30 August 2007

Music Man

From well before he was born, Jack has loved music.

When we went to circles where there was drumming while I was pregnant, Jack would "dance" as long as the drumming lasted. When we were around music loud but less rhythmic music, he would be very, very still while the music played and then he'd wriggle and thump until the next piece started.

When Jack was four months old, we took him to his first concert. Fruit, an indie band from Rod's hometown was playing at the Ark in Ann Arbor, and so we all went together. I was startled at his response -- he was so little that I expected him to sleep through much of it, and I had expected to walk outside for at least part of the concert. But Jack was just mesmerized for the entire first set! It's hard to say what he was experiencing or thinking, but his eyes never left the stage and he squirmed anytime he couldn't see. He also kicked and squirmed between pieces until he was satisfied that the music wasn't stopping. (When we took him again the next time Fruit visited a year later, Mr. Jack was more interested in singing along than in listening, so we went outside and listened through the speakers.)

Jack plays music most days. He turns on the stereo or he seeks out music on his computer and then he dances, or he brings out his percussive instruments and plays along. He has a little electronic keyboard attached to a book of music. You know, the kind with dots to represent the keys required to play the song... He plays that and sings along, trying over and over again to get the right key with his voice and the right rhythm with the keyboard. His persistence is amazing.

Given all this, Rod and I had been considering getting Jack music lessons. Jack's Goddess Mother, Dame, suggested Suzuki. She had taken Suzuki violin as a child and thought it extremely worthwhile. Interestingly, both Dame and Rod felt that piano was more useful for all the benefits that music offers a growing brain. (I had wanted to learn to play since I was a small child and first discovered the piano in my Aunt Elsie's parlour!)

We looked into it, but Suzuki teachers don't consider an electronic keyboard "good enough", so we figured it'd be a while before we could afford a real piano and then the $3000 a year + for the lessons. Mind you, they sound wonderful and we are going to find a way to do it -- but maybe not this summer.

Then, yesterday, Rod and Jack went to give a hand to an acquaintance who found herself in, shall we say, an unfortunate domestic situation. Somehow or other, she came to give Jack her piano. Really! She just gave it to him -- all we have to do is move it! Jack was in tears at having to leave "his" beautiful piano behind. He was blue most of the evening, and last night he spent a long time working with his tiny keyboard and singing.

We called around and found that we can get it moved just just slightly less than the amount covered by the unexpected check from our insurance company, which currently resides in Rod's wallet. So, of course, we're going to do it.

I'm not sure where the money for the lessons is going to come from, but I have a hunch that as with anything else Jack wants this badly, it's going to work out somehow.

26 August 2007

Library, Homeschooling, and Unit Studies

OK, back to what I started out to say about libraries and homeschooling. (I got sidetracked -- I do that a lot these days.)

Anyway, Jack has announced that he wants to start schooling at the age of six. Um...OK. Fine with me.

We plan to do classical home schooling combining Well trained Mind curriculum with Charlotte Mason methods, and we hadn't really planned to start doing anything formal before age six or so.

We do read with Jack quite a bit -- both literature from the Charlotte Mason lists we find around the Internet and non-fiction about things that interest him. (And now, with the library, also some "twaddle" that I wouldn't choose for him but see no need to forbid.)

But his announcement that he plans to wait hasn't reduced his interest in anything and everything. *(Leaving me to wonder what "school means to him...)

So, I am following him on his whimsical journey, and using "unit study" ideas to help him expand on his interests. He took a serious fancy to soccer for a week or so after we went to the park and saw some men playing. He sat down on the bleachers and watched for over a half hour and he talked about soccer constantly for several days. So, I printed some clip art soccer pictures out on my computer and invited him to write a story -- he dictated the story and Dad scribed it. It was the first entry into "his book". A week or so later, he wanted to dictate another story to me on the computer. He dictated his own wandering version of Red Riding Hood, we scanned the Internet for an appropriate drawing, printed it, and it was the second story in his book. It's my intention that he will "narrate" what he is learning for us every time he gets a fancy and we will put the narration in his book. As he gets older, the narration will become more formal, but this is excellent practice.

As I mentioned earlier, his current fascination is with mountain gorillas. He has read his book about Koko and watched videos of Koko and other mountain gorillas. He has listened to clips of the sounds that gorillas make and we have read a bit more about them online. Later today or maybe later this week, I will ask him to tell me what he knows and we will transcribe what he has to say.

The library means that Jack will have plenty of opportunity to take an interest in any topic that crosses his mind. I think this may be some of what Holt referred to as unschooling...? Certainly it sounds like it in what I have read.

So, we aren't in a hurry, but to be successful, homeschooling can't be something a family "does" -- it's a lifestyle choice, and so far, the lifestyle is going great guns!

The library

A few weeks ago, Rod introduced Jack to the wonder that is the local public library.

Jack had been to libraries before as a place to meet friends and hang out. he had played with the computers (do they all have computers in the children's area now?) and had pulled all the books off the shelves when he was very little.

But he had never gotten a library card and checked out books before. But the library is cool on a very hot day and we have been ordering far fewer books lately as we've made our way out of medical debt. Thus, it seemed like a reasonably good idea to Rod when I suggested the public library as an escape hatch from extreme heat one day.

Rod hasn't told me all that much about his visit with Jack, though Jack clearly enjoyed it and he picked up some books that, I acknowledge, it would never have occurred to me to offer him.

We read those books at night as we got ready for bed, and then when they were almost due, Jack and I went while Rod made dinner. We weren't sure what time the library closed, but we wanted to be sure the books didn't end up overdue and I knew that there would be an outdoors drop box.

Well, it turned out that the library here has amazingly civilized hours -- so Jack and I went in not just to drop off the books, but also so I could look around and Jack could check out three new books.

I loved watching his joy as he rushed through the stacks, not sure where to start, but as thrilled as I have ever been by the enormous stacks of endless knowledge! He pulled book after book out to look at it and I think he would have taken every one of them home!

We finally settled on three that he wanted most and went home to dinner.

One of the books Jack chose was one about Koko, the gorilla who uses sign language to speak with humans and other gorillas. We read that one last night, with dad and Mamma alternating chapters, and then we went out to koko's web page where we got to watch videos of Koko playing with her kittens and chatting.

I was delighted to catch up with Koko, who captured *my* imagination when I was a girl. I was sad to hear that Koko hasn't had any babies yet -- it seems so clear that she wants to. But it also seems to me that she may never mate because she has grown up outside gorilla culture and doesn't know how "gorilla dating" works. Poor Koko.

I was also delighted to be able to combine books with the Internet. Jack loves his computer, but it has become clear that he thinks that playing his computer games is "doing school". I want to make sure that we tie books in as often as possible. (Just call me "old-fashioned".) ;)

Oops, Jack and I have to pick up the tree trimmings so Rod can start mowing the lawn -- more later today, I hope.

(Oh, and the photos? Jack took those, though I cropped them and made then B&W Who else would consider my hair worth photographing? I love this kid!)
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22 August 2007

Story Time for Grandpa John

This was a plot that Jack and Misti cooked up today, and it worked out pretty well.

I've left the video intact because I think he does a remarkable job for a young fella.

Anyway, this one is for John Morris, Jack's surrogate grandpa.

Take Care


My Fat Manifesto

I am fat. You might have noticed that.

I have always been some variation on fat. As a child I was chubby, as a teen just a tiny bit curvier than my peers, as a young mother of two I was very fat.

I figure that, barring any dire health crises, I will be fat to the end of my life.

For many years, I shared in our culture's lipophobia. I put off my life "until I can wear a size...?" I loathed the way I looked and carried myself as one huge, lumpen apology. Because I loathed the way I looked, I tended to hide and avoid making a spectacle of myself by taking part in physical activities. That wasn't hard, it hurt to move around anyway; I was always hungry because I ate very little, in an attempt to lose some weight, but my weight never seemed to go go anywhere but up.

Then, around 1983 or 1984, I encountered the concept that maybe it was OK to be fat. Maybe it was OK not to put off my life "until I can get into a size...?". I became a fat activist. I determined that it was OK to take care of myself, even if I could never be socially acceptably thin.

I was, for a while, pretty loud about it, to the extent that a few of my friends were convinced and the rest got tired enough of the tirade to keep their opinions to themselves.

As time passed and I aged, people seemed to feel less need to express an opinion about my aesthetic value, so while my opinions on fat activism didn't change I found I had less need to launch into one of my lectures. I went on doing what I do, but I didn't have cause to talk about it much.

Then very recently, a charming friend of recent acquaintance innocently "stepped on my activist toes". It was with only the sweetest of intentions, and I wasn't offended so much as startled. How, I wondered, could anyone have missed that I am quite content in my fatness?

Oh yeah ... because anyone who has met me more recently probably doesn't have any idea of my thoughts on fat acceptance and health at any size.

Now, it's time for an FYI. This is not aimed at anyone in particular, but it is something anyone who knows or would like to know me ought to know.

So, as I was saying, I am fat. Outrageously, unrepentantly obese. But no, I don't need help with that, thank you. It's not a problem.

Yes, I do care about my health. I care a great deal -- I have a four year old, and I'd like to dance at his daughter's wedding! That is one of many reasons I refuse to fall for the lipophobic nonsense that is our culture's "fear du jour".

I eat well -- we eat almost no processed foods unless we process them ourselves. That means that our bread and crackers start with organic wheat berries that we grind ourselves and our milk and cheese are raw and un-homogenized. We makes our soups from raw vegetables, dried beans, and a rich bone broth that puts the canned stuff to shame. In the summer and autumn, we eat a lot of fresh produce and we preserve a lot of the summer's bounty for use through the rest of the year. We choose foods from local sources, grown for maximum nutrition whenever we can find them. We lead an active lifestyle (I walk as much as 3 miles a day).

Living this lifestyle and variations on it for many years has not made me thin. I think we can assume it's not going to.

Going hungry never made me thin, either. I ate an average of 900 calories a day for several years, at a time when I was walking up to 17 miles a day. I never got below a size 16 and my BMI never got lower than 29. (Just below obese, in case you're keeping track.) But of course, when food became available again, I rapidly gained weight -- up to a BMI of 62! Isn't that always the way? Well, it is for me anyway. Nope, no more hunger for me -- ever.

So, I eat well, I move for the sheer joy of moving that comes from radiant good health, and I refuse to be hungry. I refuse to be afraid. I am fat, and if there is a problem with that, it is in the minds of those who have nothing better to do than to watch my waistline.

Believe it or not, I appreciate the concern. I live as healthily as I can, and I am content that I am doing everything I can for my health. I cannot abide the notion that fat is intrinsically unhealthy. Some of the ways that some people get fat may be unhealthy, but mostly 'fat' is an aesthetic judgement wearing a dark cloak of [im]morality. But thanks anyway for your concern.
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17 August 2007

Who is that woman?!?!?

Letting Jack have a camera may have been a mistake.

Well, not really...but...he keep taking photos of this ugly old woman he keeps finding around the house. I had never seen her before, but she's starting to turn up in the oddest places -- like the mirror!

I mean, I know I don't look like this anymore...

Nor this...

Nor even like this...

But, my goodness, when did *this* happen?!?!?

Garden update


We have been eating from the garden regularly, and just when the payoff started, I found my interest waning. Oh, I am enjoying eating the vegetables and they do taste good. But lately I keep forgetting to water, and I have asked Rod to handle all the harvesting because I am just not interested.

I think a part of it is that the varmints have started to make real inroads -- the groundhog gets 90% of the tomatoes in the plot garden (I'll spray with capsicum this weekend to see if we can't tip the odds back in our favour some.) But that alone wouldn't be it...I do enjoy wandering out the to have a look with Rod and Jack most evenings. I will definitely do this again next year, because Rod's interest kicked in about the time mine waned, so this is still a viable proposition.

And my goodness aren't the vegetables yummy! So far we have had tomatoes by the bucket-full, cauliflower, carrots, zucchini (lotsnlotsnlots of zukes!). We can see broccoli and cabbage that will be yummy at some point.

The eating part? That's the best part. ;) I think we'll go bigger and more varied next year.

16 August 2007

Jack's world

Jack has been having a great time with his camera. In the later photos, his batteries have died and the flash was no longer working. (And he took some of the early ones with my camera -- well supervised, of course.)

It's fascinating to see what Jack considers "interesting enough to photograph".

15 August 2007

More bread

Bread Part 2

As is quite predictable if you know me at all, I messed about with the bread machine and the recipe until I got the bread to where I wanted it.

Another friend of mine (G’day Helen) then handed me a second bread machine… this time a “Breadman” which produces a rectangular loaf, much like a regular bread loaf.

Of course, I set about using the same combination of ingredients as I had used in the other machine… then I read the manual as the first loaf was baking.

The Breadman is a more recent make of machine and is set up to produce bread with little or no sugar. It has a much longer final rise, which means that the recipe I used for the Kenmore was not going to work as well without some significant modification.

So, the first loaf I produced was, expectedly, concave, looking much like a house-brick complete with a “frog” for the mortar. It had, predictably, risen to great heights and then deflated to leave a crater that could easily hold a pint of soup. The flavour is good, but it looks pretty pathetic.

Having read the manual before this loaf had finished baking, I set up my second loaf the same basic recipe but leaving the sugar out completely. This produced another house-brick of the dense and yeasty variety. ☹

I gave it a rest for a day or so, producing a “miracle loaf” (the “oh hell, we have company and I have no flour soaking” loaf) in the Kenmore for Nerida. I’ve gotten good enough with the Kenmore to be able to produce a good loaf on cue by fudging the soaking/moisture/yeast ratios depending on the flour I am using on the day.

So, yesterday, I ground 4 pounds of flour, two from white and two from red wheat. The white ones went into the machines at the same time on an 8 hour soak. The Breadman this time had half the regular sugar. The Kenmore had a standard recipe, and I threw a cup of grated cheese over the top of the loaf as it was rising for the last time.

The Breadman produced a near-perfect loaf of bread, and the Kenmore produced a near-perfect loaf of cheesy bread.

I reloaded the Breadman with the first of the red-wheat loves, this time on a 12 hour soak. I kept the sugar at half-normal and produced a perfect loaf of red-wheat bread.

The last of the red-wheat loaves is in the Breadman now, this one time is timed to start for a 24 hour soak with absolutely no sugar.

It looks like I’ll get the hang of both of these machines.

There are four factors which affect the final rise when working with acid-soaked whole grain breads. These are

  • Soak Time – the longer the loaf is soaked, the quicker it will rise (and crater if it rises too soon)
  • Moisture - in the loaf and in the air… on a humid day, reduce the moisture by a tablespoon; for a quicker rise, increase the moisture a little.
  • Yeast - the more yeast you use the quicker it will rise. Works well with white wheat on a short soak.. you can soak for as little as 4 hours by adding a little moisture and an extra teaspoon of yeast.
  • Sugar – the more sugar you use, the faster the yeast goes to work, the quicker it will rise.

I am in the process of extending the soaking times to maximize the benefits of the acid soak.

Oh, and olive oil is the BEST dough conditioner I have found so far. Coconut oil is both more expensive and less effective.

The last red wheat loaf failed to rise properly.

Something I have come to notice is that the Breadman does not handle dryish dough easily. (the problem occurs because I put moist dough, not base ingredients, into the machine (the Kenmore makes dough out of nearly anything).

I'll have to keep the Breadman recipes a little damp to make sure they knead properly

Take Care


10 August 2007

Before and after ...

A friend wrote and asked for more pictures of the house ... (You're so sweet, Julie). How about a before and after of the parlour?

The first one is what it looked like when we moved in.

And this one is after we painted.

And, finally, this morning -- last night dirty dishes and all. (oops)

08 August 2007

Walking update

I am back to my 10 miles or so a week! Hurray!!!!

The new shoes were a great help and my feet and legs stopped hurting after a week and a half of wearing them whenever I was on my feet at all.

Oddly, my back and neck had started to be very stiff and sore and that was discouraging me from walking, too. I wasn't sure whether that was from bad shoes for too long -- but it seemed unlikely. Turned out it was a coincidence. Mark created a stand to boost my monitor at work about eight inches and within a day and a half, the pain was ebbing. Thanks, Mark!!!! Now I need to find a way to do that at home -- but I think lowering the seat eight inches will work better there. My computer hutch is pretty limiting that way... hmmm

Anyway, my time is dropping on the main leg of my walk and within a week or so, I may very well add another half mile a day. Of course, Mark is also adding milage, which boosts mine, too. But I am shooting for a total of 60 minutes a day walking. Between the company for one part and the book for the other, this is going great! The book even gets me out there when it's sweltering. I am happy to drip as long as I can read!!!

And I love how strong and energetic I feel with all this walking. I may even work on ways to add a weight lifting routine a few times a week ... right after I figure out how to squeeze crafting time in.

Garden update

Well, we have eaten the first tomato of the season -- it was nice, sweet and not acid. It was wonderful in our first BLTs of the summer. I put the last remnants into salad with out own greens for lunch today - -what a rush! A salad I grew myself!

There are three or four more tomatoes that are almost read and will be ready in the next few days so I am looking forward to many more salads over the next few weeks - - and dried and canned tomatoes!

We had the first (and maybe only) carrots and they had that sharp, woody flavour I remember from when I was a kid. That was kind of a disappointment and I am not sure whether to bother planting nthem next year.

The first cauli got big and ricey; we obviously should have picked it sooner, but it stayed very, very shallow. We'll try it tonight anyway. The other two (or three if the rabbits leave the one in the plot garden) will get picked small.

The rabbits, incidentally, have gotten in and made short work of the plot garden. They left the tomatoes and zucchini alone, but they have been working away at the cabbage and the broccoli was a one-night snack. So far the cauli seems to have survived, if somewhat worse for wear, but I'm not counting on that. We do, after all, refer to it as 'the bunny garden' for a reason. I was a tiny bit dismayed for a moment -- but I planted the pot garden because I *know* rabbits are not really good at sharing, so it only took a moment's dismay before I was ok with it.

The poor zucchini that was having trouble over in the pot is looking even more sad for all this rain and the fruit has been rotting before it got to an inch. Next year, no zucchini in pots. The other squashes seem to be just fine in pots, but not poor old Zuke. But since the rabbits are happy to leave them to us, one zucchini plant in the garden is probably enough.

Other than the one in the garden, which the rabbits got as soon as it had any baby broccoli on it, there has been no sign on broccoli heads forming yet. Maybe when they weather cools down?

Oh, and co-workers have started to cry "uncle" about the zucchini -- [heh] -- so I've started to dry it. That seems like the best preservation method. Canned and frozen both sound soggy and unappealing to me. But we had some yummy dried zucchini chips as we were passing through Whole Foods recently...when I tasted them (and Jack went back for more) I knew that was my answer. Fortunately the zukes last a long time on the counter because I can only dry 3 pounds of them every 36 hours. ;) Last night I tried tamari with garlic and ginger flavouring and Southwest flavouring. Tomorrowe, I can tell you how that went.

07 August 2007

Sunflowers really are big ...

Rod was just amazed at the size of the sunflowers, and insisted that we take some photos of me standing nest to them. (Um, ok, honey -- but i think they're *supposed* to be that big...)

From garden Lammas 07

Gad Zukes! the one that got away!

We're in the garden every evening together, hunting zucchini and gazing admiringly at all the wonderful stuff out there... Our rule of thumb is that we want zucchini at about 8 inches long, though they often go from a teeny baby to 10 or 12 inches long on a really hot or really stormy day.

Then again, zucchini are very wily creatures - -and especially the Goliath Consortium at the southeast corner of the garden. This monster appeared full blown on Sunday afternoon -- I swear it wasn't there when I watered and fed the garden on Sunday morning!


03 August 2007


Belated happy Lammas, everyone!

From garden Lammas 07

The garden is not particularly enjoying the latest hot spell, evidently.

The sunflowers are looking tired, the tomatoes have toppled over, and the broccoli in the garden appears to be dead. There were baby broccolis visible yesterday, but they're gone today.

We do have a couple of carrots and at least three cauliflowers, though. Click on the photo above to see the pictures -- I;'m late for work again and will try to blog this weekend.