Friday, April 27, 2012


I had a friend come over the other night and I shared some of my seeds with her. In some ways, I feel like I pressed a zucchini seed on her, after she said that she never really knows what to do with zucchini because she doesn't like it plain.
To be honest, neither do I. Don't get me wrong, I used to love it! It was one of the easiest sides I knew, and I thought it was delicious. But the easiest way to hate a vegetable is sometimes to learn how to grow it. That was the case with me and zucchini. I honestly can't stand the stuff the way I used to love it: sauteed in butter with a little bit of salt and garlic, or even with some basil. It's unappealing now.
So why, you're probably wondering, do I still grow it? Well, for so many reasons. For one, it still grows really well here. For another, it's very versatile. Just because I don't want to have some as a side dish for my salmon doesn't mean that it's not still good in other things. And the list of "other things" you can make with it is quite long. Many of these things are ones that Shane and I both love, even though neither of us is terribly fond of zucchini as zucchini. (Shane hated it long before I did.)
So, if you're looking for something to do with the glut of zucchini, here's my list of links for my favorite zucchini recipes (and a few notes on how I do it):
Grilled vegetable panini: This is the only way Shane and I eat fresh zucchini, rather than shredded and frozen. The first time I made it Shane was soooo skeptical. But we both love it, and we use a mix of our zucchini and yellow summer squash. I make my own French bread loaves for it, and instead of grilling the veggies (since I don't know how to turn on the grill) I saute them. Also, we tend to leave out the eggplant because Shane hates it and I don't grow it. The only trickiness is in baking it long enough that the cheese gets all melty, but not so long that everything starts sliding off the bread.
Zucchini chocolate chip cookies: So yummy! These get devoured quickly. Shane will eat a few, but he's not the biggest fan of sweets anyway. (The man hates cake--cake!!!) I love that they stay moist, even in our dry Fairbanks air.'s making me want to make some again.
Zucchini Pancakes: In the middle of winter, these feel like such a treat. And they're amazingly healthy, too, since they're made with whole wheat. I recently discovered that my favorite topping for them is to smother them in applesauce. Yum!
Zucchni Bread: An old standby. How could I talk about what to do with zucchini and not include this? In fact, I don't have a link because I don't really have a specific recipe to highlight. I usually just Google one when I want to make some. Some have nuts, others have chocolate chips. Here's a hint, though: be sure to add in a little bit of nutmeg. Nutmeg and squash is pretty much one of the best flavor combinations out there.
Another common one (which I again don't have a link for) is zucchini muffins. I don't have a recipe because I don't actually have any muffin pans. I want to get some soon, but for now I can't. (Also, I can't say "muffin" without thinking of this SNL clip. I love Betty White.)
If you've still got a ton of squash and are at a loss as to what to do with it, or if you get sick of those recipes, there's always this link about 20 ways to cook zucchini. I know some people throw it in their marinara sauce, which I've tried. It tastes better if it's fresh zucchini grated into the sauce, or fresh in small chunks. Previously frozen zucchini adds a bit of an odd taste to the sauce, in my opinion. But perhaps you'll like it.
There are so many ways to use zucchini. Because it's so prolific, people have come up with a zillion ways to eat it, hide it in other foods, or otherwise get rid of it without wasting it, so you can find plenty of recipes.
A word about freezing zucchini: it can be done several ways. One way I might try this year (depending on how many jars I have leftover) is to freeze it in small-ish canning jars. That way there's no measuring or eyeballing and wondering, "Is this two cups or more like 2 1/2?" Just be sure to leave room at the top for expansion--don't pack it full!
If you're freezing it in bags, like I usually do, make sure the bag is flat when you freeze it. I never remember to do this and we end up playing freezer Jenga, trying to keep everything in the freezer in such a way that it will close and not fall on your toes as soon as you open the door. Freezing things flat like this makes it much easier to organize and you don't have to worry about broken toes.
Always shred zucchini before freezing it. I tried chopping it up and freezing it that way, but ended up throwing it all out because it got so mushy and was really gross to eat.
I've seen several suggestions that you should blanch zucchini before freezing it, but I never have. It just seems like a wasted extra step to me, and a lot of trouble. Since I only put the shredded zucchini in things, I don't think it would make a huge difference to taste or texture to blanch it first.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Dear Vegans,

First of all, I'd like to say that I really don't find anything wrong with someone choosing to eat a vegan diet. I think some of the logic is flawed, but if you choose to eat vegan than it really doesn't matter to me.
Which is why I can't understand the fact that vegans seem to be trying to persuade the rest of the world to eat vegan. It's like there's a Church of Veganism and everyone who belongs to it is as evangelical as any uber-conservative Christian church. I almost expect to open my door one day to see vegan missionaries, hoping desperately to convince me that butter and honey are evil. Like any good religion, there is no black and white in the world of veganism. (If there are shades of gray then perhaps, just perhaps, everything you've built your religion on is false....) You either are or you aren't vegan--no one is ever "kinda" vegan--and if you aren't, you're a horrible animal-hater who likes the torture of animals. In the world of veganism, there is no room for a person who eats ethically raised and slaughtered animals, and who gives thanks for sacrifice the animal has made.
I'm not trying to convince anyone that they should give up veganism, just that it would be nice if you all stopped rabidly trying to convince me that your way of life is the "right" one, or that we all must become vegans to save the world. It's never going to happen. You need to make room in your idea of the "perfect" world that people all have different nutritional needs, and that not everyone shares your opinion. I tried being vegetarian for a while. It didn't work for me, health-wise, and it didn't work for my lifestyle. I was anemic and sick all the time, and it put a burden on the rest of my family. It even limited choices as far as hanging out with friends. And this was just vegetarianism, not veganism.
You try to say that everyone can and should be vegan, but that's just not true. I've even read a number of articles in which people lie about what it takes to be vegan. The honest truth is, it's a lot of work. And you need to take supplements to be truly healthy and get all of the vitamins you need. (Hello, B vitamins!) If we all turned vegan tomorrow, there would be a huge problem of what to do with all those farm animals. They're not going to disappear, and after millenia of agriculture, in which we bred for characteristics we wanted and bred the wildness out of them, they're as suited to suddenly being free as they're suited to the industrial cages in which they can't turn around. Which is to say, not at all.
I promise, I will not try to convince you that meat is best. I really do think that most people in this country need to eat less meat and fish. I think that when we do eat it, we need to make sure that it's as ethical as possible. I agree that factory farming animals is sick, wrong, and unhealthy. But that doesn't mean the solution is to go so far to the other direction that all meat and dairy becomes evil, or that eaters of meat are the handmaidens of the devil.
I'm just as thankful for the animals that have died so that I can eat and live as I'm thankful for the plants that have died for that same purpose. Because something, whether plant or animal, is going to have to die for me to eat. If you really believe that all living creatures matter, then why do plants not matter? I believe it was Goethe who said, "In nature we never see anything isolated, but everything in connection with something else which is before it, beside it, under it and over it." The plants I eat are just as integral a part of the planet and the ecosystem as the animals. Should I be less grateful for their sacrifice on my behalf simply because we don't see them as intelligent the way animals are? I lovingly tend my garden. I know how much work and sweat I've put into it, and how much more work the plants themselves do. It's just as merciless and heartless of me to rip out my broccoli before it can flower and seed as it is to hunt or otherwise harvest an animal.
Please, stop telling me that I'm a "killer", or that I don't appreciate and love animals, because I do. I love them no less than I love the plants I grow. And this love, while you might have a hard time understanding it, is so much deeper than you give me credit for. I don't mean that I "love" animals in the same way I'd say, "Ooh, love those shoes!" There are many types of love in the world. I can love an animal and still eat it, and the eating only makes me more appreciative of everything the animal is and has done.
You can certainly talk about the yummy thing you ate (such as this delicious looking recipe--I'm totally trying it next time Shane's out of town!). But please, please don't try to convert me to the Fundamentalist Church of Veganism. Most of you just sound so preachy, high-handed, and self-righteous that it's more than a little off-putting. In fact, it's downright offensive a lot of the time. Vegans, you're not better people than the rest of us are. And if you really don't think that you are, then you might want to change your tone because that's the way you sound. Honestly, when you sound that way I'll just tune you out and that does neither of us any good. I don't preach at vegetarians about how they should start eating meat. (My comments on this blog about eating meat are focused on finding better sources, not at convincing anyone they should eat meat.) Please return the courtesy and stop telling me how I should eat and live my life.


*In case you're wondering, this post was prompted by the absolutely INSANE number of articles I've seen in the past six months about how eating meat is "wrong" and in which vegans try to convince the rest of the world that all meat and dairy is evil. The comments sections of those articles often read like people are taking sides in a Holy War. In fact, the comments (on both sides) are at least as crazy as the idea that we all need to go vegan. Some of the pro-meat side talk as if someone's trying to deny them the right to breathe. On the other hand, the vegan side mentions things like how I should also start feeding my pets vegetarian or vegan diets, which is so outside the realm of sane that I don't know what to do with it. DOGS AND CATS ARE CARNIVORES, IDIOTS. I used to laugh at this "Futurama" clip, but now it just makes me wince because I've realized that there actually are people out there who think this way.
However you choose to eat, please just do a little research about it. That's all I ask. Most of us realize that our health is intrinsically tied to what we eat and want to find the best for ourselves. So experiment, and read. If you find that veganism becomes you, fantastic. Just don't try to convince me that I should do it too. The arguments against veganism are at least as strong as those for, and in some cases better. Many of the studies vegans quote actually talk about eating *less* meat, not none. And not one reputable study I've ever found has said that products such as dairy and honey are categorically bad for your health.
So please, read the other side and get their opinion too. Clearly, I've read a lot of articles written by vegans and vegetarians, even though I'm a meat eater. I will concede that they often have good points. What I take exception to is the fundamentalism within the vegan culture.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"What's the point of wearing butt floss if I'm not getting credit for it?"

I really don't have much to say today. This week is going to be CRAZY at work, for a variety of reasons, and I think a lot of my energy is going to go to that. Which sucks because work has been particularly frustrating the last couple of days. Things have gone wrong and I don't know why, and I've had to clean up the mistakes of people who quit or retired years ago. It's making me actually look forward to my evening run tonight because then at least I don't have to interact with anyone else.
Some days, I could so easily become a hermit.
However, I did want to highlight someone in Alaska who (very deservedly) won an environmental award for her work in advocating for native Alaskans and the subsistence way of life. She's been tirelessly working to point out that all of the business and industry has an impact (almost universally, negative) on the subsistence lifestyle of native people. And of course, since no one lives in a bubble, her advocacy on behalf of native Alaskans has helped all of us.
The plants at home haven't started coming up yet and I'm very impatient. But I already knew that.
When Shane used a paper towel last night, he was about to throw it away and I told him to put it in the compost. Then he told me that I'm getting "too hippie" for him, and I had to tell him about the sandwich gardening thing. Because apparently he didn't listen the first four times I said I wanted to try that. Somehow, the fact that it wasn't composting for the sake of composting made it all right in his eyes.
With the warm weather and the fact that he now gets to/wants to go outside, our cat has mellowed out so much. He'll even snuggle a bit with Shane, which never happens over the winter, and he'll allow me to hold him for minutes at a time. (I think mostly because it gives him a better vantage point to see outside.) It's wonderful.
Oh, and the "dirt" that the dog got into the other day turned out not to be dirt at all. It was fertilizer. Organic fertilizer, thankfully, and she didn't eat it. She just tore open the package and strewed it all over the dining room. To cover up a pee spot. (Shane did help me clean up. Apparently he thought I'd "find it funny". He was wrong.) I know my dog, and I'm 100% certain that she did all of this simply because she was mad that I hadn't taken her for a run or walk in a few days. She's lucky I didn't strangle her. As usual, she spent most of the evening looking sad and trying to snuggle with me in an effort to make up for her bad behavior. I finally took her for a walk later in the evening. In her excitement, I'm pretty sure the entire neighborhood heard us start out for the walk. We also got another dog to misbehave miserably, and terrified a sweet young couple out for an evening stroll. It was a thoroughly successful walk.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Oh boy, the planting

Shane sighed pretty much every time he walked into the kitchen/dining room area this weekend, at least when I was within earshot. I finally got a lot of my plants started! I'm shocked that I don't seem to have nearly enough containers for what I wanted to plant (shocked!) but it works for now. About half of our table is taken up with dirt. Nothing's popped up yet, of course, but I'm watching carefully. I also might or might not be giving the seeds little pep-talks when no one's around. Although, Shane did come in the other day and asked, "What were you saying?" Me: "Nothing. Just talking to the dog."
I also might have accidentally tried to kill my basil yesterday. I've been hardening off it and my one (so far) spinach plant, and I forgot about them and left them on the porch all day yesterday. The hardy spinach is fine, but the basil was looking brown in places and droopy. Whoops. I'll have to be more careful than that.
I went out and bought bags and bags of dirt yesterday for my planter boxes. Some of them already have leftover dirt, in which case this new soil will be no more than an amendment. But a few of them are having to start from scratch. I'm trying to build up a good supply of compostable materials because there's something I want to try. I've been reading a lot about hugelkultur and sandwich gardening and I've decided that I should layer some newspaper and compost in my boxes. This will a) help feed my plants so that they're healthy and b) take up more space in the box so I don't have to waste use a lot of expensive, bought soil. One of my long, shallow boxes will be perfect for the Parisienne carrots that were sent to me (short, fat, round carrots) and the other will hold broccoli. I'm also figuring out where I'll put strawberries, once I buy the plants. There weren't any at the garden center this weekend. I'll call around to see if I can find out who's going to have some and when.
As for my indoor, non food-producing plants, I got a few of them moved around this weekend. I transplanted the spider plant into a bigger (milk jug) pot, did the same for my cyclamen, and tried something that might or might not work with my violet. From the one tiny plant I bought years ago, it morphed into basically two large plants in one tiny pot. I talked to a very knowledgeable friend about how to split them (since they're still connected) and he said basically that he's never successfully done it. Gulp. But I really didn't have any other choice. So I tried it. I literally cut, with a knife, one branch away from the other, being sure to get some of the roots too. Then I hurriedly replanted it and poured some fertilizer in to hopefully stimulate the roots to grow quickly. I packed more dirt around the other plant and put some fertilizer in there too. The one in the original pot is looking well, but the other one was looking a little droopy around the edges. I'm expecting that it will lose some leaves, but as long as the plant itself lives I'm fine with that. And if this works, I have a violet at work which needs similar treatment, although it will be trickier because it's now three plants.
I totally went over the gardening budget this weekend. Only by about $10, but I still haven't bought strawberry plants and after seeing the state of the garden area, and trying to work on it a bit, I definitely need to rent a rototiller to turn the soil and get some of the very established weeds out of there. I have no idea how much that will cost. (Maybe about $50?) I did ask around to see if I know anyone with a tiller I can borrow, but no such luck. Shane's actually going to have to be the one to till the garden, since I've never used that machine before and he said that there's "no way" I have the upper body strength to do a good job with it.
And I just found out that the dog dug into one of my bags of dirt after I left the house this morning. AWESOME, dog, thanks.
Shane: "I thought you knew better than to leave bags of stuff lying around?"
Shane: "She eats toothbrushes. How did you not see this coming?"
Me: "The toothbrush thing actually kind of makes sense to me."
Shane: "WHAT? Why?"
Me: "Well, they taste minty fresh. She never eats new toothbrushes."
Shane: "Just be thankful she didn't try to eat the dirt, like she did with the flour. Then we'd have paste and mud in the carpet."
Me: "How spread around was it?"
Shane: "Oh no. I don't want to spoil the surprise."
Shane: "No. It's your responsibility."
Me: (fuming) "Did you at least put the bag up so she can't do it again?"
Shane: "No."
Me: "F**king f**k! Thanks a lot."
So, yeah. That's what I get to deal with when I get home.

I cannot say enough good things.

So this is totally not a post about my usual things (the environment, Alaska, case you didn't already know that) but it IS about one of my other passions: books. Specifically, the book "Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir" by Jenny Lawson. It's AMAZING. I started reading it yesterday morning and despite doing a long bike ride, then biking to the grocery store, and working with my plants a bit, I'm almost finished with it. And it's making me sad, because I really don't want this book to end. I've been giggling maniacally at pretty much every page, and I've read about half of it aloud to Shane. Before he left for soccer last night I read a huge section out loud to him and then he told me that I "have problems". I'm pretty sure he said that because I was face down in my pillow, snorting and shaking with uncontrollable laughter. But maybe he just didn't think it was as funny as I did?
I don't know how she does it, but this woman even managed to make her multiple miscarriages funny. (She has a rare autoimmune disorder that made pregnancy very difficult. Actually, she has several autoimmune disoders, OCD, and general anxiety disorder. So, you know, she's got all kinds of funny stories.) She also has a thing for taxidermied animals which just adds a whole new level. If you'd like to read a little bit from her blog, this is one of her recent posts. However, this is the post which hooked me to her blog.
At least part of the reason I like her writing so much is because the arguments and conversations she says she has with her husband are, in some cases, eerily similar to ones Shane and I have had. Or at least, it seems that Victor and Shane react in similar ways. So reading the book gets me thinking about all the good times we've had, and all of the times I've gotten him to utter the phrase, "I hate you so much right now," in a rueful and loving way.
Shane and I went out a few weeks ago and when we got home we discovered that I'd left the oven on. For five hours. While we were gone. Instead of thinking about the electric bill, we were both really just thankful that the house hadn't burned down because, well, we have pets. The thought of their terror and the threat to their lives if the house caught fire is not actually something I want to think about. So after I turned the oven off, Shane grabbed me into a tight hug. A hug that lasted for about five minutes. I finally had to ask, "Are you hugging me so long so that your arms have something to do because you're trying not to strangle me?" and he answered, "Pretty much." All right then.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Spider plants should be the new black

I've had quite a few "non-plant" people ask me what kinds of houseplants are the best. I list off a few plants that I've had lots of luck with and which I've seen other people with a lot. Christmas cacti (cactuses?), African violets, things like that. I even usually throw in a couple of herbs which are easy, such as chives. Aloes are another one I frequently recommend because they do so much for you. Not only are they beautiful, but they help clean the air AND you can use them for your skin. How is that bad?
Well, I'm going to change my statement. Spider plants are, hands down, the BEST plants to have in the home. In case you're wondering, they look like this. Why am I saying they're the best? Well, for one thing they're one of the best overall air cleaners when it comes to toxins. Indoor air can often be more toxic than outdoor air, so having plants to clean the air is not a small matter.
This is especially important in Alaska since we spend so much of the year cooped up in our homes. Not only are we breathing in all those toxins, but in efforts to keep all that precious, expensive heat indoors there can be major problems with getting enough ventilation. (My friend J is an engineer who works specifically on ventilation problems a lot of the time so I get to hear about this quite a bit.) We need the oxygen that plants provide because buildups of carbon dioxide and other harmful gases are distinct possibilities. The general rule of thumb I've heard is that you should have about 1 plant per hundred square feet of living space. But even having one plant will improve your air quality and, thus, your health.
Speaking of Alaska, the lack of daylight is a concern for most houseplants in the winter here. Mint, an incorrigible, invasive weed elsewhere, died in my kitchen because of the lack of light. But spider plants? Hell no. To say that they're shade-tolerant seems to me to be rather an understatement, and therefore a disservice to the plants. As long as they get more than about two minutes of vague, shady, North-facing light, they seem to do fine.
If you're worried about pets eating plants (especially cats--they seem to be the most persistent chewers) spider plants aren't toxic to pets. It's never good for a pet to eat too much plant matter because it can upset their stomachs, but at least this plant won't kill your pet. I finally brought one home from work the other day and when I woke up the next morning, my cat was happily munching away at the leaves. The only reason I took it away from him was because I'd like to have this plant in my house for more than 24 hours before he chews it to oblivion it dies. (It's going to be hung up out of his reach soon.)
The biggest reason I recommend spider plants is because they're just so darn hard to kill. Seriously. I'm quite certain I've over-watered mine, but they just accept the extra water and keep going. When we have to leave the plants at work over breaks, such as Christmas, the spider plants are always the ones that look the best and healthiest, despite the lack of water and light. I hate to say it this way (ok, not really) but even my boss can keep alive the spider plant in her office. That's saying something.
They also propagate so easily. This might not be a real selling point, but it's something to factor in. If you know someone with a spider plant, don't bother buying one. Just ask them for a shoot. Then you can pot it and soon you'll have your own crazy-big plant. After a while you'll notice the plant putting out little shoots, like baby plants. (See all those little ones hanging off the edge?) Really, it's seeking to spread. You can either trim that section off and compost it, or if you want more plants (either for yourself or to give away) just snip it off near the new base and put it in some water. It will grow roots quickly (after all, it's meant to be a whole new plant) and then it can be planted. I've never dealt with an easier plant. One of my "baby" plants was putting out its own "babies" less than a week after I first planted it. If your first shoot doesn't work, whatevs. The main plant will put out more babies so you can try again. In fact, one of my plants at work currently has about six offshoots hoping to find dirt to grow in.
They're easy to control, size-wise. If all you want is a small plant, keep it in a small pot. Other than the off-shoots it puts off, you shouldn't need to do any trimming. However, if you want it to get big and lush and take over a corner of your house, just put it in a bigger pot. It will fill whatever size pot you put it in and be happy.
In terms of looks, I'll admit that they're not the most beautiful plants. They don't put out flowers, they don't have peculiar leaf shapes, they don't fruit or really do anything special. But this seems to be a personal thing. My coworker mentioned just the other day that she loves their green, draped foliage. And for me, the ease of their maintenance and what they do for the air quality more than make up for a lackluster appearance. Put them with a couple of other plants and you'll never notice a lack of beauty. I have mine in a corner with my vine and its heart-shaped leaves, a broad-leaved plant that I don't know the name of, and one of my Christmas cacti. They balance each other out since they're all so different.
The first two plants I got at work were given to me by Shane, back when he worked at the greenhouse on campus as a student. They were "too ugly" for the crew to bother planting outside, due to mistreatment. If he hadn't given them to me they were just going to be thrown out. Well, they're kind of like the ugly ducklings that turned into swans. They're large, they're as beautiful as spider plants get. They're healthy. And from them, I've made several more plants, including one that I'm going to give to my friend L (a perpetual plant killer). Not bad for some freebies.
In case you're wondering what my second pick would be for one plant in your home, it's aloe, for all of the reasons mentioned above. Also, and I don't know why since they're really similar, but I think aloes are much prettier. Weird, I know. Sadly, I don't actually have an aloe plant! A situation I plan to correct soon. I used to have a cutting (or rather, the part one of the dogs knocked off) from one of my mom's, but couldn't figure out a good way to transport it from Seattle to Fairbanks. So I'll just have to buy my own.

**Updated: I didn't think of this before, but the ASPCA lists aloe vera plants as being toxic to cats. Since my cat does love to chew on plants, particularly ones with elongated leaves such as aloes possess, once I do get one I will have to keep it out of reach of my cat. It will most likely go in a hanging basket. I tend to keep plants that are not toxic which my kitty likes to chew on in the winter (such as chives) in a place easily accessible by him. In the summer this isn't a problem since we let him roam outside and he happily eats grass.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Choosing Seeds

I've (of course!) made a big deal out of my garden this year. But I didn't really talk about why I chose my seeds. Choosing the varieties was pretty obvious--in a lot of cases there were only one or two that were cold-hardy varieties so I chose those. But why on earth did I choose these few vegetables to grow?
Well, it was some very complicated mental math, I can tell you that. First, I thought about what kinds of veggies and plants we eat a lot of: onions, garlic, certain herbs, tomatoes, spinach, potatoes, carrots, peas, sweet potatoes, squash. Others that we eat a lot of but to a lesser extent are: colorful bell peppers (I hate the green ones), beans, broccoli, lettuce, other herbs, cabbage, parsnips, celery. (I'm ignoring fruit for now, since I'm mostly focused on growing vegetables this year. Also, I'm ignoring rhubarb because that's already planted.) We eat these a lot because they're the ones we enjoy the most, so it makes the most sense to focus on them. This was my "starting list" of plants to look into growing. Sure there are other things which we like to eat (such as turnips) but we don't eat a lot of them. I can get those from the farmer's market this summer.
Next came the question, what keeps well? That was pretty obvious: peas, beans, celery, broccoli, peppers, squash, spinach, tomatoes, herbs, all root vegetables, garlic, onions, and cabbage can all be easily stored away for the winter through canning, freezing, root cellaring, or drying. They also don't take a lot of time to put up and put away.
I also took into account what costs a lot, and what has to be shipped farthest. (The two generally, but not always, go hand in hand.) Almost every meal starts with onions and/or garlic in our house. But both of those can be gotten rather cheaply, even during the off-season, and at least in the case of onions they generally come from Washington. Garlic, while we eat a lot of it, is small and light. Easy to transport, and therefore not the biggest cost in terms of carbon emissions from food transportation. Plus, you have to plant it the autumn before you want a harvest and I didn't do that.
In terms of transportation, tomatoes in the wintertime are probably the worst offenders. While I'd be all right buying nothing more than canned tomatoes in the winter, Shane loves to have BLTs and has refused to give up fresh tomatoes. I'm hoping that if I can freeze a bunch of them whole that I can get him to switch to using those. Plus, I really don't like the BPA lining cans (damn you, FDA!) so if I can can and preserve enough tomato products for next year, that would be amazing. I knew I wanted a lot of tomatoes.
What comes in plastic packaging? Well, peas for one thing. We tend to buy frozen peas, but they always, always come in plastic bags. Ugh. And fresh peas are surprisingly difficult to find around here. Even at the farmer's market I don't see them that often. In the summer, one of Shane's favorite snacks is snap peas (all right, I love snacking on them too) but even those come in a plastic baggie at the store. Since peas are like garlic and onions, getting thrown into all kinds of dishes or used as a side if we're making Meat for dinner (salmon, moose steaks, the occasional pork chop, etc.) I know I'm going to need to grow a lot of peas to keep up with our appetite for them. I mentioned the other day that I want to grow all of our peas for the year and Shane said, "Not going to happen." He told me the area of the garden his mom devotes to peas every summer and then added, "And we still always ended up buying peas." So maybe I won't grow all of our peas. But most of them? That would be awesome. I chose three varieties: one was described as "the most prolific variety", a variety that was actually named for my state (so I know it will grow well here), and a variety of snap pea.
Naturally, I had to look into what grows well in my climate. Root vegetables tend to be hardy enough to take it (potatoes, carrots, parsnips from my ever-shortening list) except sweet potatoes. I know that people do grow them here, but they usually do better in warmer climates. Since I only have limited gardening space, and since they're cheap to buy, I decided that it would be more worth my while to focus on other plants. Like cabbage. That's another one that keeps well, I really enjoy it when we have it, and it grows really well here. It's not really cost-effective to grow it from a start, but from seed it is. I won't grow too many cabbages, probably only 6 or so, but that should be enough for our needs. I'm going to try making my own saurkraut this year, just for fun.
Lastly, I wanted to focus on what it's good to have organically grown. Celery tops the list of foods which should be bought organically. It's not that much more expensive to buy organic celery (last time I checked, it was a difference of less than 20 cents) but I'd still rather grow it myself. Since it also matches many of the other categories (easy to grow, easy to store, comes from far away, etc.) I figured it would be worth it. A list I found online said to plant about 5 celery plants for each family member. I might not do that (celery seeds don't germinate all that well, so I might strike out on a bunch of them), but it really won't take up that much space in my garden so I might as well go for it.
The final thing I eliminated from my list which it would have made a lot of sense for me to grow were the peppers. They can be preserved (frozen or canned), they do grow here, they get shipped from far away, they're somewhat expensive to buy, and we eat a fair amount of them. So why didn't I buy any seeds? Mostly, it just came down to "too much". It seems strange, because it's just one more type of plant, but I felt that it might be overstretching myself this year. Peppers can grow here, but they don't always grow well, so I might have had to fuss with the plants. I also really wanted to focus on the plants that I am growing and not overextend my abilities. I'm still a novice gardener, so I'm working my way up to more difficult things. Plus, as I said before, I'd like to focus on the things we eat the most of. My three biggest crops this summer will probably be summer squash, carrots, tomatoes, peas, and potatoes because those are where my focus is.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

"You killed the dog."

I've said several times before that I'm not much of a runner. I do enjoy exercising, but usually I'd prefer other exercises. However, lately I've really been enjoying running. For whatever strange reason, it's starting to become one of my default workouts. (At least, while it's warm out. I don't think I'll ever go for a run when it's -15 or colder.) So the dog and I ran for about 45 minutes last night. She still doesn't totally have her summer paws yet, and the scrape she got last week opened up again. However, she loved every moment of that run. And she behaved so well! When we got home, she got so much praise and so much attention, plus a few treats. After she'd drunk half her bowl full of water, she laid down next to Shane and fell deeply asleep. So deeply that when he called her name, she didn't even twitch her ears. I ended up having to carry her back to the bedroom for the night, awake but completely limp in my arms. When I put her on the bed, we spoke to her and petted her for a few minutes and she wagged her tail at us. A completely contented dog.
If you're afraid that I've been "working" her too hard, don't be. She loved every second of the run. When we had to wait at the first streetlight, she bounced and barked at cars in a "Look at me! I get to run!!" kind of way. Even at the second (and last) streetlight, near the end of our run, she was panting and wagging her tail. As soon as we could cross, she jumped ahead and practically pulled me across the street. I am acutely aware that our little lady will be 9 this summer, and that the average age of death for her breed is 10 1/2. We run together as much for her health as for mine. My very good friend came over briefly last night and remarked on how trim and healthy the dog is looking. Since this friend is also the daughter of our vet, that's a wonderful compliment.
With the roads and sidewalks now clear of snow and ice, it's also biking season!! Shane did the grocery shopping the other day, but when he went to HG Market, they were pretty much out of everything. He said it looked like they were doing some spring cleaning. But we needed chicken for our dinner last night, so I decided to bike there and see if they had more. I wasn't hopeful, so I only brought one small reusable container. Darn! They had lots of lovely things. I ended up getting an absolutely enormous whole chicken breast, two rather small pork chops, half a pound of bacon, and two heads of broccoli. I'm so excited that they're getting more and more veggies. If we'd had any meals coming up that involved red peppers, I totally would have bought some from them.
I'm looking forward to a long summer of biking, rather than driving. In fact, tonight I'm probably going to bike to the store to get some more bags of soil. I know, I know! Plastic bags of dirt! It's ridiculous! But I don't really have any other good way to get soil. My compost isn't done yet, and in any case I have nothing with which to turn it and get to what might be good compost at the bottom. So bags of soil it is. I need more to start my seeds in, and it actually turns out that I need more yogurt containers to start them in too! I didn't realize how many I'd brought in to work (besides my veggie plants, I've got my begonia and several spider plants in yogurt containers) and I didn't have nearly as many as I wanted for starting plants at home. I'll have to look around and see what else I have to start plants in.
I also haven't made my planned trip to the transfer station yet. I'm getting an idea about what kinds of things I'd like to find to help my plants. I'd like to avoid buying too many cages for tomatoes, peas, and beans if I can. So I'll see what I can find.
I did plant in my large totes last night, though. Two of them have two tomatoes and rows of carrots. The other two have two each of peas and squashes. It was more plants than I originally meant to put in the squash buckets, but I think it should do all right. I tried to get one summer squash and one winter squash in each.
Trying to figure out where to put and plant some of my other seeds is interesting. Can I start my parsnips outdoors yet? What about broccoli, do I really need to start that indoors? And my cabbages? I'll need to check on those. The seed company threw in some small "Parisienne" carrots with my order, for free. Since they're small, I can utilize some long, low buckets that I have as their planters. I just need to get the dirt for them, first.
I'm also on a mission to find some organic fertilizer if possible in this town. If anyone knows where to find it, please tell me! On my (admittedly, very few) trips to greenhouses and even the major home stores, I've never been able to find organic fertilizer. I think it's going to be a must for keeping my garden healthy and productive this summer. I'm using companion planting wherever I can, but I'd like to have a backup in case that's not enough.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Major/minor disaster

I broke my violin bow. I still can't believe that happened. First of all, I didn't want to go to rehearsal last night. I knew I was going to be late (one of those nights, you know?) and I was tired. But I went anyway, because I'd feel awful if I skipped for no real reason, especially since the concert is in two weeks. So I went, and then this happened. I was reaching forward to make a note in my music (ha! a note! ok, not that funny) and I knocked my bow out of my other hand. It must have landed in just the wrong way, because the tip snapped apart. There were a few gasps from stands around me, then people stared at me. (Some people who didn't see what happened were afraid the guy with epilepsy a couple stands in front of me was having another seizure, apparently.) I was so in shock it actually took me a couple of minutes before I reached down to pick up my now broken and useless bow. And then, since we were in the middle of a piece and I didn't want to interrupt the soloist, I had to wait until after before I could go talk to my old teacher and then leave rehearsal. I did have someone offer to loan me a bow for the rest of rehearsal but I managed to say, "No, thanks, I think I'm just going to go home and cry about this for a bit." Poor Shane. I got home early, which he was already surprised, by, and then burst into tears as soon as the door was closed. I managed to sob out the whole story while he hugged me. He kept asking, "Is there anything I can do to make you feel better?"
So it's getting sent down to my parents this afternoon (I called them last night and freaked them out too--my dad originally thought that one of us was hurt and had braced himself for really bad news--whoops!) who will take it to the shop in Seattle where it was purchased. (A really, really good instrument store, they do their own repairs.) I've had several people ask me, "Well, how much would it cost to replace it?" This particular bow was a little under $400. And considering that I've had it for nearly half my life (and that it was a Christmas present from my parents one year, with a really funny story attached to it) nothing is ever really going to "replace" it. However, it probably won't be the same again, either, so at some point I will probably need to get a new bow, and just keep this one as a backup. *Sigh* I did get a little chuckle, however, when a friend told me that "it's time to visit Ollivander's."
After everything, I made a big pan of walnut brownies last night and ate three of them. I'm not really an emotional eater (food does not solve all problems) but I've been super hungry from all of my exercise, anyway, so it was nice to at least feel full for the first time since last week. (I'd been planning to make brownies for weeks anyway.)
And then my dog, I guess, needed something to make herself feel better. (She's very sympathetic.) So she ate a toothbrush.
In good news, I looked at the garden yesterday and almost all of the snow is gone. I've got a lot of work to do to clean it up before I can actually plant stuff in it, but at least the soil should be workable at this point. I think I can start putting in some carrots and maybe some potatoes! I've also been bringing some of my plants out on the porch (mostly my basil and spinach) to sun themselves and start getting acclimated to the outdoors, since that will be their home this summer.
I really, really need to get my other seeds started this week or I'll actually be behind schedule.

Monday, April 16, 2012

So proud

I did it. I ran my 5k on Saturday, and according to the big clock at the finish line I did it in exactly 30 minutes, down to the second. It was not easy. In fact, that was one of the harder things I've ever made myself do. It started with a full half mile up fairly steep up-hill running, and I don't think I managed to catch my breath once during the whole race. By the time the third up-hill section came around all I wanted to do was walk for a bit, but I knew that if I started walking I wouldn't be able to start running again. So I pushed on.
My friend made it in at 36 minutes. She was very disappointed with herself, but determined that the next 5k she runs (next weekend at Pioneer Park) will be better. I didn't realize how many other people would be there that I knew. So many runners, and of course orchestra members who were playing the Symphony on their radios and cheering us all on. In case you've never heard of a Beat Beethoven race, the whole point is to run the 5k in less time than it takes the Symphony to be played. The start of the race, of course, was conducted by Dr. Z, the Symphony's conductor. He stood on a ladder and gave us a big downbeat to start. Depending on the recording used, on the orchestra and the conductor, there could be a difference in minutes for how much time you have. Some, I've heard, are as slow as 34 minutes and others are only around 29 minutes. Our recording (played on the radio) was one that the Fairbanks Symphony (including me) made last year. So we had 31 minutes to "beat" the music. Also, there was of course someone dressed as Beethoven. I was trailing him for most of the race, but he held back at the end so that he could cross the finish line right as the music ended. Passing him was a great feeling, although I'm kind of sad that I didn't do something like steal his tophat.
At the end of the race, talking with a couple of friends, one woman did mention that her friend asked her, "Why do you run? It's not like there are dinosaurs anymore. We don't have to run." I answered, "Is she nuts? We need to be ready for the zombie apocalypse!" That got me a high-five.
Did I rest for the remainder of the weekend? Of course not! I did my 15 mile bike loop for the first time this year, weeks earlier than I was able to do it last year. Aside from water and mud, the trail was completely clear. No ice, no snow. I'm looking forward to getting to bike every weekend from now until the snow comes again in the autumn.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Hints of spring cleaning

Now that we seem to be about halfway through Breakup (fingers crossed!) I'm trying to make sure that our spring cleaning gets done. Because there's a lot to do, some of it will naturally go slowly. But tackling one or two chores in an evening is much more manageable than saying that I'll do everything in one night, weekend, or week. I know myself too well, and my ambition is usually much higher than my motivation.
So it's little things for now. The other night, I switched out our winter sheets and it was warm enough to remove our heavy down blanket. Now we just have a quilt (made lovingly by one of Shane's cousins as a wedding present), one light down blanket, and two very thin blankets. (Those last three are mostly because, since it's still below freezing at night, the bed gets chilly under the windows before Shane crawls in with me. Even snuggling with the dog doesn't provide quite enough heat to make up for a sudden lack of blankets.) Before putting it away, I'll give the down quilt one of its twice-yearly washes.
This weekend I'll also be washing our pillows. It's important for things like that to get washed because they absorb just as much sweat and drool at night as the blankets and sheets do. (Ewwww!)
Flipping the mattress is the final step for the bed. Although, we might actually just switch out the mattress entirely for the one in the guest bedroom. It's much newer and nicer. As in, it doesn't have a dip in the middle where we've been sleeping on it for years. :)
Since I hauled out the tote with my summer clothes in it, I also went through things. I realized that whatever I didn't want to pull out should probably just be donated to Value Village since I'll never wear it. I also went through my winter clothes and got rid of pretty much everything which I didn't wear on a regular basis. When I go to Value Village (maybe this weekend?) I'll probably see about getting a few more t-shirts and a light sweater to replace one which was ruined. (It has several very large stains.) If I don't find anything I love, though, it's no big deal. But a lot of my shirts that I wear regularly have little holes in them from either wear or the cat's claws. They started out as little holes, but some of them are getting noticeable now.
I'll also need to go through more of our things to see what we never use and what could/should be gotten rid of. I'll need to nag (yes, nag) Shane until he actually goes through his clothes to get rid of the ones he never wears. He takes up more closet space than I do simply because he never gets rid of the massive pile of clothing which he doesn't actually wear! I would slowly remove and donate them myself, except that I know some of them fall more into the category of keepsakes: a few shirts from high school sports, mementos from family trips, etc. But I know what actually gets worn because it never gets put back in the closet. I do our laundry together (it amazes me how many couples do their laundry separately!) but I refuse to fold his because he's so picky about it. And because he's so particular, it takes him a long time to fold and he pretty much refuses to do it. So there's a laundry basket just for his clean clothes. What's in the closet hasn't been touched since he folded them so neatly and put them away when we moved in. And yes, I realize the absurdity of all of this!
There are other things in our house which should be donated, however, so there will be lots and lots of bags full of donation items. Figuring out what should be donated and what's still useful will probably be the biggest and hardest task. What to do about items which rarely get used? I have a small pillow which I only take on plane rides. It's wonderful for that (the seats are shaped in such a way that, because of my height, I end up hunched awkwardly and get horrible back and neck cramps otherwise) but not really for anything else. Do I ditch it and try to find something more multi-functional, or do I keep it? Do I keep the sports equipment in the hopes that we get to play those sports again? I really don't know.
Vacuuming and carpet shampooing are next on the list. No, I don't just vacuum once or twice per year! But it is a rather detested chore (not least because it terrifies the cat) so I tend to push it off longer than I should. The shampooing is also something that needs to be done regularly with pets in the house.
Having my uncle come over last night did sort of kick things into high gear, at least temporarily. Our place has been looking a little shabby and we've let things get out of place, so I ran around putting things back in order and making some quick decisions on a few items to get rid of. I was shocked at how quickly I managed to make our apartment seem more tidy! Of course, it's a good thing Uncle never went back to the bedrooms or into the garage.... :) Those areas were not so tidy.
The other biggest spring cleaning project will be the kitchen. For our birthdays, Shane's parents gave us a whole new set of pots and pans. We need to figure out which of our old ones we want to get rid of, and we need to find places for all of the new ones. And we need to do a deep cleaning and organizing of all the counters and cabinets. It's going to be a big project. But, little steps are the best way to go about it. I don't need to thoroughly wipe down all of the counters at once, just do one or two spaces when I have the time.
With spring also comes planting season! I need to get started the plants which should be started indoors, no later than next weekend probably. So thrilling! I might even be able to get them outside by mid-May this year. Super early, which is worrying, but good for gardening!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Trying to find happiness

A little over a month ago, I realized that I wasn't really feeling happy with certain aspects of my life. For instance, I'm not particularly fond of my job. It's all right, but not especially challenging or mentally invigorating. I find myself bored for a good portion of each day, and having to sit for about 8 hours every workday has compounded the feeling. What's even worse is...I can't justify quitting. I've vaguely looked for other things, but there's not really much out there. Everything is either asking for way more (and different) experience than I have, or they get paid far less and don't have benefits. So I'm stuck, and the feeling has left me incredibly frustrated.
I hate that feeling. So I'm doing my best to liven things up, to change what I don't like. Even if only to shake up my days a bit, I've volunteered for more and different activities at work. (I'm now on four different committees!) Instead of accepting the idea that I have to sit at my desk, I've started standing for a good portion of my day. At first I did it under the guise of having that giant bruise on my butt (which was uncomfortable, yes, but also a convenient excuse) and now by saying, "Oh, I'm training for that 5k on Saturday and if I sit for too long my legs get sore and stiff." I've found myself less antsy at the end of each day and, surprisingly, these little changes have made me more content with my job. I don't know if I'll ever feel as excited about it as I did when first accepted for the position, but I know that I won't be in this job for forever, either. It's a means to an end. Because of my position, I get free tuition. So I'll be using that more. Not necessarily to get another degree, but even if it's only to pursue personal goals and interests it'll be well worth it. I talked to my old music teacher the other day about taking lessons again in the fall. It depends on how busy she is with actual, degree-seeking students, but if she can fit me in she will. It's made me absurdly excited. I also signed up for another class which just sounded interesting to me.
Thinking about what would make me happy, I've had quite a few conversations with Shane recently about what we want for our future. I won't go into details, but we've worked out a general idea of the things we want in our lives and when we'd like to (hopefully) do them by. We don't have grand plans, but they're our plans. It's been good for us, in part because I realized that I've been kind of grumpy because of how discontented I was with other aspects of my life. I feel like I've been taking my discontent out on him. But making him happy is just as important to me as keeping myself happy, so I've made an effort to change that. Not that it's really been hard to stop being grumpy. I just had to realize that I was doing it.
I'm also having to realize that neither of us is really going to feel like the distribution of chores is completely even. I have to stop being a martyr and thinking that he doesn't do "his half". It only causes trouble when I accuse him of slacking off or only doing the easy chores, and I'm sure there are things he does which I never notice. It's one purely mental source of unhappiness over which I, obviously, have complete control. So I'm done trying to keep score and figure out if I'm working harder at keeping the house clean than he is. I'm just done with it.
I decided not to get a second job this summer because, as I told Shane, the idea fills me with dread. He asked, "Then why were you even considering it?" Silly me, I had mistaken his original support for the idea as him feeling that we need the money a second job would bring in. Really, he just wanted me to do whatever would make me happy. The thought of giving up some of the best months of the year to another job, having less time to spend in the garden and with friends, just for money, seemed like such a crappy trade. I'll be a lot happier, and healthier, by putting the time that would have gone into a second job into things that will make me happier. Like long walks or runs with the dog, bike rides, gardening, softball, and time with friends.
I don't want to waste my youth working as hard as I possibly can, and I don't want to delay my happiness to some intangible point in the future when everything will be as I want it do be. I need to change my life now to make myself happier. So I'm doing that, little by little.
It seems that every book I've read lately, every show I've watched (all two episodes of one show--"Castle") have talked about trying to hold onto the good parts of life while you can, because life is short. You never know what's going to come up so it's important to hold onto the people and things which are important to you. Don't take life for granted. I'm trying to take these lessons to heart. I don't necessarily want to live each day like it's my last, but I do want to live them to their fullest. I don't want to have regrets when I'm old about all the time I wasted being unhappy. I want to have a life full of memories about the awesome, amazing, peaceful, wonderful things I did. I want to know that my life wasn't wasted. I don't want to look back on my life wondering where all the time went and why I didn't spend more of it doing things that were important to me. So I'm doing them.
It helps when unexpected and fun things come up--like the phone call from my uncle saying that he's in town and wants to take us out for dinner tonight. :)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Happy Easter! Now get to work.

I hope everyone else (whether they celebrate it or not) had a wonderful Easter Sunday. (Or, in other words, a good Sunday.) We had a very busy day. It started for me with meeting a friend of a friend for coffee. She just moved up here for school and knows a couple of people, but of course when you've moved somewhere new it's nice to get to know even more people. It sounds like she's settling in all right, which is good. I've been telling her a bit about Fairbanks through emails over the last few months to try to prepare her for life here. I hope I did my part well enough!
After that, I rushed back home so that we could drive out to the hills and see J's parents. I had forgotten that they'd asked us all to do some work for them, so of course I had on a pretty shirt and clean pants. Ha! Luckily, the work wasn't that dirty. Their house is heated half with oil and half with wood. (And a little bit of passive solar heating. His mom was super excited to have it over 70^ in the house without any heating for the past week or two.) So we were splitting and stacking three cords of wood so that they can dry before next winter. I got to operate a log splitter! That was really fun. And pretty quick, too. One of the other women did the first 2/3rds of the wood, but after a while I ended up taking over running the machine. In case you don't know what a log splitter is or what it looks like, it's a gas-powered machine with a wedge-shaped thing that looks like a bit like an axehead. It's really easy to operate, with a lever that essentially moves the wedge either forward or backward. You put the log on a metal bar and move the wedge forward until the sharp edge pierces the wood. This will split it in two pieces. If the circumference of the log is big, I discovered that instead of pulling the two pieces off and splitting them again separately, I could sort of push them back together, roll the log so that the cut was horizontal (facing the vertical wedge) and split them again easily. It was so much less work than the way we'd been doing it before! You don't need to push the wedge all the way down the log, and split it entirely. Moving it in a few inches breaks the wood apart enough that either it splits apart all on its own or you can pull the pieces apart. Often I would throw them to the ground rather hard so that they'd split apart that way. Shane thought I was just being lazy in not throwing the wood into the sleds (used to transport the split wood over to the stacks) but I think he eventually figured out what I was doing. I couldn't hear him that well because I was wearing earplugs, and I was so focused that I didn't want to stop and explain myself.
It was nice because 9 of us were able to split and stack 3 cords of wood (that is A LOT of wood) in one afternoon. If we'd used axes and done it all manually this would have taken us probably a month of weekends to do.
The one part of it all that I found frustrating was that half the people seemed to think that either I didn't know what I was doing, or that I'd find the work too hard. J's dad, who was helping us, kept reaching to grab the logs off the splitter while I was still moving the wedge back. Not only did this worry me (I do not want to be the reason someone else loses a limb in some freak log splitting accident!) but it actually slowed things down. I think he thought he was being helpful because I didn't have to do the hard work of lifting the logs, but it wasn't helpful. J's sister was almost as bad about trying to be helpful and just getting in my way. Things went much, much faster when I had J helping me, because he actually treated me like I was capable. H'd pick up an uncut log and either hand it to me or place it on the splitter while I removed the already cut wood. This system moved things right along because there was no waiting for a new log. I'd toss away the done work and get started immediately on the next log.
J's mom, when we finished and went back inside, thanked us profusely and when I said that I actually enjoy work like that she lifted her eyebrows like I was supposed to be joking. This wouldn't be bad, but none of them treated the other women who'd helped like that! I realize that I don't have C's carpentry and building experience, and R is their daughter so they know she's been doing these chores her whole life, but come on! I am perfectly capable of enjoying and being good at manual labor. And just because I don't go around talking about the things I've done (like spending a summer with my brother building a retaining wall in my parents' backyard) doesn't mean I don't have experience with things like this. If needed, I could have used an axe to chop wood by hand.
I hate being underestimated.
Of course, after an afternoon of working like that a big dinner is especially appreciated. In fact, two dinners are even more appreciated! After eating dinner with them, we bounced to another Easter dinner at a friend's house. It was lovely. Shane had to leave early for a soccer game, but some friends offered me a ride home so that I could stay longer and play games. It was just a fun evening.
Shane and I topped the day off with a spur-of-the-moment trip to the movie theater to see "The Hunger Games". I loved the books, which Shane hasn't read, but I haven't had a chance to see the movie yet. It was wonderful. There were a bunch of places where I felt they expected the audience to have read the book, so I would lean over and whisper background info to Shane. I didn't realize it was such a long movie, though! If I'm not exhausted today, it won't be for lack of trying. We got home after midnight and then I was still a bit too pumped up to sleep. We discussed the story for a while and I told Shane a bit about the second and third books. When I woke up this morning, it freaked me out that it was light outside. I was certain that I'd slept through my alarm or something. Nope. Just summer daylight coming. :)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

On daddies and daughters and running

My dad and I have one of those awesome father-daughter relationships that, I suppose, could classify me as a "daddy's girl". Except without the creepy connotations. I don't mean that I think my dad's the most perfect man ever, or that he was overprotective of his little girl. He didn't meet Shane with a shotgun and a too-firm handshake, and I didn't deliberately seek out a man just like my dad. (Although I do see similarities, particularly in their sense of humor.) We just get along really, really well. I think it's because where I can be volatile, he's calmer and so we offset each other a little bit. People who see the two of us together say that we act just alike, including the same mannerisms. I take that as a compliment, although I actually see more of my mom in myself sometimes.
A couple of years ago, when I was calling home just to say hi, I got the kind of news from my dad that I had to sit down to hear. "I've been having some pains in my chest, so I went to the doctor. It turns out, I need heart surgery. Don't worry, though, it's nothing major. I'll be out of the hospital quickly. I need a stent put in my heart." For a second, I had chest pains from that. He didn't want us to worry, so he acted like it wasn't that big a deal. But no amount of "it's not major" when you're talking about heart surgery is going to make me feel better. It's my dad. It still blows me away that he wasn't even sixty when this happened. Am I being silly, or does that seem too young to anyone else to be having heart problems?
For a little background, my dad's mom died of a heart attack. His dad died of cancer when he was quite young, and of the two problems I was more worried about cancer. My dad having heart problems never really entered my head. Exercise and sports weren't particularly emphasized in our house, but everyone did things. We were always active. I couldn't imagine a summer without swimming, biking, climbing trees. In the great Alaskan tradition, my parents built their house when we lived in Fairbanks. My dad still bikes, my mom jogged until her arthritis got too bad and then switched to brisk walking. They eat well and their cholesterol and blood pressure are pretty normal for their ages. They did grow up in households with parents who smoked, but neither has smoked themselves. So you can understand why heart problems in my parents were never at the top of my radar.
My dad is doing just fine now, but his heart surgery, as much as anything else, is what keeps me motivated to exercise regularly. Studies are now showing that things like smoking can affect not only your DNA, but also the DNA of generations that come after you. It can make your children more prone to health and heart problems even if they never smoke. Crazy, right? But fighting in our corner, exercise can also change your DNA for the better. And it can be passed down to your kids. It's all very complicated and I don't know if there's a single person on earth who could properly do the math (grandmother who smoked + father who didn't + exercise = this much chance of heart problems) but I figure that anything I do right now helps me, and hopefully it will help my future children out too.
It helps to have a husband who grew up in a household where exercise was emphasized. Everyone had to play sports. His mom, who is in her mid-fifties, is the only woman of her age I can think of who can keep up with the Insanity workout videos. My friends and I (ranging from early to late twenties) had trouble going through them the first time around (although they've now become my default workout). But she started the program a few weeks ago and loves it. Shane's dad still plays softball and plays hockey in the winter. Shane and his brother, of course, did sports all through school. If I mentioned the concept of not working out to any of them, I think they'd all stare at me blankly and wonder what on earth I was talking about. Why would anyone not want to exercise?
So now I have both internal and external motivation for getting at least a little bit of exercise daily. What I'm having the most trouble with is getting over the idea of myself as someone who doesn't do certain things. "I'm not a runner" or "I hate running" have been thoughts that have stuck with me since childhood. And I really did used to hate running. But now? Well, there are days when I'm walking home and the birds are chirping, the snow is melting, and the sun is shining. It feels like a crime not to get out and run in weather like that. Why should I workout inside and waste the lovely weather? So I grab the dog and we go running. I'm a lot better at it now than when I was younger. For one thing, after working out regularly for several years now my lungs are much better. I don't think I'll ever be fast, though.
But I still can't wrap my head around the idea of me being a runner. The only time in my life when I think that term fit me was when I was around twenty. At that time, both of my older brothers (who I'm very close to), a cousin (who I'm also close to) and my best friend all moved out of the Seattle area in about a six month period. The only other friends I had were all at least a year older than me and liked to go clubbing and bar-hopping on weekends, which I was excluded from because of my age. I was adrift. I was living with my parents, going to community college to get a general associate's degree because I didn't know what I really wanted to do. I didn't know where I wanted to go. I knew that something had to change, but I didn't know what. I didn't realize it at the time, but running became my outlet. It became one of the few things I had to hang onto. And really, it helped me to figure out some things about myself. I didn't want to be where I was forever, so I started working to change that. When I ended up moving later on (to Bellingham, WA, to live with my best friend) I stopped running because I didn't need it anymore.
And now, for none of the same reasons as before, I find myself sort of needing running again. Every April here, the Fairbanks Symphony hosts a "Beat Beethoven" 5k. I've been thinking for weeks that it would be fun to run it. The only other time I've run a 5k was to help out a cousin. She ran with her older daughter (who was, I think, 9 at the time) and I ran with the younger one (7). It was easy to do because the 7-year-old ran at a pace I could deal with, and we stopped to walk a few times. I've never run a race all on my own, with just my own motivation before. But this would be fun, right? I can't explain why I held off so long on signing up, or why I tried to come up with so many reasons not to. "Ooh, $20? I don't know. That's a lot of money...." or "Yeah, but do I really want to give up my Saturday morning? I can't think of anything I'd be doing at that time, but what if something came up and I wanted to do that instead?" It was silly and I finally told myself to stop. I don't do anything but read on Saturday mornings. I can afford $20, especially since it's going to support the Symphony which I'm in. (Shane asked, "Why do you have to pay? You are the Symphony." I told him I thought the other members would quibble with that statement a bit.) To hold myself to the resolution of signing up, I told Shane that I wanted to do it. He turned on the computer right then and said, "There. You can sign up right now." No excuses. So now, I'm signed up to run. And I'm actually excited about it! Letting go of fears that I'm not "a runner", or that I was always the slow kid, and other negative thoughts, is actually wonderful. I have another friend who signed up. She's like me, a little nervous about signing up for a race with all kinds of hardcore runners. A little new to this and still, I think, not considering herself "a runner". I don't even know if we'll race side-by-side. But it's nice to know that she'll be there. And if either of us finishes within the allotted time (about half an hour) we'll celebrate.
I might not ever think of myself as "a runner". I like my workouts to be more varied than just sticking to one. When given the choice, I will probably choose a long bike ride over even a short run any day. But at least I'll know that I can do this. I can run races. I can be a runner, if only for a morning or a few days out of the week.
Today, my calves are burning. It was hard to walk this morning because of them. But it's making me feel good. My calves hurt because for the last two evenings, I've gotten out to run a little more than the 5k. I ache with progress. I'll take tonight to recover, but then I'll be back out tomorrow. Even if it's a short run, I'll be running.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Friday Independence Days - Breakup!

Breakup is here! After over a week of positive temperatures during the day, and a lot of snow melt, I think we can officially declare it. It did get down to -7 the other morning (which explained why I was a bit chilly in just my fleece :) but the days have been getting up around +40. Ah, t-shirt weather!
The animals are coming out again, too. I love watching the tiny red squirrels with their frenetic energy. They're starting to skitter around again. The chickadees, which stay here all winter but which I never really see much of, are once again out in force. Singing, winging, dancing through the woods. Even the ravens are getting into the act. I know a lot of people despise the ravens, but I love them. They're absolutely enormous. As in, nearly twice the size of the crows I grew up with in Seattle. Heck, they're almost as big as my dog. And they're smart. They're around all winter too, but right now they're making more noise and flying around more than they did during the cold months. When I saw a couple diving the other day I had to wonder, was it a joyful sort of playing? Were they territorial males fighting over a good spot? Or was it some sort of mating dance? In any case, it was wonderful to see. All of the animal activity puts me in mind of the quote from Emerson, that "the appropriate response to the world is applause."

So, I wanted to do a little Independence Days update. For myself more than anyone else.

Plant something: Today, I'm planting two more bean plants and one more cherry tomato at work. After these, I might be done with the work plants. Everything else will just have to wait for my garden. The count for my work vegetables will be: Four peas, three beans, two cherry tomatoes, and one regular tomato.
Harvest something: Nothing yet. One of my beans is turning purple, though, which means that it's getting ripe! In a week or two I'll be able to eat the first bean I've ever grown.
Preserve something: Just the chicken stock I made. I froze it.
Waste not: Actually, in the last few weeks we've dropped the ball on this one a bit. We had a miscommunication about some leftovers and they ended up going bad before either of us got around to eating them. However, some of those "bad" leftovers went to the dog, who loved them.
Want not: I'd say that the biggest thing I've been doing toward this is to read the book "Affluenza". It's excellent, really eye-opening. It was written for Australia, but the authors could just as easily be describing most of America, too. In general, it's making me realize what's most important to me (not money--that is a means to an end) and how I really want to shape my life. It and a few other things have sparked some really good conversations between me and Shane recently.
Eat the food: Actually, we've done a bit less in this category, too. Mostly because I think we were both getting so sick of fish and moose. In the past few weeks we've had more chicken than we had in the two months previous (which means we bought most of our meat), only two meals of fish in March, and we even bought some pork chops. (They were delicious!) We'll go back to eating more fish now, but it was nice to get a break from it.
Build food systems: Well, I did write to someone who does an ongoing article about farming in Alaska for the local paper. I asked him about some local food resources and got a response. So, now hopefully I'll be able to find the local flour (named--of course--Alaska Flour Company) and buy from them. I was worried about plastic packaging, but their bulk (20 or 40 lb) bags are paper.
Skill up: Nothing.
Health: Lots of fruits and veggies, and I've been adding more nuts like walnuts and pecans to my diet. I've also been exercising a ton, but I'll talk about that in a different post.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Whole Chickens

When I buy a local, whole chicken from HG Market, I admit that it can be quite pricey. The last time I bought one (a few weeks ago) it was about $20 ($5.05/lb). In some ways, it seems ridiculous to shell out that much money for a bird when I can get the same thing at Safeway for about $5. But...the quality of the meat is what really makes it worth it. Even Shane can't complain about the price (especially when I don't tell him...) since it's so much tastier than anything the chain grocery stores carry.
So because it's expensive, I obviously want to make the most of each bird. Every scrap, piece of meat, piece of bone, needs to get used for it to be worthwhile. Sounds like a lot of work, huh? It's not. It took less time than it would take for me to go to the store, seek out and buy all the meat and products I got from that one bird than it took to cook and clean it.
First of all: CrockPots. They're a godsend. I forgot to set it up the night before, but it was still easy enough in the morning to run around (like a crazy person) getting dinner ready. I threw the chicken into the pot with some cut up cabbage and some spices: salt, pepper, poultry seasoning. Then I turned the crock on and left for work. When I got home that afternoon, I grabbed a wooden spoon, lifted the lid, and poked the chicken once. It was so tender at that point that the whole bird pretty much fell apart. When we had friends over for dinner that night, Shane lifted what parts of the bird out of the pot that he could, and we grabbed the meat we wanted and put it on our plates. (We served it with bread and veggies.)
After dinner and after our guests were gone, I picked through what was left of the carcass. Any meat that I found was thrown back into the pot (with the suuuuper thick broth that was in there) to be made into soup. Scraps that we don't care for, like the skin, was put into a pile for the dog, and the bones were tossed into a bowl on the side. (If you save some of the chicken scraps for your pets, be very, very careful to ensure that it doesn't have bones. Some of the bones are itty bitty and hard to find, but their size is also one of the reasons they're bad for your pets.) I also cooked up the chicken liver and heart and such for the dog. (Note to self: never do that again. She apparently didn't like them that much, and the next day she was sick all over the living room. Awesome.)
To the leftover meat and broth in the pot (and the cabbage, which had disintegrated when the chicken cooked the first time) I added some vegetables we had on hand (carrots, onion, garlic, sweet potatoes) and some water and made it into soup. Later (when there was more room in the pot) Shane made some noodles and added those for a rich chicken noodle and vegetable soup. It was amazing. I'm estimating that just from the first night of eating the chicken and then the soup, considering all the people we fed, that chicken was the main or a main part of about fifteen meals, plus the scraps that went to the dog (over about four meals for her). Is it sounding a bit cheaper now?
As for the bones, those stayed in the fridge for a few days until I could deal with them. I made them into stock. You might think that after being cooked for so long the first time, and considering all the broth that was in the CrockPot, that they wouldn't have had anything worthwhile left in them. Wrong. I put them in a pot with some veggie scraps, and they made a lovely, thick stock. I didn't really time it, I just cooked the bones and veggie scraps until it "looked right". You know, had the pale yellowish color that broth should have and smelled like chicken. Then I strained it, first through a fine mesh strainer and then through some cheesecloth I already had (any fine piece of fabric--even a fabric napkin--will do just as well) to ensure that it's just the broth I was left with. Then, not needing it right away (we ate that chicken soup for days) I froze it in little plastic tubs, so that it could then easily be taken out and transferred to plastic bags to save space.
The hands-on time of cooking the chicken in the CrockPot was about five minutes (including cutting the cabbage). The hands-on time of going through the carcass to separate out the parts was about ten minutes (maybe fifteen...maybe), and the hands-on time of making the stock was about five minutes, including the straining. All this, and we ate for five days on this chicken, plus now we have the stock waiting to be used. So each meal works out to about $1.30 worth of chicken, plus the broth and the dog food. We could have stretched the soup much farther than we did, however. (It was more like chicken noodle stew toward the end.) Even better, the total time of cooking for the better part of a week was about an hour and a half(taking into account also those veggies I made, the time spent on the bread, and the time to turn the chicken into soup.) Not a bad deal when it's all laid out like that. $20 doesn't seem like such a bad price, and I'll probably be doing this all again sometime soon.
Chicken going back in the CrockPot to be made into soup.
The bones, waiting to be made into stock.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Sour cream and failure

I tried making sour cream again twice last week. Both times, it failed. I wasn't sure the first time if I'd messed up the measurements and that was the problem, since I had just guessed at the amounts from memory. So the second time, I did it by the book...and it still failed. So I had to wonder if it was the milk I was using. The last few times I've gone to the store, they were out of the local milk so I bought a different brand. I checked the milk we were using and it said "pasteurized" but not "ultra-pasteurized", so it should have been fine. Still, it wasn't working. So when I went shopping over the weekend I bought the last half-gallon of local milk from the store and tried sour cream for the third time. This time, it set beautifully.
Lesson learned. From now on, I will not be making home dairy products except with the local milk. And now we can finally make the moose stroganoff I've been pushing off for over a week since we didn't have any sour cream and I'm now refusing to buy something I can make so easily. :) Yum!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


I just finished reading the book "From the Ground Up" by Amy Stewart. (For free from the library program ListenAlaska!) It's about this woman's first garden, which naturally happened in California. (If they're not set in the Northeast, all of these books about gardeners seem to be about California.) Despite the location (what relevance does gardening in California have for me?) I found the book both captivating and reassuring. It was wonderful to read about someone else's rookie mistakes, trials, and the stubborn determination that all first time gardeners must have to keep going. I could totally understand where she was coming from. Knowing nothing and trying not to let it show in front of the other gardeners? Doesn't sound like me at all....
But there's value in these books for me beyond simply getting tips about how to grow plants, or in the camaraderie of reading about someone else making the same mistakes you did. Tthrough this book about a far away place where people can grow things like citrus trees for heaven's sake (something that I'm very, very jealous about) I discovered a measure of gratitude for my own place to garden in. This book reminded me that there are far worse things when it comes to gardening than a lack of plant variety for your climate. Things like ticks, aphids, cabbage worms, blight, rot, plant rust, slugs, snails, gophers...things that I will never have to deal with. Can you see my smile? Can you? I've never encountered even one of these problems here! Most of the bugs that attack plants like that can't take the climate in Alaska. (We don't have cockroaches or many spiders for the same reason.) In some ways, I've realized, gardening in Fairbanks is simpler than it is other places. I put my plants out, weed a bit, water when they need it, and basically let them do their thing.
Just about the time I need it, I usually get a swift (metaphorical) kick. I shouldn't be complaining to myself that I can't grow peaches. What I should be doing is breathing a sigh of relief that the worst bug I'll have to deal with this summer will be the mosquitoes that will eat me, but leave my plants alone. The only plant disease I've had to deal with is a bit of blossom end rot on my squashes, which occurs because of nutrient deficiencies in the soil and is very easy to fix. My season is short, but I will get full days of sunlight for my plants to soak up and get big and strong, without darkness or tornadoes and wind or excessive heat and humidity to worry about. I don't even have to think about them.
There are so many things that keep gardeners going, but the one trait we all have in common, I think, is the desire to persevere. To create something wonderful, even if it only lasts as long as a few blooms or a meal or two. We realize that if one crop fails, another will do well. Perhaps next year the one that failed will prevail? I think anyone who gardens has to be an optimist at heart. We rely on little more than faith, when it comes down to it, that the conditions will be right and we'll get a good year. And if we don't, there's always the next crop or the next year to look forward to.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The first two

Shane thinks that my excitement in this matter is a little over the top but...the first two green beans have formed! One is just over an inch long, and the other has barely started. But the fact of the matter is, we've got green beans! In April! It's making me look forward to the day when I'll get to cook a meal and have my own, home (or office) grown beans as part of it. Grilled salmon and green beans, anyone?
Now if only my peas would start putting out flowers, we'd be all set. The two newest peas, which I started last week, have popped up out of the soil and I realized that that's actually a problem for me. I don't have cages for them yet and they'll grow up quite fast. Whoops! Looks like this week I'll have to make a trip to a greenhouse or, if they're not open yet, to the garden center at a warehouse. I also need bigger pots for them! I wonder if I can scrounge any for free somewhere?