Thursday, December 16, 2010

7 Web Sites to Help You Become Someone Else

Okay, I'm not referring you to fake ID sites.  But most of us daydream about the what-ifs - a teacher who wishes to become an author,  or jettisoning the corporate world for a small farm, that sort of thing, or even just master a style of cooking.  Here are 7 web sites that can help you learn a new skill, even if just for fun:   

1. You want to master Italian cooking
Go here:  Vincent Scordo's blog is nothing short of brilliant, and his recipes are the real deal. Be prepared to develop an arancini addiction.

2. You want to learn how to think like, or become, a CEO
Go talk to Eric.  At the very least you'll be entertained by his narration of his Acela trip to New York City.   I can relate -back in my public transport days, I must have had a sign on my back that read: If you ate too much garlic for dinner last night, and it's eking out  your pores, plus you like to elbow people when you turn the pages of your newspaper, sit next to me!  I really don't miss that.  I'm all for public transport.  Hold the garlic.

3.  You want to be prepared for the Apocalypse, or at least become one of those mountain man types
Actually, some of the articles and information on Backwoods Home's website is quite good.  And if you are looking for an all-camo wardrobe and a 5-year supply of freeze-dried food, these are the folks that can help with that.

4. You want to become a consultant
Years of watching consultants work at your firm have convinced you that the lifestyle is one of travel and glamour.  (PSA: travel is often a yes, glamour not so much)  Go read Consultant Journal.  Good blog, good information.  

5. You want to escape the Rat Race
If you want a career change, or to retire early, there's a lot of web sites out there to help. But the most thoughtful and well-written article I think I've ever read on the topic is here.  For help with executing an early retirement plan, try here.  

6. You want to develop the next cool mobile device app - but don't have unlimited funds
Go here first.  Then do some googling.  Even if you don't, reading Business Insider is a good idea.

7. You want to be the next reality TV star
Think Mike Holmes has nothing on you?  Have more kids and better hair than Kate Gosselin?
Go here to learn how to get the cameras trained on you.  But be careful what you wish for...

Well, there you have it.   Just remember to tell all your future fans that you learned it here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How Does My Garden Grow: 2011 Planning Edition

Today I skipped right past the holidays, ignoring the fact that I still have a gobzillion presents to wrap and baking to do - and ordered some seeds for next year's garden.  

Since I haven't done a full seed order in a couple years, nor have I kept track of the age of my seeds (PSA: most seeds increase, instead of decrease, germination year over year for a period of several years.  Onions and the rest of the allium family are an exception), it was time for a new seed inventory.  I promise to keep better track of this one.

My seed orders have improved over the years.  For one thing, I have a better handle on what we don't have success with, and what will get eaten vs. passed over once picked.  Do not talk to me of the nutritional value of rutabagas - I don't like them, and to paraphrase a former president, I'm 37 years old and I don't have to eat them if I don't want to.  You can mail my portion of rutabagas to the hungry children in Africa, okay? 

I'll even provide the envelope.

So there.

But despite that, I still get sucked into descriptions of French heirloom winter squashes (note to the squeamish, those bumps are created by the sugars in the pumpkin, which means it's sweet and tasty), tomato breeds created by Thomas Jefferson, beans bred by my own ancestors, the Cherokee, and so on.  If it says old and rare, I probably want it.

Because growing Reisentraube tomatoes, Vert Grimmpant melons (don't you just love the name Grimmpant?  If we ever get a pet we're totally naming him or her Grimmpant.  If I get my way, that is.), and Yok Kao cucumers is totally cool.  Would you like some Bleu of Solaise lettuce?  Doesn't it sound like it needs to be in a salad with blue cheese, candied walnuts and maple-roasted pears?

I do.  But maybe I'm just hungry.

We'll also grow some things the adorable one can enjoy - she's already planted last year's garden with us, and has become an expert at raspberry picking.  We can't seem to convince her to wait until the tomatoes are actually ripe to pick them, but what's a few cherry tomatoes sacrificed on the alter of learning to love being outdoors?  So this year we'll add miniature pumpkins, birdhouse gourds, and more annual flowers.  All the flowers, too, are old school - sweet peas, bachelor's buttons, love-in-a-mist, pansies, bells of ireland, and my personal favorite: 

                                                   Kiss me over the garden gate. 
                                                   The name says it all, does it not?

When the adorable one is a little older, say, in a year, we'll add Four O'Clocks too, and I'll read her the poem by my favorite unlikely poet about the naughty Four O' Clocks who refused to have their faces washed.  

We're also going to add apricot trees, a couple Cornelian cherry trees, and some blackberries.    I'd like to put in more apples and some peach trees, but we have to take down some trees first.   
I'd love to have some nut trees too, but space and the layout of our land do not permit it at the moment.

Oh well.

I'm in no rush for the holidays or winter to be over.  But gardening is important, and not just because I love to do it.  The number of people in this country that are food insecure is rapidly increasing.  Kitchen gardens are one way to solve that problem - perhaps even the best way. 

Chew on this from 1943-45: 

The US Department of Agriculture estimates that more than 20 million victory gardens were planted. Fruit and vegetables harvested in these home and community plots was estimated to be 9-10 million tons, an amount equal to all commercial production of fresh vegetables. So, the program made a difference.

We grew, during WWII, 9-10 million tons of food in our front and back yards.  

Imagine what knowing we could, with just a few minutes a week, produce 9-10 million tons of fresh food from our back yards would do for our national optimism, which, quite frankly, could do with a bit of a bump.  What it might do for those going hungry.  What it might do for our own health and weight.  Imagine the wonder that kids have when they grow a pumpkin themselves, or make a birdhouse out of a gourd, or run through a field of giant sunflowers.  Imagine it's your kid.

It could happen again - one Quadrato D'asti Rosso pepper at a time.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Yes, Madeline, There Really Is a Santa Claus

For weeks now, the back corner of my living room has looked like a department store threw up in there.  So has my guest room, but that's a different Christmas altogether.

For the last several years, Sander and I have 'adopted a family' for the holidays, through Beverly Bootstraps, a local food pantry and outreach organization.  For the last two years, my in-laws have joined us, and basically doubled our ability to provide Christmas for a needy family.

The lists are heartbreaking.   Sizes for coats and shoes, needs for mittens and hats and underwear described.  This year the family that my parents 'got' had a little boy who needed a blanket for his bed.  I can only desperately hope his family doesn't wait until Christmas to give it to him. All too often, these are single parents, working and out of work, who can barely break even, and face the reality of having to hold out their hat for a donation or tell their kids that Santa isn't coming this year. 

We go a little overboard on the giving.  Everyone has some 'societal trigger' - something wrong with the world that bothers them more than anything.  For me it's kids being hungry and cold.  I find it utterly inexcusable, and totally frustrating.  It's not that I don't care about the cold and hungry adults- I do.  But kids are powerless to control or change their situations.  Add on top of that the notion that Christmas is the time of year that the discrepancy between children that are 'haves', like my daughter, are in stark relief to the 'have not' children themselves - they know they aren't getting what other kids are -  and that hunger actually affects a child's brain development, and you not only get the short term pain of no presents under the tree, but the long term societal impact of kids who grow into adults that are starting life out 10 steps behind the rest of us.

The shopping and sorting and dropping off has become the marker of my holiday for me.  I love Christmas with my family.  With every decoration we add to the house my daughter's excitement grows palpably.  I love to cook Christmas dinner, and I love the lights and decorations.  Cutting a Christmas tree from the tree farm next door and hauling it home is a favorite tradition.

But that's the fun.  For me, Christmas is knowing that this year, 3 kids and their Mom get to believe Santa Claus is real. 

My husband and my mother-in-law dropped everything off yesterday.  The pile in my living room is gone. 

And so Christmas for me is over, even as it is just beginning. 

This year, Beverly Bootstraps had 75 more applications for their holiday 'adopt a family' program than last year.  I'm happy to say that they covered every single family, and have extras toys to give out to walk-in parents as the season goes on.