Ballad of a Brown Thumb

For most of my adult life, I’ve been a self proclaimed brown thumb, a plant killer, etc. For a while I had resigned to being one, never really attempting to learn from my errors. As I became older I realized that something inside me longed for a garden of my own. I wanted to plant something and watch it grow, prune it for best production. I can’t deny it. Perhaps it’s because it was something that I grew up with, and it’s a connection I have to my family.

I remember when I was little, my grandfather started a little garden patch down by the fence in our backyard. Our house was situated on a hill so our backyard sloped down to the fence. At the base of the hill, there was just enough room to cultivate two small garden patches.

The other day I asked my mom about this just to make sure I was remembering it correctly. “Oh yeah, Lolo Baste’s garden,” she said. “He grew so much camote we had no idea what to do with it!” I remember also growing strawberries, but I don’t think much fruit came from it.

A picture of me with my Lola and Lolo.

After Lolo passed away, my mom and dad became the primary caretakers of the backyard. They removed Lolo’s garden and, for a brief period, replaced it with an above ground pool, which we enjoyed for several summers before we outgrew it. My mom never grew a full vegetable garden like Lolo did, but she did grow the occasional bean plant, bitter melon plant, and pepper plant here and there. She preferred mostly container plants and roses.

My siblings having an Easter Egg hunt in our backyard in 1981. I was only a few months old at the time. Look at those roses that my mom had though!

I have a lot of memories of childhood summers in the backyard, exploring what my mom had growing in the various depths and recesses of its vast space. There was that one time I discovered lemongrass growing next to a discarded bathtub. Mom had planted it from a cutting she received and it produced so many bushy offshoots. Its sharp blades were sweet and lemony when cut.

And then there was that one time where my mom showed me what mint looked like growing in the bed along the side of the house. She taught me you can grow even more mint by taking a cutting from one plant and placing it in the ground. That was also the time when I learned that mint can take over a garden like a weed.

Then there was that one time where I discovered the path that my dogs had made along the inside fence of the yard. It was hidden under some crepe myrtles and a pecan tree and shaded by some bitter melon vines. The vegetative growth arched over the path and turned it into a magical little hideaway, perfect for a little kid. I would sit under those vines, shaded and hidden away from the world, with a notebook and a pencil. I would draw pictures of the plants I discovered and wrote down observations of them, like a budding little botanist.

My brother Stan, Aileen, and Elaine, and Me. We had a veritable fruit orchard in our backyard. Pear trees, peach trees, an apricot tree, pecan tree, and even an apple tree. To this day, the pear tree still produces tons of fruit.

The more I think about it, the more I realize maybe this is something I can enjoy, something that can bring me a lot of calm and peace after a stressful day at work. After all, I have nothing but pleasant memories associated with gardens. Although I may have killed several plants in my lifetime, like one gardener said, “Gardening is 20 percent instinct, and 80 percent learning from your mistakes.” And she’s a homesteader who killed all her seedlings one year. It reminded me that even the best of us still fail and what’s important is that we learn from our mistakes and we try to get better.

Kitchen Garden Tales With The Adamses

Almost 4 years after moving into Craig’s tiny (big) house, my garden dreams are finally coming to fruition. We’re building raised garden beds!

Honestly I’ve never considered myself having much of a green thumb. Every plant I’ve ever tried to grow has died by my own hand, yet somehow I still want to keep on trying. Does that make me an unintentional serial killer?

Nevertheless, I’m super excited about the possibilities of growing our own fruits and vegetables and so is Craig.

The Garden Schematics

Our plan is to have 2 raised garden beds that are 9 by 5 feet in area which gives us a total of 90 square feet of growing space. That’s A LOT of room. Considering we can have 1 or more plants per square foot of growing space, that’s enough to feed a large family.

It’s not drawn to scale or anything like that, but I tried to draw it close enough to suggest measurements.

The two beds will sit on top of the cement fixture. The inside of the fixture is still pretty sunken, so I’m considering filling it with bulk drainage rock to make it level.

I don’t know whether or not we’ll build both in the same season. It’s definitely a lot of work to take on for two inexperienced gardeners. At this point I think we should just build one and get it going, learn from it, and then build the second one later this year. Hopefully by then we would have learned what to do from any mistakes we made with the first garden.

Picking Out the Location

We have a pretty large backyard that gets a good amount of sun during the day. The only thing is that the sunny part of the yard has this strange 10 foot by 13 foot pool structure that was filled in with dirt long before Craig moved in.

Ugh. What an eyesore. But look at the great sunlight it gets during the day!

Because it’s the perfect spot for a vegetable garden, demolishing it would be too expensive and too time consuming. Instead, we’re choosing to build two 9 foot by 5 foot raised garden beds on top of it. And because we really don’t want to utilize the growing medium inside of it (because who knows what kind of stuff is buried in there), we’re just going to grow on top of it.

According to the Square Foot Gardening Foundation, they recommend only a 6 inch depth of growing space for a raised garden bed, but if you want to grow root vegetables like carrots and potatoes, you’ll probably need at least 12 inches. Since we’re building on top of a giant bath tub essentially, we’re making it 20 inches both for the space as well as the height (to save our backs!).

Buying the Materials

So the weekend before Christmas we made a special trip to our local home improvement store and bought a significant load of lumber. We were concerned at first about being able to transport all of it home, but thanks to their cutting abilities, and our full sized sedan, we managed to fit all of it into our car and almost got the trunk closed. We had one 4 by 4 that was sticking out but other than that, we got everything else to fit!

If you think you need a gas guzzling, monster truck or SUV to haul a meager amount of lumber, think again! We got by just fine in our modest Toyota Camry.

There was one concern about cutting the 4 by 4. The store was only equipped to cut planks so we had to find a way to cut this one ourselves. I know my dad probably has one, but I didn’t really want to go on a hunt for a table saw or miter saw in their storage shed. We ended up bringing home a lightweight DeWalt Circular Saw.

The Finished Product

Well because we started this project right before the holidays (and also because we’re both pretty new at building things), it took us a few days spanned over a few weeks to finally complete the raised bed.

The idea is to level the pool structure underneath with drainage rock before layering in the bedding soil. I’m not sure yet if I want to put in a layer of landscape fabric first on top of the drainage rock before adding the soil, but considering the unevenness of the cement frame underneath, it will probably be a good idea especially to minimize erosion.

I’m relieved we’re finished with this phase though and I’m glad we only built 1 raised bed for now. This one was indeed a learning experience for us so hopefully the next one we build will be easier.

My seeds are still growing indoors so I’ll post some progress photos on that, but now I can’t wait to start planting!

2019 Year in Review: A Bounty of Blessings

I failed to do a year in review for 2018, but this time I’m working on this one early so I can publish it on time. Faster than a blink of an eye, 2019 flew by. My memory is pretty terrible these days, so I had to go back through my personal planner and my bullet journal to figure out what exactly happened this year.

We Expanded Our Family by Not Only One, But Two New Additions

Fiona

2019 marked a year of growth for us in so many areas, but most importantly in our little family. It started in June, my friend Briana told me her boss was looking to find a new home for a kitten named Fiona they had been fostering. Since Patches’ passing back in 2016, we had been back and forth on the idea of bringing a cat back into our lives. I know Craig really missed Patches and longed for that bond again. But every time an opportunity presented itself, Craig was never ready.

This time, rather than asking for permission, I decided I would take a chance and surprise him with her. So I agreed to take Fiona. Initially the plan was for me to make up a story to Craig about why I had to be gone for a couple hours one Saturday afternoon so I could meet them and pick her up, but that fell through mostly because I’m a terrible liar. I ultimately had to spill the beans and tell Craig the real reason I was leaving on an errand for a couple hours.

Meet Fiona. At the time, she was so tiny–only about the size of a hand!

“Sweetie, I don’t know,” he said. It was not quite the reaction I had been hoping for, but it was the reaction I expected nonetheless. “I don’t think I’m ready for another cat.”

The thing is no one is ever ready to move on, which is exactly what he meant to say. But I persisted. “She’s a kitten. She needs a home.”

He paused for a few seconds and he pursed his lips together. I could see him blink away tears. “Ok, let’s go get our kitten.” And just like that, our lives were changed forever.

Cali

It was September and Fiona had already been with us for 3 months. We experienced all the ups and downs of being kitten parents: the multiple injuries to our arms and legs, the sleepless nights, and the non-stop hours of entertainment she provided not only for herself but for us.

During this time, I was doing all my research by reading up on kitten development. I made sure Fiona had the best toys recommended by experts to hone her skills and keep her occupied. But there was one thing that cat behaviorists recommended that we didn’t have: another feline companion for her.

But it wasn’t just behaviorists who were recommending it, other friends and fellow cat owners recommended it as well. Kittens learned how to be cats from other cats. It was something that couldn’t be taught by humans obviously. It would also cut down on a lot of the injuries that Craig and I received.

That was when my friend Steph contacted me and asked if we wanted another cat. Her friend was retiring and needed a home for her cat Cali. The family who had agreed to take her before backed out at the last minute so she was scrambling to find a new home for her. According to Steph, Cali was a sweet, mature calico who would hold her own among other animals in the house. She sent me a picture of her and I was smitten.

The timing was impeccable. This time I texted Craig about Cali and he was immediately game. Steph lived only a few minutes from my office so I visited her after work.

Cali was a big, beautiful mama. She probably weighed close to 12 pounds at the time. She was shy and she had been well taken care of by her previous owner as she came with a lot of toys, her own cat fortress, and a ton of food.

Because Cali was an older cat, she had already lived half her life and was set in her ways, so I knew adjusting was going to take some time. The drive home was pretty traumatic for the both of us. She had just lost the only human she had known, then she moved in with another set of temporary humans for a day, and now who knows where she was going next. Her heart was broken, she was stressed out and grieving, and I was grieving along with her.

The first few days, Cali spent her time hiding behind our couch. She was annoyed by everything in life. She didn’t like Fiona, she hated Izzie even more, and she wasn’t interested in either me or Craig.

Once she was done with her hiding phase, she transitioned to her “roosting” phase where she pretty much spent most of her time up in the cat tree. She nibbled on her food, but only when Izzie wasn’t around, and she socialized with Fiona in small spurts at least when she could stand her because let’s face it, Fiona is a handful and can only be tolerated in short amounts of time.

Gradually she began to spend more time on the ground. I think she had to gain the courage to be around Izzie first. Izzie, in turn, became less curious about her and gave her the space she needed. Before we knew it, all 3 of them were hanging out in our bedroom with us. It was indeed a happy day.

October 2019 Tornado Passes Through Dallas

On Sunday October 20, several tornados passed through parts of North Dallas and Richardson, leaving a lot of destruction in its wake. Craig and I were at home at the time, preparing for our work week, when I started receiving texts from my sisters and brother about a tornado crossing I-75 near Northpark.

Seeing as how that was right down the highway from us, I became alarmed and alerted Craig. It had been raining off and on that day and the rain was just starting to pick up.

Another text from my sister said it was crossing over 635 near Richland College which probably meant it was near the Texas Instruments campus (a mere 10 minutes away from us).

Rain and debris began pounding harder against the sides of the house. I insisted we bunker in the hall bathroom as it was the only room in the center of the house without any windows. I picked up Izzie and carried her into the bathroom with me. Fiona, who never wanted to be left out of the party, happily followed behind. Craig went in search of Cali who didn’t put up much of a fight when he scooped her up and brought her into the tiny room.

By then, the worst of it had passed. The high winds that had beat against the house died down and the rain was now a gentle trickle. Craig decided to step outside and peek out the front door. There were a few things knocked over, some fallen branches, but for the most part there wasn’t any significant damage.

Meanwhile, a few blocks away, some of our neighbors were not so lucky. Houses were severely damaged beyond repair, some were leveled, traffic lights were ripped right out of the concrete. It was chaos. It will take months for people to recover.

We Celebrated our 2nd Wedding Anniversary

Craig and I celebrated our 2nd year being married, and our 4th year being together. I’m not gonna lie–it’s easy getting caught up in the daily drudgery that is life. You get up in the morning, go to work, come home, make dinner, pay bills, go to sleep, get up again, go to work, wash, rinse, repeat. To be honest, we don’t always remember our exact wedding date. We know it’s at the end of March at least.

Our friends and family are shocked at how we don’t even know our anniversary date. To us, it’s a number on a calendar. It’s not how we measure happiness in our marriage. From the very beginning, Craig and I were on the same page about what we expected from our marriage and each other. We both wanted love, trust, honesty, kindness, and communication. From that point on, we would be a unit of 3: Craig, me, and our marriage.

I Received My 2nd Promotion in 2 Years

In 2018, I was promoted to Web Developer. In 2019, I became Website Architect. It was a surprise promotion, one that I excitedly accepted despite the short notice at the time. It’s been a gradual transition, but I truly do enjoy the work that I do and the team that I work with every day.

A Few Other Notable Milestones This Year

  • I said goodbye to a friendship that was unknowingly toxic.
  • I reconnected with an old friend who subsequently became our neighbor.
  • I started learning embroidery.
  • Craig bought me a ukulele and I began learning how to play.
  • I started learning Japanese.
  • I visited Shamrock, TX for the first time and traveled on historic Route 66.
Creole Spaghetti with Cooked Shrimp

An Easy Weeknight Pasta Dinner

Here’s an easy pasta dinner you’ll want to bookmark for a busy week. A couple weeks ago I sought out vintage cookbooks online as I’m one of those people who enjoys reading cookbooks as if they were their own genre of non-fiction literature. I stumbled across this pamphlet-like book of regional New Orleans recipe “used in the South for more than 200 years.” Old recipes with potentially obscure ingredients and directions? Sold!

Easy pasta dinner Spaghetti a la Creole
A Book of Famous Old New Orleans Recipes by Unknown Author, Peerless Publishing Co. New Orleans, LA. There’s no copyright date on it, but from the plastic comb binding on it, it can’t be older than the 1940s or 1950s.

It contains your typical assortment of categories such as beverages, entrees, and desserts. The recipes themselves range from the well-known Gumbo (of which there are many variations in this book), to the lesser-known Plantation Potato Pone. I had to look up what a “pone” was actually.

I made Spaghetti a La Creole from the Vegetables section. It was entirely vegetarian, only consisting of spaghetti, tomato paste, onions and green peppers, so it was a vegetarian pasta dinner I could share with Craig. But if you’re not a vegan/vegetarian like me, you can toss some steamed salad shrimp and sneak in a tablespoon of butter for a bit of richness to the sauce (see featured photo).

I ended up modifying the veggies slightly, incorporating celery and carrots for a little more body and texture (and nutrition), and what I had left is a quick, easy, and substantial pasta meal perfect for a weeknight.

Minimalizing My Space

The End is the Beginning

Today is T. S. Eliot’s birthday, hence the reason why that was one of the first inspirational quotes I came across during my weekly search. I thought it was pretty appropriate for this phase of my life.

So to continue my minimalist journey, the next thing on the list is the Packing Party. This is the major leap headfirst into minimalism. It’s like when the alcoholic dumps all his or her booze down the drain. No hesitations, no turning back.

Now granted, I could change my mind after everything is packed up and put away. I could decide, “Oh my god, this is just too much. I just can’t,” then proceed with unpacking everything. But I think the idea is once you experience what absolute stark minimalism feels like, you’ll probably never want to unpack those boxes again.

What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.

T. S. Eliot

When I started, I only did one section of my desk that housed my makeup. However once I threw things away that didn’t have any life left in them, I felt the weight lift off my shoulders. And if it weren’t for the limited space in that one box, I probably would’ve kept going. Because I liked the way my desk made me feel once all was said and done. It made me feel unencumbered and free to pursue whatever I wanted. That’s how a creative space should feel.

Just a sampling of one of the boxes I packed up. This wasn’t even all my makeup, just most of it.