December 09, 2009

A note to my future self: when Cliff Mass says it's going to be cold, get out there and bring in the rest of the root vegetables. I spent about an hour in the p-patch this morning (two pairs of long johns under the jeans, two scarves, hat, two shirts, sweatshirt, jacket, and gardening gloves) using a shovel to pry beets and carrots out of the ground, then chipping frozen soil off them with the digging fork (since maybe the dirt should stay in the p-patch and not get washed down the kitchen sink). I filled a 15 lb butter box about 3/4 full with mostly carrots and a handful of beets.

Caitlyn was happy to go to the p-patch (before we left the house), and she played around for a while. But then she looked at her mittens and discovered that handling frozen clods of garden soil equals muddy mittens. This made them dirty and she wouldn't wear them any more. Another reason to get the roots in before the ground freezes around them: they are really hard to chip out with 40 lbs of preschooler in your lap.

I'll probably leave the carrots that are in the back yard garden right where they are for now. Prying them out of the soil is sounding less and less like fun. Besides, I can call it an experiment: what shape are carrots in after they've frozen and then thawed out again in the ground? Will I get usable carrots or will they dissolve into carroty mush?

December 08, 2009

Ok, so I've been seriously slacking on this blogging/writing front, and I'm starting to have little niggling ambitions of getting back into things. I've been perusing other blogs and I'm jealous, so we'll see how far I can capitalize on that. One thing I think I'll need to do is more actively remember that we have a camera (several, actually) and that I could take pictures of what I do and post those. Which means, of course, that we need to streamline the process of getting photos to my blog, since the process right now involves multiple computers and too many desks.

The house smells like bread right now, since there's a sandwich loaf in the oven. The top halves of my baby carrot-pecan loaves are beautiful, but since we're flippin' freezing in Seattle right now - not kidding, NOAA says it's 26 degrees outside - the loaf pans were insufficiently buttered on the bottom (because my kitchen is cold in the winter when I'm not baking), so the loaves didn't come out clean. Perhaps it won't really matter when it's time to wrap the loaves for shipping to great-grandparents. I used some of the carrots harvested earlier this year, which I've been storing in the fridge, so far successfully. There's no sign of mold, but the poor things are desperately trying to meet their carroty destiny, sprouting tiny white rootlets and sending new greens off the tops. Can't help but think that they are happier than the carrots I was storing out in the garden which are now frozen in their beds.

There's a batch of yogurt doing it's thing on the counter, and I made a batch of butter. That's actually hard to claim - I put cream in the mixer and let it go and go while I made carrot-pecan bread, and butter was the result. To say I made the butter implies I churned it or at least put the cream in a jar and shook it for 30 minutes, which I suppose isn't unreasonable for me to have done, but not this time. There's a kind of magic to butter from the mixer since you can hear when it's done, the buttermilk separates so suddenly. I'll use the buttermilk tomorrow evening for our pancake dinner.

December 07, 2009

I've had a fairly steady routine script at bedtime for the last 3 years or so. After Caitlyn's lullabies, I say, "Sweet dreams. Mama loves you. See you in the morning." For quite some time now, Caitlyn has repeated each sentence back to me in a bedtime call and response sort of thing.

Tonight's version went like this:

Me: Sweet dreams.
Her: Sweet dreams.
Me: See you in the morning. Mama loves you.
Her: Mama loves you. I mean, Caitlyn loves you.

She's just shy of four and one-half. This is the first time she's changed the subject of that sentence. Makes a mama's heart go all mushy.

October 13, 2009

It's a blustery day, with the leaves skipping off the trees downtown and swirling around before flying away, kind of like Ridley Scott was in town. It's cold and wet and grey, much like someone threw a switch and our Last Gasp of Summer (mild, golden days that light up the color on the trees so everything just sort of glows, again, in some filmmaker's lighting dream) is over.

So, it seems reasonable to inventory the work of the summer:
39 qts canned tomatoes
12 pts peaches + 7 pts & 1 qt left from last year
2 qts + 1 pt cherries
12 pts apricots + 2 quarts from 2 years ago
13 pts applesauce + 2 pts from last year (apples from Pop & Lianna's trees)
3 1/2 half pts + 10 1/4 pts roasted red pepper spread
6 1/2 pts tomato preserves
5 1/2 pts rhubarb from last year
9 1/2 pts raspberry jam
10 1/2 pts blackberry jam (scavenged wild berries)
7 1/2 pts strawberry jam
8 1/2 pts apricot jam
2 1/2 pts dried celery
7 1/2 pts dried green pepper
5 1/2 pts dried red pepper
3 1/2 pts dried yellow pepper
2 1/2 pts dried green onion (I grew these)
8 pts dried asian pears
6 gal bags frozen strawberries
4 gal bags frozen peaches
2 gal bags frozen cherries
5 pts frozen roasted red pepper
8 qts frozen blueberries
2 qts frozen blackberries
8 qt frozen raspberries
3 qts + 3 pts frozen spinach
5 qt frozen corn
2 qts + 2 pts frozen carrots
10 qt. frozen green beans (homegrown)
4 qt. frozen peas (about half homegrown)
8 pts frozen chopped zucchini
4 pts frozen shredded zucchini
10 1/4 pts frozen pesto
2 pts frozen pumpkin
6 qts frozen broccoli

2 whole pumpkins
5 whole butternuts (2 from our p-patch)
50 lbs. yellow onions (approximately, some homegrown)
48 lb. potatoes from our garden (homegrown)
18 lbs apples
unknown quantities of carrots (some still in the garden) and kale (all still in the garden)

The chest freezer is full, the kitchen freezer is full, the pantry is full. I've even got some home-milled flour in the freezer, and pounds of whole wheat berries. And the garage is almost done being rearranged (just as soon as I can find someone with more body mass than I who can wrestle a hard-to-leverage screw into place) and my cheese-aging refrigerator is in place (it was the cheaper alternative to getting a cave).

Time for warm and cosy things. Soup. Quilts. Books. Even mulled wine.

Happy Autumnal Blessings!

October 12, 2009

We planted some fruit trees in our neighborhood a week or so ago. Dry day, but brisk and breezy and not at all friendly to the reporter who showed up in a too-thin, mostly-decorative jacket. She shivered while asking questions, poor thing.

Anyway, the results are here, complete with a (much abbreviated) quote from me and a photo with Caitlyn in the background. She's the blond behind the girl who is the focal point of the photo.

With any luck, the trees will survive our inexpert, all-volunteer planting job, their first winter, and the attentions of our neighborhood kids. It'll be great when our community orchard starts producing!

September 29, 2009

This past year, the garden and I (with help from Caitlyn) produced 48 pounds of potatoes. We grew lots of other things, but the potatoes I'm particularly pleased with. So much so, I thought it merited it's own post, with nothing else.

August 16, 2009

Caitlyn is into nonsense, especially nonsense that rhymes or alliterates. She rattled off a string of it this evening while we waited for dinner to be served (Galway Bay in Ocean Shores - these are good potatoes!), then looked over to me and announced, "It's funny the first time."

See, she's also into repeating things that get a laugh out of people. Giggle the first time she says something and she'll repeat it til your head explodes. We've been telling her that just because something is funny the first time, it's not funny after that.

Of course, random nonsense for no good reason (that I can see - I'm sure she had one) wasn't funny, so I explained. "It's funny the first time, if it's funny. But just because it's the first time you've said it, doesn't make it funny."

"Oh," she says, "that's funny."

August 12, 2009

Until the Industrial Revolution came along and turned children into cheap labor, children were the opposite: valuable labor. Either they helped out on the farm... or they helped their masters, and in turn their masters taught them a skill by which they could eventually make a living... Adults and children worked together, and there wasn't such a huge gulf between them. Not that children were considered mini-adults, unloved and exploited. Just that children were expected to rise to the adulthood all around them, not stew in adorable incompetence. (emphasis mine)

August 10, 2009

Late start to the day - catching up on sleep after the weekend! Hooray for birthday parties!

Mondays are chore days: water plants, do laundry, etc. Odd that this Monday didn't also include make yogurt or bake bread. We picked beans from both the back yard and the P-Patch plot, as well as tomatoes. Made a garlicky roasted corn soup - must remember to add some notes to the cookbook regarding the extra garlic and onions that went into the soup this time. It's a lovely, creamy thing - just right for a cool and almost rainy dinner. Also cooked down some Japanese plums (they taste a bit like plum wine, but they haven't fermented yet) that were over-ripening in the fridge and made a thick syrup out of them.

Desperately trying to catch up on work and email before the weekend, when I inevitably get behind again.

Caitlyn is practicing setting up and cleaning up her own projects. She played with rubber stamps and paper flowers all by herself today. Still working on understanding the proper way to relate to the cat, though. Wasabi is not a pillow and doesn't appreciate being treated like a doll or like he's Caitlyn's baby tiger (she's the older sister baby tiger). He's really not crazy about having Caitlyn either follow him around (she copies him) or try to control his access to spaces by roaring at him.

We're also having lots of talks about trust, and how it's something you earn. Your parents will respect your privacy in the bathroom when we are sure that (a) you are going to the bathroom like we asked not just standing the in the bathroom and then coming out and saying you're all done, (b) you are completing all the necessary steps, and (c) you are washing your hands with soap, not just rinsing them off. You will get to play outside with your chalk when you can demonstrate that if the cat is outside with you, you won't try to relocate the cat by dragging him by his tail.

June 10, 2009

Caitlyn likes to make this weird lip-smacking/kinda-kissy noise, which I can't stand, partly because it's repetitive and partly for some unpleasant associations which she wouldn't understand if I tried to explain. She thinks it's a bird noise. Fine by me, just don't do it where I am, so I don't hear it. So,

Me: "Don't make that sound, Caitlyn, or do it where I can't hear you."

Caitlyn: "Ok."

But the Annoying Sound resumes.

Me: "Don't make that sound!"

Caitlyn: "But I covered my ears!"

April 06, 2009

An African gentleman, probably Somali, boarded the bus we were riding to school this morning. Older, in a three piece suit, henna'd beard, traditional hat, talking on his cellphone. Caitlyn looked at him, turned to me and said, "He looks like God."


"The man over there. He looks like God."

"He looks like God? Why?"

"Because he's wearing the same hat."

"Oh? Does God wear a hat like that?"


"Does God also talk on the phone?"


March 24, 2009

Really excellent post: Becoming Indigenous (thanks, Ian, for the link!)

As the old system collapses under it's own weight, things inevitably become more local. Local food, local business, local entertainment. This is a good thing. It's important to be rooted - read this and find out why.

March 20, 2009

Caitlyn came upstairs this morning and announced to her sleep-fogged parents that she had dressed herself in shorts and a short-sleeve shirt because:

"It's spring! Now we can eat popsicles!"

I've been explaining for days that just because it's the first day of spring doesn't mean that it's suddenly going to be warm and flowery. I think school might be complicating matters. Caitlyn explained the other day that on Friday, "while we're sleeping, the Seasons Clock is going to go" - sharp hand motion going from left to right, made with a not-quite-thunking sound - "into spring. Then there will be daffodils everywhere."

Happy Spring, Northern Hemisphere!

March 19, 2009

We took the train to Portland last weekend, the first Amtrak train trip for both Caitlyn and myself (Ian's done most of the West Coast by train). I've taken trains in Europe, but this was the first non-light-rail train trip in the States for me. And I might just be a train convert. Significantly less stress than flying since there were no airport security tactics and more comfortable than driving. Caitlyn got to play with other kids on the trip down and entertain someone else's grandmother on the trip home - all while not being strapped into her car seat. I actually got to read a book. And it was fun to look out the window and not be watching traffic. The tracks periodically paralleled the highway, but we also got to zip through forests, a couple of tunnels, along the sound, and through the back edges of various towns.

I do have the sense that we were lucky and had fewer delays than is "typical"... but we also deliberately scheduled train times so that if we were delayed for a bit, it wouldn't hugely impact plans at our destination. Another good reason to travel with a cell phone; you don't have to worry about people waiting at some station for you, wondering how to speed up a delayed train.

I'm likely crazy, since I was never able to sleep well on European trains, (Somehow, the sound a train makes as it chugs through the night is similar - to my brain - to the sound an earthquake makes just before it starts shaking you. Add to that the rocking that a train does and a bunk that always managed to be about 2 inches too short and I simply could never fall asleep.) but I'm actually thinking that perhaps taking the train for longer family trips might be ok. Can you Amtrak to Yellowstone?

March 12, 2009

This has not been an easy couple of days. Our neighborhood homeowners' association is due to transition away from developer to homeowner control, something that people have been wanting for more than a year. But, in order to do this, we need to elect an all-homeowner board.

I've been very flattered that so many of my neighbors think I would make a good board member. I'm floored by the number of people who just randomly say, if you run, I'll vote for you. The last time I ran for anything, I was in junior high, and I lost the election to someone with better hair and a boyfriend. It's sort of colored how I look at my personal "electability"...

But as flattering as it all is, I don't think I want to be on the board, despite the number of association committee meetings, board meetings, and other meetings I've attended in the last three years, despite the fact that just about anyone in the community can ask me where someone lives, who's doing what, and why a certain corner was recently spread with topsoil before visibly dealing with the weeds that were growing there. I don't think it the time commitment, and it's not the other candidates, all of whom will make a wonderful board that I'd be honored to be a part of.

The board's job is to "protect, preserve and manage" the "real property" of the association. This is generally being interpreted as "protecting property values". Not that I'm against appreciation of property values, but that's not the main reason we bought our home. We moved here (a) because it was a home we could afford, (b) because it was built in a green manner that resonated with our principles (energy efficient, low VOCs, etc), and (c) because it was in a neighborhood that also resonated with our principles (pedestrian and transit oriented, mixed use, mixed income, etc).

I'd much rather see the board focus on fostering community and increasing livability for all community members. Focusing on property values seems to me to be a way of keeping things from looking "poor". If the association maintains everyone's front yards, then nothing will be unkempt, which looks "poor". In fact, lots of rules in the name of property values appear to be really about preventing things from looking poor, or about keeping the poor people poor. We're a mixed income neighborhood with a sizable population of folks in subsidized housing. Shouldn't we be encouraging them to do all they can to move out of poverty and out of subsidized housing, instead of enforcing rules that make it look like we're all happily upper middle class?

I think the association should maintain the parking strips, but stay out of homeowners' front yards. I think people should be allowed to install raised beds in their front yards if that's where the best vegetable growing sun exposure is. I think clotheslines should be encouraged. I think everything is a special case and that worrying about "precedent setting" is penny rich and pound poor. I think the association should support reserve funding and common exterior maintenance services (gutters, etc) for attached homes only - but only those services that would pose an immediate potential danger to the owners of units attached to that of a person who chooses not to take care their property (ie, someone opts to not clean the gutters of their unit, the gutters get clogged with leaves and can't drain, causing flooding on an adjacent property or get heavy and pull away from the entire group of buildings.)

I suppose this is an argument for me actually being on the board. I clearly have opinions on how things should be done and changes I'd like to see made. But sometimes things have to be done outside the system. When was the last time a rule-making body made a rule that charted out the territory ahead of where popular opinion was? Governing bodies are supposed to formalize the changes that the people want, that the people are already making. I'm feeling drawn to smaller scale projects right now, being the change and all that. I will likely be involved with the new Community Kitchen and sewing class initiatives. I think the neighborhood needs a bulk food buying club, and I think that if the City's P-Patch folks can't expand our p-patch this spring, interested parties should get out there with shovels and do it ourselves.

If I think of me on the board, I can see that I would represent a specific, unrepresented builder as well as people who've been part of the neighborhood the longest. I've been so involved in the association for so long, I'd be an element of continuity and a resource for the new board on their learning curve. I would likely be a minority voice, perhaps for a valuable perspective. But if I think of me on the board, my stomach gets all tangled up. My shoulders knot up. And I'm immediately exhausted. I think my gut might be trying to tell me something. Perhaps that it's time I took a break from association things.

So, I'm not going to run for the board. I hope I'm not letting too many people down.

March 10, 2009

We're signed up for Earth Hour: 60 minutes of lights out to save energy and try to nudge more leaders into taking climate change action. We did this last year and turned off the lights, the music, the entertainment center and most of the computers. I think Ian read by candlelight. I was probably trying to get something done (grr, deadlines) but ran the laptop off the battery. Our brother-in-law went for extremes and threw the main for his house; I've got too much stuff in the freezer for that, though.

They are looking for 1 billion folks to pledge to turn the lights out for an hour. Will you? It's another little something to keep the need for climate change action in everyone's awareness. And just think of all the "slow" things you could do if you turned off all the electronics: read, play a family game, actually have an uninterrupted conversation, go outside and look at the stars.

Oh, and if anyone finds any satellite photos of Earth Hour to compare with the "normal" night shots of Earth, let me know.

March 08, 2009

Caitlyn and I, before the end of February, planted a handful of spinach seeds and arugula seeds in one of our raised beds. After watering the seeds, we put a row cover over the bed and anchored it with rocks pilfered from the empty lot on the other side of the alley.

I believe it's snowed twice since then. But when I peeked under the row cover today, I found a small army of tiny arugula plants, all with their first two leaves. The spinach isn't as dense, but it's there too. Yipee! We can have new greens to eat, maybe in less than a month. And with any luck, this current bout of icy air will be our last and the peas will come up before April.

March 05, 2009

Happily, even though they've turned the site into a $3/space parking lot, we'll be getting our local farmers' market back at the end of April. And this year, I want to get our occasional chicken from the market, from a farmer I can talk to, maybe the guy who carries a three-ring binder with enlarged photos of his chickens getting pasture time. I definitely want to get more market eggs this year, which is probably going to mean two trips to the market, one for the eggs and one for the usual post-market picnic dinner.

But back to the chicken. Ian is a vegetarian, and while he will eat chicken broth, he doesn't do the meaty bits. I do better if I get some animal protein on a regular basis; we're raising Caitlyn to eat what's available, be that chicken, fish, cheese, beans, or noodles. What I have been doing is getting boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cutting them in half and freezing those. Half a breast cooks to enough meat for 2 chicken salad sandwiches, sometimes two and a half. Sometimes I'll put chicken on the plate for Caitlyn's and my dinner, while Ian gets extra starch and veggies.

I think I can get farmers' market chicken whole or cut up, and I might be able to get less than a whole chicken. But here's what I need to figure out (and this might not be possible until the end of April):
  • If I cook up all the meat at once, will portions freeze and then thaw into edible sandwich makings?
  • If I have to get a full chicken, how do I split it up so that I don't have to cook it all at once?
  • And what do I do with the bones post-cooking to get chicken broth out of them?

Input from more accomplished chicken cookers and eaters welcome!

March 04, 2009

I bought 6 potatoes, a leek and a parsnip this afternoon, all of which were grown in Washington. It's a moment of bittersweet pride. While I'm not absolutely positive, I believe these are the first non-animal (ie, dairy or meat), first non-treat (ie, Christmas oranges) produce items purchased since our local Farmers' Market closed at the end of last October. We've been merrily munching along all winter on produce acquired at said market: dried peppers and carrots, canned tomatoes, frozen zucchini, stored butternut squash. I didn't buy any potatoes at the end of the market since we had the ones from our garden. Next time, though, I think that if our potato crop isn't bigger, I'll supplement.

The leek, I'll admit, was an impulse buy. I was thinking potatoes and parsnip for a soup a la Variations on a Minestrone Theme, but there it was: something Washington-grown, and green. We'll have potato-leek soup instead, and save the minestrone for next week...

March 02, 2009

This list comes from
10 things you should know about Obama's budget plan (but probably don't)

The plan:
  1. Makes a $634 billion down payment on fixing health care that will go a long way toward paying for a more efficient, more affordable health care system that covers every single American.
  2. Reduces taxes for 95% of working Americans. And if your family makes less than $250,000, your taxes won't go up one dime.
  3. Invests more than $100 billion in clean energy technology, creating millions of green jobs that can never be outsourced.
  4. Brings our troops home from Iraq on a firm timetable, finally bringing the war to a close—and freeing up almost ten billion dollars a month for domestic priorities.
  5. Reverses growing income inequality. The plan lets the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans expire and focuses on strengthening the middle class.
  6. Closes multi-billion-dollar tax loopholes for big oil companies.
  7. Increases grants to help families pay for college — the largest increase ever.
  8. Halves the deficit by 2013. President Obama inherited a legacy of huge deficits and an economy in shambles, but his plan brings the deficit under control as soon as the economy begins to recover.
  9. Dramatically increases funding for the SEC and the CFTC - the agencies that police Wall Street.
  10. Tells it straight. For years, budgets have used accounting tricks to hide the real costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush tax cuts, and too many other programs. Obama's budget gets rid of the smokescreens and lays out what America's priorities are, what they cost, and how we're going to pay for them.

We're all in this boat together, folks, and making sure that a small number of us are as wealthy as possible doesn't do anything for the long-term, big-picture survivability of the rest of us. If someone wants to enjoy the benefits of Life in America, then they need to help pay for them, not screw everyone else out of those benefits. Everyone - poor folks, rich folks, corporations - should pay their fair share of the burden of running the country. And it's in the long-term interest of all of us to be sure that all our parts (infrastructure, human capital) are in sound working order, hence the importance of funding education and health care.

Crunchy Chicken posted yesterday about an article which claims that the bulk of the Earth's surface will be uninhabitable as soon as 2050 due to a 4 degree C temperature rise. I haven't read the article yet as I'm already pretty convinced that Bad Things Are Coming. However, in light of this tidbit, it seems more important than ever that we Get Green and Work Together. Life as we know it is going to change; a progressive budget might help ensure that some of us survive that change.

February 26, 2009

Another "game" from Facebook:

The BBC believes most people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here. How do your reading habits stack up? Books I've read are marked, sometimes with additional comments.

  1. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
  2. The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien - read, twice, before the movies
  3. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
  4. Harry Potter series - J.K. Rowling - read them
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee - read
  6. The Bible - read
  7. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte - read
  8. Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
  9. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman - read
  10. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens - read, and have avoided most things Dickens since then
  11. Little Women - Louisa M Alcott - read
  12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy - read
  13. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller - read
  14. Partial Works of Shakespeare - read
  15. Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
  16. The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien - read
  17. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
  18. Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger - read
  19. The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger - might read this
  20. Middlemarch - George Eliot - read, reluctantly, with much napping
  21. Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell - read, and nearly burned it
  22. The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald - read
  23. Bleak House - Charles Dickens
  24. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
  25. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams - read, and waved to Douglas Adams once
  26. Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
  27. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky - read, with a cheat sheet for the Russian nicknames
  28. Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
  29. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll - read
  30. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame - read
  31. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
  32. David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
  33. Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis - read
  34. Emma - Jane Austen
  35. Persuasion - Jane Austen - read
  36. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis - read; isn't this redundant to #33?
  37. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
  38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
  39. Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden - might read this someday
  40. Winnie the Pooh - A.A. Milne - read
  41. Animal Farm - George Orwell - haven't read this; it was part of a cluster of books read by my class in jr. high - some folks read this, I read Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke
  42. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown - read
  43. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  44. A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving - recommended to me by a friend about 20 years ago, and I still haven't gotten around to it
  45. The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
  46. Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery - read, and the seven books that came after it
  47. Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
  48. The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood - read
  49. Lord of the Flies - William Golding - read
  50. Atonement - Ian McEwan
  51. Life of Pi - Yann Martel - read
  52. Dune - Frank Herbert
  53. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
  54. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
  55. A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
  56. The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  57. A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
  58. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley - read
  59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon - might read this
  60. Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez - read
  61. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck - read
  62. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov - read
  63. The Secret History - Donna Tartt
  64. The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold - read
  65. Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
  66. On The Road - Jack Kerouac
  67. Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
  68. Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
  69. Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
  70. Moby Dick - Herman Melville
  71. Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
  72. Dracula - Bram Stoker
  73. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett - read
  74. Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
  75. Ulysses - James Joyce
  76. The Inferno - Dante
  77. Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
  78. Germinal - Emile Zola
  79. Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
  80. Possession - AS Byatt - might read this
  81. A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens - read
  82. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell - Ian's read this one
  83. The Color Purple - Alice Walker
  84. The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
  85. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
  86. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
  87. Charlotte’s Web - E.B. White - read
  88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
  89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - read portions
  90. The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
  91. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad - read
  92. The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery - read
  93. The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
  94. Watership Down - Richard Adams - read
  95. A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
  96. A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
  97. The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
  98. Hamlet - William Shakespeare - read
  99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl - read
  100. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

I believe I've read 43 of these... I might read a few more someday, but there are probably several on this list, unarguably classics, that I'm very likely not going to get around to. Some people read fiction (which most of these are) to better understand The Human Spirit or explore some Great Questions. Me, I read fiction to be entertained. Too bad I couldn't have gotten a degree in Contemporary Science Fiction or Speculative Fantasy. Not that I'd be using that degree any more than I'm using the one I have...

February 22, 2009

Food ambitions for this year:
  • get a second crop and harvest of peas - one in the spring, one in the fall
  • prepare and freeze more pesto
  • make a hard cheese - cheddar or gouda
  • make blackberry jam
  • make apricot jam
  • put up a roasted red pepper spread
  • and a tomato preserve
  • come up with a scheme that will allow me to purchase pastured chicken from the farmers' market and store it so that I can use it in small portions without cooking the whole thing and then freezing the bulk of it (which makes for yucky chicken)
  • put up a comparable quantity of tomatoes as last year
  • experiment with an alternative onion storage technique, and store more onions
  • research grain mills with an eye toward being able to grind my own whole wheat flour; bonus points if the mill is electric but retrofit-able for hand grinding
  • freeze some broccoli
  • freeze more corn
  • do the math for the economics of making my own butter
  • dry more celery
  • look into making mayonnaise; this is especially interesting if I can do it in small batches or if it keeps well
  • find Caitlyn a replacement for her "nut covered raisins" breakfast cereal, something that doesn't have corn syrup or hydrogenated stuff in it
  • read up on making pasta - not likely to be something I do regularly but it would be good to know how to do it
  • harvest more of the "fringe" berries - the huckleberries and lingonberries - in the yard
  • experiment with more of those good-for-you veggies like beets and turnips, both growing and eating

Other ambitions:
  • attempt making soap
  • sew more of our clothes; especially see if I can extend the life of things Caitlyn outgrows by lengthening or repurposing
  • complete some more quilts, especially some of those that have been waiting in the cedar chest for proper backings or those I've been intending to make out of old t-shirts
  • write more regularly, even if it's blogging
  • balance my reading diet of fantasy fiction with serious fiction and non-fiction
  • find some non-neighborhood volunteer activity; I'm infatuated with the idea of helping out on a farm
  • laugh more
  • get myself sufficiently extricated from neighborhood association stuff that I'm interested in doing stuff with the broader community (tackling the anti-clothesline rule or teaching sewing or something)
  • add a new client or two to the roster
  • bring in more money each month than it costs us for Caitlyn's preschool
  • worry less, especially about The State of Things - all I can do is prepare as best I can for the space I'm in and worrying isn't going to change what happens, or make it happen faster or slower
  • find a better balance between what I want to do and what Caitlyn wants to do
  • go for more hikes
  • come to some decision about what comes after preschool
  • get more exercise
  • organize the garage to better use the space
  • let go of useless stuff I've been hanging on to, like all my notes from my college courses; I probably have all my AP US history notes from high school around here somewhere, too

February 17, 2009

I had planned to add rain barrels to some of our downspouts this spring, but I think it's going to at least wait a couple more years. In doing the research, I've run into too many concerns that mushroomed the project into more than I can handle right now.

The biggest concern is how exactly I could use the water I collected this way. Due to the presence of bird crap on roofs, most resources were pretty clear that rain barrel water isn't potable. I didn't look into what filtering would be required to make it ok for humans to drink but presumably it's more than just boiling it. But lots of resources felt it would be best to use the water on plants I didn't intend to eat since I have an asphalt shingle roof and who knows what those petrochemicals washing out of the asphalt would to do to the people who eat those plants. This wouldn't be a big deal if I grew mostly flowers. But I have veggies, fruit trees, herbs and berries. The flowers I have are mixed in with the food. I couldn't find out if I wasn't supposed to put the rain barrel water directly on the plant (sprinkler, watering can, etc) or if I wasn't supposed to put that water on the soil for the roots to access. Is it a matter of stuff one could wash off the plant after harvest? Or is it a matter of toxics being absorbed into the plant where I can't wash it off?

Several pages suggested letting the first ten minutes of rain wash off the roof and then redirecting the water into the rain barrels. Um, yeah. It rains a lot here - at night.

Add to this the downspout rerouting I'd need to do: downspout to barrel (as a direct feed or as a Y with a switch) and then the overflow back to the original downspout destination. Several of the barrels I looked at have a hose-sized overflow, which seems inadequate for something that can receive upwards of 100 gallons of rain water per storm - water destined for a barrel that holds between 40 and 75 gallons, at a time when I won't be watering since it's raining. So I either need to retrofit a barrel with a downspout sized overflow or get one of the few barrels that come that way to prevent barrel flooding. I need to come up with a system for removing the rain barrels from the downspout and hooking everything back up the way it is now (a reason for those Y dividers) for winter; full barrels suffer when it freezes as the water inside expands - although I'm not sure an empty barrel would do better since we lost a plastic cover to the front porch light to the freezing weather this winter (no, really, the plastic just crumbled in our hands).

Top it all off: I have a really small yard and a homeowner's association with guidelines and rules about what I can do to the outside of my property. Since we're in an end unit, my rainbarrels and their accouterments must at the very least be neat and tidy; they might possibly need to be downright invisible.

So, realizing that I was becoming overwhelmed trying to wrap my head around all this, I decided that it's going to have to wait. Perhaps this is even a place where I might need to admit I can't do everything myself.

February 12, 2009

I read a lot. Not as much as I used to, nor as much as I'd like, and certainly not as much as some other people, but I'm pretty sure I read more than average. Some books I just read once and then move on. Some move into my head and set up housekeeping; they become a part of me and I revisit them often, sometimes cover to cover, sometimes just random sections while I'm waiting for the pasta water to boil. Some I go back to because I love the characters (Patricia Brigg's Mercy Thompson series, Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow & Thorn, Gaiman and Pratchett's Good Omens). Sometimes it's the writing (Patricia McKillip, Barbara Kingsolver). Sometimes it's the world created (Robin McKinley, Jennifer Roberson).

So, what is it that keeps Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series in my head? I've read all four books, twice, and bits of it keep popping into my head at random, inconvenient times. I don't think it's the characters, unless sheer mysteriousness is enough to do it. Bella's a bit of a whiner and distressingly immature at times - something she might be forgiven for as she's a teenager. Edward is annoyingly uncommunicative. Their relationship, which appears to be founded on not much more than "She smells nice" and "He's beautiful", goes from "I must ignore you exist to preserve my sanity" to "I'd rather die than be apart from you" in record time for no reason I really see. I get attraction and hormones and all, but it seems a relationship that's going to last for all eternity needs a little bit more of a foundation.

It's not the writing. I'm not a great judge of writing, but this case is rather unremarkable. I don't know I'd go so far as Stephen King has, although his is usually an opinion I trust on such things. (His theory for the series' popularity is that it makes sex less frightening for pre-teen girls. I don't have enough psychology to argue with him, but I don't see it. Edward is stubbornly Victorian when it comes to sex. When they finally move beyond kissing and cuddling, it's post-marriage and it promptly results in a pregnancy that is both Bella's death and transformation. As a result, the sex in these books - mostly left to the reader's imagination - is terrifying. Maybe it's the kissing and the cuddling which are being made palatable to readers who have just recently moved beyond cooties and if-you-like-a-person-hit-them-in-the-shoulder...)

I'm not even sure it's the world created. It's a lot like Reality, except for the whole vampire thing. Meyer has put some new-to-me-spin on the vampire mythos, which was fun. But it's really a very basic story: Girl feels Unspecial, mysteriously attracts attention of Most Amazing Boy, and ultimately discovers she's the Most Special Of Them All, or at least Starts to See Herself Clearly. I think this territory was thoroughly covered in the 1980s with movies starring Molly Ringwald. I presume it's being covered again each decade, and maybe Twilight is the vehicle of this decade. I guess I'm not keeping up with the kids these days.

Maybe it's because there's some part of me that hasn't really gotten over how storybook my teen years weren't. I hope I was never as whiny or trapped in inaction as Bella tends to be, but I understand her outsider status, her belief that she's nothing special. Has anyone ever stood outside the In Crowd and not daydreamed about being pulled into that magical world by someone who sees something no one else does? There probably isn't enough money in the world to convince me to be a teenager again, but there seems to be some irrational part of me that hasn't let go of that daydream. So, I guess that's the itch Twilight scratches.

Kinda sad, really, to realize that some things I'm just not getting over. Maybe by the time I'm forty... Goals are good, right?

February 04, 2009

I meant to write this weeks ago, but couldn't seem to find the time (colds, work, school, the death of our tv, garden prep... you know, life).

There were a lot of particularly good bits in President Obama's inauguration speech. But this is the part that popped out for me:
... Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today...
Think of the stories of your family. The great-great-grandmother who took a train across a country. The grandfather who sold newspapers so his mother and sister could eat. The great-grandmother who raised chickens and rabbits in the backyard to feed a family of 9. The grandmother who worked in the machine shop during The War. The stories you don't know about the folks who came before them: the people who invented, who farmed, who timbered, who came West, who landed in New York knowing three words of English, who saved so the children could go to school and learn to read.

Think of the attitudes of the last eight years, or the last thirty. The general sense that We Deserve This, that Life Should Be Easy, that Life Will Be Worthless Without That Car/Sweater/TV.

And know that such attitudes are an insult to all the people who came before you who scrimped and saved and sacrificed so that you could have what you have.

To not sacrifice some of your own comfort and ease so that the generations that come after you can have a shot at having at least the same standard of life as you do is to say to that boy on the corner selling papers in 1931 that his efforts didn't really matter.
... But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.
Let's roll up our sleeves, America. We've got work to do.

February 02, 2009

There's a lot I don't understand about economic stimulus packages. I barely understand economics. Never mind, I don't. But I have a couple of thoughts about debate in Congress about the current stimulus package:

I honestly don't get the logic behind the "tax cuts stimulate the economy" reasoning. I get that if people had more money, then maybe they'd spend more and that would benefit the economy. And that if businesses had less to pay in taxes then maybe they'd use the surplus money to create more jobs. But those seem like rather big maybes. And it could be argued from the experience of the last 25 years that giving businesses tax breaks doesn't result in more jobs, just a bigger payout for the executives and shareholders.

In a faltering economy where jobs are disappearing at a rate that has people worrying about The Next Great Depression, does it make sense to cut taxes on profit and payroll? If the job goes away, what payroll is left to tax? What income can be taxed? Cutting taxes on zero dollars still means that there's still zero dollars to spend, right? Is ten percent of zero still zero?

There also seems to be some concern that too much of the current stimulus package is focused on things that are indirectly stimulating, things that won't have a significant impact for a couple of years. Specifically, the various forward-thinking portions of the package: retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency; more spending on education; broadband for rural areas; upgrading the national electrical grid; funding for more green jobs.

If you had a car and you didn't do the regular maintenance for it, change the fluids, replace the tires before they were bald, etc, eventually the car would stop working. And you'd have to buy another one, which would probably set you back more than it would have cost you to perform the routine maintenance. This stubborn refusal to fund forward-thinking investments in the future is worse - it costs so much more and gambles that they (who? the Japanese? the Germans?) will still be making "cars" when the country needs a new one. Funding infrastructure is expensive, but putting it off makes it more expensive and more dangerous. Just ask Seattle about the Viaduct. Damn thing will fall down next time we have a decent sized earthquake, probably killing hundreds or thousands of people depending on what time the earthquake hits (Have you ever tried to schedule an earthquake? They never come at a good time.) and will take out more property than I probably know about, more if it sways at all before it comes down. We've known this is a likely scenario for more than 10 years, yet the Governor, the Legislature, the City of Seattle and the voters keep going around in circles because no one wants to own the cost of fixing or replacing the Viaduct or offend anyone who might not like the eventual solution. No one seems to think the Rattle of the Bay (1989) can happen here.

And perhaps more importantly, funding forward-looking projects is about Hope. It says, there's something good about the future, even if it's not here yet. We need the boost of National Confidence that Federal Spending on the Future would give us. If the government doesn't want to invest in the future, why should any of the rest of us? If there's nothing hopeful coming, why should I bother to come out of my bunker now? Spend money on the economy now? It's only going to get worse, so I should look to me and mine and make whatever preparations I can so that we're ready, so that we survive.

This is why I think that the President's stimulus package is worth passing. It's not exclusively about goosing the economy in the next six months. We're looking at a decline (collapse?) caused by years of short-sighted thinking; no single stimulus package is going to fix the damage done so that we're all merrily shopping again next month. This package is about finally looking at the big picture, seeing more of the future than next quarter's earnings or the results of the next election cycle. This is about saying, "We won't leave our children and grandchildren something worse than we received." And until that message is felt at the gut-level of the entire US population, there will be no significant economic recovery.

January 25, 2009

In response to the 25 Things thing on Facebook:
  1. I have a very noisy cat.
  2. I don't write as much as anyone who has claimed to want to be a writer should.
  3. Walking from a West End theater to a hotel one night in London was a life-changing event.
  4. I'm still not sure what I want to be when I grow up... there's just so much I want to do!
  5. The best compliment anyone has recently paid me came last week when a neighbor said, "Whenever I walk by your yard, I think 'little farm in the city'."
  6. I horde food and books.
  7. I spend 9 hours a week in a coffee shop, and I don't work there.
  8. It's been a good week if the car leaves the garage only once.
  9. I wonder how long it will take me to feel like it might be ok to travel internationally again.
  10. I read more speculative fiction than most other genres (although I haven't done a formal survey to be sure).
  11. I hate shopping.
  12. I'm seriously considering learning to make soap.
  13. I used to go to church three times a week, but I haven't been in years.
  14. I don't "see" things like I used to... no forest fires that aren't there or crumbling abandoned buildings superimposed on busy LA grocery stores.
  15. I much prefer to visit snow than to have it visit me.
  16. I try to avoid high-fructose corn syrup and industrial meat.
  17. I think my daughter is brilliant.
  18. We don't have cable or get any TV channels.
  19. I don't read as much as I'd like to.
  20. I've found crocheting blankets to be good for dealing with grief.
  21. I'm looking forward to, and a little freaked out by, taking Caitlyn camping this summer.
  22. Cooking Wednesday night dinner for a dozen people is a highlight of my week.
  23. A piece of me misses living in earthquake country.
  24. Meeting Ian was one of the best, if not the best, things that ever happened to me.
  25. Sometimes, I'm still scared of the dark.

January 23, 2009

Neil Gaiman - one of my most favorite authors ever and probably the most real celebrities I know of - has Twittered about a project Ian did. (Neil's part is here.) I don't know about Ian, but I'm perfectly giddy about the whole thing!

January 13, 2009

Caitlyn has decided to determine the distance between home and school. So she counts to herself, "One, two, three, four..." starting, of course, at some random point along the bus route. When the bus stops, she stops. When the bus gets going again, she picks up where she left off. "Eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one..." She gets to thirty-nine before needing help.

"What comes after thirty-nine?"


"Forty. Forty-one, forty-two, forty-three..."

She made it to one hundred nine before getting snarled up in what should be next, asking me instead for what should come after ninety. Fortunately, it was our stop and we exited the bus. Caitlyn announced, "It's 98 to school!"

January 08, 2009

Food Democracy Now!

The folks at Food Democracy Now! have a little petition going with recommendations for various Under Secretary of Agriculture positions, twelve individuals who are "champions on issues of sustainability" and who have spent their lives "standing up for independent family farmers". If you eat, care about what you eat, would like to see policies that support small family farmers before multinational agri-business conglomerates, or think that maybe an on-going habit of stripping the fertility out of our soil and then letting it blow away just so we can get one more bushel of corn is a stupid thing to do, I encourage you to join Michael Pollan and myself in signing it.

January 06, 2009

So, in the middle of December, Seattle got sat on by an arctic air mass that kept our high temperatures just on either side of freezing. Then, naturally, a storm or series of storms moved in and dumped all kinds of moisture through that arctic air mass, resulting in snow. Quite a bit of it, which is unusual for Seattle, since we're so close to sea level and all. And because of the arctic air mass, the snow didn't go anywhere, which is what it would have normally done. Nope, it sat and got snowed on again.

Apparently, this kind of series of events that results in 12 inches of snow hanging around is something that, statistically, happens here once every 12 to 20 years. Not like some places that see snow that arrives in November and lingers til March. Yet, you'd never know it from the whining and grumbling going on.

You see, the roads weren't cleared. Oh, sure, they plowed and sanded the arterials, the highways and bridges and main thoroughfares, 24/7, but the residential streets got neglected. The airport has more snowplows than the city. The city doesn't want to use salt for environmental reasons. Local businesses lost money because the last minute holiday shoppers couldn't get out to spend their bonuses. The whining has gotten so that the City Council's first item of business for the new year is figuring out "what went wrong" and grilling the head of the transportation department.

Um. It was a "once in every 12 to 20 year" storm or series of storms. Things are bound to get a little rough during such events. People are bound to be inconvenienced by them. Snow at sea level is inconvenient by definition. Is it really necessary to have an inquisition? Caitlyn and I walked about one mile to find a functioning bus route, and we (mostly) treated it as an adventure. And we live in the neglected south-end of town. Do we want to pay for the quantity of salt needed for such an event and the storage of it, with our local sales tax at 9%? How about more road maintenance because more aggressive plowing would tear up the surface? Anyone here want to pay for that?

Sure, things could have been done better. There could have been much better communication between the city and the bus system. Trash and recycling collections could have been resumed in a more equitable fashion, not just letting the poorer parts of town go weeks without collection. And employers should have been more flexible with their employees who couldn't get to work. Adjust schedules or be lenient or grant some bonus sick days or something. Permit telecommuting when possible (geez, Microsoft). But the people who demanded employees get to work when getting to work was impossible to do safely - you all should be left out in the snow, preferably with only a hoodie, a pair of tread-bare sneakers with a hole over the right big toe, and half of a cheap chocolate bar.

January 04, 2009

The snow falls on Seattle, again. Hopefully, this will be just a temporary light dusting and not a repeat of last month.

That's about 12 inches in the back yard, nearly burying my (mostly dormant) raised beds. Although, maybe a three month snow cover in the back yard would be a blessing, since I wouldn't be able to see just how traumatized the non-deciduous plants are. I try not to look, since I won't know until spring if all the shriveled leaves mean the plants won't survive this experience.

Still, Caitlyn likes the stuff, and it's very pretty freshly fallen. I didn't miss the sound of traffic at all during the week last month when the snow shut down Seattle... But I did learn that I'd much rather visit the snow than have it visit me, if only because it mucked up all my plans, keeping us mostly confined to the house during Caitlyn's holiday break from school. We did do much better than lots of other people, though: we didn't loose power once, we have all sorts of food stored up, we know how to get around without our car, and the amount of stuff we throw away in any given week is way below average, so we weren't as inconvenienced (or neglected) as some by having our trash collection service go AWOL for three weeks.

January 01, 2009

Maybe I'll have an comment about this later. But for now, it seems important enough to post. Focus the "save the world" energy toward women and girls and massively increase the impact and effect of the effort. Odd that this bit of information is still news.