The hazards of clear-cutting a jungle

Published July 31, 2015 by livinggraciously

I’m currently nursing a bee sting on the index finger of my left hand. The hand is swollen enough that I’m having considerable trouble typing.

I can’t blame the bee. She was doing her job. A giant creature was ripping out all the vegetation in front of her home, and what would a bee think the purpose of such a thing to be? Why, attacking the hive, of course. Her job was protecting the hive, and this was the third time in four days that the giant creature had assaulted her home.

I think that’s why she and her compatriots were so persistent in chasing me down.  Before, when I’ve gone around the corner of the garage and out of sight of the hive, they have settled back down fairly quickly. This time, I was standing a ways down the driveway and they were still determined to drive me further away.

As a counter-measure, I put my hand in the air, pinkie and thumb out in the “no worries” pose, and flickered it back and forth. The shadow resembles a chimney swift, and bees generally flee from it.

Not this time. This time I felt the sharp bite of a sting. Apparently I pushed my hand up just where Miss Thang was flying, and she tagged me. I’d been calm to this point, since I was wearing a bee net and long pants and sleeves. But I had on garden gloves, vented in the back, rather than bee gloces. Cursing my stupidity came into the house, peeled off the glove, checked for a stinger, cleaned it up, and went back to work–in a completely different section of the garden. I could definitely feel it, but it wasn’t that bad.

By the time we walked to the movie theater last night I was holding it up in the air to keep the swelling down. By this morning it was definitely swollen. Now, despite Benadryl, I can almost watch it swell more. And I feel a bit achy in my joints. I’ve always reacted dramatically to bug bites, but believe me, there will be no gardening today!

Best laid plans and all that

Published July 29, 2015 by livinggraciously

The plan was:

  1. Go to bed early
  2. Get up early
  3. Work on the garden before the heat became unendurable

As you may recall, just over a week ago I posted a lamentation about the jungle that was my back yard. Well, the city sent us a letter about “weeds over 8 inches tall.” And I laughed: “Haha, you fools! Some of these weeds are over 8 FEET tall!”

Then I realized I was overachieving in the wrong direction.

Anyway, the letter arrived on Saturday, and while it does give us a couple weeks in which to correct the error of our ways, I figured I’d better get started on it. So Monday I got up early and put in an hour of garden time. These giant dandelions were abuzz with honeybees, and I briefly considered trying to declare our yard a honeybee sanctuary, but decided that probably wasn’t going to get me anywhere. It was pretty toasty by the end of that hour, and I figured I should definitely stick to the early hours for such things. Yesterday I had court early, so gardening was out. So I made the aforementioned plan.

The result was:

  1. Go to bed early
  2. Toss and turn until around 2am, get up late
  3. Work on the garden despite it already being 85 degrees out there.

This time I was able to locate the bee hood, which is good because I was working close to the hive and the bees were getting pretty unhappy with me by the end. It also kept the sun from beating down on my face and head. But at the end of the hour, when I hauled 9 leaf bags of detritus to the curb tomorrow’s trash pickup, I was pretty darned shaky. Which is when I realized that there should have been a couple more numbers on my list:

4. Take some water with you
5. Eat something before you start

I staggered back inside, hot and trembling, and flung myself into a cold shower. Then I laid on the bed for about 45 minutes with the ceiling fan on. I had to ask Ferrett a question, so I texted him. Because getting up to walk to the living room would take too much effort. I’ve had some water and milk now, but have to get up the energy to actually eat something.

But I have to say that the absolute worst bed of weeds is almost tamed. It just has this odd fringe in the front. Why? Because that’s directly in front of the hive, and they were DECIDEDLY not happy with my presence by the time I got that close. It makes sense; I was yanking things around, changing the shade patterns and temperatures of the hive. When I saw them lifting off by the dozens to hover in front of me, it was time to quit for the day.

I’m hoping to make it out there early tomorrow, yank up the last of those weeds, and get it all out for the trash pickup. There will still be lots of work to do, but at least that will be a good start.

(And the bees appear to be thriving on neglect. We lost the newer hive, but the older one is quite healthy. We haven’t been in there at all this year, and I don’t know whether we will. If we don’t, we are still contributing pollinators to the area. And we won’t steal their honey.)

There will be pictures. But not until I have an “after” that’s not appalling.

The reward for doing a good job is being ignored

Published July 28, 2015 by livinggraciously

I hurt Ferrett’s feelings yesterday, because I didn’t understand that he was in an emotionally vulnerable place.

I didn’t understand that he was in an emotionally vulnerable place because he’d been making a concerted effort to keep his vulnerability to himself, not to burden me with his misbehaving brain weasels. As a result, something that should have been a minor toe-trodding turned out to be really hurtful. Because from his worldview he was already doing as much as he could, and from mine there was no perceived effort.

The details of what and why are unimportant. What it made me think about is how darned much time people spend struggling with their own hidden demons, and how oblivious we all are when the brain weasels of others are chewing on the last nerves.

It’s tough to be a grownup all the time. There’s no one to give us a cookie, or even a pat on the back, on the days when simply getting out of bed feels like climbing a mountain, when our inner child is throwing a tantrum over taking out the trash but we do it anyway without complaint. When the dishes in the sink make us want to scream and stamp our feet, but instead we just clean it up.

And then comes the moment that pushes us past our ability to cope, and we get hurt, or yell. And the other person, dealing with their own brain weasels, is likely to be all, “What the hell?!”

It ambushes, and yet life would be so much worse if we didn’t control those demons and weasels. It’s exhausting to deal with people who don’t control them, and off-putting. But we are very bad at seeing beyond our own efforts.

If we’re lucky, the other person will get past the initial shock without too much defensiveness, and we can get over the hurt without it turning into a fight. If we’re *really* lucky, the other person will recognize the weasels gone wild and provide us with pats on the back and cookies (figurative or real).

For my part, I am reminded once again that when the person in the grocery store is surly, or a driver blasts a horn and gives me the finger, these people might not just be jerks. They might, in fact, be having a very bad brain weasel day, and just being on their feet and functioning is kind of heroic. I’m reminded to be patient, and give them space. Maybe some gentleness will make their demons easier to live with. Maybe they will be able to pass that on to others.

Smile or die

Published July 27, 2015 by livinggraciously

The question of whether or not Sandra Bland hung herself in her jail cell–while important–is distracting us from the more important issue. Sandra Bland should never have been dragged from that car, and blaming her for her arrest is appalling.

15 years ago I got pulled over by a cop. It was winter, the roads were solid ice, and when the light changed on Northern Lights Boulevard, I tried to stop. Despite antilock breaks, I slid into the middle of the intersection of “C” street. The light completed changing and 5 lanes of traffic started moving toward me. It was rush hour, it was dark, and I had no way to back up. All I could do was clear the intersection.

Looking in the rear view mirror, I saw a police car turn onto Northern Lights and flip on his lights. Sure enough, he was after me. I pulled over, shaking with fury. He asked if I knew why he’d stopped me. I said no, because I’d been unable to stop. He said I’d never even braked. I said that he couldn’t have seen that because of where he was sitting when I slid into the intersection. He gave me a ticket anyway. I was crying and angry and not at all cooperative.

He didn’t demand that I get out of the car. He apologized for messing up my morning.

That’s how such an encounter should go. A police officer should expect that pulling people over is not going to make them happy. An  officer should expect that people might, in fact, swear at them, and that the officer’s job in the situation is to calm things down.

So when I see people saying that what happened to Sandra Bland is because she was uncooperative, I am horrified. Who are these people who think that police officers should be mindlessly obeyed, and if they do not receive not just cooperation but eager cooperation then those officers are justified in dragging people from their cars and arresting them for resisting an officer.

This is only a few steps from a “let me see your papers” kind of police state. Our fourth amendment rights are threatened and many people are supporting the police as they trample these rights. We are supposed to be protected against unreasonable search and seizure. Refusing to put out a cigarette is not an act that should triggered reasonable seizure. Where does it end? Disagreeing with an officer? Rolling one’s eyes? Not smiling?

Do we truly want to live in a world where red lights flashing behind us leave us in fear of our lives?

Adulting

Published July 25, 2015 by livinggraciously

I was contemplating what it means to be an adult today, triggered by reading my “On This Day” in Facebook. Two years ago today we were in Kauai, and one of my posts read, “Hello, Kauai! I’d forgotten the joy of coconut syrup!”

Of course, I immediately remembered that forgotten joy, and wondered if it was something I could acquire in the states.

Kauai’s coconut syrup is a unique product, cloyingly sweet, and it is the one item that overcomes my dislike of sweet things for breakfast. I dislike maple syrup, and generally am not fond of pancakes. But give me a bottle of Kauai coconut syrup and I will DROWN those flapjacks in it.

So of course I was curious as to whether this product is something that one can get via the internet. And the answer is, only sorta. You can get Hawaii coconut syrup, which claims to be just like the syrup served in island restaurants. But it’s a different label, and I am suspicious.

Alternatively, you can get a dried version of the real thing, to which you just add boiling water to reconstitute. This makes sense to me. Shipping from Hawaii is prohibitively expensive, so why ship the water if you can avoid it. It’s not quite the same, but it’s the same company, so I bet it’s close.

And that’s when I began contemplating adulthood. There is nothing of nutritional value in this syrup; it’s almost certainly 99% sugar. And while it’s a wonderful treat when I get to Hawaii, is it something I want to have in my home for mundane use?

If I was a kid, I could whine and beg and probably storm away in a rage at the unfairness of life when I was refused this silly thing. But I’m an adult. I have a credit card. I could click the button and make Kauai coconut syrup appear in my house.

Which means when I look around for someone to tell me yes or no, that someone has to be me. I’m adult enough that I can choose what I want. I’m grown up enough to make those choices be smart.

I closed the amazon page.

And we forgot the taste of bread….

Published July 24, 2015 by livinggraciously

As some of you know, last fall Ferrett and I did an experiment wherein we ate Soylent–and only Soylent–for a week. The first few days were hell, but by the end of it I kind of wanted to go on just eating Soylent. So we started a subscription by which a month’s worth of the stuff would be sent to us every four weeks.

This was one of those experiments in which we mostly learned how much we suck. Because of course for the couple weeks we had to wait for the Soylent to arrive, we went back to eating real food. So when it came we were no longer inured, and our taste buds screamed, “What the hell are you doing?!!”

We have only succeeded in soylent-only days a couple times, none of them consecutively.

Our next thought was, well we will eat soylent for breakfast and lunch, and regular food for dinner. Which might have worked if we didn’t fall upon dinner like ravening wolves who hadn’t eaten all day. And if in the midst of all this we were actually going to the grocery store and shopping.

Instead, we would get to 6pm, both be famished, and order something out. On some days, we might have the insight to have ground turkey in the house and make turkey burgers. But mostly it was last-minute audibles involving the collection of takeaway menus in one of the junk drawers.

A week ago I stopped at the grocery store for milk and peanut butter, and standing in the produce aisle I had something of a panic attack: I honestly couldn’t think of things to do with the abundance of food before me. Couldn’t think of recipes, couldn’t look at a vegetable and get inspired to put something together. Dismayed, I fled to the fluorescent comfort of the dairy section, picked up the two things I’d come for, and checked out. But the experience left me unsettled. I’ve always been kind of a jazz cook: show me ingredients and I come up with possibilities. Where had that gone?

Wednesday afternoon–woodworking Wednesdays for Ferrett and our friend Eric–I was driving home from a client meeting and wondering where we’d get dinner. And a wave of disgusted nausea rolled over me. I texted Ferrett to tell him that I could not look another takeout dinner in the face. I was heartily, completely, sick of it. So I was going to the grocery store, and making white chicken chili for dinner. I knew that wasn’t one of his favorites, but it was something for which I knew all the ingredients and could shop efficiently.

Or so I thought. I got about 3/4 of the way through cooking and realized the four ingredients I’d missed. Slightly daunted, but unwilling to change plans, I hopped in the car and ran back to the grocery store. Erin came over for dinner and she and I finished up the chili together.

Ferrett didn’t like it. I don’t think Eric cared that much for it. Then again, they got the pepperless, low spice version, because Ferrett can’t stand peppers and Eric has no tolerance for any kind of heat. There’s was more of a chicken soup than an actual chili. Erin and I, on the other hand, loved ours, and she took home over half of the leftovers.

I’m not quite sure how to go forward. We still have four cases of soylent, and I know for a fact that the week we actually did eat it I felt healthier. But I also know that we’ve made at least three commitments to soylent-only days and have broken every one. I’m bad at straddling these two worlds, and not sure how to proceed. I’ve got no wise words or insights on which to end this, just a shrug and a promise to follow up as things progress.

A matter of taste

Published July 23, 2015 by livinggraciously

When I was a wee child, I loved black olives. I’m talking about the pitted ones, straight out the can and tasting of metal as much as anything else. I think it was mostly because I could stick them on the ends of my fingers and march them around like the guards at Buckingham Palace.

Yes, as a 4-year-old born in Oregon, I was already an Anglophile. Blame Captain Kangaroo.

Anyway, somewhere around 5 or 6, I suddenly hated olives. This might have been concurrent with my sudden hatred of cheese (and I do mean sudden—one day I had a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch and the next day informed my mother that I hated cheese; I can still remember the look of total bafflement on her face). But the cheese hatred ended when I was about 12.

Olives, on the other hand, I despised for decades. Even olive oil was distasteful to me.

I remember when that started to change. It was my first visit to Ann Arbor to spend a week with Ferrett, some 16 years ago. He took me to Macaroni Grill, and they gave us bread with olive oil for dipping. They dressed it up with cracked pepper and freshly grated parmesan cheese, and though I turned up my nose at the idea, Ferrett encouraged me to at least taste it.

I didn’t like it.

At least not on the first taste. It was bitter and sharp and musty. But after a few minutes my taste buds said, “Hmm, try that again.” And I still didn’t like it, but I didn’t like it in an intriguing way that brought me back for several more tastes.

In a very short time, I liked olive oil. But only mild olive oil, and certainly not olives. Then by a couple years later I liked stronger olive oils, but not olives.

It wasn’t that I try. I’d figured out that black olives from a can were a bastardized and dreadful creation that would never be any good. But by that time it was pretty easy to find decent quality olives around, and I would try them now and again. No-go. Even salads with olives chopped into them were nasty to me.

In 2008, for my 50th birthday, we went to New Orleans. Someone told Ferrett that we must make a trip to Central Grocery for their muffaletta sandwich. The sandwich is a kind of meat-and-cheese concoction with a thick layer of olive salad. I was willing to walk with him to Central Grocery so that he could have the experience, but I was only going to take a single bite of this olive-laced monstrosity.

After my fourth bite, Ferrett huffily (and justifiably) told me to get back in line and get my own. The funny thing is, I was still having a wincing reaction to the olives, but around that it was delicious.

Still, my attempts at approaching the unadorned olive were still abortive at best. I really wanted to like them, tried time and again, winced through eating them, and was generally failing.

Then in 2014 we went to Italy. And there I ate olives, olives in quantity, olives of beauty. I feasted upon olives.

Then I came home and ate them only rarely. But last week Erin came over with a container of olives from the olive bar at the grocery store, and she and I ate olives and drank wine and that was dinner.

And this afternoon, walking by the olive bar, I craved them again. And brought home olives. Which Erin and I nibbled at while cooking dinner. For which I sautéed the vegetables in a grassy, strong olive oil.

The odd thing is, part of my tongue still isn’t pleased by either the olives or the oil. I both like them and wince at them. But I’ve learned to appreciate that wince at the bitter, and enjoy the rest of it even more because of that odd complexity.

And the other day I ate on olive garnishing some baba ganoush. The moment it was in my mouth, I knew it was an olive from a can. Those? Are still disgusting.

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