Sunday, November 30, 2008

Prairie Dog Hits Both Coasts

Prairie Dog made it to the Pacific Ocean in Washington State last week. The Little Lion was a bit disappointed to find that going to the beach in November in her home state was not like going to Maui in March, but altogether my parents, the Mister, my brother and family, Prairie Dog and I had a good time. Of course, neither the Mister nor I took any photos, so you'll need to make do with images from the Prairie Dog's summer trip to Atlantic Canada.

The bridges in Washington are impressive compared to those in central WV, but prairie dog had been more impressed by the Confederation Bridge linking Prince Edward Island with New Brunswick.

Waves were much higher on the Pacific, but tidal changes more impressive at the Bay of Fundy.

Wines were tasty on both trips, with Prairie Dog here pointing out two critical lessons I should have learned before Nova Scotia. I don't like sparkling reds and I don't like sparkling wine from a can. A nasty head cold kept me from fully appreciating the wines last week, but Prairie Dog definitely liked the Oregon sparkling and special Thanksgiving Pinot Noirs.

Finally, the Prairie Dog was thankful on the Pacific trip because nobody trapped him in a lobster trap. Meanwhile, I was thankful to have a family I want to spend time with and the ability to spend some time with them, if never quite enough.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Too big for my britches

This is not about conceit. This is literal about not fitting into my pants. This is not about being pregnant. This is about being fat*.
As it is snowing giant flakes right now, I thought I should wear a pair of my warmer pants this morning. While I could zip them up, when I did ghastly mounds of flesh extruded from the waistband. It was not pretty. I weighed myself. Also not pretty.

In past years, my college has had a workplace fitness program to encourage employees not to gain weight over the holidays. Apparently it is not happening this year, but I clearly need some external motivation to do something about fitting into my pants. If I weigh less than I do now when I return for second semester, I will use the money I would have needed for new pants and treat myself to a pedicure and make a $50 donation to Feeding America (formerly America's Second Harvest) to help those who food issues are far different from mine. If I don't, I buy pants and still make the donation.

I'm asking help for two ways: 1) exercise with me and don't encourage me to overeat over the holidays and 2) encourage me by agreeing to help increase my donation to Feeding America if I succeed (something like $1 for every week I reach my goal of 70,000 steps or a $10 donation if I make my January goal). Feeding America is a great organization and I would love to think that I can somehow eat less so that others can eat more. Talk to me about the possibilities (even you lurkers).

The starting weight is 0.0 pounds.

*This is also not a call for you to tell me that I look fine. I know I look fine. I know that my blood pressure is good and that I exercise enough not to be terribly unfit. I know that my family will love me regardless of my size. I also know that this size is bigger than I have been in my life and I do not want to keep it.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Heirloom, Hellion, Earthman and Buster Midnight: Book Update

In my reading memoirs, this season might go down as "the fall I read Pride and Prejudice for two weeks straight" (which is saying something, because I re-read all the good parts in one evening). If I try harder, I can recall more of the books I've read recently, but by next year they will largely be forgotten, with the exception of The Professor's House, which received its own post earlier.

The Essential Earthman by Henry Mitchell is a collection of gardening essays for the D.C. area. It's fabulous because it is specific, opinionated and the gardening advice is spot on. It's also frustrating for the same reasons, as well as being 25 years out-of-date. I found myself wondering what good is it to read a witty comparison of rose varieties for D.C. gardens when I desire no more roses and could not acquire the listed cultivars if I did. And then I'd encounter gems like this:

If I may venture one suggestion to the May-struck gardener it is this: do not
allow the total space occupied by irises, peonies, roses, poppies,
forget-me-nots, violas, clematis and other glories of late May to occupy more
than 63 percent of the space. Unless, at an absolute maximum, they are allowed
to occupy 76 percent. It is unthinkable that they should in any case hog so much
as 94 percent of the arable area. Usually.
and know that I was listening to a kindred gardening spirit* and read on. Mitchell reminds me, in many ways, of the Scottish gardeners I worked with at Threave. That is mostly, although not unequivocally, a good thing. The book is highly recommended for Molly and any lurkers who garden in the mid-Atlantic region.

Tim Stark is a gardener as opinionated as Henry Mitchell, and perhaps as good a storyteller, but I had problems with Heirloom: Notes from an Accidental Tomato Farmer. I could never figure out just what Stark was trying to do. He might be trying to serve as the Anthony Bourdain (Kitchen Confidential) of the truck farming world, or the Amanda Hesser (Cooking for Mr. Latte). He might be trying to catch the "my parents made me crazy and now I'm a name-dropping foodie" wave or take full advantage of the locavore moment. If he's trying to do those things, he largely failed. I'd far rather read Bourdain, Hesser, Reischl, Pollan or Kingsolver. Still, he's succeeding at something. I read the bulk of the 227 page book in one sitting and while I only left with two concrete thoughts ( 1) I will never be a commercial farmer at any scale and 2) there are now five more restaurants on my fictitious list of the places I must eat at in New York City when I have unlimited money for a food trip there), I enjoyed it far more than that. Maybe I just wanted more about the tomatoes and fewer disjunct but overlapping "This American Life" pieces. I'd like you to read it and tell me your thoughts, but I'm not sending you out to buy it.

I had the feeling that Stark assumed his readers were provincial New Yorkers and he was out to shatter our stereotypes by suggesting that the people who drive tomatoes in from Pennsylvania are people too. A very very different book, Christine Flynn's Hannah and the Hellion suffers from a similar problem. The author of the Silhouette Special Edition from 1998 seems to want to shatter stereotypes of small towns (one can find romance in a small town! not everyone in a small town is nice!) through a story which relies on more stereotypes (in a small town everyone knows everyone and opinions cannot change). Still, it was fun reading for an afternoon and if any of my readers is near a library sale at which they could buy a bag of assorted trash romance for a buck, I'd be grateful as my supply of such pulp is running low.

Stereotyping of the audience seems to be a common problem in my recent reading. The narrator of Sandra Dallas's Buster Midnight's Cafe starts out the book mocking reporters who come to Butte, MT to interview the locals, "then they go back and write us up like we're cuter than a bug in lace pants. Local color, it's called." At the end of the first chapter, when it became clear that Sandra Dallas (who lives in Denver) was going to use a down-homey cuter than a bug in lace pants narrator to add local color to the whole book, even when the narrator mocked the practice, I cast the book aside for a few weeks. I returned to read it quickly and found it overall charming with an interesting unresolved plot twist and an unexpected punch at the ending. I've read several of Dallas's other books (Persian Pickle Club, Alice's Tulips, Diary of Mattie Spencer) and liked them all more, perhaps because of the quilting connection. Still I'd recommend Buster Midnight for my mother, Prairie Quilter, and Lindsey and I'll read Tallgrass someday.

"He think someone might mistake him for a cowboy. But anybody who knows cowboys knows yellow scarves are bad luck," (pg. 5)

*If anyone has digital photos of my peony parties, I would love them. Such an image was supposed to go here, but I appear not to have any.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Lucky Numbers

I don't have lucky numbers.
When a friend posted Lucky 13 about voting 13th at her precinct last week, I totally sympathized about clinging to anything that might assure us that the presidential election would go as we hoped (it did). Her comment, however, reminded me that I haven't addressed lucky numbers at all this year, (super-auspicious August 8 2008 passed without a peep on this blog), because, well, I don't have lucky numbers.
Which is odd, because I have lucky colors, a lucky hat, lucky pre-game and pre-test rituals, a lucky dress and lucky foods. I wrote about lucky coon dongs and certainly don't believe in them, and I can always pick more favored numbers. In much the same way that, while there is only one NFL team I care about, I can, after a quick perusal of the standings, always state which team I want to win any game, I can tell you that I like even numbers over odd (except for 7s in the units place); I'm fond of numbers in the forties; I dislike threes; and primes and squares are somehow dear to me, when I can remember them. If you asked "47 or 63?" I would answer, unequivocally, "47". But do I think that 47 is luckier? Hardly. It's just better.

I'm fond of geeky number coincidences. I turned 19 on the 19th in 1991. I thought it impressive when my group of friends in Scotland turned 23, 29 and 31 in the same year (how often do four people turn three different prime numbers?). I married the Mister on the 9th of July 2005 (9-7-05) which I thought was lucky because I figured he'd be more able to remember our anniversary with such a nice sequence, but he just pointed out that Americans put the month first.

So, I wouldn't apply the word "lucky" to the signing of the Armistice at 11 am on the 11th day of the 11th month 90 years ago*. But it is important. Thanks to all the veterans who may be reading this. Whatever day it is, I'm lucky to live in a country where there are men and women willing to serve.

*And after your two minutes of silence at 11:00 am on 11/11 may the Karneval celebrations begin at 11:11 on 11/11.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

"Better Luck Next Year"

Baseball and gardening share a season and a set of emotions. This year by August I had pretty much given up on both. The Rockies and Royals were bad, the squash beetles had spread whatever disease causes cucumbers and zucchinis to wilt over night, the tomatoes were sickly and the deer had discovered they like chili pepper plants.
September brought renewed excitement. The Cubs really were going to make it to the playoffs. Dill and basil plants were furiously producing new leaves and the okra had started to develop.

For October, I pinned my hopes on some upstarts. The volunteer tomatoes were completely disease free and laden with green tomatoes, and why not support the awful to great underdogs of the Rays?

And then it is was over. There is something very final about the first frost. The green tomatoes were not canned as tasty condiments. The single eggplant from the entire crop dangled unfilled on the plant. The basil was black. The okra plants themselves were too slimy to pull. The World Series ended without a victory for the Rockies, the Cubs, the Royals, or even the Rays. In both cases, it is all over.

Until next year.

Next year there will be peas and spinach and onions galore. We'll plant spring and fall greens. We'll start lots of bulb fennel and shallots and kohlrabi and leeks. We'll improve our defense with a better deer fence. We'll deter the squash beetles by not letting even a single volunteer gourd grow. I'll make pesto over and over again. They'll be so much bounty we'll need to buy a pressure cooker.

The Rockies will pitch better. The Royals will hit better. The Cubs will win some in October. Mom will weep because the Cubs should have done it once while Grandpa was alive. We'll surely have better luck next year. Next year will be the year it all happens.

But then what will we hope for next November?
*Photo of our neighbor's silver maple tree which was pollarded into this back in September.