Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Post Post

Originally, I wanted to put together one complete post about our latest project. Alas, completion will be delayed for reasons I'll detail later, so I'll fill you in on it so far.

Back when we first moved in, we had some out-of-control bushes creating a hedge between our yard and the neighbors'.

The bushes may be out of control, but check out how nice and neat the garden was! Obviously pre-baby...

Anyway, Keith cut down all the bushes while donning a full-body pair of painter's coveralls to keep safe from poison ivy. We had learned the hard way while removing some other bushes that there was a lot of poison ivy hiding in there and we both ended up going to the doctor for steroid shots because we had it so bad. Early in the spring, our friend Jamie came by with his truck and helped Keith get all the roots pulled out. Then that stretch became a multi-purpose mess: dumping ground for compost material when our bin got full, volunteer pumpkin patch, woodpile for the fire pit.

We owe the neighbors an apology. It wasn't pretty. Not at all. Thankfully, they are pretty easy-going people who don't spend a whole lot of time in their yard and therefore, didn't spend a whole lot of time looking at that eyesore.

What, you might ask, is our plan for this forgotten and neglected sliver of the quarter-acre? What an excellent question! Our ambitious and long-term plan is espalier apple trees. And yes, I mispronounce espalier every single time I say it. Sometime, way down the line, this is what our living apple fence could look like:

The above picture and most of what we know about this endeavour come from this helpful website

We began this project by cleaning up and leveling off the area where we wanted to put in posts and trees. I say "we" but really I mean Keith.

Then we put in stakes for where the posts would go, spaced ten feet apart. This part I did help with.

Then Keith took a break. A well-deserved one.

We went to Lowe's and bought five posts and some quick-setting concrete to put around them and then Keith got to work digging holes. While digging the first hole, he quickly realized we were going to have to change the position of the fence a bit because where we wanted the first post was precisely where an outhouse once stood (sat?) and there was some kind of foundation buried down there. So we relocated a bit and he was back in business. No, not outhouse kind of business. Hole-digging business.

He made the holes about 18" deep. Then we set the posts in and Keith mixed and poured concrete while I obsessively checked the posts with a level to be sure they were straight and measured the water needed for the next batch of concrete.

After the concrete set up, Keith went back and put some caulk around the top to help keep moisture from getting next to the wood.

Our next step will be to string wire between the posts to train the tree branches on. Which brings me to our next issue: trees. Over the weekend, we hit up a couple local nurseries looking for four small trees suitable for our project. We need two different varieties of trees for pollination purposes, and they have to be young trees with no branches or very small, flexible branches, also known as "whips" according to the website listed above. At each nursery, we were told they do not sell trees that small. After hearing this answer several times, Keith and I looked at each other and voiced the same question: If you sell big trees, don't they start as little trees? And why can't we buy them when they're little? It's like Dunkin Donuts selling medium and large vanilla chai but not a small. But hey, that's a whole other story.

So, much as we would have liked to buy trees from one of the places around here and already have them planted at this point, our plan was foiled. We went online and found a company that sells young trees. I even called them and asked if the trees were a suitable size to train on a fence, to which the kind customer service rep Barbara replied, "That's what we call 'espalier' and they'll work just fine." I certainly wasn't about to butcher that word while talking to a tree expert. At any rate, the trees are on order and due to ship in early November. We would have liked to plant them sooner, but according to the lady at one of the nurseries, as long as the ground hasn't frozen, it's ok to plant trees. In the meantime, we will work on getting our wire up and putting some edging around the tree area so it won't require mowing between the trees and posts. Eventually, we'll probably plant some flowers and mulch the area as well.

And that is the post about posts. We'll keep you posted (I really can't help myself) when we have some more progress on this project.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Footballing and Festing

Fall is upon us and we crammed as much into one weekend as possible.

Friday night was a high school football game. Bert's first football game! And, lo and behold, he did not sleep through it. He cried his way through the second half of the game though.

Bert ruins a great shot by spitting up...
Jury is still out on whether Bert is a football fan or not. I would say he's not a fan of crowds, loud noises, and late nights. He must take after his mother.

On Saturday, Bert got decked out in his toasty pumpkin outfit (thanks, Erin!) to go to an apple festival with Mom and Memere.

It was pick-your-own organic apples, so we brought home about half a bushel to make apple pie and apple baby food. Yum yum!

Yes, I look ridiculous.

The apple picking took a little more coordination than expected with Bert strapped on. There was also a cool straw bale maze for kids, so we'll have to make this a yearly destination when Bert is big enough to climb around on it.

Then we hit up the Renewable Energy & Sustainable Living Festival on Sunday. (Talk about a granola-and-Birkenstock crowd.) We got to see some cool displays on electric cars and solar powered everything under the sun (get it?) and sit in on a presentation about disaster preparedness and another on solar energy for the home. We wanted to check out one on urban beekeeping but Bert had hit his limit for lectures. We didn't take many pictures there, but here's one of him in his lumberman jacket since the morning was cool...

and another with his good friend, Bert!

Whatever this fall has in store for us, at least we were able to squeeze in one fun-filled weekend.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Put On Your Listening Ears

Over the weekend, Keith, Bert and I attended a renewable energy and sustainable living festival. I'll post more on that later once I get some photos uploaded but I just need to vent for a moment. So thanks for letting me.

At the festival, there was a whole series of seminars, lectures and workshops visitors could attend. Keith had a list of things he was interested in and we were able to sit in on two of the lectures. I had my doubts about how good of audience members we could be with Bert in tow, but we made every effort to have him fed and clean before sitting down and then made sure we were seated at the back next to the exit in case he got fussy. And he did at one lecture, because he's just a baby. But we were able to slip out without making a big scene and (hopefully) very minimal disruption near the end of the presentation. I think leaving with a fussy baby is preferred to staying anyway. My apologies to the presenter if we interrupted you.

I know we can't all be perfect audience members all the time, but the second lecture we sat in gave me a really clear picture of just how bad the situation has become. My mom talks about teaching her first graders how to be good audience members; I think most of us need a refresher course. For starters, the cell phones are just out of control. In an hour long lecture, four cell phones rang. One ringtone was "You Sexy Thing," honest to goodness. Not only did the phone's owner not know how to silence it, but he was sitting in the front row and the presenter literally had to stop and wait for him to figure it out. Another woman got up and answered her phone. You never know, someone could be waiting for an important call about a delicate situation, but isn't that what the vibrate setting is for?

Also, people came in late. Not a minute or two late, which is bound to happen when the lectures and seminars are back-to-back and people need time to get from one tent to another, but ten, fifteen, and twenty minutes late. Some people came in late, sat a few minutes, and then got up and left. Maybe they realized they were in the wrong tent, but the schedule was posted outside. It was also printed in a program given out at the gate and available online so that attendees could plan their day around what they wanted to see and hear.

In front of me, three men came in and sat down and proceeded to chat among themselves throughout the entire presentation. About fifteen minutes in, they were joined by a woman. About twenty minutes in, she left, only to return a few minutes later with french fries. The whole presentation was only an hour so one would think she could have waited until the end to refuel. It's like getting your popcorn before the movie starts.

The most frustrating thing about all this was that this was an event you paid to attend, with an extensive lecture schedule aimed at educating attendees. It's not like people had to be there if they didn't want to. Many of the behaviors I witnessed were downright disrespectful to both the presenters and the other audience members who were interested in the information. It's pretty sad when a baby is a better listener than adults.

So that's my rant. Let's all work on being better audience members. Even you, Bert.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Baby Stats

Bert had a doctor's appointment yesterday so we thought we'd fill everybody in on how our not-so-little guy is growing.

Weight: 13 pounds, 12 ounces
Length: 24 inches

Head circumference: 15 1/2 inches (I think that means he has his mama's brains, right?)

Here he is showing you that he's ten weeks old...

We are quite fortunate that he is sleeping through the night now, usually a solid eight hours, thanks to swaddling. His naps are typically few and far between during the day, but he is more alert all the time and quite content to play on the floor and bat at the things that hang from his little play-yard. He loves his little lion that jiggles and vibrates when you pull on it (Thanks, Farah! You were right about that one!) and is still a big fan of his swing which is nice when he gets fussy and there are other things that need to get done. We've seen something resembling a laugh when he is tickled under his armpits and he loves when you "row" with him and sing "Row Row Row Your Boat" even if Mom and Dad can't carry a tune in a bucket. All in all, ten weeks have flown by and it is amazing to see the changes over that period of time, and even changes day to day. Just today, he rolled up onto one shoulder several times trying to grab a toy. It is so fun to watch him grow and to share it with all of you!

Quarter-Acre Challenge: Can you guess what room we parked the wagon in for the weekly photo? Does the ugly floor give it away?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Crunchy Granola Folk

You may have seen the post awhile back that established that I am a bit of a tree hugger, but we aren't total tie-dye and incense hippie people. Birkenstocks, we can take 'em or leave 'em, but we do like granola. We like it enough to make it ourselves. But this is classy granola, because it is called

The Queen's Oats

8 c. regular oats
1 1/2 c. brown sugar
1 1/2 c. wheat germ
1/2 c. sesame or sunflower seeds
1 1/2 c. unprocessed bran
3/4 c. honey or maple syrup
1/2 c. oil
2 tsp. vanilla
optional: 1/2 c. coconut flakes, nuts

Stir to blend oats, sugar, wheat germ, seeds, bran, and optional ingredients.

Heat oil, honey, and vanilla, stirring until bubbling.

Thoroughly mix liquids with dry ingredients.
Divide between 2 greased 10" x 15" rimmed baking sheets.

Bake at 325 degrees for 15-20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from oven and stir several times as it cools. Add raisins when cool if desired.

I would estimate that making a batch of granola costs about $6-8, but it makes quite a bit. And considering brands like Bear Naked granola run about $5 for a small bag, that's not bad. We eat it with yogurt and Keith likes putting the strawberries we froze on top. So there it is. We are the crunchy granola type.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

T is for Tractor

Just shy of being two months old, Bert attended his first tractor show. His Popper can't believe it took that long. I bet you can guess what he thought of it...

Yep, that's right. He slept through it. Even with his Popper driving by in the tractor parade. We thought this was the funniest tractor-and-driver pair of the parade...

Keith checked out the flea market tables, Memere did a little shopping...

Someday, this will be Bert. But the tractor better be red!

 We saw some cool old trucks and posed (or should I say parked?) Bert with some Popper-approved tractors.

Bert now travels with an entourage. We are going to try to start a tradition of taking his little Bert and Ernie dolls with us whenever we travel or go see cool things to take pictures with them.

The farmer pose

Safety first!
And now for the first-ever Quarter-Acre Challenge: Can you spot the difference between these two photos?

No prizes, except for maybe a chuckle.

Friday, September 2, 2011

For Your Viewing Pleasure

This week's photo of Bert is up on the Week by Week Photo page, but I thought I'd share a handful of others shots, just because he's cute. And that's what moms do.

Bert showing Popper what leisure time looks like

"They stuck me in here. Again."

Snuggled up and sleepy after a bath



"Hey Joe Pa, I have old man pants too!"
Do you seen the lean going on in that last picture? Bert can't sit up on his own yet so I propped him up on the couch. About ten seconds later, he oh-so-slowly fell over with a look on his face that said, "I'm not sure what's happening here..."

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Anti-Tomato No More

We are self-professed not-tomato-people. When we would share with people that we had a garden, one of the first questions was always, "Do you grow tomatoes?" and when we said no, we were met by looks of utter bafflement. We're the kind of people that do BLTs, minus the T. We put cheese on instead. I can't say we don't eat any tomatoes. We like sauce on our pasta, ketchup with our fries, salsa on our nachos, that sort of thing. But fresh, juicy tomatoes? We'll pass.

This year we decided to grow some tomatoes to try our hand at pasta sauce. We thought we bought Roma tomato plants. Apparently not. Or maybe we bought miniature Roma tomato plants. Whatever we got, the tomatoes were tiny but abundant.

So, much dicing, stirring and simmering later, we wound up with 14 pints of tomato sauce using this recipe from Thy Hand Hath Provided. It took a long time to chop up all those little tomatoes. Thankfully, the recipe said the skins could be left on so we didn't bother peeling them.

We do have a few plants with normal sized tomatoes coming on, so we're hoping to do another batch of sauce when they are ready. In the meantime, here are two recipes for grape or cherry tomatoes that we found we enjoy. We are becoming sort-of-tomato-people. Sorry I don't have any pictures of these dishes but that's what happens when meal prep is a one-man-woman show.

Parmesan Pasta Salad
from Real Simple

Toss 1 pound cooked small pasta shells with 2 pints cherry tomatoes (halved), 4 ounces fresh Parmesan (broken into small pieces with a fork), 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. (I add more salt and pepper.)

Roasted Tomato-Bread Toss
from Better Homes and Gardens, August 2011

2 lb. cherry or grape tomatoes (about 6 cups)
6 c. torn baguette or Italian bread
2-3 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 c. pitted Kalamata and/or green olives
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1. Position one oven rack in upper third of oven. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line 15x10x1-inch baking pan with parchment paper. Wash tomatoes; pat dry with paper towels. Arrange tomatoes in single layer in prepared pan. Place bread in large bowl; drizzle 2 to 3 tablespoons oil over pieces. Toss to coat. Arrange bread in single layer on second large baking pan.
2. Roast tomatoes on upper rack, bread on lower rack for 20-25 minutes. Roast tomatoes just until skins begin to split and wrinkle, gently stirring once. Roast bread until lightly toasted, stirring once.
3. Transfer bread and olives to tomato pan. Combine remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper; drizzle over tomatoes, olives and bread. Toss gently, transfer to serving bowl. Makes 8 side-dish servings.

Notes: I toasted my bread for about half the alloted time and quartered my olives before mixing them in.

One last shot of our pretty tomatoes...pretty enough to eat, I guess!

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