Monday, July 13, 2009

Just Breathe

Somehow, somewhere, the cosmos decided it was time to up the ante and shake things up a bit for me. Apparently, a summer that consists of having a fence built, the deck torn down and the entire house re-piped all the way out to the street is not exciting enough for us, so my son has decided to be obliging and become even more of a toddler.

"Who is this little stranger?" I find myself asking as he plays air guitar on a bedraggled children's broom, straw pieces sticking out at odd angles having been roughly used as a whammy bar.

It all started Thursday, I suppose. We hit story time for the first time. It was okay, I suppose. The book choices were a bit uninspired, but there was that group of kids at the storyteller's feet, little faces rapt with attention.

And where was my son? Off exploring the room. A rather inviting room, I would add, with low windows, carpet, and absolutely no furniture. If I were two, I would be tempted to run, and while my son didn't, he did trip on the carpet and skin his nose. After two minutes of comforting, he went back off to flirt and look cute with another mom. Ask me if I was jealous. Please. I was so tired that morning they could have pledged undying affection for each other and I would have been like "Yeah, great, so, do you think you could take him for a couple hours?"

As we left the library I noticed a sign taped to the outside of a glass door. The bold print could be read in reverse--"Toddler Tuesdays". Curious, I turned around to read the rest of the sign after I had walked out. "Learn How to Sit and Listen".

Oh dear.

I think this was the first time I really, truly felt like The World has some sort of expectation my kid wasn't living up to. It didn't feel good. It hadn't bothered me that my son was wandering about the room as the nice lady read stories and sang songs. I just naturally assumed that this was pretty normal stuff for a two year old in a new space. The sign sparked a little glimmer of anger, I suppose. "After all" I muttered under my breath "learning how to sit and listen isn't one of the reasons I took him to Story time in the first place." I was hoping that he'd enjoy the music and movement aspect of it, or that I'd get turned on to some good books. "He sits and listens just fine at home...grumble grumble."

Silly me. That was Day One.

Day Two began with The Morning From Hell. Like many stressful situations, I've successfully blocked out the details of this time and just remember that it was horrible. Nothing was going well. Lots of tears (his), lots of grumbles (mine) and so much to do. A trip to Portland Nursery, which was supposed to be fun, took my every last bit of patience, and just when the walk was going well, he decided to run into the street. Again.

Did I mention that toddlers are not to be trusted? This kid runs into the street like it's the best thing on earth. I couldn't get a lick of yardwork done, and finally had to pop him back into his stroller again. I probably did not say loving, positive discipline sorts of things as I did this.

Day Three. Saturday. Egad. The farmer's market was great, but after an hour nap in the car, Kiddo was cranky and all wiggles and ready to go. So perhaps it wasn't a good time to go get a beer, hmmmm? This, believe it or not, was not my idea, but my dear husband's. I tried to veto it three times, and you know that if I'm passing up going out for a beer, something isn't right. I finally compromised with the dear husband and agreed to trying one glass of beer. Huge mistake, super-wiggly disaster, and our son using his new vocabulary to tell everyone around "you fust'ated", which translates to "I'm frustrated. Let me run...everywhere!"

So it's Day Five now--yes, we've skipped day four, I'm too tired-- and a dear friend offered to take my darling, mercurial, daring and explorative little boy for a couple hours and let me make dinner in peace. I went out for a walk and began to just focus on my breathing. I realized how hard it was to take a deep breath; I'd been stressed and tired for days. But eventually my feet began to pick up speed and as I relaxed into the music on the ipod, I felt my chest open up a bit. I could breathe out all the self-judgement and all the insecurity around the past few days and try to set it aside. I could try to use this time to remember what these feelings are like, to build on it as a base for empathy with other mothers instead of just being angry at a poster. I could try to see what I was doing right: consistently leading him through his transitions with a lot of patience and routine; giving him as much space as possible to be himself within the boundaries of what is safe; and making time for him when he wants it while honoring those moments when he is happier independent, thinking his own thoughts and focusing on things that interest him.

I know that big room at storytime interested him. I knew, when I sat back and watched, how much I wanted for him to be comfortable and happy looking around that room. I don't feel like my kid needs to be following along with the rest of the pack yet--he's only two. He'll have his whole life to suppress his natural instincts and conform to the group status quo. I want to encourage him to feel confident following his own path while being safe, respectful to others and honest to both us and himself. When I breathe, I can see that the vision I have for my son is not about my being comfortable, but about his development as a human being. Discomfort challenges me to confront parts of myself that are always easier not to look at, but self-examination as a parent is always a golden opportunity for progress. So I'll try to move from talking to breathing and see, just see, if the rest of this week might not be a little better.

Keep your fingers crossed.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What to do with your zucchini

Here's a yummy recipe that I conjured up today, after realizing that the zukes were becoming a bit prolific. This recipe is within guidelines for those of us who are insulin-resistant, and was pretty darn tasty. Measurements are for ONE person only, and it looks like a whole mess of food, but I left the table satisfied and without that heavy feeling that can strike once the fork hits the plate for the last time.

I used the following:

2 cups fresh zuke, diced
1 whole large ripe tomato, diced (I use the whole thing, juice, seeds and skins)
1 clove of garlic, minced
dill (about 1.5 to 2 tablespoons dried, use more if fresh)
freshly ground pepper
olive oil
2 Morningstar breakfast sausage links, cooked in microwave for 1.5 minutes on high
3/8 cup cooked large shell pasta (you can make up some and use the rest for the kids, or save it in a container; just drizzle with olive oil)
parmesan cheese

Cook up your pasta, however much you decide to make. Drain and set aside. While pasta is cooking, prep your produce and links. Once pasta is done, heat a saute pan and add enough olive oil to flash saute the zukes; test pan for heat with one diced piece of zucchini, once it starts to sizzle, add the rest along with most of the garlic and season liberally with dill, and salt and pepper to taste. When zukes are just tender, add in tomatoes, remaining garlic and toss with a bit more dill, salt and pepper, then take off heat immediately. Tomatoes should be warm and still firm.

Place your pasta on a plate and then top with zukes and tomatoes. Slice up sausages into "coin" type pieces and put on plate. Top with freshly grated parmesan. Delish! And you have your carbs, protiens and fats in relative balance. My new favorite summer treat.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Sticky, Icky Messes are We

Instead of trying to hit playgroup this morning, I fed Boy and I our breakfasts and then we headed out to the backyard. A handful of raspberries had ripened over the night, and together we picked enough to keep him happy. Then it was time to go to work.

Looking out the window yesterday, it struck me that the grapevines were holding the plum tree in an overwhelming embrace, one that would become a chokehold if it were allowed to continue. Every summer the grapevines meander, searching for whatever they can find for support. And every year they end up snuggling their curls and tendrils into the upright fingers of the plum tree’s sucker shoots, leaving it helpless to defend itself.

In this tangle of lush green leaves full of moving vital sap, the aphids party. Not only do they party, drunk from the goodness of the soil and sun, but then they decide to take things one step further and breed like crazy. The leaves on the plum tree had begun to wilt and curl like mad, most noticeably on the leaves of the sucker shoots. The shoots are unwanted new growth which pulls the energy away from the tree and fruit by sending leaves far off into the sky. It was apparent something had to be done right away.

I started with trimming the vines on the far side by the blueberry bushes. We are lazy urban farmers and just let the vines go*, enjoying the riot of green and the chaos of it all until it’s time to start chopping. And chop I did. Starting at the ends of the vines, I found which ones were bearing nascent fruit and which weren’t. Much of this had to be done in sections, and without pity. It’s only a matter of time before vines left a bit longer end up all over the neighbor’s apple tree and in the chokecherry hedge which divides our properties, so I’ve become pretty heartless over the years as I do this.

In a few moments, the blueberries were uncovered and I began to pull huge handfuls of grass from beneath the bushes to clear them. Full of dusty pale-green berries, the bushes beckoned the Kiddo over and he picked a few in an explorative manner. As we don’t yet have a sandbox or dirt patch in the backyard, Kiddo was finding some interesting and fantastic ways to entertain himself while I worked, and picking green fruit seemed to be enough to occupy him. This seemed like a good time to explain why we didn’t pick green fruit: that it hurts our tummies because it’s not ripe. “Blueberry have a tummyache” he said to me. “Yes, so let’s wait for it to get blue and ripe. We can eat the blueberries in the freezer.” This seemed to satisfy him for a while, and when I accidently trimmed off a small cluster of grapes, like shiny little jade beads on a cool celadon stem, it was handed to him for further examination.

After twenty minutes or so, I’d worked my way over to the mess of tree-tangled vines. In between times, I’d been surprised, horrified and relieved all at once to discover two arum plants hiding beneath the tall grass, their stalks full to bursting of green seeds. They are beautiful plants, but incredibly invasive and toxic to boot. I’ve put in more hours than I care to remember digging these little indestructible bulbs out of various parts of the backyard, so I was grateful to find these before the seeds reddened and hardened, sowing themselves into more heartache for me.

Feeling like we’d dodged a bullet, it was now time to grit my teeth and set in. I pulled on the first vine and the leaves of the plum tree shook, showering me with aphids and their little sticky, downy nests. Several more such showers later and I now had enough tree exposed that I could begin pruning the excess growth down to the old wood.

I don’t mind telling you that this is the most disgusting thing I do all year, guaranteed.

Opening up the tree, I could see the fruit hiding amongst the leaves. We lost about five tiny plums to the aphids and the way they were so incredibly leathery and desiccated was disturbing. It’s just one example of how destructive aphids are. Which is another reason this work takes the time it does: I’m on the lookout for ladybugs, their larvae and their yellow clusters of eggs. As I clipped off each shoot, I also trimmed off leaves that sported any stage of ladybug life, saving them from being hauled off with the yard debris. Once I’d filled up two giant yard debris bags, I left the rest of the branches on the ground to induce the ladybugs to stay and eat a while.

As I continued clipping, the showers of bugs continued. When you clip plants that are host to aphids, keep your head down. Literally. Or they will get in your eyes and mouth and nose as well as your hair. If they could find a way to collect this stuff, beauticians could hold a hairstyle forever, it’s so densely sticky. I felt like a piece of human double-sided tape: everything was sticking to me. Kiddo joined me under the tree and was soon covered. I knew he wasn’t going to like the hair washing that would come afterward, but that would be better than a morning of “you go away now”, which was the only other alternative. Occasionally, when he began picking green fruit from the tree, I would chase him off, entreating him to “go play with your sticks and rocks, honey”; otherwise, he spent most of the time hanging around, poking sticks through the plastic holes of the black temporary fencing and turning into just as much of a gooey mess as I was.

I won’t tell you about the bathtime, the tears and the very late (bad mom!) lunch, or that I let him watch his favorite concert dvd for nearly an hour because we were both so tired. And I don’t want to think about our clothes, which are patiently waiting on the back porch for a bucket of OxyClean. What I will tell you is that, when I look out the window, I can see my grapes and plums in the light at last, waiting for the sun.

*Just a note- our method of growing grapevines is not recommended for those of you who are seriously growing for either table or wine grapes. We are not serious growers.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Bees Needs

I've always loved the phrase "the bees knees". In fact, I think the phrase is just as fun and grand as it's supposed to be. But bees needs? Who could have imagined?

Well, I'm finding out just a taste of what bees need, and getting an opportunity to ask a few friends for help in the process. Those who know me well know that asking for help is not the easiest thing for me to do, but I digress...

One of the things we need for the nursery school is a nice fence to save kids from falling into the gap between our yard and our neighbor's fence. Because Permanent Fencehood was a ways in the future, a few months ago we put in a temporary fence so that Joaquin wouldn't fall in and get stuck, but the time is ripe and so we called my friend Mikel to talk fences. Our plans sound nice, and when we took measurements it was clear that the compost bin would have to move. So I was outside turning the last few months of compost over (I know, I know, we don't do it often enough!) when an angry buzzing sound drowned out the songs of the birds nearby.

Almost instantly, about twenty bumblebees flew out, completely pissed off that someone was messing with their home.

I backed up, carefully put the lid back on with help from the turning fork, and went inside to have a think.

A few days later I called Vector control. They'll go after your rats and squirrels and other problem critters, but bees are classified as "Not Our Problem". They were very informative and I ended up calling Ruhl Bee Supply, where the Bee Advocate from Heaven gently talked me into making an effort to keep both my bees and a paper wasps nest in my yard. The bumblebees could be moved, live. The wasps were a biological control against pests like aphids and damaging caterpillars and moths. By the time our conversation was over, both had receieved not only a stay of execution, but citizenship in our yard and a permanent home with us.

Now to move the bees. I make a few calls and got in touch with a fellow who sounded intrigued at the prospect of moving the bumbles. He told me to make a bee box-- it should be about the size of a birdhouse, with soil, dried grasses and hair in it for the bees to nest in. It should have a removable cover and be mounted up higher, near the compost pile. He was convinced the box could be knocked together in a few minutes or so. It took us a week to get around to doing it and Joe about an hour and a half to manufacture the box. It looks great and we're going to have Bee Man come out as soon as we can.

In the meantime, I made a few phone calls to find a surrogate compost pile for us to use until we make the transitions necessary to begin to convert our food scraps again. We're going with a worm bin this time, both of us not vigilant about using our yard clippings, the worm bin seemed to be the right choice for us. Our friend Kathee graciously agreed to let us bring our buckets of funky food scraps over to her house once a week until this transition is complete.

And the wasps? They're getting moved this winter, to a better spot, maybe on the side of the house or the back of the garage. So now, bees, wasps and rotting food all have their homes. Perfect!