So we went to Saskatoon for a week, to visit my sister and brother-in-law. It was a really lovely time—wonderful to relax and visit, outside the hustle and bustle of Christmas or other big family gatherings.
It was also neat coming home and seeing what a week had done to Ontario, to the garden, and to the indoor seedlings (which a friendly kindly agreed to come by and water a few times). Our whole street had been bare trees, which were laden down with brilliant green upon our return.
Curiously, the wooden frame I constructed had gone missing. There was no other damage or signs of vandalism—it appears that a passerby saw it at the curb, misunderstood the purpose, and helped himself to what he believed to be garbage. Clara and I immediately set to work building a replacement, this time putting shallow stakes in the ground to make clear the intention that it be fixed. It was a simple matter to re-enclose the dirt, dirt which you can see actually included the beginnings of sprouting spinach, lettuce, and snow peas, all of which I had put in the ground before we left.
The seedlings had also done very well in our absence, all looking very lively and healthy in their cereal box accommodations. Cucumbers in the foreground, tomatoes in the background:
Here’s everything successfully transplanted on May 14-15th:
And here we are a week later, with some stakes up for the tomatoes, peas, and cucumbers, as well as wire mesh to deter rabbits, and an adorable sign to deter potential vandals:
What’s been learned so far?
- I should have started my tomato plants at least two weeks sooner, and probably waited another week or two to transplant them. They look quite stunted now compared to how they were when they went in, and nothing like the lovely ones I bought from Fertile Ground Farm to supplement.
- I should have put the spinach and snow pea seeds in the ground even earlier, probably by several weeks. I didn’t realise until I did more reading that they’re not only both frost tolerant, they don’t handle the summer heat well—we’ll have to wait and see if they even have enough time to mature to harvest before the summer gets them. Depending on the harvest size this year, I might try doing multiple seedings to stage the harvest across a longer period.
- I should have put the peas and spinach through the middle of the garden (or intermingled) instead of on edges. If I’d done that, then it would have been more possible for the mature tomato and pepper plants to grow into the freed-up space, rather than… well, I don’t really have a plan for what will go in those spots once the peas and spinach are done.
- I’ve had at least two instances of Random Plant Death, where with little or no warning, a plant just wilts over dead. I’m sure there is a logical explanation for this, or advance signs which missed, but it was definitely a surprise to see one of my cucumber plants healthy one day and flat on the ground the next.
Anyhow, overall it’s been a really fun and encouraging project. I’m excited to see what gets produced this year, and also to be seeing what to change for next year.Filed under: General | 2 Comments »
When we moved last fall, I knew that one of the things I wanted to do was try growing some vegetables at the new house. So a few weeks ago, Clara and I stopped by our local garden store and picked up a bunch of seed packets and a bag of seedling soil.
That weekend, I started tomato and pepper seedlings in egg cartons. I tied them down to a piece of spare wood, and suspended them from string in our front window—where they’d get lots of sun, but not be accessible to the little one. Within a few days, the tomato plants had started coming up:
The following weekend, I also started some basil and cucumber plants, in a similar manner. Last week, the tomato plants were starting to look a little droopy and discoloured—seems like they were probably outgrowing the egg cups, but may also have been over-watered. In any case, before we left on vacation, I transplanted everything to more spacious accommodations:
I also put together my garden box, where this stuff is getting moved to. The soil mix suggested by the square foot gardening method is equal parts compost, peat moss, and vermiculite. I had hoped that my backyard compost would be ready in time for this, but I wasn’t satisfied with it, so I ended up purchasing composted manure from the garden store. They also had peat moss, and were able to order in the 4 cubic foot bag of vermiculite I required.
It’s too bad about all the plastic packaging involved here. If you have a pickup truck, there are some garden stores which will dump bulk soil components directly into the truck bed. Our store doesn’t do that, and it wouldn’t have been an option anyway with the little Yaris.
In the future, I might try to go more natural, perhaps trying to use more of the existing soil, but given all the other unknowns in this project, I wanted to maximize my chances of success by keeping it simple and eliminating unknowns.
I ended up deciding to place the box on the boulevard strip right by the curb. I think this is technically municipal property, so I’m prepared to move it if necessary, though there were others in our old neighbourhood who did exactly this. In any case, it’s where the best sun is, so I’m going to stick it out as long as possible. Our landlord is very easy-going about this project, and obviously I’ve agreed to repair the grass once I’m done (or we move, whichever comes first).
This is not strictly square-foot. Because I’m doing tomatoes and peas, which will need something to climb, I think it’s more reasonable for those at least to be row-style.
I’m not certain my seedlings will work out. A friend has graciously agreed to water them while we are away—if they end up looking good when we’re back, they’ll go in the ground; otherwise, I’ll purchase new ones from Little City Farm.Filed under: House, Projects | 1 Comment »
My bike’s had a flat since November. It was the end of riding season anyway, so I’d been letting it rest in the garage, figuring I would take care of it when the weather was favourable again.
Well, the weather is now favourable, and I’ve taken care of it. But the longer story is fun too.
I bought my road bike in Ottawa when I was there on co-op, summer of 2009. I’ve changed a couple flats, replaced a broken pedal, had the rear rack on and off a few times, but never really done any serious work on it. I bought it second hand, but it was from someone who really cared about it—he gave me two spare tires and a bottle of red nail polish for touching up the paint. It’s a handsome machine; it deserves better than to just be driven into the ground.
So I’ve been feeling for a while that an overhaul was in order.
Whenever I’d inquired about this at normal bike shops, I got a lot of vagueness and uncertainty about costs, especially when it became clear the scope of work I had in mind. What could be done for $100? $200? What would it take to get all the bearings changed, the joints cleaned out and lubricated, the cassette fully degreased, a new chain, etc? Maybe it was just the ones I went to, but it felt like everyone wanted to get the bike apart first, and then hold it hostage while they talked me into a bunch of overpriced replacement parts.
So it languished.
Then in January, I discovered Recycle Cycles in downtown Kitchener. I’d never heard of this concept before, but Recycle Cycles is a community bike shop—a well-stocked, supervised shop where anyone can go—for free—to work on a bike. They have all the special single-purpose tools needed to get a modern bike apart, and smart, knowledgeable volunteers on duty to help out with the task. I was walked through taking apart, cleaning, and rebuilding my entire drivetrain. At their suggestion, I bought a new chain and chainring from MEC and some replacement bearings online, and installed them myself.
All of this occurred over four Saturday mornings during which Clara and I went there—the timing dovetailed nicely with some sewing projects Tara needed focused time to work on. C and I were able to take the city bus there and back, and had a great time hanging out together. Clara definitely has her moments of acting out, being impatient, silly, etc, but she also recognizes when she’s being extended an unusually adult privilege, and behaves accordingly—sitting nicely on the bus, walking close on the sidewalk, and being patient while I was working.
So, the community bike shop is a thing, and there are many worldwide built on the same model as Recycle Cycles. Some sustain themselves by charging a membership fee or an hourly rate. Recycle Cycles does neither; it depends on volunteers and donors (of which I am only a very minimal one for now, limited more by means than desire).
My experience with Recycle has renewed my excitement for the Region and all of the awesome stuff which goes on here. It’s been a neat experience rediscovering my University town after graduating and leaving the bubble of school to settle more permanently. The awesome community projects going on here give me hope for the enormously ambitious Central Transit Corridor, that it is not attempting to create transit-centered communities from whole cloth, but is channeling and nurturing an already present community energy.Filed under: Community, Projects | 3 Comments »
Clara received the Disney Little People Princess Castle as a Christmas gift. She’s really enjoyed it—she’s the perfect age to understand that the different buttons around it make different sounds. Despite that we have Cinderella, Snow White, and all seven dwarves, she knows that Snow White and Cinderella are the ones who trigger special sounds when pressed on the pedestal. Not only that, but she presses them repeatedly, cycling through spoken slogans to find the little songs, which have come to be her preference.
It’s really adorable.
It was also really loud: the toy being played with in the living room could be clearly heard through the entire house. For ourselves, and other parents in the position of having a noisy electronic toy, a number of options exist:
1. Disable all electronic behaviours by removing batteries (the “nuclear option”).
2. Disable audio by disconnecting speaker (for toys with lights, motion, etc).
3. Muffle audio by adding tape, foam, or some other physical barrier to the speaker.
4. Attenuate the audio by modifying electronic circuit.
Of course, for me, it had to be that last option. Some months ago, I had performed a similar modification on a noisy activity table, so I was pretty confident I’d be following the same basic path. Here’s the bottom of the castle with the screws removed:
Here’s the main circuit board. Whatever the brains of it are, they’re potted under that black blob—the only external components are a few capacitors, so that’s everything in there—the logic, the memory, and the amplifier:
Unfortunately, I had assumed the speaker would be an 8 ohm one, but it was clearly marked as being 32 ohm. Both are standard impedance values for speakers, but I think of 32 as being more typical for headphones. Anyhow, the idea of the modification is to add two extra resistors like so:
The resistance in parallel with the speaker (6.8 ohms) is about 1/5 of the value of the speaker itself. Whatever current flows through the overall system, 4/5ths of it will go through my new bypass resistor, and only 1/5 of it will go through the speaker itself. The series resistance (27 ohms) is there to maintain the overall resistance of about 32 ohms—it’s best not to stress the amplifier with a load drastically different from what it was designed for.
I hadn’t wanted to open up the castle twice, so the resistors I specially ordered for this were assuming it would be an 8 ohm load. When it turned out to be 32, I had to improvise with some junk drawer stuff, which made the whole thing a bit messier than I was hoping for:
The castle now plays its sounds clearly to those in its immediate vicinity, but no longer beyond. Success!Filed under: Projects | Leave a comment »
As of two and a half weeks ago, excepting a handful of accidents and sleep time, Clara (19 months old) has been completely dry.
We’ve been doing Elimination Communication or Early Potty Training with Clara since she was about 6 or 8 months old. I’d been initially skeptical, but had met and heard about people who’d had much success. Clara also seemed very receptive when we first started (and had never been keen on having a wet diaper). And since we were using cloth, the benefit of changing less diapers was highly appealing. So we went for it.
The basic principle is that infants have the instinct to not soil themselves from birth. Eventually, they override this instinct and learn to go in their diaper. The idea behind E.C. or early potty training is to not override this instinct, to instead encourage it, and to teach your child what you ultimately want to teach them: to go in the toilet.
We took a halfway approach. We definitely took Clara to the toilet and encouraged her to go, but she still spent all of her time in diapers. We would often forget or just not bother, depending on the circumstances. There have been brief periods over the past several months where I’ve put Clara in training pants and tried to get her going on the potty more consistently, but it’s always been halfhearted.
Over the past few weeks, though, I’d become increasingly convinced that Clara was in fact trained, I just had yet to put in the necessary effort to take her often enough.
There were several factors that prompted the decision to finally go hardcore the week before Christmas.
- With Christmas vacation coming up and the inevitable travel, I thought that Clara being trained would be far easier than trying to manage her cloth diapers in a house not our own.
- I was so sick of changing poopy diapers. So, so sick.
- Clara had a rash that kept almost healing and then becoming exacerbated in a vicious cycle that seemed to last for months. It was almost certainly much less than that, but I knew that dryness would be the ultimate cure.
- I was finally ready to slavishly watch the clock and risk the potential accidents.
And so I headed to one of the only baby shops in town that carried underwear small enough for her tiny frame and began.
The first day saw two training pants, three pairs of underwear and one pair of pants wetted.
But the day after saw only one pair of underwear wetted (though we had her in a diaper all morning).
The next day, she was dry from when she woke up until the next morning. We even ran a quick errand with her in underwear.
The next day, we made it through a morning playgroup without any accidents.
And everyday since has been a running tally, like the “n days since” signs you see parodied in TV shows and about the internet.
There was one day with two accidents, the first day Mike was home with Clara. The accidents he experienced were similar to the ones I experienced on our first day: being aware, but not yet knowing what signalled a need outside of the by-the-clock potty schedule. The third accident was when we left her with others without reminding them to take her. The next two were due to Christmas morning excitement, and the last because she was too busy and excited playing with a friend she hadn’t seen in awhile to have the patience for it.
But outside of that, Clara has been “trained” for 15 days. She even made it through all of our holiday travel.
As I said above, I’m almost certain she’s been trained for a lot longer. We’ve just needed to establish the trust back and forth: that she’ll hold it until she’s on the potty, and that we’ll take her often enough that she won’t have to hold it for very long.Filed under: Clara, Reflections | 5 Comments »
We constructed a family gingerbread house over the past week. Structural gingerbread is certainly still yummy food, but it’s interesting baking something where the principal focus is on attributes other than flavour and texture.
Clara’s been helping us a lot in the kitchen recently—she’s a pro-star at licking things, and dumping things into other things (vegetable peels in the compost bin is always a hit).
One of the keys to successful house construction is to trim the pieces straight out of the oven, so that despite spreading, you get them exactly as the plan calls for:
Beginning laying the foundation, with some scaffolding to hold it all up.
Using my pattern pieces to check the angles of the roof segments. This approach of pre-fabbing the roof didn’t end up working as well as I’d hoped; the edges of the pieces were crumbly enough that the icing pulled away despite being rock solid.
We had been planning to get candy at the grocery store, but then ended up stopping in at our new local mymark to use the CandyWorks section. We didn’t get a ton of stuff, but it turned out very nicely:
Filed under: General | Leave a comment »
A house project for next year is going to be to maintain a vegetable garden using the square foot method. In preparation for that, I wanted to see if I could build up an active compost bin over the fall and perhaps through winter.
Even just at our local building supply stores, there are dozens of options for purchasable composting systems, many of them in the hundreds of dollars. I was hoping to avoid a big upfront investment (at least at this stage), and I also knew that my dad built his own bins decades ago, which continue to serve well to this day.
It turns out, we discard a lot of shipping pallets at work, and as something which would never be used in the house, this seemed like a great chance to try repurposing some of the material:
Skids are made from the worst of the worst in terms of wood, but free is an attractive price—having paid nothing for this unit basically absolves me of any concern for treating, painting, or otherwise preserving it. If I get even a year or two out of it, it will have served its purpose as a proving ground for a larger and more ambitious future system.
So how’s it going so far? I’ve been dumping all of our non-meat kitchen scraps into the bin for the past several weeks, and gone out to turn/aerate it a bunch of times. Last week, I grabbed a third skid and used it to make a nice hinged lid.
We have large leafy trees in both our front and back yard, so I read with interest some tips on how to compost leaves. It turns out that leaves are great for composting, especially if one is able to shred them up. I did a few garbage-bin-fulls with a weed whacker, and it seemed to work quite well.
Along with the leaves, last week it got fed the cut up pieces of four jack-o-lanterns.
The most frequent advice I’ve seen about winter composting is to locate the bins by a heat source to keep them warm—the dryer vent or high-efficiency furnace exhaust are typically suggested. Unfortunately, it isn’t possible on this property, so I’m not sure how long we’ll make it before everything freezes. For now, at any rate, it seems to be chugging along—definitely smells more like earthy goodness than it does like a pile of rotting garbage.Filed under: General | 3 Comments »
This past weekend*, I decided to embark on the ambitious project known in the Pinterest world as once-a-month cooking. The principle is that you prepare 20 to 30 meals all at once, throw them into the freezer and then bring them out over the course of the next month or two. It was exhausting, but in retrospect, no more so than preparing food for a party or other special occasion. And we now have a freezer full of crockpot meals. Yum!
The first thing I did was to go through several lists of freezable recipes I’d collected. I identified the ones that seemed most appealing and assembled them together. Then I went through and made up a shopping list of everything I would need for each of the recipes, doubling some of them. C and I went to our local discount grocery store and filled up our cart. By a happy coincidence, many of the items we were buying were on sale. The chicken especially, a significant ingredient in the recipes I selected, was 50% off.
But as I was filling the cart, I began to worry. One of the women who had posted her experience online indicated that her grocery bill was $130. I looked in my cart and shook as we approached the checkout line. There was no way, with the amount of food in my cart, that it could be less than $200. What if it was a flop? What if I gave up or chickened out? That’s an awfully high price tag for an experiment… But those thoughts were quickly pushed from my head as I began working double time to get everything onto the conveyor belt. The cashier was working hard as well, and then I moved to the other end of the belt to start bagging everything. And then she finished and I looked at the screen with trepidation.
I couldn’t believe it. I’d even picked up a handful of things we were running short on around the house. Less than $120 for all of this:
We had our first meal this evening and it was delicious. Seriously looking forward to the rest.
I used these recipes:
- Crockpot BBQ Chicken
- Honey Sesame Chicken (doubled)
- Savory Pepper Steak
- Sweet Potato Chili (doubled)
- Carrot & Ginger Soup (doubled)
- Hawaiian Chicken Sandwiches
- Rosemary Mashed Potatoes & Yams (doubled)
If you’d like a copy of my instructions including recipes, shopping lists, and preparation and serving directions, leave a comment (be sure to fill out the email address field) and I’ll send it to you.
*I chopped half of the veggies Friday evening, chopped the rest on Saturday morning as well as adding many of the remaining ingredients to most of the meals. With M’s help, I finished the Rosemary Mashed Potatoes on Saturday as well, and then I collapsed on the couch. We made (and enjoyed) half of the Carrot Ginger Soup on Sunday, and M helped me finish the Savory Pepper Steak on Monday evening. The other half of the Carrot Ginger Soup I plan to make and freeze tomorrow.
Phew!Filed under: Food and Recipes, Projects | 3 Comments »
The gas gauge flickered.
I’ve seen the final bar on our car’s gas gauge blink, but always at a slow, measured pace. This was the first time I’d seen the quick flutter of it, indicating how near to empty the tank was.
“Why, oh, why did I choose the only route home that doesn’t have gas stations on every corner?”
Clara had no comment to offer.
I prayed a little prayer, thanked God that we’d topped up my cellphone the day before (my minutes and texts had been completely drained), and mentally ran through my route, trying to remember if there were any gas stations nearby, and if so, where.
Finally, I saw one. I pulled around the corner and into the station. Was it my imagination or was the acceleration response time a little sluggish? Either way, I rolled up to the gas bar, thankful that we made it in time.
I hopped out of the car and began filling up. I usually smile and make faces at Clara, but I couldn’t quite see over the boxes we had piled up in the car. She was happy looking around her, so I looked around me, too. As I did, I noticed a woman crossing into the gas station area. I noticed her because she was bent over and walking very gingerly. And then I realized that I recognized her. The last time I’d encountered her, she was facing hard times. She was having trouble making ends meet and her son was sick at home. I’d offered her a bag of the simplest groceries and she was crying as she made her way home.
I felt compassion now as I saw her walking, but I mentally scanned my wallet and was grateful when I confirmed that it was empty. Not even coins greater in value than pennies and nickels. Before you accuse me of being coldhearted, I’ve really been struggling with what to do when someone asks for financial assistance when you know nothing about them. I don’t want to perpetuate any negative cycles… but I also don’t want to leave someone empty handed when they are clearly in distress. And I’ll be honest: it’s a lot of work, mentally, emotionally and physically, going out of your way to buy food or a gift card for someone. I was relieved in the knowledge that I had no cash (so I wouldn’t need to wrestle with that), and there were no grocery stores (or stores of any kind) around, so I wouldn’t need to go out of my way for that.
When the woman approached and asked for help, I spoke out of true feeling when I said that I wished I could help, but I had no cash.
She reassured me today, as she had many months ago, that she was neither drunk nor crazy, just in desperate need. She was unemployed and in need of food. I said again that I had no cash, opened my wallet to demonstrate… and she told me that there was an ABM inside the gas station convenience store.
I fell silent.
“There is?” I asked, making a miserable attempt to buy more time.
“Yes, there is,” she said, and mentioned again how hard it was to ask for help, but she hoped there was something I could do.
Suddenly, I had to ‘put my money where my mouth is’. I’d said that I wished I could help, and it was fully true when there was no way for me to. Now that there was a way, how true was that desire?
I’ve wrestled with myself and God about this many times, and I haven’t come to a conclusion. But I knew what to do right then.
I locked Clara in and went into the store. I took out some cash from the machine and brought it back.
“I don’t know you,” I said, “so that’s the only reason I’m saying this: but I’m trusting you’ll use this to get food.”
And I handed her the money.
“Thank you, thank you so much,” she said, and then looked down at what I’d placed in her hands. It wasn’t much. In hindsight I probably could have given more, but it was far more than she was expecting. She gasped and hugged me.
“I am using this to buy food,” she said. “I’m going over to the grocery store right now.”
And then she surprised me.
“You’re a Christian, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” I said, feeling a strange swell of pride.
“Yes, I thought so,” she said. “Me too. In fact, that was the only reason I asked you to go in to the machine. I didn’t ask anyone else to do that.”
She said thank you again and we parted ways. She went to the payphone to call a cab or a friend or her son, and I got back in my car to think.
Clara was exceptionally quiet on our drive home. It’s impossible that she could have known what just transpired, but it left me room to think.
Somehow the woman knew I was a Christian. I was proud because I’d represented my faith well. But my heart sank a little. How many times have I not honoured my faith, preferring what is safe and comfortable?
I’ve been reading Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection. The whole way home I had to repeat to myself, “I’m feeling vulnerable and that’s okay. I’m grateful for that opportunity and that God helped me use it well.”
You realize how vulnerable a person has to be to ask for help, but you don’t realize how vulnerable it can be to respond to that request. It’s easier and safer not to.Filed under: Reflections | Leave a comment »