Sunday, August 30, 2009

ground cherries

I was excited to see ground cherry starts at my local farm supply nursery this spring. I had only seen the plant once before, on a farm in the Sierras where a friend worked years ago. I visited her one day and tasted this unique fruit for the first time, filing the name away in my head before hopping off a boulder for a luxurious mountain swim.

Ground cherries are in the Solanaceae family (one of my favorites), the same family as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, and are closely related to tomatillos. Our plant grew only about a foot tall but spread 3 feet or so in all directions, in a seemingly friendly competition for space with our butternut squash. Flowers are yellow and star-shaped, and the berry-sized fruits hang like little green lanterns. Ground cherries are ripe when the papery skin becomes brown and dry and the fruits drop to the ground. Peel off the papery skin to reveal a small orange fruit with a unique taste--part pineapple, part citrus, part tomato.

The taste is not for everyone, but they are pretty popular around our house. Good thing because they are quite plentiful these days. Sam has said more than once, "I love ground cherries Mommy!" and he searches for them every time we are out in the garden. I think unwrapping the papery skin is a big part of the appeal. One of Sam's Montessori teachers is really into doing tastings of unusual foods with the kids, and she was excited when I told her about our ground cherries. I plan to bring some into his class for a tasting soon.

Friday, August 28, 2009

garden visitors

I ran to the garden to pick a few cherry tomatoes for Sam's lunch today before heading out to pick him up at school. As I was approaching the vines, some movement on a leaf of our tiny orange tree caught my eye. Looking closer, I noticed it was a very large insect. A praying mantis, very nice! I didn't have time to linger, so I continued towards the cherry tomatoes, started picking, and then noticed the droppings of a gigantic tomato hornworm. There it was on the tomato stem, munching away.

I hadn't seen one in many years. Not something you really want to see on your precious plants; these guys have big appetites. I had to leave to get Sam, but found it in the same spot hours later and took these pictures (no such luck with the praying mantis). I picked it off the plant and put it on the ground for Sam to get a closer look. It is fatter and longer than my finger, felt muscular when I grabbed it bare-handed, and writhed with its stubby legs from being disturbed. Small bugs do not bother me; we allow small spiders in our home, but relocate the large ones outside (or down the toilet). I am careful not to instill a fear of insects in Sam. So I swallowed my discomfort, picked up this thing again with a leaf, showed it to our neighbor, and carried it over to our green waste bin where I said a little apology and dropped it inside.

I also explained to Sam that we don't want this caterpillar eating our tomatoes, even if its camouflage is rather elegant. Later I looked it up in my insect books and realized that the horn actually protrudes from the rear end, and that they are sometimes parasitized. Now I wish I'd checked for signs of ovipositor attack, although it really was so fat and muscular that I rather doubt it was being eaten from within.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

evening in the garden

Just before dinner we stepped out to the front yard to pick something to eat. Among many other things we put into our harvest basket, we found three paricularly large vegetable-fruits: one Celebrity tomato, unknown green zucchini (we thought we were planting yellow zucchini), and a lovely Armenian cucumber. The tomato was especially welcome, because, although our vines are heavily laden with tomatoes, they are all (except for a handful over the past weeks) eternally green:

Will they ever ripen? At least we still have as many beautiful cherry tomatoes as 3 people can eat, and more:

And I'm still loving all the butternuts ripening everywhere:

Sam's vegetable of choice for dinner tonight? Raw green beans that he picked himself.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

first day of school

In the next few minutes Sam will be saying goodbye to his Daddy and entering the new world of Montessori school. We have been preparing him for weeks for this day.

I decided at 4 pm yesterday that I needed to make him a new schoolbag... hold the ceramic mug which will be his water cup at school. Denis gave me this bee mug for our first Christmas/Hanukkah together, after I had admired it at a craft fair. Now it will be Sam's "little piece of home" at school. Comfort, style, and utility, all in one self-chosen object; I love this practice at his school.

Sam chose this bug fabric that I have had in my stash for 12 years. Tiny tote bag pattern from my much-used and always good Bend the Rules Sewing book. Of course everything needs to be labelled now.

We think he's really going to love it there. And I can't wait to pick him up in a couple hours and hear all about it!

Friday, August 21, 2009


Sometimes you just need to hit something, especially when you have, as your father puts it, a kinetic personality. You may start out hitting with a frustrated passion and a pushed-out lower lip, but a smile soon settles in. It's quite satisfying having an audience as well.

Denis, who owns probably a dozen or more musical instruments, bought this African drum years ago from an old friend of his. This particular friend is a professional drummer, and played in an African drumming/dancing group that often performed at the ranch where I used to live and work, long before Denis and I knew each other. The group fit in well with the hippie-earthy vibe we had at the ranch, though I was rather ambivalent about drum circles myself. When this guy got married, his wedding was at the ranch, and Denis attended, while I observed the festivities from my tiny "elf-house" abode, neither of us aware, of course, that our future spouse was in our midst.

When we moved into our first home together as boyfriend-girlfriend, this drum was part of our bedroom decor. Now it lives in our son's closet, to be pulled out on afternoons when manic energy is running high. More than once this past week, I've been taken down memory lane listening to the new sounds of little hands pounding.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

garden for dinner

This is a good example of one of my easy dinners. I don't think I ever made exactly this before last night, but variations of it pop up a lot when I've had a particularly long day.

Put quinoa in the rice cooker; pick green beans and cherry tomatoes from the front yard; trim, slice, and steam green beans al dente; quarter cherry tomatoes; mix veggies with quinoa and add olive oil (plus butter for Sam); season with garlic salt (I turned up my nose at this for years, but recently purchased the 'good' stuff-no additives-and it makes things so easy sometimes) and black pepper; add grated parmesan at the table. It's the parmesan that elevates this dish from bland to yummy, and the complete protein in the quinoa makes it perfectly nutritious. Nothing too special, but the whole thing took less than a half hour to make, and all three of us ate it up. Garden yummies + protein + quick = perfect.

p.t. update

For anyone on the edge of her seat (or his seat), and for posterity, here's the scoop: using the potty clicked for Sam on the third day of at-home nakedness. Transitioning to undies at home has yet to click after more than two weeks. A few successes but mostly accidents. I've been letting him take the lead, with gentle reminders from me, but no forcing him to sit. Lots of accidents. Not the easy kind. Lots of laundry loads consisting of one tiny pair of underwear and one tiny pair of shorts. Part of the problem may have been that we ran out of reward m&m's soon after the transition, which was part of our plan (not wanting to continue the sweets reward for too long), and for which we gave lots of reminders (look, they're almost gone) and provided a substitute reward (stickers). Possibly Sam decided that using the potty was no longer so fun without m&m's, or possibly he is just having trouble recognizing the need to go when he has clothes on. Either way, I soon bought more m&m's for the reward jar. Still the accidents continued.

As of today, we do more diapers and occasional nakedness, but a few days ago I quit the underwear unless he asks for it. I was starting to get frustrated with the messes and didn't want to pass on the negativity to Sam's process. Just a little break for me, I suppose. School starts next week, and they will help with training Sam, along with a few other kids, so hopefully the group experience will help him. Meanwhile I'll do a little research and continue with underwear when I get my mojo back.

Monday, August 17, 2009


This is our ridiculously abundant cherry tomato harvest this morning. From two sungold plants. Also a few (red) sweet 100s from one plant. Minus those that Sam kept eating as we picked and photographed. Can you tell that his garden boots are on the wrong feet? He doesn't care. It is interesting to me how many sungolds we are getting, because for the first time I did not do any pruning of suckers this year. They are a sprawling mess and it's challenging to pick them without stepping on branches and fruit clusters, but the bounty is worth it, don't you agree?

Friday, August 7, 2009

early august garden

We have honeybees in the poppies, hummingbirds in the tithonia, and neighbors exalting our bounty and bringing their friends over to see. Even I am amazed at the vigorous growth of every one of our plants. Despite the significant shade cast by our 40' mimosa tree, everything in the garden is thriving. The pole bean teepee is taller than all of us:

This single butternut squash plant is my favorite this year; the vines are still snaking their way onto paths and adjacent garden beds, producing lots of enlarging fruits along their way:

We have harvested only 2 slicing tomatoes so far, but have had many handfuls of sungold cherry tomatoes, most have which have been gobbled up by one eager eater:

Soon we will make our first batch of pickles, using the beautiful dill flowers pictured above in my new blog header. For weeks we've all been eating a high proportion of green beans and cucumbers in our diet (we pick this much every few days):

The last of the beets and carrots will make room for a winter garden bed to be planted next month:

I must mention that all this lush growth is definitely not the result of high water use. We are very aware of water shortages this year and are extremely frugal with our water use. Each garden bed is heavily mulched in straw, and plant spacings are closer than normal (biointensive style), providing a canopy over the soil to minimize moisture loss. We often wait until plants are droopy before watering. On our ornamental plantings, we are almost exclusively using reclaimed water from Sam's bath and our showers, and we do not have a water-thirsty lawn at all. I am proud to say that we are using relatively little additional water this summer, and our garden still kicks ass.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

woos-gick class

This summer we've been doing music classes on Thursdays. It is a Music Together program, which is based on the premise that all children are musical. It is a small group class of "music immersion," with strong parent participation (we are considered our children's models--with no time to take pictures btw), and a curriculum of songs each term. We received cds of the songs, including suggestions to bring music into our home life (e.g. Sam playing a flute at home, above). Each class involves singing, movement, and percussion, using a slightly different approach each week to the now-familiar songs.

Sam LOVES woos-gick class! He plays the cds at home, sings along (though not in class for some reason), and we even hear him singing the songs on his own without the cd as well. Every morning he asks if we are going to woos-gick class, and when we are driving there on Thursday mornings, he is very animated discussing our route, especially when we are in view of the parking lot where he practically busts himself out of his carseat with excitement. "There it is! There it is! There's the woos-gick class Mommy! Right there!" In class, he loves all the movement and percussion, and smiles when his name is sung during the hello and goodbye songs. Above all, he adores our wonderful teacher. With Helen, I feel like we got so lucky. She is so engaging and down-to-earth, very fun, keeps the music fresh (and thankfully not cheesy) each week, and most of all really connects with the children.

Today after class, in a perfect display of his shy-but-loves-people personality, Sam ran up to Helen as if to hug her goodbye, then immediately averted his eyes and ran away. Why I love Helen is that she totally got it: she gave Sam a loving smile and told him (from across the room) that she felt special for getting such a nice goodbye from him. I don't know who of the three of us was happiest in that moment.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

county fair

Sam calls it the "fair-ya," and we had some great summertime fun just minutes from home. He went on his first roller coaster (and ferris wheel) with Daddy:

Visited some farm animals:

Ran around a barn while I checked out the old-timey home and garden contest entries:

And savored some classic fair foods:

We loved it!

phase 2

I am a total mommy-blogger cliche right now, posting about potty training, but it's a pretty big deal (I'm learning), so here I go! Our commitment to the process has yielded some surprisingly positive results (along with the darker results of an exhausted mommy and a week of dinner failure). Sam now will use his little potty almost unfailingly while at home and naked. He's been doing this since day 3 of serious training (about a week now). As of yesterday we are in Phase 2, transitioning to underwear at home. So far there have been a lot of wet underpants hanging on the clothesline, but we persevere! Stay tuned!