Sunday, August 30, 2009

Georgia On My Mind

It has been a bit since we ventured to Georgia to visit Jules' people. He moved from Georgia up here to the Pacific Northwest a few years ago and now we go back every year to see family. To write about the experience is a difficult thing because of how very dichotomous the state is. The same is true for here. Mindsets run from completely conservative Republican in parts to "bleeding-heart" liberal (as my father says) in others. This dichotomy is not something only true to Georgia, but perhaps due to living here I don't notice it as much.

We always begin at Jules' parents in extremely rural north Georgia. Young Harris has only one stoplight and it is a blinking four way stop. According to the 2000 census 604 people lived in the town, completing 74 families. We are talking tiny!
Set up in mountains filled with National Forest, the area is beautiful in a way that only the Appalachians can be. The green "mountains" are so much more elegant and graceful. Here there are jagged peaks which are stunning and majestic, but not soft in any way. Ours are beautiful in their snow capped regality which demands a form of awe. The awe from the Appalachians is a much more storybook.

With Jules' mother experiencing some health concerns, and the desire from both of us to move into the middle of nowhere, moving to Georgia's mountains became a topic of some serious discussion. For one, the land is cheap. Land there is only about 10-20 thousand dollars an acre. That would be an outhouse here! There is a lot of land which buts up to, or is surrounded by, National Forest where logging isn't an issue and recreation is incredible. For not much we could buy a few acres and homestead with contact to other "back-to-the-landers." Secondly, the land is incredibly arable. The Appalachians are some of the best farmland around. Everywhere you drive out in north Georgia you will see people with farms growing and fruit stands propped up. Lastly, with a couple of Mennonite communities, a few Amish farther North in Tennessee, and the wealth of resources provided by people coming to exhibit at the Georgia Mountain Fair, finding others who are knowledgeable about many of the areas we wish our life to venture into would be easy to find. The Foxfire series we have slowly been accumulating originated in Ruban County. Small pockets of the area still teach old world skills to younger generations. The oral history is beginning to completely die out, but small amounts are being preserved by older generations which are seeing life change in negative ways. Quilting guilds, knitters circles, canning displays and soap making are still common in some places in these rural areas. Most importantly, the desire to teach such skills to younger people who are wanting to learn still seems to be desirable. The Barracuda got to use a corn shucker, watch the water wheel spin to move an old grind stone and transform the corn into grits, meal, and flour. He sat with four other boys on an old cider press as a man explained how he had done the same thing when he was their age and continued to talk to them about apple cider, apple sauce, and apple mash. A teenage boy, in a Bruce Lee T-shirt and designer jeans bashfully answered our questions about shingle making the way his grandfather had taught him. He used a froe and deftly split the wood into exceptionally thin sheets. We flew home with much to think about and a stack of real-estate books.

The problem became three fold: 1) we LOVE our house and the area we live in 2) just as there are pockets of Georgia where it is beautiful and such activity is supported, there are those who live in the same places excited that Wal-Mart, Lowes, and a Chick-fil-A are going to open in less than a month devastating the local small town businesses and 3) The Spicy Barracuda is not normal; sporting a blue mohawk and enjoying rap music, dancing, and sparkly purple are not appropriate boy/child behaviors in a rather judgmental area. Like or not, the cultural acceptance of our son is a primary concern. Jules and I both know the brutality of being different in a small town.

The entire situation was bothering me to a large degree. I am a muller, a planner, and have an obsessive need to begin setting out an orderly route for things even if they are about three to five years in the future. It doesn't matter to me if we necessarily follow the plan laid out, but more that a plan exists should we need one. My mind doesn't like to stop until such a logical, reasonable plan exists. So many a furrowed brow and much befuddlement ensued. This seemed to be a place where there was no win: Great liberal area, no space or Great space, no liberal area. That is until in the middle of making a pizza at work the light dawned in my head! The main reason to move to Georgia would be to have enough land to be able to really grow our food, have small stock (chickens, a goat or two, bees), some wooded areas for firewood collection, and to remove ourselves from the grid. Honestly, the issue with staying was that it didn't seem we would have enough space on our 1/10th of a acre to be able to accomplish what we wished to.

Everything else is amazing. We love the area here. The Barracuda fits right in when you first see him (after a discussion or two he is still not normal, but people find it fun and cool here not something to be ostracized about). Jules has a job in a district with seniority at a school he has found a place. Most importantly, we would get to keep our house that we both adore and might later regret selling.

Eureka! We would just begin to change our perceptions of space! More than anything, we needed to re-think our ideas about space. The average square footage of an American house in 1950 was 983 square feet. Basically the size of our 1950's house. It is more than enough for us, yet to many it seems so tiny. The same might be possible for land, I was just thinking about it in the wrong way.
The city ordinances here declare no more than three chickens, rabbits, or pygmy goats. We could have chickens and we don't want a rooster. Our shed outback now houses an abundance of tools (junk) we really don't need and could easily be converted to a chicken coop. The garden could be doubled without much yard loss if we just utilized the space, and our far corner is perfect for a house of bees. The flat top roof could be converted into a solar dehydrator and is ideal for photovoltaic cells (if we dramatically cut our electricity usage). Next year's tax return will bring a solar water heater which almost pays for itself in state, NGO, and federal rebates.

Our city has also declared no swine, no roosters, no livestock within 50 feet of a residence and that includes goats. So goats are out of the question right now because we are surrounded on all sides by other residences. However, if we don't sell our house, it allows us to increase the amount of land we own around us as the nieghborhood changes. Goats may not be out of the question forever.

It is possible to stay here and still remove ourselves from the grid in a slow methodical fashion. It is possible within the urban setting to do much which I have always been considering "country behavior." When I look around at what we have already accomplished, it is so funny to think I retained prejudices about city life being restrictive. It is true that we cannot own acres of land and wide open spaces in our current status. We will always be surrounded by people by living in an urban area, but this can also be seen as a major plus to staying. Community means support. There are so many organizations and non-profit groups around this area to foster not only knowledge, but helpful monetary incentives to increase our abilities. Not only this, but it provides an area for The Spicy Barracuda to grow up seeing that we are not necessarily weird, un-normal, or isolated. The community outreach and local social support is an aspect of the urban area which we haven't experimented too much with, but will definitely be branching out into this next year.

So, for now, we are staying. The potential for our very own space merely needed to be seen. I will still dabble at looking for land in the middle of nowhere, (who knows I might stumble onto something which just couldn't be passed up) but more so as a fun pastime than anything serious. There will always be greener grass on the other side of the fence, we have decided to stop worrying about it and put our energy into our own lawn.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Many people seem so amazed when I knit. Granted, the entire process is a bit amazing. You turn one long string of yarn into a square of cloth and then a garment or blanket. However, the process of actually knitting is one of the effortless and most soothing I have come across in my dealings with Simplicity.

When I was pregnant with The Spicy Barracuda, I wasn't gaining enough weight the first five months. So I was told I didn't get to do much other than lay around and eat. This might sound like a really great referendum to come from the doctor, but it drove me a bit crazy. I was very into exercise before the Barracuda and didn't like the idea of stopping. Eating massive amounts of spaghetti and hot dogs while watching cable TV became my daily routine. It lasted about two weeks. (However, I did become addicted to Judging Amy and Dawson's Creek on cable syndication. Now you all know one of my most embarrassing guilty pleasures!)

When I couldn't take television anymore, I began to look into other outlets and stumbled upon knitting. A friend's mother owned a yarn shop where ladies of all ages sat, talked and knit. It was the perfect solace for my non-exercise frustrations: I could sit and yet still be productively doing something! Moreover, I could talk about motherhood, marriage, relationships, children, and all sorts of other female topics which had begun to bother my emotional, pregnant nerves. The ladies taught me the basics: how to cast on, how to finish off, how to knit, how to purl, and how to combine those two stitches to do ribbing, a stockinette, or garter stitch.

This experience spun a love of knitting and a new found stress relief. I now make it a point to knit regularly and almost every day. Rather than watch a movie at the end of the night or mindlessly turn on the television, I now knit. It helps to sooth my nerves and ad a form of directly productive meditation to my life. From the basics of knit and purl you can do most anything you could want. It takes a bit of patience with yourself and some time to practice, but you are mainly doing the same thing over and over and over.

Knitting also gives me a bit of one on one time with Bell Bell. She adores my knitting. From playing in the yarn to snuggling up on just about any knitted item left by itself she comes hopping (she only has three legs) from the corners of the house to either nuzzle in close or leap out ferociously showing the yarn just how scared it should be.

The place for knitting in our Simplicity hasn't really shown itself quite yet. So much of this last year has been devoted to food knowledge. The growth, storage, and acquisition of our families meals has taken so much time there hasn't been room for much else. But, these last few months both Jules and I have noticed an definite turning point in our food storage as purchasing has gone down and stockpiling gone up. August is nearing its end and canning season is winding down. As such knitting is becoming a much more prevalent aspect of my day to day routine.

This next year, it is my hope to complete a knitted blanket for Jule's and my bed, replace our dish scrubbers with dishtowels, replace our dish-drying towels, and create not only hand towels but also washcloths for the bathroom. We will see if that is even remotely reasonable.

I'm not venturing into clothing yet, just nice square things which don't require turning, or knitting two together, or increasing and decreasing stitches. But, who knows, by the end of this year I might be whipping out socks in a frenzy of stitches!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

May We All Can On...

....with the moon and the stars and the sun. Well, it is August; Canning season. That means two things in our household: 1) the kitchen (and sometimes the house) will never really be completely clean or un-sticky, and 2) there are never, ever enough jars. We need to take our stock in Ball, because the local canning supply store already knows us on sight.

Much of our canning this year has been a bit experimental as we don't really know what it is we are going to love and what we are going to want to change next year. A few things have become quite apparent right away. We will definitely be picking more blueberries and strawberries to can into preserves rather than just yogurt and ice-cream mix-ins. However, two items have become instant hits: peaches and corn. These two are definitely keepers! Not only are they fabulous canned up, they were relatively cheap and easy to can.

At this point, any people with whom we knew before the simplicity move deem us crazy. I can't say that I blame them. When you walk into a house and have to ask, "Is that a garbage can full of corn in the living room?" you tend to believe your friends have gone off the deep end. However, there really aren't very many good ways to get eighty or ninety ears of corn home from the grocery store (where it was on sale) without using the giant garbage can you just purchased at Home Depot.

Telling my coworkers I couldn't have a round with them after work because I needed to go home elicited the question of "Why?" My excited response "Jules and I are going to shuck corn!" isn't exactly the most normal after-work past time. My father was also a bit disheartened when he came to pick up his grandson and the Spicy Barracuda pouted, "I don't want to go, I want to say and shuck the corn." But honestly, it was all quite a bit of fun! We all sat around the living room coffee table yanking the husks off and throwing them in brown grocery bags to be hauled out to the compost bin. We slowly stacked all the ears in large Tupperware containers to be boiled up over the next couple of days. We laughed along and got silks stuck to us, marveling on how much corn we had and how we might have over purchased just a bit. Jules and I will forever have fond memories of the grocery store man's shock at the idea of us purchasing eighty some ears of corn. "Are you serious?!" he declared and led us into the back of the store because he wasn't going to bring that much all out to us.

At a quarter a piece our yearly allotment of corn cost us 20 dollars and we can recycle the jars over and over. Considering that a can of corn from the grocery store is about a dollar and contained close to half as much as one of our jars, the math worked out and we should have been fine. All stacked up, however, it seemed like quite a bit! (Next year we are going to go to U-Pick because they are six for a dollar!)
Once shucked, it was off into the boiling water. This is the reason you leave the long stems on the corn. They are wonderful handles! I was able to place fifteen ears of corn up on end in my gynormous stock pot. I filled it up with water once they were all in and cranked the stove up to high. The corn was boiled for only three to five minutes. This was basically enough time for it to turn brilliant yellow, but not be fully cooked. Since corn is low acid enough to require pressure canning, you don't want to cook it all the way through. The canner will do the rest and still leave the consistency nice and firm. Much more cooking and your corn will be really mushy when you take it out of the can for dinner.

Out came the casserole dish and the knife because it was time to start kerneling. Using a non-serrated knife and a bit of a sawing motion, cut the kernels off the cob about three quarters of the way through. You don't want to scrape the cobs or cut the kernels so low that you get any bits of cob into your jars. The cob won't soften up and you will have a very nice crunchy chunk in your corn. Eww! Later, we stumbled onto a great tool in the canning section of the store which kernals the corn for you! With handles on the sides and a sharpened metal circle in the middle you slide it down the shaft of corn and it does all the work for you. No sawing, slipping, or rotating necessary. It was only four dollars and awesome; next year it will go much faster. This kitchen gadget is completely unnecessary, however, the knife worked just fine.

I could kernel about three cobs before the pile became too large. A 1/2 cup measure was just perfect to fill my wide-mouth quart jars, and then to put 1-1/2 cups of hot corn-water on top. They were processed for 85 minutes at 11lbs of pressure. (For pints, process for 55 minutes at the same pressure.)

Then it was off to the local canning supply for more quarts because we soon realized that it takes about four ears of corn to fill one quart and we dramatically under purchased. The kernels look so small you would think that so many would fit in one large jar, but alas, not the case. In total, I did all eighty ears in two different sessions over two days. Leaving the husked corn out for a day didn't do much at all to dry it out. More than a day of drying and I might be a little worried the flavor might be effected due to sugar to starch conversion. We yielded 23 quarts of corn total leaving us at just under a dollar a quart. No sodium, no high-fructose corn syrup, and way better tasting!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Simple, But Not Easy

Work, to many in our society, is a four letter word. It is dirty, exhausting, and something to be avoided at most any cost. In many respects, the idea pushed to children is that you put in your time so that in the end you won't have to work anymore. You either study your way out of it with college and a larger salary, or you labor your way out of it in a job you dislike so that you can retire. Things like chopping wood, culturing milk, or hanging wash are directly worse than flipping on the furnace, buying dairy products at Walmart, and using the dryer. Somehow, it has become that the idea of many activities I now participate in most every week are thought of to be gruelingly laborious. The funniest part of all this is that when I ask many of the people who voice these concerns to me, they have never participated in anything other than furnace switches, store bought food, and dryers. "So how would you know?" is my first thought, though I don't say it.

The fact is, turning on the furnace is much easier than chopping and splitting wood. However, I would like to argue it isn't simpler. I have no idea how my furnace works. I wouldn't have a clue how to fix it and legally cannot fix many of the processes that go into getting the power to my furnace. However, the schematics I have seen and the small amount which has been explained to me clearly shows that the steps of creating the electricity (hydro power here), storing the electricity, wiring it to my house, then the furnace, and finally somehow conducting it into heat is not simple. In fact, it is incredibly diverse and complicated. Now, the person who just has to flip that switch may never know any of the background of how their house magically becomes warm (never did), but ignorance does not make something simple.

I know how a tree grows. I know how it stores its electricity in the form of densely laid carbon molecules. I know the difference between a ceder, a hemlock, and a Douglas fir; why they burn differently; and what conditions they need to grow. Part of this is because I am/was and environmental studies major, but much of it is also because I participate in the process of these cycles and the natural systems of their creation, destruction, and the succession which follows. This is in no way easy (though it really isn't as hard as many seem to think), but it is incredibly simple.

The last time Jules and I went to go chop wood, he pointed out the immense sense of personal connection which comes from knowing where our wood came from. We have seen the home the tree once had which will heat our spaces this winter. We have intimate contact with the life it once lived and thus a reverence for all it will give us to continue our lives.

The garden is very similar. There is no commercial production filled with large industrial equipment, no pesticide or chemical development which had to go into our food. There is no way I could begin to describe the chemical complexity of pesticide or what it does to the soil structure and the biogeochemistry of a watershed. Not to mention the multitude of high-tech gadgetry which now constitutes large scale farming. Our garden is literally as simple as seed, soil, and water. By creating and spreading our own compost we are reminded of our waste in ways we won't see for many years with pesticide production. We have collected the rain water, transferred, harvested, and dispersed it even as it fell from the sky all over us. We planted the seeds, watched their development, and have begun collecting the seed to have the cycle come full circle. Yes, it means more labor from building boxes, hand planting, weeding, and such, but it also means I know everything that goes into my food. It is simply food.

When I watch our sour cream and cottage cheese culture, or our butter transform from cream, I am personally taking part in the processes of our food. There are no industrial food plants, no long transportation stops from one venue to the next, no commercial advertising and packaging steps involved. It is as simple as the dairy products which go into it.

So many of these thoughts have been culminating in not only my brain, but also Jules'. It wasn't until our recent trip to Georgia that many of them found the common ground to all fit cohesively together. Jules' long time mentor and friend, Jeff Hanson, owns The Book Nook and recommended Eric Brende's Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology. It is the story of Eric's adventure with is wife living in an Amish-style community for a year and a half.

Now we are not going anywhere near as hardcore as they were. They had no running motors, no electricity, no running water, the works. We are reasonably happy with our small scale simplicity. However, what struck me as so wonderful about the book was the way Eric described the culture of the people whom he lived with and around. Work and labor are the functions which kept the society going. The central focus of their social interactions and their community is combined labor to survive. You help your neighbors for the sheer factor that they need help and will then reciprocate the help later. This is just as much a cultural currency and nothing was expected in return for helping. "Many hands make light work," was a common saying and practice. This communal helping, communal work, made the tasks so much easier in that it provided social interactions and shared knowledge. The community was bound together by shared labor, experience, and all the interconnections which come with the two.

There were many times when reading that Jules and I found ourselves silently nodding and relating to the life Eric and his wife were sharing. We have experienced many of the same struggles, culture shock, and learning curve which they did. The largest example came just recently, however. With canning season in full swing, there was much to be done around our kitchen. As the cans all began to pile up, it became apparent we had no where left to put them. The Hole wasn't finished, and with so much time being spent canning there was not time to finish it. If we stopped the canning to finish The Hole, the short season for fruit would be over. If we didn't finish The Hole, we would have no where to place the cans from the fruit season. We were rather stuck.

Until one day I came home from work to find Jules' head poking out of The Hole, covered in dirt. Up until this point, The Hole had primarily been my task with occasional help from The Barracuda. In true supportive fashion, Jules had jump started my lack luster feelings about the work involved in finishing our root cellar. He approached the entire process in a completely different way with large scale excavation and then later finishing work. This monumental moving of dirt helped re-energize me into doing whatever finishing work needed and the hole was completed in over one long weekend. Together, the daunting task was significantly more manageable and actually kinda fun. Without us joining forces, and his different approach, The Hole still wouldn't be done.

With the dirt removed it was time for shelves and I was once again removed from The Hole, only to watch from the entrance. With such close quarters and large shelving, it would be virtually impossible for two people to have completed the task without a head wound. Being accident prone and not very visual, it would have been me with the head would. So Jules grumbled, man-handled, cursed a bit, and eventually constructed three sturdy, significant shelves for all our cans to sit through the winter.

The enormous task of moving all our cans down into the completed root cellar was more than I thought it would be, but now I don't know how we have managed without it. It will still take a bit more excavation for us to be able to store all of our bins of dry goods in the most ideal places, and still a bit more when our apple tree, pumpkins, potatoes, and carrots begin producing enough to warrant storage in containers other than cans, but for now we've completed one of the most major projects for our home. I know Jules thought I was crazy when I proposed the idea. I know my father (an architect) thought I had completely lost it when I had him come look at the space to discuss how to structurally pull it off. But, in the end, hand digging the root cellar with only a five gallon bucket or two was pretty cool.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Coming and Going Home

I have made some decisions in my life which preclude me from having a lot of people to visit. I worked too hard, had a child too young, and broke a few too many hearts. All of my people whom I would visit tend to still be right here near us.

I moved out at 16 and bounced around quite a bit. I was juggling working to live and school to survive, leaving a place for "home" out of the question. There was a lot of being tired, couch hopping, and living wherever. The first place that would even qualify as a "home" was a 16x9 Skittles-lime-green van. It was the first place I completely owned and could do what I wanted with. It was lived in for almost two years, filled with crazy college adventures and eventually parked in front of my college apartment which was filled with even more crazy, nostalgic adventures.

So here I am now, we're creating our own little home. It isn't an apartment, it isn't a rental, it is our own house to do with as we like and make a peaceful family. Having never really been in such a place, I didn't realize how exhausting it is to go away for over two weeks at a time and visit Jules' people. Before, going away to stay with other people was pretty much the same as being where I lived.

It is odd the things that you find yourself missing. I missed hanging our laundry outside. I missed the quiet of no television. I missed being able to take a long, ridiculously, hot bath. I missed watering the garden late and night and early in the morning. But most of all I missed the cottage cheese.

A while ago we switched over to me making all of our cottage cheese. There are a few food choices we have made that there is just plain no going back. The cottage cheese is one of them. It isn't runny, it is creamy. The taste has the definite tang of cultured product and a distinctive balance to the sweet, crunchy, or savory topping to which you eat it with. Best of all, you feel as though you are really eating something because it has a real substance to it.

When I first began reading up on making cottage cheese, the most important part was the price break. Could it be done economically? One gallon of milk, makes one quart of cottage cheese. Could I have been reading this right?! Only one quart?! We would need to buy like five gallons of milk to make the adequate amount of cottage cheese for the month. That just wouldn't work out.

Then there were more questions. A lot of discussion about enjoying it dry or creamed. What did that mean? Wasn't cottage cheese, cottage cheese? And rennet; so many needed rennet. I didn't know where to buy it, I didn't even know what it was. It was looking a bit like cottage cheese was out of the question. Then I discovered this simple article from Mother Earth News. All it required was a gallon of milk, some cultured buttermilk, and a double boiler. We have all that on a regular basis! This was my kinda recipe.

There was some tweaking involved, but after a couple of times we had our cottage cheese recipe and it was still simple as ever.

1 gallon of milk (whole, skim, 1%, 2%, whatever)
1/2 cup of cultured buttermilk
whipping or heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste

Pour the entire gallon of milk into a pot. Heat the milk till it is approximately 90 degrees (you can hold your finger in it and it feels warm, but not too hot). This is so that the culture can grow rapidly, but not die from being overheated.

Remove the milk from the heat and stir in the cultured buttermilk. It has to be cultured buttermilk not just regular buttermilk or the buttermilk left over from making butter. It is the culture which is important.

Now set it up and don't touch it. Stirring kills the culture once it has started growing. We put ours on top of the refrigerator. Don't worry it won't smell or anything.

Wait until the milk begins to thicken (this is called clabbering). It will become the consistency of custard or pudding. The first time, this is really weird feeling and a bit strange to look at. Waiting for the milk to clabber could take a day or two. If it is warm outside, it will happen sooner. Just check it about ever 6-12 hours or so. You will get a feel for how long it takes in your climate area.
Once it is Jello-Milk (you can literally push on it with your finger and it is spongy), slice a knife through it making 1 inch cubes and pour it into a large metal bowl. Create a double boiler by placing a pot of water on the stove to begin boiling. Once the pot of water is boiling, put the pot of clabbered milk on top. This keeps the milk from direct heat, but allows it to slowly heat up. Cook over low heat until the curds begin to separate. Stir occasionally so that the milk doesn't scald, and the thickened milk doesn't stick to the bottom. Once the curds begin to separate they will float up.

This is the part which is a preference and a learning curve. Once the curds separate you want to continue to cook them. The liquid will begin clear and then turn a yellowish color. The longer you cook your curds, the firmer they become. The curds also gain in tartness as they cook. In our family, we don't like them really firm or really tart. I cook them until they don't yield to gentle pressure. The curds begin to smash together and give a bit, but not crush into goo. They also will smush up to the side of the container and stick there. The best way to test them is to take a curd or two out with your spoon and use your fingers to feel the firmness. Be careful, the curds are really hot.

Once they have cooked for the desired time, you need to strain them for drying. Place a strainer or colander over a large bowl. Line the strainer with a flour sack towel (under 10 dollars for a package of three at the supermarket) and slowly pour the separated curds and whey. You can just put the colander in the sink and line it there, but you won't be able to save the whey. Whey is a great protein source, can be used to make ricotta cheese, or be useful in cooking of sauces, soups, salad dressing, or gravy. We freeze our whey for later use and always have a container in the fridge. I use it instead of milk when we make our bread.

Once the curds are strained, pull up the edges of the towel around the curds and squeeze out any left over moisture. It is helpful to twist the towel around the bundle of curds and wring them out. Hang the towel containing the curds either outside on your clothes line or inside over a sink. This allows the curds to air dry for an extended time before you put them in the fridge. We do ours over the sink due to Guadalupe and her amazing attempts at getting food.

Once the curds have dried overnight (12-18 hours) they are ready for the fridge. We smush ours into a old, glass, mason-style jar and they keep for at least 2 weeks. The dryer they are when they go in the fridge the longer they last. When you are ready to eat them, just pour a little cream over the top and salt/pepper them to taste.

It is so good you won't believe it!

Saturday, August 08, 2009


The Barracuda was born incredibly late (20 days) and having aspirated dirty fluid he was bluish-purple from lack of oxygen. After a few rounds of antibiotics this was no big deal. However, now anytime he even remotely gets sick, he begins to cough and wheeze. This is one of those secret parent things you just know about your kid. Well, a couple of days ago The Barracuda started coughing a bit. Parental Spidey-senses began to go off when the coughing didn't stop after about two days and was specifically strong when he began to get tired. Sick was coming.

Only, he didn't get sick. Nothing really happened other than this weird little cough. More parental-Spidey senses started flaring. This was weird. Thursday it became apparent what was going on. The Barracuda's right eye was getting weepy. Weepy then turned into goopy. Goopy then turned into completely gross. He has conjunctivitis, commonly known as Pink Eye. Pink eye can mean lots of things, but mainly the lining of the eye lids gets infected with either a viral or bacterial infection. This causes the red, itchy, sore eyes along with tearing and goopiness.

My mother completely freaked out when I got pink eye as a child. She equally freaked out when my brother got it a year or so later. Jules never got pink eye due to the extent his parents freaked out when anyone in the neighborhood or anyone three neighborhoods around them got pink eye. Trying desperately to learn from some of our parents' behaviors, Jules and I proceeded calmly to Safeway for some eye drops.

This morning I searched the Internet, in further attempts to not freak out, and found that Pink eye is incredibly common in children. In fact, it is no reason to freak out at all. Most conjunctivitis goes away by itself after 5-10 days. Pheew! If you catch it early, it is relatively easy to take care of and doesn't get very bad.

However, it is obnoxiously contagious (and down right disgusting). We are going to be doing at least one load of laundry every day or two. You get to wash EVERYTHING that comes into contact with the child (or adult's) face. Washcloths, pillowcases, blankets, clothes....everything. Equally wonderful to this task is that if one child gets it the parents, siblings, and friends of the child will probably get it too. No school or playground for The Barracuda.

Not being doctor people, it was off to the herbal store for a little VooDoo medicine and some Eyebright (Orobanchaceae Euphrasia). Just as it sounds, Eyebright is used to help with most any conditions of the eye. Most herbalists consider it to be the best eye relief out there. It stimulates the liver to detoxify and cool inflammations. It can also be used to help with the effects of allergies and hay fever. It is most useful when taken internally, and brewed as a tea. Combine 1/2 ounce of dried Eyebright with 1 pint of water. Steep for twenty minutes and drink. By combining it with a little honey the taste is less severe. Drink the tea liberally for a few days to relieve most any eye problems.Eyebright also makes a great eyewash externally for sties, conjunctivitis, or other eye sores. To make this combine 1 ounce of Eyebright for every pint of water and steep for twenty minutes. Soak a washcloth and place directly over eyes for five to ten minutes. It can also be used like drops, but be sure to cool it completely!
Information acquired from

As for the Barracuda, we aren't going to do any compresses for him. Asking him to sit with a towel over his eyes for five complete minutes without touching or wiggling is just ridiculous. Childrens' Eyebright can be found at most any natural market place. We picked up some concentrate for The Barracuda because it usually tastes better and we are trying our best to have him not fight medicine. As he gets older and can better understand why he is taking it, the taste can become a little less sugar-filled. A few drops of concentrate in a shot glass with some juice or water and he is good to go. This he has no problem with, especially if we use a fancy shot glass of his dad's and make him feel very adult about the medicine he gets to take. That's right, we are not above coersion!

The Barracuda's eye isn't red, itchy, or sore. Mainly it is just gross. With frequent washings and a few doses of Eyebright, along with drops, he is doing just fine.

Warning: In some cases, Pink Eye can cause blindness and other really, really bad things, but you have to ignore it (and its worsening) for 2 weeks to a month. If your condition is worsening or you are experiencing any pain, loss or blurry vision, or it is just plain getting bad go to the doctor. Polysporin drops can only be prescribed but will clear the condition fast. As Jules said, "If you ignore how disgusting your eye is for a month, you kinda deserve to go blind."

Update: Both Jules and I started to feel as though our eyes were "sandy" about six days after The Barracuda become full blown disgusting. Like with most herbal remedies, catching it early made all the difference. We jumped right on Eyebright drops for both of us and nothing developed. Jules' didn't even have to miss a day of work (though his principal kept quite a good watch on him).

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Visiting Family

Jules' is an incredible Daddy. He never planned on having children of his own and he still doesn't want any more. Regardless, he has fallen in love with the Spicy Barracuda and is the only father Barracuda has ever known. Around our household I have begun to overlook all the ways the two of them have been getting closer. Watching The Barracuda be inculturated into the world of males is quite the experience. There is so much I wouldn't have been able to show him as a single mom; so much I never even realized. This newly forming bond has never been so apparent to me as when we went to Georgia this last couple of weeks.

We go to Georgia every year to visit Jules' people. He moved here a few years ago and left his previous life, family, friends behind. This was the first time The Barracuda came and the first time any of Jules' family had seen him be a dad. From the initial plane rides (at 6'4" Jules' legs need a layover!) it was apparent that The Barracuda had decided his dad was where all the fun was at.

One of the neatest things we happened upon was the Georgia Mountain Fair. This is an old world fair where people come to demonstrate old skills which have been lost. There was soap making, shingling with a froe, apple cider presses, smoke houses, a corn shucker, and all sorts of neat stuff. The Barracuda didn't care much about those however... There were rides!

He remembered caramel apples from Charolette's Web and just couldn't wait to have one!

The Georgia Mountain fair is so named because it occurs in the northern parts of Georgia, right up in the Appalachians. After graduating from high school Jules thru-hiked the entire Appalachian Trail by himself. He knows these mountains well. So every day we took The Barracuda out on a hike. Hiking also meant climbing trees, learning outdoor ethics, and greatest of all for every boy: peeing outside!

There were waterfalls at the ends of most hikes so we could play in the water. You can't play in the water here because it is just too dang cold! The novelty of actually getting to stand at the base of a waterfall in the pools was quite a delight. Jules also showed the Barracuda the important boyhood skill of rock skipping and the splashing of girls (Mommy) to show your affections. Teaching The Barracuda appreciation and reverence for nature is an essential part of parenting for both Jules and I. This trip did a lot in furthering that education.

After visiting Jules' parents it was off to visit Uncle Campie. Uncle Campie has known Jules since they were in high school together and has two young boys of his own. There was much fun to be had in a household of three boys and two adult boy fathers. The testosterone was thick! Mainly this meant video games and Legos. There were other great moments as well. One large water balloon fight which entailed squeals of delight, driving lessons with the boys' Mustang Power Wheel, and lots of playing on the outside fort. It was nice to relax and let the boys all play together in a working, family household. (Sometimes I forget everyone doesn't have children and two jobs to juggle.) There is just so much I am thankful for Jules bringing into my life with the Barracuda. There is so much about being a boy I wouldn't begin to know how to explain, so much I wouldn't even know I should explain, so much that was evident in watching Jules with his best friend playing with their children.

Down to Atlanta we then drove The Mini-Van of Doom! There were more friends to visit. Jules has a long time friend who is actually a mild-mannered, incredibly awesome Grandma by day and moonlights as a hardcore biker. She rocks and gave the Barracuda a ride on the back of her bike; helmet, vest, and all. It was definitely the highlight of his entire trip! Jules and I thought it was pretty rad as well.At this point we were pretty sure that Barracuda wasn't going to want to go home at all. Georgia had become the land of sugar cereal, laser light shows and fairs, Powerwheels and motorcycles, cousins to play with, video games and Legos. Georgia was just plain cooler than home.

For our last visit we completed our loop returning to the mountains. Nestled in rural acreage, we relaxed further into the company of old friends and an even older farm house. There is so much out in the country of Georgia that isn't in the city here at home. You can hear bullfrogs at night, the ground hogs come out to scuttle around at dusk, and the cicadas play all night long. Perhaps the most magical however, are the fire flies. Every night they rise out of the grasses and begin their blinking glow. It is as though burning embers are being blown through the meadows. There is nothing even close to compare it to at home. Much time was spent on the back porch, talking in the warm night, and watching the fire flies.

All in all, Georgia was quite a success. The Barracuda was lured home with the faint memory of his beloved Guadalupe. Jules and I were lured home with the all to familiar memories of home. As enchanting as the trip was, fireflies and all, it is no match for sleeping in your own bed in your own house. We breathed a collective sigh as we boarded our final plane home, and though we returned in the middle of heat wave, were very happy to have the vacationing over once again for another year.