Perhaps it is time to share some images of the front-yard garden, yes? First, I think you may benefit from seeing the "before" photo, as if these were all going to be published in some high-end home magazine someday. (Ha. I am so funny sometimes.)


I had nothing against these bushes in theory. I like bushes well enough. Basically, I love anything that's alive and has foliage. Even some weeds, which drives Conservative Dad crazy, by the way. But the giant bush by the curb totally obstructed our view of the street when we backed out of the driveway. And the other round bush behind it? It looks pretty good in this picture, but it wasn't in the greatest shape. And you try trimming a bush that's huge and round and much taller than you are. It's tough. (Side note: Yes, if you look closely, that is Butter is the window. Where else would he be?)

Now, for the after. This is where the big round bush was.


Now it is my baby vegetable garden, complete with little rows of mixed lettuce, Roma tomatoes, zucchini, and cantaloupe. Random, yes. But I planted this quite late in the season so I improvised. Just wait til next year when I have time to plan and take advantage of every square inch of this baby. (Oh, and that marigold pot on the other side of the Romas? My lazy late attempt at companion planting. Why put 'em in the ground when they're already doing just fine in the pot?)

Moving on. This is the space formerly occupied by the giant square bush. It is my perennial garden. A little lackluster now, yes, because some of the plants I picked are early summer bloomers and have already done their thing. And some, like some of those purple coneflowers, are transplants from a certain special aunt's yard and have not quite gotten used to their new surroundings. But just wait, folks. Next year I think this baby will be a real beaut, especially after I add a few more things to the mix.


Ah, what the heck. Why not one more after for the road? Here you get a glimpse of the new perennial garden, the vegetable garden, and the overabundance of potted plants I started before I realized the front-yard gardens might be possible. And yes, that is Butter in the window again. This time you really have to look hard, but he's there.

Wait! Before you go. I just remembered a very important fact I can't forget to share. Conservative Boy helped me lay those pavers around the perennial garden. And he helped me plant a few of the perennials in said garden. Can you believe it?

I couldn't either. I'm still in shock actually. And that garden has been there for, oh, a month now. I might get over my shock by fall. But hopefully by then I will have convinced him to trim the rest of the bushes still present around our house, and I'll have that feat to be in shock about.


An Apology

Dear Oberweis dairy deliveryman:

I wanted to apologize for the incredibly ferocious, rabid-dog barking that greeted you when you so kindly dropped off my milk and egg delivery last night just before 3 a.m. Despite his insane barking, that fellow that alerted us to your presence isn't a menace to mailmen and delivery folks everywhere. He's just my sweet Butter. But it appears he has found his voice and is going to see to it that he defends his castle at all costs.

So next time if you could turn down the music in your giant delivery truck (which you also might want to park down the street so Butter doesn't see the lights) and skirt the motion sensor light near the garage, I think that may be beneficial for all involved. Particularly because if the guard dog messes with Conservative Boy's sleep like that too often there won't be any need to deliver eggs and milk anymore, as C.B. may very well see to it that the lady of the house (and her puppy) disappears.

And remember, he really is just a sweet little puppy, who looks so gosh darn innocent when you walk past our front window. See?


Composting (Part 4)

As I believe I mentioned previously (obviously, since we're on Part 4 here people), I am on a mission to compost.

So far, so good.

In fact, I even used some of said compost the last time I prepared to plant some flowers (which has been a few weeks now—I promise! I told you I am working on that addiction). Although there's not a lot of compost in my can in the backyard (you can see the can and what things looked like when I started here), it's not for lack of diligently hauling food scraps out back in my compost pail. It's because everything is breaking down so nicely that instead of being full of smelly food scraps, the can contains this:

Sure, you can see some eggshells and coffee filters that haven't full broken down yet. But that's because I'm adding to the compost every couple of days, so it's a constant process. Overall though, the can has a beautiful layer of rich black earthy matter just waiting to make my plants very happy. And it doesn't smell at all. Really. I'm not just saying that to convince Conservative Boy composting is OK. I took a big whiff just a few minutes ago and you know what it smells like? Earth. Good old-fashioned earth. You know, the stuff you walk on occasionally when you step off the sidewalk?

Now, I realize not everyone out there wants to stare at a picture of my compost. But when one of The Eleven (the Youngest, in fact) requests an update on my compost, I am more than happy to oblige. And the rest of you can just deal with it. So here's one more shot of my compost for the road:

Mmm. Delicious.


Making a Rain Barrel

Guess what I did Tuesday night?

If you said, "Run a marathon?" you'd be wrong. And if you said, "Entered a pizza eating contest?" you'd be wrong too (although I have won one before, in case you were wondering). But if you took cues from the title of this post and asked: "Did you make a rain barrel?" you would be correct.

I've written about rain barrels quite a few times before (most recently, I posted about rain water harvesting at The Home Know-It-All). And I'd even contemplated doing things the consumerist way and just buying one—you can find all sorts of attractive options from Gardener's Supply Company, and you can even buy rain barrels at Wal-Mart (they have them at the one in L-Town in case you're interested). But I wasn't really keen on spending all that money on one—you're going to end up forking over more than $100 in most cases.

So when I read about rain barrel making workshops hosted by the Ecology Action Center, I jumped at the chance to participate. The best part? For a mere $35, I got all the supplies I needed to build my own rain barrel—and instruction on how to do it too.

Here's a sneak peek at what the finished rain barrel looks like.

It's currently sitting in my garage because I am waiting to ensure I have the proper precautions in place for when it fills up (as I'm pretty sure Conservative Boy will kill me if the overflowing water invades our basement, and I can't imagine the neighbors would appreciate it if it soaks theirs either).

So stay tuned. Soon I will post a step-by-step on the making of said rain barrel in case you want to make your own. And once I get the barrel in place and ready for action, I'll share that with you too.

In the meantime, here are a few quick reasons why you might want to make your own rain barrel:

  • In the summer, as much as 40 percent of a homeowner's water use goes to the yard. Who likes high water bills? Not me. So why not use rainwater instead?

  • A rain barrel can save you about 1,300 gallons of water during peak summer months, according to the EPA.

  • All that water that pours off your roof during big rainstorms works its way toward waterways like your local rivers and lakes—and on the way picks up some nasty chemicals and contaminants. So why not stop some of that toxic runoff?
(Oh, and in case some of you are shrieking about how ugly you think this rain barrel is going to be sitting outside our house, rest assured I have that covered. It will be tucked behind some bushes in the backyard so nary a soul will see it. And if I get really creative, maybe I'll even paint some pretty flowers on it like this or grow some real-life flowers around it like this next year.)


Some More Flower Adoration

After I gave Ms. Gerbera Daisy an entire post here yesterday, some of the other flowers in the front yard protested. "Uh, hello? What about us?" they all called as I watered them this morning. I feel the need to oblige those pretty little blooms so they stick around a bit longer. So, without further ado, I offer an up-close peek at some of the plants that protested the loudest:

From the eggplant plant. Do you have to say plant there?
(Just wait and see what else is hanging out—quite literally—on this guy. Someday soon I'll post a picture of it, and when I do pretend you're as excited as I am, OK?)

I made these poor marigolds hide in the corner. But something tells me they don't mind.

Zucchini flowers, anyone? (Oh, and in case you're wondering, that's a sneak peek at the little garden in the front yard. Which I haven't shared with you yet, have I? Shame on me.)

Purple coneflower. I heart purple coneflower for so many reasons, which I won't bore you with here.

Black-eyed susans. For being transplants from the yard of a certain aunt, these ladies are doing pretty well. Maybe that's why I'm so fond of them, 'cause I'm a transplant too.

Wait a second. How did you guys sneak in here? And why haven't I eaten the one on the left yet?


Saying Hello to Daisy

It's an exciting day in the land of Julie. Why? Because this little lady has arrived:

Beautiful, isn't she? Particularly considering how terrible she was feeling just a few weeks ago. You see, when I purchased Ms. Gerbera Daisy she wasn't much to look at, but she had potential. A few tender flowers were just forming, so I happily planted her in a pot and waited to see what colors she'd reveal. The only thing is, she didn't. Those darn flowers just played with my emotions, left me high and dry. And then the leaves followed suit. Nooo, I lamented.

I was thisclose to tossing her in the compost. Really. I thought she was done for. But I just couldn't bring myself to do it, so instead I trimmed her back to almost nothing and waited. And waited. And finally, a few weeks later, the green leaves started growing. And now? This.

Thrilling. (Hey, simple pleasures are the last refuge of the complex, as Oscar Wilde said.)


An Almost Local Dinner

I have a confession to make. Lately I've been thinking to myself: Self, are you really going to be able to do this whole "eating local" thing on a regular basis, or is it something you are just proselytizing about until some other shiny food trend glitters in the light and you run after it squealing "Ooh, pretty!"?

And then tonight when I cooked dinner for myself (it's a Butter and Julie night again, but tonight we'll be dancing to Fleetwood Mac), I was able to honestly answer myself: Yes. You'll be able to do it. Sometimes. And somewhat.

You know what? I'll take whatever I can get.

I reached this very well-formulated conclusion as I ate tonight's meal:

  • Pasta with homemade pesto (whipped up this morning with basil I picked from the pot out front)
  • A salad consisting of lettuce and green pepper from the farmer's market and a cherry tomato picked from my plant out front (someone can't seem to keep her hands off the cherry tomatoes long enough for there to be more than one for her salad ... I wonder who that could be?)
  • Zucchini and summer squash (both from the farmer's market) sauteed with a bit of onion, garlic, and olive oil
The verdict? Dee-licious. And, as you can see, it was a mostly local affair, minus a few supporting characters. Now perhaps you understand why I told myself "Sometimes. And somewhat."

I think it's a pretty good showing though. Because you know what? I ain't no miracle worker, folks. I am doing what I can with what I have here and trying not to let the concept of "eating local" rule my life, while at the same time being more conscientious when I'm in charge of the menu. And that's all you can do.

(On a side note, I sure do wish I had five more basil plants now. Because the one I do have isn't going to produce enough leaves to keep up with my recently developed pesto habit. How did I ever think that envelope of pesto mix you can buy at the store was good?)


Eating Less Meat (Part II)

Now, about this whole "eating less meat" thing. I feel the need to clarify. I am not saying I am going to stop eating meat. I have no plans to become a vegetarian. I was raised in Wyoming, in ranching country. I eat meat.

What I am saying is that a lot of the meat that's available in the store is ... well, questionable, to say the least. What with meat recalls and that fuzzy gray cast certain steaks take well before they should, with the nasty conditions chickens and cattle are raised in when they spend their short lives at a CAFO (if you can all it "raised," since they don't exactly live long happy lives), it just makes sense to me to stop eating so much factory-produced meat. Instead? How about more tasty vegetables, fruits, grains, what have you—so that when I do eat meat I can begin working to ensure that it is quality meat, good meat? (Which often means forking over more money; yes, I know.)

Let's be realistic here. I'm not saying that I want my piggies or cattle to have manicures and pedicures and lots of time to bask in the sun without a care in the world. But I do think it's reasonable to expect that they won't live their lives confined, basking in their own excrement, with zero exposure to real grass or fresh air. (Gross, but a realistic scenario.)

Despite the fact it's inhumane, it also affects the quality of meat we eat—and by extension, our own health. Those animals that spend time outside, that get to move around, that eat food such animals are meant to eat (also known as grass, folks), produce healthier, tastier meat. Animals that are raised in large-scale factory farming operations aren't healthy in the least bit (unless you call feeding cows tons of corn mixed with a hearty dose of drugs so they can stomach said corn, when their bodies aren't made to consume corn in the first place, healthy).

I want to know where my meat comes from, perhaps if I'm lucky to even meet the fellow (or lady, if you will) who was responsible for it.

Is that too much to ask?

Now the trick is finding these local sources. Anyone know where I can get great local meat around L-Town? I haven't seen much (or, rather, any) in the local grocery stores, so fill me in on where I should be looking. Am I just missing it? Hook a girl up.


A Milk Delivery

It's the day of deliveries around here. It all began when Conservative Boy took Butter out for a little morning run and yelled back into the house: "What the heck is this cooler doing here?" Hmm. Guess I forgot to warn him about that. Probably because I—correctly—predicted his next question: "How much does this [expletive here] cost?"

The [expletive] he was referring to happens to be my new weekly delivery: farm-fresh, hormone-free milk and eggs from Oberweis Dairy. (And, surprise surprise, for our first week they threw in a couple of cute little containers of juice too!)

Why am I purchasing milk and eggs from Oberweis Dairy instead of the grocery store? Because Oberweis is family owned and operated. Because the milk is purchased from family-owned dairy farms that don't treat their cows with synthetic rBGH hormones—and the farmers are paid a premium for their high-quality milk. Because the milk is fresh. Because it's bottled in glass bottles (old school—I like it) that are reused by the company to keep waste out of the landfills. And the eggs they sell are hormone and cage free.

Plus, I know my eggs and milk are coming every week, which means I don't even have to think about it.

After the first sip this morning, C.B. says: "Huh. Tastes like milk." But then he takes another drink and wonders what kind of milk it is. "Skim," I say, which is true. I wouldn't lie to sweet C.B. Except he doesn't believe me, because he says the milk is thick. "Hmm. Perhaps that's because of its rich farm-freshness?" I say. He still isn't sold, so I tell him to shut up, because I am helping to ensure he doesn't start growing man boobs from all the hormones in his milk. The jury is still out on whether that is the most scientific explanation, but hey, it shut him up.

And Oberweis sells whole milk that isn't ultra-pasteurized–something I have yet to find around these here parts—which means next week round two of mozzarella making is on. (And I can finally share the results with you.)

Oh, and as for the other deliveries? The king-size bed is coming today! Stay tuned for an update on what will hopefully be a wonderful night's sleep on the new mattress.


A Tuesday Night Dance Party

So there I was, all ready to have a Barenaked Ladies dance party with Butter after dinner (we do things like that when Conservative Boy goes off to play men’s league on Tuesdays). At first, Butter was all about dancing like he usually is:

But once I cranked up the tunes and set down my wine glass to really get grooving (no, the glass of red wine had nothing to do with my urge to dance), Butter saw his new rawhide bone (you can see it above, lurking in the background, cackling). And you know what happened? This. Instead of dancing to “Old Apartment,” he did this. The gall.

(Man, Butter says. This bone looks deee-licious. Even if the last time I ate one was just before I let a bunch of guys feed me Doritos and Pizza Rolls and maybe even a bit of beer, and it all magically re-appeared on the carpet at 2 a.m. I can't help it I'm a party animal.)

(Yum, says Butter. Have I mentioned how much I love these bones?)

(I mean, these bones are really, really good. If I could fit two in mouth at the same time I would.)

(Dance party? What dance party?)

(Life couldn't possibly get any better than this. Am I in doggie heaven?)

So, needless to say, this attempt failed miserably. I ended up dancing around him while he ignored me. I don't think he would've moved even if there was a McCain sign available to pee on. I guess we’ll try again next Tuesday. After I hide all the bones.

(He's still chewing on this one by the way, as if the rest of the world has melted away and it's just Butter and his bone, together forever.)


Letting C.B. Talk

I figured that if I let Butter yap away on my blog, I should at least give Conservative Boy a few minutes of time here. Unfortunately, you won't get a mug shot of C.B. to accompany his statements because he has barred me from posting any images of him here. (I think I heard him mutter that he's worried his beauty won't translate on the computer screen; but don't tell him I told you that.)

So, without further ado, I share with you two things C.B. said in the last 24 hours. I think they'll give you a very nice glimpse into the soul of this character I happen to live with (who convinced me yesterday, by the way, that it was a good idea to buy a king-size bed—how did I fall for that?):

"I am like a precious ruby staring you in the face that you think is a rock."

What a gem. You only wish I made that up. I just laughed so hard as I typed it that I snorted.

"I had a real kid sister and I wanted to kick her in the head." (Comment made after I started singing "Kid sister, kid sister, wherever I go she goes ..." as I made my morning coffee. Don't ask me why.)

Disclaimer: As far as I know, C.B. has never and will never kick his sister or any other woman in the head. But as a boy, he undoubtedly threatened his li'l sis with all sorts of bodily harm. Isn't that what boys do?

Wait a second—this reminds me that C.B.'s sister does not have a name. (Well, in real life she does but not here.) I've decided I can't call her Conservative Sister because she hates it when we talk about politics and even if she may be conservative doesn't really want to get involved with all that nonsense. So, rather than calling her Conservative Sister, what should I call her?


Eating Less Meat

Whether you're looking to eat less meat (like me) or have no interest in doing so whatsoever (like Conservative Boy), I'd advise reading this New York Times article called "Putting Meat Back in Its Place."

It proffers some worthwhile advice, including:

  • Keep at least some of your decisions personal so they affect no one but yourself (and don't preach!).
  • At the same time, don't apologize—deciding to eat less meat in no way harms the people around you.
The story also raises some good points, such as:
  • Meat isn't the only source of protein in our diets; in fact, plants have protein too. And most Americans eat about twice as much as the recommended daily allowance of protein anyway.
  • The USDA recommends that meat servings be four ounces per person, yet per capita we eat half a pound a day. Simply by serving the recommended portion size, you can drastically cut your meat consumption.
  • In most traditional styles of cooking, meat is a condiment or treat or simply one of many ingredients. It doesn't have to be a massive slab in the middle of the plate, with everything else fighting for a little space off to one side.
Case in point that meat doesn't mean everything: Somewhat unintentionally, I haven't eaten any since Monday evening (and then it was just a bit of chicken in my fajita). And I'm not feeling deprived at all. Let's see, I've eaten some fabulous homemade oatmeal loaded with fresh berries, almonds, honey, and a touch of cream; a hummus and veggie pita sandwich; grilled portobello burgers (twice because they are so good) with homemade sweet potato fries; pasta in a light alfredo sauce; pita pizzas sans pepperoni; a peanut butter and honey sandwich; and some delicious homemade strawberry shortcake.

Yeah, this not eating meat thing stinks.


Heritage Days

If there's one thing I've learned about people in small towns, it's that as a whole they are patriotic folk. Take the residents of L-Town, for instance. Many adorn every possible spot on their houses, in their front yards, even on their vehicles with American flags and decorations in red, white, and blue for Independence Day.

The 4th of July celebration here takes the form of Heritage Days, which this year stretched from Thursday evening through Saturday night. Three nights of live music on the street next to the courthouse, a flea market, and random other events were among the highlights.

The live music was fun, the flea market a total bust (Conservative Family laughed when I said I wanted to go, and now I understand why—someone was selling bottles of mustard, if that tells you anything). One of the better sights of the weekend? The antique cars that lined up around the town square. What can I say? I'm a sucker for old cars. Here's are some more shots, in case you're interested (and if you're not, pretend you are for a second, OK?):

(With that store front–one of my favorite L-Town shops, by the way—doesn't this shot look something out of an old movie? I love it.)

Letting Butter Talk (Part 5)

I love storms. I really do. I heard once that dogs aren't supposed to like storms—that they get all freaked out by thunder and lightning. That's just silly. Why wouldn't you like all those sounds and flashes of light and all that water?

That's why I'm sitting here. To watch the storm. Plus, I have to make sure Julie's plants don't flood and that our house doesn't float away. Because that would be bad. Very bad.

I could sit at this window for hours while it's storming. Or sunny. Or dark. Although when it's dark, there's always this strange dog looking back at me, which kind of creeps me out. But that's a story for another day. Right now I have to focus on the storm.

Vegetable Gardening

Look! The very first item from my container garden (aside from herbs) is ready. A pretty little cherry tomato (delicious too).


Saying No to Processed and Packaged Foods

It’s time for a challenge. The goal this week (beginning as of this morning) is to limit my intake of highly processed and packaged foods as much as possible. I’m not going to say “completely avoid” because I have to leave myself an iota of wiggle room. (If I say I’m avoiding packaged foods, would I be without milk, bread, or pasta for a week? I don’t think I have the time to raise a cow in the backyard and make homemade bread and pasta in the next seven days, although I may try two out of the three in the near future). So, the goal is to limit my intake as much as possible.

Why? Because in doing so, I can instead focus on eating more healthful (and, hopefully, seasonal and local) foods. And, in the process, I will be sending less packaging to the garbage or recycling bin. It’s a win-win for this girl.

This challenge won’t be without it’s difficulties, to be sure. One of them is the fellow I live with, who essentially lives on homemade egg McMuffins (at least they’re homemade), sandwiches, Doritos, and Diet Coke.

It’s not an uncommon situation for my generation. When you’re raised to expect a cupboard full of snacks (read: highly processed foods) as so many of us were, it’s hard to get past that to think that a big bowl of fruit or a handful of crunchy carrots can be just as tasty.

It’s not that Conservative Boy’s parents raised him only on Ding-Dongs and Funyuns. It’s just that somehow the love for vegetables and fruits and well-balanced meals that his parents have, the appreciation for produce eaten close to where it was grown, has been lost on him. He can’t stand most vegetables and gets annoyed when I spend an hour—an hour!—making dinner, because to him vegetables are gross and cooking for that long a waste of time, when you can cook up a brat or slap together a sandwich in no time.

And so I struggle to clear out the cupboard full of snack food, to lure Conservative Boy to the dark side with beautiful asparagus (he won’t touch it) and the promise of tasty cherry tomatoes from the plant growing in a pot in our front yard (he just grumbles that I spend too much time with my plants). And in the meantime, my efforts to get him to fall in love with food like I am exhaust me and so I reach in the cupboard for a granola bar or a Chips Ahoy cookie and—gasp!—even ask him to bring me home a box of macaroni and cheese to make for lunch because the homemade stuff is so much work.

Am I failing? Or is it just that I’m facing the reality of the society in which I was raised—in which food is supposed to be quick and easy, ready when you want it, to be consumed hurriedly while standing up at the kitchen counter or driving or watching TV rather than sitting down and savoring it.

This is not a criticism of C.B. and his eating habits so much as it is an acknowledgement that this is the mentality we all must learn to overcome if we are truly going to embrace the concept of eating seasonal, local, natural foods the way they ought to be eaten. I’m not going to force C.B. to stop eating meat or Chips Ahoy. I probably won’t completely give them up myself. But it’s time we face the facts—all those chemicals, all that high-fructose corn syrup, all of the manufactured items that go into most of the food we eat is making us incredibly unhealthy, fat, and sick. Yes, really. All of those food items that hardly have an ounce of real food in them aren’t good for the environment and are even worse for the people who are consuming them. And even when we do eat fruits and vegetables from the supermarket, they aren’t anything like the produce grown locally and picked from the field or garden within hours of when we eat it. All those food miles the produce travels in trucks, all that time the produce sits in stores, renders it flavorless compared to the fresh stuff. Really.

I wish I could “go off the food grid” so to speak and grow a massive garden, know exactly where every food item I put in my mouth comes from, bake my own bread and can my own tomatoes, all the actions Barbara Kingsolver and her family undertook in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle that made me swoon. But at the same time I’m faced with reality, the reality that I don’t have the space or the time or the knowledge (yet!) to grow all that food myself, and that beyond the little farmer’s market in town at the moment, my local options are limited. (Although I did find out about a local source for eggs and milk this weekend. Now if someone can give me a lead on the best places to find locally raised meat I’ll be set.)

I don’t think it’s necessary to become a hardcore locavore (as those who dedicate themselves to eating only sustainable, locally produced food—typically grown or raised within 100 miles of where they live—are called). But I think there’s something to be said for taking the advice of Michael Pollan and avoiding food that our grandparents or grandparents’ parents wouldn’t even recognize as food.

So, now I wonder: When it comes to food, what matters to you?

Guerilla Gardening

OK. I haven't really tried it yet. But is anyone interested in some guerilla gardening? Sounds like fun to me.


Iced Tea

It's not that I've never had iced tea before. I have. Of course I have. It would be an atrocity not to drink iced tea in my family, considering that it's a staple for a good number of The Eleven (as I've decided to call my father and his siblings–yes, there are eleven of them).

And no, not sweet tea. Can't do it. It's unsweetened or nothing, baby.

What this post is about is not the standard Lipton iced tea like I make on occasion. Rather, this is Ancient Happiness iced tea. Try it and I promise you it will make you happy happy happy, whether you are ancient or not.

You see, there is a wonderful little tea shop in Des Moines' East Village that I used to frequent quite often (and even got to write about for a National Geographic Traveler story on the neighborhood). It's called Gong Fu Tea and it's this absolutely serene spot filled with the most wonderful selection of teas that the owners pick from all over the world.

Although I no longer live in Des Moines, I still get email newsletters from Gong Fu Tea and buy my favorite loose leaf teas whenever I'm back in town. (You can also order them online, by the way.) So when I received a newsletter the other day for iced tea, I had to try it with some of my Ancient Happiness (shown above).

It's easy. And the result? Let's just say I'm itching to make another glass, and I may never go back to Lipton again.

Want to try it yourself? Here's what you do:

1. Steep the loose leaf tea as you normally would when making hot tea, only use 1/2 the amount of water. (This makes a concentrated cup of tea that you will dilute later.) So, in the case of Ancient Happiness, I poured a teaspoon of the tea leaves in my teapot, poured hot water over the top (remember, only half as much as usual), and steeped it for 3 minutes.

2. While the tea is steeping, fill a tall glass with ice cubes. Drop some on the floor for your dog to try out, if you're so inclined.

3. Pour the brewed tea over the ice cubes until the glass is 1/2 to 3/4 full.

4. Leaving the glass on the counter (it may be hot!), swirl it in a small circle (the folks at Gong Fu recommend doing this four or five times) so the hot tea melts the ice.

5. Add more ice so the glass is full.

6. Revel in your Ancient Happiness. Or, depending on the tea variety you selected, enjoy your time on Cloud 9.


A Montana Wedding

(And no, it's not my Montana wedding, silly!)

If you feel like getting married, I recommend doing it in a place like this:

(Outside Bozeman, Montana)

Make sure you include flowers like this:

(Pretty, aren't they? That blue sky is a good idea too, but what do you expect in Big Sky country?)

And don't forget the importance of dessert:


With toppings:

(Yummier still.)

Also, be sure to have a lot of aunts and uncles there who all love taking fabulous photos on their cameras that are much superior to yours. Then you don't have to take any and can instead spend your time (1) applauding the happy couple (2) drinking wine (3) eating cheesecake.

Congrats Cousin J!

(And yes, I do have some pictures of the lovely bride and groom, but I've made it a policy to minimize people photos in case I—or anyone I know—ever has to enter the witness protection program. I'd hate for my blog to have to disappear with me!)

A New Garden

Big news: Where two ugly, overgrown bushes once dominated our yard, I now have two beautiful patches of soil in which to grow things. Once I whip the soil into shape with a shovel and some compost, it's going to be time to start planting. But I need your help.

In the first plot right by the street, I'm thinking a perennial garden is the way to go, with as many sun-loving, drought-tolerant, native plants I can scrounge up.

But for the second, smaller patch (we're talking maybe four feet square), I can't resist: It's going to be a little vegetable garden to supplement what's growing in my pots. A bit late to plant? Perhaps. But I might as well get going with a few things now and perhaps a few more things later this summer. So here's my question: What should I plant?

(And yes, those veggies are growing right in our front yard. What's wrong with that?)