Category Archives: I’m just saying…

Learning about my Kelly Kettle

Fire in the hole!

3march-2-2017-kelly-kettle-3

Learning to boil water. That used to be a sarcastic joke I told about fellow women who were well educated and had a fantastic social life but could not cook. It has become a different kind of joke with my new Kelly Kettle.

I’m pretty sure I can light a quick cook fire that burns down to a steady bed of coals. I can turn pancakes golden brown without black spots, bring a pot of coffee to a boil and have a corner of the pit that is burning limbs to use for more charcoal if needed… in the rain! I’m rather proud of my fire-pit skills. I could hardly get my Kelly to flame. Oh the shame of it all!

How timely, here is help. Now I will look for fat wood (and not look down my nose at the thought of it being needed for a simple campfire). Funny, but after watching David’s video, I feel the need for a certain beach on the Washington State Peninsula.

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Show up with Value

Curtis Stone, The Urban Farm Guy randomly gave his best piece of advice on a video I was watching. Show up with value.

BOOM (mind blown!) You want to make it as an urban farmer, show up with value instead of your hat in your hand begging for a the secret to easy success. How about as an evangelist? You have something of amazing value, not something to apologize for. Do you want to make it as a student? Recognize that it is the work that gives you value as a student. That is what makes you successful.

As a teacher, there are students that demand a lot of my time. Their parents are paying tuition and deserve my time but so are a lot of other parents; what can I expect from them? Sometimes I feel like Mary trying to “teach” Tom Sawyer a bible verse. Tom wants the prize that is offered and realizes that the work is a means to an end but entitlement (I want what I want and I want it now) means that he will not “Show up with value”. He will not do the work.

Do the work. show up with your best effort. The world will open doors for that. You can climb the ladder to success. If you expect someone to carry you then get used to the view from the lower rungs.

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The Simple Things; New grow box in greenhouse

March 7, 2015 New grow box in the greenhouse

March 7, 2015 New grow box in the greenhouse

I still need to do a lot of work in the greenhouse…. that makes me happy! Farmer Ray has been working hard to get our urban farm going all last week. When we first moved to Everett the soil was impossible, difficult to sink a shovel into, weedy, in general it was as alive as a bag of compressed peat. Last year (2014) we watched the movie, Back to Eden, and began hauling green chips home.

One year later the soil is alive, soft and full of life, growing beautiful lush stands of food. For the last five years we have been dependent on Square Foot Gardening, we loved it. But our farm was a hobby, not our life. In this economy we have become urban subsistence farmers and need to coax as much from our tiny farm as possible. Ray has been busy rearranging SFG boxes to open up one area to traditional in ground growing while moving other boxes closer together. That was a huge job.

After he was through we had an extra box so he cut it down and put it into the greenhouse. I planted it that night! I’m so happy! Thanks Ray.

Ray's first cake! Yum

Ray’s first cake! Yum

Ray is a much better cake maker then I am photographer. It looks beautiful. Sabbath, March 7, 2015 is a beautiful day! The sky is bright, birds are singing everywhere. 56/34 Sunrise at 6:38 (then back to dark mornings tomorrow), sunset at 6:02 for 11 hours and 36 minutes of delightful day light. grow-grow-grow!

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It was supposed to be all gone by noon

From my office window

From my office window

The weather prophecies seemed confident that the snow would amount to no more then an inch or so and would all melt away by noon. False prophets!
At least the power stayed on. Our home is poorly equipped for power-outs. One more thing to miss about Robe Valley.
At least there was left-over turkey, pies and challah to eat. Sabbath could be spent doing the studies that I love. A nice day to stay tucked inside the house.

Snow in Eden... Back to Eden Garden.

Snow in Eden… Back to Eden Garden.

Last day of November, 2014 is starting off at 15.8 F. That is early February weather around here! Yeish!
Sunrise at 7:36 and it should be a cloudless day but this time of year that means COLD (and how!) High of 35 F low of 23 F (now I remember why Ray doesn’t want to move to Alaska) At least they are saying no more snow… just Christmas shoppers out for a thrill ride on the ice. Be careful peeps! Sunset at 4:18 (8 hours, 47 minutes of daylight)

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Ebola…. On Not Being Afraid.

At the Toy Box we do not think of ourselves as prepper’s, we just happen to share many of their habits and values. We are subsistence farmers in a large city. Not having a looming fear of Ebola is where we differ from preppers.

A few years ago the big scare was anthrax. The world went crazy as pranksters sent talc filled letters to heads of government. Everyone who could get there hands on some cure-all medicine of the day were including it in their bug-out-bags. I am fairly sure that venders made a mint on the scare. In the end, nothing came of the scare except that Fox News made book on it just as they are with the Ebola scare.

Regardless of what you think about infected healthcare workers and whether or not they have any personal rights, think about some very basic habits you can develop to protect yourself. I am not saying what I recommend and practice will totally protect me. Life and death are in the hands of Elohim. I’m just saying that these are good practices during any time of fear of sickness. They can be easily done by the poor as well as the comfortable.

  1. Be OCD about hand washing. I am talking soap and water. Those gel’s will make you feel better about yourself but they work about as well as rubbing your hands together briskly… which does work to kill some bacteria (about as well as those gels)
  2. Gargle with hot salt water at least twice a day. At least once a day swab the inside of your nose with hot salt water. A saline solution will kill bacteria and viruses lodging in your throat and nasal area. When you gargle, really bubble it in. When you swab, sniff it in. If you have a netty pot, it is supposed to work better then sniffing. I do not happen to have a netty pot.
  3. Drink hot liquids. What gargling misses, hot water (coffee, tea, lemon water, broth, any non dairy drink) will flush germs to your stomach where stomach acids will kill the yuckies. While on the subject, (and this may gross you out) it is better to sniff and swallow then it is to blow and dispose of the tissue. Stomach acid kills the crud, tissues spread it.

Add to these basics some common sense practices.

  • Do not touch your face. The eyes, nose and mouth are all portals for germs and  viruses. Once you are dedicated to not touching your face, you will be amazed at how many times a day your nose and eyes itch. Grab a tissue first AND be OCD about washing your hands.
  • Try to not touch door knobs and public telephones with your bare hands. These two items spread more sickness then any other area of buildings. Plastic pens may also be on the list. Be OCD about hand washing, do not touch your face.
  • Take vitamin C, suck on zinc. Grandma was right about vitamin C. An acid body is not inviting to viruses. Vitamin C is helps strengthen the white warriors (blood cells) if you do happen to get sick. Zinc lozenges help heal lesions that make your throat hurt which better protects you from secondary infections.
  • Stay hydrated. A well hydrated body is better able to process what the world blows at it then a dehydrated one. The number one sign of dehydration is thick mucus followed closely by tension headaches.

Beyond this, everyone has their own list of tricks and treats to avoid and combat sickness. We like different herbs for our battle. Rest is good. Sugar is bad, so is dairy. (Enjoy sugar and dairy when you feel fine. Avoid them when you are ill).

As a school teacher, I am begging your to stop calling the doctors and nurses who refuse to quarantine themselves selfish while you send your sick child to school. Your sick child is why I get to practice this list. It is also why I get angry when the same parents  call these medical heroes selfish. You are not different just because you are sure your child does not have Ebola. What is done is done. Now is the time for compassion, not finger pointing and fear. I wonder if we did not learn anything from locking up the Japanese during WW2 or from the fear of Anthrax. Be smart , be careful (there are more deadly things to worry about then Ebola) and keep compassion alive.

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Is Your Food Safe?

Ray…. the brawn behind the Toy Box

Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, states in the opening scene of the documentary, Food Inc. “The way we eat has changed more in the last fifty years than in the previous ten thousand”. The changes appear to be driven by the demands of the fast food industry.  The question that comes to mind is, how can fast food affect the whole system? The practices implemented, as revealed by this documentary, and highlighted by the use of Concentrated Animal Feed operations (CAFO’s) in our food system speaks volumes of a system out of control.  Large conglomerates such as Con-Agra, Monsanto, Tyson, and Smithfield, say CAFO’s are an efficient way of handling large amounts of product, but at what cost? Throughout the documentary, all four companies have refused to comment on the documentary.  The statements put forward in the opening dialog, “A deliberate veil, a curtain between you and where your food is coming from”, and “The industry does not want you to know the truth about what you’re eating because if you knew you might not want to eat it,” seem to demand an answer. We must ask ourselves why their silence is bad and why they did not comment about the information presented.  They want to control food from “factory” to market. One company, Monsanto, went so far as to patent feed seed which they genetically modified (GMO), to resist pesticide, as their exclusive property. This patenting of seed has never happened before in the history of agriculture. Why does a chemical company want so much control of our food system?

The magnitude of the change, how the raising of beef has shifted from cattle ranching to the use of huge feedlots, is demonstrated by the images of the CAFO’s.  McDonalds ,being the largest consumer of ground beef, pork, chicken, potatoes’, lettuce, tomatoes, and even apples, controls the  production standards to what they want . Consumers are getting products that have been tailored for what McDonalds wants, whether we like it or not. The changes implemented by the McDonald brothers in their early restaurant had far reaching effects, not just in the food industry, corporation have taken McDonalds approach to labor and applied it universally. This was shown within the documentary, and can be further researched in the Eric Schlosser book, Fast Food Nation. If we look at the scenes of the slaughter houses and feed lots we see a glimpse of the way contamination, and disregard for food safety has been allowed within the system. After  years of regulations making them safe, the slaughter houses have again become one of the most dangerous places to work, the demands for cheap, expendable labor has made what was once a good job revert back to its  unsafe beginning’s. The filth of the lots and the way cattle are moved to slaughter is appalling; the scene of the cows being forced down the chute and the fecal matter on their backs is a compelling argument for the documentary. The conditions of the feedlots provide a breeding ground for e-coli, with cattle standing knee deep in their own manure.  Since Agra businesses have started feeding their cattle corn instead of grass, a new strain of the e-coli family has emerged, specifically 157H7. The practice of the CAFO’s storing the manure in large holding ponds which has been leaching into the water table, has triggered e-coli out breaks in foods we never would expect contamination from fecal matter in. Should we expect to have e-coli in spinach and peanut butter?

The scenes with Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms were meant to convince the viewer of the cleaner practices of a more traditional farming environment.  These scenes offer a solution to the problem. The Polyface approach was demonstrated briefly by showing clean farm practices, while Salatin briefly explained his philosophies on his traditional way of farming. The images used here were more appealing and fit the images of what we assume a “farm” should look like. A more down home look in contrast to the CAFO images presented earlier. His animals were cleaner, better cared for and did not seem stressed from crowding. The manner in which Salatin spoke was upbeat and excited in contrast to the way Troy Roush, a corn farmer, who spoke earlier about his dealing with Monsanto.

The arguments put forward by the documentary were effective, made poignant by the hearings in California about meat labeling. The California Farm bureau representative argued against the labeling of cloned meats, saying it could create fear in consumers.  What I heard was consumers are not smart enough to know what’s good for them. This seems to reverberate throughout the documentary, as the way these corporation’s all do business. Consumers are told, it’s all good for us, when all the corporations are concerned about is there bottom line. The farmer has been reduced to indentured servants as illustrated by the chicken farmer, Carole Morrison and corn farmer, Troy Roush. After reviewing the documentary in the class I was not sure some examples were explained fully, more information could have been provided on some details. I find the information reliable and factual, the testimony of the farmers would seem to substantiate the information, and after doing some of my own research over the years, I have found this to be trustworthy information.

I agree with the argument that our eating has changed over the last fifty years, and that corporations are trying to keep the resulting changes hidden from the consumer. The public would not like what has transpired, but if we can’t “see” it, we will not address it.  I did not like what is happening, I avoid buying Monsanto and Con-Agra products, which is quite a task.  I have decided to vote with our checkbook, and am trying to buy local and organic whenever possible. If consumers only learn one thing from this film I hope it is that a difference can be made in the system by what we purchase. Money, the bottom line, is still what drives Business; ask for a product, buy it and they will respond.  Wal-Mart responded to the demand for no rBST in milk and recognized the demand for organic yogurt. Troy Roush, a corn farmer, said they are growing what is in demand, if we demand good whole foods and they will produce it. Should we really just give in to Monsanto because they are so big?

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Dreaming in shades of Tomato

The many colors of tomatoes from The Toy Box. Each of these was harvested in early September when they were bright green.

Since I am from the Pacific North West, I should tell you that the color of tomatos is usually some sort of shinny green. Like most gardeners, I am in denial of my obsession with tomatoes. My family will testify that I plant too many and harvest too few. I am on a quest, I need to do scientific research, I MUST plant many tomatoes until I find the few that excel in my micro climate.

Gardening in Western Washington is a tease for tomato growers. When the weather is nice it seems like we ought to be able to harvest a few red globes. Occasionally we have summers that cause memory loss about our wet cold May, June and Julys that normally keep me in a sweater. Is it just me or were our last two early summers exceptionally cold and wet?

It was during the chilly gardening season of 2010 that I discovered the Siltz Tomato. Siltz is not some tasteless little globe like Oregon Spring or Early Girl. Calm down, I am talking about results from my own garden, your mileage may vary. Siltz is not just one step up from a cherry tomato as so many other early “slicers” seem to be. She was bright red with full tomato flavor and averaged 4 to 6 ounces. One other 2010 discovery was Persimmon, a light orange, persimmon colored tomato. Persimmon is not a heavy producer. It was nearly October before I could taste the fruit from plants started in February but the tomato or two I did harvest were hands down the best I have eaten since learning to love tomatoes from my grandmothers suburban farm in Oak Harbor, Washington.

In 2011 Siltz, Persimmon and a small plum that I have grown for 3 years now, Black Plum Paste, were set into the Toy Box with the other tomatoes I trialed. 2011 was the year I tried every early slicer I could afford from Territorial Seed Company.  All of the new tomatoes were colossal failures. I also tried a large variety of cherry tomatoes. Gold Nugget was the clear winner and will receive an honored place in my garden for years to come.

Honestly, the most important discovery of 2011? Every tomato (except maybe Siltz) needs heat to ripen. The little Black Plum Paste that brags of ripe fruit in 68 days did not have significant ripe fruit any earlier than the Manitoba or Persimmon (80 days) even though the aggressive vine was covered with clusters of green fruit. Cleaning out the garden in mid September brought me to my 2nd happy discovery. The 2011 tomato garden was full of big green tomatoes and large clusters of small tomatoes. My youngest was asking for Fried Green Tomatoes, so I brought them all in to cook up……and then forgot about them. The early green tomatoes rotted in their boxes. The late tomatoes ripened in fragrant shades of pink, red and yellows.

For 2012 I have decided to trial regular full season tomatoes to harvest green in September. The best soup and sauce of the year came from green tomatoes that ripened on the sideboard in my kitchen.

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