Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

another fall crop

Leeks! Nights this week have been downright cold, so it was quite appropriate to have our first fireplace fires of the season, as well as our first fall soup. Potato Leek Soup, made with homegrown leeks, some yukon gold potatoes, onion, garlic, celery, carrot, homegrown red bell pepper, dino kale, thyme, bay, white pepper, salt, oil, lemon juice, butter and whole milk, all mixed up with an immersion blender. All three of us, plus our dinner guest, had second helpings. Delicious!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

great-grandma's piano

Here Sam plays his great-grandma's piano, which now graces our living room. She was a piano teacher in San Francisco in the 40's and 50's, and we inherited a boxful of wonderful sheet music from her as well. Sam not only enjoys "playing" piano, he also likes to play a single note before singing a song, just like our teacher does on her violin before a song in class. Denis informs me that he and Sam have jam sessions on piano and guitar together, usually songs about animals, with elephants represented by the lowest notes, and a mouse represented by the highest notes. Today I was treated to many verses of 'Crawdad', a catchy bluegrass tune from our music class.

Friday, October 23, 2009

embracing fall

Today was a beautiful California fall day: warm enough to hang out laundry, with the smell of fallen leaves in the air, and golden fall colors all around. I recently harvested most of our butternut squash to save it from drowning in the 2.74" rain that fell in our first storm. I hadn't grown winter squash--apart from pumpkins--since I worked on farms managed by other people. This year, my butternuts are reminding me of my grandfather, who grew these in his backyard every year for us to eat over the holidays. Butternut squash was my favorite vegetable when I was a kid, and my grandfather made sure I had some homegrown every fall. At 94 he hasn't gardened in several years, but I think he will be pleased to hear that the tradition continues.

I'm really a summer person, but there are at least a couple things to love about fall besides butternut squash...such as comfy sweaters and corduroys,

boots left on the porch, the angle of sunlight in our backyard,

and the feeling of things slowing down, just a little bit.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

sewing round-up part 2

Here is another birthday gift I sewed for a friend. This project was inspired by a collection of fabrics from P&B Textiles, which I found so charming and reminded me of my friend's style. The only issue with this project was that it intimidated me for an entire year, so instead of getting this to her for her 2008 birthday, I only managed to complete it for her birthday this year!

It's a notepad holder. I had seen a couple of handmade objects like this and decided that I could recreate it myself. I basically drafted the pattern from scratch, not even sure that my machine (a late 1950's era model) could handle it (thus the confidence problem). I didn't even own a rotary cutter last year when I cut out the fabric, so it was pretty awesome to feel how far I had come when I finally finished it.

The button is glass, the tie closure is sewn-up bias binding tape (which wraps around the button), and there are two layers of flannel between the outer and inner fabrics for body. Inside there is a sleeve for a 5x7 notepad, a slim pocket for writing implement, a small pocket for post-its or stamps, and a larger pocket for mail or papers or whatever. Sewing through all the layers gave me almost no trouble (I had feared worse), and truly this was so fun and satisfying to put together. I am quite pleased with how it turned out!

Monday, October 19, 2009

sewing round-up part 1

Sam's preschool schedule has provided me with a little extra time for some sewing. I've completed several projects since I last updated, the biggest of which was this skirt, the first 'successful' garment I have made for myself. Every fall I love the look of skirts and boots, but I have never been able to justify buying the expensive leather riding-style boots that I love. The truth is, I'm not much of a skirt girl, and rubber garden boots are closer to my reality.

I drafted the pattern myself using instructions in the book Sew What! Skirts, by Francesca DenHartog. It is a simple cotton A-line skirt with a side zipper, no waistband, and bias binding trim. It's still a bit big and low-riding on me, though I took it in twice. Next time I'll know how to use my measurements better. The "sideways squares" patches idea came from a skirt pattern in Seams to Me, by Anna Maria Horner.

I'm not sure if this skirt is really working for me though...proof being that I have yet to wear it out of the house. I still call it a successful first garment, at least compared to the patternless skirts and shorts I attempted in my younger days. Luckily I had the foresight to use cheap fabric for this, so the whole thing only cost me about $8 to make.

I made another trio of baby bibs, from the same pattern as last time. These cuties will go to a new baby girl from Denis' office.

My best friend had a birthday recently so I made her some napkins from reproduction 1890's fabric. These are simple hemmed squares of fabric with mitered corners, easy and elegant.

Then I made a drawstring "travel bag" from the book Weekend Sewing, by Heather Ross, to use as a giftbag. I love the tiny toile fabric, and I love not using wrapping paper! Best of all, travelling with cloth drawstring bags is much nicer than packing shoes or laundry in a plastic bag from the grocery store. I'll be making more of these for Holiday gift-wrapping.

That's not all! I have a few more projects to share soon.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

boys camping trip

The weekend before last, Denis took Sam camping with a friend and his son. This is my favorite photo from the trip: Sam playing with a flashlight inside the tent. I love that Denis thought to provide Sam with his own flashlight for his first camping trip. (It's actually a flashlight I purchased for myself on the coast of Maine while camping at Acadia a few years ago.) I also love that it was a boys trip (though I would love to go too-as soon as we upgrade to a 3-person tent), and that I got over 24 hours at home by myself. As for the details, and more pictures, I will leave those to Denis to share. I just wanted to remember a bit of end-of-summer goodness while it rains buckets here during the first (welcome) storm of the rainy season.

Friday, October 9, 2009

pick a peck

We don't quite have a peck of home-grown peppers, but we do have the best crop I have personally grown. LOVE this inland climate! With greater coastal influence in other locations, my peppers were small, thin-walled, and stayed green, barely worth growing and eating. This year, further inland (with some shade), I chose three varieties and planted them in two different locations in our garden.

Not pictured are the Gypsy peppers, an earlier, pale yellow-green, pointed tip sweet pepper, supposedly with wonderful flavor, though I did not find them very tasty and will not grow them again.

Pictured above are some Corn Di Torro, an elongated heirloom stuffing pepper which ripens to red. They taste good fresh or lightly stir-fried, which is how we eat most peppers. The other night I also roasted some for a pasta dish, and they were so delicious I think I will do more roasting next year. A farmer colleague of mine told me years ago that he would freeze roasted peppers to preserve for winter eating. With greater production we could do that too.

Also pictured are a few ripe Ace bell peppers. This is a popular hybrid variety, ripening to red, and very good fresh, stir-fried, or roasted. And no less important, the green-red striped one is so pretty! The plant did not get very big, and had some significant competition from a vining squash and drooping tomato, but it kept popping out peppers seemingly too big for itself (there is one still ripening right now). Definitely will grow these again, and more too.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


I have story to tell, but it's a long one. You might want to get a snack before we start, and I, for one, will be keeping a tissue handy.

As you may remember, Sam and I have been taking a music class together. We are now in a new fall session with different kids and new songs, but with the same amazing teacher. I just cannot stress how much Sam loves this class. We have been playing the cd at home and in the car to learn the new songs, and Sam not only sings along, but "reads" along in the accompanying songbook. He also sings the songs on his own without the cd, while playing or eating or in the bath.

Often I will sing too, and Sam loves it when I make up new lyrics which correspond to what we are doing; for example one of the songs goes "apples and cherries, peaches blueberries, grapes and bananas, dee dee deedee dee..." so one night when I wanted him to stay focused on eating dinner, I changed the words to the food in his bowl, "noodles and tofu, carrot cabbage, tahini yogurt, dee dee deedee dee..." Sam thought this was the funniest thing, and kept eating and laughing---a dangerous combination I realize---even making up his own silly lyrics and cracking himself up. And really, that is one of the objectives of this particular music program: to completely integrate music with daily life.

When we are in class, Sam is very focused on Helen, our teacher (and he still calls himself Helen out of deep love for her sometimes), participates in the dancing and movement with boundless enthusiasm, and plays the instruments (his favorites are tiny cymbals and a tiny drum), but despite knowing the songs quite well, has not sung along to the songs in class. Actually most of the children don't sing along (the babies obviously don't, but even most of the older verbal children as well) although they clearly know the songs and enjoy class.

So, two of Sam's favorite songs are the Hello and Goodbye songs. These are the two songs that open and close class and which remain the same from session to session. The lyrics are happy and upbeat and consist of singing hello (or goodbye) to each child in the class by name, "Hello to Sam, we're so glad to see you! Hello to Ella, we're so glad to see you too..." If you told me 10 years ago that I was going to be sitting in a circle with a bunch of parents and little kids singing sickenly happy songs while clapping my hands with a huge smile on my face, I probably would have scowled, picked up a wheelbarrow full of dirt and run away from you up a steep hill. I am so ridiculously happy singing that damn song with a roomful of people who all smile at my son and sing his name and sing how happy they are to see him, and knowing the thrill he gets from that is enough to make my voice crack.

Well, this week, for the very first time, Sam sang in class. As usual, all of us parents and Helen started clapping our knees and singing "Hello everybody, we're so glad to see you! Hello to Joseph, we're so glad to see you too! Hello..." And then right away, rising up from the sound of the group, was one distinctive voice, one young little voice, singing with the right words and the right rhythm but a bit higher and slightly out of tune, one confident happy voice singing along, clapping his knees to the beat, singing how happy he was to see everyone. One voice, Sam's voice, singing along with the adults in the room. Helen noticed and gave him big smiles, other parents noticed and smiled at him too. I---I was bursting and grinning and giggling and tearing up and choking on the lump in my throat. All I could hear was this one clear high little-boy off-key happy happy voice.

And then he sang the next song and the next one. I could barely get the words out myself. I kept wiping the corners of my eyes, and I could barely contain my giggles. I should have remembered to take deep breaths--that might have helped. After singing along for three or four songs, Sam stopped singing and resumed his usual engaged but mute participation in class. Perhaps, sadly, my odd reaction to his singing suppressed him. Next time I must concentrate and not get worked up. Bad Mommy. Bad sappy Mommy.

Towards the end of every class, right before the Goodbye song, Helen dims the lights and we all make the sound of a gentle wind. Then we sing one of the quiet lullabies as babies and toddlers cuddle in their parents' laps. It's a sweet and tender time, babies often nurse, parents and children snuggle, the voices of a quiet lullaby fill the room. As for Sam, he decides, every time, that he needs to run pell-mell around the room. He throws himself at me, runs away, runs back, throws himself at me again, runs circles around me, darts between other people in the circle, and all the while I am dutifully singing the sweet lullaby and hoping he doesn't hurt anybody.

It's not that I wish Sam would act any differently during lullaby-time. Sam is a lover and I get plenty of cuddles and kisses with him. No, his wildness, his running around, his utter refusal to be touched with tenderness right then, his independence, is just so funny that it's absolutely perfect. I mean really, the singing, the clapping, the running? I hadn't laughed that hard telling Denis about our day in a long time. Couldn't have been more perfect.

Taking it all in, that's what this story is about. Taking it all in and reminding myself to breathe.

Monday, October 5, 2009

parenting interlude

Lest you think this has become a strictly gardening blog, I bring you Elmo underpants, size 2T. We now have over 20 pairs of tiny boys underwear; I just can't stop buying them even though somebody with a 2T bum still isn't consistenly interested in wearing them. I really thought Elmo would do it! Somebody picked them out himself! At least I thought that he would never poop on his happy red friend, but I was wrong there too.

Now I've done it. I wrote the word poop on this nice blog. In my farmer life, poop was practically daily dinner conversation...though that was chicken, goat or horse poop usually. Cycles of life: everything is food for someone, and poop is food for microbes who convert it into food for plants. But this is a parenting post, not a gardening one.

Poop is very present in our lives still, but no, there has not been much progress potty training. I backed off for awhile, then became more suggestive about it, and now I'm backing way off again. When it's time for a diaper change, I hold up a few pairs of Big Bird or train or soccer ball or Elmo underwear along with a diaper and ask him, as neutrally as possible, which one he'd like to wear. Mostly it's a diaper. What are you gonna do?

Friday, October 2, 2009

canning tomatoes part 2

I'm a bit overdue in writing this post as a followup to Operation Tomato Part One a couple weeks ago. Immediately after canning the sungold cherry tomato sauce, we worked on sauce of the regular slicing and paste tomatoes. Even with a LOT of fresh eating, we had plenty for canning. Pace yourself Sam!

Canning is a big undertaking. I've done it alone, with one other person, and with groups of all sizes. It was one of the most popular workshops I taught at my old job, and I find interest and enthusiasm whenever I talk about it. Harvesting, gathering jars, washing jars and produce, cutting, coring, straining fruit, boiling down sauce for 4-6 hours, sterilizing jars and lids, ladling sauce into jars, screwing on lids, placing filled jars into boiling water, boiling jars for 45 minutes, lifting them out and waiting for the seal to pop.... it takes a lot of time, care, and patience.

But it's all so fun, especially when you get into a rhythm with your co-canners, everyone doing whatever job needs to be done. Even Sam got into the action pushing cut tomatoes into the hopper...

...alternated with sipping tomato juice from a mug (see red mustache).

Final yield two weeks ago: 7 quarts of delicious tomato sauce. And the best part? We did this all again yesterday with an equal amount of tomatoes, boiled it down to a thicker sauce, and got 4 more quarts of yumminess. We should have enough for one more (probably smaller) canning session soon. I love growing my own food!