Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A lifetime in lists

Here's a list, because if I wrote this in paragraphs it would take a week, for sure. Since the last time I posted, which was in September 2009, an update or 20, in no order whatsoever:

1. I got a job at the newspaper I used to work for. First it started out as a web job and it started at 6:30 a.m. That did not last longer than about five months. Now I'm back on the copy desk -- blessed true home! -- and working the second shift. I am very happy. I adore proofreading and copy editing and I like it now more than I did the first time around (2001-03) because I'm older and have more confidence in everything. I got that job in November 2009. That right there explains the lack of posting since then.

2. Before that, though, I had surgery that wasn't very successful. That was in October 2009 -- another good reason I didn't write here. I spent a lot of time in the hospital and a lot of time recovering. It's worth mentioning that a month to the day after I had that ill-fated surgery, I got my newspaper job.

3. Just now (March-April 2011) I spent in the hospital with more surgery, this one more successful but also more necessary, to get rid of infections/fistulas that were eating my guts and making me sick for the past six months. I've been off work for eight weeks and I go back in three or four days. There are still complications, but I'm trying to just, you know. Work through it, literally and figuratively.

4. I've been skiing a bunch of times.

5. I went to South Carolina to see my in-laws last weekend. All of them. Thirty or 40 in-laws. It was great fun and I got a sunburn and I laid on the beach and read the perfect book, which see below.

6. There have really honestly been more vacations than I can count. I'm lucky that way.

7. Charley is still the light of our lives.

8. Were you looking for something maybe about a garden? After winter '09 I let it go, and then last summer I grew just a tomato plant and a bunch of oregano. This year, the tomatoes are not in evidence but my friend CJ came over a few months ago and helped me put in a veggie garden all in one day. It's a tiny, tiny garden, mostly full of onions. That's because we spilled the packet of onion seeds in there. It's all good, I cook with onions constantly and I will freeze any that don't get et. So far haven't harvested any, but I'm letting them get bigger. I've been snipping the onion tops for garnish.

WE HAVE POTATOES. I am so happy about this I could yell it -- wait, I did. Po-ta-toes in pots in the shade under the giant redwood tree. They are thriving, or at least that's what I deduce from the tops.

Something is eating the herbs we put in. They are almost all a no-go. The exception is chives.

Something's eating the salad greens.

The lime tree seems to be happy in its corner of the raised bed, and the zucchini the same. Only two zukes this year! And both in cages. I do learn. So even though I'm working (except lately), I've been getting the garden stuff at least done in a minimal way. The initial outlay of planning and planting is what scared me and CJ walked me through that and now I know it doesn't have to be Perfect. Nothing does. And even though I was away from the house for three weeks, it rained, and when I came back things had grown. It was pretty awesome.

9. I mentioned a book. Little House-related, of course. It's "The Wilder Life" by Wendy McClure. What I can say about that is that I enjoyed the hell out of it, and it made me think and rethink my relationship with the books and what was reality for me -- are the books the reality or is Laura's actual life the reality? (For instance, she was only 3 years old in Kansas, not 7. So the series' seminal book is actually not remembered history; it's something else.) Wendy McClure is just as obsessed with the domestic details as I am. She churned butter in a non-Dazey churn! I have a Dazey and still never churned with it. She's visited all the sites except Rose's house here in San Francisco. I've been to three including Rose's house. She wonders in writing what it is that she's trying to sort out in her own life that makes her so obsessed with the books, and the answer wound up being, I think, a sort of idyllic simplicity ... but I think there was also more. I need to reread the last few chapters.

This book made me happy.

(After I read "The Wilder Life," I read "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy on the plane ride home from South Carolina, and busted through it in about five hours. Wishing all the time for another McClure book.)

10. There's something I forgot to say about the backyard, where my veggie garden is. In summer 2010 we had it renovated. I hope to go back and put photos and links to all these descriptions, but if you're reading this maybe you already saw it all.

So that's it, except for all the bits I am probably forgetting. I wonder how many simplicity blogs still have me on their blogroll, probably none. And it hasn't been simple. My life has been full of buying things, meals, not cooking from scratch (although on the weekends I do), new clothes for work, public transit, buying a second car, and on and on. It has been anything but simple.

Right now I'm just trying to institute some self-discipline for the next chapter at work. There are things I desperately need to figure out as far as managing my time and life, let alone my ideals. I feel like I've been saying this since 1999.

Monday, September 7, 2009


"Everything must be saved, nothing wasted from all the summer's bounty ..."
-My favorite quote of any of the Little House books.

That's why I've spent 8 hours with my oven on, slow-roasting tomatoes that are now in the freezer ...

and why I'm planning on making 10 loaves of zucchini bread with this thing (finally picked it yesterday):

... and why I'm going to dry vast, otherworldly amounts of lemon thyme and (shh!) give it for Christmas presents in pretty tins ...

Really, the whole thing is about avoiding going to the mall during the months of November and December.

OK, maybe not entirely that. Really, I'm just pleased as punch to have a garden that produces food. Just a real happy camper.

Psychologico-verbal change of seasons: (what? I can invent words, it's my blog.) I've finally quit saying "Well, I don't LIKE having it (the ostomy), but I can't do much about it," when people ask how I'm dealing with it. Now I'm just saying, "Fine." There's a pretty big difference there, for me. You can't just go through life not liking something that major.

Life in the kitchen: is excellent now that we've renovated. Past tense. All done! It's beautiful, and functional. And there's storage.

Upcoming: My mom is giving me a butter churn! It's not (to my slight dismay and great surprise) a stand-up cedar butter churn as shown here, but a "daisy" style here. (Or is it dazey?) Regardless. Butter making will be happening. I know some small dog who will like that very much.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Root cellars

I'm fixated on root cellaring lately. We're into the part of "Farmer Boy" where they're harvesting everything and putting it down cellar. "Everything must be saved, nothing wasted from all the summer's bounty" is probably my favorite line in any LHOTP book. Alice is braiding onion tops and hanging them in the cellar, and she's sewing peppers together by their stems. Everyone's harvesting potatoes and throwing them down cellar via chute or window. Same with apples and carrots. Likely it's the same with squashes and turnips, since they talk about eating these during the winter.

So I've got about a million questions.

-How big of a garden did Mother Wilder have to have to keep six people (well, eight, but we'll ignore that) in onions for seven months? Or was it twelve months?
-Did they not eat roots during the summer? Unlike in extreme northern New York State, I have a year-round growing season so I can plant and have veggies all year (at least, some of the hardier ones, I think) but they couldn't do this. During the summers when everything fresh was growing, were they eating the last of their cellared roots from the previous summer?
-How often did they have to check this stuff to make sure nothing was rotten or getting eaten by bugs?
-How was it packed?
-How did they come up with their original math -- how many acres of potatoes to sow, how many rows of onions, etc.? Someone had to do this figuring in the first place. Nobody ever addresses this in the entire series! The moms of the family just KNOW.

I'll stop there. But here's a snippet from a Daily Green page I've been reading and pondering, and daydreaming about ...

You don't have to live with a dirt-floor cellar to take advantage of stocking up on fresh vegetables and fruits during harvest (when prices are cheap). All you need is a cool, dark place that won't freeze; it could be under a stairwell, or in a corner of a basement, garage or shed.

Pack clean, dry produce -- such as carrots, beets, potatoes and winter squash -- in boxes surrounded by sawdust, sand or straw. You want good air circulation and relatively high humidity (earthen floors work well, or put out trays of water or damp cloths). Remove spoiled items immediately and keep apples separate, since they promote ripening.

Hmm. Hmm. Hmm.

Need to go do some figuring.

Meanwhile, I picked some huge, beautiful radishes out of my garden that I grew from seed! This is huge! ... But now they're getting soft, since I don't really eat whole radishes ... it's a problem.

I somehow need to get realistic and align what I will actually eat with what I can actually grow.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

All things green and growing

I've been outside too much to post here ... OK, that's not entirely true. But I have been outside a lot, in my little front yard, playing in the dirt with zucchini (GOD HELP US), foxgloves, moving dusty miller, and about 20 other plants.

So I made some rookie mistakes.

1. I bought one of each plant that looked cool, instead of three or four, so there's a hodgepodge look out there right now. The unifying force is the dusty miller in the back. I'm trying to group things together better.

2. I didn't come up with a visual focus at first. Again, dusty miller to the rescue!

3. I planted four zucchini seedlings too close together.

4. We now have 20 cups of cilantro and ... one onion.

So, yes. I'm starting to see the problems in a tiny garden. If I were to plant enough onions to root cellar (which I do want to do), the entire yard would be ... onions. I'm working with about six feet wide by sixteen feet long here. If I wanted enough tomatoes to pickle some green, and to can the rest (which I do), the whole thing would have to be in tomatoes. Same with peas, spinach and so on. So right now I just have a mix of a little of everything (even some things I can't eat -- it's all an experiment at this point), but I wish I had planted more onions.

Ginger triumph: You know how at the store you have to buy an entire "hand" of fresh ginger when you just need 1 tsp. grated for a recipe? And then it goes bad? That happens to me all the time. Last night I was putting together a spice kit for my mom and I wondered if I could make that fresh ginger into powdered ginger that you put in cookies, pie spice, and such. So I peeled and grated a thumb of the ginger, spread it on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, and baked it at 200 degrees with the oven door open for about an hour. The result was little hardened bits of ginger ... which, when ground up with a mortar and pestle or one's fingertips, made POWDERED GINGER. I'm pleased as punch.

Little House update: I'm more Farmer Boy than Plum Creek right now. Although it's a conceit to pretend I have as much acreage, experience and resources as the Wilders, the one thing I do have is their stay-puttedness. I'm pretty sure I'm not going to get a nice garden in only to be dragged back to Iowa or forward to De Smet anytime soon because my husband has an itchy foot. (If he'd just stayed in Wisconsin ...!)

Putting the country in domesticity ...?: Speaking of the Man of the Place, he gave me the new title for this blog. The City wasn't accurate anymore, since I'm here in San Bruno, which feels more like the country to me, even though it's really a small town/suburb of The City. I am telling you that it feels like living in the country. If you know me, that's a good thing. Just need some horses to get me to the train depot in less than 20 minutes.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Pioneer girl

(Lists are where I keep my brain!)

1. We moved. The Man Of The Place, the puppy dog, and I bought a house in San Bruno, CA. I am in love with it.
2. I'm feeling better ... mostly.
3. I've started knitting again. Started an afghan about 5 times before finally deciding to go all-garter for the border. Whether I do anything, you know, fancy in the middle remains to be seen.
4. I've started a garden. Right now it's all decorative. I can't get (two-year-old) herb seeds to catch on.
5. I'm traveling again.
6. I'm still not working. (Fie!)
7. I'm researching the everloving hell out of Laura Ingalls Wilder, thanks to the flurry of new writings about her. I'll update this reading list on the right to reflect this soon.
8. Still thinking. Thinking. Thinking about the upcoming Hell and Highwater.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Oy vey, already

I have been incredibly ill and, well, almost didn't make it to post another day. Thanks to my doctors, nurses, and especially surgeon at UCSF, I'm ... if not on the mend, getting there, I hope.

Had to stop all community activity, reading about peak oil and consumption, and even cooking for the past three months -- although I wanted to report that a few days before I went into the hospital the first time, my husband and I graduated from Neighborhood Emergency Response Team training.

So, I'm not sure how often I'll be posting here for the next few months. There's another surgery on the way plus a chronic disease to manage for the rest of my life (Crohn's). But I'm hoping for the best. Just wanted to explain the long absence.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

On social capital, and other things percolating

So I just finished Robert Putnam's "Bowling Alone: The collapse and revival of American community." DAMN, I say. Of all the books I've read the past couple of years on consumption, peak oil, etc. etc., this one hit me hardest. Right here, where I can feel it. I KNOW I can act here and I have to.

Lack of social capital is my problem. When I hear friends saying they don't want to join a group or volunteer because of the potentially "annoying" people they might meet, that's my problem. When I hear someone saying that they don't ride the bus because too many random people talk to them ... that's my problem, too, in more ways than one.

I don't like talking to strangers. Here in The City, you never know what one will say. Will it be a come-on? (When I moved here I was 23, and leaving work late at night, some guy in his 50s asked me if I'd like to get a room. Really? Really?) Will it be someone drunk or high or psychotic? Will it be begging?

Mostly, it will be begging. The homeless and down-and-out contingent here is huge. And sometimes the group that seems even bigger is the canvassers. CalPERS, Greenpeace, Ron Paul. Good for the world, bad for my sense of personal space. Bad for my (in)ability to say no and only to avoid. You wouldn't believe the contortions of time and space I've gone through to avoid a Greenpeace canvasser asking cheerfully, slightly aggressively, for a minute of my time to help save the world. This, although I've happily donated to Greenpeace in the past!

It's all part of the same puzzle. No social capital. No trust that those Greenpeacers won't a) stalk me; b) insult me; c) hate my guts for the rest of their lives if I don't give to their cause right now. No trust in my own ability to cheerfully say "Not today, thanks." What that means to me is "I've already donated to an environmental organization/I've donated my time to a local cause/I'm researching the best use of my money/I promise to vote Democrat." What I'm afraid they hear is "I don't give a shit about the environment. Leave me alone, you dirty hippies." Can you see why I'd rather go through a parking garage and invent a cell phone conversation that's not actually happening to avoid THAT kind of judgment?

No social capital. No trust. No ability to DEAL with people that may or may not want something. No training in how to do that. Just wrap yourself in your bubble and hope they stay far away.

Well, that's been my MO for the last howevermany years. That's got to end now. I can't work for change, I can't be the change I want to see in this world, if I'm afraid of other people. And when I say afraid, I don't mean for my safety. I mean for my precious comfort zone, so carefully cultivated.

Nothing works -- no social change works -- without a community holding it up. I cannot contribute to revitalizing, even keeping on life support, a concept of community without talking to other people in it ... or at least listening ... or at the very least not hiding from them!

I will not be afraid of strangers. The only thing I'm going to fight is the instinct in myself to fear what's different.


Small print update: I'm four? three? days into a little bit of Internet deprivation. I'm not sure whether it's affecting my to-do list but it's clearing the extra-social fog in my brain a little bit. I need a lot more doing and a whole lot less reporting about what I'm doing. Often I've spent more time writing up a recap of an event than I spent at the thing. Or conversation, or dinner with friends or whatever.

PS Two, I'm afraid that since so many things seem so clear to me now, I'm setting myself up for a good fall on the heels of hubris. My mom says just because I'm trying to make positive change doesn't mean the universe is going to punish me. I think, without saying too much personally, that's quite a progressive statement. A lot of people would like to see those who try to improve themselves, and their world, go down at the sword for their crime of "self-righteousness" or possibly "hypocrisy." Or "making other people feel guilty about how they're spending their time." Apparently these are worse crimes, in some opinions, than wastefulness, ignorance and apathy. Luckily my family doesn't see it that way ...

PS Three, I can't decide whether I'm going to try to write a novel for National Novel Writing Month: 50,000 words in 30 days. If I wrote it it would be about peak oil and a town trying to get through it. I have my plot and my characters; the only thing I don't have is the willingness to devote several hours each day of the month of November to it. Well, we'll see. It's a fun thing to do (especially the community aspect of it), it would give voice to a lot of these post-peak-oil survivalist scenarios bumping around in my head, and it would be fun to tell people that I wrote a novel in a month. Of course, I've already done it twice, with poor results each time. So we'll see what shakes down.

Speaking of which, there was just a rather midsized earthquake here, felt most definitely in The City and the house of tk specifically. This reminds me I need to write here about NERT training. Our final two classes are Thursday and Friday nights. On Friday night we graduate after we review our take-home test and play out a disaster scenario. I'm trying to remember as much as I can that's not in the textbook to post here, and hope to get to it this weekend before I forget everything.