Thursday, February 26, 2009

photos of the day.

grrr. he is a fluffy pastel sparkly, uh, monster.

nope, he couldn't see a thing.

Thank you for all the well wishes. I'm still feeling blech with some wicked sinus/face pain with this cold, but I'm hoping the next few days will clear this out and I'll be good as new!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

under the weather.

After staying healthy for months now, I finally was hit with a cold and am a bit under the weather.

What to do with little spunky guys while mom is feeling not-so-hot has never been too much of an issue. They have each other and enjoy days at home - there are lots of stories to be told, places to be imagined, crafts to be done, pictures to be sketched, scooter to be ridden (yes, inside), books to be read, yarn to be knit, letters to be written, and castles to be built.

Of course they find a way to make time in their busy schedule to give me lots of snuggles and give pointers on what to grow where as I sketch our garden layout yet again with my foggy stuffed up head. They even constructed an EMP generator out of legos to make me feel better (it pulsates, attacking the virus and helping my white blood cells fight it off - who knew?). Their energy is contagious, of course, and who can feel blechy with all that little guy action going on?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

museum exploration.

This was the first year that my boys were ho-hum about going to the annual train show - kind of the same'ol thing, after a few years of attending. Yesterday we had a big snow and stayed close to home, but this morning the boys jumped at the idea of heading east to visit the Milwaukee Public Museum instead of going to see trains. The museum is so huge there never seems to be much of a crowd and we can wander and explore so many interesting things - insects, dinosaurs, ancient peoples, Asian art, geology, rain forests, Native American culture and history, and life through the ages.

It is such a big place that G my little asthma boy has to 'stop to catch his breaf', and so we walked a bit and then sat and people watched our way through (G also got a lot of shoulder & piggy back rides! :)). As the boys get older we can stay longer and longer and made it many hours today as the boys wanted to stop, read, and explore so much in each section this time.

A really loves science and all of the little details. We have been to this museum many times, but the trip today started many new conversations and sparked new questions from him. I love seeing what new things he notices each time we go. He is getting so big. I can't believe he is going to be six in only a few weeks. Wow.

With the snow and the museum, it was a nice weekend with a little home and a little exploration. We also visited a great local garden store over the weekend - and found several eco-friendly options (non-peat) for seed starting mediums. Can't wait to try them (more on that soon!).

I'm ready for a week of Mardi Gras kid fun, frenzied garden sketching and plotting, bread baking, insect research, science projects, basement seed station organizing, birthday planning, snow shoveling, and more! Hope you had a nice weekend!

Friday, February 20, 2009

home made mozzarella...

We made mozzarella cheese from scratch yesterday. The boys poured, measured, stirred, and paddled. The cheese is great and it was super quick and easy to make! It was so easy I couldn't believe we hadn't tried it before.

The recipe is at our food blog...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

gardening books...

I love gardening books. I am always on hold for them while they are still on order, wait for months, and I browse and flip pages every quiet moment when they come in.

I think for me the gardening books I like the most are more about the garden as a whole living organism - gardens mixed and intermingled with edibles growing seemingly wild and dense yet somehow also looking neat, organized and healthy. I also like finding those books which have information such as grids and calendars for seed starting, calculating how much space and how many plants you need, and how to save seeds. These are the books that don't often have photos, but they help me wrap my head around the planning. I most often read garden books for inspiration during these last few months of winter and don't often go back to read anything during the actual growing season, soI relish turning their glossy pages and seeing beautiful photos.

Here are just a few in my pile right now (I have to pick only a few - really - it is hard to stop myself from listing dozens!!!!) - ask me next week and my list will change, but I am enjoying these:

Mini farming for self sufficiency by Markham, Brett L.

The organic gardeners handbook by Tozer, Frank.

Grow organic Dorling Kindersley

The great vegetable plot : delicious varieties to grow and eat by Raven, Sarah.

New kitchen garden : organic gardening with herbs, vegetables, and fruit by Caplin, Adam.

McGee & Stuckey's the bountiful container : a container garden of vegetables, herbs, fruits, and edible flowers by McGee, Rose Marie Nichols.

And my current favorite, which is much more than just a gardening book:

Gardening at the Dragon's Gate: At Work in the Wild and Cultivated World
by Wendy Johnson

Of course if you ask 20 people to recommend a nice gardening book, you will get 20 answers. What is your favorite gardening book right now?
I have many more gardening books in my reading list (shows only a few at a time, but there are a lot in there!).

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

painted pots.

I always find that sick kids get to a point where they want to be busy, but are still pretty tired and can only do bits and spurts of things at a time. That is when I like to pull out a longer all day sort of craft. It is interesting, creative, requires short bursts of activity, and yet keeps kids engaged, even if they are not feeling so hot.

G was sick all last week and so we did a few projects like that. Our favorite was painting terra cotta pots. The boys have been interested in India lately, and so we have been checking out books on culture, history, food, holidays and more. A few books we have are huge and full of large vibrant photos - which made us all decide that we want to create an Indian theme on our deck this summer. So we need pots!

I usually have a bunch of terra cotta pots around for projects. In addition to their use as plant pots, they make great pencil holders, paintbrush holders, and candle holders!

Painting pots is easy. It just takes a few steps. We paint the base layer. Let dry. Paint any other layers or designs. Let dry. Varnish and let dry. You can find craft acrylic paint just for ceramics at most craft stores. While this project does need a grown up for setup and cleanup at each step, my boys were able to paint, stamp, decorate, and varnish pretty independently (although I did only put out one solid color at a time). I added a few little paint embellishments too, for fun.

They all look so great and will be perfect for holding individual herbs on our colorful deck this summer - and it is nice to paint and fill our home with such vibrant color in February!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Big list of seeds.

Each year I expand the growing space in our small yard. Having a long narrow landing strip side yard means I plant against the houses with limited sun each day. With buried utilities, HOA rules, and not much space, we don't have the optimal gardening space. But we make it work, and each year we grow even more. Our garden is always green and lush and we get a good bit out of a small space. It is nice when it fills in so thickly in the summer too - almost like we have our own secret hidden garden in the midst of a close neighborhood.

This year we will expand our yard garden once again and are also expanding into community plots. We plan to have one family plot at this community garden where we can grow food that likes more space and sun than we can provide in our yard here.

I am also hoping to be granted a second plot for a child garden, to be planted and cared for by several families of kids. For this, I have sketched out a bean teepee, in addition to a sampling of many types of veggies that will produce in longer spurts so that there can be weeks of harvest - such as radishes, italian stuffing peppers, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and more. It will be fun to also grow different things such as miniature red popcorn, peanuts, ghost pumpkins, and beautiful sunflowers in addition to things that can be used to make natural dyes. Variety and color is good. It will be great to have a spot where we can go throughout the season and let the kids roam, water, weed, pick, sit, and check on things. Get their hands dirty, and see what works in their own little organic plot!

My eyes are always bigger than my space, but this year it is nice to think of having three growing areas to get seeds for! Ahhh. Here is a rough list of what we plan to grow within those three spaces:

bush beans: royalty purple pod
pole beans: purple podded pole
runner beans: painted lady
long beans: chinese red noodle bean
yellow cylindrical, cylindra
early jersey wakefield
st. valery, yellowstone
strawberry popcorn
chinese yellow, wautoma pickling
ground cherry, huckleberry , strawberries
various greens...loose leaf & head lettuce, mesclun, mache, mix
azur star
minnesota midget
he shi ko-bunching, tokyo long white bunching
blauschokker shelling pea
peanuts: peppers:
sweet chocolate, patio red marconi, tequila sunrise
long scarlet, purple plum, sora
red malabar spinach (asian vine 'spinach')
summer squash:
lemon squash
swiss chard:
five color silverbeet
purple tomatillo
orange fleshed purple smudge, brandywine pink, green zebra, black cherry
winter squash:
white acorn, waltham butternut, baby blue hubbard, thelma sanders sweet potato
shisho, cilantro, several types of basil, anise hyssop, chamomile, rosemary, oregano, marjoram, thyme, savory, mustard
dye plants:
bulls blood beet, hopi red amaranth,
in ground:
raspberries, borage, red currants, parsley, dill, chives, shallots, garlic, lemon balm, mixed herbs & flowers

It looks like a lot, but we won't plant a whole packet of seeds for each item and some will be succession planted and not all in the first round. We like to grow a bit to not only supplement our CSA each week with things that are not as common, but also to provide more veggies that can be preserved to get us through the next winter.

Splitting seeds with someone is a great way to get many more varieties to try without the extra cost - I am splitting many of the seed packets this year with a friend, and we are excited to expand our list that way.

Now I must get all of my seed starting equipment in the basement setup, checked, and ready to go!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Is it Monday already?

Thanks for all of the well wishes and emails this week. G is doing better and breathing better again. What a week!

We managed to have one clear day yesterday in between G feeling better and A coming down with something (poor guy!), and we were able to get out early to the Garden Expo. It was nice to wander a little bit to get some information we were looking for on composting, vermicomposting, local trail restoration, rain barrels, hiking trails, and more. The boys loved seeing worms, getting to dig through compost, and chatting with people along the way. We picked up a mushroom log to start this week (fun science project!), and have a lot of great info to sort through.

I'm working on catching myself back up and jumping back into the garden planning - until then, A needs some extra care and attention. Hope you all had a nice weekend!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

shoulda woulda...

My big plan for this week was to post some favorite gardening books, my seeds list, and about my garden journal each day. Of course whenever there is a plan, things change.

My little asthma boy (G) got sick. We have been SO careful and had done a good job of keeping him away from those respiratory viruses for the past 8 weeks or so, but right after his big 'asthma specialist' appointment, well, it hit hard (of course). So we've spent our time with inhalers and nebulizers and humidifiers and snuggling on the couch reading books and telling silly stories and b.r.e.a.t.h.i.n.g.

So while everyone but me is (finally) asleep in this house, I know I "should" take these precious minutes to catch up on all the things I fell behind on for the past few days - blogging, work, volunteer stuff, responding to dozens of emails, finishing seed lists, kitchen cleanup. But I won't. This mom deserves a cider and a good magazine or two (or three). I'll catch up later.

Until then. Good night!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

oh, those seeds.

While I am by no means a master gardener and I just garden a small strip of partial-shade yard closely abutted by two houses (and tons of pots), I am a very enthusiastic gardener. I love growing food. I love the creativity, color, and dynamism of gardening. I find comfort looking at and caring for these plants and I love that our yard is a riotous chaotic colorful interesting living place in a neighborhood where most people never even enter their side yards but to mow. So - Colorful? Unusual? Rare? Oh yes. Interesting story behind it? Definitely. We're not out there months of the year working on the garden to have everything we already know. I want to experiment with new varieties and try to find the most outrageous, colorful or unusual fruits and veggies to go along with my regular favorites. If I can expand and change a bit every year then I am learning and growing along with my garden. Sometimes things fail, but the amazing thing is that most of the time things grow and flourish. And everything we try, everything we taste, everything we remember, nourishes us, in more way than one.

What I look for in seeds is open-pollinated heirloom varieties. That is very important to me and I think important to the future of our food biodiversity. If I find biodynamic or organic seeds that are both of the above that is a bonus. I stay away from the big 'M' and don't buy any seeds from any company owned by them, or who use seed suppliers owned by them.

My favorites list may change from year to year as we experiment with new and different seeds, but I always have a good handful that I just have to go back to year after year.

Here are a few fav's this year:

Seed Savers Exchange - We hope to visit their Heritage Farm this summer.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds - They are out there changing the world one seed at a time and they rock. We may take a road trip to visit them this summer too.

Abundant Life Seeds - (some Biodynamic seeds)

Peaceful Valley

Southern Exposure

Seeds of Change

This is just a few on a big list of good seed companies. Email me if you would like some more...

I was digging through my iPhoto, looking through pictures from the garden last summer and they all looked so lovely (on these blah Feb. days) that it aches. While I like winter, by now I'm numbed by the monotony of color and cold, and when I look back through garden season photos each winter I am hit by how happy and intensely colorful everyone and everything looks! The green lusciousness, the flowers, the vegetables, the blue skies and little boys lying in the warm grass watching the clouds go by. And to think that all those garden photos were taken more than SIX MONTH AGO. Well, I think I'm ready for some seed starting and garden planning. I'm ready to plot and plan. I'm ready to dream a little (or a lot) - and find some riotously colored veggies and fruit to grow. How about you?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

seed catalogs.

I swear I could do this all day. Every day. Anyone else just LOVE reading those seed catalogs?

But of course there is so much to distract me (in a good way) from them -

Sweet little boys who have big plans each day.

Beautiful flowers blooming in the sunny window.

And then there is the baking...

But the boys will also sit with me and we'll go through the seed catalogs together. Reading those unusual names, seeing those which are rare heirlooms and reading their story, dreaming and planning what we can plant where, looking for those with the shortest grow time for our northern climate....too much fun. A loves the funky blob covered squash and G loves the longest most purple beans. Both want a bean teepee, and have hopes for the popcorn succeeding this year.

This year we are expanding our garden again. Planting more containers. Converting more of our tiny lawn to food. And we hope we are also expanding into a community plot. We have found something not too far away, and are crossing our fingers it will all work out and give us a few hundred square feet of solid growing space. What a luxury. We also have plans to get a second plot there to create a special kids garden (more on that soon)!

So, lots to plan. The three of us will be creating our watercolor and marker garden layouts and finishing our plans to get everything narrowed down to a final list. My eyes are bigger than my space (as usual), but figuring it all out and deciding on what interesting new things to grow and where to put them is the fun part!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Like the night sky.

"Mom, look! It is like all the stars in the sky and galaxies in the entire universe are on one small orange peel."


Monday, February 02, 2009

Happy Imbolc.

Today the boys had a friend over for some Imbolc crafting. We made orange skin beeswax candles, painted terra cotta pots and planted crocus bulbs, baked sugar cookies that the boys rolled in golden sunny sugar, and celebrated the returning sun.
"Fire and purification are an important aspect of Imbolc (St. Brigid's Day). The lighting of candles and fires represents the return of warmth and the increasing power of the Sun over the coming months."
Tonight we will have dinner by candlelight, burning our sun shaped orange citrus globes to light our way into the coming spring, read some poems, and have a cozy evening at home.

It is easy to make orange skin beeswax candles. Our friend brought the oranges - the tops cut in a zig zag pattern, and then all the fruit center removed (yum), leaving a perfect shell for the beeswax.

I melted beeswax in a double boiler we use just for candle making.

We then put 2/0 cotton wick into a wick holder, and pinched it closed with pliers. I dipped the wick into the melting beeswax to coat, and dripped a bit of beeswax into the orange to secure the bottom wick tab in place. We then wrapped the wick around a chopstick balanced on top of the hold the wick straight.

Once the wax was melted, we chatted with the boys about wax safety, and then with me holding their hand over the handle and guiding the pot, we poured the cooling beeswax slowly into the oranges. We left just under an inch of space of headroom at the top of the peel. We let the candles sit to harden/dry. When they are hard, we unrolled the wick, and trimmed it down to 1/4 - 1/2".

The candle is ready to burn - the orange ball is so sunny and inviting and the smell of beeswax is amazing. We will burn these tonight, and continue to use the candles until the peel is no longer fresh, and will then peel it off and use the candles in a heat safe dish or canning jar until they are done!

Happy Imbolc to all of the return of the sun!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Photos of the Day - one year ago.

One year ago.

Tomorrow (Monday) we are planning some crafts and projects for Imbolc (the day halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox in the northern hemisphere here). Can't wait!