Sunday, November 25, 2012

Jumping on the Bandwagon

There are so many things out there to watch out for these days.  I read a lot online and in print about the dangers of this food or the perils of that drink.  My spam filter gets loaded up with dire warnings about how avoiding this one test will decrease my chances of cancer 10-fold with another message telling me that the same test will add 20 years to my life.

Being of the analytical mindset like I am, I spent a great deal of time trying to tease the truth out of all these pronouncements of impending doom.  I thought that maybe if I just understood everything, I'd...well...understand everything.

Now that I've typed it out, that sounds a bit foolish.  If I had only done that a year ago, I would have saved myself a lot of time, work and heartache.

Besides, nobody can understand everything and nobody has ever been able to tell me anything without me verifying it on my own. So I spent all that time trying to figure stuff out really pulling my hair out and worrying over the bits and pieces not lining up.

One day I sat on my bed surrounded by notes and notebooks and slips of paper and Internet printouts with tears of frustration in my eyes.  I had sorted out the articles and emails and websites.  I had broken the over-riding theme down to the very essence of truth in the middle.  That truth is this: They're lying to us.

The food companies who come out with a new and improved product every other day designed and destined to improve our health, make our teeth white, shrink our backsides and ensure our sexual virility don't have our best interests at heart.  In spite of the hype and the advertising and the shiny, fancy packaging that says they care, they don't.  It's all about making a buck and not worrying about the consumer in the end.  Corporations are, in a word, evil.  As I came to this realisation, my tears of frustration became tears of rage.

I sort of lost it.

I tore up the notes and slips of paper.  I threw away the scraps and the notebooks.  I even broke a pencil.  It was cathartic and exhilarating.  This is what I got out of it and believe me, I've read it 100 times online and in print but it hadn't sunk in until now:

Eat real food.  Eat food that your great grandmother would recognise. Eat food with ingredients you can pronounce and ingredients that sound like actual food in and of themselves.  Eat the stuff with a short enough history that you can trace right back to the farm.

Products with artificial this and modified that aren't actually food because they didn't come from a farmer's field.  They came from a laboratory.  And, as much as I love my lab job, I know it's not a place that I want to cook my dinner.  After all, we have signs everywhere telling us that food and drink aren't allowed the lab.  Is it just me, or is that a bit ironic?

Did you know that the artificial colors in some fruity sport drinks are actually derived from petrochemicals?  How the hell is that food?  And how the hell did that get approved by the powers that be?

So, yeah.  Here I am with another epiphany that roughly 100,000,000 people have already had.  I'm stepping up on the bandwagon.  I don't expect it to be painless, but here I go.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Traditions--Breaking New Ground

Traditions are funny things.  Back in the day, before divorces and re-marriages changed everything, tradition was important to me.  It was about stability and continuity.  It was about not forgetting important things.

Thanksgiving always meant turkey dinner with dressing cooked in the bird, candied sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes with gravy, green bean casserole and that jellied cranberry sauce that comes out in the shape of the can if you're very careful. It also meant at least one short moment of tears and sadness for Great Grandpa and his mad turkey roasting skilz.  Even now almost 40 years after his passing if I think about it too long, I'll have to cry again.  These are the kind of tears that can only be silenced by the suitable application of Dream-whip on the pumpkin pie.

Thanksgiving was Mom, Dad, brother and me and our attending spouses and children.  It was coming together at Mom's and spending the day in the kitchen with her while the guys talked politics and football in the living room.  It was drinking Pepsi out of the glass bottle it came in and opening the kitchen window just a little to let out the steam from cooking the giblets for gravy.

Except for remembering Great Grandpa, none of that stuff happens anymore.  My family has scattered and we are not close like we once were.  It's made me very sad and very angry some years.  Angry and sad enough to make up my own traditions.

The first tradition I made up is the one where we have anything but turkey on Thanksgiving day.  It's sort of become a challenge to think of something new and different every year.  When I think of it, it seems a little silly to use that one meal as a symbol of all the plenty we are thankful for.  It makes more sense to me to celebrate with something different from the vast selections available every year.  The 'plenty' we have is so much more diverse than turkey.

The second tradition comes in the form of banning football, the viewing of football or the discussion of football in the house on Thanksgiving Day.  I don't care who's playing who or what title is on the line.  I don't even care if it's Huskers vs. Sooners.  No football.  Period.  Call me un-American if you like.  I'm fine with that.

The third tradition is one that ties into Christmas.  We used to go shopping the day after Thanksgiving.  We always said we didn't want to, but we always managed to forget something at the store or break something important that we had to replace immediately.  I don't remember it ever being done specifically on purpose.  It just always ended up that way.  These days, I shun Black Friday specials.  I don't look at the circulars.  I don't read the spam emails.  I don't listen to the ads on TV or the radio.  What's more, I refuse to listen to the Christmas music until no more than seven days before Christmas and certainly not on Thanksgiving Day.

The act of buying presents for those people on my list has always been gut-wrenching for me.  So I don't really do that anymore either.  I've always enjoyed making things as gifts even if they were not particularly well-received. I have never been very good at figuring that sort of thing out.  But I do enjoy making things, so there.  The joy is in the giving whether they like it or not.

The funny part is, now that all the Thanksgiving traditions I cherished from childhood have been replaced with other traditions of my very own, I don't feel any less stable, life is continuing and I haven't forgotten the important things--the things that make me feel grateful:

  • The roof over my head;
  • The food in my fridge;
  • My family and friends, both near and far;
  • My husband without whom none of this would be nearly as appealing;
  • And the freedom to enjoy it all as I see fit.
  • Oh, and Great Grandpa's bitchin' mad turkey roasting skilz which I inherited from my Mom.  Love you, Grampa.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Walk on the Wild Side

If you've read my blog at all, you probably know that I spend a considerable amount of time in my car driving to and from work.  I pretty much whine and harp on it every chance I get.  But it's not all bad.

Most of my drive time is spent at one or the other, and sometimes both, twilight times every week day.  Pretty much year around the morning drive is conducted at least part way in the grey of early morning. During the late fall to late winter time frame I get darkness and/or twilight both coming and going.  My Dad and my husband have admonished me countless times on the dangers of driving on Nebraska highways during these times because of the opportunities to encounter our native wildlife.

Mule deer in Rocky Mountain National Park
What they're getting at is my chances of hitting a deer while traveling at highway speeds is somewhat enhanced during the time of day when visibility is limited.  Of course they're right.  But there is a compelling reason to be out and about especially at those particular times.

Every single day, without fail, I see one or more natural wonders on my drive.  In the mornings, I am most likely to see deer as they leave their beds and begin for forage for food.  Just this morning I watched a lone deer standing in a light fog on what used to be a corn field delighting in what the harvester left behind on the ground.  There must have been a PILE of corn there judging from the way it was chomping and glancing around nervously then chomping again.  I almost ran myself off the road watching it enjoy the corn.

Photo Credit:
Henry Zeman/NWTF
It is also not uncommon for me to see wild turkeys.  I've spent this summer watching a particular group raise their poults to fledglings and beyond.  Usually, I see them grazing quite close to the edge of the highway shoulder just outside the tall grass in the ditch.  I say grazing because I see them snooping around in the grass and eating something.  Insects?  Tasty green shoots?  I don't know what wild turkeys eat.  A couple of weeks ago, I saw a flock that was at least 50 strong.  It was a stunning sight.

I have seen rabbits, raccoons, opossums, domestic cats and the occasional badger or coyote.  I also see birds of prey like red-tailed hawks, Swainson's hawks, American kestrels and once I got up close and personal with a huge owl that flew about 10 feet in front of my car as I drove home late one Saturday night after a dance party.  I didn't stop to ask him about his heritage so I couldn't tell you what kind he was...or that he could have been a she.  How should I know?

When a llama puts its ears down, it's warning you to back off.
Living in this part of the world, I almost have to see animals everywhere I go.  Cattle and horses are kept on nearly every farm.  Just about five blocks from my house is a small farm where they keep llamas.  I look for ducks every time I pass by.  I can't help it.

But without a doubt, my favorite time of year for wildlife watching is the early spring.  Every year, at least once, I pass over the crest of a hill on the highway somewhere and I am rewarded with a fabulous view of an enormous flock of migrating fowl either flapping along overhead or pausing to rest and forage for snacks on a dormant corn field.  Snow geese really do look like drifts of snow from far away.  Really, really. It's pretty cool.  Other than the geese, the best part of spring is the crane migration.

The Central Flyway of the US goes right over top of central Nebraska.  My little town is on the eastern edge of that flyway.  We see a lot of birds here.  But, as you travel west along Interstate 80, the number of cranes, like the sandhill crane, goes up almost exponentially.

Sometimes my friends from other parts of the world will ask me what it is that keeps me here.  There are no major metropolitan areas nearby.  There are no popular professional sports teams to speak of.  There are no celebrity hang-outs even close.  Maybe those are some of my reasons.

I know what makes me happy.
I love the land.  I love the animals both wild and domestic.  Nothing makes me happier than to see a herd of cattle grazing in contentment on a field of corn stubble or to watch the youngsters kicking up their heels in the midst of a herd of cows.  Well, nothing except maybe a flock of chickens on the green, spring grass...especially a flock of white Silkies.  But that's another blog post.