Last updated by at .

Monthly Archives: May 2010

Celebrate May’s Full Moon

Gaisberg_and_rising_full_moon

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, today is the night and day of May’s full moon. The May Moon is known as the Full Flower Moon, in the moon naming tradition that was used by the Native Americans, largely Algonquins, who lived in the Northeast U.S., from New England to Lake Superior in the Midwest.

The Full Flower Moon received its name because of the abundant flowers that carpeted the land during its time. It’s also been called the Full Corn Planting Moon and the Milk Moon.

I’ve long been quite entranced with the full moon names and their variations. Of course, they reflect both the need to mark passing time and the way that time was experienced by people who were living close to the land. Lunar time-keeping pre-dated our modern calendars (and some calendars, like the Jewish and Chinese calendars, are still lunar-based.) The Farmer’s Almanac has a good list of Native American full moon names and how each came to be.

Other, even older, cultures have had moon naming traditions, too. This site lists full moon names from Chinese, Celtic, Pacific Island, Native American, Pagan, and other cultures.

Lots of people garden using the phases of the moon. The good news is that there isn’t one best time to plant — Each aspect of planting has an associated moon phase, based on how much moisture is pulled up through the soil by the monthly pull of the moon (much the way the moon influences the tides.)

The time just after the full moon is an especially good time for planting root crops, as the gravitational pull is high (adding more moisture to the soil) and the moonlight is decreasing, contributing energy to the roots. For this reason, the waning moon is also a good time to plant bulbs and transplants.

One great moon is known to all farmers, late September or early October’s Harvest Moon (also known as the Blood Moon, Blackberry Moon, or Hunter’s Moon), which traditionally shines its all-night beacon to help farmers gather their crops. In the Northern Hemisphere, it happens to be an especially close, bright moon, in addition to sometimes lighting up the sky for days. I wrote about the Harvest Moon here.

The Farmer’s Almanac offers a wonderful moon phase calendar for the U.S. that allows you to plug in your location and get the exact time of your local full moon.

Enjoy the Full Flower Moon!

Photo: Matthias Kobel

Gardening 101: How to Get Growing, Even if You’re a Total Beginner

You might read gardening magazines in the market — their covers emblazoned with the greenest leaves and the most perfect flowers. You may have even brought some home and, inspired by the pictures, attempted to create a garden plot or at least grow a few tomatoes for a salad.

Maybe you’ve never tried gardening at all but you’re curious to try it, to join those who are growing their own food and picking flowers from their yards.

Everyone has to start somewhere. Even if you’ve never grown so much as a pansy, the following steps will get you and your garden up and running.

Select your site. Ideally your plot will get 6-8 hours of full sun per day. If such a site is not available, be sure to buy crops specifically intended to grow in the shade. If you don’t have adequate flat space, explore other outdoor space like patios, pass-throughs, or decks. You can still get a lot of usable space by planting in large boxes and having plants climb up trellises, which many love to do. Your space needn’t be too large. A 10×10 foot plot can support a few rows of different crops. Often gardeners get overly ambitious and plant more than they can reasonably maintain. If your site is traveled by munching animals, such as deer, you will want to construct some kind of fence around it.

Prepare the soil. Use a pitchfork to loosen the ground, preferably down to about 8 inches. Clear the surface with a heavy-duty rake. Break up dirt clods and pull weeds. These can be added to a compost, if you’ve chosen to compost. If you wish, you can buy packaged soil for a nice even top layer that will have some nutrients in it, especially if you suspect your soil is poor. (You can always take a sample into your local garden-supply store for an opinion.) Either way, some sort of packaged fertilizer should be added as well. A general mix for new plantings is usually good, but the folks at the garden center may have more specific advice based on your soil and what you’d like to grow, as well as how much organic matter you want to add. Always water thoroughly before adding fertilizer. (And have kids wash hands after handling.)

If possible, plan some paths in your garden. They will make it easy to water, weed, and harvest without stepping on plants. Some people cover the paths with tanbark or other material (available at garden-supply stores) to mark them and to discourage plants from taking root there. Make sure you have a good path for your hose and a water source.

Plant the seeds or seedlings. For most people, this part is especially fun. Follow the packet instructions for seed spacing and conditions. You may want to lay a line of string as a guide, or create a furrow. Some stores carry seed tapes, which you just lay down in a straight row. Tapes are great for tiny hard-to-handle seeds like carrots, which can be difficult, even for adults. Large, easy-to-plant and -grow seeds include nasturtium and pea. If you’re planting bedding plants, be sure to give each lots of room to spread out and grow. Try to anticipate the heights of your plants to get the tallest ones into the back.

Fertilize. If you didn’t add fertilizer to the bed while preparing the soil, you’ll want to add a little bit while planting. There are fertilizers on the market that are designed specifically for new growth. Your local garden center is the best bet to point you toward a good fertilizer for your garden and conditions. Many people fertilize plants again at about six weeks into the growing process.

If you are gardening in containers, get the biggest containers you have space and money for. Check for adequate drainage holes. If you don’t have good drainage, you can add netting or pieces of broken pottery to the bottom of the pot. You may also want to add perlite, which will aerate the soil while helping it retain moisture. Fertilize as you would in a garden plot.

Water your plants or seeds. New transplants and freshly planted seeds like lots of water. The best kind of watering is done gently and deeply, so that the water soaks through to the growing roots of the plants. Once your plants are established, you will probably need to water every other day or so when the weather is sunny. (Plants in containers usually need water more often than plants in the ground.) If a plant droops during the day, or the soil feels dry more than a couple of inches down, it needs water. It’s best not to water in bright sunshine because the sun can evaporate the water or even cause burned spots on the plants.

Keep up the good work. Continue watering and caring for plants as needed. This can include pulling out obvious weeds and cutting back any growth that has died or become unattractive.

Be sure to harvest what you’ve grown. Sometimes I’ve been so proud of my work and/or not sure when to harvest that I’ve let plants go past the point when they’re edible or useful and all the way to seed. Take a chance and cut and enjoy what you’ve done. More will usually grow back!

Get comfortable. There are lots of items available to make gardening more comfortable. I suggest knee pads, if you’re going to be doing a lot of kneeling, a sun hat to protect your skin, and old shoes you don’t mind getting dirty or gardening clogs made specifically to get wet and dirty. (A pair of gardening clogs lasts for years. They’re also very comfortable and you can leave them outside.) Most people like gardening gloves and there are a range of them on the market. I find them irresistible to buy at gardening and hardware stores, with their cute patterns, but I almost always end up taking them off and getting my hands really dirty — the better to feel the plants, the dirt, and what I’m doing.

Have fun entering one of the oldest and most rewarding hobbies around!

New Research Links Time in Nature with Children’s Health

An important new paper has just been released that links children’s time in nature to their overall health. Using Nature and Outdoor Activity to Improve Children’s Health was published in the journal, Current Problems in Pediatric and Adolescent Health Care.

According to the forward, “Within just one generation, the definition of ‘play’ has changed dramatically among children in industrialized countries.” Before the 1980s, most children were encouraged to play outside, and much of that play was unsupervised. In January, 2010, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that children ages 8- 18 spend an average of more than 7.5 hours per day using some sort of electronic screen.

These same children, the paper cites, may be the first generation at risk for having shorter lifespans than their parents and a variety of chronic conditions in childhood, such as childhood obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma, vitamin D deficiency, ADHD, and depression.

The good news? Outdoor activity in natural environments may directly benefit children’s health in such areas as: Building and maintaining healthy bones and muscles; reducing the risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease; reducing feelings of depression and anxiety; and promoting psychological well-being.

I wrote more about the paper for the Children & Nature Network. That group also puts out a lot of excellent research about the many benefits of nature for children.

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

Slow News: Discover the Act of Line-Drying Laundry

A couple of weekends ago, my family and I were wandering around the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco, when I caught sight of this laundry blowing on a line in the breeze. I found it quite pleasant and mesmerizing to watch, and it got me thinking about the act of line-drying laundry.

Lots of people are re-discovering line drying as a way to use less electricity for the task of drying their clothes. For others, it takes them back to a time when outdoor clotheslines were more common and summers included the sweet, fresh smell of laundry drying  (and, in my husband’s case, the sound of his mom’s wooden clothespins plunking into her metal bucket, as she released her laundry from its line.)

This site offers lots of tips to get the most out of line drying. I like to use a drying rack, to reduce both my electric use and the wear-and-tear on my clothes. Another site, Urban Clothesline, features lots of great drying racks, lines, and other solutions that can be used in a variety of settings, from backyards to apartment bathrooms.

The Project Laundry List site has a wealth of information about the economic and energy savings associated with line drying. It also covers programs, trends and issues, such as the role of homeowner’s association rules concerning practices like outdoor laundry drying. There’s even a laundry history. As much as I like line drying, I am thankful for the invention of the washing machine nearly every time I use mine.

Lastly, if you seek lovely, uniquely scented soap for your wash, Maylee’s Garden offers natural vegan and eco-friendly soap in a variety of great fragrances like Lavender and Cedar, Bergamot and Lemon, and many more.

Bike to Work and School Day

May is an especially great month to be a biker. In the U.S., the weather generally cooperates, and there are plenty of Bike to Work and School Days declared. San Francisco cyclists enjoyed Bike to Work Day today. Washington, D.C. and others have declared Friday, May 21, to be Bike to Work Day. And the League of American Bicyclists has declared the entire month of May Bike to Work Month. Their site lists tons of bike-related events happening throughout the month from Anchorage, Alaska to Tallahassee, Florida that should make it easy for almost anyone to ride alone or with a group, take a class, and enjoy other fun activities.

Here are just a few of the fun events that are listed on the League of American Bicyclists page:

Chico, CA: A selection of stores is offering a discount for cycling shoppers through May 15.

Santa Monica, CA: Valet bike parking on Main Street and at the Santa Monica Pier, ongoing

Pueblo, CO: Free breakfasts and prizes for bikers Friday May 21.

Tampa Bay, FL: Bike workshops, and an urban bike restaurant hop on May 27.

Honolulu, HI: Free admission for bikers to the Honolulu Zoo May 16.

Iowa City, IA: Many events including a bike/bus/car race May 18.

St. Louis, MO: Guided bike tours over the bridges that cross the Mississippi June 6.

Trenton, NJ: Trenton bike tour May 22.

Saratoga Springs, NY: Bike to Work and School Challenge May 21.

Roanoke, VA: Various events throughout May, in English and Spanish.

Seattle, WA: Summer Streets Party May 21.

According to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, cyclists made up a whopping 75% of the traffic on SF’s Market Street this morning. Here is a great pic of that street’s big green bike lane.

Of course, anyone getting out biking wants to be safe. The League of American Bicyclists offers these tips for bike safety.

Another great resource for information about bike and pedestrian safety and school biking and walking programs is Safe Routes to Schools.

Enjoy biking to work and school and just for fun!

Photos: Top, my family in Acadia National Park, Maine. Above, two of the most inspirational bikers I know – my husband Lippy, who rides almost every day, and my good friend Victoria, who loves to ride more than anyone I know and organizes long, fun rides for herself and her friends.

All Aboard for National Train Day

Sunset Limited. Hiawatha. Empire Builder. Super Chief. I can’t hear the names of the great American train lines without finding myself completely smitten. The Romance of the Rails has gotten to me pretty much every time I’ve taken a train, even a lowly commute one. My first long-distance trip was on the Coast Starlight, a two-night journey (was it supposed to be one? I didn’t care) from San Francisco to Seattle. My daughter and I boarded about midnight, when many of the passengers were already asleep. We were given warm chocolate chip cookies as we tiptoed to our sleeping car. I stayed up most of the night, staring out the train window at the houses and yards as they passed by in slices, under a full moon, at just the right speed for contemplation. The train’s mournful whistle occasionally sounded onto the empty main streets. At rural stops, a passenger or two would come aboard, their drivers shuffling back to their hulking cars.

ctempemploymentlawblog

In the morning, we ate on a table set with a white tablecloth, as the train circled a snow-covered Mt. Shasta. We’d later play games in the observation car, meet Europeans who talked politics and American father-son pairs touring the country’s ball parks, drink wine with a very knowledgeable and funny sommelier, watch movies in a beautiful, lower-level movie screening car, and continue staring out the window at the tiny logging towns, the green college towns, the gorge-filled Willamette Valley, and the fir-lined Cascade Mountains. We may have been a full day late getting into Seattle but, of course, we couldn’t have been happier.

mtshasta

cascadestream2

Richard Talmy, the sommelier, was indeed a trip highlight. He was encyclopedic about California wines and wine tasting, as well as train and Coast Starlight history, and he served all up with a great deal of verve, encouraging everyone to eat and drink up, to have fun, and to just acknowledge the fact that we’d “get on the train as passengers and leave as freight.”

Train Web writer and photographer Carl Morrison wrote a piece on parlor car wine tasting with Richard Talmy, where you can see the man in action and get a bit of the flavor of a tasting.

DiningCar

I’ve learned since that first trip that the Coast Starlight is the only Amtrak route to feature a parlor car with wine tasting and a screening room. (And that the parlor car itself is a refurbished car from the historic El Capitan line of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe.) Even so, last summer I had the pleasure of taking the Washington D.C. – New York train (which bore the unromantic name, Acela) and, truly, just a window seat and a garden burger were enough to make my day. Dusk and sunset didn’t hurt the mood, either, as I took in every aluminum-sided diner (themselves former train cars), corner tavern, brick row house, backyard swing set, hilly main street, church steeple, and pane-windowed factory building as the train swung through Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, and finally to its resting place in a tunnel beneath Penn Station. Only the vaulted Grand Central lobby would have made the trip more complete. I could have come with this placard of warning: Beware romantic, yearning West Coast person experiencing train rapture.

SunsetTrain

Our car attendant on that first trip was named Douglas and, like Richard, he seems to be a character of lore among Coast Starlight riders. From the cookie on, we knew we were in good hands. A big man, I’ll never forget him cruising through the dining car, about mid-morning, calling out “Hungry Man Walking.” His humor (and our laughter) continued the whole trip.

We slept in a “roomette”, really a closet with beds that hinged out from the walls. (I’ve since booked a family sleeping car, which is roomy and sleeps four, but sacrifices views.) What we didn’t have, apparently, was the grand-era Pullman sleeper car service and room. While George Pullman didn’t invent the sleeper car, it was he who realized there was a market in luxury, comfort and service, and he and his Pullman cars dominated the industry during its golden age, when everyone traveled by train. A key component of Pullman service was the Pullman porter. The porters were black men — the first ones were former slaves — and it is said that, even though some of the work could be demeaning, Pullman provided them with almost unequaled earning opportunity and job security for the times. During World War II, there were 12,000 Pullman porters. Their union was referred to as a Brotherhood. It’s shocking, then, that the last Pullman car would take a run on December 31, 1968, a victim of the plane and the car.

pullmanx-large

Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, and Olympic athlete Wilma Rudolph are just three famous offspring of Pullman porters.The last Pullman porters, many of whom are in their 80s and 90s, are gathered for last year’s Train Day celebration at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station.

National Train Day commemorates the “golden spike” that was driven into the final tie that joined the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific railways, thus creating America’s first transcontinental railroad, on May 10, 1869. I salute Train Day, the Pullman porters and the grand era of rail travel, even if it comes in the form of a refurbished Parlor Car.

Washington D.C., Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles are among the nearly 200 cities celebrating National Train Day with events, entertainment and exhibits at their train stations. Visit the National Train Day web site for complete event information and other resources about train history,

I suggest this site to get lost in some wonderful train sounds: dieselairhorns.com/sounds.

amtrakstop

IACMusic.com

Pullman Photo Courtesy of A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum
Early 1900s: Waiter John Larvell Dorsey, left, on Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.

Feliz Cinco de Mayo: Make (and take) a Great Guacamole

Cinco de Mayo is upon us — the 5th of May, a holiday celebrated by Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, and others. It commemorates the 1861 Battle of Puebla, in which the Mexicans stopped the French from annexing their country. (The French did end up ruling Mexico for a short time afterward, but no matter.) As it happens, Mexican Independence Day is much more widely celebrated in Mexico than Cinco de Mayo — it’s in September and marks Mexico’s 1810 independence from Spain. This site features a good history of Cinco de Mayo.

Cinco de Mayo certainly offers an opportunity to celebrate with friends, music, and good Mexican food and drink. There is perhaps no more popular and delicious a dish than a good homemade guacamole, which is very easy to make (provided you have access to fresh avocados) and always tastes a great deal better than anything store-bought.

Because I live with Lippy, the Tequila Whisperer and a fine guacamole maker, I got to ask him for a few of his trade secrets.

Lippy’s Guacamole

You need:

4 avocados (approx. 1/2 avocado per person)

1/4 red onion chopped

1 medium tomato, cut in small cubes

1/2 bunch cilantro, leaves only, finely chopped

1/2 c. fire-roasted green or tomatilla salsa

4 tsp. salt or more, to taste

lime juice, optional

When buying avocados, make sure you choose ones that are ripe, but not overly ripe. When you press in the center, there should be some give. If they are too firm,they are flavorless and hard to work with. If they are too soft, they are watery and lose their flavor and texture.

Cut avocados in half, around the pit. Remove the pit by gently inserting a knife and coaxing it out. You can remove the avocado meat many ways, either by scooping it out or by scoring pieces with a knife and releasing them. (They should remove from the skin easily.)

Place avocado halves or pieces in a bowl. Add all remaining ingredients except lime, and gently mash together. The result should be mixed but fairly chunky. Taste and add salt, salsa or cilantro as needed.

Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving time. If you’re not going to serve the guacamole right away, or if you’ll be bringing it to a gathering, you may want to employ Lippy’s trick to keep it from turning brown. (Green guacamole is so much more attractive!) Squeeze a layer of lime juice over the top of it and let it sit there, then mix the lime juice in just prior to serving. (The acid in the limes stops the guacamole from oxidizing.) An alternative (or addition) to the lime juice is a layer of sliced limes, covering the whole top, which can appear festive and decorative. Lippy cautions: Use as little lime juice as possible, just enough for a layer of cover, because lime can be a bit overpowering and not to everyone’s taste.

Serve with tortilla chips or as an accompaniment to any Mexican dish. Enjoy! Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman. Guacamole on counter: Jon Sullivan, pdphoto.org.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...