Category Archives: Fond memories

Dear Hillary

My press pass from the first political rally I ever covered. I was busy trying to look professional and grown-up, so I didn't ask Hillary for an autograph, but after the event ended, her press secretary collected these from all of us and took them to her to sign, which struck me as a very cool gesture.
My press pass from the first political rally I ever covered. I was busy trying to look professional and grown-up, so I didn’t ask Hillary for an autograph, but after the event ended, her press secretary offered to collect all our press passes and take them to her to sign.

I voted for Hillary Clinton last week.

I mailed her a letter yesterday explaining why. One letter won’t make everything all better, but I’m sure she’s getting a flood of them, and I hope the outpouring of support makes her smile. Here’s the one I’m adding to the pile:

Dear Ms. Clinton,

The year was 1992. I was 17, a senior in high school, and I was feeling conflicted. After two months as editor-in-chief of the school newspaper — a position toward which I’d worked diligently for years — I was beginning to suspect the job was more trouble than it was worth. I’d already had run-ins with a condescending school superintendent who assumed I was incompetent simply because I was young, and with several friends who didn’t understand why I couldn’t adjust deadlines to suit their whims. I was tired, burned-out, and ready to walk away from the whole mess.

I awoke one cool October morning to hear my mom’s voice floating into my room: “The Southern Illinoisan says Hillary Clinton is coming to SIU for a rally on Saturday.”

After a moment or two of Kermit-flailing and incoherent fangirling, I pulled myself together, picked up the phone, and made arrangements to attend the rally and subsequent press conference.

That press conference was life-altering.

From the time I was little, all I’d wanted was to be treated like a grownup. As a young reporter, I was rarely afforded that courtesy; most adults talked down to me, pressured me to violate my ethical standards, or exchanged patronizing “isn’t-she-cute?” smiles over my head.

You didn’t do any of that. I wasn’t even old enough to vote, but when I asked you a question, you looked me in the eye and answered it in exactly the same tone you’d used with all the other reporters. You treated me like a grownup. You made me feel respected. You gave me confidence. And in that moment, you renewed my enthusiasm for journalism.

With the exception of a few years spent teaching high school in Oklahoma, I’ve been at it ever since.

Without our brief exchange, I’m not sure I’d have stuck with it. When deadlines get too hectic, or editors get on my nerves, or the economy hiccups and I wonder whether it’s worth the low pay and the constant uncertainty, I close my eyes and remember a sunny autumn afternoon when the most powerful woman in the United States saw a kid doing a grownup’s job and treated her with respect and courtesy.

I adored you for that. You became my personal hero; I wanted to be just like you when I grew up. I studied endless articles about you. I bought myself a green suit and matching headband “just like Hillary’s.” I even showed up for senior pictures in an “Elect Hillary’s Husband” button.

I have never been more proud of you than I was Wednesday, when you stood, resolute but gracious, and addressed your supporters, still on your feet despite the vicious sucker-punch you’d just absorbed for all of us: the Suffragettes; the Second Wave; the girls who grew up watching Geraldine Ferraro and dreaming; the little girls my niece’s age; my mom; my former students; and all the 17-year-old girls trying to be grownups in a world that prefers to treat women like perpetual children, whether we’re 17 or 41 or 69.

I’ve long since lost that green headband, but 24 years later, I still want to be just like you when I grow up.

Much love,

Emily

Folk Thursday: Peter, Paul and Mary sing Dylan

The first time I heard this song was October 24, 1992, and I was covering a get-out-the-vote rally in Carbondale, Illinois, where Hillary Clinton was scheduled to speak. A local band called St. Stephen’s Blues warmed up the crowd, and a sense of promise swept over me. We were on the brink of hiring our first Baby Boomer president. The generation that learned from the civil-rights movement and gave us the peace movement, Second Wave feminism, and the gay-rights movement was poised to take the reins of the country, and I couldn’t have been more excited.

I may be considered Generation X (even though I’m a decade younger than the characters in the novel from which the generation’s name was derived), but I’ve always had tremendous faith in Baby Boomers. I was never one of those kids who feels the need to rebel against the grownups. Why bother? The grownups, when I was a teenager, had already done all the rebelling I’d ever need, and I couldn’t see any reason to oppose them.

Admittedly, some of my beloved Boomers have not aged well. Some have become the thing they hated. Some never fit with their own generation and balked at the progress being made around them. But many — my parents, my aunt, my friends Michael and Suzanne, my late friend Laurel, the folkies, the hippies who never forgot who they were — have disproven the “never trust anyone over 30” mantra in glorious fashion, and my enthusiasm for their generation and its professed ideals of inclusion, pacifism, and environmental responsibility has not waned in the 24 years since I gathered with hundreds of other people on the Old Main Mall, notebook in hand, and heard a song that summed up my feelings as I stood on the brink of adulthood, waiting for my own generation to take the reins.

The wheel’s still in spin.

May it name the right people next week.

Emily

Vegetarian Friday: Cranberry sauce

This post is late this evening because I had to pick up some canning supplies so I could put up today’s recipe as soon as I finished cooking.

Look at these gorgeous berries.
Look at these gorgeous berries.

About nine years ago, my friend Laurel gave me a big bag of cranberries she’d brought back from a Maine cranberry bog — and then, upon discovering I’d never made homemade cranberry sauce, gave me a recipe and instructions for making some.

I lost Laurel’s recipe in the Great Mac Crash of 2013, but I’d riffed on it in 2007 and had enough presence of mind to post it here.

I’m grateful for that. Laurel passed away in January. I think of her every year and smile as I listen for the berries to pop, remembering the day I stood in her kitchen in Tulsa as she explained the steps.

I smiled tonight, blinking back tears and remembering Laurel and thinking about how amused she would have been by the latest political revelations that were pouring into my Twitter feed as I stirred the sugar syrup.

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I have and use it to make some happy memories of your own.

Ingredients
1 c. sugar
1 c. water
4 c. cranberries
2 apples, diced
1-2 c. other fruit (berries, grapes, or more apple if you like)
3/4 c. honey

Peel and chop apples. Wash cranberries and any other fruit you’re using. (I used grapes tonight because I had some on hand, but I’ve also used strawberries, blackberries and extra apples, all of which produced equally good results.)

Heat water and sugar together until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to a boil, stirring frequently so it doesn't scorch.
Heat water and sugar together until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to a boil, stirring frequently so it doesn’t scorch.

Stir sugar into water and bring to a boil in a big saucepan, stirring frequently.

I love the sound of cranberries cooking.
I love the sound of cranberries cooking.

Add fruit, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently. You’ll hear the berries pop as they cook. Remove from heat, stir in honey, and let stand to thicken.

Makes about 2 pints.

Cranberry sauce cans very well; just leave a half-inch of headspace and process for 10 minutes in a boiling-water bath. I made three batches tonight and put them up in wide-mouth pint jars.

New friends

I got to help with a cool project Saturday morning. Some volunteers from the local Islamic Center teamed up with some members of Abbey Road Christian Church — which I’ve been visiting for the last few weeks — to pull weeds and trim back perennials in the flowerbeds around the church’s labyrinth.

There has been a strong effort lately to foster better communication between members of the Muslim and Christian faith communities here in Cape, which delights me to no end. (My favorite high-school anecdotes all start with what sounds like the setup to a bad joke — “A Muslim, a Jew, and a vegan walk into a pizzeria” — and end with a bunch of kids laughing until our faces hurt while our scholar-bowl coach tried to figure out what we were up to this time.)

Anyway, between my fondness for interfaith activities and my love of labyrinths, showing up Saturday was a no-brainer, and I spent a couple of happy hours making new friends and working in a pretty garden.

Unfortunately, the project became less pleasant for three participants who encountered a colony of red paper wasps that were nesting in one of the flowerbeds. Paper wasps are usually fairly docile, but if you disturb their home, they’ll invoke the castle doctrine.

Several church members suggested using pesticides to kill the wasps, as they presented a safety issue for the volunteers as well as anyone who might come out to walk the labyrinth.

I understood their concern, but as a beekeeper, I knew I could suit up and remove the threat without harming any adult wasps, so I suggested everybody simply avoid that flowerbed while I called Ron to bring me a protective suit and gloves.

Once Ron arrived, it took about 15 minutes to suit up, find the nest and remove it. Problem solved. I brought the nest home so the pupae developing inside the sealed cells could finish maturing and hopefully hook up with a colony in my garden when they emerged. (Sadly, the larvae and eggs were doomed the minute I removed the nest from its original spot, but I’d rather lose a little brood than destroy the entire colony.)

I’m always amazed at how far I’ve come with respect to wasps.

As a kid, I didn’t know much about stinging insects, and I was terrified of them. As I grew up and learned more about pollinators, however, fear gave way to understanding, respect, and appreciation, and today, I’m not the least bit shy about running interference on their behalf when necessary.

Funny how that works, isn’t it?

Emily

Decorating with a memory

I spent most of my childhood looking at the gorgeous George Nelson Fan clock you see above. It hung in the children’s room at the Herrin City Library, where I spent a lot of time monitoring it to see how many minutes I had left to browse before I had to check out the books I wanted to read and run home.

The library expanded and redecorated several years ago. At some point recently, Mom either bought or was given this clock (I’m not sure of the details). Dad replaced the power cord in it, and Mom and Dad gave it to me. I picked it up last weekend, came straight home and happily took a hole saw to my freshly painted bedroom wall so I could run the cord between the studs and allow the clock to hang flush with the wall like it should.

It makes me happy every time I look up and see this piece of my childhood hanging on my bedroom wall. The library is the entire reason for my immense fondness for mid-century furniture. Like many public spaces of its era, it was decorated entirely with designs by Charles and Ray Eames, George Nelson and their contemporaries. Mid-century furniture makes me feel safe and happy, the way I did when I was a little kid curled up on an Eames couch at the library with a book in my lap, and my biggest concern was keeping an eye on that Nelson clock so I wouldn’t get home late and be in trouble for making Mom worry.

When I build that tiny house in a few years, you can bet most of the furniture is going to be mid-century.

Emily

Who knows where the time goes?

“Before the winter fire
I’ll still be dreaming;
I do not count the time.”

— Sandy Denny

Ten years ago, trying to cope with the onset of winter and the quiet depression that seems to settle over me with the first frost and stay until the first baseball player reports to spring training, I decided to set up a blog where I could record whatever nature happened to be doing in my yard every day. I thought winter might seem more tolerable if I spent a few minutes in the garden every day, looking for signs of life.

A decade later, I’m still looking, and although there have been some periods of extended silence here while I worked on other projects, I keep coming back. In many ways, this blog has become a kind of touchstone in a life prone to sudden changes and unexpected adventures.

I can’t begin to list everything that’s happened, but it’s probably worth mentioning that since I set up this site one cold, clear night in Red Fork — a cup of Red Zinger at hand, a rat terrier curled up on the floor beside me, and visions of spring dancing in my head in lieu of the more seasonally appropriate sugarplums — I have lost twin nieces; gained two nephews and two nieces; lost and regained a career; spent four years teaching sophomore English, a job that nearly killed me the first time I tried it but probably saved me the second; lost Scout; gained Riggy, Walter and Lil Miss; painted an artcar; learned to play guitar (badly); moved 450 miles; gleefully turned 40; and last but certainly not least, written and published my first novel.

A decade later, it’s a cool, rainy night in Cape Girardeau as I sit at my desk 450 miles from Red Fork, a cup of Wild Berry Zinger at hand, a different rat terrier curled up on the floor beside me, and dreams of spring still dancing in my head. The details are different; the essence is the same.

“I have,” Sandy Denny once said, “no thought of leaving.”

Emily

Reminiscing

I had occasion to call a former employer today and chat with one of my favorite editors ever. Long story, but a homicide investigation involving a victim from my area resulted in a couple of arrests in my old paper’s coverage area. I was having trouble sorting out some conflicting reports and putting my hands on a document I needed, so I called my old newsroom to see what I could rustle up.

Some things never change — like the fact that you absolutely cannot trust a St. Louis television station to get even the most basic information correct in a story about anything that happens on the east side of the Mississippi River. The fact that the public information officers in Illinois State Police District 11 are more helpful than the PIOs pretty much anywhere else in the state. And most of all, the fact that the editor who taught me to cover crime stories back in 1999 is still my favorite person to hear on the other end of the line when I’m chasing down details and trying to wrangle information out of reluctant sources.

I don’t miss that town’s ridiculous city ordinances. I don’t miss the corruption of its local government. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the incredibly talented people who populate the newsroom of its daily paper. That newsroom isn’t big, but the amount of talent it harbors is truly spectacular, and I’m awfully glad I got to spend my first few years as a full-time journalist there.

Emily