Oh, hi! How long have you been standing there? Forgive me if I'm a little distracted; I'm deep in the heart of busy season down here. Without getting into too much detail, I have four big projects to complete this week and next, and am also studying for the MBLEX in order to finally get my massage license. (I finished massage school, and a fifty-hour internship, back in the spring. Since I can take the test -- my final hurdle -- at any time, I thought I'd wait for a slow month in order to give myself a window for review before taking the exam and updating all of you. Then I realized I don't have slow months, and signed up anyway, for August 7. Wish me luck.) Kaspar's school is also on a brief hiatus at present. It's been a little nuts, but I'm thankfully not driving this bus alone this time. Aaron's doing morning/early-afternoon kiddo care while I work it. From home. Specifically, my home office. So come in! (Can I get you something? Coffee?)

Since multitasking is my workday M.O., my work space is deliberately minimalist. I prefer for my surroundings to be relatively clean-lined and uncluttered. That way, when I have three email exchanges going rapid-fire, and 20 documents open on my computer, I can look away, take a breath, and get my zen calm on. It works for me. 

Aaron and I share the office, actually, and while his desk is big and black, and his monitor super-sized (he's an illustrator, so his gear is extra fancy), my space is largely neutral, with soft lighting, a few bolts of color or contrast, and a laptop that closes shut. 

I started with the desk, of course (remember this vintage score?); I love it now as much as ever. It's perfect for writing, but has a few big drawers that can handle files (or clutter, in a pinch), and fits well against our wall. Although there's a window several feet to my right when I'm working, I like facing the wall in this way; it provides a certain sense of enclosure and focus that's really helpful in the midst of multiple professional and environmental distractions. (Facebook-al distractions, however, can't be helped).

Click "Read More" below for the rest of the post!



Remember how, despite my thumb of doom, I decided to take some baby steps toward gardening this year? Well, I'm proud to report that baby steps have been taken! And while I'd love to report that the results look something like this, I'm going to opt for honesty instead, show you where things really stand, and sharing one or two takeaways that will ideally lead us right into next year's hearty harvest.

First of all, I held off on actually planting anything for quite some time; on the one hand, I thought our compost would turn into magnificent, fertile soil and, when it did, that this would be my cue it was planting time. On the other hand, I'm very busy and have a tendency to start projects without finishing them (one of this blog's purposes, and one it accomplishes well, is to motivate me to finish the projects I start... Because finishing things, of course, is highly satisfying). It became pretty clear, however, that compost takes some time to break down, and -- meanwhile -- Texas heats up more quickly than most of America's other states, so, sometime back in May, I realized real gardeners had already been at it for several months (a few friends were already picking veggies), and I couldn't keep putting it off. I needed to get on with gardening, if I planned to plant things at all. 

I'd been planning, of course -- albeit vaguely -- to plant things for some time, and had primed Kaspar for the shared endeavor; we'd been reading books about gardens, and talking extensively about where food comes from. In fact, I found a children's gardening book for myself, as well, which broke the process down nicely and made it more approachable than books for adults on the subject seemed to; soil temperatures and crop cycles remain a bit out of reach for me at present. We spent our Mother's Day at the local organic gardening store, and while I was almost talked in to creating a square foot in-ground garden, while there, Aaron reminded me that I'm a novice with a lot of my plate already, and encouraged me to stick with my vague container-gardening plan. I was advised, by a staffer, on some easy-to-grow beginner veggie options, purchased a few packets of seeds and some soil, and set about planting -- with Kaspar's assistance -- shortly thereafter. Then, we waited.

Seeing sprouts emerge was quite exciting. Although I had high hopes -- and showed off our pots of dirt to friends when they dropped by for lunch, or whatever -- I, deep down, half expected nothing to happen. I watered the dirt diligently, and Kaspar sang songs to the pots, and we waited some more; then, lo and behold, little sprouts pushed through the soil in one pot after the next. Some of our seeds had clearly moved, with their waterings, from where I'd dropped them into the soil -- rather than appearing in neat little rows, they came up in clusters -- and not all of those I'd planted turned into little plants, but we did see green things, and that was super cool. I was fairly certain, at that point, that we were off and running, and would be picking our mini-cukes and pickling peppers by now.

So are we picking and pickling? Well, no. Worst news first: the spinach plants died as the little sprouts they sprouted as (they grew most sparsely out of all of the plants in our small collection in the first place. I have no idea what I did wrong). All four cucumber seeds turned into little plants, which I pruned down to one, as instructed. That plant is still alive, and it's even flowered a bit, but it seems... stunted; it's remained the same size for weeks on end. If it has created any cucumbers, they're too small to be perceived by the naked eye. Same story for the pepper plant, as per the photo at top. It's alive, but doesn't seem to want to grow taller. I'm not sure what the deal is. But I do have one hunch. Read on.
See these Butterfly Zinnias, at left and right? Yeah, I know, they don't look like Zinnias (where are the flowers?), but they are. Anyway, on the left here, you can see the Zinnias in a pot. And on the right? That's one Zinnia seed-turned-plant that I stuck, on a whim and on the same day I planted the others, into the soil abutting our back-stoop steps. I haven't 'cared' for it at all since, and it's grown eight inches tall, head and shoulders above its potted siblings. Its leaves are broad and thick. I bet it'll even make a flower. (Eventually.)

... Which got me thinking (here comes the hunch) that maybe an in-ground garden is the way to go. Maybe these plants need root-space to roam in, underground, and perhaps they'll grow taller with it. Next year, our compost will be ready for action, and I plan to make an actual in-ground garden, perhaps several square-feet large, to sow some seeds in. This has definitely not been a failed experiment, but I've learned (or have a hunch) that when it comes to growing stuff, one should ideally let the earth do her thing in the way she knows best. (Although I'm also very intrigued by innovative, resource-efficient ideas like this one). 

This season certainly ain't over. Who knows? I might report back, come October, that we're picking hoards of produce from our pots. I'll certainly keep caring for the plants, and watching what happens. Kaspar enjoys taking care of our garden, too -- gardening really is an awesome activity for kids of every size -- and he hasn't expressed any disappointment around my big sell ("Let's grow vegetables!") not panning out. Maybe he's too busy being impressed with his my-size tree, which is growing along merrily in the middle of our lawn. 

I didn't plant that. It was a gift from his grandmother.

Do any of you expert gardeners have another hunch about why my plants are alive, but not really growing? Am I on the right track? And for those of you who were hoping to see bushels of beautiful, home-grown organic goods, I'll refer you out to this super-gardener mama and this one. (Our family, luckily, will continue to get our goods in our weekly CSA box until I get the hang of this home-grown thing). 

Update! (The very next day...)

<----- (Check it). Our little potted Zinnias have produced a flower! We've named it "Patience, Grasshopper."


Kaspar gets his Folk Uke groove on (and breakfast sizzles in the background)

I took Kaspar to the doctor's office to get some blood drawn yesterday; we're seeing a leading TCM specialist in New York (at the hospital he was born in, actually-- interesting full-circle moment) in August and she requested some additional blood work in advance of our visit. As I've written before, Kaspar endured many a stick when we first caught on to his allergy stuff, and we've  approached blood testing sparingly since then; it's extremely helpful for making comparisons, and marking progress, but it also sucks to get stuck with needles (I hate it, myself, despite my tattoos... In fact, I cry when faced with syringes). 

Kaspar asked where we were headed when he climbed into the car after school; he had swimming lessons (which he loves) later, but I told him up-front that we first had to make a trip to the doc. I told him we'd first pick up his lab form in one building, and then walk over to the hospital next door so they could do a blood draw in the lab. Kaspar has a toy doctor's kit at home and we mimic blood draws when we play with it, so I braced myself for a screech in protest, even in the car. He didn't elicit one. He continued smiling and singing and kicking his feet to the beat in his head, and I wondered if he missed what I'd said. He repeated the bit about getting the form and then jumped to swimming lessons... But, I figured I'd said my piece and wasn't going to freak him out, unduly. (I felt it was important to be forthcoming with the plan, however, because I vividly remember shots being sprung on me when I was young, and being told they wouldn't hurt. It's no fun to get a needle in your arm; it's even worse to get a spoonful of BS along with it). 

We arrived, form in hand, at the lab, and hung out at the desk, signing the necessary paperwork. Kaspar sat on the counter and asked the receptionist about her office supplies. The phlebotomist came out at one point and said hi; all of us adults were smiling-smiling-smiling, somewhat tense in anticipation of what was coming, knowing that genuinely-happy Kaspar would, shortly, be quite unhappy. When they were finally ready for us, he chirped "My turn!", and strolled into the lab room like he was ready to party. They had Sponge Bob going on a flat-screen TV, bubbles, happy hellos from two nurses, ready to teamwork it. Kaspar sat on my lap and one of the nurses looked at each of his arms, then tied the big rubber tournequet around one of his small biceps. 

In the past, he's always cried at this point. But he sat pretty calmly yesterday, watching what was happening. The other nurse asked, "What's your name, mister?" and the nurse with the tournequet (who was sweet, but had a booming voice), said "Kaaaaspaaar." I kissed his head and hummed, "Yep, you're my brave Kaspar," and he looked up and declared himself "Kaspar PEACE." (His middle name is actually Quincy.)

"That's a nice name!" the nurse who'd asked told him. "Kaspar Peace. I like that."

"Me too," I said. Kaspar grinned.

He cried when they drew his blood, but they were fast, and he got over it pretty quickly. We blew more bubbles and he chose a small toy from a bin. He said "That hurt, my blood draw," as we were leaving, and when the nurses asked for high five's he said "I don't feel like it, no." Which was fine. They waved, "Goodbye, Kaspar Peace! I hope these tests come back good and you get to try some new foods!" and he smiled and waved at them, walked confidently out of the building, holding my hand.
The Before/Step 1: Inventory
It sounds counter-intuitive, but one of the most effective ways we keep our house clean and organized is by entertaining. If we have friends coming for dinner, we give the living room and kitchen a good sorting and tidying-up, we wipe down all major surfaces, and we definitely clean the guest/Kaspar bathroom. When we have guests coming for a Sunday dinner, as we did last night, and last week (new tradition? I'm all for it!), we can chip away at the cleaning-up over the weekend, too, so it's not a rush job, or stressful. In fact, yesterday was a little dark and drizzly -- my very favorite weather, and a rare treat in Texas -- and, after running around in the wet grass, Kaspar settled down to sing himself a book (yes, that's right), and Aaron and I kind of got into the domestic puttering, Radiohead on the iPod and our minds free from work commitments and other concerns. 

Now, using entertaining as housecleaning motivation can backfire; without proper down-time in advance -- and with a toddler at home, a two-day weekend is just about right -- the whole thing heads South. In the event of mid-week guests or working weekends (even just fun-busy weekends), the mess tends to simply move, rush-job style, to our closed-door office, walk-in bedroom closet or kitchen pantry. And once a mess moves in to a new space, it rarely moves back out in a timely fashion. 

Over the last few weeks, our pantry's general state of mess has started to get... a little out of hand. Most of what we eat is fresh, so bulk items and non-perishables -- many of which exist in only small amounts, left over from recipes-past -- languish for long periods in the pantry without our really noticing. And, after several rush-job kitchen cleanings, the space had also accumulated a few stacks of randoms lacking proper, obvious homes (New Yorkers, quarter-full bubbles containers, a plastic-handled trick-or-treat pumpkin). A few of our regular, daily dry items (sugar, coffee, tortilla chips) also live in the pantry, however, so while we weren't exactly missing the half-cup baggy of barley that lay buried under bay leaves in its dark recesses, we were experiencing its mess with some element of deliberate denial. Because honestly, we have bigger fish to fry, pretty much every minute of the day (and night), than cleaning our pantry. I mean, aren't organized pantries the stuff of 1952, Real Simple magazines, and/or distraction for the deeply unfulfilled? 

Maybe. Or maybe not. Something came over me in the midst of yesterday's cozy cleaning circumstances. I removed everything from our pantry, did a bit of consolidating, some throwing-out, and a general inventory. Then I put everything back in. I re-organized. Bulk grains and legumes in one corner, pastas in another, snacks within easy reach. Cookbooks, coconut milk cans-- everything seemed to have its place before I even put it down, and it all felt very right from beginning to end. Especially end... Aaron and I both stood back and marveled at the minor miracle for several minutes before agreeing it was much better than before. Whatever this says about us, admiring our organized pantry was vaguely fulfilling. It definitely felt less chaotic. Calming, even. So I'm hereby adding, as a fiishing tip for the Alt-Mama crash course in Kitchen Ayurveda 101: Organize Your Shit. It's worth it. (Especially for those who seldom sleep; pulling Kaspar's cereal from its newly re-orged shelf, at 5:30 this morning, made me smile... and I was not in a good-morning kind of mood just yet). 

Aaron and I felt such a sense of accomplishment and progress that, just under a month shy of our third anniversary, we finally busted out our wedding china for our little evening fete; it had been living on the pantry's top shelf, still in its boxes and bubble wrap. Eating off of it, later, even in a casual setting (and while using flatware from Ikea), reminded me of the directives we'd received along with the china, from our elders: "Use these plates -- and not just for special occasions." Beautiful things, and spaces, have their most meaningful place in our everyday lives. As do (and as per) organized pantries. 

And with that, the After:

Kaspar's sockless summer style.
This swing-bed. Officially on the dream-home to-do list.
Kaspar's shirtless summer style.
This haircut. The lady version of what Kaspar has. (I think Aaron probably would not be willing to cut it for me.)
Planting Seeds, by Thich Nhat Hanh, for keeping me peaceful, and reminding me what's most important as a person and a parent.
Sweaty late-night yoga at Black Swan Yoga, here in Austin. Yes, please.
Joyful dinner guests we adore. (Come back soon, Adrain and Heather!)

What are you loving this week?

We received a bunch of tomatillos and chiles in our CSA box this week, and made this delicious salsa with dinner this evening.Thought I'd share it with you as an early 4th of July present, so you can bring the big guns to your friendly neighborhood BBQ. Also experimenting with a giant font even my grandma could read. Let me know what you think! Food and font. Have at 'em. 

1. Toss (about) 2 cups husked, sliced tomatillos, 2 whole cloves of garlic and 2 to 3 whole serrano chiles into a skillet. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until tomatillos are soft.

2. Remove chiles and garlic from pan. Thinly slice chiles, and remove garlic from skin (just squeeze it out). Grind both ingredients with a mortar and pestle until they form a paste.
(Don't you love it when men cook?)

3. Mix chile/garlic paste, tomatillos and the juice from 1 lime in a medium bowl. Add 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped, and a handful of chopped fresh cilantro. Salt to taste. Serve with tortilla chips, as a sauce over grilled chicken, or in any way that strikes your fancy. 

Happy Birthday, America! Here's to a future of healthcare, and happiness, for all.