Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Notes from the Garden 2011

It’s October, and I just plucked the last remaining apples, tomatoes, and sugar snap peas from our backyard garden. Despite the challenges of gardening with a preschooler and a toddler, I managed to get in a little gardening this year. In fact, it’s because of my kiddos that I ultimately decided to do it: I figured we would be spending lots most of the summer in the backyard anyway, so I might as well find something to do in between pushing the girls on the swings, refilling the kiddie pool, and reuniting bugs and worms with their long-lost families (a favorite pastime for my daughter, and, I’m sure, 4-year-olds everywhere).

So we planted. And I learned. Like parenting, gardening is an ongoing experiment. If we can apply what we’ve learned consistently, season after season, we’ll flourish. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Here are the tidbits I gleaned from my garden this year:

Good Dirt

My knowledge on the biology of plants is sparse, but I do know that vegetables derive some of their nutrition from the soil in which they’re planted. And our dirt left something to be desired (it came complete with cigarette butts and glass shards courtesy of our home’s previous owners). I'm all about maximizing results and minimizing effort, and I really wanted my dirt to do most of the plant-growing work for me. So we loaded the back of the minivan with Tacoma’s free compost, TAGRO, and worked it into our soil before we got started.

Pack ‘Em In

This year, I kept my gardening goals modest, and I didn’t plant all that much. But next year, I’ll be using every last bit of garden space I’ve got, because I learned that adding more plants doesn’t necessarily add more work. And you have to plan to sacrifice some of your harvest to the bugs, the birds, and the sun—and your kids (see below).

Garden to Table—Yeah, Right

Some of my plants—especially broccoli and peas—were great producers. But hardly anything made it to the table because the kids would snap off the veggies and devour them on the spot. On the plus side, their veggie consumption increased by roughly a zillion percent. But I didn’t get to fill my table or my fridge with homegrown produce, like I’d planned.

Baby Plants, Mini Harvest

Tiny veggies like miniature butter lettuce and baby carrots are cute. And they may be well-suited to small gardens and shallow soil. But for the tiny amount of food they produce, they sure are labor-intensive. Next year, I’ll be planting full-size varieties.

It’s in the Water

In past years my success in the garden has been spotty, at best. I thought I was a bad gardener, but it turns out, I was just a bad waterer, drenching my plants when I remembered and then forgetting about them for a week. This year, I finally invested in a drip irrigation system, and it made a world of difference.

As we say goodbye to this year’s harvest, I’m already planning next year’s garden (which may include—gulp—CHICKENS!). That’s another way that growing a garden is like raising a family: there’s always something to look forward to around the bend.

What a difference a few weeks makes: Bianca picking apples in September.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ten Ways to Stay Hitched for (at least!) Ten Years

Normally, I’m not in the business of giving out marriage advice. But my tenth anniversary earlier this year (TEN years? Really?) inspired me to write this post during the summer. I quickly forgot all about it, of course. Since I’m buried under deadlines this week, I thought I’d run it now. I hope you can learn from (or relate to) my hard-won experience.

Have a Short Memory

He forgot to mow the lawn. He broke the dishwasher. The kid fell down on his watch. Everyone makes mistakes, and your spouse will make plenty. This gives you ample opportunity to catalog all of his errors and faults, if you so choose. But remembering every little thing your spouse does wrong—and throwing it back in their face when it suits you—is a near-guarantee that you won’t be as happy as you could be.

Live with Imperfection

No one is at their best 24 hours a day, and you will sometimes see (and hear, and smell) some things about your beloved that you don’t love, or even like. When your imperfect spouse starts to get under your skin, remember, everyone, from Bradley Cooper to Brad Pitt, has a few less-than-stellar qualities. Maybe more than a few—celebrities aren’t exactly marriage champions. In fact, they make less-than-perfect regular guys look pretty good, if you ask me.

Make Deposits

Marriages are sustained by lots of small deposits of goodwill over the long run. In marriage, you need to put in a little more than you expect to take out (the same is true of bank accounts and careers). Give without expecting to be repaid immediately. Marriage is a certificate of deposit, not a checking account—it’s a long-term investment.

Share Interests

Sharing an interest—even something as simple as a favorite TV show—is a great way to ensure that you’ll spend enjoyable time together. Find a television show to watch together. Learn to enjoy a sport that he likes. Take up birdwatching.

Let Each Other Grow

Steve and I got married right out of college, and I knew that in order to succeed as a couple, we’d both have to do a lot of growing up, both together and as individuals. Today, people feel like they need to travel the world and “find themselves” before getting married. But no matter how many times you’ve circled the globe, or how complete you feel as a person when you say “I do,” you will still experience growth after marriage. Giving your spouse space to grow (and taking the space you need, as well) is one of the best gifts you can give your marriage.

Change Your Socks, Not Your Spouse

The man I married loves the Seahawks. He was born to be a coach. He values his high school friends. These qualities make him the person he is. And I try my best to let him keep the traits that make him the man I fell in love with—even when they inconvenience me. His personality is not mine to tinker with.

Be Your Own Person

Puh-lease—take some time “you” time on a regular basis. Don’t wait for your spouse to give you a gift-wrapped certificate for a spa day, because it may never happen. And don’t wait until you feel burned out and full of resentment before finally taking a girl’s night out or signing up for a Zumba class. You need time for yourself like you need air.

Lighten Up

Steve is great at making me see the lighter side of things. And “forcing” me to watch shows like Tosh.O, “against my will.” Thanks in great part to him, I laugh every day. Laughing together has kept us happy through the highs and lows of life.

Don’t Delegate—Collaborate

Men don’t like being bossed around. Trust me on this one. You may feel like you “run” your household, and you probably do. But if you want more household help from your husband, don’t simply hand him a list of chores. You are not his boss. Approach any problem as a co-collaborator, and give him shared responsibility for the outcome.

Great Expectations

A wise family member once told me “Expectations are pre-meditated resentments.” It’s breathtakingly easy to develop lofty expectations for your mate without saying a word about what it is you’re expecting of him or her. These unspoken expectations can blossom into resentments faster than dandelions go to seed.

Never Worry Alone

Sometimes, after a long day wrapped up in your own concerns, it seems easier just to turn out the lights and say goodnight instead of sharing your worries with your spouse. One of my favorite authors, Edward Hallowell (he literally wrote the book on Worry) wrote something I think of often: Never worry alone. Sharing a life means sharing your worries, big and small. And being married to your best friend means that you never have to worry alone.

Older and (possibly) wiser: Steve and I at our 10-year vow renewal in Maui.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Staying Close to Girls As They Grow

I think I was fated to be the mom of little girls. Growing up, I ordered around my three younger sisters and organized girly groups at school like the ill-fated “Stardust” club in third grade. (After a few months, the group dissolved over a leadership dispute: I wanted to be president, vice-president, and basically dictator-in-charge-of-everything. Strangely, the other girls in the group didn’t share my vision.) Ballet, cheerleading, sorority—I’ve spent my life in girl-world. Most of the time, I feel well-equipped to be the mom of two headstrong, expressive daughters, thanks to my past.

My girls are girly-girls, mommy’s girls, my little shadows. However you slice it, they identify strongly with me as their female role model, and they want to do EVERYTHING that I do. Making dinner, putting on makeup, typing emails—if they’re awake, they’re by my side. I generally feel like I’m walking my house with two little ankle weights named Bianca and Mia.

Though I sometimes miss having personal space, I love the closeness that I share with my two mini-mes. I’m enjoying it now, because know it might not last forever. In fact, the planner in me is already thinking ahead to the tween and teen years and wondering how I can keep my girls close as they grow up.

That’s why I was thrilled to meet fellow writer Cindy Hudson. Like me, she’s the mom of two daughters. She wanted to maintain a close mom-daughter bond as her girls grew, so she did something awesome—she created a mother-daughter book club for each of her daughters. To help other moms do the same thing, she wrote Book by Book: The Complete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs (Seal Press/Oct 2009). And this fall, she followed up by releasing a meeting planner guide to help moms plan successful book club meetings with their daughters. The guide includes book suggestions, author interviews, even recipes that match the theme of each book. How cool is that?

My girls are still too young for a mom-daughter book club, but I’m looking forward to starting clubs when they’re old enough. And it’s great to have a resource like Cindy to look to for inspiration. If you're the mom of a girl, I urge you to promote reading, relationships, and a lasting mom-daughter bond by creating a book club with your daughter. The world needs more well-adjusted, well-read, connected girls with strong family bonds, and we girl-moms can use all of the support and help we can get.

Disclosure: I was not compensated for this review. All views are my own.