Thursday, November 16, 2017

The New Stove

This was a sight I hadn't seen for 16 years -- the fireplace minus the Buck Stove insert.

I can remember the winter I insisted on getting an insert -- electric rates had skyrocketed and we were enduring rolling blackouts while PG&E scrambled trying to buy energy. Some nights I sat with my shoulder nearly in that firebox, trying to stay warm, getting madder and madder by the hour.

The Buck Stove insert heated our whole house ever since.

Nevertheless, it wasn't really what I thought it would be. Like a lot of people in unfamiliar circumstances, I didn't really know what questions to ask. I wanted a woodstove that I could feel radiate the heat, that I could put a kettle on top of and have the water warm to provide a little humidity for wood burning's dry air.

The Buck Stove didn't do that. Even when it was burning hot, hot, hot, you could put your hand on the top and not be burned. To get the stove's heat out into the room, you had to run the fan.

But that was the other problem. As dust accumulated over each winter, (and this is the Central Valley, whose dusty conditions gum everything up) the fan would imbalance slightly and rattle at certain speeds. By each Spring, I was so sick of hearing a running fan I couldn't wait to get out to the studio for the quiet.

This year, we did a little research, and just happened to walk into Valley Fire Place the day after a woman saw her new stove and decided it was "too small." She sent it back to the store. What mad coincidence -- this was just what we were looking for! So since it had been unpacked (but never used) VFP gave us a discount on it. Nice.

And there it is, on its adorable little legs, awaiting installation.

We did a winter configuration of furniture, moving the big table out into the front room, the little table into the kitchen, and the rolling island to the side under the bird pictures on the wall. We know what a wood stove does to the temperature in a room, and we wanted plenty of space in front of the heater so that we could bring chairs in if we were in need of great heat, or just lounge on a rug on the floor, basking. (I used to wrangle with our border collie Desi and the two cats for the hot space in front of our wood stove when we were back East in Pennsylvania.)

We had been scheduled for installation on the 17th, but yesterday VFP called with news of a cancellation, did we want the stove in early? Considering that we knew there was rain on the way, and a bit of a cold snap -- oh, yes, we did.

 By nightfall, it was in, standing on the hearth like it should always have been there. A chindi rug -- again, how about the coincidence -- that was supposed to arrive Thursday also arrived Wednesday morning, so as soon as the work was done, the new rug went down.

And within minutes of starting our first fire in the new stove, Kermit realized that a certain Great Dane mix with no undercoat never had to be cold again.

See the screen? We're probably going to use that for the forseeable future -- that little stove gets HOT!

The dear lady who thought the stove was too small ... bless her heart. She was probably wrong, unless she was trying to heat a whole mansion; we're certain this model will heat our house AND my garage studio for all but the coldest days of the year. I wish I knew who she was, I'd send her a thank you note.

Know anyone who wants a Buck Stove insert?


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Morning in the 2017 Fall Garden

I haven't been very successful at growing cabbage in the garden -- up until now.

Last year I tried purple cabbage, and some of them looked gorgeous, (but not all) and the flavor was a little astringent for my tastes. This year is green, and they are simply breath-taking.

The cabbage you buy in the store is round and light green, but I can attest from experience that those big blue leaves make a wonderful golumpki. I used to buy whole cabbages untrimmed when we lived back East, and freeze some of those big leaves for winter cabbage rolls. I look at these plants and see not only golumpki, but blue leaves for stir-fry, and for fried cabbage with onion as well.

Years roll by more quickly all the time, so this morning, I decided to take portraits of my current garden so I remember what worked, and how beautiful vegetables can be. The full set of portraits can be seen in my Flickr account, Palmprint Gallery.

This morning was also our first foggy morning, dressing the garden in wispy whiteness. My pictures were taken just after the fog lifted.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Too Cute Dog Haiku


A hot afternoon. 
Long walk this morning with me. 
Kermit needs a nap.

Lisianthus

Why I decided to buy a six-pack of lisianthus this past spring is a mystery to me. I paired them with some yellow and red striped zinnias in a half wine barrel in the front yard.

Never did like the way the planting looked. Although the two varieties were supposed to be the same height, the zinnias on the outside row got much taller than the lisianthus, and what should have been a pretty arrangement looked like a car wreck.

The zinnias got yanked out. I allowed the lisianthus to remain only because of how many buds were forming. I thought maybe they'd grow on me, so to speak.

They did not, but even though I loathe them, I have to admit that they are magnificent. All the visitors to my garden comment on how lush and lovely they are. Maybe I dislike them because they are too perfect -- to me, they look like the fake flowers people put on graves in cemeteries.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

When Life Hands You Lemons?

This beast came off our Eureka Lemon tree on the back patio. I've never seen anything quite like it in the 20 years since we planted the tree.

With nine gnarly claws, the lemon seemed to warrant a photo-op.

Kind of reminds me of the citrus called "Buddha's Hand."


Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Lillian and Sand Knock It Out of the Park

Mmmm, steak.

Some weeks ago, Lil and I were about to once again make a modified "Bloody Mary Marinade" for a tri-tip. However, we did not have any horseradish or Louisiana Hot Sauce on hand. So we collaborated and came up with our own.

First of all, the tri-tip ... the cut of meat has a long tail. You don't start with that. The second angle is about 30 degrees -- don't cut that way either. You want to cut your steaks from the tip that is more of a right angle. Okay, fine, next time I'll take pictures. You just want your cut steaks against the grain, because tri-tip can be tough. This particular tri-tip was only $2.49/lb, a promotional sale at the supermarket. Yes, I bought more than 20 pounds that day.

Even cut right, tri-tip steaks can be unpleasantly chewy, so you marinate them from two to twelve hours in advance, with:

Lillian and Sand's Excellent Marinade

2 cups tomato juice (16 oz.)
1/3 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons sriracha sauce
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
a few shakes of your favorite other hot sauce
a heaping tablespoon of sour cream
four or five big cloves of garlic, smashed with the side of your chef's knife or your meat tenderizer's flat side
salt
pepper

Lillian and Bernie grilled the marinated steaks for a couple minutes on each side on the barbecue. The open flame does a fabulous caramelization on the edges.

They were so good that I don't know if I'll ever want to do tri-tip any other way again. Bernie says, "You will if it's raining."

*Photo is from public domain images. We ate all the steak before I could remember the camera.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Feathers of Autumn

The black phoebe was perched in our potted plum tree, putting his feathers in order when he spotted me standing in the doorway with my camera. He doesn't look too pleased about the photoshoot.

Autumn equinox was Friday; on Saturday the white-crowned sparrows showed up on the back patio, making tiny cheeps. Then one of them let out a loud territorial call, marking the change of season.

Bluebirds are gathering into loose flocks, dusting themselves here and there on the sidewalks and streets; blackbirds are packing themselves into huge flocks and swirling like dust devils above fields and trees. I hear the flights of geese overhead, and curlews, and kildeer.

It's Fall.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Conclusion of "Out with the Trash."

Back in 2003, I had an idea for NaNoWriMo 2004. I had completed Character Assassin (easiest NaNo ever) and was thinking about the next year.

It was a spite novel, to include as a character a person that I had known who was unpleasant. But what to build upon? 50 thousand words is a lot of words to indicate that someone I once knew more than twenty years before was an ass. And keep him anonymous, of course. I'm not above vengeance, but not prone to libel.

It was to be about him being a hog, but not to be "about him" per se, because I didn't have any clue as to why he was actually a hog. Instead I wanted to write about his household, because it had to be as unpleasant as he was.

By the time 2004 rolled around, I had a good idea of what I wanted to happen. The summer of 2004 I remember fondly because so many mornings, I spent chatting with my friend Wendy Robards about what the hog's spouse had to be to have put up with him for so many years. That foundational exploration lent the character Emily Storm Fatzer a strong emotional and reactive bent. I knew who she was, and how she would deal with Hog Mark Fatzer before I ever began the story.

At the end of November, 2004, I had a novel in my hands, Out with the Trash, and it wasn't bad. There were some minor edits to be made, and one big one, a chapter that just didn't seem complete.

Thirteen years ago, I knew I had to edit that incomplete chapter, maybe add another 200 - 500 words. Couldn't bring myself to do it.

It wasn't that I didn't love the story and the characters, it wasn't that I didn't know what to say, it was ... what?

I don't know, even now, when the chapter is complete and published in the Piker Press weeks ago, what it was that hung me up for so many years. But as of next Monday, Emily's story will be complete, and Out with the Trash will be a published novel online.

The illustrations for the story are from my photos of koi at a water garden store in Oakdale, California, and from our own pond out in front of our porch.

Many thanks again to Wendy Robards and my husband Bernie, for reading and suggesting improvements to the finished work.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Summer Bliss

Each year that I've grown corn in containers, by the time they are about four feet tall, I wonder if it's worth it. Corn wants a lot of water and fertilizer to develop well, and the last few years, California has been in a prolonged drought. Even though last Spring saw our reservoirs filled by rain, we still have restrictions on watering; that means that most of the water we collect from the sink or shower waiting for the hot stuff to come out of the faucet has to be carried out to the corn.

Is it worth it?

Then, by the time the corn is seven feet tall and corn silk begins to be visible, I wonder again if the investment in water is going to allow good formation of ears.

The tassel at the top of each stalk begins to shed pollen, and ears begin to show. I touch the silk, gently squeeze the ears. Is there any bulk in there? Is the silk drying out a little?

Time for a test: I peel back a little bit of the husk ... and there are white and yellow kernels, pretty as jewels in a treasure chest. The corn is ready.

And with the first bite of tender, sweet, fragrant front yard corn, I know that all the water was worth it, and that I'll plant more next Spring.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Carnage

The piece leaning against the car is the first piece he tore off: the lid.

We bought a new garden shed for the north side of the house, and it arrived in an enormous cardboard box. I knew that I'd never be able to get the empty box into my car's cargo area to take it to the recycle center,  so I asked for some help breaking it down.

Kermit said that he'd be glad to assist me, and after jumping into the box, he dismantled it from the inside out. I think it took him 30 minutes.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

300

Not long after I planted my tomatoes out in the front yard, I was bullshitting with the owner of the empty house next door. "I got over 150 pounds of tomatoes last year, but I had a few unproductive vines. This year, I'm thinking I'll get 300 pounds of tomatoes out of here."

I hoped I wouldn't regret my words later, not wanting to be known as a bullshitter, even though I was in the bullshitting mode.

Then, as can be seen in the previous post, I had a record tomato picking day. A few days later, I added another 44-pound picking. And THEN, on July 3, I broke the record and picked 55 pounds of beautiful, beautiful tomatoes. At that point, I knew I'd get my 300 by the end of tomato season.

On the 28th of July, I hit my goal. 301 pounds of tomatoes from a small suburban front yard. 


 The vines are getting a bit weary at this point, and who can blame them? So I did a stout trimming on the indeterminate vines (Early Girl and Gladiator) and took off all the branches that are done with production or that looked like they would be unproductive. The Shady Ladies are still producing; they're not ready to be pruned just yet. 

I'll keep track of what I pick until the end of the season, of course. But no more bullshitting. I have no idea how many more tomatoes I'll get this year.

That's Kermit beside the tomatoes, being such a good, calm dog. And the picture of the yard is taken from the next door neighbor's yard -- a next door neighbor who will own the house starting tomorrow. Seems like a really nice guy, and he says his wife loves raising tomatoes. Wouldn't that be cool?

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Record Tomato Harvest

This morning I enlisted Bernie's help, and we picked tomatoes.

On the tray in front, the variety is "Gladiator" a new variety this year, raised from seed.  On the left, in the low basket, is "Early Girl." The rest are "Shady Lady."

51 pounds, 10 ounces.

In one picking.

That's the most ever. Last year I think the heaviest day brought in 28 pounds. On the other hand, last year I had a number of unproductive loafer vines that just didn't produce worth a damn. This year I went with the big guns (plus Gladiator) because we have a use for some tomato sauce in the future.

Aren't they a bit pale to be picked, you may ask. Not at all, really. They will finish coloring up just fine sitting on my counter.  The ones below started out picked just as blushy as the ones on the table.
They are just as flavorful, too. But the reasons I pick them just as they start to blush are three-fold: one, the sun can cook them on the vine in the afternoon heat; two, if they color up, the bugs bite them and birds peck them; and three, if they get too ripe on the vine, they soften up and the weight of the other tomatoes on the vine crushes them. Tomatoes are not only delicious, but fierce.
 
Here's what I mean about bug bites:
These are Gladiator tomatoes, a paste-type variety with a thin skin. All they have to do is start blushing, and bugs nibble or sting them. They can still be used for sauce, but they look ugly and can rot quickly once the skin is breached.

Incidentally, the description of "Gladiator" from Burpee's Seeds says it's a patio or small garden tomato. That would be only if you don't want to see your patio or small garden until next fall -- all of the plants are wide and taller than I am.


I do have another variety in the yard, a San Marzano that was on the verge of being thrown out at the nursery; I'm a sucker for orphan tomatoes and just brought it home and tucked it in with the sunflowers and overgrown onions. If it produces a fruit, I'll be glad to taste it.

From left to right, Gladiator (8 oz.), Shady Lady (8 oz.), and Early Girl (6 oz.)

 High time for a BLT, I say.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Too Hot

All gone.

For the first time in years, I planted snapdragons this past winter. Here in Central CA, snaps are "winter color." Not this year, though, as we had so much cloud cover and rain that the plants just didn't want to bloom.

Once April rolled around, though, they were beautiful, and grew tall and blossomed and smelled delicious.

June, and a heat wave. I mean HEAT WAVE, with temps in the hundreds for a week. Right now, as I type this, the weather report is that it is 107 out.

I expect heat like this at the end of July, but not in June. Especially since I just stopped wearing winter clothes about 10 days ago.

Even the plants were not expecting it. Bernie's peppers are cooking on the stem; my container corn is withered and trying to tassel too early, and all the snaps have given up. Pansies, too, are suggesting that they are ready for the compost bin.

By this time next week, temps are supposed to be back to a seasonal level. But I wonder how many more plants we're going to lose by then.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Creepy Day ... and Night

Alex had just snitched the last piece of my bacon that I'd cooked for my breakfast, and was munching it while looking out at the back patio off the kitchen. I was in the front room, fiddling with my computer.

I heard Alex squawk, and she came back-pedaling into the front room, talking around the bacon in her mouth. "A BEHEADED RAT JUST FELL OUT OF THE SKY!!!"

Everybody leaped up and ran to see if she had lost her mind at last.

"Is it an omen, like the wolf pup being dropped into Claudius' lap in I, Claudius?" she asked, a grimace of horror on her face.

No, not likely, but since I've found bird feathers scattered at the exact same spot as the toes-up headless rodent, it seems likely that the little hawk I'd seen being chased by crows earlier in the day had sloppily dropped his lunch.

"Is that our rat?" I asked Bernie. ('Our rat' lives in the neighbor's roof and comes into our yard to steal bird seed and I haven't been able to kill the bastard yet.)

"That's a mouse," he said, disappointed as I was that Rat had not met his demise.

Just then, a scrub jay began to hop down from the tree, purposefully and strangely possessively.

Speculating on whether or not the jay wanted the dead mouse, or could successfully carry it away even if he did want it, we all withdrew to the house and watched from the windows. Sure enough, the jay pounced, grabbed the mouse, and flew off into the neighbor's yard with it.

"Good job on clean up, Jay."

But although a decapitated mouse falling from the sky was creepy enough on its own, that same night brought a troubling incident.

Allergies are really bad here this year, and Bernie and I take turns sleeping on the couch when our sinuses are bothering us. He was on the couch, I'd had a pretty sneezeless day, so I was back on the futon with Kermit. It was a warmish night, so the door to the outside was open.

At some point I felt Kermit roll up from his sprawl, and I turned over to see what looked like a dog sitting outside our sliding screen door. At first I thought that someone had found a black dog and shoved him in our gate, thinking it was Kermit on the loose. But then I remembered locking the gate before bedtime. I disentangled myself from the covers and got up to have a look.

Nothing was there.

I'd have thought I was dreaming, but Kermit was still staring intently at the door. And whatever it was that I saw was sitting, while Kermit was still lying down, so it wasn't a reflection from the glass part of the door.

I shut the door for the rest of the night.

The next day Bernie told me he'd heard something on the fence that woke him up, there being an open window beside the couch.

Makes me kind of nervous now to sleep with the door open.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Dog Toy

The toy I got Kermit for Christmas went right into the trash twenty minutes after he unwrapped it. The packaging said that it was made for aggressive-playing dogs, made from firehose material, made to hold up under rough play.

Plainly they had never tested the toy on Kermit's jaws. I threw it for him once, and then he systematically sawed it into pieces and gutted it.

So I don't buy him cute doggie toys like I used to with Howie, Babe, or Desi (a border collie/collie mix who took excellent care of all his toys) -- there's no point, I might as well throw a ten dollar bill at him and let him shred it.

However, after I filled the salt shakers in the kitchen, I had a sturdy salt box to put in the recycle bag. Had I been wearing shoes, I'd have stomped on it to flatten it and break it down a little, but I had sandals on.

...Oh, wait, I know who can help me with deconstruction. I showed it to Kermit, who was keeping me company as he always does, and then tossed it into the front room. He leaped after it, scooped it up.

The salt box fit in his jaws perfectly, and he began to gallop from the kitchen back door to the front door in eight-foot leaps, growling around his new toy. He tossed it in the air, chased it across the floor, chomped it, capered while shaking it, ran back and forth over and over again.

When he was done scampering and had settled down to eat the box, I traded him a big dog cookie for the container, and took a picture of it to remind me that there is one dog toy I can get for him on a regular basis.

Makes me feel a lot better about being able to give him a new thing to play with. Next time I'll take the label off before I give it to him -- he'll be able to play with it a few minutes longer.




Sunday, May 14, 2017

Cucumbers Ahoy!

The other cucumber is not missing, it was transformed. John and I made it into a tzatziki sauce to go with the previously mentioned leg of lamb.

The past two years, I haven't planted cucumbers; I'm pretty much the only one who eats them, and the pot I used to plant them in has been taken over by a dwarf plum tree, and the vines always got buggy anyway. But this year, I had a hankering for fresh cucumber, and the stuff I get in the store tastes like it's crossed with zucchini.

These taste fabulous, and I'm so glad I planted them this year.

So let's talk about the leg of lamb again. I roasted it at 350 degrees in an open pan until the interior temp was 115 (about an hour and a half), then brought it out, wrapped it in foil to let it rest for 15 minutes. The exterior was seasoned with salt, garlic powder and cumin; inside the hole left by the removed bone I had stuffed several split cloves of garlic. It tasted great, and what's more, it was the most tender lamb I have ever cooked.

I was going to use the leftover lamb to make a batch of black bean chili, but with cucumbers like these, forget it. More tzatziki for me!


Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Trickiest Trick So Far

I lucked into a large leg of lamb the other day, and wanted to take the bone out with as little massacre as possible, so I looked up "how to de-bone a leg of lamb" on Google. I found a video on You Tube from beefandlamb.com.au and watched it:



And then I took my leg of lamb and tried it. When I was nearly done, I made John and Bernie come watch. They were so surprised when I pulled that bone out that I had to roar with laughter.

Best magic trick ever.

 

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

More New Tricks

Coincidentally, I was watching a Food Network show last night that had a quick feature involving mushrooms sauteed in butter. The feature showcased a bunch of different kind of mushrooms and made me hungry. Then this morning, when we turned on the TV to keep the dogs calm while we were out shopping, there was another show on -- with mushrooms.

While we were out shopping I bought ... mushrooms.

Go figure.

So I chopped five or six white button mushrooms thinly, and grated a fat clove of garlic. I sauteed them both in a pat of butter, then splashed them with white wine -- a tasty Italian pinot grigio -- and continued to cook the browny mushrooms until the liquid was gone. I added a couple splashes of cream, and got a yummy mushroom sauce thereby.

I also cooked up a bag of Crystal Bay frozen mussels with white wine and seasonings. And although SOME PEOPLE say cheese and seafood don't go together, I grated a little bit of fontina cheese, added a couple shakes of parmesan,  and romano, and a few dabs of goat cheese. When the 3 ounces of angel hair pasta were done, I folded them into the creamy mushrooms, added the cheeses and tossed it all together. Put the mussels on top.

Lil and I ate the whole batch.

Never did that before, but I will be doing it again.


Sunday, April 30, 2017

New Tricks

Alex brought her phone to me one day recently to show me some art someone had posted on some social media site. (Note the use of the word "some" -- that means I didn't bother to remember the names.)

The worthy experimental artist had put a stem of gypsophilia (baby's breath) on a scanner, and scanned it with the lid of the scanner open. DUH!!

There was a faint illumination from the room the scanner was in, but the ethereal image of the tiny flowers was stunning. Naturally I had to give it a try myself, in my garage studio, which is devoid of light.

I put a stem of my white geraniums on the scanner, turned off all the lights, and from my indoor workspace, fired up the scanner remotely and got this delicious result.

I tried the project with snapdragons, nasturtiums, and sweet peas.

Next I think I'll snitch a few of Bernie's dianthus blooms, which should come out looking like mutated stars in a midnight sky.

Also I should do a good job of cleaning those pesky specks off my scanner's bed.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Seder 2017


Another Seder done.

This was the centerpiece arrangement for Seder this year, with really lovely flowers from Trader Joe's, white chrysanthemums and yellow alstromeria. The leather ferns came from my north-side garden, where they grow rampant.

I can't ever remember a bad Seder, but this one was especially joyous because -- well, we didn't host one last year, and we all missed the tradition. The singing was great, the laughter of company welcome.

John outdid himself by making lamb kofta, little patties of seasoned ground lamb, with a cucumber-yogurt sauce. Eaten with a dab of spicy goat cheese on a little flatbread -- superb. Bernie made a surprisingly delicious rice dish that included onions, garlic, raisins, and roasted cauliflower, with a corn stock gravy. Amazing food!

Oh, I baked two loaves of French bread as my culinary contribution. Actually I baked four; the weather (cold and rainy) affected the dough and the first two loaves were truly horrible. They FELL, and even tasted bad. The second two were great, go figure.

Yeah, I guess we'll do this again next year.



Sunday, March 05, 2017

Baby Kittens, Who Could Resist?

The very first in this season's line of kittens for the Crazy Old Tomato Lady's garden.

The variety is "Gladiator" from Burpee's Seed catalog of Roma-like tomatoes. They're supposed to produce some spectacular fruits, so we'll give them a try. I haven't started my own tomatoes for a few years, so this has been a treat. I've moved the seedlings from the sunny window in the front room to the sunnier, hotter window in the kitchen. After the coming chilly nights the next few days, they'll be transitioning to the outdoors by playing on the front porch during the warm afternoons, and being brought back indoors at night.

I hope they do well. The rest of the tomato areas will be inhabited by the wild and wooly Early Girls and the draft-horse powerhouse Shady Ladies.

In addition to tomatoes, we'll be planting sweet corn, watermelons, canteloupes, and maaaaybe a cucumber. And peppers. And I hear Alex is doing herbs. And who knows what else?

Today's weather included drizzle, sunshine, downpours, hail, sun again, and a cold wind. Good for kittens to stay inside a little while longer.




Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Looks Cool in the Morning

Back in 1986, when I saw my backyard fence look like this, I was sure I had an irresponsible neighbor who was surely going to set the property on fire.

After our drenching rains soaked the world of California, this morning the sun came up in a cloudless sky, and steamed the excess wetness out.

Back in pre-1985 Pennsylvania, fences didn't steam, and February was a month of cold slushy days and dirty snow. Twenty years later, here in the Central Valley, I now know that a smoky-looking fence is a sure sign of spring.


Sunday, February 19, 2017

Tools of the Trade

From the left: grooming mitt, leather gloves to protect my hands from cold and potential leash-burns, a thin (and cheap) kennel lead. Then a short black goat-lead (yes, goat, you read that right), two chain collars, a green nylon collar for a dog to wear when he's riding in the car, a leather leash that originally belonged to Babe, and a 10 foot training leash.

Not represented is a soft red slip lead because it was in the car.

Bernie made me this cute wooden rack for Kermit's stuff. It hangs on the wall behind the bedroom door, perfect for a left-handed grab while my right hand signals Kermit to sit or lie down to get ready for an outing.

The mitt and gloves are pretty understandable, but why so many things, and what is their purpose?

The thin kennel lead is something I can tuck in any pocket (I have one in the glove compartment of the car, too) and use to show Kermit what I want him to do, such as lie down and stay put in any given place instead of pestering people. It's a slip lead; it has an eye at one end and a handle on the other. That way it can hang loosely around the dog's neck if the dog is calm, or be tightened under the dog's ears to control his head. What Kermit has learned from it is that he is to pay attention to what I want him to do. It's not a punishment, it's a permit to relax and not have to think things out for himself.

The goat lead is a nylon handle with a snap end. It hooks to Kermit's chain collar. At that arm-length and dog-height, he doesn't need to put any pressure on it to walk properly at my side. Lillian had one when she was showing goats for 4-H, and I knew it could be a useful tool.

The two chain collars ... one was Howie's, and fit Kermit when I got him. A "choke" collar like that should have a four-inch drop -- uhh, that is, if you tighten it up high on the neck under the dog's ears, there should be four inches of chain running to your leash. This kind of collar is not to choke a dog, but a quick tug makes a clanking symbol to Pay Attention Now. Babe's old chain collar is in a secret place in my studio, too big for Kermit, as Kermit doesn't have the heavy thick neck pelt that Babe did. But Howie's chain collar is now too small for his froggy successor.

The nylon collar is simply for car travel, so Kermit can still his head out the window and not put nicks in the glass with the chain collar. I don't like what nylon collars do to fur, so it's strictly a car outfit.

The leather lead is what I use most often lately; the 10 foot training lead is handy for when we're out in the woods and I don't want him off leash to chase squirrels, and was invaluable when Kermit was just learning how to go for a walk -- I could use it as a slip lead to control his big head, but the long length was good for letting him sniff the new world he found himself in.

But lately, he's been "getting it" and walking pretty darn gentlemanly with the leash hanging in a loop, putting no pressure at all on my hand. Makes me feel good, seeing my big dog padding along at my side, checking on my attention to make sure he's doing right.

Right now, he's coiled on an oversized ottoman by my knees, waiting to see what we're going to do next, dozing until I'm ready to move. Oh, good dog.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Happy New Year! And Food! And Dog!

Bernie's grand experiment this past fall was to attempt to grow Brussels sprouts in pots in our front yard farm. I'd given it a half-hearted try the previous year, but planted them too late -- I got to eat some of the foliage, but they never made those cute little mini-cabbage shapes. Bernie has had much more success.

Today he decided that some of them were big enough to eat. So we cooked them in bacon fryings with diced onion. Melt the bacon fat, add the onions, let them sweat down a little, then put in the halved Brussels sprouts, stirring gently now and then. When the color is bright green, cover them and let them steam themselves for a few minutes. Then flavor with salt and garlic powder, stir and steam again. They're done when a fork can penetrate them tenderly.

Holy smoley, they were delicious! Of course, as with just about all food, the sweet intensity of the flavor was so much better coming out of the garden minutes before. Yes, fresh is better than produce that sits in bins for days or weeks.

I love how they look like little knobby palm trees, and based on our culinary experience today, Bernie says he wants to plant a lot more of them next fall. I agree. More Brussels sprouts, more red-leaf lettuce, less spinach and chard and collards.

Yes, of course I have a picture of Kermit on his office chair near the table where I work. When I picked up the camera, he looked at me as though he expected to be photographed. He was very proud of himself today: he helped me unload the throw rugs from the dryer, every one of them. He's a working dog.

2017 is coming in with a deluge. I even heard a rumor that some of the reservoirs are going to fill to pre-drought levels. I certainly hope so, but I'll believe it when I see it. In the mean time, we have tentative plans to visit a somewhat flooded soccer field on Monday -- we're supposed to get a whopper of a rain over the weekend. Kermit is going to love it...