Monday, April 29, 2013

in the garden

Now that spring has finally decided to make a tentative appearance, it's high time I buckled down and did some yard and garden work. This is a tricky area for me because I have a lot of energy and enthusiasm but not a whole lot in the skills department, despite years of effort. Normally, I have a pretty steep learning curve, but when it comes to plants, all  bets are off.

Not that I haven't tried, mind you. And I know enough, at least, to remember what should be planted before the last frost date, and what should wait until Memorial Day. I have finally learned the difference between the terms "partial sun" and "full sun," which you see on the tags with the plants you buy at the greenhouse, and I know that the latter does not apply to any part of my property, though it hasn't stopped me from trying to grow sunflowers in the front yard.

I'm feeling particularly incompetent lately because a few weeks ago I volunteered to plant tomato and pepper starters with all the first graders at Daniel's school, and not a single one has sprouted yet. (That's right. I failed the entire first grade at ____ Elementary. Not doing wonders for my self-esteem at the moment.)

I have also, by this point, accrued a fairly comprehensive mental list of what rabbits will and will not eat. What they will eat, they will devour, and what they won't eat, they may still nibble on if they are desperate enough; at the peak of last year's drought, I witnessed bunnies chowing down on my marigolds.

The landscaping of my yard is, at best, eclectic. At worst, it is haphazard. I once had a friend kindly refer to my front yard as "wild." Every year I swear to make a plan and every year I fail. I have all kinds of stuff planted in my perennial bed, and I never remember what's there or what it looks like when it  comes up in the spring, so by the time stuff starts blooming, it's a weedy mess.

I've given up trying to improve the back yard anymore. Last year we had to have three trees removed, one in the middle of the night because it was about to fall over and take out the neighbor's house. Next year we plan to have an addition built and the kitchen remodeled (finances and our builder's schedule permitting), which means the giant pain-in-the-ass silver maple will have to  be removed, we'll build a patio, maybe replace the shed, and possibly add a chicken coop (I do love fresh eggs) anyway, there's no point in doing anything with the back yard before all the construction happens.

I'm not ashamed to grow vegetables in my front yard, either. I have four raised beds, two with fencing to keep the damn bunnies out. These actually look nice because I enlisted the help of my husband, who is more compulsive than I am about keeping things orderly and symmetrical, to build and install them. I also put down landscaping cloth in between and covered it with mulch and flat-rock stepping stones we dug out from the side yard a couple years ago. I've planted carrots, peas and Chinese kale, and when it's warm  enough I'll put in tomatoes, parsley, flowers, and as much basil as I can pack in the space because I am of the opinion that one can never, ever grow too much basil.

Then there's the compost. I am a BIG FAN of composting. It's the perfect form of recycling - all those onion skins and carrot peels kept out of the landfill and instead piled up and, eventually, changed back into dirt you can grow more onions and carrots in - what's more eco-friendly than that? It's easier said than done, though. We had compost that got so slimy and stinky the next-door neighbors (who are lovely, kind and thoughtful ladies) referred to it as our "dirty diaper compost." They were being generous, actually. I've smelled a lot of dirty diapers in my life and most of them smelled better than our compost pile at the time. We've improved our methods and now have two piles - one on which to dump our kitchen scraps and the other to fester and rot and turn into lovely dirt - and so far it's at least an improvement, if not an unbridled success.

I'm not sure where I'm going with all this. There is just so much work to be done, and if I want to accomplish anything, given the demands of my kids and my freelance work schedule, I have to prioritize and be organized about all of it. I also have to let my kids be as involved as they want to be. After all, whatever doesn't work out, we can always try again next year.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

farewell to blacksburg

I just spent a long weekend on a mini vacay with my kids. We were in Virginia to see Joe and his wife before they move in a few weeks. You see, my little brother is moving on in life. After more than a decade in Blacksburg, VA, where he not only received his doctorate, but also met and married my awesome SIL, who is also furthering her education with a second bachelor's degree, they are relocating up the east coast, and I realized that if I didn't fly the kids out to see them this spring, we'd miss our chance. I decided it was worth the cost of airfare, a few nights in a hotel, and yanking the kids out of school for a few days to see Joe and MJ. They adore their uncle and aunt and don't get to see them too often.

Blacksburg is a sweet little town...except, as it turns out, when  there is a spring football game going on. It might have been a scrimmage. Whatever. Alls I know is, all the nearby hotels were booked weeks (or months) in advance, and when I went running the day of the game, I had to weave my way around more than a few staggering drunks at 4:00 in the afternoon.

Anyway, inebriated college students aside (whom the kids didn't see, fortunately), we had a great time. We spent some time at a large playground the afternoon we flew in:

The next day it was pouring rain, so we spent the morning at the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke:

They have a lot of trains at the Transportation Museum. And some other stuff:

We spent a day driving a little bit along the Blue Ridge Parkway, where there is a historic mill with a water wheel and everything. (Too bad the buildings are closed up until May 1, or we could have gone inside).

We visited Villa Appalachia Winery and had a picnic. The kids and I were introduced to bocce ball for the first time. Daniel loved bocce ball. Especially, Daniel loved winning bocce ball, not so much losing.  (We're working on that...)

We also ate lots of good food (how, exactly, did I grow up in the South and never heard of eating chicken and waffles for breakfast until last weekend??? Yes, it's exactly what it sounds like: chicken. and waffles. And it's delicious, thanks.) and spent some time with MJ's sister and her husband and their 19mo daughter who is so cute it's almost unbearable. No good pics of her, sorry.

For Daniel, one of the most significant parts of last weekend is that he lost not one, not two, but three of his top teeth. After months of wiggling, they came out, one after the other. The second and third were  victims of a tree-climbing incident on the V-Tech campus, after which uncle Joe's t-shirt needed a good washing (no tissues or rags were handy for clean-up) and Daniel suddenly had a distinct lisp. We thpeculated hith piththa would need to be blended into piththa thoup for dinner that night.

I have to say, my kids are such good travelers. Here they are at the Detroit airport on the way home.

I just love traveling with my kids. They do it well. All the waiting in airports (or, conversely, rushing to catch a flight when the first one was late, as happened to us on the way there!) and sleeping in hotels and time changes and later bedtimes and unfamiliar surroundings - they just take it all in stride. Anya did not appreciate the Southern habit of calling cute little redheads such as herself "Sugar," "Baby," and "Sweetie Pie", and Daniel needed to pop a Dramamine before we went on the Blue Ridge Parkway (poor kid inherited a tendency towards motion sickness from someone other than me, my stomach is made of iron), but otherwise they both did just fine.

I know Joe and MJ will be sad to leave Blacksburg and their friends and family there. I'll be a little sad not to have an excuse to visit anymore. But they're moving to a new exciting place, and I have to admit, I'm already looking forward to our next traveling adventure together, whenever that may be!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


My heart is heavy today. Yesterday's awful tragedy in Boston has me a little shaken. Today is also the anniversary of the Virginia Tech shooting. My brother has lived in Blacksburg, VA for almost 11 years, so that one hits especially close to home.

I don't have anything profound to say. It just makes me so very sad to know there is so much anger and violence around us.

Friday, April 05, 2013


There are a lot of things that chap my chodes but lately the one thing that really sets me off is people who are smug and righteous about parenting, especially those aspects of raising children that have everything to do with the kind of people said children are and very little to do with the skills of their parents. I think the worst of it for me was in the baby and toddler years, which is a time when parents are deluded into thinking they have some control, when they really don't.

Thank goodness those years are behind me.  It was rough.

I can't tell you how many times I was told subtly and sometimes outright that my kids would sleep through the night/take a bottle/have regular nap times/use the toilet/stop picking at their food if only I would establish a routine and simply insist upon it. As if I were stupid and hadn't tried that already, as though I had some control over these things. In other words, I was led to believe over and over again that I was inadequate as a mother because my children did not do any of those things in a timely manner. Let me tell you, when you are caring for a newborn right around the time your 22-month-old son decides that naps are for wusses around the same time he learns to climb out of his crib, there's not a whole hell of a lot you can do about that. Except cry a little and drink an extra cup of coffee.

The fact is, as a parent, you don't have much control over the person your child will become. Your job is to set boundaries, teach right from wrong, insist upon respect and responsibility, but that other stuff? The developmental stuff? The personality stuff? You've just go to roll with it. The fact is, kids are individual beings with minds and wills of their own and the sooner you accept that, the better.

It's just so irritating when someone whose kid will eat any kind of vegetable you put in front him takes credit for it. This is just one example that I'm particularly sensitive about because my kids are picky eaters. At ages 7 and 5, they are at least picky in the normal sense of the word. Let me tell you, this is progress. Three or four years ago, the picky eating was so extreme we ended up seeing a professional dietician (who told me to chill out and be patient...and what do you know, it worked. Progress has been made, and I take very little credit for it.)

As it turns out, it's not your fault if your kid is a picky eater. It's probably just genetics, or texture sensitivity, or something. And I did everything right - I ate all kinds of stuff when I was pregnant (I was lucky enough not to have too much trouble with feeling sick or sensitive to certain foods), I made most of our baby food (which Daniel insisted on being spoonfed well after he should have been feeding himself cheerios and Anya refused to eat. at. all.), and I have a little garden and cook everything from scratch - and I make sure they participate, at least during the summer - and offer all kinds of good, wholesome stuff that My Kids Won't Touch. So if I hear one more person say "I just don't let my kids be picky. I'm not a short order cook after all!" I might just throw a plateful of rejected kale chips in his/her glowing, self-righteous face.

OK, OK. Obviously, I'm a little sensitive about the picky eater thing. We're working on it. And actually, things are improving on this front.

I didn't mean to hijack my own post here and talk about picky eaters. In fact, I could go on and on (and on) about my kids' current dietary issues, but for the sake of their privacy and your sake, I won't.

My point is simply that parenting is really more about getting to know your own kid(s) and preparing him/her/them for the world the best way you can. You learn as you go. And the only part of it that is guaranteed is this: the more you learn, the less you know.