Mouse Skulls and Mother’s Day

Do you want to know the best thing about this plastic baggie full of mouse skeletons?

It’s not my maternal pride over the obvious CSI skills my daughters’ exhibit.

It’s not knowing that our neighborhood owls are eating well, controlling the mouse population, and selecting our pine tree for the repository of their pellets/gifts.  Though all those things are clearly good things.

No, the best part about this cluster of doom is that it was not my Mother’s Day gift.

Because while I appreciate the heck out of every thoughtful token my daughters have bestowed over the years, it would have taken considerably more energy then I’ve got to muster up the necessary ooohs and ahhhs over this bag o’ bones.

In between dissections, the little naturalists did make themselves available to do mom’s bidding.  They scowled and declined happily lent a hand.  All it took was a subtle reminder that IT IS MOTHER’S DAY THAT’S WHY.

And in honor of Mother’s Day the hammock was to be hung.  I held the image all day as I seeded and weeded, knowing that soon I would be rocking gently beneath the trees.  Relaxing.

Sure enough, there was plenty of relaxing on Mother’s Day.

I know what you’re thinking, but you’re crazy.  It’s enough for me to simply watch my offspring relax with a good book.

Besides, between the children reading in the hammock and these love doves being all lovey dovey

And strawberries putting out their flowery best

And rhubarb so ripe it practically crisped itself,

And our future salads poking through to say hello

The day was perfect.

Especially since the mouse skulls weren’t destined for my room.  They were for the 2nd grade teacher.  Because nobody musters up excitement over mouse-parts-in-a-bag like a teacher.

Oh How the Garden Does Grow, May 20

Sneaking off the couch and hobbling into the back yard I was rewarded with our very first spring salad —

And then over to the north garden to see how the rhubarb was behaving–

He may have been waving it in the air like he just didn’t care, but I paid him no mind and got right to business.  Harvesting time.

The leaves are mildly toxic, and I can’t go near them without gloves or I’ll break out in a rash, but it doesn’t bother the girls one bit.  They are of tougher stock.

Even a child can harvest rhubarb.  All you do is grasp the stalk, pretty close to the ground, and wiggle it.  It will release from the plant with this little slipper attached–

Stalks are ready when they are thick enough (about the diameter of a dime or thicker.) They will range in color from deep pink to light speckled green.

I dice them and freeze them for recipes like my favorite crisp.  Inside the color also ranges from a whitish pink to a light green–

Also reporting in: the raspberries have millions of tiny buds, and the strawberries, recently thinned, are sporting tons of flowers.

Put That Thing Away

I’ve got girls, so it’s not too surprising that I’d be confounded by the abject masculinity surrounding me these days.  Still, I figured that having five nephews kind of qualified me to manage males.

The message I’m getting from the universe: think otherwise.

Take, for example, my rhubarb.  Up until recently it was such a well behaved plant.  And then he pulled his thing out, right there in the middle of my family-friendly garden.

I told him to put it away. He upped the ant, and went all Rhubarb-Gone-Wild on me —

And the phallus phenomena is spreading.  All I wanted to do was prepare some locally raised organic chicken for dinner.  I’m no prude, yet something about this boasting roaster gave me pause. I can only imagine how he ruled the coop.

I hoped my nephews would help me out.  Surely my own little panel of experts had some insight into males running amok in the natural world.

It’s not pretty, but I will share what I learned.  My source is one of the following fellows:

To protect the innocent I won’t divulge if it was this guy:

Or this guy–

Or this guy —

Or this guy–

Or this one —

But I well tell you that the tidbit said nephew shared did shed some light on the wild bachelors and their love of living it up in the great outdoors:

Nephew:  Oh no Aunt Daphne. You don’t have to use the bathroom.  Do you know why?

Me (kind of hopping up and down): Why?

Nephew:  At my house we get to pee outside.  In the backyard.

Me:  Um…

Nephew:  That’s why my house is lots more fun.  Because boys really like to pee outside.  Want to go outside now?

Me: Um…

I don’t have much to say about boys and their aversion to indoor plumbing, but I do know what I’m going to do about that rambunctious rhubarb.

And it has everything to do with raspberry crisp.

He’s Not Huntin’ Wabbits

What is our caped crusader up to this time?

I’ll give you a hint:  There are no wabbits on that rooftop.  But he is after something….

I know.  All super-hereos have their kryptonite, why should mine be any different?

He has a nemesis–

Do not be fooled by the banal laugh and bright feathers.  This evil bird haunts us;  every spring, sure as the unwanted snows cover the tulips,  woodpecker arrives on our roof in the pre-dawn hours to pound away like a jack-hammer on acid in hopes of attracting a mate.

He must go.  The squirrels and the robins are our friends.  But this early morning wake up call simply won’t do.

We’ve discussed my husband’s single minded dedication to triumph over the woodpecker here before.  He’s out to get that bird.  And I am totally on board.  If I were any more supportive I’d be a bra.

It’s just that there is already a pretty impressive arsenal awaiting our fine feathered friend.  Our roof currently sports a large mirror, a duct-taped reinforced line of nails, and now this —

Yup.  It’s patriotic. It’s plastic.  It spins in the wind.   And our house is officially that house.  Sorry, neighbors.  And here you were so supportive of the whole bug-selling venture.

Meanwhile, down here on the ground–

That snow was so 2 days ago.  This weekend Mother’s Day brought sunshine and daisy-chains.  Head over to Digging in the Dirt to see The World’s Longest Dandelion Chain and other garden updates.

Spoiler alert — you’ll find this Gardener’s Challenge.  Tell me, please, what on earth has gotten my rhubarb so excited?

May 7…Frost v the Flowers

It’s hard to tiptoe on the tulips when they are slick with snow–

Snow, shmoe, I won’t let it get me down.  The weather changes so fast around here that you might not even notice something very fishy going on in the rhubarb patch.  What, exactly, is this?

I’ve had this rhubarb for seven summers now and this is the first time I’ve seen it get so, er, excited.   Email me stat if you’ve got a reasonable explanation.

With Dave up on the roof battling his nemesis, and me here on the ground with a broken foot and looming cold nights, there was little I could manage in the garden.  Still, Mother’s Day means I get my way (kind of) and my request was simple–just pick all the dang dandelions. I know it’s short-sighted but I don’t want to look at them and I’m the mother and it’s my day so just get rid of the things, okay?

And so it was.

And the mother was pleased as she watched the children pick the “wild flowers” and construct a chain of them which they looped round the au natural trellis and they all lived happily ever after.

On to the mundane.  I hobbled to and fro to photograph the progress being made between the snowflakes.

The spinach is coming along nicely,

As is the lettuce, which had been written off but is proving tougher than 28 degree nights–

Our itty bitty peach tree even has a couple of promising blossoms–

Mother’s Day had us planting, hesitantly.  We’re going to wait a few more weeks for some warmer nights before planting the more fragile stuff, but put in another round of carrots, onions and chard today.

In the Garden…April

April 12, and our previously perky sprouts have called it quits.

All but that one little guy, who I think is an eggplant. Our over-zealous watering took out not only our nice handwritten signs, but much of our crop as well.

At least the tomatoes are still hanging in there —

Outside things are moving right along.  The snap peas are winning.  I think it’s their super-cool au natural trellis that keeps them reaching for the stars.

The rhubarb rules–

The garlic is doing great.

I overheard at the garden store that garlic and raspberries are a recommended pairing.  Maybe that’s why both these guys are going strong.  I love the look of these early raspberry leaves.

It seems I might have had some slight miscalculations when plotting out our square foot garden, and now I can’t be sure if this square is carrots or onions.  I had been 99% sure it was carrots, until these sprouts poked through —

They do not look like the frilly tops that I associate with carrots.  Any chance they are onions?

When Monkeys Fly…

…that’s when I’ll be comfortable with my gang hanging around in the treetops.  Not only do my monkeys currently lack the capacity for flight, but they have a marked propensity for rapid, headfirst dismounts from all activities.

Now I am fortunate that my husband has congenially agreed to build me a trellis to support the tomatoes and snap peas that are sure to runneth over in our lovely new south garden.

It is unfortunate, however, that I had to crane my neck skyward to remind him of one very relevant fact:

UM HELLO? YOU ARE NOT A CAT! YOU’RE NOT GOING TO JUST LAND ON YOUR FEET, YOU KNOW!

I yelled this to him as he clung to the dead branches that had been targeted for trellis harvest.  He did not respond, though I feel certain he was thankful for my insightful, subtly delivered observations.

You know what’s really sweet? When children admire their fathers and want to be just like them.

Monkey See.

Monkey Do.

And by monkey see, monkey do I mean imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  Or some such nonsense.

Those of you who are familiar with our emergency room track record will appreciate the new rule I’ve instituted over here:  one monkey in a tree at any given time.  Unless of course they sprout wings like our beloved friends hovering around the Emerald City.  I’ll bet those adorable guys handle treetops movements with the greatest of ease.

Not so my run-of-mill-monkeys. I’m most content when their simian feet are planted on terra firma.  Besides, I need their help down here with preparations for the banner year ahead.  Just look at the growing going on:

We’ve got rhubarb,

and strawberries,

And garlic.  Oh my.

Rain clouds, rhubarb and cowboy boots

On the plus side, the unexpected plethora of water falling from the sky has turned our arid yard into a backyard jungle.  It’s just been a bit unfortunate for my little swimmers, who have been turning blue with cold while dodging thunderstorms at practice.  Acadia addressed the issue by pairing her swim suit with cowboy boots. That girl isn’t just trendy, she’s practical as well.

Sure it’s muddy and chilly, but oh how the garden does grow.  Check out this rhubarb plant from the Cretaceous period–

It’s not really prehistoric, but I do think it was sizing up my children for its lunch.

That Brontosaurus rhubarb plant isn’t one of mine.  We admired it in the yard of artist Tiffany Koehn, who gave us a personal tutorial on glass blowing.  She makes gorgeous jewelry and lamps in outrageous colors like these–

She let the kids pick out colored glass to create their own charms,

and even gave them each a chance to take the blow torch for a spin.  No, Mom, I’m kidding. Tiffany kept a firm grasp on the torch while we watched from a safe distance.

Meanwhile, back at our ranch yard, the potatoes have been eagerly soaking up all the rain.

I can’t imagine what’s doing beneath the dirt, but a few more days of precipitation and we’ll be climbing those potato stalks to a castle in the sky.  Not far behind are the strawberries, which are still rock hard and green, but crazy plentiful this year.

I have told them that we’ll be hitting the road soon and I expect ripened berries within the week. Likewise with the raspberries, which are all abuzz with bees but remain curled up in small green nubs.  They also seem determined to ignore my schedule and start ripening just about the time we load up the car.

Come on garden.  I’m not asking for much.  Just a taste of your sweet fruit before we leave town, and a little bit of respect for my schedule.


Your Rockin’ Rhubarb Resource

Despite a decidedly rocky start with rhubarb, I have made a remarkable comeback. Even though I was deceived as a child into believing that my beloved frozen strawberries were in fact rhubarb (and therefore off limits,) I have now gotten to a point where things with scary names aren’t intimidating.  Well, except kohlabi.  Anyone in their right mind would be terrified of kohlrabi.   Any-whoo, back to my personal growth.  I am so totally mature.  I not only grow rhubarb, but I harvest and eat the stuff too.  I’ve even been crowned Her Majesty the Rhubarb Poobah (note: position is self-appointed.)

Yes, I am the proud tender of a healthy crop of rhubarb, the successful propagator of little rhubarbarinos, and the baker of some award-winning rhubarb recipe (note: no awards have actually been awarded.)  Acadia and I pulled the first harvest last week–

She is standing in front of the strawberry patch, which has somehow doubled since last year, and behind that you can see the raspberries and the row of rhubarb.  Funny how my spinach is struggling, my cucumbers are wilting, but the pie-friendly plants are chugging right along.  Even my garden knows dessert comes first.

Do you have questions about when and how to harvest rhubarb?  Click here for a refresher on the facts.  You don’t eat the leaves, just the reddish-green stalks seen here–

You can get an idea of their size in comparison to Acadia’s kindergarten-sized hands–

As long as a few leaves remain on the plant, you will continue to get new growth for a couple of months.  This was our second harvest, only a few days after the first.

After I pull the stalks and cut away the leaves, I rinse and dice the rhubarb.  The inside color varies from light pinkish-white to light green.  The more green it is, the more tart it will taste.

I freeze the chopped pieces flat on a tray before storing them in ziplocs in the freezer.  This makes it easy to add to recipes, which I do as is, in it’s frozen state.  Here’s my favorite thing to do with rhubarb. It’s a super easy recipe and it goes beautifully with vanilla ice cream.

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Notes from the roly-poly front:  The girls are starting to scare me with their mandatory round-up of these guys. The forced participation of all roly-polies born in our yard in the fun and games over at the newly opened roly-poly pavilion just seems excessive.

Here they are, not looking nearly as awful as they do in real life, going for a ride in the tuperware to see Kira’s teacher. Kira wants to know why the parents seem indifferent to the babies, crawling willy-nilly all over them without any special regard for the youngsters.  She didn’t like my answer (um, self-preservation in the face of abusive conditions?) and thinks she’ll get further with her teacher.  Apparently second-grade teachers don’t scream or use sarcasm when asked a simple question about the child-rearing habits of a billion creepy bugs.

My house smells like dirt (in a good way)

Coming back home after eight days away I am hit by one particular fact: my living room smells like dirt.  No, I can’t blame my husband for letting things fall to pot. The kids are in one piece and the house is still standing.  The house smells like dirt in a good way.  Forest path in the rain dirt, not dust bunnies beneath the bed dirt.  It smells like dirt in here because a few weeks ago I started some seeds inside, but then life got in the way and I high-tailed it to Boston and I just haven’t gotten around to the moving them out into the garden part of the plan yet.

But as they say to Marvin K. Mooney, the time has come. The time is NOW.  And I’m looking at a weekend of planting in a garden that is more than ready to go.  I think we’ve had some success with the sage. It’s coming back, and that bodes well for a summer full of my favorite pasta with sage leaves.

It also seems that taking that rhubarb risk is paying off in a big way.  All is going well with our original plant and her little rhubarbarinos.

The leaves are lush and green, but I can’t touch them without breaking out in hives. For some reason, the toxic leaves don’t bother the kids at all.  The stalks are ruby red and thick, harvest-able very soon, which means that days rich in rhubarb crisp can’t be far away.

As Dr. Seuss famously told Marvin K. Mooney, the time has come to GO GO GO.  I’m all about frenetic activity, and can’t wait to break out the shovels this weekend.

Which may work fine for me, but sweet Acadia sails on a different tack.  She’s slowing it down, making some time to stop and smell the tulips.