The Heir Apparent: Air Plants


Anyone who has read a few of my previous posts related to plants knows that I love succulents. They are beautiful and for the most part easy to keep alive ( provided they have the right soil to start with and do not get some random plant disease). I like having plants around, but I don’t like having plants that demand too much of my time. If they can’t learn to survive with a little bit of neglect…well…they’re toast.

Enter the air plant. What?!? Why have I not discovered them earlier? I knew they existed, remember my aunts having a few when I was a kid, but never considered getting my own.

My interest was piqued when I saw a beautifully tendrilled green plant, sans earth, sitting on the counter top by the cash register at my local nursery. I asked a few questions about it but didn’t buy it. Then I saw it in a few more shops, sometimes just as decor enhancements. Suddenly I was hooked on the idea of getting a few. When my sister visited me a few months ago we stumbled on a shop that had a few for sale and I picked some up.

This is how you care for it:

#1. Place in filtered not direct sunlight, indoors.

#2. Spritz with water once a week and set it upside down for a few minutes to make sure water beads don’t collect on its leaves. ( If you want to get away with watering even less, put your plant in a bathroom where shower steam aids hydration)

#3. There is no number three, THAT’S IT!!

 

I’ve since ogled a few more exotic looking air plants and added them to my collection. The really fun part is finding vessels to hold them. Your local thrift shop is a great place to find unique and cheap glassware.

thrift ship glassware, 50 cents a piece.
thrift ship glassware, 50 cents a piece.
Gorgeous, mini, fuchsia air plant
Gorgeous, mini, fuchsia air plant
a tall, cylindrical glass vase is great for the leggy ones.
a tall, cylindrical glass vase is great for the leggy ones.

air plants and belly pics 007

This one is my favorite. It's  ball shaped and fits perfectly in this min fish bowl
This one is my favorite. It’s ball-shaped and fits perfectly in this min fish bowl
I found this cool looking metal goblet which fits this air plant perfectly
I found this cool looking metal goblet which fits this air plant perfectly
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Interior Decorating for Dummies, *emphasis on Dummy*


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I’m an artist, so I should know about colour, right?

Wrong.

News flash: interior decorating is nothing like painting on a canvas. I know…a house is just as much a blank canvas as a real canvas for the creative soul…but this creative soul is having a dark tea-time of the soul as regards colour choice for our house.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been trying to re-invent our space, which, when we moved in was awash with a sort of piss-tinted hue throughout the entire house (A+ for consistency I suppose), not to mention a musty, smoker-lived-here smell that we were anxious to exorcise. I happily ran down to our local  hardware store, spent a few puzzled/overwhelmed  minutes gazing at paint chips ( like a kid in a non-edible candy store you might say) before going with a gut instinct for a grey-blue tone.

Excellent. No problemo. The colour went on magnificently, only it was a little too subtle. “Dang!, I knew it!” I muttered under my breath. At the last moment I had let my husband cloud my judgement and went a shade lighter than I’d wanted to. Needless to say, though we liked the colour, we agreed it was too light and  ended up repainting. No real problem, but additional time was required.

Then it came time to paint the hallway. I didn’t want a repeat of the last time. I wanted to go bold. I have this gorgeous Laotian tapestry we picked up years ago in Thailand and working from those colours I decided to boldly go purple. Crazy, I know. But I felt it in my gut, this was going to work and I would consult no one. Purity of vision and all that.

paint chips and Loatian tapestry
paint chips and Laotian tapestry

A trip to the hardware store, an unwavering finger proudly pointing at my colour swatch with the command of, “mix this”  and four hours of painting later (I could have bought the $2 sample and painted a wall, but why go the wussy way?) my hallway looked….well, it looked like …a cut of pastrami had exploded on my walls. A mix between gaudy easter purple and say, SPAM…or as my sister-in-law put it, “sort of intestinal”. Yeah, that’s what I was going for.

Back to the drawing board. Back to the paint aisle where a helpful fellow wanna-be interior decorator gave me tips on the trendiness of brown and blue after overhearing my discussion with my sister-in-law…until she saw the colour swatch I was working with already and a look of horror edged into her expression and an “oh” escaped her lips, like “oh, that kind of blue, well then there’s no colour that will go with that“, that kind of “oh”.

When all else fails, stick with the colour you’ve got and just go with shades ( I don’t know that that is a design thing, but I have a gut feeling I’m right). So that’s what I did;  a bolder shade of the existing colour. And you know what, I love it and so does hubby. In my books, that’s a success.

This interior decorating is harder than I thought. When you make a mistake, you can’t just paint over it with a big brush and a few strokes, no, you’ve got to cut in (gack) and roll for hours.

And gut instinct that works when painting on canvas does not necessarily work for painting walls. Lesson learned. I could benefit from reading a few decorating books.


After all the frustration, it is at last resolved. Now it’s time to sit back with my Winter Spiced Ale and enjoy.

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..while sitting on my Craigslist find…new home 019 Not bad, eh? But I’d still put me down more in the dummy column when it comes to decor. However, I do shoot half decent photos. So enjoy the illusion of a magazine ready home (hint: it’s all in the cropping!):

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our fireplace, now painted white with the blue-grey accent wall complete.

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Finished hallway.
Finished hallway.

Update on the Accidental Garden aka Hanging Gardens


So, as I’ve mentioned before, we didn’t put much thought into our garden this year being that we thought we were buying a house and moving out. Regardless of our neglect, the garden thrives on. And to his credit, my hubby waters the place every morning before he goes to work. In regards to actually planting anything, those that were are long gone:

Seedless Bok Choi

This is the Bok Choi I planted in early spring hoping to have it ready before the heat…unfortunately my timing was again off, and it bolted. I kept it in the bed, hoping that they would have some seeds to harvest…but alack and to my horrified dismay: seed pods with no seeds in them! Can anyone say Monsanto? I blame them for everything!

 

But on to cheerier, hardier things:

Mystery Squash

Early summer my hubby discovered a squash plant of unknown origin growing in a corner of one of our raised beds. Actually, he found many, but pulled all but one. This move is something he regretted, because as the plant grew, it formed lovely flowers, but no fruit.

With our non-expert, non-researched, unfounded opinions, we concluded that the plant would be a dud because there were no other plants around it to aid fertilization. So my hubby, unsure of what to do with the many gangly arms the plant was putting out, decided to strap them along the top of our fence. If they weren’t going to bear fruit, they were at least going to green up the place and we were going to enjoy their blooms. Well, sure enough, suddenly the splendid thing started to bear fruit…and it turns out to be a most amazing squash (exact type not yet identified) that I had discovered I loved last year at the farmer’s market!

The Fruit of our Non-Labor

Well, if we wanted to stop it from bearing fruit we couldn’t. The thing is a monster growing machine of the most impressive kind. Our impromptu “Hanging Garden” is such a success it even reaches into our neighbors yard where it also hangs it’s fruit tantalizingly. We are not opposed to sharing, so when I finally met our neighbor the other day, I encouraged her to please pluck and use the squash encroaching on her side of the fence.  Not just that side of the fence, but the back-end too:

Over the fence facing a back field
Hanging Bounty

The trick is to know when to pick them. One must wait until they are a deep red-orange for optimal tastiness, but weight is also a factor and I’m not sure if the stems can sustain such a load for too long. If anyone can hazard a guess as to the type of squash it is, please let me know!

I ventured out into the back field to take these shots, knowing full well I’d pay for it. You see, the back field is empty save for two things: moles and goat head weeds. Both have their disadvantages for gardens…and walking. We seem to have the mole problem taken care of this year, the goat heads are another thing. My hubby has been waging war with them since we moved here. If you’re not familiar with them, feel free to wikipedia the awful things. They grow, well…like weeds, and produce the hardest, spikiest seed that when in contact with anything rubber and full of air, aka bike tires, will pop them like no ones business. If one is unfortunate enough to track several of those into the house, and say those awful things actually relinquish their spiky hold on the soles of your shoes, then watch out! My bare foot has come in contact more than once with those nasty buggers hiding in the carpet tufts and has never failed in eliciting a scream of pain followed by a stream of expletives.

When visiting the field, one has to resigns oneself to the fact that there will be a lot of goat head removal before going even near the garden or the house or even drive-way (where our bikes reside). Check out the bottom of my flip-flops from my short photo-op adventure:

Goat Heads make spongy work of my poor flip-flops

 

More than once, a spike has managed to make its way all the way through the sole to my tender tootsies. Nasty stuff.

Moving on from nastiness, I leave you with a few images of the glorious growth in our Accidental Garden:

Morning Glories

Black tomatoes

(okay, we did plant the tomatoes, but also unplanned ‘cuz my boss begged me to take a few off his hands (he had over 60 tomato plants donated to the club and couldn’t fit them all)…so kind of accidental if you think about it…)

 

S

 

 

 

 

 

Creativity with Kid Assist


My day-time job is teaching art to kids at the local Boys and Girls Club. I’m blessed that my working life still involves creativity. It has surprised me over the years how inhibited some kids can be, I had assumed that the joy of childom was to be very uninhibited. Instead, I find the majority are worried about things turning out just right or perfect. So, I approach art in as non-judgmental a way as possible and encourage them to “not do as I do and think outside the box”. Naturally, however,  they want to copy me. I used to make an example piece before class to show the kids, but things always ended in disappointment because the kids couldn’t exactly replicate it which was frustrating and it stunted their imagination. At one point I tried to dumb down my art, but that didn’t work for me and I felt like I wasn’t setting a good example. I’ve arrived at the point where I say to the kids “I am A LOT OLDER than you- I’m 31, imagine how good you’ll be in 20+ years!” That seems to appease them a little bit. Also describing the project and then doing it alongside them, effectively creating and discovering together seems to be the trick.

Each week this summer we have a theme and I ended up with some pretty neat artwork by the end of it. I thought I’d share. This is not anything I would usually think to do, but because it was with the kids, I discovered I was less inhibited and in trying to teach the kids open-mindedness and a “let’s see what happens” attitude, I ended up opening up a lot myself.  I’ll show you some things I made during Pirate Week and then Super Hero Week:

This was a project where I showed the kids pictures of pirates and encouraged them to come up with a character all their own. I demonstrated by drawing along-side them. They liked this guy so much that they asked my not to color him but photocopy him instead so that they could have a coloring page. I obliged.

We worked with acrylic paint. I initially started painting this guy to demonstrate how a painting looks finished once all the white of the page is filled in (kids have a resistance to “taking their time” and “filling the page”. I ended up really liking this guy. The kids encouraged me to add a parrot.

The next week was Hero Week. The theme was essentially about local heroes like firemen, policewomen etc., but what was much more inspiring were super heroes with super powers, so we stretched the theme for the sake of art!

I kind of drew a blank on what to do. I often encourage the kids to draw what they like and know (rather than something so outlandishly difficult that they don’t know how to draw it and end up begging me to do it instead), so that’s what I ended up telling myself to do and came up with: Super Artist!

I taught the kids about cartoons and the various cells they could draw. We went over a few conventions and then we went at it. I encouraged everyone to come up with their own hero they could be proud of. The kids as a group agreed that a hero is someone (or thing) that helps and protects others. So I came up with an octopus that saves the little fishies. I also turned this into a coloring page because the kids begged me. I was impressed by the kids’ creativity on this one ( wish I’d had the foresight to bring my camera to work and take pics of their amazing work!).

This was a watercolor class dealing with wax resist, sharpie outline and then salt for added visual texture. This was my demo piece and I really like how it came out!

 

So, though I’ve considered the art I do in the studio and the art I do with the kids very different things, I realized after those two weeks that the separation is beginning to blur. The more I bring what I do to the table, the more the kids seem to be into it and respond to the lessons and the more fun I have!

I appreciate all my kid colleagues who helped me with this break-through moment!

 

 

S

Le Jardin c’est Magnifique!


No credit to myself, the garden is looking pretty swell.

It’s my hubby who goes out every morning and waters the place. He also fought a valiant battle with earwigs and won. It took a bit to come up with a strategy, but once implemented the earwig populations was decimated. Our beer traps were not working so well- it caught snails and slugs but they weren’t the main issue. No, my hubby launched his attack at night, headlamp beaming on the hopelessly exposed earwigs who had unwittingly emerged from their day time hiding places to manger (pronounced “monjay” en Francais) on our romaine. The strategy? Flick as many possible into a bowl of soapy water. The survivors who missed the dip: death by rock.  I myself was not out there. I was lying in bed, trying to sleep over the din of rock hitting its target- Crack! Crack! Crack! It must have been satisfying because he was out there for quite some time. He proudly showed me the shriveled and mashed carcasses the next morning.

I won’t show you shots of the massacre lest it unsettle you. But here’s a lovely escargot, another garden terror. Our method of snail removal is to toss them over our fence into the back field. This guy is blissfully unaware of his upcoming aerial flight.

Our spring onions have been way over grown since fall. We decided to keep them in to see what would happen. After all, isn’t this just one grand experiment?

Last month they started flowering, and now check out the seeds:

Unsure of how to harvest, but unwilling to resort to google, I simply picked up a bowl and started massaging the heads until the seeds fell, en mass, into the dish.

My sister had taught me a nifty trick with morning-glory seeds: to separate seeds from the husks, simply blow. Seeds are heavier and will remain in the dish. So I figured, maybe it’s the same deal with these seeds. Thankfully, I was right and didn’t end up with an empty dish.

So now we’ve got seeds galore. Not sure what to do with them as it’s a little late, perhaps, to be sprouting them for this year. But I feel like such a pioneer when I gather seeds instead of buying them at the store. I feel like, “wow, I am da shit, I keep a self-sustaining garden”. The next step would be to actually label the seeds I harvest as it makes for some awful guess-work when the next season comes around. So, yeah, I’m a pioneer but not a very organized one…

The elephant garlic that started to magically grow this year, having skipped the previous year when it was actually planted, had started to grow flowers on top. We caved and googled ” when to harvest elephant garlic” and learned that we were really late. For some reason we thought we had to wait until the stalk shriveled and dried. Not so, you’re supposed to wait until the bottom leaves brown but the rest is still green. Then stop watering for a few days to allow it to begin to dry and then pull it from the ground. So we scampered out to the garden ( as if a few extra seconds would make us any less late in harvesting the things) and we gingerly pulled them out and found:

Note the little garlics hanging off the roots. No idea what that is exactly- must be its way of propagating itself. I imagine if left in the soil we’d have a whole planter box full of elephant garlic come next spring.

They cleaned up nice. Hopefully they will “set”, that is, dry nicely. Maybe we don’t even have to really worry about that since we only have two and I plan on consuming those bad guys quite soon.

Our green beans are growing..or should I say green bean singular. I think I will need to buy a miniature frying pan, because at this rate, that’s what I’ll be serving up, one green bean at a time. I can’t imagine that we will ever have a handful all at once…but you never know.

I leave you with a few more shots of the garden and its bounty!

S

Grilled Oysters and Salmon, Oh My! And Baby Birdies Make a Ruckus


I had an “Ah ha! Ho ho! Hee hee!” moment just last week as I cruised through the aisles of the local grocery, desperate for  a quick meal but not ready to totally compromise on quality.  Standing at the meat counter I was eyeing the salmon, debating between the chilean farmed fish for 8.99 per lb and the wild caught at 19.99 per lb. Reason won out and I decided on the affordable since fish is always a hit or miss with the hubby, and then what caught my eye was a nice pile of these suckers at 89 cents each. The guys at the counter are always awesome and ended up throwing in a few extra.

Back at the ranch I had my hubby start-up the grill whilst I prepped the salmon, skin on of course!

Salmon:

On tin foil drizzle liberal amount of extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt.

Lay salmon skin side down.

add salt and pepper on top (to taste)

add slices of lemon on top. Fold tin foil mostly closed.

Once the grill was ready, the salmon went on. Couldn’t tell you exactly how long since we usually determine its done-ness by poking at it. Roughly 10 minutes.

Then on went the oysters which required only a minute or so.

This folks was literally the fastest meal we’d every prepared. And all our weariness from the day was usurped by our excitement over  this special treat.

Once the oysters come off the grill, all you need are lime wedges and Tapatio sauce and you are good to go. Be sure, as you crack it open with a sturdy knife, to not spill the delicious juices – you’ll not only burn the crap out of your hands but you’ll also miss out on the added tastiness of the brine.

please try to ignore the purple on my thumb; as an art teacher to kids, I bring my work home with me on my clothes and hands!

Now, my hubby is not a fan of fishy stuff, but he loves this. Surprising indeed! And I have encountered all manner of gloppy, slimy, uncooked, fishy horrors during my stint in Korea, but this is nothing like that. It is pure yumminess all the way and you should try it!

Here’s how the salmon turned out:

And because the tin foil was not all the way closed, steam was allowed to escape and the skin was able to get crispy:

Laying the skin down on oil with salt is key to crispness!

And, because I don’t like to do without greens, here’s the simplest greens prep ever:

Steam a nice bunch of collards, turnip, spinach or mustard greens ( I cheat and buy a cleaned and cut bag with a mix of all of those greens at Trader Joe’s). If you use any of those greens it will take only 5 minutes since they cook up super fast. If you use Kale, expect about 20 minutes. Remember that it shrinks down like crazy, so don’t be afraid to steam what looks like a gargantuan amount.

Remove from water, drizzle a teaspoon of light soy sauce and a half teaspoon of sesame oil on top. Gently mix. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top:

Highly recommended: canned beer. It serves two purposes: 1. a yummy pairing with delicious oysters and 2. as a beer-can trap for awful slugs that keep eating our garden veggies.

Die slugs, die!

It really works! Cut the can in half, fill with about an inch of the beer you can’t finish or has gotten too warm to be refreshing anymore.

Okay, okay we’ve talked about slug death, now on to life! Baby bird life!

The joy of the grill is not just the food but the entertainment we get from the birds that visit our little yard. Right now we have a bunch of hungry blue bird babies and two very tired parents who are continually feeding them. It’s truly remarkable how non-stop it is. Approximately every minute one of the parents lands with some grub to put in their gaping mouths. The babies are making quite a racket with their chirping.

It’s a cut-throat brutal world for the birds. There’s always a threat that another bigger bird will come and drag the babies out for a wee snack. Mom and dad are very watchful and are always suspicious of us. We are always hyper aware of the chirping and when we don’t hear it we fear the worst. But so far, so good.

One wonders how the fattened up babies are going to squeeze out of that hole!

It’s nice to know everyone is well fed.

So try out the oyster thing, it will be well worth it and it’s about the easiest thing you could prepare for a meal.

S

Attempting to be a Successful Succulenteur and Other Garden Hits and Misses


Many posts ago I started on the path of succulent propagation.  My biggest experiment was using the “let it sit” method with a few leaves I’d gathered that had fallen from a succulent plant at the garden center – NOT stealing as they would have been considered cast offs and no doubt swept up and tossed.

So, to refresh, the method is to let them lie on a bed of Perlite in filtered light until they push out roots and then begin to form their own little plant. A while ago they put out a few tiny roots, but check it out now! The little plant is starting to form at the base ( you’ll probably need to click on the photo to enlarge it so you can really look closely):

 

Also, the heads of my Hens and Chicks have robust roots and are more than ready to be planted…if only I had a place to put them…

 

And, as I may have mentioned before, the art of becoming a succulenteur is really about experimentation. I just made a new observation about one of my succulents. It could almost seem to be a deliberate experiment with two test groups, but in reality it is all just coincidence that I had the same succulent type planted in two very different locations. One is outside in full sun, the other in filtered light. Check out the difference between the two!

 

The first one is in full light, the second in filtered. Note how in full light and heat they have balled up and tightened. In the filtered light they have opened up and stretched that neat webbing to its max. Both are doing well, but they adjust to their conditions in order to do so. Also, the one in full light popped out a lot of babies ( off shoots) in early spring due to lots of consistent rain…unlike the ones in filtered light which rely on my non-consistent watering patterns!

 

On the garden front…well, the Bok Choi bolted. This is the third attempt and the third failure. We’ve had really odd changes of temperature. I’m pretty sure the week of scorching heat is what caused them to bolt. But if it weren’t for the heat, I’m sure the pests would have done them in:

Note all the munched leaves.

 

Our little planter with chard turned into a potty for some nocturnal animal. All the sprouts were dug out and I believe if you look close enough you can even see a turd in the bowl. Boo!

Okay, since we’re on the track of failures at the moment, I may as well tell yo that some of my succulents started looking rather weird in the way they were forming their leaves. Also, I noted aphid-like critters on some of them. It seemed to be spreading, so I uprooted the ones that looked diseased.

 

Also, because of the funky weather, my living rock succulent’s flowers shriveled up and died without actually blossoming. I thought the whole plant would die, but it seems to be doing okay if you disregard the desiccated flowers at its center.

 

Onwards to brighter things! The Romain is doing fantastic. We had our first garden salad of the year a few days ago. The roses are in bloom, my Lambs Ear are taking over the entire patch and the bees are loving the flowers that just started blossoming from them. My Lavendula Dilly Dilly ( yes, the actual name of the lavender I planted, of course I chose it for its name!) is getting ready to bloom as well.

 

 

 

 

Our Purple Iris has run its course

 

 

But replacing it is a new kind:

 

And my established Hens and Chicks are also blooming:

 

And finally, after three years here, a lovely California Poppy has decided to join our accidental garden!

 

Annnnd we have a blue bird family in our little bird house. Every time we step into the garden you can hear the little babies chirping from inside, saying “feed me, feed me, feed me!” Our presence in the garden worries the parents who stand around with worms and insects in their beaks flitting to the roof of the house then away again unwilling to reveal to us where their precious babies are. And in accordance the babies fall silent too; until my hubby and I freeze in our actions to the point of shaking with the extended exertion of it until finally the mommy or daddy decide we’re no longer a threat and finally deliver the food to the anxious and voracious babies.

Mommy and…

Daddy!

 

Also, now that it’s getting hot, we are visited by our friendly neighborhood lizards who love our concrete step leading into the garden.

 

All in all, we are rather happy with our little backyard. We haven’t invested as much time in it as the previous year, but it is still a delight. Everything seems so alive and so active.

 

 

So, despite some failures in the gardening department, on the whole I think it is much more of a success. I’ll leave it at that!

 

 

S