I never knew I would be so enthusiastic about things like rosemary and lettuce. But here I am, two weeks after planting our new raised gardens beds, and they are all I want to talk about. Did I mention I made rosemary olive oil bread this weekend from our very own rosemary? Or that we've already enjoyed two salads from our two little lettuce plants? Or that I made pizza using our basil and oregano? Because that all happened in the last week.
But let me start at the beginning. We had an ugly swath of yard along the side of the house and deck, which for the last five years had the sole purpose of producing massive quantities of mud in which the dogs liked to dig and roll around.
We'd considered planting a garden in that area and had even made a few feeble attempts at sunflowers and lavender. But the predators of an unguarded garden were just too much for the poor plants to bear. Sure, the predators below look like the most innocent creatures to walk the earth. But beware. In their presence, no garden could possibly survive.
Last fall, we decided it was time to create a vegetable and cut-flower garden in that muddy spot. Our only chance of success was to build high-security beds; we went with raised beds and a fence (with mesh to come) to keep the plants safe and happy. In November, Jeff and his dad built the beds. A few weeks ago, Jeff added the rail, and we readied the beds for planting.
Then came the fun part of selecting our produce and flowers for the 4x4 plots at the farmers market and a few local nurseries. We chose things we eat a lot: two varieties of lettuce, two varieties of tomatoes (Cricket would put away an entire pint of grape tomatoes in one sitting if I let her), bell peppers and strawberries.
For the flowers, we went with black-eyed Susans and purple coneflowers, which my mom always had in our yard growing up, and zinnias.
We also filled two crates with soil to create an herb garden of basil, oregano, chives and rosemary.
To encourage at least one of the natural predators in our yard to engage in productive activities instead of garden destruction, we let her select her own flowers to plant and water on the deck. She chose these lovely yellow marigolds and is quite proud of them.
So far, so good. But we've got a long summer ahead...
I would tell you more about our garden project, but I'm too busy gorging on eggs baked with our chives. I will, however, post updates as the growing season progresses—if I remember to take photos before eating everything.
My posts have been travel heavy over the last few months; we've been on the road almost as much as we've been home, which doesn't leave much time for creative endeavors. Believe me, it takes all the creativity I can muster to get our luggage together to fly with two tiny kids. (Crayons? Check. Treats? Check. Books? Check. Sanity? Hmm...)
We have one more trip on the books for this month—Colorado!—and then I'm planning to stay put for a few weeks or even months. I've got a long list of neglected project ideas to tackle, and I'm sure the girls would appreciate spending their afternoons playing in the backyard before it gets too hot to venture out.
Next week I'll be sharing a post about the one project we've managed to complete lately: our new raised garden beds. Until then, here's a quick DC dispatch.
This post was supposed to be filled with gorgeous photos from the National Cherry Blossom Festival. It is not. Our recent trip up to DC happened to coincide with the estimated peak bloom dates. But after a few weeks of colder-than-average weather, we arrived just as the estimated peak was pushed back by several weeks.
Regardless, we had a lovely and snowy visit to the city. While there a million activities to do and places to eat in and around DC, I'm going to share with you just a few that we hit up this time.
First let's talk about family-friendly food. Cafe Deluxe in Bethesda was packed with families enjoying Saturday brunch...though we may have been most boisterous family present. Guapo's has been a decades-long favorite Mexican spot of my DC relatives (and therefore a decades-long favorite of mine), so naturally we had to introduce the girls to it via take-out. And have you tried HomeMade Pizza? They sell prepared pizzas and calzones to take home and bake. A friend brought over some calzones, along with a giant chocolate chip cookie. We baked them while we got the girls ready for bed, then devoured dinner as soon as the house was quiet. The cookie lasted approximately 30 seconds.
Now we must discuss one of my all-time favorite bookstores: Politics and Prose, which I first visited as a kid with my aunt and uncle about 20 years ago. (I’m not really old enough to say that, am I?) It’s always on my list of stops when I'm back in town.
Of course this visit was different for two reasons: 1) I had the little one with me and 2) I've become a caffeine addict, preferably in mocha form, since said kids arrived in my life. These differences caused me to make the following discoveries: 1) The store has a great kids' section. We even happened upon a musical story hour, about which Nora was hand-clapping enthusiastic and Cricket was mildly terrified. And 2) Modern Times Coffeehouse, on the lower level, makes an incredible mocha, which is the measure by which all coffeehouses should be evaluated.
Oh, and did I mention that Politics and Prose has an espresso book machine? I've been dreaming of printing books on one of those nifty machines for years but haven't finished anything worthy. Yet.
Unlike musical story hour, animals are popular with both our girls. We spent a morning at the National Zoo and are still talking about all our animal sightings. I had forgotten how pleasant it is to walk around the zoo, especially on a cool morning before the crowds arrive.
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We've been home a week and I'm still pining over Charlottesville's mountain farms, its astounding ratio of independent bookstores/coffee shops to humans and its extensive arts scene. Do I see a moving truck in our future? Well, maybe somewhere in the hazy distance. But for now I'll just have to be satisfied by sharing some travel tips.
Let's start with the surroundings. One afternoon I knew the girls would refuse to nap at our rental house, so I loaded them into the car for a scenic drive, grabbed my camera and headed out of town on Route 20 towards Barboursville, which is about 30 minutes away. They fell asleep immediately as I enjoyed winding through ranches and vineyards, most of which looked a little something like the photo above. Not a bad nap-time view.
When I spotted the tiny roadside All Saints Episcopal Chapel along Route 20 in Stony Point, I couldn't help but pull over to admire it from the moss-covered front lawn. The chapel holds services twice a month.
You can't visit Charlottesville without walking around the historic "grounds" (apparently it's not called campus) of the University of Virginia. We were a couple weeks early to witness the full effect of spring in the school's gardens, but that didn't stop us from having lots of fun playing with a garden gate and finding a few early blooms. I'm looking forward to checking it out again in the summer or fall, along with Monticello's extensive gardens.
Before heading to campus—er, the grounds—we grabbed a bite to eat and some caffeine at two Charlottesville establishments: Bodo's Bagels and Para Coffee. Both sit across the street from the school in an era known as The Corner, which has plenty of food options.
The city's downtown walking mall is about a mile down the road. Welcome to the land of coffee shops (Java Java makes a mean mocha), bookstores (New Dominion Bookshop is the oldest independent bookseller in Virginia), restaurants (Jeff had a delicious business dinner at Commonwealth Restaurant and Skybar; I had my eye on Citizen Burger Bar but didn't make it there, so it's first on my list for our next visit) and boutiques with the cutest baby gifts known to man (O, Suzannah and Petit Bebe). I found a sweet handmade romper for Nora's birthday at the C'ville Arts Cooperative Gallery and could have easily bought an armload (or carload?) of other items. While I was exploring, Cricket had a blast with her cousins at the Virginia Discovery Museum.
Just a few blocks from the walking mall, we stumbled upon the Main Street Market a brilliant purple building packed with artisan shops. We hit up Feast! for cheese, fruit and Virginia wine (which was actually quite good); Albemarle Bread Company for baguettes (which could easily have passed as Parisian) and The Spice Diva for sea salt. One word: yum. Go to this market.
Some of our family is lucky enough to live outside of Charlottesville, and I couldn't resist including a few photos of the view from their house. Here's one from the golden hour before sunset.
And here's an Instagram from midday. Sometimes I convince myself that if I could just set up an office with a view like this one, my novel would write itself in a few weeks. But then I remember I'm a full-time mom to two tiny girls, so my office view has nothing to do with my lack of novel writing. The landscape would still be inspiring, though.
I chose a quaint, wooded spot in the neighborhood to take Nora's 10-month photos. But leave it to me to attempt those photos on a day when the ground was covered in mud and spiky sweetgum balls. We didn't last long—in fact, the session ended abruptly after a few minutes when Nora started eating rocks and Cricket took off for the creek. What did I expect? At least we had a few moments of muddy fun!
At 10 months, Nora is crawling, pulling up and babbling up a storm. She has a handful or two of words. She is always smiling and loves to play "This Little Piggy." And, of course, she'd follow her big sister to the ends of the earth.
I'm a month behind in posting portraits, so Nora will be turning 1 in just a month. I'm in denial.
I'm Julia Soplop. I've spent my life documenting the world around me in writing and photography. I believe there is something profound in bearing witness to moments of joy and pain in others’ lives. My husband, three girls and I live outside of Chapel Hill, NC. You can read more about me here.