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Photo: YouTube
The late Mastanamma shot to fame at the age of 105, after her cooking videos were uploaded to YouTube.

Not long ago I read two interesting obituaries on the same day — one of a 107-year-old YouTube star, the other of a 97-year-old keeper of Cherokee pottery traditions. I thought that seeing them together could teach us all something about human possibility.

At the New York Times, Kai Schulz wrote the obit for the talented chef in India.

“Mastanamma got her big break at age 105.

“After she prepared an especially delicious eggplant curry, her great-grandson suggested that he film her cooking and then post the videos on YouTube.

“No matter that she was more than 100 years old, suffered from cataracts, wore dentures, cooked outside on an open fire, and sometimes roasted chicken inside a steaming watermelon. That was all part of the charm.

” ‘She knew she was famous,’ said Srinath Reddy, who helped start the channel. ‘She loved that.’ … She died at age 107.

“Born in a rural village in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, Karre Mastanamma married at 11 years old. By the time she was 22, her husband was dead. With no education, she was left to care for their five children. …

“To support her children, Mastanamma worked as a laborer, earning a few dollars a day carrying 200-pound rice sacks on her back. Over the years, she would lose four of her children to disease. For much of her life, she lived in a small hut made of palm leaves in the village of Gudiwada. …

“In 2016, her great-grandson, Karre Laxman, and Reddy, a friend, started filming the videos of her cooking and posting them on Country Foods. Her popularity soared: The channel surpassed 200 million views. Hordes of fans from around the world watched Mastanamma’s pared-down cooking tips on making spicy shrimp powder and ‘delicious cabbage.’ Mastanamma peeled ginger with her thumbs, stored bird eggs in her sari and [barked] out orders to subordinates from a squatted position over simmering pots. …

“Mastanamma claimed to be the world’s oldest YouTuber.  Fans loved her salt-of-the-earth sense of humor. In interviews, she joked about breaking her dentures, having given her husband a 15-cent dowry, and the time a pair of brothers teased her when she was a young woman. After one of the brothers touched her hand and long curly hair, she threw him in a river. …

“Wearing off-kilter aviator sunglasses, Mastanamma waves at the camera from a leather-cushioned car in one clip on Country Foods. ‘Hi, kids!’ she says, before blurting out observations. ‘I lost my teeth, naturally. Before, I was so beautiful. My age is above 100 years! It’s in government records.’ ” More about the 107-year-old YouTube star here.

Back in the USA, Ana Fota writes for the New York Times about a revered Cherokee potter. “Amanda Sequoyah Swimmer was born in North Carolina at a time when Native American children were forced to attend boarding schools, as part of a national effort to assimilate them into mainstream culture.

“But as a child in fourth grade she grew tired of being punished for speaking her native Cherokee and forced to use English, and one day she jumped her school’s courtyard fence and ran away. She never returned.

“Instead she fashioned a life devoted to the preservation of Cherokee culture, keeping its language and pottery traditions alive. She was revered in the mountainous tribal lands of western North Carolina — honored there as a ‘Beloved Woman’ — and renowned as one of her people’s most skilled potters.

“Ms. Swimmer’s work has been shown at the Smithsonian in Washington, the North Carolina State Museum, and at local museums across North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. It was also featured in the 2011 book ‘Cherokee Pottery: From the Hands of Our Elders,’ by M. Anna Fariello. And Ms. Swimmer herself was profiled in a 2000 documentary film, ‘Women of These Hills — Three Cultures of Appalachia.’

“In 2005, as an octogenarian, she was awarded an honorary doctor of humane letters degree by the University of North Carolina, Asheville, for her work in preserving Cherokee heritage and her role in founding the Cherokee Potters’ Guild. …

“Ms. Swimmer died Nov. 24 at her home in the Big Cove community in the federal land trust known as the Qualla Boundary of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee. She was 97 and was one of the last fluent speakers of Cherokee. …

“ ‘She was known for her pottery, but she was also known for caring,’ said Richard French, a Big Cove Tribal Council representative. ‘She voted in every tribal election.’ …

“ ‘She had an impact on the whole tribal nation,’ her eldest grandson, Eddie Swimmer, said. ‘Everybody called her grandmother.’ ” More on Amanda Swimmer here.

Photo: Museum of the Cherokee Indian via the New York Times
Ms. Swimmer, a potter, was revered in the tribal lands of western North Carolina.

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Photo: King Associates
Whether you call it edible landscaping, foodscaping, or front-yard farming, many landscapers around the country are helping homeowners convert work-intensive, enviromentally unsound lawns into productive gardens.

If you’re a homeowner and your yard is covered with snow right now, you may be dreaming of the beautiful lawn you will have in spring. You may even be imagining that you love having a lawn even though no one uses your lawn to picnic or play catch and that you enjoy mowing and spreading weed killer to give your home a green welcome mat until summer sun turns it brown. When you’re in a deep freeze, it’s easy to feel that everything about spring is fun.

But what if someone knocked on your door one day and offered to plant and care for a vegetable garden where your lawn is now, promising to give you a generous cut of the produce?

That is actually happening. Fleet Farming, for example, does this work in Orlando, Florida.

Their website says, “Fleet Farming is a non-profit urban agriculture program whose mission is to empower all generations to grow food to increase local food accessibility. Our Vision is to create localized food systems that bring communities together towards a healthier, more connected world in harmony with people and planet.

“We accomplish this by converting underutilized lawn space into productive localized edible gardens or micro farms. Our program works to provide edible landscaping to schools, community centers, affordable housing units, businesses and individuals through our community farming initiative and Edible Landscapes garden-installation service. Together, we are changing the cycle of food.”

The organization describes a 2018 project at its blog, here. “In May 2018, over 100 student volunteers from Rock Bridge Community Church in Northern Georgia came down to Orlando and partook in a series of action days in partnership with United Way. They aided Fleet Farming and Orlando Permaculture in revitalizing Audubon Park Covenant Church’s beautiful grounds.

“The students were a massive help in clearing bushes and planting new trees. They collaborated in shoveling and transferring fresh mulch to the church’s plentiful gardens. They showed a true sense of generosity and community.

“Every person, young or old, deserves the right learn how to grow their own food, and engage with nature and the outdoors. If you have a group who would be interested in working with Fleet Farming for a day of action, contact us at info@fleetfarming.org.”

You can also consider “donating” your lawn.

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Photo: Philadelphia Water Department
A rain garden manages stormwater runoff in Philadelphia’s Germantown section. 

When I was at the magazine, I solicited several articles about Philadelphia and what people there were doing to bring more of the natural environment into urban living. It’s not easy for any city as budgets are often strained. But when you can make the case that environmental improvements ultimately save costs (or when an EPA is serious about quality of life), you have a better chance of getting things done.

Bruce Stutz at Yale Environment 360 (a great publication I recommend following on twitter @yaleE360) has the story.

“Benjamin Franklin, Philadelphia’s favorite son, described his city’s stormwater problem well: By ‘covering a ground plot with buildings and pavements, which carry off most of the rain and prevent its soaking into the Earth and renewing and purifying the Springs … the water of wells must gradually grow worse, and in time be unfit for use.’

“When he wrote this in 1789, many of Philadelphia’s water sources, the scores of streams that ran into the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers, were already cesspools of household and industrial waste. As they became intolerable eyesores and miasmic health hazards, the city simply covered them with brick arches, turned the streams into sewers, and on top constructed new streets, an expanding impervious landscape that left the rains with even fewer places for ‘soaking into the Earth.’

“Crude as it was, this network of underground-to-riverfront outfalls through ever-larger pipes was pretty much the way Philadelphia and other U.S. cities coped with their stormwater for the next 200 years.

“But Ben Franklin’s town has decided to take the lead in undoing this ever-more costly and outdated system that annually pours huge volumes of polluted stormwater runoff and untreated sewage into the Delaware and the Schuylkill. Instead of building more and bigger sewers and related infrastructure, Philadelphia has adopted a relatively new paradigm for urban stormwater: Rather than convey it, detain it — recreate in the urban streetscape the kinds of pervious places where, instead of running into surrounding waterways, rainfall and the contaminants it carries can once again soak into the earth.

“The city is now in the seventh year of a 25-year project designed to fulfill an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce by 85 percent Philadelphia’s combined sewer overflows. … Rather than spending an estimated $9.6 billion on a ‘gray’ infrastructure program of ever-larger tunnels, the city is investing an estimated $2.4 billion in public funds — to be augmented by large expenditures from the private sector — to create a citywide mosaic of green stormwater infrastructure. …

“At nearby Villanova University, the Urban Stormwater Partnership, founded in 2002 under environmental engineering professor Robert Traver, had begun experimenting with green stormwater infrastructure. [Howard Neukrug who served as the city’s water department commissioner from 2011 to 2015] developed a couple of low-impact pilot design projects, and in 2009, the Philadelphia Water Department released a revision — 12 years in the making — to its stormwater and sewage management plan….

The city is working now to standardize the construction of green infrastructure and monitor its effectiveness. Costs are coming down as green infrastructure becomes more widely adopted. …

“As the Water Department’s planners expand the network of greened acres, they are bringing social, economic, and environmental investment to often marginalized neighborhoods. [Marc Cammarata, the Water Department’s deputy commissioner of planning and environmental services] says that green stormwater infrastructure projects now support 430 jobs. … Residents already report that green infrastructure projects have reduced crime as green spaces proliferate, says Cammarata.

The Water Department’s website map is crowded with green infrastructure sites across the city. Visitors can zoom in on their neighborhood and see what’s there.”

More here.

 

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This has been an amazing winter for sunshine amid cold temperatures and I fully expected to have lots of light-and-shadow photos to show you. But when I am outside, I seem to be mainly ogling the light and shadows and muttering to myself how glad I am to have seen that.

So today’s collection has additional photos from friends and family, who have been sharing more regularly.

My sister caught the moon on New York’s Upper West Side in February, and I tried to catch the Super Moon in Massachusetts.

I already blogged about my winter visit to New York (see the post on the Rubin museum’s Himalayan collection), but I wanted to add the port-a-potty for Asakiyume’s funny-potty-name collection — and also the pharmacist photo highlighting New York’s amazing diversity.

Next is a picture of my younger grandson on a ski trip to Vermont. He is climbing the walls, literally. I do it it only figuratively. Suzanne took the picture.

John’s photo shows a marine-themed lantern created by my older grandson yesterday at Arlington’s Art Beat, a shop where kids can buy art supplies or do a project — or both. His sister did a charming sand painting of a snowman.

Two pictures from Verrill Farm in winter show the scarecrow bean toss against a dormant field and a bench carved with horses’ heads.

The last photo is one that my artist-boss from community-newspaper days sent to a few former colleagues. It’s a still life that Bill Finucane painted for her out of the blue. Meredith writes, ” I had completely forgotten the wonderful gift of my assignment to help get Bill back on his feet and his job after a stroke and three years out of the world of work (four years not driving).” His painting is a gift of gratitude for her friendship.

I am grateful for yours.

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Blogger KerryCan deeply appreciates vintage linens and traditional handicrafts, especially those that women commonly pursued. I loved her March 3 post, and as I can’t find the “reblog” button, I’m sharing it via the “press this” button. Hand Quilt Along: On the Road. A bonus post for you!

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Photo: Bobby Bascomb
Farmers Domingo and Nilsa Romano are grateful for the physical and emotional support of the volunteers with the NGO El Departamento de la Comida in Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico never received the level of help it needed from the federal government after Hurricane Maria, but neighbors and volunteers pitched in to help. In my post from December, I quoted Public Radio International’s inspiring story on women farmers cooperating to make a comeback. A Living on Earth report from September 2018 shows volunteers helping out a range of small farmers.

BOBBY BASCOMB: “Even before hurricane Maria uprooted trees and people, Puerto Rico imported roughly 85% of its food. After the storm, that number shot up to about 95% imported food, if you could get it. Many people were forced to skip meals and eat … canned food for months. Nine months after the storm, one of the only places to find locally grown food on the island is farmers markets like the Saturday market in Rincon. …

“Sonia Carlo’s nearby farm is slowly recovering from the storm. Today she’s brought pineapple, papaya, mushrooms, and the kale she’s explaining to a customer. … Sonia says things are just starting to turn around for her family and the farm. They are finally harvesting again and her farm-to-table restaurant, Sana, opened just a few weeks ago. But hurricane Maria was devastating for them. The storm destroyed her home. She had to send her three children to Florida to live with family while she and her husband, living in their car, rebuilt the battered farm.”

SONIA CARLO: “We got really trashed. All of our production for years of tropical trees like mango trees and passion fruit trees, they all died and they all were blown away. We had trees that were a hundred years old. … Since the hurricane was a cyclone, it brought some salt water and some sand with it, so everything that was in its path, it looks like you threw herbicide.” …

BASCOMB: “Across the island tall fruit trees were the most heavily damaged food crop. Root vegetables that could hide underground did OK. Ground plants like pineapples were among the first to recover and fast growing vegetables like salad greens were easy enough. After the hurricane visitors came to Puerto Rico with their suitcases full of seeds to donate to farmers. Sonia says they actually could have started growing again relatively quickly.”

CARLO: “But since we didn’t have any electricity, we couldn’t pump water out and we didn’t have any gas, so we were unable to grow food because we don’t have gas to pull out the water from the water pump.” …

BASCOMB: “To understand why this lush tropical island with year round sunshine and rain imports nearly all of its food you need to go back to the 1940s and a US initiative called Operation Bootstrap. … Adnelly Marichal is the documentarian for the Resilience Fund in Puerto Rico. She says Operation Bootstrap transformed Puerto Rico from a largely agrarian economy to one based on manufacturing and tourism. They did that with a patchwork of government tax incentives and access to US markets. The farming that remained was not on the household level but on a larger, industrial scale.”

ADNELLY MARICHAL: “Now suddenly, it’s about making money so therefore you need to grow things like sugar and coffee, and that’s great, but those are not things that people can eat.”

In Las Marias, up in the mountains on the western half of the island, Farmer Domingo Antonio Romano, 75, runs a small farm with his wife, Nilsa.

BASCOMB: “Root vegetables like yams were really the only food crops that didn’t get torn away by the 155 mile an hour winds of Hurricane Maria. They were one of the only food crops the Romanos could still harvest and eat after the storm. … Domingo and his neighbors still had months to go before the roads would be cleared or the electricity restored. He says in that time they came to rely on each other for help.” …

DOMINGO ANTONIO ROMANO: “After Maria, the trees came down and we could see our neighbors and we got to know each other. After the hurricane, there was a lot of empathy between the people, and everybody helped each other.” …

BASCOMB: “Five volunteers from a grassroots non-profit group called El Departamento de la Comida, the Food Department, are here to camp out on the farm for a week and do any work that needs to be done: clear land, plant crops, fix fences and repair the roof. The volunteer Food Department is organized into groups called brigades and are dispatched all over the island. As many as 20 people at a time descend on a farm for a week bringing with them seeds, tools, building supplies, and the man power to get a farm back up and running.”

More at Living on Earth, here.

Video: The Puerto Rico Resilience Fund

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Photos: Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times
Comfortable easy chairs tempt customers at Lake Forest Park’s Third Place Books near Seattle. Some independent bookstores aim to be an extension of your living room.

The demise of the bookstore keeps being predicted, but independent shops flourish here and there. The survivors are the ones that provide more than a book.

Moira Macdonald reports for the Seattle Times, “If you walk through the entrance of Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park — right past the signs by the door that say EAT SLEEP READ — on a random weekday afternoon, you might find something nobody could have predicted a decade ago: a neighborhood bookstore, busy and thriving. …

“Ten years ago, when the recession hit and Amazon’s deep discounts seemed to sound a death knell for independent bookstores, such a picture might have seemed like the most fantastical of fiction. Beloved Seattle bookstores were closing their doors throughout the aughts, and those who remained open seemed to face an impossibly uphill task — who would pay full price for a book when you could buy it for less online? But there’s more to an indie bookstore than the price on a book’s cover. …

“Founded in 1998 by visionary developer Ron Sher, Third Place Books got its name from sociologist Ray Oldenburg’s theory of the necessity of a third place; one that isn’t home or work but somewhere we can connect with a community. …

“While far from the oldest bookstore in Seattle, Third Place is the only one that in recent years has expanded to three locations, opening in the Ravenna neighborhood in 2002 and Seward Park in 2016. All offer a mix of new and used books, … a comfortable place for coffee or a meal, friendly booksellers eager to recommend a new favorite, a busy schedule of author readings and special events — in other words, offering not just books, but an experience. …

“In their three very different locations — a suburban shopping center north of Seattle; a quiet residential neighborhood near the University of Washington; a south Seattle neighborhood with one of the country’s most diverse ZIP codes — Third Place is offering ways to find community.

“Each store offers at least one book club; Seward Park, leading the pack, has five: Reading Through It: A Post-Election Book Club; Booze & Lasers (for science fiction/fantasy); Social Justice Syllabus; a teen book club; and a new Black Literature club, starting in January. Lake Forest Park’s three book groups include a general literary club, a nonfiction club and a Knitting Book Club (no, they don’t read books about knitting, but knit while they meet, discussing a variety of books).

“The Ravenna store takes advantage of its proximity to UW to present the monthly Black Jaw Literary Series, which features students and faculty members from the university’s creative-writing program. And it’s taken a creative approach to the author appearances that are the bread-and-butter of the bookstore business: Literary Luncheons. …

“Sometimes, creating community in a bookstore doesn’t involve books at all. Calendar events for the three stores include language conversation clubs, mahjong gatherings, live music (often at Third Place Commons, an open community space adjacent to but operated separately from the Lake Forest Park store) and Magic Mondays, a popular monthly demonstration by local magicians at Ravenna. …

“And the stores give back to the communities they serve, regularly supporting local schools. … Other charitable programs [include] single-day fundraisers — instigated by employees, and quickly organized. … The most recent [raised] money for legal services for refugees detained at the U.S.-Mexico border; business that day was up 75 percent.”

More.

A mother and son peruse a picture book at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, Washington. As traditional bookstores close, Third Place books has actually been expanding to new locations.

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