The Giant Squash

When I was pregnant with our son two years ago, I attended the Orange County Fair for the first time. I was blown away by all of the giant fruit and vegetables that home gardeners entered into the fair. I was so excited to see so many competitions for gardeners. There are plenty of photography and art competitions everywhere, but gardening competitions seem pretty rare around here. I was determined to enter a giant vegetable in the fair the next year. Unfortunately, I didn’t have anything to enter last year after 11 months of pregnancy and post-partum bed rest. We went to the fair last year and had fun, but I was pretty disappointed that I wasn’t prepared to enter the competitions yet.

This year, our backyard garden remodel took way longer than we expected. My new vegetable beds did not get installed until the very end, leaving me no time to prepare any vegetables to enter into the fair. I was quite disappointed, until I noticed that some vegetables were sprouting up as volunteers from the homemade compost that I mixed into the flower beds. There was one baby squash plant in particular that I could tell was going to grow quite large, so I let it grow and nurtured the little surprise planting. As luck would have it, that little surprise ended up growing my biggest squash to date. I started getting excited once I realized I may have a good entry for the fair.

The night before I was planning to bring my squash to the fair, I started reading online about winners of largest squash competitions. I read that there is a man on the east coast who regularly grows 1000+ pound squashes. My “little” 10 pound squash suddenly felt inadequate, and I considered not bringing it at all. In the end, I figured I may as well bring it because even if it was not the world’s biggest squash, it was the biggest one that I have grown in the 30+ years since I started gardening, and I figured that was something worth celebrating.

I usually spend my early mornings working in the garden, before our son wakes up. I get up at sunrise and tend to the garden, hang clothes and diapers on the clothesline, etc. It is my peaceful time of the day. The garden in the early morning hours is my favorite.

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E is thankfully a late sleeper. He was not initially very thrilled that I pulled him out of bed, but once he realized it was for pictures, he was quite cooperative. 🙂 Apparently he thought that we were about to cook this squash since I finally cut it off the plant, so he got his “cooking utensils” ready!
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Then he started talking to the squash and petting it. Silly boy.
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I tried to get another angle with my camera….No, Mommy! No standing on chairs!
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So then I was quite surprised to read, not only did my “little” squash win first place as biggest squash, it also won Division Winner for the whole squash category! I was beyond honored and excited. Not bad for my first time entering a gardening competition, right? 🙂
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My squash’s ribbons motivated me to get myself in gear and enter a few more items for the last week of competition for the fair. More on that coming to the blog next week!

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Happy Accidents

Sometimes my favorite pictures are the ones that are not planned. I have done several photoshoots in my studio with babies in old vintage buckets, and I always wanted to do one in our garden with our son actually in a bath with bubbles. Unfortunately, when he was a little baby, our backyard was kind of a disaster after months of neglect thanks to my difficult pregnancy. I didn’t get the pictures I had envisioned, and I eventually put them out of my mind. Then one day recently, my husband and I were trying to clean up the mess that our fig tree was making in the backyard. My husband asked me to go get a bucket of soapy water. As soon as I laid it down, our little man decided that now was the perfect time to get those photos I had wanted months ago. E hopped into the bucket on his own accord and started posing. I guess he remembered it from in my studio and thought it was photoshoot time! Of course I immediately ran to go grab my big camera. This little guy sure knows how to make his mommy happy. 🙂

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At first I considered removing all of the dirt and grime from his face when I was processing these photos, then I decided to leave it. If it had been a “real” photoshoot for a client, I would have of course removed it. However since this was a spur of the moment thing with my own son, I decided I kind of like his dirty little face in the photos. Dirty face and messy hair after helping me in the garden…a perfect example of his sweet little personality. 🙂
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The funniest part of this impromptu shoot is that I happened to set the bucket in front of my “happy accident” squash plant, which ended up being a big prize winner at the county fair! The whole story on that will be coming to the blog next week. 🙂
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E loves helping me wash things. He helps me load laundry every day, and always wishes he could help with the dishes. Since he wants to clean things so badly, I made him some little sponges in different shapes that he uses in his water table with some soap bubbles. I don’t like when he “washes” his books, but it cracked me up when he suddenly pulled one of his little sponges out of the tub. I did not even realize he brought it in with him!
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Trying to give the elephant statue kisses!
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These ones were after I told him it was getting cold and it was time to come out of the water. 🙂
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Maybe if she can’t see me, I won’t have to get out!
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Recently, I took our little dog to go get her follow-up vaccines at the vet. She did fine the first time but felt kind of under the weather with the second round. Since she was a rescue, we do not have too much medical history on her so we have to watch her closely after the vaccines. She was particularly mopy that evening, and our three boys were trying their hardest to cheer her up. I wish our other cat would join in on the fun with them (she is still afraid of E), but I am pretty darn happy with a few photos of these four all playing together! Another totally unplanned, happy accident photo opportunity that ended up being some of my favorite photos. 🙂
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Garden Reveal!

Our backyard remodel has been a major undertaking. Way bigger than we would have anticipated. It has taken so much longer than we had planned, and there are still a lot of last details left to finish. When I made over our front yard two years ago, everything went a lot faster since I didn’t have a child to take care of, and I didn’t have my mobility and pain problems. Those two new factors have made this project infinitely slower. I know a lot of people have been curious to see a reveal, so I wanted to post pictures of the progress so far. 🙂

I hated the ugly retaining walls that go throughout our backyard, and I have been trying to convince my husband to let me paint them some bright colors ever since we moved in. Finally, I looked for some examples on Pinterest that were close enough to what I had in mind that helped me convince him that I should paint. E’s garden is so much more fun now that it is colorful. 🙂 I have a really exciting project in mind for the planter above his garden…I can’t wait to get that installed too!

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I haven’t finished painting this area, but that will come soon enough. The table was an antique store find and actually came with four different chairs, but I wanted the set because I thought the chairs would be perfect around our firepit. The table was cute too, and got paired with four chairs that were a great thrift store find at $2 each!

The pink flowers in the top planter are one of the few that I did not plant (along with the roses that they are mixed in with). They were there from a previous owner, and are amazing. They are super low-maintenance, need almost no water, and reseed themselves each year. They are called a bunch of different names, but you can find them at Home Depot under the name Red Valerian. In the bottom row, I have our dwarf almond tree and kumquat tree, which I planted when we moved in. In between those, I planted more low water plants, lots of geraniums and Santa Barbara daisies.

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This is the pergola that my husband built at our old house! We actually had our small wedding reception under this pergola in our old backyard, so it is extra special. (We had two wedding days…the ceremony day that was moved up when we found out my grandma was dying and our originally planned date). The diagonal pieces needed to be replaced after the move, so my dad made these new ones for us! They still need to be painted but look great.

The pergola used to be our patio dining area at our old house, but now it is a play zone. 🙂 Underneath the pergola is the artificial grass my husband installed (more info on that in a later post), and a nice play area for the little guy and his friends. Things are a little more put away than usual today since we are expecting rain, but this is where his bounce house/ball pit normally sits, and his trains are put away from the train table. We actually found the train table for free on Craigslist, but it needed some legs, which was an easy fix for my husband! It is one of E’s favorite things. 🙂 I will post pictures of his bounce house/ball pit when I blog about his birthday party, but in the meantime, you can check it out here.
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This is the part of the garden where all the work really took place…I am going to post some wide angle overview pictures here and then go into more detail about all of the various projects and areas within the next few days!

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Our to-do list for this project still includes installing new raised beds for veggies, completing the irrigation system (I am hand watering for now…not too bad since most of the plants have low water requirements), installing the shade fabric system that will be drawn or retracted over the entire garden, lighting, sound system, waterfall, and adding more decomposed granite as walkway.

We originally were going to put in pavers, stepping stones, bricks or gravel, but then I realized that the decomposed granite that we put down as an underlayer is much easier for me to walk on! I like how it looks and it is super cheap (you can often even find it for free!), and we just need a bit more to thicken it up.

Lots more details coming in the next few days!

Spring Plant Sale at South Coast Botanic Garden Tomorrow!

One of our favorite places is having their Spring Plant Sale tomorrow! If you are in Southern California, the South Coast Botanic Garden is in Palos Verdes and definitely worth checking out. We have a membership to the garden, and love going on a regular basis. For more information on the plant sale, visit their website.

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E’s Birthday Surprise – His Own Children’s Garden!

I have been searching for months for what I thought would be the perfect birthday present for E – a vintage train. The kind that people usually set up at Christmas time, to go around the base of the Christmas tree. He is wild about trains. He loves his Thomas the Train books, his wooden train whistle, and he goes nuts over my old battery powered train that my grandpa used to set up every year at Christmas. Since that one is pretty sentimental to me, I wanted to get E one of his own. I couldn’t find one anywhere, since apparently most antique stores only have them stocked around the holiday season.

I was getting discouraged and feeling like the little small presents I had gotten for him weren’t special enough for his first birthday. E has been helping me a lot in the garden (actually putting dirt in flower pots, picking out flower seed packets, etc.). When a friend suggested that I make him his own little children’s garden, I knew that would be the perfect birthday morning surprise. 🙂

The night before E’s birthday, we went to the dollar store and let him pick out any of the garden decorations he liked. I also grabbed some other things that I thought would be fun and educational, like giant plastic fake crayons, small hula hoops in a rainbow of colors, etc. After he went to sleep for the night, I went out into the back yard and started prepping a section of garden bed next to our patio. I pulled out all of the weeds (it has been a somewhat neglected area for a while), and set everything up. Most of the plants that I had in there were edible already, which is good since he is still putting everything in his mouth, especially plants.

When I was planning his garden, I saw a lot of horrible children’s garden advice all over the internet. It disturbs me how people recommend poisonous plants for children’s gardens. Tomatoes are great, but the leaves of the tomato plant are poisonous if ingested. Sweet peas are pretty and smell nice but also poisonous. I could go on and on, but instead I am going to make a list of the plants that I will be using in his garden. Some still had to be removed after his birthday morning, and we will be planting more. I am also using plants that mostly require very little water and are drought friendly. E’s garden will include:

1. Marigolds
2. Lavender
3. Rosemary
4. Nasturtiums
5. Pansy
6. Red Valerian
7. Pelargonium(which are commonly called geraniums in stores)
8. Mint
9. Lemon Balm
10. Sage
11. Aloe Vera
12. Sedum
13. Various varieties of lettuce
14. Spinach

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It is still a work in progress, but he loves it. 🙂 I will post an update once it is completed!

Weekly Dose of E

This little guy is really starting to enjoy helping me in the garden! I can’t wait until our raised beds are full of veggies again, especially since he has really been enjoying eating almost any vegetable I give him. 🙂 Today I even got a high five for split pea soup. It happened to be one of the rare soups I gave him that wasn’t homemade, but I will take what I can get!

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Also pretty exciting in the past week…he is finally clapping! I’ve been trying to get this guy to clap for months and every time I tried, he just shook his head NO at me. Then one night, my husband and I were watching Nashville while E was eating. He wasn’t paying any attention to the show until a song from last season came on. It happened to be the same song he would dance in my belly to every time it came on. All of a sudden, he finally started clapping. Now, he has been clapping for anything he really likes, particularly a few of his favorite songs. 🙂

I seriously cannot believe this little guy is going to be one in just a couple of days…I want him to stay my baby forever!

Resuming My Cook-Once-A-Week Routine!

Back when we used to shoot a lot of weddings, I got in the habit of cooking lots of meals for dinner in batches on one evening, and freezing the individual dinners. It was great on the nights when I was up for all hours, working on wedding photos. We would just pull something out of the freezer, throw it in the oven, and have a healthy, homemade meal in about half an hour. Since our son was born, I somehow got out of the habit of doing that. I decided that it was time to start again! We have gotten in the habit of having too much takeout food when things get busy and I knew that this is exactly what we need.

I started by asking my husband to keep an eye on E for an hour or two so I could cook. Then I started making a huge batch of sauteed chopped veggies in my wok (4-5 bell peppers, various colors, one whole chopped onion, 4 cloves minced garlic, tomato, and a bit of coconut oil, and a tiny bit of salt & pepper). I also started cooking a bunch of rice on another burner. On a third burner, I started cooking up a bunch of lean ground beef with a bit of salt, pepper, and dried oregano. On the fourth burner, I started boiling water for pasta. I grabbed a couple of boxes of Indian food mixes that I found in the non-perishable section at Trader Joe’s, two cans of organic garbanzo beans, a jar of pasta sauce, and a can of diced tomatoes. I also had a package of marinated carne asada my husband found at Target that was set aside in the fridge, ready to barbecue. Here is what I made with the above ingredients! I made multiple batches of most of the meals, so it actually ended up being enough for almost two weeks!

Meal #1: Trader Joe’s Punjab Eggplant. Added garbanzo beans and veggie mix, served over plain jasmine rice.

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Meal #2: Gluten free rice pasta with lean ground beef meat sauce and veggie mixture. aliciainwonderlandblog.com

Meal #3: Barbequed carne asada with rice mixture. I added the can of diced tomatoes, some salt and pepper to some plain rice, and added in a bit of the veggie mix and some garbanzo beans. This marinade on the meat was amazing, and I was really excited that we found one that did not have soy in it!
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Meal #4: Trader Joe’s Punjab Choley with extra can of added garbanzo beans and plain jasmine rice.aliciainwonderlandblog.com

It was so easy, and really didn’t take that long! For each meal, I took the frozen portions out, put them in an oven safe dish and baked for about half an hour at 375 degrees F. It is such a relief not having to worry about what I am going to come up with each night for dinner. 🙂 Also, I am quite proud to say that even my meat-loving Texan husband was a big fan of the two vegan meals we had last week. Definitely a major win for me!