May 20, 2009

If You Are Looking For Me, I'll Be Hiding Under the Bed

The morning started out well. The oldest came in and announced he had started making breakfast. That's always a nice thing to hear, even if he chose a recipe beyond his competency level and we had to help him a bit, I admire the initiative.

After breakfast, the kids did a bit of school and then tortured me by playing Star Wars music on the kazoo. Now I hear that the CIA has been a bit of trouble lately for torturing terrorists, but let me note that water boarding cannot be compared to the metal anguish caused by listening to Darth Vader's theme song for the thousandth time in a row on the kazoo. So if you have an Al Qaeda operatives that you need to get talking, send them over to meet my children.

Such exuberance on the part of the short set being coupled by my own desire to get outside on a lovely spring day, I proposed that we set aside the books until after lunch and head to the park. And we had a lovely 30 minutes or so until the big kids decided to borrow bikes from the community center. Within ten more minutes or so, one of the kids was on the ground writhing in pain and I was packing up for a trip to the ER, because blacking out due to pain can't be good.

Fortunately, my husband was able to meet us at the ER and stay with the patient while I took the other kiddos to the waiting room and then on to the hospital Taco Bell and Ben and Jerry's. We'll pretend it was an educational trip -- how not to ride a bike for one of them and the others got to pet a sloth visiting from the Nashville Zoo.

By the time we got home, the injured party was feeling much better and we just need to keep an eye out for any problems that could crop up though none are expected.

To add insult to the day though, my mostly potty-trained (but obviously not quite) two year old presented himself to me with an explosion of the bowels that had reached his shoulders. I'm not sure I've ever seen the like before and certainly hope never to do so again.

And so, I'm in hiding. Tomorrow has got to be better. Right?

May 14, 2009

What Does the Garden Grow?

I want a pretty vegetable garden, but I also want it to provide me with tasty things to eat.

In the area closest to the house, I have herbs (basil, rosemary, lavender, thyme, and oregano), strawberries, five blueberry bushes, leeks and green onions. The bricks serve to divide the various plants and also provide paths to walk around the plants and get to things.

Next come raspberries, bell peppers and celery. I planted twelve raspberries last year and lost several due to my own neglect. Still, I have twelve or thirteen plants and I gave away at least that many. I planted regular red bell peppers as well as some purple ones, just for fun.

My tomatoes, okra, hot peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, and yellow squash are in the next section. The tomatoes are a German pink heirloom, a cherry, a grape, a yellow pear, and a yellow slicing tomato. I also have a bunch of volunteer tomatoes growing up around the compost from last year. I am undecided about whether to find more room for 'maters or give them away to deserving friends. Probably the later, although I would love to know which tomato self seeded so prolifically.

As you can see above, we have non-traditional tomato cages. We've always been disappointed by the typical metal tomato cages, which are never tall enough for an indeterminate sized tomato plant. A friend of mine uses decorative trellises to good effect, but the cheapest we found those was $10 each at Aldi and for five tomato plants the price was too high. But as I've mentioned before we have plenty of scrap wood. Justin ripped a bunch of boards and nailed these together. They won't last as long as metal trellises, but the price was right. We're trying two different shapes -- a flat surface and a wedge -- to see which shape we prefer.

At the very end of the garden, I planted some carrot seeds (the only thing I did from seed this year) and a few turnips.

I'm also very pleased that my (theoretically ornamental) purple leafed plum trees produced fruit again this year. The plums were delicious last year and I made some good freezer jam.

Everything in the beds is looking good and growing. So far, I've been keeping the weeds and the bugs at bay. Unfortunately for the mint I put in a pot by the back door, it's harder to keep the toddler at bay.

May 11, 2009

Mother's Day in Pictures

I had a lovely Mother's Day full of church, gardening and, of course, children -- children who gave me sweet presents.

A rose from church, two cards, and a chocolate bar I started nibbling even before I could take a photo

A gardenia with a heavenly scent. I need to figure out where to plant it.
Perhaps I need more flower beds?

Happy Mother's Day!

May 08, 2009

Urban Farming

I like growing food. There is something so nifty about going out the back door and picking stuff to eat. But, in general, I don't like the looks of vegetable gardens. I long for pretty flowerbeds, even as I look forward to growing tomatoes and cucumbers. Obviously I'm not utilitarian enough to be a real farmer, who would totally mock my endeavor to unify my desire for a vegetable garden and an attractive landscape. Even my husband threatens every year to till a few rows up in the middle of the backyard and be done with it, but I bat my eyes at him and win him over.

Last year, we created a pleasing shape for my vegetable beds, but by mid-summer (when I had a newborn) I gave up on a pretty garden. I also gave up on weeding and often on even picking stuff. My garden fell into a shambles, but we're picking up the pieces and starting again.

First we put in black rubber edging and a border of bricks. This part is not just for looks (black rubber not being noted for it's attractive appearance afterall), but we've found that the black rubber which is buried and the bricks create enough of an edge for us to keep most of the Bermuda grass from creeping in. It can't go underground through the rubber and I can pull it out or cut it off before it jumps the bricks.

Next we built and stained some raised beds with wood leftover from another building project and stain from our last house, to contain the creeping plants, raspberries and strawberries, and put the raised beds inside the brick-edged bed.

Then we tilled up the soil, amended it with compost as we went and raked out the weeds as much as possible (note that when I say "we" and mention anything involving heavy lifting or large machinery, I don't actually mean the "I" part of "we" did anything more than offer moral support. Although I do know how to wield a rake or a shovel). After tilling came paper and mulch to keep in the water and keep the weeds down. In past years we've mostly used newspapers we've salvaged and saved as our weed block, but this year we bought large rolls of brown kraft paper at the hardware store which have the benefit of coming in large amounts with you can roll out quickly and also you have fewer overlap spots where weeds can wend their way through. Our city makes mulch out the brush they pick up around the year and sell it cheaply by the truckload (of course, owning a truck or in our case having a friend who will lend you one is important).

We actually have one more raised bed for raspberries to install and therefore one more small section paper and mulch, but otherwise we're done with the planting and prettifying for this year. Now I just have to keep on top of the weeds which will inevitably make it past my defenses, keep it watered and fertilized and hope for a good harvest.

Up next: what I planted this year.

May 04, 2009

Icon Art Project for Little Flowers

blessed mary icon front.jpg

My oldest daughter participates once a month in a Catholic girls' club with other homechooled girls about her age where they meet to learn about a saint who embodies a certain virtue, then they do a craft, eat lunch and play for a bit. Last month was my month to suffer the hazing host the meeting, teach the lesson and prepare the craft.

The problem was that I hated all the craft options in the teacher's book. As some of you may remember, not too long ago the kids and I were studying Fra Angelico and made pictures of saints. Why not make an "icon?"

I realize that writing a real icon requires years of training, fasting, prayer and some artistic talent, but creating a picture of the saint some what in the style of an icon is an achievable goal for little kids.

Although not everyone is a renovator with a garage full of building supplies, we happened to have a lot of MDF left over from our upstairs trim work. (Yes, I would rather have used real wood for both the trim upstairs and this project, but budgets sometimes reign supreme.) We also have a lot of paint sitting in the basement waiting for a purpose. The golden yellow paint that the previous owner had used for the living room fit well with my plans. I suppose any color could have worked, but gold is often used as the background color on icons, because they are little windows to heaven.

Next, we needed an image for the younger girls. Our group ranges in age from barely 5 up to 10. While the older girls might like to draw their own picture, I knew most of the younger ones would prefer to color. The only problem was that our saint of the day The Blessed Mary of the Incarnation isn't one you run across all the time, so I had to draw my own picture (which I grant permission for all to use for educational purposes). Although she doesn't have The Blessed Mary of the Incarnation, I highly recommend Charlotte's collection of coloring pages, if you are looking for someone else.

Once I had the wood painted and the picture drawn, I also typed up a sheet with The Blessed Mary's name and the Bible verse the girls were supposed to memorize. I also cut out aluminum foil circles for use as halos. And then I compiled a packet for each girl with a block of painted wood, a coloring picture, a blank pre-sized paper if they wished to draw their own picture, an foil circle and the memory verse.

When we'd finished the lesson portion, I told the girls we were making icons. Which none of them had heard of. So we had an impromptu art lesson and then moved on to the art making. With all the girls crowded around the dining room table, we got out the colored pencils, colored, cut and glued. Some of the younger girls may have given the Blessed Mary green skin and Carmelites have never been clothed in such colorful habits before, but the final result was a pleasing reminder of the lesson for each girl to take home.

blessed mary icon back.jpg

May 01, 2009

Ride That Potty Train

Babies that wake in the night. Dogs with intestinal problems in the middle of the night. It does tend to keep me sleepy.

However, the thing that is keeping me most busy for the past two days is the two year old. He is, as he puts it, "riding the potty train."

I've known the day was coming. He's been telling me when he needed a change for quite some time and the other day I found him lying on the ground trying to change his own diaper. When he came to me and told me he wanted "to sit on the potty train" and I realized that he had control over making things happen, I knew it was time.

I hate potty training. With the four year old, I waited until she came down wearing underwear and pronounced herself trained (she was about 2.5 at the time). This two year old is not quite so easy. He never tells me when he needs to go, just after the fact. But as long as I stay trained and take him frequently, he's going willingly enough. A long sit and Richard Scarry book is all it takes to get it all done.

Maybe all the connections will be made soon and I won't have to be running him to the bathroom every 30 minutes just to make sure.