Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Gardening Lessons

Childhood memories of corn stalks towering above me in my parents' backyard garden in New York, and rows of glass jars of home canned fruits and vegetables stirred a little bit of hope in me about tending a small garden in our suburban Florida yard (tropical south gardening zone.

I'd made one try at growing tomatoes in our sand back yard when our boys were young, and that dismal experience along with a very full schedule had pushed home gardening totally off my radar until recently.

My daughters-in-law have enriched my life with so many joys and new experiences and "the garden experiement" this year came about largely because of the two of them. Michelle has been nurturing an interest in modified suburban "homesteading", and Amber has shared wonderful memories of gardening with her grandmother as a child and eating the bounty from her families' gardens all summer long. A garden at Grandma's house would give each of them another experience to share with their kids.

I dipped my toes in last summer with a couple pots of basil. That went well. I used the basil in cooking, made a couple batches of pesto, but mostly enjoyed glimpsing flourishing pots of herbs from my windows. Kyle made me a compost pile enclosure and I faithfully added and turned it all year. I found fruit and vegetable plants sprouting in the compost and started saving seeds when I chopped up our veggies.

 After a month or two of skimming through a square foot gardening book and listening to pre-school grandchildren urging me forward - "When are you going to get chickens , Grandma?" and "You DO have room for a cow in your backyard, Grandma"- any vestiges of self-restraint departed when I passed easily assembled gardening boxes and seed collections for sale in Sam's Club.

I ordered a couple huge bags of vermiculite from a local garden center, added peat moss and cow manure to my compost and vermiculite, assembled my garden boxes (recycled plastic) and planted seeds with my grandchildren. Trips to garden centers for more "supplies" meant I also came home with more seeds - "Sunflowers for the grandchildren!... I should have planted lettuce - ohh, they have heirloom varieties!", starter plants - "ummm, rosemary and mint and ... pineapple sage?...I wonder..."

We've been in the middle of helping to build Kyle and Michelle's house every weekend (and plenty of other days) and common sense was shouting "RESTRAIN YOURSELF" so I told myself "no grand goals for this season's garden other than to water it, learn from it, and hope to harvest SOMETHING.

It has been enjoyable. Except for the mosquito bites I get every single time I "tend" the garden for 60 seconds or longer, if I'm not covered head to toe in clothing or repellant.

I was able to harvest at least a tiny bit of tomatoes, green peppers, yellow squash, jalapeƱo peppers, eggplant, and bush beans.  I forgot to pull the onions.

Tomatillos are ready to pick now and I have used some of all my herbs:  basil, rosemary, oregano, mint and pineapple sage.

The critters got all of the cucumbers and most of the tomatoes.

A couple things I've learned from my Gardening 101 course:

1. "Mel's Mix" is good stuff.  It's made of equal parts vermiculite (coarse, if you can get it), compost (5 different sources, if you can manage) and peat.  My mix ended up being a 4 part mix with purchased "garden soil" as the fourth part, since I didn't have the book to refer to on planting day.  This mix is crumbly not clumpy - it holds water and plants well and supposedly I will only need to replenish the compost each season.

2.  Tomatoes eaten within minutes of picking from your own garden really do taste way better than store bought, and tomato plants really do need supports to lean against.

3.  Beautiful flowers on some of the vegetable plants can compensate somewhat for small veggie yields.

3.  Small critters and bugs REALLY love tender veggies.  Getting my harvest before the critters do is definitely going to be the biggest challenge I'll face.  More research is in order.

In tropical south Florida we have spring and fall gardens as summer is just too much sun and heat.  I hope to plant some cabbage, broccoli and a few other fall crops.   Next spring planting I hope to make a vertical support as described in Square Foot Gardening and train some of the plants to grow vertically for better air circulation, and hopefully less pest feeding and more more people feeding.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Bungalow Heaven

Funny how things work out sometimes. It's been a crazy busy time as we've been helping our firstborn son and his wife build their new house and get their existing house ready to sell, hoping it would sell by the time we were done with the new house. As it turned out, the old house sold before we were done with the new one, and so son, wife, and 3 kids moved in with us for the time being.

We lived together before for a few months 6 years ago when grandchild #1 was a newborn....when we didn't also have a young woman living with us....who had just returned from her summer vacation. We all get along pretty well, but husband and son also work together all day 5 or more days of the week, and what young American mother wants to share tight spaces with her mother-in-law 24/7?

Enter the bungalow heaven. Sam and Amber graciously offered to share their restored bungalow in the city with us for for a bit, to give us all a little more space.   So I am taking a break from our busy pace and enjoying quiet evening meals with my husband (no TV-hooray!) and slow starting mornings with coffee and computer (in spite of a couple disagreements with the coffee maker)  in a beautiful old home in an area filled with restored craftsman and bungalow houses, with front porches aplenty on quiet streets lined with mature oaks.  (For regular readers of Amber's Blog, the homes pictured are typical examples of the scenery, not the Samber home.)

I marvel that I can walk or ride my bike a short distance through these relatively quiet neighborhoods for restaurants or groceries or banking or library, pedal to downtown museums, a local university, or along the gorgeous 3.5-4 mile bayshore boulevard overlooking the bay for walking/biking.

I've lived in this area for most of my life, but because I live and work across the bay, I haven't made time to explore the city much for history and culture and fun activities. I'm usually driving through or stopping only at contractor's offices or government buildings, or the Samber house.  But this week I discovered opportunities for a group bike ride featuring city restaurants and a walking historical tour of Ybor City, both of which made my "fun things I'd like to do" list.

I've watched fish jumping in series and shore birds fishing with the downtown skyline and harbour shipping yards for a background.   I found the locations (previously unknown to me) of two great photos by Amber, posted to her blog (note the difference between her shot and mine :-), and I hope to  find another (the chain and tank) in my meanderings.

I watched a rider in training coax her horse through some jumps at a stable just steps from the water's edge of the bay. I ate a gyro and overheard a t-shirt and jean clad couple at the table next to me discuss their potential partnership, marketing strategy and profit, with the slowly dawning realization that their business was prostitution for out-of-town clientele willing to spend BIG bucks for a "high-class" "model". wow. what a person can do in the city.

Tomorrow will have to be a heavier work day to make up for what I have NOT accomplished these past two days, but I definitely do not regret taking time to enjoy this bit of bungalow heaven.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Happy Discipline

Our desktop computer (with all my photos) has been paralyzed since the heavy storm that moved through our area last Thursday, but hopefully, soon, I'll have it back, with all bits fully restored and accessible. My body is reluctant to fully cooperate with my ambitious to-do list today, but at least I can post thank you's from the sofa with a borrowed laptop...

I am grateful for:

246. the almost four-year old's enthusiastic rendition of "Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho" (with much repetition of "Jericho, Jericho, Jericho, Jericho, Jericho, Jericho...etc.) throughout the day

247. the same child saying, "Listen to me hum, Dama" (imagine the same tune, hummed with great emphasis)

248. happy celebration of grandson's first birthday...a year of vibrant health and development and engaging personality

249. simple, joyful decorations from creative daughter-in-law, which I could adapt and copy for other grandchildren's birthday celebrations - all four birthdays fall within a 5 week time period.

250. sons and daughters-in-law who have been so gracious and generous in inviting us to be a part of their children's lives

251. getting to know Amy, who has lived with us for about 10 months now. She enriches us with her laughter and with skills, gifts, personal history and perspectives that differ from ours.

252. Prema's self-occupied, quiet deportment at the library

253. that our grandsons love books and stories so much

254. the "nesting tree" during nesting season at the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary - although standing directly below it can be a messy affair, the sheer number of nests with attending parents in one tree is pretty amazing

255. Prema shooing a bird off the "people path" at the sanctuary, while signing "wrong"

256. fluffy, grayish-white baby pelicans on their nests (the one time I don't take my camera!)

257. young women with busy lives, "baby bumps" and laughing children, reminding me of those chaotic years filled with so much energy and purpose, seeking healthy friendship and growth in the practice of intentional gratitude

258. those same women modeling good listening and balanced participation for this older woman, so in need of practice in humble listening

260. delicious left-over taco salad at the Samber house

261. home-made chocolate chip cookies and mmmm good coffee

262. Sam sharing his protein shake that included romaine and blueberries...light and surprisingly tasty! (I have not liked the taste of any shakes or smoothees I've made that have included green veggies - and I love most green veggies)

263. Front row seat for a dramatic electric storm, in my car, on the Howard Frankland, above the middle of the bay

264. that the large oak limb, torn from a tree in our yard during the high winds the next day, did not hit our house or my car

265. neighbor and helper who were sawing it into manageable chunks and throwing it on their trailer to haul off before I was even aware that it filled my driveway

266. windows surrounding me at home, providing theatre to the incredible energy and rains of the storm

267. that our desktop mac did not fully fry in the multiple power surges and drops

268. that we have a wonderful mac repair company across the bay

269. that we did not lose electrical power and I was able to keep sewing birthday projects

270. for birthday secrets, arriving by mail, and coming to life by our hands, and the happy anticipation of Isaac's enjoyment of all of them

271. the joy of finding and giving simple gifts that are in sync with an un-spoiled, creative child's development and play interests

272. family fun with water balloons

273. readily available, affordable gasoline

274. another weekend of cooler, dryer, WONDERFUL weather for painting, electrical installation, and clean-up at the new house

275. Prema's continued excitement/enjoyment over wearing her birthday Mary Jane shoes

Monday, March 21, 2011

Nails of Gratitude

holy experience

I raced through my first reading of Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts, gulping it down,  feeling the sharp pierce of pain that shattered hearts and dulled lives into numb existence, and nodding in agreement, through mouthfuls of words, at the discovery and practice of the life-giving, life-sustaining discipline of gratitude expressed with such aching beauty.

I am reading it slowly this second time, reading, re-reading lines, paragraphs, quotes; copying portions into my journal, thinking about the difference that the deliberate, frequent practice of gratitude has had at various points in my own life.  I am also trying, once again, to be more deliberate about writing down some of the "small" gifts I notice and receive each day, pounding nails of gratitude to displace nails of accusation and scorn.

A few thank you's from my journal this past month:

203.  quiet comraderie with sister and mother

204.  buckwheat crepes filled with ratatouille

205.  in tiny french restaurant, with dark wood walls and bottles

206.  and open door that embraces sun drenched sidewalk and small shops

207.  creeping in traffic past famous shopping circle with car show I had once imagined as a "possible weekend getaway" and realizing the stress the crowds and traffic would have caused us and the utter disappointment I would have struggled with at the unfulfillment of expectation of joy, had we made that excursion

208.  passing many singles, couples, and families on the bike trails of this Gulf coast island

209.  serendipitous happening upon weekend art show with travellers who want to "stop and take a look"

210.  moments of reading stretched on pool deck lounge chair with bright music filling my ears

211.  tiny, eager hands choosing packet of flower seeds to plant

212.  same hands "needing" Grandpa's hammer to pound post on brick patio

213.  scaffolding set up by the stucco crew and loaned to son for us to use for remainder of the rental month, giving us access to the second story roofline trim, soffit and walls to paint before the roofers install edging

214.  Eli's enthusiasm for filling the fountain and mixing peat moss, vermiculite, and compost

215.   Isaac's excitement over planting the seeds

216.  morning songs of birds, calling to day

217.  Eli, just shy of 4, swinging, laughing, "Look, Grandma!  My shadow is following me!...Why is it following me?"

218.  lightning flashing in black of early morning

219.  doors open to all the sounds of first waterfalls, then fountains of rain from the roof and gutters, which eventually slow to a quiet drip and a whisper rain, and the birds begin their morning songs

220.    the prized possession of berry stained face, tongue and fingers