flea beetles

Some of my tomato plants are being nibbled on by flea beetles.  I've been smashing them one by one when I can (they jump like fleas), but my research suggest that they like recent transplants, so as the plants grow, the bugs might just go away.  They've also been restricting their diet to the lower, older leaves, which grew entirely indoors and are probably more tender than newer leaves--perhaps this is why they like recent transplants.  The damage is mostly cosmetic at this point, but I'll have to keep a close eye out.

An example of some flea beetle damage.

 More flea beetle damage.

Two flea beetles in action.  One of them didn't live long after this shot...


seeds of the apocalypse

 So I have this thing--a nagging fear, a habit, whatever you want to call it--where I can't use up a packet of seeds. I always want to save some for later (which phrase always conjures to mind a quote from the 1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory film: "Augustus, sweetheart, save some room for later.").  Anyway, I have this box dedicated to half-used seed packets, all of which are sealed up in one plastic bag, which really means I have a bag full of mixed-up seeds and then some paper packets thrown in there to tell me what those seeds might be.  Not the best organization.

When my tomato endeavors were failing, I planted some of these seeds immediately to make myself feel better, and then I bought some more seeds and was about to do the same thing as usual with them: use some, squirrel away some.  But then I had an internal dialogue that went something like the following.

Come on, this sad little garden needs all the love it can get.  You don't even know how long these seeds will last if you store them.  Plus, the nursery is like a two minute walk from your apartment, so even if you need more, you can buy them.  There's not going to be some sort of apocalypse in which you need seeds for survival, and even if there was, I'd bet you'd be the first person to think of running over to that particular nursery, mostly because you're having this conversation with yourself right now.  And the rest of those seeds in the plastic bag?  Go plant those.  Morning glories, sweet peas, green onions, lavender, and lettuce aren't going to take you that far in the event of an apocalypse.

So I planted everything and waited, searching the skies for signs....just kidding, I'm no Glenn Beck.  I have been watching the ground religiously, though, and now I'm seeing some sprouts, which are, surprise, surprise, morning glories!  Why do the flowers always sprout first?  I think I've spotted beets, beans, and lettuce too, but I'll have to wait to be sure.  I hate this stage of uncertainly--I'm not sure what's weeds and what's not, but the morning glories are pretty distinctive and I've planted them before.

Also wik: I ended up hardening off a few tomato plants properly, and they're actually doing well.


dawning awareness

I've recently become fascinated with 17th century Russian history--an obscure interest, I know.  I can't get my hands on enough of it; I want to understand religion, politics, society, serfdom...everything from high level movement to the daily life of the poor.  Wikipedia got me started, but that only takes a few hours to exhaust on such a narrow topic.  I started looking into books on Amazon and was appalled at the prices of the most interesting books: some of them were hundreds of dollars.  One was $144 for the Kindle Edition.  Bwah?

And then I had a very bizarre realization: my husband is a student.  I work at a university.  We live minutes from said university.  They have a library.  Actually, they have lots of libraries, and can order basically any book under the sun.  The world is mine!

The strangest thing is that up until last week, I had not set foot in any one of the university libraries, and I've been here for, what, nearly 7 months?  And I claim to be a lover of books.  I guess one explanation is that most of my work and resources are digital, so I have no real academic need for hard copies of books.  My association with university libraries is that their collections are academic in nature, which I'd imagine is fairly true, but even given that label, it just didn't dawn on me that they would still have interesting reads.  It was a very strange feeling.


The Atonement

Given the Easter season, it should be no surprise that I've been thinking about the Atonement of Christ, which heals the bridge between imperfect man and perfect God.  The official LDS website has the following to say about the atonement (among other things, of course).
As used in the scriptures, to atone is to suffer the penalty for sins, thereby removing the effects of sin from the repentant sinner and allowing him or her to be reconciled to God. Jesus Christ was the only one capable of carrying out the Atonement for all mankind. Because of His Atonement, all people will be resurrected, and those who obey His gospel will receive the gift of eternal life with God.
I'd like to narrow the scope of my discussion to the earthly ramifications of the Atonement, or how people use the Atonement in their lives.  In the most traditional sense, we use the Atonement to repent of our sins.  It is a wonderfully cleansing process to think back on the things I've done wrong and be healed--it enables me to let things go and forgive myself.

Additionally, LDS folks often talk about the Atonement enabling Christ to know all our sorrows and joys; He feels perfect compassion.  This is nice because we will always have someone to turn to for comfort, no matter what we are experiencing.

I recently utilized an aspect of the Atonement which is new for me--it doesn't strictly fall under either of these categories.  A motley of events have lead me to feel mild anger, a hesitation to do what's right, and dislike of specific individuals.  These are all mental and spiritual burdens which can be lifted through mechanisms closely related to the two other usages of the Atonement.  In my case, the negative emotions were replaced by love, which was a mixture of repentance and experiencing the compassion of Christ.

It's old hat to use one's relationship with God to improve oneself, but I had never framed it in this way before: negative emotions can be relieved as soon as we acknowledge them as unwanted and seek healing.  The earthly ramifications of any of these mechanisms can probably be achieved through other means as well, but I thought I'd share a little bit about my method of healing.


the hard way

The descriptions I have read concerning hardening off plants--the process of getting it used to the outdoors after beng germinated indoors--range from detailed descriptions about tediously moving plants outdoors over the course of two weeks, increasing their daily exposure in hour increments to the simple one liner: "Before transplanting, move to a sheltered area outside for a week."

Given that I'm passionate about my little garden and have read what I thought was too much about germinating plants indoors, I was totally flabbergasted when I didn't transplant them outdoors properly, by which I mean I failed to harden off the poor dears.  I thought hardening a plant mostly had to do with temperature, but I learned that hard way that it's also preparing it for sun and wind exposure.  How on earth did I fail to see how important this was??

The real guilt lies with my laziness and impatience.  There is quite a colony of rabbits near our garden plot and I didn't want to harden the plants before I had a proper garden fence erected, and that took a fair amount of time and effort to build.  After that was done, it's no trivial distance from our apartment to the garden, at least while carrying a huge tray of plants.  It would have been doable to make the several needed daily trips with my various containers, but not desirable.

So in my foolishness, I decided to just open the windows by my seedings for a few days (going back to thinking it was mostly a temperature thing).  Once that was done, I brought out the main tray and planted four varieties directly in the ground.  I left the remaining plants in the tray out with the transplanted ones overnight.  After several days of glorious temperature, I thought they would be okay for a night.

The night turned out to be windy and many wilted leaves wrapped around themselves and dried that way--little bunches of once-leaves.  The next morning I took the tray in for emergency care and prayed over the ones still outside.  We then had a torrential storm.  Of those left outside, some of peppers maybe maybe maybe might survive, but the tomatoes are done for.

After a few days of nursing and taking the main tray outside, I finally planted all of those, but they were so damaged from that first night that I have low expectations.  The few thinned tomato plants that I put in odds-and-ends pots are doing alright, and I'm trying to do those the right way, but we shall see.  At this point, I don't trust my own judgement of the plants and their hardiness.  Everything could be dead come next week.

Ugh.  Lesson learned.

I was far too ambitious this year.  I need to take the time to learn about gardening in this climate instead of jumping straight into expecting a killer harvest with a million varieties.   If I need to, I'll buy a few plants from a local nursery and practice seed saving on those, become familiar with the problems associated with this area, and not waste my garden plot.  I've changed my goal to have this year be a learning experience.  The more mistakes I can make now, the better; that way I won't make them later.

Next year, I think I'll just try one variety of tomato and order from the Seed Savers Exchange, which I like much better than Burpee anyway.  I think I might go for the 250 seeds of the Amish Paste (which was one of the ones that got totally decimated this year), and I'll harden them off properly and go from there.  The hardest part is that I need to wait a full year before starting over again.

It's been frustrating and draining (emotionally and physically), but I'm really glad I had the experience of totally mucking up.  It has humbled me, shown me how much I care about gardening, and taught me the dangers of carelessness.  Forward!!


fashion, functionality, and aesthetics

On Monday I watched The September Issue as part of a lethargic end to an otherwise busy day.  It follows Anna Wintour, Vogue's editor-in-chief, and some of her associates--editors, designers, photographers, etc.--as they put together the September 2007 issue.  I know I'm way behind the times as this movie came out in 2009, but so it goes.

It starts off with an interview quote from Anna (my own transcription):
I think what I often see is that people are frightened of fashion and that because it scares them or makes them feel insecure, they put it down. ... On the whole, people that say demeaning things about our world, I think that's usually because in some way they feel excluded or--you know--not part of the 'cool group' or ... so as a result, they just mock it. ... Just because you like to put on a beautiful Carolina Herrera dress or a--I don't know--or a pair of J Brand blue jeans that, you know, instead of something basic from Kmart, it doesn't mean that you're a dumb person. ... There is something about fashion that can make people very nervous.
This opening hit me very negatively.  It felt like the middle school rant of an elitist.  (For reference, the cheapest Caroline Herrera dress I could find online was $495, but most of them were in the range of just under $2,000 to just under $4,000.)  Throughout the documentary, it because clear that Anna received little support at home. Her own daughter implied that fashion wasn't terribly important to her and planned to go into law.  Anna also said that her three high-achieving siblings (a political editor, a deputy-general secretary of the Public Services International union, and an official on a local council who works in low-income housing) all thought her work was "amusing."

I think Vouge is pretty to look at (at least the few times I have) and I'm sure the general population gleans tidbits for daily use, intentionally or not.  For me, I really don't like changing my wardrobe constantly.  I might combine clothes in new ways, but I'll rarely buy anything new.

Clothing, along with other elements of fashion and design, has two main components: functionality and aesthetics. Arguably, aesthetic appeal is a function of an object, but I'd like to distinguish them for the sake of this exposition; an item is functional if it is easy to obtain, maintain, and use.  While functionality is slightly subjective, aesthetics is mostly subjective and varies in importance depending on the person and item in question.  For every individual, they maximize the combination of functionality and aesthetics; for Anna Wintour, aesthetics of clothes is obviously a very high priority.

I'm a very visual person and care greatly about how things look: my clothes, my house, my car, my food.  Luckily, I've developed a minimalist bent, which ends up being fairly functional as well.  For instance, when I was searching for a simple white sugar bowl, the cheapest Target-brand one was exactly what I wanted.  It doesn't always work out quite so nicely, though, and sometimes I have to settle.  I guess what I'm getting at is that aesthetic appeal of an object is worth considering; valuing it "doesn't mean that you're a dumb person" as Anna Wintour said, but it's important to acknowledge that others have different value systems and also to know yourself and develop your own balance.


categorical traps

I was in Home Depot today picking up a few things, when the garden gloves caught my eye.  I longed for a pair, but then did a double take on a few things.  I can't help but roll my eyes at anything that markets something for women as "for her," let alone that does so in a script font on a swirly pink background; alas, this brand used that angle.  On top of that, they categorized landscaping gloves by task: stone & masonryplantingdigging, etc.  There were about eight or so of these categories.  Having gloves for different tasks might be reasonable if they were actually any different, but as far as I could tell, they were only two designs made of smooth goat-skin leather on the palms and fingers, and then leather or a breathable floral fabric on the back.  I'm not a fan of breathable fabric gloves for gardening because they let tiny dust particles in.  I ended up treating myself to a pair of the all-leather ones (stone & masonry) because leather lasts longer than fabric and I liked the uniformity and color.

The stone & masonry gloves weren't selling as well as the others, most likely because fewer people do stone and masonry landscaping themselves than people who do their own gardening.  Aside from selling the categories unevenly, the this kind of fake categorization seems silly.  I imagine they're trying to create niches to increase sales, but I doubt that it works particularly well.  Maybe they're just trying to understand their consumers better--I don't know.  At Joann's, they label fabric craft, quilting, decor, and fashion, or at least something along those lines.  On some level it's helpful, but on another, it's arbitrary.  I'd rather just know what it's made of and how to wash it.  Why not just let the consumer decide an item's use?  I've used decor fabric for fashion and vice versa.

Towels are another good example: you have bath towels, beach towels, kitchen towels, and cleaning towels, even though they're all essentially the same thing.  Maybe some have different patterns, colors, or sizes, but those distinctions were developed so we would buy some of each.

I prefer labeling to categorization, it's more intuitive and expansive.  Labeling a cotton fabric cotton, machine-washablegood for quilting, and good for crafts (preferably with easy-to read and maybe even color-coded labels) is much more helpful than just sticking it in a quilting section.  Similarly, gloves could have all of their uses labeled instead of producing five of the same glove with mild differences and labeling each with a unique use.


blaze daze

I spent seven hours outdoors today, which was absolutely incredible.  The weather was perfect--it was sunny and in the low 80s--and I thoroughly enjoyed everything I did.

The first patch was a four hour stint up in Hopewell: I fed sheep, bathed a cow, and groomed a horse.  There was also a good amount of walking, talking with and listening to the shepherdess, chasing after/playing with a young (3? 4?) kid, and petting the animals.  I learned a lot; when a cow licks its hide, it looks like a cowlick!  One blunder I made was mistaking straw for hay...sheep don't like to eat straw.  Now I know.  I also learned about the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, which I sadly can't attend this year.

After a brief interlude for some grocery shopping and lunch, I went to work in my new garden plot!  It took forever to get the fence halfway around the rectangle, and I ended up with a mild sunburn.  Hopefully I'll be able to finish the fencing tomorrow and plant my greenlings the day after that.  Yay garden!

I am drained right now.  Seven hours in the sun mid-summer wouldn't pull quite a number on me, but to go from indoor-all-the-time mode to this jarred me some.  To give me a boost, N treated me to Chipotle.  So here I sit in the cool of the evening, my four layers of muck scrubbed off and full of yum.  Can I do it again tomorrow?


saturday skirt and wild leek treat

I've been fiddling around with my sewing machine for a while, doing mending and a few ill-fated projects.  Today, however, I completed my first real project--a skirt--start to finish in one day.  It wasn't much, made with cheap natural-colored muslin, but it felt good to finish something.  I made a pattern based on a purchased skirt in my closet, but had to adjust it along the way since I ended up using less of the seam allowance than anticipated; it went from a 12 panel skirt to a 10 panel one.  I also doubled up the fabric on every panel because muslin is so incredibly thin; even with the two layers, I'll still need to wear a slip.  There's a lot I need learn and work on when it comes to sewing, but the skirt will be fun for around-the-house work and such.

After that project was done, N and I went for a long walk in the woods.  Along the way, I discovered the secret hiding places for wild leeks!  I'm determined to learn what and where to forage out here since I thoroughly enjoyed what little foraging I did in the Berkeley area.  I'm trying to start with very distinctive plants: I've been keeping my eyes out for fiddleheads and morel mushrooms too, but with no luck at all.  I have no idea if they even grow in our woods since the granularity of range with online resources is pretty large.

The wild leeks were pretty young and N was impatient since we had been out a while, so I didn't bother to dig them up; instead, I plucked off the tops of a handful.  There were lots and lots of them, so I plan on going back when they're a little more mature.  When I came home, I chopped them up and put them in a béchamel sauce with some cheese for a tiny tasty treat!


societal care and anonymity

I feel like I rant and rave about selfishness quite a bit; that and ignorance are my two main explanations when people do things I don't like, agree with, or understand.  Of course, I'm just a likely to be ignorant and selfish as others, so when things go wrong socially, it's a battle to balance between blaming myself so I improve my faults and blaming others so I'm not overwhelmed with incapacitating guilt.

I had one of those awkward social moments a bit ago.  I was grocery shopping and accidentally got in the "7 items or less" (*cough* fewer) lane with far more than 7 items.  The lady behind me was giving me dirty looks and I cocked my head at her.  She explained her source of discontent, and I, with my groceries already on the belt, went into a doting and apologetic frenzy.  She then looked down and realized that she had more than 7 items too, and moved to another lane.

I'm fascinated by the enforcement of rules within a community, no matter their origin.  I've seen people call out their rule-breaking peers in many contexts, mostly because it benefits them in some way.  With increasing isolation among people that live in proximity, I feel that this kind of interaction is proportionally higher than it has been in the past.  People feel an actual need to interact with others when they are being disadvantaged, but are more than happy to ignore the rest of the hundreds and thousands that pass by them every day.

Being generally friendly is a good start against this alienation, but it can also be unwelcome or even creepy, depending on the situation.  I appreciated a fellow shopper telling me that Jazz apples are the best for snacking, but I was looking for apples for baking.  And he talked for too long.  Those kind of interactions can be deeply meaningful on occasion, though, restoring faith in a crowd of the otherwise anonymous.  My own policy is to go for a simple smile or nod of the head to passers-by, which I think is almost always welcome.

Part of the problem is that our individual social networks aren't the same as the communities in which we live.  I have strong social connections all over California, a group of folks in the Boston area, those in my current location, and a sprinkling elsewhere.  We have no motivation to care about individuals in our community that we may see once then never again.  If a friend had seen me get in the 7 items lane, she might have tugged my sleeve and said, "Hey, did you see this was a 7 items lane?"  Friendly, straightforward, and helpful.  It's much harder to assume that kind of familiarity with people we don't know.

Even when strangers can assume familiarity, it often isn't perceived as intended because the speaker is unknown.  Someone might have a naturally gruff tone to their voice or may look intimidating.  Without a preexisting connecting between two individuals, a friendly comment might land on defensively deaf ears.

Social anonymity certainly has its advantages too; the penitent can reforge identities which help them overcome past mistakes.  (The manipulative can also use this to their advantage too, though.)  Children can become independent of their parents which causes growth.  People find new ways to create their needed local connections; social spheres can be more welcoming to strangers if every member once was in that same position.  Minds are expanded due to diversified contact.

I've toyed with the idea of building my own physically collocated community to create the social interdependence I crave.  However, every community breeds its own kind of isolation and set of other problems.  I have no road map for what should be on a larger scale, but I do think every individual should strive to be kind, understanding, and respectful of both their anonymous and known peers.  I also think that I need to be happier with my community as is instead of inventing ideals; on some level it should be good enough for me to do my best and have the relationships I do.


lazy weekend

I finished a paper submission late on Thursday, so I was all sorts of lazy this weekend.  To get us out of the house on Saturday, N came up with the wonderful idea of driving down to Island Beach State Park.

Of course what he told me was "we're going to the beach," so that lead to some confusion since I was navigating to the Avon-by-the-Sea area.

Anyway, it was lovely, windy, and on the warm side for April; I had packed a picnic lunch which we ate on the shore before walking up and down the coast.

There were a bunch of foxes wandering about, and they handed us a warning flier about not feeding them upon entering the park.  The waves were mild and the sand very fine and clean.  I poked at the seashells and developed a funny walk for the purpose of making as shallow a footprint as possible (on packed sand).

It was N's first time to an east-coast beach, and my second.  We liked that there were so few people, but that's probably partly because it was April.  Perhaps we'll take another drip when the weather gets warmer.