Doing Good and Being Awesome: Turning Over a New Leaf

As the snow slowly melts away in our corner of the world, tiny seedlings grow strong in our basement, and the promise of many, many new faces leaps up in my near future, I’m reminded of how dynamic life really is. All winter, we hole up, cozy and warm in our house-cocoons in a sort of stasis, with vague recollections of buds on trees and crocuses popping up through thawed dirt.

20150301. It's beginning to look a lot like... March 1?

As Kurt Cobain would say, though, spring is here again, friends, and this spring in particular promises to be the beginning of something amazing, something much bigger than me (or any one person, for that matter), something dynamic and shifting and growing and changing.

Drum roll, please: Thanks to the nudging of a new friend and neighbor, Sara Croft, and the powers of Facebook, this spring we will be organizing our neighbors to create a community garden in the Keystone-Monon neighborhood of Indianapolis. Just writing those words makes me feel giddy, excited, and a little terrified, but mostly all warm and fuzzy.

Whee. I want to read this whole book, right meow! And get these flyers posted! Also, Willem totally said "kisses" just now, which i think makes it his first legit word (beyond mama, dada, and neigh, of course).

Sara is an energetic, get-it-done kind of woman, and with just one simple Facebook post describing her vision of this project, she had me, hook, line, and sinker. See, what we’ve already discovered is that there is tremendous power in numbers. What feels like an incredibly daunting undertaking for just one person – finding and securing land, building the community involvement needed for success, seeking out water and supplies, building beds, managing volunteers, and countless other things we haven’t even begun to imagine – seems not only manageable, but fun and fulfilling with many hands, many faces, many ideas driving us forward.

Why a community garden? As followers of this blog know, we have a very healthy backyard (and, increasingly, front yard) garden, as well as chickens, bees, and compost. What I’ve longed for, though, is the shared wisdom, commiseration, fun, and all-out neighborliness that comes from sharing such a garden space. The summer of the drought and triple degree temperatures a few years ago, when our garden became a study in suspended animation, all our plants simply shutting down? How nice would it have been to have a group of friendly faces to commiserate with, to work side by side in the sweltering heat to keep those plants hanging on?

20120727. RAIN CLOUDS.

That year the rainclouds formed, but no rain came.

I want to be a part of creating something bigger than me, something that not only feeds our bellies but also nourishes our minds, our need for social connection and community, our ability to care for ourselves and the motivation and drive to look out for one another. There is nothing more basic, more human than cultivating our own food.

20130504. Garden hands.

20150301. Inside, everything's green.

I’m also so looking forward to the “community” part of community garden. When I was a kid, we buzzed all around the neighborhood, a pack of wild dogs on Big Wheels and bicycles, until the streetlights came on and it was time to go home. I want my son to have that sense of togetherness, of community, of learning and growing and struggling and succeeding together. Though this process is only just beginning, I’m already reminded of how there are still so many amazing people I have yet to meet in this world.

In other “new leaf” news, my amazing husband starts what will hopefully be an amazing new job on Monday…

20121103. Birdie, three months old.

And my little family recently started our second year around the sun together with Willem’s first birthday. Happy birthday, you wonderful little babe! Like I said, life? Dynamic.

Willem's really into raising his food in exaltation before eating it these days. Praise you, pancake!

Willem turns one!

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It’s Never Too Early, Right?

Disclaimer: While in my brain I know it may still be a tad early to start seeds, in my green-growing-things-loving-heart, I just don’t care. 

This year, we have a seed starting Renaissance of sorts going on in the basement.

BEHOLD! We have shop lights! With adjustable chains! And a heat mat! I even have a table to work on (so what if the “table” is two saw horses with a piece of wall paneling for the table top?). As the seedlings grow, I’ll move them up to the upper shelf to make way for more babies in the seed nursery on the lower shelf. 

20150208. Seed starting upgrades! Lights that raise and lower and a heat mat.

20150208. New planting setup (sawhorses and a piece of paneling).

What did it look like before, you ask? (That’s the polite way of saying, “How in the world is THIS an improvement?!”).

Last year: Note the boxes used to bring the seeds up to the lights, which were zip tied to the bottoms of our shelves. Also note that wimpy-ass lights, which required constant rotation of the seedling flats lest we have plants growing sideways. Oh, and let’s not forget the wood paneling used to steady the seed flats.
20140209. The seeds are planted! Our no frills growing setup.

2013: I think it was also this year that I used every cookie sheet in our house to try to provide some way to manage the seedlings as they grew and grew and grew. Yeah. Cookie sheets have no place in your seed starting setup, FYI.
20130209. In hindsight, I may have planted a few too many seeds this spring.

 

What seeds have we started at this point? So far, we have a small army of greens, lettuces, and onions going. I also couldn’t resist the siren call of the pepper and planted a load of those.

We had horrible luck last year with seedlings in general and peppers specifically, so I think from here until planting day, I’m just going to start a new round of seeds each week. That may be a bit of an exaggeration… but only just.

 

 

Resolutions: Confessions of the Garden and Eating Variety

So this is kind of embarrassing to admit, considering I love my garden and all growing green things so much AND considering I work for an urban micro-farming/health and wellness/general “get awesome with your bad self” non-profit… but wow, have we ever fallen off the healthy eating wagon as of late.

My biggest intention for 2015? Get back into whole, healthy, organic eating. Period. As much as possible.

20141231. Good intentions for 2015.

It started when Willem was born. I had no energy to make much in the way of healthy food, and I was starving ALL THE TIME, breastfeeding Willem, so getting calories of any kind was more important than trying to piece together healthy meals. 

Add to that the fact that the garden itself was rather sad last summer (I was a little too preoccupied with general functioning and raising a wee babe), and so even during prime eating season, we weren’t eating super great. Then… in saunters winter. And everything falls to shit.

Willem eats wonderfully. He is very much interested in food, and at 10.5 months, he still has never had a jar of store-bought baby food. The problem? Willem eats better than us. By a lot.

Which brings us to my goal of getting more healthy, whole, organic foods back into our lives. We’ll be looking into a meat CSA again for the early winter/spring and going organic (and hopefully local) for our vegetables. It’ll get easier once our SUPER-AWESOME GARDEN OF 2015 starts producing this spring, but the next few months will be a good testing ground.

20140104. Garden planning, v.2015.

Also? I just got this amazing book from my in-laws for Christmas. So excited to curl up with this, a wee glass of whiskey, and watch the snow fly outside.
Day 71. Wonderful Christmas gift from my in-laws and SNOW and football. Ahhh, Sunday. #100happydays

Hello, Blogness, My Old Friend

WOW. Has it really been a month and a half since my last post?! HELLO, little long lost bloggie. And how are you?

I wish I could say I’ve been solving world hunger or writing a manifesto that will lead to sustained peace on Earth and good will towards mankind, but no. I’ve just been busy – working, living, prepping for and then celebrating Christmas, playing with my super amazing kid, and watching movies in my jammies with my husband.

So what drove me to post today? It’s pretty self-serving: garden planning has begun, and this is still my official place to store such knowledge for future seasons. This is the second year in a row that I’ve received a gift card to Seed Savers Exchange for Christmas, which is pretty much the best idea ever for a gardener in the winter. Just cracking open that amazingly colorful catalog on these insanely gray December days has been good for the soul.

Day 43. I think Seed Savers Exchange has perfected when to send their dreamy catalogs, full of promises of beautiful, colorful, delicious growing things. Don't worry, Willem, we'll get plenty of green beans. #100happydays

And today was the magical seed ordering day. I also ordered a heat mat, and we’re heading to Lowe’s later to step up our game with lighting in the basement. No more lights zip tied to the bottoms of shelves; no more of this propping up of seedling trays on various boxes to get them closer to or further away from the lights depending on their stage of development; no more needing to constantly rotate the trays so they actually get sort of, kind of equal lighting. We will have adjustable, bright, wonderful lights this year, and my life will be so much easier for it.

Here’s what I ordered today. It also turns out I have an insane number of seeds packets from last season, too, which I’m hoping will still germinate somewhat successfully. Mama needs her arugula!

Exciting things this year: cucumbers will make their return to the garden, and we’ll be trying to grow acorn squash and muskmelon for the first time this year. Oh, and I’m going to have a lot of space dedicated to growing onions right this year. And maybe an entire husk cherry area somewhere. And tomatillos!

  • Tomatillo, Green Husk
  • Swiss Chard, Five Color Silverbeet
  • Tomato, Mexico Midget
  • Tomato, Italian Heirloom
  • Squash, Table Queen
  • Radish, French Breakfast
  • Pepper, Tequila Sunrise
  • Pepper, Jalapeno Traveler Strain
  • Onion, Red Wethersfield
  • Melon, Schoon’s Hard Shell
  • Kale, Lacinato
  • Ground Cherry, Aunt Molly’s
  • Cucumber, Japanese Climbing
  • Beet, Bull’s Blood

Basically? After my disappointing seed starting endeavor last year (I DID have a baby in the midst of prime seed starting time, so I have a  good excuse), I AM NOT MESSING AROUND THIS YEAR. You hear me, future garden? NOT. MESSING. AROUND.

Life? Not Too Shabby

Serious dork confession here: at least every other day, there’s a moment where I stop and think to myself, “Wow. I love my life.”

Seriously. Who is this girl?!

20140911. Birdie photo bomb.

Our favorite play things – the nasty old mirror on the inside of Chris’ closet and Birdie.

And then it occurs to me that life probably isn’t like that for a lot lot lot of people. And then I wonder if Chris feels the same way. Hell, five years ago, I definitely didn’t feel this way. Even two years ago, I didn’t have these moments wash over me quite so frequently. Blame it on the baby and the massive, life-changing decisions that have defined the last year and a half?

091023. oh, hi!

Me. Five years ago. Not looking like I love my life.

It’s not super easy, and it’s not perfect. But I’ve decided I need to kick perfect to the side of the road. It’s great, and I love it. Even the hard stuff.

I think a lot of it is that I’m starting to feel settled in this whole motherhood gig. Looking back, the first four or five months were me battening down the hatches. Being a mom was so all-consuming. I went from successful working person to OMG WTF DO I DO WITH THIS TINY CREATURE (and with myself). I had no idea what being a mom was going to look like for us.

IMG_0032

I hardly remember what we did all day when he was this tiny.

We’re seven months in now, and I feel like Willem and I “get” each other these days. I’m expanding my fellow mom friendships and feeling confident in getting out of the house and doing stuff. EX: Willem and I met up with a friend for a youth orchestra recital (at a McDonald’s, of all places – a McDonald’s WITH A STAGE. Only in Broad Ripple) today, and he sat in my lap, eating sweet potatoes and taking in the world while friend and I chatted. We can DO stuff like that now, because we get each other, you know?

Baby brigade takes over City Market.

Us downtown this past week, kicking it in the fall foliage with our iced coffee (for mom) and sweet potatoes (for Willem) at City Market.

I’m knitting and cross-stitching and making friendship bracelets and doing “me” stuff again – note that this is stuff that, five months ago, I had literally no concept of how I would ever be able to fit it into my life again. Like, really. I was just keeping my head down and hoping to fake it til I made it.

Now? I’m able to lift my gaze, and the view is good. I can see, if not the horizon, at least to the end of the road. The more comfortable I get with this whole mom thing, the more I’m able to dream and plan and think about other things again. Fun things. Crafty things. Projects. Friends and relationships. Farms in the Smokies. Tiny houses and big barns. You know, life and stuff and the future.

So life? Yes. I love it.

A Gratuitous Post All About LOVE and THE FUTURE

Today marks our one-year wedding anniversary. What a wonderful, insane year it has been.

20130907. Our wedding!

20130907. Our wedding!

20130907. Our Wedding!

20130907. Our Wedding!

20130907. Our Wedding!

For instance, we now have some new residents: tens of thousands of bees and an adorable almost-seven-month-old.

Willem adores his BFF Crosby:
Friends.

Homies and their chew toys.

As always, we are looking to the future. I think that’s one of the coolest things about us as a couple: we push each other and support each other and egg each other on with whatever latest hairbrained scheme one of us has until it doesn’t seem so hairbrained anymore and we actually do it.

Today’s discussion (during lunch at La Margarita, our fave Mexican restaurant, which I hadn’t visited since my due date) centered around finding some land/buying a farm so Chris could start raising nucs and building top bar hives (the latter he could do here; the former, not so much). I also had a really freaking amazing idea last night centered around food deserts and a new way of getting produce to communities who would maybe love to eat fresh produce if only they had access…. And that’s all I want to say about THAT because I might actually want to try to do it at some point.

I’m also exploring new ways to spread art into the world (and maybe make a little cash on the side so we can maybe, possibly, actually get us some land one of these days) and have re-opened my Etsy shop! Visit me at www.etsy.com/shop/famousthecat and get yourself a custom “home sweet home” print to display your own family love all year round.

Here’s ours:
20140712. Updated Home Sweet Home.

ALL THE THINGS!

TODAY:

  • Dig out all the weeds growing in the lettuce bed.
  • Steam some green beans for Willem’s lunch.
  • Cut back the blackberries.
  • Pull ALL THE WEEDS.
  • Lay down plastic to KILL ALL FUTURE WEEDS.
  • Mow.
  • Buy winter rye for cover cropping (and a bunch of other seeds) from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.
  • Update a website and track the produce from our last CSA of the summer.
  • Get some more work done on our family portrait.

Family.

  • Make rosemary-lavender simple syrup.
  • Go buy some fixings to make a pumpkin pie. I need some pumpkin pie like whoa.
  • Play with, feed, talk to, smile at, put down for naps, read to, and change the Willem.

This guy.

  • Take at least two showers.
  • Drink ice water, eat ice cream, watch the series finale of The Killing, and drink pumpkin beer in our underwear under the fan once all of the above is complete.

Also? It is stupid hot and humid out there. STUPID.

Garden 4.0: Notes for Future-Me

This year, the garden has been a bit, ahem, wild. Overgrown. Unkempt. Let’s just say it’s in need of a serious haircut at this point.

20140726. Our backyard! And Birdie running laps.

Thankfully, due in large part to the wet, cool(ish) summer we’ve been having (and not to my serious neglect), we’ve still managed to get some lovely produce. The tomatoes, green beans, beets, radishes, lettuce, kale, and husk cherries in particular have done awesomely.

20140812. Husk cherries.

Now is the time, though, to start making some notes to future-me for future-garden. I do this mentally every year, and then I completely forget or push out of my mind the previous year’s lessons learned. So, dang it all to heck, we’re documenting the crap out of them this year!

20140708. State of the garden address.

Plans for next year:

  • Husk cherries are the bomb. We need a field of husk cherries next year. Okay, maybe a bed of them will do, but seriously… a lot, please.
  • Half a bed of tomatoes = perfect. Although Chris will disagree, horizontal trellising has worked nicely this year (i.e. no broken twine halfway through the summer during the latest thunderstorm to try to restring, heavy with tomatoes).
  • Let’s do onions for real next year, and half a bed of garlic was perfect. Next year: half a bed of garlic, the other half onions? Yeah? Yeah.
  • ONLY GROW HALF A BED OF GREENS, TOTAL. PERIOD. None of this “eight kale plants will do” crap. Jeez, girl. Greens do awesomely in our backyard, and we really only need two kale and two chard plants for our own consumption. At this point, the chickens have eaten more kale than I have, which is embarrassing (although the chickens are stoked).
  • I really need an entire bed of pepper plants. I love peppers. We EAT peppers. We CAN peppers. I want ALL THE PEPPERS.
  • Green beans: everyone in this house loves them, including Willem. Next year, we’re building a trellis of green beans – a TRELLIS you can walk through and be surrounded by lovely green beans – maybe as part of our front yard landscaping, maybe somewhere in back. Who knows. But we need a lot of green beans. Also, the purple ones are the bomb, because you can actually see them hiding among all that green foliage.
  • A bed of lettuce early in the season was awesome. Maybe that bed can be flipped later for fall plantings of beets, radishes, and arugula, all of which are awesome and need to be planted everywhere again next year, all summer long.
  • THINGS WE NEED NEXT YEAR: Cucumbers were sadly missing from our garden this year, as were carrots. I think I want to do a huge carrot field in one of the beds. I learned that the best carrot planters are 4-year-olds: they just throw the seeds (in huge quantities) everywhere. So that’ll be the carrot-planting plan next year.
  • Last but not least, how about some sweet potato love? I need to expand our sweet potato growing next year. We’ve been doing a sweet potato bin the last few years, which works but kind of requires upkeep all summer, adding more soil. And I want a LOT of sweet potatoes. I’m open to suggestions for best ways to grow them!
  • Oh wait… LAST last one… We need some winter rye for cover cropping this fall/winter. We ran out and didn’t have any last fall, which I swear is part of the reason we suddenly have grass trying to take over the beds this year. It also provides a great winter fresh feed for the chickens.

Also, someday Chris is going to make an epic post about the tens of thousands of bees who have taken up residence in our backyard. He finally managed to get me into the suit last week to help him move the (now two) hives around a little bit. This was me flexing and feeling very high on life after surviving the process without a) getting stung and b) having a panic attack.

IMG_2775

The Grass Is Always Greener?

I know some people spend a great deal of time and energy to have lush, park-like lawns. I can appreciate that.

I, however, am not one of those people. At our place, we would prefer to not have to mow, to not have to wage war against dandelions and clover and the multitude of unidentified weeds working hard to take over our lawn. We also appreciate native perennials, edibles, and other pretties that will make a better habitat for bees, butterflies, and birds.

With that in mind, yesterday we took our first steps in turning our front lawn into… not lawn. Soon we will be digging up more of our front lawn to plant goldenrod, purple prairie clover, lavender, strawberries, and a few different kinds of aster (good for late season forage for the bees). And that’s just the beginning!

A little timeline of the front yard: May 2011.
20110513. happy homeowner.

First plans:
20120308. Front yard plan.

More sod removal, more herbs:
20130714. Less grass + more herbs = happy house.

And some inspiration (click on an image to jump to the source):

Basically, everything this woman, Rosalind Creasy, has going on is just fine by me:

And here’s what a garden “plan” looks like around these parts:
Front yard garden planning.

Next step: the backbreaking work of breaking sod. Oh, joy.

Garden 2014: Oh, It Is SO ON!

The barren garden beds have been screaming at me through our back windows for weeks now. The seedlings that did actually flourish in spite of almost total lack of care desperately need to get in the ground, and I have so many seeds that need planting.

Like… RADISHES. I want radishes – lots of them. Radishes are the best. In order to get radishes, I must plant seeds. In order to plant seeds, I need someone to watch Willem.

Fast forward to this morning. Willem was in a great mood (probably because he slept all afternoon yesterday and was ready to party from about 5 AM on today). Chris was happy keeping an eye on him. And the kid decided I could put him down in his bouncey seat for an hour. The end result? I got to dig in the dirt for an hour, leaving me feeling more like myself than I have in quite a long while.

Even this morning, though, prioritization was required. It’s amazing how good I am at prioritizing these days. I prioritize EVERYTHING because I never know when Willem is going to need to be picked up. Like, after my shower each morning, I prioritize how I get ready. Deodorant, clothes, and brushed teeth are non-negotiable. Next up is hair combing. If Willem is still doing well? I might even get a chance to pluck an eyebrow hair or two and put on a little mascara.

Same goes for getting things ready in the morning before Willem needs breakfast. Water must be filled, food must be eaten, and pills must be taken. If the kid is still all right, coffee is poured (can you believe coffee isn’t priority numero uno? Who am I?). Usually that’s about as far as we get, but if he’s STILL happy, I might even get a load of laundry in and some music on the stereo before I get the sleeping beauty.

Same goes for my garden planting this year. First priority: getting all the early seedlings – a TON of greens – in the ground. Tatsoi, Forellenschluss, Mizuna, Arugula, various lettuces, and Kale. YUM.

And… that’s as far as I got. Still, though, I’m feeling pretty pleased! Maybe the seeds can get planted this afternoon. Hey, a girl can dream.

The garden always looks terribly unimpressive in the beginning:
20140406. Inauspicious beginnings to Garden 2014.

My garlic army:
20140406. An army of garlic.

GREENS:
20140406. Greens!

I think this is the mizuna (Asian spicy greens)… but I couldn’t be troubled to look at my seedling planting “map.” Low priority, knowing what I’m planting where!
Greens! In the ground! Against all odds, Garden 2014 is ON.

Selfie with my gardening buddy:
20140406. Selfie with my garden sidekick.