Stumped

20 Apr

Kibo and Matt CuddlesI have been trying to put pen to paper (metaphorically) all week.  However, the truth is I just don’t have it in me.  When I sit down to write, I end up obsessively checking the news or twitter instead. It has been a long, hard, emotional week, made all the worse for the crazy hormonal ride I’m on these days.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t just been the news too. Our neighborhood has produced a certain amount of drama as well.

I’m looking forward to focusing on the weekend. On some sort of closure in the news and our spring time celebration of new life (we’re planting a new tree for Bug). And on being thankful for my loving and growing family.

Advertisements

What’s in our Dirt

16 Apr

Soil Test

We got the results back on our soil test this week. And, drum roll please, we’re in the clear!  At least as far as lead goes.  Actually, we’re in remarkably ok shape over all.  The bottom line is that I don’t need to worry about our soil leading to lead contamination for me and the baby.  Also, other than the leaf compost that Bolt has been adding in the double dig, we don’t need to add much to the soil this year to get a good crop going.  This is really a huge relief to me. So much so that, despite the virus that mostly kept me in bed, I managed to help out in the garden a little this weekend.  I planted a couple of Brandywine tomato plants that severely overgrew our seedling table.

Going in ahead of schedule on April 14th.

Going in ahead of schedule on April 14th.

Garlic plants on April 14th

Garlic plants on April 14th

The Brandywines have been funny this year. Several of our seeds didn’t germinate. And those that did grew like nuts. I’m not entirely sure I understand what’s going on there.  In any case, the big guys are planted.  There are a couple more that will go in on our regular schedule –  closer to the end of the month. I’m not too concerned that we’re going to get a frost or that the soil isn’t warm enough. We’re in a bit of a heat sink, being in the city. Also, now our garlic plants have a little across the garden path company and don’t look so lonely.

While I was moaning about my runny nose, Bolt was working hard on finishing prepping the garden beds. Minus the area that we were hoping to use which is actually a giant hunk of concrete (damn you ECP!), we’ve got about 177 (oops, 168) square feet of garden space this year that will roughly break down like this: Garden Plan

Matt double digging

With the end of the digging, we are actually able to start direct seeding some of the plants that were supposed to go in the ground last month (oops) and a few that are right on schedule:

  • Silverbeet Swiss Chard
  • Danvers Carrots
  • Arugula
  • Sweet Genovese Bail
  • Bouquet Dill
  • Blue Lake Bush Beans

Things are really starting to come together around here. Still a tremendous amount of work, but it is so great to see progress. When we bought this house, it was clear that the landscaping (as well as just about everything in doors too) had been left to its

Blueberry buds in our new rain garden

Blueberry buds in our new rain garden

own devices for several years.  I knew that going in, but it is still a bit overwhelming sometimes. However, looking out over our back yard, with all of the new dirt and buds and bees, it is a good shot in the arm for my confidence that we can really make this place our home.

Buying Supplies

12 Apr

Blanket YarnI was one of those kids that got super excited for the start of every new school year. I mean, I liked school well enough, but the real reason was the school supplies.  I still love buying new pens, pencils and notebooks.  Oh, and those wonderful, bygone days when we used to buy the 64 packs of Crayola crayons with the sharpener built in the box.

I feel that way now when I’m about to start a new project.  It makes me a little giddy to come home with a bunch of supplies. Like yesterday, when I received the yarn that I had ordered from Knit Picks.  I ordered yarn for two projects – a baby blanket (no surprise there) and yarn for a Christmas sweater for Bolt. I’ve had my problems with Knit Picks yarn before.  It is alluringly cheap and feels nice to knit with, but I’ve had the Wool of the Andes line pill up on me so badly that I don’t think I’ll ever order that one again.  I ordered a cotton/modal blend for baby and an acrylic for the sweater. I’m sure the cotton/modal will be fine (and washable), but I’m curious to see how the acrylic works out. Bolt wears his sweaters very hard.  I mean very hard.  Like, constantly.  Every day when the weather is below 50 degrees. So, if the yarn pills, like my last Knit Picks’ purchase does, and you are a little OCD, like I am, you annoy your husband mightily by picking yarn balls off of him constantly when he is wearing the sweater.

Curtain Fabric

Curtain Fabric

Anyhow, I haven’t actually started either project in any real way. Just as I haven’t started staining the buffet (the stain that I excitedly purchased is sitting on top of said buffet and has been there for weeks) or making the curtains (I bought that fabric weeks ago as well) or stripping the furniture for the baby’s room (purchased months ago now).  I just love assembling all the supplies, preparing and thinking about the project (ask Bolt about all my notebooks and lists). Perhaps this will be the public shaming I need to get going.

The Dreaded Double Dig

9 Apr
Matt in his Hat

My husband is a rock star, or rather, a clay star.

We’ve been running a bit late on all our garden preparations this year. Most pressing at this point is that we need to dig out the new garden beds. Our beautiful little seedlings need to be planted in the next few weeks. In fact, our schedule means that we won’t get several of our cool season/long growing season plants in this spring (chard and parsnip for example). Last weekend Bolt rid the plots of all the sod, but this weekend marked the beginning of the real work. The dreaded double dig!

Double digging is a technique we first learned about in John Jeavon’s book “How to Grow More Vegetables.” It is a rather back-breaking ordeal in our clay-based soil here in DC, whereby the digger integrates compost (we used local Leaf Gro, since our own compost is not ready yet) two spade lengths down into the soil. According to the NYTimes, those across the pond call it ‘bastard trenching.‘  I don’t think that either of us are convinced that it is a winning strategy for production year after year, but it is critical for breaking up the clay to get our garden started.

So, I mentioned that Bolt is a total trooper, right? I am out of commission in the garden this spring and can’t help at all with this crazy work. In part, it is because we are still awaiting the results of our soil test. We had to send the soil sample out to the University of Massachusetts soil lab for analysis because it was critical for us, with me pregnant and Bug on the way, to understand the heavy metal composition of our soil – not every soil test will look for these.  No lead poisoning for us please.

The already dug bed is to the left, the bed to be dug in on the right.  Also, look at our garlic grow!

The already dug bed is to the left, the bed to be dug in on the right. Also, look at our garlic grow!

According to folks we talked to at the Rooting DC Conference this year, DC will soon have its very own soil testing lab to go with its increasingly active cooperative extension program, but we couldn’t wait for it to open for business.

In any case, after two days of slinging clay, Bolt is about half way done with the double dig. He should be very proud of his hard work.  The beds look beautifully raised and we’re well on our way to planting.

ECP update: Apparently the ECP has a little brother.  We’re calling this one the ECS, or the enigmatic concrete strip. This one, which runs through yet another one of our garden beds.  Sigh. Did I also mention that we have a strange crop circle forming in the front yard? Can’t wait to find out what’s underneath that one.

Gifting

5 Apr
Sheldon Shell in progress

Baby gift in progress…http://ravel.me/fasterpanda/hjorw

As I mentioned before, it seems like everyone I know is having a baby. A couple years ago, everybody was getting married.  These waves of life events has kept my crafting projects list buzzing.  I, not infrequently, wonder why I do it. It takes more money and more time to make something than it would to go to the store. And it is an emotional gamble too. It is impossible to detach from what I give, especially if you end up spending hours and hours putting it together. If the recipient doesn’t like it, there is no gift receipt.

Ever since my very dear friend from high school got married back in 2008, and I was looking for a gift to give her. I’ve never been really good at telling my people how important they are to me, but I wanted that opportunity to show her. So, despite the obvious utility of buying her something she had actually asked for and just writing up a nice card, I decided to knit them a blanket. Of course, because of all my hemming and hawing about what to do, I didn’t actually start knitting the blanket until about a month before the wedding. Between the full time job and, you know, feeding and bathing myself, I did not actually finish the blanket in time for the wedding.  I believe, if memory serves me, that I wrapped it up and gifted it, only to take it back and finish it a few months later (this is an unfortunate trend in my craft-gift giving).

A very blurry blanket

A very blurry wedding blanket

So was born a tradition of sorts. I can’t just buy a gift for someone that I feel strongly about, specifically when it comes to a big life change (I don’t have the same compunction about Christmas and birthday gifts). I just don’t feel like it says enough. I want to say that ‘I love you’ or ‘I miss you’ or ‘Your friendship means so much to me,’ but I’m no good at that. I am good at knitting. I’m not sure that it really does anything for the receiver, but as the giver I get to spend hours and hours thinking about the person that I’m giving the gift to. I get to settle on just how I feel about them and our relationship and really revel in it for awhile. I can’t say it is the most practical thing. And, like I said before, I have no idea if the receiver cares or understands the way that I feel. There is an old curse in the knitting world about knitting a sweater for your significant other (I’m actually more than a little shocked by the full Wikipedia write up on that one), that embodies the possible dissonance between giver and receiver. But, nonetheless, I have to. I hope that those I give to understand what I am trying to say and feel as loved as I hope they do.

The Tyranny of Too Many Choices

2 Apr

StellaI had a mini meltdown last night trying to pick out a mattress for Bug’s crib.  There are just too many options, all of which seem basically the same.  Amazon reviews are really only making it worse.  How can a mattress be both too firm and sag in the middle?  How can these stupid things make me feel like a bad mother even before I’ve given birth? Really people, this is just crazy talk.

I’m having a similar conundrum with our backyard. Bolt suggested that we plant a tree in our backyard to celebrate our little boy-to-be. Something we can point to for the rest of his life and say – ‘that tree is as old as you are.’ We decided, in order to make our back yard as edible as possible, to plant a peach tree.  We also want to plant a redbud tree in the front yard and take advantage of the Casey Tree’s rebate program, but that is another story.  (BTW, how amazing is it that our city and local non-profits keep practically paying us to plant things in our garden?)

However, have you ever looked at how many different kinds of peach trees there are?  So many. And, all, basically the same.  Luckily for me, reading about fruit trees is way more exciting than reading about crib mattresses. So, here are the criteria that I’m looking for:

  • Self-pollinating: We only want to plant one tree because we live on a pretty small city lot. So, if this thing is going to go, it is going to have to pollinate all on its own.
  • Dwarf: See above re: small city lot.
  • Freestone: for easier manipulation down the line (read, I will get more peach jam if the peaches are easier to process!)
  • Yellow: I always like the flavor of the yellow peaches better than the white variety.

That’s really all I’m going on. The Virginia Extension recommends the following trees:

Variety Ripening
Date

Comments
Garnet Beauty July 17 Yellow flesh peaches small to medium – Cling Stone
Laural July 25 Medium, well colored freestone, recommended for trial
Redhaven Aug. 1 Medium size, very cold hardy, semi-cling stone
Rich Lady Aug. 1 Large, firm, well colored yellow fruit, recommended for trial
Topaz Aug. 7 Large, attractive freestone
Contender Aug. 10 Large, attractive freestone
Earnie’s Choice Aug. 12 Large, firm attractive, freestone
Loring Aug. 18 Very large, firm freestone
Harcrest Aug. 29 Medium to large, very attractive freestone
Fayette Sept. 6 Very large, firm, well colored, freestone
Encore Sept. 12 Large, firm, attractive freestone

But, they are focused on commercial production over home growth (not that their information isn’t useful.)  The Farmer’s Almanac also recommends Contender, as a favorite for zone 7. Also from the Almanac: although peaches are native to the Chinese countryside, the peach was brought to the western world from Iran.

Anyhow, I suspect that we’ve got some more research time ahead of us. Or at least one more visit to the greenhouse to stare wistfully at all of their trees.

Meyer Lemon buds April 1_2In the meantime, we need to continue caring for the fruit tree that we already have.  Our Meyer lemon tree got a dose of fertilizer back in February and the blooms look absolutely amazing.  We already have two little fruits growing away and a bunch of beautiful and beautifully smelling flowers blooming.  I can’t believe what the addition of that little bit of fertilizer did for the tree.

Seeing as all those flowers need to be pollinated, I spent some time this morning violating all those pistils and stamens with a Q-tip. Hopefully they will forgive me and bear lots of tasty fruit as a result. In the meantime, we (meaning Bolt, since even on a good day I can’t lift that ginormous pot) are watching the weather to see when we can move the lemon to its seasonal home in our backyard.  Sometime after the middle of this month we should be frost free and ready to go.  And then me and my Q-tip will play second fiddle to the bees.Pollinating

Knitting for a Big Belly

31 Mar
My Belly from 23 weeks to 32 weeks

My Belly from 23 weeks to 32 weeks

There is something of a pregnancy boom in our lives.  We’re at that age, I guess, where our friends are decided en masse to get themselves knocked up. Of course, we were not immune from this desire. As you can see, my belly is growing at a remarkable rate. Our little Bug-to-be is making me alternately tired, excited, terrified and somewhat manically happy.

Kibo and sweater

Kibo loves the camera

Bug and his soon-to-be playmates have filled my list of to-dos for the foreseeable future. So many tiny sweaters, blankets and quilts to make. However, I wanted to make one last thing for me before I got started with the all the crafts in miniature.

For Christmas this year I got a bunch of beautiful teal yarn and a copy of the knit.wear magazine.  I was immediately drawn towards the Lark Cardigan, by Pam Allen, because it looked both cozy and like something I could wear over my future protruding belly without problem. The stitch pattern is really beautiful and it is a fun pattern to knit up.  The collar took forever, but I love the drapiness of it in the finished product.  Incredibly frustratingly though, I discovered, after I tried it on for the first time, that the cast on edge was just too loose.  Instead of hanging down nicely, the edge looks ruffly. I have learned my lesson for the future – mostly that I actually need to learn other cast on methods (something I have so far steadfastly refused to do). I am going to try to wash the sweater and block it a bit, despite the fact that the yarn is acrylic, to see if that helps at all.

In the meantime, no point in crying over spilled milk.  I’m moving on to a baby knitting project, one of my old favorites Sheldon the turtle, for a friend and a baby quilting project for us.

Baby quilt in progress

Baby quilt in progress

Complications

28 Mar

Here’s the rain garden being installed

So far, our garden has not exactly gone as planned.  I mean, the seeds are started and Bolt has begun the massive double dig to start the veggie portion of the garden we want to start this year. We even got ourselves a really great rain garden, courtesy of the District of Columbia.

However, there has been one very large complication to our plan.  We call it the ECP because we are in the land of acronyms.  The ECP, or the enigmatic concrete pad, measures about six feet by 14 feet and spans the whole length of our proposed garden space. Why there is a concrete pad in the middle of the yard covered by a few inches of top soil, I can’t rightly say.  But, there it is.

Bolt and I debated what to do with it. Our first instinct was to rent a jack hammer and rid ourselves of the ECP entirely. However, we have so many projects right now: the pantry door, finishing the baby’s room, getting the garden dug, the yard cleaned up, the roof repainted, etc. All of this needs to happen before the baby comes in late May.  Of course, I’m really no help with many of these things, being more than seven months pregnant is not conducive to manual labor.

You can see the damnable thing there in the back

So, for the time being, we’re leaving the ECP right where it is.  The garden will just have to be planted around it.  Maybe we’ll put some chairs out there and make it our patio.  In order to deal with the space constraints we’re not going to be able to get the garden perennials in the ground that we had hoped – strawberries and asparagus, in particular.

So, back to focusing on the good stuff.  The rain garden, watered by our fancy new rain barrel, includes the following plants:

The Installed Rain Garden

The Installed Rain Garden

Flowers:

  • Tickseed, Coreopsis verticillata
  • Beebalm, Monarda didyma
  • Blue-Eyed Grass, Sisyrinchium angustifolium
  • New York Aster, Symphyotrichum novi-belgii

Grasses:

  • Switch Grass, Panicum virgatum

Fruit:

  • Highbush Blueberry, Vaccinium corymbosum

The new garden makes me crazy to finally rip down all the chain link fence and finally put up a nice wood one. I must be patient…

Seedlings

Notice the Brandywines not growing…

We also got all our wonderful Southern Exposure seeds started (albeit slightly later than we had hoped).

So far we have seedling of the following:

  • Matt’s Wild Cherry Tomatoes
  • OTV Brandywine Tomatoes (which, surprisingly, have been really tough to get to germinate this year, notice in the picture)
  • San Marzano Tomatoes
  • Sweet Genovese Basil
  • Bouquet Dill
  • Jalapeno Peppers
  • Listada De Eggplant
  • Jupiter Bell Peppers
  • Lacinato Kale

Bible Study Gets Saucy!

7 Jan
Eggs

You’ll know us by our trail of eggs…

After a pretty long break, we’re back at it with our meals inspired by our reading of McGee’s On Food and Cooking . It’s been a little while – a month or two ago, we started the latest chapter, on eggs. We even cooked and photographed a really quite delicious meal to go with the first part of the egg chapter, but the writing never happened, so here I am with part two of the egg chapter: Egg Biology and Chemistry. But first, I’d like to go off on something of a tangent.

In 54 AD, the Roman Emperor Claudius is rumored to have been murdered by poisoning by being fed a death cap mushroom. Though then again, maybe it was Belladonna, a.k.a. nightshade, that the poisoner used. Nobody seems to really know. Continue reading

Traditional Patterns

20 Sep

I turned 30 last week. And, apparently, my advancing years are trying to kill me in more way than one. I spent most of the last week staring into the toilet bowl ready to give it all up.  However I did manage to drag my sorry butt to my little sister’s bridal shower this weekend.  Now, I hate the idea of bridal showers. Stupid games, crappy finger food and trying to sit demurely just aren’t my bag.  I feel like an enormous part of my brain is wired to reject these kinds of tradition.
But, here’s the thing, I had a really good time. I love seeing my sister so happy and radiant. I love spending time with my family. And despite my inclination to reject it, I feel the pull of tradition very strongly. Maybe this is the promised sentimentality that comes with age, but I am spending more time than ever in the shadow of history, especially in the history of the women of my family, and enjoying it.

My great-grandmother, like my grandma and my mom, was a knitter too. A very talented one. This lineage, and the feeling of connection that I get, is certainly part of what draws me to knitting myself. There is also a pull to the tradition of women’s art and craft that is challenging to articulate, but very real. It is at once a sense of enormity – how many hundreds of thousands of women before me kept their families warm through their knitting? – and intimate – a small and personal way to find a way to share something with the women that raised me.

When my great-grandmother passed away, she had a project still on her needles – a cardigan. She finished the front left panel shown here. It got lost in the shuffle of life for several years, but when my mom found it again she gave it to me. Now, this pattern is something I never would have picked up. Even the yarn isn’t really for me. But, I feel an incredible reverence for this project and am enjoying it very much. I finished the back piece this weekend and have started on the front right panel. I want to have it done in time to give it to my grandma for Christmas.

In addition to gray hairs, perhaps I can count on my old age to bring a sense of connection and perspective to the past. Pretty good present, huh?  Even though this week I’d settle for just a better immune system.