Monday, May 31, 2010

Pickle Patch 2010!

On Saturday, we dug a bed for Rebecca's Ace cucumber seedlings. This was Rebecca's first California gardening experience. Rebecca posted some photos of the momentous event on her blog, but in my opinion, this occasion requires a photo slideshow!

Some details to note: (1) Steve is teaching Joe how to climb a ladder, and he is now extremely proficient at it. Don't look at me. How is this possibly a good idea, Steve? (2) We jerry-rigged a pretty trashy looking fence around the new patch, mostly to keep Crouton out, using some chicken wire, an old piece of plywood, a tomato cage, and a rake. (3) Joe's forlorn abandoned-baby frown belies the fact that two minutes before, he was having fun climbing a really tall ladder. (4) The dogs really know how to enjoy a warm day.

And finally, a picture of my new clothesline in all of its old-timey glory:

(Special thanks to Rebecca for letting me use her camera!)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Another week at Folk Art-Lovin' Headquarters.

This week:
  1. I made focaccia from Secrets of a Jewish Baker, and holy spitballs, is it good! I brushed it with olive oil, sprinkled on some kosher salt, and fresh tarragon, and ... Oh. My. Gosh. I think I like this even better than the genius cheese bread. And it's easy! It's basically pizza dough, with a pureed cooked potato.
  2. But there was a major mistake in this recipe. It never told me what to do with the cooked potato after I pureed it! This omission is repeated in the hand-kneaded and the stand-mixer version (email me if you want the right recipe). I figured it out (um, you mix it in the dough?), but it's a big mistake. And this is the second edition of the book! Rather than conclude that the Jewish Baker is capable of overlooking such a major component of a recipe, I choose to believe that he included this error on purpose, so as not to arouse the jealousy of the Bread-Making Gods and bring down their wrath. I can respect that.
  3. I skimmed and was inspired by Ellen Sandbeck's Organic Housekeeping to green our house a bit more. I invested in dishcloths with scrubby bits, and I bought more Pyrex oven-safe food storage containers, so that we can store and reheat our leftovers (and pack our lunches) in glass. I also took note of her suggestion to put a few peppercorns in your flour bin, to prevent a grain moth infestation, although I have not implemented this tip yet.
  4. And my favorite new green activity: I set up a clothesline outside. With Steve's help, I simply strung a rope from an old metal clothesline structure that lives in our yard (from days of yore - at one time, there must have been a matching structure or pulley at the other end of the yard, but no more) to our loquat tree.
  5. Then I hung towels and a quilt to dry on it, and spent a lot of time admiring the old-timey effect as the fabric billowed in the breeze.
  6. Then it rained.
  7. Then it rained again.
  8. Then  ... wait for it ... it rained again.
  9. Because of all of this rain, we haven't been doing much gardening lately. I have two pepper plants and another tomato I'm waiting to plant in the front yard. Only one of my sunflower seeds sprouted out there! Pesky birds thought that I put those there to feed them?
  10. Joe is walking everywhere now. He went from taking a couple of steps to full-on toddler status in about three weeks. But he still walks flat-footed with his arms somewhat outstretched for balance, like the cutest zombie on the face of the earth. That kid. So cute. I tell you. I know, I owe y'all pictures, but Steve left his camera at my sister's house a few days ago, and we have yet to retrieve it.
  11. This occurred because went to my sister's baby shower last Saturday. That's right, my baby sis is having a baby. Soon, actually - she's due in June. We are so excited to meet our new little niece or nephew! We are also thrilled beyond words to get an entire year's worth of baby gear out of our house.
  12. After not breaking a single dish for a really long time, I have broken four dishes this week. Incuding one of my new pyrex food storage containers. My mother informs me this is because of a cardinal t-square between Saturn, Uranus, and Pluto. That, and a certain one-year-old who wants to be carried all the time, even while I am washing dishes.
  13. This weekend: My lil' brother celebrates his 21st birthday. I finally get to meet my friend Melissa's baby Miles in person. I get a day off.
  14. Next Tuesday: I see the XX. I know, I know. I'm not allowed to say that concert-going is something I never do anymore, if in fact, I am going to a concert next week. I stand corrected. My life is indeed rich, and full of fun things. Thanks Roxanne! (Apparently she decided to invite me along because she took pity on me because of my blogging! Who says I don't get kick-backs from my writing?)
And that's pretty much it. No head cold = GREAT WEEK. How was your week?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Hi, I'm Inder ...

And I am a responsibility addict.

Currently, I have a more-than-full-time job, two badly-behaved dogs, a crumbling Victorian, a deeply underwater mortgage, a giant vegetable garden, and a one-year-old baby.

But it's not enough. I need even more crushing obligations and responsibilities. Two dogs, a baby, and countless tomato plants aren't enough - I need even more living things depending on me for their very survival.

I need more things to worry about! I am currently far too carefree.

If I can still get out of bed in the morning, I am clearly just not EXHAUSTED ENOUGH.

And I have way too much free time. Yeah, that's my problem. Too much time on my hands!

So clearly, I need chickens.

Unfortunately, Steve suffers from the same problem. I thought he would talk sense into me (as he did when he declared the Pit Bull Adoption Moratorium of 2008 - thank goodness, right?). Instead, he is reading up on chicken varieties and learning how to construct a chicken coop.

There is a word for this type of enabling behavior: Codependency. Sorry, Steve. It's true.

Luckily, you can't buy baby chickens on impulse in the check-out lane. We have a year of planning and preparation ahead of us. That shed and potential coop area are one big hot mess. We would also have to clear space for a brooder somewhere in our house (a house that has no garage or basement). Some major projects.

Maybe we'll do everything we need to do and introduce a couple of chickens to our household next year.

Or maybe we'll wake up one day and laugh at our prior insanity. "Chickens!" we'll guffaw, "What the hell is WRONG with us? Because a toddler, two dogs, and EIGHT tomato plants isn't ENOUGH? Ha ha ha ha."

Only time will tell. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Chicken Dreams.

This book:

And this currently barely-used shed in our backyard:

(Ignore that chair. I don't even know where it came from. It's going in our next big item pickup. The ladder is set up to survey the blackberry brambles and strange enormous non-sweet melons that are growing all over the roof of the shed.)

And this potential chicken hangout area:

(See the giant thing that looks like a watermelon? It's not. It's tasteless, all white pith. We have no idea what it is or what its intended use might be.) 

Equals this?

Yeah, we have some work to do.

But luckily, Joe is ready to help out with the cleanup. (Note: A wide angle lens can make your baby look freakishly proportioned. In a cool super-baby way.)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Dust Bowl Overalls?

I love these baby overalls. They are classic, sturdy, and adorable. Perfect for little toddlers like Baby Boy Joe, right? Love 'em, love 'em.

Here's my beef. This model is named "Dust Bowl Blue Overalls." As in, you know, the Dust Bowl. The period of severe drought and dust storms that caused significant ecological and agricultural damage to American prairie lands between 1930 and 1936. Dust storms which were caused by a combination of drought and almost a century of bad farming practices.

As in, the event that caused huge numbers of hard-working people to lose their land, livelihood, and homes.

As in, the cause of unfathomable loss and heartache.

According to Wikipedia, "Millions of acres of farmland became useless, and hundreds of thousands of people were forced to leave their homes; many of these families (often known as 'Okies,' since so many came from Oklahoma) traveled to California and other states, where they found economic conditions little better than those they had left. Owning no land, many traveled from farm to farm picking fruit and other crops at starvation wages."

As in, this:

Or, dear God, this:

 So Osh Kosh B'Gosh, purveyor of sturdy children's clothing that I otherwise love, is using nostalgia for a terrible natural and human disaster to sell baby clothes?

What next, Hurricane Katrina jammies?

To be totally fair, I don't really have a problem with using nostalgia to sell clothing. I like these overalls because they are styled like classic farmers' overalls. I freely admit that their "retro" appearance is a big part of the appeal to me. I probably wouldn't have minded if the model name referenced the 1930s in any other way. I found the direct reference to the Dust Bowl, however, to be jarring.

(And you want to know the worst part? I bought some damn overalls. I know. I'm so drinking the Koolaid here! I won't try to defend myself: you can see the combination of cuteness, durability, and functionality. But change the name!)

What do y'all think? Is this kind of disturbing, or am I making too much of it?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Well, shoot, there goes my blog tagline ...

Check out the really interesting discussion of  "homesteading," and what that term really means over at Grow & Resist.

(Hint: It does not actually mean growing tomatoes in your front yard in Oakland, California.)

I confess, I have used the term "homestead" a bit unthinkingly. I further confess that I have romanticized certain aspects of homesteading and pioneer life, while conveniently overlooking some of the less savory aspects of that "lifestyle."*

Suddenly, all of my half-joking references to myself as a wannabe "pioneer woman" sound ... well ... almost sinister.

Don't you hate it when that happens?

But, the more I think about it, the more I can't help but agree with Grow & Resist. The term "homestead" is loaded with all sorts of unpleasant (and far more than just unpleasant) historical and racial baggage. As a white girl living in a gentrifying part of a diverse city, I feel especially uncomfortable using a term that, at its core, romanticizes stealing land from non-white folks.

Ick. (Excuse me while I go take a shower.)

So, okay, point taken. I would like to come up with a better phrase to describe the trying-to-be-cheap-and-green DIY lifestyle that we enjoy. Something with no connection to racial supremacy, "manifest destiny," or genocide (really, this doesn't seem to be too much to ask). Extra points for something non-trendy. Any ideas?

* Edited to add: I think for most of us, "Urban Homesteading" connotes self-reliance, environmental consciousness, simplicity, and enjoying the honest fruits of one's labor (or "seizing the means of production," you crazy Marxist). All wonderful things, but maybe "homesteading" is too loaded a word to describe them. Let's find something that captures the honest work, the rebellion, and the fun, without this history of exclusion. Because, needless to say, I love the movement!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Birthday boy!

Another big week here. As of today, Joe is now 53 weeks old! That's right - a year and a week! We had a little birthday gathering on Sunday, and Joe enjoyed climbing all over everyone, practicing his walking skills (he's getting better, and going further, every day!), and generally getting into mischief.

My baby boy is growing up! I have such mixed feelings about this. Oh, the cliched bittersweetness! I'll spare you. I just love that little boy.

P.S. After filling up on macaroni and cheese and chicken, Joe hardly touched his (unbelievably delicious) dessert! So no cupcake-face pictures. Next time. You'll be glad to know that I saved his cupcake from complete abandonment.

P.P.S. Joe discovered how to crawl backwards in a sliding motion. We're calling it the "moon-crawl."

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Our delicate little Omie-Flower.

When Joe was about three months old, our pretty little brown rescued pit bull Omie developed a mysterious digestive illness. She turned her nose up at her kibble. She became listless and lethargic. There were some digestive issues (don't ask). She lost a lot of weight (and she has always been a slender pooch).

It was pretty alarming. Steve and I were overwhelmed with new parenthood, but also very worried about her. We brought her to the vet, but they found nothing wrong.

We modified her diet, and she did seem to perk up a bit. But she remained thin and a little listless.

Recently, however, she has gotten some meat on her bones and almost all of her pep back. I attribute this wonderful development to Joe. Who can resist his joie de vivre? Or, perhaps more the to point, the peanut butter, chicken pieces, cheese, and assortment of legumes, fresh fruits, and vegetables that he hands out several times a day?:

Of course, technically, offering table scraps to the dogs is a no-no. But Rebecca seems to be the only person in this house who follows that rule. Shhhh.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Urban Homestead reading.

There was a day when "retail therapy" meant hitting the mall for some pretty new clothes. In these penny-pinching days it means actually buying a fun book to read (rather than ordering it through inter-library loan - jeez, who am I?).

I was having a rough day earlier this week. Stuff was getting me down. So I allowed myself to buy a couple of books at Alexander Book Co. It's getting harder and harder to find independently owned bookstores, but I continue to make the effort. Alexander Book Co. is a really cute bookstore in SOMA, on Second Street between Market and Mission, right down the street from my office in San Francisco. I appreciate that they have a great stock of fiction and gardening books. I do wish they had more craft books.

My purchases:

Keep Chickens!, by Barbara Kilarski.  I have been toying with the idea of having a couple of chickens in our backyard for a long time. I don't think I have to worry too much about the neighbors objecting, since many of them have chickens (and roosters!) already.

However, I do have to worry about certain pit bulls. Does anyone have any experience with keeping chickens and dogs? Dogs with a high ... ahem ... "prey drive"? I assume that it would be tough at first, but, if we are vigilant, the animals would eventually just get used to each other. Like how the dogs eventually stopped seeing Joe as a squeaky squirrel-type thing, and now see him as something tasty to lick.

I have a few other concerns. As my mother puts it, it's easy to get attached to your hens. The problem with this is (1) hens are really tasty and vulnerable to massacre by roaming 'possums and 'coons (how traumatic would it be to lose your chickens to marauding predators?); and (2) it's hard to kill your beloved pet after she stops laying eggs regularly, so (and I quote): "Before you know it, you're running a geriatric home for hens." An image which makes me smile, thinking of a bunch of ancient hens whiling the time away playing bridge and reminiscing about their egg-laying youths, but she has a point here.

Anyway, we definitely have some logistics to work out, but I'm not giving up on the idea.

 The Organic Farming Manual, by Anne Larkin Hansen. This is a book about actually running an organic farm, and is thus more "daydream" reading than true Urban Homestead material. However, much about organic farming translates for the organic gardener. And when we finally get that farm we've been dreaming about for years, I'll be that much better prepared, right?

I have barely made it through the introduction, but already, there is so much good stuff here! I love the explanation of how you can eat organic, fresh produce, frugally. Good subject for a blog post, that. Not for this blog, mind you - our household tends to have a fairly large grocery bill, despite growing a good amount of vegetables. We'll skimp on a lot of stuff, but not food. In particular, we love our quality organic dairy products! But I would say that in general, the more you cook from scratch, the healthier, and more frugal, you will be. Organic, locally grown produce and meat may not be cheaper by the pound, but if you eat lots of seasonal fruits and vegetables and minimize your meat intake you really shouldn't be paying a fortune. Of course, this is easy for me to say: I live in California, where everything grows, most of the year.

On the topic of seasonal fruit: This weekend we are going to have some family over to celebrate Joe's first birthday. Joe subscribes to Izaak Walton's view about strawberries: "Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did." Every time I take a basket of strawberries out of the fridge, he starts frantically shrieking, like he's worried that we are going to sit down and start eating them, and forget to give some to him! We're surprised he hasn't actually turned into a strawberry yet. So his birthday dessert will feature homemade strawberry ice cream and various strawberry themed cupcakes. Don't worry, we'll be sure to take pictures of him making a mess with these sweets!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Year Ago Today: The Birthday Edition! Ouch!

For a month before Joe was born, I desperately prayed for labor to start. Every day. I mean, I was so ready. Stick a fork in me, I'm done.

Then, early on the morning of May 4, my estimated due date, I woke up at 3:30 a.m. to my waters breaking

My first thought: "Oh, no! I'm sorry for all my whining! I take it back! I'm not ready!"

But there is no going back. That baby is coming out.

And come out he did! Right on his due date. Punctual to the day.

What I learned: Giving birth hurts! A surprising amount! I mean, wow!

But there is seriously nothing better in this world than being handed your baby at the end.

(Less than an hour after Joe was born. Beat up, exhausted, and happy.)

(A few hours later, when we've settled into our new room. What Joe learned: Getting born is hard work! Time for a nap!)

He was so small! And so ... sparkling new.

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Year Ago Today. (Hint: Joe's birthday is tomorrow.)

May 3rd fell on a Sunday last year. It was a warm, breezy day, just like today. I was so pregnant I could have sworn I was visible from space. I was also utterly, completely miserable. Not only was I the size of an Airstream trailer, but I had to endure shooting sciatic pain with every step. I couldn't sleep. I also seemed to have a flashing neon sign over my head that said, "Hi!! Please Tell Me Traumatic Birth Stories!"

Steve and I had spent the preceding week going on little outings - walking the dogs in the Oakland hills, hiking (read: very slow, very short walks) around the Headlands in Marin, exploring diners featured on the Food Network show "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives," and schmoozing the annual MFA show at Mills College. The hope was to bring on labor with exertion, or failing that, to kill time and take our minds off of the anxiety of being ready to pop "any minute now."  Because when I wasn't out and about, I was writing insanely whiny and self-pitying emails to my friend E. with the subject heading "Still waiting ..." (I'm not kidding, that was actually the subject line of an email thread initiated on the morning of May 3, 2009), and unsurprisingly, all of that feeling sorry for myself was not helping my mood any.

I don't remember whose idea it was to go to "Dollar Day" at Golden Gate Fields - Steve's or mine. We had been seeing cheesy, low-budget commercials about it for a while. We're not horse racing people. We're not gambling people. We don't know a thing about horse racing. Whatever. I needed to get out of the house. It was something to do. Something different. After some strenuous arm-twisting (basically, a single mention of "dollar beer!") our friend Jason decided to join us.

So, Dollar Day it was! I lost $20 betting on the horses with the best names (note: not an effective gambling tactic), and watched the pretty ponies whizzing by. Steve drank approximately one million (okay, seven or eight) "Dollar Budweisers." Admittedly, these are small and low-octane, but as I remarked to Steve, "I just know that I will go into labor when you are hungover!"

(If I had known how effective this would be, I would have gotten Steve drunk far earlier!)

(And, you know, the sound of seven or eight horses galloping by is pretty darn loud. Maybe that helped too.)

It must be nice having an enormously pregnant wife as permanent "designated driver." Of course, I wouldn't know.

You know what? It was a fun day! For a few minutes, I forgot about my physical discomfort. The horsies were so pretty!

But that night, I shed some tears, as usual, because I was so uncomfortable! My back hurt so bad! This baby was never going to come out! Waaaaaaaa!

Steve, tired after a day in the hot sun drinking dollar Budweisers, patted me on the back comfortingly once or twice, and then rolled over and promptly fell asleep.


I stayed up until 2 a.m. reading The Happiest Baby on the Block. Because I'm the sort of person who tries to prepare for major life events like birth and parenting by reading every book ever published on the topic. I can't say this is working especially well for me, but I persist.

At 3:30 a.m., I woke up to the sensation of my bag of waters breaking.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Urban Homestead Garden: Some goals.

After a long, cool Spring, it's finally hot and sunny in Oakland. Which is good, because actual "summer" around here sucks. June and July are months of chill breezes and fog in these parts. But the month of May? May is gorgeous! Right? I hope so, anyway.

Today is a beautiful day, and I am getting really excited about our Spring garden!

Since removing the concrete several years ago, our small southwest-facing front yard has remained fallow, largely covered in cedar mulch. I think we were overwhelmed, and not sure what to do with the area (which is funny, because our back yard is much bigger but we didn't have any trouble laying it out). But this year, the planting has begun!

So far, we have planted two trees - an ornamental Japanese Maple, and a fig tree. They are teeny little things, a testament to our optimism - and our low budget!

I've decided that the proper term for a baby fig is "fig-ling":

Last year, while I was uncomfortably pregnant, Steve laid a little stone path to our front door, and creeping thyme and lemon thyme are growing to fill in the gaps between the stones.

One at a time, we've added some other herbs to the area around the steps: sage, marjoram, rosemary, and lavender. We need plants that can take the heat. As a bonus, they smell nice and save us money at the farmers' market.

Initially, I resisted the idea of planting tomatoes in the front yard, despite the fact that the exposure and warmth provides the promise of faster-ripening and better-tasting tomatoes in our long-cool-summer climate. My reasoning? Tomatoes aren't the most aesthetically pleasing plants - towards the end of the season, they get a bit messy and sprawling. Not ideal for a front yard, which provides the "first impression" of your home, right? Curb appeal, yada yada yada.

This winter, I had a realization. There is an abandoned crack house across the street. It was an active, thriving crack house, until the City condemned it under California drug laws, making it an abandoned crack house. (My neighbor's comment about this house: "Yeah, it was terrible - people came and went at all times of day and night to visit the dealer, who was the grandson of the owner. He was a really nice guy, though.") My other neighbors have concrete yards, or yards full of weeds. We all have chain-link fences around our front yards.

So why am I worrying about aesthetics?

Exactly. We now have three tomato plants in the front yard. We may get more. They are still at the small and cute phase, nestled into the cedar mulch. "Tomato-lings."

Some other plans for the front yard: GIANT SUNFLOWERS! In all colors! Why not? I like sunflowers. The birds like sunflowers. Everyone likes sunflowers, right?

So, still on the topic of frugality and doing good for the environment, here are a few of my Spring resolutions:
  1. Grow a wider variety of foods, and take advantage of our warm front yard for warm-season veggies!
  2. Preserve more of our harvest through freezing, canning, and drying. Pickles in 2010!! And not just the cucumber variety. (At this point, dear reader, we move from the possible to the fantastical.)
  3. Actually grow a fall/winter garden this year? Ha ha.
  4. Collect and germinate some of my own seeds? More laughing. That's about as likely as me remembering to bring reusable bags to the grocery store every time.
 I tend to get a bit ahead of myself this time of year, biting off a bit more than I can chew/plant/organize.

Don't forget to relax with a glass of sun-tea, too.