06 April 2011

Down by the Station, Early in the Morning


31 March 2011

The Uncorporated Garden 2011: This Year's Plans


In 2010, we put in three cherry tomatoes and two bell peppers in the back; carrots and Gerber daisies and marigolds and cukes out front. In the fall, I dug out the back bed, expanded it and the area around the (cut back) lilac, and turned over the beds out front. The kids thought it great fun to poke around and find worms.

This year, I have a plan set up for our six planting areas. In no particular order, meet the beds!

The Lilac Bed, with unknown spring bulb
    The expanded Back Bed, with various bulbs
    The Raised Bed, sometime home to neighborhood chipmunks
    The North Porch Bed - not much to look at now

    The West Porch Bed, with containered chives
    The Planting Boxes - the long ones are specifically for the kids

    A bonus bed for something tall!
    I'll post later on the specifics of each bed, but overall we're hoping to produce tomatoes (cherry and Roma), bell peppers, green beans (bush and pole), carrots, radishes, okra, cucumbers, basil, cilantro, oregano, chives, thyme, and rosemary. We'll definitely salt in some marigolds here are there, and there may be some other herbs, but that has yet to be seen.

    I'll also keep a running list of garden tasks, more for myself than anything. Tasks so far:
    • Mark out planting locations in the back bed done
    • Clean out leaves from all beds
    • Turn over soil
    • Add topsoil, sand(?), compost
    • Save eggshells and coffee grounds
    • Transplant mums from raised bed to west porch bed
    • Buy seeds/seedlings
    But first, we need to wait for things to warm up! We're still nearly two months out from our average last frost date, and we're still dropping below freezing some nights, so it's still planning at this point.

    This may be our first bulb to bloom - any day now!
    We are ostensibly homeschooling our two kids (ages 2 and almost-5), although it's been rather informal so far. We are however seizing opportunities as they arise to reinforce reading, math, and other basic skills, with the hope of laying a solid foundation for when we ramp up a formal curriculum.

    This garden update is part of The Homeschool Village's Garden Challenge - we will continue updating through the growing season. Photos of the garden beds were taken March 30, 2011. Check back to see our progress!

    29 March 2011

    Previewing the Uncorporated Garden 2011

    I will never again take for granted having a piece of land in which to grow food. Discussions of health, convenience, and food security aside, it's just plain fun to go out and dig in the dirt. And if I'm going to dig in the dirt (sorry - the soil), I might as well get something productive out of it beyond just pretty flowers.

    As a family, we have lived in four places over the last six years. When my wife and I started out, we had a "garden apartment", which allowed us a small garden on the north (!) side of our unit. We got lots of shade from the surrounding buildings and the garage, but I think we managed to eke out some flowers. I remember specifically having some spectacular (for us, anyway) sunflowers that were the result of some forgotten birdseed.

    Just before Isaac was born, we moved closer to my workplace at the time. We had a second-floor apartment with no garden space of our own. It did have a balcony, though, that overlooked an ecologically-poor stream (but it was so nice to have the sound of water outside). We had a couple of container gardens out on the balcony (north-facing, again!) in which we grew flowers and a family of ducks.

    During our 18-month housesitting adventure, we finally had a decent plot of land (just shy of an acre), but it wasn't ours, so instead of ripping up the acre of golf-course grass and planting veggies, I got the privilege of mowing and mowing and mowing and mowing and mowing. For the record, grass is (mostly) evil. Just sayin'.

    If only he was really cutting the grass!

    I stuck a few spring bulbs in the flower beds, and had a container of chives, but beyond that the gardens were fairly ornamental. I suppose I could have done some significant container gardening, but my work schedule never permitted me the time to get it organized.

    Here in Saline, we have garden space on both sides (south and north) of the townhouse, and even a raised bed that a previous resident constructed. It had rhubarb and ornamentals when we moved in; the back garden bed had hostas, century plants, and others. I like rhubarb, but I'm the only one, so in the larger interest of starting fresh, we cleaned out the beds and did our own thing.

    Someday, I'll have enough space (and construction capital) to build an herb spiral, but that will have to wait a few years.

    Herb Spiral illustration from The Saturday Evening Post

    Next time: Last year's efforts and this year's plans


    We are ostensibly homeschooling our two kids (ages 2 and almost-5), although it's been rather informal so far. We are however seizing opportunities as they arise to reinforce reading, math, and other basic skills, with the hope of laying a solid foundation for when we ramp up a formal curriculum.

    This garden update is part of The Homeschool Village's Garden Challenge - we will continue updating through the growing season.

    17 March 2011

    70 Degrees of Freedom

    I remember working in the office when the first warm day of "spring" (whether official or not) came along. I would stare longingly out the window at the people playing in the park across the street and usually I would come up with an excuse to walk downtown for lunch.

    This year, I got to spend a warm St. Patrick's Day with the most important people in my life: my wife and kids.

    After a picnic lunch, playground time, and birding at Gallup Park in Ann Arbor, we came home to get a couple chores completed. When Tiffany left for a dinner shift at the restaurant, the kids and I loaded up the wagon and headed out to soak up some rays on a walk around town.

    Three and a half miles later, we were back home and none the worse for the wear. My feet are a little sore now, but I'll get over it. It's so good to be back outside again!

    05 March 2011

    I (We) Love The Zoo

    One of the things that you can do when you are uncorporated (and have memberships to local places) is randomly go on educational trips with your kids. As in, we find ourselves with a couple hours to kill and we decide to drive in to the Hands On Museum. Or the zoo.

    This past week, Tiffany and I both had Wednesday off, and it was sunny and above freezing, so we packed up the kids and headed down to the Toledo Zoo. That's what everybody does in early March in Michigan/NW Ohio, right?

    How to Zoo in Winter: lots of blankets in the wagon!
    The place was dead - I think we saw maybe twenty other patrons while we were there. It was like having the place to ourselves (although I've never really felt crowded at Toledo Zoo). The flip side is that lots of the concessions/train/carousel weren't open, but that wasn't really the point of our quick visit there.

    After visiting the polar bears, seals, wolves (sleeping), giraffes (indoors), and eagles, we headed across the bridge to the main part of the zoo. From the bridge, we had the best view of the lions that we've ever had - and the lions were up and about! Isaac and I stopped to take a peek through my binoculars.

    I can't quite put my finger on it, but this so reminds me of my dad.
    Next up is the duck and goose pond, right across from the aviary (which I never get to as often as I'd like!). The birds are much easier to see when the vegetation is down for the winter.

    How freaky would this be without depth perception?

    The new kids' section of the zoo opened last year, but I hadn't been yet. Nature's Neighborhood includes many activity stations, including an outdoor theater, climbing structure, a stream and beach area, and goat petting. We opted for the indoor portion, with a home-type setting, a forest, and education room. Esther particularly liked the turtle statue and the large-scale bird's egg.


    The education room had an exhibit/activity about different types of bird beaks - macaw, heron, and pelican - and how easy or hard it was to pluck rubber worms out of the water with each. Water + kids = instant fun.

    Isaac figured out quickly that the 'heron' (long tweezers) worked best
    The indoor forest includes lots of interactive exhibits, with features on leafcutter ants, Really. Big. Spiders., and honeybees. What do you think Isaac went for first?

    Between the house area and the forest is a secret passage - a hollow 'log' accessed through a sliding bookcase. Both the kids thought this was great fun.

    At the end of the passage is a large bird enclosure with lots of psittacids (lories, cockatoos, etc.) and some other colorful, friendly birds. Esther enjoyed meeting a pair of White-crested Laughingthrushes, and they were certainly excited to meet her!

    We will most certainly be back to check out the outdoor activities in Nature's Neighborhood, as well as revisit some of our other favorite places at the zoo, but I don't think we'll ever get so lucky as to have the place to ourselves again!

    26 January 2011

    Too Late for Resolutions?

    So, co-op went reasonably well yesterday, although Isaac was barefoot through half of his second class. Nobody seemed to mind much, so I'll just roll with it. That's one of the dangers with cowboy boots - easy (for him) to slip off. He didn't seem to be much of a behavior problem though, so that's always good. We are beyond ready for his sleep to get sorted out again - I want my well-rested, well-behaved son back!

    I've got a new responsibility at co-op: running the canteen/concession stand/yearbook-fundraiser snack counter. Seems pretty simple so far - the hardest part is lugging everything upstairs for lunch on a REALLY SQUEAKY cart. I think every teacher along the back hallway stuck their head out to see who was making such a racket!

    - - -

    On the homefront, there are a few things I need to get nailed down. I'm not my wife and I can't juggle it all in my head. Printouts on the fridge, here we come!

    Number one: we need to get a schedule. I wish Isaac and Esther could read it and follow it, but that's probably hoping too much. At the very least, I need to have it in front of me most of the day so I can, oh, start dinner sooner than 6:30 at night. And having a designated computer time about which I don't feel guilty would be great too.

    Scheduling leads in to #2: meal planning. If I'm going to be the one at home all day and preparing meals, I need to have some sort of plan. I'll be happy with weekly for now; if I can actually get a whole month planned out, great! This should help out with grocery shopping and budgeting (four weeks of grocery budget spent in three this month - eep!), as well as getting meals in the kids. Tiffany's tried a couple times to tell me what the kids will eat, but I never remember it for more than a couple days, so Isaac ends up eating what he wants to tell me (usually, a tortilla and a glass of Maryland milk) and then has a meltdown later because he's hungry.

    The last thing for now is getting an adult responsibility chart set up again. I tried early last fall to divvy up household chores between me and Tiffany, but it didn't take so well. I'm hoping that the combination of a new daily schedule (with designated 'chore' times) and a more realistic (read: more succinct) list of chores will prove to be a workable solution. I'll let you know how it goes.

    Do you have any good tips for managing any of the three items above? How have you set up a meal plan for your household?

    25 January 2011


    Our homeschool co-op starts up again this morning. Isaac's classes this semester are Insects and Safety (two separate classes, not a single class on how to protect yourself from wasps). He's excited about both - I wonder how long it will be before he wants to take one of his 'weird animal' books to share.

    I was going to be teaching a class on birds(!), but we didn't have anywhere for Esther to go while I taught (the nursery class is full - again - <grumble>). The solution was for someone else to take over my (mine, I tell you!) class and I'll be helping to run the canteen, while Esther tries to stay out of trouble. We'll see how that goes.

    - - -

    Speaking of Esther, she's in the midst of potty training herself. Yay! The biggest challenge for me is to recognize when she needs to go. Usually she starts taking her clothes off - that's my cue. She seems to think that she has to be naked to go to the bathroom. I'm sure she'll grow out of that eventually, right? In the meantime, we'll have to get her some big girl underwear pretty soon. Hopefully, she'll be ready before we run out of the current case of diapers!