31 July 2007


In the Garden

As July crawls to a close, the garden is really starting to get fruitful. We now have at least three caulies, a hundred tomatoes, probably a dozen (non-zucchini) squashes, about five zucchini a day!, and the potted cabbage is gonna be a biggie.

We have no sign of shoulders on the carrots, so I don't know yet whether we'll get any real carrots this year. they may be too crowded in the pot. The strawberries never did bear this year, though they seem happy enough. The thyme, basil, and sage are huge and happy, though they're disappearing under the tomato plants. The oregano is all but dead. Yes, I killed an un-killable oregano. *sigh* But Valerie has offered me some more, so I'll try again. (Thanks, Valerie!) Now to do some research and find out what I did wrong.

The tomatoes have gone nuts and have knocked over every last tomato cage and are now crawling all over the place. And that, needless to say, has made the slug population in the garden very happy! because we have so many slugs, I am not entirely sure how good the tomato harvest will be from the plot garden, but even if all we get come from the pot garden, we should be tired of tomatoes by Samhain.

The squashes are fine in the plot garden but in the pots are having problems. They're producing ok, but they get these yellow leaves that then turn black. And the Zukes from those pots also seem to rot easily. (Several have rotted while still infants.)

My guess was "blossom end rot", since it was at the blossom end -- which could come from a) lack of calcium, too little water, or too much water. Great. Well, I tried green sand and egg shells for calcium, and we have tried watering more regularly and that didn't help. So we'll try watering less regularly less often and see if that helps.

For what it's worth, it's not *all* of the zucchini, just one in a while -- but that hasn't happened at all in the plot garden..

It's been a week and a bit since I got my new shoes and I am back to walking with energy and enthusiasm! I walked four days last week - -the fifth was just too crowded with meetings -- and am pretty sure I can make it five days this week! Especially with Mark joining me to make it more fun and interesting. (Getting out of my chair in the first place is the only hard part these days...thanks, Mark!)


This weekend, Jack participated in his first poetry reading. Come to find out, it was Rod's first poetry reading, too!

Grandpa John, amongst his many other talents, is a poetry lover and a poet. He quotes Milne to Jack pretty regularly, and Jack is very impressed that he can do that without reading it! So last weekend, when we were getting together with grandpa John and his lady-friend, Ann, who is also a poet, it seemed like the perfect time to read poetry to each other.

Jack and I had a blast the week before reading many poems and choosing the perfect poems to read! I was thinking that Jack might to read some Stevenson -- The Swing, perhaps. But no, in honour of Grandpa John, Jack chose to read Milne. He read Tiddley Pom and To Her. I read an excerpt of Longfellow's Psalm to Life and an anonymous peice called When Mother Reads Aloud. Rod read Kiplings If (of course!) and a riotous funny Banjo Patterson piece about a man named Bill on his first bicycle ride whose name I forget (Mulga Bill from Eaglehawk, perhaps?). (I didn't catch the names of the pieces Ann and John read, though I believe several of them were Ann's work.)

It was a little long for Jack. He was interested in and excited by the first round. He was OK with a second round. But when we adults got enthused and started thinking about a third round, he rebelled.

He liked the poetry well enough, but honestly, he wasn't able to follow a lot of it. He enjoyed the rhythm and enthusiasm, but it held the same interest for him as story hour in Swahili. Interesting, but not for a long time.

Mamma's note to self -- one round of poems at a poetry reading is probably enough for a young man. We will prepare one poem each next time and then leave the adults to their enthusiasm and go and and check out the bees and grasshoppers for a while.

I really like that he's getting exposed to good poetry, though. It's yummy stuff.

On the treadmill

It's been strange lately. For about a year now, I have felt rather like I am on a treadmill set to my fastest comfortable pace. It was exhilarating at first, and I trusted that, as usual, as autumn drew to a close, things would quiet down, except for a small spurt of activity at the holidays, until spring came and brought the flurry of honeybee activity again.

But this year, things didn't slow down. We kept up at the same pace all through the winter, into the spring, and now as autumn approaches the flurry of activity continues.

Usually when I get this "on a treadmill and I just want to stop" feeling, it because something is going poorly.

That's not the case right now, though. Everything is going quite well -- life at work is as good as it was intolerable a year ago. Life at home is sweet. I am enjoying the garden, I am enjoying my friends, I am enjoying Team Smiffy a great deal! Jack is growing and getting more fun every day and Rod is back to his sparkly, sweet self! Money, while tight, is under control and we are on our way back to comfortable again. I couldn't ask for more.

I thought taking some vacation would help, so I took four day weekends for our birthdays. Those days were blissful, but they weer gone in a flash. I wasn't unhappy to go back to work -- I enjoy my job these days. But I also didn't feel as though the treadmill had stopped. We have planned weeks where we had almost no activity, but although I have enjoyed them, the sense that I want to slow down and rest has continued.

So... I am perplexed by this sensation. All the usual answers haven't changed anything. I'm not falling down exhausted, though staying awake after 9pm is no longer possible. I would just like a day to go slowly -- to have time to really stop for a while to watch the bees in the sunflowers, to read a poem and really think about it, to create a couple of greeting cards and maybe scrapbook some photos, to play with Jack in a timeless place without a sense that time is getting away from me.

Maybe I am just getting older. Maybe time will just continue to flash past me for the next 40 years. Maybe it's a transit, and one day in a few months I will wake up bored with the stillness of my life and feel the need to stir things up. Who knows...

Updated 2 September to note that my doctor has reduced my thyroid hormone slightly and that seems to have been the problem. Rod noticed the pattern and suggested that I needed to up my thyroid -- I went back to my original dosage and wahoo! I feel almost myself again!!!!

29 July 2007

What I've been doing when I could have been blogging

It's been a very busy weekend, and I haven't sat down to do much of anything at the computer -- but I have been having fun with my study of hands -- I love the textures! I also think that the pictures of hands, just hands, can in some ways tell you as much or more than face portraits...

And even if no one but me likes them -- I love them. ;)

I will be thinning them over time, as I decide which ones I like best and as I add to the collection.

23 July 2007

Walking program

Two weeks of...not much.

The last two weeks, my legs and feet have been so painful that I got out for walks exactly twice each week (out of my goal of five times per week). (Well, that and the half mile every day because I am parking way at the back of the lot to ensure myself at least some exercise.

It was clear to me that it wasn't only my walking program that was going to suffer if I didn't do something. It wouldn't be long before I started to do myself real damage.

I got new walking shoes on Friday (Hurrah, payday!) and have been mostly wearing those all weekend, so I have high hopes for getting back into it this week.

On a reading binge

Occasionally, I worry that homeschooling Jack may not be easy.

Those are the days, usually when the moon is in Cancer, when he is being hard to get along with, uncooperative, and cranky. The days when he announces "I hate reading. I don't like food. I hate baby. I like nothing!" How, I wonder, are we ever going to get algebra into this child's head?!?!?

But of course, all children have moods. I'd worry more if he were a Stepford child. (I'd enjoy it, I'm sure -- but I would worry.)

Then there are the weeks he goes on reading or math binges.

A few days ago, Jack started demanding that we read Paddington stories for hours on end. That was fun, and when my voice wore out, he propped himself in front of a bookshelf and read to himself for a couple of hours more. He can't manage Paddingtom on his own, so he read some picture books.

Yesterday, he came tearing into the kitchen shrieking "I found it! I found my blue book!!!"

The "blue book" is his current reader from the Days Go By series. Only he is allowed to read those. He had been refusing. He wanted to read the green book instead. (I think he finds the current book "too easy", but the payoff comes with persistence. Not everything in life is ideal.) The green book is for grade 3. He can read them as fast as he's inclined, but he has to read them in order. That's the rule. He sat down and read to me while I cleaned the kitchen -- 60 pages. I think he may get to the green book one day after all. [laugh] After he'd finished that, he had me read to him for two hours from Wind in the Willows.

These are the days that I think that doing school is going to be relatively easy. If he goes in binges like this at four, then we should be OK. It doesn't take this kind of energy *every* day to get a good education. Just sometimes.

From at Zoo with G...

I am currently focusing on learning about Charlotte Mason's views on education. I would have been very hard pressed to wade through the books ten years ago, because she and her proponents are intent on one specific style of moral education. While I agree completely with the goals, I do find that I have to work constantly to get past the Christian spin to see the sense behind it. I am quite sure I'd have thrown the book across the room in frustration ten years ago. But lately, I have found myself more and more in agreement with many of the views of the conservative movement. Except that religion thing and the political thing - -which I am getting better and better at reading around. It makes me wonder whether, once I have read all the religious books explaining Miss Mason's methods, I shouldn't write one more approachable to the pagan or even secular communities. Yeah -- like I have the time to do that. Maybe once Rod is a famous astrologer making heaps of money and I can retire.

Anyway, Miss Mason sees education not as the filling of a mind, but as the presentation of a buffet of delicious and delightful knowledge for the child to absorb and make his or her own. Her view is that, as educators, it is our job to ensure that the "mind foods" on that buffet are wholesome and nourishing, but after that, we should not put ourselves between the child and the knowledge. We should present it, and then get out of the way. She believed strongly in trusting the child to learn -- her belief was that children are wired to want to learn and that we actually interfere when we try to "teach". That appeals to my sense of how these things work.

She also teaches that education is largely the training of the Will. You know that appeals to me. [grin] She discusses at length how inculcating habits of will is so critical to the child finding happiness and success in life -- and that echoes my own experience. I had no focus in life when i was young - -largely because I rejected what my parents were trying to teach me. Sorry Mom. -- and I didn't manage to find contentment until I had trained myself in useful habits and directed will. I think that a part of it is that as I developed my own will and good habits, I was less attractive to those others who were drifting along as I had been and started attracting people to me who were also directed and focussed. Those are easier people to be around because they largely do what they say they will and are basically content. (If they're not there yet, they're working on it, not whinging.) If I can help Jack to develop those habits sooner rather than later, maybe I can help him skip those very painful, aimless years I had and I see his brothers living through.

Gads -- off to work with me! Have a great one!

22 July 2007



I have always loved my my hair. With a very few exceptions, I have worn it long since the last time my mother forced me to cut it when I was eleven...

(I cut it once in high school after it was badly damaged by a chemical spill. It was cut again when I was in my early 20s by a duplicitous acquaintance, and then in December 2001, I cropped it back to my ears in celebration of starting a new life.

Life has been hard on my poor hair lately, though.

This photo was taken last night -- I love the colour, but I am so sad to see it looking so very thin. My insurance company made me change to a generic thyroid replacement hormone, and in the following year, I lost about half of my hair. I eventually switched back at my own expense -- but not until I started to develop bald patches. It's going to take years to recover.

But that was only one shock my hair has suffered lately...when we moved into our new home, I didn't realize that our new city water was highly chlorinated. Ann Arbor, where I have lived for the last 20 years, doesn't use chlorine. It took us six months to figure out that we needed to filter the shower -- and in that six months before that, my poor hair turned to straw.

Sad. It was once my crowning feature. It may be again one day, but some days looking at its current state makes me so sad.
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21 July 2007

We Have Cauliflower!!

This is probably not astonishing news to anybody but us, however bear with us. This diminutive specimen turned up overnight on the 16th and is growing gangbusters, as are two more caulis. It started life at 2 1/2 inches (as measured by my petite little thumb).

Misti took on the gardening as her project with my input. Its not that I don't know anything about plants, or about gardening for that matter, its just that its not the sort of thing that gets me out of bed and excited in the morning.

Misti discovered a doable method which could result nutritionally superior plants, and that was enough to rev her engines.

I will freely admit to nodding patiently while remaining doubtful as she announced how good this and such mineral is an that fertilizer and so forth. However I have already worked out what happens when you throw the plants in the soil and water them.... not very much.... so I expected some improvement on that, but I was quite unprepared for the healthy, vital garden we have today.

I've got to say that her first garden in the first year is an amazing success. Sure, we've got a lot to learn about timing, planting and so forth, but the vitality and strength of these plants she has grown is outstanding. With a little more applied gardening savvy, I expect she'll do very well next year.

In the meantime, it looks like we'll get a taste of everything she planted, which is just amazing.

Take care


17 July 2007

Best friends

Jack and his best friend, Connor. Connor will be five in August and is as different child from Jack as one can imagine...except that they have the same sweetness of heart!
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11 July 2007

Ahhh! The heat finally broke!

I love living out here!

As I went out to empty a vase into the compost, I startled probably 8 or 9 rabbits and maybe 12 or 15 birds!

I love being surrounded by so much life! They all took flight when I came into the back yard, as wild critters do. But by the time I'd walked as far as the compost, they were all back, scattered across the yard doing what critters do in the early morning.

Ahhh, bliss. Especially because the heat broke late last night and the air felt cool and sweet.

The photo above is Jack watering the garden. The inadvertent sunflowers make it look a lot taller than it is, on average, but it gives you some perspective. (Jack is 38 inches tall.)

Oh! And evidently that pair of slime bugs (probably white cabbage butterfly caterpillars, at a guess) was all that was making such short work of my two cabbages....because they seem not to be having anymore damage and (if such a thing is possible) they actually seem to be healing!

So, while the insides may be less than pretty, maybe we will get some cabbage out of this adventure after all! Hurrah!! I have read that powdering the heads with flour will discourage slugs of various kinds, and since Rod ground some to dredge rissoles in recently, we just happen to have a sample to try it with. ;) Probably best not to do it just before a major rain storm is due, though. Glue is probably less than helpful.

Well, I pooped out on walking at all yesterday. I wish I could claim that it was too hot, but basically I don't feel well. Not "sick" unwell -- just achey, light headed, and inert. I still feel that way this morning, but I am hoping that the cool weather and enough coffee will get me going this morning.

Oops -- late for work again. The guys are finally able to sleep. Did I mention that the heat finally broke?!?!?

08 July 2007

Not really a party guy...

We took Jack to his friend, Serentity's, second birthday party yesterday.

Needless to say, he wasn't in the mood, and he didn't enjoy himself much.

He did, eventually, relax a bit.

I'd be a lot more concerned, except that i remember feeling pretty much the same way at parties. I wish I could say "when I was a kid", but a lot of the time, I still feel that way. I have gotten better at faking it, and I often do enjoy parties these days, as long as I know everyone. But I know how he feels and I find it hard to fault him for it.

Instead, we are trying to help him to develop the skills to survive socially, even if it takes a long time for him to actually enjoy social events. Like his Mamma, jack does fine in a group of people he knows well. For most purposes, that's probably enough for now.

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Exercise program...

I am posting more than I did in As Jack grows...but I have to admit that the posts are far less well thought out. I'll try to get to a more thought out post soon. Maybe in the autumn...? [grin] No, I'll try sooner.

Anyway, my walking routine hasn't fallen apart yet, but I have had to curtail it a bit. I get out there five or six days a week, but I have had to drop back from 2 miles a day to 1.5 miles. That last half mile is more than my legs and feet can face. I persist in hopes that getting new shoes will make the Plantar Facitis less painful. Unfortunately new shoes are somewhat down the list right now. Next to new glasses, to be sure, but it'll be a while yet. But I am feeling better anyway. My feet may not be thrilled, but the rest of me loves the exercise.

I have a half-written post about nutrition and diet thoughts that Rod made reference to in his post on baking. Trouble is, every time I sit down to finish it, I realize we need more crackers or muffins or bone broth. One of these days.

07 July 2007

Garden update

Vegetable tally: 6 zucchini so far - -all delicious

On the vine: seven zucchini, several dozen tiny green tomatoes.

Unknown: The broccoli and cauliflower plants are large, but they show no signs of budding.

It may well be too hot for them. They have some damage that looks similar to the mes on the cabbage, but far less. *If* they survive, they might, maybe, decide to bud once it cools off in the autumn. Maybe. The sweet potato plants look very happy - -it remains to be seen how well they'll produce.

The carrots also look very happy, but again, who knows.

I have completely given up on my poor little garden cabbages. They looked like Irish lace a few days ago,

and now they look like wrecks of former cabbage.

I found two little horned slugs and a whole lot of greenish slimy stuff on what would have been heads had they made it. I dragged the slugs across the yard to feed them to the birds, but I strongly suspect that two couldn't done that much damage and I can't get in to find any more. Poor little cabbages. Next year, they'll be planted in amongst a whole lot of marigolds. I'm told that cabbage moths and their slugs don't like the smell of marigold at all and they should be safe. (I had actually intended to get some in this year, but I didn't make it sufficiently high priority and it never happened.) The cabbage in the potted garden looks a little better, but it clearly has a problem, too.

The buttercup and butternut squashes seem to have lots of flowers but they never fruit. they occasionally get a little squash thingy that gets to an inch or so and then it turns yellow and desiccates. Unfertilized, I guess. I'll have to figure out how to do it myself...

The strawberries and blueberries have produced a couple of berries each -- the rabbits got brave and came in and made short work of one of the blueberry plants (it has never gotten big enough to survive that.) We have never gotten any of the fruit, though, because the birds always see them before they're ripe enough for us. One day we'll get bird nets...for this year, I just want to keep the plants healthy enough to make it through the winter.

*sigh* Well, at least the zucchini and tomato are looking prolific, so we'll get something out of this exercise.

06 July 2007

Bread Recipe

This is the dollar-a-loaf staple that will grace our table for the foreseeable future as our basic, quick(ish), no-nonsense bread, thanks to a handy-dandy bread machine, and a vita-mix to grind the flour.

If I told you it takes 16 hours from start to finish, you'd say. "what's quick about that?". If I then told you that my actual time doing anything is 20 minutes, you might be more impressed.

3 cups hard red wheat berries (or flour if you can't grind your own wheat, its about a pound (450g) either way)
1 1/4 cups water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon oil

1 teaspoon yeast
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar

Grind the wheat into flour.

Mix the water and lemon juice, and add this to the flour.
Mix the dough so that it is of even consistency, and you have picked up all of the dry flour.
Mould dough into a rounded shape.
Drizzle the oil over the dough to prevent dehydration. Roll the dough around so that your rounded ball is covered with oil.

Leave to stand in a covered bowl, or drop it straight into the bread machine as listed below.

Make a note of the time of day. Add 16 hours to the current time. This will be the time you want to set for your bread machine to finish its baking. (Note, many bread machines don't let you set a time longer than 12 hours, so you may have to set the time a bit later in the day).

Place the ingredients in your machine according to the manufacturer's recommendation. For my Kenmore machine, I do the following. Set the machine for "yeast bread". Add the ingredients in the order shown

Oily Dough (put a dent in the dough with your finger to house the salt)

The dough can happily sit in the bread machine for the full 12 hours before it starts mixing.

Pull out a beautiful loaf of perfectly risen bread 16 hours after you started.

If you have problems.....

the second rise is where the most significant problems are going to arise. Watch what is happening as the loaf bakes. If it begins to deflate before it bakes, reduce the pre-soaking time in 2 hour increments until it rises to perfection in the first 5 minutes of baking.

If it never quite rises high enough, increase the pre-soaking time in 2 hour increments.

Fiddle until you get the soaking time tight.

Of course, the machine can be programmed to optimal kneading and rising times, but the purpose of this exercise was always to get a perfect loaf of bread from the machine presets with no fuss at all.

I will eventually mess with the rising time to see if I can get a 24 hour soak to come out well. In the meantime, this is a simple, great, healthy, inexpensive loaf of bread.

Take Care


Bread winner of a different kind…

Some of you may be aware that I did a lot of baking while Misti was pregnant with Jack. I learned a lot about bread, and I got to be a reasonable baker thanks to “The Bread Book” from Laurel’s Kitchen. It is a great resource.

Once Jack was born and mobile, it became pretty difficult to commit the time and effort into making bread that I had once enjoyed.

Misti’s recent foray into more traditional foods and “high brix” gardening has also meant that we have been reading some interesting material on traditional methods for treating grains.

Amongst the many options out there is Sue Gregg’s two stage process for baking grains. Now, I’ve got to say that Sue is onto something here. Soaking the flour in an acid mix makes a huge difference to the texture of the finished product, and according to the experts on traditional methods, all ancient cultures treated whole wheat with acid or some other fermentation method before trying to bake with it.

Having said that, I find Sue’s approach to the art of baking to be extremely fussy and unnecessarily complex. Its probably just a cultural difference, so I decided to use her methods for treating grains and return to something more familiar as far as actually doing anything with them is concerned.

A friend of ours gave us a bread machine the other week (G’day Ned) and I finally got around to pressing it into service.

By sheer fluke the very first loaf I produced was perfect. I had adapted a Laurel’s Kitchen recipe to Gregg’s method, shoved it in the machine, and there it was, a perfectly risen loaf of tasty fresh bread.

It was so good, that I proceeded to produce another for our dinner guests the next day. To make in time for dinner, I had to cut the pre-soaking time in half. The result was a less than stellar loaf of yeasty, firm bread. This is the all-too-familiar house-brick, which results when your loaf hasn’t risen properly before baking. Thankfully, it had risen some, so it wasn’t objectionable, but I know I can do better than that. Our gracious guests decided to try some, in spite of my protest. It turns out that one of our guests had grown up in a Steiner school and had baked bread in the third grade on Tuesdays. This none-too-stellar loaf held the wonderful taste of childhood for her. Needless to say, she went home with it, and I went back to the drawing board.

Gregg’s method recommends 24 hours soaking for whole wheat. The first loaf I produced was soaked for 12, and worked perfectly. The second was soaked for 6, and didn’t rise properly. I decided to do the full 24 hour soak on loaf number 3, to see what happens.

Well, it flopped folks!! I had never had a loaf do this before, but it rose too quickly, deflated to flat before it started baking, and came out concave, so that you could safely pour a pint of beer in the crater and you wouldn’t spill any. I had mistakenly doubled the acid in that loaf, so I tried a second, with the same result. The third loaf on a 24 hour soak ended up with an extra half-cup of flour kneaded into it just before the bake, and still came out flat and hard, though this time it was perfectly cylindrical.

So I went back to what had worked so well the first time. 12 hour soak, Laurel’s Kitchen recipe, perfect loaf!!

I extended the next loaf to 16 hours soaking, and the result was a loaf which began to deflate just after baking had started, which means its still high and round on the top, but nowhere near as high as a properly risen loaf.

So, I have decided to settle for the one that works best,

I’ll do a full recipe in another post, so that, if you want to send it on to others, they don’t have to read all this twaddle to get to the good bit!!

Oh, for the record, this comes out at about $1.00 per loaf. It is not only the best tasting whole grain bread you can get without paying big bucks at a boutique bread-shop, its also a lot cheaper, and possibly more nutritious (if what they say about the soaking is correct) than anything you can buy anywhere.