Tuesday, May 31, 2011

When Good People Do Nothing

Zeke, The Shelter Dog Who Changed My Life

A few months ago, we decided to adopt a shelter dog.  After weeks of searching PetFinder and Craigslist, my youngest found him.  "That's the one."  No matter that this dog was in a rural shelter two hours from home.  He was destined to be ours and we made the trip.

Walking across the wet floors of the shelter, we searched the cages for our dog.  Most dogs pawed frantically at the gates of their kennel.  Every dog barked and the dogs echoed through the concrete tunnel of the shelter.  We finally found our dog - of course, in the last kennel.

Out in the yard, we fell in love and took him home.  Only, after several weeks, we realized that this dog was not actually "our" dog.  He wanted to eat our cat too much to be part of our family.  We worked with behaviorists but no luck.  Ultimately, we found him a wonderful new cat-free home.

With all the time that had passed, it was too late to get a dog.  We'd be leaving on a trip in a few months. But I couldn't forget those barking dogs, that wet floor, the echoes in the concrete.  I began advertising on Craigslist for the shelter - anonymously, because I was embarrassed.  After a month, the shelter director tracked me down through an ad to let me know that my ads had dramatically increased adoptions and to beg me not to stop.  My heart swelled with pride, happiness and something more.

I kept up my ads and one day, one of the adopted dogs popped back up on the shelter website with a note - "please help her, she has had puppies."  Fortuitously, a Facebook friend fostered puppies for a local rescue.  We put our heads together and Freckles and her puppies were out of the shelter and in a foster home in no time.  My friend sent me a photo of Freckles with a megawatt grin, nursing her puppies in her new foster home.  My eyes welled up and I felt a lump in my throat and something more.

I continue to place my ads.  Since then, a rural rescue that works with "my shelter" has asked for ideas promoting their dogs.  Since then, I gave all the food and medicine from the dog we could not keep to a local family who lost their home and is struggling to keep their pets.  Since then, I've helped a rescue organization recruit fosters and volunteers.   Since then, many more animals have found homes because of me.  Since then, I've felt warm inside.  I've felt my heart squeeze.  I've felt hope and something more.

I could easily stop placing my ads.  Stop networking with friends.  Worry only about my own family.  But you know what happens when good people do nothing?  They stop feeling so good.

Cubby spent six long months in the shelter and was adopted last Saturday.  I received an email from the adoption coordinator thanking me as the adopters came in response to one of my ads.  

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Blank Slate to Full Plate, Part 2

We moved to this half acre parcel last summer with big dreams, big plans and big paralysis.  In March, we finally got moving and put in three raised beds, a few pathways and moved the kids playhouse.  Now, all we needed was some plants.  Well, some plants, some water, some amended soil and you know how the drill goes.

Part 1 can be found here.

Part 2 of our efforts to turn our blank slate of a yard into a micro-farm is below:

This bed contains three citrus, a lime, mandarin orange and lemon.  I plan for it to also double as my pumpkin patch and have winter squash on one side and summer squash on the other with pollinator favorites in between.

This is the only place where I've put sheet mulch down so far.  More of that to come this fall.  I've got some herbs and wildflowers here with what appear to be morel mushrooms popping up in their midst.  Off to the left is an old plum tree.

In the foreground is the mature fig and just beyond it on the right is a fairly mature Asian pear - with forming fruit already!!  In the back of the photo is a mature apple and it is flanked by raised beds on one side and in impromptu flower garden - just sprouts now - of zinnias and sunflowers.  There is also a pear and 4-in-1 apple not visible from here.

Thank goodness for instant gratification because that is what raised beds are to a gardener!!  No waiting on sheet mulch to break down.  The back two beds have tomatoes, peppers and calendula and the front one has peas, lettuce and cilantro sewn from seed.  On either side of the windmill are baby sunflowers popping out of the earth.

So that's our plan for getting to a full plate.  What's yours?

Like to watch the green beans grow?  Come watch with me at the Facebook page where I share photos, links and updates in addition to blog posts.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

What to Make of the Maker Faire

The Maker Faire is the coolest event on the planet!  It is part science faire, part DIY workshop, part craft faire and part green.  Or so they say.  And most of the people who attend the Faire are equally cool.  Decked out in steampunk corsets and top hats, hair dyed every color of the rainbow, with fishnet stockings ripped from here to there.  An echoing drum beat thrums throughout the fairgrounds.  This hipster event is where all the cool kids go.

Only it turns out, that I'm not a cool kid!  

When my family and I hit the Maker Faire last weekend, I had big hopes and unfortunately not big plans.  I  just figured we'd show up mid-day and hit some stalls, learn some stuff, the kids would "make",  we'd all see what older, bigger "kids" had made and we'd be good.  

But the Maker Faire is not for the weak or the disorganized.  It was insanely crowded.  You could hardly see the exhibits over the shoulders and under the arms of other visitors.  Parking was so full that we were advised to drive 10 minutes away and catch a shuttle down the hill to the event.  There was a map but no signs advising what was what.  After wandering aimlessly for three hours and then choking down some nachos, which my son later choked up (yes, it was lovely!), we skedaddled.  

A couple days later, I felt recovered enough to read my friend, Alison's post: 12 Tips To Being a Pro At the Maker Faire.  Looks like I did every one wrong.  Ah well, maybe next year .  . . 

Or not.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Make Me a Memory

Last weekend, my family and I attended the world famous Maker Faire in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Here are a few photos of some of the many interesting things we encountered there.

Come back tomorrow to read what I make of the Maker Faire.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Confessions From a Brown Thumb Gardener

To walk along the path in my garden, you'd never know it.  You'd stroll past tomatoes shimmying up through their cages.  You'd pass by peas, clambering upward and stretching out to shade the come again lettuce and cilantro.  All grown from tiny seeds poked into the soil back in March.  

You'd step around the soft earthen mounds, where big leafed squash seedlings poke out and you'd peer through the clawing leaves of a native grape.  You might stop to cradle a forming blackberry or an early pear or apple on the trees I planted just a few months ago.  You'd be impressed by my garden, I think.  It is sweet and beautiful and productive and oh so fruitful.

And you would probably never notice what is not there.  No beets.  No radishes.  Just a handful of carrot seeds tossed under a few of the tomatoes because I found an old packet of seeds "carrots love tomatoes" or something like that.  Yes, yes, I know that radishes are "the easiest vegetable to grow."  I'm sure they are if you just want them to sprout.  But to grow something edible, well then, that might be asking a bit much from me, don't you think?

You see as much as I consider myself a gardener, I do have a bit of a brown thumb.  Just in certain areas - mostly non-potato root vegetables.  Corn seems to be beyond me as well and, frankly, my broccoli hasn't turned out all that well either.  Raspberries and blueberries are also not for me.  

I work around my brown thumb.  I plant what is easy to grow.  What likes my climate.  What I eat.  And everything else weeds itself out.

Come watch more green beans grow over at the Facebook page.  There, I share interesting links (mine and others), photos and urban homestead updates.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Spring Fever

The weather does not always cooperate but on a rainy, cold May night, I indulged in sunshine sent in the CSA box and gleaned from farmers' market stalls.  It was featured prominently (at the bottom) on my 6 year old's "Cafe" menu so it much be good! 

Here is the recipe, adapted from Sweet Life Laur, who adapted it from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from  Gourmet magazine (adaptable recipe, much!):

Spring Fever Risotto

4 cups vegetable broth (one carton)
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut 1 1/2 inch slices
1/3 stick unsalted butter, separated
3/4 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced 1/4 inch thick (I used oyster mushrooms)
1 cup fava beans, double peeled
1 onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Boil water and cook asparagus in large pot for 3-4 minutes.  Remove asparagus and drain water. Let air dry.

Heat 1-2 tablespoon(s) butter in heavy saucepan over moderately high heat, then saute mushrooms, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 6 minutes. Add fava beans after two minutes (so they cook for a total of 4 or so minutes). 

Cook onion in 1-2 tablespoon(s) butter in saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring to coat, 1 minute. Add wine and cook, stirring, until absorbed, about 1 minute.
Add in 1 cup broth and cook at a strong simmer, stirring, until absorbed, about 2 minutes. Continue simmering and adding broth, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently and letting each addition be absorbed before adding next, until rice is just tender and looks creamy, 30 minutes. 

Remove from heat and stir in the cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. Gently fold in asparagus, favas, and mushrooms, then cover pan and let stand 1 minute. Serve immediately with parmesan grated on top if desired.

*Check out some other vegetarian dolls this Monday at Midnight Manic's Meatless Monday carnival.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Romancing the Berry

It was my favorite time of the week. I felt out of breath.  Sweat broke out along my hairline in anticipation.  I placed my hands on the cold, hard countertop and wondered what it would be this week.

My hands fumbled at the knots and my heart hammered in my ears.  I paused, took a deep breath and tried to remember what the email had said.  I drew a blank.  Finally, the knot gave way and I slipped my hand eagerly inside.  A tight, bumpy orb.  I pulled it out and held it to my nose.  Lemon.

I pawed through the greens and carrots and then came to three small brown bags, their ends rolled tight.  I quickly unrolled the bags, one at a time, eager to leer inside and see this week's offerings.  Favas.  Snap peas.  Ahhh, my stomach flipped over a bit.  Mushrooms.

Finally, my hands moved - almost on their own - over to the baskets lined rigidly along the end of the counter.  I tugged and finally yanked a luscious strawberry from the constricting green plastic baskets and took a bite.  Yes.  YES!  YES!!!!

It was CSA pick up day and I admit to being a wee bit excited.

* Photo credit to Topfer.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sustainable Snacking for Kids?

How do you feed two hungry boys with one tired mom and the will to avoid packaging and processing?  Check out my post at The Green Phone Booth today to share your ideas.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Nothing Wasted.

It was leftover night in our house.  Tomorrow, our CSA box would arrive and my town's farmers' market would be held - so I could supplement with fruit and asparagus.  I'm sorry!  I just cannot resist.

But tonight, it is all about eating up what is left over.  The bow tie pasta without any sauce left.  A half can of soup.  Yes, yes, I know.  Canned soup is bad but there are times . . .  Oatmeal from this morning.  Snap peas.  Artichokes.  Mushrooms.  Greenhouse tomatoes (Jealous!  We're in California!).  Well, we can't polish off the carrots, I surmise after studying their growing pile in the produce bin, and I'll save the turnip for next week to try an interesting Indian recipe when I feel like actually cooking.

I begin microwaving bowls of oatmeal and soup and handing them off to the appropriate person while an omelet filled with various veggies simmers on the stove top.

The oatmeal is devoured and the bowl goes into the sink.  The soup bowl ends up there as well.  Water from washing the veggies rinses the dishes and I plop them into the dish washer, making room in the sink for more dirty dishes.

Round two goes to the pasta.  A tab of butter melted on top of the pasta replaces the missing sauce and the butter wrapper goes into the freezer for the next time I needed to grease a pan.

Apparently, I served too much pasta because both bowls are returned not quite empty.  Scrapping their contents into the chicken bowl, I smile down at my youngest.  "Lucky we have the chickens," he pipes!  "They'll eat anything."

I agree, turn off the oven and crack the door to warm up the kitchen.

Nothing wasted.  Everything gained.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Hey, Daal Face!

A trip to the farmers' market coupled with a CSA pick up (without reading the newsletter of the CSA box contents) put me on cauliflower.  In the mood for some real food - not kid food - I hit the Internet and the stove top.  The end result, daal (lentils) topped with Vegetarian Cauliflower and Potato Curry.

** Adapted from This Recipe at About.Com

3 tomatoes, chopped
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
Pinch salt
1 tsp olive oil
1 onion diced
2-3 potatoes, diced
1 head of cauliflower, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp or so fresh cilantro, chopped

1) Mash tomatoes, spices and salt together.  Set aside.

2) In large skillet on high, saute potatoes and onions in olive oil for about three minutes.  Add cauliflower and a bit of water.  Reduce heat to medium.  Add tomato mixture and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 to 6 minutes.

3) Reduce heat to low, stir in lemon juice and cilantro.  Serve over daal.


1 cup of lentils (preferably red)
3-4 cups water
1 tsp tumeric
1 tsp salt
1 bunch fresh spinach

Rinse daal until water runs clear and is not cloudy.  In a medium sized pot, add lentils, water, tumeric and salt.  Bring to a boil on high heat.  Then reduce to medium and cook for 20 minutes.  Add spinach.  Cook for another 5 minutes, covered.  Daal should be tender and soupy.  Remove from heat.  Top with curry and devour.

*Check out some other vegetarian dolls this Monday at Midnight Manic's Meatless Monday carnival.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Tales from the Roost: Screwed?

I was not the first.  Apparently, there was another "Fluff" before me.  One who met an untimely end at only 16 weeks old after she swallowed a screw.  I'm told she looked like me.  Blond.  Not as big boned.  Lighter on her feet.  Able to get up on the roost all the way.  Head chicken in her day.  Though apparently not all that bright or she wouldn't have gobbled up coop hardware.

In any event, the littlest human named me after her.  Fluff #2.  A replacement pet.

I suppose I could cry fowl over the whole thing but I'm a better bird than that.  I've accepted the name, the connotations that come with it, and gone on with my life.  I've kept my beak down and out of trouble.  Let the others talk of escape.  Of having babies.  Of life outside the coop.

I've heard enough to know that the worm isn't juicer on the other side of the fence.  Here, I've got a roof over my head, companions, privileges in the yard as long as I stay out of the beds and all the sunflower seeds I can eat.

The human is more careful now than when Fluff #1 ruled the roost.  She keeps us inside when building projects are underway.  She swings that rolling magnet thing around the yard from time to time or has the little humans do it.  She does try.

So are we chickens screwed?  Not quite.  We're just livestock.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Nature Calls

Searching for tadpoles.  Just another way to reconnect kids to nature.  To read more, check out the Green Moms Carnival tomorrow over at The Green Phone Booth.

Monday, May 9, 2011


A few months back, I devoured the delightful book, The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball, a memoir of a city girl who falls for a farmer and farming.  I enjoyed so many things about the book but one particular passage I have not been able to get out of my head.  The author explained that being a farmer makes one feel wealthy - when we all know farmers are anything but!  She lauded the open space, the magic of the land and the creatures on it, and a scene where her husband would walk through the fields, pluck a head of lettuce and bury his face in it, nibbling away the baby leaves.  A farmer's privilege.

It is true that our Meatless Monday is a simple meal - scrambled eggs and toast.  More fitting for breakfast but a dinner that we moms pull out of our hat from time to time when life is too busy, we are too tired or well, just because.

These scrambled eggs, this toast, this is not a simple meal though.  This is a meal that only the wealthy, the truly fortunate could eat.  Eggs from my own band of backyard chickens.  Cherry jam that I made last year from farmer's market cherries.  The sweetest CSA strawberries and a handful of blueberries from our town's farmer's market that opened last week.

How do I feel on Meatless Monday when I eat breakfast for dinner?


*Check out other ways to feel rich this Monday at Midnight Manic's Meatless Monday carnival.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Tales from the Roost: Natural Born Killers

Weapons of Mass Destruction

As told by Warrior Chicken: Minerva Louise

I'll tell you how it went down.  Ever since the warmer weather hit, the captor has been digging in the dirt and has had us on lockdown.  In the winter, we were allowed free access to the yard for hours on end.  Now, the run door is locked except when she opens it to toss in scraps, weeds or to refill the water.  The tightened restrictions have severely hampered my abilities to escape.

Then it happened.  It was a warm spring day.  The sun out.  The breeze blowing.  I could smell freedom wafting just over the fence!  Metal Wing, my destined mate, was out there, somewhere, waiting to lead a chicken rebellion with me.  To free chickens from the confines of cages and coops across the land.

The captor and her two little helpers were upon the hill.  She unlocked the bars of the dank red cage and let us out, ordering the sidekicks to keep an eye on us.  "Keep them out of the pumpkins," she directed.

Puff, bird brain that she is, didn't even bother to come out of the henhouse but stayed in the nesting box, waiting for babies that would never come.  Fluff, as bright as her cochin cohort, was off chasing a dragonfly or something.

Ginger, Serena and I made for the sunny patch by the apple tree.  I'd been sewing seeds of revolution with those two for six months now.  Ginger, the flighty blond thing, is fairly malleable.  Serena, fancies herself top hen but spends an inordinate amount of time begging for treats from the captor.  She's always talking about catching more worms with honey than vinegar or such.  With lockdown in effect for a month, though, Serena's talk has changed.  She sees that we need to get the worms ourselves.  We cannot wait for the jailor to bring them to us.

The captor was by the wood boxes filled with plants.  Her lackeys were chasing each other with hefty wood sticks.  "Now or never," I clucked.  "To higher ground!!"

Ginger, Serena and I launched ourselves at the soft, warm hills of dirt, kicking soil and the squash seedlings across the yard.  We dug up sunflower sprouts, knocked over cosmos and calendula starts, and dragged the captor's precious pumpkin babies across the beds.

I heard a shout, clapping hands and then felt a cold shot of water hammer my fine-boned Welsummer body. Dearest reader, I admit it.  I ran.  So did Ginger.  But our hearts swelled at the sight of Serena, never yielding.  She knocked over the last of the winter squash hills even as our jailor blasted her with water.  Serena kept kicking and clawing until the human clamped her hands across Serena's wings and tossed her into the henhouse with the rest of us chickens.  Top hen after all!

The captor replanted the pumpkins, forming larger, softer hills for her seedlings.  We may have lost the battle but at least she now knows what she was dealing with.  We are not mere chickens.  Not egg laying machines or garbage disposals.  Not mealy beaked hens for cuddling and coaxing with worms.

Oh no.  Now she knows the truth.  We are natural born killers.  Look out seedlings.  We're coming for you.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

All's Faire

I'm always surprised that greenies don't go more gaga over antiques.  They are the ultimate in re-use.  Here are a few snaps from my recent trip to the Alameda Antique Faire where second hand was the only hand.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Nature's Songs

Near my parents' home is a bench inscribed with a dedication to a former member of their town.  Former because she passed away several years ago.  I did not know of the woman, who she was or where she lived but the inscription speaks to me.  It invites passersby to stop, sit and "listen to nature's songs."

I've not thought of the instruction often.  Or at least not followed it.  Usually, I'll walk by, arms pumping, heart pounding, getting in a decent workout before returning to the kids.  Rarely, we'll stroll past the bench with the boys.  Then, we will sit and, sometimes, do as bid.  Only, though, because one or the other is too tired to go on.  Those times, we hear the contented cluck of a vineyard hen, feathering in the dirt.  The coaxing coo of a mourning dove.  The shiver of branches rustled by morning's breeze.

Other times, when I think back to the bench.  Walking one evening, past the old cemetery, we left the small wine country town behind us and ventured into the hills.  Up toward the old stone bridge, mossy and riddled with town rumors, beyond the meadow, passing a downed oak tree, and marching under stretching fir trees.

As it was evening, it was quiet already.  We shushed the boys.  Reminded them of the bench and its direction.  In the silence of the spring night, owls' songs reverberated among us.  Wild turkeys gossiped in the hills, moving to and fro.  A buck and three does froze and then dashed into the woods, rustling the berry bushes as they fled.  And, overhead, without the slightest sound, a great horned owl soared.

Nature's songs and nature's silence.

Thank you for the reminder, bench.  I needed that.

This is my submission for the Green Moms Carnival, to be hosted at The Green Phone Booth on May 12th.  The topic is reconnecting with nature.  Check it out on the 12th to see how green women think we can be one with the wild world.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Kitchen Sink Stir Fry

My favorite days to make stir fry are Thursdays, the day my CSA box arrives, or Wednesday, the day before the next one arrives!  Either explore a fresh new bounty of veggies or clear out the produce drawers.  It works just fine on Meatless Monday too! Either way, kitchen sink stir fry is the answer.

Start with a little oil, a chopped onion, and thinly sliced carrots.  My CSA is always overly generous on the carrots!  I then go from there, slicing and dicing anything in my path.  Stuff that takes longer to cook like broccoli and cauliflower goes in sooner while quick cooking delights, like the darling baby bok choi peppering last week's box, goes in last. 

For protein, I'll add (1) tofu, pressed to get the water out and lightly browned ahead of time, (2) an egg or two cracked right in the pan a la Pad Thai or (3) some raw cashews or peanuts.  

My favorite sauce is soy, a little water and a tablespoon or so of brown sugar.  I hate to admit this but I usually make stir fry in two pans - one for the kids and one for the adults because mama likes it SPICY!  I am liberal with the crushed red pepper flakes and "Thai chili sauce."

Kitchen sink stir fry is a purely seasonal dish that varies with the seasons.  It is never the same meal twice but mine is always meatless, always tasty and very very healthy.  Serve over rice or eat plain if you are counting carbs.

Happy Meatless Monday!  Check out Midnight Manic's Meatless Monday for more vegetarian ideas.


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