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June 2006

Real Food

Yesterday, Breakfast with Pandora had a paean to strawberries, titled, The reason we are alive:

It has been a long, slogging, swamp-gas sniffing school year, and now that it is finally in its last hideous stages, I have come to wisdom and finally realized the reason we are alive:

Strawberries.

I have been making do on store-bought strawberries ever since the season came in, because I had not the time or the energy to get to the Farmers' Market or to a pick-your-own patch.

Store-bought strawberries, from California, Florida, or God knows where, taste like a cutting board that has been lightly rinsed after playing host to the nubbly skins of real, local, sweet strawberries. There is that whiff of some ambrosial memory, but mostly what you taste is wood and water.

Store-bought are so inferior to the real thing that it is an act of neurotic self-punishment to eat them after you have experienced the real.

I would characterize store-bought strawberries slightly different, say, as pieces of bumpy styrofoam with a vaguely strawberryish air about them, but, overall, I agree with Breakfast.  In fact, I would also extend this to store-bought blueberries and apples.  They're better than nothing, although I'm not even sure of this in the case of strawberries.  But they are only a pale copy of the real strawberry or blueberry or apple.  Preferable picked and eaten straight off the tree or bush - more flavorful for being warmed by the sun.  And they're even better if you've been hiking for a few miles and they're wild!

My favorite place to hike for strawberries is Rock Castle Gorge (in the Rocky Knob area) on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.  If you hike there, take the trail to the right (as you're looking towards the gorge).  In the second or third meadow you cross (you'll be heading slightly downhill at this point), you'll find wild strawberries if you hike in June.  I don't think it's the meadow that the bull is usually in; it's either the one before or after his.  The bull was okay as long as you stayed well away from his cows.  But it's been a number of years since we've been there so there's probably been a change in bulls.

Shngrockartloeb_1For blueberries, we have a few different favorite hikes.  One is in the Shining Rock Wilderness  Area southwest of Asheville, NC.  We backpacked there with my sister years ago.  It poured one afternoon, and the next morning was foggy.  We hiked for awhile and made breakfast just a little ways off of the trail (in this area, the heaths (low growing dense bushes) did not let you get far off the trail).  We made blueberry pancakes with the berries we had picked the day before.  As we were eating, a troop of soggy, backpacking, boy scouts appeared out of the fog.  They looked longingly at our pancakes. 

MtmitchellcommMount Mitchell also has wild blueberries on the Commissary Road Trail which runs along the side of the mountain (pictured to the right).  Last fall, older son and I kept falling behind everyone else while looking to find any berries that had been overlooked.  We thought we were lucky to find a handful of berries, then we met hikers heading back who had a plastic bag full!  Some of the trails on Grandfather Mountain (in Western NC near Boone) also have blueberries as does the Cabin Creek Trail in western Virginia's Grayson Highlands Park (if you go, be careful with those who get carsick!).

There are old apple trees in various places next to the Blue Ridge Parkway in NC.  To us, generally the older, smaller and more gnarly the apple, the more flavorful it is.  This seems to be true for blueberries and strawberries too - the smaller the fruit, the more flavorful it is.  Huge slabs of fruit seem almost tasteless.

The blueberries and strawberries in our own yard are, of course, also wonderful.  This year, however, the blueberries are falling off of the domestic blueberry bush before they ripen.  We haven't figured out why.  We also have a wild bush that grows next to the stairs going down the side of the back yard.  Those are teeny and flavorful!

P5310128And then there are my strawberries.  We've had these since before our older son was born.  They came in a "plant in a bag" set - basically a plastic bag with potting soil and seeds.  They're ever-bearing strawberries - closely related to the wild strawberries rather than the domestic.  They eventually outgrew their bag, and we've been planting and dividing them since.  They have a few strawberries at a time throughout the growing season.  Again, the fruit is tiny (the one at the right is a little less than half an inch long), but they taste wonderful!  The happiest plant is the one that has its own large pot on the deck and gets watered from the rain barrel every day or two.  Unfortunately, the adolescent squirrels have found them.  I watched one squirrel today just sit under the pot, pull strawberries off and eat them.  That's why the picture to the right is not of the deck plant!

One more thing about real food (you know, I never made a promise to keep my posting length under control like some bloggers do)(and I never will!):  ...slowly she turned (in Greensboro, NC) has been writing about her adventures with the Eat Local Challenge - which, for her, means eating

...food produced within 100 miles as much as possible, then extend the range to food raised, produced, or caught in North Carolina, South Carolina, or Virginia.

This gets particularly difficult while eating out! I tried to pick out a few posts in particular, but they're all interesting and many are mouth-watering.  She mentions strawberries and the Greensboro Farmer's Market (a major factor in this attempt) in ELC Day Twenty-Seven .

All of this makes me look forward to our local farmer's market this Saturday!  Along with produce (and plants) we've been getting fresh eggs and homemade rye bread.  Last time we also bought some homemade, garlic and spices, goat cheese which went well on the homemade baguette we bought.

 


Gardening - May 29, 2006

A few recent pictures:

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It's summer when the lilies start blooming.  At least we had a nice cool spring - the temperature didn't start regularly hitting the upper 80's until last week (and were we miserable!).  At least it still cools off in the evening.  Even that will be gone by July.







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Our foxgloves reseeded themselves in one of the beds last year, blessing us with lots of healthy plants.  We moved those to various beds, and here are the two that I can see best from the computer. 






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When I bought these last year, I thought they looked like little petunias.  But they're not, they're a Calibrachoa called "Million Bells."  Unlike petunias, they're a tender perennial, and it seems that our winter last year was mild enough for them to make it through.  We were so pleased!


Blogging/ "Unworthy" - Cheryl Wheeler

I've been absent.  Well, I've been on the computer, but I'd almost forgotten I had a blog. 

The various stress related health problems that I get occasionally - I've got pretty much all of them at the same time.  Plus insomnia.  After being dizzy driving to aerobics, and then being dizzy all the way through aerobics one morning last week, I realized that I needed to change things.  Dear husband had been telling me that for half a week already, but I thought that I was just being lazy and needed to work harder.  Except the harder I tried, the more problems I was having!

So... I'm taking June off - from homeschooling, from work (I work part-time in the evenings so this isn't as drastic as it sounds) - just to rejuvenate and calm down.  We even ended up cancelling our usual vacation to go see my sister and her family in Pennsylvania (that was the hardest thing to change!).  While we always enjoy visiting, the packing and travelling aren't going to help me rest. 

However, in order to get ready for this month off (seems so decadent!), I've been trying to get my work to a good stopping point - which has left me no time for blogging.  And, when I've got insomnia (which makes me cranky), you wouldn't want to read what I'd write anyway!

I will quick post 3 garden photos, though. 

You know how sometimes a writer will write a song, and you think that they've been inside your head or reading your mind?  This song has gone well with my mood lately (from Cheryl Wheeler's CD, Sylvia Hotel)(comments in brackets are mine!)

Unworthy
I'm unworthy, and no matter what I'm doing,
I should certainly be doing something else.  [That's me!]
And it's selfish to be thinking I'm unworthy,
all this me, me, me, me, self, self, self, self, self.  [and I worry about this too!]
If I'm talking on the phone I should be working on the lawn
which looks disgraceful from the things I haven't done.
If I'm working on the lawn I should be concentrating on
those magazines inside, since I have not read one. [the pile is about a foot high now]

I should learn how to meditate and sew and bake
and dance and paint and sail and make gazpacho
I should turn my attention to repairing
all those forty year old socks there in that bureau.  [I got rid of the old socks when younger son was born]
I should let someone teach me to run Windows,
and learn French that I can read and write and speak.
I should get life in prison for how I treated my parents
from third grade until last week.

I should spend more time playing with my dog [cats]
and much less money on this needless junk I buy.
I should send correspondence back to everyone
who's written, phoned or faxed since junior high.  [e-mail piling up]

I should sit with a therapist until I understand
the way I felt back in my mom.
I should quit smoking, drinking, eating, thinking
sleeping, watching TV, writing stupid songs.

I should be less impatient when the line just takes forever
'cause the two cashiers are talking.
I should see what it's like to get up really early
rain or shine and spend three hours walking. [I always should exercise more!]

I should know CPR and deep massage and Braille
and sign language  and how to change my oil.
I should go where the situation's desperate
and build and paint and trudge and tote and toil. [I feel I should do this too - with 3 kids?!]

I should chant in impossible positions
till my legs appear to not have any bones.  [someday I'll get to yoga]
I should rant at the cops and politicians
and the corporations-in indignant tones.  [I'll let other blogs do that]

I should save lots of money to leave Audubon,
plus all the rocks and animals and plants.
I should brave possibilities for plotting plums of problems
prob'ly blossomed, plausibly from

blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah
blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah I'm unworthy.

Here's the story behind the song.  And of course, you should go listen to it.


Lordi

I turned the sound up on the computer speaker.  As the heavy metal music blared out, I could hear my older son turn around behind me.  When I turned around, he definitely had a questioning look on his face.  "Toni Sant's Blog describes them as 'similar in style to the most outlandish aspects of acts like Kiss and Alice Cooper.'  They won the Eurovision song contest this year," I explained, "The first time a Finnish group has ever won!"

If you look at Lordi's website, you can see that , with the Halloween makeup and theatrics, they aren't the sort of group that I'd expect to like.  But, I did have a few Kiss and Alice Cooper records many years ago (long gone in a yard sale) - and the song Lordi won for, "Hard Rock Hallelujah," (which you can listen to at Lordi's Myspace page), isn't half bad for heavy metal.  It's got a decent melody (when it's got one), and I'm not paying attention to the words anyway (Though I'm sure that they'd be horrified to hear this opinion from a homeschooling mother/classical musician in her mid-40's!). 

The Eurovision Song Contest, doesn't get much notice here.  I wouldn't know anything about it either, except that, while we were visiting relatives in Sweden in 1974, my cousin told me all about the Song Contest and the Swedish group that won that year - ABBA, for "Waterloo." 

The Song Contest is hosted by a different nation every year.  Each country chooses and artist and a song to represent them.  The songs are all performed live on the Eurovision network, and viewers call in to vote for the best one (they can't vote for their own country's entry).  The top ten songs in each country get a certain number of points, and the song with the most points wins.  The winning country hosts the Contest the next year (Information from the Wikipedia, which also has a good article on Lordi).

Slate has an interesting article, "America, Meet the Eurovision Song Contest," about this year's Contest in general.  YLE also has a good article, "Eurovision Laulukilpailu" (don't worry, it's in English), about  Lordi and "Hard Rock Hallelujah" (Interestingly, they're originally from Lapland).  And a fugly blog (fugly, I think, is a combination of fashion and ugly), has a very funny post on the Song Contest, "Fugovision Song Contest."  The post prominently features Lordi, including Finland's response (four different versions of "Hard Rock Hallelujah" are on Finland's ITunes top 10):

I absolutely cherish the idea that the Finnish people want the world to see five huge guys dressed up as punk Skeletors and think, "Oh, man, that is so Finland."

The post is definitely worth reading, and it has a great picture of the band accepting their award.

 

LordiI wasn't going to add a picture to this one, but I couldn't resist.  Their "MySpace" page had the usual banner ad - which, this time, was for a skin cleanser.  The ad read, "So, if you have skin that's itchy, red and dry, you may have eczema..."   And, here's a picture of the group in costume.

It would take a lot of skin cleanser...


Gardening - May 19, 2006

We've had an unusual, but wonderful, spell of cool weather the last few weeks.  It's been in the 60's and 70's - ideal weather for me.  It's usually in the mid-80's by this time of year, and we're supposed to get that next week.  I've been spending as much time in the garden as I possibly can (fit in around work, ballet rehearsals for my daughter's recital this Sunday, and regular life).  Here are some highlights.

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My mountain laurel.  They don't commonly grow in this part of North Carolina, though there is a wild grove of them on the north side of Occoneechee Mountain in Hillsborough.  This one is planted in the shade, but I'm still surprised at how well it does.  It gets babied!  And it gets as much water as it wants.  Since he knows it's my favorite bush, younger son waters it also to help out.








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                         The light blue stalk of flowers to the right of center is my delphinium [Note:  most of the plants in the garden are ours.  But the mountain laurel and delphinium are my particular obsessions joys].  The delphinium is also not supposed to grow here.  And it won't.  Although it is a perennial in cooler, less humid climes, it will die in our heat and humidity by mid-July.  Putting it in the shade doesn't help.  It's cooler there, but even more humid.  So, every spring, I buy a new delphinium, plant it, enjoy it, and try not to be upset when it follows its natural (in central NC) course.  This is the part of the gardens that I see out the window from the computer, and this year I planted the delphinium at center stage.   The pansies, snapdragons and columbines are also pleasing.

 

P5110031

About three years ago, we planted this azalea in the flower bed at the back of the backyard.  It hasn't grown nearly as fast as the other azaleas that we have, and I used to wonder if we just had it in the wrong place.  It leafs out and blooms late in the spring, and, last year, dear husband wondered if it was going to come back at all. 

But it does grow a bit every year, and blooms a bit more.  This is the best blooms its had so far.  I don't think I'll endanger it by moving it.



Ray's Weather Forecast mentions that it's been so cool in the NC mountains that some mountaintops got snowflakes yesterday.  We enjoyed some of that cool weather in the mountains last weekend (pictures to be posted eventually).  If you read this today (Friday , May 29, 2006), you should go to Ray's Weather Center and look at the really cute toad-in-a-clematis picture there.  He changes the picture every day so it will be gone by Saturday (unfortunately, there are no archives online for the daily pictures). 


"Are We There Yet?" by James Stevenson and Air Bags

I was reading to my younger son last night some books by one of his current favorite picture book authors, James Stevenson.  We were reading "Are We There Yet?" about a typical (comic) trip to the beach for two young boys.  At one point, they were arguing over who got to sit in the front seat, and younger son looked at me, horrified:  "They're going to sit in the front seat?  How can they do that?!"  I realized that, for all of his seven years, children have been forbidden to sit in the front seat.  He doesn't know anything else.  So I explained to him about air bags and the effect that they can have on children, and that they haven't been around that long (at least not that long to me!).

My daughter says she remembers being grumpy about not being able to sit in the front seat anymore. 


Christian Themes in Rent

 

Rent2_1Rent? The PG-13 musical about the people who won’t pay their rent? Who break into the building when they’re locked out? Some of whom are drug-addicted (or formerly drug-addicted)? With all that language? A main character who works as an exotic dancer? And most of the rest of the characters have no obvious gainful employment? Many would also have difficulty with the characters who are gay, lesbian and transvestite. The most dysfunctional couple is the straight one (though the lesbian couple is a close second at times). The musical with lines like: “I didn’t recognize you without the handcuffs,” or “There will always be women in rubber flirting with me!” National Review Online hated it (though I can’t find the link).

It’s definitely a PG-13 musical. I probably wouldn’t even have watched it with my 14 year old daughter a year ago. And there are scenes that make me awkward to watch with my older children (younger son had to play upstairs), along with things we had to explain.

But, the more I thought about the musical, the more I saw. And, as I mentioned in my previous post about Rent, when I get a new musical, I become totally absorbed in it. I’ve had the music going through my head for weeks now.

[Note: Usual spoiler alert. I’ll be writing about the plot so if you haven’t seen it and don’t want it given away, don’t read any further]

Rent is not an easy musical. Characters waste away and die of AIDS (which is almost a character in itself). Most of the major characters have AIDS. Mimi goes through withdrawal and, later, almost dies. Mark and Roger seem as if they’ll never achieve what they aim for in their art. Roger is bitterTangomaureen_2 and closed up. His former lover committed suicide after they both were diagnosed with AIDS, and he’s just finished rehab himself. Collins loses Angel. Joanne, in many ways the most “normal” of the group, is in love with Maureen (a self-absorbed, performance artist diva). This situation is so difficult that Joanne and Mark sing a song, “The Tango Maureen” (to the right), about being in love with Maureen (“As she leaves you dangling, Your heart she is mangling”). And there’s always the rent they can’t pay, and the money they don’t have.

But, what money they do have, they share – like the first Christians in the Book of Acts. When someone gets money (okay, legally or illegally), they buy dinner for the others, pay rent, and help the others out. That’s part of their anger at Benny, the owner of the building. Not did he betray their group by demanding back rent when he had said, a year ago, that they could live there rent-free, but also because he (a former roommate and member of their group) wants to make money off of them. He has money now, and, rather than help the others, like they all do, he just considers them a source of income. He’s betrayed them – betrayed their community.

The characters in Rent live from day to day, both in that they have little money to rely on and in that most of them have AIDS so they know that their days are limited. A recurring song in the movie is “No Day But Today”:

There is no future.   There is no past.
Thank God this Moment's not the last.
There's only us.  There's only this.
Forget regret or life is yours to miss.
No other road. No other way.
No day but today.
There's only now.  There's only here.
Give in to love or live in fear.
No other path.  No other way.
No day like today.

“Consider the lilies of the field, they neither toil nor spin. Yet I tell you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these…Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:28-29, 34) Because of their situation, they must live day to day, thinking not of tomorrow.

“Love…bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13: 4, 7) Roger is bitter and angry and doesn’t want to get into a relationship with anyone, especially someone who, like Mimi, is a drug addict. Mimi has fallen in love with him, however, and keeps trying to start, and keep, a relationship with him. When he sings that he’s got baggage, she replies, “I’ve got baggage too, I’m looking for baggage that goes with mine.” He is not easy to love, but she keeps on trying.

In the song, "Rent," Roger sings, “Your own blood cells betray” which is the case for Mimi, Roger, Collins, and Angel who have AIDS. Collins and Angel go to an AIDS support group, which sings:

Will I lose my dignity
Will someone care
Will I wake tomorrow
From this nightmare

The second time they sing it, some of the characters gradually vanish from the scene.

“I was sick, and you visited me.” (Matthew 25: 36) In the second half of the movie, Angel is in the hospital dying of AIDS, and her friends come to help and comfort her. They lovingly paint her nails when she’s lying in the hospital hooked up to machines. They are trying, as much as they can, to help her keep her dignity.

Although she is a recent addition to their community, Angel, in many ways, helps to keep that community together, and the going gets rocky after she dies. Her introduction is reminiscent of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, where the Samaritan helps the man beaten by robbers after others pass him by. At the beginning of the movie, Collins is beaten up and robbed. Angel comes upon him in an alley, bruised and sick, and cares for him and cleans him up. It would be easy for Angel to pass him by, especially since helping him meant going into the dark and possibly dangerous alley.

At the end, their community has fractured and then come back again. Maureen and Joanne have reunited, and Roger has moved back from Santa Fe, but they are unable to find Mimi. They put up notices and persistently search the city (like the woman in the parable who, having lost a coin, does not rest until she finds it) – in Mark’s words, “Being an us instead of a them…La Vie Boheme” When they do find her, near death, they pull together to take care of her.

At the beginning of the musical, in the song, "Rent," Roger and Mark sing:

How can you connect in an age
Where strangers, landlords, lovers
Your own blood cells betray
What binds the fabric together Rent4
When the raging, shifting winds of change
Keep ripping away

 

What binds them together, and takes care of all of them throughout the musical, is their community. Their friendship. The way they work together, care and share. It’s what they had at the beginning, and what they have left at the end.

I googled “Rent” “Musical” and “Christian” just to see what I came up with. Most of the objections that some Christians had to Rent are included in the first paragraph, but there was one further objection that I found - that the good parts of Rent would seduce people into accepting alternate lifestyles. My lifestyle is pretty unchanging.

I find a different danger for myself – that, despite my recent experiences with churches, Rent may seduce me into believing in community again.   

 


Memories of Stan Rogers - Geist Magazine

As I've mentioned before, Stan Rogers is one of my all-time favorite musicians.  This evening, I found a wonderful Stan Rogers page at Geist:  Canadian Ideas, Canadian Culture.  The magazine asked readers to send in memories of Stan Rogers and his music.  More than 500 people have written in, and you can read some of their responses here.  Many of them wrote about the song "Barrett's Privateers" (from Fogarty's Cove); here's one story:

I'm sure I'm one of thousands of once expatriated Canadians with a "Barrett's Privateers" story. The first time I even heard of Stan Rogers was in 1980 in the small African town of Siteki, Swaziland. We were a group of young volunteer teachers with WUSC (World University Service of Canada) gathered together after long dusty bus rides for a weekend party. After many bottles of local beer and very cheap, very good South African wine. some of us were starting to get weepy and homesick. Things picked up when a couple of Martimers got up to do a two-step while the crowd sang a rousing version of "Farewell toNova Scotia", but we became spellbound when Stu from Whitehorse, Jane from Glace Bay and Glenda from Halifax began a stirring round of "Barretts Privateers". Of course, we all joined in to shout the chorus whether we knew all the words or not and ended with a huge drunken group hug, leaving our Swazi friends a bit bemused. To this day when I hear the song, ! along with pirates and sailing ships, I think of Swazi beer, geckos on the ceiling and the warm African night with special friends from my youth.
—Julie Holder