Garden Tour: May

Gardening my own food has taken root in my soul.

I come from a rather mixed gardening background. Growing up we lived on a corner lot with a large backyard. We had a robust rose garden, a pair of fruit trees, some strawberries and a swath of boysenberries vines, but with the exception of the roses, which took far too much pruning in my childhood opinion, I don’t really recall my parents doing much gardening.

Still that fruit was the most memorable part of the yard.  During the summer my friends and I would snack our way through the backyard, staining our fingers with berry juice.

Vegetables, however, were a different story.

Our attempts at vegetable gardening were limited at best. My mother always had a few cherry tomato plants, but there were only two years where we tried something more ambitious. My father made a pair of raised beds in the place where our swing set used to be and planted some veggies. There were pumpkins and baby corn that grew into inedible adult corn, but I have no real recollection of eating any veggies from our garden.

Despite (or perhaps because of) this lack of vegetable-growing experience, I leapt at the opportunity to cultivate my own little “bit of earth”, when it finally arrived

“Might I,” quavered Mary, “might I have a bit of earth?” In her eagerness she did not realize how queer the words would sound and that they were not the ones she had meant to say. Mr. Craven looked quite startled.
“Earth!” he repeated. “What do you mean?”
“To plant seeds in—to make things grow—to see them come alive,” Mary faltered...
“You can have as much earth as you want,” he said. “You remind me of some one else who loved the earth and things that grow. When you see a bit of earth you want,” with something like a smile, “take it, child, and make it come alive.”
— - The Secret Garden, Chapter 12 by Frances Hodgson Burnett

After years of transient living, we moved back to Maine in 2008. We ended up in a first floor apartment in Deering Center and our second year living there, the neighborhood association started a community garden. I was one of the first to sign up for those early plots and planted myself four tidy rows of tomatoes, bells peppers, broccoli and herbs. I was quite detail oriented and spaced each row with precision (and yard stick). I was amazed at how quickly those small seedlings filled in the gaps between them and the chance to use my own produce got me excited about cooking. 

I was sad to leave behind that plot when we moved to our current home, but the wound was eased by the fact that I now had a corner lot of my own. The first year in, there wasn’t much to do in the way of gardening, as we had some clean up (namely the removal of an above ground pool) to tackle first. But bit by bit, bed by bed, my bit of earth has grown up into something a little more robust. I’m still far from finished (is any garden truly finished? I think not), but each year those roots and the deep joy I find in gardening grows a little bit deeper.

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Craving Spring

You might have heard we had a blizzard in Maine last week. My town ended up with 16" inches and while the shoveled spots have melted nicely since, the piles are still quite large. 

But I'm thinking about spring anyway. 

I mentioned to a friend the other day that starting seeds is what gets me through March. Right now my Instagram feed is full of crocuses and blossoming trees. My yard is full of snow. In reality, I won't really be able to plant much outdoors until May, but since the growing season is short, I try to give my plants (particularly the peppers and tomatoes) a leg up. So I ordered my seeds, purchased my flats and Little Miss Cleaver and I got to planting.

If there's one thing I'm particularly proud of as a parent, it's that LMC is really excited about gardening.

For months she's been saving the seeds out of whatever food she finds them in (I had to explain that we couldn't plant seeds from a pickle). So we've got a few random apple seeds in those flats next to the basil and zinnias. She also cheerfully picked the wildflower packets with the bees and butterflies on them, because she wants to help them (thank you Nature Cat!).

Everyday, we've both been checking the progress of our little seedlings, and while I have to remind her that over-watering is just as bad as under-watering, she's an excellent co-gardener. Having every flat surface in my living room covered with flats of soil is a small price to pay. :)

I've also been embracing the coming spring in my crafts, with sheep and ducks and linen making notable appearances. I've also been working furiously behind the scenes to pull together some new kits for spring. If you want to be the first to hear about them when they go on sale, subscribe to my newsletter, which now comes out monthly and includes new releases, sneak peaks and a recipe! 

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In the Garden

It's been usually hot and dry in these parts of late, so I haven't spent as much time out in the garden as I'd like (I'm seriously overdue with some weeding), but with a little help from the hose, things are growing.

I started a lot of my plants from seeds this year to mixed success. My broccoli didn't make it, the leaf lettuce is sad at best, and the sugar snap peas, I think in part to some bad trellising on my part, haven't performed all that well. But where these have faltered, others have blossomed. The tomatoes and bell peppers are looking fantastic, the butternut squash and green beans grow in leaps by the day. The small batch of garlic, which i planted in the fall on a whim has been harvested and hung up to dry, waiting to make its appearance in fresh tomato sauce later this summer. I'm picking blueberries by the quart.

But the best part? How LMC asks if we can go cut more flowers for the table, or when she says "Mama, we need more peas." Now look, normally we're much more of a goldfish cracker than a kale chip kind of family, and my kid can certainly be picky, but when it's this fresh and you pick it yourself? Even a toddler can't say no. 

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Spring Things!

Parent who have kids with birthdays near Christmas, you have my sympathy.

This year, LMC's birthday and Easter were four days apart and that meant a week full of activity, and stuff, and more sugar than Momma would normally allow. Pair that with a bad cold and her cousin's birthday the weekend before,  it means I'm just getting my feet back under me right now.

That said, it was full of joy. LMC is at the age now (3!) where she gets that these are special days and is super excited to meet the Easter Bunny or find eggs, blow out candles, or get to wear her birthday crown. She is cultivating a deep appreciation for Peanuts and Bass/Rankin holiday specials. She also doesn't have huge expectations about it though. When asked what she wanted for her birthday, she merely asked for a pink cake with pink frosting and pink candles. I wanted the cake to be pink tasting and not just pink-colored, so I made cake flavored/colored with raspberry jam (and a few drops of food coloring). It was a little over-sweet with the jam. but was still a big hit with the birthday girl (especially the frosting). 

She got a number of neat gifts from family and friends for her birthday, but the one I'm most proud of is her quilt I made to be just like Curious George's (her favorite character/tv show). I managed to find a Michael Miller fabric that was really close to the print on George's bed and used a tutorial for a Self-Binding Blanket (scaled up and modified to include batting) and then tied it with some multi-colored cotton yarn. I had no idea how tiring the tying process would be for my hands, and the cotton yarn plies separated more than I would like, but for my first completed quilt, the whole thing turned out rather well and is very cozy. I can see how this quilt thing could get addictive. 

We just moved her to the big-girl bed a few weeks ago and while she had chosen to lie on top of, rather than under it, I think she appreciates the quilt (as much as a three-year-old will appreciate a blanket). I also finished my Good Night Sleep Tight embroidery I started forever ago in time to hang it over her new bed. I'm kinda in love with my little french knot sheep and am planning to turn it into a pattern/kit. LMC must like it too, because when I started working on my new embroidery project from cozyblue, she asked if that was for her room too.  

Despite the fact that Winter has seemed to hold off doing all it's wintering until Mach, it was actually warm enough to do our egg hunt outside, which was great fun. That tiny patch of snow is all gone now, my bulbs are starting to bloom and my seeds are sprouting indoors. It's all starting to feel very much like spring, even if we still have to wear our winter coats for a little while longer. 

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Summer Groove

Willard Beach Panorama
Eating Peas
Happy Harvest
Plum Tomatoes on the Vine
Willard Beach
Splash Pad
Splash Pad
Splash Pad
Splash Pad
Ballet Class
Ballet Class
Being Mice
Bush Beans
Baby Lettuce
Sugar Snap Peas

It's mid July and we're settling into that summer groove. The kind of groove that makes me want to wear a swimsuit under my clothes all day and listen to nothing but oldies. Hot, humid days require that we pull out the kiddie pool or sprinkler in the afternoons, and if we have more time, a trip to the splash pad or beach may be required. 

It seems like there are five choices of what to do every weekend. This week we chose the free "Discover Ballet" class at Portland Ballet. Mr. Cleaver and I both got in on the action, and it was loads of fun, though I think Little Miss Cleaver is still a bit away from actually taking classes on her own.

The garden is hitting it's groove too. We've been harvesting a handful of sugar snap peas every few days, the tomatoes are getting bigger, the lettuce is growing, the bush beans are flowering, and our first blueberries have started to turn blue. We had fresh pesto for our pasta. last night.  It's a good time to be outside. 

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In The Garden

My princess and the frog

We've had a string of cold and rainy days, so my veggie garden feels a bit neglected. I've peeked in to see how things are doing, knowing I'm a ways away from any kind of harvest.  LMC and I planted some green bean and lettuce seeds, but I'm woefully behind on weeding and my plans to build additional boxes are feeling more like next years prep than anything to be utilized this season.

My garden however, will generally thrive perfectly fine without my intervention. The peas continue to climb up their trellis, the tomatoes continue to grow and my flowers, oh my flower beds. The irises have peaked and are just beginning to decline now, but for a while it was a explosion of purples and creams and whites. My front perennial beds, with their more late-summer blooms are beginning to sneak out buds in yellow and white.  My strawberries however, are getting devoured by something (not me!) despite my (repeated) attempts at bird netting them. 

In any case, out little garden must be a friendly place to visit as we discovered at least two frogs (toads?) in the yard, which I've never seen before this year (or maybe didn't have the child's eyes to see...) 

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The Work of My Hands

Vintage Embroidery Pillowcase by Ms. Cleaver
Vintage Embroidery Pillowcase by Ms. Cleaver
Making Ice Cream
Portable Ballet Barre by Ms. Cleaver
Portable Ballet Barre made by Ms. Cleaver

I'm always astonished when I meet people who are one-craft only people, they only quilt, or crochet, or knit - and that's it. I'm constantly having to stop myself from picking up yet another creative pursuit. In some ways I'm jealous of their devotion to a single art - when it's just one you can really dive deep and get really good, really creative.

But I have always been a generalist, polymath, utility player - call it what you will. I love trying out new things, giving them a go and I think it's served me well. When I was deep into theatre, I did a lot of things within the theatrre, writing, directing, set design, etc., but it was mostly just theatre (and a little dance). When I reached a point where theatre didn't really work for my life anymore, I found fabric and yarn made a good outlet for my creative needs. In 5 years, painting may fit right. 

I made my Memorial Day weekend extra long by taking Friday off and filled it with multiple trips to the park, food, family, and a wide variety of creating. I prepped my raised beds and planted seedlings; I learned to use a racheting pipe cutter (!!) and made LMC a portable ballet barre; I sewed an old table runner into a throw pillow; I made peppermint ice cream for our BBQ; and wore a recently finished dirndl skirt that had been hanging around in my to fix pile for too long. Not to mention all the furious knitting I did on a deadline project while watching The Time Machine and Anne of Green Gables.

After a long weekend of creating, my hands are weary, but my heart is full.

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Memorial Day Parade

Middle School Marching Band
Waving at the Parade
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Spring in Southern Maine

Chatting with Supergirl
Checking out the Mandarlorian Mercs.
KIDShorts - Racer version - made by Ms. Cleaver
Goodies from Grey's
KIDShorts - Racer version - made by Ms. Cleaver
KIDShorts - Racer version - made by Ms. Cleaver
Fencing the Garden
Blueberry bush pruned and mulched
Playing in the Sandpit
Tulips and Daffodils
Big Slide

It finally feels like spring! The grass is getting greener by the day. the daffodils and tulips are in bloom and I'm cleaning up flower beds and laying down mulch. The blueberry bush is pruned, the veggie garden fence has gone up, and the sand pit has been raked out and is ready for play. Free Comic Book day happened and we've pulled out the sunscreen and the Seadogs hat. 

It'll still be a while before its warm enough for shorts, but that didn't stop me from sewing a pair for Little Miss Cleaver. The pattern is the KID Shorts from Dana at MADE. While I don't love that all the sewing instructions are on her site instead of included in the pattern (meaning I'm following instructions off my phone), the fit seems spot on (I made a 3T, lengthened the to the 4T hem), and the finished product is uber-cute, if I say so myself. I even got to sew in my first Ms. Cleaver label!

It took about 1.5 hours to make from taping together the pattern to finished shorts, and I imagine future pairs will be even quicker, especially if I do the more straightforward versions. It warmed the cockles of my sewist heart when LMC wanted to try them on as soon as she got up from her nap and wear them over her pants for at least an hour before the need to put a ballet skirt on trumped it.

I'm hoping to sew two more pairs before shorts weather is truly upon us, and then I'm delving into some serious me sewing. I have some grey gingham that I got on vacation last summer that is calling out to be an Archer button-up and I picked up a Watson bra kit and some denim for Ginger Jeans from Grey's Fabric as well as Cascade Duffle pattern that I'll be sewing into my new winter coat come September or so.

I've been super busy with knitting projects of late (look out for a lot of new stuff this fall!), and haven't had much time to sew and I forget how much sewing means to me. To be able to single-mindedly focus on seam finishes and fabric selection and to make something useful and beautiful.  



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From the Garden, In the Kitchen

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Just your basic salsa, made with the most fresh ingredients possible. My harvest has been pretty small thus far, but definitely delicious. I've done two batches of salsa thus far, and expect to have a few more in the coming weeks, though I won't have enough to can anything. I've never been a fan of eating tomatoes out of hand, but I'm in in love with these tomatoes (San Marzano, I think) - so easy to seed and prep and perfect for those tomato-things I do love (sauces and salsa) - where have you been all my life?!

The blueberries have finished their run, but there's a second (smaller) batch of strawberries on the vine. I've gotten two sweet peppers thus far, though it looks like there's a few more on the way. We also cut our first bit of broccoli and the second set of lettuce is getting close to harvest. I forget that this part of the season is so robust. I guess that's why the fall is harvest time!

What are you gathering in your garden these days?

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