you want to spend.

Proper seed spacing is almost as important as proper soil--especially to root vegetables such as carrots, radishes, and beets. Click here for a glimpse of improperly spaced root vegetables grown in silty-clay soil (poor-draining soil).

Companion planting is both complicated and simple--it remains an experiment of balancing well-practiced methods of companion planting with your own.

Planting companion flowers within your vegetable garden is as aesthetically pleasing as it is beneficial to the success of your garden. Interweaving flowers such as marigolds, alyssum, yarrow, hyssop, borage, sunflowers and calendula into your vegetable beds is a multi-functional arrangement (which benefits the birds, bees, flowers, trees and you). Alyssum and chamomile are frequent re-seeders; they help break up the soil and add to the organic content. Chamomile activates the composting process, and encourages increased essential oil production for strong herbs such as lavender and rosemary. Hyssop, marigolds, and yarrow attract hoverflies, which eat aphids. Marigolds can be nematocytal if grown as a crop cover and tilled in before the plants get too large; they are also believed to deter pests.

Cucurbits (melons & squash) and legumes (beans, peas & sweet pea flowers) are susceptible to mold. Prevention includes removing all portions of the infected plant at first sign of mold growth, disposing of all moldy leaves and stems (do not recycle to mulch or compost). Spray tops and undersides of leaves, stems and soil with soapy solution (consult local nursery for best advice). Try not to water plants directly (water soil only). Click here to see a variety of environmentally-friendly pest control products.

Brassicas / cruciferous vegetables (i.e., cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts), leafy greens (ie., lettuce & spinach), and herbaceous perennials (i.e., strawberries & artichokes) are vulnerable to pests such as cutworms, armyworms, and cabbage loopers. These pests can be found on the undersides of leaves and hiding just below the surface soil at the plant base. Use a safe organic pesticide (consult local nursery), &/or apply microscopic nematodes to the soil &/or purchase biocontrol insects such as mini wasp pupae.

Poorly-drained soil &/or over-watered soil makes garden beds vulnerable to fungus gnats. These gnats thrive in moist environments, and can spread rapidly. The larval stage of fungal gnats can damage root systems and spread plant disease. Excess plant debris &/or newly added compost/mulch can attract fungus gnats, so keep beds free of excess debris (and use "older" well-broken down compost, supposedly). Combat with organic insecticides (consult local nursery) &/or biocontrol agents (such as rove beetles). Do not mulch beds with poorly-draining soil (i.e., silty clay) which is watered frequently.

Tomatoes are susceptible to yellow leaf curl virus. This disease can devastate your tomatoes! Prevent yellow leaf curl virus by planting tomatoes from seed, not using soil or beds which grew previously infected plants, controlling whitefly infestations with organic insecticide or biocontrol agents (whiteflies can contribute to spreading of the plant disease), never watering the leaves and stems of the tomato plants directly (this can contribute to spreading from plant to plant), and removing any infected portions of the plant and quarantining it from the rest of the garden. Also, spray a water & milk solution on the top and undersides of the tomato leaves, as well as directly into the soil regularly. Spray beneficial nematodes into the soil.

Ladybugs, hoverflies, praying mantis, lacewings, nematodes and bumblebees are just a small portion of the vast array of beneficial garden insects available for purchase online (and at some local nurseries / supply stores). Use of beneficial insects to combat garden pests is a green way to help keep your plants pest-free and aide crop pollination... Click here to find a very thorough resource on these biocontrol agents.

Tomatoes are host plants to hornworms (tobacco &/or tomato hornworms), which eat the leaves / stems of the tomato plants. Hornworms are the caterpillars which metamorphosize into sphinx moths (hawk moths). Sphinx moths scout out host plants on which to lay their eggs... learn how to identify sphinx moths, and remove them from your garden (transplant elsewhere? :) Sphinx moths are attracted to porch lights at night, and are often mistaken for hummingbirds during the day. Remove the sphinx moths from your garden, and you may not have to worry about picking hornworms off your tomato plants later... it's worked for me so far. (Confession: these large hummingbird-like moths are toys to cats, who will play with them until the moths eventually meet their doom.)

Composting can be addicting! How can a gardener not find appeal in creating one's own nutrient-rich plant medium from recycled kitchen scraps? Added bonus: vermicomposting (i.e., worm tea & worm castings).

Fertilizers are great for maximizing flavor, yeild and size of your vegetables. Click here for a great organic fertilizer. Work out a feeding schedule, and try and stick to it regularly. These liquid fertilizers applied with a folliar pump spray are my favorite: FoxFarm Big Bloom, Tiger Bloom and Grow Big.

Nothing compares to flowers freshly cut from your own garden supply... especially if they are your favorite variety. You can never have too many tomatoes, squash, beans and other good things... gardening is a great way to get to know your neighbors (...sharing is good)!

Try letting some of your flowers, herbs, and legumes go to seed, then clip / collect them when they are dried on the stems--this works especially well for sweet peas, cilantro, dill and beans. If seed pods are not entirely dry, clip and set out in a dry location (in the garage, near the window...) before hulling and storing (plastic baggies and recycled glass jars with lids work well for storage, as long as they are air-tight and dry). Seeds are supposed to last for at least a year, but productivity decreases with time.

Research, seek out, and explore gardening online as well as in the library... there are a lot of great resources out there (Online: You Grow Girl, Urban Homestead, The One Block Diet...Books: Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots, This Common Ground, The Backyard Homestead)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Too Many Tomatoes

Our garden is overflowing with tomatoes... I planted 25 tomato seedlings into our raised beds, and every single one is flourishing. Now, why plant so many tomatoes? Because one teeny tiny tomato seed looks so harmless when it is first sewn. I had no idea just how big and productive those seeds would become!

The varieties growing in our garden this summer are all heirloom: Brandywine, Tigerella, Roma, Black Krim, Peach, and Red Calabash.

Giving the tomatoes away to neighbors only worked for so long, and then it was time to get creative (can't have salad, marinara, and salsa every day!).

This tomato pie turned out delicious:

1 package refrigerated pie crust (not deep dish)
Approx 5 large tomatoes (give or take), sliced thin
Kosher salt (coarse)
1 small-med sized leek
2 TB butter
1/2 C combined grated Parmesan and mozzarella cheese
1/2 C grapeseed oil Veganaise
1 large egg, lightly beaten
fresh ground pepper

Pre-heat oven 375 degrees. Place tomato slices on paper-towel lined wire rack, and sprinkle with kosher salt. Let stand 20 minutes. Pat dry (dab top and bottom surfaces) with paper towels. Remove / discard root end and dark green top of leek. Cut in half lengthwise and rinse under running water to remove grit and sand. Thinly slice leek.
Saute leek in butter until tender (3-5 minutes). Layer leeks/butter on bottom of pie crusts. Layer tomatoes over the leeks, sprinkle with pepper.
Blend cheese, vegenaise and egg in bowl, then pour mixture over top of tomatoes.
Bake 375 degrees for 30 minutes (or until thoroughly heated and top is crusty golden color).
Makes 2 shallow pies.
(recipe adapted from Southern Living magazine)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Lovin' Jack Johnson

I'm "jenny-come-lately" as far as pop culture is concerned... non-mainstream seems to be a more genuine fit. ...Why does non-mainstream seem inevitably to evolve into mainstream, anyway? Nevermind--cultural studies aside, I'm grateful to have stumbled upon Jack Johnson while browsing ITunes. This Hawaiian singer-songwriter is as entertaining telling a story as he is singing a song. His 2004 ITunes Originals album gets better each time I hear it... his commentary of each song exudes a uniquely intimate experience... I find myself feeling like the musician is in the room with me, sharing a drink, swapping stories.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Gardenias are blooming...

I remember going to my Japanese grandmother's house when I was little... rarely was she without gardenias in her home. She would cut the blossoms from her front yard, and float them in shallow black bowls of water. The following review is not exactly reminiscent of a trip to Grandma's house, but it left my nose detecting subtle hints of the delicious flower while reading this fan's take on a fragrance called Fracas:

"'Fracas' opens on a tart, fleshy gardenia note that has retained its buttery carnality, while having all sweetness removed. It's floral without the powder and deepens into something spicier as the fragrance unfurls. A slightly sweet, oily-rich jasmine enters, followed by a very naughty-smelling, rubbery tuberose. The tuberose is intense and hasn't been softened or powdered down by any gentle florals, so at times, 'Fracas' smells like exotic flower petals mashed onto hot flesh. It finally dries down into a velvety-smooth, subtle spiced and simmered fruit note, tempered by quiet woods. 'Fracas' has an over-ripe, very retro feel to it---but retro to a specific time and place: Late 40's - early 60's fashion. I can't imagine it existing before or being introduced after that time period. It reminds me of the kind of glamour that requires seeing a hairdresser once a week with no washings in-between or stockings, girdles and lipstick; chiffon house robes and negligee sets. It evokes worn-in makeup and undergarments--a very ripe, retro femininity--coiffed hair, cigarettes and scotch..."

Wow. Intense description... fragrances are fun to fantasize about.

Some more fragrances on my list to experience: Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors, Carnal Flower, Kai, Creed Tubereuse Indiana, and Voluspa Fleurs de Fete... all are gardenia scented fragrances

The List: celebrities and their fragrances... (I don't really care who's wearing what, but some people find it interesting)

Click here if you are cheap (like me) and would rather learn how to make your own gardenia fragrance from the garden

photo credit: Sephora

Crazy Uncle

Old-timer San Diegans may recall when the San Diego Union Tribune was two different newspapers: the San Diego Union and the San Diego Tribune. Before the two papers merged and became "the U-T," and before it's office building was located in Mission Valley, our San Diego newspaper building was located dowtown at 919 2nd Street. Thus, the "919 Gang" was formed, an email group consisting of most of the original reporters from the downtown building . My grandfather, Charlie Ross, was a founding member of the 919 Gang. He worked for the SD Union from 1956-1992. My Uncle Jerry also worked for the U-T, and here's an unauthorized excerpt from his contribution to the latest 919 Gang email message:

"It's appropriate that my first contribution to the 919 gang would involve Fred Kinne, as he hired me when I was jobless and broke.
I had quit AP-Sacramento in 1970, not wanting to cover the Unruh-Reagan election, and as the only single guy in the bureau I would have spent months with them, instead of with various girlfriends.
I hopped a British freighter, the Blue Star Line's Canadian Star, and sailed from Oakland to Liverpool, where I saw no sign of any beetles, and almost died from bad British food.
After a few months of spending all my money, I sailed back to New York on the Bremen, an ancient art-deco German liner, where I almost died from the bad German food. Fortunately, I encountered a boon drinking buddy, a hilarious guy with a moustache like the propeller on a Constellation. His name was Dali and he could drink as well as he painted. By the end of the night, we looked like figures out of one of his nightmare works.
I stayed at a Greenwich Village apartment with the late, great AP reporter John R. Morganthaler, looking for work. Turned down a stint on the Daily News copy desk but learned where the Editor & Publisher printing plant was, so I flew the press and answered an ad for an "enterprise" reporter on the San Diego Evening Tribune.
Got a quick response from a guy named Fred Kinne, followed by conversations with Dick Eby and Dick Sullivan, who I knew from his Sacramento sojourns when state government was covered by newspapers.
Fred hired me, which was useful as I arrived in LA with 7 cents in my pocket after a cross-country adventure aboard the wackiest Greyhound bus rolling.
I didn't know Fred from Brute Krulak, but without even meeting me Fred liked my clips, the fact "Sully" endorsed me and the AP training, and he took a flier on me. The thing I'll never forget is that he hired me despite my earned reputation as a union goon-troublemaker and public skepticism over the U-T editorial policies.
His decision changed my life. It was my first newspaper job, I worked mostly with real pros, loved working across from the Press Room and living on Coronado and met my eventual wife, Anne-Jeannette (Charlie Ross's kid).
I left two years later for Santa Barbara, much to the relief of U-T non-news management. But I have never worked with as nice a bunch of human beings again, people who personified simple human decency -- Mike Richmond, Dick Eby, Jerry Remmers, Neil Morgan, Frank Saldana, Jack Gregg, some copy kid named Preston Oregano or something, Don Coleman, Bob Dietrich, et al.
And among all these good guys, these inherently decent human beings, Fred Kinne stood out."