Apples

One type of produce we are definitely not lacking here is apples. Our neighbors have given us a few from their wonderfully loaded trees, and last weekend we went over the neglected orchard near us for a little family apple-picking excursion. Picking apples, even little apples from trees that haven’t been pruned in ages, is so much more quick and satisfying than picking blackberries. With the blackberries we’d work for an hour and mostly fill a two gallon bucket. With the apples, we worked for maybe fifteen minutes and came away with three buckets and change.

We resisted getting too many, because of course every apple we pick has to be processed. But here again we had a pleasant surprise. Last year we did all of the peeling and coring by hand, and my memory of that process (which took place in the context of a one-month-old infant in the house) was that it was long and tedious for everyone, but especially for the kids. This year we had an apple peeler-corer-slicer from my dad, and let me tell you, that thing is gold. In one day of work we produced applesauce, apple jam, dried apples, and a Tart Tatin. And, of course, a whole lot of compost.

I’ve so missed having applesauce in the house, especially with Ryan now eating so many solids. It felt like a minor triumph to put a dish of warm applesauce in front of him for the first time. This triumph, however, was slightly marred by the fact that he appears to not like applesauce. Seriously. I’ve tried it on him several times, and he’s disinterested to the point of rejection. This is despite the fact that carrying around an apple to gnaw on is one of his favorite things in the world. I’m still hoping that I’ve somehow misread the situation, but every time I offer applesauce to him, the hope dwindles…

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Handmade

A little while ago, Patsy made us some lovely bowls, one for each of the kids. This is the same friend who gave us a set of handmade baking dishes for our wedding, and who provided us with our gorgeous cookie jar. I’ve been reminded of just how much of a treasure these things are. By and large our kitchen is populated with things from thrift stores, along with some good pots that have been gifts. There are a few items we bought new, and some good tools in there. But the things that really give me pleasure, that I enjoy every time I use them, are the handmade things from Patsy. Every time I do a casserole or a crisp, it goes into one of the baking dishes she made us, and I get to run my hands over the surface and admire her amazing artistic ability. Every time my kids eat from their new bowls I love feeling the shape, the perfect weight of them in my hands.

One of our dreams is that slowly, over time, our house will come to be populated more and more by things that were not mass-produced but created by craftsmen. Sometimes those craftsmen will be us — our bookshelves, the quilt hanging in the living room, our raised beds are all examples of our own work. Sometimes things will be from friends or family, like Patsy, and sometimes from other people who we don’t know well… but our goal, our ideal, is that even when we purchase an item, we’ll buy it directly from the person who created it. We’re a long way from that (not least because our household is not currently a safe place for anything we don’t want damaged; Nathan had another bowl before this one, for example). But it’s something to work toward. I grew up around extremely capable, artistic people, and in my world, being handmade makes something all the more beautiful.

Perspective

It’s all how you look at things. For example, there are four steps to successful pottying that I can see:

1) Notice the need.

2) Remove obstructing garments.

3) Sit on the potty.

4) Let ‘er rip!

Ryan has nailed all of these except #3. So I figure he’s 75% of the way to being potty-trained, right?

Beans

I love green beans. This is a huge turnaround from when I was a kid, and hated every kind of bean in the world except for canned green beans. I also hated rice. I don’t know how my parents managed to feed me long enough for me to get a clue.

But now, with my own garden, I really love beans. Not just the fruit, either: I love how lush and exuberant the plants are. This year I planted three varieties of pole beans: a standard Kentucky Blue, another green podded bean that is supposedly a gourmet variety (I’m not sure I can tell the difference), and a purple-podded variety. This last is absolutely beautiful — dark stems, orchid-like little blossoms, and lovely deep purple beans hanging six to eight inches long under the green leaves.

And it’s a good things I can appreciate them. Because with the long, cool spring and short summer, many of my other garden favorites are simply not happening this year. Oh, we got plenty of snap peas (enough even to try some pickling experiments) and lettuce and spinach and carrots — all good things. But the hot weather crops have been disappointing to say the least. This, for example, is my Three Sisters Of The Cornfield patch:

Which would be fine if it were a month and a half ago. But it’s September, and the corn is barely to my waist. I think it’s safe to say that this year we’re going to be eating from farmer’s markets.

Then there are the tomatoes. I planted seventeen plants this year. Four were from seed, nine were new varieties to test, and the last four were known good varieties that I ordered to make sure that, if my seed experiments didn’t work out and the new varieties didn’t wow me, we would at least get something. But that was a just-in-case. I was certain that we would in fact have tomatoes coming out of our ears. I envisioned mountains of canning work: straight-up canned tomatoes, sauce, spaghetti sauce, some experimental salsa recipes. Maybe I’d even try some paste.

I follow a few blogs written by people in other parts of the country, and they’ve been full of the agony and ecstasy of putting up their garden bounty. Apparently other parts of the country have been blessed with a great summer, providing mountains of tomatoes.

Want to know how many I’ve picked? Three. All from one plant.

The good news is that this is one of the plants I grew from seed, which encourages me to continue on in that experiment. Still, three tomatoes from seventeen plants? My neighbors’ have had slightly better luck, and have been gracious enough to share a few, thank goodness.

I’d been hoping for a warm autumn, a hope that was dampened slightly by the nip in the air that descended before August was over. And now I’ve given that hope up. It’s mid-September, and the rains have started, and it feels like fall.

Ah well — there’s always another season. I’ve planted my winter garden for the year, and going back to plants which like cold weather is a bit of a relief. And for the tomatoes, there’s always next year…

One Year Ago…

Today is Ryan’s first birthday. Not that you would know it by the festivities; we have gone even lighter on celebration than usual today, due to everyone having a cold. The cook in particular (that would be me) has been up with a fussy baby the last two nights and hasn’t felt like doing anything special today.

But one year ago, at 2:30 in the morning, our second little guy was born into his father’s hands, in a birth pool in our living room — mad as all get out and not afraid to let us know. It seems so far away now.

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Today’s Best Toy

The big stroller. We haven’t actually used this thing in… I don’t even know how long. But Nathan loves it, and Ryan enjoys the novelty of getting rides in it. I had an Inspired Mother Moment the other day when Ryan was needing a nap, Nathan wanted to be outside playing with the stroller, and I wanted to be reading my book. Bingo! Nathan pushes Ryan while I wander around with them reading, and everyone is happy.

Language

There are many awesome parts of being a parent, but for me and Dave, one of the most interesting parts is watching our children construct language.

Both of them have recently made a language leap. Ryan added to his communication tools a “point and question” ability — that is, he points at something and makes a questioning “enhh?” sound. This may seem small, but the fact that he’s figured out question intonation is actually fairly significant. And since his communication prior to this was pretty limited (looking at something, and then crying if we didn’t pick up on his desire), his ability to communicate verbally in a non-fussy way is very new and exciting. It is also mostly adorable. I admit that there are times, when he’s a little tired and starts pointing left and right and questioning things every two seconds, far more quickly than I can actually respond to him, that I have found it slightly less adorable. “Enhh? Enhh? Enhh?” he says from the sling, throwing the force of his weight behind his pointing finger, while I’m working on dinner. But for the most part it’s very fun. He points and questions, and we say things like “It’s an airplane! Look, there’s a bee there! Yes, you can have a drink. No, you can’t have the big saw; it’s too heavy for you. Here, take the little one.”

Nathan has made his own leap lately, the Leap Of Connecting Words. Basically his language has shifted from using only the most critical pidgin words to get his point across (“Bus!” “Muffin!” “Go car.”) to a full-fledged, robust language, using all of the little connecting words, verb tenses, pronouns and other advanced language features. (“There’s a bus!” “I need a muffin.” “We’re going in the car.”) It feels like it happened overnight. I can’t even begin to guess what finally got hooked up in his brain to put together all of this language detail for him, but he’s constantly coming out with full sentences that take me by surprise. Yesterday’s was “There’s gooey stuff on my face.” (Which was true.) He still mostly turns shy and silent in the presence of strangers, but he has started waving and saying hi to random people when he’s in the mood. “Hi!” he says cheerfully from our driveway, where he’s busy pushing around the mop bucket in the nude, and the cluster of middle-school girls passing wave back.