Thursday, June 19, 2008

Um, Thanks

The other day I was waking Grasshopper up from a nap, which usually entails me lying down next to her and horsing around on the bed for about twenty minutes. On this day, she ended up on the other side of my rear.

"What's this, your butt?" she asked.

"Yes, Grasshopper, that's my butt," I said.

"And it's a big butt," she said, appreciatively, in her two year's old version of the teacher voice, the same tone she uses to tell me I've done a good job at something.

"A very, very, big butt."

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Blueberries as Big as the End of Your Thumb!
organic blueberry picking and pick your own farms near Houston

Scroll down for a list of organic pick-your-own farms of all ilks near enough Houston, and a link to find farms in other areas of the country as well!

Last weekend the family went to Chmielewski's Blueberry Farm, to self pick blueberries. We'd visited a pumkin patch in Virginia with our family last fall, but never got around to buying one of the pre-picked pumkins because we exhausted ourselves on the excellent rides they offered, including giant slides made of pipes, a pig-pen converted to a sandbox kind of thing, except it was filled with corn kernals, a giant inflated pumkin to jump on, several different kinds of mazes, a petting zoo, and I'm sure I'm missing something else. And we probably all thought it was a little lame we weren't allowed to pick our own pumpkins (I was really excited beforehand because I really wanted to whack the pumkin from the vine!).

Well, Chmielewski's Blueberry Farm can't be accused of having too many distractions aside from blueberries. They're serious about picking your own.

Somebody told me that this year, because of the rising costs of transporting foods and hiring laborers, more and more small farms are implementing pick your own programs -- though I can't find any articles on Google to back that claim. But when I was researching the list of places to pick around Houston, I found lots of other organic edibles waiting for the picking: blackberries, dewberries, veggies of all sorts, apples, pumkins (in fall). Pretty much there's something to pick around Houston from early May till late September. Farm germs are supposed to be good for babies' immune systems, and it's such a relief to explore the countrysides around Houston, that I think I'll try to get us out picking at least a few times this summer.

For the blueberry trip we left our house at 6:30 in the morning, got to the farm by 7:30 to beat the June heat, and lost ourselves among many an amateur picker, and plenty of more serious self-pickers in the maze of berries. It was a lovely two hours we spent picking, eating, and calling out through the berries to our friends Jbrd and Nicole and their families.

We started with this empty bucket:

We showed Grasshopper how to pick berries without squishing them, and she caught on quickly.

Her two and a half year old self expertly avoided most of the red or green berries, and just picked the blue ones. The concept of finding blueberries on bushes, and not in plastic containers didn't seem wow her, and I was glad, hoping our little garden has taught her to assume that if there's a little fruit or veggie, it came from the earth.

She started picking.

And eating.

And plucking.

And eating.



And Greendaddy and I plucked...though we sought berries atop the bushes so kids could get the lower ones.

We ate berries too,

but not as many as Grasshopper.

They made her wacky.

And silly.

She didn't even want to pose for a picture if it meant she couldnt' have a mouthful of the giant sweet berrries.

So we hoisted her high away from the bucket to get one family shot.

Then it was time to go.

We snipped her blueberry patch umbilical cord, rushed her to the car, but it was very awkward fitting her into the carseat.

Once home, I gave away some berries, we saved some for immediate eating, and I froze the rest, which was very easy: to freeze berries, or any fruit, them out on a couple cookie sheets in one layer (I mean, I didn't pile berries on top of each other), and freeze them overnight. Then I put them in ziplock bags. They taste NOTHING like store bought frozen berries...they retain shape and taste. Yum yum yum yum yum.

Want to pick Blueberries or other growy sundries in the Houston metro area? Here's the mostly organic list I culled from the Pick Your Own website...and if you're not a Houstonian you can use that same site to find places to pluck in near wherever you are:

Chmielewski's Blueberry Farm
23810 Bauer Hockley Road, Hockley, TX 77447. Phone: 281-304-0554.
37.5 mi – about 40 mins north from Houston on 290, up to 1 hour 20 mins in traffic
Open: Wednesday and Friday 7;30 AM to 1:00 PM and Saturday and Sunday 7:30 AM to 2:00 PM; other times by appointment. Follows organic methods but not yet certified, blueberries, gift shop, restrooms, picnic area. Payment: Cash, Check.
37.5 mi – about 40 mins north on 290 up to 1 hour 20 mins in traffic

Moorehead's Blueberry Farm
19531 Moorhead Road, Conroe, TX. Phone: 281-572-1265. 888.702.0622 (Toll Free)
40.5 mi from Houston – about 43 mins North on 1-45 up to 1 hour 10 mins in traffic
Twenty varieties of blueberries (primarily Tifblue, Premier, Brightwell, Climax, Garden Blue, Becky Blue, Alice Blue and Sharp Blue) on 20 acres. No pesticides are used. No entrance fee; you are charged only for what you pick. Sampling is not deterred. Buckets are provided, as well as picnic tables, rest room facilities. Soft drinks and water are available for purchase.

S & L Farms - pumpkins, summer squash, Other fruit or veg,
4606 Cr 186, Anderson, TX 77830. Phone: 830- 832-9755.
Crops are usually available in September, October, November. Open: We are open 7 days a week if no bad weather; if the gate is open come on in. We follow organic methods, but are not yet certified. Payment: Cash, only.
80.9 mi – about 1 hour 24 mins down 290/then 6 up to 2 hours 10 mins in traffic

Bauer Farms Berries
- blackberries, dewberries, Follows organic methods
17702 Mueschke Road, Cypress, TX 77429. Phone: 281-563-9669.
64.2 mi – about 1 hour 9 mins up to 1 hour 30 mins in traffic 1-10 and farm roads
Crops are usually available in April, May, June. Open: Monday to Friday 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm; Sat and Sunday from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm. Dewberries - Mid April to Mid May Blackberries - Mid May - Mid June. We follow organic methods, but are not yet certified. Payment: Cash, only.

Home Sweet Farm
7800 FM 2502, Brenham, TX 77833. Phone: 979.251.9922.
1 hour down 290 JUNE 22 TOMATO FESTIVAL LET US GO!!!!
ORGANIC, beans, eggplant, flowers, melons, peppers, pumpkins, summer squash, winter squash, tomatoes, other vegetables, OTHER fruit or veg, pumpkin patch-pick in the field, child-sized haybale maze, and prepicked produce, snacks and refreshment stand, picnic area
Crops are usually available in June, July, August, September, October, November. We follow organic methods, but are not yet certified. Payment: Cash, only.

Ross's Blueberries - blueberries,
1453 County Road 2270, Cleveland, TX 77327. Phone: 2816227725.
45 min down 59
Crops are usually available in June, July. Open: Call ahead. It is our home farm and very casual. You just come and pick. It is not commercial. Weekends are probably best but weekdays are possible. Just call ahead. Also, mornings or evenings are better because of the Texas heat! $5.00 a gallon. We use buckets bought at a feed store. Eat while you pick too! They start coming in during June. They go thru middle of July. We have 5 kinds and the best are in June. We follow organic methods, but are not yet certified. Payment: Cash, only. We are not certified organic. We do not spray our berries. We use Miracle Gro to fertilize. You may want to bring bug spray.

Griffin Berry Farm
Hour and a half down i10
2394 Moore Road, Beaumont, TX 77713. Phone: 409-753-2247. Email:
- apples, blueberries, grapes, pears, peaches, plums, Other fruit or veg, restrooms, picnic area. Crops are usually available in May, June, July, October, November. Open: Check Web Page. We follow organic methods, but are not yet certified. Payment: Cash, Check. (ADDED: May 30, 2008)

Monday, June 09, 2008

Goodbyes Always Sound Existential

The other night Grasshopper, the member of our household struggling most with control of prepositions and personal pronouns, had so much fun with her Chuck Uncle, Hank Uncle, and Melanie Auntie that she could hardly believe it when they had to go.

"There goes my play for you," she said, forlornly, but resolutely, as they pulled away in Hank's white pickup.


Friday, June 06, 2008

Toddlers, Dentists, and YouTube

Last year, before going to India, we took Grasshopper to a highly recommended dentist in Houston who told us that we needed to put our one-and-a-half-year-old under anasthetic so he could put a filling in her front tooth. He said the tooth was decayed because she breastfed at night. I had never heard breastmilk causes cavities, but I guess it makes sense since it does have a lot of sugar. (Wipe the baby's teeth if you're night feeding!) Three women in the office had to hold an hysterical Grasshopper down during this visit in which the man just looked into her mouth and did nothing else.

Greendaddy strongly felt it was too risky to put such a young baby under, and opted, against that dentist's strong urgings to do otherwise, to bring her in for regular checkups. The dentist seemed angry and genuinely certain it was a bad decision, which made it hard for us to follow through on visits to his office: and so we never went back.

We did, however, become vigilant tooth brushers. I stopped night feeding, and eventually, weaned Grasshopper. We inspected her tooth regularly, to ensure it wasn't decaying further. But this April Grasshopper seemed to be having a toothache. I thought: that dentist was right! What a terrible, terrible, parent I am. How could we have let so much time go by? But at Greendaddy's urging, I got the name of another dentist, Dr. Rita Camarata, who practices with a Dr. Sringam who is whom we got the appointment with.

The first dentist's office was kid friendly, but this one was out of this world. They have a waiting area for kids outside of the dentist's office. Even better, about five minutes before seeing the dentist the kids are brought into a second playroom, with lots more toys and books, and it's right in the same room where dentistry is performed, so kids can see other kids being worked on and feel less nervous themselves.

There are televisions with favorite kid-videos playing above every dental chair. The assistants in the office go out of their way to make friends with the kids once they're brought over to the examining table. Best of all to a girl like Grasshopper, patients get to wear cool sunglasses so their eyes aren't bothered by the harsh lights.

Still, while the dentist just looked into her mouth and brushed her teeth, Grasshopper screamed like every single one of her teeth was being ripped out with pliers, promptly assuring all the other kids in the office would have nightmares for years to come.

"Next time, I think we'll schedule her for her own room," Dr. Sringam, said, gesturing to one of five or six soundproof rooms they have.

But there was good news, too. Dr. Sringam suggested we bring Grasshopper in for monthly floride treatments, and assured me that the baby didn't have a toothache. She didn't even mention anasthesia, and when I told her another dentist had suggested it, she said, "No way, this girl is too young. It's better to wait and watch carefully." Her hope was that the floride might heal the decay already there, and if not, it would at least slow down decay so that her tooth can be taken care of when she's older.

We came back the next month, to our appointment. When the assistant showed my girl a toothbrush she started screaming, and Greendaddy, me, and Grashopper were whisked into the sound proof room, where Grasshopper used it to its full potential, though all anybody did was brush her teeth and wipe floride on them.

Grasshopper has never liked the doctors or the dentists. I alway tell her where we're going, and I've read her books about visits, but her fear of having an adult try to look in her mouth or put a stethoscope on her chest was too much for her.

After the last visit, while she was napping, it occurred to me I should search You Tube for videos about the dentist, and realized there are dozens, ranging from a classic Sesame Street video, to the ones parents have posted: Chloe's first visit to the dentist, Jojo's dentist visit, etc.

Grasshopper was immediately entranced by them. The first time she watched the Sesame Street video she turned to me and said, "That baby didn't cry! More dentist!" So over the course of a month we watched dentist videos almost every day, especially the Sesame Street one, which she would ask to watch four or five times in a row.

We supplemente the video by acting out what was going on in it. Every night when I brushed her teeth, I pretended to be the dentist and said, "Okay, now, open your mouth like a tiger at the zoo. I'm going to count the teeth on the bottom of your mouth. Now the ones on the top. Now I'm going to brush your teeth with my magic brush." Grasshopper loved the game.

Wednesday, the moment of truth came: time for another floride treatment. I told her that morning: we're going to the dentist, and she said she didn't want to go. In the waiting room she said again she didn't want to go. But when she went to sit for her appointment, in my lap, I said, "Open your mouth like a tiger in the zoo," because that's what the man in the Sesame Video did, and she did!

She let her teeth be brushed and florided, while she sat in my lap. Then Dr. Sringam inspected them. I told her our regular dentist worried Grasshopper's tooth might abscess, so she asked us to wait for Dr. Camarata to give a second opinion.

When Dr. Camarata came, Grasshopper had to lay on the examining chair, which she really wasn't fond of the thought of. But I held her hand, but my other hand below her neck to cradle her head and said the magic words, "Open your mouth like a tiger..."

And she did. She layed there bravely while Dr. Camarata scraped out some of the softness on Grasshopper's tooth and put in some cement for a temporary, toddler-hood fix: and my little girl didn't shed a tear!

Better for me, even, was the car ride home. "Grasshopper went to the dentist," she said, over and over again, clearly tickled with herself, "Grasshopper didn't cry. She's tiger."

It's like those You Tube videos were magic. I only wish I'd thought about using them sooner!

Grasshopper's Favorites:

A Trip to the Dentist, Sesame Street
A Doctor's Visit, Sesame Street
Anya's First Dentist Visit
Sealions Get their Teeth Brushed
Jade's First Trip

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Let Them Eat $600
my untimely take on the economic tax stimulus

George Walker Antoinnette doled out an $168 billion economic stimulus package to Americans this spring. Eight years of war and irresponsible fiscal policies had turned out to be not so good on on the ordinary Americans who had been so taken with his down home accent and beer buddy likability. Someone must have told him people were losing houses, were being charged almost twice as much for food and gasoline than they were when he came into office, were watching the dollar loose value as monetary unit, were losing jobs to burgeoning worldwide economies etc.

I'm thinking he also had heard something about a French queen who suggested her own suffering masses wouldn't starve if they'd just eat cake (or, I think she really said something like baguette). George W. didn't want to be beheaded, so instead of suggesting the people eat baguette, he robbed from their children's future and doled out enough money for every working adult to buy almost two 99 cent baguettes a day for a year.

Yay! Now that's a way to keep your head on, George. Of course, he wants everybody not to buy baguettes, but to buy CD players and large screen televisions. Because a drinking buddy knows that's more fun than baguettes.

1793, France:
"We're starving Marie!"
"Eat cake!"

2008, USA:
"We're losing our homes/jobs/dollars/sons and daughters in war/moral standing as a nation, etc. etc, George!"
"Buy a flat screen TV!"

Of course, it turns out people are using it for bills and mortgage payments, not the televisions. But we all appreciate the thought of using it to buy something more fun (I still want three rainbarrels, and we need a shed.)


We got back $1,500 as a family, and used it to open up a savings account for Grasshopper, something we hadn't gotten around to before. As far as we can see, the money is borrowed from her, so we're just giving it on back. (And, frankly, we owe her as family has given her checks we've cashed, but didn't have a place to put.)

And in doing so I realize we're lucky as a family, to be able to do this. We're not big spenders (it's true: this is the third year running I've wanted a rain barrel), we have jobs & health insurance, we're both paranoid about debt, and we haven't accumulated any. We have the right fiscal personalities, and we've had the right amount of sheer luck to survive a president like Bush, I guess.

I have to go now and pick up my grasshopper from the park, so I don't have time to tie this up neatly, or to make it less simplified. But I will restate my point:

The whole giving money back to individual Americans scheme felt sickening to me, and offensive in light of what $168 billion could be used for in terms of broad social programs, in terms of the real 'downturn' the giving of it is meant to alleviate, in terms of the real social, economic, and political horrors it is meant to avert our minds away from. But opening up an account in Grasshopper's name with the money our family recieved alleviated some of my anger because if it was robbed from the coming generations, at least I got some of Grasshopper's back.

Now I'm off with my head! (and my arms, and shoulders, and rest of me, to take my toddler for a dentist appointment.)

Wildlife Menace

If you are distracted today, do as I did, and vote in George W. Bush as the Houston area's greatest wildlife menace.

The choices the editors give are:
Raspberry ants, Flying Cockroaches, Alligators, Wild Hogs and Nutria

But I think we all know whose the worst menace in these parts. Take twenty impish seconds and write his name in by Tuesday. For the fun of it.

I wrote in George W. Bush, to be exact.