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This week I said no a lot.

(Note: this is a post written four years ago that I forgot to publish – for those who know a bit about my family, so as not to be confused)

Heard on CBC’s “The Current” that Canadian parents spend an average of $480 to get stuff for their fifth graders to start school, and $970 for their twelfth graders. Big ticket items are fashion and tech. The advice was to cut back on the tech for elementary grades, since research has shown it takes away from the educational experience. Thank heaven for research. Also highlighted was that tendency for parents to imitate what they thought other parents were doing–to win social acceptance? a competitive edge for their kid? to assuage guilt? Looking at those shopping bags toted through the malls, feeling the panic to get the best selection, pick up the best deals.

Our school district made a smart move a few years ago, deciding not to require kids to buy school supplies, except an optional backpack or binder tote–all the basics would be provided–equality in pencils, notebooks, and planners for all, calculators only when necessary, a few items like organizers, poster board purchased by parents later. No more individualized school supply lists on racks in the big box stores, no more last minute shopping. There’s even a way for low income kids to get new school clothes at a special pickup day. And I know from experience, when you’re low income, you need all the help you can get.

So that one’s easier. I used to find myself arguing that the already sharpened pencils and only slightly used notebooks from last year were perfectly fine, that I had plenty of good colored pencils already with which to make sets, that we cold make really cool dividers out of cereal boxes. Even though I remember the pleasure of picking up new with my dad at the downtown office supply store, or even the dreaded mall. I loved printing my name on fresh, new notebooks, putting full length pencils, with erasers–O joy!, and pens into a new zipped case. Now the school hands over a starter kid the first day or even before. My high school kids also get slightly used leftover comp books and pens to round that out, and are content.

Food choices are another area where I’m putting my foot down, for both health and economy: The focus is on foods from the garden and simple healthy meals not based on too much white flour or expensive meats. I’ve been saying no to processed foods, GMO (which includes all non-organic corn, soy, canola, and beets), sugar drinks, store bought desserts. Not sure if I can make that stick, since my husband gets a little out of hand when he shops at Costco. Last time he came home with two kinds of ice cream treats, a huge rack of ribs, four large boxes of kid cereal, and two jars of Nutella. We’re dialoging about this, and he agrees with me in principle, but he just gets these Disney Dad moods. So I try to ration the special treats and mix in fruits, vegetables, cooked breakfasts, smoothies, and homemade granola and yogurt. Yes to local bagels, bread and bacon, homemade rhubarb cake and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, the occasional ice cream fruit shake. My son says I’m like the mom in the comic strip Foxtrot, if not quite so extreme. I do occasionally meet the kids halfway.

I’ve told the kids that if they’re desperate for treats, they have to make them in the kitchen, or pay out of pocket and pay mind to nutritional content. For example, my daughter learned yesterday (I asked at the window–she had a birthday gift card) that there are 42 grams sugar in a caramel Frappucino. That’s over 10 teaspoons of sugar in one drink. She’s putting it together. We discussed a phasing out plan, maybe having her go with a plain latte with one pump of caramel instead of four, for starters, and she was actually open to that. Also discussed types of lunches she’d like to have me make in the category of homemade/healthy/economical: clam chowder and minestrone being identified. I said no to individual cups of sweetened yogurt, and am pushing for her acceptance of my homemade kind with fruit jam. Have to pick the right moments to move the plan forward, and avoid a bossy or irritated manner.

My other daughter stated her resolve today, at the beginning of the high school swimming season, to eat healthier. Pleaded for more fresh fruit (besides the fresh and frozen berries we have on hand), and complained that there was nothing yummy in the fridge. I told her maybe not (though the fridge was full of food), but in combination it all could be made very yummy. So it’s time to teach her more recipes, besides potatoes fried with garlic and rosemary. Omelets with chard and cheese, baked potatoes with the works, salsa, tsiziki, potato salad. Food discontent is usually only a failure of imagination or experience, or plain laziness, and usually insufficient hunger. I also am helping her learn about seasonality–she was desperate for apples last month, but I explained I wasn’t buying apples that had either traveled around the globe or that had been in storage for a year; she’d have to wait until local fruit were in season. And no bananas except in special circumstances; no oranges until November. There were frozen berries in the freezer.

My youngest son loves treats and asks for ice cream pretty much every day if he knows it’s there, wants dessert after every meal, and I have to watch his portions of any sort of cereal or meat. But also loves to make and eat vegetable soup with lots of ginger. He’s shaping up to be my key cucumber consumer, loves green beans, and I hope to win him over to baked zucchini cheese melts.

Concerning clothing, which is a larger proportion of our budget that I’d like–most of the purchases being for my daughters, I try to conduct inventory of the girls’ clothes when they feel they need more, and we go to the second hand stores and look first. My daughters have finally accepted this, and are starting to enjoy the challenge. Now I’m encouraging them to buy a bit roomy so they won’t outgrow so soon, though that process is finally slowing down. My sons don’t care where we shop & let me pick out their stuff whenever possible (I enjoy picking out funky T-shirts, such as the one that reads “No Sense being a Pessimist–It’ll Never Work”). Not that they need much. They buy it loose, don’t care much about trendiness, and it lasts.

Driving was also a qualified no today. I took one daughter to the barn for chores–she earns a bit of money for her work, though I explained that I don’t want to spend $5 in gas and 45 minutes driving so she can earn $10. Once this commitment is done, she’ll only work when she’s there to ride also. Then the girls wanted to be driven to the lake for a swim. I said no–I had to finish job applications, and assigned the job to my oldest son, who baulked, until I reasoned with him and reminded him that his being able to use the little Honda was contingent on doing these errands. Then my friend and I both got out of driving our daughters to a sleepover across town and up a mountain, letting the host mom do the job. We’re not a big fan of sleepovers, since they leave the participants wasted the next day, and in my experience the bonding is not usually of a high quality type. I used to say no to them too.

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2018 in Economics, Parenting & Family

 

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The Intelligent Gardener by Steve Solomon, with Erica Reinheimer

The Intelligent Gardener by Steve Solomon, with Erica Reinheimer

As described in my gardening blog, this spring my husband and I built some nice, tidy raised beds and put up a greenhouse (see post here). I supplemented the clay with sandy soil for better drainage and amended with partially composted horse manure/sawdust from the local riding arena, and figured that with the addition of the right compost and some rotation, the beds would be good for the duration. The garden grew great into the summer, then my dad gave me a copy of Steve Solomon’s Gardening When it Counts (2006). I learned that I had set up an unnecessarily water-hungry system that would give me more individual vegetables but of less health and quality for the same biomass than if I had everything more spaced out, and that I needed way more land since seasons of fallow were essential for soil regeneration. I also got advice on growing better seedlings, creating high quality compost (doesn’t just happen) without adding excess CO2 to the air, mixing a complete fertilizer, “fertigating” with fish emulsion, and opening up the clay soil with gypsum. So there was hope for the next five years or so, when our neighbor’s cedar trees (planted while we were overseas, without consulting with us about impacts) would shade our garden so much that vegetables would be out for us anyway. More reason to move out into the county.

Back at home I ran into JW, co-owner of our local urban farm/nursery/local produce market and former next door neighbor. Told him what I was reading. Of course JW knew Solomon’s work, being an eager, lifelong student of farming knowledge, but he asked if I’d read his latest, The Intelligent Gardener: Growing Nutrient-Dense Food (2013). Said the author had learned a whole lot more and had discounted some of his earlier teachings. He grabbed a copy  off a display and put it in my hands–“Here, read this one.” Wanted me to take it free. I protested, said I’d buy one when I was finished the other, but he insisted and so I thanked him, let him get back to the field, and paid for my fruit and potting mix. Not the first time JW has refused to accept payment over the years of our friendship.

Solomon wrote about what he’d learned about the way soil mineral content affects health, based on old studies of dental health and old military draft medical records  (when people still ate from their regionally grown foods). He linked this with the way minerals become available to plants and are depleted over time, affecting produce quality. Areas where rainfall (or irrigation) is highest experience the most leaching of minerals, and land continuously farmed further loses minerals, noticeably affecting plant health (and dependence on agriproducts). Farmland constantly sends plant and animal products and the waste materials (humanure and urine) of those that consume them off the land, never to return, and nothing, not even all the composted materials left over, can replenish the minerals in them–even the compost is depleted, because it’s grown on the same land. So farming and gardening is not a closed system. Today I read the proud statement of a local organic CSA that their farm was nourished completely by on-farm materials, and I have a mind to warn them of the error of their ways so they won’t run into trouble in the long term (how long depends on the mineral reserves of that particular land).

The historic response to this mineral depletion was to move west and start again in newly cleared land. The modern response is to go for overall productivity in terms of sellable biomass by using fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and industrial scale machinery, and add whatever minerals keep the land producing. Food grows, but with ever decreasing resistence to disease and pests, ever decreasing nutrient values, and sometimes, in the case of organic farming, harmful buildup of certain elements in the manure and compost added. It’s not about organic versus non-organic products, Solomon explains, because many organic farms and gardens fail to remineralize their soil too, and so consumers get low nutrient food. As in high carb combined with, low protein, vitamins and minerals.

Hence the need to bring in minerals from sources downstream in the form of sea products, seaweed, and slow release mineral deposits that include trace minerals only lately recognized as essential to plant and human health. And hence the hope that humans can come to their senses about composting their own manure, urine and bodies instead of wasting all those accumulated minerals.

On the home gardening scale, this means mixing up a custom fertilizer with all essential plant nutrients, including trace minerals and enough nitrate nitrogen (originally derived from atmospheric nitrogen gas) to drive rapid plant growth. Compost is also important for opening up the soil, feeding plant flora and fauna that create good soil tilth, and moisture retention in sandy soils. But it’s not the be-all and end-all that gardeners have been led to believe. There’s even such a thing in some regions as too much compost, as I found out by ignoring Steve Solomon’s warnings that it could harbor seedling-eating pests.

I just mixed up Solomon’s latest version of Cascadian Complete Organic Fertilizer (COF), and yesterday I fed my broccoli seedlings with a dose of fish emulsion. They grew over a half inch overnight–that’s about 20%, at their size! I expect that once the COF is taken up by my other crops, I’ll see improvements in flavor, disease resistance, and nutritional value. I told my dentist today that this checkup would be the baseline and that he should see improvement. Hard to believe, but a person can grow leaf lettuce that’s 20% protein!

 

 
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Posted by on August 26, 2014 in Beautiful Earth, How to, Writers & Books

 

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Just keep swimming

Just keep swimming

My youngest son starts swim team tomorrow, with the big club. I’d bought him swim jammers for Christmas, and suggested he try them on.

“Mom, they’re way too small!”
I assured him that was the way they were supposed to be, to stretch over him like fish skin.
“And hard to get on!” he called from the bathroom. Then, “Mom, they’re transparent!”

“No they aren’t,” I said, “that’s just the shine of the stretch fabric, not your skin. Come show me, let me see if they fit.”

This was a stretch for him, and I thought he might refuse. He’s a modest child, doesn’t like to be seen baring too much, and this was a change from his baggy trunks. He came out like a dog newly clipped, feeling excess air on his body, taking up a different shaped space in the universe, feeling some of that universe to be a little too closely pressing.

But he was also impressed. Smiling. Felt sleek, fast, wanted to run around the house. “See? Now you’re like a fish streaking around, instead of a jellyfish in your baggy trunks.”

“I want to go swimming and try these out.”

So after supper we headed to the pool. I parked on a bench and connected my laptop to the public network, and soon he came out.

Now I could really see him as he trotted off toward the pool. He’s a little chunky, I thought,a bit shocked not to have noticed before. Guess I should have been taking him along on my runs, or got him out to swim more regularly, helping him keep that balance. So swim team will be a blessing, help him get fit again. He used to be lean and strong kid. Mustn’t make a deal of it, though, so he feels criticized. Been there with another child, overstepped my bounds thinking I was being “helpful.” Just quietly be more proactive in providing healthier meals and snacks, and more exercise. Fortunately he’s a very energetic kid.

Swimming has been a good sport for our family, ever since we joined a neighborhood pool we live by back in the ’00s. We like the team and individual aspects of the sport, the emphasis on fun and fitness, and, frankly, the way it keeps everyone clean without too much bother. Competition is optional in clubs–one can opt into meets as well as events, and teams include all ages. Furthermore, pools tend to be pretty nice places to hang out for the spectators (and in my experience the spectators are well behaved, if sometimes rather shrill, and supportive of all swimmers).  Plus there’s the extra fun of being a volunteer timer or official (“best seats in the house”).

Swimming is great fitness, and a lifelong pursuit if one chooses. And unlike so, many sports, one can begin any time–in fact, school leagues generally only start at the high school level. How many team or individual sports can boast that? If you miss the boat on soccer or baseball little league due to whatever circumstances or choices, it’s pretty hard to break in as an older player and have some success. I have seen new swimmers on my son’s high school team go from not wanting to put their face in the water to making decent times by the end of one season. Sure, it takes courage to plunge in at that late a stage, but it’s entirely possible, and one is guaranteed sufficient competitive action. Swimming also has the advantage of a low level of injury (think pulled shoulder muscles, a few scrapes and bumps if not experienced), as well as conferring a higher level of safety to other water sports and pursuits.

My oldest son has two seasons left of high school swimming, and he takes it pretty seriously, doing club at the same time. He’s also started working as a swim instructor and lifeguard at our neighborhood pool in the summers. I no longer have to drive him to club and from high school workouts, thank heaven, now that he has his license and a spare car.–no more up at 5:00 am three times a week for a total of three commutes a day just for him. He even picks up his sister now after her workout at a different pool (his club team senior group full, or she would work out there). My third child chose horse riding rather than swimming, so I drive her a few times a week to an arena outside of town. Our youngest will now be swimming two times a week before school, which should allow me to do laps as well. Even I could join a team at my age if I chose–there’s a masters group at that pool. Though I’m not a master–I can’t do butterfly or starts and turns. But I aim to learn what I can. Then I can stay clean and fit for life, too. But that would mean up at 5:00 am again, and I’m more of a 6:30/7:00 kind of person.

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2014 in Parenting & Family

 

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