Don’t delay maintenance or maintenance will delay you

Schedule and take care of maintenance tasks as they arise. Don’t wait until you reach for the resource in question only to realize it is unavailable without additional time investment.

Typical issue for someone with a car where the back seat is fully taken up by child seats: in order to transport any piece of furniture, you need to disassemble what feels like half the car and remove the child seats. What happens then? Well, the furniture loading and unloading is followed by getting it to the place it shall occupy, and possibly additional cleaning and assembly. It is often heavy, the process of assembly is lengthy, and, by the time it’s done, rest is the only thing on your mind. Then children need your attention, the cat wants outside, it’s dinner time, and, before you know it, your mind is elsewhere.

What happens the next morning? Everyone is rushing to get ready for work or errands after night-time parenting, the time is at a premium, the passions are running high, you grab the kids, get to the car… and realize that the seats are not there. Now children have to be taken back home with one of the parents (if that’s even a possibility), seats have to be installed in a rush, end up crooked and need to be reinstalled, every belt and clasp gets in the way, the process takes twice as long and is way more frustrating than it needs to be, impatient children that just got to grab some toys and set to play at home have to be ushered out once more, and there you are, half an hour later, now definitely running late and having used up a lot of physical and emotional energy. Lesson learned? Get the car back to its normal state right after you are done using it in another way.

Car maintenance is a classical example: if you don’t fill up the gas or the washer liquid as they are getting low, you will find yourself running on empty or unable to drive in muddy weather because you cannot see anything out of a splattered windshield. The same, however, goes for any type of maintenance, no matter how small. Without sorting laundry on a regular basis, you will run out of cloth diapers when you have a squirming baby in your arms and will have to find diapers as the baby clings to you – and if you are unlucky, the phone and the doorbell will be ringing and the baby will pee, as you are trying to rummage through clothes. Postponing washing pots or cleaning up the kitchen after a cooking session will shorten the time you have for cooking next time, as you have to first clear out your workspace and make sure the pots and pans you need are clean. This, in turn, can result in hungry children expressing their frustration in destructive ways while you are desperately trying to get the dinner on the table. A good way to remember these tasks is to set them up so you trip over them.

Same goes for your body as well: for instance, not getting sufficient sleep on a regular basis will catch up with you, and you will collapse when your participation is needed most. And if you are not clearing out emotional baggage regularly, you might be stopped in your tracks as you realize you are being incapacitated by a situation that has become wrapped up in too much fear or apprehension.

Take time to schedule and perform maintenance in all of these areas as the need arises. Have your resources lined up ready to use, instead of being in perpetual state of semi-readiness. Avoid being drained by insignificant details that grow to be urgent because they were not addressed in time.

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Abolish perfection

Let go of the absurd conviction that everything needs to be done perfectly. Do your best. That, by definition, is the best you CAN do.

So many of us have been brought up to be perfectionists. If something was not done up to someone’s standards, we got berated and denied the approval we were seeking. No wonder that so many budding artists have abandoned self-expression in one medium or another – after all, if the result is not perfect, it’s not worth trying, right? What we end up with, is not the world where there are few things in existence and all of them perfect. Instead, we are surrounded by the best other people could do, while judging the results of their labour as not good enough, meanwhile not daring to risk our perfectionist integrity in creating something of our own.

Forget perfectionism. There is no use trying to do something perfectly, since you will be disappointed every time. We are often our own worst critics. Instead embark on a project that excites you and enthusiastically do your best. Focus on enjoying the process, bring friends or children into it if the nature of the project allows for it, and have fun. Remember, you didn’t know how to do many things when you were a child. Not all of them required a teacher or a guide to help you reach proficiency. Children are great at trying things out if their imagination is not being constrained by prescribed activities. Awaken your inner child and experiment.

If you want to hone your skills, by all means, look at the result of your labour critically and see what could be done differently next time. Focus on constructive criticism, ask others’ opinions only if you want to build on their feedback. Think on those ideas, adjust your process, and, if you like, try again, but don’t fall into the trap of trying to make it perfect this time. It takes more than doing something once to become a master. Do your best, enjoy the process, and emerge with more experience. This applies to art, crafts, writing, programming, and many other projects.

Liberate yourself from the chains of having to be perfect all the time. Life is short. Pick up a project you like, do the best you can, enjoy the process, and if with time you can build up your expertise, all the more power to you.

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Combine activities

Find creative ways to combine activities that can be performed concurrently, to have more time for what you enjoy most.

Besides combining baby entertainment with other activities (such as singing to your baby while sorting laundry), you can combine multiple activities to complete them in a shorter period of time.

We are doing solid food introduction these days, although for now breastmilk is a clear winner. The process involves lots of food exploration, measuring the distance to the floor and gravitational forces affecting utensils in free fall, evenly painting the nearby wall a lovely butternut squash colour, applying full-body banana treatment, and generally performing every feat imaginable to ensure that the minimal amount of sustenance ends up in the proximity of the mouth. This engaging activity is usually followed by a nice soak in the baby bath, playing with the favourite water-splashing toys and being very content.

This state of affairs presents opportunities for me. I have to remain in the bathroom and watch the baby so that she does not decide to take a dive or attempt climbing out of the bath, yet so many things can be done in parallel. How about soaking your feet in a basin of very warm water in preparation for a 5-minute pedicure while brushing your hair and singing to the baby? Substitute tooth brushing, dry body brushing, neck or wrist exercises, or any other maintenance procedure for hair brushing – you see the possibilities? Fifteen-twenty minutes later, I emerge with a clean happy baby, fresh pedicure, brushed hair and teeth, and a spring in my step.

There are many ways to take advantage of activity combinations. Try stretching your calf muscles while reading an online article. Or doing yoga while the baby is playing around you. Or oil pulling while doing dishes. Or hula-hooping while watching your kids playing around you outside. Or drawing while listening to something educational (that’s what I’m planning to do with the Evolution of Medicine Online Summit videos). Savasana combines really well with a facial mask and soaking in body lotion or letting nail polish dry. Put on a webinar to learn something new, an audiobook to escape, or some music to relax. Get an essential oil diffusing while you are resting in Savasana, nurturing your body, and listening to music, and you’ve got yourself a wonderfully productive and relaxing 10-15 minutes.

Don’t hesitate to experiment. If it’s difficult to imagine the possibilities in your mind, put them on paper. Write down all the various body nurturing, baby care, learning, and relaxing things you do throughout the week, and see if any of them are good candidates to be combined. Those usually involve different body parts (e.g., soaking feet, reading something on the screen, and drying hand nail polish), different sensory channels (e.g., wrist exercises for touch and music for listening), and can be performed in the same room. Then go wild and try them out.

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If you have a garden and a library, you will want for nothing

My house has been so full of summer energy, guests from far away, exciting outings, picnics, and playing on the grass outside, that the blog posts have been few and far between. Now that the fall is approaching, the garden is in full bloom, and we’ve been reaping some of its bounty.

kale_tomatoes_pepper_md

Harvest of kale for smoothies, and tomatoes and a red Romanian pepper for a salad

There has been lots of rain and not much sun lately, so that the fruit have been slow to ripen. The greens are lush, however, and hopefully more warm days will fuel further harvest. My scarlet runner beans planted in the middle of the summer have wrapped themselves around the support I provided, the fence behind it, and went all the way up the gazebo nearby. The blooms are beautiful, I shall definitely plant them again.

scarlet_runner_beans2_md

I have been learning more about gardening naturally, and there are some good resources out there, for instance the Garden Naturally TV series by Barbra Damrosch and Eliot Coleman. They talk about mimicking a forest in the garden, making compost, aerating and mineralizing soil, sharpening and using a scythe, nitrogen fixation, planting backyard blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries.

A recent article from Mercola – Why your brain needs a garden – talks about gardening being one of the most potent stress-relieving activities, decreasing levels of agitation and anxiety, stimulating serotonin, and improving learning. Our cat is certainly enjoying all the benefits of his time in the garden.

scarlet_runner_beans_Bagheera_md

Marcus Cicero said, “If you have a garden and a library, you will want for nothing.” Reading a book outside, surrounding by blooming plants, buzzing beetles, and fluttering butterflies during a quiet afternoon hour has an incredible ability to reset my mood and clear my mind.

Let us spend more time in the garden and bathe in these warm blissful rays of late summer.

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Seize the power of short time intervals

There are multiple ways to occupy your baby for 10-15 minutes and many activities do not take longer to complete. Seize those short intervals to get daily chores out of the way.

One of the hardest things to get used to when you have a baby is constantly being interrupted, and, no matter what you are doing, having to drop that activity to tend to the baby’s needs. “Being in the zone” becomes so rare and treasured that we resent spending that uninterrupted time on chores. As I’m writing this, my baby is talking in her bed as she has woken up after about 15 minutes of sleep, 10 of which I was there with her, and my older child is arguing with me over what he wants to have for lunch that has already been prepared and set in front of him. Needless to say, I shall have to take a break before completing this, as writing is not an activity easily completed while tending to other things.

There are many chores that can, however, be done when you know a window of time is small or the level of interruption will be high.

  • You can sort and put away a bin of laundry. I sing to the baby while doing this, to keep her entertained. If my older child is home, I offer him to get involved, and although the process is not efficient by any means, it keeps him engaged, teaches him a skill, and gives us bonding time. Same strategy works for putting away dishes, loading a dishwasher, tidying up the toys, putting washed laundry into the dryer, watering plants, and many other quick household chores.
  • You can put together and eat a quick snack, with the baby either being on you in a carrier or playing alone. Mothers, especially those of us who are nursing, need frequent filling snacks to keep up the energy and milk production, and very often we keep postponing this until that magical moment when we can sit down to a quiet meal. Since that rarely happens if you are alone at home with the baby, seize the opportunity of a quiet moment to nourish yourself. This can be a great time to let the baby explore a new food in a high chair, with your supervision. If you have an older child, they can have a snack alongside you.
  • Take your supplements, do oil pulling, give the baby their supplements if any, – get those daily upkeep tasks that do not take much time out of the way.
  • You can grab a shower, dry brush your body, brush your hair or teeth, do nasal lavage, or perform any other body maintenance ritual while your baby plays with a bath toy. I use a “comfy chair” (Monty Python rocks) – a baby rocking chair – so she can safely stay in the bathroom while I’m in the shower. Both of my babies loved their rocker, and have invented ways to rock themselves vigorously to their overwhelming amusement. An older child can play in the tub while you are there, for an impromptu middle-of-the-day water activity.
  • You can do a short exercise or a stretching routine, balance on a yoga ball or a balance board, lift free weights or a weighted ball for a few minutes. If you have space, hula hooping or a jump rope are a great way to reset. Dancing to an energetic song or going through some movements of a belly dance are great ways to shake off muscle stiffness and get centered, before moving on with the day.
  • You can do some food preparation in a short period of time: roast vegetables, scramble some eggs, make buckwheat, quinoa, or rice, cut up veggies or fruit for a snack, brew some tea or coffee, pull food out of the freezer to defrost, refill a water filter, assemble and set a slow cooker dish for cooking. Instead of spending a larger chunk of time in the evening making dinner, a couple of the short intervals throughout the day is plenty of time to create the elements of a healthy meal that only need to be combined and perhaps reheated at the end of the day. Same goes for the next-day lunch preparation: if various ingredients are already chopped up, all it takes is to assemble them into containers and pack the lunch bags later.
  • You can get outside for 10 minutes with the baby, take in some fresh air, pull a few weeds or do some light gardening tasks, just sit or walk outside to get grounded and reset.
  • You can spend a few minutes doing a puzzle, reading a few pages of a book, or doing something else for relaxation. The key here is to have the puzzle set up, the book ready, or whatever activity you would like to do laid out, so you don’t spend the precious time on fetching the required items only to find yourself needing to respond to the baby’s needs before you had a chance to relax. Avoid checking email as a way to relax: email has a tendency to put one in reactive mode, wasting the time better used for relaxation. Random surfing or checking social networks are also not useful relaxation options, as it’s too easy to find yourself emerging on the other side with a sense of wasted time and mind overwhelmed by irrelevant information.
  • Drink a cup of tea, set an essential oil diffuser with a calming or energizing scent, play a quiet melody.

There are many more possibilities. Be creative – see what you can get out of the way in 10-15 minutes, and once the longer stretch of time is available, you can spend it on what you want rather than tend to a million of short chores.

Revel in the abundance that an hour or more of uninterrupted time gives you when the baby is asleep or entertained by someone else. Use the shorter time intervals available to you throughout the day to get daily chores out of the way so they do not encroach on that time.

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Make it fun

If you have to perform menial or repetitive tasks, find a way to make them fun.

We all have daily chores or occasional challenge that we are reluctant to start. Sorting laundry, washing dishes, putting away toys, organizing and filing, chopping ingredients – these are all repetitive tasks that are necessary but not very exciting. And then there are more involved activities, such as exercising or cleaning, that also need motivation.

My solution is to connect the menial task that needs doing with another outcome which I would like to realize. For instance, as I sort laundry or chop vegetables, I sing to the baby. Not only I’m having fun doing it — she’s loving the different melodies and smiling broadly, giving me a sense of accomplishment in keeping her happy. And, who knows, when I have time to pick up the guitar again, it might help me remember the song lyrics.

My baby breastfeeds to sleep at least three times a day. I could be counting minutes and getting frustrated thinking of all the things I should be doing, as she refuses to let go of this exciting and stimulating waking world to get some much-needed rest. Instead I lose myself in an audiobook and let her play next to me until she snuggles up and drifts off to sleep. There is very little time to read paper books these days, yet I have finished all the fourteen volumes of The Wheel of Time series while doing chores, by simply listening to the audiobooks when my mind is free to wander.

Washing dishes and tidying up can also be paired up with an audiobook. Cleaning and exercising are always more fun with energetic music, and at times I find myself entertaining the baby as I waltz through the living room with cleaning implements. Fun for the whole family! Change your state by controlling your atmosphere.

Music, singing, and audiobooks are some of the great ways of bringing more fun to repetitive daily activities. Result: less stress, more involvement with the baby, and more accomplished.

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Permaculture towers after 50 days

Afternoon garden, light, permaculture towers, day 51, mdIt has been 50 days now, since I have planted seedlings into my permaculture towers, following the garden preparations and the building of the towers, and 27 days since my last update on the towers.

On July 4, after a few days of 35+C weather, it has been a relief to wake up to an overcast sky, with occasional sunshine and a cool breeze. Seizing the chance, off I went to the garden. The night before, my partner guiding the kids in a distraction dance, I have been able to pick out most of the weeds in the garden. It felt so good to just loose myself in a pure physical activity, creeping through the towers in a quest of cleansing.

I have harvested the rest of the radishes, and set off to plant seeds. The following were added to the towers: Reine de Glace crispleaf lettuce, Buttercrunch lettuce,  Komatsuna mustard greens, Cardinale crispleaf lettuce, Rouge d’hiver lettuce, beets, red spinach, snow peas, cauliflower, broccoli, dill, and scarlet runner beans.

The tops of the towers have gained some edible flowers: Cosmos and Marigold. I have also planted verbena, broccoli, dill, and basil throughout the garden.

I have planted lots of seeds all over the garden on July 4. Here are the plants with photo thumbnails for May 27th (day 1), June 10th (day 14), June 20th (day 24), July 4th (day 38), and larger photos from today, July 17 (day 51). You can click on the thumbnails to see more detailed, larger photos.

Due to the fence and the tomatoes overwhelming the sunny side of Towers 3 and 4, the photos from those towers are basically all tomato. Not much I can do to capture the growth of anything else. Yet dill and eggplants are doing well, under all that tomato goodness.

As the Towers and the garden have gained new plants, I include the updated drawings.

Garden

July 4, 2014 - Garden plan, md

Tower 1

July 4, 2014 - Tower 1, md

Tower1, Stevia, md Tower1, Stevia, day 14, md Tower 1, top, stevia, day 24, md Tower 1, top, stevia, day 38, md

Tower 1, top, stevia, day 51, md
Stevia on top of Tower 1. The plant has been trying to recover from the squirrel attack – it has not grown taller, but additional small leaves have sprouted closer to the base. The leaves you see infringing on the tower top are tomatoes growing from the side. This is a recurring motif in the current state of my garden.

Tower 1, sunny, md Tower 1, sunny-shady, day 14, md Tower 1, sunny-shady, day 24, md Tower 1, sunny-shady, day 38, md

Tower 1, sunny-shady, day 51, md
This lovely tomato forest includes Yellow cherry Gold Nugget tomato and buried underneath it butternut squash in one section, and in another –Alba Regie sweet pepper mostly eaten by the same animal as the stevia, another Yellow cherry Gold Nugget tomato and another butternut squash.

Tower 1, sunny-shady, md Tower 1, sunny, day 14, md Tower 1, sunny, day 24, md Tower 1, sunny-shady, day 38, md

Tower 1, sunny, day 51, md
Beefsteak tomatoes, an Alba Regie pepper somewhere in there and the giant leaves of spaghetti squash in one section, Lipstick sweet pepper in the next. Tomatoes and the squash pretty much rule the first tower. I had to install a movable fence to contain this wild greenery. Peppers are flowering but someone keeps eating the leaves. Perhaps the same vicious squirrel with big pointy teeth. I shall attempt to spray the peppers with a jalapeño solution once more.

Tower 2

July 4, 2014 - Tower 2, md

Tower 2 top, chamomile and hot peppers, md Tower 2 top, chamomile and hot peppers, day 14, md Tower 2 top, chamomile and hot peppers, day 24, md Tower 2 top, chamomile and hot peppers, day 38, md

Tower 2 top, chamomile and hot peppers, day 51, md
Thai hot pepper and German chamomile plants on top of Tower 2. Both are getting munched on by an unknown organism or two. The holes in the leaves are likely from snails and have gotten a bit less of a problem after I have placed egg shells under the pepper plant. The chamomile appears to be too delicious for fluffy sharp-teethed creatures.

Tower 2, sunny-shady, md Tower 2, sunny-shady, day 14, md Tower 2, sunny-shady, day 24, md Tower 2, sunny-shady, day 38, md

Tower 2, sunny-shady, day 51, md
Columnar basil in one section, two Fox cherry tomatoes and a Romanian sweet pepper in the next. The basil is very strong and happy. I have used it today in a delicious thai spicy eggplant dish, and the flavour is great. I can no longer locate the sweet pepper under all the tomato branches without risking breaking them.  I shall just trust it’s there and we’ll see if it grew any better without being chewed on and with sunlight filtered through the tomato foliage.

Tower 2, sunny, md Tower 2, sunny, day 14, md Tower 2, sunny, day 24, md Tower 2, sunny, day 38, md

Tower 2, sunny, day 51, md
Matt’s Wild tomato, lemon thyme somewhere underneath, with a butternut squash at the bottom in one section, and another Matt’s Wild tomato in the next section. Tomatoes and squashes are very happy. Lemon thyme is no longer visible. I think next time I will plant smaller herbs and peppers above the tomatoes, since the latter are so prolific.

Tower 2, sunny 2, md Tower 2, sunny 2, day 14, md Tower 2, sunny 2, day 24, md Tower 2, sunny, pepper, 38, md

Tower 2, sunny, pepper, 51, md
Closeup of the Romanian sweet pepper in the next section. It appears to have been too hard to access for a mysterious sharp-teethed animal, and has reached the fruiting stage.

Tower 2, shady, md Tower 2, shady, day 14, md Tower 2, shady, day 24, md Tower 2, shady, day 38, md

Tower 2, shady, day 51, md
Two oakleaf kale seedlings in one section, and two more in the next one. I have put crushed egg shells around some of the plants to deter snails, but considering the almost-completely eaten leaves I would venture a guess that whatever is eating the kale on this tower is from a larger species. Since I have lots of kale in Towers 3 and 4 that is not being so completely consumed, I figured this was my “planted to share with nature” kale.

Tower 3

July 4, 2014 - Tower 3, md

Tower 3, top, nasturtium, md Tower 3, top, nasturtium and carrots, day 14, md Tower 3, top, day 24, md Tower 3, top, day 38, md

Tower 3, top, day 51, md
Nasturtirum – Empress of India – on top of Tower 3, surrounded by a few growing carrots (you can see the tiny leaves picking out from under the nasturtium leaves). The nasturtium is big and happy.

Tower 3, sunny, md Tower 3, sunny, day 14, md Tower 3, sunny, day 24, md Tower 3, sunny, day 38, md

Tower 3, sunny, tomatoes, day 51, md
Japanese eggplant at the bottom of one section (impossible to show anymore), and in the next one – Bellstar red tomato, parsley (also covered up), and at the bottom Spacemaster cucumber (still growing). The tomato forest is overshadowing everything else.

Tower 3, shady 2, md Tower 3, shady 2, day 14, md Tower 3, shady 2, day 24, md Tower 3, shady 2, day 38, md

Tower 3, shady 2, day 51, md
Two green kale and two oakleaf kale plants in one section, two green kale, one Swiss chard, and one oakleaf kale plant in the next one. They taste great in salads and I now harvest some every few days.

Tower 3, shady, md Tower 3, shady, day 14, md Tower 3, shady, day 24, md Tower 3, shady, day 38, md

Tower 3, shady, day 51, md
Another shot of two green kale, one Swiss chard and one oakleaf kale plant from the previous photo, and two more green kale, two Swiss chard, and one oakleaf kale plant in the next section. A small scarlet runner bean plant is showing at the bottom of the tower. Another one got consumed by local fauna.

Tower 4

July 4, 2014 - Tower 4, md

Tower 4 top, nasturtium, md Tower 4 top, nasturtium and radishes, day 14, md Tower 4, top, nasturtium and radishes, day 24, md Tower 4, top, nasturtium and radishes, day 38, md

Tower 4, top, nasturtium, day 51, md
Nasturtium – Empress of India, with encroaching tomato leaves almost covering it. The tomatoes take over everything.

Tower 4, sunny, md Tower 4, sunny, day 14, md Tower 4, sunny-shady, day 24, md  Tower4, shady 2, day 38, md

Tower 4, sunny 2, day 51, md

Red cherry tomato, Brandywine tomato, and rosemary below in one section, and in the next section – another red cherry tomato, followed by dill, a Brandywine tomato, and Lebanese cucumbers. It is impossible now to capture the tower from the same angle as the first two photos, since the West fence is now in place, so I had to instead provide a side view, capturing the first section with rosemary. The next section is shown as part of the next series of photos. The tomatoes, the dill, and rosemary all seem to be doing well. I’ve picked out most of the dill by this point, so I planted some seeds along the fence next to the scarlet runner beans.

Tower 4, sunny 2, md Tower 4, sunny 2, day 14, md Tower 4, sunny, day 24, md Tower 4, sunny, day 38, md

Tower 4, sunny, day 51, md
Red cherry tomato, followed by dill, a Brandywine tomato, and Lebanese cucumbers from the photo above, and in the next section – early Roma tomato, dill, Brandywine tomato, and eggplant at the bottom. Can’t tell where anyone is, except maybe the dill poking through? Me neither. At this point I don’t want to disturb the tomatoes so as not to break them, and the fence is in the way to reach underneath. I shall just have a mystery harvest once the time comes.

Tower 4, shady, md Tower 4, shady, day 14, md Tower 4, shady, day 24, md Tower 4, shady, day 38, md

Tower 4, shady, day 51, md
Three green kale and two oakleaf kale in one section, and in the next – three green kale and one oakleaf kale. The kale plants are doing well. Tomatoes are infringing on their territory. Along the bottom, between Tower 4 and the lemongrass, I have planted sweet peas, on June 1st. A few of them came up now and nothing seems to be eating them.

Tower 4, shady 3, md Tower 4, shady 2, day 14, md Tower 4, shady 2, day 24, md Tower 4, shady 2, day 38, md

Tower 4, shady 2, day 51, md
Cilantro between two green kale seedlings, and Swiss chard lower in one section, and in the next – tarragon, followed by two kale plants and a Swiss chard plant. Cilantro has gone to flower. The rest of the greens are growing happily and I harvest kale and Swiss chard every few days.

Aside, borage, lovage, md Aside, borage and lovage, day 14, md Aside, borage and lovage, day 24, md Aside, borage and lovage, day 38, md

Aside, borage and lovage, day 51, md
Borage at the top of photo, lovage lower, behind Towers 1 and 2. On the last tow photos, borage is on the left and blooming in beautiful blue flowers.

Aside, calendula and watercress, md Aside, calendula and watercress, day 14, md Aside, calendula and watercress, day 24, md Aside, calendula and watercress, day 38, md Aside, watercress, day 38, md

Aside, calendula, day 51, md

Aside, watercress, day 51, md
Calendula at the top of the first photo, watercress lower, following few photos – reversed: calendula being at the bottom, and watercress at the top. Now I have to take pictures of them separately, as the tomato forest blocks the calendula. Both plants seem to be very happy, and I have used watercress in salads.

Aside, chives, green onions, lily of the valley, Tower 1 butternut squash, md Aside, chives, green onions, lily of the valley, Tower 1 butternut squash, day 14, md Aside, chives, green onions, lily of the valley, Tower 1 butternut squash, day 24, md Aside, chives, green onions, lily of the valley, Tower 1 butternut squash, day 38, md

Aside, chives, green onions, lily of the valley, Tower 1 butternut squash, day 51, md
From left to right: grape vine 1, lily of the valley, chives, onions, Tower 1 butternut squash. You are going to have to trust me on this. The giant squash leaves and the tomato branches are hiding the rest of the plants. I use chives and green onions in salads quite a bit.

Aside, grape vine 1, md Aside, grape vine 1, day 14, md Grape vine 1, day 24, md Grape vine 1, day 38, md

Grape vine 1, day 51, md
Grape vine 1 is climbing the gazebo quite happily. There are black bugs eating through the leaves. I remove them and drop them in a bowl with soapy water on a somewhat regular basis over the last two weeks or so.

Grape vine 4, md Grape vine 4, day 14, md Grape vine 4, day 24, md Grape vine 4, day 38, md

Grape vine 4, day 51, md
Grape vine 4, Concord Purple Grape, planted last year, next to Tower 3. The black bugs are present on this vine to a much lesser extent, and I’m removing them as well.

Aside, Comfrey and Day lilys, md Aside, Comfrey and Day lilys, day 14, md Aside, Comfrey, grape vine 2, and Day lilies, day 14, md Aside, Comfrey, grape vine 2, and Day lilies, day 38, md

Aside, Comfrey, grape vine 2, and Day lilies, day 51, md
Day lilies, comfrey, and remains of grape vine 2, butchered during last year’s roof replacement. Comfrey is growing giant leaves. The lilies stopped growing. I suspect it is due to me replanting the same bulbs every year. Perhaps they have grown as much as they can. The grape vine was heavily affected with what I guess was downy mildew. I have removed quite a few affected leaves, and it seems to be recovering well.

Aside, grape vine 3, tulips, hyacinths, md Grape vine and bird feeder closeup, day 14, md Grape vine and bird feeder closeup, day 24, md Grape vine and bird feeder closeup, day 38, md

Grape vine and bird feeder closeup, day 51, md
Grape vine 3 is happily growing up the shepherd’s hook with a bird feeder and a bird bath. Lots of black bugs had to be removed from this one as well.

Aside, lemon verbena, lemon grass, md Aside, lemon verbena, lemon grass, day 14, md Aside, lemon verbena and lemongrass, day 24, md Aside, lemon verbena and lemongrass, day 38, md

Aside, lemon verbena and lemongrass, day 51, md
Lemon verbena on the left and lemongrass on the right. Lemon verbena is growing happily and turning into a small bush. Lemongrass has recovered from being trampled during the fence reconstruction and seems to be full of life as well.

Aside, Grapefruit mint, md Aside, Grapefruit mint, day 14, md Aside, grapefruit mint, day 24, md Aside, grapefruit mint, day 38, md

Aside, grapefruit mint, day 51, md
Grapefruit mint. The mint is doing well, and I have used the leaves in salads and cocktails.

Aside, garden mint, md Aside, garden mint, day 14, md Aside, garden mint, day 24, md Aside, garden mint, day 38, md

Aside, garden mint, day 51, md
Garden mint. Happily growing in its pot, and I have used the leaves in tea a few times.

Aside, lily of the valley, russian sage, winter savory, md Aside, lily of the valley, russian sage, winter savory, day 14, md Aside, lily of the valley, russian sage, winter savory, day 24, md Aside, russian sage, day 38, md Aside, winter savory, day 38, md

Aside, russian sage, day 51, md

Aside, winter savory, day 51, md
On the first two photos: left – winter savory, top right – Russian sage, bottom – lily of the valley. Because of the sun, the recently-installed West fence, and the tomato overshadowing the savory, I have taken the third photo from the other side, with lily of the valley being at the top, the winter savory on the right, covered by a tomato branch, and the Russian sage on the bottom left. At this point, there are so many tomato branches and leaves, that I have to take pictures of Russian sage (first large photo) and winter savory (last photo) separately. Both seem to be quite happy.

Aside, currants, md Aside, currants, day 14, md Aside, currants, day 24, md Aside, currants, day 38, md

Aside, currants, day 51, md

Aside, currants, closeup, day 51, md
Two currant bushes between Tower 2 and the South fence. Both are growing well, and the one in the corner of the garden has a few delicious black currants. I put cones around them to contain the sprawl.

Aside, currants, blackberries, day 14, md Aside, currants, blackberries, day 24, md Aside, currants, blackberries, day 38, md

Aside, currants, blackberries, day 51, md
Two currant bushes between Tower 2 and the South fence, unknown perennial plant along the window, and what I suspect is our blackberry bush planted last year – Black Satin Blackberry. I have put a cone around the blackberry bush to contain it. So far no berries.

Aside, raspberry, md Aside, Raspberry bush, day 14, md Aside, raspberry bush, day 24, md Aside, raspberry bush, day 38, md

Aside, raspberry bush, day 51, md
Raspberry bush along the building. No berries here either.

Aside, scarlet runner beans, day 10, md Aside, scarlet runner beans, day 38, md

Aside, scarlet runner beans, day 37, md
Scarlet runner beans along the West fence. I have planted these on June 11. Quite a few of them are now happily growing up the support.

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How to organize a Blessingway

blue_by_the_waterIf you have a pregnant mama in your life that needs love and support of other women, Blessingway (or Mother’s Blessing) is a wonderful ceremony to honour her and celebrate her pregnancy. The key to a good Blessingway is that everyone who comes can only bring positive energy. People who are unable to be warm, loving, supportive and understanding of a pregnant mama are better to stay away.

The Blessingway is usually hosted in the last few weeks of pregnancy, when the belly is big and round, the mama is getting into a mindset for labour and is ripe to receive some nurture and support. You would need a place that can fit all the women who wish to participate – Blessingways usually take place at someone’s home. The number of people attending is flexible, yet, if you can, have ten or more women gather, that way you can string together a necklace, have a variety of dishes for the potluck, and much wisdom to share. If you can only find a few people, don’t worry:  everyone can always bring more than one bead and cook more than one dish, to make up for the lack in numbers.

If you are a mama who is alone in a new city without friends or family, reach out to birth or breastfeeding groups to find a community of supportive women: look on social networks, in a birthing centre, through prenatal classes, midwives, doulas, or prenatal yoga instructors. Often women will gather to honour a mama they have only just met, to make her feel welcome in a new city. Some of us met their best mama friends through the Blessingway.

Once you have the women and the place, think of the children. Nursing mamas usually come with their babies. Ideally you would ask people to try finding childcare for older children (often partners can look after them as Blessingway is a women-only event), so that the women can relax and share instead of addressing children’s needs. However, we have all been in a situation where no childcare is available, or there are children living in the house where the Blessingway is held, or there is an activity for children to do in a different room that would not interfere, so be flexible.

As for any potluck, ask if anyone has any food allergies and see that the offending ingredients are either not involved or clearly marked in all the dishes. Also I would suggest coordinating dishes that everyone brings (or at least designating only one or two dessert people), otherwise you might end up with seven sets of cupcakes and no real food to eat. Make sure there are at least two or three healthy options, as there are pregnant and lactating women often present at a Blessingway, including the mama being celebrated. Plenty of water (and perhaps tea) are good to have as well, to keep everyone hydrated. In my experience, cheese, grapes, vegetables with hummus dip, and a fruit platter are some things that go over really well. Beyond that, get as creative as you would in any potluck.

It is good to plan the event for early afternoon (around 3-4pm), as pregnant mamas grow tired towards the evening. The best week day would be Saturday or Sunday, so that people who work regular hours can attend. If a Blessingway spans the dinner hour, women would not have to rush to a dinner at home after the gathering. An evening Blessingway is possible, but then you might have to start around 7pm, which means the pregnant mama might want to get a nap beforehand.

Set the expectation of positive energy and relaxation. Turn off the cell phones and put away the clock. Encourage everyone to be fully present and to enjoy the meal, the ceremony, the words and the ideas. Suggest that the women set the expectation with their families to be absent for 4-6 hours: that way no one has to rush home, and if the Blessingway ends earlier, they can make their way back without haste, still basking in the quiet energy of the ceremony.

Depending on what you would like to do, you might need the following:

For the Blessingway necklace, you would need:

A string with enough length to add a closure if required. Thread is ok, but string is stronger and holds larger beads and stones more reliably. If you have a thread, double-thread it.

Blessingway bead - Emerald silver tree of lifeEach woman would need to bring a Blessingway bead, which could be anything with a hole through it that resonates with her, whether it is the colour, or the texture, or the meaning of the stone, or the design. Make sure there is a hole to string the bead through (some stones are not drilled-through). The beads are generally on a bigger side, about 1.5cm in diameter or more, so that all together they can make a necklace that is long enough.

It is good if each woman also brings a saying, a wish, or a few lines of wisdom to share as she adds the bead to the necklace. It is good to note the meaning of the bead, if any. For instance, Birth Goddess is a self-explanatory symbol, and so is the Tree of Life (which mimics a placenta), yet certain stones have specific meanings that might not be widely known.

Have some tissues handy, as emotions often surface during this sharing of love, support, and wisdom.

If you wish to wash mama’s feet, I suggest a basin (which the house hosting the Blessingway might already have), access to water, and if you wish a couple of drops of essential oil or some flower petals, to make the ceremony more festive. A towel to dry off and gentle cream or shea butter to put on mama’s feet are also good.

If you wish to give mama a massage, some massage oil would be good. A sarong might be good, if the shoulders of her top need to be lowered, to protect the rest of the clothing from the oil. Really, any sheet would do, but sarong designs are beautiful and often bring more peaceful feel to the occasion.

If you wish to brush mama’s hair, you might want to ask her to bring her brush, or you can get a new one and give it to her as a gift. Another idea is a gift of a dry body brush, and gently brushing the pregnant mama’s feet, legs, arms, and back. Body brushing feels wonderful, really wakes up one’s senses and feels one with energy.

If the mama wishes to give other women candles to light when she is in labour, she can bring a box of candles with her, or you could provide one as part of the Blessingway organization – whatever feels right.

If you wish to draw a henna belly design, you would need to prepare henna beforehand. Some kits require you to soak henna overnight. Others come in frozen cones that need to be defrosted a couple of hours before use. I suggest talking to someone who works with henna – perhaps with someone in a nearby health store, an aromatherapy supply store, or with an artist.

Some ceremonies involve gentle circle dancing or singing. If you are planning to do that, make sure you have the music ready and, if needed, enough copies of the lyrics printed out for everyone to participate.

These suggestions might seem daunting, but remember – you can incorporate as few or as many ideas as you like, and have the ceremony be as elaborate or as simple as feels right for the mama and the women involved. At its core, the Blessingway ceremony is about sharing love, food, and wisdom.

All of these ideas are just suggestions based on what I have seen work best. If you cannot find a time during the weekend and can only find, say, five women, and the place to gather is small, and the kids are present, it is still better to hold a Blessingway than not to. The energy, the love, the support are what counts, and the rough edges in the logistics tend to fade out of memory while the thought and love are remembered.

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What is a Blessingway?

purpleBlessingway stems from a Navajo tradition that marks rites of passage in a woman’s life: her first moon time, her wedding, birth of her children. In the Western society, Mother’s Blessing (or Blessingway, or Blessing Way) refers to honouring a pregnant mama. Whereas a baby shower focuses on the baby and on giving gifts to the baby, the Blessingway is held to shower the mother with love and understanding from other women.

Blessingway celebrations can incorporate many different elements and traditions. Usually only women are present (exceptions are made for babies and sometimes small children of both sexes). It is often a potluck, where everyone brings a dish to share with others. Blessingway is a time when women take care of other women – something that is often lacking in our age of nuclear families, as we live too far from our relatives.

One of the most well-known Blessingway traditions is making a necklace for the mama. As part of the ceremony, each woman brings with her a bead and strings it on a cord, while sharing words of wisdom and love with the mama-to-be. Together the Blessingway beads make a necklace from which the pregnant mama can draw strength throughout the last weeks of her pregnancy and in labour.

Blessingway bead - Love Petals Tree of Life, smI was moved so much by the idea of this necklace that connects all of the positive energy and wisdom of the women who string it together, that I have designed a few Blessingway beads myself, by dressing up a Birth Goddess or a Tree of Life charm with a flower lampwork bead, and adding accents with crystals, beads, and intricate bead caps. Women around me loved them, and so I have put them up on Etsy and have since created many more different designs.

There are many other elements that can be incorporated into the Blessingway:

  • drawing a henna design on mama’s belly
  • washing mama’s tired feet (that feels absolutely divine in third trimester!)
  • brushing her hair
  • giving her a shoulder massage
  • or anything else to make the mama feel loved and supported through the last weeks of pregnancy.

Blessingway Bead - Golden Rose Petals GoddessAnother beautiful tradition is where the mama-to-be gives each woman at the Blessingway a candle. Once they get the news that the mama is in labour, they each light a candle and let the flame burn until the baby is born, sending their positive energy and thoughts to the labouring woman.

Several lovely women have put on a Blessingway for me as I was pregnant with my second baby. It was wonderful to be surrounded by so much support, love, and understanding. I have since participated in Blessingway ceremonies for other mamas, and they make me feel a part of the great sisterhood of birthing, nursing, nurturing, laughing, loving women. If you have a woman in your life who is pregnant, I would highly recommend hosting a Blessingway for her: it is a wonderfully warm and supportive tradition. I have put together a few tips on organizing a Blessingway, based on the ones I have attended.

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Bolting and fungi in a permaculture garden

This morning, before the +40°C weather hit, I put out some more egg shells into the garden to discourage snails from chewing through the leaves, and sprayed the plants with the jalapeño infused water, to deter squirrels. Not five minutes after I have sprayed, a neighbour of the squirrel persuasion came to visit. It circled the garden perimeter on the fence, sniffing suspiciously, and decided the garden did not hold any bounty of interest. I’ll take it as a good sign.

Before spraying, I have poked at a few more radishes on top of Tower 4, and pulled out those that either looked ready or threatening to become inedible hard roots. There shall be a salad tonight.

garden_june_30_2014_harvest_radishes_dill_med

It has been very hot for the past few days. We have spent quite a bit of that time at a beach or relaxing inside, and during that time, our cilantro appears to have bolted (which means the flowers are out and the plant is going to seed). Unfortunately, it grows best in cool, moist environments and does not like hot weather much. (Welcome to my garden of 10+ hours of hot burning sun every day, dear cilantro.) This is the exact same experience I have had last year. Shade did not prevent this rapid flowering. So, sadly, cilantro leaves are no longer flavourful, and the only thing to do is to let it go to seed. I think next time I shall plant it in the ground, as opposed to a tower, so that it can easily self sow.

One of the two dill plants has gone to flower as well. I have gathered up the stalks with the flowers to preserve for the pickling time. Dill will likely be another plant I would like to move outside the tower. Interesting thing I have learned, is that dill and fennel will cross-pollinate, creating less-than-optimal results for both plants. I shall keep that in mind if I am ever to introduce fennel into the equation. I will still plant dill and basil in close proximity with tomatoes, as they act as pesticides keeping tomato horn worms away.

One of the grape vines worries me as well (not that it ever gives any fruit, it just grew in the garden without any encouragement on our part): it has light green spots on the leaves, and some leaves are curling and have dried-out regions. After a bit of investigation, I think the vine has been chosen as home by downy mildew. Most sites do not list natural ways to deal with it: controlling it includes selection of the spot to plant the vine and picking a resistant genetic variant (since it just sprouted on its own, no input had been possible on our end) or applying pre-infection fungicides (which we have not done) or, less effectively, post-infection fungicides. As we do not want to spray anything toxic, I welcome alternative suggestions on how to approach this.

It looks like very hot days this week, with thunderstorms promised tomorrow (truly an Ottawa Canada day: go outside for a certainty to get burned and a chance to get struck by lightning), so I shall leave the harvest of greens until the plants can drink in the sunlight and the rain.

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First harvest

Wednesday morning, I have spent some time in the garden placing crushed egg shells around the plants in the permaculture towers that showed signs of snails partaking in the leaves. Egg shells also provide minerals to the soil as they break down, so I figured I would annoy the snails and feed the garden in one go.

While in the garden, I have seen a few Easter Egg radishes poking out of the ground ready for picking, so I took the opportunity to pluck those out. Seeing how some of the greens had juicy-looking leaves, I could not resist to harvest some for a quick salad. This made for the first official harvest that made an entire salad (besides dill, parsley, cilantro, and onions I have occasionally been picking).

garden_june_25_2014_harvest_radishes_kale_chard, med

A fresh salad of kale, Swiss chard, radishes, with a little olive oil and vinegar made for a perfect summer dish. Sharing the bounty in the evening with my family, it felt very rewarding to have grown this delicious food ourselves. Our daily watering ritual gives me time to reflect on the green life enveloping the permaculture towers, and be grateful for having access to land.

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On the importance of ceremony

This past Friday, the CHOICE! Film Festival hosted the screening of Birth Rites – a film about the issues aboriginal women in Canada and Australia face with the government removing them from their communities to give birth elsewhere. The film itself is worth watching: it illustrates the social fallout of such birth management practices and the need for aboriginal midwives working within the communities. After all, women in Canada are not flown to Denmark to give birth just because birth outcomes there are better. Yet aboriginal women within Canada and Australia are removed from their home for several weeks before birth, and are deposited alone, into an unknown city, a completely foreign culture, without any support systems, and often without anyone around who speaks their language. This is not good for birth, not good for the family and the community at large, and does not make sense financially as the costs for the government are high.

I found the pre-show even more enlightening. It was guided by Francine Payer, Aki Songideye Ikwe, Métis Algonquin of the Turtle Clan, grandmother of 13 and great-grandmother of 2, drum carrier, traditional dancer, seed keeper, spokesperson for the water and the forest, and carrier of the People’s Sacred Pipe. Respected grandmother at the Sundance and the Sundance community, she is the keeper of traditional wisdom. She spoke to the circle of us – women, men, and children – on the importance of ceremony and how the rights of passage are celebrated among her people.

She spoke of different roles of men and women: as women, we carry the water, while men tend the fire. Women have Rites of Passage, while men go on Vision Quests. She talked about separate circles for girls and women, and as girls have their first menstruation, they are welcomed, with ceremony, into the women’s circle. For a year after their first Moon Time, young women do not stay alone with a man, are not allowed to be around a baby, and would pick berries for the tribe without being able to eat a single one – to teach them control and how to say “no”. Women are present when their female descendants give birth. Grandmother Francine’s mother is alive, and so at the birth of her great-granddaughter, five generations of women were there, from the great-great-grandmother, to the baby being born. Even writing this gives me shivers: giving birth at home with supportive women myself, I can imagine how profound it would be to have all the living generations of your family be by your side in birth.

There are many more traditions, and it would have not been possible to cover them all within the short time we had. Yet Grandmother Francine brought up something very important. We have many, many rights of passage: birth is the first one, and then follow the milestones: first word, first crawl, first step, first fall, first period, first love, and on, and on. We can choose to celebrate any of these rights of passage, or pick specific ones. Each day is full of ceremony: opening a tap to get water is a water ceremony, stepping outside into nature is a ceremony, sitting down to a meal is a ceremony. Being mindful and fully present throughout our day, we can honour the water, the air, the meal. The ceremony is a mindset. Any ceremony can be as simple or as complicated as one wishes: whatever feels right and comes from the heart will make a fulfilling ceremony.

In the Western culture of constant focus on action and goal achievement, we create stress and hurt, yet have very few ways to deal with it, most of which are unhealthy. Focusing on the ceremony, on the other hand, can help us breathe deeply, process the stress and heal from trauma. Quiet meditation, self-knowledge, and social support are well-known for being the necessary facets of emotional health. Fulfilling ceremonies combine these three facets, by focusing on the importance of the rite of passage, letting one process it through a quiet contemplation, a trance, a dance, a song, a chant, or  through simply listening to the guide, often within a circle of supportive people with a similar mindset. We could learn a lot about the healing effects of ceremony from the traditional cultures.

Grandmother Francine has lead us in a water sharing ceremony, a strawberry sharing ceremony, and in honouring all four directions with a song. It was a wonderfully inspiring circle, and even my three-year old enjoyed following along.

After that evening, I have been more mindful of things I do throughout the day, and how many of them are a ceremony of their own. For instance, before breastfeeding, I kiss my baby, and tell her words of love as she gazes into my eyes. That is most definitely a meaningful ceremony: each time I feed her, I feed with love. When watering plants, I tell her their names. That is a ceremony, too. When sorting laundry, I sing to her. Beyond that, it becomes almost a game to spot every ceremonial instance we do not usually notice. If there is special clothing (or lack thereof), the action can be a ceremony if you are mindful: taking a shower is a cleansing ceremony that starts with undressing, entering a dwelling is a ceremony that involves saying words of greeting and removing your footwear, brushing your hair is a ceremony that involves a brush or a comb, as long as you are present during it. Putting down a yoga mat and stepping onto it is a ceremony, and the more mindful you are during your yoga or exercise session, the more attentive you are to your body’s signals, and the better results you are likely to achieve.

Coming back to the “greater” ceremonies in our lives, it seems we only acknowledge a few in Western society. Most of them center around birthdays (not so much around birth itself), anniversaries, weddings, religious and civic holidays. Yet we rarely celebrate coming into adulthood (I do not count getting drunk out of your mind when you reach legal age), starting and stopping menstruation, being pregnant (not counting baby showers, as they are more about the baby, not the mother’s rite of passage, and are usually driven by consumerist ideals), giving birth, becoming a parent, losing a parent… And as these personal milestones are lacking societal acknowledgement, so we, as individuals, are unable to effectively process the changes and stop treating them as meaningful.

The effects are far-reaching. So many women treat menstruation as nuisance or as torture and do not learn how to listen to their body, that they end up fighting their cycle and suffering through it, instead of learning to live in harmony with it. Many families lack support in pregnancy, and this most miraculous time often ends up being full of doubts, regrets, and stress. The majority of Western women grow up fearing birth, and often end up having traumatic experiences from lack of knowledge and trust in their body. Breastfeeding has been hidden by Western society for so long that many women end up having difficulties nourishing their babies, and people around them know little on how to support them. Grief and tears are endured in loneliness, as socially awkward and unacceptable, and we shove our strong emotions into far corners of our mind, so they stay with us and we do not heal. All of these trends take us further and further from knowing our body and our mind, and from being able to master our emotions when we are faced with milestones and new stages in life.

There are people who understand this and are bringing back ceremony. Women host Red Tents and Womb Blessings to share their experiences with the milestones of womanhood, to gain understanding of their cycle, to learn to harness the different stages of it, and to take charge of their fertility. There are Maiden’s Blessing ceremonies to celebrate a girl becoming a woman, with her first menstruation. There are Mother’s Blessing ceremonies to honour a pregnant mama and surround her with support. There are Crone’s Blessing ceremonies to honour a woman’s transition into menopausal stage of her life. There are Healing Circles to help heal emotional trauma experienced in birth, or when dealing with a sickness, or with a death of a loved one. All of these circles and ceremonies help us overcome what seems like insurmountable obstacles and show us that we are not going through the times of change alone.

Let us be mindful and present in the now. Let us pause and listen to our body and the world around us. Let us create meaningful ceremonies to mark the milestones we treasure, not just those the society acknowledges as important.

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Permaculture tower progress

Morning garden, permaculture towers, day 24, medIt has been almost a month, since I have planted seedlings into my permaculture towers, following the garden preparations and the building of the towers. Each day I marvel at the strong green plants sprouting out of the towers. Some are already blooming, a few small green tomatoes have formed, and with each rain things get greener and wilder. Here is a progress update on the plants, with photos on May 27th (day 1), June 10th (day 14), and June 20th (day 24). You can click on the thumbnails to see more detailed, larger photos.

Due to the fence that is now in place, it is a bit hard to take photos of the sunny side of Towers 3 and 4. Thus it is not easy to display progress clearly. I also have to really try to find the time of day when the sun is not too bright: lately the sky has been cloudless, and so it has been hard to get clear pictures that are not overexposed.

I have planted sweet peas, snow peas, and scarlet runner beans around Towers 3 and 4, on June 1st, and some scarlet runner beans on a small patch by the West fence, on June 11th. I have also thinned the radishes on top of Tower 1, on June 15th, and replanted those I pulled out into the top of Tower 2, around the hot peppers and chamomile.

Tower 1

Tower1, Stevia, md Tower1, Stevia, day 14, md Tower 1, top, stevia, day 24, md
Stevia on top of Tower 1. The plant is generally happy and is sprouting new leaves. However, some time in the second week, someone (I suspect, a clumsy squirrel) broke the top of the plant off. I have collected the leaves and used them in salads. The plant seems to be recovering well.

Tower 1, sunny, md Tower 1, sunny-shady, day 14, md Tower 1, sunny-shady, day 24, md
Yellow cherry Gold Nugget tomato and butternut squash in one section, and in another –Alba Regie sweet pepper among strawberries, another Yellow cherry Gold Nugget tomato and another butternut squash. Very few strawberries have survived being transplanted, so I have pulled those out to allow more space for the living plants. The tomatoes, peppers, and squashes seem to be happy and growing well.

Tower 1, sunny-shady, md Tower 1, sunny, day 14, md Tower 1, sunny, day 24, md
Beefsteak tomatoes, half-dead purple basil, Alba Regie pepper and spaghetti squash in one section, Lipstick sweet pepper and strawberries in the next. As expected, the purple basil did not survive, as it was dying even before transplantation. The tomatoes, peppers, and squash are doing well.

Tower 2

Tower 2 top, chamomile and hot peppers, md Tower 2 top, chamomile and hot peppers, day 14, md Tower 2 top, chamomile and hot peppers, day 24, md
Thai hot pepper and German chamomile plants on top of Tower 2. I have covered the top with straw to hold in the moisture and prevent extensive soil movement during watering. I have also transplanted radishes which I have thinned out of Tower 4. They did not like it much, so I’m not sure how many will survive. It was that or throw them out, though, so I figured I’d give them a chance. Next time, I might make seed tape instead of planting directly into the ground.

Tower 2, sunny-shady, md Tower 2, sunny-shady, day 14, md Tower 2, sunny-shady, day 24, md
Columnar basil in one section, two Fox cherry tomatoes and a Romanian sweet pepper in the next. As opposed to the purple basil, the columnar basil seems to have taken to its spot well, and is putting out new leaves. The tomatoes and peppers are growing quite happily.

Tower 2, sunny, md Tower 2, sunny, day 14, md Tower 2, sunny, day 24, md
Droopy strawberries, Matt’s Wild tomato in their midst, and lemon thyme underneath, with a butternut squash at the bottom in one section, and more strawberries and another Matt’s Wild tomato in the next section. Tomatoes have grown so much already that they are overshadowing lemon thyme. I shall keep an eye on it – it might need to be transplanted to get enough light. Most of the strawberries have died in this section as well, so I cleared them away. The squash seems to be doing well, and the tomatoes are blooming and already putting out fruit.

Tower 2, sunny 2, md Tower 2, sunny 2, day 14, md Tower 2, sunny 2, day 24, md
Closeup of strawberries and another Matt’s Wild tomato in the second section from the photo before, and a single Romanian sweet pepper in the next section. Strawberries removed, the tomato is growing a bit slower here, but seems to be strong. The pepper plant is blooming.

Tower 2, shady, md Tower 2, shady, day 14, md Tower 2, shady, day 24, md
Two oakleaf kale seedlings in one section, and two more in the next one. Slowly but surely the kale is growing, although someone seems to find it tasty. I have put crushed egg shells around some of the plants to deter snails, but so far I’m unsure whether it’s the snails that are causing the damage.

Tower 3

Tower 3, top, nasturtium, md Tower 3, top, nasturtium and carrots, day 14, md Tower 3, top, day 24, md
Nasturtirum – Empress of India – on top of Tower 3, surrounded by carrot seeds. Very few carrot seeds have sprouted – I’m not sure whether my neighbours of the squirrel persuasion have had a paw in that. I had to remove quite a few weeds from around the towers, as the organic straw sprouted, encouraged by all the watering. The nasturtium is growing rapidly and has put out two flowers so far. The few carrot sprouts are growing slowly.

Tower 3, sunny, md Tower 3, sunny, day 14, md Tower 3, sunny, day 24, md
Japanese eggplant at the bottom of one section, and in the next one – Bellstar red tomato, parsley, and at the bottom Spacemaster cucumber. All the plants seem to be quite happy. I have already used parsley in salads quite a few times, and the tomato is growing fast.

Tower 3, shady 2, md Tower 3, shady 2, day 14, md Tower 3, shady 2, day 24, md
Two green kale and two oakleaf kale seedlings in one section, two green kale, one Swiss chard, and one oakleaf kale seedling in the next one. The greens seem to be happy in the semi-shade provided by the towers. We water daily unless it rains.

Tower 3, shady, md Tower 3, shady, day 14, md Tower 3, shady, day 24, md
Another shot of two green kale, one Swiss chard and one oakleaf kale plant from the previous photo, and two more green kale, two Swiss chard, and one oakleaf kale seedling in the next section. All of the greens seem to be growing steadily. Along the bottom, between Tower 3 and the grape vine, I have planted scarlet runner beans, on June 1st. So far (day 20), two plants have sprung up so far – one with two leaves is visible at the very bottom of the photo.

Tower 4

Tower 4 top, nasturtium, md Tower 4 top, nasturtium and radishes, day 14, md Tower 4, top, nasturtium and radishes, day 24, md
Nasturtium – Empress of India, surrounded by radish seeds. The radishes have sprouted and I had to thin them out, transplanting a few into the top of Tower 2. The nasturtium is growing slower than the one on Tower 3. The radishes are quite happy.

Tower 4, sunny, md Tower 4, sunny, day 14, md Tower 4, sunny-shady, day 24, md
Red cherry tomato, Brandywine tomato, and rosemary below in one section, and in the next section – another red cherry tomato, followed by dill, a Brandywine tomato, and Lebanese cucumbers. Lebanese cucumber leaves got eaten by someone, so the plant is not doing well. It is hard to capture the tower from the same angle, as the West fence is now in place, so I had to instead provide a side view in the last photo, capturing the first section with two tomatoes and rosemary. The next section is shown as part of the next series of photos. The tomatoes, the dill, and rosemary all seem to be doing well.

Tower 4, sunny 2, md Tower 4, sunny 2, day 14, md Tower 4, sunny, day 24, md
Red cherry tomato, followed by dill, a Brandywine tomato, and Lebanese cucumbers from the photo above, and in the next section – early Roma tomato, dill, Brandywine tomato, and eggplant at the bottom. Aside from the sad fate of the Lebanese cucumbers described in the previous paragraph, the rest of the plants are doing well. I have used the dill from both sections in salads a few times as well.

Tower 4, shady, md Tower 4, shady, day 14, md Tower 4, shady, day 24, md
Three green kale and two oakleaf kale in one section, and in the next – three green kale and one oakleaf kale. The kale plants are doing well. Along the bottom, between Tower 4 and the lemongrass, I have planted sweet peas, on June 1st. So far (day 20), a few of them have sprung up.

Tower 4, shady 3, md Tower 4, shady 2, day 14, md Tower 4, shady 2, day 24, md
Cilantro between two green kale seedlings, and Swiss chard lower in one section, and in the next – tarragon, followed by two kale plants and a Swiss chard plant. All of the greens are doing well, and I have already used cilantro in cooking. Along the bottom, next to winter savory, I have planted snow peas, on June 1st. So far (day 20), a few of them have sprung up.

Aside, borage, lovage, md Aside, borage and lovage, day 14, md Aside, borage and lovage, day 24, md
Borage at the top of photo, lovage lower, behind Towers 1 and 2. Both plants are happily growing, although borage is being overshadowed by the raspberry bush, while the blackberry bush is growing over the lovage.

Aside, calendula and watercress, md Aside, calendula and watercress, day 14, md Aside, calendula and watercress, day 24, md
Calendula at the top of the first photo, watercress lower, last two photos – reversed: calendula being at the bottom, and watercress at the top. Both are growing well, and watercress is flowering.

Aside, chives, green onions, lily of the valley, Tower 1 butternut squash, md Aside, chives, green onions, lily of the valley, Tower 1 butternut squash, day 14, md Aside, chives, green onions, lily of the valley, Tower 1 butternut squash, day 24, md
From left to right: grape vine 1, lily of the valley, chives, onions, Tower 1 butternut squash. The lily of the valley and the chives are being mostly overshadowed by the grape vine, with the chives putting out flowers but not growing much. I have been harvesting the onions and some chives for salads. The squash is doing well. The grape vine is detailed in the next series of photos.

Aside, grape vine 1, md Aside, grape vine 1, day 14, md Grape vine 1, day 24, md
Grape vine 1, came with the property, does not give fruit. This grape vine has grown rapidly during the previous three summers, and despite a part of it being destroyed during construction last year, it’s coming back strong. I have installed plant supports behind it to help guide it towards the gazebo and have started training it on one of the gazebo pillars.

Grape vine 4, md Grape vine 4, day 14, md Grape vine 4, day 24, md
Grape vine 4, Concord Purple Grape, planted last year, next to Tower 3. This vine did not give fruit last year and most of the leaves last summer have been destroyed by pests. I have covered it for the winter (as I did with grape vine 1) and it seems to be coming back well this summer. I will be looking into ways to control for pests without using harsh chemicals.

Aside, Comfrey and Day lilys, md Aside, Comfrey and Day lilys, day 14, md Aside, Comfrey, grape vine 2, and Day lilies, day 14, md
Day lilies, comfrey, and remains of grape vine 2, butchered during last year’s roof replacement. Comfrey is growing giant leaves, and is now largely in the shade of the rapidly growing Grape vine 2, which I have started to train along fishing line attached to the gazebo. Otherwise it would overgrow the small piece of land by the porch and will not let anything else get any light. The lilies are growing as well.

Aside, grape vine 3, tulips, hyacinths, md Grape vine and bird feeder closeup, day 14, md Grape vine and bird feeder closeup, day 24, md
Grape vine 3, next to fence (to be reconstructed), with tulips and hyacinths. The tulips and hyacinths have bloomed and I have removed them to make space for the bird feeder. I have kept the bulbs to be planted in the fall once more. I have installed the shepherd’s hook with a bird feeder and a bird bath, and have started training the grape vine to go up the pole. It has been hard to attract birds to the garden so far, since the feeder is too close to the building – yet we have little option regarding its position. I have tried leaving a trail of seeds from the tree where birds chirp in the morning to the feeder, and someone has definitely eaten it, but since the seeds in the feeder are not diminishing, I’m assuming we have provided dinner to a larger bird or a squirrel, against which this feeder is protected.

Aside, lemon verbena, lemon grass, md Aside, lemon verbena, lemon grass, day 14, md Aside, lemon verbena and lemongrass, day 24, md
Lemon verbena on the left and lemongrass on the right. Lemongrass got a bit trampled during the installation of the South fence (I’m guessing the workers assumed it was a weed, or just plain didn’t look where they were stepping), but has survived. It has not grown much, however, and I’m not sure if our climate is favourable to its growth.

Aside, Grapefruit mint, md Aside, Grapefruit mint, day 14, md Aside, grapefruit mint, day 24, md
Grapefruit mint. A little unhappy after replanting, the mint has come back in all of its might, and is now growing new leaves. I’m keeping it in the pot, knowing how easily mint can take over the garden.

Aside, garden mint, md Aside, garden mint, day 14, md Aside, garden mint, day 24, md
Garden mint. Kept in a pot for the same reason as the grapefruit variety, it has been quite happy once the roots took.

Aside, lily of the valley, russian sage, winter savory, md Aside, lily of the valley, russian sage, winter savory, day 14, md Aside, lily of the valley, russian sage, winter savory, day 24, md
On the first two photos: left – winter savory, top right – Russian sage, bottom – lily of the valley. Because of the sun, the recently-installed West fence, and the tomato overshadowing the savory, I have taken the last photo from the other side, with lily of the valley being at the top, the winter savory on the right, covered by a tomato branch, and the Russian sage on the bottom left. It is hard to tell from the photo, but the sage has put out purple flowers. The lily of the valley has flowered already, and all of the plants seem happy.

Aside, currants, md Aside, currants, day 14, md Aside, currants, day 24, md
Two currant bushes between Tower 2 and the South fence. I know that one of the bushes is black currant, yet unsure whether the other one is black or red. So far neither has gone past the green berry stage, so perhaps we shall discover their nature this year. The first photo has been taken from the spot where the South fence now resides, and so the last two photos are taken from the opposite side, with the larger bush being on the right. The smaller bush is depicted in the photo series below as well.

Aside, currants, blackberries, day 14, md Aside, currants, blackberries, day 24, md
Two currant bushes between Tower 2 and the South fence, unknown perennial plant along the window, and what I suspect is our blackberry bush planted last year – Black Satin Blackberry. The blackberry was hardly flourishing last year, and so I assumed it would not have survive the winter. However, once the garden was cleared of weeds in the spring and the towers installed, the bush started growing. We shall see how it progresses. The mystery perennial plant has been replanted from the South-West corner of the garden where it has bloomed next to the rose for two summers. It has happily taken to its new place and has put out new leaves.

Aside, raspberry, md Aside, Raspberry bush, day 14, md Aside, raspberry bush, day 24, md
Raspberry bush along the building. I have removed a large number of smaller raspberry plants that have sprung up around the garden, but have left the “mother bush” alone. It seems to be growing well, overshadowing the borage plant. Hopefully we get some berries this year – it only gave us a handful last summer.

Aside, scarlet runner beans, day 10, md
Scarlet runner beans along the West fence. I have planted these on June 11, and so far (by day 10) one has sprouted.

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Clear one drawer a day

Pick a shelf, a drawer, a cupboard, or a desk top. Sort through it, throw out what you do not need, group things in a logical manner. Step back, survey the fruits of your labour and take a deep breath. Now there is one less obstacle in your everyday life. Pick another one tomorrow.

I don’t mind cooking or doing dishes, yet I dislike cleaning. Growing up, my cousins and I used to clean my Grandma’s three-room apartment every three days: dusting, vacuuming, washing floors. This was the most boring, repetitive and thankless activity, when all I wanted to do was to sit in the fresh air on the balcony and lose myself in a good book. Thus cleaning is one of the things I am known to procrastinate.

Cleaning is easy when all you have is a sofa, a coffee table, a lamp, and a strategically placed tall floor vase to accentuate the tumble weeds flowing across the otherwise empty room, in a modern décor setting. When you have children, plants, pets, books, toys, and all the resulting mess covering horizontal surfaces in an abstract painting style, you can rarely find the floor, let alone clean it. Thus the first step to cleaning is tidying up. This I do not mind doing, yet once things are out of sight they are out of mind, and it’s our drawers and cupboards that harbour most surprising collections of items.

Don’t you hate it when it takes you an inordinate amount of time to find what you are looking for, and then you have to dislodge half the cupboard to actually extract the object? Then you are staring at all the wonderfully useful but completely disorganized things that blocked your way, and thinking: why on Earth are they not somewhere more logical? Well, I got tired shuffling around baby cups (my son has not used them for at least two years) to reach saucers in my kitchen cupboard (which we use a few times a week). And I remembered the wise adage of “clear one drawer a day”.

We often make such a mountain out of starting any endeavour, as we expect it to be long and arduous. Fifteen minutes later I was staring at my cleared cupboard (the whole three shelves! – I went all-out), and thinking: is this what I have been putting off for months, while wasting time and energy cursing at things toppling out every time I extracted a saucer? That was silly!

The baby decided the time for playing quietly was over, and so my cleaning deed for the day was done. If I had a chance to harness the high of the achievement, I would have cleared another cupboard. Today I have spent ten minutes reorganizing the neighbouring cupboard, and I now can easily find each item in it: things I need more frequently are closer, everything is grouped by use, and I have extra space. It feels like I can breathe easier in the kitchen, even with the cupboard doors closed. Curious how we create this energy-sucking clutter when it takes so little time to set things straight.

Don’t allow the clutter to accumulate. Spend 10-15 minutes a day to keep your physical and mental space free of obstacles.

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No summer without Sangria

The last few days have been rainy, so I haven’t been able to do much in the garden except watch things grow. I have been interviewed for the Shop of the Month section on the Keepers of Enchantment blog, have created many a treasury on Etsy to celebrate the summer, and have made some new amethyst belly beads in a children’s size.

As I stepped into the fresh wet outside world this afternoon, right after the rain, took a deep breath and looked around, the sun that has finally come out reminded me that it is a warm summer. And every summer I rediscover the refreshing taste of Sangria.

I did not have orange juice and citrus fruit that makes up the traditional Sangria, and so I set off experimenting with some peaches, a lemon, a pinch of rose petals, and a raspberry liqueur. The result was surprisingly good. I now have two small 34oz pitchers of wonderfully light, fruity and refreshing Sangria chilling in the fridge (I make two pitchers to use up the entire bottle of wine). The recipe below is for one larger, 68oz pitcher. Adjust as needed.

Peach Raspberry Sangria

Ingredients:

How to make it:

  1. Cut up the peaches and apples into approximately 1 inch chunks. Put the fruit into the pitcher.
  2. Slice the lemon and add to the pitcher.
  3. Pour the wine and the water over top of the fruit.
  4. Add a splash of Chambord (adjust depending on how strong you want the Sangria to be).
  5. Add a pinch of rose petals.
  6. Add 1 tsp of maple syrup.
  7. Stir and refrigerate for at least an hour to let the flavours infuse the wine.
  8. Sip with a smile to good music.

 

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Imagine the consequences

Before performing an action, imagine the process of doing so and the consequences stemming from it. Decide whether you truly want to proceed. It can be a powerful deterring or motivating tool.

An overwhelmingly familiar option of eating something you know you are going to regret is a perfect opportunity to apply this tactic. Say, you have decided to avoid a certain food (gluten, dairy, sweets, carbs, small animals, or that deliciously decadent piece of chocolate cake) for whatever reasons. Yet you have a very strong craving for it and are succumbing to the temptation. Before taking the plunge, imagine in detail having that food. The most satisfying first bite, the smell, the taste, the less satisfying fifth bite (by the law of diminishing returns), imagine licking the crumbs from your fingers and the feeling you will have right after.

Is it ecstasy or regret? Was the food as wonderfully delicious as your craving has led you to believe, or was it disappointingly unsatisfying? Often when we abstain from certain foods, we tend to imagine them to be way more delicious to us than they end up being. And now that you have “eaten” the food, how will you feel in half an hour? Bloated, disgusted at succumbing to the temptation, vowing to compensate for the deed by running around the block 15 times, or worse – popping pills to cover up the damage?

Many times, this exercise is enough to deter you from actually eating the food, and the craving becomes less strong. You might have to repeat it the next day, but often the imaginary consumption is enough to prevent the real one. If, however, after going through this exercise you are still drooling for that piece of cake, I say, go for it! But first decide to have no regrets.

You can flip this trick around to help motivate yourself to do something you dread doing. Hate cleaning the kitchen floor? Starting is the hardest part – use your mind to make it easier. Imagine what you would have to do to complete the action: fill up a bucket, find a mop, rub resistant spots, for a whole of, maybe, 10 minutes. Imagine the result: a spotless floor on which your baby can crawl without you cringing, at least until the first subsequent food preparation. The action would not seem so daunting any more (as you figured out the steps to complete it and the time it would require), and you’d be excited for the result. If an action is too big to fully plan, it’s a sign you need to split it into smaller tasks.

This applies to anything you want to motivate yourself to do: writing a report or an essay, sorting laundry, reading a textbook chapter, doing an exercise routine, or clearing out an overflowing drawer. See the result in your mind’s eye, and reaching it will seem much easier.

You will often find that after completing the action in your imagination, you do not have as strong a drive to go through with it in real life. This is a great tactic to use for either holding back from doing something, or motivating yourself to go ahead.

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Planting seedlings into permaculture towers

Following the garden preparations and the building of permaculture towers, I have planted different types of large and cherry tomatoes, eggplants, sweet and hot peppers, carrots and radishes, butternut and spaghetti squash, kale and Swiss chard, cucumbers, and a variety of herbs. Below are the photos and notes on each plant’s uses, environmental preferences, and useful plant combinations. Please note that “shady side” in my garden implies only partial shade, as we get lots of sunlight and heat during the summer.

The full plan of the garden includes 4 plant towers (T1 to T4), four-stone path where we have the barbeque set, a few bushes, herbs, and flowers planted in between the towers, and the gazebo to cover a paved patch of the garden.

Garden plan, med

Since my planting completed just as our fence replacement was supposed to start, the gazebo has been shifted over the towers while the construction has been done, so the photos reflect that.

Tower 1

Tower 1 plan, med

Stevia
Planted 1 on top of Tower 1. Loves full sun. Naturally sweet plant, the leaves can be used to sweeten drinks and salads. The sweetness comes from two chemicals: Rebaudioside A and stevioside.

Tower1, Stevia, med

Stevia on top of Tower 1

Purple Basil
Planted 2 in Tower 1, under tomatoes, looking droopy upon transplanting – I don’t think it shall survive. Basil has always been tricky in my garden.

Alba Regie Sweet Peppers
Planted 2 in Tower 1 – one in top third among strawberries, next to beefsteak tomatoes, another in bottom half above spaghetti squash, both on sunny side.
Endangered Hungarian heirloom.

Lipstick Sweet Peppers
Planted in Tower 1, above strawberries, top row, sunny side.
Early, heavy yields.

Tower 1, sunny-shady, med

Beefsteak tomatoes, half-dead purple basil, Alba Regie pepper and spaghetti squash in one section, Lipstick sweet pepper and strawberries in the next

Strawberries
Once we had removed the stone tiles that covered the part of our yard that is now a garden, three years ago, strawberries have sprung up. Since then they have taken over a large part of the garden and I had to remove them to make space for the towers. In the process, I have transplanted some to Tower 1, sunny side, top half. Most of them did not survive the transplant shock, but a few plants are still fighting.

Beefsteak Tomatoes
Planted 2 in Tower 1 in rows 1 and 2, on the sunny side, next to basil, between sweet Alba Regie and Lipstick sweet peppers.
Flavourful tomatoes, got seedlings from a friend.

Tower 1, sunny-shady 2, med

Closeup of Lipstick sweet pepper and strawberries

Butternut Squash
Planted 2 in Tower 1, bottom row, next to spaghetti squash, sunny side.

Spaghetti Squash
Planted 1 in Tower 1, bottom row, next to butternut squash, sunny side.

Yellow Cherry, Gold Nugget Tomatoes
Planted 1 in Tower 1, lower third, sunny side, above butternut squash, under the strawberries.
Early cherry tomato.

Tower 1, sunny, med

Yellow cherry Gold Nugget tomato and butternut squash in one section, and in another -Alba Regie sweet pepper among strawberries, another Yellow cherry Gold Nugget tomato and another butternut squash.

Tower 2

Tower 2 plan, medGerman Chamomile
Planted 1 on top of Tower 2, next to a red bell pepper.
“It has been said that if you have a failing plant, simply plant chamomile next to it and it will revive.”
Likes full sun

Hot Thai Peppers
Planted on top of Tower 2, next to German chamomile.
Chili plants love heat and full sun, and there are several ways to preserve peppers.

Tower 2 top, chamomile and hot peppers, med

Thai hot pepper and German chamomile plants on top of Tower 2

Columnar Basil
Planted 1 in Tower 2, within the top third.
Planting basil with tomatoes protects them by repelling insects. Basil prefers partial sun.

Fox Cherry Tomatoes
Planted 2 in Tower 2, top row, sunny side, between columnar basil and Matt’s wild cherry tomatoes.
Loves full sun, very prolific.

Tower 2, sunny-shady, med

Columnar basil in one section, two Fox cherry tomatoes and a Romanian sweet pepper in the next

Strawberries
Transplanted some to Tower 2, sunny side, top half. Most of them did not survive the transplant shock, but a few plants are still fighting. Strawberries produce more in full sun.

Matt’s Red Tomatoes
Planted 2 in Tower 2, next to strawberries, in the top half, on the sunny side.
Deep red cherry tomato.

Lemon Thyme
Planted in Tower 2, sunny side, in the bottom half above the butternut squash, under the Matt’s Wild cherry tomato.
Good to use in marinades that call for lemon, likes full sun to part shade.

Butternut Squash
Planted 1 in Tower 2, bottom row, under lemon thyme, sunny side.
Butternut squash prefers direct sunlight.

Tower 2, sunny, med

Droopy strawberries, Matt’s Wild tomato in their midst, and lemon thyme underneath, with a butternut squash at the bottom in one section, and more strawberries and another Matt’s Wild tomato in the next section

Romanian Sweet Pepper
Planted 2 in Tower 2, one in top third, next to strawberries and Matt’s wild cherry tomatoes, another one in bottom third, under fox cherry tomatoes, both on sunny side.
Romanian heirloom, very sweet.

Tower 2, sunny 2, med

Closeup of strawberries and another Matt’s Wild tomato in the second section from the photo before, and a single Romanian sweet pepper in the next section

Oakleaf Kale
Planted 4 in Tower 2, in the top third, on the shady side.
Prefers full sun or partial shade. Unsure if that’s the Red Ursa or Russian Kale, will have to find out once it grows.

Tower 2, shady, med

Two oakleaf kale seedlings in one section, and two more in the next one

Tower 3

Tower 3 plan, medNasturtium (Empress of India)
Planted 1 on top of Tower 3, surrounded by carrot seeds.
Loved by predatory insects and bees, edible flowers. Likes full sun.

Carrots (seed)
Planted on top of Tower 3, surrounding the nasturtium plant.
Will need to try mixing with radish seeds, perhaps the next batch.

Tower 3, top, nasturtium, med

Nasturtirum – Empress of India – on top of Tower 3, surrounded by carrot seeds

Japanese Pickling Eggplant
Planted 1 Tower 3, lower level, sunny side, next to cucumbers.
Likes full sun.

Bellstar Red Tomatoes
Planted 1 in Tower 3, top row, sunny side, above parsley.
Early plum tomato, likes full sun.

Tower 3, sunny, med

Japanese eggplant at the bottom of one section, and in the next one – Bellstar red tomato, parsley, and at the bottom Spacemaster cucumber.

Spacemaster Cucumber
Planted in Tower 3, bottom row, on a sunny side, under the parsley. Two plants did not want to separate root systems, so I planted both together.
Likes full sun, compact and good for pickling when smaller.

Curled Parsley
Planted in Tower 3, mid-way down, on a sunny side, under the Bellstar red tomato.
Likes full sun.

Tower 3, shady 2, med

Two green kale and two oakleaf kale seedlings in one section, two green kale, one Swiss chard, and one oakleaf kale seedling in the next one.

Green Kale
Planted 6 in Tower 3, top half, shady side.
Likes full sun.

Oakleaf Kale
Planted 4 in Tower 3, next to green kale and Swiss chard, second half, shady side.
Prefers full sun or partial shade. See Tower 2 for more.

Tower 3, shady, med

Another shot of two green kale, one Swiss chard and one oakleaf kale plant from the previous photo, and two more green kale, two Swiss chard, and one oakleaf kale seedling in the next section.

Swiss Chard
Planted 3 in Tower 3, on the shady side, middle rows, next to green kale and oakleaf kale.
Loves to be planted next to green beans, cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes.

Scarlet Runner Beans (seed)
Planted around Tower 3 base, on semi-shady side.
Attracts butterflies, hummingbirds and Russian women interested in permaculture.

Tower 4

Tower 4 plan, med

Nasturtium (Empress of India)
Planted 1 on top of Tower 4, surrounded by radish seeds.
Loved by predatory insects and bees, edible flowers. Likes full sun.

Easter Egg Radishes (seed)
Planted on top of Tower 4, surrounding the nasturtium plant.

Tower 4 top, nasturtium, med

Nasturtium – Empress of India, surrounded by radish seeds.

Barbeque Rosemary
Planted in Tower 4, sunny side, below Brandywine tomatoes, lower third.
Prefers full sun, attracts bees and hummingbirds.

Brandywine Tomatoes
Planted 3 in Tower 4, middle row, sunny side, under dill and above rosemary.
In need of lots of sun and pruning.

Early Roma Tomatoes
Planted 1 in Tower 4, top row, sunny side, above dill, next to red cherry tomatoes.
Disease-resitant, need at least weekly watering.

Red Cherry Tomatoes
Planted 2 in Tower 4, top row, on the sunny side, next to dill.
Pinch out side shoots regularly.

Tower 4, sunny, med

Red cherry tomato, Brandywine tomato, and rosemary below in one section, and in the next section – another red cherry tomato, followed by dill, a Brandywine tomato, and Lebanese cucumbers.

Dill
Planted 2 in Tower 4, under tomatoes, in the top third, on the sunny side.
Loves full sun. Plant next to cabbage or onions, but keep away from carrots.

Lebanese Cucumber
Planted 2 in Tower 4, lowest level, two together since the root systems were attached.
Prefer shade in hot climates
Try to keep the roots cool by applying mulch
, to avoid cucumber beetles that can destroy the plants.

Japanese Pickling Eggplant
Planted 1 Tower 4, lower level, sunny side, next to cucumbers. See more in Tower 3.

Tower 4, sunny 2, med

Red cherry tomato, followed by dill, a Brandywine tomato, and Lebanese cucumbers from the photo above, and in the next section – early Roma tomato, dill, Brandywine tomato, and eggplant at the bottom.

Green Kale
Planted 10 in Tower 4, top half, shady side. See more in Tower 3.

Oakleaf Kale
Planted 3 in Tower 4, next to green kale and Swiss chard, second half, shady side.
Prefers full sun or partial shade. See more in Towers 2 and 3.

Tower 4, shady, med

Three green kale and two oakleaf kale in one section, and in the next – three green kale and one oakleaf kale

Cilantro
Planted 1 on the shady side in the top third of Tower 4.
Sensitive to heat, prefers full shade in hot climates
.

Swiss Chard
Planted 2 in Tower 4, on the shady side, middle rows, next to green kale and oakleaf kale. See Tower 3 for more.

Tarragon
Planted 1 in Tower 4, top row, shady side, above green kale, next to red cherry tomatoes.
Full or part sun, likes moisture.

Tower 4, shady 3, med

Cilantro between two green kale seedlings, and Swiss chard lower in one section, and in the next – tarragon, followed by two kale plants and a Swiss chard plant.

Sweet Peas (seed)
Around  Tower 4 base, in the ground, on sunny side.
Prefer cool days, are great climbers.

Snow Peas (seed)
Around Tower 4 base, in the ground, on semi-shady side.
Prefer full sun to partial shade.

Plants in-between towers and around the garden:

Borage
Planted 1 in the ground, between Towers 1 and 2, close to the house.
Loved by bees, with edible purple flowers. It likes full or partial sun.

Lovage
Planted next to borage, between Tower 2 and the house, in the shade.
Likes full sun or partial shade

Aside, borage, lovage, med

Borage at the top of photo, lovage lower, behind Towers 1 and 2

Calendula
Planted 1 in the ground, between Towers 1 and 2.
Full sun, tolerates moderate shade.
Attracts butterflies, bees and other beneficial insects.

Watercress
Planted between Towers 1 and 2, towards the house, in a small hollow I have formed, so that the water pools in it. A few days in, the plant is already flowering.
Full sun, tolerates light shade, grows best in semi-aquatic environments.

Aside, calendula and watercress, med

Calendula at the top of the photo, watercress lower

Chives
Planted 1 in the ground, next to Tower 1 and green onions.
Prefers sunny locations. Plant on the edge of the garden to repel insects.

Green onions
Next to chives and lily of the valley, there are some green onions that have sprouted from an old onion I had in the pantry. They seem to be thriving.

Lily of the Valley
Pulled out some to place Tower 3, and replanted it next to chives. Left the remainder between Tower 3 and Tower 4, it was still blooming.

Aside, chives, green onions, lily of the valley, Tower 1 butternut squash, med

From left to right: grape vine 1, lily of the valley, chives, onions, Tower 1 butternut squash

Grapes
There are random vines coming up all throughout the garden. The largest vine is by the porch that I train to climb up the gazebo. Another smaller vine is on the other side of the porch, among the day lilies. It usually climbs up the other side of the gazebo and towards the window. Third vine climbs up the middle of the South fence. None of these vines produce berries.

Aside, grape vine 1, med

Grape vine 1, came with the property, does not give fruit

I have purchased and planted another vine last year – Concord Purple Grape, which is now next to Tower 3 and close to another gazebo support. Last year it did not produce berries. We shall see what happens this year.

Grape vine 4, med

Grape vine 4, Concord Purple Grape, planted last year, next to Tower 3

Comfrey
Planted 1 separately from the Towers, next to the porch with the lilies.
Will grow in full or partial sun. Might take over the garden as it spreads like mint.

Day Lily
A few of them are coming up next to the porch, surrounding the comfrey plant. I usually replant the bulbs in the fall or leave the existing ones in the ground over the winter.

Aside, Comfrey and Day lilys, med

Day lilies, comfrey, and remains of grape vine 2, butchered during last year’s roof replacement

Hyacinths
Most have finished blooming and I have pulled out the bulbs to be planted in the fall.

Tulips
Done blooming, pulled out the remainder of the bulbs and saved them for the fall.

Aside, grape vine 3, tulips, hyacinths, med

Grape vine 3, next to fence (to be reconstructed), with tulips and hyacinths

Lemongrass
Planted in the corner of the garden next to lemon verbena and Tower 4.
Full sun, natural insect repellent
The plant got somewhat trampled during fence replacement, but seems to still be alive.

Lemon Verbena
Planted along the South fence, next to lemongrass, close to Tower 4.
Full sun, natural insect repellent

Aside, lemon verbena, lemon grass, med

Lemon verbena on the left and lemongrass on the right

Grapefruit Mint
Planted in a pot, as mint frequently takes over the garden.
Likes full sun or partial shade

Aside, Grapefruit mint, med

Grapefruit mint

Garden Mint
Planted in a pot, removed all the parts of the root system that has spread throughout the garden from the previous years.
Prefers cool moist areas but will grow in full sun.

Aside, garden mint, med

Garden mint

Russian Sage
Planted in the ground, between Towers 3 and 4, next to winter savory, partial shade. Drought-tolerant. Planting sage with onions, carrots, cabbage or turnips protects them by repelling insects.

Winter Savory
Planted in the ground, between Towers 3 and 4, next to Russian sage, partial shade.
Needs at least six hours of sun.

Aside, lily of the valley, russian sage, winter savory, med

Left – winter savory, top right – Russian sage, bottom – lily of the valley

Black Currant
I have two bushes, both of which have been planted last year, yet I do not recall if both are black or one is red. They are planted next to each other along the South fence, next to Tower 2.
Permaculture favourite, since they can bloom in partial shade.

Blackberry
We have planted a blackberry bush last year, but it did not look like it was taking to our garden very well, and with the raspberries spreading like wildfire, I thought it was overrun. However, something is coming up along the window that does look like blackberry. We shall wait and see if it recovers.

Aside, currants, med

Two currant bushes between Tower 2 and the South fence, unknown perennial plant along the window, and what I suspect is our blackberry bush planted last year – Black Satin Blackberry.

Raspberry
We have planted Killarney Raspberry bush last year, and although it has not produced more than a handful of berries, it has spread through the garden quickly. I have removed some of it to pass on to a friend, leaving the initial bush. So far it is growing rapidly.

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Do not expect children to act like adults

It is when we forget that children express their emotions without filters and as we place expectations on them to act in a mature way, that we get frustrated with the situation and disappointed in their behaviour. Have fewer expectations, and you will be less stressed and might even be pleasantly surprised.

Your crying baby does not know you are at a library, and an overtired child does not realize they need rest. Instead they express their feelings and frustrations to the full extent. On the plus side, once the negative stimuli are gone, they are as likely to be quietly playing or peacefully cooing.

More importantly, ignore other people’s expectations of your children. If a practitioner does not have any toys available for children and lacks a semblance of a change table, they likely have not worked with children for very long. They will, however, act surprised when faced with a restless child who does not want to sit still and be examined, and who will not allow the parent to have a meaningful conversation with the practitioner, since the child needs to be doing something meaningful as well. It is easy to get frustrated with your child at that point, but the fault is not theirs. It is the discrepancy between the reality of children’s view of the world and the environment provided for them.

I have been faced with an optometrist that told me that their previous client’s child “clearly has ADHD”, since, as she put it, “the kid was bouncing off the walls” during the appointment. Besides it being a completely unprofessional attitude to discuss your clients with anyone else, let alone judge their behaviour (what will she be saying about my child when we leave?), to me that showed her complete lack of understanding of child psychology. She expected a child placed in a semi-dark room, with a variety of fascinating machines, to sit still, not touch anything, and not try to leave the room for over half an hour, while she put drops in their eyes (which she failed to mention do sting), waited until the drops took hold, and then proceeded to require them to sit still in various positions and answer her (meaningless to a child) questions. It boggles my mind that such a practitioner would expect my sympathy and understanding of her “ordeal” dealing with the aforementioned “ADHD child”, or with any behavioural issues my child exhibits in her opinion. My much more natural response is to conclude that she has no experience working with children, and I will not be coming back, costing her business.

Put yourself in your child’s shoes. They don’t know you have appointments, commitments, anticipations of future events, apprehensions of the situations and people you face, and an entire system of rules on how to politely handle a variety of situations. They don’t know economical or political implications of not “behaving properly”. They know they are bored, tired, or hungry, and they will let you and anyone who is around know it. If I am bored out of my mind waiting for a doctor, at least I know why I am there and know the alternative of myself or my child not getting a diagnosis or treatment. The child does not know that and we should not expect them to. They have no motivation to be there, so if we want any sort of sanity in any situation, we need to provide them with the motivation or make the experience fun, and we should not expect them to behave like adults.

So if you want less stress in your life, lay off the expectations of perfect behaviour. Light knows, many adults fulfil that expectation infrequently. Look at any situation from your child’s perspective and ask yourself why they are acting as they are. Then either try to correct the reason for their state, or take a deep breath and try to minimize the impact by asking a bare minimum of your child, showing understanding, and suggesting how the current situation or the immediate future can be viewed as a fun activity.

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Seven dishes in one hour of effort

During the day, I sometimes get a hour or so when the baby is willing to play by herself. This happens most often around mid-day, when I’m hungry enough for lunch. I do my best to take advantage of that time, to cook up a few dishes, tidy up the kitchen, and fit in a lunch for myself. Today I decided to document what I did.

Omega bake

Preparation

I take some time each morning, while feeding the baby, to think of what I need to accomplish for the day, and how to get the simplest and quickest things out of the way at the outset, so I can focus on others, more labour- or thought-intensive ones. As part of that planning, I note things that I can cook while doing something else in or around the kitchen, without it taking much effort. Things like boiling eggs, roasting a squash or beets, setting meat to defrost, or starting bone broth require little attention, yet when you need them for a dish, they are ready to be used.

On Sunday, I have set some chicken thighs and ground beef to defrost in a bowl in the fridge. Yesterday, the day was full of baby care and garden planting, so I did not get to cook. One of the first things I did this morning, was to fire up the oven to 350°F and bake two small salmon fillets for about 25 minutes, as I knew I would be needing them later in the day. It is also best to bake or roast things in the morning in summer, as it gets way too hot during the day.

Seven dishes in one focused hour of effort

I have set the oven to 400°F as the heat is not too bad today, and have started a frying pan with some olive oil, as I wanted to make a French-herb-inspired stir-fry. I chopped 3 garlic cloves and 1/2 large pink onion, set them to sweat in olive oil, and got to chopping a zucchini and 3 medium carrots. Once the garlic and onion were ready, I added beef and left it to be browned, stirring once in a while.

While the beef was browning, I took out the defrosted chicken thighs, seasoned them with salt and pepper and put them into a casserole dish. Once the oven finished heating up, in they went for 35 minutes.

In the meantime, I have cracked 10 eggs into a bowl and added another thinly chopped zucchini to it, to get started on the omega breakfast bake, based on a recipe from The Paleo Primer. The beef was ready, and so I added the zucchini and carrots to the stir-fry, cut up the beet greens I had remaining in the fridge from the last week’s organic box, and added them in as well. Next the spaghetti squash that has been in the fridge for a few days went into the stir-fry. I mixed it up and let it simmer to let the zucchini and carrots soften.

Next, I have shredded the salmon fillets with a fork, combined them with eggs, added some salt, freshly ground 4-peppercorn blend, and chopped dill from the fridge, and mixed everything together for the omega bake.

Some organic tomato sauce, dill, herbes de Provence, black pepper, and tarragon went into the beef stir-fry. I have covered it with a lid, and let it cook for a few more minutes to bring out the flavour, before turning off the heat.

At this point, the thighs were almost done, and so I set out to prepare the next batch to go into the oven: the omega bake and the sweet potatoes. For the omega bake, I have oiled two glass bread loaf pans with coconut oil (I usually make two at once), and have poured the mix into them. Sweet potatoes took very little preparation: just putting them into a casserole dish and poking holes with a fork in each one to let steam escape. Preparation finished, the thighs were done, and omega bake pans and sweet potatoes went into the oven. Omega bake takes about 35-40 minutes in my oven, and sweet potatoes would remain for about half an hour longer.

As I am recovering from a cold (and a wicked ear-exploding pain the night before), I try to incorporate onions and garlic into my diet, and since I had half an onion left over from the stir-fry, I decided to make lunch with it. While looking for sweet potatoes, I have discovered two small white potatoes left over from the organic box. Lunch was decided: fried potatoes (I indulge myself once in a while), and an onion-containing salad. As that did not provide for much protein, I have also decided to make salmon salad.

I have heated up some bacon grease in a skillet, and peeled and sliced potatoes in the meantime. In they went with occasional stirring, and I focused on the two salads. A quarter of the remaining onion went into each. The salmon salad is a variation on tuna salad from Well Fed 2, only I prefer salmon as I find tuna a bit too dry. Adding some chopped parsley from the fridge to the tuna and onions, and covering them with lemon juice, salt, and fresh-ground pepper, I let it marinate. In the other bowl, adding chopped dill and a chopped tomato to the rest of the onion, and seasoning with organic sunflower oil, salt, and fresh-ground pepper, gave me the Russian tomato dill salad we used to make.

Little was left. I have chopped up a stalk of celery for the salmon salad. We ran out of pickles (oh, the horror, – Russian household without pickles!), so I skipped them in the recipe. I then proceeded to tidy up the kitchen and wash dishes while the potatoes were finishing up and the salmon salad marinating. Once that was finished, in went the celery, about two tablespoons of chives, and some olive oil mayo. The salmon salad was ready, and so were the potatoes.

It was time to change the baby, and she was excited to play in the living room, allowing me a bit of time to have lunch. While I was eating lunch of potatoes, salmon salad wrapped in lettuce leaves, and the tomato salad, the omega bake loafs were finished, and the only thing remaining were the sweet potatoes, which just needed to be removed from the oven, half an hour later.

So, in about an hour (plus some unattended oven time), I have ended up with seven dishes:

  1. Roasted sweet potatoes (likely to be part of 2-3 dinners)
  2. Two omega bake loafs (breakfast for two adults and one child for 4-5 days)
  3. Roasted chicken thighs (protein for dinner and perhaps a lunch from leftovers)
  4. Ground beef spaghetti squash stir-fry (at least one dinner and perhaps a lunch from leftovers)
  5. Salmon salad (enough for two lunches)
  6. Fried potatoes (lunch)
  7. Tomato dill salad (lunch and a bit left over for dinner)

In the process of cooking, I have also boiled the tea kettle a couple of times, making infusions of stinging nettle (for myself and for the plants), camomile (for an eye compress and drinking since the baby is teething), and breathing tea (to help me recover from this latest cold). I have also refilled the filter, taken supplements, given the baby probiotics and vitamin D, washed dishes, and tidied up the kitchen. One productive hour, wouldn’t you say?

What are your efficiency tips in the kitchen?

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Get outside and breathe deeply

One of the best ways to reset your mood and melt away stress is to get outside. Tend the garden, read a few pages, take a walk, play with your kids, or just open the door for a moment, look around, and take a deep breath.

I woke up with a sore throat and a very low energy level last Thursday, which was very untimely, since I had planned to work on my garden constructing the plant towers. Postponing it was not an option, since our landlord dropped in a note that our fences will be de-constructed on the coming Monday. The towers had to be completed by then, as otherwise our soil would be trampled. I needed wood for the towers, so once the baby was asleep, I stepped outside and found some branches sheered off a lilac bush that I could use. The sun was just starting to warm up the air, the birds were singing, and I got to breaking up the branches. Within ten minutes of this all-absorbing activity I felt better.

I have continued working in the garden throughout the day, constructing two plant towers, taking breaks to take care of the baby, document the tower construction, have lunch, and tend to beading orders. The day flew by, and instead of feeling exhausted and more sick, I felt recharged, light, and joyful.

The next day, my sore throat did not get much better, and the energy level was not terribly high, but, once again, as I stepped outside and paused to survey the garden, I felt like it was the best morning ever. Digging out the strawberries to clear space for the third tower, and replanting them into the existing towers, took a couple of hours (as I did have quite a few). My leg muscles were like iron from the day before, but in a few minutes I was so engrossed in the process, that when the baby woke up I could not believe how much I have accomplished.

It is almost magical how stepping outside of the house “box” and into even a tiniest patch of nature can change your perspective, bring more enthusiasm, and unlock hidden physical strength reserves. Try it! Leave your electronic devices at home and experience the nature around you. Go for a walk along the river or even just around the block. Be present in the experience and notice smells, sounds, and sights around you. Play outside with your kids – throw a ball around, search for pine cones, blow soap bubbles on the grass, pretend you are Optimus Prime, – whatever game you like. Have a break on the deck with a good book, or sip on a drink and observe the nature around you. Listen to the birds, watch squirrels hide peanuts in your flower beds. Lie on the grass and meditate on the clouds moving overhead. Incorporate your gratitude ritual into your time outside. Work in the garden: it is such a marvel shaping nature and watching things grow.

Whether you have one minute or the entire day, step outside. Take in the fresh smell of snow or the pattering of rain, the play of sunlight on leaves or chirping of the birds in the trees. And remember to breathe deeply. The day is full of possibilities.

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