Friday, April 9, 2010

Tackling a Classic...

I often listen to National Public Radio while working at my desk in the afternoons.  Last week there was a discussion about the "literature that stumps us".  People were calling in to talk about the books they just couldn't seem to get through...very often the teacher-assigned tomes that so many high school students are made to dissect with their adolescent knowledge of the world.

The book that immediately came to my mind was John Steinbeck's classic, The Grapes of Wrath, the celebrated novel that defines the devastating era of the Great Depression.  What a fascinating topic for a room full of 16-year-olds in the era of big hair and neon socks! I can still remember sitting at the desk in my bedroom, bent over this book with my chin resting on my hand.  My eyes moved over the words, but when I'd reach the bottom of a page I would realize I couldn't remember ANY of what I had just read!  Every assignment was a struggle, and I really couldn't tell you too much about the story because it just didn't leave an impression on me.  What DID leave an impression was the boy in our class whose parents wouldn't let him read it!!  He was dissecting a less controversial novel, and seemed to be enjoying his book much more than the rest of us were enjoying ours.  I was very jealous...why couldn't MY parents be more concerned with what I was being exposed to!!

After thinking about this for awhile, I decided I did not want to be stumped by Steinbeck!  This must be a great book, or it wouldn't be shoved into the hands of so many unsuspecting teens.  On Wednesday, I walked into the public library with a mission.  I quickly located the shelf filled with heavy Steinbeck volumes.  Surprise, surprise...there were 4 copies of the Grapes of Wrath available, and by the way they kind of stuck to the shelf when I pulled one out I would guess they haven't been checked out in awhile.  I cracked it open last night and began to read.....and read.....and read.....

I am pleased to report that while my teacher may have been misguided in thinking my younger self would appreciate these pages, she really did know a good story when she saw one.  My adult self is thoroughly enjoying rediscovering an American classic.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Weed from HELL!

This is a picture of Japanese Knotweed...a horribly invasive plant, once sold as an ornamental, that always seems to be planted exactly where one would like to plant something (anything!) else.  A member of the rhubarb family, this thing grows from the ground up to about 8 to 10 feet tall in approximately 2 months....really.

Every spring we begin the "spruce-up-the-yard" season with the removal of the dead stalks from the previous growing season (we left them in place all winter to provide a barrier between us and the scary neighbors).  Today I accomplished just that, snapping or cutting off the stalks at the base, breaking them into workable lengths and hauling them out to the curb for the village to pick up.  Don't worry....these stalks are dead and will not sprout into new, noxious growth at the county compost site.  I can already see the new, bright red   shoots poking up through the soil.  Over the next few weeks These buds will stretch 3 or 4 feet into the strangest, asparagus-looking shoots with very little in the way of leaves.  Then, while I'm out running an errand, these stalks will burst into foliage and stretch the rest of their height, thoroughly hiding the sight of anything on the other side that you don't want to it does have some value.

Getting rid of impossible. Or, nearly so.  I have yet to succeed in eliminating it from the property line.  We tried very hard to do so several years ago.  After months of digging and squirting Round-Up into the stalks and on the roots, we discovered that efforts to remove the plant only stimulates it's super-powers and causes it to grow faster...and spread further into the yard.  Feeling sorry for us, a well-meaning neighbor thought he would make things better by running his roto-tiller through the area.  I came running out of the house with arms waving, yelling "STOP!  You don't know what you're doing!!!"  A week later, every one of those chopped-up little pieces sprouted into a new plant...creating a lush carpet of Knotweed. (Have I mentioned that desperate people in Great Britain have gone to jail for throwing this stuff in ditches in the dark of night?)

A year later, the scary neighbors moved in and we gave up on getting rid of this blight on the plant world.  We let it grow up on the property line once again....and after the neighbor kid tried to steal our basketball, I fertilized it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

William Baffin Rose and Maggie

This was one of my very first posts. I've always liked here it is again!

The Cistern!!

In an earlier post, I spoke of the details in our home and how much I enjoy them. I am constantly amazed at how things were done by the first owners. No detail was too small, no short cuts were taken.

Well...we recently discovered a detail from the early history of our house that we didn't know existed! On the Saturday before Easter, my husband went outside to run new wiring out to the garage...and he uncovered a mystery space right along the foundation of the house in the back yard. He came across a couple of bricks as he was working with his shovel, and when he removed them he found a 6-inch entrance into an empty space that, when lit by a flashlight, we could see was enclosed by four poured concrete walls! More digging revealed that the dimensions of the concrete "room" was about 3 feet by 9 feet, though a wall prevented us from seeing what was beyond the 3 foot square chamber that we were looking into.

A mystery!! We immediately began looking much more closely at our basement walls, and discovered that we have an old cistern in the corner of the cellar, though we've always referred to it as "the coal room". At some point a door was cut into one of the walls and coal was stored there for many years. We still find bits of coal in all the crevices. It is a great storage space! Well, it just so happens that this cistern is on the opposite side of the wall from our concrete box!!

Last weekend, my husband rented a jack hammer and broke open the hole to reveal what was inside. What we have is a three-chamber filtration system for the cistern in the basement. Water was collected from the roof. The gutter pipe entered the first chamber where it would fill up, allowing dirt and debris to sink. From there the water would flow to the next chamber, where more dirt and debris would settle. Then, it would flow into the third chamber...again allowing dirt to fall away until it finally flowed though a pipe into the main cistern where it would be used by the family for cleaning. We also have a hand-pumped well by the back door, so it is unlikely that the family used the cistern for drinking water....I know I wouldn't!! It is a system that is similar to that used today in places where a cistern is necessary.

The open chamber is nearly filled in now. We will seal it off and a planting area will cover it after we install a new patio and seating area back there. And I don't think we'll be digging anymore holes anytime soon....after all, we don't know where the septic tank is!!

Take a look at the following photos:
Here is the hole that was originally discovered. Just imagine how surprised we were when we stuck a flashlight in and found a poured concrete wall extended out away from the house!

This photo was taken looking through the hole in the first chamber to the second chamber. You can see the hole in the second chamber leading into the third one. Pretty neat!!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

It's All In The Details...

I just love old houses!! Especially the one we are lucky enough to live in! Our home contains many beautiful features that I enjoy living with everyday, but my favorite detail put in by the original owner is the leaded glass window shown above.

The first time we walked through this house that would one day be ours, the windows in the dining room were covered by curtains. On the day we moved in we were so surprised to find this beautiful feature...and even more surprised when the sun began to dip down in the western sky that evening. As the late-day sun shown through the window, little rainbows reflected onto the walls through the prismatic bevels of the glass diamonds. You can measure the seasons by their height and the time of day they appear.

Details matter! Look around the site for other photos from the house.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bring Back the Victory Garden!!

My grand-parents planted a Victory Garden in their back yard. During the World Wars the goverment encouraged citizens to grow and preserve their own food...a lesson in self-sufficiency that they passed on to my mother, who spent many days throughout the summer canning the bounty of our huge vegetable garden.

With our economy in the state it is in, I think the Victory Garden should be revived!! Learn to grow your own foods... to create better quality products for your family. Take pride in your ability to be a little more self-sufficient! Gardening can not only help save on your grocery bill, but it can also be very relaxing and fun.

Visit the following website for more information on creating your own Victory Garden.

I can't wait to buy seeds!!

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas has come and gone...another great holiday season is about to join the "remember when" conversations and thoughts that we pull out when feeling nostalgic toward the end of each year.

I think most people would say good riddance to 2008, a year filled with pink slips, financial strain and political in-fighting and loss of "the American Dream". However, I think 2008 has taught us some very important lessons that I hope we will hang onto in 2009 and beyond.

We learned that alternative fuels do not necessarily cost anything or take years to develop... A bicycle or our own two feet will work nicely to pick up a carton of milk at the local grocer's or a few books at the library. 2008 also taught us that turning over a little plot of soil in the yard and dropping in a few seeds can yield us not only cheaper food, but better tasting...not to mention the wide variety available from farmers who only had to drive a few miles, as opposed to that bland head of lettuce that was trucked in from California.

I think we've discovered over the past year that "things" are not what make us who we are. If we live within our means and take care of the people around us, that is a better indicator of our worth than if we live in a half-million dollar, 4000 square-foot home meant to impress, as opposed to a modest home in which we can provide our families with the things they really need. The "keeping-up-with-the-Joneses" culture is no longer in style, thank God!

Most importantly, we have truly come to see our country...often referred to as a melting pot of the land of opportunity for all as we elected as our next president a man many of us saw first and foremost as the most qualified, but who also happened to be a black man.

So, amid the setbacks we have moved forward...forward in thoughts and actions. I think we've accomplished a great deal in 2008. I am looking forward to 2009, to a new year of possibilities...but I will take with me the best of the past and try to avoid its mistakes.

Happy New Year!

A Quote From My Latest Recommended Read:

"When my generation of women walked away from the kitchen we were escorted down that path by a profiteering industry that knew a tired, vulnerable marketing target when they saw it. "Hey ladies," it said to us, "go ahead, get liberated.
We'll take care of dinner." They threw open the door and we walked into a nutritional crisis and genuinely toxic food supply......We came a long way, baby, into bad eating habits and collaterally impaired family dynamics. No matter what else we do or believe, food remains at the center of every culture. Ours now runs on empty calories."

- Barbara Kingsolver
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle