What Not To Do

Just as the garden project hit critical in the ‘we have to finish this so we can plant wearesolateohmygoodness’ way, a few other things happened.

I took my individual consulting practice to a new level by starting a consulting firm with 2 amazing partners.  Simultaneously, I accepted a  role with a client that is more like a full-time job, and entails some fairly regular travel.   I began to ramp up for my new role while doing all the work that starting a new company entails, and spending every spare moment trying to jam in garden building, finishing my guest room for our summer intern to stay in, and trying to cram in every kind of appointment and time with my children under the sun before my schedule got compressed.

What that led to was 4 of the busiest weeks I’ve ever had, with days going far into the night.  By the time I got on the plane last Monday afternoon, I was ready to drop.  I got back Friday night and was up at the crack of dawn, back at it.

I do this periodically – or maybe life does this, not sure –  cramming every kind of life change, crisis and work demand into a tiny window of time.  I’m not sure why I don’t spread these things out, but I don’t seem to remember from incidence to incidence that it’s really not ‘she who dies with the most checks on her to-do list wins‘.  Maybe you can relate.

Even though I manage to juggle a lot, the thing I am still learning is what to let go.  There was a time where I thought everything, everything had to be cooked from scratch.  I’ve learned the merits of a bag of Trader Joe’s Orange Chicken and some pre-cut vegetables for dinner.   Same for acknowledging that once a year I will clean out my bedroom closet, and then it will slowly degrade until I can get to it again.  No one died when I caved on Pringles.  I can’t do it all alone.  Today I was supposed to have the dirt in the garden spread so I could get another truckload.  The reality is that the pile is halved, there’s 3 garden beds built and planted, and yes, it’s getting done but so is my job, my kids, the animals, the laundry, grocery shopping, cooking….

It’s SO easy to get consumed in life and forget to see the forest for the trees.  Relationships.  Time reading with the kids.  I like to think I have my priorities straight, but I often choose the ‘to-do’ instead of the ‘just be’.

I think we’re all a little like that, to a degree.  I have no words of wisdom on the matter, just that sometimes it’s worth letting the projects go to take silly selfies.

K and I_Home

Garden Dreams Part 4

I had hoped this would be my final installment of my series on building a garden, but of course it isn’t.  Melissa and I have been cranking on the fence, and making great progress, but the magnitude of this project, and our mutual schedules mean we need more time.   The funny thing is that it’s totally ok.  I want to be done, and the plants need to go in the ground, but right now we are both so busy that being stressed about what isn’t done isn’t going to do anything but steal joy away from what we have accomplished, which is a ton.  All of the 8′ fence sections are built, and we have 5 more and a gate to put on.

The garden ended up being 40’x18′, smaller than originally planned, but not by much.
Darn that fence is level

Because I have some work travel coming up, and some of the plants were no longer thriving in their temporary pots, today we stopped construction, and I went to work on building some of the brick beds and planted.   Melissa went off to do some weeding and I immersed myself in measuring, bringing wheelbarrows full of bricks over, and planting.  After a few hours, I had some help from Sithean’s newest resident, H, an Environmental Studies intern staying with us for the summer so she can be close to her summer internship.  She didn’t have to like gardening, or volunteer to help, but both happened.

I built 2 5×5 garden beds today.  On 3 sides are 20″ paths, which will eventually be covered in mulch.  On the fourth side, at the front of the garden, the path is closer to 3′ wide to accomodate Hollyhocks and other fence-climbing plants.  The measuring tape is my best friend these days, keeping my rows of bricks straight and with even distances.

Each bed will eventually be framed internally into smaller squares, but for this year, putting the larger beds in place is what can get done.  Once they were framed out on 3 sides, I added about 3″ of compost on top of the dirt.

5x5 bed

Then we planted.  Today, dill, basil, pickling cucumbers, ‘Livingston’s Best’ tomatoes and begonias went into the beds.

I don’t know that I would have chosen to plant as I build, but I’m still pretty satisfied with the result.

First Planted Beds

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Garden Dreams Part 3

The Peonies are in full bloom, and that means summer is coming, faster than I am ready for.  The air smells like floral perfume, it is green everywhere, and the garden…is still not done.

 

But this weekend was a marathon of effort, and it will be finished and planted in a week.  We started with an auger rental.  Last year, we dug post holes for the temporary garden with a manual post digger, and between rocks and time, barely were able to sink the posts deep enough to stay up.  This year we brought in the heavy machinery.

Auger.jpg

It still required 2 guys to help us in order to get all the post holes dug.  Thankfully my ex and Melissa’s husband were willing and more than able.

They also helped us measure, and remeasure to ensure we were going to be level and the posts would go in evenly.  We never would have gotten as far as we did without them, especially when we hit a buried stone wall, halfway through augering holes.

Yesterday, Melissa and I continued our assembly line prefab and build approach, and cranked out 5 sections in the ground before we had to stop for the day.


We chose a method of 8′ garden sections made out of 1″x5″ pre-primed pine boards, flanked by the big splurge of 8′ cedar posts.  Each section is pre-assembled and then attached, with chicken wire stapled on.  Melissa and I worked as a team to prefabricate, level each post and get it installed while the smallish people did other, equally important things:

Connor being cozy.jpg

In the end, we built a full side and part of the front and back of the garden.  We got faster as the day went on, it stayed level, which is an achievement in and of itself, and by the end of the day, we had gotten pretty darn good at fencing.  I can’t say it’s a skill we’ll have much use for going forward, but it’s a good skill to have.

Breakfast Monsters

Mornings here are the busiest part of the day, typically.  From the moment I wake up to the time I get the kids to school, I only sit down if I can find a few minutes to wolf down some food myself.  There’s lunches to be packed, breakfast to be made, kids to get dressed and out the door, animals to feed and water, and plants that need a drink.

Even weekend mornings are busy until the point when I get breakfast into everyone, at which point we start to take a breath. I cook more on weekends, frequently pancakes, bacon and fruit, although blueberry muffins and waffles periodically show up on the menu.

Pancakes.jpg

I like to take the time to make breakfast for the kids, but the leftover pancakes also go right into the freezer to be warmed for weekday breakfasts.  It’s a quick, easy way to get something homemade into the kids when you have no time.

For me, breakfast has become coffee and smoothies.  I had for years had an egg and yogurt in the mornings.  It’s better not to have to think about food first thing than have huge variety – I can go a long time without getting bored of my breakfast, so long as there’s coffee. And I was always the person, when faced with smoothie options, that replied “I prefer to chew my food, thanks”.  But even the worst cynics can be converted.

I switched to smoothies because I realized I wasn’t quite getting in enough fruits and veggies throughout the day, I needed a new vehicle for my yogurt, and I needed to add some nutritional supplements such as Spirulina, Maca, flaxseed, and a superfood protein powder that has wheatgrass and other goodies.   So I started making what I call my Green Monster Smoothies.  In goes all those things, but also in it goes bananas, blueberries, strawberries, yogurt,  a handful of spinach or super greens, a spoonful of peanut butter and some milk (coconut water or almond/soy milk would work just as well).  I’m finding it keeps me full longer, I’m definitely upping my fruit and veggie intake, and I don’t have to eat all those things individually throughout the day.  And here’s the thing – it tastes really, really good.

And I mean so good I’m sad when it’s gone and I have to wait for the next day.  Which for a ‘no-smoothie as meal’ person, is a pretty solid endorsement.

Smoothie prep

I make enough for 2 smoothies in my $40 sale blender (no, you don’t need a wildly expensive one) so I only have to put in the effort once every other day, and I store the rest in a mason jar in the fridge for the next morning.

Smoothies

I hate to say I’m a convert, but I just might be.  I still like to chew my food, but Green Monster – it’s what’s for breakfast.

Green Monster Smoothies:
1 scoop protein powder – I prefer to use a superfood variety
1/2 tsp Spirulina powder
1 tsp Maca (similar to ginseng and it tastes very good)
2 tablespoons flaxseed
1 banana
handful of blueberries
handful of spinach or other greens
5-6 strawberries
1 cup plain or flavored yogurt
1 tablespoon peanut butter
1 -2 cups of milk or milk alternative, depending on how thick you want it

Whir.  Eat.  Be happy.

Making Home – Sithean By Design

About 4 years ago, I went from a 2500 square foot house to a tiny apartment, with very few possessions carried with me.  I effectively started over, needing even dishes and forks, along with beds, a couch and almost everything else.  I have always loved putting together found objects, antiques, yard sale finds and hand me downs and making design from them, so it was a little disorienting to have to choose how to fill my new little place all at once.  Fun too, but more of a challenge than I thought it would be.  “What do I like?” was a question that ran through my head, over and over, on everything from plates to bedding.  What I like was of course limited by budget and practicality, but it had been over a decade since I had made those kinds of choices alone, and it was harder than I thought it would be.

When we moved here, I had a little time to start to think about what I like, and I found myself influenced by the house itself.  Built in 1850 as servant’s quarters, the house itself is not very big, and while largely modern, still carries with it a sense of stepping back in time.  The rooms are comfortably sized, but still somewhat delicate-seeming.   I decided to let the house dictate the design as much as my own taste, and the smallish people weigh in too.  Eventually some things from my previous life came back here, but each time I touch a space here, it is tailored to the house itself.  In doing so, I found myself drawn to smaller, more delicate pieces than I might have, and a touch of the fey everywhere – birds, vines and even some magic, all the while covering for the fact that shelves and closets are sadly lacking.

I add and change a little at a time, as budget, time and inspiration allows.  I don’t want it all done at once.  Making an old home beautiful again doesn’t need to cost a fortune either, it can be done slowly, a small touch at a time.

The first room to be changed was the dining room.   One of the Moms did all the work, and it is all beautiful as a result.  It is waiting for me to make valances from some bolts of fabric I found at a yard sale, hopefully by Christmas.

Dining Room

The red ceiling was my daughter’s idea, based on a picture she saw.  The table had been a hand-me-down from my older sister, and the only furniture I’ve added is the bird etagere, which goes with my antique dishes, a favorite find.

china.jpg

Bird Etagere

Pretty and practical, the etagere holds things that I didn’t have a good spot for, but loved too much to get rid of.

The landing for the stairway was a large blank wall.  Up went a wallpaper mural which makes me smile every time I see it, a touch of watercolor whimsy.  At about $125 for the custom-fit paper, it was a deal, and if I ever tire of it, off it comes.  But I won’t.

Wall Mural

My son’s room was next.  The supreme act of maternal love is letting your child pick their room color, but in this case I happen to love the bright orange for his small angled room under the eaves.  His room is loosely designed around the world of Peter Pan, with a mural of the Lost Boys tree house, and the Jolly Roger as a light fixture hanging from the ceiling.  His bed is shape like a cabin, with canvas window and door coverings that roll down for playing fort.

An oddly shaped corner of my room has been turned into a desk/vanity area, a perfect resting spot for books we are reading before bed, and Kiera Dolly, my daughter’s most prized possession.  The mirror is an antique meant for a fireplace mantel.  The vanity table top opens up to a secret mirrored compartment, where I often find things the smallish people have hidden.

Resting Spot for Kiera Dolly

In the living room, a corner cabinet, found and refinished in grey and blue chalk paint, has been added for more shelving space.   I grouped things that are generally blue and white, from the tea set made by my great aunt to another teapot, found for $2 at a yard sale. along with a lone ginkgo leaf saved from our time in Florida.

Throughout the house are tiny framed prints of Cicely Mary Barker’s Flower Fairies – gorgeous antique pictures of ancient flowers and trees. . Each print costs little, and they add touches of color to various corners.  When I find frames and more prints, I add them, a little at a time so as not to clutter the space.

I’m working on the guest room now, tying in birds, flowers and watercolor designs, and my daughter’s room will follow that.  There’s so much to do, but that’s the fun of it.   Just a little paint, a few spots to put things, and a touch of whimsy make me happy to be here every day.  There’s lots of stores, TV shows and websites that will make you believe that renovations are all-or-nothing, but sometimes little modifications – color, placement, style, are all that you need to make your space just a bit more homelike.

 

 

 

Simple Things – Soup Night

I realize Memorial Day weekend is for grill recipes, but I woke up to 52 degrees yesterday morning, which was cold enough to make me burrow back under the covers for a while, not something I typically do.  The smallish people came home last night, and i knew they would be tired and hungry after most of the day in the car, as well as in dire need of bathing.  Soup is simple and filling, and good for a raw, chilly day.

So I pulled what remained of a roasted chicken and some grilled drumsticks out of the freezer, and started some chicken broth.  Chicken Soup with Rice by Maurice Sendak is a favorite book around here, and it’s a favorite meal as well.  I do buy chicken broth for various purposes, but chicken soup with rice is always made from scratch, it’s in my parenting rule book.

Chicken broth is easy.  Chicken carcass, with some meat on it, water to cover it, a little vinegar, and some seasoning – I use garlic, salt, pepper, bay leaves, oregano, and fresh tarragon.  I also save onion peels and other bits of vegetables in a bag in the freezer and add them to the broth to flavor it.  Drop it all in a slow cooker for 6 hours on low, and strain into another pot.  What’s left is chicken broth, really good stuff.

chicken soup starts with chicken broth

Crock pot chicken broth, 6 hours in the making.jpg

Once the remaining chicken has cooled, strip the meat from the bones, chop up whatever veggies you like (carrot, celery, onion, etc) into the broth and cook for 15 minutes.  Salt and pepper to taste.  After 15 minutes, toss in a cup or so of rice and let cook until soft, about 20 minutes.

It’s really that easy.  It’s also cheap – it’s from chicken you already ate.  And honestly, it’s a truly good meal.

I usually add popovers to it, because they are a personal favorite.  If you like them, I recommend investing in a good quality popover pan, because the cheap ones scratch up easily and muffin tins are too small.

Popovers are as simple as it gets.  Mix together in a small bowl:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon of salt

Oil the popover pan well.  Fill each well to half full, and bake for about 20-25 minutes starting from a cold oven at 400 degrees.  The cold oven is critical, they won’t rise if you start preheating.  I cover mine with tinfoil until the oven hits 400 to ensure the tops don’t burn.

Popovers are easy and quick and look pretty impressive right out of the oven.  They collapse almost right away, but they still taste great.  You can substitute up to 1/4 cup of Paleo flours (I like Cassava Flour) and they will taste just as good, but they won’t rise as well.  If you make them frequently, expect to replace your pan every few years – eventually they go from non-stick to ‘everything sticks’.

I love to grill, but last night’s dinner was the perfect recipe for a cool, grey day Monday.

Popovers

Garden Dreams Part 2

While the smallish people headed to Maine to open their grandparent’s Moosehead Lake camp with Dad, I headed into the garden this weekend.  The ancient irises have started to bloom – they were a breathtaking surprise last year, in a color scheme I had never seen before, and I have been looking forward to them again since they faded out last July.  I’ve been working on cleaning up the trench bed where they and the peonies live, a task I didn’t get to last year.  It only takes about 6 months for a garden to get overtaken by weeds, and I am removing several years worth.  Reorganizing and restructuring the trench bed, which is a desperately needed task, like so many things here, probably has to be deferred to next year, but I am already starting to make plans.

Irises after the Rain

On Saturday, I also pulled out 4 wheelbarrows filled with debris, rocks, and weeds from the old garden in preparation to till.  Last year gardening season ran very late, with tomatoes, tomatillos and squash still ripening in early November, and I ran out of steam.  Instead of pulling out the old vines, I just opened one side of the wire fence and let the wildlife have at it.  It l left a mess though, and was pretty overdue to clean it up.

My next door neighbor and friend Melissa and I co-garden, share chickens, ducks, and frequent meals and glasses of wine.   Last year we started the garden together somewhat organically, with an offer of help from her father to rototill.  Somehow that became a shared garden space to both of our delight, and this year we sat down to make a plan to make the garden more permanent. Melissa’s husband Jay weighed in to ensure we actually have a plan that will work – which is a critical check on our enthusiasm to just get started and figure things out as we go along –  and helps out when our skills are exceeded by our excitement, which is with reasonable regularity.  Jay has a sixth sense about when to step in and when to let us get on with it.

Because we want this garden to last for many years, we decided to till the space, removing any noticeable  grass, myrtle and weeds, as well as roots and rocks,  before leveling it with added compost – 8 yards of it will arrive on Tuesday.  Pulling out clumps of grass as Melissa tilled in the rain left me with the realization that I was now living that line from Monty Python’s The Holy Grail “Denis, There’s some lovely filth over here.”

Melissa’s father once again loaned his rototiller, which he bought in 1971 and is still going strong – I have an immense fondness for this particular piece of garden equipment, having created the area where I plant now twice.  It took a while for us to get the hang of it without Melissa’s Dad around to supervise, but eventually we figured out the 47-year- old tiller and got to work.

Melissa and the 47 year old rototiller.jpg

It took just under 3 hours to till and clean out the new garden area, which is now ready for the added dirt, and a fence later this week.

Garden Prime.jpg

It’s a chilly day here, and we were both grateful when it was time to go inside, but so proud of our accomplishment.  It’s getting real, and I can’t wait to see it when it is finished.