Saturday, December 5, 2009

interview with a kefir freak

pouring fermented kefir into a glass jar for storage in the refrigerator

kefir grains ~ there are different shapes and textures, but apparently the flat and stringy kind, as shown here, is the best

So Lee, tell us about kefir.

~ Where do you want me to start?

How do you pronounce it?

~ I say KEFFer because it sounds better to me. I believe the original pronunciation is kuh-FEAR. It's Russian. It's from the Caucasus Mountains.

What is it?

~ It is a fermented/cultured milk product similar to a drinkable yogurt.

How do you make it?

~ Well, first you acquire the kefir grains from someone. These kefir grains are the same kefir grains that come from the Caucasus Mountains, that have been passed down hand to hand for thousands of years. Second, you add milk in a glass or ceramic container -- never metal -- in fact, you avoid contact with metal at all stages except when straining -- and you ferment for anywhere from 24 to 72 hours, then strain into a glass or ceramic container and refrigerate.

You don't refrigerate it while it's fermenting?

~ No, that slows down the process.

Do you drink it straight from the fridge?

~ Yeah, you can. You can enjoy it in any number of ways.

Such as....

~ Mix it with fruit and make a smoothie. Add it to bread recipes. Drink it straight if you're brave (it tastes kind of like buttermilk), mix it with salad dressings. My personal favorite is one tablespoon honey, one tablespoon ground flax seed, and a half pint of kefir.

Why do you do this?

~ I haven't been sick since I started drinking it. My social anxiety, which I've suffered from for years, has virtually disappeared.

So you can eat out at restaurants now?

~ I still don't enjoy it, but I can. Too noisy. I can't focus on my food or my fellow diners.

And you can shop now, without having a panic attack?

~ No. And I say this for purely political reasons.


~ Now you're going to try to make me do the shopping.


Are there known health benefits, aside from your anecdotal evidence?

~ The claims are numerous.

Why do you choose to make your own kefir when you can buy it in some stores, such as Whole Foods?

~ I'm not sure why, but store-bought stuff doesn't have the same effects. It may just be the potency of freshness. Plus, I get a kick out of making my own stuff. I made my own sauerkraut, grew my own mushrooms. Things taste better when they're fresh. The store-bought stuff never helped my stomach.

So, like yogurt, kefir aids digestion?

~ Ten times better.

Where did you find the grains to get started?

~ I paid $20 to have them sent from the
kefir lady. Most people frown on paying for them. It's supposed to be a way to share god's gift of the health-giving kefir grains, and most people in the kefir community prefer to give it away, especially seeing as how kefir grows, like any culture. Finding something to do with the excess kefir actually becomes a challenge, because it's too beneficial to simply throw away. Once exposed to the generous health benefits, one would certainly become eager to share.

Then why did the kefir lady charge for them?

~ She claimed it merely covered the shipping and her material investment. To me, she seemed established, and being new to the kefir community, I felt more comfortable dealing with someone who seemed obviously established and verifiable.

So, conceptually, is it kind of like sharing sour dough in that you grow something, you keep it alive, and then you can share a little with others, who can in turn grow it and keep it alive, and use it to make things?

~ Sure.

Anything else you want to say about kefir?

~ Google it.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

fires and fish

The kids found two of these flashlight/magnifying glasses while we were cleaning out Lee's grandmother's house. I can't tell you how many times I tried to start fires with magnifying glasses when I was a kid. Never worked. I don't know where Leah and Neal got their fire genes, but they can smoke a leaf in about two seconds flat.

Terrible picture, but what you see here are two snails and a fancy guppy. There's another fancy guppy that must've been hiding behind the rock. (I'm not exactly sure what makes them so fancy.) There's also one of those small, tank-cleaning catfish thingies named Roger. The really cool thing about this particular combination of plants and creatures is that the water stays remarkably clean, which makes this aquarium a low-maintenance addition to the household. We've had it for months now, and it seems to be a healthy little ecosystem.

Mmmmmmm -- Lee just made brownies. Gotta go!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

you know you're old when...

~ There is a drop-down for the year you were born, with a huge selection of years in the visible box, and still you must scroll down, down, down to find your year.

~ You used to call your friend who works in a doctor's office to ask for valium. Now you call to ask for eyedrops to treat pinkeye.

~ The librarian at your daughter's school starts talking about that Bon Jovi song, Dead or Alive, and you say, I remember when that song came out -- it was so popular, and she says, How old are you?

~ You find yourself trying to explain to your kids what a tape recorder is.*

~ You find yourself trying to explain to your kids that Drake and Josh did not write Here Comes the Sun.

~ You find yourself trying to explain yourself to your kids, period.

~ You actively promote the notion that Because I said so is a reasonable explanation for why a child must do whatever you say.

~ You take detours that allow you to show people all of the places you used to live, and you find yourself saying This wasn't here a lot.

~ You can't remember if you've already done a blog post just like this one before, and that's okay.

~ You can neither spell nor define familiar words without consulting a dictionary.

~ You squint for no apparent reason. (You do not need glasses. Nope. Not you.)

*Seriously, though -- tape recorders are fun.

Monday, October 26, 2009


I used to travel on business quite a bit. I never once took a trip that didn't end up being a little crazy in some way, but the nuttiest trip I ever took was to Boston. I won't go into all of the details here, but it did inspire me to write a song.

I've been neglecting both blogging and playing music lately, so maybe if I jot down the lyrics, it will count a little towards both.

I have issues with presenting song lyrics in my blog (refer to previous song lyrics post). But I've also found that the older I get, the worse I spell, the worse I edit, and the less I care, so I'm proceeding with that general approach toward the blog. It's this or nothing tonight.

(Funny thing: My band once played at Bottletree in Birmingham, and we opened with this song because it's very fast and energetic, kicking off with the boomwhackers in F and C. The show was a benefit for Black Warrior Riverkeeper, and it so happens that the president of the company I work for is also the father of the Riverkeeper, so he was there in the audience. I guess it was okay, because I still work there.)

The name of the song is Boston, but I like to call it the punkass song, just because it's fast as hell and we do it with a lot of attitude.

Flying underneath the stars into Boston / I had never seen constellations on the ground
I named them after the people I knew / One was Elizabeth, one was you
The lake was like a black hole pulling us into the runway / Into the runway
The drinks were a poor substitute for feeling genuinely better / Genuinely better
I dial 8 and then 1 and then your number / You're like the pen on the desk in the hotel
I just figure you're there for me

Crawling out of bed at six thirty in the morning / 23 degrees in the sun and the snow is
Blinding on the way to the big boardroom meeting / B-O-R-E-D, big boardroom meeting
Where the power is wielded in points on a white screen and we all ask our questions / All ask our questions
The strategy hovers like a preying mosquito, we will curse when it bites us / Curse when it bites us
I try to keep my shit together / I'm a professional, shit together
But I just want to go home

Too bad no one was there to see me step out of the stretch limousine
In front of the Days Inn / Pimping in Atlanta on a layover night
Three days later we're back again with the hot spring breakers
Wearing their flip-flops, wearing their fake tans / With their teeth as white as the snow up in Boston

Saturday, October 24, 2009

why i don't miss my microwave

I haven't had a microwave in years. Even after a friend gave us one during our move out here, I didn't use it, and it has since been dropped off at a donation site. It finally occured to me one day that it didn't take much longer to boil water on the stovetop than it did in the microwave, and pretty much everything that will cook in either an oven or a microwave tastes WAY better when it's cooked in an oven. I don't really do frozen dinners, and popping a potato into the oven is no more difficult than popping it into the microwave -- you just have to do it earlier.

Microwaves take up a lot of space, they're loud, and sometimes you put things in them that really don't belong. I mean, you would never throw a styrofoam container full of leftovers into the oven thinking, "If it doesn't cook for very long, it's okay, right?" And with a microwave, you can't always tell which plates are going to warm up nicely and which are going to burn the living crap out of you. Give me a good oven-to-table plate -- I know it'll burn the crap out of me every time. That's what pot holders are for. You wouldn't dream of removing anything from the oven without a pot holder, but how many times have you grabbed hold of that mug or bowl or plate in the microwave, expecting it to be hold-able, only to discover it's not?

We once threw a party at our old house in Roebuck Springs, and someone showed up with some sauce that was supposed to be heated in a microwave. When she discovered we didn't have one, she didn't know what to do. It reminded me of the time I was talking about my old 45s to a much younger friend, and he asked me what a 45 was. My eyes got really big and then I laughed. Not at him, but at the reminder that we all exist in our own cultural contexts.

I showed the party girl how to empty the sauce into a saucepan and heat it on the stovetop using a very low flame. Perhaps this will come in handy someday when she's lost in the wilderness of someone else's kitchen.

But the biggest reason I don't miss my microwave? Three words: red sauce splatter.

Monday, October 5, 2009

the joy of hugs from other people's children, and how not to make a sit-upon

This year, I decided to become co-leader of Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama Troop 449. Troop 449 shares its meeting time and space with another troop, so tonight the room was packed as we made sit-upons and square knots.

A sit-upon is like a stadium seat, and making one is very much like making a pillow. So much like making a pillow that I sort of forgot all about the idea of a stadium seat and pretty much started helping them make pillows. A pillow is best when it's very fluffy, and its seams are very tight. This is because your head doesn't support the weight of your entire upper body.

Imagine you're a sweet little brownie scout. You stuff fluff and newspaper into a plastic bag, so that it will be water proof. You don't intentionally stuff air into your plastic bag, but it's there, and you don't squeeze it out, because your co-leader doesn't tell you to. Your co-leader wants your pillow to be fluffy. You tie up the plastic bag, air and all. You put your plastic stuffing bag into your vinyl sit-upon after sewing three sides of the vinyl together. Your stuffing bag doesn't take up all of the space inside the vinyl, so your co-leader helps you tighten and gather your stitches around it. You now have a nice, fluffy, oddly-shaped pillow with air inside of it that can't escape, because you've tied it into the fluff bag. What you have is a balloon-pillow, really. For your butt. Which is all well and good until you actually sit upon it, which if you'll recall is the entire point.

The way I choose to imagine it is that most of the parents were too busy talking to all of the other parents to notice as their dear little brownies proudly sat their dear little butts upon their dear little balloon-pillows and blew them right out -- popped the seams off without even the satisfaction of a whoopie cushion-ish noise to turn it into a hilarious prank.

Now back up a bit, to when the girls selected their pieces of vinyl. Leah got the one piece that had something like 500 holes along the edges. WAY more holes than any other piece. She was very insistent that she use that piece, and began sewing it together. She asked for help only once, when her holes wouldn't align, and she stayed late to finish. By the time she was ready to stuff it, all of the blow-outs were old news. She knew to squeeze the air out, and I knew to leave her stitches alone. So she ended up with the best sit-upon of the bunch. It looks and feels just like a stadium seat. And suddenly I am aware that this could be bad for me. That this could appear as though I have pulled a classic cheerleader's mother's stunt, sabotaging all of the other girls so that my daughter appears to be the best. She even decided to finger knit a handle. Next thing you know, she'll be embroidering her name on the front and adding fringe along the edges.

So yeah, the parents might not appreciate my mad crafting skills (or Leah's), but I think their children actually like me. Several of them gave me happy little hugs, for no apparent reason other than the joy of hugging. Lucky for me, hugs are unbreakable.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

no excuse

The kids' schools didn't show the school speech. The school speech that was all about staying in school. So I kept them out of school to watch it. Then we went to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute ~

First we walked around the park ~

Then we went inside, where we couldn't take pictures. No need, really. It's the sort of thing that etches itself into your memory. Neal asked if the KKK costume was a ghost. Leah asked why only four little girls were in the
Sixteenth Street Baptist Church when it was bombed ~

Both Leah's and Neal's absences are considered unexcused by their schools.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

scenes from inside the car

leah likes to make origami cranes on her way to school in the morning ~ they seem to have flown into my cup holders

neal likes to make a bed for his favorite stuffed animal ~ looks pretty cozy to me

Sunday, August 16, 2009

to be or not to be

these roses decided for themselves ~

this one is

this one isn't

they're right next to each other

i think the one that's blooming gets a bit more sun ~ maybe the other one just needs a little p-rose-ac.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

how to make a tomato basil sandwich

~ Grow tomatoes. Slice them. They are beautiful inside.

~ Toast some whole wheat bread and spread it with mayo and feta cheese.

~ Grow basil. Pinch off some leaves and arrange them on top of the mayo and feta.

~ Place the beautiful, giant slices of tomato on top of everything, put the sandwich together, and slice it in half.

~ Wow.

~ P.S. If you've grown cucumbers, you may add thin slices of those as well.

~ Did I mention Wow?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

close there is

roosterman stares through glass
sheds feathers from a haughty fan

hens and chicks step to shallow pan
sip water and peck for last night's corn

(wild birds steal oats and flax
hide in trees with treasure grains)

grass grows tall

foolish are we in sandals and shorts
riding bikes through bumpy fields
dodging turtles
ducking pines
squeaking brakes for sharpest turns


close there is a river
close there is
cold rushing smooth skipping stone in water
green vining fingers sliding long through limbs
dirt clinging sweat breathing salt licking birds singing
all along the fork


close there is a river

Thursday, July 30, 2009


One of our hens disappeared for a while ~

Seems she was busy ~

Monday, July 20, 2009

no time to talk

scarlet runners ~

kikiriki ~

homegrown salad (the tomato in the middle is a black cherry, hence the dark innards) ~

buggy 1 ~

buggy 2 ~

Saturday, July 11, 2009


I don't mean to brag, but holy moly are my tomatoes getting big ~

They're getting so big that every day I worry about something terrible happening to them, like finding giant green worms devouring all of the leaves of the plants. Which I did. Fortunately, they had little time to do any permanent damage, and they left most all of the fruit alone. We (and by we, I mean Lee and our friend Harry) pulled them off and threw them into a pot of hot, soapy water, which seemed to do the trick.

Because all of my labels faded while the plants were in the cold frame, I've no idea what color to expect as they ripen. I'm guessing pink or yellow. Stay tuned.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

summertime things

homegrown white scallop squash with purchased cauliflower, vidalia onion, and garlic ~ sauteed in olive oil with oregano, cumin, black and cayenne pepper, and salt ~ served over whole wheat spaghetti with a carafe of mint tea ~ colorful, no ~ flavorful, yes


Not long after Leah was born, I went to Chicago on business, hauling my dual chamber electric breast pump through the airport only weeks after 9/11, awkwardly explaining that it was not an explosive device, then plopping down on the floor in the entrance to the ladies room to use the only outlet I could find.

Later, when she was older and no longer nursing, I went to London for a week on business. I remember trying to explain to my colleagues that I felt a biological drive to be with my child. Childless themselves, they seemed interested for a couple of polite minutes, and then started some other conversation as I nursed my Stella and decided that the next night I would stay in and order room service.

Today, we took Leah to her first resident camp, a Girl Scout campground on Lake Guntersville. I LOVED camp when I was a kid, and I have been looking forward to introducing Leah to the joys of summer camping -- archery, boating, riding, etc. And like any parent who rarely gets a babysitter, I have been looking forward to having time -- time to spend with Neal, time to relax to the degree afforded by having only one kid in the house instead of two. But now that we're home and she's not, it feels exactly as it did when she was so much younger, and I was working full-time and traveling quite a bit, looking around bitterly at all of the stay-at-home moms, wondering how in hell so many of them were able to swing it, and when in hell people were going to get pissed off enough about healthcare options (or lack thereof) to start a revolution. Well, the missingness feels the same. The political stuff doesn't, because this is an entirely different context -- a context of choice. Guess I just kinda ranted there for a second.

But in any context, I wonder if the missingness ever gets any smaller?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

sunday brunch

Homegrown black beauty zucchini and early golden summer crookneck squash, sauteed with vidalia onion from the farmer's market, and served with yellow grits. I love it when Lee cooks.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

green things

I wouldn't necessarily say we're winning the battle against the squash bugs, but we are managing to pick a few squash here and there ~

The tomatoes are growing like mad, and we are growing impatient as we wait for them to ripen ~

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

best guacamole ever

Wait until it's really hot outside. Go to the store. Buy five perfectly ripe avocadoes. A perfectly ripe avocado is like al dente pasta, where your fingers are your teeth. One tomato, garlic, lemon. Be sure you have salt, black pepper, and cayenne in your pantry.

At home, pull out a cutting board, two knives (okay, I'm picky with the knives; I like a regular steak knife for cutting the avocadoes and the lemon, and a serrated bread knife for cutting the tomato), a soup spoon, a garlic press, a masher, a big bowl for the guacamole, a medium bowl for the scraps, and a very small bowl for the lemon juice.

Cut the avocadoes in half lengthwise. Squeeze the seed out of the side it ends up on. Use the soup spoon to scoop the avocado meat out of the shell and into the big bowl. Press two cloves of garlic into the big bowl. The best thing about a garlic press is that you don't have to peel the garlic. Cut the lemon in half widthwise and squeeze both halves into the very small bowl. Use the soup spoon to remove the seeds, and then dump the juice into the big bowl. Dash of salt, three turns of the pepper mill, and three shakes of cayenne.

Mash it all together. It's okay to leave some chunks. Chunks are good.

Cut the tomato in half widthwise and squeeze all of the seeds out into the scrap bowl, which by now also contains avocado shells and seeds, the remains of the garlic (which you have immediately scraped out of the press in order to immediately rinse the press, because lord knows there is nothing harder than removing dried garlic from a press), and a spent lemon. Chop each half of the tomato into chunky pieces and throw it on top of the guacamole. Use the soup spoon to lovingly mix the tomato into the guacamole.

Eat with tortilla chips and maybe a Corona. I'm not a big Corona fan, but it seems like the right thing to do.

Oh yeah, the scraps: put them in your compost heap!

I would have included a picture, but it's gone.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


On Saturday, we all wished Mister Neal a very happy fifth birthday. He is freckled and dimpled and fresh, unfurling green, like the bean sprouts reaching upupup toward the top of the tepee.

He got his first real bicycle, with training wheels, a helmet, and some pads. There is nothing like that gasping moment of excited big kidness spinning around in spokes and pedals and tires.

We are clearing the downed hackberry from the yard, trying to make way for his party.

Before ~

After ~

I don't think a helmet and pads would have saved this old lady. But she grew big and strong, and she lived a good long time. And that's how things roll.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

maters! and other stuff

The tomatoes are getting bigger every day ~

I think these are Royal Hillbillies, but there's an element of surprise to this particular crop. I cut up a bunch of old plastic containers to make markers for them while they were seedlings, but the ink faded while they were in the cold frame. They could be Royal Hillbilly, Yellow Brandywine, St. Pierre, Black Cherry, or, apparently, Arkansas Traveler, although I don't remember labeling any as such. I seem to recall reading that tomatoes aren't worth the effort of starting from seed, but as a first-time seed-starter, my experience is that they are just as easy as any of the other things we started.

~~~ other stuff ~~~

These magnolias were blooming on a tree at Lee's grandmother's house in Montgomery ~

This luna moth was on the side of a building ~

This pretty perennial is tucked into the periwinkle ~

These feet are happy in their Merrell's ~

Sunday, June 7, 2009


I put these Chinese yellow cucumber seeds in the ground last Sunday, and here they are as of last Thursday. Amazing what four days can do!

White bush scallop squash ~

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

you might not be a domestic goddess if...

~ You find yourself eating yogurt with muesli out of a Christmas mug using a fork.

~ Days later, you still have little white dots all over the floor from when your four-year-old made shaved styrofoam with the shaved ice machine.

~ It doesn’t bother you one bit to leave the clothes on the line in the rain. The sun’ll come out tomorrow.

~ Your idea of clearing the recycling out of the kitchen typically results in the recycling clinking in your car trunk for, like, a month.

~ You have quilts hanging up in your windows instead of curtains, just like when you were in college.

~ A friend recommends the Roomba for daily maintenance, but notes that it doesn't replace your weekly deep cleaning, and you think, Good Lord, what IS she talking about?

~ You notice there is a spider’s web between your guitar and the bookshelf it’s resting against when you pull it out to put some stickers on the case. Wait a minute: this means you’re not a rock star, either. Damn. What the hell happened?

Monday, June 1, 2009

things that happened over the weekend

1. Made important business call from home while kids played outside.

2. Received note from kid number one during important business call: Come outside! Giant tree down in back yard!

3. Mourned loss of big, old hackberry.

4. Went to Montgomery to help with yard sale. Return on investment for yard sale: not so hot. Did manage to come away with this and this.

5. Mourned fact that kid number two expelled almost every known bodily fluid onto places it didn't belong while in Montgomery helping with yard sale. Return on investment for kid number two: still crunching the numbers.

6. Learned enough about wild plants that I am now enjoying home-brewed sassafras tea. See more here.

7. Planted cucumbers.

8. Displaced camera purchase with purchase of one full sized violin for kid number one, and one quarter-sized violin for kid number two. Totally okay with that.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


I love the way its handle fits in the distal hinge joints of my fingers. The way it swings back and forth as I walk. The way it makes me feel useful, strong, and farm-y. The way it holds things: weeds, dirt, water, ash. The way it may be left, full or empty, anywhere, and it just fits.

Memorial Day at Paw Paw's pool