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Gardens are a thing in my part of the country.  Not pretty suburban-type flowerbeds, those explosions of color that concentrate nature on quarter-acre lots, although I admire both the expertise and dedication required to squeeze so much variety into a small enough space to produce a magazine cover-worthy garden.  

No, I'm talking about vegetable gardens.  They're part of the culture.  Not a phenomenon, not a fad.  Before locavorism, before foodies and urban gardens, before the Back To The Land movement of the '70's, before the Victory Garden, around here, there was hunger.  Among the locals, the older people--actually, among just about everyone who hasn't moved in from Somewhere Else--when you talk about a garden, you're talking about a vegetable garden.

When visiting, it's considered good manners to compliment the host's garden, even if it's a little bedraggled or weedy.  But if a garden is totally out of control--plants buried under mountains of lamb's quarter, pigroot and bindweed, crawling with potato bugs, harlequin beetles and Mexican bean beetle larvae--it's better form to ignore the garden and instead inquire about the health of the family, because surely someone must be sick to have let it run down so.  (This is only a slight exaggeration.)  Old school men who wouldn't be caught dead admiring a dahlia will wax rhapsodic about the color and size of bush beans, and without risk to their manly reputations.  Old school women inspect corn, comparing relative stalk height, ear size, and straightness of rows.  (This, too, is only a slight exaggeration.)  Both carefully record the date of the first tomato harvested--variety, when planted , and whether the seed was saved or gifted.

I've already indulged in two exaggerations.  But no more.  And it's no exaggeration to say that we take our gardens seriously, with reason.

Poll

Be honest: what is a garden to you?

3%3 votes
1%1 votes
1%1 votes
1%1 votes
19%19 votes
15%15 votes
0%0 votes
1%1 votes
21%21 votes
31%31 votes
4%4 votes

| 97 votes | Vote | Results

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There has been a fair amount of tension hereabouts lately due to general misinformation and confusion surrounding what I would call authorial matters.  When you write and publish (web, print, photocopies, whatever), you become an author.  When you write nonfiction, you write from sources.  Those sources should be, indeed, must be given credit.  Drawing bright distinctions between what you've taken from other writers and what you've come up with on your own shows good manners and enhances your writerly credentials.

How you handle your sources reveals a lot about the kind of writer you are--how sophisticated, insightful, resourceful, deep-thinking vs. how derivative, shallow, uncommitted.  A productive writer doesn't try to invent everything anew and doesn't pretend that brilliance leaps full-born from the skull like Athena burst from Zeus' brain after one hell of a headache; a real writer recognizes the raw materials that she combines, refines and refashions into something new and significant.

In another life, I spent better than a decade teaching writing and literature while writing in my specialty for the five other people in the world who are interested in my subject.  In my current incarnation, I'm still practicing the craft.  Between these two lives I also did a stint as a copyright specialist advising academic departments in a state university.  

Those are my bona fides.  This is one general area wherein I'm an expert.  Because so many Kossacks aren't, and because there's been so much misinformation about authorial matters spread wide, contributing to the emotional distress of so many diarists, I wrote this primer about how "real" writers approach their sources, give them credit, and distinguish themselves from their source material.  This is not written in response to any single example or instance; rather, over the last months an accretion of unfortunate events and responses have suggested to me that this might be beneficial.  So please take what I write here in the spirit in which it's offered, and let's start on the other side of the orange croissant.

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Fri May 24, 2013 at 09:00 AM PDT

GFHC: Sailors, Drunks, and Viking Ships

by DrLori

My grandmother, Esther (Nana to me and my sisters), loved the sea, and loved Norway.  Her family followed the sea, and they all came from one place.  She even had a little shrine in her house, with two small flags, American and Norwegian, a woodcut of the house in Norway where her mother was born, and a small replica of a Viking ship.

The Viking ship was especially meaningful, and she was especially proud of it.  It wasn't just any old ship--it was the Oseberg ship...and it's part of the family.  My family's history has been carried on the matrilineal line, but to get to the 10th century we have to go back through the 1920's.

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The Saturday Morning Home Repair Blog (SMHRB) is where we gather to discuss the many and varied aspects of home repair.  Some here are trained professionals.  Some, talented DIYers.  Some, hopeless thumb-hammerers.  All are welcome.  Please feel encouraged to ask questions, share successes, lament sags, drips and cracks and, as always, share any advice that you have for the rest of us.

I'm going to try your patience with a long-winded photo-intensive story of fireplace restoration.  If you're in a hurry, skip on down to comments.  If you're in a moseying mood, I look forward to your comments about our grand project.

Here Goes

In 1997 we bought our farm.  Had it been just a farm, our story would have been pretty generic.  But the main house was a plantation house.  We knew it was old.  It had been there during the Civil War, and had been the home of a Confederate infantry commander.  Eventually we found out it was older than we had thought.  The house was conveyed as a wedding present in 1788, and had last been renovated in 1850.

It had also been abandoned for 20 years.  This is what the kitchen looked like.

 photo Before2_zps06161ca5.jpg

A couple of things to notice, once you get past your "holy crap" reaction.  The circle on the wall that looks like a waterspot on the photo is a stovepipe opening that was cemented closed.  Once upon a time someone had a woodstove in front of the mantle.  You should also notice that the fireplace is modern--a shallow firebox and modern brick surround with a knob in the center, the telltale mark of a damper.  

What you can't see is the hearth.  The floor was covered with linoleum, but the hearth protruded into the room.  It was a red brick hearth that sloped slightly down to floor level.  Another thing you can't see is the chimney.

Oh, the chimney!  Standing outside, if you looked up at a certain angle you could see daylight where the mortar used to be.

We had no idea what we were in for.

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Mon Apr 01, 2013 at 02:45 PM PDT

Me and Molly, and My Shadow - Updated

by DrLori

We live in dog heaven.  Seventy acres of land, mixed fields and woods, half a mile of riverbank.  Our dogs are trained to stay out of the fields along the lightly-traveled road and, in fact, for the last few years our rugged guard doggies don't go outside except in the company of a human.  Whereupon they're totally happy to walk along the river, sniff out the ground hogs and chase the birds, eat the peonies, etc.--it's all benign and civilized.

It wasn't always like this.  When we first moved here, the farm had been abandoned for twenty years and it was teeming with wildlife.  Raccoons, groundhogs, beavers, foxes, geese, eagles and hawks, bear and deer.  Snakes.  Lots of snakes, most of them beneficial, although I have to admit our guests are sometimes flipped out to meet the four- and five-foot long pet blacksnakes that live around the outbuildings.  They're the reasons we don't have a serious rodent problem.

But we also have rabies.  It's pretty much systemic in our part of the country, and in summer it's not unusual to see a raccoon or a fox out in the daylight, which is never a good sign.  We keep our dogs and cats well-vaccinated and do most of the vet work ourselves, except for the obvious spaying and neutering duties.  It works for us, and vet bills have skyrocketed over the past decade.  We simply can't afford vets for anything except dire emergencies.

One of the first things we decided back in 1997 when we moved to our farm was that we needed a guard dog to establish boundaries and keep the wildlife away from the house and garden.  Our first weekend here, before we had electricity in the bathroom or windows that weren't missing panes of glass or any way to lock the house except from the outside, we started looking for a good dog.  

My husband Andy found an ad in the paper: free mixed breed dogs to good homes.  So he called.  A woman he later described good ol' girl (let me know if you need a definition) told him that she had fifteen puppies, "fourteen black ones and one that looks like a little ol' groundhog."

Andy covered the receiver with his hand and whispered to me, "I have got to see this."

He got directions--go to the other side of the county to a certain remote crossroad and "look for the blue bus in the yard.  That's the place."  He told me later it was "just like the Waltons, only updated."

So he loaded up our son, who was five, and off they went, while I stayed home to vacuum the efflourescence off the walls with a shop-vac (the house was in rough shape).  A few hours later, they came back with two eight-week old puppies.  Jack had picked a nice black one and Andy took the little ol' groundhog.  They let them out of the car and the puppies promptly dove underneath.  There they stayed for three days while we talked sweetly to them and shoved water and puppy food under the frame, until they felt secure enough to come out.

That was how Molly and Shadow came to live with us.  

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This diary is a reposted (and slightly edited) version of the one first posted on February 15.  I have made corrections where commenters more experience and knowledgeable than I (thank you, NYFM and claude!) shared their knowledge:

In a happy accident fifteen years ago, my husband and I bought an abandoned plantation with a house that we thought was built around 1850 on seventy acres of the original land.  The house had been in the same family for about two hundred years before it passed to other owners and was eventually left empty and unloved.  It even has a name.  It sits on the bank of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.  The river is in the back yard; the Blue Ridge mountains are in the front.  We've never gotten used to the scenery.

We've also never gotten used to the irony of people like us owning a house with its own name--when we moved in, all our furniture fit in one room.  For the first few years we camped in the house and over the past fifteen, we've been slowly restoring the place, which we eventually learned was really built around 1785.  We were lucky to have blown our budget in the purchase because it made us too broke to get impatient and make stupid restoration mistakes.  So, slowly, we've done most of the work ourselves.  In the future I'll write more about the house and our restoration adventures, but today I want to write about an "Aha!" moment that hit me this past weekend, one that illuminated some of the earliest history of the plantation, possibly the first plantation built west of the Blue Ridge.

In 1778, Thomas Lewis, noted surveyor, member of the Virginia Land Company, friend of George Washington and brother to three Revolutionary War generals, arranged his eight year old daughter Frances to marry the son of his neighboring landowner.  The groom, William Layton Yancey, was a twenty-four-year old lieutenant of the Continental Dragoons (known today as cavalry).  Although betrothed, the pair did not marry until 1788, when Frances was eighteen.  During the betrothal, Lewis laid off acreage on a strip of land adjoining the Yancey property and had the house built.  The bricks were made on site in the front field and the wood, all old growth yellow pine, was cut on the property, which extended into the mountains.  Slaves did the work, both the original construction and the last real renovation the house underwent...in 1850.

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In a happy accident fifteen years ago, my husband and I bought an abandoned plantation with a house that we thought was built around 1850 on seventy acres of the original land.  The house had been in the same family for about two hundred years before it passed to other owners and was eventually left empty and unloved.  It even has a name.  It sits on the bank of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.  The river is in the back yard; the Blue Ridge mountains are in the front.  We've never gotten used to the scenery.

We've also never gotten used to the irony of people like us owning a house with its own name--when we moved in, all our furniture fit in one room.  For the first few years we camped in the house and over the past fifteen, we've been slowly restoring the place, which we eventually learned was really built around 1785.  We were lucky to have blown our budget in the purchase because it made us too broke to get impatient and make stupid restoration mistakes.  So, slowly, we've done most of the work ourselves.  In the future I'll write more about the house and our restoration adventures, but today I want to write about an "Aha!" moment that hit me this past weekend, one that illuminated some of the earliest history of the plantation, possibly the first plantation built west of the Blue Ridge.

In 1778, Thomas Lewis, noted surveyor, member of the Virginia Land Company, friend of George Washington and brother to three Revolutionary War generals, arranged his eight year old daughter Frances to marry the son of his neighboring landowner.  The groom, William Layton Yancey, was a twenty-four-year old lieutenant of the Continental Dragoons (known today as cavalry).  Although betrothed, the pair did not marry until 1788, when Frances was eighteen.  During the betrothal, Lewis laid off acreage on a strip of land adjoining the Yancey property and had the house built.  The bricks were made on site in the front field and the wood, all old growth yellow pine, was cut on the property, which extended into the mountains.  Slaves did the work, both the original construction and the last real renovation the house underwent...in 1850.

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Fri Nov 02, 2012 at 09:18 AM PDT

GFHC: Opening A Family Archive

by DrLori

Last Memorial Day, I wrote a diary about how I came into possession of letters written by my husband's uncle Clayton and his wife Hazel.  Back then I was barely halfway through my first read of the archive, which consists of 450 letters, all written in 1944.  Since then, I've organized, read, and outlined them all, and am getting ready for the next phase of this new project: matching the military record of the 9th Army and the formal process of basic training during World War II with the dates of the letters, in essence mapping Clayton's progress through the war, from when he was drafted until the end of his service.

They wrote to each other almost every day.  Four hundred fifty letters, all written between two people who never intended anyone else to read them.  So I feel an eavesdropper's responsibility to keep confidence about the personal aspects of their relationship, even as I feel the emotional connection between them and the desire to share what is essentially a universal love story.  I'd like to hope they wouldn't mind.

Hazel and Clayton had been married for seven years before he was drafted on January 1, 1944.  He, like most men of the time, was a reluctant soldier, and spent some of his time in Basic trying to get out of the Infantry and into a position as a mechanic or railroad worker, since he had done both in civilian life.  But the Army needed infantry, and into the infantry he went.  Hazel kept Clayton up to date on the latest news from home (and she was both frank and gossipy), and Clayton did his best to reassure her that he was both physically safe and emotionally devoted only to her.

The best way to capture the essence of the archive is to let them speak for themselves.  I'll add explanatory notes to these extracts, if you'll follow me below the orange Maginot line.

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Tue Oct 30, 2012 at 02:22 PM PDT

Bad Neighbor

by DrLori

In 1210, at the height of the bloody Cathar Crusade, Simon de Montfort aimed his siege weapon at the town of Minerve, and the Minerveans called the big trebuchet Malvoisine, or Bad Neighbor, as it pummeled Minerve into submission.

People who live up against corporate properties in the U.S. often feel a good bit like the Minerveans must have felt as they surveyed the monster trebuchet being hauled into place by fifty men or more (not that any of them survived to tell about it).

 Today, with corporate interest dominating public discourse, with deep corporate pockets keeping an army of lawyers on retainer, companies find it easy to pummel their neighboring property owners and otherwise do pretty much what they want.

Such are the accidents of life.  I'm writing today about one such accident that pits individual landowners against a powerful corporate entitity--indeed, one of the most powerful and important industries today--the railroad.

We've all heard stories from the nineteenth century about the corruption and land dealings involved with the railroad's westward expansion.  This has nothing to do with any of that.  The railroad involved is Norfolk and Southern and the setting a long-established railway route in Virginia.  Come with me across the jump for the history and current dilemma.

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Mon Oct 29, 2012 at 05:00 PM PDT

Monday Night Cancer Club: Comic Relief

by DrLori

Monday Night Cancer Club is a Daily Kos group focused on dealing with cancer, primarily for cancer survivors and caregivers, though clinicians, researchers, and others with a special interest are also welcome. Volunteer diarists post Monday evenings between 7-8 PM ET on topics related to living with cancer, which is very broadly defined to include physical, spiritual, emotional and cognitive aspects. Mindful of the controversies endemic to cancer prevention and treatment, we ask that both diarists and commenters keep an open mind regarding strategies for surviving cancer, whether based in traditional, Eastern, Western, allopathic or other medical practices. This is a club no one wants to join, in truth, and compassion will help us make it through the challenge together.
The old definition of comedy was a story with a happy ending, while a tragedy was a story with a sad ending.  This was obviously before Aristotle's Poetics re-emerged with its insistence on rules and cathartic release and hamartia (dumbed down for high school to "the tragic flaw").  In the halcyon days before the preeminence of fusty academia, things were freer.  Therefore, Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet are both tragedies because at the end they haz a sad, although classically they'd be considered melodrama because the protagonists didn't have to die.  Likewise, Dante's tour of hell, purgatory and heaven is a comedy, not because it's a laugh riot, but because it ends happily.

If I had to classify my life with cancer, it would be a battlefield melodrama, melodramic because it's been unpredictible, set on a battlefield because I've experienced long stretches of calm punctuated by moments of sheer terror.  

And it hasn't all been Extremely Serious.  I've had moments of jaw-dropping grace and experiences of laughing until I cried. That's what I want to share tonight--in all the stress of the election and at a time when the East Coast is being shaken by the scruff of the neck, maybe a little bit of humor and a touch of awwwww is a break.

So here's the deal--I'll share a little funny and a little sweet, and then it's your turn.  All too often we get busy and stressed and we forget to laugh.  One thing we all share here is the knowledge, the acute knowledge, that all we really have in this world is time.  There's a time to fight and a time to laugh.  Or at least, we can smile.

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Monday Night Cancer Club is a Daily Kos group focused on dealing with cancer, primarily for cancer survivors and caregivers, though clinicians, researchers, and others with a special interest are also welcome. Volunteer diarists post Monday evenings between 7-8 PM ET on topics related to living with cancer, which is very broadly defined to include physical, spiritual, emotional and cognitive aspects. Mindful of the controversies endemic to cancer prevention and treatment, we ask that both diarists and commenters keep an open mind regarding strategies for surviving cancer, whether based in traditional, Eastern, Western, allopathic or other medical practices. This is a club no one wants to join, in truth, and compassion will help us make it through the challenge together.
When you're in treatment for cancer and huge parts of your life are entirely out of your control, one of the few things you can control is diet.  In fact, it's one of the single most important parts of your Life In Treatment--powering the engine that will get you through.  Come to think of it, that applies to almost every serious illness.  If you want to get better, if you want to survive, you have to eat.  There are times, though, that eating becomes the challenge.  That's what I want to discuss tonight, how to navigate that minefield:  When you need calories to survive but almost everything you see makes you throw up, how do you manage?  How, and what, do you eat?  Do you have any go-to recipes or strategies for keeping up the calories?

Only people who have no idea what they're talking about see the kinds of therapies that save life--whether for cancer or any other serious chronic disease--as an chance to lose weight. For the rest of us, we who have already earned our chemo badges--we know better.   You can't fight the disease and put your body back on a healing path without calories, and starvation is a lousy strategy for weight loss.

On the other hand, treatment makes you so sick that eating is almost the last thing you want to do.  Sometimes eating comes down to an intellectual exercise and survival strategy.  Sometimes it stays that way.  Even now, even today, when I'm alone I'm more likely to ignore hunger than I am to get up and eat something.  Every day I have to look at the clock and remind myself to eat.  That's happened because of my chemo experience, and it's what inspired me to write this diary.  I hope, when it's all done and everyone's chipped in, we can make something good of our common experience.

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Mention Salman Rushdie, and everyone’s mind immediately goes to the infamous fatwa and the impenetrability of The Satanic Verses, the novel that caused so much furor back in 1988.  

That’s most unfortunate, because Rushdie is a prolific writer who, despite uncommon hardship during his years in hiding, maintained an active writing life and impressive publishing history.  He remains one of our most insightful, and human--extremely humane--critics of the West and its grapplings with other cultures.  

He’s also a superb storyteller—playful, deft, witty, and compassionate.  While I have a few more of his books in my “to read” stack beside my desk, I’ve read enough that I feel qualified to trace a few of the elements that make Rushdie’s compositions unique: uniquely his, uniquely valuable, uniquely reader-worthy.  Other critics can explore the clash of cultures in great depth; I prefer to read Rushdie, first, for delight, second for truth.  Now mature and at the height of his powers, he is a magician whose tricks appear effortless and evanescent, but casts a spell that keeps haunting the reader’s imagination.  

Keep that image in mind.  It’ll be back.

But to get there from here, first comes the Ur-text: Grimus.

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