Thursday, June 20, 2013

History comes alive!

I remember once sitting with my grandfather, some 25-30 years ago, and staring into the screen of their tiny color TV (only recently updated from black and white). The house was quiet, but the TV was loud, as he was nearly deaf at this late stage in his life. I was there to stay with him while my grandmother was in the hospital, and our days generally consisted of hanging around each other silently, each to our own. That's how  our family could be.

Little House on the Prairie was playing, and I had assumed he was paying as little attention to it as I was. But then he suddenly turned to me, serious. "When you get older, shows that show the old times really mean something to you."

I was taken aback by two things. First, that he had actually spoken to me directly (he was a silent, pensive sort), and second, that he had just stated something very personal (again, silent, pensive, etc.)

That moment has always stayed with me, even if I didn't fully understand the truth of it at the time.

As I have grown older, I've seen my childhood (from the 70's; yes, you may guess my age now) grow more and more unrecognizable to me. Nothing in my current life and culture reflects what life was like back then. And as I get older, I ponder that more and more.

My grandpa was born in 1901 on a farm in Missouri. He witnessed two world wars. He remembered the first time he saw an automobile. And a plane. Never mind a calculator and computer, as I remember from my own childhood. I have often wondered how my childhood will seem so antiquated when I am in my 80's. How will it look to me?

My grandfather had few pictures or mementos from his childhood, and I always regretted not being able to see that far into our family's past. So, I find it all the more thrilling that such a project as Historic Motion Pictures of Saranac Lake's Past is finding traction in the Saranac Lake community.

Described as Saranac Lake's "home movies," this 25,000 feet of film footage offers a rare glimpse of everyday life in one's own small community. Far from the polished and sanitized Hollywood version of life from 1924 through the 1960's, these films present authenticity. And not only do they provide a glimpse into everyday life and special events through these decades, they are also chock-full of Saranac Lake's own people, own family memories. Will you see your great aunt in these films? Your cousins? Perhaps your own father or grandfather?

This is an archive that the whole community can join into, naming places, dates and faces until an entire town's story comes alive in film.

This is a rare opportunity, and a project that I hope to follow closely as it grows. I encourage everyone to attend this Friday's presentation of the Kollecker Film Project in the Cantwell Room at 7 pm. Consider donating to the Kollecker fund to keep this project alive and strong.

You may find your own grandchild sitting beside you one day, pondering the truth of your childhood. Wouldn't it be nice if you had something more to share with her?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


And wouldn't you know it, just as I published my last blog, a college friend of mine posted a recipe on Facebook for Watermelon Gazpacho. Woot! Here it is:
  • Approximately 3 cups of watermelon, chopped
  • 1 cucumber, diced
  • 1 red or yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1 jalapeno (or to taste)
  • 2 T. fresh chopped parsley or cilantro
  • dash salt and pepper to taste
In a blender or food processor, place about half of the watermelon, cucumber, pepper and onion and all of the jalapeno. Add olive oil and lemon juice and puree until smooth. Combine the remaining ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Add to pureed ingredients and stir to combine. Add more salt and pepper to taste. Chill for at least one hour, to allow flavors to combine, and stir well before eating. Serve chilled and enjoy!

Thanks, Shannon, for this wonderful coincidence!

Of melons and men

Being from the South, one of my favorite memories is of eating big chunks of chilled watermelon on a hot summer day. Unless you've experienced the swampy heat of the South, I'm not sure you can fully appreciate the delectable thirst-quenching-ness of chilled watermelon. Fully. That, and the hilarity of seed-spitting contests when you're delirious from the heat.

So, growing up, watermelon was the fruity staple of the summer. So imagine my surprise when I discovered recently that watermelon is actually a vegetable! Well, "also" a vegetable. In botanical terms, it is actually considered a berry because it is a fleshy fruit produced from a single ovary. But it's also considered a vegetable because it is a member of the gourd family.

It is, in fact, NOT a melon at all.

The watermelon has quite the history. It originated in southern Africa and can still be found growing wild there. It has been cultivated in Egypt since the 20th century BC (watermelon seeds were even found in King Tut's tomb!).

But it's not only a sticky sweet summer treat. Pickled watermelon rind was a staple in my grandmother's kitchen. The rinds can also be stir-fried with onions, garlic and peppers, a common dish in China.

And yes, there is a website called

The watermelon is a very accommodating "fregetable" in many ways. It can even be grown in a cube.

File:Square watermelon.jpg

But at $300 a cube, I'll settle for the old egg-shaped variety.

Monday, June 10, 2013

My name is Joanna and...

I am a short story addict. I don't know when this happened, exactly. However, I suspect my "gateway" story was A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

In the story, a villager finds an old, decrepit, dying man with enormous, yet lice-ridden and bedraggled, wings in his courtyard. The projectory of the story is how he, his wife and other villagers react to the presence of the old man, alternating between fascination, revulsion, indifference, and cruelty.

What spurred my imagination, however, was what the story didn't say. I think I read once that, while novels create an entire world for the reader, a short story is more like a small island, or iceberg. What we see on the surface eludes to a whole world unspoken beneath it.

I won't spoil Marquez's story with my own interpretation of the unspoken world beneath it; I'll simply suggest it as an incredible, magical, gritty and thought-provoking piece of literature. Here are some of my other favorite collections:

Product DetailsWhat We Talk About When We Talk About Love, by Raymond Carver.
Product DetailsThe Complete Stories, by Flannery O'Connor.
The Moons Of JupiterThe Moons of Jupiter, by Alice Munro.
Product DetailsVictory over Japan, by Ellen Gilchrist.