Garden Creatures

06/25/2014

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It was hard work manipulating the metal, but the final product filled me with a sense of pride. The fact that I could share that experience with my father made it that much more enjoyable
Story Collected by Sharanitha Sampath    

When people walk by Joanna Colligan’s house, there are two things that people notice instantly. Firstly, it is the intoxicating smell of her flowers that waft through the air. Secondly, it is the beautiful sculptures that litter her garden and light it up at night.

At the beginning of every summer, my neighbor, Joanna goes to work in her garden. She slowly transitions all of her decorations out of the garage and places it throughout her yard.  At night, the scene is brought to life by the wonderful lighting fixtures and decorations she has incorporated. Each figure resembles animals and insects that are found in nature and gardens. One particular sculpture is a butterfly made of recycled metal wires. Another is a metal frog that sits on a lily pad. The lily pad itself is constructed from a mosaic of green tiles. Light will sometimes reflect off the glass and paint the wall beside it in vibrant shades of green.

Joann’s father, Bruce Colligan, is the man responsible for creating all of her decorations and sculptures. Bruce used to be an engineer and now dedicates his free time to his hobby of metalworking. The art of manipulating metal is a skill set that has been passed down for generations in their family. “I never cared to learn how to do it at first,” Joanna admits. It wasn’t until a few years ago, when she went back to Iowa to visit her family that she began to show an interest in her dad’s hobby.

It all started when she asked him to create some sculptures for her garden with solar powered lighting. Bruce decided to take his daughter on a trip to scavenge for scrap metal. Her interest was piqued when she looked at the types of materials that he picked up. Many were acquired from side streets where people had thrown out old furniture or were donated to him by his neighbors. He would take materials like the wire coils from couches and mattresses to reuse. Joanna remembers getting especially excited when they would find kitchen utensils that could be incorporated into her father’s sculptures.

At first, she left the actual practice of metalworking to her father, but soon he had her involved with that too. “It was hard work manipulating the metal, but the final product filled me with a sense of pride. The fact that I could share that experience with my father made it that much more enjoyable,” Joanna reminisces. She recalled the hours she spent hammering out strips of metal and twisting them in order to create the antennae for the butterfly. One of her favorite memories was about the creation of her penny flower. Joanna was in charge of taking their old pennies and running it through a flattening machine. She would run the coins through, elongating the pennies until they took the form of a petal shape. Her father would then sear the pieces together to form a sort of metal flower composed entirely of copper petals.

To this day, anyone who visits her house will spend time outside admiring her garden and the sculptures that are laced through it. At night, people are greeted by the sight of her lit pathway that is fueled by the energy from the sun. Her father’s habit of repurposing materials has now overflowed into her own life. She will take old glass jars and use them for storage or to drink lemonade out of in the summer. Joanna hopes to learn more about her family tradition of metalworking when she visits her father again this summer. Perhaps she will even add few of her own creatures to her garden when she returns. 

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A Medina Family's Sustainability Story

06/13/2014

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I don’t have a built swing set, I have ropes hanging from trees, and so it’s within the natural environment. You don’t have to have machine built things for the kids to have fun. We have used all things that interact with the environment instead of destroying the environment - like the tree swing. Instead of buying a man made swing set, we got a 100 ft. rope and put it over our tree to use with a recycled tire.
Story Collected by Lucia Whalen    
The Medina children are not your average children. For the Medina children, summertime is marked by the emergence of peppermint, which means that it is time for tea ceremonies. The Medina family is comprised of Rosalio, a native of Nicaragua, Claudia, a native of Colombia, and their three children Maria Teresa (Teeny), Gabriel (Chippy), and live four doors down the street from my door, and initially connected with my family through cultural heritage shared by Claudia and my stepmother and a love of music shared by all.

According to Claudia,
They’ve had tea ceremonies since they were little, so they couldn’t wait for the peppermint. Yesterday, they figured out the peppermint had come back, and they all sat down with their tea cups and had a special tea ceremony with their fresh herb tea. How many little kids sit down and have tea ceremonies? They invite their friends over and that’s the big thing - they all sit around and talk.

For Claudia Medina, an educational consultant, university professor and full-time mother, there is no greater connection to sustainability than through her children. By engraining a love of nature, learning, and imagination as natural parts of her family’s lifestyle, her three children, ages 6, 8 and 12, have all been raised in a way that radiates a pre-industrialized-American sustainability – one where children play outdoors until the sun goes down and know that summertime means picking tomatoes fresh off the vine.

Most American homes are adult-centered, and children grow up envisioning independence as leaving home for good and entering the world of capital and consumerism. In an act of ultimate sustainability, the Medina household has been made to be kid-centered. The Medina’s property, which was historically the neighborhood farmhouse, has maintained its identity as the core of the block, and sticks out with a massive yard which functions as a garden, hub for celebration, and child sanctuary. According to Claudia, “The kids don’t want to leave the house, they just love being here. Making your kids just want to stay at home is really sustainable, instead of wanting to go to a movie or go out anywhere to spend money. Instead of going to Chuck E Cheese, I put a zip line in the backyard. They have so much more fun just being here, [where] food is good and all their friends want to come. “

According to Claudia, environmentally friendly practices are a natural habit in the kids’ lives, as exemplified in their methods of play.

She explains,
I don’t have a built swing set, I have ropes hanging from trees, and so it’s within the natural environment. You don’t have to have machine built things for the kids to have fun. We have used all things that interact with the environment instead of destroying the environment - like the tree swing. Instead of buying a man made swing set, we got a 100 ft. rope and put it over our tree to use with a recycled tire.

This type of creativity puts her children in the mindset of wanting to create their own fun, instead of needing to buy it.

A giant inflatable water slide, which the Medina’s recently added to their backyard haven, would be seen as wasteful and unsustainable to the passive eye. However, the most recent addition reveals an intersection between sustainability and family values.

She says,
The inflatable water slide is not the most environmentally friendly, but if you think about how much fun it will bring to the yard, and just the fact that they love it so much…it keeps them home and makes family important to them. Everything we do is so our kids can be happy. Because if they love being here, they’re always going to want to come back, and if they come back, then our grandchildren are going to be part of our life. It’s controlling in a way, because we’re guiding, but we’re not on top of them - they’re very independent and very creative. The more time you give them to play and be outside, the better. In our house, the rule is you’re not allowed to use electronics until it’s dark.

For the Medina’s, environmental sustainability naturally coincides with a love of family, learning, imagination. She explains, “The message since they were little has been, ‘What did you learn today? Did you make the day count? Did you do something for someone else?’ And so, they are taught to share, and they are taught to care for the environment.”

By integrating nature into the everyday, the Medina children have developed a natural desire to live in an environmentally friendly way – one that they do not refer to as sustainable because of how natural it is to their lifestyle. So, how do we foster a culture around sustainability? In the case of the Medina’s, put children at the center. 

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Coming to North America in the early nineties and experiencing the luxuries of the Western world did not change her for the worse. She took advantage of the opportunities available, but also stuck strongly to her culture and her ways. She raised her children to appreciate all they had, reusing clothes until they were so worn that it could only be used as a rag. And even then, she would use it as a rag to wipe the kitchen floor. She taught my sister and I to speak first in her native tongue, Kannada, and second in English, so that the importance of our heritage would always be instilled in us.
Story Collected by Akhila Gopal

India, specifically Bengaluru, over the last several decades has transitioned into to becoming more and more urban, and along with that it has become more and more polluted. In my eyes, I see the people there sacrificing the environment for the sake of status. Apartments and condominiums are being built in an area that is already crowded with small shops and homes. Hundreds of rickshaws, cars, and motorbikes are bustling and honking their way through the narrow streets—swerving to avoid the cows that roam around freely, sniffing and picking at the trash everywhere. Even the culture is becoming diluted into the Western ideals that everyone praises so much. But it wasn’t always like this. While talking to my mother about her experience with eco-friendly practices in her life, she began to speak of an India which I had never seen; an India in which the culture and the environment sustained each other.

Chandrika Gopal grew up in Bengaluru in a different time, and with a different perspective on the world. Born in 1967, she and her two younger siblings were raised by their grandmother on only the income of her father who worked in another city, far away. She wore a uniform and braids to school every day, learned to cook and clean from a young age, and was explicitly told that she was not allowed to participate in sports (though she rebelled a bit on that one). But being in a situation where she and her family had to make the most of everything, she learned that eco-friendly practices can make a little go a long way.

Lentils, a staple in a vegetarian diet, were eaten almost every day. In preparing the lentils, Chandrika would wash them in water in order to clean and remove and debris. But rather than just pouring the lentil water down the drain, she would set it aside in a bucket so that the plants could be watered with it later. Similarly, vegetable peels were saved in a bucket to feed the local cows. Water and food were, and still are, incredibly important and unfortunately scarce resources in some places, and preserving them in any way possible was not only beneficial to her family, but also to the earth.

Having been on a limited budget and in a limited space, Chandrika’s family did not have a washing machine or a dryer. This meant that she had to wash her own clothes, and then hang them out to dry. Though tedious, the clothes still were cleaned, and in the process she saved not only money and water, but also electricity and energy. She continued to hang her clothes out to dry even after she got married and moved to Canada.

Coming to North America in the early nineties and experiencing the luxuries of the Western world did not change her for the worse. She took advantage of the opportunities available, but also stuck strongly to her culture and her ways. She raised her children to appreciate all they had, reusing clothes until they were so worn that it could only be used as a rag. And even then, she would use it as a rag to wipe the kitchen floor. She taught my sister and I to speak first in her native tongue, Kannada, and second in English, so that the importance of our heritage would always be instilled in us. With the help of her husband and children, she learned to live life her own way in a country that was not common to her.

Though Chandrika lives in a big house now with gorgeous crown molding and hardwood floors, she still tries to save water, food, and energy in any way she can. She doesn’t necessarily use vegetable peels to feed the local animals, but she does take shorter showers, cook meals with organic vegetables, and chooses to open the windows on a warm day, rather than blasting the air conditioner. My mother is proof, that having a status in society and being environmentally friendly are not mutually exclusive parts of a lifestyle. She is an example of the fact that moving from a low income family in India to a wealthy neighborhood in the United States over a period of 26 years does not mean having to completely drop old habits and assimilate to a new culture. When it comes to the good habits that help sustain a family, a culture, and the earth, some things shouldn’t change. 

 

Corn is a-MAIZE-ing

06/10/2014

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Once you harvest the corn you can use it for many different things. The leaves can be used to wrap tamales up. You can use the actual corn for a multiple number of things. You can make corn tortillas and really nothing is wasted. Back in Mexico, the tortillas that are left over are still used not just simply thrown away. If the tortillas turn hard from being out too long after being cooked people make them into tostadas. You fry the tortilla and you don’t need to buy corn chips anymore. 
Story Collected by Tania Sosa

I recently spoke with my mom, Vicenta Sosa, about her Mexican heritage and the familiar practices that have defined who she is as an individual. I specifically asked her about practices that she did that were seen as eco-friendly. Among many that she shared with me, there was one in particular that stuck out. My mom talked about corn and how versatile a plant it was.

She started off by saying that here in the states we have become very wasteful and one thing that made her miss her home in Mexico was the fact that even in Illinois (where we grow corn) we do not make use it to its full potential. Here she explains the process of how to cultivate corn and the different things that you could make with it.

When you plant corn you have to take care of it. You have to make sure the soil is healthy because what you plant is only as healthy that the soil it is in. So you lay down compost and take out the weeds, keeping the soil as healthy as possible.

Once you harvest the corn you can use it for many different things. The leaves can be used to wrap tamales up. You can use the actual corn for a multiple number of things. You can make corn tortillas and really nothing is wasted. Back in Mexico, the tortillas that are left over are still used not just simply thrown away. If the tortillas turn hard from being out too long after being cooked people make them into tostadas. You fry the tortilla and you don’t need to buy corn chips anymore.

You can make your salsa, ceviche, or tinga de pollo and you have the corn chips or tostadas right there for you to eat. People do not throw away a single tortilla. If the don’t want/need tostadas they make some chilaquiles. With the maize you can make tamales, and clascales, which is a type of dessert bread. Gorditas con carne can also be made. Along with picaditas, sopes and quesadillas, really the possibilities are endless when using corn.

I ask for one of her favorite recipes that used corn and she said enchiladas verdes con pollo.

Enchiladas verdes con pollo
Ingredients:
garlic, onions, jalapeños, green tomatoes, tortillas, chicken

Make the salsa by blended some garlic, onion, jalapeños, and green tomatoes. Fry the salsa in a pan.
Then (if you would like) dip the tortillas in a bit of oil and put them into the salsa that is frying
Next, boil the chicken. Once it is fully cooked, break it apart into thin pieces add it to the salsa and tortilla.
Roll up the tortilla and serve.

You can add cheese, sour cream, and some onion on top if you would like.
It is delicious, simply, and easy!

I then went on to ask my mom where she learned about the versatility of corn. She said that her dad was the one that planted and took care of the corn back in Mexico. When her dad had harvested the crop, her mom was the one that did the cooking. My grandma is the best cook in the family, and she was the one that always tried to make the most of what little that they had. My grandma learned what she knows from her mom, the knowledge being passed down from generation to generation. My mom said that she missed being back home because of the many things that they did that was not only beneficial to her family and coincidentally also very good for the environment. She hopes to bring some of those things from the past back into our lives so we can all benefit from them. 

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Environmentally-Friendly Practices at Home

06/10/2014

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From the list of environmentally-friendly practices there were only four items that my mom marked as things she or we do at home. Among those things she marked down recycling, using energy-efficient light bulbs, using drapes and curtains to regulate temperatures, and hanging clothes to dry.
Story Collected by Ian Torres

Initially, I was planning on interviewing my grandmother for the Environmentally-friendly Practices interview, but I decided that I would interview my mom instead. It occurs to me that for all the things that I do, I would always involve my grandmother but rarely had I included my mom in the things that I did or believed in. It so happens that the reason why I tend not to share too much about what I do with my mom is because our ways of thinking are very different. She is a little more conservative and is often difficult to get through to her. This was the perfect opportunity to include my mom into a little bit of what I do and in the process make her see and understand, in this case, why we should be engaging in more environmentally practices.

From the list of environmentally-friendly practices there were only four items that my mom marked as things she or we do at home. Among those things she marked down recycling, using energy-efficient light bulbs, using drapes and curtains to regulate temperatures, and hanging clothes to dry. When I asked her why she engaged in these practices she said that she mainly participated in them for the purpose of saving money, aside from recycling which was a practice that she said was her way of contributing to help the environment. The list was very extensive yet she only marked down four. I asked her if she would have liked to mark down more practices than the ones she did and she said yes and that she would like to engage in more activities but she feels she does not have enough time.

At that moment I asked her to mark three other practices that, though she marked down as things that she only did sometimes or never, she would like to do more. She marked down outdoor recreation and relaxation, gardening, and capturing or diverting rainwater. Out of these three practices the one that really called my attention was the practice of capturing or diverting water. She told me that when she was younger she used to capture rainwater with my grandmother for things like washing dishes, cleaning, bathing, watering plants, among other things. She said that my grandmother use to do this because that was a way of conserving water. She then understood that many people engage on these practices on the list because they have a cultural meaning to them, but at the same time these practices are still very relevant to us today, and in fact they are eco-friendly practices.

My hope with this interview was to be able to expose my mom more to the work I do and the way I think. My hope with this is to create some conscious in my house that for so long has been disconnected from our environment, from our community, and from our society. I did feel like at one point she might have felt a bit guilty for not engaging in some of the practices in the list, but my hope is that from now on she will be more conscious about the things she does and the things that we should be doing at our house. I hope to break that indifference in my house and in my family members, and hopefully we will be able to reconnect with our environment, and with our roots by engaging in environmentally-friendly practices.

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“NO HAMBURGUESAS ON THE TABLE!”

06/10/2014

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You don’t know what’s in that hamburger! Have you seen the cows? You don’t know where they make it. You don’t know if the machine is clean! You don’t know what the cow eats. If you want to eat that, you need to have a cow yourself. Have your own chickens and have food from your own farm!!
Story Collected by Sarah Hernandez

My grandma on my mother’s side of my family grew up in Puerto Rico. She spent most of her early years on the island and moved to New York City by the time she was starting middle school. My grandma loves to brag about how she grew up in the Bronx, not just the Bronx, but the real Bronx. Her brothers, mother, and grandmother were the only Latino family on her block – everyone else was Italian or European Jews. She would reminisce about walking down the street with her brothers to the Jewish deli to eat fresh cold cuts during the hot summer days. She feels toughened up by reality on the streets and always thought of herself as the tomboy. The children worked at a young age, and her mother worked multiple jobs in order to only make the minimum to provide for the family.

She recalled one instance where everyone was around the table, ready for dinner. The kids brought home a special treat – hamburgers. Their grandmother slapped down her hand loudly on the table in rejection.

NO HAMBURGUESAS ON THE TABLE!

The kids retorted, “ but they just taste so good!!”

The lecture followed,
You don’t know what’s in that hamburger! Have you seen the cows? You don’t know where they make it. You don’t know if the machine is clean! You don’t know what the cow eats. If you want to eat that, you need to have a cow yourself. Have your own chickens and have food from your own farm!!

My grandmother’s grandmother was born in Spain and represented the first generation of the family that migrated from Spain to Puerto Rico and then finally to the United States. She was born in 1870 and essentially spent her whole young adulthood in the 19th century, when the island was still under Spanish rule; she even lived to see her country gain independence from Spain and become a US colony. This woman lived to be 93 years old and has certainly experienced the changing tides and continuing migration and transformation of her culture.

What surprised me the most was that her dinner table rant represents values that are relevant in today’s culture. The last significant cultural shift with respect to homegrown food was during World War II with the development of victory gardens as a way for families to be self-sustaining during a time of economic drought. These ideals are rising once again with the popularity of organic food and community gardens – “going green” and being “eco-friendly.”

My grandma fondly remembers the short-lived time she had spent with her own grandmother. She would visit her grandmother’s family farm in Puerto Rico every summer, where this woman was nurturing every possible thing that anyone consumed at the dinner table. My grandma was always given the task of both collecting chicken eggs, then chasing and catching the chickens for dinner preparation.

In the past couple of years, with my grandfather’s declining health, my grandma took it upon herself (as a personal, very New Yorker as she would say, ‘screw you’ to the medical system) to completely change her diet and style of cooking for herself, my grandpa, and my little five-year old brother. She has learned to despise medication and the healthcare system and believes that eating processed foods and less vegetables cause more ailments to the body than we really know. She thinks of herself as the crazy grandma from the Bronx, attributing her own beliefs about being sustainable and healthy to her own grandmother.

Now these stories and traditions are being passed down to me. The most striking thing to me is the ebb and flow of these beliefs, how at least in my family they are passed down to every second generation. It seems to reflect the ebb and flow of the culture around gardening and fresh food, from industrial to organic, from the late 1800s to the early 2000s.

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Sustainability across the Seas

06/10/2014

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During the planting season, my mom would work with her parents planting rice, which was the main crop grown in China and was eaten as a staple food by the Chinese people. During the harvest season, she would help her parents harvest the crop and separate the grains from the rest of the rice plants. 
Story Collected by Phoenix Chen

My mom, Jin Rong Ye, grew up in a village located in Guangdong, China. Her home was surrounded by trees, rivers, and rice fields. Her family raised chickens, pigs, and water cattle. She started gardening and farming at age nine, during which she also learned to cook, clean the house, and take care of the animals. On normal days, she would feed the animals and clean out their living area. She would cook for the family and complete her long list of cleaning duties. She would also wash clothes by the river and hang them in the sun to dry afterward.

During the planting season, my mom would work with her parents planting rice, which was the main crop grown in China and was eaten as a staple food by the Chinese people. During the harvest season, she would help her parents harvest the crop and separate the grains from the rest of the rice plants. Throughout the year, my mom maintained her family’s vegetable garden, making sure to water the vegetables daily and taking out the weeds often. Although she did not get to decide the kinds of vegetables that would be planted, she still enjoyed planting and taking care of the vegetables, treating them as if they were her own little babies.

After immigrating to the United States, my mom’s love for gardening increased. Living in an urban area doesn’t stop her from turning her backyard into a vegetable garden. Every year, my mom plants all kinds of vegetables, with winter-melon being her favorite and the most common. She exchanges seeds with her friends to make sure she has a variety of crops in her garden. She often saves seeds from the harvested plants to be used in the upcoming years. Sometimes, she requests seeds to be sent from China. Other times, she buys seeds from the grocery stores in Chinatown. For my mom, having a vegetable garden in her backyard is like having the best part of her homeland in her backyard. Her garden comforts her and eases her fear of living in a foreign country, where she doesn’t understand the American customs or speak the American language. It serves as a temporary escape from reality by teleporting her spirit to a peaceful world, where she can simply be herself and do what she loves without worrying about troubles at work or the difficulty in satisfying her family’s needs.

Aside from gardening, my mom enjoys doing almost everything else by hands or by feet. Whether it is going to work or running errands to the grocery stores, my mom prefers to walk. Sometimes she carpools with my dad or her co-workers. She doesn’t have a driver’s license and doesn’t see the need for one. She also doesn’t like to take the public transportation, saying that it is unnecessary to spend extra money when her own two feet can simply take her anywhere she wants to go. She hates to rely on others, whether they are people or machines. Although we are living in a city, surrounded with resources and advanced technologies, my mom still prefers to wash clothes by hand and hang them out to dry in the sun. This is her stubborn way of declaring that she can do what machines can do. The only difference is that her work is free while the work done by machines usually come with a price, such as the cost of gas or electricity. 

Growing up in a village has taught my mom the importance of manual labor, which never fails to give her a sense of accomplishment every time she completes a task. Her experience has taught her how to rely on herself and take care of others as well as the environment in which she lives. The significance of labor and nature has been ingrained deeply into her mind that she finds it difficult not to continue with the sustainable ways of living that she has grown up practicing. As for me, I grow up learning about the values of labor and nature from my mom. Slowly but consistently, I am putting my knowledge to practice and hope to be half the eco-friendly person that my mother is. 

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Taste Buds and Homesickness 

06/10/2014

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Every year around Easter my grandmother makes these sweet pastries that resemble French toast, which are called torrejas. It has always been a tradition to create dishes that correlate specifically to different holidays in my family.  In the case of this specific pastry, the process of making them is clearly shown as one indulges a piece of a torreja, and its burst of traditional flavors that teleports you to a different place.
Story Collected by Yaritza Guillen

There is always that one traditional food in the family’s special recipe book that always stands out to any individual. It is always that one special treat that triggers a wave of emotions and nostalgia that manages to emerge from your subconscious as soon as you take that first bite. In my case there isn’t a recipe book that one can easily share and pass along within my family, instead I have my grandmother.

Every year around Easter my grandmother makes these sweet pastries that resemble French toast, which are called torrejas. It has always been a tradition to create dishes that correlate specifically to different holidays in my family.  In the case of this specific pastry, the process of making them is clearly shown as one indulges a piece of a torreja, and its burst of traditional flavors that teleports you to a different place.  But, this story is not going to be specifically about food, but instead will be taking a closer look into how my grandmother’s cooking became to be.

My grandmother is from a small village in Mexico know as San Luis San Pedro, which is a two to three hour drive from Acapulco. She grew up in a rural village where having neighbors was crucial for trading livestock, fruits and vegetable, and other necessities. My grandmother learned how to cook for herself and her family at a young age, but could not really go beyond her talent since she was from a poor family, whom could not really afford anything beyond what they grew in the family garden. She did not fully emerge into crafting her great dishes until she married at the age of 19 to my grandfather, who came from a financially sufficient family.  Most her cooking skills came from living alongside her mother-in-law who had access to many ingredients and could afford larger and pricier livestock.  Her mother-in-law was also the person who taught her how to make these delicious torrejas that I mentioned before. Also moving from a rural environment to a village made it accessible for her to interact, share, and trade with those in her community.

One great thing about small communities is the fact that interaction plays an important role in the daily life of many people living there. My grandmother knew almost everyone in her village; she knew those living around her, those who sold her products, owners of local shops, and many others. When I asked her what she missed about her hometown since moving to Chicago, she mentioned, the freedom of being able to walk around her village and talking to people freely. She spoke about how large city like Chicago where people are enclosed into their homes for most of their time makes it difficult for her to interact other neighbors. There is a lack of friendliness that one cannot easily obtain in large cities, unlike those in smaller communities. Although she did mentioned that one advantage of living in Chicago is that although the food may not be as fresh as those in her former village, it is probably much healthier and cleaner to eat in comparison. With my grandmother knowing the people who lived around her, she also managed to learn recipes from her neighbors and in exchange would repay them by giving them sewing lessons or making them clothing. Other times she would just trade whatever was available in her garden or in her kitchen. Apart from that my grandmother and her mother-in-law would cook not only for their family, but also for the workingmen and women after a hard day of labor.

This nostalgic emotion that my grandmother reflected upon for her hometown made me think about how she was right; there tends to be less communication and interaction with people and their communities in cities like Chicago. If people could care less about getting to know one another, imagine trying to convince them to care for their environment.  If people were inclined to interact with their environment more, it would establish a bond with community residents.  My grandmother is now past her prime years and at that age where she is not able to go far without getting tired. At the moment all she really needs is companionship, which she can establish as she entices family and friends to her home with her cooking. When one takes a bite of her sweet tasting French toast a la Mexicana, it acknowledges years of tradition and contribution of community that presents value and skills in the food that is still being practice outside of that village. 

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Chicken-less in Homewood

06/10/2014

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It actually began when we lived in Guatemala. I was a baby and my mom lived with my grandma, her mother-in-law. My grandma had, from my understanding, an open room where the chickens had a coop that they could access from there and outside. 
Story Collected by Natalie Cruz

I recently came across a Facebook post from our local news media source titled ‘Chicken College’ Coming to Homewood. Intrigued, I read on about a class that pretty much teaches you all of the basics in raising and caring for chickens in your very own back yard. I jokingly yelled to my mom in the kitchen, “Mommm, let’s go to Chicken College and raise chickens in our yard! Homewood allows it!” She gave me that all too familiar look and sarcastic, “Okay mija,” response I get whenever I throw a ridiculous idea at her just to see what kind of reaction I can get out of her. I told her that we could build a coop, have it fenced in, eat eggs all of the time! She then said no. No. There would be no chickens for us. I laughed and brushed it off.  

I forgot about the conversation until I had my mom fill out the Environmentally-Friendly Practices List. When we got to the Raise Chickens part, there was an immediate checkmark at the never option. I asked her about it, and it turns out, my mom and chickens have some history that has since embedded a negative view on chicken- raising for her for life.

It actually began when we lived in Guatemala. I was a baby and my mom lived with my grandma, her mother-in-law. My grandma had, from my understanding, an open room where the chickens had a coop that they could access from there and outside. This room was next to ours, and the chickens could be seen right over top of the wall that didn’t extend to the ceiling. She said they would often sleep up there. I wanted to know more about her trepidation towards chickens.

Here, she explains,

Naturally, they have chicken lice, or bird mites, and they can crawl everywhere where the chickens live. But your grandma had chickens that were located next to our room and I could find those mites in the clothes, in the kitchen, crawling on the table. They’re very tiny but I found them. I’d find them crawling on your arms and it was nasty. It’s very difficult to control where those things go, so I just assume they have them. I don’t mind the noise they [chickens] make, I love the eggs, and I like seeing them. The eggs have a stronger flavor; they taste a lot better. Like when we eat huevos tibios, boiled eggs, the flavor is five times better. It’s rich and the color of the yolk is so bright--it’s not like the white eggs here, they pale in comparison.  But just because they have those bugs, I’ll never have chickens. You were a baby and you had these rashes and I didn’t know why and those bugs were probably biting you.

And with the chickens where will you put them in the winter? Inside of your house? No. In Guatemala they stay outside.

It’s stories like that that play so vividly in my imagination of a life that I so very briefly lived in a different land. My mom brings with her many different acts of sustainability from growing up in Guatemala that I also see myself doing too such as constantly turning off all lights when they’re not in use, or the TV when no one’s watching.  In terms of repairing things that are broken or using them for something new, my mom explained it as, “Why do I need to buy something else when I can fix this one and with a little bit of money you can still make it work? I always saw my mom sewing and fixing things, going to take classes to keep learning. So I was always watching my mom doing new things and not being afraid that you will break it. If it’s already broken, what more can you do? Just make it better.” I proudly bare that same mentality.

Although we’ll be chicken-less in Homewood, our family practices all sorts of other sustainability habits. And I’m happy that my mom has it rooted deeply in her so that she has passed it down. 

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Asthma, Allergies, the Environment, and My Moms

06/05/2014

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One of the funniest stories is how Bay potty trained me, but not like one would think. In Vietnam, plastic disposable diapers were rare to get, so she used cloth. However, since Ma worked for the Army she could get some from the Commissary. One day, Ma caught Bay holding me over one of the rare plastic diapers and making a whizzing sound to pee. I performed perfectly on demand. Ma didn’t know whether to laugh or be annoyed. I’m sure she laughed and then explained to Bay the diaper’s usage.
Story Collected by Liz Thomson

For my story circle object, I brought in allergy pills and an asthma inhaler. Even though I just turned 40 years old, the objects bring back childhood memories like they were yesterday. When I think back to my childhood and the outdoors, it’s not too happy. My memories are of me inside with Ma doing inside house stuff, while Kim and Mom are doing outside stuff. Whether Kim was having more fun than I was doesn’t really make a difference – but to me, it seemed more fun. This dichotomy made an impact in a few ways. Sure- I also could have tried to be outside, but as a kid, I had asthma and allergies. So being outside equated to difficulty in breathing, sneezing, and probably being sick for the next few days… missing school. Looking back through my childhood stuff, I found many “get well” cards on an annual basis from classmates and teachers. I guess it was a thing.

Being inside with Ma, I learned how to cook, do the dishes, vacuum, and dust. Therefore, I got to know her more. This increased my relationship with her as she was the one who had travelled to Vietnam in the 70s and had eventually adopted me and another baby girl. Growing up, I was always more interested in my Asian culture more so than my sister. So as I’d be inside with Ma dusting or cleaning, sometimes she would tell stories about Vietnam.

In Vietnam, she was privileged to have had hired a young woman to help do the housework and eventually to sometimes take care of me. Her name was Bay. She believes at the time, Bay was a late teenager. Ma would tell stories how Bay would dress me up to go out shopping or whatever, and she’d be so proud – like I was her own. She would take naps with me on the floor.

One of the funniest stories is how Bay potty trained me, but not like one would think. In Vietnam, plastic disposable diapers were rare to get, so she used cloth. However, since Ma worked for the Army she could get some from the Commissary. One day, Ma caught Bay holding me over one of the rare plastic diapers and making a whizzing sound to pee. I performed perfectly on demand. Ma didn’t know whether to laugh or be annoyed. I’m sure she laughed and then explained to Bay the diaper’s usage.

In 2007, I went back to Vietnam for the first time and on the second to my last day I met Bay. She was married and had many kids. She lived on a small farm about one hour from Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). After driving by car to the area, we then had to go by scooter to her farm. It was my first time on a scooter, and I just felt lucky that it was only the two of us riding, as I had seen as many as four people on a scooter during my trip. Her farm had a fishpond, mango trees, and other veggies. Their home was made of wood with open sides. The kitchen was a mud-like hearth that was mostly open air. I wasn’t expecting this. Through a translator, I asked her questions about taking care of me as a baby, and I updated her on Ma, Mom, and Kim.

Fast forward to today. Ma passed away in 2010 and very quickly Mom’s health declined significantly. Within a year, we moved her to an assisted living home, sorted through decades of stuff, coordinated needed house renovations, and eventually sold her house she had owned for nearly 40 years. It was a very sad and traumatic experience, but there weren’t a lot of other options.

I now have a deeper relationship with Mom since we’ve gone through all of this transition together. I am her primary caretaker and the person the nurses call for medication changes or when she falls. I am the one who continues to go down regularly to visit and do errands. At her new place, there is a courtyard where residents can plant flowers. We brought a few from the house and planted them there.

Now as an adult, my asthma and allergies are not that bad, and I found myself on my knees digging in the dirt. “Where do you want this one?” I ask Mom. She directs me to a specific spot that she thinks is good for the plant, but also so she can see it when she eats meals in the dining area. Being in the courtyard, she laments how she misses her beautiful rose garden and her former vegetable garden. She criticizes how we sold all her tools and stuff – and how I had to buy these few garden hand tools new.

For Mother’s Day, I bought her a plant and we planted it together. I hope it survives and blooms for her to see everyday. 

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