The Yardwork and Family Adventures of June

Yardwork hasn’t quite come to a standstill, but it’s taken a different course since Steven was furloughed and income is limited. My flowers are blooming, which has been amazingly fulfilling. I never thought I’d be so excited about flowers. 

The challenge I’ve been facing is fungus on my columbine. I removed most of the affected leaves and got Neem oil to treat it weekly, but it’s questionable whether I began treating it soon enough.   

Fuchsia

  

Lavender

  

Aster

  

Echinacea

  

Lily

  

Cherries (possibly Montmorency)

 

 

Fungus on columbine leaves

 
I’ve also been dealing with ants. I’ve been using diatomaceous earth, which they’re taking back to their nest, so I’m hoping it’s a matter of time before enough of them die that they’ll stop invading my porch for hummingbird nectar. I’m not sure where the nest is. 

Ants and diatomaceous earth

My neighbor also had fun removing the mulberry for me. I’m almost certain it was a male, which means no fruit and the potential to grow fifteen feet tall. It was in a very poor location; driveways and street sides, especially against a lamp post and beside other trees, is just not advisable. So, the neighbor used the crane on his truck to yank it out.  

    

My mom and I also had a good time canning and freezing fifteen pounds of strawberries. We ended up with 25 cans of jam, five freezer jams, and a few bags frozen for pie filling. 

  

Steven’s sister also visited for the weekend with her boyfriend, which included a nerf gun for R, a movie night, jousting in the living room (R slaughtered his daddy), Father’s Day dinner at my parents’ house, and a trip to the river. R didn’t like the cold river, but I’m hoping to coax him in passed his knees with a few more trips. 

 

jousting

  

R with Steven on Fathers Day

         

I also got crafty yesterday, and the result was colorful rocks in my butterfly puddler. I just used acrylic paint which I had on hand, and some adhesive stencils I’d gotten for another project last year. Hopefully the colors will increase the attractiveness of the garden and the puddler to butterflies and bees.  

the top left blue one is my favorite

Trying This Gardening Thing…Organically 

I’m fairly new to this gardening thing. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not totally without knowledge and experience. I helped my mom plant flowers, saw the beauty of her roses (mulched regularly), and did indoor seed germination at school. I’ve certainly weeded before. I helped my sister-in-law start a garden when we lived with them for a few months one year. 

But ultimately it’s not a lot of personal experience. Especially since the personal reward has never really been there, and I tended to abandon weeding my parents’ yard at the first sign of spiders. Can you blame me?

More so, I’ve got this ambition to be largely, perhaps totally, organic with gardening at my own home, which means I have to learn about natural solutions and buy organic supplies rather than just grabbing Miracle Grow or Slugg-o to address the needs of my growing things. 

Pinterest, Google, and a few Facebook pages have been ridiculously helpful. 

I’ve got a few things from the kitchen set up already.  

Egg shells, like diatomaceous earth, kills slugs, snails, and low crawlers. Coffee grounds added straight acidity the soil, so it’s great for my blueberries. 
Today I also picked up a bag of Epsom salt–magnesium sulfate–for a few of my plants that could use a boost, including one struggling blueberry and the veggies I planted yesterday.  

Only my spinach really came up before, so hopefully I’ll have better luck this time. I also forgot about thinning said spinach when I was supposed to, so I did that yesterday too. Epsom salt is supposed to help transplant shock, so hopefully they’ll forgive me for the delayed thinning. 
Hopefully there will be minimum error in my trials with organic gardening. It takes a bit more knowledge and planning to garden and control pests without fertilizers reliant on fossil fuels and indiscriminate pesticides on the plants, but hopefully it will be worth the effort. 

Bring In the (Good) Critters

As I shared not long ago, we bought a house and I began gardening. Very quickly, my reading in conjunction with this new venture has given me a new desire: to create a safe haven for certain wildlife in my own backyard.

Did you know that bee populations have been radically declining? While neonicotinoids (the root in there is nicotine, for pronunciation help) are likely part of the problem, and avoiding using them or buying plants treated with them can be an important step, it’s not the whole picture. Scientists aren’t precisely sure what the whole picture is yet, but it’s likely a combination of factors, one being overuse of pesticides on the plants bees collect pollen from. Bees are vital to our food supply, and need our protection.

Bird populations are also declining nationwide; faster in some places than others. Much of this is habitat destruction, so obviously sharing our habitat with them could be of vital significance in stopping this trend, along with greater conservation of natural resources. 

  Although we don’t get many this far north, monarch butterflies are included in this sad trend. In 2003 they took up 27.5 acres in the hibernation area in Mexico. In 2013, it was just over 1.5. They bounced back some last year, but not totally. Again, herbicides in agriculture are of some of the blame. 

Bat populations are on the decline too. Part of this is a disease, likely caused by a fungus.  The disease will likely sort itself out once the population decreases to resistant bats and they breed, but perhaps only after extinction of some species. But part is also habitat destruction. We may not all like bats (I personally have no problem with them), but they are hugely important to pest control. Insofar as we can help with the habitat problem, we should. 

So what can the average homeowner do to help all of these, even if in small ways? After all, enough people doing something small can add up to a big difference. 

For bees, we can switch to safer pest control. If we want to get more involved, supporting petitions and legislation again overuse of harmful pesticides and looking for/utilizing safer, viable alternatives in agriculture is an option too. Further, when considering flowers for your garden, consider flowers that are particularly attractive to bees. If you’re providing safe pollen sources, you’re doing your part. 

Further, if you have a bee hive too close to your house, or encounter a swarming hive, call a beekeeper rather than an exterminator. But if you have land, no one allergic in your home, and they’re not too near the house or frequented areas, just leave them be and give them space. Your garden will thank you. 

  Finally, for bees, make or buy a bee condo and mount it in a sheltered location. Female mason bees will use them to lay their eggs. Mason bee males don’t sting and females rarely do, so they’re pretty safe to invite into the yard. They’re blue, which is pretty cool. There’s no beekeeping responsibilities with this option, unlike keeping a hive. If you have the space and inclination for keeping a hive, go for it. 

On to butterflies! These are also pollinators, so your garden will thank you for them too. Like bees, flowers that attract butterflies are a great option. There’s a lot of crossover between the two. 

Providing food and water sources, which can be very decorative, helps too.  

 

My perennial garden includes this super simple butterfly puddler. Butterflies have to drink from shallow water, mud, or damp sand, all of which become more scarce in summer. Adding one of these, kept wet, in warm weather can attract butterflies for a drink. A butterfly feeder hung from a tree is another possibility. 

Birds may eat our berries, but they also eat bugs and are vital to the food chain, so welcoming them by leaving nests in trees, adding a bird bath to the yard, and hanging a feeder and bird houses from a tree is free pest control. 

Ditto to bats. Mosquito reduction like no other. And guess what? There’s such thing as bat houses. They have to be hung 15-25 feet high (no more, no less) and placed in the sunshine. It can take a few seasons to get some roosting critters in there.  

   

A lot of these include projects that can be done with kiddos, along with fun learning experiences. Don’t pass up the opportunity!

Perennial Garden

Moving in to our new house at the end of April with limited time and resources prevented me from being able to have a vegetable garden this year. Or at least, one on the scale that I want to have. For next year, I want a couple of raised beds in the sunniest part of the backyard so I can plant plenty of produce. This year, I settled for some spinach, romaine, broccoli, and dill in an already existing planter box that wraps around the front porch. My vegetables are having to share their space with some perennials that were already in one section of it.

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The day I planted

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Lilies and columbine

What I did have, though, was the time and resources to plant a perennial garden out front.

See, I have this little island between the driveway and the front walkway.

11209695_10155529497160596_1965150593871578516_nIt wasn’t in the best shape, and things needed to change. We didn’t like the evergreen shrubs bordering the walkway. They’re ubiquitous in the Pacific northwest, but they get taller than a person and, particularly when they’re not meticulously and constantly tended, they tend to become spider traps that scream “don’t use this path!” when they line walkways. We also already have a fairly shady yard, and the front is one of the most constantly sunny places we have, so we didn’t really want to have something that would shade it. Out those went. There was also some rotting wood barriers (the past owners were terrible at regularly sealing or otherwise caring for wood outside; thank goodness our porches are roofed), and a stump. The wood came out, but the stump stayed because it’s small enough that I figured I’d just plant around it and let time take care of it.

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Grass and weeds removed and grass seed down and watered

Then we tilled and removed all of the grass and weeds in the island. Even though I wanted grass in part of it, there were so many weeds and the dirt was so dry and unhealthy, I wanted to give it a fresh start with fertilizer and new grass. I raked in some fish meal fertilizer and put grass seed in along the driveway and curb edges because I don’t want my plants to be trampled by anyone who parks close to the edge.

From there, my mom and I went to a local organic nursery and went shopping. I had a number of goals for this little garden. I wanted it to be perennial, because I don’t want to spend a small fortune replanting it every year. Planting veggies from seed every year is one thing. You get tons of seeds in a packet that costs no more than a couple of bucks and will usually last at least a couple of years, and you get food out of it. But planting annual starts can get costly, plus it means places that are either bare or have dying plants once the growing seasons is over. No thanks. I also wanted the perennials to include edibles and to attract pollinators and pretties: bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies.

Manure compost turned in

Manure compost turned in

Along with getting plants, my parents have a neighborhood barn that has compost piles. There are three bunkers that the neighborhood rotates through. The horse owners bring the wood chips and dung they shovel out, and people bring things like grass clippings and dead weeds. When a bunker is full, its closed off and allowed to sit for awhile to become compost, and then people can use the compost. I shoveled a bunch of this compost into the back of my dad’s truck (on the warmest day we’ve had this year, no less), and we brought it back to my house where I shoveled it all right back out into the island.

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Arranging before planting

While my little one took his nap, I turned the compost into the dirt. Hopefully between that and the fish meal fertilizer, the dirt will be healthier and life-giving.

Now it was time for the plants. I had gotten a number of plants to fit my goals. There are three blueberry bushes, which produce berries at different times of the growing season so that we don’t have too many at once. For the one spot that gets shade for at least half of the day I got a couple of bleeding hearts, and in the rest I got plants like bee balm, echinacea, aster, and lavender. Some are edible as herbs and in teas, and others are simply to attract my pollinators and pretties.

11150387_10155546855850596_6515258140420890126_nTo finish things off, I planted — which was interesting, because there are still small roots from the tree through the island –mulched, and watered.

I really can’t wait to see what this looks like when everything has had time to get established and grow.

Next year, when I have a real vegetable garden and I’m not using the front porch planter, I plan on putting some more shade-friendly perennials  in there. I already have a hummingbird feeder up, and yesterday I found fuchsia starts at Haggen so I made two hanging fuchsia baskets for the price of one established basket. That was an exciting find. I’ve already been paid off for my efforts to attract certain wildlife; I saw a hummingbird pay a visit to my feeder yesterday afternoon.

 

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13279_10155562999955596_1826768025702838296_n My fuchsia baskets and hummingbird feeder on the front porch; My columbine blooming in the front porch planter

 

 

New House and Stuff

I haven’t had a lot to write about for a while. until suddenly I did.

We bought a house.

It’s beautiful. It needs work, but its beautiful because its ours. It was a foreclosure, and although it wasn’t a horror story as far as foreclosures go, the previous tenants weren’t exactly nice to it either. We have to fix and paint walls, replace carpeting, replace all of the outlets (we had a little adventure with one in little man’s room causing all of the outlets and lights in his room and ours to stop working on and off until my dad fixed it), and lots of other little things all over the place. They weren’t very clean and they cut holes in walls. Literally. There’s a hole in the wall from them mounting their TV and hiding the cord inside the wall.

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But it’s all things that can be fixed over time, and I have my own bedroom again. I don’t have to sneak through R’s room to get into the bathroom anymore. I have a kitchen that more than one person can comfortably be in at the same time.

I have flowers.

Of course, that’s not all that’s been going on. Our little guy turned one a little while back.

2014-05-11 21.42.502014-05-11 21.46.12And he’s, you know, the cutest thing ever. He has a few words now. “Hot” is his most recent, and it’s absolutely adorable because he kinda whispers it to get the “h” sound. I think it mostly just means food — maybe specifically cooked food — to him, but we’ll get the meaning down eventually. He also says “Mom,” “Yeah,” “No,” ” ‘gain” (again), and is working on a few others but hasn’t gotten them down yet. He jumps when we say jump, he’ll kick his little legs if we say kick when he’s laying down, he runs all over the place and is up and down the stairs like nobody’s business, he chases the cats with maniacal enjoyment, and he gives kisses.

Steven completed his locomotive engineer training. Unfortunately, the railroad over-hired and things slowed down a bit, so there’s not enough positions for all of the employees and some are getting furloughed. Due to some really annoying circumstances, Steven was furloughed (temporarily laid off) a couple of days ago even though he has enough seniority to hold a position. I think he’s going to try to get that reversed tomorrow, but even if he can’t, he’s pretty sure the furlough isn’t going to last very long, and we’re okay for a while. If it goes too long, he’ll just have to find something that will pay the bills until they take him off of furlough. The particularly unfortunate part is that it’ll be a lot harder to find something that pays well enough to cover the bills while he’s on furlough now that it would have been if we hadn’t just bought a house. Oh well. I may have to get an evening job too or something, if it comes to it. But hopefully not. Prayers appreciated.

Mom Moments With A 9 Month Old

My son is 9 months old.

He took his first step a few days before he turned 9 months. He’s still not walking on his own, but he’s taken up to two steps at a time, and he absolutely loves pushing the office chair around the living room. We’re also not trying very hard to get him to walk more. He’s on the early end, and he gets into enough and moves around enough without being a walker too. We’re in no rush.

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Trying diced avocado yesterday

He’s the cutest, most wonderful person. I mean really, is he not adorable? He so smiley, his giggle lights up my life, and he makes the cutest noises that make even people who have had multiple children comment on how cute and funny he is. He’s wonderful.

But, he’s also a little low on weight. He’s always been long and skinny, but he dropped below his normal percentile range, so his doctor urged me to work on getting more calories into him during the day. Thankfully, she didn’t suggest formula. Maybe she will if we go in to weigh him in a month and he’s still at 1st percentile (instead of his usual 5th-10th), but for now she just wants to see if we can shovel a little more food into that tiny tummy every day.

And she suggested avocado. I love his doctor. I’m not sure why I hadn’t ever gotten around to having him try avocado before, but he made some headway on the contents of that plate yesterday, and enjoyed every moment of it.

But really, what is a mom supposed to do when her baby’s health care giver says, “He needs a little more meat on his bones”? What is she supposed to feel? I know I haven’t been doing anything wrong, per se, but apparently I wasn’t as on top of his daily feedings as I needed to be. He was eating 2-3 solid food meals and nursing multiple times a day just fine, usually twice each wake time. I made sure to get at least one good protein source, like a full can of baby meat, into him each day. People commented on him being a good eater, so I thought it was enough, but there were some signs. I was starting to get a suspicion that something was up; I probably wasn’t too far behind the doctor, but she had numbers while I only had first-time mom observations. He hadn’t eaten as well when he had a cold. He had increased his nighttime feedings (he’d been down to waking me up 1-2 times before his cold, and now was back to 3+) and naps weren’t going as long as they should. All of those can be signs of not getting enough calories, and therefore waking up hungry.

I was definitely starting to realize something was up. So hopefully it really was his need for more calories, which he was communicating to me with bad sleep instead of by crying for food when he’s awake.

Last night was certainly encouraging. Yesterday, I got as much food into him as I could. He nursed when he woke up, then ate 3 ounces of baby oatmeal with fruit, then nursed again before his nap. He woke up, nursed a little, at some avocado finger food, we went for a walk, came back and got a good lunch of about 5-6 ounces of food into him, and then nursed a little bit before his last nap. When he woke up, I again gave him a full meal, probably about 7 ounces this time (a full 6 ounce 3rd foods jar of baby food and the last of some banana from lunch). Then he hung out in the kitchen while I cooked, and I gave him a couple of tiny pieces of bacon while I cooked. He had a final late night small meal of 2-3 ounces of meat and veggies, followed by bath, a last full nursing session, and bed.

The result? He woke me up only three times, and did it like clockwork at the times that I would expect him to wake me up (1, 4, and 6), and he slept in until 8:30. Now, after nursing, breakfast, nursing again, he’s well into his first nap without waking up prematurely.

This is amazing.

I have some very real hopes that this is the solution to his waking up from sleep so often. I have some very real hopes for him starting to sleep through the night, or at least get down to waking me up only once. That would be amazing. And while I doubt I’ll ever have a chunk, I am looking forward to him getting his little belly back.

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When he had a little belly at about 7 months when he was in a better weight percentile

 

Frustrations With Anti-Cry-It-Out Articles

Decades ago, Dr. Spock was the leading authority on parenting in American homes. His method of sleep training was to set a child in his or her crib, walk away, and not come back in until after they had slept.

For some children, who naturally learn to fall asleep on their own quickly and easily, this method might work. For an older child who is refusing to fall asleep on their own long after it shouldn’t be an issue, it might be the best method. But too many parents have children who will be more hysterical after an hour than they were after fifteen minutes, or who will scream so hard for so long that they they vomit every time. This method doesn’t take into account health issues like reflux that can make it difficult for a baby to fall asleep.

There are articles all over the place about cry-it-out sleep training, some for it and some against it. The confusion comes with the definitions and ages being spoken of, especially with the articles against it, because many methods of sleep training get labelled as “cry-it-out” even if it’s much milder than Dr. Spock’s method, and the articles against it don’t differentiate.

Let me explain. A lot of the time you’ll read something like, “Cry it out sleep training damages babies who are allowed to cry for extended periods.” The whole article is then based on that, citing sources that are be difficult to find or need to be paid for in order to obtain. But they so rarely define the most important terms.

Cry-It-Out: does this refer to Dr. Spock’s method, or any method that involves crying, even those that allow for frequent comforting or that limit the crying to a short time? It’s not hard to imagine that there’s quite a different between a baby crying for five minutes and then being soothed versus a baby being left alone to cry, perhaps hysterically, until overwhelmed by sheer exhaustion or defeat.

Damages: this is unfortunately the best defined part of the statement, leaving parents stressed out about what harm they may be doing to their baby.

Babies: What hurts a newborn may not hurt a six month old, even though they’re both babies. For instance, I read recently that the Ferber method (a strict method, but gentler than Spock’s) doesn’t damage babies after about six months old. That implies that, in this case, the “babies” it potentially damages are babies younger than six months old, rather than all babies. Virtually any sleep training method is going to be damaging to a newborn. But a few very gentle things can begin to be done very early, like beginning to put the baby down in their own crib once their asleep, or putting them down right before they’re fully asleep and letting them finish falling asleep on their own. The older a baby gets, the more you can reasonably do. Since we shouldn’t give in to a toddler’s demands just because they’re crying, there’s obviously a point where stopping a child’s tears is no longer necessary to their health in every situation. These articles almost always fail to define the age range or development of the children that can be damaged by certain sleep training methods, or define at what point the risk is lower or altogether gone.

Allowed to cry: there’s a clear difference between a baby who’s just complaining or mad because they aren’t getting what they want, and a baby who is truly in need of their caregiver’s comfort. I don’t soothe my eight month old when he throws a fit because I took away something he shouldn’t have, and the fit usually lasts only moments anyways. But I will comfort my son immediately when he’s hurt, anxious, or otherwise truly in need of my comfort. When he goes down for a nap, he’ll sometimes just complain for a few minutes and then go to sleep, but other times the cry will turn to a “Mommy save me, I really need you” cry, which is different. But what kind of crying are these articles referring to?

Extended periods: what is an extended period? Some parents may feel this is no more than five minutes, while others think it’s an hour. So what is it? Five minutes? Fifteen? Thirty? Sixty? More?

Obviously, it can be hard to make decisions about parenting when you don’t have all the available information. A parent who sees this largely undefined assertion, with the only thing being made clear is that babies can be damaged, might be afraid to do anything for a long, long time, perhaps even into toddler stages. They may put themselves under wholly unnecessary stress, and even rob themselves and their child of the ability to sleep better and longer out of fear.

It’s obviously important to not damage our children. But we as parents also deserve the full evidence available, rather than having unreasonable fear instilled in us.

A lot of parents to choose a middle ground, especially with children who don’t respond to longer sessions of parental absence well. Some kids sleep train quickly and easily, but others don’t. Most parents seem to be of the opinion that, at the very least, a child who resists falling asleep should be checked on and soothed at intervals, especially if there’s any risk of the child vomiting. Some sleep train gradually, one step at a time rather than all at once, which still often allows for some crying as sleep props such as being rocked through a nap or nursing to sleep are taken away and as the child is encouraged to sleep in their own bed and to put themselves to sleep. Obviously these methods aren’t nearly as harsh as Dr. Spock’s method, or even the Ferber method, which are the methods I suspect are being referred to.

Most parents also realize that their newborn should not be sleeping through the night, and that there can be many factors that delay sleeping through the night. Many, like myself, understand that maintaining at least one night feeding can be essential to keeping up breast feeding long term, even if the child is technically old enough and big enough to sleep through the night without the feeding. Most parents approach sleep training by what they can do for the child’s age without undue stress on either themselves for their child. This is again not nearly as harsh as some of the more extreme methods out there. I even read about one a few months ago that suggested starting to refuse night feedings to a baby starting at only weeks old. That one made me angry. Most parents instinctively know that such a thing is horrible to do to their baby.

But most parents also know that their six month old shouldn’t need to be rocked through his or her whole nap, or doesn’t need to be nursed to sleep every time, or can start learning to put him or herself to sleep. And sometimes, that involves a few tears.

It would be really helpful if the articles on sleep training would just define their terms or share more of the pertinent details of their cited sources. Instead of causing many parents to feel condemned or making people think that anyone who doesn’t use their extremely “gentle” method is cruel, we might actually be able to get some answers on what actually is best for our children, and what shades of grey between the extremes are acceptable.