Saturday, February 28, 2009

On my needles: Stripey socks

I would not have guessed two years ago that I would fall in love with sock knitting. Why would I want to spend hours knitting something I can buy for $3, and no one's really going to look at anyway? Well. Maybe because handknit socks are simply not the same thing as store-bought cotton socks. They're not meant to be hidden inside your tennis shoes -- they are an accessory!

I made my first pair back when I was still fighting PPD. Last year was a slow year for knitting, but I finished the above pair right after Christmas. I'm working on another pair in the same yarn for my middle sister, 'cause she liked it so much.

Scott gave me two skeins of really soft wool/possum sock yarn for Christmas, and I'm halfway done with the first sock in the brown/orange/purple colorway below. I'm still a pretty lazy knitter. Give me some pretty yarn and a simple pattern -- I'm too easily distracted by my noisy children to follow anything too fancy. Just a basic ribbed cuff, thanks.

The nice thing about knitting socks is that you can tuck a ball of yarn and some little double-pointed needles into your purse, and get a lot done while at the dentist's office. I've been at the dentist a lot recently, if you hadn't noticed. A few minutes in the waiting room, a few more in the office while the assistant sets things up, twenty minutes while the novacaine sets in... and you have a few inches of sock knitted.

Last weekend my friend Marlene and I headed downtown to our favorite local yarn shop to take a class on knitting socks from the toe-up. So far, I've done the traditional ankle-down variety. I'm not sure yet that I like knitting up any better, but there are a few advantages. For one, you can see exactly what size the foot is as you go. And I suppose it'll be easier to gauge when I'm halfway through my skein so I can get the longest cuff possible.

I'll let you know how the toe-up ones turn out when I'm finished.

I also started a little knitting project for my baby's third birthday. It's from this issue of Living Crafts. I LOVE that magazine! I'll share more as it comes together. And I'm wondering what this hat would look like on me in that blue/green/brown colorway in the picture above. My youngest sister gave me that for Christmas, and I haven't decided what to make yet.

(P.S. This is the article that got me started knitting socks!)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

In the garden: Signs of spring

I really don't mean to make any of you northerners jealous when I talk about spring arriving in February. Try to remember that our spring ends in May when the 95-degree weather arrives.

Summer here is kind of like winter in the north. Except that we can grow eggplant and chili peppers. We stay indoors a lot. I do all my summer gardening before 9 a.m., or after 7 p.m. when it's shady. Summer is our indoors-or-in-the-pool season. Except, we don't have a pool.

In any case, it's not summer yet, and I'm happy to be enjoying spring, whether you're jealous or not!

We've been outside as much as possible on dry days. I go out to weed or take care of the chickens, and the boys beg me to jump on the trampoline with them.

I oblige, partially because they're so cute, and partially because I'm hoping to lose the 15 pounds I gained in 2008 by the end of April. Otherwise, I'll have to go shopping for a whole new summer wardrobe in a size I never thought I'd wear again unless I was pregnant. Wish me luck.

Scott built a new fence for the chickens this month, at my request. In November I had him put a removable chicken wire fence around the winter vegetable bed. But it seemed like a lot of trouble to do that around all the new beds, too.

As much I love to let the hens roam free around the yard, they've made quite a mess of my perennial beds. And the kids kept tracking chicken poop into the house. Plus I don't want them eating up my new plants when I put in the spring vegetable garden.

Last year I shooed the chickens away from the tomatoes as much as I could, but they got their fair share. They LOVE tomatoes. And carrot tops. They totally dug up the carrot patch. I ended up with two carrots out of the four rows I planted.

But I didn't want my girls confined to the covered coop, either, as nice as it may be. They need some uncovered area to scratch for bugs and weeds. Right now there aren't too many weeds inside their fence, because it was too well mulched.

I let them inside the winter bed a few days ago, so they could nibble on overgrown arugula and young dandelions. Of course, they thought the tiny new broccoli heads were tasty, too.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Furry, happy monsters

Just a little random fun from REM and The Muppets...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Was I drunk all week, or just busy cleaning?

You know how they say that an activity will fill up as much time as you give it? Yeah, I'm not sure what activity it was exactly, but the days were certainly full this week.

I made it into the garden to plant peas, pull weeds and clean the chicken coop. But mostly it rained. I'm not complaining. After two years of serious drought we desperately need the water.

We spent one day just running errands. Scott needed a new pair of casual pants, and I found some practically-new Gap khakis for $3 at the Goodwill. Woohoo! That was the kind of excitement this week was made of. Like catching up on laundry, and finally sweeping the dust bunnies out of my bedroom. Totally thrilling.

Seriously, after all the partying we've done lately, I needed some time to be home. I just wish I knew where the time had gone so I could tell you all about it.

Oh! I did watch a really funny movie. Have you seen BabyMama yet? Go to Netflix right now and put it on your list. The hardest I have laughed in years. And no, I haven't seen ANY of the Oscar-winners.

Ah, see, now it's coming back to me. I had another party to go to on Saturday. A baby shower. Apparently I drank so much wine I almost forgot...

What a lovely time we had, sitting out on the brick patio of a local Italian restaurant on the one sunny, dry day of the week. The pear trees above were in full bloom, the tables were set with vases of Gerber daisies, and red camellias covered the wall behind us. We gorged ourselves on fresh bread, delicious cheeses, salad and pastas, and watched my friend Brooke unwrap tiny organic baby socks and other luxurious necessities of babyhood.

This is her first baby, and I am so excited for her. I tried not to be too jealous of all the pink. I think a post about the wonderful qualities of boys is in order soon.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

In the garden: Seedy dreams

Last week I gave in to my yearning for just a few more kinds of seeds, and put in my order with Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. I debated whether to order from there or from Seeds of Change, but the lower prices won out. Because the Baker Creek packages hold fewer seeds and are priced accordingly, I could buy three varieties for the price of two at Seeds of Change. (I'll still order certain things for fall from SOC.)

They're not all certified organic, but they're heirloom and GMO-free, and I loved reading through all the histories of the plants!

So, yesterday I decided to go through and reorganize the seeds I already have. I spent so much time poring over seed packets that two-dimensional vegetable images filled my dreams last night. I probably should have done this before ordering. Fortunately, I didn't duplicate anything, although I'll have more than enough varieties of green beans and tomatoes.

This is what I plan to plant this year:

Peas - Oregon Sugar Pod, Super Sugar Snap, Snow Pea Taichung, and Little Marvel. I grew seedlings in September, but our October heatwave wiped them out. I'm really hoping I'm not too late to begin again. It warms up here very quickly, sometimes 90 degrees in March. But I'm going to try.

Chinese cabbage - Michihli

Onions - I put two kinds in the ground in November, and plan to add another batch of organic cippolinis, Walla Wallas, and red burgundy.

Broccoli - Organic Green-Sprouting Calabrese. My kids love broccoli, especially fresh off the plant. The first tiny heads are starting to form on the broccoli I planted in November, and I'll plant more soon.

Beets -- Organic Tall Top Early Wonder. I'll plant these along the new chicken fence so they can eat the greens. Hopefully the beets will be ready in time for chocolate birthday cakes in April!

Carrots - Danvers. Planted these in November, time for another round.

Parsley - Italian Gigante. Can never have too much!

Arugula - Roquette. This is already overgrown from my fall planting. I wasn't very good about harvesting it, but I'm going to try again.

Spinach - Organic Longstanding Bloomsdale. Coming up now, but I'll plant some more for later.

Lettuce - Organic Bibb. This did really well last summer. Maybe my clothes will actually fit if I eat salad everyday...

Beans - Organic Kentucky wonder, Henderson's Black Valentine, Dragon Tongue! How could I resist a purple striped green bean named after a dragon!?

Corn - Country Gentleman Sweet Corn, Hopi Pink Flour Corn, Dakota Black Popcorn. All part of my Baker Creek order.

Tomatoes - Organic San Marzanos, Organic Burbank, Beefsteak, Mama Leone, Illinois Beauty, Old Virginia. I started the San Marzanos two weeks ago when the weather was beautiful. Then it froze two nights ago, so we'll see how they do. Duh. The last three are from Baker Creek.

Eggplant - SOC organic Italian White, Rosa Bianca, Ma-Zu Purple Chinese. Hopefully I didn't go overboard on this. Last year we had only one plant which fed us eggplant parmesan and Ratatouille every week for months!

Hot peppers - Chili De Comida. "Pepper of Food."

Sweet peppers - Corno di Toro Rossos. That's a red Italian heirloom pepper. I also saved yellow bell pepper seeds from last year.

Tomatillo - Verde

Basil - Italian Pesto.

Melons - Crimson Sweet watermelon, Chilean Black Seeded watermelon, Native American red seeded watermelon, organic cantaloupe. I saved the organic cantaloupe seeds from one we got from our CSA last year. The NA seeds are from my friend Mark. And the Chilean seeds I ordered from Baker Creek.

Summer squash - Cocozella di Napoli, Zucchino Rampicante (Zucca d'Albenga). From Baker Creek: "The famous Italian heirloom vining zucchini and pumpkin, long, slender 15" fruit have a flat bulb at the bottom. They are one of the best eating summer squash, very tender, mild and sweet tasting. The flavor is superb! This squash is also great as winter squash. The Italians use it for stuffing in gnocchi and ravioli; the flesh is rich and flavorful, great for baking and pies! The vines produce good yields of this great all-purpose squash."

Winter squash - Early butternut, Delicata

I also ordered Arikara Sunflowers, Borage, Lovage and Cumin seeds. And I have gobs of flower seeds I haven't decided what to do with. I'm not very good with them. Nasturtiums did okay last year. Somehow I'm not as motivated to give flowers the attention they need! But the Borage is supposed to be good around the tomatoes, etc. And the Lovage can be used as straws and for celery flavor!

Now I have to stop dreaming, and get to work!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Love Day!

We've been celebrating our love for our family and friends all week. Lots of baking, a little craftiness, and plenty of partying...

This was my attempt at Valentine pancakes with strawberry syrup this morning. The syrup was yummy, but only one heart-shaped pancake turned out before the cookie cutter got too messy!

This afternoon we headed up to the mountains for a Valentine's Snow Day! We visited dear old friends and made some new ones, too.

When the kids got cold, they came in to play games by the fire, exchange Valentines, and make heart-shaped pretzels. So much fun!

I hope you had a day filled with love, too!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Soup weather

It's been rainy and cold this week -- the kind of weather that makes me want to stay home, start a pot of soup simmering, and curl up on the couch with my knitting or a good book.

So, I thought I'd share with you one of my very favorite soup recipes:

Lentil Soup with bacon

6 strips of bacon, sliced small
1 large onion, chopped
3 large carrots, chopped
4 cloves garlic, pressed or chopped fine
1 can diced tomatoes
1 Tbs fresh thyme, or 1 tsp dried thyme
3 cups lentils, rinsed
salt and pepper
1/2 cup white wine
8 cups chicken stock
3 cups water
1 bunch of fresh spinach, washed and trimmed
1 tsp balsamic vinegar

Heat soup pot on medium high, then toss in bacon, stir and fry until crispy. Add onions and carrots, stir and let soften, five minutes. Add garlic, stir 30 seconds. Add tomatoes, thyme, lentils, salt and pepper. Stir until heated through and cover. Let sweat for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add white wine and bring to a simmer. Add stock and water, bring to a boil, then turn out the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Add spinach, stir until wilted. Add balsamic vinegar. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with a loaf of yummy bread! This makes enough to have plenty of leftovers.

And the winner is...

Sorry I kept you all waiting for the giveaway results -- I had a dentist appointment this morning, and then locked my keys in the car at the grocery store while it was pouring down rain. Oops! I hadn't done that in 10 years!

Anyhow, I am delighted to announce that...

...has won the compost bucket and cloth napkin giveaway!
Erin said...
would LOVE the compost bucket! We have just started our first garden and I'm always looking for a good container for my compost from my kitchen that will keep it out of tiny hands! Awesome!

Congratulations, Erin! I'm so glad you'll be able to use it! Please email me at thegps (at) with your snail mail address, so I can ship it off asap.

Thank you all so much for participating! As a consolation prize, I'll post my favorite soup recipe a little later!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Thank you! And, anonymous comments.

Just a quick post to thank everyone for their helpful advice regarding answering my son's question yesterday!

So far, we have handled things the way many of you suggested, as far as answering one question at a time and not overwhelming them with info. The boys seem to have forgotten the topic for now, but I do feel more prepared to fill in the missing details the next time the ask.

Also, if you left an anonymous message in hopes of winning the giveaway, I need to know who you are! (Yes, Lauri, I know one of them is you. :) Just leave one more message, and sign your name at the bottom.

Have a good day! We're off to a Valentine's Day party with our homeschooling group!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Pregnant Pause

We interrupt this Giveaway to bring you news of an embarrassing sort. Warning: This post is rated PG-13. (Yes, Iris, that means you should probably skip it, less your innocence be scarred. Thanks for understanding.)

So, remember how I was complaining awhile back about all the people around me getting pregnant with their fourth babies? The conspiracy continues.

My favorite bloggers are mothering newborns, and now I'm surrounded by pregnant people in real life. This would be understandable if I were still teaching birth classes. I am not. I stopped teaching birth classes because they made me want to be pregnant all the time, and I finally realized that was not going to work.

Anyhow, as I was saying, I am surrounded by pregnant people. Yay, babies! Ahem. Two of my closest friends, their pregnant bellies (still tiny yet), and their many already-born children were here today in order to give me a reason to bake Valentine cookies. One lives across the street from me.

Then there are the neighbors to the north. Two out of three are pregnant. The third lets her boyfriend spend the night quite frequently, and better be filtering her water.

In any case, all these expectant ladies around the house lead to some interesting dinner table conversations with my six- and seven-year-old sons. They have a better-than-average understanding of birth. We have discussed many aspects of plant and animal reproduction. But we've never quite gone all the way to the question that came up tonight...

"Mom, how do you get pregnant?"

That, my friends, left me tongue-tied, looking at the clock, and noticing that it was WAAAAYYY past bedtime, and maybe-we-could-finish-this-very-interesting-conversation-Some-Other-Time.

Goodness gracious, people, I don't want to give the kids nightmares! I need a PLAN! So, when and how did you explain the S word to your kids?

Monday, February 09, 2009

Why compost?

Let me tell you why I compost.

First, I hate taking out the trash. I used to trade my sister for any other chore, even cleaning the bathroom, just to avoid the garbage cans in the alley. I'd much rather take a pretty bucket of kitchen scraps out through my garden to the compost pile. More compost means less smelly garbage!

Second, I'm cheap. Why pay for compost for my garden when I can make my own? Now, granted, I still buy compost. Our soil started out pretty awful, and I haven't been composting long enough to make up for it yet. But I'm getting there quickly with all the manure our chickens added this year!

Third, I just really like the whole cycle of life aspect. If I can return our food scraps to the soil and enhance it, why would I have them trucked to the landfill instead? Or give our leaves and grass clippings away to the city so they can make compost and sell it back to me? There I am being cheap again.

I'll let Wiki explain how to compost. He does it much better than I could. Also, check out this great slideshow which shows just what to do so simply your kids will want to take over the job!

A Sustainable GIVEAWAY: Cloth napkins and compost bucket

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
--William Morris

When my mother and I were decluttering my parents' house and storage for a huge yard sale last year, I pulled a few things out for myself. Our Raggedy Andy cookie jar, some cute flour and sugar canisters, a few books I wanted, and the vintage-looking curtains that were hanging in her kitchen when my parents moved in seven years ago.

I thought about making the curtains fit in my own kitchen, but eventually decided to repurpose them for cloth napkins. Learning how to sew has been on my to-do list forever, and I finally coerced my mom into teaching me the basics last year.

The fabric sat in my closet for a good six months, but last week we took a sewing day, and I finally made the napkins! They are not perfect, by any means, BUT -- I really want to share them with you! I made 10 lined napkins, so I'm keeping five and giving five to one lucky reader!

And remember that cute red compost bucket she gave me? How would you like one for your own kitchen counter? Yes, my mom found another!

So, here it is! An eco-friendly valentine awaiting one lucky reader! A set of five cloth napkins made with repurposed fabric, and a shiny new compost bucket! I just hope you don't hate red.

Some of you are already expert composters, and I know you're going to love this. But if you don't yet compost, now's a great time to start! I'll share some reasons why in a separate post. Just be sure to leave me a comment so I can enter you into the Giveaway! You have until Friday at noon.

Then go visit my mom's blog, and tell her how much you appreciate her! This whole giveaway would not have been possible without her. Thanks, Mom!!

If you need a little more inspiration and encouragement while you're waiting to see if you won, head over to Melinda's blog and read her post on Finding the Willpower to Change Everyday Habits.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Wall-E and Environmental Stewardship: Finding hope among the trash

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
--Ephesians 4:22-24 (NIV

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
--Hebrew 10:23-24 (NIV)

Our church hosted a Family Movie Night tonight. We ate hot dogs, potato salad, and cookies, and watched Wall-E -- part love story, part environmentalist manifesto.

Despite its worst-case-scenario-propaganda-ish tone, I really like the film, and we all had a great time. Ironically, we ate our dinner on paper plates.

Old habits die hard, especially when kids are involved. Life is more complicated, and we want to simplify. Who wants to have to stay late running the dishwasher when it's nearing bedtime and the little ones are melting down? What if someone with small hands drops a dish? (Who's going to tell the Church Ladies?!)

The point of the event was fellowship -- a fun night for families, a night off from cooking and dishes duties. It was easy to understand why environmental stewardship didn't make the planning agenda, despite the movie choice.

Six years ago, after our first two sons were born 18 months apart, some of my previously eco-conscious habits turned toward the convenient. Trekking out to the compost bin behind the garage lost its place on my priority list. I didn't have enough cloth napkins to make it through three meals a day with a baby and a toddler. And the recyclables often piled up in the corner of kitchen until I got sick of looking at them and threw everything in the trash.

I was breast-feeding -- that spared a lot of waste. And I was still the only person I knew in town who cloth diapered. Wasn't that enough? I had a sign above my kitchen sink that said "Simplify," and that's what I went with. Like most moms of young children, I didn't have time to think beyond my own tiny, poop-stained world.

So, if that's where you are -- I TOTALLY UNDERSTAND.

Fast forward to 2008. Green is the new black. You're no longer a freak if you care about the environment -- just a liberal. Our area got its first organic CSA program. Billboards went up encouraging people to use the optional recycling pick-up program. (This is conservative California ag country, after all. We're about 10 years behind Seattle, which is where I went to college and picked up most of my crunchy habits.)

Whether you like the recent change of administration or not, it's hard to deny that the world is changing. We have followed God's commandment to populate the earth. Now we should probably start picking up after ourselves.

This is not about legalistic environmentalism or fear of the end of the world. God knows what He's doing, and He's made promises to those who believe in Him and follow Him.

This is just about taking responsibility where we're capable of taking it. Maybe you're already carrying a pretty heavy cross. Some of us need to take baby steps. Baby steps behind our Lord Jesus, whose holiness and sacrifice have paved the way for our own maturity.

In the last few months, my husband has made coffee hour after church his ministry. He's brewing Fair Trade organic coffee, wheeling out the parish's china mugs and saucers instead of the styrofoam cups everyone was used to, and then wheeling them back to the kitchen to run through the dishwasher.

It's not much, but it's making a difference. Not only are we avoiding a lot of trash, but more people are actually staying after church for fellowship!

He has inspired me, that hubby of mine. One of my goals of the last year has been to create new habits, slowly but surely, that will help my family live more responsibly in relation to God's creation. It's easy to get overwhelmed by the bad news, by how much we're not doing, by how many things we use that can't be recycled or composted yet still seem necessary.

But what if you had some pretty little somethings to help you on your journey? I know they make a difference for me. So, I've been working on a little surprise for you, my readers and friends, to say "thank you" for visiting, and to thank my God for the beauty of His creation.

Please check back after the weekend to see what the surprise is!

As Wall-E knew, not everything left behind and forgotten was worthless.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

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