Thursday, August 7, 2014

Thank Goodness for Pigs

The worst thing about canning and preserving my local summer peaches and tomatoes is the mess they leave behind. Both need to be peeled before they are stuffed into mason jars, and the mountains of sweet smelling detritus they leave behind can leave me overwhelmed.
Luckily, we got new pigs just in time. With the last few ham steaks of John Lee and a few packages of Sage's sausage still in the freezer, we brought Hermione and Handsome to the farm as their tasty replacements. And thank goodness for pigs.
So far, they've already gobbled up my tomato and peach remains, as well as some stale cereal the kids swore they liked, corn husks, and the bits and pieces of unrecognizable leftovers Bubba hoarded in a desperate desire for real food he didn't have to make while I was at the beach with my family.
I hate throwing food away. It wastes money, which I try very hard to never do.
It wastes my time. After all, I'm the one who prepares all the food in our house.
And it wastes nutrients. When we don't have pigs, during the interval months when we've slaughter's last year's and this years haven't been weaned, I compost. However, our little composter has a hard time keeping up. Pigs, on the other hand, never fill up. Instead, they magically transform rotten peppers into bacon. Thank goodness for pigs!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Kids Feeding Kids

It is a very humbling experience to realize that my own kid may be a nicer person than I am. When we visit my family in Ohio, Nora volunteers at a non-profit that my mom helps run. They distribute toiletries and household items at no cost to people in need. My normally shy, quiet daughter glows with confidence at "the office", which she has also taken to calling "her job in Ohio." She talks to strangers and absorbs every second of the attention she receives there. I've often wished she had a confidence boosting, benevolent activity closer to home.
A few months ago, while picking out seeds for our garden, she asked if she could have a corner of the garden for herself.
"Why?" I asked.
"I thought we could have a stand and then give the money to Grandma's office."
My first reaction was not admiration or humility; it was dread. "Well, we'll see..."
My mind flashed with images of hours sweaty garden labor. I knew she'd never weed and water frequently enough to keep the garden alive. I knew the labor would be solely mine, with the exception of a few halfhearted watering attempts which usually end with her spraying herself with the hose instead of the plants.
Nora persisted with increasingly grand plans her stand. She brought it up every time I talked about my garden. My answer was the same. "We'll see..."
Finally, I started to cave. After all, my garden usually produces more than we can eat anyway. I proposed a different plan, however. "How about if we do the farmer's market? And then, maybe give some of the money to charity? Maybe half?" I also explained that we should find a charity a little closer to home and brainstormed ideas for a place to give the money specifically to kids. In the end, we agreed on "the backpack program" at her school. The backpack program sends kids in need home with a backpack of healthy food for the weekend.
I completely refused to give her a corner of the garden. Instead, I offered to share the produce from the whole thing. My garden is very personal to me. I am the only one who chooses what we plant and where. Once it is initially tilled, I do most of the work on the soil and fight the weeds myself. Although the job is sometimes overwhelming and I curse the lack of help, mostly I enjoy it being mine...all mine. I knew her corner would frustrate both of us. The day would come that the work wouldn't be fun anymore, and the corner would fall to weeds or come to me. No, I decided it was better to share, but I secretly hoped the idea would dry up like my pathetic cantaloupe plants. Then, I could be greedy without guilt.
The idea was here to stay, and she continued to bring it up. She questioned why we couldn't give all the money away. I wanted to split the money with the charity, because it was my blood, sweat, and tears that grew the vegetables. The guilt of my own selfishness ate away at me. I decided that the stand would be Nora's and that she could do what she wanted with it, despite the fact that she still is not enjoying actually gardening at all.
After the busy Saturdays of June gave way to an open Saturday in July, I found myself asking my daughter if she was really, really, really sure she wanted to sit at a hot stand all morning. She nodded solemnly and assured me she wouldn't be shy or grumpy.
"Yeah, right," I thought, "just like you were going to help me grow all this stuff."
 The day was hot and tiring at the stand she'd named "Kids Feeding Kids" as I had predicted it would be. Although she had wilted as badly as our chard by the time it was time to pack up and go home, she was absolutely elated that most of what we'd brought had sold. She was thrilled that the other vendors seemed to adopt her. I'm sure it improved her mood to hear over and over how awesome she was from workers and customers.
It helped me to hear it too. It reminded me that it is pretty awesome that she came up with this on her own. Despite it being my hands doing the work, it was her heart. I'm glad she forced me be generous, and it looks like we'll be at the stand again in just a few days. In the meantime, I'll be watering and weeding and wishing she would ease my workload as much as she eases my conscience.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The One and Only by Emily Giffin

I was insanely excited to see the cool teal cover of Emily Giffin's new book waiting for me in the "new books" section of my local, beloved library. Emily Giffin has a knack for creating characters with hopeless flaws that you can't help but celebrate. The first book of hers that I'd read was Something Borrowed about a woman falling in love with her friend, who also happens to be her best friend's fiance. Somehow, she made me root for the impending marriage to break up and cheer for the cheaters.
The main character in The One and Only was Shea, a football addict, with an inappropriate crush on her best friend's dad who is a famous college football coach. Once again, Emily Giffin hooked and surprised me by seamlessly weaving sports through a chick lit book. The plot didn't drag through overtimes and fumbles. Instead, she had me captivated on every page and unashamedly rooting for her Shea.

Monday, July 7, 2014


It's exhausting being fun all the time. Now that Lily is old enough to tag along with just about anything and Gray will start school in the fall, I am determined to have an exorbitant amount of fun with the kids this summer. I refuse to let this summer slip by.
So far, we've been swimming and hiking. We have visited Appomattox National Battlefield, Bear Creek Lake State Park, the Farmville Visitor Center, and Longwood Center for the Visual Arts. We have caught dozens of fish, including this monster bass. We've picked a mountain of kale, lettuce, and spinach and chomped on freshly picked peppers, peas, and beans.
We have not had one day of being homebodies. During all this merriment, the laundry has piled up. Our dishwasher remains unloaded for too long, and I spend copious amounts of time searching for new adventures.
I am flying through summer with my Supermom cape trailing behind me. What's crazy to think is that they probably won't remember my efforts, especially Gray. He's only four, and these days will blur together. Meanwhile, I will try my hardest to remember every summer smile.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Conversations with My Son

Him: Mama, I got a dead bug on me. I don't know what it was, but it had wings.

Me: What's your favorite vegetable, sir?
Him: Peppers. That's the only one I like. I only eat broccoli when you make me.

As he is drawing...
Me: What is that sir?
Him: It's orange.
Me: I know, but what are you drawing?
Him: It's a three color rainbow that's whirling around.

Him: Have you seen my pirate?
Me: No, I haven't. If I did see it, I would have put it in the pirate box.
Him: Well, I looked in there and it was nowhere to be seen. It vanished!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

My First Sleepover

Nora stayed with at a friend's house Friday night. It was her very first sleepover without any family. I really wasn't sure I was ready for it.
I try very hard not to be a "helicopter parent" despite my unfortunate habit of obsessing about my children's behavior. I trust Nora, though. She's a very responsible, self aware little girl. I know that if she had misgivings about spending the night away from how she'd tell me. She didn't hesitate. She wanted to go.
The sleepover was the talk of the week. Everyday, she let me in on their plans and preparations. She could not have been more excited, while I tried not to have an ulcer.
I was a terrible sleepover friend as a kid. I could never fall asleep, and I was always up early. I had my blurry eyed parents pick me up in the middle of the night a few times. If I made it through, I was always anxious to get back home as soon as the sun was up. Maybe I've always been a hermit.
I hugged Nora goodbye on the big day, praying that she wouldn't follow in my footsteps.
I went to bed early, anticipating a late night call. When I opened my eyes to the dawning sun, I smiled. She made it.
Although she got almost no sleep, that wasn't really surprising. How many kids actually sleep at a sleepover? She had a ball and can't wait to do it again.
She made it! And what's even more shocking, I did too.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Greens! Greens!

 We're finally getting a chance to enjoy the fruits of our labor from the garden. The rainbow chard was quite a hit with the kids, although I found out that they greatly prefer it fresh. I tried sauteing it in with garlic, which I thought was magnificent, but I was the only one at the table chomping it down. Everyone else seemed to be choking more than chomping.
My kale has been stupendous! I still can't convince Bubba of its virtues, but I have enjoyed a ton of kale chips.
I've had salad after salad of fresh lettuce, endive, spinach too.

Garden goodies still to come include:
Carrots-including orange and purple
Peppers-including one ghost pepper, banana, yellow, green, red, and jalapeno
Tomatoes-including grape, cherry, and a mix of random others
Brussels sprouts
Beans-including yellow and green
Squash-including yellow, spaghetti, and zucchini
Cucumbers-including pickling and burpless

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Book 21: Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris

When Gray reads a book or watches a movie, he likes to know who the bad guys are. He needs a clear cut conflict such as Voldemort versus Harry Potter or Jedi versus Dark Side. (For those of you who know Star Wars, he was sobbing and got so upset that he had to turn off the end of Episode III. He could not accept that Anakin would turn to the Dark Side.) Therefore, my son would not enjoy Joanne Harris's books as much as I do.
Joanne Harris's characters are complex. She has a way of making you cheer for the bad guy or at least feel sympathy. She has a brilliant way of making her characters feel real by making them flawed. Her characters often have knowledge of food, the environment, or people as their biggest asset. Since her main characters are often female, this is a welcome change from a woman having only beauty and a man to get her through a conflict.
You might remember Joanne Harris as the author of Chocolat, which was made into a great movie; made all the more beautiful by Johnny Depp. The book is very different from the movie and much more complex, but I like them both. However, I loved Five Quarters of the Orange in a completely different way. Be careful if you start reading one of Joanne Harris's books. They are more addictive than chocolate!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Whale of a Fish Tale

The weather was warm with a gentle breeze taking the edge off the heat of the afternoon. Since soccer season has ended, our afternoons have become ours again.
"Bike ride or fishing?" I asked the kids as Nora finished up her homework.
"Fishing!" Nora cheered.
"Bike-no fishing!" Gray called, looking at his idolized big sister.
"Yay! Go!" said Lily, who is up for any adventure in which she is included.
Nora loves fishing. I'd taken all of them twice already this spring, but we hadn't caught anything yet. Not even a darn nibble. She hadn't lost hope, however, and with our fishing poles stuck out the back window, we headed to the nearest state park.
Even with three kids, I only bring two working poles. The only thing I have to help Nora with is baiting the hook. She isn't squeamish about touching the worms, but it disturbs her to stab the hook into their squirmy bodies. Unsecured, the worms fly off the hook when she casts, so it's just better for me to do it.  I have to cast for Gray, who enjoys wandering around and digging in the dirt more than actively fishing. I give Lily a length of cane pole without a hook or line, which she slams into the water giggling. I bounce from kid to kid making sure everyone is dry, happy, and un-pierced.
My favorite part of fishing is watching the other wildlife around us. We were in awe of a bald eagle catching a fish only a few yards out in the water from where we stood. We guessed where a diving cormorant would surface. We heard the music of far off cricket frogs.
I had just cast Gray's line when I heard a splash beside me. I inhaled one gasp, loud and long enough to make Gray and Nora freeze. Lily had fallen in the lake. Luckily, she fell in bottom first. She was soaked, but her head never went under. I grabbed her arm before she could slip trying to stand up.
"Watt-y! Watt-y!" she sobbed. (This is her word for "water". I won't use it back to her, hoping she will eventually drop the "y" and add the "er". However, it was a pathetically adorable sound as she sat in the mud at the lake's edge.)
I had just planted her on dry land when Nora shouted, "MOMMY! Help Grayson! He's got a fish!"
With my arms around Lily, I turned to see a small bluegill dangling in my face. Gray stood beaming, holding the pole with the fish still attached.
"Help him! Help him!"
I took a deep breath. "Okay." I carried Lily to a picnic bench. "Just hold still, sir. You are okay. You want to put some clothes on?"
"Yes!" Sobbing.
Forgetting any attempt at privacy, I started to peel Lily's soaked clothes from her body. "You are okay. Nora, put some water in the bucket. Hurry. Just hold still, sir. You are okay. Look, baby, your dress is dry. Do you want to wear your dress?"
"Yes!" Sobbing.
Nora plopped the bucket beside me. "Okay. We're going to put him like this..." Still hugging Lily, I dunked the fish, hook, line, and all into the bucket. "Just leave it while I get your sister." Gray stood in awe of his trophy, giggling. Dry clothes seemed to dry Lily's tears. "Do you want a snack?"
"Yes, Mommy."
"Okay. You are such a big girl. You fell in the water, but you're okay. Come sit by me and have your snack."
Within minutes, Lily was content with the universe again. She batted her pole in the water, terrorized the bait, and pointed at every bird that flew by. I got the stubborn hook out of the fish's mouth with determination and a few mumbled swear words. The upheaval was over quickly, and we returned to the steady, quiet rhythm of fishing.
Just one thing was wrong. Gray's fish remained the only prize in the bucket. Even with all her diligent persistence, she still hadn't caught a fish.
Gray left his pole to Lily and me, trading fishing for exploring. I cast again and again with the intention of handing my line to Nora to reel if I felt a bite. "Please, let her catch one...please..." I thought.
"MOMMY! HELP ME!" Nora was holding her bending pole with white knuckles. "I've got one! Help me!"
I laughed, in spite of her desperation. "You're fine. Just keep getting him in. You're fine." With every crank, her smile grew larger. The fish she hooked was three times the size of Gray's. In fact it was so big that a grandpa who was fishing next to us brought his granddaughter over to see it. Nora proudly showed her prize.
Soon after that, it was time to head home for dinner and baths. Dinner did not include fish, but it did teem with fish tales as the kids relayed the excitement. Fishing with three kids keeps me on my toes, but it also keeps me smiling.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Free to Be Free from Weeds

I thought it was me and my black thumb.
I thought I was doomed.
I've planted a garden for years, and every year I have lost the battle with weeds. Pigweed and grass have crushed my dreams for too many seasons now. This year, I have a new weapon. Look out, weeds. I have a tiller that's looking for you.

When our old tiller broke, it sat at the edge of the yard for so long a blackberry bush grew up through it. I tore at invading weeds with hoes but tried to poison them with nothing more toxic than my own disdain.
When Bubba finally freed the machine from its thorny prison only to declare it dead. And when Bubba finally admits that something cannot be fixed, it REALLY cannot be fixed. 
He begrudgingly picked up a tiller which he called tiny. I argued that a smaller tiller would allow us to plant rows closer together. (Secretly, I was also intimidated by the big, old tillers. I only learned to use the lawnmower a couple of years ago!) Price was on my side, and it was love at first sift.
Right now, my garden is the garden of my dreams. Weed free rows are gorgeous! This is the year that the tide will change. Do you hear that, Pigweed? This is the summer of no surrender!