Sunday, October 30, 2005

63 Years Ago Here

Someone from the Farm Security Administration, a division of the Office of War Information, took this photograph near where I live outside of Ann Arbor. I wonder when farmers stopped using corn shocks.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Small Towns...

...have their pros and cons, as do their newspapers. My husband & I still talk about the time the "Police Report" column in the Saline Reporter described the investigation of "a suspicious smell".

I was checking my hometown newspaper's website for my friend's mom's obituary, and after reading it took a look at local news. It was somehow reassuring to read that "firefighters responded to a call that a house was on fire at 6:03 a.m. today in the 400 block of Oak Ridge Drive. Upon arrival, firefighters found the resident burned toast." Some neighbor must have a really sharp sense of smell.

Tagged for 20 New Things... Heels, a book loving mother from the South. I'm supposed to think of 20 New Things that I've never blogged about before.

1. The midwest. I like it a lot. I know people think it's boring, either culturally and/or geographically, but it isn't.

2. Above you see a recent photo from webshots, a photo upload/download site I just found. It was taken in Hennepin Canyon, in Starved Rock State Park, near where I grew up in northern Illinois.

3. I've been distracted by the American Memory site at the Library of Congress. You can enter a few key words and find documents and/or photographs of just about anything. I was thinking about Starved Rock and my hometown, and found a nice black & white photograph of the Illinois & Michigan Canal as it runs through the town of Utica there.

4. A bunch of my ancestors either helped build the I&M Canal or shipped their corn on it to Chicago. I like genealogy, especially when there are links to history.

5. My great-grandmother's former house in Utica, IL is now Patti's Pancake House. I have to say it is very weird to sit in a restaurant that has been made out of your grandmother's living room.

6. I like black & white photography a lot. If I win the lottery, I will do some of my own, which I haven't been able to do since college, when I took a course from Art Sinsabaugh. I had no idea how lucky I was, though I loved the course and thought he was an incredible teacher. I wish I could go see an exhibit of his work. Someday I will and I'll take some more of my own pictures, even if I don't win the lottery.

7. I've never bought a lottery ticket.

8. I don't really like Halloween, and I'm not sure why. I love candy, and I love fall.

9. I'm reading Frankenstein for my book club right now. I got distracted (yes, I am easily distracted) by Mary Shelley's life story. Unbelievable. Do some googling if you don't believe me.

10. My daughter approved my choice of music in the minivan today. She likes the new Eric Clapton CD. I'm a little disturbed by the chorus of crying babies in the background of "So Tired".

11. The calvacade of SUVs at my son's school disturbs me. I just don't get the whole monstrous SUV thing.

12. I wish my little local library was closer. Like right next door. They have some wonderful historic photographs of Washtenaw county on their website, and a little patch of woods right next to the library with a trail that is perfect for young kids.

13. I don't miss card catalogs a whole lot.

14. One of the funniest things I remember about working at the Ethnobotanical Laboratory at UMMA (University of Michigan Museum of Anthropology) happened when I gave my sister-in-law a tour. There was a Misc. cabinet filled with weird stuff that didn't fit into any plant family. I was pulling out the drawers, showing off the coprolites and the lacquered flea circus, when she saw the old-fashioned handwriting on the label on the next drawer and thought it said "Noses and Fingers" was actually "Mosses and Fungi".

15. What do you think appropriate discipline for calling your sibling "booger-butt" should entail? Hypothetically speaking, of course.

16. I miss burning leaves in the street. I don't want to pollute the air any more than it already is, and I know it's better to compost them, but I miss the smell of burning leaves, seeing whisps of smoke blowing across the streets, hearing the scritching sound of metal rakes on bricks and concrete, and lighting the fires and piling more leaves in.

17. I like chrysanthemums a lot. And asters, both wild & cultivated. Their abundance in fall makes me happy.

18. I like all of the squash around now. I'd like to do a photographic essay on all the different kinds of squash.

19. Squash has a really neat cell structure in its rind, which makes it easy to identify even miniscule pieces of charred rind from archaeological sites. It's now looking like squash is the oldest New World domesticate.

20. Unlike Heels, I like getting my hands in dirt and even into pumpkin guts. We need to go get our pumpkins from Makielski's tomorrow or Sunday. I'm happy now that I learned you don't need to rinse the seeds before drying them, coating them with butter, salt and other stuff, and roasting them. Mmmmmm.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Where Is the Mom Blog Carnival?

After writing about all of the Blog Carnivals out there, I belatedly realized there are no Mom Blog Carnivals circulating. Why not?

I got started blogging for Mothers & More for their Mothers' Day 2005 campaign: "The Real Story - It's About Time", which was such an exhiliarating experience that I latched onto Blogger and kept going. This also got me hooked on reading a few other parenting blogs, and interested in the whole "mommy blogger" phenomenon. Hey, the NY Times did a story about this (their articles aren't free online anymore, but if you're a subscriber or you can get it via your library's website, it's called Mommy (And Me), by David Hochman, and was published January 30, 2005.

I'm wondering just how much work it would be to put together one of these travelling shows. Blogging was so easy...there's some truly amazing writing out there hidden in the insipid "mommy blog" pigeonhole, and I would love to showcase some of it. Hmmm.

Blog Carnivals & Entanglements

Blog Carnivals offer some of the best blog reading out there and are one of the easiest ways to find interesting new blogs to add to your bookmarks.

The latest one I've enjoyed is The Carnival of the Feminists, which has a truly fascinating collection of articles despite its rather mundane title.

I've been hooked on The Tangled Bank, a bimonthly collection of articles on science & medicine (aptly named after Darwin's metaphor) for a few months now.

It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. From The Origin of Species, 1859; p. 450.

An interesting story about the (probably) real "Tangled Bank" and the tragic death of Darwin's ten year old daughter turned up in a story in The Guardian Unlimited when I searched for the page number for The Origin of Species quote. And a fascinating argument about whether Darwin actually said "tangled" or "entangled" turned up in the archives of the Society for Literature and Science.

Anyway, look at all the carnivals listed at Blog Carnival, sorted by title. There's everything from Asian History to Wine Blogging Wednesday out there - an entanglement of riches.

Monday, October 17, 2005

A Midwife's Tale

A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812, by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, is a much richer and more enlightening book than I anticipated. I guess that's why it won a Pulizter Prize for history and its author received a MacArthur grant.

Ulrich uses Ballard's terse entries (like this one for today's date in 1799) as a starting point for her clearly written examinations of social class, women's work (especially gardening, textile production, and nursing), medicine, debt, taxes, marriage, sex (including premarital sex), the complicated web of community social relationships, and crime.

October 17, 1799: Clear, windy and Cold. mr Ballard and Cyrus up to our house. mr Brown Came for Hepsy and Shee Sett out for his home at 2h pm. I have been washing and Scouring yarn, but feel very unfitt for Such Service.

Ulrich has also created Martha Ballard's Diary Online, with photographic reproductions of the complete diary (try your hand at transcription!), as well as an easy text search feature.

I finished reading this at the laundromat (where I have to take my queen-sized comforter and quilt at least a couple of times a year), and remembered seeing a remark about "sauce" which seemed to refer to vegetables, as I wrote about in Garden Sass (aka Garden Sauce). When I got home I was able to find it in the online diary in seconds:

August 19, 1804: at home. Lemuel here for Sauce. had Beens, Squash, Cucumbers & apples. he brot a Leller from Bror Elijah of 7th inst. I wrote answr.

So the "sauce" that Ballard is referring to here are the beans, summer squash, cucumbers & apples from the garden.

Some of Ballard's most eye-opening entries (and Ulrich's most fascinating historical descriptions) concerned the epidemics that devastated their community. Strep throat, now a winter discomfort easily diagnosed & remedied, commonly turned into scarlet fever, and many died of the "Putrid Malignant Sore Throat" and its complications. Children also died from burns suffered when they fell into the fireplace, diptheria, and diarrhea, and both children and adults commonly "pukt worms":

May 21, 1802: Clear. I have been very unwell. we Cookt the head and harslit of the Veal. Jona, his wife [&] siStr, wm & Sally Dind with us. Dagt Ballard had an ill turn at Evng, Pukt up 6 larg worms.

Now that I think about it, Ballard's matter-of-fact notes are rather blog-like in style. Reading Ulrich's lucid interpretation, however, provides powerful insight into just how alike and how different life was two hundred years ago in Maine.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Reading to a Dog

Arborweb's entry for this interesting program gave me a moment's pause:

"Therapaws Paws to Read" : Ann Arbor District Library. All kids in grades K-5 (accompanied by a parent or guardian) are invited to read one-on-one for 10 minutes to a dog that's been trained by Intermountain Therapy to help improve kids' reading skills by behaving as if it is interested in being read to. Appointments required. AADL youth department story room, 343 S. Fifth Ave. at William, & Northeast Branch, Plymouth Mall. Free. Preregistration required. 327-8301. (emphasis added by me).

Well, maybe these dogs actually like listening to books. Maybe they're not just faking it.

This would be a good place to take kids that are not entirely comfortable around dogs. Well-trained animals that calmly sit and hang on your every word - that would help your self-confidence as well as your reading skills.

I think it would be nice to have this in schools, too. My son takes some of his "pressure release" breaks from class by going over and feeding the class guinea pig. Perhaps not coincidentally, I think this this is the best teacher he's had in the last three years.

Here's an interesting article on animals in the classroom.

Our dog (shown here) listens very intently when you say squirrel, cat, or treat, but tends to fall asleep during extended conversation or reading.


I'm not sure whether this is Amaranthus cruentus or A. hypochondriacus, since I no longer have the seed packet from two years ago. It re-seeded itself, and it grows well in the really poor soil on the south side of my house. It gets so big that it collapses in the fall, so next year I think I'm going to grow it along the chain link fence, where I can inconspicuously tie it up.
has nice introduction to amaranth called "Why Were Amaranths Forbidden?"

I found a link to some interesting amaranth grain recipes - sadly, the only thing I've actually made from harvested & "popped" grain is a kind of rice-krispie treat-like confection.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Front of the Class

Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had, by Brad Cohen with Lisa Wysocky

This author is young - only 32. He was in school in the 70's and 80's, for goodness sake! And it seriously sucked for him. Before he was diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome, people told his mom he was posessed, he got beat up, he was teased and endlessly mocked by other kids, teachers humiliated him, and some of his family members shunned him. Even after his diagnosis with a neurological disorder, and some teacher & peer education at his middle school, the stories he tells about some of his teachers....well, they were just horrible to read.

Instead of being crushed by this, Cohen decided that he was going to be a teacher, and a better one than he'd ever had. He had an awful time getting hired, despite excellent credentials & recommendations, because so many principals were freaked out by his tics (barking, wooping, neck jerking). And of course tics are much worse when you're nervous, so the stories about job interviews were totally nightmarish.

Anyway, Cohen did get hired, and by all accounts was (and continues to be) a wonderful, passionate and skilled teacher. His students flourished (and easily ignored most of his tics, which subside when he is engaged in his classes anyway), his fellow teachers & administrators voted him "Teacher of the Year" for the district, and he went on to get the award for both the county and then the whole state of GA.

Sometimes the writing is a little over the top in the inspirational & motivational mode - I think Cohen could have used a better editor. The basic story is fascinating and often very moving, however. One very sad thing - when Cohen was at his "Teacher of the Year" awards, all of the award winners were supposed to thank a teacher that inspired them. Cohen honestly couldn't. It was bad teachers that motivated him. The only positive help he had outside family & friends was from a middle school & high school principal and a local Jewish youth group.

A couple of other books on Tourette's and/or OCD that I've read in the last few years, that helped me understand different aspects of what my son deals with: Passing for Normal: A Memoir of Compulsion, by Amy Wilensky (funny, more literary than Cohen's book), and Devil in the Details: Scenes from an Obsessive Girlhood, by Jennifer Traig.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Children and Geese...

...sound very much alike from a distance. We live about two blocks from my son's school, and I can often hear the screeches of kids on the playground when the wind is right. The other day I thought, geez, now it sounds like they're right out behind our house...must be the neighbor kids. Nope, geese. I didn't know they ate soybeans.