Saturday, June 25, 2011

Watermelon-blueberry ice pops

Before he left for the week, the former-man-of-the-house bought a large seeded watermelon. Couldn't resist, he said, it was under $4. And cubed it all, and, because it was a dud (sweet, but limp like wilted lettuce) left it in the fridge and then took the 3 big melon-eaters in our household out of state. Which left me with a fridge half full of watermelon with nowhere to go but the composter.

It took me a couple of days to tackle this, but I remembered a recipe for watermelon blueberry ice pops in an old issue of Eating Well magazine. Usually watermelon around here doesn't last long enough to get made into popsicles; this was my chance to try it. And I like the results, you can find the recipe here.

The creativity was in figuring out how to get rid of the seeds. As it turned out, you can puree a watermelon (a mushy one, anyway) on the lowest speed of your blender if you have plenty of liquid in it (pour in all the juice from your bowl of cut melon). At this speed, it should liquefy the melon without chopping up many of the seeds. Then pour the slush into a colander over a large bowl, and if your colander is like mine, the holes should be about the perfect size to strain out the seeds but still let the pulp through. And there you have it, the start to your watermelon ice pops, or gazpacho, or fruit punch (I have a great recipe for that too, if you want it.)

And, because I am at the end of my 6th day of talking pretty much exclusively to a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old, here are some words of wisdom from them.

4: Mom I can't find a helmet. Can you find one for me?
Mom: Here you go. Do I get a hug for that?
4: (after the briefest of hugs) I'm good.
Mom: What does that mean, I'm good?
4: It means I'm finished, mom.

(after driving past a cow on the side of the road)
2: What was that brown thing that I sawed, mom?
4: (chuckling) Did you saw it or did you sawed it, did you sawed it into two pieces?
2: (long pause) What was that brown thing that I seed?

4: (playing with his Playmobil police set) He's a nice robber, mom. The man came home and saw that the robber didn't take anything!
Mom: Then why is he a robber?
4: That's just a name, mom.
Mom: Oh.
4: He just went to a store and bought a shirt and on the shirt it said "robber".

2: (seeing a playmobil woman in the treehouse hammock) Why is that mommy lying down?
Mom: Because we're playing pretend, and in make-believe worlds mommies can lie down in the daytime.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

House Rules

When I signed up for this job, I thought of Lego as one of the perks.

As we dropped the menfolk off at the airport, dad gave the 4-year-old a kiss and reminded him to help mom, because he was the man of the house now.  If the prospect of an entire week alone with preschoolers isn't an excuse for a mother to go to seed, I don't know what is.  We virtuously ran errands for the home and garden, liberally sprinkled with treat and toy purchases along the way (see Orlando?  Your ad campaign is working).  And when we came home, The Man Of The House drew up a new sign for the house which I so wish I could find to share with you (I am currently without a working camera, and by the time it occurred to me to scan it, the paper was gone).  But it had 3 circles with lines through them, and pictures depicting:

1.  No pudding.  (It was not time for snack, and baby sister was clamouring for chocolate pudding.).
2.  No people with guns.  (In case anyone is tempted to try to sneak firearms into the house).
3.  No naps allowed.

So we played all day long, and somewhere along the way, The Man Of The House dug out the old Lego instruction manuals and decided it was time to try to bring the Pirate Ship back to its glory days.

We have ten years' and three boys' worth of Legos, plus a bin we inherited from some neighbors, plus some from my own childhood, all mixed into a huge Rubbermaid bin, which, spilled out, covers the floor of an entire room.  (We still have the 10 plastic drawers into which we used to sort pieces, but when this Herculanean task proved too much to keep up, we resorted to the catch-all bin).  After about two hours of sifting, we had a main and a mizzen, and mom was about ready to go out and buy a new ship.  Except... he was having so much fun sifting, finding all sorts of cool pieces and minifigure parts.  And he was really very reasonable about substitutions.  And I couldn't remember the last time I'd sat with him for 2 hours to build Legos, that's usually his big brothers' job.  Besides, how do you say no to this face?

So this morning after a storm at sea destroyed the ship, we started work on the tow truck.  Three hours later, we broke for lunch, but not before completing the truck and setting it to work pulling the semi.  Tomorrow morning there's a helicopter on the agenda.  And since he's lost the paper copy of his House Rules, I'm going to use the police cruiser to leverage a nap.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Out of the mouths of babes

When baby girl heard that I was heading out for a run tonight, she started up a stream of vehement and unintelligible protestations which we finally figured out to be "But there's no beach here!"  Dad explained that Mom was going to run on the sidewalk.  But all Mom could think, was "My sentiments exactly, babe."

It is damned hot here.  Even at 9pm.  In the rain.

Baby girl has been entertaining us no end with her newfound language skills and powers of rational thought.  They are too fleeting to remember without writing down, too precious not to write, and since this seems to be my writing spot these days, I am sharing them with you, o vast audience.

With three brothers to keep in line, and being who she is (and whose daughter she is), baby girl can be a bit of a bossy pants.  Especially when it comes to righteous indignation over house rule violations, or energy/ecological conservation.  (At a similar age, I slapped a little girl for picking -and killing!- a flower.  What can I say; the apple doesn't fall far from the tree).  Which may explain her exasperated tone of voice when she came downstairs yesterday morning to see a bright square of sunshine on the floor, and sighed "Mom!  Somebody left the SUN on!!"

Another snapshot in time.  A friend and I were discussing the older boys' upcoming trip to visit their grandparents out of state, and commenting that this should be a happy visit for all involved, since the boys are now old enough to be independent, but young enough to be enthusiastic.  The 4-year-old was listening in on the conversation, and wanted to know what being independent meant.  My friend explained that the big boys didn't need as much help with things as younger kids do.  To which he replied proudly, "I don't need help going to the bathroom!"  After a pause, baby girl quietly volunteered, "I don't need help combing my ponies' hair."

And tonight, while the two little ones and I were lying down, talking and unwinding from the day. 

Little brother:  Mom, why don't you want my bed by the window?
Mom:  I don't really mind, do you want it by the window?
Little brother:  But why don't we put it by the window?
Baby girl:  You CAN'T move a BED!  It is heavy and heavy and heavy!
Mom:  Well, we could move the bed...
Baby girl:  How come you can move a bed?  It is heavy and heavy and heavy!
Mom:  Because mommy and daddy are strong.  But maybe it would be too bright by the window in the mornings...

The conversation turned to our babysitter who is coming tomorrow.  It's been a while since she tended for us, and I was trying to describe her to remind them of who she is.  Kathryn is a sweet girl, long dark hair, and petite.

Baby girl:  Kathryn is a little girl?
Mom:  Well, she's a girl, and she's a lot bigger than you.  But she's smaller than me.
Baby girl:  I am a little girl.
Mom:  Yes, you are my baby girl. 
Baby girl:  Kathryn has a mommy?
Mom: Yes, Kathryn has a mommy.
Baby girl:  Her mommy is big?
Mom:  Well, her mommy is bigger than she is...
Baby girl:  Her mommy can move the bed?

Sometimes you can almost smell the smoke.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

How to Grow Orchids in Central Florida

I spent many years in the Northeast trying without any success to get orchids to bloom.  Then we moved to central Florida, where we now have an unending supply of flowers from our collection in the screen porch.  When people see them, they invariably ask for tips on growing orchids, or sometimes even offer me half-dead specimens to resuscitate.

It really isn't very difficult here in this climate; in fact, I think the easiest way to kill an orchid is to give it too much attention.  When we were recently gone for a month, we paid a 14-year-old boy to come and take care of them for us; not only did they survive, but 4 more of them came into bloom under his care. 

So here are a few tips on getting your orchids to thrive in central Florida, as well as a few pictures of recent blooms to inspire you to try.

1.  Keep them outside.

The fluctuations in temperature outdoors are actually essential to triggering bloom in some species; the humidity here is an additional bonus.  Most orchids are epiphytes, gathering moisture from the air via those grayish air roots that defy their pots and gravity).  By all means, bring them indoors to enjoy when they're in bloom, but once they're done, out they go again.

2.  Don't let them get direct sun.

The Florida sun will scorch and kill your orchid.  Hanging them under a leafy tree, or under some other sort of cover (we have an awning over our screen porch which keeps them in shade for most of the day) will ensure they get enough but not too much light.  A few hours of early morning light through a screen (which amazingly cuts light intensity by about 50%) is fine for most orchids, though some species, like the slipper orchids and moth orchids below, need full shade.

3.  Use unglazed clay pots.

They're cheap, and for the beginner, it's the easiest way to guard against killing your orchids with root rot from overwatering.  Terra cotta pots allow water to evaporate a lot more quickly, speeding up the drying time and compensating for your tendency to overwater.  Which you will do, because it is hard to believe that these air roots really do need to dry out between waterings.  An exception is the bare-root varieties that you see hanging in cedar baskets (more for your sake than for the orchids' - they really don't need the basket).

4.  Use spaghnum moss as a potting medium.

There are a lot of orchid mixes out there (and I'm not knowledgeable enough to debate their relative merits), but pretty much any orchid can grow in sphagnum moss, which holds water pretty well.

5.  Water only when the moss feels DRY. 

And when you do, drench the thing - sitting it for a few minutes in a bucket of water will do.  Really let the moss and pot soak in the water.  There are also various kinds of soluble orchid food you can add to your water, which you water on your orchid after the drenching.  Again, the exception is the bare root variety, which will do better with water sprayed on the roots more regularly - if you hang them on a tree, rain will take care of that through much of the year.

6.  Don't let them freeze.

Winters can get cold here, and when the temperature dips into the 40's, I use a sheet or blanket to cover up the rack that they are on, in the screen porch (and move the ones on the tree into the garage for the night).  If a freeze is expected, I put a lamp underneath the rack to warm up the air inside the sheet, or move the entire rack indoors (I have them on a metal utility rack which has wheels).

And there you have it.  A six-step guide to growing orchids in central Florida.  Not exactly your most expert or exhaustive source, but enough to get you started.  E-mail me if you have any other questions, and I'll try to point you in the right direction to finding the answers.

The Nursing Apron

I considered titling this "Embracing My Inner Type A", because it is less a tutorial than a reveal.  But then anyone actually wanting suggestions for improving the ubiquitous nursing apron pattern might have a harder time finding this... and so, the misleading title.

For the uninitiated, the nursing apron / cover-up / hooter-hider is a fantastic invention for any breast-feeding mother who wants to maintain some discretion while feeding her child.  Or not.  I'm a woman, a mom, and a doctor; nothing you flash is going to bother me.  I didn't have one of these until my sister-in-law made one for me when baby girl was born, and sent me the pattern as well.  So when an expectant friend mentioned she'd like a polka-dot one, I was happy to oblige.

Tutorials abound on the web (here and here and here, for starters), so I won't bother to repeat that.  They're all variations on the same basic theme with negligibly different dimensions.  But all with the same inexplicable design flaw:  the D-rings are on the shorter half of the neck strap, so that in order to tighten it, you have to pull the adjustable strap back over your shoulder with the third arm you have growing out of your back.  Or pull it upward, like a hangman's noose - assuming you can manage this while juggling baby and without exposing yourself in the process.  The thing is, it is no more difficult to make that D-ring strap longer (say, 10"), so that the adjustable end now faces downward in front, so much easier for those of us with just two arms to reach.  It is probably a bit obsessive of me to need to fix this or comment on it... and perhaps most people rarely tighten it or adjust it after the initial use (though those of us blessed with generous cranial dimensions - or big hair - will have cause to use it more than once).  But I say, if you're going to bother to make it, might as well make it right.

Which all goes to show why some people might think that I'm somewhat type A.  I tend to fly under the radar, really; I'm not particularly ambitious or aggressive, and as for competitiveness, why, I'm sure that I am the least competitive person I know.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Flotsam and Jetsam

It was raining this morning as we left, making it even harder to say goodbye to this stretch of sand that I have claimed as my own for a short month. The ocean has so many moods...and I think my favorite is when it is grey and overcast, and the tide has pulled so far back that the beach is a Daliesque sandscape, marked only by the paintbrush of my children's feet.

Spending a month at the beach, out in all weather, tides, and times of day, you get to know a bit more about it.  Coyotes, for one thing.  And the endless supply of lobster trap buoys, dead animals (beaver, rabbit, seagulls), sewage plant disks (oh, the power of google), and so many balloons.  Which reminds me that I want to read Moby Duck and then rant about cheap plastic consumerism.  But that will be a post for another day.

Yesterday evening, my other half insisted on meeting me after work at the Museum of Fine Arts so I could see the Chihuly exhibit.  I was tired, and a bit discouraged that over the 4 weeks I hadn't been able to fit it in, and by the time I got there after a long day at the zoo the 2 littlest were asleep.  It was our last night in town and I still had loads of laundry and a house to pack and clean, so it took a little bit of cheerful persistence on his part.  Then he didn't just stay with the kids in our hard-won street-parking spot, he insisted we all go in, even if just for half an hour, gamely lugging the sleeping 4-year-old while I held baby girl.  Yes, I really am so lucky.

We ended up staying for an hour and a half, taking in Chihuly's exquisite installations as well as some ancient art and a few marbles here and there.  And because I'd forgotten my camera, I got to spend the time not looking through a view finder, but holding my 4-year-old's hand and seeing Chihuly through his wondering eyes - water spray from a whale's spout, nuts and chocolates, palm trees, flowers.  Or marveling over ancient hieroglyphics and mimicking tomb painting postures with my 8-year-old.  Sometimes I have a rather obsessive need to photograph and chronologue my childrens' lives.  For various reasons I have very few clear memories of my childhood, and my photojournaling is a reaction to that - "all these moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain."  Except, sometimes I wonder if I am creating memories for them rather than enhancing their own.  In any case, they love to read the photobooks.  And the thrill of a good capture has value in and of itself.  But I'd rather they remember that we held hands and laughed, than the exact details of the breathtaking blown glass.

So, no pictures for the blog today.  If you want to see some pics, search Chihuly on Flickr, or check out his website.  As for me, I'm going to try to get out from behind the viewfinder and go to art museums, even with 4 kids in tow, a little bit more.