“Fresh Off the Stalk”

As we did last year, we bought a share of a local farm through a program called CSA(community supported agriculture.) Spending the money in early spring allows the farmers capital to plant new crops. Then each week we take our bag to the farm stand for our share of the produce. While theoretically we would lose our money if the crops completely failed, this farm has supplied food for years and the risk is very small.

The first week we received fresh asparagus, newly cut from the stalks that morning. I cook asparagus regularly in the late spring, often either steaming or oven roasting it. The vegetables available in the local store usually come from Mexico. I was used to the taste being fairly bland, definitely needing the addition of lemon juice for adding zest.

I was amazed to taste real local asparagus for the first time that I can remember. The taste was pronounced, delicious and needed no seasoning. Clearly whatever allows the stalks to travel from Mexico and arrive with a snap in the store takes a toll on taste. I had no idea of the difference in the flavor possible when it had just been harvested.

I think the summer will be, as was last year’s, a reintroduction to the true flavors of vegetables. Locally grown and picked, they have no need to travel or to keep for a week, depriving them of flavor. Here’s to what lies ahead from our neighbor’s gardens. Eating local is more than a fad, it is a promise of real flavor, often missing at the super market.

“Good As New”

Many years ago we bought this picnic table and benches unfinished. We painted them a lovely green and used them for a while. When the paint wore down, we sanded and repainted them. Remembering how tedious this job was, we put off doing the job from summer to summer. Yes splinters were likely if you sat down too fast, but we could deal with that. Finally this month Charlie decided to restore them.

After sanding for nearly a full day he realized that it probably would have been smarter to just get a new set. But by then in for a dime in for one hundred dollars, he kept at it. Many hours of sanding, one coat of sealing primer, three coats of outdoor paint later, we moved the restored set to the deck. Sadly now the deck looks in need of a restoration. Next year—maybe.

“Why Sea Otters?”

I first saw sea otters off the coast of Monterrey California and promptly fell in love with them. While they were nearly hunted to extinction for their fur, they are clinging on in small groups at various points on the Pacific Coast. I bought an otter magnet at the Monterrey Aquarium and the collection was on.

I imagine there are many women my age who have collected a lot of something or another. Some women collect spoons, others figurines, others religious artifacts. I collect sea otters. That makes buying me a card or a small gift quite easy for my family and friends. As long as it has sea otters on it I will love it.

Buy why sea otters? A quick reading about their lives may resonate with more than just me. Sea otters basically eat, play, love and rest on their backs. If they don’t want to float too far away they sometimes anchor themselves in a bit of seaweed to stay stationary. They lie on their backs and crack open shellfish and devour the insides as they float. They make excellent mothers and can be seen on their backs with their babies resting on their chest. And I can’t deny that they have the “cuteness” factor in spades.

May they increase and multiply!

“33 and Counting”

June 18, 1988

Thirty three years ago. on a sunny Saturday in Portland, Oregon, Charlie and I brought our lives, our three children and one dog together “until death do us part.” We had very traditional vows(minus the obey) and a simple ceremony at a Friends church in front of around 100 friends and family. We hosted a very low key, alcohol free reception in the church basement complete with nuts, coffee, punch and wedding cake. The church women decorated the tables and cleaned up for us.

We had some idea of the obstacles before us, each entering into our second marriage with children from the first. Our pastor had taken us through over a year of weekly premarital sessions making sure there was nothing we hadn’t discussed before we said “I do.” But we had yet to live with each other which was sure to present new challenges. Fortunately the congregation in a Quaker ceremony basically weds the couple and promises to support them in their marriage. Especially during that first year we leaned heavily on fellow congregants to do just that.

We have weathered a lot but are still thriving together. Our kids are in their forties now, on their own. We are looking for a new puppy to replace our recent loss of Grace. We own our home, a couple of cars and the accumulation of many years of treasured art and possessions.

I would do it again in a heartbeat.

“Beach Read”

Perfect Beach Read

I love well written, deeply plotted, character and descriptive rich novels. I also need to have a “beach read” every summer. The qualifications for my definition of a “beach read” are pretty basic. Preferably the cover should feature a drawing of the beach. Failing that, however, in the case of the book pictured above, plot can qualify it. The plot should be utterly predictable, involving two unlikely people forming, despite all obvious obstacles, a romantic connection. I prefer no mention of throbbing or thrusting, both of which distract me from my purpose of reading such a novel–to completely relax.

A good “beach read” has many of the characteristics of going to the actual beach. There you probably consume food you don’t usually eat at home even though it doesn’t contribute to your health goals. You probably feel no need to “account” for your time spent. You probably lose track of time and commitments. You may do “touristy” things that you are too “sophisticated” to do back home. Your inner sloth emerges quite happily.

In my experience beach reads are a woman’s secret summer pleasure. I don’t know if there is a male equivalent. But I can recommend the very silly summer publication of The Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren. A total tech nerd invents a machine to pair people by genetic tests. A dubious woman takes the test on a dare. The predictable ensues. Enjoy.

“Following the Crop”

Fresh California Cherries

Each late May we begin to look for the first crop of ripe cherries coming from California. Usually these are somewhat unripe, lacking in intense flavor and on the small size. Nonetheless, with memories of the final cherries devoured in the previous early fall, we buy them and eat them. We usually comment “ these aren’t as good as I remembered.”

As the summer unfolds, the cherries get bigger, redder and tastier. A quick look at the plastic bag reveals they are from Hood River, Oregon or Yakima, Washington, many miles north of the previous orchards. Cherries thrive on cooler winters, and these parts of the Pacific. Northwest are ideal. We eat as many as we can, knowing these too will be off the shelves soon. When finally we dig into a bag from eastern British Columbia, we know the season is near its end. Here are the dark red, huge, tasty cherries we remember. We will search them out again next summer and try not to jump the gun with California wannabes.

The entire experience of watching the crops move north always reminds me of the migrant families who moved from Southern California through Oregon onto Washington each year following the crops. Woody Guthrie pays them tribute in a song I have been humming, Pastures of Plenty.

“ Finally a Novel!”

Recently in a column in the New York Times called By the Book, the author Jeff Vandermeer who wrote the recent novel Hummingbird Salamander was asked if he thought novels should serve a moral function. His reply seemed to me to characterize much that is wrong with contemporary American fiction, “I enjoy books that don’t care if I think they should serve a moral function. Personally, I believe it’s more important that books be laboratories and experiments and it’s up to the reader to be moral. I trust my readers to know that, at times, I’m going to write wickedly and in a messed-up way, about messed-up characters who may behave in an unreliable or suspect manner.”

By moral fiction the questioner didn’t mean do they promote morality per se. Rather should books stir our deepest places where our values live? Vandermeer’s answer revealed what I have often thought when I put down yet another dreadful book: the writer is using the text as experiment and I am the unwilling subject of said experiment.

So it is with great delight that I read and absorbed Maggie Shipstead’s latest book from May of 2021, a 609 page gripping, complicated, consistently well written old fashioned novel. As Lynn Strong wrote in her May review of the novel in the New York Times “At a moment when so many novels seem invested in subverting form, “Great Circle” follows in a long tradition of Big Sweeping Narratives.”

Yes it is very long. Yes it is very involved. Yes it will be a slow read. But I hope that you, as did I, will savor nearly every word. The settings from Montana to Seattle and around the world and the characters of a woman pilot and a struggling actress will rattle around in your brain, taking up space there for a long satisfying while.

“Acquainted With Grief”

Emily Dickinson 1847 portrait

Emily Dickinson expresses the truth about grief as poignantly as any writer I know. In fact Anne Morrow Lindbergh used the line “Hour of Lead” when she wrote about the kidnapping and murder of her first child. I especially like the central section where she articulates our ability to keep going but in a pretty mechanical way when we are hit by grief.

I have been away from the blog for a while as I have been dealing with the grief that came up as our beloved dog died. While losing a valued pet is deeply sad, old submerged grief finds a way to piggy-back on a current opportunity, hoping that it will get a chance to be aired. That has happened to me. I am slowly regaining my footing and will begin to write again on a pretty regular basis. I miss the interaction and love when it is a big part of my life. Clearly I missed some of your posts. If there is something I really ought to know that happened in the last three weeks (a death, a marriage, a move, etc.) please feel free to write me directly at betsyfrompike@earthink.net and I will be sure to respond by email.