Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Fact Checking for the Win

 After the flurry of morning activity had died down, Deus Ex Machina was out the door with his belly full of homemade breakfast sandwich (with eggs from our backyard flock and a slice of ham from a Maine-based producer), a cup of home-brewed coffee-to-go, and his lunch packed neatly in his new lunch bag, I sat down for a couple of minutes of coffee and relaxation before I had to start part II of my morning flurry (tending the farm, showering, and ferrying Precious over to her friend's house).  

I have been on the Internet and on social media since its inception.  Back in the early days of human-to-human *computer-interfaced* interaction (what today's folks would call Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.), we had email and message boards.  I learned a lot in those days about how not-to act and react with people online.  

It was a lot more anonymous back in those days, and so we could be a little less tactful, and many of us were.  I tried, in those days, to be very aware that on the other side of those printed words on the computer display, the moniker "H2OColor" was an actual person and not some faceless screen with disembodied hands typing on a keyboard and refuting my comments.

But what I also learned was to be very careful about what I put out there.  If I make assertions, I fact-check those comments to the extent possible, using as many resources as I can find.  I have been caught too may times with my proverbial pants down, by posting something that wasn't, necessarily, entirely, true.  

The other day Deus Ex Machina gave me a very high compliment.  He told me that I am a very intelligent person who is inclined to do a lot of research into topics, to be sure that I understand EXACTLY what the issue is.  It's true.  I am fascinated by stuff, but moreover, I just don't like to have someone challenge what I've said.  If I say it, especially emphatically, chances are very good that I've spent some time looking it up.

So, this morning, after Deus Ex Machina left with a full belly and a cuppa-to-go, I sat down and scrolled through Linked In, one of the more "professional" social media platforms.  I found an article entitled "25 Random Trivia Facts for Springtime", which was actually published by a company to which I had applied for a job as a trivia writer.  I mean, who doesn't love trivia?  And as someone who, at one time, had a brain-full of trivial information (like, I could name all of Charlie's Angels, and the actresses who played them), I figured I was shoo-in.  I was passed over for the job, but I am still connected to the company via Linked In.

The article caught my eye (there was a pretty picture of bright yellow flowers), and so I clicked on it and started scrolling.  

My favorite fact was #13: "Guinness was first brewed in 1759.  It's older than the United States." That was interesting, and I was thinking, as I continued to scroll and read, that I was going to share the article.  

Then, I got to #19: "Lisa Kudrow is the oldest of the main 'Friends' cast members.  She was born in 1983."  I paused.  1983?  And I tried to do some quick math.  My son was born in the 1980s.  Wait?  Lisa Kudrow is young enough to be my kid?  No effing way!

So, I looked it up.  A 10 second "fact check" (and I have a SLOW internet connection).  Not only is Lisa Kudrow NOT young enough to be my kid, she's actually older than I am.  Of the original cast members, only three are younger than I am - Matt Leblanc by only a few months, and Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry by two years.  In fact, the "Friends" could have been my friends.

I stopped reading at #19. 

Their "fun facts", while subjectively fun, were not facts.  

Deus Ex Machina and I have been watching Designated Survivor on Netflix (I mean, it's Keifer Sutherland, another of those 1980s/90s heart-throbs who could have been my friend had the stars aligned differently).  Sutherland plays a reluctant US President, and his entire advancement to that esteemed office is shadowed by some controversy or other.  My favorite character is Seth - who is the White House Press Secretary.  

What's frustrating is to see the, potentially very real, way that the press, the very folks who should be seeking actual facts and truth - BEFORE they release that information to the public - will run with a half story.

It's also disheartening to watch them "spin" a story.  

And what's the most frustrating aspect is that I know that the show is fiction, but what they are depicting is just too very real.

The news media is not interested in telling the facts.  Nor are they particularly motivated to print truths.  What they want are stories.  

It's very easy to get caught up in the news and in the media frenzy.  It's easy to fall prey to believing that every thing they say has been thoroughly vetted.

But like #19 in the Trivia Hub's "Fun Facts for Spring", sometimes things that aren't true at all are presented as if they are carved-in-stone facts.   It becomes very difficult to determine what's real and what's someone's oversight or pure imagination.

Next time you see a report that seems very sensational, my challenge, to you, is to stop for one second, take a very deep, Yoga breath, and dig deeper.  

I had a conversation with my son-in-law the other day, following the cyberattack on the pipeline.  He'd posted a meme, and it was funny.  It said, essentially, "When a panic about a shortage, causes a shortage."  It happened with toilet paper and canned goods last year, when we were informed, by the news media, that there were shortages on food and toilet paper.  The implication of his meme is that it's happening with gasoline right now.  

The question is, IS it REALLY happening, or are the piranha, who call themselves journalists, giving us the information that they think we *want * to know?

My comment to my SIL's meme was "This is exactly why I am a prepper."  He replied, in effect, "Sure, but it's hard to stockpile gasoline."  To which I stated, "Prepping isn't just about stocking up.   It's really about planning and finding alternatives."

And, it's all connected, I swear - the fact checking and the prepping are all a part of how I navigate my world.  

And both of those things - dispelling the worry over things I can't control by looking shit up and taking charge of the things that I can control - empower me, and take away that fear that somehow I am in danger.

I don't live in fear.  I live in action.  

And Lisa Kudrow is not young enough to be my kid, but Guinness Beer is old enough to be the daddy of the United States.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Five Foraged Foods You Probably Have in Your Backyard: Adventures in learning NOT to Starve on Sundays

 On Memorial Day several years ago, Deus Ex Machina decided that every Sunday until Labor Day he was going to eat only what he could forage, and because I am a very supportive wife, an avid locavore and a lover of food challenges, I agreed to join him.

Unfortunately, we have very busy lives.  Deus Ex Machina has always had a full-time, outside-the-home job, and I have always worked part-time from home. In addition, we were  homeschooling at the time, and even though it was summer, our daughters were still very busy with lessons and activities that do not follow a school-year schedule. Complicate the issue by adding our extensive list of volunteer activities, and what you have is not a lot of time left to forage.

We have read that the average hunter/gatherer spent three hours per day procuring food, which seemed easy enough. Three hours a day does not seem like that much time, until one is faced with a very busy modern life. Unfortunately, unlike the typical hunter/gatherer we were also limited by laws that prohibit hunting certain animals in certain areas at certain times of the year, which means that our food options were that much more narrowed, often to just what we could gather.

Foraging Sundays turned into an interesting project. Ideally, we would have been able to find time to get out during the week for food that we could enjoy on Sunday, but that was not always what happened. Our daughters called it Starving Sundays, and while we did not, ever, come close to starving, there was more than one Sunday morning when we hauled ourselves out of bed wondering what, and if, we would be eating that day.

As luck would have it, we had a few stand-bys that we were able to count on eating – no matter what else we found. These were plants that were growing very close to home, many of them in our yard. Most people would consider them weeds and work very hard to eradicate them. On more than one Sunday over our summer of foraging, we became incredibly thankful for them, and even if we never thought much about it before, we now know that these plants will always have an honored place in our landscape.

There were five plants, growing in our yard, and probably accessible to most suburbanites, that became central to our diet during that summer.


Dandelion

Dandelion is one of the most unfairly maligned wild plants out there, which is a shame, because dandelions are tasty, incredibly versatile, and especially healthful. What makes the dandelion even more valuable is that the whole plant can be used, in its time.

In the early spring, the tender greens are harvested for salads and saut├ęs. We also harvest them for dehydrating for use later in soups and as a seasoning during a long Maine winter. Mid-spring, the flowers are ready for harvesting. The petals add a nice subtle flavor and color to salads, or the whole flower head can be battered and fried with a flavor and texture a bit like deep fried mushrooms. The flowers can also be used to make wine, which can be enjoyed later in the year. Later in the season, the greens become stringy and less palatable, but we used the older, more bitter greens in pesto. Finally, at the end of the season, in the early fall, we harvest the root, which is dried and roasted, then ground to make a coffee-like beverage.


Blue Violet

Common blue violet is one of the first plants to appear in the early spring. Both the leaves and the flowers can be eaten raw in a salad, and that’s usually how we enjoy them. The flowers also make a beautiful, edible garnish. After the Summer Solstice, the violet flowers die back and the leaves get tough and stringy. At that point, this darling little plant is relegated to lovely ground cover.


Wood Sorrel

Another garden pest that sated our hunger over this project is wood sorrel. It has been added to salads and as a garnish for fish to add a rich lemony flavor, and on days when there was no been fish and not very many other greens that are still tender enough for salad, we have made a soup out of wood sorrel. With a little butter and salt and some curry powder, wood sorrel makes a wonderful soup.


Purslane

We discovered purslane, an extremely nutritious and delicious wild weed, quite by accident a few years ago when our daughter noted this odd looking plant growing in her garden. Much to her dismay, it competed – and won – for space against the pumpkin seedling, but once I figured out what it was, I would not let her pull it. The weed was purslane, and it has been favored by savvy gardeners for centuries. We were incredibly thankful for this weed during our project, and our favorite way to prepare it is coarsely chopped and stir-fried.


Berries

To round out the five foods that we depended on when there was nothing else we could find is berries. Most people not only recognize berries when they see them growing, but they will also have some experience with foraging berries, either as a childhood treat or as a trail nibble.

We usually ate the berries raw, but we occasionally incorporated them into a dish using some of the other plants we had foraged. Our favorite way to cook them was to toss them into our purslane stir-fry. The sweet berries added an interesting depth to what would otherwise have been a salty, savory dish.



We learned a great deal during our summer of foraging and have continued to add to our knowledge and skill-base of our local flora and fauna. It is comforting to know that nature really does provide all we need, if we just know where to look.