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.