Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fairy Dresses and the Staghorn Fern

Yesterday was the first 'official' day of spring break, so we had a lot of extra kid energy in the house.  It also happened to be a fairly nice day.  So, the girls and I went outside to dink around in the garden.  I had the glamorous duties of laying out soaker hoses and transplanting some      Rose Campion that I had grown from seed.  Frankie got the idea to make fairy dresses from spent Camellia blossoms and dandelions.  I love little kid brains!  She was very deliberate gathering up the petals, and then tying the dandelion stems to make a type of 'package'.  Placement of the dresses was very important and she solemnly asked my opinion on the matter.  She told me that we had to watch out for Hawks, because, apparently,  fairies don't like them.  I suggested underneath some flowers, and she agreed eagerly.   We are going to have some of the best dressed fairy folk.
I have also been obsessed with this.
It's a Staghorn Fern.  This picture doesn't do it justice, but I think they are so weird and cool.  Pants and I saw one when we went to www.nedluddpdx.com for dinner.  Most people mount them on wood, and the way they grow makes them look like antlers.  Strange, thick, ferny, green antlers.  It reminds me of something from Star Trek.  I love them!  So, I internerd searched and found them on Ebay.  Pants got excited and made a mounting plaque for it already out of some really old Fir that he had laying around. Once it arrives I'll post about mounting it.  I know it needs sphagnum moss, which I think I still have from making terrariums.  (Note to self, make another terrarium!)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Community Gardening Day

Saturday was a beautiful day.  The weather was perfect and the sun was shinning.  It was also Community Gardening Day at the NE Children's Community Garden.  I gathered the girls up (all three!) and headed over.  The girls were motivated with promises of their very own strawberry plants.
Here is littlest, enjoy the sun.
The girls spent the time watering the plants, and digging.  The Master Gardener wisely set aside a hole expressly for digging.  I mean, why fight it?  At one point, there were five children digging very intently, and switching tools (shovel to rake to hand trowel).  They were very busy.  Franks is signed up for a free gardening class through this garden and really seems to enjoy it.   The Teacher/Master Gardener has a patience that makes her well suited to work with kids of various ages, and keep them interested.  The whole purpose of this program is to grow food for those in the community in need, and also to introduce children to vegetables at an early age.  Ideally, this will make them more likely to eat said vegetables.   And I saw this at work, as my girls and other kids picked (and ate) spinach and chives, happily.  Violet had green stained corners of her mouth at the end of it all.  Mission accomplished!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


My mom was diagnosed with lung cancer in the latter part of May 2005. The tumor was inoperable and the doctors started radiation therapy in June and then chemotherapy in July. They ravaged her body and left her immune system in tatters.   She had a hard time breathing, due to the cancer, and was on oxygen, which made even the simplest things difficult.   I spent three weeks with her in July, to help with her basic daily tasks.  It also was a chance for her to get to meet her first grandchild.   We live in Oregon and she lived in Florida and due to work schedules, lack of money, and timing, we just hadn't made the trip.  She did get to meet a nine month old Frankie.  I am so thankful for that, but she couldn't hold her very much because of her health and because of possible exposure to the chemo.  I have one picture of the two of them together.  Honestly, her illness caught us all by surprise.  It's progression was so fast, and the doctors were very vague about her prognosis.  I returned to Oregon the very end of July/ beginning of August, with the intention of returning in two weeks, to stay for another three weeks.  In the meantime, my sister was going to be coming, from Pennsylvania, in a week to help out.  We had it all planned.  Both of us (my sister and I) were going to switch up while my mom was going through the various treatment courses.  I think we had it mapped out all the way through September.  We never got that far.  A week after I left my mother died from complications resulting from the therapies.  One of the last things she said was wishing me a happy 1st wedding anniversary (the main reason I returned to Oregon) on August 7th.  She was gone the morning of the 9th.  I miss her.  I wish she had gotten to meet her two other granddaughters.
It's difficult to explain to my little ones who their grandmother was, and how much she would have loved them.  How do you break down into words, a person and their life so that it is understandable and coherent?  My mother was a very complicated woman, as was our relationship, but I do want to focus on the positive things that I remember.  Hopefully that will, in some small way, help my girls feel connected to their Grandmother.
My mother was an avid gardener.  I have very fond memories of our backyard garden, where I grew up.  The main thing I wanted, in my own 'grown up' garden, was to incorporate flowers that my mother loved.  So we have Bleeding Hearts and Sweet Williams, Echinea, and hopefully soon, some Black Eyed Susans (or, like my mom used to say 'Black eyed Susies').  We also have a wild Butterfly Bush and it's many offspring,  rambling Roses and most other cottage garden flowers.  My main goal is to instill in my children values like the love of growing, and taking care of things, appreciating beauty and understanding that with life, comes death.  Hopefully, I will create positive memories for them that they can have their whole lives and that my mother will be a part of that.
I love you, Mom.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Garden Spring 2010

Spring gardening is my favorite.  To me, it's really exciting to see plants start to emerge.  It's satisfying, and reminds me that life, well, goes on.  There are many lessons that my garden teaches me.  Pre-planning is essential, patience is necessary,  and you have to be willing to let some things be.   It's cool to realize how much control you really don't have.  You can nudge things, but really things are going to grow or not, despite your best efforts.  I also like feeling connected with the ground.  Mostly, though,  it enables me to be bold.  Particularly, with vegetable gardening.  I like experimenting with different plants.  I have had failures, but, more often, successes.

Like this rhubarb plant.  Here it is starting to come back up.  We planted this last spring.  To me, rhubarb is an exotic vegetable/fruit.  I wonder what it's 'official' classification is.  Either way, I love it and can not wait to make strawberry rhubarb galettes!  The peas are also starting to come up, but I've had some bird issues.  Those jerks think that my handiwork is delicious.  So, I've had to employ bird netting, and pin it down really well, because they kept getting in and munching on my seedlings.   Lack of control, right?

I have started some things inside, after a disastrous attempt last year.  I have some promising tomatoes and tomatillos.  I'm excited about the tomatillos.  I've never tried to grow them before, so I don't really know what to expect.  An added bonus is that they will be delicious.  Here's to gardening with no fear!



Sunday, March 14, 2010

Spring seems to have come early to the Pacific Northwest, this year.  Not one to protest, I immediately jumped out into the garden and started working the soil.  It's so satisfying when plants start popping up, almost when you've forgotten about them.  It is still, technically, winter, so I have to wait to start popping plants in the dirt in earnest, but to satisfy my desire to DO SOMETHING, I decided to make stepping stones.

The added bonus to this project is that it is super duper kid friendly (minus the mixing of cement), but their favorite part is mostly in preparation...namely, getting the 'jewels' together.  There is something very satisfying about pressing the marbles into half wet cement.  I could see where one could get very precise and exact about this project, but I went the way of 'let's see what happens'.
                               The girls went the way of 'More is Better' regarding decorations.

A word of caution.  It can get really messy, so I would leave the mixing (wear a dust mask!), and the placing of cement into the molds, to a grown up.  Oh yeah, and use a tarp/newspaper to cover your work area, because it is cement, and it will stick.

We wound up making two different sizes : 6 and 12 inches in diameter.  A nice bonus is how cheap this project is, because pavers/stepping stones can get crazy expensive.  Especially those kits you can buy at craft stores.  I saw those listed for 20-30 dollars, for one.  Nuts to that.  One bag of concrete costs 6 bucks.  We made 6 stones, and still have half a bag left.  The 'molds' are one to two dollars a piece, based on size.  Really, your biggest investment are the marble jewels (especially if you have two little girls who get crazy excited and basically want to get everything shiny they see), but you could definitely use anything you have around the house.  Get as complex as you want!

                                                                 Stepping Stone Tutorial
Materials : Plastic plant saucers (any size).
                  Quikcrete concrete mix (We used the professional type, because it has fibers in it, which will                                                            
                                                          help keep them from cracking.)
                  Window Screening, Hardware Cloth, or Chicken Wire
                  Marbles, rocks, old toys...etc,
                  Old bucket
                  Dust mask, bandana
                  Stirring implement (I used an old, thick stick)
                  Tarp, Drop cloth, or Newspaper
                  Small hand shovel, or old cup

First, use the Vaseline to grease up the plant saucers.  You could forego this step and hope that your stones pop out once they're dry, but why chance it?
Next cut out your window screening to be one inch smaller in diameter than your particular mold.  this acts as a 'matrix' to keep your stones strong and give the concrete something to bond to.
Follow the instructions on the bag for mixing the concrete.  I basically dumped shovelfuls of mix in the bucket and slowly added some water (a little at a time) to get the consistency of brownie batter.  Only mix as much as you will use immediately, this stuff hardens fast.  Put some in your molds, about half way.  I scooped with my glove covered hands.  Place the window screening on the cement, then pat it down.  Put more cement on top, until the mold is filled.  Tap the molds to get rid of air bubbles.   Let sit for 30 - 60 mins to set up.  If you put the embellishments on now, they will sink to the bottom, so be patient and let it get a little stiff.   After the cement has set up, go crazy with decorating!  If you make a mistake, take out the offending material, smooth the cement and redo.  Let them sit, undisturbed, for three days to a week.  After the first day of drying, sprinkle them with water every day (it makes the cement harder).  Once dry, pop out and enjoy!  Take that, fancy garden store.  I don't need your stinking designer stones.

Tips:  I did this outside.  It really helped with clean up factor.  I also put the molds on a piece of wood, so I could transport them to where their final drying place would be.  Since I live in the Pacific Northwest, and it rains a lot here, I didn't need to wet them down.  I mean, it's concrete, it's meant for being outside and getting rained on.    The concrete comes in 80 lb bags and since I'm carrying an infant most times, I got someone to help me get it in the car (and cart).  Also, moisturize, moisturize, moisturize!  Even with gloves on, my hands got really dry (due to the concrete).  I used nitrile gloves, next time, I will use thicker dishwashing gloves.  Make sure to wash little hands after decorating, because, if left on too long, it can burn.  We spent about 20 mins decorating before we washed up and had no problems.  Also, they mostly pushed the marbles in, so they really didn't touch the cement much.

Have fun!