Adventuring with The Hobbit

Dear readers: as you know, my site now focuses on four things: gardening, baking, cooking, and books. Today it’s time to focus on my love of reading.

So many books have famous first lines. There’s “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Herman Melville started Moby Dick with “Call me Ishmael.” And “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a wife.” My favorite is from the book I just finished with my book club: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” Of course, that’s from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

As much as I love the first line, the first paragraph of this adventure is what truly draws me in:

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

Tolkien’s verse

We gathered Tuesday night for the final session on The Hobbit, and we all were sad to leave it. Everyone was quoting favorite lines from the book to each other, just to hear Tolkien’s lyrical prose. One of my favorite parts of the book, aside from the sheer adventure of it all – the dramatic journey of our little hero, the modest hobbit, fighting with evil spiders and a DRAGON – was some of the poetry Tolkien crafted as the songs sung by the dwarves and the elves. The songs reflected the characters’ nature: light, cheerful verse for the elves, cruel consonant-heavy lines for the goblins. And of course, our hero Bilbo Baggins, invented silly verses on the fly when he distracted the spiders away from his friends.

Old fat spider sitting in a tree!

Old fat spider can’t see me!

Attercop! Attercop!

Won’t you stop

Stop your spinning and look for me!

-The Hobbit, chapter 8

A complete world

Beside the poetry, everyone who has read Tolkien knows about the care he takes with what the sci-fi community calls world building. I’ve always thought of it as scene setting. The maps on the inside covers of the book were created by the author. But you can get it all from the descriptions Tolkien gives of the Shire, of Bilbo’s very nice hobbit hole, of the paths the adventurers take through the deep forest of Mirkwood, the wastes near the Lonely Mountain and finally in the dragon’s cave. Everything is described so beautifully that I can picture every scene of the book. But of the first Hobbit movie – I remember nothing except the first dinner scene. That’s the magic of books – you, as reader, collaborate with the author in creating the story in your mind.

Finding the Lonely Mountain

A brief, final battle

I’m thankful that Tolkien resorted to the “Deus ex Machina” technique of the using the Eagles to shorten the final battle – because it nicely shortened a brutal war scene. I thought that at least 30 minutes of graphic fighting could have been cut from “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy movies – which I DO remember – without sacrificing the story. And it was somehow so hobbit-like for Bilbo to be conked on the head with a rock, causing him to go unconscious and miss the last part of the battle.

A humble hero

Bilbo Baggins is described as a hobbit who “looked and behaved exactly like a second edition of his solid and comfortable father” and indeed he lived a decorous life until he was 50 years old. But then, with the visit of Gandalf the wizard, the part of him from his mother’s people, the adventurous and less respectable Tooks, came out. The two halves of his personality warred within him starting with the unexpected tea party he hosted for the 14 dwarves. In shock the dwarves were expecting table service (and knew his larders better than he did) he muttered “Confusticate and bebother these dwarves!” Then after being thought a grocer instead of fierce, he marched forth to join the fray. On the journey Bilbo went back and forth from bemoaning the lack of a pocket handkerchief to devising ingenious plans to save his friends from danger. That was Bilbo’s charm: he was a hero who didn’t think highly of himself, who forgave those who did him wrong (witness his weeping over Thorin) and who was pleased to be “quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!”

Notes

I’m sure I don’t have to tell this erudite audience from whence the lines in the first paragraph came, but in case you don’t know:
A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
Moby Dick, Herman Melville
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

The cover of the copy I have – the 75th Anniversary edition.

Watching Life Instead of Living It

Now that the COVID-mania of 2020 and 2021 seems to have lifted, I want to live life instead of watching it happen. Doing, instead of being in the audience, is my thing. That’s why I joined the choir in my church – I didn’t want to just watch other people sing; I want to be in on it too! Why be a spectator?

I’ve made strides toward more living, less watching before. When I first moved into my house in December of 2016, I moved my circa-2000 television with me. That thing was an old bulky set – definitely not a flat screen. The remote control stopped working sometime in the late 2010s.

My TV looked a LOT like this one. Heck, it could have been this model.

I worked around it by actually getting up to change the channel, like in the 1970s. I started watching less and less television over the years, and I decided once I moved, I was going to put that old wreck on the curb and run an experiment: how long can I go without a TV in the house?

Continue reading “Watching Life Instead of Living It”

Weeding while I wait

It’s now time to weed, pray for lots of rain, and watch the garden grow. This morning while I was outside taking advantage of the cool morning air I thought of how Laura Ingalls Wilder described her husband growing up on the farm in New York State: a plucky little soldier in the battle of growing crops.

There was no time to lose, no time to waste in rest or play. The life of the earth comes up with a rush in the springtime.

-Farmer Boy, Laura Ingalls Wilder

That feeling caused me to rush to get everything in the ground this year. Sadly, I wasted my herb seeds by sowing them directly into my pots. I didn’t start them indoors. No oregano, basil, chives, or parsley have poked their stems above the pricey garden soil I spooned into those five-gallon plant bags. I’m making a trip to the Home Depot in a few minutes to pick up little herb plants (if I can find them.) For goodness’ sake – it’s still May – surely there are a few left. There are so many lessons learned in my first attempt at serious gardening.

My neat bed with the jalapenos attracted an unwanted visitor this past week. Thursday during watering I made my way over to the bed with its pepper stakes and netting, strung to keep my dog from nosing about the freshly sown seeds. A four-foot-long BROWN SNAKE had trapped itself in the netting. I shrieked and jumped back. I wasn’t going anywhere near that varmint, so I certainly wasn’t going to pick it up. I called a nice young man to come dispose of it. It was HUGE.

Look again at the image at the top of the post: I re-purposed the pepper stakes to support the exploding potato plants.

Cooking with Cabbage

It’s too hot to use the stove, even this early in the season. I’m not “cooking” the cabbage, I’m merely shredding it. And making my favorite Alabam’ Slaw. The recipe is super easy – I provide it below.

An entire head of cabbage, shredded.

First, shred your cabbage.

Then, put a little in a bowl, and spoon two or three tablespoons of Thousand Island dressing over it.

Voila!

-Alabam’ Slaw
Yummy – Alabam’ Slaw

When hobbies turn into obsessions

How I turned coloring into a terrible habit

Today, I’m actually staying out of my back yard because I’m having a new small deck and stairs put in, to replace the crumbling, uneven, definitely home-made brick steps. So I’m posting about a different hobby today; one that has gone bad.

Remember when adult coloring books became all the craze? I bought one and found it to be so soothing. My friends soon found out I was into coloring and though, aha, this is a solution to gift-giving! For the next two years I was inundated with coloring books.

Wouldn’t you know it though – any good thing quickly gets turned into an app for your smart phone. And THIS is where I went bad with the hobby. A friend introduced me to the “Happy Color” app. This is not just soothing – it is ADDICTIVE. I have taken it off my phone twice. Sometime in 2019 I put it back on the phone and during the craziness of 2020 I just threw myself into it.

Continue reading “When hobbies turn into obsessions”

Let’s get cooking

I’m about more than just gardens

Two weeks ago the veggies started coming weekly from my CSA share. And I’ve been looking for more and more recipes – what to do with all that earthy, plant-based, unprocessed goodness? Last week’s kale went into a smoothie. (One-word review: ugh.) This week, I got radishes, sweet potatoes, strawberries, cabbage and cauliflower.

I know exactly what I’m going to do with the cabbage – I’m going to shred it raw and turn it into Alabam Slaw. This is a prized side dish at a local meat-and-three-veg restaurant, Lizard’s Thicket (where “country cookin’ makes ya good lookin’.”) It’s nothing more complicated than shredded cabbage topped with Thousand Island dressing. Even I can handle that one without a recipe.

As for the cauliflower – I was a little stumped. I still had a head left over from the first week – and got another this week. The newer one will become a Cauliflower Pizza Crust. I’ve long had a super recipe for that – just need to go buy some goat cheese to make that happen. As for the older head of cauliflower – what to do? I turned to my trusty Allrecipes.com account and soon found this marvelous English dish: Cauliflower Cheese. Yes, Cauliflower Cheese. Instead of making a lovely cheese sauce to go over macaroni, you’re doing it with cauliflower. And it is delicious. Lightly steam a head of cauliflower, then whip up the homemade sauce. So beautiful, so bland, so British. If you, like me, love comfort food, but want to make yourself believe it is healthy, make a Cauliflower Cheese. I ate my lunch portion up so quickly I didn’t even get a chance to take of photo of it on my plate. So here’s what it looks like, in the Tupperware.

So cheesy, so good.

More to come

In addition to my attempts at becoming Farmer Gem instead of just Aunt Gem, I’m also going to be cooking and photographing and sharing more pictures of my culinary adventures. The sweet potatoes are next: I’m going simple with that one. Old-school roasting with garlic, onion and balsamic vinegar … all things I have in the house. Look for pictures of that coming soon! Is this the beginning of my plant-based summer? I know my gen-Z niece and nephew would think that would be awesome. Or whatever language they use these days…. once I tried to say something was “lit.” My youngest nephew just shook his head, saying, “no, just no Aunt Gem. You shouldn’t say that.”

I need a rototiller…

I keep buying more large containers to avoid having to chop up the sod in my backyard.

Container gardening gone mad

It was past time to plant the sweet potato slips I received from my new favorite binge-buying company, Park Seed Co. (Thow some sponsorship $$$ this way!) I still have a few more to plant – I am exhausted with planting. I’ve got so many lessons learned: prep the soil and containers in March – don’t plant then! (Except early spinach and lettuce.) In March start all the things that need to be started indoors, under the fancy grow light and biodome set I acquired this year from who else? Say it with me, Park Seed.* Then, in early April, start the real sowing of things that can be sown in the soil.

My original plan this week: dig up a patch of my grass the dimensions of the pallet collars I purchased last week. Remove all the grass, hoe up the dirt, situate the pallet collar, then fill with bags full of the best raised bed soil. Plant those slips, position trellis (already purchased) and voila! My crop of sweet potatoes, planted and ready for their five-month gestation in the good earth. I was shocked to learn how long it takes for sweet potatoes to grow.

What actually happened:

Have any of you recovered from the Covid-19 pounds (or more?) you must have gained? I haven’t. PLUS – I’ve stopped going to the gym as much as I should. Once or twice a week is just not getting it. Though I walk each day, it’s at the pace of a dog who strolls, stops, sniffs, inspects, and generally meanders. It isn’t cardio – it’s just enjoying fresh air.

Continue reading “I need a rototiller…”

My how the garden has grown….

In the image above, Podrick is inspecting the Iris. I’m so grateful a previous owner planted these beautiful bulbs. And I’ve managed to keep them alive – no credit to me!

It is thrilling to see the plants coming up. Now I have to search for YouTube videos on how to know when they’ve finished growing … I’ve never grown spring onions or garlic before – when are they “finished”? When do I get to harvest them? I just did a search – and I cannot believe how many wonderful gardeners there are out there who have posted helpful tips on when to harvest garlic – and how. The word on Spring Onions – 8 weeks after sowing. Which is in about 2 weeks … I think. Perhaps I should start writing down when I sow the seeds. Ah, improvement for next year, and anything else I plant this year.

Spending hours on Gardening YouTube

Since it is raining now I have the chance to look at YouTube videos (again!) Looking at gardening videos is now my favorite form of web surfing. One of my favorities is GrowVeg, run by a lovely British man. This morning he taught me the best way to take care of my newly sown carrots.

Thanks to this gentleman’s tutelage I’m now investing in pallet collars for my next raised bed, and to replace the broken-down bed I’ve currently jerry-rigged together with baling wire. Actually after perusing the available options I may not – Uline.com wanted $151 for freight shipping for 2 pallet collars! That was more than the price of the items. Home Depot doesn’t have them. Argh, back to Amazon.

I’m so excited about the potato plants coming up I had to take pictures to share with you all. After many more YouTube videos I quickly realized I should have poked more drainage holes in the bottom of the five-gallon buckets (another lesson learned) but at least I’ve put them up off the ground slightly, to aid in drainage. The plants look terrific.

Those odds and ends of wood always come in handy in the garden.
Continue reading “My how the garden has grown….”

It’s Saturday and time to garden

I begrudge the time spent indoors on a day like today

The gardening bug bit me

Question: How do you know your green thumb is turning from lime granita to grasshopper green?

Answer: When you start eyeing potted plants your neighbors put on the curb for the yard trash guy, and think, that’s some really good soil. I could use that.

Me, last Monday

This happened this past week, along with another gardening bonus: One day this week I walked my dog at lunch and came across my elderly neighbor raking good, brown dirt off one part of her lawn – onto the street. Just to leave it there, like trash! I hustled back to my house, dropped off the dog and took the wheelbarrow back to Miss Jane’s house to pick up some of that good dirt. It’s going into the base of my latest raised bed, to nourish my new plants. I haven’t yet gotten to the point of picking up dog poop to work into the garden, but if the price of fertilizer goes up any more, I just might. Fortunately, our local zoo sells “comPOOst” – produced by the rhinos, giraffes and zebras.

Continue reading “It’s Saturday and time to garden”

Ready, Set, Spring: Let’s Garden!

the first of many, many posts about my new favorite hobby, gardening

Hello, longer days and Goodbye, Seasonal Affective Disorder! Now it is time to get my hands grubby and dig into the dirt. I actual begrudge the time away from my garden to do this blog post. Because I feel behind, already. In two weeks my CSA farm in lower SC will deliver its first shipment; and I’m still starting seeds. Every day now I hear “hurry up, hurry up” in my head.

The first thing I planted: one type of spinach – which I started outside, and sadly, I think I started it too early. It has failed, so no picture. I started another packet of seeds a couple of weeks later (after the last frost) and they have LIVED. See how nice:

Back right, spinach. Middle row, carrots. Front left row, buttercrunch lettuce.

I’m so excited to see these grow. Last year, when I was just playing, I grew only two salad bowls’ worth of lettuce. It was nice lettuce, though. Right after the spinach-that-failed, I started spring onions:

Continue reading “Ready, Set, Spring: Let’s Garden!”