Friday, November 20, 2009

becoming my great-grandmother?

I've been confronting a problem that no one in my family (I'm guessing) has discussed for generations: root cellars. I do bet that Ida Augerson in Soperville, Illinois, had one. But that was a loooong time ago!

What to do with the September/October bounty that overflows during the last few weeks of the farmers' market? I can't bear to just not buy it. So I've been asking everyone how to build a mini-rootcellar. An experiment, for this year, so something perhaps best suited to someone who lives on the 17th floor on 42nd Street in New York City!

And thanks to some website, I got an idea. Peat moss. That what they recommended, so I got some. And I made a little vegetable hotel. Remember, this is small scale. I put it in the garage, which is cooler than the basement but rarely freezes. So fa
r so good, though I see a little sprout coming up from an onion already. I just wanted y'all to see it, and if it does well, fine. If I soon have squashed
squash and smelly potatoes - then I'll admit it and try
something else next year. This is it:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Thinking about fall, even at the zoo

The red twig dogwood bush and a rainbow tree

November, when I picture it, is harsh and angular, colored gray and dull brown, with a chance of rain. It follows October, of course, a round, full month overflowing with red, orange and

yellow, especially orange. Is this because of the “N” in

November, which doesn’t hold a candle to the “O’s” in October

and orange, when it comes to warmth and coziness?

I spent two hours outdoors today, waving confused people toward a drive-through electronics recycling event, on a classic November day. Trees bare, except for one with little bunches of rattling brown leftovers; gray sky that only spit at us, offering to let the sun through and then reneging at the last minute. I was too cold for comfort. Yet, being alone with several kind of flora that were taking a break from being growing things, I got to see a lot that I liked. In this part of the suburbs some prairie grasses have miraculously survived, and they were reddish if you looked at them just right. That reminded me of my red-twig dogwood bushes at home, which are more beautiful now without the distraction of leaves.

This seems to be one of my tasks, living in the Midwest - to relish everything I can about fall and winter, not just because the promise of spring is lurking under the soil, but because they are fall and winter!

This is the last winter when I’ll be in my sixties, and somehow the seventies sound a little more autumnal. Of course, when I hit seventy, maybe it’ll only be the eighties and on up that sound like that, and the seventies will be, if fallish at all, then more Octoberish, with bright colors and abundance.

Here's a very accepting look at the season:

Autumn Song of Fearlessness

I am surrounded by a peaceful ebbing,

as creation bows to the mystery of life;

all that grows and lives must give up life,

yet it does not really die.

As plants surrender their life,

bending, brown and wrinkles,

and yellow leaves of trees

float to my lawn like parachute troops,

they do so in a sea of serenity.

I hear no fearful cries from creation,

no screams of terror,

as death daily devours

once-green and growing life.

Peaceful and calm is autumn’s swan song,

for she understands

that hidden in winter’s death-grip

is spring’s openhanded,

full-brimmed breath of life.

It is not a death rattle that sounds

over fields and backyard fences;

rather I hear a lullaby

softly swaying upon the autumn wind.

Sleep in peace, all that lives;

slumber secure, all that is dying,

for in every fall there is the rise

whose sister’s name is spring.

Ed Hays, Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim

Thanks to Rose-Therese, who read that poem at the last SSC meeting.

And here's a more light-hearted approach to autumn, seen on pumpkin day at the zoo:

Thursday, August 20, 2009

two of my great-grandparents

So much to do, so little time (okay, a cliche, but it's true. I thought that during my captive time with Echo during dialysis I could do lots of useful things, like getting back to genealogy. As it happens, that time flies by. But the other day I got to thinking about not having picture of my grandmother as a girl, and looking for names of likely relatives got me curious again. So let me introduce two relatives from a side of the family that no one that I knew was interested in: the Henry's.

This is John William Henry, not a prepossessing looking lad, I admit, on the day he was wedded to Caroline (Lena) Anderson, who was 19 years old and recently arrived from Sweden. As far as I can tell from the dates, at this time (May 20, 1886) my grandmother, Stella Mae, was already on the way. She was to be the oldest of eight, a situation she wouldn't have chosen. Please, Grandma, forgive me for telling this - in 2009 it's not a shocking thing to say.

John Henry apparently struggled to provide for his rapidly growing family; he was said to be a good woodworker, but apparently jobs like that weren't plentiful. He may have come to Illinois from Iowa to be a miner, but to my grandmother's everlasting shame, he eventually settled on bartending. At 48 he died of pneumonia, leaving Lena (and the older kids) with this unruly brood to raise.

At the time John Henry died, my grandmother had finished the required one year of teacher training at John Knox College and was the only teacher in a one-room school, dealing reluctantly with boys who were bigger than she was, tougher, and almost as old. She hated it.

No wonder that she was attracted to my grandfather, also an oldest child, who didn't get on with his father and was probably already making plans to move west. He was also tall and handsome and was known to run his horses fast. Perhaps she knew, perhaps she didn't, how much like her father my grandfather was going to be. I think that on both sides there was a long line of creative men who didn't have a way to fit into the culture they were living in, and that included both of them. My dad could have been one of them; it's been good fortune for us all that he was able to find and explore his gift for art.

By the way, for you who are Augerson-family-savvy - less than two months after John William Henry died, Elisabeth Roblee (Betty) was born. And life goes on.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Yellow Yard Yet Again

Am I obsessed with yellow in my yard? Perhaps, but look at this giant plant; it loves it here! What you have to imagine is that every so often a vivid goldfinch sits on a post just over my squash plants and then flits colorfully around the yard. Much too fast for a photo; just a streak of yellow. Oh, and don't forget to imagine the sound of some twenty or thirty bees smacking their little bee lips at whatever this generous plant offers them in its yellow blossoms.

Friday, August 7, 2009

My Yellow Yard

I tried to arrange everything artistically, but blogspot seems to want to do its own thing. So I spared you the commentary and just gave you a jumble of the yellow in my back yard. The

coneflowers, reading for the sun; the precious first and second lemon squashes (they don't taste like lemons, just look alike), the first squash in the pan, and the exuberant cup plant, which has reached some ten feet and think they're a prairie all by itself. The bees think so too. My poor little garden was a slow starter, so every success in it is very sweet.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I am not my grandmother

My grandmother never went to the farmer's market and deliberately picked a bunch of leaves she's never tried before, from an African refugee woman selling fresh vegetables that she grew to augment her family's meager income.
Grandma never had the chance to do that. She cooked the familiar vegetables that the people in the neighborhood, mostly Midwest transplants, grew. In fact, my mother was the salad person; I don't remember Grandma ever making salad unless it was wedges of iceberg lettuce.
Anyway, this is a far cry from iceberg. It's purslane, and I recently planted a couple of little plants of it in pots on my deck, liking the cheery yellow flowers. But edible? I only found this out today. Now I've interrupted the laborious task of removing leaf after leaf, in order to write.

Grandma did lots of laborious things, darning Grandpa's socks (I wish I had her well-worn

wooden darning egg!), plucking chickens, sorting berries...tasks that she didn't choose but seemed to accept as just another part of life. I don't have to prepare purslane; I do it because I want to try another taste, to prove that Americans will buy something new, and somehow because it's a part of a more down-to-earth approach to consuming. Taking what's near at hand and figuring out how to make something good out of it.
I kind of thought that purslane was something that grew by the roadside, and Wild Bill something online says that's true. He also eats the stems, avoiding all this work, but I just tried one and it tasted kind of like sourgrass. I thought it was great fun to chew sourgrass when I was a kid, but I think I draw the line at a salad of it!
This leisure to sit and pluck comes to me courtesy of Echo's kidney dialysis, during which we sit like Darby and Joan (or Joan and Joan?) in our recliners by the fireplace while she gets her blood cleaned and I play at many entertaining things. Here's Echo all set up. Usually we don't have the IV pole and bags; the little box under the machine holds the fluid into which the toxins in her blood ooze by osmosis and then flow out and away from her! It's a remarkably ingenious system.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Environmentalism circa 500 b.c.e.

Have you ever noticed that an idea keeps coming at you from lots of directions until it’s about to hit you over the head and you want to yell, “Enough, already – I’m getting it!”  This year’s idea is a piece of the environmental movement, loosely called conservation.  Quakers named a testimony for it: simplicity.  A bright nutty person on the Prairie Village Environmental Committee invented a subcommittee and named it Glidepath to Frugality.  Of course, I volunteered to be on it.  And then I opened the Tao te Ching at random, as I often do, and I read Chapter 80:  (as you read this, remember that it was written roughly around 500 b.c.e.)


If a country is governed wisely,

its inhabitants will be content.

They enjoy the labor of their hands

and don’t waste time inventing

labor-saving machines.

Since they dearly love their homes,

they aren’t interested in travel.

There may be a few wagons and boats,

but these don’t go anywhere.

There may be an arsenal of weapons,

but nobody ever uses them.

People enjoy their food,

take pleasure in being with their families,

spend weekends working in their gardens,

delight in the doings of the neighborhood.

And even though the next country is so close

that people can hear its roosters crowing and its dogs barking,

they are content to die of old age

without ever having gone to see it.

                    Tao te Ching  translation by Stephen Mitchell



If you believe that Lao Tzu was generally on the right track, what do you do with a concept like this?  It’s heresy to most progressive people, even lots of environmentalists and Quakers!  When I look up travel quotes, I get this one, which I’ve agreed with all my life:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” - Mark Twain

Of course!  People who stay put are the embodiment of narrow-mindedness.  Don’t you agree?

But now we have to look at it differently.  A website I just looked at said that a round-trip flight to Europe produced 3-4 tons of carbon emissions, more carbon than 20 Bengladeshis cause to be emitted in a year.  I’m not going to Europe any time soon, but I am going to California next month to help sort out Betty’s bequeathed possessions, and for a multitude of reasons, I’m not going to take the train. 

I’m feeling compelled, somehow, to figure out when a trip, a purchase or an expense or extravagance of any kind is the right thing to do and when it’s merely an unjustified drag on the future quality of life on Earth (as well, perhaps, as on my personal finances).  This stuff is really hard to think through, and I’m struggling as I write.  But I got some good hints at our last Quaker Meeting retreat. 

In a small group discussion, Kathy said (and I hope I paraphrase all right) that simplicity has a lot to do with paying attention to the small voice inside – or That of God – and asking ourselves if what we are planning to do or buy is something that will help us hear or heed that voice or if it’s more likely to interfere with our hearing.  That made so much sense to me! Examples poured into my mind.

It reminds me of a woman from Africa who spoke here or was on a film – I think she was here.  A group of Americans went there regularly to help with projects that the people in the village considered important.  The help was important, and the money that came in was important, but she said that the greatest thing was that people showed up.  A woman raised her hand and said that a trip to Africa costs a lot, and wouldn’t they rather have the money.  And she said no, not always.  It meant more than she could express for people to actually make the trip. 

Making a trip like that might be a way of expressing what one was lead to do – if the voice within was clear that it was the only way.  On the other hand, the myriad business trips that clog the system of air travel, and which most people admit that they loathe, don’t appear to do anything for anyone’s spirit.  Maybe the key is to sincerely consider what’s going on – will this trip (or new car or new shoes) help me feel more contented, better able to fulfill what I’m here for?  Or will the excitement wear off and leave me looking for more? 

Back (for those of you who remember my blog’s theme: Becoming my Grandmother) to my grandmother.  More and more I find that when I do grandmotherly things, I am content.  Twice this week I’ve started listening to music (my grandmother didn’t have an iPod – we have made some progress) and found a great well of energy for …!  I was in one of those zones that are hard to describe, especially to people who think they don’t like cleaning while listening to Simon and Garfunkel (Wednesday Morning, 3AM, to be exact).  But when I’m busy in the kitchen with music on and a breeze coming in the window, I really don’t feel like I need to go anywhere.  I love to read about places.  Right now I’m on my third book about Marco Polo and people who followed his path, and those certainly aren’t my first books about the Silk Road and the Gobi Desert.  But I’m beginning to realize that not going there is okay.    

If you have any ways that spending less money and at the same time being easier on the planet is working for you, I’d like to hear them.  That’s the idea of our little subcommittee: helping people see that a little less spending can contribute to the greater good and maybe even make them happier.  What do you think about traveling less?

There’s a fence between us and our next-door-neighbors’ swimming pool.  When I’m in the yard I can here their grandchildren playing in the pool, but I can’t see them, and that’s okay.  I’m happy pulling weeds and encouraging my veggies to grow.  That’s what I picture when I read Lao Tzu.   

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Cattle farm of your dreams

Yesterday was our anniversary.  It's the 26th, which doesn't seem very special, but last year, the big 25, we somehow never had time for the big splash.  So this year we decided to do one simple thing - a little road trip.  Just a day trip.  And seemingly against all odds, we took it.  
Have you ever met any Highland cattle?  We never thought we would; we just admired them, posing happily at the beginning of the BBC series "Hamish McBeth," much like the moose in "Northern Exposure."  When we saw those bangs, we were hooked.  
But last year there was a stand at the ethnic festival that offered a chance to eat grilled Highland cattle patties, which we passed up.  But the farm was nearby, and it billed itself as raising its beasts in a way that sounded good to me, so we filed away "Oz Highland Farm" in our heads as a possible destination.  And today we went.  
This farm has been in this Scottish family for generations, but the Topeka suburbs are creeping up on it.  Still, it's totally unfussy - no sign, just a multicolor crowd of shaggy beasts grazing out by the fence.  We drove in, not knowing if we'd be welcome. 
Well, John and Debbie Jenkins love to talk about their cattle.  They breed them for gentleness so they can walk about with them, and they encourage calm.  John and I bonded over a mutual dislike of red cedar trees (invasive and smelly!), and he is delighted by the Highlands' interest in chewing them up.  That helps him keep his prairie just the way it ought to be.  
They knew we didn't know much about cattle, so they told how to tell a male from a female (besides the obvious, the females' horns turn up; the males' are more prosaic), and they told about the different colors.  Debbie said they like to have the young ones present when the moms give birth, so they won't be so scared when it's their turn.  All the cattle have numbers, but only the ones who will not be meat get names as well.  
When we were leaving, I stopped to buy some hamburger meat, and Debbie charged me nothing for a huge package.  We've decided to go to this year's Highland Games so we can visit their concession there.   
(If you're a vegetarian, you might stop here, if you've made it this far.)  I asked Debbie to recommend a place to eat, and she suggested the barbecue place in Auburn, the town up the road.  It was behind the Phillips 66, she said - she didn't say it was just a door in a blank wall, with Visa and MasterCard signs on it.  But it smelled right.  Linda, the proprietor, said if we waited a bit the ribs would be ready; they were done, but not falling off the bone enough to suit her yet.  Echo said they were well worth the wait; I found the barbecued turkey the best I'd every had, just on a buttered, grilled bun.  Linda was the gruff type, but she was pleased with Echo's incoherent mmmm's.  Especially when we decided to go for the strawberry rhubarb pie, because it was our anniversary.  Mmmmmmmm.
A stop at the Kansas History Center topped off the day.  I won't tell you all, you poor patient dears, but I'll tell you that the Indian dwelling made of straw bundles was worth the trip, and the whole steam train that they built the building around.  It may lack the sense of humor that the Minnesota History Center has, but you can't have everything.  Did you know that your 60's dashiki or your Fisher Price farm set could be in a museum?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Kansas weather and related activities

"All weather signs fail in Kansas."

from Koch, Folklore from Kansas

On February 28, just as we were pleased or resigned to the fact that winter was over, five inches of dampish, packable snow fell, creating an icing-on-the-cake effect on what used to be my papyrus pot.  Now the pot is gone, but the roots keep the shape, and on milder days the squirrels have found it interesting to munch on.  

That was a week ago.  Last Saturday, on March 7, the air was full of spring, and I made major progress with my garden
 plot and planted a row of snowpeas.  The soil was cool but loamy, and I could imagine the dry, pale little peas shivering a minute and then settling themselves into the perfect little home they've been dreaming of ever since they escaped being eaten. 

This is the new plot, with a little path in the middle.  It came conveniently in this organic shape because the sun did something to the zoysia grass that attracted some bugs that ate it and turned it into a dry, brown mat that was easy to pull up and make into a garden.  Now I've covered it with newspapers and mulch, and soon I hope to find out how to dig little holes through the paper and drop in seeds that will resist pests and rodents and Kansas weather and produce lots of nice vegetables.  

I love living in Kansas!  Look at the weather map almost any day, and you'll see three or four weather systems fighting it out to see who will bless our particular little corner of the state for that day.  Usually somebody wins, but occasionally they come to terms: you take morning, and I'll take afternoon.  When I see someone walking their dog in early March, wearing just shorts and a t-shirt, I worry, because I figure they should be carrying a parka and the keys to the tornado cellar, just in case.  I'm liking the thunderstorm that's going on right now, but if I didn't, never fear - tomorrow it may rain a little more, but the next day the temperature is to drop thirty degrees and the sun's to come out.  

I'm following in Aimee's footsteps by showing you the humble beginning of my garden, and apparently I'm following a national trend by trying to grow vegetables in my yard.  But it also runs in the family.  When we moved to a little San Fernando Valley town in 1945, lots of people, mostly midwestern transplants, grew a little stuff and sold it at stands by the street.  We'd go around and buy vegetables, and other people bought eggs, chicken and boysenberries from my grandparents.  I don't know what the peacock people sold; we never so them, just heard them.  Even my parents, who were urban at heart, raised a duck once and grew a huge yam plot, because I was allergic to white potatoes.  I don't remember eating the yams, but I loved playing in the irrigation ditches, diverting water that undoubtedly was destined to go somewhere else and probably learning a bit about the natural forces of water and soil when they meet.  I still think that having my hands in the dirt, talking to the worms and following long runners of errant grass, is a high form of Zen meditation.  

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Becoming my great-aunt

We went out for dinner tonight.  I wanted to save room for dessert, because they had flan, so I ordered a little corn quesadilla with shrimp.  It was really little.  So I started picking at Echo's rice and beans, and suddenly I thought about Aunt Margaret.  

I never met her, but Daddy knew and loved her.  She was verging on famous, but I remember best that he said that when they'd go out to eat, Aunt Margaret would say, "I'm not very hungry; I'll just get something small." So she did that, and pretty soon she was soliciting bites from everyone else's plate.  I've always felt akin to her.  

Margaret Fay Whittemore was a suffragist, a member of the National Women's Party.  I have a telegram that she wrote on the occasion on my mother's birth in 1915.  If I remember right, it reads: "Congratulations on the birth of baby Elizabeth. Votes for women." 

In this picture, she's campaigning for the vote in 1916, in Pendleton, Oregon, with someone named Mary Gertrude Fendall.  Aunt Margaret is on the right.  Someday I want to learn more about her.  I hope I took after her in more than just stealing food.  

Well, yes.  According to my dad, she was probably a lesbian.  My cousin Susan, who was her niece, adored her, and Susan was undoubtedly a lesbian.  That's how I figure we have four generations.  I don't know just what Daddy was going on - he said she rather collected young men, but I assume they were probably gay.  And she was certainly tough - sometimes she drove her own Model T while campaigning, and sometimes she rode a horse.  I really want to know if she was one of those who chained themselves to the White House fence.  

Do we all turn into our ancestors as we get older?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Shrove Tuesday pancakes

Sometimes it's not my grandmother I'm becoming; tonight I think I was playing g-g-g-g-g-g-g-grandmother!  It suddenly seemed vital to have Shrove Tuesday pancakes for dinner, even though we never have before.  

Lent always seems like a powerful and moving time for me, but there's nothing in my background to help me know how to celebrate it.  I think that remote grandmother who slaved over her wood stove to turn pancakes would have to have been pre-Quaker, since the Quakers seem to go back at least five generations in my family.  

In a way, Lent seems like a natural for Quakers, who are, after all, a rather introspective bunch, and isn't that what Lent's for - examining the mess that's inside and trying to be better about it? But if the Church of England said that you should forego meat, eggs and milk for forty days, after carousing around your pancakes the night before, that would have been the kiss of death for that tradition.  If Quakers tend to frown on excess, we also aren't big on deliberate sacrifice.

"Shrove", in case you've forgotten, is like a past participle of "shrive," which means to absolve of sin.  And the pancakes were a way to use up the extra eggs and milk that you wouldn't need until Easter.  

And how does this work for me, I ask myself.  Quakers, of course, aren't very concerned with sin, but the more I think about it, the more I like the idea of a time when I pay extra attention to the things that I consistently stumble over and ways that I can avoid them.  And if a lovely meal of Craig Claiborne's basic pancakes can help me prepare for that, then why not?   

Thursday, February 19, 2009

by Larry Racunas

Those were days
of consensual green spirits,
long, airy walks,
wistful neighbors, whirling
windmills that sang to you.
That was a time
when the fresh, outdoor smell
of your laundry
did not mean your neighbor wanted to hang you.

Not a great poem, maybe, but he's from here, and the local paper published it, and that's worth something.  After I talked with the codes lady at Prairie Village City Hall, she published a little piece in our local rag (called the Village Voice - cute, huh) about the legality of hanging out wash.  It is, unless the homes association says no.  Now I've talked with my homes association president, who may be an undiscovered radical, and she's going to write about it in our next newsletter.  Do you think that's a tiny bit of progress?

I needed encouragement today.  After I eagerly opened up a package from Amazon only to find out that I'd misread the title and it was in Spanish, I opened the paper to the headline, "Demand for 'green' wilts with economy.  It seems that the minute folks have less money but cheaper gas, they start going for cheap gas-guzzlers again.  Where are the people who are going to save the beauty of our planet from ourselves?  

Enough - I think my New Year's resolution is to become less judgmental!

If you think I'm a little nutty when it comes to clotheslines, try visiting a great website,  That's where the true nuts gather.  There's even a section for laundry art.  

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Grandma and Grandpa Augerson

Stella Mae Henry Augerson 1886-1979
Herbert Rutherford Augerson 1884-1969

Their names were Stella and Herbert; if I'd been a boy I've gotten the Herbert; there's another reason to like having been born a girl.  

I haven't told you much about Grandpa.  Here he is with me, both of us focused on the camera or something else even more interesting.  Grandpa was apparently a handsome young Swede who drove his horses fast.  When Grandma married him she probably didn't get that he'd drift from place to place and job just as much as the men in her family had.  But he let me help him with his chores - feeding the chickens, working on wood - and I liked him.  Much later my mother told him he was a bigoted old man, which was true, too.  
I reminded myself of Grandpa the other day when I put a rubber band around my checkbook cover to keep it shut.  Grandpa loved rubber bands, and his garage was full of old cigar boxes that kept many things safe with a couple of rubber bands around the outside.  I use rubber bands more and more.

Grandma was the first in her family to go to college, and she endured teaching in a one-room school for a whole year before she met Grandpa.  She loved teaching me and made sure my grammar was up to snuff, but she hated being a cute young thing when some of her pupils were big and tough.  I'm glad that the only picture I have of her with me as a little kid shows us reading.  

She was no cookie-baking grandma.  She hated to cook.  That's why I learned to cook in her kitchen instead of my mother's; Grandma let me make messes to my heart's content.  I made little creations out of her leftover pie crust, and later I spent the summer trying to invent the perfect barbecue sauce (never having visited Kansas City!).  

But she made one thing that I loved, and only later did my dad tell me it was a depression recipe born of desperation.  She called it egg gravy, and it must be Swedish.  To make it you fry up bacon, take out the cooked slices and leave the grease in the pan.  Then you beat up some eggs with lots of milk, reheat the grease a little, pour in the eggs, and mix it around.  Keep mixing over low heat; it'll curdle, that's what it does.  Eventually it takes on the consistency of a curdled cooked custard (yum!).  Then you put lots of salt and pepper on it and serve it on toast with the bacon on the side.  Then you take your cholesterol tablets, just in case.  But don't knock it until you've tried it.  

Daddy said that in the depths of the depression they ate egg gravy without the bacon.  Not so yum.  But even when food was scarce, they must have known people with cows and chickens.  I think there's a recipe for egg gravy in the 1947 Galesburg First Lutheran Women's Missionary Society Cookbook, which Jeremy owns now.  The other highlight of that book is about ten pages of jello recipes.  

Thursday, February 5, 2009

"[Faith] might even choke down some watermelon pickles."

        from The Body in the Belfry, Katherine Hall Page

An insidious thing happens when you start to look at everything you buy and everything it comes packaged in and wonder how much you're going to waste - and where it's going to go.  I guess I shouldn't say you.  It's my problem.  Last summer we bought a couple of small, sweet and totally beguiling watermelons from the farmer's market, and all of a sudden it seemed criminal to only eat the nice red insides.  

Back comes the ancestral memory: people used to take the drab look white middle layer and pickle it!   Hard to say why; I don't suppose it has much food value, like most white parts.  But in hard times, a nice tasty pickle might make up for the deficiencies in the leftover bits of meat or the hot dish casserole.  And of course, after generations of making do, folks started developing a taste for the stuff, and it entered our gene pool or the great American psyche.  Watermelon pickle=good.  

I guess it is genetic, because the urge hit Jeremy and me at the same time, without consultation.  I followed a "ye olde" recipe from the internet, while he created a spicy pickle that would fit in with his no-sugar need.  And now, in deepest winter, it's time to bring them out.  I'm serving them with pot roast, but Jeremy's would go equally well with Indian food, I think.  I'll let you know how wildly popular they are! 

In the picture, that's mine on the left and Jeremy's on the right; I've decided to mix them together.  Come by and have a taste!

p.s. as for the quote - I'm not necessarily recommending the book

Friday, January 30, 2009

Becoming my grandmother

This is not a fair look at Grandma Augerson, because she's just posing next to a towel that happens to be hung up.  People didn't take pictures then of people doing ordinary things, like working in the kitchen or digging in the yard.  All I have is mental pictures of her and me sending the dripping wash through the wringer and coming out two dimensional on the other side.  I suspect that between that and air-drying, more ironing was needed then.  

By now you may wonder why I'm off on this tangent.  Of course you've probably noticed that The Great Depression is now in vogue, and perhaps I'm only being trendy.  Nonetheless, my email world includes references to climate change, recession/depression, peak oil and any number of dire and believable probabilities.  Panic is easy, but it doesn't seem like an element I want in my life, so the answer seems to lie in practicing bits of life as though we only had a scrap of the giant grid that we use now.  Hanging clothes and stringing beans are a lot more fun than political action, though I try to do my bit for that too.  And more and more, when I live life in a more down-to-earth way, Grandma becomes a part of it.  

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


It's sunny and cold.  If I hung up the wash my fingers would freeze, and the clothes would still be shivering when the sun went down at five something.  So it was between the lines in the basement or the dryer.  The lines won.  

Maybe it's the sun, but I had fun hanging everything up, putting the matching towels together, smoothing out the table cloth.  And I reflected on the inescapable thought that the more I follow my environmentalist leadings, the more I begin to act like my grandmother.  

Grandma Augerson didn't mean to be a Depression-era housewife.  When she married my grandfather, she probably hoped that this tall, handsome man who drove his horses fast and came from a solid Swedish family would be a ticket out of the poverty of her childhood.  She probably didn't know that she was exchanging one creative, restless man (her father) for another (my grandfather).  She had her share of disappointments.

By the time we lived next door to her and Grandpa, on ten acres of oats and scrub near Sylmar, California, she'd become a plain, hard-working woman, and I liked her that way.  When he wasn't driving the Helms Bakery truck, Grandpa raised chickens and turkeys and a lot of boysenberries; I got to watch when he chopped off the chickens' heads, and Grandma and I plucked the chickens and fried them up.  I picked boysenberries, and sometimes Grandma and I made pie.  On wash day, I loved to help Grandma put the clothes through the wringer and then hang them up in the desert air that was still clean and breezy.  Sometimes the first things dried before we got the last ones hung up. 

I figure, then, that I have an edge over people like my own children, who watched me throw the clothes in the dryer and open cans of soup.  I loved my grandmother, so everything I made from scratch under her watchful but uncritical eye was entertainment, not drudgery.  So far, it's easy to be an environmentalist.