Saturday, December 21, 2013

a merry solstice to all and to all a good night

It's been a while.  Not because I don't like blogging.  It's been a while because there has been so much happening- good, bad and in between.

I'm home tonight, with the kids fast asleep in their beds.  I am somewhat doubtful that there are visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads, since they've never seen a sugarplum in their lives, and honestly, I haven't either.

Gita has gone to an anniversary party for some friends of hers.  The kids both have strep throat, and I volunteered to stay home with them and put them to bed early.  This works out pretty well for me, since I'd be sitting in the corner at the party with the kids, watching the Disney channel, while all the other guests speak animatedly in a different  language and I try to make polite but awkward conversation when people come to sit near me.  I've been to many of these already.  Better to stay home and catch up on all the things I haven't done in a while.

I talk a lot about gardening here, and you may be checking in because you're also a gardener.  I have to say, with a small amount of shame, that I was glad to see the gardening season end this year.  Part of it was the weird weather.  Part of it was my stepping down as head of the community garden that I helped to start.  Part of it was just the sheer exhaustion of trying to do too much and not doing any of those things well, and being relieved that mother nature stepped in to take one task off of my plate.

My carrots froze into the ground before I could dig them out.  Usually it's one of my favorite jobs of the season- pulling up  a bucketload of super-sweet post-frost carrots and root cellaring them or making a batch of carrot wine.  This year, they've turned into green manure for next spring's garden.  My potatoes froze into the garden too.  Granted, the freeze came earlier than average, at least for as long as I've been gardening- and it came on quick.   They might re-sprout in the spring.  At least that's what I tell myself.

 To be honest- we did do a lot of putting stuff away for the winter this year.  We canned almost 30 jars of applesauce from foraged apples this fall, and a half dozen jars of apple butter from the peels.  We made a dozen or more quart jars of salsa from our tomatoes and more than a dozen jars of marinara sauce.  I made a big batch of pickles from a bunch of cucumbers I picked up from the farmers market.  And we have 3 5-gallon carboys of dandelion wine and applejack fermenting away in the basement. 

The competing use of time is our kitchen renovation.  In mid-November I tore out all of our existing kitchen cabinets, the floor, parts of the walls, all of the lighting, and with some help from WHD of Off the Grid in Minneapolis, I am rebuilding the whole mess.  The previous kitchen was a slapped-together 1980's remodel and was a non-salvageable mess of particle board and laminate.   Everything is now being done with quality materials and to code.   I've hired out the plumbing, but otherwise between myself and WHD, we've done it all and have done a pretty good job if I do say so myself.

Also competing for my time is an opportunity which involves fermentation, and which also involves getting lots of licenses and certificates at the city, state and federal level, which I am in the thick of at the moment.  I'll elaborate at a later time, but if you're interested in imagining what that might be, I'll refer you to a couple of previous blog posts:  'how to make homemade wine'  and 'carrot wine?  why not?'

Of course being a good dad and husband is a lot of work too.  It takes a lot of time.  But I love that job. 

So it's the winter solstice today and I'd like to be making a bonfire in the back yard, but instead I'll stay inside.  It's warmer in here, and if the kids wake up, I'll hear them.

So, being the end of a solar year, I'm thinking through where we are and taking stock.  Here are a few things that have happened lately that I'd like to think through and hope you'll have the patience to think through them with me.

One is the appearance of 'crazy ants' in Texas, that has come out of virtually nowhere, and which is making life on the American Gulf coast difficult.   If there's a story which embodies the maxim that "Mother nature always bats last"  this is it.  These ants swarm over things made my people, and are so prolific, their bodies pile up to the point that they create obstructions to human habitation.  They also seem to be drawn to electrical gadgets, frequently invading them and short-circuiting things such as electrical outlets or computers, and rendering them worthless. 

But this is a cold climate, here in Minnesota, and it's unlikely crazy ants will make it this far north.  Except that  a far more subtle and sneaky mutation in the world of small things hit much closer to home this morning.

I mentioned that both of my kids have strep throat at the moment.  They first had it around Thanksgiving.  We took them to the doctor and they were, as is pretty common, prescribed Amoxicillin, an antibiotic that has been shown to be effective against strep.  They both took it for the recommended 10 days and we figured it would be done with. Except that it wasn't.

The sniffly, sore throat lived on, and we took our daughter in again on Thursday- to a clinic full to the gills with kids with similar symptoms.  I had really never seen it so full- the parking lot where we had always parked was completely full, the overflow parking was full, and I ended up parking on the street and walking with my sick daughter to the clinic, a little further than I had expected (but glad to be in the city where they at least allow parking on the street).

So we did our thing there, and I asked the doctor about the possibility of antibiotic-resistant strep, and she glibly blew it off saying 'we haven't seen resistant strep around here- they probably re-infected themselves with their toothbrushes, etc.'  Which I took at face value, since, after all, she was a doctor.

Then last night our son started having the same symptoms.  So this morning, I took him to the little cheapo clinic in the department store, since our regular clinic wasn't open on Saturdays.  There he was seen by a very friendly nurse practitioner who had seen him 3 or 4 weeks before when we were dealing with our first round of strep.  She was less glib.  "I've seen a lot of this lately"  she said.  She told me that she had stopped prescribing Amoxicillin for strep throat not long after we had last been there because she had seen a number of kids on whom it didn't seem to be working- one of whom went to the same school as my kids.  She also said she was going to send an email to the other practitioners at the other clinics at the big box to be watching for non-responsive strep.  And she prescribed him a different, more powerful antibiotic.

So there we were- at the forefront of an antibiotic-resistant bacteria outbreak.  No mention of it in the news just yet.  Spread the word if you are able.   I am hoping that the new (and much fouler-tasting) antibiotic she prescribed will work for my poor little worn-out sore-throat kids.   I like home remedies, but know that strep is no small thing to deal with- having had it many times as a kid myself.  I don't want to have to rely solely on honey and cayenne pepper if I can help it.  For myself, OK, but my kids-- I just want the sickness gone.

So mother nature bats last.  Strep bacteria can number in the billions in one human body.  It has a doubling time of 20-30 minutes, meaning, even at the 30 minute rate, it can have 24 generations within a day.  Meaning, you can multiply 24 generations by a few billion, and that is the number of opportunities that strep bacteria has to develop a mutation that will allow it to resist an antibiotic in every infected person, every day the infection lasts.  It's amazing this resistance didn't develop sooner. 

So do we really want to feed this stuff to animals, and multiply that risk by the billions of domestic meat animals kept worldwide?  Which we're pretty much already doing, at least on the majority of farms in the United States.    Risking losing one the best weapon against bacterial disease in order to fatten the profit margin of feedlots?   Not worth it in my  book.  But inevitable given the lack of backbone amongst regulators in this country.   And of course by the overprescribing of antibiotics for things such as the common cold, by the medical profession. 

So that's no bright ray of sunshine.

But it's the darkest day of the year, at least here in the northern hemisphere, and if I'm going to discuss dark things, it may as well be today.

Which brings me to sulfide mining.  Which, unlike crazy ants and antibiotic resistant bacteria, you can actually do something about. 

The state of Minnesota is right now deliberating whether or not to allow mining of copper and nickel in northern Minnesota- in one of the most pristine areas of the lower 48 states.  This is an area which has been mined for iron ore, but not for copper and nickel, and not using the methods proposed.  The process they would like to use would likely end up sending acidic waste to Lake Superior, the second-largest body of fresh water in the world, and one of the cleanest. 

Yes, there are people who would like to see this mine developed for the jobs it would bring to the northern part of the state.  There are always people who will trade a paycheck today for the health of their children, grandchildren and great-great-great-grandchildren.  That's a decision that is considered rational in current economic thought, but personally I'd like to err on the side of the health of future generations.  I hope to have great-great-great-grandchildren, and I know that the choices that my generation and a number of generations before me are going to leave legacies that are less than stellar.  I'd like  to see that mistake not made again.  I don't want to be responsible for leaving the largest body of water on the continent undrinkable in a future age of heat and desertification.   We are leaving them that, yes, so we may at least leave them clean water to drink. 

See here to send a comment to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources about sulfide mining.  If you expect your offspring at some point in the next 500 years to depend in some way on Great Lakes water, you have an interest in the quality of that water.   You don't have to be a Minnesotan to care about such things.




  1. Best thing we ever learned about for strep throat is a homeopathic called BELLADONNA. You can get it at any of the local co-ops - brand name Boiron in little blue tubes. There's another brand too - forget the name but that will work too.

    Thanks for bringing attention to the mining issue!

    1. Hi Holistic,

      We may have to try that, as we are seeing, just in the last two days, that strep may be still there for one of our kids. This is no fun. I've tried homeopathics for other things in the past with mixed results, but may have to try this one for my kids soon.

  2. Would love to see a pic of the new kitchen :-) Hopefully the kids feel better soon!


    1. Hi Ahlem,

      I will post kitchen pics when I can. Our camera died around Xmas time, so we don't have one until I can get an SD card for the cellphone. We are sort of low-tech, relatively speaking.

      Hope all is well with you and yours

  3. Jeff - I happened upon your blog and I noticed the picture of your leggy starts. Here's a tip (you might know this already). Dig the cabbage plant, tomato plant, etc. out with a pencil, holding it in your left hand. Dig another hole in the cell in your transplant tray. Lay the start over the hole and gently push it down with your finger. Now you have a start that is at ground level with the primary leaves and the root cluste is in the middle of the cell. You can also just spin the pencil in the new hole to make it wider and sometimes set the whole plant in straight, but it is best to double the leggy stem. I have been doing this for years.

    1. Hi Walter,

      I wonder if it was the starts at 'Off the Grid in Minneapolis' you saw. I haven't started anything yet. I usually wait til some time in March to do that. Hunter is braver than I am however, and is working on gardening year-round in his garage. Thanks for the comment regardless.