Archive | February, 2012

My daughter takes a ride on the underground railroad, meets Harriet Tubman

27 Feb

It was a privilege  to re-learn about Harriet Tubman as my first-grader pulled together a report on Harriet Tubman’s amazing escape from slavery and then to help free more than 300 people herself. What an inspirational woman! Here is the map my daughter put together for her presentation. We helped her print out the states and then she traced them onto a poster board. She presented her report today, and apparently “it went well.” That’s all we ever get out of her.


Covered wagon or greenhouse?

27 Feb

Rather than  buy starts, last year I built a greenhouse so I could sprout my own tomatoes, peppers, and basil. Calling it a greenhouse is being generous. I used some scrap two-by-fours to frame out a low-slung frame that’s eight feet long, four feet wide and three feet tall – or something like that. The only complicated part was to build and mount a door. Then I stretched plastic over it all, and voila, I had greenhouse.

It worked great – I wasn’t sure how it would perform, and I actually ended up with too many cherry tomatoes, lots of peppers, and even some of the finicky basil that I had never been able to start on my own before.

After I was done with it, I parked the greenhouse in the hidden area on the north side of my house and thought vaguely that I needed to do something about the roof. (Every time it rained, the water pooled heavily on the roof, which caused it to sag and sag some more each time it rained). I promptly forgot about the plastic-wrapped wonder until recently, when I started thinking about dragging it out so I can get some new starts going. When I went back to take a look, sure enough it was filled with water and rotting leaves. Yuck.

Seeing some of the PVC-like plastic pipes some people use to tent over their raised beds, I came up with the idea of popping out the top of my greenhouse with some PVC pipes. I just needed to figure out how to secure the pipe ends without tearing the plastic. I went to the hardware store, looked around, and decided 45-degree PVC elbows would likely do the trick. So I bought two 10-foot lengths of 3/4 inch PVC and six elbows, plus some basic brackets to hold the elbows in place.

From there, I estimated how long a piece I thought I would need by wedging a piece of PVC into the roof and seeing how far I could wedge in. I quickly made a mark, cut the pipe down to size, screwed the brackets over the elbows, and wedged the PVC pipe in one elbow, bent the middle of the pipe up until I could slip the other end into the elbow on the other side, and I was done. I did that twice more, and I suddenly had a pop-up roof and a greenhouse that looks just like a covered wagon.

Now it’s time to move it to the sunny side of the yard and see how warm it stays at night.

Freak Hailstorm Creates Picture Perfect Opportunity

25 Feb

Earlier today I talked my younger daughter into going with me to walk the dogs – all it took was to point out to her that the sun had come out. As we walked out the sun was dazzlingly bright and there was a soft, drizzly rain. It was beautiful. Not one to miss an opportunity, she quickly asked if we would see a rainbow. Good question I said – maybe we would.

We went out around the corner and the light was really wonderful – the late afternoon sun was lighting up the  light rain. Then the rain got thicker and heavier – wetter, really. Then my daughter noticed it was hail. Suddenly the hail came streaming down in wet streaks. Very wet – we were getting soaked. I took my phone out, turned around and took a bunch of photos as she walked toward me trying to catch the hail. The sun was behind her and made for a perfect photo opp. I’m just glad my phone’s camera was up to the task. Here are two of the best photos. I love that you can actually see the hail being lit up by the sunlight.



Really, Do I Have to Eat Greens to Get Better?

25 Feb

Natalie was really sick yesterday so I stayed home and made her garden soup for lunch – the surest way to get anyone better. First I went out and picked big piles of overwintering chard and spinach. I sliced the stems out of the chard and fried those up first with some pressed garlic. Then I added both piles of greens and stewed them down. Thanks to the garlic, the greens started to waft deliciousness right away. On the side, I was heating up some premade tomato soup. Just as it got hot, I dropped the stewed greens into two bowls and then poured the hot soup over the top. On the side, I melted cheese on corn tortillas and sprinkled more garlic on top (you can’t have enough garlic when you get sick). Natalie is feeling much better today. Not sure if the soup did it, but…

Our Urban Chickens: Should We Love Them or Eat Them?

23 Feb

chickenThankfully our seven lady friends started laying eggs again after a too long winter break. We were all getting worried that they had stopped laying eggs all together. OK, I knew the laying would come back, but how soon and at what level of production – that I didn’t know.

The eggs are coming again, and I’m thankful for them, but they are not coming at the same rate as they did when the ladies were 1 and 2. At their peak, they were laying two eggs every three days. Now I estimate they’re laying one every three days. Quite a difference. And it’s not their fault, production slows when they get older. And by older, I mean 3 years old.

So, I ask, should we eat our chickens or keep them as our pets? From where I’m sitting, we should eat them. We feed them scraps from our table, we give them leftovers from the garden, we enjoy their eggs, we use their poop for fertilizer. Together all of these steps are part of the natural cycle of life that we’re trying to re-create as much as we can on urban farms like ours. Well, to complete the cycle, we should eat the chickens that we have so carefully fed and that have so wonderfully fed us back with their delicious eggs. Eating them would complete the circle and, in my view, give them ultimate respect. What shows respect more than eating something and having it become part of you?

But wait, I’m only one person. Not all the members of our family agree that eating our chickens is a good idea, namely my daughters, ages 6 and 4. And also, our neighbor who we share the chickens with also doesn’t think this is a good idea. Probably the writing was on the wall when the girls and our neighbor named the ladies.

So, for now, they live on, and for now they are continuing to give us eggs. So we’re all happy with the status quo. For now.

Crazy Dog Digs Up Carrots

21 Feb

We have a dog that likes to dig. He digs, sticks his nose in the dirt, digs some more, spraying dirt all around while he does it, on you, on the sidewalk – it doesn’t matter as long as he gets to dig.

On this day, we let Latke into the garden so he could help us dig up most of the last of our carrots. By us, I mean me and my two daughters. Together we pulled in quite a haul of carrots, and it wasn’t the first time. We’ve been eating carrots from the garden all fall and through the winter so far. It’s been awesome because carrots are my daughters most favorite vegetable – having a continuous supply has allowed them to actually pack a vegetable in their lunches that they actually eat.

Latke kind of jumped around when it came to helping us out with his digging, so I think there are still some more carrots out there. I’ll probably try to dig up the rest without him. But in the meantime, we will enjoy the fruit of his labors – at least the fruit that he didn’t eat. He actually ate at least one carrot that I know of, maybe more.

Enjoy this slideshow of Latke at work with help from the girls.

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Bike Accident Report Hits Close to Home

21 Feb

Every day I bike to work from Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood to Redmond to work at Microsoft – about 15 miles on the bike one way. I shoot down 8th Avenue, follow the Burke Gilman Trail to Montlake, hop a bus across Lake Washington and either ride my bike along Highway 520 to work (or in the winter, shuttle from Montlake to Microsoft in the morning). Afternoons I always ride the whole way back.

I always think riding east of Lake Washington is the most dangerous section of my route because I have to write on the shoulder of a narrow, busy road that has dropoffs and guardrails. But the Seattle section is dangerous too, as a new bike accident study by The Seattle Times shows. My route is littered with accidents as shown by this accident map. The map shows bicycle accidents in Seattle from 2007 to 2011. The good thing is that the number of accidents is holding steady as bike ridership increases – the fact that we’re out in higher numbers is apparently making it more likely for people in cars to see us.

Still, the study found that there is one bike accident a day reported in Seattle. Read the story that went with the map here. And indeed, my route is very popular – it’s always super busy, especially in nice weather, so I’m not surprised it is one of the most accident prone areas. The Seattle Times study talks about accidents where bikes and cars collide, which is likely the way most serious accidents happen, but I wanted to hear about bike-versus-bike accidents. The reason is I seem to have way more close calls with other cyclists than I do cars – especially on nice weather days when meandering cruisers intermingle with fast-moving commuters like me.

I do know I need to always be careful, especially because I like to ride fast. Anyway, I appreciate the study that the Times did and I’d like to hear more.

Over wintering spinach makes for yummy Sunday quiche

19 Feb

The spinach that has been huddling in my garden all winter came in handy this morning as we made quiche for guests. Had to go check the coop because we ran low on eggs. So glad the ladies have started laying again.


Latke Runs Away, Tries to Stop Me From Blogging About It

18 Feb


The girls wanted to go outside to play. They opened the door and stepped out into the rain and wind. They also let our dog Latke out and he immediately ran away, heading north as fast as he could go. I quickly got my shoes on and ran after, yelling at Lola to grab his leash.

Latke had done this before. If I don’t keep an eye on him, he will run away, either heading down the driveway or squeezing past our chicken coop. He’s a dog we adopted a year ago from Eastern Washington. A beagle mix, he has strong ideas about freedom and doing his own thing. He usually runs around the block, sometimes crosses the street and heads north or heads east. I usually find him after he’s taken himself for a little walk and likely pooped somewhere.

This time I couldn’t find him, but luckily the girls came outside and were yelling and screaming for him behind me. Apparently hearing them was enough to pull him  back home because when I got back, there he was, as happy as a lark and completely unapologetic. Thankfully he was safe and I didn’t have to explain to the girls what happens when a dog gets hit by a car. I saw it when I was a kid and it wasn’t pretty.

Then, when I decided to sit down to write about Latke’s adventure, he decided that was offensive and tried to prevent me from blogging. He literally stepped on my computer and looked at me with evil eyes. He’s a very dangerous beast. I had to sneak into the other room and use the other computer to do this… Wait, what’s that noise I hear? Who is that coming down the hall? Oh no……….

Cycle of “chicken poop” life

16 Feb

We have seven chickens that we share with our neighbor. As urban farmers know, chickens are the lifeblood of trying to live sustainably in the city. You buy organic food, you drop the scraps into a chicken bucket. The chickens eat the scraps and make poop (the eggs are a nice byproduct). Then you take the poop and mix in with your grass clippings, leaves, and the food scraps the chickens won’t eat. At the end of the compost process, you have rich soil that you put in your garden to grow your own food.

All of this adds up to living sustainably – at least for one slice of your life. It feels great, even if it’s mostly a symbol of true sustainability. But it’s real, and doing it makes you feel really great.

And while I love the cycle, I do have to admit that I don’t have it down perfectly. The piece I want to work on is composting. Right now I drop the chicken poop, grass, and everything else into trashcans and pretty much just let it sit there for long periods of time. Eventually it breaks down and turns into good soil, but it takes forever and it doesn’t mix evenly – and I’m never sure when it’s cured and is ready for the garden. I just spread my  compost into my garden and worked it into the soil in hopes that any “hot” poop will cool off before I plant.

This year I want to up the ante and actually go find compost bins that lay on their side on tracks – they’re what I dream about because all you do is give the barrel a little nudge on the track each time you drop scraps or poop in there. That little bit of rotation stirs up the compost and helps it decompose much faster and mixes everything up nicely. I want two barrels please, and right away. Smile

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