Friday, October 15, 2010

What a difference a year makes, in some things at least

We'd already had at least one big snowstorm this time last October, but this year's fall is looking to be on the mild side, if the squirrels, prairie dogs and national weather service can be believed. (The latter has issued a forecast that the fall is likely to have above normal temps, the former two haven't packed on the ounces in the astonishing way they did last fall.)

So no frosts yet -- peppers, raspberries and tomatoes still ripening, basil chugging along, though the whiteflies are getting to it. We got a satisfying amount of food out of the yard this summer and I'm happy with how much I've preserved, either as jams, jellies and pickles, or dehydrated and then vacuum sealed in jars, or in the freezers, which are full to bursting.

It's been a frustrating year and a few weeks on the health front; I really haven't gotten back to normal and wonder if I ever will. I have stretches of normal energy and activity, thank god, and sometimes they outnumber the cruddy days, so we still had a fun summer with a 100th birthday celebration for Great Grandma Shirley in Pennsylvania, a trip to Grandma Judith's Iowa farm, our annual Buckhorn Retreat in the mountains with our fellow Unitarians and tubing on the Poudre River in town. Steve's leapt in to do numerous projects with the kids, from fishing outings with Willow to building toys and structures with Harrison.

The latest health theory, which feels right to me, from my naturopath, is that the virus I picked up last fall went deep into my liver and is hanging out there, flaring up whenever I push myself too much or get too stressed. I can feel it there actually when it flares up, which it's doing again this week. We're on a third set of supplements to try to knock it back. In my search to feel well, I've undertaken a series of rolfing/structural integration bodywork with a highly recommended practitioner in town. She's also an energy worker and has combined the two modalities on me, which has been fascinating. I'm not, by nature, super attuned to energies and more subtle modalities, though I'd like to be. Experiencing emotional releases during some of this work has been eye-opening, to say the least.

I remain hopeful that I can kick this virus and return to a more stable level of health, so that I can experience the impending wonders of peri-menopause with a bit more ease. (I'm reading a fascinating book by master herbalist Susun Weed about menopause as the death of the maiden/mother stage and the flowering of the wise woman/crone. I can't say I feel in the least bit like I'm ready for the crone title, but I do like the idea of becoming a Wise Woman.)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Medieval fair fun

Yesterday was the first day of the Colorado Medieval Festival, an annual weekend that we look forward to every year. Harry, in particular this year, counted down the weeks to it. We had a lovely time at the fair. Harry was knighted, and got to practice his courtly bows as he returned a lost play sword to another young knight; Willow got to discover that her shyness is abating as she was called up on stage to assist a magician/comedian with his act. We visited with various vendors and craftspeople, listened to lovely a cappella performances and picnicked on the shore of the county park lake.

The only thing to mar this lovely experience happened today, as we were getting ready to head out to a movie that Steve wanted to see, "The Secret of Kells." *Just* as I was walking out the door, I saw that Harry's beloved fox tail, one of two purchases he had been saving for over several months, was shredded to bits on the bedroom floor. It seems Sunny had gotten on top of Harry's dresser via the bed and dragged it out of a not quite closed top drawer. He was devastated as only an 8-year-old who had "totally bonded" to his new tail could be. Steve, bless him, is willingly driving back to the Fair right now to see if the vendor might still have some tails in stock, and we're hoping to make the evening showing of Kells when he returns. What a wonderful father he is!

Some beautiful kids in their medieval garb.

A picnic of bread and cheese on the banks of the lake.

This is Harry, showing appropriate respect for his new dagger. The ill-fated fox tail is at his waist.

Willow's debut as a magician's assistant. She really enjoyed herself!

Local color.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Garden photos from the beginning of June

I uploaded these to Facebook, but thought I'd post em here as well. I'm thrilled with how well my starts grew and that this entire garden, with the exception of two cuke plants, was grown from seed. Even adding seven beds this year (well, four beds are in the general area of a sprawly corn patch we had last year, but now they're raised and sided and amended more thoroughly), I still want more space to plant. We'll see what I'm saying come harvest and preservation time!
A new sideyard tomato and leek bed.

Zen crept under the bird netting, got bored waiting for thieving robins, and decided to take a bath.

The seedlings that didn't find a place in the beds! Some gardening friends have asked to adopt, so they'll get a home after all.

Suburb fresh eggs!

These are homemade versions of Earthboxes, the self-watering, self-fertilizing containers that are supposed to multiply yields dramatically. I've planted peppers in these two and cukes in a third and will compare yields to the plants in my raised beds.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sprrrringtime in the Rrrrrrrockies!

(With a fond nod to an African Gray Parrot in the old bird show at the San Diego Wild Animal Park who used to trill the song...)

Late March and all is well here. The sun is strong and melts the snows more quickly, which is how you can tell it's spring as opposed to winter. ;) Actually the days have warmed up considerably and I've been in shorts a few times (school kids on the playground were begging the monitors for sunglasses to protect them from the glare, but I just ignored them.)

I'm also discovering that I can plant cool-season seeds now and their seedlings do just fine under the snow, as do pansies in flower, so my gardening jones is fed. Steve's helping me dig and build new beds and I'm picking up up a truckload of mushroom compost the first week in April, so I'm a happy farmer girl. I'm tending onion sprouts (an experiment -- I know onion sets are inexpensive and a big head start on the season, but I wanted to see if I could grow them from seeds), as well as tomatoes, broccoli and peppers sprouts, and I have a few pots of cantaloupe seeds clustered by the woodstove to jumpstart germination. Willow has planted a bunch of flower seeds in pots, for she wants a flower garden this year. And I have about 30 new strawberry plants that I potted up from bare root and they are already flowering! I'll put them in one of the new beds in another week or two. Oh, and I have seed potatoes ready to plant and I've been cleaning up the raspberry patch and replanting emerging shoots that are coming up in the walkway, so the patch is expanding, for free! Even though the snows continue and so will the frosts for another six weeks, you really can start gardening/farming anyway.

Nexus is still chugging along, despite the economy, which is good. Steve is courting his creative muse and really enjoying the projects she suggests to him. He has build a small letter press from scratch, and a light exposure box to create plates and has been immersed in creating his own letter-press artwork. He's also found an antique letterpress in need of much rehabilitation that he's going to buy. He's working up quirky art to sell on Etsy, either as prints or t-shirts.

Willow seems to be sticking with her new name and she's had her own creative blossoming, with new styles and medium for her artwork, as well as venturing into animation and continuing her creative writing. Harry's found a new homeschooled friend in town who plays on the same Lego-inspired online building game and they talk on the phone or on Skype as they play together. We've had many fun playdates with best friend Luke, another unschooler, and even hit a parkday down with the Boulder unschooling group (where Harry left his boots, ensuring that we will need to return soon to retrieve them from the Mom who picked them up for us.)

Harry and Steve went to the local homeschool group's tour of the engineering department at Colo State University here in town, where the dean of the school asked how many 50-pound kids would it take to equal the 150,000 pounds of pressure a piece of equipment was exerting on a segment of concrete in the materials lab, then told the homeschooler who correctly answered that he was wrong and gave a botched answer himself. He undoubtedly was thinking the equipment was exerting a different pressure than it was, but there was no opportunity to correct him as he barrelled on in his talk. How many times does that happen in a classroom every day, I wonder? We all make mistakes, of course, but the authority figure who brooks no questioning is not conducive to unfettered learning.

In other domestic news (that is my world, pretty much, at the moment), the chickens are laying really well, which is a relief to me. I was afraid they'd slow down dramatically and I'd have to either carry them as noisy lawn ornaments for the next five years or consider culling them. We got our kitty spayed yesterday, and she's napping on my lap as I type. She lost her purr for about half a day, but she's feeling better now. What an absolute love she is.

I'll update with photos of the garden as we finish the beds and get more planted. Happy Spring!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Looking forward to our utility bills

Steve and I wait with avid curiosity for each month's utility bill. Since we (the marital we, of course) installed the wood stove in early November, we've been running it every day, with gleaned wood from Craigslist, windfelled trees in the neighborhood and scrap wood from our friendly lumber and millwork shop.

The woodstove keeps the upper story of the house at a reasonable 61-70 daytime degrees depending on the outside temperature (-10 to 45 degrees has been the range this winter) and the upper room in which it resides gets downright toasty.

Our first gas and electric bill was a big disappointment at $150, but closer inspection indicated that the company had only estimated our useage. The following month was $80, as they had to essentially credit us for overestimating, and in January, despite the average temperature being six degrees lower than last year, we used 50 percent less gas and 15 percent less electricity for a total bill of $112.

As the winter has progressed, I've gradually ratcheted down the nighttime thermostat, which is now at 55 degrees and is really quite tolerable, as long as you spend the first hour or two of the day in the upper room while the woodstove does its thing.

Steve figures that the vast piles of beetle-kill pine in the mountains will be a source of free firewood for several years to come, with pallets and lumberscraps to fill in the BTU gap. Eventually, we may find it hard to scrounge free wood, but I think we will have paid off the investement in the stove by then and will still be coming out ahead of the cost of heating. Not to mention the lovely heat the stove gives off, which makes the depths of winter feel cozy and charming, instead of chilly and frightening. And Maddie's had much fewer nosebleeds since we stopped running the furnace heat so much.

All in all, I think it's been one of the most successful changes we've made to the house. (I love the chickens, but we've spent more on them than we've gotten in eggs, even at $5 a dozen from the free-rangers at our dairy. But as they are half-pets, half-sustainability exercise, I will always cut them slack.)

Adventures in health care

I am very, very happy to report that I've finally discovered what's been making me sick lo these many months and I'm feeling dramatically better. I think I really did start out with a virus that wouldn't go away, and which the acupuncturist helped clear (I should write to him and let him know, as he fired me several weeks ago and sent me back to Western medicine. I'm sure he'd like to know the final outcome and that he did likely play a role in my improving.)

At some point, possibly aggravated by some bitter chinese herbs I was drinking at bedtime, I developed a pretty good case of acid reflux, the symptoms of which I either minimized or mis-attributed -- some felt like anxiety, some felt like the cough and lung inflammation of the earlier virus.

After $600 of blood work, lung x-rays, EKGs, lung function tests and urinalyses at the friendly, affordable urgent care place and a cardiologist consult ($280 for 10 minutes with the nurse and 10 minutes with the nice young cardiologist-- nothing like having your doctor looking like a college student to make you feel middle aged), I finally decided to go to a family practitioner, who listened interestedly, suggested I might have GERD and asked if I'd be willing to take an acid inhibitor for 10 days and see if I felt better. At home that evening I was utterly chagrinned to notice how obvious the symptoms were, once she'd suggested it.

So, I'm back to walking for exercise and more vigorous housecleaning and building up my stamina and if the roads would stay clear I'd start biking to errands again. The bed's propped up on several volumes of the encyclopedia I thought that we were least likely to reference until alternate blocking can be arranged, and I'll have to research and test out the best diet for me (apparently triggers can be different for everyone and will have to be tested once I'm off the meds).

I find it interesting that the urgent care clinic folks, apparently trained to eliminate the worst case scenarios first, uncovered a heart arhythmia (increasingly common in people as the decades accrete and harmless in and of itself, but potentially dangerous if heart disease is present) that they wanted to pursue with thousands of dollars of cardio stress tests just to be sure it was benign. Had I not found relief with the GERD avenue, I would have pursued the tests, but without health insurance or a family history of early heart disease or alarming cholesterol readings, I can't justify the expense.

I see, in my experience, several contributors to the high cost of health-care in our country. When we first moved here, I actually called this doctor's office to get an appointment and after hearing we were self-pay, the scheduler directed me to the urgent care clinic. Having been rebuffed as a new patient at another recommended doctor's office after being asked only two questions -- who referred you and who's your insurance provider -- I was beginning to think that physicians were unwilling to see self-pay clients. So I ended up getting treatment from the urgent care place, which worked fairly well, except for the worst-case-scenario glasses they wear, which ended up costing me a lot of money. If I'd had health insurance, I'm sure I'd have gone forward with the expensive cardio tests and found out I'm just fine, at a cost to the system of thousands of dollars.

I also spent hundreds of dollars at the acupuncturist, which probably helped but I can't swear to it (the only absolute example of the effectiveness of acupuncture I've had is the clearing up of my prolapse in Harry's pregnancy; that was dramatic and irrefutable and it's what draws me back to Chinese medicine when I can't find solutions in Western medicine, for better or for worse.)

All in all, an expensive but interesting experience and I'm tremendously grateful to feel mostly well again.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Facebook killed the blog

The story of a New Year, compounded by the idea of a New Decade, has me energized to pick up old projects and new. Facebook, for all its intriguing tidbits, leaves me hungry for more substantial news from family and friends, I notice.

Looking back, the fall seems like a huge washout for me. Between the snows and cold that began in October and never looked back, and the virus I picked up about the same time as the first snow, I had a season of enforced rest -- gardens under snow, immune system under attack. I still have the virus, but I'm getting better about not over-reaching with my activities and when I do overreach, the setbacks are less unpleasant. I hope to kick it completely in the next month or so. I notice a pronounced improvement with the acupuncture and Chinese herbs (It was also tremendously helpful to hear from the acupuncturist that other people have the same virus this fall. The physician's assistant who could only suggest a lung x-ray and heart tests was freaking me out.)

In the meanwhile, I can putter about and organize closets, start some flowers under grow lights and do various projects and games with the kids. Maddie's on a math kick, at the moment, Harry's working on spelling and the kids have both been having fun with codes and secret messages. Maddie's planning submissions for an art contest the city is having. We're attending this cool acrobatic dance performance later this month, so there's still plenty to do, should the weather continue to be frigid.

We had a lovely visit to Fallbrook just after Christmas, it was wonderful to lounge at my folk's house and take advantage of the sun and their hospitality, with some trips to the zoo, Legoland and the resort pool to which they belong. We got to visit with a few of the folks we miss, but not enough. I kept crashing after outings and having to sleep the next day to fend off feeling cruddy. It was tough tearing ourselves away from the 70-degree weather, but we had a fun return ride, listening to Garth Nix's Keys to the Kingdom series and staying at a hotel with pool in Provo. And it felt right to get home and fire up the woodstove again. What a game-changer that stove has been, turning winter from scary to cozy!

The chickens have been taking the winter weather with much more aplomb than I (but what's new? Maddie's New Year's resolution was to be more like a cat. I could stand to be more like pretty much any animal, taking what comes with aplomb and saving one's energy for when it's actually useful.) I moved them into the garage for a couple of sub-zero nights but they're back in their coop, regrowing feathers from their molt and generally on their way to handsome hen-ness once again. And they've started laying some eggs again!

Maddie wants her own room for her birthday, so much rearranging and decluttering to do, which is a perfect New Year Project. I'm inspired to do some painting and other nesting projects, which I'll take slowly but am looking forward to (what I really want to do is tear out kitchen counters and backsplash, which are way overdue for replacement, but I'll have to see if Steve is up for it -- it's more work than I can take on at the moment, not to mention my lack of skillset.)

Hope all of you are feeling energized and happy and looking forward to the year. I have a completely unsupported and mysterious sense of optimism about 2010 -- all that I read points to an economy under massive and irreversable strain, but like the Aughts, the decade in macro may have been horribly traumatic, but in the personal, we had a wonderful time raising kids and expanding ourselves through our own learning. So 2010 could well be a wonderful year for us, regardless of what happens in the story of the world at large. I hope it is for everyone.