Category Archives: Outdoors

8 themes from our Edible Garden, Season #1 (2015)

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She fingers a baby okra, then looks at me. It’s in her eyes, the question, “Can I pluck this?”

Questions and answers, touching and feeling, being and doing – our garden brings all of these to life with intensity and joy and lots of sweat and muck.

For someone who probably holds the record for killing the most money plants due to neglect, the renaissance of our garden project is huge. After I got pregnant with Roo in 2013 our vegetable garden quickly became overgrown with weeds.

It was an eyesore that I had to constantly avert my eyes from but I became hopeful again when Roo turned 14 months old last February, had started walking and the older children could help watch her a little more.

Growing our edible garden again has evoked several consistent themes. Here are some of them:

1. Starting something new is always hard.

In February 2015, we started pak choy and spinach seedlings. Sweet Man and I then spent a couple of days getting rid of weeds, repositioning our vegetable bed frames and double digging to loosen the hardened soil. We hadn’t done this kind of work in a long time, so our muscles paid the price!

During the rest of the month we were busy with Chinese New Year celebrations. In that time, we let the beds rest and covered them with tarp to allow the remaining weeds to die off.

Meanwhile, our seedlings were growing ….

8 March

8 March 2015

2. Getting hands-on help and advice from someone experienced is invaluable.

In March, I dug a bed along the left wall with the intention of planting passion fruit and flowers to enliven the area.

My mother brought me a young passion fruit tree and I dug a huge hole for it in the left corner of the flower bed.

8 March 2015. Passion fruit

8 March 2015. Passion fruit

My mother is an avid gardener who grew up in the Cameron Highlands and her own mother had a thriving and successful vegetable garden. Watching Puppy, Lamb and Piglet learning from their Po Po (grandmother) how to transplant spinach and pak choy seedlings was something special. They also sowed okra seeds directly into the soil.

Everyone loved going barefoot and getting their hands in!

9 March 2015. Everyone loved going barefoot and getting their hands in!

9 March 2015

3. The human baby comes first before the garden baby.

With all the tarp off, the threat of weeds was a constant challenge.

There is no way you can keep a wee toddler out of the garden especially when you want to be there, and she is still nursing every few hours.

Roo was always about and sometimes I had to nurse with her on one side and weed with the other hand. Other days I had to just sit back and let those weeds grow.

These blossoms inspired and kept me going

17 March 2015. These blossoms inspired and kept me going

17 March 2015

 

4. When everything is happening at once, the garden has to wait.

By the end of March, okra, smooth-leaved spinach, Malabar spinach, water convolvulus (kangkung) and sweet potato leaves were growing fast. Unfortunately our family was hit by a cold bug that plagued us for three long months. Four cycles of colds!

With everyone taking it in turns getting sick, including myself, I didn’t have the time or energy to harvest veggies regularly.

Weeds overtook the garden paths.

But our incapacity is a blessing in other ways. It forces us to sit back and remember our complete dependence on God. It also keeps us focused on the essentials.

So April was a busy month saying no to garden work and keeping up with other ongoing things – chores, homeschooling, Puppy’s 9th birthday, Easter preparations, school Sports Day, and community projects at church.

14 April. The battle of trying to grow grass instead of weeds! 

14 April 2015. The battle of trying to grow grass instead of weeds!

 

5. Taking up gardening means learning all kinds of new skills, like carpentry!

The fast-growing passion fruit vine desperately needed a trellis to climb on, so despite still having a cold I had to figure out how to build a suitable structure for it.

And how to do it with a sick, snotty little Roo clinging to me.

18 April 2015. “Thou shalt not work, Mama … until I nap.”

18 April 2015. “Thou shalt not work, Mama … until I nap.”

We got these pieces of good quality hard wood from my parents. They had some unused ones to spare, so one evening we went over to their house with a hand saw and Sweet Man cut all the pieces we needed.

He also very patiently taught me how to use a hammer and nails, having a good laugh every now and then.

Four year old Piglet helped me varnish the trellis with food-grade mineral oil while Roo napped and he asked me questions about the Virgin Birth, of all the topics in the world!

21 April 2015. 4 year old Piglet helped me varnish the trellis with food-grade mineral oil while Roo napped and he asked me questions about the Virgin Birth, of all the topics in the world!

21 April 2015 

Sweet Man drilled holes and helped me screw in the trellis the next day. It’s positioned at the side of the garden to avoid sheltering other vegetables from direct sunlight and where we hope the passion fruit will eventually hide our neighbour’s ugly extension.

22 April 2015. Sweet Man drilled holes and helped me screw in the trellis the same day. It’s positioned where we hope the passion fruit will eventually hide our neighbour’s ugly extension, and keep to one side of the garden to avoid sheltering other vegetables from direct sunlight.

22 April 2015 

I realised the passion fruit needed a bit more help to climb and so had to string twine in between the bars. It would have been easier if we’d done it before installation. Live and learn!

You could also say we learned another new skill by aiming and throwing a stringed pebble just at the right place and weaving twine in and out of the trellis. The kids loved the challenge.

23 April 2015

23 April 2015

Meanwhile, the Malabar spinach and kangkung were doing well.

malabar spinach and water convolvulus

Malabar spinach is a fast-growing vegetable and an excellent source of protein, niacin, vitamin B6 and phosphorus. It also provides us with dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, copper and manganese. 

Kangkung (or water convolvulus) is also full of nutritional goodness: A 100g serving contains water (90%), protein (3%), fibre (3%), fat (0.9%), carbohydrate (4.3%), minerals (2%), nicotinamide (0.6mg), riboflavin (120mg), vitamin C (137mg) and vitamin E (11mg). 

We love both as a quick stir-fry. I’m sure many nutrients are lost in the cooking process so we try to eat as much as possible over both lunch and dinner.

 

6. Planting flowers in an edible garden definitely makes the whole project more pleasing to the eye.

My mother had a significant hand in establishing this lovely flower bed to disguise the old railing that separates the flat garden from the slope beyond. Thank you, as always, Ma.

7 May 2015

7 May 2015

And thank you, Roo baby and Piglet for helping me water the blossoms. I always need more than two hands!

watering the garden

 

7. When veggies really start growing, it can be hard to keep up.

Okra and spinach, exactly 2 months after planting. Don’t they look wild!

7 May 2015 

7 May 2015

Overgrown sweet potato leaves, Malabar spinach, kangkung and more okra. We always have an overabundance of sweet potato leaves. They grow so quickly we can eat a stir-fry twice a week and hardly see a difference in what’s left.

7 May 2015

7 May 2015

Ma brought me a lemon plant! I planted this on the slope, next to the fence.

7 May 2015

7 May 2015

Oh no! What’s this bug attacking the okra?? The two boys began an intense hobby of bug-catching. We now have a designated Bug Jar for all varieties of captured devils.

7 May 2015

7 May 2015

I also started hunting for an effective natural pesticide recipe which I’ll share in a future post.

 

8. A good harvest is a good motivation to persevere.

15 May 2015. We were still suffering from that nasty cold that began end-March and I wondered when it would ever end.

Besides keeping up with the house, children, and mid-year exams for Puppy and Lamb, I also had new challenges – sorting and storing all the disorganised garden tools and general equipment and repainting the peeling awning above. If the kids were going to be out there more often, we needed to keep it child-friendly.

With those projects underway, grass eventually grew over the bare patches of the lawn.

In mid-May, the okra started flowering. By the end of June, we had so much okra to harvest I didn’t need to buy any.

3 July 2015

3 July 2015

The bumper crop of okra was an encouragement for me to see what could finally become of the messy backyard – an edible garden and outdoor green space for the whole family to relax and play.

Related post: 10 Themes from our Edible Garden, Season #2 (July-September 2015).

For more updates on our garden-to-table project, homeschooling, natural living, motherhood, faith, and more, follow along via Facebook.

Sticks, stones and free play outdoors

Playing outdoors is an essential part of our homeschool.

One hour at the park, every morning, after the breakfast dishes and lunch prep are done, is a great start to the day.

Fresh air, warm sunshine, wide open spaces, lush greenery, a myriad of wild living things and ample opportunities to play  – these are what we look forward to.

But that would be an understatement.

We go out because we yearn for it, are desperate for it, and feel, instinctively, that we need it.

Staying indoors, mostly all day, every day, in a building – whether at home or in a classroom environment – is simply destructive to the mind, body and spirit.

It drives kids nuts. It breeds an illness called Stay-Home-Mama-Madness.

And this is also one of the main reasons we homeschool – so we can incorporate lots of outdoor play into our day. The flexibility of homeschooling means we can extend outdoor play beyond the hour, if we need it, and if the tropical sun isn’t beating down on us too severely. We have spent whole mornings outdoors, on cool days, with never a dull moment.

We have such strong, primal feelings toward outdoor play, I thought I’d deconstruct what we did over the past two days.

Yesterday, my 30-week pregnant body was too tired to agree to a game of hide-and-seek with 5 year old Lamb and 2 year old Piglet at the park, so I sent them on a pebble-hunting expedition.

I sat on a bench and just watched.

And loved what I saw.

 

1. Sensory stimulation.

Hmm. Why can’t I pick these ones?

Picking pebbles (30Sept13)

 

I can feel them with my feet.

Walking on pebbles (30Sept13)

 

2. Imagination.

What could I do with these?

Stone construction 1 (30Sept13)

 

3. Creativity.

I could build something.

Stone construction 2 (30Sept13)

 

Anything.

Stick construction 1 (30Sept13)

 

4. Attention-building.

Keep it there, keep it up!

Stick construction 2 (30Sept13)

 

5. Social development.

What can we do together?

 

6. Motor skill development.

We could run a race.

Running races (30Sept13)

 

Skip race.

Skipping races (30Sept13)

 

Hop race.

Hopping races (30Sept13)

 

Crawl race.

Crawling races (30Sept13)

Every single one of these, their ideas.

 

7. Physical diversity and development.

Climb.

Climb (30Sept13)

 

Leap.

Midair leap (30Sept13)

 

Balance.

Balance (30Sept13)

 

How many different poses can I strike in mid-air?

Leap (30Sept13)

 

All of that was just yesterday. And today?

8. Environmental awareness and identity.

Look, Mama! A bird’s feather!!! Just as we entered the park.

Whatszis feather (30Sept13)

All sorts of questions. Would it feel soft or hard? Which bird?

I plonked myself down in a swing and let them go.

 

9. The shaping of morals and values.

Can we chase birds?

Bird chasing (30Sept13)

 

10. Good ‘ole plain fun.

Races again – rolling toy cars down the tunnel. Over and over again.

Car tunnel rolling (30Sept13)

 

And enjoying going barefoot. Peace!

Two thumbs up (30Sept13)

 

We often play different organised sports and games during our one-hour morning at the park. But over the past two days, they got these 10 things.

All this, with only a teeny bit of me.

It was mostly just themselves, their imagination, and the great outdoors.

Have I also said how wonderful it is for two young siblings to be able to homeschool together? It is so much easier, enjoyable, creative and productive, compared to keeping them separate. But that’s for another post.

Get out there, my little friends. Wonders await you.

I’m so happy to have a post published recently at Makchic where I share my breastfeeding story and 7 essential breastfeeding tips for new moms. Please come have a read. Thank you!

Life in 2 months

Do you sometimes get the feeling that life is overtaking you?

The last couple of months, I did.

During my recent pregnancy check up at 25 weeks, I found I’d gained 4 kgs in 4 weeks. Four kilos! I’ve been pregnant 3 times before, but I’ve never gained at a rate as quickly as this.

Not that I worry about getting fat (the least of my concerns), but that explains why I’ve been feeling so heavy of late.

And why every time I perform a task, I feel like an elephant is sitting on top of me.

Every effort at the sink to wash dishes and every bend at the countertop to fix snacks and prepare meals has been giving me a backache. I try keeping good posture most of the time but when I’m doing kitchen work as often as I do, I suppose some strain becomes inevitable.

It feels that much more exhausting, trying to get to the park every morning, loading the stroller and lifting two-and-a-half year old Piglet into his car seat.

Then there are those familiar, excruciating leg cramps that wake me up at night and keep me awake for quite awhile after.

Interrupted sleep, trying to turn my torpedo-shaped belly over, trying to get back to sleep again.

Then, waking to another full day of homeschooling and homemaking.

This was considered an artistic venture by our little people. Makes me go "Oooo!" and "Aaargh!" at the same time

This was considered an artistic venture by our little people. Makes me go “Oooo!” and “Aaargh!” at the same time

And going through it over, and over, and over again.

So I said “no” to blogging and social media until I felt my engine had recovered enough.

Saying “no” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Because sometimes even the good things can bog us down. The good can become the enemy of the best.

Doing my duty to our family and being cheerful about it hasn’t always – and still isn’t – the easiest thing.

On many days I feel like turning into a green monster at some point. Like when there is a pee-pee mess in the toilet I just cleaned, or when someone is “trying to poo” on someone else when I’m spending just a few minutes trying to clear my inbox. For crying out loud!

After a strenuous July, August began with a lot of griping on my part. Then it proceeded to the realisation that I could either make the worst of the next few months or turn them into the best times to remember.

Most importantly, I woke up again to the fact that complaining is a grevious injury to a God who is always good. Always.

God has blessed me with all those little things in life that go mostly unnoticed under the radar of today’s fast-paced, instant-food, career-centered, technology-centered existence.

The delight of many beautiful mornings, dry and wet, outdoors with little ones. Hunting for snails. Doing primate exercises. Soaking up wondrous Vitamin D and fresh air. Playing frisbee and play pretend ship.

Lamb's regular pull-up challenge

Lamb’s regular pull-up challenge

Learning how to make kefir and watching everyone get a good kick out of germs. If you haven’t heard of kefir and its amazing health benefits, check out this link.

Kefir before it is strained. Chilled kefir is a wonderfully refreshing nightcap before bedtime

Kefir before it is strained. Chilled kefir is a wonderfully refreshing nightcap before bedtime. Puppy says it tastes like “beer”. Piglet loves lifting his kefir glass and shouting “Tips!!!” (a.k.a. “Cheers!”)

Finding satisfaction in more things homemade like yogurt cheese, wholewheat thins, cheese biscuits, banana tea loaves, and learning how to make my bread nice and fluffy.

Wholewheat thins topped with yogurt cheese. These can be addictive!

Wholewheat thins topped with yogurt cheese. These can be addictive!

Ice lollies (20Aug13)

Yogurt ice lollies with cranberries and chocolate bits

Stepping out of ourselves to share joy with others – facilitating a 7-week Marriage Course, supporting Sweet Man in planning a Family Camp for a great bunch of people, and connecting with parents at a Focus on the Family parenting talk 2 weeks ago.

Parenting? I was a whole bunch of nerves because Sweet Man and I feel so raw and green to be presenting on such a subject, but apparently it went well. There was even a reader of this blog in the audience. Yikes! Who knew? Our topic was “Love Them, and Let Them Know”.

Making origami with the kids on wet evenings.

These brought back fond memories of one of our favourite Sonlight read alouds, Mr Popper’s Penguins

These brought back fond memories of one of our favourite Sonlight read alouds, Mr Popper’s Penguins

There have been other good things.

Returning to a fresh dependency on God who makes all things possible. When the Hulk begins emerging from the depths within, there is nothing more needed than a miracle via a lightning bolt prayer.

Watching Piglet’s growing independence, self esteem and joy in accomplishing tasks.

Piglet brushes his own teeth in the mornings, takes his dirty dishes to the sink, unloads the dryer, buckles himself up in the car seat and insists he is ready for Jolly Phonics

Piglet brushes his own teeth in the mornings, takes his dirty dishes to the sink, unloads the dryer, buckles himself up in the car seat and insists he is ready for Jolly Phonics

Feeling a reemergence of pregnancy nausea because of fatigue but being inspired by child-drawn love notes on a difficult morning when I want to stay another 2 hours in bed.

Reorganising homeschool supplies, putting our upstairs in order again after our house tenant finished her term, and tweaking our home schedule to make it work better for everyone.

Our new homeschool Focus Board. I’ll share it soon in an upcoming post

Our new homeschool Focus Board. I’ll share it soon in an upcoming post

Life’s been tiring. But oh so good.

Note to self: Remember that. Everyday.

 

What are some things that have kept you going?