Monday, April 28, 2008

Our trip to Mexico

We'd had quite enough of this:

So bright and early the next morning we hopped on a plane and headed to Mazatlan! Well, we didn't actually leave because of the weather, but it was a nice coincidence that we'd quite fortuitously planned the trip to begin on the weekend of the latest snowfall on record since 1972.

Almost two years ago, my dad and stepmom decided to retire to Mazatlan, and this was our first trip down to see their new digs since the move. We spent 8 days with them, and they were wonderful hosts and tour guides during our stay. Below are a few photos from our trip...

Our first night in town, we went down to the machado and had dinner at Pedro y Lola's. The kids were happy to see chicken fingers and fries on the menu! Although, our typically non-soda drinking kids were a little distressed that lemondade is generally served made with sparkling mineral water in Mexico - they didn't like the bubbles. We learned to order limonade natural by the end of our trip. Many vendors strolled past our table - little girls selling roses, a little boy selling chiclet, musicians, and this balloon sculpting clown.

We also visited the small town of El Quelite, about an hour drive outside of Mazatlan. We had a fantastic lunch at a nice restaurant, again dining in an outdoor courtyard, surrounded by tropical trees, plants, and wildlife.
We also walked over to the catholic church (in the background)
Stopped by the ranch where fighting cocks are raised
We also went into a little bakery where they were pulling fresh mexican pastries out of the oven. We picked out a variety to take enjoy back at Dad and Sharon's the next day. They were all delicious, but the pina, and cinnamon rolls were our favorites.

We visited the orphanage where Dad and Sharon volunteer their time. Sharon, Natalie and I helped hang laundry on the clothesline, and then our kids went to play on the teeter totters where they were joined by a couple of the girls from the orphanage. Most of the girls were in class that morning.
In the middle of the photo below, you can see a covered area. That's the washbasin where they wash all of the children's laundry by hand each day, and then they hang them to the right to dry. Never again will I complain about the piles of laundry I have to do in my washing machine. The orphanage actually owns a washing machine, but the cost of electricity is so prohibitive that they can't afford to use it.
We drove up to Playa Bruja, hoping to see some surfers, but taking in the tidepools instead. We were delighted to see beautiful fish swimming in the shallow pools - creatures we're used to seeing in tanks at the petstore, or at the aquarium; the kind that you just don't find in the cold, coastal waters of the western United States. It's amazing how a little warm water brings out a more dazzling array of colors in the residents of the pools. Unfortunately I didn't get any photos of the yellow-tailed damsals, or the stripey fish we saw (lol - I have no idea what it was, but it was cool). We also found sea slugs, and all different varieties of crabs, including baby hermit crabs.

We also had the opportunity to help feed some baby parrots who had been rescued after being stolen from their nests by a couple of guys who were trying to smuggle them to the US to sell them up here. To learn more, you can go to Dad and Sharon's blog, or to this other one where they have photos and video of these gawky squawking birds.

While in Mexico, we also saw a lot of brown pelicans and iguanas...

...and here's a banana tree - I've never seen one of these before!

One morning we went to the Aquario de Mazatlan, where we saw all kinds of interesting flora and fauna, and took in a sea lion show. The kids sat in the splash zone, and here they're about to get a lapful of water...

But mostly we relaxed in the pool

It was a great trip, and we'll definitely be going back someday!

Friday, April 18, 2008

What is up with this weather?

There is sleet coming down as I type (thankfully not as much sleet as in this stock sleet photo). The current temperature is 34 degrees. Some crazy wind started up and caused a huge branch from our neighbor's tree to blowdown into our backyard a half hour ago. There's a chance of snow in Seattle overnight, which would be the latest snow ever on record. This weather is just plain nuts.

This is our sleet, which is changing over to snow - snow with a little bounce to it...

And that would be our magnolia tree trying its darndest to bloom, and those would be my wee little marigolds and strawberry plants down in the garden.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

My babies...

I'm really into this gardening thing right now, especially the seed starting. The changes taking place with the seedlings are so rapid that you can go down and look at them in the morning, and when you come back in the afternoon there will be twice as many seeds that have sprouted. It's pretty cool. It's bringing out the mother in me.

To get you up to speed, we started the seeds indoors a couple of weeks ago. In the middle of last week, we built a second garden for our side yard, using the methods described in Square Foot Gardening. Per the Mel's Mix recipe, we used five kinds of compost of our choosing: steer manure, mushroom compost, chicken manure, earthworm castings, and mulch/compost from our own pile in the backyard. Just so you know, chicken manure is some nasty smelling stuff - very nasty. Hold your nose. Or make your kids mix the compost together. Blech. Mushroom isn't much better. Consider yourself warned. (It's nearly impossible to see in the above photo, but the walla walla sweet onion have indeed sprouted.)

The box we built needed a deeper section for growing carrots, so we bought some extra hardware and managed to put something together. I think it turned out pretty good! This weekend we hit a sale at Rite-Aid, and bought some strawberry plants, cosmos, marigolds, violas, and snapdragons. We started the carrot seeds directly in the garden, and already transplanted four of the spinach. They seem to be doing alright. I also planted radishes and peas in the back garden, but then the dog trounced through, so we'll have to wait and see whether or not they survived. I've since put up a small fence.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Food for thought

The bookclub that I'm in is reading The Ominvore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan this month. I guess since I've been gardening, and reading that book, I've had food on the brain. While at the library I stumbled upon a really excellent book by Jane Goodall, called Harvest for Hope. Her writing style makes the information presented there extremely accessible to the average reader. While I think that some of her numbers are twisted for affect, the overall message is that we need to realize how the choices we make at the dinner table contributes to the overall health of the environment, and the treatment of animals and humans worldwide. I think the thing that has struck me most in my reading lately is just how much the government is wrapped up in the protection of corporate welfare rather than the welfare of the people. Not sure why that surprises me - I guess because I like to think that we've come a lot further in the 100 years since Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle. Which isn't to say that regulations have done nothing to keep us safer, but there are new risks to the consumer that are largely being ignored. This book would be a good introduction to get you thinking about the food in your local supermarket and at your table.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Houston, we have spinach!

One week in, and our spinach and lettuce have germinated! Hooray! Of course, it's freezing out in the garage, so maybe the other seeds are all laughing at me as they shiver out there. I put a heating pad under them for a while to see if that tricks them into sprouting. Time will tell...

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


Testing is done! Doing a happy dance over here.

In celebration, we are going to go see Horton Hears a Who today. It's spring break week in our district, so I tried to talk N. into waiting to see it next week instead. I absolutely LOVE having the theater to ourselves when we go see movies mid-week when all the ps kids are in school. Makes me feel special, LOL!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

How Does Your Garden Grow, Pt 2.

I lied. We're not going to make our garden plot bigger, at least not in the traditional sense. We're going to go with Square Foot Gardening. There's a revised edition of the book out, and there's also a website.

More later...

Saturday, April 5, 2008

How does your garden grow, Part 1

In anticipation of spring's arrival, I bought a bunch of seed packets at the store a couple of months ago. I hadn't counted on having snow on the ground in the final days of March. Snow = cold ground = no planting happening. We were forced to take matters into our own hands, and we're starting seeds indoors for the first time. Here are a couple of sites with info - Garden Web and good ol' Ed Hume This isn't actually the first time we've started seeds indoors, it'll just be the first time we've done it right. Last year I started them inside in the kitchen greehouse window. The seedlings turned out skinny and spindly, and promptly keeled over when they were relocated to the outdoors.

This time, we bought some large seed trays, a light ballast, and a couple of grow lights. We spent about $30. I even hung the fixture all on my very own, drilling pilot holes (let's not count how many) into the ceiling out in the garage. The kids and I planted bell peppers, green leaf lettuce, spinach, golden tomatoes, romas, walla walla sweet onions, and basil. We're watering them with warm water for the first few days, and we have the light suspended about one inch above the surface of the soil. They get light for 12-14 hours/day.

Also in preparation for the growing season, we are expanding our garden plot. For the past two years it's been about 3'X6' - not very big, but big enough to grow a little of this and a little of that. We're doubling that space this year, and taking advantage of containers (for example, transplanting tomatoes into pre-existing tire planters). I was curious about the composition of our soil, so I bought a Planters' Pride soil test kit.

First we tested the pH...
Apparently our soil is alkaline/neutral. Whatever that means.

Then we tested a few of the components of the soil (nitrogen, phosphorous, and potash - what is potash???). We followed the directions very carefully. Here's Nat shaking up the soilwater in one of the little vials before we let it sit for 10 minutes.

And here's what we ended up with at the end of the 10 minute wait.

Hmmmm... something wasn't right. They didn't look anything like the colors on the packaging!

Being the proactive person that I am, I promptly contacted Planters' Pride to try and find out what might have gone wrong. Here is the email I received in reply:

In regards to the test that didn't work I would suggest to try them
again. The one thing you need to make sure is that your soil is
completely dry
when you administer your tests or they will not work.

Ha... ha, ha. That's funny. Where am I going to find dry soil in the Pacific Northwest in early spring? I guess we'll have to dry it out ourselves next time we have a desire to know how much potash is in our dirt. Maybe next year.

Be sure to keep checking back for more on our experiments in gardening....

Friday, April 4, 2008

Testing week

Holy Toledo! We're testing this week. It's our first time. Nat "comes of age" (ie. she needs to be tested or assessed prior to) in July, and the virtual academy that we're enrolled in is testing this month, so it seemed as good a time as any.

We're using the CAT5 Comprehensive Battery. Anytime something is referred to as a "battery", it's just not good. Nat's hangin' in there, but today was day two of testing, and she was fighting back tears during the last section. No amount of "you're doing great!" and "this isn't a big deal" and "really, if you want to just fill in the bubbles at random, it's okay" would put her at ease. When I realized that the test results were not going to accurately assess her knowledge in the various areas due to her reading anxiety, I seriously meant it when I told her she could bubble in anything. I know she knows subject-verb agreement. I know she has an excellent vocabulary. And I know she's still struggling to read. I also know she's improved by leaps and bounds in her reading in just the last couple of months. Dumb tests. Of course, when she ends up acing the test, I'm sure I'll rush right over to blog about it, LOL! She's testing at second grade, since that's the level curriculum she's working on (except for third grade math), so some of the stuff has been pretty easy. One question in social studies asked how the pilgrims got to the new world, and one of the possible choices was "by bus". Lord, help us. She wanted to know why they didn't ask her about ancient Rome's lasting contributions to modern society. ;P