The Best Gift EVER

Six months ago I wished for something HUGE. I desperately wanted more time with my mom, to continue growing closer with my sister, and for Jovi to be OK. I just wanted things to be back to normal, even boring. Nothing more than just to sit all together for a meal without thinking about cancer, without worrying about what was next, without fear for my spouse. 

I could have received nothing this year but uneventful time with the folks I love. Six months ago, I wasn't sure this was possible again. Six months ago, this was in the realm of fantastic wishes, unrealistic thinking. Six months ago, I wasn't sure it was wise to even envision the possibility of another holiday all together with everyone well. I had to hunker down in the moment and accept a "new reality." 

Yesterday was more than I could have wished for. 


Re-Purposed Stationary Box

I have these heavy-duty magnetized stationary boxes leftover that I've wanted to do something with for a couple of years. This year I decided to make a decorative box. This is still in progress, but here's what I have so far:


Pill Pockets

OK, so I bought the fabric for this project because I LOVED it and had to do something with it. You could do this with any smooth, somewhat heavy fabric that you have laying around though. I call them pill pockets. Jovi and I started taking vitamins (and other drugs) this year and I HATE those plastic pill holders. First off, they are plastic and plastic is evil. Secondly, they make me feel like an old lady. They are so conspicuous too. So here's my sustainable solution - cloth pill pockets with dividers for each day of the week!


Free or Almost Free Gifts

Each day I am going to share a secret project with you. Usually I don't share my craft work until it is complete or, if it is a gift, until it has already been given. With the year I've had I decided to do some things for the holidays that I take pleasure in doing. I hate going to the mall or mass market stores and picking up cards to send just so I have a card to send and I hate picking up presents just so I have something to give. This year, if nothing took my fancy in the store, I am going with what takes my fancy in my crafting box. I get an afternoon or evening of creativity and you get to see what I'm giving. Hope it inspires you!

Thursday: This year's holiday card is a torn paper card.
I had everything to make these cards already in my house. The green backing paper is cardstock I had leftover from our wedding invitations. The torn paper is from magazines I had laying around (Cooking Light and Mix). The adhesive - glue stick in my cache. I did have to buy envelopes and stamps.

Tomorrow - "pill pocket".


Sustainable Holiday Fun

I got to open one of my Christmas presents last night.  (Jovi has the hardest time waiting until Christmas to give her gifts away. I have the hardest time waiting until Christmas to open my gifts. It's a good combination as far as I'm concerned.) We always have a budget for each other and each year Jovi goes over budget, claiming the pets had to get me something. This year I demanded I get to use the pet excuse and she had to stay in budget. I have tired really hard to convince her that I just like to open wrapped boxes. They could have little notes in them for all I care. She heard me finally. Here's my most awesome, perfect gift from her:

Yeah, that's a new timer in the background and she made up these massage coupons for foot massage, back massage, and - my favorite - "scratches." Merry Christmas to me!


Day "Off"

My to do list:

  • Clean the rabbit box (why do I want chickens?) 
  • Brush the dog
  • Take out the compost - dig a hole for it in the pile
  • Check the rain garden to see how it's holding up
  • Prep stir-fry - marinate the tempeh
  • Get the low tire fixed
  • Work on the curtain for the living room
  • Mail the holiday cards
  • Make "icon boxes" - craft project that will hopefully be a Christmas present or two
  • Practice Jason and John's wedding ceremony
  • Boxing class


Winter Soup

Hungarian mushroom soup with hand gathered chanterelles from the Coast Range and dill from the garden. So good and buttery rich. Perfect for a windy and cold indoor work day. Jovi nearly finished the new slate hearth.


Store-Bought Pie Greetings

This Thanksgiving, I am taking it easy. No gourmet brined, free range turkey in the oven. No ham hock waiting to drench green beans in tasty fat. No smell of fresh baking bread in my house. No home made pie.

Nope, I'm taking it easy this year and being grateful to let someone else cook. Grateful for the break from work. Grateful for the three books I am reading and will have time to read over the next few days. Let's make a list of what I'm grateful for this November:

  • Chinese food for lunch
  • 2 and a half days off work
  • People who work those days
  • My massage therapist
  • My acupuncturist
  • Volunteers who are more like aunties to me
  • Staff that are like sisters
  • My sister in general and the family picture she is organizing for us
  • The warmth of my home and my shoes
  • Hot baths
  • Stores that are open the day before Thanksgiving and that sell me pie and rolls
  • My mom's health at last
  • Jovi's health
  • Boxing and boxing buddies
I am taking it easy and just being in awe of the end of a year that has been one marathon of an endurance test. Like the end of a race well-done, finish line in sight, cheers around you, glow of your effort, elation of exhaustion, a rest well-earned. 


It's Gravy

Dinner last night: homemade chanterelle gravy on baked potatoes.  The stock came from the liquid drained off of several pounds of wild harvested chanterelles. While the liquid was still hot, I added in homegrown rosemary and parsley, pepper, and a dash of salt. I let that cool and then strained it. Last night I added a brown butter roux to thicken it.

It was goodness.


Wild Weekend

So after a week of feeling like crap to the point that I spent all of Friday on the couch in front of the TV, I had a wild weekend. A Pacific Northwest wild weekend. Two of Jovi's dragon boat buddies took us up to the Coast Range to harvest wild chanterelles. After just over an hour, we had grocery bags full of mushrooms and one very wet and happy mountain dog. Not only did we find chanterelles, we also found lobster mushrooms. I'd never heard of these and have never eaten them, but was reassured they are edible. Although we did end up with a flat tire, we came back with at least $150 to $200 worth of mushrooms!

This morning I made a lobster mushroom frittata with homegrown garlic, chard and parsley. Then we washed all the chanterelles and fried almost all of them up for freezing. The water they put off I have drained and will use to make mushroom gravy! I will dry the rest of the mushrooms. The house smells delicious!

Lobster Mushroom

Frying up lobster mushroom
Adding garlic, red pepper & green onion
Bag o' chanterelles


Fall Upon Us

Feels like winter this week. I'm not opposed to this. The garden is sleeping - onion, shallot and garlic babies tucked in. The rain garden seems to be doing its job and long neglected indoor projects are beckoning.

So, I've taken up the rug hooking again that my mom bought me last year. I swear this project is going to take me forever. I do enjoy the meditative state that the repetitive poke and pull can get me into. Cup of hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows by my side, cozy in my warm house, maybe the smell of something hearty on the stove or sweet baking in the oven. OR, Chinese take-out in my belly. The soft feel of the wool that I'm weaving into a picture. An appropriate message "Rain, Rain, Go Away..."

Each new section I complete makes me feel closer to my mom. Rug hooking was one of the first creative endeavors, aside from cooking, that I watched her take up. She's good at it and yet she's very critical of her pieces. I've learned something about myself through watching her struggle with her own perfectionism.

It's also been something that I've desperately wanted her to teach me. Desperately, because I feel her mortality tugging at me this year. She has been diagnosed and undergoing treatment for colon cancer. It's colored everything I've experienced since the night she called to tell me they'd found a mass on her colon and would go in for surgery two days later. Missouri has never felt so far away to me. It's made making my own little home and my connection to this plot of land tenuous feeling. Hooking the rug, I weave my thoughts about our relationship, my relationship to this house, to my history, tangible. It anchors them to the linen. Invisible to the viewer, but embedded there for me.

I'm new to this.


Gardening the Rain

OK, it's done, for now. :  ) Introducing, the rain garden! Newest addition to our little homestead.

We disconnected the downspout, ran a new pipe about 6 feet from the house, buried it in gravel. Then we dug out a creek bed and put down river rock in it. The extra dirt went to build up around the ponding area at the end. The outlet is covered in rocks from Kathi's house - free : ) Then we put new compost in the ponding area and all around the garden.

Apparently this is the time of year to buy plants too! I was able to buy a bunch of native plants, each plant at least 20% off. We planted more sword ferns, soloman's seal, Oregon grape, snowberry, strawberries, rush and violets in the ponding area, and more. We had kinnikinnick, and an ocean spray plant. Some lupine and bleeding heart.

No more mowing that side of the yard--- well, no more mowing the weeds that were the only thing that grew there!


One of My Favorite Things

Honeyed, glistening, angular light
heightens the resolution of what it touches.
Warm breezes, scented of brown leaves, the last push of the garden,
chased by cold nights. Frosty mornings.



Unseasonably green woods snake through
toast colored soybean fields
reach toward fresh, 
deep breath, inhale, exhale, rooted, solid ground beneath me, 
blue sky.
Little cotton ball clouds watch over us. 


"Home" Again

Week back in Missouri, back "home." It's been 20 years since I left for college and the Pacific Northwest. While I've been back and forth quite a bit over the years, so much seems to have changed since I last really looked. Driving through town today with mom, she pointed out the library is no longer the library and the old high school is completely gone. The other day, at my nephew's football game, I saw for the first time that the building I went to 5th and 6th grade in is also completely gone. I have a lot of good memories of the library and it actually makes me kinda sad to know that I'll never be able to go back. There's a really pretty, much larger, new library, but feeling wistful. Kinda like I went to bed one day and woke up 20 years later.


On the Fence

To Gas or To Chop?

So Jovi and I are in a bit of a stalemate. Perhaps someone can help us? We are going to take care of our open fire place this fall. Currently our fire place has no damper or glass doors so it's highly inefficient. It's just a big hole in our house for all practical purposes. Jumping on the bandwagon that it's going to be a cold winter, I'm determined we're going to do something about it asap. Jovi's fine with this too. The problem is, do we install a gas insert or a wood stove insert?

The internet is usually where I can turn to solve these arguments, but the jury seems out on this one as to which is the more efficient, more environmentally sound choice. Here's our pro/con list as of now:

Gas: No work, just flip a switch. No storing wood with potential pests near the house. No need to figure out wood storage. Puts out as much heat now as the wood stoves. There's a cool model with "spa stones" instead of fake wood. Fossil fuel contributing to global warming.

Wood: "Real" fire. Can be carbon neutral if we can find a sustainable source of wood (have to find that). If you can't, it's contributing to global warming too. Works in an earthquake if the house is still standing - course we already have gas to the house. Like many people, I don't find burning gas in my house comforting but slightly nerve wracking.


September Berries and Dog Spiders

September Berries

Warm, dry weeks
Lead to
Fermented blackberry breezes

Dog Spiders

Little bundles of blown coat
Scurry across the floor
Stop myself from stomping on them


Newest Project and The "Good Garden"

Just some pictures of the garden before and after and the porch swing we are refinishing. 

Garden Competition

Jovi's garden is beating out mine this year - hands down. We'll have cherry tomatoes ready soon and the plants are almost 4 or 5 feet tall! We've also harvested two heads of purple cabbage already. My garden? Well, I'm throwing in the towel soon and prepping it for a long winter's rest with lots of compost and goodies like chicken poo to help it grow strong. I'm packing the compost bin with tons of goodness to heap onto the garden beds by October. Hoping to build permanent beds in this year too so we can set up a regular irrigation system.

Wish us well too as we await an appraisal as we try to refinance! Cross your fingers for a new roof and gutters next year.


Bunny Stink

I got to pay bills today sitting in what smells like a barn but is my kitchen. That's urban farm living for you. That's the dirty underbelly of this green revolution everyone is so hot for. It's not all sexy.


Poor Bunny

I was chastised once for not having a separate place for my rabbit in our house. I was assured she could not be comfortable just being "free" in our house when we have a 125 lb dog. "That is a natural predator," this person told me. The rabbit must live in constant fear. This is Pirate Betty and Porter this morning, just after I kept PB from shooing Porter away from his own food so she could eat it. Now she's drinking while he eats. 


Lazy, Will Offer Urban Homestead Experience

Yeah, um, the garden and house just aren't that attractive to me right now. They are not tops on the priority list. The garden has gone bad - rogue chard is invading each bed, radishes gone to seed, flowering broccoli (how indecent), and the lettuce has had the nerve to bolt.

No grandiose home improvement plans for the next month. Work gets the kitchen remodel attention.

2010 can come and go for all I care. Bring on 2011. Let's just skip fall and head right into New Years. The cool mornings make it seem like mama nature agrees with me.



There's a war going on in our back yard. Grenades, guns, surprise, stealth, sabotage, and.... laughter. Yup, it's a water fight. The vision of our neighbor daughter running around the back yard in her swim panties and rubber galoshes, screaming with joy as she gets caught in the crossfire; late afternoon sun giving everything a golden tinge, will stick with me forever. Jovi sneaking up on Cheryl "watering the garden," George resorting to the low, low tactic of the garden hose, me giggling behind the bedroom curtains as I hear the water splosh on our new deck... Happy suburban times.


Our First Broccoli

I'm so proud! OK, so I think I picked it a little late as you can see some of it has started to flower. I'm thinking broccoli salad.


It's All Greek

It's 90 today and time to break out the grill. I refuse to cook indoors in this weather. No AC and SUNSHINE in the Northwest; not cooking inside and not heating up my house. It's my own recipes tonight and floating in our kiddie pool.

I have my own chicken souvlaki that I've concocted based on taste tests at my favorite Greek restaurant, Cafe Akroteri in Bellingham, Washington. I start with the dry herbs and I only use whole herbs from my garden when possible. Tarragon is the secret ingredient, oregano, savory hand rubbed. Add fresh ground pepper - lots of it. Fresh ground coriander and this time I'm trying a bit of sumac berry and the slightest amount of cardamom. Last, I add some coarse sea salt. Oh and fresh chopped garlic - one or two cloves. Toss in a little good olive oil and red wine vinegar and the juice of one lemon.

As for the red wine vinegar, I never buy that anymore. I just let part of a bottle of fairly cheap red wine stuff go to vinegar.

I'll let this sit for a while and then cube chicken to marinate for a couple  hours. All this will get skewered and grilled with red onion and green/red/orange peppers. Then we dip it in a cucumber, mint and yogurt sauce.

Side of greek salad. Yum and hello lobster floaty.


Herb Time

OK, so it's sunny out and my day off which means I'm not going to write much!

Things are finally growing in the garden and we may eek out a few tomatoes and zucchini, but not sure if we'll have a chance to grow any other sun loving veggie. Going to have to buy some new starts today. Think I'll give basil a try. That said, the peas and broccoli are super happy and you can even see little baby broccoli heads starting! Exciting as this will be my first year for broccoli success.

Today I decided to collect and preserve some of the herbs. The mint will get leggy soon as it gets hotter and dryer (yes I'm being optimistic) so I picked some to dry and some to make mint water from. The mint water is delicious when it's hot out. I just steep a bunch of it as if I were making a very concentrated mint tea. Then I add that to a pitcher, fill with cold water and put that in the fridge for when we're thirsty and hot.

I also picked chives, which did I tell you I figured out how to preserve last year? If you try to dry them whole they shrivel up like dead grass. If you chop them fine then lay them out to dry, they stay nice a green and the taste is great.

The lavender is just about to flower so I rushed to pick as many stems with unopened buds as I could. I'll dry these and use them for baking this fall/winter. They are delicious in orange scones. I made a lavender ice cream last fall that was tasty too.

Lastly, I picked a bunch of lettuce as it's finally warm enough for me to crave salads. Fresh lettuce from the garden will actually last a long time in the fridge. I discovered two years ago how to make greens last longer. I just wash them well and then spin them dry. Next I wrap a bundle of them in paper towels and place that in a glass storage container. All of that goes into the crisper bin in the fridge and will last at least a week. That way you only have to wash lettuce once a week! To combat spiders, slugs and such that like to get in the folds of lettuce, I just soak it in the sink for a half hour or so.


"Barn Raising"

I've said it before and I'll say it again, community is important. We've had a rough year this year and this last two weeks have been especially difficult. One of the things that have seen me through this time are the relationships we have with friends, family and neighbors. My sister's constant encouragement in the form of texts, my sister-in-law and auntie-in law and their sheer presence, and friends who have met me at boxing class or spent the night. Then last weekend, I put the call out for help with our little house and yard. We had a ton of great friends show up and do all sorts of work around the house. One of our friends referred to it as a "barn raising like the Amish do." She said, "We should do this more often for each other." I couldn't agree more and am so grateful for all the work they did! Just call and if we can be there, we will gladly return the favor.


Some things thrive in the rain...

Although there are mole mounds melting down the slope of my front yard, standing water in our back path, and it's so wet I don't think I'll ever get to plant green beans now, some things are loving this weather. In fact, lots of stuff is doing quite well right now. I just might need to rethink my plantings this year and stick with the cooler, greener crops. I'll let a few tomatoes struggle on since they are my favorite, but we might as well write off the bigger peppers this year. This is a year to stick with onions, lettuce, broccoli, chard, cabbage, spinach, herbs, zucchini and peas. (Don't ask me why the zucchini seems to be liking this OK for now.)

Of course this also creates the perfect environment for slugs to flourish and I need to get out there more to keep on top of them. The chard has sensed that that brief dry sunny spell in March was actually summer and now we're into fall so it's time to go to seed... I've had to cut it back drastically to get some light to the struggling tomatoes and basil. We'll see if it comes back with a third crop of leaves for me.

Actually, I think I need to give up on basil for now. Here's a sad view of the basil.

 Much of the garden is really happy though and I just have to remember that, even though my favorites may not make it this year (the tomatoes, basil and yellow squash) some great stuff will! The lettuce couldn't be happier and the onions are about to burst forth flowers. The garlic seems to be holding up without any rot and this weekend promises good weather.

I have even started a batch of compost tea to encourage more growth. This is the easiest and cheapest way to fertilize. Just grab a shovel full of your rough compost (doesn't need to be the potting soil consistency yet) and toss it in a bucket. Fill the bucket with water and let it sit a day or two. Once it starts to get a nice foam at the top, scoop off the coffee-colored "tea". You just pour this directly at the base of each of your plants. I use an old plastic container and a Home Depot bucket for the job. I do this about once a week. When you've used all the liquid, you can dump the leftover compost back into the pile or around the base of your acid loving shrubs (like camellia or rhododendrons).

Keep in mind that the "tea" is very nitrogen rich, especially if you add rabbit droppings to it like we do. The best part of doing this now is that the green plants that love this weather love the nitrogen from my bunny poo rich fertilizing brew. Before your "fruit" producing plants start to flower, you'll also want to work in something such as fish bone meal to encourage flower production and to balance the nitrogen. Last year I used a ton of tea and didn't realize until too late that I needed the bone meal. My plants were HUGE and a nice dark green, but they didn't produce as much as I wanted...

Lastly, we use beer traps to curb the army of slugs that love this wet cool mess of a garden. So, we need to double my little beer traps and frequently refill them. I don't actually drink beer so I have to buy it just for the garden, but you can use whatever you have. I don't want to use Jovi's expensive local brews so I run to the store for the biggest, cheapest cans of beer I can get. I like to imagine that the store clerks think I'm a closet alcoholic as I stand in line with my magnums and snack food. Cheers to your garden!


Tea Trees and Hawthorne Remedies

The combination of too much rain and a day off has led me to some web research. I've been wondering for a few days if there is anything I should be doing for my camellias in general. I don't know much about them and so I Googled them and came to the realization that they are in the same plant family as the plant that tea is commonly made from. Actually tea is made from camellia sinesis and the plants in our NW yards are more likely to be camellia japonica. This got me thinking, well, could you make tea safely from my variety? I did a little surfing and found some great pruning tips from the American Camellia Society and then, surprise, another blogger's experiment with making tea from camellia japonica! I also found out that the leaves, berries and flowers from our hawthorne tree can be used for medicinal purposes.

I absolutely LOVE that, even after living here for almost 6 and a half years, I am still discovering things about this little piece of property! Several years ago we discovered that the bush/tree near our garden is a hazelnut tree too - although the squirrels and bugs get to the hazelnuts every year before we do. I like to imagine that the Copeland Family, who built this house and for whom the street is named after, actually planted all of these trees and bushes. I imagine that they knew a bit more about what plants were good for and specifically chose the plants they did for these reasons. For instance, they must have planted the catalpas they are so big! They surely thought about the summer shade these trees would provide and the light they would allow in in the winter. I'd be willing to bet they intended on harvesting hazelnuts for their own use and that they could provide a little morning shade when they planted that tree/bush. Did they know about the medicinal properties of the Hawthorne or did they just want to add more summer shade? I like how this connects me to the history of my house and to sustainable urban lawnscaping today. It's a full circle kinda thing. A thing to remind us that some not so new knowledge is better knowledge.

Here are two of the links I found regarding camellia's:
Tea making from camellia japonica http://pandragonathome.blogspot.com/2009/11/making-black-tea-from-your-camellia.html
General good info regarding care for camellias: http://www.camellias-acs.com/

The "Uses" section of this link provides interesting information regarding hawthorne trees:



Rain, rain, go away. You could, of course, come again some other day. I don't want a drought either. The tomatoes are withering away. The basil simply won't stay alive. Plant #3 & 4 have almost bit the dust. I will say the broccoli and cabbage are looking fantastic. The onions, garlic, and chard are happy enough too. The chard is actually already going to seed. I'm afraid the onions and garlic may rot soon though if we don't get some dry weather. The slugs are having a heyday too with everything. Can't keep the beer strong enough to draw them away. Need some little beer tents! The potato bugs seem happy enough too.

Porter is on restricted movement too. Poor thing has been so housebound this spring with Jovi and I working extra hours both of us and the rain. Now he has a slight disc problem - that's the vet's guess anyway. Yesterday morning he just started whining randomly. We fed him breakfast and he just looked at it and then started pawing at it. This dog LOVES food and he's on a diet so he devours anything that looks remotely tasty including food soiled paper towels. So, dog-food flavored anti-inflamatories for now and not a lot of activity. Good news is that we found out he has lost 4 pounds! AND, they make dog-food flavored chewable anti-inflamatories. Bad news, they are $5 bucks per pill.

While we were at the vets yesterday, we saw a poster with two adult kitties needing a new home. They are brothers, they are six and they need a new home because the toddler in the house is allergic. They look very sweet and spunky. I was very tempted. I haven't been this long without a kitty since I was maybe 12? Then again, it's nice to have one less litter box. I'm also worried everyone would think we were nuts if we added two cats to our menagerie. Feel free to give your opinion below.


Some reading for these raining days?

I stole this link from my friend Hannah. Interesting review of books - interesting looking list of books for folks interested in modern and sustainable food production movements. Full article: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/jun/10/food-movement-rising/

Here's an excerpt:
It’s [the food movement] a big, lumpy tent, and sometimes the various factions beneath it work at cross-purposes. For example, activists working to strengthen federal food safety regulations have recently run afoul of local food advocates, who fear that the burden of new regulation will cripple the current revival of small-farm agriculture. Joel Salatin, the Virginia meat producer and writer who has become a hero to the food movement, fulminates against food safety regulation on libertarian grounds in his Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal: War Stories From the Local Food Front. Hunger activists like Joel Berg, in All You Can Eat: How Hungry Is America?, criticize supporters of “sustainable” agriculture—i.e., producing food in ways that do not harm the environment—for advocating reforms that threaten to raise the cost of food to the poor. Animal rights advocates occasionally pick fights with sustainable meat producers (such as Joel Salatin), as Jonathan Safran Foer does in his recent vegetarian polemic, Eating Animals.


My Bliss

I realized my bliss Sunday. People say to follow your bliss. One of my favorite quotes is "Let yourself be silently drawn by the greater pull of what you really love." Life is about becoming aware of those moments when you realize you're being drawn by what you really love.

I was sitting in my garden on Sunday when I had a bliss moment and I let myself be acutely aware of it. I hadn't showered that day. To me a hot shower is like most people's morning coffee yet I relish a weekend day of dirtiness. My hair was in prime Bob Dylan disarray and curl. I was wearing comfy cotton pants that had, over the course of a morning of yard work and then gardening, had become covered in dirt. I was breaking up clumps of dirt with my bare hands so my nails were filled with the stuff. Every wrinkle of skin on my hands were brown.

The sun was setting and the air still warm. The temperature was at that just right point of warm enough for short sleeves, but not so warm you were sweating. Half the garden was completed and I was at the level on the ground where some plants were taller than me.

A worm crawled across the ground where I had just laid down a layer of fresh compost. I looked at the scoop I was just about to spread. Dirt I made. I made that dirt! The worm stretched out across the warm soil. I thought, "That would make a good fishing worm. If I were 12 again I'd pick it up and hold it." So, I picked up the worm and let it crawl across my hand. I watched him, looked up around me. I thought about the perfect weather, the perfect amount of dirt worked into my toes and hands and I just felt right. I felt whole and content. In that moment, the work I had done to grow the plants that were around me, the dirt I was holding, came together with the potential of the plants I had just put in and the life in the soil the worm meant. I was right in the middle of it all.

That's my bliss.


The "Real" Farm

Spring in Missouri is dangerous for me. A visit to the creek when it is running full and everything around is buzzing with life. Little baby corn popping up in chocolate fields. Leaves on deciduous trees turning with the rain that you can't see is coming. Birds chasing each other through a carpet of close cut grass that bleeds right into a very full pond. Fish jumping. Clouds cruising by. The smell of dirt, grass, trees, wind that has blown half-way across a country to reach you.

It's intoxicating. It lures me in and makes me day-dream of a little house beyond the field. A little house tucked into the woods, just by the third pond, close to the fourth pond that was always my favorite. Laying in the grass, looking up at a perfectly clear, cornflower blue sky. Building fairy houses by the "waterfall" that isn't really a waterfall anymore. The unplanted fields make me hungry, remind me of chunky cookie dough. Part of me finally feels at peace, part of me feels planted on the bank above the water in this pregnant landscape.

But then there's farm business and I'm ready to throw in the towel, ready to run toward the sea, ready to say, "I know I'm not the first born son." I am just a girl. A girl with a garden of her own. A garden I now ache to return to, to shelter in. I have memories of tractors I picked out that my brother opened for Christmas as I walk my nephew to the garage on his motorized toy tractor. Cycles of life, cycles of farm management. I have a garden that I have bought with my wife. I have a garden that is mine. I will plant myself there.


Waiting Game

Spring in a Northwest garden is like an on-again off-again relationship. One day it's sunny and dry and I'm out there in bliss. The next day it's pouring down rain with a definite chill in the air. Better to just avoid seeing each other.


Garden Dreams

A garden is an act of hope. A belief that something started now can result in something beneficial later. It is a visual reminder that life is cyclical, not linear. A living mobius strip in that there is never a beginning nor an end. There is always something happening in a garden, even if subtly so. Old things are always becoming new things in some energy is never created nor destroyed kind of way. I think a compost pile and a garden plot are about the most beautiful way to understand this.


Pretty Jars

Mmm, we had pear butter on toast this morning. We made the pear butter last fall and I just cracked open a new jar this morning. I also put a jar of dilly beans in the fridge for a crispy cold snack later. I love how the ball jars with the fancy silver rings look on my refrigerator shelves. I love knowing exactly what's in each jar down to the smallest ingredient. There's something "full-circle-ish" about enjoying last year's harvest and canning work while preparing spring soil.


Planting Weekend?

I'm sensing a dry enough spell to get in the garden again this weekend! I'm going to get in those peas... hoping it's not too late. More lettuce. I think I may go ahead and plant the beans. I also think we should plant carrots in the new bed and I may go crazy and plant sunflower seeds. If I'm feeling really spunky, I may go ahead and buy the tomato starts. If so, I'll plant the zucchini and cucumber too. I can't remember if I bought dill seed and cilantro yet...

Guess my chore the rest of this week is to go through the seed packets again. I'll look at the soil temperature suggestions and do some guess work as to what's next.

I also need to separate some of the garlic that's up and spread it out. I thinned the radishes last Wednesday. Time to put out some fresh beer too... it's slug weather now that it's a little warmer. It's been cold enough so far to hold them at bay, but not now!

The broccoli and beets are up. The lettuce had a growth spurt last week, as did the radishes (they liked being thinned). The onions are looking really big and most of the garlic looks healthy. The sage is flowering... poor confused plant. I'm contemplating cutting it back so it doesn't flower yet. The bee balm and lemon balm are wanting a bit more sun and the mint is just biding it's time.

I'm also itching to do some fence building. I really want to get our west side fence replaced this year. We plan to put in an arbor and a gate. We have visions of making a removable section so we'll be able to bring in larger equipment later if we want - such as a bobcat to do some grading. Soil would be easy to dig for fence posts right now. We'll see... we don't have a design yet and we know how important a good plan is : )


Squash Family

This one's for Kristen. Kristen asks when I plant zucchini. I LOVE zucchini. Mostly because I've probably had as much success with it as I have had with chard... almost, but not quite. The one enemy of zucchini is a cold night and lots of moisture. The squash family in general, I've found, suffers from powdery mildew in my little northwest plot. It's a quick growing plant, especially during our hot/dry months in Oregon. So, I wait on this one until I know spring is nearing an end. I actually often plant zucchini starts though so I can wait a little later.

This year I'm aiming for having zucchini planted by the end of this month (because it's been really rainy and I can't plant until the soil dries out a little bit, otherwise I would probably do it this weekend. That and it's been extremely cold this month). I plant it in mounds too because they like to drink. You build a little hill up around the plants and then dig out a little moat around the hill. This allows you to give the plant a good big soaking of water that goes directly to the roots and away from the leaves. The less overhead watering the better.

Powdery mildew likes moisture on the leaves and cool nights. It grows just like it sounds - as a white moldy looking splotch that will eventually take over the entire leaf part of a plant. It's inevitable in the fall here in the northwest, but you can avoid it the rest of the year. Don't water the plants at night except on the hottest of weeks. Watering in the morning allows the leaves to dry before the temps get cool. Watering in the morning also gives your plants a chance to soak up all the moisture they can before the heat of mid-day begins to evaporate the water into the air. So, it allows for better water use management too. If you water in the middle of day you loose a lot of the water (you just paid for) as it simply disappears into the hot air. It also gives your plants a chance to soak up water that helps them get through a hot day! On those 90 degree plus weeks (when we actually have day after day of hot) I water at night so the plants can have a full night to soak up the water. Those nights it usually stays warm anyway. ONLY water at night in the NW when you have a plot in direct sun and it's been above say 90 degrees for at least 3 days in a row!

I plant my zucchini first, fall squash later.


Winter's Winning

As expected, Spring is raining down hard on Winter.
Winter clutches Spring tight in the morning and late at night.
I know the ending to this story, but it feels like Winter just might win.


The Urban Farm Lost a Family Member

We got back from Mexico around 1:30 AM this morning. Porter was excited to see us and the bunny just hung out in her box. It was extremely strange to walk into our bedroom and not see Booger peeking her head out from her post. We've taken few trips longer than a few days over the years and this was our first week-long trip since our honeymoon in 2006. With a little mini-zoo of animals and a pretty large garden, it's been hard to do. Each time we plan a trip, three-quarters of the stress has been finding the right housesitter - one willing to take on the job.

Summer is a hard time to leave as the garden needs careful attention to water and heat. We simplified the job a bit by using a small irrigation system that only requires you to turn on the spigot right outside the back door. That said, you still have to know when to turn it on and how long to run it.

We use a lot of passive cooling and heating for the house too and that takes a bit of practice. In the summer, you have to open the windows at just the right time during the evening to let in the cool night air. The right combination of windows helps also. You have to leave the shades closed until the sun passes the windows and the exterior shades need to be pulled up when the sun goes down to let the breeze pass. If it rains, you have to pull up the shades too as they are bamboo. In the winter it's easier, just keep the shades drawn unless there's sunshine. The rest we do with a gas furnace and soon I hope we'll get a new wood stove.

There are all sorts of other minor things that we do regularly, but a housesitter doesn't have to do. Compost can just go down the garbage disposal so no cheese or meat accidentally get added to the pile for instance. Compost tea doesn't have to be applied regularly to the garden and not at all in the winter.

Then there's the pets. The rabbit box is pretty easy if you just add a handful of hay each day. Jovi makes up a second box that's ready to be used and the housesitter just has to switch this out once. I mean, changing it every other day would be even better, but this works just fine. PB does like to try to sneak under the bed though and this can wake you out of the deepest sleep so you have to keep the door closed.

The dog requires a person with a regular schedule or we have to hire a dog walker to let him out to poo in the evening. He is a pain in the butt to any would be late sleeper so our housesitter has to be OK with getting up around 6:30 for early morning pee time. He likes to test the resolve of "substitute teachers" too.

I can't tell you how many eager potential housesitters have had to decline because of an allergy to one of our pets.

In the past four years, we've had to juggle subcutaneous fluids too for Booger. With kidney failure, she's required these every 3-4 days. We often pushed it to a week and she lived well past the maximum predicted life-span of 3 years. We were told most cats die within a year or two of a similar diagnosis.

We also had to move her into one room completely dog free. This ended up being our bedroom as I had tried not allowing her to sleep with me when she was younger and wasn't going there again. When she was about 3 years old I tried for over a month to shut her out at night. Each night she would fling her body against my bedroom door over and over periodically throughout the night. I gave up on an allergy-free bedroom and we slept together every night after that.

Not every pet sitter is willing to sleep in the same room with smelly canned cat food and a litter box. Not every housesitter is willing to share a bed with tiny bits of food and cat litter that work their way into the bed over the week. Or to feed a kitty 4 times a day and mix it with just the right amout of water.

Over the last two years, as Booger developed a heart murmer and hyperthyroidism, I worried each time I left for a few days that something would happen to her while I was gone. It was with great relief that I returned each time to find her meowing for some food and to her insistence that I sit down so she could curl up on my lap.

When we booked our trip to Mexico over 7 months ago, I really never thought that Booger would still be alive when we left. I hoped so much that she would just go in her sleep sometime. That I would come home to find her happily curled on her heating pad or that I would wake up to find her gone in my arms in her sleep. I waited for signs that she was ready, everyone had told me I would know when it was time. She would have a day of being a little disoriented and I would think, "OK in the next few days." Then she would turn around and seem just fine - I mean climbing an upright queen mattress fine.

Over the last couple of months I had to make two unplanned trips back to Missouri. My mom went in for a colectomy on short notice and I flew home for that. I ended up being gone for a week and with my mom being diagnosed with stage three colon cancer. Six weeks later I met my mom and dad in Houston for a second opinion. This entire time I kept thinking, "Now's the time I need you most kitten." I knew she was OK because she at least had Jovi to cuddle with and Jovi would watch her closely.

You see, Booger has never really been just another one of the pets or an animal on our mini-farm. I guess this is one of the perils of an urban farm. As a kid, our pets weren't allowed in the house. We didn't snuggle with them at night. I remember watching our old dog Barney die naturally in our front yard. I was there with him and my brother and I buried him with my dad's help. It just seemed natural. I was sad, but it was his time. Booger, on the other hand, was an extension of my own self. She was my constant companion through my entire adult life up until now.

She weathered college parties, various boyfriends, a string of extra roommates, roommates leaving, move after move. She was there through my first marriage, my divorce, the loss of part of my vision. At one of the worst times in my life, when I would sleep for hours in the middle of the day, she was right there by my side. She wouldn't budge. I don't mean this in the way that a cat wants heat and any lap will do. I mean, she would chase people away from me and would hover over me as if to protect me and comfort me. She was on my lap as a wrote or read for countless hours all through grad school. She was with me when I met Jovi and came out. She moved to Portland and put up with having a new cat added to the house and then a rabbit and then a dog of all things.

Anyway, when we were planning a housesitter for our trip to Mexico, I grew increasingly worried about how Booger would deal with this trip. It was hard on her when we even just left for the afternoon. If she thought we were gone, I would hear her howling in her room. I couldn't bear the thought of her being held by someone else at the end of her life. I also couldn't bear the thought of making someone else choose if it were the right time to let her go. As we came to the week before our trip, I worried this would just be too much for her or any pet sitter.

I returned from Houston on a Tuesday night. On Saturday I called Dove Lewis to make arrangements for her care should she need to come in while we were gone. When they described their "living room like" setting and told me that one of them would hold her if the pet sitter didn't want to, I knew this wasn't right.

Saturday ended up being a beautiful day and Booger and I hung out together all morning. After the call to Dove Lewis, I opened the door to our deck and Booger, Jovi and I hung out for about an hour in the sun. Booger seemed extremely happy. She investigated the BBQ and entire deck. She sat in my lap several times. While she was walking around, I saw how often she sort of lost her footing. That night we slept together as always, me on my side and her stretched out across my arm with her head on my pillow and her face up to mine.

Sunday morning, she woke me up really early. She'd been eating and she slowly laid across my chest. She put her chin up close to me and meowed in a way she never had before. She sounded tired and uncomforable. I really felt like she was telling me she was ready, that it was time. Afterwards, she got back under the sheets and kept rubbing her chin against mine and purring. Eventually I had to get up to go to the bathroom and she bit me when I did. She left a bruise and a scratch that I'm honestly hoping will scar. When I came back into the bedroom, she was in her post, on her heating pad. I told Jovi it was time.

That morning we went to Dove Lewis together, the three of us and two of us came home.

Jovi and I left for Mexico two days later. I didn't really want to go. Jovi pulled me out of bed in time to catch the flight and reassured me we needed it.

Well, our trip to Mexico was the first time in a long time that I at least knew that Booger wasn't missing us, wasn't lonely without her cuddle partner. Seeing old friends and keeping busy with new sights helped. Our pet sitter had one less little one to worry about it and well, I know it will be easier to go at least on short local trips now.

Our house is so quiet now though. I sit here typing without a kitty trying to lay across my arms. No extra typing from her errant paws. No meowing from the bedroom for me to come snuggle some more. I know someday I will stop looking for her outside my morning shower, her waiting there for a daily drink of shower water. I know sometime I will not lay in bed at night waiting for her to come paw at the covers or my face. I know I won't listen late at night for the tapping of her paws. I know I'll be able to look into the refrigerator without looking for her food. I know I'll be able to sit on the couch with a good book and not wait for her to join me. Nineteen years is a long time.


Urban Advantage

OK so thank god for close by grocery stores, thai restaurants, mexican fast food, and close by rabbit food. Some weeks I have no menu and no groceries and I can get by with that. I want to end up in the country again, preferably on the coast, but there are advantages to living in the burbs.


My Basic Garden Knowledge for Spring

Heather, this is for you : )

First off, my thumb is sort of brownish green. Here's the thing. I kill a lot of plants, but I look at like what I've read photographers say they do. You take a thousand photos to get one good picture. I figure I'll kill a bunch of plants, but I'll get a few really good ones and I'll learn along the way. The real reason I garden is that I LOVE playing in the dirt and this seems to be one of the few ways we get to do that as adults. If I get some yummy veggies in the process, well that's icing on the cake. (Wait, that's the cake with the icing... I like icing better than cake so the veggies are the cake and the dirt playing is the icing.)

There are a few things I've learned from all my messing with our little plot over the last few years. Heather asks if she should be planting already so, in my typical fashion, you get ALL my advice : ) Here it is in a nutshell:

We live in the Pacific Northwest so there are a few things that don't take much effort to grow year round. Now, that said, you have to get a feel for your particular "microclimate". For instance, if you are on the coast, it's a little milder there all year and you might get away with planting even earlier than me in Portland. However, if you are in the coast range, you probably have a very short growing season as you're at higher elevation and with a little less daylight each year. Bottom line, plant a little bit and see how it does! Just don't plant all your seed and then you can replant a few weeks later if everything dies.

I think I've been waiting way too late each year to plant and I'm learning that I should actually prepare my beds in the fall rather than the spring - ie till in all the dead plants in the fall so they can compost into the soil over winter. If you didn't do that last fall, like me, then as soon as you have a couple of dry sunny days get out there and work up the soil - getting it ready to plant. If your soil clumps together or you can even squeeze out water - then DON'T do it. It'll dry into a brick the next sun you get.

Right now it's cold season planting. Look on your seed packs, it will tell you what the ground temp should be to plant. Remember that the ground temp is always warmer than the air temp as it holds in the heat better, especially if you have raised beds. Your beds also don't have to be contained in anything - they don't have to have a wooden frame or anything fancy like that. You can just dig a "grave" - piling the dirt up to the side and, voila, the pile you leave is your raised bed! This is what we do every few years in our fenced garden.

Here's what seems to be doing well in our garden - so far, but I haven't seen it in a few days - lettuce, radishes and chard. I think peas will be good soon and we've tried broccoli too. I am also realizing that I've been waiting way too late to plant peas in particular. They like it cold. Speaking of peas, inoculant is a little expensive, but it does really seem to help and a little goes a long way.

I also put out little cat food cans (well cleaned) with cheap beer in them all over the garden. This seems to be working with the slugs, but you have to top it off when it gets low or it rains a ton. You bury the cans in the soil so that just about the top 1/4 of an inch is above the soil. The slugs go in but they don't come out. This is VERY important to do while it's still pretty rainy out - the slugs LOVE this weather and they will eat all your baby plants.

If you buy perpetual chard this year, you may never need to buy the seed again. Mine has self sown for three years, maybe four in a row.

I have also heard that planting garlic and onions throughout the garden will deter some pests. I'm trying that, but have no idea if that really works. We like garlic and onions so why not! If you plant them right now, it's a good time to do it, you won't have them this year, but maybe next year. Oh, salad onions/green onions though can be planted now and throughout the summer and you'll have them this year. Chives too.

Lastly, if the temp is going to drop at night below freezing or if you're going to have ice, you want to protect the plants. I've heard you can even just put a sheet over your bed for the night. Or take some of that window plastic and make a "cloche" or a cover for the bed.

OK, that's it for spring knowledge. Like I said, pretty basic!


It's spring and I refuse to believe otherwise...

Jovi and I have adopted a new "urban farm" marriage survival plan this year. We will play one weekend; work around the house the next. The deck project last year had us tied up almost every nice weekend, frantically trying to complete the thing. Of course, half the battle was figuring out what we were doing - a good plan is a good thing.

Another piece of the battle was a nasty case of strep throat that plagued me for a good chunk of the nice weather. After about an hour of work, I would complain I was exhausted and retire to the couch for a two hour nap. We both thought I was just being lazy and trying to get out of the damn project. It wasn't until a visit to the doctor for what I was absolutely certain was a sinus infection, that we discovered I had strep. Of course the summer also started with a minor foot surgery for me too and that slowed us down much more than we had anticipated.

This year we are starting out fresh and with a fail-safe plan to balance work and pleasure. So far, it's working out. Last weekend we spent some lazy time at the beach, the weekend before we hammered out a new garden bed and planted two of the six existing beds. The weekend before that we went for a hike at the beach. This feels much more balanced and so far, we've gotten along pretty well too! No more bickering over projects and staying in bed until mid-morning dreading work on the urban farm.

Oh, I should also mention, we've taken to working on separate projects. Jovi actually built the new garden bed and I prepared and planted the two existing beds... The garden bed went 10 times faster than any other project and no disagreements over exactly how we should do it! It's a pretty cool bed too. Jovi used boards from our old deck... a little ironic no?


Winter Kicked Fall Out

Winter came into town a few weeks ago
Sent Fall into a tizzy
They argued back and forth for a month
Winter smothered Fall with a blanket of snow.