Sunday, June 30, 2013


 Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)

We've been talking about digging up the goldenseal in our garden for a couple years, but never got to it. until a couple weeks ago.

On our recent trip to the Catskills, a rock fell on Beren's foot. We three were playing along a large brook at a trailhead. He climbed the grey infrastructure - huge rocks that the northern counties put in along streambanks after Hurricane Irene. He was a bit cavalier, as he often gets when he's hungry. Jared was on his trail and I was about to nag him when the jagged rock fell from several feet up.

Beren let out a shriek, and Jared grabbed him and scaled the embankment. As we ran back to the car, Beren cried out, "No! No! No!" Once we reached the car, Beren cuddled in my lap and asked to nurse. He whimpered and gasped, but was unable to latch. I knew, then, that this was bad.

Beren's blood dripped on my shoes and pants. We washed his foot off with water from our drinking bottles. I gave him Arnica. We has soon able to nurse, and I rocked him slowly.

Jared and I assessed his toe. The skin was broken above and below the nail. The nail was dark and the toe swollen and bluish. I gently applied a salve of plantain, calendula, and yarrow on the uninjured skin on his toe. We took bandages from our travel first aid kit and asked Beren to open a few. We showed him how they worked. I asked him to put a couple on me before I told him that I would bandage his toe.

When Beren settled, we opened our lunch and started with the sweets, offering him a slice of apple bread. He happily ate it. We finished lunch, and discussed what to do next. Jared suggested we put Beren's shoes on and see how he'd do. I had considered going back to our cabin, which had no running water, or possibly driving four and a half hours home.

I watched Beren limp down the road as he held Jared's hand. A milestone - my son's first injury beyond skinned knees. When he reached the span across the brook, Jared called back, "I think we can go ahead."

I packed our day pack with water, snacks, and a change of clothes for Beren. I hardly though of it until we got back to the cabin. Beren's toe looked terribly beat up. We made an infusion of lemon balm and thyme, both anti-microbial. We soaked his foot. Jared had packed the lemon balm, saying, "This will be nice for the cool evenings." It was a very recent gift from our friends, Lindsay and Johann at Fields Without Fences. I wished we had some heavy duty anti-microbials - we didn't even have hydrogen peroxide. But, the plants have their way of getting where they are needed.

Keeping his foot clean and shorn for the rest of our stay was tough. On the days previous, we'd gone wading in the chilly, spring-fed pond. Beren had bravely dunked his bottom in and rose again and again, giggling, "Shake it off, shake it off," until his teeth chattered.

When we came home, it was time to ask the goldenseal for help. I dug one plant and trimmed the rhizome, leaving enough so I could replant and make a tincture and soak. We used the soak to wash the wound. We used peroxide, also.

Now, the tincture sits on the counter. I'll strain it in a few weeks, and it will accompany us on our next trip. Beren's toenail fell off and the skin is completely healed. The twice (Beren pulled it up after I planted it, and chose a different location for it) replanted goldenseal is doing well, too.

 Hydrastis roots

Hydrastis wash

Friday, June 28, 2013

New to mothering

Recently, a mother I know said, "With your first child, you are always a first time parent. You have never parented that age before." Another said, "Before I had children, I had many male friends. When I became a mother, I craved the companionship of other mothers." I said, "When I became a mother, it seemed like everyone had children."

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Field Work in the Sourlands and Restaurant Reviews

What I did before going out to eat yesterday

Two dinners out, two days in a row, both with a tired two and a half year old. Beren was a peach, albeit a bit wiggly.

Yesterday we ate at a upscale chain restaurant in a mall-like/town-like setting. A private room was set aside for a pharmaceutical corporation's meeting. This is what people think when I say, "I'm from New Jersey." The food was bland, and though priced otherwise, was akin to the modern Friendly's menu. Honestly, I think Friendly's food probably has more flavor. The menu was filled with meat + starch + some kind of sauce with a foreign word in it, lending a sense that surely I am taking part of something classy.

I had spent the entire day stumbling across the Somerset County Sourlands Preserve monitoring plots randomly scattered across the 4,000 acre tract. Our goal was to assess forest health regarding deer.

I was about 5 minutes late to meet my director, Mike, and two volunteers. The power steering went south in our pick up truck that morning. When Jared and Beren dropped me off, I knew the volunteers would not last long. "We'll be here until noon," the father said. "I'm not into this [nature], but he is," he continued and gestured to his son, who was in his early teens. Both wore shorts.

After a couple weeks of forest health monitoring in deer country/multiflora rose country, I decline all invitations to the beach. My legs and arms look as though I have a serious mental health problem and/or am a big fan of Marquis de Sade.

We hiked on trail briefly and cut off trail, blasting into a few stretches of multiflora rose. The mosquitoes were horrible. As I took canopy density readings with the densiometer, I tried to hold still as my neck and arms were bitten. "I can see the mosquitoes above my head in the densi," as I stared into the concave mirror encased in a walnut case. It is a beautiful piece of forestry equipment, and we've casually nicknamed it "densi".

After taking readings of the Secchi board for the density of native and non-native woody plants, we returned to the trail. Though only 10:00 a.m., the heat and humidity were high. The trail led out to the Texas Eastern Pipeline, a many mile long slash through the Sourland's forest. Uplands along the pipeline are filled with Chinese lespedeza and mugwort. Lowlands and stream corridors are overrun with phragmites. Occasionally, common and purple milkweed and sundrops dotted the landscape, already greasy and vibrating with the day's mugginess.

After crossing one dicey muck patch, the father and son decided to turn back. Mike and I thanked them and picked up the pace. We still had fifteen more plots to go and just six hours left. We carried our lunches, water bottles, GPS, map, 100 meter tape measure, clipboard, a one meter square foamcore Secchi board, and a 1.4 meter tall poly pipe to afix the Secchi board to. We walked over boulders. We fell over boulders. We fell into boulders. I wondered how anyone could possibly be interested in rock climbing or bouldering as a hobby. Volunteer with me, you might get cured.

"Do you want to navigate? My brain needs a break," Mike said. "Sure," I said. I unstuck the Secchi board from my armpit and handed it to him. I took the GPS, map, 100 meter tape measure, and clipboard, and I headed deeper into the forest.

After a couple more plots, the landscape became rolling. We stopped at the crest of one rise and looking down. "Hmm," I said. "Oh, this is the gates of Hell," replied Mike. You see, Mike and a co-worker had established ten tree saplings at each of our plots. He had already been here in the winter, carrying water, lunch, a GPS, map, clipboard, pin flags, surveyors tape, hundreds of bare root oak seedlings, and a planting bar. Perhaps we do have a mental health problem.

"Yes, this is the gates of Hell. I remember this," he repeated. "Whoa," I murmured. Our banter is usually more like the dialogue from a war movie. We pepper in philosophical discussions between the curses and occasional groans of pain when a thorn digs particularly deep. I really hadn't ever seen an expanse quite like this.

Last week's survey site, Baldpate Mountain, was rough with many sections featuring 100% cover of 4' to 5' tall rose thickets across boulders and challenging topography. But this, this was truly bad. The canopy was fairly open. Below the tall, tall trees was a dense mass of rose, Japanese barberry, and green briar that glinted in the summer sun. The plants grew from either soggy muck or boulders of varying sizes. Windthrown trees were throughout, their root masses taller than me. I navigated us around the mess, until were directly 300 meters south of our plot. "There's nowhere left to go. We just have to punch through," I said. We finished 18 plots and hiked out to the parking lot by 5:09 p.m.

Of course, I really needed a shower before we went out to eat. I chose to wear pants rather than reveal my hatcheted legs by donning a skirt. My hair was sopping wet. As Jared drove us to the restaurant, I noticed bits of food, dust, and blood stains from the last time I wore the pants - on our vacation to the Catskills where Beren injured his toe badly. Beren wore a dingy tee shirt that was last year's favorite and a pair of athletic shorts. Jared actually looked nice.

We met a couple friends and entered the restaurant. Beren's dinnertime had passed and bedtime was approaching. We entertained him with toys and laps around the restaurant. On one lap, he paused to lay on the cushions in the waiting area. I could hardly hear my companions who were just across the table. "Who said what?" I asked more than once.

We ordered from the kid's menu - a cheeseburger and fries instead of a burger and fries or chicken strips and fries. How about some vegetables? Not that any child would eat them because most restaurants, at least the ones I can afford, do not know how to prepare vegetables. The burger arrived and was served on a generic brand bun, probably laced with lots of preservatives.

That said, I enjoyed sinking into the seat and talking to friends. Plus, we had no dinner dishes.

Tonight, we planned to drop off our tired, old beater truck at our mechanic's garage. Tuesday is rough. Both Jared and I work, and typically Jared makes a big meal on Mondays to carry us all the way through to lunch on Wednesday. Two packs of chicken intended for this purpose had spoiled in the fridge, so we were without a meal this evening.

After snacking on chips and cheese and "sawsah" (salsa), we decided we really should drop off the truck and not flake out. We dropped the truck off and stopped at a pizzeria. The place had a framed article called "Twenty-five Best Restaurants in New Jersey." Not sure what magazine, not sure what the limiting factors of the twenty-five best were. Twenty-five best in towns of less than 1,000 people? Twenty-five best restaurants with three seats out front and thirty in the back?

Anyway, I ordered spinach ravioli and mushroom sauce and Jared ordered mushroom ravioli and vodka sauce. When my meal arrived Beren, again past his dinnertime and approaching his bedtime, climbed from my lap and into Jared's. The ravioli with vodka sauce looked a lot better. My plate looked like a full diaper. Indeed, the mushrooms were rubbery and contained occasional bits of grit. Also, tonight's restaurant and yesterday's shared a kid's menu - meat and starch, hold the vegetables. Bottom line - we make better food at home.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

This weekend

Oats are a nervous system tonic. In today's world who doesn't need a nervous system tonic?

 I bought Beren a pair of scissors for our last drive up to the Catskills. I held my Ace of Spades card tightly and did not reveal it until the long, boring ride home. "I have something for you, Beren." His eyes lit up when he saw, "Szizzas". The backseat of the Toyota is still littered with shapes vaguely looking like animal silhouettes. I did most of the cutting and Beren most of the tossing. It got us through that desperate stretch of Route 287. 

Now, we use the scissors on all kinds of things, like trimming garden plants. Above are oats that we harvested from our cover crop of peas, oats, and vetch. I'm so very lucky to have a two and a half year old that I can feel comfortable with using scissors on his own. 

Jared and I have realized that Beren has stepped into another state of being. He needs to be with other children. He is hungry for attention, much of which we can provide, but neither of us plays as children do. He also needs bigger challenges - he climbs higher and faster. He does jigsaw puzzles. He strings laces through shoes and beads onto strings. None of this is done perfectly, nor without occasional shrieks of frustration (wonder where he got his temper from? Both sides.).

As Beren grows, our garden has become a place of diversion and healing for us. It's great, truly, truly great. We relax up there. We visit the garden when my blood pressure needs to be leveled out. And happily, Beren requests to visit the garden multiple times a day.

We pick blueberries - "bluies" Beren calls them. Bluies fix all. When I watch his focused gaze and dextrous fingers, I think that a blueberry bush is the best object for hand eye coordination and fine motor skills. Forget the Haba or Plan Toys website. Forget research on non-toxic paints and toy manufacturer's claims about sustainable forestry practices. Buy two blueberry bushes (two for better pollination).

Our peas and strawberries have gone by. But, we celebrated by "kunchin" (crunching) the massive wall of oats and peas down by marching barefoot across them.

Briefly, the garden became an upsetting place. Our landlords brought out two mowers, and then I brought out ours. Three mowers buzzed nearby. Beren was shaken. He does not like loud noises. When the mower starter cord broke, Jared took out the little tilller. Beren frantically shouted, "Up! Up!" and gestured for me to pick him up. We watched the tiller bounce in Jared's arms. It did look upsetting, so we went to the house for a snack. "I'm sorry that the garden became a scary place, Beren," I said.

Earlier in the week a friend, who has a son under a year old told me, "I don't like when moms don't admit that it's hard. Whose sake are they doing that for? For mine?" I agreed, and so I will say, though this weekend was full of great moments - a couple solstice parties, kunchin in the garden, a trip to Duke Farms - we had some bleak moments. When I saw a couple friends at one party, I felt like crying on their shoulders, but I stuffed the feelings down. Tonight, I am relaxed and happy. I put a relaxed and happy child to sleep.

I feel a lot better. Just lettin' you know.

 Our greenhouse looks great

Purslane time in the garden. The solstice and moon pulled this plants from prostrate to upright. 

 Sunday visit to Duke Farms with a couple of friends. I love when friends are good with my son. We have many friends that are so sweet with Beren. 

Everyone always asks my son, "Where did you get that blonde hair?" Today was no different. A woman inquired as we waited for the Duke Farms tram. Duke Farms is like Disney World, but free and is located in central New Jersey and has a deer fence, orchids, wildflowers but no Mickey, Minnie, Epcot Center or log flume. So, it's just like Disney, you see? 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Dishes Beget Dishes

Aerial view of 2 1/2 days of dishes

My La Leche League buddies of Princeton North chapter always advise moms, especially new moms, to rest. "Leave the dishes. Forget cleaning the bathroom. Take a nap with your baby. If someone comes over, don't play hostess. Ask them to toss a load of laundry in," one mother says. Other mothers nod. "It's your husband's job to ask the company to go when it's time to go," another adds. 

"Lower your standards. If your standards are here," says one mother of two as she holds her hand at eye level. "Then drop them down to here," she finishes, pointing at her shin.

I have recently invited Beren, now two and a half years old, to pull up and chair and join me at the sink a few times per week. He happily rearranges and stacks cups and dishes. My requests are simple: 1. Clean dishes remain on the drying rack. 2. Knives are Momma's only. However, he had the bug that seems to be going around and was not up to the dishes.

Jared and I both had a couple days of field work this week - eight hour days walking off trail through chest high brambles, brambles laid low over wet, mossy rock scrambles, and brambles sodden with rain that had fallen the previous day, rain that had just fallen, or rain falling so intensely that the trail ran with water like a brook and I could hardly see my co-worker 25 feet ahead through the rain and sweat running into my eyes.

So, for a couple nights, we said the heck with the chores. We have thus taken my mother-friends' advice, leaving the dishes for two and a half days. Dishes beget dishes, it seems.

 Post-field work dishes are the worst. Lots of light-weight plastic containers. Lots of water bottles. Oh, how I wish I could conscience buying disposable bags for lunch.

Dishes done. The toaster oven is also cover with at least three Pyrex pans drip-drying.
 New mothers and mothers-to-be, make new friends but keep the old especially if they scrub dishes like gold. 

Friday, June 14, 2013


Beren, exactly two weeks old. These diaper covers looked so small when they came in the mail.

Parenting, I've discovered, is not for the rigid. I'd say it's more tidal than mathematical. It's affected by the moon, storms at sea, the concentric circles made by a osprey diving into the surf ten miles up the coast, rather than say, additive experiences. Achievements are had, and milestones are passed. But then they are retracted and revisited.

Take, for example, potty training. But, before I get too deep, we are not "training". As I have mentioned before, "training" doesn't work here. My son is stubborn, and he has two equally stubborn parents who are also somewhat lazy, albeit totally and very frequently, overly involved parents. We're older parents. When I think of the first time I though I was pregnant - ten years ago - whew, I was nuts back then. Luckily, I have mellowed and stabilized with age, but I am still a first time parent.

So, back to the potty training. It was going great, then not so great, then great, then even better, and now back to contentious. There were the few nights that we put Beren to sleep without diapers. Several of those nights were perfect, several involved lots of laundry. My lap has been peed on many times now. The floor, too. Actually, I prefer my lap be peed on than the floor. It can be aggravating and confusing, especially when he peed and pooped perfectly in the potty months ago.

The word "regression" is often used when children (or adults) go back to a behavior of an earlier age. I suppose that's a catchy way to put it, but I'm not sure it's fair. Hey, I had a blubbery breakdown tonight over discarding a tattered sleeping bag. It was time, I know. Beren lost his toy sink in one of its many holes. He pulled put wads of the stuffing, whining, "Sink... Siiiiiiink." It was time, but the ragged blanket was my first non-hand-me-down sleeping bag and was on my bed throughout high school. Regressive? Sentimental? Baby-ish? Sure, but I'd rather be comforted than accused of regression.

So what works for us is riding the waves and putting a diaper on Beren when wet pants would be really disruptive for all of us. At night and in restaurants.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

That's How Strong My Love Is

A long way from New Brunswick

I had just laid Beren down for the night. He was a "tough sleep candidate" tonight, bouncing around the kitchen as Jared did dishes and I hid in the office writing. That's one of few fall back plans when Beren won't go to sleep at his usual time - 1.) wrap up the chores together 2.) chores separately while the other parent disappears for solo time 3.) go outside.

I was about to leave the room when That's How Strong My Love Is by Otis Redding came on the iPod (I guess one day 'iPod' will sound charming and vintage, but as the last generation of those who entered into their teen years still in the analog age, it just sounds cold to me). I lingered to sing along. I had hoped to sing this song to Beren as a lullaby, but could never quite remember the lyrics and keep the melody a capella. I also hold within myself a secret desire to revive my punk rock vocalist past, and add soul songs to my repertoire.

I sat on the bed, singing and listening to the frogs. I remembered the party at which I danced the entire night with my future husband.

Jared was a guy I'd seen around New Brunswick parties - handsome, dark-haired, a little edgy, smart-seeming, a guitarist in a band. I had sworn off musicians, and music in general - I was nursing a year-long broken heart because of a musician. "Broken hearts" had previously seemed the domain of only woeful country crooners and gothy singers, but I then felt like Patsy Cline in Nick Cave's wardrobe. I had also recently extricated myself from an overly complicated and destructive affair that I sought out to remedy my broken heart. Life was best at the 50¢ Pabst Blue Ribbon Night at the Melody Bar on French Street (now demolished).

 My friends, a couple - Damien and Kathleen - began setting up monthly art salons at their house. At the first salon, I observed Jared sitting on a couch between two other darkly dressed guys. He set up his Marshall 4-10 cabinet and Sovtek amplifier. He played a song which he quietly introduced as a 'new American anthem'. It was angular and interesting. I was interested. A friend played a VHS video of my band my band played in New Brunswick the previous year. Seeing myself in black and white on a tired television felt like its own performance. I set up a couple collages on the mantlepiece.

 I said, "Hey," to Jared as he passed me in the hall later in the evening. Brilliant chess move, I must say. He sailed down the hall, his contribution to the potluck aspect of the party tucked under his arm. He wore Hungarian army boots, cords, and a hand-knitted sweater with intriguing symbols woven into the design. I watched as he climbed into his '87 Dodge Ram van. My heart did something new, but I had been snubbed. The dark guy didn't reply, "Hey."

 I stayed late at my friends' house. "So who was that guy who sat on the couch next to Eliot tonight?" I asked. "Oh, I don't know. Some guy,"the Kathleen replied. Damien laughed, "Yeah, just some guy." "We've tried to talk to him, but he doesn't talk," Kathleen sneered. "No, but really. Do you know his name?" I pressed. Kathleen and Damien's relationship was on the rocks, so I figured one or the other might stop being 'ironic' and sarcastic and help me out. "No, he's just some guy," they agreed. Neither seemed willing to to help me out of my own relationship-related pit.

I began hearing about Jared. He was setting up shows in a former bodega attached to the front of his apartment. He'd emptied the room of debris and had invited musicians and artists to set up shows there also.

A friend's band was coming through town, and I thought I'd try to set up a show for them. I walked down Joyce Kilmer Avenue and knocked on Jared's door. His roommate answered, wearing only a thin white towel, the kind that was probably stolen from a motel room. He held the door in one hand, and a fistful of towel in the other. "No, he's not here. Want to leave a note?" I did, but never heard from him.

A week or so later, I went to a party at Jared's house with a male friend. Jared danced to the music unlike most others in the New Brunswick music scene. I noted the pint of El Fundador brandy in his back pocket. My friend and I left the party in his car, he sneering at the scene, probably because he noted my attention to Jared's back pocket and his everything else.

The endless autumn party season continued with Halloween. I went to a party hosted by my former love-affair disaster   I wore a slip under a sheer white curtain and white paper mache wings I built from chicken wire and tracing paper. My wingspan was about five and a half feet, my flowing hair curled and teased. I wore red lipstick. My heavy eye shadow set lines into folds of my eyelids as the night wore on.

I saw Jared that evening, playing guitar around a fire pit. I can't imagine an urban fire pit, but I suppose the police had other worries. He and his bandmates wore sailor's uniforms. Jared's was sleeveless. "Hey, sailor," I said when our paths crossed. He was silent. Though I had added a word - "sailor" - to my previous greeting, no reply. His shipmates were nowhere nearby. Clearly I was addressing this sailor, but he not me.

I later walked the streets of New Brunswick curtained and in angel wings, with my former love-affair disaster escorting me safely home. I felt 15 feet tall, my gait dared any hombre to cat call me. None did. I was pissed off.

At the next art salon, just days after Halloween, I sat down to the left of my friend Christina, a fellow photography student. Jared sat to her right. I ignored him, and chatted to Christina. After listening to us talk for ten minutes, Jared leaned over and said, "Are you the Rachel that left a note at my house a couple months ago?" I crossed my legs clad in too short khaki pants with black and white striped socks. I adjusted my loose tunic sweater, which I still have (the socks, too) and said, "Yeah." I can't remember what Jared shared at the salon, but I read a story called "Pig Car" about my parent's old station wagon. We sat around on my friend's back porch, and at the end of the evening, we exchanged phone numbers.

I was cagey and tough. Slightly rude and flirtatious. I had been burned, not by my new dark-haired companion, but my previous one. Though my "Hey" greeting of a couple months before had reached its intended recipient, I wasn't sure of... anything.

In the weeks following, I planned a roadtrip with a girl friend, Jessica, to see a couple bands play a few hours away. One band member was the one who had bestowed upon me my Patsy Cline-level broken heart. On the same weekend, Jared was throwing a party - liquor, bands, a DJ spinning psyche music. The flyer depicted a furry Sasquatch-like creature with a alligator wearing a modest, below-the-knees dress and short heels. They daintily held hands as they were in mid-spin on the dance floor.

The day before we were to depart, I called Jessica, "I think I need to go to this party. I need to give this new one a try. Sorry to cancel." She understood.

Jared and I danced nose to nose the entire party. I didn't stop to fill my cup. The DJ, Mike, was a local cad about town. In between sets he asked, "So you know Jared?" "No," I replied, "Just met him." His eyebrows raised briefly, "Oh." Only a few people danced around us, but Mike played minute and a half psyche songs about girls, heartbreaks, and drugs for hours more.

A couple months later, I found my note to Jared one of his desk drawers. "You know, you never called me," I said.

I glued the note into a scrapbook that begins with photos of New Brunswick, then Spain, Hungary, Poland, Philadelphia, Princeton, Milford, Queens, Detroit, and the Sourlands where Otis sings his sweet song to to the frogs, a mother, and her sleeping child. Otis' guitarist strikes a distorted closing chord, and the song fades. The iPod spins another tune. This one features David Doucet's melancholy Cajun blues guitar. Its from an album Jared played to try to lull our son, Beren, to sleep over a year and a half ago.

I get up, walk into our damp basement, open up the washing machine, and begin to shake Beren's red sweat pants free from Jared's socks. I'm a different person, heading into a new stage of life. I can feel it.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Spring Garden - Peas, lambsquarters, strawberries, cut flowers

Last year I left this basket out, wondering what food might interest Beren. Kale, strawberries, or elderflower. Strawberries, I thought, would be the hit. He chose the scissors.

Two trips to the garden today... one right after breakfast, the second after a trip to Belle Mead Co-op to buy organic slug bait (slugs are our worst nursery pest) and a flat of annuals for a cut flower garden for Beren. [Debbie, if you're reading this, they only had regular cucumbers.]

In the morning, we picked lambsquarters, which are abundant right now. We're eating a nice serving for breakfast for the past couple weeks. Lambsquarters surround all of our cultivated crops, especially the squash and cucumbers. I've been harvesting concentric circles around each seedling. Beren calls them "kawtahs"or "yams." He pulled a jewelweed ("jewahwee"), and told me it was "kawtahs". I showed him the differences - rubbing the juicy jewelweed stem on our skin and pointing out the dusty purplish tops of lambsquarters. He seemed certain of his plant identification skills.

Garlic edges these beds of squash and lambsquarters, but I think the garlic will be harvestable next year. I planted it late. Horseradish also is peppered through this bed.

Dill is coming up and the kale is finally getting bigger. Beren gnaws on both raw. Feeding a toddler is a task, so I spend time thinking of ways to encourage him. I praising his taste, as well as being a good example and asking politely if he will share his delicious harvest. We search for peas, with me leading the game with ridiculously exclamatory statements about our efforts. "Gasp! Can you believe we found another pea!" I would have been yanked from Star Search for my performances. Often times, I just let him ramble, and quietly observe what he eats while I harvest, weed or water.

I have abandoned hopes of producing enough to can and freeze. This year's garden is all about my son, well, mostly. I have worked to make it a place that welcomes him. Together, we planted his favorite vegetables - green beans, cucumbers, peppers, peas. Only a few pea vines came up in his beds - he tamped the seeds down really, really well, using his feet. I created narrow footpaths in the cold frame, so he could have his own bed to walk in and drive trucks through. All other beds are "no feet". I'm encouraging him to use "his pincers" when he harvests, rather than his whole hand. But, when an entire plant comes up, I try to bite my tongue or offer just a little guidance.

One day he purposefully stomped all over the peas as I weeded them. I was upset and angry, knowing that he was being mean and that he would one spring day he would enjoy the peas. He's little and young, and being spiteful is new. Maybe not spiteful, but definitely letting me know something was up. When this happened, I decided to sweep him up and nurse him.

We sat in the the garden path, and I said, "It is a tough day. Momma works a lot with plants, doesn't she? She loves you more than plants." He nodded. He wanted my attention, not weeded peas.

And so today, the pea vines are surrounded by many, many weeds, but we enjoyed pea pods as long as my very closely clipped thumbnails.

On our second trip to the garden today, we planted marigolds, snapdragons, zinnias, celosia, globe amaranth, and petunias that Beren and I picked out. I had planned to plant a cut flower garden and so in early spring, I sowed zinnias and celosia in flats. Only three zinnias survived, making today's trip to Belle Mead Co-op necessary pleasure. The marigolds, possibly the most humble of our selection, made me smile. I love their smell.

I pulled a row of onions to make room for the colorful flowers. Beren took several gnashing bites of the thick green onion leaves. I was amazed, though before he was eating solids, our doctor had mysteriously told me, "He's an alliums person."

We had incorporated several loads of leaf compost into the garden this spring, so we could actually dig sizable holes with our hands. Please raise your beer and toast my soil, because this is the Sourlands, not farm country. I showed Beren how to remove the bound roots and toss the clump away. Both activities were quite fun. We have a nicely planted row of flowers. Now, let that heavy rain come.

I also left the bird netting off the strawberries, so Beren could easily harvest. Our patch is diminished from previous years - the soil is terrible. Each year we lose some plants to frost heave. We hardly weed there. Jared scalped the top third of one of the beds by pulling a garden cart through the bed early in the season. And last, we have never done the daughters-mothers replanting project. The plants were put in many years ago. Nevertheless, Beren finds a few strawberries each time he looks.

Last year he ate the entire fruit, which sometimes included the leaves. This year, he takes a single bite and tosses it. The latter is an imitation of me tossing away the leaves. Since the patch is so slim, I've been chasing after his strawberry projectiles and eating them myself. "Hey, you can eat more than one bite," I say. Bite, toss, bite toss.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Pressure Drop

Sweaty mother and child

Driving down Route 78 with the windows down, Pressure Drop by Toots and the Maytals came on the radio. I cranked the volume over the sound of the wind and the increasing static as I shuttled out of the station's range.

I know the song from The Harder They Come soundtrack. Possibly the only soundtrack album that has no duds. Whenever the temperature rises above 85 with standard New Jersey humidity, I put this record on the turntable and sing along.

The title song, The Harder They Come by Jimmy Cliff, brings a tear to my eye. The chorus begins, "So as sure as the sun will shine, I'm gonna get my share now of what's mine." It's an anthem for the down and out, righteous, and sweaty.

Sweaty father