Mary, Mary Quite Contrary…

…How does your garden grow?

A few years ago, I rented a community garden plot. The first year was quite successful and a bit of fun.
The following year (felt like yearS) was not so fun. Picture: hard clay, plots untilled, dragging hoses here and there and some bastard of a weed called Creeping Charlie proliferating. Insert gardening hiatus here. Fast forward: new gardening managment, water spigots every other plot (no hose dragging required), a new resident tractor and people who are organized. Result: I’m baaaaccckkkk.

My garden grows with:
kale
lettuce
carrots
broccoli
brussel sprouts
zucchini
sugar snap peas
roma tomatoes
basil
cherry tomatoes
swiss chard
onions (3 types!)
eggplant
green peppers

I have been fortunate enough to have a wonderful helper this year. She’s old enough to appreciate the food we’re growing, even if she has no interest in eating it, and has been taking an interest in cooking lately. It’s like a Jamie Oliver tv episode meets the real world.

Best Garden Helper Ever!

Best Garden Helper Ever!

As a bonus, she’s also pretty fun to work with.
In the garden today, I was hunched over a freshly dug hole and she’s was diligently bringing me seedlings.
Me: can you pass me the swiss chard please?
Her: beets?
Me: swiss chard.
Her: beets.
Me: swiss chard!
Her: beets! (holding the plastic tab with the plant name)
Me: (Look up. Sigh.) Beets. $h*! I meant to buy swiss chard.
We both laughed and she continued to refer to the beets all day as the swiss chard.

Note the beets are not in the above list; they went to a garden plot neighbour. 🙂 After scouring York Region greenhouses, I finally found the swiss chard at Benedetto’s.

Normally when I’m at the garden, it’s all “blah, blah, manual labour, sweat, worms, dirt, insects, blah, blah”. Today, it was different. It had that “if you build it, they will come” feeling. In the past there have been 1-2 people at the garden plots simultaneously. Today, there were 12-20 people at any given time. And you know what? It felt good. It felt like this is what a community garden plot is supposed to be all about: meeting people who all have a common interest and working towards a common goal. These are people that I saw throughout the weekend at various garden centres and greenhouses (apparently we were all looking for swiss chard). Thanks to the garden uniting us, we smiled at each other, gave each other knowing nods or asked where they scored the deal on broccoli. It felt pure and grounded. It felt like life slowed down a little; life was a little bit less tech-dependent and a little more rural, if only for a few hours.

Community Garden Plots

Community Garden Plots

Freshly planted seedlings

Freshly planted seedlings

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The Child of a Runner.

Me: How was school?
11 yr old son: Good. We had Cross Country. I trained a guy.
Me: You did what?
11 yr old son: I was Jack’s personal trainer.
Me: Tell me more.
11 yr old son: Well, we had to do laps around the school. He went out way too fast and had to walk. I caught up to him and told him he had to pace himself and told him to run with me. So he did. We ran together. And we finished 2nd. John beat us but not by much.

Day 2
Me: How was school?
11 yr old son: Good. We had cross country again. This time I got a whole bunch of guys to run with me. I told them the key was to pace themselves. I was *this* close to beating my record yesterday but the teacher blew the whistle when I was 5 ft away from the end so we had to stop. I finished second again. John won again.
Me: You should have ditched the guys and sprinted. You could have been first.
11 yr old son: Whaa?? No way man. And leave my friends? That’s cheap.
Me: No, that’s competition.

Apparently the training that my kid did for his 5K race 18 months ago stuck. That’s cool. While I’m slightly disappointed that my progeny doesn’t have a competitive bone in his body right now, I think that in today’s environment where competition -> greed -> shareholder value is ripping apart our economy/the fabric of our society, his desire to help others instead of helping himself is a good thing. The fact that he wants to help others succeed at running? That’s AMAZING.

Boondoggle, Beaches, Beasts and Bracelets; How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Summer’s over folks.  Today was the First Day Back To School.  In honour of that, I’ve revived that famous September essay topic:

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Boondoggle Square Zipper Pull

Boondoggle

This was the summer my 8 yr old was introduced to boondoggle aka gimp/gymp. She quickly learned that there were many different styles (square is so yesterday Mom!) and wanted to try them all. By “try them”, I mean choose the colours and have me start it, then she would work 3-5 levels and hand it back for me to finish. My son was interested but he had decided this was a gender specific activity and he was the wrong gender. He would work a row or two and then dismiss it as a girl thing. Bummer…I could have used an extra set of hands.

This is the life!

Beaches

We headed out to the East Coast for our vacation this year. We had such a great time in Prince Edward Island a few years ago that we decided to go back. If you’ve never been, you should go. It’s absolutely beautiful. The dirt really is red! The people are fabulous and the beaches are stunning. We stayed inside the PEI National Park. Our morning commute was a short walk across a road, over a sand dune and voila: the beach.

The view on my morning run.

Wee Jellyfish: Before

Wee Jellyfish: After

That's not Jello!

See if you can find: seaweed (2 kinds), shells (oyster, clam and quahog), crab legs and rocks.

Beasts!

I always find ocean beaches to be more interesting than lake beaches. This year the Atlantic didn’t disappoint. Jellyfish, crab parts, shells, odd bits of lobsters and a dead sea bird were some of our finds. Dead jellyfish feel like partly melted Jello, in case you were wondering.

One dinner plate sized jelly tore in half when a parent picked it up. Apparently the habitat the kids built for it wasn’t enough to keep it alive. 10 mins later all the kids on the beach had a piece of it.

Bracelets

We returned back home and the kids went back to camp for the last few weeks of summer. New counselors brought new ideas and friendship bracelets were introduced. I was a late bloomer when it comes to friendship bracelets. For the sake of brevity, let’s just say I inherited a tonne of embroidery floss in my early twenties and my university roommate schooled me in the art of knot-tying. When my daughter raved about them two weeks ago, I pulled out my stash which included some finished bracelets. Her her eyes lit up. Fast forward a few weeks and we had 4 new bracelets, happy kids and the end of Summer.

Designs from top to bottom: Chevron, the Fish, Zig Zag

Some city in Greece…I think it’s called Marathon?

In an earlier post I alluded to my inability to commit to The Big Race. For me, The Big Race (by the way, when you read that, you should be hearing one of those ominous radio echoes repeating “The Big Race”, just for effect 🙂 ), is the marathon.

I’ve been thinking about running a marathon for a while. I’m not sure why. The idea of running the distance (42 km/26 mi) doesn’t appeal to me. The idea of running for four hours (give or take — probably give at this point) doesn’t appeal to me. I think the appeal is in being able to say I’ve done it. I’m not looking for bragging rights; it’s more like crossing it off a list of things you’ve accomplished. When you think about it, that’s not a driving motivator to run 42 km. Now you know why I’ve been thinking about this since June 2010 and haven’t done anything about it.

Recently, my employment contract came to an end and spending 4-6 hours/day looking for work started to take it’s toll. I was still running, but without any direction. Also, living in the Great White North and not owning a treadmill, I found myself challenged to get out and run in inhospitable weather conditions. I needed purpose. I needed something to plan/organize for. It was the perfect breeding ground for the inspiration to enter The Big Race.

It started easily enough: find a training plan. I like Hal Higdon’s plans. I’ve used a few in the past and been very successful. Next: start training. Easy enough. I started running with some purpose and regularity in January. My sights were set on the Ottawa Marathon at the end of May. Lots of time! So, I ran. And I ran. I wobbled a bit in February (weather!) and was reduced to spending time on our elliptical machine. I got back on track. Suddenly, it’s Go time: time to start following the training plan, with 16 weeks to go until Race Day. The training started and it was a cinch! Weather was in my favour and if it wasn’t, I pushed through knowing I had a goal to reach and a training session to cross off my calendar. And then it happened. People I know who are also running the race started asking me when I was going to register for the race. I was hesitant to register, fearing my training would be sidelined by injury (remember that knee injury from soccer and that long road to recover in Sept/Oct?) or weather. I planned on waiting until the end of February to sign up for the race, thinking I would have a good idea of my fitness and my commitment levels at that time.

I started receiving emails with the subject line “Race 50% sold out”, “Race 55% sold out” and “Have you registered yet?”. I ran from these emails like a indebted person runs from the debt collector. My motto became “duck and weave, duck and weave” in an attempt to avoid commitment. Then it struck me: I was afraid. I was afraid to mentally commit to The Big Race. I had physically committed myself but my brain wasn’t sure it could cash the cheques my body was writing (Yes, that’s a nod to Top Gun). The realization surprised me. I’ve never been hesitant about a race before. I mulled that over for a day or so and then plunged right in and registered for the race. Suddenly, it became very real. I am going to run a Marathon. Wow…

So far, so good. I ran 19.5 km last weekend and that’s the longest I’ve ever run, which is quite an accomplishment in and of itself. It’s been tough to get out this week (sitting here right now when I should be running 10K) as I’m dealing with March Break and sick kids but I’ll find the time because I am going to run a Marathon.

Extolling the Virtues of Beautifully Crafted Copy aka Ads I Like

I was thinking today of my relationship with running and my inability to commit to “The Big Race”.  More on that in another post.  For now though, the thought trail led me down memory lane and I remembered New Balance’s love/hate advertising campaign.

I can identify with this ad.  I’m sure most runners can.  Mmm, warm blankets, sleep, zzzzzz vs Ugh, cold running clothes, windchill, yowza, I’m awake!  Legs feel like lead vs I’m ALIVE!

It’s been a while since advertising campaigns have really grabbed my attention.  It may seem quite trivial to discuss the impact marketing/advertising can have in your life but really – take a look around you – commercialism is everywhere.  Of course it would have an impact on anyone. 

When I think of popular campaigns, I remember Nike.  Just Do It.  Bo Knows.  And let us not forget Nike’s whole Women campaign from the 1990’s.  That campaign spoke volumes to me. That was a truly beautiful campaign.

If you walked into my dorm room, you would have been greeted by a centrefold of Bo Jackson in a bathtub (soooo wish I had a scan of that to plop in here – If any readers have a jpg of this ad, feel free to share!) surrounded by a wall of Nike adverts with that all-too-familiar font.  Nike was wordy back then.  That suited me well.  It made things stick.  The words gave me inspiration from which to draw motivation.  In researching this post (sifting through pages on the internet seeking out the old ads), I learned that the creative genius behind the Nike Women campaign that affected me so, was Janet Champ.  Her attitude of empowerment was flashed in my face when I was in my early 20s, trying to figure out who I was, who I wanted to be and what I could do.  I was ripe for the picking and their perfect consumer.

I fell in love with Janet’s copy.  I believed there was no stopping me.  I believed I could be anything I wanted to be and do anything I wanted to.  It may sound silly but if you look at the impact their campaign had and the response to it, you’ll know that I’m not alone in my sentiments.  You may even be just like me and have felt similarly upon reading their ads.  The art and copy wasn’t just a promotional tool.  They were pieces of art.  To that end, some ads from this campaign are actually displayed in the Smithsonian.  Part of me wishes I still had those dog-eared bits of paper.  I would show them to my daughter.  I wonder what her reaction would be and if she would draw energy from that beautifully crafted copy. Would those words inspire her and re-enforce that she is strong, capable and unstoppable?

Did these beautifully crafted words make me a better person and shape who I am today? Who knows. I do know that in those turbulent years of my early 20’s, when I was creating the person I would become, in times of indecision, I would look at my postered walls, pick up my gym shoes and Just Do It. (The shoes weren’t Nike btw, so the ads spurred me to action but not the purchasing kind of action.)

It’s International Women’s Day and therefore fitting that I post some of the ads from the Nike Women Campaign.  I threw in the Bo Knows commercial just for fun.  That and “I’m Not a Runner” – more current but one of my faves.

(Click on the ads to read the text.)

Nike: Measure of a Woman

Nike: 40 yr old woman

I so wish I had the ad that contained this brilliant copy:

You were born a daughter. You looked up to your mother. You looked up to your father. You looked up at everyone. You wanted to be a princess. You thought you were a princess. You wanted to own a horse. You wanted to be a horse. You wanted your brother to be a horse. You wanted to wear pink. You never wanted to wear pink. You wanted to be a Veterinarian. You wanted to be President. You wanted to be the President’s Veterinarian. You were picked last for the team. You were the best one on the team. You refused to be on the team. You wanted to be good in algebra. You hid during algebra. You wanted the boys to notice you. You were afraid the boys would notice you. You started to get acne. You started to get breasts. You started to get acne that was bigger than your breasts. You wouldn’t wear a bra. You couldn’t wait to wear a bra. You couldn’t fit into a bra. You didn’t like the way you looked. You didn’t like the way your parents looked. You didn’t want to grow up. You had your first best friend. You had your first date. You had your second best friend. You had your second first date. You spent hours on the telephone. You got kissed. You got to kiss back. You went to the prom. You didn’t go to the prom. You went to the prom with the wrong person. You spent hours on the telephone. You fell in love. You fell in love. You fell in love. You lost your best friend. You lost your other best friend. You really fell in love. You became a steady girlfriend. You became a significant other. YOU BECAME SIGNIFICANT TO YOURSELF. Sooner or later, you start taking yourself seriously. You know when you need a break. You know when you need a rest. You know what to get worked up about and what to get rid of. And you know when it’s time to take care of yourself, for yourself. To do something that makes you stronger, faster, more complete. Because you know it’s never too late to have a life. And never too late to change one. JUST DO IT.

Life: It’s about clean lines

I’ve been painting a bedroom and as it was a large room, I had much time to think while I worked. I drew several parallels between painting and life.

It turns out that everything I needed to know, I learned from Bob the Builder. There’s a Bob the Builder song called “Right Tool for the Job”. If you’ve got the right tools, your job is easier. It doesn’t matter if you’re painting, managing a project or planning a party. With the right tools (resources/people/technology), you can get the job done and get it done right. If your tools are people, make sure they’re coached and supported adequately.

Ask for advice even if you’ve done the job previously. Consult anyone else who has performed a similar task or your neighbourly subject matter expert. You’ve done this task so efficiently you could do it in your sleep. Why ask anyone else what their experience has been like? Because you might learn something and it might be useful/make your job easier.  You might even find out (gasp!) that you’ve been doing it the hard way.

Clean lines take lots of preparation. You can just jump in and start painting but it’s always a good idea to minimize risk in whatever you do. Put down your drop cloths. Move furniture out of the way. Get the ladder that is the right height for you to reach comfortably. Imagine any venture that isn’t planned.  Since the holiday season is here, imagine a holiday party without planning.  Don’t invite me.  I’ll expect food and drink and you won’t have planned for any.

Clean lines take patience. Go too fast and you might end up crooked. Good work takes a reasonable amount of time.

Clean lines take humility. Don’t get cocky. If you get arrogant about your line, karma will visit before you’re finished and you’ll end up with a smear or a jag. Everyone likes to celebrate your successes with you; no one likes to hear you brag about them though.

Revisit your work. You’ve just finished writing a document; now what? Put it aside and then revisit it and edit it. Touch ups are worth it.

Finally, check the bottoms of your feet before you leave the room.  If you’ve stepped in something, clean it up before you track it all over the place.  Hopefully, if you did step in something and track it everywhere, you’ll notice it before anyone else does.  If anyone else does see it?  Take responsibility for your actions, clean it up and move on.

Fall: Harvest and Holidays

Raisin Challah

Raisin Challah

I really love this time of the year.  I enjoy fall fairs, apple picking and the leaves changing.  Fall is also the time of the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and Thanksgiving, and in our house, that means lots of baking.  I’m not Jewish (I married into a family that is) and during this season, I joke often that I’m only in it for the food.

A Jewish holiday wouldn’t be the same without Challah (unless it’s Passover and that’s another blog entry).  The recipe that I use makes 2 loaves.  This  bread freezes nicely and often we keep both loaves.  Rosh Hashanah means I give a lot of bread away.  I can’t make enough bread for everyone who reads this but I can post the recipe here so you can enjoy this for yourself!

New Year’s Sweet Round Raisin Challah
excerpted from A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking by Marcy Goldman

2 tblsp dry yeast
1 3/4 cup warm water
1/3 cup plus a pinch of sugar
1/3 cup light honey
3 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
6 1/2 – 7 1/2 cups bread flour
1 1/2 cups dark or yellow raisins, plumped [see below]

Egg Wash:
2 tblsp water
2 tsp sugar
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
sesame seeds for sprinkling (optional)

A few notes before you begin:
I use 1 egg plus 1 tblsp of water for my egg wash. It works quite nicely and is less fussy than the original.
I have successfully frozen this dough before baking, removed it from the freezer, let it go through the 2nd rise and then baked it. I have also successfully frozen a baked loaf.
When measuring honey, it sticks to your measuring cup. To avoid this, pour the oil from the recipe into the 1/3 cup measure, then pour it into the 1/2 cup measure. Fill your 1/3 cup measure with honey and top off the 1/2 cup measure with oil. The thin layer of oil left behind in the 1/3 cup measure will prevent honey from sticking to the measuring cup.
I use a KitchenAid 5 quart stand mixer with a dough hook for this recipe.

[To plump your raisins, pour boiling water over them and let them sit for a few minutes. I do this first and drain them while the dough is resting.]
Stir together the yeast, water and a pinch of sugar.  Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel/dish cloth.
Allow the mixture to stand for 5 minutes.
Briskly stir in the remaining sugar, honey and salt.
Add oil, eggs, yolks and 5 cups of the flour.
Turn your mixer onto speed 2 or 3 and let it go until the dough starts to come together, approximately 5-10 minutes.
Knead by hand or with a dough hook for about 10 to 12 minutes, adding the remaining flour as required to make a soft and elastic dough. [ Add the flour very slowly to avoid having it splash back at you.]
The dough should leave the sides of the bowl. If it is sticky, add small amounts of flour until it is soft. You may have to divide the dough into 2 portions and work with them separately, if it is too bulky for your mixer.
Once the dough has been mixed and is silky smooth and soft, let the dough rest on a lightly floured board for 10 minutes or longer; you want that gluten to relax so you can easily add the raisins.
Flatten the bread gently and press in the raisins as evenly as possible throughout the dough, folding the dough over the raisins to “tuck” them in.  This takes forever. It’s much faster to divide your dough into 2 batches, toss 1/2 of the dough plus 1/2 the raisins (drained and patted dry) in your mixer on a low speed for a few minutes. If you choose to do this by hand, keep going until all of the raisins are added. It’s worth the effort!
Place the dough in a greased bowl, brush the top with a little oil and cover it with plastic wrap and a tea towel.  Let the dough rise until almost doubled and puffy (45-90 minutes).  I find the time for rising varies, depending on how warm my home is. Sometimes it is up to 2 hours.
Divide the dough in two and shape accordingly – round for Rosh Hashanah, braided for Shabbos or just in a loaf pan. I then use the plastic wrap from the first rise to lightly cover the shaped challahs while they go through a second rise. I put a tea towel over the plastic and set them on the stove to rise for another 30 minutes or so. The original recipe has the egg wash put on the loaves now. I perform that step after the second rise.
Placed the shaped bread on a baking sheet.
Whisk together the egg glaze ingredients. Brush the bread with egg wash and sprinkle on the sesame seeds. Let the dough rise until puffy (20-30 mins).
Preheat your oven to 400°F. Bake the bread for 10 mins, then reduce the heat to 350° and bake for another 20-25 mins or until the bread is evenly browned.
If you find that the loaves are starting to darken more than you would like, cover them lightly with foil and continue baking for the remaining time.

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