July 22, 2011

Organic Mama Is Moving!!!

Hi there! I'm so glad you've stopped by to visit. I'm actually writing in a new place now and all my previous posts can be found there as well. So, if you want to make a comment, make sure you do it in my new space so I can respond.

Come visit me at Organicmamacafe.com

See you there!
Monna, the Organic Mama

July 7, 2011

"Someday" is a Dangerous Word

Someday is a word with a rather fanciful quality about it, isn't it? It is often imbued with unfulfilled longings, wistful nostalgia about who we used to be or dreams of what we might become - eventually.

Lately I've been thinking "someday" isn't as much fanciful as it is dangerous because we often use it to describe a day that never comes. For example...

"Someday", I'll lose weight and fit into those size 6 jeans again.

We'll get married "someday", when we can afford a wedding.

"Someday", I'll learn to say no to extra activities that eat up my spare moments and do what I'm really dreaming of.

"Someday" when things slow down, we'll go get that coffee and catch up!

"Someday", when we make more money, we'll stop using credit and pay with cash.


I'll open that coffee shop "someday" when I'm feeling more brave.


"Someday", when I'm finally back to my "real" size, I'll go shopping for that new wardrobe. In the meantime, these old clothes will do. It'll motivate me.


"Someday", we'll go on that vacation. I just can't take time off work right now. 

The problem with "Someday" is that someday never comes.

And all those dreams and hopes about what you want your life to be are just wistful thinking until you -

Set a goal

Make a plan

and

Execute it. 

What "someday" have you been putting off? Stop using the word "someday" and do it!

July 5, 2011

Bringing Isaac Home - You Can Help!

About a week ago, I spent a wonderful evening at a craft night reconnecting with friends I knew from my high school youth group. I know some of you who know me might be asking, "Craft night? Monna???" and then bursting into hysterical laughter. Ok, ok. I can take the ridicule. You might remember my Facebook pic of the unfortunate felting incident which clearly illustrates my singular lack of crafting skill. Therefore, why would I go to a craft night? So glad you asked.

Friends of mine created this craft night to create items that can be sold to support the adoption of a very special little boy named Isaac. My friends Jason and Jaime, already parents of three beautiful kids, want to add Isaac to their family.  Now, I could try to tell you the story of how they came to this decision or I can let you read their story here and point you to the blog where they're chronicling their journey here.

I will tell you that they have a huge amount of money to raise - $40,000 - to adopt Isaac. I can tell you that Isaac has Down Syndrome. In his country, Down Syndrom kids are usually institutionalized by age 4 and their survival rate after that goes down significantly. Isaac is now 3. I can also tell you that I have known Jaime and Jason for years and that just thinking of them always warms my heart and brings a smile to my face. They are lovely people, inside and out and are kind, honest and of the highest character. I know they will be wonderful and loving parents to Isaac.

Yes, I know. This baby is wearing a pink onesie. But, it really is Isaac
Just a note about adoption fundraising. Prior to becoming a parent, I thought this was a really strange idea. After all, if someone wants to adopt, shouldn't they be responsible enough to do it themselves? Then, I had kids and my heart opened to the needs of children around the world to be fed, clothed, rescued from desolation - loved. Now, I think of what I hope someone else would do to help my children if I were gone. And, then, I take every opportunity to make a difference in the lives of children (and adults) near me, even if I only have $5 or my talents to offer. There are so many children who need homes and if I can help in any way, I'm on board!

So, I donated to Isaac's adoption as soon as I heard.

Hope you will help too. You can donate here.

Please -  Pass this link along to anyone who you think might be interested in helping!

 Here are some memories of the great craft night. Don't worry, I did not waste any crafting supplies by trying to create anything. This post is my contribution..


Darling little aprons
Jeanine, one of the lovely and craft-talented volunteers
Paper bead necklaces. These are hard work!
One of the necklaces, modeled by my friend Megan.
Beautiful friends from high school, Megan and Rachel. They look like they just graduated, right?
One of my favorite items, a pillowcase dress of retro fabric!
A volunteer to whom I should probably donate my own scrapbooking supplies. She actually might use them!
Darling little hair baubles. My daughter proudly wears one!
All the talented women! Jaime is gal in the middle wearing the gray shirt. Photo Credit to Megan O of The O Show blog

June 29, 2011

Feeling Blue? Practical Remedies for Post Partum Depression

Pregnancy and birth are two of the most amazing experiences in a woman's life. The power of our bodies to create, grow and deliver a beautiful little life is mind boggling. And, our bodies serve up a rather dizzying cocktail of natural hormones to create and sustain that tiny person growing inside us. While on the one hand, those hormones prepare us for birth by pushing us into a nesting frenzy and giving us that mama bear protectiveness after birth, they can also leave us reeling with the rapidity with which our emotions can swing from one extreme to another.

Since those hormone start ramping up from the start of pregnancy to at least the first few months after delivery (and longer if one breastfeeds), it's often hard to tell where the hormones end and where mom begins. Looking back at my two post-birth experiences, I remember times (when I thought I was acting completely rational) I would now categorize as, well, crazy-style! Then there were days when I knew I wasn't feeling right, like the time I visited my OB's office after my first baby, and began sobbing hysterically when realized I didn't have my insurance card and the office staff was rude to me. Seriously. Loud, hiccuping sobs. So embarrassing and so normal!

Now that I'm two and a half years past my most recent delivery, I can clearly see that while my emotions were probably a lot higher due to the death of my parents around the time I was delivering, I still definitely suffered from PPD each time. I contribute it to PPD partly because with each delivery, I felt a distinct change in my emotional and physical health around the two year mark. Thankfully, the first time, despite my having hysterics in public, my OB encouraged me that as long as I didn't feel I was a danger to myself or my baby, I didn't need antidepressants. As a mama who really does believe in avoiding pharmaceuticals as much as possible because of potential dangerous side affects, I'm truly grateful to her for her wise help.

So, what should you do if you're suffering from PPD? Here are some of the things I have done with success.

1. Get a little Vit D daily - as in Real Sunshine.
My dad always said that if you're feeling blue, open the blinds and let the light in. I think you should not only let the light into your house but go out for 15 minutes and let it shine on your bare skin. The brilliance of the light truly will illuminate your whole spirit. It remindes me of a verse I memorized from the Bible as a kid, "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." The light of the sun is a powerful healer. Let in the light so it can blast the darkness away.

2. Get exercise daily.
You're up at crazy hours with a new baby anyway, right? Stumble out of bed and walk up and down your block. Seriously. You don't have to run a marathon. You just had a baby for goodness sake. Take it ssssssslllllllllllllllllloooooooooooowwwwwww.  And leave the baby with your partner. You need a break.

3. Take a shower. Every.single.day.
If you haven't had a baby, you may be saying, "Duh, Mons. Obviously."

Have I got news for you, newbie. Just wait till it's your turn. Hahaha!!  It's not that easy to shower when you have a 2 1/2 year old running around wreaking havoc while your newborn screams because you've put her down for the 45 seconds it takes you to pee. A full two minute shower with a screaming baby seems interminable and not relaxing. At. All.

But - Mama - do it anyway. Strap your precious munchkin into the bouncy seat, set it next to the shower and steel your heart against the cries while you lather yourself up and let that hot (or cold) water run over you for two whole minutes. Trust me. You'll feel like a new woman and your baby will thank you.

3. Connect with other adults besides your partner.
This is so much harder than it seems! There are no end to the reasons not to get out. First of all, gathering the gear to get two small children out of the house, not to mention ensuring they both have clean diapers, is a nearly overwhelming task. I learned to pack my diaper bag the night before and try to have my bottles filled (nope, breastfeeding did not go well for me!). Hot carseats, nap schedules and other stuff get in the way. But, keep trying! Find places to talk with adults whether it's a La Leche League meeting, mother's playdate group on meetup.com, church, the library or the check out at the grocery store. You need adult interaction and your partner needs a break - no matter how amazing they are.

4. Sleep every chance you get!
Every more experienced mom I knew said to me, "Sleep when your baby sleeps." And, just as many times I probably ignored that advice because I thought I was different. My house needed to be perfect. Boy was I tired! The second time I had a baby, I listened. Now I'm saying it to you. Just go to sleep. Trust me, the laundry will still need to be folded when you wake up - for the next 18 years. So, just relax, get some rest and everything will seem better in the morning.

5. Eat nourishing food and drink lots of water.
Look ladies, right after you have a baby is not the time to start a crazy weight loss plan. Relax and recover. Eat food that will give you strength - lots of great veggies, healthy proteins, whole grains, fruit and some dairy. You'll feel more nourished and up to the task.

6. Listen to music and dance like a crazy, crazy person.
This is actually advice from my first OB, Nichelle Whitehead M.D. Such great counsel. Be silly. Listen to something that reminds you of who you were before you became, "Mama" all day long. Jazz, Rock, Top 40, whatever. Dance around with your hands in the air and laugh at the sight you probably make.

7. Speaking of laughing, try it.
Find something that makes you laugh every day. Watch a funny show, read the comic strip, surf Youtube.com. There is something out there that will lift your spirits. Make it your daily assignment.

8. Visit a respected herbalist or acupuncturist for help. A good herbalist will be able to suggest herbs safe for nursing mothers. And, acupuncturists specialize in putting bodies and emotions back in balance. I find acupuncture so relaxing, I usually fall asleep during my treatments. Aaaaahhhh....

However, if you are depressed after having a baby, don't hide it. Talk to someone who loves you about what you're going through. Don't wait till you feel you're a danger to yourself or your baby. If you are, get help right away. Call your OB. Call your mom or your partner. Do not be embarrassed! Hormones and lack of sleep can affect our minds in surprising and profound ways.

Whatever your post partum experience, taking good care of yourself after having a baby is essential to your overall health as a mom, a partner and whole woman. Take care of yourself so you can take better care of your family!

June 28, 2011

Organic Mama's 3 Ways to Save in the Summer Heat

Summer is definitely here and I don't know about you, but I find myself needing cool refreshment a lot more often. Since I love to hit up my local coffee shops, I have to find ways to save a little extra to afford my regular coffee or tea - hehehe...

Here are some things we do or have done in the past to save money on our regular bills each month.

1. Save on your energy bills by switching to a Time of Use plan.
Both SRP and APS offer savings on energy to customers willing to shift using energy sucking appliance like dishwashers, washers and dryers to off peak hours. APS has several different plans and SRP offers online calculators to help you determine if switching your usage will save you money. Comparing basic usage to the cost savings reveals that basic prices in July are as much as 12.12c a kilowatt hour vs. time of use price of 6.65c per kilowatt hour. Pretty significant when you add it up! It might take some adjusting to get used to a time of use plan, but in the end, it can mean great savings for you.

2. Use water wisely in the summer
Whether you're gardening or just filling up that pool, avoid unnecessary evaporation by watering in the cooler hours of the day. The University of Arizona's Master Gardener site also offers great tips for growing healthier plants by watering deeply and more effectively to create drought tolerant plants that need less water.

And, if you want to save money by using less water indoors, do what my mom always did and set guidelines for shorter shower times. With five girls, you can imagine it was a pretty huge cost savings to cut our shower time from 10 minutes each to 2. Yikes! Now that I've paid those water bills, I can only imagine those bills!

3. Use a clothesline rather than a dryer
According to Laundry List, drying laundry in the dryer can cost between $0.15 and $0.40 a load. If you're washing for a family, this adds up! If you switch to line drying you'll not only save money on the dryer, you'll save money because your clothes will last longer.

My clothes are currently on the line outside and in this heat, they'll be dry within an hour. I also have an indoor drying rack in my townhouse and those clothes take a little longer. A word of wisdom about outside line drying...be sure you turn your clothes inside out and dry them in the shade to avoid fading the colors. Unless you're drying something white. Then, put it in the sun for natural bleaching power!

There you have it. Three ways great ways to save cash toward your savings account or toward a nice cold latte from your favorite local java joint!

June 24, 2011

A Bike and A Lesson in Living Now

Is there such thing as being too frugal? You'd have had a hard time convincing me of it a few months ago. My mother and her mother before her were practiced at sacrificing and saving for their families' financial welfare. My Grandma Verna survived what we call the "Great Depression" so she had money saving tips that boggle the mind, including washing and reusing bread bags and reusing paper napkins for at least two meals. My mom wasn't far behind her in practicing frugality and early on I saw the wisdom of their habits. Neither had debt, both paid off their homes and saved for the future.

As a mom, I often find myself giving up something special that I want for the sake of my family's needs or perceived needs. I prioritize bills against other things we need and push those things further down the list. As we provide (on a single income) for our small children, who eat an astonishing amount of food, I find myself giving up things I need for myself, like attractive clothing, dinners out with friends and even makeup. There have been bigger ones too - like the birthday money I received toward a "real" camera that I had to spend on an unexpected bill. That was three years ago and I still don't have the camera.

I am circumspect about these choices and recognize them as a necessary part of my decision to trade a more comfortable income with the chance to stay home and enjoy every minute of my children's preschool experience. And, I can honestly say, I am content.

But, since a rather life changing experience in February when I spent some time in critical condition due to a severe miscarriage hemorrhage, my outlook has changed. For those of you who have read my blog for a while, I don't want to harp on this excessively, but quite frankly, feeling my life almost seep out between my legs drastically affected my perspective. I emerged with a profound gratitude to be alive and a fierce determination to wring every drop from this intoxicating drink called life. I find myself saying, "Yes!" a lot more and taking every opportunity to connect with people, long time friends and strangers. And, I'm doing things for me that I had previously put off to "someday".

Before my mom died, she gave me money for a birthday and I told her I couldn't decided whether to buy a beautiful quilt I loved or get a jump on some other financial obligation.

Mom surprised me by saying, "Sweetie, you know I believe in being frugal. I have spent a lot of my life giving up things I want to support our family and I've never regretted it. But, I hope you'll get that quilt because you need to have a little fun along with the responsibility."

Like a typical daughter, I listened but I still did what I thought was right. I didn't get the quilt.

This year, I feel differently. When we had a little extra income a month ago, I did something extravagant. I spent money on ME and bought a bike. A brand new, sparkly, lavender bike. My husband threatened to pick it himself when I teetered on the edge of "No". I've been riding around like a little kid ever since and am relishing the freedom, alone time and exercise it's brought to me.

Friends, I am not advocating being unwise or thoughtless with your finances. I still believe in saving, making smart choices and shopping at thrift stores (it's like a treasure hunt!). My purchase didn't require a credit card or compromising my ability to buy groceries.

But, I discovered that I believe in one pass at this life and I want to find a way to feel it all. I want the beauty along with the ugly, the hope along with the pain. And, in this case, the bike along with helmet (even though that's a double positive). Taking hold of life does not necessarily require spending more money - but it does require our taking advantage of the moment we're in and being the fullest version of ourselves.

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend and that you are enjoying every bit of the life you're leading. If you're looking for me, I will be riding my bike!

June 23, 2011

The Barbie Party

Now that we're done philosophizing about present opening at kid's parties, here's what we served. I hate to admit I completely forgot to photograph it because I was so stinking busy having fun and running back to my house to let people into the bathroom at my house. (Older townhouse pool = no public bathroom) Oh well. It is kind of a bummer because the food was delicious and we had a wonderful time eating it. Alas! I'll tell you about it anyway!

We decided to go for a tea party theme, since Barbie is kind of like a princess. Princesses have tea parties all the time, right?

The beautiful barbie cake.  You can see our refreshing drinks in the background!

We served three different tea sandwiches, goat cheese and cucumber, pb and J for the kids, and egg salad (thanks Mom-in-law!). I also ran across a delicious cold orzo salad recipe just a few days before the party that turned out to be a huge hit. It was made with orzo, red onion, bacon, peas, mint and feta and it was incredible! There was also fruit, apple chips, potato chips (hey, everything can't be a break from tradition!), veggies with dip (thanks sis!) and cup cake cones with home made ice cream. Instead of soda, we served hibiscus tea with lime slices and water chilled overnight with pineapple, ginger and mint in it. It was delicious. And the crowning achievement was a fabulous (seriously, beautiful) Barbie cake decorated by my mother in law. The kids could not wait to taste it!

Cute fruit landscape courtesy of my Mother-in-Law
We decorated with barbie stuff, fresh flowers, balloons and streamers. And instead of plastic toys as party favors, we just gave the flowers to the little princesses. They didn't seem to notice the difference.

I was pretty excited about how it turned out, especially because it's the first part of that size I've hosted at our townhouse. Well, at the pool anyway. And the kids had a great time even though they had to run back to my house every time they needed to use the bathroom.

Here's a full length shot of the barbie and the roses we gave to the princesses in attendance.

 The best part is that after we came home, my husband sweetly sent me upstairs to take a nap while the girls played with the new toys and he cleaned up the remaining destruction. Could it get any better?

June 22, 2011

Appreciating the Giver, part deux

This weekend, we marked the passing of five years since my oldest daughter's birth in the only way such an occasion can be marked. We had a Barbie party, of course.

I know, I know. Barbie is not a very strong role model in a household where feminine values of equality, spiritual insight, intellect and strength are celebrated daily. But, those are my hang ups, not my daughter's. When my daughter sees Barbie, she's not thinking, "Why are Barbie's boobs unnaturally large and pointy, like she's had a boob job?" or "Why do even Barbie's professional clothes make her look like she's engaging in some kind of sexy role playing?" Nope. When my daughter sees Barbie, she sees a beautiful princess who likes to wear cool clothes and has long lustrous hair.

Which is exactly what I want to talk about today.

For those of you who read last week's post about our plan to save gift opening till after the party because we wanted to focus on just having fun with our friends rather than making the party about gifts, here's an update.
Your comments were supportive and encouraging even if you disagreed, like this friend did.
"I admire you trying to change...let me "share"...from the other side.  ...my child, waits in anticipation for gift time to come, so that they can give their friend their carefully chosen gift and see them open the gift that they had chosen for them...the thank you card... is not the same as the joy of seeing someone open your gift.

As I took in the responses, I noticed a pattern. Several moms shared their own feelings of insecurity about giving gifts to their peers or to their children's peers in a public setting.  I began to realize that this concern about giving an appropriate gift might be more related to our insecurities about "fitting in" as adults and being validated in our choices than it was about our kids' feelings regarding gifts.

I recognized this, partly, thanks to an antagonist who wrote me a strongly worded email expressing her frank opposition. Her email started similarly to the above message but also shared her concern that doing things too far out of the norm (like not serving hot dogs or not opening gifts at a party) would make my daughter's party so weird her friends wouldn't want to come again and that her social life could be permanently skewed (at age 5!). The author finished by saying that it's really important for kids to "fit in" with their friends at this stage in life.

Those of you who have known me for a while may have started chuckling as you read that last sentence. 'Cause, you know, I'm just known for doing whatever is necessary to fit into the crowd. Hahaha!! 

It is my highest goal and full intention as a mother to teach my children the opposite of "fitting in". I pray and hope they will learn to live their lives according to their consciences and our family's belief system regardless of how far out of the norm that puts them. I don't want my children to feel they need to mute who they are or what they believe just so they can "fit in".  

No way.

We are intentionally raising our daughters to be confident, EXTRA-ordinary women who are comfortable in their own skin and in their ability to make wise choices, even if those choices rock the boat a bit. I only hope they will learn to temper their strength with a grace, love and compassion that exceeds what I have shown at various times in my life.

That said, I don't really think not choosing to open gifts at a party is that big of a "rock the boat" issue.  I mean, I just wanted to try something new because it seemed like it might be a good idea! So, why the strong reaction from both sides?

The truth is, I think the majority of us have been situations where we have felt insecure about whether or not our (or our child's) gift was "good enough". And friends, when I say a "majority" of parents, I'm counting myself.

Listening to fellow moms express their fears about whether or not their gift would be appreciated helped me recognize my own feelings of insecurity over whether or not what I have to offer is good enough. But the thing is, if the person receiving the gift loves you or me, they will appreciate our intention. And, regardless of their reaction, we should feel confident that we each have something precious to offer those we love. Fear of rejection should not guide our life decisions.

Which leads me to my final thoughts on this subject. When I realized that the conclusions I'd reached about not opening gifts at my daughter's party might (!!!) just be more about my hangups than those of the children who would be attending the party, I decided to observe the kids at the party and make my decision based on their interactions not my own insecurities.

Here's what I saw.

Fun, excited little friends who arrived at the party bearing gifts, dressed for a swim-fest. They jumped in the pool, raced around with their Barbies (well, if they were girls), ate and drank with gusto and clearly had a wonderful time celebrating with each other. Then, as the party neared its end, they all said, "When are you going to open my gift?" Obviously, they considered it the high point in the festivities.

So, we gathered around and with giggles and great excitement, the entire crowd of kids "helped" my daughter open her gifts. They all gasped with pleasure over each gift and she was truly excited with each and every special treasure her friends had carefully chosen, wrapped and presented. A carefully-drawn princess card created by one of her little friends received one of the biggest exclamations of delight of the party. 

Watching the process gave me a new appreciation for my daughter and her ability to make her friends feel loved. And, it taught me a lesson in not projecting my own insecurities on my daughter.

There you have it. I still think it wouldn't be a big deal not to open presents at a party, especially for a younger crowd (say, 2 or 3 and under). A friend who moved to New Orleans about three years ago says she's only been to one party in that time where the birthday boy or girl opened gifts. But in this case, I learned a lesson about myself and being confident in who I am and the choices I make about my daughter. I want to make choices that are best for our family, whether or not they fit in with the norm. And, if I realize I am making an issue about something that may not be that big of a deal, I can change my mind without feeling like I've "lost face".

Whew. That's about enough philosophizing for me today. Tomorrow I'll tell you about the party menu. It was AWESOME.

I love hearing your feedback. Keep it coming!

June 21, 2011

Super Summer Smoothies

It's summer and my girls and I have been on the go a lot, swimming and visiting with friends. Hot weather equals lighter fare so we have been drinking smoothies for breakfast or as snacks. Plus, they're really fast and don't require heating up the kitchen. Who can argue with that?

I strongly believe that a body which is consistently nourished with good food will crave the food it needs to survive its current environment. At least this seems true with myself and my kids. Of course, the opposite occurs when I consistently barrage my palate with lots of sugar and nutrient deficient food, because those things have an addictive quality. That said, we crave water-laden fruit in the summer, definitely needed in the Arizona heat. So, in summer, our smoothies are fruit based but I usually manage to sneak a few veggies in as well.

These aren't exact measurements because, well, I don't use them myself. I am more into percentages that I increase or decrease based on how many people I'm serving. Here are my basic guidelines for fruity smoothies.

1. Only add enough liquid like yogurt, nut milk or coconut milk to get the blender moving. The flavors will be stronger and the smoothie will have a richer texture. If, like my husband, you enjoy more liquid-y smoothies, use more liquid.
2. Buy organic fruit frozen*. It's more cost effective than fresh and creates an ice-cream quality in your smoothie.
3. Add a banana unless you need to avoid them for some reason. They add creaminess and they are full of nutrients.
4. Try skipping the sweetener. Fruit, especially bananas, are rich in natural sugars. If you must sweeten more, try raw honey or raw agave syrup. Just a splash.
5. Blend till everything is really smooth. Nothing like a chunk of something to ruin a good smoothie. We're lucky enough to have a retro Vitamix (the stainless steel one) we received as a gift. And we love it.

Here are a few of our regular smoothies. I'll post others as we create them.

Basic Fruit Smoothie
yogurt (almond milk or coconut milk)
banana
frozen fruit like strawberries or raspberries
1 apple, sliced and quartered
1/4 cup of chopped red cabbage (you won't even taste it, I promise!)
splash of vanilla 

*Variation - instead of chopped red cabbage, add 1 cup or so of fresh spinach to your smoothie. You can use more because it has a mild flavor and won't change the overall taste of your smoothie. 


Pina Colada Smoothie
Coconut milk (you can use light or full fat)
Banana
Frozen pineapple
1/4 cup of shredded carrot

Chocolate Smoothie
Almond milk
Banana
2-3 T. Almond butter (you can use a handful of almonds but I'd only recommend it if you have a good blender or it'll be crunchy - and not in a good way)
1 T. raw cacoa nib powder or more if you like super chocolate (rich in antioxidants & flavonoids. Available & reasonably priced at Mountain Rose Herbs)
a few chunks of ice

This one is more of a treat, since it tastes like ice cream 
Contains caffeine so use with caution if serving to children, just like you would anything containing chocolate. Otherwise, you may be looking at a very late bedtime!


*Organic Mama Money Saving Tip $$$
If you run across a great sale or a friend needs to unload a bunch of fruit from their trees that you just can't eat in time, try freezing it. Just wash, slice, freeze on a cookie sheet and then bag. Otherwise, you'll end up with a huge bag of frozen mush. Still usable for baking but difficult to use for smoothies.

June 16, 2011

Appreciating the Giver, More than the Gift

This weekend, we're celebrating my oldest daughter's fifth birthday party and we're trying something new. In an effort to make the party about celebrating my daughter and teaching her to enjoy her friends, we won't be opening any gifts at the party. Before you get up in arms about my poor daughter not having a real birthday, read the previous sentence again. I didn't say she won't be getting gifts (Sheesh! I'm not a monster!), just that we won't be opening them at the party.
 
The idea not to open gifts at a kid's birthday party comes from experience. Prior to having my own children, I went to several of my friends' children's parties as a guest. Having grown up in a large, very noisy family who loved to have huge parties, I was used to the noise and chaos of 25+ children running around in a bouncy toy hall. But, the "present" ritual attracted my attention. I noticed that at present time, the guest of honor was often too high on sugar and adrenaline to even know what they were opening, let alone appreciate it.

Possibly more importantly that the celebrant's reaction, I noticed the reactions of the kids in attendance. Different social backgrounds determined what they were able to give and their reaction to gifts given by others. Some kids seemed oblivious to the whole process, usually those from higher income families for whom many presents are a given.  Others seemed more sensitive to the response of the birthday child to their gift (was it loved as much as another child's?), exhibiting embarrassment over the gift they gave or jealousy over others' gifts.

Apparently I'm not the only one who feels this way. Here's Miss Manner's opinion,  available at
http://lifestyle.msn.com/relationships/article.aspx?cp-documentid=20291213

Gentle Reader,
As it happens, this is a matter on which Miss Manners has recently issued A Pronouncement. And she has sided against the traditionalists.



Whoever thought it was a good idea to have a group of children sit around watching one child getting lots of stuff? The strain on the young host to exclaim over everything, including duplicates and disappointments, is equaled by the strain on the guests to conceal envy, as well as fear that their contributions don't match up.



Parents who have decided that it is more effective to teach gratitude in private, through forced writing of letters of thanks (let us hope that they are not sparing the children that), have done a favor for themselves and for their young guests.

I continued to feel uncomfortable with this ritual after having kids but caved to pressure from family members who felt it would be rude not to open presents at a party. I didn't know how exactly to communicate what I felt and I didn't want to commit a social faux pas. But I couldn't help but wondering what would happen if instead of opening presents as a major part of a party, we just saved those for a more private time when the birthday girl could enjoy them more?

Something has changed in me this year. I'm more gutsy. Maybe it's my age, maybe it's having faced one too many life altering experiences to care what other people think of my choices. My decision is to do things a little differently this year.

So, we're not opening presents at my daughter's party this year. Instead, we'll focus on having a great time with the neighbors, family and friends who are coming to celebrate with us. Rather than presents, we'll focus on good food, laughter and swimming. After every dreg of pink tea is enjoyed, every last ice cream cone cupcake is eaten and every guest has been sent home feeling special and loved, we will head indoors to open some presents. Then, we'll work on thank you cards that our daughter can decorate and hand deliver - so the givers feel well-thanked.

We've talked about this with our daughter and she is ok with it right now though it will be interesting to see how she feels on Saturday. After all, she is five. But, parenting is a bit of an experiment most of the time isn't it?

In the end, what I really want my daughter to learn is to love and to see the value of all her friends - regardless of the kind of gift they can afford to buy her. And, if it means she is "different" from her friends, she'll learn to feel comfortable with standing up for how our family does yet another thing differently, like eating organic, not drinking juice and believing in a God who loves every person in our world. Just another character building experience. And, who knows, maybe it will be a new party tradition that will make everyone more comfortable in the end?

What do you think?

Have a great weekend, everyone!

June 15, 2011

The Adventures of DeSTruCTO Girl

The last few weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind at our house as my two year old approaches the two and a half mark. Just as I was starting to relax because she's not so tippy when climbing and she plays so well with her sister so I can get something done, she changes it all up on me! The last few days, I've been spending all my time chasing that kid around and creating new resolutions for how to keep her safe. I figured I should capture some of her adventures here before I forget them!

Since I don't post pics of my kids on the blog, you'll just have to imagine the personality of this little woman. Her darling chubby cheeks, expressive eyes, astounding vocabulary and self-possessed manner remind me very much of Shirley Temple. On the other hand, her determination, reckless risk taking and wacky sense of humor remind me of Margaret O'brien's character, Tootie, in Meet Me In St Louis. Remember her? She's kind of like a charming Tazmanian Devil. But her nickname (besides Destructo Girl - which my father-in-law protests) is Monkey.  Here's a small window into what part of a day with her is like.

Monkey climbs into my bed around 4:30 am and we snuggle and sleep till she wakes around 7:30. She opens her eyes, makes several silly faces at me and says, "It's morning time, Mommy!!" Me "Don't you want to snuggle a little longer?" Monkey "Nope, Mama. Let's have breakfast! How about porridge?"

Waiting for breakfast only results in crazed, wild Monkey so we head downstairs to breakfast. As I prep the food, I find myself hollaring, "Monkey, get off the table!" "Monkey, stop playing with my candle."  "Monkey, QUIT hitting your sister!!!" By the time she reaches the breakfast table, she's worked up a healthy appetite. She eats porridge, toast, an egg and some fruit. She wants yogurt too but I tell her to take a break. After eating she plays with big sis (the Princess) while I clean up the kitchen.

In the midst of playtime/cleanup, I see the girls coming down the hall together, giggling hysterically. In a seemingly impossible lack of acrobatic skill, Monkey slips and knocks her back against the corner of the wall. Big sister Princess looks at me, horrified. I reassure her the accident isn't her fault and check out Monkey's back. Great. A giant welt has instantly appeared. I apply arnica cream and we get dressed to leave the house.

In the car, we turn on the radio and Monkey asks, "Oh, is that Baby Gaga?" I laugh and answer, "Sort of." Non-plussed, she remarks, "I like her. She has a good singing voice." My oldest and I exchange amused smiles in the rear view mirror. We pass a Starbucks and Monkey says, "Oooo, Starbucks! How about a Whoopie Pie, Mom? Those are my favorite!!" I don't know where she gets these ideas. Of course, I've NEVER given her Whoopie Pie. Well, maybe once. Or twice. Look, I'm desperate for distractions sometimes, people! But we don't buy one today.

We visit Grandma's house to tend our little garden and Monkey vaults out of her carseat. She races through the house looking for Gram (who isn't home yet) and settles for the toybox. Since the house isn't too large and fairly open, I take a moment to talk to my husband's Aunt in the kitchen, keeping Monkey in the corner of my vision. Suddenly, I can't see her so I run to the den where the other toys are stored. No Monkey. I run through the house calling her.

Then, I notice the front door isn't fully latched. My heart lurches into my throat and I quickly call to my Aunt for help then race out front, calling Monkey. Within a minute, my aunt calls me. Monkey has been found, playing in Gram's bathroom. It takes an hour for my heart rate to return to normal and about one second to make a new resolution. All outer doors must be latched at the top from this moment.

Later in the day, Grandpa takes "Monkey duty" and they play with the toys in the den while Gram and I chat in the living room. Within about 8 minutes I realize, it's quiet. Too quiet. I call to my father-in-law who says Monkey is MIA.

???!!!

I go straight to the bathroom this time. Laughter and horror fill me at the sight that greets my eyes. Monkey is sitting on top of the bathroom counter (ah!) with her feet and part of her bootie in a full sink of water. Her diaper (not a swimmie) is about to burst and all gram's special beauty creams are floating in the sink too. Thankfully, most are closed. As I step into the bathroom, I hear a squish and my feet are wet.

"Oh no! Monkey!!" I start throwing towels on the floor as fast as I can while my baby proudly says, "Hi Mama. Look what I did!" I wrap her in a towel and chastise her while cleaning up as fast as possible. Gram comes in about that time and helps me clean up the mess. I'm happy to say my inlaws have a sense of humor and most thankfully - that they don't have a tub in their bathroom. We finish cleaning up before Grandpa sees the worst of it but his reaction is classic. "Ok. Monkey needs to be watched every moment from now on."

Um, ok. Good idea.

Wait - who had her last???

The rest of the day isn't much different minus any more missing incidents since we return to our much smaller (thank God!) townhouse. When I finally get my girls ready for bed a few hours later, my oldest asks. "Mom, are you going to go to bed at the same time as us tonight or later? I weigh the likelihood of getting a lot done without Monkey around to distract me (HIGH) against the realization that if tomorrow is anything like today, I'm going to need as much rest as possible (also HIGH).

Monkey says, "I want to sleep with you Mama."

She looks at me sweetly out of the corner of her eye and gives me a guileless smile. The list of chores seems rather less important suddenly.

Then, I say, "I think I'll go to bed now." And I lie down, wrap my arms around a Monkey and a Princess and fall fast asleep.

June 10, 2011

The Sweet Life Garden part 2

Here's the followup to yesterday's post highlighting our visit to gardener Jill's Sweet Life Garden.
Jill uses healthy gardening methods like composting, companion planting and avoids using chemicals on her plants or the pests who might visit. Her garden is proof that you don't need to buy Miracle Grow to create a stunning green space.

Jill is a proficient gardener and homemaker. For those of you who think a garden takes too much time, be encouraged. Jill says she usually only spends about an hour a day in the garden when it's not peach season. Along with the plants I've shared these last two days, Jill also grows blackberries, blueberries, several other varieties of trees and more. She offers eggs at her farmstand as well as delicious preserves. And the peaches, which were the original inspiration for our visit? Sweet, flavorful and luscious! If you'd like to know more about this garden, please visit Jill's blog.

Today we'll look at some of the more creative garden ideas Jill employs. The effect is a very romantic, cottage style garden.
Who knew celery could be so pretty?

I love how Jill manages to tuck so many trees into her space and still grow things underneath them.
Here is an apricot tree planted with catnip, society garlic and other whimsical looking plants.

Apricot tree
Jill has many trees around the property - including two shading the chicken coop, a must in the scorching Arizona summer. One of Jill's gardening tips is that she keeps them trimmed fairly low. She suggests letting them grow no higher than what you can reach from a ladder. After all, you want to be able to reach the fruit you're growing.

Here's another great idea. Jill is training her apples (she has both Fiji and Anna) into an apple hedge growing on the pool fence. How creative!


Tomatoes, my favorite.

See this fountain? Those aren't just flowers growing underneath.

Alyssum (pest repellant), melons and some kind of pretty purple stalk.  
A closer look at the society garlic.

Let's finish with just one of the many gorgeous rose bushes Jill tends.
If you just can't get enough of this garden, don't fret. It's featured, along with several others, in the Arcadia Garden Tour which happens twice a year. You missed the spring tour but it's not too late for fall. Check out Jill's blog and stay tuned for news from the beautiful Sweet Life Garden. Thanks again for the tour, Jill!

June 9, 2011

The Sweet Life Garden part 1

The beautiful weather these past few months has lured my girls and me out into nature lately. And, last week, we had the opportunity to check out a garden I've been admiring online for a while. We learned via Facebook that the peaches at the Sweet Life Garden were ready to pick and would only be available a few more days. So, Tuesday morning, we headed over as early as I could bundle the girls into the car (hint: not before 9!) and headed to Arcadia. I just had to share with you some of the sights we enjoyed. Today's post will be some of the more traditional aspects of her garden and tomorrow, I'll show you some of the more creative things she's done in her garden.

Organic Mama will be regularly featuring some of the amazing gardens around the Phoenix area. Hopefully, it will encourage those of you who are new to gardening to jump in and get started. Don't worry if your garden area isn't as large as Jill's. Check out some of the creative ways she tucks plants into different spaces and go for it! For more on Jill's garden, check out her blog.
What a magical entrance to the garden!
Photo Credit: Daughter No 1

First, meet Jill, the lovely lady behind this garden. She and I posed so my five year old could practive her budding photography skills. She did ok, didn't she? You can see some of Jill's handiwork - peaches hanging from the tree above us. Yum. They were delicious.

Of course the first thing my girls noticed was the hen house. Though my older daughter was a little uncertain about these creatures, my youngest (who's two) couldn't get enough of them. She talked to them like they'd been buds forever and informed Jill, "I think they like me!" Imagine her thrill when Jill actually let her go inside to collect eggs! 

She is, I might add, very efficient at egg gathering, if just a tad inclined to toss the eggs into the basket. Oops!
Aren't they pretty? So colorful!

This guy was sure I was there to feed him.
The trumpet vine climbing this date palm tree is truly breathtaking in person.
I had to give you a closer look at these gorgeous flowers! Now to figure out where I can add a trumpet vine in one of my growing spaces. I have a couple of palms. Hmmm...
She has the traditional raised beds. See anything you recognize? She has tomatoes, onions, peppers and more. Notice she plants nasturtiums and marigolds with her veggies. Not only do they add color, they are great for discouraging pests.


Recognize this plant? See the tell-tale white flowers and brilliant red color peeping through those pretty rounded leaves? You're right. They're strawberries. This bed was an incredible sight. Real strawberries from the garden are nothing like what we buy at the supermarket. They are bright, sweet, usually a bit smaller and smell divine. Jill's strawberry bed reminded me of my Grandma Verna's strawberries. They were always such a treat!

Ok, that's all for today. More coming tomorrow!

June 1, 2011

Die!! Die!!!! DIE!!! One Mother's Battle Against the Creatures of the Night (or How to kill Cockroaches naturally)

Summer in Arizona is a beautiful time filled with lazy summer days, swimming pools galore, desert mountain views, golf courses and one more less attractive thing...cockroaches. Ladies and Gentlemen, a few weeks ago, I discovered more than one roach in my house within a week. If you missed this exciting installment, you can read it here. It is not an exaggeration to say I completely lost it when this happened. Then, I returned to my senses and realized that freaking out over a bug (even a creepy, hairy legged sewer monster with long antenna- aaaahhhh!!!!) is not the kind of strong womanhood that I am trying to teach my girls.

Obviously, being an ORGANIC mama, I have personal beliefs about not wanting to spray chemicals all over my house. But my aversion to roaches is so strong, I confess I went to the hardware store and bought a fogger. You must know I have never sprayed my house with pesticides in the ten years I've lived here (and, we've never before had bugs!). But the creepers had to die, right? Before spraying, I looked up the primary ingredient in the fogger, Permethrin. I discovered it is a nerve agent considered carcinogenic by some sources, depending on who you ask. See the EPA's assessment.

I weighed the risks of a possible carcinogen against the dangers of the germs cockroaches can spread, like salmonella. And, I chose the chemical-free route, which means I did NOT fog or spray my house or call the city to ask them to bomb the sewer (though I'm sure they did anyway). The natural route takes a little longer but in the end it's safer and create an environment that's unfriendly to the long term habitation of creeper crawlers.

Here's why I chose to go chem-free.
1. Immediate safety - Why would I purposely expose my kids to carcinogens or neurotoxins?
2. Immediate and future environmental concerns - Spraying more poison into our water (even the sewer) seems like a bad heritage to leave our kids. Poisons do not just dissipate in water like in a super hero movie. Their effects can last for years and unless you're Harold Camping, you should probably assume you'll be here to experience the ramifications.
3. Chem's don't guarantee the absence of bugs. Even if I did choose to spray, another roach could just crawl up the drain or through a crack I missed and we'd have to start all over again. And, if the spray is strong enough to keep killing roaches, chances are it's affecting my family's health as well.
4. Bugs are a natural part of life and they even touch our food. Real food (fruits & veggies) are grown in fields where little bugs and animals travel and live. Oh, and they poop and urinate on or near the plants so...I'm thinking a roach that might touch one of my dishes is not the end of the world. Does that mean I don't wash my food? No. Not only that, I also wash my dishes before putting them away and before I use them. I'm a little psycho that way... Bwahahahahahaaa! (evil laugh)

After I returned the fogger, I turned my attention to researching my intended victims. First, I learned there are different varieties of  roaches and the type can determine the approach. We found American Roaches, which are basically sewer roaches. These suckers are big - often 2" or more and they are stinkin' fast. They truly deserve the name, vermin.

Here are a few facts about roaches.

1. Having them doesn't mean your house is dirty. In Arizona, they live in the sewer and come up through the drains. But, keeping your house clean will minimize any reason for them to stay!
2. They tend to live in moist places and some can live for weeks without food. They just need water.Great.
3. They can eat all sorts of things - including glue. Ugh.
4. Their eggs can contain 14-28 babies. So, if you get one female in your house, you can end up with a crowd. This is why you always hear the comment, "If you see one roach, there are hundreds more nearby."

If chemicals can't guarantee the absence of roaches, how can more natural methods possibly work? So glad you asked!

Natural methods of pest control use mechanical means (rather than chemical) to destroy a roach's body and make your home an inhospitable place for them to live.

Never fear, you are not powerless! 

Here are some great, natural roach fighting ideas.

1. Close points of entry.
  • Cover drains & overflows - particularly at night. We just keep our drains closed all the time now.
  • Caulk around toilets and drain pipes.
  • Look for openings near doors, windows or outside walls and caulk or spray foam them shut
2. Eliminate any standing water inside or outside your house. This is just good advice in general - to
maintain your home and keep other little critters like mosquitoes or scorpions from finding a refuge in your space.
    • Dog bowls
    • Look for leaks around toilets, sinks or drains.

    3. Make your home inhospitable to bugs by eliminating food sources and hiding places.
    • Eliminate food sources by washing dishes immediately, wiping down counters and keeping floors clean. And don't leave food on the counters.
    • Eliminate clutter around the house - like piles of papers, toys, cardboard boxes, laundry etc. All of those things give bugs like cockroaches (also silverfish and crickets) a place to hide.
    4. Utilize mechanical means of killing roaches like dusting the powders below in the corners of cabinets, under the fridge and in the cracks by the dishwasher or oven. Be sure to use only a fine layer or they'll go around it. Roaches like to travel the edges of walls, so concentrate there.Although these are safer means of pest control, be careful not to puff them into the air. They can irritate the lungs.
    • Food grade Diatomaceous Earth (DE) - This ground fossil powder slices through the exoskeleton and kills them within a few hours. It will also kill silverfish, crickets and ants. Only buy food grade. It's often fed to farm animals to kill parasites. It is NOT the same as what you'll find at home improvement (these contain chemical bait) or pool supply stores. I found mine at The Western Ranchman Store. It was a huge bag for only $5 or 6.
    • Boric acid - as creepy as they are, roaches constantly clean themselves. After getting this powder on their legs, they ingest it and die. The kind at home improvement stores contain chemical bait - so try buying at a pharmacy instead. It should be pure there as it's used to create eye wash. Also, Boric acid is not the same as Borax. These terms are often (incorrectly) used interchangeably on the internet.
    5. Keep a big spray bottle of soapy water handy. Big sewer roaches have been around the block, so to speak. Consequently, they are super fast and seem to know you're after them! There is nothing I hate more than finding a bug in my house, only to have it run into a crack before I have time to grab a shoe. So, I keep a spray bottle filled with water and 1/4 c dish soap for such occasions. This concoction covers the roach and suffocates him in under a minute. The bigger ones take longer but they'll definitely die. It's much safer than keeping Raid around little children and faster than a shoe.

    6. Consider helpers who eat or kill roaches like, cats, geckos and chickens. While you might only want cats inside your house, chickens and geckos are natural enemies of this creepy crawler. Apparently, the little white mediterranean geckos that live by our porch lights here in AZ eat roaches. Two drawbacks are that they tend to drop kamakazi-like onto lower surfaces at times (including people) and they too can carry salmonella. However, I'd rather clean up after a gecko than a roach any day.


    Using most of the methods above has really helped. It's great to know that it's possible to tackle a pest problem without resorting to poisoning our space. I am sleeping better at night now though I am still considering adopting a baby gecko to live in my house - just for good measure.

    If I missed any great natural methods of roach control (besides a shoe and a big man), feel free to comment below!
      

     

    May 26, 2011

    This Little Light of Mine

    This morning, I'm relishing the beauty of my crazy life. Two of my nephews just drove away with my sister after spending 4 days and nights rockin' our household while their parents enjoyed a well-deserved vacation, alone. (something we parents need on occasion!) I'm just now sitting down for the first time this morning - to appreciate the fun it was.

    Housing four kids, age 7 and under, is rather an amazing feat in a townhouse that's not set up for it. And not only did I have four kids for the last few days, I actually had some extras running around too. Monday, a our little two year old buddy (another girl) was over to play. That night we enjoyed an evening with our four - plus some dear friends (in from out of town!) who brought their three over as well. You can imagine the noise level with 7 kids in a small space. It was mostly happy noise. Tuesday, I packed us all up and headed to a friend's house to watch her 6 and a 4 year old while she headed to work. So, I got to try my hand at 6 kids. Whew! They played pretty well together. Outside play is the key!!

    It would probably be easier to gradually build up to having four kids around all the time but I was pleasantly surprised at how fun it was. The biggest challenge was probably food prep. I found myself channeling my mom and my Grandma Verna - who had five and seven children respectively - and who cooked nearly everything from scratch. I remember my mom telling stories about growing up on their family stock-farm. The girls (mom and gram) woke up and started cooking for the boys. The boys would come in from chores, eat breakfast and head back out to the fields. Meanwhile, the girls would clean up the mess from breakfast and start cooking dinner (lunch). After lunch, they'd start all over again for supper! That's pretty much what it felt like for me the last few days!

    After the boys left today, I surveyed the small explosions of toys, clothes, laundry and other remains of the experience around the house and decided to walk away and head out to my latest little garden experiment. As I worked on my new compost pile (more on that later!), I found my heart sort of swelling up with a sort of joyous glee.

    Not only did I survive four days with four kids under seven - I enjoyed every minute! We laughed when the three and two year old had sweet little conversations with each other and shared their toys. I nearly cried when my oldest nephew fell and took it hard in the knee - and felt pride when he bravely soldiered through the cleaning and bandaging. We fed my nephew's pet tortoise and let him walk around in our yard, marveling at his tiny size and his perfect design. Watching a baby tortoise eat is an amazing thing! 

    We weathered little arguments and temper tantrums between the youngest and erupted in laughter at the crazy giggles of joy that emerged from the two oldest as they stayed up late to play old school Nintendo with my husband. We ended our visit with a trip to In 'n' Out Burger last night (yes, even Organic Mama breaks down to eat fast food on occasion), and the kids were in heaven, laughing and making up ridiculous jokes while slurping down their hormone-filled chocolate shakes (see, I still think about it!). And...I managed not to freak out when my two year old decided to destroy her sister's tea party set because she liked the sound of porcelain smashing on the tile.

    As my nephews drove away, we chatted with a few neighbors and a friend stopped by to bring me some kitchen scraps for my compost. She checked out my small garden and we visited for a few minutes before she left. Then, as I watered my garden after she left and touched a few of my lovely little plants, I thought back on this week and felt an almost overwhelming joy at the way my life is unfolding before me.

    My life is nothing like I planned and yet - so much better than I imagined it. I haven't achieved the kind of career I intended. I am not living in the little (single family) house with a big yard I thought I needed. Instead we have a multi-family house with a big yard (more about our house here)! I still count every penny and sometimes worry about how we're going to meet our financial obligations - though we're super frugal and our only debt is our mortgage.

    But, in all the ways that count, I think I just might be the richest person I know. The rooms of my small home, two upstairs and two down, echo with the sounds of real life, laughter and tears, fights and making up. The person I admire most in all the world loves me (me!) and thinks I'm beautiful and wonderful. The prettiest, sweetest and smartest little girls I've ever met are my little daughters and think I hang the moon (as long as I'm not telling them to pick up their toys). My four sisters - strong, brilliant, beautiful and opinionated - are amazing women who I'm proud to call family.  Some of the most incredible women (and men) I know - call me friend.

    Lately, this gratefulness has become a regular thing with me and I believe I know why. I think my near death experience in February, when I said goodbye to the baby I was so longing to meet, served (for me, anyway) a medium that makes the blessings in my life stand our in brilliant relief against the pain. It reminded me - rather dramatically - that life is like a brilliant flash of light that can be extinguished far too easily. And, unlike when my mom, dad and brother died and I first faced my own mortality and responded with a kind of life-paralysis, this is different. While I miss that little baby with physical ache at times, I am grateful for the gift he gave me of living NOW.  

    Going through pain and loss only makes life's moments of wonder and joy that much more precious. I haven't always felt this way. It is a lesson that I'm still learning - after multiple opportunities. But, I'm determined to be IN LIFE. Messy and loud and crazy as it is (at least in our house!), I'm enjoying every minute. Every visit, every laugh and cry, every stinking diaper that my two year old takes off (yes, still doing that!), every dear friend (or potential new friend!), every challenge and moment of ease, every chance to house 4 kids in my small house - I'm going to take it and have fun doing it!

    Funny that this post went a direction I didn't expect today. But, the truth is, it's what I've been thinking about lately. The light I have a chance to be. The light we all can be to those around us.

    My flash of light will be something worth seeing. My goal is that I'll blaze so brightly that when I'm gone, those around me still glow with a residual light.

    What about you?

    May 18, 2011

    Easy Plants for the Newbie Arizona Gardener

    So, a few weeks ago, I talked about how gardening might just improve your sex life. If you missed that post, read it here. Today, I'd like to introduce you to some of my garden friends who just LOVE growing in the Arizona climate. Want to try your hand at edible/herbal gardening in AZ but don't know where to start? Here are some beautiful and fairly easy options for the newbie gardener.

    Before you start, you two basic things to create a successful garden - good soil and regular water.

    These plants all enjoy fairly fertile, well drained soil. Since Arizona soil is largely hard rock clay, I add compost and sometimes a little sand if the soil isn't draining well. You may have to wet your soil down to add these other components. When you're finished, the dirt should look rich, dark and fairly crumbly. These plants will grow well in the ground or in a pot. But if you plant in pots, don't use anything smaller than a 5 gallon pot. In the summer, plant roots will steam in anything smaller.

    As for water, if you want to have healthy plants, it's better to water deeply (soak rather than sprinkle!) and infrequently (every 2-3 days) to develop a strong root system. I actually plant my plants in little ditches so I fill them with water and the water soaks about 6-8 inches down. While it seems like a lot of water at the time, since you water less frequently, it's a more water conservative option.

    Ok, now that you know how to successfully prep for these garden stars, let me introduce them!

    Aloe Vera
    There are a couple hundred varieties of Aloe Vera. Aloe is an absolute essential in sunny Arizona. There is no substitute for it when dealing with a sunburn. Those bottles of gel in the store are not as effective. When I was growing up at my parents' house, my mom devoted a flower bed lucious green variety of aloe. The leaves were bright green with pretty white spots and they produced a flowering stalk every year. If I, or one of my sisters, managed to get a sunburn, we simply smoothed this on the burn and it minimized the damage considerably. I have also read that some people use it as a sunburn preventative.

    While some people use aloe internally as a laxative or for other ailments, our family primarily uses it topically for sunburns or in lotion making. It is wise to consult an herbalist when considering using aloe internally. Pregnant women should not use aloe internally.

    Aloe reproduces by means of a little shoot that creates another plant. If you don't want the shooters, give them away as gifts!

    Mint
    Spearmint, peppermint, applemint, chocolate mint! There are a ton of mint varieties. Mint is colorful and delicious in tea or salads and creates a bright spot in any garden. It is cooling for feverish babies and energizing for those who are a bit tired. This is a great plant for beginning gardeners because it's a weed and will survive almost any abuse and return year after year. I, myself, have left my mint to die by not watering it many times but it just keeps on going! Though, a friend swears she has killed 3 mint plants. I think this is more of a unique accomplishment than a typical mint experience.

    Mint is one of those plants that reproduces pretty fast. Unless you have time to keep in check, plant it in a pot. On the other hand, if you have an area you need to cover, mint will take it over.

    Rosemary
    What a lovely smell this plant has! It loves the hot weather and is seriously hardy. I have always loved rosemary because when I was a young, romantic girl (as opposed to a grown, romantic girl), I remember reading a story about a young hero giving his lover rosemary so she would remember him as he embarked on an epic journey. Of course, as an adult, I have also learned to love rosemary for the fragrant flavor she adds to savory and sweet recipes. One of my family's favorites recipes is a rosemary shortbread I make on rare occasions - mostly because I want to eat the whole pan! Mmmm....

    Full sun is just fine for this mediterranean herb.

    Thyme
    Like rosemary, thyme is a hardy friend in an Arizona garden. Also a mediterranean herb, the hot climate agrees with it. However, thyme does seem to appreciate a little afternoon shade in the summer. One of my thyme plants is in a pot so I just move it when the temperatures rise.

    I recently planted some creeping thyme and I'm really pleased with how beautiful it looks. I am hoping to do a project on my patio soon which involves planting it in between paving stones. I'll post it when I find it.

    Lavender
    Not only does lavender produce lovely blooms, it smells amazing in the garden all year 'round. I have this planted on my back patio and in my front flowerbed. I love how its gentle fragrance just wafts through the air as I'm watering it. It's surprisingly hardy as well. The back porch version gets full sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon and it is just thriving.

    The best thing about these plants is that they are also great companion plants for the veggies you're wanting to grow in the garden. These herbs all repel pests and seem fairly resistant to disease so you may find you success with these plants that you haven't previously enjoyed.

    Another plus is that you don't need a big plant to start. Just buy a small plant from a nursery - or better yet scavenge from a friend's garden and get going! If you do go to a nursery, try a locally owned one like Baker's, The Style Nursery or Whitfill. They will know more about Arizona gardening than big box store employees and you'll feel good that you've supported your local economy.
    Ok - Get out in that garden!!

    May 16, 2011

    A Novel Approach to Life

    The morning sun cast its first rays across the floor as she crept down the hall. A tingle pricked her forearms and slithered up her shoulders to her neck, turning into a full blown shudder as she gripped her weapon more tightly and placed her finger square on the trigger. As she reached the end of the hall, she paused, fearful of what she might find if she continued. But, she had no choice. This was the only way out. Taking a slow, silent breath, she gathered her courage and, weapon firmly clasped in her hands, rounded the corner. Just as she feared, he was there, waiting for her.

    And, although she abhorred violence, she did not hesitate. She pulled the trigger, not once, not twice but over and over, shouting, "DIE! DIE! DIE!!!!" as she shot him - as though it would somehow make the end come more quickly. Confused by his sudden fall from power, he crawled toward her, thinking escape was possible. He was gone within seconds while she was left, panting and shaken, horrified by the thought that this wasn't the first time she'd lived this nightmare and that it wasn't likely to be the last.

    This, my friends, is not, as you might imagine, a fiction. It is, in fact, a true story.

    The heroine is - of course - me.

    The target, is - a












    COCKROACH!

    Yes. That's right. I've interrupted our regularly scheduled Monday programming to bring you the saga of my personal battle against a cockroach (and his d*** friends) - and how that battle against these creatures of the night has changed my life and caused me to face some personal demons as well.

    It all started a few months ago, when I was working downstairs late in the evening  - and discovered the biggest FR**king roach I've ever seen in my life. I stood, frozen and horrified as I watched it run at lightening speed around my freshly cleaned kitchen and spread it's nastiness everywhere.

    "What do I do? What do I do?!" I thought as I stood there, unable to move. The thing had too many places to go for me to hit it successfully, not to mention that it was too darned fast! I did the only respectable thing a smart woman can do. I called my husband (who was soundly sleeping) - and let him play the hero. And, after he stumbled out of bed and miraculously managed to hit the thing with the first swat, even he was freaked out by it's size!

    Now, in Arizona, we are lucky not to have many natural disasters. Nope. Instead we have flying roaches. My fear of these creepers dates back to childhood - and the encounters I had with them that emotionally scarred me. Now, I am not going to describe those events because I fear that even you might be unable to sleep tonight if you were to recall them before bed. You can see from this previous post how cool I am about handling them.

    Suffice it to say that when I discovered this sewer roach who'd visited my house via a drain pipe had encouraged his friends to visit, horror does not begin to describe my response.

    I embarked on a mission to make my house so perfectly clean that not a crumb, a drop of water or a smear of jelly remained anywhere as a repast for unwelcome guests. No toy could be left on the floor, no towel left damp, no wet clothing unwashed. EVERYTHING had a place and EVERYONE had to honor it - FROM NOW ON - NO EXCEPTIONS!!!!!!!

    If you're wondering why it seems like I am yelling, it's just so you get an idea of how lovely it was to live with me for the first month I spent shoring up every mess in my house and informing everyone when they failed to live up to my new standard of clean. I was a woman obsessed, terrorized by the possible and likely presence of these horrid creatures of the night who'd never visited before in the 10 years I'd lived here, though we'd never sprayed for bugs.

    Now, you know, I am an organic mama and I didn't want to expose my kids to any nasty chemicals like bug foggers. So, I chose the natural route, diatomaceous earth and a clean house. Every day, I spent scouring the house like a possessed person, thinking if I just got it clean enough, they would more on because there was not food and no place to hide. I was embarrassed because I thought these creatures only visited dirty houses and so stressed I was jumpy for weeks and imagined them everywhere I looked. Talk about crazy!

    Of course, after quite a bit of research on the subject, I discovered that sewer roaches can actually come up the drains (in any house!) or creep in through cracks in doors and other little spots. So, we covered our drains, filled in any holes, spread diatomaceous earth and learned how to kill them with a spray bottle of super-soapy water (no raid required!). That last is way easier than trying to catch them with a giant shoe because you can hit them before they even know you've detected their presence.

    But more importantly than learning about how to eliminate a roach invasion in my house, I learned some important things about myself.

    First, I re-discovered my inborn desire to keep my house just as clean as I want it to be (even with preschoolers) - something I inherited from my mother and my grandma. Before kids, I was a little bit nuts about things being orderly and living in a structured schedule. Around the time I had kids, a lot of other things were going on in my life with family and I felt completely overwhelmed by the influx of stuff that the birth of our children introduced into our townhouse. While I kept the house clean, it has never quite met my standard of organized.

    Since the "guests" visited, I found new determination to get back to a house I feel good about inviting actual friends to visit. While I definitely went overboard at first in my crazy, exhausted state - snarling at everyone to follow the new rules, I am learning to follow a regular routine that allows me to maintain order and still have time with my kids. I haven't reached any kind of perfection but at least I'm heading toward a goal. It helps that my youngest is old enough to play with her big sister safely now and follow instructions fairly well.

    The second lesson I learned through this is that being stressed about getting everything right isn't going to make this or any other challenge easier. One of life's more important lessons is how to move gracefully from one challenge to the next. Somehow, in the last few years, as I experienced significant loss in the death of my brother, mom and dad, I lost my ability to do this.

    There was so much loss in such a short time that I was so helpless to affect, I became afraid of change. It definitely seemed like the changes weren't great ones. Anxiety and fear sort of shoved their way into my heart and I didn't feel I had the strength to fight them at first. I tried to cope with them by micro-managing the little things that I could control. I think part of me believed that if I could just get everything else just right in my life, I would be able to deal with the painful parts more efficiently. But this attitude only stressed me out and made my family miserable.

    Who knew a simple cockroach could teach me such a valuable lesson about meeting change differently?  Experiences - from love and joy to pain and loss - are supposed to be messy, unmanageable and change the way we see life. Freeing myself from the idea that I have control over anything other than my attitude has given me freedom and flexibility to enjoy life again in a way I'd forgotten was possible.

    Worrying about what might happen only causes me to miss out on the good stuff right in front of me. To help me remember, I wrote a note to myself on my kitchen cabinet that says, "You have an amazing life! Enjoy it now!!" I look at it when I doubt it - which usually happens about three in the afternoon when I'm tired, need to get dinner started and my two year old is pitching a fit.


    Thanks Cockroach. - R.I.P. -  I owe a big debt of gratitude to you.

    Don't worry. If your friends visit, I'll send them your way.
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