Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Behold, Nature's Bounty! (of weeds)

The past few weeks have been extremely rainy here in H-town.  It's kinda weird, because so much of the country is going through such a severe drought, and instead of us being in the middle of it (which Texas normally is), we've had several major rains with flooding.  Craziness.

The good news from all this rain is, everything is green.  Some things, like our canna lillies, are blooming profusely.  They look so pretty and tropical, don't they!  These grew from the ground up after all the freezes we had this winter, and they're taller than I am now.

The bad news is (besides the monsterous mosquitoes), everything is green.  Including the weeds.  One might say that Gottfried has been sitting down on the job.  Or in the middle of the job, as the case may be. 

We might have a small weed problem.

I sincerely tried to get out and weed, but it kept raining every weekend, and the clay/soil we have just came out with the weeds when I tried to pull them.

I even tried to use weed cloth.  Last weekend, as I laid out the fabric on the grass to measure out the length for each row, a MASSIVE spider ran right across the fabric.  Ergo, I had to stop with only 1 row done. 

Seriously, the spider was huge.  The neighborhood was lucky that I didn't just set the garden on fire.  It was that big.  I get the heebie jeebies just thinking about it. 



Ok.  I'm ok now.


So.  The rest of the garden has been sacrified to the weeds.  Also, did I mention I stepped in a pile of fire ants?  Felt great. 

It's getting too hot for anything to really grow much more anyway, except for the okra and cotton that I did manage to put weed cloth around. 

Behold the pre-spider, pre-weed bounty!

Not the biggest producing garden, but hey.  1 okra is more than 0 okra. 

And yes, for those of you who are curious, the cotton is growing.  It had some pinkish/white blooms on it last weekend.  Then today, when I mustered up the courage to go check on them (seriously, the spider was ENORMOUS), the cotton looked like this:

I've never grown cotton.  So this is....cotton fruit?  If you eat it, do you get cotton mouth?  HA.  Apparently this is how the cotton bolls look before they crack open I guess.   I'm really interested to see what happens.  So far there are only 2 of these bolls/fruits, but hopefully more will grow.  Because I have no plans for it, but...anyway.

Other than monsterous weed meadows, my mom & 2 nieces came to visit a few weeks ago.  We had a great time - went to the funeral museum, the pool, and Old Town Spring.  Ate fried oreos and funnel cake.  Yum!

Alas, it's time for bed.  Hope everyone has a great July!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Monkeys & Baklava

The past few weeks have been busy ones! 

One of the coolest things about living in a major metropolitan area is the huge variety of cultural events & fun festivals.  Last weekend we went to Houston's Greekfest at St. Basil's Greek Orthodox Church (http://houstongreekfest.com/).

Back story: my mom used to work for a Greek accountant who did the books for basically every Greek restaurant in Asheville.  When she would deliver paperwork to them, she sometimes took me. And due to a wonderfully generous food-sharing ethic (yum), they would feed us.  A lot.  So as a kid, I got seriously spoiled on authentic, homemade Greek food. 

It was also a great introduction to Greek culture, and my travels to Greece years ago cemented my appreciation for it.  I would LOVE to go back to Greece someday soon!

The festival was on the smaller side but very lively and fun - they had beautiful architecture:



And, of course, FOOD!!!  We had gyros - delicious!!!  And then had to go back for some baklava.  I also got a kourabiedes (a buttery nutty cookie covered in powdered sugar).  Both were SO unbelievably good.  Homemade baklava is absolutely divine. 

 (In fact I totally forgot to take the picture until I had already taken a bite).

Then last week I went to The Big D (Dallas) for work.  It was a great trip!  I got another training certification, which is always awesome, and got to meet a bunch of new coworkers in our Dallas office.  And in my free time in the evenings, I had a little adventure! 

Noel enjoys a show called "Fast & Loud."  Who am I kidding?  I enjoy it too.  :)  It's a show about a garage in Dallas that refurbish old cars into really gorgeous customs.  Noel mentioned to me that if I "happened" to go by their garage and "happened" to buy him a t-shirt, he'd be really happy.  So!  Because I am a kind and loving person who has a high tolerance for rush hour traffic, I totally went to Gas Monkey Garage and parked and stalked them while they made an episode of the show.  And bought him some stuff.  And also a shirt for myself. 

I even got a picture of Richard Rawlings, the star of the show!
We've been doing some work on the house too, including pimping out our pergola.  In case you weren't aware, Houston gets a bit sunny...and hot...  So we enjoying our beautiful pergola because it's unbearable.  But!  We refuse to submit.  So we made some linens to go on top, installed shower rails on 2 sides, and bought some pretty sheets to act as sun shades on the sides.  Success!!  We love it.  Makes it feel like an outdoor room now. 

And the outdoors are a-blooming!  Our hibiscus is now growing back nicely but is still only about 8 inches tall.  But our canna lilies are already blooming nicely! 

We also had a run in with a squirrel that was like a 3 Stooges routine.  Look at the size of this monster squirrel!!

So I tried to get a picture of him, but every time I would sidle around one side of the tree, he'd inch around the other side.  Then I'd go back the other way slowly, and he'd inch back around the opposite way.  It took...way too long to get this picture.  And of course, Noel was laughing at my inability to not try to get a picture of said squirrel, because I have in fact been bitten by a squirrel before when trying to feed it.

And because a blog post isn't a blog post without it, the requisite Cat in Box photo:

(Note - Poe seems to fit in this box slightly better than Sammy does.)

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Quilt Progresseth! (Finallyth!)

But first, a garden update!  The garden has shot up significantly within the past week.  Must be all the fish smoothie fertilizer!  Noel hates the smell of it.  It's not my favorite either.  But the tomatoes LOVE it.  So here's a quick snapshot of it!

Why from that angle, you ask?  Because...the weeds.  The weeds are out of control.  And unfortunately whenever I've had time to weed, it's been rainy and when I try to pull them out, huge clumps of dirt come out too.  So.  No weeding.  Maybe I can put Noel on weed duty!  The cucumbers, squash, and sugar snap peas are already blooming, and we already have baby tomatoes on our plants.  Yay!  Won't be long now!

And yes, I have finally been working on the quilt again.  FINALLY.  Noel and I put the frame together a while back and it had been sitting, bare, neglected, like a pile of sad, dry bones in the middle of the desert of our living room.

But I finally put the quilt on the frame!  It has rails with little canals running the length of the rails, and you use a piece of tubing to push & hold the fabric into the rails, to hold the quilt taut and keep it in place while you work on it.  Unfortunately, I couldn't get the tubing into the rails.  There may have been some cursing, and also a bruised wrist.  But!  I took a deep breath and utilized my inner country girl - and taped it onto the rails.

It worked!  Behold...the quilt on the frame!

So from the side, the quilt frame looks like one of those Imperial shooter thingies from Star Wars.  You know the ones....

Am I right?

So now the quilt is all set up!  From the picture below, you can see all the necessary equipment for quilting:
  • Quilt in frame
  • Chair
  • Coffee
  • Agatha Christie Murder Mystery on TV 

But what is NOT necessary equipment for quilting? 

A fat cat who enjoys sitting on things.

How to resolve this?  Simple!  Aluminum foil.  For some reason, even though cats find the following things enjoyable to park their rumps on:

  • Remote controls
  • Corner of book
  • Pile of plastic grocery bags
  • Washing machine
They don't like sitting on aluminum foil.  So I covered the quilt in it.  And later I can recycle it!

But sitting all day long quilting (and also sitting at work) isn't the healthiest way to live.  I recently bought a hula hoop and have been getting my waist exercise that way.  And apparently I'm going through my first mid-life crisis or something, because I also just bought...

Roller Skates!  They're made for skating outdoors and they're so fun!  And since it's been...a while...since I've been skating, I bought a helmet and a set of pads for wrists, elbows, and knees.  So far no catastrophes.  Whew!

Now if only I can skate AND weed at the same time!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

In which I feed alpacas and buy yarn, because I can't not buy yarn.

Lately I've been thinking about how big the world is, and how many things there are to learn how to do - mosaic tile, stained glass windows, masonry, woodworking, welding....and how there are so many opportunities to go out and learn some of these things. 

So this weekend I was fortunate enough to have a bit of a learning-related adventure!  On Saturday morning, I met a group of fellow yarn enthusiasts (read: knitting nerds) for a tour of the Bluebonnet Hills Alpaca Ranch in Navasota, TX.  We had a great tour of the ranch, and got to pet and even feed some of the 70 alpaca that live there.  The area where the ranch is located is so pretty - hilly, lots of trees, and right now covered in wildflowers (including, yes, bluebonnets - the national flower of Texas).

The ranchers were super nice and showed us all about the caretaking of alpaca, which is in the camelid family (think llamas) that come from the Andes in South America.  They're known over the world for the awesome softness of their fleece.  And they're really cute too!

We saw some funny ones with derpy-derp haircuts:

And some whose fleece grows in wavy locks:

There were also BABIES.  I LOVE THEM.  And Noel is very proud that I did not, in fact, bring one home with me.

This one is called Sweet Talking Man.  He was a charmer.  :)   

The ranchers raise these alpaca to both sell to breeders, and for their fleeces for yarn (they shear them - no worries about alpacacide!)

There might have been some yarn for sale there.  I might have accidentally bought some.  It's hard not to, when you just fed the little guy whose fleece made the yarn!

So we had lunch there, and then went to a gorgeous yarn shop in Navasota called WC Mercantile - such beautiful stuff in there!!  And they have lots of supplies for spinning yarn as well, and that might be something I'll do in the near future (since I don't have any other hobbies - sigh).

Anyway, we spent the afternoon there learning how to dye yarn!  It was really fun, and honestly much easier in some ways than I imagined.  I can see how people get addicted to it.  We got to keep the skein of yarn we dyed, and I was so happy with the way mine turned out:

(Purple, blue, teal.  Of course.  I am in a very happy rut).

Now to find patterns to use for all this gorgeous alpaca fluffiness!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

April Showers = Good Excuse To Stop Weeding

Happy April, and welcome to my newest readers!  Glad you decided to join us!

We've had an exciting week here at Chez Hairball, or should I say Chez Cat Indigestion That Mysteriously Only Happens In Carpeted Areas.  It's not been pleasant.  And here's one place where life with pets varies from life with children (as my sister pointed out): when you have a sick child, you can normally figure out pretty quickly which one it is.  When you have a sick cat, unless you only have 1 cat, it's hard to figure out which one is having the digestive issues.  Thus we had to take dramatic action yesterday by separating the boys into different rooms, feeding them, and waiting for...nature to take its course, by which means we could determine which of them had been having the problem.  (Side note:  You know you've gotten to a very special point in a relationship with another person when you can have lengthy, serious conversations about cat poop.)

And here's another thing about cats - when they feel like it, they can apparently hold in anything they want.  So while we never got a definitive on Samson, we think Poe is the one with the problem.  I'll take him to the vet this week to get him checked out.  Poor guy.  Also poor carpet.

Also about cats?  They do NOT like being locked away from each other if they're used to being around each other all the time.  Poe wouldn't shut up with the dramatic whining, and when I'd go in to see him for a while, Loki would start up.

Meanwhile, Samson was totally chill in the other bedroom, just hanging out all day.  Didn't hear a peep out of him. 

In other exciting news (because we all know you come here to get more than just riveting cat/litterbox stories), the garden is doing quite well, except we have lots of ants (bug powder coming out tomorrow - they're eating the spinach before it can grow!) and I've had to replant a few things that just didn't take from the (leggy) seedling stage, including cucumbers and squash, which most people will recognize as veggies a child could grow in an egg carton full of dirt from the side of a highway.  So.  I'm not going to take that personally, and will just keep on planting.

So here we go, picturama time!

(Please ignore the weeds in these next few pictures.  I really did weed today for a while, but then it started raining and I got lazy and went inside and watched some stupid movie on Syfy about these teens caught on top of a Mayan pyramid that was covered with some carnivorous vines that were trying to eat them, and then weeding seemed like an even worse idea.) 

So this is how the garden looks right now - kinda hard to see stuff, but it's there!

Our salad mix is doing really well!  This is arugula, raddichio, and spinach.  (And potentially carnivorous weeds, just sayin').

Our lima beans are doing great! 

Here's Gottfried at his post by a sad little okra plant that is actually getting stronger, despite looking anemic right now. 

On Friday we were looking at some of the plants in the rest of the yard, including our cacti (who are growing too!), the lantanas that are coming back nicely, and our sad (dead) hibiscus.  And then I noticed something - down at the bottom of the hibiscus, close to the soil and partly buried underneath some old leaves, was a glimmer of green.  I dug through the dead leaves and found some bright little green leaves sprouting out of the very bottom of the hibiscus!  Apparently that part of the plant survived the hard freezes we got this year because it was insulated.  So I dug it all out and chopped back all the dead wood.  It looks really sad right now, but hopefully now that it can get more sunlight, it'll grow fast. 

Yay!  i was worried we'd lost the hibiscus forever, and it was so pretty with its humongous red blooms. 

In other updates, my job continues to go really well!  Except my boss just took a new job in the corporate office.  Which is great for her, and I think may open up doors for me as a trainer to do more work in the corporate office, which would be cool.  Funnily enough, the same exact thing happened to my last manager too - I started the job, 2 weeks later he told me he was getting promoted!  But other than this little minor hiccup, my job is going extremely well.  I'm really happy there. 

Next week will be more exciting adventures as I tour an alpaca farm!  So excited!  Will try not to get bitten.  Happy April everyone!  Enjoy the springtime!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

March Is Almost Over - Where Did It Go?

Hi everyone!  Can you believe I'm actually blogging again!?

It's been a few weeks, and just to give you a few updates:

  • Noel's been working night shift, so we haven't seen much of each other lately, except on weekends!  But he's between jobs just for this weekend, so we've had a nice time hanging out, getting some stuff done around the house, and going out for fantastic Indian food.  Yum. 

  • My new job is going extremely well.  I'm enjoying it so much!  The people are nice, the work is challenging, fun, and exciting!  It's invigorating to be doing something different - and I'll be involved in LOTS of face-to-face training, which is one of my favorite things to do.  I'm lucky I get paid for it!  :)

  • It's already warm here - I took some pictures today to share with those of you who are looking forward to spring, to remind you what it looks like!
So I might have taken a secret picture of my neighbor's house, just to show you how pretty the azaleas are.   Don't tell them, ok? 

We don't really have much of anything blooming around our house yet except for the little wildflowers growing in our yard.  We call them grass, even though our entire yard is basically just a variety of weeds.  I'm ok with that.  Green = Grass.
But!  We will have lots of pretty blooms!  Our canna lilies are coming in nicely - we had to cut everything down to the ground level with all the freezes we had this year, but it's growing back nicely.  So are the lantanas.  So far the only thing that isn't growing back yet is our monsterous 8-10 ft tall hibiscus.  I fear it didn't make it.  At least we have the cannas:


And you can't really tell, but our little peach tree in the background is greening out all over.  :)

So Noel and I will readily admit that we are...not the most diligent about watering our yard.  Which is why we have weeds and not grass.  We have pots by our mailbox that have contained over the course of 2 years:

- Sweet potato vine
- Little purple flowery things
- Mexican heather

All of which died because they dried out.  So we decided this year to just embrace our laziness and go with a safer option:

Cactus!  These are calling Boxing Glove cacti, because the little new buds look like boxing gloves/fists.  We'll see how they work.  We feel like official Texas homeowners, having cacti in the front yard!

Also - for those of you who may be slightly clumsy and/or like to try touching things you shouldn't (Examples: Is the stove hot? Let me check! or Eew...that looks slimy.  Let's find out!), you may want to either (1) get super-thick gloves when planting cactus, or (2) hire someone else to do it for you.  Because these little guys HURT.  They'd be awesome to plant under windows to prevent burglars getting in that way.  I still have little thorns in my fingers. 

And now on to the garden proper!  We've worked hard this year to amend the "soil" in our yard, but with limited results.  I set out the little seedlings a few weeks ago, and sadly a lot of them didn't make it.  Some of them did, and for some plants I just put seeds straight in the ground.  And things are coming up!  We put out a soaker hose today hoping that would help with the onslaught of heat we're getting ready to see in a few months.

The watering is working!  Look!  Lima bean plants!

And the little seed bonbons that my friend Lisa gave to me?  Have started sprouting!!  Neato!

 It was so pretty out today that we decided to grill!  Noel got the grill started and then sat down with a Shiner Bock (National Beer of Texas) to relax for a few.  Here's our patio with the pergola we built (not yet covered with fabric because...um...laziness?)  And our fancy table and our brand new patio chairs! 

But lest you get too jealous of the salad days we're already enjoying here in the suburbs of H-town, remember that we technically live in a town called Spring.  For a reason.  We are swimming in pollen.  This is at a seam on our patio - the light yellow is pollen that's still remaining AFTER we had 1 1/2 days of rain. 

Everything here is tinged in yellow. My car? Yellow. Noel's truck? Yellow. Our house? Yellower. When it rains we have yellow puddles. I now take an allergy pill with my vitamins every morning.  Want blonde highlights?  Go stand under a tree for 20 minutes. 

But it could be worse, right?  At least we'll have lima beans!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Little Lip

Today's post starts off on a melancholy note, but it picks up fast, ok?

(Also, can I just say how proud I am to blog 2 days in a week?  WOW).

Ok, so today I went to a funeral for the father of my former boss.  (That's the melancholy part).  The funeral was at a Lutheran church, so I was expecting some funky architecture.

(This is probably where I should jump in to say that, as a Scholar of Religion and also a Ritologist (yes, it's a word) with the student loans to prove it, I have a theory on church architecture that I won't get into here.  Basically it's this:  You can pretty much wager successfully on a church's denomination by the way the church is built.  It's hard to put into words.  Maybe I'm just denomination psychic.  Anyway.  Lutherans = Funky Architecture, usually heavy stone that looks like something either built in 1347 or something built in 1975 that was trying to look like it was built in 1347.)

So this funeral was in a Lutheran church.  Guess what the church looked like?  A monastery from 1347, with upper modern stained glass windows straight out of the Age of Aquarius.  It was actually really lovely, truly.  Also the service was very nice - upbeat, optimistic, and full of really pretty music.

Now, as many of you already know, I have a penchant for sacred spaces - churches, synagogues, sacred stone circles, you name it, I like to be smack in the middle of it.  They're usually very calm places, quiet and peaceful, and I can't help but look around and decipher symbols and such.  So when I go to weddings, funerals, anything in any type of religious space, my inner ritologist comes out in full force.  The amusing thing about this is, even my former boss (whose father's funeral we were attending) said during the reception afterwards that she figured I was enjoying myself looking around at everything and studying it.  Um...busted.

This church was set up in a very interesting way, with the Communion table smack in the middle, and parenthesis shaped altar rails around it.  There were congregation chairs on 3 sides, with the choir and organ on the 4th.  Very egalitarian.  Martin Luther would be proud.  :)

I really wanted to get pictures, but figured that would be horribly gauche of me. 

 - Side note:  Also gauche?  Wearing a stupid Bluetooth to a funeral.  TAKE IT OFF ALREADY, YOU ARE NOT THAT IMPORTANT.

Ahem.  There was a lovely model ship, about 5 feet long, hanging from the ceiling off to the side.  I actually stopped an acolyte after the service and asked about it, because I had never seen that before in an American church.  She said a Dutch model maker had made & donated it in the tradition of churches from where he's from, where model ships would be hung in churches to bless those who work on the sea.  Charming! 

The holy water font was chalice shaped and made of dark marble.  It was also like an infinity pool, with the water even with the very top of the bowl.  I honestly thought it was a marble table at first, the top was so smooth and still. 

The coolest thing though?  Relates directly to my master's thesis - a real page turner about the construction materials used for ceremonial chalices for communion in the medieval period in Europe, and the laws against using certain materials for fear of (1) contaminating the wine, or (2) spilling the wine.  If you're interested in reading the entire thing, let me know and I'll send you some valium instead, because it'll accomplish the same purpose. 

Back to the point.  Am a bit rambly today.  So when the acolytes & ushers were prepping for communion, they had the big silver chalices (love chalices!) and then trays of small little communion glasses.  Communion single-serve shot glasses, if you will.  They look like this:

The ones they had today were glass.  When I was a kid, we had plastic ones and I used to go around and collect them after church and take them home for tea parties with my stuffed animals.  Um...looking back that seems a bit sacrilegious.  Apparently Alexander Bear was very devout.
The people today had three options: drinking straight out of the big chalice, intinction (meaning they dip the bread into the wine), or using the little cup.  But the cups weren't pre-filled with wine.  I was confused.
Then I saw this - a new evolution in the world of communion, designed to avoid spilling the wine, but still allowing people their single-serve, germ-free communion experience:
A chalice with a pour spout.
How brilliant is this!? 
Also, I just realized you can buy these online:
Isn't the internet great? 
So that's a taste of religious studies for all of you non-anthropology types.  I could go on and on about the symbols on the liturgical robes, the windows, how the lyrics of the hymns were different from the Baptist or Episcopalian ones I'm familiar with, etc. but I won't bore you.  Anymore tonight, anyway.  :)