Monday, November 5, 2012

Cider Days

The air is crisp and cold, and our thoughts have turned to apple cider.
An exciting prospect in this part of the country where apples grow wild or "go wild" all over the place.

it's an electric grinder with a hand screw press, and can convert to non-electric if Y2K strikes late....

Good times!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Fall Beauty - edited

edited to add that this extremely dangerous-looking fire was fully attended by four adults and a garden hose, and that the child in the polyester coat is being told to come away. Also that we are no longer burning fires in our back yard, thanks to six humourous and gracious firemen who showed up in a full size fire truck today and told us to stop.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Hello! Stopping to breathe for minute.....

...between birthday parties, bonfires, putting gardens to bed, leaf wax dipping, piles of laundry, the pre-production push get Soul Gardening off to press, husbands with theses and grant applications, homeschooling, illustrating, and keeping herds (well, three) of feral boys from killing each other with their sharpened sticks and bows and arrows.

Fall is my most industrious season. Life is rich and good, but sometimes I struggle to find that moment of quiet, of looking inside.

Out on the bikes today, I think. We need to go find some beautiful trees, breathe deeply, and hold onto this short season.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Words and Wool

 I'm linking up with Yarn Along over at Small Things Blog—do stroll around Ginny's delightful blog; so much loveliness and inspiration for the Montessori and Waldorf inspired family.

Here's the stuff:
Hat is the Cisco pattern, book is the Restoration of Christian Culture by John Senior, which I'm reading for the third time. The Cisco hat is delicious, and free of course.

John Senior is one of those writers—we all know someone like this (some of us *cough* are married to one)—who express themselves so passionately that your first instinct is to disagree with them; you know, just to tone them down. But then on reflection you realize they're right after all.

I love his vision of Christian culture as a culture of "worship" and "praise" grouped geographically around a Church, a house of prayer.  When we're not praying, we work, that is, physical labour that is worthwhile and makes the world more habitable. Prayer and work, ora et labora. Beautiful.

Here's one of my favourite quotes,

"Woman's place is in the home not because some chauvinist put her there but because there is a law of gravity in human nature as there is in physics by which we seek our happiness at the center."

This time round I'm enjoying Restoration of Christian Culture for the insights on education, specifically reading, as the boys are just learning to read and discover books...

"I have taught Great Books myself for well over thirty years but have found larger and larger numbers—now, the overwhelming majority—of freshmen coming up from the schools who cannot read at any thing like the proper speed, by which I don't mean fast, but at the speed where the mental concentration is on the wit and wisdom and even something of the taste and touch of what you might call standard college-level prose and poetry...What you get instead is a painful decoding of hard sentences as if you were studying Latin." John Senior says we are at the point where students need facing-page translations of standard English literature.

"To cope somewhat with this, I tried to get college students at the age of twenty to fill in children's books they should have read at four, eight, ten and twelve—and discovered deeper still that the problem isn't only books; it isn't only language; it is things: It is experience itself that has been missed."

What to do?

"If the soil of those [children's] minds has not been richly manured by natural experience, you don't get the fecund fruit of literature which is imagination, but infertile fantasy. Children need direct, everyday experience of fileds, forests, streams, lakes, ocean, grass, and ground."

In other words, how can children feel the thrill of Goldilocks if they've never wandered through a forest? Smelled the dead leaves, saw the filtered light of sun through the branches? Felt the momentary panic of being "lost"?

I'm taking this to heart. We're going to spend the rest of September outdoors. Plenty of time to do schoolwork when the snow's on the ground!

Sunday, September 9, 2012


A strong cup of coffee, a pretty table, the pure voices of these beautiful men.

Our little family has been trying to make Sunday, well, special. 

In the rough and tumble of life with small kids, this does not mean living out the fantasy of high culture I entertained before I was married. We do not play string quartets together, for example, or feast on delicate cheesecakes.

I wish I could say we studied Scripture or something.

Actually, most Sundays are a big scrabble to get to Church, where I run in four different directions, persuading, teaching, threatening, exhorting, and herding my sons back to the pew. I try to listen to a word or two, to ponder in my heart for the week. I hope that my children will come away with something to remember. We place ourselves, mentally, in the chalice on the altar, remembering that in spite of us we are lifted up to the heavenly Father, who loves us so tenderly.

Will is the cantor for the Latin Mass here in Peterborough. He and his friend John form a two-man schola. While the rest of the Pemberton family rolls under or lolls about or jumps over the pew (depending on age and ability), Will and John sing the beautiful, ancient Gregorian chant. It is a very real, visual reminder of our place in the Church at this time of history—there was a time when the cultural treasures of the Church, that is, the beauty of music, art, and liturgy, were a free gift, the gift of centuries of dedicated men and women whose quiet lives produced something worthy to be handed down from generation to generation. 

Now in the post-modern melee, without the help of clergy or any other institution, it is up to lay people to give this gift back to the Church, that is, to the community of brothers and sisters who worship around the same altar.  Because we are raising families too, we are stretched to the utmost of time and energy. We feel tired most of the time. But the way we see it,  someone's got to do it. "If a thing is worth doing, it's worth doing badly." (G.K. Chesterton) Not that we're trying to be shoddy. At the risk of sounding romantic, I feel that we are standing in the gap between the modernist revolutionaries of my parents' generation and the unknown future, the "new springtime" of faith and culture in my children's generation. 

It's exciting to think about the future, and what it will hold. We didn't choose to be born in this time, yet here we are, with the obligation to choose, as Gandalf tells Frodo, "what to do with the time we've been given." I don't know what trails our children will blaze, or where they'll lead. Maybe they will help to grow a uniquely Canadian expression of Catholicism, just as there is a uniquely West African expression at Keur Moussa. All we know is that we have to give them the tools. 

And that brings us back to Sunday. One of those tools is joy, not the feeling of joy (because alas we can't magically produce it), but the activity of joy, doing joyful things together—having brunch in special dishes, special clothes, a special lively baroque playlist on itunes, a windy hike, a board game with papa. It's a humble start, but as the Sunday liturgy proclaims, 
...."the joy of the resurrection renews the whole world."

Some of the fiddle-faddle I'm working on on my lazy sunday afternoon...

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Late Summer

So, here we are! Another summer is winding down.

Sorry it's been so quiet. The summer just whooshed by while I was in the throes of a health breakdown. Well "throes" might be a bit dramatic. My sweet mother came and stayed with us for a few weeks and kept my household going while I slept and took herbs.  Mums are awesome. (For the curious, it was stress related burn-out manifested in weeping eczema like hives, very icky.)

We'd planned to homeschool all summer, but my illness forced me to cut out everything other than basic hygiene and food for the masses.

Right now I'm just focusing on rest and recovery and herbal medicine until I'm up and running, however long that takes. I'm aiming for a permanent cure.

(In this genteel space I decided to share homeschool pictures, not eczema pictures. You'll understand.)

But we've been puttering away on gentle little projects like painting Hugh's phonetic alphabet (to go with the song "A-a-apple, b-b-ball..." etc.

So we sing alphabets,  read a lot of books, play a lot of lego, and go on little adventures up the bike trail.

Will finished reading the Narnia books to the boys, and they've begged him to start again. I'm reading Pippi Longstocking and the Wind in the Willows, which is a bit "old" for them, but they request it anyway. I feel that the English language in the Willows is so delicious and beautiful, what's to lose? (The amazon links are just for your benefit, I don't receive kickbacks for them.)

For a number of reasons, I've decided that this is still better than sending my guys to public school.

Of course my total-health mission means that my house looks like someone has thrown everything onto the floor, heaped it into piles, then walked through it.

some piles are charming
Come to think of it this is exactly what happened.

a few gifts from the garden—herbs for tea, flowers, and kimchi!

In compensation for my failure as a housewife, the garden has surprised us by surviving drought, neglect,  chipmunks, abuse by neighbourhood children (including my own) and given us a few late summer gifts to remind us that in spite of us, the earth still struggles to be Eden...

 A few flowers for the table, some tangles of invasive herbs, which will be dried for tea,

...and these sad, neglected little vegetables:

creepy little turnip
Gifts? you say...

Why yes. Bitter, deformed turnips might be abominable on the plate, but they make awesome kimchi!

Kimchi can be made out of anything, as long as you have the four essential spices:


These you grind up and pack, along with pickling salt, into a jar of  thinly sliced vegetables. For the last batch I used my creepy little turnips (finely shredded), turnip tops, cucumbers, carrots, a beet, napa cabbage, and green onion.

I have no pictures of the process, because kimchi-making at the Pemberton's inevitably happens in the last fifteen minutes before the baby wakes up,  resulting in a flurry of work and the entire contents of the food processor being spilled across the floor. I'm frantically mopping up while the baby cries angrily in his cot.  It is not conducive to peace of mind, even if I could find the camera.

Rafe and friend Leo
But it's a good feeling to lay food by, especially in the last anxious days of summer when the PhD poverty budget has dwindled to its end. I've gotten quite handy with the limp cauliflower and the kidney bean.

Cauliflower is awesome, versatile, flavourful, and delicious. But kidney beans! If anyone knows how to turn kidney beans into something pleasing, please respond immediately. I've got several billion pounds of them. (Want some? I'll share!)

What else to tell?

The boys are digging a basement for their fort in the hedge.

Will is translating, writing, committing several languages to memory, and rubbing his hands to dive into into La Commedia Divina. I'm thrilled because I feel that his whole academic career has been leading up to Dante. He just doesn't know it yet.

And that's the news for the Pembertons.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


There's a lot of pine-beetle damage and strategic burning. Tragic for the trees, but happy for the morels and herbs that spring up in these burnt-out places.

Miwa with her eagle-eye finding morel mushrooms for supper

As I sort through all the precious memories and pictures from our trip, I keep going back to Valemount B.C. where we stayed for five days with friends Catherine and Seiji.

For me, it was stepping back into my childhood, a time of wonder. When I was a kid we'd visit Valemount a couple times a year. This was where my mother found her Faith, learned to make bread and soap, spin and knit, climb mountains...and where she met my dad! To her, and then my brothers and sisters, and now my children, Valemount is a kind of second home.

three generations of friendship

But this is the cool thing. Back in the 40's and 50's, before there was television or even a highway into the town, my grand-parents lived in nearby tiny McBride. During that time, they became friends with the McKirdy family, the original settlers on McKirdy mountain, and that was the beginning of a four-generation friendship.

Four generations of friendship
Will and I stayed for five days with friends Catherine and Seiji, who have carved out a little farm on the inhospitable mountainside and built a beautiful timber-frame home. Someday I'll have to devote an entire blog to Seiji's philosophies and projects—everything from Shiatsu to illustrating children's books. He had us in stitches, and questioning the meaning of life, the whole time. 
Sadly, Catherine was out of the country, but their daughter Miwa was home with her little girl, and together they showered us with friendship, hospitality, and awesome vegan cooking. Oh my! Delicious. Miwa opened my eyes to the creativity of cooking with raw foods. 

the lovely Miwa at work

Cooking with Miwa is like being in a studio with an artist. They can't explain what they do. It's not an exact science. It just sort of flows out, from some intuitive part of their brain, and it's perfect.

homemade crackers, avocado spread, and ginger-peanut sauce

There is obviously some kind of cooking muse hovering over Miwa (she also climbs mountains, plants gardens, writes poetry, and raises her daughter Isis...)

Here is a recipe from Miwa, a little souvenir from Valemount for you!

Black Bean Brownies—edited!

1 can black beans
2 generous handfuls of cooking dates, in water to cover and soaked overnight, or to soften
3 eggs
3/4 cup oil
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
splash of vanilla
1/4 tsp salt

blend all ingredients, including the water from the cooking dates, pour into a 9-inch cake pan, bake at 350 degrees, approximately 40 minutes. 

Cool and chill before cutting. It will become more firm as it cool, but this is a soft, almost mousse-like brownie cake. 

While it is chilling, melt 

1 bar of camino organic dark chocolate (or something approximate....) 
1 can of coconut milk

in a double boiler, whisking. 

Remove from heat and pour over brownies. 

Chill. Garnish with berries.

No dairy! No wheat! Freak-friendly! It is just sweet enough, plenty of chocolate, and the beans inside, well, nobody's the wiser. The berries really make it, though. Don't forget the berries.

Thank you to all our Valemount friends for such a wonderful time.