Sunday, December 31, 2006
So what's next? In 2007 I hope to focus on continuing to be the change I wish to see in the world, while improving my family's wellbeing. I plan to stay healthy with smart eating and exercise, and keep my family healthy through activity and good organic food. I will continue to support local farms and try to find even more ways to buy local. I'd like to keep up with the gardens more and spend more time knitting. I hope to start a film screening program to help spread the message of some of the wonderful documentaries out there.
My biggest focus will be cutting back on our consumerism, making our impact by spending less money and spending the money we do have in an even more responsible way. My goal is to put nothing on the credit cards this year, barring any unforseen emergencies, and cut back on spending a bit in every area to start getting ahead. I hope to get more use out of our vegetable gardens to cut back on our food spending, and cut back on our gift buying by creating gifts with the talents and resources we have available to us. Instead of just focusing on recycling Sprout and Bird's used clothes, I'm going to expand that angle to trying to buy at least half of their clothing used. When all is said and done, my focus is going to be on working with the many Blessings we have, rather than always looking for The Next Best Thing. 2007 will be about Living Simply so that our lives are more sustainable and our family is carried closer to our dreams. May 2007 inspire you to follow your dreams!
Saturday, December 23, 2006
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Monday, December 18, 2006
Sunday, December 17, 2006
One of my favorite and yet most labor-intensive holiday traditions is baking and decorating sugar cookies. I thought I'd share some tips for these classic holiday treats. I use Betty Crocker's recipe, minus the almond extract. It's a tried and true favorite. The biggest thing with your recipe is to use real butter. I always stock up on Organic Valley Butter when the holidays approach! I also prefer recipes that use cream of tartar. Once you've made your batter, let it chill properly (at least 4 hours) and then set up your workstation. You'll need parchment lined cookie sheets, flour, a rolling pin, and cookie cutters. Preheat your oven. Flour your work area, and divide your dough in half. Put one half back in the fridge while you roll out the other. Try to get the dough to an even thickness of about 1/4". My best tip is to try to make similarly shaped cookies within each cookie sheet. For example: snowflakes, suns, and stars go together at our house. (How Celestial!) It's also a good idea to pay attention to whether the edges of your shapes stick out much--those will bake more quickly. In years past when I've done double, triple, or even quad batches, I've done sheets of just one shape, which works great. (An Aside: Are Reindeer Really Worth It? It probably depends on your cookie cutter. Here we end up with a lot of headless reindeer. Last year, I admit it, I made 9. Having accomplished that feat, this year I made two, just to keep on my game.) You want to try to get as many cookies per rolling of dough not just to save on labor, but also because the dough will become a little bit more tough as it's re-rolled, and picks up more flour from the rolling surface. Make sure that collected trimmings are put back in the fridge. Keeping them cool makes them much easier to roll. I will sometimes put them in the freezer if I'm moving quickly.
Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes. You'll have to decide for yourself whether you want the pure, light colored, cakey cookie, or whether you want to let them get a bit crispier, and brown around the edges. I have a tendency to overdo mine. I like them somewhere in-between, and try to pull them out of the oven when they've just barely started to color at the edges. Again, uniform shapes will help them to bake evenly. I allow the cookies a couple of minutes to cool on the sheets, then move them to a wire rack to finish cooling. (Another aside: Make sure your oven mitt is not wet when grabbing a 350 degree metal pan. If you flinch and your cookies slide smoothly from the parchment paper to crumble on your oven bottom, you may become distraught.)
Once the cookies are completely cool, you're ready to decorate. I generally break this up into two days, because it truly is a lot of work. I find it easiest to lay all of the cookies out at once so that you can work with one color of frosting at a time. I use a simple frosting of butter, vanilla, milk, and powdered sugar. It's not environmentally friendly, but the best tool I've found for frosting is a ziploc bag. Cut a very small bit of corner off, or if you want to use a decorating tip, make a slightly larger cut, and simply put the icing tip inside the bag. Make sure the frosting is completely dry before packing the cookies away. This may take an hour or more. If you have dogs, they will get grumpy at being left outside for so long, so as to present cookie snatching. This is par for the course.
You can absolutely freeze these cookies, but they are better unfrozen once they've been frosted. If they are stored in a totally airtight container, they'll became a bit soft, so I prefer loosely draped plastic wrap. Yes, I know they're "just" sugar cookies, but up until now they're one of the few holiday traditions I felt was "mine". I may only eat two or three, but I love the look of the rows of lovingly crafted, good ol' fashioned iced sugar cookies.
Monday, December 11, 2006
A recipe post is long overdue. These have become one of my favorites. Muffins, when made the right way, can be a healthy and filling food when you can't seem to make yourself sit down for a meal. They're also a great snack to grab when you are filling up the house with Holiday Goodies, in preparation to do the neighborly cookie gift tins! This recipe was adapted from Isa's recipe on The PPK, which can be found here. It's a fabulous recipe to work from. The original recipe is vegan, simply by using soy yogurt instead of the Stonyfield I have in my fridge. I also cut the fat by subbing apple butter (applesauce works too) for half of the oil.
Pumpkin Muffins (Makes 12)
1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 cup pureed pumpkin (I use fresh but you can also use canned)
1 tablespoon vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup soymilk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup apple butter
2 tablespoons molasses
Directions: Preheat oven to 400 F. Grease muffin tins with vegetable shortening or spray on oil. Combine dry ingredients. In a seperate bowl, whisk together wet ingredients. Pour wet into dry and combine. Fill muffin tins 2/3 of the way. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Saturday, December 02, 2006
Pollan had obviously never been to my Whole Foods. If he had, he might have been impressed. Generally there are at least a few dozen varieties of local organic produce being offered. The number of local selections is advertised daily, and it's often more--I've seen it as high as the 70s. When we worked on a small organic farm southwest of Milwaukee, we learned that the CSA sold excess produce to the Whole Foods. We were very impressed, since they are a relatively small operation. Our Whole Foods carries a number of items from Tipi Produce, a farm just about 20 miles away, and I've seen one of the farm owners at the WFM dock, unloading their truck himself. Apparently not all Whole Foods are this good about stocking local produce, and I suppose it depends on the availability in their area. My personal feeling is that every local item they stock is a huge boon to that local organic farm, and rather than blighting Whole Foods for not having more, we should praise them for what they do have. To me, even the Iowa zucchini or Washington pear is better than the conventional alternative at Pick n' Save--and do we think Pick 'n' Save is going to have local choices? I can assure you, they do not.
Today was a shining example in favor of Whole Foods. Our Farmer's Market goes indoors for the winter. While there's still an impressive selection of veggies available, most of the booths are now crafts or meats. Even my favorite feta artisan was missing today--a sad day indeed. Our favorite booth still had a great variety of root crops, but no cabbage. I have a cabbage dish planned, and so searched thrrough all of the booths, and finally came back to the only one I had found. The box of cabbages was labeled: "$1 each". I asked the farmer if they used sprays. "Sprays? Yeah I use sprays. 'Course these have been in storage for a long time, and I haven't sprayed since September." I'm not sure what that was supposed to mean. Had he harvested before he sprayed? I don't think so. Did he think the pesticides had worn off with time? I grimaced, then handed him a dollar and selected a cabbage (see the cabbage on the right above). I still hadn't decided if I'd actually use it. Next we went to Whole Foods for our remaining groceries. I selected a locally grown organic pumpkin, passed up some local organic white mushrooms for crimini, and picked up a pound of organic Wisconsin cranberries. As I searched for (and found) local organic leeks, I spotted some gorgeous cabbages. I searched for their sign above, and lo and behold, they were local and organic (see cabbage on the left). Understand, I found a better choice at Whole Foods Market than I did at our incredible Farmer's Market. Besides the produce, I found locally (in-town) produced veggie burgers and baba ghanouj, milk (Organic Valley, but still-produced within an hour or two drive) and local yogurt, whose maker was handing out samples right there at WFM. Upon returning home, I saw that our favorite farm stand at the Farmer's Market sells to WFM too. (In fact, click the link to see the guy who sold Beo his 25# of sunchokes this Spring!) I think I had a better local haul at Whole Foods then at our farmer's market, which I consider one of the best in the world. Perhaps my Whole Foods is one of the best in the world too, and I've simply lucked out. Either way, it's part of the Whole Foods company, and it deserves to be recognized for the wonderful role it is playing in making small organic farms sustainable in Wisconsin.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
I don't know where they all come from. Some I have actually ordered from, and they're fine. Others I've ordered from and I get two or three catalogs from because they have my name misspelled or un-hyphenated, etc. Others seem to think that they need to send me a catalog every week in case I've lost mine. Some are connected behind the scenes. I order from a toy catalog and come to find out that the clothing catalog and home furnishing catalog I receive are owned by the same company. I would have to guess at where all of the liberal catalogs got my name--there are plenty of suspects. I'd like to know who sold my name to Pottery Barn, Pier One, L.L. Bean, Land's End, and a myriad of home furnishing catalogs, which started showing up in our mailbox shortly after moving into a new subdivision. The mortgage company? The home builders? Who was it? Regardless, I'm receiving about a dozen catalogs every day now. I go through the rigamole role of sorting through them, making piles of "Might Order From", "Approved and Just Like to Look at", "Already Unsubscribed", "Must Unsubscribe". I can only handle 2-3 removal requests at a time. I have to jump through hoops, and the response is always that catalogs are pre-printed, and I'll receive 2-3 more catalogs before they stop. Just enough to get me through the holiday season I suspect. So far I've resisted giving in too much to the advertising aspect of it. Even with "Free Shipping!" and "$10 off your $65 order!" I've remained fiscally solvent, which is quite an accomplishment for me.
Besides the advertising being shoved into my mailbox, the environmental aspect bothers me immensely. There are only one or two of the two day haul pictured above that are printed on recycled paper. What a waste, to picture the resources that went into that catalog, and that's duplicated across the country. It's shameful. Of course I recycle all of my unwanted catalogs, but I'm nosy and can't help but wonder what my neighbors do with theirs. Do they buy that pig shaped casserole dish, which they never knew they needed so much? Do they suscribe to the wine of the month club? Do they order the Super-Low-Price toys without a second thought to why they're Super-Low-Price? Perhaps scariest of all, do they recycle them? Or do they pile up in the back room, collecting dust, moving towards the day when the piles of sheeted ink will cause Earth's gravitational fields to shift?
Friday, November 10, 2006
The first step was to make a mound of 2 cups of flour, make a well in the mound, and break in 3 eggs. I was going to take a picture of this volcano-looking step, but my eggs quickly mucked onto the counter and didn't look so pretty. Next time, I will defy the experts and do this step in a bowl. Whisk the eggs, then gradually work in the flour. Once you've incorporated the flour into the eggs, knead the dough for about 5-10 minutes. My dough was still very dry, so I added a tablespoon-ish of olive oil. I divided the dough into 2 balls and let them rest, covered, for 10 minutes. Next, I rolled out the dough. The instructions (all which used a pasta machine) said to get the pasta thin enough that you could see your hand through it. Well, I could, if I held it up to the light. I rolled out each ball in 2 separate sections. On one section, I brushed an egg/water mixture. I then spooned about 1 tablespoon of filling (roasted butternut squash with a bit of finely mined onions) onto this section, about bit about 2 inches apart. Next, I laid the second layer over the filling, and carefully pressed the two layers together in-between the mounds of filling. I used a ravioli cutter to cut the squares apart, but a pizza cutter would work as well. To be sure the ravioli was sealed, I simply used the tines of a fork to press the edges together.
Voila! The entire process took about an hour to an hour and a half. It was quite time consuming and tough on that upper body! I kept the finished ravioli covered with a damp paper towel until I was ready to cook them. To cook, I simply dropped the ravioli into boiling water for about 6-7 minutes. To highlight the ravioli, I served it with only a touch of butter and a sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan. (Sides were pan roasted beets and steamed broccoli, both still in-season, making for a very local meal.) It was really quite good. The pasta was thicker than it should have been, and thus a bit rubbery. I wouldn't do this again without a pasta press. Also, though I tried to keep the filling kid-friendly, the kids were skeptical, so next time I'd spice it up with some garlic and what else but garam masala. I hope to try both in the future--the one where I own a pasta press!
Thursday, November 02, 2006
There once was a mighty queen with a short fuse. One autumn, as the year was beginning to ebb, the queen fell into a deep melancholy. She could neither eat nor slumber, and tears of an unknown origin fell frequently, which infuriated her, triggering angry fits that made those around her quake in fear.
Each day the queen summoned a new adviser from her esteemed circle of sages to explain the cause of her baffling condition. In they came and out they went: the court physician, the stargazer, the psychic, the alchemist, the herbalist, the philosopher. All were dismissed as chalatans for their inability to unravel the mystery of the royal black spell. They counted themselves lucky to have only their illustrious careers shortened.
"Surely there must be one among you who knows the source of my suffering," the queen cried in despair. But her pathetic wail was greeted only with akward silence, for all were wary of her wrath. Finally, the royal gardener was moved by compassion for the poor woman and slowly approached her throne.
"Come into the garden, Majesty, beyond the walls of your self-imprisonment, and I will disclose your dilemma." The queen was so desperate, she did as she was bid. When she went out to the garden for the first time in many weeks, she noticed that the bright, vivid colors of summer had faded and the garden seemed bare. But it was not, she saw, wholly bereft of beauty, for it was regal in autumn's brilliant hues of crimson and gold. The air was refreshingly cool and crisp, and the sky, pure blue. "Speak, gardener," the queen ordered, "but choose your words carefully, for I seek the truth."
"Majesty, it is not your body or your mind that is ailing. It is your soul that is in need of healing. For while you are a mighty and powerful queen, you are not Divine. You are suffering from a human condition that afflicts us all. Earthly souls ebb and flow in sorrow and joy according to the seasons of emotion, just as the seasons of the natural world move through the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. These are the days to be grateful for the harvest of the heart, however humble it might be, and to prepare for the coming of the year's closure. Even now, the season of daylight diminishes and the time of darkness increases. But the true Light is never extinguished in the natural world, and it is the same in your soul. Embrace the ebb, my beloved queen, and do not fear the darkness. For as night follows day, the Light will return and you will know contented hours once again. Of this I am sure."
The unhappy queen considered this wisdom thoughtfully and asked the gardener how she possessed the secret knowledge of inner peace during the seasons of emotion. The gardener led her to a brass sundial. It read:
This too, shall pass.
Saturday, October 28, 2006
If you're giving out treats, check out Endangered Species chocolate squares, packaged up in a jaunty orange wrapper for Halloween. This is the second year in a row that we'll be giving them out. They're on sale at WFM this week for $2.99 a bag! (That's an incredible deal.) If you get kids who make a face and say: "What's this?" (Not that that's ever happened here!) you can either launch into an expose on fair trade and all-natural chocolate, or simply say, "Beggars can't be choosers."
In-Depth Info from LaborRights.org
Care 2 Petition to Nestle/Mars
Fair Trade Chocolate Sources
Wire Tap Magazine Article 2005
Thursday, October 26, 2006
Monday, October 23, 2006
Last week I had a reminder about what life is really about. Beo called me on Wednesday to tell me that a friend of his had passed away. This beautiful girl was a former co-worker of Beo's. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor almost two years ago. She fought an admirable battle and came through with flying colors. We last saw her about six months ago, and things were going well. We learned this past week that things suddenly turned around and she declined rapidly, and died a peaceful death on Sunday after having a chance to say goodbye to her family and closest friends, and drifting to sleep. She was 22. Life isn't a given. Life is a gift to be cherished and celebrated. This week was a reminder to me to not put my head down and push forward through life, but to take each moment as a blessing, breathe deeply, be grateful. I'm grateful for this reminder, even though it's a painful one, and I choose to honor her life by remembering to honor the life all around me, including my own.
Sunday, October 15, 2006
1. Google! Search the product name followed by "human rights", "labor practices" "factory" "working conditions". A lack of information is a good thing. If nothing comes up, make sure there isn't a higher up parent company. Merrell shoes, for example, is owned by Wolverine Worldwide. While nothing comes up for Merrell, Wolverine has a history of violations. I discovered that they have taken major steps to turn things around, which brings us to the next point.
2. Make sure you have the most recent information. I was dissapointed to see that a number of flags came up for violations from 2-6 years ago. A lot of this outdated information was on Amnesty International's watch site. I personally felt that a lot of their information was really digging too far, and "eating our own", but they do have very thorough information. Further digging showed that things have really turned around. If you do find information on past violations, you'll have to dig deeper to see what they've done to correct things. Look for things like changes in CEO, using overseas watch dogs to monitor conditions, etc. Levi's used to be a major violator, but they have won awards for their turn around, and are actually going to be introducing an organic cotton line.
3. Stay away from China. Unfortunately, there's something to be said for buying Made in the USA, although that's not a guarantee of fair labor practices. (Just look at Walmart!) European companies are generally good on labor as well. Just make sure that their product is manufactured in Europe and their sourced items are clear too. Ecco is a shining example. They own everything that goes into their shoes, right down to the farms where the leather is sourced. Look on their website and you will even find the addresses of all of their factories. Transparency is a good thing.
4. You get what you pay for. Even if something is expensive, do your research, but it tends to hold true. The fact of the matter is, the reason you can pay $1 for a bottle of shampoo is that someone got paid pennies to make it. Aveda is another award winner for their natural sourcing and labor practices. They have extensive reports that even analyze their shortcomings. Will your shampoo cost you $32? Yes, but it was sourced sustainably and someone got paid fair wages to make it. The same is true all the way down the line. Learn to love more with less. Pay for equity and justice. Vote with your dollars.
So what if you go through all of these steps and either can't find the information or are concerned about violations? Contact the company. I have sent out a plethora of e-mails over the past weeks. Most I got a form response, and they basically said that they do their best. I trusted the ones that told me how they make sure that their standards are met. I vetoes the ones that I got no response from. This isn't a foolproof way to do your research, but it's still important because the company hears that you care and are concerned about the issue. Especially if you are a devoted customer of a brand, make sure they know how important labor issues are to you--even if their record looks clean. The fact is, it is hard for big companies to find fair labor, and only demand will increase supply at this point. Of course, buying second-hand is almost always responsible in every way imaginable, but not always an option.
We can't all be perfect, but we can all make an effort to do our best to make sure that the world is what we want it to be. The first step is opening our eyes to the reality, the second is acting to change, and the third is speaking out. So please, take the time to do the research and make sure that your votes with your dollars are educated.
We recently watched "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price". If you haven't seen this movie, I highly reccomend that you do. I don't think it's a perfect movie, and in fact I think some of it was a stretch. The film makers also have a website, but there is some inaccuracy there for sure, as they list Jefferson, WI as a "victory" having stopped Wal-marth and unfortunately, the nearby town is actually throttling full-steam into Walmartdom. However, there is some good information in the movie. There was much in this movie that was disheartening and depressing, but it was one relatively small portion of the movie that hit me the hardest, and that was the manufacturing labor.
The film makers visited a company in China that manufactures products for Wal-mart, and showed the squalid conditions that the workers are forced to live in. (They are charged rent whether they "choose" to live there or not.) The food is so bad that workers rent kitchens to prepare their own food. The workers work long hours in terrible conditions, and make cents an hour. You really need to watch the movie to see the conditions. I will admit that I sobbed through the last portion about the labor practices. The film makers interviewed a former Wal-Mart employee whose job was to evaluate the labor practices. He didn't realize that his real job was to lie about the factories, and he got fired for telling the truth. This wonderful man said that the first day that he visited a Wal-Mart factory, he went back to his hotel room and wept. I would too. We are paying $15.99 for a toy that cost Wal-Mart .37 cents to make. This is slavery people. Slavery. Slaves got room and board too, right? That's about all these people are getting. Thousands and thousands of people, working for pennies, sweating, slaving.
What bothered be the most was the almost instantaneous realization that it's not just Wal-Mart. If I walk into Target and buy that toy, I'm no better off. What about clothes? What about towels? What about everything that my dollars go to? You'd think that a little research would go a long way, but I'll tell you that I haven't found it all that easy. While I've found great websites for Europe and Canada that help consumers figure out who and where to buy, I couldn't find much that was simple for American consumers. I googled and googled, and I did find links to buyblue.org, and various fair trade organizations. I wanted to find something that helped me find the best everyday companies though. Long ago I found a site that did this, so I hacked back into an old chat board and found my posting. The site is www.idealswork.com. As far as I can tell, they do a great job of creating a ratings system that is based on the values you choose, be it environment, labor, gay rights, etc. It is not comprehensive and often gives ratings for stores rather than brands, but it's a good start.
One thing I discovered is not to trust the website of the company. Of course they paint a very rosy picture. I checked out Mattels corporate responsibility practices and standards, and they all look great. Unfortunately they don't hold to their own standards. I found various reports of them paying factory workers 40% less than the legal minimum wage for where the factory was located. So really do your research. I researched for hours, literally, until I was convinced that Hanna Andersson was the company we would buy the kids clothes from, guilt free.
We have a responsibility as members of the human race to educate ourselves about where our products are coming from. Before you spend another dollar, make sure you're not paying for a rich executive to get fatter while someone sweats and starves. It's dramatic yes, but sadly it's also the harsh reality of America. We're living our lives on the backs of poor workers. It needs to stop.
Recent Chicago Tribune Article
Fair Trade Federation
Sweat Free Shopping
Friday, October 13, 2006
Autumn Morning Oats
1 c. Steel Cut Oats
4 c. Water
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tart apple, diced
1/2 c. raisins
Place water and oats in a large saucepan, bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. After 20 minutes, stir in apple and vanilla. After 30 minutes, stir in raisins. When 40 minutes has elapsed, remove from heat. Stir in cinnamon to taste. If desired, serve with milk, yogurt, or maple syrup for topping.
Obviously you can get creative with whatever ingredients you want to add. I will mention that it gets a bit messy and sticky. Some recipes call for butter, which may keep it from sticking to the pan so much. I hope you enjoy experimenting with steel cut oats and experiencing that pleasantly warm and full feeling that gets me through my morning!
Monday, October 09, 2006
This summer was full of wonder in our own backyard. We plant a seed, and months later it provides us with food. Amazing! Bringing the kids into the food preparation brought a new aspect. I was thrilled with the joy they found in combining ingredients to create new things--the wonder of sticky batter transforming into popovers, how good pesto became when the basil was torn from the stem by their own hands.
Fall has brought new wonder as we've visited local farms during their Harvest festivals. I'm entranced by the passion the kids find in picking apples right of the tree, or spotting chickens rooting through the vegetable gardens. They've seen bees at work making honey, and maple syrup tapped from the tree. At one local celebration, a local farmer commented on how good it was for the kids to see where their food comes from. A discussion ensued about how so many kids have no idea where various foods come from--how they don't even know where milk comes from. How many kids are in this position? How many have never seen the stars? I wonder how many parents know where their kids' food comes from, and how many would change their buying habits if they knew. I believe strongly that giving children a sense of the true wonder of organic, local food, makes them healthier in many ways. Nurturing that sense of wonder for them can open up the wonder of it for us as well.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
1. Unitarian Universalism(100%)
2. Neo-Pagan (98%)
3. Liberal Quakers (93%)
4. New Age (92%)
5. Mahayana Buddhism (86%)
6. Secular Humanism (82%)
7. Theravada Buddhism (82%)
8. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants(81%)
9. Taoism (76%)
10. Reform Judaism (67%)
I've only recently heard about the similarities between Quakers and Unitarian Universalists. Today I heard an interview with someone who attended a Quaker day-school, and was suprised at her descriptions of some of their services. They were much more in-line with my thinking than the Christian way that I had thought of them in the past. The interview was with the Authors of "The Faith Club". They are three women in New York City, who got together after September 11th with the intent of writing a children's book about how their faiths (Jewish, Muslim, Christian) were similar, but ended up finding a real need to hash out the prejudices, sterotypes, and real diferences before they could do anything else. It sounds amazing, and I look forward to reading it. They also have a website which encourages people to start their own Faith Clubs. People reaching out, getting to the root of our differences, acknowledging our similarities, and trying to achieve peace. Imagine that.
Monday, October 02, 2006
It took me a while to even get up the courage to test the seal on the jar, even though I knew that if the seal was bad, I'd be up a creek. Luckily, the seals were good. I was still too nervous to test the jelly to see if it had set though. I couldn't imagine going through all of that work for a failure, though I acknowledge that failures are often a necessary part of the path to success. Last night we went to the Harvest Festival at Prairie Dock, and I figured it would be fitting to take a jar of the jelly I'd made with their bounty. First, I had to make sure I wouldn't embarass myself. So we popped a seal on the jar, and I nervously stuck a knife in. Success! It had gelled beautifully. We spread some on Beo's freshly baked sourdough. It was wonderful. It's amazing to have something so comforting made from such simple components. I can certainly see the joy that creating and preserving brought to our prairie ancestors, and to modern preservers of today. I hope to experience it more often now that I've overcome my intial fears. I realize now thought that jelly like this must have been quite a luxury, and while I'm thankful for the bounty of local farms, and my ability to create from it, I'm also quite thankful for grocery stores.
Saturday, September 30, 2006
The past couple of days we've had new visitors. The other day Beo came home and quietly herded us all outside. Lo and behold there were three wild turkeys just on the other side of the fence. I imagine they came wandering down the hill from the lightly forested area on the other side. They didn't seem too worried about us. I'm not sure how much of that was the fence giving us a good blind and how much was just a lack of brightness on the turkey's part, but we were able to get very close to them. (Doesn't the yard look great? It's been cool and rainy, and everything is staying green despite the chill. The no-mow mix seems to love it, and the sycamores are putting on a last burst of growth before fall.)
Today when I stepped outside something caught my eye on the corner of the bench on our porch. Do you see it? Don't feel bad if you don't. I'm particularly paranoid about this area because it's where our jumping spiders live, and where we once saw a big ol' wolf spider--sitting right on the underside of the top of the door frame (prime drop-on-your-head real estate, right?). So my eyes do a quick inventory when I walk out, and they rarely betray me. Okay, I usually just go out through the garage, but I'm trying to be braver. Did you find it? Look under the rock by my little green duck. Ooh, it's a tough one. Yeah, in fact from that angle it's virtually impossible to see it. Here he is! After some cursory research, I think he's a Cope's Gray Tree Frog, but I'm not sure. I don't want to lift the rock up and scare him. I think whatever kind of frog or toad he is, it must be good luck to have him there. I'm enjoying the change of the seasons and the different wildlife we're seeing with it.
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Beo and I had a chance to get away for a night while we were staying with my family in South Dakota. I think it's funny that on the rare occasion that we can get away by ourselves we end up talking about the kids. We usually do though. We had roasted vegetable risotto and pesto-cheese ravioli at a romantic Italian place, and discussed our parenting. We decided that what everything comes down to is taking time to just be with the kids.
Modern life hands us so many opportunities to draw on the hours of our day. We cook, clean, organize, read, travel, shop. I constantly flit to the computer to commiserate with like-minded folk, research, educate myself, and escape. It's so easy to be connected on-line (much easier than in real life, in my opinion) that it's a real draw on my time. The kids are generally relatively happy to play, watch a DVD, color, etc. When they have my full attention we're generally working on a project or running errands.
Last week there was a point where Beo and his Dad took Sprout fishing. Bird and I walked to the lake and bug hunted for my sister's entymology project. We had to just wait on the lakeshore for the boys to come pick us up in the boat. With Bird though, it wasn't "just" waiting. First I realized what a great conversation we were having on our walk. Bird could ask questions uninterrupted and I could actually take the time to answer thoughtfully. She chased a butterfly in the park for a good 5 minutes, never doubting she'd catch it. (It would have been a miracle if she'd caught it, and I finally called her off.) On the lakeshore, I pointed out a snail shell, and when she realized there were more scattered along the beach, the hunt was on. She gathered quite a little collection. It struck me as I watched her quietly explore the water's edge that our lives are usually so hurried. Even just hanging out with both kids, I'm usually so busy just keeping track of them and keeping them from getting eachother too riled up. I'm missing the window to see a much clearer view of who they truly are. You get a child alone, with no agenda--just time, and they Pop into 4-D. There's a magical aspect you don't see in everyday life.
What Beo and I decided during our dinner was this: we'll give the kids the gift of time, which is better than anything we could ever buy them. Monday will be family days. We'll have homemade pizza and watch movies while we eat--something Sprout thinks is the coolest thing in the world. One night a week will be Beo's night to spend 15 minutes with the kids doing whatever the kids want. Each month on the date of the kid's birthdays (or the closest possible morning), they'll get to go out to breakfast with one of us--by themselves. (I saw this tradition in a Parenting magazine, and think it's a great idea.) The kids need to know that we realize what a unique spirit they have, and that we honor it. We'll start out slow with these reminders to give them our time, and take it from there. I'll close now--Beo's making pizza and I'm off to take Sprout to the video store to select our viewing pleasure for this evening. Family night!
Monday, September 25, 2006
Thursday, September 21, 2006
She did a lot of monitoring of Augustine this year. When things got busy with it's activity, they were monitoring it around the clock. Sometimes she would be the one to notice different patterns that would indicate changes or allow them to predict new patterns, raise warning levels, etc. So cool! She has even gotten to go to a couple of the monitoring sites, which as you can see in these pictures isn't just amazing in the scientific sense. She gets a unique view of Alaska's rare beauty. (This view of Augustine taken by Mariah Tilman, courtesy of the Alaska Volcano Observatory.) I often joke with her about the volcano/earthquake movies out there, and how she's totally living those out!
Last night the movie plot thickened. My sister told me about a volcano that they expected no activity from in any of their lifetimes. People on the mainland took pictures of plumes coming from the Fourpeaked mountain region where they don't even have monitoring equipment because of the complete unlikelihood of activity there. (Photos courtesy of Alaska Volcano Observatory, taken by Lanny Simpson, Alaska High Mountain Images.) They confirmed ash in two places this week but they haven't pin-pointed the source yet. The only thing they can do is go look at the volcano. When they went out yesterday afternoon in a plane, the observers saw a steam plume coming down from above the clouds, but couldn't see the source. On this heavily glaciated mountain, there were two gushing waterfalls tumbling down the mountainside. It's so mysterious! So interesting! What could be causing this unexpected eruption? Does it correlate in any way with the other volcanic activity in the area? I personally find it absolutely fascinating. I feel cool just having the inside scoop. I'm very proud of my little sister, volcanologist extrordinaire.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Friday, September 15, 2006
When we moved to our new home, I saw the chance to make it the neighborhood I dreamed of. We set up for trick-or-treat the day after moving into our home, but few candy-beggars visited. A month later at Christmas time, I baked cookies and Beo and I delivered them to the neighbors, introducing ourselves since only our next-door neighbors had introduced themselves to us. Mostly we got looks of confusion and muttered thanks. The neighbors we knew gave us some of her own cookies a couple of days later. Reciprocity, I suppose. Was it that no one expects those kind of neighborly gifts and longer? Is it that people don't want to feel indebted to someone? Is it simply an overvaluation of privacy? After the second horrified look of a new neighbor presented with a load of fresh baked bread, I gave up. I stopped saying "Hello" when walking neighbors pretended not to hear me--or even crossed to the other side of the street. I stopped waving then every driver looked the other way--or worse, stared at me impassively. If they didn't want to be my friends, well I didn't want to be their friends either. So there.
I had settled into this frame of mind nicely. After all, we don't even have a "Neighborhood Association". It's a "Homeowner's Association". My neighbor-free life was broken only by pleasant surprises from our next door neighbors. One, a seamstress, asked if she could make Bird a Christmas Dress. Another, a pastor, offers us gifts of extra food from his church, and once even a jar of Apple Butter ("No preservatives or anything, and all of that natural stuff!" Gods bless him, too.) to thank us for sharing some excess produces. I neighbor them right back with pesto kits from the garden (complete with pine nut baggies!) and heirloom veggies (complete with history and recipe suggestions!).
My reverie of non-neighborness was broken by a conversation with my Dad. They're considering getting a play system for the kids, and my Dad asked if anyone else in our subdivsion had a play system yet. When we told him that we'd be the first, he said he thought we'd be surprised at how many friends we suddenly discovered when our play system was installed. I was a bit taken aback. Would people really bring their kids to our backyard? Did I want them to? The next week on an early morning run I spotted a play system like the model we'd been considering. It was one subdivision over. As I rounded the cul de sac, I realized that the house right across from them had a similar system, and there was a third right next door. They were all neatly fenced into their own spacious yards. I began to wonder if this lack of neighborliness had it's drawbacks after all. The following week in a more tighly packed rural suburb, I saw 3 play systems in adjoining yards. Back to back. I doubt they were even the reccomended distance apart from foreign objects. I felt tears spring to my eyes. What's more, we were on our way to an incredible neighborhood playground--just 2 blocks away.
This week on a flight to Pittsburgh I prepared myself to enjoy the bird's eye view of the country as we descended. Instead of pure amazement, I was shocked to see the rows of swimming pools that lined the backyards of the suburbs with matching houses. What about that 5th house--the one that broke the perfect line of pools? Even the smaller neighborhoods, obviously lower (middle) class even from the air, were dotted with splotches of blue. (It was very easy to find an example.) What's the point of all this chlorine?
Do Sprout and Bird see any parity between the lively neighbors of Sesame Street and our own? Do they ever envy (as I do) Mr. Rogers' friends, delivery men, and mayor popping in to say hello and have a visit? Maybe that kind of neighborhood is as imaginary to them as Dora and Calliou's neighborhood. Maybe they don't even know that they used to really exist. Maybe the don't realize that they still can. I'm reversing my stance on the acceptance of my non-neighborly neighborhood. I'm going to be knocking on doors again this year, armed with christmas cookies. We'll make this neighborhood a community yet.