Wednesday, August 29, 2012


That is the long, mournful wail I heard from Eldest when he got to our garden plot yesterday. The last remaining baby watermelon, now baseball-sized, was savaged by some kind of animal, I'm guessing raccoon or skunk. Two of the others were eaten by something and one of them just mysteriously stopped growing and shriveled.

In happier garden news, we harvested all the early variety potatoes (Norland) and we got 30 pounds despite the blight. And almost 10 pounds of carrots from the first four rows I planted.

Friday, August 17, 2012

homeschooling angst

I've been meaning to do a homeschooling update for ages, but I haven't. I feel like Eldest is doing great in terms of his learning. He plays soccer weekly with the homeschool group, and it's such a great experience for him. The game is very informal and the kids who play are in a range of ages from about 4 to 11ish. He's gained so much physical confidence, and not only has his soccer gotten better, but it's expanded to other areas. He did amazingly in swimming lessons this summer and went from not even putting his face in the water in the first lesson to doing multiple dunks and even swimming underwater. I believe part of his success was due to the confidence he gained in soccer. Also, one day he announced he wanted to try riding the bike without training wheels. He hasn't taken it out since but I was so proud of his trying. (This is a kid who usually plays in the sand with trucks at the playground - he's just very physically cautious.) And the other day he even played around on some monkey bars and wasn't even troubled when he fell.

We tend to run a lot of errands thanks to my and the baby's dietary restrictions (sadly we can't get all the things we need at a single store), but I've noticed he's really creating a mental map of our town. He's always asking what the street signs say and saying things that show how much he's thinking about which streets go where. (Of course, this is the kid who, at 18 months, freaked out when I left a store and instead of going in the direction we came from, I went in the opposite direction to do a loop.) Our errands serve for math lessons too.

The other day we were buying some ham and turkey for sandwiches and he noticed that I asked for $5 worth of turkey but only $2 or $3 worth of ham. "Is ham more expensive than turkey?" I said yes. "Ohhhhhh," he said. "So if we got $5 worth of ham that would be like a POUND of ham." Exactly.

Later on, he mused, "I guess turkey must be more expensive to grow than ham," and started speculating about what that might be. 

We've also been weighing all the food we harvest from our garden plot. The scale has grams, kilographs, ounces and pounds. He thinks about numbers and measuring A LOT and has for a long time. He's been thinking about multiplication for more than a year.

He's not reading independently at all, but he's developing a great enthusiasm for words and signs. He has lots of sight words but for whatever reason he's not comfortable with sounding things out. We've been reading the Little House series and we're up book 6, The Long Winter. He's really developing a sense of history. The Olympics helped with his sense of geography too and seeing all the flags and country names. Although I find it slightly shameful how often we need to remind him that South Africa is a country but Africa is not. He gets the two confused all the time. (And in our house, because my husband is from South Africa and Eldest has been there twice, the topic comes up pretty frequently.)

So I feel like things are going really well in that way. It's exciting to see the connections he makes between something he hears today and something he learned three months ago. But I'm kind of struggling. Ever since Youngest broke the toddler barrier I've really had to shift my attention to constantly spotting him. It does help that our house is a totally open concept bungalow and cluttered and disorderly to boot so finds all kinds of trouble. Or that he is RECKLESS. (Did I tell you about our ambulance ride a few weeks ago?) Anyways, I feel like Eldest needs more engagement than I'm capable of right now. And I'm starting to wonder, can a mildly introverted parent and an extremely extraverted child (and reckless toddler) make unschooling work? I've heard that a good approach to unschooling is to start with the parent's interests and projects, but I want some alone time when I have mental energy. How do I get that?

Philosophically, I think unschooling is great, but I'm not sure I'm really capable. For weeks I had this question rolling around in my mind: What does it mean if I'm totally in support of homeschooling but I just can't do it? One day, an answer came to me: It means you don't have enough support. I believe that's true but community building is so slow, especially when it's a skill you havent really developed very well. (I recently realized that all my friendships have risen from regular contact like school or a job, and mostly disappeared when the convenience ended.)

Every time I ask Eldest if he has a preference, he votes for homeschooling. Until the other day. And I'm not clear why. He keeps throwing answers out but I have the distinct sense that he's saying what he thinks will matter to me and not what matters to him. That said, I feel strongly that I don't want him to make the decision by himself. The fact is my husband and I have more experience with school and its impact. Of course, as Eldest himself pointed out, he has more recent experience with school than we have.

Anyone out there with experience have advice?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

peach-raspberry crisp

I make fruit crisps pretty much all year round. In the spring, it's rhubarb custard crisp or rhubarb-strawberry crisp. Last summer was peach blueberry crisp. Then in the fall it was pear-cranberry-gingerbread crisp and apple-cranberry (I hope to perfect that recipe this fall and post it here... I didn't quite the gingerbread crisp reliable).

The other day I wanted to make peach crisp but the blueberries had already been eaten. So I used frozen raspberries instead and boy was it delicious. It's possible you could do with a bit more sugar with the fruit. When I tasted it right out of the oven it was a bit tart, but by the next day it was wonderful. That is one thing I've discovered with fruit crisps: they're always better on the second and third days. Anyways, I feel it is a public service to share this recipe for peach-raspberry crisp.

6 peaches, peeled and cut (about 2 lbs)
lemon zest (I barely had any... this was adapted from a peach-blueberry recipe so I'm thinking raspberries' tartness maybe don't need any)
2 tbsp lemon juice
2/3 cup white sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup brown rice flour (if you can tolerate gluten use all-purpose)
1 cup frozen raspberries

1 1/2 cups oats
1/4 + half of a 1/4 cup butter (or dairy-free substitute)
1/4 + half of a 1/4 cup brown sugar

(sorry for the awkward numbers - I wanted more crisp than the original recipe, which was 1 c. oats, 1/4 c. butter and 1/4 c. brown sugar)

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Combine the peaces, lemon zest, juice, white sugar, vanilla and flour in a bowl. Fold in raspberries. Let stand for 5 mins while you make the crisp.

Mix the crisp ingredients together with your hands until they're well blended. Pour the fruit into a baking dish (I use an 8x12 inch rectangular dish but I think pretty much any shape can work). Drop bits of the crisp mixture over the top as evenly as possible.

Bake for 40-45 minutes.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

on watermelon babies and other round things

I've dabbled with gardening here and there in various ways over the years. It's the kind of thing that I love the idea of but often not so much the actual work. I loved envisioning a garden and choosing and planting the plants. But after that my interest waned. (I believe this is typical ENFP behaviour.) Rather, my interest remained, in a passing kind of abstract way; I loved watching the plants grow and bloom and make seeds. I just didn't much care for the work of maintaining a garden: mostly, weeding. Such tedium!

I have a friend who is a brilliant flower gardener. I am a little in awe at how he never seems to mind the weeding. And he spends so much time just standing there, watching and looking. I liked looking at the garden while I walked by on the way somewhere else. But I was never a fan of watching a garden, like, just watching. I mean, there were no people!

In the vegetable garden this year, I was hoping that the promise of food would keep me motivated to get through the tedious work. Now, I have to say I don't spend a lot of time just watching, like while standing still. But I am loving the practice of observation it is instilling me. I manage to take an awful lot of information in about the weeds and the bugs and the plants and the soil. And whatever I miss is pointed out with great excitement by Eldest. His voice goes up several octaves when he exclaims about something new that I hadn't noticed. I don't weed as much as it needs it, but I am surprised by how much I actually enjoy weeding. It's very satisfying. I wish I could get more time there by myself but there are creatures I need to attend to at home as well. (Well, one creature, mainly, who would crash through everyone's garden plots and wreak havoc if a grown-up weren't policing his every move.)

I didn't spend much time planning, and I had no real context for envisioning what my vegetable garden might look like. I based all my decisions on what I enjoyed eating through the winter. I figured local organic produce is easy to get in the summer and was probably better purchased from people more knowledgeable than me. But winter vegetables were harder to find from local sources. I planted some Swiss chard, beets, lots of potatoes and a decent amount of carrots. I plan to grow cabbage and more beets in the fall to store. If I could find Brussels sprouts seeds I would try some of those, but I'll have to wait for next year. I stuck in some cilantro, basil, rosemary, cayenne peppers and sweet peppers because why not? And some peas because people said they were just too good not to. (Having eaten my weight in bought fresh peas recently, I must concur, but it looks like we won't be harvesting any from our own garden. Barely any seeds germinated and several of those that did died. Two plants were left and just as the pods were fattening up, they suddenly turned yellow and flaccid. I think it was just too hot for the poor peas. Next year, we'll plant them much sooner.) Eventually I want to grow my own beans for drying but I figured I'd start with bush beans to eat green this year. And some lettuce, because salads are good. Most I've planted from seeds, except for the herbs and peppers, which I bought as seedlings.

Just before I bought the seedlings, when I was still trying to figure out what to grow, Eldest mentioned that his favourite vegetable is cucumber and his very favourite fruit is watermelon. So when I saw cucumber and watermelon seedlings at the market, I made an impulse purchase. The cucumber shrivelled within days of transplanting (I've since learned that cucumbers do not like transplanting. And I think I added insult to injury with I fiddled with its roots in the process. Next year I'll direct seed.) The watermelon definitely suffered, and I thought it was going to go the way of the cucumber, but it made a comeback. Today it is healthy and happy and spreading like mad, so we put it up on a support so it doesn't crowd out my entire plot. Last week, or maybe it was the week before, it got the most beautiful small yellow blossoms on it, and we watched ants pollinate them. So far we've counted four tiny baby melons on it and there are more blossoms too.

When I was pregnant with Youngest, we told Eldest quite early on. Earlier than I really felt comfortable with, but my parents were coming for Thanksgiving and I was so horrendously nauseous I knew there was no way I could hide it from them. And it seemed so very wrong to tell anyone else in the family before telling Eldest. So we told him and hoped for the best. I remember each week telling him about how the baby was growing, and more than once the three of laughed about how the updates described the baby's size. It was always food related: "Your baby is the size of a kidney bean," a grape, a stuffed green olive... later, it was a cantaloupe and, eventually (it seemed to me anyways), a watermelon. Maybe I'm imagining the watermelon. Today, Eldest and I were shocked and delighted to discover that the biggest baby melon has already grown from pea-sized (and a small pea at that) to grape-sized. Actually, plump cherry-sized. In just a day or two! It's amazing!

In the early pages of The Resilient Gardener is the "Plant Gardener Covenant: 33 Gardening Golden Rules." Now, I'm going from sieve-like memory here, so I may not get it exactly right and anyways you should read it yourself because it's so eloquently written, but the covenant's premise is that domesticated plants are not so good at surviving the perils of life so they need our protection and care. They can't compete with weeds because their resources are spent making bigger fruits or roots or leaves for us to eat instead of competing. Even though I can't recite the details of the golden rules, I do feel deep affection for my plants. I mourned when I discovered my Norland potatoes have early blight (they're still producing potatoes but perhaps not as much as they would otherwise, and I believe they won't store for long, so we'll be eating them all up sooner than I might otherwise and eating them faster). I got angry with the unknown rabbit who ate our lettuce (although thankfully they all came back just fine from the trimming and we enjoyed them) and again with the unknown animal who messed with my cabbage seeds the other day. I felt genuine remorse when my poor peas succumbed, and not only because we probably wouldn't get to eat them. I felt I failed them.

Tonight, as Eldest and I crowed over the baby melons and how very cute they are and imagined enjoying them when they get big and ripe (even though I cautioned myself and him that I'd heard watermelons are very hard to grow so we mustn't get our hopes up too high. But surely getting pollinated and forming baby melons is a very important milestone?!?), it struck me as a bit odd to feel such tenderness for something I'm later going to around and EAT. But I guess livestock farmers do that all the time. And now that I think about it, maybe it isn't so odd. Maybe what's really odd is that I think it's odd.

Here are the very adorable babies:
the smallest one P7221725
the biggest one

(And now that I'm looking at the biggest one I'm fretting that the wire will cut off circulation to the melon. I hope it will be ok until morning when I can change it. Soon we will need to support the melons with slings made from old t-shirts.)

Sunday, July 15, 2012


So get this. If you stick some seeds, or potatoes, in some dirt, and water them and keep away the weeds that want to steal their water and sunshine, eventually you will get some food.

The other night we ate our first beets from the garden and tonight it was potatoes. It's really quite magic. Most of the pea plants have died so I dug up the poor struggling things and put some cabbage seeds down for a fall harvest. This could get addictive.

Here is our first, very large beet.


Monday, June 25, 2012

I can can

In my twenties, I suffered a lot of anxiety and panic. It went undiagnosed for a couple of years, during which time I thought I had some mysterious gastrointestinal illness. I was seriously phobic about vomiting, especially in public. I became paranoid about certain (most) foods, germs and pretty much stopped eating out for dinner. During this time, some poor man, a youngish father I think, got botulism from a baked potato of all things. I had to read all the media reports for my job at the time, and it was terrifying. Food contaminated with botulism doesn't look or taste any different, and if memory serves, refrigeration and heating don't kill it.

Around this time, my friend gave me a jar of her homemade pickled beets, which I love normally, but I was so paranoid about botulism I never had the courage to eat them. Years later another friend gave us a housewarming basket of all kinds of homecanned goodies and again, I never ate them. I am ashamed.

(During that job way back when, I remember alsoreading many articles about how most food poisoning happens at home, and they blamed the home cook's unsafe food handling practices rather than the industrially produced foods that have way more pathogens in them than they have had historically. But I digress.)

Anyways, this year I wanted to try canning. My epiphany this winter started me thinking about how fucked up it is to believe that industrially made food is safer than homemade food. In a factory, people do different steps separately. The workers have no connection with the person who may eat the food. They themselves may or may not eat the food. With homemade food, one person controls the whole process from start to finish, and they themselves eat the food. There's just a lot more accountability in homemade food, isn't there?

When I made the rhubarb relish, I wasn't planning to can it. I was just going to stick it in jars and let them seal and keep them in the fridge. But they didn't seal overnight, so I had to put them in a waterbath the next day. I wrung my hands and angsted on twitter and eventually sucked up my courage and did a super crazy long waterbath and the jars all sealed within half an hour afterwards. It wasn't that bad! In fact, it really wasn't that big a deal in the end. I'm still keeping them in the fridge but I'm not even sure that's necessary.

So I got a whole bunch of books about canning from the library and had a look through them all. In most of the books, I'd find one, maybe two recipes that I was interested in making. There were a whole lotta recipes I just had no interest in. But in Liana Krissoff's Canning for a New Generation, I want to make pretty much every recipe. Last weekend we had enough rhubarb and strawberries to make her Rhubarb Strawberry Jam. It did take a while but oh my goodness that jam is good. We went through a half-pint jar in about five days. It's bright red and beautiful, and full of flavour. For most of her jams, she takes the fruit out of the pot for a period of time and just cooks the juice so it gels without cooking the fruit beyond all recognition. And she also adds lemon juice, which I suspect keeps the colour and flavour so bright. Having grown up loving freezer strawberry jam (but having decided to eschew commercial pectin from my canning), these are all good things.

I also like her philosophy in general. She says, "Folks nowadays can for many reasons. [...] For me, putting up the very best produce I can find in season -- especially if it's homegrown or from a nearby farm -- is quite simply a way to spend some marginally productive time in the kitchen, preferably with my family and friends. [...] I understand that canning isn't really economical in most cases. If I didn't put up a dozen jars of strawberry jam each spring, I don't think I'd end up buying a dozen jars throughout the year to fill the void; I'd just eat something else. The point is, preserving food -- and thinking of delicious ways to use those preserves -- is fun."

Next I want to pickle the radishes we grew, then Chamomile-Scented Strawberry Syrup for pancakes, and Spiced Strawberry Butter for oatmeal, and of course some old-fashioned strawberry jam. Then Sour Cherry Preserves, Peaches in Vanilla Syrup, Peach and Cilantro Salsa, Cardamom Plum Jam, Roasted Red Peppers in Lemon Juice and Good Ketchup.

And of course, the best part is that she explains how these foods get preserved, and she covers botulism in particular. Botulism spores cannot survive in an acid environment, so as long as the food is acidic (as pretty much all fruit is and pickles and salsas), you're good. And all the recipes in the book are acidic. All this time, and botulism wasn't even a real concern with the pickled beets and salsas people gave me.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Grandma Ruth's Rhubarb Relish

Ever since I started this elimination diet, my milk supply has been a bit hit and miss. It was confusing because I was eating all kinds of oats and flax and other galactogogues. I was drinking many cups of nursing tea and that helped a bit. But every time I stopped, my supply would drop again. A few weeks ago I saw a tweet that said that if you're struggling with milk supply you should increase your protein.

I have never in my life been concerned with protein intake even though I've been mostly vegetarian for 12 years or so. I ate enough dairy, wheat, corn, soy, eggs, nuts and seeds that it was never a problem. But apparently when you're breastfeeding you need 65 grams of protein a day and a cup of oatmeal only has 6 grams in it. Ever since I've been struggling to eat more protein. We've already given up vegetarianism for chicken and fish, and we started cooking chicken ourselves. But there's only so much chicken and fish one can have in a week.

At the same time I've been reading a lot about how grass-fed meat is so much better for you than grain-fed meat. I've never had moral concerns with eating meat; my pseudo-vegetarianism was more about health and sustainability. So now I'm realizing that well-raised meat can be a part of a healthy diet and a healthy planet. 

I've discovered a local farmer who raises all kinds of pastured meat. She no longer sells at our usual market so yesterday we finally made the trek to the more distant market she sells at. We bought some nitrate-free bacon, turkey sausages, stewing goat (!) (I don't think I've ever eaten goat in my life!) and a chicken. Sadly she was out of the maple and cranberry pork sausage, cause I would totally try that.

It's so weird because I'd gotten really squeamish about eating red meat in my years away, but now I feel totally ok with it. (It helps that I'm REALLY HUNGRY for protein.) I've even been thinking about eating things like rabbit. There actually is a local rabbit farmer at the same market but my husband isn't quite there yet.

Anyways, we decided to have the turkey sausages today since rhubarb is plentiful and I've been wanting to make my Grandma Ruth's Rhubarb Relish for the first time. I have to say, it was super easy and pretty great. My mom was pretty vague with the canning instructions, so all I did was sterilize the jars and I'll keep them in the fridge. If you know about canning and things, please share what I should do.

Here's the recipe:

4 cups chopped rhubarb
4 cups chopped onions
3 cups white sugar
375 ml malt vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar to avoid the gluten and it tasted just as good)
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon

You throw them in a pot, mix it, bring it to a boil then let it boil gently for about 45 minutes. I think I let it boil a little too gently because it took over an hour before the rhubarb really broke down and it matched the consistency I have in my memory.

My family eats it with sausage and chicken. It would probably be great on a turkey sandwich or dipping pakoras into, but I haven't tried that.

Edited to add: If you like rhubarb, you should definitely try this recipe for rhubarb custard crisp. Yum!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Beltaine and first times

So apparently it's Beltaine today. I'd forgotten, although I'd like to make more of an effort to celebrate these seasonal days. I keep getting swept up in life and not realizing the day is coming until it's here. Oh well.

Yesterday, Eldest and I planted our first vegetable seeds in our new community garden plot. A row each of radishes, beets and Swiss chard. I was kind of freaking out about it before we went, to be honest. I don't know anything about anything and I felt like I needed to have it all planned out in advance. When I told my husband about my panic, he said, "That seems like a funny thing to panic about. I mean, the worst that can happen is nothing grows, and then you're out - what? - 20 bucks for the seeds? How can you go wrong?"

Well, when you put it like that...

I did develop a bit of a plan for the seeds we were going to plant first, but when we got there I changed it anyways and looking at the actual dirt, suddenly it wasn't so complicated. It wasn't exactly easy, because I don't think it's ever easy to feel that awful discomfort of not having an f-ing clue about what you're doing and doing it anyways. But simple. You drop little dried bits of pure potential life into dirt. And then you try to keep the dirt moist and without weeds.

We loosened the soil a bit with a couple of rakes, drew a line in it with my finger, dropped seeds in according to the instructions for each plant, then swept a bit of dirt over top and patted ever it ever so gently. After we planted the three rows, we watered it with a gentle mist from the hose. The most complicated tasks were unlocking the tool shed and untangling the hose.

It was a revelation to hang out with just me and Eldest. A treat. The garden was completely empty, so I would have felt lonely if I was there by myself, doing this thing I'd never done before (I've only grown from transplants before). He was great company and seriously helpful too. It was great to have another set of hands. We didn't get as much planted as I'd wanted to - we still need to plant the peas. I think we'll try that tomorrow, although we'll have the baby with us, so I'm not sure exactly how that will work.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


I think I may have done a disservice to Harriet Fasenfest when I said I didn't think I wanted A Householder's Guide to the Universe as a reference book. Now that I'm staring down the barrel of 150 square feet of garden space in a nearby community garden, I'm wishing I could refer to her planning charts: one for planting, which if I remember correctly, had sowing times and harvesting times for each variety so you could make sure you didn't overwhelm yourself, and one for preserving, so you could make sure you grow what you need and ditto on the overwhelming thing. I thought the charts were way too Type A for me, but now I'm realizing the real value. Ah well, I can always buy it, right?

Friday, April 13, 2012

homeschooling update

We've been homeschooling for six weeks now, so it's probably about time I gave some kind of an update. I've been pretty silent on the whole thing, because it's such new territory for us. If you'd told me last November that we'd be homeschooling in March, I would have thought you were crazy. It wasn't even on my radar of distant dreams.

But then my mind started working, and since I'm on mat leave, it seemed like the kind of thing we should just plunge into and see what happens. So we did.

It's been pretty good. We're taking a pretty unschooling approach, although we're careful never to use that word around family. Instead we describe it: we believe that children are learning machines so we use the things that we do anyways, the things that Eldest is interested in and the things that I'm interested to learn from. The first few weeks were heaven. The weather was mighty fine (26C in March!) and my parents were on a cruise in Asia. So every time we got an email from them, we'd look up where they were in an old 1984 world atlas I picked up at a thrift shop. Sometimes we had to google the old names of cities to find them on the map. Did you know Beijing used to be called Peking? You probably did but I didn't. And if my parents mentioned a specific site, we'd google that too and try to find pictures and videos. Eldest said he felt like he was right there with them. We'd go to the library and he'd type his search into the catalogue and I'd find the titles. Then we'd read them over the next week or so.

He also wrote emails to my parents himself. Given that he can't read (yet -- although he's making marked progress over the last several weeks), this was a time-consuming process for both of us, but very valuable. Sometimes he did all the typing and composing (I helped with spelling when he asked) and sometimes he narrated and I typed. And we spent lots of time outside -- at parks and in our yard. He's such an observer.

Then the baby started teething and waking up at all hours of the night and I felt awfully exhausted. We didn't do much in the way of deliberate, focused learning. Mostly it was about keeping our heads above water. He asked to learn how to operate the washer and dryer and has now taken to doing the laundry at every opportunity (Yay!) -- and there are many, trust me. He also asked to learn how to fry an egg and how to make a grilled cheese sandwich. He doesn't do all the steps but he did flip his egg successfully on the first try.

One day he announced he wanted to buy a toy hay baler he'd seen in one of those sneaky toy catalogues that sneaky toy companies put into their toy boxes. So he had to count up all his money before we went to the store. Then he had to figure out what he could afford (sadly not the hay baler) and whether he wanted to keep saving or buy something else. Since then he notes the prices of stuff at the stores we go to (which, because I'm still adjusting to the not-so-new restricted diet, is pretty much every other day).

But other than that, the learning has been a bit harder to track more recently. I did start to have some doubts. We haven't connected much with the local homeschooling group yet, so it's also a bit isolating. I still feel it's way too soon to tell one way or the other. But I'm feeling more confident again today. I read some blogs and a bit of a homeschooling book, and there are so many reasons we want to do this.

Today when we walked to a friend's house, we noticed the different trees, and we talked about when my grandparents were born and when his was born. We noted the native plants coming out in the small woodlot (trout lily leaves, mayapples beginning to unfurl and bloodroot already finished blooming). We talked about other stuff too, but of course I can't remember exactly what now.

I really don't think I need to worry about Eldest. He's such a curious scientist all on his own. He's picking up reading now that we have more time to read the books that really interest him, and also, I believe, because we've had time to talk about how being wrong or making mistakes is how we learn. And he also gets to see me making mistakes and feeling frustrated and disappointed about it, but also learning for the next time.

But I think my family thinks I'm crazy. Or at least my parents do. On Easter we visited with them and the homeschooling only came up if I mentioned it. And then I swore I saw a pinched expression on their faces that I haven't seen since I was much, much younger. And probably drunk. So that part is hard.

Anyways, this whole homeschooling thing still feels like a fragile little flower I'm cupping in my hands. One strong gust could blow it away, so that's a lot of why I've been silent.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

gluten-free cookies!

Someone I know has just been put on bedrest at 29 weeks. She already has two young children, and since I have the time and mental space, I scheduled a visit with her today. I dithered about what kind of food to make her. Her family has lots of allergies and intolerances, but since I've become recently acquainted with [everything]-free recipes myself, that wasn't such a problem.

I decided on my pumpkin soup and a batch of pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. I adapted this recipe to make it gluten, soy and dairy-free. I can't believe how delicious they were. I almost think they were better than the dairy and gluten-y recipe. So as a public service, here are the ingredients I used:

1 c. Earth Balance coconut spread
1 c. brown sugar (I was actually out of brown sugar so I used white with a dribble of molasses)
1 egg
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp vanilla
1 c. Bob's gluten-free all-purpose flour
1 c. teff flour
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1 1/4 c. quinoa flakes
1 tsp gluten and corn-free baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 c. dairy-free, soy-free chocolate chips.

Follow the original instructions.

Monday, April 2, 2012


I just finished watching this documentary, Think Global Act Rural. I watched it over several nights, as it's quite dense, thought-provoking material, and I watched it with English subtitles, which made my eyes tire out. But I definitely recommend it.

I think the most surprising thing that came up in the film for me is that growing crops and saving seeds was traditionally a woman's job in many cultures around the world. And more than one speaker in the film linked industrial agriculture's theft of seeds with patriarchy. I love the way this film connects several seemingly disparate issues. It's fascinating, and the speakers are all so well-spoken. I especially enjoyed Vandana Shiva.

Oh - and also Claude Bourguignon, one of the last soil microbiologists in France. He talks about how in the early 80s at university he started in agronomy but couldn't stand what the field was doing so he switched to soil microbiology where he was the only student. Shortly after her graduated, the entire department of soil microbiology shut down, a trend that he said happened around the world, so now there are no more soil microbiology departments. He says now anyone studying agriculture doesn't know that soil is alive.

Here is a trailer for the film.

I most definitely recommend it. More and more I'm starting to think that sustainable farming may be about the most radical thing a person can do.

My husband and I also watched Food Inc. a little while ago. I see its slogan is "You'll never look at dinner the same way again," and I'd have to say that was our experience. And I considered myself a pretty food savvy person. After watching it, the very next time we were at the Farmers' Market, we bought some pastured chicken and ground turkey. I'm seriously considering trying grass-fed beef, even though I haven't eaten beef in about 12 years. I have a friend who had similar gastrointestinal complaints after eating (corn-fed) beef but she said she recently was at a party with lots of grass-fed beef and she couldn't stop eating it and she didn't have any complaints afterward.

In addition to the startling information in the film, I liked that it portrayed all the farmers interviewed in a reasonable light. The only villains are the corporations driving all this crazy change. The chicken segment especially got me thinking about debt as a tool of social control. If you eat, you should watch it.

Edited to add:
I just did a little research on Vandana Shiva and wow! She studied philosophy here at Guelph! She's also a nuclear freakin' physicist! And she was recently here to receive an honorary degree. She also did an interview on CBC radio - definitely worth listening to.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Householder's Guide to the Universe

I finished A Householder's Guide to the Universe by Harriet Fasenfest some time ago. But I wanted to give it its due here in this space. It is a charming book, mixing her personal histories and viewpoints with practical tips and recipes. I definitely recommend reading it.

I got it from the library, based on a recommendation from Apron Stringz, one of my new favourite blogs (it's a new favourite for me, not a new blog). Unfortunately, I got it along with The Resilient Gardener, which I am still working my way through (Ack! Apparently I talked the title up a little too much. Someone placed a hold on it so I had to return it before I was even close to done). But within 20 pages of The Resilient Gardener, I thought I need to buy this book and have it as a reference. So the bar was set very hard for the Householder's Guide. And as charming as it was and as lovely a read as it was, I don't think I'll buy it to have on reference. I think when I get into jam making, I'll probably want a refresher on her way of making natural pectin from high-pectin fruits and her table of pectin contents of common fruits. But that's not quite enough to merit buying the whole book, for me. Of course, if I were to see it for $1 at a second-hand shop... well, I will gladly take it on.

Anyways... I really like her point of view. Here are some of her words for you to ponder:

"Being home to make a home was not always seen as a form of internment, the way it is today. It was not always th eplace of second choices or no choices at all. Home, for much of our history (for both men and women), was the center of our cultural, emotional, environmental, and physical well-being. It was the engine of our home economy, the place to practice our skills and trades. Being home meant being in place, living on the land you were to care for, surrounded by the resources you needed. But the farther we have moved from the land, the more the arts and trades required to manage a home have lost their significance. If householding is an attempt to bring the wisdom and the systems of the natural world back into the urban environment, we need to reevaluate what being home means."

And I especially enjoy her self-deprecation that comes out more towards the end of the book. I really identify with this:

"It's just that with so much damn intention crammed into a life, a person needs a little camaraderie. Of course, there is the distinct possibility that I'm as annoying as hell, and that even if everyone was home, I'd still be out in the cold. My friend Myo says she loves my 'self-obsession,' but that's because she's Italian and is used to people talking over each other. I understand I'm looking for a very particular relationship. Me: expat New York Jew, living in the land of hipsterism, growing food and still talking about Woodstock. You: someone who likes listening to me talk. Which is why I'm writing this book, I guess. Wow, a captive audience. But honestly, where do we meet?"

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

sweet dreams

As I write this, a bunch of sap is bubbling on the stove. I did a test drive several days ago, and didn't quite have enough sap to make true syrup, but the 50 mL of golden sugar water we did get was delicious. I figure I'll add it to tonight's batch to bring it closer to a syrup.

Since I got this idea to tap our trees, I keep having dreams that my breastmilk is actually maple syrup. Two or three times now. It's weird.

It hasn't been all smooth sailing with the sap collecting (nor with the breastfeeding either -- but I don't feel like writing about that right now). After we tapped two trees, we got a couple of litres of sap, then a cold snap meant no more sap. On Sunday it started flowing again, but it seemed the holes had dried up or something. So I took out the taps and redrilled the holes. I tried to google how to remove the taps but every page I looked on said simply, "pull the taps." Eventually my husband figured out to use needle-nosed pliers and just pull hard.

I tapped two more trees and just used four-litre jugs that we had gotten apple cider in. This morning they'd blown across the yard, and they wouldn't stay on the trees all day. Of course it didn't actually matter, because for some reason those trees weren't giving me any sap. One of the ones I redrilled has been quite generous though, and is largely responsible for what's boiling on my stove right now. Next year, I will make sure to buy buckets if I decide to tap trees again.

We are tapping Norway maples, which don't have as much sugar in their sap as sugar maples do. Now that I've boiled sap down once, I kind of understand why people focus their energy on sugar maples.

I've noticed a fair amount of leakage around the taps. I think this may be because I didn't have the right sized drill bit. I wonder if that might also cause the holes to dry up so quickly? I don't know. I am getting a very healthy respect for our brave maple sugar producers and also for the trees.

At one point, I was trying to solve the problem of the leaky tap and lamenting the drops that were not going in the bucket. "It's going to waste!" I cried.

Eldest said, "It's like we're the bad guys and the tree is our enemy."

"No," I said. "I think it's more like the tree is giving us something really special and we don't want to waste it."

"Oh yeah," he said.

My kid is funny.

Oh - and before I forget. Have a watch of this excellent TED talk by Winona LaDuke, a seed activist in Minnesota. She even mentions maple syrup. Did you know it was First Nations people who originated the whole thing?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

pasta with leeks, greens and pink fish

One of the good things about eliminating entire foods and their derivatives from your diet, is that suddenly take-out or eating out isn't the easy way out of dinner when you're tired. It makes things more complicated to try to eat food prepared by someone else who doesn't know about your requirements.

A few weeks or months ago, late in the week, I was out of our usual vegetable combinations so I couldn't do one of our standby dishes without going to the store. And I was too tired to drag my two kids to the store. So I looked in the fridge and consulted with a few tweeps. I had leeks, spinach, a can of salmon in the cupboard and some pasta. Could I throw them all together? Oh yes. It was so good, I made sure to take notes and I'm sharing it here because I'm nice. My amounts aren't precise but I'm sure it's forgiving. I've done it with both swiss chard and spinach, and also with both together. All good.

3 leeks, sliced (don't slice the darker green part)
a bunch of greens, chopped - I use spinach or chard usually
bay leaf
1/2 tsp oregano or thyme
1 tsp capers
a shake or two of ground cinnamon
1/2 cup white wine (I've also used a splash of apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar)
sea salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp (?) honey (I've also used maple syrup)

Saute the leeks in oil, bay leaf, oregano, salt and pepper. When it starts to soften, add capers, cinnamon and honey. Cook for a minute or two more, then pour in the wine. If you're using vinegar of some kind, add some water. Cover and steam until the leeks are good and soft.

Boil pasta.

Add the green and fish and cover again. Add more wine or water if it's drying out too much, though you don't want it too watery at the end. Check seasoning and adjust to taste. Drain the pasta and dump it in to mix. If I'm feeling smart I may have reserved some pasta cooking water to loosen things up but I've done it both ways and I'm not convinced it's better with the pasta water.



One of the many things I have to avoid during this elimination diet (and also during the reintroduction stage) is sulphites. They are not something I generally seek out, but equally, I don't necessarily try to avoid them either. Most of the things I usually eat with sulphites also had other prohibited foods like wheat, corn, egg, dairy or soy ingredients in them.

For whatever reason, I've been crazy about sauteed, sliced Brussels sprouts since my pregnancy, and I like to add a spoon of dijon towards the end of cooking them. My mustard doesn't have any prohibited ingredients in it except sulphites. In fact, I was shocked to discover it's pretty much only mustard powder, water and vinegar. I thought for sure there had to be some oil in it, and maybe even some egg. Anyways, I started to wonder what might be involved in attempting to make it myself.

Turns out, not much. Once again, a store-bought product that I had always assumed was far too labour-intensive or time-consuming for the home cook is totally not. This reinforces my current conspiracy-theory-thinking that everything we think we know is really just advertising transmitted through generations. (Just imagine the ad in the early 20th century for Grey Poupon or French's... "You don't want to slave away in your kitchen making mustard. Buy our mustard instead and just use it whenever you want." Or something like that...Actually, I couldn't resist trying to track down early ads for French's, which showed up in 1926, although the mustard was first sold in 1904. Check this out!

The text says:
"What woman doesn't like having the reputation of being able 'to do things' in the table she sets for family or friends? -- This mustard, fine and creamy, in your sauces, savories, salads -- in your cooking -- in your cold dishes -- will help along such good report. Wherever you use French's it adds a touch of irresistible flavor that banishes the commonplace. You will find the booklet offered very interesting.

No other Mustard has such Flavor"

Is it just me, or is there a whole lotta double entendres happening in that text?)

Anyways, I made mustard. I followed these instructions, and it couldn't have been easier. I even ground the mustard seeds by hand in my new mortar and pestle. I let it sit in the fridge overnight. I tasted it the next day, just by itself, because I was so curious, and it blew my head off with its heat. I did enjoy it -- sparingly -- on a salmon sandwich the other day (with quinoa, gluten-free bread) but it's really a bit hot and I'm not sure how to cool it down other than by applying heat.

So yesterday I bought some fresh steelhead trout and decided to try smearing the mustard on it and baking it in the oven (usually my husband barbecues our fish). I was nervous, as I haven't actually handled fresh fish myself but I'm getting more comfortable with the I-don't-know-how-to-do-this-and-it-feels-really-weird-and-unpleasant feeling and mostly ignored it. I mixed in a bit of maple syrup to tone the mustard down a bit, because I was worried the oven just wouldn't do it enough.

While the fish baked, I got on with the vegetables for my pasta with leeks, greens and pink fish. At the end, I flaked about half my trout into the leeks and greens and saved the other half for whatever we wanted. Mmmm, that fish was delicious. Like Homer, I wish I was eating that fish RIGHT NOW. But it disappeared way too quickly. I will totally do that again.

(I actually took this after I'd eaten most of it, so it doesn't look as good as it tasted. But look at the bowl! Five of them for only $1 each at the Salvation Army and they're from before 1891!)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

what I'm reading

I'm working my way through a fantastic cluster of books at the moment. I've finished The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball and A Householder's Guide to the Universe by Harriet Fasenfest. I'm currently reading The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times by Carol Deppe, as well as The Feast Nearby by Robin Mather and The Quarter Acre Farm by Spring Warren.

I'm not too far into the last two because I was so thoroughly pulled into the first three. The Dirty Life reads like a novel, and I devoured it in less than two days, even with two young children constantly trying to tear my attention away from it. Her story is incredible: a Manhattan writer moves to a farm with her new love, a radical farmer. They now run a CSA farm that feeds 200 people everything they need, from meats to veg to sweeteners.

Tonight I went to my monthly critique/photo gathering group. There are four of us involved, and tonight was our second meeting. Even though we have wildly different lives, it seems that we're all grappling with the same struggles, and mostly, photography is the least of them.

This morning I took my son to the library. I wanted to return the first two books I'd already finished, but I'd marked a few pages with passages I wanted to share here first, so I didn't. I came home from my group thinking about the passage I marked in The Dirty Life.

"When we would talk about our future in private, I would ask Mark if he really thought we had a chance. Of course we had a chance, he'd say, and anyway, it didn't matter if this venture failed. In his view, we were already a success, because we were doing something hard and it was something that mattered to us. You don't measure things like that with words like success or failure, he said. Satisfaction comes from trying hard things and then going on to the next hard thing, regardless of the outcome. What mattered was whether or not you were moving in a direction you thought was right."

I love this concept. This is what I'm trying to give myself permission to do.

Though if I'm honest, I'll share Kimball's next sentence: "This sounded extremely fishy to me."

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

the trees in my yard

Today I tried to make friends with my backyard. When we moved here it was beautifully landscaped, although by someone else's idea of beauty. It was full of exotic cultivars with blooms so big the puny stalks needed crutches to hold them up. The cultivars are still there, at least the ones who survived my refusal to water the softies. (Before we moved here, I was all about native plant gardening.) I haven't done a thing with the yard to make it more to my taste because I've refused to believe we're staying here.

Anyways, today was sunny and mild. Yesterday's crazy wind was gone, so I put the baby in the sling and hung out with Eldest for a bit.

I've gotten it into my head that I want to try making maple syrup. I know we have maple trees in my backyard but I haven't troubled myself to pay attention to exactly which ones are the maples. Last week Eldest gathered some old leaves that didn't get raked last fall, and we were able to figure out (from a book I found on one of my recent obsessive thrift store trips - yay!) that we have either sugar maples or Norway maples somewhere in the yard.

Unfortunately the book doesn't have great information about identifying trees in the winter. I did some googling and the bark seems to be a key. So today I studied the bark of each of the six big trees in turn. But honestly they all looked the same to me. And I studied the twig branching patterns way up in the sky, and every time I saw opposite branching, I was all Aha! A Maple! And then I'd see some alternate branching. And then when I saw a lot of alternate branching and was all Aha! Not Maple! Then I'd see some opposite branching. So I'm not much further ahead. I met a landscape architect in the neighbourhood last fall, so I'm hoping maybe she can help.

The one thing that makes me hesitate is that sugar maples are very vulnerable, especially in cities. This organization (which looks wonderful btw) actually makes it their policy to only tap Norway maples. It takes more Norway sap to make syrup than sugar maple sap but Norways are well adapted to the city.

So I may not have conclusively identified the trees in my yard, but I did begin to make friends with the place, at least to observe it.

And while I'm on the subject, check out this video. The message is grave but I find the woman so charming. I love that she just took this work on herself, at age 61, because it was important to her.

Monday, February 27, 2012

blog jam

Ugh. I have all these posts I want to write, all these thoughts I want to explore and connect, and they're all jumbled and jammed up in my throat. Or somewhere. Every night after the kids are in bed, I *could* write a post, but by that time the words or the thoughts or the urgency or the coherence have all disappeared.

I've been doing quite a bit of reading lately. Mostly related to homeschooling and self-sufficiency, and I'd love to blog about it. But these changes that I'm trying to nurture... I don't know. It feels like a single wee seedling and I need to keep it under glass until it gets a bit stronger. Although I'm comfortable with our decision to start by trying homeschooling, this whole giving-myself-permission-to-make-a-mistake-so-I-can-dive-into-the-unknown thing is pretty new territory for me, and it feels like one bitter gust could destroy it.

And there are other things piling up too. My photography is at a total standstill. The last several shoots I've tried to schedule have had to be cancelled mostly due to the baby's illness, but sometimes to the subject's illness. I haven't even been going out for walks, because the baby doesn't much care for the stroller, I worry about falling with him in the sling, and I wouldn't want to carry my heavy camera AND the baby anyways.

I'm on an elimination diet that means not only do I have to make everything I eat from scratch (which I've been pretty much doing for the last two months anyways because I was off dairy and soy) but even a lot of my recipes I can't eat because they involve eggs, wheat, gluten, refined sugar, chocolate, corn or tomatoes. So I've had to spend time researching new recipes and trying them. And I can't even have a glass of wine with dinner or a handful of dairy-free chocolate chips after it to ease my pain.

It's day 10 now, and I'm not sure what to think about the baby's reaction. He IS interested in food way more than he ever was before and he's coughing less. And he hasn't pooped in two days now but his poops haven't really changed. He still has a rash, and he's actually grumpier. He's gone back to hating the car like he did when he was 2 and 3 months old. A fact that has likely contributed to my recent isolation, since I've only been leaving the house to take Eldest to school and pick him up or buy more food.

Last night I asked my husband if maybe we could watch a movie together or something, but it was already 9 pm and he was really into a new e-book. And I was find with that, even though I was feeling kind of jangly and anxious and in need of grown-up conversation and company. Today Eldest is at school, and I could easily get together with a friend, but I can't really think of anyone to ask at such short notice. I could probably even get by with a conversation with my mom but she's in China for another few weeks so a phone call is not an option. Never mind the 14-hour time difference. Our real-life community, if you can even call it that, is so tiny it's almost like it doesn't exist. These moments when I feel vulnerable and overwhelmed are when I really notice. If the chicken I roasted last night felled us with salmonella, there is nobody I could call for help with even the smallest task. Talk about vulnerable.

One of the reasons I want to make a bunch of changes is to have time for community, to nurture friendships. But just having time isn't the only ingredient you need for good friendships. Neither is common values or liking each other. I'm realizing you also need a vacancy, and that's really a matter of luck. Or fate. I've got several people in town I'd like to develop friendships with, people I think like me too, but I'm pretty sure they're full up with friends.

Ugh. This has totally become a woe is me post, which is not what I was intending. Life really isn't that bad at all. It's just been a rough morning. We've been late for school every school day this year, and I really really hate being late. It makes me feel all squidgy and uncomfortable inside. Usually, I deal with this by never being late. Until recently I was able to manage things enough to be punctual for the stuff that matters to me. (And although school doesn't exactly matter to me, I hate signing in every day at the office. And I hate disrupting the class. I'm sure it's hard enough to get 20 four, five and six-year-olds to pay attention at the same time without someone else suddenly walking into class with a baby to boot.) But since we all started getting sick the mornings are just shot.

Things have been improving, but this morning we were all grumpy, especially the baby who was coughing and gagging more than in several days and pretty much didn't want to be put down. And me, whose tea brewed too long and nearly sent me into a panic attack. And Eldest, who was probably mostly responding to my grumpiness and a little bit of his own worries about jumping into the unknown of homeschooling (today is his second last day at school. Note to self: remember to read hims Scaredy Squirrel tonight). And my husband, who was out of coffee. By the time we got to school, I was nearly in tears feeling all incompetent and evil. And poor Eldest nearly was too.

So it's been a rough morning, and that can really mess with my perspective. So far I've found 2012 hard. But I've also had many moments of pure contentedness. Of rightness. I will feel those again, I am sure.

I don't know whether to hit publish on this post, because it feels awfully irrelevant, but maybe by publishing I can start to ease the blog jam and in a few posts be coherent again.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

emergency handmade V-day cards and other things

I've never been a big fan of Valentine's Day. Probably because of the 22 years of V-Days I was single on until I met my husband. It is more fun since Eldest was born, but I'm still just a curmudgeon who can't stand the Hallmark's angle.

Eldest's birthday party was supposed to be last Sunday but he came down with a miserable fever on the day, and when I wondered out loud if we should cancel, he jumped on the opportunity. "Yes, let's not have it today." That's when I knew he was really unwell.

So we had it today. And as the last kid left, his dad mentioned that the kids' teacher had asked him to let us know that tomorrow is red, white and pink day for the Valentine's celebration. Oh yeah. At 4 pm on Sunday afternoon, I was reminded that we needed to give Valentines to 18 kids the next day. I had actually remembered earlier when I left for the grocery store, and I was really tempted to just buy some at the store. But I forgot when I was there.

So we didn't have much choice in the handmade department. I was thinking we'd cut heart shapes and glue them onto construction paper. But when I thought about how long the glue would take to dry and trying to get Eldest to write his name on every one AFTER that, I didn't think that would happen. Then inspiration struck. I could use a pen to draw heart shapes and write the recipient's name and Eldest could colour them in and sign his name. No glue drying time required.

I have to say, I'm pretty impressed. I think they look awesome, and Eldest did all his part in one sitting. Less than an hour, I'm guessing.





I did help him with some of the colouring in, because we didn't have time to take a break. I had a blast colouring outside the lines.

* * *

A similar incident happened last weekend, when we realized we were out of wrapping paper at about 10 pm Saturday night. I was nursing the baby, so my husband took care of business. He did such a delightful job, I never want to buy wrapping paper again.


Monday, February 6, 2012

On teaching my child about Apartheid

When Eldest had just turned four, we took a trip to South Africa to visit my father-in-law and other aunts and uncles. Before the trip, we got some books about South Africa from the library. I read most of them to Eldest, but I couldn't bring myself to read the pages about Apartheid. I just didn't want my child to know yet how awful human beings could be. So I didn't say anything.

We still haven't told him about Apartheid, two years later. Until today.

Yesterday, Eldest's Nana gave him a copy of Nelson Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, a picture book version of Mandela's biography. He was too busy with other, flashier presents to notice it yesterday, but today at lunch I reminded him of it. I told him about Nelson Mandela, that he is an amazing South African. I told him about the unfair laws under Apartheid, and how Mandela and others were sent to jail for fighting against those laws.

His eyes nearly bugged out at this. To Eldest, jail is where bad guys go. To hear that somebody good could be sent to jail was, I'm sure, a head trip for him. So we talked about how good and bad can sometimes be hard to figure out. Eventually, we got to the part where Mandela was released (the same year my husband came to Canada with his mother) and the first democratic election and how most people voted for Mandela (including my husband, from here in Canada).

We also had to go over the fact that Africa is not a country but a continent with about 50 countries, one of which is South Africa. (Eldest was quick to say, "No wonder [his friend whose family is from Ghana] lives here so I made sure to emphasize that not all African countries had such unfair laws.) And we talked about democracy too.

As we read the book, I remembered - and told Eldest - that my husband's grandfather owned or ran (or both?) one of the schools Mandela went to as a child in the Eastern Cape. When we got to the part about Mandela marrying Winnie, I told Eldest I would show him the photo of my husband and I with her in Soweto - a totally chance encounter. When Mandela was sent to Robben Island, I told him I'd show him the photos we took there before Eldest was born.

One spread was especially difficult, about the Sharpeville Massacre. I didn't want to read it, but when I told Eldest I didn't want to read it to him, he insisted. And he'd already seen the picture, so I thought not knowing the words might scare him more. So I read it. Right down to the part where the Police, who to Eldest are always Good, opened fire on unarmed people who were protesting the pass book laws. They killed 69 people.

At times I nearly cried, imagining Eldest's experience of hearing this story. Like the details about Mandela's jail cell at Robben Island and his solitary confinement for reading a newspaper one of the guards left behind. Or when Mandela got released, after his hair turned gray, and he got to see his grandchildren. Twenty-seven years is a very long time.

It occurred to me that no other one-day-away-from-six-year-olds in Canada probably learn about Apartheid. I worried it would upset him too much, that I was damaging him. But this is part of his family history, kind of. And then I thought about the six-year-old black children under Apartheid, who were forced to learn first-hand about Apartheid and human cruelty. I don't know if it was right or wrong to tell him this now; I never will.

But after we read the book, we looked at the photos I mentioned, and we listened to some South African music from the Amandla! soundtrack, which as it happens, I'd just started listening to in the car again since this drive. I've actually been singing this song for weeks. The video I've attempted to embed below of Hugh Masakela singing "Bring Back Nelson Mandela" in 1987 when Mandela was still in jail is worth the watch.

So this is home/unschooling. In one hour we covered history, geography, politics, social justice and music. It was relevant and meaningful to his own interests, family and life experiences (he's been to SA twice already), so I suspect he will retain it better than weeks of dry grade 7 desk work. Granted, the subject matter is advanced, but he was utterly engaged. Every time I asked if we wanted to take a break from the book, he was adamant that he wanted to keep going. I remember doing an independent project on South Africa in grade 7 or 8. But all I can remember from it are that Johannesburg is on a plateau and they mine diamonds and gold. This is such a gross oversimplification of a beautiful and complex country. I also remember learning the term Apartheid, but it was such a dry description in the encyclopedia I was using that it never occurred to me to imagine what one person's experience might be like under that system. Today, Eldest imagined at least two versions of what that experience might be like -- Mandela's from the book, and his own father's experience as a privileged white person - and also his grandparents and what they did or didn't do to support the struggle for freedom.

I still worry about the effect of stripping the safe but false binaries from his world so young. But I think about that six-year-old child whose world was restricted by Apartheid, and I remember that we can't shelter our children from all the world's evils.

Edited to add:
Apparently it was actually my husband's great grandfather who ran one of the schools Mandela attended. And legend has it that he was the first white person Mandela ever shook hands with.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


A month ago, I was finally ready to say goodbye to cable. I was sick of how much I zoned out to it, when there are so many more interesting things to do. I was especially sick of how much it was Eldest's default. The instant he has a spare moment to feel even a second of boredom, he wants the tv. I was getting tired of constantly saying no, even after he'd already watched a couple hours.

So a month ago I was really ready. The Next Iron Chef and Work of Art were over, and I knew who won. All my usual dramas were on holiday hiatus. I knew it would sting a bit at first, but it was time. I'd been thinking about doing it for a year.

So I phoned the cable company and told them to disconnect us. Imagine my distress when I found out it would take another month before they would actually pull the plug. If I'd known that, I would have phoned a month earlier! Anyways, whatever, it would be cancelled eventually.

This morning, when Eldest turned the tv on, there was no signal. And the pvr that we owned didn't even work. Apparently there's some software in it that is now deactivated. So the last month of Wild Kratts and other shows for Eldest I've been stockpiling are for naught. Ah well. It stings but it will be ok.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

diving in

It's funny the things that can suddenly push you to make a decision you've been mulling over for a while. For us, on homeschooling, it was a pizza day sign-up form.

It came home from school on Wednesday and had to be sent back on the next day of school, Friday. I hadn't gotten a similar form completed and returned for the first part of the year, so my poor child had been having to bring his own lunch on pizza days and watch everyone else eat it while he ate leftovers or a sandwich. I didn't want to repeat my error.

When I first started considering homeschooling, I figured we'd keep him in school until the end of the year. He's on alternate days and home the other days, so I've been experimenting with homeschooling on his 'off' days. He's not exactly suffering or struggling, and I do like his teacher. She takes a more play-based approach and seems to appreciate his quirky aesthetic and sweet soul, and he hasn't been complaining about going to school the way he did last year.

Delaying was also a bit of a defence strategy, I think. Being an ENFP, I love generating ideas and starting projects, but not so much on following through or finishing. As a defence measure, I've become very wary about what I commit to, especially what I commit to in front of other people. I ponder and I think and mull and then I set it aside for a bit, then I ponder and think and mull. With homeschooling, I thought I needed to have all the answers figured out and everything planned and all the plan B's in place.

But then I started to feel myself losing fire and momentum. And it occurred to me that some of the best stuff I do in photography is when I have an idea and just jump in and shoot. I do lots of thinking and pondering and mulling too, then shoot some more and ponder some more and each phase of shooting and pondering moves my ideas forward.

Maybe homeschooling, especially the more child-led approach we're going to undertake, is like that too. And maybe we just need to dive in and see what unfolds. Maybe waiting until the end of the school year would only cause us to lose commitment.

So back to the pizza sheet. It came and the form was for the rest of the school year. And it sounds silly but those pizza slices add up. So I talked to my husband and then to Eldest and we all agreed that we'll start homeschooling in March, at which point we will have our own pizza days, complete with homemade dough.

I had planned to work through my thought process on homeschooling in this space, but instead I did it in conversation with my husband. What a concept! And I'm wary about sharing all the many reasons for homeschooling on the Internet (again, what a concept!). But I will say that the reasons reflect all aspects of our lives -- not just academic learning, but our values, our lifestyle, our family relationships.

Anyways, we're going to just dive in, in March. We won't know for sure if it's a good thing for us until we try.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

owl medicine

For the last several months, I've been noticing owls everywhere. In the beginning, it was always in stores - things to buy. I first bought the baby an adorable stuffed owl of all the right colours (brown, orange and turquoise) that has various sensory thingies. Then a couple of owl shirts (also with brown and turquoise) at Old Navy. I saw owls elsewhere in stores and figured it was just a trend. Wherever possible, I tried to resist.

I think it was in November that I went to visit a new person for my photo project. And owls were everywhere. She'd made a series of hanging owls that spelled out the word autumn. She had a more than 50-year-old owl cookie jar in the kitchen that was once a wedding gift for her grandparents. She had more owls on teensy shelves in the hallway. It was lovely. And these were not owls on things that a store was trying to sell.

I began to wonder if perhaps I should be paying more attention to these owls. If perhaps I was noticing them for reasons other than corporate marketing.

That day, I spent way longer visiting than I expected. I missed lunch entirely and had to race out to pick up Eldest at school, barely making it on time. She was a former early childhood educator and things we talked about got me thinking in new ways.

Later, I googled owl as totem. It was as I almost expected. Owls can see clearly in the dark and guide you back to your proper path if you've lost it. Owls can help you find balance, as they keep rodents (pests) in check. They are associated with death (and rebirth) and wisdom.

From the site:
"Yet even so, the Owl provides a vital function in keeping bird, rodent and insect populations in check; too many of any species is detrimental to the balance of all. So it is with other things in our own lives, for if we have too many possessions, too many projects, too much of anything, it limits and restricts our ability to move freely through the different areas of our lives and the result is stagnation which leads to the death of joy, happiness and abundance. Owl medicine then becomes crucial in helping us to clear out that which is no longer needed or wanted. What may seem like a death to us in the giving up of something may be for another the birth and manifestation of a dream. We are most likely to lose our way when we become enmeshed in the "shoulds" and "must haves" in life, most of which come not from our inner selves but from the opinions and beliefs of those around us. We can spend so much time listening to others about what we should want (and the commercials on the telly and radio are prime examples of this!) that we ignore what we really want. We find ourselves spiraling downwards into the darkness because we have become so busy thinking we must pursue this or hunt that, most of which provides very little, if any, real nourishment.

"Think for a moment what your life would be like if you were able to jettison anything that did not speak to you on a Soul level. What would remain? What then would you "hunt" because it provided for you on all levels? That is what Owl medicine teaches us to do. We find that as we begin to move through the process of what we truly want, clearing the old to make way for the new birth of the Self that is close at hand, we find that other obstacles, limitations, fears and anxieties also begin to "die" in our lives. They no longer have the hooks to remain attached to our energy fields and without our support, they must die."

Last weekend, I went back to photograph the woman. I'd been having a most shitty day before I arrived. My whole family was crabby (including me) and Eldest had had a godawful meltdown that included kicking me in the shin several times.

I felt immediate peace once I got in her door. There was lovely music, and dried goods in jars, and wood, and owls. It was good.


Monday, January 16, 2012

All are welcome

With my big internal shift, came a new awareness that I've completely lost touch with the natural world and its seasons. We do eat fairly seasonally, and we buy our seasonal produce at the farmers' market each Saturday. But we've really become divorced from how the seasons pass in a slightly wilder context.

Before Eldest was born - and even after he arrived until the end of my mat leave meant that he needed to go to bed earlier so he could wake up earlier for us all to get to our various, separate daytime locations - we went for walks regularly along the river after dinner. On weekends we walked to the farmers' market and then the library or the park for its playground. Even though these are particularly wild areas, we would hear the birds, and although we may not have consciously registered how the bird songs changed through the seasons, it was there. We walked through crunchy leaves in the fall and saw the acid green of new buds in spring sun. In the winter, we'd feel and hear all the different kinds of snow under our boots. We'd smell the leaf mould in fall and wet mud in the spring.

My husband and I even hiked the Bruce Trail on weekends for a while - and we enjoyed it. But somehow we've slipped away from all of that.

After we moved, all those things were far enough away that we could really only have walked to one of those places on each weekend day and it would have taken about a half a day to do it. The mall and a big, car-friendly plaza are within walking distance, but the entire way is along a very busy, four-lane street that is so loud, even conversation is difficult. Hearing birdsong is impossible. We do go outside, but it's not so integrated in our life anymore. We have to make a conscious effort.

I used to be into native plant gardening, but our new house (I still call it new even though we've lived in it for more than three years now) has so many gardens already in place, mostly with exotics, that I've completely lost interest. I haven't even been doing any maintenance because I'm so uninspired by it. (To be fair, I don't think I was ever a fan of garden maintenance work, it was really more about growing something where nothing was before, something that could provide food and shelter to birds and insects.)

And it's not just because we moved. I got into digital photography and blogging and twitter and all kinds of stuff that involves me plugging into a screen. We got a second computer, so that my husband and I can be plugged into separate screens at the same time, instead of having one plugged-in person and one potentially-antsy person pressuring the other to go outside with them. And the kids now go to bed right after dinner, which means that going for a nice family walk requires keeping them up late and risking horrible meltdowns.

* * *

For the longest time, traditional landscape photography (think Ansel Adams) has bored the pants off me. If I'm in a critique group and people start showing their photos of trees, I have absolutely nothing to offer. Inside I'm thinking BORING! and Wake me up when you get to some people, so I just don't say anything at all. But now, suddenly, I actually want to make pictures of trees.

I am not a fan of winter. It's much too cold and dark for my taste. (One of my most delicious sensory experiences is the first night of the summer when you can step outside in short sleeves and feel Warm Air on your arms. After dark.) But one thing I really like about winter is that after the leaves come off the trees, you get to see things that have been hidden for months. You get to see the bone structure of our world. Sometimes whole houses have been hidden, sometimes just windows you can now look into. Earlier this season I saw all these nests in the trees. At first I thought they were birds' nests, but I've since been told they're squirrels' nests.

Sometime recently, I saw a reference - maybe online, maybe in a book, I can't remember - to identifying trees by their silhouettes. As we drove to my parents' rural house for Christmas, I kept noticing all the differences between the various tree silhouettes, and I wanted to know what they meant. That's when it occurred to me that I could photograph the silhouettes. Maybe I could even use the photos to learn to identify them. I bet there's even an app for that, although I haven't looked for one yet.

* * *

On Friday, I drove out to meet someone who wants to participate in my photo project. She lives in a small town northwest of here, in Old Order Mennonite country. The drive was absolutely beautiful. It had snowed a bit early in the morning, so lots of the fields were dusted white. The trees that lined the road and ringed the fields were dark against the gray sky. Again and again, I saw trees I'd like to photograph. I vowed to stop and photograph them all on the way home.

At every house and barn I saw evidence of self-sufficiency and frugality: lines of laundry hanging to dry, hand-painted signs for rabbit meat, maple syrup, honey and potatoes. Many farmhouses had no lines connecting them to the old telephone poles that look like crucifixes.

(They made me think of a poem someone gave me for Christmas in high school. I still have the poem, but I can't lay my hands on it just now. It was typed out on a typewriter. I can't remember a word of it, but I remember the image of a line of telephone pole-crucifixes in winter. It was a stark poem, I think, certainly not a happy holiday ditty, and I felt privileged that she trusted me to share it.)

I passed a few lightweight black carriages pulled by a single horse, two or three people wearing black hats inside them. The first thing that welcomed me in the town was a cemetary, and a big sign that said ENTRANCE. I had enough time to wonder at a cemetary being an entrance before I saw its sibling: EXIT. Then a beautiful park next to a creek with a big playground and a yellow brick house with stained-glass windows and a sign out front that said BUY ME.

By this point I was feeling... I don't know, moved. Raw. Love. Lots of stuff. I felt like the universe was pointing me here, showing me other ways of living. I thought about how this photo project just keeps putting teachers and lessons in my life. I thought about how neat and weird it would be to follow this one impulse, right now, and just move to this town on a whim.

Just before I turned into my destination, I passed a Mennonite Church. Its sign said:

What does it mean to follow Jesus?
All are welcome

And I seriously wept.

It may be that the sign was intended to say that all are welcome to explore what it means to follow Jesus. But I read it as answering its own question. That IS what Jesus preached, I think: All are welcome.

What a wonderful openness to live by.

(Oh -- and just in case you're wondering, I didn't photograph those trees on the way home. Eldest was at a playdate and I stayed too long at the woman's house to justify any more time. I told myself I could do that on Saturday or Sunday or even Monday. And I didn't those days either. I'm realizing the light and the snow and everything was just perfect that day. Next time I want to photograph something I really must just do it.)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

the time I breached my own values

We are both a little shocked. Silent and and still and staring at the pile of vomit on the bare, stained old mattress with the stupid pink and blue floral pattern. Just the day before, when the doctor said he had asthma, I had already decided to get rid of the damn thing and all its stains and dust mites and who knows what else. The mattress used to belong to my grandpa. We got the bed too, but the frame had broken after a couple of years of our use, so Eldest was sleeping on the mattress and box spring on the floor. I'm sure the springs are broken; it creaks and dips suddenly when you struggle off it. My grandpa's been dead for years, longer than Eldest has been alive, so who knows how old the damn thing is.

So I stare at that pile of vomit, and I just want to take that awful mattress out to the curb right now. Eventually, I take Eldest to the bathroom, and he rinses his mouth with water and I go to my husband who has the not-sleeping baby, and I start to cry. I cry that Eldest is still in that bathroom by himself while I cry out here. I don't want him to see me crying because it might scare him and I do because then he'll know this really matters to me. I cry that I tried to wrestle an inhaler onto my panicking child, wrestled until he had a coughing fit and vomited. I cry, because of all the people in the world, I should have known better. I cry, because I had a moment when I thought this just isn't going to work; I should just give up and talk to the doctor about alternatives or sedatives since he's not having asthma attacks or wheezing. Then I thought, like a thug, No. I should pin him down. I cry because as I struggled to pin him down (for his own good), and he writhed and kicked and screamed, I felt anger. I cry because I feel ashamed, and it's not something I've felt, as a parent, for a very very long time.

This morning he said his shoulders hurt. No, I lie. What he actually said was that I hurt his shoulders.

I go back to the bathroom when I'm still crying, and he registers my tears. We hug, he rinses his mouth, I apologize and explain and apologize some more. He comes to the door of my bedroom while I change my shirt, a small smile playing on his lips.

I wonder if it's a victory smile now that we've given up on the inhaler. But no.

"I'm just thinking about how much I liked the taste of your turkey chili tonight. But not so much when it came back up."


Monday, January 9, 2012

Me? Homeschool?

It all started just before Christmas when I was googling dairy and soy intolerance in babies. Somehow I landed on the Analytical Armadillo. And while I was exploring older posts there, I read one about homeschooling. It's pretty compelling, especially the bit that points out that if you think about all the herding that has to take place at school, the kids really only get a couple of hours of real instruction. And then I read this Fraser Institute report on homeschooling that says that in all measures - academically, socially, emotionally, behaviourally - homeschooled children perform at least as well as and often better than their institutionally-schooled counterparts.

So I'm considering homeschooling. For real. This is kind of a shock to me. I've always been intrigued by the idea, and reading Nan's reports of exploring the educational content in Star Trek, among other learning she's embarked on with her kids especially piqued my interest. But I was convinced I wasn't patient enough or earth-mother enough or crafty enough or [insert any descriptor here that you think might describe the cliched homeschooler] to do it. I also didn't think I would want to spend 6 or 7 hours a day actively teaching my kid at a desk.

But my mind is opening. First, it doesn't have to be many hours at all of formal instruction, if any. My kid learns from the conversations we have and things we do just going to the grocery store and the post office. Not to mention the learning he does on his own through play and pursuing his own passions. Second, I've had many niggling concerns about his experience at school. He's not struggling particularly and he hasn't complained this year, but there are many ways in which the school really doesn't model our values (I'll share more on that later).

In June 2010 (before my child was in school), I actually photographed two families who "unschool" their kids. One was more radical than the other, and although I totally understood and even agreed with their reasons for unschooling, it seemed so radical, such a hugely dangerous experiment. Now that my son is in school, it suddenly doesn't seem so radical or dangerous at all. School clearly brings its own set of dangers (as both my husband and I experienced personally during our earlier lives). And parenting is always a big experiment.

On Saturday, I found a copy of The Unschooling Handbook at my local used bookstore. That night, as I was reading it, something fell out of the chapter entitled "How can you tell they're learning?" It was a pressed stalk of lavender, known for its calming qualities. When I brought it to my nose, it smelled delicious. It feels like a gift.

Monday, January 2, 2012

a second post!

I've always admired hippie-type people. My eldest's first childcare situation was in the home of someone I'd describe as a hippie-type person. She was wonderful - fed him great food, was endlessly patient and kind and warm, exposed him to lots of musical instruments and crafts, encouraged lots of outside time. When she decided to go back to school, she and I both cried on his last day, and she gave us a sort of quilted hanging thing with his name on it that she'd sewn. In my mind, she was crafty. I always felt like a bit of a fraud around her and her friends, like I wasn't really hippie enough to hang around them.

I'm only just realizing how utterly stupid that was.

One of my struggles with whether it's right for me to quit my job and stay home with my kids is that I don't see myself as having the qualities of a good stay-at-home mom. I'm not crafty or patient. I can't really sew. I hate cleaning, mostly. I wouldn't mind a much tidier home, but I always have a million other things I do instead. I'm a reasonable cook, and I enjoy doing it when I'm not under time constraints, but that's pretty much it for my domestic skills.

I once fantasized about learning to make furniture and stained glass, but I quickly stomped on that. "I'm not handy. I can't work with my hands." When I see arts and crafts that I admire, and I think about incorporating some of the techniques into my artwork, I think, "But I'm not crafty. I don't have the patience for that kind of thing."

In my day job, I write and edit. I always feel annoyed when people say, "You have such a talent. I can't write for shit." (They haven't seen the crap I wrote when I was 15 and 16.) I've always maintained that all good writers start out writing crap. The only thing that separates good writers from bad writers is the drive to get better. And writers only get better by writing and reading. I've discovered it's the same with photography. Everyone starts out making crap pictures. You only get better by making more pictures and looking at more pictures and thinking about pictures. And every time you try to learn a new tool or technique, your pictures start sucking again. So why, in all this time, have I not figured out that this principle probably applies to everything?!?

Early in Radical Homemakers, she mentions mending your clothes instead of buying more. Immediately, I thought, "But I'm not crafty. I can't sew."

Later, people in the book talk about how important attitude is in reclaiming domestic skills. That it's not about what you know, but what you're willing to learn. There is no reason you can't learn something new. There's no reason I can't learn to sew or make crafts or whatever else needs to be done or that I want to do. It will feel like shit to suck at something again, but that will eventually lessen I'm sure.

This makes me wonder if perhaps there isn't some innate, you either have it or you don't, hippie-type trait after all. Maybe we're all just living our lives, doing things we've learned to do well and not so much on the other things.

We spent a few days at my parents' house over Christmas. And it suddenly struck me where a lot of this negative self-talk came from. My mom. I remember her saying, specifically, "I'm not crafty," many times over my life. Like when she taught me to knit and pulled out the baby blanket she was still working on -- for a child who was, by then, 16. I don't want to get into mother-blaming; we're all flawed and trying really hard. But I don't want to listen to that voice anymore. If I want to do something, I'm just going to give it a try and let myself suck at something.

The grout is falling out of our shower. For a long time, I wondered what kind of contractor to hire. It wasn't a whole tiling job, just digging out the grout and regrouting. Who would do such a small job? Well, last week I decided I would. I'm not going to lie, digging out the old grout was tedious. But every time I got impatient or thought about how boring the job was, I also thought that if work like this will allow me to quit salaried employment, it was well worth a few hours of tedious work. I didn't quite finish the job myself. After I dug out enough grout, I was about to mix up the new grout and discovered huge warnings all over the box. I got paranoid about breastfeeding and possibly ingesting the stuff, so I got my husband to do it. Anyways, the job is done, mostly if rather messily, and we can shower again, and we didn't drop a couple hundred dollars to have it done. If/when we decide to sell, that's one less job we'll have to do.

Today, I made chicken stock with the carcass of last night's roast chicken (which won nice reviews around the table). I almost chickened out (ha), because I wasn't sure what kind of soup to make with it since we didn't have any chicken meat left after lunch today, but I took a stab. And I gotta, I'm pretty won over by making my own stock. So now I have a freezer bag of vegetable scraps started in my freezer. When it's full and I want to smell a simmering pot of stock, I will make vegetable stock. This is heady stuff, this whole learning new things stuff.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

first post

It feels a bit premature to go starting a whole new blog when I haven't even made any life changes yet, but I feel an internal shift has happened and I want to capture some of it. And if I do follow through with the external changes, it would be nice to have a place to write about that.

It's a simple enough path, one that's many before and after and alongside me will choose, nothing special really. I want to end my salaried employment and hang out with my kids and make photographs and cook and eat real food and generally slow everything down. I've been thinking about this for a long time - seriously, for two years; less seriously forever? But fears held me back. In late 2007, I caught up with a high school friend who, to me, seemed to be living the dream: living on a farm with three kids and horses and making time to follow her passion for writing. I had a moment of envy. Then a sharp thought: My husband was earning enough now that there was no reason I couldn't do that myself. And I was overwhelmed with fear. That was it, I thought. I would always be too afraid to leave the salaried workforce.

Around the same time, I got a promotion and a new manager at work, a real firecracker. It was the first time I'd worked for someone who was better at my job than I was, and I was learning like mad. I discovered I WAS ambitious: in the sense that I enjoyed my job and wanted to get better at it and earn the respect of others for being good at it (NOT in the sense of wanting to climb a corporate ladder). I wanted to continue working.

I also started volunteering at a drop-in centre, and was constantly aware of (and trying to hide) my affluence. Somehow my mind took all these things and spat out a conclusion: Clearly the smart thing to do was to buy a bigger house, one that required two incomes, since clearly I would always be too chickenshit to stop earning mine. This was before all the financial shit hit the 2008 fan, and I was still buying the idea that real estate was always a good investment. I thought that the only way to make up for my affluent life was at least to be smart about and make a good investment, instead of frittering my money away on STUFF. So in August 2008, we took possession of a bigger house in a bland suburban neighbourhood. The regrets set in pretty quickly, for a variety of reasons. The house wasn't as nice as we'd thought and walking downtown or even to our favourite park wasn't as doable as we'd thought either.

Within a year, I started thinking about quitting my job. My firecracker manager was one of those super women who was a crazy hard worker and also a really engaged mother (though her children were adults). I admired her so much I tried really hard to keep up, but soon I was a big anger ball. At work, at home, I didn't discriminate. Before I started my mat leave last May, I had managed for the previous six months to enforce better boundaries around my work/life balance, but it's really exhausting to swim against the current like that.

With the financial crises that have hit since 2008, I've also discovered that real estate is not a great investment. For one thing, if you want to cash it in, you have to move your home. For another, property values aren't constant. And for a third, you have to maintain it and keep up with the Joneses if you want to make money on 'your investment.'

Anyways, for the last two years I've been contemplating major life changes and trying to find clarity about what to do. Most of my adult life has relied on making decisions based on fear (also known as risk assessments), and I want to try making decisions based on its opposite: love. My latest thinking is that I may never be certain about what to do, and at some point I'm just going to have to take a chance and dive in. Nothing is permanent, and no single decision is really going to ruin our lives. We are more resilient than that.

But over the last few months, every time I think I've decided to just give it a shot so I don't spend my life wondering what might have been, I have a panic attack within 24 hours. The problem with not making decisions based on fear is that life gets kind of scary. At least for this anxiety-prone person. A few weeks ago, my husband's employer got bought by something or other. He believes his job may be in jeopardy. It almost made me decide to give up and just go back to work when my mat leave is over. But then I came upon Radical Homemakers in the library. And it's come at just the right time.

Maybe the idea of a full-time job as security is just an illusion. Maybe learning how to do things yourself instead of depending on money to buy or hire them offers more security than the money from a full-time job. Maybe being able to produce your own food offers more security. Maybe getting off the more more more faster faster faster train offers more security and better health.

Maybe everything we think we know, all the conventional 'wisdom' and common sense, has come from advertisers and corporate marketing over the last four generations of people. Maybe the notion of financial independence (i.e., borrowing from large financial institutions to buy a house instead of saving up or borrowing from family) really just serves financial institutions. Maybe the idea of real estate as a good investment has just been fed to us by financial institutions so they can make more money.

It's been a week or so since I started reading Radical Homemakers and once again, I feel fairly certain of the path I want to take. I'm not exactly sure how we'll make it work, but we have some time to figure that out. It's been a week and I'm still waiting for a panic attack. This is exciting stuff.

* * *

Since I started this post, I've put a whole chicken in the oven. This was the first time I've ever handled a whole chicken, and it made me feel squidgy. But also kind of grown-up, like the first time I used up a 5-kg bag of flour. I've always eaten chicken, but until last year, I've never actually cooked it. I always felt like it was a dangerous thing to have in my kitchen, and somehow safer from a restaurant. But maybe THAT idea is also the product of marketing and advertising. That manufactured food is safer and more reliable than home-grown, home-cooked food. It also makes those manufacturers a lot richer, now doesn't it?

I'm not usually one for New Year's resolutions, but this year, my desire and readiness for change happen to coincide with the start of the year. This year, I want to make, grow, repair and barter for more and buy/hire less. Developing the skills and community required to do this will put me in a better position for if/when I make the big official change.

I love that I am starting the New Year with something I've never done before. Fingers crossed none of us gets sick, so I can develop a bit more confidence with chicken. Tomorrow, my son has convinced me to take another strange food producing fear: yeasted breads. Tomorrow, we will attempt making cinnamon buns. I think.