Perspective

I finally got my hair cut today – only about 5 months overdue. My hairdresser is lucky to see me twice a year and while she often mixes up the personal details of my life (tonight she was convinced that my husband worked as a nurse) she somehow can remember just how I like my hair cut so that I won’t end up looking too much like Shirley Temple on crack. Curly hair is funny. People fawn over my hair until I tell them that I never comb it. I guess they must imagine that I spend hours each morning in front of a mirror. It looks worse if I fuss at it too much. The past week of unbearable humidity was enough to convince me that cutting most of it off was the only viable means of control. What I wouldn’t do for straight, well-behaved hair.

My hairdresser and I chatted about my new job at length; she’s very involved with her church and, as a result, has some experience with homeless families as oftentimes they’re put up in church buildings for a few nights when they don’t qualify for the help that my agency can provide. She was upset that people should have to sleep in church buildings on cots. If she only knew! People end up sleeping in churches here because they make too much money to qualify for the services offered to really poor homeless people. The families she knows of may be homeless, but they’re too rich for our programs.

I told her about the cases I’d been involved with this past week, my first few days spent at a desk and on the front lines:

* a woman and her son who had been evicted because she hadn’t bothered to pay her rent since December. We couldn’t help them long-term, but we offered them placement in a motel for a few days until they could make other arrangements, but they never showed up.

* a single man who’s been living on $140 a month who presented at our office last week drunk and disorderly and was taken to the hospital, by the police, for detox. He was discharged from the hospital without shoes and without anyplace to go. We put him up in a motel.

* a young mother who is about to be discharged from a residential drug treatment program; her family has turned its back and she has nowhere safe to live while she continues in recovery. It doesn’t look like we’ll be able to offer her anything.

* a young woman who’s wheelchair-bound, a victim of domestic violence, and who was put out of the nursing home she’s been living at because she’s a problem there. Her own parents won’t take her in because they fear the ex-husband as well. We turned her away, too.

* a homeless man who we know only by first name so far, reported to us by a phone call from a concerned neighbor who sees him living behind the dumpster of a bakery in her neighborhood. She says he is sick and dying, but has refused any help so far. As I was leaving the office today, we were trying to get someone out to look for this man.

So that’s been my week. Any wonder why my hair is looking a bit frazzled? Maybe a little more gray, already? Honestly, it doesn’t much faze me. I think that’s what bothers me most of all.

U-pick (Your choice)

For the last month or so I’ve been reading Barbara Kingsolver’s latest book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life about her family’s attempts at changing their food habits in such a way as to buy only locally grown food, grow the food themselves, or learn to do without. I’m only just half way through the book so I don’t know how their experiment with eating locally turns out, but already I find myself becoming more aware of the food choices I make. I haven’t made any changes in my food-buying routine yet, but this book has me thinking.

I’m mentioning this today because I had one of those oddball experiences that make you stop and scratch your head at how illogical things can be. I stopped during my lunch hour at a hugely popular orchard/garden center/gourmet food place with the idea of buying some loose strawberries. I like to buy them that way because I prefer the smaller local berries over the humungous, but tasteless, prepackaged berries that come from California. Parking my car I noticed a sign for u-pick raspberries at the back of the lot and was excited at the prospect of fresh raspberries instead of the half moldy ones that come from California. Of course I didn’t have time on my lunch hour for picking raspberries, but assumed there’d be pints of berries available for purchase inside the market. You know what they say about assuming, don’t you? All I found for sale were the prepackaged raspberries from California, despite the acre or two or fresh and locally grown berries in the back lot! Did I buy them? No, of course not. On my way home, I stopped at the farm stand around the corner and bought raspberries from the farmer who is my neighbor. The farmer whose berry fields had woodcock this spring and who waves at me from his red tractor when he has to drive it through the neighborhood, past the Hummers and McMansions that are the norm here anymore. In addition to the gourmet fare this area seems to demand that he provide, he also makes an effort to support other local farmers and artisans; he sells fresh mozzarella and bread that’s handmade locally and colorful heirloom tomatoes that you’ll never see in any supermarket. Plus, he grows his own sweet corn, not here in our backyard, but a few miles away where the McMansions haven’t yet encroached on the space necessary to grow a field of corn.

Eating locally is all the rage right now and it seems almost possible for someone like me who loves fruit and vegetables and could easily go a month or more without eating meat. This is the season of bounty here in the Garden State and there’s lots of fresh produce. If I had to rely on my own vegetable garden I’d quickly starve, so I’m glad for the local farmers who grow berries and apples, or broccoli and collard greens, and then let me walk their fields and pick my own bounty from their labor. It feels good to me to do this. It’s a small thing really, but if we value the land and the farms that feed us, I think it’s worth the challenge to find and purchase locally grown food.

I came across this list of ten reasons to eat local (from Eat Local Challenge – an excellent blog:

Eating local means more for the local economy. According to a study by the New Economics Foundation in London, a dollar spent locally generates twice as much income for the local economy. When businesses are not owned locally, money leaves the community at every transaction. (reference)

Locally grown produce is fresher. While produce that is purchased in the supermarket or a big-box store has been in transit or cold-stored for days or weeks, produce that you purchase at your local farmer’s market has often been picked within 24 hours of your purchase. This freshness not only affects the taste of your food, but the nutritional value which declines with time.

Local food just plain tastes better. Ever tried a tomato that was picked within 24 hours? ‘Nuff said.

Locally grown fruits and vegetables have longer to ripen. Because the produce will be handled less, locally grown fruit does not have to be “rugged” or to stand up to the rigors of shipping. This means that you are going to be getting peaches so ripe that they fall apart as you eat them, figs that would have been smashed to bits if they were sold using traditional methods, and melons that were allowed to ripen until the last possible minute on the vine.

Eating local is better for air quality and pollution than eating organic. In a March 2005 study by the journal Food Policy, it was found that the miles that organic food often travels to our plate creates environmental damage that outweighs the benefit of buying organic. (reference)

Buying local food keeps us in touch with the seasons. By eating with the seasons, we are eating foods when they are at their peak taste, are the most abundant, and the least expensive.

Buying locally grown food is fodder for a wonderful story. Whether it’s the farmer who brings local apples to market or the baker who makes local bread, knowing part of the story about your food is such a powerful part of enjoying a meal.

Eating local protects us from bio-terrorism. Food with less distance to travel from farm to plate has less susceptibility to harmful contamination. (reference)

Local food translates to more variety. When a farmer is producing food that will not travel a long distance, will have a shorter shelf life, and does not have a high-yield demand, the farmer is free to try small crops of various fruits and vegetables that would probably never make it to a large supermarket. Supermarkets are interested in selling “Name brand” fruit: Romaine Lettuce, Red Delicious Apples, Russet Potatoes. Local producers often play with their crops from year to year, trying out Little Gem Lettuce, Senshu Apples, and Chieftain Potatoes.

Supporting local providers supports responsible land development. When you buy local, you give those with local open space – farms and pastures – an economic reason to stay open and undeveloped.

All good reasons to stand behind and buy from the local farmer. Plus, the berries are delicious!

Puddle party

I mentioned that I went out the other day to photograph insects at two of the local parks. It was a beautiful day to be out, but not so great for taking photos because of a constant breeze. I was hoping to find some colorful butterflies, but other than a few impossible skippers, the butterfly of the day was the cabbage white. They were everywhere, thick as thieves! The red clover and thistle seemed to be a favorite at one park, whereas the herb garden, and specifically the lavender patch, was the hot spot at the botanical park. I’d forgotten how well these butterflies like lavender since I don’t have it growing in my own garden any longer.

Anyway, while checking the pond edge for dragonflies, I came across this group of cabbage whites puddling along a damp place in the path. I’ve seen photos of swallowtails doing this – Larry has posted a few on his blog – but I’d never seen it for myself. I read tonight that it’s usually the males that do this as the minerals they collect from the soil or manure or whatever is thought to increase their breeding success.

There’s been very little butterfly activity in my own garden so far this season. The swamp milkweed is blooming and I saw my first monarch this past weekend. I’ve been checking the plants for eggs or caterpillars, but haven’t found any. There are lots of aphids and a few milkweed beetles making their living out there, though. The black swallowtail caterpillars that I posted about last week grew very fat and disappeared – I have my eyes out for a cocoon, but don’t have much hope of ever finding them.

Borage blue

Have you ever grown borage? Is there a prettier shade of blue? Well, I don’t think so, or at least this is another to add to a very small assemblage of true blue flowers. I’ve been seeding these for the last few years after seeing them at the local botanical garden, and finally this year I have some flowers! The bees adore this plant and the flowers are edible; all parts of the plant are, in fact, but I don’t have the heart to taste test it just yet. It’s just too pretty!

Clammy weather

I’ve been saving this pic for just the right day and today’s it! This wild rhododendron of the Pine Barrens is known by a few names: Swamp Azalea, Swamp Honeysuckle, or my personal favorite: Clammy Azalea. The flowers are very fragrant and covered with tiny hairs that give it the *clammy* name. They are said to fill the gap between when Swamp Magnolia and Sweet Pepperbush bloom, filling Pine Barrens swamps with fragrance from May through September. I didn’t find Swamp Magnolia in bloom this Spring, but Sweet Pepperbush was just waking up on my last visit to the Barrens.

The weather here in NJ has been lovely so far this season; today is the first day that it’s been clammy and summerlike. How’s the weather by you? Are you looking forward to the heat and humidity?

Cross-eyed glances

I was out with my camera today to photograph insects at two very public parks; one is popular with rollerbladers and joggers, the other popular as a site for weddings because it’s so lavishly planted with roses and other photogenic flowers. In both places I was knee-deep in the weediest patches lush with milkweed and daisies focusing my lens at bumblebees, beetles, and butterflies. I got more than a few cross-eyed glances from passerby! Birdwatching gets a person used to the odd looks from others, I think. There was a time when I was very self-conscious going out with binoculars around my neck; lately I’ve added a camera slung over my shoulder as well as the bag of extra lenses, just in case. If rollerbladers don’t feel funny with those big wheeled-boots on their feet on a ninety degree day, why should I?

This tiny butterfly, the size of a dime, is an Eastern-Tailed Blue I think, feeding on yarrow.

Friday bunny fix

Delia at Beginning to Bird was fixin’ for a bunny fix so here’s a pic of Freckles lounging in the clover patch beside our pond.

Freckles is the most unassuming of bunnies; she’s as happy to nap all day as she is to race around the living room when given an opportunity. She’s hardly ever grumpy and never bossy. She doesn’t get as much attention from me as she ought to simply because she is so undemanding compared to the others. She loves to sit on my lap in front of the TV and be petted, but there’s something about her fur that sends me into fits of itchiness so I don’t treat her to lap time very often.

After her photo shoot outside today I took the opportunity to pluck some of the offensive fur that she’s been shedding like mad the last few weeks. I was glad to see the tufts of fur landing like feathers on the lawn, but I think half of it found its way right back into my eyes. Argghhh!

Guesses, anyone?

This is another in the pea family, like yesterday’s vetch, but the only obvious similarity is in the foliage. I think the flowers are stunningly beautiful – pink and yellow – and when I first came across it I thought it must be something very exotic, but once I figured out what it was I saw it everywhere along the sandy roadsides of the Pine Barrens. The only hint I’ll give you is that the plant contains the chemical rotenone and is thought to have been used by American Indians to stun fish, among other things. I’m not exactly sure how fish are stunned using a plant, but it’s fun to imagine how that might be accomplished.