I have noticed a lot of funny little things since we arrived a month ago. Some are a little disappointing, but a number are interesting or quite nice.
The first thing Nathanael and I did when we entered our apartment, was fill our water bottles and taste the water. For one thing we had been awake almost since we left Wisconsin, and had then spent the morning roaming campus because there were some computer glitches preventing his registration, and all of this worked up a pretty strong thirst. Also, we were both very curious as to what it would taste like. The result was more surprising than we expected. No chlorine. After having abandoned the glories of well water the moment I left home seven years ago, I was not expecting to stumble upon it in a city of over 200,000. And, not only is it devoid of chlorine, but instead of being flavorless it is slightly sweet. I have begun to enjoy the flavor very much, in fact. There is a third thing about the water, which I suppose I should have expected, but which took me utterly by surprise. I actually laughed at myself when I ran the water upon our arrival. The water is warm. No matter how long you run the tap marked with a C, it will always be cooler once you have left your glass full on the counter for a while. I wouldn't trade our water in, though; warmth beats chlorine by miles.
Before we left Wisconsin, Nathanael and I had been discussing how products sold in the state/region/locality where they are produced should be less expensive since they do not demand as much transportation. Most products are not priced that way, and the example I used was Stoneyfield yogurt. All around the country the price hovers around $3.96, even when I was in graduate school in the same state and the CEO was our commencement speaker. However, now that we are here instead of in the dairy state, a gallon of milk ranges from $3.99 to $7.15. I am doing my best to refrain from complaining now that what I wish has come true (while I slowly use our $3/lb butter), and instead have been trying to find the things that are less expensive because they are locally produced. I don't have a super memory for the prices of non-dairy items, but it makes me smile that most of the rice in the grain aisle is produced in the town where Nathanael works at the rice research station. The farmer's market has been a source for vegetables at significantly less than grocery prices (which has not been true in other cities where I have lived), especially for pecans. Pecans! Those emblems of the South and its rich desserts. They were one of the products sparking my hopes of lower prices locally, and though the store shelves don't show it, the farmers market provides local pecans for a good bit less than $9/lb.
My last surprise--for this post, though I certainly have more to share--was how much we miss our garden. For the first few days when we knew not what to cook I blamed it on our missing pans and silverware. Once they were unpacked I realized the difficulty was no longer having vegetables motivating our menu in large quantities. In two days we moved from 2 or 3 enormous zucchini a week, to one six inches long for $0.50. The effects on cooking are pretty dramatic.
In Wisconsin, our garden is in the loving hands of Kristy and Paul, who have been creating all kinds of ways to enjoy the vegetables (even zucchini pancakes). We are so glad for their hard work and for the pictures they have sent us of the produce. Below is one of the pictures Kristy sent us, which I think is probably my favorite picture of vegetables, so far in life!
In the on campus apartments, where most of the residents are international students, a number of the graduate students have their parents living with them. One older Chinese lady in particular is always outside with her tiny grandson, but every so often I noticed her walking back from the parking lot alone. One day I saw her huddled between the edge of the asphalt and the chain link fence, digging; which in the moments before my eyes glanced around made my brain think, "Secrets? Burried treasure? Small dead animals?" Then I saw the real reason. A garden bustling with produce. This determined little lady has turned a small strip of littered sand into beautiful thing. She has peppers, long skinny eggplant and the most enormous squash I have ever seen, which are draped over the fence and the plant still holds them up. I smile whenever I think about it.
Now Nathanael says if he could find a place to keep a goat, he'd be happy staying here pretty much forever.