Adventures of an Aspiring Plant Lady: The Plague

And so it happened. My herb garden hath perished.

You read about it online: desperate plant owners anonymously posting grainy, poorly-framed photos of shriveled leaves and wilting plants on every gardening forum they can find, seeking answers and advice from someone...anyone. But you never imagine it will happen to you.

Unless you're me, and then you're amazed any plants in your care were able to cling to life for even this long.

From what I could gather from the unknown experts on helpfulgardener.com my little collection of potted herbs suffered thrip damage, an apparently-common bug that eats away at the herbs with which you're meant to be cooking until the leaves wither and the stems rot and your oregano is a mere shadow of what it used to be.

 This isn't the aforementioned herb garden, but it honestly might as well be. // Hudson Valley, 2016

This isn't the aforementioned herb garden, but it honestly might as well be. // Hudson Valley, 2016

But there's hope. Although the thyme and oregano are too far gone, the basil, rosemary, and spearmint have - with a little bit of work and quite a lot of google searching - somehow managed to hold on by a thread (a very minuscule thread, but a thread, nonetheless). I've learned a couple of things along the way - mostly what not to do - but learning is learning and that's all that matters.

  1. For starters, always pay attention. One of the easiest ways to deal with pests and diseases is to catch them early. Check in on plants regularly and make a note of even slight changes in the coloring or texture of leaves and stems. Different pests create different kinds of damage, but generally any splotchiness or pinched texture means that something is making a snack out of your potted friend. To test for thrips, specifically, hold a white sheet of paper beneath the leaves in questions and tap the top of the leaves. If thrips are present you'll see very small, almost translucent bugs on the sheet of paper. And if you see very small, almost translucent bugs on the sheet of paper read here to see what you should do next.
  2. Another way to save yourself the pain of watching your lovely herb garden wither away is to prevent pest damage. Periodically rinsing or wiping your plants will help keep bugs from settling in and inviting their neighbors over for dinner, and prevent dust from building up. You could also (and should also) use some form of pest control. Chemical-laden bug sprays are less than ideal (because you're hoping to eat the herbs and also because chemicals...). There are several natural options out there but I use a homemade neem oil spray. If you're wondering why the herbs still died it's because I forgot to use it for, oh, about 6 months.
  3. Keep trying! Plants die. It happens. If I've learned anything from commiserating with other amateur indoor gardeners online it's that everyone deals with this. Plants are susceptible to pests, diseases, over-watering, under-watering, over-heating, freezing, too much pruning, not enough humidity - honestly it's amazing that any plants are alive right now at all. It takes some time to figure out how to properly care for plants, and when one plant door closes, another plant door opens. Or something like that...

And - for those of you on the edge of your seats wondering how all of my other plants are doing - all is well. My philodendron plant continues to sit on the top of my bookshelf as an example to all of the other, under-achieving greenery. The two tiny bird's nest ferns I impulse-bought in the checkout line of Trader Joe's are holding up, as are a handful of succulents. And I recently purchased two new plants - a parlor palm and a dieffenbachia. Both are *supposedly* easy to care for, but we'll see how this goes. 

Apparently It's Almost 2018

These days, the holidays always seem to sneak up on me. 

In elementary school teachers spent weeks building anticipation for the holidays. In art class we'd make thumbprint trees and paint ornaments. In music class we sang carols. Even math gave a shout out to the season, with Santa and his reindeer watching encouragingly from the corners of the math-minute worksheet. 

In middle school (okay fine and some of high school) I would start watching Christmas movies in October, with almost weekly screenings of Elf as I sat on the couch sewing sequins onto a handmade Christmas stocking I'd been working on for months. While other kids were stealing vodka from their parents' liquor cabinet and holding hands with boys I was surrounded by red and green embroidery thread and seed beads, racing against the clock to finish my latest set of ornaments before the holidays.

When I wasn't crafting new Christmas decor or at ballet rehearsal I was likely in the kitchen whipping up some kind of holiday treat for the neighbors - peppermint bark or spice cake with cream cheese frosting - like the sweet old lady who lives a few doors down and collects the mail for you when you're out of town.

In college there was no shortage of ugly Christmas sweater parties or white elephant gift exchanges. In the weeks leading up to Christmas break my friends and I would find time to look at the Christmas lights in the neighborhoods near our campus. We'd hop in the back of a couple of pick up trucks (because Texas) and gawk at the excessive Christmas light displays on the homes of the 1% before swinging by Starbucks for an overpriced, upsettingly sweet holiday beverage.

But now the holiday season just shows up, seemingly out of the blue. Like that party in Brooklyn you said "yes" to weeks ago but forgot about until just hours before. And now you're scrambling to find something to bring but you only have $7 in your bank account so it's PBR for everyone, I guess. Just sneak it quickly into the fridge upon arrival so no one notices that it's from you. It's the thought that counts, right?

One day you're in shorts and sandals and hovering around the AC unit and then all of a sudden there are Christmas tree stands on the sidewalks and wreaths in every store window. The temperatures drop and the airfares increase and before you know it you're sitting at Christmas dinner, hoping that you remembered to get a gift for everyone on your list.

Maybe the reason I feel ambushed by the holidays is because time flies when you're having fun, and being an adult with responsibilities and bills and text conversations with friends about which credit card has the best interest rate is just so much fun.

But, more likely, it's because I'm so focused on what's next - whether that be a meeting later in the week, or a carefully crafted five year plan - that I rarely stop to fully enjoy the present.

It's been quite a year. News headlines and our country's changing identity aside, I've had many of my own ups and downs. I graduated from my masters program, got engaged, started a new job, found an apartment with actual closets and kitchen drawers (not to be taken for granted in New York). I've also lost an incredibly important person to cancer, another to a stroke, and watched people close to me suffer in ways I can't even understand.

And it's with all of these significant events from the past several months that I came into this holiday season with an even greater appreciation for living in the moment. Appreciating the beauty of the first snowfall in the city. Enjoying the cozy aroma of Trader Joe's $4 Balsam candle (of course I didn't buy 6 of them, what are you talking about).

This year I've done my best to take a page out of my middle school Christmas countdown book and allowed myself to give into the nostalgia of the holiday season. I bought my first real Christmas tree, hosted several solo screenings of Elf, listened exclusively to Christmas music playlists, and spent my weekends making winter soups and peppermint bark. I haven't quite gotten around to the homemade embroidered stockings or sequin ornaments - those may just have to wait until next year.

A Most Unpleasant Season

The first few weeks of fall in New York City seemed like they were the hottest, sunniest days of the year. With highs hovering in the mid-80s, and the sun aggressively beaming into my apartment, heating up my moderately-sized uptown bedroom like an oven set just hot enough to keep your food from browning, it felt as though I was the only one desperately counting down the days until I could open my apartment windows and feel a slight chill in the air.

Apparently - according to co-workers and Insta-famous bloggers in swan-shaped pool floats and #sponsored swimwear - everyone loves summer. The city parks in late September looked like a college brochure - a couple of guys playing frisbee in the distance; rows of girls tanning, their t-shirts draped over their faces in an attempt to delay the all-too-inevitable fine lines and wrinkles; an introvert pretending to read but getting distracted by the fly that keeps hovering and landing on the edge of his book.

Everyone seemed to be soaking up the last few hours of summer, holding on as long as they could to the little joys of climate change before the sandals were pushed to the back of the closet in favor of thick, cozy socks and rain boots.

But, I wonder, what is there to enjoy, really? For those lucky few who have nothing but time from May through September, I understand the excitement of summer. They can rent a car and go berry picking upstate or to the beaches at Rockaway. They can relax on shaded patios and chat with their friends over a glass (or six) of rose. They can spend their day in a tank top, reading under a tree as they sip on a cold brew coffee, the condensation from their BPA-free to-go cup leaving drops of water on the pages of a literary magazine they just bought at Strand.

But for the rest of us, summer in New York becomes merely a montage of sticky subway rides and freezing office buildings, accompanied by a myriad of unidentifiable - or all-too-identifiable - city smells. While everyone on Instagram is baking blueberry pies and lounging poolside, you're sweating on the subway platform, 20 minutes late to work.

As beads of sweat form along your sternum and your brow your only respite from the stagnant, platform air is an express train passing through the station, bringing with it a conversation-halting clang of metal on metal, and an oddly refreshing subterranean breeze. You let the stale air wash over you, forgetting for a moment that it likely hasn't seen the light of day since 1974. But vintage is in, these days, you tell yourself as you hold back a cough, for you're no longer sweating. 

You close your eyes, imagining for a second that you're standing on the edge of the shore, the ocean waves crashing onto the sand, almost reaching the tips of your toes before receding back into the big blue. The warm sea breeze brushes against your skin and whips your hair into tangles and knots. In the distance you hear the faint sounds of Jimmy Buffet, not your music of choice, that's for sure, but here, you don't mind. You look down and realize you're holding a margarita (on the rocks, of course), and when you take a sip the cool, refreshing sting of the tequila in the back of your throat washes away your worries.

The waves get louder and louder, echoing as if in a chamber until the sound of screeching brakes yanks you off of the beach and back onto the platform. A man brushes past, his briefcase hitting your bag as he hurriedly makes his way to the first car of the train that just pulled into the station, "Cheeseburger in Paradise" emanating from a pair of $5 earbuds he doesn't realize are so revealing.

You step onto the train and the operator announces the next stop, her voice crackling through broken speakers. And as the doors close and the train pulls out of the station, the light overhead flickering like a department store dressing room that hasn't been updated in over a decade, you impatiently await the changing of the seasons. Summer in the city is the worst.

+   +   +

It was a crisp 42 degrees this morning as I stepped out of my apartment. With Halloween in the rear-view mirror and Thanksgiving only a few weeks away, stores are beginning to sneak strands of lights and winter garland into their display windows. It won’t be long before Spotify features their holiday playlists, showcasing the cheerful classics of Andy Williams and Bing Crosby. Pumpkin will be replaced with peppermint and radiators all over the city will come to life, making their presence known with unwelcome, but familiar, melodies of pops, hisses, and bangs.

With this shift in the weather patterns I gladly bid adieu to my least favorite time of the year. 'Tis the season for baking and eating and wearing sweaters and staying inside and lighting candles that make the apartment smell like the inside of a Christmas cookie. Summer is over. It's finally fall.

Rosemary & Thyme Herb Butter

I've always loved baking. In high school I spent weekends making cupcakes and cookies (you know, like a normal 15 year old), and started college dreaming of one day opening my own bakery.

Although I've changed course quite a bit, I still spend a lot of time in the kitchen. In an attempt to become a more knowledgeable home cook I've been working my way through Alice Waters' book The Art of Simple Food. A proponent of farm-to-table cooking long before it was a trend, Alice Waters seeks to create memorable meals by finding quality, seasonal ingredients and cooking or preparing them simply. In the book she not only provides hundreds of recipes - from homemade vinaigrette dressing and apricot jam, to roasted chicken and sautéed brussels sprouts - she also offers tips for keeping a well-stocked pantry and uses each page as an opportunity to teach. It's a wonderful place to start for anyone looking to brush up on their cooking and baking basics, and everyone should just go buy it already, geez.

Since I've recently been gifted an herb garden I was excited to try my hand at making a butter using fresh-cut herbs. The recipe below is based on the one in Alice Waters' book, but has been slightly adapted to suit my own tastes. Enjoy.


rosemary & thyme herb butter

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) of unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tbsp. fresh rosemary and thyme, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • squeeze of lemon juice

Melt half of the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add the herbs, slowly mixing for a couple of minutes until fragrant. 

Let the mixture cool in the fridge until or on the counter until room temperature.

Once cooled, add in the rest of the butter, garlic, salt and pepper. Finish off with a squeeze of lemon juice, to enhance the flavors. 

Pour into a bowl or small container, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Adventures of an Aspiring Plant Lady: One Down

I've been thinking all morning about how to incorporate an unwanted thyme/time pun into the opening of this post, but after all I could come up with was "my thyme has passed" I thought it best to just dive right in.

But indeed it has. In the midst of a move uptown and a week out of town my thyme plant has perished. I've also lost a succulent (mostly because I forgot it was in the windowsill of my bathroom...), have inherited a dying house plant (species TBD), and have been gifted an herb garden of basil, spearmint, oregano, rosemary, and thyme (we meet again).

Over the past couple of weeks, as I've tried desperately to keep my little green roommates alive, I have learned a few things. And by learned I mean confirmed what every single blog post about plant care already tells you. So here it goes.

  1. Proper pruning is paramount. They say regularly pruning - cutting back a few leaves and stems to promote growth - will result in a more luscious, full herb garden. And they're right (surprise!). Basil, in particular, requires frequent pruning in order to prevent the plant from getting too leggy. To prune, cut or pinch the stem just above a pair of leaves, once the herb is at least two or three inches tall; in just a few days you'll notice two new pairs of leaves sprouting from just below where you cut, creating a fuller, more plentiful plant. It's magical. Use the fresh cut leaves in pasta sauces or herb butters (recipe here), or dry them so they last a bit longer.
  2. We all know plants need plenty of water, sunlight, and Nat King Cole to stay happy and healthy. But I never realized just how much sunlight (or Nat King Cole, tbh) was necessary. My kitchen window is north-facing which means it gets weaker sunlight than windows facing south, east, and west. Although at first I didn't think this was such a big deal, I started to notice certain herbs in the center of the pot reaching their precious little stems out and up to get as much sun as they could. Poor little guys. Since it's summer I've been able to cheat a bit by illegally placing the herb garden on my fire escape (hope none of you are with the NY housing dept.) but come November I'll have to figure out a plan B.
  3. Unlike contemporary spinal surgeries, spearmint is highly invasive. I inherited a dying houseplant when I moved to my new apartment; it was wilted and brown as it sat, pathetically, on the kitchen counter, so I moved it to the fire escape and treated it to a bit of fertilizer and a gulp of water and, I'm happy to report, it's doing quite well. It also has a new roommate. Last week as I was pulling out a few browning leaves I noticed two spearmint plants growing very aggressively from the pot where there was nothing but dirt before (pictured below). Turns out mint has a habit of inviting itself over for dinner and taking a nap on the couch, whether you like it or not. I'll either be repotting the mint or making myself a Whiskey Smash; will keep you posted.

I'm waiting until I'm more confident in my abilities as a plant mom to head down to The Sill and pick up this little trio. For now, I'm taking in all that I can in the hopes that I'll be able to keep my herbs and succulents alive for a long thyme (I'm sorry).

Adventures of an Aspiring Plant Lady: Here We Go

Keeping a plant alive is hard. A dog or cat will offer a variety of expressions or behaviors to indicate something is wrong; they'll stop eating for a few days, their stomach will make noise, and if they're in pain they'll yelp or meow. They look up at you with their adorable little animal eyes and say "hey, I need to go on a walk" or "please stop bothering me I'm trying to sleep".

But plants just sit there, and wilt. And wilting can mean anything. It could be caused by rotting roots from overwatering, or dried out roots from under-watering. It could be because the temperature is too cold, or too hot, or it's too sunny. It could be a sign of a pest infestation, or a desperate plea for some kind of fertilizer. It could even mean your plant is annoyed that you're watching that episode of Friends for the 4th time that week.

Okay, maybe not that last one. But to someone with almost no knowledge of how to keep a plant alive, these vague warning signs are difficult to decipher, and make my aspirations to be a plant lady seem more daunting than my impending graduation from graduate school (it's fine, everything is fine).

So, like Julie Powell, I've decided to document my exploration of this new hobby. Except instead of trying out recipes I'll be trying to keep these little green friends of mine alive, and instead of Julia Child as a guide I have the whole, plant-related internet (an unsurprisingly robust corner of the web).

Above are my latest victims. I mean plants. I have three succulents, basil, and thyme, and will try to post updates and discoveries every month. To start here are a few things I've learned so far:

  1. Basil is surprisingly receptive to water. All of the plants sit on the sill of an east facing window, and on a sunny morning they wake up to very direct, harsh sunlight. By the time I wake up at 8am they've been sunbathing for at least an hour or so, and the basil plant is usually starting to wilt (apparently indoor potted plants tend to dry out much faster and may require more frequent watering). So before I make myself a very necessary cup of coffee, I give these little guys and gals a drink, and I'm always shocked at how quickly the basil leaves perk right up. Within 10 minutes there's a noticeable difference, and the plant goes from looking like a withered 97-year-old man to a lively teen (weird analogy? Idk). Honestly, no matter how long I manage to keep these plants alive, I will always be amazed by this. It's like watching one of those time lapse videos of a flower blooming only it's happening in real life before my eyes. Ah, nature.
  2. You can, in fact, kill succulents. And with relative ease, at that. I learned this well before this month but it was my first clue that I may not be gifted with a green thumb. I hopped on the succulent band wagon after seeing the 400th (rough estimate) Refinery29 article about how easy it is to care for succulents. "They practically take care of themselves!" But no. They don't. Because if you don't water them they die and if you do water them they die. So I decided to turn to people who know more about gardening, and upon purchasing my latest batch of succulents I followed careful instructions from Succulents and Sunshine when repotting them and so far so good. I probably jinxed it just now, though, so we'll see.
  3. Gooseneck coffee kettles (like this one) make for a great watering can. For those of you who, like myself, lack any storage and live in a teeny tiny box, finding household objects with multiple uses is key to living a happy, healthy life. 

That's all I've got, so far, but I'm excited to keep caring for these little plants and learning about indoor plant care. Starting out with monthly posts about problems I've encountered and what I've discovered, and we'll see how this goes.

Photo Phriday: The Capri

I think I got 12 mosquito bites the night Joshua and I ate at The Capri. It was our last night in Marfa, Texas and neither of us were looking forward to leaving behind such a significant little town. There's a specific kind of quiet that only exists in the middle of nowhere, a penetrating quiet that goes beyond just a lack of highway traffic or chatty tourists, and settles into your bones, shifting the way you think, feel, and move. It makes the days seem longer, the air more fresh, and already-delicious food and drink more memorable. And both of us noticed it the second we arrived.

I had heard about Marfa a few years back, probably just after Beyoncé visited and made the city an "it girl" get-away vacation spot. But my experience there was almost nothing like I expected. It wasn't trendy bar after trendy bar filled with hip artists, filmmakers, and musicians. It wasn't food trucks with a line down the block for the best tacos in Texas. It was quiet, secluded, almost strange. Restaurants stay open until they feel like closing, many of them only open a few days a week. The streets are seemingly abandoned, a car or small group of people passing through every once in awhile. And while the city didn't meet my expectations, it exceeded them in a way I never could have imagined. Marfa is just as incredible as everyone says it is, not because it's "cool", but because it's remarkable, peculiar, special.

That last night after dinner we sat outside for a few hours, sipping on craft cocktails, while I ignored Joshua's request that we move inside; although he had zero mosquito bites, I was welcoming new ones every few minutes. And while the next day in the car I sat with my hands in my lap, unsuccessfully willing the itching to stop, it didn't matter. Those pesky bites eventually go away, but Marfa doesn't. It stays with you, in your bones, until you eventually hop in the car and make your way back.

Green Barn Berry Farm

What's more American than picking fresh blueberries on Fourth of July weekend, you ask? 

Nothing. Not one thing.

This past Friday Joshua and I went with his parents to the Green Barn Berry Farm in Muncy, Pennsylvania and spent a warm, Summer evening picking blueberries. I've since decided to move away from New York City and live on a farm, where I can grow fresh fruits, veggies and herbs in my backyard, spend mornings sipping coffee on my front porch, and store my clothing in a closet instead of on a clothing rack in the middle of my apartment (wait, other people in New York have closets? oh...).

While I was picking (read: eating) blueberries I spent some time playing with my new camera. After almost 5 years with my trusty little Canon Rebel t3i - my very first DSLR - I finally upgraded to a Canon 7D and haven't put it down since. 

Two nights ago Joshua's mom made a delicious blueberry pie to kick off our Independence Day celebrations, and I think later this month I'll take a stab at my very first homemade blueberry jelly. But first, if anyone has a farm they aren't using just let me know. I'll be there in 5 minutes. 

Morning Rituals

School's officially out for summer and while some of my friends are enjoying treks through Europe following their week at the Cannes Film Festival (honestly, their life is so difficult....) I've been spending quite a bit of quality time with this desk chair of mine.

In pre-production for three short films, planning a road-trip to scout for a fourth, and preparing to write a feature in just 3 short months, my latest challenge has been trying to stay sane. And this little corner of my studio apartment is helping me do just that.

Since last summer I've spent almost every morning in this chair, sipping coffee and reading from the pages of Kinfolk Magazine or posts from some of my favorite blogs (Career Girl Daily, A Cup of Jo, and Wit & Delight, to name a few). And these few minutes of time - not responding to emails or finishing up last-minute assignments - have been so beneficial.

Over the past two years of my graduate program I've learned the value of a routine. Whether it's taking time to read for 30 minutes each day, making myself a cup of coffee the second I get out of bed (shout out to my trusty little Aeropress.), or eating dark chocolate every 5 minutes (not really, but almost), forming habits that promote time for myself is really the only way I've been able to make it this far in grad school without losing my damn mind.

And as I enter an industry that never takes a break, here's to hoping I can hold onto my sanity for a few more years...

 

A Weekend in the Catskills

It's my last semester as a full time student and I could not be happier to leave 5 classes a week and an endless barrage of assignments in the past. In the months leading up to an inevitably busy summer I've been trying to take time for myself, but sometimes mornings of meditation and evenings of eating Cookie Butter ice cream (so gooooood) and watching New Girl aren't quite enough. Sometimes the peace and quiet of living in a cozy studio apartment is interrupted by 18-wheelers barreling down the street outside and construction workers ripping out the cabinets of the apartment next door at 8:30 in the morning. Sometimes the only way to get a little rest is by leaving the city.

Not buildings!

A few weeks ago Joshua and I were perusing Escape Brooklyn to find a place to escape Manhattan for Spring Break. After pining over disappointingly expensive A-Frame cabins and boutique hotels, he found the perfect, affordable, refreshing getaway:  Spruceton Inn.

A self-described Bed and Bar, Spruceton Inn has been open for about a year and a half, and seems to have perfected the modern-day inn experience. Owners Casey and Steven remodeled the old motel (formerly owned by Arnold Schwarzenegger 's brother, Karl) in 2013, and have been living out my dream life scenario ever since.

Books and board games in Room One.

The bar at Conan's Corner.

Minimalism at its best.

The inn - a 2 1/2 hour drive from the city - has 9 simply decorated, rest-encouraging rooms, a fire pit, charcoal grills, and is a 15-minute walk to the nearest hiking trails. They also host a handful of artists and writers each year as a part of their artist residency program (as if this place couldn't get any better...).

In Room One of the inn - dubbed Conan's Corner - you'll find the bar: coffee bar by morning, actual bar by night (why this isn't how every bar works is inconceivable). The bar serves Cafe Grumpy coffee, craft beer, whiskeys, wine, and happiness. In here you'll also find decks of cards, books written and illustrated by Casey's husband and co-owner, Steven, and a little tiny wifi signal - perfect for one of those automatic "out of the office" response emails.

Spruceton Inn // West Kill, NY

Although I had originally planned to catch up on all of my writing, emailing, and school work while we were out of the city, I quickly learned what an rare opportunity I had with 4 days and almost no wifi: I could finally relax.

The first day we took a four-hour hike that quickly showed me how out of shape I was (or is walking and talking difficult for everyone?). We made it to the top of Hunter Mountain where we climbed a terrifyingly rickety fire watch tower to catch incredible views of the Hudson Valley. That night we spent the evening at Conan's Corner, sipping on wine and whiskey and talking to a couple of other New York City locals and Columbia graduate students who were also trying to escape for a few days. 

Phoenicia Diner // Phoenicia, NY

Our second day was a day of writing and spontaneous driving that lead us to Phoenicia Diner (an upcoming post!), a place we read about on too many "must do" lists to ignore. And that night we (mostly Joshua...) grilled burgers on one of the charcoal grills outside, following about ten rounds of a card game (ah, life without the internet).

Most New Yorkers know that a 4-day vacation is just short enough for your return trip to be a begrudging one, and this was no different. Although a sad drive away from Spruceton Inn, with no longer an excuse for unanswered emails, I left knowing that, like a former guest of the building, I'll be back.