Thursday, April 29, 2010


Wanna see me freak out?  Just pretend you're Bug and approach me while I'm feeling really busy.  Then say, "I'm going to be a first grader in sixteen days!"

There are only three more weeks of school.  Yikes!  Every spring I panic when I realize that Spring Break is past and the end of school is near.  The preschool let out much earlier than our elementary school does, so technically I'll get a bit more time, but it doesn't feel like much.  I will be crazed at the start of summer, trying to remember how to shop with kids, how to squeeze in laundry around all the look at me's and I'm bored's, and still have time to go to the pool in the afternoons.  Yet, by mid August, when school starts again, I won't be able to imagine it any other way.  I won't want school to start.  The first few weeks of school will leave me bored.  I won't know how to fill the time.  Then the projects and the PTA will come hunt me down and my life will again feel busy.

Monday, April 26, 2010

walls of mud

I am building a retaining wall in our backyard.  By hand, swinging the pick axe into the hard clay soil myself.  It is something we have wanted for a long time, to contain our steep hill without all the English ivy it has now.  We had estimates for the full kit'n'kaboodle: using a backhoe and really flattening the top of the yard, adding two walls and two sets of steps, expanding the patio and moving the kid's play fort to the top of the yard.  The better of the estimates was $17,000.  Yes, three zeroes.  We did not hire them.

Instead, we cleared two areas of about 10' x 10' of ivy and planted a native azalea in each, along with starts of vinca (I have been told this is almost as invasive as English ivy but I haven't seen it happen in other parts of our yard, whereas ivy shows up all over and is hard to remove.)  All of this was before the Flood of '09, at which time we had a river of red eroding the backyard in all the areas without ivy or grass.  The area is doing better this spring; lots of things are growing at least.  So, I decided to clear the area of ivy between them and behind my maple tree.

I found the maple seedling in the front lawn in 2000, our first summer in the house.  I moved it to the backyard and it is now taller than the two story house.  I think of it as Pook's tree because I watched it grow as I watched my pregnant belly grow.  I first hoped it would have branches low enough for a swing and for climbing (our other trees rise three to four? five? stories before branching out.) but now I realize that any children playing in the tree would have to be my grandchildren.  Still, I am emotionally attached to the tree.

As soon as the ivy between the two azalea beds was clear, I realized that I finally knew where I'd want a wall.  The edge of the "grass" (such as it is) and beds forms a gentle scoop with the maple in the middle.  A three to four foot wall would protect the tree, give plants on the hillside a chance, and maybe even expand the play area.  Instead of stopping to think too much about it, I grabbed the spray paint, drew my line, and grabbed the shovel.

I started on a four foot area in front of the tree.  Two inches deep. Pulled out a rock. Four inches deep.    I hit some major roots to the maple. Five inches deep. I stopped to catch my breath a minute.  If you live where the dirt is black, or even where the soil is sandy, you just will not understand this.  Our clay soil is hard.  A chunk kicked off the sole of your shoe quickly hardens to be a brick.  This is where bricks come from, after all. I was digging into brick.  And it wasn't even baked dry by the summer sun!

While resting, I called my father to accept the stones he had offered to me and ask some advice about dealing with the tree roots.  I drove over for the stones so I could better measure the ditch I was digging, and I came back with the stones, my father and his pick axe.  He and CD began to help, making progress slightly faster with the axe.  There wasn't really much time to continue since there was lots going on besides yard work that day, but we had nine feet dug four to six inches.  The ditch/wall will eventually be 29' long, six+ inches deep.  I was somewhere between in-over-my-head and inspired.

Thursday I cleared my schedule and decided to dig all day.  Or until I was exhausted.  I swung the pick axe, sweated, shoveled out the crumbs, got Gatorade, swung the axe, looked up videos of retaining wall building, strongly considered cutting down my lovely tree with all it's interfering roots, and dug some more.  I made enough progress to have a vision of the final wall.  I tucked some blocks in where they would eventually go, and showered.  My arms felt like Jello and I wasn't sure my right shoulder would ever forgive me.  I posted on F-book and two teasing friends suggested I come build their brickwork.  I phoned (the one in Atlanta!) and she and I decided to trade labor.  If this works, she'll come over this week to help me dig, lay rock, sand and stones and I will work with her another time.  Meanwhile, it rained hard over the weekend, transforming the clay into red mud.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

ack-ow! cat-cow!

(I'm such a poet these days!)

It used to be that a few hours of yard work was nothing.  I'm sure CD and I used to spend whole Saturdays
digging and planting, bending and stooping.  I love spending a spring day with my hands in the dirt, only I'm starting to wish the dirt was closer and not so low to the ground.

I mentioned that I've been planting a lot.  It started when CD helped me dig up the iris that seldom bloomed in our shady yard.  They're pastel, bearded iris and never seemed right in my garden.  I prefer bolder colors and a more simple style.

From the dozen or so that did bloom, I expected to dig up thirty or so.  Instead we discovered twelve dozen iris tubers.  (If you want some, send me a note.  I've already mailed some to Minnesota via Dave's Garden.)  I sent an email to the networking list at our church, hoping for more plant swaps.  Two people asked for tubers and two people offered to let me dig in their shady yards for plants.

I decided that was a good enough swap and got going.  Except I came home with a car full of plants and not enough places to put them.  That led to a long day of digging, amending and sort-of terracing part of my back hill.  In a full day's work-  much more than my body wanted me to do- I managed to improve about eight square feet.  And I was so tired and so sore I wasn't sure whether I'd be able to move the next day.

This is where the cat-cow reference comes in.  I took CD's advice (I do, some- times) and did some stretching.  Fifteen minutes of yoga stretches that evening and I woke up feeling fine.  I could tell I'd worked hard the previous day, but I was so pleased to not be in pain.  Today I worked a shorter day, but still feel stiff and sore.  I will wait until two little boys are in bed, and then stretch out my back.  (Stretching on the floor where I might be stepped upon or ridden as a horse is counter-productive I have found.)

For the gardeners... I have put in some beautiful ferns- I think I'm going to love the painted ferns in my backyard- some Solomon's seal, epimedium, woodland poppies, wood aster, native columbine, strawberry begonia, toad lilies, and more hellebores.  And, I still have five ajuga plants (hoping to divide them to have twenty!) that are living in my garage.  Maybe tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

what's for lunch?

I've added a new item on my sidebar, promoting the Fed Up With Lunch blog as well as Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution.  CD and I have been changing our family's eating habits slowly since Pook was born.  We very seldom buy anything prepared and we eat at fast food places only as a last resort on road trips.  But...  I am lazy about lunches.  We try to send a lunchbox with the boys at least once a week, but they like the school food and are happy to eat there.  The process is so simple (we even pay online) that it is easy to never give it any thought. 

I have a great list of lunch ideas stuck to the side of the fridge, but we don't refer to it much.  We send the same few things that are quick to pull together, and we don't send lunches often enough.

Today the boys took lunchboxes.  Bug had a slice of leftover homemade pizza (Pook made the crust for us in the bread machine.), half a large apple, a refillable bottle of water and some nasty frosted-animal-cookies-that-I-bought-on-impulse-and-try-not-to-admit-that-I-like. Pook took a bowl of homemade hummus, pita chips, a banana, water and a few of the aforementioned evil cookies.  (Usually they take the same lunch but Bug forgot his yesterday and so is taking it today instead.  Pook ate leftover pizza yesterday.)

They are missing out on this: (from the school lunch menu)

breaded chicken sandwich OR breaded fish sandwich on wheat bun
choose 2:
carrot & celery sticks with ranch dressing
green beans
fruit cocktail
fresh pair
and mac'n'cheese for all.
And the choice of chocolate or 2% milk or "real 10% fruit juice" (actually referred to as "fortified juice drink")

So, the food isn't so awful.  There are fruits and vegetables, some of them fresh and not canned.  However, they don't cook on site; everything has been frozen or bagged and delivered.

The worst to me is not the food, and is a completely different issue as far as teaching kids bad habits for life.  The county uses styrofoam trays, plastic baggies with plastic spoons and plastic straws and napkins thinner than tissues.  We were challenged by a summer nature camp to make waste-less lunches and we no longer have anything disposable in them besides paper napkins in the lunchboxes.

The school system can do better.  So can we.