March 28, 2010

I spent three hours at the p-patch this weekend, doing community garden weeding (weeding in places that aren't in my plot). There have been a couple plots that have been neglected for a year or more, and these needed to be cleaned up so that they could be reassigned to new (hopefully better, more involved) gardeners.

The other factor is the enormous pile of compost that our p-patch received this year. It's all got to get up to the various plots before it gets in the way of the Habitat for Humanity people who have generously let up take up a portion of their staging space. In the meantime, this pile of compost is a playground.

Caitlyn and her friend Raina spent two hours climbing, digging, sliding, throwing, and carrying compost. The rest of us shoveled it, wheelbarrowed it, and spread it. I think the girls were more pleased with their results.

Although, I must say, the p-patch is looking pretty good already. We may actually be getting this figured out this year.

March 24, 2010

I like feather pillows. But they never seem to stay sufficiently lofty, ending up all flat and rather pointless to sleep on. So, we buy more pillows, and put the old, unlofty ones away (since I appear to have inherited my grandmother's inability to throw things away, something that conflicts with my desire to simplify and tidy, which I think comes from my mother).

So, what does one do with old, flat pillows you can't bring yourself to throw away? Consolidate, of course!

It's an easy-peasy sewing project, all rectangles and straight seams. One I probably should have used stash fabric for, since I have a bit, but I bought some broadcloth instead. I think the whole project took a little over an hour. The hardest part: getting the feathers from the old pillows into the new pillow without getting feathers all over the room. As it was, there were a lot of feathers all over me.

homemade pillow

There. New, lofty feather pillow. Next step: discover if I made it too big for the pillow case!

March 22, 2010

A few more days of sun, and the peas are germinating!

Caitlyn, of course, is taking this as a sign that she doesn't need to wear a jacket anymore. This morning, as we were leaving for school, she insisted, "But it's not freezing!" Well, yes, but it's also not 70 degrees out, yet. Mama's going to insist on a jacket for a few more weeks, I think.

The seed potatoes have arrived.

This is their "before" portrait. I'll take an after picture before I plant them...

The onion seeds have germinated, as well.

Now I have to decide how long I'm going to keep them indoors. My seed-starting trays aren't as deep as the ones I bought onion starts in last year, so I probably can't wait until these little things are the size of the ones I got at the nursery. Which makes me think I'm probably going to buy starts in a few weeks to supplement these. I should probably try to find a little guidance on starting onions from seed for next year if I think I'll try this again. Instinct is telling me that I'm going to lose some of these, and probably not to the cat.

Back outside, cherry flowers.

And blueberry leaves.

The pear tree is in bloom and the raspberries are leafing out. With the equinox over the weekend, both the calendar and the backyard agree: Spring is here!

March 18, 2010

Six weeks ago, I had an excuse. Today, not so much.

I'm both dreading and looking forward to the summer. Dreading because keeping Boredom at bay is a challenge for Caitlyn and thus for me. Looking forward to it because maybe, just maybe, I won't feel like my days are jam-packed and over-scheduled. Right now, even the things that are supposed to be fun are feeling like over-pressuring responsibilities.

So, instead of packing lunch and getting ready for school, Caitlyn and I waxed the Monterey Jack cheese from last weekend. We joined the Thursday lunch crew for a delightful lunch at some place in Queen Anne (it's really a shame I didn't get the name since the food was good and the texture on the walls utterly fascinating, but the email thread just called it "the new Cajun place"). We walked back to downtown, took the train back to Columbia City, walked to the library and spent an hour reading books and racing the plastic dinosaurs. Well, that last one was mostly Caitlyn...

And then we came home and actually managed to more or less collaborate on dinner. I'd recently seen this post from Cooking with my Kid and figured (a) easy plus (b) noodles plus (c) cheese equals a dinner Caitlyn could get whole-heartedly involved in. She put the noodles in the pot, oversaw the melting butter, told me when I'd poured a cup of milk, helped grate cheese, stirred with various levels of enthusiasm, poured milk, and added cheese. She even managed to remember that in those lulls when you're waiting for water to boil or sauce to thicken, you should avoid bear-walking unless you are also willing to go re-wash your hands before coming back into the kitchen.

She ate half her portion at dinner (probably due to a snack she'd had just when we came back from the library) and declared it the best dinner of her "entire life." Given the recent explosion of extreme superlatives (lunch was also the best meal of her entire life and she wants to go to the Central Library because it's her most favorite place in her entire life), I'm taking this announcement with just a little salt. But it still makes me smile.

March 15, 2010

I was going to rant about Daylight Savings Time, but then I remembered that I already did.

We have run out of one of our stored foods. The apples were gone in January and this weekend I used the last of the frozen spinach. Turns out Caitlyn loves crispy filo but doesn't think so much about feta or about spinach, and both together are inspiration for all sorts of "Eeeewww" faces. I expect the baklava will meet with more approval.

Anyway, I'm not too worried about the end of the spinach. My pantry notes say I put up 3 quarts and 3 pints, and I don't feel like I scrimped on spinach any time during the winter. Not sure that the distinction between pints and quarts turned out to be such a big deal; I froze the blanched spinach loose on a cookie sheet before moving it to jars, which resulted in less than efficiently packed jars. One pint packed that way is enough spinach to add to something but not enough to make spanikopita or spinach ricotta calzones. Perhaps I should try packing a pint jar with blanched-but-not-frozen-spinach and see if that really works out to be too much spinach (as that was the logic behind last year's method).

With any luck, the seeds will sprout soon. "Watched seeds never sprout," I know, but I'm haunting the garden beds anyway, looking for that first uncurling leaf.

March 13, 2010

Today's results: yogurt, Irish potato brown bread, an almost-spanikopita (to be completed tomorrow), and Monterey Jack cheese.

We should have made this cheese for our first hard cheese instead of the gouda we made last November. This was easy, if hugely time consuming. There's a lot of waiting that happens in cheese-making. Bring the milk to temperature, add something, wait, repeat. Cut curds, wait, repeat.

Monterey Jack curds

Curds and whey.

Monterey Jack curds

Drained and salted curds. We got 6 quarts and 3 pints of whey out of this. (Local people: want some?)

Monterey Jack curds

And this is where it's at right now, pressing at 10 lbs, more or less, for 12 hours. Technically, this means I need to get up at 4:30am and move the cheese to the next step (air drying); I wonder how much damage I'll do if I wait until a reasonable hour?

March 10, 2010

Diane's quilt

Sometimes the worn things can be patched up and brought back to life. This quilt was made by Ian's mom, out of old clothes, jeans and shirts circa 1970. But by the time I met it, it's backing had torn and it had been boxed up as something laced with memories but too much on it's last leg to stand regular use.

Diane's quilt

When I took it to the fabric store to find coordinating fabric to be the new backing (a challenge given the nearly forty years of shifting definitions of "fashionable"), it still smelled like the cedar chest. I felt like I should be explaining to everyone what I was doing, apologizing for the haze of cedar scent, but realistically, probably no one noticed. New backing fabric, new binding, new batting in the middle. It's heavy, and warmer now than it used to be.

Diane's quilt

This is the first quilt I tied. Usually I wrestle them through my sewing machine (I may drool over a long arm but we don't have the space for one, never mind the $15K it probably takes to buy one), but all the denim in this one had me convinced I would break multiple needles if I tried the usual technique. I'm pretty sure I won't switch over to tying all my quilts, but it's a good skill to have and much easier than I thought it would be, even if my fingers did need a week to recover. And it works with the rustic nature of this quilt.

It spent last night on our bed, under the cat. It's nice to have it back in circulation.

March 07, 2010

I try to avoid impulse buys. Usually the stuff around a cashier station is just junk, except for all the chocolate you can pick up in the checkout lanes at the Seward Park PCC. And shopping at my local Lowe's tends to me make me cranky enough that I refuse to buy extra stuff at the registers as a matter of principle; they made everything I was looking for so hard to find, why should I buy this just because it's here?

But it's spring. They've rearranged things to put the vegetable gardening stuff up front (or at least on your way out if you are checking out from the garden center). And they had asparagus crowns.

I've been daydreaming about growing asparagus ever since reading about it in Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Miracle. It's popped up recently over at the Urban Farm Hub. Fresh asparagus, and it's supposed to be pretty, too, all ferny-like. But I couldn't quite settle on a place in the backyard for it; since asparagus isn't an annual, it needs a permanent home, and most of my backyard garden is pretty well occupied at this point. But then, at Lowes, standing in front of the boxes of asparagus crowns all wrapped up in burlap bags, the light went on: I could plant it in the P-Patch. One of those little bags leaped into my hands and didn't leave until we'd checked out.

So, I've planted 6 asparagus crowns (three more than I was expecting, though I'm not sure why) in our P-Patch plot. (Unfortunately, they don't photograph well for me at this stage, just little nubbins peeking out, so I'll leave you with these far prettier violas, instead.)

violas at sunset

They march in their rows on the south side, just east of the garlic. I won't see any crop until 2012 since I'm supposed to let the spears grow uncut to build healthy roots, and they will be all the sweeter then for the delay. And whoever inherits my P-Patch plot when I have to let it go someday will luck into homegrown asparagus without the waiting period. I hope someone tells them what it is before they dig it up.

March 05, 2010

The mail last Saturday made it official: we know where Caitlyn will go to kindergarten next year. This process has been agonizing for a number of reasons but I think things can be reduced to (a) difficulty finding the answers to our questions and (b) free-floating societal pressure.

There's an absurd amount of pressure regarding school choice and enrollment. The free parenting magazines that periodically show up in the cubby at preschool are packed with ads from schools and camps and programs as well as articles (vague, overly-generalized articles) on how to get the best for/from your kid. There's a fog of expectation out there (kind of like how movies encourage eating disorders) that insists that if you aren't applying to the exclusive schools and stretching your family budget to pay for them, you are compromising your child's future. A good job and prosperous career path require a good college record, which requires excellent high school marks and lots of extracurricular activities, which require the same from the middle school, which requires a strong elementary school, one that teaches "readin', 'ritin', and 'rithmetic" but balances the academics with music and art and field trips and cultural activities and social justice and ecological awareness, which you just can't do without the right preschool. It probably goes on further, like in order to get into the right preschool, you need to have a whole collection of Mom-n-Me classes under your three year old's belt, which means you probably should have been reading Plato aloud to your belly before your pregnancy started to show. The child's personality is entirely left out of the equation, as are all the other variables (economics, family stability, frequency of relocations, learning styles, etc). Not to mention that if something doesn't work at some point on this path, you can change something or try a different path entirely.

I like to think that I march to my own beat most of the time, but it was difficult to avoid feeling like if I messed up Choosing The Right Kindergarten I would be Screwing My Kid For Life.

And that made evaluating and sorting through our options that much more important. I would be Judged By The Future on how I did this now. So, I asked questions. I collected recommended questions from friends and family. I compiled a list of questions ranging from basic statistics (class size? ethnic balance? free lunch percentage? teachers with masters? average daily attendance?) to school ideology (graded homework for lower grades? recess for upper grades? how do you handle diversity? playground conflict? parent involvement? different student abilities?) and probably terrified the principals to whom I sent them all.

Finding the answers felt much more difficult than I thought it should. In an ideal world, there would have been one place that would have answered at least most of the questions. But I was all over the Internet. The Seattle Times has a School Guide that has some information in it. Seattle Public Schools has Annual Reports. The State Superintendent of Public Instruction has a Compare My School tool. There are review sites tucked into various cyber-corners, blog posts if you can find them. Each school has a website in various stages of care or neglect. Of course there isn't the budget anywhere for it, but couldn't all these be pooled somewhere, or indexed so you can find them?

To add to the confusion, the school district has decided to transition to a neighborhood school assignment plan. While generally I think this is a good thing, I'm not crazy about being in on Year One. We are a start-up kind of household, but this is one place where I don't want to be the one inventing the systems. And getting clear information on how the new plan will work and it's levels of implementation has been like trying to get a drink from a faucet that only drips: time-consuming and unsatisfying. Shouldn't How to Enroll in Our Schools be an easy thing to find? But apparently the district likes to release information on their website incrementally. I couldn't just go there once and get a good handle on how to proceed; I could find out what step the system is on this month ("early registration" information is available in December, assignment process info becomes available in January, open enrollment process information in February, I might be able to learn Caitlyn's bus stop sometime in August), but getting an overview of the whole process - that I never found. Simply knowing the landmarks on this trek from the get-go would have made the whole process much more pleasant.

March 02, 2010

I think it was the word "kale" in the title that grabbed my attention. I'd recently added 101 Cookbooks to my Google Reader and while browsing along found Pan-fried Corona Beans and Kale. And suddenly I knew what Tuesday's dinner would be. We are, after all, still trying to eat the kale in the backyard before the seed potatoes arrive.

Ok, so it wasn't the recipe from 101 Cookbooks, but the similar one in Heidi's book, Super Natural Cooking (which I bought on the recommendation of an old school friend and which I've admired regularly but hadn't gotten around to actually using). I used cannellini beans from the pantry and kale from the garden and totally forgot about the recommendations to not forget the nutmeg or the lemon.

I seem to have also forgotten that Caitlyn is currently in a no-bean phase. "I'm just not that in to them," she says, completely serious. Ian tried to encourage her by talking about how he didn't like beans as a kid but now thinks they're great, an anecdote that didn't impress her and made me worry that this no-bean phase is going to become a no-bean epoch. The adults, on the other hand, thought dinner was wonderful (if unphotographed), a reminder that sometimes great food is made from the simplest preparation of quality ingredients.