Sunday, May 31, 2009

New Garden Acquisitions

In a fit of whiny impulsiveness today, added a bunch of new garden friends, including:

~ Ornamental Purple Peppers (Explosive Ember?)
~ "Bush Pickle" Cucumbers - doesn't that sound like the ultimate euphemism???
~ Green Zebra tomato (none of my wintersown seeds came up...) :-(

And some slightly less exciting choices, including:
~ Regular sage (I have a tricolor, but not a regular one, and this had nice big leaves)
~ Italian oregano
~ Lemon thyme
~ "Pimento" red peppers

(yes, this is the year of the pepper around here)

Oh! Exciting! I was emptying out the "failed" wintersown containers today when I noticed...

Finally sprouted in the Blackberry Lily container.
They look like knives, like little teeny tiny irises, which makes sense because, according to this helpful page, they are in the iris family and NOT the lily family at all (unlike many things we call lily that are in the lily family, like Toad Lilies). Onions or garlic (I forget which) is sometimes referred to as "stinking lily" and is, in fact, a lily relative.

But blackberry lilies (aka leopard lilies, aka belamcanda chinensis) are NOT true lilies. And, in fact, their most commonly-known latin name is now incorrect, as they have apparently been reassigned to the genus Iris with the bland and relatively uninteresting full name Iris domestica.

Which is why I will continue to call them Belamcanda. What a gorgeous sound that is, tripping off the tongue. Compared to Iris domestica.

Which brings me to another thing I have been thinking about lately: Latin names for plants.
Because everybody says the Latin names are more precise and will help you find a plant you are looking for regardless of where in the world you are. For example, there are several different plants known as "Dusty Miller" - my mother believed she had a miracle annual for a few years, but I strongly suspect she mistakenly bought a perennial Dusty Miller, which is thriving gorgeously in her front bed.

The perennial one is an artemisia in Latin, I believe. The annual one is called Senecio.
So you can see how much more precise it is - in theory - to buy all your plants in Latin. That way, you know exactly what you're getting.


Last week, when I went to Humber Nurseries, I was looking for "Fleeceflower". But, wanting to be precise, I learned its Latin name: Persicaria amplexicaulis. Which is great, because at Humber, all the plants are arranged alphabetically by their Latin names (I love it! Plant-geek paradise!).
So there I go, up and down the P aisle, looking through the Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum) and the Russian Sage (Perovskia)... and not finding it.

Well, it turns out that "they" - the botanical powers-that-be - renamed the plant a few years ago. It used to be in the genus Polygonum, but was then moved to Persicaria. But because of the nuisance of shuffling the plants around everytime they got renamed, Humber had indeed changed the name on the tag to Persicaria, but left the plants in the Polygonum location.

Anyway, they had several (in the Polygonum spot) to choose from, and I picked Persicaria amplexicaulis "Firetail" - apparently very long-blooming, which should be nice between all the coleus in the front foundation bed. Apparently, it likes moisture... I will do my best.

And about the Latin thing. I still believe it is helpful in determining with precision what plant you are buying. But it is not the be-all and end-all that it's made out to be. If plants were assigned a genus and species and then never reassigned, maybe I'd buy that. As it is... as too many people are saying these days, meh.

(p.s. My new persicaria is sometimes known as Persicaria bistorta, and even bistorta amplexicaulis... there goes precision!)



I realized today, I also bought a bunch of Gallium / Sweet Woodruff at Humber, and apparently it's only good for shade and part/shade... and not the sunny spots I stuck them in. :-o

Now there are five of them that I will have to move. Or maybe leave a couple where they are and see how they do anyway.

More plant swaps!

Someone was advertising plants on Craigslist and wanted to swap them for hostas or astilbes. I dug up the last two chunks of hosta that I can spare from the front and she brought over huge pots of bee balm, cerastium (in flower) and creeping jenny.

I feel ashamed that I didn't give her bigger pieces of hosta, but I have traded so much of it away that I really can't spare any without the front beds looking mangy.


Someone from the Ask a Master Gardener forum has assured me that my Hakuro nishiki Willow is only suffering because of our unseasonably cold May weather. The leaves indeed look like they've been "burnt" by the near-zero temps after it leafed out... and it is growing a new set of leaves that are lovely, nice whitish-pink accents. So I am much reassured.
Another master gardener there answered a question about the mysterious "spittle" on my coneflower... spittle bugs, but apparently, they don't do much damage. Again, reassuring.


FINALLY... from the "if Life Gives You Lemons" department.
There are two plants that came with the house that I battle unsuccessfully every single year: grapevines in the back and a creeping, climbing thorn-thing in the front.
So I decided: this is the year that I am NOT going to fight. (okay, I cut back the thorn-thing a couple of months ago, but it is back in full force already)

spiderswarm 2009-06-02 021 I am secretly hoping the thorn-thing is a rose or something similar that blooms on old wood - which would explain why it hasn't flowered yet: I keep cutting the darn thing back. So I am going to put a trellis in the shady corner where it really, really wants to grow, and see if I can get it growing upwards this summer, instead of snaking all over the lamium in the front bed and poking me when I don't watch where I'm going. And then I will leave it over the winter and see if I can't get some flowers out of it next year sometime.

What patience this gardening thing sometimes demands.

And then I was looking at the grapevines over Yom Tov and realized they're actually kind of beautiful.

I have been toying with the idea of a kiwi vine (actinidia kolomikta "arctic beauty"), because they apparently don't mind a bit of shade and after a few years give you yummy fruits (if you buy two; a boy kiwi and a girl kiwi). The fruits are smaller than a regular kiwi; smaller, with a thin skin; more like a grape. And that particular kiwi also has decorative tricolour leaves on the vine, tinges of pink and white on pretty green leaves.

grape vine So I noticed yesterday that the grape vines are tinged with a gorgeous pink tone when they first start to open in the spring.
And they don't mind the shade.
And they grow like weeds.
And I can't kill them in four years of desperately cutting them back
And they'll even grow up my mangy cedar tree and through my back fence, which I would dearly love to cover.
And they have somehow migrated across Neil's yard from Loretta's backyard, and if Loretta is a genuine Italian nonna (which she is)... they are probably not only extremely hardy but also, perhaps, somewhat palatable grapes.
(okay, not necessarily palatable as fruit - since they are were probably originally wine grapes)

So - since Ted just walked in and wants the computer back - the Doogie Howser moral of the day: if your backyard gives you a grapevine... grow grapes!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Week in Suppers

Sunday:  Stir-fried basmati rice, sweepo soup.  Mommy & Abigail.
Monday:  Ted was off work and BBQ'd Hamburgers, hot dogs / sausage-thingies, baked beans, french fries.  Yum!  Mommy came by and I pretended it was Victoria Day (it being May 25th).
Tuesday:  Red-pepper quiche... and fiche stiques. (storebought crusts, storebought fish stix)
Wednesday:  Superstore chicken-and-potatoes day.
Tonight:  Yom Tov!

Owel spotting

Seen on Craigslist.temp_owel

Never mind!

Never mind - it was the bulb after all.  Stupid broken replacement bulb.  And 2 burnt-out CFLs... coincidence?  But I guess we haven't changed them in a couple of years, so I cannot complain!
Back to baking Grama's famous Neapolitan Cake!
Dairy desserts:
~ Ted-made cherry cheesecake
~ Gulab jamun - they all fell apart, but still, delicious
~ Beck Posluns' Neapolitan Cake
Boy, do I feel sorry about the fact that our only guests this Yom Tov are coming for Friday night - our only meat meal, when none of these dairy desserts can be consumed.  Maybe we can make kiddush, wash, have dessert, wait a while, then have the meat meal... :-)))
Elisheva blessedly agreed to bathe the littles.  Mmm... peace and quiet, out here at least, while all the screaming is confined to the (now-dimly-lit by a 40w bulb) bathroom.


2 days of rain, Elisheva's room is leaking, and now the bathroom light won't go on.  These things must be connected, since the bathroom is just on the other side of Elisheva's room wall.  I thought it was a lightbulb burnt-out (CFL but still, they must wear out sometimes), so I changed the bulb and now neither light goes on; the room is totally dark.
(okay, there's a window, but it's gloomy outside!!!)

A stabbing

There was a stabbing in the park across the street the other night (last night?); I passed all the cop cars etc on my way out and saw a news truck on the way back.
A neighbour phoned and left a message that "we have to do something."  Which left me wondering, what?  What is there to do???
Here's what I emailed her back tonight.  Like all my Deep Thots these days, not very satisfying, but it's a start.
Honestly, I don't feel concerned about that specifically... I try to make sure I am in the right place at the right time (guess I'll do all my drug deals away from that playground from now on).
I don't want to dismiss your legitimate fears.  There are always terrible things that could happen.  Most of the ones I can imagine involve my children (and refusing to nap is the least of it!).
It's too easy and too trite to say Hashem's in charge... I figure I'll meet him halfway and exercise reasonable precautions.
Bad things sometimes happen to good people; I know this and have no clue why.
I'm a good person; therefore, bad things will sometimes happen to me.
It seems to be the way things work.
We live with this tension all the time:  saying chas v'shalom it should happen to us, and also saying baruch dayan ha'emes when it does.
Sometimes, Hashem gets to decide stuff, and we have no clue why.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Disorganized Shavuos menu

It’s tomorrow night, and this is all I’ve come up with so far… eek. Sad

Shavuos Menu 2009








Dairy – Just us

Soup – squash?


Ted’s Salmon

Dairy Desserts

Lunch – Mommy

Neapolitan cake



Dairy – Just us

Gefilte fish

Soup – squash?

Tortellini “lasagna”

Beets roasted

Dairy Desserts

Meat - Borers, M&S

Gefilte fish

Chicken Soup

Egg lokshen

Shake n’ Bake


Pareve Desserts


All the pareve stuff just tumbled down from the shelf where we keep it and I think the food processor bowl must have broken, from the noise it made.  $40 lexan bowl replacement I cannot afford.  :-(((

Ted says it’s fine.  Fine except we keep it seven feet up with nothing but a dish drainer to keep it in place.  How awful.

Elisheva’s room still leaks.  Apparently, just when it rains.

Cranky Complaints-Lady Eats General Mills for Breakfast!

So we bought & ate a box of Reese Puffs that came with a General Mills "everyday celebrations" (ha!) incentive code that you're supposed to redeem at their website for a kids' book or magazine mini-subscription (3 issues). And I promised Naomi Rivka that we'd get Chirp magazine... I figure she loves magazines, what could be cuter?

Ha. And ha again.

Sent at General Mills' website last week:
I finally managed - despite lengthy delays during the registration and logon process - to access your Everyday Celebrations site to enter a code from our cereal box. Now when I enter the code, the site is telling me "An unexpected error occured." (by the way, the word "occurred" is properly spelled with TWO r's.) In any event, I would like to redeem this Reese Puffs code for a subscription to Chirp for my daughter. Please help.
To which they responded:
Thank you for contacting General Mills with your inquiry.
Register your name and mailing address on our website,\promotions. Enter the code printed inside your specially-marked package.
Select the publication you wish to receive.
You will immediately receive a confirmation of your order by E-mail. Please retain this E-mail until you receive your book or magazine.
You will receive your selection within 6 to 8 weeks.
We hope you find this information helpful. Please let us know if we can help you again.

To which useless response, I immediately replied:
No, Maria, it was not helpful. But thank you for your reply; you certainly can help me again.
As mentioned, when I enter the code, it says "An Unexpected Error has Occured." (spelled wrong, just like that, in red letters)
Here is the code: [code typed here]. It's from a box of Reese Puffs that we just finished, so it is legitimately ours and never used before. There shouldn't be an error when I enter it.
I'd appreciate it if you could enter it for me somehow; your help would be much appreciated in ordering a mini-subscription to Chirp magazine for my 4-year-old daughter (who has been very disappointed that we couldn't get your AWFUL website to work). I will not deal with this website again if I can help it. It is way too slow, with 2-3 minute delays waiting for each page to load (I have a fast internet connection and every site but yours works fine).
If you have any questions, please email or phone.
Thank you!
So far, I have not received a reply to this email...par for the course when replying to a "customer support" email. I don't think anybody really reads the incoming mail, even though they don't go so far as to pay you the actual courtesy of advising you of that.
So on Friday, I phoned to see what was up - and was told that the website was having problems (duh) and to try again in a few days. No, there was no way she could just order the thing for me over the phone. You have to do it through their stupid website, and I should try again this week.
Well, I did, just now. And duh, it's still broken.
Am I the only person phoning in with problems? Is this the only defective code? So here we go again:
Further to my TWO emails last week, the code we received in a box of Reese Puffs cereal is STILL not working.
Here is the code: [code here]. Please request a "mini-subscription" to Chirp on my behalf. Feel free to email me for my address or any further clarification.
I have to say that while your company's reputation is based on family-friendly and kid-oriented products, this particular website has been a TERRIBLE disappointment.
Based on your promotion, I promised my 4-year-old daughter this magazine, and it has been over one week since I first tried to redeem the code (an eternity to a 4-year-old).
Please let me know when we can expect our magazines. Yours truly,
p.s. Why does your awful "contact" form require my EXACT age every single time I email you? Over 18 would suffice - you don't need to know if I'm 18-25, 25-35 or whatever.
p.p.s. Why does your awful "contact" form ask me to check here if I'm outside the US (which I am) and then take away the listing of Canadian provinces if I check the box? We are not part of the US yet that I am aware of.
By the way, when you click Submit to submit the filled-in contact form, an annoying window pops up that shrieks at you in big burgundy letters:
Please wait while your data is entered into the database.
In order to insure your information is completely recorded,
do not use your browser buttons until the form page is removed.
Boy, do I hate General Mills this week!
January 2010 postscript: nope, it's still not here... and I hate 'em more than ever! Read on for the exciting continuation of the Saga.

Look what I managed to not kill yet!

Yes, it’s the mango from two weeks ago… growing happily, and right now outdoors in the rain!

The Mango tree is growing...

Things that ROT!

So many of my posts focus on things that are growing… that I haven’t spent much time updating you on what’s ROTTING in our yard!

Yup, it’s our multifaceted home composting operation, and it seems to be in full-swing for 2009; yay!

First of all, the worm composter, celebrating exactly one month in our family:

worm bin update On the left side is what’s left of the original vermicompost which the composter was mostly full of when I bought it.  Not much left; I’ve used it in most of the tomato planters and a few other areas of the garden (picking many worms out along the way – and doubtless losing some – because I was too lazy initially to sort them out).

On the right is “clean” bedding – a mix of straw (hay?) and the “tushie” sections from Now Magazine, torn into strips (so it was never really clean – ha ha ha).

No worms visible on the surface, but if you dig down just a bit with my trusty Trake… there!  See ’em?  They’re everywhere!!!

Lots of worms in the worm bin

I have been feeding the vermicomposter once or twice a week, with just a “choice” bit of whatever’s going into the main composter.  By “choice,” I mean I skim off some of the worm-friendly bits, easy to break down, like shredded carrot peelings.  Corn cobs and the tough stuff all goes out back.

Moving into the backyard, there are 3 composting bins.  The far left one is the “brush” pile – sticks and tree bits and wooden things that will take forever to break down.  Most of that stuff gets bundled for the city to take away, but sometimes I’m too lazy and just toss it in there.

CompostersThen, there are the two main composters, composter #1, which is a bit strawy-looking but mostly finished.  I have been using that around the garden a bit, too.  And composter #2, the active pile, which the kids know is the one they have to dump stuff into (though I’m mostly the one who does it).

That’s my pitchfork in the picture, my main stirring tool; a gift from my father when we  moved in.  Or else maybe I stole it from their garage… I don’t remember.  You can see lots of cardboard like the egg cartons that we bring empty eggshells out in and the cereal boxes that we use for almost everything else.

Composter #1:  Almost all done!Composter #2:  active

They break down REALLY fast; the ones you see here are already soggy and falling apart, and they’d only been in there a couple of days when I took this picture.  YM came out to watch me turn it the other day and there was literally steam billowing up out of the pile. 

Just noticed there’s also still a rubber band on the broccoli stems.  They fall off eventually and then I just pick them out of the compost.  Same with the twist ties on spinach and chard stems.

…So that’s all that’s rotten in the State of Mama-Land!

Are you a good witch or a BAD witch???

witch 005Neither!  I’m with my friend, the Tin Man, here, and we’re off to see the wizard!

witch 004witch 003 

(the witch’s face is coloured on top of shiny tape so theoretically, it’s removable)

Easy, cheap garden marker how-to

Yes, they’re window-blind slats, which you can find everywhere in the garbage, except last year when I was actively looking and never found any.

witch 001Anyway, I think they look quite spiffy!  Sharp as anything, though.  The marker says light resistant, but I’m sure they will fade.  The blinds will probably last forever, though, and I love the big chunky size of them. 

As you can see, these are not all veg.  I have decided to label everything I have deliberately planted in the garden.  Whenever I go to gardens, I feel frustrated not knowing what things are. 

Hopefully these will be discreet enough as to not be garish while being slightly informative.  They’re for the backyard, anyway.  If it’s awful, I can just rip the whole thing out and nobody will be the wiser.

There are 24 tags here, but I actually need 32 just for the two main square foot beds.  Gardening books I’ve read say this is a good task for a chilly winter’s evening.  Sit down and cut a million mini-blinds and label them all to have ready for the spring.  (I have at least twenty slats left in the garage, so at 12 tags per slat, there will be more than enough, I hope!)

That just seemed too abstract for me, plus, that’s not when mini-blinds are put to the curb in this country.  I found them in the spring, so this is when I have them, and this is when I need the labels, so this is when I will make the labels, darnit.

Even if it is erev Shavuos.  Why don’t we say “making Shavuos” or even “making Sukkos” the same way you say “making Shabbos” or “making Pesach”?

Surely Shavuos is more work than just an ordinary Shabbos, even if it’s not as much effort as Pesach?  So if it’s not about the work involved, then what is it that “makes” the Yom Tov?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


While I’m on a “nostalgic for Naomi’s infancy” kick, we’re officially weaning.  In the sense that I told her she can’t have nummies anymore when she wakes up.  It’s only for sleep-time now. 

Should we have gone cold turkey?

I dunno… I feel like an awful guilty incompetent mama any which way.  Especially the mornings that Ted’s not here to whisk her away and feed her breakfast instantly.  Especially when she has to watch the baby get nummies when she can’t have it.

This morning, both littles woke up simultaneously (he’s usually up at 6:30, and she’s more like 8, but today, they both slept ‘till 8:00!).

So I changed both diapers (both wet; his are more likely to be dry than hers in the morning, these days) and had Naomi bring a book (Veterinarians) to my bed so I could lie down and nummy Gavriel Zev while we read together.

She cried a little bit, and then got very involved in the veterinarians book (one of those “career choice” type of books for little kids, with lots of photos and information on choosing the life of a veterinarian). 

She kept trying to sneak nummies, but more with a sense of mischief than in a sad way.  She’d say she just wanted to touch it, and then when I turned to read, there would be lips sneaking in…

Thinning the Robeez stash!

Down from however-many I couldn’t even count the number of pairs  (a few months ago)…robeez 002 

Heartbreaking, to imagine never needing these again.  :-o

DSC03477I am Freecycling these 4, which were among my favourites.  The elephants are not actually Robeez, but in fact they are just as cute and the leather is softer.  The lions were Naomi’s also but held up amazingly well.  I will sure miss Robeez now that he’s walking…

Yup, you read that right.  Walking, talking, what a big boy.  Or, as he says, “bohhhhhh.”  While signing “boy.”  It’s very cute.

Centaurea Montana prepares to flower

I love the build-up to flowers!!!  More even than the flowers themselves???

clovers 034

The WW of SI, Part 2

(aka The Wonderful World of Sub-Irrigation)

So I made a second “WalMart Tub” sub-irrigated planter – waaaah-la!

clovers 017 clovers 018

This one is more elegant inside, trust me (I was in a hurry to set it up before tonight’s rain so didn’t take pics before filling it.

Inside:  one “Early Tiny” cherry tomato (that’s not its name, but it had no name; I got the seeds last year in an envelope marked “Cherry Tomato Trio” and saved seed from the one I grew out – most delicious, and yes, it was my earliest tomato!), plus one Sweet Chocolate Sweet Pepper purchased at Gufferin Drove Marmers’ Farket 2 weeks ago.

Okay, I know already… a tomato PLUS a pepper is too much to ask from one planter.  But these are big planters, sub-irrigated (or self-watering, if you like the image of a thirsty planter reaching for a hose), full of delicious soil, worm castings, blood & bone meal, and whatnot.  And they’re only cherry tomatoes.  Let’s just see what happens.

(I have laid aside my Creutzfeldt-Jakob – slash – Mad Cow – slash – bovine spongiform encephelopathy related fears for the time being… that was why I avoided bone meal up until now but a doctor friend seemed to think it was silly).

p.s.  That tall thing in behind the planters is a tall, TALL coleus planted with two parsleys.  Beautiful, beautiful, and only $1-something at Humber:  how could I resist???

No dipping – but *why* not?

Gavriel Zev is eating a baked potato and I bought strawberry milk at the grocery store as a treat for them.  Anyway, when I came back up from doing laundry, he was very nicely, very carefully dipping his potato half into the strawberry milk.

He loves dipping!

Just like Naomi did at that age, I think dipping - in ketchup, veggie dip, etc. - allows babies to "cook" and "customize" their food in a way that must be liberating after a year and a half of having everything served up just the way you're supposed to eat it.

And, of course, this being the Great Age of Experimentation, there's always the chance that something unexpectedly amazing could happen if you dip a potato half in strawberry milk.  Like it could start to fizz, or could turn into a peach, or, really, anything.  Because the world must seem totally random anyway to a 20-month-old.

Anyhow, nothing amazing happened, and then Mean Mama came in and took the milk away after the second time of warning not to dip and told him he could have it when the potato was all gone.  But why?

I mean, if he was taking a bite of the potato, then taking a sip of the milk, I wouldn't have a problem.

Maybe just basic social mores?  No dipping in your beverage... oh, unless it's an Oreo, and the beverage is milk, in which case you can dip with abandon.

Which, by the way, is like the word cleave in that it sometimes means the opposite of itself.  I mean, you are totally not abandoning the behaviour, if you're doing it with abandon.

(and cleave sometimes means to chop in half and sometimes means to bring together, as in a wife saying cleave unto thee or something similarly silly at her wedding)

temp_annegables2My mother took the girls to see a big production of Anne of Green Gables last week at the Elgin Theatre.  Naomi Rivka loved it, of course, and is now almost as obsessed with Anne as she is with Dorothy (from the Wizard of Oz).  But she insists on calling the venue a "Theodore."  She told Sara she went to the "Theodore."  She's telling everybody she went to the "Theodore"!

I keep pronouncing it deliberately in front of her - "Theatre."  Eventually, I suppose she'll catch on, and then she won't be cute anymore, just big and overly competent like the (other) big kids.

Maybe I should switch to saying "Theodore," too.

Rereading Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss right now… utterly brilliant.  Read it now if you haven’t already!  (though I don’t remember that subtitle - “zero tolerance” sounds awfully heavy-handed, and the book is anything but).

Sunday, May 24, 2009

More on Atheism...blah, blah, blah...

Yes, I'm still reeling, or rather, thinking, about this post from last week. Sorry to keep going on about this if you're here for garden stuff. Click here if that’s all you’re interested in!

So:  Growing up, my attitude towards Jewish observance was "live and let live." We do what we do, which is perfectly fine, and they do what they do... and as long as I don't impose my beliefs on them (ie, leave them alone), and they don't impose their weird customs (like Shabbos, or eating kosher) on me, then we'll all get along just fine.

I was thrilled to be part of the Conservative movement,
as I perceived it, which was presented to me as the perfect merger between Judaism's long intellectual tradition and the freedom of modernity. Not too much, not too little... it had a strong, warm, traditional feel, without being overly strict about what you could and could not do.

At my bat mitzvah, I had procrastinated for weeks about writing my speech. My mother kept telling me I'd need to say something, and I just never got around to writing it. (sound familiar?)

So... Shabbos morning rolls around, the day of the happy event, and I did the Torah-reading part just fine and lunch was served and there we were at the head table with my parents and grandparents and the rabbi, so it was time to write my speech. Turn to my mother: "can I have a pen to write my speech?"
"No." (I seem to remember she kind of whispered it, urgently and secretively)
"Um, why not?"
"Not in front of the rabbi."

It was the first I ever heard that you're not supposed to write on Shabbos.
Or at least, you're not supposed to write in front of the rabbi on Shabbos.

Because that's his thing; that was his turf. On his turf, of course you don't write on Shabbos.
In our home, in school, wherever... well, that was a different thing altogether.

If the rabbi had come into our home and told us not to write on Shabbos, I would have gotten mad, because then he'd have been breaching the unspoken contract - "don't mess with me, and I won't mess with you."

I don't believe Judaism works quite that way anymore.
I don't believe it's all relative.

I believe it's about you and what you are doing in your relationship with Judaism and with Hashem (God) - regardless of who's looking, who's around.
Like I said, I struggle with this: it's much easier to say brachas before and after a meal in a group of shul people at home than with non-Jewish friends at the park or parenting drop-in. It's easier to just wear a t-shirt on a hot day knowing I won't be in shul or around the rabbi or most of the shul people I know.

I used to believe it was enough to be a "good Jew" no matter what I was doing. You can be a good Jew even if you're not keeping kosher, driving on Shabbos, whatever... those are all different ways of being a good Jew, right?

I no longer believe that, though I do appreciate & learn from those who are "serious Jews" even if they're not observant in the same ways I am. More about that in a minute.

As Rabbi Skobac of Jews for Judaism explains all the time, not everything Jews happen to be doing is Jewish.

Jews have been behind so many prominent philosophical movements: ecology, communism, physics and other areas of science... and even atheism... as Dennis Prager says, "only a Jew can be a really frum atheist." (okay, maybe you had to have been there, but it's exactly right: the idea of a Jew, full of Jewish passion, fired up about - atheism. Sad, really. A waste.

That doesn't make those things Jewish.
And people who say they are a good Jew (some people use the phrase "good enough Jew") if they're actively embracing a philosophy or actions that run contrary to Judaism... well, I find that disturbing.

Don't get me wrong. I believe you can be a good, even great Jew and not be completely observant; everybody's on a path, everybody's striving. It's the striving that's the point, not necessarily the destination.

(an aside that should be noted:  a good friend once told me, if you're constantly not moving upwards - in terms of belief, purity, observance, the works - then you're inevitably slipping backwards. It's a depressing concept, one I don't like to think about... one they probably throw at you every ten minutes in Bais Yaakov, where this friend went to school, but probably, probably true.)

When I was talking to this person who said she’s an atheist, I wanted to say she didn't need to be completely observant; it doesn't matter why you think you're lighting Shabbos candles because at that one moment, your action is pure, you are doing the right thing.

Her Shabbos-candle lighting is as "authentic" as mine is. There is no hypocrisy even in a generally non-observant person performing one mitzvah. The mitzvah stands alone; I believe that.

I still believe that: even an atheist lighting Shabbos candles is not hypocrisy. Because in that moment, she's connecting with so many things... and it works even if you don't believe in it.

Like the Christians say, God believes in you even if you don't believe in Him. Or something.

Again, fuzzy, unfocused thoughts. There may be more later.
Baby whining in the background doesn't help.

Hmm…. and now it’s a week of rain ahead…

(further to Friday’s post)

What I don’t understand, have NEVER understood, is how they can put the little “rain” symbol next to the day if there is less than a 50% chance of rain???

I mean, I don’t have a math background or anything (unless you count that first-year calculus course; oh, and algebra… and all that computer programming stuff), but doesn’t that mean it will probably NOT be a day of rain?

But with all these nice rainy symbols ahead, there’s got to be some moisture in it for my plants – and my now-empty rain barrel!

Evening POSTSCRIPT:  Apparently it did rain this morning!  That explains why the eavestrough was dripping (blah).  And why the rain barrel is no longer totally empty, though it is still almost there.

new weather

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Well, this is reassuring...

treeshape Looking at our rather Seussian-looking Turkish Hazel tree that the city planted for us three (four?) springs ago now (outlined for emphasis!), I just keep thinking, "it keeps growing up and up and UP" with no width in sight.
So I Googled and found this on a website:

"A splendid and truly beautiful tree from south east Europe and west Asia.

A large and imposing tree, rather columnar when young before broadening to a symmetrical pyramid on maturity. Notable for its roughly textured, corky bark, it produces long, yellow catkins in early spring and clusters of fringed nuts in autumn. Turkish Hazel is a superb choice for parkland and avenue planting, and it will tolerate paved areas."

"Rather columnar when young" is what reassured me.  Columnar is another word for Seussian-slash-absurd, right???

Mommy & I are maybe planning a trip out to Humber Nurseries for Tuesday.  I have a coupon left from Canada Blooms, plus they have butterflies for the kids to see.  Well, I have to phone and make sure they have butterflies.

I want to buy something VINEY that will cover the backyard fence and make the yard look slightly less heinous.  That's a lot to ask from a plant, isn't it?  I'm thinking hardy kiwi.

Friday, May 22, 2009

No rain, blah…

See Sunday’s post for an exciting weather-related update!


Thursday, May 21, 2009

From certain angles…

If you squint…

The front yard doesn’t look terrible.  :-)

The front lawn!

For comparison, here’s where it was about the same time last year:

newyard 003

Just for fun, here’s Naomi with the “baby trees” that were brand-new last year (and the neighbour’s truck door jeopardizing their wellbeing!!!):

newyard 007

They haven’t grown much, but they do look quite a bit more “settled” since last summer.

Suppers this week!

chicken pie supper

Monday:  (holiday, but Ted was working; Glen Cedar Park with Mommy)

  • Mommy bought stuff for deli sandwiches and we all went over there.  Ted took the Littles to fireworks later at Glen Cedar Park.

Tuesday:  (Laughlin Park with another mama in the a.m. – locked out of the car, so no aerobics)

  • Shabbos-leftover chicken pie, seen above

Wednesday – trek to High Park with Abigail, swimming, everybody’s classes, etc

  • Chicken baked over rice (yes, chicken twice in a row.

Thursday (that’s today!): (dance class, Home Depot, my aerobics class)

  • Scalloped potatoes with a layer of salmon and cottage cheese in the middle and tinned cream-of-mushroom drenched over the whole thing.  Pretty tasty, but no cheesy crunch to it.
  • Creamy carrot / ginger / coconut-milk soup.
  • Tinned green beans.

Tomorrow night is another Shabbos potluck at the Silvers.  Mmmm…

I am making my oven-baked rice-dish thing that is super-easy and seems to get eaten fairly quickly.

The wonderful world of sub-irrigation!

I caved and decided to do an experiment in self-watering (ie sub-irrigated) veggies.  I was inspired by this site, which has some decent info on urban gardening, though it’s a little harsh on the term “sub-irrigated” (I don’t think the term “self-watering” is all that confusing unless you picture the little planter running back and forth to the rain barrel (as I have been doing ALL week – it’s almost empty!).

Total project cost:  $11 , plus soil/compost I already had, plus an DSC03418X-acto knife I bought myself and some duct tape plus a storage tote bin we already had (yeah, so there are kiddie clothes that used to be inside it strewn all over the living room now – so what???).   $6 for the EPS foamboard (which actually was large enough to do two boxes easily), and $5 for the pipe – I went for the premium “elbow-bend” pipe so the bottom wouldn’t rest flat on the bottom of the tote box.

Total time:  about half an hour, in several installments due to kiddie-interruptions. 

The low cost and low time committment were what really appealed to me.

Here are the steps:

DSC034201.  Make a criss-cross grid at the bottom of the bin.  I guess you could make it neater than I did, but so could I if I didn’t have kids screaming in the background.

The website I got this idea from explains that this grid creates nine “pockets” (like tic-tac-toe spaces).  The four corners will be soil “wicks” to seep the moisture upwards.  The other five squares will serve as the water reservoir.

DSC034212.  Cut a piece of foamboard that fits snugly about 1/3 of the way up.  I used a hot knife from the stove to punch the holes.  You could use a drill if you wanted to wake up the baby (I didn’t).  Use an X-acto knife to cut a hole big enough to fit the fill tube.  Use duct tape and spare pieces of foam to “snug” the board so there are no big gaps around the edges (so soil won’t fall through much).


3.  Add extra perlite and vermiculite to a smallish amount of planting mix.  This will be for the corner “soil wicks” and you want them to be extra-absorbent to make sure they transport the water nicely.  Pack this “enhanced” soil mixture really well into each of the four corners.

4.  Fill the rest of the planter with regular planter soil mix (I used PC Magic Planter soil mixed with city compost, mixed with PC cow manure).

5.  Position the planter where you want it – it’s going to get heavy!  Water the soil well (oops, I forgot to do this!) and fill the reservoir.  Water will be at max capacity now.  Drat, realize too late that you have omitted to include an overflow hole that will let you know when the reservoir is full-up and stop the thing from drowning if rain gets in.  Eek.  :-o

Note to self:  MUST add overflow hole, which will be much harder now that the box is full and planted.

DSC034226.  Add plants of your choice.  I figured this was a bit bigger than just one tomato needs (because of the rectangular shape.  It could probably hold two broccolis just fine, but one broc and one tomato will likely be a bit of a stretch.  Nevertheless, that’s what’s in there as we speak!

DSC03423What kind of tomato did I put in???  No idea, I’ll check in the morning cuz it’s dark back there now!  Oooh, on second thought, I zoomed in on the picture and the popsicle-stick tag is just barely visible:  Children’s Garden Roma.  (ie, seeds I saved from the Children’s Garden last summer).

Here it is, nice and close to the rain barrel just in case it ever needs more water.     :-)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

hanging veggies in reusable fabric grocery bags


Wrote this earlier to post in a forum where I'd asked about growing veggies in grocery bags. Thought I'd copy/paste it here as well:

Well, the experiment is underway!

I now have 2 bags of potatoes kind of suspended from the gate across my driveway competing with 2 very large pots of potatoes (the ones my emerald cedar came in a few weeks ago).

Plus, one commercial hanging tomato planter (Vesey's Revolutionary Tomato planter) competing with a homemade hanging-grocery-bag planter.

For the potatoes, I used the large President's Choice large-size ($1.99) black bags. The tomato is in one from a health-food store in Ottawa, about the same size.

The soil in all of them is kind of a mix of PC planter soil with peat, vermiculite, home-grown worm castings, PC composted cow manure, city compost, and whatever other good stuff I could get my hands on.

So not really a good experiment, as there are no control groups. But let's see how they all do!

ADDED Thursday May 21 BY POPULAR REQUEST (ie the one reader I’m not married to), here are a few pics:

Children’s Garden Purple Plum tomato seedling in “Rainbow Foods” grocery bag, and a close-up of the built-in wicking reservoir I created above the soil:

Homemade hanging tomato planter

Top reservoir of homemade hanging tomato planter Children's Garden Purple Plum tomato in Homemade hanging tomato planter

(there’s the teensy tomato plant, peeking out!)

(yes, I worry about the weight of all that soil on its tiny roots…)

Hanging potatoes (my worry here is that not enough light enters the bag to start the potatoes growing well…and also that they will dry out too easily):

Hanging potato bags

And the REAL DEAL:  the store-bought (well, mail-ordered) Vesey’s revolutionary hanging planter with a storebought (okay, farmer’s market) Chocolate Stripes tomato.  I’m a sucker for any produce with the word chocolate in it.  Hey, why don’t they make a chocolate broccoli???

 Hanging tomato planter

Why it's important to read your own blog

Just noticed this post and realized I still have a mango pit (I hope) in the basket of the folded-up in-the-car carriage.  :-o

Thursday postscript:  as of last night, the seed has been removed from its husk (click here for more info on sprouting mangoes, which seems to have become an obsession of mine) and it is now safely germinating – I hope - in a baggie above the fridge.

My total failure as a homeschool mama

YM has some very tight deadlines to finish his courses by mid-June, and several (okay, many) things are due this week.  Fair enough.  Tonight, he also had a job interview for a day camp he applied to (he probably won't get the job, if only because he's away for most of August, but I wanted to support him).  So we talked ahead of time about how much work he'd have to do today (three half-hour sessions, at least:  one for each subject).  And he did some before supper.
After supper (slicey meats at my mother's house), we took off for his 7:25 interview.  In the car, we talked about how he was going to use the computer as soon as we came home to do his schoolwork, that I was not going to use the computer (despite my having a deadling tonight!) so he could get his things done, etc. 
While he had the interview, I was planning to pick up Ted, so when I dropped him off, I started to say we'd be back at 8 to pick him up, but thought better of it:  if Ted was done early, we'd be coming right back.  So I said, "just wait out front when you're done."
So, yay, Ted had finished work early and was ready when we got there at 7:30 to pick him up.  Turn around, head back to the interview, arrive back at 7:40:  NO YM anywhere.
Me, get out, search building repeatedly (all three floors!), no boy.
Wait several minutes, with grumpy Littles in back of car.
Me, 15 minutes later:  "Let's circle the parking lot, check the playground, and then take off.  He'll probably turn up at the last minute."
Indeed, as Ted was just getting ready to circle, he appeared from out of the playground.  Argh.
Headed for home, downplaying the fireworks I wanted Ted to take the Littles to so YM wouldn't feel he was Missing Out.
Ted took the Littles out, I started ushering Elisheva towards bed, had YM turn on the computer to get started.
Me, gathering stuff to go to the garden for the first time today (it was already quite dark out, but I was determined to hang Tomato #2, the cheapo hanging-grocery-bag planter!!!).
Me to YM:  "You are using the computer for school work.  If you do anything other than school work, you are going straight to bed.  I will be coming in to do random spot checks; only use the computer for school work."
Him:  "Okay," and diligently getting started on math stuff.
Me, outside, doing tomato stuff, humming along.
Kinda feeling my peaceful place feeling.
Elisheva comes out to say Shema in the garden (even though she was freezing!).  Kiss her, hug her, say goodnight.
More tomato stuff.
Time for a random spot check on The Boy.
What's that?
A computer game website???
Not a game in itself, you understand, which he has frequently argued in the past makes it legitimate.  And I agree:  in his free time, I don't really care what websites he goes to - within reason.  But I specifically said school work ONLY.
Me:  BED.
Him:  Noooooooo...aaaaaaaaa..... CRY... I know you said it, I know, I know, please, please...
Me:  BED.
Him:  You don't care about my school work!!!
Me:  BED.
Him:  No. 
I used to be a lovely person, I swear I did.
The interaction ended when he slunk off downstairs to quietly do math at his desk until he got tired and crawled into bed.  No Shema.  No bedtime.  Probably no teeth-brushing.
How can I love him more???
I have really tried this weekend, that's the stupid thing.  Elisheva was away over Shabbos, and I tried to use it as an excuse to give him more positive attention, more touchy, jokey, and so on.
I have not even mentioned the missing Krazy Glue or the 2 weeks overdue (at $1 a day) Fast-Read library book of mine that Ted found in his room this morning.
Will he get through this and emerge a mentsch on the other side?
1)  Maybe
2)  My sources say no
3)  My sources say no
4)  Ask again later
5)  Outlook not so good
6)  Maybe
7)  Yes
Yay!!!  It said YES!!!
I will now stop asking.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Naomi at the playground; the sky so blue


Ode to a tansy

DSC03368I bought this thing pretty much by accident… in all my reading about attracting beneficial insects two years ago, everything I read recommended tansy and yarrow, tansy and yarrow.  Yarrow was easy enough to find, but tansy was tougher.

Especially cuz it sounds like “pansy.”  Two garden centres thought I meant “pansy” and at Plant World there was a bit of a comedy of errors when one worker called to another on their cheesy walkie-talkies because even though one was saying “tansy” (because I’d explained it to  her clearly), the other was hearing “pansy” and sending her to the Annuals section.

Anyway.  It turned out the only tansy they had was this one, golden tansy, which may or may not have been “Isla Gold” because I have no idea what happened to the tag.  I hummed and hmmed because I wasn’t sure it would invite the right crowd of bugs (shouldn’t have worried!) and because I hadn’t yet been converted to the school of “golden” plants (Elisheva still hasn’t been, and maintains that yellowy foliage just looks sickly).

But I did buy it, and last year, I fell in love as it performed and performed and performed, transforming what was once a sandy antpile into a lush, mostly-thriving natural garden.

So anyway, today I was procrastinating (instead of writing the two articles I’m supposed to be working on!), looking for pictures of it on, a site I sometimes turn to for plant information and reviews (I love any and all review sites!), and there wasn’t much, so I figured I should add my own comments. 

What came out is actually just a little on the mushy side… but then, I love this plant!


Suckers like crazy, but they're easy enough to control.  Dig up, replant if you want the babies or give them away (I hope propagation isn't prohibited, because this thing WANTS to spread!!!), because everybody will want a gorgeous plant like this.

Starting from nothing in March, it grows to resemble a big, loose shrub that many people have mistaken for a fern (in full sun?).  Last year it went floppy, so I stuck a tomato cage over it in March and this year it is growing nicely into a graceful shape (it is now May and it mostly fills the cage).

Attracts beneficial insects, and the foliage fairly glows - it's the last thing I can see in my garden before the sun sets.  Gorgeous as a backdrop for showier flowers in home-picked bouquets.  The flowers aren't much, but tiny bugs love them.

This is definitely one of the plants I could not live without [even though I didn’t officially list it in my Six Plants I Could Not Live Without – I feel so ashamed, though I did “sneak” in a shot of it!]. 

Its beauty takes my breath away in my garden almost every single day.


Ironically, I had two dug-up babies of this plant that I tried to give away at the swap yesterday and nobody wanted them.  They looked like sorry old dug-up ferns, but I’m sure in the right context they would grow and grow.  Maybe I’ll stick them in pots near the front door.

Photos and previous paeans of praise to this tansy:

From last July (when it was my garden high), and used it in a homepicked bouquet… and another bouquet! temp_tansy

newgarden 045

An Atheist???

Someone I thought I knew pretty well shocked me yesterday, utterly shocked me, by casually mentioning that she's an atheist.  I am still blown away.
How could you have the arrogance to say - based on however-many, a fairly small number, of years' experience - that despite the many riches our tradition has to offer, it is utterly misguided on the existence of God.  That every single rabbi, ever, has been completely and totally wrong about this one key thing.
Sorry; I said I was blown away, and it's true.  I can't even respond articulately.
Even when I didn't actively believe in God, and some days are still like that, I wouldn't have had the chutzpah to say "I've given it some thought, enough to comfortably conclude that he doesn't exist."
Maybe I'm just a wimp, hedging bets.  Growing up, I always used the term agnostic, and still like it a bit.  Jewish tradition even likes it a bit.  We're really supposed to be careful about describing God in any concrete way, because then you get attached to the description and not to God who must necessarily remain mostly abstract, or at least inconceivable to our little people brains.
And okay, I'm one of these northeastern people who are slightly uncomfortable with any mention of God, unlike, I'm told, southerners, who speak of him like a good friend who drops by very often.
BUT.  Saying you're an atheist is like saying "this little people brain is as good as it gets, when it comes to brains."
"Our intelligence is the best you'll ever encounter, ever."
"I know it all.  Trust me.  I have a diploma that says so.  Or two."
Dennis Prager says when people come to him and tell him they don't believe in God because of the Holocaust, he replies that, if anything, the Holocaust should destroy one's faith in people... and perhaps convince you there's got to be something better than us out there.
Okay, those are not his exact words, or even maybe the right way of saying it.
Like I said, it's hard to be articulate in the face of this.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Friday: Garden highs and lows

Thought I’d get back to doing this, since I enjoyed last summer having to narrow all my garden experiences down to just one high and one low… give or take a couple!

Garden high:

Definitely Black Scallop Ajuga.

Deep, dark, and it totally glistens… brand-new, but it’s already starting to spread, and it flowered just a couple of days after I planted it:  how obliging can one plant get???

Here, you can see it pitted against its stalwart opponent:  the backyard dandelion.  Who will win?  Whose shade of green reigns supreme???

Garden low:

leaf miner scars on the columbine???Seems like the leaf miners have found my columbines… again.

Their burrowing doesn’t really harm the leaves, and I read in a gardening book that some people pretend their distinctive burrowing trails through the leaves’ innards are just a special kind of variegation.

This summer, I will pretend I have a unique, super-special variegated columbine.  Or, as Elisheva says, with just a bit of a lisp, ’peshal.

Sneaky highs that don’t count because I have already listed my main one!


The scent of heliotrope – everywhere.  Tiny, tiny plants, with great big smell.





The view from under a tomato:

 upside-down tomato

And… last but not least:  the gaura came back!  A couple of weeks ago, but now it’s totally ticking along.

Gaura - siskiyou pinkThis one’s Siskiyou Pink.  I went totally gaura-happy at both Plant World and Fortino’s Garden Centre today and am now the proud owner of TWO more.  The Plant World one was something like $2.99, and I stuck it front & centre in the front bed among the irises.  

From Fortino’s, “Whirling Butterflies,” a white form that I plan to use in a container arrangement, was $4.99, but it’s a big plant that is already ready to pop in & go.

Lovin’  me the gaura… way underused in gardens here; you just never see it.   This picture isn’t mine… photo courtesy of wikimedia.  I read before I bought mine, and it’s totally true, that photos cannot capture the beauty of this plant.

Resisted buying another fuchsia today at Plant World.  All of a sudden, I am loving their absurd bulb shape, but I want to see if I can keep the one I have (it’s a dwarf - encliandra “Lottie Hobby”) alive before I branch out.

Can you spot 43 coleus in these pictures???

43 coleus... still don't look like much! 

Love that “big daddy” emerald cedar!43 coleus... still don't look like much!

They’re in there… keep looking!

Gah - caffeine

Just figured out why I'm still wide awake at 2 a.m.... coincidentally the same day as the Iced Tea Season was officially inaugurated in our home.  :-o
Waah!  Must wake up early and go swap plants.


I can't believe it!
Last night they (it? he? gotta be a he...) got one tomato and one pepper (MiniMix bell pepper) seedling.  The ones that were planted in pairs seem to be okay; maybe the pairs confound the critter.
I have poked a stick down next to one of the tomato seedlings in the hopes that it will foil the thing.

Friday, May 15, 2009


I just do not have fun.  I realize it's not about having fun... it's not even about being happy, as Dennis Prager would probably point out.
But still.
Yelling at the boy to get out the door before Shabbos - ugh.
Sure, he lied about what time he left school and went to the library instead (I called his rosh yeshiva to check).
He lies about everything he can get away with.
Hardly anything he says is true.
And the girl is intermittently polite, alternating with screaming fits.
Which maybe she gets from me, though I really do try not to scream.
I just don't have fun.  Did I say that already?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Naomi’s Questions for Sara

Sara, the leader of one of the programs I take the kids to was in a bike accident last week.  Naomi’s been very concerned about her, and coincidentally we bumped into her (gently, I promise!) at Dufferin Grove Park.

I asked how she was doing, when she’d be back at work, etc, and she mentioned she lives near the park.  Then we said goodbye and headed home.

In the car on the way home, Naomi Rivka was shooting rapid-fire questions at me, over and over… so finally, I said we could write down all the questions when we got home (once I got supper in the oven).  She was happy about that, and for once, I actually did something I promised without needing to be reminded.

Here they are, written verbatim as Naomi tried to remember them once we got home (they’d lost a bit of the urgency she’d expressed right after we left the park):

sara questions

Later, after riding her tricycle up and down the street with Ted, Naomi mentioned she’d gotten into a “bike accident” where she tipped over onto the grass.  Luckily, she wasn’t very badly hurt and is expected to make a full recovery.