Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my American readers! And to all of you who may not be American, here’s the general definition of our holiday I gave to Henri, my friend from Paris:

“Thanksgiving is the holiday where I get to tell all my friends how amazing they are, spend a lot of time with my mom in the kitchen, and eat way too much food. These are all good things to do every once in a while.”

I absolutely love coming home for holidays. My mom, dad, brother and I are all very close, and I love hanging out with them. We usually have Thanksgiving with just the four of us, and it’s nice to catch up (and get the first ski runs in!) We sit in front of the fire place and argue with the cat for the best chair, watch football, get the Christmas tree, and for Mom and I, knit a lot. Sometimes I even get some of my schoolwork done.

This year Mom and I spent the first two days of break canning apple goods. A family friend had an apple tree go crazy this year, so we inherited 12 pounds of apples. We make apple butter almost every year, and this year we also made applesauce. (For anyone who’s curious about the recipes, we use Ball’s Blue Book. Ball also has an awesome online repository of recipes.)

Canning and preserving might seem like a lot of work or something that’s beyond you. If you go on the internet, a lot of recipes call for gadgets that most home cooks don’t have. But water bath canning (or heat canning) is remarkably simple. This kind of canning is good for anything acidic: fruit or anything pickled are good examples. When I can with my friends, I don’t have any of the special gadgets my mom does. Here’s what you need in order to can at home:

  1. Any giant pot. It has to be deep enough to have an inch of water above the top of the cans. I can’t use the big pint jars if I’m canning with my pot, so I just use the 8 oz jars instead. If I want to use pint jars, I come home and use Mom’s pot.
  2. Some craft wire. I coil mine into a spiral and put it at the bottom of the pan to raise the cans just a bit. Mom has a rack that fits her pot, but the craft wire works just as well and actually is shorter so you can use a smaller pot. The goal is to avoid having the jars directly on the bottom of the pan, because then the bubbles of water vapor can cause the jars to rattle and shatter. Yeah, I’ve done that. It’s a mess.
  3. A fork. There are really cool magnetic things that help you pick up the flats and rounds, but it is totally doable with a fork.
  4. Tongs. The bigger the better, and if they’re rubber that’s the best. There are special jar-grabbing tongs that are awesome, but with a steady hand you can use regular tongs too.
  5. The cans, rounds, and flats. This is probably something you will have to acquire, but most grocery stores carry them in the baking aisle. Make sure you have the flat part of the lid (the flats) and the round screw-on part of the lid (the rounds). The flats are the only things that aren’t reusable (so long as you don’t give all your jars away…)

My only pieces of advice beyond that: follow the recipe carefully, do it with friends, and be patient while you wait for the jars to seal. It’s so tempting to push on the flats so they make that popping sound, but don’t do it! Just don’t!

I love canning with my mom for a million reasons. It makes me feel like a character out of the Little House series. I like getting to spend time with Mom, chatting about this and that and everything. I love using our food mill; it was my great-grandmother’s and it makes me feel connected to my family history. Canning also makes me feel more connected with the earth, the seasons, and my food. I like knowing where my apples came from, and I like knowing that I’m living more in tune with when certain products are available. I’ll eat apples all year long, but preserving is a good reminder that we wouldn’t have apples all year if not for modern transport. And beyond all of that, I love how good the house smells for hours!

And in several months, I’ll still be eating and sharing the fruits of our labors. Earlier in fall, Mom and I typically can currant jelly, peach jam, and sometimes we experiment with other fruits. I’ve taught a handful of friends how to can; we like to make strawberry-lemon marmalade for PB&J sandwiches and blueberry jam for scones. There is nothing better, in my opinion, than opening a jar of golden peach jam in February when it’s dark and cold. Peach jam is summertime in a jar.

I’ve also been knitting this break! I’m working on a pair of yoga socks for my yoga teacher and friend, Maggie. These are by far the easiest socks anyone can make, because you skip the heel and the toe! I’m using a pink and purple and gray yarn, and I’m really pleased with how they came out.

For me, Thanksgiving is the perfect time to knit. (OK, let me be perfectly clear. Any time is a good time to knit. I’m addicted.) I’ve never actually knitted anything for myself; I’ve given all my projects to important people in my life. When I knit, I try to make every stitch a promise, a hope, and a wish for good things. It’s something I truly enjoy doing, and it’s a good way for me to tell someone how much I care about them without having to deal with all the awkwardness of actually conversing. Since I am so deeply grateful for the incredible people I have in my life, knitting over Thanksgiving break fits right into the mood.

I’m also giggling a bit to myself as I write this today because this post is a fabulous example of how different parts of me twist together in interesting ways. I love coming home (hobbit) in part because I get to go skiing and hiking through the woods to find a Christmas tree (adventurer). I spent all break knitting (old lady) yoga socks (adventurer again). Adventuring requires energy and bravery and spontaneity, while being an old-lady-hobbit is nourishing and rejuvenating. Perhaps they aren’t so unrelated after all.

Your homework for this week: how do you spend your breaks? Do you go on crazy adventures, cozy up at home, or some combination of the two? How do you feel connected to your most important people?

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends. Thank you for reading, for thinking, and in general for being good people. You make the world better, and that’s something to appreciate.

Hej då,

Jamie

In Praise of the Inner Crone

My colleague Kelly teaches chemistry and physics next door to me, and we share an office between our classrooms. I love having her next door, because she’s the same age as I am and has been teaching one year longer than me. Each year we have a competition, comparing how many people walk into our rooms, look straight at us, and ask us where the teacher is. Apparently we both still look young enough, at first glance at least, to be confused for our high school students. (I’m currently winning, with seven of these questions so far this year.)

So why do I claim the old-lady-hobbit-ness of myself? In part because of some of my hobbies (and because of the fact that I go to bed around 9:00 every night) but in part because that’s who I want to be.

I’d like to share with you something I saw posted on a friend’s Facebook page, but later traced to its source. You can find the original article here.

[A side note on citations: I AM AN ACADEMIC. One of the biggest sins in academia is plagiarism: claiming someone else’s words as your own. The internet makes plagiarism REALLY REALLY EASY. I will always note when I’m using someone else’s thoughts or words, and I will do my best to trace it back to its original source. Unfortunately the copy-paste-induced twists and turns of the internet can be hard to follow sometimes. If I ever make a mistake, please let me know and I will be happy to post a correction with the original source.]

The writer of this particular post, Elizabeth Gilbert, starts with the idea of the inner child. Some people like to imagine that their child-self still lives within them. This can help a lot with self-compassion and self-care. But she then relates that idea to something she calls “The Inner Crone.” I’ll quote a bit of the article here for you, because I can’t write it any better.

“The really old ladies always are bad-asses. I’m talking about the real survivors. The women who have been through everything already, so nothing scares them anymore. The ones who have already watched the world fight itself nearly to death a dozen times over. The ones who have buried their dreams and their loved ones and lived through it. The ones who have suffered pain and lived through it, and who have had their innocence challenged by ten thousand appalling assaults…and who lived through all of it.

The world is a frightening place. But you simply cannot frighten The True Crone.

Some might consider the word “crone” to be derogatory, but I don’t in the least. I honor it. The crone is a classic character from myth and folklore, and she often the bearer of great wisdom and supernatural power. She is sometimes a guardian to the underworld. She has tremendous vision, even if she is blind. She has no fear of death, which means: NO FEAR.”

She goes on to tell stories about a group of older men and women in Ukraine, who moved back to Chernobyl after the nuclear accident there. They live on radioactive soil, drink radioactive water, and butcher radioactive boars to make sausage. At their age, they’re not worried about getting cancer. They take care of themselves and each other.

She closes with this:

“So these days, when my Inner Child gets all fluttery with the panic of living, I just ask myself: ‘WWMICD?’

‘What Would My Inner Crone Do?’

Ask yourself that same question. See what she tells you.

One thing I can promise you she will never say? She will never say: ‘WORRY.’

She will more likely tell you this: ‘ENDURE.'”

I really like the idea of the Inner Crone. I wonder if sometimes idea of endurance is sometimes undervalued next to ideas of productivity and instant results. I like looking at pictures of Grandma (my dad’s mom) and Granny (my mom’s mom) and trying to see myself in them. I like listening to my grandparents’ stories and learning from them.

When I lived in Sweden, the walk/bike from my apartment to the school’s biomedical center took me past a retirement home and two kindergartens. It was then that I realized how little time I spent with people outside my age group. Our society, which is so structured around school, stratifies us into very limited age groups. In many of the older stories, there are community events (be that a church, a general store, a barn-raising…I’m sure you can find more examples…) that bring people of all ages together. I feel like there are valuable lessons to be learned, both from those younger and older than us.

Your homework: Have you ever imagined your inner crone? What does advice does she give you? (What’s the acceptable male-parallel word for crone? You guys totally count too.) Do you have any mentors in your life who are older or younger than you?

Hej då,

Jamie

Why Harry Potter?

One part of my nerdiness is that I love to write. But while this blog has become one outlet for my writing, another has always been Harry Potter fanfiction.

Yes, I am a Harry Potter nerd. I have a wand and a time turner on my desk at school. (Thanks Mom!) I have quite literally every Harry Potter book ever published. I even got to take a college semester class on Harry Potter. Yes, for credit. It was awesome.

But let me back up for a moment. Why is Harry Potter a category on my blog, but not Anne of Green Gables or Jane Austin? Why not John Steinbeck or Tamora Pierce?

My first interaction with Harry Potter was actually all about peer pressure. The first book came out when I was seven, and I wasn’t quite old enough for it. By the time the second book came out, it had become quite popular and that alone was a good enough reason for me to stay away from it. I was a rebel at the age of eight.

But in fifth grade, we had an online reading system that gave you quizzes for books you read. Each student had to have a personal goal, and the class also had a class goal. Harder books were worth more points. And for a fifth grader, the Harry Potter books were worth quite a lot of points. Our class could had a pizza party if we met our goal, but we were set to fall a bit short. I was a notoriously quick reader, so my classmates bugged me to read the first three Harry Potter books. I devoured them, aced the quizzes, and won us the pizza party. Harry Potter made me popular for a whole two hours.

But while everyone else has likely forgotten the pizza party, my fascination with Harry Potter has only grown. I feel like I was one of the fortunate ones who got to grow up with Harry – I was seventeen when the seventh book came out, the same age as he was. I’ve since read, and reread, and reread, and read again so often I’ve broken the bindings of four of the seven books. As I’ve grown older, my appreciation for the different books has changed. For example, I hated the fifth book the first several times I read it. Now I think it’s fascinating. It will never be my favorite – it makes me miss the Hogwarts we were introduced to in the first four – but I can better appreciate the story JKR was trying to tell.

I didn’t discover fanfiction until my sophomore year of college, after all seven book were out. For those who haven’t encountered it, fanfiction is where people like me borrow an author’s characters and world and write stories with it. Sometimes people write AU (alternate universe) stories where they change something in the existing plot. What if Harry had grown up with Sirius instead of the Dursleys? I like to write canon, where I take all the existing plot to be true and write missing moments, before or after the seven books, or from another character’s perspective.

It’s actually really quite fun to go back into fanfiction archives and chat sites and see how the discussion changed after each book was published. When Sorcerer’s Stone (sorry, Britain) and Chamber of Secrets came out, they were considered lovely children’s books. When Prisoner of Azkaban hit the community, everything exploded. For the first time JKR demonstrated that she had a plan; seemingly insignificant details from the first books were going to come back to play huge roles in later books. The Order of the Phoenix changed the tone and some of the thematic structures of the book so drastically that fan theories that had stood since the beginning got completely scrapped.

But even after all the reveals were out (or so we thought…but I’m not touching The Cursed Child today…) fanfiction thrives. JKR created such a detailed world and such brilliantly human characters that we just can’t let them go!

I’ve written fanfiction very, very sporadically throughout the last seven years. I have, as of last Wednesday, finished four stories. My most recent story was for a challenge that read: Tell a story about someone keeping a secret at the Burrow. Explain what the secret is, how it causes tension, and how it gets revealed. (A challenge is when a site or another author posts a prompt and then the community produces stories and votes for them for various honors.)

This last story is, I think, my favorite. I’ve definitely evolved as a writer and a human since my first story, and that’s part of it. But this story is also the first time that I’ve worked with another person on my writing. I was fortunate to have a friend that I met through my fanfiction site who agreed to read my chapters and give me feedback before I posted them. I learned that I typically flip the traditional dialogue format, and that I don’t always trust my reader to fill in logical blanks. I want to provide all the details. This is something that’s potentially interesting to reflect on not only as a writer, but as a teacher and as a human.

I’ve also enjoyed writing this story because I wrote about secondary characters. I chose to write about Fred, George, and Percy, rather than Harry, Ron and Hermione. I wanted to continue JKR’s themes about the power of love and the destructive nature of secrets, and I also wanted to explore the idea of brotherhood and what it means to be a family. This is the first time I’ve had a specific theme in mind before I started writing, and also the first time I’ve planned my chapters before I actually started pressing keys on my keyboard.

If you’re really curious about that story, you can read it here. And yes, my pen-name is super nerdy.

So have I answered my original question? Let me clarify and summarize for a moment.

  1. Harry Potter is, above all, a very well-written story. I’m a sucker for a good story.
  2. The story has been equally meaningful for me throughout my life. As I reread them, I notice different things, feel different themes resonate with me, and still can be reacquainted with the teenage me who first loved them.
  3. The themes that run through the books are powerful and important in my view. Love is a power that can defeat anything. Doing evil can destroy your soul, but remorse and empathy can always heal it. Prejudice is a powerful force, but it can be overcome by showing mutual respect and listening to each others’ stories. (There are others, to be sure, but these are the ones that come to mind without me reaching for my books. Because we all know that if I do that, this post will not get finished.)
  4. The community that has grown up around these stories is a community that believes in the magic of story telling. That is invaluable.
  5. I have had the chance to practice an art that I love, expand my imagination, and provide enjoyment for others.

One thing I really believe about Harry Potter is that it’s like our very own Mirror of Erised. I know I’ve felt like a freak, like I’m misunderstood and don’t fit in. I’ve felt like there were parts of me that didn’t make sense, and it would be easier just to hide them (though I don’t have a cupboard under the stairs). Harry was that ordinary boy, misunderstood by the Dursleys, who got an extraordinary invitation to a world beyond what any of us had ever imagined. And the reason that the rest of the books still captured us was that, in some very important way, Harry never stopped being an ordinary boy. But he did grow to fit into his world, gained a family, and ultimately, he won.

And your homework: What is your favorite story? How did it become your favorite story? And most importantly, why? What does that story tell you about yourself?

Hej då,

Jamie

 

¿Hej då?

If you have already read any of the other pages on this blog (Why am I Writing? or What Are the Three Parts of Me? or When Do I Post?) you might have noticed that I signed off in a rather unfamiliar language. Hej då is how you say goodbye in Swedish. It’s pronounced “hey doe” for anyone who was curious about that strange letter.

So…why am I signing off in Swedish?

Well, I lived in Uppsala for six months while I studied abroad. I took courses in neuroscience, Swedish language, and the philosophy of happiness. You can read a bit about that adventure here. Since that was my first go-round with writing a blog, I’ve since gotten in the habit of signing off in Swedish.

Sweden is a stunningly beautiful country, with wonderful people. I learned an incredible amount about myself there and met an incredible friend, Henri. Henri is actually from Paris, but we were both exchange students and had several good adventures together while there and since that time. You’ll see Henri around in a lot of the travel adventure posts – he’s been a big part in several of my favorite adventures. I also got to meet several Swedish students who came to study in Boulder after my study abroad – Louise and Anna will also appear in here at some point.

In Sweden I learned a lot about neuroscience, which I was studying, a bit about language, quite a lot about being brave, and most importantly I learned that there is something in me that is always constant. This is true even when I feel like a supremely contradictory human being, or when I’m tired and cranky, or when I’m being awesome; there is something that is inherently me. And that’s really reassuring.

You might also have noticed that I titled this post with the Spanish style of question marks, which is not used at all in Sweden. I also was fortunate enough to live on an island off the coast of Panama for a summer, working as a research assistant at a field station of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. I worked on a project about bio-eroding sponges, corals, and climate change’s effects on the ocean. You can read a bit about that adventure here. Panama was in many ways opposite of Sweden, but I ended up loving it just as much.

In Panama I worked on my Spanish (which still sucks, but I’m a bit braver about trying now), learned a lot about how to do science, thought quite a lot about purpose and satisfaction, and was introduced to yoga. I learned about how different cultures value time and fell deeply in love with the ocean.

I’ll tell more stories about these adventures, I’m sure, as they were hugely formative to me and my worldview. There is nothing as good for shaking you up as traveling. You get to see yourself against a different background, and you get to understand people and their values in ways that you would never see if you stayed at home.

Remember also that I’m a hobbit-lady, so I love home too. But part of loving home is being able to come back to it after a good adventure!

You might also have noticed that I will always give you homework at the bottom of everything I write. I get to ask questions of you too, not just share my story!

So, your homework: Where have you been? What’s your favorite part about traveling? (Even going to the grocery store counts if that’s the farthest you’ve ever been!) Where do you want to go? And more importantly, why? What are you seeking there?

Hej då,

Jamie