Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Lake Huron's Shore

My son got to see some zebra mussels (something he's wanted since reading
The Day the Great Lakes Drained Away
, which the AADL just bought on my suggestion!) when we went to visit relatives up on the east coast of the Thumb. My husband found a petoskey stone (thought they were only supposed to be on the other side of the state?) and the lake was absolutely breathtaking.

So many shades of blue, green, grey, and brown, in both the lake and the sky. It's fun to be able to see the weather across such a distance.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Official Interview Game

from Heels at Mundane Superhero:

1. What childhood book influenced you the most and why?

I think Frances Hodgson Burnett's "The Secret Garden" had a huge influence - I read it at a very young age, and it is probably responsible for my love of "Pride & Prejudice" (both books and movies) and literature in general. Also, this was the start of reading romances (both gothic & otherwise), combined with gardening and nature-loving and an examination urban/rural differences and social class. What more could you want, really?

2. You may change one historically significant event in one way only. What will you change, and why?

The election results in November 2004, for obvious reasons. And I thought the Reagan years were endless. Ha.

3. Who was your favorite teacher and have you adopted any of the traits you admired in that person as your own?

I think my high school rhetoric teacher, Mr. Adrian, was my favorite. I've adopted some of his writing styles, and certainly many of his editing techniques. Cut that deadwood! Read Strunk & White.

4. Who's on your top 10 list?

Top 10 for what? I'm just going to list ten 'public' personas I'd like to hear or see more of in general. :-) Unsurprisingly, many of them are authors.

Christopher Moore
Natalie Angier
Mary Catherine Bateson
Liam Neeson
Colin Firth
Anthony Bourdain (it would be good if he could cook for me)
Miriam Peskowitz
Michael Moore
Lois McMaster Bujold
Marcia Ball

5. Dead People Dinner Party: you may invite 5 other people. Who and why?

Margaret Mead
Gregory Bateson
Stephen Jay Gould
Thomas Jefferson
J.R.R. Tolkien

They're all academic/author types who also were interested in popular culture & eduation. I think they'd all get along well (although maybe Mead & Bateson wouldn't, as ex-spouses) and would have some fascinating stories and conversations.

Want to play? The Official Interview Game Rules:
1. If you want to participate, leave a comment below asking to be interviewed.
2. I will respond by asking you five questions - each person's will be different.
3. You will update your journal/blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview others in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

Free Books!

I love this idea (and thanks to Excrutiating Minutiae for suggesting it) - a book swap service called Frugal Reader. You list the books you don't want anymore (like the ones that still haven't sold on, because there's a billion of the same title already for sale at 75 cents plus shipping & handling), and if someone else wants it, they request it. You send it via media mail to them ($1.42 for most paperbacks), and then you get a credit for a free book to request for yourself. When you sign up, if you list five books you get two free credits for yourself.

It's the online version of the paperback swap rack at my local library, except the selection is bigger and no one gets to take and never give. Obviously, Frugal Reader will work best if lots and lots of people sign up. I think most of the books available are pretty mainstream, but that is exactly the kind of books that libraries often don't like to buy. Please don't mock me for reading and enjoying Nora Roberts and Amanda Quick.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Simplify Your Childrearing

Trees Make the Best Mobiles: Simple Ways to Raise Your Child in a Complex World, by Jessica Teich and Brandel France De Bravo

I like the basic premise of this parenting book a lot: you don't need a lot of complicated stuff to raise happy kids (basically the same idea behind "Confessions of a Slacker Mom", which I gleefully maligned here). What kids really need, this book repeatedly informs us, is you; your attention, your consistency, and plenty of opportunities for free play, reading, etc. There are short 2-3 page essays on all kinds of different topics, like "Octopus Mom: Setting Priorities and Simplifying Your Llife", "Mind Over Manners: Etiquette", and "It's My Party and I'll Cry if I Want To: Temper Tantrums".

Most of the suggestions are rather liberal, and pretty much in line with basic Attachment Parenting ideas. The preface clearly states that "Our book advises you to do less, listen more, speak directly to your newborn, involve your infant in her own care, and treat this mewling creature with the same respect you treat your partner, and yourself."

For a new parent, this might be a good common-sense introduction, and the lessons are all easily absorbed from the short, well-written essays. There is no index, though, and the chapter titles are sometimes ambiguous, so a frantic mother can't look up "tantrums" and then turn to see if her daughter's behavior is normal and if she is responding in a kind, gentle, yet appropriate disciplinary manner.

Some of the authors' pronouncements did strike me as a bit over the top and decidedly humorless. For instance:

Think of every activity as a chance to slow down down, to fill the moment with your concentration and care. Even changing a diaper can become - dare we say it? - pleasureable. It's a moment to connect with your child...Don't use toys or a mobile to distract your newborn. Your eye contact is more compelling than any rattle. Think of diapering as an activity you engage in together, and tell him so..."

Pfft. Tell that to the mom changing her five hundredth diaper of the month, the blowout that shot up her son's back and soaked through all his clothes. Personally, I found distraction with toys a wonderful technique for making diaper changes enjoyable, at least when my son didn't stick the toy straight into his poop.

But perhaps my kids just aren't the quiet, understanding type, happier lying on their back looking at the beauty of the natural world than being stuck in an evil mechanical swing or bouncy seat. I do know that my kids would react very badly to some of the authors' suggestions for dealing with tantrums. I'd say if you don't have a "spirited child", then the techniques described here have a much better chance of working well for you.

Furthermore, I'm not sure that I'm a true believer in Teich and De Bravo's assertion that "The natural grace and decency of children will often carry the day, if we trust them to behave appropriately", especially after observing the 1st-4th grade kids on the playground at my son's school. I'm guessing Teich & De Bravo are not big "Lord of the Flies" fans. Me, I do have a glass half empty mentality, but those that tend to consistently (and somewhat uncritically) see the sunny side of things might find this book just what they need to simply parent.

Monday, August 15, 2005


I've never tried this, but I'd like to add my blog to all of those attempting to make a point on "Intelligent Design" by linking it to the National Center for Science Education.

Skeptico looks like interesting reading. It is such a beautiful day, however, that we're going out to play now. We have to go to a park or playground because ChemLawn was spraying something awful smelling all over our next door neighbor's backyard, and I don't want to breathe the undoubtedly toxic pesticides wafting over our backyard now. Unfortunately, I don't think they'd respond well to some literature from the National Coalition for Pesticide-Free Lawns. In fact, I'm fairly sure they think we should be applying more chemicals to our lawn to cut down the crabgrass & other weeds, instead of waiting until next spring to use corn gluten.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Sprol in LaSalle Co., IL

It's kind of shock to see your bucolic hometown just a few miles from one of Sprol's featured shots on "our bleakest landscapes of overconsumption and decay". Ah well, at least they didn't mention Radium City or those pesky EPA Superfund sites.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Garden Sass (aka Garden Sauce)

Yspi~dixit has some of the most interesting tidbits and intelligent commentary on her blog, and her question about "garden sauce" sent me googling and dog-piling and blingo-ing across the net, reading all kinds of fascinating excerpts - everything from an 1824 letter from Ann Arbor settler Ezra Maynard to a Betty Crocker cookbook published in 1956. I would have written about this sooner, but I had to take the kids to the playground, Target, a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese, and feed them, take the van to the dealer for a recall, and do all that everyday stuff that I don't feel like blogging about right now.

First, the quote from the letter that set me off, which is also the earliest web reference I found to "garden sauce" (note all bold emphasis in the following quotes is mine):

Owing to the great emigration into this place, provisions are high and we shall have to pinch a little perhaps till we can raise them ourselves, shall immediately plant some potatoes, garden sauce, and sow some turnips; and calculate to put in some wheat, and plow as much as possible for spring crops...from letter by Ezra Maynard, June 4, 1824.

In 1852, Brigham Young preached the following:

Here are their gardens groaning with abundance of the products of the earth — with potatoes, beets, and cabbage. Here are milk and butter and fine flour in great quantities. Here are the tomatoes and garden vegetables of every description. Now, you say, I have got home, to my brethren’s door, and they have got plenty. What would you wish these brethren to do to you? Ask that same question to your neighbours, and get them to answer it. I can tell you what you would they should do to you. You would wish them to say, Come, brother or sister, into my garden, and help yourselves to some garden sauce; walk in here, and take and eat, and make yourselves glad.

From a letter from a Civil War soldier in the South in 1863:

Very few Southerners ever eat any beans. We have also plenty of garden sauce, cucumbers, beets, etc. and in the streets can get huckleberries, blackberries, apples, pears, peaches, etc.

I found the intriguing title "The Balloon and the Garden-Sauce" on a poem published in 1889 by Irving Browne, but although The Green Bag (an Entertaining Journal of Law!?) is still being published, I haven't searched out the 19th c. issues in any library archives. From these quotes, though, it appears obvious that garden sauce was a term for what we would today call produce: vegetables, grown in a garden, in contrast to grain, grown in fields.

I did not find an explanation of the origins of the term "garden sauce", but did uncover the the following citation from Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book, ca. 1956:

In the early days of our own country, vegetables were "garden sauce" or just "sass" to go with meat. Beets and carrots sometimes were referred to as "long sauce", while onions and potatoes were "short sauce". A vendor who sold vegetables from door to door was a "sauce man".

Ah ha! Garden sauce at some point in the early 1900's became "garden sass". A column on “Sauces to Impart Richness”, by Catherine Mackenzie in the June 30, 1935 edition of the New York Times (p.SM12) also describes how:

"...the return of the gardening season serves to recall that vegetables were long known colloquially as "garden sass," and a vegetable garden as a "sauce garden". The Oxford dictionary defines one use of the word “sauce”: “Chiefly US, vegetables or fruit, fresh or preserved, taken as part of a meal or as a relish”.

When you search the web for "garden sass", more interesting citations turn up, including at least three books with the title "Garden Sass" published since 1950; one subtitled “A Catalog of Arkansas Folkways”, another “A Collection of Recipes by the Growing Season”, and the final one “The Story of Vegetables”. It is also clear that sauce is something that accompanies meat, and that at least in the early 20th century, garden sass was not as valuable as meat, or of much account in general. This become more obvious in the following quotes:

He was a little and dried-up man of something like 80 years. Mounted like a manikin on the back of a big white horse, he bore before him a bunch of green corn-fodder, and turned in at the gate to a piece of low ground thick with walnut-trees, between the rows of which the soil was studded closely with that peculiar greenery which delights the peasant soul, and which, when finally realized upon, does not amount to any value whatever; pumpkins and peppers and onions, some spindling stalks of corn for roasting-ears, and all that miscellany which comes under the comprehensive head of "garden-sass," and which, so far as all modern experience goes, it is cheaper to buy than to raise...from Old Californian Days, by James Steele, 1889:164-165

Thirty dollars for tools and seeds, ninety-seven dollars' worth of labor, and four times that amount of worry and vexation of spirit, results in some forty dollars' worth of "garden sass," which is promptly referred to the interior department of the neighbors' cows...from "The Cow", in The Iconoclast, by William Cowper Brann, 1898

At this moment Case pere and mere emerged from the kitchen loaded with provender. "Here`s enough an` more`n enough, I reckon," said Jeb Case. "We got eggs, butter, bread, bacon, milk, an` a mite o` garden sass."

"But we ain`t goin` to charge you nothin` fer the garden sass," interjected Mrs. Case...from The Oakdale Affair, by Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1937, ch. 7.

Today "garden sass" is a quaint phrase, a mention of the Good Old Days found only in historic documents. It also appears to be something you might name a blog or an art exhibit, as in Love Apples and Other Garden Sass, a interdisciplinary show in Brooklyn, where "All the artists in the show individually contribute their ongoing correction of personnel mythologies and unraveling stories, like a garden sass casserole."

No Mushrooms, Please

My three year old daughter today insisted that she have one of the granola bars "with NO mushrooms". I was confused by this until her older brother rolled his eyes and said "She means marshmallows" (yes, I bought S'mores flavored granola bars).

My eight year old son can be so mature and then revert back to preschooler behavior ten minutes later. Last night as we finished the out loud reading of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", he stopped me at the beginning of the last chapter. "Wait a minute....wait...I want to savor the moment," he said. He jumped on the bed (like someone crashing through a roof) when the glass elevator crashes into the Bucket house. Hope I'm not giving out any spoilers here. We will probably be going to see the movie this weekend, now that we've read the book.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


Here's one of the recent visitors to our backyard - a fledging robin. It hopped around a bit while my children begged to keep it as pet. I pointed out the mother (or father?) robin fluttering on the eaves overhead, and argued that we should leave it alone. My 8 year old son found a worm for it, and both kids were delighted when it opened its mouth and swallowed the worm that I dangled it over its head.

The night before last I was awake long after everyone else, and heard coyotes yipping in the distance. When we lived on the north side of Ann Arbor, we started seeing them in the scrubby field by Arrowwood, but this year is the first we've heard them down here in Saline. I wonder if their population is increasing, or if these animals have been displaced by all of the new development along Maple, Textile, Michigan Ave., Platt, and South State.

An internet tidbit on urban coyotes with a great picture here.

Last night's visitor was either a chirping skunk, or a skunk and some unknown noisy chirruping screecher. My husband thinks it was a raccoon. The skunk smell was overwhelming, but luckily gone by the time we got up. It was a good reminder to check the backyard for skunks before letting our dog out at night. I don't want to have to drive to the all-night grocery to buy hydrogen peroxide and baking soda and spend half the night washing the dog again.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Ecological Invasions

Out of Eden: An Odyssey of Ecological Invasion, by Alan Burdick is fascinating non-fiction, but it was sometimes slow going for me, because the author goes into great depth on some species and the mechanisms of their ecological invasions. He also describes current methodological and philosophical debates among ecologists, which is is good, because he's not over-simplifying things, but it let's face it: reading about plankton identification techniques, the ways to test the climbing abilities of brown tree snakes, and our inability to know the history of marine invertebrate ecology may not be everyone's cup of tea.

Burdick focuses on three main areas: Guam and the brown tree snake (originally from Australia); Hawaii and it's native birds & fruitflies and intoduced pigs, earthworms, wasps, and trees; and San Francisco Bay and the green crabs and hundreds of other marine plants & animals that are irrevocably changing our oceans and shores.

I learned a ton of mind boggling things - for example, the Hawaiian Islands are part of an ongoing geological process, and its birds (the ones not already extinct), different on each island, are descended from birds that were blown from islands that have already sunk back into the ocean.

There are more bizarre varieties of marine invertebrates that I could have imagined. Many are larval forms of jellyfish, sponges, and things not clearly plant or animal, visible only under a microscrope. Every shoreline and different part of the ocean has native species with its own interactions, but ballast water (thousands of gallons pumped in & out to balance ships) has transported hundreds of these species to entirely new places, with unknown consequences. Voila! Zebra mussels in the Great Lakes and the Mississippi watershed.

There are nice biographical bits on several seminal ecologists (with a few good jokes concerning their larval states), the history of "alien" research, what these scientists actually spend their time doing, and their hopes for the future.

What this book doesn't do is try to cover all of the different kinds of invasive species that may be changing your local environs today - so don't expect an overview of garlic mustard, the emerald ash borer, the mosquito that carries the West Nile virus, or carp (all relatively recent anthropogenic introductions to Michigan).

This would be a good place to include a link to the Invasive Species Weblog.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Summer Wind

It is a sultry day; the sun has drunk
The dew that lay upon the morning grass;
There is no rustling in the lofty elm
That canopies my dwelling, and its shade
Scarce cools me. All is silent, save the faint
And interrupted murmur of the bee,
Settling on the sick flowers, and then again
Instantly on the wing.
-William Cullen Bryant, 1824

My son pulled the book that contains this poem from in a bookcase in our family room. I think he was intrigued by its peeling leather cover. It's from the 1901 edition of the Handy Dictionary of Poetical Quotations, which was owned by my great grandmother's sister, Helen, who wrote her name and date in the front in 1907, when she was 12 years old. I had a good time browsing the entries for different topics last night (heavy on Shakespeare), and wondering if Helen or my great grandmother Louise marked the entries for Death and Tomorrow.

Flying Spaghetti Monster...

...the perfect antidote to Intelligent Design, which I discovered via Pharyngula. Lots of interesting discussion on teaching science, politics, and more there.

Here's the beginning of the "Open Letter to Kansas School Board", which started the FSM phenomenon:

I am writing you with much concern after having read of your hearing to decide whether the alternative theory of Intelligent Design should be taught along with the theory of Evolution. I think we can all agree that it is important for students to hear multiple viewpoints so they can choose for themselves the theory that makes the most sense to them. I am concerned, however, that students will only hear one theory of Intelligent Design.

Let us remember that there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design. I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was He who created all that we see and all that we feel. We feel strongly that the overwhelming scientific evidence pointing towards evolutionary processes is nothing but a coincidence, put in place by Him.

More on FSM & his (its?) church at Uncyclopedia here.

Can you imagine if this actually goes to court in Kansas? The plaintiffs will have to wear full pirate regalia, of course. The better to "bask in his noodlyness and stare agape at his meatitude".

I hope no one thinks I'm mocking Christians with this post. I only mean to mock those that want to include religious-based pseudo-science in public schools. Clearly, scientists need to do a better job of educating and popularizing not just the results of their work, but their methods. Science is qualitatively different from any other other way of looking at the world, and people who think that "Intelligent Design" is just another way of doing science have missed a few crucial points in their education.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Bad Moms

Just wanted to post a wonderful quote from Nadine, a friend I've never met from my "pregnant and giving birth in Nov 1996" e-mail list which is now almost ten years old (our kids are all 8 1/2):

"Instead of "bad mom", can we say "my parenting style is not currently in concordance with the needs of this particular child"?

I need to check out that Mommy Guilt book, which was co-authored by a fellow M&M member.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Excuuuuuuse Me

It's funny when my 3 year old daughter says this after she burps. Because it sounds pretty much like "Sue me," like she's an obnoxious teenager saying, "So sue me if I burp. Whatevah."

Meanwhile, my 8 year old son wants to move to the "west coast of California" because there are wild hermit crabs there. He just wants to lie on the beach and let them crawl all over him. Ewwww. He hasn't been able to catch a cicada yet this year, although we're hearing them up in the (nearly) dead elm tree.