Sunday, August 29, 2010

Lizzie's toad house

Yesterday Lizzie and I found a little American toad hopping around in our grass. Never having seen a real live toad Lizzie was pretty excited, and so was I! We immediately caught it up and transferred it to the carrot patch where I've seen numerous garden snails and other pests that make tasty toad-treats. I was hoping the toad would make a home of my organic garden, and sure enough he was still there this morning.


"Let's make a toad house!" I said to Lizzie and "YEAH!" was her immediate enthusiastic reply. I rummaged through a pile of old clay pots, found a hammer and we smashed a side off each pot and had instant toad homes.

You can buy toad homes online and spend around $20 for each house. Or you can knock a small opening in the side of a clay pot, or even stack a few bricks to make a small shelter. Toads will be attracted to the shelter, use it during the day and claim it as their territory coming back year after year. Each night one toad can eat up to 100 slugs, grubs, grasshoppers, tomato beetles, cutworms...anything you don't want eating your garden. The tadpoles also eat mosquito larvae! And the average adult toad can live for nearly a decade, that's a nice family pet you don't have to feed or take for walks.

So give your toads some houses and enjoy their stay in your garden. Lizzie's already moved the houses around three times this morning and can't go a minute without looking to see if anyone moved in. I'm trying to explain to her that she should leave them alone so the toads don't get afraid and move out. But you try explaining that to a curious two-year-old.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

And all is right with my world

Well, almost. I wish I had a little more time with two free hands to do things like blog, clean my house, and take a nice bubble bath. But, I really can't complain. I had another beautiful little girl on June 27th and we call her Poppy, short for Penelope Rose. My two-year-old daughter Lizzie just adores her.

We're very lucky since a lot of my friend's older children don't even acknowledge their newborn siblings let alone try to play with them. It's not unusual for Lizzie to pile Poppy under all her favorite stuffies, including Bear-Bear (in the dirt above) her most prized bear of all. Poppy doesn't really like to be piled under four or five bears but she'll learn someday that her older sister is being very sweet. It melts my heart to see them together. I wanted nothing more than two little girls and I got them! How lucky am I?!

Lizzie's garden (formerly the Michelle Obama rocks, Monsanto sucks, honorary organic garden) is flourishing. Lizzie took it over by moving her lawn chair in there one morning and saying "I LIKE MOMMY'S GARDEN!" and then proceeded to eat a carrot right out of the ground, dirt and all (luckily dirt makes your smarter.) So I've had to rename my little six foot by fourteen foot patch after my older daughter since she's apparently claimed it. And if I can grow it she'll eat it. I've had other mommy-friends look on in wonderment as she devours homegrown carrots, green beans and cucumbers but leaves her mac and cheese untouched.

Last year I posted a running tally of everything that I grew in my tiny 6'x14' patch and I will again soon. Tomatoes are just coming in now and we can barely keep up with cukes. More than one neighbor has come home to a cucumber or two on their front steps :) I'm already coming up with expansion plans for next year since Poppy will want in on those homegrown carrots and green beans by then and I want some too!

I've been a lot more successful than last year due to the hot weather and a better layout, tucking over-zealous zucchini in a back corner and not right out front where they shaded everything. So far we've also been spared late blight which destroyed my tomatoes last year. There's a late blight warning for the western part of Massachusetts but no word of it on the North Shore yet. I keep knocking on wood though.

The Ipswich River is also running again, finally. We're currently experiencing our third day in a row of rain and I am ecstatic! The USGS gauge went from 0.88 cubic feet per second on Sunday to 75 cfs today! I know it won't stay up there forever but a three day soak is just what the watershed needed to last the rest of the summer. Happy fish!

I will sign off now and hope my state of contentment sticks with you. It helps that my full-term baby is already pulling eight hour stretches overnight so I'm getting a lot more sleep than with my preemie first-born (where I was up every hour and a half for the first two months!) I hope to visit all my follower's blogs soon, but even though life is good it is super super busy. Plus it's summer so we're outside getting dirty as much as we can!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Ipswich River Drought

It has been a very busy six weeks up here in Ipswich. As of late June I now have two little girls vying for my attention. But, I wanted to bring everyone some dramatic photos from our little dam, which is always causing trouble. This was the dam yesterday. But where's the water?

Some of you may remember a mere four months ago when my town seemed to be underwater. I published some very dramatic photos and video. The river was running at a record 4,000 cubic feet of water per second then:


This morning it was running at 1.8 cfs. Yes, 1 point 8. That's the lowest recorded number for this date in the 70 years the US Geologic Survey gauge has been keeping track. This was the fish ladder (below) with no water running through it. So fish are basically stuck below the dam preventing them from using the entire upper part of the river.


This was the same view in March. Hard to believe we ran out of water:


So if you live in the Ipswich River watershed area please please turn off those sprinklers and let your lawn die. The grass with come back to life but the fish can't.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Dirt can make you smarter

I have always prescribed to what I like to call the Eat Dirt method of parenting. If my toddler hasn't gone through at least three outfits by the end of the day and has clean hands then we haven't spent enough time outside. I encourage her to play in the mud, sand, even the compost pile. She's been known to dip her crackers in the sand at the beach and eat them and I don't freak out like a lot of other mothers we often hang out with. Purell is most definitely not allowed in my house.

Why? Well, I've always known that a challenged immune system is a happy immune system. Too many antibiotics and not enough bacteria can cause one's immune system to go haywire. It actually needs something to do or it gets out of balance. And now, there's new research showing that playing in the dirt exposes humans to the bacteria Micobacterium vaccae, which not only decreases anxiety but stimulates brain function, making you smarter. From Science Daily:

"This research suggests that M. vaccae may play a role in anxiety and learning in mammals," says Matthews. "It is interesting to speculate that creating learning environments in schools that include time in the outdoors where M. vaccae is present may decrease anxiety and improve the ability to learn new tasks."

As I rapidly near the birth of my second child (the reason I have not been blogging lately, thank you everyone who has contacted me in concern, I am fine, just tired :) this only reminds me more and more that it is so important for kids to get out and play in the dirt.

I am blessed with a child who is far more happy being outside than watching TV. In fact just the other day my husband gave her the very rare opportunity to watch ten minutes of TV by asking her "Do you want to play in the backyard or watch Elmo?" and "BACKYARD!" was her enthusiastic response. Which is the best answer we could have received. So if you have children in your lives show them your love and let them eat dirt.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Volcanology is cool

A quick apology for being off the air for a month. When I'm not chasing a toddler I'm sleeping as I near my due date with my second child. But recent geologic events in Iceland have grabbed enough of my attention to get me off the couch, back online and reminded me on this Earth Day that Mother Nature really is in charge.

For those of you who have been reading this blog for a while you know I'm a science geek. Nothing is cooler than an erupting volcano. Especially an erupting volcano that I've been to! In April of 2001 a friend and I took a long weekend adventure to Iceland, and it was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Now that the ash is clearing, and air traffic resumes to this magical land, I recommend everyone to go visit. You won't be disappointed.

My friend and I spent a day driving all over southwestern Iceland which brought us right past the Myrdalsjokull and Eyjafjallajokull glaciers on our way to Vik, a beautiful black sand beach at the southern tip of the island. The only picture I have of the volcano area is of the Myrdalsjokull glacier (below), which on the map above looks like it's the same piece of ice as Eyjafjallajokull.

And under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier is the current erupting volcano.

There's a million things you can find online about this volcano, besides of course the air traffic disruptions (ironically the ash from Eyjafjallajokull kept my Icelandic travel partner from returning from Boston to her teaching job in Russia, she just made it back today, five days late). But there are a few fascinating things I've learned about this eruption:

The first is that it could go on for a year or more. And when Eyjafjallajokull erupts if often sets off the neighboring volcano of Katla, which is three times bigger. So if you're planning any air travel to or from Europe anytime soon you may want to buy travel insurance.

Secondly, as the glacier melts from the volcanic activity it releases pressure on the earth's crust which usually results in more volcanic activity. Scientists are predicting that with global warming we'll see more volcanoes. The Times UK reports that "...the eruption may be only a taste of the future if climate change causes ice sheets to melt further. As the last ice age ended, volcanic activity in Iceland increased 30-fold because of reduced pressure on the earth’s mantle."

And third, the volcano is probably releasing enormous amounts of fluoride, which could possibly poison livestock that might drink from glacial melt water. Wikipedia reports "In 1783, 79 per cent of the Icelandic sheep stock were killed, probably as a result of fluorosis caused by the eruption of Laki. The effect also spread beyond Iceland. Ash from the current Eyjafjallajökull eruption contains one third the concentration typical in Hekla eruptions, with a mean value of 104 milligrams of fluoride per kilogram of ash." That toxic ash that is currently spreading all over Europe.

So for those of you who just thought a little ash was affecting air travel and nothing else, this volcano is doing a lot more than even I realized.

I'll leave you with a few photos snapped back in 2001 with, believe it or not, print film. Luckily I have a scanner.

To the left is Skogafoss, one of the most amazing waterfalls I have ever seen and very close to the Eyjafjallajokull volcano. To fully see its size that's me below in front of it.






This photo below was taken literally standing in the zone between the American and European techtonic plates. All those sea stacks are old volcanoes. If you look out to sea from this spot old volcanoes dot the horizon all the way south.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Video of the Ipswich River Flood 2010

Again, as promised, here's a video of the flooding at the EBSCO/Sylvania dam in downtown Ipswich, MA. The first half is from the west bank and the second is from the east bank looking right back at where I shot the first half. The photos I put up yesterday are OK, but to really feel the power of nearly 4,000 cubic feet per second of water rushing past you really need to see, and hear, the river in motion:

video

For those of you not familiar with this spot, the Ipswich River is usually a peaceful river winding through the North Shore at about 200-400 cfs. This dam is a drop of at least six feet if not more and at late summer low-flow I've seen kids actually walking across it. Not something you'd want to attempt right now.

According to the USGS gauge the water seems to have crested about 6 AM this morning, which is good. A lot of my neighbors in the "alley" are pumping out their basements, but we seem to have been spared :)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ipswich River Flood 2010 Photos

As promised in last night's post, I took a walk around town today and can now bring you some photos of the flooding. According to the USGS gauge at 6 PM this evening the river was at 9.85 feet and running at 3,840 cubic feet per second. That's a lot of water. "Normal" stream flow for March is 300 cfs. Click any photo to enlarge.


For comparison purposes, the photo to the left is of the herring ladder right at the EBSCO dam. It was taken last March 18th at "normal" flow. The photo to the right was taken today. I just hope the water recedes before herring counts start on April 1st! Notice the approximate six feet of clearance from the water surface to the bottom of the foot bridge at the top of the photo on the left, and the lack of clearance on the right.




Looking towards EBCSO Publishing right at the dam. The dam starts at the end of the causeway on the left.


Standing on the footbridge looking right at the dam, there should be a significant drop where now there's just a wave.

Standing on the Choate Bridge


Standing on the west bank looking downstream at the footbridge.



The parking lot behind Zumi's. The river's normal channel runs at least 20 feet behind that shed.



Playing in the flooded parking lot

Another one of EBSCO's buildings just before the dam, the water isn't usually right up to the bricks.


I shot some great videos which I'll download later tonight and get up for you. You can't really feel the power of the river until you see if in motion and hear the sound. Luckily our basement is still dry even though we're only 100 feet from the river. The last time our house got soggy the water level went over 10 feet, hopefully we'll just squeak by with this flood....

Monday, March 15, 2010

Ipswich River Flood Stage

In May of 2006 the Ipswich River north of Boston, MA, reached a flow of 4520 cubic feet per second, higher than any gauge reading since records have been kept. Most of downtown Ipswich went underwater, including our basement. It was a unique situation where an already saturated water table was then hit with a week of solid rain.

In this photo, taken by my husband during the 2006 flood, there should be a dam with a significant drop. You can see the "bump" to the left where the water is going over the dam. The EBSCO publishing building in the background had about five feet of water in it and old copies of periodicals floating all around.

A similar scenario happened again this past weekend. Anyone living in New England went through a massive nor'easter at the end of February. Winds topped 80 miles and hour and damage was comparable to a category two hurricane. There was a lot of rain but rivers stayed within their banks, although the Ipswich River did hit its seven foot flood stage, topping off at 7.09 feet (you can see the peak from February 28th/29th to the right, click graph for the most recent USGS data).

Then this past Saturday it started to rain, again. More than four inches were predicted. This morning I heard on New England Cable News that Topsfield, MA, (one town upstream from mine) received ten inches of rain in the past two days. TEN INCHES! There was no way the Ipswich River was not going to flood.

I'm headed off to bed in a minute with my sump pump plugged in, float switch ready to trigger it on if needed. The sump pit is full of water but the gravel floor is dry...for now. The river is at 8.5 feet, you can see it in the graph above updated by the US Geologic Survey at 6 PM tonight. The river went over ten feet in the 2006 floods, so we'll see what morning brings.

On the bright side, the sun is supposed to come out tomorrow and all this rain gave Lizzie and me an excuse to wear our matching ladybug boots. A big promise to bring you all photos of the flooding tomorrow, hopefully the sun will be out and the light will be good...and we'll still be high enough and dry.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Lizzie's chickadee nest box

When I moved up to Ipswich, MA, four years ago there was a bird nest box already hanging from the neighbor's Eastern Red Cedar. My husband can't quite remember who put it there, possibly his old roommate, but either way the box hung on our side of the fence and I have adopted it.

In the four springs I've lived here I've never bothered to clean it out, which I know is an important thing to do if you want to have healthy birds nesting in it. Last year was the first year I really paid attention to the box and I caught an adult chickadee exiting it many times. I knew someone must be using it, but I never looked inside, not wanting to disturb a potential nest.

A few days ago my toddler and I were doing a yard clean up (well, I was raking and she was sprawled on her stomach, completely covered in dirt, digging in my veggie raised bed with her bare hands, she totally takes after me) and I noticed the box had fallen in the wind storm the New England coast went through a few weeks ago. Meteorologists say we had winds up to 80 miles an hour and damage equivalent to a category two hurricane.

I picked up the box, located the chain buried in last year's leaves and carefully pulled off the bottom sliding piece of wood. Inside was a wondrous site, click to enlarge:

The old nest fell out in two pieces. The bottom half was soft sphagnum moss most likely collected from a few houses away where my neighbor has a patch of it along the river. The moss layer was an inch thick. Did it start as a tiny piece and grow in there? Four years of not cleaning it out could I suppose grow moss that thick.

The top layer was the nest, a little cup mostly made of animal hair. The neighbors who own the cedar tree have an enormous, friendly, shaggy, golden retriever named Baker. I have a feeling a lot of that hair is his.

I pointed out all the parts of the nest to my 17-month-old who has far too many words for her own good. As I hung the box back up in the cedar tree she ran around in circles screaming "BIRD NEST BIRD NEST BIRD NEST!!!"

Just this morning over her sippy cup of milk and my mug of coffee, which we always drink in a big chair looking out at our bird feeder and the nest box, we saw a chickadee going into the box. I'm not sure she could see it so I told her a chickadee went in her nest box. An hour later we went outside to play and she ran over and said "Chick-chee bird nest?" "I sure hope so, and you can take care of it" I told her, and she laughed. Having one's own little nature pupil is the best thing in the world.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Where is your milk from?

A friend showed me a very cool website yesterday, whereismymilkfrom.com. For any of you in the US who are trying to purchase more locally produced food, or who are just curious about where the cows who made your milk are from, this website is for you!

It's super easy. All you have to do is find the code on the side of your milk (or yogurt, cheese, cream, ice cream, etc.) container and enter it into the milk box on the website. Most codes are easy to find, they're usually right next to the sell-by date. The one on my box of The Organic Cow milk reads 36-4016. So I entered 36 4016 (no dash) into the site and it spit this factory out at me:

The code for New York, the site tells me, is 36, the first two numbers in the series on the box. I'm a little disappointed since The Organic Cow claims to be "New England's Original Organic Milk" it says so right on the carton. But, last time I checked, Elma, NY, was not in New England. In fact it's about 482 miles away by truck from Ipswich, MA!

My family doesn't follow a strict 100 mile diet but we do like to try to buy food from New England, since it's a pretty small area of the country and is a good limit to focus on.

This doesn't mean I'm going to stop buying the Organic Cow all together, but I'll definitely be entering codes from other organic milk products I can find into whereismymilkfrom.com to help me make better decisions when I shop. A little code cheat sheet for fellow New Englanders out there:

25 = Massachusetts
23= Maine
44=Rhode Island
09=Connecticut
50=Vermont
33= New Hampshire

I'm going to try to stick with those numbers!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Health care hypocrisy: Sarah Palin went to Canada for treatment


For those of you who have been following this blog for a while you know I have my share of health issues, the biggest of which is Crohn's Disease. Over the years I have spent an insane amount of out-of-pocket money for uncovered expenses like copays, acupuncture and experimental drugs. In 1990 my parents even imported an FDA unapproved drug from Canada at a dollar a pill. They also paid for my COBRA for two years after I got too old for their insurance but didn't have my own yet. COBRA alone was nearly $300 a month alone, the pills...I don't even want to know.

I just opened an email from my husband with a link to the Huffington Post informing me that Sarah Palin, one of the most outspoken opponents to government run health care, and who has openly criticized Canada for its single-payer system, recently admitted she actually went to Canada when she was younger for her health care. Sarah, you should keep your mouth shut.

I'll leave you with reading their article but this quote makes my stomach turn more than usual, "'We used to hustle over the border for health care we received in Canada,' Palin said.... The irony, one guesses, is that Palin now views Canada's health care system as revolting: with its government-run administration and 'death-panel'-like rationing."

So go ahead Sarah and not be ashamed to have used Canada's system where no one goes without coverage and having to worry about how they're going to pay for their medications, treatment and emergency care. But don't let us have any of it. Oh, and that reminds me, I owe Beverly Hospital a $100 copay for the six stitches I received from their ER on New Year's Day after falling on the ice. I'm just glad I have insurance, but still, $100!!? If my family were one of the millions without health coverage in this country I'd probably have slapped a Bandaid on it and have an even worse scar on my forehead. Maybe I should send Sarah Palin the bill....

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Science is cool: Chilean quake moves earth's axis by 3 inches


While most of us last weekend were watching the tragic scene unfold in Chile, or waiting to see if a tsunami was charging towards Hawaii, scientists were discovering that the 8.8 quake in Chile last week not only shifted the earth's axis but it also shortened our day. Yes. Seriously.

According to businessweek.com , “The length of the day should have gotten shorter by 1.26 microseconds (millionths of a second)...” and “The axis about which the Earth’s mass is balanced should have moved by 2.7 milliarcseconds (about 8 centimeters or 3 inches).” And, if you already didn't know, the massive 9.1 Sumatran quake in 2004 "...shortened the day by 6.8 microseconds and shifted the axis by about 2.3 milliarcseconds..." So I guess this happens all the time.

To most of you this tiny three-inch shift in the earth's axis might not seem like a whole lot, but when you think about it from a scientific point of view I'm sure it really throws off a lot of calculations. I can imagine a bunch of physicists and geologists are now doing long, complicated, equations trying to reset clocks and change known data points.

I find this really really cool - what can I say, I'm a science geek. I grew up with a dad (he reads this and will back me up) who instead of reciting us traditional bedtime stories would show us books on plate tectonics and volcanoes. I was probably the only seven-year-old who understood that Hawaii was drifting northwest and a new island was forming way below the ocean surface. My older sister, no surprise, majored in geology.

A mere 1.26 microseconds probably won't change a thing in your daily lives. So don't worry, you were only 1.26 microseconds late for work or school this morning, no one will notice. And there's no need to reset your watch, well, unless of course you're NASA.

For a cool map of the tsunami waves a Chilean quake sends out check out Astray in a Latin World.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Eat yogurt = offset carbon


OK, I know that title sounds kinda silly. Yogurt is produced from milk produced from cows that spew a whole lot of carbon into our atmosphere. But Stonyfield Organic Yogurt, based right near me in Londonderry, NH, has started a rewards program where you can save up points from their containers and redeem them for things like more yogurt, snacks and even carbon offsets.

So I redeemed 25 points just now and offset 1/4 ton of carbon via Native Energy, enough to offset 500 miles of driving, which pretty much covers last weekend's trip to see grandma and grandpa in Westchester, NY. But wait, we still drove about 450 miles, our car producing CO2 the whole way. So what does this mean? According to the Native Energy website a renewable energy offset is explained thus:

For every kilowatt hour of electricity a renewable generator generates, it also generates a one-kilowatt hour renewable energy credit. The generator can sell both commodities together as "renewable electricity" or sell the electricity as "generic" electricity to one buyer and the RECs to other buyers. Legally, it's all about who owns the RECs

The way I see it my redeeming this renewable energy credit is supporting a wind farm, a farm methane gas generator, solar plant or other kind of renewable energy source. Kinda makes me feel good. Think my toddler and I will go eat more yogurt! One more container and I'll have enough points to offset another quarter ton of carbon!!


Sunday, February 14, 2010

A maple flavored Valentine: maple cookies


For those of you who have been reading my blog for a while you might know I have a sensitivity to cane sugar which exacerbates my Crohn's Disease. What you might not know is that I also detest chocolate. I know, I must have some sort of rare recessive gene. What woman hates chocolate? It actually makes me gag. I swear. So no heart-shaped box of chocolates for me on Valentine's Day!

I've had a little too many store-bought cookies and Swedish Fish over the past few weeks and it set off a nasty week-long Crohn's disease spell. Considering I'm 20 weeks pregnant I have my growing baby to think about now, so back to cane sugar-free eating for me. Which isn't as hard as you might think. Yes, cane sugar seems to make its way into just about every product on the shelves. But a little internet research, and a lot of home cooking and baking, and you can have your sweets and eat them too!

So on this Valentine's Day in lieu of nasty, sugary chocolate (Yuck!) I've made myself a sweet treat of my favorite maple cookies. Next to vanilla, maple is by far my favorite flavor. A warning: these are in no way a "diet" cookie. Just because they don't contain cane sugar, they do contain a whole cup of butter, YUM!

This recipe comes off an excellent website full of cookies and treats with cane sugar alternatives, I altered it slightly by using only one cup of maple sugar and replacing the extra half cup with maple syrup since it's slightly cheaper than maple sugar. Enjoy!

Debra Lynn Dadd

Recipes

Maple Cookies

As autumn leaves fall, I love to make these maple cookies cut out with leaf-shaped cookie cutters. They are crisp and crunchy like an autumn leaf and are flavored and sweetened with maple syrup, which, as you know, is the sap of a tree.

They can also be used instead of graham crackers to make a flavorful cookie-crumb pie crust.

Makes about 4 dozen medium-sized cookies

NOTE: Dough needs to chill at least four hours, so don't make these at the last minute for a party. Make the dough ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator. My dough was delicious after chilling for a week, and seems to improve with time.

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated maple sugar or unrefined cane sugar (such as Sucanat or Rapadura)*
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon maple extract
1/4 cup maple syrup
4 cups unbleached white flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

  1. In a medium bowl, cream the butter with an electric mixer.
  2. Gradually add the sugar while you continue to beat.
  3. Add the eggs, vanilla extract, maple extract, and maple syrup, and beat until light and fluffy.
  4. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together.
  5. Mix the flour mixture into the butter mixture.
  6. Bring the dough into a ball, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
  7. Chill at least four hours.
  8. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  9. Roll the dough out 1/4-inch thick. Cut out cookies and transfer them to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat.
  10. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes.
* Granulated maple sugar is more expensive and hard to find, but would result in an all-maple cookie. unrefined cane sugar (such as Sucanat or Rapadura) is less expensive, available in most natural food stores, and has the added benefit of causing less blood sugar rise.

BACK TO RECIPE INDEX

BACK TO DEBRA'S LIST: Sweeteners

Copyright ©2005 Debra Lynn Dadd - all rights reserved

Thursday, February 4, 2010

If a tree falls, would a hawk notice?

If an old, dead tree along the highway was cut down would anyone notice? Well, I did, and I wonder about the red tailed hawk pair who used it as their perch.

On the north bound side of Route 95 in Danvers, MA - just north of the Center Street overpass and before route 62 - there was an old, dead tree that stood twice as tall as anything around it. I doubt anyone would have taken notice of this tree unless you were a birder or had an inclination towards the natural world. Most people probably drove past it everyday while on their cell phones or sipping their lattes and never knew it was there. But I knew it, and every time I passed I'd look to see if the hawks were there. And they almost always were.

Sometime this past fall it was suddenly gone, just a clean-cut stump and a hole in the space it occupied in the sky. I assume State highway workers removed it to prevent it falling over in a storm and blocking one of the most traveled routes through northern Massachusetts. I can see their reasoning, but did they think of the hawks?

I thought about the tree again this morning, as I always do, when I drive past the stump. And I thought about it even more because I saw both of the hawks, perched a few hundred yards apart, one on a highway sign and one in another not-so-nice dead tree. Do they miss their old tree? Do they even remember it? Do they fly towards it expecting it to reappear as mysteriously and suddenly as it disappeared?

If I could be another species for just five minutes I've always wanted to be a hawk or an eagle -I know, you're surprised not a dolphin or a whale? It's true. I would love to see through their amazing eyes, feel what it would feel like to fly, and find out if they miss their tree. What sets humans apart from most other animals is our ability to feel empathy for others. And I feel sad for these hawks even though I'd like to think that they don't mind their tree being gone and have found other perches that suit them just as well. Perhaps I'm anthropomorphizing a bit too much, but I am only human.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

A promise to bake more bread

There is something very simple one can do in the kitchen that I'm going to make a very good effort to do more of: bake my own bread.

We go through a lot of whole wheat bread in this house. I love toast, my toddler loves to share my toast, I love to make French toast and my husband loves an evening snack of bread and butter and hummus (especially if I make his snack FOR him :) We usually go through two loaves a week.

I did a quick calculation and that's about $250 to $300 a year in bread, if not more. If I make it at home it would only be about $50 a year in ingredients. Not to mention by making it here I can control what goes in it, substituting local honey for the processed cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup and a myriad of preservatives I can't pronounce. I always believed that a simple loaf of bread should only consist of flour, yeast, water, milk, honey, salt and butter. Maybe some oats on top to make it look pretty.

So while my bread is rising (hopefully, I can't seem to find a warm spot in the house on this cold New England day) I thought I'd write a little bit about why I love the process of making bread. The yeasty smell of the sponge, the warm sticky dough in your hands, the whir of my trusty Kitchen Aid mixer (without which I'd probably have stronger arms but would make less bread), that fun moment when you get to punch the dough, and finally the amazingly rich and comforting odor of it baking after all the rising and shaping and kneading. There's nothing quite like it....

And, now four hours later, I wish I could send you all some of the final product through the interweb but you'll have to settle for the picture above of it cooling on my counter and imagine the sensation of eating a warm piece with melted butter. Yum. I will most definitely do this more often! I'm going to have to since we ate half of one of the loaves already!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A happy, happy, happy walk around Ipswich

After all of last week's political gloom and doom, and then cold and snow, this morning dawned a balmy 38 degrees. I was determined to take my toddler for an early morning walk around town to cheer us up, banish the cabin fever we've both been feeling and hopefully spot the bald eagle I saw near the town wharf a few weeks ago (when I sadly did not have a camera). One thing I love about my town is that I can step out my front door, walk five minutes down the street and be along the river walk.

I told my daughter that it won't be long before the chimney swifts are back to nest in the round holes in the foundation of the long building on the right (click to enlarge). They fill the sky over the river in the summer chasing insects.

It was still a bit icy and with yesterday's rain there was a lot of water coming over the dam. This dam has been here for centuries but there's a movement starting in town to have it removed to make fish passage easier and hopefully restore our anadromous fish run. Studies show there's bedrock just upstream of the dam and without the impediment there would be a nice rapid right through town. Our house is just around the bend upstream, we could literally walk to the end of our street, jump in our kayaks and paddle the three miles out to sea. I told my daughter that I hope we can all do that someday, she smiled.

She was even more happy when I let her out of the stroller to walk up and down the foot bridge. This is the first time she's been able to do this since she learned to walk as there's been so much snow and ice. I swear she let out a twenty second rapid jumble of words as soon as she ran up to the bars and pressed her little face closer to the falls. I recognized "happy", "water" and "walk" in there. "Happy" was repeated over and over. It's her new favorite word.

She fell asleep somewhere along the lower river near the town wharf so she missed the beautiful shapes the melting ice takes when the current slows.

But when she woke up in Zumi's, our local fair trade coffee shop, she babbled "happy" again and again. I think we both feel better. Walks and January thaws (and a decaf caramel cloud latte for me:) definitely make us both "happy". Perhaps when she wakes up from her nap we'll go to the beach!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Asian Carp invades Great Lakes

I just got this form letter (below) from the Michigan Attorney General in an email from a former Aquarium colleague. It is sad news indeed: the Asian Carp has been found in the Great Lakes. These guys get HUGE as you can see in the photo to the right. What's even more sad is US federal authorities knew about it and have done nothing to stop them. The future of the Great Lakes hangs in the balance, although I have a bad feeling the Lakes will never be the same again. For a full article from the Huffington Post click here.

Please read the letter below and if you have a minute stop by StopAsianCarp.com to sign the petition that will be sent to Washington:

Can You Help? Tell your friends about StopAsianCarp.com
Thank you for signing the online petition to protect hundreds of thousands of jobs and the Great Lakes at StopAsianCarp.com. Your efforts are helping me make our case to President Obama and Congress that residents of the Great Lakes region will not stand by silently as federal officials allow Asian carp to destroy our Lakes.

TELL FIVE PEOPLE: STOPASIANCARP.COM

Now you can do even more. Please forward this email to five friends or family members, one for each of the Great Lakes , asking them to sign the petition at StopAsianCarp.com.

We need to act because the U.S. Supreme Court declined this week to close the locks in Chicago that can stop Asian carp from entering the Lakes, ignoring Michigan 's pleas and those of Ohio , Minnesota , Wisconsin , Pennsylvania , New York and Ontario .

Making things worse, it was revealed federal authorities knew of new DNA evidence of Asian carp IN LAKE MICHIGAN but did not make the Court aware before it made its decision.

The front door to Lake Michigan remains wide open even as these waterborne aliens threaten to devastate the Lakes' $7 billion fishery and hundreds of thousands of jobs connected to the health of the Lakes. The need for each of us to act has never been greater.

TELL FIVE PEOPLE: STOPASIANCARP.COM

Please forward this email right now to five friends or family members, asking them to visit StopAsianCarp.com and sign the petition demanding authorities in Washington D.C. and Illinois act today.

That's telling one friend about www.StopAsianCarp.com for each of the Great Lakes . Please help us sound this critical alarm.

Thank you,


Mike Cox
Michigan Attorney General

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mass Backwards


I could write a lengthy blog about my disappointment at my state's election results. But instead I will leave you with this link to Jon Stewart's Monday night clip: Mass Backwards. It kind of sums up how I feel, and it's at least giving me a good laugh, which I need right now as I think of all the uninsured people, and children, that are out there in this country. I am glad to live in a Commonwealth that takes care of its citizens by providing affordable health care. Many of my friends use Mass Health and are very grateful for the program.

So I hope you enjoy a laugh and that you aren't one of the thousands who worry about how they're going to pay for their health care. And I hope, for the rest of the country who stands with me on this issue, that next time Massachusetts can put forth a better Democratic candidate that will get the job done.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Myopia sled dog races!!

YES! Sled dog racing on the north shore of Massachusetts! Last month, when my husband and I saw the sign hanging across the entrance to the Myopia Hunt Club (more well-known for their summer polo matches) we almost jumped out of our seats. How cool would it be to see a real dog sled race!

This past Saturday the day came, we packed Lizzie up in warm clothes and headed to neighboring Hamilton for the Myopia Sled Dog Races. The first thing I noticed is that a lot of the dogs weren't your typical Alaskan Sled Dog, huskies or malamutes. Most of them looked more like this adorable guy:

But there were more typical sled dogs, some of them already linked together waiting for their race: Unfortunately, our toddler only lasted an hour so we only got to see the Skijoring. Skijoring? Yup, that's the sport where a cross country skier is pulled by one or two dogs. Sounds odd, but when my husband saw the first racer enter the final stretch he said, "that's the BEST sport EVER!" And it did look pretty cool.


I think our toddler didn't last long because she wore herself out running around. She was excited because the club bulldozed the snow away from the viewing area and it was the first time she was able to walk around outside (without being caught in a snowdrift) since she learned to walk last month.

So we never got to see the 4 and 8 dog professional races head out. But it was a beautiful day, you could wander around and get up close to all the racing dogs, everyone was friendly - especially the people that Lizzie ran into when she was running around in circles.

And thanks to the New England Sled Dog Club for making it a free event! We hope it comes back to Massachusetts next year, you might just see my husband skijoring, now if we only had a trained sled dog...