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Friday, August 31, 2012

Farmtastic (Aug. 31, 2012)

As you know, gardening has been on my radar this year. I joined a community garden, and I’ve been fascinated as I’ve watched food—real, edible food!—grow on our plants. My friend Karmyn invited me to tour an organic farm today and I accepted. It was terrific.

First, let’s take a moment to marvel that a farm could be as close as fifteen miles from the city center. Who knew? We visited Suzie’s Farm in Imperial Beach, which is wedged into a space bordered by the Tijuana River Estuary, residential neighborhoods, freeways, and Mexico. Quite a varied intersection, but I find it charming that the farm has such different neighbors.

We arrived before ten and the sun already was strong. We threw on hats and grabbed our bags, as we’d been told we could pick our own vegetables. Our tour guide was a friendly woman named Leslie, who splits her time between the farm and the opera stage. Yes, that’s right. A natural combination! Well, why not? We all have different sides to our personalities, and having been a starving artist at one point, I can relate to the necessity of a side job. Leslie certainly has a passion for the many crops she showed us, and her enthusiasm made our adventure even more fun.

The farm, which was established four years ago, grows more than one hundred different crops each year. That includes forty different kinds of tomatoes. Just a sec. What? I didn’t know that forty kinds of tomatoes existed. (Yes, I’m new to all this. Be patient with me.) Wow. In addition to seeing all kinds of things growing, we also got to talk to some chickens. They lay eggs in their cute little hen houses, and when we approached their large fenced-in area, they bobbed toward us (convinced we were bearing edibles). We checked out all their different feathered outfits (some were white, some reddish-brown, some black-and-white). The kids in our group named them. These chickens are the most valuable employees of this farm, according to Leslie. They scratch the earth, breaking it up and aerating it. They also gobble up old plants, helping to prepare the ground for the next crop to be planted.

The number of plants we saw amazed me. The rows stretched out into the distance, meeting Eucalyptus trees and sunflowers. (The sunflowers are not merely decorative. The bees are attracted to the flowers, and they help pollinate tomato plants nearby. I love how much harmony there is in the natural world. Note to self: be more like bees.)

Although tractors turn the earth and prepare the land for crops, each plant is hand-planted. Many people are needed to hand-plant the farm, which was seventy acres until recently, when they acquired more land. Are you wondering which crops we saw? Of course you are. And I will tell you. We saw pumpkins, squash, eggplant, tomatoes, basil, cucumber, sweet peppers, hot peppers, kale, okra and others. We got to pick samples of most of these crops. I had never seen so many peppers before. I’m ecstatic when my little pepper plants at the community garden produce one pepper! Remember, I’m new to this. Seeing thousands upon thousands of peppers all at once is pretty exciting when your current yield can be counted on one hand. We picked tons of peppers, and a few of the kids found giant squashes the size and shape of the sturdy wooden club Fred Flintstone carried.

I love how plants sometimes throw us a curve ball. Most apples look the same, for example, but every once in a while you’ll get one that is an unusual twist on its usual form. Today’s surprise was an eggplant shaped like a gathered satin purse. I was in awe:


As our tour ended, we lugged our full bags back to our cars. I felt like I could start my own salsa-making company with the peppers and tomatoes I’d gathered. Instead, I gave some to our good friend Rosa. The rest may become pico de gallo to bring to our neighbors’get-together. Check out the bounty I collected:

Today’s visit is inspiring me to give more love to my plot at the community garden. I need to dig some coffee grounds and Epsom salt into the dirt. Maybe I’ll sing to it. Maybe I could get farmer Leslie to sing opera to my plants to help them grow. Either way, I’m excited. Seeing things grow just does this to me.

Happy planting…

Thursday, August 30, 2012

New School Shoes (Aug. 30, 2012)

School started today and along with the new crayons, pencils and folders we brought, today also involved a new pair of shoes. The shoes are mine, actually. You may have thought I was talking about shoes for kids, as they were the ones starting school today. An easy assumption. The kids have newish shoes today, but I’m here to blog about my new shoes.



The photo on the left shoes the shows before their makeover. White shoes are fine, but they’re really not me. I need color, and I prefer polka dots. I wear lots of pink and red clothing so the idea came to me that I should paint some shoes that would add some extra punch to my red, pink and polka dotted wardrobe. Shoes that really reflect my personality.


It’s pretty hard to find polka dot shoes, in case you’re wondering. Actually, it’s pretty hard to find shoes that work for me. I have a joint issue in my feet and can’t wear super high heels. I also have an accident-prone issue in my body so super high heels are not a good bet for me anyway. I wanted something supportive but also cute, and let’s face it, these are often mutually exclusive categories when it comes to shoes. The supportive, comfortable ones may look like clunky, padded shoeboxes, and I do have my limits about how strange I’m willing to look. There’s fun-strange and there’s bag-over-head-strange. So I was happy to find some (on clearance!) that were comfortable and also gave me room to put my own stamp on them.


I’ll bet you’re wondering if I had to use special paint on shoes. Why, yes. Since these shoes were canvas, I thought I’d just use regular acrylic paint, but after walking around for an hour the paint was cracking where my feet bend. So Plan B was in order. I found fabric paint at Michael’s, and that is working better. I think this paint is designed to have more flex to it when it dries, since fabric stretches. Sadly, they had a more limited color selection than I’d like but this pinky red is almost as red as I’d like.


Obviously, these shoes are not for everyone. Some might find them clownish, but that doesn’t bother me. Hey, clowns make people smile (or run screaming for the exits). Clowns are colorful and full of life. There are worse things than being a tad clownish.


I’m on a one-woman mission to bring color and fun to grown-up clothes. Why should kids have all the cheerful-looking clothes? Shoes deserve a little fun, too…


Monday, August 27, 2012

Sharpen Your Pencils (Aug. 27, 2012)

There are approximately 72 hours left. My freedom has an expiration date, I’m afraid. School is starting in three days. Oh, I don’t mean to be thaaaaaaat dramatic. Technically I won’t be losing my actual freedom (and I know there are places where people—especially women—truly don’t have freedom of choice so I must keep my situation in perspective). But the school year is a marathon I’m not ready for yet. A few days ago I opened an email from the school and—no exaggeration—it had a nineteen-page newsletter attached. Nineteen. A lot of it didn’t really apply to our family, but still. I guess they want us to jump in with both feet. School’s coming, whether I’m ready or not.


Where did summer go? For a season filled with longer days of sunlight, it sure sped by in an instant. I know what the problem is. Summer is too short. They expect us to decompress from the frantic pace of the school year in nine or ten short weeks. (Note to universe: the weekend is also too short.) I spent the first two weeks exhausted from the final lap in the school year. Finally I regained some energy, and then it was time to tackle the things we’d put off during the school year. For us, summer is less stressful in that there aren’t as many fixed deadlines about what time to get to places, and what is due when. But maybe the idea that summer will be calmer is just an illusion. Well, in all honesty, some of it is me. I say I want relaxation but I find new projects if I have more than a few days of lull. I joined the community garden this summer, which was great. Then I decided to paint the mural there, which took several weeks, and that was all my choice. But I still feel like I could use an extension on summer. If you can get one from the IRS, shouldn’t you be able to get one from elementary school?


I will confess that there’s one thing that I’m a little excited about this fall: Halloween. Oh, I’m still dragging my feet, wanting to hold onto the last wisps of summer, but yesterday in Michaels (my favorite store) I was checking out the Halloween decorations. (They were set up July 5, I presume, as a nocturnal band of elves took down the red, white and blue.) Halloween is pure fun.


But let’s get back to the complaint at hand: the start of school. I’m so not ready for the endless cycle of packing lunches, prying sleepy eyes open each morning, racing against the clock to get there, nagging about homework, coaching through book reports, the tangle of cars in the parking lot, and repeating every day for nine months.


But there will be good moments too, I know. Seeing familiar faces, dressing up for Halloween, and marveling over how much the kids are learning.

Parents, take your places. Kids, sharpen your pencils. Ready? (No.) Set? GO!

Riding Along in my Automobile (My Baby Beside me at the Wheel) Aug. 27, 2012

We took a road trip a week ago and lived to tell. The youngest in our group was NOT happy about being confined to a car seat for hours on end, and the rest of us heard about in the form of shrieks at a very loud volume. There were the typical road trip moments every family experiences: “Are we there yet?” “No. We left only ten minutes ago.” Or have you experienced this one? “Before we get into the car, does anyone have to use the potty? No? Are you sure? Could you try? No? I see.” Ten minutes later: “I have to pee!”
Our destination was San Francisco. I’d forgotten how—even in August—it can be downright cold there! We’d lived in the Bay Area some time back, and it was fun to reconnect with the friends and neighbors we miss. We visited favorite spots, Hubby mountain biked, we gazed at towering pine trees. Some of my favorite moments came by surprise. I love rounding a bend and discovering something unusual. This wedge-shaped building is one I spotted while driving, and charmed by its atypical shape, I pulled over to take its photo. It’s the Flatiron Building in San Rafael, ca 1883. You know I love buildings that do not sport the usual 90-degree angled corners.
While lost in the Oakland hills, I came upon a gorgeous front garden filled with dahlias, a flower I really like. There were hundreds of dahlias, many colors and varieties (including hybrids), staked and labeled. Clearly they were someone’s passion. This photo does not fully illustrate how many were exploding from a tiny parkway strip in front of a cottage, but it gives you an idea.
San Francisco has many residents who don’t have yards and therefore there are quite a few community gardens there. I’d jotted down the addresses of a few in case we had extra time but I was excited to stumbled upon one nestled into the edge of a park. The variety of plants in a community garden is one reason I like them so much. Each gardener has his/her own taste and the result is a diverse mix of plants. The plant below is one I was not familiar with but was captivated by because of its curling petals. I later found it online and now I know that it is an Asian Tiger Lily:  

Next to the garden was an old-school playground. It reminded me of the parks I played at as a child, before playgrounds had plastic structures. This pocked metal slide took me right back to 1979:  
My final photo has a backstory worth sharing. When we lived in Alameda (an island next to Oakland), we walked a lot because the neighborhood was so pretty and one day I discovered a very narrow house. Excited by my find, I told Hubby about it and drove him by the next time we were out. It fascinated me! It was the narrowest house I’d ever seen and I was curious about it. Years later we visited Alameda again and tried to find it. It was harder to find that you’d expect, given how unusual its dimensions were. But it had been painted and a tree had been planted out front so it looked different than I remembered. We found it and I took a few photos of the house, and was surprised to see something above the front door. The glass window above the entrance read “Spite House.” Spite? Hmmmm. That’s not a happy word. I needed to research this house.
After a little research I discovered that spite houses are structures built in order to spite neighbors. There are various stories about the origin of this house, which was built in the early 1900s. Wikipedia tells the story this way: Charles Froling planned to build a house on land he inherited. But the city of Alameda took some of the land to build a street, leaving Froling with a small strip of space. He decided to build a house anyway, apparently to spite the city as well as his unsympathetic neighbor. The house’s dimensions measure ten feet wide by fifty-four feet long. The current owner of the home posted online that it is sometimes hard to deal with people asking her about the house. Many people like the house but some laugh at it and ask her where the other half is. It  never occurred to me that some people would make fun of such a whimsical house, and I can see how that would hurt her feelings. One’s home is an extension of oneself and you don’t make fun of someone’s home. I find it fascinating when a building has dimensions or angles or materials that are different from what we usually see. (More blog posts on this in the future. There’s a ton of inspiration online!)
Soon it was time to head home. More driving. More shrieking from the backseat. Eventually we stumbled out of our car into our driveway. After hours of confinement my joints were not happy with me but I shook out my knees and hips and they eventually decided they could move again. Ahhhh, good to be home. I checked on my backyard plants and planned to go to the community garden the next day to see how it was doing. We survived the road trip. A few tricky moments but mostly a great trip.
Hubby’s already scheming about the next road trip. Dude, we haven’t even unpacked the car yet. Can we recover from this trip before you start engineering the next one?!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Endless Summer Wall (Aug. 17, 2012)

Most logical people would not paint an outdoor mural in August in mid-80-degree temperatures with the broiling sun pounding down upon the dome of a straw hat worn to offer some protection from the broiling sun but also trapping heat in the body.

Of course, I’ve rarely done things the logical way!

A few months ago I joined a community garden. The first time I saw the patch of earth that would become our garden, I also noticed a bland, peeling, bird poop bedecked wall that formed the western boundary of the garden. Immediately I knew the wall needed a makeover. All thoughts of my relaxing summer off from the school year’s bustle fled my mind. There was a project that needed me! Soon I was convincing a panel that the wall needed a new look and they were choosing one of the two designs I created. The garden was funded partly through a grant, and everyone participating was volunteering their time and muscles for building raised beds, creating irrigation systems and shoveling dirt. Lots of it. Inspired by all the dedication of people who wanted to be part of a community effort, I offered to donate my time if there was budget for paint. Paint colors were chosen, my painty clothes were dug out of the closet, and volunteers were convinced to volunteer. Let there be creativity!

First I needed to power-wash the wall and prime it. Not very exciting but necessary if you want your end result to rock the suburbs, which of course I did. Next came sketching the design onto the wall. It’s cement block, which can be hard to paint on as it is filled with lots of little holes. But the upside was that the vertical and horizontal lines in the wall gave me a grid to use when I was painting the outlines of the mural. I designed the mural using a ¼” scale and when it came to drawing my shapes onto the wall the cement blocks were helpful in measuring how big things should be.

Once my lines and shapes were sketched in I started to roll paint. Since this mural had a growing theme, I chose bright colors for the fruits, vegetables and other elements. I LOVE bright colors, so this was really up my alley. The greens of our growing plants pop against the bright oranges and yellows in the mural. I think the real plants and the painted plants and fruits look even better together than they would separately.

Oh, there were times when I realized that painting in August may have been a little optimistic. I know there are much hotter places than this, but mid-80s is plenty hot to me. As I sweated in the sun, brush in hand, I wondered if I was suffering from heat stroke when I decided to start in the summer! There were moments when I wondered if this was an endless wall. It was 150 feet long, which might as well be endless when you’re painting at noon. Eventually I tried painting from four until eight pm, when it was merely warm, not scorching.

One night earlier this week I finished the mural. It was just before 8 o’clock, when a sunset of bright pink clouds hovered above the wall I’d stared at for several weeks. The last brushstroke was made, this artist heaved a sigh, and headed home.

Of course, I returned the next morning, just to see how it looked in daylight, and truth be told, I did another five minutes of shading. And then it was finished. Really. Although I’m glad that it is finished, I’m also glad that I created this mural. I’m grateful for the volunteers who helped paint and to Hubby for tending the flock while I painted. It feels good to have created some art for everyone to enjoy. I love my community and I like the idea of brightening this world, one wall at a time.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

1200cc of TLC needed, STAT!

The good news is that I’ve finished the garden mural I’ve been painting for three weeks.

The bad news is that my own home garden is now in need of major triage. Oops.

But this happens to everyone, right? Your intense focus on one project takes time and attention away from the other parts of your life, which can be on the back burner for a while. But not forever.

My poor home garden needs help. The front plants are starved for water while (ironically) the weeds have managed to flourish, the dried leaves are accumulating and the dandelions have formed such a large group they’re threatening to unionize.

The back yard is hanging in there because that’s where I spend more time. But still…

I’ll save the update on my mural and the community garden for another day. Today I’m focusing on the plants in my own garden that are doing well. I love discovering that something has bloomed since yesterday. The cana flowers I planted years ago (and forgot) are blooming. My first sunflower opened up. Dahlias from last summer are about to open as well. The veggie seeds I planted ages ago are growing like tiny green sculptures, mixed in with seeds I planted recently. I’m not even sure what’s in there, but it’s exciting! My lemon tree has more lemons on it than ever before and my purple heart is growing like a teen-aged boy. The green onions no longer look like green china threads ready to break. They’re sturdier and someday we’ll be able to pick and eat them.

I’m not the first person on earth to have grown things from seed, no. But this summer is the first time I’ve had success with growing things from seed. In past years I’ve either under- or over-watered so it’s exciting to have some results this year.

Where flowers bloom so does hope. --Lady Bird Johnson