Family Road Trip: 1200 Km. in 48 Hours!

April 18, 2012 at 7:18 pm (goings-on, travel) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Leaving Friday night around our usual dinner time, we thought we’d eat on the road and our ten-month-old baby would just zonk out the rest of the way.  That night, he proved to be a rather unsettled car-sleeper, waking and crying often, us wondering if we were out of our minds to be attempting a whirlwind road trip with two kids.  Our six-year-old daughter pulled out a loose tooth about five minutes into the drive and had nothing for the blood save Mommy’s scarf.  Finally, with the kids both sleeping in the car, Mom and Dad had some quiet time on the road in which to discuss the wisdom of Mom committing to an unpaid (and therefore technically illegal, I’ve learned) farm internship for which she had interviewed that afternoon.  We pulled into Tumwater, WA (outside Olympia) well after midnight and, as if there wasn’t enough to do to before bed, Mom had to will herself to stay up long enough to play Tooth Fairy (good thing our rummaging for American cash before leaving the house had resulted in exactly $1 bill).

The Interstate was great for making good time to this point; now we hit the back roads.  Saturday morning we drove west toward Aberdeen.  To Raymond and South Bend–oyster capital of the world or something–and south to Astoria, OR, a beautifully run down town I could totally live in except that it’s just about too hilly for biking.  Drove for a bit admiring the old houses and downtown buildings.  Stopped at a coffeehouse in a restored old building under the bridge that had originally been a Finnish meat shop.  We needed wi-fi and we needed to ask a local where to get a memory card for our camera (can’t leave home without leaving something important behind).  Found a Walgreen’s, then headed to Cannon Beach, where Ellie got a kite, purchased from Mr. Cherry Garcia himself at the Kite Factory.

Found a playground.  Flew the Mermaid kite way up high while Henry crawled in the sand looking for tasty morsels to stick in his mouth.  Puzzled over the scene at the end of The Goonies where the ship comes out from behind Haystack Rock, which appears to be to the right, but in reality is to the left.  Ate fish ‘n chips.  Got salmon jerky.  Back in Astoria, we found the Goonies House overlooking the Columbia River where sea lions barked loudly.

Both kids asleep in the car, we drove the twisty, mountain roads once again looking at all the old houses, some beautifully restored to their Victorian colors, most not, most sagging and peeling.  Found a park with a merry-go-round, Mom insisting that Ellie get to experience the thrill of an authentic, high-speed merry-go-round like I haven’t seen since I was a kid.  The prevalence of blond hair on the playground gives away the town’s Scandinavian roots.  The Lewis and Clark expedition was stuck at Dismal Nitch (back on the WA side of the Columbia) for a week; not us–we stretched our legs, looked at the map, and decided, despite the late hour, to forge on to Long Beach, which was the original destination of our trip.  On the way, we got gas at a country bait store where the pumps were so old the price of gas couldn’t be set higher than $3.99, so they priced it by the half-gallon.

Mermaid, the kite, came with us as we strolled the boardwalk and saw an immature grey whale skeleton, “rearticulated.”  Henry learned to fall easily asleep in the car by this point.  Missed Marsh’s Free Museum, which Dad remembered going to as a kid and being freaked out by “Jake the Alligator Man” (maybe another time…).  Treated the kids to McDonald’s PlayPlace in Raymond since we’d never do it here.  Got a Big Mac.  Gross.

Back to Tumwater to sleep, Ellie so excited about bunk beds in the suite.  First thing Sunday morning, Big Box store the only place open to get swimsuits.  While Mommy and Ellie swam, Henry got a real crib nap, Daddy got to ‘relax.’  Checked out, went to Olympia Waterfront…

…got marjoram, peppermint, and bay laurel tree, cumin raw milk cheese (de-lish!), pink poodle balloon animal, and Mexican food for lunch at Farmer’s Market.  Saw port, state capitol view, decided Olympia waterfront leaves much to be desired as far as sight-seeing goes.  Henry had first ice cream.

To Snoqualmie Falls, which appears in the intro to the early ’90’s show Twin Peaks; the hiking trail was closed.  After studying the map there, Mom convinced Dad we should drive to Meadowbrook Farm Preserve, which we never found, but serendipitously came across Twede’s Cafe (exterior also used in Twin Peaks), which hosted a nice fan wall, and a motel that was also filmed for Twin Peaks.  Drove by Railway Museum, Dad realizing miles down the road that the old railroad cars had also made an appearance in the show… and that spontaneity can be fun.

Hit the road for Seattle, then north for Vancouver.  Little hold-up at the Border, but no problems bringing my undeclared plants into Canada.   Got home so late, I should have just gone straight to bed, but checked email instead, and was surprised to find (because I hadn’t expected him to be so prompt about it) an offer for a paying position at a really cool new store, The Homesteader’s Emporium.  So much for that unpaid internship!  I went to bed that night absolutely elated from the thrill of the trip followed by the excitement of this great news!  What a weekend!


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Gardening in the Off-Season

April 10, 2012 at 4:11 am (Other)

Success with winter gardening!

Until this past year, the only winter gardening I’d done was inadvertent, like a few years back when I left a chard plant to wither with the first frost and, much to my surprise, spring warmth brought a fresh flourishing of young leaves.

Hoping it wasn’t just luck that first time, I decided last summer to plant some cold-tolerant veggies to see if they would over-winter and produce an early spring harvest.  The verdict?  Not surprisingly since they’re all in the notoriously hardy brassica family, the broccoli, cabbage, and kale withstood cold temperatures and frost the best.  Starting them a few weeks earlier in summer would mean bigger plants going into the winter when growth all but ceases and, therefore, bigger plants at the time of spring flowering.

Maybe steaming it in the microwave wasn't the most dignified treatment of this broccoli that we waited eight months to eat, but it was delicious nonetheless.

The chard, arugula, and spinach, despite having more tender leaves, were also able to shrug off a light frost; some leaves were lost when temperatures dipped more than a couple degrees below zero.  Arugula grows particularly well in cold temperatures, forming beautifully compact plants that we ate from for months before they showed any sign of bolting, which was around January.  Soon we’ll be having garden-fresh salads with arugula and kale blossoms on top!

My big regret is that I’m not getting to enjoy the purple sprouting broccoli that I planted last year.  Not realizing that it is a biennial plant, I thought it wasn’t producing flowers last year because of a nutritional imbalance (too much nitrogen?) and since all three plants had contracted a raging case of aphids that I didn’t want spreading around the garden, I decided to remove them.  I soon learned the error in my thinking and now that I see purple broccoli sprouting in other people’s gardens, I am kicking myself for being so impatient.

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Maw-Maw On My Mind: A Garden Update

April 8, 2012 at 5:07 am (Gardening, permaculture) (, , , , , , , , )

Despite the news of the impending sale of our house to a commercial property development company, the glorious springtime weather has us out in the garden almost daily.  In the last few days, I have added aged manure to the garden beds and greenhouse.  Every bed has received a nice layer of straw to protect from spring rains and drying winds.  The apple trees, blueberries, and strawberries (all in containers so they can go with us when we have to move) were top-dressed with manure.

An afternoon of sun showers and hail storms followed a morning of potato planting.

The night before last, I noticed a full moon, big and low in the sky.  I wanted to get potatoes in the ground to test Maw-Maw’s theory about planting root crops with the waning moon.  For above-ground crops, Maw-Maw only plants when the moon is in the sign of Cancer.  She says that’s what her father used to do.  He wouldn’t have called himself a biodynamic farmer or anything so new-agey; he was the heir to a long tradition of farming and he knew when to plant by simply looking at the stars in the night sky.

Without knowing the word, I bet my great-grandfather would’ve grasped the concept of hugelkultur.  My hugel bed is coming along nicely now.  So far, I’ve transplanted the lupins I started inside to the hugel bed, as well as some oregano and thyme.  On one side I sowed quinoa and the millet seeds I saved last year, in hopes that these grass-like plants will grow quickly and spread their roots to hold the mound in place.  Later, I’ll plant some sprawling tomatoes on the mound, which will benefit from the warmth reflected off the garage wall.

An old baby gate will serve as a trellis for the tayberry. The wire fencing, visible on the left, extends 8-10 ft. out of the picture and will provide support for shelling peas as well as a little privacy from the busy back lane.

Of course, the garden really begins in the basement, where last year we set up 4 ft. tube fluorescent lights for starting seeds on some built-in shelves.  The part of the basement where the seedlings live stays around 60 degrees F., which is fine for starting most seeds of flowers, herbs, lettuces, and brassicas (broccoli family).  But, heat-loving plants like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant germinate best when the temperature is closer to 70 degrees.  In the past, I have germinated these types of seeds by precariously balancing their trays on the fluorescent light fixtures themselves to make use of any wasted heat.  This year, I have moved and rebuilt a shelving unit to make use of the heat given off by the gas furnace.

The exhaust pipe from the furnace blasts these shelves with wasted heat every time the heater comes on, keeping this area a few degrees warmer than the rest of the room.

Next up: starting seeds for all the heat-loving crops to be transplanted when it really warms up outside.  And, as if it isn’t enough for me to handle this whole garden by myself, I’ve gotten in touch with some other moms at my daughter’s school to form a garden committee to clean up and maintain the Children’s Garden.  Thursday, after spending the whole morning at UBC Farm helping with the kids in the Landed Learning project, I spent the afternoon pruning the severely overgrown apple trees at our school.  Ideally, it would’ve been done when the trees were dormant, so we’ll be losing some flowers this year, but it really needed to get done and I hope no one complains.  Maybe when we’re asked to leave this house and our beloved garden, the Children’s Garden could be the recipient of many plant donations by me…

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Just Sold…

April 7, 2012 at 3:49 am (Gardening, permaculture, Vancouver) (, , , )

My post about life in a dying house could not have been more timely.  Soon after writing that piece, in which I mused on the implications of Vancouver’s rapid gentrification and the supreme irony of practicing permaculture on a site slated for commercial redevelopment, I discovered that our property has been sold.

Did my landlord inform me of this?  No, I had to do some sleuthing to tease out the truth.  Some strange things had occurred recently that started to add up to a major tip-off.  First, a few months back, I saw from my kitchen window two men, looking very white-collar, stopped in the backlane; they seemed to be discussing and photographing something in my direction.  I went to get my shoes so I could run out and ask them what they were doing, but when I got outside, they were gone.  I told myself it was the condo building above that they were pointing out, because I didn’t want to think otherwise.

Not long after that, I saw a two-man survey team working in the back lane.  Once again, by the time I got back there, they were walking off around the corner of the far end of the block.  From back inside, I saw them get into a City of Vancouver Engineering Services van, so I told myself they couldn’t have anything to do with a private property deal.  I really wanted to ignore the red flags, because I love this house and I want to live in it as long as possible, even though I know (and have known since signing the lease) that our time here would be limited.

I got really suspicious when, for a third time, I looked out my kitchen window and saw a strange man walking through my garden.  When I asked what he was doing and if he was sent by the company that owns the house, he explained that he was from a third-party “environmental company” checking for a buried heating oil tank.  He was evasive about who sent him but, when pressed for information about the property development process, he indicated that oil tank removal is a prerequisite for obtaining financing.  I assumed this meant that the current owners intended to finally do something with the property.

The following day, I asked the neighbor if he knew what was going on, since our houses are both owned by the same company.  The neighbor said that one of his bums said they saw an ad for our two houses for sale on-line.  I immediately googled it and, sure enough, a realtor’s website came up with a photo of both houses under the banner “Just Sold!”  The price tag?  $1,700,000!

The current landlord says he was going to tell us as soon as the sale went through.  Now I realize the inspection required for financing was not being sought by the current owners for building, it was part of deal to sell the property altogether.  We’ve been told that, even if the new owners want to move right away to demolish and rebuild, it takes at least a year for permits to go through and plans to be approved by the city.  We’ll see what they say in May; that’s when the deal is supposed to close.

In the meantime, I’ll garden like there is a tomorrow.

I placed an order for manure and straw bales to be delivered just days before I discovered that our house was sold. No time to ponder the loss: I'm going to get the most out of this year's garden since it may be the last.

I added a healthy dose of composted manure to the garden beds and a layer of fresh straw to protect the soil surface from compacting and drying out. Already, I've sown seeds for salad greens, carrots, radishes, fennel, spinach, collards, and kale.

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