Sunday, November 8, 2015

Holy Cross High School, Class of 1965, 50th Reunion

My high school classmates convened this weekend to celebrate our fiftieth reunion.  We were asked to write about our most memorable moments in the last fifty years.  Here is what I wrote.

After graduation from Holy Cross several events stand out in my life over the last fifty years. The first is the day the acceptance letter arrived from Stanford University. I remember that it came earlier than I had expected and that I held it in my hand for some time afraid to open it. Stanford was the defining experience in my life, I think, more so than High School, although without the foundation that I was given by the Sisters of the Holy Cross, I could never have gone there. As a transfer student (from Foothill), I never lived on campus, but I made life-long friends through the St. Ann Choir, a Gregorian Chant and Renaissance Polyphonic Choir that still sings in Palo Alto. A degree with honors in Medieval History still decorates the inside of one of my drawers somewhere. The picture was taken around the time that I began studying at Stanford.

The second is the day that the acceptance letter arrived from the University of Chicago Divinity School. Again, an early letter which I held in my hand and then finally opened. As I pondered whether to go or stay, one of the people who had written a recommendation letter, Fr. Robert Giguere, said, “Peggy it is a very great honor and very prestigious, but you don't have to go.” I went.

In the first quarter there I attended a lecture by a visiting theologian given at the OI (Oriental Institute) because our school, the Divinity School located in Swift Hall, did not have a room large enough to accommodate the crowd. I remember entering the huge foyer of the OI and looking up to the carving above the doors. James Henry Breasted Memorial Hall the letters read. The hair prickled on the nape of my neck. I had come full circle from Sister Peter Damian's Religion History class to the place where the foremost Egyptologist of his time and author of the book we had used had, to paraphrase the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer “lived and moved and had his being.” As a further note, when I told Papa about this while I was home at Christmas, my father recognized the name of the theologian. Turns out he had known the man before he became a priest—when they were both graduate students in Mathematics at Ohio State. It is always a small world!

Sometimes I wish I had stayed here. At the time I believed that I was truly called to active ministry but not to be a member of a religious order. I thought that I would most likely become an Episcopalian, but in the end could not. Sometimes, especially when I am reading Jan Karon's wonderful novels about Fr. Timothy Kavanaugh, I wish I had become an Episcopalian.

Instead, I returned home after passing doctoral qualifying exams. That day and the whole process of preparation for those exams are two more outstanding memories in my life. Graduation from Chicago with my father and younger sister (Patricia Manor Pierce, HCHS 1969) attending was another outstanding moment. I remember at Convocation holding my degree in my hands at the end of the ceremony as the president proclaimed, “Welcome to the community of scholars.” The event was marred by sadness though, for even as we celebrated and we went on to Toledo for a visit where I got to meet my niece for the first time (I had met her older brother in previous visits) we missed Mama who had died a few months earlier after a courageous and cheerful battle with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. The picture at the left shows me at the pulpit at Bond Chapel. The closest I ever came to preaching!

I came back to California expecting to work and carve out a career after spending so much time enjoying school. Unfortunately, post-polio syndrome, also known as post-polio sequalae was already catching up to me. By the late eighties I was also developing serious arthritis in my hips and spine so that the doctor who diagnosed post-polio advised me that I should begin using a wheelchair alternating with my crutches.

Coming home from Chicago after not driving for the better part of six years also found me without the ability for independent mobility. I could no longer drive. I needed hand-controls, which should have been a simple solution, but no amount of research or number of phone calls yielded the information that I needed—where to buy them. I was stranded in the island that would soon become Silicon Valley. Today, of course, the internet would solve the problem in a few simple searches. What I needed was a good occupational therapist.

It wasn't until 2010, when an emergency hospitalization brought me to Valley Medical Center's Spinal Cord Injury Unit (also known as Rehab One) that I was to meet a truly great Occupational Therapist and a whole team of caregivers who taught me how to use the equipment that paraplegics use. I spent almost three weeks there and it was the closest that I have ever come to a real vacation. Today I live my life on wheels—a power wheel chair that allows me to get around in my neighborhood—Hobee's, Walgreen’s, Starbucks, a lovely Chinese restaurant and most important a lovely new grocery store, Fresh and Easy. After decades of being house bound I can go outside and enjoy the flowers and trees and a walk with a friend, and even her dog—never mind that I am still sitting as we proceed. The picture to the left was taken in the Spring of 2011.

In the interval I had tried everything that I could think of to maintain some independence. For several years in the 1980's I grew what seemed like a zillion seedlings—it was really only several thousand—primarily tomatoes and peppers for Common Ground in Palo Alto. I was trying to have a very small business, what today I call, and I think I have seen the term used by others—a micro business. I researched flowers and herbs, their meanings in the language of flowers and their uses. A few years ago I resurrected this business and am enjoying selling on Etsy, potpourri and sachets that are natural, symbolic and very pretty. There are several natural moth and ant repellent mixtures for fiber stashes and kitchen cupboards. I also make custom labels for fiber artists, to their specifications.  (In reality I never made it past the "I'm having so much fun I don't know how much money I am losing" stage of turning  a hobby into a business.  The draconian constraints of the institutionalized poverty of disability benefits, have not helped any of this, of course. That would be another blog post, or maybe several.)

In High School, I taught myself to sew, a few years later I took a wonderful knitting class at the Mountain View Sears store with my mother who wanted to learn to knit, but didn't want to go out after dark alone. The teacher taught us how to knit a sweater and that project pretty much gave us all the basics of the craft. I still have the sweater—wish I could still fit into it! I can no longer embroider as the fine hand movements are gone, but knitting and sewing, cooking and reading occupy my time.

This year I also put in a garden again so that interest has come full circle. All in containers so that I can tend it, it has rewarded me immeasurably not only with delicious food, but the peace and joy of being in it. Making a meal based on what I find in my own garden has given me a profound sense of connection to my ancestors, especially all those who were farmers.

Please come find me on Facebook, on my Etsy shop and on my blog I look forward to reading your stories of the last fifty years.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Growing tomatoes, 2015, Part 2 soil mix for containers

Tomatoes are heavy feeders.  In the ground they may develop root structures as deep as eight feet.  The plants can easily grow eight feet above ground.  Containers will limit the depth, of course.  With a good soil mix and careful feeding at least two of my plants exceeded eight feet this year in containers.

I used a mixture of one half potting soil and one half of a mix of amendments that I made myself..  Several brands of potting soil were used, depending on what friends found at local nurseries as they shopped for me. (Potting soil  is one thing that I could not find online--way to heavy to ship!) Here are pictures of two of the brands.

The second half of the mixture is made from one third coir fiber compressed in a block and re-hydrated. Pictured here

I bought this from Greenhouse Megastore on line.  Their prices seem reasonable and their shipping time is reasonable as well.  They carry a wide variety of containers and soils amendments.  Here is their url

The next component of my mix is perlite, about one half the amount of re-hydrated coir fiber.  Perlite expands in water and holds water for the plants. It is available at most nurseries and home supply stores.  It is also available at the Greenhouse Megastore and on Amazon.  Seedlings especially love this and will send rootlets out from the main root to connect to the perlite.

The last component of my mix is vermiculite.  Vermiculite also holds water and releases it to the plant.  It expands like a sponge when it is wet and will help transfer water to the roots of the plant so that plants have a good source of moisture.  It is available from the same sources as the perlite.

I used a bucket to make my mix in. Hydrating the coir fiber first is essential, because that will give you the base for your measurements of the next ingredients.  Either hydrate the whole block in something like a wheel barrow, or water the block and scrape off the hydrated amount into the bucket.  I could not handle the whole block and I did not want to waste water wetting it down over and over in between making the mix, so I chose the slower method of scraping it off.  Fill your bucket a little more than half full.  Add more water until the coir fiber is well saturated but not gloppy.

Now add the perlite. It is a very good idea to wear goggles and a mask when you do this for the perlite is dry and dusty.  Water it slightly and then stir it in.

Do the same with the vermiculite that you have done with the perlite.

These measurements aren't precise; it was all done by eyeball on the bucket.

Make sure the mixture is well mixed.  Use it to start seedlings or to transplant plants.

(edited on November 7, 2015)

Monday, November 2, 2015

Growing tomatoes, 2015, Part I

The harvest is in.  I lost count of how many tomatoes my plants produced, but for about three months I ate tomatoes everyday and shared them several times a week with friends whom I share meals with.

All of my plants were (and still are) container grown so that I could tend them in my power wheel chair.

Gardening has always been an empowering activity to me, connecting me to the earth and to my ancestors, many of whom were farmers.  This summer I found it amazing to pick my dinner, plan my dinner around what I had in the garden and eat simply and humbly.

It was even more empowering to me because I started out with two big drawbacks.  First, I am a power wheelchair user and I like to say that I live my life on wheels.  Second, the drought in California made gardening difficult.  I had been putting off my garden for several years because of the drought and this year I decided that if it was going to happen while I could still do it, it had to be now.

The plants did not take as much water as I thought they would, bringing my water bill up only a few dollars.  This was good.  A soil mix that held conditioners that hold water helped a great deal. A separate blog post will cover this.

Here are the varieties that grew in my garden this year.

Anais Noir, a beautiful heirloom that is so delicious! This tomato started it all for me when a friend gifted me with a perfect tomato from her garden in Santa Barbara at Christmas.

Sandul Moldavon, another heirloom that ripens to a rich, tomato red.  it tasted like the tomatoes of my Midwestern childhood and nearly brought tears to my eyes.

Sweet Solano, a yellow tomato, slightly more acidic than its larger, red cousins, but delicious none the less.  A bonus is that in spite of its small size, it produces lots of seeds for saving for next year.  Great tomato for salads or for lunch or for a quick snack.  A bit large to pop in your mouth right of the bush.

Purple Cherokee, was finicky in my garden.  It seemed like it thought it must go to seed right away and worked on producing one tomato that was ginormous.  Didn't weigh it after picking it so that it would stop hogging all of the plant's energy, but should have. It ripened in a paper bag, spilled forth an abundance of seed when I cut it and was absolutely delicious.  I dried part of it so that it will come out of the freezer in the winter to brighten a winter meal.

Black Vernissage, a purple tomato, bigger than a cherry, smaller than a small tomato.  Absolutely delicious flavor and lots of seeds.  Did have a problem with browning leaves (verticulum wilt?) and the plant died before the others.  To be fair this plant was in too much shade.  More sun next time!  See the plate above the small purple tomatoes are these. Yum!

Sungold, a highly regarded yellow cherry tomato did not do as well for me as I had hoped that it would, but to be fair it got a late start, could have used a bigger container and more sun.  Next time! Don't think I have any pictures.

Riebenstraube is a beautiful grape tomato.  I love it.  Planted late, the plants took off and are still healthy and strong.  Lots and lots of flowers, lots of clusters and now the weather is getting a bit too cold.  Picked them today will see if they ripen in a paper bag.