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What Makes a Handful?

"You sure have your hands full!" said the older woman in Target, watching me try to corral four independent-thinking and adventur...

Friday, July 31, 2009

Lessons I'm Learning From the Garden

Bill, the girls, and I have been experimenting with a few patches of vegetable gardens here and there this year. Our back yard is interspersed with fruit, vegetable, and flower gardens, in amongst the lawn and playground equipment. Bill has a plot out at his parents' home, and the girls and I planted a garden with a friend at her home as well.

While Bill has a background in large-scale agriculture, and small backyard plots don't much interest him, the girls and I have been learning a lot and rejoicing over the small rewards we have so far been able to lay claim to.

Here's today's harvest.

The zucchini are growing like mad. The cucumbers are doing well. The Brussels sprouts are almost ready. We are hopeful about the cantaloupes, carrots, and pumpkins. The tomatoes are suffering. The ichiban has flat-out died. Every now and then we get some peppers (bell and hot), and today I picked a handful of green beans--enough for our family to enjoy a meal. (They will be cooked crisp-tender, not mushy.)

I'm learning some lessons as we go along.

Bigger is not always better. Next year, I will plant less and space it out farther.

There's value in old farming ways. Epsom salt in the soil does seem to help prevent tomato blight.

Weeding the garden twice a week is NOT enough to keep ahead of the weeds. (There's bound to be a life lesson here, about the daily need of grace and forgiveness.)

I love the smell of tomato plant leaves.

I do not like the smell of green bean plants, and a half hour rooting around among them will leave enough of that scent on my skin to make me offend myself for as long as it takes to get to the showers.

Wear long sleeves when picking squash. The leaves and stems have invisible pricklies all over them.

Baby cantaloupes are as cute as baby animals. Soft and fuzzy and so full of potential.

Get the corn well established before you plant the beans and squash around it.

Don't forget to be amazed at the tremendous variety that can come from the same plot of soil.

The farmer scatters the seed and knows not how it grows. But the Sower sows.

Planting seeds is a sure sign that the planter is capable of hope.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Jill's Imagination

Jill, at age 2, is really enjoying her own expanding imagination, and so am I.

Today, she was playing with her big sisters in the den. One of them wrapped her little leg in a bandage they found somewhere. She came toddling in to find me and announced,

"Yook, Mommy. I broke-eeng my yeg!"

Baking Day July 2009

We started the day with our second trip to the splendiforous Gypsy Mountain Blueberry Farm. This blueberry patch definitely qualifies as one of my "happy places." I look forward to going there each year, and I'm never disappointed. This was our second trip this summer, and I thought the picking was good the first time. We approached today at our leisure, enjoying the company of good friends Cathy and Nell, and the cool of the morning. I didn't push the girls or myself to pick like mad this time, but we still got a good quantity of beautiful berries easily.

I found myself amazed and honored at the quantity of fruit right there at our fingertips. The bushes were bending down with the weight of their bounty. Could picking in the Garden of Eden have really been easier or more satisfying? I'm humbled and grateful to be among the recipients of so much lavish excess. Not only is the fruit sustaining, but it's good for us. It's delicious. It's beautiful. It's abundant beyond belief. Need, beauty, pleasure, all in one package. And in this case, it's practically free for the taking. A gift. One of so many. Who deserves it?

Berry picking is one of those things I could repeat over and over again. And while I don't particularly care to weed my garden spot, I do love to harvest. It's so very satisfying to see something useful come from the earth. So summer helps fill that unfulfilled urge of mine to become a migrant worker.

The berries and now the zucchini coming on madly led us to have a baking day today. Emma and Jane were pleased to help.

We dedicated the afternoon to cooking and decided to make Jane Graham's zucchini bread--just altered a little to incorporate some whole wheat flour into the recipe. Two large zucchini gave us enough base to make 3 loaves.

But that wasn't enough. We definitely put the double oven to good use today. In addition to the zucchini bread, Emma whipped up a double batch of blueberry scones. We'll freeze about half to have for breakfasts or for her to take to school in her lunchbox starting in just a few weeks.

And we had a small pack of rapsberries too--a gift from a friend--which Jane and I added to some of our blueberries to make a Razzleberry Pie.

The inevitable mess that followed such a day of projects was a bit daunting.

It covered just about every horizontal surface in the kitchen and dining room.

But in the end, we think it was worth it. Once order was restored, this is what we were left with.

So, which one would you choose?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Miriam's Candyland Birthday Party 2009

July 2, 2009: Miss Firecracker, aka Miriam Fern Cochrane, turns 4 years old.

She started the day by going to breakfast with her Daddy--a special treat each girl has been able to enjoy since her 3rd birthday. Then it was home for the day to open family presents.

Ever since we read Charlotte's Web, Miriam has decided that she might prefer to be called by her middle name sometimes, and that she simply must have a pig of her own to sleep in her bed with her. This present was just what she wanted. (And mom is quite happy with it too, especially compared to the alternative!)

Fern has her own little Wilbur. Does this picture look familiar?

After lunch, naps for little ones, and a very quick dinner intended to force some protein into their little bodies, we held Miriam's first "real" birthday party--one with her own special friends invited. The theme was Candyland. Miriam's friends Nell, Mary, and Mark joined us, as did their parents and siblings.The cake, meant to represent Candy Castle, the rightful home of King Candy and Queen Frostine.

Cathy is once again my partner in crime. She was a great sport to play the role of Lady Licorice, evil counterpart to my Queen Frostine.

And she brought along the rest of her family, including this much-prayed for little guy. We call him Jack, and I'm teaching him how to say, "How YOU doin'?"

After spending much of 2 days constructing a rainbow for Rainbow Trail, compiling costumes, creating character cards and a color cube, and cutting apart colored squares for the Candyland path, we were ready to put it all together this afternoon. It looked fantastic! I was confident I had thought of everything, until, as the evening began to cool, a breeze picked up. And when that breeze blew, colored squares took to the winds! Thankfully, we had a bunch of handymen around.

They nailed all 80+ square to the ground so our path would stay put.

The Candyland Kids, from left: Mark, Jill, Nell, Mary, and Miriam. Their mission: to make their way through Candyland to rescue King Candy, who has been imprisoned in Lady Licorice's fortress. (And to collect as much candy along the way as possible.)

Most of the cast and crew at Rainbow Trail.

Our Candyland helpers, from left: Ellie as Princess Taffy--a character we created because I bought and saved some salt-water taffy from our last trip to the Beaufort, SC area; Jane as Princess Lolly; and Emma, as a very youthful Grandma Nutt.

Queen Frostine giving directions.

Jill waiting expectantly for her taffy at Rainbow Trail. (After this, she was pretty much out of the game, sitting on the sides eating the little bit of candy she managed to collect.)

The game in action. Roll the cube, move to that color--unless you roll "Lose a Turn," and then Lady Licorice will descend upon you and force you to take black jelly beans! HaHaHa!

After all the kids managed to breach the walls of Lady Licorice's fortress, they released King Candy and took over Lady Licorice's catapults.

The Candyland Kids quickly loaded each catapult with a strawberry marshmallow, and Ready! Aim! Fire!

Bring it on! Lady Licorice boasted. But little did she know the fury of a group of children forced to eat black jelly beans!

Lady Licorice is DOWN! (What a great sport she is!)

Inside, we took a more traditional approach to ending the evening. A round of "Happy Birthday to You." The presentation of the cake.

Miriam blowing out her candles.

Cutting the cake.

The "surprise inside": Four layers, each a different color and flavor.

Almost the entire crew.
Happy Birthday, Miss Miriam! We surely do love you!