Monday, June 15, 2020


Terry's favorite pie is rhubarb. Not rhubarb and strawberry - that's too sweet. His second favorite is apple and that is what he normally gets, because we haven't lived in places where rhubarb is particularly available. There's a family legend of very young me, and a friend, "helping" a neighbor with weeding and pulling up their entire crop. Perhaps that is the root of my earlier aversion?

In any case, when a neighbor on my local Buy Nothing Facebook page asked for help in reducing her enormous rhubarb crop,I was more than happy to start my education about what to do with this bitter fruit.

First up, of course, was the pie.It doesn't look that bad, but what you can't see is the ocean of liquid. We've been having issues with the oven and I am pretty sure it is not to temp (oven thermometer on order as there are none to be found locally. Probably has something to do with all the baking the rest of the world is just now discovering.) It didn't taste bad, once we had drained out a ridiculous volume, but it was not delicious.

Next up was rhababarkuchen from the German baking book our au pair had given me. In true German form, it was a little closer to bread than cake - only the tiniest bit sweet - but much better than the pie. The dough gave the moisture somewhere to go.

Then, the woman who had the glut of rhubarb mentioned again that she was still pretty chock-full and don't forget you can get up to three harvests from one plant. So back I go. A bunch got frozen for future experimentation, and a pound went into apple-rhubarb sauce. Yum.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Fresh air and exercise

Terry likes to play around with woodworking projects. As previously mentioned, wooden pallets are routinely available for picking. The three-tiered planter featured in the last post is one such pallet creation.

Before one can start working with pallet wood, one must first disassemble the pallets to free the wooden planks from all its other wooden plank neighbors.  Crowbars and hammers play a role here.  All the nails must also be removed.  It is a bit tedious when you are talking about removing five planks from each of a dozen pallets.

We have an accumulation of pallets. The weather is beautiful. The kids have a day off from school today (that sounds weird to say, I know, but it means that had they actually been in school they would not have gone today, and the child who does get daily assignments didn't have any for today). Put that all together and we get - Workforce Friday!

Friday, May 8, 2020


We were lucky enough to get a spot in one of the two community gardens we applied to. Then, after we got that notification Terry found a few spots in the back yard where he thought we could grow a thing or two (it is so shady back there we wrote it off at first).  On Canada's version of Craigslist - called Kijiji - there are often pallets available in peoples' yards for free. It is an entirely contactless experience, if also sometimes a disappointing experience when someone else grabbed the best wood just before you get there. Terry picked up a few and made this awesome planter, which will eventually be mounted into the fence! We're planning a row of lettuce, a row of various herbs, and a row of spinach because one of the children will actually eat spinach (as opposed to chard or kale) ... as long as we refer to it as lettuce. The sacrifices we make for our children's health.

The community garden had a socially distanced tour Saturday morning and Terry went, as this is definitely more his thing than mine and we had a hunch there would be some good tips shared and local gardening in general and the mechanics of this community garden in particular. He came home as close to elated as his stoic self ever is.

After dinner the whole family went down to be introduced to our garden bed - they are all raised beds and each is named for a flower, ours is Aster. Terry and I measured and planned and planted the few cold-weather direct-sow seeds we had - radishes, beets, snow peas, and lettuces. The kids played in the adjacent field, creating some kind of disk golf game that involved their fleeces as "home bases" and Alex's shoes as markers of where the disk last landed.

Look at Terry's super fancy "saddlebag" system for his bike!  He designed it himself, and the buckets handily hold garden tools, seeds, and as necessary - dirt.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

The Ballad of Broken Glass

We'd been warned before heading to Calgary to save up for a new windshield or two. Chips, cracks, hairline fractures, the traffic kicked up a lot of rock and every single Consulate vehicle ended up with broken windshields. It wasn't whether, but rather when.  One overachiever managed to crack his windshield on his drive to post.

The first crack appeared in November or so. It seemed enormous and dangerous to me at first, starting several inches from the bottom left and moving toward the north/northeast. We called around for quotes and discussed our work schedules to see who could bring the car in, and when.

We marked where the crack ended and tracked how much, and whether, it grew each day. Some days it did, others not so much. We stalled and hesitated. We noted the seeming proliferation in cars driving around with cracks in their windshields. Of the six cars parked closest to us in the Consulate garage, four of them had cracks - and two of them were very nice cars (I don't pay attention to cars much, maybe they were Lexus or Beemers or Audis?) Walking around our neighborhood one day we noticed more than half the cars on one block had such damage. Apparently this is a thing.

We discussed further and reasoned that we were likely to sustain further damage and how many times did we really want to pay for new windshields? The crack did not impede vision, and there didn't seem to be any laws against it like there are for broken headlights.

Some cracks we've seen reach from one side of the car to the other. I think when we get there we may look into a replacement. Or whenever we depart Calgary.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

How do we eat? Turns out, pretty well

For four weeks now (or is it five?), my only car rides have been to the grocery store.  Our shopping list gets longer each week, and each week we seem to manage to eat most of whatever we've bought.

The Canadian stores, like ones in the USA and elsewhere, have been short on toilet paper (which we only notice with a researcher's disinterest, as we are still working off our usual Costco stock) and yeast (this one was becoming a problem - then a friend dropped off sourdough starter and we're working on our first loaf for right after Passover) and flour (I got the last bag of unbleached in the entire store on the last trip).  The line-up-and-wait-to-go-in that we'd seen in photos from the USA have arrived. One visit to our usual grocery store had store employees wiping down shopping carts before handing them off to individual shoppers, another time at the same store the carts were just sitting out with no attendance. Tape marked off at six-foot distances for the line to check out is universal, and cause the lines to snake through a full half of the store's perimeter sometimes. Store hours are universally shortened, 8am-8pm with 7-8am opened for seniors and others who need more social distancing.  The last trip to the store I wasn't allowed to bring my own bags into the store.  It's running 7-10 days to get a pickup spot. We waffle between whether it is better to go ourselves or do the pickup option. We finally decided the employee is in the store anyway, taking our bodies out of the store should be one less possible vector of infection so we have an order placed and ready to pick up ... a week from now.  In anticipation of this we got 2 weeks' worth of groceries, although of course we're getting low on fresh produce.

We're waiting for the day the kinds of severe restrictions on mobility we see in some other countries come here - requiring papers to be outside your home or only 3 hours a day to be outside. Alberta''s spike is expected to start in a couple of weeks, so we expect the harsher measures then. In the meantime we have been building our stores of leftovers and, while not hoarding, trying to have a bit of an extra stockpile. Terry has been joking about scurvy and it is annoyingly sinking in. For those who are also wondering, it takes a month of no vitamin C for scurvy to really start showing symptoms. You're welcome.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Lockdown Passover

Calgary surprised me with the dearth of Hanukkah candles in December, so I was prepared to expect nothing in any store in the way of matzah come spring. Calgary did not disappoint.  Mails shut down before I could ask my mom to ship me  few boxes from the USA, so I called up the old recipe I used back in Russia to make my own matzah! No rabbi would bless this stuff for a number of reasons, but it did get from water-touches-flour to out-of-the-oven in 18 minutes or less so I am calling it a win and moving on.

We have been able to find some lamb, and after searching our bookshelves I have discovered about seven different Haggadot. I first debated between the "30 minute Seder" and whatever we have the most copies of, and it turned out we had the most copies of the "30 minute Seder". Another win.

The kids had a huge fight that left one child refusing to come down when it was time to Seder ... until Terry worked his magic. Wine and grape juice were drunk, matzah was eaten with horseradish and charoset (although I keep telling Terry he isn't doing it right because he likes the horseradish), and yes we opened the door for Elijah. He didn't touch anything.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

I thought I was a "6 months of winter" person. Turns out I'm a "5 months of winter" person

It has snowed nearly every day during the last two weeks. Without the office to go to providing an incentive to leave the house, the daily walks are getting a bit sluggish. Once I force myself outside I'm glad to have gone, but that first step is very, very hard. The super cold, brightly sunny days of deep winter are gone and in this uncertain time the color of the day, ever day, is gray.  This photo was the world outside my front door yesterday. Today there has been melt so the dominant colors are brown and gray. No worries, snow is expected this afternoon.

One day this week I did not leave the house at all and Terry only left it to go to the garage to tell Alex lunch was ready - she was practicing fencing with a duffel bag Terry stuffed and rigged up in the garage for her. Zoltan has gone out there a few times to use the bag as a punching bag.  This weekend we will probably watch some Learn to Box videos so nobody gets injured. Going to Canadian Tire to buy an actual punching bag and sets of gloves for the family seems simultaneously inappropriately frivolous, and also somewhat life-saving. No decision has yet been made, no trip to Canadian Tire yet planned.

We got the good news that we were able to score a garden plot at the local community association. So far gardening hasn't been cancelled, and it seems really clear that schedules can be developed to make sure it doesn't get too crowded that I am cautiously optimistic we'll be able to garden this summer. The earliest planting date is end of May, so we have plenty of time to plan and dream of the day we can walk without hesitation into Home Depot and get bags of fertilizer and plants to grow (not knowing if we'd get a plot, we started nothing indoors). It may be a year of lettuce and radishes otherwise!

* Note, Terry had nothing to do with this photo and probably disapproves of it.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Kids and COVID-19 new normal

The kids and I started our isolations at the same time and we're finishing our third week at home together.  We do get outside most days; during the first couple of weeks the many scavenger hunts offered online were a great way to give them something to do while outside. The first week of isolation, when all this seemed a bit of a lark and tempers were even, Zoltan even taught Alex some soccer and Alex taught Zoltan some fencing.

The kids wear street clothes about once a week. Normally they just go from pajamas to pajamas - usually daily but let's be real, sometimes it's every other day.

Last week was "disastrous spring break." Trapped in the house with working parents and no set schedule resulted in more yelling, screaming, stomping and hitting than usual. It took until the middle of this week to have our first day without fighting.  It was also Wednesday of this week when their teachers sent out the first assignments for them to do. The schools have been wonderfully reasonable - Zoltan will have about 5 hours of assigned work per week and Alex will have about 10 hours - the difference between elementary and middle school. The daily schedules we set for them when this all began, and what we're roughly keeping, include:
  • 1/2 hour daily for math - Khan Academy or whatever the teachers send home
  • 1 hour for social studies/writing - any English Language Arts schoolwork or doing the curriculum that came with their U.S. History in a Box sets, there are a lot of "read this and write a paragraph on it" type exercises
  • 1 hour daily for programming - we got them each Raspberry Pies last year and a growing stash of Python books and figured it can't hurt to let them play with coding each day
  • 15 minutes of music practice - Alex plays trumpet in the school band and Zoltan started piano lessons last fall. There is some computer program her school uses where she can play the music and it tracks whether her notes are correct and whether the timing is too fast/slow or OK. He is continuing his lessons via Skype. This is one of those "thank goodness for technology" moments.
  • Two 15-minute "chores" sessions - the kids do a large chunk of the dishes and laundry these days
  • Two "be outside" and/or "be active" sessions
  • Lunch and two snacks
  • 1 hour of "science" which has been either (1) doing some of the science kits their wonderful aunt got them for Christmas, (2) baking, or (3) watching documentaries. Nova has 47 seasons!  We started with episodes on things we knew they were doing in science class, like the outer planets for Zoltan, but now we're pretty loosey-goosey.
  • There are also blocks of time for reading, for doing "maker space" (projects, some examples have been Lego building or writing and recording poems they have been sending out to the extended family), and a daily period that will become their "catch up on whatever assigned schoolwork they didn't manage to finish during the allotted times". 
There's a lot out there on the web about letting the kids be kids and not having any schedules, routines, or expectations. We tried that during spring break. If that kind of thing works for others, awesome!  Did not work for us. Some kids need to know what to expect, what comes next, and find comfort in the stability of a schedule. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Corona in Alberta

COVID-19 has not made the same deep inroads within Alberta that it has in other places. We have been watching the rest of the world, making plans, stocking up on food and books and waiting for The News. Kids' spring break was supposed to be at the end of the week and of all the places in the world we could have planned to visit for the very first time ... Seattle. So we cancel those plans and instead think about where else in the neighborhood we want to hike. Outdoors is pretty good for social distancing and keeping sanity.

My home office in DC is down to skeleton crew and I started teleworking this week. It's a little funny because of course I telework every day, but from an office rather than my house.

The kids' school was finally cancelled Sunday afternoon, along with all other schools in Alberta, so together with my telework we need a plan to keep the kids from fighting outside the door to the study between 7:30am-4:00pm.We've put together a schedule that includes everything from Khan Academy math to practicing their instruments to doing chores, getting outside, and reading. And a documentary every day - it's TV time, so they are pretty happy about it. Day one went spectacularly well, and I was reminded of how much my children crave structure and predictability (some experts will say all children need this, some parents will argue not their kids). In any case, Alberta Board of Education is doing a rollout of how learning is going to go for the next three months that starts with high school, then middle, then elementary last. Alex got some assignments when she went to school to clean out her locker - all students has certain days and times to go, based on their last names, to avoid a crowd. We're heard essentially bupkis for Zoltan but he's still in elementary and Khan Academy has 5th grade math all ready for him.

On day 3 of learning from home, the kids baked chocolate crinkle cookies for "science".

We are so incredibly fortunate. We can telework, and if we can't we have leave, and if we run out we have savings. We are healthy and secure in our jobs. Our kids are old enough to not need our constant supervision so we can actually work while working from home. We have internet, heat, clean water - and sufficient toilet paper for about a month - and we can easily get outside even if we can't get near other people.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Finally Snowshoeing

Our very first snowshoe adventure was in Finland, back when we were posted to St Petersburg. It was amazing, magical, so very much fun. We were younger, fitter, and tired kids could be pulled on a sled thing that attached at Terry's waist. We decided we'd snowshoe at the cabin in the winter, so we went ahead and bought ourselves a bunch of snowshoes.

Fast forward to being back in the USA. We realize that winter visits to the cabin are a bad idea - arriving near midnight with kid who either did or did not fall asleep in the car and in any case need to get to bed RIGHT NOW but the cabin is below-freezing temps inside, other than in the furnace room, which is a "roasting" 50 - nothing good comes from this. So, no showshoeing that year.

Fast forward to Kazakhstan. We do go snowshoeing once. It was bitterly cold, below -20 without windchill and massive wind that nipped at any exposed flesh. We turned back very early.

Now we are in Canada where everything is glorious. In our introductory hikes we tried to instill in the kids the love of outdoors and hiking so we focused on really cool things like ice falls. Having hit every one in a two hour radius of Calgary (other than Fish Creek, which is within Calgary city limits), we decided it was time to break out the 'shoes.

Our plan was to hit a highly recommended, easy trail that was almost two hours away. Around the hour mark of our drive was a visitors' center we knew would have indoor bathrooms - winter is no good time for the porta-potty type toilets at most trailheads, which have doors that let a lot of outdoor air circulate.  During the stop we had a quick conversation and re-orientation and decided to do the easy trail that left from the other end of the parking lot.  That was a very good decision, as it was a richly fact-finding experience for us. Fact #1: Snowshoes really are a double workout compared to hiking (as in, you get exhausted at what would have been the halfway mark on a hike). Fact #2: Although the children are still technically under the weight limit for their snowshoes, the 'shoes are legitimately too small. They post-holed a number of times when playing around in the deep snow to the side of the trail. We need new-to-them 'shoes before our next trip out. Fact #3: 10 year olds can not be trusted to account for all of their gear before departure and must be reminded.  "I thought I had it so I didn't look", and "I told you so you should have reminded me" are apparently valid excuses. Fact #4: The deep snow is way more fun than the trail.