First off, before I forget, above is a photo of my father's compost pile. I know, you really wanted to see that, didn't you? His pile is an open air, unstructured pile. It works for him. He adds to it regularly and will turn it over once in a while. Everything goes in there - food and yard waste.


Our trip to Rhode Island went really well. I picked up my camera in Schenectady and then headed out to the Ocean State. Before I left the camera shop, I asked to see some of the lenses that go with my camera, just to see. I love, love, love one of the macro lenses. Hmmm... a birthday present maybe?


The museum was wonderful, really wonderful. The building has so much natural light. The displays are well crafted and we learned so much. We started with the Ice Age, went on to learn how nomadic Native Americans followed the caribou, found out about the cultivation of maize, beans and squash (only 600 years ago!) and then entered a Pequot village with life-like figures posed in every day scenes.

No photos were allowed in the museum.


While we were there, 'A' had her first - and I hope last - anaphylactic allergy attack. We ate at the museum restaurant, where the menu featured hamburgers, french fries and chicken fingers, with french fries being one of the healthiest items on the menu. Everything had dairy in it, so I ordered 'A' a hot dog. It must have had some dairy in it that I didn't know about or there was butter or cheese on the grill. When she started to eat it, she chewed a bit and then wanted to spit it out and throw it up. I thought she was just being dramatic. Then she said something that the allergist said she would say in this situation. She said that it tasted bad and that her mouth felt funny. Her throat felt funny. That's when I knew. I gave her Benadryl and opted to not use the epi-pen because she could still talk and was breathing okay. After all of that happened, she broke out into red hives on her face. I am going to speak with her doctor to see if I handled it correctly and what I should do if it happens again.

Just when I thought things were going so well! This is a big reminder to me to never trust anyone else's cooking. It's another source of "static" that is eliminated by all the whole-food cooking I do at home. I know for sure that my home-cooked goodness doesn't contain the foods she is allergic to. I don't have to worry at home.

I don't often think that my children are better off being right by my side than anywhere else, but here is a case where it's true. I was right there with her, listening to her and hearing the key phrases that caused me to make the connection and take action. I don't know if anyone else would have reacted so quickly.


As far as the rest of our health goes, we're all on the mend. The girls and Jeff are fever-free; I never went down that road, thank goodness; our stuffy noses are on the way out. The pine needle tea we drank yesterday and today did wonders at clearing us up. I went back to the gym today after 10 days away and was so happy to be back. It's nice to exercise and feel wonderful about the benefits of doing it. It's nice to be back.


Swimming lessons and farmer's market tomorrow, followed by a birthday party for an old friend. It'll be a full, fun day. I'll see you later this weekend. I hope you enjoy the big, full moon as much as I will.





Back!


I'm back from visiting Dad and Marilyn in Rhode Island. The trip was short but wonderful and I'll tell you about it soon. Right now, I'll tell you that I'm the proud owner of this book, from which I learned about cutting up white pine needles and simmering them in water for 20 minutes to make a pine tea for treating congestion. Pine Needles are also an excellent source of Vitamins C and A. I'm in heaven. The book contains a number of recipes using parts of herbs and trees that grow right in our backyard. All of the recipes come with dosage amounts for children, which is exactly what I want. I love it! Life couldn't get much better.

Hitting the road!

I'm feeling great today, so we're hitting the road. Jeff is working from home as he continues to fight off the end of his cold. We're planning to go to the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and I'm excited about the trip. See you all soon.

Things are quite well here


:: Why does the sun rise and set? ::

We're doing quite well here. 'A' is just about done with her sickness - a good night's sleep should put her back on track. 'H' has another day or two to let it run its course. Jeff is getting better, although tonight he wondered aloud if he was getting strep throat. I am still healthy, I think. A little congestion, but nothing like the hit-by-a-truck, drop-dead-tired feeling my family members have had the past few days. I wouldn't worry about whether or not I am getting sick except that I am scheduled to pack up the girls tomorrow and head to my father's home for a few days and I am not planning to go if I'm sick. I told him I'll know in the morning if I'm coming or not.


On a more personal note, I've reached a new place in my life. Last week I read a piece in the New York Times about people who enjoy living without heat. While I wouldn't want to live without heat, I find it to be an interesting concept, especially the way one woman sums it up to say: “The main reason why I do these winter trips is that when your house is 15 degrees, the only problem you have is getting warm. Focusing on survival is right up there with a Zen retreat when it comes to clearing the mind.”

I like the idea of living so authentically that things which might normally be considered problems or issues don't even show up on the map. When I told Jeff all of this, he reminded me that we do have one aspect of our life that is right in line with that philosophy. Over the past few years our family diet has changed bit by bit and at present, we are vegan locavores. It's a choice that Jeff and I have made after much discussion and it is a conscious choice we make week after week when we shop for food, and day after day when we prepare it. It's not an accident. It's a deliberate choice. On one hand, our diet is very limited. But that limitation means that so many other things we might grapple with are not issues for us. We don't wonder all that much about the chemicals that are in our food, because for the most part, there aren't any. We don't wonder about what to cook for dinner, because we don't have that many choices. We're limited, but it's good. We're not overwhelmed. The mental static is quieted, around the issue of food anyway.

The benefits of this limitation are plentiful. Every time we sit down to eat, we know where much of our food comes from, who grew it, and who sold it to us. We know that we're not only nourishing our bodies, we're nourishing the Earth. The act of eating has gone from something we just do because we have to eat everyday to a whole new level - it's a sort of spiritual experience.

So what does this have to do with finding myself in a new place? I'm ready to open up a new part of my life to this kind of authentic living, but I don't know what it is yet. It's not something I can find out on my own. I think I'm ready to do something I've never had any interest in ever doing - explore my spiritual path a little more. I've never cared to think about spirituality and where it fits into my life, but now that I've been going to the Unitarian Universalist services regularly, I've come to understand that I can ask questions and take some time to think about my journey, and I can sort it out in a way that makes sense to me. The guiding principle of Unitarianism is that we are all on our own journey and it's up to us to take some time to reflect on it and define it for ourselves.

I've spent well over a year listening to our minister each Sunday morning and I have come to feel comfortable with the idea of allowing her to help me explore my path. Every week, she pulls together lessons from the big religions (usually Judaism, Christianity and Buddhism, but many times she speaks about Taoism, Islam, and others too). I like that she approaches it from an intellectual and historical viewpoint rather than relying blindly on emotions or faith. I'm ready to listen more deeply to her and explore her questions.

I like this place.

Yesterday at the farmer's market I got:

arugula
baby bok choy/Asian greens salad mix
golden beets
yellow onions
rutabaga
butternut and carnival squash
white turnips with greens attached
honey
swiss chard

and this is what I made for dinner:

Get Better Quick Soup

This soup is so tasty and creamy. I love soup made with barley. The only thing that could make this soup better would be the addition of some white beans, but I didn't have any on hand last night. I hope you enjoy it.

1 yellow onion, diced
4 carrots, diced
1 medium rutabaga, peeled and diced
4 jerusalem artichokes, peeled and diced
1/2 cup pearl barley, uncooked
several cups of stock
shredded swiss chard (about 1 1/2 cups)

Saute the onions until translucent. Add the next five ingredients and cook for at least one hour, until the barley is tender, adding more water or stock if necessary. Before serving, add the swiss chard and stir to wilt. Serve and feel healthier!


All of the members of my little family are still sick. This cold and the accompanying fever really hang on! I'm still feeling great, so I'm going to scoot off to the UU (Unitarian Universalist) service soon to get some fresh air and work in the nursery.

Sending out healthy vibes to you and your family...

They're all sick with a cold - 'A', 'H' and Jeff. Jeff thinks my different blood type is what keeps me healthy when the three of them are sick. I'm O, they are A. I think my handwashing helps. When my kids get sick, my hands stay squeaky clean.

I don't think this situation will last. I'll get the sickness. I will. You just wait.

Answers!


My camera, my camera! I just called the repair shop to check on it. It's well cared for. It'll be ready next week.

I got a lot of answers today at the pediatrician's office. Answers I wanted to hear, so that's even better. First of all, even though 'A' has green stuff coming out of her eyes, she doesn't have a sinus infection. Our doctor gave me some new information about the color of the goop. Essentially, the color doesn't matter as much as the duration of it. The goop coming out of their noses and eyes can be clear or green and anything in between, and any of those colors can signify an infection or nothing at all. What matters is how long it's there. Anything over 10 days is something to worry about.

He looked at their medical history and pointed out that my kids don't get sick all that much with secondary infections such as ear or sinus infections. True. I think they have each been on antibiotics once in their life, maybe twice for 'A'. I know why they don't get sick all that much. I have no scientific evidence to back this up, but it's the one thing that has consistently separated my children from other children. They don't drink milk. I grew up the same way so many children do now - my mother brought those gallon jugs of milk home from the store and we drank it up because we were told that it was good for our bones and made us healthy. Was it good for us? I was the ear infection queen as a child. I had so many that I got to the point where I could feel one coming on before it even developed. Even as an adult I've had recurrent ear infections. Now that I don't drink milk, I don't get infections. And neither do my girls. There are so many questions that people ask about the milk they get: skim? whole? 1%? organic? pasteurized? ... and very few stop to ask, "why are we drinking this in the first place?"


The other answers all seem to indicate that my kids have some behavior issues but not physiological problems. 'A's issues with swallowing her food can probably be helped by a speech therapist who can teach her how to swallow the correct way. Most likely nothing is wrong with her mouth or throat. Whew!

And for 'H'... I am all done seeing her breath holding spells and her "constipation" as two separate issues. She's not truly constipated because she has a wonderful diet that keeps things loose. The problem is that things don't move along in a timely fashion. Are you following? She has trouble getting her poop to come out, but not because it's too hard. It's an issue for which there seems to be no answer. When I look at the two issues together, I see that her life force, her energy, is stagnant somewhere in her body. It's not flowing freely. It stops in her intestines and it also stops in her mouth and lungs when she gets upset. When I brought that up and put it in those terms, he wondered if she is having trouble breathing correctly. She could be swallowing too much air and that would result in a belly that is fat and full of air, one that doesn't allow the stool to move along. And it could mean that she's having trouble regulating her breathing when she gets upset. Ahhh! Two different issues could actually be one issue. To address her issue, she would need some behavioral therapy. My homework is to spend some time observing her and report back to him on this.

So, I left his office today feeling happy that my children don't get sick but wondering why they need so much behavioral modification!


My little ones are asleep now, sleeping away their viruses and getting their strength up so they can play some more this afternoon. I am taking a moment to feel peaceful and hope the virus doesn't decide to spend some time in my body too. We don't all need to be sick around here!

My camera is being professionally cleaned and I may not have it until Monday. Despite how I feel, I know I'll live. Right? Right. Here are some more photos from last weekend.

'A's saga continues... today she woke up with eyes that felt funny, and soon enough they started to drip. By lunchtime I was pretty sure it was a sinus infection. She's due to see her doctor tomorrow anyway, so I called and made sure we could wait until tomorrow to have her seen. She's uncomfortable, to be sure, but she'll live. Poor thing.

Despite all of that, her energy level is UP! She did her fair share of running around today and this afternoon she wanted to spend time with me solving some math problems. If I had a sinus infection, no way would I want to think about anything or run anywhere. Not her. It's really wonderful to watch 'A' learn more about numbers and math and see that she is starting to "get it." We sat with 12 buttons and I would give her a few and tell her to take away or add enough to get a certain result. We played it as a game, so we got a rhythm going and she liked going FAST. 7 buttons on the floor, take away enough to leave 4... 5 buttons on the floor, add enough to have 8... Then we did a bunch of "divide this set in half" games, where I would give her an even number of buttons and she would divide them into two equal groups. Then she would get enough to divide evenly into thirds, and then by 4. She loved it.


What's happening in Haiti makes me very sad.

I'm enjoying the One Small Change project. I like making things into a game for myself, and the way the challenge is set up, making one change each month, is perfect for me. It paces me so I don't get overwhelmed and do too many things at once, and overall it helps me to stay motivated and focused. I've got some thoughts about the things I'll do the next few months. Cloth hankerchiefs to cut down on our tissue use? Cloth produce and bulk grain bags for the store and farmer's market? The possibilities are limitless.

I do wish I had my camera to show you the little beds I made today for 'A's and 'H's kitty and bunny families. The girls each picked out a basket at the thrift store a few days ago and today I made mattresses and blankets for the animal families. We all loved giving the animals a place to snuggle for the night, and I loved the idea of the animals staying together, all in one place, so we can find them when we want them! Oh, to be organized and happy... I wish I could live this easily all the time. Don't you?

a little update on 'A'

...so maybe the winter veggies are helping after all. When 'A' woke up from her nap, her little fever was gone and she felt energetic and happy again. I'm glad it was just a short-lived thing.

Well, wouldn't you know it... just yesterday I said we had been relatively healthy and today 'A' looked a little feverish. Her head was a little warm and she had that "look" in her eyes, so I put her to bed after lunch.

It snowed here today and it was just beautiful while it came down, but it's so warm here that it all melts. It's unseasonably warm for upstate New York. I'm getting used to living here, so I would like some more snow that stays around a while, but there's another part of me that is OK with the weather - this is just like the winter weather we might have had all those years growing up in coastal southern New England.


I've got a challenge waiting for me in our garage. I've insisted on saving all of our pellet bags this season, because I'm convinced I can do something with them. Otherwise we'll throw them away and they'll sit in the landfill for 500,000 years. Hmmm... what can I do?

Assessment time


I'm not one for assessments, but sometimes it just wants to be done. Lately I've been having some "Wow!" moments when I think about our food choices and I thought I would share some of them with you. We've been shopping at the farmer's market for a year now and have been on the dairy, egg, and meat-free pathway for about the same amount of time. We do eat cheese now and then, when it pops up at us, and the girls do eat meat when it's offered to them, but for the most part, our family diet consists of local vegetables and fruit, grains and beans, pasta, a small amount of tofu, and soup - lots and lots of soup.


Here's my Wow! list of things that have struck me as odd, awesome, and awful:

1. Awesome: aside from the short-lived cold that Jeff and I picked up after Christmas, we've been healthy all fall and winter. None of us has gotten the H1N1 or flu vaccine (yet...?) and we've so far managed to avoid those illnesses plus the usual colds, stomach bugs, ear infections, and a host of others that crop up during these cold months. I like to think that all the Vitamin A and C we're getting from our local winter veggies is helping us out.

2. Odd & awesome: now that we've been introduced to certain vegetables, we find that we choose them over others at the market instead of ignoring them. Cabbage and turnips come to mind. Who would have thought we would jump at the chance to buy a cabbage for soup? And turnips.... I never would have pictured myself bolting toward the turnips, picking the bunch with the nicest looking greens attached. I love the turnips that are grown here. They're small, perhaps an inch in diameter, and usually white. They're so sweet, whether you eat them raw or roasted or cooked in soup. Use them as you would a potato, and you won't be disappointed. The greens make a fabulous salad. Last night I made a new recipe that was wonderful. Here it is:

Toast some pecans and set them aside. Slice several small turnips (1-inch in diameter) very thinly, and add them, with the pecans, to a bowl of washed turnip greens, cut into salad-size pieces. Top with a warm dressing and serve at once.

To make the dressing, combine the following ingredients in a saucepan and whisk over medium heat:
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons olive oil


3. Awesome: I've said it before, and I was reminded of it again tonight as I tasted the mashed potatoes I made for dinner. Taste. Local, organic vegetables have so much flavor! I made mashed potatoes in honor of 'A' because she's been having trouble swallowing her food (nothing new for her, but it's reached a new level of grossness). We're going to talk to her pediatrician about it, but until then I figured I would cook her some easy to eat fare. For the record, I HATE mashed potatoes. I think tonight is the first time I've ever made them. I even called my mother while I was cooking to let her know that pigs are now flying. But you know, when I tried them, I actually liked them for a split second because the flavor was so rich and sweet... and then I remembered that they are mushy mashed food and I didn't like them all over again. My point is that our food has so much flavor now. Even food I hate is bearable.

4. Awful: the only bad thing about eating locally is that our diet is pretty much limited to what's in season now. Squash, hearty greens, turnips, beets, potatoes, leeks, celeriac, carrots and a few others. It can get boring if I don't take time to spice things up. I know I'll continue to have this complaint as each season comes. I remember being just plain sick of greens last spring. Now I'm sick of beets and squash.


I'll leave you with this wonderful recipe from a recent Cooking Light issue. If you happen to have some celeriac on hand and don't know what to do with it, this soup tastes great.

Ingredients
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup thinly sliced leek
1/2 cup finely chopped carrot
2 tablespoons dry white wine
3 cups (1/2-inch) cubed peeled celeriac (celery root; about 3/4 pound)
3 cups broth
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 3/4 cups cooked wild rice

Preparation
1. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add leek and carrot; cover and cook 5 minutes. Uncover and cook 5 minutes or until tender. Stir in wine, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Add celeriac, broth, 1 cup water, salt, and pepper; bring to a boil. Cover and cook 10 minutes or until celeriac is tender.

2. Place 1 cup soup mixture in a blender. Remove center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure blender lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in blender lid (to avoid splatters). Blend until smooth. Add pureed soup mixture back to saucepan. Add wild rice; cook 15 minutes.



Happy Sunday!

Some progress on the new compost pile


I made some progress on building our new compost pile - finally, I got around to making the pile! I put it in the woods behind our house. So much snow has melted these past few days and a fluffy bed of leaves was exposed, so I dumped my buckets right on top. Then I covered the kitchen scraps with a sheet of newspaper and some more leaves. I did break one of the rules of winter composting - the scraps in my buckets weren't cut into small pieces, but going forward, they will be. Come to think of it, I probably should have ripped up the newsprint too. Oh well, live and learn, right?


Remember how I talked about green layers and brown layers in the compost pile? All organic matter has a ratio of carbon to nitrogen (C:N) in its tissues. The ratio for kitchen scraps is 15:1. The ratio for dead leaves is 60:1. 30:1 is the ideal ratio for creating a compost pile that heats up well and generates enough microbial activity to turn the pile to rich compost in a shorter period of time. The compost pile is teeming with bacteria that break down the waste. The "food" that keeps them going comes in the form of carbon and nitrogen. Carbon provides energy and nitrogen helps them produce the protein they need to grow.

Material that is high in carbon is called "brown" and material high in nitrogen is called "green." If the C:N ratio is too high, decomposition will slow down, and if it's too low, the pile will begin to smell.


So there you have it, a mini-course on composting in your backyard. Stay tuned as I grow my pile and learn more about it.

While I was making the pile, I spotted a few sets of red fox tracks in the woods - I haven't seen them in 10 days. The claw marks on the red fox print are pretty neat to see in the snow. This fox was walking from the left to the right of your screen.


We also took a family trip to the state park for a walk and took lots of wonderful photos, but I will save those for next week, when my camera will (hopefully) be in for service - a much-needed cleaning and tune up!

Come on in....


Hi there, come on in. Sit for a while. Help me procrastinate a bit. I'd like that.


Join us this morning for a game of animal dominoes...


I'll fix you a vanilla soymilk half-caf latte...


...and then we can build a log cabin, just like the kind they built in Little House on the Prairie...


and we can photograph it, each of us, from all angles...


...and then we'll take some time to look at our shots.


Edited to add:
I decided to give to Care.org to support the relief effort in Haiti. I give to Care annually because I believe in the value of their many other projects, and since they are on the ground and active right now in Haiti, it seemed like a natural fit.

Trains!


Today we went to the Schenectady Museum - our first time there. We went for the children's program about trains and the girls got to build their own trains out of milk cartons, toilet paper cardboard, straws and tea lights. It was fun for us to go. The museum is geared for older kids but has things for the little ones to do too. There was an exhibit about magnets, hydrogen and MRIs that my kids were interested in but because it was for older students, it took us only so far. I like knowing that we can keep going there for years and years. It's tough when you max out of a place because the kids get to be too old.


Because we were so close to where Jeff works, we met him after the program for lunch. What a nice treat!


The sun is shining so nice and brightly today and it's melting our snow away - boo hoo! If I'm going to live someplace cold, it may as well just snow, snow, snow.

I'm having some trouble focusing today. I've been doing some computer work for a few different clients lately and I need to sit down and figure out my workload and write out some invoices. I also need to do some homework and find out what we're doing this weekend - ice skating? cross country skiing? letterboxing? I'm signed up to hit the gym this afternoon but need to make a soup first, and the baked butternut squash in the fridge really needs to be made into muffins before it goes bad. My kids need a little outdoor fun too, and since it's so nice out there's no reason not to go. And not last on a very long "to do" list and certainly not least is the matter of figuring out which organization we'll give a donation to so that we can support the relief effort in Haiti. Red Cross? Doctors Without Border? Care? or something else?

So many questions today!



Questions about compost

I picked setting up an additional compost pile as my One Small Change challenge for January. I've learned a few basics about setting up the pile and I still have a lot of questions that need to be answered.

Things I know:

I can set it up in the woods. It won't be in direct sunlight all year but it should get warm enough to turn into compost. I don't want this new, exposed pile to be right next to the house. We actually have had several compost piles in the woods that have turned into wonderful compost within a year or so. The difference is that those piles consisted of 100% yard waste (leaves), and did not contain kitchen scraps.

The pile doesn't have to be enclosed with a fence. If I had built this pile in the summer or fall, when I could put some stakes in the ground, I would put a barded wire fence around the pile to let the pile grow tall without everything spilling off the sides. When I do take some time later this year to set up another pile back there, I'll do that. But for now, I'll consider this one a small, one-season pile that will be used until I can build a better, more permanent one.

I have to layer the green layers (kitchen scraps) and brown layers (yard waste or newsprint). This leads to a question: What properties do each of those layers have, and why do they have to be layered?

I should keep the fresh green additions (kitchen scraps) covered with a brown layer on top.

I should chop up my kitchen scraps as small as possible in the winter so they'll break down faster.

My questions:

What do the green and brown layers do?

Where am I going to find enough brown material in the dead of winter?

The pile heats up and breaks down the material, turning it into nutrient-rich compost to add to our soil. How does this happen? What is the scientific process?


Stay tuned for some answers, and more questions I'm sure!

Seeing some art


Today we went to the Hyde Collection to see some art and meet up with some other kids for a tour and art project. My girls are still a little young to take it all in. I don't care. They're going to have a decent exposure to art whether they like it or not! It wasn't until I was 12 or so and my neighbors took me to Brooklyn for the weekend to see some art that I felt connected to the art world. Suddenly I wondered where it had been all my life. A huge hole that I never knew existed started to be filled. At 12! My girls are 2 and 4, and as far as I'm concerned, it's never too early to start looking at art.


I showed 'A' the wonders of impressionism and brush strokes and sunlight while 'H' tried hard to pull the buttons off the upholstered benches at the exhibit. It was enough. Enough for me, in a good way, and enough for them, in whatever way they felt it was enough.

It was wonderful.

About Me

My name is Jillian. I started this blog as a way to experiment with my camera and it's a become a nice little spot where I enjoy spending time. I'm a mother to 6 and 4 year old daughters, wife to a cool computer guy, and mama to a cuddly cat. We enjoy eating local, organic food; managing several food allergies; homeschooling with love; spending time in nature; and we love to take time each day to be creative. You can also find me over at From Scratch Club from time to time. Welcome!