Wednesday, June 13, 2012

June updates

If anyone is persistent enough to still be checking my sorry blog, I should at least do you the courtesy of changing that photo of our raised bed.  Much has changed-- more soil, then strings (for my experiment with Square Foot Gardening), then seeds, then seedlings, now (some) plants.  It's heading in the right direction,but it's not perfect.  Either we lost many seedlings early, or our germination rate was poor.  Anyway, some of the boxes are empty and some only half filled.  Many of our onions didn't germinate, and some germinated but the seedling looks very weak.  Our bush beans look okay, but they have been partially eaten up by... birds?  bugs?  It's hard for me to tell.   However, all told, we've done SO MUCH more this year than we did last year.  First of all, whether our raised bed is glorious or pathetic, it exists!  And we'll eat something out of it at some point this year.  We can improve next year.  Our Sugar Snap Peas are out of this world.  I have a new herb garden with Chives, Basil, Oregano, Dill, Thyme, Rosemary, and Parsley.  There is a new tomato/pepper/basil bed (courtesy of my brother who visited us in May).  We have 5 wonderful tomato plants out there-  2 Juliets, 2 Sungolds, and 1 German Johnson (an Heirloom).  We also have 4 pepper plants and if I had a little more gumption tonight I'd be able to walk out back & report the varieties to you.  We have 2 basil plants, both from our CSA. 

Which is great, by the way.  Just great.  I really like both Ty and David, the folks who run it, but moreover I love the food we've gotten already this year.  I look forward to our pick ups, and I look forward to eating the produce all week long.  The farm has a good personality-- the way they communicate with the shareholders has been so surprisingly nice.  Aesthetically, it looks good, too!  The farmhouse is painted a whimsical pink, and the pick up shed is decked out with Ty's artwork (and she's so talented).  I'll be forever grateful, also, that this farm introduced me to garlic scapes.

In our academic household, May and June are always different.  Our routines shift.  So many things we plan to do "once the semester ends" are either happening, or -- *puh*-- not at all happening.  A friend and fellow academic says this time of year she invariably gets depressed.  We're shifted out of that thing we've been doing and voila it's "summer."  But it's not the summer of childhood with those endless reading-books-in-hammocks times.  It's that quick little "ahhhh" before realizing that if you (and spouse) don't get yourselves together it will suddenly be August and you'll still have a basement full of, ahem, crap.  Our season got off to a tough start with the worst stomach virus I have ever seen tear through a little 3 year old.  Not a 24 or 48 hour thing.  A week long thing that no one else caught.  Thank heavens for small miracles.  See why I haven't written? 

I haven't written here, nor have I made any move, symbolic or otherwise, to get back to writing my dissertation.  That's one of those summer things, or so I've said to myself.  I'm seriously stalled, but starting to at least feel motivated to start again.  It's only June, right?  I still have time. 

My brave husband has taken on our basement as his special project this summer.  Our little guy is now old enough to accompany him on long sorting and organizing spells down there, and seems to have endless enthusiasm for such projects.  We're all in a very good frame of mind to let go of things that have been cluttering up our lives.  Yes, even books are leaving our house.  Many, many books.  Good books.  Books I like.  Books given to me by people I love.  Books that might be "useful someday."  Antique books and brand-new-unread books.  I'm just done with that right now.   Mind you we still have waaaaaay more books than average people.  We still have 20 copies of Moby Dick and 15 copies of Walden.  I'm just saying we're trying not to, for example, have 5 copies of Age of Innocence, when one will do.  We're just culling a bit.   We're letting go of a lot of big and little things that we have been carrying around with us for no good reason.  Do I need my senior prom dress?  Ick. I mean, why was I keeping that?  I hated the prom.  And I have a photo to prove it!

So if at the end of the summer we have a manageable basement (this goal is in sight!), I think we will both feel like we've stepped over some line in the sands of mental clarity.  Having that space available will allow us both the creative space we need.  Him for recording projects, me for sewing. 

Here are a couple of shots from the garden in front of the house: 
The little perennial geranium in the bottom right corner is pink, but this photo doesn't do it justice.  I thought it might die, but it's really picked up & continues to flower. The yarrow is really rich and lovely, and is that Salvia in purple?  I think so.  Behind the bird bath to the left is the hydrangea our neighbor gave us. I can't wait to see what color the blooms are. I love hydrangea.

Coreopsis, anyone?  Am I spelling that correctly?  And one of my pretty petunias.

Little guy's hand and some pretty day lilies.  No idea what variety, but a nice mellow buttery color. 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

garden progress

This is our first raised garden bed. We had a nice big delivery of compost for it, and soon we'll put veggies in it.  I just ordered some seeds, and we will buy small plants for our tomatoes and peppers. 

Looks like we will get a few blueberries this year.  I'm dying to plant strawberries, too, but haven't quite gotten around to it.

Friday, April 20, 2012

gah blogger!

Bear with me, readers, if you are out there witnessing the circus of my blog right now.  I'm trying to switch things around and I don't have much time to learn how to blog properly (if indeed there is such a thing).  Anyway, I was getting increasingly annoyed with the multi-font & mulit-size nature of some of my posts.  I still haven't figured that one out, but isn't my new header pretty?  One of our very pretty trees.

spring & all

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Easter preparations begin

Although it was a lovely and sunny day, we spent much of it inside making preparations for Easter week. Today's tasks were started early in the morning with simmering some food for dyes. This year in addition to using turmeric for yellow, we also tried onion skins.

They worked well, but the yellow was a little more mellow. However, it's a cleaner dye, since there aren't specks of the spice still in the dye when it is used. T did his part by chopping the cabbage.

Last year I was so pleased with our egg dyeing, but this year something seemed off. The dye just didn't stick to the eggs in the same way as it had in the past. I think this is because I didn't boil the dye material with the vinegar. I just added the vinegar later. We didn't get any real blue out of the cabbage. The results were still pretty.

Also, we made our traditional hot cross(ed?) buns. (And got a lot of mileage out of that nursery rhyme all day, I will add.)

kneading the dough
(T wanted to talk about the difference between "need" and "knead," be still my English-major heart)

ready for the first rising

avocado cuteness

one a penny! two a penny!

Sunday, April 1, 2012


For a while I just thought that we were not going to do a CSA this summer. We were just going to plant more of our own. Then we tried to put the peas in. It took two days to plant 2 small envelopes of peas. Probably not different from last year, but pregnant me seemed to be able to get more done than baby-mama me, and that's not saying much So, we took that into consideration.

We joined Starlight Gardens.

(Forgive me, readers, if this CSA thread bores you to tears.)

Why did we join?

1) Unfortunately, NOT because it is close to us. It is still a good half hour, similar to the one we joined last year. But the difference (and this is really important to us) is that the drive is much more pleasant. No major highway that gets NYC traffic all day long and gets clogged up for any minor disruption. In fact, I have never, ever experienced "traffic" on the drive to the town where our new CSA is located. The roads are almost like country roads. Not bad or headache-inducing. The hours of pick-up and the location are both conducive to either parent doing the pick up. So, it still flies a little in the face of one of my CSA resolutions, but okay, we'll just have to see how it goes.

2) The farmer, David, returned our call and answered all my questions in a really honest, candid, and genuine way. We've met him before at markets, and found that he *loved* to talk about his vegetables, which is a great sign. One of my questions was about his expectations for pick-up days, especially with regards to kids on the farm. I wanted to know whether this would be a good spot for the kids to get out and run around, or if that was not a good idea. It was something he said that he was trying to figure out (this is their first year of a CSA). On the one hand, he said, the whole point was to get people more connected with their food. On the other hand, this is his home and his backyard and they will want/need to maintain some level of privacy and some boundaries. He basically said that he didn't know how it was going to work, but they were thinking about it. While I think it would be great if T would get the chance to see the plants and play a bit, I also think it is important to know ahead of time if that is appropriate or not. I know if I were running a CSA where I lived it would probably get too stressful and chaotic if everyone's kids were running around everywhere 2 days a week. It's good for both the CSA subscribers and the growers to communicate about these boundaries ahead of time so everyone's on the same page, and it's not just kids. I can imagine people bringing their welcome or unwelcome dogs, or even just having adults poking around willy-nilly would probably get tiresome.

3) While this is the first year of their CSA, they have been growing successfully and organically in CT for 12 years. That's a great track record! We've been really happy with the tomato plants we bought from them last year, and always happy with the greens we've gotten at markets. When I was very pregnant we bought some greens, and David said that he always has a gift for newborn babies at the market, and to bring our baby when he's born. We did and we got a nice bag of greens. I just thought that was sweet and totally unexpected.

4) Part of the reason we joined is because I really haven't had much fun at the area's farmer's markets. They can be fun on occasion, and we will still go, but I was getting weary of feeling like we had to divide our weekend up so that we would make it to a market. It will be nice to know that even if we go away for the weekend, or make plans with friends or family, we can still have fresh vegetables. We have precious few free weekend days and I'd like to have more opportunities to take the kids to forests, beaches, mountains, etc., rather than downtown to get our food.

5) Our expectations for the produce we'll get have been changed. Hopefully we will get some great food, but we're a bit more realistic now. Hopefully it will be better than last year. At least this time around I feel like I know the farmer a bit better and have the good faith that I lacked last year.

So there you have it. We will keep you posted!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

can't you just nap with him?

Yesterday I was at the 6 month (one month late!) visit for our baby. I was lamenting our sleep problems, when I realized that our pediatrician is cool in many ways (wise with natural remedies, and so on) and I do really like her, but she's seems a tad out of touch (with me) in other ways.

Like when I told her that I was having trouble getting baby to sleep anywhere but the guest bed (not safe!) for his nap. And she said, well then just grab a book and nap with him. And do what with my 3year old? Put him in front of a cartoon until he turns into a drooling aphid?

And when I mentioned that none of us were getting any sleep (and I mean that almost literally) and joked that we needed 2 night nurses and we'd be all set. With a straight face she said she had a list of numbers of good ones. Clearly she's not in our tax bracket.

I don't really expect our doctor to solve our family sleep problems. I don't even know why I asked, since I have read up on almost every approach to baby sleep that our library affords us. Perhaps that is the problem, though, with modern parenting-- information overload. And the cynical me thinks (and knows) that most of these books are out there so that books are sold, rather than babies are allowed to sleep. From the great and growing empire of Sears family books (if your child cries he will become a sociopath and it'll be your fault!), to the sleep training quick-fixes (watch movies with your hubby while teaching your baby to sleep and wake up singing Hallelujah!), they all have the answer, and it's only one or two sentence that acknowledge the reality that most parents need to hear: Do what works for your family.

But you see, all of the books do say that at some point. And that's not going to sell anyone anything. My old pediatrician from our old town said that we were doing a great job as parents, and to just do what we needed to do. That was nice. I should remember that. It would also be wise to remember that she may say that to every parent, no matter how rotten, knowing that parents will do what they will do regardless of her advice. Sure, blow smoke in your kid's face, you're doing a great job! AKA, the high-self-esteem for all parents philosophy.

It seems, in the small survey of parents I know, that many of us don't seem to have to confidence to know what it means to parent without identifying with a book, method, or expert's opinion. I wonder if this has always been the case, or if it truly is a symptom of the media-glut that we parent in these days. I have taken out so many parenting books from the library, only to open many of them, say "yeah right," and snuggle up with a good book of MFK Fisher essays, where I am told how to eat spring peas, not how to care for the babies I love more than life itself. It just gets tiresome to be told over and over again conflicting stuff... and then feel like a martyr or monster if I don't/can't/won't follow the advice.

Some of it I could and did follow, until #2 came along. Then whether I am supposed to snuggle our 3 year old to sleep every night, or let our baby fuss for a while before sleeping, I can't because there are now two with needs. And those needs can't both be met at the same time. And certainly not at 3am.

So I'm going to try to listen a little harder and see if there is a mommy-voice inside that does exist despite all the loud competition. And, if you have any advice of your own, join the chorus, please.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

eating the tomato crop

We've been occasionally dipping in to our freezer and using some tomatoes we froze last year. I posted at the time about trying it as an experiment, and reporting back. Well, it hasn't been a failure entirely. We have used many tomatoes, and I like that we used our freezer for keeping some of the harvest. Next time, though, I'm going to puree them first. I had the big food mill that I bought for applesauce-making out yesterday to puree some winter squash for a recipe and to see if our little one likes it. That's when I realized that I could fairly easily slice the tops off the tomatoes and run them through this food mill and have pureed tomatoes! Then, we can easily freeze one-cup (or more) servings in glass jars and use them as needed. I like this idea more than freezing whole tomatoes, since all I really need them for is sauce and soup in the winter. I just tried it on some frozen Juliettes, and it worked really well for making beet soup tonight.

What's your favorite way to keep your garden crops?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Our beloved Lula, 2004-2012

the last picture we have with Lula in it

Our kitty Lula died this morning at home in her kitty bed. Her symptoms pointed to some kind of intestinal cancer, but we will never know for sure. She was eight years old, and we will miss her so much. Lula was the first kitty I ever had. She showed up in the backyard of the little red house where Ken lived when we met, and then where we both lived when we were newlyweds. She was sick and hungry and teeny tiny when we met her. It was April, and the vet suggested she might have been a dumped dorm kitty, which I was surprised to learn even was a category.

Once she recovered from her foray in the wild, she became a wonderful house kitty. Playful, clean, sweet, and beautiful. She really was a beautiful cat with lovely striped markings on her face.

She wasn't a lap cat, per se. She was very selective, and always loved Ken the best. If I had a scanner and time, I'd post one of the many photos I have of Lula curled up in the crook of his arm while they both slept. So sweet. And today poor Ken was out digging a grave for her. We selected a nice spot under our bedroom widow in the shady hosta garden and I will always think of her when I look at the mammoth hosta that, by summer, will be covering her little grave.

Lula changed me as a person. I remember telling my long-time best friend that we found a kitty and were adopting her. Her reaction was "And do you actually touch her?" I wasn't always much of an animal person. But something about Lula really changed all of that. My relationship with her certainly changed after the arrival of our first child, but again, I can't pretend to know how she felt about it. I remember worrying and worrying about her whenever we would leave. But lately, it was just nice to see her come out after the kids went to bed and snuggle with us on the couch. Ken said that it's too bad she didn't get to see us on the other side of all this toddler and baby craziness. I agree. We really will miss her so much.

Rest in peace, sweet kitty. You were well loved in your lifetime, and we are so glad you found us.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

a special day

today i am
a little laughy
and smiley
and tickley
and brotherly
....and six months old!

special places

a lovely walled-in park, the size of a city block. paved paths, huge trees, a few formal-ish gardens, and a conservatory. perfect for that kinda-nature-y day.

our artist

We have discovered that our little boy loves painting. It helps to have really washable watercolors and heavy watercolor paper.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

goals for this coming season

I'm not into New Year's resolutions, but I would like to write down a few of my hopes as I look toward our growing season here in New England. My thoughts:

1) I'd like to have an epic strawberry-jam making session, such as I remember from the summers of my childhood. The CSA my sister belongs to has strawberries that I feel are pretty safe for the eating. I'd like to buy a bunch when we are up there and (are you reading this, Mom?) make jam with my Mom in NY. Seems better to pair up with someone who has done it before.

2) I really want to stock up on local blueberries while they are in season. I think we'll pay a visit to Windsong Farm, which has been recommended highly by some of my friends b/c of their safe growing practices. The trouble is that when blueberries are in season we eat them so fast that we've never been able to save any. (Oh, and we hope to harvest some from the 2 bushes we planted in our yard last year.)

3) We have plans to expand our backyard garden. I'm thinking we should add string beans, kale, peppers, squash, herbs, cabbage, . . . and more on that soon.

4) More applesauce! We have been enjoying our treats from the freezer. We bought a large bag of seconds from High Hill Orchard and it made delicious sauce. We could easily have eaten many times the amount we made...

5) I'd like to put a white hydrangea in front of the house, where we lost a small piney shrub.

6) We will need to come up with a good way to control weeds. Suggestions?

7) Since we are in suburbia, we need to figure out how to keep our front lawn somewhat un-dead over the summer. gag me.

8) We hope to be able to use some of our own compost for our gardens this year, but I also hope to find a good place to purchase some in bulk.

And what about you? Do you have any growing-season goals?


Friday, February 17, 2012

Wow. It really is tempting to violate one of my aforementioned CSA rules and sign up for this one. My, it's tempting. I did get a few chances to talk with this farmer, and he seems wonderful. Furthermore, we bought our tomato plants from him last year and they turned out to be just terrific. I've always enjoyed the veggies they have at the markets. Unfortunately--and this really is a bummer--the farm is 30 minutes from our place. However, unlike last year's CSA farm, this would be a commute on smallish roads, not a busy highway.

Thinking... thinking...

Still, maybe the best route is putting a lot of time into growing our own food. We don't have a lot of land, but we could probably grow enough to supplement our trips to the farmers markets this summer.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I don't think we'll join a CSA this year. In my previous post I talked about getting to know growers before joining their CSA, and I am going to take my advice. The only grower we're really considering now is at Bodichitta Farms, and the CSA pick up is at one of the New Haven Farmer's Markets (I think). But, I still don't know much about her or her farm, though we did buy a lot of maple syrup and mushrooms from her last year. And they were yummy! She seems really down to earth and invested in sustainable farming, so this is still a possibility. I'm waiting to hear more details, particularly about pick-up location and days so that we can decide if it will work for us.

Here's the good news-- when we moved here last year I thought that it was a dire situation with finding good local foods. Turns out that it's a little better than that, thank goodness. True, the farmer's market that is within walking distance of us is a huge letdown, but there are several in New Haven that have a number of good options. At these markets we've been glad to find some old favorites like Four Mile River Farm and Beltane Farms, but also discovered Starlight Gardens in Durham, Northfordy Farm in Northford, Riverbank Farm from Roxbury, Bodichitta Farm from Prospect, and a handful of other growers who are always at the market with great food. The trouble is that these markets are busy. Really, really busy! Not only is the market so busy that it's hard to talk to any of the grower for very long, but the location is such that you don't want to turn your back on your kid for very long either. Busy roads, unpleasant dogs, etc. So that's a disadvantage of these markets that I'm getting used to. For those of you who know me, I really do like to hang around and talk... and that hasn't been happening at any of these markets. On the bright side, one of the markets has a really popular set of tennis courts that are packed on the weekends, and we always have fun joining the spectators and seeing the games.

Here are a couple of pictures of us watching tennis at one of the urban markets from the fall of 2010. My little boy looks like a baby! Oh my.

This just in.... Starlight Gardens has started a CSA for 2012. And this is one farm we've been really into at the markets .... Okay-- back to the drawing board!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

CSA dilemmas, 2012 edition

It's that time of year again-- CSA decision time. Last year at this time we were contemplating 2 different CSAs. I started out hopeful, but clearly, we didn't make a good choice.

So we're contemplating the farm in our town again this year. I have an e-mail sent out to them inquiring about their growing practices. I know they are not organic. I know they do spray with some stuff at some times. Hopefully I can get enough information from them to make a decision I am comfortable with. They have a very faithful following. Our neighbors had a share last year and want to know if we want to split one with them this year. They asked the same question a year ago, and we decided to go with the other farm.

Things I learned about doing a CSA:

1) Know thyself. For us, that means never do a CSA with a "commute" that we can't really handle. We'll miss out on shares because it's often too much of a hassle to pick them up (especially when the size of the share was rarely worth the investment of time and fossil fuels used to pick it up).

2) Know thy grower. While I felt comfortable with the growing practices at our old CSA, I didn't realize that our farmer just wasn't a good communicator, and didn't have much of a history with successful organic farming in New England. It was hard to understand why the shares were so pathetic all year round, since his only explanation was that it was a "challenging year." Umm.... no, it wasn't! Unless they got "special weather" right over their farm, it was simply an average year. Some good growing weather, some bad growing weather. Typical challenges, according to most of the farmers I know. I didn't like his attitude.

3) Know thy farm's track record. In our old town, we grew a relationship with the farmers we purchased from. We started buying Tobacco Road Farm when I was the farm market manager in our old town. I would talk with Bryan and Anita for long "down times" when the market was slow. I felt like I could trust their growing choices, and could trust that they were offering the best produce that New England could offer. I could trust that they were taking care of their soil, so that when the weather was good, the veggies were awesome. I could sympathize with a truly bad growing season (I recall one summer when the weather was damp and cloudy for a loooong time), knowing that they were doing their best. When their friends Ed and Raluca went into farming, ditto all of the above. When we left Storrs, we had been buying from our farmers for 8 years in the case of Bryan and Anita, and a few years from Ed and Raluca. The CSA we joined last year we found out about through the internet (not a good way to know a farm). We had never bought so much as a bulb of garlic from them. We didn't know the farm at all. Lesson learned.

Ah! Just heard back from our farm in town: "Hi, we do use pesticides, fungicides and synthetic fertilizer. We do try and limit our use through integrated pest management. We track bugs, and only spray when needed."


I may keep looking. I may just not do a CSA this year, and patronize farm markets as much as possible. That would fit well within my last critera:

4) Manage Thy Expectations. Just like any relationship, I have to be realistic about what I expect from the growers and what they expect from us. I should communicate with them as much as possible before deciding whether the farm is right for us.
That's all for now.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Holiday visiting

We had a nice chance to visit with my Aunt Midge and Uncle Paul today. What a lovely home they have--so much nice land and such a cozy wood-burning stove! I could have stayed all day, but instead we headed out for lunch in Falls Village at the Toymaker's Cafe. Theo loved eating out, and it was nice to get out as a family. Even Charles seemed to enjoy himself!

Clearly, the highlight of Theo's day was sitting on the beautiful tractor that his Great Uncle has fixed up. As for me, I always love to spend time with my mom's siblings. There's nothing like family.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year

Happy New Year! We had a very celebratory first day of the year. It was the perfect day to explore a new place and gather some treasures. We found a small nature preserve near a saltwater marsh. As an added bonus, there is a train track close by and we got to see several pass through. It felt so nice to sit on a rock in the sun and have our lunch. We wish you all a happy and healthy 2012!