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Pocket of Joy: Black Walnuts

The American black walnuts are now raining down like manna from heaven! Heavy, painful, treacherous manna with the power to deal out a concussion or a sprained ankle, so look alive. Here is my back yard walnut tree. This year, Pandemic Year 2, is the year I'm finally going to try processing my own black walnuts. My family is back on near-lockdown until our daughter can be fully vaccinated, and my kitchen renovation is nearly done, so there's never been a better time and might never be again. Of course, I will give the squirrels plenty of chances to fill their own pantries between my human harvests. One of my dearest, oldest friends, who used to work with me at a cookie shop when we were teenagers and who visited during this year's early summer break from high viral spread, gave me the most adorable cookie cutters I've ever seen--shaped like squirrels that can hold a real nut in their arms in the middle of the cookie. I want to use my back yard black walnuts to bake some

This Sauce Is the Sauce

F@*% jar sauce! Nat's what I reckon. I am, of course, referring to the battle cry of "Nat's What I Reckon," the Australian YouTube champion who went "viral" during the first 2020 pandemic lockdown, on a mission to nourish the souls and bodies of weirdos and gutter punks around the world who appreciate a healthy sense of humor and a wholesome home-cooked meal lovingly presented with heaping sides of Australian-accented cuss words, dangerously long hair, and tattoos. According to Nat's unorthodox self-help, autobiography, and cookery book, Un-Cook Yourself: A Ratbag's Rules for Life , his journey to unexpected lockdown internet fame began when he was a teenager and his father took him on a trip to India, where he contracted tuberculosis. Upon his return to Australia, the initial symptoms of infection were obscured by the usual effects of an unhealthy lifestyle and the medical community's biases toward... ratbags, as Nat would put it. His TB infecti

Debut Dinner of the Big Ass Pot

Happy harvest season! This summer's gardening and kitchen renovation projects have finally converged upon a successful dinner picked from the front yard and boiled in the Big Ass Pot my husband scored at our local Habitat ReStore. This thing is built like an antique bathtub and large enough to boil a baby. When my husband bought it, I immediately visualized it full of fresh-picked corn on the cob, and this week, I manifested that vision! The first harvest, earlier last week, was just one ear that had transformed majestically into a fine chonk of huitlacoche . Right after I noticed it, I heard from a Mexican friend that she was about to pass by my house with another Mexican friend, looking for a special way to celebrate her birthday. I told her to stop in my front yard and pick up some specialty quesadilla filling, and she did. If this happens to another ear of my corn, I'm going to try cooking it up and tasting it at my house. My husband, a burgeoning mushroom enthusiast, will

Pocket of Joy: Welcoming "Misfortune" on Friday the 13th!

Tomorrow is another Friday the 13th, and my family is looking forward to it! Mostly that's because it's also our cat's fourth birthday, and we're going to have a party for her involving cardboard boxes and bouncy balls. But also it's because we have a darkly occult sense of humor at our house. We enjoy thunderstorms, campy horror, Halloween, Billie Eilish, and Lil Nas X. We have always celebrated, rather than feared, Friday the 13th--unlike the gentleman who walked into my husband's shop yesterday to let him know that the world would be ending this Friday! It is a joy to have that tradition in place now, when we are all dealing with some heavy misfortunes that started before this year's Friday the 13th and will continue afterward. Climate change, violence, pandemic, etc. There is an excess of truly bad fortune in the world right now, and it's a real bummer.  But it's good to be able to laugh at bad luck and disappointment, whether anticipated or expe

Here We Go Again

As we prepare for our daughter to go back to school at the end of this month, I've gone back to working from home. I returned to my office after the 4th of July, took down my March 2020 wall calendar, and worked onsite for one month before the delta variant had me hauling away my office's potted plants once again. Here we go again. I'm sad, and I'm letting myself feel that. Today, I'll get my hair cut for the last time before my daughter can be fully vaccinated. At that joyful time, we'll schedule a mother-daughter visit to the salon. I hope that it happens before her next birthday in January 2022. Back to WFH. Back to masking (or double-masking) in public and staying home whenever possible.  Working from home suits me just fine, but the reason I need to do it again has me feeling profoundly sad. I sat alone in my office on Friday and shouted some swears into the void. Then I took a few breaths and started loading up my car with houseplants. Again. Around the sa

Playing in the Eye of the Storm

My daughter has always loved a summer thunderstorm, and so do I! And so does my husband. And, honestly, so does our cat--she runs to the window to watch when she hears thunder. But we all respect the power of nature too. A few years ago, we attended a beach birthday party at this very time of year, on a lovely summer day, and an unexpected storm came upon us so quickly that there wasn't even time to run to our cars in the parking lot. Above, my daughter is "flying" into the wind that has come rushing through the pavilion, which was momentarily followed by a drenching, sideways rain and a dramatic show of thunder and lightning over the water and all around us. As quickly as it had hit us, the storm passed without doing us any more harm than knocking everything over and soaking us all to the skin. My daughter declared it "the best" birthday party ever.  As magical as that was, we didn't take away the wrong lesson from that exciting and fortunate experience--th

Pocket of Joy: Sweet Corn

It's almost sweet corn season in Michigan, and my shaggy little baby cornfield is all ears! View this post on Instagram A post shared by Jeannie Miernik (@msamiernika) I've planted corn in the back yard before and once, to be funny, in the flower bed along the front porch. This year, I got serious about replacing my suburban lawn and took a big chonk out of the front yard to plant locally developed corn and its "sister" crops sunflowers, beans, and (by surprise volunteer via compost) squash. My cornfield has some bald spots where I didn't plant deep enough and birds ate the seeds, but the stalks that grew are producing many fattening-up ears of corn! I am very excited to get out the huge pot I bought at Habitat ReStore while shopping for my kitchen renovation and put water on to boil while we pick and shuck the corn (now that's fresh) like I used to do with my grandparents when I was a kid. My family and I have always loved sweet corn s

A Lightbulb Moment

All the lights are on! This weekend, my dad finished installing our kitchen cabinets as well as three pendant lights that hang above them. Hallelujah, let there be light! Now we can finally see what we're doing, giving us a boost of productivity by providing both visual access and a more pleasant work environment--which will soon become a warm, welcoming place to cook and eat and converse! This bright, warm light is a great metaphor for something else I've realized over the course my month-long home renovation staycation--which, though hard and busy, has been a clean break from my nonprofit work, my novel-writing creative work, and most of my social life too. I had an "aha" moment about illuminating the kitchen that my family has designed and built ourselves with a set of clear, warm lights that my husband and I chose together, as well as the fact that we are no longer living in other people's stuff. We're approaching 40 now, and we've finally been able t

My Kitchen Is a Dirty, Empty Box

My kitchen is demolished! Goodbye, soffits! Goodbye, can lights that never worked and dead outlets and bad fire-hazard electrical circuits! Goodbye, busted hinges and wonky drawers and peeling laminate cabinets! Goodbye, moldy plywood and crumbling tile countertops! Goodbye, load of rubble I drove to the dump in my rusty old pickup truck! Goodbye, goofy tile backsplash and chunks of various glues! This week, we'll say goodbye to corroded pipes and have some new plumbing stubbed in before we install new cabinetry. Soon, we'll get to start adding new stuff to this empty box! Tomorrow, I'll get a quick YouTube education in how to plaster a ceiling. I have never done a demolition or construction project before, so this is all stressful and scary, yet exciting. It's nicely metaphorical to gut and re-imagine a living space as the whole human world feels its way out of the worst (we hope) of a historic pandemic and thinks carefully about rebuilding differently than how things

How to Make a Grill Out of a Log

Over the past few years, our local power company has had to cut down several trees on or near our property that someone in the past had, according to an inexplicable mid-Michigan tradition, planted in a row directly beneath a power line, resulting in a very slow-motion disaster. By the time the power company finally cut down the trees, some of them had already died, and some had been severely damaged in the past couple of ice storms. We were grateful to see them taken down at no personal expense to us, and we were also glad to have the firewood left on our property because we have both an indoor wood stove and a backyard fire pit. But it turned out to be a lot, and the utility workers left the tree trunks in hearty slices about the size of end tables, which have proved laborious for us to split, especially as a couple of the larger trees were tough old elms. Happily, we have found a couple of uses for them that don't require us to wrestle with their knotty old fibers: outdoor end t

Pocket of Joy: Close Grandparents

One of the best decisions I ever made in my life was to settle close to my parents before having a child. I even convinced my parents to move right into my neighborhood after they retired, a ten-minute walk from my backyard, and everyone in my family has benefited from the arrangement . Grandparents and grandchildren are great for each other's physical, mental, and emotional health. And the support grandparents can provide in helping to care for and raise a child benefits the child's parents. Over the past year, I think we all realized just how important it is for parents to have reliable and safe childcare, and unfortunately our nation has some work to do to provide for the needs of working class families. Those of us fortunate enough to have parents who are willing and able to help us care for our children are blessed indeed. Close relationships between grandparents and grandchildren create well-being and resilience in every generation of the family. It is wonderful to have

Endo Belly Dance

Later this summer, I have an ultrasound scheduled to begin the process of maybe, finally, diagnosing the endometriosis that I believe I have.  End of summer edit: Diagnosis achieved! It's not endometriosis, it's ovarian cysts and internal vascular damage caused by a history of untreated, rupturing cysts combined with severe dysmenorrhea caused by an excess of oxytocin, which also caused me to produce milk like a prizewinning dairy cow and to experience other side benefits that you can probably guess, which helps make up for the lifelong menstrual disorder and extra painful labor. I have begun taking a low daily dose of progestin, which is already helping without causing noticeable side effects. There are many reproductive and menstrual disorders that can cause similar symptoms, many of which can be diagnosed with a minimally invasive ultrasound and treated in ways that can transform your health and quality of life. Get it done if you need it. You're worth it! Sometimes I fe

How Diverse Friendships Elevate Our Family Dinners

And not just because we learn new recipes. Our friendly relations with immigrants and second-generation Americans from all over the world, from casual encounters to long friendships, have benefited each member of my family and our shared dinners together by nourishing us with knowledge, inspiration, cultured openness, and fresh ideas about food, health, cooking, responsibility, gratitude, respect and appreciation for differences, the variety of sensory pleasures available to the human heart and palate, and the sacredness of shared mealtimes. It is tragic to me that so many Americans--white and white-passing and others too--fear racial diversity due to misleading stereotypes and the brutal trauma of institutionalized racism in our nation.  And maybe, for some, due to some throwback tribalism inherited from way-back, animalistic ancestors who really didn't know how to cook and ate a lot more dirt, sand, and parasite-infested raw meat than what is imagined by fans of 21st century &quo