Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Book Learnin' and Whatnot

I read The English Patient and holy cow, you have to read it. (If you don't I'm going to come to your house and make you go out and buy organic vegetables! Ha. Ha.) The writing style is ephemeral, yet somehow unabridged at the same time. You need to know the amazingness that is the writing in that book.

I watched the movie, and while it was packed with great, meaningful scenes, the book made it much more detailed. The movie did not deviate from the book so I would recommend reading the book and then watching the movie to have the complete, expansive story.

Now I'm reading Jane Eyre because I'm in the mood for something English. I don't know why, but I think it's mainly to do with the language. It's so...proper. And flowery. What is the right word? Genteel? Mannerly? Yeah.

I currently have two movies from Netflix to watch: The Constant Gardener and Failure to Launch.

Anyway. What are you reading these days? What movies have you seen? What would you recommend? How many questions can I put in one blog post?

Sunday, August 27, 2006

My Sister Earned Her Blackbelt

My sister has always been athletic, strong, and determined and so it came as no surprise that she passed her black belt test this weekend.

What was surprising was learning what is involved in earning a black belt. The details are a secret so that others earning their belts in the future won't know what to expect. However, it is generally known that the test is grueling, incredibly difficult, eight hours in length with no eating allowed, and it is mentally as well as physically challenging. My sister studies Tang Soo Do, which means that she DIDN'T get beaten with sticks.

Sticks. My god.

She did have to fight like hell through exhaustion, muscle aches and pains, against some tough foes. Then she had to walk 2 miles to the park where the ceremony would take place.

At the end of the test there is an initiation rite. It involves walking through a line of people who hit you in the stomach. At the end of that you break a cement block in half. You cross the bridge. There are pronouncements given and certificates presented. And then, you get your black belt and weapon.

My sister, she can break cement blocks in half.

Family came from three hours away by car and three thousand miles away by plane to see this happen and to celebrate. It was SO GREAT to get together for a celebration for a change. Although my sister said that the karate folks joke that the people gathered in the park at the end of the test are either going to witness a celebration or a funeral.

No more funerals for a long while, please.

We are so proud of her.

Did I mention she can break cement blocks? With her bare hands?!? Yeah.

Friday, August 25, 2006

In Which the Universe Pays Us a Visit

You know how it is when life is going along really well and you begin to think "things are fine" and in fact "they're pretty great" and "I really like our life here" until all of a sudden the Universe notices things are going a little too smoothly for you so It decides you need to grow and learn and change and deal with something tough again and It sends an opportunity, a change, a big fat decision to make and it makes you feel like you've been smacked in the stomach because of all the good things you would have to give up that you have already because the consequences of the decision could be good or they could be bad but really it's entirely unknown what will happen until you do it?

Yes??? I'm not the only one, right?

We have a decision to make involving moving three hours away for a better work opportunity. This kind of decision is always hard, because there are good things about going and bad things about going and all those unknown things in between.

It's not just for more money. It's to allow for my husband to be an owner in his company and be a boss, with greater decision making and the ability to hire enough people so he can spend more time with his family. That would be us. It's also great to work toward earlier retirement and have better health care. We could buy more land for less money. We just have to leave our home and community and church and school and friends and our life here....sigh.....to gain all of that and more. Of course, I can't delineate every single good and bad thing here. I've done that already on paper. I'm kind of tired of doing that.

One of us is more excited about it than the other, and the "discussions" at least until yesterday have been more like "arguments". It hasn't been pretty.

There is the fact that this would be the fourth move in three years for OC and I. She is starting a new school this fall, a school that is unique in its curriculum and there is nothing of its kind where we are moving. It's a different climate, and a place I have never considered living before. You can't have a garden there, the growing season is too short. You could have a greenhouse. A big greenhouse.

The main concern I am having, despite all of the others, is that OC would have to travel farther to continue her visitations to her father. It's three hours (did I mention this?) and over a mountain pass. I am not known to be comfortable driving in bad weather (DRIVE + SNOW = HATE). All I can think is that it's putting her at more risk and of course I can't do that (can I?). What if something happened to her? I couldn't live with myself. Of course something bad can happen at any time, there are no guarantees. But if something happens to her because I am putting her at MORE risk than is necessary, that is different, the thought of which makes me want to cry and hide and run far, far away from having to make this decision.

It doesn't have to be this way. The move is voluntary. We wouldn't lose anything if we don't go. Except, OH would not be happy about losing the opportunity to have the things I mentioned above, at least for right now.

There are benefits in trying something new. I resist it, but I recognize there are good things to experience if we moved, some of which I can't even comprehend as I sit here right now. There are unknowns. What if it's great? Well, I have to admit that it could be. What if it's terrible? Would OH be willing to move back if it were terrible for us? What if it's great for him at work but I'm miserable? What then?

That's why life is so hard, it is not always clear how good things can be until you do it. What has helped a lot for me is to talk to my friends, who listen to me analyze and freak out and go over everything. They've provided feedback and gotten me to the point where I can stop giving the negative "what ifs" more credence than the possible positive "what ifs". I need to give the idea a chance.

The idea that I'm having the most trouble with, and that I could use more input on is about the long distance visitation. I know other people have to deal with this. As soon as I realized that (it only took me a week) I went looking on the internet for help. I found a topical blog at ClubMom, called Blended With Salt, whose author lives in Ohio and has a son who visits his father in New York. She was kind enough to pose this question for me after I left a fairly desperate comment on her blog. If you are divorced, how do you handle long distance visitations with your children? How do you deal with bad weather? Do you make up the time in the summer if they miss weekends due to a snowstorm? How do you deal with them being gone for a long time in the summer?


Thank you.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Jamquake '06

The other day I decided to make some freezer jam. Strawberry, to be exact.

I mashed the berries, added the sugar, and put it on the stove to bubble and jamify.

It was going well until I dropped a jar that I had just filled and spilled its gooey, jammy goodness.


Four jars were filled.

Three jars remain.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

About Food

We have a garden. Behold:

We also have planted a winter garden:

I love our garden, even if it seems overwhelming at times. That could be because I am not used to gardening. I married into it. The garden is not my own design, nor did I choose the plants. My husband tried to get my input, but at the time he was ordering seeds I was head-deep in unpacking my stuff in my spare time. Since my spare time consisted of about two mintues after dinner and before getting OC ready for bed and getting ready for work the next day and then collapsing into bed myself, I trusted his gardening experience instead. He knows what he's doing. I found out I liked Swiss Chard because he grew it:

Now that I spend a good portion of my day at home, I am intimate with the garden and am catching on to what needs to be done and when. Not catching on quickly, but rather at my own slow, dumb pace.

For example, one day my husband came home and said he had noticed the corn looked ripe, and asked if we were going to be having some that night for dinner. I said something something like, "I will pick some for tomorrow's dinner but for tonight, I had planned to have this!" and presented him with zucchini spaghetti for the kajmillionth time, not admitting that the reason we weren't having corn that night was because it hadn't occurred to me to check the corn.

I water and weed the garden and pick things like cherry tomatoes because that's what I see needs to be done. As for the corn, I was waiting for it to jump out of the field and into my kitchen as a way of announcing its doneness, obviously.

(In all fairness to me, our corn came on very early this year, so it was reasonable that it not occur to me that the corn might be ripe in July. Am dumb, but not THAT dumb.)

Look! We have eggplant:

I don't know when to pick the eggplant. Nor do I know what to do with it once I do. This is one of the things I have to learn. (Which reminds me, do you have a good recipe that uses eggplant? Thanks.) Thank goodness for the internet.

My husband would like to have a fully self-sustaining farm, raising his own animals and organic fruits and vegetables for our own consumption. If left to his own devices he would likely figure out a way to make his own toilet paper and toothpaste, but for now there is his job that gets in the way of conquering technical obstacles such as these.

I am happy to raise orchard trees, berries, and a vegetable garden. The only animals I want to care for are cats and possibly some honey bees one day. This is because I don't want to be tied down to feeding and watering every day. I need the freedom to do other things, like shop for shoes at Ether when the mood strikes. I have priorities. Lesser priorities after proper footwear has been acquired include time to spend with my daughter; writing; keeping alive the plants and animals that we do have; more perennial flower gardening with lots of lavender.

I do like the idea of trading what we grow with other farmers for the things we don't, like chicken fryers and pork. I have found a source for eggs through my friend's son. OH thinks it would be a great thing for her to keep chickens. I suspect she would only be enthusiastic about it unless she had visitors to show them to.

There is much to learn. I am learning more and more about gardening, organic gardening, canning, preserving, paying attention to where our food comes from, and the energy costs related to bringing it to us.

(Would you be surprised if I said I hadn't thought of that last aspect much before? No??)

I've begun reading about the relationship of food to energy use and what I've read is alarming. For example, most food in the United States travels between 1,500 and 2,000 miles before being eaten (Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa State University)


behind each calorie of food in the typical American diet stands seven to 10 calories of fossil fuel energy (University of Michigan Center for Sustainable Systems).

That makes me think a lot about what's important to me versus what it costs to have it. The easy answer is taste. When food travels a long way, it loses flavor. I would rather have flavorful food. It's also healthier to eat foods that are grown nearby (for example, bagged spinach loses about half its folate and carotenoids after being stored in refrigeration for just four days. — Journal of Food Science.)

What about supporting local farmers? I think that's important to keep farmland viable and prosperous so as to encourage family farming and organic farming processes.

Those are a few of the reasons why eating locally is important to me, the energy costs being further incentive that I hadn't considered before. Then I read that the food industry uses about a fifth of the oil consumed in the United States. — University of Michigan Center for Sustainable Systems.


I know I went all "sustainable" on your ass, but that's what I think about when I'm out working in the garden with my little helper.

I think about my great grandma who had a farm in eastern Washington, and it was a do-or-die prospect. We grow our own but what we don't have is easily purchased. Luckily, we live in the Willamette Valley and there is plenty of access to farmer's markets, food co-ops, and family farm stands. What needs to happen now is fresh food becoming available in inner cities and in all neighborhoods, so that no matter where you live there is this option. I don't think that socioeconomic factors should be a barrier to healthy eating. That's why I'm talking about this, because it's important to me as a person and as a mother, and I am no different in that respect than the mother who lives inner eastside neighborhoods of whatever city and is is sick of their neighborhood 7-11's high prices and few options for unprocessed foods.

When I think of the low prices offered by suburban grocery stores on food whose origins are far away, I think about what goes in to getting it to me: Large fields of pesticide-laden crops grown in basically "dead" soil; mass produced, mass harvested before ripening, preserved and shipped in cold storage to get it to all the various stores. It's not very appetizing.

I recently found some papers from a project I remember doing in fourth grade to do with the Oregon Trail. We formed wagon train parties and did exercises about packing your supplies, trading along the way, etc. I wrote in my trail journal that I wanted to be a "woman farmer" and between me and my carpenter husband, we'd make everything we needed. (No wonder OH found me irresistible!) Of course, this ideal means I need to find a source for Hello Kitty raw materials and gain a penchant for manufacturing sandals so we will can be supplied with these:


Further information, if you dig it:

In the United States, agricultural imports are rising twice as fast as exports. Over the past two decades, imports of fruits, vegetables and grains increased by more than 100 percent. Today, the typical American meal contains ingredients from at least five countries outside the United States.
U.S. Department of Agriculture

Here’s the breakdown of food’s fossil fuel consumption: 20 percent consumed on the farm; 40 percent burned up in processing, packaging and shipping; another 40 percent is used to store and prepare the food.
Chad Heeter, “My Saudi Arabian Breakfast”

The average American farmer receives about 20 cents of every dollar spent on food. But when customers buy directly from the farm, the farmer gets the whole dollar.
John Ikerd, Professor Emeritus of Agricultrual Economics, University of Missouri


Edited to add: It seems I wrote that spending time with my daughter was a lesser priority than shoe-buying. This is not the case. I regret the statement which implied such a thing.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Hammer Fell

It happened.

Last week I had to implement the ultimate consequence after OC lied again. I picked her up and sat her on the counter next to the fridge where the chart we had made was hung. She watched as I took a pencil and crossed off each row of time at the park she had earned. 20 minutes at the park was now gone. Her eyes were big and round, turning red and then welling with tears as the reality sunk in. She was very serious as she listened to me explain in a gentle voice about how I was disappointed in her behavior. All that hard work, lost.

It was awful for both of us. Through it all I could see that this was an important moment and so I perservered. She could tell I was serious, that lying really would not be tolerated. The goal is to follow through with something important that will make an impression on her without getting angry and emotional. I was calm and cool on the outside while my insides churned. I followed through with exactly what I said I would.

The way it ended was positive, with emphasis on having a new opportunity to earn more time. I felt a strong mix of emotions afterward: happiness that I had done my job as a parent, but heartbroken to see her hard work wiped out. It was hard to watch.

She had to experience this. Many of life's most important lessons cannot be learned by listening, they must be learned through experience. I feel like I gave her something very important, hard as it was to do, and that it was worth it.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Late Night Posting

I just finished my second night of a two-part viewing of "The English Patient" and it kicked my ass.

11:55 pm. Crying.

Stupid movie.

I mean, the way he knew she was in that cave all the while the British thought he was German because of his name and put him on the train. And now, I'm going to give it away so stop reading if you don't know the story, okay? Here it is: she dies. They're in love, she is hurt in a plane crash, he knows the desert inside out and walks for days because he knows where to get help and so he goes to get help but there's a war and so when he reaches the town he is misunderstood and thought to be a spy and so, she dies. Oh. my. god. The emotional torture of not being listened to, of then being imprisoned and taken away on a train farther away from the married (whoops!) love of your life. But it's not just that. It's Kip, the sapper who you learn MUCH MORE ABOUT FROM THE BOOK, no surprise.

I had seen the movie years ago, and finished reading the book a couple of days ago. The book is so skillfully written, so beautiful. The book illuminated the lives of all the characters so well; the detail, background, the layers. For example, the movie does not give much information about Hana, Juliette Binoche's character. She is easily a thin character, albeit important. The book, while written in such a way as to not reveal too much, feels rich at the same time it is sparse. It illuminates Hana's motivation for being with Almasy the patient, and talks about how she lost her father, her fiance; then her feelings after becoming involved with Kip.

I know what you're thinking. At least, I know what you are thinking if you were me. I would be thinking, "Books are a wholly different medium, of course there will be more specific information offered. The movie is nearly 3 hours long, and you want more detail???"

Yes, I know I am demanding and hard to please cinephile. Bibliophile. Whatever. However, I would take this moment to remind you that I loved "Swept Away". Yes, the Madonna thing. I know what you're thinking here, too, to which I would retort, "shut up. Thank you."

Because, I know.

This is a case where I would say it is safe to go read the book and then rent the movie and you will not be disappointed.

Now, I'm watching "Shopgirl" and I am. Disappointed, that is. It's a strange follow-up, but I'm not ready to go to bed yet.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Girl's Weekend, 2006 Version: Part II

The canoe came with the house, so some of us thought thought we'd try it out on the canal out back.

The jello shots were HUGE. We had to cut them into fourths in order to get them down in one gulp. (I don't know why the picture is so oddly fluorescent. I couldn't fix that.)

Other food products:

The game of Pictionary we never finished.

Mmmmm...apple wine product! And coffee!

Mike's Hard Lemonade with lime, yo.

The I Love You, Man moment came when Dan Seals sang "One Friend", and Girl on the Left said if they only had one friend left they'd want it to be her, Girl on the Right, and then they hugged. The rest of us sat around drunkenly "awwwwwww"-ing, and kind of feeling unloved and left out. But we were drunk so we forgot about it seconds later.

Here's what we did instead of - I mean, after - that pillow fight in our underwear:

Hi, I'm the drunky-drunk on the right who is working her way through a bottle of pinot gris all by herself...

I have no idea what this gesture means. I was drunk by now.

Lunch the next day. Gorgeous!

Our designated driver, in her jammies. Nice car, lady!


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Girl's Weekend, 2006 Version: Part I

Once again, it was time to leave our families and get together with a group of friends for drinking, eating, shopping, and nonstop pillowfights in our lingerie.

There was a conversation about a personal topic which I am not at liberty to reveal, but I do have the inexplicable pictures. First, it was about this big...

...it was soft...

...and waxy.

We moved on to making the jello shots

Vodka from a plastic bottle is somehow more clandestine.

Gratuitous friend shot

There were plenty of high quality snacks and health food.

As well as plenty of beverages so we'd stay hydrated. There's some kind of vegetable thingy in that drawer.

What happens when you leave your kid's booster seat in the car for your smartass friends to find? Answer:

Group shot before hitting the casino.