Thursday, June 24, 2010

Peanut Butter Crisis

Early last week I opened the last jar of peanut butter. Not such a big event, truly. At least not normally. This jar only mattered because although my husband loves me dearly and will do nearly anything for me, asking him to go buy more peanut butter this week was out of the question. See, my husband does our Trader Joe runs. Just the day before he had called cautiously to see what we needed and patiently listened and copied down my long list. He wasn’t thrilled to be sent to the store to buy eight pounds of butter, 2 bags of flax meal, four bottles of kefir, and as many boxes of shredded wheat as his cart could handle, not to mention nitrate free bacon, several cheeses, tortilla chips, rice vinegar, black olives, bourbon vanilla extract, and if you can find it – one of those tiny cans of fire-roasted chilis? He called because he was out of coffee and needed to stop in and grab some. I turned his quick errand in to a search and recover mission (where do you find flax seed meal?).

I’m not passing judgment on your peanut butter selection (really!), but I hope you choose a natural peanut butter. I know they can be a hassle and finding one that suits your taste can take awhile and be expensive. But traditional peanut butters are crammed full of nasty things like hydrogenated oils, corn syrup, salt, and MSG. Because it’s a staple of most kids’ diets, it’s important to find the healthiest kind you can. Back when we made the switch from regular peanut butter to natural peanut butter is didn’t go so smoothly. We tried lots of brands and nothing cut the mustard (or the peanut butter) until we discovered the Trader Joe Organic Valencia peanut butter. It’s relatively cheap, as far as natural peanut butters go, and I’ve gotten used to the fact that when you buy natural peanut butter you get some serious arm exercise the first time you open it and have to stir and stir (and stir and stir) so that it doesn’t freak out the children when they see all that oil pooled on the top. Plus you have to keep it in the fridge which feels odd after centuries of peanut butter in the cupboard.

We are serious peanut butter addicts. We go through at least one jar a week. With it being summer, that number can move up to two or even three. The kids eat peanut butter and jelly, peanut butter and crackers, peanut butter on bagels, dip apples and grapes in peanut butter, smear it on bananas, and love it in a chocolate-peanut butter smoothie (and when the kids aren’t watching, I love it on ice cream!). So while this may not seem like a real crisis to you, to me – CRISIS. What will they eat? For at least one child eggs and peanut butter are the primary source of protein.

So I did what I always do when faced with a situation like this. I decided to make it myself. I checked out the ingredient list on our last jar – “peanuts, oil, salt.” Simple enough. I used to make my own soy-peanut butter back when I was training for a marathon and needed to pack in some protein and fat before a run. The kids refused to eat it, but they were younger and fussier then and I wasn’t making it with them in mind.

I decided I needed some critical buy-in for this project, so I enlisted my daughter. I told her I wanted to try making peanut butter and needed her help. The winds were blowing my direction that day and she liked the idea. I raced off to buy peanuts in bulk from our natural food store. I bought lightly salted roasted peanuts and also some honey roasted peanuts. I decided to skip the oil and see what happens since peanuts have a natural oil in them. I skipped the salt too since both kinds of peanuts had salt in them.

My daughter got excited when I pulled out the food processor. Normally my youngest gets to push the button on this noisy gadget. She’s getting too old to complain that she wants a turn, so she was happy to have the pulse button to herself. We poured in 1 ½ cups regular peanuts and 1 ½ cups honey roasted, then let it rip. It only took quite a few minutes to produce a silky smooth texture. I put some on a cracker and ceremoniously handed it to her. Then waited anxiously while she chewed and chewed for what seemed like a very long time with various expressions crossing her face that alternately lifted and dashed my hopes. I think she was trying to torture me. Finally she pronounced it, “pretty good”. Coming from her that is high praise. Plus she got the bragging rights of telling the boys that she figured out how to make peanut butter. We filled a clean empty peanut butter jar and placed it in the fridge. Problem solved.

And not only is the problem solved, it’s going to save us serious money. Here we go again with - we can make it better, cheaper, and healthier ourselves! Try it!

Homemade Organic Peanut Butter

3 cups organic peanuts (any combination – salted, unsalted, honey-roasted, whatever you like)
Salt optional

Place ingredients in food processor and process until smooth. Add more peanuts or oil according to your taste/texture preference.
Store in clean air-tight container. Keep refrigerated.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Story of Our Children

I know I am not the only parent horrified by the sheer volume of paper our children bring home from school. One of these years I’m going to save them all and see how many pages we accumulate over the course of one year. I’m certain the stack will reach the ceiling and then the kids can make calculations determining just how many trees have been sacrificed in the name of their education.

But at the same time, I appreciate the communication and I do like to see what my children have been up to. The real issue becomes what to save and what not to save. To avoid drowning in paper and indecision, I developed our bin system. Each of my children has a labeled bin in the mudroom where we deposit papers that we aren't ready to part with because a) they will be necessary for a future assignment b) their author deems them too good for the recycle bin c) they make their mother get misty eyed with pride or wonder or d) their mother finds the paper/art project/unidentifiable object on the floor and doesn’t know whether it is of consequence, but fears being accused of appearing apathetic towards her child’s work of genius. All others fill the recycle bin. Between the massive quantities of paper the school sends home and the even larger numbers of projects produced at home, it’s a wonder we can hold an entire year’s worth in one room, let alone one bin. It requires a will of steel, I tell you.

These bins fill up. So when the end of school rolls around, we spend a morning sorting through the bins. I plunk a trash can, a recycle bin, and an empty “Keeper box”, labeled with this year’s dates, in the living room. I also bring along a permanent marker or two for labeling and dating the things we keep. Then I fetch the overflowing bins and the unenthusiastic children and we get to work. No one is very excited to do this task, myself included, so we plan a reward for ourselves. After the sorting, we went to the $2 movies. (This year the older kids saw Alice in Wonderland and I accompanied the youngest to see How to Train a Dragon. I recommend the Dragon movie – good messages, decent writing, adorable dragons.)

The sorting really isn’t that terrible once everyone gets going. It’s kind of fun to see the things created back in September. The memories unearthed are worth the effort of the unwelcome task. The hard part is deciding what is worth keeping. Each child must think hard about what he/she really wants to save. There is only one keeper box shared amongst all three kids. The bulk of the box is always filled by the youngest child. In fact, I’m not sure my oldest thought anything accomplished at school was worth saving. He did find a few masterpieces created in his free time at home that made it in to the keeper box.

One box worth of stuff seems like a small amount, and it is, but those annual boxes begin to stack up. Here’s where I come in (and don’t tell the kids). Prior to the sorting day, while the kids are still at school, I pull out the previous year’s box. I examine its contents and sort those things in to the individual child’s Keeper box (an under the bed bin that holds all size wonders), tossing out or recycling everything else.

My children are prolifically creative, which I love, but without some kind of system we could quickly become overwhelmed by their creations. Some day when they move to their own digs, I will roll up for a visit, climb out of my convertible, and hand them their Keeper box. I imagine them boring their significant other to death with the details of each project (unless of course the significant other is recently acquired in which case she/he might feign some interest).

The other object I hope to bequeath to them when I arrive in my clean car wearing unwrinkled, unstained, stylish clothes, having taken the scenic route to their abode because I have all the time in the world, is a photo album of their childhood. I say hope because such an album doesn’t exist yet. I’m getting ready to start the album for child no # 1. I even purchased a book just for this purpose. I am a serious scrapbooker who produces annual books documenting our escapades that weigh in excess of twenty pounds each (filled with pictures, paper, buttons, brads, and embellishments – yes – I am one of those people!). But those books are for me, not them. Someday I will have my nursing aide lift each book carefully on to my lap and I’ll flip through them slowly, remembering these days when my life was rich with children.

I want to make each of my children a book to take with them when they launch. A book that illustrates where they came from, how they became who they are, and how much they were loved - a book that tells the story of their childhood. For this you need pictures, of which we have plenty. We take pictures of everything. I even have pictures of my friend Carol removing the stitches from my oldest son’s arm and my daughter, red faced in tears after having her ears pierced. Not to mention thousands of portraits of our gray cat and the chickens with the puffy heads. Pictures of the kids leaf sledding, splashing through the homemade car wash, and flying on the zipline, plus the countless sports teams, concerts, geography bees, and envirothon competitions should fill these books to bursting with stories.

The sheer quantity of pictures rivals the amount of paper the school sends home. Luckily, most of my pictures are now secured inside my external hard drive. My plan is simple. For each year of my child’s life, I will fill four pages with pictures. The album I bought holds between 4 and 6 pictures per page. That’s an album with 36 pages (front and back filled). This seems reasonable to me. Of course, I’ve yet to start. Wish me luck.

If we can do everything possible to safe-guard the memories of childhood for our children, I believe it is a priceless gift. I look back on my childhood and there is much I don’t remember. But when I pull out the school days book my mother carefully filled out in her familiar cursive or page through an album with the clear plastic curling up, my childhood comes back. It’s a window in to who I really am at my core. My diary is another map – one that is funny, embarrassing, and poignant. It reminds me that we are hard-wired from the start. There were clues back then, even if I didn’t recognize them. We grow and change, but who we are begins in our childhood. As parents we must find ways to protect and preserve this precious piece of our children’s story.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

More Than a Clothes Line

This post is written by my cousin Carolee in Ohio. I am a slave to my dryer, but inspired by Carolee’s commitment, and the joy she finds in line drying her clothes. Of course, it’s better for the earth and probably your clothes, but I never realized it could be good for your soul, too. She’s given me much to think about. Enjoy!

One of the joys of my life comes from connecting with the rhythms of the earth - weather, seasons, daylight and darkness. Eat what's in season. Sleep when it's dark. Wake when it's light. Garden in the early morning before it's hot as blazes. Open windows in the early morning and close them up to hold in the cool air when the sun drives the temperature up. Do laundry when it will dry well. It's rather like Cara's living close to the earth for food production. Buying local and growing one's own are on the same spectrum as line drying one's laundry. A bright sunny, breezy day will dry clothes in a flash.

Do I dry everything? No, I don't like "crunchy" underwear, wrinkled "good" t-shirts and socks that don't stay up. I dry these on low to help them regain their shape and stretchiness. I also machine dry permanent press shirts and pants to remove wrinkles and most of our dark blue and black clothes to remove cat and bunny hair.

I line dry about two-thirds of our laundry. I love napkins and table cloths that look like they've been ironed when all it took was a good shake and a smart snap of the material before hanging the item on a drying rack or clothes line. Jeans and heavy pants and shirts hung neatly will dry with creases in all the right places. Towels give the loofah affect when line dried. Wash cloths, rags, you name it -- line dry unless it needs the machine to dry well.

The equipment is simple:

• Clothes line(s) outside. I have 2 retractable lines that run from the house to a tree. One line stays up pretty much all the time and the other, which runs more through the center of the yard; I reel in when not in use. Lines are available at hardware stores.

• Poles to prop up the lines to prevent excess strain on the lines and drooping long items on to the ground. These light weight metal poles with tops designed to hold the line can be found at hardware stores. I have 2 per line, though depending on the weight of the items hanging, I may not use them all.

• Large drying racks to use indoors and out. These are ideal for small, short items (napkins, rags, washcloths) that take up lots of line space when hung on the line and for heavy items (bath mats and rugs) that might drag the clothes line down. The racks fold and are easy to grab and bring in if rain approaches. I sometimes load my 2 racks on the screened porch when the weather is "iffy" and I'm leaving for the day.

• Wooden clothes pins that grip well. Skip the plastic as these are more easily broken. Pins sometimes snap off the line, break, get lost in the grass or migrate to the kitchen to hold chip, cracker and coffee bean bags closed -- so buy more than you expect to need.

• An pocket apron to hold the cloths pins. I have an "84 Lumber" nail apron. The apron is kind adults wear at the school carnival to collect and hold the tickets at the kid games.

• For indoor drying - the same large racks used outside and a pipe or pole hanging from your basement or attic ceiling upon which you can hang hangers.

• Plastic hangers and hangers with plastic clips to hang skirts and pants. I have a bunch of hangers that came with little kid's clothes that work well for small skirts and pants. I bought plastic kid size hangers for my 7 y.o.'s shirts since full size hangers stretch out her stuff. Nearly all of our family's clothes are hung in closets, including t-shirts, sweatshirts and sweaters. I dry them on the hanger and transfer to the closet on the same hanger -- no folding required.

How to?

• If time if of the essence - hang items from the end to allow only a single layer. If not, flip the towel or sheet over the line so it hangs in a double layer. Depending on the weather, things dry in about half a day if in a double layer and in a couple of hours in a single layer.

• It's okay to pull stuff off the line nearly dry and finish it up in just a few minutes in the machine. This happens to me when I put stuff out at 3:30 and it's not quite dry by the approach of darkness and the evening dew coming on.

• Shake out wrinkles and hang clothes like you want them to look then they are dry. I give pants a good shake, clip them into hangers and hang them up to dry. Once dry - it's straight to the closet. I often pull the pockets inside out. I hang sweat pants and shorts with pockets inside out to help the pockets dry as fast as the rest of the material.

• Items on hangers are hung directly on the clothes line with clothes pins as spacers to keep clothes from sliding together. Since the weight is concentrated, I use a pole or two to prop up the line in this area.

The blessing of line drying is that I no longer am in control of the schedule -- the rain is. I leave for work at 6:30 a.m. and return home at 3:15 to meet the kids arriving from school. So, if rain is likely my "no laundry" excuse is set! Bookmark for the most accurate predictions. I do have the blessing of a neighbor who also line dries, so she will take down laundry and put it on my screened porch if rain comes unexpectedly and she sees laundry on my lines. I try not to set her up for running and grabbing laundry since she's well into her 80's!

In the winter, the weather excuse is gone -- but the humidity level of the house benefits from each drying towel, jeans or linen. I turn on the radio and "hide" in the basement from the busy family above my head.

In the spring, summer and fall -- I truly enjoy my early mornings hanging clothes in the quiet dawn. I listen to the birds and think of other women working quietly as the day starts. It's often dark and I'm waiting for enough light to feel safe riding my bike (with flashing lights and a "don't kill me" green vest) to work. In the afternoon and on the weekend days I often find myself thinking of my mother and women in the neighborhood where I grew up -- every single one had and used a clothes line. Now, I am an oddity -- what's with that? Sunlight and breezes are free! They use no fossils fuels and create no pollution. By washing items sorted not only by color, but also by "machine dry or not" criteria the use of the dryer is minimized. I often wash 3 to 4 loads and consolidate the machine dry items to 1 dryer load. The rest is blowing in the sunny breeze - for free!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

My Plan for Staying Sane(er) This Summer

School is out and summer stretches before us. I’m shooting for a calm summer this year. We don’t have any big plans for exciting vacations or expensive camps. We’re just gonna hang out this summer. So I’m trying to apply a little trick I learned from the cowboy who is helping me train my horse, True. When my True was a little excited (dragging me across the ring and dancing around on the end of the line), he talked about lowering my energy. It was a novel concept for me. I’m a high energy person. I watched him and although he didn’t do anything drastically different physically, I could truly tell when he “lowered his energy” or “got his energy up” and my horse reacted to the changes. True calmed when the energy was low and became alert and reactive when it was up.

I’ve worked on mastering this with my own training efforts to mixed success. I tend to forget to concentrate on it until I’m in some trouble, but it really works like magic. I think animals and children (and adults for that matter) have a lot in common, so I wondered how this would work on my children. Again, I tend to use the tactic in a reactive manner after my children are already threatening lives and holding prized possessions captive, but when I apply it conscientiously, it does work.

Just a few minutes ago, my daughter approached me as I finally sat down to write after a morning of taking care of life’s details and spending too much time in the car. I thought I would steal 30 minutes to myself before I put a dent in the housework that has piled up around me. So, when she bounced (literally) in to the room to explain in detail her grand plan to build a giant bubble machine using her fan and her brother’s K’Nex, I consciously thought about lowering my energy. I took slow, deep breaths and made myself be still.

When I’m working with my horse, I think about aligning my center and quieting the middle of me. I think about being still in my core. I know that sounds like psycho-gobbledy gook, but it’s the best I can do. Basically, you relax all of you and don’t make any sudden movements or unnecessary noises. I nodded and listened and forced myself to let go of my own frustration. It took her 5 or 6 minutes to lay out the plans. Then she looked at me expectantly. I said quietly, “That sounds amazing.” She agreed that it did and told me all she needed was bubble wands, so could we just pop over to the dollar store to get some, right now? I consciously thought about keeping my energy low and said, “If you can’t find any here, then later we can do that. But I need some time right now to do my writing.” She rolled her eyes and harumpphed, but left peaceably.

I think lowering your energy could be a very useful tactic in lots of situations not just with animals and children, but with life in general. I played my guitar in a recital this past weekend and I was ridiculously nervous about it. I kept wondering why I was doing this and hadn’t I left these kinds of anxious feelings behind back in middle school? So as I stood backstage, I thought about lowering my energy. It helped me stay calm even if it didn’t make me completely comfortable. I need more practice (guitar and lowering my energy).

When things don’t work out the way you plan or another person irritates you, lowering your energy is a great way to get your own emotions under control. It takes the other person off-guard. They sense something different about you, and just like my horse, they become quieter too. One of my children struggles with some anxiety and I’m hoping I can teach this child about how helpful lowering your energy can be when life swells up around you.

Lowering your energy can help you find perspective. Maybe if the people in charge of political parties, warring countries, or the local elementary school, tried lowering their energy before spouting off about issues or negotiating with the opposition, things would be different. I think many of us waste much too much precious energy on things that aren’t really all that important. We need to focus on the things that matter and let go of the stuff that doesn’t. I’m hoping this summer I can save my energy for things that matter and make summer what it’s meant to be – a time for relaxing and recharging.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Trust Us Is Getting Old

Today’s post was written by Barbara O’ Brien, who represents, a leading web resource for asbestos exposure and cancer information. In addition, her blogging at the.Mahablog, Crooks and Liars, and AlterNet earned her the notoriety of being a panelist at the Yearly Kos Convention and a featured guest blogger at the Take Back America Conference in Washington, DC. In other words, she’s a much more practiced and accomplished blogger than I. She sent the following post for publication on this blog. It’s a timely subject and an important message we all need to hear, no matter where we fall on the political spectrum. Hope you enjoy. Please don’t hesitate to send me material if you would like the opportunity to share your thoughts on anything to do with kid-friendly organic life. I’m hoping to feature many guest bloggers this summer mostly because I’m lazy, but also because there are so many people out there with good information and thoughts to share.

Trust Us” Is Getting Old

When British Petroleum (BP) applied for a permit to build the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico and begin drilling, it claimed to have the technology and know-how to handle any oil spill.

But in the face of an actual spill, BP is much less confident. “This scares everybody: the fact that we can’t make this well stop flowing, the fact that we haven’t succeeded so far,” BP CEO Doug Suttles said. “Many of the things we’re ¬trying have been done on the surface before, but have never been tried at 5,000 ft.”

They’ve never been tried at 5,000 feet. Drilling for oil this deeply under the ocean is a relatively new enterprise for our species. Oil has been drilled offshore in shallow water for more than a century. But deepwater drilling is much more expensive than shallow-water drilling. For a long time drilling in deep water wasn’t tried, because it would have cost more to extract a barrel of oil than a barrel of oil was worth on world markets. It took the spikes in oil prices in recent years to make deepwater drilling profitable.

Politicians and oil executives assured us that offshore oil drilling was safe. Those tree huggers who worry about environmental disasters are nuts, they said. Yes, there have been oil rig disasters in the past, but (big wink) we know what we’re doing now. Trust us.

The laws of physics work differently nearly a mile underwater than they do on land, or shallow water, however. By now, it is obvious BP is still trying to invent a procedure that might stop the oil leak, maybe, if we’re lucky. No one appears to have been ready for the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Really, this “trust us” business is getting old. How many times have we been told to “trust” some new thing, and then when the dangers surface we find out the “trusted” ones hadn’t told us the whole truth?

In the mid-20th century we humans went into overdrive digging asbestos out of the earth to use in countless structures and products. There is asbestos in navy ships, asbestos in our homes and schools, asbestos in old car parts, asbestos in landfills. And eventually, years after medical science had determined asbestos exposure causes terrible disease, industry executives and politicians reluctantly agreed to shut down asbestos production, or at least most of it. And now the cost of asbestos abatement and mesothelioma treatment is an ongoing problem for individuals, taxpayers, and businesses.

And do we want to talk about Vioxx? Tanning beds? And now there are questions being asked about Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical found in just about every plastic bottle you’ve ever touched. It may be dangerous, it may not. Opinions vary. Just note that the same political and business leaders who deny BPA could be dangerous are the same ones who like to yell “drill, baby, drill.”

I guess the strongest take away from all of this nonsense is to be careful who you trust. Educate yourself through experience and research and believe in yourself to make the right decisions on what we as consumers purchase. Take action against those who are making these harmful environmental choices, whether it be your neighbors, or members of corporate America.

Barbara O’ Brien
June 2, 2010

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

How Do You Do It All??

A friend visited recently and wanted to see all my gardens. As we walked from bed to bed, she kept remarking, “I don’t know how you have time to do all this!” As I tried to explain to her, I don’t. There is rarely a day when I can throw together consecutive hours to work in my garden. I do it in minutes stolen here and there. Some weekends I am blessed with an afternoon, but those are very rare with three kids heavily involved in life and sports.

Here’s my secret. And no, this isn’t where I confess that I have a staff like Martha’s that swoops in with mulch and compost and designer plants. I wish. That’s right up there with Esmeralda the maid I wish I had. Last night after two children and one husband had literally run from the dinner table to make it to a baseball game, I was left staring at the ruins of dinner. My remaining child looked at me and shrugged his shoulders and then got up to leave too.
I sighed and said, “This is when I wish Esmeralda would come in and clean up.”
My son paused, having heard this before, and asked, “Mom, was there every really an Esmeralda?”
I told him, “Not really, but if there was, she would clear these dishes and then come back and wipe the table and pick up the black beans that your brother spilled on his chair, and after that she would do the dishes and even change the laundry that’s been sitting in the washer all day.”
He watched me carefully, perhaps wondering if I was in to the dope that has been reportedly flowing freely through the middle school, and said, “That’s too bad,” before leaving me with the mess.

My secret with all the gardens is to steal minutes. When I have yelled and yelled that it is time to leave for practice and no obedient children have come running, but several less-obedient children finally realize they don’t know where the other cleat is and there are no clean water bottles, I grab my favorite weeding tool and work on the strawberry patch while they locate the errant cleat and wash the water bottles.

When I get back from the school and realize I have 20 whole minutes before I need to start dinner, I grab my seed packets and markers and plant whatever needs planting.

In the morning after I feed the horses, when I’m not sure I want to wade back in to the fray of before school preparations, I’ll pick up a few thyme plants that are waiting to be transplanted from their pots to the garden and tuck them in.

When I’m on the phone with my dear friend in Idaho who I could talk to for hours, I balance the phone on my shoulder and use my stirrup hoe to clean up the areas between the rows.

The reason I can garden like this is- I leave my stuff out. I know that dad’s everywhere will cringe at this directive, but it works. I leave my stirrup hoe leaning against the pea fence in the vegetable garden. That way it’s where I need it whenever I have a free minute to weed. I do realize that garden tools last longer if you don’t leave them out in the weather. I’m sure that’s true. My garden hoe is over 10 years old and still works like a charm, so I’m willing to challenge the “put-the-tools-back-where-they-belong” commandment.

I also leave out my garden bin. It sits on the porch near the door where I can grab what I need at a moment’s notice. No, it doesn’t look so great with plant markers and empty yogurt container seed pots spilling out of it, but I’m not about that. Again, I’m willing to challenge the “the-porch-should-be-spotless-and-beautiful-at-all-times-just-in-case-someone-important-comes-to-visit” commandment. All the important people in my life garden or love what comes out of gardens and they’ll understand.

In my garden bin I keep:
• Seeds to be planted
• Plant markers
• Permanent markers to write on plant markers
• Small shovel
• Weeding tool
• Plants ready to go outside (if they are large I just put them where they will reside in the garden in their pots so they are ready to go when I am)
• The Seed catalog (so I can refer to it, if I have a question about planting or harvesting)
• Gloves (2 pair because one always seems to be wet)

Near every garden you will also notice a weed bucket left out. A weed bucket in our world is a manure bucket with holes drilled around the bottom rim (or cracks created when they are handled less than carefully when the weather was freezing). The holes and cracks are necessary because these beauties sit out in all kinds of weather and a bucket filled with weeds and water is not only ungodly heavy, it stinks to high heaven. I know the buckets are not so attractive, but once the veggies get going, you don’t really notice them.

This last thing is my real secret – the list. I keep a list on my kitchen counter of the current needs of my gardens. That way I don’t experience that deer-in-the-headlights feeling that can overpower me when I suddenly realize I have 10 minutes all to myself. If I don’t know what needs done, I scan the list and pick something. Right now the list says:

“Pick swiss chard and blanche, plant pumpkins somewhere, find sticks for bean teepee, weed the peas and corn, put the rest of the mulch somewhere, snip the bottom branches off the tomatoes, check the garlic & shallots.”

It’ll only take a few minutes to plant the pumpkins (after I figure out where I have room), and weeding the peas and corn can be done in spurts, so those are great 10 minute chores. The tomatoes are an “every time I walk by” chore. You have to be vigilant about the bottom leaves touching the ground this time of year (the blight is always lurking!). It’ll take longer to locate the right size branches to build the bean teepee, so that might require 20 minutes, and checking to see if the garlic and shallots are ready will take 2 minutes. I’ll need 25 minutes or more to pick the swiss chard and clean it and blanche it for freezing. I might need even more time to start the pick-up and clean out the remaining mulch from its bed (the bulk of this time being the starting the pick-up part). All these things will get done in between the rest of my life this week.

This is how I garden – a minute here and a minute there. If I waited for the hours, it would never happen. There are tradeoffs of course, the inside of my house doesn’t look so good, but that doesn’t matter so much since this time of year we’re all outside anyway.