Dairy free, grain free scalloped vegetables

This recipe has been adapted from a Vegan Scalloped Potatoes recipe over at Loving It Vegan.  I have adapted it to suit us better. Lower carb, mostly.  It makes a great side dish for company or layer tuna with the onion and vegetable, and it makes an excellent make ahead quick and easy meal for those chaotic days.

Steam any vegetables you want to include – we like broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, beets, and spinach.  It works best to steam each of them separately until they are a little firmer than you prefer.  They can be kept in the fridge until you’re ready to use them. (This is great with leftover veg.)

Combine in a blender until smooth:

400 ml (28 ounces) of full cream coconut cream
1 cup of raw cashews
1 teaspoon of black pepper
2 teaspoons of garlic powder
2 teaspoons of onion powder
1/2 teaspoon of prepared mustard
1 teaspoon of salt

Slice one onion very thin, and layer it with the steamed vegetables in a casserole dish.

Pour the sauce over the vegetables.

Bake at 180C (or 350F) for 45 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

 

A salty, umame sprinkle recipe (vegan, grain free, dairy free)

This recipe was originally based on a Paleo “Parmesan cheese” recipe over at I Heart Umame, that I have adapted to be more strongly flavoured.  We eat it on the ratatouille I serve several times per week almost all summer and any place else that we would like to have the parmesan sprinkles we can no longer have.  It’s not melty, but it does taste good.
1 cup of raw cashews
8 teaspoons of brewers yeast
1 tablespoon of garlic powder
1 teaspoon of salt
a pinch of cayenne pepper

In a food processor or blender, combine the ingredients until they have a Parmesan-like texture.  Store in a glass jar in the fridge.

Quick, easy, and tasty.  I’m not longer sure how much it actually tastes like cheese – it’s been too long, but we like it.

A surprising turn of events: reduced back pain

Mikey’s house

In a recent post, I complained about the back spasms I have been dealing with for several years now.

One amazing “side effect” of our trip to Alice Springs was the suddenly “healing” of my back!

Within an hour of my arrival, far too quickly for it to be a simple matter of “better lifestyle, better bed”, or any other simple explantation, my back relaxed.  It was a noticeable sensation. And it didn’t twinge, spasm, or even feel fragile for the remainder of the trip.

Within an hour of getting off the plane home, again it again felt weak and fragile again, though the spasm have not returned. (One notable exception was when I had to ride in a car with poor suspension, which virtually always hurts.  Then I had spasms for several hours, but they settled down again.)

Given this first reprieve in three years, I grabbed hope with both hands, so to speak.  It’s been blissful not to hurt, and if I can, I’d like to keep it that way.

There was a pillow against the back of the chair I used at Mikey’s house.  I put a pillow against the back of my chair at home.

There was a hard foam mattress on the guest bed at Mikey’s house.  We went out and got a hard foam camping mattress to put over our mattress at home.

And, while my back didn’t hurt for once, I decided to again pick up the longevity exercises that got lost in the chaos when Rod started having strokes.  Every morning, right after my coffee, I do a full set of the longevity exercises Rod learned when he studied qi gong with Master Haas and taught to Jack and I. Sometimes Rod joins me. Sometimes he doesn’t.  Jack has stopped joining me after the first few days.  It was a lot more fun as a family, but the payoff is worth persevering on my own.

Jack is supposed to teach me the 8 pieces of brocade next, but I think I’m going to have to remind him. He gets plenty of work out, going to the dojo almost every evening, but he has a much better sense of these things, and watching him instead of stopping to check the book at every movement change feels like a much better workout.  He may be willing to give me 15 minutes in the morning for a while.

The longevity exercises have had a remarkable effect already after only a couple of weeks.  Not only has my back remained spasm free, even as the cold weather (which usually makes it far worse) has returned, but I am also climbing steps and stairs far more easily than I have in almost a year, I can reach things on shelves that were out of reach two months ago, and I feel looser in my joints and move more easily.

Longevity exercises are based on the idea that much of the deterioration of old age comes from the disuse of the body.  What stays strong and flexible without effort in youth, dries out and stiffens up as we age, unless we make the effort to keep it flexible. They are easy to do and easy to remember.  They take a long time when I’m getting started and am very stiff, but as I practice, they become easier and quicker.

Such a little effort for so much payoff.  I plan to make this stick – at least until it seems likely the pain won’t come rushing back if I stop.  I’m not a big fan of exercise, so I have to admit that I could get lazy when life gets busy again, but I hope not.

 

A long month

A dust storm coming in over a town camp in Alice Springs

As I mentioned in my last post, we received some very bad news at the beginning of January.

When I wrote, Rod was in Adelaide and things were moving quickly.  He came home a couple of days later, repacked his bags, and left again for Alice Springs, where his son and our daughter-in-law had just been returned by the Flying Doctor Service Air Ambulance.

I was amazed that a dust storm blowing in resembles a thunderstorm!

N.B. On a side note, it is not the custom in many aboriginal cultures to use the names or the photos of the deceased. I don’t know for sure whether that is the case for our daughter-in-law’s people, so in the interest of playing it safe, I will not be using our daughter-in-law’s name until I know it’s OK.

A couple of days after Rod arrived in Alice, he called and asked me to pack my bags and follow him. Our daughter in law had called me to her.  I was touched and astounded — as I mentioned in my last post, one of my biggest regrets was that I didn’t have the time to get to know her and it seemed I never would.  It was important enough to her that she and our son had provided a ticket, so of course, I cleared up my weekly chores, made sure Jack and Magnus had enough food for the week (and some cash in case I had forgotten something) and flew to Alice Springs the next morning.

Rod and I stayed the week, spending some time at the hospital with the rest of the family, and some time home in quiet meditation of what our beloved children were going through.

As it got closer, the storm appeared to turn from purple to red – and then even I could see that it was a dust storm.

Neither Rod nor I are strangers to death, but this was personal on a level that neither of us had yet confronted.  We are gutted for Mikey and for her family. (She was the fourth member of her family to die in four weeks! It’s hard to fathom.)

We also had a chance to distract Mikey with a few sight seeing side trips.  After five months as a full time carer, eating, sleeping, and spending his days and nights at his lady’s side in the hospital, the poor guy was exhausted and worn down.  He seemed refreshed by spending an hour or two exploring his adopted home with us – we saw 60,000 year old petroglyphs at the Ewaninga Rock Carvings Conservation Reserve, we explored the Alice Springs Reptile Centre, and we spent the better part of a day attending lectures at the Alice Springs Desert Park.

Alice Springs is an amazing place. I would like to go back as a tourist some day, but our daughter in law was our main focus. Her hospital room was full of family from the the beginning to the end of visiting hours, so there wasn’t room for us to spend  lot of time.  Family is paramount in aboriginal culture and when a family member is ill, they are never left alone.  When Mikey wasn’t there, her mother was there.  In addition to the two of them, aunties, sister, cousins, brothers, children, all close family from near and far spent time in that hospital room, cradling her in their love and family warmth.

About 24 hours after Rod and I left for home, we received word that our beloved daughter-in-law had died.  More family from far away began making their way there for the 6-8 week long “sorry business” that precedes the funeral.

In early March, Rod and Jack will attend the funeral – day long trip from Alice Springs out in the country her family originally hails from.  She and her recently deceased cousins will all be farewelled together.

I am so glad that I had the chance to say goodbye and to learn a little more about her world.  Her family and her culture fascinate me, and though she won’t be here to teach me, I do hope I can find a way to learn more.

 

Welcome new readers!

Goodness did I get a surprise!  I rarely check my stat counter stats.  For such a long time, I have had three regular readers and a couple of sporadic ones.  That’s OK. I’m not here for the glory and fame.

But for some reason, I noticed the stat counter menu option yesterday, and clicked on it – and found that I have had as many as 15 visitors in a day.  I suspect that it’s casual acquaintances checking in on how we’re coping with the fires, but I don’t really know.

Anyway, since the (relative) rush has continued, I figured I would thank you all and welcome you. I am just coming out of a relative non-verbal stage and not posting as deeply or frequently as I once did – but I continue to live in hope that the verbal energy will return.

The best of times, the worst of times.

I have had a really mixed bag emotionally over the last few days.

You know that the country is burning.  Even 200 miles away, we are inundated with smoke.  I can’t even imagine what the people there are going through.

The really, really bad news personally is that our beloved daughter-in-law, Bridget, has been given about a week to live.  We knew she was struggling with her health, but we didn’t realise how very ill she was.

Bridget

She came down from Alice Springs, her home country, for a month long treatment in Adelaide.  Seeing a chance for Rod to see his far away children again, we arranged for him to fly over at the mid-point, hoping that by then Bridget would be feeling better.

On the night before Rod’s flight, we were told that Bridget’s treatment had been discontinued and she was moved to palliative care with a prognosis of about another year.  We were shocked and hoped Rod would arrive before she was flown home.

By morning, her prognosis had been downgraded.  She now has a week or so, at best guess.

Bridget is a strong, beautiful woman with a quiet wisdom. I wish I had had many more years  to get to know her. She and Mikey were bonded two years ago on her birthday, but she lives far away in Alice Springs and is a woman of few words with strangers. We only got to meet once.

Rod will be in Adelaide with Joel, his middle son, and his family for the rest of the week, then he will come home, sleep, repack, and be off to Alice Springs to be with Mikey and Bridget at this sad time.

I’m worried about him.  It’s a huge amount of stress for him to deal with – but I can’t ask him not to be there for his son.

Sara

To offset these sad times, I have had a couple of sweet moments.  I was sad and feeling cut off from my grand-daughter Sara. She seemed angry with me in video calls and though her Pappa, Corey, reassured me that she was just shy, I wondered if I would ever have a bond with her.

Well, I have received *two* handwritten letters from Sara in the last few weeks!  Perhaps, like me, she is a bit daunted by the distance and language barrier – but she’s almost 9 and I have written to her every month since she was two, as long as I have known where to send them.  (I missed a few months when she went into foster care because I didn’t know where to send the letters.)

Perhaps she has realised that letters can give us the bridge over that barrier. I can read Swedish better than I can speak, because Google Translate can help with words I don’t know and her Pappa and Farfar can help with idioms that neither Google nor I can translate.  🙂 That’s harder in live conversation.  I am extremely grateful to her foster parents for supporting us this way.  Without their help, she would have no way to send letters.

But even if I were never to get another letter, she has with these letters made it clear to me that she has noticed my effort to reach out to her.  Still – I *really* enjoy her letters and I hope they continue.

And on the “happy on a scale that barely makes the radar,” given all the important things going on, I have after many years, found a pair of “girly shoes” in my size. They not comfortable, of course: they are after all, girly shoes.  But they work for a couple of hours, so I can leave my geriatric walkers home when I have reason to dress up.  Yay!

So this is the perfect week to find out we have a house inspection with 24 hours notice, right? Yup, just got off the phone.

Good times, I tell you.

Back spasms … Oh fun

To all the folks whose back pain I didn’t fully appreciate in the past, I offer my abject apologies. In my defence, having swapped places, I don’t think there is any way to realise how debilitating it is until you experience it.  But I should have been much more sympathetic.

When we moved here, we left behind a really good mattress and box spring. It was getting a bit old, but it was still firm and comfortable. We moved into a 100 year old heirloom bed, which I love, but which my back has told me from the beginning it didn’t really appreciate.

Then in August of 2016 I had a pretty spectacular fall.  You might remember, I broke my left arm and my right leg.  Possibly because of the fall, or possibly because of the ridiculous contortions I had to perform to get into and and of bed with an arm and a leg in casts, I started to experience frequent, very painful spasms across the middle of my back, between by bra strap and my waist.  Over time, the spasms slowly became less frequent, though they never entirely went away.

Then in April of last year (2019) I fell again.  This time I “only” sprained both knees.  Whether it was the fall (again), or the necessity of sitting for pretty much 10 weeks straight (sitting has always hurt my back), the spasms started up in earnest again.

These days they’re pretty constant and seem to get worse as it cools down at night.  They seem, as much as anything, to have to do with the position my arms are in, so I often can’t carry dinner to the table without risking setting off spasms and dropping it.  Going to bed means at least an hour of being immobilised because every movement sets off gales of pain.  Eventually my back relaxes and I can (carefully) turn over.  After a couple of hours, I can get up to pee when I need to. By morning, it’s barely a twinge when I move, so I think it’s probably not the bed.

I have found an exercise that helps, if I can do it without setting of the spasms: lying on my back, I pull one knee up to my chest, stretch it out, and pull the other knee up.  Repeat until boredom sets in. The catch is, I have to remember to do it when my back is relaxed or it sets off particularly bad spasms.

I also discovered that clover infusion seems to relax the muscles in my back enough to keep all but the worst spasms from happening. Of course, I have to remember to take it even when my back feels fine because missing a day means several days of pain while the dose builds up again.  Yeah, it’s that whole remembering thing that’s hard.

Why am I telling you this? Umm, I’m not sure…because it’s 2:30 am and the spasms when Rod sneezed woke me up?  Because I wish I knew what caused the spasms so I could make them stop?  Because I don’ blog as often as I wish I did because I rarely do anything interesting these days?  (Fun yes, but there’s only so much to say about letter writing or card making.)

Well, if you have any insights, I’m all ears.  Otherwise , you can writing this off as a “Misti is whinging again” incident.  🙂

Fire

Happy new year!

As you are almost certainly aware, fire season has begun in Australia.  But this is no ordinary fire season.  This, my friends, is hell on earth. 12.35 million acres have already been lost to destruction (as opposed to the 2.24 million acres lost to destruction in the Amazon earlier this year.)

Much of the east coast of Australia is on fire. People are dying. Animals are dying. Some species are facing extinction.

Entire communities are being evacuated and abandoned to the fires because there are not enough resources to fight them on all fronts.

Fire season is not restricted to the east coast, of course. But fire season is “more normal” for the moment where we live. Ten or so fires popped up here in my town today. Many spontaneous and a few no doubt set by sociopathic arsonists and idiots. So far, they have mostly been brought under control within an hour or two. So far.

But we have been all to aware of the devastation 200 miles east of us – if for no other reason than because we have been inundated with the smoke. The air was thick and dark here for much of the day – I can only barely imagine what it must be like closer to the actual fires.

But we are safe – at least for now.

 

Celeste’s Amazing Grain-free Sandwich Bread

My friend, Celeste, shared a version of this recipe on Facebook a few months ago.  Since I have been missing sandwiches, I jumped on it, and I have to say: It works!

In the interest of sharing – and of not losing this recipe – I am sharing it here. It’s not cheap, so it will remain a once in a while thing, but it is so nice to have a bread that behaves like bread again! (The store bought gluten free breads are generally full of grains – especially corn – so they don’t work for me.)

So, here goes:

4 cups of almond flour
4 Tablespoons of coconut flour
1/2 cup of flax seed meal
1 teaspoon of baking soda
3 teaspoons of baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt

10 eggs, separated
1/2 Teaspoon of cream of tartar

12 Tablespoons of coconut milk
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup melted coconut oil

Mix the dry ingredients, except for the cream of tartar, in a small mixing bowl.

Mix the wet ingredients (including the egg yolks, but not the egg whites) in a large bowl.

Whip the egg whites and cream of tartar to stiff peaks and set aside.

Pour the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients together and mix well.  When they are well combined, fold the stiff egg whites through the batter.

Place in a greased bread pan and bake for 40 minutes at medium heat. (180 C or 350 F)

Notes:
1) I am bemused by the inclusion of both baking soda and vinegar *and* baking powder.  I wonder whether this originated with the combing of two recipes.  I will experiment with this at some point.

2) Up to 1 cup of the almond flour can be swapped out for hemp or green banana flour.

3) The replacement of a tablespoon of flour with a tablespoon of psyllium husk gives a sturdier bread, even better for toasting.

4) The replacement for up to 1/2 cup of almond flour with tigernut flour gives a crunchier texture. Very nice.

Sadly the bread so far has gone too fast to get a photo.  It’s that good!

Genealogy

Pink rose with fly

I have been interested in genealogy from as far back as I knew about it.

In the pre-Internet days, when I was about 15, I spent several days at the rectory of the church where my mother’s family has worshipped for generations, pouring over old records and dreaming.

Roses – My most popular Flickr image. Not sure why.

Yellow rose bud

I didn’t keep any records, or do anything much with the information I found – I didn’t turn up any new details or anything – and the tedium of it eventually dissuaded me; but I was still fascinated.

In 2012, I created a family tree account online. I didn’t know much more about genealogy than I had decades before, when I had poured over the church records and so I did what most beginners do. I entered what I knew into the tree and then proceeded to accept any suggestions that were not clearly incorrect.

I kept at it, off and on, for seven years, during, which time I amassed a web of humanity 7500 people strong, going back to the middle ages.

In the meantime, I also took some classes and read some books and actually learned a bit about genealogy.

Gradually, as I learned more, I switched from”collecting people” to digging into the stories of more recent generations (and, for the use of future generations – I hope – added the details about current generations).

During a recent heat wave, when it was far too hot to do much but sit very quietly and drink water, I was looking over my tree and realised that this web of humanity I had built was so massive that I could never hope to get to know everyone on it.  What’s more, a significant number of these people were not even relatives of mine in any sense.

So, this week I began the process of “pruning my family tree”.  So far I have removed 2,000 people who were tangential to the family, at best.  I am also discovering that I have two or three — sometimes more — records for some people, unattached to anyone.  I have no idea how that happened!

I still have 5, 650 records to examine. Oh well.  It’s an interesting process.  I think that genealogy sites might make a good place for novelists to search for name ideas – some of the names are amazingly evocative!

 

Neighbourhood photo walk

We haven’t been doing nearly as many photo walks lately as we once did. As lovely and loving as they are, both Rod and Jack have been far too busy to be happy about giving up their rare down time to entertaining me with something they find only mildly entertaining.

Jack

However, my mother has asked several times to see photos “of our new home”.  I don’t think she really means the house – though I have sent some photos of that, too — and that has triggered a new photo project: trying to capture our neighbourhood as I see it.

I don’t think I am anywhere close yet – I love our neighbourhood and I often capture the details I find so intriguing, but I don’t think I have really captured the sense of the place.

So one day last month, I talked the guys into going out with me.

Rod

Jack was very uncomfortable with my street photography, and after a while he had to bow out and go home to leave us to it. It felt too invasive to him to be taking pictures of people’s homes – and occasionally even the people themselves.  Even though he wasn’t taking part, just being along made him uncomfortable.

I can’t say I disagree with him.  It feels invasive to me, too and I have been working my way up to it – that’s why I haven’t really tackled street photography before.  But I have done my research.  Australia has no legal concept of “personal privacy” and a person in Australia does not have the right not to be photographed in public place.

Australian law also has a strong concept of the importance of candid photography in an historical and political context.  It stops short of being an obligation to shoot street photography, but Jack and I are clearly out of step with Australian culture on this.

Magpie has his doubts about our motley flock.

I look at the work of Eugène Atget, and I see the value of candid historical photographs. Not that my specific photographs will ever be that important…but if I don’t take them, they can never prove to be important, right? And if no one takes them, they won’t exist and this time and the world we inhabit in Norlane in the late 2010s will fade to memory.

Not that every photo has to be important to be useful. I belong to a Facebook group where people discuss the history of my neighbourhood. The photos that are posted are almost entirely taken by amateurs taking snapshots of their friends and family around the neighbourhood in the 1940s, 50s, 60s, and 70s.  For the most part, the photos are out of focus, poorly framed, and focused on specific people in the foreground while the backgrounds may or may not be visible.  Not what most people would consider good street photographs – but it’s fascinating to see how the neighbourhood has grown and changed which is evident even from these photos.

And now, this neighbourhood is on the cusp of another major change – one by one, the old workers’ cottages from the post war period are coming down and being replaced by modern apartment blocks as the area moved from moderate density residential to high density residential.  There are three houses on our block that have been since we got here, each replaced by three new “units”. (And another that was replaced by a HUGE house that entirely fills its block – that must be very expensive!)

Most properties in our neighbourhood have fences. It feels very cosy and protective but makes it hard to capture the neighbourhood.

In ten years, the old neighbourhood may well be completely unrecognisable.  I think it’s worthwhile to capture is “as it was” — if I can just figure out how to do that.

Again on this recent walk, I didn’t manage to capture it.  Part of the problem I am having is that the streets are so wide and the houses so far apart that I can take photos of specific house, but no one house seems “representative”. The privacy that arrangement affords is actually one of the vanishing charms of the neighbourhood, so it’s worth persevering in trying to figure out how to capture it in pixels.

Rod has suggested a couple of shots that feel to him like they would be representative, so probably we’ll head out again while life is shut down for January.

(Have I mentioned how cool it is that the whole country effectively shuts down for the month of January?  The boys are home for weeks at a time!  I love it!  Sweden does much the same for the month of August!)

Walking and biking are popular modes of transportation – but we have enough auto traffic to require traffic circles.

I’ve done the “scenic views” around here to death, of course – and there are many of those.  There’s the tree on the cliff at Moorpanyal Park, the beautiful pond at Cowie creek, and a little further afield, the esplanade and the boats in Corio Bay – but the neighbourhood continues to stump me.

In a way, it’s nice to have a challenging new photo project even if it is a bit of a strain to push myself beyond my comfort zone.

More fences

Just as well.

Socially, my comfort zone has been shrinking as I get older and it’s important not to get too comfortable as I get older, lest one day I look around and find myself a stale and lonely old lady.  Keeping my mind active means at least I won’t bore myself.

Richard Gibney, my great grandfather

One of the projects that has been keeping me very busy lately is genealogy research.  At this point I am focused on the Irish lines for both Rod and me.

I recently took a six week online genealogy class (it is said that it will run again in March) and I learned of dozens of new places to look for details.  My brother, David, is also researching our family tree and so I shared what I was learning with him – both about research techniques, and about what I was turning up.

My grandmother was orphaned very young and I got the impression growing up that she knew little of her family history.  She had older sisters, so it seems likely that she had heard at least some stories, but kids don’t tell family stories much, I guess.  All I got from her were her parents names.  Later, my aunt – her youngest daughter – was able to tell me a bit more about the circumstances of my grandmother’s parents deaths – and the name of her mother’s step father.  That got me started, but it was really not much to go on.

One detail that mystified me for a long time was a wedding certificate for my great grandparents. They were married in Colorado – the right names and birth dates, the right parents – even though my great grandfather was born and died in upstate New York and we assumed that my great grandmother was, too.  My brother eventually turned up an obituary that explained!

My great grandfather, Richard Gibney, was born on April 25, 1856.  He and his twin brother, Barney, were numbers 12 and 13 in a family of 14 children, born in the Adirondack mountains of New York to a pair of Irish immigrant farmers.  By the time he was eight years old, he had experienced the deaths of three of his siblings.

We don’t know when or why, but by the age of thirty, both Richard and Barney had moved west; Richard to the silver mines of Colorado and Barney to the gold mines of Alaska. Barney married in Alaska and never returned home, but Richard’s story was not so straightforward.

I like to imagine that the “boys” looked at their prospects as the younger sons of a big farming family and decided to go west to make their fortunes as adventurers, but history and supposition are all I have to go on so far.

Out in Colorado, Richard met and married Delia, the only daughter of a mining family from Marquette, Michigan.  She was only 15 – did her family move to Colorado from Michigan together?

In 1890, at the age of 33, Richard was operating mining machinery in Granite, Montana, when he lost his right arm in an accident. His wife was four months pregnant with their first child.  It’s not clear what he did to support his family for the next four years, but they obviously persevered and by May of 1893 they had added another child to the family.

In April of 1898, the family returned to Richard’s hometown and Richard opened a successful hotel (saloon) which he operated until his untimely death at the ages of forty seven of an infection.  My grandmother was two and her younger sister was nine months old.  (Interestingly, his brother Barney was also a saloon keeper in Alaska.  Cool coincidence, no?)

I have found evidence of my great grandfather being “made an example of” when New York state imposed sin taxes on alcohol and he was not quick to comply; of his perseverance despite medical catastrophes and several fires at his establishment; and of his silly sense of humour.

In November of 1900, my great grandfather made a bet on an upcoming election. The loser was to carry the winner by wheelbarrow from Morrisonville to Plattsburgh, New York – a two hour walk.

Richard lost! So he had to find a second to do the deed for him, since he had only one arm.  I like to imagine him escorting the barrow with his second and the victor on that long walk, laughing all the way. I can so see my own father and his brothers having a similar lark.  Did they get their sense of humour from their grandfather?

Sadly, I haven’t found any photos yet.  I hope to some day.

A new photo project

I photograph a lot of flowers and landscapes, the occasional city-scape or seascape. But my real love is child and family photography. The problem I’ve had with that is that my children have all grown up, and my grandchildren are so far away!

Me! Thanks, Jack!

On the train on the way home from my last visit with the Adelaide grandchildren, I was thinking about the fact that my results would be so much better if I practised more often than every couple of years. I can’t afford to travel as often as I’d like…but it dawned on me that I am surrounded by children, if could just get over my social awkwardness and ask permission to photograph them.

I asked a couple of friends with young children whether I might photograph their children – and they said “yes”!! I am so excited!

I had my first shoot with Amal’s little ones, but that was less than successful. As I said, I need practice. So I talked with the girls (ages 3 and 6) about what went wrong. I had planned to just photograph them as they play, like I do with my grandchildren – but these young ladies are introverts, much like me. I got endless photos of the backs of their heads and the tops of their heads because they play like I do – by concentrating instead of running around non-stop like my grandchildren do. That didn’t work, so we will get together again, and they have agreed to show me what would make good photos of them.

Next I also have to set a time with Jenna and her children. (But I’d like to give Amal at least one good photo of her children before I branch out.)

Even more daring than asking friends?

Asking strangers!

I made up the cards and I carry them. One day, I’ll be brave enough to use them.

Card project – almost done

It’s That time of year again – mass card generation season!

I don’t actually celebrate Christmas, but I love to use the end of the year as an excuse to contact my loved ones with home made cards, just to show I care. (Besides, I love the aesthetic of the season!)

The recipient list is way down from what it was in the past – and what I wish it was now – since the budget is so tight these days.  I send only to parents, siblings, children, grandchildren, and people who sent us a card last year.  That still comes to 50 cards or so.  It used to be twice or three times that. Oh well.

I started making cards in July, like I intended.  That’s an easier time of year to get started because it feels more like Christmas to me! But because I knew the list was so small, I didn’t have the urgency to keep at it like I should have. So, of course, I reached December with my list only half accounted for.  Oops.

The obvious solution was to make cards in sets (I once used to make them each unique…but it’s much faster to make 20 similar cards than to come up with 20 unique designs…so I started with three designs in mind. All of my designs were based on dies this year, just because.  I got through two of designs – and then my die press broke! I had no money for replacement parts a few weeks later.  Ouch

That means that the last third of the cards will probably arrive after Christmas.  Maybe this will be incentive next year…

Flikr

I generate way more photos than I can blog.

I have put the rest on Facebook in the past, because the point of photos is to share them — but honestly I’m not sure folks there really care. My closest friends dutifully click through liking them all, but sometimes it feels more like an imposition than interest.

So, I tried Instagram. But that app is just too brain dead – there is no way to post to it from a computer, so any pictures I take with my camera have to be transferred to my phone first.  What a nuisance.  And I think it’s more about “Facebook with fewer words” – an interesting insight into what my grandchildren are up to, but photo sharing is not really what it’s for.

This week, I discovered Flikr, which, (so far) I like very much.

In future, I will be posting my photos there for anyone who wants to follow them. I’ll keep blogging the same number as before, but if you want more, that’s where to find them.  It doesn’t look like you need to be a member to see photos, though if you want notifications you’ll need to sign up.

We had our photo taken!

For a while there, I thought we were going to miss a year, but we finally found someone to take our family picture!  Thanks, Amal!

It was a lot easier to get annual shots back when we socialised with photography enthusiasts.  On one level, I realised  how fortunate we were.  I know that not everyone is lucky enough to have photographers amongst their friends who are willing to do a sitting out of love, but I don’t think I understood just what a big deal it would become to find someone who was willing to go to the effort on our behalf.  I also didn’t realise that we wouldn’t be in a position to pay to have it done when we couldn’t get a portrait as a favour.

But Amal came through for us!  So now I have photos to send to my mother and our children.  Yay!

You will, of course, note that for the first time, Jack is clearly the tall one.  Rod instinctively steps a little forward and so looks taller than he is in two of the photos, but if you look at the distant shot in front of the house (a classic Australian shot, I’m told) you can see it more clearly.

And I, of course, have gone back to being the short one.

Sad that I look as tired as I’ve been feeling.  Then again, I never have pushed through and gotten back to my walking after I sprained my knees at the beginning of the year.  Every day, I start outwith good intentions – and some days I do get out, but not every day, and I do think that has an effect of my energy levels.  And the shoot came at the end of a very busy day.  I’ll hope for better luck next year.

On the bright side, I have a photo shoot of my own coming up.  Amal agreed to let me photograph her children at the park! If it’s overcast this Tuesday, I am hoping we can do it then. (I don’t know if I will be allowed to share those, but it will be so good to have the practice and the children are utterly adorable.)

In hopes of talking some more of my neighbours into letting me photograph their children, I have ordered a small batch of “hobby photographer” cards to use on the bus and around town when I see an adorable child.

Plant net

About a gazillion years ago – long before I got a mobile phone, my friend Linda recommended an app to me that she thought I would love.  Since I didn’t have a mobile phone – even a stupid one –  and it required a smart phone, I forgot all about it.

Cured dock, or rumex crispus

Lucky for me, she recommended it on Facebook.  And, as we all know, Facebook *never* forgets anything.  A few weeks ago, the memories app dragged that recommendation up for me.

Linda was right – it is something I thought I would like, so I downloaded it.

You see, when I go for a walk, I pay close attention to the plants around me, as you may have noticed from my endless photos of them. I photograph them and try to find out what they are.  I try to remember where else I have seen them.  I try to make friends with them.

Unfortunately, I have a memory like a sieve, so as often as not, I think things look familiar but while I know I should know the name, unless it’s a rose or a vegetable, I am likely to be unsure.  (I even have to stop and study carefully to tell the difference between dandelion and sow thistle – and I *love* dandelion!!

The first miss – nothing in the database looks quite like this.

Enter Plant Net!

Now, all I have to do is take a photo of the plant in question and query it in the database, which is divided into leaf, flower, fruit, bark, habit, and ‘other’. (Not sure what that refers to..)

So far, I have explored flowers and leaves, and so far I have had very few unsolved mysteries.  It is adding a whole new dimension to my walks – and to my photos!

I have been having a good time learning the names of my leafy neighbours, reminding myself of plants I thought I recognised (hello, french lavender!) and building up quite a database of plants around my regular stomping grounds.

I have really high hopes for eventually being as fluent in “plant” as Linda and the other herbalists I know.

Northern shorewort, or mortensia maritima, perhaps?

I have to say, it’s simpler than dragging a dog-eared book out and trying to flip through it to identify plants, when, actually, I have have errands to run. Click, hunt, and run. Then review my finds when I have time.

Easy as!

So, thank you, Linda!

Everyone else, let me know if you try it and how you like it

Fermenting vegetables

Rod and I have been reading together in the evening lately.  Mainly I read aloud and then we discuss what we’re reading.

Our most recent read was Sandor Katz’ Wild Fermentation.  (Yeah, we’re 17 years behind the times.  I guess we were busy.  It’s been on my “want to read” list for most of that time.)

Katz is originally from New York, and now lives in Tennessee in one of the many rural “intentional communities” that have formed there.

In 1993, he happened across a fermenting vat in an old barn and started experimenting with it.  In 2003 he wrote a book on traditional, wild fermentation (as opposed to tightly controlled industrial fermentation) explaining what he had learned. In there somewhere, he became evangelical about it.

His enthusiasm is contagious!

Over the years, Rod and I have made the occasional foray into fermenting. Mostly kombucha, sometimes sourdough, but the occasional other experiment.  Our results, except with kombucha, have been mixed.

Reading Katz together as we did, stopping to discuss where our mistakes came in, got us interested in trying fermented vegetables again. We love fermented vegetables, and we’ve been spending a shocking amount on them in the shops!  It’s not that expensive to make – nor, according to Katz, that hard to do.  We sure could use that $10 a week on something else!

We got a couple of cabbages in our farm order and we immediately got a little carried away.  In the end, we made about 10 gallons of fermented cabbage, with beets, carrots, ginger, and turmeric root.

That was about three weeks ago. It was moving along at a stately pace and we had just started to like it, when we had a couple of VERY hot days. The brine evaporated and suddenly pressing it under the liquid wasn’t possible anymore.

Oops; time to act fast!  So today we had an emergency decanting session.  (The jars we fermented in won’t fit in the refrigerator, so we moved it all into one litre jars. It squashes down so well that we only ended up with four litres!

It’s delicious!  And I think it’s time to invest in a fermenting lid so that the brine won’t evaporate when we get a sudden hot spell. nd then, next up: pickles!!

Family history

I have been fascinated by family history since I was tiny. I remember sitting quietly at my grandparents table, listening to tales of family lore as the adults pondered old times together while the other children played outdoors. I couldn’t get enough!

I didn’t (don’t?) have much of a memory, so I couldn’t remember the stories I’d heard well enough to pass them along to my children, but I do think it’s important to have a sense of where we come from.

Later, I discovered genealogy. My first husband’s family had a chart of family history going back centuries – it was hand drawn on parchment, and it fascinated me! Now *that* is a sense of one’s history.  Even better, he has a photographic memory, so he can recount all the old stories that he’s ever heard.  He didn’t often, but it enchanted me that al that history lived in his head!

Then I discovered that my mother’s family has been full of genealogists for generations and her family has charts going back to the 1590s in France. Again, I was fascinated, pouring over the charts and details and imaging the lives they sketched out.

Since my mother’s family was pretty well covered, I drew up charts for what I knew of my father’s family, but it was remarkably little and didn’t go much past his parents. I had names for my great grandparents, but nothing else. Fortunately, my Dad and my brother David were, unknown to me, exploring the family history together, trekking from one place to another to look at records in person.

I’m no longer sure of the sequence of events, but around the same time (2012) that I discovered Ancestry.com, which was offering a free trial, and my brother and I discovered each other’s interest in genealogy. (Ancestry had been around since 1983, according to Wikipedia, but I wasn’t aware of it.)

Using Ancestry I drew up the charts of what I knew of my father’s family, and was able to flesh out some of their US history using my brother’s information and Ancestry’s records – but I hit a brick wall when it came to crossing the Atlantic.

The Irish are not particularly imaginative when it comes to names.  They have a naming system in which each child’s name is known from conception. And at that time, I didn’t know anything about where, exactly, my ancestors emigrated from.

I found endless William Delaneys and Mary Ann Ryans coming into the US, and precious few records for any of them back in Ireland. I was stumped for years.

Then my brother went to Ireland and tracked down our ancestral homes and learned more about Irish geography.  When every physical feature has a distinct legal name, it can get complicated very fast – and my head spins trying to read the maps and addresses that David seems to be very fluent with. Occasionally, I run into a real puzzle with two records for what could be the same person that give different birth places, and David is able to tell me that, actually, they are very near each other and they may be the same person.  I have more time these days to explore than he does – but I wouldn’t be able to make forward progress without his insights.

In 2015, I discovered a free genealogy class from the University of Strathclyde in Scotland (through Future Learn). It’s very good and I have gone through the course several times, learning more each time.

When I first started looking into family history, I was pretty scattershot, accepting anything that Ancestry offered that seemed close, and taking the word of other researchers’ charts without double checking.

Now, I’m going back and trying to verify what I have using what I am learning from the genealogy class.

It’s actually more interesting than I thought it would be, because I now know how to use the dozens of free databases out there, not just Ancestry. (Just as well, since I can’t afford an active membership in Ancestry very often since I’ve retired.) Ancestry is useful for its ‘always available’, sharable family trees software, but I am enjoying learning how to use other databases for verification and to turn up new leads when I can’t afford to turn on access to Ancestry’s “hints”.

But I’m not only looking at my Dad’s line.  I’m also doing family trees for my grandchildren.  It’s important to me that they have a sense for where they come from, too.  All of where they come from.  I realise that not all of them will care as much as I do.  It’s possible that none of them will – though as we get into our 60s more of my generation is taking an interest, so it’s very possible that I won’t be around to see their interested piqued.  By storing all of my research online, I am doing what I can to ensure that they won’t have to start from scratch.

 

Why I love my neighbourhood

When I first moved to town, this is the neighbourhood everyone warned me away from.

Every town has that neighbourhood. The South side of Chicago, New York’s Bronx, Ann Arbor’s Ypsi, Melbourne’s outer suburbs, and Sydney’s Redfern, for example.

The thing is, I have always been more comfortable in “those” neighbourhoods. As a rule, people there are more content to live and let live and have fewer expectations about how their neighbours live.  That’s where the outsiders aggregate and experiment with lifestyles outside the mainstream.

Yes, there is some trouble with crime, but although the wealthier class would like to pretend it’s unique to the poor, I have actually had as much or more trouble in “better” neighbourhoods.  As long as you mind your own business and don’t advertise “wealth” my experience is that people in poor neighbourhoods are quite happy to attend to their own affairs.

Granted, the amenities are not what they would be in a wealthier suburb – I’m told that the schools are “lesser” (not an issue for us, personally) and the footpaths (sidewalks) are not as well maintained.  The library hasn’t had an upgrade since it opened in the 1970s – but to me that’s a good thing.  It still looks and functions like a library!  The modern dome downtown seems to have moved books to an afterthought.

But for me, the deciding factors have to do with the experimental lifestyles. Continue reading

Photo projects

Over the last several years, when I think about photography I have been thinking in terms of photography projects. What I am referring to as a “project” is making similar photos many times over a period of time in an attempt to refine my skills.  It’s a standard technique for improving one’s art, ni matter the art, I gather.  I encountered the concept in my reading on Digital Photography School.

The whole mob

While children’s portraits are my very favourite kind of photography to do, I rarely get the opportunity anymore. My children are no longer “children”, and while the last one is patient, he’s not endlessly patient. My grandchildren are far away. And I’m not a terribly social person, so I don’t have a large social group to turn to.

Whenever we can scrape together the funds to visit the folks in Adelaide, I get to make portraits of my grandchildren to my heart’s content. Like most children, they love to be photographed! Sometimes I come home with over 1,000 photos! That keeps me happily busy for months.  But the lack of practive means that I don’t really make progress – or at least not fast.

However, when Joel and Makita saw the portraits I was making as I got better at it, they agreed to let me try family group portraits and a new “project” was born!! Family portraits!! My hope is to continue making portraits for as long as anyone will show up, so that the family will end up with a life series as they grow.  Fun for them to have and fun for me to make.

As you can see, I still have a lot work to do on my technique. This group portrait one is better than the previous one – at least everyone is looking in the right direction and smiling instead of in tears and struggling to scatter. However, Autuma (who was having a very introspective week while I was there) managed to hide behind Rod without my noticing in almost all of the shots. I was in a hurry to catch the shots while Rhazel (my biggest challenge) still looked happy. In that, I succeeded, but I need to get better at noticing *everyone*.

Continue reading

Life is good.

I haven’t had a lot to say for a while. I blame it on one thing and then on another, but while I am not unhappy, I am not doing much that’s interesting.

Magnus

About a month ago, I was a week or so out from a trip to see my youngest grandchildren in Adelaide, and I found myself almost in tears from the exhaustion I anticipated. For a year or more, I had felt low-level unwell. Not sick, but like I might be coming down with something.

Since I had enough energy to do what I had to do, I ignored it and waited to feel better, but as I faced a week with six of the most beautiful, energetic, exciting people I know, I realised I couldn’t do it.  I also realised that I had been unable to take my regular walks, I had become really boring with much the same meals every night, and for the most part, I had the energy to do what I had to do, but there was nothing left for fun.  I don’t even remember when it started – but I have been titrating my thyroid medicine downward since 2014, so it’s become a familiar state.

But it was the tears that tipped me off.  I get teary when my thyroid is too low.  Evidently, the dose we had settled on was almost enough – it wasn’t until I needed a normal energy level to function (like when visiting the grandchildren) that I became teary.  Almost enough energy just wasn’t going to cut it.

I met with my doctor, and we decided that my blood levels did leave some wiggle room, so I immediately increased my dose.  Sadly, it takes weeks for the levels to rise and I was one week out from my visit, so it was a very low energy visit, but now it’s been a month and I am feeling much, much better.

I have begun feeling experimental in the kitchen again.  I have entirely caught up on my penpal letters. I have had the energy to “notice” again and have begun taking photos for the first time since my fall back in April.  I am even finding that the very, very slow healing from the fall has picked up speed. (I had sprained both knees, and while they can now support me, they remained very weak and stiff for many months.)

Does this portend a return to blogging?  I sure hope so – I’ve missed it.  But I’ve thought several times in the last 5 years that I was ready to begin again…only to have nothing to say for months, so we shall see.  The truth is, gardening is one thing that has badly fallen by the wayside, as is walking – both of those are probably more important.

Non verbal

I’ve been feeling pretty non-verbal lately. (Except with Rod. The poor dear gets it all, even when I can’t find words for anyone else.)

It took a long time to sort out why I have been having panic attacks and feeling so vulnerable. There is not, on the first glance, anything wrong.

Nothing big anyway.

Except that with the same spending habits as always, over the last few months, we have gone from being able to put aside a bit of money against emergencies every week to barely having enough to cover to basics, to the last few weeks, having to scrape just to eat every day.

I have been buying fewer and fewer of the “little luxuries” that we had grown accustomed to.  A bag of chips here, a bottle of $6 wine there.

We’re not going hungry.  Oh, we can’t snack like we have been used to, but we have had the money to get the basic eggs and vegetables every single week.

So, what’s the problem?  Why is this reason for panic attacks rather than annoyance?

Well, a long, long time ago (three decades or so) I was a single parent to two adorable small boys.  We survived on welfare for a few years between when my marriage ended and when I completed my education and could find a job.

I was one of the last classes to be allowed to attend college while on welfare, but the punitive measures were already afoot to punish poor single mothers. They took the money that was I was granted for second hand school books out of our food stamps, dollar for dollar.

I could try to pass the classes without the books, or we could cut the already punishingly small budget tighter.  Some classes I could read the book at the library, and for the others I found the cheapest most battered copy I could and we tried to make up the difference.

I sold my blood plasma twice a week, which also gave me quiet time to do my reading assignments.  I volunteered at the food coop and in exchange I got a shot at the vegetables that were too spoiled to sell. We walked through the park together, collecting cans and bottles to be returned for the deposit. We went to soup kitchens, and I lived on the the children’s leftovers.  I still had to listen to them cry themselves to sleep the night before the food stamps came in, because even with all of that, sometimes there was no food left and no money with which to get more. I always had to make strategic decisions between toothpaste and toilet paper.

But, we also had a lot of fun.  We danced together in the kitchen.  We went boot skating in the park. We sang at the top of our lungs as we walked together. We played “volleyball” in the kitchen after the boys went to birthday parties, if they came home with balloons. We read books together.

It was tough, but we made it.  I later discovered that the boys don’t even remember it as being that tough!  They were surprised to hear that they’d gone hungry!

I’m relieved, but I’ll never be able to forget it. The experience left scars. I averaged about 900 calories a day for a few years there, so when I started working and we could finally eat again, I blew up to a size 30. I developed an intolerance to hunger – any hunger.  I can’t stand to hear my stomach growl. And I get depressed and anxious when money is too tight.

I can live contentedly on a budget, but I freak right out when I run out of money before I run out of week. I try to squirrel away a little each pay so that it never happens. Unfortunately, Rod will spend until the bank account in empty without thinking too much about it. That’s been difficult, especially time like now, when the cost of living is rising, but the income isn’t. The comfortable budget we had been living on suddenly isn’t enough.

We have to re-think the budget, and I’m sure that in the end we will be fine – but in the meanwhile, I go through serious, heavy duty anxiety. Now that I’ve figured out what has me feeling so frightened and vulnerable, I hope I can handle it more gracefully.  It’s still way more comfortable than it was 30 years ago.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Back in January, I began a project to add epistolary novels to my reading rotation, as one method for improving my own letters.

Magnus, trimming the spider plant for me.

One of the first was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I had heard about it years ago, when I was working, but had never made the time to read it.  I can see now why the reviews were mainly raves.  It was very compelling, with sympathetic characters, believable motivations, and an absorbing storyline.

I was so impressed, that I sought out the movie at the library to show to the guys, even though I knew that the odds were pretty good that it wasn’t as well done as the novel.

In this case, I was wrong. It’s not the quite the same, because you can’t just record people writing to each other – but the writer and director did manage to capture the essence that made me love the book.  Rod and Jack seemed to enjoy it, too, though they were probably not as captivated as i was,

I would so love to join a book group that was as welcoming as the one in the book. One that could provide that sense of companionship with others who also love books. One that worked the same way – by sharing the best parts of beloved books rather than all reading the same book and discussing it.

Complete coincidence – this is by the bus stop nearest my house. (My middle son is called Corey.)

For one thing, my experience with book clubs is that a large segment of the members won’t have read the book at all, and so the discussion is often derailed by the chatter of the people who didn’t have time to do the reading – or who didn’t bother.

For another, in my experience many of the books chosen for a book club were not books I particularly enjoyed; chosen not for their excellence but for their place on the New York Times or Oprah’s best sellers lists.

The clubs seem to be about seeming well-read through the reading of the “popular” novels.  That’s a valid choice, but I would rather be introduced to really excellent books, however old.  It has happened.  I was introduced to Man’s Search for Meaning at a book club – but no one but the person who had proposed it showed up for the discussion.

But I’m not at all sure I would join one if I found it right now. I’m practically a hermit these days, though i am slowly recovering.  I am in no state of mind to deal with large groups, but I’m not sure that i currently have enough to say to make a real contribution to a smaller group. Hmmm.  Maybe online…?

Have you read a book that had characters who felt like old friends by the end? I’d like to hear about it.

Long, slow recovery

Well, I am on the mend from my recent fall.

After a month and a bit of being home-bound, and almost chair bound, I can now et out and about. Interestingly, it’s not my knees that are giving me the most trouble. Yesterday, I was up to taking on my usual Wednesday chores of walking to the library, and then stopping on the way home to buy eggs from our neighbours, Amal and Mohamad.

By the time I was halfway to the next bus stop, I knew that caution would be the better part of valour, and I hopped on the bus down to the library (since it would be much harder to catch a ride the other way.) Then I walked back from the library, via Amal’s place.

When I got home, my knees were tired – but my back was spasming and my hips were on fire! I didn’t hurt either of those in the fall, but evidently they were what became weak from inactivity.

Today I took the walker back to Karen’s and carried my crafting stuff home unassisted.  My back is spasming again.

I think I’d better be careful not to miss any of my walks over the next few weeks, lest I find myself more permanently incapacitated.  The older you get, the faster you lose tone  and the harder it is to get it back.  I’ve heard that for years, and now I’m here to tell you that it’s true.

I woke up fine this morning, so it should be too hard.  It’s not going to be a cumulative back problem; complete relaxation overnight seem to make it all fine again.  Now to figure out how to strengthen it …