Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Veggie gardening - what worked in 2009

A good number of things worked for me in 2009. Here are a few quick thoughts on what I liked, what I will do again, what I'm happy with...

  • The bucket organizer was extremely helpful. This simple bucket of tools stands at the ready by the back door whenever I head outside. In the bucket: different types of tying items (green Velcro, cable ties, stretchy plastic ties, twine), cutting items (floral snips, regular scissors, pruners), identification items (permanent marker, pencil, wooden popsicle sticks, plastic knives - and in this case, plastic forks b/c I ran out of plastic knives), liquid items (bug spray, castile oil soap, seaweed/fish emulsion), gloves, and my Planter's Buddy 7 in 1 tool.
  • This year, I realized that seed is cheap, and not something to hoard. It is easier for me to thin carrots if need be, than to realize weeks later that I didn't plant enough.
  • I was more creative this year in my use of harvested vegetables. I ended up with a lot of chili peppers that I dried or made sauce out of. I also tried canning this year, which as a first-timer, I found very cool but tedious. Hopefully with the right materials, next year will be easier. There's nothing like the winter season to reset the perseverance switch. Next year, I will hope for abundance and won't be afraid that I won't be able to use everything fresh, because there are many ways to use vegetables both at the time of harvest and by saving to use later.
  • The new stone potager worked out very well for me. The size of my backyard kitchen garden is limited due to the amount of sun I have, but the look of the new potager is great, and the space is as maximized as it's going to be. More on the potager in a later post.
  • Though I am drawn to all the neat seed starting systems in the catalogs I've been getting daily, I must forgo any new system as I have found that my seed starting system works extremely well for me. My system involves 2 1/4" peat pots, seed starting mix, a heating pad, a square tray from IKEA, plastic rectangular carry-out food containers (which hold 6 square pots perfectly), Glad press-and-seal, grow lights, and lots of books to raise the containers to the correct heights. More on this later as well.
  • This year, I noted significant dates on the big family calendar and that has helped me be less neglectful and forgetful. For example, I jotted down a target "planting out" date, and also made notes about hardening off the week prior to that date. I also include dates such as: garlic planting day, fall veggie planting day, and mark the calendar for every 2 weeks to use a foliar spray. These are all dates I would surely forget if they were not on the calendar. More on this later as well (possibly).

What trick has worked well really for you this year?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

38 random questions...

...to answer as the snow is melting, and while it's still too cold to do much thinking about spring's garden. These were posted by Janie, who calls for YOU to copy and paste your answers on your blog as well!
This is my husband and I sledding. The bones creaked, but no one was hurt.

1. Do you like bleu cheese? Yes - with chicken wings, on burgers, on salad, etc.
2. Have you ever been bitten by a dog? only my own as I was feeding him. How ironic is that.

3. Do you own a gun? broken water guns only.
4. Favorite Kool Aid: cherry
5. Do you get nervous before a doctor appointment? Only dental, but I have MUCH experience and I'm good at talking myself down.
6. What do you think of hot dogs? grilled Hebrew National every summer Sunday. Yum. Also, NY System hot weiners are the best - but I'm willing to bet most of you don't know what I'm talking about (it's a Rhode Island thing).
7. Do you give money or other things to panhandlers? Only a guy who was a patient at the psychiatric hospital I worked at. He is mentally ill, a Vietnam vet, the most peaceful Beatles-loving guy, and has been screwed by the "system" in so many ways it's very, very sad. When the hospital was run into the ground, he was once again on the streets - I doubt his medical/mental needs are being addressed. When I see him around, I give him whatever's in my wallet, whether it's a dollar or twenty. I worked with him for 5 years. He's using the money for cigarettes, Taco Bell, coffee, or bibles from the Christian store.

8. What do you prefer to drink in the morning? Grande skim latte.
9. Can you do push ups? Yes, I can do lots, thanks to a 5:30am boot camp class I go to!
10. What's your favorite piece of jewelry? I love earrings and necklaces.

11. What is your favorite hobby? Gardening, reading, eating with friends.
12. Do you have A. D. D.? Only in the garden!

13. Do you wear glasses/contacts? yes
14. Middle name: none
15. Name 3 thoughts at this exact moment: Can this ever be used against me? Is my 4 year old going to come up and interrupt me? Should I go to Starbucks now even though I've already had 2 cups of coffee at home?

16. Name 3 drinks you regularly drink? coffee: gingerbread latte, pumpkin spice latte, and my new fave - iced caramel brulee (and I just figured out the answer to my last question in number 15).
17. Current worry: will I finish the book before Tuesday's book group meeting?

18. Current hate right now: none - it's all peace and love. (edited to add: I hate the formatting on this post and I give up on trying to fix it!)

19. Favorite place to be? Seabrook Island, South Carolina.
20. How did you bring in the New Year? writing resolutions, and eating something decadent I've ordered out for.
21. Where would you like to go? somewhere expensive, preferably by plane.
22. Name people who will complete this: ???
23. Do you own slippers? no, I wear Christmas socks from October through April.
24. What color shirt are you wearing? Beige, but it does have paint splatters on it.

25. Do you like sleeping on satin sheets? Maybe for a minute.

26. Can you whistle? Yes, I love to whistle and can whistle really well!

27. Where are you now? Home, where I've been snowed in for many days now.
28. Would you be a pirate? Perhaps, I like to say booty.

29. What do you sing in the shower? Whatever is currently stuck in my head.
30. What is your favorite girl's name? I really like names like: Isabelle, Claire, Chole, and other stately and feminine sounding names. For my kids, I have chosen names that are somewhat masculine in sound (one ends in -er, one ends in -c). I also like girl names that sound like surnames.
31. Favorite boy's name? If our last child had been a boy, we would have named him Finn.

32. What's in your pocket right now? lint.
33. Thing that made you laugh today? my husband threatening to "tell on me" to the financial planner because of the money I want to spend on my 4 year old's birthday party.
34. What vehicle do you drive? Toyota Highlander. Look, I sacrifice in many ways, but I will always drive an SUV. Once you drive an SUV, you'll never go back.
35. Worst injury you've ever had? Luckily, nothing too serious, but when I worked at a bakery in high school, a falling bagette hit my arm on the way to the ground, and its split top had a few jagged points that totally sliced my arm. There was a lot of blood, and I still have a faint scar.
36. Do you love where you live? yes, I love this house, in this city, in this county, in this state, in this country.

37. How many TV's do you have in your house? one

38. Do you have any tattoos? No. I did plan to have a couple when I was a teenager (before it became "acceptable") but I'm glad I didn't because I would not be happy with the design I thought was PERFECT at the time.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

May your stocking be filled!

Friends: Have you been good this year? Here's hoping your stocking will be filled with the $60 pruners you've always wanted, seed catalogs with gift certificates attached, a bag of heirloom tulip bulbs, new garden clogs, a container of worm castings, a bottle of Sluggo, and the most gigantic flowering amaryllis bulb you've ever seen. Happy holidays to all, and to all a good night!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Oh Christmas Tree: the non-sentimental redux

Here are some fun facts I learned from The Washington Post's The Mini Pages, the brilliant kids pullout section that's been running since forever - or at least since I was a kid.

I'm focusing today on the non-religious aspects of the Christmas tree that I found interesting in The Mini Pages.

  • For ancient people, winter was a difficult time. Crops were done and people had food for the cold season, but days were short and skies were gray. To liven their spirits, they would bring evergreen plants or leaves indoors. These reminded them that spring and new growth would come again.
  • Romans had a holiday called Saturnalia. This festival honored the god of agriculture. They decorated their homes with greens for this holiday.
  • The tradition of displaying a Christmas tree probably came to the United States with German immigrants. In fact, Tannenbaum is the German word for fir tree.
  • Some people today choose a live tree to bring inside if they want to plant it outside later. This requires some advance planning. If the ground may be frozen by Christmas, people will need to dig a hole before the freeze. The tree needs to be kept cool while it's indoors. If it gets too warm, the tree will begin to bud, and when it's taken outside, the buds will fall off. Also, root balls are very heavy. A 5-foot tree might have a root ball that weighs 200 pounds!
  • Christmas trees are grown in all 50 states.
  • Christmas trees grow about 1 foot per year.
  • To tell if a tree is fresh: the bottom of trunk is sticky with sap, the needles bend but don't break, and the tree doesn't lose many needles when you shake it.
  • Tree farmers harvest 30 to 35 million trees every year. After the holiday, many are recycled as mulch or sunk in ponds to make homes and feeding areas for fish!

And now I leave you with a few jokes also from this issue of The Mini Pages (answers are in the comments)...

What is a tree's favorite beverage?

What does a maple tree like to watch on TV?

How far is it from one tree to the next in a dense forest?

Monday, December 14, 2009

It might LOOK like a cheap plastic ornament...

...but it's actually one of the very few surviving ornaments from my childhood. Growing up in the late 70's, early 80's there was no shortage of cheap plastic ornaments on our artificial Christmas tree. See my post from a few days ago if you want to relive some of my childhood tree memories with me. The box of crappy ornaments are not so special until your parents decide to sell their house, and your father throws out the box with most of your childhood ornaments in them. My mother was heartbroken and yelled at him for days. Actually, she still yells at him every year around this time. I did not know what I really missed until I saw this most precious plastic candy cane and instantly gripped it to my heart. Since then, it has been packed in tissue every year and put away with the expensive ornaments...

...expensive, like the one below. This is a large, heavy, glass ornament that my older daughter bought a few years ago. Every year, we each get to choose a new special ornament to put on the tree. This makes putting up ornaments fun since the unpacking of each ornament brings back tons of memories...

...memories, such as those this jolly little Santa is keeping. What looks like a silly little candy tube topper, is actually...just that. However,

Underneath, there are about 1-5 needles from every single tree we've had in the past probably...10 years or so. A little piece of scotch tape is all that is required for Santa to hold the evidence of these fun memories.

...fun memories that can actually be bittersweet. My mother-in-law Deana made this cross-stitched Little Drummer Boy for my husband close to 20 years ago. She knew that The Little Drummer Boy was my husband's favorite story. When we unwrap the ornaments each year, my husband tells the kids about Nana (whom my little one did not get to know) who is now an angel...

...much like the pretty angel Nana made that sits in its special place at the top of the tree every year.

...speaking of sitting, here sits Captain Kirk, who must have had his leg gnawed off by a tribble. My sister used to work at a Christmas ornament store when she was a teenager and would collect and bring home all the broken ornaments. She gave us bags of them. In the lean years just after college, all the ornaments on our tree were broken in some way. We had toy soldiers marching on one leg, reindeer missing antlers, Santa minus his bag of goodies, horses with three legs, sleighs without the bells.

So if you were to come and see my motley tree, what might look like a bunch of cheap, plastic, broken down ornaments, are actually cheap, plastic, broken down, extremely meaningful symbols in our family. :)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

homemade holiday gift idea

A few of my friends and family members will be receiving this holiday gift above. The feature of course, is the small jar of bruschetta I canned late this summer. The note attached mentions the combination of Cherokee purple and other heirloom tomatoes, and ajo rojo garlic from my garden used to make the delicious snack, but also explains that it is a very limited edition bruschetta as I will not be laboring over boiling pots of water for hours on end again. Read about my first (and perhaps last) experience canning here. I hope the recipients of this gift will feel special after my several hour ordeal! Along with the tomatoes are a package of mini-toasts, a small bottle of olive oil, and a large and festive star-shaped lollipop with tiny star-shaped flecks in it. All the accessories including the cute container are from World Market.

What other homemade gifts are going to be shared out there this year?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

How to make it snow

This is what you see first thing in the morning if you're a kid who has 1) worn your pajamas inside out, 2) flushed multiple ice cubes down the toilet, and 3) yelled outside at night, "Let it snow"!

Then, you call all your friends and make sure they've done the same.

Below, the collection of kids' and their friends' wet gear after an afternoon's fun at the hill. If you're lucky, your mom makes hot cocoa and has snacks for everyone as you all watch holiday movies downstairs. Winter is grand when you're young!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

To cut or not to cut?

This photo was taken 4 years ago. It must have been my turn to choose the theme because I vaguely remember that everything had to be green, red, or white, - or - had to be a wooden toy or old timey thing.

The title of this post is stolen from the survey posted on Rosey's blog Dung Hoe. Be sure to visit her blog and take the quick vote. The question she poses is simple - real tree or artificial (or neither)?

Because I prefer not to enter treacherous territory by discussing the religious aspect of Christmas or the sustainability/waste aspect of cutting trees, I think I'll just reflect on the simple matter at hand. Real or artificial - as it has pertained to my life.

I grew up with artificial Christmas trees. I don't think I really knew that people cut real trees, (especially since I grew up in a predominantly Jewish area). Each year, my mother would lug the big box from the basement and would have the tree decorated and ready to surprise my sister and I upon coming home from school. When I got older, I remember helping my mother match up the colored base of each branch with the colored hole on the tree "trunk". After this step, we'd bend each branch just so to try to fluff up the tree as much as possible. I guess as a kid, it was just important to have some colorful thing towering over the REAL focus of the season - presents!! Ironically, another artificial thing was the wrapped empty boxes my mom would put under the tree to make it look like we had more presents! Not cool when you think there are 5 presents left and you find out they're just the fake presents to make the tree look nice! Come to think of it, another aspect from my childhood was a little troubling. Santa used to leave cool things in our stockings on Christmas morning (hung on our bedposts) - hello kitty stationary sets, good candy, etc. One year, there were more clementines and fewer goodies. The next year, there was crap in the stocking that my mom must have scavenged the house for - like toys that were ours but we hadn't seen in a long time, Chinese candies that we'd have packed in our lunches, etc. Come on, Santa doesn't give kids Chinese candies! Anyway, fortunately I'm not too scarred by these transgressions made by my mother.
(Photo below: Scott dragging in the tree, the excited screams of kids behind me jumping up and down)

When I moved out of my parents' house, I would always use artificial trees because the thought of cutting down a real tree for my own superficial needs seemed not right. Scott had always made the case for a real tree, as growing up (in Florida of all places!), he always had real trees. The first year we had a REAL tree was when my first child was a toddler. I remember Winter had woken from a nap and a gigantic tree (literally touching the ceiling) was awaiting her as she ran out. There's no way any artificial tree could be fluffed to make it look so full. We probably commented several times a day about how amazing that tree smelled. We constantly obsessed and fussed over that tree. We watered and touched and smelled that tree daily. That year forward, it has become a tradition for my husband to go to his favorite tree guy, bring the biggest and fullest tree home, and for all of us to decorate it together, x-mas music in the background.
It's really a full day affair as each ornament carries a story that must be told every year. Now that our kids are older, we are each taking turns choosing a theme for the year, and we each buy one new "special" ornament a year. There's the pickle ornament that is supposed to be hidden and searched for on x-mas day. We always say, "This year we HAVE to remember to put it in the tree", as we set it on the bookcase waiting to be hidden when kids are not around. Each year, it remains on the bookcase until we're packing everything back up and discover it! There seem to be a million inside jokes and special memories in the gigantic plastic Christmas boxes. All these memories tucked away for 11 months just pour out on tree day each year. It's a joy to revisit each memory each year at this time.
(Photo below: Lyric is 10 months and helping)
(This photo below was taken 4 years ago. Kids taking a break from decorating)

For the first couple of years, I had a problem with the practice of cutting down a tree, hanging balls on it, and throwing it on the curb a few weeks later. Every year, I still feel sad seeing tree upon tree on the curb, dry, on its side, tinsel blowing with the wind.

I do think my family has created lots of traditions that involve having a real Christmas tree. An artificial tree would lack the fragrance that takes you back in an instant. It wouldn't have the sheer number of boughs to hang the dozens of special ornaments. Waiting for dad to bring the box up from the basement wouldn't hold the same sort of anticipatory excitement as waiting for dad to come back from the tree guy - tree tied to the top of the car. The kids literally sit by the window and wait for his car to drive in. I still haven't fully reconciled my unease about chopping down a tree, but I can tell you that the tree that is sacrificed for my family each year is fully worshipped and a foundation for memories new and distant.
Kids in this photo are a year older than in the previous photos. Lyric is walking and talking here and has become fully involved in the decorating!
This is how an almost-2 year old decorates

Found this in the vault along with the others - this is Lyric finding a very clever way to hide herself in the coat rack!

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