Archive for the ‘Twin Cities Explorations’ Category

Week 1 Learning Stuff Highlights

September 27, 2013

We started “preschool” the last week of August since that’s when Papa headed back to work.  Basil has no concept of “homeschool” or “doing preschool” and thinks he “goes to school” by attending Church school and French class.  I think we’ll leave it that way as long as possible since there’s no telling what we’ll do next anyways.

It was a transition week just like all the other “Papa back to work” weeks, so we had some extra emotions to work around.  But it was an especially nice time for new routines.  We’re ever so loosely using the “Harvest Time” curriculum from WeeFolkArt (just the book list and activities), attempting some Montessori math lessons, somewhat intentionally “playing Church school” at home, and continuing with French phonics lessons.  Eric is in charge of reading/writing so he’ll have to write out the nitty gritty of that if he so chooses.

Having just finished our fifth week, it’s clear our plans have been pruned by the forces of… life.  Keeping notes of the “educational” aspects of the day usually surprises me to see how much is done, and how much of it is regular life and not the planned aspects.  It also shows very varied days and a lot of missed opportunities. I’m getting a little better at planning realistically.

Bullet points and photos are less of a “day in the life” retelling, but far easier to record:

-Read “Tops and Bottoms” by Janet Stevens and “Vegetables” by Gail Gibbons for our vegetable theme.  Other books of note, because someone in the crew liked them a lot (a lot more than this were read): “Pet of the Met” by Lydia and Don Freeman, “Children of the Forest” by Elsa Beskow, and “Lentil” by Robert McClosky.  We started reading “Farmer Boy” by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  The story of Joseph in Egypt was read through in the Children’s Bible Reader.

-We went to the park and I tried to teach left vs right on the way there.  Lots of cute pointing out of the stroller from both children, but that’s all.  We’ll try again in a few years!  Mostly they were pretending to have a concert.  The music was… progressive?

-Restarted recording the date and important events for the month on a calendar.  Read the stories of St Elizabeth (mother of the forerunner), looked at her icon and read through her hymns.

-Joined up with a homeschool playgroup for one morning.  It was terribly terribly hot out, but we wound up pouring water all over and keeping relatively cool.

-Took a walk at the lake.

-Made paint from cornstartch.  Mixing the colors was a big hit.  This is what happens when I ask Basil to smile.

-Made salt dough vegetables to play with.  You can’t see the veggie he’s holding. But we’re closer to a smile!

-Took a trip to the grocery store to try a new vegetable.  Tried taro root (okay, kind of like spongy celery) and dragon fruit (pretty tasty, like a less acidic kiwi).  Found root, leaf, stem, flower bud, fruit, bulb, tuber and seed vegetables.

-Went to the downtown farmers market to enjoy a bluegrass concert, admire vegetables, and pick up cabbage for kraut.  Clogging was a main form of percussion for the band.  I’m a fan!  On the bus on the way to the market and then the band:

-Introduced the red rods.  (We never let pants get in the way of our education.)

-Wrote letters to friends.  This devolved rather quickly into making letters out of crayons.  (We don’t let original plans, shirts or the fact that we have moose antlers get in the way either.)

Maybe I’ll write another one of these sooner than 5 weeks from now and remember more.


A Changing Taste for Bikes

September 25, 2013

Recently I got a new bike, and it marked a turn in my life as a biker.  I thought I would run through how I have changed recently because I find it interesting.

When I was young I had bikes, but the only bike that I remember is an adult tricycle that I rode for a while (a year, perhaps?) until it broke.  Later in high school I got a Diamondback Hybrid that I enjoyed riding quite a bit.  I rode it all over my town several times listening to my earphones.  It wasn’t hard to retrace the same sections of town over and over when it’s only 2.4 square miles.

(something like this Diamondback)

Sometime after having been in college for a year or two I brought my bicycle up to Chicago.  Within short order it was stolen.  I don’t remember the circumstances, but I don’t think it was my fault.  I shortly thereafter bought another bike (used this time), which was promptly stolen out of my back yard, and this time it was clearly my fault because I left it hidden but unlocked.

With two bikes being stolen I stuck with my car for the next few years.  After moving to Minneapolis something led both me and Elizabeth to look for bikes.  I bought a Raleigh 3-speed, and she bought a Rollfast 3-speed.  I was specifically looking for a bike that would have an upright ride because I was very wary of riding a bike where I would have to hunch up my shoulders and lean over a lot.  If I wasn’t comfortable I wouldn’t ride, I thought.

Somehow I got it into my head that I wanted to be more local and to ride more often – with Basil, our only child at that time.  We bought a used Burley trailer, and Basil just hated it.  My mother bought us a Bobike Mini, and he and I both loved it by comparison.  However, my knees hit the seat, and I had to lean down over him to get to the handlebars.  The shoulder hunching I feared was happening.


I didn’t feel comfortable on the Raleigh and sought a better solution for family hauling.  This is when I started learning about Dutch bicycles.  It appeared that they were more comfortable, waterproof, and indestructible, and some were really meant for family transportation.  I wanted to find a bike that could do it all – a weekday commuter that could take the whole family to church and get all the groceries.

I convinced Elizabeth to let me buy a Workcycles Fr8, with the hope that we could both ride it with the kids.  Quickly after getting it we found out only I could ride it, which was a major disappointment.  However, it was an absolute joy to ride with Basil on the front – for him and for me, and it was extremely comfortable.

IMG_6451   IMG_6446

That is… when it was on level ground.  I found when I went to work and back on this bicycle that it was very difficult getting up hills.  This was undoubtedly due to it’s being nearly 75 lbs unloaded.  Just after getting it put together at a local bike shop I took it back to have the cables adjusted and asked if it was normal to have so much rolling resistance from the dynamo hub.  The bike just didn’t seem to *go* very easily, even in its easiest gear of 8 (Shimano Nexus internal hub).

Shortly thereafter, I found a used Gazelle on Craigslist that I decided was a great deal and was worth getting as a winter bike.  I did get it but didn’t think it was as comfortable as the Fr8.  The handlebars did not go as high, and the frame size was actually too big, making it hard for me to put my feet on the ground and balance myself at stops.

(something very much like this Gazelle)

Now with three bikes I never rode the Raleigh and ended up giving it to my brother when he moved to town.

The bike shop guys convinced me that if I rode the Gazelle during the winter I would destroy it and it was “too cool” of a bike to trash in that way.  The creator of the Fr8, in Amsterdam, seconded that opinion by email.  I decided to ride the more weatherproof Fr8 during the winter, and on January 7th I slipped on some ice and broke my ankle under 75 lbs of bike.  The bike, of course, didn’t have a scratch on it.  Quite a tank.


I had a lot of time to think about bike riding as I lay on my back during the recovery.  Slowly it occurred to me that it was perhaps the weight of the Fr8 that contributed to my injury.  It also occurred to me how intimidated I was to ride my bike any great distance from my home because of what a chore it was to get around – and I was completely intimidated to go anywhere that involved hills.  I have never yet gone to the St. Paul Bicycle Coalition, because I’m afraid I won’t be able to keep up on one of their rides.  Almost every time I rode it to work and back I would have pain in my knees for the rest of the day.  I would comment to Elizabeth on those few days I didn’t feel knee pain, as if I was building strength that would eventually make that pain go away.

Before I had fully recovered I had decided to sell the Fr8.  But what was I going to get instead?

I thought what I wanted was a folding bike – a Brompton.  Why?  Because it was the opposite of the Fr8 in almost every way.  It was small and light, and I could take it anywhere, whether by carrying it or riding it.  It might not be able to carry children, however.  I spent many hours reading about them and trying to figure out how to use one to carry children.  When I was finally up and well and able to test ride one for a couple of hours I decided that it wasn’t as comfortable as I was hoping.  With that major drawback I had to ask myself how often I would actually need to fold it, and the answer was a very clear never.

I started then to look at much less expensive options for replacing the Fr8.  I wanted something lighter but still with low maintenance.  If possible, I wanted hub gearing, hub brakes, and a  hub generator.  Low and behold something popped up on Craigslist.  It was another old Raleigh that had all of these features.  I went to take a look at it and it needed a little bit of work, which helped to lower the price a bunch.  I then invested money in the bike to replace the handlebars (increasing cockpit room for comfort and child hauling) and grips.  I also replaced the cog on the internal gear hub to make the Sturmey Archer better for riding up hills.


This bike has been a fantastic bike for almost everything.  It is a joy to ride with children and without.  The cockpit is not as large as the Fr8, so I do hit my knees on the front child seat occasionally, but I have never hurt my knees going to work and back.

I decided to take this bike on the St. Paul Classic bike ride with my friend, Dan.  Each of us took our oldest child, as well.  That meant I took Basil on a 30 mile bike ride around the city of St. Paul with my 3-speed.  Well, after a big hill at around the 15 mile mark, my knees gave out on me, and I was in a lot of pain.  I had to walk the bike a few times, and I really slowed Dan down (he was towing a trailer and had a lot of gear options).

That experience convinced me that as much as I love the simplicity of a 3-speed internally geared hub, it is not enough for me to ride around the city of St. Paul without injuring myself.  I finally wanted to move beyond an internally geared hub.  I wanted something I could ride all around the city without being intimidated by hills.  I started looking for a 10-speed road bike.

A Fuji?  A French bike like a Peugot?  An old Schwinn or Raleigh?  I had no real idea where to start or what to look for.  I didn’t even know what kind of handlebar positions or brake levers were important.  Where do you put your hands with drop bars?  I didn’t know what size I would need, and I thought it ridiculous to pay someone to measure me.

On Craigslist I happened to see one day a listing for a Surly CrossCheck at what seemed to be an amazing price.  It was more than I was planning to spend, but it appeared that it could be an investment, even if it did not fit and I learned to hate road bikes.  I drove to Minneapolis that very day to check it out after work, and it was light, smooth, and responsive.  I wasn’t sure it was the right size or that I would like riding it, but I reminded myself that at that price I could easily get my money back.

The next day I rode it to work and my shoulders hurt from leaning over so much.  On the other hand, I zoomed up hills without a lot of effort, and I was nowhere near having knee pain.  It was incredibly liberating to not fear hills or distances.  Within two days the shoulder pain had disappeared.

I used to give myself 30 minutes to ride to school and ended up using almost all of them.  I think it was about 27 minutes by Fr8.  With the CrossCheck I think I’ve managed to get my time down to about 18 minutes, which includes an inconvenient detour.  Google Maps says my standard route should take 23 minutes, but I have no idea how they calculate this.

I’ve changed the rear cassette in order to have a couple easier gears for eventual hill climbing in other parts of the city, and I replaced the disposable pedals the fella sold to me on the bike.  I still think I should buy a high rise stem to make the bike fit me a bit better, but based on my current comfort level I don’t really think I have to.

After this experience, I don’t think I’ll turn back.  Perhaps I will become disenchanted with derailleurs after some major, expensive complication.  Or I will develop back problems from leaning over too much.  But the difference in my confidence as a rider changes my situation completely.  I want to commute by bike and get around as much as possible without a car, and while my previous bike preferences were super comfortable on flat ground, they restricted my range of distance far too much.

I now plan to keep three bikes:

1. The Gazelle will be a snow bike, equipped with studded tires
2. The Raleigh will be for child hauling with the mounted seats (these don’t work on the Surly)
3. The Surly will be for everything else

Do I really need to keep all three?

– I like the Gazelle better than the Raleigh for snow because it has a full chaincase, and I’m not sure I can get this for the Raleigh.  If I could I might be able to just switch out tires and ditch the Gazelle.
– I like the Raleigh best for child hauling because the Gazelle is unsafe with kids (large frame size), and I prefer bike mounted seats to the Burley (the Surly can take kids in the trailer)

When it’s snowy I will be restricted by riding the Gazelle, but I don’t plan to do a lot of snow riding outside of commuting.  When I’m taking kids I’ll rarely be going too far, but if I need to I can hook up the Burley to the Surly and go farther.

I don’t expect this to be my lifelong bike set-up, but I do plan to own a multi-speed road bike as my primary ride, and I have been avoiding anything even remotely like a road bike for the last five years.

Thank you, St. Paul Classic.  Thank you, broken ankle.


Basil’s Little Sister!

October 31, 2011

The Saathoff (nuclear) family has increased to four terrestrial beings: Papa, Mama, Basil, and Macrina.

As I wrote in an email that went out earlier:

“Contractions began around 4:00am, we made it to the hospital at 6:50am, and the baby girl beat the doctor at 7:30am.

Macrina Brooke weighed 7lbs 6oz, 21 inches.  Very healthy and good at nursing.”

She is named for St Macrina the Younger, sister of St. Basil the Great, and both of her yiayias (Brooke).

– Here is the Life of Macrina, written by her brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa.
– Here is a dialogue written by St. Gregory between himself and Macrina concerning the soul and resurrection.
Here is a shorter version of her life.

Big brother is a big, big fan, as is everyone else.  Fr. Jonathan stopped by to give a blessing.  All local family have met her, as well.  We look forward to seeing the distant family!  Until then…



A Joke!

June 17, 2011

It has been awhile since I posted here.  (Eric may think that’s a bit understated.)  But I’ve decided to make a blog post in honor of Basil making his first joke.  When we’re reading a book about animals, or sometimes when he’s playing with stuffed animals he labels all of them “mon-KEY!”.  When we say he’s silly and tell him the real names he continues with “mon-KEY” until he’s laughing too hard to go on.  This is a very funny joke!

Besides joking Basil has been having lots of fun outside now that summer is truly here.  Here are some photos of a morning at the beach:

There has been indoor fun as well.   One afternoon I stopped dinner prep to check on Basil as usual.  I figured he was watching the elementary school down the block dismiss (a favorite pastime).  Instead, I found him in a box!

Upon interview, the box turned out to be a “bo” on the “wa”.  While he may not have the ending of words down, Basil knows better than to sail alone.  The cat went along for the cruise:

But appears to have been dumped in the “wa”.  Oh well.

The corner of the hammock is visible in these pictures, so I might as well display it in all its glory.  Eric knows how to bargain at a garage sale and he haggled us a very nice spot to rest.

Basil has also recently enjoyed a couple visits to the zoo.  He has been caught at home enlightening the animal kingdom with fine literature.

Today Eric celebrates his last day of school for the year.  He will begin St. Kate’s training full time on Monday, but being a student promises to be much less daunting so it will still qualify as quite a “break”.

Little Patriot is flipping around nicely.  Our doctor’s appointments are weekly now and so far so good with no cervical changes since the surgery!  Tuesday will be 20 weeks, so we’re getting nearer and nearer to when things went downhill with Basil’s gestation, but we’re already in a better place to catch things early and rest as needed.  We’ll get another look at LP next week.


900 Miles to the Gallon Machine… It’s Good For The Body and It’s Good For Your Soul, Country Living’s Gonna Make You Whole

April 9, 2011

The Grain Grinding Song by Leone Hunt

Papou Sam gifted us with a home mill, and we have been building our muscles!

My first bake from home-milled flour was a type of cracker:

The next bake involved home-milled whole wheat sourdough loaves:

We’ve also used our fresh milled flour to make vegan pancakes, vegan banana cake, injera, vegan peanut-butter cookies, pineapple cake, and Elizabeth is currently working on a no-knead bread.

Why so many desserts you might ask (especially during Lent!)?  I will answer this question in a future post.

The mill is great because it will allow us to create a wide variety of our own flours – oat, bean, wheat, rice, corn, etc, as well as the possibility of things like peanut-butter if we are brave enough to risk the mess.  We can choose how fine/course, which has a direct consequence on the resistance while turning.

I’m still reading Peter Reinhart’s book on whole grain baking, but I think it will be a challenge to find a good book that mixes artisan bread baking with home flour milling – his book expects one to use store-bought flour.

My understanding of the benefits:
– Choice of consistency, variety of flours
– Retention of all vitamins, minerals, and fiber of the wheat berry
– Freshest flour
– Ability to depend on long-term wheat storage instead of frequent store trips for four
– Possibility of making peanut-butter, chickpea flour, etc.
– No need to buy a gym membership!

In other news, Papou Chris and I have been putting on fashion shows with Basil:

Strut your stuff, Papou!

Basil really likes the lake that’s only blocks from the house.  It’s still a bit icy, but winter is over!

Basil’s also working on his developing curls.  He has some work to do yet, but what’s there sure is pleasing to the eye:


October happened…

November 12, 2010

and we completely failed to blog!  Oops.  Things have been busy around here in the moving, teaching, learning, cooking, playing, normal-ness of life kind of way.  We’re hopelessly behind in recording the goings-on, and the latest photos are not uploaded, so I may resort to scrolling through iphoto and telling you about the summer.  (I’m also trying to simultaneously supervise Basil’s unpacking of the purse/diaper bag… so we’ll see how this goes.)

Did we mention that we moved to Minnesota?  I guess Eric covered that, but I’m not sure he did a good job emphasizing the 6am hike in Black River Falls, WI on the way here.  Maybe because he slept through it.  Well, it was the best part!

Here are some handsome dudes right before a certain (successful!) interview and after a night of no sleep:

We celebrated Auntie Jude’s birthday on Eric’s first day of class at St. Kate’s:

And finally got some sleep in the (formerly) new digs:

Basil enjoyed his first walk around Lake Harriet, and attempted to lose his sunhat several times along the way which sent poor Yiayia backtracking quite a bit.

We hunkered down at Yiayia and Papou’s during a storm, but didn’t end up needing the basement.  I’m not sure if this pose/expression means “it’s hot out”, “I love my truck”, “give me ice cream” or what exactly…

We played at the park A LOT (I’m sparing you a lot of photos here, it’s hard to pick.)

It wasn’t a summer of all play though.  Papa had school work:

And Basil had pounding:

Me?  Mostly playing.  And constantly restocking the not so mysteriously unloaded cupboards:

And soon it was party time!  Basil got to be with all four of his grandparents on his birthday.  Here he is with his Papous:

He liked the strawberries on top of his cake better than the chocolate.  He looked happier in real life!

We hung out with Yiayia at St.Kates, and a whole lot of water fowl.

And Basil got to meet cousin Amy (one of the cousin Amys!):

Cheerios with AK = best treat ever:

We went to Chicago for Mark and Claire’s wedding, it was fantastic!  And here, ladies and gentlemen, is the only photo I got:

That’s Basil at the reception (post diaper malfunction sending him into non-wedding attire) hiding in the table linens.  It really was an incredibly beautiful, comfortable and fun wedding!  Unfortunately Eric had to leave early to drive through the night for his classes at St. Kate’s.  A baby in a front pack is really not the best dancing partner.  But the Uzbek pop music almost made up for my lack of spouse at the reception.

The next day we got to reunite with a few playgroup pals, spend a great day with Lila

and get Basil’s 12 month check up!  Surprisingly, vaccinations right before flying

was a great idea and Basil slept through the whole flight.  He didn’t cry until we landed and saw Papa.  I wanted Papa to carry the beast of a car seat and I would just take Basil.  No.  He needed Papa, IMMEDIATELY.

We got to see my aunts a couple of times this summer and we’ve spent lots of time at ProYiayia and ProPapou’s.  I particularly like this picture of Great Aunt Katina and Basil.  What fun!

Now we come the part of the summer where the camera stopped working due to high humidity.  Thanks to Yiayia’s camera we do have documentation of AK teaching Basil to smash sand castles.  If he loses all his friends at the beach, we’ll know who to blame!

Speaking of the beach, Basil LOVED it.  He had to be stopped multiple times from crawling in too deep.  It was ridiculously fun to see him experience the water for the first time.  And the look on his face when he saw just how much sand he had to work with was priceless.  (Word to the frugal, don’t spend $13 on a swim diaper like we did.  Put your child in a too-small diaper cover.  Same exact thing.  Or a one-size cover set too small.  That would work too.  The orange fishies are pretty cute though.)

We enjoyed concerts at the bandshell.  This is the Minnesota Pops Orchestra.  You can’t see them?  Oh, neither could we.  The diehard fans had the good seats, but we had the crawling space.

Then Stella came to visit!  (Auntie Katina and Uncle Jeff too).  I guess we already posted this bit of news, but I don’t think we shared that they got to meet some chickens at the bookstore.

Or that Basil is IN LOVE with his auntie:

(though he didn’t set the blackberry down for the kiss, did he…)  Seriously though, when he visits Yiayia and Papou’s he likes to page through a photo album and point out every picture of Katina.    Maybe it’s because she taught him to eat Papou’s BBQ Chicken:

And here’s general adorableness:

We went to the state fair!  I loved it (as usual), Basil thought the animals and cheese curds were pretty neat, and Eric asked if I really think I’ll want to go again next year.  Alas, I married a non-Minnesotan, I guess there is a price to pay.  The sheep barn was a hit:

As was the biggest pig in MN (a record year!):

He was not so impressed by the Princess Kay butter heads:

He did like his own little milk experience outside the dairy building:

And a different type of dairy experience happened several times this summer and was more than a big hit:

Then school started, Eric will have to talk about that.

Basil met Meredith:

We packed.

It was hard work!

We moved.

Basil met Danielle:

It was really wonderful to sandwich stressful moving times with visits from dear friends.  And I think it’s a testament to enduring friendship despite distance when you feel comfortable bringing someone into your home that is either immediately pre or post move.

The first couple of nights in the new house were a little rough in the sleep department:

But we followed with a visit from the Stiffs!  And it was fantastic.

You know it’s a good time when you don’t get any pictures until departure.

So… that’s up to the beginning of October, and now I need to find the camera cord again!


Moving 3

September 26, 2010


Click here for pictures of the house before we made an offer.

Moving 2

September 22, 2010


September 21, 2010

We’re moving again on Friday!  Hmm…

New Church

August 30, 2010

There are some old subjects to catch up on, and I intend to hit at least a couple of them.

In Chicago we had been going to All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church.  That is where Elizabeth and I were chrismated and where Basil was baptized (not long ago).

We asked for some advice when we moved to Minnesota, but we didn’t get very much.  Lizzy knew of a Greek church in Minneapolis where her elders were still attending, but we thought it would probably be too big and likely too Greek (I still haven’t been yet).

When I thought I would be working at a Montessori school in southwest Minneapolis, we started looking up information about St. Herman’s OCA.  We visited here before I found out where I would be working.  It was a nice, small church of mostly converts to the Orthodox faith.  We enjoyed it and found some similarities with All Saints.  There were other differences – some we liked and others we didn’t.  But it was definitely a place we thought we could stay.

The following week we decided to visit an Orthodox church in St. Paul I’d heard about called Holy Trinity (also OCA).  This church is also small but with more of a mixture of “converts” and “cradles.”  One of the first things noticeable about the church was that it was in a poorer part of the city – lots of boarded up windows and official postings on front doors seen.  The service itself was a beautiful liturgy that was reminiscent of things we appreciated at All Saints.  The choir was at the side in the midst of the congregation, even though there was a balcony that was clearly adequate to house them above the congregants.  Most of the people were singing along with the choir and we felt at home immediately.

Outside the church there are a couple of empty lots next to the building, in which a community organization has developed a wonderful community garden with the church’s permission.

We later read that the land was formerly the site of a crack house which was deeded to the church in exchange for promised bull-dozing and paying of back taxes.

We met Fr. Jonathan at our first visit for vespers, and he gave us the advice to keep visiting all of the Orthodox churches in the city before landing at one.  Someone at coffee hour the next day told us he gave them the same advice which was not followed.

We felt like perhaps we should follow the advice (at least a bit) and visited St. Mary’s, the OCA cathedral in Minneapolis.  I think by this point we knew I had a job in St. Paul and decided to visit this church anyway.  This church had a rich history with connections to multiple saints, but it was also full of pews with a distant choir and a very distant feeling inside.  We are in no place to judge, but our feeling there was as spectators versus the feeling at Holy Trinity – it was simply a place where we wanted to return and worship.

The following Sunday we visited John and Lila in Chicago and have since been attending Holy Trinity in St. Paul.

Fr. Jonathan came over for a pleasant evening so that he could get to know our family better, and we’ve slowly begun meeting people there, though we haven’t established any real friendships yet.  In the future we anticipate moving to St. Paul so that I have a shorter commute and so that it’s easier for us to go to church on a frequent basis.  Holy Trinity has services five days each week, and, of course, we would love to have easier access during busy times like Lent and Holy Week.  Unfortunately, a closer move may not help much in getting to know people as it seems nearly all Orthodox churches these days serve as commuter churches – especially if they’ve remained in a neighborhood after the demographics have changed.

Holy Trinity is likely where we’ll remain.  Come and join us there when you visit.  They recently had some wonderful iconography work done on the inside that’s worth a look even if you don’t like church.