Tuesday, June 28, 2011

mud bath

This is what summer is for!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

tiny and delicious

A glimpse of this season's strawberry crop (We've picked almost 30 lbs so far this year, most of which are now frozen whole or in jam form!):

These little treasures are from our garden plot:

I was thinning carrots and found that many I pulled out, though tiny, are still edible. The kids enjoyed them!

Someone explain to me why kids who are incredibly picky with vegetables will eat ANYTHING raw out of the garden?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

robin hood, where are you?

This makes me so angry. Gov. Scott Walker's budget, which yanks the rug out from under working people and public services, is about to become law. The budget is a moral document. Or rather, this budget is an immoral document. I'm not surprised we have come to this point, but I am incredibly discouraged. My oldest child is entering kindergarten this fall. With $1 billion cut from public schools, what lies ahead for him? And for his sister, who will follow just a couple years later? With $1 million cut from Planned Parenthood, what will happen to thousands of women across the state who depend on Planned Parenthood for reproductive health services and cancer screenings? What will happen to the families who depend on BadgerCare and Medicaid for essential health care and, in the case of several families I am acquainted with, autism therapy? With weakened environmental regulations, what will happen to our forests and lakes and wild spaces? Without unions to stand up for public workers, who will?

I am angry, I am discouraged, I am outraged, but like I've said before, I am not giving up hope. A friend recently reminded me of a quote by the late historian Howard Zinn, whose book A People's History of the United States I've been reading since the start of anti-Walker protests this winter: Note that throughout history people have felt powerless before authority, but that at certain times these powerless people, by organizing, acting, risking, persisting, have created enough power to change the world around them, even if a little.

It is simply unacceptable to take away from the poor and the middle class to increase corporate wealth. Call it balancing the budget, call it "flexibility in local governments", call it a business-friendly climate, call it what you want. I call it robbing from the poor to give to the rich. We need a Robin Hood.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

hide and seek at the arboretum

Thanks for the suggestions, everyone, about how to stave off boredom this summer. I guess I've been resistant to over-scheduling up to this point because I know the time is coming (probably sooner than I'd like) that we'll have so many extracurricular activities to juggle I'll look back on these days and long for the relative freedom and, yes, boredom, of early childhood. But maybe you guys are right. Maybe I need to plan more activities, knowing we can always back out if it seems like too much. This next week is taken care of, actually, because swimming lessons start in the morning and a group of us parents from the preschool have put together an informal day camp every afternoon. (I'm in charge Tuesday and Thursday with a friend of mine, and I'm glad to say that she, at least, knows what she's doing!) After this week, though, I'll be sure to schedule lots of play dates and find new outdoor places to explore.

It's been an odd week weather-wise. We started off with record high temperatures well into the 90s, and then it got wet and downright chilly (we didn't even crack 60 on Thursday) with a fairly major storm system in between. In fact, we thought we'd be spending Wednesday night in our not-quite-finished basement, but after setting up "camp," the warnings were over and we went back upstairs. All this culminated into a Sunday with absolutely perfect weather, so perfect that Stuart came up with the idea, rather spur-of-the-moment, to have a picnic and go hiking in the UW Arboretum.

It was a brilliant idea. We picked up some take-out for lunch and headed out, ignoring the "No picnics" sign (we didn't know...next time we'll follow the rules and picnic somewhere else...) One of the wonderful things about the Arboretum - and there are many - is the giant gardens in the middle: basically several acres of meadow with hundreds of varieties of trees planted in the well-kept lawn. After eating our lunch, the kids wanted to play hide and seek amongst the evergreens. They found many fun places to hide, but there is so much open space out there we weren't really afraid of losing them. This game lasted nearly an hour.

See the beautiful cascading branches in that picture? This tree was their favorite place to hide, and if you could see it, you'd know why. Duck under those branches, and you'd be in what feels like a whole room, right by that tree, dark and quiet and secret.

We never made it to the woods for a hike, in part because hide-and-seek lasted so long it wore every one out, but mostly because we needed to go down the road a bit to the visitors' center for a potty break. In any case, our little outing turned out to be fun and even a little special for everyone. Sometimes those spontaneous trips end up being the best kind.

Thursday, June 09, 2011


Everyone knows that parenting is hard. It's practically a cliché to say so, but it's true, so people say it anyway. There are the difficulties I anticipated, like sleep deprivation and temper tantrums and the long road to potty training. There are the difficulties I didn't anticipate, like having kids who never really took naps ever (at least, not reliably for more than a week at a time) and extreme pickiness with food. But as far as kids go, I have to say I've gotten pretty lucky.

Lately, we've hit a new stumbling block: summer boredom. School is out for the summer, which means preschool is done, too. (Anya, by the way, loved every minute of preschool; I had nothing to worry about!) Daniel is done with preschool for good now, and until he starts kindergarten this fall, we have our last free, innocent summer ahead of us. I was looking forward to it. I like summers that are relatively unscheduled. I like swimming and gardening and going to state parks and watching the hot air balloon launch at the park and picking berries and finding fun new ways to explode water balloons and visits from grandparents, and we're planning on all of that stuff this year.

The problem is that Daniel is bored already. I think a couple of different factors are at work here. First of all, he's really ready for kindergarten. He turned 5 this winter, and if it weren't for the extra cost, I would have sent him to preschool every day this semester instead of just part of the week. Second, I think he is essentially an extrovert (if a cautious one) and benefits from having lots of social stimulation. This means that when he is with me all day long we run into trouble. Playing with toys, playing with Anya, playing with me only hold his interest for so long before he starts moping and whining about having nothing to do. Then he begs to watch TV and when I say no, finds ways to annoy me. He turns the radio on and off, he sets the timer on the microwave, he'll choose random CDs and start playing them, skipping through all the tracks after a few seconds (this drives me nuts).

This, by the way, happens whether we're home all day or spent the whole morning somewhere fun, like preschool, say, or the children's museum or the zoo or the pool (it's been a hot week; we've been at the pool plenty). It's not like I never take them anywhere fun.

Anya does not have this problem. She is really quite good at keeping herself entertained and is not socially needy at all. Whether this is a personality trait or simply because she is younger, I don't know.

It's not as though we never have playtime with friends, but I guess we need more of it. It might be time to look into some type of organized/team sport for Daniel, too (other than swimming lessons, I mean). I have never looked forward to that phase of parenthood where my main job is schlepping kids around to playdates and sports practice, but that might be what he needs.

Monday, June 06, 2011

who needs toys?

Who needs toys when there are boxes to play with?

Saturday, June 04, 2011

the joy of gardening

I've really been bitten by the gardening bug this year, and so far, I've been pretty attentive to my plants, with regular watering and weeding. The community garden plot is coming along nicely; it makes a big difference living close enough to run out there and water nearly every day. And I mean "run" literally! It's right off my running route!

At home, I've been thinking that in the front yard I'd like more garden, less lawn. I've added a few perennials as I do every year, trying to choose flowers that are butterfly and hummingbird-friendly. We have seen hummingbirds here a few times and it's pretty neat.

What I'm most enthusiastic about, though, is growing more edible plants: vegetables and herbs. Last week I chopped a 3'x3' section out of the grass and worked in some peat moss and compost to make a bed for sunflowers and basil.

(So help me, I'm posting pictures of plants on my blog now! It's probably like watching paint dry, huh?)

That patch is just the exotic basils, by the way: lemon basil, lime basil, cinnamon basil (I didn't know there was such a thing before!), thai basil, purple basil, and spicy basil. I've got a few dozen sweet basil plants - the kind most often used in pesto - not far away. I don't think it's possible to have too much basil.

The other new garden spot is a raised bed with tomatoes, peppers and parsley:

They'll be packed in there, but my Square Foot Gardening book assures me that this is okay. If this bed is successful I may add one or two more next year.

It is so very satisfying to be in the dirt, helping things grow. Forgive me if I start sounding like a fruitcake here, but I really do believe the world would be a kinder, more peaceful place if people had more opportunities to connect with the earth. I think everyone should get out in nature more to appreciate the beauty and wonder and value of the natural world. Maybe if more people did that we wouldn't be so hell bent on ripping it all apart. By the same token, if more people took part in growing some of their own food, perhaps we'd appreciate more the work that goes into it and the importance of healthy, balanced soil.

I am glad to have two little gardening assistants. This year both kids have been quite enthusiastic about helping out. I suspect their enthusiasm will wane with the hot weather coming our way, though I've discovered a good antidote is to get them in swimsuits and let them play in the sprinkler.

Below is a series of pictures of Anya getting water from the rain barrel* the day we planted all that basil. She must have made a dozen trips back and forth:

I know we'll never grow all our own food. That takes more time, land and ability for long-term planning than we've got. With so many local food resources available, you might wonder why we don't give up on the garden and just get everything from CSA farms and the weekly markets. I sometimes wonder that myself. After all, by the time you buy the tools and plants and dirt and mulch and fencing and whatnot, gardening doesn't save you much money. I guess I keep at it because I want to be more self-sufficient. I want to take an active role in producing what we eat. And, perhaps most importantly, I want my children to learn these lessons, too.

*ETA: Since Animal asked about the rain barrel, I thought I'd just write a bit more about it...we bought ours from the city of Madison, which has a big composter/rain barrel sale every year the first Saturday in May. Hundreds of people line up in this giant parking lot to buy them at a pretty good discount. Stuart installed the rain barrel, and it was pretty easy. He just had to cut the drain spout short and add an elbow joint to pour into the barrel, which I think you can see in the picture. You also have to make sure there is a fairly level surface to set the barrel on. When it's full it's supposed to drain out this tube out the side, but it really just kind of spills over the top. There's a screen on top to keep debris from collecting inside. You get water out by turning a spigot on at the bottom, so if the rain barrel is a couple inches above the ground (like on a brick slab, for example), it's easier to fit a bucket underneath the spout. We like it very much.