29 December 2009

Jack on Star Wars

I first heard about star wars from a magazine, which of course, my parents detested. But I'm now a fan of Star Wars. I've watched 1, 2, and 4. You know why I skipped 3? It was a little dark for my age. Well, maybe. I don't think so but parents outrank children. (wrinkles his nose at his scribe.)

I like Star Was because it has all those fights with light sabers and some fights with laser guns! I like fights because I'm a boy and don't all boys like fights? Well, I know one boy who doesn't. That's my friend Connor. He likes animals much more than anything. Do any of you like Star Wars?

My Mamma has only watched only numbers 4 and 2; 2 much more recently. Dad has watched numbers 6, 7, 1, 2, and 4.

Now this isn't to say that *I* have watched Return of the Jedi -- number 6, I think. And I've only, as you know, watched 1, 2, and 4. My favorite character would be between Master yoda, Master Mace Windu, and Master Obi Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader. (Except not as a Sith.) I like them because a) they're really good at light sabers, b) they have good minds, and c) that they have good knowledge of The Force.

The start to every star wars movie is "A Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy Far Away". I like that phrase because it's what really gets you started (marching dramatically).

In Attack of the Clones, number 2, it starts with a ship is not expecting a big attack and suddenly *pheeeeyouwwwwww* (That's guns firing, not that it smells bad) There was a big explosion with killed several, several people. And that's all I remember.

The Feast

Valerie asked for the recipes for the Solstice Feast, and rather than send it to her directly, I figured I'd use the recipes as a jump-off point for a blog post. (I am finding it hard to blog about anything that seems meaningful enough to write it and then post it days later...at least until I am inspired. But that makes for a spotty blog, so I am still working on it. *I* like to read other people's day by days, so I'm not sure why it's so hard to write them down and then post them en masse...)

Anyway, my feast was almost directly from Myra KornFeld's Voluptuous Vegan cookbook. The food is marvelously tasty...and as a bonus, the recipes are collected into "feasts", and then she gives a step by step to getting the whole meal on the table at one time -- I find that immensely helpful! However, it's not in my nature to cook right from the book. Recipes are suggestions, and mine are a little different. ;)

Kornfeld is a vegan, and I am not, so I often use butter where she calls for olive oil if I am not cooking for vegans.


1/2 cup quinoa
1/2 cup millet
1/2 cup tef
1 teaspoon of lemon juice
1 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder (or to taste)
1/4 cup of olive oil or butter
fresh-ground black pepper

Soak the grains overnight in two cups of water and the lemon juice.

When it's time to start cooking, rinse the grains thoroughly and drain them. Start heating 3 cups of water and the salt to boiling.

Put the drained grains in another pan and warm them over medium low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon.

When you smell nuts in the kitchen, pour the boiling water over the grains, cover and cook, covered, at a slow simmer for 10 minutes or so, or until the water is absorbed.

Turn off the heat and keep covered for at least another 5 minutes or until ready to serve.

When ready to serve, fluff with a fork and add garlic powder, black pepper, and olive oil (or butter).

Sauteed Spaghetti Squash

1 medium spaghetti squash
3 tablespoons of olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes (or to taste)

Preheat the oven to 425

Split the squash and seed it.

Place cut side up on a baking dish. Rub with a little oil and salt.

Bake for 20 minutes and then reduce the heat to 375. Continue baking for another 40 minutes.

Cool for 15 minutes or until you can handle it easily.

Using a fork, scrape the long fibers of squash into a bowl.

Heat a large pan or a wok. When it's really hot, add the oil, garlic, and red pepper, stir, and then immediately add the squash. Toss until it's heated through and some strands of the squash are getting caramelized.

Serve piping hot.

Note: I often add far more peppers when feeding groups that appreciate heat. When feeding more tender pallets I leave the peppers out and serve the squash with chipotle and ceyenne on the table to be added to taste, or not. If no one will want pepper, I add about 1/4 teaspoon of cumin and a handful of oregano along with the garlic.

Sauteed Mushrooms

1 large onion, diced fine
5 cloves of garlic, crushed
butter or olive oil -- 3 tablespoons or more
2 pounds of fresh, soft stemmed mushrooms, slices into 1/4 in slices.
a splash of soy sauce or Braggs Aminos -- for fancy occasions, dry white wine or brandy is lovely

Put 1 tablespoon of butter in the bottom of a very large skillet.

When the butter is melted, add the onions and saute over medium high heat until they start to brown. Add the garlic, and continue to saute until the garlic softens.

Add a handful of sliced mushrooms to the pan and cook them until they are starting to get golden.

Move them out to the edges of the pan and add another handful of mushrooms. Cook the new batch to golden, and push them off to the sides.

If the pan is getting dry, add more butter, and then add another handful of mushrooms.

When you can no longer fit a handful of raw mushrooms onto the bottom of the skillet, move the cooked mushrooms to a heat safe serving dish and put them in a low warm oven while you finish with the rest.

When the last mushrooms are golden, pull the previous batch from the oven, add it to the skillet and then add a splash of soy sauce, Braggs, or whatever you're using. You want to deglaze the pan -- that is, pick up the tummy coating that has formed on the bottom of the pan and put it back on the mushrooms.

Serve in the now warm serving dish.

African Groundnut Stew

Notes: This recipe is infinitely adaptable to what you have on hand. Once you've tried it, it easy to add this, leave out that, replace this with that and still have a really yummy dish. This is the full-blown feast version, but I have put an asterisk near the "skeletal" ingredients so you can try a more basic version for a smaller group. If you use fewer vegetables, remember to reduce the amount of the ones you do use. Oh, and do try that cauliflower before you add it -- it may become a frequent favorite on your table at other meals as well. It sure has at ours.

2 heads of *cauliflower
4 tablespoons olive oil

1 large *onion
4 cloves of *garlic, minced
1 inch piece of fresh *ginger, minced
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes

1/2 pound of Yucca, peeled, cut into large chunks, and with the fibrous core removed
1 turnip, chopped into large chunks
2 *carrots, roll cut
1 stalk of celery, cut into diagonal chunks about 2 inches long
1 leek, halved and sliced
2 large *tomatoes cut into chunks. (You can peel and seed them, if you like)
1 sweet potato, cut into large chunks
1 pound of winter *squash (kabocha, if you can find it) cut into large chunks

2 tablespoons soy sauce or *Braggs aminos, or shoyu
2 cups water or stock
1/2 cup of the best *peanut butter you can get
1 cup of water or stock, hot
2 tablesoons of ginger juice
1 scallion
chopped fresh cilantro
chopped, dry roasted *peanuts
greens -- mizuna, dandelion, cress...whatever looks good today

Preheat the oven to 450

Cut the cauliflower into largish florets and toss it with 4 tablesoons of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt.
Spread the coated cauliflower onto a large baking tray or cookie sheet
Roast for 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 and bake another 15 minutes.

Heat two tablespoons in a large pot (8 quarts or so)
Add the onions and saute until brown
Add the garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes and saute until the garlic softens

Add the yucca, turnips, carrots, celery, tomatoes, and the soy/shoyu/Braggs
Cook them, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are reduced and thickened
Add the water or stock and bring to a rolling boil. Lower the heat and simmer partially covered for 10 minutes or so.

Add the sweet potato, squash, and salt. Cook until all the vegetables are tender.

Mix the warm water and stock with the peanut butter and stir until the peanut buitter is entirely dissolved.

Almost done!

Add the peanut butter mixture and the cauliflower and stor it through and bring the temperature back up a bit.

Add the ginger juice, scallions, and cilantro and a generous pinch of cayenne.

If the stew is too thick, add a bit more water. Transfer to a serving dish, and sprinkle with peanuts, more cilantro, and greens.


Crone Meditation

I think most people in our culture think of "developmental stages" as something that applies to children. Once you turn 18 or 21 or so, our culture seems to imply, your 'developmentment' is done and you are that unchanging creature "an adult". We don't literally believe that, of course. If we did, we wouldn't demand that our President be at least 30, and we'd be more comfortable than we are with 19 year old doctors. But we stop thinking about ourselves in terms of ongoing development.

Astrology tells us that from birth to death, personal development progresses according to more or less predictable stages. My own experience confirms it. Too bad I seldom think to check on my own stages of development.

Nonetheless, all these years that I have been preparing for the crone's role, I have, like just about everyone else seems to, assumed that crone and sage were mostly social roles. I figured that once you reached a certain age, you automatically became wise if you had been striving toward wisdom, and that the hardships people associated with menopause and the mid-life crisis were part nutritional and largely with emotional resistance to the loss of youth. I was pretty content with my progress in my nurturing caretaker "mother" role, and so I assumed that the transition to crone would be more or less fluid.

Ahh, the arrogance of (relative) youth. I was thinking about it all wrong. Again.

I never stopped to investigate the astrology of it, which might (or might not) have tipped me off that it was a lot deeper than that. (After all, there is enough art in astrology to allow us to ignore what we don't want to see and it takes a talented astrologer to apply the principles objectively to specific situations.)

My first clue that the transition wasn't going to be seamless was that my very first hint that 'the change' was underway. I went from fairly tolerant and easy going, if sometimes a bit weepy, to an angry, grumpy harridan. For a couple of months in the beginning, I was always yelling, deparaging, and harranging my poor family (Mostly Rod, since Jack was still tiny, but Jack came in for more yelling than he deserved, too.)

I was aware of being angry a lot, but it all felt completely "justified". I was completely unable to be objective, and I was completely unable to see it coming in time to stop it. Eventually Rod, my ever-patient prince, gently brought it to my attention in a calm moment, and I was horrified at my behavior! But although I was able to stop mid-gripe and apologize, the anger was still there, boiling as hard as ever. I was now able to look back once it was past and see how outrageously out of proportion it was, but I seemed powerless in the face of it.

I was chatting with a dear friend who was a few years ahead of me on the path and who was from a more "female" family culture than I am. I mentioned my concerns and she suggested that it might be menopause. She explained that menopause forces us to deal with what we have refused to deal with before. She told me about how she was always a very strong, in-control person; the rock of her family and social group. For a while there, she said, she was in tears a lot. She had never allowed herself to address sadness or grief, I guess. She was too busy.

Anyway, she recommended that before I entertain any dire ideas about "going mad", that I try a course of black cohosh. She was, of course, absolutely right. More traditional symptoms appeared within a few months and while I am now grumpier than I was as a young woman, and it occasionally gets the better of me, I am more able to ride the wild emotions. I can feel them coming on. I can address the fact that they are unreasonable, and I can steer them in another direction if they don't make sense. Perhaps one day, having anger at my disposal will be a good thing. ;)

Thinking still that menopause was now complete, I went on my merry way thinking I'd dodged the worst of it. I was kind of dismayed that I seemed to have grown into such a flawed crone...but I figured this was it. Me, as crone.

Wrong again...

The next surprise was that my fear of heights of many years standing was suddenly just gone! I am still not thrilled by heights and I doubt that I will ever be tempted by sky-diving and bungee jumping, but I can now walk up and down stairs three or four flights without terror making me freeze with a pounding heart and a constricted chest. That was a lovely surprise!

However if the sudden anger management issues and the loss of my fear of heights could be turned at an angle that would make them both seem "freeing", I was also becoming more and more uncomfortable in large groups. I have never been someone who was energized by crowds, and I have gone through major discomfort with large numbers of people both during menarche and during each of my pregnancies -- but now I find that a crowded place gets the same panic reaction as heights used to.

Not fun. And pretty embarrassing, really, given that Rod and Jack are both heavily involved with a very large (by my standards) church, so I keep having to be there at times when it seemd 9/10ths of the planet is in attendance.

They are very warm people, very welcoming. I know that one-on-one I would enjoy almost everyone there immensely. I love the ministers sermons and what the congregation stands for. On those occasions when I have managed to get there for service in time to get a front row seat (and so put the crowd out of sight) I have left thinking that I really want to go every week. But then, next time I don't manage to stay out of the way of the crowd, the panic sets in. And of course, when I am hunting, wild eyed, for a quiet corner to hide in, someone invariably spots me and tries to engage me in conversation -- and I am as social as a caged animal. *sigh* When I do manage to converse, I think back on my own part in the conversation and blush. They love Rod, but I suspect that they wonder what he sees in me. ;) I am neither sweet nor coherent in that state.

Mostly I have been happiest and most comfortable alone in the last year or so. Even with my loved ones, I find myself growing irritable and overwhelmed unless I get plenty of alone time.

But the insights this meditation is based on come from Reverend Gail, the minister at Rod's church. On Christmas Eve, Rod was there for many hours, to sing at two evening services. Because he and several other celiacs couldn't partake in the sandwiches that were being provided to the choir between sewrvices, I was to bring a big pot of vegan lentil soup.

I got there just before the service ended, it was quiet except for the service being piped into the social hall, but there was no sign of the dinner where I expected them to meet for dinner. Jack and I stood around, listening appreciatively to the service in the next room. Jack wanted to join them, but it seemed like a bad idea to come in as the service was ending, so we stayed in the kitchen.

The service ended and no one came in to the social hall or the kitchen. But record attendance also meant that it was impossible to move through the hallways to go looking for the choir's gathering place. I felt trapped; me and my five gallon pot of hot soup. And Jack was thrilled! He wanted to get out amongst all the people!

Eventually I struggled out into the crowds to look for Rod. By the time I found him, I was a panicked mess, but I was able to get the soup to the hall where it was needed just in time and at perfect eating temperature and then left Jack to eat with the choir and socialize. I went and hid in the dark, quiet car and got my wits back around me. However it seems that my troubles came up in a conversation between Rod and Reverend Gail. Perhaps she had seen me drop off the soup, and wondered why I hadn't joined the choir to dine.

When I came back into the church to pick up Jack and the soup pot before the crowd for the next service started to arrive, both Reverend Gail and her partner made it a point to engage in conversation with me. Because it was quiet at that point, I was able to do a better job at being social, and Reverend Gail and I talked briefly about my new anxiety. She asked if she might hug me, and she held me and helped my to ground...and my brain clicked back in. We had a few more minutes of conversation, she and Rod, and I, and then we all went on our way. But Rev. Gail's parting remark stayed with me for a long time. "Remember, it's not about "fitting in, it's about being who you already are".

It wasn't a new idea to me, and I don't know that my anxiety is entirely about whether I'll "fit in", but it struck a deep chord. Especially the part about being who I already am. Not sure why...except that it was a tacit declaration that I am fine with her, anxiety and all. There is that. Part of my anxiety *is* about the crowds. But part of my discomfort is about being unable to behave like a sane adult in a crowd. Part of my anxiety *is* that I can't seem to keep my social mask on these days and so on top of the physical reaction the crowds there is the fear of what an idiot I must look like.

A few days later, as I was dicussing my new insights with Rod and commenting that evidently I am not going to be the kind of crone I had dreamed of being. Wise, patient, tolerant, strong, and able to give comfort and aid, and maybe even with ritous anger at my disposal when it's warranted.

My beloved pointed pointed out that astrologically I am not yet a crone. Chiron return, the healing of the dysfunctions and mal-adaptations to life, happens years before the second Saturn return that heralds the Sage or the Crone.

I hadn't looked at the astrology of it. Like every other stage of life, there are obvious signs of impending cronedom, and there are stages that prepare us for the new era of our lives. I had embarked on the path, but I haven't come near to my destination as crone yet. I am a baby crone, learning to grow into my full power, which I can't expect to reach for five or more years.

I sure have a long way to go...but there is time yet. Just as I was learning how to be an adult at 21, but I wasn't yet the adult I would become, so I am on my way to being a wise elder ...but there are years yet before I willl get there.

That's a relief really.

22 December 2009

A belated Blessed Yule to all!

 A belated Blessed Yule to all!

We had a fantastic celebration yesterday!  Our dear friends joined us for a lovely ritual celebration of the sun's return and then we feasted on an African groundnut stew with sauted spagetti squash with garlic and peppers, sauted mushrooms, and a pilaf made from quinoa, millet, and tef.  Vegan *and* wheat free, but I don't think anyone felt like anything was missing (except the juice I forgot to buy -- but I think fruit tea stood in acceptably.) 


Some parts of the holidays are still going to be hard without wheat in our lives, of course.  For example, we decided it was wiser to skip the cookie exchange this year and while I hunted down some recipes for wheat free versions of some traditional cookies and a fruit cake, we haven't actually tried baking any of them yet.  Parties at other people's houses seem risky, too.  Many of the "usual" delights are off limits, and we find most of the replacements unpalatable. I hate to be finicky, but many lovely people try so hard to be helpful with my diabetes by providing "sugar free" chemical laden processed foods that I shudder to think what they will find to be helpful with sugar and wheat free ... lower carb doesn't mean I want to sidestep eating genuine food and gluten free doesn't mean we're willing to eat refined 'edible food like substances'.  I read a description of crumbling drywall and desicated bricks of wall plaster that sounded about right for our experience of the commercial gluten free products, though a friend baked a lovely gluten-safe "real foods" angel food cake for us and gave us new hope that birthday cakes may not have to be a thing of the past.  ;) For the most part, rather than asking people to buy into our insanity, it seems wiser and kinder to cook for ourselves and invite others to join us. I think holiday baking will get easier as we get some distance from the old standbys and can create new traditions without comparing them to what we're used to. 


We are eating a far greater variety of foods and on the whole we are eating better for my blood sugar since wheat was the one carb we never could seem to get away from, so I think on the whole we're probably eating better than we were.  I still need to explore what specific nutrients we were getting in large amounts from our grains so that I can be sure to replace those nutrients from some other source, but one thing at a time.


Ironically, we are also having to scale way back on beans.  I LOVE beans! Maybe not quite as much as Rod loves wheat, but... my allergy tests came back showing me highly allergic to navy beans, moderately allergic to kindney and green beans, and the others were all pending test results.  I am trying to get used to the idea that they may be a problem, too.  I'd be tempted to ignore it, except that my "cheat" at last week's office party, where I noshed on a handful of cookies has me in agony.  Every joint feels like someone wrapped it tightly in a sports bandage and then set it on fire.  If that's how I respond to wheat, which I don't technically show a sensitivity to, what are the beans I am allergic to doing?  *sigh*  I'm sure i'll know soon enough.


Anyway, enough whinging.  (I found a GREAT little book recently called Crones Don't Whine by Jean Shinoda Bolen ... I haven't read it through yet, but I think my New Year is going to be dedicated to get over myself. Ha!)


Yule fell on Monday this year, of course.  I took the day off since I had furlough days to burn.  It went so beautifully that I am seriously thinking about taking vacation time every year for Yule.  Somehow, it felt more like a real holiday than it usually does.  We had all weekend to prepare and then a relaxed celebration with friends.  I don't usually take the day off since I rarely have extra vacation this late in the year and since most of our friends would also be working, we just schedule the festivities for the nearest weekend.  But taking the day itself away from the usual demands made more of a difference than I would have expected.  Luckily, we have some friends whose schedules allowed them to celebrate with us and it was blissful!  As a matter of fact, I have scheduled furlough days for all the Sabbats in the next six months -- I don't know if any of our friends will be able to celebrate with us, but it felt good to really honor them with more than a nod.


Whatever holidays you are celebrating, I wish you warm, wonderful times and may the coming year bring you  all that you've been working toward and dreaming of!





18 December 2009

The Puzzle of Crafting...

The Puzzle of Crafting...

I've been crafting for a few years now.  When I started, I figured it was a matter of learning the techniques and then it just happens.  Oh, you might be good at it or not good at it, but I kept hearting the crafts aren't creative like "Art", and so it was easier...


That may be, but I can't seem to hit the consistency stage.


Some days, when I sit down to craft, I "hit the groove" or whatever you want to call it and everything I create comes out just like I was hoping.  Other days, even if I am really in the mood to craft, even if I am trying to recreate a very successful card I had done before, I just can't seem to get it to work. 


I have missed some people's birthdays entirely and I have sent out some really regretable cards when that happens.  I feel bad about that, and I hope people aren't offended at getting a poorly made card.


I wish I knew how to tell before I sit down at my craft table whether it was going to be worth trying or not.


I've decided to stop trying to make cards specifically for individuals as I need them and just concentrate on making as many cards as I can when it's working. I have the list and I can make them for specific individuals ... but I'll make them weeks or months ahead when I can so that the bad ones don't have to be my only choice.


I have discovered, though, that it's sometimes worth hanging on to the duds...sometimes when I'm "in the groove", I can pick up a really sad card and make it look really nice...or at least nice enough.  Makes me wish that I had "do overs" on some of this years cards.



Oh well.  I'll get the flow one of these days.  At least the good ones are getting better, even if the bad ones seem to be a permanent fixture, too.

14 December 2009

Well now that's interesting...

Well now that's interesting...


Not necessarily in a good way, but interesting.


Since my doctor appointment back in November, once I'd had the blood tests run, I have been essentially wheat free.  I haven't been super careful when eating away from home, but since we're wheat free at home, and rarely eat out, it's just hadn't come up.  (In the period before my doctor appointment but after we went wheat free at home, I made sure to get a "dose" every day, so that the blood tests could be conclusive. I stopped that once I had the blood drawn since the easiest source of wheat was nasty stuff from the machines at work.  Yuck.)


Well, over the few weeks, I had gradually become more energetic, my thinking had become clearer, and my arthritis had been waning.  On Saturday, we went out to dinner and I had a dinner roll.  Today, I am sooo achy.


I am not going to be surprised to hear it if the doctor tell me on Wednesday at my followup appointment that I am sensitive to wheat.  I feel fortunate that my symptoms aren't as dire as Rod's.  Feeling old and achy is way better than being unable to breathe!  I could still cheat occasionally if that's as bad as it gets.  Rod warned me, though, that his symptoms became far worse once his system was cleared of all gluten...so maybe not. 





11 December 2009



I find an interesting irony in the idea that there are two places one comminly associates with the phrase "lockdown" these days.


Prisons and schools.




05 December 2009

Jack's art class

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Jack has been attending a new art class. I have been just croggled at how much progress he has made.

My first thought was that they must be "mostly doing it for him" -- they are just amazing, especially given Jack's age and what he was capable of before.

They may be doing some of it for him, but I have to say that his confidence has leaped and he is a lot happier about art these days so whatever they're doing is working just the way I had hoped it would!

The classes are at D&M Studios in Canton, and they're about $12 per week...amazing.
Posted by Picasa

The problem with science.

Well, OK, it's not really a problem with *science*, so much as it is a problem with people.

A few days ago, I was going through all of my cookbooks, looking for interesting new things to do with vegetables; if we're to try going entirely grain and legume free for a while as Rod wants to do, we are going to have to be a lot more creative with vegetables or I am going to go out of my mind with boredom. Our family has traditionally focused our culinary efforts on our grains and served a few very favorite preparations of meats and vegetables along side.

As I was reading my 1896 Boston Cooking School Fanny Farmer cookbook, I came across this statement:

"Vegetables include, commonly though not botanically speaking, all plants used for food except grains and fruits. With the exception of beans, peas, and lentils, whichj contain a large amount of (protein), they are chiefly valuable for their potash salts and should form a part of each day's dietary."

To put that into perspective, 50 pages are dedicated to vegetables, potatoes, and salads (not all of which contain vegetables). On the other hand, 129 pages are dedicated to desserts of various kinds, and 100 pages are deciated to the preparation of meats, suggesting that Miss Farmer considered plant foods of lesser importance than just about any other element of diet.

This was, of course, the scientific and hygenic view of the day. By that time, sience had established the need for the three major elements of a healthy diet: carbohydrate, proteins, and fats. Since vegetables weren't strong providers of any of those things, and with vitamins and minerals measurable by the science of the day only as "potash salts", it was evident to the educated man and woman that while they are a delicious addition to the dinner table, and some amount were necessary to optimal health, they were not very important.

We do that, people do.

We forget that science, as valuable as it is, is limited by what it can measure. Even the things that are now undeniably there -- things like vitamins, amino acid, and other phytonutrients -- have not always been measurable by the best of science. That, of course, doesn't mean they weren't there before, or that they were less important to health than they are now that we know they're there. And we forget to concern ourselves with what might be there that we don't suspect and don't yet know how to measure.

This isn't limited to dietary science, of course. Heliocentrists and flat-earthers at one time based their beliefs on the best science of their times, too. In their day, antibiotics and scrupulous hygiene were going to conquer illness forever! Then we discovered super-bugs and the ill effects of too little stimulation of the immune system. It's just that dietary science effects all of us so intimately and by extension, it deeply influences our cultures, as food always has.

Science is very important and I am grateful for all the ways that science has made our lives better! I follow new developments with great interest! I do think, though, that it's wise, when considering scientific discoveries, to consider what they really mean. I don't think that we can safely rely on media interpretations for that -- scientists understand the limitations of science and are far less likely to fall afoul of the "now we know the real truth" fallacy than are journalists hunting for a compelling headline. It from this fallacy that we get the stomach-wrenching swings from "miracle food" to "fatal" we have seem so much of in the last 50 years. Then again, often the language of science is so precise as to be unintelligible to the average reader.

So what do we do, if we want to stay informed? Well, I guess the best we can do is look at developments with a wait and see attitude and a whole lot of common sense. Read the reports with an understanding that there is a core of truth there, but it's very possible that the journalist has misinterpreted what it means. Understand that each new development is just that, a deepened understanding of how our world works and not a final answer wrapped in a bright red bow.

My own solution is to examine new nutritional understanding in light of millions of years of evolution.

Some of my personal conclusions:

* We didn't evolve to thrive on processed foods, we evolved to thrive on the very same foods that spoil -- they spoil because they're chock full of nutrients and we're not the only ones who thrive on them. If the food is "shelf-stable", we have to ask ourselves why. Is it because there's no food value left to attract our competitors? Or is it because ut has chemicals in it to "retard spoilage"? We didn't evolve to eat poisons, either...

* We didn't evolve to thrive on large amounts of grain -- we didn't get the hang of those until a little over 5 thousand years ago. That doesn't mean that they're bad for us per se...but perhaps overreliance on them is one reason for the huge explosion of ill health we've seen of late. Maybe. When we saw the HUGE difference going wheat free made in Rod's health, we started to consider how other grains fit into our basic view of health and nutrition. Rod started considering whether we might feel even better if we eliminated grains for a while, and allowed our bodies to really heal, then add them back in better balance to how we evolved to be nourished. Not being a huge fan of deprivation, I have been working on expanding our grain-free alternatives and we plan to move in the grain free direction slowly as we find ways to replace those foods.

So the problem with science...it's not a problem with science at all. Just a problem with how we interpret what we're learning.
Posted by Picasa

04 December 2009



Jack and I got out the Yule decorations last night and started decorating the parlour.


Remember the sewer backup we had last spring?  The smelly one that I thought wasn't "too big a deal" because the sludge didn't get near anything but rugs? 


I was wrong. 


It was a big deal.


While none of the Yule stuff got *wet*, it was in tubs that were not vapor tight, and now a lot of the stuff smells like mold and some of it has a hairy coat.  I can hand wash the stuff that is made or porcelein, glass, or plastic, but I am at wits end about how to clean the ribbons and bows and intricate fabric ornaments.  I expect it involves a toothbrush -- and while I am sure I could get the visitble mold off just with brushing, I'm not sure it's worth doing if I can't skill the spores.  (Since it would then pose a threat to everything else every year in storage.)  I suspect that getting it wet would just make the situation worse.


I have some research to do.





03 December 2009

Fabulous news!

Fabulous news!


I heard from Corey, my middle son, this morning.  He called to let me know that he has survived the tough times at his company and has been promoted from "the line" to Research and Development.  We had a bad connection and he was even more interested in telling me about his recent trip to Vienna so I don't know what that means, exactly, but we are both pleased and relieved.

02 December 2009

Chez Smiffy update

I'm a little late with this, but we had a wonderful five-day break over Thanksgiving.

We started with sleeping in on Thursday, then we got up and spent the day cooking -- Jack was, as usual, in charge of the cranberry sauce and the pumpkin pie. He did an excellent job.

It was our first wheat free Thanksgiving, and it went pretty well. Rod has come up with a very good pie crust recipe and then improved on it, so we had three kinds of pie: Jack's traditional pumpkin, Rod's custard pie, and my experimental peanut butter pie.

But aside from the food (which admittedly, is a very important part for me) we also tried to focus more on thankfulness. This has in many ways been a hard year for us, what with health issues and furloughs, but in the end, we are still very, very blessed. We are still reasonably healthy and well on the way to being more so. We may not have the money to spend as freely as we'd like, but we can eat and pay the important bills and we have a warm, secure home. We may be a long while from seeing our beloved older children again, but they are also healthy and seem to be prospering. But most of all -- we have each other, a dream come true for Rod and I and a pretty good deal for Jack -- even if he sometimes doesn't think so.

We started volunteering at a local homeless shelter occasionally a few months ago. This holiday, we have thinking about making more of a commitment. We have so much and it seems right to Rod and I that we share. We have been cooking a meal for the folks at the shelter every few months, but we think we might be ready to step up to a more regular commitment. The question is, what will be the thing we give up to make time. But with a regular commitment, it will be easier to plan.

As you can see, we also got out to get our annual holiday picture made. The mall made it challenging this year by putting most of the decorations overhead. We managed, but I think we'll look for a place to do it next year that we actually want to be. I was astonished at just how uncivil the place has become - -hawkers getting in your face as you walk though -- not unlike braving thieves alley in a fantasy novel. *shudder*

Anyway, it seems odd to post holiday pictures so early -- but I haven't mastered the art of getting the photos I'll need onto the laptop ahead of time yet. ;) Now that my favorite photo editing software is on the laptop, though, it'll be easier. Can't get them just rioght until I load them here.

More soon...

25 November 2009

Well, finally!

We have finally had anoter real success with our gluten free experiments. The cookies are a good start -- but now Rod has invented an exellent pie crust. It's not flakey and light like Grandma's, but it's tasty and resembles a graham crust, but it's savory enough to put under an egg pie, and can easily be sweetened fora pumpkin pie.

Watch this space -- I'll paste the recipe in once I manage to wrest it from my beloved's hands, er brain.

Here we go:

10 ounces of almond meal
5 ounces of coconut flour
2 tablespoons of sugar
pinch of salt
2 eggs
10 ounces of butter

Warm the butter until it's very, very soft.
Beat the eggs, and blend with the butter.
Toss everything else in and mix well.
Pat it into the pie tins and bake at 350 for 15 minutes.

This is still at the "raw experiment" stage, but it work well enough.

Mamma's happy!

What Would Jesus Buy?

What Would Jesus Buy?

This film comes with high praise. I haven't had a chance to watch it yet, but this way I can share it *and* find it again.

Jack's I Love My Friends party

Every November, on his half-birthday, Jack hosts an "I Love my Friends" party.

Birthdays are small family affairs in our family, but that was no reason to keep Jack from the utter coolness of hosting his own party, so this was our solution. He has a lot of friends, and it;'s always hard for Jack to narrow it down to the number of friends we can accommodate.

This year, we settled on seven, because Jack will be seven on his next birthday. Siblings don't count, of course, because they're always welcome.

(For the record, I wasn't able to get a message to everyone asking permission to use their photos, so we are featuring friends whose permission we have to use their photos -- but there were lots of equally wonderful people there.)

Anyway, since we weren't sure of the weather, we set up a colouring table for everyone to play on while wqe waited for everyone to arrive -- but it turned out to be a gorgeous day, and everyone went outdoors to play as they arrived.

That meant that parents were able to get together and chat while the kids played outdoors, which was a novel treat!

We saw tree climbing, hide and seek, and various games of running and screaming from the windows. Carson's big sister, Heather, brought him to the party and the agreed to man the camera. These are her photographs. Thank you, Heather, for the wonderful photos! You're very talented!

Anyway, once the kids started drifting in, we served popcorn and juice and set them to work painting photo frames. I was amazed at the excellent work they all did! This is a definitely artistic group!

Then we handed out photos and various party favors, and photos to put in the frames, the we all chose from the wrapped ooks everyone had brought to share -- and it was suddenly over.

We all had a blast -- thank you, everyone for coming over and sharing our day. We love you all!

24 November 2009

Art practicum

Ever since we went to see the Van Goghs at the DIA, Jack has been asking to take a painting class. The problem is, I know very little about painting,so I taught him a few "techniques" (like colour mixing and layering rather than smooshing everything together at once) and then I was tapped out.

Then, on Sunday, as I was walking past the new books table at the library, I saw it! Painting for the Absolute and Utter Beginner by Claire Watson Garcia. I checedk it ouot, of course, but so far I have only had a chance to really read the first few exercises, but she really does start with the assumption that her student has no experience with paint. I think this might be where jack and I start our painting classes. I'm pretty excited!

(Jack was pretty thrilled about the Van Gogh paintings, but has reached an age where he feels pretty self-conscious about us making a spectacle of ourselves in public. Thus the dour look.)

23 November 2009

Observations we could live without

"Hey, Mamma, you look just like Jaba the Hutt, but with glasses."
"Gee, thanks, Jack. Is he a good guy?"
"Nope, he's a gangster."

Great. Made my day.

22 November 2009

minor update

Ahh, well. I was sure I had taken and uploaded a bunch of pictures to blog, but I don't find them on my drive. Nor can I think what they were. Oh well, maybe it was the last batch.

Things are going well for us -- news of two new summer babies has brightened our Sunday (Congrats to K&A and Tash!) . Sad news, too. My poor aunt and uncle have lost another of their children -- that makes three for the same family in just a very few years. Aneurysm ... the same thing that seems to get so much of our family. I have many cousins, and I barely knew this one at all, so it's not a personal loss but I am sad for my aunt and uncle.

Rod is getting better, with forays into the gloom of detox. (Many years of wheat toxins have to be gotten rid of somehow. It's bad enough that I'd be worried, except that between bouts of dreadful, he is getting healthier and more energetic on each cycle.) The bread and crackers problem remains, because nothing we're finding quite does what we miss most -- crackers on which to eat cheese and dips, and sandwiches. Oh well, it's not hard to find other things to eat, we just miss quick standbys.

It's amazing how when Internet isn't available, other things expand to fill the time. We've been happy and busy, but it's hard top think what it is we've been doing.

Card making, definitely. We have over 50 cards made, so lots of choices and Jack has even made extras for himself. Of course that just means we forgot someone. ;)

School, yes. That's going, but slowly. Jack has slowed right down on academics for the moment and is instead focused on Star Wars. That's OK, because he seems to be a tidal schooler. he hits the books with great enthusiasm for a while and then turn his mind elsewhere for a while, only to return with great enthusiasm -- and a much better grasp of things he studied before his break.

He has also gone "seven" right on schedule. His emotional and developmental milestones seem to happen at his half-birthday. (That's what the photos were -- his I love my friends party. I bet they're still on my thumb drive, which I left home. pooh.) At seven, he is somber and serious and not as happy go lucky as he was a few months ago. He is also making a different kind of jokes and has grown into a very substantial young man. Tall, heavy, and very strong, with new long hair on his arms and legs.

I have started to see the new doctor Rod started seeing last summer and have high hopes for my own health. He is pretty confident that we can figure out what is causing me to be so achy and sore all the time - -and as a bonus we may even manage to get my rosacea under control. He is the first doctor to have any idea what other than drugs to treat he symptoms, might help.

I wish I had something scintillating to say. It's not that nothing is happening, it's that when I sit down with a time budget, I draw a blank and work has been very, very, very busy, so no free time over lunch there these days.

I'll try to blog over the holiday -- there should be lots of time since we're not doing anything. ;) (And we start the GAPS elimination diet shortly thereafter.)

BTW, the pictures are Mesopotamian floor plans made with two kinds of blocks.

chillin at Luwak

ahh, well. I was sure I had taken and uploaded a bunch of pictures to blog, but I don't find them on my drive. Nor can I think what they were. Oh well, maybe it was the last batch.

Things are going well for us -- news of two new summer babies has brightened our Sunday (Congrats to K&A and Tash!) . Sad news, too. My poor aunt and uncle have lost another of their children -- that makes three for the same family in just a very few years. Aneurysm ... the same thing that seems to get so much of our family. I have many cousins, and I barely knew this one at all, so it's not a personal loss but I am sad for my aunt and uncle.

Rod is getting better, with forrays into the gloom of detox. (Many years of wheat toxins have to be gotten rid of somehow. It's bad enough that I'd be worried, except that between bouts of dreadful, he is getting healthier and more energetic on each cycle.) The bread and crackers problem remains, because nothing we're finding quite does what we miss most -- crackers on which to eat cheese and dips, and sandwiches. Oh well, it's not hard to find other things to eat, we just miss quick standbys.

It's amazing how when Internet isn't available, other things expand to fill the time. We've been happy and busy, but it's hard top think what it is we've been doing.

Card making, definitely. We have over 50 cards made, so lots of choices and Jack has even made extras for himself. Of course that just means we forgot someone. ;)

School, yes. That's going, but slowly. Jack has slowed right down on academics for the moment and is instead focused on Star Wars. That's OK, because he seems to be a tidal schooler. he hits the books with great enthusiasm for a while and then turn shis moind elsewhere for a while, only to return with great enthusiasm -- and a much better grasp of things he studied before his break.

He has also gone "seven" right on schedule. His emotional and developmental milestones seem to happen at his half-birthday. (That's what the photos were -- his I love my friends party. I bet they're still on my thumb drive, which I left home. pooh.) At seven, he is somber and serious and not as happy go lucky as he was a few months ago. He is also making a different kind of jokes and has grown into a very substantial young man. Tall, heavy, and very strong, with new long hair on his arms and legs.

I wish i had something scintillating to say, but I'll try to blog over the holiday -- there should be lots of time. ;)

11 November 2009

Oh no!

I just realized that Part 2 of the how to write your own curriculum is missing. Not sure how that happened...I'll see if I have a copy anywhere...

Checking in ...

Hey, all!

Now that I have a laptop, I hope to be able to blog more. (If I can download my mail, rather than checking on the web interface, I should be able to spend my cafe time on blogging and facebook, right?)

We're going on 'a quarter of a year' since we went to no Internet at home, and it's going reasonably well, though I have started to feel a little cut off, since I can only check my mail once a week or so if I have to sit somewhere to do it.

I would have expected lack of Internet to result in a far tidier home and a far more organized life -- but it hasn't so much.

The up side hasn't been what I expected, but it has been wonderful in its effect on the family dynamic. These days we do e-mail deliberately and we spend far more time interacting as a team. I am loving that!

The attached photos are of Jack's Mesopotamian robes, as described in Ancient Egyptians and Their Neighbors.

He seemed pretty excited at the idea when I read it to him. He seemed pretty excited when he was choosing the cloth. He seemed pretty excited when we started...but as you can see, he doesn't find robes all that comfortable. *laugh*


I can certainly understand that -- in my old age I haven't found much patience in my heart for dresses, either, though I still like the way they look.

I have also been making progress on my Yule cards for this year. Our minimum total (for family) was 50 and I am well more than halfway done. I may be able to manage a few extras for very close friends this year! I'm ambivalent about whether to post them here, though...

Jack had his annual "I love my friends" party last weekend. I haven't managed to get the photos from that onto this computer yet, so I hope to blog that in a day or two. The short version was that I was amazed at how well that came off...in spite of my silliness in giving out various start times depending on when I was asked. *embarrassed blush*

On the health front (we're gotten old enough that there always seems to be a health front these days...) Rod is doing amazingly well since he got off wheat. He is healing just fast enough top be frustrated at what he feels like he ought to be able to do. He got "poisoned" once and it was very, very clear that he is going to have to be very careful -- his gasping for breath all night was really scary and it took over a week before he was starting to get stronger again.

I finally entirely stopped being dizzy a few weeks ago...only to be hit by pleurisy on the same side on which my ear had been giving me trouble. Now that has cleared up, too, and I am finally starting to feel human again, just in time for my doctor appointment to finally come.

They say "Old age ain't for sissies" but I'd say middle age is no picnic, either. (Oh hush! I am too middle-aged. I won't be old until I'm over 90.) ;)

I think I have started to pull together that last installment of the writing your own curriculum essay, too. Anyone have anything they want to make sure I include?

What else? After all this time there should be more. I'll work on another blog to be uploaded on Saturday or Sunday. Have fun!

18 October 2009

Rules for sane mommies

As I was cleaning up today, I was also pondering how my standards have slipped since I was a single woman living alone. (For a very brief period before I married Rod, my friends actually teased me about being a "Marth Stewart" type!). But I also realized that my standards pretty much had to slip if I wasn't going to make myself and my family nuts!

That got me to thinking about all the ways our standards, our assumptions about 'how it ought to be', have to slip if we're to stay sane while our children are young.

There hasn't been much time for introspection lately, so in leau of anything really profound, here you go: rules for sane mommies

1) It doesn't have to look like you just cleaned, so long as it doesn't usually look like no one *ever* cleans.

2) They're going to blame you at 14 anyway, and as long as you actually *were* trying, they'll forgive you by the time they're 40, so you may as well do what you have to do without feeling guilty about 'always saying no", or insisting they eat their greens or whatever it is that gets you feeling like a bad Mommy.

3) Playing with your kids is fine, but it's important to realize that they will have many friends over their lifetimes, but only one set of parents. You can play with them if you want to, but if you don't want to, save your energy for parenting them.

4) Shouting "You're driving me crazy!" isn't a good example to set for your kids. However, if you save it for times when they really, really, *are* driving you crazy, it does send a clear message.

5) Kids don't like rules for rules sake, but they do need them. Being reminded all the time to always put their toys and shoes where they belong may not be fun and may not foster creativity or self esteem, but it does mean they will be able to find them when they want them -- and no one will break their neck walking across the floor and possibly break the toys! (And knowing whwere their shoes are may, indeed, foster self esteem.)

6) There isn't enough time to do everything, and childhood is amazingly short. You tell your kids what's important to you by what you make time for. Spend some time thinking about what you'd like them to remember, because once they've grown, there are no "do-overs". Which is more important, listening or ceaning the bathroom? A hug or being on time? reading together or an immaculate lawn? That isn't to say you shouldn't clan the house or rake leaves, but it is to say "think before you rush past your child's ouytstretched arms. Soon enough, they stop asking.

12 October 2009

Reasons to love autumn

Autumn has arrived with bells on! I love this change of seasons! (Well, I love every change of season...after a couple of years, I was pretty bored bored by the year round summer
of my youth. Rainy season was a change, and a nice one, but there's nothing like an extreme change to make you come alive with the possibilities.

Anyway, among my many reasons for loving autumn:

* The earth is changing her, by now dusty, green gown for a riot of reds, yellows, and oranges.
* it's finally dark early enough to eat dinner by candle light
* hot chocolate in front of the fireplace!
* pumpkin custard and hot apple cider
* corn mazes
* yummy, warm soft sweaters
* piles and piles of fluffy, lavender scented quilts
* vegetable soups, thick and comforting with stock, and beans, and warm herbs
* the smell of baking cinnamon
* an excuse to hole up in my nest and play with scraps of paper

Perils of homeschooling

There are times when the realities of life as a homeschooling family are just not as dignified as we might wish. We had one of those times last weekend.

We had turned out parlour into a quasi “artists’ garret”, and our dear friend Linda came over to play. The light through the window was just right, we improvised easels and work areas for everyone and put on a couple of Bach discs for background music to help us focus, and the four of us set to work with great seriousness on painting and drawing …

Then, right in the middle of it all, we were brought up short by an unusually bouncy tune coming from the stereo…

I'm a verb. I'm a verb, verb, verb - I'm an action word.
So put me where the action is 'cause I'm an action word.

Hmmm. One of Jack’s learning with music CDs was still in the stereo. Linda, being a delight and a good sport, laughed, picked up a much more “spirited” colour and got into the music as she drew. I shook my head and thought darkly for a moment about submitting the whole thing to the Home Schooling Horror Stories column of our favorite magazine…except of course, that it wasn’t really a Horror Story – it was “just us” and Linda knows us far too well for this to have injured her impression of us. We can try – but we really aren’t “serious” about much of anything and she knows it.

Oh well – we had a lot of fun, and once I got over myself, I had to admit that the change in music may have changed the mood – but that isn’t entirely a bad thing.

26 September 2009

My apologies for the hash

I did my best to clean up up the previous post--but the laptop has decided that it's had enough of me and is refusing to work properly so that it's taking a veeerrrry long time to accomplish anything. *sigh* Back to Clover. ;)

Studying art

Jack and I have been studying art lately. Jack had chosen Van Gogh as the artist he wanted to study. We picked up a bunch of books about Van Gogh from the library, and while we were there, I, knowing no better, picked up a video series about the Impressionists, based on the similarity of the cover art to Van Gogh?s. I thought they might ?have a section? on Vincent.

Of course, since Van Gogh is ?post impressionist (as I learned later) there was nothing about him in that video, but Jack and I were captivated in watching the artists at work. Unlike my beloved Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, this looked like something we could learn to do. Not that we?d ever be mistaken for Manet or Degas?but we might be able to learn some of the techniques they used and be able to create something attractive. So, we pulled out our paints.

To understand the significance of this development, you have to know that Jack had never been happy about painting. Most of his works ended up looking like this:
and he was pretty unhappy about the muddy effect, but when I offered to show him things he?d grumble ?No thanks. I?m just no good at painting.?

So that he was suddenly energized and eager to try his hand at painting again was *amazing* and wonderful!

We had been reading a series of books about ?How to Look at Art?, in which we had seen a colour wheel. We decided to start there, since it looked like something we could accomplish.

Sadly, Mamma is no good at geometry and we couldn't find a compass, so what we ended up with wasn't really a color wheel, but we do what we can.

We traced a circle on the paper using a circular cutting tool from my stash, and then we used a ruler to draw the sections. They didn't come out even, and we ended up with more than we
intended?but we decided it was good enough for now.
Then we put three colors of acrylic paint in each of our pallets, and painted the primary sections. That went well so then we started combining the primaries and putting the secondary colours in place. Since we mixed our own colours, we were amused to see that we came out with different shades of the secondaries and Jack was highly tickled to discover that his shades were prettier! (I also like how the colour wheel Jack made almost looks alive -- like it s growing and moving. Mine was much more rigid and not nearly as pretty.)

Then we mixed all of the colours we had left to see what happened, and we decorated the edges of our paper with that colour.

That worked so well that the next night, after we?d watched Part Two of The Impressionists we decided to work on colour layering.

We chose two colours to work with (yellow and red this time), and painted a yellow background. While we waited for that to dry, we mixed up some orange to layer over it. We talked about a technique to make flower petals, and Jack tried it, and then embellished his flower. We also talked about how he had developed a great deal of texture in his background and that was a very nice effect.
Of course, a flower needs a stem, so Jack got out some green and I dipped a clean brush in it for him. Et Voila! Sunflower!

We had quite a bit of paint left over, so he decided to practice some more with the flower petal technique. (And a heart, which he painted and then I outlined for him)
Last night, we finally got a chance to see a video about Van Gogh. The BBC's Private Life of a Masterpiece had a segment on Van Gogh?s The Sunflowers. That was interesting ? it finally explained the answer to Jack?s big question (Van Gogh shot himself) and it introduced the idea of texture.

We decided, after the movie, to experiment with texture. Jack had a different idea of what that meant than I did, but I have to admit that he got some very interesting effects ? first he did a very watery background and then he layered texture on top. (And because we continue to work with two colours, what could have been more mud, was actually some interesting gradations of green.)
And then, because he had a lot of paint left over, he decided to paint another piece. This one he calls The Battle at the Great Wall of China. The big blue line is the Great Wall. If you know how to look, you can see enemies scaling the wall, you can see caves, and secret passages, and troops on the move and great battles taking place.
I particularly like the cloud effect at the top. I am trying to figure out how he did that so I can use the technique myself!

Anyway, it wasn?t really quite intentional, but combining art appreciation with technique study seems to be working very well ? and starting with the Impressionists seems to be one of the better ways to start.

We studied Pieter Bruegal last unit, and Jack wasn't at all inspired to try to imitate what he saw. Nor did he seem terrible interested. Then again, I am learning "art appreciation" right alongside him, and I may be approaching picture study all wrong. At least -- all wrong to meet our needs. Watching videos of real art historians discussing the paintings works better for us.

I have to say that even if we don't go a lot further, we have successfully enough experimented that I think Jack will at least feel that he *can* learn to paint if he wants to. We both watched in utter amazement as Rod used two colours to make a very interesting Impressionistic portrait of Voldemort -- we'd like to be able to do that! Maybe someday we will.

The minor joys of a gardener

Yup. That’s a slug. On my kitchen counter. Evidently it was hiding out in the most recent harvest.

See how fat he’s grown on my cabbages?



I have been pondering the irony of happiness lately.

Doesn’t it seem odd that at a time when personal satisfaction and self esteem are the major focus of what we expect to accomplish for ourselves and our children, teen suicide, divorce, depression, and all the woes associated with a monumental lack of happiness and personal satisfaction should be at an all time high?

I have been giving a lot of thought to why that might be.

It seems clear that we have, as a culture, lost track of what happiness and personal satisfaction really are.

The old wisdom tells us, that “Happiness is not a destination, but a mode of travel”. You can’t “finally attain” happiness, and personal satisfaction can’t be purchased. Real happiness is more about the way we decide to see life, how we live and what we expect.

I don’t mean that if you decide to be happy, nothing will ever happen that make you sad, to frustrate you, or to prevent you from doing what you want to do. Of course all those things happen in everyone’s life. What you can change is how you decide to view those frustrations and setbacks.

There are a couple of things I think might make a difference. One is that we are sheltering our children, as much as we possibly can, from failure. Not failing *should* give them better self esteem, right? Well…um…


Actually, surmounting obstacles and achieving things at which we could have (and perhaps have in the past) failed raises our self esteem. Protecting kids from challenges actually lowers self esteem by sending the message that we think of them as incapable of achievement on their own and on their own terms. It also develops in them an overdeveloped sense of entitlement. Neither is a recipe for real happiness.

W. H. Auden said “We are here on Earth to do good to others.” It seems that as our society has gotten more and more focused on ourselves as individuals and our own happiness, we’ve become less and less happy.

I’m not under the impression that everyone was happier on some mythic time when we were more focused on contribution to the community, but my on experience suggests that focus on what we can accomplish and what we can contribute to the community does a lot to lead to satisfaction with our selves and out world.

Just a thought. It seemed profound until I wrote it down. Funny how that works.

15 September 2009

Update on homemade laundry and dishwasher soap

We started making out own dishwasher and laundry soap a while back and I wanted to update you on how that went.

Dishwasher soap was a loss. It got the dishes clean, but it left an ugly white film of borax on the dishes. Yuck! Adding citric acid to the rinse was very effective in removing the film…but then the process was prohibitively expensive. We’ve gone back to Trader Joe’s environmentally friendly dishwasher soap, though I may try again if I come across any new ideas for how to make it work better.

The laundry soap worked beautifully…until summer hit. The homemade laundry detergent is good for run of the mill laundry, but it just isn’t up to the heavy-sweating, garden grunged, ‘damp basement with a mold problem’ summer laundry. To be fair, neither is Trader Joe’s environmentally friendly laundry detergent. We’re getting a big bottle of Tide to get the smell and grey out of the clothes, but we’ll go back to homemade once the weather cools off and save the rest of the Tide for next summer. It’s a lot cheaper, and I didn’t notice any difference until we started getting really dirty—which has been an issue every summer of my adulthood. That’s why I keep going back to Tide.

Socca – wheat-free living part 1

Well, it took many weeks to get his heart into it, but Rod’s first foray into wheat-free baking has been a success. As I mentioned, we prefer to seek out recipes that never contained any wheat to begin with, since they taste better and don’t have that unsatisfying “not quite right” effect. (For the most part, Jack and I are joining Rod in being wheat-free at home…except where the gluten free alternative is super expensive. Then Jack and I use the wheat original.)

His first experiment was with socca, a chickpea bread from the Mediterranean – specifically Nice and Marseille, although it is popular under other names all around the region. It is generally considered “street food” and is perfect for snacking, and because it is mainly legumes, it is VERY satisfying. It takes far less than one would suppose to feel nice and sated.

The one Rod started with is a rosemary socca with fresh-ground black pepper, and it was marvelous! Another recipe suggests that it’s lovely with a little cumin, instead – and I think it would be tasty with just about any warm herb. Be warned, though, that the fresh-ground pepper makes it very spicy. That’s good, as long as you’re not feeding any delicate pallets (like Jack’s) but you might want to use less pepper, or the stuff that comes pre-ground and stale if you prefer less heat.

Now Rod is considering adding things like sun-dried tomatoes and olives and cheese and making a “not a pizza” from it, to have as a lunch or fancy snack. I think it will be wonderful!

I was interested to note that socca may have originally been made from corn, and that variants can be made from any number of flours, so this may become a base for a lot of experiments over the next few months! (I may have him give lentil flour a try and see what happens, sometime when he feels he’s perfected the original recipe.)

Anyway, here’s the basic recipe:

1 cup chickpea flour
1 Cup room temperature water
1/4 cup virgin olive oil, divided into two portions
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
fresh or dried warm herbs

1/2 teaspoon baking powder (this is not a traditional ingredient)

Sift the chickpea flour into a large mixing bowl. (You really do want to sift it.)
Add salt, pepper, and baking powder (if you use it).
Pour in the water, whisking to eliminate lumps.
Stir in half the olive oil and whisk the batter for a minute or two until a runny dough has formed.
Add the herbs and any other ingredients
Cover and set aside overnight.
Preheat oven to very hot (220C-240C or 430F-470F),
Heat a dry, round 50cm (20 inch) pizza stone or clay baking tray for about 5 minutes.
Remove the pizza stone from the oven and spread the remaining oil evenly over it.
Pour in the batter, spread it thinly.
Immediately bake it for 8-10 minutes, until bread is firm and starting to brown.

Remove the socca from the oven, lightly brush the top with olive oil and put it under a hot broiler for about a minute, until the top turns a golden color and there are a few slightly burnt tips.

Slice and serve hot.

Oh, and I wanted to mentioned Gluten free girl – Shauna’s web site comes very highly recommended and by description seems to have much the same approach to food as we do – fresh, wholesome and tasty are the priorities. I haven’t had time to check it out carefully yet, but I figured I’d share anyway.

14 September 2009

A marvelous weekend

Every now and then, we have a weekend that seems darned near perfect. This last weekend was one of them.

We started by doing some really fun school work. The topic was “the first written languages”, and we did some colouring while we talked, then we read a bit, and we experimented with writing our names in cuneiform, making our clay tablets look a little like we each imagined the “receipts” that Jomar receives from Betitta when he delivers her golden straw.

Interestingly, I discovered today that it may be best to to talk too much about what we’re studying with my colleagues. I don’t quite understand why, but it seems to make them very uncomfortable. (Maybe they’re mistaking my enthusiasm for insanity?) Anyway … note to self: shut up, they don’t want to hear it.

When we were done with school, we packed up and ran off to pick raspberries. We got seven quarts, and they were so luscious and ripe that we scrambled back home to freeze them immediately lest they rot while they waited, and then we were back out again to check our e-mail at Café Luwak.

We also discovered on Saturday that a small (but totally unexpected) windfall meant that we could suddenly afford to get my laptop on the net immediately! So, after we checked our e-mail, we went over to Clover Computer and picked up the cards I needed to add Internet access and a USB port. This post is coming from my very own laptop! Hurrah!

Sunday was a little hectic, as we scrambled to get Jack registered for the Sunday School class he’s interested in – and discovered that it requires that we volunteer! Yikes! I was about to call that a deal breaker when I found out that there was a “volunteer opportunity” that involved doing mailings rather than assisting in the classroom. (I think I’ve mentioned how completely unsocial I am becoming. The idea of spending an hour in a classroom full of people was more than I could bear…but organizing a mailing is right up my alley.) Anyway, we got Jack registered and worked out a plan for how to get Rod to church at 8am when he has a performance with the choir and still get Jack to class at 11am. I am having trouble understanding exactly what they’ll be studying, but I think that for Jack, it has more to do with the sweet snack and the other kids than it does with the topics of conversation, so it will probably be fine. Still, it’s going to make for hectic weekends until June.

Anyway, after church, we came home and did some long overdue landscaping. The place was just gorgeous when we bought it, but over the course of three years of neglect, it had gotten seriously shabby looking. I’m not particularly house-proud, but it was even getting to me. Mostly we dug out some ornamental grass to put in flower bulbs, put in a flowering bush to replace one that had died last year, and cleaned up the bed next to the garage, which has disappeared into some shaggy and unsightly grass. At some point, I’ll add another small bed on the other side of the garage for balance, but for now, it was enough.

It had to be, because the garden was in serious need of attention.

This was yesterday’s harvest – and we had to throw away almost as much because it was spoiled by insect damage. We were delighted to be able to share some of this out amongst five friends and still have plenty for us.
Rod and I have noticed a couple of things that we consider very interesting. We didn’t have the money for our usual amendments, so only one corner got the stuff left over from last year. In that one corner, we are getting more produce and losing FAR less of it to insects than we are in the rest of the garden. That tells us that although we *can* garden without all the yummy stuff, it’s probably still worth doing what we can with amendments.

The other thing we’re noticing is that other than getting the garden in, and watering it long enough to get the plants established, the garden has been pretty much left to its own devices this year. I got too sick to get out there at all for almost two months and Rod has been pretty busy, so his tender ministrations have been pretty spotty, too.

Nonetheless, that is *one* week’s harvest in that picture. We have been very consistent about getting at least one of us out there on the weekends to harvest. That tells us that nature is pretty happy to do her thing without the need for constant meddling from us. That’s good to know.

I think that all this means that we’ll probably invest in the amendments a little at a time over the next several months and put the beds “down for the winter” with as many as we can manage, and spread the rest in the spring…but maybe I won’t fret so much if I miss a night hunting for slugs amongst the cabbages and eggplants and maybe I an miss the occasional “cow poop soup” on a weekends without too much guilt.

Oh, another note of interest … out first experience with potatoes suggest that they’re almost all bonus and almost no work. This is excellent! I think we’ll keep them on the list!

Anyway, that’s all the news that fit to report from Chez Smiffy, though I *am* working on the last bit about how to write your own curriculum and some other thoughtful stuff.