Saturday, August 30, 2008


Things are looking overgrown in the community garden, at least in my plot.
The people directly south of me have such a tidy garden. I didn't take photos of it because the comparison is very unflattering to my plot. They actually have little paths between their rows. I have to take giant steps over sprawling vegetation to walk through my plants.

I have a photoset on Flickr that shows the garden at various stages since spring. It's stunning just how much life can burst forth in a few short months.

Overall I am pleased with how we did. Most of what we planted produced plentifully. We had radishes and lettuce early on, and we are still harvesting zucchini, green beans, broccoli, and tomatoes. Less successful was the watermelon plant, which withered away to nothing shortly after sprouting. We got only one cucumber before that whole plant dried up. Our tomatoes have produced a fair amount, but the plants themselves haven't looked very hearty. Not sure what's up with that. And the carrots never came up. I think maybe I was too impatient and accidentally weeded them, not recognizing them as carrots. I should have remembered The Carrot Seed, by Ruth Krauss, and perhaps I would have been rewarded as handsomely as the boy in that story.

It's been nice to eat organic vegetables we grew ourselves, but wow, it would take a much larger garden to keep our family fed for an entire year! I have never had a garden this large before, and when we started out in May I thought maybe we'd have enough yield to freeze for eating in the winter, but since mid July it's only been producing enough for us to have vegetables about once a week. It's hard to imagine an existence where my very life would depend on tending a garden that would have to be so much larger.

On one trip to the garden, my daughter played around with the camera and had a nice capture of a butterfly in action:

I feel vaguely guilty that I don't visit the Farmer's Market more often. I should be supporting local farms and eating as much organic produce as possible. I have bad luck at the market, though. I had an unpleasant run-in with a vendor there once, who vaguely insulted my children when they weren't even misbehaving. ("I don't know how you can stand that!" she said irritably to me as they entertained themselves by hanging on my legs. "I would have such a headache by now!" Grump.) I always find bugs and worms in produce I get at the market as well. Is this common for market produce, or is it just me? I realize that organic means no pesticide, but yeeech, I do not like to see squirmy living things in my food. A year or so ago I bought some broccoli, only to discover at home that it was completely covered with little green bugs, the exact color of the broccoli, all clinging to the underside of the florets. Blech.

My neighbor went to the market today to buy corn, and since she was there late, the vendor gave her twice what she needed for the same price, so she shared some ears with us. (Note to my kids: if you are reading this, please stop now. Okay? Just stop. You don't need to know this story. Trust me.) As I shucked the corn for our dinner, little worms oozed out all over the place. I had that spine-tingling, get-me-outta-here feeling, so I made my husband finish the job. He flicked all the worms into the sink, but I think he went a little wild with it because later I was finding worms all over the counter. Shudder. I put the de-wormed corn into the pot with water and set it on the stove. When I came back later to see if it had come to a boil yet, I found this little guy seeking his escape:
Gah! I think he was the last one, though, as no one bit into a boiled worm during dinner. Thankfully!

This is slightly off tangent, but all this talk of bugs and worms reminds me of fruit flies, and I've been meaning to share my simple remedy for getting rid of fruit flies. Fill a small glass bowl with about one inch of apple cider vinegar. Add a drop or two of dish soap (lemon scent works best, but other scents work, too). Leave this on your counter. The fruit flies are drawn to it, and they will drown in the vinegar. I have noticed this will not work with plastic bowls, or bowls that are large and deep. The bowl that works best for me is a little 8 or 10 oz custard cup. Also, you must use apple cider vinegar, as regular vinegar will not work.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

That's Scarry

I love children's literature, and Richard Scarry is one of my favorite creators of the genre. Both of my children adored his books when they were preschoolers. My son's particular favorite was What Do People Do All Day?, while my daughter loved looking for Goldbug in Cars and Trucks and Things That Go.

When we were in Montreal, we saw a lot of Smart Cars

which set the theme song of The Busy World of Richard Scarry TV show running through my head every time I spotted one.

Last night I was reading a children's book blog, which pointed me to this photo set on Flickr, comparing the 1963 edition of Richard Scarry's Best Word Book Ever to the 1991 edition. Take a look! Some of the changes are very interesting. We have a 1970 printing of the 1963 edition, so ours has the original artwork and wording. I remember slightly editing the At the Airport page when I read it to my children. I thought "pretty stewardess" and "handsome pilot" were just a little bit too old-fashioned! In general, though, I prefer the earliest editions of Scarry's works to the later editions and newer books that seem like they were not drawn or written by him at all.

If you are a fan of vintage children's books, be sure to check out the give-away on my friend's blog, The Little Red Hen. If you leave a comment on her 250th post, Celebration Giveaway, by this Sunday, you will be eligible to win a set of her handmade greeting cards. Lynn's work is impeccable, and her blog is a treat, too. You can't go wrong trying her recipes! I made her blueberry gingerbread recently, and my whole family loved it.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Today is my son's 11th birthday. He is our first baby, our guinea pig, as I like to say. Before he was born I was so afraid I wouldn't know what to do with a baby, but when he was born on a cool, rainy Sunday afternoon at the end of August, two weeks before his due date, I held him in my arms and knew we'd figure it all out as we went along. I include my children in that "we", because their personalities are as much a guide to us as parents as any baby book has ever been. So far it's worked out just fine, but every year on his birthday I think to myself "I've never parented a child this age before!" and I feel a little ping of anxiety for what is to come. Being a parent is a constant adventure, a constant learning experience, very humbling and nerve-wracking, and very, very joyful.

One of our birthday traditions is to read Happy Birthday to You, by Dr. Seuss, on the eve of the birthday. In the morning, the birthday child wakes up to a decorated house. I always bake a cake of the birthday child's choice, using a recipe from The Cake Mix Doctor. For the past I-don't-know-how-many years my son has chosen Hummingbird Cake. My daughter scoffs at his predictability. She views her birthday as an opportunity to try a new cake recipe. That can be fun, but I am personally happy my son always chooses Hummingbird Cake, because I like traditions, and because Hummingbird Cake is a favorite of mine as well!

On my son's birthday I naturally reflect on his birth and the first days of his life. I had woken up in the middle of the night with contractions, but thought they were indigestion at first. For several hours I paced around the house, wishing the indigestion would go away so I could sleep! When I came to the slow realization that I might be in labor, I fixated on the fact that I had no clean underwear to take to the hospital, so I started a load of laundry at 4:00 a.m. I remember having to stop a couple of times while loading the washing machine because the contractions were already so strong. Never mind that you don't wear underwear to give birth. I needed that underwear anyway! Aren't you supposed to always wear clean underwear in case you end up at the hospital? What does is say about you if you know you're going to the hospital, but fail to have clean underwear?

By 8:00 a.m. I was ready to go, but my husband, being the good Bradley Method coach that he was, said it was too soon. He ate breakfast, read the Sunday paper, took a shower, cleaned the cat litter, and took out the garbage. I wanted to kill him! When I started swearing at him, around 10:00 a.m., he agreed it was time to go.

I was very progressed when we got to the hospital, and was able to have the unmedicated birth experience I wanted. (My husband took some credit for this at the time, having kept me at home longer than I wanted to stay there!) I was very proud of myself, but everything about me was eclipsed by my joy in my child. He was such a wonder. I was so besotted with him I even thought he was clever for demonstrating the Moro reflex.

I remember with some embarrassment his first poo, which happened while we were still in the hospital. I was alone with him, and hadn't yet changed his diaper. In fact, I had never changed a diaper at all. I wanted to call the nurse, or wait for my husband to return from where ever he was, but I thought no, this is my baby, I am his mother, and this is what mothers do, so I hauled myself out of the bed and laid him in the bassinet and fumbled around with the wipes and the diapers. I felt an absurd sense of pride when I was done and had an urge to open the door and yell out to anyone who could hear me "I just changed my son's diaper! All by myself!"

Later, when a nurse came in and did whatever exam on him she needed to do, she changed his diaper again. I watched her closely, and as she put a fresh diaper on him I realized with much chagrin that I had put his diaper on backwards. I was mortified, and thought wildly that I'd blame it on my husband if she said anything, because I worried that otherwise she might think me unfit and not let me take my baby home. But she just smiled at me when she handed him back and never said a word. Smart people, those maternity nurses!

I've made other parenting mistakes in the past 11 years since that backwards diaper, but so far nothing has been more horrible than a backwards diaper. I'm in that next decade of parenting now, though, when things are going to get more complicated, and any missteps on my part are going to have bigger repercussions and be harder to fix than a backwards diaper. I always make a little wish of my own when my kids blow out their candles that everything will just keep on being all right, that I'll have the wisdom to help them keep on growing, and that they'll always bounce back from the things that go wrong.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Collecting Souvenirs

Pressed pennies, elongated coins, stretch pennies, squished pennies... Whatever you call them, is there a more perfect souvenir? I used to scoff at them. Why would you give up two quarters for a useless penny in return? Seemed kind of pointless to me, and a waste of money.

After I had children and we started taking trips and the stuffed animal souvenir collection was getting out of control, a lightbulb went off. A pressed penny has an imprint that is completely unique to that specific area. You can't find it anywhere else. It takes up little room in the suitcase, or, more importantly, at home. It is not made in China. And best of all, it costs only 51 cents. Brilliant!

We love finding penny machines. When I am really on top of things, I carry a baggie in my purse with quarters and pennies perfect for squishing. I have even been known to consult the Penny Collector website to help me find exactly where penny machines will be on our trip.

For our recent trip, I was less organized, so we used the serendipity method. Let me tell you, the excitement of stumbling upon a penny machine was akin to striking gold. Sometimes we'd see the penny machine just sitting there, and we'd gasp in surprise (like at the top of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. I never suspected there would be a penny machine at the summit of a mountain!). Other times we'd hear the unmistakable clanking sound of a machine in action, and we'd follow our ears to find the machine. I didn't always have exact change in my purse, but the cashiers at the gift shops were happy to break a dollar or two.

These pennies are from my daughter's collection. Hers is more complete than mine because it wasn't until a few trips ago that I decided to start collecting for myself. Here are some of my favorites:

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Watermelon Mint Cooler

We are watermelon fans in this house, and a good watermelon doesn't last long around here. Every once in a while we get a dud watermelon that borders on tasteless, though, and those will often go to waste. We had one of those watermelons this week, which coincided nicely with my attempts to reorganize (yet again!) my recipe collection. As I sorted through the binder, I found a recipe for a watermelon drink I'd clipped some time ago, so we gave it a try. It's very refreshing! I don't think I'd waste a perfect watermelon on it, but it will be a great use for those not-so-tasty watermelons.
Watermelon Mint Cooler
4 cups cubed seedless watermelon
1 1/2 T fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 T lime juice
Club Soda
Puree the watermelon, mint, sugar, and lime juice in a blender until the watermelon has all been turned into liquid.
Fill glasses with ice, fill halfway with watermelon puree, and finish filling with club soda. Makes 4 servings.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A reason to smile

Someone got his braces off today! Very exciting. He will have to wear a retainer, but he doesn't get that until Thursday. His verdict without the braces: "My teeth feel slimy."

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Home again, with technical difficulties

I've been home for two days now, and I wanted to unpack and do the laundry and get everything organized and put away before I got distracted with internet fun, so I didn't let myself sit down at the computer until late last night, only to find that my internet connection is completely wonky. I am clueless about these things, so my husband has been tinkering and tinkering and tinkering... Why do these things take so long? He got it to the point where I can connect if I'm perched on my washing machine in the basement. (Perhaps this is a diabolical plot of his? Hmmm.) Anyway, it will be a few days before I'm back to posting regularly.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

From the road...Montreal

We have been enjoying ourselves in Montreal the past few days. City vacations are exhausting! Lots of walking and siteseeing. The kids are holding up well. I think they've learned to expect that we will make them walk and walk and walk while on vacation.

My kids have been to Canada before. They decided to wear their Canadian souvenirs from previous trips so that they look Canadian for this trip. They crack me up.

Some scenes from Montreal the past few days.

Montreal viewed from Mt. Royal
A building that looks like a 1960s era dollhouse my sister used to have.
A fountain with fire and steam. We never did find an explanation for this one!

Some cool architecture.
A narrow street in Old Montreal. Feels like Europe.
Victorian houses.
A traffic signal for the bike lane.
One of my favorite things so far happened at the top of Mt. Royal at the observation platform. It's a popular place for people to line up for a photo with the city as the backdrop. One French-speaking mother organized her French-speaking family for a group photo. She posed them, said something to them in French, and they all responded "Cheese!" Is Cheese universal? I guess it works better than Fromage for a photo.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

On the Road Again

We are leaving Sunday for a long driving trip to Quebec and other points east. For entertainment on our journey we have some family-friendly books on CD checked out of the library, the kids have their books and car games packed, we have travel bingo and Rubberneckers in the car, and I have my crochet project. I like to do crochet in the car because there are no sharp needles to worry me. Sharp things make me nervous in moving vehicles!

I decided to make a baby blanket for Project Linus to keep me occupied on our travels this summer. A blanket is a nice on-the-go project because there is no shaping, so I don't need to keep track of rows or rounds, and the pattern is quickly memorized, so I don't have to keep a pattern balanced on my lap in the confined space of the car. A baby blanket is a nice size for the car because it is small and not unwieldy. I got the pattern for the blanket free here.

OK, I still need to pack my clothes and shoes. I spend way more time worried about what books and projects to bring than what clothes to bring, but I do care what I have to wear, so I need to get busy. I am fearing that I will look a complete frump in Montreal, where the women are chic.

Hope to report from the road. Otherwise, I'll be back in a few weeks.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Visting the Family

The kids and I are back from visiting my parents and the rest of my family. The kids love to go every summer, especially because this is what is in my parents' backyard: My parents still live in the house I grew up in. They put the pool in when I was 7, so it was a huge part of my childhood summers. I love seeing my own kids swim and play in it now.
My kids get along at Grandma and Grandpa's house. Not so much bickering and arguing. They play together. It's nice.
They also get to see all their cousins. The pool can be quite a lively place on a hot summer day!
That's my oldest nephew diving in. To me, the word "nephew" conjures up the image of an 8-year-old kid, not this 18-year-old college-bound guy who jumped out of an airplane last Saturday, and who seems to be reenacting his free fall here. How did he get so old? How did I?
Grandma and Grandpa have a nice, large backyard. We had fun making extra large bubbles, and s'mores, of course, which are a necessity every evening we are there.
My mom's yard is full of fun things. She has some 70s throw-back kitsch items:
and lovely flowers everywhere.

Another sign that I must be aging is this tree. This maple was planted, barely bigger than a whip, when I was a kid. When I see trees like this, I think "Wow, that tree must be old!" Ahem.
My mom loves to landscape:
We also got to go visit my niece's duck, Henry, who turned out to be a Henrietta. She is learning to fly!
All the kids seem to be learning to fly these days. I am so glad we spent some time together.