Archive for May, 2011

In celebration of my new job as cat care specialist for the Humane Society, here are some of my favorite photos of my favorite kids from the past two years.

To Smeagol, Olliver, Izzy, Patrick, Niles, Schrodinger, Evie, and Clarence(not pictured)…love you 🙂

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Ages ago, my brother Jimmy brought me to a bookstore in honor of my ninth birthday. The bookstore was Half Price Books, and I had never been there before, but it didn’t take me long to fall in love with the place. He told me I could pick out one book that he would buy for me as my birthday present. I searched for a long time, looking through each little aisle and cubby. The one I finally picked out was a pretty little poetry book, my first poetry book ever, that has made a significant impact on my literary tastes. I think at the time I was mostly interested in the green-cloth spine with gold lettering, and the idyllic Pre-Raphaelite-esque illustrations inside.
I was in fourth grade then, and one of our tasks for the year was to memorize and recite one poem a week in front of the entire class. With the help of my book I was able to recite the likes of Joyce Kilmer’s Trees, Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken, William Blake’s The Tyger, Walt Whitman’s O Captain, My Captain! and even most of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven. My classmates, on the other hand, were still mostly amused by Shel Silverstein on a regular basis. I’m sure they must have been dreadfully bored by my selections. I didn’t understand the verses any better than the rest of them, but I loved the way they sounded. They had a feel and a mystery to them that poor old Shel just couldn’t seem to muster. (Not that Shel’s poems aren’t fantastic in their own right.)
I’ve loved my poetry book for many years since, and I’ve returned many, many times to that bookstore. Especially in these frugal times, it’s comforting to know that I can walk into my favorite Half Price Books with a dollar bill or two and some change, and walk out again with some little treasure that will likely keep me entertained, at the very least, for several hours. If I’m really lucky I’ll walk away with the potential for something much more profound than entertainment. Most of the books on my shelves have come from that bookstore, and there have been countless more that have passed through my hands and gone back to that place, to be put back into the cycle for someone else to discover and treasure.
Every year during the holidays I pick up one of their handy calendars, mostly because they have coupons in the back. I hardly ever remember to use them, but it’s nice to know that they are there. The calender itself gives the names of famous authors who were born on each date. Many of them I recognize and love, but just as often I come across a name that I don’t know anything about.
Today’s is Par Lagerkvist.
Typically I don’t bother about the names I don’t know, not really caring enough to take the time to find out about someone who has never crossed my path in a literary fashion. But today, since I had the time and needed something to write about, I figured I’d give old Par a good googling at the very least.
Par was a Swedish author born in 1891. He was one of those people who knew from the get-go that he wanted to be a writer, unlike so many others who just happen upon it while they are still working their day job. He was a playwright, a poet, and a novelist. He liked to focus on heavy subjects like good and evil, war, and politics. He received the Nobel prize for literature in 1951, following the publication of his most famous work, Barrabbas, which actually sounds pretty interesting.
For a Nobel prize winner, there wasn’t a huge wealth of information on the web about Par or his works. I couldn’t find a lot in the way of quotations, though I did find one little quip that I think is perfectly suited to the impetus behind Christmas Is All Around Us:
“One for whom the pebble has value must be surrounded by treasures wherever he goes.”
Happy Birthday, Par.

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  • When starting seedlings indoors for a 4’X6′ garden, you do not need to plant 100 of everything. Four or five of each will be plenty.
  • Knowing when to plant things really helps if you actually want them to grow.
  • Worms do not like orange peels.
  • Lowe’s keeps the cheap (and organic!) soil waaay back, behind all the $5 bags of MiracleGro soil. 800 pounds of soil can cost you less than $25. 800 pounds of MiracleGro soil can cost you more than $100.
  • Cats love to dig.
  • There’s a heck of a lot to learn, and it’s not all gonna happen over one summer.
  • Don’t smell your cucumber seedlings….they smell like cucumbers and will leave you with cravings for at least a month.
  • When you have a hectic week and completely forget about your 70 marigold seedlings only to discover them shriveled and hopeless several days later…add water. Miracles happen.
  • Seeds collected from hybrid plants really will self-destruct as soon as you attempt to grow them.
  • Experience is worth more than book smarts.
  • Sometimes it’s best to just take a step back and see what happens.
I figure it’s about that time—time for a new garden update. Everything is sloooowly getting bigger, though some days it feels like nothing is happening at all! It must be happening though, because my flowers are getting just about ready to bloom…
The tomatoes are just about big enough to start needing a cage (you know how wild they get), and the beans and peppers are quietly plodding along. My late-planted lettuce is the most dramatic part of my garden lately, growing noticeably bigger each time I look. I really don’t know what I’m doing when it comes to lettuce, but something must be going half right because they are looking fairly lettuce-ish.
The cooler weather has been kind to my little lettuce patch, and I’m hoping that they will have the chance to get big enough to snack on before the sweltering June weather strikes.
Overall, I think our little garden is looking swell!
Some comparisons with ten days ago, just for fun…

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Our House

One of the best things about working for my dad is the continual opportunity to glean tiny bits of historical evidence from each house we work on. With some acute observation and a little contemplation (and help from the older and wiser), you can find out about a lot of things that most young people these days inevitably take for granted. Take for instance, our lovely little barn-red abode as an example. Think you don’t have enough closet space? Our house was built without closets. None. The closets we use now are tacked on to each room, a bit clumsily, somewhat disturbing the natural flow of the house. When our house was built, each inhabitant had a peg on which was hung a single set of work clothes, and a set of Sunday clothes. That’s all that was needed for the rural dweller.

According to our 85 year-old neighbor who grew up in this neighborhood, our house used to be the only one on the block. Like most of my grandmother’s houses, other small homes sprang up around the neighborhood in the ’30s and ’40s, likely lending a more suburban feel to the area. Post World War II, the remaining lots were hastily crammed with more cheaply assembled structures, to accommodate the booming families of the mid-forties.

If you know what to look for, it’s easy to spot the difference between the pre-WWII and post-WWII houses. The older houses were more craftily built, with foundations made of cinder blocks sculpted to resemble stones. The newer houses simply have plain old flat cinder blocks. Older houses have eaves that hang out a foot or more past the exterior wall of the house, which is less commonly seen in the newer homes. I’m not sure of the reason for this difference, but would be willing to bet it has something to do with gutters being a more modern invention.

Regardless of “old house” or “less-old house”, all of the houses in our area (and most of the houses I’ve worked on) still display a tell-tale sign of days gone by. Does your basement have a funny little iron trap-door on the same level as your basement windows? That, my gas furnace-loving friends, is a coal chute. I’ve seen many a coal chute in my work day, and occasionally I’ve discovered an actual coal room, still intact, with a little wooden door for easy access to the long-ago used up fuel. One of my grandmother’s houses must once have been occupied by very wealthy inhabitants indeed, for their coal room, to this day, still harbors the heaping surplus of coal that they left behind many decades ago.

I’ve grown accustomed to the phenomenon of viewing the outside world through the warped surface of blown-glass window panes. Glass, which is actually a very slow-moving liquid (!), has the habit of creating these fun-house mirror images of whatever is viewed through them, due to the thickening of the pane, over time, near the bottom. When I look out my kitchen window at my garden every morning, the lawn seems to undulate in response to the movements of my head and body.

Another amusing indication of simpler days is the ubiquitous presence of a beautiful wooden-framed bathroom window, right smack dab where any sane person would know a shower wall should go. I’ve helped my dad tear out many of these windows, placed so artfully just above the tub, because they had, of course, become hopelessly rotted out from the overhead spray of water. They have to be replaced with smaller vinyl windows surrounded by a protective sheet of plastic across the entire wall. The cause of all this hard labor is the same cause of the trouble my dad often has to go through to install that simple modern comfort that I can’t imagine ever having to live without—a shower.

Besides these antique clues as to the extinct past of my home and the dozens of others I have worked on, there are much more blatant signs to be found that tell about the very recent histories. When I began work on our house, one that we currently rent from my grandmother, there were plenty of clues that had to be removed or covered over. One of these, in the doorway leading to the hall, was a compendium of several years’ worth of height marks. You know, the kind with little names written off to the side, documenting the great race in growth among siblings. I saved that little testament to the former tenants till the very last, when it had to be painted over because I didn’t yet know that I was going to be the next lucky occupant. It comforts me to know that it is still there, hidden just under a layer of cheap white paint, and may yet reveal itself again one day.

A hopelessly sentimental amateur historian like myself can only wish it to be so.

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I wanted to make a visual index of all the animals I got to help with while I completed my internship at the zoo this winter. Not only will this help me to remember what specific animals I handled and fed and cleaned up after, but it will serve as a visual memory jog so that ten years down the road I will be able to look back and say, “Oh yeah!”

These photos are not my own—I shamelessly stole them off the internets (hey, if you don’t want em stolen, don’t post em). But they do give a very accurate representation of all the furry, spiky, scaly, warty, hairy, fuzzy, feathered, slimy and lovable creatures that I’ve had the immense privilege of getting up close and personal with. It was certainly the experience of a lifetime! (And if I inadvertently left anyone out, please forgive me. It was a long 13 weeks.)

p.s. Scrolling over each image will tell you the name of the animal. 😉

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1. Soak your corn for at least one hour in cold salt water.

2. Make a huge ass fire.

3. Burn lots of wood, then let your fire die down to red-hot embers.

4. Gather your supplies (Ka-Bar not absolutely necessary).

5. Butter and season to taste (i.e., a LOT).

6. Wrap in aluminum foil.

7. Use a shovel to push hot embers to the side, then place corn in center.

8. Use a shovel to cover the corn with hot embers.

You will immediately start to hear an exciting crackling sound.

9. Set a timer for 15 minutes. Relax.

Play some blues.

Spy on the neighbors.

Enjoy the lovely weather.

Wait as patiently as you possibly can!

10(finally). Use tongs to carefully remove corn from embers.

Unwrap. Enjoy!

PS—Don’t forget to share.

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Yesterday I took an online personality test. Apparently, I am a “very expressed introvert.”


It’s true, I’m about as introverted as they come. Almost.

What makes me an introvert? Well, it’s an actual, physical, psychological need for alone time. It’s also the fact that, even though I enjoy companionship, I almost always have a more profound experience when I am alone. I can enjoy visiting the art museum with another person, but when I’m there by myself I am able to slip into a kind of reverent coma where my awareness is heightened, and the art really speaks to me. But not in a schizophrenic kind of way.

Being an introvert can be pretty amazing as long as the elements are right. But it’s not always easy to find that balance. I think that a lot of introverts struggle with our ability to be so self-sufficient. It makes us feel different, or that we are somehow not normal or missing out on this great and wonderful thing called a social life that everyone likes to flout every chance they get. It doesn’t help that introverts are often stigmatized as aloof, anti-social, or shy. I don’t consider myself much of a shy person anymore. I have little problem with approaching someone if there is something specific I want to ask or say. The thing is, I don’t usually have much to say.

After taking the test last night, I got curious about introverts, and I did a little research. It’s something I could write about for a while. There are a lot of introverts on the internet sharing their experiences, and it can be quite enlightening. One article I read, however, really struck a chord with me. You can read the entire article here if you’re interested, but this one sentence sums up everything I’ve ever felt, without consciously knowing it, about the inevitable anxiety caused by communal mingling:

“What I dread is the feeling that my natural mode of social interaction isn’t acceptable.”

The times I get really wrapped up in social anxiety, feeling shitty about being introverted and wishing everyone would just vanish into thin air—parties. Most introverts avoid parties like the plague. I know I do. I’ve been to very few non-family parties where I did not feel like the sky was caving in on me and sending me into a head-spinning panic. The key term here, is non-family. I’ve always thought it interesting that I can attend any party with ease and joy, no matter the size or the number of people I actually know, as long as there are family members present. I have no party anxiety; it’s all cool. I can attend a family gathering that is raucous as all get-out, and it may give me a headache, and I may need to step out for a bit to get away from the noise. But still, it’s all cool. The difference is that my family knows me. I know they know me, and they know I’m not being anti-social, or stuck up, or scared to socialize. I can spend an entire length of family gathering sitting in a corner not talking to anyone, and that’s cool. I could spend that time prancing around the house singing Raffi songs, and that’d be fine too.

The point is, I’m completely comfortable when I’m with people who don’t expect anything from me in a social sense, and who I know won’t judge me on how I choose to socialize. And yes, sitting in the corner watching other people at a party is a form of socializing.

For me, the ideal party would be one where I could have a nice comfortable seat in a corner, perhaps with a little reading table set up, and a magazine or maybe a sudoku puzzle to keep me busy when I tire of people watching. The guests would go about their business, but not ignore me. Sometimes they would stop by to say hi to me, but of course they wouldn’t stay for too long unless they had something really captivating to talk about. I could slip out and go for a walk whenever I wanted, and when I came back my little spot would be waiting for me to ease back into. I wouldn’t have to be directly involved with anything, but I would be made to feel like I was still a part of everything.

And I think that is, in a way, what every introvert wants out of life. The space to be removed and occupy herself as she pleases. The occasional pleasant interaction. A feeling of belonging and being a part of the group, but no feeling of obligation to involve herself directly. If that sounds aloof or anti-social to you, well, maybe you’re an extrovert. 🙂

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