Thursday, September 30, 2010

Best Friends for Always

Filling His Tank

With Papa gone for training my work load at home has gotten a wee bit heavier.  It's my turn to take out the trash and walk the dogs, to clean the bathroom and make sure my boy gets enough rough housing and wild play to keep him straight.  Some of this extra work I could do without, I really hate cleaning the bathroom. 

I tucked Jules in at 8, the golden hour for me these days.  Finally I can eat a good dinner, take a shower, zone out in front of the tv or read, and most importantly - sit down.  I think I've been a bit quick to rush through bedtime lately, eager for the long day to end, as Jules has taken to coming out 15, 20, even 30 minutes later asking for more loving.  Tonight I turned around from loading the dishwasher to hear my boy say, "that's just not enough lovin' mama".  So I scooped him up and asked him if I need to come lay down and fill his tank with some extra loving. 

We laid there for awhile talking about what it was like when he was a baby.  He's fascinated with facts about where he slept and what songs we sung to him.  There are so many we still sing, most of all the Julian song that Papa wrote for him, Jules can spell his whole name because of that song.  After a few songs and many kisses and squeezes and "lovins", as J says, I asked him if his tank was full yet?

"What tank Mama, like a tanker truck?"

I explained that inside of him, right near his heart, there is a tank.  At first he didn't believe me so I offered to tell him how it works.  I told him how Papa and I fill his tank with all kinds of love: hugs and kisses, snuggles, kindness, time, etc.  

"Do you have a tank Mama?"

So I told him how we all have tanks and that everyone we love and who loves us does things to fill our tanks, and that we do the same for them.  He wanted to know who filled my tank so I listed, Julian, Papa...

"Mama, I don't see Papa here, I don't see him anywhere?  He's not here to fill your tank up so I can fill it up!"

He lunged at me with a giant bear hug, full on with the force of his never ending enthusiasm, exclaiming over and over that he could fill my tank up.  

I couldn't stop crying, my little boy, my baby, is not so little anymore.  My Julian is a loving force in this world.  He jumps into life with his whole body and his whole heart and he oozes love. 

Pete is usually the one who stays behind after stories and songs to squeeze another 5 or 10 minutes out of the day with his boy, talking about anything and everything, filling his tank.  I need to be more mindful of my boys' tank and how missing Papa affects him, I think he will sleep the better for it.  Some of Papa's jobs aren't extra work, this one has been a reminder of how important each of us is to the balance of our family.  It's treasured time and worth putting off my downtime for, though I can't wait for Pete to be able to do it himself.  Some things, like rough housing and boy time, just aren't the same with Mama. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Putting the Garden In

I disappeared from around here again, but for good reason - I had to get the garden in! And it IS officially in, all but my direct sow seeds (carrots, radishes, 3 kinds of beans, and a second kind of cucumber)! Last week I was knocked down pretty hard by a cold so that has slowed me down a bit on the final plantings. I was thrilled to lay the last bricks and place the last bit of fencing to protect it from all of the dogs this week though.

Over last weekend Pete and I picked up 1000lbs of compost and topsoil to use in containers and also to amend and build up some of the eroded soil in the back yard. After Pete tilled the hard earth in preparation, I came behind him dumping wheelbarrow load after load of soil to mix in along with the compost we had made over the winter season. Once that was done I laid 4 brick pathways in the six foot deep bed so that I would have a way to tend to the plants at the back without putting pressure on the soil close to the plants. This did take up some substantial square footage, but by using bricks from around the house I was able to complete the project without spending a dime and create a slim walkway.

After that I started laying out my little pots to get the best configuration of plants, avoiding planting my nightshades in the same place as last year, and to take advantage of the sun. I had some squash volunteers come up from the compost we dumped in so I left two of those to see what they end up being. (I also have several volunteer potato plants coming up in the compost pile that I don't plan on pulling up either, I'm excited to see what happens!) A few hours of digging holes, mixing in fertilizer, digging trenches for potatoes, and unsuccessfully trying to build my own bean teepee's later I gave up for the day. I had started at 9:30AM and the sun was almost down, it was 6:30 in the evening! Luckily Jules took a four hour nap over the mid afternoon otherwise it wouldn't have been possible. Pete was also nice enough to escort him to the park as soon as he woke up so I could continue full speed ahead. A few more short days here and there and now everything has it's place.

In the midst of all that work I was also potting up 8 kinds of tomatoes, 5 basil's, long planters of lettuce, 3 peppers, and other assorted herbs to keep out on the front walkway where we get the most sun. I figure if everything dies or is eaten by pests I'll have all of them as backups. I also picked up a blueberry bush that is a self pollinating variety that can be kept in a container so when we move it can go with us - this makes me unbelievably happy! My 6 strawberry plants from last year have multiplied quite a bit, and with the addition of a few more full grown plants this year I have quite the patch going. Jules has already had 2 fresh, juicy, ripe, red berries - one from one of the containers out front, and one from the patch out back.

95% of the vegetable garden will be grown from seed this year and that's pretty exciting. This was a trial year, I'd never started them myself so I wasn't sure how it would turn out. I've found that some things went really well (tomatoes, basil, marigolds) and some not so much (brassica's, purple basil). It was really nice to make new homes outside for these tiny plants I've been caring for since February. I couldn't resist a few things at McDonald's Garden Center or Garden in a Flower Pot, they helped me fill in some gaps and replace some things that haven't done so well, or if I'm honest - feed my addiction to yummy home grown vegetable! I figure if I can't find a place in the ground for it I have a HUGE sidewalk to fill out front!

I'll come back to upload pictures once I get home to take some of the finished project!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Urban Gardening: Going Guerilla in a Rental

Remember all that writing I was talking about several weeks past?  Well it's come to fruition!  My article on Urban Gardening was published on yesterday.  You can read the article here and if so moved please leave comments!  I'd love to hear what you think.

I'm hoping that once we're back from our Midwest Roadtrip 2010 that I'll be able to sit down to brainstorm more ideas for another article.  It was a lot of fun sitting down and putting so much of what is running around in my head down to share with others.  Hopefully it will inspire you to get growing!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Vote for Our Community Gardens on Pepsi Refresh!

So I've mentioned here before that my good friend Amelia and I have been talking and planning and thinking and writing about a community garden/community supported agriculture idea for Norfolk.  We've gone so far as to put a proposal into the city, which they have already given us positive feed back on, but we will have to find our own funding.  It's just not in the budget with the city stretched in this economic time.

On a whim Amelia applied to the Pepsi Refresh program that is giving away 1.3 million dollars EVERY MONTH!  We got the notice that our idea had been accepted to vote on and starting out in 189th place we've been steadily climbing toward the top.  This morning we were 59th, but we still have a ways to go in order to make this happen.  At the end of the month the top ten proposals are announced as the winners!

Amelia has been fielding calls and emails of interest from individuals, teachers and schools, the city, ODU, you name it - so many people want to help us bring our ideas to fruition, now we just need to get out there and VOTE!  You can vote once a day from as many email accounts as you have.  Send it to your friends on Facebook and Twitter, email your friends and family, every vote counts.  Norfolk is in desperate need of this kind of community supported project.  The food, the green space, the involvement on a community level - there are so many amazing benefits that our plans would have.  Thank you for all your help!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Carving Out a Niche for Me

A few months ago we realized that Julian was getting too big for his sleeping arrangements.  Down came the crib and in went our queen size mattresses.  With the newly gained freedom it was crucial for there to be enough room for me to go in and sleep with him in the middle of the night those first few weeks and for those way too early, still pitch black out, mornings.  Unfortunately this means his daytime naps have shrunk as well and now I have a little boy telling me he is ready for bed by 5:30 or 6 most evenings.  Today he lasted less than an hour so I've repurposed the glider and boppy in the nursery as a temporary work station. The boppy is just the right size to hold my netbook while I type, and I've got plenty of arm support.  I told him he's got to get more rest or we can't go on our play date this afternoon with the compromise that I would stay in the room with him. We'll see how it goes.

The real work goes on here, at my new/repurposed desk:

When we moved into this duplex we planned on putting the "office"  in our master closet.  It's a huge little room with two sunny windows and a corner perfect for an office set up.  Our first summer in this house we discovered that the room was a tiny sauna, and now in the winter, nothing short of freezing.  It seems whomever built on the little addition didn't do much insulation or ventilation-wise. I organized the bulk of our paperwork and files, along with my craft supplies and art supplies for Julian there for easy access but still lacked a designated work station.  Sharing with the kitchen table got old, as did the folding table in living room.  We have a beautiful old table that Pete's father gave us shortly after we moved into our first place together to use as a dining table, it's round with two leaves that fold down, and is quite small. It's since become the table that holds our Christmas tree at the holidays, and we replaced it with a retro formica table and red chairs in the kitchen. The small foot print combined with an old wooden chair I picked up at a thrift store make for a perfect addition to the playroom.  It has become increasingly important to me that Jules and I be able to work along side each other and now we can.  He is often standing at the end of the table working on his drawing or writing skills while I write or work on projects.

My friend Liz found the perfect enamelware silverware/napkin holder at the thrift store it's perfect to hold Julian's markers, crayons, colored pencils, and glue right next to my pens, scissors, and notebooks.  I love to use the flat basket I picked up at Ten Thousand Villages to hold my journals, magazine tear sheets, and loose recipes.  The tiny tins are another thrifting find but I haven't decided what to use them for yet.
I have plenty of room for my library books, a Jade plant, a few inspiration pieces and other minimal essentials. 

I love looking through the sun streaked windows and out to Julian as he plays.

I moved Julian's entire book collection into his bedroom to create a reading nook that allowed him easy access to all of them, this allowed for a little more clearing of the playroom to make room for me.  Now that all of his toys are sorted onto my favorite bookcase of all time (left wall, out of site), it simplifies how much he has access to and allows me to easily rotate what is available to keep things new and exciting. 

I love this new space I've carved out, the light has that perfect cool glow that I love and I feel happy every time I sit down in that old well worn chair.  Today I'll settle for watching Jules flop about resisting sleep with his cute little bottom up in the air and thumb tucked firmly in his mouth. It won't be long before he's grown and needless of his mama's eye to watch over him or arms to snuggle him so I'll take it while I can.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How Can I Decide Between Two Best Friends

This guy, he's my tried and true, never leave behind kind of friend.

But this guy, oh man did he steal my heart.  He can't replace my first love, but having him around rocks.

These two friends, paired with a fairly inexpensive steam driven machine, complete my very own coffee shop.  Add a little Dark Chocolate Monin, some steamed organic milk and I like to think of it as my little slice of heaven every morning.

Because our local coffee shop isn't stroller friendly I have found myself out of step with my own ideals.  Starbucks calls to me more than I would like, they are stroller friendly and we don't get quiet as many dirty looks for our averagely loud two year old. Don't get me started with their drive thru availability, as a mama with a toddler who is becoming increasingly more opinionated getting him in and out of the car just isn't feasible some days. My solution was to purchase a killer leak proof travel much, one that I can toss in my bag or throw in the car without it seeping all over the place and to hunt down a local shop where I could purchase organic and/or fair trade coffee options.  Luckily I found one within walking distance: Virginia Espresso.  They have everything I need, plus I get a punch for every pound of coffee I buy towards a free bag.  It doesn't get much better than that.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Taking Back My Kitchen

I recently watched Food, Inc and The Botany of Desire.  They really got me thinking about food and consumerism and how our family fits in.  We spend a large portion of our income on groceries and their ilk.  I can't help but wonder what I can do about the food that my family consumes and the packaging that goes with it.  I cook from scratch a lot, I bake bread and sweets, make stock, preserve what I can buy bulk from the farmers market or pick myself, but I'd like to do more.

Is is possible to sustain ones family without processed foods (I'm thinking of all the cereal, granola bars, apple sauce cups and so on in my cabinets), over packaged foods, or premixed/premade products?  I know there will be things Pete will never give up, like his giant box of Quaker Oats individual packets from Costco.  But this week I started making and freezing waffles and pancakes for him and Jules so that I can stop buying the over priced whole wheat equivalents to Eggos.  The packaging is insane, and it's bare bones nutrition. If I make my own from scratch I have complete control of the recipe, and use as many whole grains as I have on hand.

I'd like to get a bread machine so that I can pump out bread for sandwiches and toast rather than buying it.  I do the five minute bread occasionally but I'm terrible at keeping track of the oven with the toddler around.  I keep concentrate tea on hand so that Jules and I always have something besides water and milk to drink.  I'd love to make our yogurt but isn't it still cheaper to buy Stoneyfield than to make it with organic milk?  Jules survives on yogurt since he still won't eat meat and Pete takes it every day for breakfast so we'd need a lot.  We're eating a lot less meat, and I'm working to get Jules and Pete on board with beans.  That's going to be a bit of an uphill battle I think.

Basically, I'm wondering what small steps you've taken in your own kitchens to get back to the basics?  What do you make yourself?  Where do you get your flours and grains in bulk?  What tools do you use?  Do you have a weekly or monthly schedule? Do you have any awesome mix or bulk recipes to share?

I know I'll never give up my Kashi cereal, and I doubt Jules could live with out his Mighty Bites or his organic yogurt tubes, and Pete will always be a meat lover.  I'm not striving for perfection, just looking to make some updates.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Seed Starting 2010

The growing season in this part of the country is approximately 240 days long so getting seeds started early was a priority for me this year.  I'm attempting to keep up successive sowing on things like lettuce, radishes, and carrots so we can always have something ready to harvest.  I'm still waiting for my seed order to get here.  I ordered the bulk of  what we need from a Virginia company called Southern Exposure Seed.  They had so many organic and/or heirloom varieties to choose from that I was overwhelmed with indecision.  It was made more difficult by the fact that nearly everything they do carry are plants that are known to do well in this area.  Many of the seeds descriptions explained how well they do in many of the conditions we face here as gardeners; drought, heat, sandy soil, humidity, and so on.  At final count I was near 30 varieties!  That doesn't even include the sunflowers or marigolds still need to pick up, or the ones I still have on hand, OR the seedlings I know are going to taunt me at the market.  Between me, and our new green thumb housemate, this place is going to be a garden oasis in the middle of a city.

I also couldn't help picking up a handful of packets at a local nursery a few weeks ago. Some radishes, 2 lettuces, dotted mint - which looks like it's going to be gorgeous, and Moon&Stars watermelon.  I just couldn't resist the little paper envelopes covered in pictures of delicious produce - something we are sorely lacking now during SnowFest 2010.  With that, plus leftover seeds from last summer, I was able to get a couple of trays started.  I put 5 varieties of heirloom tomatoes and the watermelon in one, and two lettuces plus five kinds of herbs in the other.  

The lettuce was the quickest to shoot up so I pulled them out to chill on a recycled plastic food tray by the front windows.  Once the rest catch up they will all go back in their little green houses until they are a bit bigger.  

Jules likes to come out in the mornings to check on the plants while he watches me open the curtains for the day.  It's fun to talk about what we are going to grow and how we care for them.  He likes to ask what they are going to be and tell me how he's going to eat them.  We're reading a lot of books about plants, gardens and farms right now, it's the closest I can get him to green right now. 

Once the seed package arrives I've got two more trays to fill, plus leftover seedling containers from plants we purchased last year.  J, our housemate,  gave me a grow light so our living room will soon look like it's own little garden center.  I just hope the sun comes out soon, the snow is just to dreary for the green I'm dreaming of right now.

Friday, February 5, 2010

I Needed Something Easy

I'm trying to get more creative with the seasonal produce available this time of year and potatoes and carrots are perfect for a pot pie.  I had both, purchased from the farmers market, broccoli and a few bags of the chicken I keep precooked in the freezer, and some leftover pie crusts from the holiday season.  I threw it together, threw it in the oven and dinner was ready in under an hour.

I cooked all the veggies my big cast iron pot like this:
With medium heat, olive oil, garlic, onions until clear
Next add the carrots and potatoes plus 2 cups of stock until mostly tender
Next comes the broccoli and the precooked and chopped chicken, while that cooks mix 1 cup milk w/2 T cornstarch
A little salt, pepper and thyme (or basil, oregano, etc) to taste
Bring pot to a simmer and add milk mixture, bring to a boil.
Upon thickening to your taste top with pie crust cut with a cookie cutter, drop biscuits work nicely too.

I baked it according to the pie crust directions since the filling was already piping hot.  And you can use just about any veggies you want or have on hand; mushrooms, sweet potatoes, peas, peppers, cauliflower, etc.    I had thought about having a salad or green beans along side, but instead opted for some roasted beets and squash with a fun spice mix I had gotten for Xmas.  It was a perfect, cozy winter time meal, and it hit the spot.