Sundays Are For Spanish: Something Like a Book Review

The Good Food Revolution, written by Will Allen and Charles Wilson, is a book that I read about four or five years ago. The story remains in my mind, however, and has been something of an inspiration to me. Before I discuss the book, I would like to tell a short story (un cuento) about how the book and I came to meet.

At the second university I attended (out of three), I took an intensive writing course in Spanish. It was required for my major: Spanish Education. No problem (no problema), I thought. Well, it was the most difficult class I have ever taken. On the first day of class, our professor, una colombiana, told us that we would not be allowed to speak in English while in the classroom. Everyone nodded their heads in agreement.

On the second day of class, I, in a somewhat boisterous mood that day, spoke loudly in English. La profesora turned and yelled my name. The classroom fell silent.

“Alexandra!” she said before all. “If you speak in English again, I will take off 20% of your grade.”

I was in shock, as were the rest of the students. I sat, stunned, staring at her with embarassment (vergüenza) and anger (ira). Leaving the classroom, I vowed to speak only Spanish in the class, and to speak Spanish well.

Having studied Spanish, English, and the educational theories of teaching either, I know that many young Spanish speakers have been yelled at and forbidden to speak their own languages in school. Now it had happened to me and I would accept it. A stronger piece of my character decided that I would accept the rebuke and the challenge (reto).

So, I worked very hard and spoke only in Spanish while in that classroom. We learned so much that semester. The class culminated in a six page research paper, due entirely in Spanish. I wrote mine on the topic of motorcycles (motocicletas). I don’t remember the particular grade, but I will never forget what happened on the last day of class.

La profesora approached me in the hallway. We never spoke about the incident on the first day of class but I no longer felt the need to. She recommended I sign up for an Honors class. I was surprised, but thrilled. We had come to respect each other.

Taking the advice of a woman that I had come to regard highly, I signed up for an Honors class the next semester. Her referral got me in. On the list of required texts for the Honors class was The Good Food Revolution. I remember wondering, “What the hell do we need that book for?”

The Honors class was about mentoring others and, as I suspected, had a vague connection to The Good Food Revolution. The author, Will Allen, did mentor others along his way, but his book taught me so much more about taking chances, getting your hands dirty, and bringing people with you on your way to greatness.

Will Allen is a black man from the Wisconsin area. He discusses the connection between black people and farming: how it’s in their bones, how they have always cared for the land. After travelling abroad as a basketball player and later, selling medications as a pharmaceutical rep, Will Allen did something crazy. He quit his job and bought an old greenhouse. From there, he learned to grow food, help urban communities, and bring people together around the garden.

Will Allen experimented in everything from composting, to aquaponics, to vertical farming. After a lot of work in his own community, he and his daughter worked to build community gardens in Chicago and bring fresh food to people that don’t have access to it. He offered workshops in growing vegetables, raising fish, cooking what came from the garden. I believe his lessons are crucial today.

Allen tells his story with grace and includes pictures of his life in the book. The history he tells of black people in this country is tragic, but he offers good food as a solution to the problems of urban living. His moral is entirely uplifting: we can help those that have been oppressed by giving back to them their own skills, and teaching them to feed themselves well.

I have never forgotten this book and, though I don’t think it has much to do with mentoring, I have fallen in love with growing things, saving things, and turning old things into something new. Good food (la comida buena) is important to our success as a community, as Allen demonstrates. We must work hard, but we are inherently equipped to do so.

You may not be very interested in this book. I wasn’t. But, I read it. I fell in love with it. And I never forgot it.

P.S. If you’ve seen this post before that’s because I’ve posted it before. Some or all may have been changed.

Sundays Are For Spanish: Lovely Lamb’s Ear

Me encanta esta planta: la oreja del cordero. Por sus hojas y sus flores pequeñas. A las abejas les gusta tambien.

I love this plant: lamb’s ear. For its leaves and its little flowers. The bees like it too.

Sus hojas son muy suaves y no necesita mucha agua.

Its leaves are very soft and it doesn’t need much water.

¿Cual es tu planta favorita?

What’s your favorite plant?

Sundays Are For Spanish: What’s Up, Buttercup?

Just kidding. This is spiderwort. We know it as a prairie flower and, according to Wikipedia, is native from Southern Canada to Argentina. She only blooms in the morning when its cooler.

¿Que bonita, no?

How beautiful, no?

When That Frost Hits

We had our first frost of fall a few nights ago. The elephant ears (orejas de elefante) were obviously not going to make it. Most people dig up their bulbs, store them in a dry box, and replant them in the spring.

I’m lazy about bulbs, so I cover them with leaves and hope to see their return in the spring. Last year my method worked. I was given a bunch more bulbs this year by my neighbor, who had stored them. They grew great and are now covered with leaves along with my original set.

Poor things. Lol. They’ll be back though, I feel certain.

Composting Yet?

My brother and I were talking on the phone the other day and he mentioned the leaves in his yard. He was going to take them to a friend’s house and dump them there.

“Start a compost pile,” I told him, for the millionth time. I try to persuade everybody to do it, but usually get few takers.

“Seriously, the leaves are good material and no one will even notice,” I said. He said he would think about it. Lol. Damn right he will cuz I’ll keep bringing it up.

So, while there is all this lovely organic matter just laying all over the place, pick a spot, rake a heap, add some rotten food and boom, baby, you’re a composter.

Let me know how it goes 🙂

Trying to Hear the Tulips

This is an example post for the first challenge to flower talk. See rules here. Genre style is this: narrative (include your genre if you wish). I also hope to offer an introduction of some kind as well.

This was our first duplex. The rain always puddled here, in this space between my porch and my neighbor’s. We made a garden of it.
A pink Gerbera adds a pop of color to this shot. My favorite, lamb’s ear, puts forth its flowers in the background (the purple and pale green thing that looks kinda like a weed from a distance)
Tulips were later planted in this make-shift garden (no, the landlord did not help, nor seem to care. But that’s not why we did it). You cannot see them (they hadn’t bloomed). I doubt that they are still there.

Quiero platicar con los tulipanes (dígame si tulipanes no es la palabra correcta). Pero están durmiendo en sus camas de tierra.

I want to chat with the tulips. But they are sleeping in their beds of dirt.

Discussing My Schedule With Thyme

No voy a discutir más, amigo. No puedo pasar todo mi tiempo contigo.

I’m not going to argue, friend. I can’t spend all of my time with you.

Oh, thyme is a must-have herb for the budding gardener or thoughtful cook. You can use it fresh or cut it and dry it. I like to leave it alone, and run my fingers through it occasionally. This is year #2 for this thyme; it wintered outside beneath a heap of leaves that served well to protect her.

A Conversation With Impatiens

I love impatiens. They are annuals, though I’ve had them pop back up the following year. For a super easy flower that gives a lot of color, buy a flat of mixed impatiens – red, pink, white, coral (rojo, rosado, blanco, coral), and plant them however you like (it is too late to plant annuals in my area at time of publishing, but there is always a next year). This spring I planted them in my front yard, in front of a white fence that guards the front door.

It started to rain very hard while I, Sergio, and Fortuna planted these dozen or so impatiens in a line (as straight as I could get it). It had been a hot day, and a large tree protected us from above, though not enough to keep us from getting soaked in the short-lived downpour. I love impatiens because they tend to spread into a little bush. They love the shade (sombra) and are easy to grow if given lots of water (though not so much that it is bothersome).

These white impatiens are a different kind, a New Guinea impatien I think. They grow with some English Ivy that wintered over by himself in one of my favorite blue pots, which has its own story (we did have snow and ice this past winter and I forgot about the ivy, but he made it). The leaves (hojas) of this impatien are quite something.

These flowers will all leave me into the fall, but behind them will stay the dirt and another opportunity for conversations with impatiens.

Gracias por sus colores.

Thank you for your colors.

Interview With A Potato

Yo potato, what are you doing?

¿Qué pasa papa, qué estás haciendo?

Apparently, this potato (sweet potato I think) found suitable conditions under this board, both of them left and forgotten in a raised garden box near my back door, and began to sprout some leaves. I’m not a fan of his flavor, so will leave him how he is.

Rain, Rain, Come and Stay

This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small amount from qualifying purchases. I try to only recommend items that I personally own or have used, and hope that they serve you well also, if you do decide to buy.

If you have a garden, or even a few flower pots, you understand the importance of water. You also understand that it can get quite expensive to run the hose for a few hours each day: what many plants and gardens require. To save a few dollars, I created a rain collection system.

With some trial and error over the last two and a half years, we now have three barrels (left over from construction sites that my husband works on) full of rain water, oxygenating plants, and a dozen guppies (my goldfish never survive for several reasons).

A few months ago, I spray painted each barrel a dark green (they used to be a bright blue). It is really much more pleasing to the eye. A rain gutter empties into the top barrel, which sits on a stand that my husband made. I am still learning the basics of woodworking so don’t ask me any particulars on that design (it’s pretty simple anyway). Some plastic piping feeds the next barrels.

Only the top barrel has a nozzle; I use the other two barrels as wells and make sure to leave plenty of water for the fish. The fish are necessary for eating mosquito larvae and do not require much attention. The fish do much better with plants in the barrels because they need some source of oxygen. Hornroot is what is currently floating in my barrels.

To keep the water from stagnating, I purchased a small fountain that operates on solar power. It is completely submersible and helps keep the water crystal clear.

This water is not clear because the fountain was “missing” (thank you Sergio) for a few days. However, it’s chock full of fish fertilizer.

The water is not treated because it comes from the sky. The fish add nutrients to the water and everything goes right back into the ground. I always have plenty of free water on hand, as long as the rains are favorable. There is work involved, however, and I have a few quick tips.

  • Get a long hose, and try to use it on a slope. The water that exits the top barrel is not pressurized, so gravity is your best friend when transporting the water via a hose.
  • Use a watering can, or recycle big plastic containers like the one above (it’s an old Cheese Puff container) to carry water.
  • Empty your barrels often if you don’t have fish or a fountain yet; mosquitoes go crazy for these barrels when there are no predators to snatch them up.
  • Cover the tops with grates. Fortuna once leaped right into one, and had to be pulled out before she drowned (I was right there so no time was lost). Children also love to look into them (it is cool to see the fish!) so use supervision or make it impossible to fall in.
  • Make ’em pretty by placing pots around the bases, floating bog plants on top, hanging vines above. The barrels often overflow so any nearby plants will get water also. This year, I have been adding rocks (large, small, pretty, ugly) to the area. Invent a place around your barrels: an oasis, if you will.
  • Save lots of money by upcycling. There are wood barrels on the market that are quite expensive. If you use a little paint and some flower staging, any plastic barrel can be just as pretty. An old garbage can could work too.
  • Downspouts can be shortened or lengthened depending on your desired height of barrel. Take a look around your house and decide which downspout you would like to modify. Make sure your barrels will be in an easily-accessible place. Make sure they’re not too far from your garden; carrying water across the yard can really wear on your shoulders and back.

Collecting water is a great way to save money and give your plants some extra nutrients. If it doesn’t rain much where you are rain barrels are even more helpful. Check your city’s rules and regulations first (I have heard of laws against them so do some research in your area and especially if you live in the Southwest) and don’t start without a plan: mosquitoes are a serious problem if you don’t care for the water correctly.

However you decide to collect water will save you some money and help your plants in the end. There are so many ways to save in the garden and this is only one of them. Happy rain collecting!

This post had to be updated to fix grammatical errors and such so many times later in the day. That brings me to another tip: drink lots of water while you are bringing it to everyone else.

Sweet-Talkin’ Sergio’s Rose

When my son was born, in August of 2016, my mother bought me one of those miniature roses that they sell in the grocery store. It was orange (naranja).

She has suffered from black spot disease this year (you can see some spots on the leaf in the bottom left). My flower garden does not receive enough sunlight for the roses to flourish. They don’t like the hard clay. All four (the red climber, a pink bush, my favorite yellow, and Sergio’s) have had a hard go of it.

We pulled this one from the ground because I refuse to lose her after three years and two homes. She is happily recovering in a pot that sits in a particularly sunny spot. This morning she smiled brightly at me.

No te preocupes cariño, te voy a cuidar.

Don’t worry dear, I’m going to care for you.

Welcome to Watermelon Forest

Last year, we planted watermelon (a personal variety) in the raised beds. We bent a hoop over their area and tried to grow them up the hoop. It didn’t really work, but it wasn’t a total failure. The watermelon (la sandía, if you’re interested to know) never reached ripeness: each one revealed a pale green or pale pink inside when chopped in two. This year, I let the strawberries (las fresas) grow there instead.

The strawberries had a great time in the beginning of the summer and I picked a few several times. Now, there are no strawberries. The watermelon has returned. Watermelon cannot be perrennials, and must have re-seeded themselves. I should look it up on Google, but there is life without Google and that life is growing right in front of me.

I hope that these watermelon ripen (you cannot see them for the leaves), but only time will tell.