Thursday, June 14, 2007

Garden Update 6/14/07

We picked the first of the beans a few days ago. We ate them raw--they were delicious.

We have zucchinis! I think the first ones will be ready to pick in a few days.

Onions are looking better. Okra is growing steadily. I think we will be able to start pulling some red beets next week. (The golden ones appear to be slower-growing.)

The basil is thriving, as are the cukes. Tomatoes are going wild all over the place. I'm beginning to think I should have practiced the one-stem method. I think it may be too late to do it now.

The melon has had a growth spurt and is now sporting many little yellow blossoms.

Tonight I am going to serve salads for dinner. The lettuces will come from my friend D's garden. From my garden, I will add basil and 4 sun sugar cherry tomatoes. I will top it all off with leftover roasted chicken and canellini beans and vinaigrette. Bliss.


Monday, June 11, 2007

Cut the shit!

I used to be a dog lover, but 15 years of living on Capitol Hill has cured me. I know I should blame the owners and not the dogs. What the hell is wrong with people that they leave their dogs’ shit lying around? The problem is especially noticeable when there is snow on the ground. Too many dog owners appear to be under the impression that dogshit will melt when the snow does.

Of course, Capitol Hill is not alone in housing selfish, short-sighted people. Georgetown is full of them, too. Last week I watched a small (leashed) dog defecate on the sidewalk in front of my son’s school and then gaped as the owner simply walked away. Incredulous, I called after her, “I hope my child doesn’t step in that.” The woman turned and said, in this helpless, whatcha-gonna-do? voice, “I didn’t bring a bag with me.” WTF? Why would you take your dog out for a walk without a bag? I looked her square in the eyes and said, sarcastically, “Nice.” Then she started digging through her purse—gee, she remembers to take her $400 purse with her when she leaves the house, but that plastic bag just slips the mind—and pulled one out, saying triumphantly, “Oh! I found one!” Like I was supposed to congratulate her for cleaning up after her pet.

Lately, you can’t swing a cat in Lincoln Park without stepping in dogshit or being run over by a dog off its leash. It makes me certifiably INSANE. Ape-shit, if you will.


Thursday, June 07, 2007

Garden Update, 6/7/07

The Sun Sugar cherry tomatoes are turning orange! I also have a few green Dona tomatoes and one green Carmen pepper.

The beans are really growing. I planted the first few squares on April 20th, and they are supposed to take ~8 weeks from sprout (or planting?) to harvest. That means we might have some beans next weekend.

The beets are almost ready—beginning in a week or so, I think.

The basil is thriving, and the oregano looks happier than it did at first. The thyme is still struggling along. The okra and nasturtiums have sprouted.

The onions are starting to look more healthy but are still small and are growing very slowly. The Minnesota midget melon is also a slow-grower so far. The zucchini, on the other hand, is like Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors--it seems to grow inches overnight and is taking over the entire corner of the garden. Looks kinda skeery, too.


Friday, June 01, 2007

Adventures in Urban Gardening

I have a new hobby: Gardening.

In the city, you ask? Why, yes. My friend K and I are working a 10 x 10 plot in a local community garden.

It’s been a lot of work getting it started. K's husband built us a raised bed with untreated lumber. Then we filled it with a mix of compost, soil, and peat moss.

Next, I planned a square foot garden. It looks something like this:










Bush beans

Bush beans









Pepper (1)










Bush beans

Bush beans


Red beets (16)

Red beets (16)

Red beets (16)

Bush beans

Bush beans



Beets (16)

Yellow beets (16)

Yellow beets


Bush beans (wax)

Bush beans (wax)


Onions (16)

Onions (16)








Zuke (1)



I ordered most of my seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds:
  • Contender (Buff Valentine) bush beans
  • Detroit Dark Red beets
  • Golden beets
  • Black Diamond cukes
  • Minnesota midget muskmelon
  • Golden zucchini
  • okra
  • some kind of wax beans

I also ordered plants from the Natural Gardening Company:

  • Tomatoes: Stupice, Sun Sugar cherry, Pruden’s Purple, San Marzano, Zapotec, Dona, and Brandywine
  • Sweet Peppers: Purple Beauty, Corno Di Toro, Ace, and Golden Summer
  • Thyme, basil, and oregano
K also scattered some nasturtium seeds along the path.

The garden layout has been a work in progress. My first error was simply one of stupidity--I didn't follow my map and planted seeds with my garden plan facing west instead of north. This wouldn’t have mattered except the square foot gardening method uses vertical climbs for tomatoes and cukes. Having those vertical climbs on the west side of the garden rather than the north side would have meant that my vertically growing plants would cast shade over their neighbors. So when it came time to plant the tomatoes, I had to pull out some bean sprouts to make room for them.

My next major mistake was instructing K to put the okra between the onions and the zucchini. I thought we had more space there. As you can see above, the okra is too close to the zucchini plant. Once the seeds sprout, we will move the seedlings to the empty squares above the beets.

Where the okra is now, we had planted lettuce seeds. These were a big bust--we only got a few lettuce sprouts, and those refused to grow. I don't know if we planted too late or if our seeds weren't good or what. Luckily, our community garden friend, D, has a bumper crop of lettuces, and she has generously shared her bounty with us.

Our onions have not done very well--they are limping along. This is a mystery, because D gave us these seedlings, and their brethren and sistren are now absolutely thriving in D's garden. But most everything else looks great. And we should have our first harvest in a few weeks: green beans and beets.

K and I take turns watering the garden. It's been so dry that it needs watering every day. I absolutely love doing this. It is so pleasant being there in the evening, just before sunset. I spend a lot of time just standing there, admiring the plants and dreaming of fresh vegies.

We still have a fair bit of work to do. We have to install a vertical climb for the tomatoes and cukes, and we have to move the okra, as I mentioned. We also will need cages for the peppers. Every 2 weeks I've been planting a few new squares of beans, and we'll continue this throught the summer so as to have a continuous harvest of beans. After we harvest the beets (which I should have staggered a la the beans, but I didn't think to do it when I planted them), we will need to plant something in those squares. We could do more beets, staggered this time, and we may use some squares for a few more beans.

I don't know how much, if any, grocery money this will save. Renting the plot costs me $50/year, and K bought the supplies to make the box and stones for the path, and I bought most of the plants and seeds and the vertical climb materials, and we will need to get pepper cages. (Of course, some of those expenses will be one-time costs.) All in all, the author of the book The $64 Tomato may have it right. But I don't care--I have discovered that I am a gardening geek.


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Betwixt and between

I have loved living in the city with small children. We live within walking distance of a supermarket, a corner grocery, a post office, a hardware store, two library branches, several drug stores, and a farmer’s market, so many errands can be accomplished without wrestling little ones in and out of the carseat. I love that exercise—walking—is integrated into the fabric of our lives. Few people think of the city as being friendly or neighborly, but I have found the city—at least this neighborhood in this city—to be far more friendly than the small town in which I was raised. (Although that could be more a function of the locations of the small town and the city in question—reserved and reclusive New England versus the relatively more open and outgoing mid-Atlantic/South.) My mother, who visits three or four times a year, often comments that she knows my neighbors better than she knows her own. I like that my kids have lots of friendly adults around. When my kids play on the sidewalk, I sit on the front steps and chat with the neighbors and nod to passersby. And I like taking them to the park to play, where there are other kids to play with and other parents for me to chat with if I so desire. In this way, I feel much less isolated living in the city than I suspect I would living elsewhere. I also am happy not to have much yard-work to attend to, happy to have reduced heating and cooling bills because our house is attached to other houses on both sides, and happy not to have to spend much time in the car. (I would love to be completely car-free but we have not found that to be practical with two kids.) I don’t really miss the lack of privacy (that is, I don’t really *feel* a lack of privacy), although I do sometimes long for solitude.

I think I will love living in the city with teenagers. There is so much for teens to do, so many places to go. Not at all like where I grew up. I will love that they can get around on public transit (bus and rail), so I won’t have to drive them everywhere. And, even better, they will have far fewer opportunities to drive with or be driven by other teenagers, unlike their suburban, exurban, and rural counterparts. LOVE THAT.

But I think living in the city with “tweeners” is going to be something of a challenge. My eldest is now the age I was when my mother started yelling things like, “It’s a beautiful day—go outside!!” and I would go. I would play in my yard or in the neighbors’ yards or out in the woods. I would ride my bike to friends’ houses or to the store. I “taught” school in my neighbor’s basement, played wiffleball in my backyard, climbed trees, wrestled with my brother in our basement family room, played kick-the-can throughout the neighborhood as twilight fell on soft summer nights. I tromped miles through the woods, waded in the creek, trudged through the snow to a local hill to sled in the wintertime. All without adult supervision. I ran wild.

Maybe nobody has a childhood like that anymore. Perhaps city kids have never had a childhood like that and haven’t missed it. But I find myself mourning that loss for my kids. Now that I have a 9-year-old, the costs of city living seem a bit higher. I want to be able to tell him to go outside and play. But we have no yard to speak of, no basement, no place where he can just hang out or knock around. His friends don’t live nearby, and the park lies on the other side of a very busy street. He’s not ready to ride his bike on city streets, and even if he were, where can a 9-year-old go? I really want to stay in the city for my future teens (and selfishly, for myself), but how do I get from here to there?


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Best Books, Part I

I've been a parent for over nine years now, and I long ago determined that my favorite part of parenting is reading aloud. I think this is because (a) I love to read, (b) I truly enjoy children's literature, (c) I love sharing my own childhood favorite books with my children, (d) reading to a child is cuddle time, and (e) I don't mind the sound of my own voice.

So I read aloud to my children quite a bit. I am lucky in that both my children enjoy being read to. I continue to read, almost every night, to my nine-year-old, who is an accomplished and avid reader in his own right. I spend a lot of time trying to find good books to read to my kids, pouring over guidebooks like The New York Times Guide to Children's Literature and Esme Raji Codell's How to Get Your Child to Love Reading. We visit the library frequently, and I spend way too much money on books. Our house is absolutely blanketed in books; books are the common decorating scheme here. We have books (and magazines, but that's fodder for another post) in absolutely every room of the house.

Through several years of trial and error, I've compiled the following list of favorite picture books. I find that we return to these favorites again and again. I love to read them and my children love to hear them. My nine-year-old still occasionally will pick some of these up and read them to himself. (Disclaimer: I don't have any daughters; perhaps having only boys has helped to shape this list.)


Favorite Picture Books

The Ant and the Elephant by Bill Peet

Benny's Had Enough by Barbro Lindgren, ill. by Olof Landstrom

The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater

Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown, ill. by Felicia Bond

Bored, Nothing to Do by Peter Spier

Brave Irene by William Steig

Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina

The Caboose Who Got Loose by Bill Peet

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett, ill. by Ron Barrett

D’Aulaire’s Greek Myths by Ingri & Edgar Parin d’Aulaire

Dinosaur Roar by Paul & Henrietta Strickland

Doctor De Soto by William Steig

Fortunately by Remy Charlip

Frederick by Leo Lionni

Freight Train by Donald Crews

Gabriella's Song by Candace Fleming, ill. by Giselle Potter

the George and Martha books by James Marshall

Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathman

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

The Hello, Goodbye Window by Norton Juster, ill. by Chris Raschka

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

June 29, 1999 by David Weisner

Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton

The Little Fireman by Margaret Wise Brown, ill by Esphyr Slobodkina

The Little Fur Family by Margaret Wise Brown, ill. by Garth Williams

The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge by Hildegarde Hoyt Swift, ill. by Lynd Ward

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

The Maggie B by Irene Haas

Max's Bath by Rosemary Wells

Mice Twice by Joseph Low

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton

Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag

A Mother for Choco by Keiko Kasza

My Very First Mother Goose by Iona Opie, ill. by Rosemary Wells

Nothing Ever Happens on My Block by Ellen Raskin

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, ill. by John Schoenherr

Pamela Camel by Bill Peet

Peek a Boo by Janet & Allan Ahlberg

People by Peter Spier

The Philharmonic Gets Dressed by Karla Kuskin, ill. by Marc Simont

Rotten Island by William Steig

Row, Row, Row Your Boat by Pippa Goodhart, ill. by Stephen Lambert

Sector 7 by David Weisner

The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman, ill. by Marla Frazee

Shrek by William Steig

The Shrinking of Treehorn by Florence Parry Heide, ill. by Edward Gorey

The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss

Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, ill. by Mary Azarian

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, ill. by Robert Lawson

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig

The Tale of Custard the Dragon by Ogden Nash, ill. by Lynn Munsinger

Tasty Baby Belly Buttons by Judy Sierra, ill. by Meilo So

Tickle, Tickle by Helen Oxenbury

Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel, ill. by Blair Lent

Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Yoko by Rosemary Wells


Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Regrets, I've had a few

The other day, Dooce opened comments on her website to ask people about their big regrets in life. My dictionary tells me that regret means to mourn the loss of or to be very sorry for. To me, that implies one can regret things beyond one's control, but I always think of regret as being related to things I could have prevented. There have been lots of things in my life that I wish hadn't happened, but that doesn't mean I could have prevented them from happening. There are also bad things that I had control over but that ended up being important learning experiences or precursors to other, happier times, so it's hard to have real regrets about those events.

Of course, I have regrets about times I was needlessly unkind to others or thoughtless of others' feelings. I have a regrettable (ha ha) tendency to speak without thinking, so I have more regrets than I should along those lines.

In terms of big life regrets, I have two. One is that I did not study abroad when I was in college. I didn’t realize then what a unique opportunity it was, that I would never again have the freedom to do such a thing. I thought I would miss too much at home by going away. The stupidity of that line of thought is truly stunning.

The other big regret of my life is that I have lost each and every one of my journals. I kept journals all through college, wonderfully detailed diaries of the ups and downs of my life during those years. Somehow they got lost in our move 12 years ago from our apartment on Connecticut Avenue to our current Capitol Hill house. Everytime I think of this loss, I could just cry. Adding insult to injury, when my parents moved to Florida 4 years ago, somehow the journal I kept in junior high (which was hidden at the bottom of a box of shoes stashed in the back of the closet in my old room) disappeared as well. It’s hard not to view this as somehow part of a vast conspiracy to rob me of my memories of teenaged angst, drunken revelry, and good old fashioned lust. And every time anyone anywhere was mean to me.