Monday, July 26, 2010

Quill Pens and Poke Berries

There is a huge pokeweed growing behind our shed. I don't know how it got so big without my noticing.

When I was a small child, my elder sister Barbara introduced me to the wonders of poke berries. A poke
plant, or pokeweed plant, is actually an herb, and I grew up eating poke. I'm sure you are familiar
with the song by Tony Joe White, "Poke Salad Annie". (It probably should have been called "Poke Salat* Annie", but nevermind.) I didn't particularly like any greens when I was little, but I would eat some whenever Mom cooked them, and now sometimes in the spring I crave a mess of fresh greens -- but usually turnip greens, my favorite!

Anyway, Mom would gather and cook fresh poke in the spring, but our family liked it best when she cooked the stalks, not the greens. She would slice up a stalk of poke, soak it in salt water for a while, then bread, salt and pepper, and fry it like you would
okra or green tomatoes. You can only do this with the young stalks that are no bigger around than the tip of your little finger, and preferably smaller, and have no purple on them! They taste great! However, do not try this if you don't know what you're doing. You have to gather the leaves before they have any red color on them, and you should boil them a few times, discarding the water, before you eat them. I think Mom would do three boilings before she seasoned them for eating. If the leaves have any red on them at all, you should not eat them. Cooked down and seasoned properly with a bit of bacon grease, they look like spinach and taste a bit like asparagus to me. In summer the plant is several feet tall with a thick, tough stalk and great bunches of purple berries that weigh it down, and that make a great ink for a kid to play around with.

One late summer Barbara showed me how to pick the berries, put them in a jar, and mash them with a home-made pestle of sorts, until we had a dark, purple-blue goo that I defy the best stain-remover to get out of clothes or off skin. Now, what can you do with such a goo? Well, if you happen to have goose feathers handy -- and we did -- you have a whole summer of fun.

We got hold of a few very long, white flight feathers from Mom's geese -- I don't remember if we found them (probably, there were always feathers around) or if we relieved the geese of them (maybe; I wouldn't put it past us), -- and Barbara showed me how to whittle the tip of the quill to a sharp point. Et voila, quill pens and ink.

If you had enough "ink", you could dip in your quill, and the ink would almost fill up the shaft of the feather, so you wouldn't have to re-dip very often. If the ink started to dry up, a few drops of water would put it right very quickly. We kept the lidded baby food jars of ink in an old shed, because Mom wouldn't allow them inside the house. I can remember several summers of fun drawing poke-ink pictures or writing out notices that usually began with "Hear ye, hear ye!", and then rolling up the papers after the ink had dried, tyeing them with a bit of ribbon, and delivering them to other members of the family. My friends and cousins and I would write letters back and forth to one another as well.

I was quite old before I found out that Barbara hadn't invented poke ink. Native Americans had used the ink to decorate their horses, and it had been used by early American whites as a writing ink and a dye. She probably read about it when she was reading the New World Encyclopedia for fun!

The first spring after we bought our house, I discovered some poke weed growing along the fence-line and showed them to Eler Beth. (I know you won't be surprised when I tell you that even at the age of four she could identify poke stalks when she saw them.) I told her the plant could be poisonous, that there were a couple ways you could eat them, and that later in the year when they made berries I'd show her something special. When they were the right size I cooked a few greens that no one really liked (but at least Eler Beth could say she'd tried them), and I fried some stalks that only Eler Beth and I really liked, and every year since then she's tried to find poke stalks of the right size so we could fry them up. But until this year none of the poke plants had made it past being struck down with a weed eater to grow to enough maturity to make clusters of berries. I have long since told my daughter about poke ink, so I'm sure when she finds out there's a big stalk loaded down with berries behind the shed, she's going to want to give ink-making a try.

I don't have any goose quills, but we do happen to have some large turkey feathers. Wonder if they'd work just as well?

Interesting note: The Allen Canning Co. sold canned poke salet up until the year 2000.

*"Salat" is the German word for salad. This is a really interesting article on poke, and this is another one.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Tale Told By An Idiot? Read on, if you want a laugh...

Okay, I don't do political blog posts, but once in a while I find that I have to write about something that is connected to politics. And this is one of those times. Since I've been reading and writing about Shakespeare recently, I guess I have to mention Palin's "refudiate" gaffe. I wasn't going to because my own views have been aptly expressed by others, but I have to share this, at the very least.

Ashley at the Shakespeare in a Year blog has posted about it, and shared these lovely examples of what Palin might say if she spoke like Shakespeare all the time:
  • Double, double toil and trouble; drill baby drill, and Gulf oil bubble.
  • Something is rotten in the Socialist, over-taxed State of Denmark...and all those other kinky EU countries.
  • But soft, what light from yonder window breaks? It is the East, and I can see Russia from my front porch.
  • Et tu, Bristol?
  • To suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous liberals, or to quit half-term, and by opposing, rake in speaking fees.
  • A moose! A moose! My kingdom for a moose!
  • It is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/Signifying nothing." Sometimes, you don't need to change a thing.
Be sure to read some of the comments she got too. So, can you come up with one? If so, leave it as a comment here or on Ashley's blog, please. I'd love to see what you've got!

I believe my favorite is from a commenter: "To be or not to be; not another "Gotcha" question."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The List

Since I was sick the latter part of the week and the weekend, I didn't read any Shakespeare last week. I didn't really read anything much, and that is very unlike me. So I need to pick a play for this week. Hmm, what to read, what to read?

Here is a list of all of Shakespeare's works, in categories and listed by approximate publication date. I'm going to edit the list as I read them this year. I will strike through each work as I read it for this project. I will place an asterisk beside the works that I have never read, indicating a first-time read this year.

Comedies and Tragedies

The Two Gentlemen of Verona

The Comedy of Errors
Titus Andronicus
The Taming of the Shrew
Love's Labour's Lost
Romeo and Juliet

A Midsummer Night's Dream
The Merchant of Venice
The Merry Wives of Windsor
Much Ado About Nothing
Julius Caesar
As You Like It
Twelfth Night
Troilus and Cressida
Alls Well That Ends Well
Measure For Measure
King Lear
Antony and Cleopatra*
Timon of Athens
The Winter's Tale
The Tempest
The Two Noble Kinsmen*

(in chronological order)

King John*
Richard II
Henry IV, Part One
Henry IV, Part Two
Henry V
Henry VI, Part One
Henry VI, Part Two
Henry VI, Part Three
Richard III
Henry VIII*


The Sonnets
us and Adonis
The Rape of Lucrece
The Phoenix and The Turtle*

*This list last updated 10/18/10

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

It's all Greek to me!

Ashley posted this list on her blog today, and it made me think of how many little commonplace phrases and "witticisms" we throw into our daily vocabulary, unaware of their origins.

"It's all Greek to me" is one such commonplace saying; everyone knows what it means when they hear it. The first time I read "But, for mine own part, it was Greek to me," from Julius Caesar, I thought "A-ha! So that's where that came from!" But other authors around Shakespeare's time -- Thomas Dekker, for one -- also used similar phrases.

The phrase had been around much earlier than Shakespeare, though. There is a Medieval Latin proverb, "Graecum est; non potest legi", that translates literally as "It is Greek; it cannot be read," attributed to monk scribes. I would think, though, that Shakespeare's use of the metaphor in Julius Caesar is what brought it into modern day usage. I like knowing that it meant the same thing in the Middle Ages as it did in Shakespeare's time and as it does today -- "I don't understand you; you might as well be speaking Greek."

I wonder what Greek-speakers say when they want to accuse someone of being unintelligible?

Friday, July 9, 2010

"When The Hurlyburly's Done...."

Shakespeare in a Year, and the real "Lady MacBeth"

I found this on Facebook and decided I would do it this year. Even though I'd be starting a bit late, the timing works out very well for me. Last spring I did a unit with Eler Beth to introduce her to Shakespeare, and this year, her freshman year of high school, I had decided we'd go a bit deeper and start reading some of the plays and more of the sonnets. So while she's getting her first real taste of the Bard, I'll be refreshing my memory. I haven't read any of the plays in a few years.

How old were you when you started reading Shakespeare? Which was your first play? Which was your favorite?
I read my first Shakespeare when I was twelve, and I was hooked. By the time we started reading him in high
school I'd read the major comedies, all but four of the tragedies, and at least two of the histories.

I never liked Romeo and Juliet on the whole --
I love Hamlet and MacBeth best of the tragedies -- my favorite comedies are The Taming of the Shrew, As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing, and Twelfth Night, although at any given time I might put Winter's Tale and Measure for Measure on that list. The first time I read A Midsummer Night's Dream I didn't care for it. I was really too young to appreciate it, I think. But now I love it, and might occasionally put it in that top five list.

My sister Lois gave me a beautiful and very heavy edition of The Complete Works as a graduation gift when I was 18! I still have it, and it's still one of the best gifts I've ever received.

I will probably get Romeo and Juliet out of the way and read it first with Eler Beth this year. I believe it's usually the first one introduced to high school students.

But for the "Read in a Year" I'm going to start with MacBeth. I was always annoyed with the character of MacBeth. I never felt sorry for him because he allowed himself to be controlled by his wife, very much the stronger character. But the real Lady MacBeth was an interesting creature from history. Did you know she was real? Her real name was Gruath or Gruadh, and she was
full Queen beside MacBeth, not his consort. Author Susan Frasier King wrote an historical novel about her in 2008 -- I have a signed copy!! -- after doing much research on the woman and her time. There is limited material available on her, so it really took some digging. I loved the book and would recommend it. (I have not yet read Margaret of Scotland by the same author, but need to remedy that situation soon.)

My favorite lines from "Lady MacBeth" are these, from the prologue:
"I wrote an answer with the very hand Malcolm wanted, though my Gaelic script is worse than my Latin. Only a few words were needed for a refusal. I sent the note and most of the gifts back, and kept the silk. My handmaid, Finella, likes it."
I love that she gave the silk to her maid!

King does a really good job with this story. It is an epic tale told from Queen "Rue's" perspective. She is a warrior queen, powerful and smart. The MacBeth of history and his wife are nothing as they were portrayed by Shakespeare; no villain and villainess here, but a couple who are determined to stop the tyranny and unrest of King Malcolm's rule. King seamlessly sews together the facts we know of Lady MacBeth and her time with a beautiful, compelling, and even poetic way of telling a story. The result is a very powerful novel that I would highly recommend.

I will read Shakespeare's "MacBeth" this week, then I will re-read "Lady MacBeth" by King. Ah, yes, I look forward to this week!

Now, what will be the play for the next week??

Friday, July 2, 2010

"The serene philosophy of the pink rose is steadying...."

~~ Rachel Peden

The past week has been a roller coaster, and I have needed the "serene philosophy of the pink rose".


My brother is fine, but we weren't sure he was going to be for a while. His surgery a week ago Thursday went very well. He was talking normally and ate a hearty dinner Thursday night. I stayed at the hospital with his daughter, my niece Kelly, that night until my sister P.J. got back to the hospital early Friday morning.

Around 9:30 Friday morning I got a call that he had seized and was in ICU. He had had his oxygen treatment and eaten breakfast; P.J. and her husband had gone down to get some breakfast, and Kelly had stayed in the room with her father. Right before they got back he started seizing. Kelly ran out into the hall, calling for help. When P.J. got into the room there was medical staff around him trying to get his mouth open. Phyllis walked up to his bed and said, "Brother, open your mouth!! Take a breath, Alton!" And he did!

After testing everything they concluded that his Dilantin levels were extremely low and that had caused the seizure. He has taken Dilantin regularly for many years. Every three months he sees his regular doctor, and the Dilanton levels are checked, among other things. He was due for his next appointment this past Tuesday, so apparently since his last appointment in March and this one his levels had decreased. The surgery and not getting his regular dosage on time at the hospital was, apparently, just enough to effect him.

He was in ICU until Sunday night, then they moved him back out onto the floor. He is doing very well, but he failed his swallow test miserably. So he is going to have to have speech (swallow) therapy. His vascular surgeon and the doctor who took care of him in ICU both have recommended that he have acute rehab there at the hospital for two or three weeks, just to get him stronger before he goes home. So that's what we're waiting on right now -- for him to be moved to rehab.


While all this was going on I was worried about Thomas. His left knee had been paining him and was slightly swollen last week. He has trouble with his right knee from an old sports injury, but had never had this kind of trouble with his right one. He took ibuprofen and tried Aspercreme, but nothing helped.

Then Sunday morning he got up with his left calf swollen. He mentioned to me, casually, that his leg was a bit swollen, but it wasn't until late that evening that I saw it. Oh my goodness! His left leg from the knee down was swollen at least three times the size of his right leg, including his ankle and foot. I just about freaked out! My first thought, of course, was "blood clot"!

He finally assented to being taken to an urgent care center, where they did an ultrasound and decided it was not a clot. Phew! They drew blood, gave him a three-day prescription for Naproxin, and sent him home. Then, of course, I got on the internet, and checked out all the things that could cause sudden extreme edema in one leg. You know, I frightened myself, 'cause that's what the Internet's there for, right?

Next day I called our doctor to give him a heads up, and the urgent care doc had already called to let him know what they'd done. I was rather impressed by that. I made an appointment for Thomas for Thursday, figuring the blood test results would be back by then. Tuesday I got a call back from the doctor's office saying the blood work was back, and could we come in Wednesday instead, because there were some abnormalities. Of course, it was the scheduling nurse calling, so she couldn't really tell me anything. So I had to worry all night Tuesday and all day Wednesday about what they might have found.

Cardio-Vascular? Kidney failure? Rhumatoid Arthritis? Infection of some kind? Tumor? Gout?

The Naproxin was helping with the pain, and then swelling had gone down, although the left leg was still a lot larger than the right one. Dr. T. was very thorough and very patient with us. He said there was nothing in the blood work that really concerned him. He said sometimes you can get cysts behind your knee that will press on the veins and keep the blood from going back up your leg like it should. So they took x-rays. The x-rays showed nothing. He said that the cysts could have ruptured, in which case they wouldn't show.

I said, "So there were no abnormalities in the blood test?" I didn't want to get the scheduling nurse in trouble, but she had said.... He flipped through them and then said, "Well, the uric acid is high. Actually, I'm going to have to back up and call it borderline."

Aha! High uric acid. I knew what that could mean. I hadn't tortured myself with the Internet for nothing. "So, gout is a possibility?" I asked.

It is a possibility, but we're kind of waiting and seeing. He did go ahead and prescribe a low dose of Allapurinol to take along with Naproxin. He is to keep the leg elevated as much as possible when he's home. There is no gout in his family as far as we know. He doesn't drink or overindulge in red meat or shellfish, either. The blood work did rule out RA, by the way.

His leg is still swollen, although it is much closer to normal than it was, and the medicine is taking care of most of the pain. I'm hoping it goes away and doesn't come back. But we'll be following up with the doctor to check on things in a couple weeks.

Yes, it has been a stressful week, not at all serene!