Peppers – vegetable or fruit?

Vegetables or fruits?

Vegetables or fruits?

There are NO vegetables. Everything we call a vegetable is actually a fruit. So said the host of the TV show On The Spot this past weekend.

What? I’m a farm kid. I grew up around agriculture and spent most of my professional career in public relations working with clients who served the ag industry. I had never heard this before.

This was such a provocative statement, stated so definitively, that I had to do the research. First stop: Wikipedia. The answer was fascinating, taking into account botany, the culinary arts, and the law.

Botanically – (upon which On The Spot must have made its pronouncement) – the ovary of a flowering plant is the fruit. Since both fruits (peaches, plums, oranges) and vegetables (eggplants, bell peppers, tomatoes) come from the flowering part of the plant, they are botanically speaking all really fruits. 

Culinary – In the grocery story and kitchen, fruits and vegetables are mutually exclusive. Fruits are the edible part of the plant with a sweet flavor. Vegetables are the edible part of a plant with a savory flavor.

Legally – When in doubt, the law may intervene as it did with the tomato in Nix v Hedden, a case argued before the Supreme Court in 1893. The outcome? The tomato is a vegetable. The case had such import because commodities are taxed as vegetables in particular jurisdictions and pocketbooks would hurt depending on where the tomato came down.

To be fair to the Supreme Court justices, while they declared the tomato a vegetable for tax purposes, they acknowledged it was botanically a fruit. How’s that for standing firmly on both sides of the debate?

My research didn’t stop with Wikipedia (a cautionary tale for all). The Mayo Clinic points out there really are vegetables – those foods that come from parts of the plant other than the flower, e.g. celery (stem), lettuce (leaves), and beets, carrots and potatoes (roots.)

All this may be a bit of a diversion, but we writers like to be precise in our use of language. And as one speaker arguing for a classical education opined, It’s important to know the rules before you break them.

Offering another, particularly timely, perspective on the topic, a Facebook post weighed in on the topic today: Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

I know all this new-found knowledge/wisdom will come into play in my writing at some point. I can hardly wait.

What could you learn about leadership and teamwork from geese?

Out visitors were similar to this gaggle. http://10000birds.com/the-canada-goose.htm

Out visitors were similar to this gaggle. http://10000birds.com/the-canada-goose.htm

Unexpected visitors to our home last night brought the delights of nature and deeper lessons in leadership and teamwork.

As darkness fell, a gaggle of Canadian geese came walking up our drive. Four adults and six goslings who could not yet fly made up the troupe.

An adult led the way, followed by three young, another adult, and three more young. Two adults brought up the rear. They kept a straight line. No one broke rank.

We expect the geese were headed for the pond on the next property, but they were stymied by the woven wire fence that marks the border between our land and the horse pasture behind us.

The leader led his cadre up to the fence, surveyed the situation, and turned right. They followed the fence only to be stopped by the north fence. They returned and followed the fence in the other direction. Dogs in the next yard caused them to reconsider. They tried the north route again, as though the leader thought perhaps they missed something on the first try.

Soon they were back. They stood by the fence for a few moments. The adults could easily have flown over the fence, but their young could not. And they would not leave them.

Watching these geese, I could not help but think of the lessons in leadership and teamwork this little group demonstrated.

Leaders:

  • Decide a course and lead your team with confidence
  • Adapt the plan if you run into obstacles
  • Watch out for the team and take into account their capabilities
  • Don’t be afraid to chose another course of action if the first doesn’t work out

Team members:

  • Have confidence in your leader
  • Know your own limits
  • Don’t go wandering off

Finally, everyone stay calm.

Unable to find a path to the pond on our property, the leader turned and led the group back down our driveway the way they’d come. I had no doubt the leader would eventually find a way to the pond. If it took all night.

Thelma & Louise hit the road again

Can't pass up a big chair

Can’t pass up a big chair

You know you’re in the south when …

  • The people at the next table are drinking Coca Cola for breakfast
  • Dairy Queen serves the best biscuits and gravy for breakfast
  • Corn pudding is a side dish option for lunch
Berea, Kentucky combines art and history.

Berea, Kentucky combines art and history.

My friend Sue and I have hit the road – just like and nothing like – Thelma & Louise. We plan to have some fun, enjoy the sights of the southeastern states, see some friends, and relax on the North Carolina beach. So far we’ve traversed six states: Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

A great night for a boat ride.

A great night for a boat ride.

We’ve met interesting people – the woman at breakfast for instance – who told us more than we wanted to know about southern food and who used way more words than anyone should that early in the morning.

Captain Paul pilots us out of Honahlee

Captain Paul pilots us out of Honahlee

We’ve explored art and history in Kentucky.

We’ve reprised the big chair theme from a trip to California.

We’ve enjoyed an evening of boating with friends Nan and Paul and spectacular food at the Lakeside Tavern.

Today we’ll tour in the Smoky Mountain National Park.

Honky-tonks, hitchhikers, and hell-raising are not on our list.

What’s the best use of time to think?

Thoughts while, and about, falling down.

fallingSeveral years ago, I tripped on an uneven sidewalk and fell, landing more embarrassed than scathed. As I lay on the ground assessing myself for damage, I realized that I’d had several remarkably clear thoughts between tripping and landing.

At the time, I thought, How interesting. There’s actually time to think even in such a short time.

I tucked the realization away – something to use someday in my writing. I wonder if I might have put that realization to better use than just writing.

When I fell on the ice last month, once again thoughts raced through my mind. Realization that my foot had landed in a slippery spot and I was going down. Noting the hill I would land on. Thinking I was careless to have let that happen. Again, several clear thoughts during an event that lasted not much more than a second.

The result was worse this time. I wound up in the emergency room with a broken wrist.

When I posted on Facebook about my fall, someone suggested next time I should remember to “tuck and roll.” What a joke, others laughed. It happens so fast, how could you ever do anything but act out of reflex? But I wonder.

My aunt who’d broken her ankle as a teenager, suffered from ever more frequent falls as she aged.  Once as she crossed a street, she fell. Later she told me that her thought as the ground raced up at her was, “Well, I’ve done it now!”  Indeed she had. She broke her wrist.

Another time, my aunt tripped in her living room and had the presence of mind to fling herself forward so that she landed on the couch. That gave us all a good laugh. Particularly since she managed not to hurt herself.

Because my mother lived alone in her home, I convinced her to get a Life Line button. One day she fell. It took considerable time and effort before she was able to drag herself to the basement stairs, get her feet under her and get up. I asked why she didn’t just press the button hanging on a cord around her neck so someone could come and help her. She looked momentarily puzzled and then responded, “I guess you’d have to remember you even had the button to do that.”

Doing things automatically is often a matter of practicing enough. Since my fall, I’ve worked to implant the idea of “tuck and roll” in my brain. To that end, I’ve been thinking about it, talking to others about it, writing about it. I hope never to fall again, but if I do, I hope “tuck and roll” is the first thought in my head.

What do you think, my friends? Have you had experiences with split second thoughts? Do you think I can be successful at retaining tuck and roll? Have you done something like this? Or should I just resign myself to using this learning in my writing?

Why we read

Inner discourse. Deeper lives. To stay connected.

ReaderA Writer of History shares the gist of an insightful article on why we (still) read. Thanks, Mary Tod.

Why we read

A few months ago, my mother clipped an article out of the paper for me with the compelling title Why we (still) read. The author was Robert Fulford, a long-time and well known Canadian journalist.

Fullford discusses the benefits of reading and the way “books work on us”. Several bits stood out for me. The first is a quote taken from Mark Kingwell, a professor of philosophy:

 

…in reading books we construct our unique selves: “There is no self without reading.” Without the inner discourse that reading makes possible, self hardly exists.”

Read on for more compelling thoughts …

Walking through Iowa; reading through Europe

Goals to keep mind and body fresh.

Shoes & BookI’ve set two goals for myself this winter: one walking and one reading. In just the first few weeks of the year, I’ve found some interesting links to these goals, beyond the fact that I do them at the same time.

  • My walking goal is to traverse the diagonal distance of Iowa, from the southwest corner to the northeast. A map taped to the wall offers a ready reference for logging my miles and noting the towns I figuratively pass through as I take to the treadmill.
  • My reading goal, as I shared in another post, is to read 10 works of historical fiction in 2014 as part of the historical fiction challenge. That’s in addition to all the other books I know will pass through my hands this year.

I began my trek in Hamburg, the southwestern most town in Iowa. According to the 2010 census, Hamburg’s population was 1,187. This little town was nearly wiped off the map in 2011 when the Missouri River breached the levee protecting the area. Despite great adversity, the people and their town survived.

It’s interesting (to me at least) that Hamburg is named for Hamburg, Germany, since the book I was reading at this point was The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Set in Germany, The Book Thief tells the story of a nine-year-old girl who lives near Berlin during WWII. This child and her foster parents face great adversity as they risk their lives to befriend a Jew they hide in their basement. The book explores the ability of books to feed the soul.

Since leaving Hamburg (Iowa), I’ve traversed almost 50 miles, passing through towns I’ve never heard of – Essex – and some I have heard of but never visited – Shenandoah and Red Oak.

Coincidentally, I “walked” through Shenandoah at the time Phil Everly passed away. Phil and his brother, Don, grew up in Shenandoah from early childhood through early high school. They sang with their father on local radio station KMA before going on to achieve fame as The Everly Brothers.

Walking at 3.8 miles/hour, I can read comfortably and have completed several books, including:

  • Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier. My choice for our book club to read this month, this novel took me to the coast of England to search for fossils with two nineteenth century women whose discoveries upset the scientific and religious worlds of the day. I found this book noteworthy because the author had a unique way to describe characters. One “leads with her eyes,” another “leads with her hands,” another “leads with her chin.”  As soon as I read this descriptor, I realized I know people like this. I admire authors who trigger that spark of recognition in readers in an unusual way.
  • The Orphan Train: A Novel by Christina Baker Kline. This book about a lesser known part of American history, when some 250,000 children were taken by train from east coast cities to find homes in rural areas, drew me in because I have a thread on the Orphan Trains in my upcoming novel, Go Away Home. This is the one book I’ve read so far this year set in the United States.
  • Call the Midwife, Shadows of the Workhouse, by Jennifer Worth. The sequel to the book that is the basis for the the PBS series, this book caused me to consider the scope of creative non-fiction.  Worth was a nurse midwife in London after WWII.  Her life experience and writing are fully engaging. I do wonder, though, if it is appropriate to categorize much of this second book as memoir since several of the stories were not about things that happened to Worth or that she saw personally. Terrific stories, though, and a powerful look at a difficult time in English history.

As I continue to walk, I’ve crossed the Channel to France where I’m on a gastronomical journey with Julia Child in her memoir, My Life in France. She is making me very hungry. 

Sharing goals helps ensure I stick to them. So, I’ll share updates of my reading and walking musings from time to time. If you’d like to chime in on books you’re reading or places you’re traveling or goals you’ve set for the year, I’d love to hear from you.

We will not grow old together

Finding perspective and gratitude after suicide.

When I thought about my senior years, I imagined spending a good deal of time with my older sister, Jane. Though she lived in Pennsylvania and I in Iowa, we found increasing time together as we grew into our retirement years.

We both enjoyed gardening, reading, travel. She doted on her grandchildren and I looked forward to grandchildren of my own. I felt relaxed and pampered in her home, which she opened as a bed and breakfast so that she could share her gifts of hospitality and cooking. She enjoyed coming to Iowa to re-connect with her rural roots.

Sisters enjoying moments together

Sisters enjoying moments together

My image of those golden years shattered when Jane died by suicide in 2008. Until then, my personal experiences with death included my parents and grandparents. Those deaths were difficult to absorb but they happened in the natural order of things. Jane’s did not.

Grieving Jane’s death unbalanced me in a way I often described as feeling as though the universe was out of kilter. This lack of balance manifested itself in car accidents. I had at least 13 accidents, ranging from scrapes to collisions, in three years. Thankfully, no one was killed.

It was three years before a friend who’d also lost her sister to suicide took me to the Survivors of Suicide annual conference in 2011. What a blessing it was to learn about the healing power of ceremony in addressing grief and to do so in the company of others who shared this unique kind of loss. After that conference, I performed a “letting go” ceremony for Jane that helped me tremendously.

I thought that ceremony made me okay, and in many ways it did. But when a friend lost her son to suicide earlier this year and we attended the Survivors of Suicide conference this past weekend, I realized my grief journey is ongoing.

During a breakout session when I joined others who lost siblings to suicide, the moderator asked each of us to answer this question: “What do you think your sibling would wish for you now?”

My first thought was flippant — Jane would want me not to cry so much! Upon reflection, though, I believe Jane would urge me to do what makes me happy and not to wait. She’d urge me to appreciate, be thankful for, and find joy in each moment, since each moment is precious and we don’t know how many moments we will have.

It’s no accident, I’m sure, that the Survivors of Suicide conferences are held worldwide on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. In the face of horrible loss, we may need help remembering to be thankful. We may need help putting the loss in perspective.

As a result of the conference, I’m consciously adjusting my focus from what I don’t have and won’t have since Jane died, to what I can be thankful for because of Jane’s life. I’m focusing on the positives of the past and the future.

No, Jane and I won’t grow old together, but I am lucky to have enjoyed life with her for 60 years. Jane modeled love and compassion and hospitality for me every day. She graciously shared gentle wisdom learned in her years as a nurse. She left a legacy of love in her daughters and grandchildren.

I honor her and help myself heal by recognizing this and sharing the beauty of her life with others.

** If you or someone you know is struggling with suicide, find help at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

The “invisible divide” that splinters families and nations

What makes a family? What makes a nation? What holds them together? What tears them apart? My guest today, author Christoph Fischer, explores those ideas in his books, The Three Nations Trilogy.b3-front-sm

I recently read “The Black Eagle Inn,” the third book in Fischer’s trilogy. This book is an intriguing family saga, tracing one Bavarian family from before WWII into the 1970s. Click to read my review.

Christoph and I met through Facebook discussions of indie publishing and writing historical fiction. I’m pleased to have him here today, sharing how the stories in his trilogy developed. Read on!

Family, history and story lines – Christoph Fischer

Writing The Three Nations Trilogy has been an interesting journey for me. I took some actual family stories of which I had only vague knowledge and basic data and placed them in appropriate historical settings. During my research I imagined what it would have been like for my ancestors and their friends and that is how the stories came alive.

My grandmother, originally from Bratislava, cooked differently than Bavarian cuisine. She and my father used odd words and they had a strange accent compared to the locals. On Sundays, we listened to music by Smetana or Slovak folk dance music and although I was born in Bavaria, spoke ( my slightly odd version of) the regional accent and wore Lederhosen, I always felt a little out of place. I always knew that this invisible divide would be a central theme for my books.

The failed marriage of my grandparents in Brno in the 1930s and my grandmother’s subsequent life served as the starting point. When I did my research on Slovakia for “The Luck of the Weissensteiners,” I was naively surprised to find racial hatred at that time someplace outside of Germany. Slovakia even joined the Axis powers, even if it was partially motivated to do so to rid itself of the Czech ‘dominance.’

The blame for all of this was put on the clumsy dissection of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after the Great War. Czechs and Slovaks were thrown into a political Union to keep the German minority in those areas under control. Eye witnesses and history texts often talk nostalgically about the golden Hapsburg era and and life in Vienna before WWI, where members of new emerging or would-be nations were living in harmony and peace.

This nostalgic idea needed to be examined more closely and so I did some research and chose exactly that Vienna as the setting for “Sebastian,” the second book in the Trilogy. In “Sebastian,” I told the story of my grandparents’ divorce from my grandfather’s perspective.

Whatever books I read, the supposedly golden era of racial and religious tolerance seemed more glitter and lip service than reality. The Empire had broken and the individual pieces wanted out. Vienna’s upper class lived in a dream world, protected from reality. After the war, a severed Austria had to find a new place in a new Europe. I wanted to portray the positive side of this new beginning. There were missed opportunities and errors made but at least a redundant structure was finally let go. I published “Sebastian” after “The Luck of the Weissensteiners” to show the moment in history isolated with its (sadly) unfulfilled potential.

In “The Black Eagle Inn,” I finally turned to my Bavarian heritage and the myth that some areas of Germany were almost unaffected by fighting, bombing and Nazi terror. It is true that there were pockets of land in the Reich that remained untouched while the Allied armies engaged in a desperate race for glory to Berlin.

Distant relatives of mine had a farm and a restaurant business. I once went to a wedding there and I as in awe of this huge ’empire.’ This became the focal point in the last part of the Three Nations Trilogy. This time there is an ethnically homogenous cast, all members of the German nation and yet they, too, have divisions and eventually need to let go of their strict concept of the ‘Nation’ they want it to be and let it evolve in order to stay strong.

Health problems exempted some from military service and many were too old or too young to fight. Strong Catholic affiliation supports the claim of many that they were not involved with the Nazis at all. But how would they live with the culprits of the war, their neighbours, the murderers and spies?

After WWII, Germany became a divided Nation, formally through politics but also internally. How could the entire Nation, the new generation live with the shame and rebuild the country – and rebuild it right?

What makes a nation? Loyalty to a throne, borders, religion, customs, language, shared history? Everyone needs to decide that for themselves. You may experience unity with others through shared national, racial or religious identity, but exclusivity and division will not build a lasting nation.

There is huge danger when the national aspect of one’s identity is over emphasised, as was the case in WWII. Remember the Christmas truce football games been French and German soldiers during WWI? Nationalism and the dubious reasons for the war were easily forgotten. The men felt unified because they shared the same reality of trenches and shells.

author picture Small

Christoph Fischer

Biography:

Christoph Fischer was born in Germany, near the Austrian border, as the son of a Sudeten-German father and a Bavarian mother. Not a full local in the eyes and ears of his peers he developed an ambiguous sense of belonging and home in Bavaria. He moved to Hamburg in pursuit of his studies and to lead a life of literary indulgence. After a few years he moved on to the UK where he resides today. ‘The Luck of The Weissensteiners’ was published in November 2012; ‘Sebastian’ in May 2013 and The Black Eagle Inn in October 2013. He has written several other novels, which are in the later stages of editing and finalisation.

Here are all the places you can find Christoph and his books:

Facebook  Website

Amazon Blog

“The Luck of the Weissensteiners”: Amazon, Goodreads, Facebook Trailer  B&N 

“Sebastian”: Amazon  Goodreads Facebook Trailer B&N 

“The Black Eagle Inn”: Facebook  Goodreads  Amazon

Trailer

 

The greatest invention of all time

Yep. No power here!

Yep. No power here!

We lost electrical power Saturday. A little after noon, the TV went off, the fan stopped turning, the oven stopped heating, the clocks stopped ticking off seconds. In that moment, modern life as we know and love it stopped. We may as well have stepped back in time 100 years.

My husband picked up the phone to call MidAmerican Energy to report the outage. Oops! The cordless phone doesn’t work without electricity. Nor could we report it online with the computer. No electricity, no wi-fi. Thank goodness for a cell phone.

When I asked my 92-year-old uncle what he considers the greatest invention of his lifetime, he didn’t hesitate. Electricity. Born in 1922, he remembers when electricity finally made it to their farm.

“Everybody was waiting,” he says. Even though they didn’t have anything to turn on. No toaster. No radio. No microwave. No hair dryer. No electric lights. No TV. No computers.

As I write my novel set in 1913, I’ve done my level best to imagine life in that time. Living without electricity is hardest to get my head around.

“What did you do at night?” I asked my uncle.

“When it got dark, we went to bed,” he replied.  Life was not easy, but it may have been more simple.

My husband was getting ready to put two loaves of bread in the oven when we lost power. He remembered the old gas stove in the basement and went to get it going. We’d never used the oven and he learned the door doesn’t really close tightly. A resourceful man, my husband found a 2×4 to prop the oven door closed.

Cooking by flashlight.

Cooking by flashlight.

If he could make bread, I could make the blueberry cobbler I planned to serve the company coming that night. I took everything to the basement only to realize I’d be working in the dark. No matter how many times we flicked a light switch (and we did it plenty), the lights did not come on. A flashlight provided the little halo of light we worked by.

The good folks at the power company came right away, assessed the problem, and determined they’d have to dig up the cable. They assured us we’d have power again sometime that night. I think they feared we’d scream. But what are you going to do? I was grateful this didn’t happen last week when the temperatures were in the 100s. Or the day when we had 40 guests for a party.

Six men, a backhoe, and eight hours later, we had a hole in our driveway and the electricity back on. Just in time to go to bed. We retired that night very happy to be back in the 21st century.

What do you think is the greatest invention of your lifetime?

What to do when you finally let go? – Soles4Souls

Birkenstocks“How long have you had those?” My doctor raised an eyebrow as he looked askance at the Birkenstocks I’d worn that day.

“These are practically new,” I said, lifting a foot so he could see my Birks clearly. Since leaving the corporate world, I’ve seldom worn other kinds of shoes. I can stand in Birks and walk on them comfortably all day long. Birks have great arch supports and give my feet room to breath. Other than looking a little shop worn, they never really wear out. Or so it seemed to me.

“How long?” He probed more firmly. He had diagnosed the foot problem that brought me in that day as a painful condition called a dropped metatarsal.

“Two years. Maybe a little longer.” I began to hedge.

“That’s too old. The toe ridge and the footbed are too hard for your toe. You need something with more cushion.”

“But I’ve worn Birks for years and never had a problem,” I protested. I elected not to tell him about the pair of Birks I’ve been wearing around the house and garden for more than a decade.

Since seeing the doctor, I’ve done more research into my foot problem and am pleased to find that Birkenstocks are among the shoes recommended to help with metatarsal problems. Whew! At least I don’t have to give up my favorite shoes entirely.

I do, however, acknowledge that my decades-old Birks have to go. So, what to do with them? Resigning what appear to be perfectly good shoes to the landfill seems wrong.

An Internet search led me to Soles4Souls, a group that recycles shoes of all types, as well as other used clothing, to people in need, worldwide. Even 10-year-old Birks are better than what many people live with daily.

There’s far more to Soles4Souls than I could cover here, but this anti-poverty organization does more than just collect and give away clothes. They also create self-sustaining jobs through micro-enterprises in communities like Haiti. An added bonus – there are two drop-off locations in my area. So this week, my beloved Birks will begin their  journey to new owners. And I am on a journey to find replacements.

Helping combat poverty. Keeping things out of the landfill. It’s a win-win. If you have shoes you no longer find useful, they may still mean a lot to someone else. I urge you to check out Soles4Souls. If you’ve found other good organizations that take shoes, comment here. I’ll pass the news along.