13 December 2007


One of the aspects of travel I most love is the opportunity to see how landscapes change as you move across the earth's surface. You begin to see subtle changes in the land as you travel high above it in an airplane, or as you travel past it in car or boat. Seeing earth's rich diversity of color and textures inspires me both aesthetically and emotionally.

My husband and I hopped on a plane Thanksgiving Day and headed for the dessert. We flew to Las Vegas, rented a car, and drove four hours to the northeast, entering canyon country. While he had been to Utah before, it was one state in which I had never set foot into before. I had been on a mission to visit Bryce Canyon for quite some years, and finally now I had the chance.

Thanksgiving weekend was already winter for Bryce, Utah. We stayed at the alternatively touristy, rustic, and charming Ruby's. Everyone who has been to Bryce knows Ruby's -- you literally can't miss it. The first hotel was built by Ruby and his family there in the early 1900s and the rest, as they say, is history. We arrived late Thanksgiving night, having driven down winding and mysterious roads to come there. The high altitude made us sleepy. We awoke to a bright winter morning with temperatures in the single digits Fahrenheit, ate a hardy breakfast, and headed to the edge of the geological feature erroneously known as Bryce Canyon. (I asked a geologist park ranger where the river was. He explained that it's acutally not a canyon because there never was a river. Bryce is a natural ampitheater that was formed by wind, rain, and snow.)

When we drove south a couple days later to Zion Canyon, the climate was different: the weather remained autumnal. The soaring canyon walls had golden sun painting their surfaces and the trees held on to multicolored leaves. The weather was comfortable at this lower altitude. Zion's walls came in a palatte of colors, including white, brown, sand, red, orange, and green with foliage.
This trip expanded my understanding of canyons, which I had once thought all looked much the same, one from the next. (Not many canyons where I grew up in Ohio.)

07 November 2007

Cooking Fresh for Fall: The Squash Files

This post is a follow-up to my article posted back in August, "Cooking Fresh Experiment: Summertime Foods." As summer drew to a close and I became busier at work, I was not able to keep up with the slower cooking ideas. It is so easy when I'm stressed out to fall back on cooking that is very fast. In contrast, it is much harder to find the energy to cook new foods. I did squeeze in a few experimental recipes that my husband pronounced winners, and I'm writing about those dishes here.

Spaghetti Squash is not a food I knew about from home-cooked meals in the Midwest. For me, it's a "new" veggie, but I have tasted it a few times from dishes prepared at the deli counter of my local organic market. It is the oddest vegetable, really. It looks like a big yellow squash on the outside, but when you cook it, it becomes all stringy inside like spaghetti. When I asked my husband what type of autumn meal he wanted me to prepare one weekend, he listed spaghetti squash as one of the approved fall harvest veggies he'd like. Well, thought I, Why not?

My cookbook advised that spaghetti squash may be prepared ahead and then used as a substitute for pasta in any meal. I admit to being a skeptic, but planned an Italian dinner around it. The squash didn't take long to prepare. Following instructions in my cookbook about poking holes in it and microwaving, I set to work. The most time-consuming part for me was separating all of the strings of squash from the skin into a bowl. I selected portobello mushrooms, olives and several fresh herbs such as Thai basil and rosemary. Added dried oregano and parmeasan cheese and sauteed it for five minutes. Presto! This Italian-flavored meal tasted surprisingly good for a main ingredient that was not remotely like pasta. It absorbs the flavors of spices and other vegetables much like another starch.

My other recent experiment involved a soup recipe from my new favorite cookbook by Annie Wayte, Keep it Seasonal: Soups, Salads, and Sandwiches. I adapted her original recipe for Squash Soup with Roasted Chestnuts and Pancetta slightly to accommodate my husband's lack of interest in chestnuts. Instead, I decided to use shallots so we could call this one Squash Soup with Shallots and Pancetta. We both like strong savory and onion flavors, so I guessed it might be a good substitution for the two of us.

Pancetta was also new to me since, unlike my husband, I did not grow up in a place big on Italian deli meats. (My local delis tended towards the Yiddish and Germanic ethnicities.) I actually had to learn how to pronounce "pancetta" in order to be able to ask for it and not sound ignorant: /pan-CHe'-tah/. When I bought the meat, I had to ask for 1/4" thick slices according to the recipe. I didn't know it looked like bacon, so it was a learning curve and instinct which told me three slices would be enough, when the butcher held up the meat.

I worked with organic chicken stock and used a butternut squash for the base. The butternut squash was so mellow and perfectly ripe, proving once again to me that there are great advantages to attempting this type of seasonal cooking. The results were so delicious that the many who is not big on soup got up and helped himself to another bowl before I could finish my first one. I think I've converted him to stews, a very least.

As a side note, I've discovered over the nine years I've known my husband that he is a very talented cook, especially when it comes to fall foods. He gets all excited about the prospect of cooking with cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg at the time when the leaves start to turn. In fact, his pumpkin dessert dishes are not to be missed. My most often-requested dish is his famous pumpkin mousse. Apparently it was sometimes his job to make the pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving when he was growing up. So ladies, when you set to prepare your Thanksgiving dinner, make sure you give your sons kitchen duties! The way to any woman's heart is a man who can make spectacular desserts.

25 October 2007

Summer's End

Back now to autumn, leaving the ended husk

Of summer that brought them here for Show Saturday

The men with hunters, dog-breeding wool-defined women,

Children all saddle-swank, mugfaced middleaged wives

Glaring at jellies, husbands on leave from the garden

Watchful as weasels, car-tuning curt-haired sons

Back now, all of them, to their local lives....

--Philip Larkin (1922–1986), British poet. “Show Saturday.”

How do I know that the summer has gone?

The humidity in Maryland drops low. Finally, by some time in October, the crisper and golden days of autumn are upon us. Dusk arrives more swiftly, by dinnertime, and the night begins to stretch like a tired worker, yawning and preparing for rest. Pumpkins are ripe for picking and carving. The fields of corn dry into husks and abundant apples, pears, and squashes are juicy flavors for mealtime.

October was my favorite month of the year in the Ohio Valley. As I raked our front yard and sidewalk, I loved piling the richly-colored maple and oak leaves into huge stacks and jumping into them. There would be powerful storm clouds on the horizon as the winds whipped leaves around the playground behind my house. I always loved it when summer came to an end. I greeted the full-on fall with relish. There was delight in the mysteries of shadows and magic of dressing up on Halloween. There was playing outside in the fading sunlight, knowing that winter's frost would soon be draping the sash windows of our Victorian house each morning. I was passionate about burrowing into my covers if I woke up early, in the coldness of dawn. It does not take much for me to be poetic or romantic about this time of year.

And, yet, this misty month of October presents a great quandary for my life today. October is the month where I am scrambling to fulfill my employer's needs in preparation for our largest fund-raiser of the year, which comes every first weekend in November. This is followed by a myriad of autumnal educational programs. I love all of these programs and would enjoy them immensely if it weren't for the sheer weight of days filled with more to do than time to do it.

So for me, summer's end is marked now with frustration, anxiety, and a sense of never completing all of the tasks I need to do within a day. I come home and fall asleep on the couch long before my normal bedtime or arise earlier than I normally must, my brain buzzing like a honeybee. Winter is near, draw in your honey now!

My Celtic ancestors who lived in cold, dark places of the British Isles believed that the beginning of winter was the first of November. For them, the harvest had to be completed by villagers just in time for the cold winds off the North Sea or Irish Sea to set into a permanent chill. The great festivals celebrating the fruits of worker's lives in produce or in craft. As the nights began to extend their reach and shorten the time a person had for her or his day's labor. A new year dawned on November 1st, so on the eve before they celebrated one last time as the sun seemed to leave them and the moon loomed large.

This evening at the end of the old agricultural year, October 31st, has morphed into an important commercial holiday of Halloween. But not too long ago, Halloween was All Hallow's Eve, a night when spirits of the ancestors walked and the doors to the land of the fey opened for mortals. (The Celts believed the fey, fairies, inhabited hollow hillsides). Mysterious and unusual things might happen. The Fey might play tricks. You might carve a turnip with a scary face and leave it on your doorstep to keep the fairies and wicked creatures of the night away from your family. Ancestors, however, were set a place at the dinner table in case they happened to walk by. They were the honored guests of the final feasts of summer. The recently harvested vegetables and fruits and freshly butchered meat was abundant still.

I do think deeply of my ancestors at the end of every October. Lately my grandfather, Walter H. Simpson, has come to my mind often. He passed on to the next world one October day, having already walked this earth ninety years. He was ready to go and had a long, full life behind him. He would probably council me that I work too hard. A hard-working man himself who built successful businesses as a mechanic and electronics repair man, my grandfather knew how to spend time at home doing the things he loved and surrounded by his family.

When he left us, he left me and my cousins and his children parting gifts. My inheritance from his equitably distributed small fortune, bought me out of my graduate school debt, paid for my car loan, funded a dissertation research trip to England, and enabled me to begin a small investment account. I never was able to thank him in life for these gifts of his labor, because I never knew his plan for his estate until a year after he died. So every Summer's End for the last ten since he passed on, I thank him with a candle lit in his honor and a photograph of him standing proudly in front of the gas station he managed on my hearth.

Wally -- which is the name by which I have come to know him through my grandmother's scrapbook -- was a tuba player in a riotous Roaring 'Twenties jazz band in Cincinnati called The Charlestonians. He recalled fondly to me playing "Tiger Rag" at top volume so that the police would not hear the bar fights in the background. (This was during Prohibition, mind you.) He was friendly with the brothers Machnowitz, the Lithuanian Jewish family from down the street. He may have surprised some when he ran off and eloped with an elder Machnowitz daughter. She was Ida, a willowy flapper with a gypsy-gleam in her eyes. A bold act for a pair who were not from the same traditions, at a time when anti-Semitism raged. Their romance of the mid-1920s is documented in her scrapbook, carefully pasted in with that awful acid-laden glue. They are laughing in groups with their friends and her siblings by the poolside or on the street corner. Like all teenagers they have the confidence and swagger of the young, who think they will never grow old. Some of these photos have faded or begun to disappear and pages are torn. Ida and Wally's memories survive, but sooner than me, some of those images will be dust.

These are my thoughts as Summer draws to a close and becomes November, the first month of Winter by Celtic reckoning. Long, cold Winter begins a new year. Ancestors and memories now deepen as shadows. The drawing the darkness around us like a cloak allows us to reflect upon the mysteries of life and of oblivion. Time is fleeting, but it must be faced. Come what may, Summer's end is a time for me to turn and look back over my shoulder to contemplate the long line of time behind me.

We are reformers in spring and summer; in autumn and winter, we stand by the old; reformers in the morning, conservers at night.

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson. “The Conservative,” Nature, Addresses, and Lectures (1849).

15 October 2007

Foodways: An Environmental Post for Blog Action Day

I've decided to participate in Blog Action Day, an opportunity for online authors to unite by posting their thoughts focused on one particular issue. The issue chosen this year is the environment. All I need do is write something relating to this topic and the environment is the topic on which I harbor deep-rooted beliefs and opinions. I have considered myself an environmentalist since sixth grade, the year I began some serious study on solar energy.

Solar energy isn't the topic I'm writing about today, but all life, and therefore, all food comes ultimately from the sun's energy. Back on August 31st I posted about my first foray into cooking fresh and local food. Today's entry continues on a similar theme, with the added information I have learned in the past five weeks.

Foodways is a fairly new word in common usage. Foodways of Austin, Texas website provides a useful definition of this rather academic term:

The term foodways refers to the culinary practices of a people and land, historical and popular. Food plays a defining role in local and national cultures. What people eat and how they eat it reflects numerous factors, such as landscape, societal, spiritual, artistic, psychological, political, economic, and other conditions.

I first heard this term in several cultural history courses back in the early 1990s. Now foodways is becoming a very important branch of humanities scholarship. Today (October 15, 2007) I attended a foodways lecture by culinary scholar Michael Twitty who has been exploring the intersection of West African cooking traditions of his ancestors with Chesapeake cooking techniques favored by enslaved peoples living in Maryland and Virginia. The program I attended at Historic London Town and Gardens was an opportunity for educators and living history interpreters to learn about hearth-cooking practices of African Americans from their earliest arrival as slaves in the British colonies in North America.

You may be asking at this point, how do foodways relate to my topic: the environment? The practices of acquiring, storing, and preparing food and of preserving foodways traditions relates directly to the land and to local practices of agriculture. One of the most fascinating parts of Mr. Twitty's presentation was his summary of the agricultural cycle that followed the seasons. He said that enslaved African Americans kept a "calendar of food dates" in their head, so that they might supplement the meager diet provided by their British masters. They also learned to use their wisdom of hunting, fishing, and gardening as well as their culinary traditions memorized by generations of West Africans. He argues that seasonal food preparation, foraging and cooking were necessities for enslaved peoples to survive the rigors of the oppression underwhich they lived.

Mr. Twitty also responded to a question about daily foodways practices. Again, he has taught himself the wisdom of people who labored hard and long hours by listening to the stories of his grandparents and of their generation and by reading diaries that survive from former slaves. He sees the carry-over of certain foodways from West Africa, such as the men's tradition of roasting and frying. Another West African tradition he observes in Enslaved Maryland culture is the tradition of the elder women preparing stew and hoecakes to be served to farm laborers for lunch and cooking one-pot meals for family dinners when the field hands have returned for the night.

What I find most fascinating about these ideas is their practicality and common sense. It reminds me that even people with Northern European ancestry have forgotten the ways living with the land and with the cycles of nature understood by their ancestors. As someone of likely all Northern European descent, I am on a journey of my own to discover the foodways known by the ancestors who emigrated to the New World.

I'm doing my best to seek as many local and organic foods as possible. I am also learning more about seasonal cooking and food preparation. Does this mean I'm going to start cooking with lard and molasses? No! My clean bill of health from my doctor just proves that cooking with olive oil and watching my sugar and carb intake is the best possible thing for me to be doing if I want to stay healthy long-term. But the point is, that local and organic foods are just better for you and better for the health of our planet as well.

My friend N. shared a news article about the 100-mile diet with me after my August post. I don't think I'm going to go giving up coffee, imported teas, chocolate, etc. and be quite that extreme, but I do believe that patronizing farmer's markets and local farm stands is a great thing to do for the environment. Buying local produce and limiting transportation costs or driving where possible is also something that everyone in the U.S.A. should consider doing more often. I have a good friend who is a member of a farm co-op that harvests local fruits and veggies and splits the harvest share among its investors.

All and all it's been a tough year for farmers and gardeners in much of Maryland. We don't feel the drought as our ancestors might have done who ate only local food, but the drought will have an impact on availability of local produce we like. The more we eat from the land where we live, the more we appreciate the impact we have on our environment through choices we make every single day.

As I tasted Michael Twitty's Cowhorn Okra Soup today, I remembered the goodness of eating foods grown right here in Maryland. {By the way, I'm normally disgusted by okra. But Mr's Twitty's home-grown okra is of an heirloom variety and not the slimy stuff I have come to associate with a nasty, stomach-turning "Ick!"} Mr. Twitty's personal stories and his emphasis on the importance of ancestral cooking traditions reminded me of the culture that surrounds the foods my family always likes to eat at harvest time.

I am in the beginning stages of a project to learn about my own Scots-Irish ancestry and my ancestors who came from the Old World, perhaps sometime back in the mid-18th century. I think that learning about what they ate is almost as important is reading what they wrote. So much of culture is transmitted through the preparation of food. We remember well the home-cooked foods of our families, don't we?

Below are several resources that are helping me to begin the process, and I hope to add more to this list as I continue my research.

What can you do to preserve your own foodways and culinary traditions? Cook a feast for friends or family with local foods. Dig out and prepare your grandmother's or grandfather's best recipes. Or share your thoughts and memories in comments to this post.

Slainte! ("To your health!" in Scottish Gaidhlig)

A Few Resources

Culinary scholar, Michael Twitty's Afro Foodways website.

Kentucky Foodways: Traditional and Modern by Elizabeth Mosby Adler

Our Immigrant and Native Ancestors:Southern food evolved from many ethnic influences, from The Culture of Southern Food website.

There appears to be a new book about Renewing America's Food Traditions that is available for download online. A sustainable living organization is using it to promote it's efforts to preserve heirloom plants and native animal breeds for Americans.

09 October 2007

Scraps of Life

I believe in the power of images to tell stories. Sometimes when a person organizes and selects from images at hand, the images change their meaning, are transformed into a new, private language of symbols.

My mother, who is both a fine artist and professional designer, taught me how to create collages at a very young age, probably as young as four or five years. My first collages included dried beans, macaroni, rice, and buttons stuck to pieces of scrap cardboard with Elmer's glue or paste. My Mom carefully oversaw and encouraged my progress as a mixed media artist. My favorite collage object in the early years was the pasta shaped like spoked wheels or cart wheels!

Time and time again I return to collage techniques and dabble in this artform. I add and embellish my skills and my choice of materials each time. My production in collages and photomontages is not consistent through any one period of my life, but I often fall back on these techniques as handy ways of stirring up new meanings from a cauldron full of images. I most often make these artworks for myself or for a family member's gift or card. When I need to express myself through images, I find collage to be the most powerful tool in my arsenal of creative techniques.

In high school I loved cutting up fashion magazines to make outlandish and subversive symbolism. This phase of my creativity culminated in a three-foot high Stop-sign shaped collage piece made in my freshman year at Harlaxton College for my "fundamentals of art" course. I suspended this collage piece from the ceiling in our gallery area. The Stop sign was divided in half and each half faced a different direction, so that a view could see designs from facing all four compass points. The four surfaces of the sign were covered with collage elements from fashion rags and printed pop media. I was definitely approaching the end of my "Hannah Hoch" phase by the time I completed that year abroad and came back to study commercial photography at an art college in my hometown. Hannah Hoch, for those who don't know her, was a Dadaist artist from Germany who used fashion magazine images to subvert their power as exploitation and crass consumerist propaganda.

In photography school, I made photomontages and assemblages of photographs. The type of photographic assemblages I most often made are often termed "joiners," that is, the art of arranging photographic images in overlapping panoramic scenes to form a natural perspective view of the landscape or scene. This was my "David Hockney" phase, appropriate since Hockney coined the term "joiners" as a art photography technique involving his specific brand of photomontage.

Next, in my late college years and throughout graduate school, I entered into a "cubist phase," which is to say that I was highly influenced by Picasso and Braque and their famous critic and promoter Clement Greenberg, who helped the artists to popularize modern collage techniques. For me, this was a kind of serious "getting back to roots" phase where my collages often followed simply geometry. By this point I was well-trained as an art history scholar, so I knew the artists to look for when I sought inspiration. In addition to Picasso and Braque collages, I found German artist Kurt Schwitter's "merz" collage particularly meaningful. Schwitters picked up refuse off of the sidewalks and incorporated it into his collages. Joseph Cornell's mysterious boxes filled with collage elements impressed me when I first saw them at The Art Institute of Chicago, and later at other museums. Once I actually co-organized a spiritual collage workshop at a church retreat, and everyone who came from ages seven through ninety, had a great time expressing themselves through collage. Collage is everywhere these days with layer upon layer of visual media surrounding us in the urban landscape and cyberspace.

Now I am entering a new exploration in manipulating images for my own expression. In the past month, my collage output has taken an unexpected turn all because my colleague A. introduced me to the world of Victorian die-cut scraps during the summer. She organized two workshops on Victorian holiday ornament-making to help our volunteers plan and prepare for making authentic decorations for the museum's Christmas trees for two late nineteenth-century exhibit spaces. She brought in specialists who collect and reproduce the look of Victorian ornaments to teach us the techniques. Each of the presenters had her own favorite types of ornaments, but both utilized pieces of die-cut printed paper scraps that the average Victorian matron and her children purchased for craft supplies.

Suddenly a whole new world of collage imagery has opened up for me. I have long wanted to make "altered art" books or objects, like the ones I've seen in craft galleries and art shows. Yet I lacked the sense of where I want to begin and of what images to use. These die-cuts, printed to fulfill the needs of Gilded Age crafters provide me with a brilliant spark of ingenuity. I now on a quest to purchase Victorian die-cut examples and wheel in my mind are already turning on the possibilities for collage-making.

I've learned that many people used the die-cuts for paper cards and holiday tree ornaments, but they also applied them to pieces of furniture and other objects. There are many names for this. You might find a term arte povero, "poor man's art" in Italian sources, while it's called lacque pauvre, "poor man's lacquer" in France and jappaning in Britain.

What appeals to me about these printed faces, animals, floral arrangements, and holiday scenes, is their direct link to the cultural past -- to life a century ago -- in a period when printed news media dominated the intellectual culture of the day, as opposed to virtual media. I think I have found the tools to tell history of a period I know well from my art history scholarship as well as from a personal fascination. There is an inherent appeal for all things relating to Victorian antiquarian scholarship. Now that was a culture that appreciated (and exploited) other cultures past and present for their exotic qualities. A large part of my personality can relate to that sense of longing for something different, something other and, perhaps a bit strange and extraordinary.

Clement Greenberg's legendary essay "Collage" is now free and accessible online.

An online article about "The History of 18th Century Decoupage," by Studio D.

The Victorian Scrap Gallery by Dee Davis and Gail B. Cooper. The contents are featured in Google.com's online book gallery (follow the title hyperlink).
D. Blumchen is a treasure-trove of reproduction Victorian scraps and nifty crafting catalogue.

01 October 2007

Time Travel to Mount Vernon

Have you ever wanted to travel back in time?

I was lucky enough to be able to get as close to time travel this weekend as current technology permits, by becoming a re-enactor at a large colonial-era event taking place at Mount Vernon this past weekend.

The concept of time travel has appealed to me since my childhood. I think a large part of my insatiable interest in history relates to the strong desire to know what it is like to live in a different era of the past or of the future.

I read a lot about time travel in science fiction novels and avidly watched the British TV series Doctor Who, about a race of super-genius beings who harnessed the power to travel in time and space. The fact that the show is the longest-running and most-revived British television programme in the genre of science fiction tells me that there are other people out there who share my wacky hope that hurling through time aboard your TARDIS ship would be the ultimate adventure travel trip.

I had a gifted teacher for advanced placement U.S. history in high school who brought the past to life by having us read Civil War diaries, newspaper entries, court records, etc. All of a sudden history class was far more than merely a boring list of names, dates, and events to memorize in order to regurgitate on an exam. It was a powerful link to real people who lived, breathed, and once walked this earth. I strongly suspected that teacher was a Civil War re-enactor. The idea of re-enacting as a hobby grew in the 1960s and has taken many forms including renaissance faires, ethnic festivals and battle re-creations of many different periods.

All of this exposition is my confession that at last I have finally become what I long wanted to be -- a living historian instead of a book-learned historian. Museum educators who work on interpretation of historic sites like me have a natural edge when it comes to making the transition from academic historian to living history re-enactor. Many living history volunteers with whom I've had the pleasure to work over the past five years have been generous with knowledge and advice about what it takes to become a re-enactor. Members of the First Maryland Regiment have slowly turning my mind around to the possibility. Over time, they have become my friends and have shared their knowledge of eighteenth-century life with me. I have also met other museum professionals and colleagues who believe in the power to make history live through living history interpretation at historic sites.

You cannot imagine how intimidating the idea of becoming a living historian has been for me. You would think that someone who lives and breathes history and who also harbors this desire to become a re-enactor, would find the transition simple. Not so. History courses teach you nothing about how to wear five layers of clothing in summer weather; how to purchase your first set of stays (like a corset); where to go to buy accurate straight-lasted shoes; how to hold your posture differently if you are a common person than if you are a gentlewoman; or to speak like someone from out of the past. No, all of these things are not taught in graduate school.
I am lucky enough to have the benefit of friends from several living history organizations and experienced character interpreters who have provided me with advice and encouragement. They have taught me the practicalities and helped me to feel comfortable wearing historic attire as it is intended to be worn. They take all of my questions seriously and often share much research and re-enactor lore. Fortunately, my Girl Scout training did teach me something of surviving in a camp outdoors and cooking over a hearth. At least I was ready to cook when asked to help prepare the stew and spiced sweet potato and apple dishes.

It is difficult to find words to describe what camping out overnight at George Washington's Mount Vernon is like. Beneath a just-recently full moon, the bustling camp was lit in lantern- and fire-light as we finished putting up our tents on Friday night. The uppermost tower in the house was light all night and the great sword of the constellation Orion the Hunter hung above me as I woke before dawn for a stroll down the hill to the necessaries. The temperature was perfect for autumn camping.
In daylight hours, the encampment was filled to the brim with more 18th-century folk than tourists. Children played hide-and-seek and giggled with each other. Women cooked, baked, washed dishes, gossiped, and had afternoon tea with Lady Washington (Mary Wiseman) on the bowling green. Infantrymen, rifle sharpshooters, and artillery troops drilled and demonstrated their training to all assembled in the valley below camp. On Saturday evening the good folks at Mount Vernon allowed the parent re-enactor organization, The Continental Line, to hold a large party for all re-enactors to celebrate the Line's 20th anniversary. It's difficult to say but there could have been one thousand re-enactors taking part during the weekend's events, certainly from every one of the former 13 colonies. I met a lady from Massachusetts during the hearth-baking class and several folks from a New Jersey unit. All volunteers. All driving to Virginia on their own dime just for the chance to be a part of this event.
For two whole days, you might have stepped into another century as a visitors walking along the plantation's main pathways. You could stroll into camp and talk to folks, watch the military drills or interact with 18th century gentlefolk going for a stroll around the grounds. For two entire days I soaked up every minute of not sitting in front of a computer, not answering phone calls, not watching t.v., but rather just living in the moment. That moment ,with the fight for liberty hanging in the balance, seems all the more real when it's enacted before your eyes and you are part of it.

20 September 2007

Be the best, not in, but for the world

Disclaimer: Normally this blog is not very political. This week's post is. If you don't like my views, read someone else's blog or, better yet, write me a comment and say your peace. Democracy isn't about agreeing with one another, but it is about conversation. . .

The title of today's post comes from a presentation I attended recently. A brand new non-profit organization in my community called enVISIONing Annapolis sponsored the talk. This is an organization dedicated to generating an inclusive dialogue to help our growing community plan for the long-term future. I volunteered to help out at the lecture because I think it's about time my little city begin a dialogue on its growth problems and social problems, and put an end to all of the useless bickering. I hear too many people around me who love to complain and only a few, very dedicated souls who do anything to address our problems. Sadly some of the do-nothings are in our local government; others are businesses. We need a change. We need someone to come in and shake us up and to make us think.

The quote in my title was made by a visionary urban consultant, Charles Landry, who used it to bolster his notion that for a city to survive and be vital, it needs to be creative and to have a creative class of citizens who think altruistically. I had heard of Landry's work before in the media. I love it that his title while he consulted with the city of Perth, Australia was "Thinker-in-Residence." That's simply lovely. Every city should have (and take seriously) a person called a thinker-in-residence. If we cannot afford to keep a thinker-in-residence, than it may be enough to bring one here for a weekend and ask him to tell us what he sees and to show us ways we might re-think our sense of direction.

Landry's approach to urban development is familiar to me. Not because I know a great about him and his work, but because he reminds me of another visionary, who I hold as one of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth-century: R. Buckminster Fuller. Fuller, or "Bucky" as he was known around my house when I was growing up, was my father's design professor in Carbondale, IL back in the early 1960s. My parents knew Bucky and his wife. He came to their parties. What I learned from Bucky Fuller comes from everything my parents taught me about comprehensive design and about solving problems using your creativity. There's a well-known Bucky quote that sums up his creative process:

"When I'm working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong."– R. Buckminster Fuller (1895 - 1983), US architect, engineer, and comprehensive thinker
Bucky Fuller was someone who you could truly call a visionary, that is, someone who sees the future just on the horizon and who works toward making that future a brighter, more positive one for the human population as a whole. No problem was too big for Bucky. He thought all of the time about how technology could be utilized for the good of humankind and even predicted the hunger storage many developing countries are experiencing now, in the 21st century. He believed that:

“For the first time in history it is now possible to take care of everybody at a higher standard of living than any have ever known. Only ten years ago the ‘more with less’ technology reached the point where this could be done. All humanity now has the option to become enduringly successful.”– R. Buckminster Fuller, 1980

He said that in 1980, three years before he left us and this planet for good. I don't think Bucky ever stopped believing that technology was the answer to creatively solving humanities problems.

Me, I'm not so sure that technology is the answer, but I know that creativity is. Perhaps this short post is my personal creativity manifesto. If, like Mr. Landry said, my little city of Annapolis decides to "be the best, not in, but for the world," what would "the best for the world" look like? Would Annapolis become a leader in Green Living? Probably not, but I would like to see green space (lots more than we have) in the city center. I would like us to tear up parking lots and put in parks. I want to see recycling containers along major pedestrian areas just like they are doing in Nova Scotia [See my post from July 20, 2007]. I want to see energy-efficient uses of wind and solar power. More sailboats and less motorboats, for the energy crisis that is upon us already. I'd like to see more historic homes have rain gardens around them, not just the few historic sites. Maybe a few "green roofs" would be a good idea, too.

Charles Landry suggested that Annapolis, as you approach it from the water -- the best way to approach our city, by the way -- has a dock area completely abandoned to the automobile. Why do we Americans so worship our cars? Often our entire environment is built around the ease of car travel and not foot/bike travel. I say we should get rid of cars downtown altogether. Yes, that means we'd need parking lots somewhere else, and public transport between these lots and the downtown. However, at least there then might be a downtown where children and adults could safely walk, perform music or pantomime, converse and celebrate. Wouldn't that be a better Annapolis for all?

Annapolis may be laid out in a plan that mirrors European cities, but it is decidedly not a European city in character. European cities have pedestrian-only shopping districts and better public transit. Europeans expect to walk or to ride bikes downtown. Why not think even more creatively than Washington, D.C. or Baltimore about public transit? If Annapolis and its region has so much coastline, then why not build water transit that everyone can afford to use. Let's abandon our cars for environmentally-efficient boats! Wouldn't people from out of town pay to ride in the world's first water-taxi-only downtown corridor? Couldn't we make it easier for tech workers to kayak or canoe to work? The waters are rising folks. Chesapeake Bay Foundation's research on climate change suggests that the sea rise will be as much as 3 or 4 feet by the end of this century.

Well, perhaps I am too naive. I still think our community is much in need of a wake-up call and I'm glad Landry made some of the controversial observations about our city that he did. I would love to see more young artists, scientists, and entrepreneurs living and working downtown. But young people are priced out of the housing market in our downtown. My husband and I are very middle class professionals and yet buying a house in downtown Annapolis (or even a condo) is not possible. We are looking at homes in burbs and rural communities to the south and to the west to lay down permanent roots, as I've almost given up on this city as a place I can truly call a "hometown." It's a sad commentary when we cannot afford to live here, it means there are many more workers in Annapolis with vital skills: school teachers, police officers, restaurant workers, and medical care-givers, who can only dream about living in Annapolis.

I want this city to be a beautiful, living place where there is diversity and harmony. How can that be when so many people feel abandoned and closed-out of the dialogue. I've offered to give my time at future enVISIONing Annapolis lectures in the hopes our efforts might indeed generate some dialogue and the dialogue, some serious action.

13 September 2007

Wheels of Time

Calendar from Webster.com
Etymology: Middle English calender, from Anglo-French or Medieval Latin; Anglo-French kalender, from Medieval Latin kalendarium, from Latin, moneylender's account book, from kalendae calends
1 : a system for fixing the beginning, length, and divisions of the civil year and arranging days and longer divisions of time (as weeks and months) in a definite order -- see MONTH table

Reflections about the way human beings tell time have been with me this week. It began with a news story on BBC News about the country of Ethiopia celebrating their own version of Y2K seven years after the rest of us (cf. Why Ethiopia's Millennium is seven years late, by Elizabeth Blunt BBC News, Addis Ababa). I find it rather interesting that Ethopians so love their way of seeing the world, and believe so fervently in their own Christian traditions dating to ancient Coptic times, that they staunchly refused to celebrate the Millennium on 31 December 1999. Of course, I also know sticklers to the rule in the Western World who wouldn't actually believe we had entered the Third Millennium until 1 January 2001.

I can remember that I had a childhood preoccupation with calendars from many different cultures and studied clocks, watches and timepieces in coffee-table tomes in the library at a fairly early age. It probably began with my love of history and archaeology that I nurtured during those formative years. I had a flirtation with the idea of becoming an Egyptologist or scholar of Ancient Greece back then. My elementary school librarian reminded me a few years ago when we were reintroduced, that I was the little girl in Second Grade who had every book on Egypt, Greece and Rome checked out at some point. (Yes, I was a book nerd even then.) What I was hungry to learn centered around the fact that these cultures had different languages, different ways of viewing the world, different beliefs and religions. Among the array of differences about these ancient peoples I discovered for myself was their methods of telling time. The ancient Romans were very focused on conducting business. Maybe that is why we borrow the etymology for our word "calendar" from their word for the accountant's notebook. [See epigraph above.]

There's a hilarious cartoon about Druids at Stonehenge who are deciding what to do with the standing stone calendar they've just finished constructing by Tom Cheney from The New Yorker. It made me laugh because once human beings create a system, they cannot seem to let well enough allow and enjoy the invention. No, they always make their lives even more complicated by adding extra layers of minutiae, red tape, or rules. Calendars are not simple wheels of time, but rather the starting points for entire philosophies, religions, ways of conducting business, or exchanges of communication.

Case in point: in my working life I am a museum educator for a historic site. Annapolis was founded as Maryland's capital in the late seventeenth century and had it's heyday throughout the eighteenth century up to the War for Independence. England (and, thus it's colonies in the New World) adopted the Gregorian Calendar in 1752 CE due to a parliamentary act known as An Act for Regulating the Commencement of the Year; and for Correcting the Calendar now in Use. That means that anyone born before 1 January 1752, suddenly had a new birthdate thrust upon him/her. The new birthday would depend upon whether or not s/he was born before March 25th, the Christian holiday of the Feast of the Annunciation, which in England was the first day of the Civil (or Legal) Year. Famously, George Washington's birthday moved from 11 February to 22 February due to the change from the Old Style calendar to the New. Confused yet? [See resources below.]

To make matters more confusing, you and I need to decide what heavenly body will be the basis for our calendar. For people living in North America or Europe, the sun is likely the basis for your daily existence and days of conducting business. If you come from India, Jordan, or China, your dates may be based upon lunar cycles. The Feast of Easter, the height of the liturgical year for many Christians, is often calculated as the first Sunday from the full moon on or after the vernal equinox (21 March). This is why the movable feast of Easter dances around. It comes one year in April, but might sometimes appear in late March. If you are a farmer or gardener, you might be more concerned with the lunar calendar like the one in Farmer's Almanac. If you sail, kayak or live near a large body of water like the Chesapeake Bay, then the moon is also important to you because it affects coastal tides.

This is all to suggest that calendars are very arbitrary things by nature. The next time you make a lunch date with a friend or business meeting with an associate, think about the fact that there is a social contract to which you both must agree: not only a date and time, but also upon which calendar you are using.

By the way, Happy New Year today if you are Jewish. It's Rosh Hashanah (09/12/07 or Elul 1, 5767).

Do you have a favorite movable feast? Use a minority calendar? I welcome you to post your comments and ideas here.

Annotated Resources:
Learn more about the Old Style vs. New Style Calendar and how to make sense of dates around the year 1752 CE in a helpful article by Mike Spathaky written for genealogists.
Use Earth Calendar to find out what holidays are celebrated on any given date on the Gregorian Calendar.
See WebExhibits for more about the minutiae of the Western World's calendar: Definitions of Our Year, http://webexhibits.org/calendars/year-definitions.html
If you are interested in the history and archaeology of calendar, I highly recommend the scholarship of Anthony F. Aveni in such books as Empires of Time: Calendars, Clocks and Cultures.
One of my personal favorite books of history and folklore about telling time is by a British history professor from University of Bristol, Ronald Hutton who wrote The Stations of the Sun among many fine scholarly works on rituals and folklore in Great Britain.

06 September 2007


I am that supreme and fiery force that sends forth all the sparks of life. Death hath no part in me, yet do I allot it, wherefore I am girt about with wisdom as with wings. I am that living and fiery essence of the divine substance that flows in the beauty of the fields. I shine in the water, I burn in the sun and the moon and the stars. Mine is that mysterious force of the invisible wind. I sustain the breath of all living. I breathe in the verdure and in the flowers, and when the waters flows like living things, it is I. I found those columns which support the whole earth . . . I am the force which lies hid in the winds, from me they take their source, and as a man may move because he breathes, so does a fire burn but by my blast. All these live because I am in them and am of their life. I am wisdom. Mine is the blast of the thundered word by which all things were made. I permeate all things that may not die. I am life.

-Hildegard of Bingen, 12th century

My reflections this week are elemental. Not only am I engaged in some private research on the elements, but I am also beginning a course acupuncture treatments for chronic sinusitis, an illness which has plagued my whole life. I found it thrilling, therefore, to find in twelfth-century visionary artist Hildegard von Bingen's writings the epigraph above on the nature of lifeforce.

Our bodies are living organisms with communities of organs working in collaboration and with a network of neurons deciding on courses of action. Our nerves are like the invisible wires that cause mechanical devices like computers to switch on or switch off in a pattern of ones and zeros. If this metaphor holds, then it also stands to reason that sometimes a body's wiring or mechanisms may not function correctly, or might encounter a problem creating an infinite feedback loop. Clearly my immune system has been running poorly and is currently experiencing a breakdown.

Western medical science can perform great miracles. I don't doubt that it is a valid path of restoring health. I do find, however, that after some 34 years of attempting standard Western medical practices: drugs, injections, inhalers, etc., I need a breath of fresh air and a different point-of-view to help solve my systemic problem. It's not just the headaches I often feel, ranging from mild to migraine. It's not just the sore throat, coughing, wheezing and general feeling of listlessness that comes with each infection. It's the constant rash of dry, crackling skin; the insane amount of water I need to drink to prevent dry-mouth; and the pressure on my brain. Sometimes it's also the millisecond of fright that arrives in the morning, wondering if I'll be able to take that first breath of the day through my nose or mouth -- or at all.

That's where the Chinese concept of Qi comes in. Qi, life energy, is a concept that I have known about since I wandered about studying Eastern philosophies during college.

A definition of Qi from Wikipedia.com

Qi, also commonly spelled ch'i (in Wade-Giles romanization) or ki (in romanized Japanese), is a fundamental concept of traditional Chinese culture. Qi is believed to be part of every living thing that exists, as a kind of “life force” or “spiritual energy.” It is frequently translated as “energy flow,” or literally as “air” or “breath.” (For example, tiānqì, literally “sky breath”, is the ordinary Chinese word for "weather). In Mandarin Chinese it is pronounced something like "chee" in English, but the tongue position is different

I now realize that Qi is the same word I've heard people pronounce like /chee/. Some even use a westernized spelling of it: Chi, as in Tai Chi Chuan, a martial art I practiced for a while during graduate school. Personally, I think of Qi as lifeforce, the energy that binds our bodies together and helps them to breathe and move. It's also the energy that makes us aware of ourselves and of our surroundings. It is that which creates our sentience.

Lifeforce is not unknown to the West as Hildegard's poetic writing proves. Many religions hinge around a concept of a life-force or an energy surrounding all things. It is a concept familiar to anyone who knows about the Shinto beliefs in Japan or to the cosmology of Native American peoples. And even if you aren't particularly spiritual you've probably heard of The Force. ("Use The Force, Luke.")

There must be something within my body's energy or lifeforce that is not working as it should. Why should I labor under a near constant state of illness, no matter how slight? It's been so long since I've sought any medical treatment for my sinusitis, and since I last received care for it, the world has changed. Insurance companies now accept the probability that cases like mine can be treated with acupuncture. And that is where I arrive at the Qi concept. I know someone who found great relief from sinus trouble through acupuncture. Other friends of mine have had even more serious illnesses like Crohn's disease treated successful by Chinese medicine and acupuncture.

At last I have found the right combination of willingness to try something new in the hopes of relief from my non-debilitating, yet irritating condition and of ability to afford said treatment. I found my courage and went to my first acupuncture appointment last Thursday.

The first thing I realized was that it was more like going to a massage therapist appointment than like a doctor's office visit. I didn't have to undress and wear a tiny sheet. I didn't feel cold. The room was not lit by harsh fluorescent lighting, but rather dimmed, warm light. There was gentle music playing in the background. My acupuncturist was calm and professional as any medical practitioner might be, but with that hint of empathy you don't often receive from a medical doctor. She feels my case is treatable, but she will need to see me frequently at first to get my wiring to recalibrate itself. The needles, don't hurt, by the way. You hardly feel them at all. In comparison to the years of desensitization injections and antibiotic injections I received as a child, they are a walk in the park. I know well that I will have to wait and see if acupuncture can offer me some relief, but I long for my body to be in harmony with itself.

If you are curious to know more about the relationship of the Chinese concept of Qi to medical health you might want to read an online article on acupuncture and qi or the following paragraph from Wikipedia's article:

Qi in traditional Chinese medicine
Theories of traditional Chinese medicine assert that the body has natural patterns of qi that circulate in channels called
meridians in English. Symptoms of various illnesses are often believed to be the product of disrupted, blocked, or unbalanced qi movement (interrupted flow) through the body's meridians, as well as deficiencies or imbalances of qi (homeostatic imbalance) in the various Zang Fu organs. Traditional Chinese medicine often seeks to relieve these imbalances by adjusting the circulation of qi (metabolic energy flow) in the body using a variety of therapeutic techniques. Some of these techniques include herbal medicines, special diets, physical training regimens (Qigong, Tai Chi Chuan, and martial arts training), moxibustion, massage to clear blockages, and acupuncture, which uses small diameter metal needles inserted into the skin and underlying tissues to reroute or balance qi.

31 August 2007

Cooking Fresh Experiment: Summertime Foods

Picture caption: Me in Revolutionary Attire

I came away from my vacation in Nova Scotia with a new mission. I wanted to integrate the natural world even more strongly into my daily life than I had been. Nova Scotians appear to be quite ahead of their U.S. cousins with regards to recycling, organic foods, and environmentalism. It's likely that because they have so much under-populated nature left to preserve that they simply aren't as blase as, say, New Yorkers or Marylanders.

Summer in Maryland is difficult weather for me because I don't feel so well in humid and hot climates. I feel languid and irritable. I needed to seek foods that are refreshing, cooling, and easy to prepare with little energy. As I planned my summer cooking strategy I made a trip to a local library to conduct some research on preparing seasonal recipes -- that is, meals prepared with local produce that is currently fresh and in-season.

I set my goal to make at least one seasonal meal each week, using local and fresh ingredients whenever possible. My experiments have yielded some recipes that I plan to use in summers to come:
  • Chilled Red Pepper and Tomato Soup with Cucumber Herb Salad by Chef Annie Wayte (see below). I really thought this was very successful and easy as far as soup preparation goes. Delicious and different from gazpacho. At my husband's request and in the interests of shorter prep time, I didn't strain the resulting soup, but left it the consistency of stew.
  • Fennel Salad with Mustard Dill Dressing by Chef Annie Wayte (see below). I had never seen a fennel bulb before and had to ask the Whole Foods stock clerk where to find it. The bulb is very much like celery and tastes richly anise, even more so than the fennel fronds I'm used to using in recipes.
  • I asked my mom for her delicious Celery Seed Cole Slaw recipe, which is not the mayonnaise-laden slaw, but a oil and vinegar slaw. It's tastes lighter which is good for humid weather.
  • I made a huge batch of Salsa Fresca. The gardeners of the historic site where I work said I could help myself to the bumper crop of tomatoes, chili peppers, and jalapenos. (Hey, there have to be some perks when working for a non-profit!) Even after my husband and I wolfed much of the salsa down with southwestern main dishes, I still had almost a full mason-jar's worth left to give the gardeners in thanks for their hard work tilling the soil the eighteenth-century way. I'm currently drying the remaining chilis. I have learned just why people have to can their produce when they have too much of it.
There are several local farmer's stands just south of Annapolis and I can also get some local produce or organic produce at Whole Foods. Rumor has it there's a farmer's market in Edgewater on Thursday evenings, but I still need to investigate. I'm concerned that by the time it might take to drive there after work, won't the best produce be gone by 5:30?

My library had a fabulous cookbook which I highly recommend to anyone else attempting seasonal cooking in North America: it's called Keep It Seasonal: Soups, Salads, and Sandwiches by chef Annie Wayte. What I like about this particular cookbook is that I'm not the kind of cook who likes to spend hours slaving in the kitchen. I rarely have time, especially in the workweek to create labor intensive meals. Plus my charming husband prefers simple foods, particularly sandwiches and often salads. Soups, well that's another matter, he likes the thick "stew" variety whereas I'm more flexible in that regard. I like the ingredients she chose, many of which are easy to come by in my climate. She offers recipes for fresh cooking in four seasons. The winter chapter is especially enlightening, because she focuses on root veggies and beans, plus a range of citrus fruits to keep you feeling sunny even during the darkest months. I find her approach refreshing; the ingredients simple and not difficult to find; the recipes easy to follow; and the variety of foods to try in each season inspiring.

I tried several other cookbooks that claimed seasonal affiliation in the titles, but found the actual list of ingredients to be not precisely seasonal. There are also regional cookbooks for seasonal foods in the Southwestern U.S., California, etc. which would be wonderful resources for folks in those areas. I took a Southwestern cooking class about five years ago at L'Academie de Cuisine from Susan Belsinger. Now I've adopted southwestern cooking my personal speciality. Many of the recipes from Susan's class are classic summertime fare. I also have a particular fondness for Mediterranean cooking and Spanish tapas dishes, so I recently hunted for books with those cooking styles.

My favorite tapas restaurant of all seasons is Jaleo. It's a Washington, D.C. institution by now and it's made Chef Jose Andres well-known. Jaleo's food is really that good, especially the paellas, patatas bravas, gambas al ajillo, and seafood dishes. I've rarely had any tapas there that did not suit my taste buds. Chef Andres also opened other branches of Jaleo in Maryland and Northern Virginia. He also has Cafe Atlantico in DC where I recently dined for DC's Restaurant Week. Scrumptious! Mr. Andres has a cookbook called Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America that I may purchase in the coming months.

The main results of my experiment in the past month has been confirmation that I can, in fact, live more seasonally by eating available local and organic foods. I feel better and am less bothered by the heat when I'm eating fresh, summertime food. I think we spend so much of our time today changing our environment to suit ourselves that we forget that not too long ago people did not have opportunities to consume any foods they desired in any season. The local economy and finances of some meant they needed to grow their own food and eat what was available. Choice has spoiled us. Foods that are cheap, easy, and fattening shorten our lives and expand our waistlines.

I plan to continue my seasonal cooking experiment as fall approaches. That should not be difficult for me, since I love the fall and I love the aromas and flavors of harvest veggies and fruits. I can hardly wait!

Do you have any favorite seasonal recipes? Any favorite summertime comfort foods or cookbooks? Please share your thoughts with me by posting a comment.

29 August 2007

Make Sail

Last Sunday evening I did something that I had only dreamed about in the past.

I cruised on a sailboat and, for a brief few minutes, actually had the opportunity to steer. We were cruising on Schooner Woodwind II on the Chesapeake Bay, approaching the mouth of the Severn River near Annapolis Harbor. I had to use the dome of the State House as my point of reference for keeping the sails steady as she goes.

Under the easy wind conditions and light of remaining dusk, the schooner was not harder to steer than driving a car. It isn't like the tall ships of old, in that it does have a motor and it also has modern steering and components. For a few brief moments, however, I might have been sailing a fishing ship into that well-known harbor at the edge of the Chesapeake Bay.

I asked the Captain, Jen, a very gregarious lady to be sure, if a person had to grow up around sailboats to learn how to sail. "No!" said she. And she even gave me the name of a local sailing school and told me about an Annapolis-based sailing club where you share ownership in a sailboat so that you can take your turn cruising, even if you don't own your own ship. Wow!

I grew up near several large rivers, but in a very landlocked part of south-western Ohio and northern Kentucky. To be behind the wheel of a boat, any boat, is a dream come true. I always dreamed of sailing and sailboats. I think that's what lured me to Annapolis. But I was always too timid to ask people if I could go out on their boats. I supposed that I figured someday my chance would come. Well, thanks to my very generous husband who liked the idea of a Thai Dinner cruise on the Bay, I finally had my wish.

Sailing was even better than kayaking!!!! I just love being out on the water.

Here's a link to a photo of our vessel returning to Annapolis Harbor at twilight behind the Harbor Queen. See the Church steeple in the background? That's St. Mary's Cathedral.

19 August 2007

Harlaxton College Remembered

It doesn't seem at all like 20 years have past since my freshman year of college. On this date in 1987 I was packing my two allotted suitcases and bursting with anticipation of spending my freshman year abroad in England.

I had grown up in a small town in Northern Kentucky near Cincinnati, Ohio and I never fit in with 98% of my high school classmates. My 11th grade guidance counselor looked at me as though I sprouted horns when I clearly stated my intention of studying in England for my first year in college. "You mean, you don't want to go to UK [Univ. of Kentucky]?" he asked incredulously. A large percentage of my college-bound classmates were headed there. I was furious with him, but then I was furious and impatient with people in general in those days. So I embarked upon my own mission to find a college program where a freshman could study abroad. My mother and the Cincinnati Public Library's resources helped me in my quest. From the library I found an address for the Council on International Education Exchange. They sent me a 3/4" catalogue of study abroad programs. I narrowed it down to three programs that permitted freshman to enter their program, but one of the three leaped out at me from the page and said something like this:

Study in a stately home built in the 1830s by industrialist Gregory Gregory. Take liberal arts classes taught by British and American faculty in state rooms and live on a manor with 6.5 acre walled garden and formal gardens. . .

When I applied to the University of Evansville for admission to Harlaxton College all those years ago, I had no idea how much it would change my life. For the first time I felt like the world was huge and mine for exploration. I found my profession, art history, there influenced by one of Harlaxton's eminent faculty members, medieval scholar Lady Wedgwood [Dr. Pamela Tudor-Craig]. Even though my parents are professional artists, I had no idea that you could think, talk and write about art as a job before attending Harlaxton and sitting-in on Lady Wedgwood's amazing lectures. I also took four courses in British history and literature, and a wonderful science course on Physical Geography of Great Britain. I absorbed quietly like a little sponge and adored every minute of starring up to a ceiling of gilt Victorian grandeur or stone masonry.

And I traveled. Every weekend I went somewhere, all around the island of Great Britain, including North Wales, Edinburgh, York, Lincoln, the Cotswolds, the Lake District, and of course, many trips to London. Each semester were had two four-day long weekends for travel and so I went to the Ile de France, to Venice, to Rome, and explored the seaside town of Ramsgate where my great grandmother Anne left behind those shores for the New World.

I met some wonderful people art Harlaxton and found myself immersed in diverse cultures. It was truly an international community with students from the UK, Europe, the Middle East all blended together. I went to pubs and imbibed good British cider and bitter. I ate Indian food for the first time. I became friends with students from Chicago, rural Indiana, and Germany. I'll never forget the evening that the Turkish students invited us to share strong coffee and Turkish delight with them. I won't for get the fall evening of the Guy Fawkes Night Bonfire and an evening ramble to explore Harlaxton's creepy gatehouse. My friend AC and I explored the punk clothing stores in Nottingham and played Warhammer role-playing games in the evenings. The American students put together a haunted house for Halloween and a one-mile line of British teens were lined up to go inside (back then, haunted houses were an oddity in England). We rented costumes and enjoyed a fabulous masquerade ball in the great hall each semester.

It would be impossible for me to encompass that entire year into one short essay and do it justice, but I can only hint at the richness I learned by seeing, touching, hearing about things that were far older than any European settlement in the United States. I had such a hunger for anything antique or ancient. The tangible contact with all that history changed me. It grounded my future and raised my awareness to things beyond the tiny, provincial community where I had lived most of my then 18 years.

Now sitting here twenty years later it is difficult for me to separate the strands of my life that were affected by this grand tour experiment of mine in my freshman year. I would be a different person now, if not for Harlaxton. I would venture to guess I am a more interesting and better education person for having been there, too.

16 August 2007

Knitting Project Check-in

I have been keeping a hand-written knitting journal. I spent some time on Sunday afternoon taking stock of all the knitting projects on which I'm currently working or that I plan to begin between now and the winter holidays. My project list is quite daunting at first look, but I decided to divide it into three handy categories:
  • Small Projects for Me

  • Big Projects for Me

  • Projects for Others
There's also a 2007 Holiday Gift Ideas sub-category under "Projects for Others."

Just sitting down to list my current projects and ideas for future projects felt very reassuring. I'm actually not in as over my head as I thought I was. Now I feel ready to divide and conquer! The "Small Projects" include smaller projects that I can easily take on-the-go and those easy patterns don't need to think to hard in order to complete. The "Big Projects" list included a short-sleeve cardigan that is in-progress and a really cool vest pattern kit from Hand Maiden that I saw on vacation, but restrained myself from impulse buying. I will order that vest pattern kit for the holidays.

I managed to complete one of the "Small Projects" on Wednesday night. I'm calling it my "Carnivale Scarf" because the colorway reminded a friend of mine of Mardi Gras. Actually, to me it's also the colors of Carinvale in Venice. This was my first time knitting with viscose, which I finally learned is a synthetic version of silk. The yarn was the Saturn colorway by Mango Moon in 100% Nepalese viscose. I'm very pleased with the way the variegation in the hand-dyed yarn created a diamond pattern. Everyone who has seen it so far has thought it very successful. I'm grateful to my friend A for taking this photo of me this morning.

In the "Projects for Others" category I have several baby gifts to make. I'm making a pair of festive lime green booties with swirly ties for a friend who had a baby in July. The first pair is coming along nicely and I hope to have them complete in time for her third month. They are supposed to be stretchy and warm, but not really for infants who are ready to crawl too far and certainly not for walking. Cute, nonetheless.

I think keeping track of my projects is really going to keep me from having too many going at once. I also is a record to keep me from forgetting wonderful patterns that I want to try out.

20 July 2007

Another Annapolis

It's just after 9:00 p.m. Atlantic Time (8:00 p.m. EST), and I'm sitting at a grand old Victorian roll-top desk typing on a high tech laptop, courtesy of my hosts at Hillsdale House Inn. I'm in another Annapolis, another city named for Queen Anne of England only fifteen years after my own was renamed in her honor, Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia. The inn is full of charm and the proprietors are generous. King George V stayed here when he was a young prince.

Here are some brief observations I've made over the course of the 28 hours that I have been on the island of Nova Scotia:

  • People hang their laundry out to dry here and there are recycling bins in every tiny town in the province.
  • Drivers actually stop to allow pedestrians to cross the road--even when they aren't near a cross walk.
  • There are rich layers of cultural diversity here from the Native Americans, to French settlers of the 17th century (Acadians), to the Scots, to the English, to the American and African American Loyalists.
  • Acadians and Cajuns have entirely different cuisines; the Acadian cuisine is very meat and potatoes with little spice, where as their ancestors some of whom became Cajuns borrowed spices and cooking styles from the Caribbean and Spanish.
  • The local scallops are so incredibly tasty in garlic sauce!
  • This community of Annapolis Royal has world class walking tours and a compact historic district. The inhabitants are fierce preservationists and very enthusiastic to tell you all about their heritage.
  • The cemetery by Fort Anne has four centuries of graves; I went on a lantern-lit graveyard tour last night.
  • The Annapolis River has amazing tidal patterns--the change is over 29 feet between high and low tide. The salt marshes remind me of Maryland, except that huge dikes are used to reclaim the fertile soil from the brackish rivers.
  • This is one of the most hotly-contested towns between the English and French in the whole New World; the town changed hands seven times and witnessed 13 battles.
  • No matter how far away you travel in North America, Harry Potter mania is there.
  • The locals apologized for the "hot weather," which has been roughly low 70s F both days and a bit humid. Compared to 95-degree Maryland swampiness this is cool and comfortable. I don't even mind that it's been overcast the whole time.
  • Okay, the downside--mosquitoes out in the evenings are every bit as bad here as back home.
I'll post more as I can and eventually formulate my observations into proper paragraphs.
Au revoir!

14 July 2007

The Chesapeake Bay: Then and Now

There are 12 people on a mission to look at the Chesapeake Bay from an unusual perspective. They are retracing the voyage of Captain John Smith on his explorations of the Bay in a 28-foot reconstruction of the shallop Smith and his crew sailed into the Bay 400 years ago. They are sailing and rowing their way to towns and cities, bringing an educational exhibit and recording the state of the Bay from their unplugged points-of-view as a modern-day crew with GPS, high-tech outdoor gear and camp stoves.

Exploring the Bay from Smith's route are a crew comprised of men and women sailors who come from diverse professional backgrounds including engineers, biologists, ecologists, anthropologists, historians and one forensic scientist. I have been reading their online journal this morning and have found some interesting comparisons and contrasts between their experiences on the Bay now and the experiences of the seventeenth-century English explorers recorded in Smith's journals. Native Americans no longer have a thriving culture on the Bay, but the 2007 crew is often relying upon the locals for supplementing their meager stores of food. Smith encountered a number of severe storms that forced him to land and occasionally ran aground. The 2007 crew has had to row quite a bit due to low winds lately, but they have also braved stormy weather and have had to struggle to put the boat back in the water after several groundings.

I do find it very haunting that Smith saw open vistas on the Chesapeake shoreline like this:
30 leagues we sayled more Northwards not finding any inhabitants, leaving all the Easterne shore, lowe Islandes, but overgrowne with wood, as all the Coast beyond them so farre as wee could see: the Westerne shore by which we sayled we found all along well watered, but very mountanous and barren, the vallies very fertill, but extreame thicke of small wood so well as trees, and much frequented with Wolves, Beares, Deere and other wild beasts.

The reconstructed shallop is now at the mid-way point in it's journey and is being celebrated all weekend at the Annapolis City Dock. This morning, the shallop will sail in a boat parade, then the Governor and other dignitaries will make speeches. The shallop will be on display 10-6 both July 14 and 15. I helped to plan an exhibit table for my employer, one of many Annapolis organizations that is welcoming the JS400 crew to Maryland's capital. I'll be helping with set-up today so I may stay downtown for the fanfare. Then tomorrow I work throughout the day helping to the staff the table along with volunteers. After reading the crew's journal I have become more aware of the significance of this recreation. There is something to be learned about the Bay now, as well as something to be taught about its past.