Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Small stuff for Mother's Day

Mother's Day is coming right up, dads. If you haven't thought about what to do for mom, there's no time to lose. Start gathering ideas. Here are a few things that always get smiles from Mrs O:

Breakfast in Bed--served by her little boys(in our case)! You might bring her a cup of coffee ahead of time so she'll be ready for the main event.

Plan out the day and present her with an itinerary of fun family activities that mom and dad and kids can all enjoy together. Focus on the things she most likes to do with the kiddos.

Crafty type things with hand prints, foot prints, home-made Mother's Day cards, etc. Browse through the craft stores and see what she might like. Those stores are loaded with plaster cast kits and mugs you--or rather the kids--can decorate.

Make sure to get any laundry sorted and in the washer, take out the garbage and take care of any other chores that are bothersome to her. Make sure she doesn't feel like she has to do household chores on Mother's Day. Get them done for her ahead of time. Keep on top of the dishes. Clear and wipe the table and wipe down the counter after meals.

Does any of that sound silly? It feels silly to write out some of the household chores. I'm writing them out anyway, because I know how much Mrs O appreciates things like a clean counter top. I never would have anticipated that it would make that much of a difference, but it does! Sometimes, I think we--guys--make the celebrations too difficult on ourselves. We want it to be perfect and we think that means breaking the budget, but sometimes I neglect the small things that make all the difference.

Note to self: don't forget the small stuff.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Growing Little Gardeners

“Children are the world’s most valuable resource, and its best hope for the future.”
John Fitzgerald Kennedy
UNICEF Appeal
July 25, 1963

When I think about the origins of my gardening addiction, I immediately think of Grammie.  I remember chilly October mornings picking Concord grapes on my grandparents’ farm in New Hampshire.   I can almost feel the plump fruit bursting in my cheeks and filling my mouth with the juice--sweet and tart at the same time.  

I remember walking along the rock wall where the bounty was sheltered by the meandering vines.  I would walk with my grandmother, pick the clusters of wild-growing grapes and bring our harvest to her kitchen.  Crushed, simmered, strained and set, the juice would turn to jelly.  Grammie invested hour after patient hour teaching me, cleaning up after me, and enjoying the fruits of our labor together.  It was not just about food production.  It was personal.

Now having two young boys of my own, I love watching them peruse the garden for the plumpest pods of sweet peas and nibble on basil and parsley leaves as they race each other around our yard.  They seem to love participating in tending the garden as much as they enjoy the harvest.  I have to admit, that my desire for gardening success is sometimes at odds with my desire to pass on gardening principles, especially when seedlings are mistaken for weeds, or when small green tomatoes are mistaken for baseballs.  

This past season, however, I discovered that we all benefit when I dedicate a few minutes to teaching and only teaching.  It was a happy accident, but we came up with a system that works perfectly and I don’t have to suffer any internal turmoil.  Here are a few of my discoveries: 
1. Give the kids their own space.  We made them a 4’x4’ raised bed where they could plant, weed, harvest and play to their hearts’ content.  I didn’t worry about plant spacing, or whether the cucumbers were going to overtake the tomatillos.  I worried about that in my own space and they knew that they had to ask before helping in my gardens.

2. Keep it age appropriate.  Toddlers and pre-schoolers don’t need to help with planting carrots.  They have great fun with the pumpkins and their little fingers can handle the seeds just fine.  

3. Focus on one task at a time.  The first lesson on watering sent soil and seeds floating down the driveway in the deluge.  The second time, I filled a flat with soil, skipped the seeds altogether and we practiced watering with empty soil!  The soil still splashed everywhere until the kids got the hang of the watering can, but I wasn’t counting the number of forfeited seedlings and we all had a great time together!

When the stakes are low and the prized heirloom tomatoes are not at risk, everyone has more fun.  Practice makes perfect and at the end of the season I found myself learning more during our teaching moments than I think my boys did.  Gardening is just as much about teaching the next generation as it is about feeding this one.  The veggies, the boys, and refreshing the memories of cooking with Grammie; it truly was a bountiful harvest.