Wednesday, July 30, 2008

New Experiences Had and To Come

Being from Florida, Larry and I haven't spent a lot of time contemplating firewood, particularly since the first attempts to use the fireplace here in our house were fiascos. But like many people around the country, the desire to save on oil/fuel has driven us to look into alternatives. We know that burning firewood has its own negative consequences, but right now it is the lesser of two evils. We put a fireplace insert into the fireplace so that the previous billowing-smoke-in-the-living-room problem could be alleviated, and because friends of ours said that their's works wonders for heating. Next step: firewood.

We bought a half-cord of firewood this week, figuring that it's possible the cost will only go up once the weather cools down, and the company dumped it in our driveway. I spent Monday stacking most of it. I say "Monday" because the pile collapsed twice before I figured out how to arrange it properly. I must say, for my first woodpile it looks pretty good! :) Now if we could keep Montana from chewing on it...

The new experience to come: pressure canning. I put by a fair amount of tomatoes in the freezer last year, but I'm hoping to put even more by this year, and we don't have enough freezer space. Particularly because I want to put by blanched greens and squashes, and whatever else I can get in there. So, I spent Tuesday night agonizing over the purchase of a pressure canner. I have to say, it's a little anxiety inducing.

The reading I've been doing seems to spend a lot of time warning of impending botulistic doom if things are not PRECISELY right in the canning. This doesn't instill a lot of confidence in the newbie. Then, online reviews of the less expensive canners I looked at all seemed to have at least one reviewer saying, "First use, the thing exploded." Now, I don't know about you, but that sounds like a nightmare. So I doubled the purchase price and bought one that had absolutely no reviews about explosions. In fact, the only negative review said this canner takes too long to cool down and is heavy. I can live with that.

Now if the tomatoes would only ripen...

Monday, July 28, 2008


A 5 Minute Recipe for After You've Spent the Morning Stacking a Half-Cord of Firewood:

1 can tuna, packed in water, drained
1 can cannelini or other white bean, drained and rinsed
1 roasted red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 can of artichoke hearts, chopped
1/2 cup of tomatoes, chopped, whatever kind you have
a few leaves of raddichio, sliced thinly
a handful of basil, sliced thinly
salt and pepper to taste
a glug of balsamic vinegar (to taste)
1 to 2 tbsp olive oil

Mix gently and eat. It's even better after its flavors have had time to blend.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


Well, it has finally happened. After three years of fairly healthy, disease and pest free plants the garden is being invaded. I've been picking and killing cucumber beetles today, and watching one of my San Marzano tomatoes be affected by early blight. The good news...I'm that the copper fungicide I have may help the plant get through at least a partial harvest. I've been scouring the 'net looking for help, and what I've come up with is to pick off the dead foliage (when it's dry--early blight is spread by fungus spores that thrive in damp, cooler weather) and spray with the copper.

In everything I read, the importance of rotating crops every year is stressed. What I HAVEN'T found yet is how to rotate crops in a garden that's 10x14 feet. If there is a limited amount of good tomato space, do I just not grow tomatoes for a year or two? I have to say, in my opinion that solution is for the birds. I suppose I could always grow fewer plants in pots for a few years. That isn't a solution I'm thrilled with either, but it's better than constantly fighting diseases or not having tomatoes at all.

I've also read that enriching the soil with compost is helpful, and I do that each year. I'll up the amount I've been using to "promote beneficial micro- and macroorganisms." Sigh. Ya wait six months to be able to grow tomatoes, and then things start attacking them. Who needs this anxiety! :)

In more cheerful news, Larry and I went blueberry picking yesterday, and picked six pints! On top of the three I had bought at the farmer's market, we're rolling in the beautiful blue jewels. I've made a blueberry tart (Eating Well magazine), frozen a few pints, and made "Farmgirl's Blueberry Breakfast Bars." Farmgirl (Farmergirl?) is a blogger whose posts I read for awhile last summer. The recipe is awesome, and it freezes well. That way, in December or January when I'm bummed about the lack of fresh fruit I can defrost the bars and pretend it's summer again. Tomorrow I'm baking cinnamon burst blueberry muffins (Cooking Light) for the same reason. Eat a few, freeze a few, Christine is a happy girl!

We also bought Ball jars for canning. I know it's probably bizarre, but I'm very excited about putting as much food by for the winter as I can. I'll do tomatoes (keeping my fingers crossed) and pickled beets, make green tomato chutney (if that plant doesn't make it, I'll at least be able to take its green ones and do something with them), and see what else I can learn to do. I've already started freezing cucumbers. It's an almost sweet pickle recipe, and the cucumbers come out with a little bite left when they're defrosted. I found and made the recipe last year and loved it. The more I can put by, the less Whole Foods can hold me hostage for organic foods this winter!

Monday, July 21, 2008

A small ice cream at lunch.
Half a round of brie with crackers.
A small ice cream after dinner.
Is it possible to be addicted to dairy?

I was reminded today, as I sat through the first day of a weeklong course on guided reading, how important it is for teachers to walk their talk. It is not okay to espouse a workshop model, or constructivist theory, and then subject students to 8 hours in their seats with narrow topics allowed for conversation. Allowing students to talk only around the topics you've prechosen is neither workshop nor constructivism.

On the positive side, learning about useful criteria for leveling books so that I can help put kids with the "just right" text is helpful. Though the process is labor and time intensive, having the information in the back of my mind as I approach the books/readers will assist me in narrowing down the occasional misses as I try to pair kids with books for independent reading. It was also a relief to hear the instructors repeat what the textbook said: leveling books is for the teacher's purpose. It is not so that we can label books with levels and train kids to only read books on their level, a la Accelerated Reader. Gradients and leveling are teacher tools for helping students find books with just the right supports and challenges.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

We have a baby!

No, not Larry and I, but the cardinal pair that nested in our wisteria this spring. We're not sure when it hatched, but it is slowly making its way around our yard, guarded by its chirping parents. We aren't letting the dogs anywhere near the backyard, since that seems to be the venue the family has chosen for the baby's initial flights. We keep coming across it in different places. The parents have let me get close enough twice to take photographs, though they flit around nervously in the area. I feel strangely honored that this family has chosen our yard for its current home.

Advantage, Computer

My friend LeeAnn lives in Florida. My friend Jill lives in New Jersey. I live in Massachusetts.
And I can "sit across from them and talk face-to-face" almost like we're in Barnes and Noble having coffee, just like we used to on a regular basis.

It's definitely a love/hate relationship, but THIS aspect of technology is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


I'll admit it: I'm not the world's biggest fan of technology. I am not of the ever-growing opinion that people should be able to get in touch with me 24/7.


I do like a fast computer. Or even a computer that will open Word in less than three minutes, which my last computer...departed this morning...was incapable of doing. It was an older laptop and I was just asking it to do too much. You know, like work when I wanted to use it.

Larry helped me find a new laptop, and he's happy because it has 4 GB of RAM. I'm happy because we saved money by buying the open box store model. Oh, and because with 4 GB of RAM, it all but anticipates the site I want to go to and *POOF* I'm there. I must say, that's a lovely feature. It also has a webcam, which means that I can Skype with my friends (as soon as I download Skype and figure out how to use the webcam...). I opted for the 17" screen, because let's be honest, my eyes aren't getting any younger. So technology curmudgeon that I am, I'm excited about the new computer. There, I said it.

I have been reading like a FIEND lately. I'm posting reviews on Shelfari--you can just click the link on this page if you want to read them--but here is a list of my favorites:
The Wednesday Wars by Schmidt
Hate Mail from Cheerleaders by Reilly
Charmed Life by Wynne Jones
Notes from the Midnight Driver by Sonnenblick
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks by Lockhart
Lock and Key by Dessen
Life As We Knew It by Pfeffer
Thirteen Reasons Why by Asher
Peeled by Bauer
The Probable Future by Hoffman

I'm reading Bryson's Notes from a Small Island right now. I laughed all the way through A Walk in the Woods, so I picked up two more by him (can't remember the title of the other one). This one wasn't as funny to begin, but as I've read it's gotten funnier. He is irreverent, but very, very honest. At least, honest about how he sees things.

Beautiful weather this week; very sunny and breezy. We could use some rain (well, my garden could). Which just goes to show that no one is ever happy with the weather, doesn't it! I picked the first few cherry tomatoes this week--YUM!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Whew, it's hot!

I know, it could be worse. I could be in Florida for July. But it definitely has FELT like Florida the last two days. The temperatures have been up in the 90's and the humidity has been above 50%. Oh well, the tomatoes are eating up the sun.

We've had a good few days here on the homefront. I've gotten lots of reading done (I'm finally posting things on my Shelfari site). I highly recommend Rick Reilly's Hatemail from Cheerleaders. I'll pull a lot from it to use with the students next year. Ugh. For some reason this stupid site is again not letting me insert paragraphs. I guess they'll just have to run into each other. On Sunday, we went to the Coventry (CT) Farmer's Market. It's something else. Lots of fresh from the ground (usually just that morning) produce, fresh baked breads and other yummies...a girl could lose her head. There are also artisans and demonstrations, so the day can be a pretty full one if you want it to. The market is on the site of the Hale House (Nathan Hale is CT's state hero). It's beautiful. Today, I met my friends Kelli and Ellen in the city, and we went and saw an exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts. It was all Spanish artists during the late 1400 to mid-1600 period. El Greco, Velasquez, and their schools were the focus; I love Spanish art from that period, so it was great to see the exhibit. Afterward we went to lunch and sat and chatted; it was a good time.

Friday, July 4, 2008

America, Land of the Free, the Brave, and the Clueless

Ah. The Fourth of July. The celebration of our nation's birth in the face of overwhelming odds. Here in Massachusetts, especially so close to Boston, the celebrations begin about June 20th. Firecrackers go off randomly and frequently every night, and houses are tarted up with enough American flags to dress an army. In our little neck of the state, the neighborhood celebrates July 3 with a huge block party and bonfire. The bonfire was about three stories high when I passed it the other day while walking the dogs. It always leaves some lovely charred debris all over the beach.

I think my favorite thing about July 3 is the roaming bands of teenagers. Larry and I are fortunate enough to live near two gathering spots: the front of the Congregational Church, and the parking lot of the elementary school. The teens descended last night around 10:30, just as Larry was trying to go to sleep. (He works on July 4th this year. And Thanksgiving. And Christmas. F*$%ing corporate America.) Anyway, about 20 of them parked themselves in front of our house, screaming and laughing.

After about half an hour, I had had enough so I went out front and told them to move on down the street. The darlings refused to move, so I threatened with the police. They moved about 20 feet down from the house. I get that there isn't anywhere for them to go. I'm not that far removed from those years that I don't remember being chased from one hangout to another by the Delray police. But when they can't keep it down to a dull roar and then start screaming like banshees (is there anything like the sound of a shrieking teenaged girl?) and beating the shit out of each other it's time to call the police. Which I finally did. The crowd dispersed, and I just sat and rocked on the front porch for a while. It was nice out.

The evening was capped only by the two having sex outside my office window, in the shadows provided by the church.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


It's always hard to know how to help the ones we love. I never know what to say or how to respond when my sister's heart is broken again by the louts she seems to choose as boyfriends. I can't come right out and say, "Stop choosing assholes," and have to dance around the issue so I don't offend her. I think I make all the right comments and balance my advice with sympathy, but I'm never really sure. The last boyfriend, whose nicknames we gave him are not fit to print here, had everything we kept telling her to find: a solid job, a car, a home of his own, an education, some drive.

But we didn't think we had to tell her he should also have some kindness, some acceptance, and support for her dreams, not just his. We wanted desperately to like him, but he talked non-stop, was condescending to her (the part I couldn't forgive...I could always buy earplugs), and thought he had to be a know-it-all about everything so he could impress. He was also moody and insecure. A barrel of laughs, that boy. But, and this is an important but, she thought she loved him and would marry him. And so even though we're relieved that she broke up with him, we're sad that she's so sad again. How do we help? How is it possible to help her understand that there is no rush to be married, and that being single is not the worst thing in the world?

I know, easy for me to say because I'm married. But I didn't get married until a month before my 32nd birthday. And while I lamented being single the 9 years that I was, I also made peace with it. I started to view myself that way--the single aunt who takes her nieces to Europe sometimes during the summers--instead of as a "spinster," which seemed to be how society viewed me. I dreamed up all kinds of glamorous options for the single me. And then Larry came along and it didn't matter... But if he hadn't, I would have been just fine. More than fine--happy. How do I help my sister find that?

Dilemma #2: My husband LOATHES his job. He hates it so much it's upsetting his stomach, keeping him awake, and giving him hang-dog face. Last night he talked about the three things he sees as critical in relation to work: time, money, and enjoyment. Of the two, he said the only thing he gets from his current job is money. And sadly, he said that he's not willing to give that up even though the other two are lacking. Larry used to like his job, trading currencies for an investment firm, but he finally was able to explain why it's not fun anymore: no satisfaction from having done something for someone. He talked about the joy I get when a kid who comes to me a non-reader leaves with a changed attitude at the end of the school year, and said he can't find anything to parallel that in his job.

I suggested finding something that would give him that joy: volunteering to play baseball with kids, doing some kind of service for others, or even taking something like a wood-working class so that when he was done with a project he could say, "I made that, and it's awesome!" He didn't love the baseball idea (said he didn't like kids, which I think is hooey--he's great with my nieces and my students) but he was less critical of the wood-working idea. So maybe I should look into that for him. And maybe I should look into a job counselor. There must be something else he can do to make himself a little happier. (That's the key though, isn't it? We have to be responsible for our own happiness, and find it wherever we are.)

Enough deep thoughts.

Have you tried Terra Chips Sweet Potato Cinnamon chips? Good God, they're like amazing crunchy candies. They've hit on a winner with those suckers! (And they're high in fiber and vitamin A, so they're almost healthy. Lower fat, too.)

I've been playing around with salad dressings--with so much lettuce coming in from the farm, we're eating it every night. Last night I made a salad with mixed lettuces, chopped apples, sliced zucchini, and halved grapes. I was making my favorite vinaigrette--white wine vinegar, honey, salt, pepper, olive oil--when I thought, "Hmm. Grapes, apples. Cinnamon." I sprinkled in a pinch of cinnamon, whisked it all up and poured it on the salad. After I did it, I thought, "Wait, cinnamon?" But it was good! It didn't clash with anything, and it enhanced the grapes and apples. Who'da thunk it?

I planted a climbing rose yesterday, near the front porch steps. It's fragrant, and my hope is that as it grows up and vines around the railing it will be strong enough to blow in the front windows during breezes. My mock orange, planted outside the kitchen window, was finally tall enough for that this spring, and it made me very happy to have the kitchen filled with the scent of orange blossoms when the breeze blew.

I've been photographing flowers and plants this spring and summer, and I think I'm going to make a "scrapbook journal" of my garden. I need to get on to printing some of the photos currently warehoused in the camera. Digital cameras are great, but it sure is easy to let the pictures languish in them. :)