Thursday, July 27, 2006


I've been thinking a lot about the five senses, and particularly about touch as it relates to the other senses. The other day, I was making an apple pie to use up all those apples we bought. (sure, that's my excuse) No, the truth is that I love apple pie..and most fruit pies. I like the way the cooked sweet fruit tastes like velvet and the pastry crumbles into flakes on the tongue. I've been on a quest to make a decent pie crust for years. It's not in the recipe, really, it's in the ingredients, the temperature, the humidity, and the touch of the baker. I'm thwarted in this by my husband, who far prefers crumbles to pies..and crumbles are easier, so my quest isn't really a full time one. I only make pie every once in a while.

This last apple pie was a good as they come. The quick to spoil and soft Lodi apples didn't need to be pre-cooked and the crust was right---well, messy on the top crust--it didn't roll out neatly, but tasted lovely--just as buttery flakey and firm yet crisp as it was supposed to. Here's the other little secret. I ate one piece a day, every day for breakfast, with a cup of tea and a glass of milk, until it was gone. It didn't last long...

The few minutes a day I spent with my nearly perfect (that messy crust top) apple pie left me thinking about my personal experience with each of the five senses--and my own aspirations. I am happiest when immersed in these tangible pleasures of touch, taste, sight, sound, and smell, but I'm always pushing myself to do better, more thoughtful work--whether it's a pie crust or a design or a piece of writing. I think these high expectations keep me learning and trying harder. I've had people say tell me that I'm always dissatisfied and that I'm overly intense, that I push myself (and others) too far. I try to understand what it would be like to just be satisfied, to turn off the intensity, instead of continuing to struggle towards something that might be better around the corner. I can't really imagine it, because while there are fabulous moments in life to enjoy.. I feel there's always so much more to learn and to do, if I just tried a little harder.

Harry the dog is so enthusiastic about this straining towards others that he broke a window pane the other day. He put his paws on the window sill, put his head up and began to bark at something outside. His head broke the glass-he is fine, and the window will be fixed. We are all a bit over-zealous here sometimes... maybe it's not just me.

If you were here, I'd invite you to pull up a chair in my dining room so we could just eat a little more pie and talk about this. (I'd seat you with your back to the broken window--it's a little embarrassing for Harry and me!) How much is enough effort? What is too much? I'd have to bake another pie for us, the apple pie didn't last long enough for me to even snap a photo! That experience, of taste and smell and touch, was so very satisfying.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

HOT and steamy

I said....Steamy. Yup. Has that got your attention yet? Bet you didn't think I was talking about what it's like when you're canning on a really hot day, errr week! Ahh, but if I mention blackberry brandy jam, apple-plum chutney (pictured here), real homemade Asian style plum sauce, and spiced homemade applesauce, and you're into food, that might just make you feel even more excited. At least, it does around here. Every summer I try to can the things we really enjoy eating. I do it because:
1) it saves money
2) it tastes really good, and you can't buy this in the store
3) it's about 90% locally grown and/or organic (spices and sugar are not local, cinnamon and sugar are just not grown here)
4) this is "fast food" for foodies
These are in no particular order, and I'd say, repeat #2 several times and you'll see why I do this! However, this summer, I've been busy and it's disrupted my usual canning schedule. Usually, I can about once a week in the summer. It takes no more than 1.5 or 2 hours, I listen to an audio book while I do it, and then I rest and do actual work that earns money later.

This year, I've been swamped with real, live, paying work. Yet, the blackberries and plums dared come into season anyway. darn cheek! I bought them at the farmer's market and thought, well, I'd make time. Then we bought some apples to cook with the plums. The orchard somehow had half-bushels of apples for a low price, and my husband, thinking bigger is better, dived in. That's a lot of fruit. I've only used half of it, and I've done something like 8 cups each of blackberry brandy jam, applesauce and plum sauce and 12 cups of the chutney so far this week. There are only two of us. Too. Much. Fruit. Still and all, I'm jonesin for peaches...

If you thought I was crazy before hearing about the canning, you may know for sure now. Like most folks in the USA, we've had hot weather this week, with no sign of it lifting for another couple of days. Even with the air conditioning on, the upstairs of our house hovers around 85. The outside temperature is in the mid-nineties, but with our lovely Kentucky humidity, we'll hit heat indexes over 100 most days this week. The combination of living in an old house and conserving energy means that we don't lower the 'mometer on the thermostat any lower than 78-80...instead, we sweat a little, and I just try to sit in the cool part of the downstairs (it is always cool there) to knit all this wool. We also try to dry clothes outside in this heat, and we walk when we can. We think about sustainability, conservation and global warming a little bit... if reading about it isn't enough, I'm married to a scientist and I have asthma that is worsened by pollutants that hang out in the air on hot, smoggy days. For me, this isn't just a political thing. Breathing. I like it, and it's hard this time of year.

I'm fueling my canning and knitting frenzy (did I mention knitting half a sweater jacket already this week?) with a lot of produce. My favorite salad has been in abundance and helps me think daily of the Middle East, which is on my mind a lot now. Favorite salad is Middle Eastern: cut up tomatoes and cucumbers very small. Mince in some green olives. Add good olive oil and lemon juice, salt and pepper. I was able to eat this directly from my own garden earlier this week:

Last, but not least, our guys Harry and Sally are alternately limp and panting, and then somehow boosted magically into adolescents with attitude by a small amount of cool air conditioning. Barking at passers-by, retaining housetraining skills (Sally says, "oops! I was excited, Mom, sorry about the couch, good thing it's scotch guarded") and reasonable behavior: strictly optional in temperatures above 90.
caption: What? It's so hot. What do you want now?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Cocoa Butter Rose

Here's a close up of the first sweater jacket that I've designed--May I present? ....Cocoa Butter Rose. Now I'm on to the next couple, since the contract is for three. I'm taking a short breather on the production knitting front. Last night, I worked on a sock for myself! Soon enough I'll be knitting away on the next full fledged wool sweater in summer time. Did I mention it again? Gosh, air conditioning is great.

I've finished Pride and Prejudice (again) and I still love the book. It's amazing how things just get better with time. I just can't recommend knitting with audiobooks enough. Makes me happy.

On this morning's walk I took a tumble and landed on the sidewalk pavement. It happens. I lost my footing, I couldn't regain it, I let out an involuntary, unladylike bellow and found myself on the ground. I somehow managed to throw aside two leashes so I could brace my fall with my palms. My hands (and shoulders) are a bit tender but I couldn't be more proud of my dogs. Sally sat right down at attention, waiting for me to help her continue her walk.
(Sally, at home, at attention)
Harry, his usual dramatic self, dithered around, trying to lick me and fix me up. The husband was there to help, luckily, and asked everybody to sit at the top of his lungs. Sally was already sitting and Harry was too concerned about my well-being. Nobody took the opportunity to run down the street, chase cars in traffic or eat cats, or escape. (not even the husband! :) I was bursting with pride over my two young rescued bird dogs. They are growing up, becoming well-trained and I'm so proud!

An aside...If you don't already support your local humane society and/or animal shelter, please consider it. Harry and Sally are both adopted from local animal shelters and they are fabulous parts of the family. You can adopt a dog or cat at PetFinder or at a local shelter. Please give Harry and Sally's friends and relatives good homes, if you can.

As we continued on the walk, we bumped into a neighbor. We had a great chat and her 4 year old son raced out of the house at a run, yelling, "Joanne....!" to give me a big hug. I forgot the scraped palms right away.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Beyond Technology

About ten years ago, one of my graduate school mentors taught me something crucial. I was teaching in an underfunded inner city high school where finding a xerox machine was a trial. There was no such thing as a class set of photocopies or a text book. She reminded me that using technology in the classroom didn't mean anything fancy. Sometimes, the technology you need is a pencil...or a piece of chalk. Many great things can be taught by using one's pencil. I never forgot her lesson. Thank you to all of you who provided me with feedback about my article and about my blog entry. When I stopped teaching in the inner city, I promised myself that I would still try to make a positive difference in the world as I tried a more portable career as a writer and designer. I am still learning from my professor's lesson. Sometimes the technology is complicated. Sometimes you need something simple, like knitting needles, or a pencil, to get the message out.
I'm grateful for the comments I've gotten through blog comments, email, letters and phone calls. I think sometimes sharing personal experience is scary and revealing. It can feel threatening or upsetting not just to the writer but to the people who read the writing. Some people feel threatened by the writer's experience, and some feel threatened that they did not do anything to alleviate the experience. These reactions have been a learning experience for me.

Meanwhile, I've been jostling the technology universe. I alternate between knitting madly on the couch (no electricity needed save for air conditioning, and thank goodness for that) and writing up designs on the computer, using Excel and drawing programs, etc. The sweater jackets were briefly on hold... I've now finished
this pillow, destined to be in a book edited by Shannon, the lovely knitgrrl. I've been listening to Pride and Prejudice on my Ipod, courtesy of Librivox Audio. I've taught and read this so many times, but it reminded me again about how civility worked 200 years ago, and how we lose some of that civility towards one another in the electronic age. We've gained enormous abilities to communicate, through email and the web, through blogs and telephones. We sometimes lose subtlety in the process. Writers see the details, observe subtleties and distinctions. That's part of the job. Those details can be upsetting, but without seeing the details, we might miss a vital part of our ever complicated world. One of my "uncles-in-law" is a rocket scientist for NASA, another works with power plants, and it's all necessary. Maybe this writing I did hit a nerve. Maybe I've found another way to be necessary. Harry and Sally haven't been here for a while, but mostly they are resting in the floor's cool places as often as possible. It's summer. It's hot to have fur. They do sometimes like to curl up on me when I'm knitting, even when it's 97 F outside, as it was earlier this week. This is when I am enormously grateful for the technology of air conditioning. Sometimes then, a pencil just doesn't keep the dogs's all about the right technology for the job at hand.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Daily Experience

This is our town square. If you click on the photo, you can read about the Civil War and see, way in the background, the marquee for the local theater, which features something on the "Gospel Truth."

My last post and the comments on it got me thinking about every day experience. Not all the issues I've dealt with recently have been great work and my home life are often a little oasis of safety. I've wondered whether to post the difficult stuff on the blog, but heck, life is sometimes about what's difficult. I struggle with where we live--in a time when religious fervor is at a fever pitch worldwide, I live in a part of the USA with a lot of evangelical fervor. Locals say, "Oh, this is the South, get used to it," but that isn't true, in my experience. I've lived both in Virginia and in North Carolina, and while these were states rich with religion, they were also places that accepted diversity and were somewhat tolerant of difference. In both of these states, there's a long history of accepting non-Protestants (Jews in particular) as ordinary citizens and even political leaders. That's not the case in Kentucky. If I question this, I've been told to "go back to where I came from." Where is that? Virginia? I'm a fourth generation American citizen. This is where I came from.

In fact, if anything, Kentucky has made me self-censor. I get cautious when I'm in social situations. What if I say something that will get me in trouble later? This sense of caution and fear is inhibiting. It's also kept me from making many friends here. As soon as I tell people about myself, it can become a difficult situation. For instance, I used to belong to a local knitting group. One group member in particular told me again and again that anything about my religion or my politics wasn't something she wanted to hear. I got tired of the intolerance...I could listen to their chatter about Easter, but could not mention Passover preparations without reproach. Now I knit by myself on the couch and participate in fiber listservs online. This was a painful experience for me, but those people didn't really know me. Even if only one member of the group perpetrated this intolerance, everyone else allowed it to continue. They didn't think it was "that bad." No one else stood up for me--in fact, the others who agreed with me just quit going to the group. In effect, non-Christian behavior, done in the guise of vigilant "moral" Christianity, kicked out the members of the group, Christian or Jewish, who did not tolerant this behavior.

This is a small town, and while I could start another group, there aren't an inexhaustible number of interested, diversity-tolerant knitters here. How do I cope? I strike back by writing about my experiences for big city publications. This is important because many people in big city blue state USA think religious intolerance is no longer prevalent in America. Here's the most recent article:

As American As...Proselytization:Fireworks,the Fourth and Jesus

Since you won't be able to see the photos clearly in the web article, I'll leave you with the flyer that was posted around our town square. Three or four blocks from my home, this is the closest Independence Day celebration...too bad it excludes all of the U.S. citizens who aren't Christian. I'll go to the university's celebration, where religious hymns will be interspersed with patriotic music. At least the fireworks are non-denominational.