A HOMEMADE LIFE

lars’ garden philosophy

gardening // doonyaya.com

Lars keeps his gardening principles simple: seeds go in dirt, plants grow, plants like water, plants don’t like weeds. To be honest, my gardening principles are about the same. But keeping it simple seems to be working because we had another great year of growing vegetables, herbs and flowers. Which really means that things we planted grew like they were meant to grow. And Lars helped out every step of the way, from prepping the beds, planting, watering, weeding, harvesting, and his favorite gardening technique: trimming. According to Lars, a lot of plants need to be trimmed, kind of like hair. Especially dill, which Lars approached as an afro wanting to be a buzzcut. I started making dill bouquets from the piles of chopped dill. They actually looked nice.

Spending time in the garden teaches Lars where his food comes from — and how fun it is to grow it yourself

But the best part of this years’ garden was the yellow cherry tomatoes. That were actually orange. Anyhow, Lars started getting out of bed at 5:00 a.m. to pick them. Happily, I got to sleep through it. Until I would get woken up by his unbridled excitement to give me a handful of tomatoes as a “morning present.” But it’s pretty sweet, right? I mean, how could I resent being awake before any other well-rested human on the planet when my adorable four year old wants to give me a present of squashed tomatoes? Sleep is overrated anyhow.

So we’ve already started talking about what to grow next year. Lars’ requests are sunflowers, watermelons and “definitely dill because it’s just so delicious.” Or because it’s fun to “trim” (Lars Scissorhands). Personally, I would like to try corn again because we are a corn loving household. Plus, the corn I tried to grow last year was bland and gross. According to Lars it was actually “disgusting.” But I refuse to give up. I will grow delicious corn before I die. No. Matter. What.

And maybe, if I’m really lucky, next year Lars will stay in the garden til noon before waking me with a handful of squashed tomatoes.

gardening // doonyaya.comgardening // doonyaya.comgardening // doonyaya.com
gardening // doonyaya.comgardening // doonyaya.com

making an orchid planter

pottery project // doonyaya.com

Yep, I did it, I bought an orchid from IKEA. For $9.99. I had pretty low expectations of it surviving, because I don’t think quality when I think IKEA. I think streamlined. And orchids are anything but streamlined. They’re more like high-maintenance supermodels with needs like endless supplies of cocaine and cash. But if I had a gorgeous supermodel girlfriend, how could I possibly say no to anything she “needed”? So I took my high-maintenance orchid home. And immediately realized that it had needs. Like a very specific pot with vent holes for its roots that like to be damp – yet aired.

So like anyone would, I put everything else aside to make the perfect pot for its perfect roots. Because my orchid was going to be happy with me – forever and ever.

Plus, time was of the essence. My orchid was definitely not going to wait around for me to mess around with design considerations. It wanted what it wanted. Yesterday. So I scribbled an idea on a piece of paper and got to work: I rolled a slab, formed the shape around a bucket, then poked the air holes with the handle of a pen-tool. Done.

I’m actually happy with the results because it’s, well, streamlined. And best of all, it should keep my orchid happy . . . As long as I provide the proper humidity, keep the daytime temperature between 65 and 75 degrees and the nighttime temperature a few degrees cooler, keep it in the sun, but not too much sun, make sure it has gentle air circulation and proper fertilization, and don’t forget that it prefers ice in its water . . .

So where’s that supermodel girlfriend?

handmade orchid planter // doonyaya.compottery project // doonyaya.com

homesteading: making pickles

pickles

Just in case you were getting impressed with my homesteading skills – don’t be. Because making pickles is ridiculously simple: chop up your stuff (cucumbers, dill and garlic), cram it in a jar, pour boiling water with vinegar over it, put the lid on the jar, stick the jar in the fridge, wait a week and eat delicious pickles.

pickles // doonyaya.comYou will find a trillion variations on-line, but I learned this very simple recipe from my friend Julianne, a homesteading mom who does homesteading things without making a big announcement about it, unlike myself. For example, she gathers water in jugs from a mountain, makes her own ice-cream, gets raw milk from a local guy who has some cows . . . you get the idea. Let me say that if I was lugging jugs of mountain water back to my house you’d better believe I’d be talking about it all the time.

But before you run off to make some pickles of  your own, there is a trick to make them crunchy that Julianne passed on to me: add a grape leaf to the jar.

These are the kinds of seemingly mystical and folklorish tips I love – the know-how of our farming ancestors that is passed down through families and neighbors, not computers or food networks.

picklesBut before I get too far ahead of myself, looking at my grape leaf in the above photo (found on a wild vine growing along the side of my driveway) I’m thinking it looks suspiciously like a maple leaf . . . How embarrassing is that? And yet it proves my point exactly: I have lost touch with my heritage, my roots, myliving-off-the-land beginnings to the extent that I can’t tell the difference between a maple leaf and a grape leaf.

Thank God for google.

homesteading inspiration: sheep + wool festival

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My favorite event of the year is the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival, which is now a mere two miles from my home since I moved to upstate New York. But it still takes close to an hour to get there due to traffic that compares to the World Cup Finals, because people travel far and wide to check out the greatest sheep show on earth. And this year delivered again. I came away with more inspiration and ideas to get me through another long cabin-feverish winter and enough animal cuteness to last until I bring home my own. I mean, who can say no to those adorable sheepy eyes and droopy ears? Not I!

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lars’ photo album: the first 3 years

Lars book // doonyaya.com

I love the photo albums of my childhood. They have real photos in them – remember those? Over the Holidays, when I go to my mother’s house I look through our family albums to reminisce – and cringe. There are some pretty embarrassing pictures from the ’80s when I had braces, wore fake sushi earrings and a haircut that looked like I was trying for a Kevin Bacon impersonation. And it’s all memorialized. Still, I love having an object full of memories, even the ugly ones. And I want Lars to have this, too: his life in pictures. A chronology of funny, meaningful and, of course, embarrassing moments.

Lars book // doonyaya.com

Having photographs of my childhood helps me remember where I come from — and that helps me know who I am

So I had been wanting to make a photo book for a while. Like three years. But finding the time to sort through and organize the thousands of accumulated photos of Lars was another monumental task. And when I say thousands I am underestimating. Gerald and I can’t seem to let Lars drool without grabbing our phones to capture the moment. The task would only grow. If I didn’t create the book now, it would never happen.

Artifact Uprising book // doonyaya.com Artifact Uprising book // doonyaya.com

I already knew I wanted to make the book through Artifact Uprising, a small company that uses recycled paper and cloth-bound covers. And the technology to make the book seemed “user-friendly,” which is a nice way of saying it’s for digital dum-dums like myself. It was a matter of just doing it. So I did . . . And it’s really great. I’m already planning the next one – to be published in three years.

my finished quilt

handmade quilt // doonyaya.com

I try to make as much as I can — because nothing can replace the spirit of handmade

My latest challenge: to make as much as I can for our new summer home in Maine – a small 1930’s bungalow that was destined for demolition “because the land is more valuable than the house.” We snatched it up, much to the happiness of the previous owners that have been summering at the house for forty years.

So, in the spirit of preservation and history I thought a quilt would be the perfect project to launch some creative homemaking. I also thought it would be an easy first project – oh how wrong I was. I’ve never been big on instructions and usually opt for making it up as I go along. This is a terrible approach when it comes to quilting, a skill that has been passed-down through generations, and with even a small amount of tapping that wisdom I could have saved countless hours of nipping and tucking.

But where to find a knowledgable quilting grandmother to help me? Do quilting circles or “bees” even exist? Does aforementioned grandmother even exist? More likely, it’s a strange fantasy I have (and a sexist one?) of wise women stitching, telling stories of their adventurous lives and drinking tea while laughing in a knowing way at the foibles of the men in their lives.

Or are we forced to find our ancestral knowledge on youtube videos and blog posts? I would love to hear inspiring stories of learning skills from other human beings – even if they don’t drink tea and aren’t old or wise. Although that would be nice.

why I don’t like gmo’s

growing our food // doonyaya.com

Since we ate so much produce from our garden this year it got me thinking about food production in this country and how we have lost our farming heritage. Back in the Colonial days 90% of our population farmed for food. That’s a lot of farming. With modernized farming that percentage is now a sad 2%.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, enter Genetically Modified Organisms – farming that is done in a lab by chemical corporations.

The argument in favor of GMOs is that mankind has been modifying genes for thousands of years. And these corporations are asking: “Why the uproar now?”

Because GMOs have taken farming to a whole new level of gene manipulation. This is not just cross-pollinating or creating new hybrid plants (a system of removing the weaker strains). GMOs genetically join entirely different plant species, animal genes or even bacteria, to alter the genetic code of a plant.

And there have been some problems with this way of producing food. Let’s look at some of them:

· Food that is created in a lab and engineered to kill certain “pests” is not safe for humans to eat. There have already been serious health problems with every animal or insect that has ingested GMOs, like hamsters that had been fed GM soy, then lost the ability to have babies by the third generation. That’s no more hamster babies. Or rats that have had their stomach lining eroded from modified tomatoes. I happen to like and appreciate my stomach lining.

· GMO seeds sterilize other crops so farmers have to buy and become dependent on Monsanto GMO seeds. And this has lead to people actually ending their lives, like the 250,000 Indian farmers that killed themselves after going broke from being dependent on GMO farming. That’s a lot of dead farmers.

· What are considered “pests” and weeds are now becoming immune to the genetically modified pesticides and herbicides so even more chemicals are being used than before, as in 26% more pesticides. And of course these pesticides are made by Monsanto (I think that’s called “a racket”). That’s a lot more chemicals on our food. And these aren’t just sweet little chemicals. They are deadly toxic chemicals that cause neurological problems – but don’t get me started on that issue.

· GMO “terminator seeds” don’t regenerate like traditional seeds so farmers have to buy new seeds every year.

· It’s fatal to our natural environment and possibly to people.

I hope I’m not the only one that finds this terrifying. Oh wait, 26 other countries do, too. I guess I’m not alone. But apparently there aren’t enough reasons to ban GMOs in our country.

But how about the reason that I consider the most important of all? It’s never mentioned on a list of dangers or hazardous effects from GMO farming, but I believe it is a true casualty of modern “farming” practices. Ready for it?

Pride.

Pride in growing. Pride in making our own food. Pride in knowing that it’s healthy and not harmful. In a country that was literally built on farming, this should matter.

Growing our own food brings our family together — both in the garden and at the table

Tell me where the pride is in having biotechnology companies make our food? Yes, the same companies that produce chemicals (Dupont and Monsanto) produce our food in a lab. Which I think is just creepy.

Not that I wouldn’t be proud if I “invented” a genetically modified item like the Arctic Apple that never turns brown (which is now on the grocery shelf, by the way). But I wouldn’t be proud if said apple would, in all likelihood, wipe out another species of insect or plant, and possibly cause new and unknown diseases in humans. Oh yeah, and probably alter the entire balance of our ecosystem in ways we can only speculate because there hasn’t been enough research on the long-term effects of genetic engineering (90 days of testing should be long enough to see if anything bad happens, right? Our FDA thinks so). But look at the cool apple I made!

The good news is that we can always grow our own food – even a small, indoor basil plant makes a difference – because it builds pride. When Lars gets to pick an enormous zucchini that he helped grow (enormous because of those strange natural resources called soil, sun and water), I know it makes him proud – and what is more important than that?

Maybe knowing that he won’t grow lizard scales.

growing zinnias and why it’s ok that they decimated everything else

zinnias // doonyaya.comzinnia bouquet // doonyaya.com

This year was my first real garden, so I honestly had no idea what I was doing aside from the obvious: put seeds in dirt and add water when they look dry. Truly, that was the extent of my gardening abilities.

But, I’m a firm believer in experience over knowledge, so I was prepared for lots of experiential learning – which I got. Especially when it came to my flower bed.

Gardening — like life — is a try, fail, try again endeavor

I decided to plant a variety of annuals including Dahlias, Poppies, Snap Dragons, Cosmos and white Zinnias. I pictured beautiful, colorful bouquets all summer. What I got was a bed of white Zinnias . . . Huh?

I’m not sure what went wrong (because I am a new-comer to gardening), but I imagine there was an underground battle of the seeds and Zinnias decimated the rest of the species. They obviously don’t play well with others.

In any case, I did have lots of beautiful (not so colorful) bouquets of white Zinnias all summer. If this is worst thing that happens from experimental gardening I can’t really complain.

But please, if you know of a companion flower that is hardy enough to survive alongside Zinnias, please tell me about it!

my hand-knit scarf

handmade scarf // doonyaya.com

I love happy endings (in movies, not massages). They make all the struggle and strife seem worth it. Every time, the hero or heroine starts out wimpy and picked on, then goes through some hellish bootcamp for life and comes out kicking ass and doing a victory fist-bump to the air. When life is like that movie, I’m down.

Which is what knitting this scarf was like. Mostly the middle of the movie hellish part. Trials and tribulations, frustration and montage trainings, waxing-on, waxing-off . . . And it took an epically long time to knit – like an entire year. Plus, I swore that I would finish it before moving onto something else, so every other knitting project sat in a drawer, neglected and waiting. Bad plan.

But then something miraculous happened. Before I knew it, I was cutting yarn for the tassels, cleaning up the stray ends and finishing the scarf. Hallelujah! I’m no less than a knitting warrior. You can’t see it, but I’m fist-bumping the air. I’ve earned my stripes and am ready to tackle the next project from the drawer. To be finished by next year . . .

Tell me about those times when you struggled through a project and didn’t give up – I would love to hear the happy ending!

homemade home: why I make as much as I can

screen-printed napkins // doonyaya.com

We had one final cookout with our friends in Maine and I used the new screen-printed napkins I made. The experience made me all happy inside: slowing down, spending time with friends and using something that I made with my own hands. Which made me think about why I love being surrounded by things that are handmade.

And this is what came to me: handmade feels like tapping into an era before fast-paced living and instant messaging, back when learning and making took time. At least more time than downloading a youtube video.

CREATIVITY TAKES TIME AND CONTEMPLATION – AND THAT IS WHY I MAKE AS MUCH AS I CAN 

Because slowing down is vital to creativity. Counterintuitively, rushing slows he process down. Ideas and inspiration cannot be forced or made under a deadline. Production can, but the deep ideas can’t. Creative ideas are like stalactites, forming one drip at a time.

Sure I can get more done in my life by rushing around knocking things off the “to do” list, but I’m not going to live deeply or feel fulfilled. And most importantly, I’m not going to be creatively abundant. Which would be a major bummer, because nothing is more satisfying than bringing creativity into my life and home.

homegrown delicata squash

homegrown squash // doonyaya.com

The garden is just about finished for the season, but it’s not over yet. I picked a bunch of delicata squash which did exceptionally well, thank you very much God of delicata squash. Because “a bunch” is an understatement. It was more of an infestation, vines busting through the fence and squash growing outside the garden. Apparently squash cannot be fenced in. I ended up picking about 15 of them, which is a lot of squash for one small family. But having too much squash is definitely a problem I can live with.

delicata squash // doonyaya.com

Growing and cooking food from our own garden makes life feel simple and nourishing — and that is what I want to give to my family

hand-knit scarf: behind the scenes

knitting // doonyaya.com

Granted, I had other priorities besides knitting a scarf this year – like keeping a rambunctious two-year-old alive. Which is no small task, FYI.

But still, really? A whole year to knit a scarf?

Tell me you’ve had a project like this: one that gets dragged out so long that it isn’t fun anymore. But you’ve committed, so you can’t bail, like a bad relationship that won’t get better – or die.

This was my bad relationship of the year. Every time I took my needles out to get a few rows done, both Lars and our cat, Heathcliff, started to pull at the yarn, rip out rows of stitches or use the needles as samurai swords (Lars did that, not the cat). One time I walked into the living room to see a yarn installation winding around the bannister and sofa, into the dining room and around a chair as Lars yanked stitches out and Heathcliff tried killing the scarf like it was a rabid squirrel. Just a few hours of work lost in three minutes. Not fun.

But I am still glad that I persevered and saw it through to the end. If it was truly a bad relationship that wouldn’t be such a good idea. Because bad relationships can get abusive and ugly. Not pretty like this scarf.

The reality is that the act of making is not always pleasant or fun. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. Sometimes there is drudgery and slogging through. Sometimes it all seems pointless and dull. Sometimes it seems easier to chalk up a project as a failure and a loss . . . because it all just seems too hard.

But these are the times when commitment matters, when the original vision has to be remembered and fought for. Because without commitment nothing can be accomplished. Giving up would always prevail – which would be really sad.

And this is what motivated me to finish the darned scarf: to show Lars that commitment is important no matter how frustrating it can get. That we can rely on our own abilities and skills and don’t have to buy everything in life from a store. That to be a stellar example of a maker, homesteader and creative mom takes commitment.

And commitment takes cojones, strength and loads of endurance. Which is worth it, because finishing a project feels so good.

I BELIEVE IN PASSING DOWN CREATIVITY AND SELF-RELIANCE TO MY SON – THAT IS WHY I TRY TO MAKE AS MUCH AS I CAN

But I don’t think I’ll be making another scarf anytime soon.

why kids should garden

zinnias // doonyaya.comLars saw me cutting Zinnias in our garden and was eager to help. Luckily, we had some latex gloves lying around so he could “operate” safely.

But this got me thinking about how Lars is at a stage where he imitates the grownups around him – namely his parents, me and Gerald. I find this exciting and frightening at the same time. Whatever we do or say comes right back at us. Just last week Lars said “Jesus Christ” when he dropped something in the car. That stopped me in my tracks – there was no one to blame except myself, the resident swearer. And yes, it could have been worse (given my propensity for expletives), but hearing something so grown up coming out of a three year old was just plain freaky.

As a result, Gerald and I made a decision: there is no more bitching about bad drivers, swearing at corporations keeping me on hold for twenty minutes, griping about long lines and slow service at the post office, or just outright swearing for the heck of it. In short, I am a lot more careful about what I do or say because there is a mini-me running around the planet echoing all of it, good and bad.

But this is not the real point. The real point is that I have an opportunity here, not to just take away negative language and attitudes, but to add in more creative and positive behavior.

Like gardening.

Which I think is really important – even vital – for kids to experience and learn about. And here is why:

LEARNING ABOUT FOOD  Most of our food is processed, boxed and bagged. This has created a disconnect between our food and its source. A lot of kids don’t even know what ordinary fruits and vegetables look like, which means they probably aren’t eating them at home or in school. Check out Jamie Oliver’s Vegetable Test where first-graders (that’s age six) can’t name a tomato or potato, let alone “complicated” vegetables like beets and carrots. Yikes.

SPENDING TIME OUTSIDE  This one makes me sound old: back when I was a kid we didn’t have fancy gadgets to play with – we had to play outside, making our own adventures building forts, climbing trees, catching frogs and swimming in ponds. This may sound suspiciously Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn-ish, but I swear the outdoors is really like this: made for adventure. At least where I grew up, far outside of suburbia. And although this outside world still exists, it may be hard to come by for lots of suburban and city dwellers. Which is why it is even more important to get outside (even a roof or balcony garden counts) and spend time with our natural world.

EXPERIENCING NATURE  When kids garden they learn about plants, dirt, sun, water, bugs, weeds, sticks and all the other things that we call “nature.” And without nature we are lost (just watch WALL•E to see what a nature-less future holds, or read a more advanced and educational book on the subject, Living Through the End of Nature).  And the more kids learn about nature, the more they learn about themselves. Because how plants grow is how humans grow. Learning how bees pollinate and plants germinate matters, because food matters, nature matters and life matters.

IT’S HEALTHY  Like I said, gardening happens outside, and that means fresh air (which has life-giving oxygen in it) and sunshine (which gives humans vitamin D, a necessary mineral for bone growth) and dirt (which has healthy bacteria for building immune systems). There is also a ton of research showing that spending time in nature relieves stress, depression, symptoms of ADHD and makes people live longer. Sounds like a good deal for playing in some dirt.

So, while I’m watching my language and “potty talk,” I will also be gardening with Lars as often as I can. Because everything that we do makes a difference, even growing (or operating on) some Zinnias.

handmade screen-printed napkins

handmade napkins // doonyaya.comhandmade napkins // doonyaya.com

Oh my – aren’t my new screen-printed napkins beautiful? Not to boast (much), but I’m loving the stark simplicity. And I bet you couldn’t tell that the design was created from duct tape strips. That’s some fancy technology and skill.

YOU DON’T NEED COMPLICATED TECHNOLOGY OR MATERIALS TO MAKE SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL AND INSPIRED

The napkins are part of my creative challenge to make as much as I can for our beach bungalow in Maine. The idea: a handmade home filled with creative inspiration, passion projects and homespun goodness.

And since we had no napkins I thought it would be a good idea to make some.

Immediately. Because it’s never good to go without napkins if there’s a messy three-year-old boy in the house.

I already had some vintage white linens that I had picked up at a flea market and put aside for the “perfect” project (I know I’m not the only creative soul with a-thousand-and-fifty-two projects on the shelf – my next creative challenge: finishing every project before starting a new one), and I also had some duct tape lying around (who doesn’t?) and thought to myself: perfect napkin project.

Down to a-thousand-and-fifty-one projects.

homemade home: the quilt I made

handmade quilt // doonyaya.comhandmade quilt // doonyaya.com

I finally got to test out my new handmade quilt for our beach-house in Maine. If you haven’t read about it yet, I am trying to make as much as I can for our new bungalow. This quilt was the first item up, and I’m pretty darn proud of it. I bundled up in it, slept under it and read books on top of it, all while smelling fresh salty air and listening to ocean waves (that sounded suspiciously like running water from the bathtub and made me get up repeatedly to check if I left the tub running in the middle of the night – what is wrong with me?).

I am not just proud of having finished another project (not to say that isn’t already a monumental challenge), but I am now part of the tradition of quilting, of making an heirloom to pass on. Because this is our heritage: women making things that we not only use but cherish generations later. And that seems even more important today when we are so quick to throw away and buy new, poorly made items from people we will never meet or know. If I’m really lucky this quilt just might keep my grandchildren warm and they will be proud to have something made by their “weird crafty grandma.” That would make me proud.

growing zinnias: warriors of the flower garden

zinnias // doonyaya.comI’m not sure if it’s common knowledge that Zinnias are extremely hardy flowers. But it should be. Because they are. At least mine were this year. In fact, they pushed out (a euphemism for murdered) everything else in their bed.

But this turned out to be absolutely fine because the remaining Zinnias were beautiful, plentiful and, as stated before, extremely hardy. I’m actually wondering if they will return next year. There seems to be conflicting information on the re-seeding capabilities of Zinnias, but if we were to place bets I would certainly put down a substantial wager that they will be back next year. Because they seem to be survivors and fighters – warriors of the flower garden.

So I did a little research, and apparently this Mexican native is named after the German botanist Johann Gottfried Zinn, who is even more famous for being the first person to accurately draw the human eyeball. Who knew? I wonder if Johann was a fighter, too.zinnias // doonyaya.comIn any case, if the Zinnias don’t come back on their own next year I will be planting them myself – because I fell in love with them. So much that I would name my own daughter Zinnia (that is if I had a daughter. And if Gerald agreed). Because I like fighters.

Sadly, there is no daughter on the horizon. Maybe it’s time to adopt another cat . . .

picknicking: tradition goes vegan

picnic // doonyaya.compicnic // doonyaya.com

Picnics are traditionally centered around meat. They began as feasts from medieval hunting expeditions when the wealthy felt like hunting things. Then, a few hundred years later the French Revolution happened (in 1789, to be exact) and royal parks were opened up to the public. That meant picnics for the people!

Meanwhile, back in England the Victorians threw huge picnics with servants, fine china and their best linens. In 1859 the seminal book on manners was published: Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, and it told Victorian Brittish society how to do a picnic right. Here’s the menu: a joint of cold roast beef, a joint of cold boiled beef, two ribs of lamb, two shoulders of lamb, four roast fowls, two roast ducks, a ham, a tongue, two veal-and-ham pies, two pigeon pies, six medium-sized lobsters, one piece of collared calf’s head, salads, biscuits, bread and cheese, and 122 bottles of drink – plus champagne.

Holy bajeezus. Granted that’s for 40 people, but do you really need to pack the tongue? It must have looked like someone blew up the farmyard.

Anyhow, shoot forward another hundred years or so to the American 1950’s picnic: meat, meat, spam and meat. From the cookbook pamphlet Let’s Eat Outdoors (more appropriately named Let’s Eat Dead Things Outdoors) you could take your pick of these sumptuous options: “Spam-aroni Picnic Salad,” “Beenee Weenees Western Style,” or “Patio Pups.” But my favorite (if you need some greens) is “Jellied Salad-ettes” which, I gather, is a mini salad that has been gelatinized in a dixie cup. In case you’re thinking this is a vegetarian option, think again: the gelatin is made from boiling tendons and bones. Yum.

And here we are 60 years later to 2014 where picnics are back in style and consist, primarily, of – you guessed it – meat. When I google “picnic recipes” here’s what I get: “Apple Bacon Coleslaw,” “Ham and Pepper Stacks,” “Corn Dogs” or “Triple Fried Chicken.” The only way to avoid recipes that include mounds of meat is to type in “vegetarian” or “vegan picnic.” Which strongly suggests that meat is the norm.

In any case, not to preach (too much), my point being: with all this meat being consumed on picnics, I wanted to tip the scales to the side of home-cooked, healthy, non-harmful outdoor noshing. So I made some sweet potato and vegan cheese sandwiches on baguettes (yes, it’s true that baguettes and most old-world breads are vegan – who knew?), sliced cucumbers from the garden, corn on the cob and my favorite picnic beverage (invented by Lars): water with frozen berries thrown in.

I packed it all up with some silverware and napkins (I brought along my handmade screen-printed ones to make it feel even more homemade), threw a tablecloth on top and hit the back yard with Lars.

lessons learned from zukes & cukes

zukes & cukes // doonyaya.com

This summer I planted my first real vegetable garden. Check out the beautiful zucchinis and cucumbers I grew. Not to gloat, but I’m pretty impressed with myself – or with Mother Nature, I guess.

But before you get all excited about my cucumbers and zucchinis, know this: there is a downside to having a garden full of them. The problem is that everyone who grows zucchinis and cucumbers has a lot of them. We are all overloaded. Apparently, these cucurbits grow profusely and in obscene amounts (and sizes, by the way – just a heads up). So I can’t cook them fast enough. I also can’t give them away fast enough – or at all. I’ve learned that giving someone a zucchini is not a gift – it’s a burden. Because everyone is trying to give them away. And we are all tired of zucchini bread. At least I am.

But I don’t want to dis on them too much, because there was a time before zukes and cukes lost their glory that we ate some great meals from them. My two favorites were grilled zucchini with basil and pine nuts, and cucumber and dill salad. Beautiful and simple food.

I also found out that Lars likes to eat cucumbers plain and uncut, straight off the vine. For his lunches I could pluck a cucumber from the garden and stick it in his lunchbox. I don’t think it could get any healthier, fresher or more organic than that.

So I am certainly not eliminating zukes and cukes from the garden plan next year, but I am implementing a strategy to control the output. Namely, growing less of them.

Any and all ideas on cucurbit control is welcome and appreciated!

making a quilt the hard way

quilting//doonyaya.comquilting//doonyaya.com

WHEN I MAKE SOMETHING IT GROWS INTO MORE IDEAS ALL THE TIME – THAT IS WHY I TRY TO MAKE AS MUCH AS I CAN

For generations women have been making quilts to mark the milestones in life: birth, marriage, a new home and even death. After doing a small amount of research on the topic (thank you google), I learned that this is a predominantly American tradition and other countries adopted the celebratory aspect of quilting from the United States. Take the Hopi tribe who learned about quilting from the Mennonites and then adopted quilt making for their baby-naming ceremonies (relatives decide on the baby’s name, not the parents – how helpful is that?), where the baby is given up to 25 quilts (that’s pretty helpful, too).

I tried to tackle one quilt, for the milestone of our new beach-house in Maine. I used the simplest pattern I could think of – big squares – to save myself from beginner’s frustration. Good idea. In theory. But quilting is a skill that requires experience and knowledge, neither of which I have. So I struggled along until I had something that resembled a quilt. And I am very happy with it, but I learned a very important lesson from this: take a class.

growing our food: the garden story

Let’s go back in time to a long-ago era called the beginning of summer. I was planning our first real vegetable garden. A few years ago I had tried planting cucumbers by sticking the seeds in an old dresser drawer that I repurposed as a raised bed. The experiment yielded a few cucumbers, but the drawer fell apart after a month of hard rain so I abandoned the idea – until now.

This year I ambitiously planned an eight-bed garden to be filled with fruit, herbs, vegetables and flowers. What better way to teach Lars about food and where it comes from than to grow our own?

We got to work preparing our beds, which meant hiring someone to build them. Then we ordered some high-quality organic soil. This proved to be the best decision ever and why the garden turned into a prehistoric jungle – more on that later.

After five yards of organic soil was dumped on the lawn (that’s a lot of dirt, by the way) it was time to shovel it into the beds. This was Lars’ favorite part of gardening and he put in a few good hours shoveling dirt into his wheelbarrow and then into the beds (or in the vicinity of the beds – most of the time).

growing food // doonyaya.comgardening // doonyaya.com

At one point we found a mouse next to the dirt-pile and Lars wanted to pet it. I told him I wasn’t sure if that was a good idea (because I wasn’t sure if that was a good idea), but I gave in and we both ended up petting the mouse. I think it was okay since we have no contracted diseases. As of yet.

gardening // doonyaya.com

Back to our garden, which was finally ready for planting. This was a fairly simple process of following the directions on the back of the seed packets. Which I did. Up to a point. Here’s where I went astray: I didn’t quite trust that the seeds would turn into real plants, so I doubled the amount of seeds I was instructed to use. I guess in gambling this is called “hedging my bets.” Please, if you are planting a vegetable garden, do not do this. It creates, when combined with high-quality organic soil, a prehistoric jungle – more on that shortly.

GROWING FOOD IS MUCH EASIER THAN I THOUGHT BECAUSE NATURE DOES MOST OF THE WORK

The good news is, despite my lack of gardening knowledge, the seeds did grow into plants. Lots of plants. Lots of big plants. It also happened to be a very rainy, humid summer here in the Hudson Valley, which made for great gardening. Here is what it looked like in a few short weeks. 

gardening // doonyaya.comseedlings // doonyaya.com

And this is what the garden looked like after six weeks when we were already eating cucumbers, dill, lettuce, radishes and zucchini. The best part is that we grew all this food ourselves. Me and Lars (and sometimes Gerald). With our own two (and sometimes six) hands. And that made me happy and proud.

growing vegetables // doonyaya.comgardening // doonyaya.comgardening // doonyaya.com

And then things went terribly wrong. The garden had been doing really well – until we went away for two weeks. That’s all it took. This is what happened:

growing our food // doonyaya.com

You’re looking at a mass of cucumber, squash, watermelon and zucchini vines threatening a hostile takeover. Terrifying. Not cute gardening anymore. This called for extreme measures, like Lars’ lawnmower and clippers.

gardening // doonyaya.com

And some really big shovels, hoes, rakes and knives. Oh, and mulch. I learned that mulch keeps the weeds at bay in-between the beds. So now I know.

The remainder of our gardening season is being spent managing the jungle I created in our back yard. But it occurred to me that the purpose of the garden was to learn where our food comes from, which is exactly what we learned. And I can’t think of a better way to spend my final summer days than with my son growing our own food – or hacking squash vines with tiny clippers and a plastic lawnmower.

lars & Alma’s picnic

picnic // doonyaya.com

A couple weeks ago our family started picnicking. Because it was the tail end of summer and time is short, we had to do it hard. We dragged blankets and pillows on the lawn, spread enormous meals out (we have no outdoor furniture yet), read stacks of books, watched Curious George or tractor videos on our phones (Lars watched, we downloaded) and just hung out with each other.

I wanted to share the experience with friends before it was too late, so I stayed alert for opportunities. My first attempt was at Lars’ friend Desmond’s house, but the two boys had other priorities like running and screaming. So I sat on the blanket with my perfectly packed basket for a while – alone.

Then, a few days later we had a playdate with Lars’ friend Alma. Both Lars and Alma are starting at a new school in September, so Alma’s mom and I decided to spend some time on the grounds with the kids to ease the transition. Opportunist that I am, I thought picnic.

So we spread out the blanket and food, waited for them to get hungry and … success! They loved the picnic.

What a relief.

Now summer can end.

apple picking

Somehow “pick your own” has eluded me until now, but last weekend we were invited by our friends to join them for apple picking. Lars helped by pulling the cart and trying to find good apples off the ground. And Gerald – my computer hacking, self-proclaimed nerd husband – shocked me by knowing about every type of apple and their best application. He organized and categorized our picks by which ones to eat raw and which to bake – what a man!

knitting pattern round-up for toddlers

This year, in preparation for the NYS Sheep & Wool Festival (which happens to be this weekend), I decided to get my patterns together BEFORE I buy my yarn. This way, I will be able to be more selective and discriminating when faced with the thousands of beautiful hand-spun & dyed natural yarns. Plus, there is nothing better than bundling Lars up in handmade knits…. so here are some of the great toddler knitting patterns I found while scouring the web for ideas. But first, I must suggest that you create an account at Ravelry to access thousands of patterns, including some I have below. Happy knitting!

1. felted striped mittens  2.toddler helmet hat  3.mukluks  4.zipper hoody sweater  5.hats for the whole family  6.striped garter scarf  7.striped garter mittens  8.knit monkey  9.cabled vest  10.contrasting band sweater 11.easy baby blanket 12.children’s mittens

round-up of diy projects

1. HOT PADS   2. $5 STOOL   3. ROLLIE POLLIE   4. NORDIC WOOL RUG    5. NEON GRAPHIC NAPKIN    6. SWEET SEAT POUF    7. BATIK DYE WALL HANGING    8. CUTTING BOARD

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