Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Too many toys, chocolate, austerity, upcoming resolutions

It's almost over. Just one more weekend of New Year's madness, and then peace and quiet.

Franklin got toys from just about every person on the planet, it seems. We're swimming in toys here. I don't like clutter, so we bought him four or five things; at this age he just wants to chew on things, or maybe bang them on the floor. Our relatives did not have such restraint. There were more presents under the tree for Franklin than for Partner and myself combined over our entire marriage, it seemed!

We spent two days at the inlaws' house in London, eating way too much chocolate and watching way too much tv. I don't even like tv, but their austerity measures meant the heating was off and only the fireplace was on. So tv it was. We watched World Championship darts. I'm not making this up: two fat old men loaded down with gold jewelry and facial hair from the 70s throwing darts at a dartboard. With slow-motion replays of them throwing, arm fat wobbling. Actually, it was kind of awesome.

Speaking of austerity measures, Partner and I have agreed to lower our monthly personal allowances by £5 each. I may put most of mine into my savings account. Also, I've made a commitment to go into town and open a bank account with a monthly direct debit for subsequent Christmases. We sort of did it for Franklin; he's got his own savings account, and we bought his presents out of it, and any left over after his birthday will go into his investments account for when he's 18--I sometimes wish my parents had done that for me. I might have gone to university after graduation, instead of waiting all these years. Of course, I wouldn't be where I am now.

So I'm looking for ways to save money and get us back out of debt. We're not too deeply in--but buying a car earlier in the year was a setback, and as I'm only working weekends, my pay has gone down drastically. Setting a monthly personal allowance has been a huge success as far as curbing spending. We have the rule that we get a set amount on payday in cash to spend on ourselves. Bank cards are only allowed for groceries and diesel. Since implementation this summer, we've saved more than a £1000. That £1.50 here and £5 there really added up, and half the time we didn't even remember what we'd spent it on. If anyone else has a good suggestion for saving, I'd love to hear about it.

I'm thinking about goals for the coming year. I had a huge list of things I wanted to accomplish last year and having a baby really put a spanner in the works! I had a spreadsheet covering each month, and the first two months (January and February) have all the goals ticked, and subsequent months have none. Not a single yearly goal accomplished from March onward...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Melt, mud, sticks, neighborly neighbors, boobs

What could be more wonderful than the sound of melting snow? This week it's filled the air with silent slushiness. As soon as we saw it going, Partner dashed outside with his shovel and dug up the last of the potatoes. He thinks there are a month's worth left. Then he tracked mud all over the house because he neglected to put on his wellies... I walked the dog and Franklin this morning, and we all got very muddy too; I however, am pro-active about mud. I got the hose and sprayed us all down. Dog included.

Partner insists we're getting more snow this week. I'm adamantly denying it.

Actually, last week Franklin and I went out walking in the sling, and I enjoyed using a makeshift walking stick to help keep us from slipping. When I prune my shrubs, I generally keep any long woody sticks to save as supports for plants which tend to flop over, like runner beans or delphiniums. So I have a stack of tall trimmed sticks in my garage, perfect for walking. Then the last day before the big melt, as we strode confidently down our street, one of the neighbors (I don't know him at all, as he lives quite a few houses away and keeps to himself) hailed me and presented me with a sanded, varnished, rubber-bottomed stick. I think he made it himself. I was really touched. I don't see him much, but next time I'm going to thank him again, and tell him how wonderful it works.

I have a feeling that even though I don't recognize the neighbors at that end of the street, they probably recognize me. I walk past their houses nearly every day; but since we live at the end of the cul-de-sac, those neighbors have no reason to walk past my house. When I first had Franklin, Partner walked the dog for the first couple of weeks, and one of those neighbors we didn't know asked him as he passed if I'd had the baby!

Here is a boob I knitted for charity. I don't know if charity actually wants them though. As I was knitting, the further along I got, the more I thought, am I just embarrassing myself? Don't adjust your screen. It really is meant to be bright red with a powder blue nipple.

Christmas. Ten days until. Still not ready. Might never be.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Weather, mega-tater, last month's goals

Snow! This is my patio (last seen under attack by nasturtiums). That cap on top of the table? Partner measured it at 18 inches.

So the roads are even more atrocious than last winter. Our little cul-de-sac has never met a snowplow, and for a few days it looked like no one was driving out till spring. Then two energetic neighbors got out their shovels, were joined by another neighbor, and then Franklin and I went out to help, and we got all our drives and part of the street cleared. One of them was even kind enough to remember that Partner and I had done it last year.

It's been so deep that I haven't gone on my daily walk all week because the stroller can't cope, and I'm too nervous about slipping to use the sling. Today, Saturday, Partner stayed home with Franklin while I took the dog out. We saw another dogwalker we see quite often, and he asked me where my baby was. I sort of experimented on making some snowshoes, but need to improve my design. I also considered designs for a baby-safe sledge, but was unable to come up with a workable plan. So for the present, my baby stays at home when I go walking. And since Partner's only home to watch him at weekends, I only walk at weekends. I think Beauty was a little stir-crazy, because we met another little doggy at the park and they wrestled and chased nearly the whole walk (normally Beauty's very dignified and gets quite short with presumptuous canines). Never mind that the snow was up to their shoulders.

I think I may have lost my chance at digging up the remainder of my potatoes. Under a foot of snow, I can only hope that means they're nicely insulated and won't freeze by the time I can get to them. If ever. Here's one of my mega-taters. I grew it myself (Partner took exception to that when I told his mother; he says he dug the holes and watered them all summer).

For last month, I only achieved some of my goals. I managed to submit both assignments on time, and then on the last day of the month, I knitted mittens for Franklin (100% wool. Merino. Organic. What can I say? It was on sale), having done the matching hat quite early on. Though I wanted to make ten Christmas cards, I ended up starting five and not finishing any; it looks like I may not be sending any this year. I finished 50% of my Christmas shopping, however; that is, if you count that I've bought all Franklin's, and haven't bought any for Partner (that's 50%, right?). And my final goal, to be in bed with the lights out at 10.30 each night: FAIL.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Snow, knitting, plans

Just a few weeks ago, walking in the local wildlife area was a crunchy delight, with wall-to-wall carpeting of crisp leaves. Now all the leaves are black and soggy, and currently under a layer of snow. Yesterday we woke to about an inch, and today we've gained another half inch or more.

It doesn't seem so long ago that we were running out of food with no access to a store (last winter). Partner was able to bring small amounts home on the train, seeing as the roads were impassable for the likes of our car, luckily. Over the past year we've increased our storage of dried and canned foods like rice, flour, milk powder, sugar, corned beef and canned salmon. We also have a bit more garden produce than last year, namely potatoes, cabbage, celeriac, and chard. Hopefully we won't be caught out like before.

I'm so ashamed of myself: I've only got Partner two things for Christmas as of yet, and if the roads stay nasty, that may just be it (this also happened last year!). I'm making him a few small things, at least. On the other hand, Franklin's gifts are mostly taken care of. I would also like to make him something; at this point I'm not sure what. Maybe a soft toy, or maybe an item of clothing, or a painting for his bedroom...

In winter plans, I want to knit myself a new scarf. Eventually. I'm about 3/4 the way through a pair of socks, and I sort of said I would knit a couple boobs for a breastfeeding support group (they use them for demonstration). I've finished one: it's bright red with a blue nipple, the only two colors of yarn I've got presently. Franklin likes it. Maybe if I don't get around to making any more, he can have it instead.

I uploaded a new video to youtube; it's of Franklin and me playing the piano:


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Housekeeping for new mothers

Let me open up my bag of housekeeping/babycare tricks for you. I've got some sneaky ways of keeping tidy while keeping a baby happy.

  1. The sling is your friend. Have a tiny baby who needs you ALL THE TIME? Can't be by himself for a single second? I know the feeling. Even now, at 8 months, Franklin still enjoys his sling while I do a bit of work. Apparently, babies who ride around in some sort of carrier get lots of stimulation, feel more calm and secure, and don't cry as much.
  2. Stick to the basics. You've just given birth, for crying out loud! So long as you're not tripping over garbage or poisoning yourself with salmonella, a bit of dirt's not gonna hurt. The bathroom, kitchen, and main living area should be your cleaning priorities (though actual cleaning doesn't have to be one of your priorities--sleeping and eating and loving your baby are much higher on the list).
  3. Is your tub more brown than white? Got a slime mold waving at you every time you look in the toilet? Don't worry, we've all been there. Just before hopping in the shower, give the toilet a little brush and flush--no need for chemicals if you're doing it daily. I keep a little container of baking soda on the rim of my tub and at the end of my bath/shower, I sprinkle a little onto my damp washcloth and scrub any obvious spots. The washcloth either goes straight into the laundry basket, or I use it with a little more baking soda to wipe out the sink if needed.
  4. There comes a point when your baby is a little more independent. At about four months, Franklin could lie under his baby gym for 45 minutes a day, batting his toys around. This is an ideal time for some quick cleaning. I've found vacuuming with a baby in the carrier is hard work, so do it when he's awake but otherwise occupied. Use a slightly damp cloth to dust so it won't fly about and get into your baby's precious little nose. If you're anything like me, there'll be four months' worth of dust!
  5. There's also the baby swing/bouncer/walker. I don't actually like these much because a baby's spine and back muscles aren't strong enough to hold their body weight for long periods of time; these can put a strain on their backs. But for short periods (the longest I ever use ours is 20 minutes a day) they can be invaluable. I have a bouncer that hangs in a doorway and it moves around the house with me.
  6. Ignore everything else, but don't let the essentials pile up. Dishes and laundry are two things that become overwhelming very quickly. Try to do some every day. Enlist your husband in this if you can: mine washes dishes at night and I put them away in the morning; he also puts a load of laundry on every night and one of us puts it to dry in the morning. And put it away, too! I couldn't even count the number of times I've had to go searching for a clean pair of socks in the morning...
  7. When your baby gets mobile, the fun really begins. Franklin loves following me around while I clean. He chases the dust mop, the vacuum, the broom...then he gets distracted and I only realize he's no longer with me when I hear a thump...WAH!
So with all these sneaky tricks, I really don't have an excuse for not keeping a spotless house, do I?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Potatoes, frost, winding down, and presentable housekeeping

This weekend, Partner and I dug up half our potato crop. I'm not sure how many, but Partner estimated about 100 potatoes. Mostly small, but several were HUGE. I mean seriously big, maybe six or eight inches in diameter. I don't know how they grew so big when most were tiny. These pictured are the usual shrimps.

I love winding down the garden at the end of the year. Well, not when it's raining: today, however, after a fierce frost (which actually hardly affected our garden at all), the sun shone and with Franklin snoring away at his mid-afternoon nap, I flung on my wellies and got digging. The street at the front of our house glittered with frost so I'm not sure how it missed our back garden, but what care I for details? It's November! It frosted! Even if it didn't kill my plants--I'm pulling them up anyway!

I dug up some gladiolas and a dahlia to overwinter (note to self: there are about a dozen more each of glads and dahlias to go), made a small dent in the Planet of the Nasturtiums, and planted a few tulip bulbs I'd divided from overcrowded stocks last spring. And planted out the last of the spring cabbages. Hooray!

I need to dig up the remainder of the potatoes; I really don't want to feed the slugs, after all. I think the celeriac ought to come up too, and any beets and carrots left. A few years ago, at the end of the season, we discovered mice eating the last of our carrots. Kind of put me off them. Oddly enough, they left our beets alone. When I was a kid I thought beets tasted like dirt. As an adult, I like them; they do still taste a bit like dirt, though.

For Thanksgiving we've invited Partner's parents to stay for the week. Having a baby has led to a sharp drop in housekeeping here, and I need to seriously organize if I want to be presentable next week when they arrive. My kitchen and living room stay moderately tidy--I clean the kitchen daily when Franklin either plays with food in his high chair or naps, and he crawls around while I tidy the living room during the day. The other rooms are more difficult at present. The only babyproofed room upstairs is his own, and with no gate at the top of the stairs: not so tidy upstairs. Better get on it, quick. A babyproofed house would be dreamy.

Speaking of babyproof: Partner caught Franklin eating dog food this weekend. No doubt it will be the first of many.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Eating leaves, this year's garden recap

This week I took my camera on our walk and had an autumn photo shoot. Franklin was very happy to decamp from his stroller and play in (i.e. eat) the leaves while I snapped pictures. I knitted him a new warm hat which I love and which he loves taking off. Sigh. I need to make him some matching mittens so it stays on his head.

Though we haven't yet had a frost, I'm expecting it any day now. This morning before work I managed to prune back my climbing rose; for several years it climbed over the old wooden arch, but with arch's demise, I'm attempting training it to climb the garage walls instead--with limited success so far. Hopefully it cooperates this coming year, as its luxurious misplaced growth nearly smothered my herb bed.

Our potato harvest is a moderate success. About half of the potatoes are still in the ground though the plants are all dead now. The biggest spuds have been about tennis ball size, though the average potato is more like apricot size: not very big. I'm not sure why. Still tasty.

And dug up our first celeriac for dinner today: super yum. I started out with 24, and somehow ended up with a grand total of 12. Also not huge, but bigger than my biggest potatoes.

Some lessons I've learned this year:
  • Vegetables need space to grow big! I tried to cram in too much.
  • Carrots grown in the ground are likely to get carrot fly (and thus ruined). Next year I will probably go back to planters for carrots. Smaller, but edible, at least.
  • Runner beans should have more than one pole to keep them upright. And the more runner bean plants, the better as far as I'm concerned. Plant more next year!
  • Cabbages need to be sown in greater intervals than just 2 weeks. We had way too many all at once and lost quite a lot.
  • Spring broccoli should be staked while still small. Mine are all tumbling down; it happened last year, too--I should have learned my lesson then.
  • Don't bother with tomatoes.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

No friends, no money, and a little walker

I joked to Partner the other day that I was texting my "one" friend--as in the only friend I have--to confirm our lunch date yesterday. Turns out I may have no friends after all, because she canceled on me. We made the date about two weeks in advance, as the only free day for both of us, and I'd really been looking forward to it! Franklin and I went to town on our own, instead. A lovely warm, sunny day perfect for strolling around the market. I dropped off some charity items, and picked up a few little things including a little pumpkin for carving later in the week. I had a small unexpected windfall from an ebay sale, but I'm so used to not having money that I hardly know what to buy.

I had to stop and feed Franklin while in town. We sat down on a bench and I watched the people passing as he nommed. I've gotten to the point where I really don't mind breastfeeding in public at all. I usually cover him with a blanket or scarf, unless we're in a child-friendly place. I even fed him on the train into Leeds a few weeks ago. It was packed but I don't think a single person noticed.

Speaking of Franklin--brace yourself, world. He's walking. Sort of. I think they call it cruising: he pulls himself up into a standing position on the furniture, and then edges along it. Two days ago he was meant to be napping when I heard a "THUMP...WAHHH!!!" Somehow he'd managed to stand up and tear down his mobile. It's got a bunch of cute fabric bugs dangling on it; when I got in there, he was chewing on his spider.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Thinking about Christmas, and Important Milestones

What do you buy for a 9-month-old for his first Christmas? I already know he's going to be more interested in the wrapping paper and boxes than in actual presents, so I'm not planning on spending a lot of money. I also want to get him things that will grow with him; I don't see much point in buying something that will only have appeal for a few months. And I have one restriction: I do not want anything electronic that makes a noise. I know how annoying that stuff gets.

Then there's gifts for Partner. At least he's easier to buy for; I like to make things for him, too. I'm planning on sending some fancy home baked bread to Partner's family (but not mine, sadly. I don't think it'd mail internationally). I made some excellent panettone one year. Or maybe it was stollen. Anyway, it was great, and very festive. I really wish we'd picked more strawberries now, because the jam was so tasty I would have been very proud to give it away. Oh well.

My workplace is open on Christmas, but I don't know yet if they'll want me to work. I didn't work it last year, as I was just too pregnant. And the year before I was off sick with SARS/bird flu/pneumonia/TB. But I did work it one year. I don't understand why anyone would want to go out to eat on Christmas. It's such a special family day to me.

I've had the idea for this drawing a while now. When Franklin turned six months, he suddenly went from a cuddly snugglekins to a little eight-armed demon. And when I wondered to Partner why Franklin wasn't much interested in sweet things like baby porridge or fruit; his reply:
"He likes MEAT! little Franklinasaurus needs meat to keep Grrrring while he roams the house."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A dog's life

Sleep deprivation: getting only four hours of sleep at night now means I function like a zombie all day; yet when Franklin was born, I was lucky if I got two hours of sleep at a stretch. However, I think this is because sleep deprivation is cumulative, and having less-than-adequate sleep for the last seven months is really taking its toll. Actually, I wasn't getting very adequate sleep before he was born either, so make that about 16 months.

My exam this Friday means I'm starting to stress. A lot. I'm allowed to take my notes with me; for the last two weeks I've been cataloguing these notes to make sure I understand all the topics. I'm weak in a few areas, and I still only have time to study when Franklin's asleep. Which lately isn't much time at all. As a result, I'm ignoring my programming studies until the math exam is over.

I understand it's normal after giving birth, but I've been losing a LOT of hair. Handfuls. When I comb my hair, I try to collect it all and throw it away, but inevitably, not all of it makes it to the proper disposal. I've put Franklin down on the floor to play with his toys, only to find him homing in on a hairball. Not entirely sure if it's approved for the 6+ mos age range.

My latest attempt at being frugal has seen me darning socks. I have managed two darns on two of my socks, both of which are still functioning. When I told him about it, Partner said he learned how to darn from his grandmother (note: I have never witnessed Partner's darnings); I just looked at some pictures on the internet.

My apologies to Beauty, for wanting to kick her two weeks ago. And also for falling down the stairs, hurting my back so that I can't take her on walkies for a while. Sorry, dog!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

I made apple butter. It was super simple (roughly chop apples, cook till pulped, strain out seeds/peels, dump in slow cooker with sugar and spices overnight, bottle). I used five pounds of apples, and finished with two small jars and two big jars of butter. It really reduced down! (but it's possible I overcooked it.) I think it tastes ok--though not as sweet as I thought it'd be.

We had a week of heavy rain, causing all near-ripe tomatoes to split, sadly. Not that there were many, but when you don't get many tomatoes in the first place, every one is precious. Now it's sunny and warmish again: hopefully we'll get some more ripened. I've read that the plants can be pulled up and hung upside down in the garage to finish ripening fruit; if we have an imminent frost, I may try.

Still, with shortening days, production has slowed down for many plants. I've stopped deadheading sweetpeas, in order to get some seeds. I plan on collecting from zinnias and runner beans too.

My first days back at work were all right. Nobody starved to death while I was away, and everyone was glad to see each other when I came home.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

This week everyone at our house (minus dog) has a cold. For some of us (Partner), it's just a snotty inconvenience. For others (Franklin), it's an excuse to stop sleeping. For the rest (me), it's a chance to lose tempers and threaten to kick the dog. As of this post, the dog has not yet been kicked, though I've also come seriously close to picking up and chucking objects that get in my way (Partner's hats fallen on the floor, a basket of clean unfolded laundry, Franklin's stroller...the dog...).

Our patio has been taken over by our nasturtiums. It rather seems like my flowers have been taken over by them as well. I planted lots of flowers in what is now the nasturtium bed. As they self-seed prolifically, I need to pull them up as seedlings or they come creeping over the patio to take over the house. I'm convinced they pulled over the wheelbarrow in their pursuit of total dominion.

I've fallen short of achieving my goals for this month. In accordance with my apple butter making goal, I did score some more free apples: they're still on my counter. I haven't made any cards, and I didn't sort through my wardrobe: only my sock drawer. I blame the last minute push to get my math done. I still have an exam to revise for, but all assignments are submitted. And I start a new class this week, so my workload simply shifts to another subject.

My maternity leave officially ends next week, and I'm going back for two days before that, to get back into the swing of things. I do kind of miss work, if only to see people who don't have snot running down their chins.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Picking, slinging, apples

Despite my best effort to quell the caterpillar uprising, there were still casualties. My patio is littered with little green bodies, yet new damage appears daily on my cabbage seedlings. Not to mention my broccoli; luckily that's well-established enough to withstand it.

My garden duties at the moment consist of picking runner beans by the handful, picking spent sweet peas, and picking caterpillars off various vegetables.

While I've loved Franklin's baby carrier, he's just getting too heavy for me in it. Its designed so that most of the baby's weight is carried on the shoulders like a backpack. Well, Franklin hasn't been weighed in ages but I would venture to say he's around 15 pounds, and that means my back is killing me! I've been experimenting with a wrap sling I made*, and though I need practice tying it, it's a lot easier on my back. Wearing it, most of his weight is on my hip and waist and only a little on my shoulder.

*Literally I just tore a big piece off an old sheet; if you could examine it close up, you'd see dangling strings--maybe I should hem it or something

He rode in his new wrap on our walk today and actually fell asleep in it. He's cuddled asleep on my lap right now because I can't work out how to get it off without waking him.

At the last moment I decided to make apple jelly instead of apple butter. It's a beautiful deep clear red and we had some with our roast pork. If I can score more apples I will make butter.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Jelly fail and butter win, with a dearth of blogtime

I picked loads and loads of wild rosehips, got covered in scratches and thorns, kept picking up earwigs (yucky!), nearly lost the dog, and all I got to show for it was one measly glass of rosehip juice. I felt this was not worth making into jelly, so I've given up on that particular dream. The sugarless juice was kind of tomatoey tasting, by the way. I didn't really feel like drinking it, though I'm sure it would have been wonderful jelly. Had there only been more of it.


The three of us plus doggy drove to London to see the inlaws this weekend, and I brought a jar of lovingly made strawberry jam and a lovingly grown cabbage in order to inveigle some of their apples. Only my plans were set awry by my sister-in-law who I'm told stripped the tree a week ago. Sigh.


On the drive home, we stopped at a rest area to feed the baby and let the dog pee. While walking in the doggy area we saw some beautiful rosy ripe apples, with no one to catch us scrumping* some. I couldn't say for certain how many we picked, but I would venture several pounds. My apple butter is again full speed ahead!

*scrumping: purloining apples

I'm having a tough time keeping on top of regular posting at the moment because Franklin is mobile. Last week I put him down to play in his baby gym, sat down on the bed next to it to read, and five minutes later heard a thumping. I leaned over to see Franklin two feet away from his gym, chewing on the door. My free time is now limited to naptime and bedtime, and sadly, housework, bathing, eating, and sleeping are higher on my priority list than blogging. Sorry.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Caterpillar destruction and jam

Last month's blackfly infestation disappeared as just quickly as it appeared, no doubt partially due to the timely arrival of the Red and Black Brigade, pictured. Would that were the case with the caterpillars. Many many broccoli-destroyers still hunt, despite my efforts to turn them into little green smears. It doesn't help that they are bigger and obviously now baby butterflies. Nor does it help that they are full of slime: squishing them is singularly unpleasant. I can no longer rub them off: I have to pick them off individually and step on them. On the positive side, my broccoli is much more intact than last year's. Negatively, the part they love to eat the best are broccoli heads.

And my baby cabbages, safe from slugs and snails on my garden bench? Not safe from butterflies! Three times I have gone out and rubbed off eggs from nearly every single seedling. I think the butterflies who choose seedlings for their offspring are very irresponsible parents. Don't they know caterpillars need to eat for a couple of weeks before metamorphosing? They'd be lucky if my cabbages lasted a day under their progeny's onslaught.

And the scores in the Jam World Championship:

First round (July 2010):

Strawberry jam: 8 jars.
Second round (August 2010):
Blackberry jam: 8 jars.
Sloe and apple jelly: 4 jars.
Final round (TBA):
Rosehip jelly.
Apple butter.
Other preserves, possibly vegetable based.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Spring cabbage, preserves, knitting

Completely the wrong season to plant cabbage? I think not! These two trays are next year's spring cabbages, to be planted out next month. Right now they live on my patio bench, in hopes that the snails won't discover them. I've had whole trays demolished overnight--nothing but sad little green stems left, and when the leaves are gone, the seedling is doomed.

On a related note, the thrushes have been going snail-mad this summer. Our driveway, barbecue pit, and patio are covered in empty snail houses. I love that sight.

This morning while walking, I brought a basket and picked some wild plums--or possibly sloes--from the hedgerow. Franklin got bored right about the time I stripped all the reachable branches, but the dog was still going strong. I think she could have happily sniffed that tree all day. I don't quite have enough for jam, but I know of another tree in a different hedge which we can visit tomorrow. My blackberries aren't yet picked, but still on the agenda.

I borrowed a fun library book on preserving foods, and apparently there are a lot of wild "berries" which can be jam-ified. I'm particularly intrigued by rosehip jelly; I know where there are several wild rosebushes. And next time we visit the inlaws, I might nick some apples off them for apple butter. But I might not.

I'd been meaning to knit these booties for Franklin for some months now and finally got them finished. Now I want to knit more, only I have a feeling Franklin wouldn't get a lot of use out of them before he starts walking. Still, I might knit them anyway, just cause they're so darn cute.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A big boy, going veggie, with friends

This is my main vegetable patch. Or some of it, anyway. Visible is the broccoli in front, and the potatoes behind. Semi-visible are the cabbages and chard, and nearly invisible are the beets and celeriac. Every day we are scrambling to devour all the green yumminess--we can barely keep up with production rates. I collected a good amount of beet seeds from a few plants left from last year. I won't know till I plant them next year, but won't it be the coolest if they grow?

For many reasons but mainly in a bid to be healthier, Partner and I have cut back a little on eating meat. I doubt we'll become full-time vegetarians any time soon, but we're dipping our toes as part-timers, so to speak. Two or three nights a week sees us consuming non-meat-based meals. Now, instead of buying the cheapest meats at the supermarket, we're trying to buy better-quality locally-reared meat. True, it's more expensive; but if we eat meat less often, the cost evens out.

Big boy Franklin is now five months old and learning to drink from a sippy cup. He thinks it's fun to have a drink of water, but when he gets his milk from it, he gets very serious indeed. Partner has been teaching him to drink, as he'll need to when I go back to work (not for several weeks yet). We decided that we'd rather not introduce a bottle, in case it interfered with breastfeeding. So I'm trying to remember to pump in the evening when Franklin's in bed, and freeze it into cubes for later use. I won't be working full-time, and he will be able to eat a little bit of other foods by the time I do go back--hopefully it'll all work out.

We're about to embark on the messy journey of baby weaning. There are two disciplines in the Way of the Baby Food. First is the spoon-fed puree school of thought. More adventurous is the put newspapers on floor, give baby bowl, and stand clear method. Personally, I think the second sounds more fun (and less time-consuming, as baby can play and eat what you eat, while you eat), though we'll have to see how it goes. Maybe we should get a high chair this weekend.

I met some friends at a cafe a few days ago--the first time I've actually made a date to see people since Franklin's birth. True, I've been to see my friends at work a few times, and I usually pop over to the neighbor's a few times a month, but to sit and drink lattes and gossip...I think I need to do this more often.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Clematis, blackberries, and supermama to the rescue

I couldn't be bothered to reel in the hose before taking this photo of my new arch. Last winter we tore down the old wooden one, and I was unsure if the passionflower and red clematis survived its demise. I can happily report that both did, and though greatly reduced in size, they thrive once more. The clematis even found the impetus to flower; this lovely vine has at most bloomed about ten flowers in a given season. My purple clematis (pictured below) postively drips with flowers over the summer, and my pink one sports more flowers than leaves in spring. I don't know what red's problem is. Also pictured are the sweet peas, orange crocosmia, pink oregano, and many many weeds. I have a love-hate relationship with my weeds. I hate them but they love me.

For the past week I've be reconnoitering all the local blackberry patches. It seems the berries now begin to ripen, but not yet in any great multitude. Some of the patches have very few berries, green or otherwise. I think the lack of regular rain showers has affected their production. Several patches look likely, however. My plans for world domination by jam can proceed.

Franklin has reached the stage where he just wants his mama and no one else will do. Dad is tolerable, but only if Franklin has just had a refreshing nap, been stuffed to the brim, and has a completely dry bum. Every time someone else wants to hold him, his lip start to quiver and he bursts into (real) tears. Even though it can be very draining--I hardly get grown-up time now--I mostly like being the center of his little world. The added bonus of breastfeeding is that I can solve all his problems too. Just got scared by a loud motorcycle/dog sneeze/bump in the stroller? I can fix that. Need to sleep but can't stop wiggling? No problem. Just had the worst time of your life at the doctor, involving three sharp needles? I have exactly what you need.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Squishing, cabbages, and walking

I think these three butterflies finished their life's work and are resting from their labors. I went around a few days ago with gardening gloves, rubbing off any eggs and small caterpillars I could find on my broccoli and cabbage. Partner said, and I agree: it's not as if the hundreds of caterpillars turn into hundreds of butterflies which then stick around our garden. Once they're matured into flying creatures, they take off and we never see them again. Well, except maybe twenty or so which then lay hundreds more eggs...

I felt bad about squishing them, but gritted my teeth and got on with it. I also have a small blackfly infestation which needed rubbing out, too. My garden gloves are looking a little icky.

My big vegetable bed is literally packed with tasties this year. Pictured are my very abundant runner beans (most of which grew from last year's harvested seeds). In a patch of bare earth which previously grew new potatoes (yummy) I planted every last carrot seed I own last week, in hopes that they'll have enough of the season left to grow. I would guess that there were about a hundred seeds. I also have some spring cabbages seeds yet to plant, though at the moment we're up to our ears in cabbage. I asked Partner if he thought it was ok to feed the dog cabbage. We have that much.

In non-gardening news, I am now only ten pounds heavier than my pre-pregnancy weight--meaning I've lost twenty pounds--and fit into pretty much all my clothing (some tight but not uncomfortably so). Except my old button-up shirts. I don't know if I'll fit into them again once I stop breastfeeding, or if my ribcage is permanently expanded. I think breastfeeding and my daily walk have helped me lose the weight.

Walking is great. Franklin usually rides in the sling, to give me that extra workout. (These are the instructions for use on the inside of Franklin's sling. Step twelve is the best; click on the picture to zoom in.) And the dog: she's so obedient now, it almost makes me feel sorry for other dog owners. Sometimes I wonder if I'm too strict with her, but then I see someone else's dog dragging them along on the leash, or yapping uncontrollably, and I get a very smug feeling. I hope it doesn't show on my face.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Jamming, a glut of vegetables, and death to caterpillars

Hooray for jam! I think we had a little over six pounds of berries left when we finally got around to making it. I did a 3/4 ratio of sugar to fruit, cooked it to 105C (about 220F, I think), added a little fresh lemon juice to help with the gelling process, and voila! My stockpot at the back of the stove doubled as a pressure cooker, to help seal the jars once filled. Because we had so many strawberries, we needed two pans to make it all in one go.

And we ran out of jars before we ran out of jam. I'm a bit hit and miss when it comes to saving jars (like mayonnaise or salsa jars) for future use. I ended up having more jars than lids--figures. So the last bit went into a plastic take-away container, and it's the one we're eating first. Yummy.

I think I may have been a little over-ambitious with the cabbage this year. We picked our first head, and it's lasted four meals. So far. There's enough left for another meal. And I'm feeling like I should have planted more carrots. Just started digging them up, and they go so quickly! Beets, too. I ran out of beet seeds, but still have carrot seeds. I could plant more if I do it immediately. And now I'm wishing I planted onion seeds, for spring onions. I have some volunteer garlic (I planted some like three years ago, and its descendants are still there), which makes for lovely "spring garlic:" the stalks are as tasty as the bulbs.

And remember last year's caterpillar invasion? This year's butterflies are laying the preliminary groundwork for a similar attack. I had better nip this threat in the bud, though I feel so bad killing them--butterflies are our friends. However, they spend a lot more time as destructive caterpillars than helpful butterflies, so I must stay strong.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Strawberries for our wedding anniversary

On our sixth wedding anniversary, Partner and I took Franklin to a strawberry farm to pick berries. Of course, baby Franklin is still too little to eat them, but he was quite happy to watch us pick them from his stroller. For about five minutes, that is. If one basket looks more full than the other, it's because Partner held Franklin and took photos while I continued picking: the slacker.

It was a warm day with the perfect combination of sun, cloud, and wind. After picking, we spread our picnic blanket under a shady tree and everyone got something lovely to eat (including the gnats; I'm still a bit itchy).

We picked 10 lbs of berries in total; this labor of love took only 45 minutes. I'm planning on making jam, as soon as I go shopping later today for some sugar and lemons. I'd better get on it quickly: two days later, I think we're down to 8 lbs. Once these berries rest safely in jars, I might like to go back, after a few weeks.

It wasn't incredibly romantic, but it was still lovely and a treat.

More photos, plus some garden pics here:


Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Sweet peas and animal altercations on TV

I'm so proud of my sweet peas. I harvested the seeds last fall, planted them and crossed my fingers this spring, and they've delivered. I tried to harvest seeds from each color; inevitably, there was one color which prevailed (purple in this case) but still a lovely variety. They're now joyfully clambering up the archway to the garden, and walking through them is an aromatic delight.

A few weeks ago, our dog got into an altercation with a cat; as I did not witness it, I have to rely on second-hand accounts. According to these sources, each combatant attempted grievous bodily harm on the other, and it only ended when bystanders broke them up. In other words, the cat scratched the dog, the dog scratched the cat, and Partner hauled the dog away from the car the cat hid under. She's a terrier, and that means she wants to kill small furry things; in her mind, cats fall into this category. Never mind that most cats are the same size or bigger. Ever since, whenever we walk by, Beauty wants to have a really good look underneath that car.

I've just read a book called Remotely Controlled, which is about how TV damages people's (and particularly children's) lives, especially their social skills, not to mention their bodies and self-esteem. Whether or not everything claimed is true, it's still a lot to think about. I had read that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children should not watch any TV until the age of two, and before reading this book, that is what I had planned for Franklin. Now I think I don't want to expose him to any TV ever!

I don't watch much myself--there is one program I look forward to every week, and I almost always end up watching the episode online. So at the moment I watch 45 minutes a week, and this doesn't even involve the actual TV (though it involves a screen, which still counts). Apparently the average person watches four hours a day--that's 12 years over their lifetime! Just think of the time they could spend working on hobbies, or getting fit, or hanging out with friends or family. The book posed the question (and I paraphrase): if on your deathbed you could have back those 12 years to spend with your loved ones, would you say, "No thanks, I'm glad I watched all that TV"?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Produce and nests (my own and birds')

Coming to the realization I haven't posted any garden pics for a while brought me to these two photos. The first: my delicious new potatoes, grown and harvested (and eaten) by me. They went very well boiled then cooled and tossed into a salad.

Secondly: my asparagus. I admit, I did not grow every spear in the photo. But I did grow some of them (can you spot the difference? We couldn't actually tell much difference in taste) if I can get away with saying two is "some." This brings my asparagus harvest for the year to a grand total of seven spears.

We have a blackbird's nest in the shrub right outside our kitchen window. When I stand at the sink washing dishes I can see mama blackbird flying back and forth to feed three greedy chickies. Partner went out to have a look, and from his angle couldn't see anything, but I could see mama blackbird chirping softly on the fence with a mouthful of goodies, waiting for him to lose interest.

I sewed a quick sun hat for Franklin this week. Though it looks big in the photo, it actually fits him quite well. Making things for my baby satisfies a very primal instinct. Rather like mama blackbird and her mouthful of goodies.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Novels, sewing diapers, personal growth

In my head, among many other plans and dreams, lurks a novel. Maybe even several. I've heard it said that everyone carries a novel in their head, and unless committed to paper, it dies with you. Two friends began writing theirs and I have been privileged to read some of each; one is a fantasy, the other a thriller. The main novel in my head is a coming-of-age story, though I have a secondary fantasy drama, possibly a children's book, and a tentative thriller plot. I've been asking people if it's true: do you have a novel (or multiples of such) to write?

For this month, my goal is to make two cloth diapers. I've made one. I cut up an old t-shirt and hoodie, made a few layers, and sewed it up. It functions as well as the bought terrycloth diapers, featuring less bulk; however, it's not as easy to Snappi (red thing in the picture); I will have to rethink my design. Actually, a fitted diaper may be on the agenda. I've got the materials (old t-shirts are great); now I need the time.

The diapers I bought are very adequate (though as I mentioned, bulky), only the plastic covers are a sad let-down. They don't fit snugly and they tear easily; in a word: leakage. I'm on the look-out for new ones, except I've not seen any other kinds. What's an environmentally-conscious mama to do?

I love blogging, and as an individual, I've changed a lot since I began. I have learned a whole lot about writing, photography, marriage, gardening; my confidence has grown, and I've jumped into the deep end of parenting. Having a weekly post motivates me to consider and document the positive in my life; I'm inspired to accomplish my goals and look for the adventure in every-day happenings.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Pheasants and racehorses

This week Franklin and I took my sister and her friend to Brodsworth Hall, our local stately home. We all enjoyed seeing the grand rooms and possessions of the house. During our tour of the gardens we saw these two fine pheasant fellows. They were not as thrilled to see us as we were them.

We also discovered the playground at the Hall. The theme is ships and racehorses, seeing as that's what the original family put their money in; all three of us enjoyed springing on the mechanical racehorses while Franklin watched (with his eyes closed and mouth open) and climbing around the ship's rigging. I was personally a little scared of flying off the horses--they sprung forward and back at an alarming pace--but the two young ladies threw themselves about vigorously, and no one fell off

My garden is now in its first flush of loveliness--time I dusted of my flower vases. I arranged some roses, iris, and daisies on my windowsill; and a jug of lupins and daisies on my kitchen table. Tomorrow I will be brave and unearth some early potatoes. They haven't quite had three months, but I'm hopeful. And so far, we've eaten five asparagus spears. I kind of think that's our lot for the year, but for a first harvest, not too bad.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

From the London zoo, reporting on the weather

Franklin and I had a flying visit to London with my sister and her friend. Those two are still there with Franklin's grandparents. During our trip, we all went to the London zoo--it rocked. Several exhibits we actually entered and walked among the animals: a few aviaries; a rainforest with birds, monkeys, and at least one sloth; and a monkey enclosure. Some monkeys performed tight-rope tricks carrying their babies, right above our heads. So. Cute.

I saw animals I've never seen before--even on tv or in pictures, such as this okapi. A friendly chap, I thought it looked somewhere between a zebra and a giraffe. My understanding: okapi are so shy and skittish, they're almost never seen. This one, however, enjoyed a scratch from a delighted zoo visitor.

From a very hot end of May to a rainy start of June, it seems like the usual British summer so far. Luckily my vegetables love rain, except of course the tomatoes; only time will tell if I made a wise choice in growing them. I think my first cabbages are nearly ready to harvest, we've been eating lettuce for a few weeks, and my early potatoes have some small buds. According to my sources, the potatoes can be eaten when the plants flower. I will report on my success or lack thereof at crunch time. Or in this case, cook time.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Losing weight, in the garden, with visitors

At last all my seedlings are in the ground (hooray!). Except the tomatoes (boo...). Against my better judgment, I again allowed Partner to persuade me to grow a few. This year I think we have five plants. He has promised to plant them himself. Somehow, taking care of a baby takes up all my time; I can only snatch five or ten minutes of gardening time a day. Meaning my seedlings have languished on the patio for the last two or three weeks, waiting for brief window of spare time. Pictured here are my runner beans and bamboo canes for their support, at the site of the old shed.

Flowers I'm growing (from seed, that is--I have a lot more perennials):
  • nicotiana
  • dahlias
  • zinnias
  • cosmos
Vegetables I'm growing:
  • potatoes (early and maincrop)
  • cabbage
  • carrots
  • celeriac
  • beets
  • rainbow chard
  • zuccini
  • tomatoes
  • beans (runner and broad)
  • broccoli
Since Franklin was born I have been actively trying to lose my pregnancy weight. A vigorous walk nearly every day, and I'm slowly working it off. I gained about 30 pounds by the end of my pregnancy, and last I weighed myself (a few weeks ago) I had lost 15 pounds. My maternity jeans are now a bit big on my hips and I can fit into at least one pair of my old slacks.

My sister and her friend are visiting us, but being teenagers, they come across as moody and unsociable. They've been here several days now, but don't make an appearance till after noon, and want to spend their days holed up with the computer. I think I'll have to be a bit more creative about tearing them away from the lures of facebook.

As it is, we'll be going to London for a few days this week. My last time in London, I was with a cousin and had a brilliant time getting completely lost every day. I can only hope these two are as congenial about not knowing where we're going.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The finished cardigan and fluffy balls of cootness

Here is the finished knitted cardigan. I only hope it fits him when the weather turns cold.

Did I mention weather? This morning the dog and I set out at 8am for our walk because it's simply sweltered the past several days. My garden explodes with new season flowers (and weeds) and my early potato plants seem to triple in size every day. Even at such an early hour, our walk was uncomfortably warm: we're not a hot sunny country, rather a cool wet country. When we get a heat wave, it's sticky and humid.

I brought the camera on our walk; I saw something at the pond I've never seen before: a family of coots, complete with brand-new chickies. Cuteness!
Not sure if it's mama coot or daddy coot
but both were present
Click on the picture if you want to melt
at the cuteness

Wild iris at the ponds
One of my favorite paths

The other day I undid my shirt in preparation for breastfeeding and this tumbled down into my lap. I'm not sure where it originated from; either on or in my shirt or possibly in my hair, as I'd been gardening earlier--but wherever it came from, it certainly made me jump. I'd like to say it's a caterpillar, but it looks more like a maggot to me. Yuck!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cushions, hats, and other industry

This past weekend I finished the dog bed I started back in December. I do have a picture of it, but it's downstairs and I can't be bothered right now. It has an inner cushion and a removable cover (with piping!--my first piping attempt, while not a roaring success, was at least not a dismal failure) for washing. I've been saving my fabric scraps, thread and yarn ends, holey socks, and dryer lint for several months; this is what it's stuffed with. As a result the cushion's heavier than if I'd used normal stuffing. This is a good thing: the dog can't pitch it out of her basket like she did with her former pillow. Hopefully she won't chew this one up too.

I also sewed a quick baseball cap for Franklin. We had one but lost it, and all his others are winter hats. I made it from cotton canvas, bias tape, and interfacing. Already he's had compliments from strangers. Actually, he gets a lot of compliments just for existing--I never realized how much people like babies, but when we're out together, I get approached by all sorts: women my age, grandmas, grandpas, dads, little kids... Anyhow, I liked making this hat so much I think I'll make another. The pattern is my own.

Busy bees that we are, Partner and I (mostly Partner) finally tore out the living room carpet. Half of it is now adorning our patio; the rest is cut into decent-sized strips, rolled up, and stacked in the garage. The plan is to use it over winter to keep the bare vegetable beds covered and weed-free. The now-exposed floorboards are actually pretty good looking, though they need scrubbing, sanding, and varnishing.

Just to prove that Franklin does indeed now sleep in his stroller while I garden, here's a picture. I just have to time my gardening activities for when he naps. Yesterday I took my books outside to study while he napped in the shade and was attacked by mad kamikaze aphids. It's impossible to brush them off without killing or horribly maiming them. But my garden is a better place without aphids, and if they commit suicide, all the better for me.