You are currently browsing the archives for July, 2012.

a beautiful day in the neighborhood

It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?

It’s a neighborly day in this beautywood,
A neighborly day for a beauty,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?

So let’s make the most of this beautiful day,
Since we’re together, we might as well say,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won’t you be my neighbor?

This used bookstore sits on a corner a couple blocks from our apartment. The first time we drove past it (while apartment hunting), I thought that surely the windows were just a clever display of controlled chaos designed to lure people into the shop. When I rounded said corner a month later (oh! that’s where that shop is! who knew it was so close by!), I was fully expecting to find well ordered shelves. I was delightfully wrong. The inside is exactly like the outside: cluttered, musty, and winsome. Pyramids of books  lurch into the shoulder width aisles.

Further down the block, I had to stop and admire the artful arrangement of smooth river rocks, broken concrete, and knobbly tree trunks. Something about it makes me think of an urban fairy tale.

“This is a no kill parking spot. Help stop dogs dying in hot cars. Thanks.” Thanks to the creative medium of this public service announcement, I guarantee you I’ll be watching for dogs in parked cars. I wonder what other causes could benefit from such creativity?

Finally, someone should write a children’s book for this poor lost bunny.

What interesting things have you noticed in your neighborhood recently?

Posted 11 years, 11 months ago at 6:28 pm. Add a comment

an encouraging use of space

While the quality of the picture is anything but encouraging, this use of space certainly gives me cause for hope. Someone refused to let their lack of outdoor space deter them from having a garden. It’s encouraging because it proves there are people out there who are thinking creatively and willing to put in some work (even if unconventional) to grow a bit of their own food.

What things have you seen recently that have been encouraging?

Posted 11 years, 11 months ago at 9:08 pm. Add a comment

urban forage notes: plantain and dandelion

This past Sunday I attended my second forage with herbalist, permaculturalist, and community builder Nance Klehm. While we discussed more than two dozen plants, I wanted to share two of the most useful and easiest to identify: plantain and dandelion. I’ll share a few more as the weeks go on, that is if my notes don’t get buried amidst wrinkling laundry, evolving to-do lists, and tottering wooden blocks.

  1. Plantain
    You probably have this growing in your yard or at least on the sidewalk down the street. Go check… seriously. Go find it and grab a leaf. Then come back and do an experiment with me.Didja find one? Now, put it in your mouth and chew it up, but don’t swallow it. Pretend you’re chewing gum. When you’re sure no one’s looking, spit the whole mess out onto your inner arm. And leave it there. We’ll come back to it in a few minutes.Meanwhile, I want to  talk about the secret power the plantain seeds possess. Let’s say you your friend had overinduldged a bit and was now having trouble with ….er…. elimination. If you wanted to help “your friend,” you could go out to your yard and pick a few of the seed pod stems. Choose ones that are brown and dry. Rub the pods between your palms to release the seeds- you might want to do this over a table in order to catch all the seeds. Once you’ve collected about a tablespoon of seeds, put them in a clean quart jar and fill the jar up with cold water. Let it sit overnight or 6-8 hours. The water will thicken slightly. The next morning, you can either drink the water straight, mix it with juice, or use it to make your oatmeal. The seeds release a gentle laxative into the water that’s safe for children and even pets. This simple, gentle, and effective medicine will enable “your friend” to get back to … regular life.Bring your attention back to the wad of plantain leaf on your arm. Do you feel anything? Pick it up and move it a couple inches.  As the compounds in the leaf mix with your saliva, it turns ice cold. You can use this plant to draw out the pain from bites, stings, and burns. This means it relieves the fire ant bites you southerners are cursed with every summer. Perhaps my people at City Roots can start a new farm fashion of plantain “tattoos” on their arms and legs? This also works with poisin ivy and poisin oak rashes. If you have just a small rash, you can use the same “chew and spit” method as for bites. However, if you need a larger area of your body covered, you will want to pick a bowlful of leaves and whiz them up in a blender with some water to make a paste. You can add some oatmeal for extra relief. Spread it over your rash like you would an over-the-counter cream. You can do this as many times a day as needed.*Do be aware of your body while doing this. As I said, this plant turns ice cold, so covering large portions of your body in it could give you the chills. Follow your body’s lead and rinse it off when it’s had enough.*
  2. Dandelion
    I’ve personally never shared the lawn owner’s hatred of dandelions. When I walked home from work, I always loved discovering their sunny flowers amidst a dessert of concrete. And I must admit that I still feel a magical twinge when I find a completely rotund puffy flower and blow all the seeds into the air.So it is with smirking delight that I’ve learned of the dandelion’s myriad uses.Every part of this plant is useful in some way- from the yellow bloom all the way down to the long taproot. The crunchier ones among us are probably familiar with the pleasant bitterness the leaves add to “mixed green” salad bags. If you think they’re delicious in your bagged salad, imagine how much better they’d taste with a heaping side of self accomplishment if you foraged them yourself. In addition to tasty-ness, the leaves also are high in minerals like calcium and magnesium, which are minerals most people are deficient in.  Not only that, but they are a diuretic; they will help you pee more and thus flush toxins out of your body. However, unlike plain water, dandelions replace the potassium that’s often lost when you go a lot. Therefore a dandelion salad is a great hangover food.The roots can be chopped, roasted, and brewed as a tea. Though roasting is optional, I highly suggest doing so as it not only increases flavor, but fills your kitchen with an aroma that’s similar to what would happen if you brewed a pot of strong coffee as you pulled sugar cookies out of the oven. The tea tastes like the earth- deep and loamy with a bitterness reminiscent of a good cup of coffee. While it might sound off putting, everyone I’ve seen try it takes a small sip and then several big gulps. Even Babytidian likes it. The roots have similar properties to the leaves- high mineral content, diuretic, ect. It’s also a blood stimulant, which means it’s good to drink anytime you’ve lost a lot of blood such as post surgery, childbirth, or after your period. Like the leaves, it’s a good drink for Monday morning ailments after a weekend of overindulgence.The yellow blossoms are also useful. While you can make great flower chains out of them to decorate your tree house, they also have slightly more adult uses. During a big bloom (normally in the spring), you can gather 300-400 of the blossoms and make dandelion wine or mead. If none of the other dandelion uses have convinced you to overcome your hatred of these weeds, one sip of this elixir will. Promise

And the poofy white seed heads? What’re they good for?  Why, for making more dandelions of course!

Posted 11 years, 11 months ago at 7:57 pm. Add a comment

My quotidian dilemma

So in the realm of parenthood dilemmas, I recognize that this is small potatoes. It doesn’t even rank compared to having to explain what death means or where babies come from. But still, the question I face nearly three times a day is:

Where do I start?

If I start with his hands, they immediately get re-gooed on his tray. If I remove his try first, he will not be dissuaded from getting down. If I start with his face or hair, he gives himself another avocado facial as soon as I’m done.

So, you more experienced mothers out there, where would you start?

Posted 11 years, 11 months ago at 11:42 am. 8 comments

Gerund Pudding

  • Convincing myself that “shucking” is onomatopoetic
  • Embracing summer rather than retreating from her
  • Admitting that his baby feet are not so baby anymore
  • Smiling at my little man’s inventiveness concerning games- can you guess his favorite?
  • Discovering the savory side of berries
  • Pedaling ever more confidently all over the city
  • Puzzling over  how one meets people in a new city without a bank of classmates or coworkers
  • Appreciating how old friends in a new place can make the new place feel more comfortable
  • Ironing out my laundry routine so that I’m not monopolizing the coin op machines but also have diapers always at the ready
  • Expanding my carnivorous horizons through Mint Creek Farm’s meat CSA. (Lamb spare ribs, where have you been all my life?)
  • Witnessing a paradigm shift in my thinking about nature after realizing that animals observe us just as much as (or more than) we observe them
  • Finding excuses to put herbs from my window boxes into anything
  • Growing a new kombucha scoby
  • Flavoring that kombucha with the essence of summer- blueberries, tarragon, peaches, pineapple sage, and melon, and…
  • Pointing out every time I see a front yard/ roof top/ community garden that’s thriving

Posted 11 years, 11 months ago at 8:01 pm. 1 comment

This past year

[In true motherly fashion, I began this post six weeks ago. It was the anniversary of Little Man's entry earthside. As he took his birthday nap, I mused. I'm just now getting back to it and publishing these birthday ruminations. ]

A year ago today I sat just about where I’m sitting now. Propped up on pillows on the right side of the bed a snuggle’s breath away from my sleeping baby.

So much has changed. For one thing, the bed now sits in a Chicago apartment building rather than above a garage in South Carolina. For another there are no longer ambiguous stains on my sheets (pee? sweat? breast milk?)- only unambiguous ones (drool, definitely drool). The kitchen cabinets sport baby locks, the desk drawers have yardsticks stuck through the handles, and the trash can sits on top of the sofa. On the book shelf,  Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth and Birthing from Within have been replaced by That’s Not My Teddy and Goodnight Moon. Mr. Quotidian and I spend our dates on the couch with a bottle of wine rather than out… somewhere. Our movies come with mandatory intermissions. 6:30 a.m. is considered sleeping in.

Yet the babe sleeping next to me is still the same, essentially at least. Yes, he’s longer, heavier, and has 7 teeth now. And yes, instead of just sleeping he also giggles, grabs at cats’ tails, and wills himself towards the ceiling fan. He has gone through several nicknames in the intervening months. (He now prefers Mr. Thed from his daddy and Snuggle-wuggle-wigwam on his silly days.) And yet he still locks eyes with me as he nurses. Still clenches my heart with his cries. Still trusts me.

So perhaps it’s me that’s changed? I now know my way around such terms as bilirubin, meconium, and object permanence. I can decipher all  most of the forum abbreviations. (Though BM still throws me each time. In mothering forums, it usually means breastmilk. My first thought is always bowel movement.So typical sentences such as “we’ve been giving her a bottle of bm before bed…” always cause a double take.) I have working opinions on breastfeeding, infant sleep, milestones, and vaccinations.

But those things seem more like growth rather than change.  In the same way that Little Man being able to get off the couch by himself is simply a new expression of the established need to explore his surroundings, being a mama has forced me to adapt and learn new coping devices. But does that really change who I am? Is motherhood a feather duster that simply brushes away old habits and selfishness, leaving the shelf cleaner but in basically the same form? Or is it a chrysalis in which everything I am is broken down, liquified, and then remade in an all together new form? How much can a person adapt before they become someone new? Does it even matter? Perhaps it’s just frivolous introspection aggravated by lack of sleep.

I feel like I should have some big personal epiphany to share with you regarding motherhood, change, and self. Words that would buff out the scratches and stains left by the day after day after day, leaving the dignity of motherhood to gleam in the melting afternoon light. Lacking that however, I am unsure how to end this. So perhaps I will just settle back into the pillows and watch as the light dribbles shadows across my sweet one’s face.  As I have many times this past year.


Posted 12 years ago at 3:12 pm. 2 comments

Skillet Dinners: An almost recipe

Here’s a revelation I’ve recently come to: scrambled eggs can’t be for breakfast and dinner every night. Even Mr. Quotidian needs some variety. Regrettably, there was a period of time where variety equaled take out. While part of it was lack of energy and all the typical reasons for ordering take out, another large part of it was curiosity. Where are the hole in the wall restaurants that all the locals go to? What does Banh Mi taste like? Is that sandwich place as sustainable as it advertises? What’s the closest place that will satisfy my noodle craving? Greek? Thai? Pizza? All four?

I’ve officially had my curiosity sated. While the thrill of discovery still woos me sometimes (Chicago is a big city after all), I’ve had to admit that I simply don’t really like take out. It’s not that anything we’ve ordered has ever been bad. It’s just I know I could make it better. I’ve been cooking for myself for so long, that I’ve grown accustomed to personalizing dinner to my taste. More herbs. Less cayenne. Broth instead of water. An extra egg. A splash of vinegar. Extra care taken in making sure the top is perfectly brown and crunchy. Short of employing a personal chef, there’s just no way to order that kind of personalization.

The one thing I’ve had trouble wrapping my tongs around though is simplicity in cooking. The older Baby-tidian gets, the simpler my cooking has needed to become. And that’s where take out has one over on me. It is simple. There’s no pantry inventory. No rushing to the store. No balancing heavy bags and a fidgety baby while fumbling keys into a lock. No realizing the spatula is dirty. No sink full of dishes. There’s just a menu, a phone call, and sinful amounts of plastic. (Seriously, how many bags does a sandwich need to be in before it’s adequately protected from the noxious world?)

As I’ve been focusing more on training my cooking with Team Simplicity, the skillet dinner has emerged as a kind and forgiving teammate. There’s no actual recipe involved, so it’s impossible to be “out” of something. The skillet serves as both cooking device and serving vessel. (It can even be the plate if you don’t have anyone to impress. Spoons are recommended. The finger pick and vacuum approach really only works at the stove. Minimalism can only go so far.)

Everything in this recipe is optional, though I usually include some kind of protein, vegetables, aromatics, and perhaps a starch. These ingredients can be pre-cooked leftovers or raw.

Protein ideas: ground beef, bacon, beans, cut up leftover steak, tofu (if you’re into that sort of thing),
Vegetable ideas: whatever is abundant and cheap at the farmer’s market, the triumvirate of carrots, onions, and celery, leftover roasted potatoes
Starch ideas: leftovers! (Seriously, I don’t really add a starch unless I have leftovers of some kind. It’s just not worth the effort to cook new. Add more veggies if you need to bulk it up) rice, pasta, couscous

Lacking a concrete set of instructions, here’s what I did last night:

  • Gather ingredients; mine were four medium zuchhinni, an onion, 3 cloves of garlic, a pound of ground beef, about a cupful of tart cherries, and mixed herbs from my window boxes.
  • Heat your largest skillet. Add crumbled beef and chopped onion. If the onion sticks, add a pat of butter. Season with salt and cook till meat is mostly brown and onions are about half cooked.
  • Add the chopped zuchhinni and stir. Cook covered until tender. Deglaze with a little wine or vinegar if necessary. Season to taste.
  • Turn off the heat and add the pitted cherries and minced herbs. Stir together.
  • Serve.


Posted 12 years ago at 4:50 pm. Add a comment

Milestones: Ordering food just for him

After several eatings out where I was left slightly peckish due to a certain Little Man picking off my plate, it was clear it was time to start ordering some food just for him. Though in typical baby form, when we ordered him this bowl of fruit, he decided he wasn’t hungry. Or at least had more of an appetite for spoons and napkins than he did for fruit.

Posted 12 years ago at 8:43 am. 1 comment