Archive for the ‘Learn something new…’ Category

Bucket list

November 14, 2010

Okay, not a bucket list. Just stuff I’d like to do nowabouts.

  1. Read Our Bodies, Our Selves, Of Human Bondage and the Woodstock Craftsman’s Manual–all books that are sitting on my shelf but that I haven’t read.
  2. Submit a piece of writing for publication.
  3. Clear the too-small and never-worn clothing out of the family’s closets and DONATE it.
  4. Repair all of the damaged books and toys the girls have given me to fix.
  5. Finish the sofa cover I started last summer.
  6. Hem the tablecloth I started at the same time.
  7. Redesign and add lining to my black winter coat.
  8. Cut and style my hair.
  9. Send (on time) the gift I bought for my sister’s family.
  10. Apply to and start grad school.
  11. Mop the house.
  12. Read Julia Child’s autobiography.

Kind of an odd mix of short-term and long-term goals, but whatever. These are the ideas that have been preying on my mind. How long will they take?

What I did over Labor Day Weekend

September 23, 2009

Ever since I read The Fruit Hunter, I’ve been dying to find a paw paw or persimmon tree here in my neck of the woods. Theoretically, both are here…I just haven’t found either one yet.

But then, I didn’t want to set my sights too high (there’s nothing so disappointing as coming home from a day spent morel-hunting absolutely empty-handed). So I suggested to my darling husband that we spend part of the weekend looking for edible wild fruit. Hoping for paw paws but willing to settle for, say, chokecherries.

With the Bean off at her grandparents’ house, Michael and I packed a picnic and took Sweet Pea to a nearby park. I sowed a few guerrilla grape vines around the ancient picnic table (for future fruit-seekers). Then we waded into the narrow strip of woodland separating the park from some neighboring homes.

The first plant we came across was the nettle. Lots of nettles. Lots and lots and lots of nettles. Good thing we wore jeans!

The first fruit-bearing plant we found was a small tree in a shallow ravine, set right up against the fence line and unshaded by the bulk of the taller trees. The berries were bright red and quite small. I thought they were probably highbush cranberries, but I wasn’t entirely sure, so I only picked a handful. I also took a photograph of the tree and picked a few leaves to allow for more precise identification later.

cranberries

Turns out I was right–now I wish I had picked more. How can I cook with a dozen tiny berries?

Nearby was a very small plant–not even 24 inches high–bearing roughly a dozen blueberry-like fruits. The leaves in particular were very interesting, but I could not identify the berries. Mr. Google is stumped as well.

mystery berries

Next up was a small bush with tiny oval leaves and tiny oval fruit. The berries were mostly green, but a few orangey tinges made me believe they just haven’t ripened yet. Again, no positive ID.

green ovals

Our fourth find looked extremely promising. Small blue grape-like fruit on bright pink grape-like stems. But then the alarms sounded–the leaves did not resemble grape leaves in the slightest.

poison berries

Alas. According to Wild Seasons, I had picked either Woodbine or Virginia creeper berries–both of which are poisonous.

Finally we exhausted our little portion of woodlands. It had been about an hour and a half, and we decided it was probably time to head home. But I wanted to check out a few trees we had seen driving into the park, so we made a quick pass.

And this is when we hit the biggest jackpot of the day, for we found tree after tree of crabapples!

crabapples

I only picked a handful (again, for identification before consumption), but there were so many trees in such accessible places…I could easily return with the girls and a bucket later this week. We’d harvest a gallon in less than an hour, I’m sure.

So the search was a success. Yay! No paw paws, but I’m not giving up hope. Perhaps after I’ve finished processing the grocery sack full of wild grapes my parents gave us, the dozen zucchini and summer squash littering my kitchen counters and the three bags of field corn tripping us up every night…

Well, perhaps next year.

blue eyes

Flummoxed

May 21, 2009

Last weekend, I met a girl who grew up near the Indian Reservation where I used to work. I should note right up front that she is white, and other than that I know very little about her. She was pleasant and perfectly cordial, and she is a college graduate. She had also had a fair bit to drink while sitting in the summery sun.

Anyway, I don’t remember how we got to this point in the conversation, but she said that, from what she’d heard, Indians had stolen a lot more from white people than vice versa. This drew me up short. Surely anyone who has the slightest concept of American history knows that, by and large, the whites of this country have screwed Indians every chance they get. Surely in this day and age, everyone knows this. Surely.

She then extemporized about locking her car doors anytime she had to drive through the reservation, and about driving all the way out of town before pulling over for a cop’s flashing lights. This was when she mentioned the reservation by name, drawing my attention to how very ludicrous her notions were.

My husband entered the conversation next, putting my thoughts into words. (This is one of the things I love about being married to him. Constant ally!) He pointed out in his jokey way that, among non-Indians living around reservations, there is a lot of bad feeling toward Indians. It’s probably hard to grow up in a bigoted area without absorbing some of that fear, no matter how irrational.

It is a sad fact of life that populations who live in close proximity often suffer from mutual fear and hatred. It’s hard to be objective about the person who lives next door and plays his music until 3 a.m. (or smokes so much that it leaks into your home–believe me, I know that of which I speak). Which is why Jesus said to love your NEIGHBOR. Your neighbor is the hardest person to love.

I told the girl that I had worked on that reservation for four years, and I had never had any trouble (aside from the crazy AmeriCorps guy, but I hardly count him–mentally unstable folks can be found in every race). I had never heard of anyone boarding up their windows when they were going out of town for a long weekend. No one had ever stolen anything from me, or slashed my tires, or threatened me. In fact, when I grazed a parked car with my bumper, the owner was so surprised I left a note that he called just to set my mind at ease. He could have asked for money. He did not.

I won’t say that my experiences there were ideal. Reservation life is very different from the way I grew up, and I suffered quite a bit of culture shock. Many acts that are taboo (or illegal) in my world are accepted there. There is a lot of substance abuse and a huge lack of personal responsibility, especially on the part of the young.

I was also saddened by the attitudes I encountered. Many people mistrusted me because I am (mostly) white, and they could never truly accept that I was not trying to take anything from them. But, like the girl at the party, they are the products of their environment–how can I expect them to look past my skin when white people have been the source of so many torments to them?

I can’t, I suppose, but I still hoped they would. It is possible.

I met a lot of wonderful people on the reservation. M, whose generosity is leaps and bounds beyond anyone else I’ve ever known. N, who gave me a chance to prove myself and made a family of our office. S, who put aside his prejudices day after day to let me learn at his feet. V, who believed in me. E, who showed me what true commitment means.

These people (and many more) did look past my skin color. They cared about me. They stood up for me. And they cried with me when we said goodbye. I can’t stand for them to be maligned, just because they are Indian.

I don’t understand why a fresh-faced white girl would choose to speak so blithely about her prejudices to total strangers at a party. Did she expect us to share them? I doubt I’ll ever see her again, and even if I did, this is a question I have never felt able to ask. A pity.

Pink gin

February 19, 2009

So I’m rereading Coming Home, by Rosamunde Pilcher, for the zillionth time. And I come across a reference to pink gin, again, for the zillionth time. And, because the internet is at hand (and because I have a passion for procrastination), I google it.

Pink gin, according to the Wizards of Wikipedia, is “a cocktail made fashionable in the United Kingdom in the mid-19th century, consisting of gin and a dash of ‘pink’ (Angostura bitters).” It was supposed to make bitters more appetizing (just add liquor!), which was desirable because bitters can help allay seasickness.

I can personally attest to the fact that bitters calms the stomach, as a kind bartender once supplied me with a small glass after I had upchucked both clam chowder and hot cocoa. Sweet relief.

John Quincy Adams

February 9, 2009

Did you know that we (the United States, that is) have had a president who ran for and held a Congressional seat AFTER his presidency? I did not. Until today.

John Quincy Adams was the sixth president, AND he served in the House of Representatives for the last 17 years of his life.

Why would JQA jump back into politics post-presidency? He is the only president to do so, but the explanation is simple: he had a mission. JQA wanted to abolish slavery. He fought for years to do so. He even served as a pro-bono lawyer for the Africans of Amistad, and with his help, THEY WON.

Amazing.