30 April 2007

Big Gardening Project(s)

The big gardening project for 2007 is currently underway. Did I say project? I think I really mean projects. Add a big old 's' to pluralize that 'cause there is definitely more than one underway.

Since the waterproofing of the house, in reality, the whole landscaping around the house has become one big project. And, the garden is a largest part of it.

The tomatoes are under a grow light in the basement and they're doing pretty well. I'm looking forward to eating them, as are my kids. Wifey, on the other hand, is determined to give them all away. I had to tell her yesterday to stop offering up my black tomatoes. If I were to give away all the plants she'd promised, we'd be in a trade deficit.

It's not that we don't have plenty to share. We do. It's just that it's my job to give them away. Not hers.

Tomato grow op

Some are flourishing more than others. This just popped up today. I'm going to have to find out what the markings on the tomato leaves mean. Any thoughts?

unhealthy tomato

I've also got a compare and contrast growing note. Here is the basil under the grow lights. I don't think it's actually grown at all in the past two weeks (unlike the tomatoes).

grow light basil

This is the basil that I left in the kitchen window sill. It's flourishing, other than it is a wee bit leggy, in the southern sunlight.

kitchen basil

Where is the home to all of these plants? It's here! Our former driveway turned future raised bed veggie garden.

blank slate veggie garden

Now that I've got rid of the railing, some patio stones and the washing machine stored in the garage over winter is about to depart, a big truck of dirt will soon be visiting our home. Our plan is to put about 6 inches of top soil over the gravel and to build 5 raised veggie beds along the cedar hedge border. We're also going to build a small fence to block off the yard, purchase a rain barrel, and make a container garden alongside the house.

Last week I discovered Freecycle and promptly joined the Ottawa group. Someone responded to my post about the garden railing and picked it up on Sunday. When someone posted a need for patio stones, Wifey and I jumped at the opportunity to help someone out and dispose of one of our back patios.

I spent a few hours on Thursday lifting and stacking the old stone. Yesterday, the stones were picked up and the screening will be going this afternoon. This is going to leave us an excellent space for....grass. I know, I can't believe I actually am going to make lawn.

bye bye patio

A few years down the road, we'd love to knock out the windows (see ledge at top of photo), put in french doors and build a big 'ole deck in this space. In the interim, I've rationalized that more grass can be a good thing because it will provide clippings for the compost bins and materials for the lasagna garden in the raised beds.

I spent the other part of my Sunday afternoon weeding the back garden bed, or rather, taking calculated guesses at which ones were weeds and which ones were plants. I really wish I had a before and after photo.

Since re-claiming the over grown bed last summer - the bed where the phlox took over bee balm and everything else - we've been deciding what is and what is not a keeper. It's going to take a few more summers, but we're slowly getting there.

nearly weedless back bed

And, while I weeded, Wifey decided to fix the rock wall that was half knocked over during construction last fall. She opted to have less wall and more bed. I'm not complaining as I now get to plant and try out some new flowers.

new back bed

Yesterday, I was also pleasantly surprised to discover that some of the trilliums survived the pre-construction transplant. I'm not quite sure how these two got here, as I had moved over ten of them under a tree on the opposite side of the front garden. But, I sure was pleased to see them.


29 April 2007

April Showers Bring May Flowers

spring rain dance

Wifey had to work all day Saturday. The kids spent all of Saturday asking when she'd be home.

Wifey went into work on Sunday morning, too. I called at 10:00 am and kindly requested that she return home as the kids were asking for her again in 5 minute intervals.

Laden with parental guilt about her absence, Wifey wanted to make sure her return was marked with the memory of the weekend.

After much coaxing and convincing, on went the bathing suits and sandals. Out into the pouring rain they went. And, together they ran around the house three times screaming with laughter, "April showers bring May flowers."

26 April 2007

Talent Show

Last night Bella performed at her school’s talent show.

Wifey and I prepared for days to be supportive like Olive’s parents in Little Miss Sunshine (you know, the scene at the end when it turns out that Olive’s dance talent as choreographed by her Grandfather is really a stripper routine that leaves the audience in shocked, open-mouthed awe at a beauty pageant. Comically hilarious, yet mortifying if it’s your child).

When Bella first decided to audition for the talent show it wasn’t her singing weakness that concerned us, but her choice of songs. See, her song of choice is what she calls her evening lullaby. For us, it just happens to be the only song that Wifey could remember the lyrics to when Bella first called out for a bedtime song in her first few nights here. Now, Wifey serenades the kids to sleep each night with Both Hands by Ani DiFranco.

Both Hands is a song about a relationship dying. Or, according to my Wifey, it’s a song about sex. All in all, not normally the song you hear at a talent show performed by kids in grades 1-6. The poetic beauty of the lyrics “And your bones have been my bedframe / Your flesh has been my pillow” make adults shift uncomfortably in their chairs when they come through lips of an off-key 11 year-old.

At first, we tried to encourage her to make a different song selection for the audition. She wouldn’t.

Then, we expected that the teacher’s would ask her to choose a different song. They didn’t.

And last night, we were there, ready to sing our hearts out alongside her if she morphed into Olive. Thankfully, she didn’t.

We have the whole performance on tape.

What we don’t have on tape is footage of two red-faced parents, shifting awkwardly in their seats, visibly made uncomfortable by the eyes of a packed auditorium boring into the backs of their heads. I do believe that the accompanying unspoken mental narrative would have been, “Who the hell taught their kid a lesbian sex song? Thank god that’s not my kid! That was awkward.”

24 April 2007

Am I the Right Parent?

Sometimes I wonder if I'm doing good by our kids.

The highlights of my weekdays are the moments spent in solitude, puttering around the house, doing things for my family in anticipation my children's return from school. The anticipation is always a prelude to being let down.

Perhaps it is because I’m not genetically imbued with sympathy, or to stretch it further, empathy for that matter.

Bella complains that her neck hurts. All I can think about is how I’ve asked her every day for over a week if she really needs to truck every single duo tang and textbook back and forth to school each day and that’s the cause of the so-called neck injury.

She’s been playing dumb again. This time it’s with math. It’s hard to discern whether or not she’s actually forgotten how to do multiplication and division or if she’s faking it. That’s how she often tries to get attention. And, I hate it. I hate falseness and pretenses. I have no patience for this kind of behaviour. These guises drive me further away instead of towards the closeness that she desires to attain.

I sometimes look at her and dislike the person she is and wonder how we’ll make it through the turbulent teen years. Those are just around the corner.

Under her skin, I wonder who the real person is. I wonder who she’s going to be. I wonder if we’ll like each other at the end of it.

More often than not, my thoughts are punctuated by weaving wonderment if I’m the right person to parent this child.

16 April 2007

How much does it cost to feed a family of four?

Since going on parental leave, every dollar is counted and accounted for. The transition from a two-income, no kids household to a one-income, two kids has changed our relationship to money.

Gone are the days of buying things on a whim. Where I never used to worry about having enough to pay for expenses and extras, the mere act of having to make sure there’s always enough has pushed my money-related stress level through the roof.

While our net income shift has by no means left us not well off, we haven’t been so successful in adjusting how we spend what we have to make it through a month without racking up more debt. No more consumer debt is my month-end goal – every month.

We have a budget that allocates our income. For the most part, we’re right on or under with all line items. That is, with the exception of food.

We don’t eat out. We don’t buy tons of processed or packaged foods. I plan ahead for our weekly dinner menu and kids lunches. I shop from a list for the most part. I’ve moved to from shopping at Loblaws to Food Basics. We serve more kid friendly meals and rarely anything remotely gourmet, which has led to a slight gastronomical death of this foodie!

All of this, and I cannot stick to a $500 monthly budget.

The Walrus included a photo essay entitled Our Weekly Bread in its December/January issue depicting families around the world with the contents and final costs of their weekly grocery shopping displayed in their homes. It explored a fact uncovered by photographer Peter Menzel and writer Faith D’Aluisio that the same number of people in the world are overfed as underfed. From $30 a week in Mali to $329 in the USA, this photo essay takes its readers around the globe to peer into human food consumption.

Using one family as a barometer, and doing the math on my overfed counterparts in similar countries, who on earth can afford these monthly grocery bills!

Of the two Canadian families in the mix, one is from across the bridge in Gatineau and they spend $158 a week for a family of four. Now, I can more relate to this at this specific point in time, but before our two kids I scoffed in amazement as our grocery bill for two far exceeded that. I don’t, however, see any meat in this photo.

The other Canadian family is from Iqaluit and they spend $392 a week on groceries and that is accompanied by the fact that the father is an avid hunter and often provides the family with fresh meat. That grocery bill totally floors me and I have no idea how it’s financially possible to spend nearly $1200 a month on food!

Comparably, perhaps we’re not doing that badly in our house, albeit, we’re probably more on the overfed side of the equation. We never go hungry. You can always find something to eat. We’re not necessarily able with any regularity to invite extra mouths to our table. Sometimes our meals are lacking in taste and balance (i.e., Kraft dinner once a week).

All of this goes to say, I still don’t feel I have enough money to easily feed all the mouths in our house. How much should it cost to feed a family of four?