Monday, March 30, 2009

feeding the soil

I started this blog last year with the intention of integrating some of my old self, soil, with my new self, mama. We had started a community garden plot after two seasons not gardening (pregnant, moving, baby). With a 1-year old I felt life beyond baby opening up a little. We had a sweet little season last year, and we're still eating the pickles, relish, pesto, and tomatoes that we grew. Although I ended up feeling disenchanted with the community garden model, it was pretty cool watching Sam run around the compost pile and pop sungold tomatoes into his mouth.

This year, I have a dream come true: our own land. It's tiny, it's suburban, it's a front yard on a cul-de-sac. But it's ours! This past weekend, we broke ground. It was a family effort: examining the space with its existing plantings and mulch (a "street tree," no-maintenance shrubs and perennials, self-sowing Cal poppy, a few bulbs, weedcloth, and gravel), determining the best spot for our first bed, stringing out a 4'x8' bed oriented north-south, removing 3 or so inches of gravel and weeds (woohoo), peeling up the weed barrier (no longer functioning), and prepping the bed.

Denis borrowed a truck from work to pick up a load of county compost. Eleven years ago I was regularly hauling loads of Berkeley city compost in the back of a rusty yellow Toyota pickup. I'd stand on that giant pile of converted city yardwaste and shovel it all in, and then shovel it all out again back at the farm, wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow. Well, I did have help usually, but I made it a point to do more than my share. I'd even compete against myself by trying to beat my own time loading the truck. I listened to a lot of Ani Difranco that year, what can I say.

For the next 4 years and a different job I kept shovelling and hauling that compost in pickups and trailers, until I finally reached compost-self-sufficiency and no longer needed it. The truck rides didn't end though; I still pitched and hauled horse manure from a mile away.

All this is to say that I've carried a lot of compost in my day. So when Denis and I disagreed about whether or not to tarp the truck, I came from the position of "I've driven on the highway with loads of dirt dozens of times and I've never needed to tarp it." Call me an ornery farmer if you will (I wish I were), but I underestimated myself. Dozens, yes, but actually over a hundred times. Did he listen? No, he tarped the truck, just like the good citizen he is.

As I watched him shovel our compost onto the driveway with Sam (I was digging the bed at the time), I thought of all the people I've shovelled compost with over the years. So many wonderful folks. There's nothing like getting to know people while moving (literally) a ton of dirt using the strengths of your backs together, and then doing it again and again. Now, here I am, a lot slower and soft-skinned than I used to be, but with the two most wonderful people I have ever known, hauling compost in our very own garden for the very first time. Bliss.

bon appetit recession

About 6 months ago, when the tanking economy and rising food prices still caused some surprise, I found myself on the playground with a bunch of other moms discussing our weekly grocery bills. I couldn't help thinking that I had hit the big time of suburban motherhood. Who knew how fascinating this topic could be!

At that point each of us estimated spending about $125/week on groceries for 2 parents and 1 or 2 little ones. It was surprising to me that we all came up with the same number, especially since some of us were spending this amount at discount stores, some at Costco, some at Safeway, and then me at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. I can only attribute this phenomenon to a difference in products purchased. Although I probably spend more for produce, dairy, and pantry staples, I do not buy meat, nor a lot of processed foods which tend to cost more than scratch ingredients.

Since that time things have changed. Sam is eating more and more (often as much as an adult! I don't know where it all goes, and we'd better start saving for his teenage diet now). We have also taken a huge personal hit due to the general economy and particularly the California budget crisis. Just when our grocery bill started to creep up, we needed to cut it way back.

Since I don't get performance reviews and I certainly don't get raises, I'm just going to toot my own horn here for any of you still reading this scintillating report. For the past three weeks and counting, I have managed to get our grocery bill well under $100/week. I still buy quality food and a large proportion organic and local. I've done it by cutting out some of our few processed items (and if this causes my favorite fresh salsa company to go out of business I will be very sad because I am dreaming of eating it again when times get better), buying a little less cheese and a little more beans and grains, picking produce carefully based on price, delaying each food shop as long as possible, and (most importantly) diligently menu-planning. The funny thing is that in some ways we are eating even better than before. Maybe being more conscious about our food choices makes me cook better. Or maybe food is the sole semi-discretionary spending we have left in our budget, so it's the only thing left to enjoy.

spring smiles

In the absence of cute photos here lately, I am pleased to share a link with you. Sam and I make an appearance over on Carrie's blog, in a post about a fun (and hot) day we shared with Amy, Miles, Carrie and Sadie recently. Check it out.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

flower day

This blog may be on its deathbed, but the stories keep coming in our real world. I would like to remember today as the first day Sam picked flowers as a contribution to our dining room table bouquet. We've been having some great floral surprises in our new yard this spring, including my discovery of (gasp!) purple lilacs emerging from an unspectacular bush in the back corner of the yard. Back east lilacs don't bloom until May, and can be found everywhere, making their sweet-scented way into daily conversation and regionally famous lilac celebrations. Here in the promised land, lilacs show up much earlier, in March, but they are uncommon and not nearly as appreciated by the locals. It was certainly in the plan to plant a lilac bush at our new house; how fortunate that one is already here.

So today I picked some lilacs to replace the wilting bouquet of narcissus (another yard suprise and also beautifully scented) for our dining room table. I came back inside, found a vase, placed it on the table, and continued making dinner while Sam played outside. A little while later I hear him open the screen door and walk into the dining room. He's busy with something at the side of the table, and I peek over his shoulder to see what's going on. There on the tablecloth is a pile of red flower petals from our camellia bush. Sam looks at me and announces, "red flowers," as he dashes back to his wagon on the porch to get more handfuls. Some of them are brown and rotting, since he "picked" these flowers from the ground beneath the bush, and I definitely see an ant walking away from the pile (I relocate it outside), but I couldn't be happier. Lilacs and Sam's petals in one day! That's a lot of flower goodness.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

good things to do with a 2-year-old on a Saturday

---walk in the rain and splash in puddles while giggling
---watch a leaf float downstream
---practice sticking out tongues to catch raindrops
---eat snack on the deck wearing rain boots while Mommy watches and washes dishes
---discover a purple lilac bush in bloom in our own yard
---arrange socks with their matching pairs
---sort buttons by hue as Mommy sews patchwork squares
---look through old magazines (National Geographic and New Yorker)
---read "new" books from the storage shed
---wait for Daddy at the window
---three-way family hug
---help Daddy make pizza
---eat yummy broccoli-onion pizza
---sing songs after dinner while "playing piano" on the edge of the table
---super silly soapy saturday bath
---moose bamas (moose pajamas)
---night-night kisses

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

the raunchy, the sweet, and the song

In toddler-speak, words may be known but mispronounced. Language acquisition is like that; vocabulary develops before pronunciation, totally normal. Occasionally there are some unfortunate (or fortunately hilarious) versions of common words.

Sam has a couple raunchy ones:

Talking about tunnels (one of his Favorite Things) sounds like: P*rno! P*rno!

Giving kisses, which he does often: Piss! Piss Mommy!

And some very sweet phrases:

Happy tee you! Happy tee you Mommy! Happy happy tee you Daddy!

Tank you bay much!

And a song:

Row row boat peet may may by beam (often while running circles around the couch).