Saturday, March 21, 2009

Missing: PhD in gardening

I have been studying up for the past couple of hours. Some of what I'm studying is a refresher course, and some of it feels brand new. After flipping through the Maritime Gardener guide put out by Seattle Tilth, and thumbing my organic gardening book, and reading the information on the seed packets, and drawing up charts of what I want to plant and what month it should be planted in....I'm overwhelmed. There is so much information to be had!

This is a far cry from digging up the soil, throwing in seeds, and watching them grow.

I'm currently studying about:
- compost and composting methods
- fertilizers
- lawn care (the back yard will remain a lawn, as we love to hang out there with friends and it's Tessa and Shep's play space)
- crop rotation
- cover crops
- irrigation (how ARE we going to water the whole front yard?)

I'm trying to do mostly heirloom, all organic gardening. I prefer perrenials to annuals because in this case I'm cheap and lazy. I want vibrant color (uh oh annuals are good for that) in my flowers, I want interesting textures, I want them to be low maintainance, I'd like native plants, drought resistant.....

I have a lot to learn.

I also have to figure out how to build the path through our new garden beds. Gravel? I'd love slate, but it's too expensive. Any suggestions for inexpensive (free would be good) pathways?

Gardening Season Begins!

It's official at our house: gardening season is here.

Of course, this means that it hurts to move right now, because half a day in the garden and I am fully aware of a) how much work it is, and b) how out of shape I am. Never mind, the more work I do, the better it becomes on both counts.

Ryan has begun turning the sod on the remainder of our front lawn, and is finding it more painstaking than he'd remembered, so it's going slower than he'd hoped, but we have genuine progress and I'm really excited about that. The first step is to dig a trench, then we add compost and a handful of fertilizer, and then he replaces the sod, but it's turned upside-down with at least six inches of dirt on top. He does this row by row until the yard is done, working in sections. It's hard going! This worked last year, though, and has many benefits, not least of which is that we don't have to pay to dispose of the "sod." ("Sod" instead of just sod because it's made up of a lot of weeds. This method worked on the equally weedy section on the other side of the walk last year.) It's all done by hand, so it's a good workout (ha!) and it doesn't create greenhouse gases. (Of course, I wouldn't mind if Ryan insisted on the rototiller, but he's insistent that he does it all himself, with just shovels and garden forks and a lot of labor.)

While Ryan was doing this, Tessa and I got busy weeding last year's garden patch, which is just dirt at this time of year. We discovered, though, that the garlic that didn't appear successful last year is thriving now, so we've got garlic in the ground. We separated it and replanted, and we're hoping that our attention didn't kill it. Our neighbor Charlie saw our work and offered us some of his raspberry canes, and we gratefully accepted them, too, and got them in the ground. We cleaned up old dead leaves, cut down an azelea that had died, and then weeded all around it (hmmm wonder if the weeds killed it?!) in preparation for planting flowers in that particular section.

And we worked on our compost - not "just" the worm bins, which we have more or less mastered, but the regular compost bin that sits, neglected, beside the compost. Fortunately for us, it had been neglected long enough to yield a couple of small yard waste bins worth of rich, clean compost in addition to a thick layer of brambles. The brambles were removed and placed in the yard waste where they belonged, and the compost took it's place in the garden.

To be continued....dinner time!

Post dinner...

The compost is strangely exciting to me, because it's another sign that I'm getting it. I'm trying to create the full circle (without waste) of food production, and the compost is comprised of lots of food scraps (and leaves etc.) that are being returned to the earth. This is how it seems like it is supposed to be. Instead of food bits being taken away by big trucks, they are being returned to the earth. The soil in the garden bed from last year looks rich and dark, and though we used commercial compost last year I can start to see how this all comes together. The earth is lush and loose, dark and sweet.

If I can get excited about soil, I can get excited about anything, I suppose. But I feel like I'm reconnecting with the earth, and with parts of nature. I'm working with nature, not against it, and I feel my place on the earth just a little bit more.

I put pansies (my Grandma Goddard's favorite flower) in pots on the porch, and tomorrow I hope to plant some veggies and flower seeds suitable for "early spring planting." We are not past the danger of frost - as evidenced by this morning's white crystals - but some things go well in the ground before frost.

I haven't mapped out the whole garden yet, but I will. Like the Obamas, I'm planting nasturcium and zinna borders, and I'll add in some marigolds, and some other things. I loved our sunflowers last year (though I placed them horribly; I'll do a better job of that this year). Our bulbs from years gone past are coming up; the crocuses are fading, the few remaining daffodils are bobbing their tight yellow heads, and the tulips are leafing. The lavendar looks old and solid, and I can't wait to inhale its scent. (And this year I'm going to dry some, too.)

Fertilize the lawn, cut back the ferns, learn about rhodie care (ours are looking sad)....

Spring must really be here. Hurrah!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

White House Vegetable Garden!

They're really doing it! They really are!

With war, financial chaos, and so much else going on in politics and the world, I am quite grateful that the Obama family is choosing to pay attention to this cause. Organic, healthy food - cheap! I hope that other Americans follow suit.

(I just finished one of Michael Pollan's early books, Second Nature, and per his advice signed up to receive a number of seed company catalogs. I'm a bit late to the game on that, but I look forward to planning which heirloom varieties to get.)

This weekend we'll break ground on the "new" garden - which means that Ryan will be doing some heavy labor. Tessa and I will tend the ground where the old garden was, pulling weeds, and MAYBE even finding some hardy peas and such to plant. It's garden time!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Warning: cute kid stories follow.

Tessa couldn't find Bear - that is, Special Bear, the one that Uncle Paul bought her when I was in labor with her, the one that she has slept with EVERY SINGLE NIGHT OF HER LIFE - the other day. I wasn't concerned - he had to be somewhere close by, since she'd had him in bed the night before and we are careful not to take him anywhere he might get lost. So, I sent her back into her room to look harder. She looked, she didn't find. She looked more. She got worried, so I joined her in her looking. We started running out of places to look....

And Tessa started packing her bags, putting in small blankets and a pillow, along with other necessities. "What are you doing?" I asked. Tearfully, she responded, "I just can't stay here without Special Bear. I just can't stay." We talked it over further, and she explained how sad she was, and how she had to go. "But I'd miss you!" I told her. We agreed that she could go stay in the back yard, because then I could visit her. But before she could go, I said she had to clean her room.

She's six, so this seemed logical enough to her. We cleaned together.

And we found Special Bear. Fortunately, I am pleased to announce that Tessa still lives INSIDE our house.

Tessa has started receiving regular allowance. We agreed that she would spend some, save some, and give some away (charity) each week, as we hope to teach her basic financial principles. I am proud to say that she chose "Guest At Your Table" for her first charity; she collected her dollars and then brought them to WSUU for distribution.
She is thinking about donating to Family Promise (the homeless shelter we help out with) or "an animal charity" next.

I am very, very proud of the way my daughter so willingly, and excitedly, shares what she has to make the world a better place. I am even proud of the pride she has in this activity.
Yesterday, Tessa and her friend Jessie worked very hard, and made Leprechaun Traps. The idea was to trap a leprachaun, be nice to him, then demand all of his gold. (They decided that the leprechaun could keep one piece, and they'd get the rest.) Tessa was very excited to check the traps, but alas, no leprechauns were to be found.
Tessa is writing phonetically with greater and greater frequency. Hurrah! Sometimes it's darling - I enjoy reading her stories that begin "I lik to ryd hosis." (Say it, you'll hear what it is.) Right now, there is a sign on her door that reads "No pepl LD in vis roon." Not exactly friendly but I don't have the heart to erase it (it's in dry erase) yet. (The sign was written when a playdate brought along her younger, very active, sister.)
We've been having daily tea parties, which basically consist of peppermint tea with lots of sugar and cream, poured out of my "nice" teapot and using pink china cups. What a pleasure.
Tessa is doing more chores. She has learned to fold napkins (we use all cloth) like a pro, and takes pride in her work. Putting her pajamas in the hamper without reminding, well, that's not as fun....but she is helping around the house and proud of it.
Tessa likes "Mamma Mia" and it's music even more than I do. I get the giggles when I hear her singing, "Honey honey, how you thrill me a-ha, honey, honey...."
Tessa's going to whip me into shape....with jump roping. She's getting good! If I join her maybe my belly will stop jiggling. (sigh)
And best of all (for me): Tessa has taken to telling me her own "special words." Some time during my cancer treatment, in the depths of the darkness, I came up with "special words" that I tell Tessa every night. It started because of sadness - I wanted to nail down the memory of how much I love her, so that if I died, she's have that memory to hold. I say, "Of all the girls, in all the world, I'm so glad that you belong to me and that I belong to you, because we belong together. I love you so much! Thank you for being my daughter." Tessa often replies, "I love you too, Mama. Thank you for being my mother," which I find awfully sweet. But in the last couple of weeks, she sweetened it even more. Tessa has her own version of "special words" and then she's been giving me (and Ryan, too) lists of things that she loves about us. My list included "I love you because you drive me to school," and "I love you because you tuck me in" and "I love you because you read me stories," and "I love you because you are kind and gentle and good" and "You're a perfect mama, Mama." (I cried a bit on that one. I am so far from perfect, but I want so deeply to be the best mama for her..... I am grateful that she forgives me my flaws.)
Shoes. What is it about this kid and putting on shoes?! It can take her 10 minutes to decide which ones, and 10 more minutes to put them on. This is leading to me shrieking like a crazy person....not my finest moments. (NOT perfect.) I am actually trying to build in time for shoe-putting-on in the mornings, because this is becoming a big deal. Deep breaths. She will grow out of this. Deep breaths....
Tessa's art is becoming more interesting and more creative, more filled with stories....

I love my daughter deeply. I pray that I am around to tell her even when SHE is old, and I'm just a little old wrinkled thing of a woman. I am blessed with an amazing child.

Writer Day

On Monday I did not stick to the writing schedule, because I had a girl at home, sick. Today, after a brief "Sound Partners" training at Alki (to learn tutoring techniques for my volunteer time in the classroom), Shep and I will get a little exercise, and then it's write, write, write.

Yawn. Even though I'm having a hard time waking up today - the morning aches and pains (**** Aromasin) are getting worse by the day, I swear - I'm determined to get in some exercise. Maybe it will loosen up my knees. (Maybe it will help my jeans to zip.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

More Craigslist free

Today I got a free haircut at Seven - a salon in Pacific Place. (They needed a hair model for a long layered cut with straight hair. Hey, that's me!)

Really, check out Craigslist Free. Good stuff.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Craigslist Free

I love Craigslist Free.

Tonight I picked up a few boxes of women's clothing, size small (some fits me now....some will have to wait until I run off some weight). Tomorrow morning I'm picking up a bookcase to put in our attic for storage.

Free is good - check it out!

23 years of friendship

Carolyn and I met in highschool, when I was five years old (as you can see, I'm 29).

Okay, we did meet in high school, but today is Carolyn's 40th birthday and my 40th isn't that far away, either. And despite the fact that I can barely remember what it felt like to be 29 - the year I got married! - I am glad to be approaching 40. I predict good things for our 40s....good things indeed.

So today, I'm sending so much love down to California, where I'm hoping that Carolyn is having a wonderful time celebrating with friends and family, and that she's feeling the love that I'm sending her way. I hope that 40 brings light, laughter, promise, joy, and love to Carolyn's life. I hope that some of her burdens ease, and that her laughter is tenfold. I hope that she continues to find great health, and that those she loves are able to hold on to health. I hope that her struggles are small, that her joys are large. I hope for at LEAST another 23 years of friendship (but more, I hope for about 60 years of friendship, though I'd settle for 55).

I love you, Carolyn. You have been there for me, through thick and thin, since I moved to Woodinville in 1987. I love you dearly, and can't imagine my life without you in it. The miles are long when lives are busy and full, but not a day goes by that I don't think of you, even though we don't talk as much as we'd like.

Some times in our lives,
we all have pain,
we all have sorrow,
but if we are wise
we know that there's
always tomorrow....

Lean on me,
when you're not strong,
I'll be your friend,
I'll help you carry on...

I have leaned on Carolyn many times. Carolyn is stronger than I am, but I am there for her, too.

Happy birthday, my dear friend.

Green Bathrooms

I don't blog consistently about anything (there is a message in there somewhere...hmmm) but I keep trying to be green and to get greener. This post is about greening up your bathroom - that is, removing toxins from the bathroom and replacing them with products that are good for the earth, good for your body, and (because I want to be frugal) won't break the bank.

The cleaning products that I use in the rest of the house get used in the bathroom, too.

  • A water and vinegar mix cleans up all kinds of things;
  • I also use Trader Joe's all purpose cleaner (which is touted as biodegradable, etc., and comes in under $4 as I recall).
  • I cleaned the tub yesterday with baking soda - I buy a giant bag now, in addition to the little box that I keep in the cupboard for baking. It did a good job on that nasty ring that develops after one really playful little girl has spent some time running around the back yard with no shoes on in the winter, scooping up piles of sticks and leaves, and then hugging the dog. (You get the picture.)
  • Meyer's glass cleaner does a decent job. Not my favorite, but decent.
  • Seventh Generation toilet bowl cleaner.
  • Trader Joe's Next to Godliness Air Freshener: uses essential oils, non-aerosol, cheap, lasts a long time (a little goes a long way)

I try to clean with rags when possible, not paper towels, and I don't use disposable cleaning stuff like Swiffer products or those things that substitute for old fashioned toilet bowl brushes. (And the water in my toilet is water, not blue chemicals.)

Even more importantly is what we put on our bodies. Did you know that common ingredients in shampoos are linked to cancer, or are endocrine disrupters? To get information about safety in cosmetics (defined as anything we put on our skin) I visit the Environmental Working Group website; they have a cosmetics safety database that you can visit at:

It's really easy to use. All you do is type in the name of the product you want to check on, and it gives you a score of 0-9, where 0 is very safe and 9 is toxic. You can look at ingredients lists and see why the score was given, or you can take it at face decide.

Using this database, we discovered that Ryan's favorite hair product - Nexxus Humectrus - received a toxic score of 9. Twenty-five years of putting toxins next to his poor dear. Time to find a new product, needless to say! We also discovered that the tried-and-true Johnson & Johnson's baby wash received a score of 4, a "moderate" score, but pointed out the warning "Keep away from young children." Ack! Other J&J baby products (we used several) got nasty scores of 7; so did Baby Magic and other baby products. I'm so sad that I used these "gentle" products with the belief that they were best, but I was wrong.

But enough of what doesn't work: here is what is working for me right now.

Deodorant: Tom's of Maine lavendar; score =2. (I was using the honeysuckle rose scent, and it was a score of 4. What?! Anyway, switching back to lavendar was no big deal.)

Toothpaste: Tom's of Maine spearmint (Ryan and I) and strawberry (Tessa); score = 3. When our current tubes run out we're going to try Burt's Bees toothpastes (they have adult and kid versions); score = 1.

Shampoo & Conditioner: I have tried Alba and Jason products, but they scored in the 5 range, so we have switched again, this time to Burt's Bees. Guess what? I made a mistake. I went in to the store to buy the grapefruit and sugar beet shampoo and conditioner (score = 2), and they didn't stock it, but they had raspberry and brazil nut shampoo and conditioner, so I picked that instead. ARGH! Grapefruit score = 1; Raspberry score = 4. You've gotta be kidding me....but there it is.

Are you getting the message that scent changes everything? Same product, different flavor....different score.

Soap (for shower): Kiss My Face pure olive oil soap; score = 0. Note: add fragrance and the score goes up to 4. Plain is good.

Hand Soap: Pears. Except it's not in the database. Anyone have info on this one? It's a glycerine soap (good).... A note on hand soap: bar soaps come in cardboard boxes; liquid soaps come in plastic containers. Bar soaps are better!

Lip Balm: Burt's Bees Beeswax Lip Balm; score = 2; for color I've been using Alba but it gets a 3 or 4 depending on color

Sunscreen (well, I keep mine in the bathroom): Alba Botanical Minerals SPF 18; score = 2. However, not all Alba products score this well, and one of the children's sunscreens that we had scored a nasty 7. Ugh! Kiss My Face sunscreens (which I had opportunity to sample thanks to the generousity of their VP who read a previous blog entry in which I complained about them) score well, and I like them: Kiss My Face 100% Paraben Free Sunscreen with Oat Protein SPF 30; score =2. Their Face Factor Paraben Free SPF 30 also scores a 2.

For face lotion I haven't found one I'm in love with. I've tried Jason and Alba; these were to get away from the Neutrogena products that I'd loved for years but scored 4-7 (remember, one small change to the formula and the whole score can change). I'd like to try Burt's Bees unscented shea butter body and face lotion (score = 2) but I'm looking for recommendations.

Acne treatment: Dessert Essence Tea Tree Oil; score = 0. (available at Trader Joe's)

Facial Wash: Dessert Essence Thoroughly Clean Face Wash with Tea Tree Oil and Awapuhi; score = 0 (available at Trader Joe's)

For scrubbing my body I stopped using a plastic "pouf" and switched to loofahs. The pouf will sit in a landfill forever; the loufah is a natural sponge and will biodegrade. (I wonder if I could put it in my compost when it starts falling apart, if I ran it through the dishwasher first?)

Anyway, there is a post I wish I'd found earlier in my process to point me in the right direction, because there is a lot of trial and error and I'm not willing to spend a lot of money so if I buy something I need to use it up unless it's really bad. Maybe this will help someone - and maybe people can add comments about products that they have found that do the trick, aren't tough on the pocketbook, and are kind to bodies and earth....

And remember, it's important to look it up if you're trying a new scent or formulation, because a small name change can signify a totally different health perspective.

PHEW! That took longer than I expected it would.


Hurrah - we're all done except the final signing, and that should happen tomorrow!

4.875% on a 30 year fixed means that our mortgage payment falls and our debt snowball goes even faster. We'll take the difference between what we paid before and the new mortgage payment and apply it to debt, moving up the date when we can say "We're debt free!"

I really want to be debt free. Really, really. And this will make it easier.

If anybody wants a referral to a mortgage guy, I'll pass along the number. We're pleased with the rate and the fees, and the process has been relatively painless (okay, we did have to put together 31 pages to fax, but that's just how it goes.....nobody is taking any chances and we had to prove just about everything we said with a couple years of W2s, insurance papers, checking account statements, and the like). It lowers our payment by $200 - hurrah!

And due to some weird thing, we skip a mortgage payment as a result of the refi, and that money will get applied to our porch, which is in dire need of replacement. I wish we could do it for cosmetic purposes, but we just need it to be done so that it's not rotten. River rock columns will happen some other time, but right now we just need it to be safe. (Hopefully it will be prettier, too. The porch is the face of the house and it could use a little facelift.)

Monday - better?

Tessa woke up today and appears to be feeling much better than last night. I won't risk it and send her to school because yesterday she didn't eat dinner and went to bed shivering (we piled on blankets and gave her a hot water bottle to snuggle) and I don't want her to take a turn for the worse while she's at school....but my fingers are crossed that we have crossed the line and that we're back on the way to wellness at this house.

Today is writing day for the book....that will get bumped to tomorrow. Today will be filled with reading and small chores around the house, I guess. Quiet days, and I don't mind that if Tessa's feeling better.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Quiet Sunday

We've been having a family snuggle this Sunday morning - all five of us have been perched in our queen bed, Ryan and I flanking Tessa and the animals curled up at our feet, as we watch the snow (yes, snow) falling outside the window. Simple pleasures - togetherness, warmth, morning chit chat....and lots of coffee, of course.

Tessa had a pretty restful night after the horribleness of the evening - I guess her body had something to get rid of and once she tossed her cookies she appeared to feel a bit better. It's now 9:36 and she's dressed, had a small breakfast (a few bites of oatmeal - we don't want to push it), and she has fallen asleep again, lying here next to me. Poor kid - I really wish she could shake this awful bug.

Ryan's a bit sad because he had planned a group ride this morning (some organized ride whose name I've already forgotten) and he'd prepped his bike and gear last night....let's just say that waking to snow was NOT his idea of a good time.

So Ryan's taking an hour at the coffee shop, and I'll take a few hours to myself later today, and Tessa will snuggle with either or both of us, and we'll read books and watch movies and cross our fingers that there will be no more throwing up and that she will quickly mend.