Dec 30, 2007

Efflorescence For Everyone

Sixteen years old.

Five New Year's Resolutions:

1. Get a new psychiatrist to help adjust my medications appropriately.

2. Return to therapy at least for a few visits before ditching the health care I can't afford.

Also sixteen years old, but later.

3. Drink less beer. (This one depends on the adjustment of meds and the therapy.)

4. Lose 40 lbs. (This one depends on drinking less beer and eating less cheese.)

Twenty seven years old.

5. Write like a monkey on fire.

I'm going to keep it simple this year. Everything else I hope to become, that I hope to improve in my life will follow naturally if I achieve those five resolutions. We all know how hard #4 will be. Perhaps tomorrow I will write all kinds of burningly important words about what I hope this year will bring. I always write more frantically as the year closes. You have no idea what verbal effluence I've spared you this evening.

I have just found a brilliant word in the dictionary: efflorescence: the state or a period of flowering. Do you know, that is what I wish for everyone this year.

May you all effloresce!

A Retrospective

There are a lot of things I've worn that I wouldn't be caught dead in at this stage in my life, not because I'm fat now, but because, well- I mean...what the hell was I thinking?! Believe it or not, this outfit is not one of them. I would wear it minus the bridal-style veil and with slightly less dramatic make-up. I was seventeen in this picture and though I was headed for an epiphany which would save me from killing myself, I still didn't believe I would live to be thirty years old.

There weren't many things I felt confident about when I was seventeen, but my sense of style was something that caused me zero qualms. I remember the day my friend Carrie and I took these pictures in San Francisco and I remember feeling that the only powerful or commendable thing about me was the way I could wear almost anything and carry it off. Naturally there were about 180,000 San Franciscans who would have disagreed with me. But who the hell cares about them anyway? The point was how I felt about it. The point was that I could wrap this piece of Indian print cloth that my mom gave me around my hips, knot it, and call it a skirt. If I had the body for it now, I'd wear this outfit today.

Sometimes, it was getting dressed everyday that kept me going. The love of texture in clothes and makeup, the fun of making fun of fashion gave me pleasure. The colors that could be combined, the little pieces of theater my garments could inspire. I could be anything I wanted to if I dressed the part. For me, clothing always had the potential to confer power on the person wearing them. I could believe in myself when I dressed like a person who believed in herself.

I could get a PHD based on the power of clothing and how un-trivial it is to human beings on so many levels. In fact, the only thing trivial about clothing is the ridiculous industry of labels that has been built around our need for covering our bodies which has so much less to do with shame and so much more to do with protection from the elements and a celebration of ourselves.

St. Andrews graveyard, Scotland, 1995

I didn't actually sit down to write a discourse on clothing. This is the end of the year. It is not my wont to look back with longing on the past. I don't enjoy aching for what didn't come to pass or mourning what did. As a person who has suffered life long depression, it might be easy to suppose this would be my normal mode: to regret, to be sad for the past, to worry at the unsatisfying fraying corners of life. It is absolutely because I deal with depression every day that I work harder than most (I believe) not to become enmeshed in self pity, sorrow, or mourning.

The end of the year, for me, is a pleasurable opportunity to assess my life's progress. Mostly it's an opportunity to measure how far I've come away from the trenches. I like to laugh at myself a little, learn from my stumblings, and think about how I want to move forward as the new year dawns. I'm not the only one getting introspective. Alice at FutureGirl is also looking inward as well as forward. A long time ago I used to scoff at the idea that a new year meant anything. I saw time (or thought I did) as a continuous ongoing never ending collection of days into nights into weeks into years. What makes tomorrow a fresh start? Why do we draw the line every year at the 365th day and say "tomorrow is a new year, a fresh start!"?

It's just tomorrow.

I'm not sure when I started feeling the renewal at the new year's approach. I think it started catching me in 1998. (The year I predicted in a journal that I would have one boy child and no other children.) Ten years ago. I started feeling the lifting of the spirit at the prospect of a clean slate. I started making resolutions, even though I don't really believe in punishing one's self when resolutions don't work out.

I like resolutions because they are powered by hope. Hope is something none of us can live completely without. One universal factor in suicides is that they've lost all hope. I think of resolutions as a great declaration of hope. Making resolutions is about voicing intentions, seeing how we want to be and coming up with a plan for manifesting positive change. When you are at the bottom of the dark, you don't make resolutions because there's no point. If you don't think you will live another ten years what difference does it make if you keep smoking, keep eating crap, and become obese? It makes no difference. Why should you stop hurting yourself if you have no future?

January is my month. The month I was born. A month of renewal. It's a time when all of nature shows it's bones. Pestilence is killed by the cold (unless you live in the south or California, or Australia) We all have a chance to rebuild. I love January best of all months. It seems that everyone spends January in quiet meditation.

I have a lot of work to do this year. I wanted to end this post with a current picture of myself. But I can't. I can't bear to do it. I will leave it blank. The blank represents what I can achieve in the next twelve months to reclaim myself physically and mentally. For two years I have been living in fear. I am going to walk away from that now.

Dec 29, 2007

It's A Mad Max World Out There

What I've been wondering a lot about in the last couple of days is how come watching "Dark Angel" and "Firefly" doesn't depress me. They really should. The same way that "Blade Runner" should, but doesn't. I'll admit that I can't watch Blade Runner very often because it's too intense and darker than the other two shows I mentioned. "Mad Max" is so intense that I will not be ready to watch it again for another 11 years, but still, there's something about all those films and shows that I find oddly hopeful and appealing.

It has struck me while re-watching the "Dark Angel" series that it's not such an unrealistic view of the impending future. I mean, o-kay, I don't believe we're going to be over-run with genetically engineered super-freaks, but the way the world looks in that series, the scrabbling nature of life, the necessity for recycling (as opposed to the choice to recycle or not) as a way of life seems completely in sync with all probability. Waiting in a long line for two gallons of gas to get you to the next town...areas of cities blocked off permanently due to toxic contamination... everything you get being old and used and having to learn to make it work... the grime... squatting in abandoned housing (there are lots of people who have to do this now, what if that was the common housing solution?)...

I think what appeals to me about Firefly is the same kind of futuristic vision, where life goes so forward that it also doubles backwards. The future isn't going to look shiny and robotic as Asimov liked to see it. Covered in clean machines. As much as I think that Joss Whedon tends to see through the eyes of a hormonal teen boy (breasts, people, hot babes with breasts), I think the world he created in Firefly has an organic element to it that reflects a hopeful view of a hard future. Even he kind of describes it as a mixture between a science fiction and an old western. I love that the crew of the Firefly can take old parts to other ships and make them work for their own. Theirs is a kind of happy scavenging way of getting by. Life is tough but they enjoy the scrapping.

So I've been thinking a lot about the world in it's current state and extrapolating how things might turn out. I know that lots of people fear (and some hope) for an Armageddon type situation. Whether it be that God shakes his angry fist at us and floods us all to Kingdom Come or that man wields his mighty nuclear power and blasts the bejeezus out of the planet. People love to imagine huge chaos, it feeds the wilderness in them. It seems so much more satisfying than a slow decline in which we all die of environmental disease and starvation. The Victorians may have found glamor in the slow death that is consumption*, but modern people don't want their tragedies to be so slow and wistful.

My main thought is that it doesn't matter if you "believe" in global warming or not. You can tell yourself all kinds of lies about how no one can really be sure if oil spills on the ocean are really the fault of mankind or nature...I mean, couldn't those poor birds and fish have accidentally jumped into an oilfield and poisoned themselves? As for those ice caps melting? Does anyone really have any proof? I mean, proof other than the measurable shrinkage of the ice caps? Maybe scientists have made mistakes and their measurements are faulty. Because, it's not like the earth has ever had serious climactic change before. That whole ice age thing? That's just something Satan made up to trick good Christians into doing the devil's work...

But seriously. Global Warming aside, life will not go on indefinitely as it is now. Your hummer will not continue to run for all eternity. Pollution is not something liberals made up to try to run the world. Pollution is something you can smell with your own nose and see with your own eyes. You have but to visit your local land fill to see the truth in the claim that we are trashing the planet, one big pile at a time. I am amazed that arguments are still going on about whether it's necessary to recycle. Arguments seem to hinge, for many people, on whether or not global warming is real, but forget about global warming. In Los Angeles there are days when people are advised not to go out because the smog is dangerous. Hello, is that not indication enough of the need to clean up our acts globally?

The fact that people are being warned not to eat fish that come from certain locations because the fish have been proven to have mercury poisoning? Is anyone still arguing that those fish may have been poisoned randomly by non-human means? That it may not be our fault that the ocean is full of nasty minerals and chemicals that weren't there before we came along?

Part of my thoughts for today are being influenced by a long piece I read by Stephen Fry last night about a brangle he got in with an American man who isn't sure he "believes" in global warming. An oilman. It was really a fascinating post and brought up some really good points. If you have three hours to read it, do so, because it's also pretty funny.

The world is changing. It's been changing ever since it came into being. It changes due to many factors, but always with reference to what's going on on it's surface. The dinosaurs used to roam the earth. But they ate through their viability, apparently, and they became the fuel that is currently running our species at top speed towards it's own viability limits. It's kind of ironic actually. The fossilized flesh of another big group of beings is currently propelling human beings ever faster towards their own doom. Or whatever the future holds.

We are all connected. The only way anyone can think that humans have not had a huge hand in the current changes we are seeing on the planet is if they truly believe they live in a vacuum. That there is no connection between them, other people, the surface of the earth, the air they breath, the food they eat, and the relationships they espouse. Everything and everyone are connected. You may not like me (and why would you?) but you and I breath the same air. So if I shit all over your air, I'm shitting all over my own air too.

There's so much hopelessness being felt among those who see clearly what's happening and where humans are headed. Yet, while watching Dark Angel and Firefly, I can't help but see that even though things seem to be deteriorating faster than any of us can fix it all, there is a new kind of possible life emerging. Maybe there's some beauty to what the future holds. For those of us who are learning to make changes at a comfortable pace right now (while there's still time), the future will hold less discomfort and desperation than it will for those who refuse to see what's coming at all. Those people who don't engage in change now will be in an acutely uncomfortable situation when the oil finally runs dry. When living the good life means having some life skills like growing some food of their own, or fixing what's broken, or sewing their own blankets.

I care about people. Even people who obstinately remain blind and disconnected. So it isn't my mission to bash the environmentally blind in the head. Compassion will be called for in the future.

I think it's more important that those of us who see clearly and are trying to make positive change keep at it. Keep developing our scrapping skills. Learn to use what we have and buy less new. Learn to grow more of our own food, while supporting farmers who are farming in a sustainable way. Let us not lose hope. Let us support each other in learning to acquire the skills we'll need to get by as the world continues to change. Somehow, the rest of the world will follow eventually because they will have no choice.

If I have to live in a future that is darker than the present, let it be filled with hot people like Max and Logan who find junk on the heap and turn it into useful tools. If life isn't going to be easy, let it at least be smart and virile like Mad Max's world where every drop of water counts and you don't ask "should we take our private jet to see the show?" because there are no private jets and you will walk across the desert with no water and you will survive because that's what's called for. Maybe my favorite view of the future though is Joss Whedon's view of it in Firefly. Where there is still beauty, there is still camaraderie, people still have good marriages sometimes, and there is humor.

By the way, (in case you were wondering) if I could be any character on Firefly I would be Kaylee. I'd like to be Zoe, obviously, because of her kick-ass fighting skills and her total unquestionable babe-ness, but I would never be able to carry off the leather vest. Let's face it, even when I was a thinner person my rack was never able to impress me. I was always the sidekick to hotter girls, I was the one that most men (besides Philip) overlooked.

Am I complaining? Hell No!! After all, I got Philip.

It's a Mad Max world out there already, we just have to catch up.

*Now-a-days known as tuberculosis.

Dec 28, 2007

Eating Local Is Changing My Garden

I am a greedy gardener. When I plant a tomato I don't plant a tomato, I plant twenty of them. I couldn't ever possibly have enough tomatoes. Where some is good, more is always supreme. I suppose a part of me would like to think I could grow enough of everything to fill my pantry every year. Some people do that. Either my yields are disappointing, or we eat massive quantities of produce. (Both are somewhat true.) This year I canned approximately five hundred pounds of tomatoes that I bought from Bernard's farm.

Five hundred pounds of tomatoes. (Let that sink into your grey cells for a minute.)

Which isn't even enough to get me safely through to fresh tomato season again. The truth is, I couldn't possibly grow enough tomatoes to provide for my canning needs. I also canned about forty pounds of green beans. Plus at least thirty pounds of pickling cucumbers. (Although I really did get a good yield on the pickles from my garden and the quality was better than what we were able to find from elsewhere- this was not a good year for commercially grown pickling cukes.)

I am not going to be self sufficient in many ways, living on a city lot. I will always be depending on my local farmers to provide me with what they grow. And it works out well that way. I get all my canning produce from Bernard's farm because their prices allow for me to buy huge quantities to can with, and Oakhill Organics for supplementing my daily produce needs as well as my fall and winter produce needs. Needing to depend on local small organic farms is not a bad thing at all, I want to support them, we need them here- prospering. (Having more than one to meet my needs is even better, they do not grow all the same things and it's wonderful being able to buy from them both.)

The realization that I've been coming to in the last few days while I've been perusing seed and nursery catalogs is that my garden needs to shift focus a little bit. I need to see my garden as an opportunity to fill in the blanks that my local farms can't, or to grow things I typically can't afford to buy in quantity from them like potatoes and winter squash. Dried beans for storing are hard to come by with local sources and cost about three times as much as they do in the bulk bins. Can I grow enough dried beans to last me through the winter? It's an experiment worth trying.

Maybe. Maybe if I stopped using so much space for tomatoes. Tomatoes that don't produce as much as they could because they are so crammed in. Tomatoes are one of the most important things I grow in my garden because I love them the best of all summer vegetables (yes, I know it's a fruit) and I wouldn't dream of having a garden without them. I just think I might be able to use half the space I usually use for them for the same yield I'm accustomed to. It's worth trying.

Shelling peas are impossible to find anywhere. Shelling peas fresh from the garden are unbelievably worth the effort. They are tender, sweet, and a different creature from their frozen or canned counterparts. If you've never eaten fresh shelled really haven't begun to come alive culinarily speaking. I don't know what it's like to eat a heap of them off the plate because I never have enough of them to treat them like anything less than gold. My favorite way to eat them is on pasta with some meatier nuttier fresh shelled fava beans, asparagus, fresh herbs, feta, olive oil, red pepper flakes, and Parmesan.

I plan to dedicate a lot of space to fava beans and shelling peas.

Doing the eat local challenge has got me thinking quite a lot about winter gardens and early spring harvests. Getting through the leaner months has become much more important to me now. I can get a lot of great produce for reasonable prices at the farmer's market during the summer. What I need to focus on is saving more garden space for produce that can be harvested in the winter and early spring when it becomes so much harder to get things like lettuce, chard, leeks, and beets.

We had salad yesterday that consisted of lettuce from Oakhill Organics (not tough either) and pickled beets, two bean home canned marinated salad, some shredded cheddar, grated carrots (also from Oakhill), some of the last of our store of kalamata olives, and a fabulous dressing our friends gave us that they got in Pacific City (it's locally made!!!). Have I mentioned how much I've been craving salad? It's true that the salad had a very vinegary overtone due to all the pickled goods on it, but it really hit the spot.

So looking forward... January is going to be filled with some new and exciting activities: I am going to be doing the Master Gardener program through OSU which starts in January and ends in March (I just found out today that they still have a spot open in the program), and I'm going to make feta. If anyone has any great cheese making books to recommend or knows of any great on-line tutorials for making feta- please share!

For those of you planning your own gardens right now who might be interested in what I'm going to add to mine this year, here is a list:

Evergreen huckleberries (2) (to replace two dead rhododendrons)
gooseberries (1 "Poorman" and 1 "Captivator")
Jersey Knight asparagus (25 crowns)
Fuzzy male kiwi (1)
Saanichton fuzzy female kiwi (1)

Green beans (pole): Blue Lake, Ura, and Violet podded

Runner beans: Scarlett Emperor

Dry beans: Yin Yang, Etna, and Tiger's Eye

Beets: Early Wonder Tall Top (because it did really well last year)

Cucumbers: Wautoma pickling

Summer Squash: Eight Ball, Black Beauty (both zucchini)

Winter Squash: Gold Nugget, Buttercup, Hokkaido Stella Blue

Basil: Mammoth Sweet

Kale: Red Russian

This list reflects only what I'm buying, not everything I'm planting. I still have lots of lettuce, spinach, carrot, some winter squash, and slicing cucumber seeds from last year. I also won't be starting any tomatoes or eggplants from seed myself. I will also be planting seed potatoes that I already ordered from Garden City Seeds.

For my perennial fruits I am really trying to show restraint, not only because of the cost, but also because in my haste to get things established it would be easy to waste money on mistakes. I need to let my garden develop at a comfortable pace. I need plenty of time to track down samples of fruits I'm less sure of to taste and find out what I really think of them. I'm proud of how whittled down my list has become. (It started off at least three times as large as it is now.)

If I get my way, by the end of 2008 I will be a master gardener and a master canner. I would be more proud of that accomplishment than if I actually got myself a bachelor's degree.

Dec 27, 2007

The Right To Bare Poultry

(and how eggs don't grow on trees)

I have long believed that more important than a person's right to bare arms, is his/her right to raise poultry. All over the world people, even if they don't have the space for goats, pigs, or cows, raise hens in order to eat the eggs and occasionally butcher themselves a little roast chicken for dinner. Chickens are small compared to other farm animals and require less care and space to live healthily, as well as less expense to feed.

I think it is a serious sign of our great disconnect from our food sources, and from sustainable living that so many towns and cities have outlawed poultry raising. The truth is that chickens are no louder than dogs. I'm not kidding. Dogs are universally allowed in all cities and all towns and no one would ever question our general right to keep dogs, yet hens (not roosters) are generally quieter than dogs except for when they are laying their eggs at which point they can sound like a posse of excited old ladies clucking and cawing and making a ruckus. Which doesn't last for more than twenty minutes a day. Compared to the constant howling and barking of neighborhood dogs, I consider them less of a noise nuisance than canines.

People also seem to think that chickens are dirty and cause for sanitation concerns. While they can get the Avian flu, this is not so common as people fear and can be somewhat prevented by keeping your poultry from any contact with wild birds (which are the carriers for the disease). Chicken poop is not nearly as unsanitary as dog poop and the volume of poop produced by each hen is pretty minimal compared to the amount of poop made by your average dog. With the added bonus that, unlike your dog's poop, the chicken poop is garden gold and if aged and spread over your garden will add to it's overall fertility.

Another thing that's great about keeping hens is the eggs. It's the most obvious reason to keep them. Eggs are a great source of protein and for those of us who don't eat flesh, they are also a great way to get plenty of vitamin B12, without which, we all go crazy and then die. (Did you know that?). Hens all have differing egg laying habits. Some breeds are known to be great layers and others, not so much. It pays to research this. Our current flock have all been exceptional layers until the winter really settled in (which is natural, they slow down or stop laying when daylight hours decrease). We have two Rhode Island Reds, one Barred Rock, one Golden Sex-Link, and one Black Sex-Link. Reading about breeds can give you an idea of what kind of hens are best for you, but a hen can be a real individual and not match the general profile of her breed so don't be shocked if you end up with a rebel Brahma.

To be honest, I keep chickens as much for their own sakes as I do the benefits to the garden and to my kitchen. My parents kept chickens for a few years when I was a kid and I spent quite a bit of time with them. Chickens are curious birds with a very engaging habit of being interested in what their people are up to. Left to wander a garden, in situations where this is both safe and possible, they will follow their people around like puppies. They aren't cuddly pets, though if handled quite a lot as tiny chicks, they are often not averse to being toted around for a little one on one close up time. Though one should always be careful when holding hens close, they see eyeballs as giant shiny objects in need of closer investigation- and you should know that hens investigate everything with their beaks.

I find the company of hens therapeutic. They aren't as stupid as you might think, by the way. You can't measure their intelligence against what we like to think of as our own intelligence. They are birds. They look like little dinosaurs. They have been around for a long time, a lot longer than us. When they look at me, I can see that they think I am one weird creature and their fascination is very funny. Chickens used to be jungle birds that lived in the trees. They could fly, they foraged for insects and fruit, and they have a complex social life that we like to call the "pecking order". I'm not saying these birds could ever be taught to play backgammon, I'm just saying that their cunning is alien to us, but that doesn't mean they're stupid.

Deep in the heart of winter is when many of us plan on the projects we'll begin in the springtime. I know a lot of people who are thinking about keeping hens. Now is the time to read up on them and find out if hens are really a good match for you. I'm going to list for you the basics you need to know in order to decide if you really want to keep chickens:

Check your city ordinance code to find out if keeping hens in your town or city is legal.
It is actually surprising how many big cities allow hen keeping compared to how many medium sized towns don't. Always check the code and don't just ask someone in the ordinance office, see the code yourself. Lots of people make assumptions about the legality of hen keeping but don't really know. This information is almost always available online in your city's informational website (most cities have them now).

Make sure you know if there are any laws in the ordinance stating specific distances your chickens must be from kitchens or fence lines. Some cities allow hens but only if they are kept twenty feet from any fence line or kitchen.

Hens need more hens.
Don't plan on getting just one hen. They are social birds and need to belong in a flock. The more the merrier, but know that at least three hens is optimum.

For every hen you have you need to allow at least 2 square feet of space in the hen house, and at least 4 square feet of space in the run. What happens if you don't provide each hen with these minimum requirements? They will feel cramped, will most likely get stressed and this will cause them to either pick at themselves or at the weaker hens in the flock. It will also make them more susceptible to disease.

Everything wants to eat your chickens.
Dogs and raccoons are a hen's worst enemies. You will need to fortify their run accordingly, even if you have never seen a raccoon in your neighborhood. Raccoons live in many cities and only come out in the daytime if they have rabies. So the first you will know they've visited your yard is when they decimate your flock if you have not locked them in for the night. Even the best behaved dogs go ape-shit when presented with the opportunity for a fresh bite of chicken.

Vacationing is difficult if you have chickens.
If you have a lifestyle which includes frequent travel, keeping chickens is not for you. Unless you have someone who lives near by who will enjoy caring for your chickens while you are away. Eggs must be collected every single day or they may start eating their own eggs or stop laying them.

If you let them roam your garden all day long without supervision they will destroy it.
Many people have dreams of having hens foraging in their garden because they hear about how great chickens are at getting rid of snails and other pesky bugs. Our first flock was allowed to do this and we quickly learned not to let them out unless we were going to be there to shoo them away from our vegetable seedlings and keep them from digging huge holes where we didn't want them. Chickens are not gentle on gardens.

Think about all those points as you consider starting your own flock. Chickens are, in my opinion, very rewarding animals to keep. They have a lot to offer the urban homestead. I wouldn't choose to live anywhere now that didn't allow hen keeping. When we were looking for places to live here in Oregon the first thing I did for any town we were considering was to look up the city ordinance concerning farm animals in the residential zones. If they didn't allow hen keeping, that town was instantly vetoed as a good place to live.

Interesting fact: New York city allows poultry keeping but does require permits, Portland OR allows people to keep up to three hens without a permit and more with a permit if you can meet the requirements, San Francisco allows up to 4 hens without a permit, Chicago has no prohibitions on the number of chickens you keep in the city but you are not allowed to kill them.

So if anyone ever tells you that chickens don't belong in metropolitan areas, you can ask them to explain how come the majority of our great American sophisticated cities still provide for their citizens to keep hens? Keeping hens is as fundamental an activity as keeping a garden to feed your family. I would argue that few things can be more American in spirit than providing food for your family from your own property.

A great book to read about keeping chickens is "Keep Chickens!" by Barbara Kilarski. It won't be an adequate resource for anyone planning to keep large numbers of poultry in a farm setting, but for anyone in a suburb or city, it's very good.

One of the best sites on the Internet for reading about chicken breeds is FeatherSite

Dec 26, 2007

The Happy Eccentrics Of 18th Street

So what did we do yesterday? We watched the snow. All day. Not a single flake of it stuck for a second but it snowed for hours. You can barely even tell in these pictures (which I took in hopes of showing my sister how cheerfully snowy it was). I am always astonished at how hard it is for my cameras to capture snow falling. You can see a few flakes on my mom's coat. When the flakes got really large we swarmed outside and just stood around grinning and jumping up and down in it.

We're a people who are easily amused. Max even came unglued from his new PS2 games to revel in the snow falling. You can barely see it. Yet while taking these pictures the flakes were HUGE!

It was perfect. My mom made a totally non local brunch (I didn't request it, but you don't refuse such thoughtfulness either) and we drank mimosas in the morning, tea in the afternoon, and champagne, beer, and wine in the evening. Dinner was a cauliflower and Brussels sprouts gratin with pesto pasta. The spaghetti was vetoed by my mom's unenthusiastic response to the suggestion. I'll just have to make that later in the week.

We had a couple of good friends over to dinner with my mom so it was the perfect festive mix.

It is certain that I have consumed enough sugar via peanut brittle made by my favorite Mennonite and I may yet pickle myself with it. My friend Lucille sent us the most wonderful gingerbread tiles which we've already almost finished eating- she stamps them with an acorn motif.

This is the very first day in a really long time that I don't have to do anything in particular. I could do all kinds of things, but I don't have to. Pretty amazing feeling! I can't work on any sewing project since my machine is on sabbatical. (The first thought I had about what I could be doing is that I could work on my quilt.)

I think I'll go and look at my Herb Companion magazine and think about what I will be planting this spring. That seems like a really good plan. There couldn't be a more hopeful activity than planting gardens full of herbs, fruit, and vegetables. Perhaps dreaming of my garden will help erase from my head the asinine interview of George and Laura Bush that I read last night.

I also had a dream last night where I had pitch black long leg hairs that I tried to shave off, even thought I had shaved successfully only to find (once out in public) that I had managed only to shave half of each leg in a haphazard fashion.

I'd like to erase that from my brain too.

I think I'll also try to get caught up with laundry.

Anyway, it's a nice cold happy day here in Oregon and I hope that everyone else is now able to relax a little bit after all the rushing about.

Dec 25, 2007

Christmas Morning
Let There Be Peace

What I love about having a small family is that our Christmas isn't a giant frenzy of crazy parties, tense family gatherings, or frenetic activity. Here at the Williamson Ranch we have been up for two and a half hours enjoying each other's company pretty quietly. Max can be exceptionally grateful when opening presents and surprisingly ready to be pleased with everything. (Surprising because he is so particular about everything he wants...much like the rest of his family). He has been spontaneously snugly and has given me way more kisses than are standard. He is being such a joy!

I love that one of the only family Christmas traditions my family has ever had (and has let fall to the wayside, sadly) has been to go to the movies on Christmas day. What's wonderful about it is that the theaters keep on showing movies even though they are only showing them for our family and whatever other Jewish family is in town. Although I am not Jewish, our dad is and before our family split in two, we often celebrated Hanukkah instead of Christmas, or we would celebrate a calmer version of both. But Christmas day held no big parties or feasts for us. So we'd go off to the movies and have the theaters to ourselves. We could be as loud as we wanted.

Which we never were, of course, because we are a quiet introverted kind of people.

I would like us to go see a movie today. Max really wants to see "Fred Claus". Obviously this wouldn't be my favorite choice since I think Vince Vaughn is completely unfunny and also a sleaze ball. (There's also the fact that I loathe Christmas movies.) However, I'd be willing to see it. (A true indication of the love I feel for my child.) The only problem is that my mom is coming with her little dog Claire who likes to pee all over our things and I am wary of leaving her here while we go see a movie.

We had a meal planned for tonight which involved a hippie style lentil loaf with a mushroom gravy and Brussels sprout cauliflower gratin. However, I am much more in the mood for spaghetti. I have been craving spaghetti sauce for over a week now. I have been cautious about using my canned tomatoes since they must last me until at least July. I think Christmas is a good occasion to break out the tomato sauce I canned. I know it isn't a very traditional Christmas meal, but then, we don't eat ham or geese or ducks or chickens or turkeys or cows, so when you take all that away- there's plum pudding left for traditional fare, right?

Which we aren't going to make because we've been eating (locally made) candy all morning and I think if we made a dessert we might actually burst into flames from eating so much sugar.

Philip got me a book about preserving foods without freezing or canning them. It's all about the traditional methods of preserving food in crocks with salt, or with oil, lactic fermentation, or sugar. I'm interested to try some old methods- but I'm wishing I could score a few really big ceramic pickling crocks. (They are really expensive both used and new).

Well, it's time to go take a shower and, I don't know, dream about food projects? This month I plan to learn to make feta cheese and possibly cream cheese as well. I might spend some time looking through my food reference books which is one of my favorite activities.

I hope all of you are having a wonderful quiet day with the people you love! If you're here in town, why not stop by our house and have some libations?

The other thing I am thinking about right now is Peace. People are always saying "Peace On Earth" at Christmas time. Wouldn't it be amazing if everyone really meant it this year? Wouldn't it be incredible if this year brings an end to killing? So that's what I will meditate on between beers.

Peace on earth and good will towards mankind.

Literally, this year.

Update: I don't know if we'll get our wish for peace on earth, but one Christmas wish has just come true: IT'S SNOWING!!!!!!

Dec 24, 2007

Random Thoughts On Christmas Eve Day

My laundry is reaching a state of crisis. It is never done. I used to be able to get all my laundry done in one day. Then not do it again for a week. Now I have laundry falling from the ceiling, oozing out of drawers, littering every surface in my house. Every single day. No matter how many loads I get done there are always six more waiting for me. How is it possible for one small family to generate so much dirty laundry? It's so bad and I'm so stressed about it that sometimes, when I'm watching "Dark Angel" episodes I can see the laundry creeping around in the corners of the room.

While at the record store the other day I briefly eyed the Neil Diamond CDs and I have to say that as much as I loved him as a kid, I just can't bring myself to buy one of his CDs at this point in my life. I do not share this reservation when it comes to Abba and the Bee Gees.

While thinking about lyrics the other day I kept hearing Barry Mannilow in my head singing "I write the songs that make the whole world sing" and kept rewording it like this "I write the words that make the whole world cry". So true. So true. Think I should try harder to make people laugh instead of making them want to bury their heads in a bog?

Giada De Laurentiis is like the Playboy bunny of Italian cooking and I don't trust her. I've seen her show and my conclusion is that she is much too thin and toothy to be a trusted cook. Isn't her own food good enough to eat? Saying this out loud makes me immediately aware of how "size-ist" I have become. Immediate reform is called for. BAD ANGELINA. (I must now have an earnest talk with myself and discern whether or not my attitude stems from my very opposite problem of girth. Do I really wish I was more like Giada? C'mon now, self, be honest!)

No, I don't wish I was more like Giada but she's probably really a great cook and I'm just being an ass. Those boobs are almost certainly real and one should not judge a cook by their figure.

(Although I just read an online interview with Giada where she talks about how surprising it is to her that she has such a big male following...are you serious woman?! That is way too artless to be believed.)

Not having a working sewing machine or a working camera of my own is like being a tennis player who just lost an arm. I am experiencing ghost machine...where I go into my studio fully expecting to make something with my Pfaff and I know for a fact that it's there because I can feel it-but it's not. It's at the shop. I may not see my camera again for two months. Such is technology these days that it may be more expensive to fix it than it would be to buy one new. But you know what? I will fix it anyway because buying new would be wasteful if the one I had is actually fixable.

If you want to clear some space around you in a restaurant here in McMinnville, try talking loudly about prison, heinous crimes, how much religion freaks you out, and for good measure: bring along a kid who sprawls himself along the shared windowsill. We had a fabulous time drinking and talking with a really good friend of ours that we ran into at the Hotel Oregon. We're not positive, but we think we drove some people out of the booth behind us.

It's Christmas Eve and I imagine the ether is pretty quiet out there. We do nothing special for Christmas Eve so here I am. Although, now I'm going to blast some Madonna and do a little housecleaning. I hope you all have a great time hanging with friends and family!

Wishing only for snow here in the Valley-send some if you have any extra!

Dec 22, 2007

Food Redefined=Life Redefined

I am late with this post today and I'm not sorry about it. I'm not sure how I ended up there, but I have spent the last two hours reading a blog that many others have been reading for almost a year now: No Impact Man. I'm agitated with excitement just to read what he has to say. He and his wife and baby girl have engaged in a year long project to live a life creating no net impact on the environment. This family lives in a tiny apartment in New York City. The practical terms of their challenge mean that they have no air conditioning, eat only food produced and grown within a 250 mile radius, they produce NO TRASH (buy no products that come in disposable bags or packaging which means no yogurt, no store bought condiments, etc.), and they don't use any transportation that is not self propelled (which means their own feet and bicycling wherever they need to go).

What I'm noticing is that so much of our environmental problems stem from our agricultural practices and anyone wanting to make big change has to come face to face with the question of where they are getting their food, how it is produced, how far it has traveled, and what kind of packages it comes in. You simply cannot get away from it. Consumerism is certainly the broader issue in our culture, but when it comes down to it, some of the most enormous problems come from how we raise beef, and the fact that our culture demands so much beef eating. Beef comes at a great cost to us all. To our land. How we use our land, how we treat it, how we cultivate it, has an incredible impact on our air quality, our food quality, our health.

I can't type fast enough.

Choosing to eat locally will automatically make positive change in both your own life and health, while also making positive change for the environment and your local economy. But mostly it will redefine how you eat and what you eat and more than likely it will improve your diet, rather than make it worse.

There's a message that is beginning to write itself in the air in front of my face from some of the blogs I've been reading, specifically Riana's blog These Days In French Life, and No Impact Man which is that when you turn off the Television, when you unplug your cell phone, when you use your own feet to get places, when you have to prepare almost all your food from scratch and when you only buy used things, when you live a life that takes so much more time to live- you have a lot more time to enjoy your life. Hmm, that is not elegantly said at all.

Riana was just writing recently about how so many people see the life she's living as one of deprivation and drudgery. Her response is that living a slow year has helped her become happier than she's ever been before, to connect with herself, her community, her husband, and it has forced her to slow down. Living life takes time. When you spend your time being resourceful, preparing your food thoughtfully, you no longer have time to waste watching television or chatting on the phone or rushing around trying to save time so you can spend time doing more rushing around. When you slow your life down, your rhythm changes, your focus changes and you no longer have to rush around trying to eek out quality family time because everything you do is quality.

Colin at No Impact Man has essentially the same message. Rather than life getting harder, and sadder, and emptier, it has gotten fuller and healthier and happier. They are more fit because they don't use elevators, cars, buses. They use their bicycles and their feet which means they don't have to try to squeeze time in to get to the gym. They are working out all day long getting from point A to point B and enjoying it. Eating local means their diet gets a little less varied in the winter (he speaks of lots of apples and cabbage on the menu) but it also means that their diet is much healthier and cleaner and when new fruits and vegetables come into season they taste infinitely better not only because they are only eating them when they are in season, but because they haven't tasted a berry for months. It's made all the little details in life become more meaningful.

Amber at Berlin's Whimsy was just recently talking about how discouraging it can be to try to make a difference when every time you do one thing, you find out that there's this other thing you didn't do that is completely negating the positive changes you thought you were making. It's frustrating and it is easy to get discouraged. To lose hope. I think we all have to remember that there is a huge machine out there trying to keep us tied to the great commercial engine that our culture depends on. Or thinks it does. Information is purposely obfuscated by industry in order to confuse us into an apathetic stupor. If we lose hope, industry doesn't change.

Colin says that part of what inspired he and his wife to do this no impact challenge was to see what they could personally do to help make change because waiting for the big industries to make good environmental choices was taking too long. Politicians are taking too long.

I know this is going to sound hokey, and I don't care, but think about this: there are billions of people on this planet. If every single one of us was choosing to live as Colin's family is, or as Riana's family is, Industry would be FORCED to change because they are nothing without us. Without our dollars they will collapse. The power really does always lie with the people in the end. We are the pockets that are truly funding McDonald's and cheap crap from China, we are the ones who are funding poor treatment of animals, we are the ones who are funding oil consumption and war.

I don't think everyone needs to change their entire life immediately. Not all at once. But everyone needs to make change. All of us. No one excluded. If you only make one change this month, you make a positive impact. The minute you get accustomed the change you made, where it becomes easy (because it will become routine), then you challenge yourself to add another change to your life. Make your own yogurt, for example. Or only buy local produce. Or grow a few things on your balcony. Or compost your table scraps. Or buy only used things. Or walk your kid to school every day even if it's half a mile away. Not only will your life begin to improve in quality, your actions will help you feel more hopeful, your actions benefit us all.

I'm not trying to preach at you. I'm just trying to tell you that those "little" things you already do, they matter. Capello of No Appropriate Behavior once commented that eating locally for them was a real challenge* but that they finally stopped buying their favorite imported apples to buy the locally grown ones. She mentioned this as though this tiny little change amounted to nothing. So what I'm saying is: all these little things we do are important and don't belittle yourself for starting someplace. Every single time you buy an apple that was grown by a local farmer is money you spend to support that local farmer. It's gas you have opted not to spend on importing your food. Every single apple counts.

I'm saying that once you've made one little change, it's not that difficult to challenge yourself to another one.

That being said, I must look to myself first. Always look to yourself first. I am so inspired right now by doing my eat local challenge- even though it is a big adjustment. I just bought what may amount to all the produce I will be buying for the next month from Oakhill Organics. Do you know how happy it makes me to have bought 10 stalks of Brussels Sprouts, 6 bunches of chard, 6 bunches of kale, 15 pounds of carrots, 6 heads of garlic, 2 bags of salad (oh man, I am so excited to get salad this week!!!!), 3 heads of cauliflower, and 4 celery roots?

What makes me happy is that every time I make something with that food I see the faces of the people who grew it. Casey and Katie are growing a lot of the food I eat right now. I love being able to talk to the people that grew my food, ask them questions about their practices, and it's great to know that since Casey and Katie know most of the people who buy their food they can gage what their customers want the most, they know what's important to the consumers of their goods. This is how food buying should be.

Here's my next challenge: ride my bike to go grocery shopping. I have to take the scooter out at least once a week to keep the battery charged but I have been using it way more often. Considering how much weight I need to lose, this is the ideal plan. I used to do most of my grocery shopping on my bicycle in Sonoma so it isn't as though I have never done it. I sent Philip out to Winco to get 14 pounds of baking soda for bath bomb making and he bicycled there (at night, in the rain) which made me ask myself why I don't do that more often? Getting my exercise while I get my groceries is total efficiency.

I'm finding inspiration everywhere. Even from my own husband. (I need to tell him that!)

All I need to do is get myself some rain gear. I think I'll check out my local used clothing place first and see if they have any slickers, if they don't maybe I'll just get wet. Getting wet really isn't all that bad.

*I feel it should be mentioned that she also shops her local farmer's market which is such an important thing to do.

Dec 20, 2007

Censorship Of The Damned
(with love, for Capello)

I have to think of my brain like it's a giant bladder with a UTI. It hurts so much to hold everything in but if I let it all out it will be exactly as though I have pissed all over your living room floor. Imagine my embarrassment. Imagine your horror. I have been leaking too much lately. Is there an isle at the grocery store dedicated to incontinence of the brain?

I should not be writing on my blog right now. But I just wrote a whole post that I will not be posting here (NOT the one I removed the other morning, Capello, and let's just hope you were the only one to read that gem!) and I still have acres of words crowding my brain. I just can't seem to drain them fast enough lately.

I have an abscess of inappropriate words.

And no, I didn't do the drawing today. I got distracted by cooking some mushroom soup and breaking my camera while taking pictures of a glass ornament my dog chewed up and that I'm hoping hasn't punctured her intestines.

I've been listening to some music lately that I have needed to acquire for a long time now. I had a physical itch to hear three songs from the movie about Leonard Cohen ("I'm your man") that were sung by other musicians. I also needed a song from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer soundtrack from season two. A song by Sara MacLachlan called "Full of Grace". I also have needed a version of "Girl From The North Country" sung as a duet by Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. I'm listening to these songs right now. Music makes me very emotional. Mostly in a good way.

As I've been listening to these songs I have been wondering about censorship quite a lot. Music tells a lot of truths that no one else is telling and I wonder if, like art, children should be exposed to it's integrity? I'm wondering what other parents do? Philip plays The Clash a lot in the car with Max and there are some swear words there in some songs. And some strong imagery.

But nothing really compares to these estimable lines:

" were giving me head on the unmade bed, while the limousines wait in the street..."

and I couldn't help but wonder how I would explain that line to my child if he heard it and asked me about it. But then this line stops me every time:

"...and clenching your fists for the ones like us,
oppressed by the figures of beauty,
you fixed yourself, you said "Well never mind,
we are ugly but we have the music..."

We are ugly but we have the music.

Somehow I don't want to keep that from my kid. We have taken the stance of no censorship for the most part because life is not a "Lifetime" soft focus film about family "VALUES" so much as it's a gritty, messy, base, and stinky experience with the great potential for laughter, beauty, love, and pleasure. Perhaps I am expected to teach my son the myth, but I'm inclined to let him see the whole thing in it's hideous glory so that he knows what greatness is possible as well as how low the human spirit can sink.

Life comes on in inches. He's only seven years old right now. How much do I let him hear at this point? The most stupid thing I can think of, as a parenting method, is to build up a whole lot of myth in order to protect your young offspring only to have to rip all the myths down when they get older. There will be enough of that without us setting our kids up for it on purpose.

One of my other favorite songs, however, sports the following lines which I love with an intense passion. "Fairytale of New York" by the Pogues:

"You scumbag, you maggot
You cheap lousy faggot
Happy christmas your arse
I pray God its our last"

I cannot describe accurately for you with what relish I belt out those lines on the top of my lungs when I'm alone cleaning the house.

Even though, EVEN THOUGH, I would NEVER use the word "faggot" to describe anyone. It's not a word I use. Except for when I'm belting out these lyrics unapologetically.

Music is art. Art is not for censorship. I believe this to the core of my being. Maybe it's my hippie roots. Maybe it's because my own truth comes at such a cost that to think it might be covered in chaste towels against delicate eyes makes me a little sick.

Today Max has discovered his first loose tooth. I cannot possibly make you understand how much of a simultaneous relief and huge anxiety this is. (But you know I'll try anyway) It's a relief because I was truly beginning to think he was going to be one of those rare people who never develop adult teeth. That's not a good look for anyone: baby teeth in adult head. He's been anxious too because so many of his friends have already started to get their adult teeth in.

It causes me a visceral anxiety though because I have deeply rooted teeth issues- that revolve around loose teeth. Teeth coming loose, falling out, hanging by a thread,


I hated losing my baby teeth to get my adult teeth and I have distinct memories of it. How a tooth feels when it's hanging by a thread of flesh. The metallic taste of empty raw gums. The blood in phases. The ghostly holes in the the pearlies. The tongue constantly worrying those empty spaces. One of the biggest arguments I had against having children, besides the concern that I come from a long line of crazy people and am crazy myself, was having to see another human being lose all its teeth one by one.

He's thought he had loose teeth before. I've checked again and again and had to disappoint him. Tonight he said his tooth hurt when he was brushing it. He said it felt like he bashed his toothbrush into it. I felt it. Damn it! The thing was really loose!! Not the kind of loose a toothbrush could have accomplished. I got the creepy shivers all through my bones. I almost ejected myself from the bed we were snuggling in to get as far away from that toothy situation as possible.

In the end I can never leave my child at moments like this. There was no need for him to know that my stomach was trying to make an elegant exit through my feet. Except that, of course, I had to tell him.

Hello, my name is Angelina and I have verbal incontinence...

Right now I don't want to go to bed. I'm listening to the songs I need to listen to. I suppose I will need to go back to "Word" and write some more crap off the radar where I can leak my crazy all over the place and not be ashamed of my word whoring when I wake up in the morning.

Tomorrow morning will be the last opportunity I will have to blast music by myself, alone. It's the last day before Max is off for vacation. At home. At home all the time. I need to leave the computer off. I need to put on some eye make up and lipstick. I need to mop my wood floors. I need to get all the music I can into my chest where it can live its truth.

The truth that David Bowie so often says more succinctly than I ever could:

"My brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare
I had to cram so many things to store everything in there
And all the fat-skinny people, and all the tall-short people
And all the nobody people, and all the somebody people
I never thought Id need so many people"

Note: The teeth issues go deep. The whole time I listen to Rufus Wainwright's version of "The Chelsea Hotel" I think about his teeth. I love his teeth. I think of them with great admiration. I wish I had his teeth. I wonder how it might feel to wear his teeth. To be his teeth. Until Bowie got his capped, I loved his teeth too. I have, a million times, imagined how it would feel to have his teeth. I don't care that they were stained. The shape, the particular crookedness was so amazingly attractive and unique and somehow cemented his genius for me. People with insufferably white and straight teeth of uniform shape cannot be creative, smart, or cool.

I will judge you by your teeth long before I will judge you by your religion. My teeth are much too yellow for pleasure. If I didn't have such an intense gag reflex and if I wasn't emetaphobic, I would get them whitened. I like whitish teeth. I just don't like them to be all the same shape and size. I like interesting teeth. I'm really bummed out that Kathryn Heigl is getting her teeth fixed. Rufus is quite likely gay, and I'm married and not gay, but if I ever met him I would have to insist he be my best friend on the strength of his teeth. Capello also has great teeth.
Gifts From A Far Away Kitchen

Pine nuts gathered from the woods near Riana's house.

A few cloves of "Rose" garlic that I could eat but would rather plant. I suppose since it's too late to plant garlic here for a summer crop, I could plan on keeping it in the ground for two years and actually let it go to flower? It would be great if I could plant it now and still get a big enough head to harvest. Should I try?

Riana Lagarde is a food and travel writer living in southern France with her French husband and baby. They have embarked on a "slow living" year during which they are not buying anything besides the absolute essentials. I encountered her on flickr first and have since been reading her blog regularly which chronicles their adventure in slow living. I am not ready to make the huge changes that she's made (she is mostly cooking on her wood stove, not using heat except for the wood stove, not buying plastic, or toilet paper, nor sponges, and dries all her clothes on a line, just to name a few big changes) but I read what she's up to and it makes me think a lot about my own consumption and has begun to shift my own habits by inspiring me with how resourceful she's become and how happy and satisfied she is leading a slow life.

Seeing as I am not able to buy pine nuts, I expressed envy that Riana is able to forage them near her house. So what did she do? She sent me a care package with the following items: PINE NUTS IN THE SHELL!!!, French chocolate (Angeleen, I think you should stop by in the next couple of days so I can let you taste a square!), a piece of ginger root, some cloves of "rose" garlic, three vanilla beans (which I actually wanted to buy but was holding off), and some cinnamon sticks. My head is busy trying to think what I will send in return.

Chick actually found the package before me and hid it behind my arm chair where she attempted to maul it (she could smell the chocolate) and was only successful in putting a couple of teeth indentations in the package. I'm so glad that Max found it in time!!

I have tried cracking a couple of my precious pine nuts (which I would like to eat in a salad because Oakhill Organics is having their Christmas produce sale tomorrow and I can get some lettuce from them) but I have ruined two trying to get them open. HELP Riana! They are two small for my nut cracker and my hammer decimated one and all the pieces shot out in every direction. I don't dare try to crack another one until you tell me your own method!

As I am writing this I have thought of a couple of great items for a care package for Riana. But I won't tell yet just in case she pops over here for a visit.

As we all start examining our own contribution to the excessive use of oil through buying exports, or driving giant cars to go pick up our kids a few blocks away (even I have been guilty of taking Max to school on some mornings on my Scooter which is ridiculous), and supporting foreign economies, I think it's good to reflect on how globalization has enabled us to connect with people all over the world- something quite positive if we learn about each other and find inspiration from each other.

Now that I am not buying nearly as much imported food I find that the little splurges feel really large- very special. Getting a package from an Internet friend full of goodies from her own region feels like stepping back in time when most of our exotic goods were sent to us from relatives and friends who have traveled farther than us. I can see a world where most of us get our imports through friends and acquaintances rather than buying them through giant greedy corporations. Sending gifts that can be eaten or grown to make longer lasting gifts that nourish is pretty great. Nothing that Riana sent me will clutter my closets with crap. None of it will sit forlorn on a shelf collecting dust. It will be eaten, enjoyed, and (maybe?) live on in my garden.

Thank You Riana!!!!

I know that there are a lot of groans out there about getting cookies as presents from friends and family during the holidays. None of us want to get fatter than we are. But I'm thinking that the magic of food as gifts is that it is imminently useful. It doesn't have to be fattening either. The spice blends are a good example of something you can give that can be used in the kitchen and enjoyed in a way that so many gifts cannot. Home canned goods are also a great gift- it doesn't have to be jam (although, come on, jam is awesome!!!), you can make dilly beans or chutneys or pickles or candied nuts. I love that people still give food as gifts, especially when they have made it or grown it themselves.

Speaking of the spice mix: I will write down all the names of everyone who voted on the food related gifts post and I will draw one name out of it to win the spice mix gift. I will do that later today and post the results.

I also have results to discuss concerning the coffee liqueur. In all the batches of liqueurs I've made so far, the one universal problem has been that they are too thick and sweet with not enough of an alcohol punch which I have blamed on not being able to get my hands on 100 proof liquor. I tasted the coffee liqueur last night (that was made with 100 proof vodka) and for the first time ever I have to say that it doesn't have enough sugar in it to make it thick and rich enough- though also for the first time ever-it actually has the right amount of punch to it. The flavor is very good. I am going to add a little bit of sugar to it and wait for it to dissolve for a couple of days and I will report on it again. As soon as I have it perfect I will do the second drawing of a name to pick the winner of a bottle of the booze.

For anyone wondering if I will ever make good on my promise to take care of my brain- I have finally made an appointment with a therapist and today I will get a referral to a psychiatrist to help adjust my medication. So there.

Dec 18, 2007

Planning The Homestead Garden

Right now is the time to start planning what new fruits and vegetables you will be adding to this coming year's garden. The goal of any urban homesteader is to produce as much food as possible from whatever space is available. If you have room for it, at least one or two fruit trees should be on the list. Here at the Williamson Ranch we have already planted: two sweet cherries, two sour cherries, three apples, one pear, two plums, and a nectarine which will probably get shovel pruned this year if it continues to look so poorly. Fruit trees represent an investment in time, but will give you a whole lot of bang for your buck and for the garden space. If you want to can and preserve food, having your own fruit trees will make it almost free.

I love this part of gardening. The part where you look through catalogs and imagine what you want to be able to go out in your own yard to pick. I love reading about the different varieties that are available and whittling my choices down to the best ones for my region.

The challenge is to not over-buy and choosing what you will actually use. This is more difficult than you would imagine. For example, I am really intrigued by black currants. I would like to plant some. I have had a black and red currant jam that was really good, so I know I could do something with they are apparently packed with vitamin C. However, black currants are not particularly good for eating fresh. What I cannot find out is if the vitamin C content is still impressive if you preserve the currants. If drying them removes all the vitamin C benefit then are they really that useful to me? Does jam retain some of the fresh fruit's nutritional profile?

I actually have a bag of dried black currants in my pantry. I whipped it out yesterday to read about it's nutritional make up. No vitamin C is listed on the package. None? Drying it loses every last bit of scurvy fighting goodness?

To help me choose wisely this year I am going to outline a few questions I should be asking myself about every plant I wish to add to my collection:

Do I actually like it?
You'd be amazed at how easy it is to convince one's self that a medlar is a must-have because it's so ancient and mysterious...surely it will be a gem? Yeah, be careful there cowgirl- medlars have to rot before they become edible.

Can it be preserved satisfactorily if I get a bumper crop of it?
Apples are a great fruit to grow, but listen, if you don't like apple juice or apple butter or dried apple rings or apple sauce...if you only like apples fresh, then don't cover your limited space with apples just because you like them. Some day your apple trees will grow up and really start cranking out the fruit- more than you can possibly eat fresh or store in your root cellar.

Do I already have a spot ready for it?
This is a super trap. It is so easy to look ahead at spring which is still many months away and imagine that there will be plenty of time to chop down that giant fir tree, dig up it's roots, and amend the soil in that spot to prepare it for your mini-blueberry farm. But be realistic. Do you know where you will put the things you want to order? If they come tomorrow will you be able to put them in the ground?

Is it hard to find? One of the biggest benefits of growing your own fruits and vegetables is that you can grow things that are very hard (or impossible) to find commercially. If Fuji apples are your favorite in the whole world and you can't get enough of them and don't want to pay for them anymore...go ahead and plant yourself a Fuji. But Fujis are everywhere. There are apple varieties you will never find in the store that are excellent. Go to apple tastings in the fall to find some more rare varieties to plant. Currants are difficult to find here in the PNW so growing them (provided I like them enough) is a really good idea. Tart cherries are also quite hard to find and I now wish I hadn't planted any sweet ones since this region is just covered in sweet cherries that I can buy for cheap when they're in season. Sweet cherries don't preserve well either so a bumper crop means the only thing on the menu for two weeks will be cherries.

Will it grow well where I live?
Sometimes the reason it's hard to find certain fruits locally is because they don't grow well in your region. Believe it or not, bananas do not grow well in the Pacific Northwest. Even kiwis may be stretching the boundaries of what will do well here, and in this case I'm going to take a chance. Because I love kiwis and some people do grow them here, whereas NO ONE grows citrus here.

The main goal of my garden is to have something good to eat from it all year round. Kiwis ripen in the fall and can be stored for quite a while giving you some good winter fruit eating which is important if you are dedicated to eating seasonally. Asparagus is a must for me because planting it in my own garden means I can get it before it hits the stores. Asparagus is one of the earliest vegetables to pop up in the spring. It takes time to establish and as it is one of the only perrenial vegetables you must have a dedicated spot for it. It can produce food for you for up to twenty years. It's also often quite expensive to buy so planting enough for us to eat means I can have it for much less money.

Philip is not a huge fan of asparagus but I think he may find himself warming to it as we continue on our local eating path. If he doesn't eat it I can eat it all myself.

I look at the foods I like to buy and ask myself if they are things I can produce well myself. I don't cook a with a ton of raisins but now that I can't buy them I am wishing I had already been growing grapes last year and making some raisins for the pantry. So I'm looking at grapes for my yard as well.

Here's a list of the things I am thinking about adding to my garden: red currants, gooseberries, huckleberries (to put where a couple of my rhododendrons have perished), asparagus crowns, strawberries, grapes, black currants, rugosa roses (for the rose hips), kiwis, hops (this is just a dream perhaps), silvan berries, and quince.

Dec 17, 2007

Eat Local Challenge, Challenged

Forbidden fruit. I stole four oranges from my friend Lisa E. who had a tantalizingly huge bowl of them in her kitchen.

Yesterday, after six hours of dealing with hundreds of strangers and having eaten only toast and some of Lisa's snack food (because I had no time to make quality food of my own to bring) I was craving a salad. I've been craving salad a lot lately, but I was craving it the way a pregnant lady craves ice cream. My body was screaming out for one of those really satisfyingly fattening salads that can only come from a salad bar. I begged Lisa E. to take me to Whole Foods on our way home because I was so hungry.

So I had a salad with hard boiled eggs, cheese, croutons, shredded carrots, lettuce, spinach, garbanzo beans, and marinated mushrooms all smothered in ranch dressing. Many of the items on this salad would not have found it's way into my house because of my eat local challenge. Lisa wanted to know how eating out fits into my challenge. This is not the first time she's asked. I explained that I was not going to concern myself with eating local when eating at friend's houses or when eating out.

Here (for every one's benefit) is my challenge outlined quite clearly: The parameters of our personal eat local challenge.

I said in my outline that "We are not choosing to be extreme in our approach." That should explain a lot right there. I have also said that the point of the challenge isn't to suffer so that others will be impressed with me or to be unrealistic in my approach. Taking an eat local challenge is a very flexible endeavor which an individual can approach with any degree of severity that they like. The point is to heighten your awareness of what you buy at the grocery store, to recalibrate how you cook to include more seasonal eating.

Perhaps my personal local eating challenge should be called a "cook local challenge".

In case any of you out there don't think I've been suffering enough with this challenge for it to be authentically a challenge, I submit for you a list of what I'm not buying/eating right now (barring a few transgressions admitted to several days ago):

lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, celery, summer squash, green beans, eggplant, beets, fennel, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, hot peppers, cilantro, avocados, sprouts, or shallots.

fruits: bananas, peaches, nectarines, plums, strawberries, pears (because I can't find any local ones right now though they are still in season), blueberries, grapes, pineapple, oranges, grapefruit, limes, lemons, tangerines, or kiwis (except for the ones that were given to me by Lisa E.'s mom Andrea).

everything else I'm not buying:
cous cous, pasta*, buckwheat, white rice, brown rice, feta, mozzarella, tofu, (anything soy), garbanzo beans, ketchup, coconut milk, canned vegetables (which includes any canned tomato products)*, canned fruit*, olives of any description, frozen fruit*, frozen vegetables*, pine nuts, almonds, pecans, cashews, peanut butter, peanuts, cream cheese, cereal, dried cranberries, raisins, or croutons.

Now, I challenge anyone to cook without all of those ingredients for even a week.

Lisa's skepticism about eating out fitting into my local challenge is fair enough. If she were to create her own eat local challenge I am sure she would not allow herself to eat out. However, I grew up in a household in which certain foods rarely made their way past the door. We did not eat white bread. My mom did not buy refined sugar (which is to say: white or brown granulated) nor did she ever fry anything. She didn't buy anything with artificial food coloring in it nor did she allow creepy colorful kid's cereals into her pantry. However, when the family went out to eat, we were all allowed to eat what we wanted. Naturally we often went to restaurants with good quality food, but she never prevented us from getting deserts made with white sugar, enchiladas made with white flour tortillas, or grilled cheese sandwiches made from white bread, artificial butter, and processed cheese.

I can't say exactly what her reasons were for the way she did everything, but I have heard her say that the reason she let us eat sugar and things like donuts sometimes when we went out is because she didn't think it was healthy to make those things into "forbidden fruit" which, in her personal experience, makes things much more enticing. She wanted us to have those things often enough that we didn't feel totally deprived, but not in our house where she could make such better things for us to eat.

That's how I feel about eating out. If I was to not allow myself to eat out at any place that didn't have totally local meals, I would have to make a pledge not to eat out for a year, or forever. Which means that I would have starved myself into passing out yesterday. Because even though I got to eat Lisa's generously shared snacks, Lisa doesn't buy mostly local food. So I couldn't have eaten her bread, her crackers, her celery, probably not her carrots (though maybe?), certainly not her raisins covered in chocolate, and I also wouldn't have been able to eat the crappy little muffin from the vendor's breakfast and I wouldn't have been able to eat that salad from Whole Foods.

Nor the pizza that awaited us at Lisa's house.

I would have had to go an entire day without eating a bite of food because I can't control what my friends buy, and I also can't control what restaurants offer and I had no time to prepare anything for myself.

That is why, when I can't prepare food ahead of time (which during the last few weeks has been very difficult) I am not going to agonize over having to buy lunch at Harvest Fresh from which almost no ingredients are local. I did not pledge to starve when out in the world.

What I pledged was to control what I cook in my own kitchen. I'm pretty proud of how few transgressions I've had in my own kitchen for the last three and a half months. As for the gift of kiwis from Andrea? It was a wonderful respite from a really boring fruitless few weeks, and I didn't buy them myself, nor did I ask her to buy them for me.

The oranges I stole from Lisa's kitchen? Now that is a transgression indeed. But I'm not sorry for it. They stared at me. They taunted. They did little hula dances in front of my eyes. There were about thirty of them. I just couldn't stand it. Until last week when someone at the holiday market gave me a tangerine I hadn't had citrus for three months. That's a long time to go without it.

Not having had citrus for so long has made me appreciate it even more. Though, I think that even when the challenge is over citrus will be a luxury that I won't often indulge in.

I still feel good about the parameters I've set for my challenge and I think if it doesn't sound right to anyone else, then it must be time for them to take on their own challenge so that they can make up rules that make sense for their own lives.

Any takers?

*Obviously I mean any canned or frozen things that I have not canned or frozen myself. I can also eat pasta if I make it myself but I haven't bought any dried pasta since I started my challenge.