Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Best Cabin Ever

A couple weeks ago, we took a family adventure to a cabin over in the hills near Winthrop. The Rendezvous Huts are somewhat well known as the ultimate cross country skiing experience in the winter - 5 huts with miles of ski trails between them. Just last year they decided to open them up for rental during the spring & fall. During the winter you have to ski to even reach them and your gear is carted up on a snowmobile. Lucky for us, everything is connected by forest service roads in the summer.

When we got to the last turn off to our cabin, it was not marked in any way ("take the first right after the cattle guard") and the very primitive road seemed to go on forever to who knows where. Finally we spotted the hut, perched on a hill overlooking the Methow valley. No civilization in sight (the nearest cabin is aprox 1 mile away and hills hide winthrop, mazama, etc)

It was awesome. Ok, a little panicky at first because it was getting dark quickly and we had to figure out how to turn on the propane lights & stove so we could cook our dinner. Did I mention the hut has no running water, no refrigeration - but does have an outhouse, a wood stove stocked with firewood and a huge propane tank for a couple lights & the stove? Awesome. After dinner we sat outside and marveled at the stars & full moon. When we woke up the next morning, we were greeted with snow dusted peaks out the whole wall of windows opposite our beds.

So pretty. After a hearty breakfast we hiked from our hut down into the valley. Supposedly there are "miles of singletrack" bike trails, but the one near us was sort of steep, so me & the kids left the bikes behind. There was also supposed to be a lot of wildlife in the area (bears, cougars, deer) but all we saw were lots of cows. The cabin is on leased DNR land and apparently they also lease the land to cattle farmers. We met some who were rounding up the cattle to bring them in for the winter (wearing cowboy hats & riding horses) and had a good chat about what happens to the meat. The cows are out there for about 6 months of their lives - spring till fall, then the calves get shipped to feed lots where they live for about a year before they are harvested. Sometimes the owners sell to Painted Hills - a high end producer in Idaho, but this year the cows were headed to a mega (dare I say "factory farm"?) place in Oklahoma. Crazy that it makes more (financial) sense to ship them that far then have them stay nearby. And crazy that these pasture raised cows were just going to a mega packhouse instead of being "high end". Anyways, I digress.

We spent our two days hiking, riding bikes and just hanging out. It was so relaxing & amazing. Winthrop was about 15 -20 minutes away, so we went their for lunch & ice cream one day too.

This adorable girl kept telling me all weekend that "I don't look pretty!" because I refused to pack her any skirts or dresses and she had to wear ugly purple velour sweat pants for riding her bike & hiking. Sigh. (did I mention she said it in tears, many times, often while screaming and kicking her legs on the floor every time I had her get dressed?)

My favorite time was when Saben & I went off together to try and reach the top of this big hill behind our hut (seen below...kyle climbed & biked down it a few times). He has finally reached the age where he can do some real hiking. We went up and up the steep slope for 20 minutes, stopping for views and with me yelling silly things constantly to scare the bears away. I couldn't believe how far up he went and we never did reach the top since we hadn't really told kyle where we were going and I didn't want him to worry.

We had great weather - cold & crisp at night, which made the fireplace oh so cozy. Then sunny during the day and our last night a gorgeous rainstorm moved through right at sunset. I could have stared at the clouds & changing light for hours, but played a round of Uno with the family instead. I don't think you'd actually want to go in the heat of summer, much cozier in the fall or spring.
I also wouldn't take kids much younger than ours. It would be easy for a little one to roll down the hill outside next to the deck, plus you have the hot wood stove and lots of ladders to worry about. Our kid's ages were ideal - 4 & 6. There is also a sleeping loft that had some pads in it, so theoretically you could fit 7-10 people. But that is with people getting pretty cozy on some of the larger sleeping mats. And in the loft, there is no rail around the "stair hole" so youngsters could maybe slip through in their sleep. And its super hot up there when the fire is going.

Basically the cabin is like camping without having to pack so much. And it is more isolated than any campground and even than a lot of backpacking locations. Its clean - but not spotless. Dead bugs were around, even in some of the dishes that hadn't been used in a while. But if you can handle that, the view & isolation more than make up for it.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Annika in the Morning

I have been living in the dark ages and just now finally taught myself how to use picasa. You don't even want to know the tedious things I was doing prior in order to publish pictures. For some reason I just didn't have it in me to learn new technology until now. I would open picasa, stare at it and then close it again. Then a couple nights ago I figured it out in just 5 minutes and felt like an idiot for wasting so much time.

But...it works now and it is so much easier to post pictures on my blog. Hopefully this means I'll be writing here more!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Very very true story

Mommy: Annika, tell daddy about the horsey you saw that you want for your birthday!
Annika: You mean the beautiful horsey with shiny wings and a horn and a button you push that makes it talk?
Daddy: It talks! What does it say?
Annika: I don't know!
Daddy: Well that's silly! You should push the button, what if it says something silly?
Saben: I remember what it says! It says "Hey devil woman, I am going to cut your poop in half!"

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

brief update


Has his first loose tooth, bottom front left. We noticed it about 3 weeks after his sixth birthday.

Is reading like crazy. He can easily read those level two readers these days. It was slow at first, but once it clicked in his brain, he just took off.

Is turning into a pest like his daddy. He is always poking, hitting, & trying to play little jokes on me. I always say "why don't you try doing the dishes for attention instead?" just like I used to tell Kyle.

Wants to play the drums

Is still obsessed with a capital "O" with star wars and legos.

Loves collecting bugs outside

Is quite nervous about his choir concert tomorrow night. It is so cute.


Just graduated from her first year in preschool.

Has her first dance recital in three weeks. She LOVES dance class. We will have to wait and see whether she actually manages to dance in the recital.....

Loves to help me cook dinner. I need to do better at finding her jobs.

Has already ridden saben's big race bike. She got a flat on her little 12" beginner bike, so Kyle took her out on the big one. She prefers the handbrakes and got pretty good at it, but it scares mommy to death when she gets going fast, so she got the 12" bike fixed.

Still adores her buddy Riley, but has managed to make a couple other good friends this year too.

Still throws fits a lot for no apparent reason. : )

Loves to sing to herself and make songs up.


Ok, I know its been forever and I have completely slacked off on my blog. We even passed my five year blogging anniversary without note. I have just been feeling so busy and completely fulfilled with not writing the blog. Its only those adorable amazing moments in my kids life that I worry about not jotting down. Maybe that post will come tomorrow night.....

But for today, I put some new recipes that I have been LOVING lately over on my blog - Rice Bowls. These have been revolutionary for me & the way we use leftovers in our family. I love them once a week for dinner and often have them for lunch now. And I have never been happier eating my raw veggies. Check it out!

p.s. All credit for the "rice bowls" idea goes to my friend Adriana. I have no idea why it never occurred to me to make something like these before, but I am so grateful she taught me such a simple idea.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Growing Edibles - What to grow, Early Spring

I am going to go over the very first things you can stick in your garden each spring. These things all love the cool rainy weather and can handle early spring frosts. In a warmer year, you might be able to put seedlings of these in your garden by the first week of march.

The biggest thing I factor into my early spring garden is pests and how to avoid them.

First though, a caveat. Everyone's garden is different and every year is different. To some extent you have to just experiment to see what things you are able to grow in your own garden.

Just because I get horrible nasty aphids on my Kale, does not mean you will. I have LOTS of pests in my neighborhood & in my garden. Way more than I ever had in Seattle. So take all my advice with a grain of salt. If you love something, give it a try,and don't be discouraged if it doesn't work for you the first time. There are so many tricks that can overcome problems in your garden.

Spring planting - beat the offenders (eat it before they do)

Slugs, aphids, white fly, cabbage worm, carrot rust fly and beetle root maggots are my worst offenders. Right now, there are virtually no pests in my garden except slugs, because of the cold weather. In a month or so all the little buggers will get much more active and start to find my veggies.

I try to plant my pest vulnerable plants as early as possible so that I can harvest them early before pests get the upper hand and I am forced to toss them in the compost heap. The nice thing is that by the time pests get all crazy, it is time to plant your summer crops - tomatoes, basil, zucchini - so it is never too sad to get rid of the spring green goodies.

In general, pests do not bother strong flavored veggies as much as sweet tender ones. That is why herbs, arugula, mustard, garlic & onions are easier to grow. Everything on the following lists can be planted now (mid to late march) - either by starts or by seeds. Seeds are a bit riskier - if we get a stretch of cold rainy weather with no sunny days, they might not sprout, but you are pretty safe by April.

I am happy to report that my Mizuna sprouted last week, first seeds of the season!

Most of the things on these lists can take some light frost & cold nights. Our official "last day of frost" isn't until the beginning of May, but all these plants should do fine regardless.

Easiest (no pests, high yield)

Snap Peas (or any peas)





Mizuna (salad green)


Medium (not too hard to grow, might get worms in them)





Pesty (but still worth planting!)




Other salad greens like radicchio, amaranth, corn salad (mache), etc.

Artichoke starts

Almost not worth bothering

Broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, cauliflower (Along with Kale, they all belong to the "brassica" family and have the same pest problems - aphids, white fly, cabbage worms)

Things I have never grown
and TONS of other things

* These are a bit more difficult because they go to seed quickly and you have to replant them every 3-4 weeks to have a continuous yield


If you want the highest chance of success, start with herbs & snap peas.

Snap peas
These are the fat juicy ones where you eat the whole thing, pod & all. It is hard to get really good snap peas at the grocery stores, so they are top of my veggie garden list for being easy & worth the work.

My snap peas usually produce peas from about June - mid July and then they get a virus and die. Which is fine. When the plants turn yellow, just pull them out to make room for something new.

It is also nice to plant snap peas a couple different times in the spring to spread the harvest out longer. So if you are buying starts, plant one pot now, then plant another one in late April or so. With any luck you'll get a couple extra weeks of harvest.

Herbs are one of the easiest things to grow pest free, are expensive at the grocery stores and add amazing depth to anything you make. I secretly think eating lots of them makes me super healthy. I am convinced they will be the new "blueberries" (superfoods) of the future. I love herbs so much, I will do an entire post soon, devoted just to them.

For now, the best early spring ones to stick in your veggie beds:

This is easy to grow from seed, or just buy a start of it. You really just need one clump of 2-3 plants, whenever I use seed, I get way too many plants and have to pull most of the babies out and toss them in my salads.

Parsley I planted in late summer in Seattle often survived all winter and I could eat it from fall until summer when it went to seed. If you plant it in spring, it will go to seed in the summer. I prefer the taste and texture of flat Italian leaf parsley.

Cilantro & Arugula
Both of these are generally pest free, but need to be planted about every 3-4 weeks if you want to be able to keep eating them for an extended time. Both of them only stay tasty for a few weeks before they go to seed. (cilantro is tasty while flowering, but dies back once seed is made. Arugula is horrible when it grows up to flower) Definitely buy seeds for both of these.

I highly recommend seeding this in, it is so easy and delicious. Less peppery than Arugula, but with a more assertive flavor than sweet lettuce.

I would buy a pot of seeded onion starts or perhaps sets. I grew them once from seed too and that worked pretty well. You can harvest them young for green onions, or let them grow all summer and bulb.

Super duper easy, except that you have to hang it to dry if you want it to store all winter. Never get pests except for the occasional earwig hiding amongst the cloves. However, I do not recommend planting it now unless you are trying to grow "green garlic" (like green onions). It really needs to get in the ground by January.

Also, don't bother planting starts of garlic. And entire head at the farmers market (a good place to find varieties that grow well in your area) will cost a buck or so and will yield 6-10 garlic heads next year. (one head per clove)

I suggest finding a couple interesting varieties at the farmers market, then in October, plant all the biggest cloves. They will grow all winter and you harvest them in aprox. July. Garlic probably needs its own separate tutorial actually, but it is very foolproof once you get the hang of it.


I put all the root vegetables in the medium category because they often get wormy. If you catch the worms (they are teeny and leave an obvious dark path through the veggie) early enough, you can just cut off the portions with the worm holes and eat the rest.

I'm not going to go through each root vegetable, but a few tips
  • Eat root veggies small - the longer they are in the ground the wormier they will get. Baby carrots are delicious!
  • Radishes are one of the fastest growing veggies around, good for avoiding worms and fun for kids to get quick gratification from planting seeds
  • I don't get nearly as many worms in my potatoes (compared to carrots), but I know some people have problems with it.
  • I've never actually grown beets, I'm just guessing they are a lot like carrots.

All the sweet salad greens
Two tips for getting the best harvest from your salad greens
1. Plant early, eat them young
2. Go on bug/slug patrol

You can start eating lettuce leaves when they are only a couple inches long. Harvest 1-2 leaves per plant and it should keep producing more leaves until it gets super hot & dry. I like to space my lettuces apart so they can actually grow to head size eventually (love the tender inner leaves), but some people just plant them densely and cut them to the ground when they are only 3 inches high for "baby salad mix". That works too and they should regrow 2-3 times using this method.

The best prevention I have found for pests is picking them off (slugs) or picking off infected leaves. As soon as I spot a leaf with aphids or white fly, I pick it off and throw it away. You can also spray the aphids off with a stream of water sometimes. The key is spotting the buggers before they proliferate to plague proportions. Once aphids get the upper hand, it is worth it to just pull the plant out so they don't spread to other plants.


This time of year you will see artichoke starts at the nursery. They are easy to grow, but take up a lot of room. Luckily, they look pretty cool as an ornamental plant and being related to the wild thistle, they don't require the same pampering as many other veggies.

Artichokes need a 3 ft sq space at least and will eventually get 6 feet tall then they are flowering. The part you eat is actually a flower bud, but if it gets buggy, as mine sometimes do, you can just let it go to flower and it is gorgeous.

Each plant will produce for 3-5 years, so pick a permanent spot in your yard for them.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My Girl

My girl rides like the wind....

Annika's first bike riding, 3 years 8 months

And I am so proud of her!
And terrified. I took these last week when she was still puttering along. The last few nights we've gone out and she is bound and determined to keep up with her brother. Last night she rode off a curb into the street when she tried to stop. No cars coming thankfully, but did I mention she didn't even crash as she jumped off the curb and completely landed it?

When Saben learned, he was in complete control, all the time. We have to encourage and push him to try new daring things. Annika just sort of goes for it. We did have to go around the block quite a few times holding her shoulders, but once she figured out she could do it herself, she screams "I can do it myself!!!" whenever we try to help her. She doesn't stop very well and spends about 50% of the time looking like a crash is immanent. But she doesn't crash and actually has phenomenal balance. And goes way to fast, trying to keep up with Saben & Daddy when they ride together.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Growing Edibles - Seeds vs. Seedlings

So now you have your gorgeous raised beds and they are begging to be filled. You might start ogling seed packet racks at Lowes or drool over a huge seed catalog you got in the mail. I recommend staying far away from both of them if you are a new gardener.


If you are growing in the Pacific Northwest, I want you to go to Territorial Seed Company right now and order a catalog from them. The information that is printed about growing each variety will be super helpful to you, even if you never order seed from them.

Territorial is located in southern Oregon and specializes in seeds for gardeners in our climate. By "our climate" I mean a cool growing season. Yes, we get a couple hot months, and thankfully our evenings stay relatively warm compared to mountain regions, but we just don't get enough sunlight, even in summer, to easily grow many heat loving veggies. So right now, please cross these veggies off your list: Eggplant, most peppers, melons, okra

Someday, you might want to experiment with these and that is fine. But not for your first couple years and not if you are tight on space. In fact, if you have small raised beds, also cross winter squash and pumpkins off your list, they are huge plants that will fill your entire bed with only a few fruits per plant.

Now that your list is shorter, you can peruse the catalog and read whatever you like. But don't order anything yet.


For the new gardener, it is much easier to buy vegetable seedlings if you can find a source for cheap, good quality ones. Bellingham is blessed in this regard. Joe's Gardens has an incredible selection of seedlings. Not only that, they only put out ones that are appropriate for the season and they generally only sell ones that perform well here. The staff is super friendly and knowledgeable and all this is for only $1.39 per pot - which is usually 6 plants or up to 20 for onions & peas.

Joe's starts are also sold at Haggens and the Food Co-op, but if you go directly to Joe's, they are usually a tad cheaper. They are grown without pesticides but Joe's does use a chemical fertilizer on all their plants.

If you live somewhere else, try nurseries, farm supply stores or farmers markets. Remember these guidelines and ask the people working at the store if you are unsure about their plant quality:

1) Plants need to be "hardened off" which means they have been outside, overnight in your locale, not lounging about in a greenhouse. The shock of going from warm greenhouse to cold raised bed will stunt their growth or even kill them.

2) Plants for most things should be young and stocky NOT outgrowing their pots or looking spindly. For spring plants, they should all be tiny. Summer plants like tomatoes & peppers can be larger, but should be in a large pot.

3) Choose a place that cares about your success and does not carry plants that don't grow where you live.

The benefits of seedlings are these:

1) You can plant earlier in spring. Seeds don't germinate well in the cold wet spring, but if you put in seedlings, they will start growing roots and will take off as soon as the weather warms even slightly. Planting & harvesting early is vital to avoiding pests that come out in swarms late spring/early summer.

2) In the summer, you don't have to remember to water your seed bed everyday to keep it moist for germination. (I can't tell you how many times I've screwed this one up)

3) You don't have to over seed and then thin out your plants, you just plant exactly how many you want, spaced out how you want and are done with it.

1) you don't get to pick the exact variety you want - less choice

2) Overall cost is a bit more

Most seedling trays come with more than one plant. Be sure to tease each plant apart and plant them spaced out appropriately. Don't worry if you break a few roots, this should only take a couple minutes. If spacing info is not on the tag, this would be a good time to get out your Territorial catalog and read the correct spacing for whatever you are planting.


You can not buy starts for everything, some things - i.e. root crops - do not like to be transplanted. Also, for things that are small, that you need a lot of - i.e. arugula plants - seeds will be much cheaper.

So for those of you crying about not getting to pick out gorgeous seed packs, there is hope! Even better, for most root crops, you can buy any brand and any variety you want. Go crazy! Rainbow hued carrots? French breakfast radishes? Golden beets? Go for it.

But whatever you do, you must PROMISE me, do NOT start any seeds in those cute magical jiffy pellets indoors. (or in any pot indoors) Someday, yes, you might want to try it. But starting seeds indoors is really hard. You must have a grow light of some sort. Sunny windows will not cut it. Worse, you must gradually introduce them to living outside which means days of moving them in and out, in and out of the house. Seed starting is not for busy moms who are just starting to garden.


If you really truly can not find a reputable and cheap source for seedlings, go ahead and start your spring crops from seeds, sown directly into your garden bed. Some good easy bets for this are lettuces, snap peas, herbs, green beans, kale, zucchini, etc. Plus all the common root vegetables. The only ones to stay away from are the ones I already crossed off your list, plus tomatoes. You must buy tomato plants to have any hope of getting ripe ones in our climate.

Don't worry, I will go through the pros & cons of a bunch of common vegetables in a future post and tell you when to plant them (very important) and what to watch out for when picking the varieties.

Again, I recommend purchasing from Territorial Seed, but there are many good brands at nurseries. You won't be able to start your garden quite as early using seeds, but since you get so many in a packet, it is fine to experiment. Plant a little batch and see if they sprout. After a few years you will get a good sense for how warm it needs to be for them to germinate.

Really, planting seeds is not hard at all, just read the packet and stick them in according to the directions. Pay careful attention to spacing and do not ever plant the whole pack of seeds. Most seed packets are huge and last me at least 3 years. Seeds do go bad and stop sprouting, so don't keep them more than three years.

Seeds need to stay moist to germinate. In the spring, I rely almost exclusively on rain to do this for me unless we get a surprise warm dry spell. In the summer, they need to be sprinkled almost daily, especially if they are planted shallow.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Growing Edibles - Winter & Early Spring

A picture of my raised beds so you get an idea of what I explained yesterday

I am going to do two types of posts for my garden guide - ones that tell & show you what I am doing right now in my garden, and ones that delve into specific topics, like what to grow & when to grow it, exactly how to fertilize, etc. So don't despair if all the details you want are not here.


First, I'm going to back track and start our growing season calendar in October, (or November...or even December when I am super late) with the first (and some in my family might say most important) task of the year - planting garlic.

Each fall, I clean out the tomato bed (they die early) and stick garlic cloves in an entire bed. They poke their tips out of the ground during the winter and as soon as it starts to warm up, they are off and running.

I don't touch my garden again until about February. In February, on one of those lovely rare warm days, I spend an hour cleaning out anything left that is dead and picking out weed seedlings. The kids then help me spread "all purpose organic Whitney Farms fertilizer" (found at Fred Meyers) over all the beds. (they list how much to use & instructions on the back of the box). We sprinkle it around and then rake it in. I spray it with some water if we're not expecting rain.

I like to do this early so the fertilizer gets a chance to start breaking down & releasing nutrients as soon as it gets warm. Organic fertilizers take longer to start releasing nutrients compared to chemical ones. This provides a nice even base of nutrients for anything I plant in March.

In March, as soon as we get a few warm days, I go buy some veggie seedlings from Joe's Gardens. My seedlings might not grow very fast until it warms up, but they are there, waiting, growing nice roots and are ready to go at the first sign of sun.

For early spring this year, I chose snap peas, kale, romaine lettuce and broccoli. For about $6, I was able to almost fill two beds with seedlings.

Pea seeds are notorious for rotting instead of sprouting. This is about 1/10th of the pot I bought.

Spacing your plants can be hard until you get to know how big your plants will get. I screw it up all the time, especially if I buy more than what I have space for. The nice part is that if things get too crowded, you can just eat a head of baby lettuce so there is more room for the others. In fact, I often squeeze them purposefully so I don't feel bad harvesting a few things early. Baby veggies are delightful.

I also have quite a few things in my beds that either live there full time (chives) or self seeded from the year before (parsley, cilantro, sorrel, chervil).

There is one plant I grow from seed that does extremely well in the cold spring - Mizuna. You may not have heard of it, but it is common in baby salad mixes. It is actually a type of mustard, but if you harvest it young, it is mild, delicious, prolific, easy to harvest (clean) and I didn't see a single bug on it last year. Much easier for salads than mud splattered lettuces that get plagued by slugs & aphids.

Here is my first bed that I planted yesterday:

First, notice that I put the tall snap peas in the back. (the north side of the bed) They are actually a "bush" variety which means they will be shorter and don't need tall poles to grow up. Always plant tall things in the back (north) so they won't shade short things. Kale gets quite large, but I harvest mine as baby leaves for salads, they will get covered in aphids by the time they get huge. I just rip them out when that happens.

The garlic on the right was just planted in February and is densely packed. It will be for a spring treat called "green garlic". You harvest it before it bulbs and treat it just like green onions. I generally throw mine on the grill whole or chop up some leaves and toss them in a salad like chives. We can most likely start eating it by mid April.

In this bed there are more self seeded herbs and another patch of snap peas. I always plant my leftover pea plants in a special spot and harvest the tender pea shoot tips & tendrils to toss in salads. They are so yummy! You just pinch off the softest new growth, leaves, tendrils & all. Even blossoms sometimes! Generally they will never grow big enough to produce peas if I keep on top of harvesting the shoots. This little patch should give me enough sprouts to toss into salads for weeks and are soooo easy.

I am not sure if I should have planted that broccoli. It gets covered in aphids so easily, but I grew some last fall once it cooled off and had a couple delicious bug free heads. So it is an experiment to see if I can get heads before the bugs go crazy. I will let you know how it goes.

I planted red romaine and have some more lettuce varieties I will plant seeds for in a couple weeks. The seeds are leftover from last year, but I think from now on I will just buy starts and not mess with seeds.

The sorrel is sort of a silly thing I grow - each spring I make a batch of sorrel soup, just for fun. I also toss a few leaves in salads, but they are quite lemony flavored and strong. Chervil is a french herb that I also like to toss in salads. I let some go to seed last year and a ton of it sprouted and survived the winter. The flowers are also pretty & delicious in salads.

I told you, I adore my spring salads, and what I really love is having all sorts of wonderful, unique things to throw in them. Herbs, flowers, lettuces, other greens....I just pick a few leaves of each thing and toss them all together. This way, I slow the growth of my lettuces by plucking baby leaves and then still get a head at the end when it gets really warm and they get huge quickly.
Lastly, my huge bed of garlic. We are still eating last years harvest. The chive plant is a perennial which means it doesn't die. It dies back each winter, but re-sprouts in spring and lives in that corner permanently. I love chives & chive flowers in my spring salads.

I should also be planting potatoes right now, but I sort of forgot and then realized my beds were full. I am supposed to be getting another bed (or 3) this spring, but we can't agree on where to put it (or them).

These are my favorite gardening gloves. They are so soft, its like you are not even wearing gloves at all. They are only $8 or so (find them at Garden Spot and lots of other places) and keep your hands clean. I love getting my bare hands in the dirt, but when your kids come running up with a poopy diaper, it is nice to not have to scrub your hands before you touch them.

For leafy crops like kale, broccoli and lettuce, I sprinkle around a high nitrogen fertilizer. Yes, it is made from blood and no, my plants don't turn into vampires. It sort of stinks if it blows on your clothes and animals sometimes dig in my beds after I use it. Once my dog ate a bunch. But it works great. I will go more into fertilizers in another post.

While I got all this done (about 40 minutes of work) Saben built a swimming pool and beach for ants. (really. that is what he told me it was)

Growing Edibles - Garden Beds

I am going to write a post (or two or more?) about my approach to vegetable gardening. People ask me all the time for gardening book recommendations and I have yet to find one that is

a) not completely overwhelming for someone who wants to grow veggies for the first time
b) appropriate for our climate
c) appropriate for small urban lots

Plus, the added benefit of my guide is that it is perfect for moms who are short on time and also want to delight the kiddos.

Tender Babies
One thing I think most people don't realize at first is that veggies are the weird mutant weaklings of the plant world. Most of the seeds you will buy would never survive out in the wild alone. We humans have created them and they need our loving care to flourish.

When you plant a native grass, a dogwood tree, or even daisies - these are tough plants only a few generations removed from their wild siblings - they need very little care.

Vegetables on the other hand have been bred for years & years to create freakishly huge reproductive organs for us to eat in a relatively short period of time. On the one hand this helps them because we keep growing them, but they are completely reliant on us and need lots of help to grow into what we expect them to be. (shiny, huge and perfect like the pictures on seed packets)

But the babies (like most babies) are worth it
So don't go into it thinking you can just sprinkle seeds & let them be. Veggies take work, but as a busy mom, I love that I can go out in the sunshine for even half an hour, putter around in my raised beds and still feel like I was being very productive. (on a sunny spring day, would you rather plant seeds or vacuum?)

I really only spend maybe on average an hour a week from spring to fall in the veggie garden. Usually it is ten minutes picking slugs & aphid leaves off of plants before I head to the grocery store. Then 20 minutes on another day pulling a few weeds, fertilizing, or thinning seedlings. Then a couple times a month I will spend an hour transplanting tomatoes and pulling out the snap peas that are done.

My kids enjoy helping pull weeds, planting seeds and picking the most bizarre carrot colors to grow. And playing with the worms. I love not having to buy salad greens for most of the spring and being able to make a salad whenever I want AND having it be the most delicious one I've ever had. In the summer I always have fresh onions, tomatoes and zucchini to throw on the grill with no trips to the store.

The most important things

There are four things that are most important for veggie success
1) Soil - is it fluffy (not compacted), have some compost/organic matter in it, well draining?
2) Nutrients - Are you regularly adding fertilizers to feed your veggies
3) Sun - Are your beds getting full sun everyday in the spring/summer/fall?
4) Water - Pretty obvious

1st Step - Your Garden Beds

This is a big initial investment, both in money & time. But getting raised beds in place will make everything that follows easier for you - for years to come. No one will walk in your beds, your soil will be awesome, weeds will be few & easy to pull out and they will be ready for plants earlier in the season than just digging into the ground.


For small urban lots, I recommend raised beds. They are neat, tidy and will make things super easy because you will have amazing fabulous soil from the get go.

Build a frame out of 12"x2" wood and fill it with a truckload of gardening "3 - way" mix from Pacific Topsoils or Grow Source or your local nursery. Get the best gardening blend they have. It will pay off later. Don't even think of using 1 cu ft. bags. Borrow a truck, you will need lots of dirt. (find a website to help you calculate how much)

Make sure your beds are no more than 4 foot wide - the width most people can comfortably reach is about 2 feet, so as long as you can access it from both sides you will be able to reach the middle. (NEVER walk in your raised beds)

I grow my veggies in 3 raised beds that are each 4'x6' and about 12" deep. They are made of pressure treated wood, but many people prefer natural cedar or redwood. I've seen people cut salvaged doors in half lengthwise and use those (it is cute) but be sure there is no lead paint.

You need to do your own research and make your choice, but pressure treated is much cheaper than natural rot resistant woods like cedar. (and contains toxic chemicals that may....or may not enter your food) Kyle used metal brackets in the corners to attach them together and built them in about 2 hours.


The most important thing in placing your beds is SUN. You want your beds in the hottest, sunniest spot you can find, especially in the Pacific Northwest. My beds are all lined up against the south wall of our house. Be sure to line them up east - west so each one gets as much sun from the south as possible.
Ideally, your beds should be in the sunshine from sunrise to sunset during the summer. Don't forget that shadows are longer in winter - my beds are in almost full shade from our fence in the winter. In the summer, the fence shadows don't even come close to the beds.

Sun matters less for things like lettuces, herbs, peas, carrots and matters a ton for hot weather veggies like tomatoes, peppers, squash, etc.

It is also important to note whether there are any large trees nearby that might send roots into your beds. This is not a good thing, but may not be able to be helped. If your beds are near a large tree and only get sun for 1/2 the day in the summer - don't give up, but be aware that these will hinder your efforts. (And now you have something to blame failures on! Good for you!)

Lastly, before you fill your beds, make sure your lawn mower can fit between them. (assuming they are on grass like mine are) Two feet apart is nice I think. Put the frames where you want them and if it is on top of grass you have two options - dig it out, or cover it with wet cardboard/newspaper and bury it. I did the latter and it worked fabulously. I would use the wet cardboard method on weedy dirt areas too.

Lastly, lastly, if you ever see deer in your yard, build a cage over your beds. Look on the internet for ideas and have fun with that. I hate deer.

That's it for today, next I will talk about the fun stuff - what you can do & plant in your garden right now!

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Saben: "You know what mom, I want to be a ninja when I grow up" (does some ninja kicks & punches in the air)

Annika: "And I want to be an ORACORN!"
(Annika says "ORACORN" instead of Unicorn. It is adorable.

This week Annika and I went in to volunteer with Saben's class during an art project. It is the first time I've taken her in with me to volunteer and I was nervous. She did great though. The best part was when we walked with the class to the art room, Saben held her hand the whole way.

I just love how unpretentious he is still. I treasure every hug he gives me in front of his friends and love how excited he is to tell everyone "That's my mom and sister!!" when we show up.

I also LOVE kindergardeners. They are just adorable and I love getting to know the kids in Saben's class. Ok, some of them are ridiculously annoying too - one boy is so stubborn and won't listen to anyone including me, but then gets mad when his projects don't turn out.

Let's put it this way - I am glad I am not their teacher every day, but still, I love being in the classroom. So cute. (actually, I occasionally do get the urge to be their teacher, but I tend to think almost every job looks fun at some point or another. Ask Kyle about how I think it would be fun to work at Transition Bikes. ha!)


Annika does not like boys. She told me this herself when I asked if she had any friends who were boys in her preschool class. I have tried asking why, but she has no answer. She just doesn't like them "But I do like Saben mom, just not other boys".

She is so much more aware of sex differences than Saben ever was. Not sure if its a second child thing - she grows up knowing her brother is a boy and has someone to compare herself to. Or if its a girl thing - are girls just snotty brats about it and boys don't care as much? Or if its just her....after all, she's always shown a preference for women ever since she was a baby.

Then again, she's not really had many little boy friends either, while Saben grew up with both boy & girl friends. She's spent some time with Maverick, but that's it really. hmmm....need to find her some boys to play with that are her age. Get on it mom.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The best winter

You should hate me. I deserve to be hated. Because really....I have had the best winter ever. First off, December. I didn't write much (anything actually) about Christmas, but it went off without a hitch. Better than without a hitch. It was busy...but for the first time since Annika was born, I felt like we got it all timed right. I finished shopping early enough, worked HARD and made sure there was lots of time to chill and love on the family. I was stressed...but not too stressed to enjoy it.

This was no easy feat - it took 3 years of Christmas turmoil to figure it out and honestly, I probably didn't figure anything out at all, our kids just got old enough and we got lucky enough to pull it off. We even spent an amazing weekend in early December up at a cabin in the snow with friends, something we hope to do every year. I completely loved Christmas this year.

On top of all that, Kyle got me a new 4runner for Christmas. He was going to surprise me with it and took great pains to pick it up on Christmas eve, even taping the garage windows with plastic so I couldn't see it hidden inside. Unfortunately I suspected everything. When he asked to go on a Christmas eve "bike ride", I said yes, only because I secretly hoped he was going to pick up my car. I even peeked out the window to see if there was a bike on his car when he left and sure enough....no bike. I was so excited, but even more excited when I drove past him in my new car as the kids & I headed out to do some chores. So much for the surprise.

About the second week of December, Kyle bought the tickets to Vietnam. (we left Jan 3rd). So off an an amazing trip for that. About the same time, Shauna, Kyle's sis, started bugging us about going to Hawaii with them in early february. At first we thought it was dumb to go so soon after vietnam, but the plane tickets went down in $, Kyle's brother agreed to go, and we realized we had enough miles on our credit card to pay for all the tickets. Sweet.

So two weeks after we got back from Vietnam, we went to Hawaii with the kids and Kyle's siblings. And Pete.

But before we look at those pictures, I have to mention what we did BETWEEN Vietnam & Hawaii. We bought ski gear for the whole family and went skiing for the first time. (Kyle had a good hook up for gear, plus Annika's friend Riley had been going and her Dad talked us into it)

Ta-Da! Our first ski day, one day before we flew to Hawaii!

Saben has been doing AWESOME.
But we did spend a lot of time in this position helping the kids up.

Skiing Saturday, hotel in Seatac on Sunday, fly to Hawaii on monday. To join up with these folks. Can you tell which one doesn't belong? I mean...isn't a sibling?
We had the best time. Our condo was a bit grotty, and stunk of stale cigarettes, but we loved Maui and it was so relaxing. We pretty much went to the beach every day, took turns watching the kids, swam, snorkeled and played in the sand. One day, Kyle went biking with some guys from one of his shops. I missed him, so I made myself a replacement.

Beach art, seriously the most fun ever, even though it took me 2 hours to make this guy who was far from perfect. The kids were scared of the waves at first, but over time they got used to them. Annika was the queen of getting sand absolutely everywhere on her body. The kids had so much fun playing with cousin Hailey, especially Annika. Cousin Charlotte spent most of her time snoozing on the beach since she is only um...4 months old? Sigh, I can't even keep track anymore.

Saben loved building in the sand. Except the structures you see were actually built by Jason & Pete. He liked digging deep holes and was working on a cave in this picture.

It was a lovely time and I am one lucky, spoiled rotten girl.