How to Build a Squash/Melon/Cucumber Tipi and other enterprises

(If you’ve landed here for tipi instructions just scroll down past the charming pictures of my daughter and the paragraphs on riddles.)

round, pink hipster glasses(My new glasses, re-appropriated)

We have hit a new wave of parenting exhaustion/restlessness/enjoyment/annoyance that has manifested in such a way that at the end of the day Johnathan and I flop over in our respective chairs while Freya jumps, naked, on the couch, shouting, “Tell me riddle, Mommy! Tell me a joke, Mommy!” You would think what with the sun of summer on our necks and and whiff of dew in the air that we’d all be atwitter with newfound energy. Instead, we are cobbling together meals from the dregs of the fridge (yogurt, watermelon, brussel sprouts for dinner), snacking straight from the garden (tiny, sweet strawberries) and skipping bath time every other day because we do not have the energy to raise our arms high enough to soap the poor child’s hair.

growing everbearing strawberries (Look, Mommy, look! The strawberries are red all over!)strawberries in the garden

How did we get like this?

I do not know definitively but I have a few theories. First, I started getting headaches at eight or nine months postpartum that have gradually ramped up in intensity despite all the treatments I keep swinging at them. Point the second, Freya now spends her time following us from room to room saying, You’re putting on your shirt, you’re putting on your pants, you’re putting on a bra to cover your nitchers. Why, Mommy, why are you covering your nitchers? It’s like living with a very tiny narrator who plays it pretty fast and loose with the fourth barrier. There is a mental exhaustion to parenting that has something to do with all the worry and the routines and the activities, but it is more than that, too—it is the absence of time in which to reflect on what the beanpole is going on around you because there’s always someone calling, “I’m pooping out!” from the other room. It’s not that I need huge, aching quantities in which to contemplate my existence, just, you know, time to get in my response to a riddle now and again. Freya’s current favorite: What is big and brown and goes hop-hop-hop? Okay, you have to wait for somebody to answer. Oh! That’s right, it’s a bunny! 

Other than that I’m waiting anxiously for my squash plants to crop up. I got them into the ground late, which is better than last year when I planted nothing, but still not quite on the nose enough for our short Montana summers. Where are these squash set to grow? I’m glad you asked: DIY tipi for squash and melon plants(the bricks are there are out sheer laziness)

Here is my quick tutorial on How to Build a Squash/Melon/Cucumber Tipi:

1. Buy some bamboo sticks at your local gardening center. If this is impossible (either because you live in the rural sticks or because none of your stores carry such a thing), order here. Mine are six-feet tall, which has turned out to be a bit on the short side since I sunk them almost a foot into the ground for stability. Next year I want to do one, massive, twelve-foot tipi overgrown with scarlet runner beans and nasturtium.

2. Lash the poles together at the top (or cheat like me and pick up this gummy flower-shaped thing with pre-cut holes).

3. Bury the poles 6-12” in the ground, spacing them out evenly.

4. Arrange some shorter bamboo poles (3-footers worked best) horizontally between the poles; tie in place. Then wind twine around the whole thing in a manner that is pleasing to the eye.

5. Plant your seeds at the base of the poles.

And voila!

I planted Black Futsu Squash, Jack-be-Little Pumpkins and morning glories on the tipi in the far right, Cream of Saskatchewan, Thai Rom Dao Melons and sunflowers on the tipi in the foreground, and Lakota Squash and more Jack-be-Littles on the tipi in the far left-hand corner. Will they bear the weight of these squash? Will Freya trample the seedlings just beginning to sprout? Tune in next week for an installment of This is How Our Garden is Growing in Montana, with your sleep-deprived host, Freya’s mother.

To the stars!

Whomp, whomp, life goes on

How to segue from the whomp of last time to the bells and whistles of tonight? An evening which culminated in Freya pooping in the shower (“We can’t poop in the shower,” she said somberly, shaking her head, as I helped her out. “But I did poop there. Look, I did it.”). ”Life has to goes on,” my father said the day after my grandmother died while dialing up a business contact in Canada. Life coda bodily functions. (My parents are in the process of launching their very first app and as a result of complications relating to other people being in their office performing various jobs they have relocated themselves and their technological prowess to the dining room table. Between the wires and the folders and the giant monitors they have themselves a makeshift command center. My father, bespectacled for work, waves at Freya and I when we walk into the house and then says things into the phone like, And now back to you, Jim.)

But where was I before all of that? Oh right, fecal matter. I did not have to be requested to look since I was already well aware of the happenings, having been in the medias res of washing the lather out of my hair when what did my little nose happen to sniff? Ah, yes, ahem.

After I managed to leapfrog my way to safety I situated Freya on her little green toilet, wrapped myself in towels, and repaired to the bedroom to clothe myself before things got any worse. While I was rooting around looking for my pajamas (I went to New York two weeks ago and am still living out of the suitcase which I swore to unpack within the first 24 hours) my little dumpling called updates, “Don’t worry about me! My poop is coming! Don’t worry about me, Mommy.” The night’s events having turned me into a skeptic as to Freya’s sense of the proper local for expelled bodily fluids, I poked my head back into the bathroom to find her red-cheeked and straining, “It’s coming, Mommy, it’s coming.”

Huge, huge poop, the largest I have ever seen. It’s a wonder the bowels of a 1%-er could hold so much.

And now can we talk about something else, please? Something that does not involve everyone being naked and heeding the calls of nature?

IMG_2786(We went to the park today, as requested, and it was a swarm of kids rioting it up during their last field trip of the school year, exclamation point.)

Near the end of our time at the park I noticed a build-up in the line to the tunnel slide. Kids were stacked four and five deep down the stairs. Last I’d seen, Freya had gone into the slide but had not come out the bottom, so I went to investigate. And I found my girl laying in the last few feet of the slide, arm cast over her face like a Victorian woman in the throes of a faint, sighing contentedly. I called her name and she startled, sat up, and looked around warily. Meanwhile the kids were getting antsy so I offered my hand to help her from the tunnel lest we tarry another minute and she ended up with a pair of feet to the back. But if I had not retrieved her? The warm plastic, the long walk to the park (three blocks; have to tire out those two-year-old legs somehow), the belly full of chicken sandwich and apricot—she was bedding down for a nap.

And now, a brief update from the garden. Freya is really into riddles these days, which go a little something like this: what is green and leafy and looks like something growing in the foreground of Jurassic Park?

poppy plant perennialYou’re right! It’s a poppy!

Seriously, though, doesn’t this look look like something built to snap insects out of the air? I’m a little afraid that it’s going to change its mind about the purport of those pods and instead of flowering it’s going to take my hand off when I go to prune it’s neighbor, the stately peony. The fur on the pods, that’s what’s getting me; that and the jagged edges of those leaves. Sometimes gardening is a beautiful melange of buds and stalks and florals blooming in every color of the spectrum, and sometimes as I watch a plant sprout its way out of the ground (the edamame seedlings have cratered away the dirt around them and are rising in pairs, heads bent, like they just don’t give a damn)—sometimes I wonder how the world even knows what a poppy plant looks like before it is a-bloom; if I had seen this plantling growing in my field, way back when, I would have weeded it out before it rose up and ate my pig.

Rumor transmitted via the neighbors is that we’d better enjoy our plants today because tomorrow we are expected to be pelted with baseball-sized hail. I have never heard of such a thing. After the last storm we underwent some sort of kinetic frission (or else it was just foul timing) that shorted out the control panel in our furnace leaving us without heat or air. Which, blessedly enough, has fallen at a time of the year when this doesn’t matter one iota—there are about three weeks like this in the Montana seasonal calendar, and we’re living one of them right now. The furnace is twenty-one years old, so baddah bing, daddy warbucks, we’re going to replace it instead of re-parting the dying machine. According to the laws of physics the furnace’s failures had really nothing to do with the storm that preceded them, but it is a pattern which does not portend well for the upcoming storm. After which we’ll probably need to replace our washer and dryer, for a reason some call karma and some call fate and we call a hit to the savings account.

So that is what we will be doing tomorrow: eating burgers and hitting up the library if the weather cooperates, battening down the hatches if it does not. Report to follow.

Best and all that jazz,

Rich in mint

“We’re rich in mint,” my father is saying. We are at a wedding reception eating English muffins with apple butter, talking gardens. “We’re mint rich.”

My brother, another one of those tall twenty-five-year-olds from Montana making his fortune in the Bakken, takes a pull from a glass of orange juice he’s sweet-talked away from the flower girls and says, “Do not plant any mint. Planting mint is like giving yourself leprosy.”

We’re all laughing and from there the conversation wends and winds until we’re talking about all of my un-present siblings, the younger brother on exchange in Costa Rica whom no one has heard from in weeks, our sister working at a lodge in Alaska north of the Arctic circle that caters to retired Japanese couples, and our other sister who has just sent us all a picture of herself in a sexy red dress, six months pregnant. We are all scattered hither and yon which is usually not such a big deal, but which has suddenly become a big deal because our grandmother died early Friday morning, the day before this wedding where we are all gussied up and talking mint plants so we do not have to talk about the fact that all of my father’s siblings are currently en route from their corners of the world (Arizona, Colorado, and Tunisia respectively). We are not holding a memorial any time soon—my grandfather wanted to wait until closer to the 4th of July when the rest of the family has already planned to come up to Montana—but still everyone wants to sit on same porch, eat hot dogs, and talk about how when my grandfather got out of the merchant marines in 1946 he came home to his sweetheart who said, “We’re getting married this Friday.” Sixty-eight years, six kids, countless moves, sixteen grandchildren and twelve great-grandchildren—their relationship has finally, irrevocably, ended. At least in the sense that my grandfather now rises, watches the news, and sips coffee alone.

I am thirty and up until last week all of my grandparents were still alive. The oldest one being my mother’s father who turned 98 in March, still lives alone, and can remember the full names of every person in each of his elementary school classes, a feat I cannot even perform. The rest are in varying states of old age: hearing loss, early onset dementia, congestive heart failure, and general orneriness.

So when my father called late, late Thursday night (what was actually Friday morning) after I’d tossed and turned and finally gotten up was stewing about the living room, I did not have a good guess as to what might have gone wrong. Nobody calls for any good reason after midnight, at least not if they’ve done their time zone calculations correctly, and when I saw my father’s number spring up on my phone all I could do was answer with, “Is everything okay?”

“No,” he said. “It’s not. We think your grandma has passed away.”

For a second I did not know which grandma he was talking about. My mother’s mother who has early onset dementia but is otherwise in fine spirits? Or his mother, who after going through a round with the doctors of “this-is-congestive-heart-failure-no-it’s-anxiety” was now on a regime of pills that had her laughing and teasing Freya only a few days earlier?

“It’s my mom,” my dad said. “We’re heading to their house now.” And then, answering my next question, “You don’t need to come.”

When the paramedics arrived they asked if we had a living will, my grandfather says, if she wanted to be resuscitated. And I told them that I knew she didn’t want to come back, but I wanted her back. If there was any chance of her coming back to me I wanted them to try. 

My grandma Millie had one of those bodies that decayed before its time so she was left house-bound and on oxygen. She’d had three hospital stays in the last year, and during each one we had prepared ourselves. Called the various relatives, steeled our nerves for a call in the middle of the night, and after each one she had returned home. Which lulled me into believing that she was really fine after all. Losing a grandparent does not come as a real shock, at least not the kind of shock we felt when some of our friends lost one of their twin boys, but the surprise of the sudden loss was something for which I had not been prepared. It came suddenly and without the warning of a lengthly hospital stay, a declining spirit, an acute illness. Sort of like the way we all get behind the wheel knowing that there is always an outside chance we’ll end up in a car accident, but believing that it won’t be us, at least not today.

The Sunday before she died we were all gathered for a family brunch that had expanded to the point that when Johnathan and Freya and I walked through the door she’d swiveled around and said, all delight, “I didn’t know this was going to be a party!” Tressa, my sister who lives in Alaska, was rigging up a slide show of sledding dogs and northern lights and frost like lace across her hats and coats, a show which riveted everyone, Freya included, and which prompted my mother to say at the wedding, “Your grandma always wanted to go to Alaska again. I’m so glad Tressa took her there.”

One moment my grandmother was eating my mother’s cinnamon rolls and eggs, and the next thing I heard she’d “gone to be with Jesus,” something which—it cannot be denied—she had been wanting for the better part of the last few years. She loved her grandchildren. “I think she held all of our babies at their birth or shortly thereafter,” my Aunt Sue said last night, “We need to find those pictures, of her holding our babies.” But she’d had about enough of the back pain, the digestive issues, the spells where she felt she could not get her breath. “Sometimes when I called on Sundays she would mention that she was forgetting things, that she was feeling down,” my Aunt Julie, “And I would just tell her, ‘Mom, you’re doing great, you sound great.’ Maybe I should have let her talk about it more, what she was feeling, what she was afraid of.”

A dangerous road, the one of regret, of what ifs. I’ve made it a habit of always hugging my grandparents good-bye, telling them I love them. Tressa snapped a picture with my grandma before leaving that Sunday, a photo of them both smiling. “That’s probably the last picture we have of her,” Aunt Julie says. It is this thought, that there is now ”the last of this and the last of that” that makes this photo seem suddenly so valuable. These memories, these snapshots, from the last few days, weeks, years, are now the closing chapter in someone’s life. They have to bear the weight of an epilogue. Just as a good short story ends by opening outward to something bigger than itself, the ending of a good novel should have a heft, a finality. The characters settled—even if only for the moment. We all want this for our grandma which shapes the way we begin to tell the stories of our last moments:

A big, happy, family brunch. For many of us this was the last time we saw her. How fitting, we say, we’re so thankful that this is our last memory.

Or, my brother returning from the oil fields for a weekend, pops in to visit my grandparents and finds my grandfather is, oddly, not at home. So he visited with my grandma, alone, for an hour, and this is his last memory. 

My pregnant sister, home for Christmas, announcing what was then a just a faint blue line on a pregnancy test. The thirteenth great-grandchild, in utero.

“I’m so glad she lived to see two great-granddaughters,” my Aunt Sue says. “After ten boys she got two girls. That made her so happy.” One of those girls is my Freya, who will probably not remember anything from this summer, but whose birth marked a turning point for our family. Ten great-grandsons—“This one has to be a girl,” Aunt Sue said at our baby shower. “It just has to”—and then Freya whose gender surprised her own mother, most of all.

When my father returns from the funeral home he says my grandfather is up to his old quips. The funeral director has outlaid all of the urn options, from a double urn that costs several thousand dollars down to a corrugated cardboard box, spray-painted gold, that my grandfather says will do just fine. “She’s won’t know the difference,” he says. And when the funeral director presses him to think about the future, about what he wants done with his own ashes, my grandfather gestures at my father and aunt and says, “That’s their problem.”

“Nobody wanted to see her,” my mother says of the hours they spent waiting for the paramedics, then the coroner. “Your grandpa kept saying, ‘She’s not there. You don’t need to go in there ’cause she’s not there.’” Of the EMT who was so like my sister Tressa in Alaska, who is also an EMT: “She knelt right beside him and said he did everything right, that there was no magic pill. This would have happened even if she’d been in the hospital. There was nothing anybody could have done.” My Aunt Sue: “She got what she wanted—she wanted to go before grandpa and she didn’t want to be scared when it happened. She was always worried about that.”

“I don’t know anybody here who would even come to my funeral,” grandma was laughing the day before she died, over coffee with Aunt Sue. “Don’t worry about that,” Sue said, “You have family and lots of them. There will be plenty of people.”

The story my father tells of making arrangements: “I found out something new about my mother. All my life she’s spelled her middle name E-D-I-T-H, but on her birth certificate it’s actually spelled E-D-Y-T-H-E. Isn’t that beautiful?” He tells this story to anyone who will listen—to all of my siblings, one at a time, pausing because there is something so startling about finding out something new about one’s parents. But not only that—it is the shock of realizing that there some things we will find out about the people we love only after they’re gone.

A name-spelling is a triviality in some ways, perhaps, but in others it is not. “That would make a nice name,” my father muses and suddenly there floats in the room a question, which no one acknowledges: If he had know this before, would one of his three daughters have been named (or middle-named) Edythe with a y? Is this a piece of information that would have made a difference in the course of someone’s life? Of my life?

A few weeks ago, before all of this happened, I texted my pregnant sister: I just read something funny—when something goes wrong in your life you should just stop, yell, “Plot twist!” and then move on. The ghost of this message pops up when I write her, at 2am, Have you talked to mom and dad? Call me after you talk to them. A message which prompted her to call home at 6am the following morning, my mother picking up to hear my sister say, “What is it? What’s happened?” The pair of these messages now seem—in the context of us all trying to write a closing chapter—both ridiculous and heartbreakingly true.

The death of my first grandparent is my plot twist for this summer. Not wholly unexpected, but still a surprise to the reader. It is the moment when a character who has survived war or lion taming, or natural disasters, is then picked off by a stray ball from a baseball game. But what it feels like is something else entirely—it is the mint that has been planted without my consent, but which will now be there forever, the leprosy that family members give one another. A loss with roots so deep that it cannot ever be eradicated.

Failure to Thrive

The other day Johnathan looked over at me and said apropos of nothing, “I had no idea you’d be so into gardening,” and then he went back to whatever he was doing, which was probably making our family moolah by writing code for strangers on the internet. “Why does daddy work?” Freya keeps asking and my response is always, “to make money.” Is there a better response to give a two-year-old? Does he write code for the love of it? Yes, sort of. But also because we need to buy more mangoes and avocados at the store, as requested nightly by Freya. Lately she has begun answering the question herself so that I hear from the backseat, “Why does daddy work?…oh, because…to make money…to buy groceries. At the store!” (This last bit shouted, for emphasis.)

((Side note: we have recently turned around the carseat for our 5th percentile for height, 1st percentile for weight two-year-old and now our entire ride to preschool and back is a running monologue to the tune of: “red light means stop, green light means go, there’s a train, chugga chugga, red light means stop, mommy!” She is a small peanut, like me. “Do not let them mark ’failure to thrive’ on Freya’s growth chart,” my mother warned me. “They did that to you when you were a baby and that haunted us for years.” (I have a hard time imagining what this looks like—mostly I picture a bunch of white-haired men shaking their fingers ominously and putting a bunch of black checkmarks next to my name.) Our own doctor looked at the numbers, eyed us, and said, “What I’m concerned about is fat. How much fat does she get everyday?” Ummmm…I have no idea? So we have now been tasked with spoon-feeding her dollops of coconut oil everyday while is like Freya’s dream come true. Whenever we put it on her face to quell a rash she scrapes her hands along her cheeks and then sucks all of the oil off her fingers with this dreamy look on her face. As I am writing this it is occurring me that perhaps the fact that our daughter was licking fatty oils off her own skin was the sign that she needed her fat content upped. Hindsight, twenty-twenty, yaddah, yaddah.))

That whole last paragraph was a side-note! What I was trying to write about was even more gardening than last time, because it is spring! And everything is coming up tulips and ratty-looking lavender around here, except we didn’t plant any of these things so it’s a constant surprise. Also, if there’s one thing that rivets people to their computer screens it’s someone who won’t stop writing about compost formulas and plant growth. You can’t wait to hear how my beets are doing, am I right?

Oh wait a second, here are some pictures:

IMG_2521 IMG_2522 IMG_2520(Those daffodils have now all been beheaded, thank you hail storm. Freya was twirling, which is pretty hard to capture with an iphone camera.)

As you might be able to glimpse in these pictures, our yard is in need of tending and repair. The fence is listing drunkenly toward the sidewalk. Weeds have sprung under the crabapple tree whose branches are so low that I have to belly-crawl across the bark like a banshee in order to extricate them. I am suddenly, disproportionately and obsessively into gardening, yes, on this point Johnathan is correct. But the why is the bigger question and it goes a little something like this:

Numero uno: we all get to be outside as a family, in the sunshine. La la la, this is nice. Other reasons: we have checked out about a million (in reality: six) books from the library on plants, seeds, gardens, and the cycle of wool, and now every time we eat a snack Freya says, “I really like goldfish crackers…maybe we can grow them in our garden next year?” Or, “Can we grow bread in our garden, mommy?” which has led to a lot of interesting conversations about what can and cannot be grown, and what people eat, and why. “Can people eat peach peels?” she asked me today. Yes, I said, we eat peach skins, but not watermelon rinds etc. Raising a two-year-old so often feels like initiating someone from another culture into your homeland—there’s an abundance of food here, but it all has to be eaten in a very particular way. Always check with your guide before ingesting anything new. 

Speaking of new things! We are on the silk road to potty training! We took a very laissez-faire attitude with Freya re: potty training in that every so often we would put her in a pair of underwear and champion her using her little pot, and then we would go back to diapers for a few weeks, until one Saturday when we were all home and then…underwear again! And I don’t know if we’ve just lucked out with her or if this on-again-off-again-no-big-deal-either-way approach is actually certified somewhere, but…it seems to have primed the pump or something. Last Saturday we said, “Starting today it’s underwear from here on out,” and aside from a couple of number dos accidents (why is this one harder than just going potty? How often does a poop really, truly sneak up on you? The other day we were playing and she got that flushed look on her face and I asked her if she had to go to the bathroom and she said, “I did have to go, but it just…it went back in, so I’m okay Mommy.” My response: … )—anyway, aside from a couple of accidents we’ve been in underwear for all of our waking hours, although we are still diapering at night, for the love of the parents. Is this the usual rigamarole with little girls? Ours loves her new! pink! underwear! Which she does NOT want help pulling back up and which has led to no small amount of wardrobe malfunctions, including exhibit A:

IMG_2820(Dress tucked right into the underwear, a fact which both parents failed to notice until after dinner.)

Wardrobe malfunctions aside, I have had a glimmer of a diaper-less life (“These may be the last diapers we ever buy for you,” Johnathan said, unpacking a HUGE box of diapers tonight), and that life looks both good and bad. Good in the sense that her toiletterie will one day be her own affair *jazz hands*, but bad in the sense that there are still going to be a lot of years where we’re rushing into skeevy public bathrooms so she can disrobe and then say, “Actually, I guess I don’t have to go.” *head smack*

I’m sure there’s a greater point to be made here about growing up plants and children, and how they’ll both bloom when they please like the little seed in the book “The Little Seed.” “Except what I want to know is why does the flower have to be so huge at the end?” says Johnathan. “The book’s so realistic about the seeds being picked off, and winter, and then suddenly the little seed grows into a flower that’s taller than a house. It makes no sense.” Which is precisely what I’ve been thinking about the carrot patch that I planed in primed, tilled soil and which failed to send up so much as a single sprout after four long weeks of germination. Some things grow and some things do not, and some things will do it when we don’t want them to (hello bindweed that strangled the strawberries last year), and others will not do it when we do want them to—and now we’re getting into the territory of me defending the position of the littlest seed that outlives all the other robust and stealthy seeds that met all their height and weight percentiles at every check-up. And it doesn’t take a metaphorist to read: seeds = children and I worry that Freya may have to throw a few elbows to keep herself from getting kicked off the dodgeball court (or whatever the hot sport is these days at elementary schools).

None of which was my original point, since I came here to say in essence: I am growing beets. Yay. And which is where I’ll leave you, on the edge of your seat: will they grow or won’t they? Will they be tasty? Will they be gold or red? Such tantalizing possibilities! Tune in next time. 

Bright and sunny in Montana, -Kendra


As she said adieu to her dear friends the tulips

After spending the better part of Sunday afternoon uprooting plantlings, knees oily with dirt, the neighborhood was blasted with an ice storm that sounded as though someone was firing pot shots at our back windows. In actuality they were hailstones the size of tangerines. And all our hard work (of which there is not a before picture because, of course, I was waiting for daylight and a daughter in a cute dress) was rendered as thus:


It might be hard to really grasp the drama from this lone picture, but just try to imagine that the ground is actually supposed to be all mulchy and brown, not vibrant and green, specked with blossoms blown off a blooming tree. The leaves that you see were picked off from the tree to stage left, and from our neighbor’s tree, and from their neighbor’s tree. The street is pasted in green.

And on the right, our disaster crew, awoken from her nap by hail striking the windows, now all done up in yellow rain boots and a bear-hood sweater. After she completed her survey of the plantings she spent her time collecting hailstones. She kept crying because her hands were cold and we kept tutting, then stop picking up the ice, but she could not. And when we went inside she left a little pyramid of hailstones by our front door.

Meanwhile, off camera, a tree branch from our neighbor’s stately maple cracked off and fell on the hood of someone’s car. In what seemed like a miraculous display of efficiency, a clean-up crew appeared from out of nowhere—a cluck of women who stood on the stoop wringing their hands and calling our directions to a bearded man with a chainsaw. The branch was hacked into pieces. Various children, looking as bedraggled as street urchins since everyone had been hastily clothed and rushed outdoors to survey the damage, stomped around in puddles. We took inventory (strawberries: looking good; dandelions: beheaded), made small talk with the neighbors about the state of our roofs (they’ll probably need to be replaced, ho ho ho), then shuffled back inside. 

From our window I watched our other neighbors poking around their alliums and irises (all of which were tragically denuded). People kept appearing from out of nowhere until there was a congregation of twenty or so people milling around our block, comparing damage stats. Someone down the street had untarped his spring garden only a few days before and the plantlings that had heretofore been protected were beaten down by the hail like everything else. This seemed to everyone like a particularly unfortunate loss, given his care up to this point. Sort of like keeping pace for an entire marathon only to be beaten black and blue with hail by mile 25.

I couldn’t help thinking that I had not cut for myself a single tulip bouquet even though I’d been planning to cut one for at least a week. Only the day before Freya had asked if she could pick some flowers and I’d been very spare in my generosity. Three measly flowers, and one with a teeny, tiny bud. I tucked these into a tight-lipped vase and put them on the windowsill in her bedroom and thought what a nice idea it was to have flowers in the house. Nice, yeah, yeah, I’d get around to it.

Cut to last night as I surveyed our garden with all the drooped flowers and petals strewn about willynilly—I couldn’t help feeling that we should have seized the abundance earlier. The bright red poppy that Freya had desperately wanted to pick, but which I’d put the kybash on because I did not want to discourage the new plant from all its mighty efforts, had been blown right off its roots and was laying all bedraggled in the footpath. I picked up the sorry thing and brought it inside. May can be a wild month in Montana. We often have snow. Anybody who’s already planted their tomatoes has ringed the plantlings with what is basically a circular hot water bottle. I have yet to muster up the courage to plant the warm season crops because I’ve been waiting for this one, last spark of winter. Snow would have been one thing, but hail was a beat down I wasn’t expecting.

I had of late been lamenting that we had so few tulips in our garden, and the ones that we had were lone sentinels in the midst of bushels of wild daisies, but I guess the lesson here is that a gardener should never rely too heavily on any one crop. Last night all the early season bloomers—the hot pink tulips and swanning daffodils—were knocked off their rockers and are now spread about our gardens like so many fallen arrows. They would have wilted at some point, I know that, but this was an entirely violent affair, ravaging them all before their time. I know, I know—here today, gone tomorrow, life cycles, and all that jazz. Spring is all about upheaval around here, as any forecaster will tell you.

Which brings me to my point—a life lesson from me to you: pick your flowers whenever you want, lest karma picks them for you. 

From the bowels of disaster-land, Kendra

Blossom Fever

I’m not sure if it’s blossom fever or some kind of kinetic short circuiting, but I am having a hard time sticking with things these days. Like, for example, I toiled away on the hard wood floor all of last week patterning and chopping and stitching to make Freya this dress-that-turned-out-to be-too-short. Which I think is what we call a shirt: IMG_2412And you know, it was cute and I felt the satisfaction of having rended a garment with my bare hands and so I thought to my little self, “I’m going to make her, like 1,000 dresses for the summer!” and I was only exaggerating in my mind a teeny bit. Which meant that the next day was spent on this little number. (In all my pictures Freya is either making the face of a surprised gnome or else is scorning the camera or else has her back turned.)sewing liberty print dressI am on such a sewing roll! This is what I thought to myself. Right up until the point where I abandoned the strewn mess of fabric and threads upstairs and instead took up gardening. A past time which had to be done right that millisecond and which required me to spend the bulk of Sunday on my hands and knees digging up weeds and spreading wet, mulchy bark. And which furthermore induced me to send Johnathan to the gardening store in pursuit of ten more bags of mulch, the pile of which has taken over our porch. I have completed maybe, let’s say, 1/6th of the gardening thus far. Maybe. We bought our house from an avid gardener/florist etc. who laid plants in every nook and cranny of spare dirt. So there’s a lot of work to do. That’s legitimate.

I read a lot of blogs and there are all these great sewing tutorials and moms photographing their little dumplings in handmade stockings and capes complete with links saying things like, “If you want to make the same thing, just find the pattern here!” And I had some notions that I might undertake the same sort of posts. All, find your bliss by clicking this link (and then sequester yourself for five frustrating hours as you put everything together). But my modus operandi seems to be a lot more slapdash than that. I pattern based on this book, here. It will walk you through everything step-by-blooming step, from taking your child’s measurements to altering a pattern block into anything your wild heart desires. But I really don’t think I’m one who’s going to get into the gritty bits of how much you clip off the collar and where you notch the beltloops. I will show you what I make and maybe things will get more detailed than that, at some point, if the situation warrants. In the meantime, if you have questions I will do my best to respond to them. That’s about all any human can promise another anyway, right? at least when their only connection is the tenuous thread of the internet.

We’re headed back to the winterwilds of our front garden tonight. I wish I had a picture for you, but just imagine that someone (hint *not us* hint) started a perennial garden, and someone else (hint *us* hint) did not do any sort of tending for twelve months. What we did do is stare at it for hours and say things to each other like, “This is too much garden for us. This is way too much garden.” Still, in spite of living in the lee of our neglect, the plantlings not only survived but appeared to think something along the lines of “freedom!” The worst offender has to be the yarrow. A rampant self-seeder that’s laid siege every way the wind blows. I am now forced into the position of either a) uprooting the poor, tender underlings that happen to be in the yarrow’s path OR b) remaining a passive observer as the yarrow’s uprising gains more and more support. But if there’s one thing I cannot stand (ha ha! Joke’s on the yarrow! There are lots of things I cannot stand!) it is a bully.

Of course, we have had our share of casualties. We uprooted a catmint plant that had been strangled by yarrow stalks and was failing to sprout, even though it is only April. A decision which caused our neighbors to venture (cautiously) something along the lines of, “But maybe it just needs more time?” And the Lamb’s Ear, which was disfortuitously on the yarrow’s front lines, was weeded so aggressively that it now looks as ragged around the edges as if a certain two-year-old had come along and nibbled all of its tender leaves.

The fear of Ruination and Doing the Wrong Thing kept me from doing much of anything gardening-wise last year. But this year! It has occurred to me that I own these plants from their leaves down to their roots and if I do not care for the way one plant is disrespecting its neighbor then it is entirely within my prerogative to remove the offender from the garden. If we’re ever to live in peace and harmony then they’ve got to learn that there are consequences to their actions.

Not so unlike the children, which I’m sure you already knew. News flash! Children test your fortitude! Freya is mostly a sociable, friendly two-year-old of the adorable variety, but lately she’s been exerting her life force just a little more than before. Preschool has brought forth her brazen side. Now, instead of capitulating while the neighbor boy orders her off the slide or takes her watering bucket (he’s a great kid, but he’s a boy and he’s got eighteen months on her in terms of brain development and at least forty pounds on her in terms of size) she’s been telling him no, stop that. With such authority! And a David versus Goliath swagger to the upheld hand, like, don’t even think about crossing this line, kid.

No one wants their child to be the bossypants of the neighborhood (I believe google told me we’re no longer supposed to refer to our girls as bossy; they’re leaders, ladies and gents) but I am really enjoying these forthright overtures. Her father is a wonderful man, but he’s much more inclined to deal with conflict by cracking a joke, whereas my instincts lie more in the camp of demanding surrender and then throwing a strategic elbow if warranted (and sometimes if not warranted—you know how it goes). Now I’m seeing my first glimmers that Freya’s turning into a girl patterned off my own tiny-but-authoritative bones and the sight pleases me. It pleases me to no end.

Life lesson: just because you drop off the south end of your growth chart, that’s no reason to cede the water rights to your own garden.

And now, *segue*. Would you like to see some more pictures of Freya’s new, mommy-made clothes? Sure you would! IMG_2415IMG_2413(Look at this neat little row of buttons. Who knew my old Bernina had it in her?)

And yes, those are hot pink undies. We are potty training the Lackadaisical Way. This means that we sometimes put her in underwear and she sometimes uses her little Bjorn training pot. But no one, including us, ever knows for how long we’ll let her sport the undies before we get tired and slap on a diaper. We’re all flying pretty close to the sun on this one. 

Okay, okay, you twisted my arm! One more shot. But then I really have to skeedaddle. I have, you know, mommy and writerly things to do. (Below: liberty fabric that I have had in my stash for six years. That’ll teach me to only buy a yard because of the cost. You know what you can make for a grown human woman with one yard? Nothing. Well, maybe a pair of underwear. Or a hat. Tantalizing.)IMG_2611Liberty print dress, heart-print tights, leopard shoes. Nailed it. 

*Mic drop*

All the best and the best from Montana, Kendra




Saturday-Afternoon Potluck

Pear GirlI have so many nuggets to share! The daffodils are a-blooming. Freya’s down for the count with yet another (another!) cold. La-la-la, kids get colds—I get it—and with this one she’s all peepy-eyed and every time her nose runs she hollers, “I have a runny nose!” as though someone’s jabbing needles into her spleen. We’re rollicking along playing it all fast and loose with whether or not we’ll attend Easter services tomorrow.

On the parental side, Johnathan is work-swamped and keeps staring at the browned-out ‘scape that is our front yard perennial garden before heaving a sigh that means tomorrow, tomorrow I will get out there. I am on day nine of recovering from a septoplasty and turbinate reduction (surprise! I had surgery last week! And the recovery has been…difficult. For the first time today I am crawling out of my mental cave of exhaustion/nausea/pain and reaching into the void of the Internet for a little contact. If you’ve been prowling around here now would be a great time to say hi.)

In the midst of all of this life things keep coming my way and I keep reading them and watching them and thought you might enjoy them, too:

Best tutorial I’ve read on photo-editing for the novice.

How Japan copied American culture and made it better.

Mindy! Kaling! (On being a regular slash cubby woman.)

Artistic protests at the Guggenheim.

Six countries trying to make their workers lives better.

Little Mermaid’s Kiss the Girl gets played out in real life.

Will you be watching this movie?

Interesting take on motherhood as a hyped-up Olympic sport.

Have at ‘em, folks.
Best, Kendra

Happy birthday to me

I was all set to regale you with the Big Questions such as The Passing of Time – where are we going? And I’m Getting Older Year By Year – what does this all mean? since I am 30 today. This is the start of a whole new decade of misadventures! Which will hopefully include such goal-meeting as finishing my novel, falling pregnant with another babe (maybe more than one? These are the years, as they say, but getting our first child to the ripe age of two has pretty well wiped out any energy reserves we’d stockpiled from our childless days). Plus I imagine this decade will involve the accumulation of various sundries to luxuriate our Montana existence: to whit, apple trees. ((The new (to us) library tome Apple Farmer Annie has been a mega-hit around here the last few nights. Now whenever I ask Freya what she wants to grow in our garden she says, “Apples! And…maccaroni.”)) Also to whit, a new sewing machine that makes non-lumpy, regular-shaped buttonholes. And finally to whit, a bicycle. I have a preference for one of those great old dutch bikes with a huge cargo hold large enough for Freya to lie prone, but these seem to be either a) out of our price range or b) only available for importers. And since we’ve temporarily shut down the importing arm of A Trade For A Trade I’m sore out of luck. Just a regular old granny bike for me, please, thanks.

As for other immediate ventures for which you can expect an update in a timely fashion, we are in the throes of screwing together pine boards into our very own construction project: an indoor planter to be filled (soonish) with a menagerie of felt vegetables. Excitment is brewing.

But first! As for today! Johnathan is whisking me away to Chico Hot Springs for the night to soak away the cares of my now 30-year-aged body. The Bean will be chillin’ at the ranch with G’ma which basically means awesome-sauce times for all. Okay, chop, chop, lady! The Subaru chariot awaits!

Catch you all on the flip end of the week.

Quickly, for posterity:20140408-111755.jpg(two-year-old selfies! Who knew that was the way to get a genuine smile?)

Best, Kendra


How to make vegetable dye

vegetable dye

Spring! Spring! Time to drag out the dye vats and skeins of untreated wool! I’m dye-ing (ha) to mix up a hot pot of beets this summer to dye a shirt for my little bean. I can’t take credit for this recipe, but it’s a great idea, so I’m linking you up. I imagine using your home-grown veggies to tie-dye clothes is about as hippie-dippie as it gets—not sure how I feel about that. I mean I’m crunchy but not that crunchy.

Wool (to be dyed)
Alum (potassium aluminum sulphate)
Cream of Tartar
Large saucepan or tall pot
Container to store treated wool

Complete instructions here.

Any luck dip-dying your own clothes? Has this every turned out to be awesome? A kid-friendly activity? I’d imagine yes except for the boiling pots of water. And the alum. And the general ability of beets to stain everything within spitting distance. But maybe outside on a hot day? When the sprinkler’s running? Yes? Yes. I’ll report back.

Best, Kendra

paint-filled Easter eggs

easter eggs filled with paint(Full tutorial here.) (Also worth noting that the link to this project was swallowed whole by the pinterest vortex, but I found it thanks to the “Jeweled Rose” tagging in the first photo. A good note: tag your photos so people can give you credit for your good ideas.)

I’m not usually one for the holiday-themed projects, but this one looks like heaps of fun. Maybe it’s the bright colors, maybe it’s the act of throwing eggs to make art. Who can say. If the weather softens up here over the weekend we might find ourselves outside partaking in just such an activity. Enjoy.

Best, Kendra