Beans, Wine, and the Real Vivi

“Mom, do we have to clean today?”

“Nope, no cleaning. I mean, no extra cleaning. We just have to tidy up after ourselves–like if we eat, we’ll clean those dishes,” I explain nonchalantly. It’s a bit of a lie, and by now all of us know it. Because somehow this cleaning up after ourselves seems to take most of the day. The summer is more than half over and I’m still mystified by how much work the four of us create. No sooner do we clear the couch of one load of laundry than the next fills the cracks between the cushions. Lunch dishes crowd out breakfast dishes that are nesting in last night’s supper pots. This kitchen was perfectly clean at five o’clock yesterday I’ve been known to say, hoping everyone else will realize the gravity of the situation and acknowledge the mess we make. But I don’t expect them to understand it because I certainly don’t. I’ve been looking after myself for at least 20 years now (running a household with children for the last eleven) and still don’t understand the math of household maintenance.

I do know green beans are part of the equation. Each time I pick them I feel incredibly grateful to be growing our own food. I also feel incredibly sweaty and itchy. The mosquitoes ascend like plumes of smoke, attacking my neck, wrists, and ankles as I swish through the plants. Swatting and blowing them out of my face I remind myself that this, too, is one of the benefits of gardening. It’s called appreciation. The next time I open up a plastic bag of store-bought beans and dump them into my pot I will be thankful. Instead of balking when the cashier tells me the total for my groceries I will wonder how such a great amount of energy can come so cheap.


I love purple beans

It’s not just the beans. The ruby-red siren song of cherries, raspberries, strawberries, and tomatoes are factors in the formula we never seem to balance. For the last six weeks I’ve kept a stack of empty buckets at the back door so we can fill them at a moment’s notice. Which, of course, leads to other urgent jobs, like stomping cherries for wine. Another reason our days at home get hijacked by nagging and the tiresome task of looking after ourselves is because it’s hard to keep up while we’re at the beach. Which means I have no right to complain about anything.


All three girls treading Shelly’s cherries with very clean feet. I promise.


Garlic harvest!!!! The girls garlic did better than mine. I planted mine in a heavily composted bed; theirs was in poorer soil. Not sure if that was the reason?



Belén skiing for the first time at the Whyte’s cabin


Susanna after her ski. Thanks to Duane!


When babies reach their first birthday it’s cause to celebrate. According to me, all the hoopla should be for the parents; the ones who give up so much to ensure those helpless, seven-pound, naked creatures survive. In Vivian’s case, it wasn’t just her parent’s lives that were turned around. Her sisters’ world changed too. Which is why her birthday party was more about them than Vivian. They planned the games, bought prizes, and helped with the cake. It wasn’t baby-friendly either. No healthy rice cakes here to mark the occasion. No siree! We served New York style cheesecake with cherries—because that’s what we like. I didn’t get the obligatory picture of Vivi blowing out the candles, and I don’t even know if she tasted it. Did I mention this was more about us?


The girls had games for both the moms and the dads. Here Stan is asking his Dad to answer one of the questions on the beach ball: “What is my favourite toy?”


The moms’ game: be the first to find your crying child while blindfolded. Even the 40-year-old children had to cry so their moms could find them with the candy soother. (I’m looking for Susie in this picture.)

I’m not sure what I would’ve done without Belén and Susanna this past year. Susanna seems to have extra patience when mine runs out. Like her dad waiting for fish to bite, Susanna sits quietly by Vivi’s crib humming lullabies while Vivi tosses and turns, making sure she’s asleep before she tip-toes out of the room. Belén is the one who hates for her to cry, who hears Vivian screaming while I’m giving her a bath and appears at my side with graham crackers. While the tap water pours off Vivi’s head and body, Belén plies her with crackers and soothing words, anxious to stop her tears. And though it’s probably not best-practise to stuff your baby with treats while bathing, I don’t tell Belén to stop. It’s hard to argue when the baby is happy.


The walker Stan rigged for Vivi works well. Maybe too well. She hasn’t really struck off on her own yet.

But, despite all this care, something has happened to Vivian lately. I think it has to do with becoming human–like she’s got a brain of her own or something. Imagine! Never mind that she can’t talk yet, she’s got opinions alright. She probably has political preferences too, we just don’t know them yet. We noticed all of this because of the way she throws her head back and cries now. It’s not a hungry baby cry, but more of a I-need-my-way wail. It’s the way her limbs turn to wet toilet paper when we want her to stand and the way she stiffens them like iron when we want her to sit. All of this makes me think she really is her own person. At first this was disheartening, realizing she won’t be perfect or even what we projected onto her infant-self, but I’m coming to terms with having another complex human around here. So much for sweet baby Vivi without personality. Here’s to the real Vivian. Happy birthday!


PS. The math of household maintenance got a whole lot simpler with Stan’s parents around for the week. There are good reasons why three-generation households are common in many cultures.




We played a little game that landed us up at the ice cream shop. Can you tell who lost?




Lamb’s quarters

If you have jumpy little black bugs in your garden, and if the arugula you planted has holes in it one day, is shriveled the next, and totally gone the third day, you might have flea beetles. I love arugula, especially with feta cheese, toasted pecans and cranberries, so I plant it every year. This year I planted it twice–both times the seedlings succumbed to flea beetles resulting in my sixth consecutive arugula crop failure. Which of course doesn’t matter one whit when I consider real crop failure and livelihoods on the line, but in my little world it is something to take note of. Don’t plant arugula…will not survive flea beetle.

Besides the arugula fiasco, I’ve taken note of something else. Just about the same time my second planting of arugula went down, lamb’s quarters started elbowing out the Orca beans. I always have these weeds in my garden, and I often munch on them before pulling them, but today I had an idea. Why don’t I let a few of these silver-powdered plants reach maturity, harvest their seed, and dedicate a whole plot to them next season? It’s a nutritional powerhouse, doesn’t cower to the flea beetle, and best of all, grows like a weed!

Once upon a time, lamb’s quarters greens received more respect. Their ancient name was “all good,” and all good they are. They contain more iron and protein than raw cabbage or spinach, more calcium and vitamin B1 than raw cabbage, and more vitamin B2 than cabbage or spinach.  According to Joan Richardson’s Wild Edible Plants of New England, lamb’s quarters “even outclasses spinach as a storehouse of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin C, and great amounts of vitamin A, not to mention all the minerals pulled out of the earth by its strong taproot.” (from Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association)

What makes arugula so much better than lamb’s quarters anyway? I did a taste test with the greens I harvested from my garden today (butter crunch lettuce, red leaf lettuce, spinach, and lamb’s quarters) and enjoyed the young lamb’s quarters as much as the rest, if not more. The nutty flavour is not as bitter as the lettuce and will go fine with pecans and a balsamic vinaigrette. I’ve read the seeds are also edible and can be ground into flour or cooked whole (like quinoa), but will update you further when I have some more first-hand information!


Our annual skip-school day is a sacred tradition the girls talk about months beforehand. This year I send them ahead with Shelly while I stay home for Vivian’s first nap, hoping she will be well-rested and ready for the dunes just like her big sisters. While she sleeps, I ready the back-pack carrier and envision walking for miles along the shore, like always. I grab wieners and anticipate roasting a perfectly salty hot dog. Like always. I fold my towel and look forward to laying in the sun, water evaporating off my freshly cooled skin. Like always.

When we arrive at the dunes the sun is high. It’s just past noon and Vivian is starting to get hungry. Should I feed her now or put sunscreen on her or try to build a lean-to shelter for shade? I set her down to look for baby food–which I forgot to bring, while she cries and eats sand. There are tent caterpillars everywhere; on our blankets, our water bottles, our sandals, and our legs. I flick one out of Vivi’s hand and try to cover her up from the sun with my long-sleeve cotton shirt. It doesn’t work. She crawls forward and bungles her knees in the fabric, the sun beats hard, and I’m wondering if it’s okay for her to eat chips all day. I’m also wondering how long we can last.

This isn’t like I planned and doesn’t match my memories of visiting with the other moms, laughing while kids vault off sandy cliffs, and joking with them about what “all the children in school are doing”. I haven’t taken one picture of the girls jumping off the dunes or heard any of the conversation around me, much less contributed to it. I am too worried about Vivi, the worms, the wind, getting her to sleep again and why this feels so different than last year. After nursing her awhile with her fleshy white legs jutting out from my sweaty belly, I know we need shade. I walk down the beach while the wind pushes hard against me and dig my heels into the sand. Towel whipping in the wind and cooler tugging on my shoulder, I yell back to my mom trudging behind, “The ambiance isn’t quite like I’d hoped!”

It’s true, the ambiance is different with a ten-month-old. My mom and I whisper about it while Vivi snoozes on the blanket beside us; how this summer will be hard and so will the next, and then maybe, by the time she’s three, things will go back to normal. How relaxing at the beach really means multitasking: conversations that ebb and flow while chasing a little one, filling up buckets of sand, monitoring liquid intake and readjusting sun hats.

When I worked as a liaison with high school exchange students, their orientation manual included a section on making judgements and how things don’t have to be “better” or “worse”.  Sometimes they are just different. Now, like the exchange students, I am learning about my new landscape; calibrating expectations so my internal gauge reads different instead of worse. Instead of leisurely roasting my own hotdog like I imagined, I go without until Belén finds us in our new spot. She comes back shortly, kicking up sand and running with a sizzling wiener at the end of her stick, cooked just for me. Later, Susanna and I count to three and dive under the water. It feels like freedom and I manage a few strokes before my Vivi radar turns on. I look back to see her with my mom at the water’s edge. They are just fine.

Back on shore, the day stretches into its finest hours–the wind dies down and the sunshine sweetens into a gentle heat. Belén is dangling her feet from the dinghy and Ainsly floats beside while they make up terrible jokes in a secret language. Susanna is throwing a football with Jack, and Shelly sits nearby in the sun. I watch water droplets disappear from her tanned shoulders, instead of my own, while sitting with Vivi under the shade of a poplar. Vivian is bare-bummed (sure to pee any minute), her mouth is mustached with grit, and I just gave her another potato chip, but she is quiet. Perfectly still. This is when I decide we can stay just a few minutes longer. Everything is going to be okay.


My mom and Vivian



PS. Here’s a quote I forgot to add to my last post. It’s one of many I highlighted in Ueland’s book:

“Art is infection. The artist has a feeling and he expresses it and at once this feeling infects other people and they have it too. When I read this in Tolstoy it seemed like a great flashing discovery. But perhaps I would not have been so struck by it if it had not been for my class. I saw in their writing how whenever a sentence came from the true self and was felt, it was good, alive, it infected one no matter what the words were, no matter how ungrammatical or badly arranged they were. But when the sentence was not felt by the writer, it was dead. No infection.”



Dandelion Root Coffee

I planned on encapsulating the meaning of life in a jaunty essay this morning but I haven’t had enough sleep for that. Instead I’ll drink a cup of dandelion root coffee and go back to bed. Here’s my post from last season on how to do it. It’s worth it just for the yummy smell of the roots roasting. The taste is coffee-like; try experimenting with the steeping times if you are not immediately won over. Goodnight!

Experimenting as we grow

DSCN7858_ dandelion root coffee

What sort of extras do you have time for? Yoga? Scrap-booking? TV? Floor mopping? Puzzles? Going to the gym? Movies?

I’m afraid I don’t have time for any of those things. My life is too fast-paced for such indulgences and I’m simply much too busy. Busy picking dandelions. Isn’t it wonderful most of us have some choice in what we do with our time–even if it’s just a half hour a day? I think yoga must be terrific but I don’t know how I’d ever squeeze it in at times like these when digging dandelions roots is absolutely urgent.

I read somewhere that millions of French children, women, and old men feel the same way I do. Though I’m not sure this is true, I like to imagine the French roaming the countryside en masse in pursuit of the aptly named pissenlit. Besides it’s diuretic action…

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Why I can’t invite you over


Dear friends on my “to-invite” list

One of these days we have to get together
I think we’d get along
We want to get to know you better
but there’s a problem
I can’t invite you over

Can’t pick up the phone
Can’t set a date
Can’t plan for 5:30
Can’t say dinner would be great
Can’t invite you over

Because I know 5:30 around here
It’s laundry on the couch
backpacks blocking the door
lunch left-overs on the table
and a baby with dried snot in her eyebrows

Five-thirty is look-at-this-house! time
How-could-I-be-so-unproductive? time
It’s towels on the bathroom floor
a clatter of cans waiting to be recycled
and piles of junk-mail in the kitchen

If I call you for dinner it will be grand


My husband will be later than expected
All smiles for company but grimaces for hubby
I’ll forget about drinks and only offer water
When the food is finally ready I’ll have to nurse my baby
then finish setting a mismatched table

No, I cannot invite you over
Can’t offer my home
Propose a meal
Or promise perfection
We simply cannot get together


You show up at my door unannounced
The surprise, my alibi
An excuse for cans and clutter
I’ll move the folded underwear and offer you a seat
You will stay for supper because there is always enough

I will offer you a glass of water in a jar
because all my cups will be in the dishwasher
It won’t tinkle with ice-cubes but it will be wet
Nearly perfect
And I’ll be so glad I didn’t invite you

Janelle’s Soup


Clayton and Mary Lou


“Come give your aunty a kiss!”


Stan with his brother and sister

When we holiday with the Reed side of the family it takes months of planning; airplane tickets need to be purchased, work schedules accommodated, vacation-rentals booked, meal-plans and grocery lists posted on-line, and last year’s missed Christmas gifts bought and wrapped. After all the organizational effort we still need to get on location. Some drive 2300 miles, others fly across the country. Our own itinerary includes car, plane, and ferry travel.

While exploring our 5-bathroom home for the week, the older cousins run through bedrooms scoping out sleeping spots, as if rest is one of their priorities. They aren’t the only ones who sacrifice sleep; with a two-year-old and baby in the mix–each from different time zones, night-time is more of a brief intermission between activity than a prolonged rest.

But we don’t care much about that. Not when there are gulleys to rappel, creeks to explore, mountain ridges to hike, tide pools to discover, songs to make up, stories to tell, cougars to spot? and bowlfuls of Janelle’s soup to eat.


Stan and his mom, hiking on the trails around the home we rented.


At the gulley before the rappelling lessons from Stan


Tide pools at Salt Creek Recreation Area in WA




Cousin Trevor

image image It’s easy to notice how much the children have changed since the last time we were all together. Then we had to watch Maeve carefully while she toddled around the fire, and was it Simon who was still taking naps? It’s different now; Maeve digs her heels in and clings to the rope during a tug-of-war to pull the girls to victory, and Simon keeps up with the oldest three, balancing on logs and testing out carabiners. Both of them perform an original ballad, written for their grandma and grandpa, with their very serious older cousins. (Though I notice Maeve making faces at Simon during the chorus). Next time it will be Lucy who graduates to the senior ranks, and then Vivian. The memories from each vacation are like marks against the wall–only instead of measuring in feet and inches we have anecdotes to reflect growth.


Hurricane Ridge, Olympic Park, WA


My sister-in-laws and me


Is Maeve fleeing from our harmonies?

image Our last day together we go to Hurricane Ridge in Olympic Park. We walk until we find an open meadow with an expansive view which moves us to song. After a hymn, How Great Thou Art, things quickly degrade; it’s impossible not to conjure Julia Andrews in these surroundings so we try our best. The moment, if not entirely musical, is memorable and we stay as long as we can overlooking the mountain panorama. By the time we get home we are hungry again. Happily, it is Janelle and Jon’s night on supper duty and they make this soup for us. A few days after we return home both Anne and I email Janelle separately for the recipe so we can recreate it ourselves. I’m not sure if it was the scenery before eating the soup, the anise flavour in the Italian sausage, or simply the fact I didn’t prepare it, that made it so good. Give it a try to make up your own mind…

Janelle’s Italian Soup

3 cloves garlic

1 medium onion

olive oil

1 lb Italian sausage, casings removed and crumbled

3 15.5 oz cans of great northern beans, rinsed and drained

2 14.5 oz cans Italian diced tomatoes

1 14 oz can chicken broth

rosemary, salt and pepper to taste

Saute onions and garlic in oil and then brown the sausage. (I tried it with farmer sausage and it didn’t work. You need the herbs in the Italian kind.) Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer. Go somewhere really beautiful, then come back, and eat.

What We’re Into

Poetry: Last week I went to a poetry workshop titled “Poetry Everywhere” where I learned about found poetry. The facilitator, a performance poet, suggested we not only think of ourselves as creators, but curators; collectors instead of isolated composers. If we listen to the world around us–the bus plowing through slushy puddles, a conversation overheard at the gas station, the father singing a lullaby–and record what captures our attention, poetry will emerge. Our task is to be present, almost meditative, then re-arrange and select the words from the raw verse that already exists. Found poetry is harnessing the lyrical energy of the world around us. It is capturing the poetic potential of everyday life.

One activity during the session was to build a poem from random phrases that we pulled while flipping through the pages of a book. Next, we listened to the radio for ten minutes while jotting down words that jumped out at us. After listening, we had 5 minutes to shape a poem from the words we had scraped together. The segment on air (an interview on Pharmacare) wasn’t particularly suited to poetry, but when everyone shared what they had written, meaning was found. Our instructor* told us about working at a festival collecting poetry, by eavesdropping and paying attention, and then performing it at the end of the event. Imagine the possibilities! Besides arranging a photographer for your wedding, anniversary, funeral, or big party, you could hire a wandering poet. Someone who would note spoken bits and pieces and form it into something beautiful (or witty/sad/funny/smart) to capture the spirit of the celebration. Or you could do it yourself!

Inspiring, huh?

But here’s the kicker. (And you know by now there’s always a confession, or ironic detail, lurking in the shadows of every blog post ever written.) While I write this I’m wearing ear plugs; the fluorescent orange sponge is slowly swelling in place to block out life around me. I know. I couldn’t be more hypocritical even if I tried. Sometimes the poetry of our circumstances is more abrasive than we’d like; more gangsta rap than Robert Frost. But don’t let that deter you. Go ahead and try this at home, maybe during supper hour at the table, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Ropes and Carabiners: Lately, there’s been a lot of knot tying, harness rigging, and literal hanging-around happening here. It’s inspired partly by Stan’s nostalgia for his days on Denali, the kids’ natural love of climbing, and an up-coming trip…

DSCN9823_ DSCN9834_ DSCN9864_ DSCN9871_ DSCN9877_

Ratios: Have you seen this book? I ordered it for Susanna so she can take her experimental cake-baking to the next level. Both the cake we made on Saturday and the pancakes on Friday morning turned out great. And, they were gluten-free.**  The book is written for conventional wheat baking and cooking but I’m learning about the chemistry of food and how it translates to gluten-free ingredients. I think we may have to make a painting of the wheel on the cover to hang in our kitchen.


Easter: We started celebrating Easter a little early this year by attempting GF “resurrection rolls”. They failed miserably. While Belén and Susanna peered through the oven door, surveying the mess on the cookie sheet, I reminded them that just because our rolls didn’t turn out with perfect airy centers didn’t mean Jesus didn’t rise from the grave. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt comfortable comparing Jesus to a marshmallow anyway; the power of a metaphor only extends so far.

Also, on Saturday night we included our kids for the first time in a tradition Stan and I have been following for years. We read one whole book of the Bible out-loud, from start to almost finish. We always do Mark, because it’s the shortest, and because it’s a good one to see what the main character of Easter is about. (But mainly because it’s the shortest gospel.) And we always eat bread and olives and drink wine.  Every time we do it we have lots to talk about; there are things we’ve forgotten, questions to ask, and exclamations to make. We stop reading right near the end, after Jesus is crucified, and leave our open Bibles on the table. The excitement is almost like hanging up a stocking, but different. Then the next morning we finish the story. Because the ending is the reason anybody remembers what happened and why the whole world is still talking about it.

Looking for poetry and Easter everywhere,


*To learn more about Shayna Stock check out her site. She is based in Regina,SK but she travels and is willing to work remotely.

** My latest efforts with an all-purpose GF mix include 40% whole grains (millet, buckwheat, and sorghum) and 60% starches, by weight. I am finally hooked on using a kitchen scale for baking.

Slippery Elm Lozenges and a Winter Holiday


When I’m feeling healthy I don’t think about swallowing. I just do it. There, I did it again–without thinking or wincing. Isn’t it amazing how we appreciate even the simplest functions when our body isn’t working the way we are used to? When I have a cold, and daggers line my throat, I wonder how I could ever take good health for granted. Then I get better and forget all about it. Until the next virus shows up–when I’ll search my site to find this recipe again. These homemade cough drops soothe the throat, don’t contain refined sugars* or artificial colourings* like commercial lozenges, and are easy to make.

Recipe for Herbal Lozenges

1/2 cup slippery elm bark powder (mucilaginous herb useful for treating inflammations)
1 tablespoon cinnamon (an antibacterial and antiviral)
1/2 cup licorice root tea (treats sore throat and cough)
4 tablespoons of honey (for flavour and antibacterial qualities)

Boil water, brew licorice tea, and sweeten it with honey. (This tea is extremely sweet–be sure to taste a drop before you add it to see for yourself.) Mix with elm powder and cinnamon and shape into little balls. Keep some powder aside to help roll the dough (dip the balls in it while you are forming them) as it will be sticky. Place lozenges on a cookie sheet and leave to dry. You can dehydrate these or place in a warm oven to speed up the process. When they are dry they will not be as hard as conventional cough drops but they last just as long in the mouth.

Belén and I love the way these taste and eat them like candy. Susanna, on the other hand, won’t touch them. When I offered some of my last batch to Stan he responded with, “Do I have to?” I kind of don’t blame him, they look a lot like deer droppings. But they seem to help and that’s good enough for me.


*Disclosure: I avoid all artificial colours and sugar unless they happen to be in Skittles, or anything else I want to eat. I’m also the kind of person who drinks my kombucha with hotdogs and potato chips. Just so you know.


We’re at the fiddle contest and I’m trying to jiggle Vivian to sleep at the back of the hall, when I spot two other little girls heading for the water fountain. Arms linked and tripping over each other’s winter boots they whisper and giggle, the way most nine-year-olds do. Except they’re doing it in French. Later when Belén and I are waltzing in the swirling crowd of dancers she hears it too. Young people, middle-aged people, and old people, all speaking the language of instruction at her school. And they’re doing it voluntarily. On the drive home from Winnipeg I ask the girls if they noticed it.

“Yes,” Belén says, “And I kept wondering why they were doing it when nobody was making them speak French.”

Which is one of the reasons we like to go to the Festival du Voyageur; so our girls can hear people singing, dancing, partying, and joking in French–a language they associate with math and science, teachers and textbooks. This time we went with my parents and made a little vacation of it, skating on the river, going to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, staying in a hotel and eating out.


At the Museum for Human Rights. I love this picture of my dad and Vivian. My mom is to the right of my dad.


Our favourite group at the festival–Bon Débarras


I got them to look at me for the photo but they mostly entranced by the step-dancing on stage.

My parents at one of the Festival snow sculptures

The sky darkens and our bodies are starting to ache from the cold when the next singer comes on stage. She strums a few chords then yells out to the crowd, “If I were you, I’d have stayed home tonight!” The tents are warmed with huge propane heaters but we can still see our breath and can’t shake the chill of spending the day outside. A few more notes ring out from her guitar. “But I had to come because I’m playing!” The crowd laughs and claps with mittened hands. Soon we’ll go back to the hotel where I’ll run the hottest bath I can handle, the older girls will run back and forth between Grandma and Grandpa’s room and ours, Vivian will finally be able to nurse without distraction, and Stan can kick off his boots after accomplishing another day’s holiday. Which is a bit what it feels like as we get used to traveling with an infant again. She’s been mostly content but it’s not like we haven’t noticed her, and that’s good, but still harder. In Vivian’s defense, she hasn’t had much time to be a baby; like lollygag in her playpen or suckle in a quiet corner. There is too much at the museum to see, maple syrup taffy to taste, and too many miles to skate.


My parents with B and S behind


Skating on miles of river trails. They had wooden chairs outfitted with skis to give people a break:)


Vivian is under that pile of plastic and blankets in the stroller.


 Stay warm,