"Take chances! Make mistakes! Get messy!" --Ms. Frizzle

"Take chances! Make mistakes! Get messy!" --Ms. Frizzle

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Plants and Books

True to the name of this blog, our little family has been neck-deep in adventure these last few weeks. We've been to the zoo twice now, have been camping at Mt. Rainier and Spider Meadow, and have been scampering around town during the intervening weekdays.

Yes, I have pictures-- hundreds.

And no, you can't see them.

You see, I've taken so many photos in the month of July alone that the task of sorting through them and editing them right now is positively daunting. Really and truly, I'll have them at least uploaded onto the computer sometime in the next few days, but that's all I'm promising. So instead of a chronicle of the Zoglman family's adventures, this blog post will be devoted to my musings (ramblings?) on the subjects of landscape design and a book I happen to be reading.

First up, landscaping! Now, having lived in Eastern Washington for a mere two years I am still not very well acquainted with the plants that thrive in this particular environment, which has been my main excuse for not getting more done in our yard in terms of planting. However, I'm also discovering that while I can take care of plants fairly well-- as in, sometimes they don't die-- I am still a very unpracticed landscape designer. My gardening knowledge is weighted heavily towards maintenance rather than creation. Fortunately, I've been doing my homework. I wander around the neighborhood or flip through magazines, asking myself a bazillion* questions as I go. Do I like annuals or perennials? Symmetry or asymmetry? Lots of color variety or just one or two colors? Do I like tidy growth patterns or looser growth patterns? How do I feel about trees? Bushes? Vines? Groundcover? With each answer I feel like I know my own taste in plants and landscaping a little better, and after months of observation I've boiled down my preferences to two facts.

One: I like texture. More specifically, I like contrasting textures-- round next to prickly, curly next to straight, shiny next to nubby, etcetera. I would plant ferns next to hostas. Somehow I find those kinds of arrangements more interesting visually than variations in color.

Two: I like blobs. More than borders, well-defined shapes, or homogeneously mixed plantings, I like blobs. If left to my own devices I would probably put a hundred lavender bushes in our yard, but never in rows or clusters. I'd plant them in big arrangements resembling huge lopsided puzzle pieces, with complementary blobs of coneflowers creeping in to fill the gaps. I eschew right angles and straight lines and, to a lesser extent, small dots of plantings all thrown in together (think Jackson Pollock).

And now I'm hoping that my readers... all six of you... will respond. Please, please tell this newbie landscaper what you find pleasing, what rules you follow, when playing with plants in the yard!

Next up, I want to tell you about the book I am nearly finished reading-- a minor miracle in and of itself! The book is Hungry Monkey by Matthew Amster-Burton, and it was lent to me by my fabulous friend Ellie. She has a little one of her own who has recently started eating solid food, so the subtitle of the book ("A Food-Loving Father's Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater") hit home for both of us. Now that I'm three-quarters of the way through Hungry Monkey I feel qualified to write a review. Here it is.

There are two subjects on which there seems to be excessive information about what not to do: eating and raising children. If we were to believe the experts, the number of possible missteps we could take when consuming food or caring for kids is daunting if not paralyzing. Fortunately, Matthew Amster-Burton touches on exactly zero of them. For him there is no "good" or "bad" food, except in the sense of how it tastes. Likewise, he sees no right or wrong way to feed his child as long as some food actually makes it into her mouth. It is refreshing to see the world of cooking and eating through the eyes of a person who guiltlessly and exuberantly loves to cook and eat. But it's even better-- so, so much better-- to see that world through the eyes of his articulate daughter Iris. She is a bacon snob. She decides, on a whim, that she hates soup. She is fascinated by the concept of a slow-cooker and amazed that maple syrup is in fact sap. Iris reminds us that food is truly miraculous stuff. She also reminds us that even without sticking to the "rules"-- you know, rice cereal, bland food, purees, and so forth-- feeding a child can be challenging the way doing anything with a child can be challenging. Toddlerhood comes with inevitable power struggles and meals are not exempt from this process, but what I appreciate in Amster-Burton's book is that he does not make an issue out of the quality or quantity of food that Iris eats. He loves to eat, and so he prepares meals he likes and involves Iris in the process as much as he can. In the end, if she enjoys it too then that's great, but if she doesn't then that's also okay. Amster-Burton does have the freedom to really cut loose in the kitchen in ways that many of us do not: he's a stay-at-home dad whose lifestyle clearly screams I have money, although he goes out of his way not to flaunt it. Occasionally it's obnoxious to read about the best brand of bacon (Neuske's, apparently), the kitchen gadgets you can buy, or some cut of meat with a price tag that would look to me more like a car insurance bill. In the end I can forgive him for waxing snobbish because I know that, had I the funds, food is way at the top of the list of things I'd splurge on. Also, he prefers frozen hash browns over those prepared fresh and isn't afraid to admit it. To anyone looking for a fun, drool-inducing book I would recommend Hungry Monkey. Read it for the recipes, read it for Amster-Burton's honest and humorous description of life with a foodie kid, or just read it for Iris. To her, the world of food is strange and joyful and brand new. I swear, things taste way better that way.

*The spell-checker accepts "bazillion" as a legitimate word.


  1. You are too funny! As for the landscaping, I have absolutely zero advice. My highest priority is price (as in, all the stuff I stole from my mother's yard was FREE). After that, I've got nothin'. You have a great sense of style, though, so I'm sure whatever you did would end up looking great.
    And secondly, I'm glad you've been able to find time to read. Maybe in twenty years when I can read for pleasure again, I'll try to track down this book. :)

    Can't wait to see pictures....

  2. I love your blog. And I'm glad you have a few new posts up...made my night more enjoyable!

    I miss you guys.

    In the yard, my main goal is to keep things alive. And if I get a few weeds pulled out here and there, I'm happy. I've decided it takes a lifetime to learn how to make a beautiful yard. So ask me in 15 or 20 years and maybe I'll have a teensy bit of advice. Until then, just hope with me that I have a few things still living next spring. The one thing I do know is that I hope to someday have a yard that allows me to pick a pretty bouquet year round....as in, having a variety of flowers that bloom at different times. Some day...