Thursday, April 29, 2010


Anyone can tell you, and everyone will tell you, that attempting to reason with a small child is a lost cause, a road to madness.

Except it's not true.

So far, my findings (based on a sample size of one child) are that as early as 18 months, explaining the logic behind parental decisions does make a difference. Not that it always gains compliance or averts a tantrum, but at least half the time it helps. And it probably makes me a better parent - if I'm focused on explaining why we need to brush our teeth, it keeps me calmer than the escalating cycle of "say aahh, please... open your mouth... open your mouth now... DAMMIT KID OPEN YOUR MOUTH!" Also, if I can't explain my reasons, sometimes it's because there's no good reason to be found.

I have a feeling that this approach to parenting will yield an amusing/maddening echo in another year or two, when she can turn it around and give me logical reasons for doing what she wants rather than what I want her to do. If she learns to out-logic me, I'll be in trouble.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

As promised: pictures!

Don't get too excited; this whole posting of photos thing is not going to happen often.

With that disclaimer, I know I've been all about the garden lately, but for those of you who like toddlers more than plants, I'll start with a few photos of Annika, taken by her grandpa Khavin:

And some more of Annika, taken by me:

This is our new tree - a dwarf Hinoki cypress 'Fernspray Gold.' It's in a cedar planter, occupying a spot where a small rhododendron had declined and finally died this spring. It will eventually get about 6 feet tall; maybe less if it stays in a container.
On either side are smaller pots with an assortment of foliage-interest plants: purple-leaved ornamental sweet potatoes, "fiber optic" grass, creeping jenny, clover, dracaena and asparagus fern.

Below is raised bed #1, and from left to right it contains: 'european mesclun mix' from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, parsnips (the ones you can barely see), baby bok choi, spinach, and crimson bunching onions.

Here's that same bed when it was first set up, almost exactly one month before the above photo was taken. Set up: 3/24; above photo, 4/23. Hmm, those dates have symmetry. Cool.

Here's the first salad harvested from that mesclun mix. Yummy, although a little spicier than I usually like my salads to be. Also, it annoys me that I don't know what all the different types of leafy-green things are. Will have to start buying single-variety salad greens until I figure out what I like.

Here's a closer look at those baby bok choi... so adorable!

Meanwhile, in the basement under lights, tomato seedlings have gotten big enough that I don't think they're exactly seedlings anymore. They need to hang on for another week, and then they'll get to go outside.

Outside of the veggie garden, flowers are blooming... here's the bleeding heart that I planted last year.

Here's the dwarf crested iris (Iris cristata) that I'm so delighted to see bloom, because this is its 3rd year here and the first flower it has produced.

In the same shaded area as the iris, a fern (whose name I have forgotten) has emerged:

The lily shoots that I was so excited to see. When I found them, they weren't this big; they were mere nubbins nestled among the weeds.

These 'Starry Night' violas died back last year, but not before they left babies behind. Here's one of the youngins, carrying bravely on. And admittedly, clashing something wicked with the tulip just behind it.

My favorite of the three kinds of tulips we inherited with the house - a vibrant pink.

A passalong from my mother: foamflower, a woodland native.

That's all for now. More pictures... uh... when I get around to it.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Pleasant surprises

I think one of the things that is most addictive about gardening is the blend of the predictable and unpredictable. I can pretty well rely on daffodils coming up and blooming every spring; on the yew near our front door trying to grow big enough to block the path and my half-heartedly pruning it back, on maple seedlings coming up everywhere (including the gutters if said gutters weren't recently cleaned); and on some of the plants I bought in previous years having sadly departed.

My expectations are set fairly low when it comes to perennials actually being perennial. This probably has a lot to do with my first attempt at a garden in our yard: back by the shed, there's a very shaded spot in which I envisioned a mostly-native woodland garden - lush ferns, spring ephemerals, hostas and so on. What I failed to realize is that woodland soil is not what we have in that spot. Instead of a rich leaf-litter-derived humus, we have thick orangish clay back there, drained of nutrients (and moisture, in summer) by the shallow roots of trees. Now, I did amend the soil when I first started planting things back there, but not nearly enough. The net result is that 2/3 of the things I put there haven't made it, and of the ones that have lived, some of them are just hanging on rather than thriving and blooming.

But last fall after most of the plants were dormant, I put a thick layer of leaf mold and compost over the area, and by now it has mostly been broken down and worm-eaten into the soil. The plants that are left appreciate it, and for the first time since it was put there in 2008, the dwarf crested iris (Iris cristata) has a flower bud - I'm finally going to see what it looks like in bloom.

Elsewhere in the garden, I thought I'd lost the native Turk's Cap lily I planted last year because I didn't see anything there when the oriental lilies were already 2 or 3 inches tall. But in the process of weeding, I found that for one thing, I'd been looking in the wrong spot, and for another, it simply was later to emerge: as I was pulling out wild strawberry and wild garlic, I found not one but six (!) stubby little lily shoots coming up.

The two monardas I've planted have come back and are just waiting for warmer weather to make them grow big. The lavendar has some new sprigs of green, though not very many - it's probably in a location too wet for it. Physostegia seems to have self-sown, or spread underground, or both, and is coming up all over the place (I discovered after I bought it that it has this tendency). Intriguingly, the Dusty Miller that is supposedly an annual managed to survive the wicked winter, and is making new growth. I had no idea it could do that; I'm glad I didn't pull it out to "tidy up" at the end of the season last year.

I promise, I promise, I'll try to get some photos taken and put them here soon!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Gardens and therapy, psychology, fiction...

At May Dreams, Carol recently wrote about the overlapping ways in which gardening is therapeutic, and sometimes also the reason we gardeners need therapy.

I tried to explain the other day to my non-gardening husband why I feel the urge to dig in the dirt, to plant and weed and trim and water. And why I want a big rainwater storage tank that will be horrifically ugly until I cover it with vines or screen it with bamboo or lattice, and why I want to bother with growing food in the first place, when it's so much easier (and often cheaper) to just buy it, and why I have a lot of trouble preventing myself from buying random assortments of plants and putting them where I think they might grow well, rather that with any particular aesthetic goal or restraint. Alas, I'm not sure there's any way to have these things make sense to a non-gardener... but fortunately, he demonstrates great patience and forbearance nonetheless!

With Sparkling Squirrel, I pondered why it is that gardening is rarely a central theme of novels - maybe because it's so rich with opportunities for metaphor that it seems too easy?

Reading about the Square Foot style of vegetable gardening, I realized that the most important thing that's "different" about it is not a different shape of plot, but that it takes some of the quirks of human nature into account, in addition to having plenty to say about Mother Nature. Specifically, the benefits of placing limits on the size of the garden, and the number of seeds planted at any one time: people love to till up a big plot of earth in the spring, but keeping it weeded and watered gets to be an overwhelming task. People sprinkle a whole packet of seeds along a row, with every intention to thin the seedlings - but it goes against the grain to yank up those adorable little sprouts, so we tell ourselves we'll do it later. Acknowledging these tendencies and planning around them instead of trying to ignore or dismiss them is very wise, I think.

Almost all my reading (and thinking) lately has centered around gardening, can you tell?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Random garden notes

Tomato seedlings: both varieties started 3/20 have just begun to put out true leaves. They took 5-6 days to germinate but have grown fast since then.
Wonderberry: nothing yet, even though it supposedly wants the same conditions as tomatoes
Strawberry: only 2 containers have sprouts, out of 12! I didn't think strawberries should be so difficult. Planted 3/20
Mesclun mix sown in garden: beginning to sprout, though weather has mostly been chilly since planting so not much is happening.
Onion: little threadlings outside appear not bothered by cold, though not exactly growing fast either
Hardy Geranium: variety #1 is growing like mad, variety #2 is just starting
Rose Campion: first batch is doing fine, second is coming up
Thyme: sprouted recently, took about 10 days to do so
Tiarella cordifolia: nothing. maybe it needs cold stratification? if it doesn't sprout soon, I'll put it in the garden next to the original plant.
Lavendar: nothing, harrumph. might need more warmth.

Crocuses are done blooming, about 2/3 of daffodils are blooming, iris and daylily are sprouting, hosta is starting to sprout, sedum has adorable rosettes of new leaves.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Spring Fever

It's finally warm here, and this has prompted the annual re-emergence of my obsession with gardening. Daffodil buds are visible a few inches above the soil, crocuses are blooming (not in our cool shady yard, yet, but in warm spots around the area), and I peeked under the dead leaves of last year's irises to discover new green shoots just starting to poke out. The wild stonecrop that I brought home from a visit to Sparkling Squirrel last summer is happily growing in its container - I didn't know how tough that little plant is, but it survived a too-rainy summer and a cold snowy winter and is already green and content-looking.

This year is the year I will finally have raised beds for vegetables. We're starting with 2 beds, 3' x 6' each, and I already bought more seeds of more different kinds of plants than I can possibly grow in that amount of space. With my husband's help, I set up lights in the basement to start seeds last weekend, and just a few days later I already have a salad green mix sprouted, some onion seedlings up (I should have started them earlier, but oh well - I'll know that for next year), and of the seeds I collected last year, the Geranium maculatum seeds are germinating already. I also have lavendar seeds, rose campion, cinquefoil, and seeds from several interesting unidentified plants from the Penn gardens.

I haven't settled yet on a method of keeping records of my gardening activities. There's something satisfying about writing things down by hand, but there are definite advantages to electronic recordkeeping: searchability, ease of including photos, etc. What do you think - gardening-tagged posts on this blog? A separate blog? Or is reading someone else's garden notes and non-artistic photos even more boring than having to look at someone else's vacation pictures?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Broccoli Rabe

I've tried the above vegetable a handful of times, and never liked it - too bitter. But Eating Well featured broccoli rabe as the vegetable star of the latest issue, and included tips for toning down the bitterness. Namely: blanch it, and balance it with other flavors. The broccoli rabe and orzo salad with lemon and feta was very good. I wonder, though - was it only the prep technique that made it likeable, or is it that my palate has grown more tolerant of bitter flavors since I last tried it? Many of the things I like these days (coffee, strong beer, very-dark chocolate) are bitter, so it could be both.

Monday, February 8, 2010


About 20 minutes before starting this, I put Annika to bed. I feel that this is a blogpost-worthy event, in part because it must have been the weirdest bedtime "routine" she has had yet.

Things were fine from teethbrushing to changing into pajamas and on through story time, with only the usual amount of protest at each step. The only thing that was slightly unusual is that instead of sitting in my lap during stories, she wanted to squeeze herself onto the chair next to me. But okay, fine, it's actually easier to read that way, and the chair is (sort of) big enough.

After stories, I braced myself and said, "Ok, that was the last story for tonight, time to turn off the lights." This is usually when the howling begins, and tonight was no exception. She cried, said "No!" about 500 times, then wanted "Chair!" So, I sat down in the chair with her in my arms - typically, she will snuggle on my lap and fall asleep, then I'll move her into the crib. But instead, she squirmed and hollered until she maneuvered herself off my lap and onto the chair next to me. We sat like this for a few minutes, then she asked for water. I gave her the cup, but because she was leaning back in the chair, half of the water that she intended to go into her mouth went onto her pajamas instead, resulting in a fresh bout of crying. Lights on, towel the pajamas dry, lights off again. More crying, and my attempt to get her to snuggle on my lap only resulted in her climbing down to the floor. So she lay down on the rug, still wailing "no no nooooo nooo no..." while I sat on the floor next to her. "Do you want your blanket?" She said yes, so I covered her up. "Do you want Barkley (her stuffed puppy that she sleeps with)?" Yes again, so I handed her Barkley. I kissed her on the forehead, told her I'd see her in the morning, and closed the door. Not surprisingly, there was soon much wailing and rattling of the door, so I went back in and ask if she wants to snuggle on the chair. She said yes, but again she refused to sit on my lap. I couldn't let her fall asleep in the chair the way she evidently wanted to, though, because it would be nothing short of miraculous to move her into her crib without waking her up, and it obviously wouldn't be safe to let her stay in the chair. So I put her in the crib; the bawling increased in volume and she pushed her feet against the bars, trying to figure out how to brace herself to climb out. By now, my patience had started to wear thin, so I just said "You're going to have to lie down and go to sleep now. That's how this works." I gently made her lie down, covered her with the blanket, gave her Barkley again, and said "Night night."

And she replied "Night night" and was quiet. From Hyde to Jekyll, exactly as if someone flipped the switch to "off" between one howl and the drawing-in of breath to get the next howl ready. I closed the door and went downstairs, and I heard one more halfhearted moan, then nothing more.

I have no idea why she wants to sit on the chair instead of my lap all of a sudden, or why she is more willing to lie down on the floor than in the crib, or what exactly made her decide to shut up and go to sleep so suddenly. Toddlers are weird creatures sometimes.

In other news, I made Chicken Chili Verde on Saturday while my parents were taking care of Annika, and it was a hella lot of work but the end result was worth it.

I seem to be on a kick of reading books about the Mogul Empire and the world around it at that time - I just finished "The Twentieth Wife" and started "The Enchantress of Florence," both of which take place at least in part during the reign of Akbar the Great. I'm tickled by the overlap, because I didn't realize it when I picked out the two books. "The Twentieth Wife" is enjoyable reading, but not great literary art in my opinion. "The Enchantress of Florence" is by Salman Rushdie, so I can safely say that the writing is wondrous and bizarre, but since I just started, I can't say much about the storyline. I also recently read "The Sparrow" by Mary Doria Russell, and I'm not sure what to say about that one - it was beautiful but tragic, so although I recommend it to any of my bookworm friends, the recommendation comes with the warning that it's not an easy read.

Friday, February 5, 2010


One of my favorite parenting-related blogs, Child of Mind, is running a weekly "parenting challenge" where each week, there's a particular approach/technique for small-child discipline that they're exploring, and requesting the readers' feedback on.

The first one is playful parenting - the idea of using humor and play to guide your kid's behavior, instead of coercion/threats/punishments/rewards. Specifically, when faced with a situation where your child tends to put up resistance to something you want done (brushing teeth, getting dressed, taking a bath) you avoid the upcoming power struggle by saying "Let's pretend..." and make up a scenario where the troublesome activity turns into a game/fantasy. Let's pretend that if you put on the red shirt, you turn into Superman... let's pretend that this bathtub is a pond and you're a frog...

I like this one and although Annika doesn't quite understand "pretending" yet, I do try to use humor and laughter to bypass temper tantrums and power struggles, and I can definitely see using this technique as she gets older. Unfortunately, right now the main sticking point with her is bedtime, and I haven't figured out a "let's pretend" scenario that would encourage her to go to sleep.

I do wonder though - at what age do kids start to see through this and/or stop enjoying it? I would guess sometime around 5?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Raven mother

I discovered that in German, "rabenmutter" (raven mother) is a put-down, a derogatory term for a mother who doesn't care about her kids - particularly mothers who put their kids in day-care to go back to work. A mother who flies away from the nest, so to speak.

But since I don't have a gut-level grasp of the implications, to me "raven mother" sounds really cool. I am a raven mother, hear me caw!

In other news, this morning Annika would not put on pants except the ones with dinosaurs on them. Pink flower-embroidered shirt, and T-REX pants!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


In this illustrious and numerically lovely year 2010, I resolve that:

- I will cook a new recipe at least once a month. January is already taken care of.

- I will listen to two new songs a week if it kills me! And it just might, you never know. That's what I call living dangerously.

- I will spend no less than two hours a week petting and/or cuddling my cats. Strictly for their own good, of course.

- I will drink good beer at least once a month, and eat dark chocolate at least once a week, on the grounds that alcohol and chocolate have recently been deemed health foods and staying healthy is very important to me.

- If at any time I find myself feeling guilty about what cannot be helped (for instance, the inescapable fact that spending more time at work means spending less time at home), I will promptly find something to do or think about that provides a more sensible reason for feelings of guilt.