An Eleanor Update

October 30, 2007 at 9:34 pm (Eleanor, parenting)

My little smartie pants can now strings words together to communicate a whole idea or to tell me a story.  The other day at the tot gym Eleanor got upset because some older kids (we’re talking three-year-olds here) wouldn’t let her play in the block house they had built.   I was watching this from the bench on the other side of the gymnasium, so I had some reference for when she came over to me and said, crying, “Mommy… Allie… set… ment… chirdet… hows.”  Translation: “Mommy, I’m sad and I’m mad at those children that won’t let me play in the house.”  Good girl!

Well, we didn’t have to wait long before the big kids were done playing with the blocks and I started to build a new block house just for Eleanor.  Unfortunately, it also wasn’t long before some other children wanted to play in our house and, though they kind of took over, I couldn’t very well send them away or condone Eleanor pushing them away.  I didn’t want to show Eleanor that what the bigger kids had done to her earlier was the right thing to do.  And, of course, I didn’t want to make the little kids “set” and “ment!”


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Organic vs. Local

October 24, 2007 at 5:25 pm (environment, food, Other, permaculture) (, , , , )

You’ve probably heard of the “100-mile diet.” It seems it’s on everyone’s lips lately–at least everyone in the high-end natural foods stores in which I work. I frequently do demos in the local Capers markets (I also shop there for some things since there’s one so close to my house) and I’ve noticed that they do a great job of clearly marking which products are locally grown or locally produced. They know that their shoppers want to support local growers and the local economy.

For many people around here, it seems buying local is a social thing and they never stop to think that they’re also doing something good for the environment. They buy Canadian- rather than American-made products to keep Canada strong economically, and therefore, politically. They prefer something made in British Columbia over something made in Ontario, Quebec, the Maritimes, or the Prairie Provinces because, in order, nobody likes Toronto, the Quebecois don’t like Canada, nothing comes out of the Maritimes but people, and the people of the plains are way too conservative for the likes of Canada’s “left coast.” None of this comes close to the real reason, the best reason, my reason for buying local: the environment!

For years, health and environment experts have been touting the benefits of eating organically-grown foods. For those who said organics were too costly, they came up with the “dirty dozen” list (I still have my copy mom and I do use it!), which named the top twelve pesticide-and insecticide-laden fruits and vegetables so that we could at least be buying these organic even if we had to buy conventional in other areas to cut our overall spending on groceries. I suppose if your number one priority is your own health and you buy organic for the sole purpose of keeping mysterious chemicals out of your bloodstream, then you’d be doing well to find a grocery store that stocks the widest variety of organics, regardless of how far those foods travel. On the other hand, maybe your concerns are not so much for your own health, but for the well-being of the planet. Environmentalists prefer buying organically-grown foods because their production doesn’t entail the use of deadly chemicals that end up in groundwater, their producers use more sensible shading, irrigating, and composting techniques, and because they generally are grown on smaller farms that have more respect for biodiversity (i.e. because they’re better for the environment).

If given a choice between an apple grown on a small family-run orchard that practices organic, sustainable farming methods and an apple grown on a large industrial farm that has maximum-output-for-maximum-profit as its modus operandi, the environmentalist and the health-nut would probably both go for the first apple. Surely, its production was easier on the earth and it probably has more flavor and nutritional value even if it doesn’t have the blemish-free waxy exterior of the second apple. It would be my choice, too. But, what if the organic, family farm is in New Zealand and the industrial farm is located just 10 miles outside your hometown? Then which apple is better for the earth?  The way I see it, there’s just no point in supporting organic agriculture if it requires polluting 5,000 miles of ocean to get the food to market.  Of course, if you absolutely can’t survive the winter without tropical fruits and polluting the ocean is the only way to get them to North America, then please do go for the organic ones.

“Food Miles” is a term I’ve heard a lot lately, having recently immersed myself in the local-food movement through my new job; it refers to the distance that a given piece of food travels from field to plate. Processed foods rack up food miles faster than fresh produce because you have to take into account the distances traveled by each ingredient and the fact that such foods are rarely grown, processed, packaged, sorted, and sold all in one geographical region. For example, cranberries are locally in-season right before Thanksgiving and are commonly packaged and sold under the Ocean Spray name. If you buy them directly from a local farmer at a farmer’s market, you’ll spend a little more money, but you’ve saved the earth all the fuel and emissions that are spent transporting locally-grown cranberries to a processing plant on the east coast for cleaning, sorting, and packaging and then shipping those same cranberries in pretty blue and white be-waved bags back to their birthplace. I recently read that the average North American meal travels 1500 miles before it reaches our tables. Isn’t it sad that our food gets to see more of the world than we do?!

Ideally, we could always get organic, locally-grown foods, but that’s just not the case. It wouldn’t be natural if we could. Having come to the realization that a globalized food (or any other commodity for that matter) production system is having an adverse effect on the environment, I’ve resorted to buying local over organic if I can’t get both. Ultimately, though, if we want more local food, we have to get used to a limited variety of offerings, as we have to buy within the bounds of the natural growing season.

Alternatively, and this seems to be pretty popular around here, there’s always the option of growing your own fruits and vegetables in a backyard garden–that way your food miles are zero–and eating less processed and pre-packaged foods. This year, I grew swiss chard in my backyard. I attempted broccoli, but it didn’t do anything. With fond memories of helping in my grandmother’s garden, I will attempt to diversify next summer’s garden. I want fresh herbs and salad greens. Some tomatoes would be nice… mmm…

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Globalization and Grandmas

October 20, 2007 at 4:48 pm (parenting) (, , , )

These days, especially in Vancouver, it seems just about everyone I know is from somewhere else. In fact, Eleanor is one of the only Vancouverites I know to actually be born here. Since moving to Vancouver, I have met people from all over the world. I used to joke that the bakery where I was working was Canadian-owned but internationally-operated since employees came from places as scattered as the Philippines, Japan, Bosnia, England, the US, and Mexico. This state of affairs is probably exaggerated in Vancouver, as it is a world-class port city, but it is by no means unique to Vancouver. Moving all over the world, or at least across a continent, is a pretty common occurrence in this era of globalization.

Of course, it wasn’t always like this. Presumably, people didn’t move far from home because they lacked the opportunity or the means to do so. But, I know better. This whole experience of raising a child far from home and family has really made me see the value of grandmas!

When I was a kid, my family was only a thirty-minute car ride from my grandparents’ house. I used to think it was so cool that my brother and I could visit so often, even for trips of a week or more in the summertime. I figured my mom was being really nice to allow us this privilege. Now, I know better: she didn’t do it for us; she wanted some time to herself!

This childcare thing is relentless, especially when you don’t make use of a nanny or daycare. Yes, believe it or not, Stephen and I take full responsibility for Eleanor 24/7. What we really need is a grandma or two. Some grandpas would be nice, too. And, maybe even an aunt or an uncle.

Someone should come up with a meet-up service to match lonely parents in need of a break with lonely empty-nesters whose own children and grandchildren live far away like us.  I’m thinking “Rent-a-Granny” or “Grandma for a Day” or some such business idea.  Any takers?

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Anyone know what this is?

October 19, 2007 at 6:03 am (aquaria) (, , , )


While admiring my beautiful aqua-garden today, I noticed this fleshy-looking thing under the driftwood. Upon closer inspection (no, this time I didn’t mince it up for fishfood), I realized it was a worm of some sort. Just as I was thinking what I could use to fish it out, one brave little White Cloud freed it (already dead by the way it was suspended), gnawed on the end of it, and deciding it wouldn’t make a very good lunch, left it to float to the surface. That’s when I snapped these shots.

The worm was about 1″ long with a clearly segmented, flesh-colored body. Several weeks ago, I found a smaller (about 1 cm.), greener worm in my other tank. It looked like a small underwater inch worm. I can’t be sure that the worm I found today was living in the tank, as there was no prior evidence of him. But, the other worm’s existence was suspected because it was obvious that something had been eating the leaves of the sword plant he was eventually found in.

I’ve kept aquaria for many years and have never encountered worms like these, at least not that live under water. Of course, the two tanks that I currently maintain are the most, and only, successful planted tanks I’ve had. If worms of this sort are a common pest or parasite to the planted tank, this is the first I’ve heard of them. Anyone?

Aqua-Worm Close-Up

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Diaper Free… Well, Mostly

October 19, 2007 at 5:32 am (Eleanor, Other, parenting) (, , , , )

When I tell people that Eleanor is pretty much potty-trained at only twenty months of age, they invariably want to know what I’ve done to achieve this. Well, it’s not so much what I’ve done, but what I haven’t done that’s made it possible. Quite simply, I haven’t given root to the false, yet extremely common (for the under-two crowd), belief that you should use your pants as a toilet. Put another way, I have simply tried to raise Eleanor knowing what the potty is for even when she couldn’t use it or tell me she had to go.

To this end, Eleanor has been “toileting” in a more appropriate place at every opportunity since she was five weeks old. At first, it was the sink, although I’ve heard tell of people who keep plastic bowls or buckets near the newborn-family bed for night work. We purchased the smallest plastic potty we could find as soon as she was big enough to sit up steady on it. By “every opportunity,” I simply mean whenever I happened to get the sense that she needed, or was about, to go; obviously, it’s easier to tell in the beginning with a no. two, so we actually achieved diaper-free no. twos about eight weeks before the recent successes with no. ones. Often it happened that I made the assumption her diaper would be wet, given how long it had been since the previous change; upon removal, the diaper would prove to be dry and I would simply hold her over the sink or sit her on the potty to see if she had to go.

For many months, maybe the whole first year we were doing this, it was simply an exercise on my part, lacking any recognition or understanding on hers. But, by consistently showing her how it’s done–and without any real encouragement or pressure–she simply came to know that using the actual toilet is the way toileting is done. And why shouldn’t she have learned that from the beginning? It came completely naturally to her, I think in no small part due to the fact that she was never given the opportunity to learn otherwise, but also because she was equipped for it all along. The potty, for E, was not this strange seat that entered her life on her second birthday (or third or fourth) and gave occasion to her parents to get angry with her or become frustrated with her for not understanding what they wanted her to do. I truly think that Eleanor has done as much at every stage to recognize needing to go, communicating that need, and then doing the deed as she was physically and mentally able to do at the time.

In the last week, something must have clicked. The whole process is mentally and physically there. She’s now going for entire days at a time wearing diapers but never wetting them. She even wears panties around the house sometimes. (She’s so skinny, though, the loss of all that bulk means falls hurt more and her pants are huge.)
Contrary to what I stated above about it being easier to pick up on the no. two cues, so to speak, this whole diaper-free enterprise actually arose because of five-week old Eleanor’s thankfully-short-lived habit of grunting when she had to pee at night. Several nights in a row, she kept me awake for at least an hour grunting as if she was trying to go in her sleep. Each night, when I got her up and took her to the bathroom to change her, I discovered a dry diaper. Each night, the dry diaper was soon followed by a wet diaper and a wet counter. Since she wasn’t get any wear out of these diapers, it seemed a waste that I should still have to toss it in the diaper pail. I figured, every diaper I kept out of the diaper pail meant I could go a little bit longer without having to wash and fold a load of cloth diapers.

Wait: rewind a few months to the pregnancy workshop I attended at a local community center. The discussion leaders that night were Hope and Bonnie, the two-woman doula team that taught the pre-natal class I signed up for post-workshop. They were a little out there in an earth-mother-love kinda way, which is cool, but they had some kinda “out there” pregnancy and childcare books arrayed on the table, one of which caught my eye: Diaper Free, Naturally! or something like that. That’s where I first came across the ideas and methods described above, as well as some shocking data showing that the age at which “toilet-training” (a modern idea, by the way) typically begins, has risen steadily during the decades since the inception of disposable diapering (which I never would have considered even if I knew my kid could never be housebroken). Diaper companies keep making larger sizes, more specialized fits for active toddlers, and now Goodnites for bed-wetting older children. With the addition of adult diapers for the incontinent (probably just the same companies, different names), diaper makers pretty much have you for life. What’s next? Disposable underwear?

Fast-forward. So, on the fourth night, knowing that Eleanor would soon let loose all over the counter, I decided to save a diaper and hold her over the sink. I was struck by how easy the diaper-free approach really could be and I just kept doing it one diaper at a time. She was only five weeks old when we started and her floppy head posed a challenge for getting her into position, but with practice I figured out how to grasp her under the thighs and rest her head between my arms. And, best of all, the grunting stopped and I could get back to my then-favorite past-time: sleep!

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Japanese Grocery Adventure

October 16, 2007 at 6:14 am (Other) (, , )

Eleanor and Mommy went on an adventure today! We braved the rain to shop at Fujiya, a local Japanese grocery store. At the least the word “sashimi” was written in English, so I knew what fish to buy, but for everything else I had to ask an employee for instruction. Obviously, the store caters to the Japanese in the area. Surprisingly, though, it was located in a rather industrial-seeming part of town. When we got home with the fish, rice, wasabi, and Pretz (yummy biscuit sticks), I made and dressed the rice and left it to cool while I once more dragged Eleanor out in the rain. It’s good for her to get used to it. This time, for the veggies and extras. Making three 6-8 piece maki rolls, 4 nigiri sushi, and a crab meat temaki for myself was all a bit more time-consuming than I hoped it would be. And, as expected, Eleanor was completely uninterested in eating raw “pih.” Oh well… more for us!!

Tuna Nigiri

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The Apple Festival!

October 15, 2007 at 4:50 am (Other) ()


Stephen and I took Eleanor to the UBC Botanical Garden today for the annual apple festival. Apples are big business in the Okanagan growing region of BC and October is peak harvest time. We tasted dozens of different apple varieties–all of them delicious! We came home with some Aurora Golden Galas, which have an aromatic quality like crispy honey flowers. The Topaz, which we also purchased, are super crisp and juicy. They have a thick skin and a sweet-and-sour flavor. The best apple at the show was, by far, the Golden Gala, but it wasn’t available for purchase. Maybe next year!

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A Real Job

October 12, 2007 at 4:49 pm (Other) (, , , , , )

For those of you who don’t know, I have a new job… a real job… with a real company offering benefits and everything! The transition happened so fast. One night I was a disgruntled baker making scarcely more than the minimum–albeit quite lofty compared to that in the US–wage. (Or maybe it’s just BC that’s so nice to workers, what with this right to strike thing and all… just kidding. I support the striking library employees, but that’s another story altogether.) Now, a mere one month, one letter, and one interview later (seriously, it’s the first job I applied for after making the decision to move on from the bakery) I’m employed by Horizon Distributors, Western Canada’s largest natural foods distributor. I’m in sales and marketing… boy does that sound funny. Not ha-ha funny, I just never thought that I’d be one of “those people”–you know, the ones that brainwash innocent little babies to badger their parents to buy them sugary candies and cartoon-look-alike cereals that are terrible for their bodies, terrible for their teeth, but whose saving grace, in the eyes of parents, is that they shut kids up. Yes, yes, I know I’ve railed against marketing and media-types in the past, but really, it’s not like that.

The difference? I represent healthy, all-natural foods, many of them certified organic and fair trade. The job entails traveling to different grocery stores–most of them high-end health foods stores, but some supermarkets as well–and giving out free samples of products distributed by Horizon, asking people their opinions of them, and writing reports with feedback for the vendor on how well or poorly their product is performing in that location and why. And, to serve my own agenda, my mission is to talk to people about the environmental consequences of the vast food supply network we’ve created and come to rely on as a society and to educate them on making purchasing decisions that are better for the earth. In my opinion, touting the health benefits of a product is just an easy way to convince image-conscious people to purchase them when environmental concerns aren’t enough to sway their pocketbooks.

Basically, I get paid really well to do something I’m really good at doing and that is talking about things I feel strongly about: organic agriculture, buying local, vegetarianism, cooking and eating. I’m loving it! And, I’m loving the autonomy of it. Aside from the four-hour demos that I’m scheduled for, the product research, sales calls, and report-writing can all be done from home whenever it’s convenient for me, which usually means first thing in the morning before Eleanor gets up. So, not only am I loving my new job, the job itself has occasioned a transition to being a “morning person.” A few years back, I would have laughed at the notion, but having things out of the way by 9 AM really does set the tone for a productive, yet relaxing day. And, I can focus on my real real job: entertaining Eleanor!

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It’s Official: Eleanor’s a Kid

October 11, 2007 at 5:20 am (Other)

I had finally grown accustomed to having a baby around the house, but along the way, it seemed, Stephen and I were always one step behind. To tell the truth, we never did finish installing the safety hardware on the cabinet doors. Oh well. Fortunately, we won the good baby lottery and Eleanor’s the kind of girl who just doesn’t get into stuff she’s not supposed to get into. She’s extremely sensitive when it comes to being reprimanded and, therefore, easily disciplined with a light hand. She eats well, naps well, and plays well with others. She loves hugging and kissing. And, until a few nights ago, she went to sleep really easily, with no fussing and only minimal stalling. But, she’s officially a little kid now: she’s afraid of the dark. I thought we had a few years to go before dealing with this! And, when do the monsters move into the closet? She’s still so young and unable to communicate in full sentences, so it took us a few nights to figure out what the problem was. It happened so fast, too. One night she went to bed with a kiss, a night-night, and we closed the door as usual, and the next night she fussed and cried, despite several visits from mom and dad, before finally succumbing to sleep out of sheer exhaustion–a mere hour and a half after we put her down. The third night of this actually escalated into a terror-stricken panic that, quite frankly, had Stephen and I a little worried. After much trial and error, we thought to leave her bedroom door open so she wasn’t in complete darkness and–presto!–problem solved. We didn’t hear another peep from her. In my mind, this whole episode underscores how fast she’s growing up. Gone are the days when we don’t really have to worry what she’s being exposed to: now we have to worry if, for example, the hunting scene at the end of Disney’s The Fox and the Hound will cause her to have nightmares. Gone are the days when we can just say anything in front of her because she’s soaking up every little detail of life. It’s truly amazing. Eleanor is no longer a baby in the sense of being passive and uncommunicative. She’s no longer an accessory to us or merely a part of us. She is a little person unto herself–in a word, a kid!

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T.hank G.oodness I.t’s S.unny!

October 10, 2007 at 9:50 pm (Other) (, )

We were hoping that the Vancouver civil strike would come to an end with last night’s vote, but it looks like we’re heading for a new record! What a time to be alive, eh? It’s been three months since the garbage was collected. When I worked nights at the bakery, I regularly hauled my domestic garbage over to the commercial dumpsters. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to have washed my hands of that stupid bakery, but my new job is definitely lacking in illegal-dumping perks. As for recycling, at least it doesn’t stink. I keep piling it up outside, thinking that one of these days I’ll make the time to lug it all over to the return-it depot and maybe even make some dough. But, really, who am I kidding? That would be difficult enough without having to drag a toddler over there and monitor what disgustingness she’s getting into while sorting my empties.

Really, though, garbage collection and recycling services are just icing on the cake that is city life. What I’ve really grown to love–and miss–are the programs offered at local community centers and branch libraries that give kids, and therefore parents, something to do on a rainy day. When this strike began, I didn’t think much about the absence of these services. It was the beginning of the summer and the weather was getting clearer, warmer, and drier day by ever-lengthening day. It was kind of a bummer that the neighborhood pool closed and was drained a mere two weeks after opening, but Eleanor didn’t much care for the water at that time anyway. So all summer, we just frequented the neighborhood playgrounds. It never occurred to me that this strike that was preventing us from using indoor services that we wouldn’t have been using anyway would or could last beyond summer and into the rainy season. Now, there’s no tot gym, no Mother Goose (although I won’t really miss that particular program), no music or crafts classes, no story time at the library. Heck, there’s nothing to do! If we’re going to have any fun this fall, this sunny Southern family is just going to have to make peace with the rain. Let’s get wet! …but first, let’s get some boots.

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