Thursday, January 29, 2009

Getting Started

So I'm sure you all remember my "master plan" and you are wondering what I'm doing to achieve it (because the world revolves around me and you are all paying very close attention). Well, let me tell you.

After I graduated from undergrad I learned the hard lesson that the college degree is the new high school diploma. It means relatively little especially if it's from a liberal arts college. I'm not being cynical it's just true. So the best way for me to get my foot in the door is to volunteer, volunteer, volunteer. I recently "informationally interviewed" someone from White Dog Community Enterprises here in Philly, and she said that a lot of their new hirees started out as volunteers who made themselves so indispensable that she was forced to hire them or lose their talents to someone else.

This is my new mantra, Make Yourself Indispensable.

These are the places where I have decided to focus my efforts:

Bartram's Garden
This is an historic house and estate originally owned by one of the most forward-thinking botanists of the pre-Revolutionary period, John Bartram. I've been helping out with their children's education classes (right now we're doing lots of butter churning classes with a colonial butter churn and I have amazing home-made butter in my fridge waiting for me to bake it into something delish). They might be hiring a part-time gardener for their children's garden this spring, keep your fingers crossed!


Tyler Arboretum
There are 650 acres of diverse outdoor landscapes and habitats at this arboretum in the western suburbs. I've been volunteering with their education department, mostly doing maple-sugaring classes right now. They have some of the highest quality education curriculum I've ever seen, especially with respect to the diversity of activities and amount of information in each class, as well as the thorough training that each educator gets. I will also be helping them out with their new vegetable demonstration garden, which currently lacks a gardener (again, fingers crossed).

(from the Tyler Arboretum set on Flickr)

Weaver's Way Co-op Farm
One of only two co-op grocery stores in the city, Weaver's Way does community programming on and around their farm in North Philadelphia . I've been volunteering with their education programs, mostly helping to build a greenhouse at Martin Luther King High School which the students will plant and tend. They also do farm field trips which I'll be helping out with soon.


Mill Creek Farm
The farmers at Mill Creek are on vacation for the winter, but in the spring I hope to get my hands dirty helping out with everything that goes into growing food on this urban farm (which is not far from my house in West Philly). They also do education programming, mostly farm field trips. The farm is on a small plot of land and has a shed made of cob with a green roof, solar panels, a composting toilet, mosaic, and grey water collection. Loves it.

(view from the shed's green roof, from the blog Mac&Cheese)

Pennsylvania Horticultural Society - Garden Tenders Training
This is the most exciting thing I'm doing right now. It's a free workshop series for people interested in starting community gardens in and around Philadelphia. Did I mention it's completely free? (I just CANNOT believe that). It consists of 10 three hour classes with guest speakers who teach you how to organize, plant, and sustain a community garden. And each year at the end of the training sessions there are several new gardens that were formed right there in class. After the first class I thought my head would explode with excitement. I've already met several people in class who live in my neighborhood and are interested in starting a new community garden (one of whom already organizes a garden at 47th and Spruce and is inundated with plot requests every day).


So we'll see where all of this takes me. I'm now nannying three and half days a week and the rest of my time is full of volunteering of one form or another. I don't expect to be paid to do anything in my field until April at least, but I'm optimistic. I have a rolodex of over 50 contacts that I have met and/or spoken to on the phone about my interest in environmental ed/urban agriculture and them's good odds, I think.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Morning Tulips

I started a new nanny job which requires me to be at work at 8:30am. Being me, I have to wake up at 6:30am for this to even be a possibility, which means that I wake up before the sun does. Boo.

But these tulips that I bought at Whole Foods the other day (which, unfortunately, has the best bulk foods section in the city, sorry small neighborhood co-op) are brightening my morning.

(The "YES" was given to me by my fabulous friend Nicole as a going away present. The amazing ikebana vase was given to me by M.)

I managed to stretch them out for a week but they are really looking sad now. I miss my free gerbera daisies.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Say Hello, Gracie

Distractions abound recently. Last weekend we went to a wedding in New Orleans (gorgeous), coming back just in time for the inauguration. Then on Friday my parents adopted a pup!

Her name is Gracie (changed from the original name she came with, Princess Pixie). She is 17 months old and she is a boxer mix (we think she is mixed with pit bull). She's a face licking, butt wiggling, tile sliding, bone hiding, leash pulling, head tilting bundle of love.

She came from a shelter in Virginia originally and she's skin and bones. She also has some scarring on her neck where her collar is, bruises on her legs from being crated too often and a funny burn mark on one of her ears. But she's incredibly well adjusted for an abused dog.

Get used to seeing gratuitous pup pictures, as usual.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Phila Street Art: 31st and Walnut

M noticed this stencil on the sidewalk by the Walnut Street Bridge. They're keytars! There was a whole line of two-toned stencils, which is pretty impressive. The artist must have had a long time to do them.

I also found this blog which documents the stencils that the author finds in Turkey.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Settling in, compost style

One of my favorite Christmas gifts this year (other than this, of course) is a book called "The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City" by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen, writers of the blog Homegrown Evolution. It's an incredible primer on all things livegreen in the city, full of instructions on how to make things like self-watering plant containers that you can use to grow veggies on your fire escape. I used their instructions to make a new and improved worm bin for my basement ( I had to leave this old one behind in Davis). The new one is a double layered system that will make harvesting the compost a lot easier (it involves drilling holes in the tupperware to allow the worms to migrate between bins, tee hee!).

To get my worms I sent out a request on the American Community Gardening Association listserve and Dorene in Phoenixville let me come harvest about two pounds of red wigglers from her worm bin to start mine.

I also started an outdoor compost bin for yard scraps and veggie scraps. I don't have enough land to repeat the one I made in Davis so I just got a plastic garbage bin, drilled some holes for air flow and stuck it on my patio.

The worms can't handle the amount of compost we produce in the house (which as you can see is mostly egg shells and coffee grounds right now), so it's neccessary to have the other compost bin to handle the excess. It will take longer than the worm bin to become usable compost, but I can wait.

Other parts of the book that I love include the section on how to harvest and eat "feral edibles," weed veggies like dandelion leaves, nasturtium pods, sheep sorrel, and purslane, the section on how to make your own solar food dryer, and the section on raising chickens in the city (have I mentioned that I want some?). The attitude of the authors is that anyone can do these things, you don't need to have a lot of money or land. You can grow lettuce in a tub in your living room. You can brew beer in your basement. You can harvest greens for dinner from a vacant lot. The attitude is very "can-do" and inspiring. You will be reading more about this book here in the future, you can bet your sweet patoot.

Friday, January 16, 2009

A visit to Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia


gee i like to think of dead it means nearer because deeper firmer/ since darker than little round water at one end of the well it's/ too cool to be crooked and it's too firm to be hard but it's sharp/
and thick and it loves, every old thing falls in rosebugs and/ jackknives and kittens and pennies they all sit there looking at/ each other having the fastest time because they've never met before

dead's more even than how many ways of sitting on your head your/ unnatural hair has in the morning

dead's clever too like POF goes the alarm off and the little striker/ having the best time tickling away everybody's brain so everybody/ just puts out their finger and they stuff the poor thing all full/ of fingers

dead has a smile like the nicest man you've never met who maybe winks/ at you in a streetcar and you pretend you don't but really you do/ see and you are My how glad he winked and hope he'll do it again

or if it talks about you somewhere behind your back it makes your neck/ feel pleasant and stoopid and if dead says may i have this one and/ was never introduced you say Yes because you know you want it to dance/ with you and it wants to and it can dance and Whocares

dead's fine like hands do you see that water flowerpots in windows but/ they live higher in their house than you so that's all you see but you/ don't want to

dead's happy like the way underclothes All so differently solemn and/ inti and sitting on one string

dead never says my dear, Time for your musiclesson and you like music and/ to have somebody play who can but you know you never can and why have to?

dead's nice like a dance where you danced simple hours and you take all/ your prickly-clothes off and squeeze-into-largeness without one word and/ you lie still as anything in largeness and this largeness begins to give/ you,the dance all over again and you,feel all again all over the way men/ you liked made you feel when they touched you(but that's not all)because/ largeness tells you so you can feel what you made,men feel when,you touched,/ them

dead's sorry like a thistlefluff-thing which goes landing away all by/ himself on somebody's roof or something where who-ever-heard-of-growing/ and nobody expects you to anyway

dead says come with me he says(and whyevernot)into the round well and/ see the kitten and the penny and the jackknife and the rosebug/ and you/ say Sure you say (like that) sure i'll come with you you say for i/ like kittens i do and jackknives i do and pennies i do and rosebugs i do

-e. e. cummings (1925)



Edit 3/4/09: check it

Monday, January 12, 2009

Phila Street Art: 48th and Spruce

Fabulous fruit truck with a wheatpaste on the side.

Made by James G. Garvey. These other pastes were made by him too.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Our new CSA!

We just joined a CSA for the 2009 season! Our new farm is called Red Earth Farm in Orwigsburg, PA and they have a drop off site in West Philly. We will be getting a partial share (6 items a week) which should be plenty for the three of us (me, M and Jonathan).

(picture by 427 from the CSA Flickr pool)

The difference between joining a CSA on the east versus the west coast is that the season here in Philly goes from June through November instead of all year long. So we made our investment for the whole growing season and we are now a partner in the process, having put our faith in the farmers and Mother Nature to give us a season full of yummy veggies.

Until June I am keeping my spirits up by looking at the pictures in this CSA Flickr pool.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Woolens and Woodens

One large skein of gorgeous wool yielded me four wonderful hats. I sent these out to my lovely housemates back in California (and one in St. Louis) for the winter holiday festivus celebration. Matchy match!

I actually ran out of yarn at the very end and the last pompon hat had to be finished with a different lovely yarn in moss green.

I also went out to an art opening last night at Space 1026 (obsessed much?) called New Ancient Structures. That's me, next to the goofball in the blue hat. The wooden sculptures by AJ Fosik were amazing and intricate, using a folk art style and forcing us to confront the animal violence in ourselves. And the colors were pretty.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


(this photo is from their myspace profile)

Check out the Flickr group for the newest Mummers club, the Vaudvillains! They are a group from an art collective ("creative community") in Philly called Space 1026 and they organized their first comic brigade in this year's Mummers parade, making their own costumes and props and doing their own makeup. I am thoroughly inspired (and maybe want to join them next year). Here's a link to a video of their parade dance.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Phila Street Art: 21st and Market

I ran into this "anti-truancy" mural on my way into Center City one night. It was painted in 2004 in a collaborative effort with students from the Intensive Delinquency Prevention Program on the side of the De La Salle In Towne School for Delinquent Youth. The students brainstormed and designed images that represent their lives, which are painted on the sides of the human figures. The artist is Donald Gensler with assistance from James Burns, Delia King and Angela Crafton. Sponsored by the PA Council of Fine Arts, the City of Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia Department of Human Services.

(This image is from

Monday, January 5, 2009

Holiday cookie rewind

A big Christmas tradition for me and my friends from home (NJ) is making and decorating sugar cookies. Each year between two and eight of us will get together to have a cookie-making marathon, with one of the goals being to create the ugliest/grossest/funniest cookie that ever existed. Oh yeah.

Here are some examples.


As you can see our dough this year was a bit rough, which is probably due to the fact that we insist on making it from scratch most years. We're getting better, I swear.

You can also see from these photos that we are very fond of using the gel icing that gets stuck to everything around it.

Award for the grossest cookie in 2003 went to Amanda for making these disgusting 3-D snowmen. The winner of the gross/ugly cookie award is determined usually by the cookie that makes us laugh so hard we nearly pee our pants. The worst part is that all of these cookies are consumed within a few days. All of them.


This year we decided to mix it up a bit and make gingerbread dough.

The award again went to Amanda for making this Elvis/granny cookie. She often wins, and she is the friend with whom I also make wonderful dyed Easter eggs.


The day after Christmas Amanda and I spent all night making cookies. We learned that a little dough goes a long way, and we were sick of decorating by the end of it.

But we came up with some novel decorating ideas this year, including using coconut . . .

. . . and fruit-flavored jello powder. Mmmm, fruity (and wierd).

A favorite (notice the small herd of dinosaurs wandering in the woods):

And the winner this year was me! This cookie made us cry with laughter. Sooooo creeeeeeepy.

So there you have them, in all of their beautiful and disgusting glory. Christmas cookies ala Era.