Five

1. Exercise.

I go to free exercise classes twice a week at Mark’s school’s fitness center; one of the perks of him working there. Shaina, the director, whose classes I like the best / find most challenging and effective, has just announced that she’s leaving in May to start her own studio. Must be exciting for her — but I’m seriously bummed (pun perhaps intended) and wondering what all will change.

2. Garden.

I’ve started planting in the garden, and need to start hardening off some seedlings, and planting more, and starting more. And looking for sprouts under the mulch where I’ve planted. I’ve moved the hydrangea and removed the irises that were taking up space in the garden.

I bought new fencing material — chicken wire and u-posts — and want to get the fence up as soon as possible, before there are delicious things for the rabbits to desire. First, though, I want to square up the garden and am not quite sure how. I’m guessing I’ll first measure what seems to be the longest side, and work out from there. I need to figure out how to brace the corners (I’ve learned about the diagonal wire and a stick of wood to tighten it, but not sure what to use (if anything) for the horizontal brace) and decide where I want to put the fake gate (loose piece of chicken wire tacked to a vertical board, hooked or tied to a u-post to close the gate). And I’ll need Mark’s help to put up the new fence.

3. Hands.

My hands are hurting a little again — noticing especially left wrist and the inner crease of the thumb, and a little on the right hand especially using the iron. It could be that the digging and such I’ve been doing in the garden, and perhaps especially the hauling of wet straw bales (with help, but still), has aggravated the situation. It could also be a week of hormonal shift that sometimes seems to increase hypermobility. Regardless, I need to take a break from knitting and even, sadly, working on the quilt, which I didn’t think would be as hard on my hands as knitting. I need to get off the computer, too. And not nap excessively. Of course I’m getting back to the neglected stretches and massage, and once the pain is gone I’ll (try) to get back to the strengthening exercises.

4. Listening.

The little voice that cries “Meaningless!” has been speaking up a little lately. I know enough now that it doesn’t bother me unduly; it’s “just” a sign I need to rest more, waste less time, invest less energy in willfulness, cultivate gratitude, seek God, speak truth to myself, play with Amy more. The approaching end of Mark’s and Amy’s spring breaks might be a factor; transitions are traditionally sort of disconcerting or disruptive.

5. Grain.

On Thursday, I started a jar of sunflower seeds and a jar of wheat for sprouting. The sunflower seeds shed their skins and half of them float. No other activity. The wheat seems to be maybe 30-40% sprouting, but very slow to grow, and some of the sprouts seem to have broken off. I’ll wait another day or two, and after that just use them in some bread regardless.

Today Mark watched Fathead on his computer. It’s a movie made by a guy who wanted to refute various things from Supersize Me. For one thing, the Fathead guy argues that the lipid hypothesis — the idea that saturated fats and cholesterol are responsible for heart disease — is incorrect. Animal fats and palm and coconut oils are not unhealthy; rancid heat-processed and especially hydrogenated vegetable oils are. He also talks about grains… I forget what Mark told me he said, though, but it was along the same lines as what the Weston Price people and the primal / paleo people say — that whole grains are difficult on bodies, at least the way we conventionally do them. Maybe I’ll have to watch it myself while I’m resting my hands.

Educational philosophy; and gardens

The Atlantic has published these two articles — one supporting school garden programs, and one criticizing them.

The critical article raises a few good points.

First, we need to be aware of the influence of even moderate affluence and the choices it affords. While I agree with the food movement that cheap food is artificially cheap as well as artificially food, and that good real food is worth a good price, it’s also true that it can be difficult to afford to eat well, especially when the cheap food is so readily available, when we’re used to eating a lot of certain things, and when our palate can’t tell the difference between the real thing and its cheaper alternative, or prefers the agribusiness stuff we’ve grown up with. (I’m dismayed, for example, at how much I disliked my first taste of raw milk and butter.)

The food movement people can indeed seem too strident in their zeal; stridency is nearly always off-putting, even from organizations or people one agrees with.

Second, it’s a good idea to make sure that any school program does not — intentionally or unintentionally — perpetuate or worsen problems for struggling groups. The critic asks us to consider whether a migrant worker would prefer his child to “labor” in the school garden or to learn the skills and knowledge necessary for college. (I have no experience with migrant workers; I can imagine one furious with the school about the garden program, and I can imagine one appreciating the school putting value on such work…)

And yet, there’s something off about the critical article, for me. And I think it comes down to educational philosophy.

The critic seems to be of the “core knowledge” school of thought. That academic learning trumps all other learning, that college is the pinnacle we want all students to reach for, and that when students are struggling with academics, the answer is pounding and pounding more academics.

Blurts:

1) What would happen if everyone went to college, and graduated with a good degree? Who would make your sneakers? Who would grow your grapes? How much unemployment would there be, with so many overqualified people, so few “higher” jobs? Not everyone can be at “the top.”

I’m not advocating a Brave New World approach of fitting people for jobs from childhood or discouraging anyone from college or whatever career they so desire. I’m just saying that perhaps part of the problem is how much we have devalued almost everything but academic success. Maybe part of the answer is making grape-growing and sneaker-making safer, more lucrative, more artisanal / less sweat-shoppy, and most of all, more highly valued. Make “the top” a lot broader and more inclusive.

2) To me it seems patently obvious that brute force or willpower does not overcome an academic problem. When I find that I’m working ineffectively, the worst response is to try harder to be more effective. The best response is to take a break, do something relaxing, something completely different. When I come back to the original task, I’m often fresh and start making good progress again.

In the same way, cutting out “extra” programs such as physical education, the arts, field trips, or gardening, and replacing them with yet more worksheets and lectures and study, is not likely to succeed. Work smarter, not harder — don’t do the same thing over and over and expect different results.

3) I used to see a fair bit of merit in the core knowledge educational philosophy. I find that I’ve moved farther and farther from it since I first studied such things in grad school. (It shouldn’t surprise me that I find unschooling and other less-structured, more student-led homeschooling approaches more appealing than core knowledge / classical / school-at-home approaches.) I was fiercely pro-liberal arts in college, and still am. I am not employed in the fields of linguistics, English, mathematics, or high school teaching, nor any of the electives I also studied in college and grad school, and yet I don’t regret a minute of my studies. (There, again, we have the influence of affluence; would I say the same if I’d paid for college myself?)

4) Education is not the panacea some folks think it is. It’s true that when people don’t know something, teaching them gives them a new tool for their toolbox. But teaching them won’t automatically result in them using that tool, or for the desired purpose.

Kale skillet

A surprisingly delicious lunch, for someone who does NOT generally like greens (except spinach and lettuces and cabbage; I don’t like collards and the like). I had some kale from the garden, some leftover ham and sweet potato circles from last night’s dinner, and some frozen corn. My first thought was just to saute the kale in a bit of butter and bacon grease with sesame seeds. Then I decided to add the corn — and then the ham and sweet potatoes. I drizzled on some honey, and just a spritz of cinnamon.

The verdict? I can enjoy kale just fine in the right combination — it’s when it’s alone that I most dislike it.

(And yes, that’s some homemade honey oat-wheat bread with sunflower seeds, spread with homemade apple butter. Mmmm.)

Pickle

Several years ago, soon after reading Nourishing Traditions the first time, I tried some lacto-fermenting. I’m not sure what all went wrong, but the salsa was too salty and the pickles were both mushy and somewhat carbonated.

This year, I tried again, partly due to a new friend who is interested in such things (although he never got around to it this summer, perhaps because of a new job and new property and a baby and stuff like that).

So — I had six cucumbers from our garden, which I thought would fill two jars, so I planned on one jar with whey and one without. My first attempt used whey, and some bloggers I’ve read prefer the taste of whey-less pickles, so I thought it would be interesting to compare.

Both jars had

3 cloves of garlic, peeled and bruised
3 black peppercorns
1 1/2 t mustard seed
2 T fresh dill from the garden
9-10 fresh sour cherry leaves from the yard (they’re spotted… I’m hoping whatever made the spots won’t spoil the pickles; sour cherry, oak, grape, and horseradish leaves are all supposed to help the pickles get and stay crisp)

Then I packed in the sliced cucumbers — after they’d soaked in ice water for about six hours.

One jar got a cup of filtered water mixed with 1 T sea salt and 3 T whey dripped from plain store yogurt (the thick yogurt left after dripping was seriously yummy with sliced peaches and maple syrup for lunch).

The other jar got a cup of filtered water mixed with 2 T sea salt.

And I still had two cucumbers left, so I washed another jar and decided to try the dry-pack method. I mixed the slices with sea salt in a bowl and then packed the jar. Simple enough — and there’s already liquid collecting at the bottom of the jar. (I just realized that they weighed one pound, not two, which means I put in double the salt — oops! I wonder what will happen…)

To weigh down the pickles in each jar, keeping them submerged, I used boiled glass gems (found with aquarium accessories in the pet supply aisle) tied in cheesecloth (found with the varnish; yeah).

I cobbled together information from these three sites; thanks, y’all.