Monday, November 26, 2012

Belated Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving I was reminded that Thankfulness is just as much a decision as it is an emotion. It is easy to celebrate Thanksgiving when everything is going to plan and you find yourself facing a long weekend to spend relaxing with friends and family surrounded by delicious food. At those times, thankfulness is an emotion, something that wells up out of you without bidding. It is easy. And such has been the case with all of my Thanksgivings to date.

This Thanksgiving, however, I found myself quite sick. After a month of ever-increasing symptoms of Candida, I woke up on Thanksgiving feeling as if I had been hit by a truck. I follow an extremely strict diet of mostly vegetables, chicken, and fish, and this has helped me make great strides towards recovering from Candida infection. However, little bits of cheating here and there coupled with stress and not getting enough sleep had taken a toll on my too-sensitive system. Needless to say, THANKFUL was not the emotion at the top of my list. I actually felt quite sorry for myself. It just didn't seem fair that everyone else in the world could sit down to a delicious meal while I had to eat only the salad, and, if I was feeling crazy, a small piece of turkey. Mashed Potatoes? Too starchy. Stuffing? Full of gluten. Papa's famous green-bean casserole? Nope, there's dairy in there. Sweet Potato Pie? Forget it. So I followed the rules and ate a gigantic plate of salad with turkey on top, and woke up the day after Thanksgiving feeling even worse. And the death-knell to any residual feelings of thankfulness: when I went out to water my glorious patch of brussels sprouts, I saw that the chickens had gotten in through the protective fence and eaten every single sprout and half the leaves off all my plants.

As I trudged my sick sorry self back to the house I found myself thinking dark thoughts about thankfulness. I am not thankful this year! And then I stopped. What in the world was wrong with me? Here I was in my new cozy sweats walking outside in the most glorious California weather, surrounded by happy chickens, my two healthy kids playing together in the sand pit, my amazing husband doing the dishes, with the full use of my body and mind, and I was telling myself and the world that I wasn't thankful??? Shame on me.

So, in the absence of thankful feelings, I resolved to be thankful anyways. Yes, I felt sick but I wouldn't use that as an excuse to be grouchy or tune out my family. No, I couldn't eat any Thanksgiving left-overs, but I wouldn't complain or feel sorry for myself. I would take the necessary steps to feel better (in this case it meant going on a 3-day green juice cleanse: YUCK), but wouldn't paint myself the victim or broadcast my misery to those around me. I would bask in the late-November sunshine and be happy that I live in a place where brussels sprouts can be bought if the winter crop is decimated by rogue fowl. And, as has happened so many times in my life, when I made the decision to be thankful, the emotions followed.

Today, as we launched back into real life, I am thankful for my darling family, my super-hot husband, our too-small but cozy house, and the fact that my 3 day juice cleanse is OVER! I am thankful that I didn't wake up with a headache, ringing ears, and a rash for the first time in over a month. I am thankful that God has committed to change me from a self-centered person to someone a little more wholesome. And I am thankful that this morning I harvested the last of my tomatoes and the first of my broccoli. It may be a few days late, but I am thankful. I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Greenhouse Experiment

I have been both intrigued and intimidated by the idea of greenhouses for a while now. And since I park my car right next to my dad's small greenhouse, the idea has been nagging me as well. I love the thought of extending my growing season, but what does that really mean in sunny California where the weather rarely dips below 30 degrees and it is pretty easy to grow at least something green year-round? And what about all these things I keep hearing like "humidity monitor" and "internal thermostat"? If growing in a greenhouse requires me to understand anything beyond the basic stick-it-in-the-dirt-and-water-it skills, I'm sunk, since I am still trying to master those.

But every day I park my car right next to my dad's yet-unused greenhouse, and I wonder.

After an unsuccessful library search on "greenhouse gardening" I decided to just give it a try. I have planted lettuce and bok choy in my outside garden several times and they either aren't growing or are being eaten by snails as soon as they sprout. I figured that even if I remain ignorant to humidity and temperature variables in the greenhouse, planting something in there will at least give it a pest-free growing space. So I stabbed holes in several plastic containers and gathered up a few large pots, filled them with seeds, gave them a good watering, and sealed them up in the greenhouse. We'll see what happens. I suppose I have to remember to water them (note to self: EVEN when it rains since the rain can't get into the greenhouse!).

So, this is basically a completely uneducational guide to growing veggies in a greenhouse. I have no idea if my methods or timing are correct, but I'll find out soon if anything grows. If anyone out there has successfully used a greenhouse, let me know!

Friday, November 16, 2012


These are my micro greens, which I grew in an old plastic sprout container on my kitchen windowsill, ala Gayla Trail. I had a lovely post planned about how much I adore living in the country and how satisfying it is to be able to grow your own food, even indoors. I was going to simultaneously impress and inspire you, and by the end of my post you would have been riffling through your recycling container getting ready to grow micro greens of your own.

But then my daydreams of being a self-sufficient blogger extraordinaire screeched to a halt. My oldest son came running up to me with a stricken look on his face: "Mom, you have to look at what's on the front lawn." I disentangled myself from my musings and humored him. Peeking out the back door I saw it: the decapitated remains of our oldest rooster, Rocky. And then I remembered. I didn't lock up the chickens last night. Dang. Double Dang. The next few hours were spent disposing of his remains, consoling children, and piecing together clues as to what happened. The kids accused Thor, the dog, at first, but he is 12 and has never even looked twice at a chicken. He has the unfortunate habit of dragging any dead chickens into our yard and guarding them with a guilty look on his face, which always makes us suspect him. But then, after hunting around the property for while, we found the crime scene, which revealed that the murder was committed by my old foe, the coyote. So, of course, some of the next few hours involved apologizing to the dog (he is very quick to forgive). By the time that was all taken care of, micro greens were the furthest thing from my mind. I found myself wishing I had a picture of a coyote with a bulls eye painted on it and began imagining a murderous blog post in which I extolled the many uses of coyote pelts...

Okay, now I'm just being dramatic. But my rooster is dead, which is sad, and it is my fault, which is embarrassing and horrible. And all I have pictures of is my sprouts, so there you have it. (And if you do want to grow your own, just mix together some seeds that you have left-over from your fall garden. These are broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and lettuce. Plant them in something you can put in your windowsill, water, and wait about 2 weeks.) Happy (sad) Friday.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Just in the nick of time

The bulb packages said "plant before the first frost" and I unknowingly put it off until the very last day. The morning after I got these guys in the ground, we woke up to a layer of crystalized dew on the yard and it was harder than usual to get out of our warm beds. Normally daydreams of what will grow in the spring keep me motivated while planting, but putting these bulbs in the ground required me pick-axing solid chunks of dirt out small sections at a time, cursing the daffodil bulbs all the while. "SIX INCHES below the surface?!?!?" I'm sure the beautiful border of daffodil, ranunculus, anemone, and hyacinth flowers will have all been worth it this spring. (By the way, NINETY Ranunculus bulbs is way more bulbs that you need. Thanks Costco, but next time I won't be buying in bulk.)

And I apologize for being more absent here on the blog that I have intended. I share a big birthday weekend with a newly-4-year-old, and we had a lot of social engagements to attend between those special days and celebrating the end of soccer season. I hope you are all doing well and growing some great stuff!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Gardening Books

Since I haven't made it out to the garden in days, I thought I'd show you a glimpse of my bookshelf. Er, bookSTACK. The pile of things I'm reading that lives next to my bed and off of which I had to clear legos and bobby pins in order to take a suitable picture. On our last trip to the library I braved going upstairs into the "adult section" which I never go to because they actually take the "no wrestling in the library" rule seriously upstairs (that's a library rule, right?), and my kids are still working on that. Anywho, I was looking for books that would help me figure out how to use my dad's greenhouse but ended up on the "homesteading" section. I found some really neat books!

If you are thinking of trying to grow enough food to sustain (or partially sustain) your family, I highly recommend The Backyard Homestead by Carleen Madigan. There are all sorts of helpful tips in there about crop rotation and what to plant when, as well as sections on raising livestock on a small scale. The book I found most inspiring was Grow Great Grub by Gayla Trail. Her book is geared towards people growing food in small, urban settings, so I thought I wouldn't care for it, but she has so many wonderful projects in the book, as well as gorgeous photography. I have already started growing my own micro greens in old plastic containers, and plan to use her instructions to make a hanging tomato planter out of a paint bucket. The best find of all, however, was The $64 Tomato by Henry Alexander. Someone probably misfiled it, or didn't know where to put it, because it is more of a non-fiction novel about a man and his garden. I found it highly entertaining to read about the misadventures of somebody else and realize that I am not the only person in the world who spends their spare time dreaming up ways to destroy gophers.

The best part of checking gardening books out of the library is how they inspire me. I tend to be a bit lazy when it comes to getting out and getting dirty when there is nothing to actually harvest - I guess I need that instant gratification of bringing in something for dinner to justify the next 10 minutes of cleaning dirt out from under my nails. But reading about other people's gardening successes makes me excited to get out there and turn over the compost pile and pull weeds.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Tomatillo Sauce

Happy Friday! And it has been a happy friday over here, for no other reason than the fact that I had NOTHING PLANNED. For the first time in a week I was able to stay home and do more than dash around making sure the animals were fed. And this meant that I had time to tackle the enormous pile of tomatillos that has been hogging precious counter space since last week.

Last week I decided to thin the brussels sprout bed, and it became apparent that it was finally time to say goodbye to my lovely accidental tomatillo plants. They were ranging all over the place, knocking down brussels sprout plants, growing through the bird netting and blocking sunlight. So I pulled out the four plants and harvested every last tomatillo, even the teeny tiny ones. This required quite a few trips between the garden and my house with my pockets crammed full of the hard green fruits. (Now that I am writing about it, I wonder why it didn't dawn on me to take a bucket out there with me... though that would have required finding a bucket, which would have taken me down a long path of sequential events that would have distracted me totally from my initial mission: thin out the brussels sprouts. I guess pockets weren't such a bad idea after all.) I filled my only two mixing bowls with tomatillos, put the bowls on the counter, and launched back into the garden to finish tending the precious brassicas.

The only reason I processed the tomatillos today was because I wanted to make banana bread - the black bananas in the fruit bowl were threatening to ooze onto the table, so something had to be done. Since both mixing bowls were full of tomatillos, I decided to make something with them first (see what I mean about getting distracted? It seems I am in need of more vessels around here). A previous vote had shown that the family prefers the tomatillo soup to the tomatillo salsa, so I decided to process the tomatillos into the sauce needed for the soup. All. Six. Pounds. Of. Them.

That's right. Not only did those four accidental seeds that dropped into the brussels sprout patch grow gigantic beautiful plants, they ended up yielding approximately 9 1/2 pounds of tomatillos. And they would have continued producing if I hadn't needed to sacrifice them for the greater good of our winter harvest. I will definitely be planting tomatillos in the future. My freezer is full of tomatillo sauce just waiting to be made into stews for cold winter nights and i couldn't be more pleased. Such a nice way to start off the weekend.