Last Night

I slept in my backyard last night. Or, more specifically, I slept in the field across the driveway from my porch. It is a part of the property that we are responsible for as renters. We don’t exactly have a back yard.

We live in a house that was built in 1910, just after the Model T Ford had started production. The house was built to be a three-story, single-family home. It was built before the roads were paved, back when there was more than one brothel on Main Street.

The field out back might have been an orchard once, a field that, long ago, might have had several fruit trees and nut trees, something to feed the miners that once came through town. Long ago, it could have held pears and apples and apricots, the same way that it now holds two cherries and a fig. Today, it’s just a small, fenced-in field, mostly overgrown with blackberries.

The house we live in was later converted into two units for renters with one door in the front for the upstairs unit, and another in the back for the downstairs unit. My partner and I live downstairs. The house was built on such a slope that part of the rooms on our floor, in the back of the house, are subterranean. There was a stairway that went from our floor upstairs but it was turned into a closet. We have our own “stairway to nowhere,” like the Winchester Mystery House.

Our field backs up to the freeway. Mostly we pretend that the traffic whooshing by is the sound of a rushing river. It works until someone honks or sirens speed by.

I wasn’t planning to sleep outside. It’s not exactly an ideal place for a backyard camp-out.

About a week ago I read a list-serve email from someone advertising two goats for brush-clearing. It read: “Free Goats.” They were offering a wether and a doe, a Nigerian/Toggenburg cross, a brother and a sister for a temporary stay. Free was right in my price range.

When we moved in, we cleared all the brush and found someone to haul it away. It cost nearly $200.00. Only three weeks later, the blackberries and weeds were taking over. I was hoping to prep the field for a garden. Goats were welcome.

012 (800x531)

Their owner dropped them off this morning. Gypsy and Nomad entered my care at 11am and have been my little goats ever since.

They started their day eating blackberry sprigs and making their way around the field. It was perfect. They munched on weeds and vegetation and were particularly happy. They might have reached over the fence to eat my neighbor’s roses a bit but, other than that, they were perfectly behaved.

Then night fell.

There is a major road construction project through town and last night was the night that they were preparing our stretch of freeway. At just about sunset, the trucks came bumbling by. Beeps, tractors, the whole lot. The truck migration was followed by a jack hammer. And the goats lost it.

They started bleating frantically and pacing back and forth.

I called their owner, “Have the goats ever been away from home?

“No.”

I told my partner, “I’m going to sleep with the goats tonight.”

I dragged my sleeping bag and pillow out into the yard. I sat with the goats and talked to them in a calm voice. I stayed there until the goats fell asleep.

Twerking: Our Words Matter

I turned on National Public Radio in my car to hear local and national news.

I heard a word that I’ve never heard before: “Twerking”

As an educated person, with a degree in English Literature, this new word intrigued me. If NPR is using it, it must be a real word. Right? I’d never heard it before.

At the first stop light, I did what every English Nerd does with a new word: I grabbed the Webster’s Dictionary from the backseat of my car and searched frantically.

Nothing. No twerk. No twerking. Tweet, tweeter, tweezers, twelve, twenty, twerp, twice, twiddle. Twerk wasn’t there.

Hmmm. Maybe “twerking” was a new word from some wonderful obscure novel I hadn’t heard of yet. Maybe it was like “Muggle” in J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter Series or “Sneetch” of Dr. Seuss fame. I turned up the radio to catch the rest of the story. Something about Miley Cyrus. Something about an awards show.

video killed the radio star MTV

It wasn’t until I sat in front of a computer, and could search the word “twerking,” before I actually understood it’s definition.

There it was. It was a part of mainstream headlines. CNN. NPR. It wasn’t from a book review. It was headline news.

(As defined by UrbanDictionary.com and quoted from the website), Twerking is defined this way: “Also known as dirty dancing. When a woman slams her bottom on a mans pelvic area while dancing. The man can also lunge his pelvic area forward for a harder bang. This is usually performed in a dance club along with upbeat music.” Example sentences include: “Damn, her ass was twerkin’ on my junk, I hope she didn’t feel my shlong.” And “I saw you twerking with that girl. That ass was bouncing all over you”

Aside from The Urban Dictionary, there is no other dictionary in the world—in print or online—that recognizes the word “twerking”. CNN and NPR ran lead stories this morning using “twerking”in the headline, a word that is not recognized by any academic or professional institution.

The Onion has poked fun. Bloggers have made some comments about the raunchy performance. The socially-enlightened have mused about the cultural context of Ms. Cyrus’ dancing. Actor Will Smith and his family were visibly aghast as they sat in the audience for the presentation. We can talk forever about slut-shaming, womanhood, white-black issues and our young female icons.

milet cyrus

I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here to talk about words.

I’m not saying that made-up words are bad. Shakespeare’s use of the word “swagger” in Midsummer Night’s Dream is a wonderful way to use a new word. In the context of Act 3, Scene 1, swagger was an onamonapia presentation of what was happening in the scene. Swagger made sense. Words have context. Words mean something.

As a poet and a writer, words mean something to me. As a person who updates her Facebook status and sends emails, I’m pretty sure that words mean something to other people as well.

I received my degree in English Literature from UC Davis less than a decade ago. It was before Facebook and social media. Myspace had barely begun to break ground. We used newspapers and magazines to read articles; they weren’t just for packing boxes while moving. People thought carefully about what they said. There was something about the tangible feel of print on paper that made journalists careful about the words they chose.  Clearly, those days are gone.

video killed the radio star

I have been worried about words. I have been weary about media. I had hoped that there was still some level of journalistic integrity left in America.

We need journalistic integrity in America more than we have ever needed it.

Today, I have lost all hope.

As a country, we have riches. We are privileged. We have clean water. We have incredible infrastructure. There is food on our grocery store shelves. Not all of our citizens are receiving the trickle down, many remain hungry, without water and food. That’s a shameful tragedy. As a nation, we have our share of problems. Still, as a nation, we have much, much more than most people who live on this earth with us.

Included in our riches, we have the luxury and necessity of a free press.

We have a constitutional precedent that no other county on earth has. We have, written into the law of our land, the first amendment of our constitution, an amendment that sanctions words: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

When our forefathers wrote that we should have freedom of press, it wasn’t for the word “twerking”.

Today, we live in a world climate, a world that our forefathers could have scarcely imagined. We live in a world economy. We live with a world awareness. We live in this world together. We live altogether on this earth. America and its media cannot deny its power. America has a means that most of the world doesn’t have and cannot even fathom.

What Egypt is going through today, is what we are all going through, because it is something we can all have an impact on. What Syria is going though, is something we are also suffering. Where there is hunger, there could be food. Where there is disease, there could be inoculation. Where there is war, there could be peace.

We have more knowledge than ever. We have more access than ever. We have more technology than ever. We have more understanding than we have ever had on earth.

For the first time in the world’s history, we have 24/7 access to the rest of the world.

Today, in the greatest world-power on our earth, in the country with the greatest constitution, in a place that has the most unprecedented, historical access to words, in a place where words are handed to citizens by our government”s gospel, in a place where our media is protected by law, our nation’s sanctioned media decided to lead the day’s stories with Miley Cyrus and the way she dances, using a word that most people had to look up on the internet and that doesn’t exist except in slang.

The media is degraded. The excuses are terrible.

No more excuses. We could do better. We have to do better.

Words matter.

Woman Bikes 2000 Miles For Water

Kalyana Algrabeli, a long-time Nevada County resident, just returned from a trip down the United States’ West Coast—on bicycle. It was a journey she called “Water is More Precious Than Gold.” Kalyana Algrabeli was born and raised in Long Island, New York but has lived in Nevada County, California since 2008. Passionate about the Yuba River, water rights and the possible ramifications of the reopening of a North San Juan mine, Algrabeli set out to tour the West Coast in search of water and others who are just as passionate about protecting it.

 kalyana2

Algrabeli’s journey began on June 4th, fittingly in the San Juan Islands, off the coast of Seattle, Washington. Immediately, she was made aware of water issues plaguing other communities. In the San Juan Islands, locals there are dealing with the creation of a Mega Coal Export Terminal in Whatcom County, Washington. In a blog post, Kalyana noted. “[The terminal] would send tankers three football fields and longer cruising through the San Juan Islands and other pristine waterways, transporting coal from Montana and beyond (which has made a sooty journey on freight trains to get there), and transporting it to China.” Local folks in the San Juan Island community have very much the same concerns as folks in our local community of North San Juan: will access to safe and clean water be lost because businesses with a record of pollution have the right-of-way?

Algrabeli experienced similar concerns from other communities. In her more than 2,000 mile adventure, Algrabeli visited many water-rich communities in Washington and Oregon, and rode her way through Port Angeles, Astoria, Arcada, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Monterey, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and San Diego, to name a few highlights. Algrabeli hit the Mexican boarder on July 30th, completing her travels and her search for water.

kalyana

Algrabeli’s excursion may seem like an extreme form of activism and a beautiful feat of human strength and, indeed, it is both. Algrabeli’s journey of intense physical action and community connectivity speaks directly to the nature of water and what it means. Three quarters of the earth is covered in water and all of the earth’s water is ultimately connected. In the book Taking on Water, author Wendy Pabich notes, “Only 2.5 percent of all water of the planet is fresh, with most of that locked in ice or inaccessible as groundwater, leaving about 1 percent of all water on earth available for human use.” She goes on to note how vulnerable that water resource is by pointing out that, “[Water] is very easy to pollute—improper disposal of the used oil from just one oil change can contaminate a million gallons of water.” Just a small infraction of water pollution can have an egregious effect on a community’s water supply.

Kalyanna Algrabeli witnessed the scarcity of precious, clean water while on her journey. She notes, “As far north as Mendocino, towns were on Stage 2 water alert, and not allowing people to fill more than 1 five gallon jug at the health food store at a time. In Monterey county, in the town of Gorda, there was literally no potable water in the entire town;everything people drank was trucked in.” Algrabeli recalls with alarm, “As I descended the coast, I could feel the degradation of water quality as I went, picturing the water’s long journey. My trip culminated with the very first use of my “lifestraw”, anemergency water filter, on San Diego tap water because it was that bad and there were no other alternatives. It was a surreal glimpse into the future of urban water scarcity.

Kalyana Algrabeli sums up her trip with succinct passion in her travel notes: “There is a very real cause-and-effect chain that is responsive in our universe. On the road, in constant motion, without the habit, pattern, or attachments to our everyday lives,– each decision we make, from where to eat, how long to stop at a stop sign, when we pick up the phone, to which side street we turn on, it all leads directly to a result. Sometimes we find something we weren’t expecting.” Algrabeli’s journey teaches all of us, not just something about water, but how our decisions effect an ever shrinking world and our ever shrinking access to safe and clean water.

Ketchup

After spending over ten hours today making a triple batch of ketchup, yielding just four pints of the red condiment, I have a new and profound respect for the industrialized food industry.

IMAG5435

I am not even remotely a novice when it comes to canning and pressure cooking. I have made jams, jellies, sauces, salsas, soups and more. I have pickled beans, beets, cucumbers, peppers, and garlic. I have used the water bath method, a pressure cooker and even a steam juicer. I have made cases of marmalade. I have made quarts of bread-and-butter pickles. I have pressure-canned bean soup. I believe in the ability to “put it up”, to preserve. I love collecting my harvest and putting it to future use. While most canning projects require a time commitment, none of them have ever made me feel particularly daunted.

Ketchup, as it turns out, is a very, very difficult thing to make.

IMAG5428

I recently had received several flats of fresh, organic tomatoes. From my canning efforts last fall, I still have sauce and salsa. I thought I’d try something new this year. Ketchup is often a source of of GMO corn syrup. It is also a product usually made by companies that use terrible farming practices. Making homemade ketchup felt like like I would be staging a food revolution in my kitchen. I was excited!

I used a recipe from one of a favorite cookbooks: The Farm Journal’s Freezing and Canning Cookbook, published by Doubleday in 1963. The only picture in the entire book is a single color-insert placed just before the title page. It displays various glass goblets and jars filled with different jellies sealed with wax. The caption reads exactly, “Layered Jelly with its mingled fruit flavors and beautiful colors makes wonderful Christmas gifts (recipe page 176). Guests will admire the color array when the sparkling jelly shimmers in the serving dish.” Clearly, the Freezing and Canning Cookbook is a cookbook of epic proportions.

IMAG5436

My step-mother passed this book to me as an heirloom and gift. I have used it to make apricot jam, cabbage relish, cranberry chutney and more. Every time that I have pulled the book from my shelf, I’ve giggled a little. It’s so traditional. It’s tattered. Its old school. It has a recipe for kumquat preserves.

The Freezing and Canning Cookbook is the only cookbook that I use on any regular basis that doesn’t have a full-color picture on every page or a Food Network star on the front. I have collected several canning cookbooks but I love this one the best. It isn’t just sentimental; the cookbook has an incredible record for recipe success.

Every recipe that I have ever tried from this cookbook has been a huge hit.

I had no doubt that it would serve me in my ketchup endeavors.

The book has thirteen different recipes for ketchup, including something called “Governor’s Sauce.” I went with the “Tomato Ketchup” recipe, the first in the section. The recipe note at the top reads, “You can double the recipe but cooking time may be longer, ketchup darker.” The recipe called for 32 medium tomatoes, one cup of sliced onions, etc. It asked me to quarter the tomatoes and simmer in a pot with the onions. After seeing my large stock pot and my shallow tomato-onion mixture, I decided to triple the recipe. Yes, I put nearly 100 tomatoes and four onions in my stock pot.

The single recipe was predicted to yield two pints of ketchup. It estimated two hours of cook time for the yield. Two hours for a mere two pints seemed like a terrible return on investment. I upped the ante.

For those of you who haven’t canned before, it is a time-consuming endeavor. A small batch can be disappointing.

For those who haven’t made ketchup before, there are many variations but the classic and basic recipe goes like this:

Boil a mixture of tomatoes and onions in a pot until the pulp and skins from the tomatoes separate.

Strain the juice into a separate pot.

Boil a mixture of vinegar and spices in yet another pot and strain the vinegar into the tomato juice.

Boil the tomato juice/vinegar mixture until thick.

My recipe book told me that the tomato juice/vinegar mixture would thicken after about thirty minutes.

After three hours and no thickening, I consulted the internet. The internet told me that I should put the mixture into a crock pot and leave the house, maybe for several days. Already committed to the stove-top method, I turned up the burner on the stove.

After six hours and very little thickening, I once again consulted the internet. I found another tip that said I should use corn starch to thicken. It just so happened that I had organic, GMO-free corn starch in my cupboard. More than two hours after the corn starch, I had a soupy red mixture that resembled ketchup.

I kept simmering.

Over ten hours after I had sliced my first tomato for the “Tomato Ketchup” recipe, I had a mixture thick enough to call it ketchup.

I added some honey and a couple of cloves at the end and simmered a while longer. The result was divine.

I poured the mixture into sterilized jars and put them into a water bath for twenty minutes to set and seal the jars. After ten hours, it came out perfectly.

Is it the best, most amazing ketchup I’ve ever tasted? Yes. Hell yes. It is by far the very best ketchup that I have ever had the pleasure of tasting. It is amazing. It is a deep, rich, thick red ketchup with a smokey, clove finish, It is the exact-right balance of sweet and salty. The spicing was perfect. The vinegar was just right. The tomatoes were sublime. My trusty cookbook hadn’t failed me. The ketchup I made today, the ketchup I spent an entire day making, is by far the best ketchup that I have ever tasted in my life. It is beyond anything I could have ever expected.

Was it worth the ten hours? No. Nope. Not even close.

Ketchup is a condiment. It is something a person puts on a food substance to make the food taste better. It is a grace note, an after thought, an accoutrement. Ketchup isn’t even a side dish. It is something a person puts on a side dish. It is a squirt of flavor on the side of a side dish. It is a plop on a plate. Ketchup is something we use to make ourselves feel better about our shitty food choices and to make those choices taste better.

I turned nearly one hundred beautiful, organic tomatoes into four jars of ketchup today. That was not a food revolution. It was a massacre.

Unemployed in America

I haven’t had a pay check since May 2011.  My job in the social services sector got eliminated.  After I was laid off, I had received checks for unemployment insurance benefits for a while but the benefits dropped off before I could find another job.

I paid my phone bill this month because my partner put money into my account. It’s how I’ve paid for my phone bill and almost every other bill I’ve had for the past twenty-seven months.

I applied for another job last month. The deadline was July 31st. This time it was different. I had heard about the job locally and submitted my cover letter to someone who was actually accessible and who seemed to care. She even wrote me back and said that she liked me. I finished my application and submitted it on July 28th, a few days ahead of schedule.

I paid $89 for a TB test, which was required for the application. I borrowed the $89. I got tested at a local health clinic. I tested negative for TB. I haven’t had any healthcare benefits since I had my job so it was a double relief that I didn’t have a positive test for a disease.

I needed three letters of recommendation for the application and asked sixteen people to write one. I volunteer with five organizations and have more than twenty friends that I have known either personally or professionally for more than ten years. I got three letters of recommendation, one of them from someone I’ve only known for six months but who spoke highly of me.

I’ve applied for a lot of jobs in the past two years. A lot. I’ve applied for probably more than four hundred jobs in the past two years. All of the jobs I’ve applied for were in a position that I was qualified for.

I have a Bachelors Degree from a University. I have professional experience. I have community service experience. I volunteer, network. and show up. I’m highly skilled, very literate and look good on paper. I’m also pretty, which helps, whether or not anyone wants to admit it.

The job I applied for last month was the first job, in over four hundred applications, that gave me a response. Prior to this application, I’ve submitted over four hundred applications, and haven’t even received so much as a “Thank you for applying” email.

I got a response and I was actually asked to interview.

I was ecstatic because it was my dream job. I was applying to be the garden coordinator at a primary school, kindergarteners through eighth graders. All of my skills and volunteerism had prepared me for this job. I was one of four qualified candidates. I was elated that I had made contact.

plant starts

I nailed the first interview.

This week, I had a second interview. It was a working interview and I was supposed to teach 5th graders about science as it relates to gardening. They wanted me to prepare and implement a lesson plan.

When the job was posted, the application asked for someone with an Associates Degree, someone who had finished coursework in the community college system. The application process was rigorous but, given the parameters, I was qualified for the position. Given the parameters, I was over-qualified for the position. The position asked for a “garden coordinator.” It did not ask for someone with a higher education and it did not ask for someone with a teaching credential.

The job description listed that they wanted someone who could farm, organize volunteers and write grants. I have professional and personal experience with all of those things.

I figured that the position, based on the description and requirements, would fall under the jurisdiction of the maintenance department at the school. It was part time and offered no benefits. I understood that they wanted someone to put in an edible schoolyard. They needed someone with a farming background and some education. They wanted someone with irrigation experience. They wanted someone with the brains and brawn to manage a garden on the school grounds. I could do that. And I could help students learn about gardening, plant identification and more.

garden farm

I was more than a little surprised when I was told that I would be asked to teach a class as a part of the interview process.

I have a higher education. I’m a brilliant farmer and gardener. I have ample experience working with kids. I’m not a credentialed teacher.

I bombed the second interview.

When I learned that I was selected for a first interview, I went to a local thrift to purchase my interview outfit. I found a khaki skirt with a soft flower print and paid a dollar for it. I wore a dark-blue cotton shirt from the back of my closet and matched the color to one of the printed flowers on the skirt. I found an orange scarf to tie the outfit together. I went to Kmart and bought smart, beige pumps which cost $19 and I later returned them to cover our electric bill.

 beige pumps

When I got word that I would be received for a second interview, my partner and I went to Target and returned towels that my parents bought us as an engagement gift so that I could have a different outfit for my second interview. After several hopeful options, we settled on a nice cotton shirt and I decided to wear my gardening boots with a brown skirt that I already owned. I wouldn’t have worn the outfit to an office interview but it would look appropriate given the situation. I hoped that, out in the garden, I would look nice.

It wasn’t the outfit that made me bomb the interview.

My lesson plan was awful.

I wasn’t expecting to have to put a lesson plan together. It’s just not a skill I have. And honestly, if I had thought that I was applying to be a teacher, I would not have applied. Teaching is a very particular skill and it’s something that I respect. I respect the extra education required of teachers. If I knew that I was trying to be a teacher, at the very least, I would have worn a different outfit. I would have kept the “smart pumps.”

My “lesson plan” involved handing shovels to the entire 5th grade class. We went out into the garden and actually dug up weeds. I didn’t use colored pens or an easel. I didn’t use handouts. I did what a farmer would do.  I did what a gardener would do.

Everything that I have achieved in my life, up to this moment, pointed me to this job. According to the written job requirements, I was going to be a shoe-in.

That’s just not the way it happened.

Because the other applicant and I had back to back interviews, I got to see her lesson plan. She had hand outs. She had colored pens. She used an easel. She worn tight back jeans.

After I finished with my presentation, I knew that I wasn’t going to get the job. They shook my hand and said curtly, “We will let you know.”

They called the next day and told me that they had gone with the other person.