Friday, February 14, 2014

A Sweet Valenversary

Yesterday was our anniversary, and today is Valentine's Day. I always joke that we got married on Valentine's weekend so my husband would never forget our anniversary. He never does. Last year for our 20th, we spent a lovely snowy weekend in a luxurious B&B. This year (21) was more low key although equally snowy. But I love giving my husband and kids a little extra love, a few more hugs and lots of yummy sweet treats.

The beaded Valenversary card from our kids.

My sweet boy helped me bake some thumbprint cookies.

We used our homemade raspberry jelly. Yum.

Finished cookies were a little crumbly but very yummy.

I made little pocket book cards for the kids, my mom and other friends.
The idea came from Making Handmade Books by Alisa Golden.

The holiday haul: french lollipops, Lindt chocolate bars in the kids favorite flavors,
and dark chocolate covered almonds. The card shows a photo D took of us in a wavy
reflection on the Prudential Building during last's years snowy B&B outing.

Wishing you all have a sweet, delicious Valentine's day.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Turn, Turn, Turn A tribute to Pete Seeger

On my way to church last Sunday morning, I picked up the detritus of our McCulture, a plastic bottle, a can, and a discarded coffee cup, all likely thrown from car windows. I went into the building, recycled the waste, washed my hands, and went up into the sanctuary.

There my ears heard Pete Seeger's Turn, Turn, Turn, and my mood turned. The  music was why I had come to church early. I knew we'd be singing Pete Seeger anthems, and I sought to fill my heart with his hopeful spirit. He had died a few days earlier, yet his spirit lives on in his songs.

The previous evening I had watched PBS's American Masters program about Pete Seeger's life. Against the odds of fascism, racism, political hypocrisy and environmental degradation, he fought using music and love. I came to church to sing together with the congregation and catch his spirit, catch the power of many voices calling for change and peace together.

Every day there are new inescapable stories about poisoned rivers and droughts, extreme weather and sea level rise. That morning I had read about the severe drought in California. Earlier in the week there had been stories about the decline of Monarch butterfly populations and the threat to bees from monoculture fields of GMO crops. There was a story about a report released by the State Department declaring that proceeding with the Keystone pipeline would not harm the environment. 

Monday I gathered with others at the corner of routes 20 and 27, right in front of our church, to hold signs and protest the pipeline. I tried to bring Pete Seeger's positive attitude that things will change.

It is so hard to read story after story about what human industrialism is doing to the environment. Perhaps soon the weight of the stories along with more and more visible signs of climate change will lead far more people to take action. Attitudes, even those of our leaders, can change. After all Pete Seeger, who had been brought before the House Un-American Activities Committee and charged with contempt of Congress and blacklisted in the 1950s and 60s, received the Natioanal Medal of the Arts in 1994.

I attended a lecture late last month where the speaker Charles Eisenstein, an environmental economist, talked about a change in people's attitudes occurring quicker than we might anticipate. He supposed that for many, the change had already occurred. But few are ready to admit it and take action. He posited that already few people believe stories told to us by mainstream media, corporations, or even our government. When we drive among the ugly strip malls along the sides of our four lane streets, we are repulsed by the ugliness. Here I paraphrase Eisenstein who asked, How is it that 5000 years of architectural advancement could lead to this? Do we believe the slogan on the billboard? Do we believe the Congressmen denying scientific facts?

Do we really believe the repeated story of American exceptionalism? Are Americans citizens in a land of broadening democracy and opportunity or are we mere consumers? Last Sunday evening I spent time at a Superbowl party. Ads costing companies millions of dollars played. They didn't convince me that Coke is better than Pepsi or that I'll love McDonalds. Did they convince anyone? Yet a hundred million people watched this game absorbing its message of commercialism and conflict. I watched too, but the next day I stood with about 50 people holding signs to protest a pipeline that will further enable inefficient dirty energy to be pulled from the ground and its carbon dioxide to further pollute our air. I stood with those turning to a different story.

Thursday, January 16, 2014


I was back at the Pine Brook Conservation area today with my camera. I noticed bright green moss, the only colorful thing among the brown leaves, grey bark and gloomy sky. There were puffball mushrooms along the trail spreading their spores with the slightest jostle. There was fragile ice along the shore. I saw the bottom half of a mouse on top of a broken stump. The raptor with the other half was no where to be seen.

I went to take pictures of some out-of-place Americana turned to sculpture: a jumble of old, rusted cars at the bottom of a ridge. I'll have to investigate how they got there. It will be a new urban myth or ghost story.

Please leave a comment if you can identify the make, model and year of these fine vehicles.

Friday, January 10, 2014

2013 Book List

Here's my 2013 book list. You can see 2012 here and 2011 here.

It was a rather unsatisfying year of reading. There were few books I loved. I read many books for my book group. The ladies tend to choose light, short novels. I also read some YA books for library work. Some of them can be well written, but they are generally about young people, young romance and problems that generally get resolved happily by the end of the book.

The books I enjoyed most over the year were ones I chose for their literary awards or because I had enjoyed the author's work previously. I also read more memoirs and diaries. I tend to get the most inspiration from women who, like me, struggle to find and distinguish themselves amidst the (in my case self-imposed) pressures to care for family.

The books I liked best this year are:
  1. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
  2. Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
  3. The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
  4. Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan/Sis Neruda

People of the Book was not my favorite Geraldine Brooks novel, but it had a very interesting structure and wonderful writing. The main character was a selfish young woman who had very little appeal. Luckily her part was short. The real primary driver of the story was a book, an illustrated Passover Haggadah. The novel traced how the book was created. It followed the book back through time and told the story of the silversmith who made the clasps, the book binder, the calligrapher, and the illustrator of the remarkable codex. In each time period from the Middle Ages through modern history the book is a witness to prejudice between sexes, races and religions, primarily antisemitism. The book serves to make a bridge between the hostile parties.

I listened to Telegraph Avenue on CD, and the amazing voice of the actor who read the story may have swayed me to love it. I find reading and listening to books to be quite a difference experience. So while I here endorse the audio, I don't know how it would read on the page. The novel is a mess of complicated characters and family dynamics. There are 2 couples (or maybe 4) because the 2 husbands work together (at a failing record store), as do the 2 wives (in their own midwife practice). So there are relationships between the men, the women, the couples and their teenage children. The relationships are complicated and tender. There are a lot of plot twists, smart language and a satisfying conclusion.

The Orphan Master's Son was definitely the best book I read this past year. I picked it because it won the Pulitzer in 2012. I had never read a book like it before. It was a sweeping novel about a North Korean man who holds many jobs and plays many roles: kidnapper, signal operator, spy, prisoner, husband, father. Usually I would be turned off knowing I was going to read about prisons, torture, and hunger. But somehow, this novel came to the edge of horror and turned it into beauty. A man being tortured was able to sink deep inside himself and block pain with his memories and hopes. A man seemingly played with his children while, without their awareness, teaching them skills they would need to survive under the harshest conditions. A story of the severest deprivation and pain somehow was also a story of love, and sacrifice and hope. Read this book!

Finally on a lighter note, I'll recommend The Dreamer. It is meant for a young audience, perhaps for 4th to 6th graders. But like much of the best literature for the young, it is beautiful and inspirational for all ages. The text is by Pam Munoz Ryan, and the integral illustrations are by Peter Sis. The book is a small biographical novel about the poet, Pablo Neruda. Both the text and the illustrations are playful and charming. Like Neruda's book of questions, this book is full of questions like, "Which is sharper? the hatchet that cuts down dreams? or the scythe that clears a path for another?" The book is the journey of a young man escaping a fearful childhood and finding himself through his love of language. One fanciful vignette has the young poet taking slips of paper, on which he writes compelling words, out of his desk drawer and scattering them on the floor to make poetry. Some of the words are puma, liana, oregano, locomotive and chocolate.

The rest of my list:

1. Virginia Lee Burton, A Life in Art by Barbara Elleman (YA)
2. Life at home in the 21st Century by Jeanne Arnold
3. War Within and Without (1939-44) by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
4. Bring Me a Unicorn (1922-28) by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
5. Light Between the Oceans by M.L. Steadman
6. The language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
7. The Good House by Anne Leary
8. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Her Life by Susan Hertog
9. The Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges couldn’t finish, too grim, violent,depressing
10. The Girls from Ames by Jeffrey Zaslow
11. On a Farther Shore, Rachel Carson by William Souder
12. Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran
13 Always, Rachel editor Freeman intimate letters of Rachel Carson
14. Lions of Little Rock (YA) by Kristin Levine
15. Gossip of the Starlings by Nina De Gramont (YA)
16. Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman
17. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
18. The Outermost House by Henry Beston

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Week of Thanks: An Old-Fashioned Carrot Pull

Rich organic soil yields plentiful sweet carrots.

One of the things I am most thankful for is our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Siena Farm. This year "our farmer" Chris was able to purchase 26 acres of land in Sudbury, Massachusetts to be conserved in perpetuity. This is not the kind of community "development" that typical banks support. Instead the money to purchase the land came from fundraising dinners, generous supporters and CSA members.

Farmer Chris walks beside the tractor that loosens the soil for easy pulling.

Our family has purchased 3 full-year shares up front to help fund the sale. We will get 48 weekly boxes per year from now until the spring of 2017. I feel like I've gotten a bargain. Instead of our money sitting in the bank hardly keeping up with inflation, we have secured 3 years of food security and wonderful health.

D takes the greens off the carrots before putting them in the bin.

This weekend CSA members were invited to help pull a huge field of carrots before today's hard frost. Between 10am and 4pm, nearly 100 members of all ages put in some time to fill storage bins throughout the field.

filled bins in alternating rows

It was wonderful getting into the field and putting our hands in the soft, rich soil. We pulled up carrots by the dozen, ripped off their green tops, wiped off the rich dirt and filled bin after bin with carrots up to 2 inches in diameter.

J drops another carrot into his almost-full bin.

R and her friend laughed the day away.

Our family filled at least 8 bins and were rewarded with a few bags for our own winter stores.

On our way home with a golden bounty.

So far we've been eating carrot sticks with every meal. And a few big carrots went into tonight's vegetarian chili. I make a great carrot and cheddar gratin. I'm sure I'll be posting more terrific carrot recipes soon.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Cranberry Products

The day after my cranberry picking adventure was processing day. I wanted to preserve the incredible freshness of the harvest and not lose any berries to spoilage.

The first thing I did was wash and separate the berries. I had just enough for 2 recipes, a sauce I'm saving for Thanksgiving and bread loaves, one saved for Thanksgiving and one for a just-baked treat.

Here are the ingredients for the sauce: 12 oz cranberries, zest and juice of an orange, cinnamon stick, and (oops) sugar not pictured.

In a few minutes. They are on their way to being sauce.

Ta Da... in less than half an hour: Cranberry/Orange Sauce, the perfect accompaniment to my dining room wallpaper.

The breads take a bit more effort and time, mixing wet and dry ingredients then waiting for the long bake.

The bread is delicious especially warm out of the oven. The rest is frozen waiting for Thanksgiving. What a great start for holiday preparations, Cranberry Sauce and Cranberry Bread with local berries picked by my own hands.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Gathering Cranberries

What a rush and pleasure to discover a new crop to harvest, especially one I haven't grown it myself. Tended only by nature at the edge of a reservoir, a bountiful harvest of cranberry is there for the diligent gatherer.

With temperatures in the high 40s and a steady breeze, a friend and I were nonetheless warmed by the strong sun and our efforts, a little walking, lots of bending and constantly moving, searching fingers.

We walked about 1/2 a mile through the forest that borders the reservoir. As we approached the water, there were lower shrubby plants. Then  we entered the swampy zone where low grasses and cranberries hug the water's edge.

This area is unusual for its varied microclimates. (Or maybe many areas would be as diverse if I crawled around in them keenly investigating large areas of ground.) There were spots where the cranberry plants were nestled among mosses. In other zones nearby, the cranberry stalks seemed to come right out of the sand. In those spots the cranberries that had fallen were well preserved and easy to collect. In some areas the picking was good, and you didn't notice how wet it was until your toes were wet and cold. Not far away, you could sit comfortably in a thick patch of cranberry and rake your hands along collecting.

Can you spy the cranberries? It's like finding Waldo in a red striped picture.

We spent 2 pleasant hours, chatting, picking and picnicking and collected 4 to 5 cups each. As usual, harvesting food yourself gives you a great appreciation for the effort it takes. Of course, the cranberries in our supermarkets are not hand harvested. Bogs are flooded and machines collect the cranberries that float to the top of the water. You can see a National Geographic video of cranberry harvesting here.

In prior years when I've purchased bagged berries, I would diligently go through them and remove any that were soft or too blemished. I will be much more accepting of this year's well earned harvest. The softer berries will be made into sauce for Thanksgiving. The firmer ones will go into a bread. After having picked cranberries myself, I will be much less picky.

Check back soon for the delicious results.