Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The nuts in my backyard.

Now, I've always been NorCal in my upbringing and in my roots.  I have a sense of earth and wholesomeness, mixed with the Californian sense of superiority in being able to reduce, reuse, and recycle while still being very Napa-cool about it all.  I appreciate fresh produce, farmers markets, and grassroots good eatin' (pun intended)!

The thing that surprises me the most, however, is just how much of this I really do hold characteristically innate.  Now that I'm no longer working an 8-5 full-time office job--instead researching, writing, and tending to my dissertation full-time--I have schedule flexibility unlike anything else I've ever known.  With that flexibility has come a sudden rush of "homey" activities that awesomely round out my knowledge and experience about food and where it comes from and what you can do with it.

For example, I was out walking the dog this morning and found myself crunching over unknown nuts strewn haphazardly on the ground.  They obviously came from the tress above, but what were they?  I picked one up and studied it's smooth teardrop, yet walnut-like appearance.  I raised it to my nose and sniffed it.  No scent to it; it felt dry enough, so I pocketed it to be researched later in the day.

Researching the nut led me to discover that it is a hickory nut.  Which particular hickory variety, I am not yet sure, although I suspect Shagbark.  I discovered that hickory nuts can be harvested and shelled, much like walnuts.  Apparently, the hickory nut shelling process is quite difficult.  Luckily, the Mother Earth News web site has a good story about shelling hickory nuts and the article's comment section produced an idea I like best: use a vice to crack the shell.  They are said to taste like "a cross between a black walnut or brazil nut and a pecan" and if you do try to buy them, they sure are expensive!  Anyway, I'm going to crack open the one I pocketed and we'll see what it's all about.

From Gif-Favicon
That led me to research another nut that is prominent in my backyard.  It's the acorn and I'm not joking when I say that it is prominent.  A simple breeze causes many to drop from the limbs above; a gale of a wind instills panic in my heart as a million pointy ends come crashing down.  (Getting bopped on the head by a gravity-driven acorn is actually more painful than you would imagine.)  In examining these tress, I started to become interested about the lay of the land in Peoria, IL.  A little research uncovered (a very interesting and educational) a self-tour of the Peoria landscape, The Physical Geography of the Illinois River Valley Near Peoria: An Updated Self-Conducted Field Trip using EcoCaches and GPS Technology.  Within the 22-pages of information presented, this bit captured my attention the most:
An interesting story about the co-evolution of the oaks, the hickorys, and the squirrel must now be told; this story is as true today as it was for the thousands of years it took for the forests to fully develop. This story is ecological and is evidence that everything in this world is part of a system, all the parts of which are interdependent.
These trees produce nuts that are the food for squirrels. Hickory nuts provide more nutrition and are preferred by squirrels, but the nuts are hard to open. Therefore, the squirrels eat hickory nuts in autumn because the have the time required to open them. Acorns from oak trees are less tasty and require less energy to open, but provide more calories per unit of feeding time; therefore, these are eaten during the winter.  Both oak and hickory trees are alternate bearing; that is, they do not bear the same amount of nuts each year. Also, squirrels tend to steal nuts from each other. Therefore, they must bury their collected nuts in the ground in several places for safekeeping; this is called scatter hoarding. Fortunately for us, they do not have very good memories. Buy [sic] burying the nuts of both species of trees, they literally planted the trees that constituted the oak-hickory forests.
From My Other Blog
I knew that my fat, gray, furry friends of the backyard were responsible for the amazing shade coverage I enjoy.  (Thank you!)  What I hadn't realized was the caloric density vs. effort considerations taken into cracking the nuts.  I find that very informational if only because that means I can probably expect the same kind of work involved.  Now, I'm determined to learn more about the acorns ... I dimly recalled the ability to make acorn flour ... I tried to think back to all those years of attending Native American workshops and reservations as part of school field-trips.  Since my memory failed on all aspects except one (that acorns are poisonous due to the tannin), I turned to Google again.  After some digging I uncovered two sites worth mentioning:
  1. Harvesting the wild: Acorns
  2. Ramshackle Solid: Making Acorn Flour
I'm sold on this stuff.  I love learning about these things.  I'm thinking that my next outdoor trip (likely tonight or tomorrow) will involve a collection of acorns for the making of an acorn flour and a collection of hickory nuts for a social "nut crackin' party." 

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Design*Sponge » Blog Archive » diy project: erik’s recycled wine bottle torch

I love green sites, especially green home sites like Re-Nest ( and I love creativity like Etsy ( While researching green technology adoption at campuses, I somehow stumbled upon the below links and can't wait to implement something like this at our own new home. It's perfect and we have a whole lotta' wine bottles ready for use!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The [mb Financial Bank] Bike the Drive in Chicago, IL

Florin is awesome ... because our tandem is awesome!

On Sunday, May 30th, Florin and I rode our newly acquired 1971 Schwinn Deluxe Twinn for 30 miles on Chicago's Lake Shore Drive as part of the [mb] Financial Bank and Active Transportation  Alliance Bike the Drive 2010 event.  We had stayed the previous night in the amazing Fairmont Hotel on the 32nd floor overlooking Millennium and Grant Park.  We were really jazzed about the lovely weather and the general excitement of being in the city again, especially by bike:

On the day of the ride, not only did we see a couple of other cool tandems (i.e., a dual-hitched tandem-recumbent), but we found another couple riding a tandem that looked just like ours!  As Florin and I were taking a quick rest, I watched the crowd going by.  Then, I saw it--a varsity green tandem.  As the couple neared us and pulled away, I was struck with the realization that it was identical to our own.  We needed to catch up to them and fast!

"Quick!  Get on the bike, Florin!  We need to catch that tandem!" I cried out and I pointed to their rapidly shrinking form.  He grabbed the handlebars to steady us as I threw my leg over my co-pilot seat.  We started pedaling as fast as we could.  It didn't take long before we pulled up alongside of them.

"That's a nice bike you have there," Florin nonchalantly complimented the pilot.  (We later learned his name was Ross).  Ross and his co-pilot looked over at us to say, "Thanks," and when they did, they realized they were staring at a reflection of their own bike.  We rode the next 15 miles together discussing cycling, the stories behind our bike acquisitions, and took photos.  We exchanged contact info and may plan a future ride together -- who knows?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Soul of an Orange Kitten

After having a day where my soul was wrung through, I went for an evening walk. I heard a hoarse, squawking cry just barely over the roaring of cars on the street.  I looked high, there was nothing.  I looked low, still nothing.  Not until his small, orange ball of of a raggity head poked through the dark blades of grass did I see him.  He was a tiny little thing, that kitten.  Lost & hoarse from crying he looked directly at me with his wide, azure eyes.  Cars continued to roar past, oblivious to his pain and oblivious to my own. I scooped him up, forced him close to my heart. As he began to vibrate from the deep rumbling of his purr, my own heart relaxed and my soul flooded with purpose. We may all be wounded, but we have enough to still tend to others.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Two is Better than One!

Florin scored a sweet deal today! As part of today's block yard sale, he spotted a tandem bicycle that our neighbor, Bill, had placed out for sale. For only $35, Florin picked up the (new to us) bike: a classic campus (or "varsity") green Schwinn Tandem Deluxe Twinn.
The serial Number beneath the badge is FG048363 which means it was produced in June 1971. The Schwinn catalogs (1967 | 1972) provide more information, although not exact data regarding our bike. (If nothing else, they are amusing to browse through.) The asking price for one of these in excellent condition, original, and operational can be $500+, although the going rate of resale appears to be closer to ~$250.

Guiseppe has a blog in which he shows some of the progress and changes he did to his 1973 Schwinn Deluxe Twinn over the summer of 2008:
I can't hardly wait to be able to ride with my beau on our tandem down the Rock Island Trail with our matching green picnic backpack in tow!

Friday, April 16, 2010

VT Remembrance Run (3.2 for 32)

32 White Balloons were released for the Moment of Silence prior to the "3.2 for 32" Run in Remembrance.

Immediately following the Moment of Silence and to "start" the "3.2 for 32" Run in Remembrance event, maroon and orange balloons were released.

As part of the "3.2 for 32" Run in Remembrance event we got to run through the Lane Stadium Tunnel. Touch the Hokie Stone for luck!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Future without my Grandma, Grandpa, and Granddad.

My thanks go out to everyone on Facebook who have been so kind to express their condolences.

I'm not sure how it was for all of you when you lost your grandparents, but it is particularly tough for me since we all lived in the same town. Although my Grandma and my Granddad were the ones who have passed away this weekend, it feels like my first Grandpa just passed away as well.

As a kid, my Grandpa (Bud) drove "Hoppy Toad," a flat-bed small Nissan pickup with no suspension. He brought my sister and I Ho-Ho's, Ding-Dongs, or Crackerjacks. He accidentally ran over one of our ducks. He perpetuated the myth of the Easter Bunny by stamping giant bunny feet coated in baby powder all over the property. He ate his sourdough dipped in hot cocoa (something I do today). When I was a teenager, I worked alongside my Grandpa cleaning apartments and doing the bookkeeping. He'd listen to me prattle on about boys and school. At the end of every work day, Grandpa reminded me that it was the boys who were lucky to have me and not the other way around.

I saw Grandma nearly every day after school (since middle school). I even lived with her during parts of my senior high school and early college years after Grandpa (Bud) passed away. Those were bleak and scary times that eventually led back into lighter times. I ferried myself and my Grandma to and from doctors, ran errands for her, and as she regained her awareness of life and I recovered from being quite ill, we decided to re-enter the dating game--together. I was 20 and we were no longer grandparent and grandchild, but instead best friends. We shared dating stories, clucking happily over the good ones and commiserating over the bad ones. We laughed at how new love felt, and we cried over how frustrating it was to suffer lasting illnesses and their long-term consequences. Eventually, she met Merle who would become my Granddad. My grandmother's second husband was easily adopted by us and loved by all.

Visiting my grandparents was something more than a no-rules, cable-TV, cookies and cracker-jacks haven. They were second parents, excellent and respectable political foes, and original, interesting people. My Grandpa Bud was rough, yet refined. He had a healthy appetite for a good life that was hard-earned. He wore denim overalls during the day and a felt fedora and sport coat every night for dinner. My grandmother was an artist and well-versed in politics. My granddad Merle, was a funny and warm can-do kind of guy with a large, loving family. All three of them could dance circles around you. We didn't always agree on everything, and certainly there was family strife, but ultimately we were family and they were generous, supportive, and proud of us (grand)kids and our endeavors.

Although I had the chance last year to visit and to make my peace with her and his imminent decline (and I did), it still hits hard when you realize the place--the physical and emotional space--no longer exists. In my next trip to Chico, there is no house with the double-chocolate brownies still in the pan, picked at from the corners because "sneaking pieces doesn't count" as Grandma used to say. There isn't a giant room of fashionable, colorful clothing and shoes to try on and take home, anymore. There isn't eggs made with creamer, nor hot cocoa and sourdough slices like Grandpa Bud used to serve us kids. I can't ask Merle, "How are you doing?" anymore and expect to get his consistent belly laughing reply, "I'm okay, but I got over it!"

There's a storage unit waiting for me. Sure, there's some furniture and some memories in boxes full of frames of a previous life, but it's the new, unmade ones I already miss. There is a great sadness in knowing that my sister and I are the last of the youngest who knew them. With us lies the last memories, the vestiges of earthly recollection of them ... and a certain future without them in it that makes me sad to face.

I keep telling myself that wherever they are, they are all young and dancing. My first Grandpa is still winning Jitterbug contents and working hard in his paint-flecked denim overalls. Grandma is dressed to the nines, always a lady but flirting and dancing, turning would-be suitors away. Granddad is working iron rods into beautiful forms and in the evening he's giving the other Pinochle and Cribbage players a run for their money before sweeping my Grandma off her feet and dancing onto that golden, shimmering dance floor, heading farther off into the distance ...