Tuesday, July 30, 2013

I have been AWOL, I cop to it

I have had good reason, though, as work has been crazy busy and I've been very preoccupied with my house search.  There is some good news on that front--I may have found a house.  The inspection is on Friday, but I don't want to assume it's a done deal yet.  I put an offer on a house a couple of months ago and then the inspection showed it needed $15,000 worth of work right off that bat (the siding was compromised and old and the deck was unsafe).  This house doesn't have much storage and it's not near anything glamorous (in fact, near utility lines, but that doesn't bother me) but it's been extensively renovated--and the owners got all of the permits to do it.  New roof, new siding, new windows, new floors, new (small) kitchen, and new bathrooms.  All professionally done by the looks of it.  If there's one thing I hate, it's a bad DIY job. 

So. . .it's a short post, today, after two weeks of basically nothing.  But I will be back to regular posting soon. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Being social

Okay. Maybe don't socialize quite this way!
One of the things I never really see touched on in blogs in this corner of the internet is being social.  Oh, you'll see posts about how to save money and be social, or how to get out of doing something expensive, but not the actual importance of just hanging out with your friends or family.

So take a wild guess what I'm going to talk about today.

I would recommend that everyone try to make sure they've got plans with friends at least once a week. It does not have to be anything grand or spectacular.  You do not have to go out to dinner or to a play or do anything expensive. But I would suggest you do something with friends.

Maybe it's because it's too easy for me to slip into hermit-mode (for real, laziness is a thing with me and often it's easier for me to just laze around and read).  I push myself to do stuff.  If a friend invites me out somewhere, more often than not, I accept (unless I have something else planned).

Over the winter, I got together with my friend from work, her husband, and people she knew from work for trivia night at the local bar.  We had a blast. I met people on the other teams--and while I can't remember most of their names, I know them by sight. I became friends with the people on my team. Even on the nights we bombed, we had a great time. Since it was the dead of winter, it was kind of a cheerful and fun thing to do midweek.  (This place is hopping during the summer, so trivia was an ingenious way to get more business during the slower months.)

Now, a different friend from work and I are going in on a CSA fish share.  Actually, it's her, her mother, and me.  We figure out which night we're all free, get together and cook up the fish.  We eat a good meal, usually invite at least one other person to join us, and relax.  We don't freak out over cooking the fish the very best way (though there is a lot of discussion about what we want--fish tacos? Bouillabaisse? Grilled? Baked?).  I joke that it's the one night of the week where I eat a proper meal.  Not entirely true--I certainly eat proper meals at home, but let's face it, they're for one person, so they tend to be simpler.  These dinners have the benefit of not only very freshly caught fish, but also fresh vegetables and/or salad, bread or rice, and a delicious dessert.

I really look forward to regular things like this.  They aren't fancy but they are fun. If you're having a bad day or a bad week or a bad year, it's easy to stay home and not deal with people. It's also a mistake. Don't be a martyr.  Getting out of your own head can only help if you're going through a bad patch, and going out and socializing is fun when things are going well.

So, my advice is to do something with friends on the regular. Play cards. Run. Eat. Play some sort of sport. Do something.

Sometimes we get so caught up in what things cost and Using Our Time Wisely In Ways That Require All Of The Words To Be Capitalized that we forget why we're careful with our resources.  We're careful for our own well-being; it adds to our quality of life and to our security. Well, taking time to socialize also contributes to our own well-being. It's fun. And we do need it. (Even surly beasts like me.)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Animals are not a trend

Your urban farm chickens will not do this.

So last week my friend Dina went away for several days, and I was in charge of feeding and watering her chickens (and her cat).

This was fun, actually.  I am up pretty early in the morning, so I went to her place first thing.  She told me I could keep the eggs as a thank you.  She has nine chickens, and I gave them corn and chicken feed (pellets), as well as any vegetable scraps I had on hand.  (They are also fond of bugs, but I really don't want to find bugs in my house to give them.  There are plenty outside to be found.)  "Hello, chickens," I'd say as I would venture into the coop to get their water dispensers.  "You all look like little dinosaurs."  


And I'd bring them the refilled water dispensers and say "Okay, can you ladies please refrain from knocking this over?" And they were all like HAHAHAHAHA STOOPID HUMAN! WATCH US KNOCK IT OVER WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO, LOCK US UP IN THE COOP?

(Actually, they just knocked them over one day. But they were really insolent about it, or as insolent as a chicken can be, which, upon more thought, isn't very insolent at all.  Actually, I think "The Insolent Chicken" would be the best name ever for a diner or a pub.)

I got eggs.  They were delicious, with huge, firm yolks.  Breakfast was heaven. I woke up earlier than usual in anticipation of breakfast. Dina--and our friend Freddy, who has something like 18 chickens and a rooster--are always quite happy to share the bounty with me.

I would lie if I didn't admit to harboring fantasies about raising my own chickens.  Heck, at one point I had a starry eyed fantasy of having my own goats and making yogurt and cheese from the milk.  But I came back down to earth.  I am not a kid, where I will promise to take care of something (like, you know, a pet) and then end up leaving it to someone else (like my parents) to keep it fed and clean and content.

Raising chickens--or any sort of livestock--is work.  And it's a huge responsibility.  Before you get them you need to have a place for them to live--a good coop that has a nesting area, a roost, and if it's possible, a run.  (Or you can let them out for a little while but you want to make sure predators don't get to them.)  You need to have food for them.  You need to know that they will sometimes get sick and need veterinary care.  You need to know that after two or three years, they will stop laying eggs.

If this news story is any indication, most people who have come aboard the urban farming train have not truly understood this.

Chickens can attract pests (like rats).  My friends who raise them have to contend with that.   And if you cannot handle the thought of slaughtering a chicken (or having someone else do it) and eating it*, you'll have to be okay with having a lot of non-breakfast producing pets. (I know people who are just fine with that and who love their little egg-producing dinosaur impostors.)  Because after they stop laying, that's what hens will be.  Either dinner or pets.

*By that age, chickens tend to be tough meat-wise, but they are good for stewing and I imagine you could do well with them if you have a slow cooker and/or if you make something like coq au vin.

I don't have chickens because, well, right now I rent.  And I doubt very much I will get them when I buy a house.  I'm too busy.  If I do decide to get them, I'll make sure I know what to expect and I will prepare for every eventuality.  I think the gardens I'd like to have will be more than enough for me. (Though chicken poop is a fantastic thing to till into your garden plot.  Seriously. My friend Dina's vegetables are huge now thanks to all of that stuff she had tilled in to her plot.)

I think a lot of people have starry-eyed, faux-nostalgia about life on the farm, and that helps motivate them to get chickens.  But. . .life on the farm (especially back in the old days) was not some idyllic and wonderful thing.  It was hard. It's one  thing to choose something knowing that if you get tired of it, or if you aren't good at it, you can just quit and/or go to the store and get your eggs and vegetables and meat. It's quite another to know that if you get tired of it, that's just tough luck and if you're not good at it, you're in deep trouble.

I'm not saying don't do it.  My cousin has chickens and loves it. Two of my friends have them.  One of my friends where I used to live had them (when she sold her house, the buyer asked if they could keep the chickens). If you can handle it, if you really know what goes into it, have at it.  My friends all know what goes into it, they are good about caring for the animals, they have friends who will help take care of them when they're away.  They are sanguine about chickens getting older.  They're not shocked by it. Some people plan on delicious soup and coq au vin, and others dote on their older, bug and snail eating chickens.

What I am saying is that if you want to do this, think very carefully about what it entails.  If I ever decide I don't want to garden anymore, it's easy enough to stop.  If I had gardens at a house I bought and decided I couldn't do it or didn't want to do it anymore, it would be a matter of taking down the beds and re-sodding the plots. I wouldn't need to find a refuge for my vegetables.  You do for livestock if you cannot stomach the thought of eating them and don't want to take care of them anymore.  Livestock is a whole other thing. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Gardening, Independence Day, Swimming and Pow Wows.

I spent the morning of Independence Day mowing the lawn and mulching my large garden plot in the community garden.  I know most people hate mowing, and I am not that fond of it myself, but I do love the grass clippings.  They make for good mulch.  I also gather seaweed when I can, but it's hit or miss when there is enough to take (or when the tide is out when you have time to take seaweed).  What does it say about me that I look at something for its mulch-producing potential?

Right now, there are beans and beats ready for harvesting.  The chard is going well and I take leaves from each plant to eat.  The garlic and shallots will be ready for harvesting soon.  My butternut squash plants appear to have overwhelmed my cucumber plant (and refused to go up the trellis I set up for them).  The eggplants are spotty and bug eaten; I am not optimistic they will produce anything but an eyesore.  The herbs are doing very well and the rhubarb is going gangbusters, as usual. The tomato plants are getting bigger and the walking onions are doing very well.  The leeks are doing okay, but this is my first time growing them, so we shall see.  The peppers are a bit spindly--fingers crossed, they'll start getting bigger now that the sun is showing itself more.  (It was very cloudy and rainy up until Wednesday night.)

My house garden is doing. . .okay.  I don't think it gets the light that's needed for the plants.  The mint and chocolate mint I planted in pots and the oregano I planted in the plot are all doing well.

Other stuff I did. . .

I had dinner with my friend and her parents; we went to see the local fireworks after, but it was cloudy and they weren't that visible.  My friend and I biked back to her parents' house, in the dark, which made me feel like a kid again.

I spent Saturday with friends who came up for the week; we went swimming and ate a lot.  I am very good at eating; if it was an Olympic sport I'd have the gold.  They have three sons who were a lot of fun to hang out with. 

I spend yesterday at the Mashpee Wampanoag Pow Wow with another friend of mine who's not from the U.S. and who's never been to a pow wow.  If you can go to one, I highly recommend it.  They feature dancing from various tribes (sometimes with competitions), they have stalls where people sell crafts, and chances for people from different tribes (and non-Native people) to socialize.   I hadn't been to one in ages.  We ate quail (delicious) and watched the dancers.  While I was there, I met someone who started a new business not far from where I live (and where I used to live) called Native Times Coffee.  She doesn't have a website up yet, but their address is 510 Plymouth Street, Middleboro, MA 02346.  You can also email Rita (Pocknett) Gonsalves at nativetimescoffee@comcast.net if you are interested in getting fair trade coffee or learning more about the company.  When she sets up a website, I'll link to it.  The coffee is delicious.  She is a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, and she sources her coffee beans from Native American farmers in South America. 

I hope you all had a great weekend!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Modesty Standard vs. The Beauty Standard

Lauren Shields wanted to cast off the pressure she felt to look a certain way all the time, and dress more modestly.

She observes:

Every morning I would shoehorn myself onto the train with thousands of expensive-smelling, coiffed women who somehow managed to keep their hair looking great under wool caps in winter and despite hot, stinky gusts of subway backdrafts in the summer. It was an army of ladies sporting fitted waistlines, toned arms, blown-out hair, full faces of makeup and heels (which was incredible, considering all the walking we all had to do). Everyone looked good, no one was phoning it in, and we were all stylish.

I commuted to a job in the city for years, and I wore suits (frankly, they are convenient, and two or three pretty much kept me dressed at work for years), put my feet in flat shoes (or even sneakers or snow boots, and put my cute flat shoes in my bag). I didn't wear a lot of makeup--still don't--and there are days I wear none.  Often, my hair isn't blown out, though it looks just fine.  When it was longer, I'd pull it back or wear it up.  While I have a lot of criticisms about the beauty standard and the ever-changing fashions that are semi-mandatory for women, it's a gross simplification to act like everyone out there is tottering around in six-inch heels with a face of troweled-on makeup. 

She decided to go for a year of wearing "modest" clothing--covered her head, wore sleeves, wore skirts that covered her knees, and eschewed makeup and nail polish for the most part.  Which, really? This is revolutionary?  That's me on a Tuesday (sans head covering, though I have no judgements about head coverings).  She gushed about the the men who told her they couldn't take women who were heavily made up seriously (myself, I find it irritating when people who are not held to a standard judge those who are).

Modest dress or not--it's two sides of the same coin.  We either judge and shame women for dressing modestly, or we judge and shame women for vanity. In both instances, I have heard people comment that such women are oppressed (by their culture, by beauty standards) that they don't respect or love themselves, that others won't take them seriously because of the way they look.


It's easy to switch one set of standards for another. Dressed up and made-up or modest and plain, they're still standards judging women's appearance.  (Though, I do need to add here: I know someone who lived in the UAE, and she was pretty clear that the women there were dressed to the nines under their coverings.  And made up, and perfectly coiffed. It's not as simple as folks would have you think.)

My unsolicited advice is this: Dress how you want.  Adhere to the dress code at your job, and do so in a way that is comfortable for you (if it won't adversely affect your job).  If you don't want to wear makeup, go without if you can.  If you want to wear it, wear it.  If you're concerned that you're too worried about how you look, go without it for a week.  You'll notice that no one goes running and screaming from you.  If you want to dress in a way that follows the guidelines or rules of your religion or culture (and you feel safe doing so--unfortunately, there are jerks out there who love to harass women in headscarves), do so. If you prefer your heels and makeup, rock it!

What is modest to one person is slutty to another.  What is slutty to one person is modest to another.  After awhile, I stopped caring what anyone thought, because I could not win.  This isn't a game designed to have any winners for the women assigned as contestants, so I just bowed out, as much as I could. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Chicken with Tarragon, Mustard, and Cream

It's been hot, rainy, and muggy these days where I live.  I couldn't hang my clothes up outside, so I hung them inside on the clothes rack.  After three days, they were still damp; I threw them in the drier for 15 minutes before they mildewed on me.

That kind of weather is not conducive to cooking.  Too hot, too muggy to stand over a stove or turn on the oven.  Unless you use your slow cooker, that is.

I had friends over on Saturday.  This is what I made (recipe from The French Slow Cooker).

Chicken with Tarragon, Mustard, and Cream

1/2 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
8-12 bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon, plus more for garnish
1/3 cup heavy cream

Pour broth and vinegar into a large slow cooker.  Stir mustard with salt and pepper to taste.  Brush the chicken all over with the seasoned mustard.  Arrange the chicken pieces in the slow cooker, overlapping them slightly.  Sprinkle with the garlic, parsley, and tarragon.

Cover and cook on low for 5 hours, or until the chicken is tender and cooked through.

Remove chicken to a serving plate and cover to keep warm.  Strain the pan juices into a saucepan and skim off the excess fat.  Bring juices to a simmer over high heat.  Stir in the cream and return to a simmer.  Taste for seasoning.  Pour the sauce over the chicken.  Sprinkle with the chopped fresh herbs and serve hot.