Monday, June 26, 2017

Gardens, Seeds, and Cows!



This summer Ashe County Public Library’ signature program, Involving Books, has been placing an emphasis on supporting local economy, by raising awareness about healthy food and the farmers who produce it.  Family farmers need your support, and buying directly from them gives them a fighting chance in today’s globalized economy.  Farmer’s market produce is grown within the county, which means our farmers are likely to spend money they make on their produce in the local economy. 

Ashe Library is offering two upcoming educational and cultural activities that will make connections between agriculture and community.   Stop by Ashe County History Museum at 2:00 p.m. on July 8 and discover a unique Victory Garden.  Victory Gardens are the most successful local foods project in the United States.   Museum director, Ramona Renfroe, will share details about this “living exhibit,” made possible by Ashe County’s Master Gardeners.  Following Ramona’s talk, Dr. Jim Veteto, a recognized world expert on agricultural biodiversity and seedsaving and a foremost expert on Appalachian heirloom vegetables and fruits will review the history of gardening in southern Appalachia from the Woodland Indian period to the present.  Particular focus will be given to Cherokee heirloom gardening and seeds and stories from old-time farmers and gardeners in Ashe and Watauga counties.  Dr. Jim Veteto directs both the Appalachian Institute for Mountain Studies and Southern Seed Legacy and is associate professor of cultural and environmental anthropology and Cherokee Studies at Western Carolina University.


As for cows, be sure to save-the-date for Cow Appreciation Day!  At 2:00 p.m. on July 11 (CAD), Tim and Carolyn Miller of Highland Meadow Cattle Company will bring Romeo, a young bull, from their farm to visit the library.  Scottish Highland cattle are instantly recognized by their sweeping horns and flowing hair.  Romeo is very handsome and loves to have his hair combed.  All are invited to the shade tree behind West Jefferson’s park playground to hear about this breed of cattle and meet Romeo.   At 2:30 p.m. Rebecca Petruck, author, will be collecting cow-themed words to create a silly Mad Lib “Cow Tale,” or two.  Rebecca wrote Steering Towards Normal, a middle-grade novel, that takes readers into the lives of half-brothers Diggy and Wayne.   Each day is an adventure as the two boys raise their calf for the Minnesota State Fair.  Rebecca herself grew up in Minnesota and as a farm girl raised calves for 4-H state competition.  She has also planned a special activity in judging cow-themed candy, to illustrate criteria for judging cattle.   Don’t miss the fun and help us celebrate our appreciation for cows!

Dates to remember in July:  The library will be closed on July 2 for Christmas in July and July 4 for Independence Day.
 Children’s Programs
  • Baby Bounce meets every Friday at 10:00 a.m. for ages birth to 2 years.  Enjoy stories, rhymes, bounces, and songs with a stay-and-play social time afterwards.  There will be no Baby Bounce on July 28.
  • The Lego Club meets on July 20 at 4:00 p.m. for grades 1-5. Build, create, and make new friends.
  •  Move to the Music for ages birth – third grade takes place at 11:00 a.m. on July 7 with Kid’s Yoga and July 14 with a Space Party
Tween Programs
  • Tween Takeover meets at 3:30 pm on Thursdays.  On July 20, a summer reading wrap-up party is planned. Read to earn tickets for cool prizes, join in some fun Minute to Win It Games, and eat then vote for the best Ashe County pizza!
Teen Programs
  • Teens meet at 4:00 p.m. every Tuesday for games and art activities.
  • Teen Summer Book Club meets at 4:00 p.m. on July 6, to discuss The Infinity of You and Me and prepare to meet the book’s author on July 15.
  • Save the Date for author visit with Quinn Dalton, the co-author of The Infinity of You and Me, and participate in a free writing workshop hosted by Quinn from 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. on July 15.
  • Play a life-size version of the popular board game, Clue, from 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. on July 22.
  • STEAM Teens meet at 4:00 p.m. on July 13 to make Battle Brush Bots and at 4:00 p.m. on July 27 to make geometric bubbles that mimic tensile structures.
Adult Programs
  • For all your tech troubles, book and appointment with our friendly reference librarians.  Call 336.846.2041 x227
  • Yoga Club meets in the library’s downstairs meeting room at 5:30 p.m. on Mondays.
  • Let’s Talk About It: Journeys Across Time & Place, will meet at 5:30 on July 6 and July 20.  Stop in the library and pick up selected reads and save the date for discussions.  Join scholar Leon Lewis for a presentation and book discussion of Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison on July 6.  Join scholar Bruce Dick for a presentation and book discussion of The Known World by Edward P. Jones on July 20.
  • Ashe County Cooperative Extension agent Travis Birdsell, will host a seed saving workshop at 6:00 p.m. on July 20, focusing crops from which it is fairly difficult to save seeds.
  • Brouhaha Book Club meets at 5:30 p.m. on July 31 in Boondocks. There is no assigned reading for this book club. Come as you are, read what you want, and join the lively conversation!
 All Ages
  • Kids Can Concert & Story Time takes place at 11:00 a.m. on July 12.   Hear a story about music’s impact on the world, read by our Circulation Manager, Charlie. Afterward, enjoy performances by local children who want to share their musical passion with the world. Feel free to donate any non-perishable food items.
  • Get Crafty and make Quick Knit & Crochet Gifts at 10:00 a.m. on July 8.  Instruction available for beginners and project materials are provided.
  • The Community Drum Circle meets at 5:30 p.m. on July 11 and 25.  Join the celebration of drums, while exploring the soul and spirit of music!
  • Mountain Music Slow Jam will be performing on the Community Stage at 6:00 p.m. during the Christmas in July Festival.  Come out and join the jam!   Also, bring your instrument and join Slow Jammers in the practice tent at Ashe County’s Fiddlers Convention on July 29!

Special Events:
  • Cow Appreciation Day takes place at 2:00 p.m. on July 11.  Visit with Tim and Carolyn Miller who will bring a Highland Cow to the library!  Rebecca Petruck will lead a fun program on judging cattle for state fair competition with a game of Mad Cow Libs!                                      
  •  Going Local Workshop and Cooking Demonstration takes place in the library’s meeting room at 3:00 p.m. on July 21.  Author Julia Shanks presents a “Going Local” workshop titled “Going Local without Going Crazy: 25 Tips to Increase Your Local Footprint”.
  • Visit Ashe Farmers Market on July 22 for an Involving Books Celebration!  Enjoy cooking demos by author Julia Shanks, hear a presentation by author Forrest Pritchard (at noon), listen to a set by the Crooked Road Ramblers, and more!
  • A How-to-Festival takes place in the park beside the library on July 29, featuring race cars, bees, music, and so much more.  Learn how to do something new.  A day of sun and fun for the whole family!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Wild Swans, a study in Chinese history

When you read about other places, other times, and other people's lives it is easy to “take a trip and never leave the farm.” You can become absorbed in the experiences of historical times and gain a new understanding of what life was like for people in a world totally different from your own. My most recent time-traveling trip took me back to 1909 and through to 1978 in China while reading Jung Chang's memoir Wild Swans, Three Daughters of China. My friend Cheryl picked up this book on a bargain hunting shopping spree after the title caught her eye. She has a thirst for knowledge about exotic places around the world and having lived in Japan as a child, China has always been a curiosity of hers. Since this book has been on my endless reading bucket list for years I wanted to read it too, so over the next several weeks Cheryl became my "traveling companion" as we read and discussed Wild Swans together.  

In the book, Chang shares stories of her years growing up in China during The Great Leap Forward and The Chinese Cultural Revolution, as well as memories of her mother and grandmother in terrible times with The Long March and life under Japanese rule. These stories took me through unbelievable living conditions and deplorable human treatment. It took tremendous courage and strength of endurance to live during those times. I was truly amazed by the bravery and love these women had for not just their family, but their country despite the extreme hardships that were faced.

Jung Chang tells that her lifelong dream of being a writer took years to achieve, because growing up in China during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s was a time when writers were persecuted, even executed. It was not until after the death of China's dictator, Mao Zedong in 1976 that an opportunity to study in London gave her the freedom to write. Even so, the memories of her past, of her mother's and her grandmother's lives were so painful that it wasn't until years later, after spending time with her mother and sharing family stories, that Chang was inspired to compile her family's history and her own experiences in the book Wild Swans. This book has sold over thirteen million copies worldwide and hailed as one of the most accurately detailed accounts of China's history during the reign of Mao. Chang's honest portrayal of her painful upbringing and the struggles of her country consequently led to the banning of Wild Swans in China. Her criticisms of China's government both past and present have put her on their blacklist.

Cheryl and I looked for a way to actually experience Chang's story as we read, and of course neither of us wanted to relive the days of communist rule. There really wasn't much to choose from when looking for ways to physically immerse ourselves in the book. Although we did recognize the descriptions of those years could be directly paralleled to Orwell's book, 1984. This surprised me, knowing that Orwell's book was a fictional story published before the height of the communist party takeover.  The Chinese communist party was organized in 1949, only one year after 1984 was published. This makes me wonder if Mao and party leaders of China at that time read Orwell's book, and considered a regime similar to Big Brother's as the perfect way to maintain absolute power forever. For instance, you could not speak out against the party without being denounced, children were brought up as spies and encouraged to tell tales on their parents, and there were ( and still are) big posters of Mao, as there was of Big Brother, everywhere. One example that really disturbed me was when Mao encouraged criticism of government and when concerns where voiced, those in opposition were killed.

Despite the hard labor, starvation as a result of China's Great Famine … self-imposed by ludicrous agricultural practices, and brainwashing of an entire country, there were interesting customs and descriptions of magnificent scenery that intrigued us and offered some ways to relate and compare our lives with Jung Chang's. Cheryl's mother had memories of visiting Hong Kong with her husband during the 60s, although as Westerners they were shielded from the extremes mentioned in Wild Swans. We of course saw the correlation between “three daughters of China” and ourselves “three daughters of the Appalachian Mountains” as merely a generational comparison, but Chang's written visual of rural China's mountains and beautiful landscapes makes us want to sometime visit the country ourselves. During the Great Leap Forward, there was a movement to gather steel and make China industrially superior to other countries. Doorknobs, tools, cooking woks, any scrap of metal to be found were melted down in backyard steel furnaces. Although this in reality can now be referred to as a “great leap backward” and was another catalyst toward the Great Famine of China.  Still I was reminded of scrap metal drives on the home front during World War II. Our own country did promote Victory Gardens during war times, but under a democracy rather than a dictatorship, and life in Western Civilization at that time was considerably more advanced than China's.

During the Cultural Revolution, Madame Mao was the honorary artistic director of the Bejing Dance Academy and she enforced that all ballets perform dances that project political party values. Chang gave reference to Li Cunxin, Mao's “last dancer,” who defected to America to join the Houston Ballet and became a renowned success. Cheryl and I watched a movie about Li Cunxin's life and this of course highlighted many of the hardships we read about in Chang's book. It is another story of incredible courage and strength.  One I highly recommend.

The ultimate experience surrounding our discussions about Wild Swans, took place on June 9, 2017, Cheryl's mother's eighty-ninth birthday. Her birthday happened to fall on the rise of the “strawberry moon,” and we had read about how in China a full moon was a cause of celebration, a time when special round foods were eaten. With this in mind, we planned a full moon birthday celebration for Cheryl's mom. We cooked potstickers, egg rolls, jasmine rice and Mapo, a dish meaning “pockmarked grandma,” named for the texture and look of its prime ingredient, tofu. Of course we had round melons, watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew. Coincidentally, a magazine arrived in the mail that day with a cover story featuring watermelons, entitled “Melon Mania.” This delicious meal was accompanied with hot tea, fortune cookies, and 7 Moon red wine. On uncorking this serendipitous wine, so complimentary to the state of our moon, we discovered that it had a fortune cork! “Take stock of your accomplishments, have pride in them too.” Another fortune from one of the cookies, “A clever crow always paints its feathers black,” unknown to us at the time, foreshadowed a visit from Revonda Crow, a local storyteller! Since all birthday parties need a cake and candles, we ended our meal with a round raspberry fudge brownie and a special musical lotus candle, made in China of course.

As mentioned Revonda Crow, happened to connect with us after sharing our full moon party adventure with her in casual conversation the following week. Revonda is a wonderful storyteller and as it turns out had spent time in China studying abroad during her college years. Since Cheryl and I had planned a final discussion to further debrief on our experiences related to Wild Swans, we invited Revonda to join us and share stories of her time in China. She enlightened us further with stories of modern China and brought along show-and-tell photo albums, Chinese money, and a peasant wedding dress. Adding to our hands-on education, Cheryl shared a Chinese fireman's coat, and a special bamboo hat worn by rice paddy workers.  And I brought a silk embroidered Chinese jacket, found while on my own bargain hunting expedition. I wondered if Cheryl's fireman's coat was ever worn to a book burning event by a proletarian. We all agreed that China is a country we would have to plan on for a future visit.


Above all the persecution experienced by Jung Chang and her family, Cheryl noted that love for family and the indestructible capacity to survive in pursuit of happiness was a primary importance to the Chinese. I feel this to be a universal motivation for us too and reinforces the value of freedom we cherish in our country. Freedom should be a birthright to all human beings, no matter where they live, and it is so unfortunate that in some countries today this is not the case.  

Marion Cloaninger Paintings in Upstairs Gallery



Marion Cloaninger is a self- taught artist and started out with realistic subjects in watercolor.  Over the years, she took classes and experimented with different mediums.  This led the love for drawing and painting the figure.  She was introduced to collage techniques and this has become an integral part of her work.  She has taught painting paper and using the Gelli-Plate, collage workshops and demonstrated marbling techniques.  Her art has continued to become more abstract and colorful.  She is active in the Watauga Arts Council and the Ashe Arts Council.  She is a member of Wilkes Art Gallery.  Her work is represented by Carlton Gallery and GG’s Art, Frames and Gifts. The paintings are on display through the month of June 2017.