Low tech/high tech

It’s been quite a week for us!

The extra long holiday weekend allowed us to keep up with the usual chores and fit in some extra fun. So, we took a road trip out to visit with Andrew and Misty of Geek.Farm.Life podcast fame. We went out for an enormous brunch, made cream, butter, and bread (well, I watched as these things were done expertly by Andrew), fed animals, and just generally hung out. The last time we were there was in deep winter and the change in season made quite a difference in our visit. We were able to walk around the farm a bit and admire their huge garden. I really enjoy visiting with them and wish we lived a bit closer.

Mark brought along his new recorder so we used it to make their weekly podcast. (You can hear it in action here, and remember you don’t need an iPod to listen to a podcast.) He also brought his video camera and shot a few interesting clips for his growing collection of random movie-making shots. One of these days, he’ll have enough for an epic pic, I guess.

Speaking of gardens, ours is coming along nicely now.

Four raised garden beds

Note the second bed from the front. Before I went away to Toronto for a weekend of fun, that bed contained vigorous pea vines and many, many chard and beet seedlings. All was “securely” covered with bird netting to keep the hungry hens at bay. The “Houdini chickens” found a way in while I was gone, though, and they destroyed the bed. Since this is the third garden bed they’ve somehow messed up (how do they get around the bird netting???), we had to find some way to address the situation, or I would never get to eat a homegrown veggie again. The solution:

Home made chicken run

Now the hens have plenty of room to roam, and they are confined away from the growing garden. This run is only temporary. It wouldn’t stand up to a determined predator, so I do still lock the hens inside the Eglu run at night. Note that I mentioned the run only; now that they are inside so many fences (3 to be exact) and the weather is warmer, I don’t feel so compelled to lock up the coop door itself at night. So, no more arising bleary-eyed at dawn, either! I leave the food inside the run, too, so they get get up when they want to in the early morning, nosh away, and I refill food and water at my leisure when I get up. I still have grand plans to build a more permanent run and coop before winter.

On Memorial Day itself, I decided I deserved to take it easy. So, I sat on the porch and knitted for a while, then moved inside to take a nap on the couch while watching some TV. And so, it was while I was dozing and watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus on BBC America that the TV decided to quit working. I really didn’t notice as I was only half-way awake at the time. It was only later when Mark wanted to show me his latest and greatest mini-film (clips of me at the Chicago GreenFestival interspersed with clips of the dairy goats on Andrew and Misty‘s farm…hey, what is that supposed to mean???) that we discovered the TV was truly dead.

We bought this TV in September 2007. It’s a blend of old and new technology, with a built in HD tuner (so we can use the roof antenna when we want to) and a flat-screen, slimline picture tube. We decided to go with a picture tube rather than an LCD because it was “proven technology,” time-tested and dependable, supposedly. Then, a little over a year later it dies. It’s going to cost us about $300 to fix it, which is hard for me to swallow considering how much we paid for the damn thing a year-and-a-half ago.

We’ve been sans TV this entire week, and will have to continue this way until next Thursday when the repairman comes back with the part. I guess if there’s something we really want to watch, we can use our ‘puters for that. I’m actually kind of enjoying spending my evenings just catching up on podcasts, though. And since it’s already summer hiatus time, it’s not like I’m missing key episodes of my favorite shows (30 Rock rocks!).

I guess I’m learning that as much as we live in a high tech “always on” world, it’s still possible to dial back and survive without. Which is a valuable lesson, right?

Playing along

I checked my Google Reader over the weekend only to find that Adrienne of Knit and Run had tagged me with a meme. I’ve actually never done one of these before (although I totally loved the book in which I first encountered this term several years ago: Neal Stephenson‘s novel Snow Crash…but then again I am an anthropology/archeaology geek and also love inferences to ancient goddess-worshipping cultures…and Inanna is my main lady, so to speak), but I’m going to give it a try. As memes go, this one seems pretty low impact: not a lot of time or explanations involved. So, let’s go!

The rules are posted at the beginning. At the end of the post, the player then tags 6 people and posts their names, then goes to their blog and leaves a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read your blog. Let the person who tagged you know when you’ve posted your answer.

The requisite to tag 6 other people is kind of hard for me. I sort of feel guilty tagging people; it seems like so much pressure! So, I’m going to sort of cop out and say: if you’re reading this and haven’t done it already, consider yourself tagged! 

  1. What was I doing 10 years ago? Let’s see…I had been married not quite a year, had just completed a great honeymoon in Costa Rica, was finishing up my year of service in Americorps/Vista and starting to look for a new job, and was prepping to start graduate school. Looking back: wow, that was quite a bit to take on in one year!
  2. What are 5 things on my to-do list today, not in any particular order?  Well, the day is nearly over and here’s what I can confirm happened: worked out with the trainer at the gym; telecommuted to put in a full day’s work; went to the allergist for the final round of allergy tests and another (number 5 of 10…halfway there!) B-12 shot; prepped and cooked a roast for dinner (roasted rabbit, yum!); cleaned up most of the dinner dishes. Geez, quite an exciting day, eh?
  3. Snacks I enjoy. Nuts, dried fruit, cheese, and plain, air-popped popcorn.
  4. Places I’ve lived. Whoa, this could be long list if I noted every housing option and location! Let’s see: various south suburbs of Chicago; Toronto, Canada; and Chicago. I’ve lived in apartments, condos, and houses.
  5. Things I would do if I were a billionaire. Travel the world. Develop my writing skills. Learn more self-sufficiency skills (like cheese-making, food preservation, basic carpentry, etc). Give away lots of money to charitable causes and teach others what I’ve learned. Live life on my timetable and conditions, as much as possible (barring natural disasters).

Well, let’s see where this goes, eh?

Toronto: Part 2

We weren’t up early on Saturday morning. No, all that beer made us a bit…sluggish…the next morning. So, we got a late start on our trek to the eastern parts of Toronto.

We took the Queen streetcar and got off in Leslieville for brunch and the continuation of our yarn crawl.

Welcome to Leslieville sign.I don’t recall this as a neighborhood when I lived here *cough* 20 *cough* years ago. [Damn, it’s hard to admit I was older than a wee child that many years ago!] It seems to be coming along, though, as there were several newish looking shops there.

After breakfast, we wandered along Queen Street East until we got to The Purple Purl. And here we paused for quite a while.

When we walked in, we were happy to see a good-sized seating area with cushy chairs, a case full of goodies (including truffles and pastries), and an espresso machine. But before we gave in to the urge to lounge, we walked around and fondled the yarn.

The Purl has a great selection of “Canadian content,” as they say. There were yarns such as Indigo Moon and other special items such as hand-carved buttons. I fell hard for the buttons (tagua nut, antler, and maple) and a single skein of Canadian Quiviut. Then we settled in for a nice cup of tea and a chat with some friendly knitters and one of the shop owners, Jennifer. We could have stayed far into the afternoon, but realized that we were sitting inside on an incredibly lovely day. So, we managed to lever ourselves out of there and hop back on the Queen streetcar.

We exited at Kew Gardens Park and continued down Queen on foot in search of healthy carry out for lunch. We also made one more stop at The Naked Sheep to complete our yarn crawl. A sweet shop with a good selection of basics and luxury yarns, we nonetheless didn’t linger too long as we were itching to hit the boardwalk along The Beaches.

With some Thai carry out in hand, we parked ourselves on a comfy bench where we ate, knit, and watched all the people and dogs walking by.

At The Beaches in Toronto

The sun was out most of the time, but we did feel a bit chilly when it was briefly covered by a cloud. However, it was a fabulous, relaxing way to spend an hour. There were cormorants fishing in Lake Ontario, kite-fliers, swimmers (!!), and many happy people enjoying the weather on their bikes, rollerblades, and their own two feet.

Eventually, we had to head back to the room and plan out what to do for dinner. After two nights of less than stellar food (no complaints, but pub food and airport food aren’t exactly memorable in a really good way) we wanted to splurge. After a little bit of web browsing, we found a great place: Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar.

The “foodies” on Chowhound may have some issues with Jamie Kennedy’s menus, but Rachael and I had a fabulous dinner. The menu is tapas-style, which allowed us to try several different different dishes of fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. I enjoyed all my selections immensely: celery root soup; smoked pickerel with fennel salad; and duck confit with soft polenta and dried fruit compote.

With each plate, I enjoyed a different wine pairing of just 3 oz each, so I didn’t repeat my over-indulgence of the night before. Although, when we ended our meal by splitting the plate of artisanal cheeses, I went for the larger pour of port. We stopped for some gelato as we walked back to our hotel and then turned in for a decent night’s sleep.

The next morning was our last, and we were desperate to enjoy a decent breakfast. The previous two mornings we had eaten mediocre breakfasts, where the only thing that really stood out was the peameal bacon. The night before, we had found out about Jamie Kennedy’s newest venture, Gilead Cafe, and since we had such a fine dinner the night before we decided to try it. Since we had to check out at noon, we got up for an early start to Corktown (another newish neighborhood). We didn’t realize the subways didn’t open until 9 AM on Sundays, so we ended up taking a cab instead.

When the cab dropped us off on King at Gilead Court, we were a bit perplexed. It looked like an alley and we didn’t see any large signage from King Street. A few steps later, though, and we were reassured to see some folks inside setting up for the day.

Breakfast at Gilead Cafe.

This was a divine breakfast: fresh-baked croissant, fresh coffee, and a bowl of yogurt with granola and hazel nuts. The yogurt was the best I’ve *ever* had: handmade on the premises from whole, raw milk then blended with homemade blueberry jam. The texture was thick and creamy, and the taste was tangy and rich. The server said they “hang” the yogurt a bit to let more liquid drain off, resulting in a thicker yogurt. All I know is I’d eat this every day quite gladly!

We still wanted to do a bit of exploring before heading back to the hotel, so we walked the few blocks to the Distillery District to look around and take in the offerings. Here we had our second fabulous cup of coffee at Balzac’s Coffee Roastery.

Balzac's Coffee Roastery in Toronto's Distillery District.

This gem of a place served up outstanding coffee in a beautiful setting. Even the latte was beautiful.

Beatiful latte from Balzac's.

We also stopped at a yummy bakery in the Distillery where I picked up a fresh scone, but I missed the name of the place because as I was paying for my scone, I got a call from United Airlines that my flight had been cancelled. Thus ended our time in the Distillery, as we caught another cab back to the hotel to plot out how I was going to get home and then check out.

The flight cancellation was actually not something I was too worried about. After all, I still had half the day left to get onto another flight and, if it was really necessary for me to stay an extra day, I had my laptop for work. So, I made the best of this bonus time.

Rachael had planned to take in a movie after I left at midday for the airport. She wanted to stick to her plan and I wanted to take in more of Toronto, so we parted ways and I was once again wandering on my own. I headed to Chinatown to take in the sites and enjoy the cheap lunch I had missed a couple days earlier.

Chinatown barbeque.

I found that the barbeque pork over rice is still the best deal in Chinatown. When I lived here, we used to stop in Chinatown for this steal of a meal where we could both eat for a total of $5. The price has gone up, but not by much. I paid $3.25 for the bowl of rice and barbeque pork, which also included a hot pot of tea. I actually splurged a bit and ordered a plate of gai-lon (Chinese broccoli) for an extra $4 since this is one of my favorite veggies.

Wandering up Spadina towards College, I stopped at a Chinese bakery where I picked up a couple sweet red bean pastries for snacking on the way to the airport, and then caught the streetcar back to the hotel where I picked up my bag. Then it was off to the airport for a long wait to get on a short, but highly unpleasant flight home.

All in all, I had a great time and it felt good to get back to a town for which I have so many fond memories. I don’t know why, but the people in Toronto just seem so much more happy and secure and the vibe is reassuring. The transit was superb and the size of the city is very manageable compared to Chicago or New York. I started off my trip with a streak of nostalgia and ended up ready to return again and again. As long as it doesn’t involve flying United Airlines, that is.

Toronto: Part 1

It was easy to be a bit nostalgic about Toronto. But, as Rachael astutely asked, “Are you nostaligic about the city or about being 20?” I’d have to say: both. Definitely both.

As I predicted, Rachael’s 6:30 PM flight out of O’Hare was delayed, so I felt entirely comfortable taking a little trip on my own to SSK (Sit, Sip and Knit) Night at In the Loop Cafe Thursday night. I had a blast generally unwinding and getting oriented to the local knitter scene.

I think I inspired Tracy to make the Neckdown Wrap Cardigan, and Drea told me that the very next evening the monthly Drunken Knitter’s Night was taking place. And in addition to the yummy *real* scone I purchased, we had some delicious butterscotch cake homemade by Alessandra to celebrate Draya’s birthday.

Although In the Loop was supposed to close at 9 PM, I didn’t leave until closer to 9:30 PM to catch the bus back to St. Clair West station. Rachael finally arrived at the hotel at about 11 PM. By then, I was quite tired, but she needed to get some food so we walked to a nearby 24-hour Shoppers Drug Mart to pick up some snacks (cheese, crackers, and yogurt) and make a plan for the next day.

Friday morning we were up early and headed out for a day of exploring. We walked up Yonge to Bloor, then over to a restaurant across from the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) for breakfast. We were astounded by the fact that the ROM was being consumed by a crystalline alien ship from outer space.

Royal Ontario Museum

But this wasn’t our final destination. Sad to say, I continued my tradition of being in Toronto and NOT visiting the ROM. Instead, we went to the Bata Shoe Museum, which was just a block or two west on Bloor Street. Who would have thought shoes could be so interesting? I took way too many photos of them.

From the Shoe Museum, we walked west on Bloor to Spadina where we purchased some TTC day passes and hopped a streetcar south. Like me, Rachael loves the streetcars. They are a quiet and pleasant form of surface transportation, and rarely encountered in cities anymore. We were headed to the first stop on our mini-yarn crawl through Toronto: Romni Wools. But before we got to Romni, we had to resist the myriad temptations on Queen Street West.

Around Spadina and for several blocks west, Queen Street is the “Fashion District.” We saw many fabric stores, button and trimming stores, and unique clothing stores. Peach Berserk beckoned, and Rachael barely made it out. She was sorely tempted to buy a custom made jacket, but took some time to walk out to think about it. After about 15 minutes inside Romni Wools, she felt better about passing on the opportunity.

Romni was completely overwhelming. It was packed, packed, packed with yarn. I know they don’t have *everything* there, (no Lorna’s Laces, for example) but it was a close thing. Since we were trying to stick to unique, preferably Canadian yarns and products, we were able to narrow things down a bit. Romni now has their own label of yarns, and we both picked up some Romni brand yarn.

As it was now getting well past lunch time, we needed sustenance. I had hoped to get some cheap eats in Chinatown, but we were several blocks away and needed food soon. So, we stopped at the Jerk Spot and instead had a treat I’ve only had in Toronto: roti. Specifically, we had curried goat roti. As a lunch special with a soda, the grand total was just over $5. Quite a deal, and quite good.

One of the reasons we didn’t want to roam far for lunch was because Rachael wanted to stop at the BakkaPhoenix science fiction bookstore for some browsing. While I do like science fiction, I wasn’t wanting to do any book shopping so I just hung out as she enthusiastically browsed the shelves and picked up a few good books.

We headed back to Spadina on the Queen streetcar, then continued north to Nassau Street and Kensington Market. We were headed to Lettuce Knit but enjoyed the atmosphere of Kensington Market in general.

Chocolate shop in Kensington Market, Toronto

It was just down the block from Lettuce Knit that we got the first amazing cup of coffee we’d had in a long time at Ideal Coffee. I was too mellowed by the excellent latte and the engrossing eavesdropping to take photos, but this site has some photos that capture the ecelectic vibe of the place. And Rachael also said the coffee here was even better than the coffee she had in Italy. I’ve never been to Italy, so I can’t make this distinction. But the latte was amazingly great.

We returned to the hotel (via another streetcar along College; hooray for streetcars!) for a short lay-down before joining the knitter crowd at the Spotted Dick. The Spotted Dick is a pub, so the food isn’t complicated in any way. We chowed down on fish and chips, washed down with beer. In my case, it was lots and lots of beer. I can’t remember when I last drank 4 pints of beer, and I barely made it through the night.

We had a grand time, though.

Drunken Knitter's Night at the Spotted Dick in Toronto

On the right is Rachael, of course. On the left is Jeff. Jeff was working on a Baby Surprise jacket, and generally holding up a lively conversation on a number of topics. On one of them, I’ll stay mum for now. The other, though, was about his deep desire to raise a pig for slaughter. Inside his city condo. Which is technically a studio, or a small one-bedroom. And I’m considered a bit “out there” for keeping a few hens in my backyard???

More to come. Much, more more to come. I’m just too tired after returning from such a wonderful weekend to finish this narrative. And I know this is getting quite long by now. I’ll just close out with one last photo from Kensington Market. ‘Nuff said.

A colorful shop in Kensington Market


I was getting myself all ready for a nice “girls weekend” trip with my friend Rachael last night when I noticed something funny about my airline ticket. I wasn’t booked on the 6:30 PM flight out of Chicago today; I was booked on the 6:30 AM flight out of Chicago today. Oh, @#$%&!

A quick check of the United Airlines website confirmed this, as well as the grim reality that if I tried to change my flight to leave later in the day I’d have to pay an extremely hefty premium: nearly $1,300. Gulp!

So, here I am in Toronto — Yarn Harlot territory. Several hours earlier than planned, and with the work laptop that I had hoped to leave at home. I’m trying to work while sitting in the hotel lobby since the room isn’t ready for check in yet.

It’s pretty hard to focus on work right now, though. For one thing, I got about 3 hours of sleep last night. For another thing, I have a serious case of Toronto nostalgia right now. I took a bus into downtown from the airport and it drove right by one the areas where I lived many years ago when I was here. Wow, it has completely transformed. What was a little light industry area where we lived in a converted industrial loft is now…condos. Lots and lots of condos.

I have this incredible urge to just blow off the meetings I have this afternoon and check out the old haunts. But I’ll do the responsible thing and continue to work away instead. *sigh* I wish the room were ready at least.

Gardening and chickens

It may not be apparent, but it was my interest in gardening that first led me to keeping chickens. I love to garden, and I really love to grow food. It makes me feel empowered and more in touch with my body, and it also makes me feel somewhat…virtuous.

From looking at history through books and documentaries, it’s apparent that this behavior — growing your own food — was something many more Americans used to do in the past. For some perhaps it was just a chore or a dreaded necessity. I’d like to think that for the majority, though, there was some pleasure derived from the practice.

At this point in time and in this season, Americans are encouraged to work in their yards, certainly. But from the magazine and TV ads it appears that this work mostly involves creating the perfect turf grass lawn or flower bed, with perhaps a reference to vegetable gardening mainly in the context of “fresh, homegrown tomatoes.” Many people just don’t understand why I should take such joy and pride in growing my own greens or raspberries.

Well, here’s why.

Raised bed with peas, chard and beets

A raised bed with peas, chard and beets.

A raised bed with radish, lettuces, and arugula.

A raised bed with radish, lettuces and arugula.

I had some help planting these beds a few weeks ago. This past Sunday, I spent a couple hours thinning the beds and weeding. From the thinnings, I’ve had several wonderful “micro-green” salads and sandwich wraps. Yes, when I took these photos yesterday afternoon, I was feeling incredibly proud and happy with the payoff from these efforts.

Then, I went back inside to do a bit more work. When I came back outside a few hours later to head out to Stitch n’ Bitch night, I encountered a big problem.

The lettuce bed, after being ravished by the hens.

This is the same bed that contained such lovely radish, lettuces, and arugula just a few hours before. Somehow, the hens were able to squeeze themselves under or around the bird netting and I found them inside, having a grand old time.

I was quite devastated. That’s a 4 foot by 8 foot bed of greens lovingly prepped, planted, watered, and generally attended to for several weeks. I did get some food out of it, but most has been destroyed well before it was ready for a real harvest. It will have to be replanted soon if I ever hope to get some decent salad greens before summer.

I still haven’t figured out how the hens got in there. The netting was firmly in place, and I had to undo it before I could “herd” them out. And I was pretty pissed at the hens, too, for sneaking in and ruining many weeks of salads for me.

Then today I opened up my news alerts and saw a story that led me to this graphic film about the conditions in a battery hen operation in California. [FAIR WARNING: this is a really graphic portrayal, so don’t click the link if you’re not up for seeing some nasty stuff.] The group that put this together may be promoting veganism, but you don’t have to be vegan to understand how incredibly cruel and unnecessary this is.

I may have felt inconvenienced and a bit angry that the hens destroyed my lettuce bed, but at least I know that my eggs are coming from some happy, well-tended chickens.

And, I hope they enjoyed the illicit feast while they could, since I’m going to be building a rather large run for them soon that will ensure this sort of accident doesn’t happen again!

Health and the alphabet

We’ve all heard how important vitamins are to our health. Well, I found out last week that part of the reason I have been feeling like such a tired, crabby, idiot is that my vitamin B 12 level has dropped much too low. When I found this out, I had my typical reaction: “Well, that explains a lot!”

Yep, some of symptoms of B 12 deficiency are “…tiredness or a decreased mental work capacity, decreased concentration and decreased memory, irritability and depression.” (No, I don’t get all my info from Wikipedia; the Mayo Clinic site also has similar information.) The treatment is twice weekly injections of B 12 for several weeks, then a re-test of my levels and possibly continuing oral supplements.

As for why my B 12 level is so low, that’s still a mystery to me. I eat all the foods that are good sources of B 12 (all meats, eggs, and dairy), but for whatever reason it’s not enough right now. I’ll definitely look into this some more after I get the symptoms addressed.

I had my first B 12 injection today and I’m really hoping to feel some sort of improvement in a week or so. To me, improvement would be:

  • Not uncontrollably yawning during exercise. No, I’m not bored by my trainer, I’m just oxygen-deprived!
  • Feeling mentally alert and awake most days. I really do feel more “foggy” and just plain stupid lately. In the past couple months, I’ve even had a few days where I have trouble getting out of bed. I don’t mean having the will or volition to get out of bed, I mean having the energy to pull myself out of sleep and upright; it’s like trying to escape quicksand. And I thought those were just “really bad allergy days.”
  • Increased concentration. It’s hard to work when it’s hard to concentrate. There are evenings when I just can’t think about knitting, and forget about blogging! Too much concentration and energy required!

I try very hard to not use this blog for whining and moaning, but I just can’t help but feel pretty miffed that it took a trip to the allergist to figure this out. Why didn’t my own internist test my B 12 level when I presented with these symptoms last year? She offered me a script for an SSRI for my “moodiness” and one for Nasonex for my “allergies” instead. When it came to the SSRI, I said “no thanks!,” but after a year I finally took the initiative and decided to see an allergist to find out just what the heck I’m “allergic” to.

So far, the only allergies I seem to have are to those typical things that are pretty much a fact of life: mold, dust, and dust mites. My reactions weren’t that strong, though, so it shouldn’t be difficult to deal with them. I’m still undergoing tests for possibly food allergies, and have a few more visits until I finish getting tested for everything.

I’m now looking for a new internist or general practitioner, too.