Six is good: part II

Talk. Sing. Read. Write. Play.   The shift from focusing on six early literacy skills to focusing on five early literacy practices (and, thus, the more practical focus), is my favorite aspect to the second version of the Every Child Ready to Read @ your library initiative.  But another thing that emerged from the research is the differentiation between decoding (figuring out unknown words) and comprehension (understanding the text).

There's a difference between constrained skills (for example, knowing the alphabet and the sounds of the language) and unconstrained skills (vocabulary and general knowledge).  The skills develop throughout the early years, but once a child knows his letters, he's not going to get better at it.  There's a cap to how well he can rock the alphabet.  But there is not a cap to vocabulary and knowledge.  He will (hopefully) learn a new word every day, and learn something new every day, and never be done learning. 

This isn't exactly new (I know that I can still learn new words and concepts), but placing greater emphasis on vocabulary and general knowledge in early literacy is new(ish) way to think about it, and I'm somewhat embarrassed that I didn't realize on my own that not all early literacy skills are created equal.  It makes sense, though, in a 'the more you know, the more you grow' kind of way.  It's a lot easier to decode and comprehend something simultaneously if you have at least some prior knowledge before going into it.  And you need to have a lot of prior knowledge when you get into the upper grades, when the subjects get harder and more complex.

In the years that I've been presenting early literacy storytimes, I honestly only thought about it in terms of getting ready for Kindergarten.  I know that entering Kindergarten with a vocabulary of 5000 words vs 3000 words is a predictor of how well kids will do throughout their school years, and all, but there's more to academic success than entering Kindergarten with a stellar vocabulary set.

I'm starting to realize that we can toss out the idea that you "learn to read, then read to learn," but a) it feels a bit presumptuous of me to toss it out without having a connection to the formal education world, and b) it seems like the library world tossed it out a long time ago, so...what's new?  Most public libraries include something about lifelong learning in their mission statements. We have nonfiction books for babies, toddlers and preschoolers, and we cover all kinds of subjects in storytimes with the books we read, the songs we sing, and the fingerplays we do. We're starting to incorporate more math and science in our early literacy spaces for young children.

So, how could I practice this differently in storytime?  Is it as simple as incorporating the message that we start reading to learn from birth, and using more nonfiction books in storytime?  I could be more intentional in describing what's happening in fingerplays, and deliberately build in more time for kids to talk about (for example) the props that I bring for the letter of the day.  Do I have to start having a storytime theme to help a child build his subject expertise?

(Ugh. That would be hardest for me. If the theme is horses, and the kid doesn't like horses, it's not exactly fun. And who am I to say that the kid should learn about horses that day, anyway? But if I have one book about horses, another about cars, and another about dinosaurs, it might spark an interest in horses for one kid, cars for another kid, and dinosaurs for another kid. You get the idea. I'm not a theme person.  And besides, listening to three books about horses for half an hour is NOT going to help a 3yo develop subject matter expertise. You get the idea. I am NOT a theme person.)

For now, I'll try different things, and probably take some more time to think about the outcomes we can expect to see from participation in storytimes at the library.


Six is good: part I

Do you remember the Seinfeld episode where Jerry is dating a deaf woman who reads lips?  They're trying to set a time for their next date, and Jerry says "how about six?  Six is good." She misreads him slightly, thinks he's saying "sex," and slaps him.  My husband and I still chuckle over the scene, almost 20 years later.

In library land, we talk about six early literacy skills that children need before they start learning to read. When children have these skills before they start their formal education, it is much easier for them to focus on learning to read, and they are poised for success in school. They need print motivation (love of books), letter knowledge (names and sounds of the letters), phonological awareness (rhyming and sounds of language), vocabulary (knowing what words mean), narrative skills (ability to tell a story), and print awareness (knowing that in English we read from left to right, and that the print on the page is what we're reading). I rarely remember the names of all six.

For the last 10 years, we've been using this language in our storytimes, play areas and spaces, websites and brochures, and workshops.  The language is based on a successful parent education initiative developed by the Public Library Association and the Association for Library Service to Children called Every Child Ready to Read @ your library.  We have friendly, easy ways to talk about these skills, and suggest plenty of fun activities and ways to share picture books to help parents develop these skills in their children.  But, in general, we've always led with the skills.

Now, PLA and ALSC have released a much-anticipated second version of Every Child Ready to Read that leads with practices –what parents and caregivers can actually do every day– that help children get ready to learn to read.

Talk. Sing. Read. Write. Play.  Conversation –that interaction between parent and child– is key to helping children grow healthy brains and develop their language skills.  That also helps develop vocabulary and narrative skills.  Singing naturally slows down the language, which helps children hear the language (phonological sensitivity), remember a storyline (narrative skills).  Reading and writing go hand-in-hand, and both are ways to communicate ideas.  (Plus, being able to write your name when you go to Kindergarten?  Sweet.) Playing, when it's fun, safe, and interactive, is how children learn about the world around them, and their imaginations, best.  What children discover in books can inspire their imaginative play, and help develop their storytelling skills. 

Now I'm trying to figure out what this means for storytimes.  Do I simply change the messages I communicate to adults, or do I start sharing books, music, fingerplays, flannelboards, etc., differently?  I've already been incorporating these practices into my storytimes (without naming them so succinctly to parents and caregivers), but how could I be more intentional?  How can my library system be more intentional?

It's important to know the skills and be familiar with the signs that children are developing these skills, but for now, I know that Six is Good, but Five is better.


Why I'm watching School Rumble and Death Note for my job

I am hosting an anime/manga club at my library.  I'm relatively new to the scene.  When I transferred to a new library, I knew I wanted to build a teen program.  When I saw that the manga collection had very high circulation, I knew I had to provide a space and a program for these fans to get together.  The success of anime and manga clubs at other libraries (and the willingness of those librarians to share their expertise) was all the encouragement I needed to take this on.

I had no idea what I was getting into.

For starters, I'm watching cartoons again.  (Granted, the themes found in anime are geared toward young adults and adults (science fiction, history, tragedy, love, coming of age, sex), but I'm watching cartoons again.)  I'm cosplaying. (So far, I've only played the part of Captain Hammer, but still.)  I'm trying to keep track of the ins and outs of the industry (licensing and distribution, the lexicon, the CONs, the people –seiyu, mangaka, otaku–), to keep various Japanese words straight, and to learn enough about potential club activities to support the teens in building the club they want.  It would be like a whole new world, except for the part that Japanese animation has been in the U.S. market since the 60s, 70s and 80s.

Program time.  From the outside, it looks like a bunch of teenagers (ranging from grades 6-12) watching TV, munching on pocky, and playing games.  But here's the thing.  They are also building skills that they need.  That's right - I said need

It turns out that my kids own this club.  It is theirs, and they are getting to know fellow enthusiasts, share knowledge and have fun.  Sense of belonging in their teenage years?  Huge.  When four, ethnically diverse high school boys made cat ears using felt, needle and thread, they were supported and encouraged in learning a new skill.  Confidence?  Awesome.  Next week, when I help them decide how to spend $150 of the start up funds, they will be able to make choices based on their interests and set goals.  Exploring and developing potential? Good to do.

The hardest part for me so far is committing to reading manga.  I've checked several out, but haven't really tried to read any yet.  I watch my kids come into the library and leave with 8-10 books each week, and continue to come back for more.  I think I just have to pick a series and stick to it.


It takes a village

I remember a time in 6th grade when I got stuck on a math problem.  My dad worked on it with me and we got to the right answer, but I didn't get credit for it because I didn't show my work.  My dad tried to figure out how to use my teacher's method, but we ended up solving the problem some other way.  I remember talking about an 8th grade history assignment with my parents, and being honestly stunned when I realized that my mother didn't remember the historical significance of the year 1066, and that she didn't remember that the Spanish Armada collapsed in 1588.  How could anyone forget something so significant?

My library offers a free tutoring program for kids in grades K-12.  We have amazing volunteer tutors who help kids with their math worksheets, grammar assignments, research papers, and even high school chemistry.  One of the (20-something) tutors told me that she was helping one of the kids work on multiplying 2-digit numbers, and had to do a quick wikipedia search to learn the system in order to help the kid with his worksheet.  The system is called lattice multiplication - you use a grid to keep track of the numbers you're multiplying and adding.  I read through a few different articles before finally getting it myself.

(It seemed crazy to me to reinvent the wheel with this crazy box system, when long multiplication (what I learned) is easier and more practical in real life situations.  Then I learned that the lattice method was first described by the mathematician Al-Khwarizmi in the 9th Century.) 

I keep saying that parents are a child's first teacher, that we need to support our schools and teachers, and that parents and schools can't do it alone.  Many of the parents who bring their kids to Homework Hub are recent immigrants who are incredibly dedicated to their child's success in school, and are learning English, math and history at the same time as their kids.  I'm quite pleased with the library's role in helping families achieve academic success - that the library can be (is) such an important part of the community.

I just didn't expect a 9th Century mathematician to trigger an "It Takes a Village" moment.


Online task list

I need to reorganize how I keep track of stuff I want to read online.  I used delicious for several years as a tool to remember all the cool stuff I came across on the web and as a to-do list.  Bookmarking has never been an effective way to keep track of stuff I want to read eventually, mainly because I would keep bookmarking and would rarely go back to read anything.  (And yes, I had a separate tag called 'to-read' in both my browser and my delicious account).  (Similarly, my in-box at work does not serve me well as a to-do list.  I have to write 'respond to So-and-So' on my ever-growing-never-shrinking to-do list, or the email gets buried.)

I really don't want to have two different accounts to keep track of my 'read this when you have time' stuff, but it's probably necessary.  So far I've come across the perfectly named Read It Later (which has extensions for Firefox and other browsers, as well as an Android app) but I can't take a tour before signing up, and am hesitating on that for some reason.  Pinboard looks good, and it's all-in-one, but I really don't want to pay a fee to keep a to-do list.

I also need to pick easier topics, like this one, to write about.  I'm one week back into blogging, and so far I have four draft posts - the future of the digital divide, demographic data and what to do with it, assessment tools and how to use them, and cosplay - and no posts to show for it.  (Okay, the only thing difficult about the cosplay post is that I'm not sure I have anything to say about it.)



Two years ago, I felt that blogging (in general) and the focus of my blog (specifically) had run its course.  I stopped writing, and began to play around with various social media (including being offline completely for awhile). I found some tools that I enjoyed, but missed the process of composing my blog posts.   While many of the reasons to have a blog today still don't apply to me (I'm not marketing or selling anything, I do not aim to drum up major conversations, and am not actually convinced that anyone will want to read this), I really miss the process of reading for and composing blog posts.  I found that writing about something helped make sense out of an idea, and writing is a task that helps me focus my thoughts in a (hopefully) productive direction.

So, here I am.


School visits: middle school

I visited the middle school today to promote summer reading. I gave my 20-minute spiel 5 times, and saw about 400 students.

The Booklist
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
Paper Towns, by John Green
The Mystery of the Third Lucretia, by Susan Runholt
tmi, by Sarah Quigley
The Adoration of Jenna Fox, by Mary Pearson
Unwind, by Neal Shusterman
Graceling, by Kristin Cashore
City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare
Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway
Tommysaurus Rex, by Doug TenNapel
No More Dead Dogs, by Gordon Kormon
Suck It Up, by Brian Meehl
Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson
Hattie Big Sky, by Kirby Larson
Rapunzel's Revenge, by Shannon Hale
Enthusiasm, by Polly Shulman
Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow
Zorgamazoo, by Robert Paul Weston
Ghostgirl, by Tanya Hurley


Everybody's free to wear sunscreen

I wear lotion with UVA/UVB protection on my face year round, and am getting better about covering up more of me during the months we are closest to the summer solstice. This past weekend I neglected to put sunscreen on my lower back (a part of me where the sun don't typically shine) and got a bit of a burn after two days of beautifying (no, that's too strong a word) de-uglifying the yard.

All I can say right about now is OUCH.

SPF (the sun protection factor) lets you calculate how long you can stay in the sun before getting burned. (A fun, apparently well-known fact that I have missed my entire life up to this point. I feel about 3% smarter now). If, for example, it typically takes 10 minutes for you to burn, a sunblock with an SPF of 10 would allow you to stay in the sun 10 times longer (100 minutes) than if you didn't have sunscreen. A sunblock with an SPF of 45 would let you be in the sun 45 times longer (7.5 hours) before getting burned. The SPF factor refers only to the UVB (the shorter, sunburning) rays, doesn't account for skin type, and is not the standard for protection against UVA rays, which is in the works.

What started out as a simple "hey, world, now I know what the SPF factor actually indicates" post could easily expand into the difference between sunscreen and sunblock, or turn into an essay that explores the benefits of sun exposure for Vitamin D production in the body, a lecture on applying enough sunscreen (that lecture would be directed at me), a treatise on the UV Index (which the EPA makes easily available), or a summary of freaky skin cancer statistics.

But it won't. Instead, I'll conclude by mentioning that a recent New York Times article about sunscreen makers increasing the SPF factor caught my eye. Who needs an SPF of 100? Even if it does take as little as 10 minutes to burn, 1000 minutes (16.6 hours) is too long to go without reapplying.


This gold inflames my senses

A translated line from Rossini's The Barber of Seville.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Minnesota Opera performance of The Barber of Seville last night. The singing, the music, the staging, the set were all well done, and a pleasure to take in. Having never been to an opera before, there were some things that surprised me.

Dan knew that it was likely that the opera would be subtitled, and as we were venturing into St Paul, I started to worry that they would be distracting or tacky but they were done really well. The subtitle board was built into the set, were in a tasteful and readable font, and timed perfectly with the staging to maximize the humor.

And speaking of humor...what a stitch! (The only other opera I've listened to in its entirety is Tristan und Isolde, which is quite the tragedy). The music and the libretto were funny enough on their own, but the staging was brilliant. Figaro (the barber) owns the stage from his first entrance, and the props (including a skeleton, a green guitar, and a handkerchief to name a few) were used most brilliantly.

I majored in Music in college, so I think I should have picked up on this at one point -- but Rossini's The Barber of Seville is actually a prequel to Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, which was composed much earlier. The two operas are based on the plays of Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais.

At the last minute, I realized that I didn't have the perfect pair of shoes to wear with the dress. I called my girl Amanda to talk through the implications of wearing brown kitten heels with a red, white and black dress and, after hanging up, felt both better and immensely foolish for fretting over such a thing.

Turns out, most women in the audience should have consulted their best friend before going out last night. First, I have never seen so many four-inch heels in one setting, and second, the percentage of women who did not know how to walk in them was astounding. Yes, one is mostly sitting, and yes, it's dark. But remember, one still has to walk to the venue, and to the refreshments. Just sayin'.

All in all, a wonderful way to spend a Wednesday night.


Being frozen has its benefits

In my defense, when Top Chef cheftestants blanch their vegetables, the producers don't exactly focus on what that means. All I see is a plate of beautifully julienned vegetables.

Over the weekend I spent some time with a few food preservation books, and learned (much to my embarrassment) that blanching refers to the method of preparing -- NOT the method of cutting -- the vegetables. Blanching is scalding produce in boiling water (or a microwave or steamer) for a short (and specific) amount of time, and then rapidly cooling for the same amount of time. It is an essential step if one is going to freeze fresh produce to preserve it.

Produce contains active enzymes to help them grow while they are in the garden. When the produce is harvested, the enzymes continue to be active and work to break down the vegetables. The result is a reduction of nutrients, undesirable change in texture and loss of color and flavor. The heat process from blanching temporarily inactivates these enzymes, and the freezing greatly slows the enzymes down. This is why it is essential that the produce be cooled very quickly after scalding them, for example, by placing them in ice water.

For more information, blanching time charts for vegetables, and how-tos, turn to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, your local Extension (here is Minnesota's), or Preserving Summer's Bounty, edited by Susan McClure.


A Few fun facts for Friday

Title: The Double-Daring Book for Girls
Authors: Andrea J Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz

Summary: Book of random, fun but not-especially-daring facts.

A few times a week I look through the new books as they arrive at my library. I look through titles for interesting fiction, storytime possibilities, duplicate titles, books that might be perfect for common requests, etc. I don't usually spend a lot of time with the books before they're checked in, but I did spend some time with this one. If it weren't so big, it would be a perfect bathroom book.

Hepaticocholangiocholecystenterostomies is the medical term for surgically created connections between the gall bladder and other organs.

Measurement words to know include jiffy (1/100 of a second), quire (25 sheets of paper) and stone (14 pounds). (This is the second time this week I've seen reference to quire).

Footloose is a sailing term for when the bottom part of the sail itself (called the foot) is properly secured and dancing happily in the wind.

Historical methods of producing batik fabric have included applying wax by hand, canting (a spouted container that holds the hot wax) and cap (which is a copper stamp that is used to apply the design). The cloth is then dyed, the wax -which blocks the dye- is removed, and voila! (Okay, it's a bit more involved than that...)


My own March Madness

During the month of March, I spent a lot of my recovery time reading whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I didn't pay attention to what I *should* be reading for work, and I didn't pay attention to the order in which books were added to my "to read" pile. It was lovely. I read a total of 2,489 pages - a lot of time on the couch for this slow reader.

While I cannot possibly be as crafty or write as beautifully as the judges in the Tournament of Books, I have loved following this contest online (check it out) and, since the books I read had many similarities, I wanted to copy the format.

Also, I know that if I'm going to write about a book I should do it immediately. I didn't with these books.

Round 1 Fledgling, by Octavia Butler, vs. Wild Seed, by Octavia Butler
Octavia Butler wrote the majority of her novels and short stories in the 70s, 80s and 90s, but I only discovered her this past January. If I only considered plot when looking for books to read, I would never have picked up her books. Alien species, shape shifters, time slips, and vampires don't typically hold interest for me. Yet, her prose and her capability to explore human nature are astonishing, and her perspective as an African American woman yields a tone I haven't found in any other science fiction. Her books are beautiful.

Fledgling is about a vampire who suffers amnesia after a violent attack. Octavia uses the amnesia device well to let the mystery of who Shori is and why she's so controversial unfold marvelously. Shori learns that her coven of vampires were dabbling in a bit of genetic engineering, and were trying to improve their kind. The improvement? Shori is (the first) black, and her skin gives her serious advantages but is also cause for outrage among the oldest conservative vampires.

Wild Seed is about two ...um...entities...they aren't exactly human... who live for centuries and whose fates are completely intertwined. Doro is trying to breed the best qualities into humans -much like you would breed horses- and Anyanwu is exactly the seed that Doro wants. They struggle, defy each other, hate each other, love each other and try to stay away from each other but cannot. There's a lot I'm not getting into here, but the story crosses centuries and continents - from African slave ships to American plantations and European cities and is extremely well done.

Round 1 Winner: Fledgling, by Octavia Butler for Shori's strength and honest questioning of the status quo, and easier reading.

Round 2 Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman vs. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
I heart Neil Gaiman. Heart heart heart. I liken reading his books to listening to neoclassical music, like Stravinksy's Pulcinella Suite. It sounds familiar, but the harmonies are mysterious and surprising. His books are perfectly composed, but the hints of magic, twists in character development and simple (thus outrageously hilarious) premises are surprising and delightful.

Anansi the Spider is a trickster character from West Africa, much like Brer Rabbit. Well, Anansi is alive and well in the 20th Century and living in Florida -- that is, until he died while doing a karaoke number in a dive bar. Anansi Boys tells the story of Anansi's kids -Charlie and Spider- set in modern day London and America. The book is, to quote, "a mythology for a modern age -- complete with dark prophecy, family dysfunction, mystical deceptions, and killer birds. Not to mention a lime." Neil Gaiman incorporates elements of the legends into the story, but the real joy in reading these books is discovering the humor and poignancy in everyday situations.

I read about 50 pages of American Gods. Although this is one of Gaiman's more well-known and celebrated titles, I couldn't get into it. Released from prison a day early due to his wife's untimely death, Shadow is approached on his way home by a man who seems to know more about Shadow than he should and seems to assume that Shadow is going to accept the job he's offering. Shadow, like Charlie, is just going along for the ride but for some reason, I felt like Shadow wasn't objecting to the ride enough. Or something.

By the way, if you haven't watched Stephen Colbert interview Neil Gaiman about his recent Newbery Award winning novel, The Graveyard Book , do so now. Really. Now.

Round 2 Winner: Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman because I cannot resist a modern day folk tale.

Round 3 Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follet vs. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
Two epic works that read completely differently from each other. Pillars of the Earth reads like a dramatic thriller, Anna Karenina reads like a heavy Russian novel.

I feel like I have to defend myself. I loved Pillars. At first it felt anachronous to the time period, but given that I don't actually know what lifestyles and mannerisms of 12th Century England were like, I decided to suspend any doubt and just get into the story. And, oh, what a story. Built around the building of a cathedral, the tale is complete with passion, deceit, hatred, being screwed over by your bosses and their alliances, guilt, love. The characters (too many to go into here) may not be fully well rounded, but like Gone with the Wind, the perspective gives insight into each character's motivations for their actions, and they are all recognizeable.

Anna. Oh, Anna. First off, I should say I'm not done with it yet. Second, I have a Ukranian-American friend whose insight into the Russian psyche is affecting how I view the extended conversations about the state of the world that the upper echelons of the society engage in throughout the novel. Third, Anna's decline is so rapid given how strong she is in the beginning. Although I know that people's spirits can erode that quickly when they're carrying the agonizing weight of their mistakes on their shoulders, I'm so disappointed that I have to distance myself from her. Epic novels aren't about one storyline alone, but I've surprised myself with how much I've disconnected myself from the title character.

Ironically, Anna Karenina tells me more about the physical earth, and the landscape dictates the fate of the characters much more than Pillars of the Earth. It is also probably the better novel, if I were going to judge on technicalities. But a) I don't know enough or care enough to objectively rate novels, and b) that's not why I read anyway.

Round 3 Winner: Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follet because I could not put it down.

Okay, and here is where the format falls short. I would need a fourth round for a true tournament. And I'm just gonna skip all the semi-final/zombie/final rounds and say that the book I enjoyed reading most last month was Pillars of the Earth.


Bikes aren't all bad, and fixers

I live across the street from a bar that attracts many bikers from all over the city. I don't know if bikers are generally concerned about how they are viewed in the eyes of non-bikers, but the bikers who patronize this particular neighborhood bar do nothing to endear the motorcycle culture to my heart. Mainly because they insist on letting their bikes idle forever, and then rev the engines so loudly that I can *feel* them from the couch!

Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman have, though, given me insight into the passion people can have for motorcycles. I have a new appreciation -not that I ever want to ride one- after watching the documentaries of their bike trips around the world. In 2004, they rode from London to New York and called the trip The Long Way Round. In 2007, they rode from John O'Groats, Scotland to Cape Town and called the trip The Long Way Down. The documentaries are brilliant - they use cameras on their helmets, handheld cameras and travel with a camera man to record everything - encounters with wild animals, border crossings, meals with people they meet along the way - and while the landscape, faces, houses, beliefs, lifestyles change drastically as they travel east, there are enough commonalities that make the world seem like not that big a place after all.

While there are many things that I love about what they experience (including their work with UNICEF), one thing I noticed in the credits was a long list of 'fixers.' In general, fixers help travelers (including journalists and foodies) navigate border crossings, cultural differences, security concerns, translation needs etc. Charley and Ewan sometimes travel into the countries with their fixer, but most often get the skinny on the condition of roads, learn about places to eat and stay, and must-sees.

Fixers don't handle everything, of course. There are many scenes as the team prepares for the trip of the producers gathering essential documents, visiting embassies and meeting with advisors in London, and trips to the Royal Geographical Society (I love all the maps). In addition to passports and visas for the crew for every country, they needed carnets (customs documents) for the video equipment, and a few other documents.

(Oh, and speaking of documentation, tomorrow is Passport Day in the USA. Seriously, there is a day, week, or month, for everything!)


A renaissance to call my own

I've rediscovered the love of fresh vegetables. Like the proverbial wholesome 'boy next door' that you've known your whole life but never gave much thought to and all of a sudden realize is perfect, vegetables have always had an unassuming presence and over the last few years I've realized that they're perfect.

I was a little lazy about food in my early twenties. I ate out whenever possible, and prepared many a frozen or boxed meal. I went to Farmer's Markets and shopped at The Wedge because it was fashionable, not because I thought the produce was better or because I was excited about cooking with whatever was in season, or because I was truly happy to buy local. Over the last few years a combination of circumstances and events have affected my attitude toward preparing meals.
  • Turning 30, which triggers the realization that your body actually does better when you take care of it;
  • A raised collective awareness of living 'green,' which includes buying local and organic;
  • Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food, and his simple premise (Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.) resonated with me as I stared at my 'high-fiber' (read: highly processed) breakfast bars);
  • Discovering the joy of heirloom vegetables, including a mild and sweet heirloom tomato and the most amazing heirloom carrot soup at Farm.
  • Realizing that homemade vegetable stock is actually not difficult to make (the Moosewood recipe is my fave) and tastes better; and
  • I have a decent kitchen, finally.
You'd think I was born in the outer planets of the 'verse and had never had fresh vegetables before, but my parents kept a good-sized vegetable garden, and we ate the veggies year-round thanks to my mother's patience with canning them. And we always had a vegetable at our meals. If I took fresh vegetables as one of the necessary evils in life as a child, I view them as one of the true delights in life as an adult.

I think I first heard about CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farms a few years ago from my relatives in California. We've got a few friends who have received boxes of vegetables from their local CSA farm on a weekly basis and have loved it. The DH and I have talked about it for a few years, but this is the year that we're finally going to get on board. Especially since I found a farm that grows a number of heirloom varieties!

I'm looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to cooking with vegetables that I don't normally cook with, and I'm looking forward to (possibly) preserving some of the extras to enjoy at a later date. I hope that this cooking kick I'm on is more than just a kick, and that we'll use this to the fullest.


There's more?

The DH and I started geocaching last summer, but the fall and winter got in the way of our outings. Friends of ours recently got into it, and that renewed our enthusiasm for getting out there and getting more finds under our belt. That, and it's finally spring-like.

As I was updating our profile and logging today's find* at geocaching.com, I started to look through the various types of caches that are available now. Geocaching is high-tech scavenger hunting. With easy (and relatively cheap) access to the multi-billion dollar global positioning system in the form of a GPS device, one uses a set of navigational coordinates to locate hidden canisters, tins, tupperware containers, etc. At least, that's the case with a traditional cache.

There are two (new to me) types of caches that really excite me, and that don't require us to bring along our Dora The Explorer hair ties to trade in for other trinkets. An EarthCache is "a special place that people can visit to learn about a unique geoscience feature or aspect of our Earth." In Minnesota you can find, for example, glacier remains like The Whale's Tale in the northeastern part of the state, or limestone caves in the southeastern part. Some other types of EarthCaches include thermal springs in Idaho, possible meteorite collisions with Wisconsin and many other sites around the globe. What a great way to get to some these sites that may be quite close but that we don't know much about or don't take time to learn about them. WayMarks are "interesting and useful locations around the world," that should be somewhat out of the ordinary. WayMarks are manmade, and include museums, interesting headstones, painted barn quilts, and Carnegie Library buildings to name a few.

Why search for Carnegie library buildings or volcanoes with a set of coordinates and a GPS device, rather than an address and a map? Not having sought these types of caches out (yet), all I can say is that the pleasurable part of geocaching for us is the hunt, the exercise, and the joy of getting off the beaten path and finding hidden away places we might not have otherwise explored. So, if geocaching just happens to be coupled with finding cool mineral deposits or non-coastal boardwalks, I'm game.

I don't think I have to say this, but the lists on Earthcaching.com and Waymarking.com aren't comprehensive lists or subject matter authorities (although the GSA approves EarthCaches). Just a great way to get coordinates from someone else who took the time to mark them.

*When I say today's find, I mean the DH's find. He did the actual digging around for great hiding spots, while I slow-poked along behind him with the GPS and pointed at things. I'm still healing from a recent surgery and was just happy to get outside and walk more than a block and a half.