Home And Garden Editing

Reducing Excess Indoors and Out

(Note: There was no post for last week, as the overloaded Log House Plants site needed a boost to handle a high volume of visitors.)

I’ve lived in this large, lovely house for well over a decade now. Over the years, I’ve renovated and repaired and re-imagined pretty well every square foot of its three stories. I mended and refinished the deck and installed new windows and sliding doors. Instead of the rusty, rattling old gutters, we’ve now got the new kind that don’t fill up with leaves (call me a wimp, but ladder work at 20-plus feet no longer tempts me). I replaced the aging heating system and water heater twice, renewed old plumbing and wiring, cleared out the crawl spaces, restored insulation. Last year, I turned the jammed-full-to-the-ceiling garage into a clean, light-filled studio and built a study, attractive screened in porch off the sun room. Now, I’’m done.

In fact, I’m done altogether. This summer, I’ll put the house on the market and look for a smaller place that will suit me better as I age. That might sound sad; indeed, several friends seem quite dismayed to learn that I’m planning to leave so soon after getting the house just the way I want it. Oh, there’s a twinge or two of sorrow mixed in, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the work. I deeply enjoy the creativity of the renovation process and have always felt pleased to leave each home better than I found it. Right now, the idea of a move feels freeing and wide open to possibilities; indeed, VERY wide, since it’s not clear just where I’ll be going. I’ve appreciated this big house enormously. It’s a beautiful, hospitable, flexible place, with plenty of room. These days, however, my kids have homes of their own and the family that’s home-shared with me  is excitedly planning to move on to their own new home as well. So, I’m done.

Sharing The Pleasure

All this releasing really does feel great, but any move is a pretty major life event and can’t help but be somewhat emotionally mixed. This winter, I’ve found joy in clearing closets of extra clothing, knowing that the homeless people who receive it will be snug and warm. I’ve donated carloads of treasures I haven’t looked at or touched in years to benefits, nonprofits, and appreciative friends. (I’m at the stage where anyone who admires anything ends up taking it home.) Now, I’ll be setting this happy, handsome house free to more active use than I can offer, and that feels positively wonderful too.

At the very same time, sorting out each box of memories requires some processing (definitely some more than others) and I’m finding it best to pace myself a bit. The broom closet, while amazingly packed (how did I end up with so many light bulbs for lamps I no longer own, and why was there a waffle iron and a stovetop griddle in there?), did not trigger an emotional cascade. The filing cabinet full of old house papers, death certificates, family pictures, well, that one I’m taking one drawer at a time, with several easier tasks in between.

Garden Giving

Outside, I’ve similarly edited over time, removing overgrown shrubs and leaning trees, renovating beds and replanting the front entry. I’ve redone the driveway twice, improved the drainage systems twice, and built a splendid new garden shed. After two years of growth, the mounded bed garden is a delight and the carefully chosen, much loved plants are thriving in the blend of sandy loam and digested dairy manure. This garden was thoughtfully planned and planted, with each hand picked plant given an appropriate spot. Mostly. Despite my care, it’s clear that plant lust has overridden my design sense here and there. There are certainly going to be some extra plants for Hannah’s Garden, the kid-friendly plantings at Owen’s Playground, an accessible play space for everyone of any age or physical ability.

In the past, I might have waited months to see if the hard freezes truly killed off certain tender plants. This year, out they come with barely a backward glance. It doesn’t hurt to know that there are plenty of replacements in the wings. My original plantings were hedged with boxleaf honeysuckle (Lonicera pileata), which are now filling in fast. To keep the deer disinterested, I had circled the whole garden with a new Dutch catnip called Meow. These strapping plants easily get 3 x 3 feet and where the hedge encroaches, I’m digging out the Meows to replace the silvery white sage, Salvia apiana, which definitely gave up the ghost this winter.

Going, Going, Gone

I’m usually a total sucker for garden seedlings, carefully nurturing and protecting them, but these days, a new ruthlessness makes it easy to yank them out wherever they mar the overall design. Or perhaps it may not be ruthlessness as a sense of abundance rather than scarcity. It’s very obvious (to anyone weeding my driveway, at least) that nature’s first principle is abundance. If I pull the dozens of crowded, over-eager seedlings that blue the edges of the beds, I know very well that the act of weeding will bring dozens of seeds to the surface. The most willing seeders are often plants of disturbance, whose seeds germinate most freely when exposed to light and air rather than smothered under muddy clay. Perhaps my own spirit will similarly awaken and stretch and grow into new strength once the weight of excess ownership is lifted. I’m certainly eager to find out, and I’ll certainly keep you posted!

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Pet Safe House Plants

Indoor Winter Gardens That Do No Harm

Every winter, my windowsills are increasingly crowded with potted plants, from amaryllis and azaleas to miniature roses, primroses and daffodils. I love the vivid splashes of color and the fresh scent of green, growing things. However, I’m also learning that many common houseplants, including most of the above, can be sickening. Not for me and you necessarily, but for our pets.

Indoor plants are especially important to me because although I live in a semi-rural area, my cat Sophie is an indoor cat. The main reason is that I like to feed the birds, both with feeders and by planting food for them, as well as creating habitat with native shrubs and vines. I refuse to allow my cats to kill birds, which they can’t help but do, so the obvious answer is to keep Sophie inside. Beyond that, coyotes are very common predators here, sometimes even snatching small dogs from under their owner’s noses, and local cats often go missing when allowed to roam.

Catio Time

However, Sophie has the run of an enclosed outdoor porch which opens off a small sun room at the southern end of my bedroom. Framed in with sturdy goat pen wire, the 14 x 12 foot space (roofed in with wire as well) offers access to sunlight and fresh air as well as wind and rain (which Sophie rather likes in moderation). I added a large rustic bench made with bark still attached to the wood, which has become her play structure. There are also several chairs and a low table, giving her things to leap to and hide under.

What there wasn’t much of is living things. It was designed as a safe garden space for my mom as well as Sophie when Mom got wandery. When her health was failing so rapidly that walking became very difficult, indoor plants proved more soothing for her.  Sophie has had to make do with pots of oat grass or wheat grass, but as the Solstice tide has turned, I find myself happily planting a cat garden. Quite a few plants are toxic for pets, so it’s important to know what’s safe and what’s not. For instance, bamboo (which Sophie adores playing with and chewing on) is safe for cats, but the ‘lucky bamboo’ grown indoors is toxic.

Growing A Cat Garden

Finding a range of safe, wholesome plants is important, since cats need vitamins, minerals, probiotics, and antioxidants just as we do, and access to natural sunlight is as important to them as to us. Pets can develop cravings if their diet is lacking in important nutrients, and my first clue that Sophie needed more than what she was getting came when she leapt onto the countertop and stole some lightly steamed broccoli. She ate it eagerly, then jumped up and took some more. My old cat, Pippa (heartbreakingly lost to coyotes), stole sheets of nori, sushi seaweed wrappers the size of a half-sheet of paper, and ate them avidly. Other cats have dug into all sorts of things, from cantaloupe to carrot tops.

The critical thing to remember when growing food for cats or sharing with them is that pesticide exposure must be avoided. Small animals especially susceptible to harm from toxic chemicals. In the garden, snail bait is a common source of pet damage or death, so be sure your cat garden does not present hidden dangers for the pets you are trying to please. Indoors, offer only organically grown broccoli or carrot tops, and grow your own herbs and flowers from seed if you can’t get pesticide-free plants locally.

What’s A Gardener To Grow?

Once I started researching, I was horrified to find that most of my favorite houseplants were at least mildly toxic to both cats and dogs. Good grief! Lilies? yup. Gardenias? Yup. Amaryllis, azaleas? Yup. Yup. Philodendron? Yup. Aloe vera? Yup. Daffodils, primroses, cyclamen, corn plant, babydoll ti plant, yup yup yup yup yup. Ack!!! The good news was that Sophie, at least, showed no interest at all in tasting any of these dangerous plants. Instead, she focused her attention on her two favorite noshes; spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum) and cat grass.

Spider plants are no longer as easy to find as they once were. After looking in several local nurseries and grocery stores, I finally put out a plea on the local subset of a FaceBook group called Buy Nothing. Happily for me, several people cheerfully offered me bundles of baby spider plants, which indeed do produce their offspring very freely. Now, there are pots of spider plants all over the house, and Sophie tastes them all daily, often pausing for a refreshing game of Bat The Baby, finding the dangling little plants as irresistible as toys as the mother plants are as snacks.

Sourcing Cat Grass

It’s quite a bit easier to find local sources for cat grass. Both island grocery stores sell fresh wheat grass grown in little mini flats, and several online sources sell seed blends of cat friendly plants, including barley, flax, oats, and rye as well as wheat. Again, look for organic plants and/or seeds whenever possible. All of these are very easy to grow indoors by filling plastic lettuce boxes with an inch or two of potting soil. Keep the plastic tops to loosely cover the boxes (they help keep moisture in) and poke a few holes in the boxes’ sides to let air in as well. You can also plant the cut tops of carrots that still have their leafy greens attached and they’ll go on growing for quite a while, providing more tasty greens for cats or dogs.

Worst Houseplants For Pets

Common name   Latin name                   Bad For:

Aloe vera                  Aloe vera                             cats and dogs
Amaryllis                 (most)                                  cats
Asparagus fern        Asparagus sprengeri        cats and dogs
Babydoll Ti plant    Cordyline terminalis        cats
Begonia                    (most)                                  cats
Calla lilies                (all)                                      cats
Corn plant               Dracaena fragrans            cats and dogs
Dumb cane              Dieffenbachia                    cats and dogs
Elephant ear           Caladium (most)               cats and dogs
Ivy                            Hedera helix                       cats and dogs
Jade plant              Crassula ovata                    cats and dogs
Lilies                       Lilium (all)                          cats
Philodendron        Monstera deliciosa            cats and dogs
Pothos                    Epipremnum aureum       cats and dogs
Sago palm              Cycas revoluta                   cats and dogs
ZZ plant                  Zamioculcas zamiifolia    dogs

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Snowy Day Treats (Gluten Free Or Not)

Cold Weather Comforts

Late last night the snow began falling, first soft and feathery, then finer and faster. This morning there’s a good four inches of fluffy stuff on every flat surface and the tree branches are bowed down with their snowy burden. All morning I’ve been getting nixle reports about downed trees, closed roads, and local power outages but so far we’ve still got heat and lights. (Nixle is a form of text communication from local governments about things like power outages, road closures, and transportation issues as well as emergency notifications. To see if it’s available to you, message to 888-777 and you should get an invitation to join. Don’t put in 4 7s, just the three.)

As I age, I admit to finding stormy days far more entertaining when all the comforts of home are intact. I’m more acutely aware of this as I’m emptying my home of accumulated extras. I’ve suffered most of my life from Flat Surface Syndrome, a condition in which every possible place mysteriously and persistently acquires stacks of books, paperwork, knitting projects, and various found objects. In the advanced form, Cupboarditis, any storage space with a door is similarly affected.

Kitchen Keepers

As cabinets and cupboards and closets are emptied, the house feels oddly cold and naked without its usual garb of clutter. The kitchen, too, is undergoing a major edit. I’m making note about what I actually use often and what hasn’t been touched in months or even years. This lovely snowy day will be a busy one, as several friends are coming to carry off various bit of excess furniture. Thus, I indulged in a flurry of morning baking, taking advantage of the still-functioning power to make treats that will taste just as delightful by candlelight if need be. This was a helpful exercise; I now know for sure that I still need two muffin tins, a sturdy cake pan, and a tart pan with a removable bottom. I washed my favorite mixing spoons several times each already today so both of them will make the cut, along with one set of nesting glass mixing bowls.

The house smells heavenly and no wonder; the cooling racks (I’m keeping both) are covered with Pumpkin Chocolate Bit Muffins, Jam Sandwich Nut Cake, and a glossy little Lemon Tart. The cake and the muffins freeze well, but they usually disappear too fast to bother. The Lemon Tart is best eaten in a day or two but again, that’s never been a problem so far. See what you think! As noted, any or all of these can be made gluten free by using one of the many baking flour blends now widely available. I’ve found both the Bob’s Red Mill and King Arthur gluten free baking flour mixtures to be very consistent and easy to use.

Marvelous Gluten Free (Or Not) Muffins

My kids and their pals have loved these flavorful muffins for years. Buttermilk gives them a tender crumb and an especially delicate texture. If you don’t have any, add 1 teaspoon lemon juice to regular milk and let it clabber for 10 minutes before using. You can also use ordinary chocolate chips but the quality of slab chocolate is much higher than that of most commercial chips, so I usually make my own. In any version, these muffins taste even better the second day (if any are left).

Pumpkin Chocolate Bit Muffins

1 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup brown or coconut sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup avocado or safflower oil
1-1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
OR 1-1/2 cups gluten free flour mix
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon coriander or ginger (optional)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
1 cup coarsely chopped dark chocolate

Preheat oven to bake 350 degrees F and line a muffin tin with paper muffin cups. In a bowl, stir together the pumpkin, brown sugar, eggs, buttermilk and oil, set aside. Sift dry ingredients together and stir quickly into the pumpkin mixture. Stir in chocolate bits and spoon into muffin cups. Bake until set and lightly browned (about 20-25 minutes). Makes 12 muffins.

A Lovely Layer Cake

Not too sweet, moist and sturdy, this cake is a family favorite for tea time or a special breakfast. If you prefer, you can use walnuts or hazelnuts instead of the almonds, or even hulled pumpkin seeds. Though simple and quick to make, it dresses up nicely for birthdays, topped with swirls of whipped cream and fresh berries. I usually fill it with homemade raspberry jam but blueberry or red currant jams are also very good.

Jam Sandwich Nut Cake

1 teaspoon butter
2/3 cup coarsely ground almonds
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour OR gluten free flour mix
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup sugar
1 organic orange or lemon, rind grated
1/2 cup whole milk yogurt (plain is best)
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup avocado or safflower oil
1 cup raspberry or any jam

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and butter a 9-inch round cake pan. In a bowl, combine the ground almonds, flour, baking powder and salt, set aside. In a mixing bowl, rub the sugar with the citrus zest until well blended. Stir in the yogurt and eggs, one at a time, then add vanilla and oil to make a thick batter. Spoon it into the cake pan and bake until puffed and golden (35-40 minutes). Cool on a rack for 10 minutes then place a smaller cooling rack or plate on top and carefully flip the cake over and out of the pan. Gently flip again back onto the original cooling rack and let cool completely. Slice in half to make two layers and fill with jam. Serve with fresh fruit. Serves at least one.

An Elegant Tart

As you will see, I prefer a very tart lemon curd, but this one can easily be modified by adding more sugar to taste. It’s easiest to serve if you make it in a tart pan with a removable bottom but you can always use a regular pie dish if need be.

Nut Crusted (Gluten Free) Lemon Tart

For the crust

2 cups walnuts, almonds, or hazelnuts
2 tablespoons butter or coconut oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a food processor, grind nuts to a fairly fine meal (but not to butter). Add butter or coconut oil and salt and process for a few seconds to blend. Pat mixture firmly into a tart pan with your hands and bake until pale golden (15-20 minutes). Cool before filling.

For the Lemon Curd

1/3 cup sugar
2 organic lemons, juiced, rind grated
3 large eggs
4-6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Rub sugar and lemon zest together until well blended, set aside. In a saucepan, whisk eggs until light and frothy, then whisk in sugar and 1/2 or up to 2/3 cup lemon juice. Cook over medium heat, whisking steadily as mixture gets thicker. Add butter a tablespoon at a time and whisk until incorporated (this is where you can add more butter, sugar, or lemon juice to taste). Remove from heat and let stand 10 minutes, then add vanilla. Refrigerate in a covered glass container for up to a week or spoon into crust and chill for an hour before serving. Serves 8-10.

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Waking Up And Getting Clear

Phoenix or Rooster Or Just Plain Chicken?

Feeling stressed and baffled and frustrated? Join the vast multitudes here, there, and everywhere. It seems as though the whole world is in turmoil and in so many critical situations outcome is extremely uncertain. For me, it’s heartening to know that a great deal is happening despite the lack of media coverage; people on every level in every country are working to the best of their abilities to prevent the hijacking of progressive programs and protect the vulnerable whose health and well being and financial security are being undermined for the benefit of the kleptocrats.

However, unless we are movers and shakers (and thankfully some fine people definitely are), it can be doubly depressing to feel both horrified by happenings and unable to see a way to be of true service. This is a dangerous position, since it saps our energy and our will to strive. Instead of despair, consider the benefits of clarity and new beginnings. January had two new moons, and the second one brought the Chinese New Year, another chance to create a new reality, personally, nationally, and globally. If the personal level seems inconsequential, think again; all deep social change comes from the people not governments. Pogo famously said “We have met the enemy and he is us,” but he might just as well have said “We have met our saviors and they are us.”

A Change Is Gonna Come

Chinese New Year is a moveable feast, based on lunar cycles rather than a calendar date. 2016, a Monkey year, was full of chaos and confusion. 2017 is a Rooster year, a time to wake up, work together collaboratively, and heed the call to do whatever we can. If we don’t, it’s quite possible that the year will just be Chicken time. Fortunately, another Rooster keynote is clarity. When we are able to quiet our busy minds through meditation, walking, gardening, housework, whatever brings us peace, we can discover in ourselves the deep gift of clear vision. When we dig deep into our own soul work, a Rooster year becomes a Phoenix year.

My daughter was born in a Rooster year, and this year, this very day, she changed her legal name to reflect her true identity as a woman. As her mom, I’m both proud and worried about what the world holds for gender fluid folks. I also salute her courage and support her emerging clarity in every way I can. My own digging showed me (eventually; it’s not been an easy path) that it is time to radically simplify my life. Thus, I’m getting ready to sell my huge house and move in with my son and daughter-in-love and grandkids until a little house opens up for me in a local low income housing community.

Give It Where It Counts

To get there from here, I must re-home the many, many things that have accreted around me over time. Ironically, I spent over a year clearing out both my own home and my mother’s so that she and her favorite furnishings and belongings could move in with me. That lengthy process felt like a truly clean sweep, yet now that I’m preparing to move into a tiny guest suite, then a small home, I’m horrified to see just how much STUFF still surrounds me. A favorite book by Julie Morgenstern called When Organization Is Not Enough taught me that until I know why I hang onto stuff, getting rid of it will just trigger the accumulation of something more. However, I’ve learned that when I know something dear will be both useful and appreciated, I give cheerfully and don’t look back.

This time I’m ransacking closets and cupboards, finding homes for everything from warm clothing and extra bedding to hundreds of paper napkins (don’t ask) and ridiculous amounts of kitchen gear. I’ve learned that some big companies that accept drop off donations are actually not non-profits, so I prefer to take a little more time and effort to get things straight to people in need. Cold weather clothing, shoes, and boots go to Mary’s Place, a Seattle day shelter for unhoused women and children. Bedding and kitchen stuff goes to local refugee families. Decorative stuff goes to a huge rummage sale raising funds for homeless animals. Outdoor furniture and extra garden tools, pots, and hoses go to the local low income housing community. Plant flats and pots go to kids who want to grow plants for Hannah’s Garden, a flower-and-edibles-filled part of Owen’s Playground, an accessible play space used by all ages all year round.

Voluntary Simplicity

All my life I’ve had a dream about living in a community based on voluntary simplicity. In some ways, low income housing is far from that, since some folks would definitely prefer a career path that might lead higher up the income ladder. However, people of all ages may choose to live where a modest income will suffice. For retirees like me, this one combines a pleasant community with shared goals and plenty of opportunity to be of service even when physical ability dwindles. I’m already joining the P-Patch garden committee and helping out with landscaping, and look forward to other ways to connect with my (hopefully) future neighbors.

To get there, I need to be ready to move quickly when the opportunity to move arises. I’ve set myself a goal of clearing out a closet, a cupboard, a drawer or a shelf every day. I’m also doing some financial planning, so that any “excess” money can go to support people and programs that are dear to my heart. By early summer, I hope to be truly divested of all the extras. At that point, I expect I may know a lot more about myself than I do now. As the year unrolls for all of us, may our inner Phoenix and Rooster and Chicken find clarity, insight, tolerance, and heartening direction for the life to come.

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