Sunday, July 1, 2018

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Green Witch, Green Witch, How Does Your Garden Grow?

With all kinds of weird and wild plants!

    
          Someday I will have a lovely kitchen garden bursting with tomatoes and zucchinis and sweet potatoes, with overflowing urns of herbs lined up along a patio. In the meantime, I have an 11x11 plot in the community garden down the street from my apartment, as well as some pots arranged along my back steps. I’m still aiming for the tomatoes and zucchinis and sweet potatoes, and I do have a pot of herbs happily blooming at the top of the steps. Gardening is relatively new to me; my grandparents had a huge garden when I was a girl, but by the time I was a teenager they were living in an apartment and they had given up gardening, though my grandmother’s begonias and geraniums were always stunning splashes of color on her windowsills, and her window boxes danced with pansies and petunias. The house that I grew up in had the occasional flower patch, but never any vegetable garden. 

            I don’t know why I have such a strong interest in planting and gardening. Maybe it stems from the early love I had of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books and my imagined playtimes of living in that era. Maybe it’s because I’m a vegetarian. Who knows? I do know that my boys are enjoying the garden plot as much as I am, and the little one always has a great time planting his sunflowers and picking the strawberries and purple green beans that I make sure to plant each year.

            This year’s garden is a mix of traditional and whacky, with multi-colored heirloom tomatoes and some newer varieties that were just too cool to pass by.
 These crazy-looking tomatoes are “brad’s Atomic Grape Tomatoes” from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. I cannot wait until they start growing. I also ordered some “Dark Galaxy” tomatoes and some “Wagner Blue Green” tomatoes. I’m sure you can figure out which is which.

 As well, from my local farmer’s market I have “Green Zebra,” “White Beauty,” “Sun Gold,” and “Brandywine” tomato plants growing. Call me obsessed, I won’t deny it. I’m going to have the most beautiful tomato tarts this August! And my spaghetti with raw sauce is going to dazzle, just you wait and see.

            My little guy planted two types of strawberries: “White Carolina Pineberry,” which apparently taste like pineapple?? (WEIRD) and red “Allstar” strawberries. I saw an ad online for blue strawberries, but unlike the pink blueberries I hope to plant someday, blue strawberries hold zero appeal.

 
 

Pretty, maybe, but I really can’t go there…..

            I’ve got some more familiar things in the garden as well: golden beets, peas, bell peppers, hot pepper varieties for my spice-loving husband, a baby zucchini mix and golden zucchini, three varieties of cucumber (a family favorite is the “Lemon” variety), butternut squash, spaghetti squash, 3 “Jack O’Lantern” pumpkin plants, and sweet potatoes. This is my first year trying to grow sweet potatoes and pumpkins. Our last plot was 3x10, which required some finagling as far as plant spacing went, and I didn’t want to use any of it up with pumpkins. With and 11x11 square, I’ve got enough space to play around.  

            A pot on the back steps holds herbs, and this weekend I am buying fill for the rest of the pots and transplanting lettuces, more peas, grape tomatoes, and flowers. (I also have to do some cleaning, as the landing has gotten piled with unused pots and a rather battered Wardian case that I am trying to figure out how to resuscitate.)

            I love sitting on my back steps amid my plants, hidden from view from passersby by the grapevine-clad maple tree, drinking tea, maybe reading, usually just sitting and listening to everything going on around me. I look forward to the day when I can lounge on my front porch and listen to my bees buzzing around my azaleas and butterfly bushes and chase my chickens out of the herb garden. In the meantime I will console myself with crazy tomato varieties and velvety pansies peeking out from under the potted basil.

            If you are planning a garden (you have probably already planted, but there is still time) consider heirloom plants. Mother Earth News says that the benefits of heirloom plants include better taste and nutrition, they cost less and you can save the seeds, and they are “less uniform,” meaning they don’t all ripen at once, so you aren’t inundated with 60 pounds of zucchini all at once. As well, they have amazing histories, and if you’re a story-nerd like I am, that’s a good enough reason to plant. Who wouldn’t want to plant a story like this: “The great aunt of Viva's fiancĂ© gave her seeds of a tomato as a wedding gift in 1922, at which time the tomato was already called an heirloom. "I like to re-tell this story because I think of where we are today and when people get married they have registries and you buy them coffee pots they don't need and silver services that will probably never leave the closet. We live in a more narcissistic time in my view.

"Here we are in 1922, and there is this young girl, Viva Lindsey, getting married and receiving seeds of a tomato, and it was probably one of the most cherished wedding gifts she received. And it makes me think about simpler times and how nice it would be if we could all treasure the gift of seeds of a flower or a tomato or a bean just as equally as an Amazon Echo or an Apple iPod or something like that."”

 


 Viva Lindsey's Kentucky Heirloom (aka Kentucky Heirloom Viva). (Now that’s romance!)

 

 

 

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds:  https://www.rareseeds.com/

Seed Saver’s Exchange: https://www.seedsavers.org/




 

Friday, June 22, 2018

Litha: Light and Laughter

Litha: Light and Laughter: It is the time of light, laughter, and joyful abandon. It is Litha! Let us celebrate with ruby-ripe strawberries and twinkling fireflies and achingly-pure blue skies reflected in chilly streams and sun-warmed ponds. I tend to get giddy this time of year; maybe it’s the child in me that hasn’t grown up yet, or perhaps the Kitchen Witch who is so exc...

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Planning it All Out

    As everyone who reads this blog has no doubt figured out, I am not the most organized person on the planet. I used to be very organized, on time for appointments, early, even, kept my house tidy, knew where important papers were, and never ever lost the kitchen table. Then I had children. And started working. And went to school. And then my organizational skills went the way of the Yangtze River dolphin.

   Early last year I decided to jump on the bullet journal bandwagon, more to see what it was actually about than as an organizational tool, and being me got sucked right into it, filling up a notebook with all kinds of stuff both useful and useless, and then barely used it. Not as effective as I was led to believe a bullet journal was. There's a catch, of course. One actually has to USE a bullet journal for it to be, well, useful. 
   I have been known to fill pages of items to be done and then only cross off two. Trying to balance school and a new career and still be a mother was turning into a quagmire of "what do I do," so I revisited the bullet journal method, this time the smart way. I went to the place where it all began: http://bulletjournal.com. Ryder Carroll, the creator of the bullet journal system calls it "your to-do list, sketchbook, notebook, and diary, but most likely, it will be all of the above." The idea is that it will teach you to do more with less. In its most basic form, the bullet journal is useful not because of all the stuff you can cram into it, but because you have to write things down by hand. This is important because when you write things down, you automatically focus your full attention on them. Michael Leboeuf says: "Few if any of us can write one thought and think another at the same time. Thus a pencil and paper make excellent concentration tools."

   By listing each item I need to do while being able to plot out the rest of the day and see what is due later in the week, I can set priorities and make reasonable goals. Since returning to the bullet journal (and actually using it) I have found myself to be more productive. A structured schedule is definitely something I need.








I keep my bullet journal relatively simple--if you do a Google search you will find bullet journals worthy of an art museum. I am no artist, at least not the visual type. I had to make a conscious effort to not let those amazing pictures get me down. The whole point of a bullet journal is to organize your time and prioritize your tasks. If you can do that and create a mini-mural in your journal as well, you are amazing and I am in awe of you and please don't judge my multi-colored written stuff. 

If you visit the official bullet journal website (http://bulletjournal.com ) you will see that the setup is very simple. A pen, a notebook of your choice, and you're good to go. A smaller notebook is better, as you can carry it around with you, but as you see, I am using a regular composition book, and I have seen some bullet journals that are kept in 1-inch binders. The only real embellishment I regularly add to my bullet journal is colored pens. I have color-coded my tasks according to what they relate to; on a particularly busy day the page is a rainbow of color. I can delegate priority at a glance, which also helps streamline my productivity.
  
   I made sure to carry this process into time at home, using it to keep on top of chores, schoolwork, and independent projects like book reviews. blog posts, manuscript revisions, and the ever-important family happenings. You'll notice anything family-related is written in red.



Basically, if I want to get anything done, I have to write it out in small, manageable pieces, which again, is the basic idea behind the bullet journal. Studies have shown that the analogue method of writing tasks is much more effective than typing or using digital tools. If you are interested in checking out this organization method, I strongly suggest you go to http://bulletjournal.com first and follow the basic set-up model. After that feel free to visit other sites to see what other people add to their journals. I have a dinner page, a simple exercise page, a garden chore tracker, a list of books to check out, and a big list of books for my son to read over the summer, plus all kinds of other stuff that I won't bore you with.







A few of my favorite bullet journal places to visit are:

Boho Berry: https://www.bohoberry.com/

Page Flutter: https://pageflutter.com/

Little Coffee Fox: https://littlecoffeefox.com/

Happy planning! Now I'm off to make dinner.....

















Them's the Breaks...Summer, that is

   Hello, hello, and happy Thursday! I am in my office, enjoying a lovely view through my window, wishing I was out there instead of in here, and thoroughly envying my eight year old, who will get to enjoy unlimited nice-weather access all summer, beginning next Friday. Lucky monkey.

   Sadly, I can't let his entire summer be all fun and games, partly because his father, older brother, and I are all working full-time, and his sister not only works full-time but lives an hour away, so he won't be able to live at the park of the beach (which he would LOVE), and also because we need to make sure he avoids the dreaded "Summer Slide," the loss of learning that affects many elementary-age children over the summer break. My boy has some difficulty with his reading, writing, and spelling, so my husband and I are being extra-vigilant this summer. As well, he has recently been diagnosed with ADD; we want to not only keep him on a steady learning platform, but encourage him to work on his focus and concentration over the summer. He will be starting 3rd Grade with a 504 Plan which will enable him to receive classroom support when he begins to feel overwhelmed, but the best way to support him is to help him build his skills before he needs them. (MCAS begins in 3rd Grade as well, and for those of you that are unfamiliar with this testing module, it's a nightmare for kids: there is so much hype built into it, students are under pressure to make the school look like a shining establishment of education, and yet and schools in Massachusetts no longer teach learning skills, they teach MCAS skills. In my time as a special education paraprofessional, I saw absolutely brilliant kids fall apart at the beginning of the MCAS because they were convinced they were going to fail. These were 5th graders, btw.)

   So, what does all of this mean? It means that along with encouraging as much free and imaginative play as our work schedules allow, my husband and I will be encouraging reading and writing through the summer. As I mentioned, my daughter lives an hour away, and we only get to see her a couple times a month. My sister lives in Maine, and my father and stepmother live in Missouri. My little guy is going to be working on his spelling and writing...excuse me...he's going to have pen pals this summer, and send weekly letters out, to Auntie or Sissy or Oma and Opa, or even to Grandmom who just lives up the hill. I'm on the hunt for fun stationary for kids, and haven't had much luck. I have printed some pages off Google, but if anyone knows where I can pick up actual letter paper I'd appreciate a heads up. (Remember when you could go into a store and get a themed pack of letter paper and envelopes? ...no? Wow, I am old...)

   We are fortunate that Bubbah loves to read and being read to, so encouraging reading isn't going to be too difficult, though I am sure he is not going to appreciate being told he needs to read for 30 minutes before any screen time. I can already hear the grumping... The library will kick off it's Summer Reading Program on the 22nd, and Bub is sure to ask to go sign up that day. He loves the Summer Reading Program. In preparation of this year's summer reading, I did a search for 'summer reading for 3rd grade boys' and was not disappointed. I could have left 'boys' out, I suppose; regardless, the books that showed up cover a range of reading ability and topics. Goodreads.com had a fabulous list of 258 titles, some of which I remember reading as a kid. (Encyclopedia Brown was a favorite when I was in the 6-8 age range. I can't really use myself as a guide, though; I was reading classics like Black Beauty and Moby Dick at 6 years old. Not really sure what my parents were thinking.) Anyway, take a look at this link for " Great Books for 3rd Grade Boys" that really could just be called "Great Books for 3rd Graders," but I didn't create the list, so it can be called whatever it wants to be.  https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/1518.Great_Books_For_Third_Grade_Boys

   In the meantime, enjoy this  lovely day, and feel free to commiserate with me as I spend the next week trying to figure out exactly what to do with my son this summer. He's way too young to stay home alone, and I wouldn't want him to even if he was older. I recall summers when I was 11 and 12, home along all day, and very lonely, even with all the books I could read. It's a tough situation. Maybe I can just quit my job for the summer, and come back in September? That probably wouldn't fly. Oh well.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Ellie's Kitchen: Baked Lemon Chicken with Asparagus and Potatoes

So, Tuesday's dinner. It was indeed a win, with everything cooking up just right, and tasting oh so good; even Littler Son ate all his dinner. 

Here is the recipe from Well Plated by Erin:

Baked Lemon Chicken

Easy, healthy Baked Lemon Chicken with garlic, rosemary, potatoes, and asparagus. Everything cooks on ONE pan. Delicious and perfect for busy weeknights!
Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound baby red potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, divided
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
  • 2 pounds thin asparagus, tough ends trimmed and discarded, cut into 2-inch pieces (about 2 bunches)
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 large lemon, juice and zest (you should have about 1/4 cup lemon juice total)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions:


  1. Place a rack in the center of your oven, then preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Generously coat a large, rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Place the potatoes in the center and top with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Toss to coat, then spread into an even layer. Place in the oven and roast for 20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, place the asparagus, chicken, and garlic powder in a large bowl. Drizzle with the lemon juice and add the lemon zest, remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Toss to coat, then transfer to the baking pan with the potatoes. With a spatula, loosely toss the ingredients so that they are evenly combined and spread into an even layer. Overlap the chicken as little as possible.
  3. Return the pan to the oven and bake an additional 15 to 20 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through, stirring once or twice throughout. The asparagus may release some liquid, which you can carefully pour off the pan, or use a slotted spoon or spatula to serve so that you do not get this liquid on your plate. Enjoy hot.
  • Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
https://www.wellplated.com/baked-lemon-chicken/#recipe
Mmmmm...potatoes


 Look out chickie, you're getting chopped
 Behold! Dinner.

Behold! The carnage! (Actually, this is from a different dinner, but it gives you a pretty good idea of what happens to my kitchen when I cook.)

Making Time to Take Time


          Wednesday has been established as “Game Nite” in our house. All of us here are gamers to some degree—I am the least-immersed of all of us, playing Dungeons & Dragons, table top games, and the occasional round of Magic, the Gathering (Badly, I might add. And I can’t play video games at all, despite the fact that I was a Pac-Man master at six). Husband and the boys D&D, Magic, Yu-Gi-Oh, and video game like pros, and I am happy to say that Littler Son is just as likely to pull out a board game as he is to switch the Wii on. Older Son is 21, so if he wants to park himself in front of his television for hours there’s really nothing I can do about it except throw socks at him from his doorway.

                I wanted a time for all of us to slow down and spend time together. Everything has been in an uproar for nearly a year, and we needed some winding-down time. Older Son was working overnights full-time; I was working and schooling and then looking for work and schooling; Husband was working all kinds of hours, and Littler Son was struggling with some school issues and parents’ schedules. For a couple years we also had a foster child which changed the family dynamic as well. He was reunited with his family a couple months ago and we are still working on reestablishing a family rhythm.  The weekends are usually so full of errands, housework, gardening, and whatnot that we don’t really take any time for quieter, closer-knit family activities unless we put a movie on in the evening. I realized that if I didn’t “make time to take time” we would continue this whirlwind of insanity we live in, and I don’t want that. Since we all enjoy games, setting aside a game night in the middle of the week seemed like a pretty good solution.

                We try not to play anything too complex (D&D is a weekend thing, and we set aside one weekend a month just for that!) because we still need to consider school bedtime (for a few more weeks, anyway), but Candy Land, GUBS, Gigamon, Uno, Once Upon a Time, Kodama, and Dixit are favorites. We visit Greenfield Games often; they are an independent game store in Greenfield, MA, and they carry all kinds of cool and quirky games like many that I mentioned as well as D&D supplies, trading card games, darts, and puzzles. They don’t carry many “traditional” games; I’ve never seen Monopoly or Yahtzee there, but those are easily found elsewhere.

                Taking time to focus on my family is so important to me, as it is to most parents in the workforce and at home. However, I realized that if I didn’t actually block the time off in my planner and on the calendar it wouldn’t happen. Not because I didn’t want it to, but because it’s too easy to get caught up in the things that I “should” do, overlooking the fact that what I “should” be doing is focusing on my family. Time goes by so very fast: Littler Son is already 8 years old; Older Son is 21 and working full-time; Daughter is 19, living in her own home with her boyfriend, and newly engaged. I have wonderful memories of games played and stories read with my older children, and my little boy, and I want to keep making memories like that. So no, I haven’t dusted, and laundry needs to be folded, and the new college session just started Monday, but it can all wait. I’m taking time. 




                Check out Greenfield Games:  http://www.greenfieldgames.com/    Stop in if you’re in the Greenfield area sometime; it’s great!