How time flies…

November 7, 2009 at 7:29 pm (environment, food, Gardening, permaculture) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Is it really November already?  Seems like just last week the tomato vines were laden with heavy ripe fruit and we were eating garden-fresh salads daily… oh, and it wasn’t raining every dang day!

Yes, November is one of the wettest months in Vancouver, so when the sun is out we have to make good use of it.  Already this month I’ve dug up two patches of the front lawn for new veggie garden beds.  One, the garlic bed, is about 15′ x 2′ and it’s up against the hedge row on the east side of the house where it will get good sun for much of the morning and mid-day hours.  After two beautifully sunny days of working on this project–removing all that grass, and digging in 3 very full 5-gallon buckets of compost into the top 10-12″ of soil–Day 3 saw rain, rain, and more rain.  Nevertheless, I trudged out to the yard in full rain gear to plant 54 of the largest cloves of garlic I could get my hands on.  I finished off with a layer several inches thick of decaying leaves collected from my own yard, my neighbor’s yard, and even the street.  About the garlic, some 20 cloves are a hardneck type called Music that I purchased from one of my favorite Farmer’s Market vendors–Brian from Sheffield Farm.  The rest are supermarket garlic–smaller, less pungent, but guaranteed to be organically-raised and as local as you can get.  I know, I know, 54 heads of garlic sounds like a lot, and maybe it is, but I’d rather have too much than too little.  It’s fun to share!

Besides, I was inspired to try growing enough for a whole year when I recently attended a workshop on the long-term storage of raw foods like squash, pumpkins, onions, garlic, potatoes, tubers and root vegetables.  The class focused on how to cure veggies for storage and how to decide where to store them so that they receive appropriate amounts of moisture, warmth, light or dark–just as you decide where to plant what in the outdoor garden based on the “micro-climate” of a given spot (how much sun it gets, how well-drained the soil is, or whether the spot is warm and protected from wind due to a nearby wall, for instance).  The workshop, taught by Robin Wheeler (whose book Food Security For the Faint of Heart I devoured in a matter of days and ultimately got her to autograph!) was a nice complement to my recent interest in other types of food preservation such as canning and drying.  This summer saw my first rough attempts at hot water bath canning.  I did some whole, peeled tomatoes, tomato sauce, applesauce (from some beautiful Ambrosia and Gala apples obtained at the Farmer’s Market), huckleberry jam (a failure due to bad recipe calling for waaaaay too much sugar), blueberry-rhubarb jam (a winner), and spicy dill pickles.  I love the look of all those colorful jars up on the kitchen shelf and the feeling, not just of security and comfort knowing it’s all there waiting to be eaten, but of satisfaction and pride in having put it all by, all by myself:)

Oh yes, back to the garden work I’ve been up to… The other new bed that I created in the front yard is a large round area tucked up against the west side of the porch stairs, a perfect spot, some would say, for some lovely ornamentals and perhaps a colorful flower border.  But not me!  I transplanted my rhubarb crowns there and look forward to seeing their bright red stems and broad green leaves displayed next to the lilac bushes, tucked in with the perennials as if they belong there–and they do!

Since I’m renting, I’ve inherited a yard that is well-planted, but somewhat over-landscaped (for my tastes and purposes) in bushes, bulbs, and ornamentals.  My plan is not to commit to any major earth-works and not to invest too much time and effort in tearing stuff up and starting over, but to work with what I have, even if it means that I end up mixing veggie plants and berry bushes into the established perennial borders.  In fact, maybe the result will be all the better for being nice-looking as well as edible.  Edible landscapes are a recent phenomenon, you know… As an aside, I picked up a circa-1970’s gardening book from a thrift store over the summer and I was amazed (in a horrified kind of way) and kind of saddened to see the vegetable gardens all tucked away in hidden, unused corners where they do not detract from the look of the landscaped yard.  Interesting how times have changed…

Other stuff that’s changed since last I wrote–I know, I know, I’ve been really bad about updating this blog lately…  Well, I completed my yoga teacher training program at the end of June and taught two classes over the summer.  The first was nerve-wracking; the second went so smoothly and the response from my students was so positive, it was a major confidence booster.  I came out of that class feeling like I had really achieved something and had really made a major transformation from the beginning of the training program to the end.  I still don’t know if I want to pursue being a yoga teacher as a profession; that was never really my intention in deciding to enter the program.  I wanted to challenge myself to do it for the deeper understanding of yoga philosophy and physiology, as well as to push myself into a deeper commitment to my own yoga practice.  Unfortunately, summer visits, trips and the lack of free time due to no more Happy Hands for Eleanor have all conspired against my sustaining a regular yoga practice and, because I feel out of practice myself, I do not feel like I’m in a position to teach.  However, I’m trying to get back into a regular practice and I have noticed in the brochure of classes offered in the new community center that there’s no one teaching a mom-and-tot yoga class or a class for moms with child-minding available (it was for want of these types of programs when Eleanor was a toddler that I first got it into my head that I could become a teacher and offer them myself), so we’ll see what the following year holds…

Deciding to do the yoga teacher training program in December of last year also held out the hope of possibly being employable if Stephen’s job ended up taking us to Switzerland, where his boss was and presumably still is trying to start up an office.  Well, I don’t know if you all have noticed, but the economy hasn’t been that great lately and financial services companies have been especially hard hit.  Stephen’s employers are apparently doing just fine, but certain things like opening offices in Switzerland have taken the back burner for now.  That’s okay, though.  Stephen has decided that he wants to go back to UBC and complete his PhD.  He can continue working for his current employer nearly full-time and incorporate his work-work into the work he’ll be doing for the PhD so he can continue to be paid as he currently is and we can consider ourselves settled for the foreseeable future–which is a good thing for me since I just went to all the trouble of digging up two new garden beds and I’m sprouting asparagus from seed this winter and I won’t be able to harvest it for at least two years!

Here’s a thought…  Renters are hesitant to do much in-ground gardening and they certainly don’t bother to plant things like berry bushes and apple trees that take years to produce their first crop, mainly because they regard their adobes as temporary shelter, they know it’s only a matter of time before they move on and they don’t want to make long-term investments of which they’ll never reap the benefits.  Imagine, though, if every renter who felt that way went ahead and planted those long-yielding perennials anyway.  Then, every time they move, they wouldn’t have to mourn the loss of those raspberry canes or that strawberry patch, because they’d have fresh blueberries, and an established, productive asparagus patch to look forward to.  It would take a change of attitude on the part of renters everywhere: namely, to stop thinking of their gardens in terms of what it produces for them, or how much money it saves them, or that it’s even “their” garden.  A garden does not serve the gardener.  A garden is self-creative and self-renewing; planting one and cultivating it is a service to the earth and to one’s community.  Renters should go ahead and plant anything and everything that strikes their fancy, knowing that they’ve done their small part to heal a little piece of earth (and more, the more they frequently they move) and that one day down the road many, many people will enjoy the benefits of their labor, as as they themselves will go on to enjoy the benefits of someone else’s labor at their new place… Just a thought…

In other news, Eleanor’s doing great.  She’s as smart as a whip and very clever, too.  She’s got a real sense of humor these days and, though she doesn’t shy away from poot jokes, she’s also very mature for her age.  She’s in a combined three- and four-year-old preschool class for two hours two days a week.  Her favorite thing to do at preschool is dress up in the beautiful dress-up clothes.  She’s a real girly-girl.  She was also doing ballet and gymnastics once a week and a program called Happy Hands, which is just like preschool, all at the community center.  The center has been slated to move into a new location for a long, long time and the time had finally come… or so we thought.  The old center closed and took reservations already for classes at the new center, but they’ve just informed us that construction delays at the new center have held up the move once again, so everything is canceled for the rest of the year.  Boo hoo…  That community center was like a second home for me when Eleanor was young and we were new to Vancouver and to parenthood.  I started taking her there when she was just a baby; I met a lot of my neighbors and other moms there; Eleanor’s practically grown up at the tot gym there… and now it’s all over… and we’re stuck waiting around for the new center to open.  The new center will be very nice and I like that it has a library in it and it will be easier to get to from our new house.  In the meantime, Eleanor and I have been forced to find other things to do on the days that she doesn’t have preschool.  We’re discovering free drop-in playgroups and strong start learning centers all over the place.  Vancouver’s publicly-funded services for families cannot be beat!

Well, there’s a lot more I could write about.  Seeing as I haven’t blogged in well over half a year, I have a lot of catching up to do.  Knowing myself, I won’t make promises to be back often and fill in all the details of the summer months or recent projects taken up around here, but I’ll do my best.  Even if I never get into the habit of blogging about everything that goes on in my life, I would like to share more of my thoughts and philosophical ideas about the world and what in it is important to me–my family, community, good food, the environment, my garden, sustainability, politics… I could go on and on and on…

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Cute Stuff Eleanor Says

July 6, 2008 at 3:38 pm (Eleanor) (, , )

Lately, the Eleanor-isms have gotten so precious, I can’t stand the thought that one day I’ll forget them all.  There’s the just-plain-cute stuff, like yesterday when she told me she loves cats… especially Mouthy!  Then, there’s the stuff she says all the time, like:

She calls everything “awesome, cool.”  As in, “Momma, watch me turn on my awesome, cool new night light!”

She always answers yes/no questions with an exaggerated “Sure, why not?” 

She follows “good-bye” with “See you to-mario-day!”

Her favorite mantra: “Suck, suck, suck on a lollipop.”

Her imaginary friends, so far, include: Hippy Andre, Ticca and Dicca (twin rats), and Da-Da-Doo.

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Saturday was “Family Fun Day” for real

February 5, 2008 at 6:15 pm (goings-on, Other) (, , , )

Last Saturday was only the second day since returning from our Christmas holiday that Stephen and I have had a day off work together. He, of course, works Monday through Friday and I work, well, sporadically, but it just happened that I had to work Saturday and Sunday of the previous three weekends, leaving little to no family fun time. So, needless to say, having Saturday off together for a much needed “family fun day” was much anticipated. We had everything planned out so that we wouldn’t waste a minute of the day:

Bright and early–well Eleanor generally sleeps in until about 9, so it wasn’t that early–we set out for a great little place called The Little Nest. It’s a funky and very family-friendly little cafe on the Drive that features yummy, healthy food for adults and kids alike, using sustainable and organic ingredients! They open at 9 and we got there around 9:30 so as not to be the first but early enough to get one the primo tables right beside the kids’ play area. The food was great, the coffee was great, the wait was great! It’s the only place I know of where you can go with a small child and just let them run around and play while you have a leisurely adult conversation over coffee. And, the price is extremely reasonable for what you get, including a little peace. This was the second time we’d gone to The Little Nest with Eleanor (I don’t think anyone goes there without kids, it’s so crazy) and the first time, it was so packed it was only by dint of a miracle of timing that we ended up with a table beside the play area. We will definitely be going back there, but early.

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So, then we took a stroll up Commercial Drive. We stopped in a pet store because I can’t go by a pet store without looking at the fish. I think this stems from rainy days with my grandmother–she would take me and my brother and cousins to the mall to “hang out” and one of the places we always went in the mall was the pet store where there was a darkened nook lined with aquariums, the only light being the bluish glow from the water. Anyway, this store just happened to be running a sale–45% off!–on the very water test kits I’ve been in need of. It was truly a lucky day!

So, then, we headed off to Science World! For Christmas, my mother was kind enough to give us a gift certificate for a one-year family membership and we thought we were going to hold off until somebody’s upcoming 2nd birthday, but we couldn’t resist. It was, after all, “family fun day.” At first it seemed that it was going to be a little over Eleanor’s head, despite what I’d heard from other tot-gym moms, because there were tables with brainy puzzles and games that even Stephen and I couldn’t figure out (luckily, they have staff wondering around offering clues). Then, we wandered into a room with some turtles, snakes, and bugs on display (in cages, of course) and Eleanor thought crawling through the fake beaver dam was way cool, especially because it had a stuffed beaver she could pet. She wasn’t scared of it, which is surprising because she was scared of the plastic blue heron in the pet store. Then, in the next room, we really had some fun…

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That last picture is of Eleanor looking amazed at the ball she just threw into a current of water. I’m not really sure of the scientific principle on display here, but this particular exhibit had all the toddlers in histerics. The cool thing about Science World is that, for kids this age, it doesn’t even have to be sciencey, it’s just plain fun! And, now that we have a membership and it won’t cost us an arm and a leg to get in, we can go back whenever we want. It’ll be a great way for us to entertain Eleanor when it’s too cold and wet to go outside. Yay! Thanks, mom!

So, Science World really wore Eleanor out and it was nap time as soon as we got home, which Stephen and I always use to relax:) After nap time, we went to the park and played for about 10 seconds on each piece of equipment (does ADD set in so soon?) and when Eleanor got cold, which was inevitable as it was nearly freezing outside, we went to a coffee house close to home to warm up. Stephen and I relaxed, yet again, with a nice warm cuppa joe and Eleanor had the perfect child’s hot chocolate–not too hot and not too strong. With the help of a play tool set and work bench to occupy her, Stephen and I were able to relax and read the paper for nearly an hour before we had to get Eleanor home for dinner. We fed her, bathed her, read to her, and put her to bed, all with no fuss. Ahhh… And, then we ordered sushi from our favorite, Zipang… the perfect end to the perfect day!

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Thanksgiving Number Two

November 30, 2007 at 4:17 pm (goings-on, Other) (, , , , )

One of the cool things about being an American in Canada is that you get to celebrate two Thanksgivings. Actually, I didn’t realize there was a separate Canadian Thanksgiving until I moved here. The food is the same: turkey, stuffing, typical autumn harvest fare. But, Canadians only get one day off work instead of two and their Thanksgiving takes place in early October so it doesn’t have that same kicking-off-the-Holiday-season feeling as American Thanksgiving. Historically, though, the Thanksgiving celebrated by Canadians was the first ceremony to give thanks in the New World. It took place in 1578 in the colony of Newfoundland and Labrador, whereas the thanks-giving feast honored in the US first took place in the Virginia colony in 1621.

Lucky for us, Eleanor’s passport arrived just days before our slated trip to Seattle where, every year since we moved out here, we have been graciously invited to join Stephen’s aunts and uncles for Thanksgiving dinner. We’re officially an international family now with Eleanor traveling on Canadian documents. (A child’s passport in Canada was just so much easier and cheaper than jumping through the hoops we would have had to jump through to get her an American passport.) I don’t want to name the border crossing that we use, lest it not be so easy-breezy getting through next time, but we go an alternate route bereft of tourists and security threats and sail through every time. Even on Thanksgiving Day, when you’d think there might be a handful of other Americans out there trying to make it down to the homeland for turkey, there was not a single car in line. Now, coming home was a different story. We sailed through going north, but even at our little out-of-the-way border crossing that nobody knows about, there was a line-up half a mile long of Canadians heading south to spend their Big Dollars (that was for you, Dad) on cheap American goods. I wondered what they were going to do–camp out in mall parking lots to be the first in the doors when the stores open at 5am?

Thanksgiving dinner was wonderful, thanks to Aunt Sandy and Uncle Wes. They do a great job every year. This year, with little Eleanor about, Sandy got to practice being a grandma and boy will she be a good one one day! She’s the chocolate and ice cream lady, the band-aid-bearing boo-boo fixer. And, she’s got drums and doesn’t care how much noise you make! Eleanor liked banging on the drum set and even made a little music on the piano. By the end of the night, Eleanor was really fond of Sandy. She wanted to be held by her and gave her a hug when we left. She was a perfect little angel.

Uncle Ralph and Aunt Ruth came over from Vashon Island. Ralph presented Eleanor with a beautiful stool that he had made years ago and left to collect dust on a shelf in his shop because he wasn’t pleased with it. He fully disclosed all of its minor imperfections, but I thought it was beautiful and it will get a lot of use by a little girl too short to reach the sink but too fastidious not to wash her hands thoroughly and frequently. (She actually requests to wash them sometimes.)

All in all, it was a really nice gathering. I only wish we could get out of the city for longer than a day at a time. But, alas, Stephen had to get back for the final presentation of his Master’s Thesis the very next day. That was yesterday, so he’s done with phase I of his graduate studies! Now on to the PhD.

And, we didn’t arrange it like this on purpose, but we actually have a two-day weekend together, so we’re going to check out the Vancouver Flea Market and a winter-harvest farmer’s market that we just heard about. Just counting down the days now until our next big adventure: Christmas in Atlanta with all the Ingrams and a chance to see my own family for a too-brief get-together!

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