Saturday, May 30, 2009

Your Neighbor's Garden

After a lazy start to our Saturday, we decided not to hit the farmers market for once. (The thought of coming home without produce depressed me.)

Instead, on our afternoon outing, we decided to check out Your Neighbor's Garden near 51st Street and Michigan Road.

Your Neighbor's Garden is a farm stand within a private home, and it's worth the drive if you're on the northwest side of town. Tucked away in a quiet neighborhood (look for the "produce" sign by the mailbox), Your Neighbor's Garden offers produce about as local as you can get - a few feet away, in many cases. What they can't grow, they bring in from other Indiana producers (with the exception of some California morels they had on a high shelf.)

It was a fast stop, and great for a family with two tired kids. Tucked back by the garage, the small air-conditioned shop was a treat to visit. Thick, leafy bunches of lettuce. Green onions the size of a quarter. Asparagus as thick as markers. Tomatoes just at a toddler's reach (we had a tough time convincing him they weren't "balls," his new fascination.) And, interestingly, in an age where few people trust others to write a check, the owners have an honor system if you've forgotten your checkbook or cash - simply pick up an envelope and mail your payment in!

Of course, being a parent, I love the history of the stand that I found on their Web site:
The GARDEN has been a labor of love since its beginning when it began as a
family project. When Greg (9) and Anne (12) asked me if they could have a
lemonade stand, I suggested that they could probably make more money selling the
excess vegetables from my backyard garden.

Today, they grow on 2 acres within a mile of their home. Your Neighbor's Garden is at 5224 Grandview Drive in Indianapolis (east of Michigan Road). Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

If you're not headed to Indy's northwest side any time soon, you can check out Your Neighbor's Garden's produce at several other farmer's markets, including Broad Ripple, Zionsville, Irvington, City Market, and 38th and Meridian.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Rain Gardens

Water runoff can be a problem with your gutters. I know I have a small problem with dirt washing out in one area of my house, despite my best attempts to stop it. Visit the Green Parent to learn more about how rain gardens might be a solution.

Weeds 19, Me 0

Gardening tip of the day: Don’t leave your onion sets in the garage when the temps get in the high 80s.

I’m not sure what happened, but my red onion sets went nuts over the last week.

Last night, I opened the paper bag to see a bizarre mess of red onion sets with 3-inch long white and yellow sprouts. Yikes. It doesn’t seem natural. So I weeded out my garden, replaced the grass and weeds that overcame my seeds and dropped the strange onion sets in the ground. If those don’t work, we’ll try again with lettuce.

Gardening doesn't seem to come as easily as it used to. It used to be I'd drop in a few plants or onion sets or lettuce seeds, and, boom, they'd just grow. This year, we're coping with a heck of a lot of work, and getting questionable results.

Beans: I clearly remember that I planted three rows of our multicolor beans, but we’re not having much luck. The first batch I’d planted resulted in two – count them, two – bean plants. The second row is faring much better but a few are getting eaten or broken. We’ll see.

Blueberries: Still alive! Though strong winds and rain knocked out about half of our flowers earlier this month, we’ve actually got pea-size (green) berries growing. We’ll see how long they last – our strawberries have already been nibbled on.

Carrots: Those rainbow carrots my daughter was so excited about are not doing so well. Of the two rows I planted, maybe four carrots are appearing (and I’m not sure that they aren’t weeds.)

Garlic: The sprouting organic garlic we planted on a whim in March is doing well. The late arrivals from Pinetree are in the ground; though half are still in the fridge holding out for fall.

Herbs: Those started from seed went nowhere. (Oregano, chives and basil are no-go.) We caved last weekend and bought several oregano and basil plants to join our rosemary plant. A coworker also shared two mint plants, which are now happily potted. We’ll see how they progress.

Lettuce: About half of what I planted actually sprouted. Not sure why.

Leeks: My poor leeks that were doing so well in the peat pellets don’t seem to have survived the real world. We’re down to one lonely leek hiding in the corner of my raised bed.

Onions: Growing like crazy. We’ll see what happens with the freakish red onions with the yellow tails.

Shallots: Sprouting and in the ground. Leftovers were shared.

Strawberries: About 1/8” high in my peat pellets, but the 3-year-old ones in the ground are going like crazy. We harvested our first berries two weeks ago.

Squash: Despite two of my plants literally disappearing the night we planted them(?) the remaining three are actually growing.

Tomatoes: Our plants are faring well overall, though we had two unceremoniously snapped at the base (despite having cages). Thankfully, the Greenwood Farmers Market is selling their heirloom tomatoes at $2 each – much better than what you’ll pay for a “regular” tomato at Lowe’s!

Gardening is certainly a work in progress. Thankfully I have two friendly helpers to keep it going - or, at least, interesting!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The best gifts

Tuesday was my husband's birthday. Since we've had kids, our celebrations have keyed down considerably. Dates out to restaurants, movies, concerts or events have been replaced by simple hopes of having both kids asleep by 10 p.m.

This year was about as low-key as you can get. My husband, after a busy day of chasing children, decided to make dinner - cooking is an outlet for him - while the kids worked on their present.

The words say it all:

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

When life hands you lemons

Two children and a grocery store are a bad combination. Long story short, the frazzled feeling we felt Saturday by the time we hit the produce aisle meant we had a big shopping boo-boo.

"Hey, the lemons are only $1 cheaper for a bag, instead of just buying 3," I said, putting a bag in my cart.

He heard: "Buy more lemons."

Unpacking our bags, we found out we were blessed with about a dozen lemons to eat. That's a lot of ice tea. Or candied lemons if I was feeling really motivated.

Instead, we turned to yet another overdue library book and found a recipe for Ginger-Lemon Ice. It takes a few hours but is worth the wait.

Essentially it's this: Take 8 lemons and whack the tops off. (And this is why I'm not a cookbook writer...)

Scoop out the insides of the lemon, and save the pulp and juice.

Take a couple of egg whites and beat a little in a bowl. Roll the lemon "cups" in sugar and freeze for an hour or so.

In a saucepan, cook 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup Splenda (or 1 1/2 cups sugar); 2 cups water; and a 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced. Dissolve sugar/Splenda and simmer. Take off heat and cover. Cool in the fridge. (At least 1 hour).

When cool, pour mixture into blender with pulp and juice as well as ice. Blend until the mixture is slushy. Pour into the lemon cups and serve.

The cookbook version is oh-so pretty. Reality is not. And it comes in the size of a 3 year old who wanted nothing more than to help. We had a sugar-encrusted kid. Sugar-encrusted cabinets. Sugar-encrusted sofa. Not-so-sugar encrusted lemon cups.

It was simple. It was messy. And the results are fabulous.

Need other sweet treats that don't require an ice cream maker? Try our kid-friendly recipe for strawberry ice cream.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Market time

I made a big parenting mistake last weekend, I'll admit. We didn't hit the farmers market. And I heard about it from kids who knew that Mom wasn't working and we weren't looking at plants or produce. Yes, kids get opinions early, don't they?

So this weekend, in between cookouts and other Memorial Day weekend activities, we'll be sure to squeeze in a brief trip to one of our area farmers markets. We haven't made a decision yet as to which one, but I'm sure we'll have to work to squeeze all of our purchases into the fridge!

We still have a few weeks until many of the smaller markets are open, but there are still several choices in Indianapolis. You can also find a complete listing of farmers market locations online, or download Indiana's 2009 directory of farmers markets, stands, and you-picks.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Second life for lids

Recycling glass bottles and alumimum cans is routine for most of us. But what if you want to do more?

Michele emailed me the other day with this question:
I finally caved and am paying for curbside recycling.... (The company)
doesn't accept (for "safety purposes", I'm told,) the lids on ANYTHING. No
steel vegetable can lids, no spaghetti sauce jar lids, no milk jug caps,
etc. I got the feeling I was annoying the CSR when I was asking specific
questions on what was accepted and the response was a quick, "No, you have to
throw THAT away, too." Do you know who would take these (I'm especially
concerned about the steel can tops). It just seems like such a waste to
throw away perfectly good metal.

Unfortunately, I'm in the same boat. Our local recycling company has similar rules that admittedly are a bit aggravating. I checked the Keep Indianapolis Beautiful recycling directory, and while they have a ton of resources, you may just have to call to see whether they accept particular items. I'd love to know whether anyone does, in fact, take these kinds of items, or if they are deemed just a big "hassle" or workman's comp risk for getting hands cut.

I did a Web search and found that, if you're brave, you can reuse these lids (and their accompanying bottles or jars) for varying crafts, such as candle holders or bath salt jars. (While I did see some references for re-using for canning, I'd be a bit leery about that as they might not completely seal, and you're at the risk of botulism...)

But, if you want to get a bit creative, you can try these more unusual ideas for what to do with lids:

Related article: 10 Ways to Reuse a Glass Jar. (from

What does my garden grow?

I never said gardening with little ones wouldn't be challenging. I'm just seeing more of the fruits of it right now!

We're two weeks into having a garden, and we're starting to see a few results: the teeniest of spring lettuces, the shoots of the onion sets, the pencil-thin leeks (or at least I hope they're leeks and not random blades of grass), the beginnings of chives (again, hoping not grass).

Which leads to Lesson 1: Mark your territory. Even though I thought I knew where things are planted, it's challenging to guess. The carrots may not even start for another two weeks, for example. And I'm not 100 percent sure right now what's growing that was supposed to be there. In other words, I should have put in my yogurt-container-turned-veggie labels as I worked.

My beans are of an iffy state. About 1/3 of what we originally planted are doing well. The beans we planted a week later in the other bed are going crazy. Lesson 2: Space your planting. I never really understood until then why they say that!

These two lessons came in handy this weekend, when we got a surprise package in the mail. Our shallots, onions and garlic ordered a few months back from Pinetree Garden. A great problem to have, except my idea of what would be shipped (if it ever arrived) and what they delivered had a slight discrepency. And they would have to fit in about a 2-foot by 4-foot area. Right... (Thankfully they can be used to plant this fall as well.)

In comes my helper, who's thrilled about planting shallots, which by then I'd accidentally spilled into my extremely wet peat pellet tray. She eagerly grabbed a handful and went to work peeling off the thin outer layer "because the birds like to eat them," she reasoned. And just as quickly, they were planted (in likely large, clustered batches) in random areas that make sense to only a 3 year old.

So in the coming weeks, I shouldn't be surprised if random things are popping up everywhere. This summer, in our garden, we'll just stick to Lesson 3: Just go with the flow.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Fudging my daughter's "food of love"

While the “food of love” thing may work for Emeril, it always makes for interesting experiences in the kitchen. It’s a simple expectation that the more cooks in the kitchen, the more flour, sugar and frosting will become accent colors on the tablecloth, the floor, the kids.

This morning, I talked with my daughter about the fact her grandparents would be up this weekend, and that her Mama would be having a birthday. Her response? Make a cake, of course.
An Elmo cake, no less.

The problem with empowering your kids in the kitchen is that they have definite ideas of what should be done. Worse, if you provide colorful kids cookbooks for them to flip through, they’ll be all over the dessert planning. Because you have to have priorities.

So yes, buried in the back of the Sesame Street cookbook is a page with a chocolate cake, with sprinkles, and an Elmo. Thankfully there is no Elmo on top of the cake. That in itself brings on headaches in a mother whose child doesn’t understand why we can’t have a cake like on “Ace of Cakes.”

I look at the ingredient list. Most are normal ingredients. And then there’s yogurt, and powdered sugar, and cocoa powder, and applesauce. And I think to myself, that’s a heck of a lot of stuff for a cake. Not to mention a lot of steps when you're dealing with the attention span of a preschooler.

A box of cake mix never sounded so good. In fact, I realized, the expense and trash generated from this “homemade” variety far exceeds that of the lowly box. It may be marginally healthier, but I figure what's a few non-healthy slices of cake each year?

So, Mama, I hate to tell you this, but I think Elmo’s “recipe” calls for one box of cake mix, a few eggs, a bit of oil, and a little fudge. You can pick your favorite type.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

First cooking lesson: How to make 9 cookies

You're never too young to be a help in the kitchen. As a parent, I don't understand those who keep their kids out of the kitchen at all costs. Sure, there are times when you have boiling water or sauteeing in oil, when you don't want a helper close by.

But think of all the missed opportunities out there!

My toddler, sitting in his high chair, has watched Mommy cook and "helps" by getting his own lettuce, flour, or whatever to play with in a bowl or cup measurer. It's great entertainment, and, frankly, I can control the mess, or at least, the geography in which it occurs.

Sunday, though, was his first formal cooking lesson: Baking cookies.

My daughter wanted to be my sous-chef that day as her special activity (yes, being a "sous-chef" is very important in our house). I asked her what she wanted to make. She said cookies.

I should have known.

So I spread out the high chair drop cloth, got out a sturdy bowl and two spoons, and we got to work with the same recipe she's used since she was about 18 months old. Over time, it's been pared down to a recipe making about a dozen cookies.

It's simple, really. A stick of butter. 1/2 cup of sugar. 3/4 cup of flour. 1/2 tsp. of baking soda and a pinch of salt. Mix together. Drop on your cookie sheet. Bake 10 minutes at 350 degrees.

Because, you see, for kids, it's about the process, not how many dozens you make.

So my 16 month old happily helped alongside of his sister. He banged his cup measurers on the flour container and the bowl. He stirred the dough. He put cookie dough in his cup measurer, on the cookie sheet haphazardly, on his legs, the soles of his feet, his hair. He was the happiest kid on the block Sunday morning.

My daughter, patiently, worked around her brother, stirring the dough with precision, popping samples in her mouth, making the occasional ball of dough on the cookie sheet.

And in the end, those were the best nine cookies we could have had for dessert.

Day 369 of unemployment: Looking for a few good prayers

Mommy guilt is bad enough. You feel guilty for working outside the home. You feel guilty when you don't work outside the home. You feel guilty, period.

Today is one of those guilty days. I pulled out of the driveway this morning, watching two sad faces stare at me from behind the door. That's after 10 minutes of kids clinging to me, crying and asking why I have to go to work and can't we just have a family day.

I should be grateful on one level that they stay home five days a week with their father. Today is not one of them. Today, I wish for nothing but "normalcy."

Today, I hear the frustrations of a coffee-less husband who's already tense from the fussing at breakfast. Apparently the toddler's sense of "food" and ours didn't mesh.

Today, I hear the frustrations through the phone when the larger cloth diapers I'd bought on craigslist leaked and he had to change diapers and clothes and wash the carpet.

Today, I hear the disappointment in my husband's voice when he talks about how the interview he'd pinned his hopes on last week hasn't materialized into anything and that the hundreds of applications he's placed over the last year have meant nothing. Calls and e-mails go unreturned. Job fairs feel like cattle calls worse than American Idol. And all that results is a loss of time.

Today, I don't have any answers or words that can help. So I'm looking for a few good prayers.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Lessons from the farmers market today

Lessons learned at the farmers market today:

My 16-month-old may be able to out-eat his weight in foccacia bread, particularly when it's smothered in garlic, herbs and cheese. So two pieces for the family to share just isn't going to cut it for a mid-morning snack. (Can I tell you those kids finished off nearly two 4-inch squares each?)

"Share some of your bread with your brother" apparently means taking a crumb not even the size of the tip of your pinkie and handing it to your sibling, as if you've done a great feat.

If you don't know how much room is left in the garden (or remember quite how many peat pellets are still sprouting in your kitchen), don't come home with a half-dozen new veggie plants to cram in to your garden. No matter how unusual the variety.

Slacking pays off. Arriving at the end of the market means you may miss out on the green garlic or asparagus, but it also means you snatch some great deals. One vendor, ready for the day to end, offered to give me all of her broccoli for what I was ready to pay for one bunch. Maybe I won't worry so much about getting the kids out the door on Saturdays!

Hope you enjoyed a day as gorgeous as ours today!

Friday, May 8, 2009

When someone you know is a statistic

This weekend, our family marks one year since my husband lost his job. He’s hardly alone. In Indiana, the “official” unemployment rate hovers around 10 percent, and that’s not including those no longer on the unemployment compensation rolls or have settled for part-time or underpaying positions.

Walk down your street, look down the aisle of your church pew or scan your conference room table, and you’ll likely see someone who’s become a statistic in this economy. Or their roommate, spouse, significant other or family member is.

There’s a lot of people needing support out there. And not just financially.

So today, I’m going off-topic and offering a little unsolicited advice for the nine out of 10 (or whatever the stats really are) Americans who are still working today.

If you know someone who is out of work, is underemployed or is otherwise impacted by unemployment in their household:

  • Realize that people need more support as time passes. While many may be able to eek by for a month or two, as time passes and savings wane, uncertainly and stress levels increase. Moral support is needed more than ever!
  • Offer friendship, not a handout. One of the things that impressed me most about this journey was when a friend asked me to teach her to make Chinese – then came over with groceries. We had a great evening, she learned how to cook Chinese, and she was able to help our family in a way that didn’t feel like a “handout.”
  • If you can’t relate, it’s OK. Saying things like “It’s a bad economy” (really?) or “I was a broke college student once” makes you seem callous. And frankly, it doesn’t make the other party feel any better. Just as I can’t relate completely to my single friend who’s worried about her safety net in a few months, she can’t completely relate to the fact that our income is cut in half and we have $400 available each month to cover utilities, daily needs, medicine, day care when my husband is in class, and anything else required to care for our family. Admit you can’t completely relate. But be there to listen.
  • We’re happy for your success, but don’t rub it in. We don’t necessarily want to hear how you can now pay an extra $1,000 a month on your student loans or share every intricate detail about your new car you bought to celebrate a new job.
  • Don’t isolate us. Unemployment is isolating enough due to embarrassment, frustration or lack of resources. Ask how it’s going. And listen. Or talk about politics, sports or the other things that happen the other 128 hours or so of the week when you're not at work.
  • Reconnect with us cheaply. Hang out with a cookout, for a beer at home, or a pizza and movie night. Friendship shouldn’t have to end just because someone can’t go to dinner or an expensive evening out.
  • Don’t assume we wouldn’t be interested in a lead. When you’re trying to keep a roof over your head or support your family, flipping burgers, working retail or signing up with a temp agency isn’t above us. Even if it’s not ideal, it feels good to be doing something about your financial situation.
  • Offer a networking coffee, particularly later in the search when frustrations begin to increase.
  • Most of all, just listen.

300 posts ago

Today I learned I've hit 300 posts on this blog. It's either a great milestone or simply a reminder I talk too much!

I started this blog last spring because I couldn't find a place that had the little tips and tricks to make lives greener. I wasn't financially in the place for big-ticket items like hybrid cars or solar panels, and I wanted to do something. I figured others did too.

So I started writing. Apparently a lot. And certainly, times have changes.

300 posts ago, "green bloggers" were happily challenging each other to make green changes, almost out of sport. We didn't know about $4 gas, swine flu or what it was like to have one out of 10 neighbors out of work.

300 posts ago, I was coping with the colic that wouldn't quit, the prospect of going back to work and wondering how I was going to chase after a 2 year old and pump for the baby who wouldn't nurse at the same time. Formula was never looking better, and I was seriously doing the math.

300 posts ago, I wouldn't have in a million years paid for a shopping bag, particularly one with a store's branding on it.

I wouldn't have cared what container things came in at the store, though I avoided those single-serving packs like the plague.

I would have laughed hysterically at the idea of cutting back on Diet Coke, building a garden in a day from scratch (particularly with two little helpers and a husband who tries), or dealing with cloth diapers at all.

Nor would I have thought that our household income would be cut in half, my agnostic husband would join or church or one of us would return to school for a vastly different career path.

But here we are, 300 posts later. I've learned a lot about how we can better care for the gifts of this world, and a little bit more about myself. Thanks for joining me along the way!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Sowing the seeds with your little sprouts

Gardening in itself is a challenge. Gardening with your little ones, well, that just makes things interesting.

I consider myself nearly a veteran now, this being my third season of gardening in some capacity with a little one. And while as a parent you're likely thinking of all the ways those trowels or rakes can become a weapon in a child's hands and imagination, gardening with your children is actually a fun experience.

This weekend, I had a blast digging in the dirt, sowing seeds and planting vegetable starts with not only my oldest child, but the baby (who ate his first dirt, I guess, at least it was organic!) and four of the older neighbor kids, who were wholly impressed by what a sprouting bean looks like. I sent home several small pots as souvenirs...What does it hurt?

Gardening with your little ones - even toddlers - can be a fun experience. They want to be like mom and dad, and they are attracted by things popping up and the thrill of mud. Face it - you can control the circumstances or they can find it on their own.

Still, gardening with your little ones requires patience, as I can attest. I've lost count of the times my daughter flooded areas of my garden, dug out something she shouldn't, ran off when she was supposed to be "helping" or picked things before they were ready. But I wouldn't trade the experience for anything.

I've discovered a few tricks along the way that might help you out, especially if you have children in preschool or younger:

Get their own equipment. They're going to use a toy shovel, or they'll try yours. Decide which does the least damage. My daughter is thrilled with her own equipment, down to her own set of Dora garden gloves, garden hat (which a friend bought her two autumns ago), watering can (which she's used since she was barely walking) and garden tools.

Start small. The first two seasons in my home, we opted not to put in our raised beds. With our schedules, a pregnancy and a little one, we had no time to start gardens. Instead, we started with container gardening and some strawberries and herbs mixed in with our plants. Buying plants from the farmers market is a relatively inexpensive way to go as well.

Appeal to their senses. Gardening from seed is a painstaking process, but you can liven it up from your little ones. Start seeds indoors in peat pellets - which can speed up the process, not to mention is easier to find the sprouts than in a large bed.

"Paint" a little to get started. I found a great idea in Organic Gardening magazine recently. It was on how to space seeds, particularly small ones, easily. Simply tear your newspaper into strips, and "paint" spots with a mixture of flour and water at the distance the seeds need to be spaced. Then put the seeds on the "paint" spots. Allow to dry, then bury at the depth the seeds need to be painted. This was a quick way to get my seeds planted, allowed me not to waste seeds, and gave my daughter a great outlet. What kid doesn't like to paint?

Go for a quick reward. Strawberries and beans are easy to grow and appeal to kids' tastes. Sometimes you just have to go easy!

This weekend, consider stepping out to the farmers market and letting your little one pick out a plant or two. Getting them to help in the garden is a fabulous way to help them connect to the earth, realize that food doesn't come from a store shelf and just unleash some energy. Whatever this season brings you, enjoy the ride!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Save the Earth

"Save the earth!" my daughter declared the other day when I picked her up from day care.

I asked her how we saved the earth. She didn't know.

I asked her why we should save the earth. Her response: "Because the butterflies live there."

Reason enough!