Of Strawberries And Snap Peas

For days now we’ve been picking actual bowls full of strawberries. Not just a few — I spent what felt like forever before that scouring the strawberry patches, hoping to find at least four ripe ones so that everyone in the family could savor one. But now we are in a time of plenty. Every afternoon I go out and fill my bowl with berries, and that’s even with the voracious appetites of my little “helpers.” We munch on berries throughout that day and the next morning, and then I hull the remainder and put them in the freezer, emptying the bowl for the next picking session.

Already we have a gallon of frozen strawberries tucked away, and it’s only been a few days. They’ll be used for jam, for smoothies, maybe to soothe a December craving for strawberry shortcake. Who knows? I’m hungry for whatever I can get.

If it sounds like I’m gloating over my good fortune, I absolutely am. I adore berries, and this careful shepherding of the plants — weeding, mulching, thinning, watering — makes the moment that each dark red berry snicks off in my hard all the sweeter. Which is not to say that I’ve turned down any berries from the plants that colonized our yard. Unlike their pampered progenitors, they’ve been mowed, weed-whacked, stepped on, and generally abused. They’ve still managed to produce a few good berries, which I’ve stolen from them without the faintest qualm.

Other than the greens that we’ve been harvesting since February, our other major crop right now is snap peas. Most of these come from the big patch of vines that I planted last November. They overwintered like a charm and are currently trying to drown me in snap peas. So far, between stir fries, side dishes and pickles, I am managing to keep afloat. (Best experiment so far: caramelized strips of onion, then add some garlic, snap peas, salt and pepper, and a little white wine to quickly steam the peas — only a little! Leave them crisp!)

A small portion of our harvest, though, has come from my hanging basket experiment. I’ve always loved the concept of hanging baskets, but mine have always died. When it comes to the heat of summer, I just don’t water them as often as they need. This is particularly true because hanging baskets tend to be full of flowers rather than vegetables, and if I get into a crunch, the vegetables have priority for my attention.

So this year I tried a new concept (for me, at least): snap pea hanging baskets. My theory was that 1) they would be edible, so I would care more, and 2) they would finish producing just as the really hot weather rolled in, so I would take them down and not have to deal with them over the summer. They have been a limited success for me. I have been getting snap peas, although smaller and fewer than the ones from my gigantic patch in back. The lettuces that I planted in the middle of the baskets have stayed stunted, so the baskets aren’t particularly decorative, although the pea plants are nicely lush. The peas didn’t exactly cascade, though, the way I’d envisioned. So I’m not certain whether I’ll try it again. There are a variety of edible hanging basket ideas out there; maybe I need to experiment with some other plants instead.

Not all is rosy in the garden. In particular, the children are not currently allowed to be unsupervised in the back yard, because they’ve discovered the joy of pulling out my little corn seedlings. (I can feel my jaw clench as I type that.) Also, unless something drastically alters soon, this may be The Year Without Carrots. But overall I spend my time savoring strawberries (and the first raspberries!) rather than worrying over the empty carrot patch.

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Bars For Hanging

Dave has recently constructed a new tool for our house — or a new toy, depending on how you look at it. Ever since we moved in to this house, he’s wanted to suspend a bar from the ceiling to use for pull-ups or similar exercises. Everything came together a few weekends ago, and with some oak dowels and steel hardware, we started constructing two bars: a high one for Dave, and a much lower one for the kids to swing on.

You might think that, with the rope swing in our living room, we didn’t need another swing for the kids. But the rope swing is somewhat challenging to master (it’s still a mystery for Ryan), and the kids love hanging from bars. For years we’ve been abjuring kids not to hang on towel racks, or the bars on our shower doors. Recently they both started hanging from the beams underneath Dave’s extra-tall desk. While the desk is very sturdily built, we just felt that having a more official bar to hang from — something constructed specifically with their dynamic weights in mind — would be a good idea.

So there it was: both the kids and Dave wanted bars to hang from, and it seemed pointless to put the project off any longer. The construction wasn’t entirely trivial, since Dave wanted to wire-wrap the ends of the bars to reinforce them. I won’t bore you with the details of that, except to say that it involved two of us, several pliers, a drill, a screwdriver, and a propane torch. Why the torch, you ask? Not just because Dave likes any opportunity to bring out an open flame. By heating the wire while we tightened it down, we were assured of an extra-snug fit when it cooled.

In any case, the finished product is nice-looking and very strong, and can easily be hooked up high to get it out of our way. This is good, since otherwise it hangs directly in the path of our back door, and only Ryan can run underneath it without ducking.

Spilled Yogurt

I ought to be calmer about spills by now. Given how often something hits the floor, I ought to have perfected the art of stepping back, admiring the unique shape created, and then calmly going for a rag. If I started every day believing that I was due at least three major spills, think how much happier I’d be! Most days I’d come out ahead!

And yet all too often my immediate reaction to a spill is frustration. “Another mess,” my internal score-keeper notes in exasperation. “Haven’t I cleaned up enough of these? Why can’t they be more careful? It’s so wasteful, too!”

Sometimes, though… sometimes I manage to find that zen balance point in myself. Sometimes when the small child spills yogurt (because he was trying to lick a drop off the arm that was holding the cup, and no he cannot focus on two things at once), I honestly am not upset. It’s outside, after all. And yes it’s wasteful, but a quarter cup of yogurt is not the end of the world. And, as it turns out, yogurt is slippery and gooey and great fun to slide toes around in, which my children took full advantage of for a good ten minutes.

Truly, there is no point crying about it.

The Sewing Room

One of my long-term goals is to have a sewing room that is a) not a complete mess, b) not full of boxes of unpacked fabric and craft items, c) conducive to easily accessing its contents, and d) ok to let kids into. This last is the toughest one. I have tried to set boundaries with them, but when there are stacks and piles and randomly strewn items everywhere, it’s very difficult to set limits other than “Don’t touch anything!” And that, of course, doesn’t last very long with them.

Progress on this goal is slow. Partly because there is too much stuff; partly because sorting through and organizing things is just a tedious process; and partly because I have very limited time to shut myself into the sewing room in the first place. I have made some strides, though. Just recently I added a simple shelf, near the top of one wall, and now I finally have a place to keep all my quilting and craft books handy and out of reach of small children. It’s a small step, but every small step I make gives me great pleasure.

Yet Again

We took another stab at painting the other day. I had a suspicion how this would turn out, so I set the kids up at a table outside on our back patio, nicely convenient to the bathroom near our back door. (That one has a hand-held shower. I cannot begin to describe how valuable that thing is for small children.) I also stripped off all of their clothes, on the grounds that tempura paints wash off of skin more easily than fabric.

After everything was ready, I put the paints out on the table. The boys dived right in. Colors! Mess! They needed no invitation to get into that. Partly because the sight of paints always makes me want to dive in too, I decided to do a little demo for them. Quickly, because the colors in the palette were rapidly merging into brown, I sketched out a little reddish flower for them. “See?” I told Ryan. “You can paint pictures with it!” Ryan glanced up from layering his belly in dirty green, then went back to his work.

A few minutes later I found that Nathan was busy meticulously covering my flower — petal by petal, leaf by leaf — in brown. “It died,” he informed me, as my flower became just a faint shadow under an amorphous brown blob.

In another ten minutes the painting had devolved into the “What Can I Paint?” game. This is the game where Nathan attempts to paint the table, the chairs, the ground, etc., and finds out which things I’ll object to. I put a stop to the festivities and shuttled both kids to the shower, managing not to let them touch anything on the way, which was a non-trivial feat. Another successful painting session! It was marred only by the fact that Ryan’s head was streaked with pink, yellow and brown, and that he objected strongly to me spraying it.

New Garden Beds

We are inching slowly toward summer here, although sometimes it feels like winter is determined to go down fighting. And as the weather warms, the age-old question of spring has become more and more pressing.

Where the heck am I going to plant all these vegetables?

I was not kidding when, buried deep in seed catalogs, I came up for some air and asked Dave what he thought about adding more garden beds. Considering the length of this year’s order to Territorial Seeds, and the rather impressive seed stock to which I was adding, it isn’t at all surprising that Dave and I put in five new beds this spring.

Technically I should say six. I converted the bed along our north fence into a vegetable bed as well, mostly by digging out the hundreds of daffodil and narcissus bulbs growing there and adding a good mulch of compost. It wasn’t easy to take out those flowers — I love bulbs, and I waited until they’d done blooming. I also found homes for a few of them in other corners of the property. But with the flowers gone I now have room for my brassicas, larger annual herbs like mustard and coriander, and more leeks and onions. When it came right down to it, I decided that I wanted brussels sprouts more than daffodils. What does that say about me?

In addition to that somewhat heart-rending work, we put five new beds into our lawn. (Getting rid of lawn is not a wrench for me, believe me.) Needless to say, the kids were an enormous help with the new beds. They diligently tested the usability of the new beds by running around them (early on, this meant lots of tripping over the strings used to lay them out). They dug in the newly-exposed dirt with shovels and toy trucks. They helped me dig out wheelbarrow loads of mulch — or at least, they played in the pile while I filled the wheelbarrow. With such help, it’s no wonder that we completed the beds so quickly.

Two have already been planted in peppers, with spaces left for assorted lettuces. The other three are for corn, beans and squash. Every day since April that has been graced with warmth I’ve had to restrain myself from going out and planting the corn. But now the corn is in, the beans and squash will go in soon, and our new lovely beds are full of rich black dirt and ready to produce (hopefully) a bounty. Yes, that truly is all it takes to put a spring in my step.

Sweet Anticipation

There are berries everywhere. It was only when I started taking pictures of the unripe berries around our property that I realized just how many berries there are to look forward to this year.

Raspberries

Gooseberries

Marionberries

Blueberries

Strawberries

We’ve already tasted our first couple of strawberries… Just enough to whet Ryan’s appetite and make him want to pick all the orange ones. Oh, those tastes were heaven, though…