Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My Mediterranean Fruit Garden

A dramatic side angle shot of the new space.

So, some of my readers (well, OK, one that I know of) thought that the chopping down of the butterfly bush a few entries back was very sad.  And I realize that I have been neglecting the flowers for the vegetables these days--but I am happy to show the end result for a little corner garden next to my patio out back.  The aforementioned butterfly bush used to stand where the fig tree is now featured above.  [On a side note, I do expect the fig tree will not remain a large upright twig as time passes.]  The bush used trail over into the kids' sandbox and onto the backs of our heads while we sat at the patio table.  The new sleek Mediterranean fruit gardenette is both beautiful, less crowding, and--we hope--richly fruitful.  The rhubarb, which thankfully survived the tree/bush removal, has much more room now, and looks lovely between the fig tree and grape vine.  And the flower gifts I got from my sweet Easter guests look wonderful in front.  An edger and a little mulch (thank you Owen, another item from his Spring break list) and . . . viola!

The daisy close-up.

Micah gives it his seal of approval.

Micah actually found FIGS on our stick of a fig tree!  We are beside ourselves with excitement . . . that is, Micah and I are.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Philadelphia Water

So if you want to know, Philly's got pretty scary water.  If you don't want to know, don't look at the links below.

Article related to radioactive iodine in Philly water

Forbes article on most toxic cities--Philly ranked worst for water

My friend, Jane, master researcher, who alerted me to Philly's worst water ranking, found a great and relatively inexpensive water filter that combines reverse osmosis filtering (a system that does involve wasting some water, which is why we're only doing this for our drinking water in the kitchen) and carbon block filtering (which, on a smaller scale, is what Brita does) at  As one of his many wife-sponsered Spring Break projects, my amazing husband installed ours--it took four hours.

This went where our sprayer was, the sprayer is still connected, but stores under the sink now.

Oooo, filtery.

The big filter.
The installation guy.
A clean cup of water.

Spring Break: Massive Basement Cleaning and Fun Trip

We started our Spring Break with a trip to Western PA to visit my cousin, Alice, and her husband, and their two kids.  Justin is a camp outdoor/adventure director and he had all kinds of cool initiatives for my kids to try in the woods and in the camp.  It was very fun.  Even Owen and I got to climb the rock wall--very exciting!  (On a side note:  That climb was much more strenuous for me than it would have been three children ago.)  Our kids had a blast, and then when they were all tucked in for the night the grown-ups all played games (especially Time's UP, which is one of our favorites).  I love games.  So that trip was a great way to start our break.
Micah tries out rock climbing with Daddy's help (and Caleb and Uncle Justin's supervision).
 Then came the cleaning.  My goals for the break included--but were not limited to--drastically cleaning a drastically dirty and disorganized basement, painting wooden window frames installed three years ago, installing a water filter (more on that one in a separate post), organizing the laundry/gardening/weight room (you can see the problem just in that description), fixing a stool, getting compost for another section of the garden, fixing a leaky faucet, and hosting Easter dinner for extended family.  That last goal did not blend so nicely with all of the other goals, especially since the basement clean-up involved a plethora bags of clothes to donate (which filled the dining room) and even a few furniture pieces to get rid of.  But I am very thankful to be able to report that we got all of our list finished.  It was amazing!  Owen had quite a list and he worked through it methodically and got it all done.  And that was just love, baby, because he didn't really feel strongly about any of it.  He just knew that I did.  I mostly did the basement cleaning.  And I actually had been working for hours and hours on that before Easter break even came--just to make it conceivable that we could break through the nightmare over break.

So here are a few of the results:

Wash floor of play area three times and organize play area for Abigail: check!

Clothes and storage organized and cleaned (and all outgrown baby clothes in bags for friends or donation): check!

Gardening bench in order: check!
Owen didn't think anyone would find that last photo, of the gardening bench, very inspiring.  But I assure you, when it was covered with the tarp, used paintbrushes, painting sheet, and I don't even remember what else, it did not look like a gardening bench.  This actually functions like I want it to.  I actually use it now when gardening.  The kids' easel is peeking through the edge of the picture and is a little in the way in the laundry room.  But for the time being it needs to be kept in a room Abigail has no access to, she really likes to put her fingers in the paint, and she's not ready for the art world.

Anyone else do any inspirational spring cleaning lately?  :)

Friday, April 15, 2011

I have to put a plug in for  We've been cleaning out our basement (FINALLY!!!) and I had linoleum flooring in a roll, a rug we'd forgotten about, strollers, a baby swing, a papasan chair, this, that, and the other.  I'd post on freecycle that I had the item to give away, check my email, arrange for one of the responders to come and get it, and I got a room full of stuff picked up and out of my house within the span of three days.  Just wanted to make sure everyone has heard of this wonderful website--especially when an attic or basement needs clearing out! 

Easy Easter Candy

My mom bought candy coating chocolate for me in Lancaster, though chocolate chips work, too.  I made these with less than three minutes of effort.  I stuck the chocolate in a bowl in the microwave for a few minutes, stirred it, microwaved it some more, stirred it, and then after the last minute and a half it was liquid.  Then I added coconut and roasted almonds.  Yum.  I put little globs on a plate and stuck it in the freezer.  The candy was ready within five or ten minutes.  It presents way more impressively than it should, I must say.  Like, Ooo, homemade candy!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Look Out . . . Here Comes Trouble!

Hmm, which one do I want?
Abigail's been dabbling in crawling for a while now.  She could move a few feet with some pretty fascinating moves to get something of particular interest--like paper, to eat.  But today for the first time Abigail crawled out of the living room and into the dining room--a total of about 20 feet.  It took her a while.  First she made her way over to a lamp and got into trouble with that.  Then she played with a cowboy hat.  But eventually she made it all the way over to the play area in our dining room.  And today she finally caught on to the basics of crawling so that it could actually be termed crawling.  She looks a little hilarious and gets a little angry at times about the slippery pants on the floor problem, but she can get around.  She's combining this skill with her other recent accomplishment of pulling up to standing.  We're in for it now . . .

You have totally been holding out on the good toys!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Thing of Beauty is a Joy . . .

. . . until its place is needed for food production.

I thought I'd take you all through the grim steps of removing my butterfly bush (which my neighbors pointed out did attract a lot of butterflies) to make room for a fig tree, which I will be purchasing later this week.

First I chopped off the branches.

Then I dug all around the roots.

This job was complicated by the little rhubarb stalks coming up--this is our second plant we're attempting to establish for our rhubarb supply; I was praying that I wouldn't knock off the stalks while digging.

Viola!  Mission accomplished!

And then there was none (though there was still rhubarb!).

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Tribute to Grandma

Right before my daughter was born this summer and a few months before temporarily retiring (she's about to get right back in there), my mom decided that she was going to make a concerted effort to have the boys stay with her one weekend each month.  She also decided that she was going to come to Philadelphia once a week whenever possible.  

And I would like to report that she has been amazingly consistent.  Amazing to me, because this has made the transition to three so much less of a frenzied shock.  One weekend a month is enough to almost recover from some of those days that start with someone crying because they have to get dressed, someone crying that we're having oatmeal (or cereal, or eggs, etc.), someone refusing to eat altogether (that cute one in the purple), and someone deciding they have to poop just as I'm realizing that someone already has . . . as we were about to leave (10 minutes late).

I would just like to say a big "Thank you!" to all of the grandma's out there who are their daughters' pinch hitters!  :)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Easiest Dinner Ever . . . Tomato Walnut Pesto

I first ate this recipe at a friend's house.  It was very good, and she shared that we would never believe how little time she spent making it.  Today I wanted to try a meat-free meal and so I called her up for the recipe (which I'm doubling below).  It took me a total of three minutes to make.  Thanks, Jen!
Tomato Walnut Pesto  
Combine in a blender:
2 cups tomato (diced, sauce, fresh)
2 cups walnut
1-2 cloves garlic (or more, if you want)
splash of olive oil
Serve at room temperature over hot pasta (you don't even need to cook it!!!), unless you're using fresh tomatoes, in which case you might want to briefly cook it.
Considering that it is as fast as frying an egg, this is an amazing recipe.  It was especially easy since I had leftover pasta in the refrigerator.  Try it next time you're feeling both lazy and wanting to pull out a new and interesting recipe.  Owen gave it rave reviews!  (A good friend mentioned that there is an inverse relationship between how much time you spend cooking and how good others find them--definitely true here.)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Allergy Update

I realize that I left some people hanging with the Jesse allergy situation.  I asked for prayer, and then I never gave a follow-up with the results.  So here they are:
  • The GI doctor was wonderful, and confirmed what I thought, that Jesse does not have any serious problem in this area--he did not think Jesse needed the Miralax (which is good, since he is allergic to it) and didn't think Jesse needed to be seen again.  
  • The allergist found no food allergies (I was really praying that Jesse would not have any nut or serious food allergies, this was a huge answer to prayer).  He is, however, allergic to dust mites (or, as he understands it, little tiny dust mice).  This explains why me changing all of his bedding to cotton and taking all of his stuffed animals out of his bed (because I thought he was allergic to petroleum) brought major relief temporarily (until new dust gathered), but why it didn't solve the problem.  The diagnosis seemed to rather puzzle the allergist, because Jesse's reactions were so extreme and out of no where.  He did say that probably a Miralax allergy triggered the extreme histamine response he had.  
I wanted to make sure that I did give an update and thank people for their prayers and support.  It was a really stressful and emotional couple of months there.  Jesse still has some red under his eyes (especially if he hangs around cuddling in blankets or playing with stuffed animals or around carpet too much), but it's much more under control.  And we're learning helpful tips, like: sticking pillows or wool blankets or stuffed animals in the freezer for a day will kill the dust mites.  Plus we got the mattress wraps and whatnot.

I feel so thankful that we know what the allergy is, that Jesse can continue to eat normally (and eat those healthy nuts), and that I had the satisfaction of hearing the allergist say that Jesse was most likely allergic to Miralax.  That was satisfying since I was sure he was, and yet every doctor I talked to basically told me that if Jesse was allergic to Miralax, then they were a monkey's uncle. 

God really got us through that.  I had to give up after a while and admit that I just couldn't figure it all out and I just had to lean on God to take care of Jesse.  I have learned to pray more and have less confidence in my ability to solve my children's problems on my own.  God also gave us wonderful and supportive friends and family to love and encourage us.  Thank you!

What's not to leek?

I used to be afraid of leeks.  I mean, they're not an onion, they're not a starch . . . what are they?  I wasn't raised eating leeks.  And quite honestly, I didn't used to have anything to do with veggies I wasn't raised eating.  That includes artichokes, kale, arugula, turnips, parsnips, avocados (ok, I know, a fruit, but you don't see them in fruit salads, do you?), bok choi, broccoli rabe, escarole, and leeks. And, let me add here, I was raised in a veggie-eating family.  When I was little, my parents grew potatoes and corn and all manner of things in the backyard.

A few years ago I went through a kind of exotic fruits and vegetables phase.  I tried making all kinds of foods I'd never had before.  I made jicama slaw.  I got really into artichokes and avocados, and felt so enlightened.  Then I read In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan (because three different friends told me I would like it) and he wrote about eating local foods and eating like my grandmother, of all people!  He had really convincing arguments about eating in a way that our earth could sustain.  And so I went back to the seasonal, local foods from our area that were easily obtainable.  And, hilariously, I re-embraced the Lancaster dishes I had scorned because they were all based on seasonal, local ingredients.  Go grandma!

But I did decide that I needed to explore some of the vegetables I had not explored in my exotic phase.  Vegetables that even my mom hadn't felt we needed to eat, like parsnips and turnips and leeks.  Now I can honestly say that I have made parsnips blend right into a chicken soup, and I have put turnips in a root veggie bake.  And I did buy a parsnip today at the rather limited spring farmer's market, left over from last year's harvest.  However, I would call either of those unassuming vegetables--in the words of Elmo--a "sometimes food."  

Leeks are another story.  The only thing I knew leeks went in at first was potato soup.  But someone told me they are also good in omelets.  And then I figured out that they can go anywhere an onion can go (if cooked).  And they add a little more flavor than an onion.  So when my nursing daughter couldn't tolerate me eating garlic, I started cooking everything with leeks.  The farmer's markets here were selling them into the winter.  And so the question for me is no longer, "What can I do with a leek?" but "What can't I do with a leek?"

The classic leek and potato combo--this time baked with just salt, pepper, & olive oil.