The Great Outdoors

The official Fall season is one week old today.  Even though the weather here in the south isn’t very Fall-like yet, there’s another way to tell that it’s Fall.

Squash.  I was given these beauties by the Hankins family.   They gave me even more, but I gave some to the neighbor. Luckily tomorrow is my turn to make the supper swap dinner.  Have you ever seen such huge zucchini?

In the midst of trying to figure out what to make from these, I started wondering how squash got it’s name.  I found the answer on the Everyday Mysteries website from the Library of Congress.  According to the site, “‘Squash’ comes from the Narragansett Native American word askutasquash, which means ‘eaten raw or uncooked.'” (Don’t worry, fellow supper swappers – I’ll be cooking our squash.) I also learned that squash is one of the oldest crops, dating back over 10,000 years; and that the first pumpkin pie was a hollowed out pumpkin filled with apples, spices, sugar, and milk. Hmmm….I think I know what I’m going to make tomorrow for supper!

And, if , like me, you are completely inept in the kitchen, especially when it comes to cutting and slicing things, my friend Kristen has a great vlog (that’s a video blog) post on How to Peel and Cut Butternut Squash (without loosing a finger!).  Check it out.  I’ll try and find out where she got that mammoth vegetable peeler.

Last week we had a very windy day and one of the three tall pines in our back yard snapped in two.  The odd thing is that I watched it happen.  Two things struck me.  One was my instinctual protective mother action of gasping aloud, grabbing hold of Carina and pulling her tight against me.  Even though we were separated from the tree by an exterior wall and 20 feet of deck/flooring.  At least I know I have the instinct. The other thing that was interesting was the sound and feel of the tree falling.  I was sitting on the couch in the living room when the tree caught my attention with a dual-report popping noise, and not only did I see it fall past the window, I heard it whooshing through the air.  When it hit the ground a story and a half below us, I felt it.  I was very glad it fell away from our house and our neighbor’s house.  And now I feel semi-qualified to answer that question about “If a tree falls in the forest…”

Once that tree fell (which was alive) we noticed that the even larger tree behind it was dead.  So we knew we needed to remove it in order to not have a replay of the event described above, which left only the smallest, most-likely-to-hit-the-neighbors’-house-if-it-fell tree, so we decided to remove it too.  Our lot is very sloped, and these trees are at least 30 feet tall, so there was some concern about how to get them out of the back yard.  Luckily, our insurance company happened to send us to a tree service that means serious business.  Many of our friends joke that Craig likes to do things that are EXTREME.  So this was right up his alley.  To bad he was at work and missed all the action.

If you look closely, you can see the guy climbing up the tree to cut the top off (this is the tree that’s dead).

Everyone should have a crane parked in the yard at least once in their lives…

And have a telephone pole dangled over their rooftop…

And a big claw-truck thingy that scares the children.

And the A-#1 source of entertainment for the day for ourselves and several of the (incredibly understanding) neighbors was this, which happened five or six times when it was all said and done.

I’m glad that if the trees had to be removed, it happened the way it happened and when it happened.  But honestly, I really miss my trees.  I loved those tall pines. I liked to watch them sway (ironically) in the breeze, and the kids and I watched the birds and squirrels play in the tops.  I spent many a late evening laying on the couch looking up at the sky through their branches. I wonder if the woodpeckers miss them.  I wonder what happened to all that wood. I never knew being a tree hugger could take an emotional toll.

MOMcation 2010 wrapped a week ago.  So, I’ve had a whole week to ruminate and reflect.  If you want it in a nutshell, MOMcation turned out as close to how I had imagined it as possible.  Minus the tornadoes.  But then, it’s really fitting that Mother Nature would come and show off her skills, talent, and personality at MOMcation too.  It was, after all, a retreat for every MOM.

The longer version, for those of you who like details and pictures, starts with the fact that 18 wonderful women showed up to Heifer Ranch, near Perryville Arkansas.  Some of them had friends in tow, and some of them didn’t know a soul.  We had young mothers and grandmothers, working moms and stay at homes, single, married, and things in between.  The only thing, really, that we all had in common is that we are mothers.  And that’s all we needed.  You can say in spite of, but maybe we should say because of our diversity, we meshed wonderfully.  No cliques or hurt feelings, no alienation or obnoxious-ness.  And when it was all done, the MOMcationers were feeling renewed and headed home with at least a handful of new friends.  Some moms came with trepidation, with a self-consciousness, or a pre-determined idea of who wouldn’t like them.  It was amazing to see that all fall away through the weekend, with this being the end result:

MOMcation 2010 attendees

MOMcation 2010 Attendees

As one of the event planners, I had a different perspective on the weekend.  At the outset, I was nervous too.  I wanted everyone to be comfortable and have fun, but more than that, I wanted these MOMs to learn from each other, and to see that sometimes taking time away for yourself has benefits that reach far beyond just a couple days of goofing off out in the boonies with some other women.  But as things got rolling, I quickly saw that all was well and good in the land of MOMcation.

We had tons of activities; some group oriented and some self-starting.  One of the more popular group activities was yoga.  Some of the moms were experienced in yoga, and some had never done it before, but everyone who tried it seemed to like it.

Yoga and Nap time combined - MOMs are always multitasking!

Photo Credit: Greg Benenati

There was also jewelry making, deal finding, and two great cooking sessions.

Tammy Felder teaching Bruschetta and Shrimp Bisque

Christie Ison, The Fancy Pants Foodie

We had nightly get-togethers.  One of my favorite things was getting the camp fire started with Stephanie (aka The Park Wife) sans lighter fluid…Ok, maybe she mostly started the fire, but I threw a few kindling sticks on.  We made s’mores and huddled around to tell tales of mommy life.

Photo Credit: Christie Ison

We also took a tour of Heifer Ranch and learned more about what Heifer International and the ranch itself does.  The covered hayride was both relaxing and educational. I was really impressed by the fact that many of the MOMcationers took time to explore the ranch on their own and to really think about Heifer’s mission of ending world hunger and building peace.

On the Hayride

The icing on the cake is that thanks to the four awesome members of the planning committee* and some really awesome sponsors, we were able to give away some really great stuff, including spa services, gift baskets, books, locally grown food, gym memberships, and even a couple weekend get-aways.  Overall, MOMcation 2010 was  a huge success, and there is already high demand for a MOMcation 2011.  So stay tuned for a date announcement.  If you’re on Facebook, you can “like” the MOMcation page to stay up to date.

*The four awesome members of the planning committee will be showing up in a later post, after I force them to take a group photo. But truly, I cannot say it enough times, MOMcation 2010 would not have happened without them. Thank you Valerie, Nicole, Liz, and Ashlee!

The One Small Change initiative officially wrapped-up on Earth Day.  However, since the project has gotten such a great response, with several of us planning to continue making changes through the year, Hip Mountain Mama has decided to keep the blog going, complete with prizes and guest posts.  So, this is my review of the first four changes we made this year:

Our first radish harvest

Local Food – this one got off to a slow start, but now that the farmer’s markets are opening, and the Argenta Market is in business, it’s much easier to find local food resources.  Our little garden in the back yard has started providing a little bit of produce as well: radishes.  It doesn’t get much more local than that!  We’re also getting ready to pick up our second Basket of the Month.  We skipped the April basket because we were out-of-town.  That’s one of the benefits of the BAM – you don’t have to get a basket every month.

Cloth Diapers – still doing well with this, although all the extra use means that I need to “strip” the diapers, which I have not done in a long time and need to look up instructions for.  I am hoping to get Callen potty trained this summer, so I might have a good deal on some cloth diapers come fall!

Garden – our Garden is growing right along.  I’ve made several rookie blunders: I don’t think I planted the radishes deep enough, and trying to grow the tomato and pepper plants from seed was a mistake. This weekend’s plans include a trip to the garden store to purchase a few established tomato and pepper plants. Our rain barrel works wonderfully, gathering rainwater from one of the downspouts so that we conserve water and save money.

Composting – I am still learning about composting, so I’m not really sure that I am doing it right, although the basic process seems fairly easy.  It certainly has reduced the amount of food waste that is going into our trash can, which makes me happy.  The composter is getting pretty full, though, so soon it will be time to take some of the good dirt out and spread it around.  Last month we also took part in a recycled landscaping project:  our neighbors thinned out several of their bushes and were nice enough to let us have them to plant in our back yard.  Right now the leaves are all brown and dead, so that’s another research project: should I cut them back, or leave them alone until fall?  Either way, I’ll be pampering them with some compost.

I am planning to continue the One Small Change project through the year.  It’s a great way to keep me focused on making earth-friendly changes in our household, and one change per month isn’t overwhelming.  Stay tuned for our May change!

It’s Here!

Our spinning compost bin, courtesy of Grandpa Stan

My dad delivered our new (to us) compost bin, complete with some starter in it, and we’ve been adding to it ever since.  Every once in a while I have to do a google search to see if a certain item can be composted or not, but we’re learning as we go.

As you can see in the image above, the drum of our composter has a panel door that opens.  We dump in our fruit and vegetable scraps, yard cuttings, coffee grinds and filters, and whatever other organic items we have.  Then, we close the door and spin the drum around four or five times to mix it up.  Pretty easy.   . . .but not really.

I have to admit that I’m a bit intimidated by this compost thing.  How do I know I’m adding enough of the right stuff to it?  How many banana peels is too many?  Is my compost too wet?  When is it ready? When is a good time to add the compost dirt to the garden?  Like I said, I’m learning as I go.  I’m glad to be learning, though, and thrilled that the kids are learning right along beside me.

“‘Well,’ said the tree,
straightening herself up
as much as she could,
‘well, an old stump is good
for sitting and resting.
Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest.’

And the boy did.

And the tree was happy.”

~ Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree

Our March One Small Change is rolling right along.  I’m happy to report that everything we have planted so far (radishes, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, and sunflowers) is happily showing off little green leaves.  Today the kids and I planted cucumbers, squash, beans, and stevia.  Carina loves eating the leaves off of the stevia, which is a natural sweetener.  We’ve had a lot of fun in the garden, and learned a few things as well.

digging holes for the sunflowers

watering the radishes and carrots with water from the rain barrel

happy and proud little farmers

I am excited that we have plenty of water to water our little garden from our rain barrel: it filled up the very day that Craig installed it thanks to  a nice spring storm.  Our April change will go right along with our new garden, and is something that I have been wanting to do for over a year now: COMPOSTING!  My dad has a composter that he is going to let us use, and I’m thrilled to get started.

“Catch! Calls the Once-ler
He lets something fall.
‘It’s a Truffula Seed.
It’s the last one of all!
You’re in charge of the last of the Truffula Seeds.
And Truffula Trees are what everyone needs.
Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care.
Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air.
Grow a forest. Protect if from axes that hack.
Then the Lorax
and all of his friends
may come back.’ ”

– Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

This is a guest post by Craig Rechkemmer in response to my previous post about our new garden.

Nice piece… you forgot the instructions of how to build a raised garden bed.

Step 1:  Ask hubby (If needed, mention the Pioneer Woman‘s husband)
Step 2:  Point to area of yard for desired raised garden bed location
Step 3:  Check area previously pointed to 6 hours later
Step 4:  Take picture of hubby finishing up
Step 5:  Plant seeds according to garden calendar

Editor’s Note: I was trying to explain to Craig what a blog dynasty is, and was showing him the Pioneer Woman blog.  Ever since I showed him this post with pictures of the Pioneer Woman’s husband holding their preschooler in one arm and rustling cattle with the other, he likes to scoop up one of our kids and strike a pose when he thinks he is doing something manly, like building gardens (see picture above). Too bad I can’t take awesome pictures like Pioneer Woman does.

As part of my quest to feed my family more local foods, I have been wishing for a garden. Not a big garden, because I have no idea what I am doing. Just a little garden that we can try out; a place to grow a few vegetables and maybe some flowers; a fun spot for the kids to use their little garden trowels and get dirty. I love to pick things, and I think the kids will get a big kick out of eating things they have grown themselves.

I have an awesomely handy husband who I am thankful for. He spent the bulk of this past weekend obliging my wishes by building a raised garden bed in the back yard.

The kids helped him too. When I explained to Carina that Daddy was building a garden bed for growing vegetables, she asked, “Are we going to lay down on the vegetables?” I know better than to try to share Craig’s workspace (two type-A personalities don’t mix well on home improvement projects), but I did help add in the dirt. The finished product is fantastic!

Admittedly, I am a little intimidated by this whole gardening thing. However, the more research I do, the more I find that gardening is not only a great project for kids, it’s a great project for type-A personalities. I stayed up way too late last night figuring out when our various seeds need to be planted and sketching out our garden “floor plan”.

Today Carina and I planted the carrots and radishes in neat little rows (we’re already behind schedule for those!), and then we made a garden calendar so we would know when to plant our other seeds and when to expect the seedlings to start appearing. The calendar became a necessity when Carina started asking me every 10 minutes if she could go see if the “carrots and those other things we planted, what are they called? oh, radishes, are ready yet.”  Tomorrow we are going to start our tomato and pepper seeds in fiber cups. Carina has her planting outfit all picked out.

Hopefully SOMETHING will grow, and the deer, raccoons, squirrels, rabbits, and birds will save some for us. If anyone loves to hand out free gardening advice, I am happy to take it. How DOES your garden grow?

My February One Small Change pledge was to use our cloth diapers more.  Easy enough – consider it done!  We’ve definitely been using those cloth diapers more, and thanks to the warmer weather, we’ve been using the clothes line to dry them too!  We’ve also made progress on our January pledge to use more local foods – we got our first Basket A Month (BAM) CSA, which included bacon, turnip greens, cheese, honey, rice, sweet potatoes, milk, and butter – all grown and made locally!  I also scored big when I met up with my blog buddy, The Park Wife, and she brought me 18 beautiful brown eggs fresh from her very own chickens!

Our March One Small Change is not so small – we’re planting a garden!  Hubby is going to build us a raised garden bed and we’ll make our first ever attempt at growing our own vegetables, and maybe even a few herbs.  We have no idea what we’re doing, but that’s what google is for.  I’m excited to try this out, and to watch the kids have fun in the dirt!

Next Page »