I feel like a mushroom. Rooted. Sheltered. Safe.
I found a job. Or, better put, it found me.
In a college town where student interns and green, social-networking savvy graduates seem to have a corner on the job market, a lawyer-turned-roofing-contractor decided to give a graying farmer-without-a-farm a break. (Family connections didn’t hurt either. Thanks, Pam.) I dug in my heels for a fight – what do I know about roofs or construction? – until I saw the company has built a few “green roofs.” I thought, maybe, just maybe, it might work out. (Green roofs are plantings of sedums, herbs, and grasses in a shallow medium on top of a roof to improve the building’s storm water management and energy efficiency.)
It’s a job. It allows me to keep my mother living in her home and my son taking college classes, and maybe, it will even cover ER expenses if there’s a Bicycle Crash No. 2. It’s so different from my life for the past 20-some years, but that doesn’t mean it is bad.
Just call me Excel Laurie.
I’m learning about Accounts Receivable, Accounts Payable, work orders, and invoices. Sometimes, the numbers even become musical as I scan for checks and dates: four-fifty-four twenty-three, one-five four-four-four, eight-five-eleven, on and on in a sing-songy sort of way.
During my first days of work, I was deep into Cara Black’s “Murder on the Ile Saint-Louis”, one of a bagful of books I bought at the Louisa Gonser Library back-room sale last time I was in Kutztown. It’s one of my favorite shopping places … but more on that later.
Black’s murder mysteries take place in various neighborhoods in Paris, and they’re heavy on the flavor of my favorite city, with a good dose of intrigue, but light on graphic blood-and-gore details. Just my kind of book. “M on the IS-L” took me into the abandoned quarries and sewers beneath Paris, and then threw in a tidbit on mushroom farming in these underground tunnels that made me hungry for more.
So to Google I did go. It turns out the Romans were the first to begin quarrying limestone and gypsum in what is now France, creating aqueducts, bridges, coliseums and such. By 1813, there were 170 miles of quarry tunnels under Paris. It was in that year that quarrying under the city was banned to prevent all those Baroque and Empire limestone buildings from toppling into the hollowed out underground. Some old quarries were consecrated as burials ground — by 1860 bones of six million people lined the catacombs. Other abandoned quarries supported underground agriculture. Here, out-of-work quarrymen became 19th century urban farmers, raising mushrooms and endive in these dimly lit underground tunnels.
The air temperature, humidity, and absence of light in the old quarry tunnels created a perfect growing environment for Agaricus bisporus (aka “les champignons de Paris” or what we call button mushrooms or baby Portobellos). Enterprising Frenchmen carted down loads of horse manure into the tunnels, formed long raised beds, and planted wafers containing mushroom spores. They would use the raised beds for five mushroom crops, and then the compost would be gathered, hauled to street level, and sold to market gardeners. In the 19th century, these Parisian underground farmers harvested 2,000 tons of mushrooms a year. As demand grew and production was constrained by the quarry tunnels, many mushroom farms were moved to caves on the outskirts of Paris, although some remained into the 1960s.
The more I read, the more I drew parallels to my work environment. I sit in a cave-like section of a building, with no windows, staring at a computer monitor. A far cry from the fields of Fleur-de-Lys. The day the earthquake shook the Eastern Seaboard I was motionless, like a fungus rooted to the forest floor, surrounded by stacks of paperwork bound for the dark bowels of the office Dell. In my former life, I used to smell the rain coming, not to mention slosh around in it. Now when it rains, I often don’t know until I hop on a wet bicycle seat for the ride home.
But I count my blessings. As it turns out, every farmer I’ve talked to says this growing season has been the worst in memory – too much rain, too much heat, too much rain, rain, rain.
Guess what? Rain is good for the roofing business. The phone calls are non-stop. The work orders pile up. Even in a bad economy, “Everyone needs a roof over their head.” Even mushrooms. Laurie Lynch
Melancholy/Or Not Mushroom Soup
1 lb. mushrooms, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
6 shallots, chopped
3 Tbsp. butter
Salt and paprika to taste
3 Tbsp. flour
4 cups broth or water
½ cup plain yogurt
Brown mushrooms, garlic and onion in butter. Stir in salt, paprika, and flour. Add half the liquid. Stir until thick and smooth. Blend in remaining liquid and heat to boiling. Divide yogurt equally in soup bowls, and pour mushroom soup over it.
Rotary Relatives: Of the 70-some employees at the roofing company, I am one of three women. I was eating lunch alone on the first day when woman No. 2 sat down.
No. 2: My son started Penn State classes this week.
Me: So did mine.
No. 2: Well, actually he started this summer.
Me: So did mine!
No. 2: Well, mine took a year off between high school and college.
Me: So did mine!!
No. 2: Mine was in Brazil as a Rotary Exchange Student.
Me: So was mine!!!!!!!!!
Turns out No. 2 hosted Richard’s Rotary sister from Brazil – we’re Rotary-Related, so to speak. I took it as a good sign, and a large, cruel world became very small.
Kindle Kin: My sister Lee Ann (No. 3 of 5) was showing me her Kindle a few weeks ago. There is a certain allure … but I’m staying true to my Saturday morning forays into Louisa Gonser Library’s back room (and Schlow Memorial Library in State College). In the back room of LGL, I’ve found so many cheap delights, and an added bonus. I’ve begun a collection of bookmarks left behind in recycled books. One has the word “library” printed in more than a dozen languages – from Arabic and Vietnamese to Malay, Nigerian, Tagalog, Portuguese, and French. Then, there’s a 1903-2003 100 Years of Flight timeline, a bookmark commemorating a 1987 exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art of Chinese tomb figures, and my current favorite, a laminated original work of art signed by “Humberto A”, an indigenous Mexican artist at the Vamos! Project through Casa Romero. It is painted on the fragile bark of the amate tree! And, the message includes an email address for anyone who wants more info: email@example.com.
Pasta Squared: I’m hooked on hand-made pasta from a cute little shop in town called Fasta & Ravioli Company. Remember the beans and potatoes and tomatoes that we grew at Fleur-de-Lys Farm – colors of the rainbow? Well, Fasta has piles of fresh pasta in colors of the rainbow that melt in your mouth. But, bookworm that I am, during my first visit to the store I was sidetracked by a book behind the counter: “The Geometry of Pasta.”
Pumpkins Cubed: My friend Emelie was our first visitor from “home”. She came up to see her son, a freshman at PSU and member of the PSU Pep Band that plays at volleyball games. She brought house-warming pumpkins: an orange jack-o’-lantern, a huge white squash called Polar Bear, and the gorgeous tan and green and orange “Rascal” pumpkin pictured above.
Written on Slate: To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable; and wealthy, not rich; to study hard, think quietly, act frankly … to listen to stars and buds, to babes and sages, with open heart; await occasions, hurry never … this is my symphony. – William Henry Channing