Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Snot, Socks, and a Book Review

I am at home sick today, having spent the better part of the past 24 hours suffering from ragweed allergies (see picture of ragweed to left- looks innocent enough) and consequently depleting the nation's supply of any paper product that I deemed appropriate for handling the results of repetitive sneezing and sniffling fits. Needless to say, I am feeling a bit better only because I have had little more than green tea with honey and/or elderberry syrup and regular doses of Benadryl for my past three "meals". I tried the less toxic approach to handling my allergies with garlic, stinging nettle, etc, but once I realized any other herbal or synthetic allergy medicine felt like a placebo pill, I turned to Benadryl. Once I get this initial attack under control, I can probably manage the rest of ragweed season without keeping myself in an allergy medicine coma, but for now I am pretty happy to be a little less alert than usual. Before you bust out your violins, and play me a sympathy tune, I will move on to topics that are slightly more interesting to the general public than the state of my nasal passages.

Onward and upward...or downward as the case may be. I did manage to get a couple of things done today. I am almost finished knitting my second sock out of lovely merino yarn in Pippikneesocks' inspirational Jammin' colorway.
They are very similar to the first two pairs of socks I've made, which I used the basic Yankee knitter sock pattern. The only difference with these is I did a beaded rib pattern and kept the pattern going on the foot part of the sock, too. Next up in the sock department, monkey socks out of yarn from Jessie at A Piece of Vermont. I am also determined to finish Robb's socks that I started last winter in time for his upcoming birthday and my basic cardigan out out of the yummy terra yarn from the Fibre Company. I have lots of fall and winter knitting projects roaming around my foggy brain so I figure I ough to finish some of what I have on needles before starting fall/winter projects.

So, in my somewhat delirious state, I have spent most of making waking hours today reading the book Truck: A Love Story by Michael Perry. I read a review of this book in Orion Magazine a while back and have been meaning to track down a copy ever since. My first attempt at purchasing the book failed because I kept thinking the title was simply Red Truck. The only books with the title "red truck" at my local bookstore turned up searches of Richard Scary style board books with pictures of construction equipment for teething toddlers to chew on. Cute, but not something for a 32-year old woman to snuggle up with. I finally thought to look online a couple of week ago and found the book review from Orion Magazine . With the actual name of the book, I was able to go and a copy of my very own. It's a good thing it took me so long to find out the actual title because it just came out in paperback.
So, now for my review. This book, a humorous memoir/biography, reminded me of everything I love about David Sedaris and Ira Glass with a lot more grease and pig shit to satisfy the country girl in me. Perry is a great storyteller, an art not to be underestimated in a climate such as northern Wisconsin that he calls home, where long winters require people to entertain themselves in more creative ways than laser tag. Surely, video games and TVs have made it to these parts, just as they have to Vermont, but luckily for the reader that is not how Perry spends his days. The book parallels two stories in Perry's life: the first, his restoration of his 1951 International Harvester pick up truck; the second, his emerging love affair with a woman he meets at during a reading at the local library. I don't want to give away the story, but let it be said that the pleasant surprises and challenges of love and automobile repair make for a numerous surprising metaphors and several belly laughs. I enjoyed this book so much that I am going to pick up his other book Population: 485 next as soon as I get a chance. I recommend you do the same.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Grace Paley's Colorful Life

I opened up the Times Argus webpage today to see the breaking headline, "Writer and Peace Activist Grace Paley Dies at 84". I had heard the name Grace Paley throughout my childhood. I grew up often surrounded by the children of immigrant Jews who shared Paley's left-leaning politics and passion for learning. While I am only half Jewish and do not "practice" in the traditional sense, I have always felt more connected culturally to my Jewish heritage. I feel most relaxed at a table filled with piles of food and the sound of vibrant debate and discussion around topics ranging from poetry to politics. Reading Grace Paley's obituary, I realized that I have a role model that I didn't realize I had. The description of her life and the words shared in the article felt like home to me. One of the Paley's quotes in the article describes so much of what I connect with in the Jewish culture.

"I thought being Jewish meant you were a Socialist," Paley said. "Everyone on my block was a Socialist or a Communist. ... People would have serious, insane arguments, and it was nice. It makes you think the rest of the world is pretty bland."

I always find it peculiar when people stereotype Jews as wealthy or entitled because the screaming socialists is what I was always familiar with. Paley took her exposure to "insane arguments" and applied it to her political activism throughout her life. In the obituary by AP writer Hillel Italie that appeared in the Times Argus, Italie describes a passionate and intelligent woman who was not afraid to put herself on the line for a cause that she believed in.

At the same time, Paley was a self-described "combative pacifist" who joined the War Resisters League in the '60s and visited Hanoi on a peace mission. She was arrested in 1978 during an anti-nuclear protest on the White House lawn and for years could be found every Saturday passing out protest leaflets on a street corner near her New York apartment.

I am very aware that were it not for women like Grace Paley protesting on the White House lawn in 1978 (I was 3 years old or I would have been there), women like myself might not have the freedom to voice our beliefs and pursue our dreams with a fraction of the obstacles that she faced.

Lastly, here is another quote from Paley's obituary about her strong sense of hope, something that us lefty activist could all use a little bit of in this very depressing political climate.

"I happened to like the '60s a lot. I thought great things were happening then and I was glad my children were part of that generation. As an older person in the peace movement, I learned a lot from it. I mean I learned a LOT," Paley said.

"So, I don't know where things went wrong, except, whatever happens in society, the society corrupts, eats up and takes over. ... But at the same time there's always this really small little hill of hope that's right in the middle of this. You see people from that period doing wonderful things, all the things they meant to do."

May Grace Paley's colorful life be an inspiration to all of us who try to make a difference and fight for peace in an often uncompassionate and violent world. Mazel Tov on a life well-lived.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Radiant Red

Keeping with the theme of color that I seem to have inadvertently started in my recent posts, the past few days have been colored red. No, I have not started a communist revolution. I've been canning tomatoes...lots of them. This is something I have been meaning to do for years, but my reading of Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle coupled with my involvement with the Central Vermont Localvores, has moved thought to action. So, this past Saturday, I went to the Farmer's Market and bought two flats of tomatoes from Cate Farm. That is about 25 pounds of tomatoes. Aren't they beautiful? It's amazing to think that on the same land that was covered in snow and frozen solid in March, sprung these gorgeous tomatoes. Now, if I were to really be canning enough food for the winter, these two flats wouldn't just barely scrap the surface of the amount of food needed to ensure that my family didn't starve (or have to eat parsnip soup for 4 months).

After spending a day admiring my tomatoes, I was ready to get to work. First, I of course washed the tomatoes. They are organic, but all of the information that I read about canning gave very strict directions about washing and/or sterilizing pretty much everything involved in the preserving process.
After washing, it was time to get the thin skin off each and every tomato. In order to do this, you bring a big pot of water to a boil, drop the tomatoes in for 30-60 seconds, lift them out and drop them in cold water, and get ready for peeling fun. The tomatoes skin pretty much starts peeling on its own during the boiling/cooling process. The skin then just comes right off with very little effort.
Peeling skin off tomatoes reminds me of a gross hobby I had in grade school that entailed me covering my hands in elmers glue, letting it dry, and then peeling it off. The art teacher did not like this hobby, but it was simply addictive.
OK, back to canning or pre-canning. After peeling all the tomatoes, removing the stem and core, and slicing them in halves and quarters, my kitchen table looked like a tomato shrine.

Now it was time to make the sauce. I threw a little water in a saucepan (do not use oil for sauce if you are canning!). Then, added onions, tomatoes, dried oregano, dried basil, and garlic powder. I went with simple because I figured I could always add other veggies or spices when I am ready to use the sauce. Then I let it simmer for 2 hours. I know what you're thinking, 2 hours is a long time to watch a tomatoes simmer. During this 2 hours, however, there is other work to be done.
I sterilized all the jars and lids in bath of boilin water. Isn't that picture cool? Kind of spooky, huh? You should do this shortly before your sauce or tomatoes are ready because you will want the jars to be hot when you fill them with sauce.
It is almost time to actually put the tomatoes in the can. Before putting the sauce in, ADD 2 TABLESPOONS OF LEMON JUICE PER QUART. This is very important because it prevents spoilage. OK, it's time. Put the sauce in the jar, screw on the lid, place the jars in the big ass pot of boiling water, and put the lid on. The time that you need to leave the jars in boiling water or process varies depending on the state of the tomatoes you are canning (sauce, halves, etc.) and the your altitude. To find out how long to process your sauce and more information on canning tomatoes, I found this site and this site very useful.

So, after all this work, I have six quarts of yummy local organic tomato sauce that I can dig into on a cole winter's night. There is nothing efficient about the canning process, but like knitting, I enjoyed the process. Also, in a time when so much of our work is removed from basic survival, it is a pleasure to actually take a few steps other than taking out my debit card to feed myself. Plus, if you think this sauce looks good now, imagine how good it will look when our yard looks like this. Sorry for the reality check, but that winter thing is why people preserve food.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Bravo for Blue...

Maybe it's the hint of fall that has been in the air for the past 4 days or so that is making me really appreciate all the colors around me, especially the ones that start to dwindle as the temperature drops. Blue is one of those colors that I always associate with long summer days...water, sky, windshield washer fluid (just wanted to see if you were paying attention). Last weekend, Robb and I
took advantage of the bike ferry that connects Colchester, VT and South Hero, VT (one of the islands in Lake Champlain). We biked 14 miles round trip! Much of the time we had views of beautiful blue skies and twinkling waters. We also stopped for Maple Creamies, a Vermont summer must-have treat at a little "farmstand" in South Hero. The place where we got the creamies had a petting zoo with two very friendly donkeys who didn't seem to mind me standing next to tham and making an "ass" joke.
In honor of all the blue of summer skies and waters, I am making a simple lace pattern scarf out Handmaiden sea silk yarn. The colorway is ocean. If you have heard about this luscious yarn and are still debating whether it's really worth it, IT IS! It is soft, shimmery, and extremely easy to knit with. Oh, and the color! Look at those shades of blue. If you can't go to the ocean, try knitting it. It's almost as good.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Ode to Orange

I didn't used to like the color orange, but then about ten years ago I tasted my first sun gold tomato. If you have not tried these tasty little suckers, I strongly recommend that you go to your nearest farmer's market, grocery store, or neighbor's garden (don't tell them I sent you) to get yourself a handful. They are sweet, but not bag o' skittles sweet. They are sublimely sweet. Did I mention that I grew these in pots? So, if you don't have a piece of land to till, you can still grow your own orange beauties. You won't be disappointed and you might even realize that you like the color orange.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Ella's Summertime Adventures

This summer I, Ella T. Dogg, have had many adventures. The three best adventures have been camping in Maine (this was first time sleeping in a tent), fleeing the country (I escaped to Canada for a short time), and a big dog party in the Northeast Kingdom. This first picture is me in the tent snuggled in between my two favorite two-leggers. Although I like the wierd house thing that my pet humans live in, I always feel happier outside so I really enjoyed being inside, yet outside at the same time.

After camping in Maine, we took our mobile futon onto this huge boat to get from Maine to Nova Scotia. I had to stay in the mobile futon for the whole boat ride, which was really lame because I was hoping to see some whales. After I got over my disappointment about not being able to watch for whales, I decided to just fall asleep. Apparently, I was better off sleeping. My mommy (aka Sarah) got sea sick and was hanging out on the deck puking for most of the ride. When we got off the boat, we were in another country...Canada. "Freedom!" I thought to myself. I started wagging my tail and my mind was filled with a nation that did not discriminate against canines. It turns out they still discriminate against canines in Canada- I was not welcome in restaurants, museums, stores, and other human establishments, but I did have plenty of other adventures in the always canine-friendly outdoors. We went for a walk along the bay of funny...I mean Fundy. We saw the bay of Fundy from the Nova Scoti side (see the picture above) and the New Brunswick side (see picture of Super Ella in New Brunswick, Canada to the right). Apparently, seeing the same thing from different sides is called perspective. Humans could use a little of that perspective stuff.
My Most recent summer adventure was a visit to Dog Mountain in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. We went for a dog party and wow, was it a party! There were lots of treats, but more importantly there were lots of dogs to play with. I love playing with other dogs, especially chasing them and I had plenty of time to do just that. I found another dog to play with that was almost as fast as me so we ran around in circles as other dogs and humans looked on in amazement at our speed. Then , we went to play with the other throngs of dogs roaming around Dog Mountain. I knew about Dog Mountain already from some of Stephen Huneck's books that I have about Sally (the dog). I even got a new book about Sally's adventures, called Sally Goes to the Farm, signed by Stephen himself. I guess some two-leggers are OK. After all, look at all the adventures my two pet humans took me on this summer.