Friday, September 26, 2014

so you want to be a girl scout?

true confession, i never was a girl scout (the brief stint at being a 'bluebird' and all, plus some years in 4H) but lately i've been thinking that adults should get honorary badges. so i looked up the girl scout pledge:

 "on my honor i will try to serve God and my country, to help people at all times, and to live by the girl scout law...i will do my best to be honest and fair, friendly and helpful, considerate and caring, courageous and strong and responsible for what i do and say and to respect myself and others, respect authority, use resources wisely, make the world a better place and be a sister to every girl scout"

that pretty much sums up their promise and law. then they have badges. since i've already given myself an honorary chicken badge, now comes the anti-brooding hen badge (how to get this hen to stop sitting on eggs that will never be chicks? mother nature is tough, i tell you) but the eggs are plentiful which leads to

1. the cook badge. so, wanting to mark the first day of fall, i spent the monetary equivalent of several desserts buying ingredients for one pear cake. the recipe said this cake could be made in the crock pot and i thought it sounded fun. chopping and toasting pecans, buttering the inside of the pot, slicing pears, dashing with nutmeg...and waiting. three hours later a mush emerged from the foil barely recognizable as cake and not something i was any too proud to share. which leads me to

2. the healthy living badge. because i only like to share food that turns out well, i started eating it myself and tried not to think that i had single-handedly consumed an entire stick of butter in a few days' time.

3. the outdoors badge. fortunately i had burned calories earlier in the week when my sister girl scout and i were last seen carrying two kayaks uphill from the muddy river bank at an ungodly angle, thankful for the platform and rope someone had kindly placed just beneath the bridge. from which point we had to carry them one at a time along the side of the road, through blackberry brambles, up and over the road divider to the car. this after five and a half hours of paddling (it was worth it) and finally

 4. the financial literacy badge. i needed a new cell phone because my favorite had broken internal parts. so i crossed the threshhold of fancy phone store (who shall remain nameless) and found that not only did the model of my phone no longer exist, but i was literally the only one on THAT side of the store (as opposed to the iPhone 6 side, ahem.) i will give the salesman credit for taking me seriously and helping me to get into a very inexpensive model that lets me talk and text and keep my low pre-paid monthly plan. but this was after sifting through his speech that went something like, "for the cost of the phone alone...your unlimited talk and text data package would be less than what you would pay before the mail-in rebate...at cost with no out of pocket expenses today... minus retail pricing for monthly minute usage..." he was just doing his job but i ascertained the model he wanted to sell me cost several hundred dollars and tripled my monthly bill for things i didn't want or need. "i still write on cave walls and use smoke signals," i quipped, "so this model on the OTHER side of the store will be just fine" (walk with me...we're walking, away from the hoards of upgraders). badge!

so the way i figure it i have about 5 girl scout badges now, but no vest. it sounds like a great program. what would YOUR honorary badges be in? i look forward to hearing them and for now, if you'll excuse me, i think i hear my thin mints calling...

Saturday, September 20, 2014

veraison

veraison means the onset of ripening. i saw this when i woke up this morning: sun streaming in on a variety of leaf colors just below the vineyards; this maturity of season with a richness of layers. i brought out my leather driving gloves, boots and sweaters...but also left my sandals, sun hat and spf handy: the in-between time when it is still 80 degrees but with a distinctive tinge in the morning air. if i had a photo essay of my morning it would be these three images: fresh eggs gathered in the time of waking where hot air balloons are best seen rising in the distance...a cup of warm milk to go with french press coffee, sipped slowly...and brunch made from garden-fresh produce. the sunflowers are starting to bend their backs in prayer, my tomatoes will split if i don't gather them at least every other day, and potato tops are withered. what's underneath, however, is at it's best: the ground is still warm enough and the second planting of fall vegetables flourishes. i will wait until the 23rd to have my annual pumpkin spice latte because it is still summer in my mind until midnight of the 22nd. in the spirit of an indian summer, however, the biking gear stays out and i plan to put off sock-wearing as long as possible.

accounting for taste

this week i was flipping through old magazines, tearing out pictures for an art activity and i couldn't help but notice our cultural shifts in style. these editions were from the late 80's and early 90's and featured women standing next to huge suburbans (the kind that are now for sale by the side of the road) with captions about "doing it all" and "for your sleek lifestyle". i mused to myself as i turned pages, seeing other ads for bulky furniture and laura ashley rose patterns, thankful that we've moved on. this morning, i treated myself to portland monthly and their special 2014 design issue, noticing the trend is definitely about less...smaller, stark, minimal and...a return to the 70's. bearded men in skinny jeans who are opening their own furniture cover businesses while making micro-brew on the side...living room ensembles that i would call "the jetsons (globe lights) meet thoreau (tree stump tables)" and everything organic: harkening back to the days before things like canning and organic food were "hip" or expensive. i got to thinking about what my style would be called. i am admittedly straddling the pre and post-pet era like some bridging the gap between having preschoolers and older children know that small children a white couch do not mix (i saw that in an ad, actually--a little girl frolicking on a white sectional, and laughed out loud). i fantasize about the clean-line "kinfolk" typography...of linen...of dragging my feet along a new rug...flopping myself on the bed and not having to run a lint-roller over it first. i think, right now at least, my style would be best termed "bohemian country real", bohemian owing to the fact that not much matches, country because pollen and compost bins and the aforementioned muck boots are a part of my daily life, and real because the place is completely comfortable AND functional to me. i'm content. it doesn't mean, however, that i don't salivate over the day when my carpet stays perfect or when i can have a micro-fiber suede couch without claw marks on it: all things new and fresh. but stuff is just stuff. the patagonia principle comes back to me--use it and use it and use it some more. so i get out my sewing basket and mend those small holes, put my great grandmother's quilt with mis-matched pillows back on the bed, dust AGAIN, and sit back realizing that there is beauty in all things original. surround yourself with what you like. and that, i think, will never go out of style.

Friday, September 12, 2014

french culinary law

did you know that in france, only croissants made of 100% natural butter are baked without curves on the end? anything else must take a crescent shape. no matter what form it takes, however, it's still a fluffy, layered and delicious way to welcome in the morning with a steaming cup of coffee. translated from any language, any culture? "...ahhh"

Sunday, September 7, 2014

bridge the lacuna

to use my other new word in a sentence, i did not want there to be a lacuna between summer and autumn in terms of my reading. (lacuna--a gap, hole, abyss. which makes me curious as to barbara kingsolver's book of the same title, as i had always wrongly associated the word with something tropical like a lagoon or something exotic like a new mexican cooking technique). i just finished reading three books: "the firefly letters" by margarita engle (which we found because we thought it said 'madeleine l'engle' as in, 'why haven't i heard of this title by her before?--later--ohhh, that's why'...) "the child that books built" by francis spufford (as recommended in "the reading zone" by nancy atwell) and "delancey" by molly wizenburg about when her husband brandon opens a pizzaria in seattle (i sense a roadtrip!). molly is the author of "a homemade life" and has a lovely blog (only voted best food blog in the world by the london times!) called "orangette" (check out www.orangette.blogspot.com, *image credit in this entry is molly's). since it's been too hot to bake during the day, i stayed up to finish her book while zesting an orange and chopping figs, soaking pistachios in honey yogurt and cracking open our own eggs so that i would have delicious morning oatmeal bars when i woke to the coolness of a new sunday morning breezing through the window. i'm excited about my new pile of books as well: "the gardener of versailles: my life in the world's grandest garden" by alain baraton (gardener-in-chief at the palace of versailles), "frances and bernard" a book of letters by carlene bauer, and the second in the maisie dobbs mystery series, "birds of a feather" by jacqueline winspeare. that should keep me busy for at least a couple of days.

over the moon

so this summer my very smart and observant friend and i noticed something we hadn't known before. sometimes the moon sliver was facing one way, sometimes the other. (suddenly i was curious as to how it is most often depicted in children's books) it had different rising and setting patterns. so we started studying the moon. we knew the basics, like the moon revolves around the earth and the earth revolves around the sun, but that was about as far as 5th grade science carried into my adulthood (thank you, charity masterson, wherever you are, for helping me spray paint the styrofoam balls representing the solar system for our elementary school science fair). i learned waxing (sliver faces left) on the way to being full and waning (sliver faces right) on the way to a new moon. the handy dandy calendar of moonrise and set helped me understand the moon's influence over the tides as well. i'm sketching the moon every day for the month of september to document what i've noticed. my smart and observant friend is watching the moon, too. she just sent me a text with two new vocabulary words and up to the minute lunar information. it seems that this monday at 10:30 pm we will see a perigee moon, when it is closest to the earth, also called a "supermoon" (222,731 miles when it rises as compared to 252,205 later in the month on september 20). apogee is when it is furthest from the earth. to track your own celestial objects, check out www.timeanddate.com and click on "sun & moon".

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

a second half of life take on peter rabbit

if you saw yesterday's entry, i did read "the tale of peter rabbit" to myself last night. stories change because we change! not only had i started off by identifying with mr. mcgregor since my gardening escapades, but i also saw the rest of the story through new eyes. we are, after all, a product of our life experiences blended together over time. my current letter to the author would go something like this, "dear beatrix, i have been a fan of your books since age 4 when i was just learning to read. more accurately, i memorized 'peter rabbit' long before i could actually read, thanks to the tireless hours of being read to by both my father and my mother to whom i give credit for my current love of books. perhaps you, too, were entering your second half of life when you wrote the stories (was it, originally for your nieces and nephews?) take page 10, for example, when mrs. rabbit fully discloses to her four small bunnies the reason that she is a single mother: their father was put in a pie by mrs. mcgregor. incidentally, this is the only mention of mrs. mcgregor and i suppose it is enough that we know she was a resourceful woman in the kitchen (or just a good cover for her husband's garden-rage). this brings up questions: how does mrs. rabbit know this? was she there? did her husband regularly venture into the garden but just got caught one too many times? did she narrowly escape herself or just hear the news from a crow? at any rate, this is first called 'an accident', as in 'your father had an accident in the garden' which is so euphemistic and metaphoric that in fact, i could imagine the bunnies growing up thinking that their father was still alive somewhere, being held prisoner inside a large and very ominous crust. you omitted the words 'eaten by' which i suppose was wise, though far from the truth. you and i and the adults reading the book know this to be true in the same way that my father saying my pet goose 'rejoined the flock' was as true as the fresh mound of dirt beneath our willow tree. we figure it out sooner or later. regardless, the bunnies aren't so afraid that they don't go out and play but i suppose the main idea was that it would keep them out of trouble. then, mrs. rabbit leaves them while she goes the opposite direction to the baker's. that's all fine and good unless you have abandonment issues, which i don't, but some might in a 21st century reading about kids being left in hot cars and such, something you likely did not have to deal with. i suppose there was the nasty issue of child chimney sweeps, however, but i digress. so we know the story: flopsy, mopsy and cottontail are the 'good bunnies' and peter is the 'bad bunny'. in the end he gets a cold and has camomile tea while his siblings have the aforementioned baked goods, the end. my four year old self would have taken this as a lesson not to talk to strangers, to stay inside the playground walls and do my chores (all good things) whereas my forty year old self thinks, just wait one minute here! ok, so peter got some sniffles, big deal, he had an ADVENTURE! he saw the world, was equipped to think on his feet, problem solve, escape danger and live to tell about it. (with all due respect, ms. potter, did you figure into the plot that his soul may have been somewhat diminished upon returning to his safe, but albeit small home?) out in the garden his furry life was enriched, not to mention that he got to eat REAL bunny food: his fill of lettuces, french beans, radishes and parsley--even if only once; a veritable portrait of a rabbit fully alive!--this is what real bunnies eat, after all, as opposed to currant rolls. (none of the bunnies in my yard are even the slightest bit tempted by currant rolls, a fact of which i know you are well aware and what brought all of this on yesterday with my gardening nonsense and whatnot in the first place.) which brings me somehow to peter's clothing. he sheds it to escape the nets and it occurred to me on a much deeper premise that you may or may not have intended: he breaks free of societal shackles and is made a spectacle of, but perhaps at great personal liberation. i mean you no offense whatsoever, the story just seemed to end rather abruptly with the 'goodness' of the three bunnies getting blackberries and such. i rather wanted to hear peter's version upon reflection, as it was quite a big day for him, a sort of mammal Bildungsroman if you will. perhaps later in life flopsy, mopsy and cottontail had regrets? but peter was able to identify with the person who is known for saying, 'in the end, i want to be known, not for being prim or proper, clutching my invitation safely, but for arriving at the party slightly ragged, breathless and full of tales!' thank you for your kind stories, i enjoyed each of them as a child and obviously still do. i would be interested to hear your take on how stories change with us over time, when they are good ones and true, as yours are, as well as if it is autobiographical in any sense? plus, if you would be so kind, your intentions as per moral life compass, etc. best regards, a fellow bunny who has been to the other side of the gate"

Monday, September 1, 2014

luxury, labor and the quest for muck boots

now i know why homesteaders didn't need to go to the gym. daily life WAS exercise. but let me back up. yesterday i allowed myself to read an entire novel ("the book thief" by markus zusak, which is excellent by the way) an act of complete luxury considering school starts tomorrow. (while i refuse to give up any of my favorite activities, realistically more time will just elapse between when i get to do them. not eclipsed, but delayed...slightly truncated if you will. sigh) so today it was laboring on labor day. the morning began with harvesting sunflowers, onions, tomatoes, carrots (4), and blackberries. then i washed the car. and then proceeded to learn how to clip chicken wing feathers so the birds can't fly away. while doing so, i sat right in chicken poop. second sigh. which led to an unexpected load of laundry. which also led to the quest for muck boots. you would think that boots for muck would be easy to find. they're not. and when i found them, they ranged anywhere from $17-$117. (i'm sorry, but for wading around in the aforementioned chicken poop? i did not buy them) but since i was already in wilco, this led me to discover "second season vegetables". fall, i learned, is a great time for certain plantings. (deer, gophers and bunnies have rendered my spring-planted vegetation stubby). i was going to give up when i remembered, "i'm the human here! i'm not giving up, i'm going to win, this is war!" (even if it's for a small salad. i'm an optimist). so for the promise of said salad, i dug up the ground and buried mesh wire to inhibit the gophers--(or gopher, he's really outdone himself this year, our yard looks like a minefield.) once that was down, i put the dirt back on top and then stretched a double thickness of chicken wire around the perimeter, weaving metal stakes through it like a needle before pounding them in. (ha ha bunnies! you're cute, but not that cute.) then i RE-planted spinach, lettuce, peas and kale before covering the entire garden with deer netting (brazen and unafraid of the dog that they are) and then watered myself (being thus a filthy faux homesteader) along with all the new seeds. while putting tools away of course i found an old pair of muck boots in the shed that fit me perfectly which led me to flexing my back and realizing why pioneers never went to 24-hour fitness. third sigh. the labor day sun already in the west, i think i'll settle in with "the tale of peter rabbit" since i identify much more with mr. mcgregor now than when i was a youngster (in size 3 muck boots).