Birthrights and Wrongs

I’m heading south and east this week to dig into some family history, the in-person research I can do only in person Ole Maryin Alabama. I’ll be staying in Jasper, with forays into Birmingham and down to Alexander City and Hackneyville. Part of the research will be digging into libraries and part will be driving around to see the environs where my forebears were slaveholders.

I’ve found what I could find on and at my local library; I have looked through old photo albums (hence the photo of Ole Mary washing clothes, from about 1915; it’s very possible she was a former slave). I have purchased deed-mapping software and found information in the strangest of corners online, but nothing beats feet on the ground.

I’ve never been to the south before. The furthest south I’ve been is Charlotte, Virginia, to visit a former relative by marriage, and to Baltimore. But I’m talking deep south, this Alabama journey, into the Black Belt where cotton was king. It’s a new experience for a California native — and part of my evolution. The paradox of moving forward is going backward, to see where I came from, which will help steer me ahead.

In the summertime when I was a child, we had lots of farm chores to do, especially before we went off to play. When I was about 12, my mother left a list of chores for us, and mine was to clear some weeds from the garden. I took the shovel, and I dug and sweated and shoveled, turning over the dirt, breaking a whole new row, fresh soil with no weeds. It took me about two hours in the hot sun to break that row. When I finished, I was so hot and tired I didn’t want to go out and play with a friend.

When my mom got home later that evening she said I hadn’t pulled the weeds.

“Yes, I did — look!” I showed what I had done.

But she shook her head, and showed me where the weeds were still standing in the rows already planted. What I could have done in ten minutes — pull the weeds and be on my way — I had not seen, had missed altogether. I still had to pull those weeds the next day — but I had broken ground, made the garden bigger.

Somewhere in there is a metaphor for privilege — just pulling a few weeds and skipping away, when someone has done all the work of breaking the soil, throwing the rocks aside, making it friable and fine enough for seed. I’ve done it both ways, the easy and the tough, and believe me, it was galling to think how hard I had worked when I could have had it easy. I imagine if I always did the hard part and someone else always did the easy job, I would be pretty fed up.

Am I a good person? Am I in integrity with my roots, with my future actions? Am I standing on the backs of others who broke the path? Enjoying the fruits of someone else’s labors? Am I bold enough to tell the story I find, regardless of what it is? Of how, or whom, it hurts?

I have many thoughts going through my mind as I prepare for this first venture into the past. But consider this a vow: Whatever I find, I’ll write about it, unflinchingly. I hope to tell it well enough so you want to read it, too.


sneeze: how to have a green cold

There’s no way to say that without sounding disgusting. Have a green virus? Suffer sickness in a green way? Gross.
What I mean is, you can go ahead and have your summer cold and flu without damaging the environment. I just recovered from my de rigueur annual summer cold and it was no fun, but guess how many redwood trees or whales or monarch butterflies were harmed in the process? None.  I came through this tedious summer malady with my eco-credentials intact.
We don’t use Kleenex in this house; we use handkerchiefs. As it happens, my mother-in-law thinks the ideal gift for Mr. Husband is a new package of white handkerchiefs for every Christmas. That’s 50-some packages of hankies, my friends. He was giving them away to Goodwill for a while, but I made him stop. We can use those, I said, instead of endless boxes of tissues.
I found a pretty box designed for storing photos, etc, and it has a nice piece of elastic around it to keep it closed. All the laundered hankies go in there until someone has a cold. Then the box comes out, and a laundry basket goes near the user, and it’s really no different than using up a couple of boxes of tissues. And it’s much gentler on the nose.
How yucky is it to wash handkerchiefs? Not at all. You wash sheets and towels, don’t you? Throw the hankies in with the sheets and towels, or any other load of whites. Wash them in hot water and dry them on the line or in the dryer. Heat and light will help kill germs (note: this won’t kill every germ — you’ll have to turn your water heater up to 180 degrees and add some bleach for that — not so good for the planet). Used hankies are no more disgusting than a dirty towel or baby burp cloths. And since I just fold and put them back in the box, it’s not like there’s a lot of extra work involved, O Lazy Ones.  A handful of handkerchiefs will not overload the laundry, I promise.  (And why so squeamish about your own body, anyway? Might want to take a look at that; I’m just saying…)
BTW, I don’t iron handkerchiefs because it’s important that they stay soft and absorbent.  (I do iron my pretty little lady hankies that I take to weddings and movies for gentle weeping, but those are not sturdy enough for a head-cold.)
If you don’t have access to a washer or have some other reason that you can’t use handkerchiefs, at least purchase recycled paper tissues (Full Circle, Seventh Generation, Green Forest are some brands you may recognize). And then dispose of these in the garbage, not the recycling bin. I also recommend against composting used tissues of any sort – home compost piles don’t get near hot enough to kill germs like this, and you don’t want viruses hanging around in the soil. No, you do not. (Note: the link is to a blogger who won’t carry a hankie when he’s ill, so check him out and see the other side of the argument.)
Antibiotics: Just say no
The other major way you can impact the planet for good when you have a cold or flu is this: Do not ask for or take antibiotics. Antibioticsare not for viruses. They are for bacterial infections only. Sinus infection? Yes. Bad cold? No. Go to the doctor if you need clarification, but over prescription of antibiotics is a global disaster in the making. You make yourself resistant to antibiotics by using them when you don’t need them. Then you will need stronger drugs, and you might be out of luck when that time comes. Or you might find yourself with a flesh-eating bacteria or lots worse. So say no to the drugs unless it’s absolutely vital for fighting a bacterial infection. And your summer cold is not that.
How else can you take care of the planet when you’re taking care of you? Stay home and don’t spread your germs around. Wash your hands frequently with plain old soap and warm water. (Stay away from antibacterial soaps for the same reason to avoid antibiotics.) Rest and catch up on reading. Snuggle with your pets, who never get enough cuddle time. Listen to some of your vast music collection. Take naps. Ask someone to make you some soup (any clear broth-based soup is good for you.) Use old-fashioned remedies like steam, hot tea, lemons and honey, to help you get well.
It’s boring to be ill in fine weather, and vexing to have to miss a barbecue or a parade (I missed the entire Fourth of July holiday, boo!). Give yourself the week to be ill. And pat yourself on the back for making a baby eco-step while you’re at it.

playing with my food

Garden gone wild!

I’ve been experimenting with cucumbers and zucchini all day, trying to figure out how to preserve the bounty of these tasty veggies — well, they’re really fruit — in different ways. Why? Because we eat only seasonal, locally grown produce. So when there are no cucumbers in my backyard and none at the farmers’ market, there are none on the table. So that means at least six months a year without cucumbers.

I love cucumbers. Cool, neither sweet nor sour, they are one of the most refreshing things I can think of to eat raw, out of hand like an apple, in a salad, with dip. Love them with rice wine vinegar and a sprinkle of sesame oil. Just a sprinkle of lemon-pepper is lovely. Or chile-lemon salt (look in the Mexican section at the grocery store — tasty stuff). Sour cream and dill make a creamy little cukey salad (learned that one from my mom). Or I can lay a few slices on my eyelids for a mini-spa treatment. One of my favorite salad dressings is cucumber dressing — no longer made commercially, but I used to buy it all the time and used it on everything from sandwiches to fish, as well as salads. Cucumbers rock da house. But (and this is a big but) — the fam doesn’t really like pickles. Only so many jars of pickles can I make. We still have last year’s stock, unfinished. And probably some from the year before. Disheartening, to say the least.

Zucchini I also enjoy, though with less enthusiasm than the crackin’ cuke. I have discovered how to freeze zucchini in many forms and thus it is not as big a challenge for me. Zucchini and other summer squashes are pretty easy to chop, blanch and freeze — grated, for baking, or sliced, for dinner veggies. And yet…what else can I do with these things?

I asked my friends on the Compact list about some different ways to preserve the bounty. Suggestions included dehydrating them. That sounds, frankly, disgusting. I’ve used the dehydrator to dry onions, celery and carrots before, to make soup mixes. And it makes the whole house stink of onions. Doesn’t exactly sound like the Glade fragrance of the week, does it?
Nevertheless and notwithstanding, I dehydrated some cucumber chips with the intention of rehydrating them later into salad dressings or sprinkled into salads directly. Will report back in about 6 months how that goes. The cucumbers did not stink. They smelled like nothing. They looked like green paper and crumbled right up. I used the thinnest setting on my mandoline to get the slim slices.
Also dehydrated some zucchini chips. I sprinkled these with garlic bread spices, and the house did smell garlic-bread-y all afternoon. I tasted one when they were dry and have been trying to get the garlic flavor out of my mouth for about 3 hours now (spits). Yuk. However, Mr. Husband cannot keep his mitts off the zucchini chips and they are half gone already. So it looks like this is a hit — a homemade healthy snack that is “free” (if you don’t count the effort of growing zucchini) — and not fried. And not wrapped in plastic. Treehuggers (like me) like that.

Onward: I made pickles last week and started wondering how the cucumbers would taste if there were no spices in the mix — that is, dill pickles without the dill? Wouldn’t they just be vinegar pickles? Cucumbers with a little vinegar taste? Could I use those in a salad? Especially if I’m just going to put salad dressing on them anyway? I don’t know. Maybe. So I gave it a whirl today — sliced up a batch of cucumbers and poured plain brine over them — no spices except for the salt. I made just one jar because a bunch of the cucumbers turned out to be spoiled — argh! The refrigerator got too cold and froze everything, then warmed up. Love the crappy old refrigerator that came with the rental…So the extra cukes for my experiments turned into chicken food, all mushy on the inside. Oh well.

Exhibit A. Here are one jar of “preserved cucumbers” and a partial jar of dehydrated cucumber flakes. I’d like to show you the zucchini chips but there are none left. Somebody Ate Them All Up.

And that’s about all I have to say about cucumbers and zucchini. I do, however, have this gratuitous egg shot for you — fresh from the pot, these hardboiled eggs are on their way to the refrigerator and later will become breakfast of champions for Mr. Husband. Yes, the chickies each lay eggs of a different color, which is charming. We write the date on the shell so we know which are the oldest eggs, thus, which to eat sooner.
Today the chickens ran around on the lawn while we cleaned the coop. I gave a wheelbarrow full of chicken manure to my neighbor LaVera, thus fulfilling the belief that I like to give people sh*t. It’s true. You want some? Come get some. I used lots of the dirty straw to mulch and nourish the new rows of beans I just planted today — hoping for another round of green beans in the fall. This summer has truly been the coldest in a long time, and my stock of green tomatoes is not amusing. It’s a little worrisome, since I have plans to eat off my produce for the winter. Sun — shine, please! I also planted more beets and radishes, plus a row of spinach and a small planter of Swiss chard. Here’s hoping a tiny ray of sunshine will warm the garden so these babies can grow.
Happy week to you, my friends.


So — what’s in your freezer? Been busy on the home front, taking care of produce and other food items that come our way. The dehydrator continues, nonstop, drying apples today. Yesterday I dried a few of the farmers’ market nectarines and plums, plus most of a flat of strawberries. They dry nice and chewy and sweet — the best “gummy” fruit you ever had, since it is pure sliced fruit through and through. No preservatives, either. Kid-tested, and she said, “Mmm.” I’m gonna buy another flat of strawberries to dry before the week is up, if I can.

I just processed a couple of quarts of green beans for the freezer (wash, trim, cut to length, quick blanch over boiling water, quick plunge into cold water, drain, Ziploc, freeze). Then I started on the corn. I’d put it off because I remembered it as being rather a pain in the *ss, and when I started stripping back the husks, a couple of the ears were mushy. (Instant chicken food, see photo below.) However, it took just 10 ears of corn to fill a gallon Ziploc bag, and was not that big a chore after all. I buy 2 or 3 of these commercially processed big bags per year, so I’m considering freezing another bunch or two and not buying any commercially produced corn in the coming year. I know this corn has fewer than 20 food miles on it (Brentwood, CA), was organically grown by a local farmer, and was not monkeyed with during preservation, except by me. I know its heritage, in other words. And when you’re talking about the food you put into your mouth and your family’s mouths, where it comes from and who touched it is important. Really, really important.

This is what my freezer looks like now. You see frozen bread (freebies from my bread site), a couple of bags of store-bought frozen veg (bulk buys), ice cubes, and in the bottom bin, you see several ears of corn frozen in their husks. Later in the year we’ll soak these and put them right on the barbecue. Nothing fancy with this freeze-job — no plastic needed. There’s also a baggie full of coffee ice cubes. Drop these into soy milk or regular milk, or your iced coffee, and maybe add a squirt of chocolate syrup. Yep. That’s a good way to use up the old coffee. slurp.

After I froze the corn and the beans, and sliced the apples to dry, I also froze a bunch of berries. I am doing a handful a day, what comes off my little blackberry, raspberry and strawberry plants. Enough for cereal for one day, but accumulated, I will eventually have enough for a batch of mixed berry jam, or a couple of pies. I yearn for that day…Thus far I have about a half gallon of mixed berries saved. Thanks to my friend Edwina for a gift of a pint of blackberries yesterday, picked from her yard (blows kisses).
My next project was to save some of the slightly stale bread that I got from the free site. I had several baguettes and sliced them thinly. Toasted them in the oven, low heat (200F) for about an hour. Magically, they became crostini. Perfect for eating homemade hummus, or fire-roasted red and green peppers, or Sonoma goat cheese and chopped olive tapenade. Floating in a bowl of thick soup with melted cheese on top. Crunching with smoky cheese and hearty salumi and a fruity red wine. Good stuff. Nothing wasted, either.
 The sad thing is that after all of this, I had to clean up the kitchen. For some reason, the little elves who make shoes or spin straw into gold don’t visit me. Ever. What’s up with that? Kitchen counter looked like this.
But the chickens were happy with all the scraps. Ends of beans and tops of strawberries and cut-out brown spots from apples and especially corn husks and cobs — holy Toledo. That’s good stuff, they said. And then they happily produce eggs with yolks as yellow as a yield sign. Good stuff for the peoples, too.
Tomorrow: Plums going soft. Rhubarb wilting. Marry them in the Crock Pot with sugar and SureJell and go out for the day. Come home and ladle into jars. More apples to dry. Zucchini to pick. Eggs to gather. And words to write…

woman errant

This is what I look like when I’m foraging, ferreting and erranding.

Yeah. That was me heading out the door on Tuesday, when I drove all over town, made 11 stops, and ended up saving a bajillion dollars. Where did I go? What did I do? You really wanna know? OK, kiddo. Strap on your helmet and let’s go!


  • Sunglasses, car keys, cell phone, hot coffee (in Mom mug).
  • Purse and sweater (in case it gets chilly, which it did not).
  • Envelope full of current coupons.
  • Green bag is my “briefcase” du jour – a slender reusable bag that held all my sale papers/inserts, and my lunch. Because I’m gonna be gone a couple of hours, so I need to be prepared NOT to drive through Taco Bell.
  • Receipt for dry cleaning.
  • Note the iron, which shorted out in the cord the day before, leaving me with 2 full baskets of ironing to do and no iron. We’re gonna find a shop that will fix it. We hope.
  • A budget. I’m not going to spend more than $100, as G*d is my witness…

I pushed the trip-minder odometer in the car to 0 and rolled gently away.


First stop was Walgreen’s, where I had coupons from the sale paper, plus the flyer with school supplies on sale. I intended to get most, if not all, of the Boy’s school supplies. I got a stack of single-subject spiral bound notebooks in manly colors (no pink, please) and 2 5-subject notebooks; copier paper (2 reams), a package of binder paper, 3 wooden rulers for 9 cents each (what’s that about?), a box of 100% recycled paper tissues for the teacher, and some scissors (I want a little pair of scissors for my purse so I can clip coupons. I know, NERD!). I also bought a $5 pack of 6 dishtowels in a moment of weakness. I walked out of there with a receipt for $22 … but … when I got to the car and checked the OfficeMax flyer, Zounds! They had scissors on sale for 20 cents! I took back the little pair of scissors and got my $2.11 back. I said, “I wasn’t supposed to get these.” Like, I’m not allowed to run with them or something. Lady rolls eyes. I take my money back to the car and buzz to the next stop.

Downtown, to where there are several fix-it shops, the library, the bank, and Goodwill. I did not intend to shop, but to donate. If I donated a bag of stuff to Goodwill, I got a coupon worth $5 off my next $25 spent. I can use that. Two fix-it shops downtown told me the iron is unfixable — or that they can’t do it, but a guy in Oakland at International and 30th can do it, and that was the end of my endeavor to fix it — for now. Next time I go to Oaktown I will venture that way. One guy tried to sell me a $79 steam iron. I said I needed to think about it. A long time. Ran through the library for a quick look-up of a book I want (The Kind Diet, by Alicia Silverstone), but there’s a waitlist, so I made a request and then went back to the car.

The Mall. OfficeMax had lots of school supplies on sale, but they’d been ransacked. I got scissors for 20 cents, which just made me tingle all over, and also Sharpies and highlighter pens. I left there with about $3.50 in damages. Then to Safeway, where corn was on sale at 6 for $1. I loaded up a big bag full of corn and also grabbed a flat of Santa Cruz strawberries on sale. Everything else I got with coupons or off the discount shelf in back (dented cans, etc.), so my final tally there was $48.87, with $28.89 in savings, and a 10 cents off per gallon coupon for gas. Woot!

Pit stop to drop off clothes at my fave consignment shop, All the More to Love, but doh! They weren’t taking clothes that day! Wasted trip. Next stop: bread donation site, where I loaded up on baguettes, sliced sandwich bread and whole grain batards. Next stop: dry cleaners, where I picked up a pair of slacks that I had cleaned. Sometimes you just can’t wash, dry and iron everything. $5.50 total.

Almost done…except for the iron. I went to CVS, where I had a coupon for 50 cents off my next purchase, and bought a decent Proctor-Silex steam iron for $16. Minus the 50 cents. Which made this a red-letter day in my budget…


Damages for the day: $93.37
Mileage: 11.8
Lunch: eaten in the car (water, coffee, Power Bar, apple, peanuts, green salad).
Follow-up chores: Freeze bread, slice baguettes and oven-toast into crostini, feed leftover bread to chickens; sort/store office supplies; freeze corn on and off cob; freeze or dry strawberries. Try out new iron. Go back to ATMTL another day. Keep broken iron in the car for next trip to Oakland. Balance checkbook from day’s expenses. Pat self on back for good day’s work. Fall asleep with sudoku and cat after dinner.