Friday, October 28, 2011

Weekend Links : The Alphabet

The alphabet, she inspires me.
And even though I have a leg up in that department, here are a few prime ways for everyone to have fun with all 26 letters.

Small fabric scraps can be used make a fabric alphabet, which is not only a fun learning toy (I love these big letters for toddlers, or smaller, magnetic ones for new spellers), but the letters can also be clipped to a ribbon and used for a birthday banner or bedroom name bunting.

You could also make a leaf alphabet. It's just about the perfect craft right now if you live somewhere with changing leaves. I have always appreciated creative alphabet books, and this project reminds me of Eric Carle.

Another thing that might be fun to attempt on your own, Garret Steider created a food alphabet, with prints available to decorate your kitchen and entertain your guests.

If you aren't in a crafty mood, but would still love to decorate with letters, whip out the cardstock and try these well designed free printables!

Finally, this fantastic alphabet montage might just shoot creativity straight into your mind.

More alphabet fun:
homemade alphabet pretzels 
 food alphabet on etsy
animal alphabet on etsy
whimsical German alphabet on etsy

(And if you're in the mood for reminiscing, why not watch everyone's favorite giant yellow bird being ridiculous? If you didn't watch Sesame Street as a child, this video is a very important part of your cultural education.)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fall Gardening in the Land of Ever Growth


I told you about the Indian peppers already.

But they are not the only thing growing while we slack off on our tending. You see, gardening in the
"fall" here is a little different than gardening in Wisconsin in the fall.
Our pumpkins and other squashes were planted relatively recently, as were the root vegetables, because 
the weather was just too hot for them earlier. However, the exotics we chose are still growing with delight.


Beautiful, no?
We planted a row of these plants by the name of Thai Roselle for their flowers, and each plant turned into
a gigantic bush taller than us in all directions. The dried flowers are often known in tea as hibiscus (not the
same as the ornamental hibiscus) and turn herbal teas--like Tazo Passion, and Celestial Seasonings
Raspberry Zinger--purple and tangy. Well, all summer the flowers fell off, and we figured we would never
have a use for the giant bushes. But one day, a friend of ours from India noticed the plant and told us how
excited she was to see that we were growing gongura. 
And now that we have been taught to concoct Indian chutneys out of these tangy leaves we are pretty excited too.
However, with the cold nights we have been having, the flowers are finally persisting to maturity.


And these leaves?


Okra. A local favorite.
These were our first five, and we fried them up for a crunchy cornmeal dinner. But, I do have a very good
 recipe for something more interesting (and spicier) to do with okra that I will be sharing shortly.


Yes, our vegetables are in that pecan tree.
Getting them out was a group effort, as you can see, but getting them in was the work of one man...
I'll let you guess who.
This particular handsome fellow trained our Sweet Honey Sponge Gourds to grow up this particular tree
 because we like to do fun things with our gardening. And having edible gourds hanging higher than a pruner
or fruit picker could reach really was entertaining. 


If you think you're not familiar with sponge gourds you are probably right and wrong. Because, while you
may not have eaten them as a vegetable (like a looser, sweeter echo of a zucchini), you probably have seen
them sold in the bath section by their other name, loofahs. If we let them grow past the young tender eating
stage, they gradually grow more fibrous until they are ready to decompose, and then everything except the
fibers falls away, leaving a spoungey gourd skeleton (which usually needs to be washed, and sometimes left
 to sun bleach).
I have been using one of our grown loofahs instead of a plastic "poofah" lately and I have been quite happy
 with it. Though mine is smaller and has finer fibers than the ones at most stores.


Also in a tree, I found this spider.
I have never seen anything like it before!
I would assume he is well defended from birds.


Out of the trees and into the yard, we have also found crawfish, who like to wander especially after a rain.
And don't worry, we didn't take this one's portrait and then eat him.
He is another creature we set into the wild.
And isn't he just perfect at posing? He didn't even need to be told to look at the camera.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Beneath the Clemson Spineless...a Tiny Turtle.


A couple of months ago, when we were uprooting the old amaranth bed, we found a dozen of what we thought were snake eggs.


We relocated them under the okra, but I forgot...and when I went to plant the spaghetti squash I found this little guy.


The last one to hatch. 
I think the fire ants scarred him a bit, and may have gotten to a sibling or two.


He was groggy, until I put him in the water.
Only a puddle really.
Then he swam like the expert he was born to be.



We set him free.

Thursday, October 6, 2011



I have been staying overnight for field work during nearly all weekdays since August began, so Nathanael and I have been making the most of our weekends. On one of the first weekends in August we decided to drive around a bit and see some of the Acadiana coastal areas. Egrets are everywhere, but we also spotted many Louisiana Herons (above)...and since seeing Herons fly always makes me think of dinosaurs, it was great. We also snuck up on some Roseate Spoonbills (of which I did not snap a picture), and I was very excited to finally see pink birds in person and in the wild!
Flamingos are next I tell you.


Sabine National Wildlife Refuge turned out to be a lovely place to wander, as it is home to marshland creatures galore. Unfortunately, amongst the flying wildlife, mosquitoes were the ones who seemed to mind the 100 °F heat the least, so if you visit, wear long everything. 
(And no, we did not see any alligators, but we know they were around somewhere.)


We had planned to swim when we got to the ocean. 
It is the same Atlantic, technically, the same ocean as the lapping the beaches of New Hampshire, but instead of being hypothermic in the summer the waters are actually quite warm here. Unfortunately, that warmth and the fact that the Missisippi River drains here means all of the beaches have bacterial warning signs... permanently installed (though they have hinges and can be closed if the levels drop).
 Also, the water is brown. 
So now we know why the beaches of Florida and Mississippi are well known and those in Louisiana are not; everything west of where the Mississippi River hits the ocean is virtually unswimable.


But, it's fun to be at the beach anyway. Especially with a friend like this.

If you look carefully, all of those little nubbins on the horizon are oil rigs. (Click for a closer look.)

Apart from wildlife and waters, the structures on the Louisiana coast were also neat to see. A prime example being the Johnson Bayou Library in Cameron Parish.
I love libraries, and this one would have been especially hard to resist if it hadn't been a weekend.


Who wouldn't want to visit a library with a clearance of nine feet and six inches?

Once back to more inhabited areas, we went out for a date of po-boys and followed it up with dessert at this place...


I got a butterfinger malt.
(Nathanael was looking more stylish than me, as usual, but I figured I should put one of me in here somewhere.)

On the weekends that we are home, we do still garden, though things have slowed down a bit.


Our Indian chili peppers have been doing amazingly well, and we've been harvesting 40 to 60 peppers each week from our three plants.


We have also let a few ripen so we can save the seeds for next years crop.
(The ribbon reminded us which ones we were leaving on the plant for seeds.)


The Zinnias are still growing nicely, and some of them are this unbelievably brilliant orange color that you probably thought was some kind of photo editing mistake...but no, that's really what they look like.
The Zinnia plants have mixed with the weeds in the front of our garden and created what is pretty much a meadow facade covering a giant mass of underground kamikaze soldiers. Nathanael still risks his ankles and picks the flowers for me though.


He also makes me doughnuts.



Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Music of the Vegetables

Last week while I was writing about goat song, I sent Nathanael a video demonstrating yodeling and told him he should learn take it up. Over the previous few weeks we had been discussing how a banjo would suit his persona nicely, and I always associate the two; banjos and yodeling.

   As you know, on YouTube, one thing leads to another, and by the time I got home the next day he was learning a couple of methods of Mongolian Throat Singing. I had heard bits of throat singing recordings in the past, and even a few that a friend had recorded in Tuva, but I had never recognized the amazing overtones (whistling type sound) that can be created. And even though Nathanael had only had one day of practice, his demonstration for me produced the same reaction I had the first time I had heard yodeling: giggling. (Despite the variety of wonderful videos on the internet, there really is nothing like hearing these things in person...thus the laughter with glee.)

    For some reason I had also assumed that only guys had the ability to throat sing, but woman (in Mongolia and elsewhere) can, and do throat sing. This video is a good example of both a woman throat singing, and a good example of the overtone aspect of throat singing, because the familiar song she chose helps you pick out the melody.

   And just as yodeling leads to throat singing, searching through obscure Asian videos of people making music in their living room leads to a man playing vegetables as a musical instruments (heita3).

 It's the next big thing, I assure you.

I want to meet this guy.

I want to shake his hand.

What other musical bits from around the world have I been missing out on? 
Do share.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Goat Song

I have the opportunity to read a good number of books while I am away doing field work. Each week I bring a tall stack of books with me from the library and blast through them at a pace of one every day or two. So, I figured I would mention some of the ones I have enjoyed the most. The first is Goat Song.

Goat Song, by Brad Kessler, was just what I expected it to be, a romanticized snippet of goat farming.
 I thought it was super.
 A mixture of prose about nature, etymology (that’s right, words, not insects), animal companionship, milking, mating (enough to make you giggle), and cheesemaking. Even if you’re not interested in becoming a goat farmer, it is a pleasurably restful book to read. Bits of knowledge just waft off the page like steam from a warm cup of tea. I read it between batches of paperwork, I read it in a recliner, I read it by the pool, and in all of those places I felt neither a hurry to finish it, nor any boredom, just gladness that there was still more of it to read.
One of my favorite sections of the book was the author’s discussion of the word Pastoral and how it used to refer to the poetry and songs written by herders--songs often sang only for the livestock. I also learned about the different varieties of “singing” used in different cultures to get the attention of goat herds. Yodeling and kulning being two examples of high vocalizations to which all kinds of animals are more attentive. (This is where you go look kulning up on YouTube for a while...I'll be here when you get back).

Another of my favorite of Kessler's discussions is best summed up by this quote he used from the naturalist Henry Beston,
"We need another and a wiser and perhaps more mystical concept of animals. In a world older and more complete than ours they moved finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the sense we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time."  

 I think I appreciated it so much because I have been thinking about all of the things we don't know about the world around us. Just as when we meet a new person we can’t know their story just by looking at them, we really will never know how birds perceive the world, or whether the cows think we’re silly, or whether elephants pass down history. And I can’t help but wondering whenever I hear people looking for intelligent life in outer space (wondering why they are, that is). Not because I don’t think there is any, but because there is so much mystery right here, and just because the goats and raccoons aren’t communicating to us with radio signals doesn’t mean we have figured out what makes them tick. God has breathed life into all that breathe...I just wonder what it is like to be a goat or bird or zebra.

But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;  
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,    
or let the fish in the sea inform you. 
Which of all these does not know    
that the hand of the LORD has done this? 
In his hand is the life of every creature    
and the breath of all mankind.

Job 12:7-10

From my field work
(nothing to do with the field work, or with goats, just a fascinating little creature).

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Hardest Part of My Job is Remembering All of the Acronyms

The summer that has passed feels like both an entire year and only few days, depending on how I think about it. Of all of the summer adventures, the most significant was starting my job as an environmental scientist.
     It began with two days of training to detail how the company is structured and the different safety standards in place, and has continued with bits and pieces (and large chunks) of training ever since. As it turns out, working for an environmental consulting firm means you have to be familiarized with--and certified in--a lot of areas, and even cleared with homeland security.

Among other courses this summer, I took the 40 HAZWOPER (HAardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response) course.

Here I am in HAZWOPER training doning type A protective equipment…minus gloves.

Not only did I learn about different chemical hazards, transportation standards, and PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), but I also discovered that the best way for me to remain attentive throughout a day long course is to doodle mehndi type designs. 

After the first day I decided I might as well make cards.

So look out, they may be coming to a mailbox near you.

Though some of the training can be monotonous, it is really nice to know our company puts such a priority on our safety. Also, both on site and within the office my coworkers and my supervisor have been simply splendid. I often feel as though I am on a semester abroad or on an internship because everyone puts in such effort to explain the things I have not encountered before, and is so patient with my shortcomings.

Green 360 cones ensure we inspect our vehicles all the way around before driving away.

For the first couple of months I worked mostly in the office, and now I’ve been working about 2/3 of the time on a particular project out in the field. Initially, my primary task was to do paperwork in our temporary little office. (And between the paperwork I have been reading lots of books, some of which I will later recommend for a post-summer reading list.)

I do paperwork with gloves on, yes siree.

During the more than two months we have been working on this site I have also been learning some about project management, making budgets (BIG budgets) and submitting proposals to clients. As you can see our PPE in this area is pretty basic (no type A suits or Nomex gear), which has been nice considering the heat of up to 102°F (real degrees, not just the “feels like”), though it has for the most part been only 96 or 98°F.

As an additional benefit, we get to see cows…

I wave to  them and say hello every morning.
They really are pleasant. 
If I could I would serenade them like these fellows do.

(Lucy gets the credit for finding this video and knowing how much I would enjoy it.)

The site also has alligators and water moccasins, but the cows are more fun.

So what's been keeping you busy?
What new twists and turns has your life been taking lately?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Oatcake Fiction

    Nathanael and I enjoy reading to each other in the evening while dishes are being washed or pecans being cracked. Most of the time the book captivates us enough that we find other times to read, like having one person brush their teeth at a time, which is one of the current methods as we read Sir Gibbie by George MacDonald. It is best if there is some activity going on, because if we choose to read while just sitting, especially before bed, Nathanael needs to watch me carefully to make sure I am legitimately awake...actually even if I am the one reading, I may in fact be sleeping. During graduate school I read an entire chapter of Harry Potter to my roommate Lucy while she knitted, and despite the pages having been full of excitement I could not recall a single thing that had happened once I stood up to get ready for bed.
     Most of the books we read together are classic literature, and we especially enjoy the unabridged works of George MacDonald. His novels are the epitome of fiction which does not leave your brain to sit idly by, but engages it to play with philosophy, expand vocabulary, and envision situations and scenes rich with detail and feeling. I know some people who only read non-fiction, but I think they would appreciate a book such as Sir Gibbie, The Castle Warlock or Malcolm as evidence that edifying truth can often be more poignantly delivered through substantial fiction than through biography or historical reflection (though no author conveys the whole truth of course; some are much closer than others).

A friend gave us a neat little notebook where we record the books
we've read and movies we've watched...with ratings of course.
     Since George MacDonald was Scottish, his books are mostly set in Scotland with characters who enjoy Scottish fare, and quite often oatcakes. Nathanael would probably have made a good Scotsman back in the day. Of the 30% of Nathanael that is not water, about 60% is oats. We enjoy our oats in many forms around here. We nearly always have hot cereal, often have granola around for a snack, and sometimes we sprinkle oats into the crackers or sour dough bread. And whenever Nathanael needs to pack a lunch and we have no bread or convenient eaten-cold foods, he packs oatcakes and goes merrily on his way. Oatcakes are a plain food, and very healthy tasting, which I enjoy and Nathanael could eat every day. They're not junk food. I think they are an excellent medium for butter and jams, or savory spreads, but Nathanael delights in them just as they are with their roasted oat essence as the main attraction.

Scottish Oatcakes
from A Feast of Scotland by Janet Warren
1 1/3 cups Old Fashioned Rolled Oats
1/4 tsp baking soda
a pinch of salt
1 Tablespoon of Butter or Lard (Oil would probably work out alright)
6 Tbs hot water (approximately)
A bit of flour to dust the rolling surface; any variety will do.

1. Mix the oats, soda, and salt together.
2. Melt butter and pour into the center, then add enough water to make a stiff dough. Stir briefly with a wooden spoon.
3. Turn the dough onto a flour dusted surface and knead well. Divide in half, and roll each into an 8-inch circle about a quarter of an inch thick.
4. Cook the oatcakes in a dry, heavy based frying pan. They should take about 3 minutes on each side and be golden brown and slightly crisp. Alternatively they can be baked at 325F (160C) for about 30 minutes.
Serve with butter, honey and marmalade for breakfast or with soup and cheese for lunch.

Do you read to each other in your family (or with your roommates)?
What's on your summer reading list?
I would love some good recommendations! (And yes, we read non-fiction too!)

Friday, May 20, 2011

A bounty of Dill

Nathanael and I have been having a very fun time sharing our harvest with our friends and neighbors. When we have given them beans, peas, carrots, spinach or even beets, everyone is ready to share with us how they plan to use them. When it comes to herbs, however, particularly dill, most people have looked in the bag and said, "So how do I use this one?"
   I have to admit I am sort of in the same boat. I love dill, but I don't have a plethora of ideas to utilize it. My first thought is always pickles, but I do have a friend who always makes dill omelets. Our neighbor from Romania recommended tossing dill with other vegetables in a salad, and my dear walking partner from Iran told me she makes dill rice to go with fish (which I recommend by the way, especially with a flavorful brown rice and butter). But, despite the beloved fish and dill combination, I was really looking for a dish to recommend to everyone that would use things they already had...because we really have a ton of dill.

If I were a Black Swallowtail Butterfly (also known as Parsley caterpillar), I might spend my whole life surviving on the stuff, and wandering around looking resplendent. 

Papilio polyxenes asterius

These guys were rawists...dill-ists in fact, but had no recipes to share with me.

Inspired by the enormous bunch of dill I gave her, my friend Hannah discovered just the thing I was looking for. A very basic dill potato recipe from Veg Recipes of India. It is simple and quick, but also a perfect way to really appreciate the flavor of dill. The amounts are imprecise; you could spice it up, or add other root vegetables if you wanted to be creative*, but leaving it basic will also please your palate.  

Dill Potatoes yield 4-6 side servings
2 Tbsp canola oil
1 big bunch of fresh dill leaves, chopped (about 1 cup or more when hard stems are excluded) 
3 to 6 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/8 inch rounds
5-6 medium cloves of garlic, crushed or chopped
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/4 cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
salt and black pepper to taste

1. Heat a large, heavy bottomed pan. Add the oil, and once heated add garlic and saute for one minute.
2. Add potatoes and saute for a few minutes until they begin to soften, perhaps 6-7 minutes.
3.  Add dill leaves and spices, mix well. Then, add salt and 1/2 cup to 1 cup water, cover, and cook gently for 8 to 10 minutes. If the water dries up add more.
4. Remove the lid and cook until liquid has evaporated and potatoes are very tender.
Serve as a side dish, or with dal and rice or chapatis.

*Dill and carrots are related so they are also a delicious combination. Prepare them similarly, adding about 1/2 tsp of cumin seeds to the oil at the beginning, a bit of ginger with the garlic, and some powdered cumin and coriander with the other spices.

What recipe comes first to your mind when you think about having boatloads of fresh dill?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

New Under the Sun

Don't worry, I'm still around....
But it's been an exciting week and a half!

The day after my last post, Nathanael and I spend our ordinary Saturday in the garden weeding, harvesting, exploring, and getting stung by ants. I got stung four times each by four ants on my right wrist and bitten a couple of other places. Even though I was able to keep working for the rest of the day, by Sunday morning the blisters and swelling of my most of my right arm were putting a permanent wince on my face. I have never had any respiratory allergic reactions, and I wasn't feeling lightheaded, but when a red line I noticed on Saturday continued to creep up my arm on Sunday, I decided we should go to the doctor just in case it was blood poisoning. The doctor ended up giving me a steroid shot and prescribing nine things.
    To quote Nathanael,"I just want to know whether it's life threatening..."

I was not interested in feeling as though the ants never bit me, just preventing a more severe reaction. Needless to say, I talked to the pharmacy people and only ended up taking two of those things. Please friends, medicine can be very helpful, and often lifesaving, but lets not be crazy. Don't be over medicated or over medicate your children; your body can do most things on its own. Be especially cautious when it comes to antibiotics (which will kill your beneficial bacteria, one of your body's best lines of defenses, and also increase the rate at which superbacteria are created). And don't ask for them for when they aren't necessary, like for a cold or flu.
...I did (grugingly) end up taking the antibiotics they gave me so that I wouldn't get blood posioning, but I drank lots of kefir and tried to avoid sugar so my digestive bacterial friends would have all of the help they could get.

Nathanael completed his spring courses and their finals (with flying colors, as always). And due to the tendonitis-like state of my hand while it recovered, I did a lot less typing, and internet-ing in general...which was quite nice actually.

And what were my hands doing? Filling out the paperwork to accept a job! After looking for a position in my field for the last year and a half, I am excited about this one and think it will be a great new adventure. I will be an Environmental Scientist, occasionally doing field work, mostly managing data, and learning new things at all times. I will not have nearly as much time for visiting, cooking, and sewing, but it will be great to get some experience, a schedule, and you know...a quicker way to pay back those student loans...(yipee!!!)

There are yet a few weeks before the job begins, so I have been cleaning the house, tying up lose craft projects (not many of the millions, but it's a nice idea), and stocking up on homemade snacks.

No one could make a lemon squash look more dapper.

Yesterday I registered the car, registered to vote, got a new drivers licence, went grocery shopping, and picked up some necessary clothing items. I also got the pre-job entry medical exam, which took nearly two hours and included a full physical, urine tests, blood tests, vision tests, breath tests, a hearing test and a chest xray. I kind of enjoyed it all, but that hearing test makes you feel a little crazy..."Wait, did I hear that beep or imagine it?"

Do any of you have tips for me on meal planning and time management as I head into a whole new schedule?
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