Mama got some new flower beds*

*Alternately titled – This is what happens when you watch too much HGTV on the plane ride home from BlogHer.

I recently confessed on my BlogHer recap post, “I watched too much HGTV on the plane ride home and have all kinds of projects in mind for myself (and ones we will need to spend good $ on) on how to stage our home for selling next year. Just what I need – more projects!”

Well, one of the first projects I decided to tackle this weekend was to beautify the outside of our house a bit – ya know, do some landscaping (something I’ve never tackled before) and add the oh so important “curb appeal.” ;)

I’ve often talked about the lack of sun in my yard (both front and back), so when I decided to put in some new plants I had to make sure they could handle a crapton fair bit of shade. I asked for suggestions on Twitter, and got many recommendations for hostas. Lynn at The Human Being Blog (who also lives in CO) recommended vincas and hybrid hydrangea in addition to hostas.

I went to The Home Depot in search of all of these plants and didn’t find exactly what I was looking for in the shade-tolerant, perennial category, but did walk away with some hostas, coleus, impatiens, and a vinca (or periwinkle) plant, as well as a few bags of red cedar mulch.

I started off by putting in a new flower bed around a tree in the backyard. It adds some color back there and I think really helps tie the two sides of the yard – grass on one side and playground mulch on the other side – together. I know there’s a patch of dirt right next to the flower bed, but I’ve planted clover and grass seed there a few days ago and it’s already filling in.

Then I tore out the majority of the plants in the front flowerbeds – the flowerbeds that have looked almost exactly. the. same. for the past nine years that we’ve lived here and which consisted of about 80% of Snow on the Mountain (as seen below).

I forgot to take a before picture until I’d already pulled out some of the plants, but this gives you a rough idea of what it looked like. Rather boring, with just a bit of color thanks to some flowers my mom planted in June.

Here is the after picture:

I’m soooooo pleased with how it turned out. I think it looks so much more put together and hopefully adds that “curb appeal” I was looking for. :)

Next on Amy’s HGTV home improvement project list is to get new counter tops (and possibly new sink and floor) in the kitchen and to enclose our upstairs loft to make a fourth bedroom (will make 3 bedrooms upstairs and one in the basement). There’s also a need for new carpeting (though I want to wait until Julian is potty trained for that one) and paint. Let the fun begin. Whee! :)

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Zucchini pasta & marinara – a raw food experience

Raw zucchini pasta with raw marinara sauce
Raw zucchini pasta with raw marinara sauce

This weekend my family and I went to our first slow food potluck. If you are unfamiliar with the phrase slow food, it’s “an idea, a way of living and a way of eating. It is a global, grassroots movement with thousands of members around the world that links the pleasure of food with a commitment to community and the environment.” The goal of our slow food potluck, organized by my friend Melissa and hosted by my friend Alison, was to use as many local ingredients as possible. In addition to local foods, we also had local drinks including wine, beer, mead, cider and a few flavors of homemade kombucha. I will write more about the potluck and delicious foods everyone brought later.

After reading about and seeing a picture of a Meatless Monday meal – zucchini pasta and marinara Leslie at Recycle Your Day made recently, I knew that was the dish I wanted to make for the potluck. She sent me the link to the YouTube video (produced by Larry Cook at The Beginner’s Guide to Natural Living) where she got the idea. It’s a very simple meal to make – using zucchini, tomatoes, red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, basil, oregano, salt and pepper, as well as a vegetable peeler and a food processor – and it tastes delicious.

Because my garden isn’t producing much more than strawberries, cucumbers, and a few tomatoes at present, I went to the farmers’ market to get the bulk of my ingredients. I got the zucchini, tomatoes, and garlic there, had the spices at home, and got the peppers and sun-dried tomatoes at Vitamin Cottage.

I was happy to hear that everyone liked it, even those who were skeptical at first. Even my husband who’s not a big zucchini or tomato fan thought it was really good. (I’m holding him to that and planning on making it again!) :) What I found really interesting is that the pasta, which is just thinly sliced zucchini (I used my vegetable peeler to make ribbons), tastes so much like “real” pasta when you have a flavorful marinara all over it.

More on the rest of the slow foods potluck, including pics of all of the tasty dishes, later.

Related posts:

Have you written about eating local, slow foods or have a raw recipe to share? Include your link in the comments and I’ll link to you. :)

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My cucumbers make me happy

Yes, it’s true. My cucumbers make me happy. No, no, no. Not the happy Superbowl banned PETA ad kind of way. C’mon, people. Get your mind out of the gutter. ;)

This morning as I was packing my kids’ lunches for summer camp (they go two days per week to the Waldorf preschool that Ava has attended the past two years), I made a sandwich wrap, put in some organic blueberries and some Goldfish crackers from BlogHer (yes, we’re eating the swag). I wanted to throw in a vegetable as well, but only had carrots and spinach in the fridge and wasn’t excited about sending either. That’s when I remembered, I have vegetables growing right in my backyard!

I walked about 20 steps out my backdoor, into my garden, plucked a cucumber off the vine, brought it into the house and sliced it for their lunches. Problem solved!

It’s moments like this that I’m so happy to have my little organic garden. Although it hasn’t turned out to be quite what I wanted it to be this year, I have learned and continue to learn a lot and am enjoying the experience, even if it includes digging up plants and repotting them in pots so I can move them to where the sun is. ;) We might not ever get eggplants, carrots or zucchini in our garden this year (due to enormous amounts of shade), but we will have cucumbers. Lots and lots of cucumbers. And that makes me happy.

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Bit by the gardening bug

I’ve been working on honing my gardening skills for the past four years. In 2005, I participated in a couple community garden plots with a group of friends. That’s where Ava and I got our first taste of gardening. We liked it and we wanted more. :)

How’s this for a blast to the past?

In 2006 and 2007, not yet ready to commit to my own garden plot either in a community garden or my own backyard, I did some container gardening on my patio.

By 2008, I could stand it no longer and had to put in a “real” garden, so Jody and I cleared out a patch of grass in the backyard and I got to plant my first real garden on my own. I grew strawberries, tomatoes, zucchini, yellow crookneck squash, and green beans, as well as feverfew, sunflowers and chamomile. I planted everything way too close together because I was working with a very limited amount of space and totally underestimated how big everything would get. Still I got quite a bit of produce and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

This year, once again feeling the next to expand, I was hoping to find another patch of space in my yard that gets a decent amount of sunlight to convert into another garden. (It’s both a blessing and a curse that most of our backyard is shaded by the large trees that grow back there. It’s great because I don’t have to worry about the kids getting sun burned, but it’s a pain because there’s very little space to grow anything that requires sunlight.) After much deliberation (and cursing as we kept running into large tree roots), Jody and I decided on putting in two raised garden beds. Jody built the beds for me using both new and used wood. It would’ve been nice and significantly cheaper to get all used wood, but we didn’t have time to search for it for that long.

As of tonight, I have three little gardens in my yard (woohoo!) – the one that was already in place, and two raised beds, as well as some potted plants. So far I have planted seven varieties of tomatoes and two varieties of eggplant (all started by my friend Julie), basil, strawberries, five raspberry plants (but only 2 are currently growing), as well as cucumbers, yellow crookneck squash and zucchini that I planted from seed. I’m still itching to plant more (like green beans, carrots, greens, and watermelon at the very least), but I’m not sure I’m going to find the space for them this year, though I may be able to figure something out to sneak of few of them in. ;)

Today while Jody and Ava wheeled dirt to fill up the second garden bed, Julian and I collected worms (as I had done with both kids earlier in the week) to add to the dirt. My kids love worms and had no qualms about retrieving them from the compost bin (where hundreds, if not thousands, live).

Digging out worms: Yes, the kids are saying “Ewwww,” but only because I told them to. ;)

And now, for those of you who are curious, here’s a little tour of my garden. :) (FYI – These pics were taken with my iPhone so they aren’t the best quality.)

A view of my first garden (that we made in 2008), as well as the clothes line and compost bin.

Inside the garden this year: strawberries and feverfew (and raspberry plants growing in the pots outside the garden)

Inside the garden this year: more strawberries and cucumbers

The new raised garden bed: tomatoes and basil

The second raised garden bed: eggplant, tomatoes and squash

More pots on the patio with raspberries, volunteer dill and a yellow pear tomato.

I’m quite pleased with all that we’ve managed to get in this year and am thankful to Jody for building my raised beds for me. All of this digging in the dirt has been really good for me. I remember having this feeling last spring/summer too – gardening is very therapeutic. Now that the gardens are in we can again focus on finishing up redoing the backyard – a project we started about a month ago and still have a fair bit of work to do. It will be wonderful when it’s completed and I can sit back and enjoy it, of course while still getting my hands dirty as I dig out weeds.

Gardening is one of those things that seems to be in my blood. My mom always had a garden when I was growing up and I remember helping her pick green beans and eating some of them right off the plant. I hope my kids have fond memories of gardening with me (and playing with worms) someday too and decide that gardening is something they want to pursue and share with their kids as well.

Welcome to your life

“Welcome to your life.” Those were the words spoken to me by my therapist a couple of weeks ago and they’ve stuck with me ever since.

I was going through a brief phase of acceptance with regard to my anxiety disorder and seemed to be on the upswing at the time. That didn’t last long though as the very next week was one of the hardest I’ve had in a long time. I think a lot of it had to do with Ellie’s passing (we put our older dog to sleep last Tuesday and it was much harder than I thought it would be). I’ve had some other significant changes/stressors going on too – my little sister moved in with us and my mom went through a health scare. I went into grieving mode and a lot of emotions, thoughts and feelings, as well as anxiety and panic, emerged as a result.

Photo courtesy of Amanda M Hatfield
Photo courtesy of Amanda M Hatfield

I decided to start on anti-anxiety/anti-depression medication as of two weeks ago. Going on meds definitely wasn’t my first choice, but after going several months with only brief and fleeting improvements in the way I was feeling, I decided it was the right choice for me for right now. If being on medication can help me feel a little better while I continue to go to therapy and focus on sleep, exercise and taking better care of myself, then I will do it. I’d gotten to a point where I’ve been in nearly a constant state of anxiety and, as a result, I have been neglecting my kids and my marriage. I’m sick of telling my kids, “Don’t do that. Mommy doesn’t feel well.” I want them to be able to enjoy life and I want to enjoy it with them. I don’t want my whole family to have to walk on egg shells and constantly wonder how mommy is doing and how she will react. It’s not fair to them. A friend pointed out it’s not fair to me either to have to feel that way.

I’ve been taking Zoloft for two weeks now (a very low dose since when I tried to increase the dose, I started having insomnia, which was absolutely counterproductive) and haven’t noticed any good benefits yet, but my psychiatrist said it can take 2-6 weeks or even as many as 8, so I’m trying to be patient.

At the suggestion of my therapist last week, I picked up the book “The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook” by Edmund Bourne. It’s been a huge eye-opener for me both in showing me how I likely developed anxiety/panic disorder and in showing me steps to help myself recover from it. It’s also amazing how many things I can identify with in it. Talk about “welcome to your life.” This book feels like it was written just for me. If you have any issues with anxiety, panic, phobias or OCD, I strongly recommend this book. I am hopeful that it is going to have a huge impact on me as I try to heal myself. I’ve been doing the breathing techniques the past two nights and have found them alone to be very helpful.

One of the things I’ve found most frustrating in this whole process though is just how much of a process it is. There is no simple quick fix. Even medication takes time to kick in and to adjust the dosage and that (in my opinion) is really only a temporary solution and one part of the equation if true recovery is going to happen. And so I’m doing my best to be aware that the condition I’m in now took years and years to develop and it is going to take a long time to heal from as well. (Thanks to my dad for those words of wisdom.) I have to learn to appreciate the small victories and take it one day at a time or I will drive myself crazy.

I’ve taken a break from reading the news or anything that will likely raise my anxiety level. I read a little bit about the swine flu a couple days ago, and it sent me into a full-fledged panic attack. I’ve told Jody to tell me if there’s anything I need to know. Otherwise, I need to keep myself in the dark about some things for now for my own peace of mind.

Part of the reason I’m writing all of this is to let you know where I’m currently at, and also to encourage others who may be going through something like this that you are not alone. I also want you to know that I may not be blogging that often in the weeks ahead. (Subscribe to my RSS feed if you want to stay current.) I’ve already tapered off considerably from where I used to be – posting daily or nearly daily – and it feels good to take a break. I also haven’t been on Twitter much. I am sure it will wax and wane, but I also feel part of my recovery needs to involve looking at my internet addiction. Yes, I will freely admit to having one. I have lots of justifications for it too, but ultimately, I want to find a way to use the internet for productive reasons, not just to fritter away my time (which is what I’ve been doing way too much lately).

Yesterday was the first day this season I got out in the dirt in my backyard and did some weeding in my little strawberry patch from last year. I honestly haven’t felt at all like gardening so far this year, despite ordering seeds, seedlings and even some raspberry plants (that are still sitting, unplanted, in my garage). Although several of my friends have been digging in the dirt and planting for weeks, I just haven’t felt the gardening urge at all myself. That is, until yesterday. As I was weeding and getting the dirt under my fingernails and noticing that many of my strawberry plants have flowers on them, and the kids were playing in the dirt beside me, I began to feel alive and good and once again had the desire to garden. I think growing things and digging in the dirt will be very good for my mental health right now.

Like it or not, having anxiety/panic disorder is my life right now. It’s not what I would choose, but it’s where I’m at. I’m choosing to face it head on and do what I can to make it better – little by little, taking baby steps, one day at a time.

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Michelle Obama to grow White House organic victory garden

ABC News has reported the Obamas are going to plant a vegetable garden at the White House*. The New York Times also announced that work on the organic garden will begin as early as tomorrow when Michelle Obama, accompanied by 23 fifth graders from Bancroft Elementary School in Washington, will begin digging up a section of the White House lawn to begin planting. Although the 1,100 square foot garden, set to be located in the south grounds, will be out of the main view of the house, it will still be visible to the public on E Street.


First Lady Michelle Obama recently told Oprah‘s O magazine about her garden plans:

We want to use it as a point of education, to talk about health and how delicious it is to eat fresh food, and how you can take that food and make it part of a healthy diet. You know, the tomato that’s from your garden tastes very different from one that isn’t. And peas – what is it like to eat peas in season? So we want the White House to be a place of education and awareness. And hopefully kids will be interested because there are kids living here.

Who will take care of the garden?
In addition to the White House grounds crew and kitchen staff, Michelle mentioned to The New York Times that nearly all family members will play a part in maintaining the garden.

Almost the entire Obama family, including the president, will pull weeds, “whether they like it or not,” Mrs. Obama said laughing. “Now Grandma, my mom, I don’t know.” Her mother, she said, would probably sit back and say: “Isn’t that lovely. You missed a spot.”

What will they grow?
The 1,100 square foot plot will feature a wide variety of vegetables, herbs and fruits to include 55 varieties of vegetables, a patch of berries and two bee hives for honey. The organic seedlings will be started at the executive mansion’s greenhouses. “Total cost for the seeds, mulch, etc., is $200.”

The organic garden will feature raised beds “fertilized with White House compost, crab meal from the Chesapeake Bay, lime and green sand. Ladybugs and praying mantises will help control harmful bugs.”

Organic seedlings? White House compost? Natural pest control? I’m sorry, but I know I’m not the only one who is absolutely ecstatic over all of this?! :)

In fact, groups like Eat The View and The WHO (White House Organic) Farm, as well as author Michael Pollan and chef Alice Waters, have been advocating for a White House garden pretty much from the time President Barack Obama was inaugurated and I bet they are all whooping it up right about now.

What will they do with all of that food?
Eat it, of course. The White House chefs will be planning the menu around the garden. Eating locally and in season? Aiiiieee! Be still my heart!

This is not the first time a vegetable garden has been planted at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Eleanor Roosevelt had a Victory Garden planted in 1943 during World War II and there were gardens before that as well.

Hopefully the Obama’s new garden will inspire the people of our country to begin growing even little bits of their own food. Gardens come in all shapes and sizes – from little pots in a window, to bigger pots on a balcony or porch, to a little raised bed in the sunny spot in your backyard, to a community garden plot, to a much bigger plot. Every little bit helps us live more sustainably, protect our food supply, and reduce our carbon footprint. Perhaps sweetest of all, food grown in your own backyard tastes so much better because it’s fresh and hasn’t made a week or two-week long journey half-way around the world!

What do you think? Will the new victory garden start a resurgence in gardening in America? Has that resurgence already begun? Have you planted a garden in the past? If not, do you plan on it this year?

*Thanks to Nature Deva for the tip-off!