Put Up

This summer was my first real attempt at a vegetable garden. For several years, I'd grown lots of basil and tomatoes in big pots, plus a sweet little herb garden each summer. I'd been held back from a "real" garden by our lead-containing urban soil. This spring, though, I got my dad to help build three giant raised beds, and off I went, enthusiastic but pretty darn unprepared.

Though I grew up with a green-thumbed mom, I only helped at the micro level (Here, help me pick these peas.) I still don't have a good sense of the big yearly rhythm of when to plant what, how to plan a vegetable garden, what to expect, and what to do when.

So, with the gardening season (in our yard, at least) officially over, my assessment is this: I've learned a lot. Some things this year I planted far too late (turns out beets don't like the heat much). Some things I killed altogether without really knowing how (so much for home grown butternut squash). And some things I grew in bizarre, wasteful abundance (next year one row of radishes will do, I think.)

And I've got a lot in mind for next year: I'll grow fewer red peppers (we can't keep up with eating them and don't have a good way of preserving them), fewer radishes, and (as much as we love pesto all year long) less basil. And I'll add some new things: peas, tomatillos, rainbow chard, and another attempt at winter squash.

One goal of this whole thing was to have lots of home grown food to use all winter. Listing what I've got in the freezer and on the shelves, I feel pretty successful in that regard, for year one. Here's what I've put up. Everything but the apples (from a local orchard) grew right in our back yard:

Two big freezer containers of rhubarb sauce.

A quart of dried currants for snacks and baking.

A half-gallon bag of frozen currants for pancakes.

Two frozen bricks of Thai basil pesto.

Lots and lots—like probably fifteen meals' worth—of sweet basil pesto, frozen.

Five half-pint jars of radish relish. (No, we don't eat that much radish relish. Most will go as Christmas gifts.)

A couple of roasted red peppers, frozen, of uncertain quality.

Bunches of dried lavender, sage, oregano, basil, thyme, and rosemary.

Two gallons (broken up into little containers) of frozen tomato sauce.

Two quart jars of sun-dried tomatoes.

Eight pints of applesauce.

And—from all the unused stems, peels, rotten spots, etc. etc.—lots and lots of compost to go into next year's garden.


I stole this from Eva.

Considering I’ve been at this for over four years, I don’t have so terribly many posts hanging out in my ‘drafts’ folder. But a while back Eva treated us to a tour of her draft posts, and it was pretty amusing. I don’t think I can quite reach that level of hilarity, but here’s my list, most recent first:

Title: It’s not who you are, it’s where you are. Or something.
Content: A paragraph about how taking care of little babies is all hands-on, and then a paragraph about my coworker who swears she will never send her son to public school in this city. And then a few words about Ingrid’s awful first dentist visit last spring and about a job offer I recently turned down. This was meant to be about how the main task of parenting ultimately becomes finding the right places for our kids to thrive, even as we keep on trying to figure out the best places for ourselves to thrive.

Title: She did the face.
Content: A photo of a drawing Ingrid made this summer by lying down and having me trace her body on a big piece of paper, then coloring it in. Only the photo didn’t turn out so it mostly looks like a crime scene outline with a big blazing orange sun in the corner, and you can’t see the priceless facial expression she drew.

Title: Put Up
Content: A list of all the produce I’ve canned, dried, and frozen from our garden and CSA this summer. Huh. Maybe I’ll post this one soon.

Title: What’s so funny?
"I believe I have cracked open one of the great mysteries of parenting.
The mystery: Why do people do it?
The answer: From the outside, the most horrible parts of it look FUNNY."

Title: Teeth
Content: A long, long thing about Ingrid’s horrible first dentist appointment, which I’ve tried and failed to write about in many contexts. It just ends up too long and hard to explain.

Title: Maybe it’s the weather.
Content: A day-by-day replay from about a year ago, showing me slipping into the horrible post-partum winter blues, including running into the Perfect Mom at the library, taking Iris to the doctor on the wrong day, and then taking her on the right day but forgetting my wallet. At the time I thought it sounded too whiny to post, but from here it looks almost funny.

Content: “There's the mama who dances around the kitchen holding her daughter's hands, making up verse after verse to the tune of Everybody clap your hands. And then there's the mama who hears still-awake cranky Ingrid crying over the baby monitor, slams the cheese grater down on the kitchen counter, and yells, She can just cry it the fuck out.”

Title: The Bottle
Content: None.
(I must have meant to write about our early successful attempts to give Iris bottles of pumped milk.)

Title: Switch Hitter
Content: I assert that my boobs switched roles (overproducer / underproducer) when I started nursing a second baby, and give several theories as to why this might have been true. (I don’t believe this was actually true, though. Or it’s not anymore, anyway. Maybe I’d mixed up my right and left momentarily?)

Title: On Joining the Crowd
Content: “Strange indeed.” Then several blank lines and “Buying a House.” This was almost four years ago, and I have no memory of what I was thinking.


Comeback, and Calls

It's hard to start posting again after drifting off into non-blogging land. It's like I should be coming back with something really fantastic, or at least some sort of update or reason.

It's not (just) that I've been on Facebook all the time instead of writing blog posts. I have been on Facebook a lot, to my embarrassment, even though some people make a beautiful case for the literary merit of genres that limit composition length. Other than that, all my juice has been going to poems. I've been preoccupied with planning an event for work, the kind of task that always takes up more of me than it should. I've been unable to think of anything to write that doesn't sound dreadfully in character. I've been swooning, weirdly, over Colin Powell (nervous-but-eloquent changes of heart get me every time) and fantasizing that there's still time—if I get going right now—for me to be one of Malcolm Gladwell's late bloomers.

This weekend, A has taken the girls to grandma's, and I am here in the house alone for two days. Two days alone for the first time since May 2005. There is a lot to relish: breakfast in the quiet. Perpetual household neatness. Walking out the door without caring exactly when I'll return. The unexpected? I miss them. I expected to feel guilty (I do) and worried about Iris, who is without me for the first time ever and can't possibly understand (I am, and she's fine). But, unexpectedly, I miss them and want them here. And also, I have learned the following:

1. I blame my moods on my kids. HORRIBLE! Here, alone, I feel, on occasion, aimless or agitated or a little sad, and I think: If they were here I'd think I felt this way because I needed to be away from them. Yi iiikes. Horrendous. This break is worth it for that insight alone.

2. When I am out in the world alone and reasonably well-groomed and in a peaceful frame of mind? Men talk to me sometimes. As though I am of interest. I have no interest, really, in being of interest, but I hadn't noticed until now how being with—or preoccupied with—children renders me invisible to a whole (mostly creepy, but still) segment of the population.

Learning aside, I'm flying around the house organizing winter clothes, vacuuming behind things, canning applesauce, leaving poetry books in convenient spots where they remain rather than being carried around to unexpected places by cute little nascent object-carriers. This morning instead of slogging out of bed before six as usual I stayed asleep until 8:30 and dreamed that A and I were renewing our marriage vows and Barack Obama was officiating. He was splendid, and sang a lovely solo as well. I wore a white dress with a red corduroy coat over it.

And I spent a chunk of this afternoon, due in no small part to shannon's prodding a few weeks back, making calls for Obama, using one hand to hold the phone and the other to beat back my tongue-tied shyness and doubts about whether it could make a difference. Several people hung up on me, and one guy said, Yes, I know who I'm going to vote for but I'm not going to tell you who it is. My longest conversation was with an 85-year-old woman who was in the middle of baking cookies and who told me she doubted it mattered who she voted for.

When no one answered (often), I left a message: I'm a volunteer for Barack Obama's campaign. I'm a mom with two little kids and a job and a lot to do, and I'm using part of my weekend to connect with other voters and share my belief that Obama is the candidate who can be the leader we desperately need right now. I hope you'll vote with me. Thanks for your time.

I don't know if it will make a lick of difference, but leaving those messages felt like it could matter. I'm not the most articulate political talker, and who hasn't made up their mind already by now? But maybe somewhere out there is someone who just needs to hear one more respectful, passionate voice before they sway that way. Or who would be pushed, themselves, into some sort of action, knowing that someone like me is moved to pick up the phone. Anyway, if you're so inclined, it's easy to do. Worst case, you discover that you can survive being hung up on after all.

I leave you with this, which cracks me up even though of course I will vote:


Happy University

It’s been a long time since “a dollar an hour per kid” made me a rich tweenager, and the cost of babysitting now makes me suck my breath in every time. We’re feeling the burn of double day care payments and fifty other increased expenses, and as worried as anyone about our financial future, but lately our usual friends-and-family sitters have been unavailable for one reason and another, so over the past couple of months we've ended up paying for babysitting several times. The extravagance is enough to make me almost grind my teeth down.

But how fantastic to leave the house with A, practically empty-handed, walk in silence down the steps, open and close two car doors, and drive away together.

Saturday was A’s and my sixth anniversary. Ingrid’s old teacher, T, came at 5:30, fed the girls dinner, played with them a bit, and put them to bed. We went to a new Indian restaurant in the neighborhood, and I (swaggering a little before the young waiter who questioned my ability to handle the heat) ate a meal of chicken vindaloo that threatened to sear a layer of skin out of my mouth and esophagus. We discussed what would happen if we both lost our jobs. (“We’d still love each other!” I gushed, grabbing for my ice water again. “We could live in my parents’ basement!”) We progressed to a new-ish neighborhood bar, where the greatest hits from our junior high years were playing, and A convinced me to order a Belgian beer that came in a round-bottomed glass with a wooden stand.

“Do you notice how it’s staying cooler that way?” he asked, when I was about a third of the way into it.

“No, but I notice I am getting very drunk.” It turns out I have become even more of a lightweight than I used to be.

Rumor has it that this year will bring the seven-year itch. “What do you think that involves?” A asked.

In our relationship, there is one person with itchy, dry skin, who does a lot of scratching in the privacy of her home. And one person who doesn’t even scratch his own mosquito bites and can’t bear the sound and sight of the scratching. I am the scratcher. “Lots of scratching,” I answered. “Probably lots of scratching.”

Ingrid, it turns out, loves it when T comes over. After three weeks of T taking care of the girls while A was traveling and I was at poetry class, she was a little disappointed that Daddy would be the only adult around while I was at class yesterday, and confused about why T wasn’t coming.

“Mama, when will you and Daddy go to your university again?”

Aaah, right. Five syllable word with “versuh” in the middle. “Probably soon, kiddo. Probably sometime soon.” As soon as we can afford it.


Facing the Book

OMG. I want to tell you about a fabulous web site. You post your profile, and you can search for your old friends by school and class year. People post pictures and all kinds of things about themselves, so you can see that guy you had a mad crush on when you were sixteen is now a paunchy lawyer in a red state. And then you can become “friends” with people you know, and post updates on what you’re doing, and make jokes with each other. It’s like blogging, only you don’t have to write so much, and the people you’re talking with, you actually know in real life. And apparently it is also possible, within this fabulous new web site, to play some form of Scrabble.

So. Erm. That’s where I’ve been. I’m not sure what I’m more embarrassed about: spending so much time there this week, or having taken so long to come around to checking it out. Save me.

I continue to feel like a superhero for navigating daily life with two little girls without (much) trauma. We get where we need to be, we eat (relatively) healthful meals, the house is (relatively) clean, the laundry’s done, the new tabs are on the license plates. The girls’ fingernails are even clipped. And it usually only takes five or six tries to get Ingrid to stay in bed at night and go to sleep.

A gets back on Friday and oooh boy am I looking forward to it. These trips of his are instructive for me. They reveal my deep many-armed mama-goddess nature … something every mother deserves to get more in touch with. But, man, life is just more fun with him here. Aside from me getting to sometimes take a shower with no one else in the bathroom. Aside from sometimes getting to sleep in. Everything is more enjoyable when he’s around. Two more days!