Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Nature Takes Back Detroit

While awake in the very early Monday morning, the early hour that still clung to Sunday evening, I heard a great interview on BBC radio with James Griffioen the creative mind and gifted writer behind sweet juniper!.

Detroiter James Griffioen walks the abandoned mansion neighborhood of Brush Park in Detroit and shares a different take on the familiar story of neglect and blight in Detroit. He found in his adventures away from the populated areas, much of the city isn't dangerous, it's just empty. He talks about the walks he takes with his kids in search of pheasants and playing on 1960/1970s era "great pre-lawyer vetted playground equipment".

When BBC interview Michael Frei bemoaned the fact that much of Detroit is being turned into arable land for farming, Griffioen responded, "It's fabulous...Alot of the 20th Century wasn't a sustainable way of life...Detroiters are learning to live in a more sustainable way."

Big box stores and chains are not in the city. Instead of the movement to grow your own crops being a trend, "It's something that happened here by necessity...People are seeing opportunity and not just blight and ugliness. "

Hear the entire story at the BBC website, click on James Griffioen and Detroit (Chapter 2). Don't be thwarted by the long introduction talking about Afghanistan, it's really an interview with Griffioen. Visit Griffioen's post about Feral Houses at sweet juniper!.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Paper Dog House

My oldest son set to the construction of this house early this morning. "Look at my dog house. It's ramshackle solid!"

"If you visit the dog house in the rain, you're going to get a shower (because of the pitch of the roof)."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Tomatoes Staked

The tomato stake idea reached escape velocity and now the idea is a reality. Boy, that took a long time. It's like the good ideas that surround you as you lay in bed around 3AM too tired to take action.

For the record, tomatoes, I'm sorry.

I liked the tomato stakes I saw when I went to Marta Teegan's seminar on tomatoes. As I sat down to do the project, however, I realized I didn't have enough hardware on hand to make the stakes with eye lag screws, wire, and turnbuckles. Rather than take a time sucking trip to the hardware store, I modified my plan rather with what I had available. I simply drilled wood screws into the posts one foot apart. Eric and I put the tree stakes into the ground with the screws facing out and tied twine above each screw.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Strawberry Picking Redux

The boys and I met up with Grams for some strawberry picking at Underwood Family Farms where we filled our large basket to the brim.

The strawberry season is incredibly long at Underwood.

This guy was even able to pick a few full buckets. Last year, there was no chance. Everything was quality controlled prior to bucketing.

We also picked some raspberries and saw a black rabbit race through the bushes.

The surviving catch was cleaned, sliced, and put in the dehydrator. I think we might have eaten everything before it went bad, but I would hate to see these strawberries go to waste.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Work in Progress

Today tomatoes really need to be staked. In the meantime, this work (begun last Thursday) awaits my attention. I hope I might be able to spend some time on it Friday.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Celebrating Solstice

Alligator lizard in our firewood stash.

Summer doesn't seem to start on any set day at Camp Ramshackle. It creeps in with a sunny day, feels like it's arrived with a camping trip and the end of school.

But the longest day of the year does have an official date. We decided to celebrate with a fire.

A fire in the pit and on the marshmallow.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day!

This is a pretty typical scene at our house. Eric with the boys working on a project.

Gracefully moving from one child to the next.

Addressing the needs and wants of each child with a kind word or a smile.

There is so much more in these toys than the material parts. Thank you Eric for being such a wonderful dad. And thank you to Papa & Granny for the gift of the car and plane kit.

Thank you to my Dad. These pictures are familiar to me. I remember so many days spent in projects with my father, building a covered wagon...an idea I came up with at about five. I presented written plans to my father, who instead of saying no or not now, took me to the table saw and helped me put together a wagon that I still have to this day. The wagon is so much more than the material parts. Thanks, Dad.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Nasturtium Seeds

Our prolific season of nasturtium is still strong but definitely on the wane. My youngest son started harvesting some of the seeds. The plant does a wonderful job of self-seeding and returning the following year. I'm pulling these to share with others.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Audubon Center at Debs Park

The Audubon Center at Debs Park (4700 North Griffin, Los Angeles 90031) just might be my absolute favorite park in Los Angeles. The Audubon Center is part of Earnest Debs Park on the northwest side. It is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9AM-5PM. If you live locally or if you are visiting Los Angeles, the Audubon Center is well worth a visit. The park is free and open to the public.

The Audubon Center has a small office where you can check out backpacks with field guides, maps and binoculars. If you'd like to use a Kelty kid carrier pack or an off-road stroller, you can also check those out free of charge from the office. The office also makes available story books, water paints and other items completely free of charge.

In the center, there are a few beautiful fountains filled with native water plants frequented often by bright red Flame Skimmers and blue damselflies. The grounds are planted with California native plants. The area is teaming with birds, lizards and other critters.

The Audubon Center grounds have many great trees for climbing, small pockets to explore from caves to shelters.

One of the most captivating parts of the park for my sons is the water pump. Kids can hand pump water to cascade over the side...

...down a small stream that leads to the pond. As the area can get hot, the water is a welcome respite from the heat. The Audubon Center at Debs Park is a classic example of a play area that allows children's and adult's imaginations to run wild and fosters those beautiful moments of unstructured play.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Full Plate

On Eric's plate: homegrown potato frittata (upper left going clockwise); homegrown fava beans with cilantro, lime and rice; and delicious oranges grown by a friend of my mom accompanied by roasted pignoli, diced red onion and cilantro.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Homegrown Potatoes

In mid-February, my oldest son and I planted some potatoes in some boxes made by Eric and inspected by my youngest son. I've read in many of my gardening books that the best place to store potatoes is in the ground. So as I was preparing a dinner potato frittata inspired by the Big Sur Bakery (a soak in one of their tubs overlooking the Pacific sounds just about perfect right now), I realized I was a few potatoes short of a full skillet.

I marched myself down to the garden, pitchforked myself a few potatoes from the beautiful boxes in which they rest. And, oh my, they were delicious. Delicate skins that peeled off so easily and the fine sliced potatoes that roasted so crisply. All I really want now is a hot tub overlooking the Pacific.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

End of School Ritual

Right before we left on our camping trip, we celebrated the last day of school. We did it as we've always done it. We started with a school-wide picnic, then on to a favorite soda fountain for a sundae with a cherry on top.

Monday, June 14, 2010

McGrath State Beach Camping

The last time I camped at McGrath State Beach, I tagged along with my sisters' Girl Scout troop as I was too young to join. Needless to say, my memory of it was spotty. We were joined by friends and enjoyed time at camp and on the beach, taking the long route to get around the nesting American Least Terns.

Trees were climbed.

New friends were made.

But the best place may have been right here in the hammock, rigged up with a string that lead back to the hammock allowing this occupant to swing without much effort.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Imaginary Boat

With so much time spent around the water and boats, Big has reentered our play. My youngest decided to float the boat on the dogs' water bowl.

When my oldest was about the age of my youngest, he picked up this palm frond that he named Big on a walk to one of our local libraries. He carried it the entire way to the library by himself. We put it in the stroller for the ride home.

I had moved Big to the closet thinking it might be time to cycle the palm frond out of our lives if it was no longer of interest to the kids. I'm so happy to see it again so lovingly used. In fact, as I write this, it is moored to a dining room chair with the tail end floating under my seat. Big contains flip flops, a stick and a young boy.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Catalina Adventure: Two Harbors

Toward Isthmus Cove

Two weeks after Avalon, we boarded the Catalina Express to Two Harbors on the east side of Catalina Island. Two Harbors is more rural than Avalon with only dirt roads, two restaurants and a grocery store.

Two Harbors earned its name from the two harbors, Isthmus Cove and Catalina Harbor, that rest a mere half mile opposite each other. We easily hiked the distance. The boys sailed a boat in Isthmus Cove.

We ventured south toward the yacht club.

We were greeted by a young bird, perhaps a juvenile crow, as we hiked up the mountain to Banning House Lodge which is celebrating it's centennial this year.

We enjoyed the sights at the south side Catalina Harbor and spent an hour kayaking east from the harbor. The paddling was easy and made easier by a five year old natural who paddled the entire time delighted by the bright orange Garibaldi, thick kelp forests and an enthusiastic ball-chasing Golden Retriever that tried to board our kayak.

One morning, we hiked up the steep mountainside following the recommendation of a local to find two hammocks hanging in a scrub oak. We relaxed over the harbors for over an hour and watched small planes fly below us as they made their way to Catalina airport. The rest was well earned as Eric carried both boys up the majority of the steep ascent. But what a view. What an experience.

Each night after a full day ended the same with six pages from Windsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Catalina Adventure: Avalon

A few weeks ago, we ventured to Avalon with two families. Our friends graciously opened up their family's house to six adults and four kids.

Descanso Beach had undergone a major remodel with cloth covered cabanas and fancy wooden lounge chairs. We saw a baby seal resting on the beach. The staff at Descanso had marked an area for her with caution tape. At first, I was worried the seal was dead, but she rolled from her back to her front and let you observe her breathing. It was so exciting to be so close to her.

One morning we ventured to the botanical gardens and hiked up to the Wrigley Memorial to take in the view.

Not limiting ourselves to land, our group enjoyed a submarine ride to look at fish. Ilsa of RamblingLA and my oldest son saw a manta ray.

The Pencil Sharpening Patrol put in their hours.

And each night, happily tired little bodies gathered round for a reading from Windsor McCay's old Sunday comic strip Little Nemo: 1905-1914. I picked up our copy of the book as a gift to Eric when we first started dating. Who knew that later we would read from it each night to our children? I'm so glad I acted on impulse years ago and bought this book. It is now out of print and a much anticipated ritual to read six pages together each evening.

Monday, June 7, 2010

More Delicious Honey

I am way behind on our hive maintenance, I wouldn't be surprised if they swarm soon - might not be the worst thing to get a new queen in there anyway. I do like honey but am certainly not taking the effort to maximize our honey production at the moment. I am more than happy as long as the hive is healthy and happy, and we get a few quarts of honey every couple of months.

That said, I feel pretty guilty about not staying on top of the apiary duties a little better. Specifically, I need to add a box to the brood area and sort out the mix of medium and deep frames that are filling two medium boxes down there. This weekend I stole a half an hour and took two frames out before my smoker went out and I ended the endeavor on high note. The two frames won't really free up much space for all of the new nectar coming in but I imagine every little bit helps.

The two frames of honey especially helped make our breakfast the next morning better. For me there are few things better than natural, chem-free honey on home baked whole grain toast. the 56 ounces of honey also made a nice center piece.

Friday, June 4, 2010


Today an after school celebration is being held for the kids in my oldest son's classroom who will celebrate their birthdays in the summer. Everyone at Camp Ramshackle helped make cupcakes. My oldest son was the force behind the chocolate cupcakes. I got the recipe from Gluten-Free Girl. It's a modification of Bob's Red Mill chocolate cake mix and quite delicious. I substitute a bit less oil for the butter. And my youngest is working on the Cardamom Spice Cake recipe from the Flying Apron's Gluten-free & Vegan Baking Book. The batter is surprisingly liquid but bakes into a mighty fine cupcake. I topped them off with Pamela's Vanilla Frosting Mix made without dairy and a plump locally grown blueberry.

Update: The Cardamom Spice Cake cupcakes were delicious and well received.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Homegrown Lemonade

The other day, when I was watching the boys, we were out of juice (at least I thought we were), but life had given us lemons (actually the previous owners of our house had planted a lemon tree) so I made lemonade.

The best part was that the sweetener was home grown too - honey from our bees. The ice and water were delivered by LADWP, so it's not 100% homegrown I suppose but close enough for me.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Make a Difference Without Getting Up

A friend of ours is championing this project in competition for grant to transform a parking lot at a public school into a garden classroom. With our state budgets under siege due ineffective government and weak economy, these kids and their school could really use the help.

From the website: http://www.justmeans.com/contestidea?ideaid=NTU5

Transform a 5,800 s.f. asphalt parking lot at Micheltorena Elementary School into a beautiful garden / outdoor classroom. (Image 1)

A recent Progress Report created for Micheltorena Elementary School shows 370 enrolled students, with 318 categorized as socioeconomically disadvantaged. That is roughly 86% of the school’s population. 1 in 3 Los Angeles school children are projected to be obese in 2010. (Graph 1)

In support of these kids, the plan is to build the garden by marshaling the “Silver Lake Green Brigade” - all local volunteers - to assist fired up parents, teachers, kids, and Principal Furfari at Micheltorena Elementary. This synergy between community and school will amplify dollars coming from Nature’s Path exponentially.

If you want to go for bonus make-a-difference points, spread the word by posting a link from your own blog or facebook or twitter it (the buttons are on the page).

Micheltorena School Garden's Idea