Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Veterans Day genealogy:

Veterans Day is an invitation to reflect upon war and military service.  Myself, I’ve never been a soldier - never was taught to kill or die for god or country. 

My father, Richard Brown, was a young school teacher in the 1960’s, and so he was never sent off to the war in Vietnam.

My grandfathers, Porter Brown and William Gilchrist farmed the land in Pennsylvania, even as the Second World War swept 16 million Americans into military service.  You need to look further back to find a soldier.

My great grandfathers, Fred Brown, Roy Metz, George Gilchrist and Jacob Tewksbury – farmers, hotelier, teacher –
 never sailed for Europe in the Great War.  Instead they farmed, taught school, raised families.

So too did their fathers and fathers-in-law, Cyrus Brown, John Metz, Samuel B. Metz, Jacob Heddings, Bayard Tewksbury, James Sanford, George Atkins.  These Pennsylvania farmers, carpenters, lumberman would have known the War between the States, even if they were too young to go and join a regiment.  William Gilchrist was old enough, but he broke both his legs in a tree felling accident before he and his friend could run away to enlist.  He was bow-legged ever after, and his friend never returned from the southern battles.

Did my Scots-Irish great great great grandfathers, Francis Gilchrist and John Brown ever take up arms in the North of Ireland?  There’s no record of it.  Nor any record that William Brown or Martin Fleming or Isaac Wagner or John K. Metz or Samuel K. Metz or Matthew McClintic or Heddings left their farms to wear a uniform.  Nor Ben Tewksbury, or Zedekiah Gardinier, or Joseph Burrel Sanford, William Watkins or Ben Holgate.

In that generation of three times great, the only trace of a uniform persists in a family tale of my grandmother's great-grandmother, seduced by a boarder, a French soldier named Philips in 1847.  He was driven off at gunpoint by her father, Roger Haynes.

At least, among the four-times great grandfathers, there are finally guns being pointed at other men.  And a pocket watch that sits upon my bookshelf was carried by a grandfather of that generation, William Brown, in the skirmish that was dubbed the War of 1812. 

But otherwise the list of four-times great grandfathers grows to a thicket, and there’s little sign of soldiery: Amos Tewksbury, Henry Benson, Jacob Gardinier, Samuel Alexander, Elias Sanford, James Woodmansee, Robert Gilchrist, Samuel Ralston, Thomas Brown, John Brown of Strabane, Edward Holgate, Robins Douglas, Robert McCoy, Joseph Fleming, William Hazlett, John Wagner, William Schilling, John Metz, Eli Wakefield, James McClintic.  These were mostly men born into the new United States in the years after the Revolution when there was little call for warfare.

It’s only in the previous generation, 7 generations back, among my great great great great great grandfathers that soldiering makes any real appearance in my ancestry, notably during the War for Independence.  Benjamin Haynes fought the Lenni Lenape in the valleys of the Delaware River – and is said to have crossed the Delaware with Washington. Barnard Worthen carried a rifle for Massachusetts in the Revolution, and Jacob Gardinier was wounded in the battle of Oriskany in 1777.  Doubtless, research into the records would show more of this among 64 branches of ancestry. 

Perhaps it is not surprising, given how the Indian wars and the Revolution were the last to play out across the landscapes of the Northeastern US.  It was the last time that war occurred at the farms and villages of my forbears – where they didn’t have to go and meet it somewhere else.  It seems remarkable that with so much of history written of blood and bullets, so many men should live, like myself, without ever having been a soldier.  I’m not entirely sure what to make of that.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Monica wanted to show her mother and sisters some pictures of the outcome of our summer DIY adventure -- tiling the bathroom.  

I hoped it would take two weeks, figured it might take three, and in the end, it took about four weeks of showering at the YMCA.

Yeah, so here are the results - better than we had any right to expect.

Its stone-hard porcelain, so it had better last friggin' forever.

All the cats like this spot.
They watch us shower.
To be obnoxious I assume.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Butterfly weed waiting for the wind.

A pair of bats were flitting around in the gloaming.  Some believe that what's been killing the northern bats these last fifteen years are these winters that are too mild for hibernation.  But moths are flying too in November.  Maybe their adaptive prey will save them from their white-nosed plague.

Friday, November 9, 2012

To carry their presidential standard, the Republicans selected a Mormon plutocrat - a man who made his fortune by gaining control of companies, driving them as far as possible into debt, enforcing draconian cost-slashing and sales of assets, and then selling off whatever was left of the companies if they survived or leaving the carcass and their creditors for dead if they didn't - a man who couldn't be bothered to more than half-heartedly disguise his tax evasions and off-shore accounts - a man who seemingly has no connection to, or empathy for, the lives of most Americans - a man who was completely bought and paid for in a billion dollar campaign underwritten by billionaire interests with political axes to grind - a man who was, in short, a caricature of country-club Republicanism . . .

. . . and 58 million people chose him to be their next president.  Or at least they detested Obama enough to cast a vote for Mitt Romney and his backers.

Nevertheless, Obama is president. Although I wish we had a leadership that was working toward creating a sustainable future for us - rather than pretending the status quo is somehow sustainable - It's obvious that Obama will do more good and Romney would have done more harm - so I can at least take that away from this very, very expensive year of political theater.

Monday, November 5, 2012

They say when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

When life drops a tree on your house, make firewood.

Sunday, November 4, 2012


Our cool and shady summers aren't the best for raising chiles - and the handful of harbaneros that matured this summer succumbed to some blackening blight.  

But whatever it was that was troubling the plant seems to have gone away and I've been using a cold frame to keep it going through the frosts.

I took a harvest of orange and green.

Last year I made a hot sauce by stewing parsnips with dark beer and blending in the peppers, and it gave marvelous, earthy heat to winter soups.

This time I'm going with the essence of simplicity -- a fermented hot sauce made with peppers, salt and a bit of juice from the sauerkraut crock.

We'll see.  So far it is green pain.

Two weeks ago I pickled some beets from the garden.  One with parsnips, one with turnip and one with beets alone.  

Many people like them sweet, but these are savory with only the slight sweetness of the beets themselves.  After two weeks in the refrigerator the beets have staid crunchy and somewhat raw tasting -- in a good way.  The one with the parsnips took on a carroty flavor -- and the parsnips have gone soft, but with good flavor.  My favorite is the one with turnips, the whole jar of which has a spicy, radishy flavor.

The recipe for these pint jars of beets -- 
  • Peel the beets and slice them up the way your significant other likes them -- in this case, thinly.  
  • Pack them into a jar that's been more or less sterilized with some boiling water.  (Beets tend not to float, but if you include turnips or parsnips, put them in the bottom under the beets.)
  • Prepare a brine 
    • -- a cup of good, warm water and a tablespoon of salt  
    • OR -- a cup of water, a half tablespoon of salt and starter like whey (I added three tablespoons of juice from the kimchi I made
  • Pour the brine over the beets, leaving at least an inch or so space.
  • Cover the jar with a lid, loosely so air can escape as the ferment bubbles.
  • Leave it on the counter for a couple of days (or forget about it and leave it as I did on the counter for over a week if you don't mind lifting off a raft of mold from the surface).
  • Put it in the fridge.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Friends of ours went to meet old friends of theirs who were visiting from Morocco, and only finally managed to extricate themselves from New York after weathering hurricane Sandy there.  They arrived home to find a neighborhood with no electricity.

So our house has been the refuge, clamorous now with French as well as English and Spanish.  And we have been eating and drinking and talking and listening to music.  And the kids have been entertaining each other running around in the dark playing kick the can.

And today of course the climbing tree was a magnet.

A short video of the tree in action: