The Hobbit inspired seed cake

Fifty some odd years ago, aeons before the Internet, I read J. R. R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit. I was completely enthralled! I wanted to visit Hobbiton! I wanted to see a world so idyllic and sensual!  I wanted to taste seed cake!!

Now, as it happens, there is a real world version of seed cake, but as I say, this was long before the ease of looking up anything you might want to know that is the Internet. And I was not from a particularly worldly family.  I didn’t know about seedcake, and no one I asked knew about seedcake. So, I did what any imaginative young girl would do.  I improvised!

The recipe has gone through a lot of changes over the decades but it remains “not a health food”.  This is pure indulgence.

The current version is grain free and dairy free, but if you want a cheaper approximation, make your favourite pound cake recipe, add a teaspoon of rose water to the vanilla, and add some mixed seeds.  (I like poppy, sunflower, pine nuts, and sesame. The exact proportions, specific seeds, and exact quantities are up to you.  Use as many or as few as you want of each.  The trick is, no more than half as many seeds as flour.  4 cups of flour: maximum 2 cups of seeds. Othwewise, it won’t hold together.)

Hobbit Inspired Seed Cake
(grain free, dairy free version)

In a medium sized bowl:
4 cups of almond flour
1 teaspoon of salt
4 teaspoons of baking powder
1.5 cup of sugar
.5 cup of sesame seeds
.5 cup of poppy seeds
.5 cup of sunflower seeds
.5 cup of pine nuts

In a large bowl:
1.5 cups of coconut oil
9 eggs
1 cup of coconut milk
2 teaspoons of vanilla
1 teaspoon of rose water

Mix the dry ingredients as completely as you can.  I find a large whisk words best.
Mix the wet ingredient thoroughly.
Spoon by spoon, add the dry ingredients to the wet, until they are completely combined.

Prepare two cake pans.  Pour the batter into the pans. Bake for about 45 minutes, depending on the size of the pans.


Dunno if this what Bilbo had in mind, but I like it.


I, arguably, have a weakness for accents.  There’s no other way to explain it. (Well, astrologically, I have my moon in the 9th house, but that’s the same thing, really.)

In high school, I fell for a beautiful Swedish lad with hair the colour of the sun on clouds and eyes the same deep blue as the ocean, far out at sea.

He was also, and more importantly, the smartest person I had ever met. He understood history, international politics, and literature.  Even better, he had an “on” button. It was easy to start him off, and then he could talk for hours! I learned so much!

He was sophisticated (at least for 17 year old). When he planned a picnic, there was nary a bologna sandwich in sight!

He took me to a tropical waterfall, where we dined on caviar, salmon, crusty bread with butter, wine, olives, and fancy cheeses, the like of which I had never tasted!

We read books aloud and discussed them. We talked (well, he talked, I learned) endlessly.

Eventually, nature being what it is, we had a child.  And then another.

We had been wonderfully compatible playmates, but it turned out that we were far less compatible for adult life.  Unfortunately, we were young enough not to have thought to discuss our needs and expectations, which were completely different.

The marriage didn’t last much more than four years. He stayed in the US, near the children and took them for weekends and holidays.

Many years later, as the children became teenagers, they got it into their heads that Sweden, where they had spent holidays and summers all their lives, was a much better place to live than the place where they had experienced the drudgery of winter and school and poverty. First one, and then the other, moved there.  As did my ex.

It was difficult to have my whole family move away from me.  I was pretty upset, but also busy enough not to dwell on it.  And a part of me assumed they would be back.  Then came the phone calls.  There were to be children.

I guess they’re not coming back.

I continued to visit them every three years or so. Fortunately, my income crept up enough so that I could alternate between visiting Sweden and visiting Australia, and it only took an extra year or so to put the money together.

And then, Rod got sick.  I had to retire and move NOW and move to Australia, so that he could get the medical care he needed. I expected to continue to work and thought it would be easier and less expensive to go back to having only one International destination. Nonetheless, I planned one last visit with them on my way to Australia.

As the time grew shorter before I left, word was growing more and more dire – there was some fear that Rod wouldn’t live to see me again if I didn’t hurry.  I was begged to skip the visit to see my children ‘for now”. I resisted, because I didn’t think he was that ill, but in the end, I agreed.  I retired a month early and bought my tickets.

When I arrived, I learned that Rod had been deemed to require a full time carer, and that I had been elected.  I was not going to be able to work. I had skipped my trip, only to learn that there would be no way to earn the money for another one.

I haven’t entirely lost hope that I will see my oldest children and their children again. I have no idea how that can happen, but I had no idea how we would finance the move here, either.  Sometimes, things sort themselves out.

And, when I started to feel very, very sorry for myself, I remember the mother of my ancestor Louis Gasnier who moved to Canada from St. Martin, D’ige, Perche, France in 1644.  His mother, Marie Launay, had died four years earlier, so I guess she didn’t miss him, but his father probably never saw him again. Maybe he got letters occasionally, maybe he didn’t. 

But he didn’t have Facebook. He couldn’t have a face to face conversation with his son and his grandchildren.  I can.  The language remains challenging, but we have the option. The children now understand my English (but not my Swedish) and one day, maybe they will feel confident enough to speak to me rather than just smile at me while their fathers chatter with me.  

I am learning how to do family across the miles, but I am so very glad to be doing it in the 21st century.

Homes and memories….

As I was answering the questions on The Remembering Site, and working on the section about the homes I have lived in.  There have been many, many.

For an eight year old…

So, I asked my mother about how many homes there were in the first town we lived in. She could, offhand, remember four.

I remember a photo of myself as a newborn, so that would be the first house I lived in. It was, as my mother remembers, tiny.  She told me the name of the street, and I looked it up, but she doesn’t know the address, so I couldn’t pin it down beyond this: it was a house and not an apartment. It was, according to the photos, fairly dark.

There was one home of which I have no memory at all (one didn’t waste film in those days, so there are, as far as I know, no photos.)

The next I have only a couple of memories in.  I remember walking to the neighbours big  farm some distance away on a summer day alongside a wagon full of my brothers. We were being led, not by my mother but by the teenaged children of the neighbour family, and we stayed at their house “all day” playing one game after another.   In retrospect, I wonder whether that was the day one of my little brothers was born, since it wasn’t my mothers way to let us out of her sight.  Or maybe it was after he was born and she was exhausted? We were all born between April and September, so the weather isn’t really a clue…curious. Mom doesn’t remember anymore.  I wonder if David does…

For a four year old

I think that may also have been the house where we had a doghouse…which I remember only because I evidetly went in to explore it and was horrified to find myself covered with cobwebs – horrified to the point that I could only stand and scream. My brother, David, came in after me, led me out, and then gently removed the cobwebs from my face and hair. I was very tiny – he was even younger, so it was truly amazing how brave and gentle he was. Up to that point, I had thought of him as a baby.  After that, I thought of him as a kind of hero.

And for a Valentines baby, turning 8.

But what was driving me nuts was trying to figure out where the first house I really remember was.

We left there when I was seven, and I remember the neighbourhood very clearly.  I had searched up and down the road several times on visits, and could never find it. I had also spent years poring over online maps and using street view and I still could not locate it.

After I talked with Mom, I remembered David saying that he had gone to visit it, so I asked him about how to find it.  He knew the address offhand!  He’s pretty amazing.  So, I typed that address into the browser, and voila! It turns out that I’d been searching on the wrong road.  The name was very similar, but not quite the same.

Anyway, it was amazing to me to “wander up and down the road” using street view and satellite view. Most of what I remember seems to still be there, though a half century older and more tired. I didn’t recognise the house itself – David says that when we lived there, it still had the 1870’s style front porch across the front, which is now replaced with a much smaller stoop.  That’s changed the look completely! I saw the “castle” we played near as children – actually just a brick house in a town of timber houses, but fairly large and impressive for the area. I saw the “forest” we used to spend hours exploring – just a bit of scrub between the brick house and ours. I saw the old one room school house that was long-closed when I lived there, except that in summer it was opened for an afternoon program once a week. I don’t think that will be there much longer…but I’m glad I saw it as it stood in 2008.  I saw the houses where my my nemesis and her best friend lived – much closer together than I had realised. I even saw the spot in the road where I was nearly killed falling out of the car!  The garage on the corner that I remember so well is still there, but it looks like it’s been decades since anyone cared for it.

I wonder sometimes what it’s like to have grown up in one place and to know it so thoroughly.  What would my life be like if we hadn’t moved away when I was seven? I idealise it because it’s in the mountains with beauty on every side, but there aren’t many jobs there anymore, if there ever were, so I would probably work in a  service industry…it would have been very different, that’s sure.

February seventh update

Hmmm, reliable doesn’t seem to be getting better. Oh well.  I’ll keep at it, because I enjoy blogging, even if I never develop much of a following.

Rodney, AKA The Man in Black meets ZZ Top.

It’s been HOT!

As high as 108F (42C)! This snow bunny has had melted brains for much of the summer and the really hot period is just beginning.

I enjoy the turn of the seasons and the challenge of the heat – as long as it doesn’t last too long – and I have to say that although the highs here are technically much higher than they were in Michigan, because of the breeze, they don’t feel as hot – and they aren’t as relentless.  Michigan turned hot and sticky in May and stayed hot and sticky (with few breezes) for three months.

The cool-off periods this years have, as usual, been frequent, but this year they only seem to last a day or two – enough time to catch up on the housework — and then the heat returns.  Even the breaks feel hot because it’s much more humid than usual this year, too.

Jack – sporting a beard.

To make it even more challenging, my health has been precarious lately.

Nothing horrid or dire, I don’t think, but my energy has been low, I have had a headache, and my back and feet have been very sore for days on end. Usually it’s been intermittent, unless I forget my clover infusion – but now it seems to be worse when I forget my infusion, but never seems to go away entirely for long.

That along with the heat, makes my walking routine very hard to maintain, which, I’m sure, is not helping my energy levels either.

The precarious health and aches and pains also make it tough to concentrate on anything for long.

Father and son

The good side is that I have been getting heaps of reading done. Mostly “popcorn” books – cosy mysteries and some classic SF – but I have also read “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society” by ‎Mary Ann Shaffer‎ and ‎Annie Barrows. An excellent read with characters that, despite my moving right on to another book, have stayed with me in the weeks since.

It also kicked off a desire to read more epistolary novels.

A walk in the park

I have a few on hold at the library – and reading epistolary novels seems to have a good effect on my own letters, which is nice – especially since this is International Correspondence Writing Month (INCOWRIMO) and I am trying to send a letter – short or long – every day this month.  I am, so far, only a day behind.  It’s a pity we’re only a week in.

I’m also preparing for yet another rental inspection.  The place feels grimier than it did prior to the previous inspections, so we have to start very soon – we got plenty of notice this time, so there will be no excuse.  I wonder if they will ever stop feeling invasive.

As you can see, we went out to try to get February portraits of the guys. It was during one of the cool-offs, obviously. I like the photo of Jack, and part of the impetus was his new beard and just generally how fast he’s maturing, but Rod really wasn’t into it, and it shows.  We’ll have to try again when he’s feeling good.  (We have found a volunteer for our family portrait, we just have to find a time when we can combing comfortable weather and our mutual schedules…)

There’s more to say, but I have to clean the house.  I hope to finish soon…

Herbal infusions

As I have mentioned before, I have been drinking herbal infusions for many years, off and on. Most recently I have been taking them since my fall a few years ago, in which I broke both an arm and a leg.

Chickweed and clover infusions – enough to last two days.

The doctors at the time assured me that my age and the state of my bones had nothing to do with the breaks, and that a 20 year old me would probably have broken those bones in a similar fall.

Nonetheless, I started taking them to try to heal the bone well using added nutrition.  The doctors seems startled by the quickness of my healing, so maybe it worked.

But I kept on, because I figured that at my age, a few more minerals in a calorie free context couldn’t hurt.  I rotate through the herbs, making enough of one to last two days and then switching to another and another through seven herbs, so that I have a two week break from any one herb. I also rotate herbs in and out as they run out, ordering something new and dropping something old with every order. That system means I should manage to avoid developing new sensitivities, since evidently I am prone to those.  My next new one will probably be barberry, because I tried the capsules and they were more effective than my diabetes medication at controlling my blood sugar!

On my last herb order, I ordered some red clover on a whim.  However over the next several months I started to notice that on the days I drank clover, my pain was extremely reduced. (As a reminder, I am sensitive to corn but I also need to take T2 thyroid hormone.  The only version of T2 on the medicare formulary is in a cornstarch base. Ow! I could have it compounded if I had the money, but as a full time carer on a pension the money just isn’t there.) So now, I take clover (almost) every day.  It’s not quite as effective as just avoiding corn, but it makes life so much better!

22 January

Grandma letters for January, including a feather and a poem selected for each child.

I’m done with the grandma letters and now almost done with my penpal backlog.

I answer letters in the order they come in, but the grandma letters take priority until they’re done.  The oldest of the recent stack dated back to October!  Yikes!

Now I think it’s time to turn my attention back to photography.  All last year, I limited myself to my new prime lens for all photos.  A prime lens is almost as different from a kit lens (for me, at least)  as a point and shoot is from a DSLR.  I learned a HUGE amount about my camera last year and in time I expect it to improve my photography with any lens.  However I had just begun to feel competent with my new fixed focal length lens, and when I switched back to my kits lenses, I found that I was back to square one.  It shouldn’t take long to get used to them again, but it will take practice.

Of course, part of the new difficulty is that late last year, I turned off the chimping function on my camera to force myself to pay closer attention to my settings.  In time, that should increase my success rate, but not until I have developed the habit of noting my settings for *every* shot.

I often create my own stationery, but I rarely create anything so involved. This one took me three days before I started writing the letter! Usually I do something quicker and spend the time on the letter itself, but once in a while, it can be fun to fuss, and the penpal this is for always sends a very, very ornate letter.



I have been studying genealogy for many years now.  I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t terribly curious.  I listened avidly as my Dad and his family told the family tales, but it wasn’t until 1995 or so, when my Aunt Beverly started the family newsletter, that I began to understand anything about my mother’s family.  I was rapt with the family stories and ancestor lists Aunt Beverly published a couple of time per year. Still, until the end of the 20th century and the advent of the Internet, I couldn’t do much in the way of my own research.

My grandfather, Nelson (Narcisse) Durocher, with his brothers and his grandfather Alexander Xavier Durocher, taken around the turn of the 20th century. Alexander served in the 1800th Infantry company B during the Civil War, when he was in his late 30s. Doesn’t he have a great smile?

I did spend one summer when I was 15 or so, digging though the old church records while I was living in the rectory of the church in which most of my mothers family had been baptised, married, and buried for generations, but with no training and no one around who knew more than I did, I didn’t get very far.

My grandparents, Ed and Ann Delaney, with my paternal great grandmother, Mary Ann Ryan, and a couple of my uncles and a great aunt taken in front of their home around 1940.

I started a family chart soon after that, using genealogy software that I bought for $10 at the office store, and I published it on the company website, but it was really very little more than the information that Aunt Beverly published, plus what I could remember of the family stories from my father’s side of the family.  Then the computer with the tree died and with it, all of my work.  (I had long since forgotten the password.)

In 2012, I tried again when came online and offered free accounts for a while.  It was clever of them, really.  They let us play and we created a lot of the resources they needed to become a for-pay service.

The only grandma I ever knew. The lady who taught me to read when I was still very young and who nurtured my love of books. Anne Gibney Delaney is, in some ways, the woman I would have liked to have been.

I re-entered what I knew, and using the resources they offered, I remained to add quite a bit to my family tree.  Well, in some branches, anyway.  My Irish family remained stubbornly hard to trace, but I was able to add a lot of detail about recent generations – for instance, I was able to discover that my grandmother’s father (who had died when she was about three) was a barkeep at one point and a store keeper at another.  Since my great grandmother died when my grandmother was still very young (7 or so) my grandma maybe didn’t even know that, but I found the census records!

A few years ago, I took an online course from the University of Glasgow , and that changed everything.

I began to be able to sort who might be related from who had the same name, but the wrong details from the ones who had the misspelled name but all the right details in a way I didn’t know how to sort through before.

My family tree now has just over 6000 people going back to the 1400s. (I add my grandchildren’s lines as well since to me, they’re all family.  It’s not my own direct ancestors.)

So, what’s the point? I have had people ask me that – rather dismissively, truth be told. In my opinion, there may be no point at all in studying your ancestry if you’re not interested – and most people, it seems, aren’t.  Or maybe it’s just young people who don’t care.

But we are the end result of thousands and thousands of stories. Many love stories – though they didn’t all turn out to be forever loves – and stories of bravery and struggles, of striving and persevering, and triumphs and tragedies…and for me, having a glimpse of those stories is fascinating.

It also keeps me rooted in the long flow of history. If I’m having a bad day, it helps to keep it in perspective to remember that both of my grandmothers lived most of their married lives under the same roof with difficult mothers-in-law. My father’s mother eventually outlived her mother-in-law and was the mistress of her home for the last 20 years of her life.  My mother’s mother only survived her mother-in-law by 6 weeks.  I had an ancestress in the late 1600s (my 7th great grandmother) who lived only 25 years, leaving an infant son behind. In comparison, my life has been very easy.

Many of the stories I come across are only ever implied, since most of the information comes only from official documents, but after a while I almost feel I know these people.  And that is why I keep digging.

January 20

Well, that took a while, but the last of the Grandma letters for January went out last night!
My brain turned to much halfway through and the last ones took a long time and a lot of work – though they were far from the best letters I’ve sent. Oh well, at least they’ll know I tried. I’ll do them in reverse order so that different kids get the “too tired to make sense” letters next time.

Rod and Jack have been working their way through Plato’s Republic this month, with me listening in when I’m around.

It’s interesting to hear their views on his proclamations.  I grew up thinking of Plato as one of those geniuses we should all read – but I didn’t.  Now I’m finding that some of his ideas are just crazy!  Some make perfect sense, but some of them are way out there.

I guess it’s a good exercise to debate his ideas for practice thinking an argument through, and it’s certainly a good thing to have read Plato, but it’s not at all what I had expected.

We have started watching videos from the library at dinner again.  We started out with October Sky, which is based on the book Rocket Boys, a memoir by NASA scientist Homer H. Hickam.

It was a much better story than I expected!  (I chose it because Elishia is from that part of the world and I was curious.) October Sky is, of course, a truncated version of the story – moves always are – but I find myself days later still caring about those characters. He eventually wrote three more books extending the story, and while my reading shelf is pretty full at the moment, I think I may borrow them all from the library to “get the whole story”.  It is a really good coming of age movie, though, and I recommend it families.

As a part of my grandma letters this month, I pulled out my sealing wax and stamps.

I have always loved wax seals, but the old fashioned wax with a wick takes a lot of patience for very spotty results, so I don’t use it as often as I might. . (Half the time my wax catches fire and plops onto the letter in a ball of fire — oops. The other half of the time, it takes so long to get a decent sized pool of wax that the first wax had set before the last wax is delivered.)  I have some even older fashioned sealing wax that is in HUGE chucks and doesn’t have a wick.  I have had it for 40+ years and never did figure out how to use it.  The last time I bought sealing wax, it arrived before I realised that it, too, was without wicks and looks very different to what I expected.  🙁

It was time for some research.  In my exploration, I learned about “sealing wax furnaces”, basically a stand and a spoon that sit over a tea light candle to heat the wax.  Once the wax is melted into the spoon, it is poured out through a little pouring lip onto the paper, and then sealed as usual. Unfortunately, I was unable to find one cheap enough to buy. I whined to Rod, who (as usual) had the answer.  Use a measuring spoon.  Hold the spoon over a full sized candle until the wax is melted.  Pour.  Yup.  It works! On this months letters, I used the tag ends of the seal wax that was burning my fingers.  Next I have to scrape off bits of the very old wax and see if that still works. And then eventually I will use the new wax, which is easier to break up and makes a very even, shiny impression.  (I had a bit that I had tried to use before so I saw that it worked more easily. Unfortunately it’s much brighter and shinier and I don’t like it quite as well, but I will use it anyway.  Once I get used to it, I’m sure the payoff of “easier to use” will mitigate it’s “not the right colour or texture” problem.)

Now, I’d better clan up and go shopping so I don’t get home, exhausted, at dinner time.  :p

Updates 16 January

I am almost halfway through the Grandma Letters for this month.  As I was preparing them, I pulled out my sealing wax to add a fun seal to the back of the letters – and I was again reminded of the 40+ year old sealing wax that has been sitting in my supplies all that time. The problem is that it doesn’t have a wick – I have tried any number of ways to use it, but I always end up going back to sealing wax with wicks.  They’re so much easier!

I decided to do some research about how to use them and came across the idea of a sealing wax furnace – brilliant! And only $15 from AliExpress, which unfortunately doesn’t ship to my neighbourhood. (Silly programming error – you can’t type in your mailing address, you have to select it from drop-lists.  Mine isn’t an option.) I found another one online – at ~$50 plus a fortune in shipping.  It’s not worth that much to me. So I wondered whether I could get just the spoon and heat it over a candle.  The answer is yes, but not locally. One day, I’ll spring for it – but meanwhile I’ll see if a measuring spoon (with no pouring lip) will stand in. Until I get brave, I guess I’ll just buy more wick-ed sealing wax.

Sorry about no pictures this time.  Picasa is busy making a mess of my photos and every time I try to upload one, it disappears.  When it’s done with its current importing task, maybe it will work again.

The weather has finally cooled down a bit – just in time for my jaunt to the library! I have quite a collection waiting for me, but I just couldn’t face the walk in the heat.  Magnus is celebrating the cool change by being intent on finding mischief. We changed the sheets today, and he had a marvellous time “helping” by crawling under the sheets and attacking us from underneath. What is it about bedsheets that is so fascinating to little boys?  Jack used to want to be in the bed when we changed the sheets.  He outgrew it by the age of three, but I’m not optimistic about Magnus getting there.

Rod and I are still reading The Postman after dinner.  Did I mention that?  I can’t remember…anyway, I read The Postman by David Brin when it first came out as standalone novella in 1982.  It rocked my world! But then I got very busy, and I never managed to catch Cyclops when it came out later.  A few months go, I started thinking about the story and discovered that what I had read was only half the story!  So, I scraped together the money to buy my own copy.  (I don’t often do that – the library is cheap! But it didn’t have this one.)  We are now well into the part that I haven’t read before.  I’m a little let down – Cyclops is (at least so far) not as hopeful as The Postman was.  But it’s definitely interesting and thought provoking.  I see why it rocked my world when I was still young.

I finished with The Most Beautiful Letter course I had been taking over at Naomi Loves.  The first week was the part I was most excited by – the rest tends towards the artsy a bit more than I do – but I would if I could, so it was still interesting.  But even just the first week was worth the price to me.  I was interested in Naomi’s decision to release it a week at a time.  It did slow me down…but not enough to actually practice the skills she was teaching – so maybe I’ll spend the time I have been spending on her lessons on practising her exercises.  :p

We have attained produce!  We have eaten from our garden for the last couple of dinners – kale two nights in a row and that beautiful little cucumber I photographed a few days ago.  I’ve never grown cucumbers before because I’m not a big fan, but my neighbour, Megan gave me the plant and told me that home grown heritage varieties are not like the ones in the grocery store.  She’s right!  This little beauty was very tasty!  We steamed the kale the first night, and then Rod sauteed it last night.  It’s good!  And such relief to pick only as much as we need for a meal, instead of the constant pressure of several pounds of greens that need to be used immediately mouldering in the fridge.

OK, off to the library with me.  Have a great day, guys!

Grandma letters

Every month (OK, almost every month) I write letters to 15 of the most important young people in my life.

Baby cucumber

I think of them as “the grandma letters”.

The children are between the ages of 2 and 16, and when I started, there were only two of them. The project has gotten significantly larger over the years – especially because each letter no personal — I wouldn’t see the point in a form letter — and how do you write a form letter to people across that span of ages?

Incipient zucchini

Usually I also create (somewhat) personalised stationery, too – because that’s fun. For me…and I hope, for my beloveds. It’s also a good way to get started, because the letters per se, are often a bit of a challenge.

What to say to a young person I barely know, month after month, when I rarely get any feedback, and when I do it’s a charming note saying “I got your letter, Grandma! Thank you!!” Not much to go on.

As an inspiration, I took a class called The Most Beautiful Letter You Have Ever Written. I’m nearly finished, and I must say that although only the first week is what I signed up for, the entire course has been well worth while. There is, after ll, only so much to say about how to write a letter and what to write about. I was hoping for too much.

I bought To Our Children’s Children and joined The Remembering Site looking for inspiration, too. And a very large stack of books for grandparents, most of which proved to be interesting, but less than helpful. The exception was Curly Grandma. The web site is pretty good, the books even better, when you’re writing to very little ones.  I revisit my resources at least once a year, or when I am feeling stuck, and they help my to get motivated again.

So, if it’s so hard, why do I keep at it? Well, I do love to write to them.  And, honestly, the way life has worked out, it is the only way I can have a relationship beyond “every once in a while visitor” with them. It would be nice if it went both ways, but I only have any influence over my side, so that’s where I focus.  Maybe one day one or another of them will be inspired to write back — but I have penpals from whom I get the happy mail – meanwhile I am the adult, and my letters are a gift to each child.  (The older children have already been warned that once they are adults the letters will come much less frequently unless they are reciprocated.  That seems fair – and it’s what they see with my letters to their parents.)

Speaking of which…I should be writing the January letters!  😀

My beautiful garden

My beautiful twin garden beds are going gangbusters!
One is chock full of potato plants, with a couple of kale rescues in some open spots.  The other has a broader variety: tomatoes, kale, lettuce, basil, zucchini (which we will try to train down the side), Cucumber (ditto) and a struggling dill plant that has made up its mind yet.

We have “attained produce” – one baby cucumber should be read to pick tomorrow, and the bigger kale plants are already big enough to start plucking leaves. There are swellings that promise zucchini, and flowers galore on the potatoes.

So exciting!

Update (again)

Soundlessly, on dove’s feet, they made their way amongst us — the ideas that changed the face of the earth. — Nietzsche

Somehow, I don’t think Nietzsche lived with dove neighbours and a tin roof.  We have a half dozen doves roosting in our eaves, and the racket they make running across our roof is truly astonishing.  Mind you, I enjoy the sounds of their activity – but because of our experience here, I found this quote hilarious.

Yesterday, in conversing with Karen and Jack, it occurred to me that my exhaustion was not unfamiliar. And the timing was such as to suggest that it might have something to do with my decision back in October to stop being a princess and start accepting whatever was offered to me to eat socially.

Honestly, the hardest part of eating to keep myself healthy is the “eating as entertainment” thing. I kept having to say “no” – no to biscuits (cookies), no to sandwiches, no to cake … it was hard, especially when someone made something special to share with me, but it contained things I knew would make me sick.

So, when I had to go back on diabetes medication, I decided to just say “yes” when friends and family offered something, regardless of how it was going to make me feel later.
I eat the way I should with my family, and I hoped that would be enough. I found that an infusion of red clover helped to keep the pain down, so…I figured that dealt with the problem.

But maybe not…this exhaustion is not dissimilar to every day before I found out what grasses were doing to my health. I remembered the pain, but I had forgotten the exhaustion – and frankly, the pain kept me from exercising, so I sort of thought the exhaustion was from lack of exercise.

I’ll still ask the doctor to rule out other possible causes, but if he doesn’t find anything, it’s back to being the impossible to feed princess for me.

Bleah. Oh well.  It’s been fun.

Jack and Rod have been making their way through Plato’s Republic with me listening in.  It’s been leading to some very interesting discussions, like “How do you have a debate with someone, when you can’t grant them their first premise.”

Greek “science” started with “what everyone knows”, and reasoned from there. That may work philosophically, and it leads to some interesting conversations, but … it’s a strange way to approach the search for knowledge to those of us brought up in the scientific model.

Strange enough that Mr. Plato is taking some serious slogging to get through, so we set a goal of getting finished during the school holidays before life gets busy again.

Saturn return, virus, or something else…

My energy levels have been unreliable for several years, since I began reducing my thyroid hormone dose.  It’s been tough but given how dangerous excessive thyroid hormone can be, it was worth doing, though I have to admit (and I think I have said it here before) that I really miss the super-human energy levels!

However, now there is something else going on.

A while back I was struck by a new kind of exhaustion.  At first, it was just lack of stamina –  going for my walks never resulted in the growing strength I experienced when I first started my serious walking program in 2007.  I had never become as sedentary as I was back then, but over the course of my thyroid hormone adjustment, I did become less active.

Now I was exhausted for the rest of the day after a normal walk and it never got better over time, like it should have.

Then in early December, it got worse.

I have always been very strong, but one day I was carrying a pretty normal load, and suddenly became winded and dizzy. Increasingly over the next few days, I became so exhausted that I simply couldn’t function normally.

I managed to drag myself through my morning chores, and then I was wiped out for the rest of the day.  This went on for at least six weeks, very gradually improving so that I was eventually able to start my walking program again.  However, I am still wiped out for the rest of the day by a normal walk.  I was able to go back over to volunteer at The Farm Next Door yesterday, but I was only able to weed one bed (a very low exertion exercise) before I was exhausted.

Recovery is now taking several hours rather than the rest of the day, and I am starting to wake up feeling pretty good, but by mid-day I’m tired again, and my normal walks, although I can do them, are still wiping me out for hours. It feels entirely different than low thyroid, though it’s hard to explain how.  The most objective symptom is that with this, I can regain some strength with enough rest.  Low thyroid exhaustion never goes away.

It’s gone from annoying to downright worrisome. My friend Mark suggests that I get checked for pernicious anemia.  I’ll be asking the doctor about that and any of his other ideas when I go in on the 16th. (Other possibilities include a very tenacious viral infection or a bad reaction to metformin.)

There is good news, though. I am reporting to the doctor in part because I have now regained near to perfect blood sugar control.

The metformin helped some, but the real secret is barberry.  In the weeks that I took increasing doses of metformin, my numbers did decrease, but not by enough – the fasting numbers became normal, but even very small, very low carb meals caused unacceptable highs.  Then my friend, Nancy, shared her research on barberry and blood sugar. I figured that it couldn’t hurt, so I gave it a try. Within a week, my postprandial numbers had come down to perfect, even after a normal meal. (I have had a few highs since then – when I indulged in holiday foods or larger portions than I needed, but those highs were the lows of a few months ago!  Now I am wondering if I can gradually switch over to controlling my blood sugar entirely with the herb.  It’s more likely to be providing a nutrient that I actually need than the medication is.  However, with subsidised prescriptions, it’s a more expensive alternative.

Something to think about.

Commonplace books and education

Since I was very young, I have LOVED the idea of getting an excellent education. I couldn’t wait to start kindergarten, because my mother promised me that at school, they would teach me everything I needed to know!  (Needless to say, that didn’t work out quite the way I was hoping.)
My someday dream was to earn a PhD – now that was a real smart-people certificate! But my PhD always came in behind having children, and between caring for them and working to support them, somehow there was never time and money to pursue it.  Instead, I did my best to fill my mind on my own, reading everything I could get my hands on!

As I have gotten older, I have come to realise that what I actually want is the education – the knowledge – rather than the certificate. That paper is largely for impressing other people or to prove one’s qualifications for a specific task. I don’t actually need to go to school to get the knowledge, and while I am pretty good at school, I’m not sure I would still have the patience I once had for jumping through hoops and taking uninteresting classes just because they are required.

However in my research and study of education to create a homeschool curriculum for Jack, I have learned a lot more about what I want/need to do to educate myself.

I am not trying to recreate any specific type of education – I am studying things that interest me – but i approach them in the way one might approach a college class.  I read.  I take notes in my common place books.

One of the subjects I study is “how to learn”.  Mortimer Adler has written many good books on the subject, including How to Read a Book: The Art of Getting a Liberal Education and How to Think about The Great Ideas: From the Great Books of Western Civilization.

Susan Wise Bauer has written a more modern, easier to read book on the subject: “The Well Educated Mind” which might be an easier start to the subject from which to move on to Adler’s more complete works.

Ryan Holiday has a blog, Meditations on Strategy and Life, that touches on self-education and is worth looking over.

As a part of my self education, I keep a series of Common Place Books.

According to Wikipedia:

Commonplace books are a way to compile knowledge, usually by writing information into books. Such books are essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas.

A classic common place book would be filled with everything one is studying over a specific period.  Because my obsessions are sporadic, I keep a separate book on each subject.

I am trying to inculcate the habit of a more classical common place book, but so far it hasn’t taken.  Not everything I read is “nourishing” and I generally have wet hands when I am pondering life.  Dishes, laundry, cleaning … tat’s when I ponder and it’s not conducive to writing things down.  Then again, farmers have done it and soapy water is far less challenging than many of the things they get their hands into, so I know it can be done.  Then again., I have been carrying the same small book in my purse for as long as  have lived in Australia.  It comes in handy, but it’s not filling the purpose I intended.

One thing I have discovered that I have been doing wrong is the writing down of facts rather than wisdom.  I have a rather gestalt kind of memory, and I often find that the details escape me almost as soon as I have reached a conclusion – it makes me a lousy debater!  And so I write down facts I want to remember. It does make catching up quicker, but I haven’t found it helps my memory much – and according to my more recent reading on common place books, it’s beside the point.  Worth considering.

Do you keep a common place book? Or, like me, several?  What sorts of things do you keep there?

For more inspiration:




Now that the ‘silly season’ and all its social obligations and crafting challenging is over, the guys and I finally had time to go out on a photo walk yesterday!

It was wonderful!  It’s been far too long since we had time!  We discovered at the last moment that Jack’s camera had suffered a dunking and is now a paper weight, so I used my phone and he used my camera.  (He goes to make me happy, not because he loves photos walks for themselves.  It seems only fair.) The quality of my photos isn’t that great, but I had fun anyway.  (Truth be told, he has a better eye, anyway.  I just enjoy it more.)

Even better? We discovered, with the help of a new neighbour, a wildlife sanctuary less than a kilometer from our house and that’s where we went! This place is what I have been dreaming of for almost four years! I need wilderness for the health of my soul and I had come to fear that I would need to learn to drive to see it again. Fortunately, wilderness does exist in little pockets within the city – it just took me time to find it.

It also helps that I have come to appreciate wilderness ‘Australian style’ – nothing here will ever resemble the wilderness of Sweden or Northern New York, but it doesn’t need to. It has its own beauty and as I have come to appreciate it, I have recognise more of it. Continue reading


Naomi over at Naomi Loves has been writing about her work on creating a sustainable lifestyle.  That’s one of our goals, too.

Since we are at least a generation older than she is, we’re, perhaps, a little ahead of her on the road of sustainable living, but we still have a ways to go.

Naomi’s goal of “just one thing” is a sound one.  No one can change their way of life between one heartbeat and the next.  It’s a process.  In this case, it’s a process that a lot of money goes into derailing.  A lot of companies would prefer that we all just relax into the status quo. They have a lot of money riding on it.  Pick one thing, make that work with your sustainable lifestyle and when it cease to be a big deal, pick another something.  That’s the only way to make change stick.

We use canvas bags when we shop.  We buy as little packaging as we can.  (That’s still a huge challenge.)  We return boxes and egg cartons to the farmers we buy from for endless reuse. We have switched (mostly) to glass and tin food storage containers – the exception being for the freezer.  (We are still not sure how to replace plastic there.) We recycle what packaging we have not been able to avoid. We use washable cottons instead of paper and was it all in one big load each fortnight.  We carry our own reusable coffee cups and water bottles.  We use stainless steel drinking straws.  We eat on china using stainless steel flatware. We use cotton napkins and placemats.

Our most recent triumph is recycling soft plastics!  That’s still a little confusing, because some say you can, and some say you can’t recycle meat packaging – and that’s most of what we can’t avoid – but it’s still a start.

Our trash bin has very little in it most weeks! We compost what food scraps we can’t feed to the neighbors chickens, so it’s mostly the meat containers we can’t recycle and layers UHT containers.

Unfortunately, our recycle bin is often overflowing.  We make our own toothpaste, deodorant, moisturizers, cleansers, shampoo, conditioner, and the like, but the ingredients still come in packaging.  We make our own laundry detergent, but we still haven’t found an effective recipe for dish detergent.

We re-purpose what we can, but between packaging and the junk mail that just keeps pouring in, it’s far too much. Recycling uses a huge amount of resources, and not bringing the trash into the world would be a much better answer.

We used to live without all this plastic and single use trash – we can do it again. None of this enough, by itself, to save the world – but it’s a start.  If everyone does their little part, it adds up.  Won’t you join me and see if there isn’t one little thing you can do, too?



Well, that’s finally over for another year.

Gum nuts

I have never been a big fan of Christmas.

As a little kid, I got as excited as anyone does as the day approached.  But astrologically, it’s time of year when I am very, very prone to disappointment and for one reason or another I always was.

(The sun illuminates my natal Saturn at Christmas every year.  It happens to everyone one day per year, but unless it falls on a very memorable date, one is unlikely to notice it.  It’s just a grumpy day.)

That is less of a problem now that I understand why I feel so grumpy and disappointed, but every Christmas of my childhood, my hopes were dashed.  It was no one’s fault that my childish expectations were so unreachable, but after a while, I started to shy away from the very idea of Christmas.

My first husband’s family was very into Christmas.  When we broke up, it seemed like “easy points” to send the children to Scandinavia to celebrate Christmas with his family every year. I wasn’t reckoning with the pain of having my family disappear every year for decades, just as the media and the world around me was gearing up to celebrate children and family. Worst were the years when people kindly insisted that I join *their* family Christmas rather than spending the day alone, reading, writing letters, and enjoying the solitude. I still have to work at drawing those boundaries.

Anyway, I still am not a big fan of Christmas.  But I am finding that turning the seasons on their heads has changed all the cues.  Christmas carols as summer arrived just struck me as wrong at first, but now they intrude on a time of year I just weather the heat anyway.  They aren’t poisoning the arrival of my beloved winter anymore. Somehow that’s far less irritating. I am finding it easier to attend the mandatory family gatherings without anxiety; they feel like “just a family party” and don’t seen to activate my anxieties as much as they once did. (Especially when they are timed a week or so out, so I don’t have to contend with the astrological problem.)

I have long enjoyed just one aspect of the festive time of year: cards and letters from loved ones I haven’t heard from in a whole year!  I am more and more able to focus on that.

Maybe one day, I’ll actually come to enjoy Christmas.


Back again…

Well, silly season is just about over.  It’s been very, very busy, but I hope that starting tomorrow, I will have a few days to myself for things like letter writing and blogging.


I got a wonderful surprise from my boys a couple of weeks ago…a new computer!  I didn’t think I needed one, but they did.  I had been using Jack’s cast off for about a year, since he decided that he needed a new one and I;ll admit that it was a matter of time before it gave up.  This allows me the luxury of moving my data in an organised fashion.  :p

I had almost gotten the gift computer set up when it just stopped working Just frozen and claimed it couldn’t find the BIOS … ouch.  So Rod brought it back, and the store exchanged it for a slightly better model. I have spent several weeks trying to make two successive computers “my” computer, with EM Client e-mail, Libre Office, f-lux, gimp, my old files and everything else I need.  I have to admit that this computer works far, far better – the keys all work the first time, it’s speedy, and all in all a pleasure to use.  I’m not getting as many chores done while I wait for pages to load or save, though. Oh well.

I have also started taking a class on the art of letting writing.  It’s been great fun.  Not that letter writing is really a mystery to me – I have several pen-pals and 15 children I write to every month (The Grandma Letters, though at this point they aren’t all biological grandchildren.)  Still, the inspiration has been invaluable!

I’ve also been dabbling a bit more in genealogy. In the years since I really paid attention, a lot of Swedish records have been added, so my grandchildren’s line has been fleshed out quite a bit.  I’m still slogging slowly with the Irish records – so much has been destroyed that we may never get very far back, but at least I am finding more about what they did once they reached America.

It’s 107f (42c) today. The cat and I are twin puddles. Fortunately, it supposed to cool off soon. I hope it does because I need to go feed and check on a friend’s chickens.  Knowing the forecast for today, I gave them twice as much water as usual yesterday. I hope it was enough to get them through.

More tomorrow.


BTW, I have accidentally added a new page. “How I make a Card” is now available as a page until I find the time to move it.  (If I ever do.  I’d rather spend the time on a new post.)  You can find Pages in the banner right under the big photo.

I do eventually come back…

I’m so sorry for the long and  unexpected, break.  I didn’t mean to be gone, but then I guess most people don’t intend to stop blogging. Life just…happens.

I hope I’m back, but since the problem isn’t resolved, I’m making no promises. *sigh*

A couple of weeks ago, I started to notice that I had all the symptoms of sleep apnea. That seems like years ago.  The intervening time has flown and all I have had the energy for is basic survival.

I have had nothing to say because I have been doing very little and thinking even less.

The tower! I love cast iron. Especially old cast iron.

I started a few days ago to try to sleep on my stomach, in hopes that it would relieve at least the obstructive part of the apnea. It might be helping some – but it’s clear that I am also “forgetting” to breathe so I am still not sleeping well.

How weird is that?

How do you forget to breathe?

But I am also doing that when I am awake. Fortunately, I am awake to notice. It’s more worrisome at night and I don’t know that I would know about it if I didn’t also catch myself during the day and then notice the “symptoms” in my half sleep.

I have an appointment with the doctor in the new year and I will ask then for a referral to a sleep doctor. I expect to be on a cpap before long.

Hey!  His and hers matching cpaps!  Now that’s togetherness.

I have also been making holiday cards. I only have a very few product hours in a day, what with so little sleep, so it s going slowly, and imagination has been lacking but I have only a few left to make…except that Rod keeps thinking of people he’d like to give one to. I am so very, very glad that he appreciates them. It’s nice to know that it’s not just my hobby.

The main spice cabinet

Even better news!

Despite the ongoing sleep problem, my blood sugar has remained normal (despite my being too tired and out of it to be really careful) for almost a week now!

My dear friend, Nancy, came across an article describing the use of barberry for blood sugar issues.  She shared it with me and I figured it couldn’t hurt, so I added it to my regimen. A week or so later, I started seeing post prandial readings that were quite normal.  I will have to see this kind of normalcy for a bit longer to be certain (I did occasionally have decent post prandials before) but this is a very promising sign!

Anyway, the heat broke (it’s been over 100 for several days this week) and I am feeling more energetic. I’d better get something done while I can.




My health has been deteriorating for a while now.  It’s been annoying and worrisome.  Am I just getting old?  That’s the doctor’s theory and it’s possible.

But yesterday Jack mentioned that I have started snoring. And I had several sleepless nights. I wanted to sleep, but I couldn’t.

As I dosed off, I started thinking about the fact that sleep apnea could explain a great deal.

Lack of adequate sleep can lead to feeling like you just can’t get enough sleep, no matter how many hours you stay in bed.  Lack of adequate sleep can lead to weight gain and loss of blood sugar control.  Lack of adequate sleep can make anxiety worse. Lack of adequate sleep can make one crankier and less social.

I plan to ask for a referral to a sleep doctor for a sleep test at my next appointment. It may not be what’s going on, but it’s silly not to check.



I’m sorry to have dropped out of sight for a while.

Downtown Geelong Little Malop November 2018

Downtown Geelong Johnston Park November 2018

I could make excuses – this time of year proffers plenty of them, and I have indeed been busy making up the few holiday cards we are sending this year, and of course, writing my my monthly Grandma letters for November. (I’m still not entirely done with either, but I am getting close.)

But the real reason has more to do with my state of mind: I am prone to anxiety attacks. I know some of my triggers and I do my best to avoid them.  But there is more than one “kind” of anxiety; they feel different, but both are disabling and exhausting.

Lucky me, I get both. Occasionally they gang up on me.

That’s pretty much what happened recently. I’m feeling heaps better now, but from the depths of it, writing is neither possible nor particularly advisable.

The first kind of anxiety is usually triggered by predictable things – in my case, large groups of people and heights. The reaction feels like anxiety sounds.  Racing heart, sweating, fight or flight panic. The panic is triggered by the specific circumstance and (for me) doesn’t usually continue much past the presence of the trigger. When I walk away from the crowd, as long as I know I don’t have to go back, my heart settles down, my breathing slows, and the panic subsides. It’s exhausting and embarrassing, but generally pretty easy to avoid. I have heard that this sort of anxiety is triggered by a free-flying fear of “white might happen”.  Maybe so.  I’m not doing much rational thinking when I’m in the midst of it and I can’t figure out what I might be “afraid of”, but it doesn’t sounds wrong, just irrelevant.

The other kind of anxiety seems to be more free-floating.  I can’t always see it coming, though in retrospect I can often figure out what triggered it. Usually it’s a circumstance that is similar in some way to a traumatic event in my past. The physical sensations are different, and for a long time I didn’t realise that this, too, was anxiety. This kind goes on for days. It involves a lot of negative rumination and self judgement (I’m ugly, stupid, and unlikable. No one really wants to be my friend. I’m going to die desperately poor and homeless. You know, that cheerful stuff.)

It sounds like it should be easy to interrupt the cycle with logic and reason, and that does tend to tone down the volume enough so that I can appear to be coping. Somehow, though, it doesn’t change the heavy weight in my chest and the sense of doom hanging over me that the horrible thing could happen again.  The thing is, it’s completely irrational. My rational mind knows that this current circumstance isn’t the same and won’t lead to the horrors of the past.  Explaining the reality to myself and forcing soothing rationality into the negative rumination does indeed tune the volume down enough to keep me from being too bad tempered and cranky. I can even keep my social mask on enough that people who don’t know me well don’t see anything amiss in a brief conversation. One of my mantras becomes “this, too, shall pass”.

I’m pretty sure there are medications available to help people cope with disabling anxiety. It doesn’t last long enough for me or interfere with enough that I actually want to do to bother medicating myself.  I also didn’t know that anything could be done about it until very late in life, by which time I had developed reasonably adequate coping mechanisms.  So, I avoid triggers when I am feeling even slightly vulnerable and when anxiety happens anyway, I withdraw and focus on self care for as long as it takes.

So, that’s where I have been. I still have some cards to make and some letters to write, but I am feeling much better and should be able to be back in the saddle again at least some of the time.

Updates, roses, and home

I’ve been feeling pretty bad since Thursday.  For a while, I thought I was coming down with something, and then this morning, I remembered: I felt a lot like this back when I first went back on metformin several months ago.

It eased over a couple of weeks and I’m sure it will again.

It’s funny how much less sick I feel just knowing what’s causing the problem. I will adjust to the poison again and then I will feel almost fine – enough so that I will be able to adjust to the “new normal”.

If at some point it controls my blood sugar, it will have been worth it. (My blood sugar control continues to worsen, even on the original dose of metformin. I wish I knew why.)

Anyway, that’s why my blogging has become sporadic lately. Between feeling tired and cranky … and having many holiday cards to prepare in the next two weeks, it’s been hard to think of anything new to say.

I am working on a couple of longer posts, but I think that’s going to require more intellectual energy than I currently have.

So, in the meanwhile…pretty roses.  Roses bloom all year here, but they are really going for it as summer solstice approaches.

Roses always remind me of my grandmother.  She had a rose bush in her front yard and she taught me to make rose jelly with cinnamon, and she brought cuttings into the house and made the house smell wonderful!

Roses make me very happy. I hadn’t really registered it consciously when we looked at this place in midwinter, but the house is surrounded by pink, red, yellow, and orange roses. They line the front yard on three sides and there are several more bushes in the back yard.  That is probably part of why this “felt like home” so immediately. The house itself dates to my childhood and hasn’t been updated much, so while it’s not the same as the (much older) homes I knew as a child, it still feels familiar and the roses make it feel a bit like Grandma’s home did when I was little.

I still haven’t done much with the garden boxes…the potatoes that came over from Karen’s with them are going gangbusters but I haven’t had the energy to get more soil and supplements, so I have been putting off planting.  Fortunately, there is always something to plant in this climate.

Crafting Thursday

Every Thursday, Rod’s sister, Karen, and I get together to spend a couple of hours crafting.  Often, it’s card making, but sometimes she crochets and sometimes I work on another craft project.

We’ve been doing that since November of 2015 and I have come to count on our quiet sessions.

There’s no reason we couldn’t craft at other times, but both Karen and I have found that we don’t.  There are always “more pressing” things to take care of and since neither of us has a dedicated crafting space,  crafting requires hauling everything out and putting everything away. Usually we don’t find that we have the time for all that unless we schedule it. What better way to schedule it than planning for good company to turn up?

With Karen’s help to make crafting a focus, I find that before I ever really “got started”, I have almost half of my holiday cards started.

I also have a collection of “spare” cards for thank you notes, condolence notes, and other unexpected times when a hand made card is a nice touch. I even have one “spare” birthday card – something i discovered was a very good idea a couple of years ago when an injury meant that I couldn’t craft for six weeks – going into a busy birthday period for our family!  Of course, I had nothing in my “stash” because I prefer to make cards specifically for each person.

I’m very grateful that my online crafting community stepped in to make sure I had the most important cards for the grandchildren whose birthdays I would otherwise have missed, but that incident made it clear to my that having some spares around is a very, very good precaution. I still prefer to make cards specifically for my loved ones, but when I can’t, now I needn’t miss their birthdays entirely.

Anyway, my holiday card list is very short this year so I should be done by December1.

Postage is prohibitively expensive on our current budget, but it gives me a lot of joy to reach out to folks who are important to me.  I wish I could afford to reach out to everyone I used to, but this will have to do.