Friday, December 30, 2011

Discoveries 2011

It was just about 3 years ago, when my husband came home from work early one day to tell me that either we'd be moving to the Boston area, or he'd be looking for a new job. It didn't feel festive. It didn't feel lucky. It felt scary and unknown. There was also a twinge of excitement in new opportunities.

Well, by that April, he was commuting from NJ to MA during the week. By June we had sold our old house. We moved into a new one in July. The kids started at new schools in September. Everything was unknown. I got a GPS so I wouldn't get lost all the time.

The best thing about this year is that finally, after 2 1/2 years, I've learned my way around. This now feels like home. In many ways, the move from NJ to MA now feels like one of the luckiest and best opportunities we could have had. With a passion for this place, I set out to learn more about its natural and historical attributes.

Here are some of this year's highlights:

Pod Meadow: a little jewel in our town landscaped by beavers

Heard Reservation: another local gem with a revitalized orchard and some old trees too

World's End

Ward Reservation, Massachusetts' mini Stonehenge

Arnold Arboretum: It has a bonsai collection with specimens older than the United States and a vine collection. Every month they also put out a letterbox that teaches about a certain kind of tree.

Harbor Island National Park

Cape Cod's Rail Trail: J and I rode a 17 mile stretch.

and White Cedar Swamp

A little farther afield we discovered:

The Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian and

New York City's High Line: note the new Frank Gehry building at the top left.

I look forward to exploring both close to home and farther afield next year. We're planning a trip out West next summer.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Books 2011

Here's a list of the books I read and remembered to document in 2011.

My favorites that I'd want to read again in the future were:
Jane Eyre
Room by Emma Donoghue
Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks discussed here
The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern

The Night Circus is a transporting book. From the beginning, you enter a world of the senses: visual and aural. Both scent and taste are sated. Even in black and white, with a touch of red. The creations of the dueling wizards include a forest of love poetry, a "pool of tears" where you can leave your sorrows, and an ice garden.

Tom Perrota's Leftovers gets an honorable mention for the way he imagines how citizens of a suburban town continue their lives after a Rapture-type event. For some, they slowly return to normal, others are changed forever because family members have disappeared or perhaps because they themselves didn't. The characters are well developed. The situations are varied, interesting and present many ethical quandaries. The book overall is highly readable. I also liked the ending. Sometimes I enjoy a book, but an unsatisfying ending can taint my overall impression.

Here's a favorite quote from Leftovers:
"Laurie herself was more focused on the years when her kids were little, when she had felt so necessary and purposeful. a battery all charged up with love. Every day she used it up, and every night it got miraculously replenished. Nothing had ever been as good as that."

The opposite happened for me in Jeffrey Eugenides, Marriage Plot, a book that was on most critics' top 10 lists. I thought it was well written, but too long. The characters were well defined, but far from people I'd want to befriend or travel with. The book describes in excruciating detail, the education and relationships of the main characters lives from age 18 to 25. Perhaps, it would be highly interesting for those in that age group, but I feel like I've moved beyond that. The ending turned out better than I had expected. It reminded me of one of my favorite children's picture books, Shirley Hughes' Ella's Big Change, an unexpected retelling of Cinderella set in England in the 1920's (imagine a ball full of awesome flapper dresses!) But overall the story was depressing and sometimes too violent or threatening. There's too much abuse of women throughout the world in real life. I really don't want to read more about it, especially in a graphic way.

That brings us to Room, mentioned above as one of my favorites. While it does document the aftermath of a child abduction, it's written so sensitively and beautifully, it is an exception to my abuse rule. That such a tender, positive story could come out of a dismal theme is a testament to the writing and imagination of Emma Donaghue.

1. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua
2. Big Girls Don’t Cry by Rebecca Traister
3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
4. Cries of the Spirit (poetry anthology) by Marilyn Sewell
5. Henry Knox : visionary general of the American Revolution by Mark Puls
6. The Water Giver by Joan Ryan
7. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
8. Room by Emma Donoghue
9. Here If You Need Me by Kate Braestrup
10. The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins
11. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jaime Ford
12. A handmade life : in search of simplicity / Wm. Coperthwaite
13. Tomorrow’s Garden by Stephen Orr
14. Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland
15. Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
16. The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure
17. EcoMind by Frances Moore Lappe
18. The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern
19. The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing
20. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
21. The Leftovers by Tom Perrota
22. Earth Then and Now by Fred Pearce

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Holiday Crafts

Here are just some of the crafts we've been working on for holiday gifts and decorations.

My son is a pro at technical paper crafts.

My daughter enjoys sewing crafts, this one an adaptation from the book Softies.

She also loves beading and making jewelry. She made almost all the necklaces on a cork jewelry holder I made her for her birthday.

I made a bunch of little polaroo felties as gifts for her birthday party guests. They are from this Felties book.

So last night began the holiday season of Hanukah, Christmas and my daughter's birthday. But no matter how many wonderful gifts arrive, the best ones are always part of the packaging. This "Darth Vadar" helmet arrived in a tower of edible gifts. An empty wrapping paper roll makes the perfect "light saber".

By the way the cardboard tube has been rated as one of the 5 best toys ever! Others include a Stick, String, Dirt and ... the Box. Check out a great article about it in this article from GeekDad at Wired magazine.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Decorating the Tree

We started decorating our tree this weekend. Pulling out and hanging the ornaments is like a review of crafty projects of the past. Here are some that stand out.

These charming felt ornaments were made from the book Felties by Nelly Pailloux. Now they are on the tree along with a tree ornament inspired by a wonderful blogger whose inspirational post I can no longer find.

We've been working on this tree skirt since the year 2000. The original idea and instructions came from an article in Family Fun magazine. Every year the kids put their hands in gold paint on the purple, velvety fabric. My son's hands are huge now.

He's growing like a weed. He'll be putting the star on the top of the tree this year.

My daughter's growing up so fast too. She's outgrown wanting the new ballerina/princess ornaments we'd previously gotten her each year.

But thankfully even at 15 and 11, they are still excited to put up and decorate the tree.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

November Riot Numbers

According to the Riot calculator here, the results for the items I tracked for the month of November 2011 follow for a household of 4 people:

transportation: 58.2 gallons + about 400 public transportation miles between school buses and the T, 29 % of US average
electricity: 392 kwh, 43 % of US average
heating/cooking: 59 therms, 72% of US average

The heating/cooking average has gone up considerably from last month, but we're moving into the cold months. I'm not even sure that a yearly measure is relevent here. How is one to compare heating therms here in New England where we'll use a lot more heat to warmer climates where more electricity will be used for cooling in the summer months? We've put up the storm doors and have closed off the TV room (the coldest room in the house over the garage) from the more heated portions of the house for the season. A programmed thermostat keeps the heat at 58 degrees overnight and between 61 and 63 degrees during the day depending on who's in the house and if it's time to get up and shower.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November Highlights

It's been a busy November, and I've been lazy about blogging. But here are some highlights:

I directed our bell choir for the first time. You can see video at the following site:

I have been appreciating the zen of peeling and chopping lately. Also the sweetness of root crops from the CSA and the farm across the street. We've been eating combinations of roasted squash, potato, sweet potato, turnip, parsnip and carrot often as a vegetable course.

By the way, a group of 9 turkeys have been gleaning the nearby farm field. They seem unconcerned about the Thanksgiving holiday.

I cooked our Thanksgiving meal for seven, the 4 of us and visiting grandparents.
Our menu:
the bird (cooked on the grill)
roasted butternut squash and onion with cranberries
cranberry/orange sauce
cornbread/sausage stuffing
mashed potatoes
raw veggie platter (carrots/radishes from CSA)
guests brought pie

We carved a special Thanksgiving pumpkin. It was a complicated design carved by me and the kids over a long afternoon.

We took a terrific family hike at another Trustees of Reservations property, Ward Reservation. It was an unusually warm November Saturday, and we hiked up 2 hills from where you could see the Boston skyline to the south. One had a stone compass/sundial at the top. We also walked down one of those wonderful wooden paths through a bog. There was great signage and info about the plants and geology. At the end of the path there was a spot to step onto the spongy, flexible plant layer that floats on the bog water. Really cool. Actually too warm (temp in the 60s), it looked like skunk cabbages were coming up as if it were spring.

Speaking of too warm, it's going to be in the mid-to high 50s today. 60's yesterday, the second warmest November on record. Bulbs in my yard are also sprouting.

Another highlight this month has been my work with the town Green Team and Transition groups. With the Green Team, we continued our work expanding deep recycling and composting at the local schools. At a pre-Thanksgiving assembly at my daughter's school, we did a skit reading a funny poem by Shel Silverstein about garbage, then presented the custodian with a "dirt" cake of chocolate pudding, dirt like chocolate cookie crumbs and gummy worms. He has helped the Green team and the kids to compost and recycle more than a ton of material that would have otherwise been incinerated since the start of the school year. We've started the program at a second elementary school, and built a raised bed garden there.

With Transition the group took another walk on the conservation trails in town. We walked around Pod Meadow, which is becoming a pond as beavers build an enormous lodge. We walked the trails that were not submerged and cleared branches that had fallen in recent storms. I also hosted our first Transition book group where were shared organic truffles, colorful local carrots and interesting discussion about Frances Moore Lappe's new book Ecomind.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

October Riot Summary

According to the Riot calculator here, the results for the items I tracked for the month of October 2011 follow for a household of 4 people:

transportation: 44.1 gallons + about 400 public transportation miles between school buses and the T, 29 % of US average
electricity: 386 kwh, 43 % of US average
heating/cooking: 15 therms, 18% of US average
garbage: didn't weigh this month, but it was likely very similar to last month. 1 bag (14 gal) dropped off at recycling center during the month. 1 barrel each (40 gallon) of mixed commingled plastic/glass/aluminum and paper recycling

Repeated power outages may be helping our numbers over the past 2 months. Our power came back on last night after 42 hours of power outage from the pre-Halloween Nor'Easter. We got about 6 inches of heavy snow. Some branches were knocked down in the yard. We saw some amazing blue flashes from arcing electrical transformers as the power went out.

Just like Irene (out for 4 days) I think we did well. It got down to the low 50's in the house, less than 10 degrees F less than we'd normally keep the daytime temp in the winter. Outside temps hovered in the low 30s at night and the mid 40s during the day. There was no school yesterday or today because of power problems and closed roads. The kids and I headed to the library where there was power (heat)! It was very crowded. At night we were pretty comfortable. The kids were in sleeping bags under additional covers. We pulled out a few more covers for our bed and actually ended up shedding sweatshirts and socks through the night.

Our food situation was fine. We didn't open the freezer, and once the power came on I checked it and even the ice cubes in the door were still frozen. We cooked on the stovetop from the fridge and by day 2 put perishables like cheeses, yogurt and cider in coolers on the porch. Dinner by candle light and Jack-o-Lantern light was cozy. We used up quite a bit of milk warming ourselves with lots of hot chocolate.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Community Action with Local Heroes

I've been getting more involved with my community lately. I've taken on a number of volunteer positions with some green/environmental groups in town and at church. I'm meeting some terrific people who redirect my focus from the national mindset of confrontational politics and economic malaise toward effective local action. They are positive, proactive and progressive. Some of them are not only full of ideas, but they are incredibly hard working and dedicated to seeing them through.

I'm hoping some of that is rubbing off on me. Here are a few of my heroes:

Here's M teaching kids about composting.

As part of our local Green Team, M. has pushed, cajoled and spent an enormous amount of effort making deep recycling and composting happen in our local schools. For almost a year she has been: visiting and learning from other schools that compost; getting our local school lunch director, principals, teachers, and administrators on board; raising money; building sturdy composting bins; organizing volunteers; and now teaching composting and recycling procedures to over 600 kids in one of our elementary schools. We estimate that we are reducing the school's waste by nearly 60% by weight. By the end of the month we have likely kept a ton of food out of the landfill. Instead of creating methane, it's turning into rich soil for school gardens. Currently, the program is expanding to another elementary school, the middle school, and the kindergarten. Just last Friday and Saturday, M and other Green Team volunteers including a girl scout troop built six raised garden beds at a local school. Composting and gardening will be worked into the curriculum and will hopefully become lifelong habits for our local kids.

The new compost bins at one of our elementary schools,
built by volunteers and financed with donations.
There are three big bins at right to hold the food waste.
On the left is is covered bin for leaves and straw to cover the food scraps.

P. is a former middle-school teacher in our town. Although he doesn't live here, he's been instrumental in an effort to recycle cans and bottles on our town fields, at the town beach, and at our schools. He's distributed dozens of recycling bins to those areas and arranged for volunteers to pick up the cans and bottles and take them to the recycling center. As part of the Green Team, he's been helping negotiate with the department of public works trying to get them to pick this stuff up. (They already pick up the garbage!) As of now, the town is set to begin picking up recyclables in these areas starting next year when they get a new truck for that purpose. P's work has been instrumental in getting the town to recognize the need for this step. He also takes middle school kids on canoe trips where they not only have a great time, but also clean trash out of our beautiful waterways.

B. is another dedicated hero. He and a few friends have revitalized an old apple orchard on public recreation land in town. They began planting new trees back in 1993. Now those trees are bearing fruit. Each tree is labeled with the species name, the origin of the plant and the time of ripening. Anyone walking by can pick some fruit to enjoy. He and other volunteers continue to plant new trees and maintain the established ones throughout the year. Now the orchard includes apples, cherries, peaches, pears and a paw paw. Recently, I arranged a hike to this orchard, and B. generously agreed to tell us about its history and about orchard creation and maintenance. Between 15 and 20 locals joined us for the event. Perhaps, more orchards will be starting in people's yards!

B. teaching in the orchard

Finally, K. is an inspiration. She has started a Transition group in this town. Transition is an international movement that seeks to create community and resilience at a local level. The current group is small, but she has brought together dedicated individuals and reached out to established groups to get a conversation started about water safety, bee keeping, sustainable energy use, land conservation, and more.

All these individuals work in many capacities in a number of these groups. We are all compost bin builders, recycling volunteers, community organizers, friends, supporters, game changers. Who are your local heroes?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Why I Don't Knit

There is no point in my taking up knitting. My mom is an incredibly prolific and beautiful knitter and provides our family with gorgeous hats, gloves, socks, scarves, sweaters, blankets and, for me, shawls.

Fall is shawl weather for me. I like to keep one along when going out to easily throw on and off in the car, in the cool library, on and off as the heat in restaurants or church cycles. Here are a couple my mom has given me over the years.

I called my mom this morning to find out the names of the yarns she uses. She notes that she loves beautiful yarns that can make even simple patterns into gorgeous items. But her patterns have become more complex over time.

Colinette hand dyed heavy cotton from Wales and according to my mom discontinued.

Karabella Gossimer first test of ruffle makin . This is a soft, light wool in an open pattern. It's a beautiful burgundy color with fine gold threads running throug.

Koigu KPPM, a light wool with a ruffle around the neck and down the front

If you're interested in any of these patterns I could get more information from my mom about them.

A tag sewed into her items reads, "Made with love in every stitch by Grandma Rosalyn." Obviously, she had it made for the kids, but puts it in things for me too. All these items will be greatly valued for such a long time.

In August my kids and I put in our Christmas/Chanukah orders. I'll show them when they arrive.

Thanks, Thanks, Thanks Mom!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A very silly blog post

The crazy shape of this CSA fingerling potato spurred my creativity (not for cooking).

Here's my quick potato princess.

My daughter was charmed by this, but redid it to create her "spud Ariel".

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Lots of Veggies!

Last Saturday we attended our second annual CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Farm Tour Party. Members of the CSA get to walk with the farmers throught the beautiful fall fields checking out the plantings, feeling the soil, tasting the produce, learning about the new equipment that can plant such beautiful straight, close rows! Then we head back to the barns to eat, drink and get to know new friends of all ages. This year we even got to pile into the back of pick-up trucks for a short ride to a farther field.

Each week we get a half bushel box full of the freshest produce. In spring there are peas and baby greens, and radishes. Summer last year brought amazing amounts of tomatoes. This year there was abundant eggplant. Too much if you ask my son, who got very tired of eggplant Parmigiana over pasta. Now fall boxes are full of winter squashes, beets and leeks.

It can be a challenge to eat all these veggies in a week and create dishes that everyone will like. Here are some of my efforts:

All these greens and peppers went into delicious green enchilladas.

Here's a squash, leek, apple, almond combo I made for lunch to use up the roasted squash from the night before. YUM!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

September Riot Summary

OK, I've found the actual Riot calculator here. So here are the results for the items I tracked for the month of September 2011.

transportation 47 % of US average
electricity 410 kwh 45 % of US average
heating/cooking 13 therms 16 % of US average
garbage 26 lbs/4 people 5 % of US average

I've checked the water meter to measure our water use for next month. For heating/cooking this is a monthly measure in a non-heating month. After a year, I can use the yearly version of the calculator to assess this more fairly. I'm surprised that our electric use is this high. Come spring I will try to reduce our dryer use with an outdoor line. Otherwise, I'm not sure where we can cut back too much. Transportation was a bit higher than normal this month because I took a vacation in Cape May with friends I hadn't seen in 20 years. It was worth it. I'm looking forward to seeing what it is in a more typical month. I'm pleased with the garbage numbers and this is sort of what I expected. I've been very good about reducing our purchasing of things that create trash, especially food items, and I've been trying to compost as much as possible.

I'm not sure if we'll ever get down to 10 % of US average for electricity and heat, and I'm not sure if I'd like the life that would entail. But it's a starting point to reduce further. I'm glad that we're already using half the amount of the average American. That's something.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Durham Fair 2011 (our 20th year)

It was Doug's and my 20th year visiting the Durham Fair in Connecticut. For Jack, his 14th year and Renee's 9th. We missed one rainy year, but this year's mud did not deter us. It was the same as ever but full of new wonders.

A close up of an award-winning quilt

Look at this gorgeous carved gourd.

In the youth tent, there are a plethora of unusual crafts; duct tape, painted rocks, pumpkin designs, recycled crafts, legos and more.

Even an award winning Lego tribute to September 11th.

Here's my favorite, a painting of what looks like Mother Earth by Durham's own Gail Thody.
Renee's favorite quilt with desserts and flower trim.


Horse teams pull nearly 5000 pounds of cement blocks.
Other teams rest nearby.
Renee loves the baby goats, chickens and bunnies.

Another example that people look like their pets.



And the usual oddities:
Measuring a record pumpkin, 1487 lbs.

The most beautiful cut flowers

Family fun:

See you at next year's fair. Will Jack be taller than his Dad and Grandpa then?