Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘history’

(today I bring you a dispatch from the wilds of suburbia)

I just mowed the front lawn. I hate mowing. We have an electric mower that’s great, it’s a small yard, no big deal, but it is not my cup of tea.

English estates popularized lawns, but it took America to democratize the things. I’ll cite a few lines from a nineteenth-century book based on Frederick Law Olmsted‘s work (via this excellent article by Michael Pollan), but the real push for lawns started in the 1950s.

“Let your lawn be your home’s velvet robe, and your flowers its not too promiscuous decoration… A smooth, closely shaven surface of grass is by far the most essential element of beauty on the grounds of a suburban house.”
— “The Art of Beautifying Suburban Home Grounds,” Frank J. Scott (1870)

Pretty? Sure, if you like uniformity. But in terms of land use, water use, and pesticide chemical use, lawns are terrible for the environment. They are also a massive time suck. Don’t get me wrong, I love Olmsted’s take on keeping nature in cities and improving society through physical design, etc. But there has to be a better way.

We planted a clover-grass mix (yes, on purpose:), but by the time the clover is tall enough to flower, the grass is twice as high and seeding. The neighbors have beautiful, chemically-induced perfections of green. They look askance at our “grass plus” mix, and at the way we wave the weed control van on when it comes around.

And so to keep the peace, I mow. Even when the clover is flowering and the bees are buzzing and can’t understand why I would take away their glorious buffet. I’m not sure why either. I ask the bees for understanding, and I mow in slow motion to give them time to leave the all-you-can-eat-restaurant-turned-food-desert and under my breath I’m asking myself “What’s the flipping point?” I mutter it as I mow the clover, the edible wood sorrel and lamb’s quarters, and the wild strawberries that spring up under the bushes.

Except I don’t say “flipping.”

We’re still looking for ways to shift our lawn to something more useful, but it’s a process. Want to save time, money, and the planet? Here are a few ideas to get you started.

The back yard doesn’t get as much sun, and only patches of clover flower there. I let them grow anyway.

Read Full Post »

Because Presidents’ Day

Happy Presidents’ Day!

If you’re wondering what presidential life and history was like before Twitter, check out:
Because democracy didn’t just miraculously happen and, sadly, is not guaranteed.

Read Full Post »

Slate has invited ten writers to envision the possibilities of a Trump future. As Ben H. Winters, author and the editor of this series explains, “fiction has a special power to clarify, galvanize, prophesy, and warn.” Writers include Héctor Tobar, Ben H. Winters, Nisi Shawl, Saladin Ahmed, Lauren Beukes, Jeff VanderMeer, Kashana Cauley, J. Robert Lennon, Edan Lepucki, and Elizabeth Bear.
Because as the motto says, it’s best to be prepared.

Read Full Post »

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!

Want to bone up on your history? Kid President is here to help:)

 

Read Full Post »

Every so often I am struck with the realization that I live in what is, to me, a foreign country. How cool is that?

There I was, about to start up the old treadmill desk and get to work when I looked out the window and had one of those moments. You may know the kind I mean (at least I hope you do), where suddenly everything you see shines with crystal clarity.

Oh, you may think, I hadn’t realized that the neighbor’s maple was quite so magnificent this Fall, and every leaf stands out. I think of it as seeing with a child’s eyes, before “this thing” and “that thing” become a group of “the usual things” that can be ignored without conscious attention.

Do we see each blade of grass when we walk past the lawn? I don’t. In fact, it would be an almost impossible way to live, I think, and I say that with the full knowledge that I am the sort of person who pays attention to the curbs when in Athens. (What? They’re made of marble. And oh yes, The Parthenon;)

I like the everyday, appreciate the curbs and libraries and sidewalk trees that we interact with on a daily basis. The common shapes our daily experience, even as it remains largely invisible. Even so…

I live in a foreign country! Part of my realization was the sudden understanding that I’ve accomplished one of the goals I set when I was a child.

I might have been twelve years old, the details are a bit fuzzy now. There was a group of friends in the room, all of us paging through an atlas (oversized, hardcover, with glossy paper). We argued over where to go, calculated the costs, plotted impossible strategies to get there.

Living in another country seemed the height of adventure. And now here I am.

Canada is lovely and wild, with an often thin edge of civilization anchoring this vast swath of often frigid territory. Approximately 75% of the population lives within 100 miles of the U.S. border, and the continent looks very different up here at night.

North America at night

That mostly dark bit mostly north of the U.S.? Yeah, not water. I’m waving!

Canadian history is much different than the version I grew up with. It captures an ongoing friction between very different cultures and the relatively peaceable integration of those worlds into a single entity. No flashy Revolution here. There are reasons for signs that list both French and English versions of the word “street.” There are reasons for the populations’ deep-seated love of Tim Horton’s coffee, and gravy-drenched poutine. This country has its own twists, its own heroes, its own storied and shadowed chapters.

It’s true that I can shop for groceries in my native language, read most of the signage and do not need a plane ticket to visit my parents, but I no longer live in the place I was born. It’s also true that even Canadians can be crotchety, the bread often has too much flour in it, and there really is only one road connecting the East and West halves of the country. (And they still won’t shut up about that time they burned down The White House…;) But for me, here and now, it’s all a bit magical.

Pay attention, I remind myself. You just might find that the world is a far more beautiful and astonishing place than you remember. You might also realize that in spite of the knowledge that there is always more to do, if you work hard* and you keep moving even when it feels as though you’re going in circles, dreams can come true.

How cool is that?

. . . . . . . . . . .

* Need some motivation? I recommend the PBS Great Performances documentary Hamilton’s America. Both Alexander Hamilton and Lin-Manuel Miranda are inspirational as heck. It’s available online for U.S. viewers. The rest of us may be lucky enough to catch it on our PBS stations. (See? Not the 51st state after all;)

Read Full Post »

I had a post in mind for today that I thought would be cool but, sadly, it’s not ready. Rather than go with something that’s not right, I’m setting it aside until I can do a good job or come up with something better. So in the end, what did I choose as Today’s Thing I Like? Popcorn:)

Here’s an excerpt from the family cookbook to tell you why.

Popcorn
My whole family can make this with their eyes closed, but Dad really deserves credit for setting new and higher standards for butter and salt consumption. He is blessed with a genetic tolerance for such unhealthy behavior; his blood pressure and cholesterol levels are lower than mine.

For years he’d head to the kitchen after dinner, and a few minutes later I’d hear pop pop! as hot oil turned the first kernels inside out. A few minutes more and we’d be piled on the couch with huge bowls of popcorn and masses of paper towels.

There was no television in the house growing up but at some point we acquired a copy of Star Wars and a video monitor. This was back before Blockbusters popped up down the street (or closed down, for that matter), and there were certainly no DVD players.

The tape was black and white and we watched it on a Beta machine. (Don’t remember Beta? That’s funny, no one else does either.) My brother and I watched that tape until it died, literally came apart from use. To this day I can still reel off an annoying amount of dialog and get excited when I see Star Wars in color. What could be better than a cold drink, a hot bowl of popcorn, and reciting C3PO’s lines with people you love?

 

Read Full Post »

Today is Memorial Day in the United States. We’ve been watching classic war movies all weekend, Patton and The Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far. I’m thinking of my stepmother’s father, who campaigned in North Africa and Italy. I’m thinking of one uncle who served and came home with his humor and wits intact, and another who did not.

One set of parents is hosting a party to celebrate the hope of returning summer, another set is at the family plot cleaning graves and laying flowers. Both sides of memory are necessary, in my mind.

Part of what writers do is build creative narratives that interpret life, remember the past, reframe the present, and project into the future. Art is interpretation. Memory is selective. What we remember depends on who we are, and who we hope to be. When we stop telling stories, we start forgetting.

Today’s free fiction is Pamela Sargent’s “Too many memories” from Nature’s Futures division.

You already know what Dorothea’s most important insight was — that the reason our client had so much trouble with her memories was that she possessed no narrative structure on which to locate them.

“There’s no framework there,” Dorothea Singh said to me, “nothing to hang the memories on.”

Today, we are that framework.
 

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »