Last night we ate pinto beans simmered in red chili with ham for dinner. I decided to add homemade masa, having the most gorgeous white corn, slacked lime, and extra time at hand. I had a vague notion of the recipe--which I double checked online. And then I just jumped into the pot. Never worked with lime before and it seemed a bit scary. But certainly not scarier than lye, which I've sloshed around this house in the most cavalier and horrifying way. So, into the pot we went.
When you drop white corn into lime the color changes almost instantly. The whole pot turned vivid bright yellow, an artificial and shocking sight at first. Dumping your food into a pot of lime is, perhaps, a counter-intuitive thing to do. Do we call ancient food techniques artificial processing? Anyhooo, the point is, BAM, you get very yellow corn. Why? I don't know. The chemical situation in the pot makes the corn a lot more nutritious (and yummy). I tried to capture the color by comparison to a lemon, but couldn't make my camera pick it up. It looked as yellow as the fruit.
I can not tell you how it tasted though. After everything was simmering nicely, I sat down to reread all the instructions. Which might seem like due diligence but is really a way of gloating--reliving the fun and glory of what was just done. Which was a great feeling. Right up to my realization that the recipe specifies dried corn. I began surfing many masa recipes for comparison and googling "fresh corn" plus masa or nixtamalization. Which is an ungooglable phrase because "fresh corn" is nearly as common on the internet as it is on southern porches, even when listed next to abuelita's masa.
Turns out, you can not nixtamalize fresh corn, only dried corn. The entire gorgeous perfect lovely bright pot was dumped down the drain. Then we ate our beans for dinner and went out for pints of ice cream. Sort of a lose-win, really.
In what ways might I be teaching my own mistakes to my children? At the moment I am worried about my introverted social avoidance and too much time online. Its easy to see how these two tendencies dovetail. I really don't want to make either trait the secretly predominant lesson of the kid's high school years. Which means I am going to have to look up, smile, engage, and create more offline projects for all of us. For starters, this July is already planned up with classes for the kids and full days of driving for me. Beyond that, I have some planning to do. Which probably involves time quietly thinking to myself and surfing online...tiny steps, people. Perfection is not the goal.
My friend Val was inspiring to me this morning. She wrote a list of things that make her happy and came up with this: Be productive, Be organized, Be disciplined, Be kind. She has noticed that when she manages to do these four things, she feels happier. Seeing it written like that, I realize I am happier when I can manage the same. Thanks for the nudge, Val. I think I've gotten lazy.
I like to sit outside in the early morning with my goats. We're still getting to know each other. Yesterday was a breakthrough day, as Cedar let me pet her. After four days of simply being near with no physical pressure, suddenly her whole attitude changed. She decided to trust me. I think we're friends now. Clove and I both noticed something extra special, as well. On the night of the solstice and the super moon, a Luna moth was visiting in the trees over the goat yard.
About Paula Deen and my own funny brand of racism. In situations where I have to choose a seat in public, walking down the isle of a bus, for instance, I will always choose to sit next to the oldest black guy. Over the years I've noticed that old black guys are reliably kind, consistent, and moral. Almost always profoundly devout, generally far more conservative than myself, but reliably kind. Perhaps because they have survived society up till now, having neither been shot or jailed like the other 75% of their peer group. Actually, I have no idea how many black boys end up shot or jailed in the United States. But no one needs to run down the stat to know its maybe most of them. Old black guys in other countries are probably, as with old white guys here, a mixed bag of nuts. In the United States they are a sifted group, specifically select.
Which is why, book shopping with my husband this weekend, waiting for our kids in the mall, I ended up sitting next to an inner city preacher. We read companionably next to each other for 30 minutes or so before we started chatting. He asked me what I was reading. Perhaps predictably: "The Art of French Cooking" and "The Joy of Cooking." I was considering buying the one and replacing my dissolving copy of the other. He was, of course, reading a book about God.
Life is funny. Partly because my kids are growing up and partly because I had a melanoma removed last month, I've been in a funk. I'm sad, at oddsbodkins with myself, pondering mortality and what to do with the rest of my life. I'm trying to be a big girl about the whole situation. But mortality just fries my shorts. I'm having a hard time getting over it. I have too much time on my hands without enough gumption to know what to do next. The only thing I do well is baby wrangling. And cattle wrangling. (Are these two different things?) The situation is pissing me off. Only a white girl could figure out how to be upset about so much good fortune, right?
We had been silent for a while when Dr. Preacher surprised me with another question, "Do you mind if I ask if you might consider volunteering for my church?" He then spoke to me for 5 full minutes about diabetes in the black community, inner city food deserts, and his concerns for the nutritional status of the people in his church. He wondered if I might be willing to teach some cooking classes and if I had ideas about nutrition.
So it really wasn't my fault. But the next time my husband saw me, I was speaking at great length about urban farming, fresh milk, Weston Price, the fallacy of the food pyramid, and mineral starvation. In a word, cows. Someone needed to hear what I think about cows and food. Someone might want my help. Imagine my joy! I'm very excited to discover where this goes. I hope the preacher calls me back. I have goats. I have time. I will travel.
What foods would you choose to teach first? I'm thinking fried chicken liver, steamed kale with garlic butter, and possibly garlic rosemary mushroom roasted potatoes. Though, I'm not sure about the potatoes for a group of diabetics. Maybe roasted beets with squash and pecans instead? Next class I could take a goat to demonstrate milking. Then make saag paneer with the fresh milk, sauteed meat, and an onion relish. I do hope he calls me back.
A shocking, edgy, fresh, groundbreaking new boy band takes the country by surprise with stunning and emotionally appealing lyrics that say, "Hey, I don't have to be musical to express myself through song." ~Domino Math, esq.
If you look close you can see a boy among the leaves. Under-the-fig is his favorite reading spot lately.
In other news, we bought two goats yesterday. Clove, the tan one, is an Alpine/Nigerian Dwarf cross. Cedar, the darker one, is out of Oberhasli/Nigerian Dwarf parents. These girls are the perfect size for city farming. They have wonderful feisty curious happy personalities. And they are something called F1. I suppose I will now be learning exactly what that means. There is some controversy in the livestock world about breeding true, F1, F2, and the subsequent declining utility of each generation. I don't know. But these girls are marvelously well suited for our situational smallness. They'll be bred for kids soon.
2007, nine years old, dressed for the Midnight Magic book release party for "Harry Potter and the Goblet Of Fire" by J.K. Rowling (as if that needs to be said.) Wand out.
My son was born the year the first book was published. It turned out to be the first book he read to himself. The first three books were the first three books he read. He had to wait for the fourth to get written and published, before continuing with the series. My daughter, right along behind him, has heard each book on tape many many times, usually quietly crafting in her lap as she listened. Both attended every book release party, the one in 2007 being the first time either one stayed up until midnight. Can you remember how much adult conversation was generated by "The Sorcerer's Stone"? Everyone loved the book, everyone was talking about the book, and everyone was astonished to discover that one children's book could generate so much adult conversation. That buzz was a phenomenon of that time, mostly forgotten now.
What can not be forgotten is the deep mark Rowling has made in the social psyche of this generation of kids. They are truly the Harry Potter generation. They were shaped, intellectually and morally, by these stories. Using enchantment, literary device, and sheer repetition extending over years of their childhood, Rowling has managed to permanently illuminate issues of race, gender, and social consciousness for a whole generation. In a final back twist of love she even managed to bitch slap homophobia. No mere O.W.L.s work, that takes senior level wizardry. If Voldemort marked his follower's arms, she has marked their minds. Every generation hereafter can read these books at a gulp. This group of kids read and reread these books one at a time, year after year, over and over, as they grew up.
Last week I had to step between and child and his mother, who was worried and angry, to explain where we were and why. Surely because she was worried and angry, this mother began our conversation with astonishingly inappropriate concerns. We got it worked out. I think I buffered her anger at her kid. But I shook my head about it for a day or two. Until my daughter explained it all for me. "I've met her. She is a lot like Petunia Dursley. She's a muggle...ya know?" That was the moment I saw Rowling's legacy. This generation of children has a brand new archetypal mythology through which they can sort the world. And its a fine solid one. Which is a pretty slick trick for a series almost devoid of religion, with no one leader, no messiah, and no ultimate guiding power source.
Mother Love is given nearly religious reverence in this series. But as we all know, that's no fiction. I am grateful to Rowling for the back up and for all the good parenting she has made available for children. Often through an ageing gay queen:
“Dumbledore paused, and although his voice remained light and calm, and he gave no obvious sign of anger, Harry felt a kind of chill emanating from him and noticed that the Dursleys drew very slightly closer together. “You did not do as I asked. You have never treated Harry as a son. He has known nothing but neglect and often cruelty at your hands. The best that can be said is that he has at least escaped the appalling damage you have inflicted upon the unfortunate boy sitting between you.”
Rowling has giving these children plenty to think about, while entertaining them nearly the whole length of their childhoods. Thank you, J.K.!
Dear girl and friends goofing around at a party this week. The two in front are both wearing Harry Potter t-shirts. You can't see hers well, but its the Gryffindor crest.
My girl can tear Up a burger. She's much faster than either of these guys. Not necessarily a goal, but I think sleeping till noon, through breakfast, must make a person extra hungry at dinner? Eat eat, eat!
Back in 2008 a mother in our homeschooling group snapped these pictures of me and the kids down at the river for our weekly group hangout time. We were there again yesterday. What a difference five years makes. Not clinging to my elbows, the kids were off in an Orca pod of teenagers swimming in the middle of the river until it was time to leave. Doing, basically, exactly what they do on dry land, but in the water. Sometimes I miss the baby days. But I never miss them when we're at the river. Independence, capability, and skill are in all ways beautiful to behold, never more so than around deep water. Still, look at 'em. They were so young way back then. Note: sun safe, even in those days.
In North Carolina right now there is a huge political movement called Moral Monday. Republicans are cutting funding for services for poor people---presumably because they don't want to fund perceived laziness. They think funding too much for the poor has dragged down our economy. At the same time, they are eliminating taxes for the wealthiest folks because they think its bad for the economy for our government to take too much money from rich people---money they won't have to spend. Yes this exactly, taking money from the poor and giving it back to the rich. Democrats are in a panic over these cuts---presumably because cutting funding to the most needy cuts our economy off at the knees and drags us into ever deepening spirals of dysfunction as a society. Increasing poverty is very bad for our economy. The idea is that feeding, educating, and healing the poor at the expense of the rich is a proven way to elevate society as much as possible.
The dichotomy turns on the question of who is broken enough to justify (in a just way) society's help? Who can be the judge? Can you judge? Can a preacher judge? Can a police officer judge? Can a school teacher? How about a mother? I think Republicans believe the line of judgement is way too soft. And Democrats believe it could be a lot softer. Neither would leave an infant, truly and justly helpless, crying alone in a dumpster without stopping to help. But what about a drug addicted teenager? A strong looking 25 year old who was raised in poverty? The line gets very murky. Who is broken and who simply lazy? What is fair?
Think this is simple? The predominating message throughout all time and recorded history, through every culture, is that some kind of manifestation of God through compassion matters. For our culture and history the predominating message is that God gave his only son to die (really, to die, our greatest fear) because we are all pathetic universally busted-ass and broken. Each one of us is flawed, broken, and truly incapable in some way. Thank goodness we are all broken in different ways so at least we can help cover each other.
Think this is political? What do you do at work with that one totally annoying person who sucks? They suck at their job, perhaps in a way that makes everyone's job harder? When I worked for my father, as a teenager, I asked him why he continued to employ the person on his staff who sucked the most. He explained that he had 3 truly great employees. 3 who were good in a steady way. And 1 or 2 that were barely good enough, but consistently so. He explained that it would be impossible to run a crew with 8 truly great employees. So he tolerated the sucky ones as best he could.
Why? Because of the math of the universe. We can't all be truly great. We can't all even manage to be consistently good in a steady way all the time, perfectly. If my father was going to try to run a crew of 8 perfectly, it would not be possible and he would not have time to get his actual work done. Running the perfect crew would be its own full time job, and there would be no other work for them to do. A paradox. Wait, what did God say? We are all broken? All of us?
Think this is emotional? What about the person in your family who sucks, who just can't love you the right way, who did it all wrong, does it all wrong, isn't loving enough? Wait, what did God say? We are all broken? All of us? Each one of us will encounter failure to love. That is universally consistently true because we are all broken.
But be fair. Do we still have to do our (flawed) best to help the poor, to forgive our broken parents, to love our neighbors, to be kind to each other? Society is a fact. We have society because we have more than one person living on the planet. I think that's a realistic working definition of society--more than one living on the planet. Since society is a fact and everyone in society is broken, how can we do our best to help each other in a fair way? Its a difficult situation.
Are we broken because of nature? (Because God made us this way?) Or because of nurture? Because we weren't loved well enough or because we lived in poverty or because someone in the family was a psychopath or an addict, or what?
The expression of our DNA, even if our DNA happens to be perfect, is mitigated by methyl-thingies. In fact, Grandma's Experiences Leave A Marker On Your Genes. To paraphrase, stress in early childhood will fuck you up at the level of your DNA. So even if you happen to get born perfect, by some freak of nature, the moment you encounter stress your perfect DNA will begin to be corroded. If you live in a high stress situation---say, poverty, for instance---your DNA will get seriously corroded. Which will make it nigh-unto-impossible for you to "rise above." Who here thinks they can rise above their DNA? Can we ask that of people? We can ask they try, we can offer to help them to try. But we probably ought to plan for a lot of failure.
And finally, consider this. What is the single most stressful thing children encounter in our society, across the board? Take out the children living in poverty, with addicts, and with psychopaths. What generates the most stress for our smallest children? Being separated from their mothers and being put in school. And its exactly this kind of stress that influences the expression of our collective DNA, in ways that might be incidentally helpful, but that also make us demonstratively more aggressive, more depressed, more "jittery", and less likely to nurture our own babies as measured by maternal willingness to breastfeed. I'm talking about science here. Really. Read the article. Its a sock knocker for sure with ramifications for all of us across every political, social, familial, and educational strata of life in an inner connected way.
Wow, huh? Anyone noticed how many mothers are not even willing to try breastfeeding their own babies these days? We have the number. 86% of new mothers don't breastfeed these days, past the first few weeks.*
We are making more worse people faster than we can fix them. And we were broken to start with. We better get a plan for helping each other out of this mess.
What about that most American of mentalities which says we must keep doing things in a productive active showy way? I feel so relentlessly driven by my failure to do this. My failure? Really? Because I'm quite proud of and satisfied by the things I have managed to get done. But these things are past and therefore lacking the sweet tang of current pressing consequence. Peering into my chattering mind, it would seem that what truly matters is totting up a list of things to point at and say I am doing or am about to do.
Which, ouch, is the same mentality that has driven our homeschooling experience. Inside my deepest secret heart is a feeling we aren't haven't and don't do enough. My lists of what gets done, often blogged--in fact, of which the blogs exactly are, make no matter at all. The deep impulse is to constantly be driving forward into a list of Things Accomplished, a personal and American conflagration with driving constantly forward into the flow of now and here.
The ferocious reality is, beyond taking responsible care of our realistic physical needs, there are no things. There is only the expression of love and failure to love. Taking care of realistic physical needs with great love is the only success available. The signal flag of this kind of success is contentment, calm, and a gentle sort of pleasant mild happiness which has no need of lists nor pride nor gain.
We keep being here breathing, needing to eat, and creating decay all the days till we stop breathing. Its so easy to argue that this is easy to say, facile. What housewife, well fed, wouldn't decide there is nothing more important than cooking and cleaning with a deep and genuine love? But in the end, those words---almost all the chattering-mind words, don't matter. They don't change the nature of reality. We have only the responsibility to attend reality with love.
Really, I should scrub toilets with great love? Don't be silly. We only need to be simple and grateful and cheerful about all this decay and sorrow. Because that's what is here. All the rest: fanciness, wealth, accomplishment, any stuff, all that is just currency to spend on our ability to be kind, to enjoy ourselves, and to be loving in a responsible way.
Dear Girl found a Luna Moth yesterday. We love these creatures and I've noticed several of my neighbors posting about sightings on facebook. We must be in a healthy moth area. Or maybe we're having good moth weather? Or, hopefully, they are on the rise. Apparently they used to be common but are now endangered in some areas.
31 Things I'd Have Told Myself Before College I could pull several points out of this essay and relate them to my children and to unschooling. In fact, this little essay, though written by a person who went to institutional school, reads more like an unschooling manual. Better my children pull out their own points of spark and cogitation for themselves.
For me, right now, fear resonates: 27. Do things that make you speechless. If at any time you're perfectly able to articulate your stage in life, then you're not moving fast enough. “Fear is a compass pointing true north;” trust the compass.
Fear resonates in balance with wisdom from my friend CC: remember to give yourself permission to enjoy your life as best you can. Contrary to the message of both my and my husband's childhood, life is not an endurance test. Its okay to love as much, delight as much, rest as much as you can. And take the easiest path possible, within the context of your own True North, whatever that may be.
A few months ago my husband announced his intention to start birding again. In his early 20s, after moving from New Mexico to attend Warren Wilson College, he took up birding. When we started dating, a lot of our dates revolved around birds and being outside. He had a poster of a Loon on the wall of his room back in those days. He badly wanted to see a Loon but never had---not even after all those summers working trail crew for the Appalachian Mountain Club up north. Never had until today.
A Loon is hanging out on a pond at a local park near downtown. No one knows why. It certainly shouldn't be here. But it is and when my husband heard about the Loon, he jumped in the car, drove over there, and there it was. One of the things he likes best about birding is that if you go, other things happen--seeing other wildlife, finding your true love, having unexpected adventure, one never knows. Today while viewing the Loon he also got to see a mama Wood Duck with five babies. Normally Loons and Wood Ducks are quite shy.
Credit for both images: K. Grigg, a colleague who was also Looning this morning. I'm so glad she had her camera. If you click up, you can see the Wood Duck babies.
Another cool thing about birding is that if you go, your kids begin to notice birds without seeming to try. A few weeks ago my son spotted a female Summer Tanager, which we all then got to see. Yesterday my daughter heard a Yellow-Billed Cuckoo and then found it with the help of her father. And we all got to hear it again this morning along with a Hooded Warbler, a Wood Thrush, and a Rose Breasted Grosbeak. Of these, the song of the Thrush is my favorite. We hear Pileated Woodpeckers frequently. And Barred Owls, monkey calling in the night, of course.